Kanye West’s Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Reality

While writing for The Odyssey a few years ago I penned an article titled “In Defense of Kanye West.” My fair share of parental figures and other ‘adults’ were quick to question my own sanity, let alone that of Mr. West. 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock that doesn’t have Wi-Fi for these last few months Kanye has been teasing fans and haters alike with a barrage of big talk and questionable tweets, interviews, and soundbites, all surrounding the “surgical summer” (as Pusha-T put it) of albums he has been producing. Now even diehard fans cannot defend some of his latest thoughts and actions, i.e proclaiming that “slavery was a choice.” But as someone who is a fan of all things creative and artistic, I found myself anticipating his latest album more than the next headline that he would be featured in. 

And so, on Friday June 1st, 2018 Kanye West dropped his highly anticipated album, originally believed to be titled “Love Everyone.” He ended up changing the title, finally settling on “ye” with the phrase “I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome” adorning the album cover. This album is certainly different than any of his previous work, and will most likely be remembered as the most polarizing (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun) since his shocking and spellbinding, “Yeezus.”

In my original article I left anyone who was kind enough to take the time and read it with a quote from Mr. West himself, “Name one genius that ain’t crazy?” And I couldn’t think of anything better to describe his latest project of insanity, beauty, and genuine humanity. 

The opening track, “I Thought About Killing You,” is definitely the most daring on the sparse 7-track record. Kanye’s first lyrics are, “The most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest,” and that really sets the tone for the track. There’s really no way to cleverly describe the song – look no further than the title. Kanye details both homicidal and suicidal thoughts, all centered around the fact that, “I think about killing myself, and I love myself way more than I love you, so…” Its a grandiose introduction to the rest of the project, giving listeners a glimpse into his manic behavior that is to come on the rest of the 23-minute-long record.

“Yikes” is the next track, further emphasizing his bouts with depression and the pollutive thoughts that come with it. “Sometimes I scare myself” rings in your ears over and over, as Ye takes us through some of his most wild and scattered thoughts and beliefs. He even goes into detail about going on and off of different medications, further diving into the bi-polar tendencies that he has been living with, presumably, since his last album release. Its a dark, brooding song, that very much may be what he has heard before in his own mind when face-to-face with some of his most disturbing and frightening thoughts.

“All Mine” sounds less like an apology for his recent behavior and more like a satire on the multiple scandals he’s been involved with and the ease at which his name alone can create buzz across the globe’s media outlets. He’s kind of asking ‘what should I do next to make even more people mad at me?’ The next song, “Wouldn’t Leave,” has Yeezy talking very candidly about his wild beliefs that have plastered every newsroom for weeks. He goes into detail about upsetting Kimmy K-W, but from a PR standpoint much more than the moral high ground that almost everyone of us would be standing on. Its like he’s coming down from a bout of mania while still holding onto a bit of his ego. This is followed by “No Mistakes”, what I can only interpret as an apology to his wife for the whirlwind storm he’s pulled her through for the last few months. Its full of bravado, too, as only Kanye could produce.  

“Ghost Town” is next, and is one Kanye’s best tracks in years. It’s easily the most ‘listenable’ to people not looking to invest a lot of energy into interpreting the rest of the album. It feels like a love letter to the isolation that comes with manic behavior, whether its legitimate or simply imagined. Ye uses a lot of techniques that feel reminiscent of 808’s and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kid Cudi leads the chorus, singing, “But everything I try just takes you further from me.” A ode to the steps one may take to ‘get better’ while only further distancing themselves in the process. The song ends with the lyrics, “And nothing hurts anyone, I feel kinda free / We’re still the kids we used to be, I put my hand on a star to see if I still bleed.” It is crooned over a bright electric guitar and spacey sounds that feel like they came from one of those Yamaha keyboard presets for ‘alien.’ Its strange, abstract, and vague – but entirely beautiful. Like he is coming to terms with the limitations of his mental space, while also embracing the new heights he has been able to reach in his creative process because of it.

