A Personal Vendetta Against Artists

Can art flourish and still be appreciated? It is somewhat of a ponderous question. Dimensions exist between the spaces of the words, which seem to force the asker to consider more questions. What does one mean by art? In what ways has art flourished? Does flourishing distill the popular appreciation of art or the artist?

To be honest, I have no clue. I could argue that art has fell prey to dilution. I could blame democracy and the massive growth of the human population ever since the black plague. It is as if every person with even a slight inclination towards the arts believes he or she is an artist. I wrote several poems in middle school, and I’m convinced I’m a poet. I know a girl with an iPhone who takes really thoughtful photographs of her pug, Santiago. She absolutely considers herself a photographer.

All these questions because I find it difficult that I am forced to concede an unpleasant truth. There are way too many singers, writers, painters, musicians, dancers, and taxidermists in this world for me to outshine. How can I even consider achieving, let alone dream of becoming, a world-reknown taxidermist? How I ask you!?

It is obvious I cannot change things. I don’t have a plethora of plague-ridden hamsters to set loose on mankind, and I can’t realistically compete within every art field. After all, I am a terrible dancer and I hardly know how to properly stuff a dead animal. All that is left to this struggling artist’s heart is the dream.

I can dream, like so many others dream, to one day have something about me remembered. I can dream that one day I will write a story or capture an image or introduce an idea that changes and influences the thoughts of people. Dreaming, at least, may lead to inspiration and action.

But art isn’t just a means to express the individual’s dream. Yes, the majority of these blog posts flow from my own experiences and end up as expressions of my opinions. Yet, even within the biased nature of these posts, I hope to share some truth that may serve another person. I don’t quite know how writing a piece on how I wish I was the only great writer of my generation helps, but if I learned anything from Faulkner or Joyce it is to spew and spew (what they would call a stream of their consciousness) until a great gush of truth pours over you and into the world.

So I may never be a great writer. After all, I have my fair number of competitors to beat before I even get noticed. Still, a twenty-two year old from a town in Pennsylvania writes and shares stories that may be read by someone somewhere else. That someone might be thinking about this exact question of succeeding or failing at art. Humans! We are a strange and fascinating bunch.

That is why, though there is a ridiculous amount of people who believe themselves to be artists, I encourage, though I am hesitant to celebrate, all of those ridiculous people. Only some art reaches the heights of mankind’s appreciation. When all is said and done, that is okay with me. The truth is there will always be hundreds of millions of people creating new and strange and beautiful and questionable and surprising art. Man isn’t simply by nature homo politicus. Even without society, man would still dream and create.

Keep on keeping on,

j.

The Journey’s End – A Tolkien Pilgrimage

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” – Tolkien, p.1

It has been one year and four months since I left the cobbled streets and medieval architecture of Oxfordshire (and a variety of hideous modern buildings). Looking back now, I feel an unmistakable sense of wonder. No matter where my life may lead, no matter what new adventure I take on, the four months I spent in Oxford will forever remain imprinted on my heart and in my dreams. And so, like all good journey’s, here is how I began my homecoming in Oxford. The only way I could; to end where it all began for me.

A Tolkien Pilgrimage

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White Horse is one of the many pubs that Tolkien and the Inklings would frequent to hold their meetings while also enjoying a pint. And so, we also enjoyed quite a few pints.

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One of my favorite pubs, which “coincidentally” happened to be a favorite of Tolkien’s. More beverages were enjoyed here.

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Along the walk to find Tolkien’s memorial bench

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Tolkien’s memorial bench

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The bench and I staring off into the distance

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One of Tolkien’s homes while living in Oxford

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This is an excerpt from a collection of Tolkien’s Christmas letters to his children

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The grave of the respectable Tolkien

keep on keeping on,

j.

