Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Learning About Myself through Others

Throughout this semester, I have learned many valuable things about both myself and the Baltimore community through the events that I have attended. These events really allowed me to deepen my understanding of the value of literature as well, as the requirement to connect the two in our blogs made this very clear. Of the events that I have attended, however, the most poignant one for me was the Ignatian Family Teach-In in Washington D.C. Even though I wrote about this in a previous blog of mine, now that I’ve had a few weeks to think about it I feel that it was even more valuable and surprising to me that I would have expected.

For most first semester college students—myself included—finding yourself and finding your interests is the main struggle. Extra curricular things were not difficult for me to find, as I pretty much just continued my high school activities by joining the Chimes and the Ultimate Frisbee team, but attempting to find an academic interest that suits me best has been very difficult. There are so many things that I have a slight interest in, but nothing that stands out as a major or something that I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. I decided to go to the Teach-In because of the positive experience I had in attending it during my senior year of high school, and hoped that I could gain more insight into the message presented this time around.

The results, for me, were remarkable. I knew that I had an interest in helping those less fortunate that I, but the Teach-In really gave me tangible ways to do that, and surprisingly interested me much more than expected. The speakers there were some of the most powerful I have ever listened to. One nun in particular talked about being raped and tortured during the 1970’s in Honduras, and how it motivated her to take action. Hearing someone who has gone through something so traumatizing and awful be able to overcome such adversity and want to make a difference in the world made something very clear to me. I have to do what I can to change the world in any way I can. I’m not entirely sure how, but I’d never been quite so inspired to actually do something. The social injustices presented in Washington were all atrocious, and I don’t understand how our society can continue to ignore them.

So, for now anyway, this Teach-In has made me decide that I want to go into a service program for a year after college before graduate school. Whether it is through the Peace Corps or the Jesuit Volunteer Corps or any similar organization, I want to spend time serving people in the world and doing what I can to make their lives better, even if only for a moment.

For me, the events, and in particular this one, were the most surprising part of my experience in Understanding Literature this semester, and I will apply the things I learned from them to my daily life.

Search Within

On Monday I attended a SPECTRUM Meeting which was a discussion led by Father Linnane addressing sexual ethics and morality. We discussed the recent suicides that have taken place throughout the country, specifically the death of Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, who took his own life due to bullying actions over homosexuality. Father Linnane shared an interesting story with us. He compared the story of Tyler Clementi to an experience he had while visiting his parents in Florida over spring break. It was during the time of Lent and he woke up early to attend mass. As the priest read his homily he stated “I am not afraid to say that fornication is a sin, I am not afraid to say that birth control is a sin, I am not afraid to say that abortion is a sin, and I am not afraid to say that homosexuality is a sin.” After the completion of mass, Father Linnane went back to meet with the priest and explain that he had just misrepresented the teachings of the church. Father Linnane went further to explain “a sin has to do with the subject, with freedom; homosexuality is not a moral issue, its condition is blameless, and it is not a matter of choice.” Father Linnane quotes Kant’s moral theory when he says “Always treat persons (including yourself) and ends in themselves, never merely as a means to your own ends.” This quotation was the basis of the lecture and sums up Jesuit education and values right on point. You can’t judge a person by what’s on the outside; I know we hear that so much, but it is the truth. What a person holds within is far greater than the way they appear from the outside. Sometimes it takes time to reveal the true personality of a person, but everyone deserves to have the opportunity to show who they truly are. Father Linnane started off his lecture by explaining his role in the Loyola Community. He said “as president, it is my job to make all students feel welcomed – mind, body, and spirit – and safe.” This lecture can be connected to his earlier letter and can also be linked to Jesuit education, teachings, and values. In his earlier letter he reiterated the fact that through mourning, grief, and loss our Loyola community came together to support and help one another through hard times. Something that really struck me about the lecture was when Father Linnane said what worries him is that bullying incidents due to homosexuality could happen on our campus. He said the use of social networking site to post anonymously about others is increasing and worsening. Studies have also shown that Roman Catholic students are more promiscuous than students of any other religion. We have to develop a level of respect for ourselves and others. The boy at Rutgers is an example of a person who was disrespected, pushed over the limit, and stripped of his personhood. Father Linnane discusses when entering any relationship it is important to have commitment, trust, maturity, mutual understanding, mutual consent, mutual good-will, respect, justice, and love.

Earlier in the semester Father Linnane wrote a letter and within stated “In a Catholic university these fundamental questions are ultimately bound up in the question of God’s nature and God’s will for us, as well as in the possibility and meaning of human transcendence. At Loyola University Maryland, concerns such as these find expression most evidently in the core curriculum, but I must emphasize that no path of inquiry—graduate or undergraduate, professional education or liberal arts—can exempt itself from engaging these questions and how the work of each program serves to advance the human good.” Jesuit education and values teach the focus and good of the whole person. It teaches the acceptance and welcoming of others graciously and without a label. It teaches respect and love.

The lecture concerning sexual morality and ethics can be linked to the poem “My Mistress’ Eyes are nothing Like the Sun” and short story “The Birthmark”. In the poem “My Mistress’ Eyes are nothing Like the Sun” by William Shakespeare the speaker describes his mistress in an unappealing way, but at the end explains how she is still the most beautiful lady to him. This shows the idea of looking past the exterior and loving her for what she has inside. On the contrary, in the short story “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Alymer is unable to look past the imperfect upon his wife, Georgiana’s, cheek. He conform her to disliking what she see even though she has lived with the birthmark and it has always been a part of her. His obsession to fix the blemish leads to her death. This shows how an imperfection can destroy a relationship. If you really love someone, you love them for everything they have and you don’t try to fix the flaws. Nobody is perfect and nobody is flawless. Father Linnane did a great job explaining that no one person is superior to another, we must graciously accept all. We don’t necessary have to agree with their beliefs, but we cannot disrespect others because they have different views and values from us.

