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It’s been the summer of archaic skill-sets for Emma Decker. I perfected my stick shift driving abilities, got my HAM radio license (catch KJ7EMA on the airwaves!), and recently spent a week in Wallowa County building a timber frame cabin. Nine of us old souls from around the country worked with the Prairie Mountain Folk School to put together a Japanese style timber frame—that means no nails or bolts, everything was cut into joinery using traditional tools and then the wood fits together like puzzle pieces.
The folk school is run by the craftsmen and women behind the historic Jennings Hotel. This poem is taped above the building’s stairwell:
I have decided to find myself a home in the mountains, somewhere high up where one learns to live peacefully in the cold and the silence.
It’s said that in such a place certain revelations may be discovered. That what the spirit reaches for may be eventually felt, if not exactly understood.
Slowly, no doubt.
I’m not talking about a vacation.
Of course at the same time I mean to stay exactly where I am.
Are you following me?
The day before I was set to fly to San Antonio to conduct my final interviews with nuns in a convent there, I got a call from an unknown +353 Irish number.
When I started this project three years ago, I never expected it would turn into something people would listen to or ask about, I didn't plan on it becoming the basis for my senior thesis, nor that it would published.
My story about the nuns in Texas was originally going to be a fun side project I would use to perfect my skills, and maybe at most it would be a historical record for my family. For many months after my first trip to San Antonio, the interview files sat untouched in a folder on my computer.
I never went searching for this story, didn't pitch it, didn't get it assigned to me. I grew up with it. These people are my family and the basics of their stories I've heard many times. So it wasn't until I started talking about this project with people at my university that I realized what I was sitting on.
This morning, the final product, "Sisters," a 38-minute radio documentary, aired on Ireland's national radio station, RTÉ Radio 1, and CBC Radio Canada.
My story about the nuns has now become the sincerest thank you note and longest love letter I've ever written. To my parents, to my family in Ireland, and to my grandfather's Galway field that my brother and I spent many summer evenings playing in.
The voice on the other end of that +353 number was a Liam O'Brien, a producer at RTÉ who helped me get the piece into tip-top shape. Additional thanks goes to Torsten Kjellstrand, who was the first person to see the potential in this story and assured me, "this one is going to follow you around forever." And to everyone who brainstormed with me and provided edits: Doug Decker, Marie Mahon, Eric Weiner, Joseph Fracchia, David Austin, and Ian Anderson.
THANK YOU! IT'S DONE!
I spent the first three months of 2018 as a production assistant intern for "Think Out Loud," OPB Radio's daily news talk show. (LIVE on the radio noon-1pm with Dave Miller!)
I learned a couple things. For example, "talkshow" is actually two words. Also, Public Radio Emails from listeners are the best kind of emails. So kind yet intellectually condescending at the same time.
If you want to know a secret about OPB, here are two:
1. The time zone clocks on the newsroom wall are out of order. (New York is to the left of Portland, etc...)
2. Think Out Loud is run by one of the most badass quintets of female journalists out there.
Here are some of my favorite segments I produced for them:
- My idol Lauren Fleshman came on the show to discuss Rule 40 at the Winter Olympics and its effect on athletes.
- A 9th-grader from South Eugene High School led the charge to make her school's team name, "The Axemen," gender neutral.
- A Portland man ran 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days.
- An athlete amputee discusses an exhibit at PNCA about the past, present, and future of prosthetic design.
'We have made the same number of Olympics and I wasn't even trying'— Kyle Merber (@TheRealMerb) September 25, 2016
-Friend who quit track in 10th grade
-What do we want?— ~ (@daniel_barker) January 30, 2017
-No more Nazis!
-When do we want it?
-Honestly like 70 years ago I mean it was a whole thing.
