By Bota Saudabayeva '18
The Office Hour: Week Two
Hosted by Niall McDonald '18 and Charlie Hansen '18
Produced and edited by Alexandre LaBossiere '18
Beauty in Impertinence
By Frederick Horne '18
The blooming of the Japanese cherry trees is one of the most pleasant times of the Washington year. The small, beautiful, ingenuous buds garland the roadway and paint the world a heart-lifting pink, embodying all the new life of spring. Yet, all good things must come to an end, and the cherry blossoms wither and die in but a few weeks, turning into dust as all things must eventually do. Considering this inevitable fact of life—that is, the inevitable fact of death—is enough to sour the buds for any Westerner. To the Japanese, however, foreknowledge of death does not detract from the blooms’ beauty; rather, this impermanence adds to their magnificence.
Wabi-sabi (侘寂) means recognizing the impermanence and imperfection of life and appreciating that imperfection. According to American author Richard Powell, wabi-sabi is based on the acknowledgment of three truths: “nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” In real life, nothing is perfect or permanent, so one should not pretend that it is. One should appreciate fleeting, flawed reality, not an unattainable ideal of perfection or permanence. Wabi-sabi is inextricably linked with love for the natural world over the artificial one. Nature is not perfectly symmetrical or even, so art should not be, either. Trying to “improve” over nature by adding complexity or bright colors or durability would be to conceal the true essence of the object and of life itself. The wabi-sabi aesthetic values natural beauty over human artifice, simplicity over complexity, austerity over bright colors, rough edges over smooth, asymmetry over symmetry.
There is a small clay bowl named “Fuji-san,” made at the turn of the 17th century A.D. for the Japanese tea ceremony. It bears a stylized depiction of Mount Fuji on its sides: the white glaze on its top half, contrasted with the dark brown of its bottom half, looks like snow on the mountain’s peak. The bowl is chipped, scratched, and irregular, and its glaze is falling off in places. This quiet, unassuming cup that looks as if it had been unearthed from some pre-history archeological site, this rude and crude vessel, is the most revered bowl in all Japan. It is revered precisely because it is imperfect. It is perfectly imperfect. The irregular rim, which would suggest shoddy craftsmanship in the West, to the Japanese invokes the fundamental imperfection of all life and beauty. The bowl’s white-and-brown two-color system seems uninteresting to a Westerner, but in Japan its beauty lies in that very simplicity. The bowl says infinitely more by the subtle suggestion of a mountain than it would by painting the mountain in exquisite detail. A flawless bowl would be pretentious and shallow, not acknowledging the profound truth that true beauty lies in imperfect nature.
For someone with a Greco-Roman aesthetic background, where perfection and symmetry are the highest aesthetic ideals, wabi-sabi seems an alien concept. The first Europeans to visit Japan in the late 17th century A.D., actually honored when their hosts served them tea in seemingly crude vessels, were instead insulted and did not appreciate the bowls’ silent power. Likewise, a traditional Japanese walking into the Sistine Chapel would be disgusted by the garish complexity and largely human focus.
Nonetheless, wabi-sabi is not entirely unknown in the West. It is not loving a valueless, flawed object despite its flaws for the memories it holds. It is loving that object for its flaws. It is loving that object because its imperfection invokes all life’s fleeting nature. It is loving autumn not only for the colors of the leaves and the temperature of the air but also for how short it is. It is loving autumn because it will not last but is beautiful while it lasts. Most of all, wabi-sabi is loving autumn, loving the death and decay of the leaves, because the cycle of life and death is natural, what life should be, and to deny life’s true nature is to deny everything.
By Kubair Chuchra '18
“What’s that around your wrist? A STUPID GIRLY friendship bracelet?” On Monday he had targeted my Mickey-Mouse Crocs, on Tuesday, my bowl-shaped haircut, and now, he was insulting the thin, long piece of red and yellow yarn wrapped around my wrist. He had insulted my Kalava. The blond haired, second-grade bully had found yet another flaw in me, and I had had it. It was time for me to fight back. However, instead of using my words, as my teachers had taught me, I used my fists and socked the bully right in the face. He started crying, and within a few short minutes, I found myself inside the principal's office.