What is the most surprising thing I have learned this semester? The most surprising thing I have learned this semester is that if you actually take the time to uncover the true meaning of something there is no limit on how much you can learn. I never took the time to go out in the community or to really analyze a piece of literature before this class, but in going to several events on campus and participating in the transportation assignment, I feel more connected to the Loyola community. The most influential event was definitely the Hunger Banquet. I am now a member of the group on campus, Ignite Change, and next week I will be participating in an event run by the club to make a difference. It is called A Million Pleas and we are going to set up a table in Boulder next Monday and have students record themselves saying “Please…”. This event is to raise awareness to the impact of nuclear weapons and try to ban their usage. I was nervous for this class because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to balance the workload, but each exercise made me appreciate the class even more. I love the teaching through presentation aspect because it encourages students to engage in conversation which opens a variety of different viewpoints from the readings. Overall the most surprising thing I learned this semester is Jesuit education and values surround us every day and by taking the Jesuit teachings into account we better ourselves as well as others. I am very grateful for being able to have taken this class this semester, it was definitely one of the few I looked forward to attending each class.

Trade the White Sheets for a Suite

Growing up in a city where high poverty exists, I always got very frustrated – not with the rich who have everything and give nothing, but with the poor who do nothing to change their lives. There were always homeless people standing at intersections asking for money and I always thought, you could spend the time you spend standing on this intersection at a job, even McDonalds would be better than this! So, I’d drive away in my car without giving them a dime. When that didn’t work, I thought food is the nutrients of life. If you don’t have food, you can’t work. My new idea was to give to these beggars – not money, but food.
I would drive through the city to school every morning with bread in my passenger seat, and hand each homeless person enough to fill up his or her stomachs. One day, after school, I went to Fortunato’s on York Road (It’s a pizza place). This man came up to me and started babbling about how he hasn’t gotten his check in months because the governments corrupt and he was so hungry, he would starving and couldn’t go another day without having food. So, I gave him my perfectly good, just bought, untouched pizza. I figured he was at a pizza place asking for food, so he wanted pizza. Fortunato’s has an outside sitting area where we’d always eat, so I was sitting there with my friends after giving this man my food, and he walked down two or three stores and threw my pizza in the garbage…. After that, I was so disheartened. He didn’t want food, he wanted money, and what he would buy with that money would probably not be food. I couldn’t believe that someone in such a predicament would lie about needing food, when so many people in Baltimore would have done anything for that slice of pizza.
After that, my impression of homeless people changed. I thought all homeless people were drug addict lazy bums that didn’t want to work a day in their life so they’d rather stand on the corner of intersections begging for other people’s money so they could buy drugs and alcohol and whatever else assisted them to be homeless in the first place. I stopped handing out my bread and I stopped offering people food. That seemed to work for me for a while, no disappointments, no let downs, no feeling like my big heart is just too big and I’m absolutely stupid for caring about these people. I never stopped caring - I just stopped showing it.
As time went on, I began to miss feeling like I was helping. I kept telling myself I wasn’t helping and that doing nothing was the best thing for everyone, but deep down I always knew that was wrong. Just because of one man being a scumbag doesn’t mean every homeless person in this city will throw my pizza away. It's like "Shane," just because he's a cowboy doesn't mean he's a dirty killer. There's no reason to past judgement on people; cowboy or homeless man. Therefore, when I was offered an opportunity to do Care-A-Van over the summer, I knew it was a calling, telling me that I need to give back like I had before, and that there is no reason for me to do what my heart feels is right. Therefore, I signed up for Care-A-Van for this semester, and it couldn’t feel better. You learn so much about people and yourself through this experience. I have talked to people who set up their beddings right down the street from my house, who went to high school with my dad and who work at places that provide Baltimore with goods and services. These men and women work, and work hard! They are not standing at intersections begging for money, they work 12+ hours a day to make a living that not even a 19 year old college student could live off of. They’re not drug addicts or alcoholics, they are good men and women that just can’t seem to catch a break.
As you get to know people through the semester, you feel more comfortable talking to them about certain topics, which you would not really bring up to a stranger. Last time I was at Care-A-Van, we started discussing with a man an issue that I have never once felt comfortable talking about, especially with someone of a different race. A little white girl and two big African American men started talking about racism. I felt unbelievably rude, but I had a cast on so I thought they might take pity on me and not want to knock me out for being so bold and stepping out of place. The two men, both grew up down the block from my father on Dylan Street, about racism. One man graduated with my dad at Patterson, and their stories sound like they’re from two different worlds, much less high schools. My father has told me some stories about his high school, which was, of course, racially integrated at the time. His brother and sisters, who are older, went to Patterson when it was still segregated, so I knew these men wouldn’t know them from Moses. But my dad attended Patterson with both blacks and whites and didn’t really care about it. He said most black people were in different classes and they ate lunch at a different time, but there were fights every day in the hallway, but he wasn’t in them so he didn’t care.
When talking to this man on Central Ave. about his high school experience, he said he had to take a city bus to school every day and if he missed that bus or if the bus was running late, he had to walk. He said he had to walk fighting the entire way. He’d come home at nine in the morning and his mother asked why he wasn’t in school and he said, “I fought half way there and couldn’t fight anymore, so I had to turn around and walk back where no one would fight me because they already did.” This man isn’t homeless because he liked drugs and alcohol; he’s homeless because he couldn’t get a high school diploma because people didn’t like his skin color! Then, these men were asked a question that their answers astounded me by. This, by far, is the most surprising thing I have learned from my Care-A-Van experience. The men were asked, “which is worse, back then when racism was well acknowledged and you knew who was racist and who wasn’t, or now, when racism is there but not spoken about and you have no idea who hates you for your skin tone or not?” Both men, without a doubt in their mind, declared that they’d rather go back to the days of being beaten up on their way to school than have the type of racism we have today. One man said racists are now hidden behind suites and they’re the ones who rule the world and go into office and become people’s bosses and you will never know why they demoted you or fired you but you can only assume it’s because you’re dark skinned. Before, racist people could hurt you, but now they can run your life from a desk, and that’s the worst racism of all. These people will not care about your children or your wife and cut your pay rate into so many pieces you can’t even buy food for your family. It was never the answer I expected, but I completely agree and understand why they feel this way. I am not surprised at these men for feeling as if they’d rather be punched in the face than endure the racism of today – I’m more surprised at the white supremacy punks in suites that feel as if they can get away with such a thing. And the most surprising part of all is – they do.

