“So what are you going to do for a living?”
A quick read through Sarr Above the Busy Humming’s archives will prove that this question–the words of well-meaning acquaintances and small-talking strangers–has been tormenting me since my freshman year. As graduation grew closer and closer and I remained unsure of my future, I was forced to develop a kind of generic elevator speech to appease the masses.
“Well, my ideal career would involve museum education,” I’d tell the dentist, the hairdresser at MasterCuts, or the strangely talkative weirdo sitting next to me on my flight back to the Islands, “but I’m also exploring the broader field of arts education and outreach until I find the perfect match.” As post-grad career blurbs go, it served its purpose well, and saved me from tired jokes about teachers’ woeful salaries and the way in which art history majors are doomed to work only at fast food restaurants.
About a month ago, however, everything changed. After years of hearing about the dismal job prospects in the art world and the impossibility of supporting one’s self on an educator’s salary, I was finally able to look the bellhop, the airport taxi driver, or the distant relative in the eye, smile, and boast that I’d accepted the job of my dreams.
For the next few years, I will be working as an educator at the on-campus museum of a small liberal arts college–in other words, the non-Ithaca equivalent of my beloved Johnson Museum. Just like I did during my Johnson internship, in fact, I’ll get to give tours, help coordinate class visits, and brainstorm new ways to reach out to the nearby community: and I’ll be able to do it all full time!
Of course, perhaps you’re reading this and thinking to yourself something along the lines of “Nice humble-brag, Keely, but why bother posting it? DIDN’T YOU GRADUATE? Hasn’t Sarr Above the Busy Humming faded quietly into the west already?”
Well, friend, I’m afraid this blog has a little more staying power than that.
(In other words: from the ashes a fire shall totally be woken.)
I’ve been invited to continue blogging as I transition from college student to college employee, allowing alumni, prospective students, and those Facebook “friends” who never speak to me (but still click on all the blog links I post?!?) to follow along on this particular Cornellian’s journey into the workforce. I’ll probably post monthly recaps of such adventures as adapting to life on a comparatively tiny campus (you mean there’s only one library?), navigating the hazards of driving in the snow for the first time (not everywhere’s as walkable as Ithaca!), and discovering how well Cornell’s curriculum prepared me for a museum career.
(Also, I get my own office, which I miiiight mention proudly from time to time.)
I realized recently that I neglected to post about graduation–in all honesty, the experience is such an indescribable whirlwind of crowds and noise and family happiness that I probably couldn’t really capture it in a few hundred words.
I will say this: in that moment when you enter Schoellkopf with your bizarre cap and borrowed, sweaty bat-robes, surrounded by a handful of friends and veritable thousands of people you’ve never met, it’s tempting to feel utterly inconsequential. Looking out at the genuine masses of people in the bleachers might make a graduate feel like the tiny “You are here!” dot on one of those maps of the universe that every curious kid had on his or her bedroom wall in the 90s.
Yet even if universe maps often lead me into states of existential angst, it’s ultimately amazing to get a sense of the scale of the world (or galaxy, or college community) around you (a sentiment that my ol’ buddies Fleet Foxes express even more eloquently in the first verse of one of my favorite songs of all time).
That drivel above is really supposed to suggest that while this blog is about my story, there’s a veritable cosmos of Cornellians out there who are embarking on their own different postgrad quests at the same time–and there’s something kind of fantastic about that. So to any ’14ers out there who might happen upon this blog, you’re in my thoughts: and please chime in if you wish!
To everyone else: stop by again in July to hear about my first day of not school!
Every time I visit New York City, I become convinced that I’d much rather (simply) walk into Mordor than make my way around NYC by myself. Combining the crowds and aggressive street hawkers of Waikiki with nightmarish traffic, a subway system that inevitably reminds me of the Morlocks from The Time Machine, and an inescapable industrial sprawl dominating the landscape, New York has a lot to terrify an introverted country girl who grew up in the middle of the Hawaiian rainforest.
Unlike the tourist traps in Waikiki (or Mordor, for that matter), though, New York City’s incredible museums will probably keep luring me back for years to come. Various Cornell departments often sponsor whirlwind trips to one particular NYC museum or attraction for the overwhelming cost of about ten bucks: I visited the MoMA through such a scheme as a freshman, and yesterday, I took part in a similar trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Though I signed up as an independent participant, the trip was really intended for students in specific classics/art history classes. Consequently, I was left on my own in the labyrinthine museum–which was, actually, the best situation imaginable. Like Mr. Incredible, I “work alone,” but while the suburban superhero probably would’ve spent all this time admiring the muscles on those classical statues, I had a lot of thesis research to get done.