Luckily, through some smooth talk and second-grade charm, I managed to get out of trouble by convincing the principal not to call my parents. However, despite the fact that I was punishment free, the bully’s words that day had a lasting impact. Before my Kalava was shoved into the spotlight, I had never paid much attention to it. After all, everyone in my family had one, so it was not something I considered unique. Whenever we made our monthly pilgrimage to the Hindu Temple, a priest there would rip off my old Kalava—it needed to be replaced every month, as exposure to water would dull the bright red dyes to a grayish brown—and tie on a new one. I knew that wearing the bracelet had something to with my religion, Hinduism, but other than that, until I started exploring my identity, I did not have the faintest idea as to why I was wearing it.
This question, why I wear my Kalava, is something that I now often ponder. The string serves many roles in my life. Literally, it distinguishes me as Hindu. Christians carry crosses, Seeks sport Karas, Jews bear Yamakas, and Hindus—we wear our Kalavas. For thousands of years, Hindus have worn these sacred bands as both physical representations of their allegiance to God and as guardians to ward off evil spirits. However, my Kalava means a great deal more to me then ancient superstitions and traditions.
My Kalava is a conversation starter. Whether on a bus, train, or airplane, strangers frequently ask me about the significance of the red string around my wrist.
My Kalava is a moral compass. When my brain has run out of answers, and I am tempted to take the easy wrong over the hard right, a quick glance at my right wrist reminds me of my morals and stops my eyes from wandering.
My Kalava is a source of strength. As the clock inches closer and closer to zero, and my football team is behind by just three points, feeling the threads of the holy bracelet rub against my skin gives me enough energy to keep fighting, no matter the price.
However, above all else, my Kalava is my identity. I know, it seems silly. A piece of thin red and yellow yarn, probably worth no more than a few cents, is an integral part of who I am and who I strive to be. I cannot remember a life without my Kalava, and I am proud that it serves as not only as a declaration of my faith, but also a reminder to act with humility, strength, and virtue.
So maybe my blond-haired bully was right. Maybe I really was wearing a “friendship bracelet.” However, unlike most friendship bracelets, my Kalava is a friendship bracelet with God, guiding and reminding me to act truthfully and ethically.
I Believe in Double-Spacing
By Clara Bartram '18
I believe in double-spacing. Ms. Simchak, my eighth grade English teacher, first taught me the importance after I handed in my first essay draft, the lines single-spaced. She glanced at the paper and proceeded to berate me for leaving her no space to comment and cramming so much text onto one page. At the time, her criticism surprised me, but as I have grown as a writer, I have learned to appreciate her reasoning. While I used to see double-spacing as an easy way to achieve a required page count, now, double-spacing means more to me than checking the 2.0 option under the line spacing tab. A pause between lines gives time for reflection and space for correction.
I highly value reflection. I think it’s vital to look back on each class, sports practice, and day, and take the time to consider what I learned, how I grew as a student, athlete, and person, what I did well and what I can improve. A double-space creates unoccupied time for analysis, and just as every day deserves a period of time set aside for reflection, so does every line of text I write. Double-spaces allow me to reflect on aspects of my writing such as what ideas I hoped to communicate, to what degree I was successful in communicating those ideas, what parts I can improve. I have learned to think before I speak, but why not after too?
Double-spacing, more importantly, leaves space for correction. Editing single-spaced papers requires me to squeeze suggestions in between lines or to write edits in the margins, and I am often so overwhelmed by the density of text that I miss phrases in need of correction. In the same way, I do not want to take time to reflect only when it is convenient or marginalize those corrections which I want to apply by sweeping them into the back of my mind. Double-spacing encourages correction, presenting an editor with empty space just waiting to be filled, like an awkward silence. This is the awkward silence I strive to reserve in my day. By setting aside a time when I can be alone and without my homework or cell phone, this silence inspires me to fill it with my thoughts and reflections on how to make the next day better than this one.
