Monday, November 25, 2013

The Festival of Lights


image      The festival of lights is well on its way, and while Jewish homes prepare for the holiday with early donut consumption, stockpiles of multi-colored, skinny, wax candles, and online shopping, there is more to learn from the gift of Chanukah than how to fry the perfect latkah (potato pancake, really hot oil, squeeze out all the potato liquid).
     I have celebrated twenty Chanukahs in my lifetime, each one unique. I have stood against the glow of candles, lined brightly in their sockets with its and my reflection shades of shadow against the window. I have sung songs of Jewish perseverance in the face of endless and countless adversity with my family while lighting each wick. I have basked in the special pride of the holiday that celebrates community, devotion, spirituality, and bravery.
The story of Chanukah highlights the importance of spirituality in Judaism. Ancient Greek sovereignty in Israel introduced Olympian (pun intended) stress on physicality with sexuality, sports, and idolatry, excesses that are alien to the Jewish religion. The great tale of Chanukah is not only in the physical battle that regained governing rule of Israel but, more importantly, in the Jews’ spiritual battle to evade the temptation of Greek sensuality.
     Watching the candles twinkling each Chanukah night, both from the inside of my home and outside the windows of the Jewish homes in my community, became a habit of mine over the years. Their great purity and meaning does not fail to astonish me each year. These light represents continuity of faith through generations, redemption of hope amid tragedy, and the spark of potential that begins small but grows greater and greater and greater if it just has what to burn. The holiday represents a need for worldly attributes, but a focus on something else. Something slightly less ephemeral, and much more important. A candle cannot burn without oil or a wick, but the point is the light that emanates, not what is flammable.
     During this holiday season, while you’re slaving over stoves, decorating with lights, watching parades, getting on a plane. Whether packing gifts of eight, or under trees, try to remember that they are wicks, they are candles. They are the means we use to celebrate and give thanks for family, community, faith, and home. They are the sensuality meant to be used for purpose, not for its own sake. They are delicious, bright, warm reminders that things are things, and they are only more than  just things when they are used as more than just things.
     Happy and Holy holidays to everyone!

          - Rebecca Najjar

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     As Pocahontas says, Wingapo!
     Has the holiday season made its way toward you? I hope so! I’ve been blasting 106.7’s holiday music to get me through my sorrowful commute on the Belt Parkinglot. Not to mention holiday-themed cups and flavors at Starbucks and the unveiling of the windows at Macy’s. Before we know it, the semester will be over!
     If you’re anything like me, you have yet again successfully managed to procrastinate. I have two research papers, three final papers, two fiction story revisions, and a bunch of other miscellaneous assignments that come creeping. Oh and on top of that, a grad school application! You’re also wasting time either sleeping, catching up on your favorite series, and/or deceiving yourself into thinking you will be productive eventually.
     No worries, though. That’s the BC spirit! We always manage to pull through and get stellar grades. Right?! Right. Remember, BC is the poor man’s Harvard. Or is Harvard the rich man’s BC?
Here are some announcements from the English Office:

If you are interested in finding an internship for the spring semester, start looking now! Manysites, especially big publishing houses, have deadlines right around this time. Remember, you can get elective credit for your English major for internships, if you enroll in English 5100.
If you are interested in internships or English 5100, please contact Professor Martha Nadell at for more information.

There will be a “Publication Party” hosted by the English Department and First College Year Program. Check it out!
     Telling Our Stories, Sharing Our Lives Publication Party
      TUESDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2013 12:30-2pm
      Maroon Room, Student Center
      Refreshments will be served
      Presented by the First College Year Program and the English Department

The Brooklyn College Library Art Collection is holding their annual Library Art Award! Details for submission can be found here. In the meanwhile, check out the collection in the library!

And as always, please stop by the English Majors’ Counseling Office in 3416 Boylan if you need help in deciding which classes to take and/or any other inquiries. Or you can just stop by to pick up a copy of “The Junction!”

And in Pocahontas fashion, Ana!

           -Nadia Hamidi 



     In Africa the population of rhinos is rapidly decreasing – they are dropping like flies – so to speak. Hundreds of rhinos are killed for their horns. “Although there is no scientific proof of its medical value, rhino horn is highly prized in traditional Asian medicine, where it is ground into a fine powder or manufactured into tablets as a treatment for a variety of illnesses such as nosebleeds, strokes, convulsions, and fevers,” According to WWF global.
image     According to the article, since rhino horns are in high demand, organized poaching gangs are on the rise. Rhinos are beautiful creatures and are in danger of going extinct. You might ask why isn’t anything being done? Well it is. South Africa holds most of the world’s rhino population due to conservation effort.  Even with the efforts the rhino population is still dwindling.  It is really sad that a lot of beautiful creatures will be lost to future generations.
          - Eta Oyarijivbie.

