Everything I Need to Know I Never Learned in College

My dad recently reminded me, as I sat on his couch in my pajamas at two in the afternoon on a Wednesday, eating ice cream straight from the tub, watching reruns of Boy Meets World, that he and my mother paid more than 40k for my education at Michigan State. And since coming home, I have only a check for $68.37 to show for it.
[quote]Needless to say this isn’t exactly how I pictured life as a post-grad. I thought companies would be begging to hire me, requiring some sort of long stick or prodding mechanism to keep them away. I’d be settled in my own place, a Labrador retriever puppy leaping on to my lap after I returned from a fulfilling day at the office (where I set my own hours, of course) doing whatever it is alumni do.
I have no puppy. No large stick. And no one to poke. Granted I also have no rent check, no electric bill and no social security deduction, but that whole loss of dignity really isn’t worth the home cooked dinners. At this time last year, I was watching Boy Meets World when I should have been in class. Now I’m watching bad television because I have nowhere else to be.
It isn’t for lack of trying to escape my hometown. I’ve written so many cover letters, I’m actually starting to believe I am goal-oriented, self-motivated, experienced and pay great attention to detail.
Perhaps I skipped the classes that covered how to actually survive life after college. While I am aptly prepared to discuss in detail the policy making process of Uzbekistan in five parts, there are more important lessons I think need to be included in any undergraduate education.
Where to get food at 3 a.m. in a non-college town Once you have that diploma, Domino’s no longer cares about your late night food cravings.
Techniques to keep a middle school class in line when you inevitably can’t find a job and resort to substitute teaching for income Hence the $68.37 to my name. You try doing it for more than a day.
How long you should drive when your check engine light comes on I’m going on three months.
The best brands of detergent to wash the smell of failure off your clothes If you say Cheer, I’m going to kick you in the nuts.
How to avoid eye contact with old high school friends that you hoped to never see again That’s really all of them.
Where to find wedding presents in bulk, because everybody but you is getting married But still maintain that personal, ‘good luck with forever’ touch.
Where to meet available, attractive people If I show up at Rick’s now, I just feel dirty. Well, dirtier.
How to wake up before noon. I’d fail this course.
Once you do find permanent employment, how to get the best trade-off for your soul That 401k just isn’t enough.
How to live vicariously through undergraduate friends without appearing to be one of those graduates who’s living in the past A prerequisite to: How to Not Live in the Past.
A witty answer to the question that’s incessantly asked by every relative, neighbor and random person you meet on the street: ‘So, what now?’ Well, I thought I’d watch another makeover show on TLC, open a bag of my parents’ potato chips, and then stab you in the throat with this diploma that’s apparently good for nothing else.
Tips to making your parents understand a lot has changed since the last time you lived with them. Yes, Mom, I am going out in this. And I might not be coming home tonight.
Ways to tell your successful friends to shut up when they complain about their new jobs. Awww, need some help carrying all those bags of money?
How to respond to an interviewer when asked, “What do you think is your biggest weakness?” For the record, “My inability to work well in a team-oriented, goal-driven workplace” is not the right answer.
How to accept that the best years of your life are over. And they’re never coming back.
And finally,
How to get off your parents’ couch, accept the fact that you’re all grown up, and get on with the rest of your life.
On second thought, maybe that’s a graduate-level course.

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Confessions of a Kindergarten Baby

