The Difference a Smile Can Make

highway image

Credit: Gillian Reimann

When we think about different cultural perspectives, the regions of California versus Oregon, the Bay Area versus Portland and its greater area, rarely come to mind, but to me, they’re vastly different. Four years ago, I made a twelve hour drive up to Forest Grove, Oregon from Concord, California, to start my college experience and Pacific University, and I didn’t really expect anything to be that different. Well, I did expect more rain. But, a funny thing happened as I started to go to my classes and talk to local Oregonians, and I realized, there is a difference.

Back home in the Bay Area, everything is fast-paced. We don’t sit outside, reading books or listening to music as we take in the sunshine; because it’s always out in California, and there’s so much more to do. We don’t walk to restaurants in town, even if they are ten minutes away. And we certainly don’t stop and smile at people we vaguely recognize. Instead, we bustle along on our busy paths, we keep our heads down, we drive to get dinner, and we do our best to avoid the sun (since it’s always out and it’s always hot).

Honestly, life back home is abrupt, which has made the past four years in the Portland area a bit of an eye-opener for me. To be honest, not all of it is grand, starting with the rain—the endless downpour is annoying, and for a self-proclaimed sun-hater, even I’m happy on days when it’s out and there’s no precipitation in sight. The constant rain was a bit of a shock to try to adapt to, especially since I was going back home every few months for break. But even with the rain, when I’m in Forest Grove, I’m more likely to see people out walking around town and campus, stopping to talk and smile with one another, even in the rain. Back at home, I’d be hard pressed to see that kind of simple friendliness, and while I’m not saying that we’re all rude, there’s just not that level of comfort involved. Making the transition between the two states is difficult, especially because as soon as I get into the swing of smiling at people and asking how they are, I have to switch, going back to the head-ducking, antisocial attitude. And when I finally get used to sitting in traffic for hours and blaring music to entertain myself, I get thrown back into the fast lane where I’m constantly avoiding being cut off and going at least fifteen over the speed limit.

As a junior editor at Silk Road for the past three semesters, I’ve had the privilege of reading unique cultural perspectives and see various diverse tales across several genres, and so it’s difficult to see how my experience translates in comparison. But then, I remember that ‘unique’ and ‘diverse’ are subjective words, and they vary from case to case. My experiences from city life in the Bay Area and Portland, to the town life of Concord and Forest Grove illustrate a distinct gap in human contact and comfort. Back at home, people rush about, avoid eye contact, and set out for themselves. Contrastingly, when I’m here in Forest Grove, or the larger Portland area, people stop and start up conversations.

At a bookstore in Beaverton a couple weeks ago, I was stopped by an old man in the Science Fiction section who asked my opinion about some books. I stopped my perusal of the shelves, smiled at him, and offered up a few titles that I had read that were similar to the books in his hand. He grinned back at me and thanked me for my time, and I watched him go on to grab one of the books that I recommended, adding it to the pile. It was a

For me, the difference in culture between the Bay Area and Portland is just enough of a shock so that alternating and adapting between the two is difficult. Twelve hours of driving and a few mountain ranges separate the two states, making their differences subtle but certainly there, at least for this college student.

By: Gillian Reimann

Dissecting the Imagined Past

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Credit: Pixabay

When I read a poem, the first thing I look for is strong and impactful imagery, something that captures my imagination and runs away with it. Kenyon Review’s latest online edition, The Poetics of Science, Laura Kolbe’s poem “Dissecting Blade” gripped my imagination tight and did just that. With a strong sense of how childhood can affect a writer in the present day through the opening “Every past-less child has a favorite false world,” I began to reflect on my own past and how it might have shaped my writing.

Right from the beginning, I’m carried off into the lands of make-believe that I traversed through my childhood, playing the hero wielding a sword of justice. The rich history Kolbe evokes, calling upon ancient Greece to more European trappings pulls me deep into the poem with lines such as “the violence of knights, or of more ancient men crouched/on dark heaths or Greek coasts,” drawing me away from the outside world. This displacement from reality is only temporary though, as the last stanza instigates a real world setting where the victorious sword is a scalpel, a weapon that can teach, a multipurpose tool.

