Sunday, December 16, 2007

Art And Artisits

The Not So Private Dancer
By Sarah Campbell

If someone assumes that the life of a Philadelphia ballerina is mundane, after a moment speaking with Cynthia Dragoni, that possibility is immediately ruled out as you are bombarded by stories of travel from Italy, Russia, and Greece. She also manages to slip a word or two into our conversation about a romantic rendezvous.

Dragoni, 23, who performs and teaches ballet, seems bubbly. She has a short, jet black bob haircut, with a blunt bang across the forehead, an exotic hazel eye that sparkles green in the right light and porcelain pale skin make her appear fragile at times, like walking the streets of the city may be enough to do her in. But one smirk and all-knowing giggle tells you she’ll be alright – like she knows more that she lets on, and you wonder maybe that’s her plan.

We meet at her apartment in South Philadelphia, not far from her birthplace of Germantown, in northern Philadelphia. She would prefer to complete the interview before “we end up getting more distracted and looking for lovers,” she says over the phone with a giggle. I agree and arrive at her apartment at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday evening. The place is dark, loft-like, with wood floors, random pieces of artwork yet to be hung, and the smell of cigarettes and coffee linger in the air. I ask if it’s OK for me to smoke in the apartment, and she nods, yes.

We sit at a glass table, which seems to be in the breakfast nook. There’s a page of a newspaper and what looks like a days old coffee on the table, at which Dragoni makes light of: “I was meaning to clean, I don’t always live like this,” she says with a sigh. We sit at the metal chairs as she grabs a cigarette from my pack, a gesture one would only be comfortable making with a dear friend who’s more like a wingman. The funny thing is that we are not in that place anymore. In fact, as the interview goes on, we both seem to notice that we don’t know each other anymore, only who we used to be.

I tiptoe into the interview and grab for through my purse for something to scribble on. She inhales deeply then blows a line of smoke. “I don’t smoke anymore,” she says with a laugh, then adds, “no seriously, I quit. For most days anyway,” a big smile, she stares at me with what looks like a giddy excitement the kind a child must exhibit on Christmas morning after being told there is one more present hiding in back of the Christmas tree.

Dressed in her signature black pants and dangly earrings she must not have tried too hard to prepare for my arrival as she is still in her slippers and has obviously thrown a fleece sweatshirt over whatever outfit she intends to wear later. And, she does intend to go out after our interview, which she made perfectly clear when she heard I was coming to Philly. “Well fine, I’ll answer your questions but that means we have to actually see one another and have the rest of the night to catch up.”

There’s something about her that’s almost childlike. Maybe it’s the short hair or the way she jumps up from the table every time she gets excited. Maybe it’s her exaggerated hand gestures or her complete belief and sometimes even reliance in Tarot Cards, palm readers and psychics. Whatever the case may be, she is in fact 23, soon to be 24. So we pop open a bottle of wine and I begin the questions.

So, what was your childhood like? You have a big family, what was the household like?
“Well (she says in an exaggeratedly low tone accompanied by a laugh), huh? My youuuuth…” she sends me a look chin pressed to her chest, eyes staring up at my face like, ‘come on really?’ Then she seems to immediately remember that we had a deal and I had warned her about the process.

She quickly begins answering before I have the chance to remind her of why we are here. “My childhood…well I don’t know. My mom’s crazy, so is my dad, and sisters – whatever we all are. No, really. Um…Well, I grew up mainly with my mom, I have four older sisters, all half-sisters, and then of course there’s Andrew” (she says adoringly). I give her a look like ‘come on, who’s Andrew?’ – The dilemmas of interviewing someone you know).

“He’s my baby, well you know my baby brother, but he’s really mine. Any sanity he managed to grasp has got to be from me, that’s for sure. She takes a drag from what is now her second cigarette (because she clearly doesn’t smoke anymore) and gets lost in a moment as she stares out the foggy window, the rainy day seems to have grabbed a hold of all the people and the street one flight below looks vacant. She then jolts back into conversation: “God, can you believe he’s 17! Oh my god it’s scary.”

I can’t believe that. Wow time really does fly. Trying to stay on topic I ask: So back to your youuuth, you lived with your mom, so how was your relationship with your parents?
“Oh, well you know I mean I just couldn’t stand living with either one of them. They just didn’t get me. I was dancing and neither supported that financially or emotionally (giggle). I mean I moved out and in with Tessa (a friend) and her family when I was 15.” She laughs and sips her wine. “I mean God, it really does sound just awful doesn’t it? I guess at times it definitely was…you know pretty difficult, yeah… you know it’s funny to talk about because I guess I never do, because this was just my life then, but looking back with more perspective, I hope (accented in a low tone) it seems ridiculous, I mean like I should probably realize I’m lucky I made it through. You know at that time I was doing school and ballet fulltime, and waiting tables in order to have some living money. And to top it off, I was getting everywhere on a bike.”

She laughs at something that could only have occurred in her head. I ask for her to let me in on the joke and she responds: “Oh, I was just thinking of how I always joke about my mom as being this crazy lady riding her bike to and from work and then I just thought of me being the crazy bike kid, that’s all.”

So basically, you’ve lived on your own since you were 15?
“Well yes and no.” (Somehow, she seems to be in the flow of the interview and is now answering questions without hesitation, maybe it’s the second glass of wine). “I mean I kind of have this pattern, well you know, my restlessness. I get really antsy, leave the country for about a year and then return to Philly. Over the years I’ve lived so many places – I mean even since I was 15. I’ve returned to both my mom’s and my dad’s house for short periods of time…always short because I’m reminded of why it didn’t work the first time. I had the apartment in Philly for a couple of years (one of which I lived there with her), but you know that, then there was Ukraine, Siberia, St. Petersburg, oh yeah, Boston when I was a lot younger, maybe 17? I’m sure there’s more any you remember that I forgot?” (I can’t think of a thing, nor can I move my eyes from my paper or my hand from my pen as I’m still frantically writing).