The iMenu?

     iPads are slowly replacing restaurant menus. I’m not amused.
     Apps such as SmartCellar, MenuPad, Uncorkd, Apitito, and eMenu now allow customers to sift through food and wine options at their tables, “allow[ing] restaurants to provide customer service at a moment’s notice,” according to Gene Zell, founder and CEO of Apitito. But at what cost?
     As a former waiter, I entered work every day knowing that my tips were, in part, reliant on my interactions with my customers. Will the iPad menu eliminate these interactions, and therefore, the tips? People search for reasons not to tip waiters as it is.
     “He didn’t even pay that much attention to us.”
     “My food took forever to arrive.” (This is my particular favorite – as if it’s the waiter’s fault that the food wasn’t cooked quickly enough)
     “She was kind of a bitch.” (This is one my friends use to justify meager tips whenever we go out to eat – and one that incenses me the most.)
     Imagine the excuses that will accompany the arrival of the iPad menu.
     “What did he even do? He brought over a plate. Big deal.”
     “Why do I need to tip 20% if all she did was carry two things the entire night?”
     The only problem is: these are valid points. I wouldn’t blame someone who didn’t want to tip a waiter 20% just for carrying a plate over to a table. When a waiter takes someone’s order, a level of congenial (or at least there’s supposed to be) interaction ensues between the two parties, and a temporary “relationship” forms. For the hour or two that you’re there, a waiter is your friend. S/he is responsible for making sure you enjoy your night out. So when a waiter writes down the right orders, brings out the right food, and checks up on your table as much as possible, appreciation and gratitude often determine the amount of the tip.
     iPad menus erase this interaction, this trust, this “relationship.” And, without the resulting gratitude and appreciation, how will a waiter or busboy be paid?
     I realize there are so many other arguments I could have posed. Are we too reliant on technology? What if a drink spills on the iPad? What if people don’t want to rely on technology to process their orders?
     This one bothered me the most. We’re supposed to be working toward job creation, not job elimination. Somehow I can’t help but feel as if iPad menus are a breach of those efforts.

          -Alex Hajjar

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A Carafe, That is a Blind Glass


     Seventy-eight pages of violated logic. A Modernist achievement, a failure in cohesive or conclusive thoughts. An assembly of mumbo jumbo. This is what we get with Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, published in 1914. Supposedly it’s an attempt at “verbal cubism,” where you can see different sides of an object at once, which the front cover of my copy exemplifies; however, I know very little about art so this relieved no confusion.
     Tender Buttons is split into three sections—”Objects,” “Food,” and “Rooms.” This is where Stein’s experimental verse spills out incoherent descriptions of God-knows-what, and where her writing successfully defies conventional syntax. “Suppose an example is necessary, the plainer it is made the more reason there is for some outward recognition that there is a result.
Stein writes: “The change of color is likely and a difference a very little difference is prepared.” Words mean their opposite, and Stein uses difference differently in this “sentence.” Does she do this to express the idea of a word being meaningless or is it that their malleability becomes meaningful since we can access the same word through a different frame? The structures that we have for language are shown to be flimsy and for Stein I believe this is the advantage.
     Stein’s work doesn’t add up narratively, there are narrative bits that go along, but then it drops you off, leaving you with each word in its present space, where your attention is left to go nowhere. Her writing can change syntax mid-sentence, one sentence following the next with no logical reasoning. Your internal mechanisms for consuming writing are blown apart and I left mine shattered on the floor too weak to pick up the pieces from all of the athleticism that tired and taxed my reading self. Try some close reading of Tender Buttons and see how well it goes.
     So how shall we pick up the pieces?
          -Maegan Ciolino

"I Chose You" by Yaakov Shapiro

I Chose You
I chose You, God, with my mind
I chose You, God, with my heart
I chose You, God, with my body
I chose You, God, with my soul
And when I chose you, God, I chose Your mind
When I chose You, I chose Your heart
Is it not revealed before You, Lord,
I chose You whole – Your body and soul
But You, You chose my soul alone
despite what You said, only it you hold Yours
My mind, my heart, my body you reject
even as You accept, expect, my choosing of Yours

     This poem was written by my husband shortly after his thirty-fifth birthday. As he puts it: “This poem expresses the paradox one encounters when seeking to approach God through Judeo-Christian religion, in which the spiritual is meant to be married to the physical, and at the same time, divorced from it.” I was not born a religious Jew; rather, it was a gradual process made by my parents while I was still a child. In the beginning, I found many of the teachings of religious Judaism inspirational and spiritually nourishing. But as I grew into adulthood, it began to feel like I was fighting a constant battle to between that which the religion deems “holy” and calls “profane”. I feel there are so many forces trying to change who I am, to rid myself of any waywardness. If I have religious doubts based on reasoning and logic, I am told it is my evil inclination trying to lead me astray. And grows harder for me to find myself.  
          -Ariella Shapiro

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Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works


     Some songs I get lost in. This is one of them. It’s relatively simple and repetitive as far as Aphex Twin’s music goes, but I consider it one of his most beautiful and emotive pieces. Without any words it says so much to me. I can listen to it over and over, anticipating every note but I never get tired of it.
image     English electronic musician Richard D. James aka Aphex Twin achieved astronomical success in a time when electronic music was in its early stages, yet he did so while remaining experimental, influential, and well…really weird. His music ranges from soothing ambient techno to fast, erratic breakbeats. He is a master at sampling sounds from the world around him and making them unfamiliar yet musical. Selected Ambient Works (85-92), which I like to blast while cranking out my homework, was named the best album of the 90’s by FACT Magazine. It’s full of lush pads layered over intricate percussion, creative sampling, and calming melodies.
     If you would like to hear more like Aphex Twin, I would suggest you check out Squarepusher, Venetian Snares, or Autechre. Aphex Twin also has his own imprint label, Rephlex Records, which puts out numerous artists all hand-selected by Richard himself. Happy listening.
            -Josane Cumandala

