Category Archives: literacy

At the Globe: “Much Ado About Nothing”

As a celebration for finishing our ‘Authors’ exams, Sarah and I headed down to Shakespeare’s Globe for a Thursday afternoon performance of the Bard’s comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.

inside The Globe

inside The Globe

The performance was excellent. I hadn’t seen a Shakespeare play live since attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with my grandma back in 2008, and this lived up to all expectations. I appreciated seeing Shakespeare performed in a simple and straightforward manner — as it should be. There were minimal props, simple costumes, and a cast of eight with almost everyone doubling parts. Now to the play:

First of all, Much Ado About Nothing is hilarious. The older I get the better I understand the language and get the jokes; Shakespeare really was a genius. This performance of Much Ado was very well-acted. Stand-outs for me were Emma Pallant as Beatrice and Simon Bubb as Benedick — they made a great pair, and Pallant and Bubb’s banter was brilliant to watch, as Beatrice and Benedick carry the bulk of the wit in the play. I — along with the audience — also took particular pleasure in Chris Starkle’s performance of Dogberry, for which he exchanged his serious Don John face for an aviator cap and Scottish accent. I was also surprisingly touched by the scene of Hero’s return — and Claudio’s surprise at it — near the end.

The production pleasingly and effectively incorporates a lot of music, too: the entire cast takes part, on accordion, tambourine, guitar…and they sing! (the well-known Shakespeare song, “Sigh no more, ladies.”) The early banquet/”revels” scene was done exceptionally well, with the music swelling and subsiding as sets of characters break away to converse.

Overall it was a top-notch performance. If you have a chance to see a Shakespeare play at the Globe, I highly recommend that you do it!

(Play aside, it was thrilling to sit inside a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe, the theatre most associated with his works. As it rained on and off throughout the performance, Sarah and I were very glad to have splurged on proper seats.)

Have you seen a performance at the Globe? What did you think?

———

Advertisements

Recently in “Issues”: End of Term 2

Now that it’s almost the end of April and three weeks after classes have finished, it’s well past time for an MA update. Here’s a quick review of the second half of the second term of my “Issues in Modern Culture” MA program(me).

Modern Sex ended and I embarked upon a five-week Post-War American Poetry module taught by Mark Ford. He took a similar approach to this class as he did with the Elizabeth Bishop seminar, looking at how one could critically approach each poet if one were to write about him/her. Let me break down the seminars:

  • We started off with Robert Lowell, the best confessional poet you’ve never heard of! We read poems from his Life Studies (1959), the volume that basically kicked off the “Confessional Poetry” movement, which Sylvia Plath took up and made famous. Lowell came from the blue-blooded Boston Lowell aristocracy that traced its roots all the way back to the Mayflower. But dear Robert suffered from manic-depression and was in and out of hospitals for a good chunk of his life — these experiences, of course, he crafted into poems, such as the moving “Waking in the Blue.” Lowell was also good friends with Elizabeth Bishop and was highly influenced by her poetry. He represents the major trajectory of many post-war American poets — a trajectory that we talked about for almost all the poets we looked at in the class: early poems are grounded in formal tradition, then the poet has some sort of breakthrough into a new idiom of expression. The Modernist–>Postmodernist trajectory, if you will.
  • My favorite seminar was on Allen Ginsberg. I love reading Ginsberg, in part because of his Whitmanesque roots (since I also love Whitman). The seminar was somewhat comical because Mark spent much of the time talking about how Ginsberg is actually really hard to write about (“immune to literary criticism”), because his poetry and persona are pretty transparent to begin with. That said, there are definitely ways to approach him: Jewish inheritance, Ginsberg and money/capitalism/marketing, Ginsberg’s body, the Cold War and paranoia… If you haven’t read any Ginsberg, go read “Howl” and “A Supermarket in California” now.
  • Frank O’Hara frankly (pun intended) didn’t do much for me. Maybe because I don’t know New York City very well and many of his poems are set there. That said, the seminar was really good. We talked about O’Hara in the context of the New York School of Poets (who disliked Lowell and loved Bishop) and about his “camp” wit (think Sontag) and the city as central to his work. He wrote a lot of what Mark called “I do this, I do that” poems (“A Step Away from Them” is a good example) and “lunch poems.”
  • For the Adrienne Rich seminar, we covered Rich and the “female” poetry resistant to patriarchal oppression that she, Plath, and Anne Sexton wrote. “Diving into the Wreck” is a fun read that can be interpreted in myriad ways.
  • Our last seminar was on St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott, best known for Omeros, his rough re-interpretation of The Iliad. We read Book I of Omeros for the seminar and the discussion centered largely on Walcott’s hybridity and all-encompassing method that blends together European tradition with “New World” (North & South American, Caribbean) methods. Omeros employs some features of the epic poem and its characters all have some relation to myth and tradition.

Post-War American Poetry was a great course and I learned a huge amount about the poets, poetic tradition, and critical approaches to poetry, all of which has made me a bit more comfortable reading and talking about poetry.

On Wednesdays, Authors kept on plugging to the end of term. Our last four seminars (after Elizabeth Bishop) were on Sylvia PlathThomas Pynchon (full disclosure: I got about 1/8 of the way through Mason & Dixon), Tom Stoppard (Travesties is brilliant and hilarious — read it!), and J.M. Coetzee (I couldn’t stand Disgrace but the seminar was good).

So that’s it for courses.

But that’s not all for the program(me).

We still have a take-home essay exam for “Authors” and an essay each for Contexts and the two Options (Modern Sex and Poetry for me). Oh, and a dissertation proposal. All of those are due between 1 May and 2 June. Then we spend all summer writing the dissertation, to be handed in on 1 September.

What am I writing about for all these essays? I can’t disclose details since the essays haven’t been marked, but I can give you a list of topics/texts: Madame Bovary, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Sherlock, E.M. Forster’s Maurice, and Billy Collins. For the dissertation? No idea.

———

Book Review: Andrew Ladd, “What Ends”

Just a short post today, in which I encourage you to head over to Full Stop and read my most recent book review there, of Andrew Ladd’s nice little novel What Ends. Andrew Ladd himself even called my review “very thoughtful”:

from the author himself

from the author

And as always, you can keep track of the other stuff I’ve had published online on this page.

More bloggy things coming soon: a flapjack fail, a review of my MA courses, teaching migrant women, and an updated banana bread recipe. In the meantime, how about some golden oldies to keep you going?

This Week in “Issues”: Reading Elizabeth Bishop

The second half of my second term of graduate school kicked off this week with a stimulating seminar on Elizabeth Bishop. Our professor, Mark Ford (also a poet; he even has his own little Wikipedia page!), helped us get into Bishop by discussing different critical approaches one could take if one were to write an essay on her. As I am not a “poetry person” and often struggle with identifying vague metaphors, this was a really helpful way for me to think about Bishop’s work (and poetry in general); Mark’s approach made it very accessible. Here are some ways one could approach Bishop and her poetry:

  • “Bishop and [anything]” (that could mean “Bishop and birds,” “Bishop and coasts,” etc.)
  • Queer theory: Bishop was a lesbian, so one could look at her in relation to other homosexual poets like Frank O’Hara or Adrienne Rich
  • Bishop’s post-war work in relation to the Modernist poets (Eliot, Pound)
  • Bishop and the tradition of Romantic lyric poetry (vs. the radical experimentation of many other “post-modernist” poets)
  • Postcolonial angle: Bishop traveled a lot and lived for a while in Brazil, so one could take a postcolonial approach to her Brazil poems
  • Looking at Bishop’s work through the lens of her selfhood and growing up “in a void,” with a dead father and insane mother — along with this, the concept of home/homelessness that is evident in Bishop’s life and poetry.
  • Bishop’s use of form: she was “technically resourceful” and used traditional poetic forms — villanelle, sestina, sonnet, ballad — in interesting ways
  • Bishop’s representation vs. experience of the world

Mark had us look at a few of Bishop’s poems to show how we could take some of the above approaches to her work. We started with “The Map” (1936), which Mark said was a good portal through which to approach the “Bishopian.” Here’s the poem in full:

Land lies in water; it is shadowed green.
Shadows, or are they shallows, at its edges
showing the line of long sea-weeded ledges
where weeds hang to the simple blue from green.
Or does the land lean down to lift the sea from under,
drawing it unperturbed around itself?
Along the fine tan sandy shelf
is the land tugging at the sea from under?