I hope to catch myself when I am wrong, to affirm myself when I am right, and to be critical and corrective. By double-spacing every class, practice, day, thought, and action, I strive to embody my values of reflection and self-improvement. If I allow myself the time and space to correct myself when I err and appreciate my improvement, I can, every day, bring myself closer to being the student, athlete, and person I want to become.
Moving Forward - A Chapel Talk
By Alex Knapper '18
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews. 12. 1-2.)
This is a story about perseverance, and it begins with an average day in the 7th grade. It was a pretty good day for me. General Tso’s Chicken was served at lunch, and I just needed to get through that afternoon’s cross country practice. I was elated to get out of school, go home, and sleep on the couch. Back-to-school night was scheduled for later that evening, so I would be on my own at home. It was set up to be the best day of the week.
Practice started with our standard stretches, and then Coach Wolfe told us to do our two laps around the meadow. Nothing I couldn’t handle. So, with a couple of buddies of mine, we started with our laps on the sidewalk. However, I carelessly neglected to notice the small ledge between the grass and the pavement. I tripped, and landed on my right arm on the sidewalk. I was surprised, never expecting to trip on such a miniscule ledge; but I shrugged it off, and kept going. As the team started the pilgrim loop, something in my arm didn’t feel right. At first, I thought it was just an abrasion, nothing more. Upon closer inspection, however, I saw that my arm was bent in an unusual way. Instead of being straight like you see here (demonstrate with my arm), the hand was a bit lower than the rest of the wrist. The more time that passed, the more it hurt. I went to see Coach Brian, praying that that it wasn’t anything too bad. My hopes were not met. In the most honest way possible, Coach Brian said the words, “Yup, that arm is definitely broken.” I went to the hospital, my parents never made it to back-to-school night, and my perfect day was ruined; and that, friends, is the lame story of how I broke my wrist during a cross country warm-up lap.
So, back to the present, and to the subject of perseverance. Even after my totally traumatizing experience in the 7th grade, I didn’t give up on cross country. Even though I’m not the best runner, I still do it. I do it because I enjoy the competition, and most of all, I enjoy running and the company of my teammates. To me, these things are what matters most, and that is why I have persisted in doing it even when it can be hard. Being able to persevere in the face of a previously difficult or traumatizing experience brings us closer to excellence and to glory. The will to push on, even after failing, is important to us as humans; it shows us what we are truly capable of and helps us to achieve our full potential. Giving up, although it might seem like the easy way out, will often prevent us from achieving our goals and our true path.
Consider the plight of Dan Jansen, for example. Dan Jansen was an American Olympic speedskater who competed in the 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1994 games. In ‘84, he placed 16th in the 1000 meter and fourth in the 500 meter and didn’t win a medal. In ‘88, he fell in both the 500 meter and 1000 meter races. In ‘92, he finished fourth in both the 500 and 1000. Finally, in ‘94, he won Gold in the 1000 meter race, successfully finishing off his Olympic career.
There is no doubt that Jansen must have contemplated quitting after facing failure in the Olympics. However, he kept striving, he kept training, and he kept fighting towards what he wanted. He didn’t quit, and as a result, he attained the greatest glory an Olympic athlete could ever achieve.
Perseverance, willpower, and overcoming obstacles apply to our daily lives as well. As humans, we will inevitably be met with heartbreaking events that will contribute to our lives. Whether it be a bad score on a test, a tragic event with a family member, or not having things go the way we want, our power to push forward, our ability to overcome obstacles before us -- in other words, our perseverance -- will be tested. From that point, it becomes a choice. A choice of whether we want to give up, or instead, whether we want to shrug off the blows, learn what went wrong, and push forward. Not only will we fight on for ourselves, but we will also fight on for each other. The reading today says that because we are surrounded by witnesses, we should run the race with perseverance, and when it feels insurmountable the determination and sacrifice of Jesus at the end of his life is offered to us as a way to think about what is worth living for and where we can look for strength. Pushing forward and enduring failure and loss can also inspire our peers and makes us better humans and better friends. When we have overcome an obstacle, we may be more sympathetic to someone else experiencing a similar challenge. It becomes an opportunity to reach out in support of them. As a community, this is relevant more than ever.