The album wraps up with “Violent Crimes,” a tantalizing love letter to his daughter. “Don’t you grow up in a hurry,” West warns, proclaiming the lengths he will go to in order to keep his young daughter safe in the future. At times he opens up about his own indiscretions and past behavior towards women, warning his daughter to avoid guys like him. Its a very somber look into the cocky and egotistical aura that Kanye often lives in. Its a nice way to end the diary-turned-album, with Ye promising that no matter where he is in life, no matter what he is going through, his family will always be able to pull him out of it. Priorities, I suppose. Its a haunting track either way.

Now its difficult to interpret this album and even write about it, further influencing someone else’s view on what seems more like a diary confessional than a true album. My interpretations can be entirely different than yours. And the fact that this album is so personal and raw and dark and introspective only lends to the fact that maybe sometimes art doesn’t have to be inspected with a microscope to uncover hidden meanings. Maybe art, like this album, should simply be listened to and appreciated without looking into it too greatly. After all how can anyone say for certain that someone else’s mental behavior/ status means one thing or another, let alone their art?

This album is not always easy to listen to. Its not accessible like Dark Fantasy, its not startling like Yeezus, and it doesn’t necessarily feel as compete as Pablo. But I don’t believe that it should feel like any of those things. This record is a personal look into the mind of one of the most creative and polarizing artists alive today. 

His work is not going to be universally loved, let alone his personality and behavior. But judging this project strictly on the music held within its walls it is hard to feel anything other than respect for Mr. West as an artist and creator. Mental health and manic behavior is, unfortunately, mocked and appropriated on a daily basis by countless people in search of the most ‘likable’ or ‘relatable’ tweet. I, myself, am not immune to this. Maybe our society today has just become immune and desensitized to it, I don’t know. 

At times this album soars as high as any of West’s previous work. At others it dips lower than most of us want to go when using music as an escape. But, perhaps, what West does best is make us realize that sometimes you can’t just ‘escape’ your own thoughts and urges. Yes, there is certainly a difference between embracing your true feelings and throwing away all self-control one might have when it comes to public or private behavior. But its a bold and daring project nonetheless. Its polarizing yet approachable, scattered yet guided, and at times wild while still entirely human. 

But what art isn’t a bit out-there? What artist isn’t a little unhinged? What genius isn’t, at least a little bit, crazy? 

Men’s Fashion is Always in Style

Without a doubt in my mind, Autumn is my favorite time of the year. The air is getting cooler, the days will soon become shorter, and the Pumpkin Spice lattes will continue to flow in glorious fashion. (Even though I’m more of a Pumpkin Spice macchiato man, myself.) Not to mention the excess of fall-scented candles and fall themed playlists full of indie and folk jams designed to be the perfect soundtrack to the falling leaves. (I have one called “Pumpkin Spice” on Spotify that I encourage you to follow – I’ll be updating it soon.)

Now with the changing of the seasons there is always a shift in the fashion industry. New clothes to fill your wardrobe, new styles to watch for on the cover of your favorite magazine. Fashion centered around both looking as comfortable as possible and staying as cozy as you can while you go to White House Fruit Farms during their fall festivities. Does the song “Sweater Weather” come to mind?

Over the last few years I have come to follow men’s fashion more closely, in particular what us guys will be wearing once the leaves begin to change. Not only because I am perpetually warm, so the summer isn’t necessarily my favorite time of year. But also because I legitimately enjoy the different styles and trends for men’s fashion that are welcomed with chillier weather. I love my off-brand chukka boots that I bought two years ago at Shoe Carnival, I love my dark jeans from Target (formally pronounced Targét), and recently I’ve come to appreciate a good vintage thrifted flannel. Long story short, I like being able to step outside in something other than chino shorts. However, a large part of guys are still skeptical about expressing themselves by wearing something other than an expensive Under Armour hoodie, even by today’s standards.

Now I’m not saying that wearing a hoodie from Nike or Adidas is a bad thing – especially because there is particularly cool army green Under Armour pullover at work that is calling my name. But why is following men’s fashion trends something to criticize so heavily?

I’m someone who tends to go through fashion phases at least a couple times a year only to realize that I have, once again, bought too many clothes. So then I go to drop them off at a Goodwill or a Salvation Army only to get distracted with thrifting once again. But what is the problem with caring about the way I look – what’s the problem with men caring about fashion just as much as anyone else?

