The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Month: January 2017 Page 2 of 4

School of Steel Pan

Arguably Bates’ most hidden gem, the Steel Pan Orchestra now features 16 students who come together for three hours on Thursday nights to give their hearts to the steel pan. After slowly building momentum and gaining popularity over the past few years, the Steel Pan Orchestra is ready to take over Bates College this semester.

Originating in Trinidad and Tobago (and standing as the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago) steelpans are one of those easy-to-learn but hard-to-master instruments. For the Bates band, no previous experience is required. It is as if you are playing the drums, but the drum is made of steel and there are spots on the drums that make a specific note. And just like drums, there are different kinds that play different styles.

For steelpan, there is the tenor, double second, guitar, bass, tenor bass, cellos, and many others that big bands use. This semester the band has 16 members, more of the different kinds of steel drums will be used. The higher register drums, the tenors and the double seconds, are used for the melody while the lower register drums, the guitars, cellos, and basses, are used more for background loops.

Imagine Paul Rudd mixed with Jack Black from School of Rock and you will get Duncan Hardy, the unflappable leader of the Bates Steel Pan Orchestra and a guru in the world of steel pans. Duncan took over the orchestra a two years ago, completely changing the course of Steel Pan at Bates. Sure, playing steelpan is very fun, but playing steelpan for Duncan is next level. Duncan is a profession steel pannist, even traveling all the way to Trinidad and Tobago to compete in the World Steel Pan Festival! Currently, he is the band director of Sister Steel, a band he formed with friends from his high school. He is a pretty big deal in the steel pan world as he is the director of the New England Steel Pan Festival this year.

Steelpans can be used to play almost any song. A popular song is “Under the Sea”, but Bates’ band is not that basic. Even Nick Jonas has caught on to the steelpan trend, using steelpan in his song “Close”. Last year, the band played “Africa” by Toto to rave reviews. The band also regularly plays a song known as “AFC” (it has a real name, but is solely referred to as “AFC” because of the first three notes to the song) and more traditional steelpan songs from Trinidad and Tobago.

The next concert will February 3rd for the Bates Art Crawl. That performance will feature the smaller group of students who were in the band last semester. The end of the semester performance will be on April 7th, featuring all 16 band members. It will be unlike anything at Bates – or anything anywhere.

The students in the band range from musicians who love music so much they need more of it in their lives to those eager to try something new and unique. The three-hour rehearsals can be tough: it is a lot of standing, but it is a great bonding experience. The rewarding feeling of putting on the Hawaiian shirt right before going on stage makes it all worth it. The band might even participate in the New England Steel Pan Festival this year. With all the talent that the band holds, there is no limit to where they can go. Not all superheroes wear capes, but all steel pannists wear Hawaiian shirts and are superheroes.

 

The new era of President Donald Trump

Donald Trump small

Students gather in the Fireplace Lounge in Commons to watch the inauguration. JOHN NEUFELD/THE BATES STUDENT

On Friday the 20th, while students were getting ready to jump into the freezing puddle as part of the Bates tradition, Donald Trump was inaugurated into office as the 45th President of the United States. His inaugural address was attended by 900,000 people, a rather large number when compared to President Obama’s 2009 inauguration speech which attracted 1.8 million people, while his second attracted a number closer to President Trump’s with 1 million people (How Many People Attended Trump’s Inauguration vs. Obama’s?, Heavy)

He began the speech by saying thanks to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. The rest of the 17-minute speech outlined once more the changes he wants to bring to this nation and its people. President Donald Trump stated that he wants to “transfer power from Washington. D.C. and [give] it back to [us], the American people” (Inaugural Address: Trump’s full speech, CNN).

He went on to say that he strongly believes in buying American products and hiring American workers to complete the job. President Trump is open to seeking friendships with other nations and aligning with them; however, he believes that it is critical for America and other nations to put their interests firsts, for he does not want to impose the American ways on foreign countries. In the last part of his speech he emphasized the importance of fighting Radical Islamic Terrorism.

Listening to President Trump’s speech inspired me to contact Politics Professor John Baughman who believed that the speech had “an unusually negative tone” because “Ordinarily a new president places much greater rhetorical weight on unifying the country and providing hope and vision for a new beginning.” Baughman believes that “, the specificity of his critiques in contrast to the vagueness of his vision expressed in the speech suggested to me that he still had much more sense of what he wanted to change than how he wanted to change it.  Even where he did provide specificity, such as in a plan for robust rebuilding of our infrastructure, and undertaking that would take many billions of federal dollars, it is in contrast to the budget plan his team has articulated elsewhere.”