“I want to wear the sparkly hair!”[traci4]
Before I could protest, Jenny had snatched the Halloween wig off my head, releasing my static-laden blonde hair into my face. She had only been at my house for five minutes before she decided to take over the whole dress-up operation, but after almost four years of this routine, I was getting used to it.
I sighed heavily, brushed my short, snarled hair behind my ears and turned back to the oak chest brimming with outdated, tacky dresses 10 sizes too big and former Halloween costumes two sizes too small. There was no use trying to reclaim the sparkly hair for my own; no scheme my four-year-old brain could conjure up would work.
If I grabbed at it, she’d scream. If I asked nicely for its return, she’d laugh. I considered reminding Jenny I was, indeed, her aunt, in practical terms her ancestor, and therefore superior and deserving of the punk rock hairdo. But I knew she’d respond that she was a year older, and much smarter, which made her far more superior than any kindgergarten baby that might happen to have a brother that was her father.
If I ran and told my mom, like every ounce of my 40-pound body wanted to do, Mom would simply reply I could wear the wig with streamers any other day of my life and to let Jenny play with it when she came over. This particular response made no sense to me: number one, what would be the fun in wearing an obviously coveted piece of apparel when no one was around to grab it from my head in jealousy? Number two, wasn’t Jenny here to play, like, all the time?
Ever since my brother Todd had dee-vorced the crazy lady with the nasal laugh, Jenny and her baby sister Katelyn had been sleeping in my bed, eating my cereal and wearing my dress-up clothes without my consent every other week. Even though I had to give up the luxuries of being practically an only child when they came to visit, forfeiting attention and personal belongings, I looked forward to their visits. I lived in the middle of nowhere, and being 12 years shy of a driver’s license made summers long and painfully boring. Being bossed around was a welcome change from wearing sparkly hair alone in front of a mirror.
Upon each arrival my mom would make me hide any new clothes in the back of my closet, since Jenny and Katelyn wouldn’t be able to afford new clothes this year. Mom would also ask me to be patient and understanding when Jenny pushed me around because my nieces were going through a divorce, which to me meant she could just get away with anything she pleased.
Jenny pranced around the room, the pieces of colorful, shiny streamers swishing with every taunting movement. Weighing my options carefully, I decided to obey my mother’s wishes and be understanding, so I decided the best outfit to be understanding in was a silky black dress with pink roses. If I had to be walked over, I was going to take it in style.
Her prancing lasted less than five minutes before she grew bored with her acquisition, and she tossed the wig back into the chest.
“Now what do you want to do?” I asked, hoping she’d notice my attentiveness to her needs and be nice to me for a while.
[traci2]“Let’s exercise!” she answered, bolting out into the kitchen without a reply. She rummaged through the cupboards and emerged with soup cans just heavy enough to use as weights. “Get the scale!” she called to me.
I hauled the scale, which weighed people three pounds too heavy, from the bathroom into the living room as she inserted the Jane Fonda workout tape into the VCR. We climbed on to the scale one at a time and recorded our starting weights with a crayon before running into my bedroom to change into our bathing suits, in anticipating for the sweat we would build trying to keep up with women on the screen, kicking, lifting, twisting, and grunting. We weren’t quite sure what they were doing, but we were old enough to know that this is what you had to do to be beautiful.
After thirty seconds of low-impact sit-ups followed by ten jumping jacks apiece, we rushed to the scale, pleasantly surprised to find our weight had decreased atleast two pounds since we had started our aerobic endeavors. It wasn’t until years after, decades even, that I realized we had shed clothing since our first weigh-in, but we were proud of our accomplishments and rewarded our outstanding efforts with cookies from the jar on the counter.
A half hour later, once we were sure the cookies had passed through our digestive system and would not make us drown, we took a dip in the lake to cool down. We spent hours in the shallow water perfecting our mermaid dive, rescuing each other from fresh water sharks, and baking mud pies in the sun. Our skin wrinkled and our faces reddened in the hot July sun, but we didn’t seem to notice— and if we did, we didn’t seem to care enough to go inside.
Eventually Mom, who had been watching our best handstands from the shore, called us to land and wrapped us in towels. She made us sit on the deck until we dried, because her kitchen chairs weren’t made for wet behinds. We could smell the hotdogs and macaroni wafting from the kitchen, and our stomachs began to rumble. As soon as we felt it was safe for our behinds to touch fabric, we clamored around the kitchen table, ready for dinner.
“I love macaroni and cheese!” I exclaimed, as Mom shoveled spoonfuls of Kraft goodness on to my plate.
“Then why don’t you marry it?” interrogated Jenny, pouring ketchup on to her hotdog. I started to get upset—I’d prefer to consume the meal rather than join with it in holy matrimony until death did us part— but then I remembered that Jenny was going through a divorce, marriage wasn’t forever, and kept silent.
Katelyn giggled from her highchair, as if she, at two years of age, could understand the complex hilarity of her sister’s comment. For a moment I considered perhaps Katelyn was mature for her age, but as her hands reached into the apple sauce and smeared it across her face, I discarded the thought. Instead, I wondered if it might be more efficient to put the noodles directly on to her bib, rather than attempting to enter the mouth first. You know, cut out the middle-man in the mess making.
“Facey macrooni!” she squealed, as if she had made the most amusing observation ever and should be invited promptly to discuss Russian literature with Tim Russert on Meet the Press.
First, she would have to figure out how to combine the ‘t’ sound and the ‘r’ to actually say my name coherently. Neither of my nieces nor my nephew called me Aunt Traci, which was fine with me. I was too young to be an aunt. Aunts were old ladies who spoiled you with candy and presents, but told you stand up straight and drink your milk at the same time. I was more focused on acquiring candy and presents for myself, and I didn’t care if anybody drank milk because it was yucky and made me want to barf. Aunt material, I was not.
To me, the girls were more like siblings I only saw a few times a month. I was used to this set up, since my sister lived in Florida and my brother was rarely home. Plus, Jenny and I were often mistaken for sisters because of our same shade of blonde hair and our gift for being the most freckled little girls in the room. Not to mention, she was always telling me what to do— who tells their aunt what to do? We loved to tell the story of our unusual relation to anyone who’d listen. She’d use words like “surprise!” to describe my birth to older parents, although I wasn’t sure what surprised everyone about me. I had ten toes, ten fingers, and besides the gray hair poking out behind my dad’s ears, they were pretty much the same as everyone else’s parents at school.[traci3]
Jenny and I quickly devoured dinner, while Katelyn sat more satisfied staring into space, dribbling chocolate milk down her chin. As soon as Mom gave the OK, Jenny and I rushed down the swing set, determined to be the first to claim the swing for our own purposes. Of course Jenny got to it first— and if she hadn’t, I would’ve been promptly removed and introduced to the sand box face first. I had the wonderful honor of watching her from the slide, contemplating the advantages to going through a divorce myself. If I was going through a divorce, I could swing first, wear shiny wigs, and celebrate holidays twice. But, then again, I liked having my mom and dad in the same place, because if one wouldn’t let me have a cookie, the other would inevitably take pity on me. There was always someone to read to me, to play a game with and a lap to crawl onto when I needed it. I looked at my niece and wondered how it felt not to have a choice of laps. How did it feel not to be able to afford new clothes for school? These are the questions I wanted to ask, but I knew they’d only get me the Evil Eye from my mom. I was supposed to understand, but in reality, I didn’t understand anything Jenny was going through.
Sure, she was mean to me, called me names, and criticized my artistic abilities, but the divorce aside, Jenny was a great playmate. She was my window into a world of new ideas, PG-13 movies and dirty words like poop that made my mom cringe. She took me under her wing and taught me everything I needed to know to grow from a kindergarten baby into a worldly first grader, and for that, I’d let her wear the sparkly hair anytime she wanted. She was, after all, my best friend.

