Sunday, February 28, 2010

We even talk about Brett Favre during the Olympics.

2010 Winter OlympicsI never really understood the pull of the Winter Olympics. I mean, yes, they are the Olympics, but in mid to late February, the last thing I want to see is snow. Still, Vancouver somehow managed to top American Idol in ratings, at least according to the segment Jimmy Fallon did last night with Bob Costas.

Joannie Rochette: Canadian Ice PrincessI did watch the end of the hockey game today, enough to see Team USA celebrate when they tied the game with 24 seconds to go and then to see Canada top that in overtime. I saw Yu-Na Kim and Joannie Rochette perform their own miracles on ice. I even followed Apolo Ohno's chase "to be to frozen water what Michael Phelps is to regular water." (Thank You, Jimmy Fallon, for making this witty comparison.) So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the Winter Olympics are popular--I got sucked in by the human interest stories, the sibling and friend/rival dramas and the painful injuries.

Maybe it's not the snow and ice, the reminder of cold weather that I absolutely don't need, maybe my indifference or ambivalence towards the 2010 Winter Olympics comes from my relative lack of team spirit. I found myself cheering for underdogs, which generally meant not Americans. I cheered for the Italians, feeling a sense of weird camaraderie with them. I also found myself in several situations just not wanting the Americans to win...just because.

Even so, with the closing ceremonies underway, I do feel patriotic. It's hard not to with the emotional montages and music. I'm also feeling a little Green Knight pride with the triple victories of men's hockey and men's and women's basketball this weekend. I had nothing to do with those victories, but we all know what that's like--claiming teams as our own, saying things like "we won!" when really someone else owns them and the athletes and coaches did all the winning.

And speaking of sports pride, we all know we'll be tuning to Jay Leno this week to see our favorite Olympic stars, along with Brett Favre, whom some will claim with pride and others not so much.

There's probably a joke about the parallels between Leno and Favre lurking around here somewhere.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

pencil fortresses and health care

The Office - Season OneI was feeling pretty good Thursday afternoon. My Criminology exam was fairly easy, and my professor now knows not only my name, but also that Matt and I are avid viewers of The Office due to our pre-exam reenactment of seconds 8-11 of this video.

Our classroom is a lecture hall, so our "desks" are actually one long table with the chairs attached, but Matt and I wanted to make sure we each had our own exam-taking space. As the rest of the class filed in and got settled, Matt penciled lines to show his side, my side, and no-man's land. He was penciling barbed wired in no-man's land when I told him if there were spaces in the table I'd just line it with pencils. Without missing a beat, Matt grabbed an imaginary phone and pounded my imaginary pencils down. We both looked up to see Dr. Shippee leaning back in his swivel chair, beer-stein-shaped coffee mug in hand, smiling and nodding at us.

After the exam I had three hours before Poverty and Social Justice, which I used to continue reading Aurora Leigh. I'm pretty sure I can guess what's going to happen with our witty and brilliant narrator, but I don't care because she has such a way with words.

SickoFor maybe the first time this semester, I made it to Sr. Sally Ann's class early. She's really good at keeping the class relevant (ie, reading Mountains Beyond Mountains right after the earthquake in Haiti) and Thursday was no different. With the congressional health care meeting underway, we watched Sicko, Michael Moore's documentary on the state of the American health care industry. I'm not sure what comments to make. He does make valid points on the "sickness" of health insurance in America, but he is also biased and I have a hard time fully trusting the story of anyone with skills in cinematography--it's those smooth talkers you have to watch out for. I guess what I mean is, yes, America's health care industry is broken and favors the rich and healthy, but other systems do have problems too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Epic Wednesday

I wrote this sort of over the course of the day. Thanks, auto-save feature!

My criminology professor finally knows my name, which means I must have said something good during class. After I had answered several questions one day, my friend asked if I was participating just so the professor would remember me. Maybe a little.

I'm a sucker for donating blood, despite my troubles in the past. Today, though, I passed all the tests and my blood filled that bag in record time. (I like to race the other donators.)

Most of the guys in my Film and Lit course aren't fans of the book we are currently reading. Aurora Leigh, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is an epic poem from the woman's point of view. It's feminist without being angry feminist--because there was no such thing then. I like its commentary on love versus work versus art--are they all the same thing, or are they separate entities?

I also like these lines:
Aurora Leigh (Oxford World's Classics)
"If a flower
Were thrown you out of heaven at intervals,
You'd soon attain to a trick of looking up,--"

Because I am spending a ridiculous amount of time in the Writing Center tonight (meeting, plus covering a coworker's shift), I thought I would have a lot of time to catch up on my reading and blog. In reality, the ridiculous amount of papers due tomorrow is hindering that. I love my job, but I also love down time at my job.

