Scared on the Front Desk

Ah, the front desk. I have an interesting relationship with the front desk at the admissions office. Juanita, the receptionist at the front desk, truly makes it look easy. She is so calm transferring calls, greeting people and filing paperwork. Going into the summer, I knew I’d have to work the front desk a couple times when Juanita is on vacation. It seemed simple enough. At least, Juanita made it appear simple enough. In the first couple of weeks of orientation for the job, we learned how to transfer calls, how to greet people, and how to generally appear to have things together. I felt like I was ready to go the first day I came to the front desk.

I was terribly, terribly wrong. My first day at the front desk, I think I dropped three calls, was incredibly inarticulate when greeting people and was on the verge of a mental breakdown. Most of the time, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or just start smashing the phone until it stopped mocking me. Whenever I saw the red flashing buttons on the phone, I felt like I was in a scene of a horror movie. Every time I dropped a call, I assumed the worst. “What if that was Obama on the phone? Or the Dalai Lama?” Most of the time when I drop a call, people generally call back. But, even when they do call back, I feel intense guilt.

On this emotional roller coaster, my colleagues came down to check in on me from time to time. I think some of them had legitimate concern for my health. Yet, others simply laughed at my misfortune. I won’t name any names, but let’s just say it hurt me more than they could ever know. The only laughing that should be happening while I am at the front desk is my own laughing. Even if it is a laugh of insanity, it should be the only laugh allowed while I am at the front desk.

Now, every time I’m not working the front desk, I thank my lucky stars. Every day, I make sure to tell Juanita that she is THE BEST, because I have no idea how any person can do that job as calmly or efficiently as Juanita does it. Whenever I come down the stairs, she has the biggest smile on her face even though she has 3 different calls coming in, AND on top of that, she makes sure to tell me to eat my fruits and vegetables with every meal. If there is a Juanita in your life, make sure you tell them that you love them every day. I know before I had to sit the front desk, I had no idea how difficult the job was. Some superheroes just keep it on the down low, I guess… though I see right through Juanita’s disguise!

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Made in L.A.

Last fall, I took one of the weirder classes of my college career, “Performance in Contemporary Art.” Twice a week, I would bike down to Seaver Theatre and participate in a two-and-a-half-hour workshop led by a guest artist. One time we made puppets. One time we re-enacted our past deaths in tableaux. One time we embodied spirit animals and I (a tiger) ate my professor (a bird) for lunch. Each afternoon was a different perspective on contemporary performance practice.

My class was lucky to get a taste of the L.A. (performance) art scene, which most visiting artists seem to think is thriving, and even intimate, despite the size of the city. Our professor, Mark Allen, runs an art space in Echo Park called Machine Project, where he collaborates with lots of the people he brought in to work with us. When my class visited, the space had been made up into a convenience store-cum-cave-come-burlesque theatre. Another time, I popped in to see some drone music.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “Performance in Contemporary Art” since I have been living in Downtown Los Angeles. I think it really inspired my creative thinking, both about art I make and art I see or otherwise experience. Since then, I have become increasingly interested in working in a group to make and experience things (I even think about a career in arts education, sometimes); indeed, many of the artists we were working with do collaborative projects.

One of these artists is Emily Mast, whose work I was lucky to see last week when I went to the Hammer Museum to see their biennial “Made in L.A.” The whole exhibit was a real testament, I would say, to the weird and exciting work being made here. One of the vague themes of the biennial was objects, it seemed to me, which I found fun because I’ve long been interested in the sheer volume of things that fill our world. But I particularly liked Emily’s piece because it worked to say something about the human body’s relationship with these objects. Lucky for me, I get to return to the Hammer throughout the summer for more!

P.S. Check out some of Emily’s videos here: https://vimeo.com/user2170220!

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If You Give a Mouse a Lysolecithin Injection…

She may lead you to a cure for multiple sclerosis (I work with female mice).

The world of scientific research captivated me the summer prior to my first year at Pomona College. I found a summer research internship through the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to gain first-hand perspective with a research setting. I worked my mentors to investigate drug combinations for T-cell leukemia. It was an eye-opening experience — my first exposure to scientific academia, cell culture techniques, and the collaborative nature of a research lab. It was perhaps the experience which single-handedly culminated to my declaring a molecular biology major at Pomona.

