September 25, 2011 - 7:11 PM
I have a confession: I am terrible at math.
I try really hard to hide this fact, just like I do everything I can to conceal my abysmal spelling skills. But in fact, my math issues are extensive enough to contribute to a piece of my ongoing family jokes. Last tax season, I called my aunt (a tax accountant and generally numbers-brilliant person), nearly in tears, and told her I had tried really hard to do my own taxes, but that they were just "too numbery."
I live in a wordy world. Numbers have not been my friends.
I remember a time I was good at math, and that great sense of solving an equation correctly. But somewhere in high school I lost the joy of math, and my college years have been mostly math-free, except for statistics (which I can muddle through so long as I see the real-world application).
I was living my life mostly in peace with my math deficiency, until I stumbled across a podcast that made me change my mind. For anyone who likes to experience a wide range of cutting edge human achievement, I highly recommend visiting TED talks (here: http://www.ted.com/) for an amazing range of lectures by outstanding academics and practitioners from across disciplines and around the world. As I was listening (and not planning on having my math world rocked), I clicked on a lecture by Salman Khan (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html) , addressing how the internet could revolutionize education and our expectations of learning. Among other things, he describes how students might get decent grades in math or science, but the 5% or 10% of material they don't absorb might be a cornerstone of future concepts. I realized that I might have missed something small, a long time ago, which is still limiting me today.
His website, Khan Academy, has brief video lectures of single concepts in math. Then you can do sample problems on your own, and check your accuracy before moving on.
Perhaps this resolve to undertake math studies is really just an expression of how desperate I am for UO classes to begin again. But I can't help but think that there are lots of numbers out in the world. I might be able to look a "numbery" concept in the face someday, and perhaps even conquer it on my own.
For now, I am coming to terms with this math limitation, and am confronting it head-on. A week ago, I began with basic algebra. I have watched a lecture or completed practice exercises every day (no excuses!).
Tonight, on the eve of the new school year, I have already launched. Graduate school holds no fear in comparison to algebra. And here I am, boldly studying away.
Bring on those linear equations! I am so ready.
September 22, 2011 - 8:02 PM
First year students are arriving on campus! The university is crowded with freshmen and their parents, anxiously moving into new dorms and purchasing Duck gear. It's an exciting time to be around the campus: I love to think about these new UO students, and what this year will mean for them. I remember how scared and excited I was my first week, and how quickly I met people and made friends. I also remember getting involved with campus activities almost immediately, trying to take advantage of all the great resources all at once.
Yesterday I had an amazing experience with this group of new ducks. I met a group of Honors College freshman and one Freshman Interest Group (a group of students who take fall classes as a group and live together in the dorms). These students were assigned Sister Helen Prejean's book The Death of Innocents as a summer reading book. Sister Helen is returning to campus in mid-October, and their summer reading was intended to get the incoming class excited about Sister Helen and about social justice efforts at the UO.
In June, I was asked to lead a discussion of this book. I was lined up to discuss Inside-Out, student activism, and Sister Helen's visit and work. Yesterday was the big day of the discussion. I was prepared to do an hour-long presentation, to ask any questions folks might have, and then to split the group into smaller book discussion sections. I hoped we would have an audience of thirty or so freshmen.
One hundred and twenty showed up.
This incoming class is amazing. Not only did they show up, but they had great questions. They had read the book, and were truly engaged by the story and the issues that emerge in Sister Helen's work. They wanted to know about Inside-Out, and about how my participation in prison classrooms has changed my opinions about incarceration in general and the death penalty in particular. They not only had questions, they had follow-up questions.
As a final indication of how great this group really is, they laughed. They thought I was funny. I'm a pretty good public speaker, but I have no illusions about my humor. I am not particularly funny. What they were really indicating is that they were truly present. They were willing to spend their first days on campus engaging in the difficult and depressing questions of justice and punishment. They were anxious to look beyond the face value of issues, and to get to the heart of the contradictions in our system, and the complexities of administering justice. These freshmen are ready to dive into the college experience, and to launch into these four years.
I feel so lucky to have already met these young men and women. I feel inspired by their enthusiasm and their curiosity. I also was made hopeful by their willingness to feel hope, even in the face of these gritty issues.
