thoughts


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There are times in life when Freud’s “oceanic feeling” seems to permeate the air a little more than usual, when you can feel the a larger, stronger pulse beating along with your own. Now, you may think it trivial, and perhaps you don’t understand, but for me the premiere of the final Harry Potter film is one of those times.

Everywhere I see fans of the series – fans from the very beginning, from the first book – lamenting on how they feel like their childhood is somehow ending, that the culmination of this truly epic series is much more than the end of a franchise. We had a preview of this feeling when the last book came out, but then we still had the films to look forward to. And now that the last has come, what we should be feeling is a mystery. (Of course, the movie posters and trailers screaming “It All Ends” don’t really help.)

It is particularly strange to think about this at this very time for me, because so much is changing. I’ve finished grad school, people I’ve grown to care for are leaving, and the life I have known is becoming something else entirely. It feels very fitting and bittersweet to have the Harry Potter series finish at the same time when I feel that I am really not a child anymore at all. And to me, this is what the series is all about: growing up, accepting one’s fate but also determining it, acknowledging death and new beginnings.

Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings as well, have become more than books and movies; they are stories and memories that have become entwined with my own, and I feel very lucky to be a part of that.

At the movies on Saturday, there was a group of young teenagers sitting behind me who were clearly very big HP fans, and I realized that I must view the series differently than they do, because the release of the books and films have coincided with important moments in my life. While they are still kids, I’m not. Watching the film, there was this triumph in seeing the characters play out their roles, but also the sadness of everything being finished.

It reminds me of a line at the end of the original Winnie the Pooh movie that always get’s me, when Christopher Robin is growing up and must leave. It goes something like this:

Winnie the Pooh: Good-bye? Oh, no, please, can’t we go back to page one and do it all over again?

Narrator: Sorry, Pooh, but all stories have an ending, you know.

Or perhaps this can be summed up by Luna, the character most comfortable with death, who says that the things we lose have a way of coming back to us, in the end. Actually, many characters in HP convey some form of this idea – J.K. Rowling is clearly on to something.

The wonderful thing, however, is that the books and the films will always be there to go back to, to relive, and to make new again. And in that way, things may change, but they are never truly lost.

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I’ve often found myself saying (to myself and others) that you should never make decisions when you are feeling terrible, but instead when you are feeling your best. Because in the end, every job, every relationship, and every life is going to have its low points, where you can’t imagine doing this forever or even imagine being happy doing it at all.

This is not to say that decisions shouldn’t ever  be made in low points; sometimes you need to hit rock-bottom to reevaluate your life. But in certain cases, like with your career, I try not to rule out a path just because it seems difficult or at times undesirable.

For example, since I just finished my Master’s thesis, I sometimes cannot imagine taking a project like this on again, to continue in school anymore. I look at all the research and feedback and time spent, and it exhausts me. But no matter how annoying and just plain frustrating the work can seem, it never outshines the exhilaration I feel upon completing a paper.

And I wonder, will I find that exhilaration in the business world? Is it confined to school? Perhaps this is the world’s way of telling me that this is what I’m supposed to do.

So I ask, should I make life-changes based on how amazing it feels to succeed in school? Should I commit more of life to this pursuit? Or should I go out into another career, and see if I can find the same kind of satisfaction? Will I let my desire for financial gain and a real “career” lead me away from academia? Or can I be in both worlds?

I can’t say yet. All I know is that I don’t want to let my worn-out sick-of-school feeling I have now dictate what the rest of my life will be like.

I’ll play it by ear.

And it’s an optimistic tune.

In today’s world, where it can seem like there’s nothing left but doubt and cynicism, it’s nice to see something that really is . . . happy.

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And frankly, there something completely awesome about that. Sometimes you just want to see a happy ending. And the dress: So lovely!

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L’esprit d’escalier: (French) The feeling you get after leaving a conversation, when you think of all the things you should have said. Translated it means “the spirit of the staircase.”

Waldeinsamkeit: (German) The feeling of being alone in the woods.

Meraki: (Greek) Doing something with soul, creativity, or love.

Forelsket: (Norwegian) The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love.

Gigil: (Filipino) The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute.

Pochemuchka: (Russian) A person who asks a lot of questions.

Pena ajena: (Mexican Spanish) The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation.

Cualacino: (Italian) The mark left on a table by a cold glass.

Ilunga: (Tshiluba, Congo) A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.

There are certain professors you have in college, especially in grad school, that forever alter the way you approach learning. They are the ones you tell stories about, the ones who weren’t just in the classroom to lecture, but to teach you about education itself and what it means to be a student. Bob Coleman-Senghor was one of those professors.

I believe it is a remarkable thing to be able to combine a fierce passion and a high standard of education with kindness – often I’ve found there are nice teachers who are easy, and strict teachers who are less than friendly. But Bob had a unique way of combining intellect and experience with humor and approachability.

