Nicki Minaj is a Republican? Or is she? Who cares!

            On September 3 Lil Wayne’s 4th installment of his popular mixtape series “The Dedication” was released.  As soon as the tape was released, the twitter world and blogosphere were booming with opinions on this mixtape.  But what caught my eye in the midst of all of the tweets and blog posts about “Dedication 4” was the reaction to Nicki Minaj’s controversial line in “Mercy.” Nick Minaj is arguably the hottest female rapper out and is known for her multiple eccentric personalities.  Minaj raps, “I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney, You lazy b*tches is f*cking up the economy.”  There were many thoughts on what Nicki meant when she said this.  There were those who took it literal, as in she is an actual Republican whose voting for Mitt Romney and thinks the Obama administration has ruined the economy.  And there were those who believed the lyrics to be satire, mocking the republicans for blaming the mess they created on Obama.  This group included the President himself who commented on these lyrics during a radio interview.  He talked about how he knows “she likes to play different characters” in her sings. Minaj responded to the president on twitter saying, “Ha! Thank you for understanding my creative humor & sarcasm Mr. President, the smart ones always do… *sends love & support.”  So the President can rest assured knowing that he will probably get her vote.  The president also added that he and Michelle like to stay hip, and have a nice collection of hip hop on their iPods J.

But for me the problem wasn’t trying to figure out what Nicki meant.  I wanted to know why so many people were outraged by the lyric.  Let’s say Nicki really did mean what she said what? She has the right to choose who to vote for like anyone else.  This made me think of the assumptions people have about political parties and their demographics. Must you be a democrat if you are a hip hop artist? Does hip hop and the democratic party go hand in hand?  Well maybe.  Hip Hop is a primarily black genre and nearly 90 percent of blacks vote democrat.  So it’s safe to assume that all hip hop artists are democrats right? Well… no!  The color of someone’s skin does not automatically place him or her into a political box, or any box for that matter.  And let’s not forget the many white and non-black hip hop artists. What about them? Are they democrats by association? No! It angers me that people have to put other people in categories just to deal with them.  And this isn’t solely the fault of other races.  The only people I saw on twitter outraged at the thought that a black woman could be a Republican (Hello, Condoleezza Rice!) were black!  In fact in the black community black republicans are considered traitors.  But there is no rule that says all black people in America have to be Democrats. 

            Black people get offended when people of other races say and assume that they voted for president Obama because he is also black (they seem to always forget the fact that he is half white).  Yet black people became outraged when a black hip hop artist insinuated that she wasn’t voting for Obama.  There is an endless cycle of assumptions and stereotyping in America done by all races. Her lyric was probably intended to show how ridiculous people sound when they express why they aren’t voting for Obama but Nicki Minaj also helped me see that it’s not just the white people making the assumptions, it’s the black people as well.  Just like Nicki’s lyricism helped prove the assumption that all hip hop is meaningless rubbish wrong, she also showed me how negative and harmful assumptions can be. 

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Did Frank Ocean change the face of hip hop with a blog post?

When people think about hip hop, one of the first things that comes to mind is naked women running around in music videos or lyrics that refer to women as b*tches and h*es.  Women are an essential part of hip hop as we know it.  With women being both the object of affection and objectification in hip hop comes heterosexuality being the only way of life.  This results in homophobia.  There is no doubt that hip hop is a very homophobic genre of music.  This genre was created and is currently dominated by African American men and above all, African American men are taught to be masculine.  Therefore homosexuality is looked down upon in this community.  Hip hop and homophobia have a long history.  Many rappers have used homophobic slurs in their music but some artists have tried to transcend the trend of homophobia in the genre.  For example the rapper Lil B has entitled his new album “I’m Gay.”  Lil B’s attempt to get the hip hop culture to ease up on the homophobia backfired.  The rapper received death threats and had other rappers attack him online.  Although Lil B isn’t gay, his action caused an uproar showing that homophobia still exists in the hip hop culture.  One of my friends summed up hip hop’s views on homosexuality in one sentence, “you can’t be gay and rap.”

The newest event in the dialogue between Hip Hop and sexuality is Frank Ocean coming out of the closet.  Before the release of his first studio album, the singer took to tumblr to admit that his first love was a man.  If you like Frank Ocean like I do, I can hear you saying this:

But wait! Isn’t Frank apart of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All?”

            Why yes he is.

“So that means he’s cool with Tyler, the Creator, right?”

            I would suppose so.

“But isn’t Tyler homophobic?!”

            Hmm let’s see.

For those of you who may not know that much about Frank Ocean he is apart of the LA based hip hop group, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, and Tyler, the Creator is kind of like the head honcho. Tyler is known for his constant use of the word “faggot” and other homophobic slurs in his music.

“Blasting ‘You’re a jerk’ in some fucking yellow skinnies

looking like a fucking faggot,”

This lyric taking from the song “Session” is only one of the rappers many uses of the word faggot.  But when Frank’s coming out post went public Tyler tweeted:

“My Big Brother Finally F*cking Did That… Proud Of That N*gga Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever. Anyway. I’m A Toilet.”

Tyler congratulated Frank, but at the same time dismissed everything that Frank did. But Tyler says he’s not homophobic and he uses the slurs to mean stupid or dumb.

Despite the confusion with Franks hip hop affiliations, he is the first major hip hop artist that I know of to come out as being bisexual.  There were definitely mixed feelings on his action.  Some thought it was a publicity stunt to get more people interested in his album.  Some were very proud and happy for him and the LGBTQI community. And some were disgusted.  But I do think Frank opened the doors to help change the way people think.  A common theme on my twitter news feed was, “Frank may not be straight, but he still makes some bomb music.” In his coming out letter Frank writes “4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together.” He goes on to write a beautiful letter explaining the ups and downs of this love, making you forgot that it’s “weird” that he’s talking about another man.  Frank has a few songs on his album that use he or him instead of she or her, but to be honest, I didn’t even realize this until someone pointed it out to me.  I was too focused on the amazing way he is able to tell his stories of love and hurt.  I’m happy and excited that Frank Ocean is helping hip hop to become not so homophobic. Hopefully because of him and other artists who follow his lead, it won’t matter who you love and write love songs about, as long as it is good hip hop music. 

