Friday, December 23, 2016

"Connecting the Dots: Identity as Mystery" by Monica Boretsky

“I saw myself inside his begging body. I realized at this moment that we human beings are fundamentally forbidden to shield ourselves from events outside our comfort zones. This unknown, unnamed boy, born into the lowest caste and purposefully made to warrant sympathy, rests inside all of us… I accepted my identity as a mystery larger than I could ever imagine but enriched through the experience of love and acceptance” (Shah, par. 13).

During her time abroad with her parents, Ria Shah found herself walking the streets of Mumbai, when she witnessed this young boy her own age begging on the street. She understood that personal identification is more than just oneself---it lies within the people whom one shares a connection with, no matter how small.  As I transition from high school into my young adult life, I am beginning to understand this now, too. From reading the words of Shah to famous writers like Walt Whitman and Alan Watts activists like Martin Luther King Jr., my personal narrative is becoming clearer. By learning to shrink the distance between the people in my life and myself, I realize that the connection I share with people is my greatest source for self-identification.  

The high school career I experienced was unlike most. In the context of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” the Educational Center for the Arts (ECA), where I majored in dance, was my escape into the light from the deep cave of the public education system in my town. At Daniel Hand High School, where I took my core classes each morning, my teachers kept me chained and forced me to look at assignments through the specific lens of the rubrics they provided. They lit a fire and cast the shadows for my peers and I to absorb. I witnessed how teachers “filed [us] away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system” (Freire 244).  Paulo Freire, education philosopher, warned his readers in “The Banking Concept of Education” that students are not containers to fill but are unique minds to inspire. Each day when I left Daniel Hand to attend ECA, I felt released into a more freeing atmosphere. Nevertheless, my dance teachers in my freshman year told me that I was playing it too safely, but the freedom I had been given with movement assignments took time for me to grow into. Reflecting on my years at ECA, I see how it enabled my transition from cave dwelling to discovering a world where I found comfort in creativity and dared to make my own choices. By introducing me to my closest friends and providing a haven for me to explore my art form and find a voice through movement, ECA shaped me into the artist, student and person I am today. Like Plato’s escapee enlarging his perception of all that he believed to be true and returning to his fellow prisoners to share his experiences, dance has been my outlet to escape those cave conformities. It offered me emotional support and helped me cope with the passing of my grandparents. Most importantly, dance is not a judge, and therefore this discipline has encouraged innovation and risk taking.  If I can offer even a handful of people the joy I experienced while learning at ECA, then opening my own dance studio will have been worthwhile.  

Although Plato helped me to better understand my high school struggles, Walt Whitman brought to the surface of my consciousness emotions I felt when first experiencing racism.  My host brother, Ryan Daniels, was born and raised in Harlem.  When he was thirteen years old, he applied to A Better Chance, a high school program to attend Daniel Hand High School in Madison, Connecticut. In his freshman year at Hand, he met my older brother, Nick, in his geometry class. Their friendship quickly grew and my family decided to host Ryan for the remaining three and a half years he would attend my town’s high school. More than just a friend, Ryan became a part of my family. By living at my house, he opened my eyes to how privileged of an upbringing I had.  He made me appreciate the things I took for granted, like how my family was lucky to know there would be food on the table each night. Ryan also taught me how injustice is everywhere, even in my picturesque suburban town. Witnessing his experiences, I have seen how deep racism is within a community and how detrimental are its effects.

Ryan became acclimated to life in Madison and meshed into the friend group that Nick had been a part of since middle school. When Nick and Ryan became extremely close, many of the boys took notice and began making ultimatums with my brother, saying he could only join if Ryan did not come along. This culminated in a Saturday night party during their junior year when the group forced them to leave. They were led out of the house through the garage and there, spray painted on the wall for them to see, read “nigger.” I was twelve years old at the time and I had never seen my older brother cry, but that night sent Nick into a whirlwind of emotions, as he discovered racism present in the group of friends he thought he knew so well. Ryan tried his best to seem unaffected by it, but we could tell how hurt and betrayed he felt. My whole family felt the pain; I was upset to see how sad it made my brother, and I was enraged at his alleged friends for being so dismissive and discriminatory towards Ryan. The mass of emotions I felt during this time became clearer when I read Section One of “Song of Myself”: “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (Whitman, para. 1). This appreciation of our interdependence is also representative of the post-conventional stages of Lawrence Kohlberg’s moral development model. What was felt by my family was the understanding of “abstract ideas of equality, dignity and respect” (Kohlberg). Ryan had become a part of my family, so when his dignity was disrespected, so was my family’s.     

