Month: July 2015


My mind was wandering. There I was, in a beautiful, pre-Hitler-era building in Munich, Germany, sitting next to my favorite 77 year-old German woman, listening to my apartment-mate play the last song that stood between him and his bachelor’s degree in classical cello. And I could not keep my mind still.

As soon as I sat down, I knew I would be in for a treat. The room, adorned with a stunning golden wall hanging and a shiny, black piano, waited patiently for us to fill it. When the concert began, every corner seemed to swell with the perfectly played notes that my apartment-mate had practiced with patience and dedication for this very moment. My whole body felt cushioned by the sound, floating effortlessly, drifting with ease.


And then a thought wiggled its way into my mind, making a wedge between the music and my internal calm. I couldn’t quite locate its origin. I just knew that it was there. I took a deep breath. As I exhaled, I watched the thought float out of the open window.

But just as soon as that one was gone, a new one was in its place. I didn’t want to be distracted. After all, cello has always been one of my favorite instruments. I knew I should be here, in this moment, fully present, and totally surrendered to the good fortune at play. But it was a struggle.

My somewhat rambling adventures this summer have given me the luxury of wandering in both body and mind. This is something I have come to enjoy, and something that has become an integral aspect of my thesis. I seem to be in a constant state of motion, and I love it.

As I write this, I am sitting in the bustling Oakland airport, watching as planes arrive and depart. With so much movement around me, I can’t help but to think of the transition that lies ahead. This year especially, returning to my home in Maryland and then, soon after, to Pittsburgh has left me somewhat torn.

On the one hand, I am thrilled. I have missed cooking, having a space of my own, doing laundry (said no one ever…I know), and most of all, sleeping in my bed. Yet, in reestablishing my routine, I feel that I will miss so much more. I will miss every day being a new adventure, being surrounded by some of my favorite people in the world, and feeling so full of love and gratitude in each and every moment. It’s not that I can’t access those same feelings when I am in school, it’s just that it is so much harder. But since I can’t bear to let the reality of this summer slip away, I will have to find a way to continue to grow and thrive, even in depths of winter.


Change is always a double-edged sword. And this time, I know a big change lies ahead. As I contemplate my return to Pittsburgh and my impending role as full-time student for my final year, I am filled with a similar mix of emotions.

Between juggling my thesis, completing classwork, and spending every possible moment enjoying my friends, I know this culminating year will be a whirlwind of its own. But, oddly enough, I feel ready.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: I’ve been on the hunt for a new pair of sunglasses (you can see a contender below) for a year. Maybe I’m just indecisive, but there are so many cute options! Fun, vintage accessories are especially catching my eye right now.

For the Ears: Have you ever stopped and listened to what’s going on around you? As a writer, I love taking a minute in a coffee shop, restaurant, store, or any public place, just to listen. Is that creepy? Hopefully not.

For the Soul: Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey have been leading a free meditation experience since July 13th that I am loving so much. It’s in its final few days, but I would definitely recommend checking out the Chopra Center Meditation website.


Til next time, friends.

Learn more about my project.

Timelines Converging

I’ve been really lucky this week in that I had the opportunity to go home to North Carolina for a little while and visit my family, who I miss a lot! It’s been a great few days so far.

My mom, the biggest fan of the novel even from the time my grandfather was writing it, helped me to fill in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of my grandfather’s life (complete with a free 30-day trial at She explained a lot of the circumstances surrounding his brother Claxton’s death that I never knew. Claxton died when he was just 20 from a blood infection, a complication of an injury he sustained from jumping a train into the next town. What I didn’t fully understand is that jumping trains would have been the only affordable way for young people to make it out of the town to find work, which is what Claxton was doing. I also didn’t realize the degree to which his death divided the family. My grandfather’s mother felt that it was her husband’s fault for not earning the family enough money and therefore leading Claxton to do something desperate and reckless in search of an income.

I’ve been thinking that maybe the most notable part of this family history is the degree to which the book differs from it. The older brother, who is named Daniel in the book, dies a hero in WWII, a death that, although painful, both his parents take pride in. It’s an idealistic version of the real scenario, in which his brother’s death means something, and neither of his parents resents the other. Moving forward, I’ve wondered whether it’s more important to honor my grandfather’s wishes, and keep the novel plot as is, or whether I should alter the plot to be based more clearly on what really happened. In all honesty, I find the real story–the story of the train, the infection, and the money–to be more interesting, and I think it would make a fantastic novel plot. But I’m afraid that by changing the story, I would lose what it meant to him.

