Posts Tagged ‘English Faculty’

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Oh, how I love brunch! Starting with Easter this Sunday, high season for brunch will be in full flower until the next snow fall (next November, ideally).

Brunch is the nonconformist of the meal world, shaking off limits with cavalier abandon. Brunch sprawls over the entire chaise lounge of a day. Brunch can begin or end almost any time, and foods served can include fundamentally anything, making brunch a lavish smorgasbord of delight.

Chicago is a restaurant town, with brunch offerings expansive and delicious. Lists of local brunch recommendations abound, but I find Time Out Chicago offers reasonable suggestions across all price points.

Unsurprisingly, the history of brunch from Smithsonian magazine indicates a Chicago connection to the popularization of brunch:

In Brunch: A Plea, British author Guy Beringer suggested an alternative to the heavy, post-church Sunday meals in favor of lighter fare served late in the morning. ”Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” Beringer says. ”It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.” [here, here!]

But wherever the initial spark of genius came from, the tradition definitely seems to have caught on in the United States in the 1930s, supposedly because Hollywood stars making transcontinental train trips frequently stopped off in Chicago to enjoy a late morning meal. It was a meal championed by hotels since most restaurants were closed on Sundays and, with church attendance flagging after World War II, people were looking for a new social outlet that also let them sleep in a bit. Restaurants soon hopped on the bandwagon and began offering the decadent spreads of food and signature morning cocktails, such as Bloody Marys, Bellinis and Mimosas. BloodyMary (1)

My favorite brunch spots are in my neighborhood, largely because brunch wants a slower pace, so a meandering walk to a local restaurant seems the most satisfying choice.

As much as I like local hot spots Lula and Longman & Eagle, the lines are just too long for weekend brunch; I visit these uber-trendy places on Monday, when my friends and I can enjoy our meal without enduring the ceaseless glares of contempt from the impatient throng waiting for a table.

Jam delivers a terrific Logan Square brunch. It was here that the whole Urban Family welcomed Clark to Chicago nearly two years ago. At Jam’s previous location, Leah ushered in the indulgent practice of ordering the spectacular French toast “for the table.”

Frenchtoast

French toast from Jam.

Specialty drinks elevate brunch to a celebration. Bloody Mary’s are my go-to brunch beverage, and Dunlay’s on the Square, one of my low-key local spots, serves an outstanding version featuring a mini-meal of garnish with a skewer of mozzarella, prosciutto, cherry tomato, an olive, and a pickle, Oh, and a Miller Lite back. I’ve enjoyed innumerable Bloody Mary’s and brunches with my entire Urban Family and nearly every out-of-town guest. I have brunched at Dunlay’s with Ingrid, Emily, Holly & Ian, Maria & Chris, Stacy, Larry, Jenny & Olivia, Jill, my goddaughter Mary, and my sisters Theresa & Margo. Whoever my next visitor turns out to be will be added to this list, I’m sure.

Azzurra in Wicker Park.

Azzurra in Wicker Park.

Although Azzurra has only been open a few months, I’ve had brunch at this new Wicker Park gem at least four times. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the dazzling Leah Allen, one of my closest friends, runs the place with her characteristic warmth and grace. I’m wild for the Italian sausage, rapini, & fontina frittata while my buddy Paul has driven in twice from the suburbs to order the focaccia benedict.

Brunch can be done well at home, too. Thanks to the new mothers in my friend group, we’ve begun a “Lovely Ladies & Beautiful Babies” brunch tradition that involves more enjoyment than preparation. And once again this Easter, I’ll brunch at McTedros manor, my friends’ cheerful house on the north side of Logan Square, where Hanna and Ryan will surprise their guests with incredibly inventive cooking. Last year it was the Swedish delicacy smorgastata.

Like any grand food tradition, brunch entails sharing a good meal with great people, an experience that is sweet, indeed.

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

To all the do-gooders, past, present, and future, I bid you a Happy National Volunteer week!

