Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.


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Failing NaNoWriMo

Today is (or was, as of when I penned this; I had neither power nor Internet yesterday) the last day of my first NaNoWriMo, and I stand here before you (metaphorically, of course) to declare that I have failed at it utterly. I’m not sure how many words I managed because most of them are handwritten, but I don’t think I made it anywhere near the halfway mark.

And you know what? I’m OK with that. I started doing some research on my story topic in mid-October and was eager to write, but by the time November rolled around, my enthusiasm had waned. Lesson learned: when inspiration knocks, grab it and run with it. Don’t wait for arbitrary dates. Also learned: trying to write a story set in Ireland while living in Mongolia is sort of a doomed endeavor. So my attempt at NaNoWriMo was pretty half-hearted to begin with. When I started falling significantly behind on the wordcount within the first few days, I grew quickly disheartened.

Part of the problem was that i wasn’t really feeling the story or my characters, but a bigger part was that I’m just plain out of practice when it comes to writing fiction. I took two creative writing classes in college, but neither required me to write more than a page or two of anything at a time. Creating a scene is easy; creating an entire storyline, not so much.

Moreover, I’ve been reading a lot of Barbara Kingsolver lately, and I’ve found her nonfiction to be both inspiring and incredibly intimidating. For example:

The business of fiction is to probe the tender spots of an imperfect world, which is where I live, write, and read. (Small Wonder, np)

For example:

With a pile of stories on my lap I sat with this question, early on, and tried to divine for myself why it was that I loved a piece of fiction when I did, and the answer came to me quite clearly: I love it for what it tells me about life I love fiction, strangely enough, for how true it is. If it can tell me something I didn’t already know, or maybe suspected but never framed quite that way, or never before had socked me so divinely in the solar plexus, that was a story worth the read. (Small Wonder, np)

For example:

The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.

This baffling manifesto is a command that rules my writing life. It believe it means there are truths we all know, but can’t make ourselves feel: Slavery was horrible. Love thy neighbor as thyself, or we’ll all go to hell in a handbasket. These are things that cannot be said in words because they’re too familiar to move us, too big and bald and flat to penetrate our souls. The artist must craft missiles to deliver these truths so unerringly to the right place inside of us we are left panting, with no possibility of doubting they are true. The novelist must do this in story, image, and character. And make the reader believe. (High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never, 233-334)

For example:

The fear of being perceived as idealogues runs so deep in writers of my generation it undoubtedly steers us away from certain subjects without our knowing it. The fear is that if you fall short of perfect exectution, you’ll be called “preachy.”

But falling short of perfection when you’ve plunched in to say what needs to be said–is that so much worse, really, than falling short when you’ve plunged in to say what didn’t need to be said? (High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never, 230)

[apologies about the inability to cite properly – most Kindle books aren’t paginated]

That last one is what really gets me. I am good at saying things well; I’ve been told that for a long time. I know how to take words and shape them to be powerful, or persuasive, or beautiful. But these excerpts struck me to my core; they made me question why I was writing in the first place. Yes, I can say things well – but in the light of such conviction, I’m unsure whether anything I have to say is worth saying.

There’s nothing like that sort of uncertainty and lack of confidence to gum up the works, and my ability to work on my story grew more and more impaired as the month wore on. But my ability to write other things was unaffected. This is the most active my blog has ever been, and I have a lovely long list of future entries waiting to be written. A bout of anger and nostalgia, unintentionally coupled with the new Taylor Swift album, led to the beginnings of a poem that I won’t inflict upon the Internet. It’s bad, and it’s pretty standard post-breakup material, but even so, poetry is not usually the medium I reach for when the need for self-expression calls. For one to pour forth like that is a noteworthy event.

And I’ve written a lot of things that haven’t made it onto this blog (yet) – journal entries, responses to articles friends have posted, and so on. when presented with the choice between working on a story that has yet to come to life and recording and analyzing an event that actually pertains to my day-to-day life, or that I want to remember, I think I know which I’m going to choose. My estimated output for today is probably about 1800 words – they’re just not in my novel.

So maybe I failed at National Novel Writing Month. But if you take out the “Novel” bit, I think I did alright.

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Not Okay

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I think we’ve all seen this by now, be it on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter. What we haven’t seen is an official communication–one sent directly from the University itself to the students who attend(ed) it–that explains the incident or what Miami’s response was. From the radio silence of the past week, I’ve had to assume there wasn’t one. As of today, I learned that there were; the details are here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2217259/Outrage-Miami-University-flier-advising-students-away-rape.html

UPDATE: Received an email from Dr. Barbara Jones regarding what actions Miami is taking. Copying that here, so we’re all working with full information:

 

After learning of the anonymously posted flier, Miami officials called a mandatory meeting of all males in the hall.