Admittedly there are plenty of times that I care too much about my appearance, but I think that everyone has those moments. But how I dress is just a way of expressing myself, the same as anyone’s haircut, a tattoo, a new car, or anything materialistic and external. Any man who reads GQ to check out the latest trends is the same as any guy reading Lindy’s to check out the latest fantasy football projections. It’s not unmanly or feminine to care about men’s fashion, and it certainly has nothing to do with your sexual orientation. It’s something that men are allowed to be interested in.

Now if you are reading this and are still unsure about about everything I’ve said, let me ask you this: What is the difference between a man wearing his favorite player’s jersey and a man wearing his favorite button down from Express? Both are supporting a brand. Both are supporting a designer. Both have their place. And both are wearing something that makes them at least a little bit happy. One isn’t more ‘manly’ or more ‘normal’ than the other. One isn’t less of a man for caring about how he looks and trying something new, even if that ‘new’ is something that seems, at first, foreign to you.

Let me give you a perfect example in Russel Westbrook. I think he is still the point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but regardless after every game he can be seen dressed in the most unique outfits during the post-game press conferences. In fact, many sports stars dress like someone straight out of a fashion magazine when not on the field or dribbling down the court. Nice suits. Name brand watches and sunglasses. The jersey sales with their last names aren’t declining. Ticket sales aren’t declining. However, the way that male athletes dress outside of the game is often criticized if seen on someone who isn’t making millions.

There are still plenty of people who look down on guys who put time into how they look, yet the people who are criticizing them are supporting brands and styles in their own way every time they put on a pair of Nikes or zip-up their Carhartt jacket or throw on a trucker hat. Its a bit of a paradox if you ask me.

Everyone cares about how they look, even if they won’t admit it. Everyone wants to be able to express themselves through how they dress, save for the sometimes comically expensive high-end brands that litter the pages of Vogue. So next time you see someone wearing something that isn’t in your wardrobe, look into a mirror. Odds are what you’re wearing isn’t in their’s, either. And that’s OK. That’s the entire point of fashion.

 

Also published 9/12/17

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/mens-fashion-is-always-in-style

Don’t Clean Your Room

Within the disruption and uncertainty of college life, some basic everyday tasks can seemingly be lost in the confusion of homework assignments, group projects, and exams to cram for.

When was the last time you cleaned your room? For me it was at least a few months ago. It isn’t dirty or anything; my belongings are just cluttered, scattered, and can seemingly go on forever – much like my brain when I am sleep deprived (thanks, senior year).

I try to keep my room somewhat organized, but for every item I put back ‘in its place’ a dozen more are seemingly thrown about the room without any discernible order – laundry to be put away, books to be shelved, papers to be sorted and stacked. But this attempt at a normal looking room – one that would be socially acceptable – always fall short.

I tend to overthink everything – every single aspect of my life. From what I am going to have for breakfast, what I am not going to have for breakfast; if I should wear a black t-shirt today or a button down; should I set my alarm for 7:00 a.m. or 7:01 a.m., etc.

However, this overthinking often leaves me in a somewhat weird situation. I have so many thoughts, ideas, and ‘stuff’ constantly running in the back of my mind that, most days, I feel like I am in a mental bind – I know what I want to do but have no clue how to start. Then I get sidetracked by something on my bookshelf or a video online and before I know it I’ve spent a solid hour mindlessly scrolling through YouTube. Then I make a cup of coffee and go on with my day.

I like to think of my mind – or my life, for that matter – as… a mess of sorts. Ideas here, schoolwork there; hopes, dreams, and desires scattered throughout. One day I want to be an astronaut, the next a photographer; two days after that an artist, and somehow I always end up back at being some form of a writer. My interests change with the wind; my music taste varies from folk to 60’s rock to electronic to pop.

One day I decide my new ‘thing’ will be to wear jeans as much as possible, the next will be to invest in an unhealthy number of plain t-shirts. I could wake up on Tuesday and spend the whole day sitting in front of my TV, and on Wednesday I could spend $100 on books and banish my remote to the deepest depths of my dresser to avoid any technological temptation. I can walk into Target for a pack of pens or some gum, and before I know it have spent 45 minutes deciding what my next hair product should be, stranded in the Men’s Care aisle (it’s Everyman Jack Fiber Cream if you’re wondering).