Studies show that volunteers lead lives that are measurably more enriched and fulfilled. Here is evidence on the powerful impact of giving from The Globalization for the Common Good Initiative. PBS also has a special segment called “This Emotional Life” which also offers insight on giving and altruism. Happily, volunteerism is trending in The United States, a remarkable reminder that kindness never goes out of style.

volunteer
I’ve been volunteering at 826 Chicago since 2008. What a great place this is—miles and miles of exceptionally sweet, smart, and absurdly generous people. Not only have I had some great experiences promoting literacy and strengthening my community, I’ve met truly incredible people, making fantastic friends along the way. I help school children with creative writing projects andBoringStore homework, or help staff The Boring Store,  a fund-raising storefront that specializes in selling ridiculous wares, such as samurai sword umbrellas and stainless steel fish flasks (I have one, of course), all to benefit Chicago Public School students! Even now, plans are underway for the annual 826 Chicago “Prom” (21 and over) dance and fundraiser. This year’s 826 Chicago Prom themes are fantastically weird.  This year’s Prom 9 From Outer Space promises to be replete with neo-futuristic costumes galore! If you are interested, buy your tickets here.

LPConservatoryRecently I began the training program to become a volunteer docent at The Lincoln Park Conservatory. Expand my volunteering life to the Lincoln Park Conservatory is the best decision I’ve made in 2014. Naturally, the conservatory is sublime, but even more impressive is the team of seasoned volunteers, who work as part of The Lincoln Park Conservancy, devoting their time to teach my trainee class a considerable amount about the Chicago Park district, and I mean a lot: the history of the parks, the origin of the plants, the nature of interpretation, and the importance of green spaces are all part of the training curriculum, and like a true nerd, I’m thrilled to have homework!

Most significantly, I began volunteering thanks to the extraordinary example of the people I know and love. Nearly all of my closest family and friends support the work of amazing non-profit organizations. Below is a (incomplete) list of the fantastic organizations my friends and family have enriched with their time and talents.

The American Red Cross

Autism Speaks

Bike Walk Logan Square

Boy Scouts of America

Chicks Against Hunger

Cleveland International Film Festival

Corner FarmVolunteer2

Donate Life

Girl Scouts of America

Habitat for Humanity

The Humane Society

The Peace Corp

Teach for America

The United Way

Veterans of Foreign Wars

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly involved in volunteer work. Allow me to highly recommend you do the same!

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

This week, I substituted for a colleague, and taught her ENG 211 course for a two-hour class period. Because I know it’s difficult to “embrace” a substitute (even though I’d taught nearly every student in the class before), I planned something fun for the day.

We watched “How Beer Saved the World,”  a one-hour Discovery Channel special available as a 44-minute video available on Netflix. The beerlength of the video is always relevant. Attention spans aren’t what they used to be. The subject matter seemed relevant to my audience of college students, especially as spring break is approaching.

The course is devoted to a study of argument, so the subject matter is irrelevant: the lesson is what matters.

The program is plagued by issues of inconsistent tone, which the students noticed immediately. The intermixture of dreadfully kitschy animation, ultra-serious voice over narration, and a few too many portly experts sipping pints while explaining the merits of beer became worrying. Another issue was the incessant product placement: clearly Miller Brewing and Coors Light offered some (if not all) of the funding dollars for this project. I wanted the students to identify what undermined the effectiveness of the argument back, and they did.

Honestly, it’s easier to teach source material that is flawed, just like it’s easier to write negative reviews. It’s important to note that criticism does serve a vital function, as brilliantly illustrated in Anton Ego’s epiphany in the fabulous film Ratatouille.

A deep understanding of the nature and purposes of critique informs the core of everything I teach and know.

I was impressed by the students’ analysis. They doubted the credibility of the sources. They asked why the negative attributes of beer were not even considered. They were a tough audience. Hurrah!

They also expressed suspicion with regard to the “facts” as presented in the piece. The most interesting definitely required “Googling” for veracity.

Fun Fact #1

The Star-Spangled Banner was based on a melody from a drinking song: Fact.

Fun Fact #2

Louis Pasteur conducted scientific research on beer: Truth, he used milk, beer, and wine in his pasteurization experiments.