The last time I visited the Met, I was really into Asian art, so I don’t think I even stopped by its pre-Columbian Latin American galleries. On yesterday’s trip, then, my first priority was a visit to the “Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas,” a surprisingly popular museological category wherein the artistic traditions of three continents, countless islands, and thousands of years are often flung together behind glass cases in dimly-lit galleries.
At least, that’s what pop culture studies scholar Keely Sarr, Honors Candidate in the History of Art would say. Normal art fan Keely was too busy marvelling over the fact that Maya stelae and Peruvian goldwork were right in front of her to get too hung up on issues of coloniality.
From a curatorial perspective, the most visually stunning gallery in this whole section is the Jan Mitchell Treasury. The name’s not just an attempt at pretension: entering this space is like walking into the hoard of some exceptionally meticulous dragon.
The weird thing about these one-day trips, of course, is that they strangely involve spending about eight hours at the institution in question. I may be one of the most museum-crazy people out there, but even I encounter the dreaded “museum fatigue” after hours of staring at objects and trying to figure out why I keep going in circles through the European decorative arts gallery: seriously, it seems like all roads lead to rococo down there on the first floor.
(Also, does anyone even really like the opulence of seventeenth-century furniture and tapestries? If you do, let me know so I can try my best to ensure that we are never roommates.)
Since my research ended up taking all of about an hour and a half (most of which, let’s be honest, was spent trying and failing to take a decent selfie with the Met’s version of the Kunz Axe), I had ample time to explore galleries unrelated to my thesis as well. After spending so much time lost amid Savonnerie carpets, I decided to change things up in the Islamic wing. Eat your heart out, Doris Duke!
All of this, however, was merely an attempt to delay my inevitable emotional encounter with 19th-century landscape paintings. As readers of this blog likely already know, the “Western canon” of art has never been of much interest to me. I delight in studying everything from Southeast Asian shadow puppetry to Peruvian featherwork, but you’ll never find me excited about an ancient Greek amphora or a Tiepolo.
The only thing in the Eurocentric art tradition that brings me a kind of transcendental joy, however, is Hudson River School and British Romantic landscape painting. The average museum-goer could probably see every object in the Met at least thrice by the time I tired of staring at a single well-crafted landscape. Such transportative works make me want to fall to my knees and weep like I were a pilgrim viewing a Byzantine relic instead of an overdramatic college student staring at some mountains or whatever.
(As an example, here’s a Catskills scene by William Guy Wall that’s probably my favorite piece at the Honolulu Museum of Art (second only to the indescribable “Young Boy With Whip“).)
Alas, how Fortune frowns upon landscape fans! As of yesterday, the entire American wing is apparently closed for reasons unknown. Each potential entrance to the wing featured a sign commanding visitors to try the other two entrances, leading me to draw the conclusion that the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (spoiler alert: or Hydra?!?!) must have been conducting an investigation of Civil War portraiture.
When I attempted to mend my broken heart by tracking down some British Romanticism, I stumbled through ceaseless rooms of neck ruffs and tackily-painted crucifixion scenes for what felt like hours before finally calming down with the bright colors of the modern and contemporary galleries.
I hopped back on the charted Cornell bus literally twelve hours after I had first boarded it in Ithaca, and anticipated arriving back on campus around ten. Unfortunately, a motion sickness incident on board delayed us by approximately two hours, resulting in an unprecedented late-night drop-off. Any apprehension I had about walking back home after midnight was assuaged by the sheer power of my lingering disappointment: anyone who dared interfere with my journey would soon find that I was a being of pure rage, driven only by the dissatisfaction of missing a chance to view such masterpieces as Frederic Edwin Church’s The Heart of the Andes.
In the end, I made it home without incident, and found peace by remembering that I managed to nab one of my favorite books, Stealing the Mystic Lamb, in the Met’s gift shop for ten bucks.
And it’s a good thing I did, too–had I not found the book, I may have given in to my desire to purchase some extravagant reproduction of the Hudson River School painting of my choice. But it’s probably wiser to save up such money for the real thing, no?
Someday, readers. Someday.
With a mere twenty-eight days left between me and graduation, I’ve started to imagine life outside of a university context in earnest. There’s a lot I’ll miss about the oft-taxing yet occasionally rewarding world of secondary academia: how will I, for example, live without Olin’s extensive “New Reads” section, the comprehensive collection of scores in the Music Library, or the almost sickening power granted to users of Borrow Direct?
