Saturday, December 10, 2011

Finals Week! Two Lists of Four.

Hello! It has been a while, and for that I am apologetic.

Currently I'm working through my final papers/presentations/studying, etc. It's finals week! Undergrad courses finish up on Monday, and my COPACE course ends this Wednesday.

This is my list of things that will be completed by the end of the semester:
(1) final draft needed for my psychology capstone paper regarding prosopasnosia,
(2) a ten-minute presentation + a fifteen-page paper for my COPACE course on Death & Dying, regarding suicide as a choice,
(3) a ten-page take-home final for American Jewish Life regarding choice in American Judaism, and
(4) an in-class final exam for Hebrew Bible.

For ROCU, our final show of the semester occurred (if you'd like to see our past playlists/become a fan of us/boost my confidence a bit, you can 'like' our facebook page here). And tomorrow evening is the last CUFS meeting of the semester (with elections! I will soon be phased out as a co-president).

Last night was the wonderful Clark Bars' a capella concert (featuring groups from SUNY New Paltz, Skidmore (<-- that's where my sister went to school!), and Mt. Holyoke).

Tonight is the play 4.48 Psychosis, and Monday is RHA's Trivia Night (featuring questions from CUFS and the Clark Historical Society).

The semester (and the year! Ahhh!) is winding up, and I leave in ten days.

Ten days, and then I will have one semester remaining at Clark. This is equally terrifying and exciting and wonderful and nerve-racking.

I'm getting pretty pumped for Winter break in Portland, which will soon be followed by excitement for next semester's classes. To recap, the classes I'll be taking next semester are:
(1) JS 299 - Independent Study with Prof. Fox: which fulfills my Capstone requirement for my Jewish Studies concentration,
(2) PSYC 201 - Lab in Social Psychology: which fulfills my lab requirement for my psychology major,
(3) PSYC 249 - Women in Society: which fulfills my first seminar requirement for my psychology major,
(4) SOC 258 - Women in Jewish Culture: which fulfills no requirements but is about both ladies and Jewish culture, two things I love. Additional bonus: it will be taught by Prof. Tenenbaum, with whom I took a course this semester and enjoyed greatly.

So there you have it! I shall depart from the internet now, in hopes of working on some papers for a bit before the play this evening.

I hope finals week is going swimmingly for everyone partaking.

Happy Saturday!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wait, I have how many hours to write fifteen pages?

Countdown to when my paper should be finished by:
T minus 48 hours.

And, roughly twenty minutes or so.

I've been working hard on my prosopagnosia paper this morning/afternoon, especially upon the realization that I need to have it emailed out to my class by the Friday before my presentation. Wish me luck, internet!

In case anyone is interested, I found a couple neat videos that explain the topic fairly succinctly. And if anyone is wondering if they or a loved one has the condition, here's a test that you can do to find out:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Long Island, Thanksgiving, and Papers

Firstly, let me say, November is almost over! It's nearly December! The semester is almost over!

What's. Happening.

Secondly, Thanksgiving break! Mine was lovely (I hope yours was, too!). I did absolutely no homework, but I was able to spend a lot of time with family, friends, and cats. I took advantage of Casco Bay Lines and I visited Long Island, Maine for the first time. Here's a picture of my friend Dylan and I walking through a field on the island (photo credit goes to my friend Zach)

Thirdly, schoolwork. Currently I'm working hard on two papers/presentations simultaneously. On Monday I am presenting my fifteen-page paper on Prosopagnosia for my Psychology capstone (PSYC 273). And a week from Wednesday I will be presenting my final research paper for my COPACE course (the paper is regarding suicide & death as a "choice").

But the paper-writing doesn't end there! On Thursday I should receive in class the prompts for my American Jewish Life take-home exam. Additionally, I will likely also be the recipient of the circumcision paper I turned in a couple of weeks ago.

So, how shall my Tuesday afternoon be spent, you may wonder? I'm planning to continue working on my papers until work this evening, where I will dutifully sit in the projection booth during a screening of "The Princess and the Frog".

Happy end of November! Happy belated Thanksgiving!

Until next time...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Next Stop on Our Tour of Departed Souls..

Sometimes my life feels overwhelmingly concerned with, well, the not-living. Or at least, involved study with these concepts sometimes makes it difficult to look beyond (ha, what a pun!) the inevitability of death and to slow down, take a deep breath, and remember what is significant, relevant (and alive) in my own life.

This past Wednesday I attended a field trip with my COPACE classmates of The Final Chapter. We went to a funeral home located on Main Street, not too far from Clark. The funeral home was called the Graham, Putnam, and Mahoney Funeral Parlor. At first, it was intriguing. Then, it was intimidating. And finally, upon seeing the shape of a corpse beneath a sheet, noticing the faded pink toes peeking out from where the sheet couldn't quite cover, it was incredibly frightening. Upsetting. The realization of the inevitability of death struck hard, despite my mother's input (as I walked back to my home, exclaiming into the phone through rain (of course it rained while I was visiting a funeral home)) that "bodies are just a vessel".

Right. And though comforted by the sentiment, I came to realize that even if this is so, the body is the image of the person that most represents what we remember. It is striking, and strange, and surprising and unsettling to see a body that is no longer alive.

And then I began to wonder of the morbidity of those who work in a funeral parlor - seeing death so frequently, does it lower their threshold? Do they feel helpless, constantly bombarded by the confirmation, the certainty, of death? They spoke of the topic with such care and compassion, and yet so offhandedly.

The director of the home, Peter, was not hopeless nor helpless in the slightest. In his quirky and somewhat teasing manner, he spoke positively of the importance of making meaning in life; through involvement with social movements, writing, film-making, activism. He said something along the lines of, "you do the best you can today, and if you don't make it tomorrow, then that's that". He expressed disdain towards folks who "spend their days working jobs they can't stand, returning home only to eat ice-cream and popcorn on the couch while they watch television".

It's curious, this pattern emerging, that those who spend their time working with death frequently feel that they are able to contribute so much meaning to life.