So what stimulated all of this travel?
Well, absolutely dance - ballet. And the occasional need to get really far away from an ex-lover, but those are separate stories entirely.” She says with a gleaming eye and a giggle in her throat. “I was dancing with different companies in different places. You know, in Ukraine I danced with the Donetsk and then in Siberia and St. Petersburg with smaller lesser-known companies. But, the travel, actually I almost completely forgot, one of the times I wasn’t even dancing I had thought I had quit when I was there – that was in Ukraine.

Yeah I got there, worked really hard and performed all the time, got a great feel of the language and made some great friends and then I got terribly depressed. I don’t know I think it was the situation. Like I’m glad I had the experience, but the company itself just wasn’t uplifting in any way. It felt as if everyone was down and it brought me down. You know I was trying to leave a situation like that in a Philadelphia company I was dancing in and wouldn’t you know I end up in the same kind of thing over there. So I guess I kind of bugged out. That’s when I decided to come back. Cause if I wasn’t going to be dancing the struggle just didn’t seem worth it.”

What happened when you came back?
“Well, oh yeah, that’s when I decided I would focus on school, mainly language. You know I really did love Russian language and just because I came back here, I didn’t want to lose everything I had learned there. I wanted to continue…so I took some classes at Penn (University of Pennsylvania). It was all right. Actually, I was pretty disappointed. I just felt like everything was so rigid. There were so many rules and guidelines. I guess I just hadn’t operated in that type of a setting for a while and it just felt… I didn’t like it. I don’t know, I guess I felt the classes kind of worked against me or around me instead of for me.” (Dragoni home-schooled herself through high school, in order to concentrate on ballet). Eventually I realized that I really missed dance and I ended back at the studio.”

We realize that our interview is taking much more time than anticipated. I push towards the last questions so we can still make our dinner reservation.

So, what are you doing now?
“If only I knew,” she says with a giggle. “No, I guess right now things are alright. I kind of feel like I’m just in a transition phase now. No I know it. I mean I’m teaching at two studios and taking class every day. But this is kind of breather time for me. This is another one of my patterns I’m always in one of my phases. So currently, I’m in what I’ll call the regrouping phase. (laughs). I’m just trying to stay positive and take things one day at a time. I’m trying to not over think as much and kind of go with something before I rule it out. You know like Norbert? She jumps from the table laughing and then begs me to not bring that story up. All I’ll say is he was several years her senior and lived in Germany.

And where do you hope to see yourself going?
“Aaahhhh.” (She says with frustration, though not so much at the question, but more so at the fact that the interview has turned out to be very long and we are both feeling it. We share a laugh and I assure her this is the end. After she asks me to repeat the question again she answers).

“I guess I mean I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but if you give me a sec I can get my guy (psychic) on the phone and I’ll let you know. All I know at this point is what I like and dislike so far. I know I’ll always travel. I’m really interested in culture and language. I’m pretty sure ballet will always play some role in my life whether I’m performing or teaching. I do know that on Monday, I’ll wake up, hop on the subway and get my butt to class and then I’ll teach. And for right now that’s what I’m doing. Ask me again in a year and I’m sure you’ll get a totally different answer.”

College Life

Internships: Discovery And Real World Experience
By Sarah Campbell

Internships are a great introduction to the world of work and business. Interning can provide networking opportunities, as well as a means of making money. And it doesn’t hurt that this experience looks real good on paper too. A real resume booster!

In order to receive credit from an internship, Marymount Manhattan College requires students to have completed 30 credits and to have a GPA no lower than 2.8. Finding an internship begins in the office of Susan Ach, the career development specialist. She will give you the Academic Credit Internship Registration Form to complete, and will help guide you to an internship based on your individual interests, aspirations, and skills. She can also offer you advice pertaining to your resume or even assist you in creating one.

Ach believes that internships are an important step for students to discover what they like, but she stresses that the experience is equally necessary in helping students determine what they don’t like. Therefore, she feels that interning in a couple of different fields, rather than merely one, can prove beneficial.

Internships should serve as a taste test of an experience, so trying several different flavors is recommended before making a decision. The New York State Education Law states that, in order to receive credit for an internship, a student must complete a minimum of 120 hours of work, an average of about 10 hours a week, though MMC students typically intern somewhere between 15 and 20 hours a week.

MMC students are permitted to take a maximum of 15 internship credits. MMC is affiliated with many interning opportunities, which students are able to browse, though they are also allowed to receive credit from an internship they find elsewhere (Craigslist, for example), as long as the specific arrangement is approved by the school. Currently 110 MMC students are interning this spring, at places such as, NBC casting, Fox Entertainment Publicity, Harlem Charter Day-school, CBS casting and CBS News, Major League Baseball Network, and the Martha Stewart Show, and many, many more.

Ach says interning during the academic year seems to provide greater opportunities, though she does say that summer internships are more likely to pay (though paid internships are rare year-round). Being an intern in New York provides great advantages and fortunately MMC receives good feedback from the companies where it has interns. Sometimes, an internship may lead to a job offer from the company for which you are working, or another company in the same field.


Hoping A Generation Will Find Solutions To Complex Problems
By Sarah Campbell

Glen Burwell, in his second year at Marymount Manhattan College, was born in New York, but raised in Virginia Beach. He returned to Manhattan last fall after being accepted at MMC, and for a young man of 19, Burwell has a long list of academic and extra-curricular achievements. After spending an afternoon with him, it’s clear that Burwell is a young man of brilliance, intelligence, and charm with classic values and modern views. Speaking on topics from politics, to pop culture, Burwell proves that his two-cents should be heard.

Burwell arrives at the Starbucks at 80th and York at 5:58 pm, two minutes before our interview is scheduled to begin. For some reason I’m there early and am glad that I didn’t miss his entrance. Burwell is dressed in a sophisticated, yet carefree style, which seems to come off as more polished in comparison to the normal college kid look. His jacket is a hooded navy pea-coat with silver buttons, two of which seem to have gone missing, yet don’t detract from the chic look of the silhouette which lies somewhere in between slightly fitted and roomy. He’s wearing slim (not skinny) dark blue jeans with shoes. To top it off, he wears a gray hat that’s slightly tilted on his head. He enters the Starbucks and sees me almost immediately, not needing to pause for even a moment until he reaches the table.