(Seriously, if there’s one ultimate message you should take away from my three years’ worth of blog posts, it’s that Cornell’s libraries are phenomenal and undoubtedly the best part of studying on the Hill.)
Strangest of all is the idea of an environment in which a cappella music is not the primary form of entertainment/social hierarchy. Back in 2011, a few friends and I founded our beloved <3 because we wanted to perform a type of eclectic niche music which, surprisingly enough, was not reflected in the repertoire of Cornell’s pre-existing 14+ a cappella ensembles. Most importantly, though, we sought to depart from the stereotypical cutthroat collegiate a cappella world humorously portrayed in last year’s musical blockbuster Pitch Perfect.
While the fictional Barton Bellas hoped to devise technically perfect routines with which to smash their competition, <3 is essentially a bunch of friends who use our love of music, geek culture, and theatricality to make people laugh. As tunefully as possible, of course.
Three years after <3–then merely four members strong–first performed, the group has grown to a twelve-woman ensemble featuring students from a variety of graduating classes (we even have a grad student!) and majors. Based on the fantastic number of new members we’ve gained over the years, I’m confident that <3 will continue to have a presence on campus after its founders graduate: but even with the promise of a bright future, I’m still sad that my last <3 concert ever has now come and gone.
Look, I’ve done theatre, speech, and an assortment of more traditional choirs, but nothing beats the pressure of preparing for an a cappella concert. Since I’m also serving as <3′s musical director this semester, our spring concert made me more aware of the challenges of preparing an ensemble for performance than ever before: in addition to learning notes/rhythm/dynamics/other useful musical things, there’s choreography to master, vowel sounds to improve, and props to coordinate!
And, weirdly enough, it’s all over in a flash. After rehearsing late into the night (well, by my early-bird standards, at least) for weeks, my last <3 concert felt like it barely lasted five minutes. As soon as we processed onto the Risley stage (singing “Vuelie” from Frozen, in case you were wondering), I was instantly completely engaged in the performance, experiencing a kind of euphoria that I hadn’t felt in months. I love singing more than basically anything (with the possible exception of Lord of the Rings and frozen yogurt), but sometimes the difficulties of drilling in rehearsal makes it easy to forget how much of a fundamentally joyful act vocal performance is.
It’s unlikely that I’ll start my postgrad life in a town or city with a strong a cappella culture, but regardless of where I end up, I know I’ll be singing somehow–even if I have to start a group of my own. Hey, it’s not like I haven’t pulled it off before!
I’ve heard a lot of unusual things in the sixth-floor conference room at the Johnson Museum.
During my very first year as an intern, I was recruited to help with a “deep listening” workshop with composer Pauline Oliveros (and, strangely enough, totally forgot about the experience until we studied Oliveros in my experimental music class and I wondered why her name sounded so familiar). Surrounded by Ithaca community members, some museum staff, and probably the entire Cornell Music faculty, I revelled in the “silence,” becoming incredibly aware of the weird melodies created by the Johnson’s notoriously volatile elevator.
I would later recreate a similar “silence” every time I found myself alone in the conference room (usually whilst performing the glamorous task of stocking the sinister metallic super-fridge with countless liters of soda for an upcoming event). Being by yourself up there is both eerie and meditative: the wide windows show off miles of blue lake, the wind wails out Meredith Monk-like vocalizations, and any lone intern/guard/staff member who dares enter will undoubtedly feel lost in a space outside of time, where all the activity of the lower 7+ floors is no longer relevant.
Where better, then, to stage a performance of John Cage’s Song Books?
I can safely say that this performance of some of Cage’s short vocal solos and moments of “theater” was unlike anything I had ever experienced before–and not because it reached a level of weirdness that I’m unused to seeing or hearing at a concert. In fact, what was most remarkable about New York ensemble ne(x)tworks was the contagious playfulness with which they approached their performance.
Although part of such lightheartedness was probably due to presence of a typewriter, playing cards and dominoes, glass, garage-sale price stickers, and performers who frequently fell asleep on the floor (when the score dictates, or so I’m told), the greatest energy came from the childlike creativity present in the manner that the ensemble interacted with the unique environment of the sixth floor. ne(x)tworks members dashed back and forth in the tight, enclosed space, sometimes disappearing into the sixth floor’s hidden side rooms: including the very kitchen into which I so frequently stumble with a cart full of Wegmans iced tea!
