No Faith? No Problem!

I feel like I haven’t been writing as much this semester as I used to. It’s probably safe to say it has something to do with the increased workload – both in the classroom and in the activities I’m involved in on campus. But, hectic schedule aside, I plan to make more of an effort in writing to you guys. So, I figured, what better place to do so than on the ride back to school after Easter break? A good 2.5 hour drive, a bag of Chex Mix, and the Riverdance soundtrack keeping my mom and me entertained. Yep, even getting stuck in Philly traffic provides an opportunity to admire the multitude of church steeples we drive past.

Church steeples…Church…Spirituality….If there’s one topic I haven’t really talked about on here, it would have to be the Catholic/Jesuit tradition at Loyola and the role it plays in shaping the student body both in and out of the classroom. And honestly, that’s a very complicated topic to address.

Sure, it’s easy to point out that Loyola’s core requires students to take 2 Theology classes, and one of the key community organizations is Campus Ministry, but there’s more to the individual’s exposure to religion than that.

Personally, I was raised Catholic and am currently…not sure. I’ve been told that my moral/ethical values align strongly with Catholic thought, but my societal views cause me to question some of the Catholic teachings. That isn’t to say that I’ve ever felt out of place or uncomfortable at a Jesuit school with the student body being mostly Catholic.

If anything, I’ve felt accepted here.

Both by students and faculty members, no matter their department. Some of my friends are Catholic, some atheist, some protestant, and some are everywhere in between and beyond. I’ve been able to have debates about the existence of God without feeling uncomfortable with them, either during or after. The professors I’ve encountered encourage questioning and a search for meaning in life, even if it isn’t strictly Jesuit or Catholic in the end. In this regard, there aren’t boundaries or restrictions to spirituality at Loyola.

Yes, there’s a chapel on campus, but no, I don’t feel its presence looming over me. At Christmas it hosts Lessons and Carols, one of the school’s well known and much anticipated traditions (good luck finding a seat, it’s packed within 15 minutes of the doors opening). Year round you can see alumni wedding parties arriving or taking pictures on the quad.

But even with a heavy emphasis on religious tradition, I’ve never felt like Jesuit teaching was shoved down my throat. True, it’s a big part of the campus culture: service, core values and classes, care of the whole person, insert school catch phrases here. But these are what make Loyola appealing, and I think define the school itself. Personal spirituality helps the transition into college and the progression through it, but it isn’t required.

So to those of you who wonder (and I promise I’ve been asked this), Is being Catholic required to enjoy the Loyola experience? I say No, But learning about Jesuit values shapes the way you think and interact with the world around you.

Outrunning Your Stress

It starts with a twinge. Just a little twinge. And then a nip. Just a little nip that turns into a nibble. This nibble starts you moving, your meandering pace turning into a quick trot. You catch a glimpse of your pursuer in your peripheral vision. A shadow no longer biting at your heels but matching your hurried walk with ease. You pick up the pace and gain a few yards. Looking back, you can see that the shadow has turned into a substantive form and is now loping in your wake, strengthened by your anxiety. You break into a sprint, trying to shake the growling beast that is determined to bring you down. Fear grips you, things claw at you as you speed past, shredding every last bit of confidence while unidentifiable objects pull down your spirit. You aren’t going to last much longer. The beast is breathing goosebumps onto your neck and there is nowhere to hide, no place to go but forward. Always forward.

We all know this beast. Some of us more than others. But by the time we get out of high school we’ve dealt with it a few times and probably had a few close calls. This fiend that pursues us even in the most pleasurable of pursuits is stress.

And in a college student’s life, there’s a lot of it. From course work to jobs to sports to clubs to personal relationships, stress is part of the daily routine. There’s a difference, though, between being stressed in a healthy way, and having stress take over your life. The line between the two becomes increasingly hard to maintain, and as I look around me at freshmen wrapping up their first year of college, sophomores sorting out majors and minors, juniors searching for internships, and seniors getting ready to graduate, I see that line erase completely.

