An Essay I wrote at 17 about a president I admire (throwback)

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I thought in today’s troubling times I would share this essay of hope. Please enjoy and share your favorite president in the comments.

  A Dance with Catherine: The Many Faces of John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy came into his presidency looking as a fresh, new face in the American government. In fact, the American public was immediately taken by the bright, upbeat image he exuded. The people as well as the government slowly grew in majority to believe that Kennedy could handle anything, and as it turns out, it is almost certain that no one could have done a better job, or spoken to the people quite like Mr. Kennedy. The one thing that completely stunned the people was the influential, charismatic mannerisms that this president had. He was not only the youngest president ever, but one whose speeches are still quoted today. Being born into a wealthy, influential family he experienced extravagant living from the beginning. The other extravagant, personal characteristic about him that one notices right away is his amazing courage.

In many ways, Kennedy had an unfinished life, only living from 1927 to 1963 (Dallek). He was assassinated before he could properly deal with the Vietnam War. Many believe that there was a plot against his life and that is unfortunate for he could have accomplished so many more things. Sometimes what made the state senator turned president’s life more extravagant was the simplicity in which he executed his speech. “This is a great country. But I think it can be greater. I think we can do better.  I think we can make this country move again.” (Rubin) More so, Kennedy not only gave moving speeches but a whole lot more care was put into each and every word like an artist with an unfinished piece of art. “Kennedy actually stirred people into action.” (Rubin)

However, the speeches he gave while alive were enough from moving us to tears, to changing our entire spectrum of thinking. John F. Kennedy is best perhaps remembered for his inaugural speech, in which he states, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” (Clarke) There is another quote that proves that not even the president believes completely in our justice system, and that is an extraordinary thing for him to admit. “Law alone cannot make men see right.” (Rubin)

When medical problems put a damper on the president’s life he had this to say, “No this is my time. My time is now.” (Dallek) He was suddenly ill, and some doctors even speculated him to be in a wheel chair for a while. However, the strong-willed president just kept upon the path he was. Despite being so rich and having such luxuries, he managed to keep a straight head and relate to the American public. This situation of illness proved that the president was willing to pull himself forward and lead the nation until his untimely death in 1963 in Texas. His death left a permanent scar of questions that will never be answered.

Perhaps the most extravagant thing in Kennedy’s life was his role in the Vietnam War. It was clear he wanted us to get out of it, but because of assassination that would never be so. He expressed concerns that Vietnam would join the already growing curtain of red, in other words communism. Although Kennedy was not a coward, he felt dignified with losing this war. “Did not necessitate a victory”, he was clear as a bell in his thinking that Vietnam cannot fall, but he also believed that we, as a people needed to realize that we should pull out of Vietnam. The amount of money and lost lives that had been spent was unacceptable to him and the American people. He acknowledged that as another excellent reason to pull out of Vietnam, for if the plans were not following through then, the cost was not worth the loss of money and life.

The attention-grabbing concept about the crisis with Russia, Cuba, and Vietnam, was not only his different responses to each, but how his children were all shown with him, a bonding that would not last. His daughter, Catherine, is shown dancing with him in a well-known book, and it shows the sensitive caring side of the president. (Kennedy had to deal with the Cuban Missile Crisis which involved Russia (Perret). Any other president would have his children away and protected while he worked under these extremely stressful conditions. He worked in these top secret meetings, but in between them would always have time for a dance with Catherine. Many look at this as inappropriate. However, Kennedy did not care and for that he should be applauded, for as extravagant as he was as a president, he was twice as amazing a dad. When he passed away, America’s heart broke right with Catherine.

As a result, Kennedy was seen as an extravagant person as a politician and father. He was incredible during his inaugural speech that that set him off in the right direction. His dealings with the Cuban Missile Crisis and ultimately Vietnam showed his character as not only a president but a person. It is so difficult to imagine that such an amazing human being could be assassinated and more so that America could continue fighting in a war it was not meant to win. So here is a final quote from Kennedy’s first speech as president. They are powerful words, but universal as well, and prove as to the color of his character. “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” (Safire)

The Bridge to Somewhere, Fragments of a dream

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I’m on the bridge to somewhere
and I carry as I go
A present, a scarf, and a golden locket
trembling through the open snow

I’m on the bridge to somewhere
and careful as I am
I rip my jacket against the branches
running faster, damn

I’m on the bridge to somewhere
and as I run along
I realize something’s very wrong

On the bridge to somewhere I wrap my scarf around my neck
Running just a half mile further
To where we said we’d meet
What the heck?

