October 30, 2009 - 10:27 AM
No matter where we are in life, we are constantly balancing our activities and passions. We have to make choices all the time between work and fun, between activities that we should do and activities that make us happy, between time studying and time with friends... I realize that this is not unique to college students. But as my relationship to the University of Oregon is changing I am increasingly having to battle between my roles here, and how to maintain the activities that feed my spirit while also taking care of my responsibilities.
I have always loved school. I'm a good student and I love the academic opportunities I have here. And I still love going to classes, but my schedule and commitment to the academic sphere is changing. For my whole life, my primary activity has been school. But suddenly I am writing a thesis (which is school-related, but not class-related) and working as an intern in a program which I love deeply and am extremely committed to.
See the conundrum? I'm transitioning from a "school for school's sake" attitude into a place where I still love my classes, but am more ready to set aside the school books in favor of a focus on the "real" world.
So far I'm doing a decent job. Not perfect, by any means. But I am maintaining my friendships, still mostly enjoying my homework and loving my classes. This will, I hope, continue for the rest of the year while I take fewer classes to focus more on my other projects. But no matter how hard I work to maintain my old style of living from before my focus shifted, I will inevitably lose some important aspects of my student life.
The first thing I have lost this term is climbing. I haven't been to the rock wall in weeks. This is a combination of my frantic schedule and my friends' schedules and a long string of sick days. But this is not something I'm willing to give up for good: my goal for the second part of fall term is to get myself back on the wall.
The second is the time to attend multiple extra events and lectures each month. I'm still making space for these things, but often now when a friend wants to go to a lecture, I have to stay home. There is so much to do! I haven't decided yet if this is something I need to try to get back into my life, or if this is simply the reality of being a busy person. The good news is that UO is hosting a huge conference on climate change next weekend, and I'm planning to attend the majority of that event. So all is not lost.
More than any of these outward signs of change in my life, I think I am trying to explain a shift in myself, in the way I see the world and value the things I spend time on. I am more and more focused on a future: on grad school, but also on the internship I have now and the good I can do there, and on what my place will be at UO and in the world as an activist, writer, educator, and peacemaker. Often, when I sit down to five hours of work on my computer, my first choice is not the essay for a class, but rather work in some other direction: my thesis, research for the internship, emails to advisors, and investigating the graduate school.
For the first time in my life, I am not a student first and foremost. I'm not exactly sure what to call this new identity, but it is not primarily focused on the classroom, but rather on the world.
And that is a change with a lot of potential, a huge significance. It means big changes ahead, big changes starting now. This year is going to be full of transitions, of new ideas and ways of being. It's going to be an amazing ride.
Real life? Here I come...
October 27, 2009 - 10:43 AM
There is so much to say! More than I can get down in one blog, certainly. I could write about what I've been doing on a weekly basis, the dreams we've come up with, or the things that have already happened. But, friends and readers, this internship is such a good thing for me. It is totally changing how I think about my position in the world: I have found a place where I am working for change in a way that is amazingly important to me. And I'll be working with this organization for the next two and a half years at the very least. I have found a place where I can effect change across the country, and over a long period of time!
For those of you who have missed early descriptions of my internship or of the Inside-Out Program please check out those links and watch the documentary on the Inside-Out website. But here's the short version: The Inside-Out Program is a national educational program that brings college classes into correctional institutions with an equal number of inside (incarcerated) and outside (college) students. The classes are set up to create dialogue and understanding between the two groups, not to have one group "help" or study the other. I am working with the Assistant National Director of the Program to work on evaluating, expanding, and improving the program on a local, regional, and national level.
This is the dream job for me. I've entered this program at a time of huge change and potential as national recognition and the number of participating institutions has grown on a massive scale. There is so much to be done!
We have a huge number of irons currently in the fire. Projects I am working on include: creation of an alumni network, editing a publication of inside and outside student work, recruiting new UO professors to teach Inside-Out classes, helping to organize a regional meeting of instructors, researching publications to provide individuals interested in evaluating the program in the larger context of prison education, and working to move the program toward offering a degree program to the inside students.
Overwhelming? Not a bit. Well, maybe just a bit. But this is inspiration in its purest form.
Every week I'm reading articles, meeting with UO faculty, drafting emails, attending conference calls, and dreaming up ways of making all these things happen. Every time I sit down to work on Inside-Out related things, I feel like I am working on what makes me most sincerely happy. The work I do this year (and for the next two) will enable more students (both inside and outside) across the country to experience this program. My time in the classes totally changed my perspective of the world: from my view of prisons to my ideas of academia to how I relate with some stranger in my life. It transformed who I think of as my peer. And now I have the chance to work to offer this experience to more people, to improve the experiences of those already involved, to encourage research to better understand the program, and to provide some way for other alumni of the program to stay involved.
