When I was twenty one, still living with my parents, I went through a long-time-coming (and long overdue) breakup. It was the second time I had been through the same thing with the same person (shame on me, and the reason I almost never talk about it). At two in the morning, I lay crying on the bathroom floor, surrounded by mascara-covered tissues and near-four-year-old memories, thoughts of “the other woman” in my head. My Mother came downstairs, half-asleep, hair crazy, and sat beside me. She let me cry for exactly two minutes, then said, very sternly: “Caroline, that’s enough. Get up. You’re not letting him do this to you.”
The years that followed from that point saw me put my life back on the track it should have been on all along. A couple short years later, I (finally) finished my undergraduate degree and off I went, as many children eventually do. There are many more moments along the way that mark the sting of change and discomfort of successes and failures which I shared with her, more personally than anyone.
I don’t share details of my personal life often (I’m getting better at this one, much to the world’s chagrin, I’m sure), but the snapshots of intimacy between mother and daughter so often happen within microcosmic moments, and all too often in the context of a lesson.
Almost five years later, nearly two degrees and one on the way (and all the important things which aren’t that quantifiable), I’m everything I am because she always made me get back up. Even when I didn’t want to.
So, Happy [American] Mother’s Day to all of the mothers raising children to be strong, resilient, loving, and kind (and to the fathers doing the same in their place). Your work is the most important work: you have the love of the world today and its admiration always.
To my own mother, the biggest troublemaker and the strongest woman I know, I wouldn’t be a grown up if it hadn’t been for you. And being a grown up means I get to spoil you from faraway lands. Thank you for all you do for me and for all of the young lives you touch every day: for being there, at whatever hour.
In recent hometown news, a near-hundred-year-old barn on the UConn campus was claimed by a three alarm fire. Built in 1922 and elegantly framing the walk near the UConn Dairy Bar, a favourite spot for locals and students alike (well, locals only when the students are gone…), the barn, and the others like it, was a significant part of my childhood. Other structures on campus of similar age and historic value have stood in significant symbolism for as long as I can remember, others, iconic of the University itself, including the Farwell-Jacobsen Barn which sits atop Horsebarn Hill Road.
As a child, my Father and I would walk the family dog among the fields which framed it. My Mother, Grandmother, and I would frequent the Diary Bar in the summer (again, when the students were mostly gone), walking in its shade and admiring its window boxes. A couple of meaningful dates. A few close encounters. A first meeting. Several breakdowns in its midst. And, of course, many more happy times, befriending local barn cats and admiring bunnies which scurried into fields alongside.
I have come to understand that home will change, particularly when the place I call home geographically is itself the same town as a University seemingly keen to build new things every month, but I digress. It seems at times the Universe has ways of reminding us when to close one chapter and begin the next. Its demise is a timely contradiction to University expansion which reaches for the sky more each month.
It often feels that people in Great Britain imagine New England, and even more specifically, Connecticut, to be pastoral havens for eccentricity framed with colourful leaves and wisps of snow once in a while, often forgetting some of the persistent issues the region faces. Barn fires, in particular, have ravaged property in the region since its settlement. It is always a tragedy, and in this case, the only fortunate thing was a lack of damage to livestock, animal, and human life.
I photographed the barn (and other parts of my hometown) when I was visiting my parents this summer and choose to remember it in the state which I saw it in then, rather than the image of a ruinous pile of ashes, embers, and general decrepitude which is circulating the internet today.
I would ask anyone who hears of the fire or also has memories of the barn and location as it stood to remember it always as a peaceful and beautiful complement to the town, and most importantly, to actively consider the other iconic places in life which we all too often overlook. Connecticut stereotypes are true at least about one thing: our communities and neighbourhoods are often strong (especially in the Quiet Corner), and I know all of my neighbours are rallying around each other.
Excited to share some very happy news with family and friends… I have accepted a scholarship offer from the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Creative Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where I will concentrate in Nonfiction beginning in the Fall of 2017.