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

Mapped waters are more quiet than the land is,
lending the land their waves’ own conformation:
and Norway’s hare runs south in agitation,
profiles investigate the sea, where land is.
Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?
-What suits the character or the native waters best.
Topography displays no favorites; North’s as near as West.
More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors.

Lovely, no? This poem gave us a good start in talking about Bishop’s whimsy and her representation of the aesthetic vs. reality. Whimsy is everywhere, in the “moony Eskimo,” “stroke[ing] these lovely bays,” the printer “experiencing…excitement,” and taking the water “between thumb and finger.” Is Bishop here feminizing a masculine creation (maps, created by male explorers)? Or is this merely a childlike whimsy, as in posing the faux-naive question, “Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?”

“More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers’ colors,” the poem ends. Bishop is playing with representation of a map as a piece of art, an aesthetic representation of historical, geopolitical reality. The art of the map is an escape from historians’ reality — but history still lurks at the edges.

After “The Map,” we went on to discuss the above and other aspects of Bishop’s poetry in: “Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance,” “At the Fishhouses,” “Questions of Travel,” and “Crusoe in England.” Mark ended the seminar by noting that the different factions of American poetry in the post-war years all hated each other — but they all loved Bishop.

———

Recently in “Issues”

I can hardly believe it’s already reading week and halfway through the term. Where did January (and half of February) go? I promised I’d write updates on “Issues in Modern Culture” — that obviously hasn’t happened since before the term started, so here’s a short recap of the past five weeks.

The Authors course plugs along with a different author and lecturer every week. We’ve had a seminar on Wallace Stevens, in which it was agreed that Stevens’ poetry is beautiful but often indecipherable (glad I’m not the only one who thinks so). Take “The Snow Man” as an example:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Then NS, one of my favorite lecturers so far — he runs a great seminar — led a discussion of Jean Rhys and two of her novels that “are not Wide Sargasso Sea“: Voyage in the Dark and Good Morning, Midnight. Both somewhat depressing, but class discussion was interesting, as we started with word association and moved on to gendered spaces, notions of prostitution, and conflicts between emotion and transaction in Rhys. We had a somewhat odd seminar on Elizabeth Bowen — I’ll let you read Sarah’s post about that. Click to her post as well for a summary of our seminar on Nabokov‘s Lolita, which was with another of my favorite lecturers who is an incredible discussion facilitator. I agree with Sarah in that the seminar actually made me want to re-read Lolita, because Nabokov packs so much into the novel that isn’t evident on a first reading.

(No) thanks to horrible wind and rain and poor transport planning on my part, I missed the Chinua Achebe seminar…

Over in Modern Sex,” it has been a fascinating module as we’ve moved from Freud and Schopenhauer to Wagner, D.H. Lawrence (Sarah summarizes the Women in Love seminar), Thomas Mann and André Gide (part of “hebephilia week” as we’d done Lolita in the Wednesday seminar), and modern gay fiction. Our lecturer, HS, is clearly so passionate about the subject matter and he thus runs very engaging seminars.

The course began with considering the question, “What is modern sex/sexuality?” The modern conception of sexuality is that humans began to be categorized according to their sexual desires. We discussed how Schopenhauer and Freud address sexuality and sexual attraction in their writings: instincts, “debasement,” “neurosis” stemming from unappeased desire, and all that good (psychoanalytic) stuff.

The stage thus set by Freud and Schopenhauer, the second seminar involved watching the entire 4+ hours of Richard Wagner‘s music drama Tristan und Isolde — while I am not really a Wagner fan, the seminar did shed some light on Tristan and its subject matter (plus, it was fun to play with some German). We talked about formal and thematic musical and linguistic parallels (Freud’s “compulsion to repeat” reflected in Wagner’s use of Leitmotif; also use of alliteration and rhyme) and lots of dialectical themes: darkness vs. light, love vs. death, conscious self vs. instincts/will, delusion vs. reality in ideas of separateness and togetherness…it was a richly packed seminar with lots to think about (and music to enjoy!).

Our fourth seminar was on two short novels by Gide (The Immoralist) and Mann (Death in Venice) about men who are attracted to young, beautiful boys: ensuing discussions included amorality/immorality, Mann’s visual imagination, noble vs. debased love, and so on. For the last seminar we read excerpts from four modern “gay” novels: Vidal’s The City and the Pillar, Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance, Moore’s A Matter of Life and Sex, and White’s The Farewell Symphony. They were fascinating to read and discuss in terms of how homosexual fiction writing has changed from 1948 (Vidal) to the 1990s, and how narrative structure and point-of-view (3rd person vs. 1st person) influences how we absorb and think about the texts and stories.

I loved the Modern Sex course and am sad it’s over — now I have to think of a topic for the 4,000-word essay we’ll have to write; it can be about anything related to modern sex/sexuality. Talk about choice. Next module I’ll have five weeks of Post-War American Poetry, which should be interesting (and totally outside my comfort zone), and the Authors course will wrap up with…more authors!

For a full list of what we’ve read so far this term and in the entire program(me), head over to my Reading List page.

English Grammar Workshop: Prepositions

As part of my job as Peer Tutor for the UCL Union’s Writing and Language Support Programme, I’m expected to give some workshops on grammar and/or “British culture and conversation.” At the end of Term 1, we compiled a list of the most common mistakes made by the non-native English-speaking students who come to us for writing help — common mistakes include articles, prepositions, various verb form problems, punctuation, and sentence structure/phrasing and idiomatic expressions. This list gave us a good idea of what workshops we should put on in Term 2.

I started things off in January with a workshop called “‘In Between the Action’: At, In, On & Other Prepositions.” Using the classic School House Rock video, “Busy Prepositions,” we then identified prepositions and prepositional phrases before doing some activities to spot the students’ weaknesses and open a dialogue about tricky prepositional usage.

The lesson went well, though I spent too much time with “engage” activities and not enough on the “study” and “activate” segments of the lesson. (That’s what happens when you don’t teach in a classroom for almost a year! This was my first classroom-type lesson since I finished my CELTA course last April. It felt really good to teach a group of people again.)