While I was rather enamoured of him at first, I would ultimately say that Cage and his music are not the coolest things I’ve encountered in my experimental music class this semester (that honor goes to Gavin Bryars’ “Sinking of the Titanic,” everything by Eliane Radigue, and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (which was only name-dropped in class once but still changed my life forever)). Still, experiencing an actual performance of the types of music we’ve been studying gave me a new understanding of its incredible complexity. Listening to last night’s concert without the visual/experiential component might have been interesting enough, but I would have missed so much of the piece’s theatricality and the spatial interactions between the performers.
Plus, there’s also nothing more delightful than watching the listeners at an experimental music performance. From the laid-back laughers who smile appreciatively at every clever motif to the Serious Listeners, who rest their heads on their fists and wrinkle their foreheads as though the entire experience was as mentally challenging as a Sunday crossword puzzle, there’s always something interesting to see amongst one’s fellow audience members.
(And which variety of listener am I? Well, if you ever happen to see me at some future experimental music event, be sure to let me know!)
Exactly a year ago, I was struggling to make a very difficult decision: would rose- or Smurf-flavored gelato be the better choice for my last dessert in Nice?
Warp ahead to 2014, however, and I’m spending the afternoon of April 12 serving Cornell Dairy ice cream to the masses attending a public event at the Johnson themed around the beyond earth art exhibition. (Such are the ever-surprising and strangely fulfilling duties of an education intern.)
It’s been more than a year since my semester abroad, and I still find myself looking to the past and comparing this spring to 2013. While my few months in Edinburgh were volatile, challenging, and marked by a distinct lack of tofu, living in the States again sometimes makes me yearn for the days when breakfast meant Tesco-brand Greek yogurt, sultana scones, and blackcurrant tea; the indescribably exhilarating landscape paintings at the National Gallery were always just fifteen minutes away; and a sunny afternoon necessitated a writing/hiking trip to Arthur’s Seat.
Naturally, this inescapable nostalgia ensures that my need for abroad-related activities is basically insatiable: ergo, I was absolutely delighted to hear that one of my Scotland pictures had been accepted into CU Abroad’s photography exhibition.
You’d normally never catch me traveling to Willard Straight in the afternoon. Ho Plaza is constantly aswarm with quarter-carders, and I prefer to walk without having tiny, wasteful scraps of paper thrown in my general direction by poor souls who probably have to publicize their concert/protest/auto-da-fe in order to stay on their clubs’ E-boards and keep that resume looking right fit.
But let’s save my anti-quarter-card rants for another post, shall we? In any case, I plotted a course designed to minimize potential Ho Plaza encounters and attempted to enjoy the rare and lovely sunshine on the trek over.
The exhibition is currently up in Willard Straight Art gallery, located on the far side of the building near the bathrooms that probably predate the Ishtar Gate.
Really, it’s just a conference room like any other, but I appreciate the attempt to legitimize its gallery status by including a sign (though they would do well to consider redesigning the lettering with Comic Neue).
Students were invited to submit photographs back in the fall: and since we sent in digital copies instead of mounted images or something, I wondered how they were going to display the photos. Surely just printing them out and sticking them on construction paper would be too simple?
The no-frills presentation was actually all right, though, because the pictures themselves were glorious. The photos were sorted into a number of travel-appropriate categories (e.g. Animals, Culture, Exceptionally Sketchy Hostels), and I was surprised to find my name in the Architecture section. The email from CU Abroad merely informed me (“Dear Student“) that “one of [my] photo(s)” had been selected for the exhibition, so I assumed they picked one of my brighter, happier landscapes. Or, you know, a shot of a Highland cow or something.
Still, it was this ominous Princes Street scene that finally made it in, and I do have to admit that even my least favorite castle looks pretty cool from this angle.
Ultimately, I was surprised to discover that looking at my peers’ photographs provided a surprisingly good cure for my nostalgia. Now, of course, I’m wishing that I could travel to Patagonia and the coasts of Ireland and Morocco instead of spending so much time dreaming about Edinburgh.
How much longer ’til graduation again?
(P.S. I usually don’t like unnecessarily explaining the references in my post titles, but if “Pictures at an exhibition” means nothing to you, give this a listen. If you prefer classical sounds, Mussorgsky’s original might be more your style, but I personally feel that the ELP version is genuinely life-changing.)
