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Byron: A Hero Across Time

Sarah Pavey is in her second year of her English Masters at St. Thomas and is a recipient of a travel and a research grant. This spring she traveled to Greece to participate in a literary conference on Lord Byron where she presented her research on Byron and disability studies.

Sarah at Zonars, a recently revived 1930s café.

Γεια σας!

Yassas in English, like aloha, means hello and goodbye. In light of the warm welcome I received in Greece this May, it’s appropriate that you can’t say goodbye without saying hello. Once you’ve made a connection with the people of this incredible country, you can’t truly say goodbye forever. So many people have asked me what the most memorable part of my trip was and I keep finding myself saying “the hospitality.” In a world that seems to become more fractured and divided by viewpoints on civil rights on a daily basis, the kindness and hospitality in Greece was something that I found surprising and often very moving.

After much planning and anticipation, Dr. Young-ok An and Dr. MacKenzie and I headed east for the 12th International Student Byron Conference. Accustomed as I am to international travel, covering a distance of over 5,000 miles in one fell swoop is still rather tiring but it was well worth the effort considering our destination. After an 8 hour Delta flight to Paris, a 2 hour layover, a 3 hour flight to Athens, and a 3 hour taxi ride, we reached Messolongi, the municipality where Lord Byron spent his final days. Our hotel was by a lagoon, and surrounded by a picturesque scattering of stout palm trees. The air was humid, and gentle breezes alleviated the sting of an often blinding Mediterranean sun. Each day after presentations discussing Byron and nature we went on tours of museums, a monastery, churches, and archeological sites organized by the Messolonghi Byron Society. In addition to the Byron-related locales, we saw places of natural beauty including Trichonida, the largest lake in Greece as well as the local salt works, which viewed from high up in the hills looked like a patchwork quilt made of glass. It was easy to see how the landscape of Greece set the stage for Byron’s experiences there.

Frankly speaking, I am neither a Romanticist nor a Byronist, and though I knew Lord Byron was considered a hero by the Greeks I wasn’t aware of just how much he was idolized and respected. In 1823, Byron decided to support the Greeks in their fight to gain independence from the Ottoman Empire, sacrificing a great deal of money and time, even selling his estate in Scotland for over £11, 000 which equates to about $1.6 million today. Before he was able to lead an attack against a Turkish fortress, Byron became ill. Poor medical practices led to a violent fever and his subsequent death on April 19, 1824. Ultimately, Byron’s death drew more attention to the cause and with it more participation in the Greek War of Independence and his generosity and courage remains his legacy. From the Messolonghi Byron Research Center dedicated to studying him to his great marble statue in the Garden of Heroes and even a pavilion in the town square, Byron is honored everywhere in this welcoming city. It is with his same level of devotion that the Greeks remember him. And of course, all of us who attended the International Student Byron Conference traveled thousands of miles to honor and appreciate the life and work of a man who’s been dead for nearly two centuries.

The conference was a very unifying experience. I learned so much about Byron and why other writers and academics love his work. I met so many wonderful people from Lebanon to York, London to Kentucky. As one professor said to me “birds of a feather…” and it’s very true. We all came to Greece for the love to literature and learning and I am so thankful for the wonderful experience. Literature opens doors and puts people on planes and gets you meeting people you won’t otherwise meet. I was a little melancholy to part from my new found friends.

After the conference came to a close, we headed to Delphi, a magnificent sanctuary and small town on the southwestern side of Mount Parnassus. The walk to the the Delphi Archeological Museum afforded a breath-taking view of the valley of Phocis (not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights and I mean that sincerely). Beyond the museum was the archeological site which included the famous Temple of Apollo. One thing is for certain, the ancient Greeks knew about prime real estate. The stray (and often feral) cats certainly appreciate the locale, sunning themselves on the hillside and ancient stones. It didn’t really feel like I was there in any specific era, as if time paused there just to see the view.

Our final stop on our journey through Greece was the capitol. It was hot, busy, and mildly confusing, but it grips you. The electric twang of the tram cables sounded above my head as I walk through the bustling streets. The sound of Greek voices, mellow and musical, floated around me. If someone was watching me they would have seen me in the process of learning, trying to memorize the streets. Luckily for me or anyone else who wasn’t fluent in Greek, the street signs on most buildings had convenient translations into Latin characters so we could make passable pronunciations if it was necessary to ask for directions. Though I picked up several words of salutations, Google Maps averted the need to bother some innocent local on the street about where various tourist attractions were located. But there’s far more to the city than museums and statues.

You can’t turn a corner in Athens without seeing graffiti over every abandoned or chained up storefront, laid waste by economic hardship. Although graffiti is often dismissed as a defacement of public property, this art form functions as a protest against the oppressive forces weighing people down. The written word is not limited to books; it is people souls bared on walls and an expression of political distress. The graffitied messages encompassed not only the current economic struggle of the country but also issues we face at home in the U.S.; women’s healthcare, issues in gender, and the threat of fascist elements in government. The more I wandered the city, the more attention I paid to the graffiti itself. The styles and similar use of fonts, anarchist symbolism, the use of stenciled messages; at one point I even saw a euro symbol = a swastika. This is not your average intercity artistry on a train carriage, and though not necessarily more or less significant, the graffiti in Athens is hardcore. It felt as if the graffiti was screaming out to me, needing to be read, to be understood. I was often moved by those words I couldn’t even read because of the energy, color, and artistry in which they were emblazoned all over the city.