So, now, going into the new semester, I ask of you this: Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Don’t let defeat or difficulties get you down. Persevere, and carry on. Show that your willpower, your commitment, and your drive is stronger than failure. Push forward to satisfy yourself, and to support your classmates and your fellow Bulldogs. MLK Jr. once said, “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” And if it ever seems bad, consider all the inspiring people through history that have beaten insurmountable odds - not just in competition but in the daily hardships of life. People like Nelson Mandela or John Lewis; and if Jansen went back to the 1994 Olympics, after failing three times already, and was able to come back and win the gold medal, then with the help of your faith, your family, and a community that loves you, you can do anything you set your mind to as well. Now go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
By John Klingler '18
Laying Down/Driving Home
I only recognize myself
in the faded visage
of a jet plane contrail,
and through the rear-view mirror,
driving home late at night.
I guess I lost myself
when I realized that a backwards smile
is a frown
and a crooked laugh
is a sob
and your thoughts of me
weren’t true after all.
Some Thoughts on Home Alone
They left him
while they vacationed,
and it’s scary - but only a little -
because he had him.
It would be worse if he lost himself
while everyone was around.
Alone at home.
By Nathan Heath '18
The great green water tower that haunted the murky forest was never to be climbed, I had been told since the earliest days of my childhood. But my adolescent restlessness still encouraged me to venture out into the woods and hunt for its soaring legs among the trees. All the conscientious parents and neighbors in the rural Vermont neighborhood had ordered me to keep my distance from the aluminum giant, and every local stranger I encountered would offer playful counsel to avoid it altogether. But any discerning adult ought to have understood that sanctioning a child’s freedom would do nothing more than incite mischief. So, on a humid August afternoon, in the company of two spirited accomplices, I set out to transgress.
The three of us were boyish and active, old enough to analyze the cost of our act but young enough to favor the benefit. Weha, who was no older than fourteen, and Matthew, two years his junior, walked ahead of me as we navigated the tangle of dirt roads that led to the forbidden forest. As the leader of our company, Weha held the reins of maturity by way of age. A brilliant and rebellious tactician, he had engineered the adventure to mark the inauguration of my life as a teenager, and it was incidentally Matthew’s job to spoil it. Matthew, inversely, was boorish and uncivilized, not quite as bright as Weha, and filled with a zest for disobedience. As we approached the wooded boundary, Matthew elbowed his way to the front of the party and cast a backward glance at the road to inspect for observers. We stopped and turned to look. The air hung in hot, sticky folds around us and a cicada hummed in the faraway trees: perfect placidity. When no footsteps were heard from the road, Matthew spun around and dove into the brush; we followed.
The gravel disappeared behind us, replaced almost instantly by a twisting facade of vines and saplings. In the snaking shadows, the air was cool and moist, and the birds chanted an eerie dirge. We followed a small stream up a hill and into a hazy clearing, where four tendrils of green metal rose from the ground in front of us. Above us in the leafy canopy soared the threatening tower―proud, formidable, dark. Matthew, spooked, turned to Weha and suggested, “Maybe you oughta climb up first and tell us how it looks.”
Ever the chiseler, however, Weha deftly deferred the task to me, citing some obscure “birthday rule,” and with feigned enthusiasm, I picked my way through the thinning shrubbery to the ladder. I grasped the cool metal and stared straight up at the sky; there must’ve been hundreds of rungs between me and the top. I exhaled with purpose and started upward.