The opportunity to earn a terminal degree from an institution which has been a consistent advocate for women’s education is a privilege, and I am so grateful for the support I have received as I have worked towards this goal for the last three years.
This does not signal the abandonment of the research career I began at the University of Glasgow, and certainly not a divorce from journalism. But for now I have chosen to pursue a terminal degree in writing prior to considering doctoral study or other endeavours.
The programme is, uniquely, heavily centred on using writing as a way to give back to society, and I look forward immensely to all of the learning opportunities this will afford. Further, the willingness to incorporate academic intersectionality into graduate study which Sarah Lawrence is acclaimed for in its undergraduate programme fosters a learning environment I feel my work will have a place in. I am excited to get to work in the Fall and very much appreciate the support and feedback I have received over the last two years.
We live in an age where documentation of our most painful, precious, and pernicious “life events” (Facebook pun very much intended) is a tap away. The selfie has found an interesting place in cultural context in terms of memorialization. But how is it changing the way we express grief, respect, and demonstrations of remembrance publicly?
I recently visited Westminster bridge to document Londoners (and tourists) paying their respects to the recently-fallen victims of the terror attack at Westminster which claimed the lives of three victims. While London has made quite the comeback, which I covered in a recent photoessay featured by Edge of Humanity Magazine, it has also made a vested effort in displaying its support for the fallen and for the community’s togetherness in the wake of terror.
Flowers adorn the bridge at every lamppost, notes of encouragement and solidarity, love and oneness abound. On Parliament Square, bouquets of flowers lie in pristine rows, still wrapped in cellophane, stretching the length of the green.
As I watched the young ladies on the left snap shots of the flowers, of each other, and seemingly quip back and forth about the “where-to” next, their backs turned to the flowers with the occasional exception made for a picture of the daffodils, the comparably-late middle aged woman on the right approached.
Quietly, no digital device in hand, she placed her hand on the bridge in silence, remaining there for minutes on end, undeterred. It was unclear on whether or not they were a party at first, but as the young ladies made their way off into the distance after their photo-lust had been sated, I watched the older woman walk to nearly each and every lamppost on the bridge, pausing before each and every one.
There she stood for minutes on end, watching nothing but the flowers, absorbed in thoughts and, presumably, in silence for the remembrance of the fallen. Her sombre expression to me implied that she felt deeply for these people, and that in her pausing, she had expressed more condolence for these people than had a thousand selfie-takers combined.
Everywhere, people stop to take pictures — because it’s London, and that’s what people do here and everywhere else. Photos of the buildings, photos of each other in front of the buildings, photos of the memorials (some by professional-grade photographers and others, novices). But many of those stopping for the “selfie” in front of the pop-up memorial locations represented an indiscriminately younger demographic, leaving out no minority from its midst, with middle-aged and elderly patrons pausing alongside the rows of flowers lying like bodies, or lamppost pediments adorned with flora to hang their heads and comment on the notes and sentiments left with more depth.
This raises some interesting questions, questions which, I acknowledge, are not “new” in terms of artists’ representations of this issue, with a recent “Yolocaust” project, which photoshops devastating photographs of the holocaust into the background of selfies taken at Holocaust memorial sites garnering important media attention.
It is an acknowledged fact that taking a “selfie” at a place meant to permanently memorialise an act of terror or atrocity can be considered gauche. But what does the tendency of some members of the younger generations to do so say about our increasingly-digitised culture?
But as a temporary memorial, and at that, a memorial which holds the purpose of unifying people and bringing a shaken community together, does this site hold a different social protocol?In this case, is the fact that these impermanent places of memorialization intend to represent normalcy, in a way — an exception to the unspoken rules of digital society? Does the selfie, in this case, inspire unity and respect the fallen, providing an opportunity for solidarity and strength?
Or potentially, has a faction of digital culture approached a need for self-glorification so desperate that the need to prove their patronage to sites meant for remembrance bears with it a social standard for the “selfie”‘s inclusion? Its intent, arguably to prove the selflessness of the attendee as users of social media sites enshrine themselves and glorify their lives at an increasing rate, arguably accomplishes just the opposite by shouting into the digital void for validation of altruism in a social forum.