On that point that President Trump is seeking friendship with other countries, Professor Baughman stated that “…a certain degree of nationalism is not uncommon for an inaugural speech.  After all, it is one of the few shared civic rituals we have, celebrating a peaceful transfer of power, and that comes with a healthy dose of national pride.  What makes his speech stand out is its full-throated endorsement of a protectionist foreign policy, such as when he says, ‘Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.’ The position he takes seems to be that other countries need us more than we need them, and that we can use that bargaining leverage to obtain better deals, whether it’s our contributions to NATO and the UN or trade deals like NAFTA.  To an extent that’s true, but in my view he hasn’t fully accounted for the unintended consequences of using the heavy bargaining leverage of the US in this way. “

The idea that President Trump can eradicate Radical Islamic Terrorism seemed impossible to Professor Baughman who does not believe that “there is anyone actually involved with the issue who would ever claim that it is something which could be “eradicated,” and especially not in the relatively short time horizon of a presidential term. There are several worrying aspects to the fact that this is such a point of focus for him, but I will name only one here.  The dangers we face as a country and as individuals do not reduce to this thing he calls “Radical Islamic Terrorism,” and a single-minded focus on that will leave us vulnerable to others.”

It is important to educate ourselves on President Trump’s agenda, so as to form a coherent understanding and opinion of his policies, whether you support him or not.

 

What’s inside a Canada Goose Jacket?

At any school, clothing trends come in tidal waves. Bates is no different; after the first snow hit campus this year, hordes of L.L. Bean boots dominated alumni walk. As the temperature continued to drop, however, a new item seemed to be on the rise: the Canada Goose jacket. Adorned with a fur-lined hood and its circular red emblem, the distinctive profile dotted the snowy campus landscape.

Trends can be controversial. Even the beloved Bean Boots received backlash in recent months after the company was allegedly revealed to be a beneficiary of the Trump campaign. Canada Goose jackets have proven to be no different; though notably stylish, their sleek profiles are shrouded in controversy. This controversy seems to originate from a variety of sources, such as the quantity of down in the jacket, or its reputation as a status symbol. The heat of the controversy, however, seems to emanate from the jacket’s notorious, fur-lined hood.

The hood is lined with certifiably real, but “ethically sourced,” coyote fur. As jacket sales began to conflagrate among communities, videos critiquing the company’s practices followed suit. In one particular viral video, a coyote is shown suffering in a trap, allegedly set by representatives of Canada Goose. These videos are viscerally startling; the coyote’s suffering seems palpably helpless. A negative connotation with the brand’s name began to seep into the public’s perception, and rightfully so.

But throughout this controversy, I was left with a lingering question– why is it that Canada Goose jackets are so particularly controversial? Human use of animals, of which Canada Goose is one example, is pervasive. The slaughterhouse practices behind commercial meat production, for instance, seem to match, if not exceed, the cruelty displayed in the coyote trapping videos. Pigs, chickens, and cattle are slit open and sawed apart in nauseating, deeply upsetting ways. Though meat consumption has been known to spark heated ethical debates, it seems notably less controversial than the practices behind Canada Goose jacket.

Unless all those who condemn Canada Goose also comprise this vegetarian/vegan minority, this conflict seems to bring nuance to the animal rights debate. When considering the Canada Goose controversy, I am still stuck with the same question: why is it that slaughtering a coyote for its fur is significantly more controversial than slaughtering a cow for its meat?

I think a strong counterargument to this claim is that the coyote fur is superfluous, an unnecessary component of the jacket’s design. Though Canada Goose claims that the fur is essential to the jacket’s functionality, many of the company’s counterparts– The North Face, Patagonia, Burton, alike– have opted for synthetic fur. But if this is the central argument against Canada Goose, it seems that this argument could just as easily be applied to the meat-eating example; a commonly held argument against meat eating is that it is unnecessary. It’s clear by now that a variety of plant based proteins– nuts, soy, among others– are more than enough to sustain the average person’s protein needs. This counterargument in both cases revolves around the same argument– we have alternatives at hand that do not involve the use of animals. But still, the Canada Goose jacket seems bafflingly more controversial than the consumption of meat.