Why does this all matter you might ask? Well, besides the almost universal change-in-attitude-affect, people can also have physical side affects from stress. When I switched from homeschooling to a public high school, my stress level increased dramatically and I thought I was handling it pretty well…until my immune system rebelled against me and I developed a mild form of atopic dermatitis and alopecia. So not fun. But eventually I got a handle on it. I changed some of my routines and learned how to manage my stress levels. And I’m still learning, since college is a completely different environment from high school.

If you’re reading this and getting freaked out because a) you’re in high school,  b) you’re in college and you aren’t stressed or c) you’re a parent of a current or future college student, don’t be! (You’re probably snorting in disbelief right now, I mean, what was that first paragraph for, right?) I’m serious. When I was in high school I was told “College is so much easier,” and “If you’re succeeding under pressure now, you’ll be fine in college,” and I didn’t believe it. How could college be any easier and how could the stress lessen in any way?

I don’t have an exact answer, but it does. Maybe it has to do with your age, maybe there’s a mental advancement in compartmentalizing, or maybe you just know yourself better. No matter how, and no matter why, stress in the life of a college student is always present, but it’s always manageable.

In case you don’t believe me, and that beast is breathing down your neck, here are some tips to avoid or deal with stress while at Loyola:

  1. Breathe. Whether it’s meditation or just closing your eyes and inhaling slowly, it’s always good to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
  2. Make a plan. Instead of blundering ahead blindly and hoping your luck will hold out, write down what you want to do and when you want to complete it. Setting goals makes the process more rewarding and easier to handle.
  3. Sleep. Chances are if you’re super stressed, you’re not getting enough sleep. I’m a big believer in the 10 minute power naps that pick me up at 1am. You’ll get through those 20+ pages of reading faster and write that paper better if you have a little sleep under your belt.
  4. Talk to someone (or several someones). Venting about stress is a good way to relieve it. Find someone who doesn’t mind you freaking out for 15 minutes so you can get it out of your system. Hopefully they can do the same with you!
  5. Allow for some “Me” time. Take a walk. Do something creative (it uses a different part of your brain from analytical thought). Sing in the shower. Being on your own can really clear your head and shake that feeling of being pursued by constant anxiety.

Photographic Evidence

Wow! I haven’t written in a month and it feels … weird. At first it was nice not to stress about writing a post during finals, and then it was also nice to enjoy my Christmas peacefully, but afterwards I kind of missed it. Really missed it, actually.

By the end of break I was itching to write about my adventures and, oddly enough, get back to my hectic life on campus. Sometimes the schoolwork can be overwhelming (It’s only been two days and I have so much homework!), but I think if I wasn’t as busy as I am, I wouldn’t be happy. I need activity in my life; whether it’s mental, physical, or emotional, I need something to be invested in.

I think that’s why I was so busy over break, and let me tell you, this was no resort in the Bahamas or skiing in the Alps!

But I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow. That would be immensely boring and I have enough pictures to make this much more interesting. However, I will explain a few events because not all pictures tell an accurate story!

Christmas at Grandpas

The Annual Ugly Sock Contest

My aunt started a crazy tradition of having an “ugly sock contest” and I usually got stuck with all the horrible socks. This year I got my revenge!

James

I think this was one of my favorite parts of break. My cousin who lives in New York City asked me to cat sit for her during New Year's weekend so I brought my friend Phoebe & Stacey along on the journey into the city and spent five glorious days exploring together.

 

Misty misty morning

At the Lego Store

The Intrepid Explorer!

Bethesda Terrace

Beware the Weeping Angels!

Our walk in Central Park turned into Let’s-Find-All-The-Places-Where-They-Filmed-Doctor-Who. Which was brilliant! I think we climbed on every boulder in the southern half of the park until we found the right one.

