Month: June 2018

Election Law 101

In the last week, I have been doing the background research on my thesis. This entails getting up to speed on election law in general, which is more time consuming than I originally thought. To gain a sort of base knowledge in this subject matter, I have been reading a lot of case law and legislation that protects the representation of others.  This method, which my thesis advisor, Dr. McGovern, referred to as the “soak and poke” approach has allowed me to immerse myself in the relevant literature. While it has been a bit trying at times to read books and books on solely just context, I know more about gerrymandering in more depth than I imagined I ever would.

Reading about these old cases that changed and affected the representation of voters, like Baker v. Carr, Shaw v. Reno, and many others has given me a good legislative background on how the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has affected our government. Doing so much reading on election law, while usually riveting, has its daily challenges.

Sometimes, I felt a bit removed from my actual project, because of how dense the reading is and how long ago these cases all seem. Essentially, some days it is increasingly difficult to stay motivated. I looked back fondly on memories of submitting the honors thesis application, the rush of having an idea, and the thrill of having that very idea approved. Granted, I still am very much psyched to be working on my own project, but as I’ve gotten acclimated to the work, I am filled with less joy. Needless to say, the passionate flame of excitement I felt for my thesis has definitely dulled. In the more recent days, it has adopted an enduring, warm glow.

This week, I felt an influx of both excitement and dread. The Supreme Court released their rulings on their most recent gerrymandering cases. Given that the Court has more conservative justices and Justice Ginsberg was wearing her dissenting collar, the outlook was not good.  The Supreme Court ruled on Abbott v. Perez, a racial gerrymander court case that I am using for my thesis. Out of the districts that the plaintiffs took issue with, all but one of them were considered acceptable districts that did not racially gerrymander.  This came as a surprise to me, as the district maps had not looked compact or shown characteristics of contiguity. Fortunately, I can only hope that my research will provide further explanation as to why individuals should have an equal amount of representation.

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Balancing Act

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I’m incredibly lucky to have a flexible schedule this summer. I’ve been working since spring finals concluded, but the extended time spent doing research allows me to pick my hours and avoid the monotony of a 9-5 job. However, much of my “free time” this summer has been spent preparing for the MCAT. Despite my test date being a little over 2 months away, the MCAT requires a large amount of preparation and studying for one of the most impactful exams of my career is certainly daunting. My typical day usually consists of 3-5 hours of research, lunch, MCAT studying, dinner, Netflix and video games. The order often switches around; however, most people ask when I’ll be travelling or spending time in the city—in reality, my schedule’s already pre-determined, so the most amount of flexibility I get is picking what movie to watch or video game to play as I relax in the late evening. For many, this rigid schedule may be off-putting. In fact, I think an overwhelming majority of people would hate this schedule. However, I see it as somewhat of a workout regimen—granted, it’s for my brain and the only physical result you could see is a number at the very end—but nonetheless, it’s kept me vigilant about setting aside time to focus on the MCAT.

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More importantly, this summer is about exploring the concept of balance. In my fraternity, one of our central principles lies in that of being a balanced man; notably, this concept focuses on three major domains of physical health, mental health, and social/emotional health. For much of my time in my fraternity, I’ve had a very large emphasis on mental and social/emotional health—often neglecting the physical health domain. Admittedly, this upcoming year will be more dedicated to that domain, while this summer is clearly just focused on furthering my career as a physician. Nevertheless, my fraternity brothers have been a very strong support system throughout my time at CMU, so having the fortune of living with them and handling all of the insanity that CMU has to offer has been incredibly reassuring.

As for the actual studying schedule, it’s been quite…rough. I have this idealized schedule brewing in my Google Drive for months, but now that the time for studying has come upon me, it’s been far more variable than I expected. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the following realizations:

  • For starters, I’m terrible at Biochemistry, not Biology. For ycrouch-3ears, Biology (ortheumbrella thereof) has always been my weakest subject. Lo, and behold, it turnsoutthat Biochemistry is my worst enemy and I hate it immensely. MCAT Biology (which should really be called “Physiology with a side of Cells”) has been a relatively nice journey, exceeding my initial expectations of Biology ruining my life.
  • The YouTube channel Crash Course is my most-watched channel for the last month. Thank you Hank Green and John Green—you’re angels.
  • My quality of studying depends on music. Shawn Mendes, Sia, James Bay, Ben Rector? Great. Broadway show tunes? Oops, I just lost five hours (Sorry Hamilton).crouch-4
  • Pentel Energel (0.7 mm) pens are the only pens worth using. Pilot G2 pens havebeen officially replaced.
  • The Psychology/Sociology section is a godsend. I’m counting my stars for this section, because it’s the only area where I feel confident two months out from my exam. Physics and Chemistry? That’s a different story…

 

Inspiration Finds You – Working.

paloma-blog-2“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

My progress in the past weeks can be described by this quote.