For this summer, I wanted to continue looking into research that had relevance to the health professions. In particular, I was seeking neuroscience research. Ever since a horrifying experience of a close family member battling, and ultimately losing to, a vegetative state, I wanted to be a pioneer in the research and combatting of neurological disorders. I ultimately decided against studying neuroscience at Pomona because I felt that a broader degree would be more applicable, but I felt that I could find neuroscience exposure through summer research experiences. After contacting several professors at the University of Chicago (a comprehensive research university located close to my home), I was thrilled to be given a research opportunity by Dr. Brian Popko, one of the leading experts on myelin research.

Where I work!

Where I work!

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Getting Adjusted

Ok, well, I have a couple of weeks under my belt now, and I think I might be getting the hang of things. Well, I mean, hopefully I’m getting the hang of things. While the first couple of weeks as a Senior Interview have been incredibly informative (think information sessions and tours at all the 5-C’s), I’ve found that I’ve definitely still had my fair share of slip-ups…

What do you mean by that, Matt? What kind of slip-ups could you possibly be referring to?
Well… Take last week for example. I interviewed two students in the morning, was feeling good, and decided to get a workout in during my lunch break because I had a busy afternoon ahead. I got back the office at about 1:29, hair still wet and tie undone. My next interview wasn’t until 2:30, so I was just sitting in the conference room, finishing up some of my other interview reviews. Next thing I know, Assistant Dean of Admissions Will Hummel pokes his head in the door.

“You know you have an interview right now, right?”

I laughed a little bit, and kind of rolled my eyes at Will.

“No, I’m serious Matt. Your 1:30 is waiting downstairs.”

Once I realized he was serious, I freaked out a little bit. I mean, my shirt was literally still wet from the shower I took at the Rains Center during lunch. I tied my tie in a rush, tried to tuck in my shirt, adjusted my belt, and booked it down the stairs. Pretty sure I almost brought old Sumner Hall (the admissions building) to the ground with the way I shook the building. Tip: If you are trying to do a cardio workout on campus, don’t do a stair workout in one of Pomona’s oldest buildings. It could work out badly… When I got down stairs, I’m pretty sure some of the prospective students thought an earthquake transpired. Probably not the greatest first impression… Think of how my poor interviewee felt when I first met him.

The prospective student was a good sport about it, even though I’m pretty sure I looked like I went through a slip-n-slide on my way back from lunch. When we finished up the interview, I think I was feeling some post-traumatic stress, because I kept walking around the office saying to people, “Did you see what just happened?” First, no one cares what happened before the interview… people just care that the interview gets done. Second, why would I want to tell my colleagues that I resembled a wet dog when I was interviewing a prospective student? As impressive as I’m sure everyone in the office thought I was for fighting through adversity and conducting the interview with beads of water streaming down my face, from now on I will try to avoid putting all of my miscues on blast.

Things are definitely looking up though. As I am learning, I am also thinking up ideas that would be useful for boosting office morale. One of my favorite’s thus far: Admissions Office Combine. We send each member of the admissions office through a series of exercises to determine who is the most beastly male and female in the office. Many seem to think Seth Allen, Dean of Admissions, would blow everyone away… I’m not so sure about that.

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The 3-Day Weekend

I am AMAZED at the difference a 3-day weekend can make.

As a student, and particularly as a humanities student, I always had three-day weekends, and it never seemed like a real “holiday” to just get one extra day off of a work week. Boy, was I wrong! Having Friday off for the 4th of July this week was such a blessing! Really felt like I had an extra week of vacation after a 9-5.

And we made good use of it down on College Ave. Anyone who knows me will attest, I’m pretty big on holiday spirit, and the 4th of July is one of my faves. Nothing beats burgers and fireworks in my book. I spent most of the day cooking, trying to put the “south” back in Southern California, making family coleslaw and collard green recipes from Tennessee, and being an integral part in building a “redneck slip ‘n’ slide” (as they called it on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, my main media studies thesis text) – two giant tarps, hand soap, and a hose in the backyard. Who says you have to grow up after college?

We finished up our food just in time to race up to campus to see the City of Claremont Fireworks show (located at Pomona College) from the roof garden of Sontag Hall. When it started while we were still in the car, I thought we were going to miss the whole thing, but the show lasted like half an hour! And, luckily we loitered around afterwards, because there was an epilogue of sorts 20 minutes or so after the main show ended.

I’m used to family reunions on the Fourth. This is the first year I’ve been away for the 4th of July, so while it could have been sad, I sort of felt like I was at a family reunion – the POMONA family reunion!! Ahh! It was great to hang with other 2014’ers around for the summer and to be back on campus with the underclassmen who are doing research and working on projects – it’s one thing to be on campus in the admissions office every day, but it’s another to be in the dorms with the student community. Glad I got to be there for a real Claremont 4th of July!

