Why Not Ride Your Bike to Florida?

tumblr_o15pnrQqAD1v0i8sgo1_1280What did YOU do over the holiday break?  Tufts student and Friend of ExCollege, Zhou “JJ” Zhuangchen rode his bike from Boston to Orlando to raise money for Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC). Here’s his blog, jjridesforrisc.tumblr.com, with beautiful photos of his encounters. Unfortunately, JJ found it necessary to punctuate his post with the hashtag, #suffer. Looks like it was worth it.  Congratulations, JJ!

 

This post sets the stage:

tumblr_nyue0hs4ht1v0i8sgo1_1280 I created this page for my winter bike ride from Boston, MA to Orlando, FL this December and January. The ride is roughly 1600 miles, terrain is unknown and weather could be horrible. I will be riding about 6 hours per day to cover about 80 miles, and hopefully finish the ride within a month.

As a prospective photographer, I am deeply concerned with the dangerous conditions that freelance photographers, writers, videographers and journalists working in conflict zones are facing. To be properly equipped to work in these situations, they have to pay thousands of dollars for training, which they sometimes simply cannot afford. I came across the organization RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, here is their website: http://risctraining.org/) a few months back. They are doing free training for freelance journalists to help themselves and others should the unfortunate happen in combat zones.

Since RISC’s training is free for participants, the amount of money RISC raises determines how many reporters can be trained. For each overseas workshop participant, RISC needs to offset roughly $1600 dollars of cost. I hope my ride can help at least five freelance journalists to receive the training–-thus, I set the goal of the fundraiser at $8,000.

Announcing the Birth of Spring 2016

Magic 2The ExCollege staff is in full throttle as we launch our 2016 courses tonight. Or is this a better metaphor: We’re proud parents who’ve nurtured our babies and now they must leave the nest.  It all began several months ago with the influx of proposals, then the gestational period of vetting, interviewing, and debating the merits of each course with students and faculty on our Board.  Elephant 2

The result: the birth of twenty-one visiting lecturer courses, eleven peer-taught classes, and a host of others offered in partnership with a range of Tufts departments.

Then we worried about how some of our children might find their way in the world: would a class on “Dope Fiends” (EXP-0037) find an audience while the opioid crisis is in the news?
Dope Fiends 2Does a course titled “Fatness: Body Politics in America” convey how size shapes opportunity, life chances, privilege and oppression? What type of student wants to analyze a different color each week (EXP-0016)?

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Do people think they already know what it’s like for “Women in the Islamic Middle East” (EXP-0066), or would they leap at the chance to study with a visiting Iranian scholar? Is “The Lives of Scientists” (EXP-0020) really for biology students, English majors, chimpanzee lovers, or just someone looking for a true interdisciplinary class? Lives Scientists

We know there are a lot of film fans out there, but do they want to make films, learn the business of films, unravel the astonishment of magic and movies, or analyze the fascination with horror?

Filmmaking 1.1We’ve watched like proud parents as the enrollment for each of these courses has grown.  Now we want to know what YOU think.  Tell us what that first class is like.  We bet you’ll be astonished.  More importantly, tell your friends.

 

A Soothing Sense of Order and Peace

Did you know that there is a color of the year, every single year? A committee chooses “the color” for the upcoming year and dictates the color scheme for clothing, makeup, home goods, you name it. Now that is power. Business Insider reports that the process involves trench coats, suitcases, and confidentiality agreements.

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The color of the year for 2015 was Marsala.

I first learned about the color of the year in college, when I had an Art History professor whose wife was on this mysterious committee. If you’re like me, you wait patiently for the color announcement each December and text your husband about it immediately. And if you’re like my husband, you don’t text back.

It’s not that I feel a need to follow trends or blindly obey authority; I find the entire phenomenon fascinating. You may think you’re choosing your new pants because you like the color, but what if the choice was never really yours in the first place?

Well, the benevolent overlords at Pantone have announced the color of 2016, and–whoa you guys–it’s two colors: Rose Quartz and Serenity. That is, a warm, soft pink and a cool, light blue. Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, explains, “Joined together, Rose Quartz and Serenity demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace.” Does that sound paternalistic? Shhh. Just let it wash over you, like an embracing rose tone, or a tranquil blue.

