December 27, 2009 - 5:12 PM
This winter break, I have allowed myself to undertake several projects involved heavily in nostalgia. Any time I return home I undergo a process of rediscovering my childhood life. But this winter has progressed beyond the normal bittersweet meetings with old friends and review of all my old posters, books, CDs, and toys. This year has a different feel to it. This is my final year as an undergraduate, and this has somehow made me feel even more like this childhood home is something that truly exists only in the past. To add to this feeling of age, my little sister is back from her first semester of college.
It's a strange thing that not only have I become an adult, but my little sister has, as well.
So I decided on a couple of projects to take me down memory lane.
First, I went through my shelves and decided which books I would bring back to Eugene with me. I'm checking an extra bag on my flight back to Oregon this time around, so I'll have space for all that extra weight I've reluctantly left on the old bookshelves in my room. I looked through all the notebooks and mementos of my travels abroad, and decided those need to come with me, too. I've sorted through craft supplies and clothing and shoes and will take much of it home, and donate most of the rest to Good Will. I've even decided that it's finally time to take the decorative light switch plate with a picture of Han Solo on it and move it to the bedroom in Oregon. This is a radical step: something that's a part of the wall is coming with me. That means that Eugene is really home.
The other two projects are a bit more meaningful.
First, while in the mountains I finally began a project I've planned for years. I have innumerable journals which have been given to me by family and friends over the years. Several are far too beautiful to use for that purpose: there is something intimidating about writing a rough draft in a perfect notebook. So I brought one of these to the mountains, and am in the process of filling it with all my favorite poetry from the last four years. I am handwriting all of the most meaningful of the poems I have written between high school and college graduations. I don't blog about this much, but I have considered myself a poet since middle school, when I found that poetry was the best way to express the joys and pains of my life. Now I have a single repository for the most important writings of my college career. Some I consider to be examples of my best writing: poems that are well-crafted and which I would be proud to see published. Others are important for different reasons: because they reflect some moment of transformation or high emotion, or because they announce some specific event. It has been a wonderful process.
Finally, I created a Christmas present project that allowed me to re-encounter my favorite childhood memories. My gift to my little sister was two posters of childhood photos, plus over two hundred scanned pictures, selected from the thousands from our youth. I had never seen many of these pictures before. They have been sitting in a cardboard box for all these years (my parents are only medium on cameras in the first place, and wouldn't go near a scrapbook if their memories depended on it. Generally, I find this to have been of negligible inconvenience in my life). Now the pictures have been rescued, scanned, reprinted, and organized. They've even been posted on Facebook. It was a gift for my sister, but really it was an opportunity for me.
In the last two weeks, I have traversed a lifetime of memories. I've encountered stuffed animals I had thought were long gone. I packed some home items that I thought had belonged permanently to this Colorado home, but which I will now cherish in my Oregon home. I found hundreds of pictures from years long gone: swim team pictures, tree climbing pictures, pictures of dress-up, Christmas mornings, Easter dresses, old pets, sweet moments with grandparents and cousins.
Somehow this visit home feels a little different than the others. I am more removed than ever from most of my high school friends: the distance is too great and the years have allowed us to naturally grow apart. The old neighborhood in the suburbs is increasingly uncomfortable to me: it is more and more an affront to my new style of living. And, with my new plans to stay in Oregon for graduate school and perhaps even beyond, I feel more and more that my present and future both reside in the South Eugene Hills. "Home" is my Eugene friends, the deep green of Oregon forests, the Cascades instead of the Rocky Mountains, and the attitudes and activities I have adopted in the patterns of the Northwest.
This has been a healing time for me: a journey to an old home that has helped me to remember the love and joy of my years here, and has helped me to let go. I'll return to my new home armed with the trappings of my old life: the light switch, the notebooks, the literature. The photographs.