These positive emotions are a great indication of what this next generation of UO students will be able to do. Even in the face of the terrible emotional question of Troy Anthony Davis' execution (which was carried out just a few hours after our discussion ended), the group was willing to engage, but did not have an atmosphere of despair.
This is the best of the UO's culture. We are present with the complexities of the world. We're in a community of difficult questions and innovative solutions.
I haven't been this excited for the start of a school year since I was a freshman. I'm with this new class of Ducks. Bring on the year!
September 18, 2011 - 7:06 PM
This summer away has meant missing out on a lot of the things I do in my normal university life. Now, in this last week before classes start again, I took the weekend and headed south for a weekend with my best friend, Madeline, in Berkeley. She's launched her post-UO life by working at a law firm here, and has settled into a new city and new job in an amazing way. It's been a great weekend, and has made me so excited for things to kick off with my new year as well.
I took the train from Eugene to Berkeley. I love traveling by train, and am so happy to be living in a region where train travel is possible. I left Eugene Thursday night, and had a lovely trip (except for an unfortunate bout of food poisoning of unknown origins, which meant I did an alarming amount of throwing up. Otherwise the trip was lovely.) On Friday I visited Madeline's workplace, met her coworkers, and then spent a day wandering around Berkeley. Saturday we hit San Francisco, and today we're relaxing and catching up on the three months since the last time we were together.
The whole trip has been so much fun. We spent lots of time in farmers markets and craft fairs, witnessing some of the unique culture around here. The people-watching is amazing and very funky, and San Francisco is even funnier. There seem to be an extraordinary number of young people here, which gives a city a great vibe.
My favorite part of this trip has been witnessing how Madeline has fit into a new phase of life as a working woman and an independent young person. She has truly launched since graduating, and has fit herself beautifully into a life which now involves attorneys and legal proceedings and a city far removed from Eugene life. She's really happy here, which is really inspiring and exciting. Some of my friends have had a really hard time transitioning between college and real life, especially in the current economic situation. But Madeline is doing great by any measure: she has really fun friends, likes her coworkers, lives in a cool place, and loves the community here in Berkeley. She also found a job that is relevant to her previous experience, and has taken her forward in an exciting new direction that could lead her into a law degree, or into some different professional field.
I hope I can do as well when I graduate next spring.
Starting this week, things are going to start to get busy in Eugene. I've registered for classes, and need to start buying books and doing all the preparation that goes into that first week of school. This week we're also hitting the ground running for Sister Helen Prejean's return to the UO in October. This will be her third visit that I have been involved with, and I am thrilled to see her again and to be looking forward to repeating our past successes. This is going to be a big year.
So I'm excited to have had this brief moment with my friend, before the madness of the school year begins again. We had a chance to sample farmers market produce, and to sit for an hour at a wine and cheese bar. I have eaten amazing food while visiting here, including delicious spaghetti and a slice of pizza from the famous Cheese Board. I think I've fallen in love with Berkeley, at least a little. And I am certainly grateful for this time with my best friend.
I can only hope that next year at this time I'll be as launched as she is now.
September 16, 2011 - 7:40 PM
As I described in this blog (http://isupportuoregon.org/my_duckstory/blog/katie_d/the_good_the_bad_and_the_ugly_on_the_road), I was robbed this summer in Nicaragua, on my way to my internship in Honduras. Combined with the other intense and difficult aspects of this summer's internship and research, this has meant I've needed to do some recovering in many ways. In many ways it's been a hard process, particularly when it's come to replacing some key items in my life. But there have been some great things that have happened as well.
One is that I am writing this blog on a brand-new computer. I've finally given in to the UO culture and purchased a mac. I love it. I'm still learning now to navigate this "intuitive" system, but it is a far superior machine to my old computer. It is going to be a joy to write my thesis on this computer.
Another wonderful story arises from soemthing that has felt like a tragedy from this summer. When I was robbed, they took all my jewelry I had with me. And, by a sad mistake, I had accidentally packed both the bag of jewelry I intended for the summer, AND the bag I had meant to pack into my storage unit. So except for a things I had left at home in Colorado, I lost all of my jewelry this summer. I blogged two years ago about my different pieces I've collected over the years, and why they were special to me. I had purchased jewelry during all my travels, and had many strong and happy memories attatched to those earrings, necklaces, and rings. On one hand, there was nothing of enormous monetary value in my collection. On the other hand, there was enormous sentiment connected with that jewelry.