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Commencement Speakers That Don’t Suck.

[traci]I sometimes like to pretend my upcoming graduation ceremony will actually be about me and my fellow graduates. In other words, I like to lie to myself. I know, come May 6, I’ll be sitting in the Breslin Center, my head dipping toward my chest every few seconds as some incredibly dull Washington phony rambles on aimlessly, while administrators pat themselves on the back for securing the most boring, graying and irrelevant speaker possible.
But I cling to the hope that someday, somehow, the administration will invite someone to speak who doesn’t suck. So, for the Board’s consideration, I present my picks for the 2005 Commencement Speaker.
Ken Jennings – The answer is: With his amazing run on “Jeopardy,” Jennings has proven that by spending entire weeks straight reading the encyclopedia, we too can win our fame and fortune on a game show. What more inspirational success story is there?
Barrack Obama – As my friend Les says, he may be the best politician ever, or the anti-christ. We’re not sure, but at least he’s easy on the eyes.
Daniel Stern – You may know him from “Home Alone” or “City Slickers,” but I bet you didn’t realize he was the conscience of our generation, the grown-up voice of Kevin Arnold on “The Wonder Years.” Imagine us graduates sitting in our cap and gowns, as our very own voiceover floats over the crowd, marking the end of the last episode of our coming-of-age.
Laura Ingalls Wilder – I’ll admit, it took more time than it should have for me to decide whether or not she was dead, but then I realized SHE LIVED ON THE PRAIRIE. Regardless of her post-mortem state, she’s perfect for the spot as speaker, since it’s the 150th birthday of our land-grant university, built on the values of agriculture and taking over the Native Americans’ land. And talk about overcoming struggles: dust storms, disease, fording streams – all things we, too, had to overcome on the Oregon Trail… the computer game.
Bono – He’s being nominated for everything else this spring, including VH1’s “Best Week Ever,” so why not invite him to sing a few bars? Of course, we’ll have to set his microphone to self-destruct after about 15 minutes of his incessant rhyming.
Jon Stewart – No one has connected with our generation like this “Daily Show” anchor. He’s stuck by us “stoned slackers” throughout our college years, and with his combination of shameless wit and unforgiving intellect, he has never betrayed us, unlike everyone else in the media.
I realize our commencement speaker is already booked and in the middle of finding the perfect Ralph Waldo Emerson quote for the occasion, but if for some reason this person can’t quite make it, please consider these un-sucky options as a replacement. We, the class of 2005, deserve it.