Fun Fact #3

Refrigeration was largely the result of efforts by beer makers who wanted to make cold lager year round. Doubtful; my preliminary research suggests that many industries funded research in refrigeration to serve the purposes and needs of the product manufactured.

When beer enthusiasts (or companies, or researchers) want to understand the significance of beer throughout human history, they begin with the supposition that beer had a significant impact on human history, and seek to prove that supposition.

The students wondered asked “why have we never heard this before? Why isn’t in textbooks?”

Despite their willingness to question some facts, they have only just begun (perhaps) to question “fact” as a construct. They still think that all factsalong they’ve been told the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

The lesson represented another step on their path of knowing, the larger realization that all knowledge is more than incomplete. Viewpoint is always skewed. When pictures of the earth taken from space are shown, they are presented as though the spacecraft is “above” the earth, but space isn’t linear. It’s 3-dimensional. The shuttle is off of the earth, away from the earth, at a distance that is neither above, nor below, but outside.

The complexity of knowing is one of its particular beauties. Ultimately, everything we know is limited, but that doesn’t mean we should stop looking for answers.

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Parades are wacky, wonderful, and nonsensical—and that is just three of the things I love about them.

Every parade is replete with a peculiar set of activities and traditions both whimsical and weird. Parades have existed since the earliest days of civilization, with roots in military and political endeavors. What is perhaps more intriguing is that parades persist. In the 21st century, parades seem a sweet remnant of simpler times, but I suspect there has always been something nostalgic about parades. Once a parade starts, history, tradition, 29Cparade.jpgand inevitability converge to propel it infinitely forward.

My own history includes innumerable parades. For years in the Memorial Day parade in my hometown with my Girl Scout Troop; all of the girls dressed in scouting uniforms, carrying flowers to put on the graves of soldiers buried in the local cemetery. Always sentimental, I created a private tradition of placing my flowers on the same grave every year. My nieces and nephews, and children of girls I knew long ago, now walk in that parade, or watch from the sidewalk, hoping to catch some of the candy thrown into the crowd.

Gratifyingly, parades cling to a specific place and time. Traditions are decidedly local. I’ve only ever seen candy thrown at parades in Ohio. Other parades involve different rituals, but giving gifts to the crowd is a frequent practice. Whether stickers or bracelets or beads, useless trinkets are transformed into highly sought-after prizes along a parade route.

From August 2006 and June 2007, I lived in Tampa, Florida, home to two true “event” parades which were the highlight of my time there. Guavaween, a rowdy mardi-gras-like guavaweencelebration of Halloween, was held in the nightlife enclave of Tampa known as Ybor City. This parade was decidedly adult, with many risqué costumes and others that were truly frightening.  I’m glad I witnessed the unbridled mayhem while it lasted. Sadly, the event has been tamed in recent years.

gasparillaAnother terrific Tampa tradition is Gasparilla, with pirate-themed celebrations. Gasparilla is held in January, and includes both a parade of boats in Tampa Bay and two separate parades down the street beside the bay, the accurately named Bay-to-Bay Avenue. Events devoted to this celebration are exciting, with an alcohol-free Children’s parade one week before the alcohol-friendly all-ages version. The main street parade lasts more than two hours, and the onlookers are nearly as engaging as the parade itself.

This summer my getaway to the Pacific Northwest includes stays in Portland and Seattle, a week selected in order to attend a parade in both cities. The day I arrive in Portland, July 23rd, The Oregon Brewers Festival kicks off with—you guessed it: a parade dedicated to beer! The following Saturday, July 26th, I will arrive in Seattle just in time for The Torchlight parade.

A Midwest favorite is the “Cheese Parade,” which I discovered with my Urban Family a few years ago at The Monroe County Wisconsin Cheese Days. All about cheese, the parade is ushered in by a pair of cows that walk postcard-front-cheese-days-2010down the street while people watch and applaud. Cheese Days are celebrated every other year, most likely to provide plenty of planning and production time for elaborate cheese-themed floats. 2014’s Cheese Days marks the centennial celebration, and, yes, the Urban Family will be there.