I feel I am yet undeserving of the titles which culturally most accurately describe my professional inclinations: “researcher”, “writer”, “photographer”, “journalist”, “artist” — I do not believe I will ever feel comfortable with these titles, and so by those standards, am a part of the crowd. But as someone who fits, at least, the intent behind each of those titles, I acknowledge it would be hypocritical of me to address the actions of others when I, too, am behind a lens (and have taken photos of myself paying respects to my family’s graves since it is somewhat of a tradition). I believe firmly, that whenever photographing or otherwise documenting a cultural happening of any variety, it is ethically important to take a photograph for face value as much as it is important to take it for the thousand words it imbues; that is to say, that we can know little context beyond what is absorbed by the photographer and writer, and all of what we can know by making our own assumptions and seeking the answers to our own questions.
Beyond this, I feel it is most critical that, like time spent in nature, only footprints are left at a scene of still-healing pain, and that in taking an image, and so capturing it forever, sometimes unaware of the audience it will be exposed to, photographers, writers, and artists take time to pay their respects in a non-digital way. A journalist’s job is to reveal the truth. A photographer’s job is to capture a piece of time. An artist trades in feeling, and a writer, often, in pain and pleasure. Our job as human beings of this age is to approach all things asking questions, internally processing always, wondering how we can improve ourselves as members of society.
The photographs and reflection, which focus in and around Kensington Gardens in London, aim to convey the love and gaiety in the air as life carries on here in the wake of the attack. London has not missed a beat and, importantly, refuses to allow the differences to divide the city. Rather, diversity is a cornerstone, celebrated, and culturally essential component of life here for which I am very thankful. I am hopeful that, in Edge of Humanity’s feature of this project, the inclusivity which London in many ways has embodied in the wake of this act of terror will serve as an example of what I feel to be the correct moral response to acts of hate: that is, to love.
Edge of Humanity is a wonderful publication with a diverse count of very impactful stories, and I am so grateful to have contributed again. I have been overwhelmed by the positive responses from my other recent features with the Magazine, ‘How Van Met Phyllis‘, and ‘At the Edge of the World‘, and I would like to thank all of the folks who have taken the time to view / read my work. Please browse some of the articles featured on the site — though, in the hope of providing fair warning, it will quickly become an addiction!
In the wake of the eighty-two second terror attack last week which devastated the city, London reacted the English way — by keeping calm, and carrying on. I was in London at the time of the attack, but as little as four miles away in Kensington, the city was still as alive as ever.
Shows of solidarity were poignant and well-timed in the days to follow the attack, and throughout, the city rebounded quickly: marching forth with daily life in the traditional, no-nonsense London style.
Weekends are taken very seriously in London, and given the slower pace of the requisite two-day-window of relative respite at the close of what had been a trying and painful week, I half expected the city to be a little more morose, taking the time to lick its wounds. But by the weekend, the pleasant Spring-like weather had drawn all of London out into the city to enjoy — specifically, Kensington Gardens, where I focused my lens this week. I wanted the photos to prove that life had not stopped here, had not dulled, and most critically — that hate had not won in London, with photos of the park’s patrons enjoying their weekend unafraid and in love with the changing seasons.
As one of the most pristine neighbourhoods of the city, Kensington is, of course, an idealised portrait of life here — and with so much going for it, it draws a varied crowd representative precisely of the multiculturalism which fuels the economy and culture here. Kensington Palace and Gardens are ever a hub of different faces.
This weekend, love was alive here, never stopping, ceasing, or fearing. Couples of every orientation strolled through the park, unashamedly holding hands and without fear, children flew kites and fed ducks the bread they really shouldn’t be eating, women in burkas and saris strolled alongside Korean, Chinese, and Japanese tourists. Businessmen cut loose to jog through the park, students read, and young boys and girls played football (one, hitting me once by “mistake”, and subsequently shocked when I passed the ball back to him). Friends laughed as they failed — miserably, might I add — at rowing the rental row-boats, families picnicked, Kensington’s feral parakeets chirped and swooped down into crowds of onlookers, perching on hands of all colours, hoping for a free, fruity meal from apples held within. At least for two days, in Kensington, London was a portrait of multicultural success.