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Bloggers Beware

When I started an online journal two years ago, I did so to rant to more than one person at a time. I loved how the keys felt under my flying fingers after an especially rotten day, and I welcomed the encouraging comments my friends would leave at the bottom of my entry. It was the perfect release for frustration, a way to garner sympathy from everyone on my “Friends” list. Sure, I thought it may end up on strangers’ screens, but overall, I didn’t hold back.
Now almost everyone and his monkey has a LiveJournal or a Xanga. Click on their friends’ pages and you can instantly read about scores of other people, people you likely don’t know. It makes you wonder who might be reading yours…
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a survey released at the beginning of the year, an estimated 27 percent of online adults in the United States read blogs and 7 percent write them. There are over two million active LiveJournal accounts, according to the site, with 441 posts per minute. But the same report concluded 62 percent still don’t know what a blog is. However, with the trend growing in popularity and getting news coverage everywhere you look, it won’t be much longer until your grandma knows exactly what you did on Saturday night…and with whom. And your boss may know about it, too.
Take Mark Jen, for example. On his first day working at the Internet search engine, Google, he made some comments on his blog regarding his work atmosphere. After 11 days, and even the erasure of said material, Jen was terminated.
“I guess I just figured that’s how it would work for this new blog; it could serve as a place for me to put up my stories about working at Google so my friends could all read it and I wouldn’t have to repeat the same thing 20 times a day,” he wrote on Jan. 26, two days before he was fired from the company for posting unflattering descriptions of co-workers and his work environment. (Read more of Jen’s blog here.)
Since then, critics have been firing shots at both Jen and Google. Whether you think it was fair for Jen to be fired doesn’t matter – the fact is, he was.
When asked if student employment could be adversely affected by blogging, Gale Gower, assistant director of student employment, said, “I haven’t thought of it.”
Although there aren’t specific “no blogging policies” for student employees, Gower said any defamation of character of a fellow employee or employer would be grounds for termination.
“Certainly we would rather students discuss problems with supervisors, or come to our office,” she said. She warned such comments could be “read by everyone on campus,” and the only way to truly be safe is to be discreet.
So, if you did get fired for your blogging, is that even legal? American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) spokeswoman Wendy Wagenheim says no – unless you do it on the job. “Employees can monitor what you do on your work computer,” she said.
But after you clock out, the First Amendment kicks in. “There are protections on what you can say outside of the workplace,” she said. She also said employees do have a right to comment off the job about work-related activities, but noted, “Employers also have a right to fire you for your behavior [outside of the workplace].”
[bloggers1] For instance, a Delta Airlines flight attendant was canned after bosses discovered her blog, showcasing what the airline deemed “inappropriate” pictures of the employee in her uniform.
Gower suggested students be familiar with their rights at work to better protect themselves. A guide titled “Got Rights at Work?” can be downloaded from the ACLU of Michigan Web site.
She said no complaints regarding blogging have been filed with her office, but said this kind of case is one “we would be very interested to know about.”
So how can you stay off the unemployment line? First, know who your audience is. Most online journal services have the option for users to post to “friends only,” allowing only those of the user’s choosing to view the post. LiveJournal goes as far as allowing users to limit posts to specific individuals, excluding even friends and friends of friends, for utmost security. But no matter how careful you are, there is always the possibility of an unwanted reader. Friends-only lists aren’t always exclusive and tight-knit. If someone asks to be your friend, you usually let them, right? That person could be a fellow employee, someone close to the boss or someone who wants your job; a tattle-tale is just a mouse click away.
Also, talk to your supervisor about policies regarding disclosure of information. Refrain from making negative references to fellow employees or your employers. Defamation and public utterances (false, inflammatory statements) are harder to fight with the First Amendment.
Or be more like education junior Jana Lobello. She doesn’t write in her blog very much, and when she does, she monitors what she writes; she doesn’t have to worry about the negative implications blogging can bring. “I haven’t even thought about it,” she said.
For the rest of us who blog without mercy, think of it as you do sex: Know who you’re doing it with, keep yourself protected and make sure you’re ready for the consequences. And as a rule of thumb, never, ever do it when you know the boss is watching.

