Cover of the May 2013 issue of the Whitman Quarterlife magazine

i.
I’ve been meaning to ask:

You see this elephant too, right?

But every time I stick my neck out
and peer around his boulderous bulk,
you’re looking back at me.

It seems a shame to ruin the moment
by talking about elephants.

 

ii.

In third grade,
Sterling Miller flipped a penny 30 times
and got 30 heads,
I watched it.

I’ve never believed in God, but I know He plays dice,
that every moment is another spin of the slot machine,
and that there are no miracles,
only statistically significant improbabilities.

I’ve spent so long listening to the sermons
of the statisticians, the scientists, and the skeptics
that I never attribute to intention
what has a chance of being chance.

Are you really looking for me?

Do you actually see this elephant too?

Or does the penny just keep coming up heads?

 

iii.

The butterfly you pin to the board is lifeless.
You kill the cat by opening the box.
Merely by observing,
we change the outcome.

I’ve been meaning to ask:

You see this elephant too, right?

But maybe there’s no elephant at all,
maybe these legs are tree trunks,
this tail, a rope,
the trunk, a snake.

I don’t ask if you see the elephant,
because what does it mean

if you don’t?


Published in quarterlife, vol. 7, iss. 4: the troll issue (Whitman College, May 2013). Cover image by Bo Erickson, used with permission. Thanks, Bo!

(Yeah, I got my poetry published!)

Five in the morning is in that span of time I typically think of as “oh fuck no it’s early,” yet this morning, against all odds, I started stirring around 5:10. Rachel had a flight to catch, and was going to be waking up and getting out of bed in five minutes, but for those five minutes, I was awake by myself, in the stillness of the morning.

I love summer mornings. Summer nights are hot and muggy, leading you to throw windows open and blankets off, but at five in the morning, the air breezing through your window is refreshingly brisk. The oppressive heat pauses, and the whole world takes a breath. Though the window’s open, there’s hardly any sound of traffic or human activity, just the songs of waking birds far in the distance.
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Sexcetera - Spring 2013

[Spencer’s note: No, I’m totally not posting in Fall 2014 a post that should have been made in Spring 2013. Of course not! Why would you think that?]

Like I mentioned in the last one of these, I write an opinion column in my school’s newspaper, The Pioneer, called “Sexcetera.” It’s a column on relationships, sex, and sexuality, from a perspective I’m trying to keep sex-positive, feminist, and inclusive. I’ve been doing it all year, but save for the last compendium, I haven’t really mentioned it here on the blog.

Here’s a directory of the things I wrote in my last semester of college (and the last semester of Sexcetera).
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Thesis word cloud

I turned in my senior thesis on Wednesday this week. All that’s left is an oral defense, in early May, and then I can actually graduate, hopefully with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology with honors, Summa Cum Laude. That’s the plan.

For fun(?), I thought I’d share some of the numbers related to the thesis process:

  • Final page length: 103
  • Word count: 20,758
  • Minutes spent editing (according to Word): 6,284
  • References: 56
  • Completed surveys: 447
  • Campuses surveyed: 2
  • Days until thesis was due when I began collecting data: 8
  • Days until thesis was due when I began analyzing data: 2
  • Statistical analyses in final thesis: 5
  • Hours spent learning statistical analysis before April 8: 0
  • Time went to bed on night before due date: 4am
  • Hours spent fighting with Microsoft Word to make thesis print correctly: 3
  • Turned thesis in at: 3:30pm, April 10th, 2013
  • Volume of beer consumed after turning in thesis: [redacted]

It feels good to have a life back.

Sexcetera - Fall 2012

I write an opinion column in my school’s newspaper, The Pioneer, called “Sexcetera.” It’s a column on relationships, sex, and sexuality, from a perspective I’m trying to keep sex-positive, feminist, and inclusive. I’ve been doing it for months, but (perhaps unsurprisingly, given my tendency to get busy and neglect the blog), I haven’t mentioned it at all here.

Since it would be silly to post each individual column now, I figured I’d post a general directory of what I’ve written this semester.

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A letter from the Associated Kyoto Program congratulating me on my acceptance to the program.

We were almost done with our house meeting this evening when the phone rang. It was Takemoto-sensei, my Japanese professor from last year and the director of the Associated Kyoto Program. Apparently, he wanted to show Kagaya-sensei, a visiting professor and next year’s resident director for AKP, the Tek. Given that the program decisions were supposed to be going out either today or tomorrow, everyone was a little on edge.

Things got more suspicious when Liz, the only non-Tek applicant to AKP from Whitman this year, showed up at our door. We invited her in and began chatting, but it escaped nobody that all five Whitman applicants were currently gathered in the living room, and two AKP representatives were en route.

There was a knock on the door. Takemoto-sensei, Kagaya-sensei, and Seanacey, the program administrator from Whitman, all entered the house, and took seats in the living room. We all stood up when they entered, partially out of nerves, and partially out of some strange, half-extinct practice of etiquette that seemed desperately important at the time. We remained standing until a very perplexed Takemoto-sensei politely but firmly requested that we sit.

First, ever the salesman, he led us in a group “thank you” to Kagaya-sensei for flying out and interviewing us. She had a difficult time organizing her flight over the weekend–her home college, Williams, had ten inches of snow when she left, so we were fortunate she was able to make it at all. We all obediently and humbly thanked her, bowing while trying to contain our anxiety.

Then: “I have something for you.”

He stood, and like an out-of-season Santa Claus, reached into his backpack. Out came cardboard boxes–prepaid mailers with our last names handwritten on the sides. “Mehoke.” “Wharton.” Kagaya-sensei slowly passed four out–

–and then a pause. Takemoto, his eyes gleaming, turned to Sara. “Oh, Portesan-san…” he started.

Heads swiveled to look. Was this the bad news? Were we a divided group– four lucky admitted students sharing a room with one who didn’t make the cut? Or did these four boxes contain the gentle, reconciliatory declination letters? The tension muted us quickly, and even the previously uncontainable nervous jitters fell still.

Then he pulled the fifth box from his backpack and handed it to her.

“These are all for you,” he said. “I suppose, in true American fashion, you can open them now…

On the couch, we exchanged glances. Was this some sort of trick? Trying to get us to broach Japanese rules of etiquette? It seemed entirely possible at the time–then again, Takemoto could have told us our acceptance depended upon our ability to compose spontaneous English haiku about small appliance stores, and we probably would have taken it at face value. Slowly, our hands crept to the edges of the boxes, and began to tear them open–some of us more clumsily and brutishly than others.

Inside, a shiny packet of Pocky adorned with a sticker encouraging us to “Stick with the AKP!”

A package of Pocky with a celebratory labelAnd a bundle of forms, bound with red string.

A bundle of formsThis is it. The months of preparation, the interview, the sine wave of excitement and terror about the prospect of living and studying abroad for a year… it all came down to the words in this packet of paper. This determined the shape of not only my next year, but in fact the rest of my undergraduate experience, and potentially the few years afterward. Those first few words would indicate whether I was going to have the experience of a lifetime.

Another photo of the letter, centered on the word "Congratulations!"A few gasps around the room, then a boisterous cheer, followed by expressions of profuse gratitude. “Sensei… doumo arigatou gozaimashita!” I reached over and high-fived Sam. People were hugging.

Everyone got in.

Nobody was spared from the excitement. Our RA and our native speaker immediately began making plans to visit Kyoto during spring break next year. We began listing the people we knew that we would be able to visit when abroad. All of the stress and worries of the past few days, weeks, and months, evaporated.

We did it.

We’re going to Japan.

Well, I’ve officially entered the realm of Buffy studies. For my most recent paper in my Encounters class, I decided to study doubt in the Japanese film Rashomon (1950). To do so, however, I got to do something incredibly fun: I brought in an episode of Buffy, entitled “Normal Again,” and used the two texts together to illuminate the use of doubt in both. The essay, in fact, was so fun to write that it was a massive challenge to keep it under the word limit.

Since I didn’t really want to lose all the thought I put into this, here’s the full version of the essay for your perusal. It’s a really interesting topic, and if I didn’t have other things to do in my studious life, I might write even more about it, exploring other episodes such as “Restless.”

A note on citations: At certain points, I cite clips from Rashomon in the following format: (1.1:15-30). This citation refers to the clips of Rashomon on YouTube, as noted in the Works Cited page. The citation given would mean Part 1, from timestamp 1:15 to timestamp 1:30. Hopefully, this clears up any confusion.

The full essay is available after the break.

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Stale Content Alert!

This post was written a long time ago, and my views have almost certainly evolved since then. Please keep that in mind while reading, commenting, or sharing.

There have been a number of minor thoughts buzzing around my head like gnats lately. They are bothersome and they take up otherwise useful space in my brain, so as an attempt to reclaim some territory, here are some minor thoughts from my head, in no particular order:

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Classes have started!

My schedule’s a pretty nice one– I’m taking Elementary Japanese, Encounters (the mandatory first-year humanities course), Social Problems (a sociology class), and Intro to Visual Arts Practices. I’m happy to point out that there are absolutely no math classes in this semester’s lineup. After Calculus II last semester, I’m rather burnt out on math. I’m not sure if I’m done for good, since that depends on both my future whims and the requirements of whatever major I settle on, but I’m done for right now, which is a relief. I’m also fairly lucky with regards to how the week pans out: three days a week, I only have two classes, and am out by noon! Of course, the tradeoff here is that on Wednesdays, all four of my classes meet… but I think I can manage that. All of these courses seem really interesting.

Today I had two classes: Japanese and Social Problems. Japanese was great, as always–Professor Takemoto is an animated and engaging professor, and he helped us brush the dust off, as it were, and start speaking the language again. He also distributed the packet of kanji characters we’ll be learning this semester, which contained quite a few beautiful characters containing strokes and radicals I’ve never seen before. We’re also, unexpectedly enough, reading a 2006 novel in class this semester. It’s an English novel, but it’s by a Japanese-American author, and it has a lot to do with Japanese culture. All in all, I’m looking forward to getting back into the Japanese groove.

Social Problems was interesting as well; the class is large, but there are a lot of people I know on the roster[ref]Large by Whitman standards, that is. It’s about 30, 35 people. I love small schools.[/ref]. We started by discussing what constituted a social problem, and whether or not cultural/demographic perspective had anything to do with what we classified as social problems. Our first text is entitled Gang Leader for a Day, and it follows a young sociologist as he integrates himself within and observes a Chicago crack gang. We’re also reading texts on the criminal justice system, inner-city poverty and crime, and juvenile crime. Looks like there’s a common theme here, but I don’t mind. All the texts sound fascinating. Also, oddly enough, the class isn’t going to meet this Thursday because the professor will be out of town, so I’ll have only one class that day. Awesome!

Other parts of campus life have been similarly easy and enjoyable to readopt, such as living in the dorms. My section met last night, and our new RAs introduced themselves. Although they might not have quite the charisma as last semester’s beloved Daichi, Hayley and Bailey seem to be a couple of pretty cool characters. Bailey also mentioned, as he spoke to us, that while sections usually get smaller at semester breaks, as students change their housing situations, 4-West actually got bigger–so big, in fact, that his room is actually in 4-East, the neighboring section. Like I mentioned before, I’m really proud to be part of a section that’s got such a strong family vibe.

I’ll write some more about school when something more interesting happens here.