Though I have posed many questions throughout this article, one thing is for certain– the Canada Goose jacket, like many fashion items, is no longer just clothing. It is kindling for heated conversations about our use of animals, and our ethical perspectives at large. And as we have these conversations, it’s important to consider one takeaway from this debate– just because something exists, does not mean it ought to. Perhaps, we should retire the jackets. But if we do, we might just have to give up meat too.

Now you’ve pissed off Grandma

Protests of the Inauguration of a president are common in American history. Over a century ago, on March 3, 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson became president, women gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue to advocate for their right to vote. The Woman Suffrage Parade, as it was later known, became one of the most effective protests in American history. Its legacy lives on today: the urge for universal equality echoed in Philadelphia’s Million Woman March in 1997, and most recently in The Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017.

Last Friday, Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States. His inauguration brought severe backlash in the form of violent protests, arrests, and arson all over the country. Americans were left with little hint of what to expect the following day for the widely anticipated Women’s March on Washington, as well as its 673 sister marches in major cities across the world, including Bates College’s neighbor Augusta, Maine.

In preparation, artists such as Shepard Fairey and Jessica Sabogal circulated their artwork on the internet as free downloads for signs. The Pussyhat Project, created in response to Trump’s sexual assault allegations in November, brought pink cat-eared hats to the marchers on Saturday in over 100 drop-off locations.

This weekend, many students from Bates College sought out both near and far to participate in the historic march for women’s equality. It is estimated that in Washington D.C. alone half a million marchers showed up to protest— a sum hard to ignore. For those who could not attend, the event was livestreamed on social media platforms and broadcasted on all major television networks.

Jesse Saffeir ‘20, who attended the march on Saturday in Washington D.C. reflects that, “It felt totally safe. The atmosphere was positive and supportive. Strangers would start conversations with each other, and whenever a mom with a stroller, or a person in a wheelchair, or an emergency vehicle was trying to get by, the whole crowd would make way for them.” Indeed not one of the protestors was arrested on Saturday, concluding a peaceful and effective protest.

The Women’s March was started by Teresa Shook, a resident of Hawaii, after she created an event on Facebook to protest Trump’s election win. She later invited Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez as co-chairs for the event. Partners of the Women’s March included Planned Parenthood, The Natural Resources Defense Council, the NAACP and Amnesty International USA. The name “Women’s March” alludes to 1963’s March on Washington, in which Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech.

In Dr. King’s footsteps, speeches during the Women’s March delivered by Gloria Steinem, Ashley Judd, Scarlett Johansson and Michael Moore—to name a few—all promoted the change that needs to take place in this country.

In address to the major criticism that the March has received in having too many issues, actress America Ferrera responded, “[I]f we fall into the trap by separating ourselves by our causes and our labels, then we will weaken our fight and we will lose. But if we commit to what aligns us, if we stand together steadfast and determined, then we stand a chance of saving the soul of our country.”

This brings attention to the intersectionality of the movement: that there are many causes under the umbrella of feminism including equal pay, access to healthcare, the #BlackLivesMatter movement and many other issues that affect women’s rights.

Saffeir said that her favorite speech was delivered by Senator Kamala Harris from California: “[She] gave a speech about how ‘women’s issues’ are more than just access to Planned Parenthood, they also involve the economy, foreign policy, gun control, and so many other contemporary issues, because first and foremost women are citizens.” When asked what the most memorable sign was, Saffeir said she had seen an elderly woman holding up a sign saying, “Now you’ve pissed off grandma”.

The Women’s March on Washington may have ended on Saturday, but it is our responsibility to keep the flame burning. There are many things students at Bates College can do to participate in politics both locally and nationally. Perhaps the easiest form of political participation is to donate to causes that directly support women’s rights. Other ways to participate include conducting petitions, attending other protests, posting on social media and writing letters to your Federal, State and Municipal officials expressing your opinions and concerns. That this country was designed by the people and for the people, and that government is to be governed by the people’s consent. It is important for Bates students to be aware of consenting to officials who promote rhetoric that undermine rights, and remember to march on. After all, Bates has long been a place that recognizes the value of equal opportunity for men and women in fostering an elite education.