Burwell looks as though he’s been walking a bit and when I hear his hello, it is clear that he’s a bit out of breath. He has a large rectangular bag slung diagonally over his shoulder in which it seems a person could fit an entire wardrobe, or maybe even a small Manhattan studio apartment. He lugs it off his shoulders with a sigh and says, “Let me just get a coffee before we start,” which sounds more like one long word as he speaks rather quickly and is still a little out of breath.

When he returns with a grande cafĂ© Americano, he seems more settled. Burwell hovers over the cup, the cap of which he has removed and blows over the drink, steam rising, as his eyes glance at the coffee, up at me, and then back down again. He asks, “So, how do we do this? How do we begin?” After minor mindless chitchat, we seep into the interview.

What was it that led you to choose MMC?
“New York definitely I’d love to say it was the school, but honestly the bottom line was I wanted to be here.

Do you have a particular field of interest? A major?
“That’s a tricky question,” (he says with a giggle).

Why is that a tricky question?
“Well because it depends on which day and at what time you ask it – it’s different. I originally planned to be a lawyer. My entire high school career was geared towards that. (Burwell studied at The Legal Academy). I’m also really into graphic design, photography. My major that’s easy – it’s communications. Really, I’d just love to be editor at a high style magazine – somewhere at the top of the creative process. I also really love journalism. The truth is really important and the news today is obviously so messed up and people, everyone, myself included, seems so uninformed and that’s unfortunate.”

So I’m guessing you’re not up to date on your US Weekly?(Chuckles). “Most certainly am not. I’m not saying I don’t get the appeal, obviously it is easier to focus on what happened in Hollywood then what’s going on around the world or even right next door. It’s lighter, much easier to deal with and I totally understand the need to not want to deal with thing. But in the end of the day it’s just waste, unnecessary.”

So what do you think our generation should do in order to redirect our attention?
“Well, recently I’ve been asking more questions. Not necessarily what’s right or wrong, but more why? Why are we focusing on this over that? Why would us being distracted be beneficial to certain people or groups of people? You know there are a lot of things that are not right that our generation seems to take as just being a given and I think the only way to really change things is to understand not only what’s going on but also why it’s happening and only then can we find a solution.”

While we’re talking about change, what are your feelings for the 2008 presidential race?
“You know for the first time I’m really doing my research. I’m getting really into it and obviously, this election is absolutely crucial for the future of America. I could talk for hours about who I think and why but we don’t have that time, plus I’m still looking at who’s saying what. The scariest thing is what if neither option ends up being someone you can agree with.”

Do you see that there is any sort of consensus among people, especially among your generation?
“You know I do, but at the same time you’re talking to me and I’m pretty sure you and I are on the same page, but we are also two people in New York City. I think as a whole our generation is more open, accepting, things I obviously consider positive. But then you know we could also focus on how lazy we all seem to be. I guess all I hope is that we get out of this mess with as much dignity and grace as possible. Most people, it seems, are ready for a change and I guess I’m just like everyone else who hopes the rest vote in a way that will make this the kind of place I’d like to be in and to be proud to call home.”

City Life

Hard Times For A Legal Immigrant
By Gunes Atalay

Many people have an idea about how hard life can be for illegal immigrants in this country. However, not a lot of people think about how hard it is for “legal” immigrants. I am one of them. Coming to this country legally with an F1 (student) visa, I didn’t think I would have a lot of problems. Little did I know.

Coming from Turkey, a Middle Eastern Muslim country, made things hard initially. Even though Turkey is the most modern Muslim country and I don’t look Muslim at all, I had many problems getting a visa, and getting in. My family and I had to go through a complete background check. I had to assure the Turkish Consulate that I definitely did not want to “stay” and that I would certainly return after completing my education. One thing that helped was I could speak English very well.

However, getting into the U.S. was a lot harder than I expected. Even though I was bringing money in, I felt my treatment at JFK Airport was way out of line. While I thought I was not being respected, I saw people in front of me being treated even worse, simply because they didn’t speak English. After being questioned about everything, I managed to get in and moved in to a hotel that I booked from my country.

Checking websites like Craigslist from home, I knew housing would be very expensive, and I thought finding a cheap place would be very hard. I didn’t know that I wouldn’t even be able to rent an apartment even if I paid a lot of money. That was simply because I didn’t have a credit card in the U.S., and therefore I didn’t have a credit history.

One solution I was offered was to find a guarantor who made at least 80 times my rent a year. Surprise, I didn’t know anyone in the country, let alone a rich one who would love and trust me enough to be my guarantor. Many landlords didn’t even bother listening, they just simply wouldn’t rent to me. The ones who bothered to listen, said I would have to pay a year’s rent upfront and six months deposit. That was simply crazy talk to me.

After months of searching, I finally got a place by paying an entire year upfront. But that didn’t end my problems. Credit checks and social security number were required wherever I went. I couldn’t get a cell phone plan without it. I couldn’t get Internet, phone, cable, and electric service. I couldn’t get a credit, or debit card either. And this country is very tough without credit/debit cards.

Finally showing my transcript and my passport, I managed to get electricity. Of course, I had to pay a lot of money simply because I didn’t have a social security number. I got a cell phone plan, using a friend’s social. He told me something, I didn’t know. Apparently, before September 11, every legal immigrant got a social security number, but the law changed afterwards. Everyone knows how life in this country changed after September 11, but few people knew about the huge change in legal immigrants’ lives.

In the year that I’ve been here, I managed to make friends, and find an apartment through my friends without paying an entire year upfront. However, things are still not simple. I have to pay a lot of money wherever I go and whatever I do. I have to have credit to get anything, and to have credit, I have to have a credit card. To have a credit card, I have to have a social security number. And the list goes on.

Legal immigrants think that America’s extreme ways of letting people in is the biggest problem. However, even that seems easy, after seeing what life here is like. I love this country, I love my school and I love living in New York City. But many times, I just wish it would be easier and that I wasn’t treated so badly. After all, I am here legally. A friend once said, “You would live here a lot easier, if you were an illegal immigrant.” Sometimes, I can’t help but agree with her.