On our first night out in the city we went for a meal after our long journey. As we sat down I looked to my left and suddenly saw the Parthenon, illuminated in the distance. Acropolis essentially means upper city in Greek and it’s a glorious sight, those ancient buildings poised above a city whose nightlife teems below like some sort of dark human ocean. The Parthenon was even more splendid and unbelievable up close in an all consuming blaze of sunlight. Your eyes are drawn too it and the soft looking white marble soothes your gaze. The remains of great structure and power that have influenced our own culture still stand. Damaged. Broken. And yet it’s being reconstructed and valued; millions of tourists per year come from around the globe to see it. The great columns, like books, reach for some semblance of immortality.

By happy accident, early one morning on the way to our information-packed tour of the Acropolis, I was sitting on the bus and a restaurant facade caught my bleary eyes. Zonars. The name and the building was very familiar to me. I realized that this very swanky restaurant was mentioned by British novelist Olivia Manning in her semi-autobiographical work The Balkan Trilogy, the first of two trilogies that document the journey of an English lecturer and his wife through war-torn Europe. Businessman Karolos Zonaras (1873-1968) started up the café/pastry shop in 1939 and it quickly became an important cultural center in the city, attracting the rich, important, and famous from politicians to writers. As if simply sitting in this grand establishment wasn’t literary enough, I stayed for quite some time, making margin notes in Ford Madox Ford’s tome of a tetralogy Parade’s End sipping one of the best cappuccinos money can buy. As Manning’s character Prince Yakimov would say, “Bit pricy…But convenient. After all, one has to go somewhere.”

Journeys like this trip are never just for the conference; it’s for paying homage, for honoring the past. We didn’t just go to modern Greece, we went to Byron’s Greece. His love of the people, the landscape, and the country inspired him and he left his mark in return. When you’re inspired by a writer, their inspiration becomes yours and it’s only natural to reach back into the past and bring it into the present.

Study Abroad, The Value of English, Undergraduate English

The Spirit of Competition


Often, travel is seen as an escape. People take their allotted vacation time and run off to some place, near or far, where they can forget their troubles and responsibilities for a few days. While I can personally attest that a sun-filled week of spring break in a beautiful location like St. Pete’s Beach, Florida makes for a nice getaway, this is not my preferred style of travel. Not anymore, at least. I was lucky enough to be able to spend the last three weeks exploring Greece, and my experiences there completely changed my outlook on travel.

Walking a trail in Greece

My trip to Greece was not a vacation. A vacation generally consists of free, unscheduled time spent relaxing in a nice location. Relaxation was rare in Greece, with more sights to see than I had time or energy for. I took a class on sports literature, and spent most of my time taking part in activities that were organized by my professors, Liz Wilkinson and Amy Muse. This would have made for a terrible vacation, but it wasn’t a vacation. I wasn’t taking a trip to escape the stress of life at home. I wasn’t trying to lose myself in a faraway place. In fact, as clichéd an idea as this may be, I found a new part of myself through my hurried exploration of Greece.

As we studied the Olympic Games, both ancient and modern, I started to focus my journal entries on examining the competitive drive that is a core part of human nature. This drive to achieve and to prove ourselves better than our peers is prevalent throughout nearly every facet of life. I have always felt the spark of competition within myself, but the more I examined my competitive drive, the more the spark grew. When our class had the opportunity of listening to a speaker who was a marathon runner, I listened closely to her motivations for running, and found that she shared the same drive I did. The main difference between us was that she had acted on her drive, and I had let mine begin to fade. As she spoke of her desire to prove to herself that she could run a marathon, I felt that little spark of drive in me flare up wildly.

Nafplio, Greece

In a moment of pure inspiration, I declared to my friends next to me –and more importantly, to myself– that I would run a marathon by the end of 2017. Now, it’s important to note that, before this decision, I did not run consistently. I was (and still am) not in prime shape. This didn’t seem like a reasonable goal. It still doesn’t. Yet, I know I can do it. In making my decision, I drew inspiration not only from the speaker, but from the Olympic athletes, both ancient and modern, and from the very land of Greece. I’m convinced there’s some sort of magic at work in Greece, magic that erased my doubts and fears, and magic that fueled the growing drive within me.

The Temple of Poseidon, Sounion, Greece

Three weeks was not enough time for me to get tired of Greece. Not even close. I still think of it every day, wishing that I could wake up to see the sun rise in Nafplio each morning, and longing to watch it set over the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. As Dr. Muse had warned me would happen, I left a piece of my heart in Greece. But the experience was worth it. And you can bet I’ll be going back in search of it.

 


Henry Koller is sophomore majoring in English with a Writing Emphasis, with minors in Philosophy and the Renaissance Program. Aside from writing, he likes to spend his time reading, swing dancing, and baking bread, and he hopes to study abroad again before he graduates.

