About Claire Esparros

Interior and lifestyle photographer for Homepolish. Living in New York City. Elon University alumn.

Dancing through the beat of the drum

Sandy Blocker is the University Accompanist at Elon University who plays world percussion instruments for modern, ballet and African dance classes. His professional training in ballet when he was younger makes him very in tune, and an ideal accompanist for the dance students and professors within the dance department.

Sandy Blocker was told he couldn’t chase his dreams because he was white. As a senior about to graduate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a BFA in Dance, Blocker attended the first class to really change his life.

“A friend of mine invited me to watch his African Dance class,” Blocker said. “I just watched, not the dancers, but the (African) drummer,” Hashim Sali, whom Blocker afterwards approached. He wanted to learn to play the drums like Sali, who immediately told him “no” because he was white and didn’t know enough about Africa. Blocker was too hooked to accept “no” for an answer.

They made a deal—Sali gave Blocker three months to learn something about Africa. Blocker walked back into the African Dance class exactly three months later and walked out as Sali’s new accompanist-in-training.

“I went back with more information than he was ready for me to put on him,” Blocker said. Within a few semesters, he became the staff accompanist for UNCG’s dance department, which paved the altered career path that ensued.

Blocker playing the djembe during his time as the staff accompanist at UNCG. Video courtesy of UNCG’s dance department.

Balletic background

Blocker stretches in between songs during a modern dance class at Elon, taught by Jason Aryeh.

Blocker had been trained from an early age as a classical dancer. At age 18 he moved to Virginia to study ballet with the School of Norfolk Ballet before receiving a scholarship to move to New York to study with the Joffrey Ballet School. He studied in Virginia during the school years and spent his summers in New York during this two-year period of intense balletic training. After finishing his last summer in New York, he joined the Houston Ballet, where he danced for a year before electing to take a break from dance to give his body, and mind, a rest. This brought him to the decision to earn a college degree—something he had not previously had the chance to do.

In 1988, he moved to Greensboro, NC to attend UNCG, going back to the city where he was raised. After graduating with a BFA in Dance, Blocker remained on staff at UNCG to accompany the dance classes as he continued to learn more about the art of world percussion drumming.

Africa calling

Dancers from Les Ballet Africains. Photo courtesy of danceforpower.org.

But as time went on, Sali’s words rang in his ears, and Africa was calling. He left for Guinea and Senegal in 1995 for what would be the first of several trips back across the Atlantic.

“I went to study in Guinea, West Africa with Les Ballets Africains—the national ballet of Guinea—for two months,” said Blocker. “I lived with the dancers and the drummers—I studied with them.”

Two years later in 1997, Blocker went to Mali to study the djembe with the indigenous Malian people. The djembe is a specific type of African drum, rope-tuned and skin-covered, played with bare hands, thought to have originated from the ancient Mali Empire.

The djembe, center, is a popular type of African drum believed to be indigenous to Mali.

This trip to Mali was an intense learning experience for Blocker as a musician, who felt he needed a more authentic comprehension to ground and define himself as a genuine world percussionist. The next time he traveled back served more than just an educational purpose—it doubled as his honeymoon.

A musical duo

Blocker met his wife, Angie Greene, in the African Dance class he accompanied for at UNCG. Greene was a rising sophomore pursuing a career in dance education and a student in the class. The two became friends and started to date over the next couple of years, as they were both further developing their craft. They each followed their perspective paths together to Bamako, Mali to study and live with the people who could teach them best.

The couple stayed at a Protestant mission with a European style bathroom and kitchenette, air-conditioning that they paid for by the hour and filtered water.

Blocker's hands have become tough and leathered over the past couple decades of playing the drums.

“I was not very into camping or roughing it, and there was no way I was going to stay on the compound (in a straw hut) everyday,” Greene said. But Greene, who now teaches contemporary and African dance at Eastern Guilford High School, Burlington Academy of Dance & Arts and the Greensboro Ballet, felt she needed to see as much firsthand authentic African dancing as possible if she was going to be teaching it one day. Like Blocker, her studies in the U.S. had not yet been enough.