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Bumbling Bureaucrats

What does a student organization have to do to get some respect in this place?
Hell, not even respect, just some common courtesy that should be extended to any contributing member to the human race, even if that human happens to be a lowly college student interrupting your game of Minesweeper.
In order to get anything accomplished in this university, one must dodge through fiery hoops and jump over endless stacks of paper, usually requesting the acquisition of your soul.
Take us here at The Big Green. We’re just learning the ropes as a student organization, trying to produce weekly issues of our publication. Sounds pretty simple, right? But in order to organize a staff of over forty students, we have to have a time and place where everyone can meet face to face, on a Sunday night. In order to meet on a Sunday night, the Physical Plant has to call in a janitor to turn off the lights. And this cost us fifty dollars a week.
Fifty dollars. A week. For fifteen weeks. Cleaning up after all of the women’s basketball games wouldn’t even earn us half of that price tag.
So why did we agree to such an arrangement? Well, we didn’t. The physical plant told us the bill of much less than fifty dollars per week would be sent directly to us, but instead the friendly folks in accounting drained our student account each week without our knowing. And even when we told them of the problem, alerted the Physical Plant of their error and found a different location at which to meet, we’re still being charged. And let’s face it, you’re reading this for free. We have no money.
I realize that the world doesn’t revolve around our publication, nor should anyone be expected to cater specifically to our needs. But, had we been told fifty dollars in the first place, we would have all happily crammed into a back booth at Panchero’s to prepare our next issue while chomping on tortilla chips, no problem. We like tortilla chips. But we do not like the dance we’re expected to perform every day in every corner of this campus to resolve these issues.
And it’s not just our staff that gets crapped on. Our own undergraduate yearbook, the Red Cedar Log, isn’t even allowed to get quotes from student athletes. They’ve tightroped the red tape of the sports office every afternoon in search of one tiny little quote from anyone who has ever worn a football jersey in Spartan Stadium, to recap this year’s football season. A “it was fun” would even do. But every day they are told a different story, transferred to another department or completely refused altogether. I’m not sure how The Big Green, just an infant on the scene, is expected to survive if the largest yearbook in the nation can’t even get past the sports office secretary.
And this affects everyone, not just journalists at MSU publications. At one point in my education, I had four advisors. Four of them. None of whom knew what the others were thinking, but all of whom were in charge of getting me down the aisle come graduation day.
I realize MSU must function as a bureaucracy in order to coordinate all of their programs and departments that span multiple spheres of academics, human resources and student life. But with the advent of technology that whips a message across campus in a matter of seconds, it is hard for me to comprehend the massive breakdown in communication that is evident in every department.
I’m sure everyone is doing their job and working hard, and I blame no one specifically for the inefficiency of the university. I do blame bureaucracy, but since it is hard for me to pronounce, and even harder to spell, often this blame gets transferred to the friendly woman behind the desk. And I apologize. You’re just doing your job.
But, that’s the problem. Your job shouldn’t be to live in a little bubble in an office seperate from everything else going on at this university. Your number one priority should be the students. Keeping students happy should be the best source of job security there is, because, if there aren’t students to fill the lecture halls, this university would simply be a river and a tower, with no student athletes to keep away from an innocent yearbook journalist, or student organizations to meet in an empty classroom in Berkey Hall.
Now that McPherson is gone, we have a chance to reorganize the way we do things administratively. Let’s start with reaquainting ourselves with the art of communication and rededicating ourselves to the university’s ultimate goal of ensuring the best education for our students. Then, instead of listening to complaints and confusion, everyone would have a little more time to devote to Minesweeper.
And really, isn’t that bureaucracy’s main goal, anyway?