DC Nation

     I don’t know how many people still watch Cartoon Network. If you don’t it’s okay; you’re not missing much. However, if you still listen to that screaming 12-year-old that I know is inside everyone’s heart, then you should definitely check out Cartoon Network’s Saturday morning block between 10-11am. The block is called DC nation and it’s called this because the two shows aired during this hour are based on comic series published by DC comics. However, I’m not here to talk about the shows themselves; that’s for another day. Instead, I’m here to tip my hat to the great work done on a specific area of the DC nation block known as the DC nation animated shorts.
     The animated shorts are not very long, one-minute (or slightly longer) animated movies that air during the commercial breaks at this hour. The different shorts vary tremendously and it’s no surprise seeing as the writers have the entire cannon of DC universe characters to play with, as well as the ability to write their stories in any context they feel appropriate. What I want to focus on, however, is the art of these varying shorts and the animation itself while speaking on what other shows they remind me of. I’m no art critic. I can’t separate my Claude Monets from my Jacques-Louis Davids. What I can do however is wax poetic (somewhat) on how great these animations look.

     The first video we have here is one on a character who I believe to be pretty obscure. The animation is cool nonetheless. I appreciate it because it looks closer to some of the more mainstream animated television shows that have been very popular over the years, such as Justice League Unlimited or Batman Beyond the animated series. This is due to the rectangular shape of the bodies and the bright colors that just seem to pop at you from the screen. The explosions are about what you would expect from a super hero show and the back ground environments of the city look great. In fact, in my opinion they look quite detailed.

     This series is probably my favorite of all the DC nation shorts. You can see it takes Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl and re-imagines them together on a team called the Super Best Friends Forever. What I really like about this one, besides the obviously great color (thanks high definition,) is the bubbly quality that seems to not only be expressed by the show’s title header but also by the characters and city environments themselves. This shape combined with the large eyes and simple-looking background environment really gives the show a Power Puff Girl/Foster’s home for imaginary friends/Samurai Jack feel. Even the opening skyline view of the city, before the action takes place between Supergirl and Cheetah, is reminiscent of the city of Townsville before the Power Puff Girls make their appearance. This makes sense when you consider that the animator, Lauren Faust, was also the animator for the Power Puff Girls and Foster’s home back in her early Cartoon Network days. I actually hope this develops into its own show sometime in the future. 

     I find this one to be quite creative. Several different members of the justice league being portrayed by their varying animal counterparts is very funny to me. The style of this reminds of Cow and Chicken or Ren and Stimpy. I feel that if those older shows were reproduced now, this is how they would look. I think it’s the weird look of the animals that is giving me that sense of Ren and Stimpy, a show that I will note had one cat and one dog for main characters, the only issue being that they looked neither like a cat nor dog. The color is there, but it’s not as prominent as the previous two DC nation shorts. I think for this one the creators really wanted the attention of the viewer to be on the fact that the justice league members are animals, rather than be impressed with how bright the color is, which would then probably engross the viewer (at least for a younger audience that may be the case).

          - Shayne McGregor

Ashoka Indian Cuisine

     I first went to Ashoka Indian Cuisine when I saw a pile of menus at the entrance of Boylan Hall, in the place where college newspapers are stored. I did not know which restaurant I wanted to go to, but when I saw that menu, I decided to try something new. I looked at the address, asked for directions from a few people, and walked until I found the restaurant, where I ordered a Curry Chicken Lunch Box to Go. The last Indian restaurant that I went to before Ashoka Indian Cuisine was an Indian restaurant in Times Square during my GRE prep, and I was disappointed when I tried the food. Fortunately, the food at Ashoka Indian Cuisine was far from disappointing. The food was delicious; I loved the mixture of the curry, cilantro, and other spices. The chicken was juicy and the naan was crisp and buttery. The friendliness of the restaurant owners also was a huge plus.
     Of course, I returned to Asoka Indian Cuisine multiple times, ordering other food, such as Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Tandoori, and samosas. I also tried a mango lassi. I was always satisfied after every meal. If you don’t take my word for it, you could look at the rating on Yelp, where most of the people gave the restaurant five stars.

Now for Currently Eating…

     Last Tuesday, I went to Ashoka Indian Cuisine again and tried the Beef Curry Box to Go. As usual, it was tasty. I tasted the mixture of the curry, cilantro, and other spices in the curry beef meal just like how I did in the curry chicken meal. The naan, as usual, was crisp and buttery. Lastly, the beef was even juicier (and more delicious) than the chicken. Soon, I’m going to try the shrimp seafood box. I can’t wait to see how that tastes.

     Here is my food. It’s so photogenic, right?
          - Jacqueline Retalis

     Okay, I’m in.

