Sine Qua Nonsense

Pros and Cons of Joining Our Program

April 15 is fast approaching. For most Americans, that’s the deadline to file tax returns. For accountants, it is a little known holiday called the Festival of Finally Getting Some Sleep. In academia, it is the date by which admitted students need to decide which universities and programs to attend. As a service to potential graduate students deciding whether to accept the Media School’s offer of admission, let me point out our strengths and weaknesses.

Our main pro is our excellent faculty. As I near the end of my own program and start thinking about the letters of recommendation I will need when I go on the job market, I realize how absolutely brilliant our professors are. Their research is the very best in the field; their teaching style the most engaging. They are all smart, beautiful, kind, and have been blessed with a great sense of humor. Have I mentioned that I’ll need letters of recommendation?

Another pro is that the Media School is so new, nothing has been set in stone. Want to study something crazy like the effect of live-tweeting while you bungee jump on your heart rate? “That approach is so old Telecom/Journalism/Communication & Culture,” tell anyone who says we don’t do that kind of research here. “We’re the new Media School now. We think outside of the box.” The con is that the IRB is still the same IRB. It may not allow you to throw research participants off a crane.

The new classes here are another pro. We will be more interdisciplinary, bridging the gap between critical-cultural studies and social science. It will be an epistemological, ontological, methodological, and entomological extravaganza. If you don’t yet know which of the words in the last sentence doesn’t belong, don’t worry – all will be revealed by the time you finish your first year, if not your first semester.

A major con of coming here is that we will be located in Franklin Hall, right on Kirkwood Avenue, next to Bloomington’s best bars and restaurants. You will be forced to socialize with fellow graduate students due to geographic proximity. If you dislike people, fun, and/or unhealthy food, beware.

Of course, graduate programs are all about fit. You will have your own set of pros and cons. For instance, if you are a fan of this blog, having the privilege of meeting Mona, Niki, former bloggers, and myself, is a consideration that the weirdos who aren’t members of our fan club would never think of.

For more useful information that might help you decide whether to come study here, download Yik Yak, come to campus, and hope somebody anonymously Yik Yaks something personally relevant to you while you’re here.

sine_qua_nonsense

Antonina gets mindful about mindfulness in academia

By: Niki Fritz

When I was sitting at Starbucks chatting with Antonina, a woman came up to us, apologized for interrupting and then told me with straight-forward-earnestness that Antonina was “one of the most beautiful and inspiring people that you will ever meet.”

I looked over to see Antonina’s expression. She was slightly blushing and shaking her head. But the woman insisted, saying Antonina was a special kind of human being. Antonina and I had only been talking about an hour but I could see what this possibly-highly-caffeinated woman meant. Antonina was a rare academic who was both kind and calm while being insightful.

1991, Florence: "Yin and Yang"

1991, Florence: “Yin and Yang”

For Antonina, it has been a long journey to get here, to get to that one moment of stillness and mindfulness. Antonina was born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine until she was 15. Then she immigrated to the United States, where she landed as a sophomore at James Madison High School, the only high school in Brooklyn that, at the time, had a program for Russian-speaking students who have just moved to the United States.

“When you have no language, you just try to survive. At times, I felt I was bumping into walls,” Antonina explains. “At some point I realized my mind was super hectic. I noticed it was going in circles.”

Despite the enormous hurdles she faced, Antonina graduated from high school and started college at NYU. For four years, she says she continued to just survive until a semester abroad in Florence, Italy woke her up. After college, Antonina continued to explore the world; traveling, working and continuing to look for her own belief system.

Then one day, she chanced across Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now.”

“I just found so many answers [in Tolle’s book.] He spoke about meditation and watching your mind,” Antonina explains. “I thought to myself: ‘What is watching your mind?’ Then he gave an analogy. Imagine your thoughts are like clouds floating through the clear peaceful sky. You can watch your thoughts just like you can watch clouds.” Antonina says this analogy just clicked in her mind. This is what meditation became for her.

Antonina thus began her journey into mindfulness meditation. She also made the decision to leave NYC and go to law school at IU. It was while pursuing her JD as well as her MA in Russian and East European Institute (REEI) that she began to see academia as another possible space to practice mindfulness.

