Daily Prompt

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Coffee for Your Thoughts

Published June 21, 2015 by Jess Arwen

When the first café opened in Oxford in the mid-seventeenth century, it was a place of business open to people of all walks of life, of all classes, of all opinions.  In these coffee shops, men discussed everything from politics to philosophy, and so the café tradition was born.

Today, if you visit your local café, you’ll most likely find small groups of friends chatting around a table on which rests their fancy beverages.  In the mornings, the working folks walk in and out, all relieved to succumb to their caffeine addiction.  Then there are those who remain by themselves in the establishment for hours, either reading a book or working on their computers.  Not much has changed in the café tradition from the 1600s, for every kind of person is welcome in a coffee shop.

If you stay there long enough, you’ll find that relationships will develop between you and the others who remain for hours.  Occasionally, someone might walk up to you, asking if you’ll be kind enough to keep an eye on their computer while they use the facilities.  If you’re reading a book someone else enjoys, they may ask you how you like it.  While the coffee shop may not host political debates and truly profound philosophical discussions at all hours of the day, it still fosters a community in which all ideas are welcome.

This beautiful idea inspired my blog.  May this site be a place where all readers and writers, all people of all walks, feel welcome and safe enough to contribute their ideas.  I do my best to write about everything I think about, and I welcome everyone’s comments.  Come on in, and don’t be shy.  I’ll trade you a cup of coffee for your thoughts!

Response to the Daily Prompt, All About Me.

If you’re interested in learning more about the café throughout history, check out Cafes to Contemplate or Classic Cafes.

Focus and Immediacy

Published May 23, 2015 by Jess Arwen

Focus.  It’s one of those skills that is jumping out the window with every new technology.  Our era has trouble doing work on the computer without a plethora of open tabs, beckoning us to check our social media lives, to change the music in the background, to watch more of those funny cat videos.  It’s amazing how well we multi-task.  Sometimes, it’s just better to focus though.

I like to devote my entire self to one task.  The task grows more enjoyable the more attention I pay it, and I become a time wizard.  When you focus solely on one idea with all your energies, the time flies.  For example, if you enjoy reading, you’ll get sucked into a book for hours, your friends and family concerned about where you went, but you don’t notice the time passing, for you’re focusing on the lives of characters so beautifully crafted by an artist whose words take you away from temporal troubles and place you in the immediate present.

If any of you philosophers are reading this, you’ll know that Soren Kierkegaard is all about art depicting what he calls “immediacy.”  His idea that art ought to transport you to a world where time ceases to exist is not a new one, for so many have discoursed on the effect good art has on the audience.  Good art demands all of your attention, and when it does, we should give it that attention.

Yet today, because of all of our distractions, we ignore the demands of good art and continue to half listen.  This is why we should read with zealous.  A good exercise is just to daily find something, even if it’s not art, and shut everything else out.  Some days, I’ll do something completely different.  I will go running without music and simply focus on the way my body reacts to the hills and turns, to the speed at which I pattern my feet.  Those runs actually feel like they go by faster than when I have music, for I have the tendency to count how many songs have passed and how many more I will likely hear before I hit my distance goal.

Another exercise is just to read anything and refuse to check the time.  Really entertaining books will draw you in easier than others, but no matter what you’re reading, don’t skip or skim, just read and lose yourself in that world.  You could paint, you could sing.  Practice an instrument.  Just do something, and put technology away.  Focus on immediacy.

Post inspired by The Daily Post’s The Zone.
Image from Visit Copenhagen.

What It Means to Be Human

Published May 22, 2015 by Jess Arwen

The best works of art conjure up every defining element of what it means to be human. From the honest, noble, and purely good parts of humanity, to the deceitful, ignoble, and utterly evil parts of humanity, the best artists express every shade of grey between black and white. Because the world has been full of great artists throughout history, there are many works that express true humanity, but one stands out as far as truly showing the dark sides that give way to light.
Crime and Punishment
In Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky shows the consequences of a man who thinks himself above the law and above petty morality.  This man, Raskolnikov, grows mentally ill, wrestling with the demons he created to plague himself.  In the end, however, there is hope in the character of Sonya, who also is not the most moral person.  A prostitute by need and not choice, she grants Raskolnikov the opportunity for redemption.  She shows him that even those in less moral careers can be the light in dark places.  Together, they read the Bible, which is not a shout-out to make this a Christian post by any means, and this draws Raskolnikov out from his dark place.