College Life

Shopping Cheaply In The City
By Gunes Atalay

It is hard to be a student in New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the world, where even full time workers struggle. Then how are we supposed to survive? We are full time students, and part time workers in some cases and our parents can’t give us unlimited allowances.

In this situation, there is only one way to make it to the end of month –being a smart shopper. For those who don’t know the little secrets of the city, that can be very tough. As a careful shopper, I will help those who don’t know where to go because New York City is very big, it keeps a lot of little secrets.

One of the first places I found out to shop for clothing and household materials are Conway stores at 11 W 34th Street, 450 7th Avenue, and 1333 Broadway. They are all walking distance from each other and very easy to reach. Even though the area is midtown, where everything is so expensive, these stores are a lot cheaper than average. All clothing items are constantly on sale and household items are a lot cheaper than any other store. You can find very high quality stuff cheaply, you just need to look for it.

Another big store right around Conway is Jack’s 99 Cent Store on 110 W 32nd Street. This dollar store is a lot bigger than any other, and holds the same brands supermarkets do. It has three floors: The first floor is for dollar items and the other two floors hold everything else, that cost more than a dollar, but are still significantly cheaper than many other stores. From plates and make up to pillows and sheets, anything is possible to find in this store. It can get crowded to a level where it’s annoying, however going there at the right times and shopping smart can save you a lot of time and money.

The third option, and the one I love the most, are thrift stores - for those who don’t mind buying used stuff. There are many through out the city, however not all are very cheap. The ones one the Upper East Side can be more expensive than a regular store. I found the best variety, and prices on 23rd street between Third and First Avenues. There are about seven in a row, including a Salvation Army store. The staffs are usually very friendly and most of the stores have student discounts. You never know what you will find in there, and going there frequently and checking what they have can be very helpful. You won’t believe what you can get for $3 to $15.

The last place that I found is an entire area that most New Yorkers seem to forget about: Spanish Harlem. People who don’t know the area think that it is very dangerous. But that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Spanish Harlem a.k.a. East Harlem is the area between 107th Street and 125th Streets and it is not only safe and friendly, but also very cheap. The area holds a variety of stores such as food, nail salons, clothing, and beauty supplies and is actually about 10 minutes from our school.

For those who prefer convenience rather than cheapness, these places may not be the best options. But for those who really have to try hard to make it to the end of month, spending some time in the subway and trying these places will make a big difference.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

City Life

Hoping To Bridge The Gay Generation Gap
By Chris Evans

Sitting in the darkest corner of Starbucks, Andrew Fleming, 58, takes a sip of his Venti Caramel Macchiato, flicks his newspaper and begins reading the New York Times Style section. This is where he comes every Sunday morning, while everyone else in his apartment building is at church.

“Everyone in my building is Catholic, and there’s a church right next door. I don’t like being in the building alone, and I can’t stand the gospel music making my walls shake. So, I come here for the peace and quiet. And for the company.” He talks about how young people don’t read these days, especially the newspaper.

“I’m no Einstein, but I try my best to read the New York Times at least once a week. It’s scary that in this day and age you have people turning 18 and know absolutely nothing about the world they live in. There was someone on the TV a few days ago—the girl honestly thought that Europe was a damn country.” The girl he’s referring to is country singer Kellie Pickler, who embarrassed herself on the game show Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader when asked a simple geography question.

Scruffy and plain, Fleming sat at the tiny table—his deep voice booming, his blue eyes piercing. You’d never think he was gay had he not told you, and you probably would’ve guessed he was about twenty years younger than he actually is. “I guess you can chock that up to genes,” he says with a laugh.

Fleming has lived in the same rent-controlled building for 20 years, on the East side of Harlem, and has seen it all. “Being gay these days isn’t that big of a deal, especially here in New York City. I mean you’ve got gay channels, magazines, even a gay movie (Brokeback Mountain) that was a huge hit at the box office—in the red states! When I was young people barely even dared to speak the word gay.”

Growing up in Brooklyn with his single mother and two brothers, Fleming says it was difficult for him to come out, especially because of emotional issues with his father. “My father left when I was about 10. We were all devastated—mostly my younger brother. I’m sure my mother was too, but she really held it together—for us. When my father was around—it wasn’t really a happy time. He was really demanding and abusive, and was obsessed with masculinity. I guess it stemmed from issues surrounding his childhood, but from the earliest time I can remember he was extremely insistent upon us being ‘real men.’ Whatever the hell that meant. So I knew it wasn’t going to be easy coming out to my brothers.”

Fleming said he had to find a way to express himself, since he couldn’t completely disclose himself to his family, so he began painting and writing poems. “I had so much bottled up inside me. I think if I didn’t have those creative outlets I would’ve killed myself a long time ago.”

Fleming had a lot to say about his childhood, especially the influence of his grandmother who was the first one to spark his interest in music. She gave him jazz records by Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Etta James, and Barbra Streisand, and when his brothers weren’t home, he’d lock his bedroom door (the three of them shared a room) and blast the records as loud as he could, singing into a spoon.

“My grandmother and I had a really special relationship. I miss her a lot, but I appreciate what I learned from her. I wish more people today valued their elders. There’s so much they have to say and there’s so much to learn.” Fleming said he would sit all day listening to his grandmother’s stories, and how he loved an idea he’d seen Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross talking about on The View recently—a Hallmark gift called a legacy keeper, designed to keep a record of the older memories of your family and their stories.

Fleming moved past his difficult childhood to become a successful copywriter and poet. He’s never published any of his work, but says he considers his work successful anyway. “For me, the success of poetry is not measured by how many books it’s in or how many people read it. It’s just how it makes me feel when I put it on the page, and when I open up my notebook months later and read it again.”

Fleming has been lucky to be able to earn enough money to stop working and be financially stable for the rest of his life. However, what makes him happiest is being able to take care of his mother. “I love feeling like I’m paying her back for all the mess she had to go through for the three of us. It really is a great feeling. And we were a handful.”

