Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Because “Every Atom Belonging to Me as Good Belongs to You” by Sadie Schofield

As a college student in the twenty-first century, I have realized that we go through many obstacles throughout our undergraduate career. We deal with admissions, career training, and learning how to build a community for ourselves. I have had the privilege and woes of experiencing all of this on my own. I have had to fight to be able to apply to college, to determine my future, and to take my first steps into this strange world. Having the privilege of being able to apply to college should not be taken for granted. Many people do not get the opportunity because of their religious beliefs. As a Baptist woman, going to college was demonized by my church community. They thought that if one went to college one was going to forget all of their values and jump head first into the temptations of the world. Because I was raised a Baptist, I have had many things stacked against me. My pastor told me from a young age I had to be submissive, quiet, and have a man handle my problems. I was not supposed to grow up and take charge of my future. Instead, I was expected to be a mom and take care of my children while having dinner ready on time.

I was stuck in phase one of Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development. “This is the stage that all young children start at (and a few adults remain in). Rules are seen as being fixed and absolute. Obeying the rules is important because it means avoiding punishment” (Kohlberg diagram 1). I had to mindlessly follow the rules that were set up for me, preventing me from thinking for myself. I was under constant observation as my pastor and his wife tried to turn me into a cardboard cutout of someone else. For a long time, I just accepted everything I was being taught and considered this strange reality normal, not knowing that there is a whole world full of opportunity and adventure. Because of this, being able to apply to college, let alone the dream of getting admitted, did not seem like an option for me. Sofie Ramirez stated it best when she wrote, “We cannot get admitted [to college] if we were too self-involved to branch out and become well-rounded people” (Ramirez, par 2).

I was taught being different and having my own thoughts were wrong. When someone new and different came to my church for the first time everyone would judge them based on their appearance. How was someone like me supposed to become a well-rounded person if I was being taught to judge people before I even knew them? Whitman stated, “Whoever degrades another degrades me” (Whitman, par 24). So, why was I being taught that just because they are different, it is wrong? My pastor only taught me these things because he was afraid and believed that “places like colleges are a gilded re-education camp, where innocent children of the entrepreneurial class are turned into brainwashed Maoist cadres, chanting slogans and grinding away the hours in a sexual frolic” (Frank, par 3). However, even though my pastor thought this, he gave me permission to attend college based on my high mathematics grades. He only permitted me to do so because he wanted me to teach at the private school I attended. I blindly accepted his offer not wanting to be unable to provide for myself.

This unhappy situation had happened so frequently among the women in my church. It happened to a close friend, who got married at nineteen. She never attended college or had a stable job making her unprepared for what life was about to throw at her. Sadly, the man she married passed away and she was left with two young children and no clue how to provide for them. This situation scared me greatly and was the turning point for when I started to think differently, breaking me out of Kohlberg’s first stage.

In Pablo Freire’s Banking Concept of Education, he states, referring to our educational system, “[Learning is] motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable” (Freire, par 2). “Students are force-fed information only to barf it up during a test” (KP). This is a way of learning we are forced to adapt to. It limits our creative imagination and causes us to be mindless zombies. Thankfully, my twelfth- grade teacher, Mr. HT, taught me to question everything I learned and to make my own judgment based off of my analysis. He was a key component in helping me decide my career. He encouraged each student to ask as many questions as possible believing that “authentic thinking, thinking that is concerned about reality, does not take place in ivory tower isolation, but only in communication” (Freire, par 22). He wanted us to grow as thinkers and learners. He taught me that just because someone is different it does not mean we have the right to degrade them. It was because of Mr. HT that I had the hope of changing from my pastor’s original idea as a teacher to something that I wanted to do. I felt the need to write. I wanted to be able to impact the lives of others the same way that he impacted mine. I wanted to be the light that broke others out of their cave like mentality, where they only see shadows of things and not the whole picture (Plato). Mr. HT expanded my mind, helping me to look at the bigger picture instead of conforming to what others expected of me. He made me realize that, even though having a family is a wonderful thing, “I only have one shot at this life so why not make the most out of it” (Mr. HT)?