So I finally reach that somewhere
The fool he’s standing five feet ahead
Kind of makes me wish I never got out of bed.

I throw the locket
deep into the sparkly white
the snow that has covered the earth
and everything in sight

I return the present
now we’re inches apart
I know I will regret this
so I turn to leave
Then I have him grabbing
tugging at my sleeve

I don’t want any words
to escape my mouth so I run and trip
Trying very hard to grow up and get a grip

Then the blizzard starts again and everything is right
Wet, cold, and sad but sparkly and white

Our “Separate” Ways (throwback)

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I was younger,

Still a girl

Too damn smart for my own good

(I still am)

Hard headed, thus walking a

Street named desire but

I walked this lonely

Road on my own, my ears

The only ones that heard

Of my breakdown

 

We were only fourteen then

When he found me in the Gold Gym

So lost in my secrets

I wonder how he managed to find me

And gave me the best advice I ever knew

Made me realize that it’s not just how much you love

But how much others love you

It was just a moment, and we bounced

The basketball a while

I liked his skills, he my style

And I swear he knew me better then I did

Created a smile after he found where I hid

 

Now he’s good for a hi

And a bye- eyes lingering for more

Unbalanced friendship

And nothing more

We walked in the same Maine East hallway

Our “separate” ways

Just like that, like we never met

The only things left are

Tattered photographs, scribbles in my yearbook,

And a letter of apology

 

Maybe one day

I will walk on that street again

And someone will catch me before I fall like he did

And set me free to fly (I can tell you one thing)

I’ll remember that day in the gym till I die

Full moon

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As I got out of the car

Last night

I stared up into the sky

It was after 9

I knew you’d be out

Through the lush trees

Real beauties

I saw your powerful glow

I was taken aback

Staring at it

Wondering who else is looking at

The moon, the way I am

A Quote for the Day~

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Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark. -Agnes De Mille

A speech on Love (The behind the scenes, what went into my thesis kind of speech)

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Love is such an overused word and underrated subject, and my thesis aims to explore love in a unique and thoughtful way that makes it have meaning again in a raw way. This thesis has been a very long time coming. Over three years ago I considered making an analysis on love and for my first writing week project, and I thought that’s what I would create. I was told that my writing week project cannot be 40 pages long, much to my dismay. Then two years ago, I started working on my thesis that I titled, let all that you do be done in love: an analysis of love. Finally, I could write about what I had planned so long ago with the personal message that it was better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. First I drew a chart on giant white cardboard, with sections. I remember bringing the chart in to my first reader and going over it with him. Over time many of the sections were written and when I got to the first semester of my senior year, I had huge plans for my thesis. While love itself was not taking off in my personal life, writing my thesis helped me to discover that it wasn’t about that, that wasn’t why I was writing this. It was so much bigger than that.

During the workshop in my IS5 class, I asked Adam about page length; specifically I asked if I could write a 100 pages and everyone in class had a horrified look I remember well. Adam did one of his classic facial expressions, and said no. There was a page limit. See, I had a tutorial with Stuart where I worked on the science section of my love thesis where I focused on pheromones and oxytocin and I learned so much! However, I kept getting more and more ideas, more thoughts of how my exploration of love and how I could direct it. After a while, JD had to have me focus it on what I already had planned: An analysis of the four loves by C.S. Lewis, a Science explaining love section, love changing over time, a personal story, and connecting my personal story to C.S. Lewis’ work by analyzing my failed love as a case study. That’s what I will be talking about today.

 

C.S. Lewis’ book was really my jumping off point for my thesis. By reading about affection, friendship, eros, and charity, it made my thinking for the rest of the thesis sharper. I was finally focusing on the sections and making everything flow. Writing about friendship and affection wasn’t hard for me. I wrote about both of those according to Lewis with my own critique. It was eros and charity that I took more time on. I wanted to find a way to talk about eros that was meaningful and also explained it the author’s way, but with my voice too. And after taking a break from the thesis, I was able to do that. Charity was a section that I had a hard time explaining so I met with my thesis advisor to discuss how I could better understand this section so I could continue.

 

Writing about pheromones and oxytocin was a part of my thesis that I found the easiest. I found that studying and reporting on facts was easier than analyzing an author’s philosophy and far easier than trying to decode my own thoughts and feelings. Not to say science is easy, because it’s not. And the science behind why we have certain powerful feelings that could be love was harder still to learn about. It was useful to add science to my thesis (It was not my initial plan to) in order to help not only my reader but myself understand love more with science behind it, rather than just observations and speculation. One of the things I learned is that while giving a massage both the giver and the receiver have oxytocin released inside their brain. I also learned that pheromones are odorless, but very present and can help explain why we are attracted to one person and literally repulsed by another.