I can say I’ve been researching here and there – “here” meaning the time I spend actively reviewing articles from scholarly journals, anthologies, and books; and “there,” the time I spend taking breaks to eat, de-stress, and breathe. In this sense, not only am I learning about controversial views on cultural appropriation as applied to artistic practice, but also am constantly inspired by visuals or conversations I encounter on my daily life:

“How do certain privileges that we might have access to determine which issues we pursue, and how does this pursuit make the needs of those with no such access invisible?”
– Schulman, B. “Feminists, Political Correctness, and ‘Free’ Speech.”

“A culture is only as great as its dreams and its dreams are dreampt by Artists.”
– A tent at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Arts Festival

“I liked to think of my work as ‘giving voice to the voiceless’”
– Someone, at a research fellowship activity

“My (works) are about questions. They are not about answers.”
– Duane Michals

“the obvious solution is no solution at all”
– Potter Jr., Parker B. “Appropriating the Visitor by Addressing the Second Person.”

I am aware that these quotes may seem out of context as I share them, and that context is VERY important, too.

I look forward to provide more context to these quotes in the following months. As for now, I’ll devote myself to read and to grab more ideas “here” and “there.”

Let’s keep inspiration coming.

Beginning my senior thesis… AKA reading, reading, reading

I’ve always been interested in books. When I was young, my dad would read to me and my sister every day as we ate breakfast before school. A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies, Tom Sawyer… Later, my stack of books turned to John Grisham and Michael Crichton, as my best friends and I swapped books and discussed our favorite authors. Now, my table is filled with something different. It’s filled with Differentiating Normal and Abnormal Personality, Smoking: Individual Difference, Psychopathology, and Emotion, On the Psychobiology of Personality…

I’m not sure about the specific focus of my senior thesis, but I know that I am going to do an experimental study on nicotine dependence and personality. For my project, I will be working with my research mentor, Dr. Kasey Creswell. I have worked in Dr. Creswell’s behavioral health lab for over two years, and the first population I worked with was heavy smokers. This initial experience is one of the key reasons that I am interested in working with heavy smokers. I am also interested in mental health and personality disorders. Right now, I am planning on looking at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed.) Section III trait model of personality pathology and how this is related to nicotine dependence. Previous research has shown that nicotine dependence and smoking severity are related to personality disorders as defined by the DSM-4 and DSM-3, but little research exists on the new DSM-5 Section III categorization of personality disorders.

I am still doing my background research to make sure that this is a viable research topic. I know, armed with my pile of books, that I’ll be able to design a great research project and run participants in the fall!

And so it begins…

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:
What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
– C.S. Lewis


Breathing Words

In the wake of the Me Too and Times Up movements, the film industry has been forced to come to grips with the fact that it is not as diverse or egalitarian as it would like to believe. Currently, in all aspects of production, there is a lack of female representation, as women make up less than twenty-five percent of the entertainment industry and fewer than thirty-five percent of speaking characters on screen are female. Further, in the low number of films that feature female protagonists, happiness and satisfaction are often correlated with external validation in the form of male approval, and deep connection is only possible with the direct involvement of male characters. While strides have been made in the twenty seven years since the iconic Thelma and Louise, friendship, particularly in films with young female protagonists, is oftentimes relegated the periphery, focused on people from the same background, and centered around a heteronormative romantic arc. My Senior Honor’s Thesis, Breathing Words, will address these issues, both by being female produced, as well as by centering around the deep and career driven friendship between two female protagonists from opposite ends of the globe, who despite having lived entirely disparate lives, find an unexpected understanding and acceptance in each other. Breathing Words is a short film that explores the reciprocal relationship between language and culture, the desire for deep connection, and the universal nature of human emotions. It is a cultural analysis, a personal confessional, a snapshot of life, and a love letter to friendship itself.


