Opening Ceremony

Friday night millions of people witnessed an event that only happens every four years, the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics.  This year the world wide sport event is being held in Vancouver, Canada and was kicked off by a 3.5 hour performance.  And despite the falling snow seen on the television screen, it all took place indoors.  This is the first time the an opening ceremony has done so.  I’m betting cuz of local weather.  Events on the first day of competing were actually postponed due to bad conditions.

The ceremony started with Canadian snowboarder Johnny Lyal flying through constructions of the Olympic rings that exploded outward with snow and ice.  This was then followed by the tamer display of the Canadian national anthem.  In both English and French, as much of the portion of the program was.

Following this was a large collection of Native Americans on the stage, well the Canadian version anyway, acting as the First Nations of Canada.  Together a large amount of tribesmen as well large statues,  officially welcomed the athletes and spectators to the area.

Next came the second most boring part, the parade of nations.  Led by Greece with Canada bringing up the rear all the competing nations walked across the stage grounds.  It would make things go a lot quicker if just flag bearers were down on the ground and it would be a nice equalizing agent.  Some countries have less than ten athletes competing, and that just looks awkward against the beastlyness of the United States.

The rest of the ceremony was essentially a giant tribute to the host country, but it was very entertaining to watch.  Except for the opening remarks which were so long I was actually able to watch a Simpsons and The Red Green Show episode without missing anything important.

Come the time to light the Olympic touch, the previously unflawed performance had a little hiccup. Of the four supports for the cauldron, only three were able to emerge.  It must have been tough for the torch bearers, having to just stand there and smile, all the while thinking Dang! This thing is heavy.  Hurry up!

But to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the entire thing, even with the snowboarders and skiers doing tricks from the ceiling.  Beijing was better.

Your Olympic watching blogger,

Jenny

PS.  Did you guys know we actually have two UofM students in the Olympics?  They’re figure skaters.

What is kissing, anyway?

There’s something I’ve always wondered for the longest time– where and how did the phenomenon of kissing originate?  This isn’t a new question– well, it is, actually.  Apparently, Philematology is a recently developed sector of research concerning kissing.  There seems to have been a hubbub last year when philematologists came out with new research. Many of them all agree that it most likely started when mothers chewed food to feed their young and that for each gender, kissing connotes different things.  It’s something that about 90% of world populations do, with only a very slim percentage of cultures who do not kiss.  Isn’t it crazy?

I finally had the chance to look up the origins of this long-term question last night when I came upon this:

I came upon it when I was reading this site that posts random blogs and I thought it was very, very cool.  In the brief explanation of the piece, it states that the the artwork is supposed to be a Chinese beverage of mixed tea and coffee, also representing the idea of love and marriage.  The Science of Kissing Gallery is a blog site that encourages people to post their own creative interpretations of kissing, whether it’s through visual arts, poetry, etc– and it doesn’t necessarily have to be one’s own work, but that of others, too (which explains famous artwork like Klimt’s The Kiss).

If you think about it, the Internet is such a good resource and avenue to finding out more about people– not just the plain technical information– like philematology or the history of kissing– but also the more personal, individual aspects of large populations.  It’s a place where people are able to post their own artwork, disseminate those of others, and in general, share their own ideas and opinions of such worldwide, overarching phenomena.  And then we’re able to see just how unique we each are, yet the same, because we all partake in this community of cultures.  And we’re able to see that even though these cultures may not always get along, that even though wars still happen and people still fight, there are still so many commonalities that tie us together.

Like kissing.

So think about that the next time you pucker up to kiss your significant others, your friends, your parents, your pets.  You’re doing something that nearly everyone in the world does, too (other than the basic necessities of eating and pooping).

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Gabby Park is a romantist who often ponders random questions, such as, “Where/how did kissing originate?”

