Response to Pruthvi’s Post

“What is the real? How can you define what the real is? Is there even a real definition of this real? The answer is yes and no. Somewhere in between.”


I enjoyed reading Pruthvi’s post because he asked questions I thought about while writing my own post, but didn’t end up putting into words. How do you define the real? When reading Pruthvi’s post I was reminded of my favorite philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich. Tillich uses the term “ultimate reality” to describe the real and he calls the search for the real “ultimate concern.” Tillich’s idea is that even though each person’s ultimate concern might be different, often times we all reach the same ultimate reality. As Pruthvi discussed in his post, often times even though other people’s thoughts and opinions might seem radically different than your own, once you take time to see things from their perspective, it often becomes clear that ultimately your ideas aren’t that far apart.


I always reserve the right to change my mind

When I was twelve years old I decided exactly how I would spend the rest of my life. First, I would finish up middle school and high school, then I would go to a CUNY college, get a degree in nursing, and continue on my way to becoming a hospice nurse. In my spare time, I would write novels and popular science books. I began to prepare myself for my future life by studying science, writing stories, and starting a blog about science. When I was in high school I decided it would be a good idea to get experience doing scientific research to help me understand science better when I studied nursing. I applied for the Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) at the American Museum of Natural History and ended up doing research on the diet of coyotes in New York City as part of that program. I loved doing research, and being part of the diet study was one of the best experiences in my life. Both of my mentors from SRMP repeatedly asked me if considered pursing a career in scientific research, but I said no, I wanted to be a nurse and a writer. My career plan I made when I was twelve was still stuck in my head.
It wasn’t until I started applying for colleges that I realized nursing is an extremely popular major, and hundreds of students applied to colleges saying they wanted to go into nursing. To make myself stand out to college admissions, I focused on my interests in scientific research, coyotes, urban ecology, and science communication. Once I got into college, I thought I would go back to being a nursing major and a writer like I planned all along.


Lichens in NJ

When I started describing myself as a future scientist I realized that I wasn’t interested in nursing anymore. I wanted to pursue a career in scientific research. All these ideas for research projects started popping into my head. I wanted to know, are lichens indicators of urban ecosystem health? What is the lichen diversity of New York City? Do lichens communicate with the trees they grow on?
The plan I made at age twelve was outdated, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad plan, or that it wasn’t “real” at some point. If I wasn’t interested in nursing I never would have done SRMP, and I may have never known I wanted to be a research scientist.
I resonated with the Youth in Passing Strange because he too went through several stages of thinking he knew what The Real, only to realize he hadn’t quite hit on it yet. The Youth used art to guide him to The Real, I use experience. My experiences in research guided me to my current interests. Right now, I want to study lichens and urban ecology for the rest of my life, but later maybe I’ll decide that I do want to become a novelist. Whenever my dad makes a decision he always says “I made this decision now, but I always reserve the right to change my mind.” I think this is a good saying to live by. Life is easier if you remain open to new possibilities. Who knows where future experiences will guide me.

Bowie, Beck, and Jazz: Blog Post 10

Bowie’s original version of “Sound and Vision” was concise. Even though the song consisted of many instrumental and vocal parts, the piece was stripped down to the essentials. Beck’s version of “Sound and Vision” contained the same lyrics and vocalization as Bowie’s original, but Beck’s version expanded on Bowie’s theme which gave the audience a more intense experience of Bowie’s concept.


When I listened to Beck’s symphonic version of “Sound and Vision” I was struck by how incongruent all the parts making up the piece seemed. I never thought of a gospel choir, a singer/guitarist, and an orchestra all performing the same music before. The multitude of performers in Beck’s version of “Sound and Vision” was overwhelming, but somehow all the discordant parts worked together to form a harmonious whole.