The reason I was looking forward to increased reading time is because Aurora Leigh, while awesome, is also time-consuming. It's long and intense so I can't just pop in an out of it like I might a contemporary book. I need chunks of time to sink into the book. Chunks of time and a plate full of comfort food.

Which I found waiting for me on the stove when I got home at 10. Andrea baked chicken with cherry tomatoes and lemon juice. Greg is going to be spoiled, but it's my turn first.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In the Gray

There are a few things I will never understand, like the costume design department for couples skating. Other things I don't necessarily understand, but I do obsessively think about and make commentary on them. So in honor of my eternal quest to understand humanity, here's another post on Interesting Things in My Life.

The Maltese FalconThe Maltese FalconWe had our first literal pairing in Film and Lit, simultaneously watching and reading The Maltese Falcon. As a noir film/book, I found it funny yet a little disturbing. As the preview states, Sam Spade makes "crime a career," and "ladies a hobby." I'm not about to soapbox on the topic of misogyny in pop culture, but masculinity and femininity do come into play in this story. Someone in class asked why Sam agrees to help Brigid in the first place, since she has no legitimate story. "Because she's sexy," was the matter-of-fact reply our professor gave.

The larger themes of black and white/shades of gray intrigued me during our class discussion. I know why: nearly everything I write uses light and dark.(See here and here.) I've always gravitated towards the idea that neither can exist without the other, yet when both are present...neither truly exist. As Jon Foreman sings it: "The shadow proves the sunshine." If you've known me for any amount of time, you know I tend towards theory, big picture, forest thinking--aka shadows and gray areas, themes and blendings--but I'm mysteriously drawn to practice, details, and tree thinking. A lot of times I wish for clear cut, a yes-and-no existence, one that an audience won't see in film noir (or real life), even when the guilty party is found out.

You've heard this from me before, so I won't go into it too much, but empathy and human emotion live in the gray areas. I found Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the book on which Blade Runner is based, so I'm thinking and rethinking all about what makes a human and what makes an android.

Finally, we briefly discussed the death penalty in Criminology last week and our professor assigned a short paper on the four year moratorium on the death penalty from 1972-1976. If anything can serve as a symbol for what's not always so black and white, it's this country's views on the death penalty--not to mention the "guilt" of many on death row. Again, I didn't bring this up to soapbox (maybe I'll do that later, like next week during Death Penalty Awareness Week), but it is interesting to note that the US is one of only four industrialized nations to still have the death penalty.

I'm not sure how it got to be one in the morning; my sleep schedule is another one of those gray areas.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


[Pulled this from my creative writing vault, dusted it off and decided to share.]

Kip drank his coffee in bed, again, as he read The Old Man and the Sea, again. Leslie hated that book, just like she hated the dried rings of coffee found without fail on the bedside table. “You know how it ends; why not read something new?” she’d say. She used to drink coffee at their kitchen table as she read the morning newspaper. She probably still did, read the newspaper that is. Boxes of takeout and weekly coupon ads were the only thing occupying the table these days.

When the caffeine started to tingle in his limbs, Kip rolled out of bed and ambled towards the bathroom in the dark. Leslie’s smile mocked him from the pictures on every wall of his apartment, but he was used to ignoring her. Looking himself over in the dingy bathroom light, Kip briefly thought about shaving, but it had been a windy, rainy winter and he did not want to head out with a bare face.

With a knit hat over his bed head and facial hair intact, Kip dug an old jacket out of the back of his closet. A roll of film fell out of one of the pockets as he threw the jacket over his broad shoulders. Kip picked it up and took it into his darkroom, distracted by the potential the film had to offer. The low tide could wait.

In the red glow of his safelight, Kip recognized his and Leslie’s smiling faces as the photos developed. It was hard to ignore Leslie now, as each photo revealed yet another memory. The time they went to the boardwalk, ate popcorn on the bench by the Ferris wheel and made up funny stories about the tourists they saw. The road trip down the coast to visit Leslie’s sister and her new baby.

Kip reached a hand back into his pocket and it closed around something smooth like a stone. He pulled it out, remembering his last birthday gift to Leslie. The amber bauble, representing one frozen moment, felt warm in the palm of his hand. Kip let the amber fall out of his hand and onto the floor. It cracked, exposing the fossilized leaf in the middle. Kip smiled as he opened the door and the outside light poured in.

Friday, February 19, 2010


The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of ObamaI ordered my cap and gown today. In less than three months, I will wear them and most likely get my picture taken in them. Gross. I'm excited to graduate, don't get me wrong. I'm just not looking forward to wearing the gown or the cap for several hours. Also, I'm disappointed that I'm going to have to graduate in a gym again. There is something I am looking forward to, though: a few weeks ago they announced that Gwen Ifill will be our commencement speaker. If she's anything like the Gwen played by Queen Latifah on SNL, it should be fun.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

What do unicorns, tuberculosis, dust and crime have in common?