In addition, these actions were taken with respect to this incident:

• The flier was immediately taken down and reported to authorities.

• The Miami University police department (MUPD) and Miami’s Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity (OEEO) received a copy of the flier from Miami’s office of residence life

• A police report has been filed and Miami University continues to investigate.

• Miami’s Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution (OESCR) is investigating. The OESCR can take action if a student is found to have violated Miami’s Student Code of Conduct. Potential code of conduct sections violated by the creation and posting of this flier and related damage in the corridor include section 103B – mental abuse or harm; section 104 – damage to property; and 113 – disorderly conduct.

Potential sanctions for a student found responsible for violating these sections include removal from the residence hall, mandatory educational programs and suspension.

• Miami communicated with residence hall staff to gather any relevant or additional information • Miami’s police chief, with agreement of the dean of students, has increased campus police presence in the hall

Communication with male students in the hall: Staff who spoke with students at the hall meeting represented the Miami University police department (MUPD), the office of residence life, Miami’s student counseling service and a student representative of MARS – Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault.

They spoke with students in the affected corridor about how the flier represents the residents as men in our society, their families and friends, their views on women, and Miami University. Further, they discussed with all male students in the hall how to stop such behavior, the effects of vandalism, creating and maintaining a healthy and safe environment for everyone, and the bystander effect of actions on a community. They also provided information on relevant programs and actions.

Ongoing resources: Miami University’s women’s center, MARS (Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault), and WAVES (Women Against Violence and Sexual Assault) offer programming, information and support. The goal of these resources is to educate, create awareness about and prevent sexual assault and violence.

The university is continually evaluating strategies and educating students about these issues.

 

Even so, I’m profoundly disturbed at having to wait a week for the details, and even more so at having to get them from an overseas newspaper, or having to ask a school official for them. Below, you’ll find the email that I am sending to President Hodge and to Barbara Jones, the vice president for student affairs. I encourage you all to write and send your own so that this message can’t be ignored. (Please don’t just copy and paste – it will be more effective if the letters are different, and since mine is alumni-specific, it would sound silly coming from a current student.)

 

Dear President Hodge,

I am writing to convey my dismay at Miami University’s response to the “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” flyer that was posted in the men’s room at McBride Hall. As of today, I have learned (from a UK-based online-newspaper) that Miami’s reaction included an investigation and a mandatory meeting for the male residents of the hall. I’m glad to hear that something is being done.

Unfortunately, that “something” isn’t nearly enough, and I am outraged by the way Miami mishandled the information regarding the incident. I learned of this flyer’s existence via Facebook, as did many others – current students, alumni, and even people with no relationship to the university. This flyer has gone out on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr; you name it, people have posted it, and most have included their feelings of shock and disgust. While I am heartened by the number of male students who find this attitude reprehensible, it is difficult to see this flyer posted with such captions as “F*ck you Miami, F*ck you and everyone who attends your school” and not be able to defend my school by explaining what Miami’s actions were. If we have no information about what consequences were enacted, how can we offer a believable argument that Miami did not stand idly by and let this happen? How can we fail to be disappointed in “our Miami” when a week of repeated searches turns up no evidence that this incident was even investigated?

We – students and alumni alike – deserved to hear about this from university officials themselves, and in a timely fashion. Reading the official accounts in an overseas newspaper a week later yields too little information, and far too late. While this flyer may not have posed an immediate physical threat to the students of the school, it still made students and alumni feel unsafe and unsettled. Miami’s refusal to notify the student population about the incident only made this worse. Such things cannot be swept under the rug in this era of social media, and attempting to do so only supports the rape culture that makes it possible for some students to consider this kind of thing “funny.”

Unfortunately, this is neither the first time, nor even the second or third, that I have been disappointed by Miami’s failure to notify students of security threats and recent crimes. I can only hope that the university will do a better job of fulfilling its duty to keep the students in future. In the meantime, I am glad that my safety no longer rests in Miami’s hands.

 

Katelin Burke

Class of 2012

 

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Cheerful Service: This I Believe

For one of my classes this semester, we had to write “This I Believe” essays. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, check these out; they’re pretty inspiring. http://www.npr.org/series/4538138/this-i-believe

Curiosity satisfied? Then here you are: this is mine. 

For the past two years, I have spent my summers surrounded by adolescent boys, up in the North Woods of Wisconsin. I took the job at Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan Scout Reservation in order to work with horses; the ‘Scout Reservation’ part of the title wasn’t terribly important to me. But the Scouting aspect of the camp, and the values it expressed, soon came to be a much more important part of my life.