Homelessness in the City

Almost two weeks ago, I attended an event at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore that was held to raise awareness of homelessness. The event was originally brought to my attention by my philosophy professor who is a strong advocate for the homeless, especially in areas of healthcare availability for those who are less fortunate. Although the events purpose was for everyone to sleep out at the Inner Harbor, I was unable to do so because of prior engagements planned for the next day. I was, however, able to hear people talk and share their experiences of homelessness in the city.

There were plenty of people in attendance. Most brought sleeping bags and some snacks. People presented their lives and talked about their experiences with homelessness. The way in which these people spoke made you realize the hardship and challenges that these people encounter. Most people assume that homeless people are homeless for a reason such as addiction or bad life choices. But this is not always the case. Sometimes people are homeless just due to plain bad luck and misfortune. I was able to talk to one gentleman who talked of how he lived on the streets in the city for almost a year. He was working a low paying job before, and when the economy hit, he was laid off and could no longer afford his small bedroom in a rented house. He had to turn to living on the streets. He was not able to get a job, because he had no means of contact or stability in his life at that point. Many months later, he was able to find someone who gave him a new low paying job which enabled him to go live in a different small bedroom where he still today lives in poverty.

I have never had a thorough understanding of what it really means to be homeless and the challenges these people face. I’ve encountered homeless people around the city, usually begging for money. To be honest, homeless people have never scared me, but they have always given me a sense of uneasiness. I’m guessing that the sense of uneasiness has come from being approached and asked for money by a complete stranger.

Listening to people who have been in this situation has brought me to a new understanding of the challenges that homeless people face. Hearing of how these people did not know where they would sleep at night, what would happen to them while they were sleeping, where they would get their next meal, and if their life would improve made me realize how fortunate I really am to be born into the life I was. Another huge issue is the healthcare, or lack thereof, that homeless people receive. Most are underserved by our current healthcare system.

I am fortunate enough to work at a hospital downtown that provides a great deal of charity care for those who cannot afford it. The Shock Trauma Center receives the most seriously injured and critically ill patients in Maryland. As part of that, we provide a great deal of care that goes uncompensated—as trauma happens to everyone. I recently helped take care of a homeless gentleman who was stabbed in the abdomen. As part of his care he received emergent surgery, a week long hospital stay, hot meals, baths, and upon discharge he received a great deal of bus passes so that he could return to the clinic and get where he needed/wanted to go. All for free. It made me feel great to know what I was helping someone who had not had those amenities in a very long time, and was so grateful for the care he was receiving.

As a central theme of the class, we are asking what it means to be human and lead a good life. From this perspective, leading a good life simply means taking care of others. Whether it is advocating those who need advocating for, or providing care, or simply being kind, what matters is helping and taking care of others. This event has made me think about homelessness in new ways. It has erased some of my preconceived notions about the homeless and how they got to where they are. This experience would have been much better if I was able to spend the night and take in the full meaning of the night.

The most surprising thing that I have learned in this course is that literature can be approached from so many different angles. As we have read poems and short stories, we have critically analyzed the text and sometimes arrived at different conclusions as to the meanings. Both conclusions could have been fully supported by textual evidence, however they could have been complete opposites. It always interested me that people can take such different stances on what literature means and what the author is trying to say. Although, what surprised me even more was that the conclusions were reached usually because of past experiences. Whenever I have analyzed literature before, I always went directly from what the book or poem had said. Never before have I brought in personal experiences to analyze the literature against to arrive at a meaning. This has proved very effective during in-class discussion and blog postings.


First semester of my freshman year here at Loyola has been both enlightening and tons of fun, and I think Understanding Literature only added to my experience. I initially thought that all the extra events and bus trip were going to be a complete drag and waste of my time, but I was pleasantly surprised. I learned so much through attending events and exploring Baltimore. These are things I would not have done if I wasn’t assigned to do so. I think the extracurricular events really helped me to discover all that Loyola has to offer its students, and conveniently I got to have these experiences during my first semester. I have learned great tips for applying to jobs, to have tolerance for other groups of people through learning about their struggles, and even how the Catholic Church is sometimes misrepresented from my most recent event with Father Linnane.