The seasons march along here as does the pace of life, and as in nature there are no ideals. London bears its own battles against the tumult and sin of intercultural bias and prejudice, but on the whole, is on the up-and-up in the brightest way possible after a trying and painful week, demonstrating resilience and the long-living cohesive fire of the British Empire.
London is a well-oiled economic machine which runs on intellect and trades in quick-thinking transactions of thought itself, with little time to be slowed by anything which might suggest taking more time than would a cup of tea. Love has won in London.
I am excited to share the release of my second featured piece with Edge of Humanity Magazine, a website specialising in photoessay, documentary photography, investigative cultural journalism, and memoir. As the second installment of an ongoing memoir and photography project, I visited Curley’s Diner in Stamford, Connecticut — where my maternal grandparents met in 1948 — to explore their love story, and in the process, explored the diner’s historic past and cross-cultural significance to more families than just my own.
This is a much more personal project than I am used to sharing and I’m honoured to have it receive such audience. I am so grateful for the amount of love I have received as a result of this story and send big thanks to everyone who takes the time to give my work a read, keep up with and / or interact with me, and of course, to Edge of Humanity for the work they do to give writers and photographers such a suitable and honourable platform.
While everyone back in the United States is talking about St. Patrick’s Day, Scotland is fairly quiet. One of the most iconic emblems of the holiday, choruses of “Danny Boy” will probably float from the corner pubs across the country, invariably, at one point or another. But as a Scottish-American kid, I didn’t feel that same surge of emotion which accompanies a cultural connection to a piece of music — beautiful and as perfect as Danny Boy seemed, he just wasn’t for me.
Instead, I had “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond”, another iconic piece of folk music from the British Isles centering around themes of profound loss and departure, and this seems to fit the bill in producing the requisite overflow of tears when played at an emotional time (for best results, pair with a twelve-year Scotch, building stress from academic research, and a litany of questionable life choices).
I visited Loch Lomond in recent weeks, and despite the freezing cold weather which usually deters tourists at this time of year, it was, expectedly, as beautiful as the song suggests, and suddenly it became clear why everyone goes into a tizzy of romantic daydreams at the sight of it.
I have to imagine that the fury of emotion associated with the triumphantly tragic tune and romantic setting is partly due to the older generations’ propensity for holding in emotions and a cultural pride in the ability to sequester them to the unaccessible depths of the psyche. It is something of an unspoken rule, particularly among men of a certain age, from certain parts of Scotland, that emotions are to be kept largely under-expressed lest weakness be shown, building pressure and tension until they are forced outward, typically by negative stimuli. The classic melody of a tender song has the ability to prod at those feelings in a different way, and on this I base my theory as to, partly, why the piece is still so incredibly popular here.
I expected to do the shoot, explore, enjoy the day, take in some lunch from a local place, chat with locals, and head back to Partick. In many ways, this is what I did. I hadn’t planned any invasive measures given the cold, and expected some generic shots as I was getting a feel for the place. Then I saw it.
On one of the more accessible banks, a bouquet of white lilies had been placed carefully, quietly — wrapped in celophane as they had been purchased, untouched — a gift for an unknown lost lover, lost life, or lost moment in time, placed by the hands of someone ultimately, intimately familiar with the feelings “Loch Lomond” evokes. It stopped me in my tracks and suddenly, this piece of litter, by definition, became the focus of my mind for weeks to come.
The simple image produces a thousand thoughts, a thousand questions, all never to be answered, and suddenly all the research in the world is useless. Was the person who placed the flowers young, or old? Were they mourning, or celebrating? Were they angry, or at peace? Are they still in pain? Are they still in love? Did they do it for others to see, or for themselves to enjoy — or was it for both purposes?