 

School of Steel Pan

Arguably Bates’ most hidden gem, the Steel Pan Orchestra now features 16 students who come together for three hours on Thursday nights to give their hearts to the steel pan. After slowly building momentum and gaining popularity over the past few years, the Steel Pan Orchestra is ready to take over Bates College this semester.

Originating in Trinidad and Tobago (and standing as the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago) steelpans are one of those easy-to-learn but hard-to-master instruments. For the Bates band, no previous experience is required. It is as if you are playing the drums, but the drum is made of steel and there are spots on the drums that make a specific note. And just like drums, there are different kinds that play different styles.

For steelpan, there is the tenor, double second, guitar, bass, tenor bass, cellos, and many others that big bands use. This semester the band has 16 members, more of the different kinds of steel drums will be used. The higher register drums, the tenors and the double seconds, are used for the melody while the lower register drums, the guitars, cellos, and basses, are used more for background loops.

Imagine Paul Rudd mixed with Jack Black from School of Rock and you will get Duncan Hardy, the unflappable leader of the Bates Steel Pan Orchestra and a guru in the world of steel pans. Duncan took over the orchestra a two years ago, completely changing the course of Steel Pan at Bates. Sure, playing steelpan is very fun, but playing steelpan for Duncan is next level. Duncan is a profession steel pannist, even traveling all the way to Trinidad and Tobago to compete in the World Steel Pan Festival! Currently, he is the band director of Sister Steel, a band he formed with friends from his high school. He is a pretty big deal in the steel pan world as he is the director of the New England Steel Pan Festival this year.

Steelpans can be used to play almost any song. A popular song is “Under the Sea”, but Bates’ band is not that basic. Even Nick Jonas has caught on to the steelpan trend, using steelpan in his song “Close”. Last year, the band played “Africa” by Toto to rave reviews. The band also regularly plays a song known as “AFC” (it has a real name, but is solely referred to as “AFC” because of the first three notes to the song) and more traditional steelpan songs from Trinidad and Tobago.

The next concert will February 3rd for the Bates Art Crawl. That performance will feature the smaller group of students who were in the band last semester. The end of the semester performance will be on April 7th, featuring all 16 band members. It will be unlike anything at Bates – or anything anywhere.

The students in the band range from musicians who love music so much they need more of it in their lives to those eager to try something new and unique. The three-hour rehearsals can be tough: it is a lot of standing, but it is a great bonding experience. The rewarding feeling of putting on the Hawaiian shirt right before going on stage makes it all worth it. The band might even participate in the New England Steel Pan Festival this year. With all the talent that the band holds, there is no limit to where they can go. Not all superheroes wear capes, but all steel pannists wear Hawaiian shirts and are superheroes.

 

Alpine, Nordic ski teams place 7th in St. Lawrence Carnival

Bates’ Alpine and Nordic ski teams officially inaugurated their 16-17 season in the St. Lawrence Carnival in Lake Placid, New York, this past weekend, finishing in 7th place collectively out of 17 competing schools. Together, Bates’ ski teams tallied 438 points, while the carnival winners, Dartmouth, scored 965.

Lake Placid is known by many as the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics and the famous U.S.A. upset of the Soviet Union in men’s hockey, remembered as the ‘miracle on ice.’ “The town of Lake Placid is full of life with many of the 1980 Olympic structures still up and in use,” commented Sierra Ryder ‘18, who competed in the women’s alpine events for Bates over the weekend. “It does not appear that much architecture has changed since the Olympics so it is really easy to imagine what it was like when the Olympics were actually there.” Even before its Olympic spotlight, however, the small hamlet in northeast New York played host to the St. Lawrence Carnival, as far back as 1967 according to the Eastern Intercollegiate Ski Association’s (EISA) website.

An EISA ski carnival includes two alpine events, giant slalom and slalom, and two Nordic races, the classic sprint and the freestyle (five kilometer race for women, 10 kilometer race for the men). Points are awarded proportionately to the fastest skiers, and total points are tallied for each school to determine the carnival winner.

Bates’ alpiner Kelsey Chenoweth ‘17 was stellar in the women’s giant slalom. Her two runs totaled a time of 2:13.75, good enough for 5th place and just .66 seconds out of second. Ryder led the Bobcats in the slalom race, finishing in 14th place overall with a total time of 1:44.31. Her second run was among the best on the day, weaving down the hill in just 50.43 seconds. While conditions were ideal for the giant slalom races during day one of the carnival, day two was a different story. “It was rainy and warm, resulting in pretty bad snow conditions, especially on the steep parts of the hill,” said Ryder. “Many racers were having significant trouble due to slushy soft snow; it felt like you were skiing through mud at some points.”