FADE IN

Scripts used to generally begin with the words FADE IN, transitioning the screen from darkness into technicolor as the world comes into focus. Though it was a standard of screenwriting textbooks for a long time, films now don’t always begin with this cue, as sharp cutting has become more popular. A teacher once described this technique to me as blinking, arguing that viewers find jump cuts more realistic because that is how we see the world. Though I am a frequent user of such quick and crisp cutting, I am not sure if I agree with her analysis. FADE IN, to me, seems like one of the most realistic things in film.

Change isn’t often sudden, even if feels that way at the time. New phases in life are born from a culmination of decisions, infinitesimal moments that lead us to something new. Yet, I sometimes define my life in terms of before and after. Before and after I rode a bike, moved to the dessert, got a dog, started CMU. I had defined the friendship that inspired this project in the same way, separating my live into segments: before I read a brilliant book and after that book brought me a rare friend. But recently, it has become more clear to me that the sudden understanding one feels with a new companion is only the beginning of a slow transition. Friendship grows and shifts and changes as you get to know one another, the image gradually becoming more clear. You cannot jump cut from a chance encounter into a deep connection. This is the undercurrent of my film: For a friendship to mean something, you need to take the time and effort to fade in.


Project Update

So Far:

  • Returned from my semester in Copenhagen (5 Days Ago)
  • Completed a rough outline and plot breakdown
  • Started the first draft of the script

In the Next Few Weeks:

  • Meetings with advisors and script draft review
  • Consultations with production team
  • First rounds of casting

About the Project   ♥     About the Studio

 

Day 1

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
– Old Klingon Proverb –

Bloody, sanctimonious, and macabrely farcical; there are seldom few literary genres as distinct as revenge drama.  Francis Bacon characterized revenge as “a kind of wild justice,” the mission of an avenger who must operate outside the law to achieve redress for inflicted wrongs.  Because they reflect the failure of human institutions to respond to human crises, revenge stories have always flourished in societies quick to condemn evil but slow to correct it, outwardly righteous but inwardly corrupt.  Which is to say, always.

Dramatists in early modern England took this ancient form and challenged all its conventions. Where Aeschylus and Seneca wrote about gods and semi-divine heroes, Shakespeare and Webster portrayed the suffering of mortal innocents and had the audacity to laugh at their misfortunes.  Lurid acts of violence, once relegated to the imagination, were depicted, sensationalized, exaggerated to the point of absurdity.  Protagonists in classical revenge stories were men and women seeking to balance divine justice and personal honor.  Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists forever shifted the balance towards the individual and the nihilistic.

This trend was echoed in the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s.  Free from the Hays Code and the influence of film studios, filmmakers had more latitude to explore material theretofore considered verboten.  Writers and directors had drawn inspiration from revenge drama for decades; they were now free to depict the violence that had long lingered on the periphery of American cinema.  Independent filmmakers in the 1980s and 1990s brought a necessary lens of introspection to the revenge film genre, especially to its often troubling depictions of violence against women.

The history of revenge drama is long and complex, intersecting at various points with legal theory, gender theory, comedy, politics, religion, and myth.  My aim this summer is to immerse myself in this world, one I have encountered as a playwright and screenwriter, but one with which I am ultimately unfamiliar.  In doing so I will prepare myself to engage more fully in the deeper questions revenge drama poses and be better able to turn my own thoughts on the nature of vengeance into a tightly-scripted work of cinema.

Hello, Pittsburgh!

I am excited to immerse myself in the city this summer, and to meet and experience the Pittsburgh that lies outside the Carnegie Mellon campus-bubble. Invested in storytelling as a medium that can connect audiences of different backgrounds to distinct realities, I am passionate about cultural exchange and the arts and am eager to combine my interests as I undertake my summer research.

My research seeks to explore how the combination of artistic expression and translation can diminish social and linguistic barriers to promote cultural inclusion, interaction, and exchange. As part of my research, I am currently learning about cultural theory, translation methods, and artistic practices across the performing, visual, and literary arts.

