The ASTRonaut Has Landed

Welcome to Baltimore!

That’s what I’ve been saying to people all day.

Yesterday, I flew home, saw my parents for a minute, then headed downtown where I’m attending my first ASTR (American Society for Theatre Research) conference. Which just happens to be here. The conference goes until Sunday, and then instead of flying back to Madison I’ll be staying on here for another week to do Thanksgiving with the family.

ASTR has a very different feel than ATHE so far. Same people, for the most part, plenty of familiar faces, but I don’t really have a “crowd” yet; I guess it comes with being a newbie. But so far it’s been pretty exciting.

The opening session was a plenary with four fantastic presenters from all over the world. I sat and listened near the front with two other conference newbies from London who are in Baltimore for the first time, and we commiserated between speakers.

I learned a lot from each speaker, but the one that affected me the most was a woman from Dartmouth called Maral. At the start of her presentation, someone wheeled on a coat rack with three orange and black costume pieces hanging from it. Before she took the podium, she did a short dance clad all in black.

Her topic?

“Politics of National Dance Dress in 21st Century Jordan.”

Even with no prior knowledge on the subject, her presentation style was unreal. She set the scene at a state event involving a traditional dance performance, and described how the costume designer imagined the dress that was to be worn by the dancers. Only it ended up sounding like two different outfits: one more conservative and one more “European” and “orientalistic” with a slit and long, open sleeves. She spoke about how the concept of “national dress,” though stemming from the traditional abaya, is a fluid concept of Jordan. She talked about it in terms of “temporal continuity of monarchy,” showing the “collective victory of Hussein” down to today, and the connections between costume and economic stability. The dress performed as an embodied entity, to create image, identity, and marketability. The silk and chiffon fabrics and orange coloring echoed the “mystical desert sands” of an Orientalized idea of “Arabia,” and how the ballet slippers that the costume designer insisted the dancers wear on their feet “because bare feet are so primitive and passe” interrupted the Orientalism to endow the outfit to a wider audience, a “globalization on their feet.” Donning the dress, she then repeated the dance, and then speaking about the dress as an “invented subject,” she did the dance a third time, now with interpretation a la “open up, attitude, Martha Graham Martha Graham (that got a giggle from the audience)” and talked about the form and flow.

Overall, her point was that the dress performs subjectivity, between tradition and modernity, in the neoliberal regime. She then returned to her original outfit and gave sort of a reflective summary of her work, which was kind of unnecessary since we just heard it but I guess it communicated her methodology more clearly in case anyone was curious.

I really liked her presentation style, on the whole; the dance and the costume added some jazz to what could have been a boring topic.

Now that I’m really excited about semiotics and phenomenology and performativity and pedagogy, time for bed, of course, to dream about all those things.

Paging American Mayors

Today, the news story that broke my Facebook news feed and the Internet worldwide (my apologies to Kim Kardashian) was what happened in Israel. When Israel hits the headlines, there’s a 75% chance that it’s bad news, and the newest incident/terrorist attack/”terrorist attack”/whatever CNN wants to call it felt particularly close to home.

Among the four dead, three were American citizens.

Here’s the rundown: Two Israeli Palestinian brothers storm into a synagogue in Har Nof, a very religious neighborhood in Jerusalem which has not been the scene of many acts of violence, armed with a gun, an axe, and a meat cleaver. Shouting “Allah’u akbar,” they attacked the men who were praying there. Nine were wounded, and four died: Moshe Twersky, a prominent rabbi from Boston; Rabbi Arieh Kupinsky, a Detroit native;  Cary William “Kalman” Levine, from Kansas City; and Rabbi Avraham Goldberg, originally from London and holding dual Israeli/UK citizenship. All were married and in their 50s/60s. Between them, they were fathers to 17 children and even more grandchildren. In addition, a Druze policeman who came to the rescue was shot in the crossfire, and died a short while after.

Boston.

Detroit.

Kansas City.

My first instinct was to go to the websites of each city’s largest newspaper and see what they had to say about their lost denizens. I found the Boston Globe, the Detroit Free Press, and the Kansas City Star. Surely they had family, friends, and community leaders who were devastated.

In these articles, however, I noticed a trend.

Here is a list of everyone who was quoted in the articles:

President Barack Obama. Richard M. Joel (Yeshiva University). Eric Nelson (Maimonides School). Yehuda Yaakov (Israeli Consul, Boston). Michael Zwick (friend of Kupinsky). Jordana Wolfson (Akiba Hebrew Day School). Beverly Phillips (Jewish Community Relations Council of Metro Detroit). Rabbi Michael Cohen (Young Israel of Oak Park). Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Secretary of State John Kerry. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Yosef Posternak (Witness). Yohanan Danino (Israeli Chief of Police). Alan Edelman (Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City). Jonathan Bein (Brother-in-law of Kalman Levine). Shimon Kraft (Childhood friend of Kalman Levine).