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St. Martin’s in the Morning

[stmartin2]The sun beams down on Trafalgar Square in London, as I emerge from the Underground Station at Charing Cross. It is midmorning; people flutter by with hurried expressions planted firmly on their focused faces. Ahead of me, a black iron fence surrounds a stone church with a large steeple rising up from its top. The map in my pocket tells me I’ve found St. Martin’s-in-the-Field.
St. Martin’s has been called one of the most influential churches ever to be built. Its architectural style, with its Corinthian portico and six columns at its entrance, has influenced the colonial style of churches found throughout the United States.
This building wasn’t the first version of the church, however. The church was first recorded in the 13th century but was most recently rebuilt in 1721 by James Gibbs. In between, it had been rebuilt by King Henry II, whose new residence at York Place blocked the direct path for transporting the dead to St. Martin’s burial grounds. The King, fearing plague, ordered the parish’s boundaries to be redrawn. The little church could not fit the larger congregation, so the church had to be rebuilt in 1542.
As I approach the steps of the church, I pass a souvenir booth. A young man is hungrily eating his lunch on the steps, while an older lady is taking a rest from her ventures. I suddenly become quite aware of these people and the shops at the base of the church, a far cry from its isolated roots.
St. Martin’s-in-the-Field, as the same suggests, was once in the midst of the fields that stretched between Westminster and the City of London. Now it stands in London’s most popular square, which was laid out in the 1830s. Centuries before, monks used to roam the church yard planting vegetables, while animals grazed in the nearby pastures. Today, construction workers and buses take their place.
Once I step inside the entranceway, the noise from the street filters into the background, as soft organ music draws me further inside. The names of every vicar of the church are displayed on the nearby staircase, dating back to 1352 when St. Martin’s became one of the 43 parishes of the Church of England. Its territory includes Buckingham Palace, and a special section of the balcony is reserved for royalty.
[church]”Technically both the Queen and the Prime Minster should come here,” Liz Russell, one of the six clergy at St. Martin’s, tells me. She smiles and adds, “But they don’t.” I find Russell standing at the front of the chapel this morning, eager to talk about her church with any one who wanted to listen.
“It’s the fifth most visited Church of England,” she boasts. More than 600,000 people pass through the church’s doors each year, including the fans of classical music attending the popular evening concerts held at the church, which are broadcast on radio stations worldwide. The church offers, on average, six concerts a week. Three free performances are held at lunchtime in the cafe, featuring up-and-coming or younger musicians. Three evening concerts, which cost money, feature professional musicians, including soloists, choirs and ensembles performing Bach, Beethoven and other classical favorites. Three services a week are aimed at visitors to London, performed in song by the choir from the Academy of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. These ceremonies, says Russell, offer travelers who do not speak English a chance to enjoy worship through song. Including these three services, there are 25 ceremonies offered weekly at the traditional Anglican Church. Because of its close proximity to Chinatown, the church has one Chinese clergy and a separate service in Chinese. They also offer a Chinese Day Center.
After talking with Russell, I venture down the stairs where advertisements for Jazz Night and Salsa dancing on the wall leading down into the crypt remind me I have not left the 21st century at the church’s steps. A low hum of conversation grows into moderate roar as I enter the Cafe in the Crypt. A gift shop, stocked with books and souvenirs invites the hungry and the fed alike. Around the corner, I find myself in the gallery. Today’s exhibit is titled “Angels and Dreams,” displaying paintings and photographs from artists Nurettin Erkan and Kadir Aktay.
As I peruse the collection, I pass a father and his daughter leaning over a table, making a brass rubbing of some medieval figure. The brass rubbing center is at the far end of the gallery where other visitors of all ages are working vigorously at their art. “Take home a knight!” reads the sign over the entranceway. I nearly laugh.
It seems almost laughable to me that a crypt, the burial site for people such as King Charles II’s mistress, Nell Gwyn, and famous painters and artisans, has been transformed into a place to hold a family outing. In fact, the Crypt Cafe was listed in London’s Independent newspaper as one of the 50 best places to meet in London last year.
Next, I head to the market, at the opposite end of the church. About a dozen booths are set up in the courtyard, selling both t-shirts of pop bands and wooden crafts, to name a few items.
One woman in a booth informs me that the market will be closing soon, due to changes in the church. ”It is important that St. Martin’s renovates,” she says, adding she has been at this market for 12 years. The vendors are looking for a new place to relocate, she adds.
After visiting the market, I visit the Social Care Unit across the street. In remembrance of St. Martin, the saint known for giving half his cloak to a beggar, the church has been actively involved in serving the homeless. This tradition began in 1916 when Dick Sheppard, the vicar at the time, opened the church overnight for soldiers stranded during World War I. It remained open for soldiers through 1919 but also invited the unemployed and homeless to take refuge, as well. From 1919 to 1939, the crypt came to be known as the “Ever Open Door” and was run as a night shelter. In 1939, the doors closed to the three dozen homeless people still seeking shelter in the church, to be reopened as a bomb shelter during World War II.
Today, the Social Care Unit offers both day and night programs for the homeless and “rough sleepers.” In April 2003, the unit merged with The London Connection, a program that offered services to young people in need of accommodations and basic amenities such as laundry and advice. Now called The Connection at St. Martin’s, the organization provides support for the homeless and roofless of all ages and provides showers, advice, education and training, sports and other activities. So far the center has helped over 700 people to find accommodations and locate treatment for mental illness and substance abuse.
The building is uninviting and almost unapproachable. To get there, I must walk around large scaffolding and closed sidewalks. Finally, I find myself standing at a large, steel door. It’s locked. I ring the bell and tell the unenthused woman at the other end of the intercom that I wish to speak with someone about their facility.
The door buzzes open. I walk down a flight of rickety stairs and into a waiting room tucked in the basement. A few bodies occupy seats and watch me carefully. The secretary tells me there is no one available to speak with. I walk back up the stairs with only a pamphlet. I hope others fare better than I when they come to visit in need of clothing, rather than just answers.
The Connection is not the only charity the church sponsors. The Vicar Relief Fund, funded by donations, gives help to many people all over England who have what Russell calls, “urgent, small needs.” Social workers can contact the church regarding people needing aid, and the money is turned-over in a matter of days. “If they want to look for us for help, we have a responsibility for every person in England,” Russell says, adding, “Which most people ignore.”
Walking back across the street toward the Underground, brochure stuffed into my pocket, I look back at the church. More people line the steps, workers taking their mid-morning break. Some just enjoy the view. If I squint, I can almost see the peasants flocking to worship within St. Martin’s walls. But, for me, the spirituality lies in the walls themselves, standing in the midst of a large metropolitan city, against the changing world that surrounds them. While the future of this historic building remains uncertain, as the drills and bulldozers grow uncomfortably close to the gate and consumerism is slowly creeping up the crypt’s stairs, the church greets the new day with the same outwardly defiance of change as it has for hundreds of years.