Emile Durkheim on Morality and Society (Heritage of Sociology Series)Not only are they various topics I've discussed in my three classes in the past week, but each time we discussed them it was in reference to humanity and solidarity. Social solidarity, a term made famous by Emile Durkheim, is what ties us together. Crime, for example, can bring a community together as they work on preventative measures or deal with a crime that has already occurred.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (Random House Reader's Circle)Catholic social teaching values solidarity with the less fortunate. In Dr. Paul Farmer's experiences, he practices pragmatic solidarity as he treats tuberculosis in Haiti and Peru (among other places. I'm only halfway done, so we'll see where else he ends up). This means eating the same foods as his patients are eating, sleeping on concrete floors or in a dentist's chair at a village clinic, and in general living how poor people live. (I might be talking about this book for a while. Why did no one teach us about Dr. Farmer and Company in elementary or middle or high school? His story is one all Americans/citizens of the world should be familiar with!)

Blade Runner (The Director's Cut)A while back I posted a question about sympathy/empathy here and I think talking about solidarity so much in my classes emphasized the fact that I'm not the only one who needs a common experience, something about being human, to help me relate to others. This also relates to my post about Blade Runner, here, where I discussed Rachael's humanity. Adding to that, Deckard, who is supposed to be the one human audiences can relate with, ends up acting more replicant-like than any of the replicants. Director Ridley Scott apparently wanted his audience to think Deckard isn't human, by showing us that origami unicorn at the end. Is Deckard the only human or the only replicant? Or is Rachael the unicorn, the solitary figure?

Today of all days lends itself to the discussion of human experience: Ash Wednesday. Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. One thing all of humanity shares, disregarding race, gender, class, age, interests, emotions, health, creed, you name it--is death. I believe we share a lot more than the common experience of decomposing, though it is important to remember. Maybe that's why I've always enjoyed Ash Wednesday, the black crosses in the name of solidarity. You might be an athlete, live in a different hemisphere, listen to opera music, hate chocolate cake, or any number of odd things, but we both look like fools with ashes smudged on our foreheads.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shake What Your Mother Nature Gave You

That's (more or less) what I thought when I came upon this leaf in the snow the other day. The wind spun it around in this perfect circle, reminding me of Andy Goldsworthy's photographs.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mid-February Short List

--Neve a Roma! Snow in Rome! For the first time in essentially 24 years, Rome was hit with the fluffy stuff, causing traffic to back up. Am I sorry I missed it? Maybe the photo ops, but seeing as I didn't bring a winter jacket with me to Rome I'm glad we just got rain last winter.

--We like to think that choosing between ambition and love is a fairly recent struggle, but Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart show us otherwise in their 1936 film Next Time We Love. Deciding to pursue a career versus a relationship or dealing with the troubles of juggling both seems to be a timeless motif, and one that Ms. Sullavan and my man Jimmy portray flawlessly.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (Random House Reader's Circle)
--Our current topic in Poverty and Social Justice is health care and the idea of preferential option for the poor, an aspect of Catholic social teaching adopted by liberation theologists. This theology greatly influenced Paul Farmer, an American doctor and anthropologist who co-founded Partners in Health, a worldwide health organization striving to provide health care for those in poverty. We are reading Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, which narrates Farmer's background and life, especially in Haiti, Peru and Russia.

I encourage everyone to read this book, especially in light of the earthquake in Haiti, which really brought the country's needs and deficiencies to the surface.

All About Love: New Visions
--And moving on to books that are not required for any classes, I've also started reading All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks thanks to Drew, who suggested I read it. I'm only in the first chapter, but I like that she doesn't assume the reader knows anything--she starts with a fresh definition of love and looks at it through her contemporary culture critic lens.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Part of the Solution

Every group on campus here at SNC has to meet certain requirements in order to remain an operating organization and continue receiving funds. For one of these requirements, the service component, Cru chose to volunteer at Paul's Pantry, a local food pantry which has distributed over 71.4 million pounds of food to the needy of Brown County since 1984.

We had about thirteen students, some from our Bible studies and others from our outreach with ESL students, who came to help sort the donated items Paul's Pantry receives. Directed by a vocal woman who came up to my elbow, we took bulk donations of cereal, rice, oatmeal and beans and bagged them for families to purchase. Several other groups of volunteers joined us in the bagging and stocking room--some from local high schools and others just individuals who spend their Saturdays helping out at the Pantry.