They filled up their water bottles with filtered water from the mission and took public transportation through Bamako across the Niger River to the compound where they studied every day for three weeks. Blocker studied with the drummers and Greene with the dancers.

Before heading home, Blocker and Greene went to Morocco and Casablanca for Blocker to study other styles of drumming. In combination with the skills he had picked up from this trip and the ones prior to it, Blocker had become a multi-talented and well-versed world percussionist, adding instrument upon instrument to his resume, ranging from the djembe to the juice harp to the mandolin, among many others.

“I do a lot of different types of drumming, all from different cultures,” Blocker said. “I do a lot of West African drumming, but I’ve also learned North African and Egyptian styles, Middle Eastern and Indian styles, and I can play music from Cuba and Brazil.”

Transition to Elon

Blocker remained on staff at UNCG as the accompanist for 19 years before budget cuts caused him to lose his job. Luckily, through a connection at Elon University, Blocker found out about the need for an accompanist in their dance department.

Sara Tourek, associate professor of Dance in Elon’s Performing Arts Department, met Blocker in graduate school at UNCG where she was a student in a class he accompanied for. When she heard Elon was looking for an accompanist, she immediately thought of Blocker, with whom she had become better friends with during her time as a UNCG dance student.

“He had a good sense of humor, and a clear background in dance that allowed him to connect with the dancers and play in tune with them,” Tourek said. “He provided exactly what the instructor wanted for every class, which really stood out from other accompanists.”

Blocker (far left) with Jason Aryeh (front row center) and his students in Modern I at Elon University.

She knew he’d be a perfect fit for Elon’s tight-knit performing arts department, where he would be able to have plenty of artistic freedom. Lauren Kearns, the chair of Elon’s dance department, hired Blocker in August of 2011. As the University Accompanist, he plays the drums for the upper-level ballet, modern and African dance classes, and often times for out-of-class performances.

Blocker is considered somewhat of a rarity in the dance accompanist world. Many accompanists stick to one style or one genre of dance, but Blocker knows how to cater to ballet classes, serving as a driving force for the students.

“We really like having his perspective and voice here,” said Tourek, who said she especially enjoys working with him since they have a performance background together. “He is really open to trying new things in the classroom, and to lending his talents.”

Blocker (foreground) drumming for a modern dance class in which Carly Flynn (background) is a student.

Dance major, junior Carly Flynn, enjoys the unique musical experience Blocker brings to her various dance classes. The dancers had only previously worked with an accompanist who mostly played piano, so learning how to move in tune to the beat of Blocker’s drums has been a fun and interesting adjustment, Flynn said.

“He’s very in tune with us as dancers, and very aware of our movement due to his personal dance background,” Flynn said. “He even gives us great feedback about our dancing—supposedly he’s an amazing ballet partner!”

Flynn has worked with Blocker beyond just the boundaries of the classroom. As the director of Tapped Out!, the annual Winter Term student-run-and-directed tap show, Flynn quickly saw how willing Blocker was to give the dancers as much as he could offer. He would drive in (from Greensboro) mornings and evenings to rehearse with the dancers, and he collaborated extensively on a piece for the show with tap professor Gene Medler.

“Sandy is pretty amazing,” Flynn said. “In his piece with Gene, Sandy created rhythms and beats on the drums, which Gene then turned into tap moves. (Sandy) pushed us further to go off of his rhythms, not just to mimic them, to help us create more interesting sounds.”

Heart and soul

Blocker loves being able to help people find music and connect to it through movement.

“I love what I do,” he said. “I get to play drums, watch dancers dance, and am challenged all the time by (adjusting to) the way people want to put movement to music. It’s really wonderful because I have a kinetic sense with the music. I have to dance it inside myself as I’m playing.”

He is also able to further apply his more creative side through performing with Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands, a dark yet whimsical, ethereal folk band based out of Greensboro for which Blocker plays percussion as one of Crystal Bright’s “Silver Hands.”

Blocker and Bright met in 2001 at UNCG, where Blocker taught Bright African drumming. Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands formed in 2010—Bright is the lead singer and performer, multi-talented as she simultaneously plays the accordion. The other members of the band, or Silver Hands, as Bright refers to them, play a wide variety of offbeat instruments to add to her very eclectic, otherworldly sound.