Deactivated

it is in my blood. that’s what it seems like, at least. my generation and on – all of us children of technology.

that’s not such a bad thing. technology sometimes means progress, and progress sometimes means advancement. still, i feel wrong sometimes. not about technology, oh no. i love technology – all of my iPhones and google search engines and jet planes and amazing medical developments. it’s fair to call me a child of technology. i won’t dispute that.

the wrongness, the unease i feel when i talk about technology and hear about technology and use technology, lies with the prescribed solution to mankind’s loneliness. i’m talking about my social life.

the internet changed the world. not only did it shift the dynamic of how people communicate and interact, it also offered a whole new way of catering to man’s insatiable desires. with the democratization of the internet came the fall of mankind.

i kid, really. i love the internet – all of its Tumblrs and Twitters and Insta-life updates and numerous outlets for expressing myself. and yet, with all of that available, i still feel sort of displaced. in fact, i feel a bit deactivated. like my life has become a battlefield for dire self-improvement and self-promotion. if i fail to impress or to share or to be present, then i have to ask myself, am i really alive at all?

that’s the thing. the internet isn’t really bad. it is a platform, neutral and easily shaped by the hundreds of millions of hands that call it home. the internet isn’t the problem. it is all of those Facebooks and Twitters and Instagrams and Tumblrs and YouTubes that demand and demand and demand. it wouldn’t be half bad if i could freely leave when i decided i have had enough. alas, it is bad. i cannot leave. i am merely deactivated, my imprint frozen only to be unthawed one day in the near future. i’m forced into a rut. and like a bad habit, i return.

it’s because i love the affirmation and the sharing and the gossip and the news and the updates and the likes and the loves and the pictures and the blogs and the vlogs and the videos and the comments and the up votes and the fame and the notice and the actualization of my life becoming something more than just what it is.

loving social media isn’t enough, though. without this digital world, i would feel deactivated, alone and without approval. i want to know and be known. social media becomes indisputable.

all social media has really done is reveal the numerous people who are all shouting into the void at the same time, all demanding the same thing.

notice me. Notice me. Notice Me. ME.

but that doesn’t really matter. after all, i am here writing to you.

And I like to think it is because somewhere inside of me, I want to notice you.

“When we recognize another, or when we ask for recognition for ourselves, we are not asking for an Other to see us as we are, as we already are, as we have always been, as we were constituted prior to the encounter itself. Instead, in the asking, in the petition, we have already become something new, since we are constituted by virtue of the address, a need and desire for the Other that takes place in language in the broadest sense, one without which we could not be. To ask for recognition, or to offer it, is precisely not to ask for recognition for what one already is. It is to solicit a becoming, to instigate a transformation, to petition the future always in relation to the Other. It is also to stake one’s own being, and one’s own persistence in one’s own being, in the struggle for recognition.” – Judith Butler

 

keep on keeping on,

j.

On Turning 22

I have never felt a particular effect of turning another year older.

But that is the question, isn’t it? People from friends to smiling parents to your Starbucks barista all ask that one question.

“How does it feel to be 22?”

I have never had a good answer to this question. I don’t think anyone ever has a good answer to this question, and that is why Taylor Swift is a liar when she sang, “I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22.” She doesn’t know how 22 feels, and I don’t know how 22 feels. Birthdays are uneventful when it comes to feeling differently.

It could be a lack of awareness. Maybe I need to be more alert to my body and its biological changes and shifts. Does my back ache yet? I have a headache, is that what 22 feels like?

Or maybe I need to find a spiritual answer. I could say I feel more me and that is what 22 feels like – more me, whereas 21 was less me. That is too vague, and I can not comfortably say I feel more me. That would be a lie.

What do I say when that inevitable question arises from its perennial grave? Each year I say the same thing.

“I feel the same as I did when I was blank.”

That would mean, though, that at 22 I feel the same as when I was 4 or 5 when I first heard that question. Shocking to think that I feel the same as 4 year old Jared.

And yet, I think that might be true. Each year of living is what changes you. New experiences and relationships and stories contribute to how you feel as you come to the end of another year of life. At 21, I hardly knew the answer. At 4, all I could think about was the stack of presents at the end of the table.

At 22, I guess my answer would be this; “I’ll find out soon enough.” I hope it is full of good, challenging, powerful, and beautiful memories. I know there will be heartbreaking, rough, difficult, and boring moments. The question remains, and all I can say is I’ll soon find out. At 23, I’ll let you know. Maybe Taylor Swift was right.