But in all this confusion and chaos, while sitting in my still-messy room, I realized something – and it rings as loudly today as it did a year ago when I first spoke about it:

My room is the perfect painting of my mind.

Journals full of notes, ideas, stories, memories, and thoughts fill my drawers. Dozens of books that are on my “to-read” bucket list line my bookshelf and rest atop my desk waiting to be discovered – at the right time, of course. Pens, pencils, markers, and erasers are everywhere just in case I get an inspiration to doodle something. My camera sits patiently on a shelf waiting for the perfect spark of photographic inspiration.

I have some half-completed “things” in my life: books halfway completed, never to be opened again; albums half listened to, doomed to be lost in the shuffle forever; story ideas with nothing more than a few sentences written.

There are a handful of clothing items strategically placed on my chair for quick outfit options. Post-It notes, notebook paper, and planners are everywhere to remind me of other story ideas, thoughts, or tasks that need to be done (eventually).

Sentimental items and collectibles occupy just the right amount of space on the shelves above my bed – akin to the space in the back of my mind, the space that is specifically reserved for them. My bed is messy with the comforter rolled into a neat pile – because who actually makes their bed?

I used to hate when my room was messy – even the slightest deviation from the picture perfect example in my mind could drive me nuts. But as I have come to realize over the last year, a messy bedroom is just one of those things that I need to accept and appreciate.

For now, this is my only living space. My entire 21-year old life condensed to an 8×12 room. And while it may seem that I have just too much ‘stuff’ for my space, I like to think of it as my mental depository. A place where I can bring as much information and as many ideas as possible to store for safe keeping in hopes that I will find a use for it one day. So until I move out and get a bigger place, I owe it to myself to stop worrying about the clutter.

Is it inhabitable? Definitely. Is it organized? To me, yes. Is it ideal? God, no. But that’s kind of how my mind is – an unpolished, cluttered mess just waiting for me to pick it up, dust it off, and put it good use.

So maybe one day I will finish the handful of books that I vowed to read this summer (or the summers before). Maybe one day I will finally put pen to paper and deliver a completed story. And maybe one day I will come to understand myself and my mind more completely. But until then I am going to go back to my room, put on a record – then change it – then change it again – and then… maybe I’ll doodle. Maybe I’ll write. Maybe I’ll read. Maybe I’ll just sit there and do absolutely nothing.

And maybe I’ll never make up my mind.

And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

 

Originally published 10/21/16

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/dont-clean-your-room

5 Life Lessons From Retail

Last September marked my one-year anniversary of working at Barnes & Noble, my first time working retail. I had applied looking for a nice place to work with flexible hours, and an atmosphere that I genuinely looked forward to entering each work day. Thankfully, I received all that and more, including coworkers who I can also call my friends. But having never worked retail before, I was in for a little bit of a culture shock, especially when it came to the holidays or dealing with a never-ending wave of customers all asking, “Do you have this book…?”

Never having worked a cash register before, I quickly had to get used to interacting with many different people on a daily basis. Everyone from the angry old lady trying to return a book that was purchased nearly two years prior, the confused customers who are shocked that we don’t sell Amazon Kindle devices, and the select individuals who have asked, “Can you borrow books here?”

And yes, all three of these scenarios have actually happened.

Now maybe it’s my impending graduation and growing realization that life is about to sneak up on me and the ‘real world’ is just a few months away, but in a moment of retrospect I have come to reflect on a few of the lessons that I have learned from behind the cash register.

 

  1. Don’t Assume Anyone Else Knows What’s Going On.

As Einstein (may have) once said, “If you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t know it well enough…” Now the only reason I mention this is because, more often than not, I find myself having to simplify and explain very basic premises to customers. Whether it’s a store return policy, searching for a book title on the shelves, or just trying to explain to someone that a certain gift card design is – in fact – not “Jewish” (The winter trees drawn on the card somehow looked like a dreidel and this customer was apparently not in the holiday spirit. In the words of my Grandma Netta, “Oh, vey!”) But one thing I have learned is that most people don’t know what’s going on. Just speak slowly and explain yourself as simply and thoroughly as possible, smile a lot, and nod your head a few times. Usually does the trick.