Faculty Teaching, Study Abroad, The Value of English, Undergraduate English

The Grand Tour: Cultural Disparities

The famous Shakespeare and Company store in Paris.

Inside the clock tower at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

I walked down the cobblestone streets of Paris and stopped. To my left was a row of antique buildings. Every building held its own share of history and was now filled with chic boutiques blooming with French fashion and bookstores containing the works of authors that used to find their muse in the exact surroundings I was currently experiencing. To my right was the Musée d’Orsay with only the Seine river separating me from its’ hundreds of years of art and sculptures held inside. A quick stroll down the street would land me at the famous Notre Dame and deliciously unmatched gelato. For the month of January, twenty-four other students, two professors, and I experienced sights like these in each of the cities we visited.

The Coliseum in Rome, Italy

Led by Professors Kelli Larson and Cecilia Farr, we were lucky enough to experience various more-than-just-picturesque cities in order to learn about the Grand Tour. The course, titled “Americans Abroad: The Grand Tour,” took us on a detailed exploration of 5 cities: Paris, Nice, Venice, Rome, Siena, and Florence. Each day, in every city visited, we were able to see and experience first-hand some of the exact same places as various nineteenth-century Americans did. Typically, they did so to polish themselves artistically or socially, but they also did so to complete their education or to find inspiration. Our texts for the course consisted of works by Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, and included various excerpts from other exceptionally talented authors who completed the Grand Tour.

Group picture in Nice, France.

The texts were all unique with their own plot and purpose, but comparatively they all revolved around a common theme: the cultural differences between the Old World and New World. In some way, the protagonists in each of the texts encountered foreign customs and cultures and had a difficult time adjusting.

Florence, Italy

A lack of typical American customs—like hasty meals or differences in social expectations—is unsettling to them at first. Eventually, though, after experiencing various trials and tribulations mixed with benevolent encounters, their cultural ignorance begins to fade and they soon attach a sense of value and appreciation to this differing culture. In a different scenario, like in Henry James’ Daisy Miller, the exposure to European culture only reinforces the protagonists’ sense of superiority in their familiar American customs.

Venice, Italy

After retracing some of the same steps these nineteenth-century Americans did, I can say that experiencing a culture different to my own only broadened my perspective and understanding for other cultures and their customs. It is easy to find one’s own ways of life or customs to be superior to others when you have never experienced or attempted to understand the logic or history behind them. As a Minnesota native, I definitely missed the constant smiles and “hello’s” from a random passersby, but I also came to prefer their slower, relaxed pace of life. There is no correct right way to live. Traveling, though, allows for reflection; to appreciate your own culture but also to take a step back and realize where other cultures might be getting at something deeper than you ever fathomed.


Shayla Curtis is a sophomore Accounting & Finance major with a minor in English Literature. After college, she hopes to work as a financial analyst or in another position related to her major. With a passion for animals and kids, she hopes to volunteer on the side and perhaps start her own nonprofit. 

Student Research, Study Abroad, Undergraduate English

From Beatrix Potter to Harry Potter: A Research Trip of a Lifetime!

KensingtonGarden

Kensington Gardens

It’s 8 o’clock in the morning and the Potter-to-Potter class has finally landed at Heathrow Airport. We clear customs, grab our luggage, and make our way to the hotel. After checking our bags, we wait for our three o’clock check in time by taking on London. We started by exploring the area around our hotel. High Street Kensington Tube Station was a two-minute walk from the front door. Kensington Gardens, a quiet space inside the bustling city, was within walking distance. After exhausting the exploration of our new neighborhood, we split up to find different ways to stay awake for the rest of the afternoon. This is where we began our adventures in London.

In the weeks leading up to our adventure, the thirteen of us sat in OEC and read through an extensive list of British children’s literature, from Beatrix Potter to Harry Potter and so much more. We discussed what a book needed to have to be considered children’s literature, and how children’s literature in Britain is different from that in America. The focal point of the class would be our archival research project, where the research was to be done in London! Determining what my project would be required brainstorming early on. Dr. Bouwman assigned the projects as anything broadly related to British children’s literature. We could examine a specific author, or a specific setting, or we could try to answer questions about British children’s literature as a field. I am researching how the expectations of children’s authors have changed since the early 1900s. Other students are looking at how different manuscripts evolved into the books we know today, or how authors depicted different settings from our novels. By the time we were leaving for London, we were ready and excited to tackle the research.

Beatles

The Beatles

On our first full day in London we explored the British Library, where we would eventually get our own reader’s cards and have access to their archives. We looked at the Library’s Treasures Gallery where we were able to see historical artifacts such as the Magna Carta, a suffragette’s notebook, Da Vinci’s notebook, and even some handwritten Beatles lyrics! It was so unbelievable to be standing in a single room that contained so much history from so many fields. This was a great introduction to the history of London that prepared us for the experiences we were about to have.