December 26, 2009 - 4:40 PM
What a fabulous term it was! Senior year could not have begun in a more wonderful way. I had the fabulous luck to land a series of new and wonderful opportunities, and had a great line up of coursework. Here's the run-down on Fall Term essentials:
Comparative Literature 301: Introduction to Literary Theory with Professor Katy Brundan
I honestly wasn't thrilled about this class when I signed up for it. It's a requirement for COLT majors, and I thought it would be a step back from my 400 level seminar courses. But instead of being an awkward group of forty or more, we developed into a group that managed to dig deeply into the theoretical texts at hand. We spent part of every class divided up into small groups, and I managed to find a set of three or four other students who were much more anxious to discuss Freud and Kristeva than they were to talk about the previous night's football game (if you've read my other blogs, you'll already know that this is a major plus for me). Aside from the class dynamic, I truly appreciated the opportunity to read over some of the foundational theories in literary criticism. I found this background essential in my more-advanced coursework, and also encountered new theories I could apply to the living of daily life. We studied Orientalism and feminism, theories of film-making and psychoanalysis. Professor Brundan is a wonderful classroom facilitator, and her enthusiasm made a big difference in my appreciation of the course.
Comparative Literature 415: Capstone Seminar with Professor Ken Calhoon
This was a tiny seminar course, designed to provide senior COLT students with an opportunity to interact with a variety of texts on an advanced level, to facilitate discussion with other advanced students, and to begin the process of thesis writing for those students pursuing honors in Comparative Literature. The other students in the class were phenomenal, and many of the texts were exceptional. However, I found the overall course to be relatively awkward, without enough emphasis on dialogue, and with little student direction in the overall experience. The best part of the class was the final paper, which I wrote on Trash and the Latin American migrant's experience on the US/Mexico border. I had the opportunity to discuss some of my experiences on the border, and to include photos I had taken there as "texts" which I evaluated.
Spanish 490: Chilean Literature with Pedro Garcia-Caro
I loved this class. I love reading literature in Spanish, and have a deep connection with Chilean literature and culture since my travels there more than a year ago. One of my best friends was with me in the class, and that meant that discussion of the literature could extend beyond the classroom, which is something I love. The professor was also fabulous, encouraging us to bring advanced theoretical techniques into play while stumbling through a second language. I was challenged to improve both my linguistic skills and theoretical understanding by this class.
Then there was my employment:
Teacher's Assistant for Honors College course Global Energy Generation with Greg Bothun
I have already blogged on this experience, but let me reiterate that working as a teacher's assistant for this course was both challenging and exhilarating. I loved the different percpective of the course, and I even liked the difficult parts, like the grading and the preparation for presentations. This was one of the best things I did with my busy Fall Term.
Once again, I found that my work as a blogger led me to become more connected to the opportunities and activities which surrounded me here at the UO. I feel like I have become a better writer in the last year, and my love of blogging increases daily. Additionally, the Annual Giving Program featured my Duck Story in their monthly alumni newsletter, post card, and even a short video! I was honored by their decision to spread my stories, and found the work of participating in a video to be a difficult but exciting new experience.
My work as a volunteer:
Returning to Volunteers in Medicine this year was a wonderful experience. I feel so valued and welcomed by the staff and clients there. My Spanish skills benefit from the constant practice, and I find the work to be highly satisfying. Working as a translator has given me the added perspective of the brokenness of our health care system: so many people have serious needs that often fall through the cracks. That Volunteers in Medicine is such a high-quality facility is a tribute to the dedication of many talented and driven individuals. I feel privileged to have been a part of their work for so long.
Working with the Honors College and the Inside-Out Program has been one joyful experience after another. I have learned so much about prison education, about working for change within complex systems, and about the power of enthusiasm to create change. I arrived at this position at the perfect moment to effect change. I also have the continuing opportunity to work with campus peacemakers and those working for social justice at the community and global scale.
This term was so crowded! Rock climbing, activism, the climate change event Power Shift, the speaking events, and the energy present on campus meant that I was constantly running from one thing to another. The longer I spend on campus, the more I realize that this is a vibrant center of change and learning in the world. I am so grateful to be in a place where boredom is never even an option, much less a threat.
Additionally, I had a fabulous term with friends. I love my new roommates, and am constantly grateful for the home I have in Eugene. My group of eight friends, who were relatively exclusive my freshman year, has expanded to include many new faces. We have spent many evenings doing nothing but talking and laughing together.
This was a wonderful term. I cannot believe that my senior year is already a third of the way through! I am so happy to be living in Oregon, and so happy with all my activities and plans. I can only hope that the rest of the school year lives up to this beginning.