Regardless, I started to worry, can I ever be as nonchalant (& still respectful) of death? When I work with death, is my breath going to catch in my throat every time I see a body-no-longer-alive?

Death is a strange concept, but one that is manageable. I remember a discussion in class in which death was compared to any major transition; be it a divorce, a break-up, a relocation, a new job. As a senior I am transitioning. In my social life, larger and less familiar transitions are occurring. As upsetting as they are currently, I know that it's okay. Because transitions, uncomfortable despite, don't last forever.

So: death as a transition. Maybe it becomes more manageable over time. New jobs are always difficult to begin, break-ups are always hard, and forming new friendships can sometimes be equally as stressful as they are fulfilling. Transitions are a significant and necessary part of life, but they do seem to get easier the more practice one has going through a particular one.

I'm not suggesting reincarnation here. But perhaps, the more times I recognize death, the more time spent with the dying, the more fluid the transition will appear. Maybe every instance will be different, but perhaps it won't be such a terrifying thing anymore.

Peter (the director) said that people are afraid of death because they're afraid of the unknown. Maybe it's the familiarity that makes his work able to be done more smoothly, more comfortably, with respect, but without alarm nor terror.

I'm not certain of how my life will be significant yet; which movements I will be involved with, where my passions will take me. But I do know that if I want a fulfilling life, I need to make something of it.

Clark, I must thank you for this. Before coming to college I was somewhat hopeless. Being at Clark opened my eyes to a variety of wonderful things; handing me the ability to connect with other folks, to become involved, to do things, anything, to make meaning in life.

And here, to close out a somewhat heavy entry, is Monty Python presenting you with their meaning of life.

(Or, if you prefer Douglas Adams, 42).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Circumcision, Courses, The Future, & Ms. Frizzle

So last night (during a screening of King Kong for SCRN 231) I finally finished my paper on circumcision for SOC 203 - American Jewish Life. I ended up writing about circumcision in two forms: that as an (American) societal construct, and as a specific Jewish ritual & meaningful custom. There is overlap between the two, which can be seen through certain actions; Jewish involvement in the anti-circumcision movement, for example, would suggest a rejection of both the societal construct and of the implication of circumcision in Jewish identity. Other actions, such as Jewish parents who choose to circumcise their children in the hospital directly following birth, rather than waiting the traditional eight days to follow through with the brit milah ("covenant of circumcision") custom, are indicating participation with the societal norm, without participating with the aspect of circumcision that ties into Jewish identity.

Upon reflection, having written the paper & turned it in, I do wish I could have managed my time better to work more efficiently in searching for statistics that would have backed up my proposed thesis; the argument would have been much stronger had I found numbers indicating Jews' and Americans' involvement in various aspects of the circumcision (and anti-) movements.

Just as another update: since last writing in this blog, I also switched my courses around. I was sitting in American Jewish Life and realized how fond I am of the professor, her teaching style, and the topics on which she chooses to focus. I switched out of the COPACE course on the Bible (it's possible that I've taken plenty of bible courses already. All were enjoyable, but a break from the Bible might be pleasant). I'm now planning to take instead Women and Jewish Culture - SOC 258 with Professor Tenenbaum.

Currently I'm feeling very conflicted; overwhelmed, excited, and nervous. Thanksgiving break is approaching, which means the end of the semester, which means winter break, which means Spring semester, which means... graduation! Last week one of my senior friends remarked to me that he had just put commencement into his calendar. Jeeeeez! It's crazy to think about.

Lately people have been asking me what my plans are for after Clark. Honestly, I'm not sure yet. I know that I am very interested in palliative, hospice, and chaplaincy care. I know that I am passionate about religion, gender and sexuality, mental health, and maintaining comfort during times of physical affliction. I would love to be able to tie all of these things together, but I know that likely I will end up focusing on one area and maintaining the others as points of interest and passion.

The biggest decision for me now is to figure out where I would like to go - Boston? A small city? A far-away country? I'm not sure yet.

Over winter break I hope to examine my options more clearly; places where work experience could occur, or possible places of employment. But for the time being I am lacking in a gut-feeling as to where I belong. And despite the discomfort drawn from feeling somewhat displaced, it's totally okay for now.

This upcoming week will be a bit on the quiet side, which is nice after struggling to complete papers and projects on time for this past week. Having turned in my circumcision paper, I will now begin to focus on my presentation/paper regarding prosopagnosia for my psychology capstone. Additionally I will begin to work more in-depth on my COPACE research project, regarding mainly the issue of choice in relation to death (specifically, suicide). I'm excited to attend a field trip with my Final Chapter class on Wednesday: we're going to a funeral home!

Generally, when people hear the words "field trip" they don't think of funeral homes. At least, my mind always first goes to Ms. Frizzle.

I think I may take a brief field trip to the library right now - relax a bit while reading Tina Fey's Bossypants (I recommend it). I hope everyone is having a lovely Tuesday!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Quick Update - Spring Semester Registration

I have officially registered for courses for the Spring semester! Hooray!

At first, I was incredibly excited. But then it dawned on me - my last semester at Clark?! Oh, the nearness of the real-world is intimidating.

Here is a summary of my courses for my next (and final undergraduate!) semester:
1. PSYC 201 - Lab in Social Psychology (which will fulfill the Lab/Research requirement for my psychology major)
2. PSYC 249 - Women in Society (which will fulfill the Seminar requirement for my psychology major)
3. JS 299 - Independent Study with Everett Fox (which will fulfill my Capstone requirement for my Jewish Studies concentration)
4. IDND 1630 - World View of the Bible (which is a COPACE course that doesn't fulfill any requirements, but sounds interesting)

And then I'm done! It's hard to believe that I've been here for nearly four years. A wonderful, speedy four years.

I won't write much more because
1. I'm running on a lot of coffee and not much else
and 2. I'm off to work soon (I'm projecting The Little Mermaid for a screen studies class this evening).