I feel constantly and unbelievably privileged to be doing this work. I also feel like this is the perfect time to be working in this program. Everywhere I look, there are signs that change is possible and that people are excited about and open to this program. I'm learning new ways of thinking and working, as well as the (new to me) history and theory of prisons. I'm learning to look at the potential for collaboration between this program and the other pieces of my academic and social experiences.
What I've got now is big plans, and an ever-increasing ability to make these plans happen. The next three years are going to see massive changes in the Inside-Out Program's effectiveness as we expand and re-evaluate the program. And I will have a hand in that.
Don't be surprised when I write about this over and over. This is the most exciting piece of all my exciting projects right now, and the place with the most opportunity for change.
October 25, 2009 - 2:52 PM
During my whole life people have asked me what I want to be when I grow up. It's what you ask kids when they're really little. It's what parents are thinking when kids start showing some talent in an academic area: kids with A's in math might be engineers, kids who are caught writing stories are the next Stephen King. Then you get a little older and start thinking about it for yourself: you start to pick your own activities, and you start to realize that some of your areas of passion do not match up to your talents (for example: much as I would like to walk on the moon, I will never be an astronaut because I am abysmal at math).
Then junior year of high school hits and the only question in your life is the College Question. "Where" and "In What?" By senior year, you've explained and agonized for hours. What do I want to be, anyway? And which of these majors will help me get there?
I was lucky because I found the UO and immediately knew I wanted to be here. I was also lucky because my high school had offered enough Advanced Placement classes that I came to the UO with sophomore level classes, which has meant that in four years I will be able to complete two majors, have an advance standing in a language, write a thesis, and travel abroad.
But now it's senior year of college, and the questions are coming faster all the time. By the time you graduate from college, you should be pretty darn sure what it is you're going to do with your life. "What will you do in the fall?" is a question that is now ever-present for the class of 2010. Are we starting careers? Going straight to grad school? Traveling? Joining Peace Corps, Teach for America, or another volunteer organization? Going home to live with Mom and Dad? Will we get into law school or medical school? Are we ready?
Well, folks, these questions have been on my mind for a long time now. I'm getting closer and closer to that "What will you do when you grow up" question, and have a solid answer to "What will you do in the fall?" Relieved? Oh, yes.
Before I tell you the plan, let me briefly tell you what the plan was a month ago.
I was going to graduate in June, then spend the summer working with the American English Institute. This job ends in August, and then I planned to go back to Arizona to work with No More Deaths. In the fall I was going to head off for two or three years of travel: English teaching and Humanitarian Aid work starting in Spain and ending who-knows-where. I love travel more than just about any other activity these days. Also, twenty-two is the perfect time to be traveling: I have some applicable skills, no career to interrupt, no kids or significant other, and basically no furniture. I can leave and have nothing to store.
These plans are now on hold.
This fall I will be entering a Masters program in Conflict Resolution at the University of Oregon. It is a two-year program with a combined model of a cohort of students and an internship/final project that means the skills learned in class are practically applied in the real world. I will then have skills in mediation, negotiation, restorative justice, facilitating, and other non-violent conflict resolution skills that I can apply to basically any professional area.
Readers, I don't know how much of a "feel" you've gotten for me over the last year of blogging, but if you know me at all, you can't help but see that this program is perfect for me. I am so, so excited.
In addition to this, I hope to work as a Graduate Teaching Fellow in the area of peacemaking and ethics at the University of Oregon in the coming years. A GTF position pays the majority of your tuition, plus a stipend. It also would allow me to work to increase the University's standing as an institution devoted to peace and social justice.
And, if everything goes as I hope it will, this will include co-facilitating classes through the Inside-Out Program, putting my instructor's training to use in classrooms at the Oregon State Penitentiary.
I am joyfully postponing my future travel plans, and embracing this new direction for my post-grad life.
Of course, the larger question remains: What will I do with my life?
Well, I'll tell you.
I'm going to graduate school next. Then I'm going to work with organizations working for peace and social justice for several years. I will travel and refine my interests. Then eventually I'll become a college professor. I'll spend my life in activism, research, publishing, and advocating for social justice. I'll find a community like the one I've found here at the University of Oregon: a network of faculty, students, and community members devoted to making positive change in the world. I'll bring the skills I've gained here as an undergrad and my future studies and activism to create a person who is ready to do this essential work.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"
"I want to be someone who will change the world."