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Election 2004: Thanks for the Memories

They interrupted our lives to bring us ten months of political banter, empty promises and the same old talking points. But, in less than a week, it will all be over, barring another Supreme Court decision. (This means you, Florida.)
In less than a week, I can again talk to my conservative friends without feeling the urge to refute everything they say, even if we’re just chatting about the weather. In less than a week, my stomach can start to untangle itself, and the ball of anxiety can dislodge from the back of my throat.
[Traci] Not that I haven’t enjoyed the media circus that has existed if only for its own entertainment over the last ten months. Led by ringleaders Dan Rather and Bill O’Reilly, the media proved to us it can’t balance facts on its brown nose if those facts were stuck on with super glue made of truth. It was fun for a while to guess the bias and political partisanship of the fair and balanced news conglomerates, but soon it became too easy. At the beginning, it was amusing to see the same talking point being mouthed by talking heads—then it just made me sad.
And, of course, I’ll miss all the attention our generation received for our elusive “youth vote.” I know that once the election passes, we’ll once again be those low-life slackers with their loud music, but for ten months, we were gods. But, even though, I love being pandered to as much as the next guy, once my life was threatened by an uninspired hip-hop wash up, I stopped listening. I’m ready to be taken seriously, not be seriously taken by insincere, ineffective, and downright annoying ad campaigns telling me to vote or die.
But, most of all, I’ll miss the name-calling, the personal attacks and the catfights. The dinner table will be awkwardly silent without them.
Death threats and family politics aside, looking back, it’s been a fun ten months. We got to know two men, a senator and a cowboy, better than we know our own parents. We’ve watched them run across the country like chickens with their heads cut off, kissing executives and shaking babies. We’ve seen them on Oprah, Dr. Phil, and Good Morning America, where they’ve shared everything but their sexual fantasies with us. Thank God.
We laughed at the other guy’s mistakes and cried at our guy’s follies. We learned more about the Vietnam War than we ever needed, or wanted, to know. We smiled when Jon Stewart called Tucker Carlson a dick on “Crossfire”, even though most of us didn’t know who Tucker Carlson was before Stewart wiped that bowtied smirk off his face. We frowned when Bill O’Reilly called the Daily Show viewers “stoned slackers.” And we were just plain confused when Zell Miller showed up at the Republican Convention, and then challenged Chris Matthews from “Hardball” to a duel.
After Tuesday’s vote, things may go back to normal. Flip-flops will once again refer to footwear only worn in summer. Evil and terr (otherwise known as terror) will be the only “opponent” our president, who ever it is, will be attacking. And Fox News will once again be fair and balanced. (Pause for laughter.)
But, we will always remember the year of 2004 as the “most important election…ever.” Democrats, Republicans, and Naderites alike can all look back fondly and say “We survived.”
And now, back to our regularly scheduled lives.

