April 01, 2005

If I Could Be a Superhero....

I know, I've been absolutely terrible with the blog up-keep recently. And I will most likely continue to be so until I've finished my senior thesis, at the very least. In the meantime, I thought I'd have some fun while making the most of academic work I have to finish anyway. So below, for your reading pleasure, are my answers to questions included on the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship (or, as my boyfriend calls it, the "Clark Kent award," with all of the superhero-in-disguise connotations) for which I'm applying. Witness the glorious heights of utter bullsh*t! I even managed to work in a quotation of Mahatma Gandhi, the crowning victory of ingratiating nonsense. In any case, they may be of some interest (some of the questions are curious, indeed, though some are quite ordinary), and I promise, if you stick with it, there's a poem in it for you at the end of the post. Enjoy!

Q: What are your long-term career plans?

A: I hope that my ongoing work in the local community, both during my graduate studies and afterward, will provide me with organizational and leadership experiences I can utilize to establish a national program dedicated to bringing writing and creative expression into the process of cultural and political exchange and development. This program, which I conceive of as a network of local teachers, artists and writers across the country, would span all age and cultural groups, but would focus especially on secondary education, introducing students to challenging artistic pursuits, as well as political reflection and citizen action, at an earlier age.

Q: What motivates you? How and why?

A: My experience with poetry, which I have been writing for more than fourteen years, has convinced me that the process of creative writing (or any artistic pursuit) incorporates certain daily practices fundamental to the healthy development and expression of both individual and social needs, and the reconciliation of the two. At its best, art not only captures the attitudes and tensions of a particular culture, but actively shapes them by urging the artist herself on to new creative heights, and by effectively communicating the fruits of this labor to a larger social group. An idealist at heart, I have sought to understand the social and historical context in which I live, and to effect change when I have perceived injustices. It is through my poetry that I engage the many contradictions and difficulties which I encounter as a religious individual in a secular society, a liberal feminist in a largely conservative faith tradition, and a devoted citizen in a country whose consumer-driven culture often undermines the very commitment and engagement of its citizens. My art has provided me with the creative freedom and practical structure to explore these tensions. Through graduate study, I hope to further cultivate my own writing practice and challenge myself to refine my work at a higher, more professional level. Furthermore, I will continue my training as a writing instructor with the hope that I can encourage others to explore the creative process in a fruitful and productive manner, emphasizing the moral and political facets of artistic expression.

Q: When does a belief or value become a prejudice? Do all prejudices need to be overcome? Provide an example, preferably from history or current events.

A: [Notice the phrasing of this question, especially the second sentence, which is quite leading and practically begs for a denial, "No, not all prejudices need to be overcome--here, I'll give you an example." I find that... slightly upsetting. Here is what I wrote:] A prejudice is distinct from a belief in so far as it disregards the unique particulars of a given situation, subjugating them to a broad moral claim to a dangerous and harmful extent. To 'pre-judge' is to apply beliefs or values, even if soundly or compassionately held, without appropriate consideration for the circumstances. An example of such behavior is found in much of U.S. foreign policy, which claims to pursue sweeping goals of 'freedom' and 'democracy' while ignoring the cultural and political structures, histories and tensions that exist in the individual countries on which it imposes these moral goods (as in the Iraqi War, as well as current discussions regarding Lebanon, Iran, and other nations). In the personal sphere, prejudice can be as clear as racism, or as seemingly benign as an appeal to 'family values' which in fact actively excludes certain members from the very idea of 'family.' Indeed, prejudice must be overcome because it is, in essence, a kind of violence against the individual, denying him relevance and value. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, "I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent." Although some might claim that a reasonable amount of prejudice is necessary because without it people would have no foundation on which to base decisions, such a claim stems primarily from an unstated pessimism about the capacity of average human beings to grasp the complexity of both social and private situations. A pessimism which I adamantly reject, because my own experiences have proven otherwise. Furthermore, I believe the creative process of making and sharing art can encourage individuals to explore these social and personal complexities in a supportive community, enabling them to confront, to question and, hopefully, to overcome prejudices of their own.

Q: Discuss a piece of art, literature, music, or film that you have experienced or created. Why is it meaningful to you? What have you learned?

A: Despite my devotion to political awareness and civic engagement, I have always been a socially private and introverted person, more inclined towards the interior aspects of poetry and religious life. Thus, it has been difficult for me to overcome my shy nature in order to express developing passions and convictions in the public sphere. Recently, I attended a live concert performance by Steve Vai, a composer and guitar virtuoso who, like myself, struggled with performance anxieties, aesthetic perfectionism and the difficulties of spiritual expression early in his career as a musician. Watching his grace, concentration and quite literally jaw-dropping talent on stage was a cathartic experience for me. His example has convinced me that my artistic ambition to embrace all ranges of religious and political life in my work and to share it in a meaningful and evolutionary way with my community, despite occasional personal doubts and insecurities, was not merely a ridiculous ideal, but a worthy and attainable goal. Not three days after attending the concert, I was scheduled to read in an on-campus poetry slam. For the occasion, I wrote and performed a piece inspired by my recent experience, and although I am sure the audience saw only an enthusiastic poet finally come out of her shell, I know something they do not: a rock star was born that night.

And finally, here is the poem which I wrote and performed just last night at Poempalooza, the annual campus poetry slam.

After Vai

"Let the might of your compassion arise to bring a
quick end to the flowing stream of blood and tears."

How long will I wait to say something? Until I have forgotten you?

How long will I wait? We've had dreams as children--torn limbs and stomach bombs and men high beneath us and cramped knuckle ropes slung from bed to bed over urban-burned carpet seas and wooded floors--how long do we wait?

How long are threshold hours, each dusk burst like a week's worth in blood-blistered fingertips?

And how long do we fast--how long do we starve ourselves against addiction culture before we shake open wounded optic nerves and stiffened chords taut, cut into our throats and the roofs of our mouths? How long, and is it worth it?

How long will I wait to say something? Is it arrogant to want your kind of stage presence--all strobed fog arrayed in halos for your hands--your hands--

How long and how fast your hands are, loose and tendons wracked, before they're gone again behind your temples--how do they hold shut a splintered skull just by making sound? How do they wake a child to his suicide bed--get up, get up! How do they save him?

How will I admit to my ambition, wreaking spry green havoc on dead space, sowing invasive solos in knotted ground choked with noise and chorus weeds? I want to learn from you. How do you make them stop?


How long will I wait to say something?

How long will I wait, for ablution, dilation--your ribbed metal bound neck to neck and a body that shoots crowds full of backlight, swung out in surrender and in, cradled against arms and a chest absorbed in its movement, its whine and praise, its sound suspension--it takes everything to listen, to watch, until that last morbidity shakes loose and rises, pops--if I died now, how would I know?


How do you do it? How do you keep going, until every twitch of self-preservation turns over into gratitude? Until every blood cell rounds limbs and begins returning to a heart worn thin in protest, returns to soften and renew it?

How long will I stand the weight of this emptied heaven? How long before my lips erode and join the constant river, and then who will listen?

How long will I wait to say something, and when it's time, for the love of God, how will I say it?


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