Because there are four major religions pic.twitter.com/DS9xOPf7pP— Jeremy Vine (@theJeremyVine) June 17, 2017
genie: please no— Tami Cru (@TamiCru) August 29, 2017
millipede: more legs
My wife is perfect because she hasn't left me no matter how many construction projects in Greece I point at and say: "Ohh look! Ruins!"— Josh Gondelman (@joshgondelman) August 29, 2017
Better headline: Will People Ever Stop Asking Women Stupid Fucking Questions? pic.twitter.com/xmPnq5PDBz— (((OhNoSheTwitnt))) (@OhNoSheTwitnt) April 20, 2017
Jogging pic.twitter.com/bHXQMJvCQL— jake likes onions (@jakelikesonions) October 18, 2017
I'm "this restaurant is too loud" years old.— Jewel Staite (@JewelStaite) October 21, 2017
I've just watched the trailer for the new Dickens movie. I'm not usually bothered by inaccuracies in historical dramas, but I'd like to politely request that film makers STOP PUTTING MASSIVE HEADLINES ON VICTORIAN NEWSPAPERS. pic.twitter.com/GdOFi9u6G6— Dr Bob Nicholson (@DigiVictorian) November 25, 2017
sometimes you look at a duck and you just know he's thinking "might do a quack in a minute"— GlennyRodge (@GlennyRodge) July 19, 2017
back in NYC and as i was getting into my Uber some dude yelled “do you know where you’re going, bitch?” and i yelled “all the way to the top, asshole” and now i feel invincible and completely out of character happy new year to that guy !!!!!!!!— maria sherman (@mariasherm) December 30, 2017
When I told my parents over the phone that my husband has the flu, my dad said “Have you tried euthanasia?” and in the background my mom yelled “For the last time, it’s echinacea!”— Kristin (@FeralCrone) December 31, 2017
This is the type of person who inspires me and makes me want to keep fighting for a better world pic.twitter.com/iZc63d8j0b— Bryan (@MurderBryan) January 3, 2018
Wanted: Teacher— Wendy Molyneux (@WendyMolyneux) February 21, 2018
Job Description: Low pay, no respect from society, might have to kill someone, probably a student, will need to know which one to kill while panicking, starts immediately, art supplies not provided.
If you're feeling #WinterOlympics withdrawal this morning, let us brighten your spirits with the best reactions by athletes realizing they've medaled.— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) February 26, 2018
we're not crying, you're crying 😭 pic.twitter.com/mvgEwLNeMj
*A very serious question from my concerned Spanish 3rd grader who is just about to find out how big and expensive the world really is.
My first day of school was muggy and confusing. As I stood in front of a class of expectant 10-year-olds, I could feel two or three weighty beads of sweat slide slowly down my torso.
The teacher I was working with began the class with a question: "And what is the weather like today?"
I soon learned he started every class this way, so that his students could practice weather vocab in English.
I never understood this, because the answer on the southern coast of Spain is always the same: "It is warm and sunny today..." the class would drawl.
They were never going to learn anything new this way.
I wiped away the perspiration escaping down my stomach with the edge of my t-shirt. I didn't want my students to notice.
Am I red in the face? Can elementary schoolers smell I-have-no-fecking-idea-what-I'm-doing?
No. They can't. But what they can smell are the 3 bags of melting Reeses' Peanut Butter Cups I had smuggled across the Atlantic for them. Peanut butter is not a thing in Spain. They will never stop asking if you have any more Reeses'--and the most enterprising of your 5th graders will shout out of turn: "Can we buy these on the internet?!"
My official job description besides being a human jungle gym for clingy 6-year-olds was to teach social and natural science to 1st-5th graders in my bilingual primary school in Motril, Spain. What I ended up doing was spend my days trying to explain the unexplainable: grammar rules, American culture, and how it's possible to not have a preference between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona soccer teams.
Prior to the decision to spend my first months post-grad on the Iberian Peninsula, I had always thought my last day of elementary school would forever be in 2006. But it's actually today.
Round two of this experience included many lessons left out of my American classrooms in the early ’00s: climate change, dictators, Native American genocide, the ethics of teaching English abroad, and the medicinal merits of jamón and siestas.
Also, this time, I wasn't the one being adorable.
The precious niños at C.E.I.P Antonio Garvayo Dinelli always insisted that pizza is the best Spanish food and that the room you cook it in is called the "chicken!" I will never forget the girls from Maestra Ana's class who, for an activity about Thanksgiving, wrote they were thankful for me. Same goes for the 1st-grader who "dabbed" every time he got a question right, or his classmate who always made the sign of the cross when he walked into the room. My 2nd-graders from Señor Gaspar's class taught me that a mob of hugs from 8-year-olds is the best way to start a Monday, and that to be a good citizen you must always pick up the dog shit on the streets–a widespread problem in Spain we once spent the entirety of a very enlightening civics class discussing.
To all my immigrant, refugee, and first-generation Spanish students who juggled up to four languages seamlessly–you are the future.