His partner of 25 years, Chet, died three years ago due to complications from a heart surgery he had years ago. “When you’re with someone for as long as I was with Chet—it’s hard to imagine that they could be gone forever—even though at my age I suppose you should start expecting it. You just get so used to the status quo. I didn’t take his death as hard as maybe most people do, but I do miss him terribly. I think about him everyday. I talk to him everyday. I know he can hear me.”

Fleming says he tried dating again, but in the gay community, it’s difficult when you’re an AARP member. “It’s sad, but the gay community at large is just really, really superficial. You go into these clubs and bars and most of the guys look the same. It’s like an Abercrombie and Fitch convention. I mean I’m in good shape, but I’m nearly 60. No one in those places is gonna look at me twice.”

Though he does say he was briefly seeing someone much, much younger, it didn’t work out. “We really had nothing in common. I felt like a dinosaur. I mean even among gays the generation gap is so wide—even with just pop culture. I’m talking about Cher and Barbra Streisand and he’s talking about Britney and Christina. We had nothing to say to each other.”

And, this seems to be a problem many gay men have as they move further and further into old age, which might be reason for the gay community to examine itself and its principles. Many gay men say the worst thing you can call a gay man is “fat” or “old.” Who cares if you’re stupid, right?

“I’m not an elitist by any stretch of the imagination. At least I don’t think I am. I realize everyone hopefully has something to offer to the world. But I just don’t think young people these days have a sense of anything outside of themselves—and I don’t just mean geographically. They’re not thinking about philosophy, why things are the way they are, the way things work and how—it’s just me, me, me.”

Fleming has more goals for himself. “I’m not one of those people who’s scared out of my mind about death. Death of others terrifies me, my own death—not so much. But before I do kick the bucket, I hope I can travel some. Maybe with my mother. After all these years, I haven’t been able to really see the world.” Fleming hopes that he can take his mother with him, but he says it would be even better if he were able to do it when Chet was still alive.

City Life

A California Gamer Tests Life In New York City
By Therese Whelan

“If I were alive in the Middle Ages, I’d be one bad ass knight,” says Greg Selmi,19. Everyone would scatter when we rode in. Not because we were mean but because we were so cool,” he says laughing. It’s easy to imagine Selmi as a knight. He’s tall, chivalrous and commanding, with blue eyes that always look like they are thinking about something. Far from the Middle Ages, Selmi was born in the late 1980s in Long Beach, California. A self-described “mutt” Selmi is Italian, Irish, German and Basque.

Talking before he could walk, Selmi entered kindergarten at age four in Washington D.C. where he remembers “hanging out with the son of the Irish Ambassador.” Shortly after his family moved back to California and settled in Newport Beach, a small but wealthy beach town where economic class is measured by how many rooms you have in your house. “Two bedrooms are poor, five bedroom ‘mini mansions’ are middle class, and if you live on the beach you’re basically a millionaire.” It is also the home to an MTV reality show, but Selmi cautions viewers “not to believe what you see” on the show.

Greg Selmi

The “uptight” town is home to a lot of retirees and celebrities such as Bono. “Once,” recalls Selmi, “I got a ticket for noise violation, for skateboarding.” Selmi attended an all boys’ school in Newport until deciding to go to high school in Los Angelos. “I needed to get away from the same kids I’d seen for 13 years,” explains Selmi. High school was a good experience for Selmi who found a “great group of friends,” who shared one of his biggest interests, video games.

“The first game I played was Doom 2 at age five,” says Selmi. Right away he became a fan. He was given a Gameboy by his cousin and began to play regularly. He found that he was very good at beating games quickly. “You get in a certain mind-set,” explains Selmi. “The music urges you on.” He has beaten every “action RPG game” he owns and describes himself as “super competitive when playing with friends.” Video games have influenced everything from his taste in music, “Metal bands like Metallica and Night Wish,” to his high school job as a game tester.

Since senior year of high hchool, Selmi has been testing games for top companies. “You get all the games first, get to give feedback and get paid in game cash,” says Selmi. “It’s not hard for me,” he explains. “I just look for the logical flaws.” His dream job is “to be a tester for EA games,” the top maker of video games in the U.S. “That, or designing the graphics for games.” Selmi is currently pursuing a degree in Digital Art at Santa Clara University. A school that is about 400 miles from his house, “far enough away, but I can still come home for the weekend.”

However, life at Santa Clara was a little more unpredictable than Selmi imagined. One of his hobbies was designing lighting for “raves,” large extravagant parties complete with fog machines, strobe lights and glow stick on ropes called 'Poi.' “Once I got hit by a flaming Poi,” laughs Selmi. Add to that a job as a bouncer for a fraternity and Selmi’s grades began to “to go down the toilet.” At the end of the school year Selmi found out his parents, who are professors, were going to be moving to New York to finish writing books and wanted him to go with them. Before he knew it, Selmi found himself in New York and attending Marymount Manhattan College.

Smoking Turkish cigarettes on a balcony overlooking the west side of Manhattan, Selmi says he could easily be happy living in New York. He feels he has changed a lot since moving here in September. “At first New York was so confusing,” he explains. “I still don’t understand the subways. Why can’t all the numbered lines go one way and the letters go another?” he wonders. Now he has adjusted to the New York lifestyle well. Gone is the spiked hair and board shorts, replaced by designer jeans and layers of T-shirts. His brown hair is usually covered by a cap and he was forced to purchase gloves and scarves after the temperature dropped below 40 degrees. When asked about the differences between California and New York Selmi sees many.

“People in New York care a lot more about their studies and work, probably because New York is so expensive,” he decides. “In California people are more laid back,” says Selmi. “New Yorkers walk faster, talk faster and party harder,” he says with a chuckle. However, the fall semester is almost over and Semi will be returning to Santa Clara for the spring. “I miss my friends,” he says. “And one thing you can’t get in New York is Scorpion fried rice,” says Selmi.

Along with his Marymount credits, Selmi will return to California with “a lot of good memories.” Though he can easily fit in with any crowd, he has a great internship with EA Games to look forward to and a lot of catching up to do with friends. Selmi has always been a year younger than his classmates, but has never worried much about trying to grow up too fast.

