December 28, 2011 - 9:34 PM
It has been a wonderful time here in Colorado this winter break. As always, it's been a whirlwind of friends and family and the mandatory downtime that comes after a busy academic term. And, as usual, I am finding myself exhausted here at the end of the visit. But it's been a good time at home, and it might be a long time before I spend this much time in Colorado for a while.
These past two days have been particularly momentous. I spent today on a marathon of meetings with important folks: breakfast with my grandmother, lunch with my aunt, coffee with my cousin, and dinner with my mom and my favorite teacher. Plus I had to say my goodbyes this evening, since I'm leaving early tomorrow morning.
Yesterday I saw my oldest friend, Lauren, before meeting up with a family friend for lunch and then a church/business meeting to discuss a curriculum for United Methodist youth to study immigration. Then I had a snack with my mom, then dinner with my dad and a late-night movie with my friend Melanie.
A marathon indeed.
One of the great excitements of this break came in bringing together Melanie, my best friend from high school, to meet Lauren, my oldest friend. Our futures are all pointing in one direction for a short-term adventure, and that future is Prague. Melanie will be studying there starting in February. Lauren has done previous archeology research there, and will be returning this summer for analysis of 300 medieval skeletons from the Czech Republic. And I will take the cosmic hint, and plan to launch my next year's European adventures with a few weeks living with Lauren in Prague. What could possibly be better?
What came to mind again and again over these past couple of days is that I am surrounded by brilliant, creative, inspiring people. Melanie is three years younger than me, and is traveling alone for the first time for a creative writing a social change program in Prague. Talk about an adventurer. Lauren is fully launched in her PhD program, and will hopefully be a travel companion very soon. In addition to these friends my own age, I spent a magical few hours this morning with my grandmother, who has always been a huge influence in my life. She is 92 and still a strong, independent woman with astounding curiosity and compassion. Talking with my aunt and cousin, I was reminded again of the power of family, and the incredible ways in which we all fit together, and in which our lives take such different directions.
I've left behind much of Colorado. Oregon is my home now, and a place where I feel most welcome and comfortable. But these roots remind me of an identity arising from old ties and slow changes.
As I imagine leaving Oregon for my year as a Mitchell Scholar abroad, I am facing another departure from home. It helps to know that the year will include parallel adventures in Prague. And it also helps to revisit this model of a leave-taking: that your family will always welcome you back, and that a hometown is a measure for change and continuity. Dashing between these people who love me in the last couple of days has reminded me of my place in the world: in the midst of my community, taking care of one another.
December 25, 2011 - 8:59 PM
This holiday season has been all about preparing for next year. All my relatives and friends are talking about Ireland, and a lot of my time has been spent compiling dream itineraries, lists of things to learn or prepare, and seeking out recommendations from friends.
All things point toward Europe.
My Mitchell Scholarship will be taking me to Ireland for a full year, starting next September. But increasingly it looks like I'll be spending the summer traveling in Europe, seeking out the best and most obscure of as much of the continent as I can see. I can't believe my luck, and can't stop dreaming and planning.
My Christmas was full of travel-oriented gifts. I got a great new suitcase, a map and travel book for Europe, a new travel alarm clock, clothes, and a (nerdy, I know) Irish flute to practice up on. I've got gear and reading materials coming my way, plus threats of visits from eight or nine family members. Could be a big old family celebration next year, touring pubs and castles and (perhaps) whatever direction my research takes. I've already planned to hang that map of Europe on my wall in Eugene and start sticking pins in the top priority locations for my next year of life.
It's hard to imagine exactly what the year will look like. One reason I'm so excited about all the hullaballoo developing currently is that it will give me space later to pick and choose and create a more reasonable life for myself when over in Europe. As many of you know, I identify strongly as a traveler, and as someone with a powerful case of the wanderlust. I cannot imagine a better prelude to further studies than a couple of months vagabonding in Europe, seeing an entirely new slice of the world and the (I imagine) foreign/familiar cultures and histories of that continent.
I've started collecting recommendations from guidebooks a friends, and here are some preliminary priorities:
- Spain (any and all of it, although I'm particularly excited about Bilbao and Barcelona)
- Venice (and as much of the rest of Italy as I can)
- Prague (more on this later)
- Norway (Bergen and the fjords)
- Turkey (particularly Istanbul)
- Crete (because why not throw in a little Conflict Resolution/ Divided Cities theory into your travels?)