I hope everyone is enjoying the warm weather! I'll update soon on my class projects.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Circumcision Project Update & Chuck Palahniuk in a Prius

This will be a quick late-night post, mainly because I am feeling guilty due to my lack of updating recently. It's not unexpected, nor entirely unforgivable; senior year has been busy, and my time is spent doing interesting research projects and papers, working as a projectionist in Traina for screen studies courses, and doing club things. In addition to some social college things.

In other news, I presented my slide show on circumcision for my SOC 203 (American Jewish Life) class earlier today and it went very well. Below are some pictures of the slides.

I also have a rough outline set-up for my COPACE (The Final Chapter) course! I am planning to examine choice in relation to death; specifically, does an individual have the right to choose when to die? At what point, if any, is it appropriate for that right to be taken away? For example, when is suicide okay? Should there be preventative measures against suicide? Do murderers have the same rights as other individuals? If someone murders others, is it okay to murder them? Was their right to choose death taken at the moment they captured others' right to do so?

It's complicated, and gets heavily into ethics, and therefore should be very interesting to research. I'm excited to use bits of the Paulo Coehlo novel Veronika Decides to Die within this paper; that book deals extensively with the right to death, the right to choose death, and with suicide in general.

Earlier this evening I was able to travel to Portsmouth, NH to see Chuck Palahniuk (the author! Of Fight Club!) speak as a part of the Writers on a New England Stage program. It was very interesting and inspiring, in addition to the somewhat confusing experience of understanding Chuck Palahniuk as simultaneously tender and a bit grotesque. His newest book, Damned, follows the experiences of a young girl (maybe twelve years of age?) in hell. After reading to the audience a short story titled "Romance", he was interviewed by a woman from NH radio. During the interview the woman likened his new book to Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (yes, the Judy Blume novel) in addition to Dante's Inferno. I hear that there may be a podcast of the interview available later.

My friend and I attempted to meet Palahniuk after the event, but he was rushed from the stage door directly into his Prius. The good news, however, is that Chuck Palahniuk did wave to us from the back of his Prius as he drove by. So not only does Chuck Palahniuk choose to be driven around in a Prius, he is also somewhat friendly when safely tucked away from adoring fans.

So, tomorrow is my day off! I shall likely sleep in for many hours (I'm running mainly on coffee at this point) and then possibly get a head start on my projects to come, in addition to formatting more specifically my paper on circumcision (due now a week from Tuesday). On Saturday I am excited to attend the trip to New York to see a Broadway play about Freud - only forty dollars and sponsored by UPC (Undergraduate Psychology Committee)

I hope that everyone is doing well, and that the storm this past weekend didn't hit anyone too hard. I will hopefully post some pictures of Clark post-storm if I can get a hold of some of the ones my friends have taken.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Circumcision, Elderly Singers, and Capstone Plans

Happy Thursday! It's very rainy today, and possibly snowy in the somewhat-near future (the forecast suggests).

I have one important update relating to my Jewish Studies capstone - earlier today, after my JS 117 class (Narratives of the Hebrew Bible) I met with Prof. Fox to discuss possible independent study/capstone projects. Because I am looking to go into either hospice or chaplaincy work following my time at Clark, I hope to ultimately pursue topics in this area regarding my capstone. Upon brief discussion with Prof. Fox, he deemed it probable for me to examine biblical passages & midrash relating to illness and dying. It seems we will meet throughout the semester, ending with a thirty to forty page paper concerning these topics.

I am fairly excited, both because I am very interested in these two topics (& it will give me a good head-start into the process of entering these fields) and because Prof. Fox is a professor with whom I've had many classes and enjoy the teaching style of. 

Today I will spend some time working on my circumcision presentation, due one week from today in SOC 203 (American Jewish Life). I am thinking of organizing my presentation (and subsequently the paper) according to this rough outline:
1. Overview of presentation (aka table of contents)
2. Definition of circumcision (what is it? why do we do it?)
            a. origins (inclusion of biblical texts and tradition) 
            b. when was it accepted into American culture and adopted as a tradition beyond Jewish custom?
3. How & why has this custom changed over time?
            a. female reactions (baby-naming ceremonies, puncturing of the hymen) 
            b. male reactions (hopefully including quotes from the film Private Dicks: Men Exposed)
4. How do these changes extend to remark on broader patterns of American Jewish life?
            a. maintenance of tradition / adoption into a broader culture
            b. personal dissonance with tradition & its implications beyond religion
            c. empowerment (feminism, masculinity, choice)

That's all I have for now! I'm sure that as I continue to do research, my outline will shift. 

One last thing to mention - in my COPACE (The Final Chapter) course yesterday we watched a lovely film called Young@Heart. I am personally infatuated with the elderly in general, making this one of the best things I've ever seen. It's a film that focuses on a chorus of elderly folk, following their daily lives as they work to prepare for a concert (if anyone wants to get me the greatest birthday present ever, please purchase me tickets to one of their shows). One of their music videos, showed briefly in the film, can speak to some of society's discomfort with the elderly (and the proximity of death). Is everyone familiar with the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated"? Young@Heart's version is pretty close competition. 

Watch the movie trailer here (and then see the movie if you are fond of 1. the elderly or 2. covers of classic rock songs):

I hope everyone has a lovely Thursday!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jewish Feminism

In American Jewish Life (SOC 203) we've been discussing in depth the different branches of Judaism. In our most recent class, we adopted a feminist perspective to examine the role of women in Jewish practices, laws, and customs.

A broad feminist critique would suggest that Judaism, in general, is sexist. The same broad statement could be attributed to most religious organizations - I don't intend in any way to pick on Judaism, but rather to point out how recent readings and discussions have made me more aware of sexism & biases ingrained within in the community in which I was raised.