Writing the introduction and conclusion to my thesis were probably the most challenging parts (in addition to a bunch of books for research that I read that I didn’t use). I really wanted to start off strong and I wanted the conclusion to capture how complicated love really is. So I went through four revisions of my intro, before I found one that I felt suited the thesis best. The conclusion I left for last. Somehow, after all the writing and furthermore all the thinking about love I did, I was able to write just one meaningful conclusion.

The Conclusion: Contemplating, what kind of love is out there for me?

Walking down the streets of Chicago I am overwhelmed with beautiful scenes and my mind wanders, as the mind of a passionate woman often does. I think about love often as I find it a deeply wonderful concept. I think about a long distance connection I have made and if it could ever turn into the kind of love I seek. Surprisingly, loss hasn’t turned me away from the notion of love. It has taught me that I am capable of loving deeply and has me excited for how elevated that feeling will get when the love is mutual. Considering the science of love I examined and combining it with C.S. Lewis, I have gained a great depth to my view on love, and know more about the science of pheromones and oxytocin and their role in fueling a love connection between two people. They are two complex scientific ideas that allowed me to consider more than philosophy and personal struggle. I now watch many romantic movies with this smile on my face and read these romantic books, enthralled by the deep love the characters share, while being critical of overdone love stories that don’t seem organic or genuine.

In my life I have my amazing parents as a living example I constantly am around of how much love perseveres and how pure and remarkable love can be. They always manage to think of the other and never bicker.  The little moments are where I can witness their enduring love, an organic and simple love, or perhaps their years of experience is what makes their love look so effortless. Always, I see them share a cup of coffee and talk about their intense days of work and how stressed they are. Never really complaining, this ritual of having coffee is how they enjoy spending time together. This is where the distinction between the books I read and real life come into the light for me. Love and the relationships that come with it take a lot of work and commitment to keep that love flickering. It is not as simple and quick as a text of literature or film tries to prove to me. Movies often make love seem so easy, something I find irritating and I challenge now when watching movies. I actively call out how unbelievably perfect these movies are and prefer movies that involve some suffering or tragedy as those movies show a compassion developed that feels organic. Sometimes they demonstrate love as tragic and I find it very sad but more believable. Love isn’t easy to find or keep once one has the great fortune of locating it on this enormous Earth. The difficult fact to understand is we don’t choose who we love or who loves us back. We must hold on tight and fight for love sometimes. The walk I continue is disrupted by honking of car horns.

When I arrive at home, I think about and consider how I became so fascinated by love. I come to recognize that there is such beauty in love’s sacrifice. Actions speak louder than words and often people do things in real life that are a symbol of their love for one another. It can be something like shoveling the snow off your partner’s car before they go to work to make their life easier. You aren’t doing this to get anything in return. It is for them to have an easier day and to know you are thinking about them. The action propels forward the idea of not just helping someone out. Perhaps you did it absentmindedly. Thinking, oh I will clear their car also. Maybe it is as simple as putting a blanket on them as they have fallen asleep on the couch. Gestures are things they will appreciate and not forget. When you are both 90, they will remember all the little things you did to show how much you cared. In the end, it will be all the things you did, gestures big and small that make up your relationship, but that reminder that you care will endure. The idea of “we are in this together” will help in bad times. When things get tough, you remember all that you shared and lean on each other for support. That won’t be forgotten either. Love is the strongest force on Earth, beating even gravity. Love accomplishes things gravity never could. It breaks us, or causes us great joy. Sometimes, it is somewhere in between. We don’t always have control of the love as we saw with Tom, the married man having romantic feelings for another woman. All we can do is our very best if we desire love, to work honestly towards that goal. To not force things, but just let them happen. Because after all, love is that – love. To love at all is to be vulnerable (Lewis 121). It is that vulnerability that allows love in. If only we could all find a way to allow ourselves to break and burst open our walls. If only then, we could let love in.

 

 

A special thanks to JD, David Shiner and Stuart for all working on my thesis with me. A thanks to the Shimer community for pushing me and believing in me. And finally to Shimer community for showing me what it means to love something so much. And knowing how much you are going to miss it. While my thesis focuses on romantic love between two people, Shimer College and all the wonderful people that are a part of it taught me about a greater personal inner love for myself, the people around me, and for pursuing my passion. I hope to add a section on that kind of love to my thesis when I get around to publishing it.