The next day, we met with two children’s editors from Tamarind Publishing, an imprint of Penguin Random House. This was definitely one of my favorite experiences. I plan to be an editor in the future, and seeing the offices at Tamarind was an incredible introduction to the publishing world. When we had lunch with them, I was able to find out what expectations they face as publishers of children’s literature, which helped with my research project. We learned a lot about what kind of power book publishers have, and also what their limitations are when it comes to promoting change. It was especially inspiring to hear both editors say that the most important end goal for them was publishing an authentic story. Later in our trip, we would be meeting with three different children’s authors, and we would keep this impressive goal of authenticity in mind.

Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit

During our first week, we also had a chance to visit the Victoria and Albert archives, where the majority of Beatrix Potter’s work is kept. We were able to see Potter’s original artwork and some of her correspondence with publishers regarding what they referred to as the “Bunny Book.”

Over the weekend, we made our way by train to Oxford, where we would be staying at St. Edmund’s Hall. Our first stop was the Bodleian Library, where we were able to see some of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s work. As a writer, it was fascinating to see the difference between Tolkien and Lewis’s writing processes. Lewis appears to have done most of the editing in his head before writing out a nearly final copy of his work. Based on what we saw, Tolkien was more meticulous about editing, and would only write his work in pen once it felt complete. We could see the erased and rewritten words in pencil in early manuscripts of the Lord of the Rings! I was not only fascinated by the different writing styles, but also inspired. So often, after reading a great book it feels as though the words come directly from the writer’s mind with no work in between. To see that writing, even for the greats, is a process of writing and rewriting and editing takes some pressure off any first draft. This same lesson was reaffirmed after meeting with a few authors.

Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Bodleian Library, Oxford University

On our first day back from Oxford, we took a day trip to Great Missenden. There, we met with Lucy Coats, the author of Cleo, which was one of the contemporary books we read for class. I really enjoyed this meeting because Lucy was so passionate about her topic. Cleo is a fictionalized story of the early life of Cleopatra. Lucy was so excited to discuss her love of Cleopatra and the mythology she studied. The next day we got to meet another author, Kate Saunders, who wrote Five Children on the Western Front. This book was a continuation of E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It. Saunders was incredibly enthusiastic about telling her story and the inspiration she had after reading Nesbit’s book. It was so exciting to see that the passion for each author’s project was authentic, and they were both thrilled to share their experiences with us.

While in Great Missenden, we were also able to look at the Roald Dahl archives. We flipped through pages and pages of legal paper that contained Dahl’s process of writing Matilda. We found that in Dahl’s earliest drafts, Matilda was actually a nightmare of a child, and Ms. Honey had a gambling problem! This is, of course, much different from the poor and innocent Matilda we read today accompanied by a loving and caring Ms. Honey.

Harry Potter World

Howarts Castle model, Wizarding World of Harry Potter

A trip to England focused on children’s literature would not have been complete without a visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I am one of about four students on this trip who had not read all of the Harry Potter books growing up. We read the first book of the series in class, and based on class discussions, I learned that a large part of the success of the franchise was reading it as a series while you grow up with the books. Although I was a bit of an outsider in this world, the movie- making and world-building shown at this attraction were incredible.

This class was an eye-opening experience of children’s literature as not only something nostalgic, but also something well-worth studying in an academic field. Seeing original drafts and artwork from authors we read was a great opportunity to understand how the writing process works and how a book goes from a writer’s mind to the copies we have in our homes. After our great adventure in London, we were ready to write our research papers.

Rachel Smith

Rachel Smith is a junior at St. Thomas. She is an English Major, Business Administration Minor, and American Culture and Difference Minor. In the future, Rachel plans to become an editor. 

Student Research, Study Abroad, Undergraduate English

Recognizing the Value of Every Body’s Story

Walking through the doors of Columbia University Medical Center: Hammer Health Sciences Teaching and Learning Center, I fear that I may be grossly underqualified to be here. Everyone looks so official, bustling by in scrubs, varying lengths of white coats, and other official attire that speaks “I’ve worked hard to earn a place here.” I tread slowly and methodically, and my fingers fumble as I check in and am handed my identification card that allows me to walk freely through the doors of the CUMC campus, becoming my life preserver for saying that I, too, belong here.

I’m in New York City; CUMCSign550specifically, at Columbia University’s Summer Institute in Narrative Medicine. Narrative medicine is an interdisciplinary approach that recognizes the value of a patient’s story and, in so doing, exposes Western medicine’s narrow focus on the physical, tangible biological factors of health and disease that often overshadow the patient’s humanity. Narrative medicine relies on the core principles to recognize, absorb, interpret, and be moved to action by stories of illness. In doing so, it also recognizes the complexity of each individual and highlights the many stories we all bring to an experience.

During the past year, I have become a strong proponent in the work of narrative medicine, surrounding myself with literature on the topic and exploring narrative practice in my own literary work. During the spring semester, I worked with the support of Dr. Emily James on a research project called Mid-Century Narrative Medicine: Sylvia Plath’s Confessional Practice, where I sought to bridge the gap between several disciplines – including medicine, psychology, and literature – within the framework of poet Sylvia Plath. Coming from my solid foundation in studying psychology, this research worked to address a class of more “invisible” diseases: mental illness.