- Morocco (Rick Steves' guidebooks highly recommend this step outside Europe as a quick trip that will blow your mind)
This all, of course, leaves out my intention to travel to every possible corner of the island of Ireland. I hope to visit every county, and to find the quirky and non-touristy, as well as visiting some of the big-name castles, landscapes, and cultural opportunities.
I mentioned Prague because there is a curious frequency of my friends studying there. I've heard many times that the Czech Republic is a fabulous place to travel and witness a very different culture, and that Prague is a great city. Add to those recommendations that a best friend from high school will be finishing study abroad there in June, and a childhood friend will be doing archeology work with medieval Czech skeletons for June and July, and Prague is a high priority entry into my European wish list. That's what I'm looking for this summer: the funky (medieval skeletons) with the mind-opening and inspiring sites of a new culture and community.
So bring it on! Europe, here I come.
PS Readers, if you have suggestions for me, I would love to hear them. Please send me your favorite city, or a favorite European study abroad location. Or, if you are particularly well-connected in Europe, let me know! I'm an excellent house guest and would love to meet up with interesting folks while abroad. Bring on the suggestions!
December 24, 2011 - 8:19 PM
I want to welcome a new friend into my life this holiday season. Kevin Smith was born yesterday at 12:05 pm to my wonderful next-door neighbors. This family has been a wonderful part of my life for years, and includes the only young children who are a real part of my life. Kevin's two big sisters, Katherine (5 years old) and Kaitlin (3 years old) are so important to my life in Colorado (as are their parents). I am thrilled to welcome a new member of their family into the world, and into my life.
I'm not much of a "little kids" kind of girl, in general. University life doesn't offer much in the way of children, and my babysitting years faded quickly when I found other forms of employment (including pet sitting. If we're being brutally honest, I generally prefer dogs to children). But these kids are my neighbors, and are as endearing and as engaging as any little kids can possibly be. I have been increasingly honored and delighted to be a friend and playmate, and to spend time listening to their made-up stories, watching them tear around the yard or climb the trees, playing chasing games or doll house, and generally watch these future powerful women negotiate a 5 and 3 year-old world.
In the summers, Brett will walk over to our adjoining side fence and offer us some new wine I've found, while the little girls call for us to come play. Two years ago, the whole gang came to Oregon for a vacation, and I met them in Corvallis for a day at the Farmer's Market.
Even being over to see the new baby was almost as much about wine, cheese, travel stories, and playing with the little girls.
This family, more than any of the other great neighbors and old family friends, has remained an important part of my college life. It's hard to maintain those friendships as focuses change and more and more holidays and school breaks have been taken in Oregon. I'm still very close with three friends from my Colorado life, but dozens of others have faded out over my years in Eugene. I guess that's just part of growing up.
Anyway, hanging out with this family and their little kids makes me think again about change and the way the world shifts. They're going to grow up in the same neighborhood I did. They'll be on the swim team, and spend time playing with the neighbor kids climbing trees and playing night games in the green belt. They go to the same church I grew up in: they'll do choir, and youth group, and have great adult friends looking after them their whole lives.
And despite these similarities, these three neighbor friends are going to grow up completely different than I am, with the perspective of a new generation.
It's an important reminder, here at the end of another year. What will the world look like when these kids are my age? What are we creating to shelter and protect them, and to help them lead full, free, and safe lives? What are we destroying that they will never have a chance to love?
I guess that I'm saying that part of why I want to do work to protect people and to make this world a somewhat better and more just place is in the knowledge that a generation will come after me, and that we are responsible for the world they inherit.
So Katherine, Kaitlin, and Kevin, as always I am so happy to be your friend. And I promise to do what I can in this world with you in mind, and that I'll use all the joy and trust you've placed in me to do my best, always.
December 18, 2011 - 1:42 PM
Here I am again, writing from an airport. I'm sitting in the Portland airport (my favorite airport in the world, in fact) and am ready to fly home to Denver for winter break. I've spent the last couple of days with friends in Portland, unwinding from a busy term. There have been internships and essays, classes and teaching, blogging and shopping and working out and events and living in my lovely Eugene apartment. I've spent time with old friends and my CRES cohort members, I've developed new relationships with local agencies and activist communities, and I've established my plans for my post-graduation life (at least for one year). It's been a darn busy term.