As we turned onto the long drive into the camp, we passed a series of signs that enumerated all twelve points of the Scout Law: “A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.” I was reminded of these words on a daily basis, but particularly on Friday evenings, when we attended the fire at the center of the call-out ceremony for the Order of the Arrow.

I suppose these fires, with their imitations of Indian costumes and recitation of supposedly Indian legends, must seem hokey to some. But the staffers who participated in the fire and the scouts who had been chosen to join this Brotherhood of Cheerful Service took the ceremony seriously. Before I had been at camp very long, I dreamed of someday being tapped out for my own Ordeal.

 

That dream followed me home after that first summer at Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan and carried me through a second. It remains a part of my desire to go back for a third. But as I sat at my desk this winter, mentally compiling a list of the achievements I could put on a resume and wishing I could include the OA among them, I realized that there was something wrong with my motivation. My aspiration to join the OA had as much to do with a desire to be recognized as a desire to serve.

Now, there’s a mirror hanging on the wall facing the bed in my room at school. Rectangular, with a simple wooden frame, it looks just like the mirrors in every other dorm room – except for the words scrawled across its surface in dry erase marker. He who serves his fellows is of all his fellows greatest, it says, and then,

Master, grant that I may never seek

So much to be consoled as to console

To be understood as to understand

To be loved as to love with all my soul.

When I grabbed the mirror, I was just looking for something visible upon which to inscribe the motto of the Order of the Arrow and the Prayer of St. Francis. But when I stepped back after hanging it on the wall, I noticed something highly appropriate about my choice of writing surfaces. The way the words floated in front of my reflection served as a constant reminder to put others before myself, turning an act of selfish vanity into a much-needed reminder to put that selfishness aside.

 

Perhaps it’s a little strange that I have the OA motto written on my wall, given that it’s a society I will probably never be able to join. But I believe in taking inspiration where you can, and the OA inspires me to be a better person. I believe in the Brotherhood of Cheerful Service and what it stands for.

Deep down, we all want to be recognized for what we do. We all want to be one of the lucky ones who will be grabbed by a grease-painted Indian and dragged down before that roaring fire. But I have to remind myself, time and again, that it’s not about the recognition; the embroidered white sash is not the point. It’s about making the conscious choice to live for other people, to put their needs before my own, and to always be mindful of what I can do to help them. It’s about fighting the urge to be selfish every time it rears its ugly head. It’s about being able to serve the newly-initiated OA members their hard-earned meal at the end of a long day and say, without jealousy or resentment, “Good job, boys. You deserve it.”


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Opinion (Not News)

Today I attended a lecture by S.E. Cupp entitled “The Liberal Media’s Attack on Christianity.” At the end of the lecture, I was surprised to discover one of my professors sitting behind me. He asked me what I thought of the lecture; I told him that I would have found her more convincing if she wasn’t just as general and dogmatic as the liberal media she was attacking.

One professor walked out before she had spoken for five minutes, and I understood why. I stayed until the end of the Q&A session, though the rest of the audience probably wished I hadn’t by the time I had asked three or four questions.

I will grant her, she had some valid points – and she made them much more effectively during the Q&A session, when she was no longer reading from her prepared speech. Some thought-provoking points, and my responses:

  • We trust the media to be fair and balanced, but they’re taking sides, and our mainstream news is presented from liberal, secular viewpoint.

I’ll give her that one. She had plenty of examples of the the condescending, derogatory way Christianity is often portrayed in the media. The religious columnist for Newsweek probably has much more worthwhile things to write about than compiling a list of the hottest rabbis. Religion should be handled seriously and respectfully, at least by the news. Flippancy belongs to the talk-show hosts, not the reporters.

However, while I can see the objection in a the news being presented in a liberal slant, I see no inherent issue with the news being presented from a secular point of view. If you’re going to take a religious point of view, you’re going to have to pick a religion, and you will essentially be preaching its values to those who might not share them. The secular viewpoint seems to be the only fair one, provided it is not pro-secular.

  • America is 80% Christian, and a secular “mainstream” media no longer represents the mainstream.

This figure, she admitted, was taken from the CIA world factbook, which is great for overviews but less so for specifics. Most of the people I know who identify as “Christian” are so in that they espouse Judeo-Christian values and maybe go to church now and then. Now, that may have a lot to do with being from Deerfield, where the most religious people I knew were Jewish. But I think it’s something worth considering when you start throwing around big numbers like that.

If the mainstream media is indeed to represent the mainstream, does this mean that they are obligated to present a pro-Christian viewpoint? Because I find that idea profoundly distasteful. Is not being pro-Christian the same thing as anti-Christian, at least in the eyes of the Christian public? How should the media, and everyone, for that matter, ride that balance?