Bates’ Nordic skiers enjoyed the good weather during the classic sprints on Friday, but had to battle soft, wet snow on Saturday during the freestyle races. The five kilometer loop, the same course used for the Olympic Nordic events in 1980, is particularly challenging for skiers, as it climbs steadily uphill over the first four kilometers, before descending during the final stretch. Parker McDonald ‘18 was the highest scoring male skier for Bates over the weekend, finishing a career best 19th in the freestyle race with a time of 29:49.9, earning the Bobcats 26 points. Meanwhile, Laurel Fiddler ‘17 and Sadie James ‘17 paced the women’s side, finishing in 13th and 26th place respectively in the five kilometer freestyle race on Saturday.

With their solid showing, the Bobcat skiers feel they have started the season on the right foot. “I am very happy with the team’s performance at this stage of the season,” said McDonald. “We are in a really good place and there is a lot of positive energy amongst the team. I think this past weekend was a good starting point and we are only going to get faster as the season progresses.” Both ski teams continue their season at the UNH carnival this upcoming weekend.

 

Behind the scenes of book building with Professor Robert Strong

I love books. I know that makes me a geek but here is a secret for you: I could not give two hoots. One of my favorite parts about reading a book is knowing that the author spent days, hours, months, and even years picking out the right words or making sure the plot fits together just so. Seeing an author’s dedication printed on the page is utterly heartwarming. Giving me insight on the author’s perspective when building a book is Professor Robert Strong, Bates’ very own English lecturer, fellowship advisor, and author of recently published novel, Bright Advent.

For many people, poetry is a daunting, aloof genre of literature that they are only subject to in high school English classes. But Strong has a new take on the genre. Instead of painstakingly cramming syllables together in a forced rhyme and meter scheme he let the words direct his writing.

Strong explains in an interview that “[t]he poetry movements in Bright Advent are chasing things in and around language, spirit, and violence that are beyond my reach with regular ol’ prose sentences. The prose chunks come when action breaks out or explication is needed. Poetry drills down; prose moves forward—at least for this book.”

His tone meets at the intersection between prose and poetry. He can accomplish different moods or pose different questions in his varied forms of writing. Switching between those two also serves to keep the readers on their toes; they never know what the next page will look like.

Finding the inspiration for putting those lyrical works on the page is not always easy and can come from the strangest of places. While researching his book at the Massachusetts Historical Society, he stumbled across an interesting collection of letters by the Puritan minister, John Eliot. Strong remarks that though Eliot was, “[w]riting from the cold muck of 17th-century Massachusetts and essentially abetting a campaign of genocide against the local Native Americans, Eliot was nonetheless writing stunning, heartfelt letters pleading for aid in saving the lives and, he believed, souls of these people. . . Language problems, people slogging hard, souls writhing and lifting, blood on everything—yes, I found this inspiring”. Finding light in the darkness – in this case, Eliot’s perseverance in the face of a genocide scale near-extinction of the Native American population provides excellent fodder for writing compelling pieces.

But being an author with his heart set on publishing is not all epiphanies and breakthroughs. There are challenges that come with the territory. Having support and pushing the envelop of a genre is exciting, but Strong remarks that it can get a bit overwhelming. Strong had many people helping him think about his book: two editors, a publisher, a historian, and some very helpful readers. However with each new layer of support and guidance there also came opinions. From the onset, Strong and his helpers knew he was generating a completely new concept because, as the author notes, “Bright Advent directly samples a good deal of 17th-century archival material, imagines its way across the archive’s many gaps, and wears a trans-genre wardrobe.”

Strong had to navigate these new waters, testing what worked in an avant garde way and what simply did not belong. To that end Strong reflects that “[n]egotiating the wide variety of opinions about what a poet is ‘allowed’ to do with history, imagination, and genre was an unexpected challenge.” Though it was a new experience, that didn’t preclude Strong from enjoying every moment.