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Unsettled Spectatorship

Over my last few posts, a still-developing preoccupation of mine has, without my go-ahead, disclosed itself: how can one characterize and illustrate the statistically-anonymized Pomona student? Without tripping into generalities and abstractions, is it even possible to depict the real flesh, blood, and bones of student body instead of mechanically regurgitating the brochure-fitted, stereotype-addled definitions of the student body? The answer is a resounding one. No, it is not possible. No, the people here are too distinct, too peculiar, too “all-over-the-place” – in regard to their geographical origins, academic interests, and temperaments alike – to describe without a bit of soppy over-embellishment and over-idealization. It is an easy, perhaps mindless task to publicize a U.S. News & World Report or Forbes ranking; it is an impossible one to succinctly portray the synaptic firings and on-the-way-to-class musings of a single person.

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On Los Angeles (Part One of Many)

Well, I’m back in Southern California now. And it’s awesome. After six months of studying in the U.K., I was real ready for sunshine and avocados, and now here I am! For the next six weeks I will be living in downtown L.A. (sounds like a paradox and it kind of is – what fun!) before migrating 40 minutes east, back to Claremont, for the school year. I couldn’t be more excited to get to know this city better.

I wasn’t always the fan of L.A. that I am today: I arrived at college a staunch east-coaster, convinced that the so-called City of Angels was inaccessible to me in all its sprawl and superficiality. At some point I opened my mind, I changed my narrow definition of “culture,” and now I find myself singing this place’s praises. So in the spirit of breaking down stereotypes, this first blog post of mine is going to focus on the amazing mosaic of cultures that have a home here.

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From Sea to Shining Lake

In order to survive…you try to recreate, as well as you can, your normality, some sense of things continuing.

Whenever I’m reading, if there is a sentence or paragraph that resonates with me in particular, I put the book aside and start reflecting upon it. Such was the experience when I reached the above sentence in Jeanne Wakatsuki’s A Farewell to Manzanar for ID1 reading. I was determined to undermine my past upon coming to Pomona in the hopes of forging brighter memories ahead, but having to hide a fundamental part of my upbringing created a dissonance that I refused to acknowledge. Wakatsuki brought that dissonance back to the surface and assured me that there was a continuation in my life that could enable the various distinct points of my life to coexist. As thoughts of the past reeled through my head, I realized that there was something consistent about my life from start to present — proximity to water. My story can be overwhelming to describe without a point of reference, and I choose to let water tie it all together. Continue reading

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When Thought Becomes Spectacle

In the practice of creative instruction – a practice, I might add, that glaringly evinces its own oxymoronic futility – there is common injunction: do not write/film/illustrate/compose/create anything about the “creative process” itself. In most cases, this is because such a “creation” would avow, without ambiguity, the frailty or non-existence of your imagination; writing about writing, a sage will surely tell you, is but a refuge for shriveled-up hacks who have run out of ideas or, for some unidentifiable reason, have been running along - blindly, clumsily - without ideas for some time. There is some truth to this claim. If you consider nothing other than pen and paper, then, out of necessity, you will write about that: the rich, sticky smell of the ink, the depthless white paper below you, the momentum and contortions of a scribbling hand. However, while I concede that “creating-about-creation” syndrome usually signifies debilitation or deterioration, there is something uniquely spectacular (worthy of spectacle, that is) about the activity of the mind, especially minds bred here at Pomona.

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Ballet at The Met

Iced Bahia at OCafé

Iced Bahia at OCafé

Coming from Claremont almost directly to New York City made for some serious culture shock. In contrast to the peaceful and spacious isles of Trader Joes on Foothill Boulevard, the Whole Foods in Union square where I do most of my grocery shopping is nothing short of a traumatic experience. The first time I entered the store I stood in the corner wide-eyed for a good five minutes trying to figure out how I was going to physically maneuver myself throughout the aggressive crowd of health food shoppers without accidentally impaling someone with my basket. But despite my frightening grocery experience, this city has treated me wonderfully. As a first time New Yorker, I wasn’t sure of how easily I would adjust. But after only a couple of weeks I can confidently say, “There’s one on the corner of 15th and Third” if someone asks me where the nearest Starbucks is. I can assertively step off the curb and hail a cab at a busy intersection, and I’ve even learned to navigate the subway system. Continue reading

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