     I wore black because it’s cool. I mean, it’s neutral. No one can laugh at someone in black. Can they? No, obviously not. This guy is wearing a purple shirt. Purple is the gay color. He’ll get laughed at before me. I should be safe. For now. These fucking pants are way too tight. Leave it up to my mom to shop at Kohls. It looks retarded. Skin-tight pants with a huge sleeping bag black polo shirt draped over it. Everyone’s looking at it. They’re probably thinking, “Check out the fag with the tight pants.” Those two in the corner are definitely talking about it. They’ve been laughing the whole time and they’ve glanced at me twice. But it wasn’t just one of those casual glances. It was a glance with a purpose. A purpose to laugh. At me. There, they did it again! Fuck. I’m out of here. I couldn’t get my lock open, anyway. I think these things are designed to make you look like an ass in front of your peers. Teachers are always promoting “anti-bully” shit, but they really encourage it. It’s like the only form of entertainment they have…because they clearly have no lives outside of school. But maybe the teachers here are different. They seemed cooler. I guess. I hope this won’t be like the la—-(bell rings). OH! Alright. What do I have first? Living Environment? Okay. The room is 215. It starts with a 2, so I guess it’s on the second floor? Do we have a second floor? I suppose I’ll just follow the freshmen…or the guys who look like freshmen to see where they lead me. I can tell the freshmen apart from the sophomores and upperclassmen because we have different uniforms. Thank God for that, although it’ll be easier to spot us on Freshman Friday. Is that really a thing? Jorge tells me it is, but then again, Jorge loves to fuck with me. I wonder where he is today. I could really use his help right about now. I guess this is the classroom. It says 215; so, unless there’s another 215 I guess I’m here. Unless this is another secret trick the faculty is playing on us. Is this the teacher? She’s cute. MILF status, for sure. I guess I’d better grab the desk in the back. People will see me sitting at the desk in the back and assume that I’m cool, or something? Anything’s better than the front. That’s just setting yourself up for ridicule. Okay, I’m in my seat, and my legs are crossed. NO. WHY WOULD I DO THAT? That’s so gay. Okay, my legs are apart and even though mom says it’s bad for my posture I’m slumping my back a little so it looks like I’m nonchalant. Jorge says that the kids who don’t care are the kids who everyone cares about the most. That’s fucking stupid. But I mean, whatever works, right? Okay, now she’s handing out the syllabus. I should probably read it but if I do it’ll look like I really care about this class. And I do, but they can’t see that. I’ll read it when I get home. If I don’t care, people will care about me. The chunky kid next to me is drawing penises on his desk with a crayon. An orange crayon. Who brings a crayon to their first day of school? He noticed me staring at him and he laughed. I don’t think it’s funny, but I laugh anyway because he’s clearly looking for some sort of approval. And maybe if I give him mine, he’ll give me his. The teacher just dropped her syllabus and some kids chuckled. I laughed along, too, looking around the room, hoping to laugh with someone. Mission not accomplished.
(bell rings; end of the school day)
     Okay, so I figured out the lock situation. You have to turn it like seven times in each direction or something. I don’t know. Jorge did it. He found me, somehow, at the end of the day. We were gonna bus home together, but he’s grabbing pizza with some of his friends. He invited me, but why would I want to go someplace where I wasn’t invited by everyone else? It’s whatever. His friends didn’t even look that cool. Then again, neither am I. Whatever. Is this where the bus stop is? B1. Yup, that’s the one, and I’m pretty sure it’s headed in the right direction because the one across the street dropped me off this morning. I got this. I think. Hey, this guy was in my homeroom. He just high-fived me as he passed by. Okay! That’s something! I mean, people who hate you or people who intend to bully you wouldn’t high-five you, right? That’s not how it worked last year. And I doubt it could change over the course of a year. Okay. A high-five. Awesome.

     I’m safe. For now.

          -Alex Hajjar

Monday, November 18, 2013


Greetings English Majors!
     Today is Monday.  Shake the weekend off and let’s get down to business.
Here’s a quick reminder before we get to work. Copies of the Junctions are available for FREE in our office (Boylan 3416). Also we are accepting submissions for next semester’s edition; please email us at bczinesumbissions [at] gmail [dot] com. We look forward to reading your work. Also feel free to drop by the office for a friendly visit or with any questions you might have.
Remember.  Work hard and play hard! Enjoy your week and stay warm.
            -Eta Oyarijivbie


Image source

The “Appalling Strangeness of God”

This planet of ours seems to want to get us the hell off its surface. When the word “super” preceding “storm,” “hurricane,” “tornado,” etc. is ubiquitous, there is a problem. The Philippines and the midwest both vie for headlines bedecked with wanton destruction. Pictures of houses torn apart by wind and water could be either in a island nation in the pacific or in the American heartland. 
"You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of god," said Graham Greene. God and natural disaster go hand in hand in the typical news lexicon. Fifty tornados spotted in one storm system is, for local news and insurance companies, "an act of god." The god-discourse helps to explain, in part, how so many people in this country refuse to believe in the science of climate change. Yes, they say, the climate may be changing, but it is hubris to believe that man has the power to change it. Thus, climate change becomes a part of His plan; Yolanda, Sandy, the nameless mass of tornados and floods either benevolent through some twist of fate or punishment for some imagined slight. These are the same people who believe that the paralyzed are being punished for their sins. The terminally ill suffering before God’s benevolence.
          -Maegan Ciolino

The Benefit and Loss of Free Literature

     Google just won a long-running lawsuit over its plan to scan and index all the world’s books. Just another stepping stone in the company’s obvious and ultimate plan to take over the entire world, and possibly universe. Judge Denny Chin, the New  York Federal Court judge presiding over a lawsuit of eight years finally ruled in favor of Google in deciding whether Google’s display of snippets of books was allowed under the provisions that allow limited use of copyrighted material. He further ruled that “all society benefits” from book scanning, from librarians to researchers who have begun to rely on the internet search as an essential tool. He mentioned that “in this day and age of online shopping, there can be no doubt that Google Books improves book sales.”


