Category Archives: Features

The Value of Scouting

thumbnail_OA2011_1“On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country; to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; and to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”

It may be a few years since I’ve been a Boy Scout, but I still remember the Scout Oath by heart. Since “crossing over” from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts when I was 11, I lived that motto for seven years until I turned 18: the cut-off age for being a Boy Scout. Those seven years were a whirlwind of emotions, memories, people, and experiences I’ll remember for years to come.

Since I’ve already recited the Scout Oath by memory, it’s only proper I follow up with the Scout Law. For any of you who were ever in the Boy Scouts, you may repeat after me: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

Trustworthy: A Scout is expected to be honest and trustworthy.

Back when I was 16 or so, I was on a weekend camp-out somewhere and one of the other Scouts a few years younger than I was being just a complete thorn in my side. He would not listen to anyone and was hell-bent on trying to enrage me. He succeeded when he managed to lock me in a campsite outhouse for a half-hour. Once the door flew open, all I could see was red. I found him, grabbed him, lifted him up and threw him on the ground headfirst. Once he started wailing in pain while convulsing on the ground, I knew that I was more or less screwed. So, with Scout sense kicking in, I immediately fessed up what happened to the closest Scoutmaster…and didn’t get in trouble. In fact, the only thing that really happened that I recall was a brief troop meeting that reinforced that bullying is bad. Whether or not I got off lucky doesn’t matter; that was still a Scout being honest and telling the truth.

Loyal: A Scout is expected to be loyal to his friends, family, teachers and troop.

All I can really say about this is that it was an instinctual kind of point. I never felt like I had to switch Scout troops or schools, or felt like running away from home for any reason. Even now, the point resonates in my conscience by reminding me that my family and friends are of utmost importance over most anything else.

Helpful: A Scout is willing to volunteer to help others.

I’m sure a lot of people know of the old adage of the Boy Scout helping the elderly lady across the street. While I never did anything like that, I did participate in an array of service projects. One of the requirements for becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank achievable in Scouting, was to plan your own service project for the community and participate in it. While I must admit I never became an Eagle Scout and never planned my own project, I did take part in quite a few over the years. I can recall helping to repaint a fence enclosing a cemetery during my first year, and then helping to replant trees in a wildlife preserve a few years later during a separate project. That helped instill a desire to volunteer and the urge to help people out for the betterment of the community.

Friendly: A Scout is friendly to everyone, regardless of any factors.

While I don’t think I ever considered any other Scout during my time a bona fide friend, every single one was someone who was friendly to me and someone I could talk with. Camp-outs were often spent talking, laughing and generally having a good time with each and every one of them, regardless of age or experience. I felt like I belonged more to a large group of pals than a Scout troop at times. It was a great feeling.

Courteous: In addition to being friendly to everyone, a Scout is also polite to everyone.

Most of the time, everyone in the troop treated one another with respect and politeness, again regardless of age or experience. While I think respecting the Scoutmasters was definitely based off the primal feeling of “respect your elders,” the fact that dozens of teenage boys were more often than not respectful of one another was a miracle, and a showcase of following the Scout Law.

Kind: A Scout is gentle and treats other living things as he would also want to be treated.

When you’re out camping, you’re bound to see and experience a lot of local wildlife. Some of it, like birds and deer, are creatures that you observe from a distance and stay quiet around. Others are up close and personal: mainly the insects. However, aside from mosquitos that were swatted instinctively or the moths that would fly too close to our propane lamps and get zapped, insects were treated with the same gentleness and respect as larger, less “creepy” animals. That’s something I don’t think I’ve seen since on a large scale.

Obedient: A Scout follows the rules of his elders and obeys the law.

The leadership tree for a Scout troop usually goes like this: Scouts report to a patrol leader, a patrol leader reports to a senior patrol leader, and the senior patrol leader reports to the adult scoutmaster. There are also assistant leaders for each of those positions. Regardless of where you were on the totem pole, you followed the rules set forth by your superior. As pseudo-totalitarian as that sounds, most of them were pretty lax and I don’t recall there being any problems with any rules or leaders.

Cheerful: A Scout is optimistic and tries his best to make others happy.

I’ve always been an optimistic person generally, and Boy Scouts just reinforced that. With everyone around me being friendly, courteous, trustworthy and all the other qualities listed in the Scout Law, it was impossible not to be cheerful and enjoy camp-outs and Boy Scout meetings every time I attended one.

Thrifty: A Scout saves for the future, whether it is money or resources.