Some great preposition-related questions the students had at the end included:

  • Why do we say “on the train” and “on the Tube” but “in the car”? Aren’t we also within/inside the train and Tube? Yes, this is one of the (many) exceptions to general rules in English.
  • Using for vs. since. The students had to correct sentences, and the sentence sparking this discussion was “She has lived there since 15 years.” Obviously, this should be corrected to “She has lived there for 15 years.” We talked about how for is used for a period of time, and since is used for specific dates or ages (“She has lived there since 1997″ or “since she was 15 years old”).
  • Using by vs. until. In the same fix-the-error activity, the students correctly changed “I can do it until tomorrow” to “I can do it by tomorrow.” We worked out that by is used for positive statements and to indicate that the task will be finished before “tomorrow.” Until, on the other hand, is usually used in negative statements to indicate that the task cannot be started before the time stated: “I cannot do it until tomorrow” means you will not do the task before tomorrow.
  • After vs. in“I’m going there after 10 minutes” should read “I’m going there in 10 minutes.” This is a tricky distinction that often trips up non-native English speakers. In in this situation refers to a period of time. You’d use after if the sentence referred to a specific time of day; for example, “I’m going there after 5pm.”
  • In a gap fill exercise, I received some questions about “the far end of the house.” I explained that here — and often in academic writing — of represents possession, as in “the house’s far end.”

It was a good workshop, and I think my five attendees got something out of it that will hopefully help them in their English writing and speaking. It was fun for me to be in front of a class again and connect with the students. I ended up having to cut a couple of activities because I spent too much time on the beginning of the lesson, but now I know what to work on for the next workshop.

This Term in “Issues”: More Authors, Modern Sex, & American Poetry

Winter break is winding down. I’ve handed in my “Contexts” essay draft (on the BBC series, Sherlock) and await my tutor’s feedback. Term two of my Issues in Modern Culture MA starts next week. Here’s what’s in store…

The “Authors” course continues with a canonical author a week. Last term we covered Flaubert, James, Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Pound, Green, Joyce, Woolf, Cather, and Beckett. This term we’ll kick things off with Stevens, then move on to Rhys, Bowen, Nabokov, Achebe, Bishop, Plath, Pynchon, Stoppard, and Coetzee. With the exception of some Stevens and Bishop, I haven’t read any of the upcoming authors, which is both intimidating and exciting. I’m particularly looking forward to the Nabokov and Stoppard seminars, in part because of the material and in part because they’ll be taught by young female lecturers, who can be few and far between in the upper echelons of academia.

Last term, our second course was “Contexts,” which I really enjoyed. This term, our second course will be two five-week module courses. For each set of five weeks, we take one of three “options”: A) Film OR Ludic Literature OR “Modern Sex”; and then B) 21st Century Fiction OR “Cultures of the Night” OR or Post-War American Poetry.

First up for me: “Modern Sex: Eroticism and Literary Writing.” Great title, isn’t it? I picked it because the reading/seminar list looked the most interesting. The course description says,

This set of five seminars will explore cultural representations of desire, of sex and eroticism, and of sexual identity, from the middle of the nineteenth century until the present day.

Tantalized yet? Just take a look at the seminar titles:

  1. The history of “sexuality” (i.e., Freud and super sexist Schopenhauer): “introduction to ways of thinking about desire, the individual, the species, connections between sex, love and death.”
  2. Wagner, Desire and Death: watching and discussing Tristan und Isolde. Though I’m not a huge Wagner fan, I do like opera — this seminar was one reason I chose to take the course.
  3. D.H. LawrenceWomen in Love and DHL’s ideology about sex.
  4. Thomas Mann & André GideDeath in Venice and The Immoralist
  5. Modern Gay Writing and Cinema: works by Hollinghurst, Edmund White, Christopher Coe, Oscar Moore.

My second “option” module will be Post-War American Poetry, with one poet a week for the five weeks of term. We’ll do Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, and Derek Walcott — I can’t remember the other two. Though I have never identified as a “poetry person,” this course appealed the most to me of the three options, and I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to branch out and challenge myself with some non-prose.

So that’s this term in “Issues.” The above courses run through March, then we have a month off, then we write write write (and write some more). I hope to post some updates and musings as the term moves along.

Is there anything in particular you’d like me to write about this term? Please let me know in a comment!

———

News Roundup: Mid-November 2013

It’s November. That means many cold, gray, rainy days. But lots of interesting reading has helped keep me warm when it’s miserable outside. This month’s News Roundup includes some juicy stuff related to Ukraine (my country of Peace Corps service), classical music and success, the importance of libraries, sex and healthcare, and cycling. Read on, follow the links for the full articles, and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Ukraine & Eastern Europe

  • A few weeks ago, the New York Times Travel section featured a lovely piece, “Lviv’s, and a Family’s, Stories in Architecture.”  L’viv, the unofficial capital of western Ukraine, has a fascinating history, having been variously controlled and inhabited by different ethnic and religious groups. The article does a wonderful job of reading L’viv’s history through its architecture, as evidenced by this excerpt (it really is a beautiful city and worth visiting):

A short walk through the city’s historic center would take me past buildings that reflect contributions of its Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Armenian and German communities, all of which had roots going back to the late Middle Ages. I saw churches from the many different denominations that shaped this city’s skyline: a squat Armenian cathedral from the 14th century with a jumble of intersecting roofs; a huge 17th-century Baroque church built by the Jesuits and modeled on the Church of the Gesù in Rome; Ukrainian Orthodox three-dome churches.

  • Here’s another interesting article on L’viv, from Germany’s Die Zeit, “Flucht vor dem Kopfsteinpflaster” (“Escape from the cobblestones”). Apparently L’viv has proclaimed itself the cycling capital of Ukraine. The author discovers that’s not saying much, but there is one man who has a dream to create over 250km of bike lanes in Ukraine by 2020. Having been to L’viv a few times, I can say they have a long way to go, but it’s not impossible to try and make cycling in the city more popular. Good for them.
  • Speaking of Ukraine, the first Sunday in October was Teachers’ Day, for which Ukrainian schools go all-out. I’ve written before about my experiences of Teachers’ Day in Ukraine. The Oxford University Press blog also has a nice article about it, “Celebrating World Teachers’ Day,” that talks about the importance of teachers and teaching literacy.
  • “Comparing The United States to Ukraine” is a fascinating look at the two countries; the former of which I am a native, the latter where I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Ukrainians used to ask me, “what you do like better, Ukraine or the US?” — this comparison really shows the plusses and minuses for both countries; in many ways they’re hard to compare. (Thanks to fellow Sniatyns’kyy Rayon PCV Sarah for bringing this to my attention.)
  • “The Russia Left Behind” is a moving look at the slow decline of small Russian villages along the road from St. Petersburg to Moscow. It’s also a great piece of multimedia journalism, with videos, slide shows, and maps as you travel the route along with the authors.
  • This BuzzFeed list, “17 Bizarre Foods Every Russian Grew Up With,” is great because I know many of the foods from Ukraine. The only food I’m not familiar with is #13 (kishka). My favorites are #15 (vinaigrette) and #2 (“fur coat” salad, which actually grows on you despite how weird it sounds). Salo (#7) and kholodets (#6): not so much!

Music

  • “21 of the best insults in classical music” is just a good piece of fun — I found most of these completely hilarious.
  • In more serious music news, “Is Music the Key to Success?” is a great piece from the NY Times. The author cites a bunch of famous and successful people who studied music at some point in their lives. Having studied a bit of music myself, I can agree about “[T]he qualities…high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideasMusic may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening.”

Humanities

  • And the humanities debate continues…This month, the NY Times featured a set of letters from education professionals around the country on the “Role of Humanities, in School and Life.” I was pleased to see that the President of my alma mater (Oberlin College), Marvin Krislov, contributed a letter in which he said:

I have seen how studying English, history, art and languages gives our students entree into cultures and callings. By connecting diverse ideas and themes across academic disciplines, humanities students learn to better reason and analyze, and to communicate their knowledge, creativity and ideas.