December 18, 2009 - 9:18 PM
I spent the last four nights up in a cabin in Grand Lake, Colorado. That puts me at 8,400 feet above sea level, watching the snow come down and the thermometer sit around zero degrees Fahrenheit. I had a night on either end with my parents, and a forty-eight hour chunk of time in the middle completely by myself. I said hello to two people while out on a walk, but other than that there was absolutely no human interaction.
It was fabulous.
When I originally came up with this idea, I had planned to spend the "weekend" working on my thesis. It was the perfect plan: the ideal writer's retreat with Mom's home cooking in the freezer, a roaring fire in the hearth, and all the comforts of a home away from home in a beautiful place. (Note: this cabin has far more comforts than my Eugene home. A "cabin" with heated tile floors. What luxury!)
As fall term progressed and I ran into more and more reasons to be stressed out and working on other people's projects, I began to imagine that cabin time as simple relaxation: time to do exactly what I wanted and only what I wanted.
What I got instead was a delicious combination of working on projects and doing only what I wanted to do. The days went as follows:
-Wake up early
-Read for an hour, then go back to sleep
-Wake up and have breakfast while reading
-Go on a walk
-Have a home-cooked meal (which I did not have to shop for, cook, or package. Thank you, Mom!)
-Write. I finally had the chance to do some creative writing on my own for the first time in ages.
-Nap or bath
-Read or write
No TV. No homework. No cell phone coverage. No interruptions.
I brought seven books to the mountains. Now even I would never imagine plowing through seven books in forty-eight hours. But it was wonderful to see them there, all lined up and waiting the off chance that I might choose to read them. I read all of Stephen King's On Writing, plus some of Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking, poems by Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver, and the first half of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover. What indulgence!
But here's something else that I did during my sabbatical in the mountains. I realized that when I have space and motivation to do only what I feel like doing, I still want to be productive. I still work on projects. I did some blogging (both for this blog and the Wesley Center blog at www.uoweslecenter.blogspot.com) and I organized a project I had been meaning to put together for years: a handwritten journal of the best poetry I've written since graduating from high school.
But the biggest accomplishment was my second night of solitude, when I put aside the fun stuff and pulled out all the thesis materials.
I had done exactly what Stephen King says you shouldn't do: I had allowed my writing project to go stale. I worked on my thesis research over the summer, and early in fall term. You could argue that my entire internship (and therefore the vast majority of fall term) was helping me with my thesis. But the fact remains that the only writing I had done for more than a month involved redrafting my outline. I don't even like outlines.
So I took out the whole shebang, dusted her off, and reminded myself of the goals and dreams of this project. And it turns out that I am still amazingly excited to write it. It will be a massive project, and will undoubtedly require hundreds of hours (and maybe even a hundred pages) to say what I want to say.
I wrote another six pages that night. I also put the individual sections I'd created thus far into a single document. That puts us at eleven double spaced pages. Eleven.
Even if the rest of the weekend had been a disaster, getting reacquainted with my thesis project would have been well worth it. And now I get a huge bonus: I have eleven pages of thesis, plus all kinds of extra energy and enthusiasm, gathered from that time completely to myself.
The final activity of the cabin vacation was the idea for another project. It's gotten me all into a tizzy, and I'm not going to say anything more for now. Except that I'm busy imagining how I can get out into the wide world again sooner than I had thought, and that I'm imagining more every day how the written word can be used to change the world.
Readers, I hope that you will take some time for yourselves this holiday season. Try to step back from lives and commitments for a moment, even if it's just a couple of hours. Give yourself permission to do something wild you never have time for anymore, or instead allow yourself the necessary luxury of doing nothing at all.
It might be more productive than you imagine.
December 15, 2009 - 6:03 PM
'Tis the season of gift giving and massive shopping. It's also a time that many University of Oregon students get to see their families for the first time in months, and have the opportunity to remember what's important in life: family, friends, and being secure in the knowledge of love and support of those around you.
I am so thankful to be back in Colorado, and to have the chance to be with family for the holidays. I hope all my readers have this chance as well.
