Reflections Through a Broken Mirror ~ Danny Cassidy

That the body can conduct its choir

of heavy robes  the concert of the mind

winter branches budding into praise

& the coda opens
its mouth
of longing—

in wait for the arms to drop.

*

Can the soul labor righteously?

If not, is the righteous
soul merely idle

ornament of resistance

until in the grasp
of his palm

made useful–

as in the grape hyacinths

finally bloomed
and stripped
of its fruit

by a child’s restless wonder.

*

How do we talk
of it, or measure
its tire?

Cracked shell.
Shore arched back

with the tide
(as if the rind

of our earth peeled.)
Calloused hand.

Autumn leaf.
A shattered bulb.

How we praise
the body adorned
with labor:

muscle finally
a form of gauze,

covering

what must
be a wound.

*

How wrongly we have mapped our journey.

The false north stars /   you who

shouted chaos and the earth coiled

its tongue / As if somewhere a window

had shattered  /  the river

a stream of  glass / cutting  light,

bleeding with it,  think moth /

( wings soft oars wading through

the plum pond of night ) / how sharp

their want  at the lip of the bulb.

O  gather eternity, its wax /and oils,

make a wick of this broken earth.

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What Are You? ~ Rebecca Zandstein

I forgot to warn you about how Aliza’s hair may look in the morning… She convinced me that she usually has braids in her hair when going to sleep. I attempted ‘pig tail braids’ as per her request but that didn’t work out…nor did one braid. I can only braid challah. So I apologize in advance for my attempt to convince Aliza that two pigtails twisted into a pony is indeed a braid. I hope her hair isn’t a catastrophe in the morning.”

Last week I watched the children of a family friend. After leaving the house, I e-mailed the mother warning her about her child’s hair, since I had forgotten to shamelessly tell her such to her face. Apparently, my attempt at pretending that the child’s hair was challah in order to make a braid ended up giving the girl flowy waves for school the next day- mind you that her hair is usually pencil straight. It’s times like these when I truly reflect on my identity.

On occasion I fit into the stereotypical construct of a Jew and “tomboy”. Aside from the moments where I find myself picking up the dirtiest penny ever because, well, it’s a penny, I am usually closer to being considered a gay man than a “girly girl.” Many mock me for always announcing one identity over the other, but I find that my prioritization of identities highlights my true self, which partially has been created for me and I have created for myself. Granted my last name gives away that I am most likely of Jewish descent, I still accentuate my identity as a Jewish woman before any other aspect like my sexual orientation or religious and political beliefs.

I find it necessary to couple my gender with my main identity of being Jewish; after being ridiculed many times for looking too androgynous (seriously? me?!) and my entire Jewish education being a bit chauvinistic, gender has come to play almost as big of a role as my ethnic and religious identity. When fellow peers tell me that I’m intimidating, my initial [mental] response is “well, I’m a Jewish woman…and it runs in my family (thank you, Grandpa!).” Sexual orientation is more or less a social construct and while ethnic background may be considered such as well, I find it more relevant to a person’s makeup. Who you’re attracted to doesn’t mean as much as anything else; it’s more so about the relationship between you and someone else, and your identity should reflect more about you.

Focusing on my Jewish identity allows me, like other religious/ethnic identities, to take hold of the past. Denying my Jewish identity would be denying what has happened to my immediate family and how we came about as a generation. Although the argument can be made for sexual orientation as well, I do not find myself attached to all people who share my sexual identity; all straight people cannot feel connected to one another. Sexual orientation is just a minor identity while my being Jewish is more “macro.” Furthermore, sexual orientation does not involve much tradition and being Jewish is all about tradition. Sexuality, whether you are straight, queer, bisexual, or transgendered does not involve an adequate amount of tradition and culture when compared to ethnicity and religion.

LGBTQQIA people do not have certain “traditional” dishes on specified days or celebrations, though they may have alcoholic drinks that are deemed “gay” in bars. There may be rituals within the LGBTQQIA community but they are not shared or known to all within the community because of the constant change and making of history; Judaism has not added new rituals, for the most part, so nearly all rituals are known to most Jews within the community.

Additionally, for example, the flag used for the LGBTQQIA community is usually a rainbow but who said all of the members of that community like rainbows or understand why in the Lord’s name a rainbow is usually used to symbolize the community? Moreover, it must be noted that those in the LGBTQQIA community are quite diverse because they are everyone not considered heterosexual therefore making singular traditions and rituals within the community hard to find and agree upon.