CT st-patricks05.jpgDressing in thematic attire is the playful part of preposterous parade fun. People of all ages wear absurdly ridiculous items to get in the spirit. Temporary tattoos, sparkling headbands, enormous hats, tiny hats, wigs and wings: anything goes at a parade. Dressing pets in costume is also common practice. I’ve seen more than one dog dyed green to match the Chicago River on St. Patty’s Day.

Saturday, March 20, 2014 is the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Chicago. The parade is held on the Saturday before the actual holiday because too many kids miss school if the parade is held on a weekday. The St. Patrick’s Day parade is serious business in Chicago.

Rather miraculously, I have been invited by a colleague to walk with him as he plays in a pipe and drum band in this year’s Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Have I mentioned that I adore bagpipes?

 

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

My first experience with short films was in 2001. My friend Ingrid and I went to see the Oscar Nominated short films at Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland. I vividly remember the short film from Poland we saw that night; it was heartbreaking and terrific. For years I’ve intended to find the title of the film, and this post has urged me to conclude my search at last. Not only did I discover the name of the film that has remained vivid in my mind, A Man Thing (Meska Sprawa), I discovered that the director’s 2006 film Retrieval was also nominated for an Oscar, in the category of best foreign language film. His career and films are absolutely worth watching.

film-reelThe role and importance of short film was part of a conversation I’d had a few weeks before with my colleagues (and Turtle bloggers), Paul and Jenny. We were chatting about how watch-at-will programming is changing the way we experience film and television (due to Netflix and other streaming options). We noted examples of new formats that break the traditional model of North American television and film. In the case of Sherlock, three 1.5 hour episodes per season results not in a television season, but a rapid-fire film trilogy. No waiting for years between films, no extended weekly commitment.

Another appealing attribute of short films is their similarity to short stories: both are intense, character-driven, and conducive to high artistic achievement. Just as there are no “throw-away” lines in short stories, there are no extraneous moments in short films. They exist in the precise space necessary to accommodate the themes explored. The material dictates the length of what is created, form follows function.

Mostly, I watch short films hoping to be exposed to yet another phenomenal emerging filmmaker. I was delighted that the recipients of the Academy Awards for short film this year are both first-time filmmakers. Short films and short stories can offer a critical testing ground for new talent. Few writers have the wherewithal to produce a book-length work early in their careers, and the same is true for most aspiring filmmakers. Artists need practice, exposure, and support to develop their material, and short works enable this crucial experimentation and exploration.

This year, my friend Kris and I went to the Landmark Theater at Clark and Diversey to watch the animated shorts. The films we saw were hysterical, heartfelt, and haunting. The best in the animation category included this year’s winner, Mr. Hublot from Luxembourg.

I was delighted by the entrant from England, Room on the Broom, which features a fantastically put-upon cartoon cat more expressive than most characters in popular film. My favorite is the eerie, evocative Feral, another example of strikingly original artwork at its best.

The day before the Oscars, I squeezed in a viewing of the live action shorts at The Logan Theater. The winning film, Helium, was sad and sweet, innocent, yet knowing. The Voorman Problem illustrated wonderful British wit. I had enormous issues with the film from Spain; the nicest thing I can say about it is to say nothing at all. I have yet to see the short documentaries, but I will try to find a venue to see them. Too often, mainstream films address nothing other than too much of the same. Short films offer new things to see and ways of seeing. I encourage you to explore these innovative films, too.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. ~ C. S. Lewis

Perhaps getting older is like everything else: it gets easier the more you do it.

Ten years ago I stressed more about growing older than I currently do thanks to a cheerful acceptance of the inevitable. Another Imagebirthday is approaching and the only thing that is troubling me this year, at this age, is that I wasn’t able to go on a weekend birthday trip getaway (or, rather, I elected to save for a longer trip in the summer).

There are tremendous benefits to getting older; the two key ones are, in my estimation

Alpha: Understand and accept yourself

Omega: No longer wasting time

ImageSome of the other glorious things about getting older include:

Spending time with children.

Knowing the words to old songs, and unabashedly singing along.

Loving a myriad of magnificent, beautiful people (and counting).

Welcoming the surprises life can bring, and awaiting the next with anticipation.