[W]e have an obligation to read for pleasure…If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. […]

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. […]

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language…we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

Sex & Healthcare

  • Here’s a fascinating Guardian article on “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?” The author cites some alarming statistics and notes that, “Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by…disapproval.” The entire article is worth reading.
  • Along similar lines, also from The Guardian: “Why young women are going off the pill and onto contraception voodoo.” This is so scary! Please, ladies (and gents), use real, scientifically-proven birth control. No, the pull-out method is not a reliable form of contraception. I leave you with a somewhat stocking excerpt:

[M]ore than half of the unintended pregnancies in the US occur among the 10.7% of women who use no contraceptive method at all…This finding comes only a few months after a study carried out by…Dr Annie Dude at Duke University. Dr Dude’s findings revealed that 31% of young women in America aged between 15 and 24 had relied on the pull-out method at least once. Unsurprisingly, these women were 7.5% more likely to rely on emergency contraception than others and…of those who relied on the pull-out method, 21% had become pregnant. Apparently, these women had never heard the old joke: you know what you call a couple who use the rhythm and pull-out methods? Parents.

  • In the US, the “Obamacare” debate and issues continue. I don’t know why so many people need convincing that it is important for everyone to have healthcare access. Nicholas Kristof, in “This is Why We Need Obamacare,” says it better than I can: “While some Americans get superb care, tens of millions without insurance get marginal care. That’s one reason life expectancy is relatively low in America, and child mortality is twice as high as in some European countries. Now that’s a scandal.”

Cycling

[T]here is something undeniably screwy about a justice system that makes it de facto legal to kill people, even when it is clearly your fault, as long you’re driving a car and the victim is on a bike and you’re not obviously drunk and don’t flee the scene. When two cars crash, everybody agrees that one of the two drivers may well be to blame; cops consider it their job to gather evidence toward that determination. But when a car hits a bike, it’s like there’s a collective cultural impulse to say, “Oh, well, accidents happen.” If your 13-year-old daughter bikes to school tomorrow inside a freshly painted bike lane, and a driver runs a stop sign and kills her and then says to the cop, “Gee, I so totally did not mean to do that,” that will most likely be good enough.

Issues in Modern Culture

“Hi, I’m _____________ and I do ‘Issues’.”

That’s how about fifteen of us introduced ourselves in this week’s inaugural Contemporary Short Fiction Reading Group.

“Issues” is, of course, short for “Issues in Modern Culture,” which is the official name of my MA program at University College London (from here on out known as UCL). It’s a “taught” program on Modernist literature with a smattering of culture/society/historical context.

This post will give an overview of the program’s structure — quite different from the US university system — and what we’ve done thus far. I can’t promise to post weekly updates but will try to periodically share particularly interesting tidbits. I will also update my Reading List with the texts we’re meant to tackle each week.

There are 47 of us “doing ‘Issues'”: Brits, Americans, Canadians, Singaporeans, a Romanian, an Australian or two, an Israeli, and probably people from other countries whom I haven’t met yet. Many have just finished their BAs, but some of us (myself included) have been out of school and doing other things for a number of years. A pretty diverse group, overall.

We’re split into two groups for our weekly two-hour seminars, of which we have two. Yes — only 4 “contact hours” per week! That’s already a departure from the American system, which likes to get you into class as often as possible. Over the course of the next 12 months, we’ll take four courses:

  • “Authors” spans both terms and, as you may expect, covers the main (canonical) authors leading up to and through literary Modernism. For Authors, we have to read at least a novel or so per week — that’ll keep us busy when we’re not in class. Our first two weeks covered Flaubert (Madame Bovary) and Henry James (The Turn of the Screw and In the Cage); next week is Conrad (Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim).
  • “Contexts” happens this term and looks at the social/historical/cultural contexts behind the development of Modernism. It’s broken into two chunks: “Modernity and the City” and “Modern Forms.” We’re in the first part now and have already covered Baudelaire’s poems and prose poems on mid-19th-century Paris. Tomorrow’s seminar is called “Epiphany and the Everyday” and is theory-based (think Barthes, Blanchot, Lefebvre — dense stuff). Next week is “Detective Fiction”: Poe, Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler. I’m pumped for that and will think fondly of my first-year seminar in “African-American Detective Fiction” at Oberlin.
  • Next term, we’ll pick two of six more specific “Options” — each will last half a term. Our choices include “Modernism and Sex,” “Film,” and “Cultures of the Night.” Exciting! More on these later.

Unlike the American (undergraduate) system, where we had at least two or three papers to write throughout each semester, the grades for our MA depend on one paper per course at the end of each term, plus the dissertation. And no class participation grades to pad the final mark. Not much room for error! But, as a classmate pointed out, getting the MA is the real goal in the end, regardless of final grade.

We have a group of professors/lecturers/teacher-people helping with the course — each lecturer teaches his/her specialty, so we have a different seminar leader almost every week (with some repeats). This is nice because we’re getting “expert” perspectives, but it also may prove difficult to form any kind of personal/professional relationships with our lecturers. We will be assigned a Tutor, though, who will guide us on the Contexts paper, so that will be a good connection to make.

That’s about it so far. I’m still getting to know my classmates, but the ones with whom I’ve interacted are nice, smart, and interesting. Everyone seems really excited and willing to collaborate. Stay tuned for future updates, and don’t forget to check out my Reading List to see what we’re studying.

News Roundup: August Edition

I’m headed back to the UK this week and thought I’d post a news roundup so you can see what I’ve been reading and thinking about over the past month while in the States. In this month’s edition, we have some humor, some good advice, international news, thoughts on teaching, and more. Enjoy, and please leave a comment below if anything particularly grabs your attention!

Just for Fun

  • My hometown, Rochester, NY, is well-known as the home of Kodak and Xerox. Cameras and copiers are great, but the hidden gem that originated in Rochester is really Wegmans. Rather than waxing poetic about it myself, let me point you to this BuzzFeed list which pretty much sums up the awesomeness of this more-than-just supermarket.
  • Any runners out there will appreciate this “article” from Runners World, titled “The 25 worst questions to ask a runner.” I’ve certainly been asked a few of them over the years I’ve been running…

Athletics

  • A handful of studies have popped up recently on strength training for runners, and what kind will best help running economy. “How Strength Training Ups Masters Marathoners’ Economy” is a nice overview of a study finding that high weight/low repetition strength training, even for long distance runners, can improve running economy. Though the study was done with masters, I think it’s safe to say the same would be found in younger runners; this refutes previous beliefs in the running community that distance athletes should do low weight/high rep strength work so as not to get “bulky.”

English Majors & Being a Teacher

  • “The Ideal English Major” is a great piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education on why it still matters to be a humanities major, especially an English major, and what we English majors are really like. Here’s a sampling, though I recommend you read the whole article:

English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who—let us admit it—are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are.

[…] Love for language, hunger for life, openness and a quest for truth: Those are the qualities of my English major in the ideal form. But of course now we’re talking about more than a mere academic major. We’re talking about a way of life. We’re talking about a way of living that places inquiry into how to live in the world—what to be, how to act, how to move through time—at its center.

What we’re talking about is a path to becoming a human being, or at least a better sort of human being than one was at the start. An English major? To me an English major is someone who has decided, against all kinds of pious, prudent advice and all kinds of fears and resistances, to major, quite simply, in becoming a person. Once you’ve passed that particular course of study—or at least made some significant progress on your way—then maybe you’re ready to take up something else.

  • On a semi-related note to being an English major, here’s a great essay on teaching, summed up by its title, “The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do.” In the US, it is sad that many people still choose teaching as sort of a back-up plan, as in “well, I can always teach.” Teachers are not respected enough in the States, and people think it’s easy (newsflash: it’s not) so often choose education as a career path if nothing else comes along. That’s one of many reasons the US’s rankings in education are so poor compared to places like Finland, which has rigorous standards for becoming a teacher. I’m not saying all teachers in the US do it because they think it’s easy or the only thing; on the contrary, I know many amazing, inspiring teachers who are doing it because that’s what they love to do. My ramblings aside, here’s an excerpt from the article; read the rest if you have a chance:

Inspiring kids can be downright damned near close to impossible sometimes. And… it’s downright damned near close to impossible to measure. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s test scores. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s grades. You measure inspiration 25 years later when that hot-shot doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur thanks her fourth-grade teacher for having faith in her and encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

Maybe that’s why teachers get so little respect. It’s hard to respect a skill that is so hard to quantify.

So, maybe you just have to take our word for it. The next time you walk into a classroom, and you see the teacher calmly presiding over a room full of kids, all actively engaged in the lesson, realize that it’s not because the job is easy. It’s because we make it look easy. And because we work our asses off to make it look easy.

Advice

  • Author George Saunders gave the Syracuse University convocation speech earlier this year. The NY Times Magazine‘s blog, The 6th Floor, posted his speech, which everyone, graduate or non, should read. This is my favorite part:

Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question:  What’s our problem?  Why aren’t we kinder?

  • Here’s a great piece from a father to a daughter, called “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex.” It’s empowering and honest and wonderful. Here’s a taste: “…I won’t tell you sex is bad, or that you’re bad for wanting it, or that other people are bad from wanting it from you if you’re willing to give it. I refuse to perpetuate, even through the plausible deniability of humor, the idea that the people my daughter is attracted to are my enemy.”

International

  • “Through the Eyes of the Maasai” is a beautiful piece from the NY Times Travel section, giving insight into the lives and society of the Maasai people in Kenya.
  • F is German, so he closely follows German and European politics. I try to keep up, but it’s not my go-to news topic. He sent me a great article recently from The New York Review of Books, “The New German Question”, that gives a good overview of German politics.
  • My good friend Sam is doing some research for his masters’ degree on measuring happiness in terms of “wellbeing” indices. Sam says, “The problem, of course, is that increased production alone does not guarantee a happy, healthy society.” Read the rest of his smart piece here: “How do we move towards a society that prioritizes wellbeing?”

———

Peace Corps/Ukraine in status updates

One of my fellow Ukraine (now R)PCVs just posted a great piece on her great blog, borscht and babushkas. The post, “#pcukraine,” is a series of Facebook status updates from PCVs in Ukraine about the ridiculous/funny/amazing/weird experiences they have. Go read Kristen’s post, because the statuses there are extremely clever/witty/absurd.

I liked this idea but, rather than re-blogging others’ experiences, wanted to share some statuses of my own. I’m not a huge Facebook-poster to begin with, so my updates are not as detailed or witty as those in Kristen’s post, but they do show how little things make life good and I hope they give you a slightly different picture of my time in Ukraine than my blog posts. I may have finished my Peace Corps service 9 months ago — time flies — but it is still very much part of me and I think about it a lot. So while this post may seem “late,” it’s really interesting for me to look at after having been an RPCV for a while. Hope you enjoy it, too; this is a sampling of the best and most insightful statuses.

  • 2 Oct 2010: has survived Week 2 of PST. Teaching for the first time next week!
  • 10 Dec 2010: is sitting in her NEW apartment in her NEW town drinking a Starbucks Via & eating oatmeal while enjoying her counterparts WiFi. Life is good.
  • 15 Dec 2010: stove-top bread pudding = success!
    • Note: This is significant because I didn’t have a working oven in my apartment.
  • 5 Jan 2011: braved the pre-Christmas crowds at the bazaar and is now braving the 3*F temperature for a run.
  • 11 Jan 2011: survived her first day of teaching. 2nd Form: cutest kids EVER. 3rd Form: cute too, but ask a lot of questions in Ukrainian that I don’t always understand. 5th Form: nice class. 6th Form: smart, fun group. 11th Form: fun b/c they know enough English to have discussions.
  • 18 Jan 2011: felt like a mother hen this morning while leading the 2nd form up two flights of stairs to her classroom… “Come along, little chickies!”
  • 1 Feb 2011: talked about Romanticism in art with her 11th Form; sang “My Favorite Things” to her 3rd Form; got 3 boxes (spices, COFFEE, etc.); met nice women while running at the stadium who invited me in for tea & to return whenever I want.
  • 4 Mar 2011: It’s official…Women’s Day in Ukraine is AWESOME.
    • Need some details on Women’s Day? Read this.
  • 17 Mar 2011: “Mrs. Wilkins ironed her dog yesterday.” -written by one of my counterpart’s 4th-formers (one sentence was supposed to be “walk the dog” and the next “iron her clothes”).
  • 10 Apr 2011: made her first Ukrainian borshch today — success!
  • 4 May 2011: loves apple discounts from her favorite bazaar apple man, milk discounts from her favorite babusya, and free baby greens from one of her adult English club-goers.
  • 9 May 2011: tried to write a letter in cursive, but her brain/hand kept trying to form Ukrainian cursive letters instead of English ones!
  • 12 May 2011: Today was a good day. New running shoes & summer dresses arrived from home, & spent a wonderful time at the music school playing the clarinet & listening to live classical music for the first time in almost a year.
  • 17 May 2011: found a thermos in her apartment so now she can make French press coffee, drink some before she runs and keep the rest hot for after the run.
  • 18 May 2011: had an awesome time spontaneously playing an hour and a half of basketball w/ three 25-y/o guys from her English club.
  • 30 Aug 2011: just got foto-sessiaed up the wazoo in 100-year-old Ukrainian traditional dress…pics coming soon.
  • 22 Sep 2011: a good day: received some Italian coffee (not instant!) from Ukrainian friends, my counterpart is finally home with her beautiful baby, I got three letters, & I might be inheriting my landlady’s old washing machine!
  • 2 Oct 2011: CP’s baby’s baptism –> 8 hours of eating and drinking and dancing (and still going strong when I left)…welcome to Ukraine!
  • 4 Oct 2011: I now have a working washing machine in my apartment! Peace out, hand-washing (unless the machine breaks).
    • Note: the machine lasted until my very last week at site, when it decided to start making loud clunking noises; I hand-washed my last few loads of laundry.
  • 13 Oct 2011: A supermarket just opened in my town!
  • 21 Oct 2011: Three girls showed up to my sport club in 43F & rain. Here’s to triumphing over Ukrainian beliefs/superstitions of getting sick from rain & cold, one girl at a time!
  • 9 Nov 2011: found out today that I’ll be teaching English to my town’s police in preparation for Euro2012…starting tomorrow.
  • 17 Nov 2011: Today I bought sweet Ukrainian boots & навчилася вишивати!
  • 29 Nov 2011: HIV/AIDS-themed English club was a relative success…except one girl started crying. I’m hoping it was just because the activity was powerful and not because of some deeper reason.
  • 6 Dec 2011: winter, John Legend, Woody Allen, Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, Dave Brubeck, snowflakes. Just a normal day in English club.
  • 14 Dec 2011: Iryna gave me some cheese that her daughter sent from Germany. I ate a cube and it was like heaven in my mouth.
  • 30 Dec 2011: fully embraced Ukrainian circle dancing tonight & it made for an enjoyable time.
  • 5 Jan 2012: I love walking/wandering around Kyiv. Found a sweet supermarket and saw a totally new area of the city on the way to getting my teeth salt-blasted at the dentist.
  • 8 Jan 2012: L’viv: pampushky (edible and live), lots of walking, The Nutcracker for 30 UAH, kolyadky, mulled wine, chocolate/marzipan, vysokyy zamok, pretty churches, great company…AND homemade (Ukrainian-made!) PEANUT BUTTER at the Christmas market…hard to beat this life.
  • 21 Jan 2012: Нарешті, доїхала додому. Home sweet Sniatyn.
  • 29 Jan 2012: I may or may not have just sung & danced around my apartment after being told there’s no school tomorrow due to the cold…
  • 5 Mar 2012: Today the boys were pulled out of my 5th-form lesson so the girls proceeded to interview me about my life and family. Best two questions: “Ms. Tammela, do you have a man?” & “Do you have a baby?”
  • 13 Mar 2012: Amazing cultural exchange moment of the day (@ older pupils’ English club): telling/answering questions about the Peace Corps and being told many new things about Taras Shevchenko. PC Goals 2 & 3? CHECK.
  • 18 Apr 2012: Time for a(n anti-) plagiarism workshop with my 10th form…
  • 29 Apr 2012: In Ukraine the tar melts in the sun.
  • 10 May 2012: My 44-year-old school director died early this morning of a heart attack… A big loss to my school and the Sniatyn community.
  • 15 May 2012: had a wonderful spontaneous evening helping Iryna in her field…and scored some fresh eggs, mint, and rhubarb on the way home.
  • 21 May 2012: Spent a lovely day in Kolychivka, introducing my American parents to my Ukrainian ones and eating delicious, super-fresh homemade pork sausage. (Fresh as in the pig was alive two days ago…)
  • 29 Jun 2012: Today I climbed Mt. Hoverla (2061m) in near-perfect conditions and watched my counterpart’s cousin propose to his girlfriend at the top (she said yes, for the record). All in all, not a bad day.
  • 2 Aug 2012: I am so happy and grateful that, even though my school’s Director (who was most of the muscle behind my grant implementation) died in May, the town administration has upheld their end of the deal and provided the (now-multimedia) English classroom with new desks, chairs, and chalkboard.
  • 21 Sep 2012: Two years ago today I arrived in Ukraine. Seven weeks from today I leave.
  • 10 Oct 2012: After two years in Ukraine I finally see leeks being sold. I show them to Iryna at English club and tell her how excited I am to have found them. She says, “I have those in my garden and in my field!” Ukrained? But in the most wonderful way.
  • 31 Oct 2012: My 8A girls asked me today if they could have English club today at 4pm (they haven’t come all semester) — I said okay, and they surprised me with cookies and a lovely hour of round-table chatting about Halloween and the advantages of speaking UkrEnglish. Adults & older pupils followed that with a great last English club and such generous, heartfelt comments and gifts. Then I was informed that my 11A class will be trick-or-treating at my flat tonight…
  • 4 Nov 2012: Last night in my диван-bed…
  • 4 Nov 2012: Last run in Sniatyn…then packing, cleaning, and final goodbyes. I shall miss this little town and its inhabitants. On the train to Kyiv — one-way — tonight with K for our last few days in Ukraine.
  • 7 Nov 2012: Advanced-Mid Ukrainian YES.
  • 8 Nov 2012: Today I rang the COS bell — yes, there’s now a bell — and became an RPCV (though I haven’t “returned” quite yet). Thanks for an amazing two years, Ukraine.

———

News Roundup: The Humanities, Exercise and Addiction, Women’s Rights, & Kristof’s return

Sorry for the lack of recipes lately — I’m certainly making delicious things in the kitchen here at my parents’ house for the summer, but they are mostly standard family dishes that I don’t think to post here, or that I didn’t take enough part in the creation to justify posting. More recipes coming soon, promise! In the meantime, here is this month’s News Roundup, with a bit of everything: comedy, wisdom, addiction, abortion, the humanities, breastfeeding, and eggplant… It’s a mish-mash, but I hope you’ll take the time to browse through the list and click through to read the pieces that look most interesting to you.

———

Broccoli, Eggplant, & Wisdom

Exercise, Addiction, & Body Image

  • “Addicted to Endorphins” is one of the NY Times‘ “Room for Debate” topics, where they ask a handful of experts to write in their thoughts; this topic asked, “Is all this emphasis on exercise healthy, or dangerously compulsive? Can exercise like running be addictive?” One of my favorite responses came from evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman:

Our deep evolutionary history as physically active foragers and hunters helps explain why our bodies are inadequately adapted to long-term physical inactivity. Almost every organ in the body—from bones to brains—needs periodic physical stress to grow and function properly.

It is often said that exercise is medicine, but a more correct statement is that insufficient regular exercise is abnormal and pathological. In this regard, wanting to be physically active every day is no more an addiction than wanting to get eight hours of sleep.

  • Watch this TEDxMidAtlantic talk by model Cameron Russell, called “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.” It’s a smart, honest, well-thought-out talk that both men and women, especially anyone who has ever dealt with body image issues, should spend less than 10 minutes watching.

Women’s Rights / Feminism

  • “What happened when I started a feminist society at school” is a smart essay in The Guardian written by a 17-year-old who set up a feminist society at her school and for doing so, received an appalling amount of verbal abuse from the boys at her school. She and her group posted pictures with girls holding handwritten signs stating “I need feminism because ______” as part of a project called Who Needs Feminism. Rather than being celebrated for this, the girls were ridiculed and the school made them take the photos down. It’s sad. In the author’s words,

We, a group of 16-, 17- and 18-year-old girls, have made ourselves vulnerable by talking about our experiences of sexual and gender oppression only to elicit the wrath of our male peer group. Instead of our school taking action against such intimidating behaviour, it insisted that we remove the pictures. […]

It’s been over a century since the birth of the suffragette movement and boys are still not being brought up to believe that women are their equals. Instead we have a whole new battleground opening up online where boys can attack, humiliate, belittle us and do everything in their power to destroy our confidence before we even leave high school.

  • But there are good men out there! This Guardian piece is a heartening take on abortion from the male perspective. The author says: “I support a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion because centuries of history shows us that women are going to get abortions whether they’re safe and legal or not. And when they’re not safe and legal, these women will often die terribly or be damaged irreparably.”
  • Nicholas Kristof, my favorite NY Times opinion writer, returned after 5 months off with two fantastic op-eds. “A Free Miracle Food” is actually the second one, with the main point that breastfeeding is a natural and necessary thing to do and that it can especially help decrease infant deaths in developing countries. Kristof explains,

…in the poorest countries, the main concern is that moms delay breast-feeding for a day or two after birth and then give babies water or food in the first six months. The World Health Organization strongly recommends a diet of exclusively breast milk for that first half year.

In a village in Mali…I watched a woman wash a baby — and then pour handfuls of bath water down his mouth. “It makes the baby strong,” a midwife explained.