To begin, here are the four branches of Judaism & the years when their rabbinical seminaries were first organized:
Reform - 1875 - Hebrew Union College (this faction is often viewed as the most liberal form)
Conservative - 1902 - Jewish Theological Seminary (this faction is often viewed as a compromise between reform & orthodox)
Orthodox - 1915 - Yeshiva University (this faction is often viewed as the most traditional/strict)
Reconstructionist - 1968 - Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (this faction is newer and overall views the social aspects of religion as central to Judaism)

And now, following the brief overview of the factions of Judaism, here are some specific situations within Jewish tradition that make me uncomfortable because they could be interpreted as sexist (included are the manners in which the situations have improved):
1. Halakha (Jewish law) dictates that a minyan (prayer quorum) must contain ten adults in order to count towards public prayer. However, women, traditionally, were not included in those that "count" towards the minyan. In recent years, women have become recognized as members of the quorum in reform, conservative, and reconstructionist factions.
2. Traditionally women and men are separated using a mechitzah (barrier) during the prayer services to prevent distraction. Previously, this has been carried out by women being placed above the men on a balcony (called "ezrat nashim" in Hebrew - a " gallery of women"). More modern examinations have suggested that there are manners in which we can have "more equal manners of separation" (as contradictory as that sounds), such as being separated by a side-by-side barrier.
3. During times of menstruation women are viewed as impure; in Orthodox tradition women are required to sleep in separate beds from their husbands during that time. Men are not supposed to touch women while they are menstruating. The mikveh, the ritual bath, is utilized as a way to become clean after menstruation (in addition to using it for other traditions - before marriage, after a major life event, etc). Some have recently come to embrace the mikveh under different circumstances; not necessarily under the traditional auspices. The professor of SOC 203 gave an example of a mikveh created under different circumstances: Mayyim Hayyim, in Newton, MA. In my own life, my mother worked to help create a community-based mikveh in Portland (where I'm from!). Website here: Mikvat Shalom.

In my own life, I am made uncomfortable due to some of these traditions. My orthodox (male) cousins and uncle do not often hug me, which although having a basis in traditional, still can feel hurtful. Dissonance occurs, because I want to respect their beliefs but I do not feel that the tradition is one that I personally would obey.

Additionally, it's discouraging to me that women are seen as "impure" during menstruation, a time when women's bodies are following through with an important biological process. It is particularly frustrating to me when women are shunned or made to feel embarrassed because of a natural, necessary process & an important bodily function.

Lastly, it frustrates me to think that certain folks may not believe that I "count", or that other women do not. Bigotry is irritating in any form, but to think that tradition dictates that God may not recognize women's prayers, is a terrible thing.

In the moment I am stricken with frustration and dissonance, but I am hopeful that through more examination of these topics, I can determine a manner in which I can create a positive impact in regards to feminism within the Jewish community. In SOC 203 this past Thursday, we read some women's midrash. Midrash are the stories that people write to complement biblical passages - oftentimes to explain certain tales, or to supplement ideas already presented. The bible frequently appears to have been written by a male voice - thus, it was nice to read some women's views to compensate for the lack in biblical texts. I am hoping to continue examining women's midrash on my own time, and potentially to do so as a part of my capstone study for Jewish Studies. In this way, I hope, to make a positive impact and to feel empowered through my own actions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

(Brief) Rainy Day Thoughts

Currently, I'm doing a bit of laundry and contemplating which homework I should work on. My options:
1. Research paper/presentation over circumcision & how its meaning has shifted over time in the United States (for SOC 203 - American Jewish Life)
2. Brainstorming research paper ideas for (my COPACE course) The Final Chapter: A Study in Death and Dying final paper/presentation
3. Writing my book report on Veronika Decides to Die (by Paulo Coehlo) for a 3-5 page paper/mini-presentation, also for The Final Chapter
4. Beginning more in-depth examination of prosopagnosia for my capstone research paper (PSYC 270)
5. Watching some youtube clips that my JS 117: Narratives of the Hebrew Bible professor just emailed around to the class

... yup, youtube wins.

Today was a rainy day, and one of my classes was canceled (surprise!) so all I was required to do this afternoon was to project Killer of Sheep for the SCRN 101 class.

Besides that, it's been one of those quiet, let's-drink-a-lot-of-coffee-and-get-really-distracted-watching-the-rain-and-not-really-do-much-else days.

I have only one class tomorrow because my later one was canceled. But, I will do some things! In addition to my SOC 203 class, I shall be attending the Active Minds weekly meeting at 6pm, followed by Clark Musical Theater's "Gender Bender" Cabaret at 7pm.

On Saturday, I'm very excited to take the New England Excursions $5 bus to Salem for the third (and last!) time.

Beginning this next week (Sunday) is CUFS' Horror Week, followed by the annual midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show on October 29th/30th. Also, my birthday! On Halloween.

I think I will head out now to do a bit of research/reading. I hope everyone has a pleasant evening, and a nice rainy Thursday tomorrow. I'll write again soon with updates on homework/fun club things.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Consciousness, Philosophical Zombies, and Connections Between Courses

Hello again!

The semester is suddenly picking up speed - midterms are over, I'm back and settled at Clark from Columbus Day break, and projects are approaching speedily. Coming up first, I have my SOC 203 paper/presentation on circumcision occurring on November 3rd. Following that, I present my PSYC 270 paper/powerpoint over prosopagnosia on November 28th. As I work more specifically with information relating to my SOC circumcision project in the next couple of days, I'll post more about it.

Today in PSYC 270, my capstone, we began student presentations. Sarah, one of my classmates, presented on the topic of the evolution of consciousness. Bits of the presentation were difficult to follow at times, if only because it's hard to define exactly what consciousness even means; Sarah suggested that there are two types of consciousness
1. phenomenal awareness (as displayed by all living things) and
2. conscious thought (as displayed by only humans)

With the first point being thought of as awareness, and the second point being a meta-reaction; awareness of having such awareness.

We talked about a couple "chicken or egg" scenarios: does culture create a need for consciousness, or does group consciousness create culture? Do feelings lead to behavior, or does behavior elicit feelings?

Obviously, there's no clear-cut response to such questions about consciousness because it's difficult to even determine if others around us maintain consciousness; thus brings into question the philosophical zombie: a being that appears as a normal human but is lacking in conscious thought.