Like a word for which you just learned the definition, once you know about the color of the year, you’ll start to see it everywhere. Will you buy something Rose Quartz or Serenity this year? Chances are that you will, whether you like it or not.

Rose Quartz and Serenity

2016 vision board for the Delpha-McClure family?

Citizen Trump

candhapr08Almost from the beginning, American culture has thought of politicians as one rung up on the slime ladder from used horse, and then later, used car salesmen (and I use the masculine here on purpose). Perversely enough, however – and perhaps it stems from that uniquely American strain of unbridled optimism – every four years we forget and become immersed again in the festival of electing a president.

Now I know some of you are going to say, wait a minute, that’s exactly why Donald Trump is doing so well, because he’s proudly NOT a politician. And my response is: “Baloney.” Trump has never been an office holder, but he’s a politician through and through, and a pretty good one at that, assuming you define politics as I do: the art of running for office, not the business of governing.

citizen-kaneDuring the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, plays, musicals, and vaudeville acts latched on to politics as fit topic and fair game. At the same time, the theatricality of campaigning turned elections into another kind of entertainment. These twin impulses have continued on, famously, through movies about politics on the one hand (Citizen Kane, Nashville, The Candidate) and in the political arena itself — first with radio coverage and then with the medium that transformed campaigning forever: TV.

Which brings us back to Mr. Trump.

John F. Kennedy was the first politician who understood the power of TV. Bill Clinton moved that understanding forward in the age of the twenty-four-hour news cycle. But Donald Trump has taken it all to another level.

By training, experience and acumen, he not only gets that reality TV, along with its bastard child, YouTube, rule the media landscape, he also knows that, in many ways, they’ve set the tone for our culture. And he’s Citizen Number One in this brave new world. He thrives on it.

CELEBRITY APPRENTICE -- Red Carpet Event at Trump Tower -- Pictured: Donald Trump -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

CELEBRITY APPRENTICE — Red Carpet Event at Trump Tower — Pictured: Donald Trump — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Look no further than Trump’s use of “controversy” on the stump. It’s calculated, nuanced, carefully scripted and timed – all the while appearing to be haphazard — and as masterful as it was on his wildly popular reality TV show, The Apprentice.

In addition, rather than offer substantive positions, Mr. Trump has taken the politician’s art of sloganeering to a reality TV extreme.  Think about his wall across our southern border. It’s a striking, simple, and completely absurd image straight of the special effects division of any major movie studio. Hence it’s beauty. Presented over and over again, it becomes familiar and meaningful to many who want the complexities of a problem such as immigration to be swept away with one grand gesture, Like any good Marvel Comics hero could do.

But the most powerful aspect of Mr. Trump’s campaign is his channeling of the great Saturday Night Live stars. As with Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, or Bill Murray (to name just a few), Mr. Trump is a king of the “inside.” With nods, winks, gestures, a knowing smile, a shared catchphrase, he plays to his audience and with his audience, while at the same time playing (read “manipulating”) his audience. And the upshot is that “his audience” contains not only supporters, but the media (“mainstream” and otherwise), and all the rest of us, too.

The Fandom Awakens

Alright… after trying to avoid reviews and conversations about The Force Awakens, and after seeing it crush box-office records, I finally watched the newest installment of the Star Wars saga!SW-THE-FORCE-AWAKENS

Let me preface the rest of this post, however, by saying that I never really considered myself a Star Wars fan – in fact, I was always rather indifferent to it…

So much so, that before heading to the IMAX Theater at Assembly Row last night, I realized that I either didn’t watch parts of the franchise or couldn’t remember much of what I did.

Personally, The Lord of the Rings is the first film series I ever fell in love with. I was the ripe age of nine when The Fellowship of the Ring was released, and my best friend’s father brought us to every opening night. I proceeded to fall in love with the books and all the product tie-ins that followed the films.

I suppose that – unlike Tolkien’s Middle-Earth – I never had anyone expose me to Lucas’ galaxy far, far awastarwarspostery. And this was a stark contrast to the two people accompanying me last night. Howard Woolf, for example, can only be described as a huge sci-fi fan, as well as a Jedi Master at Tufts when it comes to anything film related.

Consequently, sitting next to a couple longtime fans cemented some high expectations! The pressure was on, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been more focused during a recent movie.