Who is missing?

Let’s see…the mayors of the cities of Boston, Detroit, and KCMO. State governors. Representatives. Congressman. Senators. Anyone from the United States of America who is not either in the federal government or a representative from the Jewish community. Where are they, and why haven’t they said anything? After all, these were their constituents, their taxpayers, and first and foremost, residents and natives of their hometowns. And they were brutally murdered in a terrorist attack, while praying in a house of worship in a foreign country. Remember Natalee Holloway, the Alabama girl who never returned from her trip to the Caribbean? Her state governor Bob Riley wagged his finger at the entire island of Aruba and issued a travel boycott. What about you, Governor of Michigan?

I considered the chance that maybe the reporters and news wires had missed the cities’ mayors in their rush to get the word out, so I decided to go to each mayor’s personal website and see if he put up something, a statement or a picture or anything, about what happened to a resident from his city. In the Press Room section of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s website, an article about the arts in Boston from a few days ago. Sly James, from Kansas City? Wrote about Summer Youth Employment yesterday. And today’s news from Mark Duggan in Detroit? Auto insurance.

Now, I’m not implying that employing our youth and insuring our automobiles is unimportant, but people in these cities may not be aware of the fact that someone who once lived in their ZIP code was murdered today. And those who do get word of it could wonder: what does this mean if I go to Israel, or anywhere abroad; would I be safe, and if not, would any public official who I might have campaigned for or voted for or shaken hands with give a darn? And would they make it public? How public? Would there be a memorial day for me in my hometown? Would my parents, siblings, children receive any sort of encouraging message from those who claim to have their jobs at the hands of “the people,” act for “the people,” and represent “the people” of their city to the United States and to the world?

It’s only been two days, but even in just two days all of the people listed above came out of the woodwork and said something. Elected officials, where have you been? If something like this happened in your city, by now you would have addressed the public, called an investigation, and offered public/private sympathies to the family. And one of the victims was the son of an actual person, with a Wikipedia entry, and everyone knows that if it’s on Wikipedia, that shit’s legit, # sarcasmbutyeahitskindatrue.

Most likely, no mayors, governors, senators or city councilmen will happen to bounce on over here and read this, and because I have a paper to finish, a suitcase to pack and some pizza that’s calling my name, I can’t contact every single one of them. But if I could page these three mayors, I’d tell them the truth and if they didn’t believe me, I’d give them the names of the families.

And if they happen to be reading this, then, welcome, and please don’t sue me :) I am nicer than this normally, I promise.

***

Works Cited

Adler, Eric. “Two rabbis killed in Jerusalem attack have Kansas City ties.” Local. Kansas City Star. 18 November 2014.

Rosen, Andy, John R. Ellement and Peter Schworm. “One of four men murdered in Israel has ties to Boston area.” Metro. The Boston Globe. 18 November 2014.

Warikoo, Niraj, Zlati Meyer and Tia Goldenberg. “Rabbi killed in Jerusalem attack grew up in Oak Park.”

Masterpiece YouTube: Annie Lennox, “Walking on Broken Glass”

Ever since I posted about broken glass yesterday, this song has been playing in my head, for two obvious reasons. One, because it’s a good song, and two, because it was the first music video that I watched over and over and over again and sometimes they pull it off YouTube which can be sad. So, I present to you one of my favorite music videos of all time.

That’s So Jacob Presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 14: Annie Lennox, “Walking on Broken Glass,”

The video starts innocently enough, with a few twinkly piano notes over some tableaux appearing to be from the Mozart/Marie Antoinette era…but then the violins pick up, and the stillness is broken by the waving of a fan.

A FAN, PEOPLE.

Clearly, Ms. Lennox means business.

As she sings, the video shows a foppish gent dancing with several ladies at a proper, pastel-colored ball, with periodic cuts to Annie Lennox looking cross between Maleficent and a sexy nun. The fop in the middle is clearly the one she’s got the hots for, but that bitch in white keeps lady-cockblocking her. Finally, she gets him aside, only to lose him again and stomp her dress in frustration and in time to the music.

Then all hell breaks loose.

In she strides, hands on her widely-farthingaled hips. With confidence, conviction, and just a bit of condescension, she pushes the others aside to get to her man. The light makes her all crazy-eyed as she attempts to drag the man in white away, and it’s all an embarrassing but terribly exciting fuss as she gets cruelly ripped away from her young lover. But this is Annie Lennox we’re talking about, who takes nothing sitting down, and she proves it by crawling on all fours to get what she wants, before ultimately failing again and leaving with contempt. She trots down some awesome spiral stairs and ends up…in the arms of her young lover. So it was not in vain after all.