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Plea to Vandy Fans: Let’s Talk Football

Progress won’t be made until we discuss something besides it

You asked for it, Vanderbilt fans.

You wanted a real, competitive football team, with real, competitive expectations. You wanted a bowl game, a swarming defense, and a recruiting class that could rival those of the SEC big boys.

You wanted a university committed to academics and athletics, and by extension, an actual department to oversee the latter.

You wanted a little hope that the future might be better than the past.

And guess what? You got it. All of it.

So, now that that your wishes have been fulfilled, it’s time to be disappointed – maybe even upset – at the prospect of opportunity lost. High expectations and historical successes appear to be falling by the wayside, to be replaced with yet another frustrating, sub-.500 season of Commodore football.

Now, allow me to step aside for a second, and give you a chance to meditate on missed opportunities against South Carolina and Northwestern, or on embarrassment in Athens.

Upset yet? Good.

Let’s send all that pent-up negative energy in a positive direction.

Let’s start talking about how to right the ship.

Yes, thank The Commodore Himself – surely smiling down from The Big Mansion in the sky as he watches Jordan Rodgers struggle to convert on third-and-long – that our football team isn’t quite as horrendous as usual.

But now that we’ve put that aside, let’s s discuss the actual product on the field, because we’ve reached a point where being better than the past should no longer be satisfactory, where not being bad – as Vanderbilt football has been for most of its existence – should simply not be good enough.

We can start by asking questions that will help this program reach its potential:

Is the offense running as efficiently as possible? Are the right plays being called? Are the right players on the field at the right times?

Are our student-athletes being put in the best possible position for success?

I’m going to be honest with you: I’m not sure of the answer to any of these questions. But, what I am sure of is that these same questions are asked by football fans of every stripe – amateur or professional – on a weekly basis.

And I am also sure that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Vanderbilt Football will not have taken a definitive step forward until the present becomes of more interest than the past, or until the possibility of progress to come becomes of more import than progress already made. 

When the student body begins to bicker over defensive schemes and third down draws, in much the same way they do about the Titans, and the Giants, and even the Volunteers – that’s when we’ll know: a New Era is finally upon us.

Until then, we’re stuck watching the same old movie, with the all the familiar genre tropes: hope replaced with anguish; expectations continually dashed; and most of all, no matter the circumstance, the can’t-shake-it feeling that a loss is looming.

Until then, we will continue to be satisfied with moral victories and close calls. Until then, we will continue be content dwelling just above the SEC cellar, having recently vacated our long-held spot within it.

I’m not sure there is another program in the country – Alabama probably withstanding – that is so consumed by its history, or that waxes more about happenings outside the lines rather than the action between them.

From here on out, the past needs to stay exactly where it is: Because the fact of the matter is, that with considerable talent on both sides of the ball and more on the way, the chance for a bright future is finally here.

Let’s seize it.

There is no doubt that, over the last year, James Franklin has taken a program stuck in college football’s Bronze Age and turned it into something more worthy of the SEC gold standard than ever before. In the process, Franklin has proved himself to be a great recruiter, maybe a better motivator, and perhaps even – as many a magazine or newspaper profile would have you believe – an exceptional human being.  

But it remains to be seen whether or not Franklin’s coaching prowess extends to the gridiron itself.

Shocker: football isn’t exactly a moral game, and Bobby Knight and Bear Bryant weren’t exactly impeccable human beings. In this respect, James Franklin could be Jesus incarnate or the devil’s spawn and it wouldn’t matter – he has a football team to coach. So it’s about time to start evaluating whether he and his players are doing the jobs they’ve been tasked to do, and doing them successfully.

Am I saying that Franklin is, in actuality, doing a bad job, or that any of his starters should be riding the pine?

Of course not. I’ve barely thought about it yet, mostly because the discourse surrounding Vanderbilt football has kept me content with the status quo.

No longer. It’s time to swing for the fences or – to use a more apt analogy – throw it deep.

It’s time to start talking.

This is just one of many conversations to have, one of many questions that, if answered, can help to keep our football program running in the right direction.

Right now? We just seem to be running in place.

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Top Ten Cheap Dates Under 10 Bucks.

I’m sorry but no one, absolutely no one, wants to pay for anything these days. Being a college student living in Nashville, what better way to explore the city than through cheap and free adventures. Here are my top ten cheap dates. I vow to experience each and every one of them throughout the next two weeks. I won’t have to stray too far from my dorm or dig too deep into my pockets for these guys.

 

10. I vow to jam on “the Green.”

Every Thursday throughout the fall, Public Square Park is the scene for Live on the Green. They’re vision? “Keep it free. Keep it local. Keep it green.” Big names such as the Alabama Shakes will be appearing this Thursday. I will be front and center losing it like a teenybopper to the Biebs.

 

9. I vow to culture myself.

Dance Theatre of Tennessee partners with Centennial Park Bandshell to offer free performances of “Carmen” this weekend at 7:30. Pack a picnic and enjoy a cultural night out right at the park – donations accepted but the performance is completely free!

 

8. I vow to craft like a kid.

Robin’s Gallery is a local framing, art, home décor shop, and so much more. It hosts “Create It!” events throughout each month ranging from BYOB painting to festive and family events. This Sunday the gallery is hosting a free pumpkin painting event just in time to kick off the fall on the right note.

 

7. I vow to find a Danny to my Sandy.

What better way to see the latest blockbusters than at a classic drive-thru theatre? Located in Waterfront, TN just 20 minutes from Nashville, the Stardust offers double feature nights for far less than the typical mainstream theatre prices. Just 7 bucks to watch two new feature films and experience a Grease-like movie-going experience.

 

6. I vow to compete for a joke prize.

I will be heading over to Shelby Bottoms Nature Center to pick up their free fall scavenger hunt guide. The center sends you exploring through their park – the perfect activity for the perfect fall day. I’m grabbing friends, making it a competition, and running rampant through the park to win this hunt and redeem my token prize.