“While working on my area studies degree, I started learning about myself and my conditioned self from the Soviet Union,” Antonina explains. “It was as if I was studying myself from the perspective of an anthropologist. In an unexpected way, my academic program made me more mindful of my own self.”

Antonina is now studying the way our virtual communications impact the expression of self and the creation of our individual life stories, as well as rapidly-changing notions of privacy in Internet age. She is certain that mindfulness will serve her especially well as a social scholar.

“I think mindfulness is a necessity to scientists; I mean to be aware of your own bias,” Antonina explains. “Many social scientists have their own personal biases, simply by the virtue of being human. As a result, they must work on consciously weeding these out on a daily basis.”

Bloomington: winter 2015

Bloomington: Winter 2015

For example, Antonina explained how if you examined everyone who walked through the door at Starbucks for one hour, you might notice 5 behaviors about 20 people; but many more behaviors have actually occurred for each person. The behaviors one person observes are based on observer’s own biography and life experiences. Antonina believes mindfulness is the only way to detect such possible discrepancies in our perceptions.

“I know I’m biased and I start from there. I use mindfulness to be aware. I’m subjective. I think when people say they are objective, it is because it makes them feel secure; it gives them a familiar mask,” Antonina says. “I think scientist have to put special awareness in this. It may be different in case of artists who are creators, and have the urge to simply express themselves. On the other hand, scientists are engaged in a never-ending dialogue about truth. One must be first of all truthful with oneself in a dialogue of such caliber.”

The idea of truth is one hotly contended in academia. Antonina says mindfulness allows her to get glimpses of the truth, and to detect where her personal perceptions and projections interfere.

“I see truth as something we get closer and closer to,” Antonina says. “If you practice mindfulness, this path becomes more unhindered. I must constantly ask myself not just what I am seeing but also what I am not seeing, what is said and what isn’t said. According to one philosophical statement, silence is a part of conversation, full of meaning. Only paying attention to silence and what is absent can we attempt to construct the whole picture.”

More than just aiding in her academic pursuit of truth, Antonina shows how mindfulness can help academics in other aspects of their lives, particularly balancing all the demands of academia and home life.

“I used to be a perfectionist but it was not good. Perfectionism is one of the worst ‘socially-acceptable forms of self-abuse.’ It is the same with academia. Sometimes when I’m resting I feel guilty,” Antonina explains. “Mindfulness makes you prioritize. When you have a lot of things to do, you have to question yourself about what is important and trust yourself and your decisions.”

As for her mindfulness routine, Antonina treks to yoga at least five times a week and tries to incorporate intention practices into her mornings. However, she assures me that mindfulness, meditation, and basic awareness doesn’t necessarily take a yoga membership but just some time each day dedicated to observing those thought clouds.

“The mind works all the time when one is an academic. You always ask questions and do research. People question you. Sometimes I feel as if smoke is coming out of my ears!” Antonina exclaims. “With mindfulness you help your mind and make it work for you. Mindfulness is a must and a privilege … [because] the craziness of life never ends. Many times, we are just surviving. Mindfulness allows one to make choices and live fully, while teaching us be aware of each moment. It allows us to become fulfilled.”

For those scientists out there who want “proof” of the benefits of mindfulness check out Dr. Siegel’s website here. 

And if anyone wants to start their own mindfulness practice, IU Health offers daily sessions, or check out the video below, or better yet, just chat with Antonina!

Spring Break From Two Points of View

By Mona Malacane

Spring break … Spring break. Among the many differences between the two, spring break stands out in my mind as one of the starkest contrasts between grad school and undergrad. Some of these differences I welcome more than others … For instance, I think we all miss the unfettered freedom of undergrads at times – especially when the weather warms up and all you want to do is lay in the soft, grassy, sun-filled Arboretum instead of work in a windowless computer lab. But at the same time, many a fruitful and exciting research idea have come out of toiling away in the windowless computer lab, which can be equally as elating as a day in the sun (which in turn makes sun bathing on the weekends that much more enjoyable).