If that much of the country truly is religious, then they deserve to be represented. How does one represent religion without implicitly preaching it?

  • The separation of church and state is widely misinterpreted; forcing Americans to keep their religion private is exactly the opposite of the Founding Fathers’ intent.

Yes, America was founded by people who wanted to be able to be able to publicly and openly practice their religions. By this token, I think students and teachers should be allowed to pray in public schools. But once you ask students to pray, or set aside time for them to do so, you’re showing a preference for religion, and I don’t think that’s acceptable.

I guess the trickiest part of this is that evangelism is an inherent part of Christianity, and of many major religions. But once you begin to proselytize, you’re infringing on the religious rights of others – especially when you do so in an official or governmental capacity. I guess I don’t know how this balance can or should be struck.

  • Even those of us who are not Christian (she’s an atheist) share most Judeo-Christian values. Attacking Christianity is unnecessarily divisive and prevents us from recognizing what we have in common.

This is where I started to get a little fuzzy about what she was actually arguing. I agree with the statement above. However, earlier in the lecture, she mentioned how we had gone from a time when the New York Times urged Americans to pray for the astronauts of Apollo 13 to one where the government use of “In God We Trust” was under attack. So I asked her if she thought that retaining those same values while removing any explicit link to Christianity constituted an attack on Christianity.

I did not get a straight answer to this question. Her response was essentially that getting offended that your money says “God” or at being wished a Merry Christmas seems like a waste of time. I’ll agree to the second point, though I do espouse the public use of “Happy Holidays.” If you know that someone is Christian, then by all means wish them a Merry Christmas. But if you don’t, you’re making assumptions. Having grown up in a largely Jewish community means that I don’t assume that people are Christian. 

Christmas wasn’t really the point of my question, however. It was more about the explicit reference to Christianity in a more official capacity – in the pledge of allegiance, on our currency. It was about finding a middle ground. If atheists are offended if we mention God, and Christians are offended if we don’t, how can we ever find a middle ground? Does God have to be acknowledge as the giver of those values in order for it to be acceptable to Christians – can they be “American values” rather than “Judeo-Christian?”

I don’t think that removing phrases like “In God We Trust” and “under God” from government use encroaches on people’s personal faith. Americans can trust in God whether America does or not.


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Camp MaKaJaWan is a wonderful place with much to offer and teach us all. The scouts come here to learn from us—about scouting, about merit badges, about being a wild and crazy yet responsible role model. Camp has taught me all these things as well (though I’m still working on the last bit), but mostly, it has taught me more about myself and the person I want to be. Over the last two years, watching the OA ceremonies has inspired me to continue trying to be worthy of that honor. I want to be the kind of person who is dedicated to serving others, who embodies the scouting spirit. Last year, I was blessed enough to work for and with other such people. I learned from working with the other ranch staff last year, and I grew as a teacher.

This year was decidedly different. To most of the camp staff, this was the “best summer ever,” but for me, this summer has been a hard one. Both of the other girls on the ranch staff were cold and distant the entire time I was at camp. They never explained their system to me, never so much as introduced themselves when I arrived at camp. They would go off to the ranch together and leave me behind on a regular basis. When the three of us were together, they would talk to each other, but never to me. One of them was particularly nasty. I don’t think she ever said a single kind word tome; if she deigned to acknowledge me, it was to order me around or to sneer at me.

Towards the end of the summer, I did a couple of stupid things in one day—took Stanley out to Gilwell without asking permission, assumed the hummus the other two had gotten was for everyone. I apologized for both, and then I did what I’d wanted to do for weeks: I told M. that she had treated me like sh*t all summer (and yes, I actually said it, my first-ever use of that word), and that I wanted to know what I’d done to make her think I deserved that. She said that I brought it upon myself, because I was arrogant and incompetent, that I thought I knew more than I actually did.

Now, I’ll admit that that last accusation is probably entirely true. I accept that I may have been more arrogant or more incompetent than the other two; I made more than my fair share of mistakes this summer, including neglecting to ask permission for some things when I should have. All I will point out is that I was obviously deemed competent enough to be worth rehiring, and that don’t think someone who assumes the right to the front seat of the car and the first shower when we get back to the cabin ALL SUMMER has the right to call anyone else arrogant.

But, questions of my own competence aside, what really rankles is the idea that I deserved to be treated like garbage all summer. No one, no matter how stupid or incompetent or just plain mean, deserves to be made to feel worthless and unwanted, and I’m going to try for the rest of my life to uphold that conviction.