“I don’t make those advances until I’m sure I’m not going to mess things up.” Now he feels confident that he is ready to go back to California and make the most of his college experience. “This time I’m going to do it right,” says Selmi with conviction. And like most things in his life, when he is sure about something, you can be certain he has thought it through.

Decision 2008

Hampton Roads Has A Change Of Heart On The Iraq War
By Glenn Burwell

After four years of war, the American public is most certainly ready to end the war in Iraq. No matter where one falls on the political spectrum, political philosophies or ideologies one follows, or what political party one belongs to its easy to see that the current administration doesn’t err on the side of the American public. What was once called the Iraq war is now aptly nicknamed “Bush’s War” by many people.

“I am over it now, at the start of this war I was all for it. Even when I started to realize we were there for the wrong reasons I held my tongue because in this area its never taken lightly when you criticize the war or our soldiers,” said Leah Matthews, 21, a Virginia Beach native and student at Old Dominion University. “I can’t hold my tongue any longer; we can’t hold our tongues any longer. A huge group of those men and women over there are from the area. Those are my friends and family and I want them home. The only way we are going to be able to accomplish that is to have the right people elected,” said Matthews.

We all know the devastation that the war in Iraq had caused abroad, but many people don’t realize the impact that the war has had at home. The American family has been rocked by the war in Iraq. With tens of thousands of troops deployed, many families will be missing aunts, uncles, mother, fathers, sisters, and brothers this holiday season. One of the areas most affected by the war is the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.

Hampton Roads in southeast Virginia comprises seven cities, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Newport News, Hampton, and Portsmouth. Hampton Roads is home to the largest concentration of military bases in the world and the largest population of uniformed men and women in the U.S.

In Hampton Roads, it seems, Patriotism isn’t just a word, but a way of life. The majority of the homes have American flags hanging from their porches. Almost every car is decorated with a yellow ribbon magnet, or a patriotic bumper sticker of sorts. As patriotic as Hampton Roads residents may be, they like many Americans today are furious about how long the war has lasted and are ready to have their family members back home.

“There was a time here in Hampton Roads where it felt like if you were against Bush or the war you were for the terrorists,” said Hampton roads resident Adolfo Gulden, 45. “That seems to be changing now. I see more anti-war rallies and discussion going on than I ever have in the area. The residents of Hampton Roads have separated supporting the war from supporting the troops and that shift in thinking has made all the difference in this red state,” he said.

According to the Washington Post, the president’s approval rating was at an all time high, 90%, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attack and at the start of operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001. However, Bush’s popularity plummeted to a record low 33% by November 1, 2007. In a survey from September 2007, the World Opinion Polls showed 24% of Americans wanted to withdraw from Iraq immediately and 37% wanted to withdraw within a one-year timetable. The statistics speak loud and clear: America is ready for a new administration.

With the 2008 presidential elections looming in the not so distant future and the primaries even closer, Americans are anxiously waiting to oust the Neocons of yesteryear and welcome a new president, Democrat or Republican.

Matthews, whose 25 year-old sister has been serving in Iraq since 2004, describes her deployment there as playing the waiting game. Matthew’s feels that the current administration is to blame for what she called a long overdue withdrawal. “Virginians did their part in this war withdrawal effort in the last midterm elections by electing (Democrat) Jim Webb for senate,” said Matthews.

Matthews is doing her part to bring troops home by campaigning for Barack Obama, the candidate she thinks has the best plan for troop withdrawal. Matthews has been campaigning for him for the last three months in the hopes that he will be the one to bring her sister and so many of her friend’s home. Matthews attributes her support for Obama to a video she saw online of Obama speaking at an antiwar rally in Chicago.

“When I saw the speech he made I knew he was the candidate for me,” she said. “He said every thing that I was feeling about this war, but I could never articulate.” Matthews says she remembers an excerpt from the speech and she keeps Obama’s words with her when the outspoken warmongers in the area are combative. Matthews vehemently recites the excerpt that won Obama her support, “I don't oppose all wars. And, I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.”

Gulden said he felt that no matter who was chosen to take over the presidency next year it would have to be someone who was against the war. A retired naval officer and high school teacher, Gulden hopes young people in the area will help make a change. “I really hope young people take a look at what is going on in the White House and realize that things need fixing and then realize they can fix things by voting. That is our only hope for ending this thing - seriously.”

Diversity Series

No Longer Feeling Out Of Place
By Kelly Lafarga

A bell rings and suddenly halls fill with loud, vivacious children. Some of the older ones settle into their new classes while the young ones run outdoors for recess. The vast field is covered with the newest playground equipment. Within minutes, dozens of students are clamoring over the various choices, deciding who gets to take their turn.

A young first-grader named George Jones is among the children at play. He is actively engaged with his fellow classmates and nothing strikes a wrong chord with him. He has many friends and is happy in his school. Little does he know that one day it will dawn on him that he is slightly different from his other friends. He will soon realize that he is the only African-American boy in his prominently white grade school.

Today, Jones, 23, who was born in Arlington, Va., grew up in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Shortly after his mother died, he moved in with his grandmother, who lived in Halls Hill, a predominantly African-American neighborhood that was founded in the late 1800s. Soon after his arrival, Jones was sent to private school -- St. Ann’s, located in an upper class white neighborhood, which he attended from kindergarten through eighth-grade. Throughout all of those years, Jones was the only African-American child in his class.

“At first I was fine with it,” Jones says. “I was almost too young to know any better. I felt the same as everybody else and didn’t even realize that I was slightly different.” Jones took part in many activities and converted to Catholicism in the second-grade where he had his first communion. He was also a Boy Scout for a few years.

“All of my friends treated me like I was just like them. I would do everything that they did. Their families at times even took me in as if I was part of the family. It was cool,” Jones says. “It wasn’t until I entered middle school that I suddenly realized that something was different, that I was different.”

When Jones entered fifth-grade, he became more aware of his surroundings. The older he got the more he knew that even though his friends at school didn’t treat him differently, he still wasn’t the same as everyone in his class. What really made it settle in was finding that the kids in his own community began to treat him poorly.