When I finally arrived at college I was there to learn and make the most out of life. I was, however, greatly shocked by the people I met there. Especially folks who were proud to be gay, proud to stand up for their beliefs, and people who had high goals they wanted to reach. I was not used to people being proud of who they were. These new people were not afraid to show their differences. That is a beautiful thing. Too often we try to conform to what we believe as perfection instead of taking a good look at ourselves and loving all of our flaws. We also should learn to build community with people who are different than us instead of restricting ourselves to individuals who think like us. “Being open to diversity is the cure. . . and the secret code to serenity” (Weber, par 9). Just from being at college I have learned that people change people. Some might state that this is the meaning of life; however, how are we supposed to grow from someone when they are exactly like us? Someone who changed me, and I grew to know, and love is Sarah Baum. She is completely different from me in every way. She made me, a straight woman, realize what life is like as a lesbian. She taught me to use terms like “they and them” instead of putting people in boxes by calling them “her and him.” By watching her actions, I learned that I am the next generation. I need to have a voice and to stand up for what I believe in. If I had not have added her to my community I would have greatly missed out on an opportunity of learning what life is about. Because of the impact of Mr. HT and Sarah, I was able to open up my mind to different ideas of thinking and realize that we are all connected to each other. Like Whitman so eloquently stated, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (Whitman, par 1). 

Works Cited:

Gordon, Paul Kirpal. 4 Dec. 2018. Class discussion

Lawrence Kohlberg, “The Stages of Moral Development,”

Ramirez, Sofie. “The Gift that Keeps on Giving.” Personal Essay. 30 Oct. 18

Whitman, Walt. "Whitman's "Song of Myself"" Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois, n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2018.

Frank, Thomas. “The Price of Admission.” Harper Magazine. June 2012

Mr. HT. Personal Encounter. 2017

Weber, Deanna. “Leaping out of the Cave and into the Light.” Taking Giant Steps, Kirpal Gordon, 11 Sept. 2015,

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

AN AFTERNOON IN GOWANUS by the Frank Perowsky Jazz Orchestra: A Review by Kirpal Gordon

When Alan Watts, the self-proclaimed “scholar-entertainer” of Asian meditation philosophies, was asked what cultural institution of Western civilization most resembled the Veda-Buddha-Tao-Zen point of view, he said the symphony orchestra in which every member of the ensemble blends their individual voice/instrument into the group sound. Too bad Watts passed away before he could check An Afternoon in Gowanus by the Frank Perowsky Jazz Orchestra. Incorporating five saxes, four trombones, four trumpets and a rhythm section of bass-piano-drums, this big band of first call NYC musicians does supreme justice to Perowsky’s skillful, lively, bop-wild arrangements. His charts are full of intense athletic activity. His bandmates, many of whom have been playing with him for years, create a palatable force field of wow, a sonic atmosphere oceanic and deep, interconnected and layered, rich with improvisational opportunities, a joyful noise and a musical ride that spans galaxies. Per Watts’ eye to the relationship between Atman (the individual) and Brahman (the whole), this band achieves a collective sound which swings greater than the sum of its parts.

Recorded by Wei-Yu Hsien at ShapeShifterLabs in Brooklyn, a show I happened to catch live, the CD, thanks to Andy Taub’s mix and mastered by Roger Lian, gives a listener that you-are-there experience. It opens slyly with a quiet bluesy intro with David Berkman on piano, Aidan O’Donnel on bass and Ben Perowsky (Frank’s son and the CD’s producer) on drums. Then the entire band jumps, spirals, twists, leaps and dives headlong into Frank Perowsky's original tune, "Big Apple Circus." The madcap melody becomes a call-and-answer duet with each section of the band effortlessly switching parts. When the sections lay out, Loren Stillman solos on alto sax, smooth and sinewy, smoky and heaven-bound. Then the section players return accenting the solo and re-stating the theme. The overall effect, thanks to band’s precise pitch, is of having been launched into outer space.

On the second track, Bud Powell’s uptempo “Bouncin’ with Bud,” it’s clear the band has citizenship on other planets. From the stratosphere the trumpets announce the intro, Ben on the drum kit keeps it all together and Frank Perowsky’s unhurried tenor sax weaves and note-bends its way into a new reading of Powell’s bebop chestnut. Jacob Garchik’s trombone solo reaches to the skies and the band encourages his flights with blasts, smears, rumbles and riffs. The horn section takes an intriguing turn on their own before the whole band returns to the head. This ain’t no museum music. Like Mingus, Perowsky knows that the whole canon of jazz is alive and co-existing outside of time and labels.

The order of the tunes is particularly well chosen. Each track enlarges a listener’s sense of what the band can do. Perowsky’s mid-tempo “Sprang a Lang” opens with the horn section playing flutes, the blue mood growing electrifying as O’Donnel walks the bass and John Ellis solos pretty yet bad-assed on tenor sax before Brian Drye laws down the law and breaks it on trombone. On Tom McIntosh’s “Cup Bearers” Perowsky arranges the tune with so much imagination that contagion soon sets in. Berkman’s piano solo swings so hard and with such wit and Perowsky’s tenor solo is muscular and takin’ no prisoners. Once again, Ben on the drum kit adds the right flavors and kicks; the ending with the fluttering flutes is truly big band at its best.