The structure at the institute was designed in a way that maximized every effort in fostering deep, intellectual discussions on the complex topics narrative medicine grapples with. Each topic began with some form of a lecture given by one of the “pros,” ranging from Dr. Rita Charon, MD, world-renowned for her ground-breaking research in narrative medicine, to Craig Irvine, Ph.D., author and Director of Education of the Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. Following the lectures, we broke off into small groups consisting of about 6 people, where we were first given an open-ended prompt followed by exactly five minutes to write a response. We were always given the same guidance: begin writing immediately, keep your pen moving across the paper the entire time, and if you draw a blank and don’t know what to write next, continue writing “I’m stuck” until the next thing comes to mind. (It may sound silly, but that actually works!)CUMCWriting750

When we read our work aloud afterward there was one catch: no prefacing your writing by saying things like “Well, I didn’t really know what to write, so it probably won’t make sense…” or other ways of trying to explain yourself beforehand. This was a challenge. You mean we’re supposed to read without explaining it beforehand? Nobody’s going to understand the tangled mess of words I have written down. What I came to learn through this intentional structure so lovingly encouraged on us was the ability to trust the power of my own writing. I learned that by attempting to preface my work with a rushed explanation of what I’d been thinking when I was writing or how I want my listener to understand it, I am essentially minimizing my own work and stripping my writing from the innate power it dares to hold.

One evening, we attended an event called Intima CUMCIntima550Presents Life-Writing: An Evening of Readings about Bodies, Illness and Care. Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine is an online literary journal focusing on healthcare, medical stories, hospitals, and caregivers. This event we attended featured some of the published authors who had come to read excerpts of their published works and share their varied and diverse experiences surrounding healthcare.

Before the institute began we were told about this event and encouraged to bring along any of our own pieces we’ve worked on to share as well. In the weeks leading up to it, I had assumed there was absolutely no way that I would get up in front of a room full of people to read anything I’ve written. However, at the last minute as I was packing my bags, I threw in a copy of a narrative essay I had written called “Returning Home,” which talked about my experience as a nurse’s aide working in the field of senior home healthcare. In this particular piece, I detail the pain – yet honor – I had of being by the side of one of my beloved seniors as he passed away peacefully. I had written it as part of a final project for the ENGL 202 class called Medical Narratives, taught by Dr. James, which was in essence my first attempt at narrative medicine. I figured it didn’t hurt to throw it in, just in the unlikely event that I had a moment of gumption and courage to speak.

With the first several days of the institute under my belt, I had surprised myself by actually beginning to ponder over my “definitely no” decision about choosing to present my work that I had previously made prior to arriving. Armed with the practice the last few days had given me with sharing my work, I had actually begun to think that maybe, just maybe, this was something I could do. I was absolutely terrified, but had been encouraged by the other people at the institute – students and “the pros” alike – to go for it. I think deep down, I knew that if I let fear make the decision for me, I would later come to regret it. So, despite the trepidation of exposing my work to the room, I did it anyway. To those not as familiar with narrative medicine, it’s important to remember that autobiographical accounts in the scope of narrative medicine are deeply personal in nature because they deal with illnesses, often leaving the patient immensely vulnerable and helpless. Although my piece I chose to share came from my perspective as the provider, the vulnerability still remained because despite being the provider, we are still greatly moved by the patients we encounter.

I did it. CUMCReading550Remembering the “rule” about not prefacing my work or minimizing it in any way, I began to speak. I told the story of my first experience having one of my own patients die, which was magnified by the fact that I was with him when it happened and came far sooner than we had imagined. It was a very emotional experience to write about and gave me confidence in sharing my work as well as the conviction to allow my voice to be heard. As I finished reading aloud, I looked up at the audience and remember seeing several members wipe tears from their eyes, a clear example of the power narrative medicine has in humanizing us all in a world that seeks to remove all emotion from the medical field.

That experience really set the stage for what I would learn on the last day during my favorite lecture, “The Failure of Witnessing in Medicine” by Kristen Slesar, LCSW, MS. In addition to teaching at Columbia University, Kristen is a trauma psychotherapist and former Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner with many years of experience testifying in the most abhorrent criminal cases of sexual violence. I could write a book on all the insight I learned from her lecture alone, but the most important thing she emphasized is probably the best example of the purpose of narrative medicine. She emphasized time and time again how any line of work we do involving people and professional care impacts both the patient and the provider. We often think of the professionals as being a stone wall, never showing any emotion – both publicly and privately – for the work that they do. Yes, there’s a time and a place for that; if you’re an emergency surgeon, breaking down sobbing in the middle of operating on a child gunshot victim probably isn’t the best time for emotions. But that doesn’t mean it’s never to be discussed. When we talk about our line of work, we usually talk about the horror of the case, because everything is seen as putting the patient first. We don’t allow providers to talk about how they themselves are impacted. Because we are all human beings, we are going to be impacted by the people we serve, and that is okay.

