Just around the river bend

There have been a couple notable times in my life when I felt the sheer terror of not having a future. It’s the sensation of staring into a black abyss instead of seeing a well-defined path before me. Over a recent family vacation I was again struck by deep fear Read more…

Every woman should travel/live abroad alone

[For Autumn, on her current adventure] I’m in the middle of Jennifer Egan’s debut novel, The Invisible Circus, which is about an 18 year-old girl who takes off for Europe to search for the place her sister died. The account of her coming of age has gotten me reminiscing about my travels alone. I’ve already written about how finishing my dissertation and changing careers were two of the most significant rites of passage I’ve ever undergone. Prior to graduate school, however, traveling by myself and living abroad (not in the Philippines or the US) ranked highly on my list of transformative experiences. This is a story in four parts.

The US

To my mother’s great credit, she started instilling in me very early on the notion that I should go forth into the world intrepidly. Having seen how a sheltered childhood caused my sister to fear unfamiliar places and abhor being on her own, Mom took care to show me that traveling alone was nothing to be afraid of. (more…)

Anatomy of a workshop activity

I’d planned on blogging about what I gleaned from yesterday’s annual New Yorkers for Children Vocational Conference for Youth in Foster Care, but today a couple different folks have asked me about my approach to engaging youth in the classroom, so I thought it would be helpful to write instead about how I came up with my rites of passage activity.

Good teachers come in all stripes, and my particular talent is being able to make complex ideas accessible to young people, and to do so with a modest measure of creativity. In my rites of passage workshop I use an anthropological lens to understand coming of age ceremonies and tribal rites of passage. Now I myself did not study anthropology until I got to college, but I’ve seen that is entirely within reach for high-school aged students to make use of its tools. [Warning: Very long post, so I highlight the takeaway at the very end.] (more…)

Rites of passage in Goats

Goats (2012) is the film adaptation of Mark Jude Poirier’s debut novel. It’s a quirky coming of age tale that involves a 15-year old boy leaving home—although “home” for Ellis isn’t a safe and idyllic Shire, but a chaotic, dysfunctional family comprising his irresponsible and histrionic mother and his pot-loving mentor, Read more…

Write the dissertation

Lacking a passion project was the very worst condition to be in as a graduate student. At first it’s liberating to be able to explore different concepts and areas of study. It’s like a dream for the intellectually curious. But soon the process of trying on and discarding topics gets wearisome. And then it becomes frustrating. And it isn’t too long before it becomes absolutely soul-crushing because all the books you’ve read (and you’ve read plenty), all the little ideas and pieces of knowledge you have rolling around in that expansive mind of yours—they all amount to a hill of beans.

What matters is having an idea that drives you, arriving at a unique vision, and finding your voice. What matters is producing material evidence of that singularity because you believe others would like to experience it. Sure, the world will keep on turning if you dropped out of grad school. But assuming you went into a doctoral program for all the right reasons, if you ask for my advice, chances are I would talk you into staying. Here’s why: (more…)

How’d you know?

Just a little over halfway through Lars and the Real Girl (2007), the titular character approaches his older brother, Gus, and engages him in a discussion about rites of passages. In the absence of any coming of age ceremonies, how did Gus know that he’d become a man? Gus stumbles over his answer, Read more…