Which then leads to "Cogito ergo sum", or "I think therefore I am"; we can only be certain of our own consciousness because we can never know the thought processes involved in others' actions (or are they all just zombies, reacting to stimuli with no conscious thought involved?)

Anyway, before getting into all this philosophical stuff, I was thinking that in very simplistic terms this topic, of consciousness, relates directly to some thoughts I was having as a result of my COPACE course On Death & Dying, mainly, how do we determine quality of life, especially in regards to consciousness?

If an individual is in a state of being unable to connect with people around, is he/she experiencing a quality of life that is valuable to the individual to sustain?

I suppose, more than anything, it is impossible to determine for each individual when exactly life is worth living, and at which point it becomes less than desirable. Luckily, things like the living will help to record for the individual's family and friends which type of care should be presented under certain situations. But, going back to a point I've mentioned many times previously: people fear death. It is fearful to discuss situations where death is inevitable, where a person may be unresponsive or lacking consciousness.

It's a tough thing to come to a conclusion on. Luckily, I have many more presentations on different types of consciousness to view in the coming weeks; maybe after viewing the remainder of my classmates' presentations I'll have more ideas about what consciousness means to me, and what it can mean in a medical sense or in terms of quality of life.

So, an update over things that aren't class-related (and a plug for student council): I had a chance to go to Boston this past weekend, on the bi-weekly free bus that student-council provides! It was quite lovely, I do recommend that students take advantage of the bus (it's free! And convenient). Here's a picture of Boston at night, taken from a bridge, to close out the entry.

I hope everyone's week starts out well! I'll update soon with more course-things and likely some club-things as well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

NJPS, Jewish Holidays, and Ritual Retention

My second midterm is finished! One meeting tonight (for Active Minds, a new club at Clark that aims to remove stigma related to mental health) and then I'm done with school things/midterms until Wednesday. Woo-hoo, my first time returning home to Portland since the school year began!

Today during my sociology course (SOC 203: American Jewish Life) we began talking about different branches of Judaism. The U.S. Census is not allowed to collect data on religion because it presents a fear that the information may be used against people in a discriminatory manner. So the data available to be examined is somewhat controversial; the NJPS (National Jewish Population Survey) collected data in 1990 and 2001 using random digit dialing. But the controversies stem from how complicated the questions must be: who is Jewish? How do we define a "Jew"? How would this data be skewed by increase of cell phone use? Would random digit dialing even be an accurate portrayal of the national Jewish community at this point in time?

So, yes, the information available is not necessarily an accurate portrayal. Which is unfortunate, because religion, particularly how it changes over time, is an interesting thing. But in general, some basic concepts were gathered from the survey results; that is, which holidays are celebrated the most?

A student in class suggested that Yom Kippur, Passover, and Chanukah were the major Jewish holidays, celebrated the most.

But as it turns out, these are not defined as the most major of holidays in Jewish tradition, despite them being presented as such in American society.

So then we began to wonder: what makes certain holidays become "major" in American society, despite other holidays being more relevant and important in Jewish tradition? For example, Shabbat, one of the most significant observances, is often not recognized as such.

Thus began the discussion of an article by Marshall Sklare. The five criteria for ritual retention, as suggested by Sklare, are:
1. The ritual is capable of re-definition in modern times (e.g. Passover, the miracle of the parting of the sea, and the overall concept of freedom portrayed)
2. The ritual does not demand social isolation or a unique lifestyle
3. The ritual uses Judaism to fit into a greater religious community - it provides a "Jewish alternative" (e.g. Chanukah & Christmas occur around the same time, and Chanukah rituals have adapted some things originally seen as a part of Christmas (such as gift-giving))
4. The ritual is centered around a child (e.g. Chanukah, or Passover, where the child is a central part of the seder)
5. The ritual is not too informal; Shabbat, as an example, occurs weekly. Generally, this would cause it to be seen as too "informal" to be viewed as a "major holiday" in the eyes of American society

And there you have it! A summary of the speculations for why some holidays are viewed as major, whereas others are not.

I'm hoping to continue along these same lines when I start working more on my final project for the course - I'm going to trace circumcision and baby-naming rituals over time throughout American society; hopefully I'll be able to delve more into the topic of why this ritual has shifted from a symbol of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, and is now more of a medical custom occurring in hospitals as opposed to on the eighth day after birth.

That's all for now - I hope everyone has a lovely weekend! I think it's supposed to be a bit warmer, which is great, because right now I'm so cold that I've reluctantly started utilizing my zebra-print snuggie (I won it in a raffle during my sophomore year here! It was practically forced upon me. It's nice and cozy though).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

30 Rock References, DCFC, and Difficulties Discussing Death

Tonight was the "COPACE Social" - the beginning of class was slightly delayed due to a bit of pizza eating/mingling in the lobby of Jonas Clark. Recently acquired food allergies kept me from eating the food, but I heard from classmates that it was enjoyable.

This evening during my (COPACE) course On Death and Dying, while folks munched pizza around me, we reviewed for our midterm exam (scheduled for a week from today). As we reviewed the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of dying/grieving, I couldn't help but remember a '30 Rock' episode that referenced the model (and poked a bit of fun at one of the main characters of the show: clip here).

Following my giggles over Jack Donaghy, I began pondering more the manner in which media skews death and issues relating. In discussion of doctor-patient communication and a 1995 project titled SUPPORT (Study to Understand Prognoses and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatment), we found troubling results in regards to various aspects of pain control, discussion between care providers and patients, how frequently patients' preferences for CPR were taken into account, and overall, the caliber of doctor-patient communication. I can't help but feel that this is because people shy away from death, and of speaking of anything related. Media seems to frequently portray death as two odd extremes: violently (think Saw, Kill Bill, or Silence of the Lambs, or any slasher/horror film), or as poetic, meaningful, and symbolic (like in one of my favorite films, Big Fish). Few people want to talk about the gritty specifics of death - what does quality of life mean to the individual? Should a feeding tube be put in place? When should a DNR (do-not-resuscitate) order occur?