This, alongside Cheerful, is another instance of a value I may have already had but was reinforced by the Boy Scouts. I had my first summer job when I was 15 and could have easily blown through all that money on things I didn’t need or barely wanted just because I could. However, besides some big purchases like my current desktop computer at the end of my first summer working and my current laptop at the end of the second, I didn’t spend much money at all on anything. There was occasional video game or meal out with friends, certainly, but for the most part, I saved and spent wisely. The Scout Law certainly reinforced that.

Brave: A Scout can face danger and stand up for what he believes in.

While in Boy Scouts, I had to learn to do things I never thought I would have to before. You name it, I probably had to do it at some point, merit badge or otherwise: sleep outside in a tent, sleep outside without a tent, build and light a campfire, dive into water, kayak, dress a wound, make a splint, give a speech, go on a multi-mile hike, have a position of leadership, organize a meeting…the list goes on. Despite any fears or preconceived notions I had, I learned to do all of that and so much more.

Clean: A Scout is clean in both mind and body.

Keeping a clean mind as a teenage boy is one of the most difficult things anyone can do, but keeping a clean body was much easier since we all did that daily; as long as we weren’t “roughing it,” as they say. That idea of cleanliness extended beyond ourselves as well, to wherever we went. We always made sure that our campsite at the end of a camp-out was just as clean as when we had arrived, practicing the motto of “leave no trace.”

Reverent: A Scout is faithful to his religion and religious duties.

Confession time: I’m irreligious nowadays, bordering on agnostic. However, back when I was a Boy Scout, I was a Roman Catholic in a Catholic troop. As such, we always had a prayer before a meeting alongside the Scout Oath and Scout Law, as well as going to Sunday morning Mass if the option was available during a camp-out. We were, in essence, a troop devoted to God and our country, as the Oath outright states.

Those are the twelve points of the Scout Law – twelve points I always had in the back of my mind during my time in Scouting and subconsciously lived during my everyday life. I still live the majority of them now, even several years after having to leave my troop, because those twelve points are, in my opinion, among the twelve best characteristics a human being can have. Scouting may have taught me more than I can put into words, but those twelve points are an accurate representation of the values Scouting can teach absolutely anyone eligible.

Humans of Etown: Dr. Rita Shah

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There’s nothing better than a professor with an open door, one with a willingness to say ‘hey’ and answers any questions that might be crossing your mind.

That’s exactly how Dr. Rita Shah is, the woman whose office sits on the second floor of Nicarry Hall, just out of reach of the hustle and bustle of everyday classes. She teaches all of her students to be respectful of a professor’s open-door policies, but is always there to talk if need be – sitting at her desk, constantly working away like the diligent professor and sociologist that she is.

Her office is filled with boxes, stacked in the corners and piled on top of one another like kids in a dog pile. Crates are filled with files, papers, books, and more, the walls emptied of memories. The space used to be covered with knick-knacks – notes from students, stickers promoting activism and feminism, random coffee mugs and Post-It notes and all the other indications of a well-loved professor.

Officially (that is, according to the college’s website), Dr. Shah is a criminologist who researches the relationship between parole and post-release supervisors for prisoners, as well as the re-entry process for former prisoners, but to the campus community, she is a beloved coworker, professor, and friend. Dr. Shah has always been a woman anyone can go to for advice, no matter the topic. She’s always got an intelligent thought, and they are always greatly appreciated.

She received her PhD from the University of California-Irvine, and has been at Elizabethtown for the last six years, teaching criminology courses and the occasional first-year seminar. Students have described her as an excellent teacher – if an intense one – and frequently comment on how much they learned from her.

On Becoming a Professor

Dr. Shah is known for her rigorous sociology courses that mentally prepare students for the workload of college – and eventually, the workforce, academic or otherwise – but there was a point in her own academic career where she considered a career path that didn’t involve working with students.

“I actually debated between law school and the PhD,” she says of her decision. “And between the two, I really enjoyed both teaching and research…[I] knew that if I went into law school, I would either be a defense attorney or a constitutional lawyer. And I wasn’t convinced that I would be 100% happy doing that, but I knew I would be as a professor.”

On Feminism

Last semester, Dr. Shah taught a first-year seminar course titled “Joss Whedon: Friend or Foe?”, which focused on examining writer-director Joss Whedon’s filmography under the lens of many different types of feminism. The course involved a cumulative final paper in which students examined particular pieces of Whedon’s work, and many credit the course with giving them a much deeper understanding of a subject they’d heard so much about.

Shah noted that the course material was incredibly interesting to her, but also that feminism is something that students and staff (as well as the general public) should understand on a deeper level.