Father Linnane gave a great talk on sexual ethics last night. He talked about his training in this field and then went on to share with us an experience he had a few years back in Boca Raton, Florida when he went to visit his parents. He said that he would go to mass with his parents everyday, “but on this particular day they had slept in—thank god!” He told us that the Priest gave a homily about how Lent is a time to repent for our sins. He told the congregation that he knows what a sin is and he unlike most other priests is not afraid to tell the world what they really and truly are. This included birth control, masturbation, fornication, and even homosexuality. At this point Father Linnane said that the crowd’s—probably no one under 60—faces turned white and their jaws literally dropped. This statement absolutely enraged Father Linnane because this priest completely misrepresented what the Catholic Church stands for. Sins require a reflection then grave wrong doing, and homosexuality is not a choice therefore it can’t be a sin. There were probably many people in the crowd who believed the priest when he said that homosexuality is a sin. This made me wonder how many times groups, organizations, and other people go misrepresented and we believe what we are told purely because we have done no other research. This reminded me about how in Twelfth Night Viola disguises herself as a man, Cesario, in order to work for Orsino–-the man she has fallen in love with. At this moment Viola is misrepresenting herself to Orsino and to Olivia who is now attracted to him. As one can see when you misrepresent something you can create a whole web of problems. This goes the same for the priest who said homosexuality was a sin. By misrepresenting the church to its followers he is likely to cause a web of problems. Catholics may tell other Catholics this so called belief and then you will have the people believing something completely untrue.

This week I attended the student run lecture, Death and the Maiden: Marian art in Medieval Execution. The speaker told how she traveled to Florence to learn about the role that Mary has played throughout the Church and how she is portrayed through the art of the Medieval Era. It was noted that Christians usually first learn the Hail Mary prayer, which asks for her to pray for us “now and at the hour of our death”. Showing that Mary is present now and always in the lives of Christians. The speaker then went on to explain the Fra Angelica’s lost Tavoletta and its meaning. Essentially it was displayed as two opposite parts of a whole, which was used to shield the eyes from punishment and to be able to see God. The discussion then lead to obeying the law and the consequences that would come if the law were disobeyed. If the law were disobeyed there would be public humiliation and possible death, all in front of the entire community. This is where the Tavolett would come into play and shield the eyes from the punishment and allow them to know that they would see God.

The discussion then lead to two parts of one Tavoletta, which had the crucifixion painted on one said and the coronation on the other. It was discussed how the were painted on the opposite sides of one piece of wood. And it was discussed how they were truly connected and what it meant to have these two different paintings supposedly opposite of one another. The speaker then began to relate Mary into the discussion, and told of what the importance of her really was. It was said that through the Meditations, also known as the 5th Gospel, Christ’s life was described in much an easier way, through the Mary. It portrayed the mother-son relationship, which Mary and Jesus had, and the importance of Mary in Jesus’ life. It was determined that the portrait of the crucifixion, that Mary was not seen as an observer, but rather a participant in Christ’s passion, as she literally pointed to Christ. To reinforce the humanity of Christ, Mary was used as a mother’s perspective on her son’s death. Through Christ’s physical death, Mary experienced an emotional death.

I suppose the overall message that I got from this lecture was that there are many different perspectives that a person can take on life. There are many different angles, views and approaches to these perspectives and there really is no right or wrong way to choose which one to follow. But sometimes it may help to change direction and to look at something from a different view to really understand what is going on and the true meaning of what is being shown. I really have not viewed religious art in any way, but after the lecture, I now understand that there may be different meanings and thoughts which can arise from a single piece of artwork, and have a completely different view then originally thought.

Painting a Community

The time we spend here at Loyola should be the time where we grow as individuals, but as we are building up our resumes and learning about ourselves we should also keep in mind that surrounding us is a community, which is trying to strive along with us. In the beginning of the semester, when everyone was signing up for groups and organizations, I roamed from table to table and came across a group which would go to a nearby location and paint murals at some point in the year. Art has always been a passion of mine and I thought it would make for some easy community service, so without thinking much about it, I wrote my name down. Time went by and I kind of forgot about my obligation until I got an e-mail asking about when I would be free to paint. I was a little hesitant at first to reply since I didn’t know anyone who was going and I didn’t want to intrude on them if they already formed their groups, but I ended up responding and I am so happy I did. When it came down to the day that we were leaving I got to the meeting spot a little early just to find out that I was the first one to show. I stood there awkwardly for a minute and went off to check my e-mail to make sure I got the time right and when I came back everyone was there. I grew nervous again but then realized that everyone seemed a little scared, so instead of us all standing around quietly and shy I started to talk to the girl next to me, and then other people joined along and when it came time for us to go to the school, where we were painting, it seemed as if we were already comfortable with each other. This experience was perfect for any freshman here at Loyola, because when we got there I really felt a sense of community. The kids at the school all suffered some form of family problem and the people who worked there spent their time helping them. As we painted the mural some of the kids would wonder into the room and tell us how good it looked and gave little suggestions and it really made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile. We stood and painted for a few hours and even though I filled my required time I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and keep those kids happy and it was then that I realized what I learned that night. I learned that you shouldn’t hold back any opportunity since you never know what you will learn, and when you find things to do, you shouldn’t do them just to get some community service under your belt; you should do them because you have a passion for it.

Personal propensity produces progress

The proportion personal propensity has on one’s success in life is the most surprising thing I have learned this semester. Through service, literature and my own self-discovery, I have come to realize that although circumstance and connections do play a large role in one’s outcome, it is a person’s inner drive that is the true deciding factor in achievement.

This semester I was granted the privilege of watching the Guilford Elementary Middle School children grow as students, young-adults and citizens. Their minds filled with facts I was able to not only witness the preservation of this knowledge, but the true understanding that is achieved through excellent education. These students, over the course of only 3 months, have matured from hyper adolescents to poised peers willing to assist their teacher and fellow students, even after their designated school day has commenced. Most of all, I have watched as these students, who were dealt a poor hand, not only escape the stereotypes associated with inner city schools, but go above and beyond completing a so-far undefeated National Academic League season. These students have thus out performed many charter schools in their league, proving that it is not where one grew up that counts but instead how hard one will work to achieve their goals.

