Sunday, October 30, 2011

Writing to feel right

I read today that writing is a way of making an intangible idea something more concrete. It’s a method from which thoughts become actions—springboards for doing and becoming. These are observations perhaps self-evident, but I also read today that you learn something every time a known notion is repeated or said in a different way. Therefore, I’ll continue. 

If writing something down makes hibernating thoughts, opinions or objectives active, then we better start writing. For some, this means writing down chores, schedules or even dreams. I’m one of those “some,” just take a look at my planner. But there’s more to this. Writing is also the ability to creatively express myself in a way I can more fully control. I’m not a natural public speaker. Because I can’t produce magic as easily in a conversation as in an essay or poem, I write because then I am given not only control but time. Time to think, to edit, to rewrite. We all have the same language or word choice, yet we invest our personalities and prejudices into these choices and make them our own. We’re like literary musicians. Like a composer who only has certain beats or tones, we’re limited to a number of words. But when you write something and you make it your own, you see the beauty behind the art. You’ve created something no one else ever has; and it is incredibly satisfying. 

A professor of mine says that if you’re a writer, you simply have to write. For some reason, this was at first something of a revelation to me. “Do I have to write?” I thought. Perhaps I’ve never felt the void because I’ve made writing, inadvertently, a huge part of my life through class choices and my fields of study. Perhaps, had I not, I’d feel more of a desire or need to do so. I hope I’ll never have to find out. I also hope I’ve made a good decision in allowing myself to think that this is what I want to do with my life, in some way or another. I’ll disregard the lack of value towards reading in down time, the evolution of hard copies into digital formats and the infestation of sites like Twitter limiting expression to 160 with the conviction that words are one of the most powerful tools we contain. As many have noted, they start wars or create peace. They cut others or build them up. They spread hatred or ignite joy. Mastering the use of words, then, has been and will always be, a crucial power to possess. Recognize this, and we’ll not only think more carefully about what we write or say, but how we write or say it. 

In the meantime, I think I’ll keep writing.

"I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear."  -Joan Didion

Monday, October 24, 2011

An essay

If you want to know about Campus Ministry and the role of faith in our community, Tanya will help you out. She’ll tower over you at six feet tall, but she’ll earn your friendship in seconds with her smile and genuine care. Worried about being far from home? Ask Trish. She’s from Guam, further than any of our homes, and has been away now throughout her four years here at Santa Clara. Todd can tell you about resident life and student events, having been a CF (our version of an RA) and member of APB (the student activity programming board) on campus. As for me, I can discuss our study abroad program, having just returned from Spain, and how participating in the University Honors Program has deepened my education here. Not only do we have answers to many of your questions about Santa Clara University, we’re also willing to give them to you. That’s because we make up part of the Student Ambassador team, a group of well-rounded students with varying strengths and interests who greet you when you get to our campus, answer questions during your information sessions, and walk you around the grounds throughout the day. We do it because we love our school and want to share our excitement with you.
But enough about us; I’ve seemed to have forgotten my manners. Hello, welcome to this year’s Preview Days at Santa Clara University. The ambassadors I began to introduce, including myself, are just four of about forty student ambassadors ready to guide you around campus and invite you to our SCU world today and tomorrow from 8am-3:30pm. Ask us where Lucas Hall is, what time the next information session starts, what made us choose this university, or simply where the closest bathroom can be reached. We’re prepared to answer your questions, set you at ease, and maybe even get you to make your deposit in our office at Varsi before you head out. Right now, it’s 8 o’clock on Saturday morning. Let the day begin.
Correction, let your day begin. The ambassador team has been up and about for hours already, our required time of check-in being 6:00am. For a student ambassador, Preview Weekend is like a persistent child: it wakes you up before the sun rises, requires your constant nurture and care, asks you to hold its hand from location to location, and leaves you feeling heroic and useful yet exhausted. This weekend was no different. Now for any college student, not only being awake before sunrise, but also being required to function seems like an uncharacteristic, unanticipated feat of epic proportions—the story of David and Goliath in which the student ambassadors mimic the timid man and the sun forms the zenith in the distance. David had a slingshot. We had coffee. We’ve also, despite the four or five new hires, done this before and have been preparing a bit each week since the fall. Experience arises naturally from our duties. We greet visitors and check them in for their visits; we answer their questions in small groups on panels; we tour them around campus in the time frame of an hour. In the process, we morph into walking encyclopedias of Santa Clara information—encyclopedias that are fluid and ever-evolving, possibly in the hundredth or so edition. We handle your anxieties with collected grace, aiming to get out a smile or laugh in the process. And although we are a group of about forty individuals of all shapes and sizes, we unite to form one cohesive team under the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Preview Days, though early, are just longer days of work… without the paycheck (ahem). 