Just as Whitman revealed these strong emotions connected with Ryan and social injustice, Alan Watts helped me resolve issues in my religious life. Growing up in a Roman Catholic family, spoon-fed stories of Jesus and God through attending mass and catechism classes for years, I learned that He is the divine being from which all things come, there to provide love and guidance for me, so I must fully accept and believe in His presence and power. My grandmother had been the most prominent source of religious faith in my family. Her faith was more than an aspect of her life; it shone in her lifestyle. Even in casual conversation, if I were to mention to her that I misplaced something, she would remind me to pray to Saint Anthony for guidance. However, I never truly prayed to God on my own, only when in the presence of my family at Mass, nor had I much confidence in the idea of God as an actual entity. This past spring, however, when I lost both of my grandparents within the span of five weeks, I began to pray on my own. This act made much more sense to me after reading, “Inside Information,” the first chapter of The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. Watts states, “Of course, you must remember that God isn't shaped like a person. People have skins and there is always something outside our skins” (Watts 9). Now I'm finding greater meaning in the idea of God not as the judge of a competition for His approval, but rather as the ground of my being most fully expressed in the act of love. After years of listening to sermons and hymns about the Lord, I feel most connected to the divine via the loving relationship I shared with my grandparents. This feeling mirrors Watts’s closing thought, “that the less I preach, the more likely I am to be heard” (Watts 14). I am finding a deeper sense of faith now and am beginning to see the true simplicity in religion. Personally, its value is not found in long hours of prayer and reading of the scriptures but felt in my daily relationships through loving, serving, remembering, and cherishing.  

In the wake of this year’s presidential election, loving relationships that cherish our differences in mutual support seems more valuable than ever. This year was my first opportunity to vote, and I was confident for a particular outcome. Unfortunately, the candidate I supported did not win, and I struggle to accept the bigotry and ignorance of our president-elect. As an eighteen-year-old college student, I must be aware of how the current politics will shape my future, from the type of workforce I will be entering after graduation to my ability to obtain health care as a young adult. Not only do I disagree with much of what creates Mr. Trump’s political platform, I have issues with his lack of awareness and feelings for people that do not look or act like him. As I grow up, I feel a larger purpose for civic duty, that if my government is not protecting and supporting the rights of all people, it is my responsibility to stand up and do my part. I am already witnessing the fear of my homosexual and Mexican friends, as they are unsure of how their communities will be treated during a Trump presidency. A close friend of mine from ECA, who prefers to be unnamed, came out to his friends and family during his sophomore year.  As he watched the election results on November 8th, he reposted on his Facebook page:

“Hey Trump supporters: There’s something I’d like you to understand about people of color, women, LGBTQ people, Muslims, and every other marginalized group. We’re afraid.  We’re not just upset our candidate isn’t winning…. When over half the country votes for a candidate who wants to strip you of your rights, who incites violence against you, who believes your existence is a threat, it’s fucking scary. Don’t pretend our fear isn’t on you. It is” (Anonymous).  

Millions of Americans, including myself, feel the way my friend does in response to the outcome of this election. However, perhaps this is an opportunity for our country to become more unified, to band together, to stand for the right of justice. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in 1963, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” (King, para. 4).  This statement challenges those who disagree with my friend’s values of acceptance and equality. It inspires me to not live idling by, as injustice occurs to our fellow citizens, who all deserve to live in a country that takes pride in its freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition.  

By reading the works of such noteworthy writers, I have been able to grasp a clearer sense of my identity. Reflecting on the past, I have a begun to connect the dots of my experiences to gain a further scope of my personal narrative: what I value and cherish, and what I aspire to be in the future. Just as Ria Shah accepted her identity as something larger than herself, I am realizing this for myself through reading such noteworthy philosophers, poets, and activists.     

Works Cited

Anonymous.  Facebook post. 8 Nov. 2015.  Web. 6 Dec. 2016.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. "The Banking Concept of Education "(1970): 242-55.    Print.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. "Letter from Birmingham Jail." N.p.: n.p., 1963. 2011. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.

"Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development - Boundless Open Textbook." Boundless. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

Plato’s "Allegory of the Cave" - Alex Gendler. TED-ed, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.

Shah, Ria. "Has the University Stolen the Fire in Our Bellies? A Proposal to Activate & Celebrate Student Responsiveness." Taking Giant Steps. N.p., 27 Oct. 2015. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.

Watts, Alan. The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. (1969): 11-28. Menantol. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.

Whitman, Walt. "Song of Myself (1892 Version)." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Internal Jihad: My Identity as a Muslim American by Arbaaz Khan

"Many American Muslims are peaceful and define jihad primarily as an internal struggle to improve."---Marvin Olasky

As the first semester of my college career comes to an end, my secondary education seems so long ago. I would be lying if I said I did not miss high school---I miss it every day. However, Hofstra University has changed me, my thought process, as well as my priorities. It has opened my eyes on what is the reality that we are living, as well as how much the reality sucks. Ultimately, I am beginning to discover my purpose here at college through the maturation of my mind and realizing how precious each second really is during my time.

Unlike many public high schools in the country, mine was run by predominantly white individuals. Eastport South Manor is 93% white and is also ranked 9,365th of 9,538 in the country for public high schools in diversity (Eastport). Yes, I was at a disadvantage from the start. Being a brown kid entering such an uncultured environment made me have to adjust my beliefs according to the beliefs of the kids there. I soon began losing my way. Although the proper path that my parents raised me to follow was hiding the fact that I am Muslim, it seemed like the right thing to do. 

