Growing up, teachers always teach their students to care about the whys and the hows and the whats of a thing to gain the critical understanding of it. It did not matter if it was a book, a historical event, or even some scientific concept. The three most important things were how, what and why. Frankly, I was perfectly fine with this as well. If I could answer these three questions I considered myself completely in understanding of the issue at hand and could move on. My writing reflected this as it was about as emotional as a Scotch-Irish farmer from Kansas, and as logical as a math problem. The three questions were always answered in an almost formulaic manner, and then the topic was disposed of in a detached manner. This year by stepping back, I have realized the vital property that is hanging in the background of every problem and every facet of life, place, or the question of where.
Though I did not realize it then, and perhaps Dr. Leither did not realize then either, but he set this class’s theme of place with the first video he had us watch, This is Water. Growing up in the East Bay where every class features some sort of find yourself message starting at the age of 6, it initially did not have much of an effect on my honestly. In the microcosmic sense this was just another “dive deeper” video that I have seen ad nauseam. Something that would be dutifully watched and then thrown away.
This however, was not the case. Instead, This is Water’s theme of recognizing your surroundings as they are came up again in some unlikely places. The first quarter’s focus Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, answered the where question repetitively. Every place helped focus the reader on the unfortunately reality of animal abuse in the factory farm system that is going on all around them. Foer brought the abuses into the family home, on farms throughout the country, and ultimately into the readers’ heads. Still, oblivious like a fish in water, I did not realize that this class was all about “place” and continued onward on my journey to place.
Winter quarter we took off from CTW, but some other massive developments occurred. I had a great academic quarter which was nice. Athletically, I excelled at track workouts which was also great. The biggest change was something I did not even notice. I began referring to campus and my dorm room as home. Fall quarter these two things were school and my dorm room. Home was in Alameda with my parents, brothers, sister, cat and dog, and I guess in a way it will always be that way, but this became home as well. Upon this new idea of Santa Clara, I grew more comfortable here. There was for the first time a keen sense of belonging on this campus and at this school. With this newfound home I charged onwards into Spring quarter.
Springtime meant the return of many things. Track, baseball, flowers, and CTW with Nick Leither. From the start of the quarter, we headed into the class with a nominally different theme. While the first quarter of the class was “Food, Self, and Culture” this quarter was “Where did the Violence Begin?”. In my journey, it was but the paragraph break in my discovery of the importance of place. The main book we were reading this spring was Dave Cullen’s Columbine, it is a journalistic approach to the Columbine massacre which does a good job at presenting what Cullen believes is the most accurate picture of what happened leading up to that event, the event itself, and after the event. Nick pointed out that Cullen treats place in a very unique way, and like much of the information that I get in school, I just filed it away in the back of my brain. At least, I tried to. For the rest of the book, Cullen’s treatment of Jefferson County, Colorado was all I could see. It chewed at me, and then I realized, I had found the meaning of the class, place.
After settling on what I found to be the uniting theme between the two classes, I decided I was going to write my third essay on Alameda and gentrification. I decided on this because place is fluid, but it is also the canvass on which our lives are painted. If the canvass is changed, so is the art. I sold the idea to Nick without telling him that for me personally, this class was all about realizing what place is. Now I have a firmer appreciation for the settings of stories, plays, movies, and my own life. CTW and Freshman year was a journey to place.
Cullen, Dave. Columbine. New York: Twelve, 2009.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Back Bay Books, 2009.
Foster, David Wallace. “This is Water”. speech given at Kenyon College, 21 May 2005.