“The kids in my neighborhood didn’t like me because I went to a private school,” said Jones. “Where I lived wasn’t exactly a ghetto, but it was pretty close to it. They weren’t receiving the kind of education that I was and looking back now I realize that they probably resented me for that. I began trying to be more social. I would go out of my way to hang out with the kids in my neighborhood, but they never accepted me. This was really hard for me to understand at the time.”

Jones continued attending St. Ann’s until the eighth-grade. However, dealing with the serious issue of race at such a young age really began taking a toll on his overall outlook. He was confused like so many other children in his position are, especially during that period. Whether it’s an African-American in an all white school, or vice versa, or any other race being singled out, eventually the child will feel out of place and question why he or she is so different.

Luckily, Jones moved on to high school at Bishop O’Connell, which was also a private school. But the difference was that it had a much richer and more diverse community.

“I was accepted to Bishop O’Connell on a basketball scholarship,” he says. “Like me, many other black kids were accepted for the same thing. I was surrounded by kids who were just like me and I began to make great friends. There were kids of many other races too.”

Jones is not the only one who has dealt with racial issues. For children it is especially hard to cope with. No one ever wants to be the outsider or the “different” one. Now living in New York City, Jones has no connection with the feelings he once had as a child.

“I admit at the time it was hard trying to find myself. I didn’t know where I belonged,” he says. “I felt so insecure and alone at times. It was really hard being a part of two immensely different worlds at the same time and not truly feeling comfortable in either. Now living where I do, I feel like I’ve found a nice balance for myself. I never feel like I don’t belong because honestly, in this city, everybody does.”

Diversity Series

Will An Implant Eliminate Deafness And Demolish A Community?
By Jamie Cohen

The Cochlear implant can change many lives. The device works by stimulating any working auditory nerves with the electrical impulses inside the cochlea, the auditory portion of the inner ear. For many, this operation is a complete change of life. It can give a person who is born deaf the opportunity to hear and live comfortably in a hearing society.

In 2002, The University of Michigan conducted a study that said by 2007 approximately 120,000 people will have cochlear implants worldwide; only approximately 10,000 of those people will be in the U.S. This number includes children and adults. Although it is mostly recommended for children because the older a person is when getting the surgery the harder it becomes to adapt to speech and hearing.

While the number of cochlear implant recipients grows every year, there is a fear in the deaf community that deafness will one day be nonexistent. If more and more children are implanted, then even though they are legally deaf, they will still grow up hearing, with the possibility for no use of sign language. This not only brings fear to the deaf, as they have a very strong deaf pride in their community, but to those who work with the deaf.

Laurann Siprell, 61, a retired American Sign Language (ASL) teacher disagrees that the cochlear implant will affect the deaf employment opportunities. “I can understand the fear that the cochlear implant will affect jobs of those who teach or work with the deaf. My job was to teach hearing parents with their deaf toddlers, how to sign, and create that communication between parent and child.” She says. “If for example, their child had gotten a cochlear implant, signing wouldn’t be necessary, but that doesn’t mean the child is 100% hearing. There has to be speech therapy, and other learning techniques to provide to these special children. So, while I could not be teaching ASL, my job might become more focused on speech. I’m here to help these children in any way possible; I won’t stop helping because their problems are different.”

This is only one side of the argument. When discussing cochlear implants and the effects on the deaf community there are two different sides. One side is those who are hearing and have deaf children, and the other is those who are deaf with deaf children. The hearing parents usually opt for the cochlear implant because they are nervous of the overall effect of being deaf in a completely hearing environment.

The deaf on the other hand have no need for hearing, and see no point in one person hearing while everyone who surrounds them is deaf. This is what brings us to deaf pride, which might be the very point that keeps the deaf culture alive.

If you were deaf and grew up in a hearing family in the 1950s and 60s there weren’t many options available to you. You were often stuck confused and isolated from the hearing world. Like many handicaps, you might also have found yourself as a constant point of ridicule. It is not unfamiliar to the deaf to be giggled at, when surrounded by the hearing, especially the hearing who are uneducated in regards to deafness. But through the years, more schools were created for the deaf, and from those more deaf communities.

Mark “Deffman” Drolsburgh, 38, a deaf online blogger who was raised by hearing parents, describes finding the deaf culture as a life changing experience. In excerpts, Drolsburgh writes, “My own definition is that: deafness is a disability which is so unique, its very nature causes a culture to emerge from it….as a youngster I was downright embarrassed. That is, I was embarrassed until I got a chance to join Deaf culture. I may have joined it late, after years of unsuccessfully trying to be a hearing person, but the old clichĂ© is true: better late than never. Meeting other deaf peers like myself, sharing similar stories of oppression and ridicule, swapping humorous anecdotes, learning ASL, and seeing other deaf adults succeed has completely changed my attitude...I am no longer ashamed of my deafness, I am proud of it.”

The sense of bond that a deaf person feels towards another is very similar to the bond that many people who have gone through traumatic experiences feel towards one another. As Drolsburgh says, “deafness is a disability which is so unique, its very nature causes a culture to emerge from it.”

It is reminiscent of the bond Holocaust survivors share. Once WWII was over, survivors automatically bonded to each other out of the experience that only they could share with each other. Slowly that community has died, because even though the survivors could pass along their stories, the experience could never be transferred. This is where the deaf community is different, and why the cochlear implant will never affect their community.

Those who are deaf, and have deaf children, share that bond of both being a part of the deaf world. There is no need for sound, because neither has experienced it, so neither person knows what they aren’t experiencing. So when the deaf have deaf children, they are quickly emerged into deaf culture from birth, feeling a bond with other deaf people. This is a place where they feel accepted where as in the hearing world someone who is deaf can often feel misplaced.

In email correspondence, Christi Aquilino, 20, a deaf student at Gallaudet University explains her view of deaf pride. “I grew up in a hearing family, and my parents decided not to get me a cochlear implant because they thought the risk of surgery was unnecessary. My mother took ASL classes, and I started learning ASL as soon as my hands would let me. I went to a deaf school, so I always felt part of the deaf world. But when I was home with my family, it was much harder. My family knows sign, but not as well as me so it was frustrating being with my friends all day, and then coming home, where the communication wasn’t as good.”