My friends seemed to grow impatient as I climbed, because halfway through my ascent, the ladder below me began to vibrate with activity. I looked down, trying to force my eyes away from the whirling ground and onto Weha, who now rested several rungs below my feet. I paused apprehensively,
“Are you positive this is strong enough?”
“Of course!” he panted. “Now climb.”
I advanced a rung. “Are you sure?”
“Of course, I’m sure. Now climb!”
I mounted another rung. He followed me up the ladder impatiently and turned to holler down at Matthew after I had reached the final rung―I was alone at the summit. The view was spectacular: I was standing in the treetops, peering out over a meadow of leaves that shimmered in the breeze. To the right, through a gap in the canopy, I watched the sunlight flicker across the turquoise lake. It was a spellbinding scene, and I did my best to savor it even as Weha and Matthew shattered the serenity with their thunderous arrival. Turning to me, Weha grinned, “So who’s going in first?”
Weha shuffled over to a hump in the roof and hauled open the metal hatch. I peered into the darkness: it was a sepulchral interior―plain, deep, and terrifying. Inspired by audacity, however, I skirted my fear, threw off my shirt, and dropped straight through the narrow hole into the water.
I sank to the tank’s floor, fifteen feet below the water’s surface. Enveloped in an eerie silence, I opened my eyes to survey the surroundings: total darkness. Grappling with the cold, I searched for the light that should’ve been seeping through the opening above me, but found nothing. Frantic, I sprang upward and broke the surface with a splash. The hatch above me was shut. I was sealed in this pitch-black cell, and in the foot of breathing-room around me, I inhaled sharply. In the miles of anonymous water below, a host of vicious creatures lay in wait, eyeing their fresh meal. The blindness had eroded my sense of reason, and as I began to tire in the water, I cried for help. Only nine seconds had passed since I had entered the tank, and I was already struggling to breathe in the frigid air. The water’s icy fingertips crept up my arms, numbing my shoulders and neck. The footsteps above me had ceased, and I prepared my surrender to the inky sea: “What a shitty way to go,” my mind teased. “Sure hope you discover obedience in the next life.”
At last I sighed and stopped treading, suspended in the tank for a brief moment. The water around me did not stir. The air did not breathe―it neither tightened nor released its grip on me. “Perfect placidity,” I thought.
My eyelids had begun to droop as the hatch swung open, drenching me in sunlight. I coughed and turned to the opening above, allowing myself to be dragged, half-conscious, from the water. I shuddered, catching sight of my blue toes. My eyes closed.
The Price of Silk
By Phoebe Suh '18
Buried in an album is a photo of my family from 2003. The four of us stand on the deck
of a ship, smiling into the Caribbean sunset, and on the far left stands my mother in her qipao, a traditional Chinese dress. Black silk sheaths her body from high collar to ankle-length hem, bound by two lines of crimson piping. Scattered over the fabric are embroidered branches of red plum blossoms. Three frog closures hold the front of the garment shut. Perhaps it’s the dress, or perhaps it’s my imagination, but I like to think that, standing there in the photo, my mother might pass for an Old World beauty.
She never wore a qipao again, and I understand why. My mother immigrated to the U.S.
from Taiwan in 1966, when she was two years old. She was the only Asian at her Nashville high school, at the Boston law firm where she held her first job, and in the DC neighborhood where my older brother was born. My mother’s ethnicity marked her as different the day she arrived in the U.S., and she has struggled to escape her otherness ever since. In 1975, escape meant developing a southern accent to match that of her classmates; in 2003, it meant consigning her qipao to the closet. My mother decided that year that it was easier to hide her heritage behind a row of old coats than it was to appear a Susie Wong among Americans. Assimilation comes at a price, and my mother paid with her qipao. She taught me to do the same—I don’t own a single piece of traditional clothing.