I've spent a good amount of time thinking about gifts since finals have ended and the frenzy has passed. I'm not great at gift-giving. At least, not in the traditional sense. I don't think I've ever done my Christmas shopping at a mall. First, because I don't like malls. Second, because I've decided that my consumer power and creativity adds up to much more meaningful and powerful gifts when I choose to give alternative gifts for the holidays.
For years growing up, this meant lovingly made handcrafts, from ornaments to scarves and latch-hook rugs. It also meant years of poems as gifts, especially for my grandparents. For several years now, my sister and I have given a book to my parents with pictures and a list of milestones and activities from the year. While it nearly always succeeds in the goal of making both parental units tear up, it is also a huge time commitment that sees Little Sister and me waking up in the wee hours of Christmas morning to desperately try to finish the thing. (If parents are reading this, I am by no means saying that there isn't a journal coming this year. But no promises, either)
I have also embraced the semi-alternative option of shopping at craft fairs and other local shops. Living in Eugene with the Saturday Market close at hand has made this goal astronomically easier. I love thinking that the Christmas gift I give a friend or family member is also helping out some local artist or farmer from my own community. Plus, if that gift recipient really wants another bottle of lotion from Chain Store of the Day, I'm sure they're capable of going to buy it themselves. What's made in Eugene is often not available anywhere near suburban Colorado.
But I also have a deep connection with even more alternative gifts. Four years ago, my main Christmas present from my parents was a goat. A little plastic goat that stood for something much bigger. They had donated money to Heifer International, a sum that provided a goat to a family somewhere far away from Centennial, Colorado. A family that really needed the income and nutrition a goat can provide.
Heifer International is one of my favorite organizations. They do wonderful work on the global battle against poverty. They give healthy livestock to families, and also provide them with training for care of the animal, how to use the manure as fertilizer, and support in sustainable agricultural techniques. In addition to providing that one family with the ability to support itself, Heifer goes one step further and requires that the first offspring of that donated animal be given to another local family, so that the gift keeps on giving.
In 2007, my family's gift to the extended family was a water buffalo through Heifer International. I can't promise that the cousins loved receiving it as much as I loved giving it, but in my mind it was the perfect massive, ungainly, and beautiful Christmas gift.
This year I've got alternative giving on the mind. I think my group of choice this time around is a Guatemalan project I have been associated with in the past. Escuela de la Montaña is a Spanish school for foreigners, where travelers come for individual instruction from trained teachers (see my past blog on this Guatemala trip). In addition to receiving quality language training, travelers eat meals with local families, hear lectures from community members and political leaders, learn to cook traditional food, and have a chance to interact with the local children. All this activity supports not only the teachers and the host families, but a fabulous array of aid projects designed to help the community as a whole.
I enjoyed the electricity and running water the school had put in place less than a year before my arrival. I also heard about students supported through scholarships at the Escuela de la Montaña. Middle schools and high schools in Guatemala are not free, so most children don't ever have the chance to continue their educations, even if the families want them to have that chance.
Today I received an email that encouraged me to donate to the school, and described a new project: a community library. Not only is that a cause I want to give my money to, I hope to someday go back to Guatemala and work in that library! They are hoping for computers with internet access, consistent job training and computer literacy classes, and maybe even tutoring programs for both the children attending school and those who are not able to go. I cannot imagine anything better than arriving in that tiny rural town with a backpack full of children's books and encyclopedias to spend a month or two teaching lessons and maybe taking some of my own.
There are hundreds of other organizations I love and support, and hope that others will, too. I believe strongly in the importance of using this time of the year to give gifts larger than our consumer needs. This Christmas I'm giving either gifts made myself, gifts from local artists, or gifts that give back to the world at large. And what I'm asking for are gifts I truly need: a new backpack, books for my thesis, new kitchen knives. (Plus craft supplies from the grandmother who insists on always getting me something that will make me truly happy, not just in possession of another needed item.)
I imagine that most of us have quite enough random stuff sitting in our rooms. If I'm going to contribute to that random stuff, it's at least going to be something original and unique. But I'd rather get something meaningful for the larger world.
I hope you will, too.