Before Thanksgiving break, the Guilford students competed against Hamden Elementary Middle School, the first away tournament I attended. The students at Hamden were predominantly white from what appeared to be blue-collar families, the norm for a Hamden family. The Guilford students were given their toughest fight at Hamden Elementary Middle but came through in the presentation round with a jaw-dropping performance that, whether the students recognized it or not, was wise beyond their years. The presentation quarter of a National Academic League competition is conducted as follows: both teams are given a hypothetical situation, a side to argue, and a box of resources, which will assist in the research process. After about an hour, the students present their arguments to a panel, which scores them on the content and delivery of the presentation. At the Hamden competition the topic was over-spending on American pets through the use of clothing, spas, manicures and cosmetic surgeries. The Guilford team chose to present second, a strategic move in terms of motivating ones’ team to really out perform the previous presentation. However, Guilford’s argument was not one of economics nor priority as one would assume; instead the 6th, 7th and 8th grade Guilford students presented a legal case based on the principle that the average dog in Baltimore has a better quality of living than the average black man. They supported their case further with the results of recent court cases in which Michael Vick, the football player turned dog murder, was sentenced to a longer prison term than a local off duty cop convicted of murdering a black man. The topic made the air stand still as I once again realized that the situations and experiences I have undergone vary vastly from that of these students, who in the 21st century, are still faced with the reality that their fathers, brothers, uncles and even themselves, are arguably given less equality than a pet. This third quarter round in the Hamden Elementary Middle School cafeteria presented a truism I will remember for the rest of my life.

This situation could have been greatly uncomfortable for me (a white girl from a tiny middle class town) however, in the spirit of breaking this injustice presented by my young scholars, I instead used this opportunity to see the similarities. I personally was never at the top of my class as a child; math tutoring, reading lab, retaking science tests and hundreds of spelling flashcards were all necessary and instrumental parts of my childhood, as my friends played and I was forced to study in order to achieve the grades that came so naturally to them. I recognize my counter part in the Guilford students, as although they are extremely intellectually gifted, they also have to fight to achieve greatness. As reiterated in Twelfth Night, "some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Although many may view the idea of greatness as something innate, I conclude that this is not true; the most surprising thing I learned this semester was how important personal drive is to success. If anyone disagrees, I challenge them to meet a Guildford student- for it is at this school just down the street on York Road, that even the most considerable obstacles are overcome to achieve greatness.

"The College Experience"

Going into college, everyone says the same thing. Everyone says, “The next four years are going to be the best four years of your life.” It does not matter if this phrase is being repeated by your mom who interprets the phrase academically or from your crazy uncle who is most definitely talking about partying and alcohol. Regardless of the context in which it is said, they all have the same meaning. College is about growing up and experiencing new things, things I rarely experienced as a child who went to school with the same kids since the age of four. Never did it ever cross my mind that when registering for Dr. June Ellis’ Understanding Literature class, would I enroll in a class that truly embodies “the college experience.”

The hands on, discussion based environment of the classroom was something I was skeptical of at first. I am a very quiet person. I learn from watching. This means I carefully listen to every word the instructor says, and let my classmates take part in the trial and error that is participation all while I jot down my notes in my sacred notebook. Looking at the syllabus, this customary strategy would not go over well with my final grade. While it took time to adjust, I like to believe that I became comfortable sharing my opinion in class. Me opening up to this idea of change is something I like to think is apart of “the college experience.” With college brings change, and here I was learning that I have to adjust to stay alive (figuratively of course), a valuable life lesson.

Not only did EN101.17 surprise me by allowing me to become comfortable with change in the classroom, but as a person. As I discussed in my bus/museum paper, I feel like the environment and schooling I endured as a child sheltered me from the real world. For example, I was terrified for the bus/museum project. I was convincing myself every weekend to put it off, put it off! By the end of that day, I could only laugh about how stupid and ignorant I really was. I can truthfully say that that was my “turning point” if you will. The class again took me by surprise as it transformed me from a kid uneasy with the unknown to a kid at ease and comfortable with his surroundings. This means that it took a hands-on and innovative classroom experience to help me grow up. By forcing me to take part in activities I was almost scared of, my fears were conquered.

Week after week it surprised me more and more about how much learning I was doing. I’m not talking about being “textbook smart,” but “street smart.” What class teaches you that? There is a reason why I eagerly showed up for every class this semester. Poetry and hands-on discussions were never my forte. I was more of the quiet, here is what we are learning, so memorize it and repeat it on a test kind of student. Going deeper within my thoughts and myself was something that I did not fare too well in during my freshman philosophy class. I’ll blame that one on the teacher, as now looking back over this semester, I feel extremely confident in any situation I find myself in, no matter how deep we get. The class also surprised me of how capable I am of doing work like this.

Much to my surprise, Understanding Literature was my favorite class this semester. Now this is not just being said because you are going to read this later today, but I am saying this with all sincerity. It took a wakeup call in the form of a poor midterm grade to open up to what the class was trying to teach me. As I failed to initially realize, it was more than poems and short stories, but deep within them were lessons in which I had to learn, and I am proud to say I did.