     There is a more serious question being asked here. In an age of Internet, one that is no longer  new but one that has now been inculcated into our lives, our libraries, and schools, where does one draw the line dividing author’s rights and this new right of unlimited access to information? In earlier ages, books, learning, and information were privileges for those who could afford tutors and printing. With Ben Franklin’s revolutionary idea of a library came the idea of free and public information. Later, the invention of the World Wide Web demonstrated an easier and more comprehensive way of learning. Now, growing up with information literally at our keyboard-tapping fingertips there is an air of entitlement attached.  Does the public have the authority to demand access to resources? Or, is this widespread learning just a greater extension of Franklin’s vision to extend a hand to the public? If I can’t afford a book, can I read it online?
           -Rebecca Najjar

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The North Korea Massacres

     This morning while going about my daily routine of checking emails, this stellar example of current events popped up in my yahoo news feed: 

The Hair-ocracy! Is Justin Bieber Bald?

     I almost choked on my cereal.
     Meanwhile, in other news, North Korea publicly executed eighty of its citizens for crimes of watching South Korean films, cell phone usage, and owning a bible. In cities throughout the country, these criminals were herded into stadiums and murdered in front of tens of thousands of their countrymen.

     About a year ago, I went to the theater with my husband to see the first Hunger Games movie. After it was over, I asked him what he’d thought of it. He replied, that it was hard to believe that such a society, which annually kills its own children, could exist.
     Um, North Korea?
     What infuriates me more is that we so often hear about North Korea’s development of nuclear weaponry, while setting aside the issue of the widespread persecution of its people. I recently read, how cannibalism is runs rampant in the streets, because the people are starving. I have read that during the Roman siege of Jerusalem, men and women ate their own children to survive. And at the time, I found it hard to believe. But it is happening today, in this country across the Pacific.
And I want to know what we are going to do about it.
          -Ariella Shapiro

North Korean excecutions

It’s not a real autobiography


     If, in these past two weeks, you’ve ventured into the office, you might’ve caught a glimpse of me reading James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. I recently finished it, and it’s pretty good. I don’t have many complaints. Yes, I’d recommend it to a friend. I guess the first thing to say, when talking about this book, is to mention that this isn’t a real autobiography. I guess the second thing to mention is that, for a long time, nobody knew who the author was. It was first published anonymously in 1912. The sales weren’t great, and the reviews for the book were up and down. Whatever artistic or practical reasons Johnson had for anonymously publishing the book quickly vanished, as in two years time, he publicly announced his authorship. According to my edition’s introduction, this ploy was to “promote interest in the book.” The book was republished in 1927 with his name on it, during the Harlem Renaissance.
     The book tells the story of a colored man, whose skin just so happens to be very fair. Fair enough, in fact, as to enable him to “pass” as a white man. His mother is black, and, as it turns out, his father is white. However, he does not find that out until around his preteen years. The book revolves around this problem with identity – though, it doesn’t deal with identity in the way you’d think. The skin tone of the narrator would lead you to believe that his issue with identity stems from this problem of reconciling, interiorly, two almost irreconcilable forces, the white and the black, or something like that. That’s not that case here. The narrator is fully integrated into black society. He plays ragtime music on the piano. He plays craps in a popular New York City gambling house. He is also, due to his skin tone, fully integrated into white society (the whites not knowing the true race of their companion). He goes to Europe, listens to classical music, and goes to parties with white people. The book largely explores the worlds of both white and black folks. However, the transition between the two worlds isn’t an interesting one. The narrator meets a rich white man, and together they gallivant from the upper class white neighborhoods in New York to the sophisticated, intellectual realms of Europe. The two worlds never meet until the very end of the book.
    At the very end of the book, the narrator witnesses a lynching. It such a transformative moment in the life of the narrator that he no longer wants to be associated with any race. This is where things finally become interesting. The narrator, now someone who has no identity, attaches himself to the only American tradition that makes sense—the tradition of making money. The narrator states, “What an interesting and absorbing game is money making! After each deposit at my savings-bank, I used to sit and figure out, all over again, my principle and interest, and make calculations on what the increase would be in such and such time. Out of this I derived a great deal of pleasure.” He’s not white. He’s not black. He just makes money.
     On the whole, I thought the book was good. I would have liked to have seen Johnson write more on the experience of being a person of a lighter complexion (we’d have wait until Nella Larsen, a little more than a decade later, before that subject gets brought up). If you think I ruined the book, not to worry. The book talks a lot more on things surrounding the black experience. However, it was the issue with identity that I found the most interesting. And it is the issue with identity that shadows the whole book. Even when the narrator is expounding on something completely mundane, like rolling cigars in a cigar factory, or arriving late to a music rehearsal, the issue of identity can be seen in the background, winking at you.     
          -Shayne McGregor

“Poem of the Week” this week will instead be a commentary on poetry. It is in the form of a “poem” but also a question posed to the reader. A question asking to break the walls that sometimes confine poetry to words. A Poem can be found all over the world. Art is poetry, music is poetry, nature and the unnatural are poetry.