 

  1. Don’t Be Afraid To Ask. But Pay Attention When You Do.

There’s many people who will come into the store and reject our offer to help them find a book, only to spend a solid hour and a half hunting the store for a certain book like they are stalking Big Foot throughout the Himalayas. They want to believe it’s there, but until they see it with their own two eyes they will never stop searching.

Here’s a solution: Just ask for help! No one knows everything. I pride myself in figuring things out on my own, but everyone comes to a point when they simply need to ask for help, for a little direction. So speak up, or risk wandering around life aimlessly. But when you do, don’t forget to actually pay attention to what someone has to say.

 

  1. People Are (For the Most Part) Inherently Pretty Nice.

Near the front of the store, amongst the many planners and notebooks, there are a couple of journals that are paradoxically titled “The World Is Basically Good” and “The World is Basically Evil” – notepads to jot down the best and worst that life has to offer. In my experience, when you are nice to people, most times they are nice to you in return. Now I have had a few unforgiving customers reject my best attempts to charm them, and deliver to me their fiercest death stare. But for the most part I have found that people respond to kindness with kindness. This may sound juvenile or cliché, but in a world filled with so much anger and hate, what is so terrible about putting a little more peace into the world?

 

  1. Confidence Kills.

One aspect of my job is presenting the company and membership program in a way that will encourage customers to return to the store. Not everyone is interested, and there are many factors that go into a successful sales pitch. But regardless if someone signs up or even says they’ll be back to visit the store, how you present yourself is critical. If I’m not confident in what the store has to offer, why should anyone be confident to come back in? It’s not easy, especially with total strangers. And maybe being a speech coach offers me a unique advantage. But in every aspect of life – whether behind the register, on a first date, delivering a presentation to your least favorite class – if you’re not confident in yourself and your abilities, who else will be?

 

  1. You Can Learn A Lot By Watching.

There is a certain ebb and flow to working retail. The employees stand by watching as countless customers flow in and out of the store, all in their own lives with their own destinations. No two people are the same, and no two people have the same path to follow. From my standpoint, at least, you can learn a lot about people just by observing them and engaging in a conversation or two. It’s all about perspective. And interacting with mass amounts of people on a day-to-day basis offers retail workers a unique vantage point on the people that you may pass by without a second thought.

The single parent who is just as excited to get their child a new book as the kid is to read it. The family of six struggling to keep all of the kids in control as they each swipe their own gift card; One for a few books, one for a stuffed animal, and another for a couple packs of Pokémon cards. The person looking for a fresh start by making an active effort to expand their skill set or business knowledge. Life moves on differently for different people. Ebb & flow.

So here’s to The Noble, taking the good with the bad, and learning through the controlled chaos that is retail. And here’s to the ebb & flow that my life has to offer, and wherever that current may take me in the coming months. Ebb & flow.

 

Originally published 1/30/17

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/5-life-lessons-from-retail

 

A Coaching Perspective

Three years ago I filled out my very first contract, signing on to become an assistant speech coach for Columbiana High School. Now, in less than one month, I will once again be traveling to the National Tournament with our team, to Birmingham, AL. Only this time, I will be taking my very own National Qualifier to compete against students from all over the country! It still doesn’t feel real to me.

Looking back, the NSDA tournament – BIG Districts – feels like it just happened last weekend. Hell, every time I think back to the awards ceremony I get all emotional and feel goosebumps crash over my body. If you’ve ever been around Speech & Debate, this is standard issue when discussing the tournament. But now is not a time to reminisce and look to the past – it’s time to get excited!

If you’ve ever been around Speech & Debate, you know just how important this opportunity is. Not only because it means that the students you coach are some of the best students in the district (or District Champions, for that matter) but that they get the chance to compete on the biggest stage of their careers. As a coach, having the chance to give that opportunity to someone and help mold them and push them on their very own journey has meant more to me than I ever could have imagined. It’s like all of the energy I spent wishing for more time when I was on the team has vanished and has been shaped into something new. Now, all I can focus on is giving my ‘Dancestors’ all of my energy and more opportunities than I ever had when I was in their shoes – or ‘suits’ for that matter.