But some days, I fear that I have assimilated too far, that my English and my blue jeans
might destroy whatever is left of me. At those times, I exhume the qipao from the closet. The satin is smooth and cool and catches on my rough hands. It slides over my shoulders with a soft rustle. Of course, the dress isn’t mine, so it fits all wrong. The waist and the bust gape; the hip clings and puckers. The fit doesn’t matter, though. What matters is the high collar, the frogs, the plum-blossom print. When I see these details in the mirror, I know that even when English has stolen the last word of my mother tongue from my lips, my mother’s qipao will still be there to remind me of my identity, one final, physical testament to my heritage.
After a minute, I slip out of the dress and return it to the closet. My mother chose to assimilate, and this is where her qipao belongs.
I, however, have made a different choice. I am tired of paying for a right that should already be mine: the right to be considered American. I was born and raised on U.S. soil; there is nothing for me to prove. So I refuse to hide my heritage inside of a closet. No one will ever wear my mother’s qipao again. But one day, I will have my own, one that fits me as well as my mother’s fit her in the photo, and I will wear it whenever I want, because I am American, and I am Asian as well. To choose between the two is to choose between two halves of myself.
By Christian Potter '18
Aut disce aut discede. “Either learn or leave.” If you’d like to enter Mr. Ragan’s classroom, according to the sign on the door’s exterior, you must be prepared to learn. Despite the occasional Monday when I would rather have said, “All right, I’ll leave,” the provocative Latin printed on the tall, Gothic door of black wood entices me, even though LJ-103 has disappeared from my schedule.
Gripping the brass doorknob, dulled for decades by students’ palms, I swing the door inward. Its creak meets every expectation set by the Lane-Johnston Building’s age. However, stepping into the classroom, I am transported to times far more distant than 1907.
If you had not already known, you could now discern that Mr. Ragan is a teacher of the Classics. Maps of the ancient Mediterranean, scenes from classical mythology, and photographs of Greek statues and Roman weaponry have colonized the classroom’s left wall, leaving no bare paint visible. But Mr. Ragan is as much a student of the Classics as he wishes us to be. Clusters of tall bookcases climb towards the ceiling in all four corners of his classroom, like time-tested columns supporting an ancient temple. Books pack themselves vertically, horizontally, diagonally into, above, and around the shelves. If you were to try to nestle in just one more book, the wood might crack, the cases burst, and the ceiling crumble to ruins. Any flat surface above or between these bookcases serves as a pedestal for one of Mr. Ragan’s many busts of Dante Alighieri. Chin up, eyes focused, the poet surveys us students from every direction, reminding us of the posture we ought to display in class.
The opposite wall, the right wall, features a large chalkboard, perhaps the last of its kind in the Western World, unchallenged by a sleek whiteboard or an avant-garde smartboard. Poorly erased chalk marks reveal Greek verb charts, pivotal dates from the Roman Republic, and names of unfamiliar literary devices, all conjured up within the previous few days. Plaster figures personifying the Seven Deadly Sins line the wooden frame above the chalkboard. Lust’s oddly contorted grin and Envy’s piercing gaze instruct us in morality, albeit differently than the dignified Dantes do.
A large gothic window with stained-glass panels, characteristic of St. Albans’ older buildings, illuminates the room from the third wall, the far wall, opposite the room’s entrance. On a hot day last spring, during a test, when we had decided to open the window, a gust of wind slammed it shut, causing the Class of 1910’s stained-glass panel to loosen from the window’s lead cross-hatches and shatter on the stone of the courtyard below. The memento of those forefathers gone, we gained a new, bittersweet memory of our own, along with a lesson: time passes.
Mr. Ragan’s classroom is just as vibrant today as the Forum in a time of plenty. Until a recent flood, a table dominated the classroom’s floorplan, around which we’d debate Cicero’s political strategy, compete in the “translation game,” and laugh over outdated movies. Pending the table’s triumphant return, the gaping hole in its stead reminds me again of change: not just changes to the classroom but changes I underwent in the classroom. Mr. Ragan’s time machine seeks to produce not only Latin scholars but also good young men. If and when the maps come down and a smartboard is installed, I will remain grateful for the countless times I entered Mr. Ragan’s classroom and learned.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.