Imperfection is Beauty

Despite the fact that I attended the Global Oneness Banquet over a month and a half ago, the event, geared to raise awareness of hunger throughout the world, has stuck out to me more than a starved, homeless child’s ribs. I was not sure what to expect; all I was told was that I should dress up and come hungry. I spent half the day getting ready, doing my hair and makeup and picking out a nice outfit. An hour before I was to be at the banquet, my cheerleading coach called me to announce that he was holding an impromptu practice in the next few minutes. Apparently my excuse of attending the banquet was not good enough to excuse me from my college varsity sport duties. I was expected to practice, go to the banquet, and then return to practice afterward. I had to strip from my beautiful, carefully picked out outfit and sprint to the gym, ruining my hair and makeup in the process. I angrily put up a few stunts, getting further sweaty, and more agitated. Finally, I was excused so that I could run up a few more flights of stairs to the fourth floor programming room to attend the banquet before having to return to practice, again.

At this point, I figured it was pointless to change back into my nice outfit just to change out of it once more. Hence, why I showed up to the banquet, panting, hair in a messy ponytail, wearing workout clothes and lacey stockings underneath. To top it all off, I was told that I would be seated at the nice tables. At first, I thought that might be a good thing to get some sort of special treatment. I was in desperate need of some good news. To my dismay, I found out that this would be the subject of envy and evil glares. Since I was in rare form that night, instead of thinking like I usually would have in this situation—about the poor and how everyone should help them out—I had a different thought process. I felt some empathy for the Donald Trumps out there.

It is not fair to always blame the top dogs. It is often through hard work that those people have gotten to where they are. Of course there are some people who have gotten their money through unjust means. There are also people who have gone to school for an extra amount of time, worked hard, and through their efforts, they have achieved success. It is not fair to place those people into the category of corrupt and evil just as it would not be fair to place all of the poor people of the world into the category of lazy no-goods. Sure, some people are homeless through no fault of their own and it is due to some bad luck. There are also people who have made bad choices and through their own laziness they have gotten to where they are today—homeless on the street.

Before I start saying bah humbug, I would like to point out that I did not miss the whole message of the event. Prior to attending the Global Oneness Banquet, I understood the importance of being compassionate to the less fortunate. Instead of reiterating the same, trite things as everyone else who attended the event, I wanted to give the true underdogs a chance to get their voice heard. The “top dogs” are so well-to-do that people never consider that they could be the underdogs, too. That is exactly what makes them the underdogs, the ones for whom absolutely no one is rooting. The poor people of the world have the Church and various charities rooting for them. With God on their side, they should not need much more help. After all, if they are not rewarded on earth, they are supposed to have an eternity of rewards in Heaven.

At the banquet, the speaker mentioned that, “When we experience oneness, we feel in the gut and in the heart that we are part of something beyond ourselves, that there is harmony and meaning in life, and that every human being and every aspect of existence is uniquely valuable. We live oneness through respect, compassion, cooperation, and creativity, which naturally support the most fundamental needs of life.” If that is the main message that was supposed to be taken from the event, then it should have been more clear that, while helping out the poor, no one should discriminate against the rich. That would defeat the whole purpose of oneness. The Dove ad shown in class shows that there is no such thing as perfection. Since there is no such thing as a perfect person, no one should fault others for common mistakes. The rich should not turn their cheek to the poor, and the poor should not scold the rich for having wealth.

In Shakespeare’s play, Measure for Measure, one line stated, “They say, best men are moulded out of faults,
and, for the most, become much more the better
for being a little bad.” Interestingly enough, the heroes in the play are just as flawed as the villains. One of the most interesting things that I learned through the events and readings is that it is through people’s imperfections that they learn the most, and that is what shapes them to be the heroes they are.

In the novel, Shane, the character, Shane, though he looks dangerous and the Starrett family does not know much about him, they are willing to give him a chance, no questions asked. Though he does have a rocky past, he looks past it in order to help the family for whom he has grown affectionate. Through the biggest act of self-sacrifice, he is willing to risk his life and go back to his old ways in order to help benefit the family. Shane was hardly perfect, yet he more than lives up to the expectations that the family had for him. In his past life he may have been seen as a villain, yet to the Starrett family, he is a hero.

There is never going to be a human who is entirely perfect. Therefore, common mistakes are bound to happen. In order to reach oneness, it is important to be forgiving and to think of everyone as equals. All people should be shown respect—people of all ages, races, genders, and economic statuses. Once there is no longer room for discrimination in the heart, then there will only be room for compassion, and that is the first step to reaching Global Oneness.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Death and the Maiden: Exploring the Role of Marian Art in Medieval Execution

On November 29th, Rosie Miola, a member of the class of 2011 at Loyola, held a lecture regarding two paintings of the Virgin Mary and their relationship to Medieval Execution, which relates to The Cask of Amontillado. While the lecture described how people were publically executed and how the paintings of Mary led them into eternal life with Christ, in The Cask of Amontillado the main character is haunted for his entire life my person he killed. Ultimately, the lecture and the short story give the reader two results of murder and death, allowing us to see how they would like to live their life.

In the lecture, Rosie described the two paintings of Mary, drawn on tabletas, influences anyone who sees them, and directly leads them to eternal life. These two paintings were created by Fra Angelico in the fifteenth century. The people who lived during this time period were very accustomed to public executions, especially hangings. This was a typical punishment for anyone who was arrested for treason or theft, meaning there were a lot of executions. People who were executed had to walk a long way up to the place where they would be killed. On the this way, religious members would hold up these tabletas, revealing the face of the Virgin Mary to the person. It was ultimately the last thing they saw before they were killed. The reason they were shown this was so that there last vision would be of Mary and therefore they would be closer to Christ. Because of this, they ultimately would be closer to heaven. This idea brings about the good idea of death, where a person would enter heaven. Because of the paintings, the person sentenced to execution would be able to Christ when he dies.