But since I’m really not “qualified” to evaluate this or any of the Star Wars franchise, I’ll spare you my long-winded feelings about The Force Awakens. I will say, however, that my expectations were happily met.

More importantly, it also met the expectations of the two fans I was with! Episode VII seemed to stay true to its predecessors and the Star Wars brand, while also being open enough to welcome in new fans and leave me wanting more. I left wanting to delve deeper into Lucas’ universe and watch/re-watch its prequels. I even started watching some of the saga’s best moments online.

So what are you waiting for? If you weren’t a fan already, this is your chance to jump on board.

P.S. Don’t tell your little brother you’re going because he might throw out a huge spoiler…

Lesson learned…

What I Learned from Teaching a College Course on Social Media

ExCollege visiting lecturer Ben Rubenstein learned a thing or two teaching Social Media this fall:

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student-created meme on clicktivism

Until recently, my teaching background consisted of a chaotic seventh-grade Sunday school class, and a volunteer gig as an English-only assistant in a Spanish-only adult computer course.

So when my friend Jesse Littlewood asked me to co-teach a course on social media at Tufts University’s Experimental College this fall, I felt totally qualified. Beyond my rigorous experience, I’d presented in his previous class with no ill effect on student evaluations. Why not push my luck?

As a social media manager, it’s my job to stay on top of trends that seemingly change every few days. This course offered a chance to move beyond the marketing blog echo-chamber (2016 is definitely going to be the year of Google+!) and spend thirteen weeks digging into the perspectives of digital natives whose every attention shift helps to shape the future of the social web. There was also the prospect of some extra income, but as any adjunct can attest, if I were in it for the money I’d likely be better off moonlighting at Trader Joe’s.

Our survey course, “Social Media: Participatory Culture and Content Creation,” pushed students to take a step back from the platforms they use every day to consider the larger context of their actions and their impact on relationships with peers, institutions, and society at large. It was one of 50 seminars on the ‘ExCollege’ fall schedule, competing for attention against diverse topics like Argentine tango, The Weather Underground, white supremacy, and improv.

Twenty-two undergraduates from a range of majors signed up, and from the first class it was clear we were all in for a ride. Racial inequity, gender identity, privacy, algorithms, filter bubbles…all of it came up within twenty minutes.
I’ll avoid the cliché of “the students taught me more than I could ever teach them,” but I did learn a few important lessons from the experience.

Read the rest of Ben’s post at:

What I Learned from Teaching a College Course on Social Media

Thank you, Ben and Jesse!  Instructors like you are what makes the ExCollege great!

Trunking Around

Guest Post by Jenna Sherman

Yesterday, at a local Lexington preschool, I spent the first hour of my Monday morning frantically changing in and out of costumes that were pulled from a blue, raggedy bag roughly the height of a small adult. In periodic blurs I transformed from a giant mole to a rocket ship to a firefly to finally an astronaut. This is a weekly, if not bi-weekly or sometimes even tri-weekly occurrence for me and my ten co-performers—with varying costumes each time, of course. The name of this quirky cohort is the Tufts Traveling Treasure Trunk, a children’s theater group by trade, but with a bit of everything else in between.

TRUNK!

TRUNK!

Contrary to popular belief this does not mean that we are a theater group comprised of children, though at times that definition is applicable, rather we are a theater group comprised of Tufts students who perform plays for kids in schools, daycares, and other places kids are likely to be. The plays we put on are written by one, or two, or a few, “trunkers,” as we call ourselves, and then staged, costumed, directed, and performed by all of TRUNK! (as we like to spell it) as a hilariously goofy and loving unit. Each semester we have two plays in our repertoire, carrying one over from the preceding semester; and interspersed between these plays, which last around 10 minutes, are segments (“segues”) as well as songs. These segues are short skits which contain base premises but which almost always involve improvisation that at times can have me laughing harder than the kids in the audience.

Though I was aware of this to some extent prior to joining Trunk, my main takeaway from every show, rehearsal, or other various form of a Trunk gather is that there is truly nothing more liberating than “acting like a kid,” by whatever definition that means to you. For me, it is losing all inhibitions, all hesitations. Whether it’s a noise, movement, or an idea, the opportunity to just put something out into the universe with no concern of correctness or scrutiny can yield boundless levels of creativity—especially in a group, but also individually. At least speaking for myself, it’s astonishing how much you can surprise yourself and exceed your own arbitrary expectations by simply diving into the unknown and rolling with it. And this opportunity is one that many of us do not have, or do not feel that we have, in college but also our entire lives besides, well childhood—where even then that freedom is not available to everyone.