Superman Alex
While I visited my sister in chilly Massachusetts, I finished up this hat for my friend Alex.
Off to Sherlock...

You'll never believe where we went next!

At the ballThe Daintiest Thing Under A Bonnet Charity Ball hosted by the Baker Street Babes. A Sherlockian dinner and auction whose total proceeds went to the Wounded Warrior Project. (Photo Cred – Melinda Caric)

Silent Auction

Photo cred Melinda Caric

I got to spend a few days at home reading, doing laundry, and curling up with my cat, but it’s safe to say I had more fun running around with my friends than sleeping!

Somewhere in there I played Cards Against Humanity, saw Les Mis and Django Unchained (I can’t believe I got carded to buy my ticket), and almost made it to The Hobbit.

And that, my dear readers, pretty much wraps up my winter break! I hope you all had a wonderful time with your family, or away from work, or enjoying yourself in some small way. Here’s to a new year and a new semester!

See ya around guys!

Sketching the Soul

“For homework this week, I want you to draw what you think the soul is. The soul, or human consciousness, as a part of the body. Take time to think about it, do some soul searching, if you will. Don’t even try to do it the hour before class”

Thus spoke my art professor last Monday at the end of my figure drawing class, staring us all down as he gave us what seemed to be an impossible task.

I spent the whole week trying to figure out what the soul meant to me. Walking to classes, distracted moments while doing homework, in the shower, cooking dinner, and nothing, and I mean nothing, came to me. Part of the reason for this mental block was due to not knowing what part of the body I should depict. Was the soul in the head? The eyes? The chest? A lung? The abdomen? I had no idea. I knew I was probably going to do something with words, or maybe draw part of the body made up of art materials, but nothing deep about my personal philosophy was bubbling to the surface.

By Thursday night I was getting kind of worried. Normally I know what I’m going to do for my art homework by then and I spend Friday night or Saturday morning working on it. It wasn’t until I went to the Meet and Eat sponsored by CCSJ that I had an inkling of what I saw as the human soul.

The Meet and Eat is a dinner held by CCSJ in conjunction with various Baltimore agencies which help the homeless get back on their feet. Last year I went with my Alpha class, and again this year as an aide. It was fantastic both times. Students get to meet new people, talk about their experiences, eat good (and free!) food, listen to the Belles and Chimes, enjoy the open mic aspect, and participate in a reflection at the end.

As I listened to the guests read their own poetry and the accomplishments or memories they shared, I realized that part of human consciousness is about understanding. We seek recognition in others and require empathy to live our life to the best of our ability. We aren’t robots who are given direct instructions on how to function, instead we have choices and it’s that free will which shapes our souls.

I quickly sketched out some ideas during the dinner and the next day spent some time on the porch of Humanities continuing those thoughts. Confession: I had some help from Wikipedia to jump start that process. Sometimes reading other opinions helps me formulate my own.

After coming to the conclusion that words would be the best representation of my concept of the soul, I still had to figure out where it “lived” in the body. Memories of drawing the ribcage quickly moved me in the direction of the skull. How hard can that be, right?

HA.

The human skull is way more complex than it looks. In the end, here’s what I cam up with:

Pencil sketch of skull

I erased most of the lines and inked it the next day:

Inked skull

Then added shape by crosshatching and highlights with white conte crayon:

Finished skull

Reason, Emotion, Desire, Choice, Senses, Experience

I never thought I’d have to do literal soul searching for an art class, or any class for that matter. It seems Loyola’s professors have a goal of challenging me weekly this year. From art to philosophy they have me asking questions of myself I normally wouldn’t consider relevant to the class.

The best part? I’m actually starting to enjoy it.

The Omniscient Fortune Cookies

Loyola administrators are smart. At least, whoever decides when to have breaks and special weekends is. It’s like they’ve figured out a formula to keep students at a tug of war with their parents over college’s newfound freedom.