So that's the sad part. Here's the beautiful story, though: my aunt Michele felt sorry for me, and said she would send me a few old pieces of jewelry to restart my collection. This was such a nice idea, and made me happy just by her offering. But she sent me the most beautiful and touching package in the mail. In fact, it was my first piece of mail received at my new apartment.
My aunt Mish sent me jewelry with stories. She individually wrapped the pieces, and included little notes to describe what they were, and where they came from. Thus, I know that a beautiful pair of inlayed silver earrings were origionally purchased in Mexico, when Mish was about my age. I have funny, brightly colored fish earrings she labeled as "Mish Fish." I have pink earrings that reminded her of our shopping trip together before I started high school. And I have a beautiful bracelet from Belize, with a note mentioning how glad she was that she could send something from a place I've also visited.
Now, at this point, I am already crying a bit, with tissue paper scattered everywhere, and a growing pile of jewelry laid out in front of me. I've carefully unfolded all these notes, and have gathered up these stories to go with my new earrings and necklaces. But here comes the really miraculous part.
I open a pair of earrings, with a note that says "your family bought these for me on your Ireland trip. I love them, but until you can go back to get me replacements, they're yours." Then, in the last packet, a pair of blue lapis lazuli earrings I had bought for her in Chile.
I cannot replace the things that I loved, and the memories attatched. I cannot get back the lapis earrings my Chilean host family gave me as a gift when I left Valdivia. But I have these beautiful gifts to hold their place in my life and my days.
And I have the constant and beautiful reminder of love and compassion from my aunt Mish. What a perfect gift.
September 10, 2011 - 7:00 PM
As a non-football fan, I am certainly in the minority in this town. On game days, the town goes crazy in some ways. Fans go all-out, from costumes to car decorations. And you can hear Autzen Stadium from an incredible distance away. I love that folks get so passionate about our students, and that people come together for an event like that. But personally, I can't find it in me to get worked up about sports. So instead, I take advantage of the ghost town Eugene becomes during a Duck game.
In the past, I've used game time to do things like going to the campus student union (EMU), which has suddenly emptied, or even to the gym where there will be no competition for space. Sometimes I wonder if there is something wrong with me that I don't have the sports spirit. But mostly I'm happy to have my choice of weight machines.
Today I went to the Eugene Saturday Market. It was the first time since last year's market, and being there made me so incredibly happy. There is something of a carnival at the market-the variety of goods and entertainment is astounding, but sometimes the best part is the people-watching. I wandered around familiar booths, and considered, as always, how I could furnish an entire quirky house with the funky decorations and handmade practicalities offered there. They offer everything from spoon rings to wooden spatulas, with a healthy quantity of tie-dye thrown in.
But today I was there for the vegetables. I love buying the fresh, local produce from the farms around Eugene. It's a grounding experience to see what is actually in season here, and to witness the bounty of this rich farmland. For whatever reason, either legitimate or psychological, I always feel strongly that I am more satisfied by this food than anything I could buy in a big store. That might just be my ideology showing, but to me it always feels like I'm connecting to this place, and getting a better meal for my efforts. In any event, I purchased spinach, squash, broccoli, tomatoes, and apples from the farmers. Then I went and made my most anticipated purchase of homemade jam: a peach/ jalapeno pepper concoction that is one of my favorite tastes on record. Delicious.
I was struck by something new today. I felt like everyone around me was being unusually friendly. I'm an outgoing person, and I generally find that people are open and kind to me. But today was off the charts somehow. Everyone I made a purchase from was chatty and funny, and the small crowds were extremely polite. It's possible that traveling has made me more sensitive to this kind of cultural expression, or it's possible that I am just happy to be in Eugene. Whatever the cause, it seems like the folks in Eugene are some of the nicest I have encountered in the world.
Now that I've written that last sentence, it seems like I must just be trying to say that I am happy to be back, and I'm willing to make vast generalizations to explain that happiness. But either way, I feel it strongly: welcome, happy, home.