That someone is getting closer all the time: I am in the process of becoming ready to be someone who makes a large mark on the world. One step closer, and the next step planned. Here we go!
October 22, 2009 - 3:34 PM
Last weekend I took off for a quick trip down to California. My dad met up with me, and we spent the weekend with my uncle and aunt in their house outside of El Dorado. We went wine tasting, hiked at Lake Tahoe, put in a brief appearance at an apple festival, met the neighbors and neighborhood animals, and spent time in their gorgeous house, talking and enjoying each other's company.
It's been a long time since I've had a real adventure with just my dad. We used to go on ski trips together, and we do family hikes almost every time I'm home. But strict "daddy/daughter" time has been in short supply over the past couple of years. It was time for an adventure together.
It was a fabulous weekend. The hills in outskirts of Sacramento are so beautiful, and I'd never seen my aunt and uncle's house before. These relatives exist in the "hilariously funny" category of people in my life. My uncle Pat has a nickname for everyone and an acronym for everything. Aunt Linda is sweet and opinionated, with an incredible talent for pulling people together and creating community. Their house is fabulous, and they were amazing hosts. Not only did I have my own little mini-apartment to myself, but it included a basket of toiletries and some goodies in the kitchen. That's travel like I've never experienced before!
We toured the hills, sampling wine and hearing about the neighborhood personalities and gossip. We ate fabulous food (including apple doughnuts) and drank fabulous wine. We spent time sitting outside overlooking a beautiful vista of hills and trees, and saw fabulous sunsets.
My cousin Christopher is twenty-seven years old and has severe developmental disabilities. He lives with Uncle Pat and Aunt Linda and attends a school for people with disabilities during the day. In the evenings and on weekends he was around the house with us, and I got to see him again for the sweet person he is, and see how much love Pat and Linda have poured into their relationship with him. He loves music, and Dad sang to him several times.
On Saturday, Dad and I took off in Linda's sports car and drove off to Lake Tahoe. It was a gorgeous day and a perfect chance to spend some time by ourselves. We hiked and talked, discussing music and plans and all kinds of things. It was just what we had needed: time to be off by ourselves in a beautiful place. The hike was great and the weather couldn't possibly have been better. Driving around with the top down and the autumn day all around made me so happy. What a beautiful day to share with Dad.
Sunday was our last day in California. Dad and Pat took Christopher for a short walk, while Aunt Linda and I did a whole loop around their neighborhood. She knows the names of all the neighbors, and stories about all the houses and families. Even more impressive, when Pat and Linda go on walks they carry carrots and alfalfa pellets with them. Aunt Linda can't whistle, so I had the job of whistling "Peter and the Wolf" and watching horses, donkies, sheep, goats, and llamas come running. Most of the neighbors keep animals of some kind, both because the properties are large enough and because a small herd of goats is a much more convenient grounds maintenance technique than a lawn mower. The animals know that "Peter and the Wolf" means food, and Linda had names for almost all the animals: either their proper names or ones that had developed over years of walking and feeding. My favorite animals were "Osama Bin Llama" (did I mention that my uncle is a bit irreverent?) and the goat, HIF. HIF is a special character, who apparently was so convinced that "the grass is always greener" that he would get his head stuck in the fence on a daily basis. Hence the name "Head In Fence." Now he had a piece of PVC pipe wired to his horns so he can't fit his head through the wires.
It was a wonderful weekend. I so appreciated the chance to spend time with my dad, and with my other relatives. As I've gotten older I've become more and more sure that family is extremely important, and that spending time and creating memories together is essential. Living so far away from my family hasn't made me less connected to them; rather it has made me appreciate more how important it is that I have a place to go home to.
Plus the weekend was a great source of stories. Goats named HIF don't eat out of your hand just every day, after all.
Toast the sunset, pour more wine. To family!
October 15, 2009 - 7:16 PM
If you have been reading my blogs over the past year, you are already very much aware of what the NOMAD magazine is, and what it has meant to me. If you missed all this, please see these blogs to catch up: Nomad Completed and Undead Update. The short version is that NOMAD is a journal of undergraduate writers in Comparative Literature at the University of Oregon, and that publishing therein is a year-long process of creating a project and working in collaboration with graduate student mentors. There is a different theme each year, and each year roughly ten students are published after a grueling process of writing, editing, peer-reviewing, and presenting their papers and answering questions at a conference.