Across America, medical schools and other graduate programs are implementing programs in narrative medicine to complement the preparation of our future providers for the kind of work they will encounter. In fact, research shows that those who tell their story fare better in the work that they do. This means less “burning-out,” which ultimately means fewer medical errors, as well as the patients’ experience being enhanced by feeling that they are more than just a disease to be treated. Narrative writing allows you access to something you may not have been able to access before because you can talk about the experience from your perspective and the way you tell that story, patient and provider alike. Narrative medicine is about writing from the patient’s experience, yet also includes bearing witness to our own experience as providers.

My experience at Columbia’s Institute in Narrative Medicine was truly life-changing. My earlier fear of “not belonging here” was laid to rest within the first morning of the institute, and I was thoroughly engaged throughout its entirety. Not only did I get to learn more about the topic of narrative medicine, but I was also given the opportunity to connect with the world leaders in this subject and work one-on-one with them, sitting down together and collaborating on the work I have done and getting encouragement on where to dive deeper into my study. I met others who share a similar desire to make narrative medicine an everyday part of clinical practice, and left with an even stronger desire to continue in this field. My goals of becoming a counseling psychologist were further strengthened with the knowledge that narrative medicine will unequivocally be a part of my practice. CUMCGroup750

I extend my most sincere appreciation and gratitude to the St. Thomas community that has supported and encouraged me in forging my way through this unique, interdisciplinary study. I am immensely grateful to Dr. Emily James, whose support and collaboration have gotten me to where I am and who continues to inspire and encourage me to seek out the paths less traveled. I am also very grateful to the Grants and Research Office for funding my spring research through the Collaborative Inquiry Grant, as well as the English department and Dr. Amy Muse for the funding and support that allowed me to travel to Columbia University.

Finally, I want to encourage all of my fellow peers at St. Thomas who have a passionate interest but are unsure the precise area of study it falls under: seek out those professors and other students who share a similar interest, and utilize their knowledge and expertise in further exploring those topics. Find those who challenge you to dive deeper into those interests and encourage you to walk those uncharted paths. I started this interest as a student majoring in Psychology, with a great interest in health and an underlying love for literature. Now, I am additionally getting a minor in English and regularly use the support and expertise from both departments as a way to study what I am most passionate about. The support I have experienced has blown me away and allowed me to find the precise area of study I am interested in and has shaped the career path I intend to follow.

CUMCBio300
Megan Vaughan is a senior at St. Thomas with a major in Psychology and a minor in English. Megan has a great interest in the interdisciplinary field of narrative medicine and plans to use this interest in becoming a counseling psychologist.

 

Student Research, Study Abroad, Undergraduate English

Reaching For the Promised Land

WeMarchforJusticecover375As I sat down to write this piece about the “We March for Justice! Race & Oppression” research study tour that I participated in this past March, I hesitated and came to the realization that I couldn’t. For far too long, U.S. history has been dominated by white narratives. I didn’t want to write a piece that asserted that my white narrative was inherently the only one that mattered, or that it represented all of the adverse experiences, or that it was a comprehensive representation of what the group I traveled with encountered. I simply didn’t want to contribute to the collection of white narratives that have appropriated the experiences of marginalized people, displacing their stories.

I expressed my concerns to my English professor. He asked me why I felt this way. I told him that I was concerned about writing another white narrative about the experiences of marginalized people, and that’s when he told me that my experience mattered too.

It reminded me of when I first heard someone say that black history is taught as an elective. I understood that African-American history is taught as if it isn’t a part of U.S. history, as if they’re two separate entities.

I was reminded that both African-Americans and whites were affected by slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, post-reconstruction, and eventually the Civil Rights Movement. White activists, moderates, and oppressors alike experienced these histories too. These are all collective histories.

So, the life-changing experience I had studying and traveling for a week in the South matters too.

My experience isn’t disassociated from everyone else’s simply because I’m white. It’s a part of something bigger; it’s a part of things felt and things changed. This trip ultimately changed my life and I’m going to share why.

Coming into this trip, I had a lot of expectations. I assumed that studying something so intentionally closeted like the reality of racism would be sensitive and intensely emotional. The reality of what the trip would be was surreal until we had our first class session following our arrival in Memphis.

We sat in chairs that bordered the union of two round tables. We gathered closely, as if the discussion topic was confidential, and happily agonized over the intricate details of post-reconstruction laws and court cases. We deconstructed the laws that perpetuated the enslavement of African-Americans. Beyond the surface, we critically analyzed every aspect of the rhetoric presented and it was utterly unnerving.ConfedFlag350

I slowly came to realize that the laws that inherently protect my white privilege, which are strangely identified as just, equal, and blind, were and are utilized as a tool of oppression to degrade the humanity of African-Americans. This realization was hard to swallow, even a bit nauseating.

I don’t know what’s worse; understanding the horrific reality of enslavement or recognizing that I can walk away from reading about it while the ones who suffered and continue to suffer can’t.

The following day, we were given a tour of the Mississippi delta by Mayor Thomas, the first African-American mayor of Glendora. I have very few words beyond “strength,” “integrity,” and “resilience” to define this gentleman.