Yes, we’re armoires of knowledge and experience, but we’re not superheroes—our drawers are limited. 6:15am still sees hibernating faces and squinting eyes, yawns and reluctance. We’re still college students, for Pete’s sake. Where we excel is in our acting. Not acting in the sense that we lie or mislead you. We’re actors simply because we will never let you know that we’re not gods of the Santa Clara community, running around campus with capes and tridents and the occasional school book. You probably think we know everything and can satisfy any demands or queries you may have instantaneously. And we’ll try to act, always, like this is fact. A smile or handshake on your end lets us know we’ve done our job. 
So at 8am, then, after we’ve put up location signs, cleaned parts of campus, alphabetized folders, chugged caffeinated drinks and carefully placed our name tags on our ambassador polos, we’ll walk you from your car to Malley Fitness Center’s gym where registration is occurring and make sure you’re checked in and settled before the acapella group starts to sing and the university’s president speaks. We’ll change that tour of the Communitas RLC to Cyphi during session two after you make your request, tell you a little bit about ourselves and our experiences, and point you in the direction of the muffins and tea. Today, it’s about you. Our goal is for new Broncos to be born. And if we need to act excited and awake in order for that to happen, we hope our performance will win us a couple of Oscars. 
Acknowledge that we exist, but in addition to superheroes, please don’t think we’re magicians either. We can’t make your college decision for you or hand you the financial aid packet you so desperately seek. We also can’t inspire you to feel at home when you walk on campus or make it all “click” as a result of our help. What we can do is explain why we chose to come here. We can also tell you how life’s been since, with the possibility of sharing our future plans, assuming we have any…
Back to the printed schedule. After check-in and registration, which involves picking the folder with your name on it, the hardest task will be choosing a seat. If you came early, you’ll have plenty to choose from. Chairs get harder to find as the hour nears nine. At that point, they’ll remain like scattered confetti over a vast gym floor. The acapella group’s entrance and consequent songs mean Preview Days have officially begun. The introduction will finish in under an hour, as it includes a student speech, an introduction from Michael Sexton, the Vice President of Enrollment Management, and a welcome by Michael Engh, the university president. Clap. Clap. Clap. This will conclude the introduction of today’s Preview Day. If you’re interested in the Business school, please follow the sign labeled “BIZ.” Future engineers should look for the one labeled “ENG.” Those wanting to hear about the School of Arts and Sciences can remain seated. Only six more hours to go. 
Is this going fast or is it just me? Is six hours enough for me to feel Santa Clara’s magic? Will my college decision be certain by then? Will all my questions have been answered? Will I have seen my future dorm, or scarier, passed my future roommate by the end of the day? The answers vary. Of course, so do the questions. What we as the ambassador team hope, is that your six hours have, for the majority, not been wasted. To combat the lingering, sometimes gnawing, presence of insecurity about the college decision process, we have set up five official information sessions throughout the day and even included a bonus one at the end. They range from talks on our three academic schools, fields of study, and sports to student life, the dorm system, and studying abroad. Sprinkled throughout are campus and housing tours. We’ve set up three information booths if you get lost or need to change a session. We have a group of ambassador leaders with walkie-talkies lest you lose that purse and need our help, as two of you have already done. We even have golf carts for those of you on crutches or in need of mobile assistance. After years of conducting this orchestra, we’ve mastered not only the instruments, but learned how to use them in harmonic unison. We want to bring our Santa Clara melody to your ears.
Of course, sometimes we might fumble or forget a note, as in the times in which we get your name wrong or make an awkward statement out of nerves. To lighten the mood, we’ll comment on how nice the weather has turned out today. The sunshine and blue skies, we assure, occur roughly 300 days of the year here. Sometimes school feels like summer camp! If that doesn’t work, we can simply apologize and ask where you’re visiting from or whether you’ve made a final decision yet or not. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll offer you a muffin and run away. Hey, if you can’t take a joke or mistake on our part, maybe you shouldn’t come here anyway! This attitude is tempting at times, but not what we’ve been trained for. In the office, we call our method “profreshionalism.” It means we try to be honest, engaging, and professional at all times. Of course, there’s room for failure. We’re still human despite our dazzling white polos and official name tags. What we aim for, however, is maintaining poise even in those times of imperfection. Just recognize there’s always room for growth, take a deep breath, and move on.
Working with such a diverse team helps. The ambassadors come from varying states, races, faiths, fields of study, cultural backgrounds, and ages. You’ll see Phil from Hawaii whizzing by on his skateboard, probably on his way to help coach the SCU Men’s Club Volleyball Team. Nicki struts her dancing stuff both on stage and on her tours. Ryan sails while Gracelyn is involved in off-campus Greek life. We value our differences and appreciate yours. This weekend, you came to visit from about thirty-three different states in order to participate in Preview Days. You also came from numerous time zones. Over two-thousand of you visited in two days, basically meaning you brought with you over two-thousand different opinions and perspectives. But you, as admitted students with your families, came to see us, the Santa Clara community, maybe one last time before the decision deadline passed. You may have needed an extra day to get a taste of real life here at SCU before securing your decision or easing your fears. Or maybe this was your first visit after receiving the coveted acceptance letter that only reached about 52% of the applicant pool. Regardless of the reason you came, you’re here now, this weekend.  Now that you’ve walked around, heard our history, listened to members of our community and tried our food, our hope is that you leave with a better sense of what it means to be a Santa Clara student, community member, and Bronco. 
In the meantime, it’s 3:30pm. On behalf of the ambassador team, we’d like to extend a warm “thanks” for visiting our campus and direct you to your car. Any other questions you may have can be answered through the admissions office by one of our counselors. Here’s one of our business cards as well. It’s been great getting to know you and your family, but we’ve been here for over nine hours and have a team meeting to attend upon your departure. We also have homework to take care of, a social life to try and salvage, and a million other activities we’re too drained to name. No, as student ambassadors, we’re probably not done conquering the world. But before we continue, we’ll probably need a nap. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Following my taste buds