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Listening to the Music of the Words

haglundI am more than a third of the way done with the first draft of my novel! I am so excited to be continuing to make progress.

This week, I have been experimenting with sound in my novel. Of course, including all of the senses in my work is important, so I have started trying to think of how the main character would smell, hear and feel the world around her. But specifically, I have been working on how my work sounds when read out loud. This interest was sparked when I decided to do a reading as part of my final presentation for the Dietrich College Honors Fellowship Program. I read it to myself and out loud. I wanted to make my work appealing to read silently, but also out loud.

I was also inspired by my recent attendance of the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective’s slam poetry event at Capri Pizzeria in East Liberty. Listening to the poets play with the sound and meaning of the words they employed in their poems was exhilarating. They used every word’s full potential and had them working together to create an almost musical event.

Because of how much easier it was to hear when the writing was clunky, as opposed to see it on the page, I started placing more weight on saying my work out loud. For a couple of passages, I even started speaking while I was typing to try out how a sentence would sound before I put it down. Of course, I only did this when I was writing at home. I would have received a lot of strange looks if I had done this in the silent section of the library!

I have enjoyed experimenting with sound in my writing, as it is a new tool that I had been ignoring. I look forward to utilizing it more in my future writing.

Learn more about my project.

Hot Tempers in Avignon


I was trying to stall the bus driver with fragments of bad French and Joe was running across the parking lot to find Mame when I heard someone shout my name.

I looked around, but couldn’t see who had called me. The bus driver took my distraction as an opportunity to pull the folding doors closed and step on the gas, leaving me halfway off the sidewalk. When the bus cleared off, I saw Mame across the street, leaning out of a taxi.

“Kaytie, viens! Hurry!”

I hesitated, knowing that Joe wouldn’t know where we were. After a long day that began with getting locked out of our hotel in Avignon and having to lug around camera equipment and a sick baby Malik under the hot summer sun of southern France, we had split up to find the fastest way home; Mame went to the taxi stop to see if one would arrive before the bus, and Joe and I waited at the bus station. But the bus came early and apparently Mame had managed to get a taxi at exactly the same time. So now we were all over the place.

“Kaytie, now!”

I ran across the road. Why was she so urgent?

When I got closer to the taxi, I heard the driver yelling at her. I couldn’t make out all of it, but it was something about how it was against the rules to pick up other people, that he couldn’t believe this sh*t, how she needed to get back in the car.

But when he saw me, he stopped. Not immediately, and he certainly didn’t apologize, but he cooled down from his tirade to a venomous simmer.

Fortunately, Joe came running shortly after me, and we all piled in the taxi. I asked Mame what the driver’s problem was, and she said he was mad because she asked him to pick us up, which was “against the rules.”

“But notice how he stopped yelling when you two arrived?” Mame asked, a big smile on her face, balancing a squirming baby Malik as he climbed all over her and the taxi.

And that’s how Mame almost always deals with racist microaggressions. She waves it off with a smile and a laugh, and usually adds something like, “Aren’t people crazy?” She moves on.

Meanwhile, I was in the passenger seat, boiling. “But this is unacceptable, Mame! We shouldn’t pay for this taxi,” I argued. “He can’t treat you that way!”

“Kaytie, I’m already past it,” she laughed. “I am thinking about how to get this crazy baby to sleep and give him his medicine and if I need to buy more diapers. I can’t let this bother me. I’m already gone.”

And so I dropped it.

The women we interviewed in these past two weeks of production shared similar stories. Elizabeth told us about how people never assume she’s the owner of her art gallery; they always ask if she’s one of the artists, or a secretary. Bintou is always introduced at conferences as a “black choreographer,” never just a choreographer. And Fati was hesitant to say anything controversial, because her Franco-Senegalese food truck just started a new branch in Paris’s business district, and she didn’t want to risk gaining any sort of notoriety.

But even in light of all these unfortunate reminders of why this documentary is so necessary, I was also uplifted and inspired by these women. Each one was pursuing her dreams with high hopes and tenacity, succeeding in spite of those who expect her to fail.

I’m back in the States now, and post-production starts straightaway. I can’t wait to dig into the footage we captured and weave together these amazing stories, and I’m looking forward to sharing those stories with you.

Learn more about my project.

Mangoes, sunsets, and other things you can’t bring through customs

For the past three weeks, I have been on an annual trip my family takes to Taiwan, where my parents grew up and where many of my relatives still live. It’s a magical place to me. It was there, through the humid air of my grandmother’s apartment that I heard the stories that inspired my thesis project. During the trip, I took a bit of a break from the main work of my thesis project, but I had my ears wide open for stories and even began to experiment a little on the interview procedure with some of my relatives. More on that later. I brought a few postcards a few souvenirs from Taiwan to remind me of the magic of the place, but here are a few of the things I really wish I could’ve brought with me.