If this sounds like a huge commitment of time and energy, then you've got the right idea. This project was incredibly demanding, and filled a large part of my free time last year. Then after months and months of work, I had to wait through the whole long summer before seeing the final product.
But now it's here, sitting next to me! My first true publication: the first scholarly article written expressly for publication. My essay is entitled "La Llorona Cries for Me: Chicana Feminist Redefinitions of a Latin American Ghost." NOMAD 2009 had "The Undead" as the topic of papers. Thirteen of us went through this process, and we now have the physical proof of our labors.
Memorabilia of this momentous process adorns my room. I have multiple posters announcing NOMAD events from this last year. The most notable, of course, is the poster inviting the community to attend our conference and paper readings. Those posters might be a permanent part of my home decorating from now on, creepy undead pictures or not.
Added to this collection, I now have a copy of the journal, signed by all the contributors. It even has a sticker that says "Autographed Copy" on the front.
That's right: we signed autographs.
The journal is going up on a prominent shelf in my bedroom and will be staying on display for the rest of my life. Also on display is the poster announcing the release of NOMAD 2009, advertising yesterday evening's event.
This brings me to the event itself. The Release Party was held upstairs in the Duck Store, with snacks and mingling aplenty. After we gathered, Leah Middlebrook, the interim director of Comparative Literature, spoke about the NOMAD program, the value of collaborative efforts and the importance of encouraging undergraduate students to pursue research and publication in their areas of interest. After recognizing the contributors, their mentors, and other contributing faculty, she announced next year's NOMAD theme: trash.
That's right: trash. Garbage, refuse, waste. Trash.
Here's the thing. Comparative Literature is a discipline that is all about crossing boundaries. It explores "texts" in their contexts. That means applying psychoanalysis to literature, feminist theory to film, literary criticism to song, and postcolonial theory to paintings. "Text" is a flexible term, and any and all contextualizing and comparative efforts are encouraged.
Therefore, when a topic like "the undead" or "trash" is unveiled, it is an opportunity for students to stretch their imaginations and explore some unconventional topics. What's the point? The point is that each piece of art, each artifact that society creates, is a small representation of that culture, holding within it an essential piece of psychology, history, reform, or whatever. Nothing stands on its own. Nothing is without context. So students of comparative literature learn to look at every text we encounter as something more complicated and important than the brush strokes or metaphors alone.
A topic like "Trash" is a challenge. It is deliberately obscure, I think. Scholars of Comparative Literature seem to delight in the obscure, the unexpected. But after the announcement, I imagine that every person in the room had some kind of idea about what they could write, what texts and bits of garbage they could rake out for the purpose of the next publication.
I am excluded from re-participating in NOMAD because it is such an honor, and such an opportunity to work closely with a graduate student mentor. The comparative literature department wants to expand the participants to younger students or other writers who have not yet had the chance. I have an idea for a piece that I might expand into an essay for publication elsewhere. Here are some ideas for "Trash" that flashed through my mind at the moment of announcement:
-An examination of "Trashy Romance Novels" and their place in US culture
-"Found Art," such as is posted on certain websites, where people take pictures of discarded or lost items of beauty, such as love notes from trash cans or beautiful graffiti in inaccessible places. Why do we create art that no one sees? Why would art be thrown away? What does it mean when it is rescued?
-(this one is my favorite) Oscar the Grouch! Who is this guy, anyway? In the context of a children's show, what is this puppet's purpose?
So there you are, readers. I could turn any one of these into a 12-15 page paper, have it peer edited, and present it as original research. And roughly twelve of my literary peers will do so in the next year.
But back to the release party. After the announcement, we mingled for a while. We talked about our papers, we talked about our classes. We spoke with professors and briefly with UO President Richard Lariviere. People had us sign their copies of the journal. We ate snacks. We talked about nerdy literary things.
I thought again about the process I underwent in writing this paper. It was a huge step for me: it was the first essay I had essentially created for myself, from topic to public reading. It was also the first time I had had editing help from someone trained in literary criticism. I learned a lot about writing and about my own style. Most importantly, I learned again about how important it is to me to link literature and art with social movements and social justice. That is the most interesting element to me: that somehow we create art that reacts with the culture that created it, and together art and culture change societies. That was what my "La Llorona" essay was about: how a social movement (Chicana feminists) were re-interpreting an ancient myth to fit a set of modern cultural changes in the interests of human rights and social justice.
I think I'll be spending the rest of my life working in the areas of social justice and written art. So I've begun! With an autographed copy of NOMAD in hand, I am ready for the next challenge, the next project.
Here we go.