Having parents who immigrated from Pakistan to this country is an adjustment that I have still not comprehended to this day. Diving into the American culture was difficult for them as well as for me. Due to not attending school in the United States, my parents never understood what occurs in the classroom as well as the community. As their first child, my parents kept me isolated through the elementary school years of my life as they did not know what to expect. When I started high school, my ceiling was lifted slightly as I started to gain more control in becoming involved with the community and known by others. I took part in sports and joined clubs such as track and field, which is where I found my place. Becoming more social and outgoing seemed great to me at first as I began to enjoy what I was doing, and more importantly, enjoyed going to school. However, there was a dark side. Being the minority at such a large public high school made me encounter many racist remarks due to my origin. This oppression is something that I dealt with throughout my high school years, which aided in masking my true self. Although this oppression was my down point, the extracurricular activities helped me portray my fake self which in turn helped me fit in. Ultimately, what I was doing was just running away from who I really am. Being involved with after-school activities took time away from being at home, specifically praying, as my parents were very religious and raised me to be likewise. 

Along with this obstacle of shading myself from the reality of who I really am, I began ignoring the requirements of my religion of Islam. The term “whitewashed” can come into play as the white culture that I was being exposed to was threatening my traditional values. The Quran states, “So let not this present life deceive you” (Surah Fatir, verse 5); this correlates with the inner war I began to have with reality. I was taking everything for granted and not thanking God for what I have been spoon-fed that others struggle to acquire. I was taught that the present life is a test given to us from God and the afterlife is the reward. However, from the start of high school I left this notion until senior year came along.

The university application process made me realize the reality that I was not going to be in high school forever.  The college journey on which I was about to embark would compel a change in the values that I learned in high school. I knew that I had to break my silence, as Gloria Anzaldua states, “I will overcome the tradition of silence” (Anzaldua, 40).  As I was silent about my religion for most of my high school career, the thought of embracing my culture left me fearful of what the outcome would be.  Gloria Anzaldua explains, “Yet the struggle of identities continues, the struggle of borders is our reality still. One day the inner struggle will cease and a true integration take place” (Anzaldua, 44).  The borders of my predominantly white high school suffocated me with their norms, leaving me helplessly trying to pick up the shattered pieces of my true self.

Thinking in the context of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave,” my acceptance to Hofstra University was my time to move away from my deprived self of culture due to my experiences from high school. Escaping from the cave of my high school, my uncultured self was also left behind so I could start on the right foot and follow the guidelines that my parents raised me to shadow. As stated in the Quran, “And he found you lost and guided you” (Adh-Dhuha 93:7).  My religion came to me in my struggle of finding myself and put me back on the path that I left. As my high school years seem so long ago now, the internal struggle that I faced helped me grow and prepare for what Hofstra has in store for me.  Malcolm X states, “Islam is my religion, but I believe my religion is my personal business.  It governs my personal life, my personal morals” (X, par. 3). This holds true in my family and in the religion of Islam as it is a pure religion and not the extremist destruction that is portrayed on the American media to viewers.

The media conveys negative connotations towards the religion which in turn brainwashes individuals to believe that Islam is a religion of evil when, in fact, it is the complete opposite. In high school, I remember that when I heard a news headline involving terrorism, I would become frightened to go to school and embarrassed to show my face as I believed that an act by a terrorist represented the whole Muslim community. My classmates were raised to correlate the epidemic of terrorism with Islam which was unfair to individuals, such as myself, to be comfortable with expressing what presents the real purpose of Islam. According to the Quran, “Do what is beautiful. Allah loves those who do what is Beautiful” (2:195). Instead of listening to rants on TV or reading false headlines, one should look to the primary source of what defines Islam, namely the Quran. 

My evolution in understanding the true meaning of my religion widened at Hofstra, as I have met individuals who faced similar situations as me in their high school as well as share the same Islamic background. As humans, we are all the same; our background or ethnicity should not excite tension between groups. This common ground is articulated by Walt Whitman, “My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, /Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same” (Whitman, par. 1). Through the readings of renown writers, instead of fearing religious oppression, I have become more proud of being a Muslim and have taken the next major step in conquering my internal jihad.

                                            Works Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria. How to Tame a Wild Tongue. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web. 7 Dec.2016.

"Eastport-south Manor Junior Senior High School." Public School Review. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.

Plato “Allegory of the Cave” - Alex Gendler. TED-ed, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Siddique, Mursaleen. "81 Beautiful & Inspirational Islamic Quran Quotes / Verses in English."

Ultra Updates. N.p., 3 Aug. 2015. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.

Whitman, Walt. "Song of Myself (1892 Version)." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d.

Web. 07 Dec. 2016.

X, Malcolm. "The Ballot or the Bullet." USA, Detroit. 12 Apr. 1964. The Ballot or the Bullet

PDF. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Passion’s Dark Side: Roeg’s WALKABOUT vs Wertmüller’s SWEPT AWAY by Samantha Storms

Within the depths of the most intimate, sensual parts of our being exists a primitive understanding of ne of the rawest emotional sensations humans cultivate: carnal desire. Lust, that overwhelming need for venereal feeling and contact that grows deep within our core, fosters life as we know it. Nestled deep within the pits of our bellies, sex is at the basis of what makes us human. It is sex that creates, rebuilds, and nurtures. It is sex that is at the pinnacle of enjoyment, of gratification, and of pure and uncontrollable ecstasy. However, it is the ability of this fundamental element of love and affection to destroy everything in its path that has fascinated the love sick and sane alike, and much like the unforgiving heat of the Australian Outback and the merciless waves of the crashing sea, we uncover the dark side of passion. Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 cult classic Walkabout and Lina Wertm 1974 box office hit concoction of steamy drama and gut-busting comedy Swept Away utilize a psychoanalytical method through the cinematic lens, chiseling away at the sexual undercurrent that poisons Western society into a shriveled, corrupted reality.