Thanks to the tiny bits of wisdom I have garnered over the years, I know what to do and what not to do, to some degree, better now than I did before. For instance, beige is not my color (beige clothes make me look naked, truth). A miniskirt was never my best look, so I feel fine relinquishing that costume of youth. I’ve also discovered I look terrific in a wrap dress, and I wear a signature perfume that smells divine only on me.

ImageI have accepted my own personal version of crazy; I practice punctuality and don’t like to stay up late; happily those personal tics correspond well with aging, so eventually, it won’t be odd that I arrive promptly and want to go home at 10:00pm. In fact, if I stay awake past 10:00pm in 30 years, that’ll seem like a real accomplishment, much like it did 30 years ago.

I will continue to develop my relationship with myself in the coming years. Indeed, it has been said that “the most profound relationship we will ever have is the one with ourselves.” The fact that this sentiment emanated from the 20th century actress and meditation guru Shirley MacLaine should encourage your acceptance of its veracity, since she’s lived a lot (if you get that reference, you are my age, or older—hello, fellow traveler!)

While I hope to age well, I do have a central regret: I should have started saving money when I was younger, not for retirement, but for the amount I spend on moisturizers. The one aspect of aging I do not want to have to gracefully accept is wrinkles. There is no way to avoid them; they are a key demarcation of age. To wrinkles I say, “yuck, oftentimes with an ‘ef’.”

Nevertheless, I am happy to celebrate my birthday in late February day after day, often lasting a week, or even into March—why not? I Imagecan think of limitless fun things to do, and I know enough people whom I can invite, so I take advantage of that serendipity.

Aging without growing old arises from enjoying life. Years ago, I was a bartender at an Irish pub in Cleveland, Ohio. Opening night was New Year’s Eve. I went to the hair salon before my shift, mostly to make a good impression on my new customers. I was the youngest woman in the beauty parlor by at least two decades when the stylist asked who wanted glitter sprayed into their hair. Thinking it too girlish, I immediately said, “No.”

The much older woman next to me looked up with a grin and said, “I never pass up a chance to sparkle!” In that moment, she was younger than me, and I opted for the glitter after all.

When young, we are all more sensitive to what people think. When older, we care more about what we ourselves think, and therein resides the wonderful freedom to be exactly who we want to be.

Though youth is often associated with impetuous choices, age brings certainty of purpose. Someday becomes right away, the sooner the better. I have wanted to travel to the Pacific Northwest for the past three years. This winter, I bought my ticket for a trip in July.

At my age, I know if I want to make things happen, I have to act fast. After all, Time’s a wasting.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

“Oh, Wind, if winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”  – P. B. Shelley

Regardless of how miserable winter can be, I love the seasons. My short residence in Florida proved that though an endless vacation may seem tempting, there is something of primal importance in the delineation of the seasons as markers of life, growth, death, renewal, and the passage of time.

I was not surprised to discover that Groundhog’s Day is based on the ancient rite of Imbolc, which like all pagan rituals celebrates Imagenatural phenomenon and life cycles of the universe. The Christians co-opted this holiday (among others) and created the mid-winter holy day of Candlemas. Along the way, Groundhog’s Day emerged. At this point I feel compelled to recommend Bill Murray in Groundhog Day since winter is a great time to stay in a watch a movie.

Groundhog’s Day falls between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, the true middle of winter. No matter what holiday we observe, the celebration marks making it halfway through winter. In every other era before this one, surviving until the midpoint of winter was a physical triumph, not just a psychological one. Think about all the real hardships that our forebears experienced specifically extreme cold (without that trusty thermostat) and limited food supplies (no stocking up before a cold snap). Fuel was unreliable and difficult to procure. The food saved for winter was all; when the provisions ran out, there was simply no more. Add to these terrifying realities other issues, particularly with regard to hygiene and illness. Not too much in the way of bathing occurred in the cold months, and sickness spread rapidly, regularly claiming lives. While we have tired of winter at this point, we are fortunate that the season is no longer life-threatening to a vast number of Americans (though the poor and sick and old throughout the world are perpetually at risk).