And, of course, society shies away from discussing death with loved ones because that means coming to terms with the fact that everyone will, eventually, die.

There's a quote that's often read before the mourner's kaddish prayer during Shabbat services. It reads "it is difficult to love what death can also touch" (for the time being I forget with whom to credit this quotation).

I know that it's difficult to discuss death, particularly the death of one who is dearly loved. But it frustrates me to realize that society's fear of death (as a whole) could be damaging those last few moments of life that a person has. Only because it is fearful to discuss such terrifying and inevitable things are we unable to make those last moments more comfortable and desirable for the person dying.

Possibly, I will delve further into this topic during my final paper/presentation for the course.

Also tonight the professor briefly touched on a music project that we'll be engaging in a bit later in the semester; we will be venturing into the world of music in search of songs that deal with the topic of death. Initially, Death Cab For Cutie's "What Sarah Said" came to mind, as it was song that resonated with me during the time that my grandfather was dying. I couldn't think of any other songs, though, so I'll have to remember to pay more attention to death mentioned in music for the next couple of weeks (or, if anyone has any suggestions/recommendations, please pass them on).

I have successfully completed one midterm (for SOC 203: American Jewish Life) but I have another tomorrow (in JS 117: Narratives of the Hebrew Bible), so I need to study a bit more and then get some rest. Goodnight everyone! Sweet dreams (Are Made of This).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mid-Terms (& Columbus Day Weekend) Approaching

Earlier today a friend of mine from a fellow Worcester school, WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), visited me here at Clark. "It's nearly midterms!" I exclaimed to him as we wandered the streets near the Clark campus. "Midterms?" He responded with one eyebrow raised, "they should be called mid-semesters".

Despite what you choose to call them, they are indeed approaching hastily. This upcoming weekend (a week from Monday/Tuesday) is Columbus Day break, and two of my four professors have made sure to squeeze in exams before the break begins. Tonight I will continue studying for my Tuesday exam in American Jewish Life (SOC 203). And on Thursday, I will have my exam in Narratives of the Hebrew Bible (JS 117). Luckily, my Tuesday exam is open-book/open-notes (we will be able to use the notes we've taken in class and texts assigned in order to provide evidence for in-class essays). And over the weekend, Professor Fox (of the Jewish Studies course) sent around a study-guide for the Thursday exam. So thankfully, I'm not feeling too nervous about either exam.

Additionally, this upcoming Wednesday, during my COPACE course, I'll have a chance to attend a Social; "COPACE Socials 5-6 p.m. Jonas Clark Hall. Enjoy food and informal conversations with COPACE students, faculty and staff" (as seen on the COPACE website here). Professor Nowicki mentioned it during our previous class; I had never heard of it, and I must say, I am excited to meet other COPACE students, faculty, and staff.

I'm going to stop writing for now so I can study some more for my Tuesday exam. Happy October to everyone! I'm beginning to get excited for all of the fun October events that Clark has planned, specifically:
1. CUFS Horror Week (October 23rd - October 29th)& Midnight Screening of RHPS (October 29th/30th)
2. OPEN's Annual Coming Out Stories (October 12th)
3. CUSC's free bus to Boston every other Saturday
4. The annual trip to Salem on October 22nd (only $5!)

Alright, studying time. I'll update with more class news soon! Here's a picture of students walking outside of the Academic Commons at Goddard Library to tide you over until my next entry.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Brief Update on Class Projects (Senior Year is Busy!)

I want to start this entry with a quick apology for my brief hiatus from my internet communications; I've been doing well but at times it's been hard to manage work + classes + clubs + social relationships.

Anyway! Despite being busy, senior year at Clark has thus far been very enjoyable. I'm very excited about the projects I've been assigned for this semester. Recently I had a meeting with the professor of my sociology course (SOC 203: American Jewish Life) in which we discussed the topic of my project for the course. I'm planning on doing my project on a topic I only recently became interested in through a course taken last semester - PSYC 143: Human Sexuality. During the semester we viewed a film that discussed somewhat the topic of male circumcision in America. And this was first time in my life that I had considered what male circumcision means.

And then, this past summer, I attended a circumcision within the Reform Jewish community, and experienced my first bit of cognitive dissonance with the custom; I simultaneously maintained that this was a custom I grew up understanding as a symbol of the covenant between God and the Jewish people, while also realizing that it is a medical procedure prominent in the United States that may or may not have solid reasoning medically. Additionally, through reading feminist writings on the topic, I've begun to see how the custom could be interpreted as something that excludes women - it continues the patriarchy of the society by continuing a custom that excludes women anatomically.

So, these are my opinions, and only at the beginning of their development; my professor was extremely helpful, offering me sources to begin research with. I'm excited to look more into the topic, to trace how male circumcision has shifted over time throughout generations of Jews (and non-Jews) in America. I'm glad to be able to research a topic that I am personally affected by - it will make the ten-minute presentation/fifteen-page paper much easier to get through.

One other class update! Earlier this evening, during my COPACE course (On Death & Dying) I got the okay to write a book report on a book I read this past summer: Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coehlo. We, in the class, have an option to either 1. go to a cemetery, 2. write our own obituaries, or 3. write a book/movie review. Though all options sound interesting, I'm excited to write the book review. It's a very interesting read that deals with some of the questions that have come up in class so far; mainly, how does one define quality of life? How does death affect the manner in which we live? What does death mean? What does life mean, in relation to death? It should be interesting to go back and examine the book with a slightly new (and more informed) view on the topic.

Soon I shall be heading to bed! I hope everyone's week has gone well so far. Happy New Year/Shana Tova for those who are observing Rosh Hashanah. Goodbye for now!

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Death and Dying (A Reflection of the Course Thus Far)

I've been thinking about death a lot lately.

No, but really.


But what I am actually referring to, rather than a mild obsession with zombies, is my COPACE course The Final Chapter: A Study of Death & Dying. We've been approaching death in a way I've never experienced before, and I've been thinking of it in a way I've never pondered previously. Chapter two of our textbook Death, Society, and Human Experience presented the question "what is death?"