 

5. I vow to keep it classy.

Though typically the Frist offers student discounts, on Thursday and Friday nights from 5-9 they offer open gallery for all students. Scope out their website to see the exhibitions on display now and in the future and plan a cheap and incredibly classy night of contemporary and modern art at the Frist.

 

4. I vow to finally visit the Bluebird Café.

Head downtown to the legendary Bluebird Café to witness the up and coming perform and collaborate live. Most nights are free to enter with a $7 food or drink minimum. A cheap date night at one of the most famous venues in Nashville. What more could we want than live music in the heart of Music City?

 

3. I vow to have one magical, moonlit night.

Developed by a radio show to get their listeners active, Team Green Adventures offers many cheap and free events. This Sunday night is their monthly hike under the full moon. Leave your purse at home, grab your friends, and put on your hiking shoes because this 5-mile hike will be an incredible way to unwind and get active all under the gorgeous moonlight.

 

2. I vow to be artsy fartsy.

This coming Saturday and Sunday, Centennial Park is hosting the Tennessee Association of Creative Artists’ Fall Craft Fair. I’ve admittedly gone to this fair for the past two years and am shamelessly counting down the days. Though crafts may not be your cup of tea, just head over for some food, interesting creations, and a lovely way to spend a day outdoors.

 

1. I vow to experience true live country music.

The beloved Loveless Café that has been whipping up their famous biscuits since 1951, hosts a live radio show on Wednesday nights in their Loveless Barn. As Nashville continues to be the heart of country music, the vision of the show is to be an outlet for up and coming artists worldwide to join together, collaborate, and share their music. However, not everything you hear on the show will be country. The barn is a space for all folk, rock, jazz, world music, rockabilly, alternative… Any sub-genre you can imagine has a place in the acoustic haven that is the Loveless Barn. Every Wednesday night at 7. 10 bucks general admission. 5 bucks for students.  Haven’t been to Music City Roots but I promise I will be making an appearance next Wednesday. Tickets bought. Can’t wait.

 


Posted in ballet, bluebird, centennial park, craft, dance, frist, hiking, live on the green, loveless, robin's gallery, shelby bottoms, stardust, team green | Comments Off on Top Ten Cheap Dates Under 10 Bucks.

PEOPLE: “How Are You?” Is (kind of) Like the Penny



Vanderbilt’s campus is more than four times the size of Belmont’s campus. I learned this from personal experience before I looked up the numbers today.  I also did a little mapping and found out that in my daily trudge back and forth and back and forth, to and from classes, I cover around five and a half miles a day.  Though the student population is relatively the same between the two schools, I do not run into as many people I know here at Vanderbilt as I did at Belmont. 
Now, obviously there are many other factors that influence that truth, but I’m not a statistician by any means. Nor would I ever care to be one. Actually, I am entirely uninterested in the numbers. (You can read my bio if you’re not sure why).
Instead, I am fascinated by what the numbers represent; their effect on my daily experience.

Because what happens when you do run into someone you know?
You are polite and courteous, of course. And you probably like being friends with this person. So you reach for a familiar phrase that you’ve been taught all of your life communicates care and consideration:
           
“How are you?” you ask.

If I am this friend you are asking, you do not know what you have just gotten yourself into.
            “Well, do you want the short version so you can get on with your day or do you want to actually know what I really feel?” I think.
And I may or may not verbalize this thought, depending on the key factors of how well I know you and how well sleep did it’s job repairing my social-verbal filter the night before.
I know I am not alone when it comes to this obvious inconsistency between question and desired answer. Generally, when people ask “How are you?”, they are looking for a short response. The list of polite and socially-approved options goes as follows:
            Good (or Well ,if you’re a grammar nerd like me)*
            Great
            Awesome
            Swell
            Fantastic
            Ok
            Alright
Fine
            Dandy
*some variations may include the gerund “doing” before the adjective
But the question “How are you?”  is not a very good vehicle for the endgame of one-word reply. The word “how” implies an answer with description and depth, not a meaningless race to finish the sentence before the other person walks off in a different direction.  I am endlessly frustrated by the blatant disregard for true human connection that this question begs.
            Nevertheless, I engage in the monotony and meaninglessness of hallway “How are you?”s, wishing for the day when someone will actually mean what they say. For now, “How are you?”s are pretty much worthless. They are quick, little exchanges that people glaze over without the slightest thought.
           
“How are you?”s are the penny in the currency of human conversation.
 A penny does not have much value. In fact, the cost of making a penny is greater the value of owning a penny. Similarly, the time it takes to hurl social courtesies at one another is greater than the actual depth of relationship gained in that time.
Heck! Sometimes you ask someone how they are and you don’t even get a response! And where does that leave your kind question? On the ground, passed by, like it's only a penny – not worth picking up or responding to.

But we still do it.
We still ask “How are you?”
And the penny is still in circulation.

It’s not because we are unaware of the façade of our question, or because we have some illogical notion that the penny is a valuable form of currency.

Have you ever had a rough day? (Where I’m from, we like to call them “shambly” days because everything around you – maybe even including you – is in shambles).  And then on your way to class, that kid you sit next to in calculus tosses a meaningless social gesture your way:
“Hey! How are you?”
            You make exact change.
            “Good. You?”
            “Good.”
For some inexplicable reason, today that question meant something. No, I’m not going all mushy on you here. It didn’t change the fact that today was shambly. But, today it meant that somebody cared enough to string together some words and verbalize them. And that’s enough for today.              
           

            So, I will continue to ask how people are when I see them on my quarter-marathon of a walk to class.  Join me in perpetuating this seemingly empty phrase! Even if it is simply out of social grace that we exchange these one-cent questions. You never know when someone might find your “How are you?” heads-up and call themselves lucky.
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PEOPLE: “How Are You?” Is (kind of) Like the Penny



Vanderbilt’s campus is more than four times the size of Belmont’s campus. I learned this from personal experience before I looked up the numbers today.  I also did a little mapping and found out that in my daily trudge back and forth and back and forth, to and from classes, I cover around five and a half miles a day.  Though the student population is relatively the same between the two schools, I do not run into as many people I know here at Vanderbilt as I did at Belmont. 
Now, obviously there are many other factors that influence that truth, but I’m not a statistician by any means. Nor would I ever care to be one. Actually, I am entirely uninterested in the numbers. (You can read my bio if you’re not sure why).
Instead, I am fascinated by what the numbers represent; their effect on my daily experience.