On the other hand, the Jewish symbol and even the Israeli flag has a Jewish star- it’s our sign. It’s what many of our ancestors and families wore in the Holocaust- my family members were forced to wear Jewish yellow felt stars on their sleeves, announcing their identity, and later on we still wear Jewish stars but we took this symbolic representation back for ourselves. The LGBTQQIA community were not forced to wear rainbows while being scapegoated and then took that symbol back as theirs.

Announcing my religious/ethnic identity allows me to expand upon one of my identities: I’m not just Jewish, I’m an Ashkenazi Jew (Eastern European). This then usually stereotypes me as always being on time, but usually early, using everything with potatoes and paprika, and that I’m usually on the paler side (unfortunately, I did not inherit my Grandmother’s olive tone), which isn’t so far from the truth. Identities can sometimes be worn on one’s sleeve but by identities being so general in nature it allows for expansion and room for other identities to compliment each other.

Looking back at my last two years of Rutgers, I can finally grasp how people identify themselves. It’s not about what you’re necessarily born with but what you attach to most. When asked, many students would identify themselves as “gay” before announcing their ethnicity or religious background; this may be due to feeling more comfortable and/or accepted with this one identity or lack of open-mindedness that they possess other identities. Others would emphasize their age before telling me other relevant demographics. A majority of students assume I know aspects of who and what they are, skipping what they considered obvious like gender. Regardless, identity is a social construct and so we should take advantage of the construct we make use of and enable.

When I am asked “what are you?” it’s not a recorded slew of terms that I spew to each person; it’s a concise arrangement of terms that have been organized and prioritized for good reason. The distinction between “who” and “what” is that “who” requires a definition of focus on the demographics and details of who one is. “What,” on the other hand, focuses on personal experiences and history that make up a personal identity while taking into account current identities that a person labels themselves with. Next time someone asks “what are you?” give some thought before answering.

Photo courtesy of forward.com

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Inside JVP: An Interview with Alex Giannattasio by Ben Kharakh

I found out about the Johnsonville when I overheard co-founder and former editor-in-chief Alex Giannattasio talking about the JVP with Professor James Livingston. (You call it eavesdropping; I call it journalism!) It wasn’t until the spring of 2010 that I’d reached out to the JVP. Once I did, I fell head-over-heels. It was as though I was at the top of a snowy hill, leaned too far over the edge, and suddenly found myself rolling downwards at a high speed– throwing up all over myself, and throwing up even more after having swallowed my own throw up (effectively regurgitating what I’d just regurgitated).

The downhill vomitorium is an effective analogy of what my relationship with the JVP was like when Alex was around: I’d make my way to Alex’s, tell him everything I’d thought about that week, he would give me his insights, I’d mull over his take, and a few days later I’d have my latest article.

While Alex might be in law school and no longer physically around to chat about my latest piece, his presence is always felt whether it be in his comments, guidance, or ever-growing legacy as a contributor. And while this Q and A isn’t the same as having Alex around full time, it’ll have to hold you over for now.

What brought you to Rutgers? The State of New Jersey. I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into where I would be going to college. Rutgers offered me a quick and cheap option with no fuss. I took it primarily out of convenience and now I’m glad I did.

In JV Press On, you said your high school guidance counselor said you were lucky to get into Rutgers. Why was that? Simply because I didn’t shop around for schools or put much effort into the admission process at all…

How’d you decide on your major(s)? My first semester classes were laid out for me upon arrival. One of them was Introduction to Ethics, taught by Professor Ruth Change. I loved the material as well as the professor, and I got really into the class. (I recommend to anybody taking a class with her if you can). It was such a good experience that I signed up for more philosophy classes and a major just followed from there.

I also undertook a history major later on in my undergrad career. Around junior year, I realized that I already had quite a few history credits under my belt simply as a result of taking classes I was interested in and that had been recommended to me, most notably among these Professor Phil Roth’s classes in Luso-Hispanic Dialogue and Colonial History. He’s an excellent professor who’s extremely knowledgeable in his field, and I’d definitely recommend taking his class if you can.

For the most part, my major selections were happy coincidences.

What about history and philosophy clicked with you? Argument. The two topics take slightly different approaches, but in the end, they are all about argument. Crafting arguments is something I’ve been naturally drawn to since I was a little kid. That, and the material is interesting. Of course, it’s easier to sit down and read something if you’re interested in the topic. Historical and philosophical writings can be very interesting.

What’s your relationship with writing? What’s my relationship with writing? That is a tough one…

Writing is just another means of communication. Objectively, there isn’t really anything special about writing that makes it any better or worse than any other form of expression or means of communication. What is important is that people are communicating, expressing themselves, because this is how we as humans learn and share, build societies, and get things done.

Personally, I prefer to express myself in writing as opposed to in person. I always feel more confident in an expression of my opinions and positions when I’ve had the chance to sit down and think about them first. Writing them out gives me the opportunity to do that. I also really enjoy the satisfaction I get from producing a quality piece of writing. And of course, it’s a nice feeling to know that my writing is improving all the time.

On the other hand, I have a tendency to labor over my writing. I invest a lot of time and emotional energy when I write, which is good for the final product, but it can also be very draining. In order to improve your writing you have to keep pushing the limits of your ability, which can really stress you out while you’re doing it. Having worked with a number of writers, I get the feeling that really good writing comes more naturally to some people: personally, I’m not one of them. I’ve had to put in quite a few hours to get anywhere. But in the end, it’s like anything: practice makes improvement.

What sort of aspirations did you have growing up and which of these, if any, are you putting the most effort into making a reality? When I was real little, I wanted to be a scientist, an archeologist or an engineer. Clearly, those aspirations ended when I took up philosophy, and especially when I committed to law school, although I sometimes regret giving them up…

Growing up, I always found different ways to make money. I always had a new scheme, some more effective than others. That ambition has stuck with me to this day. In the short term, I’m focused on establishing a comfortable living for myself and my family. In the long run, I’d like to be able to transition from a more lucrative but stressful lifestyle to a more peaceful, self sustaining lifestyle. I’d like to retire to a farm and grow produce for myself in the next thirty years. I’d love to be surrounded by a natural setting using my hands to produce real products. But that is more an ideal than a goal. We’ll see what happens….Right now, I’m focused on entering the world of productive adults. I get money, you know?

When do you find yourself regretting them and why? I like to build things, to work with my hands to a more tangibly productive end. With a humanities degree, the closest I ever get to that is by writing. Science, on the other hand, gives you more opportunities to build stuff. So I sometimes regret the choice. On the other hand, if I make enough money to pursue a few hobbies, like carpentry and farming, I think it’ll be worth it…

What sort of things do you like to build? I enjoy working with wood. I got into woodworking and carpentry in high school; I was something of a shop kid. On one occasion, me and some other students built a couple of 6 foot tall, functioning trebuchets, medieval catapults. But I’ll build anything, as the situation and circumstances necessitate.

What sort of schemes have you been involved in? I’ll give you an example. When I was in high school, I used to take breakfast orders from kids. Then I would wake up early, run down to Mcdonalds, BK and Dunkin Donuts with a wagon, and pick up the orders. I’d deliver the purchases in the morning for a nominal fee. Eventually, the school decided to put an end to that scheme, but I made a buck while it lasted…

What inspired you to go to Law School? I wasn’t so much inspired to go to law school; it was more like I fell into it. Law school is the natural next step after a humanities degree, specifically one in philosophy/history. Of course law school is the place to be if you want to make something of yourself. So many people are going off to law school now for just that reason, and I’m among them. I have high hopes that by the end of my 3 years at law school, I’ll have a good idea of how I can make a positive impact on the world while doing interesting and engaging work. And the skills I’m learning are invaluable. At this point, I couldn’t be happier about my decision to go.

What were some of the biggest surprises you found in Law School? It’s nice to be surrounded by a group of very intelligent people inside as well as outside the classroom. Also, nothing can really prepare you for the workload, or the style of learning and writing they seek to teach law students. But you pick up on it as you go.

What’s the work load like at law school and style of learning/writing like at law school? Basically, the work load is not so difficult that it’s beyond you, but you still gotta bust your ass to do well. Personally, I enjoy law school quite a bit, though so many of my peers think I’m crazy for that. Frankly, it’s not something anyone wants to read me talk about, so I wont.

You live in DC now. How would you compare New Brunswick and DC? It’s certainly not easy to compare a small town of 50,000 people to a major metropolis holding several million. For one, DC is less dirty; there is less trash in the roads, the sewers are well managed, and you wont see gas leaks spouting fire on any given day. On the other hand, both cities do have quite a few homeless people walking around. In both places you can find significant disparities between the well to do and the poorly off, though these discrepancies are, of course, much more stark in the major city. I enjoy[ed] living in both places for different reasons: in DC, there is always something to do; the charm of NB, however, is that if there isn’t really much to do, you can always do-it-yourself, so to speak.

How did you change over the course of your time at Rutgers? Unavoidably, I grew up. College is where you learn about yourself, and I certainly did a lot of that at Rutgers. More specifically, each year I had a new independent project, just to keep myself busy and engaged. The most recent of these, of course, was the founding of the Johnsonville Press. I suppose the best I can tell you is that I became who I am today while I was at Rutgers, and I have no regrets.

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