My favorite organizations for alternative gift-giving:
1. Escuela de la Montana (support community projects and scholarships)
2. No More Deaths (provide supplies and medical support for migrants)
3. Heifer International (provide animals for farmers)
4. Volunteers in Medicine (provide medical care to low-income individuals without health insurance)
PS: as an extra-alternative gift, give that particularly adventurous person in your life the gift of a week-long Spanish study in Guatemala. Check out the Escuela de la Montaña website, or their sister school, at http://www.plqe.org/. The quality of instruction is phenomenal, and the experience is unforgettable.
December 11, 2009 - 10:49 PM
The term has ended at long last. This has been one of the best and most challenging terms of my college career. I feel like I've really had a transformation in my life: I felt so challenged and excited about my classes, but also felt increasingly pulled toward my other commitments: my work as a TA, my thesis, and especially my internship.
What all that boils down to is that I was way, way too busy this term. I managed to have a fabulous time with my friends and to spend some time concentrating on the things I need in my life (reading, rock climbing, watching good TV, cooking, and sometimes sleeping), but it was a spectacularly busy time.
I need a break.
I'll write more details about all those other activities soon. I want to tell you how things turned out with the TA job, and about the wrap-up of all my classes. There is a lot about the day-to-day living that doesn't always make it into my blogs, and I'll want to write more about the little things.
But, like I said, it's time for a break.
I flew back to Colorado today. "Home." I'm writing this from the desk I used for most of my life, surrounded by the same posters that have been on my walls for years. There are the marching band photographs from State Competitions, there are my old CDs in a huge stack. There is a full bookshelf, which I truly miss when I'm at school. There are notes and letters from friends taped to my desk. There are pictures with my middle school friends and first high school boyfriend floating around in various locations around the room.
It's a strange thing to be home.
But it's a chance to relax. To change pace. I plan on getting a lot of work done this break: thesis, GRE prep, Grad School Apps, internship work, the whole deal. But it's a different setting, a different pace. And I get some of my Mom's cooking, which is probably the most comforting thing in the world.
It is so wonderful to be back: to see the Rocky Mountains from the plane window and feel that rush of familiarity. I love Oregon deeply, but the Rockies were the dominant feature of the landscape of my youth, and seeing them again makes me so nostalgic for years gone by that I want to jump in a car and find some snow, some 14,000 feet peaks, the old towns and hiking trails I've always known.
So that's what I'm doing! Sunday morning I'm taking off for a fabulous chunk of time in the mountains. I'll be staying at my Aunt and Uncle's cabin in Grand Lake. My dad is driving me up (I haven't driven a car in months, and I'm not crazy about that first time back being Colorado mountain passes in the winter), and that will give us time to catch up and talk about life, which mostly means talking about music. Then I'll have two or three nights completely to myself. Just me. In a cabin in a beautiful place. If I want to work on my thesis, I'll work on my thesis. If I want to do massive internship work, I'll do that. I'm not even bringing my GRE prep book, because I know for absolute certain that I will not want to be working on that.
But maybe what I'll want is to just be. Maybe I'll want to meditate. Maybe I'll go snowshoeing and do some funny yoga (all yoga is funny when I'm involved). Maybe I'll want to read novels and nothing else. Maybe I'll want to write: really write creatively for the first time in weeks. Perhaps I'll drink tea and watch the world go by.
The point is that I'll have my OWN TIME. Then Mom will come pick me up and we'll have an evening together, probably drinking wine and playing cards, before returning back to my house here, where all the work will have to start happening again (GRE math review included).
But a break! A fabulous chance to be alone in the woods. It's a sort of yuppy Waldon Pond moment. A chance to commune with nature from the comfort of my Aunt and Uncle's cabin. A place where I have fabulous memories from various summer trips with family: water skiing trips, family reunions, times we went hiking and the time we saw the moose.
So, friends and faithful readers, I hope you have plans that will make you as warm and happy as I plan to be! I hope you have time to think about all the hard work you've been accomplishing these days, and to give yourself a day off as a reward. I hope you take a few hours to remember some activity that makes you truly and deeply happy, and that you just go ahead and do that for a while, whether or not it has any bearing on your normal schedule. Take yourself on vacation, give yourself room to breathe.
And think of me out in the Rocky Mountain wilderness! I'll be breathing thin air and feeling free.