Glendora, Mississippi is home to some two-hundred people, visible manifestations of neo-Jim Crow, and the murder of Emmett Till.

Emmett Till was a fourteen year-old boy who was murdered by two white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, for allegedly whistling at a white woman in the summer of 1955. He was kidnapped in the middle of the night and driven around Sunflower County for hours on the back of a pick-up truck. He was beaten, shot dead, tied to a cotton gin with barbed wire, and thrown into the Black Bayou, which feeds into the Tallahatchie River, bright and early on a Sunday morning. Bryant and Milam were acquitted of kidnapping and murder charges by an all-white jury. Two months later, they sold their confessions of the brutal murder to Look magazine for four thousand dollars. They were never tried again in a court of law.

EmmettTillSignBullets400Retracing the case and Till’s last moments was haunting. We visited the area where Till’s swollen, dead body was pulled out of the Tallahatchie three days after his disappearance. As we pulled up to the marker designating the spot, the sign that commemorated Till’s discovery was riven with bullet holes. The bullet holes that traced the words memorializing Till vividly illustrate past and current animosity towards the Till case within the surrounding community.

We visited the church where Till’s body was allegedly buried after his discovery. The church, previously owned by the relative that Till was staying with at the time of his death, is currently decrepit. The roof collapsed what appears like decades ago, as foliage is coiling over the opening. The pews are strewn across the floor. Cob webs cover the ceiling panels that still remain. Beyond the pews stands the pulpit, from where you can carefully trace the red carpet towards the front entrance. To the left of the front door, bullet holes pierce through the white cement walls. Standing under the canopy of a split roof left me with the eerie feeling that pure hatred had subdued this place that once housed unbridled faith and worship. I could almost envision the antipathy oozing out of the bullet holes.

9751-copyWe visited the Sumner court house where Bryant and Milam were tried for Till’s murder a few towns down the road. A Confederate statue and the Mississippi flag that bears the Confederate emblem stand in front of the court house. Just a few steps away, a marker stands that memorializes Till’s case. This arrangement is painfully ironic.

Sumner is largely populated by whites while Glendora is entirely African-American. Can you guess which town is prospering and which one lies in ruin and is rife with poverty? Do I even have to say it?

We concluded our tour of Sunflower County by ordering lunch at Glendora’s tiny grocery store. Outside, the store appeared battered and dilapidated, but inside it was glistening with fresh stocks of snack foods, beverages, and cigarettes. We eagerly collected our feasts of burgers, fries, and beverages. We hadn’t eaten all day because intense concentration and learning, as we all know, makes you incredibly hungry. This grocery store is the first in Glendora in more than fifty years. For most of Mayor Thomas’s life, he drove sixty miles, there and back, to purchase necessities in another town. The establishment of this grocery store was led by Mayor Thomas’s efforts just a few months ago.

I sat on our bus eating my burger, looking out the window at the little rundown grocery store. I could eat and enjoy my burger and leave, but the people of Glendora couldn’t. They can’t escape the poverty of their little town in a big black bus like we did; this little rundown grocery store is emblematic of their lives.

As the sun was at its highest point over Beale Street the following evening, we entered the Ernest Withers Museum where we met three sanitation workers who protested for equal rights and wages in 1968. The three men, now in their eighties, walked in and we momentarily stood in awe, out of respect, before politely greeting them.

CivilRights BlogIn hushed and rusty voices, they recalled their own personal reasons for striking. In 1968, a sanitation worker, which was a position solely held by African-Americans, could work a forty hour week and make so little money that he would still qualify for government assistance. Immediately after hearing this, my cheeks were swollen with red hot anger and shame. I was furious thinking about the white people, like me, who had enabled this form of degradation.

They told about times of chaos and violence. They recited memories of batons cracking their heads open like yoke in an egg shell. However, it wasn’t the details of their sufferings that scared me the most; rather, it was the realization that these men had to protest for their own humanity, as if they weren’t inherently born with it.

The following day we toured the Lorraine Motel, which has been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum.

The museum is composed of some twenty-plus exhibits. Not only was it an overload of information, with every inch of wall space covered by bold contemporary style lettering, graphics, and technologically advanced displays, but it was emotionally overwhelming too.

I particularly remember stopping at the exhibit that vividly displayed words like “Bombingham” and “Children’s Crusade”.

“Bombingham” referred to the more than fifty racially motivated bombings in 1963 when absolutely zero leads were followed, zero suspects arrested, zero trials held, and zero convictions ruled.

Children's Crusade“Children’s Crusade” commemorated the thousands of children, younger than Emmett Till, who marched in the streets of Birmingham in 1963. The children assembled at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church the Sunday following it’s bombing by a Klan member, a bombing that killed four adolescent girls. Martin Luther King Jr. led their funerals with Isaiah 11:6; “A little child shall lead them.” The statistics regarding the crusade read, “10 children arrested per minute – 2,500 total.”

The children who heroically led the march were met with high-pressure hoses and attack dogs. The assault was relentless. The photographs and footage of the violence in Birmingham were circulated and broadcasted throughout the entire nation. The brutality provoked a national outcry for justice. Every inch of barbarity was displayed in the exhibit; it brought me to tears.