The delicious fresh tropical fruits I can only dream about here. Definitely not allowed through customs.

A sunset on the river. I wish I could carry it around with me

These flowers smell absolutely gorgeous, but the scent only appears at night

My grandma grows these adorable oranges in her yard

The most peaceful view

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On Piloting

I’m very happy to announce I just conducted my first pilot test of my research study! I’ve run through the protocol and script many times with advisors, grad students, and friends, but not on anyone in the unsuspecting population. I had my lab manager and a research assistant act as my ‘couple’ who had been dating for three months and ran through the study like it was the real thing. Afterwards, they gave me great feedback on things they liked, and things that needed to be fixed.


All my applications for the IRB are written and complete. I plan on continuing pilot testing this week, making necessary changes in my application, and finally submitting on Friday! Then I wait for their response.

My pilot testers are going to consist of a wide range of opinions that’ll give me crucial feedback. So as I mentioned, today I had my knowledgeable research assistant and lab manager duo to test on; later this week, I’ll also have a completely unsuspecting real couple along with my research advisor and grad student powerhouse duo. Each pilot I’ll find something new to fix, so the next one will run smoother. Hopefully by Friday, I’ll have worked all the kinks out.

My lab room, where I watch!

My lab room, where I watch!

The aftermath of the study – piles and piles of questionnaires

The aftermath of the study – piles and piles of questionnaires

I’m excited to move on from the ‘writing’ stage of the study onto the ‘doing’ stage. It was so fun hearing what my pilot couple had to say about my baby, and it made me excited to fix it so the next couple could experience it as well. It’s also quite awakening, to go from imagining what it’ll be like to see it come to life.

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Completing a thesis is a pretty big task.

At this point, I think I can probably speak for all of us when I say that this summer hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park. From my own experience, I’ll share that there have been moments of absolute progress and success, but also moments of setback, discouragement, frustration, and worry. When one embarks on a culminating project of this scale, the journey to completion is filled with ups and downs, twists and turns–and we’re really only just at the beginning. It’s kind of amazing to turn for a moment to look at the path that I’ve taken to get to this point, and then turn once more to see what lies ahead.

With so much still to do, you might be wondering how one manages to push ever further along the road to completion, especially at a time of the year that begs for days spent sleeping late and lounging in the sun. It’s safe to say that the other fellows and I have an immense amount of dedication to our projects. And even though things have been going much smoother since I realized the need to alter my original thesis idea, it can sometimes still be difficult to muster the motivation.

So how does one endure?


Endurance is an interesting concept. It requires support, practice, and, perhaps most of all, love. I have discovered that my endurance comes from those who are around me. Lately, I have been so grateful to be surrounded by so many friends and family members who encourage, respect, and celebrate each and every day of our lives. That kind of community is what has kept me going, even when the light on the path has seemed dim.

No matter what you’re working towards in your life, or where you are in the world, I hope that you may also find a sense of belonging.

This Week’s Inspiration:

For the Eyes: I’ve been following this hand-letterer for a while. He’s in the midst of a 27-day free tutorial about hand-lettering and a lot of what he’s saying can apply to success not just in his field, but in any field.

For the Ears: Rain. There were a few nights in Munich where we had these outrageous thunder storms. I felt so lucky to fall asleep, listening to the rain as it splattered against the roof and windows–the ultimate lullaby.

For the Soul: Loved ones. After traveling around Munich and Stockholm by myself, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be reunited with friends and family in California. So, go surround yourself with love. You deserve it.laurnie3

Til next time, friends.

Learn more about my project.

Mixed Messages: On Appropriation

Hello there!

I spent last weekend at another festival, which means two things; first, I am again facing a number of odd tan lines, the worst of these being a sunglasses mark, particularly visible on my nose. The second is that the time has finally come for me to think about some negative things that go on at festivals. As I’ve been looking into the messages festivals market to audiences through their websites and advertising, I spent a lot of time thinking about the ideas being pushed on audiences. While doing so I saw mostly great things, like love and the spirit of cohabitation, but I also started thinking about some no-so-great parts of festivals. From drug use and public intoxication, to theft and violence, music festivals do not always provide a positive experience for festival-goers. Something I, and many others before me have grappled with is the presence of cultural appropriation in the clothing, marketing, and performances at festivals.