Think about it this way:
Week of Fun Without Major Homework + Week of Intro Activities + Week of First Club Meetings & More Homework + Week of First Papers & Exams = Perfect Build Up to Family Weekend.

By the time 4 weeks has gone by, most students want a little bit of “home” back in their lives.

And then by Sunday they want their Loyola back.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents, but I also love my independence. This school is so much like a home to me I don’t always need the reassurance of my parental units to know there’s someone who cares about my existence. But it was still nice to spend the weekend with them, even if it was a short visit.

*Insert cheesy but heartfelt call out to Mom and Dad here*

For those of you who are wondering what this whole Family Weekend thing is about, I’ll give you the low down:

It begins on Friday with the Honors Convocation, during which all the students who received academic achievement awards, summer programs, or are in an honor society, are recognized. The first years who are in the Honors Program or received academic scholarships are also recognized. Of course, before the awards are given out, there are speeches and one of the faculty is honored for “outstanding achievement in scholarship or creative work,” (The Nachbahr Award).

The rest of the weekend passes in a blur of sports games, food (provided by the university and your parents’ ability to drive you to the Inner Harbor), a “big” event on Saturday night, and mass on Sunday (always packed).

The school keeps everyone busy, even if families don’t attend every event.
For example, I spent my Saturday morning drawing

and enjoying the quad with my parents

before working on homework while they chilled out in my common room.

We also went out to the Towson Mall; I needed some more “mature” clothing.
(I’m really more of a t-shirt & jeans girl, and have recently found myself lacking in the
“job interview” and “nice occasions” clothes department)

After asking my dad if there was an equation to determine the yield of clothes purchased from clothes chosen (in vain), we decided it was time to eat dinner.

Little did we know of the fates that awaited us at P. F. Chang’s.

It sounds crazy, but I’m pretty sure the fortune cookie writers have had workshops and focus groups to determine which phrases resonate most with customers, because my own and my parents’ fortunes were eerily relevant or accurate to our lifestyles.

Mine: Keep your feet on the ground even though friends flatter you.
My mom’s: Learning is a treasure which accompanies us everywhere.
My dad’s: Patience is a key to joy.

How could I apply these indispensable pieces of wisdom to my life?

Patience is truly the key to completing homework, as I try to reassure myself that my History paper is a treasure, and in the end a joyful experience when my professor will (hopefully) flatter me with a good grade.

Maybe fortune cookies and parents teach you more than you expect after all.

Unconventional Study Spots (Lead to Interesting Acquaintances)

Remember how I wrote about my fun, book filled Sunday afternoon?
Well, I’m happy I enjoyed it while I could.
Because then Monday came and I went from

Yeah, 'cause everyone wakes up like this in the morning :P
to

I know I’ve put a very happy, chill kind of spin on Loyola so far, but everyone has a “crazy day.” Or week. Or month. Or semester. Sometimes it gets hard to handle and I wonder Why On Earth Did I Sign Up To Do So Much Stuff.

Just as I convince myself that there are never enough hours in a day to do everything, some little bit of happiness comes my way and makes the stress more bearable.

This week, it came in the form of an engineering professor.

It’s strange that a faculty member who is on the opposite side of the education spectrum from my major would influence my life, so maybe I should give a little back story about our acquaintance.

Fact #1 About My Study Habits: They aren’t normal.

I hate working at my desk. In fact, I hate working in places that are designated for studious application. I avoid the library like the plague (mainly because it’s on the opposite side of campus) and I have never been to The Study (but I hear it looks like Hogwarts). Instead, I find cozy places on campus to do my work.

In my first semester I discovered the huge armchairs on the second floor of Humanities – perfect for propping up a laptop, sorting articles, and writing papers on the large armrests.

These chairs are PERFECT

The Reading Room became my weekend sanctuary as I ploughed through comp/sci projects, Theology readings, and accidental naps in the poufy reclining chairs.