On Guest Lecturers

A few weeks back, I had the pleasure of attending a special guest lecture for the Fall 2009 Hopwoods Awards ceremony. I have a habit of unabashedly attending these ceremonies regardless of whether or not I have won an award myself, and I would surely recommend to others to consider attending one in the future as it surely will not disappoint. The Hopwood program is known not only for giving away pretty sums of money to aspiring writers in the UM community, but also for inviting quite wonderful characters in the literary world to speak on a topic related to the art of writing every few months after the contest is administered (for more information click here). I recall a moment last year when I had shyly approached the speaker for last year’s fall ceremony, Tobias Wolff, with his short novel ‘Old School’ clutched in shaky hands, asking if he would so kindly, please, perhaps, sign the inside cover. He smiled warmly at me and took out his pen in flourish, writing quite an inspirational little message in a string of black ink, and after allowing the words to settle dry, handed the book back to me. I did not read it until I left the auditorium. It is a strange feeling that overwhelms me when I meet a writer in person, and I imagine it is something like the emotions that come over someone who meets their favorite athlete, their favorite band, or the President of the United States. In fact, Tobias Wolff touched upon the subject himself in that very book he had signed for me, ‘Old School’:

“We cared. And I cared as much as anyone, because I not only read writers, I read about writers. I knew that Maupasant, whose stories I loved, had been taken up when young by Flaubert and Turgenev; Faulkner by Sherwood Anderson; Hemingway by Fitzgerald and Pound and Gertrude Stein. All these writers were welcome by other writers. It seemed to follow that you needed such a welcome, yet before this could happen you somehow, anyhow, had to meet the writer who was to welcome you. My idea of how this worked wasn’t low or even practical. I never thought about making connections. My aspirations were mystical. I wanted to receive the laying on of hands that had written living stories and poems, hands that had touched the hands of other writers. I wanted to be anointed.”

Thus, the timing had been much too appropriate that year and I had left feeling much inspired and filled with the courage to write.

The man invited this year was the British, literary critic, James Wood who, although I had not read, imparted quite a bit of useful wisdom to writers of the upcoming generation. His speech revolved around the idea of Serious Noticing. That is, paraphrased from his lecture “seeing the world closely and carefully, opening the pores of sense to feel the world and thus transform it”. What I found incredibly interesting and worth reproducing here is his statement of how succeeding generations are much more inclined to fall into the hole of Unserious Not-noticing, with no rebuke or blame placed on their shoulders for this seemingly trendy attention deficit. Their fall could be attributed not to a personal character flaw, but the changing world dynamics. With the world becoming increasingly electronic and pixilated, it’s difficult to see the beauty or the horror in the real world when an LCD screen divides the spectator and the object, the moment of interest. Although allowing the network of the world to become increasingly well connected, Facebook and Twitter have their repercussions. The world, in sum, is becoming increasingly ADD. Wood worried about his children not being able to have such a rich, environment to grow up, a world that had fed his own capability and desire to write. It takes serious noticing of the human condition, of the aesthetic and the metaphysical to become, perhaps, not only a good writer but also to have a fulfilling livelihood. It takes serious noticing to capture human contradiction, to color in motives of characters, and to hold two opposing ideas level as one.

After leaving the auditorium and the reception later with a brownie in hand, I bumped into James Wood coming out of a pair of doors. I stood there again, for a moment, brownie in hand, feeling quite small and overwhelmed with the Hopwood’s selected speaker.

Use Your Resources

I don’t mean to come off in a tone that parallels your parents’ underlying message of the “get involved” slogan, but I am writing to advocate for your immersion into the world around you.

As students or community members to the Ann Arbor society, we have a ridiculous amount of lectures, meetings, activities, and performances at our exposure.

I feel as if this message hits a nerve within people that forces them to act.  An acting society is a better society.  The achievements that have occurred on this campus and around the area are effects from individual actions.  The hardest part of doing is finding what interests you so that you feel good about your contributions to society and are not simply going through the motions.  People spend their entire lives searching for their passion(s).  Kudos to those who have searched and rescued them.

For those of you out there still searching, no worries!  You’re a blank canvas, who still has the liberty to decorate your clean slate however you prefer.  So what must you do to find your passion?  How are you going to fit into this world, community and pod?

The answer lies in the resources that surround you.

You are walking in a nourishing environment with people who have found what they love and are acting upon it.  They are restaurant owners, Professors, Jazz artists, stay at home Mom’s and Dad’s, who are ordinary citizens just like your.  They have found their niche, have tending to it, and through their independent actions have subsequently affected societies fluidity.