When we attended the Latin Jazz concert at Lehman, I noticed how the performers often just “did their own thing,” or seemed to be playing whatever they wanted to during their solo. At first, all the solos seemed separate from one another, like they were not even part of the same song, but eventually all the parts came together in unison during the chorus. When I noticed how all the parts of Beck’s version of “Sound and Vision” joined together, it reminded me of the musical connections I heard in the Latin Jazz concert.

Blog Post 9

“When people forge tools or build things, they are often trying to alleviate discomfort. But first they must define the discomfort.”


I think the discomfort that fuels creation is often subconscious. When I create something, a drawing, a piece of writing, or a meal, I never think “I am doing this to alleviate discomfort.” In my mind, I’m creating because I have something to show, or to say, or I’m just hungry. If I didn’t draw, or write, or eat I would be in a state of discomfort, and it is possible to argue that discomfort ultimately fuels creation. There is more to creation than pure discomfort. The joy of creating something also plays a role.


“the sculpture [of Laocoon] didn’t change, but the idea of pain and justice did”


This shows how great art can be reinterpreted over time, and still remain meaningful. The truth is, it is impossible to look at a historical work of art and see it in the way it was seen when it was first created. We see everything through 21st century eyes and understand art in the context of our time. The Laocoon sculpture was originally meant to be an image of a man who deserved to be tortured, but now we see the sculpture as an expression of horrific pain and suffering. No matter the interpretation, the sculpture is still a striking work.

Bridges: Blog Posts 7 and 8

Part I

Both Man on Wire and Judge Soderberg’s monologue in Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann deal with crime. However, while Man on Wire is about the artistic crime Phillipe Petit committed when he walked between the World Trade Centers on a tightrope, Judge Soderberg’s monologue is about sordid crime like rape, robbery, arson, and murder. Phillipe Petit’s crime is a crime of privilege because he has the time and resources to plan a stunt that has no purpose other than to challenge himself and to amaze others. The crimes Judge Soderberg speaks of are crimes of desperation, as most people involved have little choice but to engage in criminal activity. Both types of crime shock people and make them uncomfortable, but only Petit’s type of crime is considered art.


Part II

I was annoyed by the way Judge Soderberg thought of Tillie, Jazzlyn, and Corrigan during Tillie and Jazzlyn’s trial for robbery. By this point in the story I knew Tillie, Jazzlyn, and Corrigan well and I liked all of their characters. I was rooting for them. I also knew that Jazzlyn and Corrigan die in a car crash right after the trial, which made their last moments in the court room more meaningful. Judge Sonderberg does not know Tillie, Jazzlyn, and Corrigan. Instead of seeing Tillie, Jazzlyn, and Corrigan as the kind-hearted people I knew them to be, Judge Soderberg sees them as more lowly dirt he has to deal with. Judge Soderberg considers Tillie’s jokes irritating, he sees Jazzlyn as hopeless, and he mistakes Corrigan for a pimp. I was annoyed at Judge Soderberg for not being able to see past the assumptions he makes about Tillie, Jazzlyn, and Corrigan to the real people underneath.


Instead of focusing on Tillie, Jazzlyn, and Corrigan Judge Soderberg is distracted by an unusual case he is to preside over later in the day, the trial of Phillipe Petit, the tight-rope walker. The contrast between the Judge’s feelings about Tillie and Jazzlyn’s case versus Petit’s case again illustrates the difference between sordid crime and artistic crime.


I was excited by Petit’s appearance in the same courtroom as Tillie, Jazzlyn, and Corrigan because this instance connected even more of the characters in Let the Great World Spin. I enjoy how characters in Let the Great World Spin keep intersecting with one another without even realizing it.


Here’s an updated version of my character intersection chart which shows all the character intersections in Let the Great World Spin.