I knew about Paul's Pantry from my days working in the kitchen at the campus cafeteria. I always hated throwing away perfectly good food, but luckily we were able to send it to Paul's, where it would go to people who actually needed it. What I didn't know was what happened after the food got to Paul's. Because it is such a large pantry and serves so many people, lots of volunteers are needed to keep the shelves stocked, sort through loads of donations, and help those who are shopping there to find everything they need. There was a system in place and everything was well-organized, probably with some thanks to the tiny lady who wasn't afraid to tickle our knees if she needed to get around us.

While we worked, we learned from the ESL students that things like Paul's Pantry don't really exist in Japan. According to the Japanese, it is the government's job to help the needy, and if they aren't going to help, why should the common people? Plus there are certain environmental beautification programs meant to keep the homeless out of cities like Tokyo. The girls with us don't exactly believe that, but that's the common perception in Japan.

Some people in America share such a perception, lending voice to just one side of the multifaceted debate of who is responsible for those in need? My own beliefs, which are always changing the more I learn about the different aspects of poverty, are generally that we are all responsible. I do believe the government plays a part; the purpose of (American) government is to provide for and protect its citizens and allowing millions of people to be homeless does little to protect them. On the other side of things, I am a supporter of the separation of church and state and I recognize the church's responsibility to care for those in need, knowing that the government alone cannot fix things.

Most importantly, though, I believe that helping the homeless or impoverished or anyone in need of anything has to start with an individual. Instead of debating whose fault homelessness is and who should be responsible for helping, we should all focus on doing good where we can.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fiori di Zucca: How Rome does Cheese Curds

[Written for my Film and Lit course. The assignment was to describe the best meal we've ever eaten...I may get a little sentimental with this.]

"For all sorts of fries the Romans are justly celebrated. The sweet olive-oil, which takes the place of our butter and lard, makes the fry light, delicate, and of a beautiful golden color..." [William Wetmore Story, Roba di Roma]

“Should we get an appetizer?” Ro asks. My roommates and I are crowded around a table in one of Rome’s smaller trattorie. It’s one of our last meals here before we fly back to America.

“Let’s get supplí,” Shannon suggests. Marina and I nod. The cheese and marinara stuffed rice balls have been a favorite Roman treat.

Ro looks over the menu. “They don’t have supplí, but there’s fiori di zucca fritti.”

“Flowers of zucchini…fried?” I guess. My Italian has improved in these four months.

Ro nods. “Fried zucchini blossoms. They’re so good.” Thanks to her highly traditional Italian-American upbringing, Ro is our go-to for questions of language and culture.

We decide to try the fiori di zucca along with some vino for starters and settle in to our cozy corner table. The intimate yellow lighting makes everyone’s skin glow and as varied groups of Romans and tourists squeeze in from the chilly May night, I lose track of what language I hear and speak.

When we fear we will faint if we don’t eat, a cameriera brings a steaming plate of blossoms. The hot, salty aroma of olive oil warms the air around our table and for a second I’m at home, in the Bingo tent at the fair, eating cheese curds. With a “Prego,” from our cameriera, I’m back in Rome and aching to compare these stuffed blossoms to the curds I’m used to.

We all grab one and quickly transfer them to our plates: they are too hot to eat, but our hunger has tripled by seeing and smelling them. Golden brown on the outside and the size of, well, a flower, the fiori di zucca glisten with salt. Under the batter, the bright orange blossoms fade into green. With forks and knives, we slice them open to reveal fresh buffalo mozzarella.

We can’t wait any longer: still using our forks, halves of fiori go in our mouths and immediately we remember why leaving Rome is going to be so difficult. First, my teeth recognize the crunch of the batter, followed by the firm yet tender give of the cheese. A hint of a squeak tickles my tongue. The actual blossom has the mild sweetness of a zucchini and its gentle flavor serves as the dish’s simple foundation as undertones of salty mozzarella and smooth olive oil dance around my mouth. I let the blossom linger, not wanting the taste to end. When it does, I drink some water to cool my mouth in anticipation of the second half of the blossom. Is it possible that this half tastes even better? Ah, si, buon appetito!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

More Human Than Human

Today in Film and Lit we watched Blade Runner. I've seen random parts of it, probably on the USA Network (Characters Welcome), but never the whole thing.

I found it really easy to relate to the leading lady/replicant, and not just because we share a name. The way she could be so emotionless and still have so much emotion made her seem abnormally human. I'd love her too, if I was Harrison Ford.

In other news, there was a mild earthquake in northern Illinois this morning?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"I don't really deeply feel that anyone needs an airtight reason for quoting from the works of writers he loves...

...but it's always nice, I'll grant you, if he has one." [J.D. Salinger]

So here's another quote from Mr. Salinger, whom I may or may not love but definitely respect, followed by my reason for quoting him.

“'I'm just going through a phase right now. Everybody goes through phases and all, don't they?”