A Poem About Poems

I postulate
Poetry is not confined to lines of a poem.
But, instead- that it may be a way of thinking.
A state of mind.  A poetry of mind.
An openness to its sound.
That the senses of our body know exactly when it happens, but it cannot be created through only skill.
It is inspired through art.
I postulate
Anything can be a poem if your mind is set to it. Anything can be a poem if it wants to be.
Duchamp created a poem from a toilet seat;
Pollack from drips of paint and tar,
Whitman from his nature,
Simon and Garfunkel from leaves that were and are green,
Even This could be a poem
If it wanted to be.
I postulate
Poetry is symmetry but- I cannot tell of what.
I postulate
Music is poetry.
Poetry that plays with our senses and makes our bodies dance.
I postulate
It is elusive what makes poetry, poetry. It is vague and beautiful and courageous and kind. It is dark and mysterious and haunting. It is calm and quiet, it is wild and abrasive. It is short and to the point. It is languid, spilling over like leaves of a willow tree, soft green and waiting to be brushed aside and peaked under. It is curious and provocative. It is thrifty with words. It is gaudiness with language. It is cleverness and complication. It is molded and shaped, sharp like slate but cool and soft as grass. It plays. It prevents. It procrastinates. It purposes.
It strums harp on heart-stings, it sings for you its tune in loving notes of poetry.
It screams. It moans. It whispers.
          -Rebecca Najjar

The Disturbing Case of Elisa Lam


     Ever watch something you wish you didn’t? Well, that’s kind of how I felt after watching a video of Elisa Lam before her death. And what am I doing instead? Passing it along—misery loves company. In all honesty, it’s not that. I just think it’s important to call attention to stories broadcasted on the news that may not have received the right type of attention.
     I will post the video of Elisa Lam here, but it may not make sense initially. I recommend reading the post first.

     At first, it appears that Elisa is hiding from someone…or something. Elisa behaves extremely bizarrely as the elevator malfunctions. It remains open for a prolonged period of time. At 1:57, Elisa’s arms start moving in an almost non-human way. She appears to be talking to someone—or something.

Let’s get to the facts:
     In February of this year, guests staying at Hotel Cecil complained of low water pressure from the sinks and tubs. They also noted an odd taste and smell in the water. What did hotel staff find when they ventured out to check? They found the body of 21-year-old Elisa Lam in a water tank on the rooftop of the hotel.
     Okay, so, one might figure, “Poor girl was on drugs or something, found a staircase that led to the roof, and fell inside a water tank.” Right?—Wrong. In fact, after an autopsy was done, Elisa’s body had no traces of drugs or alcohol. Not only that, but firefighters had to cut a saw into the tank to drain it and pull her naked body out. How did she manage to first get in, but then close the lid behind her? Maintenance workers at the hotel say the roof is heavily monitored and people can only access it with a key, something Elisa did not have.

Hotel Cecil’s dark history:
  -Elisa Lam isn’t the first person to have died in the hotel.
  -Richard Ramirez, a serial killer, lived in the hotel in the mid-80s. He stalked and killed 13 female guests.
  -Jack Unterweger, an Austrian journalist living at the hotel in 1991 killed three prostitutes.
  -Helen Gurnee committed suicide by leaping from a seventh floor window in 1954.
  -Julia Moore committed suicide by leaping from her eighth floor window in 1962.
  -In 1962, Pauline Otton committed suicide by leaping from a ninth floor window after arguing with her husband. She landed on George Gianinni on the sidewalk causing both of them to die.
  -Goldie Osgood was stabbed, strangled, and raped in his room in 1964.
  -In 1947, Elizabeth Smart, or nicknamed, “The Black Dahlia” was found gruesomely mutilated in a Los Angeles park. Guess where she was right before her death?—the Cecil Hotel.

Another disturbing coincidence: The movie “Dark Water”
     So in case you weren’t buying the story up until this point, I think you will now. The story of Elisa Lam has a striking resemblance to the 2005 movie “Dark Water.”
     In the movie, a woman named Dahlia (ahem, familiar?) moves into a new apartment building with her daughter Cecilia (familiar again?). After noticing dark water leaking on her bathroom ceiling, Dahlia investigates and finds the body of a young girl in a rooftop water tank. Throughout the movie, the elevator malfunctions several times (as seen in Elisa Lam’s video).

Tuberculosis Outbreak:
Right after Elisa’s body was discovered, an outbreak of tuberculosis happened in Skid Row, where the hotel is located. Want to know the name of the test kit used? LAM-ELISA.