If a stranger to humanity were to find what it means to be human, he would find it in this story.  Dostoevsky also provided me with one of the first books read in high school that I actually loved and potentially led me into my Literature major.  Perhaps due to his blatant Russian-ness does he so accurately depict the entire spectrum of the light and dark parts of the human heart, or perhaps he simply sees the world as it is, regardless of his geographical placement.

In any case, I highly recommend Crime and Punishment to any one who would like to better understand what it means to be human.  In an ongoing quest to truly express humanity, I would also recommend the following titles: A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens), The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne), The Odyssey (Homer), Till We Have Faces (C.S. Lewis), Small Gods (Terry Pratchett), and anything by Elie Wiesel.

This post is in response to the Daily Prompt,  Worldly Encounters.

Of Quirks and Quarks

Published February 11, 2015 by Jess Arwen
Inspired by the Daily Prompt First Light , “Remember when you wrote down the first thought you had this morning? Great. Now write a post about it.”

Quirk

noun \ˈkwərk\
: an unusual habit or way of behaving
: something strange that happens by chance

Quark
noun \ˈkwrk, ˈkwärk\
physics : any one of several types of very small particles that make up matter

This morning, one of my first thoughts revolved around Terry Pratchett’s Discworld collection of satirical fiction.  Since my boyfriend introduced me to his hilarious and out-of-the-box perspective on life, I’ve devoured every book I could get my hands on.  My dad and I discussed Pratchett’s way of creating sense from nonsense.  Now you know one of my quirks.  In order to tie this back to quarks, you must first meet my closest friends.

Shawn– he’s the comic book master of our group.  He always wears either Captain America or Green Arrow paraphernalia as they are his favourites from Marvel and DC respectively.  Shawn also enjoys most science-fiction movies and television, such as Star Wars, Star Trek (all of them from the original series, to Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, as well as the movies), Stargate (all series and movies), Eureka, Doctor Who, the list goes on.  This is obviously a quirk we share.

Kate– she enjoys the Marvel and DC movies and comics, like Shawn.  Kate is also a brilliant Psychology major and could tell you anything you wanted to know about that.  She finds Criminal Justice fascinating, so she is an expert on most of the Criminal/Detective television series.  She and Shawn typically watch them together, but Kate is the ultimate expert.  I enjoy the same series, but not with as much gusto as them.

Luke– is a History and English double-major.  Thus, he knows about every war and the motivations that began each war, but he also is aware of the times of peace, since that is when most art develops, and literature in abundance.  I am also an English major, so we enjoy discussing the classics.  Then, when we’re together with everyone, we apply classical forms to analyse all our favourite television series, movies, comics, or anything else we find.

As you can see, we all have our own quirks, and these quirks brought us together to be the nerd herd that we have come to love so fondly.  In our group, these quirks set us apart from each other, but the quirks allow us to create a greater net of nerdy knowledge.  These quirks are our quarks.  While quarks are the pieces that comprise subatomic particles like protons and neurons, our quirks comprise parts of our personality that comprise part of us as a whole.

What quirks are your quarks?

Madness is…

Published November 13, 2014 by Jess Arwen

Today’s Daily Prompt challenged us to write in ten minutes the first thing that came to mind, and (of course), the first thing to my mind was madness. For a personal creative project, I am trying to define “madness” poetically to include as a spoken part for a musical composition.  Emily Dickinson’s poem is of similar tone to what I am yearning to create:

Much madness is divinest sense To a discerning eye; Much sense the starkest madness. ‘Tis the majority In this, as all, prevails. Assent, and you are sane; Demur — you’re straightway dangerous, And handled with a chain.

Yet I am going for a more desperate and modern sound than Dickinson includes. While her poem is still extremely relevant to madness as it is seen today, I need something to fit the feelings of being trapped, of pure and overwhelming desperation. I am doing something with this post I’ve never done, asking for help and presenting a project before it’s done. I suppose this is madness as well, how fitting. “Madness, in its wild, untamable words, proclaims its own meaning; in its chimeras, it utters its secret truth.” Michel Foucault, Madness & Civilization This quote strongly suggests that wild and desperate plea I search for. I want madness to truly mean something, and since I am making art, I want it to mean something specific for each person. It should be a specific definition, but it should also be meaningful to everyone who comes across it. I researched scientific as well as etymological definitions of the word “madness,” and so far I have come up with: Madness is not characterized merely by violation of societal norms but also as moments of extreme clarity of things, unaffected by feelings or emotions. Instead, madness is characterized by the act of transcending society’s norms, by the act of transcending your own norms and instead discovering a land of intense emotions and thoughts that seem to tear your soul from your body. It is terrifying, but it is also enlightening, and these moments of fear become moments of clarity, for you discover who you are when you reach over the edge of madness and return. Of course, this project remains in the brainstorming section for now, but I am looking for input. You can only find so many quotes or accounts of madness on the internet without asking for help. To this end, dear readers, what is madness to you?