And I feel that is what I find most inspiring about this group I’m in, comprised of incredible individuals who I continue to learn from daily, as well as all forums that encourage creativity among children: it shows kids that this sense of curiosity, imagination, weirdness, does not have to be lost with age. That those are not characteristics limited to a certain period of life. I feel this is vital as I continue to realize the extent to which I have been socialized to believe that—to conditionally think that emotion, vulnerability, and deviation from the norm is a sense of weakness rather than what it actually should be: empowerment.

Even still I often struggle to truly lose all fear of embarrassment and go out on limbs. It’s irrational fears that perhaps I am not being “the right type of creative” or not reaching a certain level of comedy. And I think a significant aspect of this is the fact that I’m not implementing this outside of Trunk in other areas of my life. At the end of the Monday show, a little girl came up to us and handed us a piece of paper with a scribbled rainbow and the word “happy” written on the outside. In retrospect I’m realizing how happy I was in that moment (that we got a drawing from a cute kid of course), but also that we were just goofing off and making up ideas on the spot and that it produced something not only enjoyable and meaningful for kids but also for ourselves and our own well-being. I want to hold myself accountable to do this more: to say yes to more, to take risks, to dive into discomfort and put myself out there—and especially to strive to be happy with whatever comes out of it.

Concerned Citizen or Eco-Terrorist: You Be The Judge

You know how they say that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes?  Well, my first 15 minutes of fame came the year I finished college when some guys from Greenpeace needed a couch to sleep on and I let them crash at my house.  The next thing I knew I was trespassing down a dirt road along a river gorge, dressed in a hazmat suit, and siphoning toxic sludge out of a holding pond into some fifty gallon drums.

Greenpeace-1

photos from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

That’s a much younger me captured by a photographer from the local newspaper.  The news article included my name and thus, my 15 minutes of fame began.

Fast-forward a couple decades to November 2015: my mom calls to tell me they reprinted the photo in the newspaper.  Cha-ching!  I’m up to 30 minutes of fame now!  The new article is an update about the water quality of the river, into which all kinds of industrial waste had leaked or been dumped over the years.  Now, the article reports, the fish in the river no longer tastes like creosote!

Looking back on my young, idealistic self, all I can think is, You fool, if you did that today you’d be facing terrorism charges!  Let’s just hope the statute of limitations has run!

If the FBI is reGreenpeace-2ading this, I emphatically deny knowing that Greenpeace was going to chain the barrels to the front door of the company that owned the toxic pond.  I swear.  Please, let’s just call this over – I’ve had enough fame!

Hey, but the pollution got cleaned up; the water quality is much improved.  You can eat the fish.  So…you’re welcome!  Concerned citizens can make a difference.

It’s All in the Food…

The amazing thing about Thanksgiving – and really all holidays – is that everyone celebrates them differently. The one easy way to understand that: FOOD. Sure, turkey and pie have become mainstays in households across the county, but we all have unique traditions and customs that transform this national celebration into our own special day.

Anne-Marie sits down with her family on Thanksgiving Day to a table full of traditional Vietnamese dishes. Rachel, who came to the US from Cuba, digs into congris, roasted pork and maduros. And Adam, whose family is Italian, sits down to a spread that includes – you guessed it – meatballs!

As a first-generation American, our Thanksgiving dinner is infused with some Portuguese flare. At my aunt’s house, that means almost solely Portuguese dishes – they’ve stayed away from turkey, cranberries and stuffing somehow.

At my father’s house, however, you will find an interesting mix between Thanksgiving staples and Portuguese classics.

  • Sure, we have a roasted turkey, but it’s stuffed with linguiça and chouriço.
  • Next to that, you’ll find some carn e assada (roast beef) and bacalhau (cod fish).
  • Next to the mashed potatoes there are Portuguese-style roasted potatoes.
  • Next to the corn are some couves (sprouts).
  • And of course, the prequel to all of this is some kale soup, or calde verde!