It's been over a week since his death [check out how The Onion feels about it], but that statement ties in nicely with my previously posted short story--WHICH I have recently revised and reposted. So GO READ IT! by clicking HERE and tell me what you think.

I also have to write an essay on "The Best food/movie/song/moment/passage of literature According to Me" for Film and Literature. I'm pretty sure I'll be writing about fiori di zucca fritti [fried zucchini blossoms] because a) they're Italian and specifically Roman, b) they're flowers that you eat, and c) they're deep fried and filled with cheese.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out

1. Why do I always feel more creative at night, after I climb up 700 feet into my bed? I couldn't sleep last night and I kept writing poems in my head. Of course, I couldn't remember any of them this morning.

2. If the Colts had to lose the Super Bowl, I'm glad it was to the Saints. Sorry Dad.

3. The amount of kids who came to the Writing Center of their own volition last night makes me rethink the hardcoreness of my fellow student. No one comes in on a Monday night when the Packers are playing, but Super Bowl Sunday is apparently not as important.

4. Before I went to work, I was able to catch some of the commercials. Overall, I was not impressed. Millions of dollars to reinforce stereotypes? The Favre of the Future one was alright, and I appreciated the women's heart health shout out, but beer and Doritos had nothing to offer me.

5. I want to say more about the "Don't touch my mama; don't touch my Doritos" one. It broke my heart. And don't say it was just a commercial--there's no such thing during the Super Bowl. Why do children have to resort to violence to protect their mothers? That's not cute. As a woman, I didn't appreciate being compared to a snack either. And why is the woman inviting men who need to be slapped into her home? I found it racist and sexist and just plain sad.

6. Still on the same topic. I'm getting worked up. Advertisers have to know that white men are not the only ones who watch football, so why are the majority of ads geared towards them? Sure, white men reign during the regular season, but my 70-year old grandparents watch the Super Bowl. This article came out last year and the numbers are showing that this year was the most watched Super Bowl ever. I don't claim to know anything about marketing, but as a writer I am familiar with knowing your audience.

7. We are increasing our intensity in weight training. I can barely open a door anymore.

8. I recently discovered Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and have changed my life goals to become her. Italian-born and naturalized French, she has been a model, singer and actress. And now she's the First Lady of France.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Power Nap

This weekend will be one of my more boring ones (taxes anyone?), so instead of describing it here's a poem I wrote for class a few years ago.

Power Nap

Many experts advise to keep the nap
between 15 and 30 minutes,
as sleeping longer gets you into
deeper stages of sleep, from which
it’s more difficult to awaken.
But I’m not concerned
about the waking up.
It’s the falling asleep I can’t seem to manage.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fridays are great

On Wednesday I had my first strength test for weight training. I showed up late, like usual, so most of the girls had already gone through the set of six exercises. Coach had written the weight he wanted us at and we had to mark how many reps we could do at that weight. I swear either some of those girls lied to look good or they are monsters.

But whatever, I figured I'd use costo as my excuse. Yesterday marked two weeks of my ibuprofen therapy. I've been taking 800 mg three times each day, about every six hours. Which means a lot of the time I'm in class when my side starts hurting again and I know it's time to pop pills. I've gotten some strange looks, but I'm not sure if that's because of the pills or my awesome water bottle, which is essentially a mason jar. People keep asking me if I'm drinking moonshine.

Since I only have my weight training class on Friday, it's my day to relax a little. I wasn't scheduled for work, but I went in for an hour to conduct a group interview since we are looking for a Writing Center Director. I'm not sure what the protocol is on interview confidentiality, but my initial reaction was not so positive. I just don't know how a Melanie Brown or a Laura Neary could be replaced I guess.

Today Yui and Yukari came over and cooked a Japanese meal for Andrea and me. We had miso soup and rice balls of varied (read: some better than other) flavors. And tonight Yuriko and Gaia are cooking another Japanese meal for seven of us. We're pretty spoiled here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


[previously published in Graphos and accepted to the 2010 Sigma Tau Delta Convention.]

Cooper and Sydney play Guitar Hero after school when a flash of lightning illuminates the already bright basement. Seconds later, the lights and blue glow from the TV cut out and the two are left in darkness.

“Aw, c’mon!” Sydney shouts at the TV. “I had a streak going!”

“I win since I was ahead when the power went out. Default.” Cooper takes off his guitar and slumps onto the couch. “Can we just work on calculus now?”

“Cooper.” Sydney remains in guitar-playing position. “First, the power just went out. I’m not going to play ‘Boy Scouts’ and do homework by flashlight. Second, you did not win; I had my guitar on the left-handed setting.”

“You’re left-handed, Syd.”

“Not when I play guitar, Coop.”