Coming of Age

Published July 12, 2014 by Jess Arwen

Inspired by The Daily Post’s Long Exposure: Among the people you’ve known for a long time, who is the person who’s changed the most over the years? Was the change for the better?

Today’s prompt reminds me of a Billy Joel song actually. I find the emotion he expresses in it pathetic, since he’s crying over some girl, but I kind of understand it. Just the way the prompt was worded and the way the song starts correlated them, “Of all the people in the world that I know, you’re the best place to go when I cry, when I cry.” Here it is if you want to listen. I like the soothing guitar on it.

Now, the person I’ve known who has changed most in the time I’ve known them would be a man who broke my heart, Eric. Way back when (since I’m so very old now!), in high school, I fell for Eric who was also my best friend at the time. We were, so I thought, kindred spirits, for we’d get coffee and talk for hours about philosophy or science, music, metaphysics, aesthetics, religion, all the profound stuff. I completely opened up to him, and he loved it. It appeared that he opened up to me as well, but probably not quite as much as I had hoped.

Since he was my best friend and I had no car, he frequently drove me home from school (our school was too small to have a bus system going). From the outside, everything was great, and many people considered us dating. I hoped to wear him down enough to finally ask me out, but unfortunately, that never happened.

After a year or so, he began to avoid me and grew belligerent when I would insist on spending time together. It was very sad for me, for I felt I didn’t have anyone else to share my love of profound topics.
Well, high school’s been done for the both of us for quite some time now, and we stopped communicating other than seeing each other’s Facebook statuses. I’d forgotten about him and found my soulmate in the process. I still held a grudge against him though, for he broke my heart and never apologized. I honestly thought we were meant to be, and he encouraged it a lot of the time; though, he constantly said that he didn’t want to lead me on.

Three years without contact passed, and I came home from work one day to find a Facebook message from him. I was scared to open it, but I did. He apologized, after not speaking for so long, for how he acted back then. He said that he didn’t realize how cruel he had been to me and that he was learning a lot about the grace of God at that point. It was a beautiful message, and I of course wrote him back to share forgiveness and also apologize for being so pushy and hormonal (haha) back then, but other than that, we haven’t spoken since. Though we haven’t talked at all since then, I feel like God’s been working on his heart. I never expected him to do something like that, but I’m glad he did, for now I don’t have to hate him!

Trust me, it’s hard work to hate someone.

In any case, it’s a coming of age moment when you can humble yourself enough to admit that you were wrong in doing anything, and I hope that I can do the same if I ever wrong someone.

Music Major Problems

Published July 11, 2014 by Jess Arwen

Inspired by The Daily Post’s Can’t Stand Me.

Being a music major means that you’ve inevitably sat through many a theory class in which your professor has asked you to sing something, possibly using solfeggio (Do, Re, Mi, etc.) or maybe even some twelve-tone stuff. Because of the fear of sounding silly, I actually took voice lessons. That wasn’t the only reason, since I love choir and all, but it was a big reason.

Thus, to put it plainly, I am very skeptical of my own voice. I’m not so scared of the way I look….at least after I’ve fully woken. My boyfriend frequently calls me Medusa in the morning for good reason, but I honestly don’t care one way or another what I look like. But I do care about how I sound.

Also being an a cappella director is daunting. I’m not sure I’d actually be in the group if I’d had to audition. The founders asked me one day if I’d just play the parts out on piano for them, and that turned into directing somehow. Honestly, I don’t even like the way I sound live in front of other people, but I’m slowly getting over that. You kind of have to if you’re asking people to make specific sounds come out of their mouths.

Though I do hate listening to myself, I definitely encourage everyone to listen to themselves sing. Not only can you improve so much from doing so; you also learn a bit about yourself.