Leading up to this tournament has been a whirlwind for both me and Mandy, my National Qualifier. It’s as if all of her hard work and dedication has been renewed and is flourishing more than ever. This is exciting! As her coach, I couldn’t be happier for her or prouder to bring her to Nationals and show her what I’ve wanted to for so long. This is a chance to be fully submerged in the passion and culture of Speech & Debate. It’s truly an opportunity that we as coaches wish all of our kids get to experience at least once. Quite honestly, there’s nothing like it. Plus, spending a week with your team and getting to just let go and enjoy what you love to do is pretty glorious, in my opinion.

There will always be areas to improve on and there will always be room to grow. But the best part of Nationals is simply the experience of it all. Giving it everything you have no matter what happens, leaving every part of your soul in each and every round, and staying true to your talents and strengths. The rounds, the downtime, the anticipation of dropping numbers. Everything adds up and makes this a remarkable opportunity for anyone involved. I am very blessed and fortunate to have the chance not only to attend the tournament, but to bring my own National Qualifier and give Mandy this experience. My only other wish is that I could bring all of ‘The Dancestors’ to Bama’ with us!

I’m beyond excited for what #Nats2k17 will bring. Again, this is the experience that every coach wants for their students more than anything. To be able to spend as much time as possible with some of the most important people in my life will always be a blessing. Not only can I not wait for June 16th to get here, but I can’t wait to breathe in every moment that Nationals will offer. This is a moment that truly epitomizes our team’s “Dare to Dream” motto. But it’s also a moment that embodies everything my ‘Dancestors’ have preached all season long.

That is, to… BABA!

 

Originally published 5/22/17

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/coaching-perspective

My College Experience

Four years ago I embarked on what has perhaps been the most trying journey of my life. Four years ago I walked onto YSU’s campus incredibly unsure of myself. As I prepare to graduate this Saturday I remain that same uncertain kid – maybe a little bit wiser, but definitely with more facial hair. It really hasn’t hit me yet that I will soon be a college graduate and will no longer be a college student (Although, in the grand philosophical sense I will always be a student of life. But I’m getting ahead of myself here).

With that comes some advantages and disadvantages. For starters… Hell yeah! No more homework or 8 A.M. classes! No more research papers or group PowerPoint projects. No more Blackboard! I will be able to have a clear mind and focus on life – not just a bunch of ‘for completion’ assignments. It will hopefully be a truly liberating experience. But I will also lose my sense of security, that ever-present safety net of being a student. I will have to start looking for a real job, one in which I can put my degree and personal skills to the test. I will have bills, student loan debt, and will officially be in… The Real World.

I’m actually quite a bit nervous. Actually, more like my anxiety is out of control at this point in my life. There is a lot ahead that I simply cannot see just yet. All I have is the ability to reflect on my four years of college. And even though I am typically a very cynical person, I didn’t want to enter the rest of my life on a negative tone. So I will do my best to focus on the good that came out of my college years rather than the bad. But first, a little bit of venting can be very cathartic. Just a little but.

First and foremost, I did not have the typical college experience that you see in the movies. I lived at home the entire time, didn’t make a ton of friends (until Junior and Senior year) and didn’t really get involved on campus until this past year when I joined Lambda Pi Eta. I didn’t go to a single football game. The amount of parties I attended could be counted on one hand. I had a fairly boring & uneventful four years, filled with late-night Nazi Zombie games complimented by countless hours lost in an existential crisis of sorts.

I have spent pretty much my entire time in college mad at the world. Don’t ask me why – I just have been. I’ve been mad that I didn’t get to go away to school like they do in the movies, I’ve been mad that I have thousands of dollars worth of student debt and still have no clue what my first step to a real career should be (let alone how to do real-life things like filing my taxes). But most of all, I have been mad at myself. I’ve been angry with the fact that I spent the last four years being pissed off for no reason, rather than just making the best of a less than desirable situation.

I know that there are a lot of people that have it way worse than me, and I’m mad at myself for complaining so damn much. I’m also upset with myself for spending so much time worrying about small, trivial matters rather than just taking life one day at a time. This, in turn, lead to countless nights lost in an anxious haze of over-thinking and pretty much driving myself crazy by creating problems that only existed inside my own head.