“Well I have to be home at five to watch Mia while my parents cook dinner. It’s French Food Night at our house and they foresee trouble with the soufflé if Mia’s around.” Cooper pauses, pulls at a loose thread on the couch, “Mom said you’d understand why you aren’t invited either.”

“Yeah, remember Irish Night? I mean, that wasn’t entirely my fault, but whatever; your family’s themed meals stress me out.” Sydney finally takes off her guitar to look for one of the many flashlights her parents keep for emergencies.

“I know. I should have reminded you Grams is Catholic.”

“It would have made my drunken Irish Catholic joke a lot less awkward,” Sydney shouts from the closet. She comes back with two flashlights, shines one at Cooper’s face. He flinches as the light momentarily blinds him. “So now what?” she asks.

"Watch the eyes, Syd." Cooper grabs the other flashlight from Sydney's hand. “I don't know now what. The storm put a kibosh on the driving range and Guitar Hero."

"Well we have to do something to decide once and for all which of us is more amazing.”

“Really? We’ve been doing this since sixth grade. Can’t we just call it quits?”

“Are you kidding me? We need to finish what we started. Or are you afraid of losing?” Sydney holds her flashlight under her chin so it illuminates only her face. “Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story, 'The Tale of the Spineless Pansy,'" she says in her best Are You Afraid of the Dark? voice.

“Oh, very nice Sydney. Why don’t you just make fun of me using obsolete pop culture references? Let’s just go to McDonald’s; we can probably get some free burgers. My parents keep making dairy-based meals even though they know I’m lactose intolerant.”

“Ew, we’re not going to McDonald’s. Besides, I’m a vegetarian.” Sydney sits next to Cooper and uses her flashlight to make shadow puppets on the ceiling.

“How long have you been a vegetarian?”

Sydney consults her imaginary watch, “Like a week, I think. Anyways, come on. Can we just play a board game? One game, that’s it. Winner takes all.”

Cooper lets out a long breath. They are seniors in high school. Sydney will never grow up. “Okay. We’ll play one game — no rematches, no do-overs.”

“Sudden death by candlelight; I like it.” Sydney heads to the bookshelf and looks over her board game selection. “Alright, we have Monopoly—”

“Takes too long. Besides you used a Sharpie to change it to Redistribution during your Communist phase.”

“Oh, right. Battleship?”

“We've played that before. You always move your ships around so they're never in the same spot.”

“I just want it to be realistic. If you ever want to make it in the Navy you've got to know how to hit a moving target. How about Clue?”

“That one might work.”

Sydney pulls the Clue box down. “Actually,” she bites her bottom lip, “let’s not play Clue. We’re missing all the guy pieces.”


“We’ve only got Mrs. White, Mrs. Peacock, and Miss Scarlet. Remember the feminist phase I went through last winter?”

Cooper shakes his head as Sydney puts Clue back on the shelf.

“What about Scrabble?” he asks. “That way it’s about skill, not luck.”

“Alright, but just know I’m a Scrabble champion.”

“Sydney, you can’t even spell champion.”

“Oh, it is on, Cooper. Hardcore.” Sydney pulls the Scrabble box off the shelf, handing it over to Cooper to set up on the table while she finds some candles.

Sydney lays first: “Free. That’s seven points for Team Amazing,” she says.

“We’ll see who’s amazing after I get done owning this board,” Cooper says.

“You talk big words, can you play any?”

C-R-E-S-T,” Cooper says. “Crest for fifteen points. I’ve already doubled your score, Syd. What’s your next move?”

Sydney wrinkles her forehead and sticks her tongue out in concentration. Finally she puts down an O and a blank tile next to Cooper’s T, declaring it TOP. “Two points,” she mumbles, picking up two more tiles.

Cooper grabs two tiles and arranges them on the board in one graceful motion, turning Sydney’s FREE into FREEZE. “Nineteen points. If you want you can give up now.”

“You don’t need to worry about me, Slim. I’ve got this in the bag.” Sydney concentrates on her tiles. “Can I change the blank tile to an N? TON is still a word.”

“Have you ever played Scrabble before? No, that’s cheating.”

“Is not, Rule Nazi.”

“Don’t call me a Nazi, Communist. Just play something else.”

“Fine.” Sydney places an A under the blank tile serving as a P, followed by a V and another blank tile. “PAVE,” she says.

“You had both the blank tiles?”

Sydney nods. They continue playing. The only sounds interrupting their focused silence are the candles burning and tiles clicking.

After several minutes, Sydney places O-B-I-A beneath the F from FREEZE.

“That’s not a word, Syd. Phobia is P-H-O-B-I-A,” Cooper says.

“I know; Scrabble is phonetic.”

“Since when?”

Sydney looks across the board at Cooper. “My house my rules?”