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Knights in BMWs

The heroic knight slays the dragon and rescues the damsel from the tower of a gray castle, ultimately winning her heart and the rule of the kingdom. This is Medieval history, as Americans have come to know it, in a nutshell: a world of fantasy and action thanks to Hollywood’s portrayals of the period. Could anything good come out of the study of medieval history that doesn’t involve Heath Ledger or Sean Connery vying for the part of the leading man?
A team of researchers at Queens University in Belfast are attempting to prove that, yes, medieval studies do have an integral role in the world today. In 2002, they received a grant for nearly a half million dollars from Britain’s Arts and Humanities Research Board, the American equivalent of the National Endowment for the Humanities,to study origins of British myths of identity through medieval texts.
[imagine]The project called “Imagining History” began in September 2002 and will be funded over a three-year period. Researchers are closely examining the Brut, a popular Middle English prose chronicling the foundation of what is now Britain. It derives its name from Brutus, a Trojan prince and conqueror, whom Britain was named after. The Brut also accounts for subsequent reigns of King Lear and Arthur, two of the most familiar figures of medieval times.
The group believes the “English Brut tradition” has current relevance in the histiography of Scotland, England and Ireland. “By having a tradition of colonial activities recorded in texts like the Brut, the English could continue to legitimate this or the other political and military campaign in the later Middle Ages,” said Stephen Kelly, co-founder of the project.
The project got the name “Imagining History” from a platter of theories on the discourse of history. One American Palestinian scholar Edward Said theorized that we construct history to consolidate our sense of identity and to reaffirm Otherness. Hayden White has argued that history uses the same strategies that fiction also encompasses.
“History is not so much about truth as about what we imagine to be the truth,” said Kelly. “What we imagine is shaped through our ideological, religious and political affiliations, as demonstrated in the last 30 years of Irish history.”
Back when the Brut was conceived, medieval writers had a different sense of history than current historians do. Researchers at the university are careful to consider the ways in which both medieval writers and they themselves construct history.
Scholars of medieval study have almost universally overlooked the Brut, even though more copies of the Brut exist than any other works from this period, excluding the Wycliffte Bible. Kelly attributed the lack of interest to the text not being “engaging” to literary researchers or historians. Also, the amount of work needed to complete the examination of the 181 surviving manuscripts can be overwhelming to scholars as well.
Each manuscript is being studied using microfilm of the original text, which is enlarged and cleaned-up by researchers. They have discovered marginal notes in many of the manuscripts, which lead researchers to believe the works have been used as a way of tracing ancestral roots.
“Our studies reveal that people have always been concerned about who they are and how they came to attach themselves to one tribe or another,” said Kelly and fellow co-founder Jason O’Rourke in a press release in June of 2003. “The research gives us pause to reflect on the situation here in Northern Ireland where issues of cultural identity are at the root of our recent troubled history.”
Researchers aim to recover the text and use it to examine the interrelation between ideologies and loyalties. They also hope to develop cultural mapping, which will allow other scholars to access a database of information about the Brut for their own research. In order to accomplish this, they are tracking the roots of each text and following how it has passed through generations and locations. It isn’t so much what the text says that researchers are interested in but also the ways in which the actual manuscripts have been used and passed on.
In recent years, the discipline of medieval studies in a university setting has been the center of a fiery debate, propelled by comments made by Britain’s Education Secretary Charles Clarke. “I don’t mind there being some medievalists around for ornamental purposes, but there is no reason for the state to pay for them,” The Daily Telegraph reported Clarke as allegedly telling a gathering at University College, Worcester in 2003.
After attacks from the medieval community, Clarke wrote a letter to the Opinion page of the Telegraph, saying his quotations were taken out of context. He said he was in no way attacking medievalists themselves but instead the “medieval concept” of a university as a community of scholars, which, in his mind, does not justify financial support without a wider sociological and economical role.
“His views on medievalists are further evidence of his government’s utilitarian notion of education,” Kelly said. Informed by what Kelly calls the Reaganite-Thatcherite social philosophies “…the Blair government is committed to turning universities into factories churning out workers for so-called ‘knowledge economies’.”
Recent studies done by Manchester Metropolitan University found that more directors of top companies earned a history degree than any other credential in the U.K.
“Classical and medieval history turn out people with super brains and the employer can be happy that someone has stretched themselves,” said Ruth Lea, head of the policy unit at the Institute of Directors in The Sunday Times last month.
Even more than just developing and catering to skills, historical studies have a place in society today, says Kelly. “As the Bush government conducts its benign colonial adventure in the Middle East, the lessons of history have never been more important.”

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