Maybe the freedom to sun bask wasn’t the best example after the weeks of temperatures that fell too far below my age for comfort. Pretty sure we would all agree that sunshine > no sunshine. But back to the point of my post! I find it interesting to think about these differences because they: (a) remind me of all the hard work that I have put in to get to where I am now (something we all need to remind ourselves because it is easily forgotten in the daily grind of deadlines and delayed gratifications of academia) and (b) offer good practice for perspective-taking and thinking about how the same event can be experienced so differently depending on your view. I was feeling a little introspective over this spring break so I decided to put some of these thoughts down into a gif-list for you all to enjoy.

1. Reactions to the last class on the Friday before spring break.

Undergrad:

SB 1 ugrad

Grad:

SB 1 grad

 

2. The emptiness of the city.

Undergrad: A reminder that you’re missing out on fun.

SB 2 ugrad

Grad: No traffic, no overcrowded gyms, endless parking options.

SB 2 grad

3. An entire week without classes.

Undergrad: What are classes?

SB 3 ugrad

Grad: Sleep, no readings and being able to write without a deadline over your head.

SB 3 grad

4. Traveling.

Undergrad: Beaches, Mexico, cruises

SB 4 ugrad

Grad: Home.

SB 4 grad

5. Conversations with people.

Undergrad:

SB 5 ugrad

Grad: Talk about things other than classes, programs of study, assignments, group projects etc.

SB 5 grad

 6. Working over the holiday.

Undergrad: ?

SB 6 ugrad

Grad: Optional, mostly necessary, but significantly more relaxed.

SB 6 grad

 7. Returning to classes after a week off.

Undergrad: Dread.

SB 7 ugrad

Grad: refreshed, caught up, ready for the marathon to finals!

SB 7 grad

 

8. Non-academic things you accomplish while on break.

Undergrad: A tan (that will eventually fade).

SB 8 ugrad

Grad: Read interesting books,binge Netflix, more time for hobbies, and spring cleaning!

SB 8 grad

9. Walking around on campus.

Undergrad: Not in town.

SB 9 ugrad

Grad: Don’t have to dodge bikers, avoid people looking down at their phones walking straight at you, or skirt around people who walk in rows down a narrow sidewalk.

SB 9 grad

Random Quote of the Week

Julien coffee

Julien with his ever-present coffee

Julien Mailland:

“I see Bloomington as the Berkeley of the Midwest. One of the things they share in common is the coffee house tradition. There are a lot of cool off-beat coffee houses here in Bloomington.”

The Refreshing Extra, Part II

By Mona Malacane

If you, by chance, missed the snazzy new fliers or the reminder email from Harmeet, there was the smell of fresh coffee and buzz of conversation to draw you into a standing-room crowd in Room 226 for the maiden Third Half.

The promise of superior coffee and non-routine refreshments – one of the signature changes from generic brown bags – was delivered in spades. The spread featured roasted and lightly salted almonds, fresh kale chips, skewers of grapes, olives, cherry tomatoes and cheese, and of course a hot cup of freshly brewed choice coffee (in the new Third Half mugs) from local barista Samuel Sveen. The pièce de résistance? A two-tiered double chocolate cake baked in the middle of the night by kitchen fairies, according to Betsi, and topped with a “1” candle. While saying a few words about the bright future of The Media School, Dean Shanahan lit the candle and guest speaker Kevin Coe blew it out.

TH_2

From cake to speech to blowing out the candle.

Moderator Andrew Weaver kicked off the session by sharing the thinking behind the Third Half. “For those who don’t know, the Third Half is … a rugby term for the period after the game where the teams gets together, go to the local pub, and drink, and engage in some lively conversation. This is our attempt to bring the Media School together in an intellectual environment, and hopefully spark some creative ideas and intellectual conversation.”

speaker giving take

Kevin Coe explaining a pivotal moment in the history of presidential religious references.

After all of the pomp and circumstance, Kevin took us on an interesting walk through America’s political history, speaking about how presidents have evoked religious references in speeches and the multifaceted ways in which these references have appeared and changed over time. The talk was followed by questions from respondents – Lori Henson (Indiana State University and IU alum), Mike Conway (Journalism, Media School), Betsi Grabe (Communication Science, Media School), Liz Elcessor (Cinema and Media Studies, Media School) – and about 35 minutes of Q & A from the brimful room.