On the last day, we convened for one last time as a group to fully debrief our experiences.

We asked questions regarding the promotion of the ideologies of the movement and the importance of studying it. The answers came flowing out in forms of tears, raspy voices, and determined rhetoric.

I said something along the lines of being fortunate enough to receive help from my community in the many struggles of my young life and that I want to do the same for others by utilizing my talents and abilities. It was quaint, but incredibly sincere and coming from a genuine place.

With regard to studying the movement, does that question even need to be asked? Slavery, racism, oppression – all part of the movement – are my history, your history, our history. We can no longer exclude African-American history, as if it is an elective disconnected from U.S. history.

As I began to write this piece, it transformed from a single white narrative into an important collective experience. As I began to write this piece, it was also April 4th, the forty-eighth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

LorraineHotelIt would be remiss of me not to conclude this piece by quoting the speech he delivered no more than twenty-four hours before being shot down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis.

Over three thousand people assembled in the crowded Mason Temple where Martin delivered his last speech.

When I first saw footage of him delivering the Mountaintop speech, his elocution rung through my entire body. It rung so intensely that it was almost nauseating, bringing warm tears streaming down my cheeks.

Martin concluded his brief speech with,

“And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

Like Martin, I’ve seen the Promised Land, where humanity, equity, and equality is directly ingrained in the young, diverse minds of this nation.

With that being said, there’s an extensive and exhaustive amount of work to be done to advocate and promote equity and equality at structural levels within our society. African-Americans continue to be systemically criminalized, disenfranchised, and so on. African-Americans ultimately lack the equal opportunity to access higher education and learn how to change the system that perpetually oppresses them. Martin’s fight, the movement’s fight, our fight, is far from over.

Like Martin, I may not get there with you, I may not see structural change in my lifetime.

But like Martin, I want you to know that we as a people, we as a nation, will get to the Promised Land, where equity and equality thoroughly prosper as one, where the humanity of every single being is valued, and where we will flourish and thrive with the knowledge of our history.

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Grace Maruska is freshman intending to major in English and minor in American Culture and Difference. Her years spent in college and beyond will be directed towards helping the community of St. Paul, her beloved hometown. Her passions—and the focus of her higher education—include social justice, which is what she intends to promote and advocate for in the near future.

Student Research, Study Abroad, The Value of English, Undergraduate English

It’s An Adventure: Walking and Writing Ireland

Dun Aengus Group-680Trading in Minnesota’s snow flurries and below freezing temperatures for soft rains and lush greenery, I joined a group of twenty-one other students and two professors on a quest to walk and write our way through the streets and countryside of Ireland. During the month of January, we covered much of the small country, gallivanting through medieval castles in quaint little towns, weaving between busses on bicycles, and perfecting our collective ability to take group photos.

That, however, was not the sole purposeFisherman's Village-340 of our journey to the Emerald Isle. Led by Professors Emily James and James Garlick, the students enrolled in “Walking and Writing Ireland” spent the month of January poring over the words of Ireland’s literary greats, such as W. B. Yeats and James Joyce.  We had the opportunity to interact with texts in a way that could not be afforded by sitting in a classroom back home.  Tucking away in the upstairs quarters of bookstores and coffee shops, we spent hours picking apart the imagery and themes of Joyce’s poignant short stories.  Each afternoon, we took to the streets to trace the steps of those very stories.

JoyceJames-160One of the key themes we identified and contemplated in Joyce’s work was the overwhelming sense of paralysis. In some way, each of his characters yearned for something beyond the monotony of their everyday lives—something remarkable.  Despite their best efforts, however, these characters could never break free from the confines of their physical, financial, or social limitations.  They were simply stuck.

Wicklow Mountains-340Intrigued by their reach for the extraordinary world just beyond their grasp, I was inspired to explore the counterpart to Joyce’s paralysis: adventure. Although seemingly simple at first glance, “adventure” is rich with historical and cultural significance.  The word’s popularity spiked in the seventeenth century, which speaks to the period’s fascination with exploration.  However, as time progressed, “adventure” widened to encompass the agency of the individual.  No longer did an individual need to be an esteemed explorer who braves the treacherous high seas and unpredictable climates.  As Joyce and his contemporaries understood, an adventurer may now take the face of any individual, provided that he or she has an open heart, open mind, and daring spirit.  In the words of essayist Rebecca Solnit, “When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back.”

Dun Aengus Cliffs-680I stood atop the cliffs of Dun Aengus with the Atlantic Ocean stretching out before me. The salty sea breeze filled my lungs as my feet dangled over the ledge, three hundred feet above the crashing waves below. Despite my paralyzing fear of heights, I was not afraid.  Some crave the pulse of adrenaline through their veins.  But for me, an adventure is about contentment.  It’s about sitting at the edge of the earth and not feeling afraid.

And adventurers we became.

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Elise Limper is a junior English with a Secondary Education (5-12) major. After graduation, she hopes to teach high school English to share her love of the written word. With a passion for photography and a severe case of the travel bug, she also aspires to travel the world with her camera in tow.