Blocker provides a world percussion twist to Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands.

As a versatile world percussionist, Blocker contributes African, Middle Eastern and South American rhythms to the band by adding sounds from various percussion instruments such as the riqq, djembe and conga drums, the kick drum and cymbals.

“(Sandy) is a very versatile and amazing musician,” Bright said. “He is so great with odd rhythms, throat singing and jaw harp…and is a great travel partner! He adds a world percussion flavor to the band and has great ideas that I normally wouldn’t think of.”

According to those that interact with Blocker, his character and spirit are some of his greatest trademarks, aside from his musical talents.

“Sandy is a great friend and collaborator—he keeps me grounded,” Bright said. “He is very thoughtful, open-minded and funny.”

Blocker on his set of drums, creates beats and rhythms that cater to the needs of the dance professor's needs and combinations.

Elon’s dance department has taken note as well, with students and professors both citing him as a truly special and wonderful addition to their community.

“It is so much fun to have him (at Elon) and watch him play,” Tourek said. “His spirit is always really true to himself.”

At home, Blocker fathers four children and maintains a flourishing garden with his wife and kids.

“We have a really nice garden (with) potatoes, onions, oregano, dill, cabbage, lettuce and other greens,” Blocker said.

Blocker’s two eldest sons, Buck, 21, and Joe, 19, have found a path resonant with their father’s.

“Joe, a great world percussionist and a good drum-set player, is an accompanist at UNCG now,” Blocker said. “Buck has been helping him out – Buck’s the ultimate rocker.”

As for the little ones, Sadie, 8, and Luke, 5, they love to watch their daddy drum and dance around with him. Music and dance are treasured values in their household, as it has served them well.

As someone who grew up only hearing Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong for the longest time before finally having The Beatles introduced to him, Blocker is a huge advocate for turning people on to new music.

“I’m not an obscure artist,” he insisted. “I’m just a person.”

Sandy Blocker is one man with a slew of talents who has managed to stay grounded and lovely spirited by finding happiness through the beat of his own drums.

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General Store offers unique items, community feel for locals

Valerie Brooks spends a great deal of her time working at The General Store & Coffee of Bellemont, for which she put a great deal of labor into to get on its feet and open to the public back in December 2011. With a background as a barista, Valeria has a love for coffee shops and is extremely knowledgeable about brewing and the chemistry of coffee, according to her mother, Debbie Brooks.

It’s the kind of place that makes you feel at home, regardless of where your home may be.

The view down the dirt road, beyond which lies the Brooks' family home.

Driving down North Carolina Highway 49 headed south, winding far out into Alamance County lies Bellemont, a quaint little area of Burlington with an abundance of green pastures, farmland and charming southern feel. The drive there melts away stress as visions of lush green fields speckled with yellow buttercups pass by. With the windows down, the scent of freshly cut grass mixed with the sweet aroma of crisp, country air wafts about. A blanket of peacefulness and quiet simplicity envelops the land.

A small, appealing yet unassuming store appears at 3041 Bellemont Mount Hermon Road just off Highway 49. Surrounded by a small gravel parking lot, with neighboring rustic country homes and a church across the street, the blue wooden storefront with the red roof is a pleasantly welcome surprise.

The General Store and Coffee sits off of Bellemont Mount Hermon Road, tucked away in a rustic area surrounded by green pastures, offering something unique for the small community.

The General Store & Coffee of Bellemont, which opened on December 1, 2011, provides the community with a warm, welcoming atmosphere, local food products and consignment items from local artisans. Plus, there’s a full, gourmet coffee bar. There are tables and chairs, checkerboards and free Wi-Fi for the customers’ comfort and enjoyment.

The building occupies a space that originated as a general store in the 1940s, but evolved into a boat shop, a lawnmower shop and eventually a junkyard. The plot of land is interlaced with the history of the Brooks family that owns and operates the store today.

This eight-member family is headed by Tim Brooks, a daytime mail delivery man with electric blue eyes and a smooth, stable southern drawl, along with his wife Debbie Brooks, a kind, sweet-spoken mother of six with an affinity for raising golden retrievers. They have five daughters and one son, ranging from a 16-year-old high school student to a 34-year-old mother of three young, yellow-haired troublemakers.