A note of caution is in order before playing Perowsky’s tribute to the Basie band, “Down for the Count.” Vocalist Ira Hawkins is freaking unforgettable on this tune. If one measure of a song’s appeal is its return to consciousness while doing quotidian tasks (indeed, I cut myself shaving!), then be ready to hear Hawkins’ rich baritone voice all day long in one’s head: “When I first heard that music, it turned my whole life around, that swing, that style, the Basie sound.” Once again, the arrangement has the band bursting into joy; they comment, support, challenge and uplift the singer, the song and the other players. Word to your motha: they are not seeking to be Basie’s band; rather, they give thanks for what Basie did for big bands. Similarly, the band does not seek to out-Ellington the Duke on “Do Nothin’ Til You Hear from Me.” Rather, Perowsky’s unique arrangement causes a listener to hear this most famous tune in new ways. Antonie Drye wah-wahs away on his signifyin’ trumpet and Frank wails dervish-like on clarinet. The harmonies are lush and the blends are sublime.

John Lewis’ classic “Two Bass Hit” is also made new in this blast-a-thon version featuring Ben on drums, Bob Franceschini’s honking and growling “out” choruses on tenor sax and Chris Rogers reaching and preaching on trumpet. “Paris Dreams,” a beautifully arranged original tune by Perowsky, is the CD’s secret weapon brought into full manifestation by Sam Burtis’ amazing trombone solo. Larry Young’s tribute to Coltrane, “Talkin’ About JC,” gets quite the big band treatment. Trumpeter Waldron Ricks’ solo is bright moments abounding, and Roger Rosenberg reaches deep down into the lower register to showcase the baritone saxophone’s extraordinary appeal as a solo instrument. What an ending!

It is a rare delight to hear so much great music from so many great musicians who know how to blend, bend and send listeners to heavenly places. I’ve heard a lot of music from Frank Perowsky over the years, but An Afternoon in Gowanus is an outstanding example of his multiple skills as band leader, composer, arranger and player. Go to YouTube’s FPJO Birdland ( for a taste before purchase.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Between Two Worlds: The Struggles of a Woman with a Feuding Heritage by Isabella Soto

“Speak Spanish to us,” said my aunts and uncles as I responded to them with English words.

“Oh, that’s from your Dominican side,” my dad stated when I had too much of an attitude as a child. 

“I won’t get you yogurt if you don’t ask in Spanish,” my grandmother said to me when I was five years old and requested a snack.

“I’ll give you twenty dollars if you say five sentences in Spanish,” uttered my Titi Milagro when I sat listening to the lecture as to why I should know how to fluently speak my family’s native language.  

Growing up, these comments were spoken to me as I was a 100% Hispanic while barely knowing how to speak Spanish. As both a Dominican and Puerto Rican, I have been discriminated upon by both sides of my family for not being Dominican enough, not being Puerto Rican enough, or not being Hispanic enough all together. My mother is a Dominican immigrant and my father is a Boricua/Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican), speaking the slang of the area he grew up in. Both speaking Spanish, I have always been questioned as to why I do not. My brilliant, persistent mother was an Emergency Room technician before I was born. Instead of being able to focus on her work and her tasks, she would constantly be pulled aside by doctors, nurses, and registrars so she could translate to/for a patient. This is the last thing she wanted us to experience as grown adults because she wanted us to work without disruptions. In addition to this, my older sister was put into ESL (English as Second Language) for not knowing enough of the English vocabulary. Ripping the accent and language from my sister’s tongue, my parents vowed to speak less Spanish around us in fear of it holding us back in school. She and my father “wanted to assimilate us into a culture that would not right away put up their guard against us because of our accents” (Rodriguez). However, not knowing the native language of my family, I have been teased and judged for being too “Americanized.” In addition, my background allowed my relatives to consider my sister and I “the mutts of the family” (Soto). Dominicans and Puerto Ricans have such a rivalry; it is hard to be accepted on either side. Throughout my life, I have found myself torn in both directions to be one or the other, forced an accent while around my family, and tried to win both sides’ acceptance through speaking a broken language with an accent that was not considered correct. 