Final Thoughts:
I honestly don’t know what to think about all of this. How did Elisa access the roof, open the water tank (which requires heavy equipment), get inside, and then close the lid shut behind her? Why did she do it? Is Hotel Cecil plagued by paranormal entities? Why is real life so similar to a movie? Why didn’t the elevator door shut? Why am I asking so many questions that can’t be answered?
          -Nadia Hamidi


Broadway Music


     “Currently Listening” is a difficult topic to write about, since I’m usually listening to whatever surfaces from the random selection of the shuffle feature on my iPod.
     I have, however, been fighting an obsession for independent Broadway ballads…if that’s what they’re even called. In short, independent music artists write music and lyrics and Broadway actors sing them at miscellaneous concerts throughout the city. So, I wouldn’t quite know how to label them. But, I don’t want to belabor the point.
     I chance upon these songs and performances whenever I type in a Broadway actor/singer’s name into YouTube. In the post-musical euphoria to which I succumb whenever I see a great Broadway show, I attempt to look for performances of the show on YouTube. Because video titles can sometimes be arcane, hard-to-find labels, I’ll always type in the name of the actor(s) who are in the scene I’m trying to find. And in doing so, I stumble across a series of performances they’ve done across the city for independent songwriters and musicians alike.
     These songs are a refreshing vacation from the doldrums of ear-piercing, blood-churning pop music that radio stations overplay – especially since they’re sung by artists whose voices are actually mellifluous, controlled, and trained. More often than not, these performances are in upscale pubs, bars, and mini-concert halls; in other words, places that aren’t known for their accommodating acoustics or high-tech equipment. That means that the artists are performing almost entirely on their own – that is, without the foundation of microphones that make them infinitely louder than the band and acoustics that make it very challenging for them to make a mistake. That said, their accuracy (with regard to pitch, rhythm, and tone) astounds me. I’ve yet to listen to a performance that I didn’t replay at least 16 times, and that says something considering my goldfish-esque attention span.
Among some of my favorite artists and performances is Ben Fankhauser. Currently playing Davey in Newsies: The Musical, he has a dulcet, crisp timbre to his voice that can make the Yellow Pages pleasant to hear. On top of that, he can riff and run like Beyoncé – a skill indicative of years of practice, training, and unparalleled breath control. Here’s one of his performances for musician and songwriter Michael Mott:

The list of performances I love extends into perpetuity, but I’d suggest listening to concert performances from the following artists: Jeremy Jordan, Jason Gotay, Matt Doyle, Morgan Karr, Adam Chanler-Berat, Chilina Kennedy, Julia Murney, and so many more who would make this list indefinite.
          -Alex Hajjar

Black Girls Rock

“This is why I rock…” was a phrase I heard on TV when I came home on Thursday night. Black Girls Rock is an event that celebrates black women and young ladies who make a difference in their communities. I’m not one to see the world in color but I love the idea of celebrating or recognizing phenomenal black women. In a world, where you hardly see people of color celebrated for making a difference, BGR stands as the platform for black women to take pride in their roots.   
Misty Copeland was one of the honorees. She’s the third black woman to ever dance for the American Ballet Company and the first in a decade. That is awesome news! I believe it inspires other young women to chase after their dreams and push against the odds. Beyond this I believe wherever you might come from, whatever race or nationality, it is important to stand and make a difference. Dare to dream. Go out there and rock!    
          -Eta Oyarijivbie


The Mappa Mundi of Fleur des Histoires


            I don’t remember how I came across this image, but the site I originally found it on did not carry much in the way of information. The description read: “French medieval illuminated manuscripts. Representation of the earth as a water droplet” (Vintage Printable). I saved it to my hard drive to look up at another date. But what to search for when opening a browser tab and heading to Google? I image-searched “world as dewdrop medieval” as well as “medieval depictions of world” and got mostly cheesy stock photos. Then I tried “mappa mundi,” not thinking that this was what it was, but desiring an alternative visual representation of the medieval world. Here, on Wikipedia, was the image that I had been looking for. And it is, indeed, a form of a mappa mundi. This particular one is from Jean Mansel’s Fleur des Histoires (1467), which attempts to give a complete world history from the Creation until 1422, when King Charles VI of France died.
            Looking at this image, it is hard to tell what about it can constitute a map. It clearly has very little cartographic merit, but that was not what it aimed to do. This map is a form of the T-O map, a type that separates the globe into three inhabitable zones of the known world: Asia, Europe, and Africa. These landmasses comprise the “T” in the model, with the “O” being the ocean that surrounds them. The mappa mundi is only a representation of how the world is physically ordered (orderings which abound through the Middle Ages). This phrasing, “is only,” does not really do the idea any justice. The image of the world, as we represent it, reflects how the people making such maps view it: divinely ordered, centered around the human, and, while it may not be true historically or politically, there is no privilege given to the placement of Europe on this map (which is in the lower-left section). How very different from our own maps which, in their attempt at communicating wholeness and navigability, distort the sizes of the continents. And how beautiful to see a representation of the world in which all things exist in relation to each other, not tangential spinnings out from already disordered centers. I’m not sure which view of the world is truer, and despite the imaging of order, it is certainly not true that the medieval world had no notion of this separateness. Perhaps this glossing is not what is really represented, and I wonder how the text actually deals with the histories of Asia and Africa in its broad swath of time.
            Though the original description on Vintage Printable does not satisfy in the way of reference, the description of the world as being contained “in a water droplet” is an especially tender description. It captures this sense of a precious world that is both only adornment yet ultimately essential body. This cross-section of the most delicate and smallest thing with the most grand and substantial is captured in one of Julian of Norwich’s visions, in which God visits Julian and shows her “a littil thing the quantitye of an hesil nutt in the palme of [her] hand, and it was as round as a balle.” Asking what kind of thing this little hazelnut is, God answers her directly: “It is all that is made.” This image, of the world in a map, a flattened-out disc to represent a globe, all contained in water, then clouds, then fire, and finally the celestial heavens, offers a way of seeing how the world was seen. I think if we were to abandon all our needs to portray “objective” representations of our world and assign ourselves to forming a depiction of it, we would find it difficult to abandon our current norms of what objectivity means in regards to space. Are we even able to now liberate dimension and all that it  contains or implicates? While the borders of the Fleurs des Histoires’ map is structured by form and order, it also represents a world without form, opened up to endless space by its very containment.
               -Isabel Stern