Keep on keeping on,

J.

To New Heights

“Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.” – E.M. Forster

I have never been known for anything in particular. Once, and I tried to hold onto the title for as long as possible, my eighth grade English teacher told me I was a Renaissance man. That was the closest I came to being known for my eclectic taste in generalness.

It’s human, I think, to seek after an identity. We want to wear our accomplishments and interests as vibrantly colored cloaks. In eighth grade and throughout high school, I would internally call myself the Renaissance Man. That identity gave me a secret pleasure of accomplishment.

And yet, the idea of creating an identity is strange. In all my attempts, I have only ever discovered new interests by emulating other people. When I think about Renaissance Man I see lifelines from my body reaching outward and towards other people like my friends, family, and heroes. It was only in the past few years that I realized that the ribbons, blood red and life-giving in some sense, seem to be streaming into me. So much of me is made up of other people.

It is a fact that I am who I am because of so many other people. I cannot ignore them, which I sometimes try to do. What I can try is to better emulate their creativity, generosity, kindness, curiosity, passion, courage, humor, and love. In a way, honor their efforts in shaping my life. With all that love and support, I think it is only fair that I go out and share some of the same love and support I was given throughout my life.

And so, I am planning for my next adventure. Soon I will be departing from what I consider safe and comfortable to live the next two years abroad in Morocco. The reality of the situation discomforts me. It’s exciting to take on new challenges and learning experiences, but it also terrifies the part of me that loves simply being surrounded by the ones I love and the things I know. This adventure will be different from anything I have ever experienced. I look forward to it with a heart full of joy and anxiety appropriate for a change like this.

Identity, then, remains strong in my mind as I move forward in life. I accept the fact that my actions will determine how people see me, and I have some control over the identities they conceive. Still, I do not mind sometimes upsetting their expectations or perceptions and acting on something I thought I would never do.

Keep on keeping on,

J.

 

Eyes Around Oxford (Crowns and Christmas Crackers) #5

In fourteen days I will be back in Hershey, Pennsylvania. In seventeen days it will be Christmas Eve, and in sixteen days it will be Christmas Day.

And so, I present British Christmas! (Mom, this is for you).

Merry Christmas!

Keep on keeping on,

j.s.u.

Eyes Around Oxford (and England) #4

What it is to miss.

The Spanish phrase “to miss someone” is “extrañar a alguien.” I remember learning this phrase in my high school Spanish class. It is a sad word – extrañar. Feelings of estrangement permeate throughout the word. And that is a sad feeling. When I think about everything I miss back home, a fear creeps into the back of my mind. “Things will be different,” it says. “They will be older,” it whispers. “Friends will have left,” it laughs. In these moments of self-consultation, I fear estrangement.

My entire life I have experienced something along the lines of “never-fitting-in-though-all-I-wanted-was-to-fit-in.” Fit into what, I couldn’t tell you. It changed with every new social group I encountered or new place I visited. It comes from a deep discontent with the status-quo. I want to experience everything. That is a steep slippery-slope for people with the gumption to actually carry through. Fortunately, I was blessed with a silver chain locked around my ankle.

This *internal policing of thumos has fostered a rather pessimistic view of life. Instead of recognizing the fortitude of human relationships, it harps on the nature of change in the world. It becomes worse because I struggle with long-distance. I don’t “miss” people, and **it reveals itself in how little I contact people when I am not around them.

The reality of being separated from family or friends does not tend to faze me as much as being separated from home. More so, I know that I will see my family and friends again. This fills the part of my heart that should be actively “missing” a family member or a friend. Yes, something horrible could happen. But if that fuels your “I miss so-and-so,” then how could you survive ever being away from that person? No, I don’t miss my family and friends. I do long for home. In those moments of longing, I can smell the farmlands of PA, and see the overwhelmingly tall buildings of NYC, and hear the Christmas music that fills my house during this time of year, and taste the burritos from Chipotle. In fact, I sometimes “miss” these things a lot. Home for me constitutes so much more than just a place or object, though. It’s been said time and again, but home is more than just a shingled roof and brown siding in a little development in PA. Home, connotatively, means people. I love my house in little ol’PA, but I love being with my family more than anything. And being reunited with old friends is quite possibly one of the most rewarding human experiences. When I am no longer around those I love, I don’t miss them; I look forward to seeing them again.