At first, it feels simplistic. But then, I began to realize, I'm not sure.

The textbook presented some manners in which death has been viewed in the past (these are the few I found most interesting):
1. Kenneth V. Iserson suggested that death may be a complex process that takes place over time
2. In the 3rd Century B.C. Epicurus thought of death as one event in a sequence of events (i.e. as somewhat meaningless)
3. The Harvard Criteria for determination of brain death (1968) presented five biophysical determinants: un-receptive & unresponsive, no movement & no breathing, no reflexes, a flat EEG, & no circulation to or within the brain.

Later, the text discussed the manner in which people view death - mainly, how it is personified; as a gentle comforter, as a macabre and evil (scythe-clad) being, as an elegant and worldly guide, or as an undistinguished automaton. In their 1997 study, Kastenbaum & Herman discussed how the personification of death differs according to the type of personality each individual attributes to death. 

Although I have experienced death in certain ways, I had never before given thought to what exactly death is - or, more so, what it means to me. Which is certainly a concept I'd need to ponder before becoming involved with chaplaincy/pastoral care or hospice work; fields where death & an understanding of the variety of processing types attributed to death would be absolutely necessary.

So, I began to ponder, what is death?

For me, at this point in time, I see death as only a lack of life. Never before have I pictured death as anything located outside of the body, as a personified figure, but rather, as an internal reaction; one last sigh of life released, and then death: the absence of life.

Additionally, never before had I considered what it means physically to be dead - braindead? Unresponsive? A flat EEG? Upon first glancing at the material, it was strange to realize that I'd never pondered what death "means". But then again, what does life mean?

In pursuing a career that deals with all the meanings of death - the absence of life, the continuation of existence, fate, a complex process that occurs over time, one meaningless event in a series of other meaningless events; my hopes are to bring meaning to life.

Life, in a long process leading to death (with visiting the infirm in hospitals). Or life, moments before death, in a hospice center or home.

I appreciate this course, on Death & Dying, because despite the heaviness of its topic material, it's lending me positive thoughts in a manner applicable to my life goals. I am excited to continue learning, and to hopefully form more fully my own conceptions.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Psychology Major Overview & Capstone Update

I'm writing the first draft of this entry while I listen to the soothing sounds of Charlton Heston in Orson Welles' (1958 version of) Touch of Evil. Nothing nicer than a "stark, perverse story of murder, kidnapping, and police corruption in a Mexican border town" on a Monday evening; shared, of course, with the students of SCRN 231.

I want to focus this entry on my psychology capstone - PSYC 270: Advanced Topics in Social Psychology, taught by Prof. James Laird. Because I'm not certain I've previously done so, I shall first explain what I'm referring to when I reference my capstone. So, to begin, here's a basic overview of the requirements necessary to fulfill in order to become a psychology major at Clark University, summarized from information provided on the Clark website here and here).

which is a broad overview of the field of psychology taught at Clark. Sometimes students with AP credit from high school can skip this and move right onto the other intro courses, three of which are

The psychology department recommends fulfilling these three courses within the first two years at Clark. Students often complete these courses while simultaneously taking courses from the Basic Processes (BP), Developmental (DEV), and Social/Personality (S/P) content areas. The requirements dictate that a student must take one course from each of the three content areas. For example, I completed

PSYC 143 - Human Sexuality (for my BP credit)
(both of which count towards S/P but interest in the topics led me to take both)

After the seven intro courses have been completed (psych 101, statistics, qualitative methods, quantitative methods, one BP, one DEV, & one S/P) the student then moves onto the two mid-level courses, (1) a seminar, and (2) either a lab or a research course. A handful of courses for the mid-level requirements are offered each semester. It is recommended that these two courses are completed during the third year at Clark, but I am somewhat of an anomaly and have yet to complete either, which I will be doing next semester. This is an excellent example of the flexibility of the order of course requirements, though I'm sure it's a bit neater to complete them in the suggested order. Because course offerings differ from semester to semester for these two requirements, I'll instead give you summaries (taken from here) of what these types of courses entail. 

- First Seminar (PSYC 237 - 259): focuses on the attentive analysis of psychological texts, the articulation of opinions concerning psychological issues, and the use of library and reference skills in psychological writing.
- Laboratory Requirement (PSYC 200 - 214): focuses on doing psychological research including planning, data collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation. The laboratory requirement may be fulfilled by taking a research course.
- Research Courses (PSYC 215 - 235): are opportunities to participate in faculty and/or graduate student research projects, in all stages of the research process from conceptualization to presentation. The work normally terminates in an Academic Spree Day presentation and/or co-authorship of a scholarly paper or conference presentation.

As I said, I have not yet completed my First Seminar nor my Lab/Research requirements. However, I am in the process of completing the final step in the psych major process: the capstone course. It is recommended that the capstone is completed during the fourth year at Clark (and after the completion of the mid-level courses, though so far I'm fine having not done either). There are three options for capstone courses (1) Capstone Seminars, (2) Capstone Research, and (3) Internship and Directed Studies. Again, because the courses vary per semester, I'll offer brief summaries of each type. My capstone, PSYC 270, is a capstone seminar.

- Capstone Seminars  (PSYC 260-297) are open to undergraduates, and in many cases, to graduate students, and are taught at or near the graduate level.
- Capstone Research (PSYC 292) courses are by faculty permission only. Capstone research students should expect to write a substantial research report describing the theory, methods, statistical method, results and conclusions of the project they conducted.
- Internship (PSYC 298) and Directed Studies (PSYC 299) may count as University credits, but not as major credits.

So there you have it! An overview of the psychology requirements at Clark. And now, to move on to specifics about my capstone seminar. 

The course, though titled Advanced Topics in Social Psychology, has a more specific focus this semester. Prof. Laird chose an overall topic of "consciousness", and each student will be presenting information on a specific sub-topic on an assigned date. The presentation will involve a fifteen-page paper and a powerpoint presentation. 