My research findings will be used to develop “Project -LOGUE,” a platform in which Pittsburgh-based storytellers who speak languages other than English will work with artists and translators to develop art showcasing their cultural narratives. These artworks will be developed through a series of workshops (Fall semester), and will be showcased at a multilingual exhibition (Spring semester).

So far, I have met so many incredible people, organizations and communities along with my collaborator Abigail Salmon. As Pittsburgh is home to more than 40 different languages, I look forward to continuing to meet more amazing people along the way.

Ideas for an Honors Thesis

Originally, I knew I wanted to an honors thesis—I just wasn’t sure what on. I knew that I wanted to do it on something I was passionate about and I knew it had to be on a political issue. I spent the spring semester of my junior year in Washington, D.C.  working for the office of Senator Bob Casey where I was exposed to the news daily. This further influenced my need to have a political influence in my thesis. I also wanted to have something that would be relevant to Pennsylvania. At my internship, learning about the different state issues made me more knowledgeable and more interested in the political environment in Pennsylvania.

Even so, I was uncertain on the topic. Because of this and the honors thesis deadline approaching, I met with Dr. Jay Devine and had an honest and open discussion with what I was interested in, my future plans, and what I wanted to accomplish with my thesis. I brought up two issues that I was very passionate about: immigration and the application of the U.S. Constitution.  While the former was interesting to me, I did not want to create a research project that was too personal to me, as I felt that it might generate more emotions than research. In the scope of my latter interests, Dr. Devine suggested the redistricting case going to the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As I was already in a Pennsylvania government office, I had heard of the issue and followed it closely. After the court handed down the ruling and gave the state a period of time to establish fair districts under the condition that should the state not enact new lines. Because Pennsylvania officials did not change the district lines within the deadline, the Supreme Court established them for the state with the help of redistricting experts. This was interesting to me as that had never happened before and was the effect of the state attempting to create a timely and effective solution for its voters.

I continued to follow the Supreme Court cases and found out that a redistricting case from Texas, Abbott v. Perez, was on this year’s docket. This case was particularly different because it focused on race rather than partisanship. I was confused as to why the Supreme Court chose to take this case but did follow through with the case in Pennsylvania. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protects against racial discrimination but does not specifically protect discrimination against minority parties. This difference helped me figure out what I wanted to research. It also helped that both of these places take part in areas that I have lived and continue to call home. Being able to research and contribute to these two places makes me more motivated to continue this process and see this research through.

Third Time’s the Charm!

When people talk about Pittsburgh’s humidity, I can’t help but laugh internally because clearly these Yinzers have never traveled down south. I’m originally from Georgia, so the “humidity” that everyone seems to be stressing about doesn’t faze me in the slightest. I’ve stayed in Pittsburgh for the summer since enrolling at CMU and the city never disappoints. As a result, I couldn’t be more excited to begin working on my Dietrich senior honors thesis and have the opportunity to spend my summer in Pittsburgh once again.

I study Neuroscience and Psychology on the pre-med track, but my typical introduction just focuses on my interests in gender, personality, and health so I often just skip over the formal degree titles. I prefer focusing on my research (compared to my majors) because I can always feel my eyes light up when I talk about communal coping, unmitigated communion, and gender’s impact on health. As a freshman, I never expected to be heavily involved in research—in hindsight, as a pre-med student, that’s such a rookie mistake—but I’ve really become involved in Dr. Vicki Helgeson’s lab where my interest in research has flourished.

Generally, my Dietrich honors thesis focuses on unmitigated communion (UC), a personality trait that results in individual’s having an excessive need to help others with their problems, often to the detriment of their own problems. Individuals high in UC experience distress—whether that be anger, anxiety, or depression—when they are unable to help their network members. Additionally, they may also experience distress when receiving support, rather than giving support to others; however, the development of distress in this case is more ambiguous. Therefore, one goal of my summer research is developing further knowledge on the development of psychological distress in UC individuals.

My research will also delve into the importance of intimate relationships, such as relationships with family members, close friends, and romantic partners. Intimate relationships (or the lack thereof) may demonstrate a moderating effect on the development of distress, possibly increasing feelings of happiness during scenarios in which UC individuals can help, but also increase negative emotions when receiving help because the UC individual feels burdensome or helpless.

In a word, I’m excited. Excited for the summer, excited for the upcoming year of thesis work, and excited for senior year that’s been rapidly approaching since the Fall 2015 semester.