Because what happens when you do run into someone you know?
You are polite and courteous, of course. And you probably like being friends with this person. So you reach for a familiar phrase that you’ve been taught all of your life communicates care and consideration:
           
“How are you?” you ask.

If I am this friend you are asking, you do not know what you have just gotten yourself into.
            “Well, do you want the short version so you can get on with your day or do you want to actually know what I really feel?” I think.
And I may or may not verbalize this thought, depending on the key factors of how well I know you and how well sleep did it’s job repairing my social-verbal filter the night before.
I know I am not alone when it comes to this obvious inconsistency between question and desired answer. Generally, when people ask “How are you?”, they are looking for a short response. The list of polite and socially-approved options goes as follows:
            Good (or Well ,if you’re a grammar nerd like me)*
            Great
            Awesome
            Swell
            Fantastic
            Ok
            Alright
Fine
            Dandy
*some variations may include the gerund “doing” before the adjective
But the question “How are you?”  is not a very good vehicle for the endgame of one-word reply. The word “how” implies an answer with description and depth, not a meaningless race to finish the sentence before the other person walks off in a different direction.  I am endlessly frustrated by the blatant disregard for true human connection that this question begs.
            Nevertheless, I engage in the monotony and meaninglessness of hallway “How are you?”s, wishing for the day when someone will actually mean what they say. For now, “How are you?”s are pretty much worthless. They are quick, little exchanges that people glaze over without the slightest thought.
           
“How are you?”s are the penny in the currency of human conversation.
 A penny does not have much value. In fact, the cost of making a penny is greater the value of owning a penny. Similarly, the time it takes to hurl social courtesies at one another is greater than the actual depth of relationship gained in that time.
Heck! Sometimes you ask someone how they are and you don’t even get a response! And where does that leave your kind question? On the ground, passed by, like it's only a penny – not worth picking up or responding to.

But we still do it.
We still ask “How are you?”
And the penny is still in circulation.

It’s not because we are unaware of the façade of our question, or because we have some illogical notion that the penny is a valuable form of currency.

Have you ever had a rough day? (Where I’m from, we like to call them “shambly” days because everything around you – maybe even including you – is in shambles).  And then on your way to class, that kid you sit next to in calculus tosses a meaningless social gesture your way:
“Hey! How are you?”
            You make exact change.
            “Good. You?”
            “Good.”
For some inexplicable reason, today that question meant something. No, I’m not going all mushy on you here. It didn’t change the fact that today was shambly. But, today it meant that somebody cared enough to string together some words and verbalize them. And that’s enough for today.              
           

            So, I will continue to ask how people are when I see them on my quarter-marathon of a walk to class.  Join me in perpetuating this seemingly empty phrase! Even if it is simply out of social grace that we exchange these one-cent questions. You never know when someone might find your “How are you?” heads-up and call themselves lucky.
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The run down on being a Democrat (or a Republican)

Picture this. It’s Election Day. You wake up bright and early on November 6th to get to the polls before class. You wait in line, sign your name, and receive that long-awaited ballot. You stare at the names, maybe only recognizing two. (The ones with the words REPUBLICAN and DEMOCRATIC hovering over them.) You haven’t been very involved with recent election developments, aren’t that politically interested in general for that matter…and now, you’re stuck.

In truth, this is pretty unlikely. Even the most politically apathetic person in the country (with some education) usually has at least party identification going for them. The chances of someone in our country not having at least a vague idea of candidate preference, based on either family practices or other forms of socialization, are minute. In fact, at any given point during a presidential election in the U.S., there are only about 6% of voters who don’t know who they are voting for come Election Day. This is true today, just a few weeks before the election, and even a few months ago. But let’s say you’re conflicted, let’s say you don’t know enough to make an informed decision, or even that you don’t know which candidate is Republican and which is Democratic (very, very, unlikely). What’s an undecided to do?

On average, just under a third of the American electorate doesn’t officially subscribe to a major party affiliation. That means that more than two-thirds of the voting age population describe themselves as either Republicans or Democrats – this number is just around 90% in the 21st century. In the 2008 election, 99% of the popular vote went to either Barack Obama or John McCain. In Italy’s 2008 parliamentary election, the top two political parties (out of seven major ones) received only 70% of the popular vote.

The benefit of having the two-party system we’ve been accustomed to in the U.S. is that we, for all intents and purposes, have two options. You either vote for one of the two major parties, or consign to the fact that your vote will not be for the winner. The disadvantage of having a two-party system is that there are two, and only two, major candidates. It means, arguably, that we are forced to proscribe to one set of beliefs or another. To accept all aspects of an ideology as our own, to call ourselves liberals, or call our selves conservatives, and lastly, to vote accordingly.

The most potent force for party identification in our society is socialization. Mostly by our parents, often by our peers, and sometimes by major political events that occur during our lifetimes. Party ID is a way of simplifying the decision of voting someone into office, to help reduce that number of undecideds. But is that our way out? Should we get a free pass once we choose a side and join the team faithfully?

That kind of blind trust in the system could either be considered courageous, or downright idiotic. To say that both Democrats and Republicans have set ideological platforms is an understatement. But at the same time, it’s up to citizens to keep our President and representatives in line, and to use our voice to shape policy, instead of letting our opinions fall to the wayside.

So the answer to the question of helping undecideds, is, essentially, that there isn’t an answer. To use party identification is reasonable, to only use party alliance is regrettable, and to figure out a compromise between your beliefs and the beliefs of your party is courageous. That middle ground is what differentiates an undecided from an informed and valuable voter, and what makes our political system worthwhile.


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The Most Beautiful Things

“Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.”

- John Steinbeck

A peacock at Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home, Andalusia in Milledgeville, GA.