But the burning question underlying any and all endeavours to understand photography, from an artist point of view, was the unpleasant rhetorical question: ‘Well. Who does this remind you of?’
I am a researcher of Victorian literature. I have read Kate Greenaway’s “Language of Flowers”, released in 1884, which captivated the attention of the people by providing significance to floral arrangements — sometimes used to express emotions which otherwise may have been sequestered just in the way I have described above. By the definition of that book, white lilies are emblems of purity, of sweetness.
I have read, of course, the origins of the song, published in the 1840s, author unknown. I have read essays on the significance of Victorian photography as an avenue by which to better understand and contextualise Victorian literature. Importantly, as noted by Jennifer Green-Lewis in her paper “Victorian Literature in the Context of Photography” for the Victorian Review in 2008:
“Photographs, we note, have meanings that speak to the world beyond their immediate frames and aren’t necessarily “about” what we see at all: they may speak of our desires far more eloquently than they speak about their subjects.”
I have only ever learned, in all I have learned, that in many cases, there just are no words. Sometimes, there are just reminders, signs, and things which prod at that ever-heightening emotional tension. No analyses from which to base an understanding. No discussion needing to be had. No broader context. No benefit to any of it. Sometimes it’s not a song that makes you remember.
Sometimes it’s just the privilege of imagining and empathising with the shared struggles of another human being, gifting flowers to the banks of a landmark long associated with patriotism, lost love…
And to the sustenance, in my case, of a fuzzy memory of a bus ride home, singing the chorus under my breath.
After the Rectorial election coverage, I was keen on writing something a bit less serious. My wish was granted in a pitch from my editor which I snapped up as quickly as I could: an on-campus fundraising event which boasts anti-stress Alpacas, part of a week of such called Raising and Giving (or RAG) Week on campus at Glasgow University sparked digital controversy as a flurry of animal rights activists descended upon the event’s page, citing concerns for the animals’ welfare at being put on display in an urban environment. Read about the Alpacalypse here.
It is important to note that I am very much a proponent of enforcing and expanding animal rights, and would not take a humorous tone unless I felt it was doing no harm to the situation. It is also important to note that I am in favour of education on animals, and feel that this event will not harm the beasts in question. The owner of the animals reached out to the organizers of the event to assuage the fears of those expressing concern: explaining how, among many other points, her Alpacas were accustomed to going into urban environments for educational events and as such, are not your garden-variety Camelid. But many students weren’t convinced, and then things got heated…
“Concerns as far-reaching as the alpacas’ distance from their native habitat in Peru to those more focused on addressing the animals’ immediate stress levels at being introduced to a heavily urban environment have been voiced, with many suggesting the exploitative nature of the event and rebuking the idea of animals being put on display for human enjoyment. Several attendees in favour of the event have returned these concerns by satirising the concerns of the minority – asking for the alpacas’ stance on fracking, demanding SRC release the wage allowances of the alpacas in question, and more. On social media, the “alpacalypse” unfolded by way of comments, hashtags, and all-out tagging war.”
In a statement for the Glasgow Guardian given by the Vice President of Student Activities, Mhari Harris also detailed the precautions taken in planning the event and reassured students that no Alpacas would be in any way harmed in the making of this charity event.
I feel it is probable that anyone looking at the breadth of my coverage for the Glasgow Guardian thus far may suggest that I have been demoted in covering this event (which, I feel, is an added, entertaining benefit to having done so): going from writing on political protests, Glaswegian culture, more reflective pieces, election coverage and more to a digital exchange belonging in many ways to the theatre of the absurd. On the contrary, this event gave me the rare opportunity to feel a connection with my physical home from abroad.
Connecticut communities are absurd, quirky, and often very strange places to live, and having grown up in one for the entirety of the first two decades of my life and more, I have been trained to recognise Connecticut-brand-absurdity like a pro. This event, while of course important to cover in its own right, fit that bill precisely.