As desert animals scurry across the scorching sand and rock fixtures tower high in reach of the heavens, Walkabout takes viewers on a journey of manhood, of cultural scrutiny, and, perhaps most interestingly, sexual exploration. Roeg’s use of innuendo and subtext within the film serve as doorways into the world of sexuality and its effect upon the class structure of both Western and Aboriginal society. Throughout the course of the film, our English lass is subjected to multiple encounters with the men in her life that expose her budding body to viewers, both in scenes of nudity and, astoundingly, those in which she is fully clothed. As she embarks on her journey through the Outback in search of the civilization she has for so long desperately clung to, the young girl falls into a short-lived courtship with the film’s hero and victim, its helpless, doomed figure of divinity: the Aboriginal. Despite being pulled far away from the familiar arms of the societal constructs of the Western world she has always been so accustomed to, the English girl allows herself to be opened up by the curious mind of her indigenous savior, but only enough to highlight the inevitable, crushing reality of the daunting weight that exists between them: status.

Throughout the film, numerous examples of the sexual awakening of the adolescent mind are illustrated through Roeg’s interesting camera angles and scene cuts. As her young body gracefully slices through the water of the pond with nothing but skin to show, scenes of the Aboriginal cut in and out of frame (Roeg, 0:58). His body, strong and glistening with sweat as he hunts down his meal parallels her own, representing the path of sexual awakening the two are destined to take, but are unable to do so together as one (Dirks, para. 4). In scenes in which they stand alongside each other with that unbreakable communication barrier between them, the camera follows the English girl’s eyes as she stares at the nearly naked, glistening dark body of the Aboriginal that is so extraordinarily incomparable to hers, almost longingly, but always to turn her gaze away in refusal of her deepest, most carnal desires. This fleeting dance between these two newly awakened souls comes to a crashing halt with the girl’s ultimate rejection of the electrifying current that blazes between them. She is unable to look past the societal decree that deems him as her inferior (Dayoub, para. 4). This declaration of differences is set into stone with the Aboriginal’s apparent mating dance as he seems to mock the comfort the girl finds in her high-class position within the societal hierarchy in which she immerses herself (Roeg, 1:23). He keeps his distance as he performs, seeming to beckon to her in a silent declaration of love as she keeps her head turned away, content in the choice she has made. A walkabout sees its end as it hangs from a tree, defeated by the hands of a young girl fueled by her sexual realization that she will always have a place in the highest tier. 


In a watery world completely separated from the dunes and pits of the scorching desert, viewers find themselves entangled together in a fiery love affair on the sands of a deserted island in the middle of the sprawling Mediterranean Sea. Raffaella, the incredibly wealthy capitalist beauty that never had the thought to launder a dirty shirt if there were others present to do it for her, comes face-to-face and up-in-arms with Gennarino, a man utterly engulfed by his communist views of the world, in a dangerous tango with sadomasochism. Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away paints a picture of the gruesome reality that is sexual domination and its relationship to the flurry of political debate within Italy at the time of the film’s release. The grapple in which this picture’s two unbelievably contrasting characters come together in deliverance and inhabitance is perfectly illustrated by its portrayal of Western society’s obsession with the mixing of sex and subjugation. Viewers are enlightened to cinema’s ability to showcase the reality of culture’s complex issues with eloquence across a sweeping spectrum and not tucked away in a black and white world of simplicity (Hoffman, para. 7). By implementing a directing style that highlights the film’s uncomfortable scenes of rape and emotional manipulation, Wertmüller creates a cinematic masterpiece that parallels abusive relationships to the struggle amongst the different rungs of the societal power ladder.

Throughout the course of their time on the island, Raffaella is constantly tried and abused, transitioning from the luxurious life of a rich man’s plaything to kissing the feet of her heart and body’s ruthless captor: Gennarino. As this simple manservant thoroughly indulges in all the pleasures that life has to offer – the mind and body of a beautiful, love-struck woman, the salty air rising up out of an endless sea, and the privacy to enjoy it all – he serves as the classic age-old example of the close-minded, egocentric Neanderthal husband, always seeking to dominate anything and everything within his grasp. Gennarino exerts his authority over his lover on numerous occasions, and the transfer of power is obvious as Raffaella, whose formal lifestyle demanded nothing else from her save her beauty and passive presence, submits to his every command without question, enduring slaps to the face and verbal abuse. In the film’s most intense and disturbing scene, the two wriggle in the sand with limbs flailing as Gennarino forces his manhood upon Raffaella, accusing her of being at the root of the country’s economic and political problems, and she is left to spiral downward in a complete loss of control (Wertmüller, 1:09). Wertmüller’s cinematic decision to include such controversial material in her film represents political retaliation and revolt, effectively bringing to the surface relevant issues of Italian society and presenting them to viewers in a memorable and entertaining way (Lovell, para. 4).