As I type this post, a pair of dragon candlesticks stand merely inches away from my Mac. Although I’ve since expanded my personal style from “trying-too-hard sorceress chic,” I can promise you that at least 70% of the clothes and jewelry I wore as a middle-schooler were decorated with some kind of mystical serpent. For preteen Keely (and, let’s be honest, present-day Keely too), dragons were the coolest because they embodied the strength of wisdom and the persistence of imagination.
(Plus they had wings and any number of desirable elemental powers.)
And yet even with such a proud history of obsessing over dragons, today marked the first–and, sadly, last–Dragon Day I’ve experienced during my four years at Cornell.
Since Dragon Day is typically held on the Friday before spring break begins, it’s easy to see how many people end up inadvertently skipping the event each year. As a freshman, I spent Dragon Day bussing to Canada for the CU Chorus’ spring tour; sophomore year found me hopping the Greyhound to New York City, and last year I was, well, kind of in London.
Consequently, this March was my final opportunity to catch a sight of an on-campus dragon: and my inner thirteen-year-old was going crazy trying to imagine what the creature could possibly look like.
Well, “something designed by Donald Judd (or any other Minimalist artist)” was not my first guess, and I would’ve preferred a dragon that wasn’t composed of metallic geometric shapes, but hey–it’s still better than Peter Jackson’s disappointingly bland interpretation of Smaug.
The beast began slouching towards its inevitable demise near Rand and Milstein. Unnerved by the costumed revellers (particularly those bearing large effigies of various controversial popular figures–wouldn’t you run away from the disembodied head of Paula Deen taped to a stick?), I perched on an adjacent hillside near the Physical Sciences Building to observe the proceedings from a manageable distance.
Traditional rivals to the dragon usually only include the Theatre, Film, & Dance knight and the engineers’ phoenix. This year’s festivities were also graced by the presence of an admirably purple and pinata-esque unicorn: the brainchild, I believe, of physics majors who decided to prove that the engineers and the architects aren’t the only folks on campus who know how to build things.
Though the vacant eyes of this My Enormous Pony were a bit uncanny, I did appreciate the flash of color competing with the dragon’s silvery skin (which looked a little too much like the many lost Mylar balloons of my childhood).
Although this picture makes the phoenix appear to fall into the “robot chicken” category, I can assure you that it was much more impressive in person–the eyes even glowed brighter than the bizarrely pink lights on the inside of a night-running TCAT bus.
I guess that means I’m Team Phoenix?
As much as minimalism is not my cup of tea, however, I should emphasize that I don’t mean to disparage the dragon’s design in any way. The abstract serpent won my representationalist heart when it boldly flapped its wings for the first time in front of Willard Straight.
In fact, by the time it reached its entirely symbolic funeral pyre on the Arts Quad (since the days of actual dragon-burning have been banned in this glorious modern era), I was almost a little sad to see the guy go. Still screaming nonsensical syllables occasionally punctuated with the cry of “DRAGON!,” the architects climbed their creation as though it were a particularly lengthy set of monkey bars and tore every last scrap of Mylar skin from its skeleton. After running about in a whirling, maddening, and completely inexplicable dance, the celebrants retreated back to Rand, leaving first-timers like me breathless and utterly confused by the somewhat Dada ceremony that had just taken place.
Inscrutable as the festivities were, however, Dragon Day exceeded my expectations immensely. I’d been told that the dragon-filled afternoon was a kind of “slightly less drunk Slope Day.” To my surprise, the crowd wasn’t that enormous and the clientele was (mostly) well-behaved. Families brought children (in costumes!), Real Non-College People came with their adorable dogs and big-lens cameras, and the entire experience had that kind of delightfully quaint esotericism usually found only in well-planned Renaissance fairs and vaguely ritualistic small-town festivals.
Now that I’ve enjoyed one essential Cornell tradition, of course, am I finally going to give Slope Day a try this year? Sorry, Matt & Kim and Ludacris–you’d need to have the Moody Blues, Colin Meloy, and a magically resurrected John Cage as your opening acts in order to get me on the Slope on that fatal day in May.
One of the most exciting aspects of Cornell is the way in which it’s constantly growing and changing (distinctly unlike the current season of Once Upon a Time). Forgive me if I’ve mentioned this before, but during my time here, I’ve seen the rise of Milstein Hall and the new Physical Sciences Building, a complete redevelopment of the Law School, and, of course, the addition of a spacious wing (with great acoustics and a beautiful Japanese garden!) to the Johnson Museum.
The flip side of this thrilling state of flux? Construction.