This past week has been filled with errands and details to wrap up from my final fall term at the University of Oregon. There have been meetings and debriefings from my Graduate Teaching Fellowship for the fall, including the first stages of planning for Sister Helen Prejean's UO visit in October 2012. I wrapped up my internship with the Eugene Immigration Task Force, and we're looking forward to a big community event in January (more news coming soon). I cleaned my apartment and filed my term papers, did some Christmas planning, and finalized my class schedule for winter term.
It's a relief to have a break.
This has been a monumental term. I went from recovery mode after my difficult summer to a high point of receiving a Mitchell Scholarship. I'm exhausted just from the highs and lows of it all.
I'm taking this opportunity to really reflect on the term, and on what to take with me for the remainder of my time at the UO. I'll be writing my thesis, which has to be a huge priority. If you've been reading me for a couple of years, you've already walked through one thesis with me, and you've read how it can consume the writer's life. The page count grows so slowly, and there's always more research, more writing, more editing to be done. So that has to be a priority, and has to be fostered in a way which makes it a celebration and not a slog. One thing I'm planning for winter term is to get together with several groups of other students working on theses or terminal projects. We can write and encourage each other, as well as presenting ideas and holding each other accountable to deadlines. That is a key point to making this year a success.
Another is that I need to take some classes just for the joy of it. I've signed up for a rock climbing class (after such a long hiatus!) as well as kickboxing. If I can find a good Zumba instructor, I'll be back in that hilarious mode as well. It's important to maintaining my balance.
I also have recently received some affirmation and reinforcement for my creative life. I've taken up some new crafts, which is a good way to turn off the mind and drift into something completely different. But I also was honored with a journalism publication early this term, as well as my photography and poetry submissions to Unbound Magazine (pages 79-81 here: http://www.unboundlit.com/unbound/issue.php?iss=Current%20Issue )
This week as I've been wrapping up loose ends from the term, I've also worked on some new routines to carry me through the year. I've been socializing and spending time at coffee shops with my nose to the proverbial grindstone. I've been doing creative writing alongside my research. I've planned for both workout classes and some exciting internship developments. I've chipped away at the "to do" list for the thesis.
I'm wrapping up the term with this blog, coming at you from PDX, the friendliest airport I've encountered. Time to call last term over with, and take a deep breath before launching into the work that lies ahead.
What's coming will come. And today I feel ready.
December 16, 2011 - 7:47 PM
A couple of days ago, this article, "What is College For?" ran in the New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/what-is-college-for/ The article's author, Gar Gutting, is a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, and addresses the essential aspects of college and college life: is the most important learning done in the classroom, or in the context of the college?
Here was my favorite part of the article, and the reason I thought I would write about it here:
"Students, in turn, need to recognize that their college education is above all a matter of opening themselves up to new dimensions of knowledge and understanding. Teaching is not a matter of (as we too often say) "making a subject (poetry, physics, philosophy) interesting" to students but of students coming to see how such subjects are intrinsically interesting. It is more a matter of students moving beyond their interests than of teachers fitting their subjects to interests that students already have. Good teaching does not make a course's subject more interesting; it gives the students more interests - and so makes them more interesting."
I have experienced some great classes in my time as a student. Some of my best learning has taken place outside the standard classroom, or now as a teaching assistant as I've been leading discussions. But I also find these statements to be true: that a college is such a valuable and dynamic place because of the classes being offered and the opportunity to dive into new subjects and find their inherent value. In addition to the facts or theoretical frameworks presented in any given class, there is also a perspective offered which provides insight into some explanation of the world. I am not particularly scientifically-minded. But I value that approach, and have enormous respect for the work scientists do, and appreciate the expansion of my understanding of their work. I don't always see eye-to-eye with economists. But that field is essential for some of the big-picture cause and effect understandings of our world.
This article is also a helpful reminder of what teaching is and is not. Professor Gutting references the basic idea that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink: a good professor can bring out the root importance of a topic, and can clarify and illuminate that subject. But there is a two-way relationship in teaching, in which a student has to arrive at that subject with a willingness to embrace the ideas and bring an enthusiasm to the classroom.
One of my favorite parts of being an Honors College student was taking all those classes with peers from multiple backgrounds and disciplines. When discussing social theory or the physics of a green economy, there is enormous value added by having different opinions and knowledge bases in the classroom. College at its best not only informs, it also empowers differing opinions and creative perspectives.
As a graduate student, I have to balance the work I do with the courses I take. I've had to cut back dramatically on the number of classes I can commit to in a given term, and I miss both the variety and the challenge those classes offered me. I agree with Professor Gutting-the broader our interests, the more interesting we become.