Outraged by this portrayal of an independent, worldly woman as an inferior to a man and the inclusion of outwardly sexist and misogynistic subject matter, feminists question the director’s relationship to the woman’s rights cause. Wertmüller’s violent scenes of abuse and manipulation serve not as derogatory stabs at the foothold the woman’s right movement has made in society within the past few decades, but as representations of the issues that the female gender must face in daily life as well as an “allegorical equivalent for failed revolt” in terms of political distribution of power (Lovell, para. 5). Her characters are left to roll in the sand, scrambling for that which they have lost and so desperately desire, all of which is representative of the failures that result from both sexual and political domination. With this film, the negative light that is shed upon women such as Raffaella is not a symbol of inhibition, but an indication of forward movement and progression within a corrupted, subjugating culture (Solis, para. 12).

Through the eyes of a millennial, the sensitive subject matter explored by these two powerhouse films represent the decades of damage done by previous generations that lived in the shadow of ignorance all their lives. Young people are forced to ask themselves the question: if it were up to me, how would I repair the broken heart of the world? Walkabout, despite the hard façade the English girl wears as a mask to shield herself away from the danger she sees lurking in the world of the Aboriginals, tells a story of the innocence of adolescence and the curiosity that grows from a young, maturing body and mind. In Swept Away, behind the violent exterior of a ruthlessly possessive domination, viewers are left to only wonder about the burning flames of passion that burn hot and surely through the veins of our two stranded lovers. Nicolas Roeg and Lina Wertmüller hide behind a wall of societal and political cries for help, built high and separating the world from the joy of healthy, enriching sexual love. They demand the world dig deeper within itself, seeking healing through the skin of those closest to the soul, in order to truly live in love and happiness. In his “Song of the Open Road,” Walt Whitman writes: “Camerado, I give you my hand! / I give you my love more precious than money,” beautifully emphasizing the importance of love above all that may bring the heart pain (sec. 15, lines 8-9). Whether we find peace in the desert, basking beneath the warmth of the sun’s rays or facing the endless sea as salty water kisses our skin, we must realize that while sex holds within its tightly clenched fist the power to overthrow, manipulate, and destroy, it is also the foundation for a world painted bright with the color of love.

Works Cited

Dayoub, Tony A. "Seventies Cinema Revival: Walkabout (1971)." Review. Web log post.            Cinema Viewfinder. Tony Dayoub and Cinema Viewfinder, 21 May 2010. Web. 6 Apr.      2016.

Dirks, Tim. "History of Sex in Cinema: The Greatest and Most Influential Sexual Films and

            Scenes (1971)." Filmsite. American Movie Classics Networks Incorporated, n.d. Web. 8

            Apr. 2016.

Hoffman, Isaac. Saeviri Humanum Est. 2016. TS. Hofstra University, New York.

Lovell, John P. "Lina Wertmuller's Use of Sexual Violence as Metaphor for Political

Revolution." Insights from Film into Violence and Oppression: Shattered Dreams of the   Good Life. Westport: Praeger, 1998. 46-49. Google Books. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.

Roeg, Nicolas. Walkabout. Perf. Jenny Agutter and David Gulpili. 20th Century Fox, 1971.

YouTube. YouTube, LLC, 10 Jan. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.

Solis, Lola. Is Feminism the New F Word? From Resistant to Responsive. 2016. TS. Hofstra

            University, New York.

Wertmüller, Lina. Swept Away. Perf. Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato. Medusa Distribuzione, 1974. YouTube. YouTube, LLC, 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.

Whitman, Walt. “Song of the Open Road.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 11

            April 2016.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Bending to Beauty: An Interview with Dian Zirilli-Mares

Kirpal Gordon: Congratulations on the publication of your first book of poetry, Bending to Beauty. As your neighbor on Burton Street, I remember how back in your teenage years you were already writing verse, taking photographs and winning awards at Bishop Reilly’s Robert Frost contest. So, after retiring from a life as a reading teacher and elementary school administrator, what inspired you to write a book of free verse at this point of your life?

Dian Zirilli-Mares: I began writing this book at the prompting of my sons, Justin and Jared. These last few years, as we watch their ninety-four year old grandfather become forgetful, we began to realize how precious and ephemeral the past truly is. We regret questions that have to go unasked now; my dad no longer remembers the answers. It became another cautionary tale. The boys knew I have been writing poetry since I was a young girl and urged me to create a book that would preserve a piece of my life for them to cherish when I---or my memory---was gone.

Kirpal Gordon: Justin and Jared are both in the arts, yes? Your mom was something of a poet, too, no? I remember both your mom and dad as open-minded people who in the early Seventies had learned how to meditate. Your husband Ray is quite the rock ‘n’ roll musician. You have been around literature and music your whole life. You mention all five of these people in your dedication.

Dian Zirilli-Mares: My dedication is to my beloved five. My son Justin is a published author, aspiring television writer, and entertainment journalist. Jared is a New York-based actor and singer who has worked on Broadway as well as in television and film. My mom was a voracious reader who dabbled in writing herself, long before it was fashionable to self-publish. She and my father were always ahead of their time. At my father's urging, they were among the first trained in Transcendental Meditation by its founder, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. True to his garage band roots, Ray began singing and playing again in a rock 'n' roll band six years ago. But from the moment we began dating fifteen years ago, I was serenaded often, much to the delight of my inner teenager. Literature and music have been my constant backdrop. I can't imagine my life without them.

Kirpal Gordon: Why did you title the book Bending to Beauty?