The Brooks’ family history is deeply embedded where they work and reside. Their house, a charismatic residence on a vast plot of land with chicken coops and roaming cows, sits at the end of the dirt road adjacent to The General Store. Robert L. Brooks Lane is family property, named for Tim’s father. Their house and the dirt road have strong sentimental ties to Tim, more so than the others.

The Brooks' home has been in the family since the 1940s, when Tim Brooks' parents purchased the property to raise Tim and his eight other siblings.

“He’s lived in this house his whole life except three years. His roots are very deep,” Debbie said of her husband. “He is very local. Very few people can say they’ve lived on the same dirt road their whole life, much less the same house.”

This deeply rooted connection and long-standing history led the family to purchase the old lawnmower shop when it went up for sale, to turn it into something for the whole family.

“My husband’s family, which has nine siblings who all live around here on (either side of) this dirt road, wanted someone in the family to purchase the building because they own all the property from the store back down this way,” Debbie said. “We ended up buying it so it would stay in the family.”

Two of the older Brooks daughters, Valerie and Kim, had the idea to start a coffee shop, but Tim also wanted there to be a little store, kind of like there was when he was growing up. The three of them singlehandedly cleaned out the old place and did all the planning. Over a year, they transformed it from a junky lawnmower shop to what it is today.

The building had most recently been a junky lawnmower shop before the Brooks family transformed it into store it is today. Photo courtesy of The General Store & Coffee.

“We did everything, all the cleanup ourselves,” said Valerie Brooks, the second-eldest Brooks daughter. “All the painting, and the finishing of the floor. We brought in (Roger Moore) for the internal repairs, and some local people helped paint the roof red.”

Their uncle, who lives next to the property, hand made the wooden, white-painted red-lettered sign out front that welcomes customers to the store, listing select items inside, many of which are locally obtained.

Tim and Debbie spend a lot of their time researching how and where to get as many local products as they can, but it isn’t always easy or affordable—at least so far.

Valerie Brooks said her uncle, who lives right next to the store, hand painted the wooden sign out front of the store.

“We can’t say everything is local,” Tim said. “I try as much as I can, but we sometimes have a hard time finding everything at a decent price.”

The ice cream, which comes from the Homeland Creamery in Julian, NC is one of their most local products, and by far the most popular. The eggs come from their own personal chicken coop, and some other products, such as the meats, wines, loose candies, salsas and the coffee beans they brew in-store, are brought in from various individual vendors and distributors throughout the state—some as close as Burlington, others up to a few hours away. The rest of the products come from various distributors in other states, such as the jams and jellies from the Amish in Pennsylvania.

“It’s a lot of work and takes several hours to do the research,” Tim said. Debbie spends a lot of time searching for local products online, but she has found that customers are can be helpful as well.

The dairy items, such as the milk, cheese and ice cream, are all from very local farms and distributors. The Homeland Creamery provides the most popular item in the store, the ice cream.

“Customers have come in and said ‘you should call this person, they sell xyz,’” Debbie said. “I have found that people are very interested in buying local (products). But (those products) are more difficult to find and can be more expensive. You wonder if people will purchase them, so you just have to be committed.”

Debbie has also noticed that people who never thought before about buying local until they saw the variety of local products in The General Store. She enjoys providing these customers with the opportunity to make that choice.

The shop has been bringing in new customers every day while continuing to build its resume of committed regulars.

Retta (Deane) Bingham, a Burlington local, has been going to The General Store frequently since she first discovered it one month ago.

“Friends told me they had seen the sign driving by, and another friend came in and highly recommended it,” Bingham said. “She loved the coffee and the friendliness of the baristas and all the local things. She’s especially fond of the ice cream – she had just sung its praises.”

As a Starbucks barista inside the Burlington Target, Bingham’s work life can get pretty hectic and noisy. She goes to The General Store for the atmosphere, and funnily enough, for their piping hot coffee.

Retta (Dean) Bingham, a local Starbuck's barista, frequently visits The General Store & Coffee to order the tallest cup of their flavored, piping hot brew.