In The Cask of Amontillado, a different type of death is portrayed. The main character ends up luring a man into a cellar, convincing him there is rare wine at the end. After luring him deep enough, the man locks him in the cellar, where he eventually dies. The main character is ultimately haunted for the rest of his life because of what he did. This is the complete opposite of the lecture, as the last image before death leads them into heaven. In The Cask of Amontillado, the man hears the laugh of the man he kills. He feels awful about what he did, and believes he was wrong in doing it. Ultimately, the lecture and The Cask of Amontillado bear two different cases of feelings about death.

In other news, the question of what was the most surprising thing I learned from class this semester was posed. I think that the most surprising thing I found out was everything that goes on campus. When I came here, I was not sure what would be going around the school. Because of this class, I found out about all the events going out, all the plays, and all the community service plans. Without the class, I would not know about anything going on campus. Ultimately, the most surprising thing I learned was about all the things going on around the campus of Loyola.

The Pillow Man and Persepolis (I hope we're not graded on the creativity of our titles)

Last Sunday I attended the Loyola Poisoned Cup Players production of The Pillowman By Martin McDonagh. Prior to attending I had no idea what the play was actually about, all I had heard was that it was a dark comedy. While there was some sarcastic humor thrown in occasionally to give the audience a laugh, I certainly would not consider this play to fall into the comedy category at all. I definitely did not expect it to be as dark as it turned out to be. The basic premise of the play was that due to his upbringing a young man writes very twisted stories in which children typically die in horrific ways. The author’s younger, and retarded, brother does not believe the plausibility of his stories and decides to test out if young kids can really be killed in the ways in which his brother describes in his stories. We find out in the play that the retarded brother ended up killing a number of young kids, replicating what was done in the stories, and both are brought in for questioning by a police and a detective.

One of the main themes that I got out of this play was that life sometimes will provide you with unfair circumstances. As a background story to what goes on in the play, the parents of the two boys decided to do a sick experiment on them. They wanted to test out whether or not disturbing noises heard by the older brother while sleeping would change his style of writing to be more disturbed too. To create the disturbing noises for seven years they beat the younger brother, causing him to scream and such. These beatings are what also caused him to end up being mentally retarded as well. As children at the time, the two boys never asked for (or would even want) what came to them, they were just dealt a dreadful fate in the game of life. The play even ends on the note of solidifying the idea of life being unfair. Before the detective is about to shoot and kill the author she tells him she is going to count to ten to give him ten seconds to pray before he dies, although she counts to four and then shoots.

This theme I also found to be prevalent in the book Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Persepolis is about a girl growing up during the Islamic revolution. Throughout the book there are many unfortunate happenings to Marjane and her friends and family. While many bad things happen to different people in the book, they are never to blame for what happens to them. In the beginning of the book all of a sudden Marjane’s life gets turned upside down. She now has to go to a new school, where the girls and boys are not treated equally, and the girls have to wear veils. She didn’t choose for any of this to happen to her. No one ever chooses to grow up in a bad place during bad times; it’s just how life is.

Two vignettes in this book that stuck out to me that highlighted this theme where that of Marjane’s maid and that of her friend Ramin. Marjane’s maid was in love with their neighbor, although sadly they couldn’t be together because they weren’t of the same social class. Although it wasn’t Marjane’s maids fault for being born into a certain social class. Being born into a certain social class isn’t something you can help, it just happens, it is just an unfair circumstance you can’t change or do anything about in life. In the case of Ramin his dad killed people. None of this was Ramin’s fault as he couldn’t control the actions of his dad. Although because of unfair circumstances he was thrown into a pool of hatred by his classmates at school.

In both the play and this particular book judgments were passed about all of these characters for their unfortunate life circumstances. Marjane’s maid wasn’t acceptable as a love interest just because of her social class. She was judged without the boy she liked even getting to know her. Ramin as well was judged for his father’s actions, which he really had no part in. In the play the detective and policeman thought the author to be extremely demented without even knowing his history. Also while watching the play the audience judged the policeman to be an extremely cruel and soulless person for no reason. It wasn’t until the end that we learned our judgments were wrong when we learned of his past. Overall the most surprising thing I’ve noticed this semester is that judgments are everywhere. Everyone is always passing judgments and it’s really just a part of our human nature. Regardless, even if this is so I’ve come to be in agreement with the statement that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Judgments should really try to be avoided without knowing people or their back stories.

Sexual Ethics: An Assessment of Happiness and Well-Being

Tonight, I went to the “Sexual Ethics” talk featuring our president, Father Linnane. While my decision to go was based primarily on my interest in learning about the various issues that are attached to sexual ethics, I was also quite excited to hear Father Linnane speak. I had only heard Father Linnane speak two times before this occasion – once at an Accepted Students Day, in which we greeted us with a humorous speech, and during our class convocation. I have always found Father Linnane to be an engaging and scholarly speaker, but I have never been exposed to his perspectives on any controversial topics such as sexual ethics. Furthermore, although this event’s setting emulated a regular college class – a traditional lecture hall packed with dozens of students – Father Linnane’s prepared arguments on sexual ethics made the lecture enjoyable, captivating, and illuminating.

As I walked into Knoll Hall B03, I did not expect to see the hundred or so students seated. I quickly found a seat, sat down, and waited intently for the event to begin. Eventually, Father Linnane began his lecture – he started off by sharing an anecdote that revealed an enlightening experience he had in Florida while visiting his parents. Years ago, Father Linnane went to Florida to visit his parents during the college breaks, and during this time, he attended mass (in this specific story, Father Linnane attended an Easter vigil). In this mass, the priest advocated that Easter is ‘a time of repenting of sins,’ but he cited homosexuality as a clear moral evil and sin. This angered Father Linnane, who (after mass) challenged the priest’s views. To this end, Father Linnane expressed to us that homosexuality is not a moral issue, nor is it a moral evil. Moreover, he made note of the suicides of several homosexual students earlier this year, stating that their sexual orientation did not justify the treatment that they suffered from their peers. Personally, I thought that homosexuality was a big topic to tackle in just a few minutes, but Father Linnane seemed to break down his explanations simply, giving us all a new perspective on the issue.