Writing is hard. I know that was not the most eloquent sentence, but it is a true one. Writing and especially putting yourself out there into the world of publishing is daunting and arduous. But Strong has a remedy that may help the burgeoning writer along. He says, “[w]rite every day, even if only for 15 minutes. Send your work out endlessly. Learn to be spurred onward by rejection. (Bright Advent was rejected at many places, including once previously at the press that finally published it.) And, of course, meet [him] in the Den for coffee to talk about it!”

 

DSC_1113

 

Passengers: When will you succumb to loneliness?

Futuristic sci-fi is not the first genre I search for when going to the movie theater. However, every once in awhile there will be one film that catches my attention and truly impresses and entertains me. Perhaps it was Chris Pratt (whose movie characters always starkly contrast his iconic portrayal of Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation) and the ever versatile Jennifer Lawrence. Whatever the case, Passengers brilliantly highlighted Pratt’s and Lawrence’s acting talent while portraying a unique story.

Set years in the future, the human race has developed the technology to send waves of people aboard the spaceship Avalon to colonize a new world on the planet Homestead II. The catch? It takes 120 years to get there. All 5,000 passengers are placed in individual hibernation pods where they are kept alive but their physical development is halted, ultimately allowing them to wake up 120 years later in the same condition as the beginning of the voyage. When the Avalon is hit by a meteor shower, one hibernation pod is activated – Jim Preston’s (played by Pratt).

The worst part is that he has been awoken 90 years too soon.

With his only friend being an emotionless robotic bartender named Arthur, Preston must face the reality of his eternal loneliness. That is until fellow passenger Aurora Lane, played by Lawrence, is awoken just a couple years later.

As anticipated, the two fall madly in love and thoroughly enjoy their solitude on the Avalon. But alas, it is not long until the ship suffers malfunction after malfunction. It is up to the couple to take action and save themselves and all 4,998 sleeping passengers on board.

What impresses me most about the film is how just two characters can carry the plot without fail. Like I said, I am not usually attracted to sci-fi movies because I get bored of them pretty easily, so this was an extra-successful storyline in my opinion. It reminded me of how Cast Away managed to convey its plot so effortlessly with only a single character.

What Passengers and Cast Away have in common, besides their small casts, is the central theme of navigating loneliness. Loneliness is something we have all experienced yet strive to avoid. However, there is such distinction between being alone as an individual and being alone with another person. This movie made me question if we are ever truly alone. In Cast Away Tom Hanks’ character created Wilson out of an inanimate object while Preston and Lane in Passengers at least had each other. This added a layer of drama, love, lust, and overall a more complex expression of entertainment.

The whole time I was watching the movie, I kept imagining myself in their shoes, alone on a spaceship knowing that no one else would wake up for 90 years. Even though the movie was blatantly fictional, the concept of loneliness it projected was scarily realistic.

Futuristic sci-fi is not the first genre I search through when going to the movie theater. Honestly though, I am going to watch it again after writing this.

 

Today Will Be Different: A peak into someone else’s world

I like my books the same way I like my friends: genuine. When a book is relatable, humorous, and easy to read the prospect of curling up with it becomes all the more appealing. That is exactly what Maria Semple accomplishes in her novel Today Will Be Different. Broaching a myriad of topics from motherhood to sisterhood, careers, to life, Semple presents it all with grace and ease.

There are over 171,000 words in the English language and billions of ways to string them all together. Semple found a way to weave together her words in a nuanced and lyrical way. For example, Eleanor describes her consciousness as something that “lives underground like a toad in winter.” That extra bit of imagery paints a clearer picture and helps the reader understand the protagonist just a little bit more.

But it is not just the tone of her words that impacted me, but the way Semple presented them. Having a first person narrator allowed Semple to break the fourth wall and talk directly to her reader. This type of narrator also gives the protagonist more freedom in the sense that she, Eleanor Flood, was able to orient personally her listener in her life; almost as if she is colluding with you, letting you in on a secret that is for your eyes only.

Sometimes, if the book is really good I develop a connection with the characters. I root for them, chastise them for poor decisions, and yes, on rare occasions I even cry for them. Reading this novel I saw the world through Eleanor’s eyes, I saw her worries and her flaws, what made her tick and what ticked her off. Eleanor became a real, relatable person. Though she may be “a past-her-prime animator” married to a seemingly perfect hand surgeon husband with an adorable son, she has secrets that we as readers get to experience. We step inside her head and experience her life, if only for a day.