She continues: “There were times when I wish they would have gotten me the implant, but now that I am older I’m glad they didn’t. I always think about when I go out with my boyfriend, and how he tells me I look beautiful, and I always think would he still think I was beautiful with a machine sticking out of my head. We talk about it sometimes, and being deaf isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It isn’t about proving yourself to anyone. You should not have to prove that you are a part of the world if you’re black, white, yellow, red or purple, so you shouldn’t force yourself to be part of the hearing world if that’s not what you were born a part of.”

While the deaf community fears the day that their community may no longer exist, it is in their own words and beliefs that will keep the future of the community living. They bond together to form a family of their own with each other, creating an environment of comfort when they couldn’t find one among the hearing society. While it is true that the number of cochlear implants is rising, this will always happen as the world will continue to populate itself.

So while the deaf, who hold pride in their uniqueness, might see more and more people with the implant, they will also see their community grow among themselves as they create a larger and better community that will be a place where those who feel isolated from the hearing world can go and feel at home.

Diversity Series

Happy To Have Lived A Traditional Village Life
By Gunes Atalay

Bahiya Soran, 45, from a little village called Kuyulu outside of Mardin in the southeastern Anatolia region of Turkey near the Syrian border, doesn't know her birth date because no one recorded it. She only knows she was born in summer and that she is one of 16 children of a father who has three wives.

“If someone asked my father how many children he had, he would say nine because there were nine boys and seven girls. He wouldn't even bother telling them about the girls because girls don't really matter in my village. Boys, are to be proud of,” Soran says.

Bahiya Soran

Soran, who is Arabic, lives in an area with a diverse population of mostly Kurds, Arabs, Syrian's and Turks. She never went to school even though it is illegal in Turkey for children not go to attend school at least through high school. However, the government never knew because she was not registered when she was born. Legally, she doesn’t exist.

A young woman today from a modern Turkish family in an urban city like Istanbul who could attend school wherever she wanted would be shocked by Soran’s life story. Soran doesn't really remember her childhood. She says she never played any games. “I would either take care of my little sisters, or go to the field to work. Once, me and my sisters made little dolls out of whatever we found at home. But when my mom found them, she beat us up and told us that we were being useless by wasting our time with dolls.”

At age 12, coming back from the water fountain with a bucket full of water, Soran saw the village matchmaker in her house. All of her older sisters were matched with someone and got married around age 12 and 13. Soran knew this one was for her. She was a little confused, because she didn't feel grown up, let alone ready for marriage.

In many traditional eastern Turkish villages, marriage has strict rules. Girls can only be seen in front of the village’s water fountain, filling their buckets. After a matchmaker, or in some cases men, see them in front of the water fountain they let the parents know. After the man’s family is informed, his mother would create ways to observe the girl, such as visiting the girl’s house as a guest and asking for a certain type of food that is hard to prepare to find out if the girl is diligent. If the girl seems like she can cook well and is kind to the guest, the man’s mother would go to the village Turkish bath to see the girl’s body.

If the girl passes all these tests, the man’s family asks around to find out information about the girl’s family and to find out how much money they want for the girl. The amount usually decreases as girls get older. If the family is respectable and fits the ways of the man’s family, they send the matchmaker to inform the girl’s family that he is interested. The girl’s family then researches the man’s family to see how much money they have, what religion they belong, and other information. The actual process of moving forward with the marriage plans only begins after all of the research is completed. The girls usually have nothing to say about the marriage.

Before Soran turned 13, all of the traditional marriage processes were completed. She said she saw her future husband only a few days before they were married. “I wasn’t very happy to see an old man in front of me, but I wasn’t surprised or unhappy either because they had told me it was a good family and they had a lot of money. My money was already paid so there was nothing I could do other than try to be happy with it. At least I would be able to get away from my crowded family,” Soran says.

When asked if she had even gotten her period by this age, Soran was silent on phone until the question was repeated. “What is that?” she said. When the monthly bleeding was described, Soran giggled with embarrassment, and finally said, “Yes, I had it a little while before marriage.”

Soran was the second wife of this 40 year-old man. Like all traditional families in the east, he lived with his parents. That meant one thing. This 12 year-old girl would have to respect her mother-in-law, her father-in-law, the first wife, who was older, her husband and her husband’s siblings.

“I was actually very lucky. My mother-in-law treated me a lot better than she treated most others. They gave me time to adjust. I got beat up here and there by her or my husband but only when I deserved it by being lazy or disrespecting them. I was never hungry or cold. They took very good care of me.”

By the time Soran turned 25, she had four children and her in-laws were dead. When she turned 40, her husband died and she was left alone with her children. She began looking for a job, even though her children had incomes from their father’s fields. “I didn’t know what to do at home all day. Nobody would marry me because I am second-hand and old now. My kids were grown up working all day in the field. I just couldn’t stand being home alone,” Soran said.

For a while, Soran couldn’t find a job because no one in Mardin would hire her because she never worked in her life, she didn’t know how to read or write, and she was a “woman.” Then she met my aunt, Suheyla Yalcin. Being a successful woman born and raised in Istanbul, Yalcin was sent to Mardin by the government. Owning the notary in Mardin with many offices, Yalcin was still shocked frequently by the life she saw around her. When she met Soran, she said she liked her instantly and hired her to clean.

“I didn’t like making her work too much. I actually just hired her to be able to help her. However, she is such an honest and hard working girl, she never complains and says she doesn’t deserve the money and the good treatment when I don’t give her a lot of work.”

Soran is very happy now. She has something to keep her busy and she is making money, on her own, for the first time in her life. When asked she says: “I was happy before too. I don’t see anything wrong with my life. I just lived the way my mom and the other girls in my village lived. This is just the way it is. Thank God, nothing went wrong, except for being left alone for a while. But, it is OK. I lived everything because of my fate. God wanted me to live this way, and I have no complaints.”