ImageThe seasons demand a visceral consciousness of the natural world. Weather remains a perpetual topic of polite conversation, even if it consists primarily of complaints. Weather is one of the few shared experiences; we sympathize with each other because we endure together. And, like every struggle humans face, weather can reveal wonderful human traits.

Moreover, without winter cold, there would be no need for knitted scarves, eradicating one type of my favorite accessory. I love wearing scarves, and now that it is regularly below 10 degrees, I wear two at a time. My favorite scarves were made especially for me by my generous (and crafty) friends. I can thank Ruthie, Jackie, Ingrid, and Hanna for the extra warmth they’ve brought to me life, in colorful, portable form.

Too often, contemporary life allows and encourages ignoring the natural world. The seasons bring us back to our senses. With the change of seasons comes the joy of anticipation, too. There is always something new to long for, whether soft spring rain, or warm summer nights, vibrant autumn leaves, or the hush of snowfall.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Daft Punk ruled the Grammy’s on Sunday night, winning five awards including Best Record for “Get Lucky” and Best Album for Random Access Memories. They also had a fun performance of “Get Lucky” with Pharrell, Nile Rodgers, and Stevie Wonder.

daft-punk2I like Daft Punk. I defended “Get Lucky” all year as the best mainstream song of 2013, even as the super catchy “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke flooded airwaves. I own their albums, and their song “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” was just outside my Top 25 on my list of Top Songs of All-Time. I dig their whole robot schtick, which somehow works for them and seems cool rather than forced.

Yet, Daft Punk’s success at the Grammy’s makes me once again question how we Americans view music.

To make that point, we need a brief recap of Daft Punk’s history:

  • Back in 1997, during my high school days, Daft Punk’s “Around the World” was everywhere. Very good (not great) song. Cool video.
  • Then Daft Punk vanished for a while.
  • During my college years in 2001, they reappeared with hits like “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Strong.”
  • Then *POOF* gone.
  • Their third album, 2005’s Human After All, is largely forgettable. It wasn’t until Kanye West’s Graduation album that Daft Punk seemed mainstream again because of Kanye’s song “Stronger” which sampled “Harder, Better, Faster Stronger.”
  • There was some Grammy success in 2009 for a live album, then in 2010 they did the soundtrack for the film Tron: Legacy.
  • In 2013, they released Random Access Memories with the hit “Get Lucky.”
  • So, from 1997-2013, Daft Punk had three albums (not counting Tron or the Live album) with maybe 3-4 very good songs and 1 great song in “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.”

In total, their career track record didn’t add up to what some artists do in ONE great album. Yet, during all that time, people treated Daft Punk as if they had some kind of indie-artist coolness to them, which is nonsense because they had international hit songs – there was no “insider” quality to them. Yet, that aura remained, and this was especially true with the way people lost their minds about Daft Punk doing the soundtrack for Tron, as if it was actually the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jesus who formed a super group for the soundtrack.

Then Random Access Memories comes out, which has two real standout songs – “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance” – both of which feature Pharrell on vocals. And, maybe it’s Pharrell who’s the artist on fire, between “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines,” and the deliriously fun “Happy,” Pharrell had as many hits in 2013 as Daft Punk did in the past 10 years. Pharrell’s songs aside, Daft Punk’s album feels like an inferior Jamiroquai album.

(This is when everyone under 30 Googles Jamiroquai and says, “Oh, the band that did that song in Napoleon Dynamite?)

Some of the same groovy, funk-disco deliciousness that makes “Get Lucky” so damn good is what has made Jamiroquai so successful worldwide, yet in America, they were mostly written off as one-hit wonders after their 1996 song “Virtual Insanity.” Maybe Jamiroquai’s lead singer Jay Kay picked the wrong type of headgear. Jamiroqaui remains active and very popular – just not mainstream in America.

jam

Another example is how America lost its mind over the folk-rock stylings of Mumford & Sons, yet barely noticed the harder-edged, lyrically superior folk-punk-rock of another artist from across the pond, Frank Turner, whose 2013 album Tape Deck Heart was the best new album I heard last year, yet only hit 52 on the Billboard Top 200. His single “Recovery” – my favorite song of 2013 – got solid airplay, but didn’t grab hold of the mainstream the same way Mumford hits like “Little Lion Man” did.

I like Daft Punk, Mumford & Sons, Jamiroquai, Frank Turner. I’m not questioning the artists. I’m questioning us, the American music audience. Daft Punk deserves the accolades for “Get Lucky,” but there is frustratingly little logic in our pop culture scene. 

Daft Punk seemed to have earned a decade-long pass from Americans, as if we were just waiting for them to finally release an amazing song like “Get Lucky” just so we could all say, “SEE! I told YOU Daft Punk kicks ass!” Other artists are given no such pass and are cast aside as one-hit wonders even if they continue to produce good music for YEARS after bursting onto the scene.

Many great songs flew under the radar in 2013 – Turner’s “Recovery” being one example – and yet we prop up and reward ultra-obnoxious songs like “Royals” by Lorde. (She should be working on her resume and CV right now. Her 15 minutes is almost up.) 

As someone who plays the piano, classical pianist Lang Lang blew my friggin’ mind with his musical introduction to Metallica at the Grammy’s. I am not bad at the piano, and yet I could NEVER play like that. The audience hardly made a peep. Then, a simple strum of the guitar intro for Metallica’s “One” and the audience went nuts.

Perhaps it’s just that the collective whims of the American music scene are tugged in so many directions by countless variables that the end result is what appears to be a confounding lack of logic. Or maybe it is just illogical.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

21st-century adult life entails entirely too much paperwork. One of my primary aversions is paperwork, which clashes most unpleasantly with my chosen profession. Nurses and doctors encounter paperwork in daily charting. Restaurateurs endure the endless weekly paperwork of inventory and ordering and scheduling. Paperwork comprises a large percentage of the duties and expectations of every profession (whether white color or blue), yet it is rarely mentioned as a path to that profession is undertaken. I’m sure this obfuscation is intentional, as paperwork is as relentless as an avalanche. For teachers, paperwork means grading.

paperwork_overload

Tricia Lunt?

I’ve been trapped under a pile of paperwork all week. I refer to time spent evaluating papers as “going into my grading cave,” since I have little time to focus on anything else. Not counting pages of journals and in-class assignments and online grammar modules, I graded 21 essays on Friday, 18 essays on Monday, 29 essays on Tuesday, and the final set of 21 essays on Wednesday, which is why I’m just now getting to my preferred version of paperwork—my own writing.

I am continually surprised by the amount of time and effort I devote to grading. About 70% of my efforts as a teacher fall under the “grading” heading, which is important work, but difficult and draining on nearly every level. Without even considering the inherent problems of attempting to conduct objective assessment, grading is overwhelming. There are always essays to grade, and a lot of them, and they need to be done immediately, because there are more assignments due next week, and they’ll need to be graded, too.

When I tell my students that grading is challenging, they (kindly) seek to simplify my life by suggesting I just “give them all A’s”. My response includes reading and discussing Roberta Borkat’s satire of higher education, “A Liberating Curriculum.”

Hello, “teachable moment!”

Although grading demands so much, it is an essential part of meaningfully engaging with my students. In order to improve their writing skills, my students must write, and I can only help them develop their writing if I study it closely, considering how their own unique voices might be made stronger, more effective.

Oftentimes, students are shocked by the extent of marks and commentary I make on their essays. I could easily provide even more recommendations, but cannot dally since another stack of essays awaits my attention. Grading offers my students the one-on-one attention they so urgently need, and ultimately deserve. I ask them to pay attention to their language use, to contemplate the validity of their examples, and to develop the logic of their arguments, so I must lead by example and give their work thoughtful consideration as I seek to help them develop useful intellectual skills, writing or otherwise.

grades2Eventually, most students come to respect and value the time and effort professors put in to grading (or evaluating, critiquing, if you like) their work. Even now, I have an email from a former Columbia student expecting my input. Meanwhile, my dance instructor asked me for editing suggestions to improve her studio’s website. I’ve edited countless cover letters and resumes for friends. And when I write anything, I solicit numerous opinions from my trusted colleagues. Just last week, I asked for reaction to the vegetable masala I’d made. Anything good can be made better, and there’s nothing quiet as useful as honest advice.

Grading reveals offers proof of this unassailable truth: criticism is love.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Looking back, I have always been drawn to dancers and dancing. “Singing in the Rain” ranks on my top five favorite films, and I was a strange super-fan of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, thanks to the movie “White Nights.” Throw “Footloose” into the mix of my formative years, and I was doomed to a life of wistfully longing to enter the magical world of dance.

I never took dance lessons, they were a luxury, expensive; they still are, but I find, more and more, that dance is a necessity in my life.

Since moving to Chicago, I have enrolled in a variety of dance classes, and I am sure there are more types of dance in my future.

I know my skill level as a dancer (indefinitely beginner), and am happy to work at it. The truly tremendous thing about taking dance classes as an adult is that there is no hope whatsoever that I could have a career as a dancer. Thus, the pressure is off, and all that remains is to relish the pure pleasure of moving to music.

There are oftentimes ludicrous limitations and extreme expectations imposed upon children with regard to excelling in extracurricular activities, and dance is among these demanding atmospheres. Eager, dedicated young dancers are too often treated with disdain. The proclamations that someone is “not talented enough,” “not a natural dancer,” or that he or she doesn’t have “a dancer’s body” are ridiculous.

Do you have a body? Good, you can dance.

Suggesting dance is reserved for the elite undermines the joy that dance can bring to every life, (and explains why ballet performances are so poorly attended). Dancing at home with cherished family, at parties with unforgettable friends, at bars with inviting strangers, and at weddings with, ideally, every guest between 2 and 92 remains as an unrivaled way to celebrate being alive.

I enjoy learning, so dance lessons offer an extension of that fun, even when I am frustrated by my own meager abilities. I see the teacher do something, and I try to imitate it. I know in advance that my attempts will be a poor reflection, but I don’t care. There is something about dancing that makes me want to try, even though I know I will not master it (perhaps I have finally realized why people like to golf).

My first foray into dance lessons was a delightful class at The Old Town School of Folk Music. I took guitar lessons, too. Do yourself a favor and take lessons there, as it is as close to a hippie commune as can be found in 21st century Chicago. The class was “Hip Hop for Beginners,” and my instructor was a woman who was professionally known simply as “Boogie.” That alone was enough for me to appreciate. Alas, I didn’t excel at Hip Hop, particularly when the skills moved to the floor, meaning falling to the floor and popping back up. Anyone who knows me can confirm that I am not adept at this type of quick vertical movement. Hip shaking was my strongest skill, so I left Hip Hop behind, so to speak.

The next type of dancing I explored was Bollywood dance, essentially musical theater with a Hindi backdrop. The moves in Bollywood are an enchanting blend of gesture and storytelling. My teacher was excellent, knowledgeable, and indefatigable. I’ve never seen an adult with so much energy. She shared the splendor and vitality of this important cultural tradition with boundless enthusiasm. Dance provides an incredibly rich entrance into the remarkably beautiful cultures of the world, a global excursion without the high cost airfare.

The current “dance” class I attend is Zumba, though it is technically an exercise class inspired by and infused with dance. Nevertheless, my instructor, Krista, is trained in tap, jazz, classical, and currently competes as a ballroom dancer, so she brings plenty of fancy footwork to her far less agile students. The music at Zumba is eclectic, but most songs whether popular or obscure contain a driving beat and Latin rhythms. Ass shaking is an absolute necessity in Zumba, which keeps me coming back for more.

The fine art of dance requires discipline, yes, and there are truly gifted dancers in the world, thank heavens, whose skill and talent are a joy to behold. However, that shouldn’t preclude everyone from joining in the fun. Imagine if professional chefs were the only ones permitted in the kitchen, or Olympic swimmers where the only ones allowed in the pool. We all need to be encouraged to fully participate in all the joys of living.

There are dance floors enough in this world to accommodate everyone. So, don’t wait for permission, or even an invitation; get out there and dance.