Meatless Mondays


            I would like to take a moment to think about food. I would like for us to think for a moment about what it takes in order for us to have food at all. I want you to know that we live in a world where three million children die every year of malnutrition while forty percent of the food ready for harvest in the U.S. alone never gets eaten. Outraged? I hope so.
            There is an environmental cost to our “all you can eat” mentality as well. Methane gas from cow flatulence contributes just as much to climate change as cars and trucks. We raise all these cows to keep up with our insatiable appetite for meat and dairy. These cows are fed mostly wheat which is not a natural part of their diet. That wheat which first has to be grown and harvested and which ends up feeding more cows than people, combined with the space required to raise livestock means there is less space available to grow those fruit and vegetable crops which end up going to waste anyway.
            I can’t see myself going vegan or back to my vegetarianism, but I wholeheartedly support people that choose to. I have decided not eliminate meat entirely from my diet because I don’t want to inconvenience other people who are doing the favor of cooking for me. I want to share food that I love with people I love. I want to participate fully in Thanksgiving and Christmas meals with my family.
            At the same time I try to remind myself from time to time of the effects our preferences have on the world around us. That’s why I try to participate in “meatless Mondays” (Or Thursdays, or Fridays depending on how my week is going). A lot of people reducing their consumption of meat a little bit would do a lot more for the environment than a few people going vegan.
          -Josane Cumandala
End Hunger
WFP Hunger Statistics
Cows and Climate Change
Image Source

When the Magic Disappears

             When I had conquered every ride of the amusement park, inhaled the salty air at the beach, I came to a realization. All of the thrill, the fun, and the beauty had disappeared from Coney Island. I had failed to see Coney Island in a positive light from then on. But a vibrant Coney Island was still in my mind. 
             I remember the knots starting to form in my stomach as my sister asked me to go on the Cyclone with her and the slight flush on my cheeks when I shook my head but my sister made me go on the ride anyway. I remember the nervousness pulsing through my small body as I stared at my sister. We waited for the ride to start.  I remember the anticipation I sensed slipping into me as the roller coaster slowly went up, up, up. I remember the way my stomach dropped and twisted and turned as the ride did and the rush of relief I felt when I picked up my stomach along with my shoes at the end of the ride; I realized that it was much better than I thought it would be. I remember my bare feet coated with sand and then washed away by the cool, salty water as my siblings and I played at the beach.  Our shrieks and loud laughter filled the air; they synchronized with our splashes appearing like the only noises present. I remember being confined to the shore to keep us from drowning. 
            The waves and the wind entered as I inhaled, and exited as I exhaled. I remember our search for small splendid shells in our quest to seek treasure in a ton of trash, and the way my flip-flops absorbed the salty water as my family prepared to leave the beach. Finally, I remember the moment of quiet bliss filling my tired little body as I rested in the bus moving away from Coney Island.  It became small enough to fit in my mind.
             I sat in a daze, inhaling this memory once more. This was a place I could no longer see now. I then exhaled, eliminating the pleasure of the little things I experienced as a child at Coney Island. I now saw Coney Island as it really was when I re-visited, the way it’s always been. It was a ghost town, where the people walked down the street with no hope and nowhere to go, where the wind blew on my skin, making me shiver.
             It was where I heard the creaks that the Cyclone made as it came closer to its collapse. The sand on the beach stuck to my skin. I saw shards of beer bottles and cigarette buds that I did not notice as a child. My body became infested with the stench of Coney Island. I could not wait to wash off when I got home. How could anybody, even a child – especially a child – genuinely enjoy such a place? The only thing that I had learned from Coney Island is that it is a place where I will never take my future children, if I have children.*
            Since then, I have felt sorry for magicians. What is it like for magicians to see the audience’s amazement, when pulling a rabbit from a hat, already aware of its not so magical methods? What does the astonishment mean to the magicians who perform such tricks as a routine? Could they ever be awed like the audience is or are they limited to magic’s technicalities? Have magicians lost more or gained more from mastering their craft to the point when the magic disappears?
             *I guess I do want to have kids. But, as I say about a lot of things, it depends on my life trajectory. This isn’t really necessary, but oh well.
           - Jacqueline Retalis