It’s a war zone out there, especially within such prime real estate where stakes are high and parameters low. Candy colored signs and swirly letters make for prime targets, but Fraiche frozen yogurt in Palo Alto is playing no victim in the frozen yogurt battle. If anything, it acts as commander among the army of baboons. Lounging quietly off of the crowded smorgasbord found on University Ave., Fraiche feigns submission to its enemies on 644 Emerson St. Perhaps it’s a tactic. Aren’t the quiet ones the most dangerous? But, as its French name implies, Fraiche is the much more elegant and refined relative boasting homemade organic fresh yogurt and frozen yogurt in the face of children and wannabes. Yet, although the gourmet version of the “fro-yo” joints teenagers and college students are typically accustomed to, Fraiche maintains a laid-back air. Yellow tables lining the outside invite customers to enjoy the usually tranquil Palo Alto weather while leather booths with small silver tables beckon inside.

Even more beckoning? The menu. Fraiche’s good taste pours out into their product’s flavors. Homemade organic yogurt, frozen yogurt, oatmeal, baked goods, and organic Blue Bottle Coffee from Oakland are written like chalk on an impeccable chalkboard. What makes this café unique is their 99% fat free, lactose-free soy frozen yogurt, which, along with the 98% fat free valrhona chocolate, is among my favorites. However, because it is made fresh without powder, the thickness of the soy has been known to cause issues with the yogurt machine, an issue which happened today but has never before during my visits. The New Orleans style iced coffee, soaked in chicory root for about twenty-four hours, is also a favorite. This, in addition to the yogurt flavors, are what win the war raging only blocks away on University Ave.
            Not only is their food tasty, it's also relatively healthy—a fact highlighted in their chart of benefits. Fraiche uses organic milk and a special probiotic-focused culture as well as fresh fruit. This dynamic, in addition to the richness of their frozen yogurt flavors, brings me back again and again.
 I have never been to the other two locations, located in San Francisco and on the Stanford campus, but the fact that three exist make me think I’m not the only one singing their praises. Fraiche's recent appearance in the Apple cafeteria in Cupertino may serve as another clue to its popularity. Regardless, Fraiche is exactly what its name says: fresh. And, as their website boasts, it is “sinfully delicious and outrageously healthy.” Purple heart for bravery? Perhaps not. But they get my medal of honor.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Let's make French fries enough

It’s much easier not to know things sometimes. And to have French fries with your mom be enough.
–The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I always want to live with the eyes of a child--with innocence, wonder, passion and curiosity for life. My feet took me on a spiritual pilgrimage this summer to Spain for World Youth Day (WYD). There, I spent a week and a half prior to WYD on a program called Magis with a group made up of North Americans, Mauritians, and Chileans in Málaga on what was called an “experience” set up through the Global Jesuit Network. Our focus was seeing God through nature and ecology. We did meditations in nature, walked through knee-deep rivers, went on hikes, visited an aquarium, and cleaned a beach. Every day had private and group reflection. And every day had a theme. One day, we were encouraged to see the world through the eyes of a child. After some confusion on my part, I began to understand why.

Children tend to see the good around them. They are easily entertained or awed. They ask questions and are not too concerned with the passage of time or their schedules. They laugh easily, fall often, and have killer scars with a pretty good tale to go along with them. See the appeal? Living this way, or attempting to, gave me a new appreciation for what goes on around me. I remember on my “experience” in Spain being led around by Malagueños from activity to activity much like a kid at summer camp. For once, I was not preoccupied with where I was going, what I was doing, and at what time. I literally think my biggest concern was whether or not I would eat ice cream that day. (If so, nutella and white chocolate flavored.) I liked the lack of control, the peace I felt by not being overly-concerned for once. For someone who’s used to planning almost every minute of the day during school, this new development was awesome. Life was relatively easy.
So then why do we try to know everything, to grow up so fast? I feel like my mom, infamous for asking me the same questions throughout my teenage years. Is it the typical case of “you don’t know what you have ‘til it’s gone?” We seem to look at the past and want to relive the golden days, those infinite memories of naps, coloring books, bubbles, and cake. Of those days when we didn’t know everything all the time. When eating French fries with your mom could be enough. But what’s stopping you from bringing those things back? Why don’t we aim to live life like this to some degree more often? Why don't we let our feet drag us back to childhood--or at least, to that mentality?
At dinner tonight at an Indian restaurant, my friends reminded me that in many ways I’m still basically a child. It might have something to do with my tendency for quote movies in regular conversation, get overly-excited about food and tend to spill things on my clothing. But today, I think that can be enough.