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Read “Birnam Wood” by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Vestal, New YorkMy aunt learned to read tarot cards in college as a party trick. Now, every New Years when she comes to visit, she’ll pull out her stack of cards from their purple velvet pouch, shuffle them between her long-nailed hands, and lay them out in a Celtic Cross spread across the floor in front of us. The penultimate card, the last to be revealed before the outcome, is the card that dictates the inquirer’s Hopes and Fears. Even though you “know” the outcome of your next year, or semester, or month, or whatever, when you’re actually living those months, the outcome matters, but not as much as the hopes and fears. Those emotions are the way you will live your day to day life, and those are the emotions that give the outcome meaning.

Sorry to go off on a tarot tangent. And sorry if you think they’re bizarre. They are, it’s true, but I write of tarot cards because they seem to work well with this week’s story, which has reverberations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

T. Coraghessan Boyle’s “Birnam Wood,” published in The New Yorker in August (available online here) is the story of a young couple struggling to live in upstate New York in the 70s. The summer has ended, winter is setting on, and meanwhile Keith and Nora are struggling to pay the bills for a cold, leaking shack. Resentment brews (bubble, bubble, toil and trouble) and miraculously, they are offered an out: a chance to house-sit in a beautiful mansion in Birnam Wood, which includes its own pool table and a private lake. To convince the elderly couple that they are responsible young adults, Keith and Nora pretend they are married. So begins the domestic experiment, both of them hoping the resentment they felt over the fall will fade, both imagining what it might be like to really own this home, to really belong to each other.

In the past, Boyle has been deemed a maximalist, a writer with melodramatic tendencies and a flare for the bizarre that he sometimes includes to the detriment of his stories. Personally, I love the Boyle that busts with raw humor and dark absurdity. If you have a New Yorker subscription, you can read the archive: the man has written a story called “Thirteen-Hundred Rats,” (it’s ridiculously morbid and strange) and his use of the fantastic in the story “Los Gigantes” still works within a complicated, thought-provoking piece.

But “Birnam Wood” operates on a subtler plain, and the paring back of the bizarre allows us to really focus on what matters in this story: the splintering cracks in Keith and Nora’s relationship.

After they move in to the mansion, things are good for awhile. The tension dissipates, and they try to experience the last days of summer:

“Whenever we could, we went out in the rowboat, and though we never acknowledged it, I suppose we were both thinking the same thing—that we’d better take advantage of it while we could, because each day of the sun might be the last.”

(A metaphor, of course, for the way Keith and Nora cling to the last days of their own relationship.)

The story blows up emotionally (in a good way) after Steve from the bar arrives at the house, and Nora understands what Steve and Keith have talked about in the bar. It’s a terrific, forceful moment in the story, and what follows after is really just Keith coming to terms with all he has lost.

He wanders out across the frozen lake, where he sees into the bedroom of a house, where a man and woman lie side by side, reading before they go to bed, and the narrator sits there, in the icy dark, and watches them until the light goes out.

The scene mirrors an earlier moment in the story, when Keith falls asleep to Nora reading in her separate bed across the room from him:

“…when I switched off my lamp and turned to the wall the last image fading in my brain was of the steady bright nimbus of Nora’s light and her face shining their above the book.”

In both scenes, Keith is closeted in his personal darkness: there is Nora, and there are the people in their beds, two images of celestial domesticity—the kind of happy, secure life that Keith craves. In the first scene, he turns away from the light—just as he will turn away from Nora, and at the end, he cannot help but stare into the house, into the light that he’s lost now, forever.

Our Hopes and Fears are strange forces. They lead us in all sorts of zigzagging directions, and as we follow behind, tugged and pulled from one place to another—a giant mansion, a frozen lake—it’s hard to say what that 10th card will mean to us, when it arrives.

English: T.C. Boyle at the powerHouse Arena, D...

Author T.Coraghessan Boyle

The New Yorker interviewed the author about “Birnam Wood.” You can find the Q & A is here.


Posted in Authors, Birnam Wood, Literature, Macbeth, New Yorker, Read Drunk; Analyze Sober, reading, story, T. Coraghessan Boyle, tarot cards, writing | Comments Off on Read “Birnam Wood” by T. Coraghessan Boyle

Becoming informed by blogs

Blogging can be an incredibly valuable way of receiving information – and it can also involve of wading through things you aren’t interested in, that aren’t particularly informative, or are just annoyingly opinionated. So how do you filter out the good from the bad? What differentiates an exceptional blog from a rant-filled, overly complicated, uninformative mess? Here’s my guide to recognizing a blog at its best:

They’re credible. They cite sources other than themselves. They do their research and SHOW that they’ve done their research. The use of opinion from like-minded individuals does not diminish the writer’s voice, but enhances it. Andrew Sullivan’s blog on The Daily Beast is stock full of quotes, quotes, and more quotes. While this might not be your style of choice, the approach never disappoints a want for supporting opinions.

They introduce you to the subject of a long piece before they show you the whole post. Howard Fineman’s HuffPost blog provides a title, and a few sentences of text to get you interested. This allows you to browse topics before you decide on your story of choice. Consider this lead-in from September 18th: “Remember when Mitt Romney said that Palestinians don’t want peace and aren’t as culturally prepared for modernity as Israelis are? If you were surprised, you shouldn’t have been. His well-traveled and savvy chief campaign adviser, Stuart Stevens, did media on Ariel Sharon’s campaigns for prime minister…” Or even this statement from a post on September 19: “Mitt Romney has become the PSY of presidential politics. And that’s bad news for the Republican candidate on the 48th day before Election day. PSY (Park Jae-sang) is, of course, the South Korean rapper whose “Gangnam Style” dance video has generated an astounding 220 million YouTube views…”

They get to the point. (And stay there.) If it’s off topic, distracted from the subject at hand, or wordy for no particular purpose, why are you reading it? In the time it took to read the wordy, unorganized, messy blog, you could have read maybe 2 or 3 that were direct, informational, and generally more enjoyable. David Roberts, environmental blogger for Grist.org, does this well. He starts off one post: “Pollution is not the only thing wrong with the U.S. power system. It is also governed by inconsistent rules and opaque, unaccountable organizations. The average citizen has little understanding of how it works, who is in charge, or how it might change for the better.” Looks clear and succinct? It is.