Before you click off the page or get the wrong impression I’d like to preface with the probably clear fact that I love music festivals. I am spending a full year researching all about them simply because I think they are the site of a remarkable cultural phenomenon, and I would like to examine why. Additionally, they make for some great views, like the image below, and a lot of exciting memories!

Here's a picture of this week's "study spot" not a bad view, I must say!

Here’s a picture of this week’s “study spot” not a bad view, I must say!

So when I decided to call out the cultural appropriation I have noticed, it is not out of some attempt to discredit festivals as a generally positive experience. More specifically, though I will be using examples from the most recent festival I attended (All Good in West Virginia), I am not by any means discouraging people from attending this festival in the future (I truly enjoyed myself!). I also do not mean to claim that this is the only location in which I’ve witnessed negative appropriative behavior.

So on to these instances of appropriation I keep talking about. As a global studies and history student, I completely understand the need for cultural exchange; in fact I think it is a vital method through which we can advance society and has resulted in a number of amazing shared experiences since more or less the beginning of humankind. That being said, I also recognize the value of knowing the difference between sharing cultural elements and cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is defined on its wikipedia page (check it out for more basic information!) as “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture”.

For many, the term contains a very negative connotation, synonymous with stealing, disrespecting, and distorting cultural elements. The format of this negative appropriation ranges from offensive use of sacred symbols, to reinforcement of prejudiced stereotypes through media, to appropriating clothing and hairstyles in an effort to be funny or edgy. From my perspective, cultural appropriation results from actions or representations that, when enacted by a member of the dominant culture, are celebrated at the expense of the oppressed culture. This “celebration” can come in terms of the action being seen as funny, edgy or cool, or attractive–but only when the action is done by a member of the dominant culture.

As an example of this, let’s talk about “All Good’s Gangster Time.” Once a day, a group of people on stilts would come out together in matching costumes and walk through the festival. It was unclear if these people worked for the festival, or simply were a group of patrons who had come to entertain. On the first day I thought this was a cool, idiosyncratic part of the All Good festival. However, on the second day, a set was interrupted by sharp whistles. And there, clad in all gold, fake afros, metallic dollar sign chains, and even some aluminum foil grills stood the stilted people. They wove through the crowd holding large posters, one of which declared that is was “All Good’s Gangster Time” and pausing to take pictures with people doing “gang signs” and leaning their shoulders in a “thuggish” manner.

These words conjure a certain image to mind. It’s no secret that thuggish is coded language for black, or that black people wear their hair in the afro hairstyle. The problem with this costume is just that: white people dressed up in this manner as a costume. Beyond reinforcing negative images of black people in society, as well as linking hairstyles, which are integral to black culture, to a certain socioeconomic status, Gangster Time was just another way for white people to participate in a joke about a group which excludes those that it is about and gets its humor at their expense.

In addition to this event, the All Good Festival also featured a large white statue of a laughing Buddha. The platform around it acted as a meeting point and seating area, especially at night when fluorescent lights illuminated it. While I don’t know much about the teachings of Buddhism, I feel that using a religious figure as a large advertisement probably crosses some boundaries. This goes along with, at least two Native American headdresses I saw, another symbol often appropriated by people of dominant cultural groups.

The problem here is not the intent, for I don’t believe any of the events occurred purposefully to offend anyone. The problem is that when you use a symbol from a culture that is not your own with the intention to get a laugh, create a mascot, or as a purely aesthetic fashion choice, you disregard the significance of that item for those to whom it belongs. It is not cultural exchange in a meaningful way, stemming from understanding of the symbol’s past or uses, it is appropriation. And it’s a part of music festival culture that needs to stop.

I know this post is kind of heavy, but again I think it’s important to consider the behaviors we take part in that are damaging. Unfortunately I have never attended a festival without seeing these and other items used in a disrespectful manner. Despite this, the messages of festivals are overall really positive, and All Good was a very fun experience. From the Hollywood-esque illuminated letters reading “Welcome to All Good” (pictured below) and later “Come to Love All”, to performers telling the crowd “Thank you for letting me be myself” and to “Stay Good” everyone at the festival encouraged optimistic views on living and a healthy respect for fun. I would certainly return to wild and wonderful West Virginia, I just hope that someday soon I could do so and see a little less of these off-putting images.

The good vibes abounded at this incredibly laid-back festival and I can't help but think "Come to Love All" could be the catchphrase of festival culture itself. 

The good vibes abounded at this incredibly laid-back festival and I can’t help but think “Come to Love All” could be the catchphrase of festival culture itself.