Creating an insightful, but not preachy, character is hard to do, but here I think Semple excels. Even though Eleanor is a fifty-year-old mother, she divulges factoids about herself that can relate to anyone (even a college student in the midst of applying for copious amounts of summer internships).

Eleanor states when she is nervous, “I talk fast. I jump topics unexpectedly. I say shocking things. Right before I push too far, I double back and expose a vulnerability.” This is candid statement that pulls no punches. Declarations like those make the book feel real, like you have a front row seat to her subconscious; the prose is not overly academic, instead it flows more like a conversation. It makes you think about Eleanor, but also about yourself.

Though the main timescale of the book takes place in one day, Semple jumps around in time, creating a nesting doll-like framework. The big doll is just one day in Eleanor’s life, but once you open up that doll, inside there are many smaller dolls and each is a different anecdote from Eleanor’s past that all fit together perfectly in the larger work of the story. Through these jumps, the reader gets to know Eleanor’s ethereal but disappointing sister Ivy, her alcoholic father, the story of how she met her husband, Joe and more.

But the core allure of this story is and always will be Eleanor. Between the pages of the novel, Eleanor’s melancholy life comes into focus. She had a hard childhood: a dead mother, a deadbeat father, and a relationship with her sister that started out strong but degraded over time. All those struggles caused Eleanor to become a bit calloused, but did not prevent her from finding her place in the world.

Most importantly, her life experiences helped her learn a very powerful secret, one that she shares with her eight-year-old son. “That’s the thing about hard times,’ [she] said. ‘Generally speaking, one survives.’” Though that statement is blunt, it communicates so much about the character Semple built. Eleanor is a pragmatist, but an optimistic one, she is a mother but one that does not sugar coat the world for her child. Above all else, she is a survivor who slogs through life even when she would rather stay in bed.

Do yourself a favor and read this book. It will not take you long, but it will stick with you long after you reach the end.

 

The art of sexting

Contemporary art museums are weird. You go past the reception and enter an unusual place where anything is possible. You see canvasses painted with one single tone of red and you see benches on which no one can sit. If you are lucky enough, you will also see a small metal can in which artists have stored their own excrement. For your surprise, no one seems to notice that there is a can full of literal sh*t inside a museum. You ponder and after a long consideration but you still have no idea what the hell you are doing looking at contemporary art. You are not alone.

This break I embarked on one of these adventures, but with one difference. This time around I challenged myself to not dismiss the absurd, the ugly, or the weird. I would carefully watch the one colored canvasses as I would with a renaissance painting. I would embrace it just long enough to feel a connection. The simple brick sculptures, the awkward deformed human shapes, and the stuff hanging from the ceiling…I would watch it closely. No text, no arts history, no fancy explanations.

That day I entered the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to discover one of the most beautiful pices of art I have ever seen. Walking by the contemporary art section of the museum, I found myself in a small white room. The piece was called Osservate, leggete con me by Frances Stark. Inside the room, words were projected on three walls. There was classical music. To my surprise, the sentences projected on the walls seemed to be some sort of flirtatious texting. No canvasses, no paint – that was all. It was slightly obscene, oddly uncomfortable. I sat down on a bench placed in the middle of the room (I was confident it was “sittable”).

Of the two people talking, one of them was an artist, presumably the one that created this piece. The artist was talking to someone from Italy, followed by others. It was not only flirtation. Between teaching dirty words in Italian, they talked about the political situation in Italy and about the very meaning of artistic creation. It was so spontaneous, free of any pretension or worries. The quick summary about European politics was followed by sexting as if it was just a natural transition. I never truly considered how profound the daily life is. But there was more.

While watching that video for 30 minutes or so, I was constantly expecting grandiosity. The MFA is an awesome museum with an interesting curation and particularly good contemporary art section. I was constantly on the verge of epiphany, from discussing Tantra to the Medici family in Italy. At one point, the artist is asked “is art for you, art, or business.” This conversation would be so heavy, so serious, if it was not for the context. “Art.” The intensity peaks along with the music and suddenly, the discussion goes back to flirtation.

This is one of the hidden powers of a museum. Museums bring to the spotlight something that would have gone unnoticed. I expected to see art and I saw it even in the least pretensions, simplest contexts. You just need to give it time, observe it for long enough.

Apparently, sexting is sublime if you give it a chance.

 

Page 2 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén