history

Transition

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.

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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.

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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.

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Til next time, friends.

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Endurance

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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?

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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.

Writing A Book To Which I Do Not Know The Ending

My name is Sayre and I am writing a book to which I do not know the ending. Perhaps this isn’t so unusual. I know of several real adult writers who aren’t sure of how a certain story will turn out from its beginnings. But my case is slightly different, being that this book indeed has an ending, however the only person who really knew it died of brain cancer almost seven years ago.

This single enlightened person was my grandfather, Chick McKinney, who was writing his first and only book: a novel that in many ways mirrored his own life. It was essentially a memoir, disguised as fiction. Unfortunately, what now remains of the so-called novel is a collection of handwritten fragments. It’s possible that there’s an ending written somewhere amid the approximately four thousand loose pages that I have stacked in boxes in my room, but so far, I haven’t seen it. In fact, a lot of the middle is a mystery as well—iffy at best.

I came across one page that is labeled by my grandfather as “story line.” The entire contents of the page are the following sentence: Young boy vows to pick up where his dead brother left off and live his life for him but finds that fame and glory is a tough act to follow. Unfortunately, although I’d like to think that all of the answers are still on the pages in the boxes, I know that I’m going to have to look beyond the obvious or the tangible. I hope that my grandfather’s own biography, for one thing, will provide some answers.

Adam, the book’s protagonist, has a good amount in common with my grandfather simply in the fact that they both grew up in small Appalachian towns. My grandfather’s town had a population of a few hundred. In order to go to high school, he moved away to “the big city,” Raleigh, with his older sister. His sister Wilma offered to take in one of her younger siblings after their older brother died, as a way to help their mother, and so she chose Chick.

Below are some photos to give more context to the story of my grandfather’s upbringing:

Chick’s father at work

Chick’s father at work

Chick and his older brother

Chick and his older brother

Chick and three sisters

Chick and three sisters

Chick’s parents

Chick’s parents

Although I’m very convinced that my grandfather’s relationship with his own brother played a large role in his construction of the story, I’ve sometimes doubted whether it’s appropriate or even correct to assert that his cultural upbringing also plays a role. It’s probably true that there was an unintentional influence of actual memory in my grandfather’s writing, because of his increasing confusion as to what was true and when it had happened. But a part of me likes that idea even more. Take the following passage, for example. Originally, the protagonist was just a “he,” and I changed it to “Adam” to fit with the book. But it could just as easily have been an actual memory that my grandfather had of himself and his brother. An ambiguous passage like this might not belong in the book, and perhaps I had no right to change anything about it. But at this point, and I hope I’m right, I believe that moments like this will be the best thing about the book.

It was still dark when they turned off the paved highway onto a dirt road. There were a few ramshackle houses perched on the steep banks to the right, and three junk cars sat in a patch of tall weeds in the flat next to a small branch. Further on, the road narrowed, became rocky, and laced with gullies. “You’re going to shake every bolt loose in this old track” said Adam. They crossed over the shallows of Sassafras creek to an old logging road grown up with waist high pine seedlings. The Chevy groaned in low gear up the steep grade.

“You’d better have some g-r-u-b” said Daniel, mimicking the slow drawl of a good ole’ boy he had seen in a western movie. “Yew’ve got a l-o-n-g h-a-r-d day ahead of yew.”

            Adam laughed. “I don’t want to take your lunch.”

            “Not to worry, my good buddy. We’ve got enough to feed a couple of bears for a week.”

            “Well then, I’ll take you up on your offer.”

            “There’s a bottle opener in there somewhere.”

[…]

Down there’s your birthday present, Daniel said with a chuckle. I told papa that I was going to bring you here when you were old enough, say thirteen.

            “I told you I was only eight.”

            “Yeah, I keep forgetting that.”

[…]

            Then, a sudden strike. Adam set his hook the instant he saw the flash in the water. He let the fish run, but guided him gently into his net. It was a nine-inch native brook trout.

“What a beauty,” Daniel said. The fish was a male with a dark back and colored spots on the side. The belly and fin had an orange tint.

            “The locals call that speckled trout,” said Daniel.

            “They’re really not a trout,” said Adam. “They’re actually char.”

            “Mama always said you were a prodigy.”

            “Mama also said you were an adventurer and a romantic. But I say you’re a poet.”

            “I’ll settle for any of the three.”

            What a glorious day that was.

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The Beginning: Students Discuss Their Research Projects

In this video, the four students participating in the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program’s inaugural year discuss their projects, which range from relationship research to anthropology and ethnography studies.

For more information on the program, the projects and how to get involved or provide support, visit http://hss.cmu.edu/honorsresearchfellowship/.