Kolbe’s manipulation of imagery yanked me into her poem headfirst and had me back in time when I was in my own “favorite false world,” shifting me out of my current reality. Much like Silk Road’s upcoming issue on displacement in its variety of forms, Kolbe uses the concept of displacement as a nostalgic tool. The narrator is separated from their present and drawn into their childhood dreams to better illustrate the importance of their skills with the modern-day blade, a scalpel. Moreover, the phrasing of “every past-less child” signifies an even stronger sense of displacement from both the past and the present. It shifts the reader and the narrator from the present into a more imaginary past through the strong imagery and symbolism of a sword, which Kolbe uses to effectively invoke both a strength of will with the present occupation and the desire for something more. This desire for more stems from the “past-less” childhood and the idea of the imaginary realm which gives a “holy” sense to wielding the scalpel in the present. The idea of donning “the bridle and the robe” roughly mimics both a knight readying for battle as well as a priest readying for a sermon. These images then illustrate how dynamic and fluid the imagination can be, especially when relating it to Kolbe’s studies in medicine. And while the “sunless dream-light of the lab” isn’t the battle fervor setting of the past, it is still something that the narrator and reader can cling to and find immense meaning in.

For me, reading Kolbe’s poem opened quite a few doors into my own childhood and how the imaginary battles to save my kingdom relate to my current path as a writer. While I still look to the past and the worlds I created, my writing now looks towards all the possibilities in future fictional worlds and how they could affect me later. And while I may not wield a scalpel like a sword, my pens and pencils attempt that level of precision and mastery on the page.

By: Gillian Reimann

Traveling to Lady Doak College

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Photo credit:Olivia Barrows

 

            Tempting, exotic, striking: three words that describe India. For Olivia Barrows, a freshman at Pacific University, it was all of that and more. Intrigued by the spiritual aspects of the vibrant Indian culture, as well as women’s rights in other countries, Olivia was encouraged by Dr. Martha Rampton, the Director of the Center for Gender Equity and a veteran of the trip, to take the plunge and travel to India. With the opportunity in hand, Olivia traveled with a class to India over the winter term this past January to visit the Lady Doak College in Madurai, India, and experienced all the unique aspects that Indian culture has to offer. 

Lady Doak was a college founded in 1948 by an American missionary who sought to empower the women of Madurai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. It stands as a symbol of education in the face of adversity for women. After only thirty years, Lady Doak was fully commissioned into an autonomous college in 1978 with ties to the Madurai Kamaraj University and has been flourishing ever since. With a motto of ‘Semper pro Veritate’ and or ‘Always for the Truth’ the college upholds its core morals and values of integrity, love, and service. 

For Olivia, the experience was transformative. Welcomed into the home of a student at Lady Doak, she and her classmates were invited to join in the harvest festival Pongal, one of the most popular Hindu festivals of the year, which gives thanks to nature. Together they watched as the family made the traditional sweet rice dish Pongal. They were then invited to join in on part of the ceremony by tossing rice and praying. The village invited the class in as well, and set up a game of musical chairs for them to play so that they would feel a part of the celebration. 

Culturally however, it was a bit of a shock when she first arrived, with differences from food to language and clothing. And yet those differences are what made it such an exciting experience, “With the clothing, it was fun to be able to wear such bright colors because I don’t do that when I’m at home.” The clothing wasn’t just a freeing experience however, as it also served as a form of protection to keep the girls from getting preyed upon. “There’s the conception that India is a very dangerous place for women to travel and though we never experienced any outright harassment, I could feel that I was being stared at in a different way than I am in the US.” For Olivia however, this wasn’t so much a frightening or ominous experience as it was a wakeup call. Ever since she’s been back stateside, she’s reflected upon the social attitude towards women, trying to understand and decide whether she should judge the situation or attribute it to a cultural difference, ultimately settling on the latter. Though the stares unnerved her at times, the welcoming atmosphere of the village and students was far more impactful on her experience.

 Visiting the Lady Doak College was probably the most influential on her decisions regarding the cultural divide. “The students at Lady Doak value their education with a fire that I’d never seen before.” For the students there, education is upheld as the undying belief that they can improve their own lives, and the country as a whole. Inspired and in awe of their plans for the future despite the social barriers that are lined up before them, Olivia’s trip to India was one of great cultural and emotional reflection and something she’s not likely to forget anytime soon.

By: Gillian Reimann