This video is a masterpiece really empowers me to be as bad-ass as I can be, and to do it with conviction. If it worked for Annie Lennox, it can work for you too. Plus, it’s delightfully innocuous to look at, with a fun storyline that gets more fun as with each successive viewing you can pick a different side and watch the events unfold from the perspective of a different character. CHOICES. It just gives me all the feels, but mostly the feel to use long words and adverbs.

Plus, period costume!

This episode of Masterpiece YouTube has been brought to you by actual broken glass.

On Breaking Glass

Last night, the fire alarm went off, and since it was two in the morning and there was no way I was going out in the SNOW (yes, it’s snowing here), I took that as time to wash the giant pile of dishes that has been piling up in the sink. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I had two wine glasses sitting behind the sink, and as I took a clean bowl out of the dishwasher, I knocked one into the sink.

It shattered.

Now I only have nine wine glasses. Wine glasses that came from my grandmother, that survived the moves from Baltimore to Houston to Madison to Madison again, plus countless people (okay, maybe like fifty) who have used them since they have been in my possession.

And just like that, one tipped over and broke, right into the sink, where it was easy to fish out the pieces with a cloth and throw them into the garbage like last week’s beer bottle.

It’s just a glass, and it’s not even that special; my grandmother probably got them at a department store or something. I could probably even find the same pattern online if I tried hard enough. It was just the shattering of the glass that made my heart judder, just a little bit. I’ve been a bit edgy lately, nervous, anxious, ready to go home but not ready for all the work I have to do before then, worried about friends and family, feeling somewhat lonely, and lazy because I’ve only danced twice this week and haven’t been to the gym at all. I’m just living my life.

Oh well, at least I got to do my Florida Evans impression to myself in my apartment.

A Collaborative (Lack of) Effort

Two days ago, West Virginia University freshman Nolan Burch tweeted that “[i]t’s about to be a very eventful night to say the least.”

He’ll never know just how eventful that night was; after being found unconscious on the floor of a frat house, he was rushed to the hospital where he died today. He was 18 years old.

Stories like this happen with more and more frequency, all over the country. The names, genders, races, and ages vary, but it’s always the same pattern. Over and over again. You could say that it was Burch’s fault for getting so drunk at the party; you could blame it on peer pressure, as he was pledging that fraternity; or you could blame it on his friends (with or without quotation marks) for allowing this to happen. But the facts remain the same. Someone is dead. This will happen again, elsewhere, next week. No one will be put on trial. It’s almost considered an act of God. Whoever was at that party, whoever served the alcohol, whoever hosted the event, will go on living their lives and Nolan Burch will become an afterthought.

In an interesting turn of events, WVU announced the suspension of all Greek life on campus. I’m going to give them two weeks, and I’m being generous, because everyone knows that when you anger the stupid rich people, their money goes away. And an act of revocation already failed; Kappa Sigma, the fraternity which Burch was rushing and who hosted the party, was suspended just one week prior to the event due to a street fight. You’d think they’d want to avoid trouble and maybe keep a low profile on campus for a while.

I’m not bashing Greek life; I know plenty of people who are in fraternities and sororities. Being a brother, and now an advisor, for APO – granted, not a social fraternity, but a Greek letter organization all the same – gives me a little more perspective on the state of fraternities. I am proud to be part of a group that does not haze nor drink, and values anti-hazing so highly that the term risk management – as in, not even risking any activities which could lead to hazing or an extreme incident such as this one. And I know Greeks who do good things, great things for charity, involving people who could otherwise be either sitting on their couches or getting drunk/high somewhere else. When a girl I knew at UMass was considering transferring because she was bored on campus and she didn’t have a lot of friends, one of the suggestions I made to her was to join a sorority that meshed with her interests and had girls that she liked in it, and she balked as if I’d told her to do yoga in the middle of a highway. (She ended up transferring anyway). But basically, Greek life is not all bad.

But then, things like this happen.

Is the Greek organization at fault? You could say no, because technically they had had their charter revoked, but the party occurred at a fraternity house, with people who would not have been there had it not been for the Greek organization. But no amount of rules and regulations by the national organization prevented this group from recruiting pledges or hosting parties, so in a way, the higher-ups in the fraternity were culpable, for not taking swifter action with the university to dispel the chapter from the campus in a more permanent way. The ones who are at fault are the occupants of the house and hosts of the party, in any event, because it happened on their property, regardless of being Greek or not. If they were true “brothers” and friends to Burch like they say they were, they could have taken action much earlier or stopped it from happening outright. Greek life didn’t control their choices; their own stupidity did.