On hot days, African moms routinely give babies water to drink. In fact, breast milk is all infants need, and the water is sometimes drawn from unsanitary puddles.

  • The NY Times featured a long essay last week called “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too.” The author focused on students at U Penn and how women are now “hooking up” more frequently; it’s not only the guys, seemed to be her point. My first reaction was “DUH.” Many (female) acquaintances and some of my friends at Oberlin often had one-night stands, some drunkenly and some not. I found a lot of things to contend with in this article. Here’s my list (but you should read it, too, and tell me what you think): A) Nothing should preclude a serious relationship — when it happens, it happens, and you work it out, sometimes having to make cost-benefit decisions. B) If someone is so rigidly fixated on exactly what (s)he must do for the next 10 years and refuses to change, (s)he is probably too busy for a relationship anyway or will be too focused to notice when a good one passes him/her by. C) Also, the things the article brings up are ultimately genderless — it’s not about men vs. women, it’s about people and the decisions they make. That said, the “default answer,” when drunk/high, is definitely not “yes.” D) Finally, you don’t by any means have to choose between marrying young and not having a relationship at all, especially in 2013…seriously?!

The Humanities

  • Before we get into the “are the humanities dead?” debate, here’s a fun graphic of Dickens’ novels, ranked by “most Dickensian.” It’s whimsical, but I love it and totally agree that Bleak House should be at the top.
  • And now, “Are the humanities dead?” I am a proud English major / literary scholar and lover of the humanities, so this debate hits close to home and I’ve been following it closely.

Former English majors turn up almost anywhere, in almost any career, and they nearly always bring with them a rich sense of the possibilities of language, literary and otherwise.

That kind of writing — clear, direct, humane — and the reading on which it is based are the very root of the humanities, a set of disciplines that is ultimately an attempt to examine and comprehend the cultural, social and historical activity of our species through the medium of language.

What many undergraduates do not know — and what so many of their professors have been unable to tell them — is how valuable the most fundamental gift of the humanities will turn out to be. That gift is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature.

…outside of this elite set of private schools, the humanities are holding their own, and at institutions with a far wider demographic of students. At schools nationwide, the number of students majoring in the “softest” humanities — English, foreign languages and literatures, the arts — has been remarkably steady over the last two decades, hovering between 9.8 percent and 10.6 percent of total bachelor’s degrees awarded. […] Students remain grabbed by the questions we pose in humanities classrooms — about style and character, politics and perception, love and ethics — and by how we follow these lines of inquiry into the pages of a novel, or the composition of a painting, or the prose of a philosophical treatise.

Kristof’s Return!

  • I promised you another Nicholas Kristof op-ed. “How Could We Blow This One?” was his first piece after five months of leave, and he certainly hit the nail on the head: “Doesn’t it seem odd that we’re willing to spend trillions of dollars, and intercept metadata from just about every phone call in the country, to deal with a threat that, for now, kills but a few Americans annually — while we’re too paralyzed to introduce a rudimentary step like universal background checks to reduce gun violence that kills tens of thousands?”

That’s it! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these. Leave a comment or email me at whereveriamyouaretherealso@gmail.com

———

News Roundup: Running, the Arts, (Sex) Education, & Comic Relief

I can hardly believe it’s been more than two months since my last news roundup. High time for an update. This roundup includes a variety of articles and blurbs that caught my eye over the past couple of months. Topics range from running to language/linguistics to sex education to gun control, obesity, and more. As always, I’ve categorized the articles as best as possible so you can troll for what interests you the most. Click the links to read the full articles, and feel free to leave a comment or email me (whereveriamyouaretherealso@gmail.com) with your thoughts on any of these.

Running

  • I love running and do it willingly, but some days this is the only thing that gets me through: Runner’s World Motivational Poster #45.
  • Most runners, especially anyone who has ever run track, will appreciate this.
  • My Oberlin track coach preached (and still preaches) “PMA” to all his athletes. What’s PMA, you ask? That would be Positive Mental Attitude. In a nutshell, believe in yourself / be optimistic and good things will happen. I was skeptical for a time, but then started to mentally prepare myself for long marathon training runs by positive self-talking, telling myself the run would be fine, go well, I’d be strong and feel good. Guess what? It works! This Runner’s World article, “Train Your Brain to Run Your Best,” proves the point further and is worth a read for any athlete.

Language & Literature, Art & Music

    • Confession: I love opera. Okay, that’s not really a confession because I am not ashamed of it. True, my appreciation for opera didn’t come until college, but while at Oberlin I was able to see some amazing singers perform in a wide variety of operas and opera scenes. Oh, and I took a musicology class on Mozart’s last five operas. Yes, it was awesome. Anyway, if you are an opera lover or are just wondering what the heck all the fuss is about, check out this fun BuzzFeed article, “What Happened to Opera?” It’s fun and you can watch some videos of incredible singers.
    • Speaking of Oberlin, Amanda, a good friend of mine and fellow Obie, writes for Critics at Large and last month wrote a beautiful piece on Andy Warhol and her experiences of learning “from the artworks themselves” that began in the Allen Art Museum’s print room. Here’s an excerpt (though you should read the essay in its entirety, just to sink into Amanda’s outstanding prose):

“I learned quickly, but not from lectures or textbooks – I learned from the artworks themselves. Entire movements, periods and cultures – Japanese woodblock prints, the satiric eighteenth century engravings of Hogarth and Grandville, loose pages from medieval illuminated manuscripts – communicated themselves to me as archives without histories, until pulling prints became not unlike a daily descent into a dark, empty movie theater where all you could see were images, images, images flickering in the shadows and sublimely untethered from narrative.”

  • “Looking for Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin” is an interesting piece from the NY Times‘ Travel section; its timing was particularly good because I had just read Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, two fictional memoirs of sorts about the author / his protagonist’s years in Berlin in the early 1930s. (The second story is what Kander and Ebb based their musical Cabaret on.)
  • If you’re part of my generation, you probably speak with slashes, as in “I was thinking we could go to the movies slash do something else together this weekend.” “Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore” is a smartly-written piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education by a professor who asks her students to teach her two new slang words at the start of every class. She goes on to discuss the use of “slash” in spoken conversation. A fun piece worth the read.
  • Staying in linguistics territory, I read a great blog called The Inky Fool; this fool is Mark Forsyth, who has also written two books (The Etymologicon and The Horologicon), both of which I’ve read. This blog post, entitled “Plumbing with Aplomb,” is a particularly good example of Forsyth’s intelligent and witty discussions of linguistics.
  • This is just for fun: maps that show “the deepest linguistic conflicts in America.” The maps show how people in different regions of the States pronounce the same words, or the different words they use to mean the same thing. It’s pretty interesting; I (not surprisingly) found my hometown of Rochester, NY to be more midwest-leaning in some pronunciations and more New England-y in others. In terms of my own pronunciation, most of it matched that of other Rochesterians but some didn’t match how I speak. How do your pronunciation and vocabulary match up with your home region?

Children & Education 

  • NY Times “Sunday Dialogue” recently asked “What Makes a Good Teacher?” They present a letter to the editor to which readers are invited to respond. I even sent in a response for this one; though mine didn’t make it into print, it’s worth reading the original letter and its responses for all of the diverse ideas and thoughts people have about what makes a good teacher.
  • On a similar note, an opinion piece called “No Learning Without Feeling” argues against the US’s new Common Core State Standards and their (ridiculous) focus on standardized tests. The author makes a good point that this isn’t the way to get kids excited about learning and literature:

“The truth is that high-stakes standardized tests, in combination with the skills-based orientation of the Common Core State Standards, are de-emphasizing literature in the English classroom in favor of “agnostic texts” of the sort familiar from test preparation materials. These are neutral texts created to be “agnostic” with regard to student interest so that outside variables won’t interfere when teachers assess and analyze data related to verbal ability. In other words, they are texts no child would choose to read on her own.