The recent nomination of Milo Yiannopolous and Professor Jordan Peterson for the position of Rector has sparked enormous controversy in Glasgow. I recently interviewed Professor J.B. Peterson on behalf of The Glasgow Guardian, the University’s student newspaper, to discuss student concerns and learn more about his aims. To read that interview, please click here. The candidate, who would uptake the position currently held by Edward Snowden, is responsible for voicing the concerns of University of Glasgow students at the front lines of bureaucratic engagement. But Peterson’s past assertions that he would not support the use of gender-neutral pronouns unless asked in the “right way” has caused an uproar, with cries of transphobia echoing in many corners of campus, and a petition which has garnered over 3,500 signatures calling for the revocation of Yiannopolous’ and Peterson’s names from consideration has made the rounds on social media in recent days. Critically, Peterson’s view as it stands is in opposition to Appendix E of the University’s Equality and Diversity Policy’s Manual (see section E4.6, specifically).
In the interview, Peterson took up verbal arms in defence of his opinions and made every effort alongside this to point out his positive impacts on the community in question. He indicated a vested interest in applying these ideologies to help the LGBTQ+ community, but his views are contradictory to those held within that community and by many in his field. At one juncture in the interview, I addressed the fact that the University of Glasgow’s Psychology Society — a group of students, both undergraduate and postgraduate — had publicly decried his nomination in a statement on social media. He refuted my use of the word “peers”, explaining that, as students, they were not yet his peers and stated that he did not appreciate the insinuation that he had been brought before a jury of his peers and judged.
But at the University of Glasgow, the first thing I learned (even before coming to campus or accepting my unconditional offer) was that postgraduate students and their Professors are frequently on first-name basis. When I interviewed informally with Professor Mary Ellis Gibson, who has since left the University for greener pastures, she indicated this and explained that productive conversations are encouraged on the basis of even ground in this regard — a sentiment which has been echoed by every faculty member I have interacted with thus far in my experience at this institution.
Similar takedowns of my questions on the basis of semantics were something of a tennis match to watch, and as a fan of writing, I enjoyed the attention given to deconstructing my questions. But more oft than not, this deconstruction purely deflected attention from his eventual replies, and critically, Peterson missed the mark — it wasn’t my personal bias he was noting. It was the bias of the student body in its entirety —
I will admit the bias in my heart but believe that, as a writer and student journalist, I asked the questions which were most commonly voiced within the student body as this is my responsibility to that student body in this role, and my editors can attest to this shared goal at The Glasgow Guardian.
I will not apologise for the directness of my questions on those terms and offer Prof. Peterson a strong digital handshake for the opportunity to expand my breadth of knowledge. While Peterson certainly reacted with expected vitriol to my questions, I wish to express on this more personal plain that I am grateful for his concession to participate in the interview, as it was an excellent learning opportunity for me and is appreciated by the student body.
However, I believe after interviewing him that there are irreconcilable differences between his personal and academic ideologies and University of Glasgow culture and policy which would prevent him from effectively representing student interests.
In the wake of this interview, I would like to publicly go on record in support of my LGBTQ+ family, friends, peers, and mentors: of your happiness, your rights, and your ability to live your life — and study — in whichever way you choose. Many of you have touched my life in more ways than I can detail, and no one should have the ability to dictate the ways you peacefully express your identity — particularly in an academic context.
The University of Glasgow has long been a progressive hub for ideas, interactions, and conversations which otherwise would be difficult to have. I appreciate that I am challenged daily at this school in all the ways an education should challenge me — through exposure to new ideas, ideas which make me uncomfortable, ideas which I agree or disagree with. But there is a fundamental difference between challenging ideologies and engaging with differing opinions and a clear and admitted opposition with University policy which would, effectively, stand in the way of the candidate-in-question’s ability to represent one of the student body’s most critical minorities.
Please continue to support student journalism efforts across the world — these are the voices of tomorrow’s free press, and we require both criticism and praise from which to learn about ourselves, our demographic, and our world.