338492_10150563764893312_221959095_oAs a child, I was always fixated on our family’s traditions. In fact, I would actually get upset if something didn’t go according to plan – or my perceived plan: “Mom, what do you mean you didn’t make the bean cake!?”

I actually hated bean cake… but it just didn’t seem the same without certain foods or individuals to share them with. But with age, I understood that traditions inevitably change or evolve. Our once gigantic Thanksgiving dinner, where my parents hosted twenty or so relatives, shrank to a more modest dinner with my immediate family.

Time changed our family dynamics because “life happens”– as a close friend likes to say. But it does. Children become adults with their own families, people move away, an325614_10150563820848312_1131881396_od others may no longer be with us.

I like to think the ten-year-old me had it half right, though, because there is one tradition that remained relatively constant: our FOOD.

I will look at our spread tomorrow and think simultaneously about how alike and different we are from other families. Anne-Marie, Rachel, Adam, and I may all be celebrating Thanksgiving – but our dinner tables will tell much different stories.

And that is something to be thankful for.

The Insides of a Thought or Emotion: An Interview with Colette Robbins

I met artist Colette Robbins in 1995 and recently had the opportunity to interview her for X. about some of the visual, psychological, and scientific themes she explores in her work. Robbins lives and works in Queens, New York. She attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and received her MFA from Parsons, The New School for Design. She is represented by 101/Exhibit in Los Angeles and teaches at Hofstra University.

Hippocampus_copy

Hippocampus, Graphite Painting on Paper, 2013

I’ve seen you refer to your pieces as “Rorschachs,” after the psychological test, but they also evoke body parts like pelvises, nipples, and anuses. It feels very Freudian. Can you talk a bit about this tension between the bodily and the psychological?

I love the Rorschach test as a format because its reference to mammalian symmetry makes our meaning-making brains start to see faces or demons. I love that adding a texture from water or a cave inside of the Rorschach format makes the viewer think of imagery from the body. I think our ideas are so linked to our psychological states, that I am happy to hear that translates in the work.

Parietal_Lobe_copy

Parietal Lobe, Graphite Painting on Paper, 2014

Your pieces have titles like “Hypothalamus” and “Basal Ganglia.” The texture of your work references geological forms and there is also a sense of artifact, of something being passed on or inherited. I recently read an article about new discoveries in epigenetics, that psychological traumas or resiliencies actually impact our DNA and are passed down to future generations, and it immediately made me think of your work. I am wondering if this, or any neurological research informs your work.

I think that the new discoveries in neuroscience like this one really help psychologists get better and better at helping people determine the roots of their anxiety and depression whether they are physiological or habitual. Also these discoveries help debunk much of the mythology we have built up around mental illness as a culture. I hope that my work helps open up a conversation about mental illness through the discussion of the Rorschach test, since that test has become an icon of psychology.

That is interesting that you see them as an artifact and then you think of genetic information being passed on from generation to generation. I think that our emotional states can be like very nuanced landscapes with cracks and crevices and with rough and smooth patches that very directly can influence those around us. I personally think of my pieces like the insides of a thought or emotion. Even though emotions or being emotional can be stigmatized as being bad, we are all made up of so many emotions and our interactions with the world are based on our emotions and emotional states.

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Basal Ganglia, Watercolor on Paper, 2015

I’ve known you for 20 years and I’ve followed your work. Your background is in painting, and then a few years ago you started working in graphite, and have recently started using watercolor and incorporating color again.  You also co-curated an exhibition that discussed uses of color among New York-based vs. LA-based artists. Can you talk a bit about this transition, why you went more monochromatic and then back to color?

I decided to go with an achromatic palette because color no longer became an important part of what I was trying to communicate. I wanted the focus to be on the values and textures, so removing color was a way to put the viewer in direct contact with what I was trying to say. However, I am always changing, and now I want to incorporate colors to create a different atmosphere in the mood of my work. The show I co-curated about LA-based artists using colors vs. NYC artists’ use of no colors was a show that allowed me to playfully observe why people living in different locations use color differently in general.

You teach painting at Hofstra University and have also done some consulting for emerging artists. Do you have any advice for aspiring artists or art historians who may be reading this?

For any career in the arts, in order to thrive, you need a community that supports you. Sometimes you have to build that community from scratch, one person at a time.