Yet this is not to say that he was not a hard teacher to have; I’ve seen students break down under his questioning as he refused to accept anything other than what he considered best and most-clear answer the student could give. In my third semester as a grad student I took his Magical Realism class, and I recall asking him how I should approach one of the assigned papers. As soon as I finished asking the question he replied with something like “You’re a grad student, why are you asking me this?” – or in other words, figure it out yourself. While at the time I felt a little confused and annoyed by this, I realize now what he was telling me; that at a certain point you have to do your own legwork, otherwise you will never develop your own methods and ways of thinking.

In this manner Bob was controversial at times; there are students who loved him and others who were upset by his teaching style. Having only taken one graduate course from him I can’t give any all-encompassing review of his teaching style, but I can say that I’ve always had a soft spot for those teachers that students find difficult, because they often force me to confront my own intellect and bias. It was clear when Bob liked something you said, and clear when he didn’t, but there was always opportunity to change his opinion. As there is with the best educators.

Bob always took the time to greet me in the hallways, to ask me about how my thesis was going, or just to give a friendly smile. As time passes I will miss seeing this kind and unpretentious man on campus, and  my heart goes out to his family, especially his young children. He has been active in my community from his time as a 60s equal rights advocate to today as the mayor of Cotati, and has been an educator for 35 years. I can only hope there will be more people like him in the future.

 

A liberal education is at the heart of a civil society, and at the heart of a liberal education is the act of teaching.
A. Bartlett Giamatti

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There has been a great deal of talk online about Forever 21 lately, and most of it is not good. But you wouldn’t know it if you left the net and walked into a store. Recently in my local mall they moved into an empty Mervyns, a space at least 5 times larger than their previous one. And I admit, when I walked in for the first time, it was exciting. While many smaller stores can be impossible to find anything in, this one was organized and spread out, filled with customers and not crowded.

And the allure of Forever 21 is the accessibility: you can walk in a know that you can afford anything you see. When I walk into Anthropologie, I want everything I see, but I can certainly not afford much more than a tube of lip gloss. And whenever I go, I can always find something rather unique or trendy that spices up my day.

But is anything there really unique? Most signs point to no – and even I, not in the industry, always see similar patterns and designs in their merchandise. It reminds me of when I used to sell women’s shoes at Macy’s and there was a Payless right outside the door. I would often see the exact same designs at Payless that we were selling next door for 4 times the price. The catch of course with shoes is that there is no comparison for quality. But for a trendy t-shirt, quality isn’t such an issue; by all accounts you don’t need to wear it for years, and the shirts that cost $100 versus $12 don’t seem all that better; you’re buying the label.

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Therein lies the rub: the label, and the reason that designers are making a big fuss. Now I’m not talking about the allegations about cheap labor and production – that’s another issue, one which is more serious in my mind and not addressed here (This is a great article for that issue). Let’s take the case of Virginia Johnson, who sued and settled with 21:

In 2005, her intern spotted a skirt in a Manhattan Forever 21 with a print much like one that Johnson had sold the previous season at Barneys. Johnson’s skirt went for about $175; Forever 21’s version was less than $18.

I’m sorry, but for most of 21’s clientele, $175 is out of reach, so it’s not as if they were stealing Johnson’s potential customers. It must be frustrating for these designers, but I’m sorry, their clothing is just too expensive for many consumers, especially when the clothing is so on-trend that they won’t be able to wear it next season.

This is a result of our economic system: demand producing supply. This is a different type of intellectual property than say, literature or creative writing, because  if two authors wrote the same book, the consumer could choose either one. But there is no choice for me between the Johnson skirt and the “copy” sold at 21.

So the real issue here is not really economic ,which is ironic since all the designer will ever get is a financial settlement, but artistic. And 21 is trying to use more in-house designs that will be original, though there is bound to be some overlap, as artists have always created in ways that speak to the work of other artists.

And we are already Forever 21-ing art. We sell prints, postcards, bookmarks, and puzzles of A Starry Night, because 99% of us can neither afford or even see the original. And does the artist get a cut of every image out there of their painting? Would the designers be content to see a sign over their designs indicating the origin of the design? I highly doubt it.

So it comes down to money. And if I have to hear one more designer bitch about Forever 21 ripping off their $1000 dress…

Is imitation still the sincerest form of flattery?

I’m not saying that there is nothing wrong with the way Forever 21 practices business – they can be sketchy – but in the matter of copying expensive designer’s clothing for the general public, there is less sympathy to be had, and at the end of the day there’s no fake Fendi label on the knock-off purse, only one from Forever 21.

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Well folks, grad school is almost over. Completed first draft of thesis over the break, and I’m down to the wire. Paperwork filed.

Is this the end?

Will I go back?

Do I need a 12-step program to wean me off school?

Maybe.

 

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Did I just tag “graduation?” Shit. YES I DID.

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