They inspire in their readers a desire for conversation. It’s what causes readers to utilize comment sections, share an article by email, Facebook, Twitter, or even share in a more traditional way – through conversation. Gizmodo, a blog devoted to all things tech-y, has mastered their easy to use comment section. Not only are the comments readable and the format aesthetically pleasing, but also the opinionated content of the posts often sparks passionate responses from visitors. It’s inspiring even for a technology novice like myself.

There’s no reason to suffer through an uninteresting, uninformed, and unworthy blog when there are so many out there! The blessing of blogging is the ability to make your own guide to a good blog, and to search the masses for the one that fits your interests and preferences. And maybe to dabble a little bit yourself!


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THINGS: College Exams Are (kind of) Like Valentine’s Day


If either part of this analogy stresses you out, you're in good company. 

I am currently preparing to take my first midterms of my fall semester and I got around to wondering why exams stress us out so much. It's like going on a really important date.

I've had my fair share of terrifying exams and super awkward Valentine's days. 
The thing about both of these events is that they have the potential of ending two very different ways:
in an I-just-won-the-gold-medal! success...or in a my-heart-is-in-the-gutter despair. 

In the weeks leading up to a midterm, study rooms are packed, all the books you needed from the library are checked out, and every conversation somehow finds its way to the question "How much are you going to study?" Seriously? Because how I answer is going to affect how much you study?

I've never liked the drumroll to an exam. It takes over your life and drives you to stress-eat ungodly amounts of Nestle chocolate chip cookie dough. When I study (though, truthfully, the occasion is rare), I like to hull up in my room, spend about an hour complaining, and then about two hours reviewing slides of Athenian agoras and remembering which dead guy wrote which poem about London in 1893.

And then the dreaded hour arrives.
If you’re like me, you put on the most comfortable clothes you can find, down as much coffee as you can afford on your cheapo college-kid budget, and roll to class with a can-do attitude.

You open the door to find a room full of equally strung-out students. There’s an obvious unspoken agreement to pounce on any sucker who tries to make a joke this morning. We know you think you’re trying to lighten the mood, but the rest of us are still cramming Kirchhoff’s Laws.

The professor hands out the exam and suddenly everyone finds time to talk to God.
This is your chance to prove that you actually know your stuff. This is your chance to prove you’ve been listening when it probably looked like you were, oh, I don’t know, texting or checking your Facebook. Because you’d never do that in class. Laptops are only for taking notes, right?

Your hand cramps up as you write that last sentence of the essay question and THERE! You’re done!

Even though I admit to mildly enjoying tests, for reasons unknown, I am still very glad when it’s all over. In the aftermath, you hear whispers that confirm you probably answered number three correctly. And you’d love to stay and chat, but you’d rather just move on with your life.

Then there’s the day you get grades back. Well, there’s nothing you can do to change the past.

This is that part we talked about earlier; where you’re crying with joy…or because you’re parents are going to kill you if they find out about this one. I hope that you find yourself more frequently siding with the first reason. Either way, I’m not one to discuss my grades with others. There’s something so utterly tactless about asking your lab partner what he got on the physics exam. Again, seriously? Because how I answer is going to affect your grade?

Instead, once I note that letter at the top, I like to tuck my test deep inside an unmarked folder and entirely forget about the whole experience until fate requires me to dig it up in preparation for the next exam.

Right next to that folder is another unmarked folder full of letters. These letters, however, were not assigned to me by a professor, but were written to me by various individuals in my life. And deep inside this folder are a couple of letters from my more recent Valentine’s days.

In the weeks leading up to St. Valentine’s Day, restaurants you wanted reservations at are booked up and every conversation somehow finds its way to the question "What are you doing for Valentine’s day?"

February 14th makes you overanalyze your relationships and drives you to stress-eat ungodly amounts of Nestle chocolate chip cookie dough. When I go out on Valentine’s Day (though, truthfully, the occasion is rare), I like to hull up in my room, spend about an hour complaining, and then about two hours trying on fancy dresses and attempting crazy hairdos until I feel like I look alright.

And then the dreaded hour arrives.
If you’re like me, you put on the nicest outfit in your closet and wear a charming smile to hide all of your anxiety.

You open the door to find an equally anxious date. There’s an obvious unspoken agreement to ignore this elephant named Putting-on-a-face. After all, there’s not really room for the elephant at our two-top at the French bistro.

The waiter hands each of you a menu and you know the time has come to start the conversation. 
This is your chance to prove you’ve been listening to everything the other person said.

Even though Valentine’s Day can be quite fun, I am still very glad when it’s all over.

Then there’s February 15th.
We are again at that place of happy or sad tears. Ladies, he calls or he doesn’t. Gents, she says she had a good time or you hear from her friends that you totally botched it. Hopefully you have more fun Valentine’s dates than disappointing ones.

Either way, I’m not one to blabber on to other people about my dates. There’s something so utterly tactless about a post-Valentine’s fairytale replay or disastrous rant. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase “Don’t kiss and tell”?

All in all, I am very thankful that February 14th only happens once a year, and exam time only two or three times a semester.  Because I’m not sure I have room for anymore cookie dough in my freezer. 
Posted in college, exams, holidays, THINGS | Comments Off on THINGS: College Exams Are (kind of) Like Valentine’s Day

THINGS: College Exams Are (kind of) Like Valentine’s Day


If either part of this analogy stresses you out, you're in good company. 

I am currently preparing to take my first midterms of my fall semester and I got around to wondering why exams stress us out so much. It's like going on a really important date.

I've had my fair share of terrifying exams and super awkward Valentine's days. 
The thing about both of these events is that they have the potential of ending two very different ways:
in an I-just-won-the-gold-medal! success...or in a my-heart-is-in-the-gutter despair. 

In the weeks leading up to a midterm, study rooms are packed, all the books you needed from the library are checked out, and every conversation somehow finds its way to the question "How much are you going to study?" Seriously? Because how I answer is going to affect how much you study?

I've never liked the drumroll to an exam. It takes over your life and drives you to stress-eat ungodly amounts of Nestle chocolate chip cookie dough. When I study (though, truthfully, the occasion is rare), I like to hull up in my room, spend about an hour complaining, and then about two hours reviewing slides of Athenian agoras and remembering which dead guy wrote which poem about London in 1893.