So far, it would seem like I’ve had a pretty rough four years. But now as I am just one week away from the biggest day of my life (so far), I can honestly say that there has actually been a handful of good to come out of my time in college.

In my time at YSU, I have truly learned my strengths and weaknesses, what I am skilled in and what I still need to work on. I know that I can get up in front a class and speak my heart out, and that I can bust out an ‘A’ worthy paper with little worry. But I also tend to procrastinate too much (but who doesn’t?), have a hard time taking criticism, and am an awful test taker. I have learned that collaboration is a necessary component if you truly want to see the world differently. But I have also realized that sometimes it’s just best to work alone. I have further understood that stepping outside of your comfort zone can sometimes deliver you a great unexpected gift. But I have also felt the jolt of disappointment that comes with false hope. I have learned that instead of waiting for the perfect time to be productive and pushing all of my tasks to the last possible minute, that I should just get my ‘to-do’ list done as soon as possible. I have spent the last four years painstakingly searching for some new mindset, philosophy, or way of thinking that would magically make all of my worries disappear, rather than addressing the problem itself in the first place.

Thankfully, I have also had the pleasure of meeting some of the most caring, dedicated educators I’ve ever known. Pretty much the entirety of the Comm. Department (of whom I was primarily involved with) made an active effort to ensure not only mine, but my classmates’ success, as well. From help with Dr. Curnalia and the Goliath that is Senior Project, to last minute scheduling appointments with Dr. Earnheardt, to access to legitimate resume and experience boosting opportunities with Dr. Tyus, the professors and faculty that comprise the CCAC want to see you succeed. Even when it feels like all of college is against you, they are a constant force propelling you towards the end of the line. For that, I am thankful.

Finally, if nothing else, I have learned a pretty big lesson that hasn’t really been visible until this, my graduation week. College has prepared me to learn and grow throughout the rest of my life. Maybe college wasn’t supposed to give me ‘everything’ right now. Maybe college is supposed to set you up for the rest of your life, rather than hand you the rest of your life alongside that overpriced piece of paper, cap & gown. No more, no less.

I have learned a lot about myself over the last four years, but I still have a lifetime to discover the rest. The rest of me, the rest of life, and everything this world has to offer. Did I get everything I wanted from my time in college? Hell no. Will I look back on my undergrad years with excitement, reverence, and the utmost pride? Probably not.

But did I get exactly what I needed as I step into the next chapter of my life? I’m starting to think so.

 

Originally published 5/1/17

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/my-college-experience-ysu

‘Dunkirk’ – A Cinematic Masterpiece

“All we did was survive.”

“That’s enough.”

Very rarely do you hear people cheering and clapping for a film once the credits roll. After all, the director and cast aren’t there with you. How would they know that you gave the movie a standing ovation? But once the lights came up Thursday night after the premiere of “Dunkirk” there was plenty of cheering and applause to be heard in Tinseltown.

I have been agonizing over the correct way to begin my review of “Dunkirk.” With all of the hype and critical acclaim it can easy to lose my own voice and my own personal narrative when delivering my perspective. But sitting here in-front of my laptop after seeing the film on opening night, all I can say is that the film is truly an experience you must see to believe. No review can do it justice – whether it’s from Rolling Stone or from some film nerd in small-town Ohio. This is a monumental cinematic achievement.

It has often been said that a great film is like a beautiful song. Complex, full of rises and falls, and genuine moments of clarity – no matter how brief or fleeting. Nolan’s “Dunkirk” once again partnering with pal Hans Zimmer to score the picture, does all of that and more. This film is truly a work of art, one that must be appreciated to be understood. But first you have to understand that this is not a traditional movie with a straightforward 3-Act structure. Think “Memento”, but not as hipster and set in WWII.

This is not a movie for everyone. First and foremost, the dialogue is sparse. But excessive dialogue is not needed. It’s as if the silent head nods and emotionally packed eyes of each and every solider say everything you need to know: We just want to get home. The scenes jump back and forth at will, and the multiple plot points can make the narrative a bit hard to follow at times. But this confusion is lifted about halfway through the film when you realize that everyone is playing the same game, and it is one of survival. The score and quick action help push the film forward from start to finish, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the final frame.