I challenge you to follow their example by going to talks on campus or making yourself trek through the snow to an event that intrigues you.  You never know what opportunity might come of it, and maybe you’ll even find your calling.

Have a good weekend!

Sara Majors in Art History and enjoys long walks

“Say my name” (or at least attempt to!)

What’s in a name? Contrary to Shakespeare, apparently a lot. As my friends and I watched the Super bowl yesterday (the Saints won- woot!), the topic of ethnic names came up. Why do some Asians (Indians, Chinese, Japanese, etc.) change their traditional names to western alternatives? According to some of my friends it is because ethnic names can greatly affect first impressions and relationships.

 Though at first I disagreed with this argument, one of my friends shared her personal experience with this topic. Her legal name is Bhargavi, but since coming to college she often introduces herself as Gavi. Though it seems like a trivial change, she argued that when she introduced herself to others as “Gavi” rather than “Bhargavi” she found that people were more at ease with her and there was more of a personal connection that was established. She continued to say that when she introduced herself as “Bhargavi” people would seem detached and uneasy.

 Phonetic familiarity, apparently, is key to successfully navigating through American society. That’s arguably why the governor of Louisiana (who is Indian) goes by Bobby Jindal (rather than his legal name Piyush Jindal) or why many Chinese immigrants have Christian as well as traditional names. According to another friend, research has shown that there are certain sounds that create a sense of comfort. For example, names that end in the sound “e” usually have kind and comforting connotations (ex. sweetie, cookie… jelly…Clearly I am hungry!).

 After talking with my friends I found it extremely disheartening that many Asian immigrants felt that they had to change their names in order to be accepted into our society. Aren’t we the melting pot of the world, the land of social acceptance? As I reflected on my own personal experiences I realized that there have been times where my name (especially my last name) has caused uncomfortable social situations. One moment that stuck out to me was in high school when one of my teachers was calling roll. He would address other students properly by their last name, but when he came to my last name he just exclaimed “the person with the whole alphabet in their last name.” Though everyone thought it was funny, I found it extremely offensive. It seems (both now and then) that there is this inherent apprehension regarding the pronunciation of Asian names.

However, in my own experiences, I have found this reaction is not seen with eastern European names (ex. Russian), which are often times as confusing and complicated as any other Asian name. Why is there this double standard? I personally feel that all names should be treated in an equal and unbiased fashion. I also feel that if you can pronounce Tchaikovsky you sure as hell can say Srinivasan.

 Hope this serves as some food for thought for everyone and please post any comments you have below. Have a great week and remember, spring break is only 3 weeks away 🙂

Fantastic football.

I wanted to write this post after watching the halftime show of the Super Bowl because I was sure it would be worth commenting on.  And sure enough, it was.  With a great performance by the timeless The Who, this year’s Super Bowl halftime show was a performance worth watching, not just for its musical aspects, but its technical visuals as well.

It’s not often that one would think of football and relate it to art– but that’s exactly what came to mind.  Art is abound in this 100 yard field covered with bulky, athletic men.  From the colors of the uniforms to the layout of the playing field, from the architecture of the stadium to the rippling colors of fans’ football jerseys, flags, hats, and other paraphernalia, football (and other sports) is just another diverse playing field of art.

This year’s Super Bowl is no exception.  What astounded first and foremost about this year’s halftime show– as it did for many others, I’m sure– were the lighting effects.  The stage caught my eye early on, as I carefully observed the transition taking place behind the sportscasters offering their mid-game commentary.  I could already see that there were many white lights and lines.  And when the camera cut away to center field and I saw those rows and concentric circles of many bright white lights, I knew instantly we were in for a great performance.  The way those lights flashed and pulsed with the music, how they ran over and into each other, created these great shapes, gave bursts of light and dissipated in time with the singing, as they flashed in accordance with each stroke of the bass, I was captivated.

I do enjoy watching football for its athletic aspects, but this was one of the first times that I’ve seen it for its truly artistic aspects as well.  Super Bowl XLIV was brimming with art– incorporating not only the art of colors and movement, but also music and visuals and nature and science and technology.  Showing yet again, that art is not merely confined to its separate, specified industries but that it surrounds us daily and astounds us in the most surprising events.

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Gabby Park enjoys watching football and especially critiquing the commercials aired on Super Bowl Sunday.