Next, Father Linnane posed the question of “what constitutes a sexual relationship?” One by one, students began to conjure up ideas that seemed to form the foundation of an ideal sexual relationship – respect, commitment, trust, mutual understanding, consent, and good will, maturity, and love. While Father Linnane agreed with all of these concepts as sufficient underpinnings to a sexual relationship, he warned us that sexual relationships could be manipulative and unjust. One sentiment that particularly stuck with me was that in a sexual and loving relationship, your partner must be (from a first-person perspective) “the most important person in my life, and for whom I will be the most important person.” Without a doubt, I wholeheartedly agree with this view. Personally, I think that one’s lover should be someone who is not just an object of one’s sexual attraction, but rather the recipient of a genuinely affectionate and loving bond. In my mind, the enchantment of love itself should supersede any sexual urges. As expressed by Shakespeare, one cannot falsify true love – to do so would undermine the innocence that shapes love as such a powerful emotion.

On a separate note, to my surprise I’ve found that I have really enjoyed reading short stories this semester. In my opinion, a short story is the perfect medium of expression – while it may not possess the precision of a poem or contain the descriptive inner-workings of a novel, short stories tend to capture a satisfying balance that its two counterparts cannot achieve. Moreover, Edgar Allan Poe – one of my favorite authors – effectively sums up the appeal of a short story. He writes,

And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction…this is an end unattainable by the novel. Undue brevity is just as exceptionable here as in the poem; but undue length is yet more to be avoided” (excerpt from Poe’s Hawthorne Review).

Here, I completely agree with Poe. Short stories are a wonderful amalgam of a novel and a poem – for example, Poe’s Cask of Amontillado contains long, descriptive passages, but depicts strongly emphasized tones of insanity, guilt, and darkness, which cause it to be as widely interpreted as any poem. Therefore, while I have appreciated the many novels and selections of poetry we have analyzed this semester, I still contend that short stories are the ultimate form of literary art.

An Excellent Beginning

This semester I have attended so many great literary events that have broadened my mind and my interests. We are lucky to have these opportunities that allow students to grow and learn outside the classroom setting. I have learned to reach out and explore new things that I normally wouldn’t. They have inspired thought and encouraged me to attend more in the future.

I attended a performance of The Pillowman by a gifted group of actors from The Poisoned Cup Players. This theatre company is a completely student-run. I was astounded by the amount of talent that these students displayed in their acting and the creativity of the show. The Pillowman is a dark comedy about a writer Katurian Katurian whose gruesome stories are suspiciously similar to a string of child murders that have occurred recently in the town. Katurian’s grim imagination was caused by hearing his younger brother being tortured throughout his childhood. After he found his brother, Michal, he killed his parents and became his brother’s guardian. The torture caused Michal to have mental disabilities or to be as Katurian says, “slow.” The play takes place at the police station where a police officer and a detective question Katurian. They are convinced he was the murderer because the three murders are exactly like the ones in three of his stories. When they left him alone in the room with his brother, Katurian found out that Michal was the one who committed these crimes. Since he knew they were both going to be executed, Katurian decided to kill Michal in a more humane way while he was sleeping. He killed his brother the same way he killed his parents: suffocation using a pillow. Katurian tried to take the blame for all six of the murders, but the detectives didn’t fully believe him. When they asked how the third child died, Katurian answered incorrectly and was forced to admit that his brother killed the children. Though Michal acted out two of Katurian’s most violent stories, the third story was a pleasant one with a happy ending. Katurian didn’t expect this, so although it blew his cover, he was happily surprised that his younger brother acted out his favorite story. The police officer shot Katurian but saved his true meaning for living: his stories.

The main character, Katurian, reminded me of Shane in Jack Schaefer’s novel, Shane. They both have endured troubling experiences in their past that shape they way they are now. Shane protects the Starretts and treats them like a family he probably never had. He risked his life several times in order for them to live peacefully and without controversies. Katurian killed his brother so he could die in peace rather than be scared and confused. He proceeded to take the blame for all the murders because he knew his brother did not mean any harm. They were both heroes who tried to escape their past but it regrettably caught up with them.

This semester I found that the best things I’ve done are things I wouldn’t ordinarily have done. I thoroughly enjoyed events that I have attended for this class. For example, seeing Measure for Measure was a once in a lifetime experience because the American Shakespeare Center performs their plays in a much different manner from other theater companies. However, I may not have gone if I didn’t require a literary event for the blog. Now I know that it is better to “seize the day” and experience life to its fullest.

These events have lived up to and beyond my expectations. They have been enlightening and informative. I was nervous for the museum trip but I found that there was no need to be. It was a pretty simple procedure and so many friendly people helped us out. I had never heard anything about The Pillowman and had no idea what it was about. The play was so interesting and exciting that I am still raving about it to my friends and family (two weeks after I saw it). The Global Oneness Banquet opened my eyes to the issues of poverty that are very prevalent in today’s world. The lecture on Social Justice in Education by Dr. Noguera informed me about the problem of the huge gap between social classes and education. I feel more well-rounded after attending these events and writing a blog on them forces me to reflect and appreciate what I have just learned and experienced.