Right from the opening scene we find ourselves on the ground with tens of thousands of British troops waiting to be evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk. Unfortunately for them their one chance at escaping the hell of war makes them sitting ducks for passing German bombers. As the planes get closer not only does the theater shake you to your soul, but the genuine sense of the unknown is cast on every single actor’s face. Who’s going to live and die? Where are the bombs going to drop?

Once the bombs are dropped the audience is gifted a few seconds of stillness before being rocked out of their seats by a wave of deafeningly loud explosions just meters from the camera. Once the chaos is over and the sand settles on the beach, the surviving men stand up and get back in line to be evacuated – just another wartime spectacle to them. But even then the survivors are tormented with the violence that surrounds them. Why am I still alive? Why didn’t one of the bombs take me?

These questions will haunt you for the rest of the film. Through tense air fights high above the ocean led brilliantly by Tom Hardy, to torturous moments of uncertainty from the ground, Nolan tells you the story of how these men – most of them nameless in the film – survived when their world was crumbling right before their eyes. Watching the movie transports you to the shores of Dunkirk during this time of the war. There are no barriers, there is no holding back. Nolan is unapologetic in his efforts to deliver the most realistic tale of survival in recent memory. Whereas Leonardo DiCaprio overcame all obstacles and survived in “The Revenant,” all of humanity finds a strength within themselves they never knew existed, allowing them to keep fighting for just one more breath on this earth in “Dunkirk.”

This is a film about humanity and those final splinters of hope every man and woman has within their souls even when all seems lost. This is a film about never giving up, which is perfectly embodied by Hardy’s final moments in the film. Without fuel to fly back to England, he sets his plane down on the beaches of Dunkirk, alone and anticipating the German troops just on the horizon. He knows this – the audience knows this. Hardy sets his downed fighter plane on fire – a humbling moment to watch on screen. He realizes that an enemy capture and unknown future would soon become his fate, but going down without a fight would not become his destiny.

The cinematography is breathtaking, especially because it was shot on 70mm film. The score is so perfectly done and so unnerving at times that it feels as if you are right there alongside these soldiers, just waiting for your time to come because you genuinely feel that there is no way out. Through it all Christopher Nolan has delivered the most authentic story of survival and heroism since “Saving Private Ryan.” Nolan’s “Dunkirk” feels like a true film – a piece of art that taps into the human soul and catalog of human emotions like it’s never been done before. Nolan has delivered a timeless tale of resistance and never giving up – even with the face of Death himself staring down at you from the seat of a German bomber.

Through the lens of an IMAX camera it can be difficult to understand, let alone appreciate and grasp the story behind the title of the film. But Nolan has produced a bona fide work of true craftsmanship and passion; A story that is as relevant to those who lived through the war as much as it is for people all over the world in 2017 facing political oppression and social injustice. The film’s final words, “Never surrender!”, echo throughout the hearts and minds of every political and social movement today. I’m not sure if Nolan intended it to be this way, but as the old saying goes, ‘You can’t stop fighting if the war isn’t over’ – or something like that.

For their efforts the men and women portrayed in this film were among the most noble of souls during the war. The narrative told is one of passion, courage, hope, and humanity. Nolan does them justice. Because they never surrendered.

 

Originally published 7/27/17

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/dunkirk-cinematic-achievement

Starting Over

Welcome! Thank you to everyone who decided to stop by and read what I have to say.

If you know me personally, or somehow remember my old blogging space from many, many moons ago, you’ll notice I have jumped ship to WordPress. I was previously using Google’s Blogger service, but decided that WP was the best place to start up the blog again thanks to its rich feature set.

Sometimes you just need to make a change. Sometimes you just need a fresh start, simple as that.

The first posts you’ll see are articles that I’ve previously written but couldn’t quite part with just yet. I’ll do my best to get new content up as much as possible in the future, but for now enjoy what I believe to be some of my best (and favorite) content.

If you have any suggestions or ideas or comments feel free to submit them! Also, if you’re not already, go ahead and follow me on social media if you’d like – the links are at the top of the site.

Thanks again for joining me. Let’s see where this goes!

I hope you’ll stick around.