“I think it gets a bad rap,” she said. “It’s something that I don’t think people really understand until they’ve taken the time to really look at [it]…[Like], what exactly does feminism argue, what are the different branches of feminism? Most people, when they critique feminism, I think they focus more on radical feminisms, and the idea that, y’know, ‘we don’t need men’. But that’s one of many, many, many different versions of feminism, and many individuals don’t abide by that.”

She also mentioned that feminism isn’t just about empowering women, it’s about breaking down the barriers between men and women so that no one is viewed as ‘less than’ another person.

“The only differences that exist [between men and women],” she says, “Are the ones we put upon ourselves. But those differences have been around for so long that it’s really hard to acknowledge that they don’t actually exist biologically.”

She speaks powerfully and with authority, like a woman who knows her stuff and isn’t afraid to show it as she speaks.

“And so I think feminism – especially today – is important because until we start breaking down the assumed differences, we’re never going to get to a point where we can truly have men and women – and anyone else who identifies as any other gender identity outside of the binary – as truly being equal, as truly being respected, as truly viewed as an individual with worth.”

On Leaving Etown

Dr. Shah’s packed-up office is not just the sign of a semester coming to an end – it is the sign of her career at Elizabethtown coming to a close, her chapter in the college’s history books written and ready to be published. She is moving on to Eastern Michigan University, a far cry from the colonial-style buildings and chocolate-scented air of Etown.

“I’m going to be in a place that’s going to be much larger,” she says of Eastern Michigan, “And so, I have no doubt that I will find students and faculty and staff that I will connect with and be close with, but it’s not the same as having a handful of people in every class, even only thirty students in every class, where I can get to know you on a first-name basis.”

But when asked what she’ll miss most about this tiny little college in Amish country, she credits the school’s greatness to its people, without hesitation.

“Etown has some truly amazing faculty and staff that work here who are just some of the most kind-hearted, hardworking, brilliant people you’ll ever meet, and they bring the warmth to Etown, and I will definitely miss that.”

A stack of three large plastic bins sits behind her desk chair as she talks about these people – she says they were filled entirely with her graduate school dissertation data. She said that purging was difficult, but a welcome and cathartic release. It’s sad to see her go, but the feeling of eradication is shared as the semester comes to a close.

We’ll miss you too, Dr. Shah.


Listen to the full interview with Dr. Shah here.

Haiku and You: An Interview with Michelle Tennison

This article was originally supposed to be an opinion piece about the enforcement of the 5-7-5 syllable rule for haiku, but rather than creating drama, I decided to just publish this lovely interview with South Jersey poet, Michelle Tennison. Michelle is a friend of my father, who is also a published haiku poet.

 

The following interview occurred over email on April 14, 2017:

 

Dear Kenyon:

Below I have shared some answers to your questions. For the inquiry regarding how my poetry has changed over time I referenced my response to a similar question on The Haiku Foundation website.

 

Thank you for getting me thinking about haiku today. I enjoyed the exchange, and hope it was helpful to you and your project.

 

Warmly,

Michelle

 

 

How long have you been writing haiku?

I began the study and practice of haiku in the year 2000.

 

How has your poetry changed with time?

The writing itself has changed, as modern and contemporary Japanese haiku in translation and experimental haiku in English have broadened my scope of what haiku can be. In terms of technique, I am, as are many, experimenting with variations of the traditional form and language of haiku, including one-line and/or one image haiku. I am also increasingly comfortable with ambiguity, (even to the point of surrealism), and I have a greater appreciation of the role of symbolism in haiku. Perhaps most significantly, I have shifted away from the early haiku ideal of objective realism and many of my haiku are no longer written out-in-the field, so to speak. I have directed renewed attention toward inner landscapes of experience.  Many of my more recent haiku have developed directly or indirectly through heart-centered / consciousness-shifting avenues such as meditation and breath work and other practices that encourage non-ordinary, non-egoic (transpersonal) perception. Due in part to the work of Richard Gilbert, I now recognize haiku as poems of consciousness.

 

(With reference to Richard Gilbert’s recent books of haiku criticism and commentary, Poems of Consciousness, 2009, and The Disjunctive Dragonfly, 2013, both with Red Moon Press).

 

What’s your opinion about the “5-7-5” rule?

Interestingly, haiku in Japan are written in one vertical line.