Cooper shakes his head, making the already flickering shadows dance on the wall. Sydney lets out a huff and takes her tiles back.

“Is mibanox a word?” she asks.

“What? No. What?”

Mibanox. Never mind. Here,” Sydney slaps down a blank tile in front of the word LIPS. “It’s an F,” she says, arms crossed over her chest.

“Syd…that’s the third blank tile you’ve used,” Cooper says, reaching down to pick it up. “There’s an N on this side! You’re a crazy person.” He throws an S and an L-E on either side of WIND to turn it into SWINDLE. “How’s that for a good word?” he says, leaning back in his chair with a smug grin.

“Oh, Cooper's got tricks. Alright, I’ll add an I-X to CLEAN and we have Kleenex.” Sydney grins right back.

“You can’t use proper nouns, Syd! Plus, that’s not how you spell Kleenex. Not even close.”

“Close enough. And what’s this about proper nouns? You were the one who started it with Crest. Like the toothpaste?” Sydney raises her eyebrows, waiting for Cooper’s answer.

Cooper opens his mouth to say something, then closes it again, shaking his head. “Sydney, ‘crest’ is an actual word with a definition; it’s not just a brand of toothpaste. You know that.” Cooper pushes his chair away from the table and stands up. “I can’t do this anymore. It’s like playing with Mia. Ever since we were kids you’ve been like this, with your phases and no-carb diets and, and....changing the rules to everything....Remember that research paper we had to write for Mr. MacSween? I know you made up all your facts and sources. You wrote that Shia Labeouf is a direct descendant of Einstein.”

“Whoa. Cooper. Settle down. It’s just Scrabble and Shia and Einstein do have almost identical bone structure. Besides, everyone knows MacSween never reads those papers. I wasn’t cheating, just simplifying.” Sydney crosses her arms.

“Well I’m sick of you simplifying! Does everything have to be done your way?”

“What’s your deal, Cooper? I don’t come down on you for being such a hardass all the time. Can we please finish the game?”

“No, because it will never be good enough. You’ll blame your loss on being sick and demand a rematch. Let’s just stop now.”

Sydney doesn't say anything, only stares at the board.

“Did you hear me, Syd? I give up. You win — by default.” Cooper walks back to the couch and sits, flicking his flashlight off and on.

“Cooper, c’mon...” Sydney stands up to join him. “I really don’t care who’s more amazing. It’s all just a stupid game, I know.” She sits and pulls her knees up to her chin, then lets out a small laugh.

Cooper looks over at Sydney. With the sparse candlelight he can barely see her. “What’s so funny?”

“It's nothing, just...promise you won’t be mad?” Sydney asks.

“Sure, whatever.”

“No, Cooper, I mean it. I should tell you something, and it’s kind of funny, but I don’t know. You might just think I’m crazy.”

“I do think you're crazy.”

Sydney turns to look at Cooper, raises her eyebrows.

“Sorry. I promise I won’t be mad or judge you or anything, okay?”

“Okay.” Sydney takes a deep breath, “We’ve been best friends since we were six. But in middle school, you got cool and I got weird. I hated that we weren't hanging out anymore, so I figured if I made a game out of it you would have to keep hanging out with me, at least until someone won. I know how competitive you are. And then I just never let the game end. I think it might have gone on too long. I know I can be obnoxious.”

Cooper's mouth hangs open like it does when he's confused. “Sydney, are you serious? You thought all of that in sixth grade?”

“Well, no. I mostly made that up now. But it was something like that.”

“I didn’t know you were so worried about that stuff. You don’t have to worry. I mean, I only got cool in middle school because that's when I got my braces taken off. It wasn't long before everyone else had straight teeth too, and then I was back to being Cooper, the kid everyone copied answers from.”

With a few flickers, the lights and TV come back on. Sydney and Cooper blink as their eyes adjust. Upstairs, the refrigerator hums to life.

“Oh.” Sydney says. “Well, speaking of copying ans—”

“Yeah,” Cooper clears his throat. “Let’s finish calculus.”

They push the Scrabble board and their conversation off to the side and replace it with calculators and textbooks.

“How did you eliminate the parameter in number five?” Cooper asks.

“That was easy. I just drew some dynamite around it, and then a stick person lighting it and running away. And then I showed the parameter blowing up,” Sydney pushes her notebook over to Cooper. “It’s simple, see? Parameter eliminated.”

I'm a real writer!

I've been meaning to put more of my creative (fiction) writing on here, especially since I'm basically a pro. (Ha.) Just today I expanded my list of credentials. I've already been published several times in Graphos, SNC's literary journal, which isn't The New Yorker or anything, but it is legit. And I learned this morning that one of my pieces got accepted to the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention in St. Louis!