Dian Zirilli-Mares: A few years ago, I became addicted to silver fabrication. The role of the  torch in the ultimate beauty of a piece fascinated me. In the jeweler's world, fire doesn't destroy. The flame is necessary for the smoothing, shaping, and building of silver jewelry. As I examined my life and wrote my poems, it became clear to me how perfect a metaphor the flaming torch would be. Life's "fiery strokes" may bring pain, but they also forge strength---and strength can bring the possibility of joy again. I have been blessed, no matter the pain or loss in my life, to always be able to "bend to beauty."

Kirpal Gordon: What was your writing process like for these thirty-eight poems?

Dian Zirilli-Mares: Athough I have written many poems over the last fifty years, they mostly burst out of me onto the page. There was no process involved at all. Whenever I felt something intensely, there was a good chance it would eventually find its voice in a poem. I knew that this approach to a book would never do if I wanted to finish it in my lifetime. On the other hand, the sheer act of sitting all day and "waiting for lightning to strike" was daunting. But it was all I could think of doing; I had never tried to discipline my creativity before. It wasn't going well and I felt like a college student writing a term paper. I was always finding "really important" phone calls to make, bills to pay, and laundry to do instead of courting my muse. Happily, I confessed my growing hatred of my writing prison, to my son, Justin, who is a published writer himself. He suggested I begin my early morning writing with a timer set for just 10 minutes. During that time I was to write about anything that came to mind. I should not even attempt to write a poem. When the timer went off, I would be free to move on to something less excruciating. Unless, of course, I was happily writing. Every week I was to add 10 minutes to my timer. Before  long I was up to a half an hour and I didn't want to stop writing. Many days I didn't. My daily musings often contained seeds that eventually grew into strong poems. Some of them surprised me. Although first drafts poured out of me quickly, it took many, many revisions and edits to chisel each poem to where it needed to be. But the greatest gift of these last two years is that when I had to change hats and proof formatted first runs and final files, I realized how much I missed writing poems. Professional writers tell me this is what happens. That maw of silence and lack of creativity eventually seduce you back to the torturous and glorious writer's chair.  And mine is calling as we speak.

Kirpal Gordon: In the book’s epigram, you quote Anne Lamott: All I have to offer as a writer is my version of life. Every single thing that has happened to me is mine…. If people wanted me to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better. Is this a word to the wise or just good fun?

Dian Zirilli-Mares: A word to the wise.

Kirpal Gordon: Your book is broken down into four sections. The first, "Hallowed Places," is rich with memory.

Dian Zirilli-Mares: "Hallowed Places" holds memoir poems.  As I grow older, and lose those I love, these sharp childhood memories become dearer still. The poems in this section capture the past, and some of the people and the times that are precious to me. 

Kirpal Gordon: Marona mia, bella! These lines are also incantatory and become universal when they invoke the sights, smells, joys, mysteries, loves and uncertainties of a young girl: Halloween’s autumn alchemy in Beechurst; your dad playing Italian love songs on his tape recorder; Aunt Rose’s sweet tooth; laying under the balsam Christmas tree; watching wrestling on TV with your grandma on your first sleep-over; your mom praying in the living room. We share the innocence of childhood meeting the wonders and terrors of this world. Perhaps “Waiting for Steve,“ in all its rhythms of puberty and Godot-like comedy, reveals this quality best:

In the heat of summer dusk,

we sit on the curb in front of our house

waiting for the boys to come out.

Scraps of conversation billow up between us,

settle down again,

like brightly colored flags in a sudden August breeze.

Staring straight ahead, eyes never meeting, we tell secrets.

When I grow up I want to be a torch singer. Or a cloistered nun.

You whisper a dream to dance in a cage

in those white go-go boots from Thom McAnn’s.

Jump up to twirl on one ice blue thong.

Sit down beside me again.

We float a leaf and a Wrigley’s wrapper

down the car wash stream at our feet.

Wonder – how much longer till Steve comes,

ringing his bells into the fireflied night.

We hope the boys will come out then.

Pat our damp pixie bangs in place.

What a tribute to an ice cream man! What a tribute to teenhood!

Dian Zirilli-Mares:  I loved going back to the memories of Burton Street and my childhood. I craved the feeling of peace they brought me.  These memories remain an antidote to the darkness and fear I feel as I grow older and watch the world change.

Kirpal Gordon: "No Surprises," the book‘s second section, is an abrupt shift.

Dian Zirill-Mares: In "No Surprises" the poems highlight the everyday wisdom and matter-of-fact learnings of a life fully lived. From the stance of my later years, my poems illuminate what I now see as obvious truths about people, life, and living.

Kirpal Gordon: Not only has the eye of experience replaced the eye of innocence, but the tone of these poems is reflective, rather than evocative. From the last line of your last poem in “Hallowed Places---“Welcome her home,“ a rembrance of your deceased mom---comes “The Battlefield“‘s eight lines:

Day 29 of meditation

and I cannot stanch the rage.

Past betrayals and pains are fresh, bleeding again,

like wounds roughly stripped of their protective gauze.

I survey the littered terrain, learn there are no surprises.

What I do not honor,

what I tamp down and swallow,

does not die.

Dian Zirilli-Mares: The hard work of this later part of my life seems to be to speak my truth no matter the cost.  I've spent too many years framing and reframing the disloyalties of  people I trusted in order to carry on. My poem reflects what I have learned about how effective that is in the long run. It is a Pyrrhic victory.