Until my next post, thanks for reading!

Learn more about my project.

How do you find Inspiration? You stop trying.


I’m back after my vacation on Vancouver Island and in Vancouver city. During my time there, I went hiking, surfing, caving and, of course, did some eating. At the beginning, I thought I would write during this time, just a few hours in the morning. But after the first few days, I realized that what I was trying to accomplish was both impractical and not conducive to my writing.

So, I decided to take a real vacation. I stopped trying to cram writing time into the mornings and let go. And suddenly, I was flooded with ideas. Each new experience brought me a new narrative, begging to be told. Inspiration flowed in from the peace of being below ground, seeing a chance sculpture on a walk, being pummeled by cold ocean waves and listening to the stories of the people who call Vancouver their home.

Flowstone from my caving experience.

Flowstone from my caving experience.

My mind is now filled with scenes, characters and themes from the short time I spent in Vancouver. I did not make much, if any, progress in my novel, but writing is so much easier now that I have been refreshed with all of the incredible experiences I had.

Side note:

One of the really cool things about Vancouver is that it is where Ruth Ozeki, one of my favorite authors, lives for part of the year. It is also where she chose to set her novel A Tale for the Time Being. Experiencing the natural beauty of British Columbia that she describes was breathtaking. I also found the name of A Tale for the Time Being’s main character, Nao, carved into a board on a bridge I was walking across. It has absolutely no relation to the book, as the name beside it is Mike, but it was a fun coincidence.


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Outline done – onto the first draft

Hey there, everyone!

My thesis outline is DONE.

Pictured above: my outline of my outline, in all of its flowchart and commentary-laden glory

Pictured above: my outline of my outline, in all of its flowchart and commentary-laden glory

Which I am really, really excited about. And I am about to start actually writing my thesis – my first draft, at least – which is a little surreal, to be honest. It feels really good to have a direction I’m set on and moving in. So let’s talk about where that direction is.

In my thesis, I’m attempting to answer a few simple questions. Why the IRA was able to successful transition from strictly a militant group to a political organization? And: How was Hezbollah able to maintain a dual identity as a militant group and political organization? I’m trying to stick to these deceptively simple questions as much as I can. As a researcher, I have a terrible habit of trying to push my evidence perhaps farther than I should, for example, asking myself questions like: What does that tell us about Westphalian nation-states? It’s not that this isn’t a good or important question to ask; it very much is. Through this project, I’m learning that it’s really helpful to keep your questions tight and grounded in evidence. When you have a vast world of source materials, it’s really easy to get lost.

Here’s a simplified version of the historical chain I’m going to be discussing: The IRA developed as a group dedicated to the

Pictured here, some of the evidence it's so easy to get lost in.

Pictured here, some of the evidence it’s so easy to get lost in.

defense of Irish Catholics from a very pro-British and pro-Protestant government. Armed struggle was always a massively influential part of their ideology. However, in the late 1960s, the British began jailing members of the IRA as criminals, which led them to aggressively campaign for the label of prisoners of war, mostly through prison-wide hunger strikes. The IRA wanted a political label, and had to allow for political action in order to obtain that label. However, in the post-prison years, the IRA returned to violence and force as its primary means of action. This willingness to use force led to a precipitous drop in the average Irish person’s support of the organization. The loss in publicity led the IRA to continue political action once again.

This loss of public support is a fascinating factor in the IRA’s decision to pursue political action. It was far from the only reason it eventually transitioned away from militant action, but it was key. When the group used force and violence, people in Ireland lost faith in it and the cause, which limited the objectives that the group could achieve. In short, violence cost them political capital.

Hezbollah, on the other hand, does not lose political capital with their Lebanese constituency through violence, usually because they direct most of their violence toward Israel. The group formed in 1982 to defend southern Lebanon against the Israeli occupation. Iran and Syria offered the group enormous amounts of logistical and tactical support, which served to encourage the radicalization of Hezbollah’s ideologies. After the occupation ended, Hezbollah rebuilt damaged infrastructure and gained community support through social services. In 1992, Hezbollah won 12 parliamentary seats in the Lebanese government. When Israel invaded Lebanon again in 2006, the group managed to hold them off for a few weeks, which was a major victory in the eyes of the Arab world. This victory won Hezbollah legitimacy in the eyes of all Lebanese, not just their traditional Shi’a supporters. In short, Hezbollah obtained political power by balancing military might and social services.

The chain of historical events that led to both of these groups’ shifting identities is complex and rich. I’m so excited to really sink my teeth into both of these stories over the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading!

Learn more about my project.