In case you’ve never been cursed with the misery of experiencing class in a room with boarded-up windows and the constant sound of machinery thumping about outside, the following figures from various pieces in the Western art historical canon (including the masterwork I’ve nicknamed “Simone Martini’s Cranky Pre-Teen Christ”) are here to help summarize my feelings on the subject.
Here’s the thing you have to understand about studying the humanities at this institution–it’s highly likely that almost all of your classes will be in Goldwin Smith Hall. Now, I’m certainly not complaining about that: GWS was designed to serve as a kind of “temple to knowledge,” and its gorgeous architecture and prominent display of pieces from Cornell’s plaster cast collection sure beats a more austere design.
This semester, however, my initial joy at having multiple classes in a row in Goldwin Smith has been replaced with a sort of quiet fury, and it’s all thanks to the Klarman Hall construction project.
In the abstract, I am undoubtedly in favor of the new humanities building (slated to open in 2015), and I’m glad Cornell is showing their commitment to more sustainable building initiatives by seeking to make Klarman LEED Platinum Certified. The sleek modern design is a little too 2001: A Space Odyssey for my old-fashioned tastes, but I’m confident that the completion of Klarman will vastly improve the academic environment for Arts & Sciences students.
If only I were going to be around to see it finished!
For the time being, though, the embryonic Klarman is manifest only in windowless GWS rooms and, on occasion inescapable pounding sounds drowning out any student or professor who dares to use class time as an opportunity to, you know, speak. (Can you tell that two of my classes are held in the single classroom that is perhaps closest to the construction of all the Goldwin Smith spaces, and that noise has been an issue for the past few days?)
On a more positive note, perhaps the inevitable sonic consequences of construction are offering a rare opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in my Experimental Music class to a real-world situation! Instead of groaning and plugging my ears the next time a hammer or whatnot drowns out my learning experience, perhaps I should break out my equipment and make a field recording…
I am absolutely convinced that there’s money to be made in “Mainland winter tours” catered to visitors from Hawai’i (or, honestly, anyone from a warmer clime with no seasons besides “warm and rainy” and “warm and dry”). I’m not even talking about skiing trips, or snowboarding, or any other traditional winter activity typically unknown to those of us from vaguely tropical areas. As much as I’d love to someday unlock the mysteries of cold-weather sports, I would be perfectly happy just to spend a brief holiday marvelling at the weird stuff that happens to the world when things get cold–and, of course, when everything starts to warm up in the spring.
A few months ago, I posted a photo-journey of my walk around campus during a fresh December snowfall: and I’m sure I documented the veritable Himalayas that grow in the RPPC parking lot as soon as Facilities clears the roads. Well, in case you’ve been anxiously awaiting an update on the Cornell Alps, here’s what happens to these fascinating mountains in meltier circumstances.
On this particular day, there was hardly a speck of snow to be found anywhere except on these manmade mountains. Even at 45 degrees, I could plant my flag on the top of this dude and secede from the United States and still have ample space to fortify my one-person nation.
(At least until we hit the 50s and 60s, naturally.)
This obligatory shot of the falls near Beebe Lake, on the other hand, demonstrates one aspect of spring that I despise: dirty snow.
See those hideous ashen streaks spoiling this frozen cascade? Dear Mainlanders, how and why does this happen? In any case, whenever I see masses of grey snow mottling the campus, I feel like I’m in Mordor instead of upstate New York.
Although Beebe Lake is often my favorite place for a meditative walk, it’s certainly not the only lake in Ithaca. Normally, I do literally remain “far above Cayuga’s waters,” but since visiting family provided me with access to a car last weekend (o wonder of wonders!), I was able to see frozen Cayuga Lake up close for the first time in my years at Cornell.
Standing on a dock overlooking a flat expanse of ice that stretches as far as the eye can see is an uncanny but somehow transcendental experience for someone as unfamiliar with winter as I am. Iced-over Cayuga Lake will never compare to the feeling of standing at the top ridge of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and catching a glimpse of the seemingly infinite Highland mountains that appear to be from another polar dimension: but I’ll take what I can get.
(Since I’ve had Antarctica on my mind a lot recently (what, haven’t you?), I’ve also found myself using “glacial” to describe the musical qualities of a couple of songs I’ve been listening to–so here’s one to play you off! Last week I had to complete a Wiki entry on electronic musician Eliane Radigue for my Experimental Music class, and I can’t think of anything that better epitomizes my newly invented genre of “polar music” than the haunting drones of her ARP 2500 synthesizer.)