To my students who would answer "How are you?" with "Yes," and a big smile–keep going.
I hope one day you will discover, like I did, that languages are doors.
Open them, and you too may find yourself in a foreign country,
standing in front of expectant children,
ant: will i ever do it
ant: make it all the way around
ant: it could take forever
track: cant worry about that
by Alexi Pappas
In 8 weeks I will graduate from college.
That gives me 7 weeks to finish my senior thesis.
Which I have spent the past 2.5 years (130 weeks) working on.
That project has included 2 weeks in a Texas convent.
With about 40 elderly Irish Catholic nuns.
More than 9 hours of recorded interviews.
Which will all hopefully culminate in 1 really great audio story.
Somehow, word got out to the university about what I've been doing. Here's their take: "Honors student brings the long story of a Texas convent to life."
Listen to a teaser of the piece here.
It has been calculated that each copy of the Gutenburg Bible...required the skins of 300 sheep.
--from an article on printing
I can see them squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed.
all of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike
it would be nearly impossible
to count them
and there is no telling
which one will carry the news
that the Lord is a shepherd,
one of the few things they already know.
"Flock" by Billy Collins
On January 1st, 2016, The New York Times featured a video on the front page of their website in which one of their journalists took a one-second video every day for a year. 'Cool,' I thought, 'I should do that for a month until I get tired of it and loose willpower and quit.'
2016 turned out different than I thought in many ways, one being that I actually remembered to record--in landscape mode, mind you--a snippet of my every single day. Did I sometimes forget to capture something I did? Yes, that's why there are so many sunset clips. Will this video be a scintillating 365 seconds for others? Maybe not. The thing about moments is that usually when the best ones happen, the last thing you're thinking about is pulling out a phone. So the following contains both the pinnacles of moments and the remnants of moments--the street signs, walls and sidewalks that were party to some of the best of my 2016.
The week before myself and 14 other student journalists at the University of Oregon left for our two-week reporting trip to Sri Lanka, our professor received a one-line email from our main contact, Bandula, who lives in the capital city of Colombo. Bandula wanted to know--with warm regards--if our team was ready for "spicy food and hard living."
I might re-write that sentence to: "food that exits in all directions three hours after consumption and cold bucket-showers in dark Sri Lankan jungles."
I'd like to think we all took the food and living situations in stride...there were other, much more significant things Bandula forgot to mention that we definitely were not prepared for. Things like instant host-family love, village dance parties, spontaneous front porch interviews with rural Sri Lankan legends, getting close enough to hear an elephants breath, and the endless generosity, grace, and hospitality of the people we met and lived with.
One of the reasons we chose to tell stories from Sri Lanka was because it's a nation in transition. For those unfamiliar with the South Asian island and its recent civil war, National Geographic did a great story a couple months back. My team's full Sri Lanka experience and the stories we told there will be published on a website we're creating in the coming months. Until then, here's some film I shot from the trip.
One of the best articles I read this past summer was about the fate of Michelangelo's David statue. But it was also about perfection, our pursuit of it, and the beauty of breaking. For the following quote to hit full resonance, I highly recommend reading the story.
"Finally, the compromised ankles reach their angle of maximum stress. They begin to slide along the old microfracture faults — an earthquake within the earthquake — and the David’s legs and ankles are crushed by the weight of the body above. He begins to truly fall.
The first thing to hit the floor is his bent left elbow, the arm that holds the heroic sling, and it bursts along the lines of its previous breaks, old scars left over from an incident in the 16th century involving an unruly mob and a bench. Then the rest of the marble will meet the floor, and the physics from there will be fast and simple: force, resistance, the brittleness of calcite crystals, the shearing of microscopic grains along the axes on which they align. Michelangelo’s David will explode."
Sam Anderson for The New York Times Magazine, "David’s Ankles: How Imperfections Could Bring Down the World’s Most Perfect Statue"
"Standing under the airship, his bare feet in the grass, he was transfixed. It was, he would say, 'fearfully beautiful.' He could feel the rumble of the craft's engines tilling the air but couldn't make out the silver skin, the sweeping ribs, the finned tail. He could see only the blackness of the space it inhabited. It was not a great presence but a great absence, a geometric ocean of darkness that seemed to swallow heaven itself."
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
My final room in Eugene and last year in college.
Lots of decisions to be made in this chair.