  • NY Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow does an excellent job of providing his readers with shocking statistics about what is wrong with our (American) society. This piece, “The Kids Are (Not) All Right,” is no different, and props to Blow for alerting us so we can try to change them:

“…according to data released last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, each day in America:

2 mothers die in childbirth.

4 children are killed by abuse or neglect.

5 children or teens commit suicide.

7 children or teens are killed by firearms.

67 babies die before their first birthdays.

892 babies are born at low birth weight.

914 babies are born to teen mothers.

1,208 babies are born without health insurance.

1,825 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.

2,712 babies are born into poverty.

2,857 high school students drop out.”

  • The above piece is from April. Just last week, Blow wrote another op-ed, “These Children Are Our Future,” in which he gives us a “statistical portrait of the high school class of 2013” and what the class would look like if there were 100 students in it. It’s a really powerful set of statistics that everyone should be aware of. Blow notes that,

“We have not sufficiently prioritized some fundamental safety structures for children in this country — fighting child poverty; supporting all families (including single-parent ones) and their children through policies like paid family leave and early childhood education; insulating children from a culture soaked with violence; and educating children fully about sexuality and pregnancy, and allowing them open access to a full range of safe sex options (which would reduce our extraordinary rate of sexually transmitted disease, prevent more unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions).”

Sex & Sex Education

  • Taking Blow’s last point above, about sex education, there have been a few well-written essays floating around about that. This NY Times “Room for Debate” collection asking, “At What Age Should Sex Education Begin?” is particularly worth reading. Many of the contributors made excellent arguments for why/how/when (at what ages) sex education should be taught, both at home and in schools. One such contributor wrote,

“Irrational fear – the cultural belief that teaching young people about sex will cause them to have sex – keeps administrators and educators from doing what they know is best: providing young people with developmentally appropriate, sequential and honest sex education. Never mind that 30 years of public health research clearly demonstrates that when young people receive such education, they are more likely to delay sexual initiation, and to use protection when they do eventually become sexually active, than those who receive no sex education or learn only about abstinence. Withholding information about sex and sexuality will not keep children safe; it will only keep them ignorant.”

  • There’s a new book out called What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by journalist Daniel Bergner. Salon recently published an interview with Bergner about the book, which made me really want to read it. The piece is aptly called “The truth about female desire: It’s base, animalistic and ravenous,” and I recommend that every woman and man read the article. Here’s a short excerpt to pique your interest: “One of the scientists, who was really influential in calling attention to the size, put it this way: the reason we’ve ignored this is because we’ve managed to convince ourselves that one gender is all about reproduction and the other is all about sex. That is, women are all about reproduction and men are all about sex. Again, a complete distortion.”

Gender, Culture, & Machismo

  • Having lived in London for about six months now, I have already noticed plenty of linguistic, cultural, and social differences between Americans and Brits. This “Short Cuts” essay from the London Review of Books seeks to explain some of these differences in a humorous way. The essay is worth a read for any American or Brit who has spent time in the other country. Here’s a sneak peek excerpt about something I have found to be absolutely true:

“In the English manner, he apologised several times that night for joining my friends and me at our table. An Englishman will apologise to you twice in the course of inviting you to dinner when you are friendless and desperate and couldn’t feel more grateful for the prospect of company. ‘No doubt,’ Eagleton writes, ‘the British will soon be apologising for being stabbed in the street.’ Americans apologise only when they’re overwhelmed by guilt and want very much to be forgiven.”

  • Moving from cultural differences to gender differences, this Science Daily paper entitled “Men Are from Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth” explains how “From empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and inscrutable your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.” My dad has also done some research and teaching in the area of sex/gender differences, so he brought this to my attention.
  • And now onto differences in sexuality, with this op-ed on “How Latin Culture Got More Gay.” The essay can best be summed up with this quotation: “These developments not only undermine stereotypes about machismo, but also the assumption that the prominence of Catholicism makes progressive change impossible. Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Portugal and Spain, and Ireland recognizes civil unions. As the United States Supreme Court debates same-sex marriage, perhaps it should consider the precedent set by other nations of the Western Hemisphere.” Seriously. Get with the program, USA.

Obesity & Food

  • “Research: Childhood obesity is a product of environment” looks at three new studies that point to environment over genetics as a greater cause of obesity. In their words, “Childhood obesity is a disease of the environment. It’s a natural consequence of normal kids with normal genes being raised in unhealthy, abnormal environments.” Worth reading the entire article.
  • Perhaps even more worthy of your precious reading minutes is the essay, “Fat City — What can stop obesity?”  by physician Karen Hitchcock. The piece is subtitled “Why obesity is not your doctor’s problem” and goes on to explore social constructs and thought patterns contributing to the obesity epidemic, serious health problems caused by obesity, and much more. It is an emotionally powerful, excellently written piece that I cannot adequately summarize here, so I beg you to go read it yourself.
  • On a food-related note, Michael Pollan has a new book out, that Mark Bittman (one of my favorite food writers) discusses and excerpts in his Opinionator piece, “Pollan Cooks!” Among other things, Bittman quotes Pollan as saying, “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” I completely agree.

Ukraine

  • I always keep an eye out for Ukraine-related news, since I feel a tie to the country after spending 2+ years there in the Peace Corps. So you can imagine how happy I was that Ukraine recently held the first gay rights rally in Kyiv. Brave people, those 50 demonstrators; clearly still a long way to go toward tolerance and acceptance.
  • Another big issue that, like homosexuality, is highly stigmatized in Ukraine, is HIV/AIDS. This Ukrainian girl, featured in a BBC article entitled “Ukraine’s youngest HIV campaigner,” is a heroine for speaking out about her experience living as HIV-positive in Ukraine. This also helps explain why Peace Corps Volunteers’ work with PEPFAR and HIV/AIDS education continues to matter in Ukraine.

Miscellaneous US-Related

  • Every American should read “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” I hazard to guess that Americans who have traveled a bit won’t be surprised by most of the statements made in the article, but it’s important for the less-well-traveled to read and understand the astute points the author makes.
  • And now onto gun control…a touchy subject, yes, but read Todd May’s Opinionator piece, “Is American Nonviolence Possible?” and that’ll give you some perspective on why the US needs serious gun control. I’ll start you off with this set of statistics:

“Clearly, we are a violent country.  Our murder rate is three to five times that of most other industrialized countries.  […]  Moreover, and more telling, our response to violence is typically more violence.  We display our might — or what is left of it — abroad in order to address perceived injustices or a threat to our interests.  We still have not rid ourselves of the death penalty, a fact that fills those in other countries with disbelief.  Many of us, in response to the mindless gun violence around us, prescribe more guns as the solution, as the Republicans sought to do during the gun debate.  And we torture people.  It is as though, in thinking that the world responds only to violence, we reveal ourselves rather than the world.

  • With the above in mind, read this excellent op-ed by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who herself was the target of gun violence a couple of years ago. In “A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip,” Giffords states about the Senate gun control votes, “I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.” Shameful.

Whew! That ought to keep you busy for a while. What have you been reading lately?