 

Haiku in English have essentially done away with syllable counting. Brevity is the point here. 5/7/5 is an inaccurate representation of the Japanese form when it is being translated into English. The Japanese syllable is not actually a syllable as we think of it, but rather more of a “sound,” and English syllables can be measurably longer. In addition, the Japanese 5/7/5 tradition includes counting of linguistic devices that we do not have in English, such as kireji or “cutting words” and words that function in place of punctuation.  So, although it was helpful and perhaps necessary for those in the West to conceive of haiku in the 5/7/5 format when it was originally brought to us about 100 years ago, we now understand that this is at best a starting point for our introduction to what was at the time a very foreign and somewhat mysterious art form. Haiku in English, were we to compare stylistically to the Japanese, should be shorter than this. If there is need for a measuring stick, seventeen syllables or less as a rule, and more like 13 syllables or 9 English words.  I have found a helpful measure to be that of the length of single breath. This gives more of a sense of the spirit of haiku, which for me is primary and transcends any need to focus on syllables.

 

Should institutions enforce this format? (referring to 5-7-5)

Although this form plays an important role within a historical perspective, haiku in 5/7/5 style in English are rare today due the reasons stated above, as well as the fact that they tend to call attention to themselves in their verbosity. They often feel contrived or padded to fit the form. Haiku need to read naturally. This is a primary feature of the genre, and the early 5/7/5 conception tends to get in the way of that.

 

In the West, we often to need something to hold onto, and in that sense this form served a purpose in allowing us an entry point into an otherwise very esoteric and foreign style of poetry. Haiku now tend to be very organic to their subject matter, eschewing line or syllable rules in favor of authenticity and imagistic effect. Haiku in one line are quite common, and we see haiku in two lines, four, five, and more, all while adhering to the sense of brevity that is integral to the genre.

 

So, I would say that any enforcement of this 5/7/5 rule for haiku in English would be both incorrect and very limiting in respect to the multitude of styles and forms we now recognize as authentic haiku in English. Even a brief review of contemporary journals or anthologies will quickly illustrate this fact.

 

Finally, what does haiku mean to you personally?

I have come to believe, based on experience, that there are hidden dimensions of experience within this one and that haiku illuminate an animating spirit within the phenomenal world. We can experience glimpses of this potential when we shift perspective through modes such as meditation, sound work, breath work, anything that raises our frequency and shifts our intention and stance to heart-centeredness. It is possible to know a bit of this “Heaven” right here and now.

 

I believe haiku is a both a path and a destination regarding this other potential and that it allows us to reclaim some of the mystery and magic that was natural to us as children, and to reorient ourselves in the larger sphere of our existence, our home within the communicating, intelligent multiverse that exists just outside of ordinary consciousness.

 

What happens when we join the space of mind with the heart space, where love is primary, communion is possible and natural, where everything is communicating all the time? It is a space of joy. It is coming home. The attitudes of mind that encourage authentic haiku are the same that open the heart – love, empathy, compassion, non-judgment, grateful acceptance, humor.

 

When the heart is fully online it produces an electromagnetic field 5,000 times stronger than the brain’s and can be detected by sensitive scientific instruments up to 10 feet away.

 

The heart entrains with other electromagnetic fields it encounters, and there is a rapid exchange of information.

What people perceive when they live from the heart is quite different from what they perceive when they live in the head. In coherence, a whole new world opens, and things not normally perceived become commonplace . . . a rapid download of information between organisms happens naturally.

 

This is the doorway to who we are within a much larger context than we are normally accustomed to, and to who we likely have always been but have simply forgotten.

 

And it became clear to me over time that, along with those listed above, the singular attitude of heart that is most essential to haiku, and the one that is perhaps most difficult for individuals in the West to attain, is simply, and beautifully this: Humility.

 

Haiku, if done well, teaches humility. I don’t believe you can be a successful haiku poet without it, and you certainly can’t access the realms of the heart without it. Haiku requires a non-egoic perception of the ‘ordinary world’ to perceive its depth. The how of haiku, remembering our oneness, remembering our hearts, requires a stance of humility, and this is the stance that changes everything. There is a “breakthrough threshold” in haiku that occurs when we see the world as it is – not as we are – when suddenly we’re are not experiencing our preconceptions or projections but are becoming informed by the inherent wisdom of what we are observing. Nature is making this offering always. The first step is recognizing that there is something there worth seeing, worth listening to. We must adjust our stance to that of at least an equal with our subject, and most ideally to that of student. A student of the pine tree. A student of the marshes, or the valleys, or the blackberry bush. Haiku that are deeply resonant and successful begin with humility, the open stance of receptivity and all it teaches. It seems to me that this is one of the most essential gifts that we as a species can aspire to – and the one that holds most promise for healing the rift between ourselves and the environment. In this sense, haiku is a source of great hope.