Weaving Webs: Fantastical and Concrete

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Arabian Nights was not the set of tales I had expected at all. I thought of Aladdin and not much else and I was surprised by what I would find. It was instead a very fascinating but equally bizarre narrative with strange sex, murder, deceit, demons, women’s strength, and much more. Bringing it back to IS5, Ethan drew a connection to this story and that of Gilgamesh in the way the main character in both stories needed a distraction from very destructive behavior. Gilgamesh needed to be stopped from doing whatever he wanted, while the king in Arabian Nights needed to be stopped from a murder spree of women. I quickly learned during our discussion that there was significance to the tales in Arabian Nights as fables and folklore.  Women have a particularly interesting role in this book of tales as they take on a variety of symbols in what we have read so far that includes having agency. In this first protokoll, I would like to explore the structure of the narrative, the connection between demons within the stories and the actual kings, and the greater question which is: what is the woman’s end game with the king? (as Travis asked). Does she hope to save society with her cunning or is she just “kicking the cab down the road”, a theory we explored in class.

To summarize some points, the king’s deceitful wife caused him to believe no woman can be trusted and that is only highlighted when he visits his brother’s kingdom and finds more betrayal there. His brother also being betrayed ironically makes him feel better which adds some humor to this story. I questioned why such extreme measures were taken by the king to murder all the virgins the night after marrying them, but I wonder now about the greater meaning of the situation beyond that of the murders he commits. A very intelligent women, Shahrazad, volunteers to marry the king and she has a plan. She begins to tell a story and with her sister’s encouragement the story and more stories follow, which stop her death sentence at least for the time being. I just wonder as an aside, what happened to the second brother who was also deceived by his wife? After his part in the book, he is missing from the narrative. There is already so much going on in Arabian Nights that having another story line going would make it very difficult to follow along.

The structure of the narrative the class found reminiscent of Marie de France with its flow and the beginning of the tales being similar in terms of an “I cannot wait to tell you this story” sort of attitude. I, personally, found the romantic style to be present in both works. In Arabian Nights, there is much repetition of phrases and a lot strange fantasy elements in the way the tales are told. The way the stories are set up draws questions of how true the stories actually are historically (not actually due to the fantasy elements). The authenticity of the stories of both works was questioned by the class, but I think it is difficult to question such a story with so many years of alterations to the manuscripts as the introduction points out. Taking years and years of spoken word and putting it into stories is very difficult already.

Some of us also found the book hard to put down as the stories drew us in in a similar way that they drew the very crazy, unreasonable king, compelled to listen further night after night to a cunning woman. The tales were told in a way that made one want to read on, but also left one with many questions about clarity and plot. To answer some of these questions, Adam drew a diagram of the stories and sub stories on the board where we struggled to decide what part of the plot was resolved in which story. (I feel like I am describing a soap opera at this point.) Many questions came to the table but a significant one is, are these stories told by the woman close to authentic ones or was the woman tailoring these stories to serve her purpose? That idea that she had specific purpose in mind is debatable as well. What is the purpose? The class thought she could weave these stories to compel the king to spare her, and then the kingdom, and that they brought out parallels such as with the king and the demons found in her stories.

The connection between the kings and demons is really interesting because both the kings and demons can be reasoned with in unusual but similar ways. The demons and kings have a murderous, unforgiving nature that makes them very cold and harsh. One demon was released from a jar, but wanted to kill the man that released him and this seems really unfair to me. Both king and demon appear so powerful, but somehow using logic or trickery in the case of the fisherman, one can outsmart a demon. The deep question of whether a man or demon is superior came up in class and I pondered it but truly do not have an answer. Another huge parallel made is the woman that came out of the demon’s chest in one of the stories was there for the demon to keep chaste. This is like the king in the main story wanting his wife to stay faithful to him.

Women’s agency is captivating in this story because women are better story tellers, women cause deceit, and a woman takes it upon herself to control a dangerous situation and save society. Why doesn’t anyone kill the king or why don’t they all run away? Well, the class said that there wouldn’t be much of a story if everyone ran away. The greatest question is what is the end game for our female protagonist? There can be theories spawned from this question that only further reading can really answer. In my eyes, she is saving society temporarily, but can she really convince such a murderous, bitter man that wants to destroy all women that he should change his ways? Is her charm what will change his mind or will a moral in one of the stories warm his ice cold heart? We shall read on in the story and find out what she can achieve with her story telling. Can she save society? One other question to ponder is how will her story telling evolve? Will there be more parallels to real life and more demons that connect to the king? Will her agency shine and bring prosperity to the kingdom is what I really wonder.