Though I’m sure some of my fellow bloggers have expressed similar sentiments in the past, allow me to add my oft-squeaky voice to the chorus: there are few collegiate pick-me-ups that can beat a good care package. While homesick freshmen might seem the most apt candidates for a box of goodies from their families, I can promise you that we seniors are equally needy. Freshmen face the ups and downs of transitioning to uni life for the first time, but seniors–inevitably swamped with theses, job applications, the challenges of off-campus living, and possibly a bit of pre-grad melancholy–have to get ready to enter their independent lives for the first time.
I’d almost rather be seventeen again, dealing with my first winter and the perils of shared bathroom facilities.
I don’t know how many parents/siblings/relatives/significant others/mystical guardian figures of college seniors read my blog, but in the off-chance that any do, I’ve compiled a brief list of books that would be the perfect addition to any artsy 2014 graduate’s “You can handle senioritis!” care package.
And if you’re a senior yourself (but lack any mystical guardian figure to send you relevant books in the mail), I recommend tracking down one of these texts at Olin the next time you begin considering an ascetic’s life in the woods instead of grad school or a career. They’ll make you feel better, and the job apps, homework, and world of social media can wait a few hours. I promise.
Alena by Rachel Pastan
It amazed me that sitting in a darkened room looking at slides of Madonnas and Venuses and bowls of oranges counted as work….I loved the way you could trace the evolution of perspective, how it was perfected in southern Europe over centuries, and then stretched and tested and discarded over more centuries until it became a quaint anachronism, like a whalebone corset or a doublet and hose.
This one goes out to all the friends and relatives of art, archaeology, art history, and museum studies majors (or other students likely to turn the basement into an installation in the event that they move back in with their parents after college). I’m already a huge fan of “museum fiction”–it only takes a few lines about preparators or Peggy Guggenheim to get me hooked–and Alena embodies the joy and trials of entering the art world while spinning an eerie tale modelled on du Maurier’s Rebecca.
If your senior doesn’t know Marina Abramovic from Marina and the Diamonds, though, Pastan’s third novel is still worth a read. The narrator’s frustration with her first post-grad curatorial job and the string of weird encounters and coincidences that inexplicably lead her to the position of her dreams (nightmarish though it sometimes seems) will surely resonate with and comfort any frazzled future graduate.
Or, you know, make him/her start searching around for eccentric, haunted museum directors in search of the perfect inexperienced but talented curator to fill the shoes of a woman who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. One of the two!
John Cage: Writer, selected texts ed. by Richard Kostelanetz
One day he happened to say that to be an architect, one must devote oneself entirely to architecture, that is, give all one’s time to it. The next day I told him that I could not do that because there were many things I loved that were not architecture, and there were many things I did not even know, and I was still curious.”
When “A Composer’s Confessions” was assigned early on in my Experimental Music course, I quickly began a passionate (and inevitably one-sided) relationship with John Cage. Before reading the essay, I had already listened to some Cage and thought his music (especially the prepared piano pieces) was pretty much the best thing ever, but this look into his background convinced me that we must be kindred spirits of a sort.
Like me (and perhaps like your creative ’14 grad!), Cage was torn between a great number of artistic passions, and eventually left college after two years to explore Europe and take a hands-on approach to learning. I’m certainly not planning to drop out of school any time soon, but it’s helpful to realize that at least some of the artists, writers, and performers plagued with uncertainty about their future careers can indeed end up eventually achieving artistic success (and/or sticking random stuff on and under piano strings).
Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings
There are, in my mind, two possible consequences of reading this exceptionally witty book by Jeopardy! champion extraordinaire (and blatant maphead) Ken Jennings.
Sometimes the nightmarish process of consolidating passions into resume-ready categories like skills, experience, and professional goals makes it difficult to remember what truly loving a subject is like. If your creative-type soon-to-be postgrad has spent the past few months feeling nothing more than the dull apathy that inevitably sets in after tens of employers deign to even send back a confirmation email, Maphead might provide the rejuvenation s/he needs.
Yes, the esotericism of the map-collecting (and geocaching, and National Geographic Bee, etc) world might seem (more than) a little obsessive at times, but I found that reading about people who cared so passionately about something helped me recall that I do have a lot of interests (e.g. writing, environmentalism, vintage synthesizers) that I care about–and knowing my interests and passions makes it easier to set goals.
The second possible outcome? Well, your future Cornell alum might simply read this book and become a maphead him/herself.
Still, what cooler way to procrastinate sending off Job App #55 than by tracing the contours of that one random National Geographic poster map stuck between quarter cards and gas bills in your housemate’s messy desk?