I've never submitted to STD before but I've had friends go the conference and they always have awesome things to say. What I do know is I get to read MY story to people. Like a real writer. When I read my name on the list of presenters (I'm on a list of presenters! It's like the Oscars!) I swear my body started floating several inches off my chair. My face flushed and I felt this rising heat from deep in my stomach. I love writing.

Okay, I just promised more creative writing and then went on to talk about me. Oops. Check back in a few hours, I'll post the story that got accepted, okay?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


"I wish I had a great way to "wrap this one up", but the truth is that it's almost impossible to bring any resolve to this blog when I'm totally unresolved in my heart....I guess what I would have to say is that it isn't the level of poverty that blows me away it's our level of ignorance.

Don't feel guilty. Feel informed. Feel empowered. And for God's sake do something about it." --John Mark McMillan 1/29/10

"But there are times when I become aware of so many things that seem to be going wrong and I feel powerless in the face of it all. At that moment, there seems like there is only one thing left I can do: I pray." --Colin Beavan 1/27/10

Tonight I have to write a reflection on my experiences with poverty and as I realize how minute those are I can't help but be abundantly grateful. I can't help but prayerfully recognize how many blessings I do have.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one. [Mother Teresa]

When I woke up this morning there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground. Did Punx Phil see his shadow? I don't even know.

I've been mulling over a lot of (interrelated) things lately. It comes down to
Filling out these service applications and answering questions like "What draws you to direct service?"
Sitting in on a guest speaker for a Human Dignity class.
Reading a book on one man's quest to live a completely sustainable lifestyle.
Visiting a local homeless shelter for my own Poverty and Social Justice class.
Reading a book on poverty in the aggregate for P and SJ.

I'm drawn to direct service because even though everything I read and see screams "No Hope!" I want to be part of the solution, not the problem.
Because when Dr. John Perkins gave his Three 'R's'(which in his Southern accent sounded like "Three Auras") he shook up my previous belief on socialist thought.
Because the people who seek warmth, comfort, a shower at the homeless shelter don't even have the bootstraps with which to pull themselves up.
Because no matter how much our society believes that working harder or being smarter will guarantee eventual success, the facts say otherwise--the problem of poverty in America is not caused by a lack of education or manners or determination. The problem is the structural breakdown in politics, economics, culture, and society.

I wish I could just take all of these things in my head from the past two days and share it with everyone but I know there's just too much to say.

Dr. Perkins' 3 R's were Relocation (knowing another's problem as if it were your own, like how Jesus relocated to Earth to know us), Reconciliation (getting back to 'right' with God and others), and Redistribution. NOT the communist, socialist version, which I have sometimes thought would solve many world problems. You know, the "It's not a matter of lacking resources, it's the unequal distribution of them" argument. No. Dr. Perkins had this to say about that: "If you took all the rich people's money and gave it all to the poor, the rich people would have it back by tomorrow night. [pause] The poor people would just use it to buy a Cadillac from the rich people." His redistribution is more of our own feelings and emphases. Put more value on people, not possessions.

Colin Beavan, in No Impact Man, restates this people-centered sentiment with his own environmental twist. What if our single-use, throwaway lifestyle was not making life easier? What forgoing takeout and television not only helped the planet but made us happier and brought us closer to those we loved? I highly recommend everyone read this book, but don't worry, there's a No Impact Man movie documenting the entire project!

Today at St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter we learned about the history and background of the shelter. It's pretty much the last stop for the homeless of Green Bay, meaning they have exhausted all other avenues. Other shelters require people to be alcohol and drug free with little to no criminal background; St. John's basic requirements are that you are 18 or older. Other shelters run 24 hours a day, year round; St. John's is only open from 5pm to 9am November to April, the coldest and harshest time of the year. It's an emergency shelter with a max capacity of 50, and lately they've been seeing numbers in the 40s. For my Poverty and Social Justice class we also have to complete 15 hours of service at a place of our choosing and St. John's is where I plan to do mine.

The book Poverty and Power: the Problem of Structural Inequality sounds intense, but it's ideas are so basic I found myself 200 pages in within three days of reading. Why does the US have the highest rate of poverty and, in general, the highest level of economic inequality among rich nations? According to Royce, individuals within poverty cannot take the blame for the entire concept of poverty. The question isn't always why is HE poor, but why is ANYONE poor? While Conservatives deal out tough love and moral uplift and Liberals focus on more training and education so the individual can better his or her self, few people are left to focus on creating jobs and investing in poor communities.

What's hardest is knowing nothing I write will get anyone off the streets and into housing or the job market. My sudden and increased passion is useless if the entire system is broken. But I don't want anyone thinking I have no hope--no, I've actually been in a humbled, grateful mood the past few days. "The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all." [Proverbs 22.2]