Part III

The prologue of Let the Great World Spin begins with a shocking scene of Petit walking on a tightrope between the World Trade Centers. In this scene, New York City seems crowded, chaotic, and overwhelming. Let the Great World Spin terminates in a quiet scene with Jaslyn sitting on her dying friend Claire’s bed. Between these two scenes Colum McCann bridges all of New York, and we the readers feel as if we know New York, the overwhelming city, inside and out. Petit’s walk at the beginning of the book symbolizes the journey through New York City McCann takes the reader on. It seems impossible to walk between the World Trade Centers on tightrope, but Petit does it. It seems impossible to understand New York City, but by the end of Let the Great World Spin we understand a good portion of the city.


A bridge that surprised me in Let the Great World Spin was the bridge between Ciaran and Lara. I was shocked that Ciaran and Lara could bridge Corrigan’s death and become close. While I’m glad that Ciaran and Lara aren’t bitter and filled with hate for one another, their friendship still feels strange and unnatural to me.


At the end of the Let the Great World Spin on page 346, Jaslyn describes seeing a coyote crossing the Major Deegan Expressway. I was astonished and excited to find this event in Let the Great World Spin. The tale of the coyote that crossed the Deegan is basically a legend among the scientists I worked with on the Gotham Coyote Project, and it was fun to read about this event in an unexpected place! Jaslyn’s account of the urban coyote also illustrates how nature bridges New York City. We often think of cities as removed from nature, but by showing a coyote heading toward New York City, McCann demonstrates how integrated cities and nature are. Even in the most urbanized and gritty areas, nature bridges the city.

Blog Post 6: J. S. Bach’s B-Minor Mass

I first listened to J. S. Bach’s Mass in B-Minor about a year ago. I was reading John Eliot Gardiner’s book Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven at the time, and there was an entire chapter on the B-Minor Mass. I thought I’d better listen to Bach’s mass before I read about it. I listened to a recording of the B-Minor Mass conducted by Philippe Herrweghe on a CD player in my kitchen. I focused the aspects of the piece Gardiner discussed in his book, such as the abrupt and unusual way Bach opens the mass with the Kyrie chorus. I also thought about the history surrounding the Mass, like how Bach wrote the first part as a job application.

I enjoyed the B-Minor Mass quite a bit and I listened to it almost daily as background music while I did the dishes or studied. I even voted for the B-Minor Mass as Bach’s greatest work in a Twitter Bach-off competition. (To my disappointment, St. Matthew’s Passion won the Bach-off.)

By this point, I’d listened to the B-Minor Mass enough to practically have it memorized. I bought a ticket to see the B-Minor Mass live at Trinity Church conducted by Julian Wachner and performed by The Choir of Trinity Church, and the Trinity Baroque Soloists. Since I knew the B-Minor Mass so well, I expected the performance to be a pleasant and familiar experience. I was not prepared for the shock I felt when the first notes of the Kyrie hit me. The Mass was entirely different when performed live. While the recorded B-Minor Mass was a nice backdrop to dish washing, the power of the live version captivated me and brought me to tears.

If I were to describe the B-Minor Mass in terms of color, I would say the recorded version is a dull purple, and the live version is a rich and vibrant purple.

That’s the end of this post, but:

Blog Post 5: Beethoven and Tchaikovsky

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony reminds me of a journey. This perception could because I watched the animated musical-bar version of the symphony which made the piece move as it scrolled by. The meaning of the journey of the 9th Symphony is fluid. The type of journey changed every time I listened to the 9th Symphony depending on the journey going on in my life at the moment. The 9th Symphony could be taken as a literal journey, some parts of it reminded me of my walk home from Lehman after classes, or it could be a figurative journey, like the journey of growing up.

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, on the other hand, felt much more rigid. The title “Swan Lake” immediately reminded me of the story of the ugly duckling. The music also made me think of dancing, since I know Swan Lake is a ballet. I found Tchaikovsky’s music pleasant to listen to, but I didn’t like Swan Lake as much as Beethoven’s 9th Symphony because Swan Lake felt more predictable. After I finished listening to the first few movements of Swan Lake I went straight back to listening to the 9th Symphony.