And then the dreaded hour arrives.
If you’re like me, you put on the most comfortable clothes you can find, down as much coffee as you can afford on your cheapo college-kid budget, and roll to class with a can-do attitude.

You open the door to find a room full of equally strung-out students. There’s an obvious unspoken agreement to pounce on any sucker who tries to make a joke this morning. We know you think you’re trying to lighten the mood, but the rest of us are still cramming Kirchhoff’s Laws.

The professor hands out the exam and suddenly everyone finds time to talk to God.
This is your chance to prove that you actually know your stuff. This is your chance to prove you’ve been listening when it probably looked like you were, oh, I don’t know, texting or checking your Facebook. Because you’d never do that in class. Laptops are only for taking notes, right?

Your hand cramps up as you write that last sentence of the essay question and THERE! You’re done!

Even though I admit to mildly enjoying tests, for reasons unknown, I am still very glad when it’s all over. In the aftermath, you hear whispers that confirm you probably answered number three correctly. And you’d love to stay and chat, but you’d rather just move on with your life.

Then there’s the day you get grades back. Well, there’s nothing you can do to change the past.

This is that part we talked about earlier; where you’re crying with joy…or because you’re parents are going to kill you if they find out about this one. I hope that you find yourself more frequently siding with the first reason. Either way, I’m not one to discuss my grades with others. There’s something so utterly tactless about asking your lab partner what he got on the physics exam. Again, seriously? Because how I answer is going to affect your grade?

Instead, once I note that letter at the top, I like to tuck my test deep inside an unmarked folder and entirely forget about the whole experience until fate requires me to dig it up in preparation for the next exam.

Right next to that folder is another unmarked folder full of letters. These letters, however, were not assigned to me by a professor, but were written to me by various individuals in my life. And deep inside this folder are a couple of letters from my more recent Valentine’s days.

In the weeks leading up to St. Valentine’s Day, restaurants you wanted reservations at are booked up and every conversation somehow finds its way to the question "What are you doing for Valentine’s day?"

February 14th makes you overanalyze your relationships and drives you to stress-eat ungodly amounts of Nestle chocolate chip cookie dough. When I go out on Valentine’s Day (though, truthfully, the occasion is rare), I like to hull up in my room, spend about an hour complaining, and then about two hours trying on fancy dresses and attempting crazy hairdos until I feel like I look alright.

And then the dreaded hour arrives.
If you’re like me, you put on the nicest outfit in your closet and wear a charming smile to hide all of your anxiety.

You open the door to find an equally anxious date. There’s an obvious unspoken agreement to ignore this elephant named Putting-on-a-face. After all, there’s not really room for the elephant at our two-top at the French bistro.

The waiter hands each of you a menu and you know the time has come to start the conversation. 
This is your chance to prove you’ve been listening to everything the other person said.

Even though Valentine’s Day can be quite fun, I am still very glad when it’s all over.

Then there’s February 15th.
We are again at that place of happy or sad tears. Ladies, he calls or he doesn’t. Gents, she says she had a good time or you hear from her friends that you totally botched it. Hopefully you have more fun Valentine’s dates than disappointing ones.

Either way, I’m not one to blabber on to other people about my dates. There’s something so utterly tactless about a post-Valentine’s fairytale replay or disastrous rant. Haven’t you ever heard the phrase “Don’t kiss and tell”?

All in all, I am very thankful that February 14th only happens once a year, and exam time only two or three times a semester.  Because I’m not sure I have room for anymore cookie dough in my freezer. 
Posted in college, exams, holidays, THINGS | Comments Off on THINGS: College Exams Are (kind of) Like Valentine’s Day

You don’t have to be a psychic to see EJ in our future

In my blog introduction, I explained the origins of my captivation with the EJ movement: the marriage of my love of nature with my love of people; a movement that started from the grassroots; the best choice we have to move forward and deal with our environmental and economic crises.

Today we’re going to look at the national movement of EJ in recent years, particularly at Green for All and its founder, Van Jones. As I look ahead to life after college and what I want to do with my education and passions, my research on Green for All really makes me think that I could spend my life working for an organization like this. They’re at the forefront of environmental justice, advocating for the poor by giving exploited communities a voice.

 Van Jones

Anthony Kapel “Van” Jones is an environmental and civil rights activist, attorney, and 2009 environmental advisor to the Obama White House. So this guy knows what he’s talking about when he says stuff like, “We are entering an era during which our very survival will demand invention and innovation on a scale never before seen in the history of human civilization. Only the business community has the requisite skills, experience, and capital to meet that need.” He shifted his focus in social justice specifically to the environment once he understood the potential for green jobs to save both our environment and the economy.

 

Green jobs

According to the United Nations Environment Program, a green or green-collar job is defined as “work in agricultural, manufacturing, research and development, administrative, and service activities that contribute(s) substantially to preserving or restoring environmental quality.” Before Green for All, Van Jones advocated clean-energy, energy-efficient work in the San Francisco Bay Area and statewide throughout California. Since then, green jobs have garnered national attention for their holistic approach to complex problems, namely environmental degradation and unemployment. In 2007 a Green Jobs Act was passed, allocating $125 million to green job training programs. Similarly, in August 2009, the Obama administration established a national green job training program called Pathways out of Poverty, aimed towards individuals living below or near poverty level to provide them with skills needed to enter the green job market.

Green for All

In response to his shift in focus to environmentalism, Van Jones founded Green for All, a national NGO dedicated to “building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.” The organization was officially launched in September 2007 at the Clinton Global Intitiative. Green for All gave EJ its first national presence, as the movement has its history in the local community and stirs up grassroots movements in response to injustices.

From what I can tell, Green for All successfully addresses a multitude of issues that disproportionately affect the underserved poor. “We must insist that the coming ‘green wave’ lift all boats,” Jones says. “Those low income communities that were locked out of the pollution-based economy must be locked into the clean and green economy.” Its approach mainly focuses on creating a clean energy economy in America, making us energy independent and thus improving security, reducing pollution, benefiting our health and creating millions of jobs. More than that, Green for All explains, “Building a clean energy economy is a chance to reinvigorate and reinvest in the best part of the American dream: the idea that everyone gets a chance to succeed.