 

(Note: The above passages in italics are taken from the magazine article The Heart as an Organ of Perception, by Stephen Harrod Buhner, in the March/April 2006 issue of Spirituality and Health

The FX-Men: Mutants on TV in Marvel’s “Legion”

“Who teaches us to be normal when we’re one of a kind?”

Those words, spoken by Rachel Keller’s Syd Barrett (yes, named after that Syd Barrett), define one of the many incredibly grounded, human themes playing in the background of FX’s Legion, a new television series based on one of Marvel Entertainment’s many successful X-Men comics of the same name.

In this new superhuman endeavor, created by Noah Hawley (known for his work on FX’s “Fargo” series), Dan Stevens (of “Downton Abbey” and “Beauty and the Beast” fame) plays David Haller, a man who is believed to suffer from paranoid schizophrenic delusions, but may be much more than anyone thinks.

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A view on a millennial’s way of watching “Legion” – aka, the blessing of being able to watch DVR’d television on a laptop.

In the comics, David Haller is Legion, the antihero son of Gabrielle Haller and Charles Xavier, the telepathic mutant famously played on film by Sir Patrick Stewart. While Dan Stevens lacks Legion’s infamous high-top hairstyle, his spirit remains the same – a manic, uncertain man coming into an incredible amount of power and not being sure what to do with it. At its core, “Legion” is about a man going through a cycle of acceptance, and the reality of that shows very clearly on Stevens’s face. As extreme as David’s situation is, he’s someone people can connect with on a very deep, very human level, despite the fact that he can hear others’ thoughts and send kitchenware flying with his mind.

Aside from Dan Stevens, the rest of the cast is incredibly smart and well-cast, filled with televisions veterans and newbies alike. Amber Midthunder and Bill Irwin make a fantastic team as Kerry Loudermilk and Cary Loudermilk (yes, you read that right), and Aubrey Plaza makes a wonderfully bizarre Lenny Busker – a role originally written for a middle-aged man.

Jean Smart dominates as Melanie Bird, the stoic leader of “Legion”’s band of mutants. She carries herself with the style of Miranda Priestly and the biting wit of Rizzo from “Grease”, shutting down antagonists with unforgettable one-liners like, “You’d better learn to fly like a bird, because the age of the dinosaur is over.”

Jemaine Clement, known for his comedic work in HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” and 2014’s “What We Do in the Shadows”, brings well-placed laughs as Oliver Bird, the eccentric and long-suffering (or so everyone thinks) husband of Melanie with a fondness for beat poetry and jazz music.

Each character is a scene-stealer in their own right, but the real gem of the show is Noah Hawley’s ability to create an atmosphere that feels foreign and dangerous, getting audiences inside David Haller’s head and projecting his frenzied emotions onto viewers. Prime-time television has seen some other well-received superhero television shows – like the CW’s DC properties and ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” – but nothing quite like the acid trip that “Legion” delivers. The show shifts from reality to imagination (and maybe even further) seamlessly, often blurring the line between the two so strongly that viewers have difficulty distinguishing them. In one moment, everything seems normal, and in the next, soldiers are piled together in a floating heap, or a character is literally dancing through the fabric of reality to Bassnectar’s remix of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”. And that’s just how Hawley likes it.

The series reads like one long Kubrick film, and isn’t afraid to push the envelope when it comes to production value. Subtle hints to the show’s origins are worked into the set or the camera work – like the circular windows with the x-shaped frames that look eerily similar to the famous X-Men logo (also seen in the show’s title cards) – but they also aren’t shy about using cinematography to drive the story.

Hawley and his team aren’t afraid to play with color and color symbolism, often surrounding their actors with bright hues in the setting or washing them in pure colored lighting to signify something important. Whether it be the bright blue of innocence and safety that shows up in places like the “astral plane” inside the characters’ psyches, the orange that connects David back to his time in Clockworks Mental Hospital, or the dark, sinister stoplight-red that colors a frame every time an antagonist has the upper hand, Hawley colors his show like a child with a set of neon markers, and it works out wonderfully.

Some may call it strange, but most would call it a masterpiece. Noah Hawley and his cast of mutants have succeeded in telling a story that few would be able to translate to the screen, pulling viewers into what David would call a “romance of the mind”.

 

Humans of Etown: Conrad

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“What’s the hardest part about being the Etown’s honorary mascot?”

“It’s really hard because I get so much publicity that I can’t seem to walk around campus without being stopped.”

 

(Question actually answered by Carrie Brown, the Assistant Director and Education Manager at John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove)