Hello everyone. I just wanted to let you all know that my blog has moved, and you can now follow me on 360.wustl.edu. Nothing else has changed on the content side, so enjoy my posts as I get through senior year.
Usually, final exams are a pretty standard affair for me. Study, know my stuff, go in there and prove it on the test. Not this one. It’s easy to write things you know on a piece of paper, but it is a lot different to perform them.
Yeah, I’m sure you can see where this is going by now. It was a final for a dance class. The first dance class I’d ever taken, and what a ride it was. This was “Introduction to Argentine Tango,” a University College (“UCollege”) class. Students in Arts & Sciences can take one UCollege class per semester without additional tuition fees, and I couldn’t recommend them enough. Ones that I know of are the dance classes, an improv comedy class, and a nutrition class. They all meet after 6pm, so won’t conflict with regular classes.
Anyway, back to tango. This entire class was an accident. I had signed up for Foxtrot and Waltzes on a whim because I figured dance is a valuable life skill. The Foxtrot/Waltz class was on Thursday afternoon, but I happened to see the Th and read it to say T, so I showed up on Tuesday to the classroom and found myself in Tango. Luckily, I was able to find an awesome partner and enroll in the class (a lot of people will sign up alone, and the class is done with partners, so if you have a partner, you’re more likely to be able to get in/stay in the class).
I’m not going to lie, it was a very difficult class, especially for someone (me) with no dance experience. Argentine Tango is a bit of a curveball because there isn’t a standard “basic” dance that you can use as a building block for everything else. The entire thing is improvised. Luckily, we were taught a sort of basic, which we would use as a basic, but as our instructor told us repeatedly, tango is about improvising and going with the flow. I’m very used to structure, and this was really hard for me to wrap my head around. During most of the semester, I felt behind. As soon as I would learn a new move, we’d immediately learn another one. When we reviewed, I’d be the one asking to see how the move goes, just one more time.
Things did, however, finally come together, at the very end. Gosh, I guess they had to, given the nature of our final assignment. We were to perform a 2 minute piece, of any song we wanted. We were to choose every move, and to perform in front of the class. When I first heard this, I thought it was a joke. Hey, I’m just here to learn to dance, not be a dance performer, I thought.
So we met, and we choreographed, and we practiced. And practiced again, and again. Eventually things started to come together. Honestly, remembering the entire thing was a huge step for me. I was able to film it. Below is the video.
Now, the important part isn’t that suddenly I’m a professional dancer. The important part is that this class accomplished what I imagine true education is supposed to do: it broadened my horizons. This didn’t quite click with me until I found myself in my house, doing tango steps for fun because they happened to fit the song that was playing. Now, I’ll be enrolling in another dance class, and am considering checking out some of the ballroom dance clubs on campus. What a difference a single class can make.
Sorry if the title confused you. To clarify, tonight, I went to an undergraduate reading event hosted by the english department. This is an event where undergrads come and read excerpts from the fiction, non-fiction, and poetry pieces that they’ve worked on during the semester. Some people got extra credit in their classes for doing it; I just thought it would be a fun thing to do, and decided this afternoon that I’d go and read from one of my pieces.
I was right. There’s nothing like unrehearsed public speaking to get the adrenaline going. Reading your work to a room of 60 people is a whole different animal from reading it silently in your head. My heart started racing as soon as I came in the room. I’d signed up to go second. Oops. Might as well get it over with. It was the most nerve-wracking yet thrilling experience I’ve had in a long time.
More than that, the reading showed just how talented these other students are. I wish I’d filmed their pieces; the microfiction about the alien destroying a classroom, the love story about a man who still hasn’t given up on her after sixty-six years even though they are from different religions and their parents forbade them ever seeing each other, the first person story from the perspective of a chicken, the story a psychopath who killed a police man. They were chilling and incredible.
I was able to convince Avery to film my reading. Enjoy!
It’s Tuesday night, and 60 or so students and professors are packed into a carpeted, quaint room with square, modern lights on the ceiling and white angel statues in the corner, the lights shining up onto their faces. The room is noisy as we wait for the event to start.
Suddenly the room goes quiet as a voice takes over the microphone. A woman begins reading excerpts of Bynum’s work, introducing her with more awards than I can remember. We clap and Bynum steps up to the podium, “grateful for the kind welcome I’ve received here at Washington University in St. Louis,” a smile on her face. Trying to hold back her own giggling, she tells us that she will be talking about humor in fiction tonight.
Bynum begins by admitting that humor is highly subjective, making it incredibly hard to analyze. She enjoys lightness in humor; the humor arising from not knowing that you are being funny. Bynum says that the funniest novel she’s ever read is “The Blue Flower” by Penelope Fitzgerald, her last novel before she died in 2000 at the age of 83.
Copies of the (four page-long) first chapter of “The Blue Flower” had been placed on our chairs, and Bynum gives us a few minutes to read it. Bynum uses this as a basis for her talk about humor. We go through many examples in the chapter, but below are the key takeaways.
-Humor is from the experience of incongruity between what is expected and what is delivered.
-The superiority theory of comedy: we laugh from feelings of superiority over other people.
-The comedy of recognition: my private laughter increases as I see more and more of myself in the character. “As Homer Simpson says: ‘it’s funny because it’s true.'”
It’s Monday night, and I’m doing my usual ritual: studying. I’m in the DUC (best place to get a salad at night), of course, except this time, things are a little bit different. I’m eating my dinner in the middle of Tisch Commons (the big common area), sitting with a hundred of so other students in front of a huge projector that is playing the movie “Frozen”. They have a popcorn machine. It’s a win-win.
7:36 P.M. update: We all just sang “Let it Go”. It was great.
For years, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I’ve delayed and delayed it, rationalizing to myself that it would be arrogant of me to assume that I know enough about life to portray it on paper before I’ve truly lived a life myself. The plan has always been to go through school, pursue a career, create memories, and then use writing as a way to reflect when I’m older, when I’m retired and have nothing else to do. Yet this semester is making me question this life plan. Maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Who’s to say that I can’t write and work full time? I might start writing a lot sooner than I thought, and I owe a lot of it to the classes I’m in now.
This spring, I’m taking Fiction Writing II, Creative Nonfiction Writing, and The Art of the Novel. The three classes build off of each other, giving an almost magical synergistic effect. I’ll learn something in one class, then immediately study it in the next, allowing me to truly understand the concepts, or at least understand how much I don’t understand. I’m only now seeing the tip of the iceberg, and don’t think I’ll ever know all there is to know about it.
Both Fiction and Nonfiction have a reliable, similar schedule. We have class two days per week. We mix classes up between workshopping each other’s pieces (reading each other’s pieces and talking about them), discussing published pieces, and writing our own. The Art of the Novel is a little bit different, focusing more on reading assignments and discussions, with three essays during the semester.
By studying pieces of the published authors, we get to see exactly how they do what they do. Its been incredible to watch my writing slowly improve as the classes go on and we read more.
It was 10pm on a Saturday night. Maybe a hundred students were packed into a square, entirely black room creatively titled “The Black Box”. Most had chairs or benches to sit on; the unlucky latecomers were standing near the walls. Suddenly the lights went off, came back on, and three students ran out and made up a hilariously inappropriate scene about…well, I can’t remember what exactly it was about. But it was incredible.
This all happened tonight at Mama’s Pot Roast’s “Don’t Come to the Show Show”. Mama’s Pot Roast is an improv comedy group on campus. I found an old Student Life article (our school newspaper) that gives some background on the three groups on campus. WUSTL’s student improv groups are one of the hidden gems on campus. Most people know they exist, but aren’t quite sure when the shows are. Every show is free, and since there are three groups, there is usually a show at least once per month. The trick is to ask someone in the improv community when the next show is; they aren’t advertised on the WUSTL Record calendar.
WUSTL students are generally smart, but our improv performers take clever to a whole new level. Each scene begins by asking the audience for a word. The performers will pick a word and make up an entire scene from scratch based off of it. You really have to see it to understand.
Today was the last day of my Acting I class, and now I feel empty inside. I was not expecting this at all. This week was the last week of class, and we had two separate performances. On Monday, I performed my monologue, from Neil Labute’s play “The Shape of Things”. Today (Wednesday), my scene partner and I performed a scene from “Three Days of Rain” by Richard Greenberg. I played Theo, and my partner played Ned. Both performances were done completely from memory, and both were incredible.
Last week , I was freaking out. I had a rough grasp on my monologue, but didn’t really know my lines for my scene. It was Thanksgiving break, so I couldn’t practice with my scene partner. I ended up running through lines and rehearsing both pieces with my mother and grandmother. It was a blast. We got into it. Really into it. People don’t realize how fun it can be to lose yourself in a character, and step inside someone else’s personality. For that monologue, I got to be Adam (my character) for two minutes, yelling at the girl that just broke my heart. For the scene, I got to be Theo, an strung-out architect with an arrogant side and mean streak. Becoming these characters was the ultimate act of empathy, and like nothing I’ve ever done before.
Anyway, back to the learning lines. The first few run-throughs were rough. Really rough. I made a rehearsal schedule, and ran through the scene three times per day. Every time I practiced, the piece got better. I knew my lines. I started to really understand my them. My emotion came through. I started picking up nuances about the piece. I felt like an actor, not just the nervous student I had been.
By the time I got back to campus, I was ready. I had my monologue down, so now it was just a matter of honing the scene. My partner and I practiced. We worked on body language and interacting with each other. Things were looking good. We were ready to go. We were still a bit nervous; every time we practiced, we’d drop a line or two. It was small, but noticeable. Hopefully we’d keep our composure on stage. After all, the show must go on.
Today, we did the scene. Everything ran perfectly. The emotion was there. The volume was there. The lines were there. We nailed it. I’ve never felt so alive. I didn’t even see the audience. It was just me and my scene partner up there. The old acting cliché is absolutely true: in an age of constant distraction, we were completely in the moment. In another time, in another place. Theater truly is something else.
When the class ended, I realized I wouldn’t get these feelings again for a while. Boy, I sure am going to miss that. Even outside of the class, though, I’m grateful for how much the skills I’ve learned in it have helped me in other areas. After the monologue and scene, the presentation I have to do in my Econometrics class is going to be cake. I no longer get nervous before doing public speaking. I know that I can memorize anything. I know I can take on another persona if I need to. I’ve noticed that in my everyday interactions, I express myself more. I am, literally, more dramatic. Situations that used to be boring are now exciting. I see social interactions in a new way now. I’m aware of how I’m speaking, how I’m standing, how I’m presenting myself. That was something I thought school couldn’t teach. I sure was wrong.
Tonight, I went back to the 40 to grab dinner with some friends. We all know what that means: I got to return to my “childhood stomping grounds,” otherwise known as Bear’s Den. Some unknowing parents call it “The Bear’s Den,” but it is really just Bear’s Den. Since mainly underclassmen live on the South 40 , it was a treat for me to stop by, because I love the food here. Washington University has been named the #1 university in the country for food lovers, and I can see why. In the coming months, I’ll do my best to do justice to the culinary magic that is WUSTL. Tonight, we start with the stir fry station at Bear’s Den.
For picky eaters like myself, the stir fry station is heaven. It all starts when you pick out whatever vegetables you want. They usually have broccoli, carrots, eggs, mushrooms, spinach, lettuce, baby corn, peppers, water chestnut, beans, and sometimes squash. Then, once you get your vegetables and optionally add fresh garlic or ginger, things get complicated.
Next, you’ll fill out a ticket. This is my favorite part, because the possibilities seem endless. As you can see from my ticket below, you’ve got 6 protein options, 5 protein options, and 8 sauces. If I wasn’t so in love with the current dish I get, I could probably try something new every time.
While the food is great, I can’t brag enough about the staff here. I’d say some of my best memories in Bear’s Den happened as I was waiting in line, talking to and joking around with the cooks. Whether they’re listening to 80s rap and dancing as they cook, or just small-talking with the students, the cooks go out of their way to make everyone feel welcome. I’ll never forget the night I met Netta during my freshman year. I came to the station as it was closing, starving after working on a project all night. I was the last one to get stir fry that night, and thanks to my tardiness, Netta and I became friends. She’s the best. If you’re at the stir fry station, make sure you say hey, and say Henry sent you.
Now, without further ado, the most important part: tricks of the trade. When you get stir fry, don’t be afraid to ask for something if you want it. I’m an odd eater, and often ask for no starch, and sometimes extra starch. They’ll accommodate that. Make sure you write your name clearly on the ticket; nobody wants to be referred to “Herrney,” and no one wants to try to read your scribbles. Finally, don’t be afraid to try new combinations. I have yet to eat a stir-fry variation that I haven’t loved.
Sadly, I was far too hungry and excited to remember to take a picture of my food before I wolfed it down. Maybe next time!
Thanks to the wonderful hour I gained from the end of daylight savings, I’ve been pretty stress-free today, and have had one of the best Sundays of the semester. I spent most of the morning lying in bed, doing chores, and studying. Around 1:30 pm, I walked across campus to the Edison Theatre to watch the 2:00pm showing for Spring Awakening. My Acting I class, which I wrote about here, requires us to see two plays during the semester. I don’t usually go to see plays, but I’m really glad I went to see Spring Awakening today. It was incredible.
When I looked at the program, I was suprized to realize that I knew four of the actors. They are juniors like me, and two of them lived in the same freshman dorm as I did. It really hit home to know that the people on stage were my age. I had no idea how talented they are. The show was a musical, and mixed social themes, classic music, and rock and roll. A small orchestra filled the back of the stage.
What I remember most about the performance, however, was the message I got from it. After one of the characters said: “We’ll make a better world with our child,” I realized that everyone can make an impact on the world. In the play, the characters were subject to a stifling society and education system, and were ostracized when they went against the grain. Yet they still did it. They still fought for what they thought was right. I admire that, and hope more students got the message I did. If we all took a stand on things, we could do a lot.