In a 2012 statement about the changes to the academic calendar, Provost Kent Fuchs suggested that a brief February break (and the subsequent delay of spring break until the very end of March) had been added to the calendar to “help address university concerns about student stress.” Well, that inaugural February break has come and gone, and I, the quintessential stressed student, wish they’d just change things back and pretend this never happened.
What’s the point of two days off from school when professors still assign heaps of homework (and, dare I say, perhaps even more work than usual in an attempt to “make up” for the missed Monday and Tuesday of class time)? The change also makes it harder to coordinate spring breaks with other universities: were it not for the new schedule, my sister and I could have spent our break together with our far-away family.
Yet at least this glorified long weekend gave me a day or so of freedom, including a chance to catch my favorite play of all time at Ithaca’s Hangar Theater.
In the alternate universe where I inevitably fulfill my destiny and become an English teacher, I know exactly which play I’d use to get kids really excited about the Bard. When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to have a great teacher who assigned plays other than classic ninth-grade fare like Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream–and it was in one of his classes where I fell in love with my second- and third-favorite Shakespearean works, Macbeth and King Lear.
Look, I guess I can forgive you if Edmund’s “Why bastard? Wherefore base?” speech doesn’t move you or if the fact that Macduff seemingly beats Macbeth via a deus ex C-section seems a little ridiculous, but I can’t understand how anyone couldn’t fall in love with The Tempest: if only a little!
It starts with a shipwreck and takes place on an island; there are spirits, harpies, hell-hounds, and all sorts of random magic stuff going on; and the language–especially Ariel’s songs–is haunting. Whether you’re into political intrigue, physical comedy, drunk butlers, saccharine Disney-esque “Let’s get married after knowing each other for five seconds!” romance, or just want to know where that oft-misquoted “We are such stuff as dreams are made on” line comes from, I promise there’s something in The Tempest for you.
During my very first semester at Cornell, I had the opportunity to play Miranda in the Cornell Shakespeare Troupe’s winter production of this incredible show. Three years later, I was eager to see the Ithaca Shakespeare Company’s Tempest (which closes this weekend, incidentally) and travel back to the rocky shores of Prospero’s weird island.
I was surprised by how familiar the production seemed. The set was visibly similar to Risley’s, though a little more aesthetically striking, and I felt like the ISC’s Miranda used many of the inflections I did when performing the innocent heroine’s lines. There was one main point of difference, however, that simply blew me away and made me wish that I could get a ride up to the Hangar to see the show a few more times.
One of the most complex aspects of The Tempest is its questionable views on colonialism and imperialism. Since it was written around 1610, long after (deadly) interchange with the “New World” and the Atlantic Slave Trade began, I always found it hard to believe that Prospero’s island paradise didn’t ultimately represent some far-off place “exotic” to a seventeenth-century audience: like the Americas, Africa, or the so-called “West Indies.” After all, Prospero commands all the spirits of the island, and keeps its only human inhabitant (the “savage” Caliban) cruelly enslaved and tortured. Yet if Shakespeare were offering a critique of colonialism, why is Caliban portrayed as a genuine monster, and why is he punished in the end while Prospero remains triumphant?
The Ithaca Shakespeare Company solved this problem by openly identifying Caliban, to quote the program notes, as “an African who has been enslaved by Europeans [who] see him as a monster, a savage, and a ‘thing of darkness’ because he is of a different race from them.” This choice–combined with the fact that Caliban was played by perhaps the most phenomenal actor I have ever had the joy to watch–made the classic “comedy” scenes of Caliban begging two drunk [white] fools to be his gods take on an entirely different tone.
By the end of this production, the audience (or at least this audience member) doesn’t want to laugh at Caliban’s apparent ignorance or shrink from his ridiculous monstrosity, but cry with him and fight for him: and the ISC validated this sentiment by changing the ending so that Prospero, thanks to Ariel’s interference, acknowledges his mistreatment of Caliban and does not punish him along with his inebriated “gods,” Trinculo and Stephano. Consequently, Caliban doesn’t crawl offstage, dragged around on the ground like the monster most other productions (and Shakespeare himself) think he is. Instead, for the first time in the entire play, he walks tall, free of Prospero’s magical punishments and abuse.
Basically, I can’t imagine a more perfect interpretation of The Tempest.
(Except for The Tempest set in Atlantis, of course, which I’ve dreamed of directing since I was fifteen. Community theatre, here I come!)