Kirpal Gordon: Throughout this section, but especially in “The Choice,“ your Rumi-like reflections on motherhood are in such sharp contrast to daughterhood and maidenhood in “Hallowed Places.“ In "Fiery Strokes" you also have some exceptionally strong work. Again, the tone of these poems shift as well. These poems summon the courage hard won of a lifetime learner. Not only do they skillfully meditate on the art of aging, but they read like an Ars Poetica. Like you say: “Driven to gnaw at my life, I cut to the quick. / The tenderest meat is close to the bone.”

Dian Zirilli-Mares: "Fiery Strokes" contains poems of different kinds of loss and pain. But, again, the title poem "Bending to Beauty" reminds that suffering endured can bring strength and growth. Although the poems show no happily-ever-after, the reader can assume the story has not ended.

Kirpal Gordon: I quote in full your title poem:

Every loss I survive marks me.

Just as the torch takes solder and smooths it to an unbroken stream,

I am made stronger with each fiery stroke.

If you work silver to follow your will too long,

it resists and hardens, soon becoming unmovable,

no longer able to bend to beauty.

Only the brush of flame softens, makes it malleable again.

Yet silver holds the memory of all it has withstood.

In the heat and light of the burning torch, it forgives everything,

and everything becomes possible, once more.

Your metaphor of heat and alchemy reminds me so much of India’s yoga poets singing of tapas (inner heat) uncoiling the kundalini.

Dian Zirilli-Mares: I love that!  Although I have yet to read the yoga poets, I am a lover of Kundalini yoga and have been practicing it for the last three years. I was drawn to its emphasis on spirituality, the chanting of mantras, and the focus on the chakras and meditation as gateways to transformation. I have no doubt that Kundalini played a part in the evolution that led to my being ready to write  my truth in Bending to Beauty.

Kirpal Gordon: Once again, your next section, “Vigil Candles,“ shifts mood and tone dramatically from “Fiery Strokes.“

Dian Zirilli-Mares: Like the votives flickering before the statues in a church, "Vigil Candles" honors and marks special intentions, loved ones, and prayers answered and unanswered. The stories behind these poems continue to keep a silent vigil within me. I accept that they always will. It was my hope that others might read them, and recognize something in their lives as well.

Kirpal Gordon: The section opens with these eleven lines:

This morning, a text from a friend –

I was cooking and thought of your Mom,

her trick of bending asparagus to break at its most tender spot.

My mother died at sixty-five.

Some days, she appears unexpectedly.

These endless years without her,

I spit-shine her memory,

parrot her wisdom,

understand her boundaries.

I am a vigil candle.

It’s hard to say where she ends and I begin.

Those last two lines, like the last section itself, suggest an affirmation of lineage, continuity and love. Perhaps in love the boundary between self and other can finally be erased. Certainly that’s the celebration in this section, especially in the love poems to your husband Ray.

Dian Zirilli-Mares:  Ray and I are testaments to the power of the past and a love that never forgets. Our long and winding road back to one another from Burton Street where we grew up, fell in teenage love, then went our separate ways, took 35 years.  But, here we are, the lead singer in the rock“n“roll band and the poetess. Together at last.

Kirpal Gordon: How did it feel tapping into the past, the pain, the fear that comes out of these poems?

Dian Zirilli-Mares: Since I was very young, my writing has been the way I understand and navigate the feelings and choices in my life. I write in order to discover what the truth of a situation is. It is as though the act of struggling to find that perfect word in a poem or a story forces me to see clearly what I am feeling. My writing has worked me through suffering. It has helped me more fully celebrate my joys. Revisiting so many of my life's emotional moments while writing Bending to Beauty was no different. "A Tiny Circle of Light," an essay I wrote for my Master's thesis many years ago, speaks of this. "Always my strongest thoughts surface as poetry. It is as if the original experience is so painfully rich and deep, it grows roots and bears fruit. That fruit is my poetry."

Kirpal Gordon: What's next?

Dian Zirilli-Mares: I think I was unprepared for the extent of withdrawal I would experience after two years of working on Bending to Beauty. The daily discipline of facing my demons and angels while wrestling them to paper became cathartic. However, the more I continued to work at my craft, the more critical I became of each poem. I made a deal with myself, especially in regards to those more complicated, emotional poems---either I would be brutally honest or I would be silent. What is the point of poetry that plays games or hides in artifice? That took care of the heart of my poems. But the longer I worked on each one, the more I demanded of it technically. In the end, at least 25 poems were cut from the original collection because they were not ready to face the light of day.  Perhaps in another two years they will be.  Meanwhile, I am sure there is a great deal more agonizing ahead to be done over the exact word, the perfect metaphor. I am looking forward to picking up my pen again to revisit these first draft poems this winter. Spring.  Fall... 

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Silent and Absurd: Ingmar Bergman’s Persona by Erica Gaeta

If one thinks about it, the human condition is quite absurd. Everyone on the planet is different in every way imaginable. We all also tend to go through stages as we grow up to be independent, intellectual, free thinkers. First, we as children learn basic functions to speak and live in a society. Then we start to consider our place in the universe and the value of life. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, environmentally, we grow and discover. We all develop our own coping mechanisms throughout life, whether consciously or not, and that is where psychological and philosophical principles come in. Absurdism is a school of thought in which our existence is questioned and one is forced to wonder what is the point of everything. The film Persona beautifully and mysteriously captures the essence of these ideas while leaving viewers unsure of what they just watched. Director Ingmar Bergman uses brilliant visuals and symbolism in order to pose such deeply rooted questions. When faced with the doubt of living a meaningful life, the world becomes much darker and reality starts to fade into the abyss.