The stimulating conversation on religion and politics could have easily continued for another 30 minutes but Andrew gracefully ended talk with a thanks to Kevin and a crowd-pleasing invitation to stick around. “The Third Half cannot be held by the bounds of time but I recognize that some of you do have schedules so if you can, I would please invite you to stay. We have some delicious cake back there and plenty of coffee, thank you to Kevin and thank you all for coming.”

Whether it was the fantastic cake, the superior coffee, or the impenetrable maze of chairs, many of presentation go-ers did linger for continued conversation – perhaps we can call this post-talk lingering the Fourth Half?

To listen to this inaugural Third Half presentation, please go here. Stay tuned to the grad blog for information about future Third Halfs.

Cozy Gezellig, the Cure to Winter Blues

By: Niki Fritz

Even though I’m from the Wisconsin, where winter is the default season and babies are basically born with snow boots on, there still comes a point every winter when I’m done. After months of shoveling, de-icing, slipping on poorly salted sidewalks, there is always a point in March when I just want to give up and let winter win.

Last week was that breaking point for me this Indiana winter. After de-icying my car the night before, I woke up to find a plow had buried my car up to the wheels. That car wasn’t moving anytime soon. I felt stuck and defeated by winter.

Then a friend in Communication and Culture sent me a link explaining the Danish word “hygge”, which basically means hunkering down into coziness with good friends and wine during winter. My take on hygge was embracing the winter by settling down into it.

Irene in a "brown cafe" with a local bar cat

Irene in a “brown cafe” with a local bar cat

I asked one of my favorite almost Scandanavians, Irene, if they used the concept of hygge in The Netherlands. She explained the Dutch have the word “gezellig,” which kind of means “complete relaxation.” Gezellig sounded lovely to me.

“Defining ‘gezellig’ is pretty tough,” Irene tells me. “The concept captures an atmosphere. If something is gezellig depends on your surroundings, the people you are with, food, drinks, lighting, the whole shebang. Gezellig, I think, is mainly a feeling of intimacy, belonging, warmth, happiness that is created when you mix the right factors together.”

In Amsterdam, Irene explains that there are certain cafes that are gezellig, called “brown cafes.” They usually have wooden furniture, a cuddly bar cat and a warm atmosphere. But she explains the concept can be extended much farther. Streets, shops and houses can all carry the adjective of gezellig. Or it can be a feeling while you snuggle into a tent when it is raining outside. Gezellig is a multipurpose word.

“My ideal gezellig involves candles, fireplace, good friends or family, my own piece of mind – a dangling deadline doesn’t add to the level of gezellig – a table full of hapjes on the table,” Irene says. “And wine would be great too.”

DSCN0709With my new found understanding of gezellig, I was all set on Wednesday night to have a dinner and wine with some friends and just embrace the Indiana weather. And then it snowed AGAIN, the roadways became death traps and my friends had to cancel. But since I’d been told gezellig doesn’t necessarily have to be with friends – just total relaxation – I put on my slippers, turned on my fake fireplace, poured myself a generous glass of wine and settled into the night, watching it snow and being totally thrilled I was inside and cozy.

I felt like I was rocking this gezellig and maybe starting to embrace the dredges of winter.

I asked some other Telecom students how they embraced the coziness of winter. While Nic and Teresa brave the cold to grill, Jess likes to stay in and bake. Ashley’s dog baby Jack likes to frolic in the snow, while Mona’s Harry likse to cuddle in for the winter. Many seem to have created their own rituals, their own ways of gezellig, a time to embrace the cold and relax into it.

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In a world that so often asks us to be constantly pushing forward no matter how cold is the wind slapping our faces, gezellig can be a nice reminder that sometimes you need the warmth and renewal of a fire and some friends; sometimes you need to hunker down and embrace that winter may have defeated your car but never your spirit.

Now that it appears the days may be getting warmer, it may seem that days of gezellig are numbered. But Irene assures me that gezellig can take place during any season; the key is just to let it find you.

“You can’t force gezellig. It’s there or it isn’t,” Irene says. “But luckily it’s not a limited source.”

Random Pictures of the Week

A reminder to visiting speaker Kevin Coe of a persisting Patriots – Seahawks

complication in an old friendship …

Superbowl 1

Superbowl 2

 

 

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