However, after reading Gloria Anzaldúa and Emily Rivera, talking to certain family members, and watching Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture,” I have realized I am so much more than a mutt of two feuding countries; I am the product of understanding between two unique cultures that is blended perfectly from the fragmented pieces that fell together to form a new generation of people willing to fight for their individuality. As I got older, I realized how unnecessarily segregated the two cultures were toward each other as well as how much of an outcast I felt myself to be in my family. I had always been a bit different from the rest of my primas due to the fact that I do not speak fluent Spanish and am not pure Dominican. This idea of being an outsider stemmed from my grandmother’s resentment toward my mother for marrying a Puerto Rican man. Maturing as years went on, I realized this disregard toward my father carried on to favoritism of the grandchildren. Compared to my purebred cousins, my grandmother has shown to be more loving and appreciative of them. At fifteen years old, my cousin was given four pandora rings and $200 to go shopping for her quinceñera, when I was not even given a feliz cumpleaños. My cousins are rewarded for accomplishing a score of 90 on a test while I am not recognized when I have a 95 grade point average for all four years of high school. Not only am I treated differently than everyone else, I am forced to experience the comments of my abuela toward my father, like calling him un baboso, making me feel as if the comments are partly meant for me, too. 

In Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” a man leaves a cave, becoming enlightened from a sun never seen by him before. This man, who tries to show his former cave members that there is more than what they have ever known, is shunned and resented for disrupting the peacefulness. My family is equivalent to those in the cave: close minded and unwilling to look at anything different from what they know. The enlightened one, who was different and attempted to show the others what is out in a universe nobody knew existed, is me. The only difference is that I was never in the cave to begin with.

Not only being Dominican and Puerto Rican, I am a Hispanic who does not speak la lengua effortlessly. Growing up, I had to explain my lack of fluency to every family member at every family gathering. To make it worse, I forced a fake Spanish accent and listened to music that was more accepted by my family. I acted like I was totally la raza, but like Emily Rivera, “I hated every second of not being able to be my entire self” (Rivera, par. 2). Listening to more salsa to appease my Puerto Rican side, listening to more merengue to please my Dominican side and trying to stay neutral enough in order to resonate with my Americanized friends in school, I felt as if I was in a tug of war with myself, pulled in all directions in my desperate need to fit into the many situations I faced growing up. Living in the borderlands was my most significant issue. As Gloria Anzaldúa put it, I was “half and half” and was “caught in the crossfire between camps...not knowing which side to turn to [or which side] to run from” (Anzaldúa, 412). Most of all, I wished “[I] was a purebred and not a mutt” (Mendoza).

After years of thinking I was an unwanted breed of Hispanic, I read “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” by Gloria Anzaldúa. Speaking of her Chicano background, Anzaldúa felt the judgements from those within her community. Chicanas who “spoke Chicano Spanish internalized the belief that [they] speak poor Spanish” (Anzaldúa 415). Like me with my family members, Chicanas are “afraid [others] will think we’re agringada because we don’t speak Chicano Spanish” (Anzaldúa 415). I felt less alone reading this and more intrigued as to how she responded to it. Anzaldúa realized that instead of “living in the borderlands,” we are “straddling the borderlands” (Anzaldúa 418). I am not one or the other. Like Gestalt theory suggests, I want to embrace my three identities. I refuse to perceive myself as nothing less than a whole self which is greater than the sum of her parts. I am Puerto Rican and Dominican as well as American all at the same time. Many Hispanics feel confined to the walls our culture and families put up for us, but it is unfair “to put us in a box” (Rodriguez) and constrict or limit a person for not being like the rest. Perhaps my generation in America, standing on the shoulders of our Caribbean abuelos, will no longer need to worry about our differences but come to see our heritages co-existing in equilibrium. “There is more unity than anything else” (Reyes). Check the way our hips move as we dance to the beats our ancestors gave us, the way we cook arroz, habichuelas, platano maduro, y pernil, the way we gather together around the dinner table every night.

In Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture,” he speaks of how brick walls are there to give chances. For many years I thought that I was an outsider. However, these brick walls let us “prove how badly we want things” (Pausch). Overcoming this idea of not being able to appease every side of who I am, I have broken down this brick wall representing a separation that should not have existed in the first place. There is neither being too Dominican or too Puerto Rican. There is no existence of being too much of this, too much of that, or not enough at all. My entire life has been conflicted by not allowing myself to be anything at all or everything at once. However, I have realized that I am more than just someone who cannot roll her R’s, more than someone who does not “look Hispanic,” and certainly more than a person who has been treated like an unwanted dog given the scraps of the true Hispanic experience. Por favor!

Who I am is not the separation of multiple cultures; I am the harmony amidst raging storms. Being a perfect combination of the good and bad of each, I am the loud Dominican one can hear from down the hallway, the quiet Puerto Rican who moves rhythmically  to the music of Hector Lavoe, and the American who takes pride in being a part of a nation with such diverse heritages. The unique creation of an unconditional love between two people who saw past their backgrounds, I am the product of the broken parts of a puzzle that somehow fit perfectly with one another.

Works Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria. “To Live in the Borderlands Means You.” PDF. 3 December 2018.

Anzaldúa, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” PDF. 3 December 2018.