The principles of Van Jones and Green for All reminded me of the principles of the “triple bottom line” of social justice: people, planet and profit. The triple bottom line reflects a totally new mindset and foreign way of evaluating success in the business world by considering the human and environmental costs at play. This is the same mindset (perhaps, a social conscience) that nudges people to boycott Wal-Mart, buy fair trade coffee and reuse a ceramic mug at Starbucks. A mindset that cares about other people is not the cheapest or most convenient way to live, but then again our ability to care about others is what makes us human.

Green for All has a cool blog that you should check out here, and I’ll be following it on my own throughout the semester. Pressing headlines from the blog read “Want Jobs? Fix America’s Water Crisis” and “Corporations are poisoning our kids. Take Action Now!”

The current CEO of Green for All, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, explains the relationship between green jobs and economic improvement in her summer blog post, Our Big Chance to Get America on its Feet: “If we want to stay competitive in the global marketplace—and keep our communities healthy and prosperous—we need to fix our infrastructure. We need to make it modern, efficient, and sustainable. And to do that, we’ll need workers. Lots of them.”

With Green for All leading the way, EJ and a green-collar economy are proving to be the sustainable future. It provides a multifaceted solution to an issue not only of environmental preservation but of justice and basic civil rights as well. It was so nice to see how much hope there is throughout the movement, that not everyone has given up; there are still experts out there who are coming up with innovative, brand-new perspectives and technology that will save the planet.

Lastly, Van Jones turns 44 in two days. Happy birthday, friend! Here’s to the budding of a green-collar economy by the time 45 rolls around.

Isn’t this a weird cake? 

Signing out,

Sums


Posted in green collar economy, green jobs, s, van jones | Comments Off on You don’t have to be a psychic to see EJ in our future

The Week in WTF: The Many Faces of Eli Manning, and of the Many People Who Talk About Him

Besides posting the sixth-highest passing total in league history a year ago, Eli Manning is the NFL’s all-time record holder for most fourth quarter comebacks in a single season.

The steady, solid, better-than-Peyton quarterback (at least right now) of the New York Giants also has two Super Bowl rings on his mantle, and two Super Bowl MVP awards to go along with them.

At this point, there is no doubting Eli’s credentials.

But we do it anyway.

There is no questioning Eli Manning’s ability to overcome adversity. Matching – maybe even besting – his mammoth expectations in the country’s most malicious market should have squashed that bug, exterminated it forever.

But still, we doubt.

Still, we don’t believe.

Still, we pounce at the very first chance.

In fact, in this constantly-evolvinginstantly-analyzed world of opinions expounded and tweets tweeted, doubt may have become our reaction of choice.

Speaking of doubt – it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so when considering this unsettling possibility. And the Giants quarterback’s journey from maligned to marveled – and however briefly this Sunday, back again – is a microcosm of it all.

Seven months ago, the Giants won their second Super Bowl in five years, and it seemed that the debate around Eli’s ‘Eliteness’ had finally, mercifully wrapped.

Then, in the ensuing season’s second game, the reality of that debate – and of the increasingly instantaneous and irrational reaction machine that powers it – reared its ugly head once more.

“It’s starting to look like we’re going to see the 2010 Eli Manning this year.”

“HA! Eli is Elite?…three INTs in the first half! Never will be Peyton, Never will be the Man!!”

The Manning face, forever and ever. Don’t let anyone ever convince you this schlub is a top-notch quarterback.

I’m paraphrasing, but the above is a pretty accurate representation of the hyper-reactive BS popping up all over on my Twitter timeline at halftime of the Giants v. Buccaneers game on Sunday, minutes after Eli had thrown (what at the time seemed like) a backbreaking third interception, returned for sixty yards and a touchdown by Bucs DB Eric Wright.

But guess what? It wasn’t backbreaking. Eli Manning isn’t, in fact, a ‘schlub.’

And 30 minutes of performance, poor or prolific, should never, ever – no matter the playing field – overrule long-term consensus.

But that’s what happened on Sunday. Right up until Eli and his crop of receivers want H.A.M. on the Tampa secondary. Right up until Eli posted the eighth highest single-game passing total in the history of the National Football League. Right up until the Giants’ back was un-broken – despite Greg Schiano’s best “sneak attack” efforts to the contrary – and Eli reminded everyone, fans and critics, exactly who he is.

That is, exactly who he will always be: a guy who can throw a football damn well, and whose ability to do so doesn’t change because someone else thinks it has.

As a species, we don’t agree on much. Most of all, we have a particularly difficult time coming to a consensus on what is what and whom is whom. But one thing we can agree on is that identity doesn’t shift particularly often, and that it certainly doesn’t change on a minute-by-minute basis. Matter is matter. Five minutes from now, matter will still be matter.

Van Gogh might have brushed a few strokes astray, but he was no less a painter for it.

Surely, even Einstein garbled a few calculations. But these shortcomings make his theory of relativity no less revolutionary.

So, why must we hold our athletes to such an impossible standard?

That’s a tough question, and one that would take many more words than I am willing to give.

(The CliffNotes version, in my opinion, would involve plenty of meditation on the nature of live events as well as the mythology surrounding sports. But again, this is a discussion for a different, longer day.)

Regardless of the motives, the consequences are clear.

There is no crying for Eli Manning, with his abundance of talent and millions accrued.

Certainly, there is no crying for the myriad athletes just like him. LeBron, A-Rod and Tiger come to mind as just a few of the other unfortunate, misperceivedinhabitants of The Spotlight.

But tears can be shed for a culture in which small samples are valued higher than manicured resumes, in which “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” has become the de facto law of the land.

Tears can be shed for a society that may have lost its ability to reason, or its ability to remember what it witnessed a week – let alone months – ago.

If this all sounds apocalyptic – well, apologies, and here’s a pillow to scream into. But with no ability to assess assets, to analyze, to come to a concrete understanding about the world around us, then what are we left with?

Cacophony. Cruelty. Chaos.

A world populated with hydra: dozens of heads and faces attached to each body.

Think you killed one of the heads? That you can turn your back on one of those many faces?

Fool. Check again.

It grew back.

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