Much of Persona’s cinematography is strange and intriguing. Shots are simply black and white, but quite untraditional in that they are combined with a quiet slow moving style to create mystery. In the opening of the film, viewers see a collection of juxtaposed scenes with the edges of the filmstrip showing, representing this piece literally for what it is. As viewers, we are forced to look at the medium itself, raw and unmasked: a traditional film reel projection. The screen quickly fades to a young boy waking up and touching a large screen of a woman’s face (Bergman, 5 min. 34 sec.). One could interpret that the boy featured in the beginning ends up being Elisabet’s deformed son who never knew his mother for who she was and only recognized her face. He very much symbolizes naiveté, uncertainty, confusion, and even ignorance in life. Later, viewers are taken into the story of actress Elisabet Vogler, nurse Alma, and how they feed off of each other’s persona. As the film progresses, we discover that Alma is Elisabet’s assigned nurse due to a strange unexplained phenomenon. The actress froze on stage during a performance and never spoke again after that. It becomes evident that her reasoning for being mute is very much motivated by discontent with living an unhappy, fictitious life.

Elisabet’s eyes were somehow opened during her performance to the unfortunate reality of humanity; no one is truly oneself. Much of life is a show; it’s phony, but being silent allows one to sit back and observe without putting on a mask. In a press conference about the film at the time of shooting, director Bergman explained, “Persona is the Latin name for the face masks worn by actors in antiquity… the film will be about people's masks and attitudes” (Bergman). Some individuals reach a point in their lives where they stop and question why they conform to society, what they are even living for, and come to the realization that they will most likely never find out. French philosopher Albert Camus states: “Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world” (Camus). In Camus’s profound essay on the subject, The Myth of Sisyphus, he discusses how when one comes to this realization there are ultimately three outcomes: suicide, a leap of faith, or acceptance. In Persona, we see that Elisabet has neither accepted nor denied this realization about an uncertain life purpose, but she is too scared and unwilling to take her own life. This leaves her with a leap of faith to do something drastic and daring; she stops talking. 

The silence of the unknown can be quite eerie. I’d say that many thought processes in the minds of everyday people are less than significant in subject matter. Most can’t help but get caught up in the superficial, mundane struggles of the human condition day to day and purposefully deter from thinking about what they don’t know or can’t control. It is scary and upsetting to some; however, daringly mindful people ponder what the point of their existence is, and ask themselves if they are proud of the life they are living. For example, consider this contemporary artist statement: “Some people are afraid of the unknown or infinity, but I embrace the idea that it is all around me and everyone else in the world. Getting people to also embrace this idea of endless possibility is usually the point I try to get across in [my work]…there is infinity in imagination, and a single thought could create an endless fractal in one’s own mind” (Donahue).

This is exactly what Elisabet Vogler was blind to in the film; the beauty of the unknown and the endless possibilities in life. As soon as Ms. Vogler realized she was not making any decisions herself, she had no control over her destiny.  She was living a life of endless uncertainty and unhappiness,  so she made the decision not to speak. She became an observer and chose to no longer participate in the game of life. What she clearly had failed to consider was that, “The freedom of man is… established in man's natural ability and opportunity to create his own meaning and purpose, to decide himself. [One] becomes the most precious unit of the existence, as he represents a set of unique ideals that can be characterized as an entire universe by itself” (Camus). Fear of the unknown is very real, but blocking oneself off from communication with others is not the answer. It is nearly impossible to associate with anyone who decides to respond to their discontent like this, which becomes clear through the development of nurse Alma’s character. Throughout the film she opens up increasingly to Elisabet at the shore house to pass the time and fill the silence. Eventually, Alma grows frustrated, small incidents occur, and a roll reversal emerges as Alma loses her sanity and control of her emotions.

So many people trap themselves in a box of close mindedness and ignorance. It is scary to consider reality and the unknown, but accepting it is much better than closing our minds to it. In Persona Elisabet was so wrapped up in fame and superficial decisions motivated by others that her personality and purpose got lost in playing roles. Although this is one of an infinite amount of interpretations for the film because of its ambiguity, it could be quite plausible from a philosophical and psychological perspective. No matter how one views this film, the visual artistic direction beautifully reflects a tragic story of someone who has lost her persona.

Author Erica Gaeta

Works Cited

"Absurdism." - New World Encyclopedia. MediaWiki, n.d. Web. 9 May 2016. <>.

Bergman, Ingmar. "Persona." Hulu. 1966 Svensk Filmindustri, 1 Jan. 1966. Web. 4 May 2016. <>.

Bergman, Stiftelsen Ingmar. "Persona." Ingmar Bergman. Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman, 8 Oct. 1966. Web. 5 May 2016. <>.

Crowther, Bosley. "Persona." The New York Times. 2016 The New York Times Company, 7 Mar. 1967. Web. 9 May 2016. <>.

Ebert, Roger. "Persona Movie Review & Film Summary (1967) | Roger Ebert." All Content. Ebert Digital LLC, 7 Jan. 2001. Web. 9 May 2016. <>.