I am excited about the topic I've chosen to research - it's called prosopagnosia, or "face blindness". In essence, the disorder is defined by a person's inability to recognize faces, even one's own, or those of close friends and family members. The author/professor/physician Oliver Sacks references it in the title of one of his books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat. In addition to writing about the topic, Oliver Sacks identifies as having prosopagnosia.

I don't know too much about the topic yet - I am presenting on Nov. 28th, and will begin my research during this next or two. Because I am presenting later in the semester, the professor anticipates that I will have a nicely prepared and well-edited presentation & paper (seriously, those presenting sooner are expected to be less prepared, but will have more time to edit; those presenting later have more prep time but less time to edit after receiving feedback from classmates and the professor). Upon doing more research, I will update with specific information about the topic, in addition to my plans for the paper and the presentation.

The film (Touch of Evil) is about over, so I will wrap up this entry now. I hope everyone's well and enjoying the recent drop in temperature - feels like Autumn is nearing (ooh, nearly time to take Clark-in-the-Fall pictures). Until next time!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

stART on the Street Photos

I'll write soon with course updates, but I wanted to post some pictures that I took earlier today at stART on the Street. I hope everyone's week starts out well! I will write to you all soon.

Musicians performing on the street


Slam poetry

One of the many booths

Jane browsing clothes

Giant bubbles

The view from the hill across from Elm Park

The booth for That's Entertainment

Folks performing for a crowd

Arts & Crafts

Ran into some fellow Clarkies! (Dylan's blog here, because I haven't linked to it enough times already)

Friday, September 16, 2011

End of the Week Walk & Thoughts

I've just returned from a nice stroll through Worcester with my friend Jane! After brunch we decided to take a walk, and so we ended up walking up past the Clark Bookstore (we stopped in to look at sweatshirts) and then looped around by Living Earth.

Upon our return, we did a bit of posing in front of our house (23 Maywood - the Wellness House; located directly across the street from Maywood Street Hall).



Today I will be working on some homework, studying, and reading. I have my first exam coming up on September 27th. It will be over all of the readings covered thus far in my sociology (American Jewish Life) course. The readings have covered a variety of topics related to Jewish American culture, often colored by a historical lens. Often, it feels, the course readings are implying the question: what happened in the past to cause this event to be significant today? Again, our major project will focus on the tracing of one strand of Jewish American culture, so it fits well to examine how a certain topic has shifted or grown over time.

I'm feeling very excited for my COPACE course on Death & Dying. In the most recent reading that I completed for class (on Wednesday), the text delved into some interesting topics, in particular those suggesting why people may fear the death of others'. Because, the text suggested, it makes us aware of our own mortality. This was something I had considered but never felt in such blunt terms, so it was a nice/oddly terrifying sort of realization to encounter. I am pumped about this course because I feel that it will be a wonderful preparation for the world of hospice work.

Additionally, I'm feeling very excited for my social psychology capstone. I feel that it was a particularly good choice because I am hoping to enter a field in which I will be interacting with people (socially) in events where a background in psychology may be especially significant. The topic of consciousness is such an intriguing topic to study; it will be interesting to see which sub-topics my classmates focus their projects on.

Hebrew Bible has been wonderful so far as well - Prof. Fox still remains a favorite professor of mine. I have completed the majority of my Jewish Studies concentration requirements with him.

Enough about classes for now! I'm off to do a bit of homework. Tomorrow I'm hoping to do more homework/studying & to see a few friends, and then on Sunday I'll be attending stART on the Street (which is really great! Everyone in Worcester should definitely try to go).

I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Monday, Monday

I've finally had a real Monday! Our past two were canceled; first due to Hurricane Irene, and then due to Labor Day. I'm satisfied to have finally attended all of my classes and to have become acquainted with professors and with what course work will entail for the semester.

College time is equally great and also disorienting - each day can feel like multiple days, and yet overall the weeks speed by. Part of me can't comprehend that I've been at Clark for three school years already! Totally crazy. And yet, it's only Tuesday. My Mondays through Wednesdays are fairly busy, with courses and projecting for the Screen Studies department in the evenings. But then after my two classes on Thursdays, I'm freeeee! Except for my SPOC book club meetings, that is. And usually, the CUFS weekly screening (this week it's The Dead Poets Society!)

Anyway, I attended my Psych Capstone course on Monday evening, which looks to be both interesting and challenging. Our course will focus on the topic of consciousness, and each student will choose a topic within that topic (I'm hoping to explore prosopagnosia - a disorder when people become unable to recognize faces while maintaining the ability to recognize other objects) which we will become experts on, and present our information in paper/powerpoint form to the class on assigned dates.

Presenting information seems to be a theme of my courses this semester; for American Jewish Life each student will pick one minute strain of Jewish life in the U.S. (be it bagels, a type of jewelry, or summer camps) and trace it throughout time. Because we're able to pick topics that interest us as individuals, I anticipate the project as being very interesting & enjoyable. And also, in the COPACE course (a Study of Death & Dying), each student will complete a paper/presentation on one topic related to death (approved by the professor) and present it later in the semester.

In general, being a fairly shy lady, I tend to find presentations unbearable. But because the topics are being catered to the individual, I anticipate that these projects will be enjoyable and not too nerve-racking.

The weather is lovely in Worcester today, I hope it will last through Sunday when stART on the Street is occurring - I attended last year and it was wonderful, with lots of college students, Worcester residents, and local artists, artwork, entertainment, and activities. If anyone is in the Worcester area on Sunday, I highly recommend attending it.

This past weekend I had a bit of free time & was able to walk around with my friend Dylan Scott (his blog can be found here) to take pictures of the Clark campus. I hope you enjoy them!

My friend Jane posing in front of Jonas Clark Hall

Dylan posing on a bench in Red Square

Students walking outside Goddard Library

Wright Hall, on Downing Street

Students juggling on the green (outside of Jefferson Academic Center)

Until next time!