Mendoza, Johnathan. “Brown Boy, White Boy.” Youtube. 2 December 2018.

Pausch, Randy. “The Last Lecture.” Youtube. 22 November 2018.

Plato. “Allegory of the Cave.” 29 November 2018.

Reyes, Yesenia. Personal Interview. 5 December 2018.

Rivera, Emily. “I Dare You.” Taking Giant Steps. 28 October 2018.

Rodriguez, Gina. “Gina Rodriguez To Those Saying She's 'Not Latina Enough.'” Youtube.

9 October 2015.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Being, Becoming My Triple Identity by Semira Ahemed

Identity is given and perceived; we are born as we are without choosing our race, gender or family. All three are our bases to understand or realize who we are, but they are not the only identities we have. I am a woman who is black and Muslim. I have my own individual identity even if I am overlapped by group identities. However, people perceive me by the stereotypes and labels that are put on my group identities. While growing up, there were moments in which I wanted to change myself to be accepted until I realized that even if I do everything in my power it is not enough to fit in the puzzle. It is not enough even if I remove my hijab, change my dialect or adopt a stranger style. Moreover, I should not have to change my shape to fit in the puzzle when I know I can still fit in with my authentic self. People try all sorts of things with the hopes of finding their true self; for me, my journey of self-discovery has led me to college. Attending a university is my journey to define who I am, and Alan Watts, Gloria Anzaldua, and Susan Faludi have helped me to truly embrace my triple identity.

I am a person of color, but that does not stop me from engaging with people of all kinds; I have friends from China, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. I am Muslim, but that does not limit me from reasoning and enjoying freedom. Religion is not a challenge in my life; rather it is my motivation to find the truth, to find my purpose. I am a woman, but it does not mean I am weak. It is my strength to fight against all odds and to experience this world differently. I am all three of these things at once with my character, intelligence, and heart. Nevertheless, people make their assumptions by what they see without interacting with me. 

It is easy to be noticed when I am the only Muslim, black or woman in a classroom or social gathering. Yet I do not freak out being the only one because it is my opportunity to truly show and represent all three identities. It is also common to be bombarded with the following questions: Who obliged you to wear the headscarf? Are you suppressed? Are you sure you are capable of doing it? Don’t you think it is better for boys to do it? Why do you try to be the first? When are you planning to marry? People ask me if I am from Africa as if it is one country. They wonder why I raise my voice and laugh so loudly. They are confused about how I wear my hijab.

All these questions are triggered by the stereotypes and ignorance surrounding my triple identity. Then I ask: Is it a freedom to decide which part of my body to show? Cannot one see that I cover my hair and not my brain? Is it my choice to be perceived for my character and intelligence, but not for my body look? How can we as women show what we are capable of when we are not even given the opportunity to start with? How can physical strength still have such a value in the 21st century? How is it that speaking one’s mind and expressing one’s emotions are associated with arrogance? How does my skin color still create a challenge to be accepted as a human? Who are you to tell me that I am weak without knowing my background and the challenges I overcome? Does wearing my hijab like this makes me less Muslim or is it my way of expressing my religion and my origin together?

Growing up in a conservative Muslim family, there were rules and values that I had to follow. However, I never questioned my family about what was right and wrong. I never had the guts to decide for myself because I acted like every other Muslim girl in my village. I loved playing soccer, but there were no girls whom I could play with since girls stayed at home with their mothers. Indeed, it was even hard to play with boys because girls were supposed to be modest. Alan Watts in The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are writes, “It is a special kind of enlightenment to have this feeling that the usual, the way things normally are, is odd….” (Watts 11). Watts’ insight relates to me whenever I question the status quo. I did not have the opportunity to know him before coming to college, but without reading his works I related with him through my rebellious actions. I played soccer breaking the ordinary norm and led my team to win the sub-city soccer competition. Even though what I did was simple, it was my first step toward identifying who I am. An African adage says, “Until the antelope wins the fight, the tales of victory shall always be the lion’s” (African). This proverb is a constant reminder to write my own history and not to repeat the same story women before me hada story that was written by the society in which they lived.

I never knew a woman whom I could look upon as a role model. Not seeing a person who was like me in the dreams that I wanted to achieve made it seem quite impossible. The life cycle of a girl in my village was all too predictable. She goes to school just to learn how to read and write because marriage is the obvious next phase in life after high school. Warsan Shire, a Somali-British poet says, “It is not my responsibility to be beautiful, I am not alive for that purpose. My existence is not how desirable you find me” (Shire). But in my village a woman’s beauty was more valued than her intelligence; at the end of the day, it is the man who is in charge of everything. After growing up in a village with such low expectations for women, I still do not believe that I am at Hofstra pursuing my undergraduate degree without paying anything. However, I still think about the girls in my community who did not have the opportunity like me to pursue their passion and dream. They are in a closed box which they cannot escape without doing something out of the ordinary. I now have better opportunities than ever before, but Susan Faludi, in her introduction to Backlash: The Undeclared War against Women, cautioned me not to be distracted by the media to fully achieve my gender equality. Moreover, as Malala Yousafzai said, “I raise my voice not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard” (Yousafzai).