Couldn't really get a better shot, but trust me, those chairs will make you fall asleep!

My second semester led me to the basement of Donnelly Science Center where I wrote Lit analyses and ate lunch before I walked over to Knott Hall for a math class.

"Would you like a desklamp with that?"

My study spaces always change, but they all have one thing in common: it’s relatively quiet, they’re near my classes, and I can separate my work life from my home life.

Thing is, I didn’t realize how quickly people could consider you a permanent installment in their environment.

After a few weeks of doing homework in Donnelly, I got used to seeing certain professors pass by; they got used to me sitting there. One day, they came up and talked to me, learned I wasn’t an engineering major, still offered the use of the engineering lounge for studying, and ever since have always said hello.

Normally interaction between departments, especially that of the sciences and humanities, is fairly limited at college. But not here.

Definitely not here.

One of these professors saw me on campus during the first week and asked if I would still be studying in Donnelly. I wasn’t sure if my classes would bring me there, but they have, and now I’m back in my “office” as he jokingly put it.

On Monday he said I should feel free to bring a desk lamp.

To him, I’m not some transient student who is one out of two hundred in a lecture hall. I have a name, a face, habits, and am truly recognized as a human being.

Having really busy, crazy days is part of life, but having someone who cares even in a small way makes it worthwhile.

Walls Can Speak Louder Than Words

When I started blogging I was told “Write the way you talk. Have a conversation with your readers.” When I sat down to write, my brain filled with cliches of introductions and I stared at a blank screen for a very long time. And then I stared at my wall, which is far from blank.

Some college dorms are decorated so they look like they came out of a Pottery Barn ad. Others bear resemblance to an insane asylum with white walls and overly bright light fixtures. There are a lot in between, but it’s safe to say that my wall is a fairly accurate depiction of myself: my interests, humor, loves, hopes, and eccentricities.

Which is why I have come to the conclusion that maybe by explaining my wall I can describe myself to you lovely readers.

And so it begins.

The first thing you’ll notice on my wall are all the art postcards. I’m (probably) a double major in English and Fine Arts, with a minor in Entrepreneurship. I really enjoy beautiful things, from sunsets to sautéed chicken, or violets to Van Gogh.

After you get over the 100+ postcards interspersed on my wall, you’ll notice 4 large posters. The first is an illuminated copy of “The Tyger” by William Blake I made in high school (I like writing poetry, not just reading it!). I grew up on the West coast of New Jersey in a very small town and went to a medium sized high school that strongly encouraged the arts and reading (my first love). But before that I was homeschooled for 6 years, which included the watching of PBS as part of school, taking history tours of the cities my parents visited, and going to a lot of science museums (along with normal schoolwork).

Of course, you can’t watch PBS for years and not see some late-night Monty Python or go to museums and avoid the dinosaur exhibit. Which is why I have “The Ministry of Silly Walks” and “Dinosaurs of Distinction: Pittsburgh” posters. The fourth and final large poster is of the TV show Doctor Who, one of my favorite productions of the BBC. If you like British accents, ridiculous plot twists that defy the laws of physics, and traveling through time and space, you should watch it.

The rest of my wall is made up of smaller posters, like The Beatles, Extreme Ironing, and some of my friends’ and my own art work. I also keep a map on the wall covered in pins of where I’ve been and where I want to go.

Are you feeling overwhelmed?

I know it seems like a lot to have on a wall, something that is usually taken for granted as simply a building’s structure. But my wall is an extension of myself. Its bright colors and memories held up by thumbtacks make me smile after a long day of classes or an evening meeting of Philosophy or Knitting Club.

No matter how busy and stressed I get, I know I always have a place to call home. My room and my roommates are part of that, as is the Loyola community as a whole. Speaking of which, I have some homework to finish up before I watch 500 Days of Summer with my friends.

I know I haven’t told you as much as you might want to know, but there are many more posts to come!