I suppose I miss my family and friends, but it rarely succeeds in making me emotional. The idea of missing, though, still seems strange to me. Things go missing, and usually proceed to become lost. Relationships, those with true ties, do not go missing. They are always there, no matter the distance or time. It’s something like a remote “lost” in a couch. You might not be able to find it right away, but one day you will sit down and feel a prodding in the side. The remote has returned, and you couldn’t be happier. No more getting up to turn the TV on!

So, you might ask what brought about this rather sentimental post? Christmas season is here in the U.K. There are lights and decorations hanging across the streets, stores have snowmen and fat little Santas in their windows, jumpers have taken precedent over long-sleeved shirts, and Starbucks started serving their holiday drinks on November 1st. To make it worse, I love Christmas. It is that one time a year that fills me up with nostalgia. A missing of how things used to be, but a joy in those old memories takes root in my heart. It is a time full of goodwill as well. People genuinely seem happier. Work slows, families are coming together, and the coldness insists on snuggling by a fire with a cup of hot chocolate (a thing I am usually strongly opposed to). And so, I started listening to Christmas music about two weeks ago. There is something about listening to Christmas music that really brings out the child in a grumpy, tired “adult.” These are the reasons for this post, and the reasons for why I am excited for the ending of my Oxford term. It is wonderful here (and I will be coming back), but there is no place like home.

Keep on keeping on,

j.s.u.

*Some synonyms of wishy-washy (my first word choice): “banal,” “characterless,” “cowardly,” “mediocre,” “weak-kneed,” and “namby-pamby.” I don’t think that was quite the word I wanted…

**Obviously, this is an issue. Sorry.

Rocks that Glitter

It was near the end of September that my friends and I made our way to continental Europe. We spent our travel week split between  Denmark and Germany, visiting cities like Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, and Luxembourg (which is both a city and an independent country). During this time, I had the pleasure of traveling on some of the most questionable airplanes, talking to strangers that spoke a language I did not understand, and using a shower-toilet. I could write paragraphs about the uncomfortable nature of the trip. Instead, I want to convey a simple sentiment that sometimes finds itself overlooked by negativity.

A few months ago, I was convinced I was bound to the East Coast for the rest of my life. I developed a bad case of melodrama; otherwise described as a high school girl whose date to prom dumps her right before the dance. Obviously, this is now a ridiculous conjecture, but I tried to convince myself of this “impending reality.” Pragmatism turned reality – “sometimes we don’t get what we want” – into downright pessimism – “dreams are silly.” I was not exaggerating when I told you I had pick up some melodramatic tendencies.

And yet, here I sit writing this blog entry while studying at one of the top universities in the world. Here I am living out one of my oldest and most distant dreams.  It is as if I woke up from a dream about flying through the sky on a broomstick, to find myself sprawled out on a couch in the Gryffindor Common Room. Just thinking about being here in Oxford makes my stomach clench up and heart race.

Most dreams are like when we find a really cool rock that glitters in the sunlight. We say, “Oh, that’s cool!” and put it in our pocket where it stays for a few days. After awhile though, we pull it out, look at it one last time, and place it in some shoe box where we keep all of our other “interesting finds.” A majority of our dreams become “interesting finds,” trivial keepsakes that we store away because the glittery wonder ceases to amaze us.

Sometimes, though, you should keep that rock in your pocket, and spend time every day looking at that rock. Let it inspire you to start a rock collection or something just as equally “silly.” Surrender a bit of your pragmatism to the trivial or the impossible. Do not let your sense of wonder slip away. It is a sad life that is void of dreams.

Not all dreams come true. I think it is naive to think otherwise. However, dreams do inspire. And sometimes you find yourself ten years later living that dream.

Keep on keeping on,

j.s.u.