We only notice our racial identity when we embed ourselves with other social groups. I am from Ethiopia, a country that was never colonized, which made it easy to see people for who they are rather than their skin color. It was Hollywood movies that introduced me to the idea of color and the privilege and discrimination that comes along with it. I never had a color scanner glass to evaluate people and that has given me an invaluable chance to engage with diverse people at Hofstra. Nevertheless, most people do not wear the glasses I do, and some are colorblind to believe all should be the same with one homogenous culture and dialect. I even questioned myself if my English accent with Amharic root and some British pronunciation was not enough in America. But Gloria Anzaldua, a Chicana writer, gave me the courage not to be ashamed of my dialect but to be proud since it reflects my identity. Moreover, pursuing my undergraduate degree outside of my continent far away from my family is giving me the opportunity to define my identity independently. Developing a double consciousness is essential, and according to W.E.B. DuBois, it is the sense of looking at one’s self through the eyes of others. Just staying one semester in college helped open my eyes to see myself through the experience of others who have a completely different background, culture and identity.


I never thought I would question the beliefs I held true until I read Alan Watts. He challenged me to rethink if I do things out of humanity or for the sake of collecting good deeds to go to paradise. I used to do good things because my religion said so, but now in my heart I am conscious of what is right. Alan Watts helped me to see the interconnectedness in the universe and to view events without greed and ego. His book made me more responsible than I was before. I am now more sensitive to the value of the love I give to animals and people.

It would be a lie to say that I am not changing throughout my university experience. College has been more than just academics; it is a place to search my true self and transition to adulthood. Indeed, Lao Tzu is right when he said, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present” (Tzu). It is now my everyday purpose to find peace within myself and to become the best version of who I am. Every person I meet and all the books I read are helping me to uncover my true personality on my continuing life journey.

Works Cited

Alake, Olu. And Who AM I? Cultural Diversity, Identities and Difference. N.p.,15 Dec.2005.

Web 5 Nov.2018

Meah, Asad. Awaken The Greatness Within. 33 Inspiring Lao Tzu Quotes. 2015. Web. 26


Shire, Warsan. Goodreads, Web. 6 Dec.2018

Watts Alan. The Book; on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. New York: Pantheon,

1966. Menantol. Web. 06 Dec. 2016

Yousafzai, Malala. Goodreads, 2018. Web. 28          Nov.2018

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Looking into Roeg’s Walkabout: Eyes Wide Shut by Alexa Grabowski

“There are those special movies that change your life after you’ve seen them. Then there are the almost miraculous movies that stay inside you and then change your life again every time you return to them” (Murphy, par. 1). As a biology major,  I found it extremely unsettling that there was more than one answer to the question at hand: What was this film really trying to tell us? The possibilities were endless and my brain was on the verge of short circuiting  trying to make sense of it all. I can lie and say that I had some spontaneous epiphany where all in the world made sense, but it didn’t happen like that. All of my interpretations were merely puzzle pieces until I took a step back and saw the bigger picture. I wasn’t wrong for believing acceptance and loss of innocence were part of the movie, because they were. What I was missing was perspective. With this newly acquired view, I saw that all of my interpretations were components of one big idea: Society is the monster lurking underneath our beds, and maybe, just maybe, we should be sleeping with one eye open.

My first impression after passing through the not-so-pearly gates of the maze was, “Am I missing something here?” The buzzing noises in the background and the constant switching of frames had me believing that it was going to morph into a horror movie before my eyes, or at the very least, something out of the Twilight Zone. The school children were sitting in straight rows listening to their mundane teacher while soldiers were marching through the streets. People’s faces were not shown for the majority of the opening scene; they were cut off at waist level. The children even appeared to be panting like dogs while in class leading me to believe that Roeg wanted us to see them as a herd of animals rather than individuals. At that point I understood that there was going to be a hint of societal mockery throughout the film. In hindsight, I know that this was one of the methods he used to get his point across. He needed to make us see that society strips each and every one of us of our integrity and individuality, leaving an exoskeleton of a human in its place.

My first real interpretation was born when I noticed the sharp contrast between civilization and nature. One moment I saw a very structured society in which everything was in order, and the next moment a peaceful, empty desert appeared. When the father began shooting at his child and committed suicide, I assumed that he cracked under the pressure of work, a major component in civilization. When the aboriginal boy was hunting to survive, sport hunters came and left a trail of dead animals behind them. It was then that I made the connection. Director Nicholas Roeg wanted us to see that society is the root of all evil and destruction. In the city, everyone seemed liked miserable robots, but in nature, the tribe wandering the desert seemed to be extremely happy. People have been forcing themselves to act in a particular way for so long that they don’t even know the other option: freedom. Even after the girl and her brother escaped the desert, she still reminisced about the times she spent with the aboriginal boy. She longed to feel what it was like to be part of nature, because it’s where she was meant to be.

I thought I had it all figured out, but then I made the mistake of watching the movie again. This time, I came to the conclusion that this movie was about acceptance and the desire to mend the rift between two worlds. “After a time, these three youngsters cohere like a true family” (Muir, par. 4). The aboriginal boy was more than just a boy; he was playing the father figure of their pseudo-family. The first thing that came of the little brother’s mouth when he saw the aboriginal boy was “dad.” He hunted and cooked for them while they enjoyed themselves. He even took care of their wounds and offered to help them any chance he got. While the siblings were sleeping, he turned on their radio and listened to it for a while, almost as if it was an attempt to understand their language. The little brother even appeared to be painted in a tribal fashion when his sister was attempting to show the aboriginal boy that she wanted to go home. To parallel that, the aboriginal painted his face white while performing his mating dance. I don’t believe that he necessarily wanted to be white, just that he wanted to be part of the family.

Good things come in threes, so of course I changed my mind again after our class discussions. This film was about the loss of innocence. The father shooting at them and committing suicide was shockingly not what initiated this process. Shortly after the siblings found the water hole in the middle of the desert, the little brother, bottle in hand, asked his sister, “Does drinking give you a big, red, fat nose?” (Roeg, 0:28).The screen quickly flashed back to an image of their father. If their father had been an alcoholic, odds are that they lost their innocence a long time ago. They could no longer live in their bubble of a world after experiencing as much as they had. It’s a misconception that the loss of innocence is a bad thing; sometimes it simply the acquirement of knowledge. During the time they spent in the desert, the siblings were exposed to tons of new experiences that they wouldn’t have had if their dad hadn’t gone berserk. They now knew that there are different worlds out there and ways of doing things other than those they’ve been brought up to know. Maybe they’ll even appreciate things a little bit more and see that a dirty uniform shouldn’t be a priority. Whatever the case, they are now more in touch with reality than they were before. As Roger Ebert put it, “… all of us are the captives of environment and programming: That there is a wide range of experiment and experience that remains forever invisible to us, because it falls in a spectrum we simply cannot see” (par. 6).

I am here to tell you that there is, in fact, a solution to this web of imagery that Roeg spun. I’m confident that this film was intended to foreshadow the dangers of brushing off the primal instincts lurking in the shadows of our learned behaviors. He’s not necessarily telling us to sell our houses, quit our jobs, drop out of school, and set up camp in the outback as tempting as that may seem at this point of freshman year. He’s trying to reach out to us and tell us not to live with our eyes wide shut. What are our motives for doing the things that we do? Is it because it’s what we really want or is it because it’s what someone told us we should do? The parallels between the civilized world and the desert are unavoidable. We can live out the rest of our lives bound and held captive by society, or we can be free. It’s as simple as that.

Works Cited

Ebert, Roger. “Walkabout.” 13 April 1997. 7 March 2016.

Muir, John Kenneth. “CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Walkabout (1971).” John Kenneth Muir’s Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV. 15 February 2011. 7 March 2016.

Murphy, Sean. “’Walkabout’ Is The Rarest Of Films That Will Change Your Life Again Every Time You return To It.” Popmatters. 3 June 2010. 7 March 2016.

Walkabout. Dir. Nicolas Roeg. Perf. Jenny Agutter, David Gulpilil, and Luc Roeg. 20th Century Fox. 21 April 1998. Film.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Dice Rollers (and the Lives They Live) by Benjamin Kelley Gottwald

Dice—tools of gameplay, signifiers of randomness, representatives of chance—are the very hands of fortune itself. They are volatile devices, unpredictable by nature, and outside of family board games and casinos, we seldom vest our happiness in their outcomes. Our lives would simply be out of control. We instead sequester them away, deem them only appropriate for fun and games, and test their apathy only when we want to. We base our real-world actions and perceptions in the sturdiest of foundations; we create routines, set goals, and incessantly check boxes off well-organized lists.

While the true nature of our reality is that of constant flux, the paradigm through which we experience it is tacitly of our own sturdy crafting. However, there are also those among us whose paradigms of perception are cataclysmically enslaved to the dice. Their concepts of reality are not determined by themselves, but are rather subjected at any moment to a broad spectrum of changes: drastic inflation, demoralizing manipulation, and everything in between. These unlucky minds are those ravaged by bipolar disorder, and the very lens through which they see the world, themselves, and their peers is either bent or flattened at every turn of the game. They are dice-rollers, and I am one of them.

Dice represent the all-too-random brain chemistry we live with every day. Soaring highs of mania and crushing lows of depression are regular to us, but never expected, and this perpetual cycle of boom and bust is simply a harsh variable in the formula of life. Alan Watts, in his work, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, described the relativism of our world with the selfsame terms I use to console the havoc of my mood:

. . . Just as the hour-hand of the watch goes up to twelve and down to six, so, too, there is day and night, waking and sleeping, living and dying, summer and winter. You can't have any one of these without the other, because you wouldn't be able to know what black is unless you had seen it side-by-side with white, or white unless side-by-side with black (Watts 17).

It is hard to find a writer who philosophizes so deeply on the pure relationships reality has entangled within itself. Stranger yet is the incisiveness with which he describes the distance between opposites—summer and winter, love and hate, rolling a twelve and rolling snake eyes.

The exhilarating crest and the paralyzing trough of the bipolar wave established their tyranny over my emotions, and mercilessly grew more variant as I first experienced college. Rising stress levels, unstructured time, and the muse of procrastination all contributed to mood fluctuations. It is a dangerous game to unwillingly roll the dice as my mind does. Each ensuing turn either rouses me to hyperactivity, numbs me into a fugue state, or places me on some part of the curve in between—descending only to suddenly skyrocket or ascending to inevitable collapse. The Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu—whom I discovered in my new-fangled, collegiate pursuit of knowledge—offered me a tale that runs parallel to the vicious circle of mood. The legend has it that one day Chuang Tzu sat beneath a tree, and became so relaxed that he soon dozed off. In his sleep he dreamed that he was a butterfly. He did not know himself as Chuang Tzu, but instead as no more than this butterfly. Upon waking up, he instantly regained his identity, but as C. W. Chan interprets it, “He did not know whether it was Chuang Chou dreaming that he was a butterfly, or whether it was the butterfly dreaming that it was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and the butterfly there must be some distinction. This is a case of what is called the transformation of things” (Chan). My case is the transformation of moods, of mindsets, but most painfully of personalities. When the time comes again for me to slip away into the doldrums or let loose with mania, the boundaries of my identity blur and bend. It becomes unclear whether I am a sad man dreaming he is powerful beyond measure or a happy man dreaming that his happiness has vanished. I continued my search for words that could anchor me, tools with which I could pry off the two-faced mask.

I have learned to ride the waves and cope with the outcomes of the dice to some avail, but my studies and future career ask more of me. They require an anchored, steadfast me, of which I used to only dream. However, when I discovered Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” I realized my best defense as a dice-roller is really no defense at all.

Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events;

These come to me days and nights and go from me again,

But they are not the Me myself.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,

Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering

at it. (Whitman)

Instead of deflecting my emotions, I found it easier to let them pass through me. In the act of channeling, I am greeted by a fresh new optimism, a new outlook which Whitman also matches:

I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,

And you must not be abased to the other. (Whitman)

In my efforts to own my bipolar condition, to let it do its worst and persevere nonetheless, I have also tried approach my disease head on. Was rolling the dice truly my obligation, or only the illusion of suffering? The book, An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison, showed me that transcending my dice-rolling could be a gracious process after all. She writes, “The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast you must first make it beautiful. In some way, I have tried to do that with my manic-depressive illness. It has been my fascinating, albeit deadly, enemy and companion” (Jamison 5). Wondering how I could possibly see my disease in that light, I welcomed the idea that bipolar disorder is a phenomenon separate from my nature. It is veritably a condition I must persevere through, but it is not me.

My nature contains my bipolar dice game, but also extends far beyond it. It is here that I currently stand, trying my hardest to let the beauty inherent within show itself. The wisdom of Lao Tzu allows me to see it. He said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished” (de Botton). I know now to trust the dice game, to welcome chance into my life, with the hopes that the only person my disease will render me is, in the end, its champion.

Works Cited

Chan, W. C. "The Butterfly Dream." From the Philosopher. The Philosopher, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.

de Botton, Alain. “Lao TzuYoutube. The School of Life, 21 Nov 2014. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.

Jamison, Kay R. An Unquiet Mind. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1995. Print.

Watts, Alan. The Book; on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. New York: Pantheon, 1966. Menantol. Web. 06 Dec. 2016.

Whitman, Walt. "Whitman's ‘Song of Myself’" Modern American Poetry. University of Illinois, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.