WVU can yell, scream, and revoke Greek life all they want, but face it: unless you take legal action (at the university or the state levels) or physically displace the house’s residents, these kinds of things are going to keep happening. Because this is college, and it’s America, and it’s what happens. All of Greek life just gets thrown deeper into the pit, but nothing changes. It happens every time, and every time it does, it just returns to the status quo. Part of the blame lies with idiotic college students, but part of the blame lies with who is supporting these fraternities, and a lack of discipline and accountability on the part of the university who sometimes fail to always follow through thoroughly.

The fact that there are so many fingers pointing in so many directions that I’m going to need extra hands means that collectively, we’re doing something wrong.

It’s stupid students. It’s the alums and parents who fund their excessive drinking. It’s advisors who are left in the dark (where are they here?) It’s university police who are too busy giving parking citations. It’s university administrators who are out of touch with what’s going on under their noses.

Everyone talks about collaboration, but clearly we’re not doing a very good job of it here.

If we weren’t so caught up in our own lives, maybe we’d have more chances to save others.

Sources of Info:

Farrell, Paul. “Nolan Burch: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.” Heavy.com. 14 November 2014. http://heavy.com/news/2014/11/nolan-burch-dead-wvu-freshman-frat-death-kappa-sigma/

Johnson, M. Alex. “West Virginia University Student Nolan Burch Dies From Injuries: School.” NBC News. 13 November 2014. <http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/west-virginia-university-student-nolan-burch-dies-injuries-school-n248286>.

 

What I Learned This Weekend

Yesterday, I spent all day either ballroom dancing or with APO.

So, what to do today?

Apparently, because either a) I have no life, b) I have too much of a life, c) I’m a glutton for punishment, or d) I want to avoid doing schoolwork, I got in bed at 1:30, got up at 11, showered, threw some food in my mouth, went to Memorial Union for dance practice from 1 PM-4 PM, came home, went back out again to APO meeting from 8 PM-9 PM.

Basically, the same day I had yesterday.

And I wouldn’t change it for anything. Well, I would add a few more meals that are not cereal, protein bars, chocolate, or pretzels.

But I’m a learner, and I reflect on nearly everything I do, so here are a few things I learned this weekend that could apply to your daily life.

1. Hold your partner closer and take smaller steps; your turns will be sharper and your connection will be greater.

Make sure you appreciate your friends, and hugs are always good gifts. It’s the little gestures that make things count in life, and could earn you points down the road.

2. Look at your partner.

Just take a look around you; you will see how lucky you are.

3. When things don’t go as planned, make a workshop into an intimate discussion.

Hey, maybe you’ll make an impact, and even get to play a game or two. Your self-confidence will build.

4. Listening is the best way to get people to open up.

You would be amazed at how much you learn about people (yourself included) when you make a practice of listening rather than just existing.

5. Don’t wander too far from the floor when you get called back for cha cha.

Yeah, not a huge life lesson here, just pay attention and don’t be stupid.

6. A selfie can build bridges.

In the amount of time it takes to take a selfie, you can make a new friend.

7. When you do your best, others might actually learn from you.

This happened a number of times. At the competition, one of the other (higher-level) dancers came up to me afterwards and said he learned something from me from watching my jive, that I leaned in towards my partner slightly for the American spin so that it looked like I was offering her my hand. At my theatre workshop at regionals, one of the three attendees told me he actually got some ideas to bring back to his chapter, and during Roll Call at that evening’s banquet, he led his chapter in what turned out to be a really funny improv piece. As he walked back to his table, I said good job, and he said “hey, I owe it all to you,” and then we basted invisible turkeys and laughed while everyone around us was puzzled. Private joke! You should have come to my workshop.

8. Dancing in front of an audience won’t kill you, but doing spot turns just might.

If someone ever tells you that they can travel across a room doing 10 nonstop spot turns, that person is probably a liar.

Things I Can Do, Things I Can Did

Today, I managed to:

  • Get up at 6 AM to make my houseguests breakfast.
  • Make it to Engineering by 9 AM to assist a workshop for APO Region Rally.
  • Make it on time to Gordon Commons for Standard competition, Newcomer Waltz and Quickstep (no placement though, boo :( ).
  • Return to Engineering by 1 PM to lead my very own workshop.
  • Participate in advisory roundtable.
  • Get back to Gordon Commons for Newcomer Latin, dance in 4 heats (Cha Cha/Samba/Rumba/Jive), then 4 quarter-finals, then 4 semi-finals (+ an extra semi-final for Samba/Jive), and earn 5th place in the Samba final.
  • Make it to APO banquet in time to hear Maggie Katz speak.
  • Participate in the biggest Fellowship Circle I’ve seen in 6 years.
  • Get to Target before they closed for snacks and some medicine because I’ve been coughing/sneezing.

Exhausting? Yes.

Am I tired? Debatable.

Did I think I could get it all done, and be on time for everything? No.

But did I accomplish it? Yes, I did.

Could I do it again? With enough rest, less coughing, and higher temperatures, absolutely.

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