“I always do a flavored coffee, just their brewed hazelnut or something because I enjoy a bold or a medium,” she said, “but it’s nice to get an actual coffee shop brewed flavor without having to add syrup.”

Bingham said she is additionally committed to the store to support the Brooks family. She sees how hard they work and admires their passion and the family atmosphere that it creates. She tries to bring other friends with her to add to the customer pool, but often times Bingham just comes in alone to read or write letters in a peaceful environment.

“I like what they’re doing and I just want to see them succeed,” she said.

The Brooks have received a lot of positive feedback—a good amount from those who have expressed how the store has added something special to the small community.

“Everyone actually really likes our store because it’s a lot different from anything else in the area,” said Emily Brooks, the second youngest daughter. “It’s also nice to have a coffee shop here so you don’t have to go into town to get a cup of coffee.”

But it isn’t always easy.

“I’ve got all this other stuff to do,” Tim said. “I run a mail route, take care of cows and chickens, and then there’s the store. But it’s fun…as long as it pays off in the long run.”

Debbie has found that people truly care about her family’s well-being.

“We’ve made some new friends—people I had never met before that live right here in our community, and now they’re regulars,” she said. “They’ll come in and ask how we’re doing. ‘We don’t want you closing,’ they’ll say. Sometimes I try to cut them a deal, but they insist on paying full price. They want us to make it, and that has been encouraging.”

Kim Brooks prepares coffee on a busy Saturday afternoon at the store. Kim has another job that keeps her very busy, not allowing her to spend as much time in the store as she would like.

Each member of the family pitches in. They all spend time working behind the counter, and everyone is expected to do their part.

“We have to get up earlier in the mornings and we’re pretty tired at night,” Debbie said. The store is open twelve hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week, and ten hours on Saturdays. They are only closed on Sundays.

“We’ve had people wanting to know if we’ll ever be open on Sundays…but we just have to recognize that we need to have a day where we get a break,” Debbie said.

The family enjoys working together to maintain a place where there is a sense of community value. They provide something more personal for both those who come in regularly and for first-timers.

“You can’t always make money that way,” Debbie said, “but it’s nice to work together as a family. It’s got its advantages and disadvantages, and we don’t always agree on everything, but at the end of the day it’s worth it.”

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Tips for the Trade

There are several things that aspiring journalists should keep in mind to build a path to a successful profession. Tina Firesheets, a reporter for the Greensboro News & Record, offered our Reporting class the best tips she learned throughout her career as a journalist. They can be summed up in this list of ten helpful tips:

1. Don’t be intimidated. Learn as much as you can, do as best as you can, and then you will succeed.

Image2. If you don’t like being rushed, and working on a time limit with short deadlines, then you need to find another job. Or instead look into the magazine industry.

3. Your major is not your life. Meaning, there are many paths you can take after graduating college. A degree alone means a lot. It’s how you hone your personal skills and where you apply them. Tina focused on PR in college but she became a journalist. Anything is possible.

4. Speaking of other chances, don’t give up. Keep knocking on doors until they open for you. If you really want a job with a specific publication/company/employer/etc., then continue to apply until you get it. Chances are, the more they see from you, the more you further the possibility of getting hired. In the mean time, build up your portfolio so it becomes impossible to turn you and your amazing work away!

5. Know where you are. Get to know the area you are working in really well. Make discoveries and  educate yourself. That’s the only way to best represent your community’s voice, which is your job. Do it the best job you can by learning as much as you can!

6. Always be on time – be early if you can. Be smart and be prepared. Be on your game, dressed appropriately and flexible to adapt to anything that might come your way.

7. If you are naturally curious, journalism is for you. This job can be fun if you like variety and stepping into other peoples’ shoes. You get to learn new things about different people all the time. It keeps things interesting.

8. Reporting can be fun, once you get good at it. Learn to love the quest for information and the interactions with your sources, and hone in their energy.

9. Keep your readers in mind. If you can figure out how to dig through loads of text and data to find what readers would want to know, then you’ve found your story.

10. Take note of themes. If you hear and notice something continuously recurring, then it’s important and note worthy. This should help to guide your focus.

I found this session helpful and beneficial, aside from just the tips. It made me realize that despite how, at this point in our college careers, it seems as if every step we make is vital and life-changing, that there is still room for change. Our steps will, of course, lead us somewhere, but not everything is set in stone. A lot of how we want our life to be is just determined from the choices we make as we go, which means we can make a change any time! As long as you love what you do and are constantly interested in your work, then you are in a good place. Thanks for the life motivation, Tina!

Bustling downtown atmosphere overshadows unique jewelry shop

Mary's Jewelry Box is located on 108 W. McGee St., right off of Elm Street in the heart of downtown Greensboro. Though the shop is just around the corner from other popular joints like Just Be and The Green Bean coffee shop, it often goes unnoticed.

Although Mary’s Jewelry Box offers a seemingly endless supply of handmade earrings, necklaces, pendants and other trinkets, those who know the store exists number significantly less than the pieces of jewelry for sale. The store is located on West McGee Street in Greensboro, NC which runs perpendicular to the bustling Elm Street. But according to Nocomus Williams, who has worked at the store for five months, many people pass right by and don’t even glance in the store’s direction.

Elon University junior Molly Carey makes frequent visits to The Green Bean Coffeehouse but says she has never spotted the jewelry store just around the corner. She even said she’s stopped into Just Be, a retail store directly across the street, but still never noticed Mary’s Jewelry Box.

Mary's Jewelry Box offers a wide selection of eclectic jewelry and other funky accessories for very low prices.

“The traffic on this street is not very good,” Williams said. “Hopefully we may be moving to Elm Street. We’ve been thinking about that. Seriously.”

Mary Garvey opened Mary’s Jewelry’s Box in February 2011. The opening of the store came shortly after the closing of Clothesline, her discounted vintage clothing store.

“Mary owned the Clothesline on the corner and she actually sold the business name and decided that she wanted to get out of the business for awhile,” Williams said. “But it wasn’t a year before she opened this place.  And I had worked for her when she owned the Clothesline, so she called me and I’ve been here ever since.”

The store offers a wide variety of second-hand jewelry, the majority of which ranges in price from $2 to $5. Garvey buys a lot of the jewelry on eBay and also from individuals selling their own jewelry, Williams said. Because the prices are so low, the store does not work on consignment; Garvey pays the sellers upfront.

Due mainly in part to the excess inventory left over from Clothesline, Mary’s Jewelry Box has begun offering clothing.

“(Mary) had so much of a carry-over when she owned the clothing business that she started bringing groups of clothing,” Williams said. “And we’re gonna have even more clothes, hopefully soon.”

Although Garvey and Williams are looking forward to attracting more business, Williams said she is pleased the store brings in such a diverse group of people, including college students from University of North Carolina at Greensboro and North Carolina A&T State University, as well as elderly customers.

“It’s just a variety of people,” she said. “Sometimes people will be going out to eat and  they spot the little rack and the mermaid and they’ll come in. Unless it’s raining, the mermaid is usually there.”

But being greeted by a stuffed mermaid isn’t the only thing that keeps customers coming back. From the employees to the jewelry to the music selection, Mary’s Jewelry Box is a true find for those who take the time to turn the corner.

 

 

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When dumber is better

We live in a world where really smart people do really dumb things. We call phones with computer-like abilities “smart,” letting them think for us, as we slowly become the dumb ones. We put a lot of information out there without slowing down to consider the ramifications. As a society, we have become so susceptible to the enticing seduction of smart phones, selling our souls for these electronic brains that think for us, speak for us and do for us. We are becoming outsmarted by technology. Ring the alarm — it’s a real epidemic.
One of my favorite things to reflect upon is how amazing it would be to not have a neurotic obligation to our phones, these tricky little devices that make us feel like we have convenience at our fingertips when really, we are made their puppets, constantly controlled and attached to their digital allure. I wonder how many people that are left, like me, who long for the ability to feel indifferent and detached from our phone. I love my chinky, bright blue “dumb” phone (what I call my non-smart phone – i.e. a phone without a data plan), because of its inability to connect to the internet, therefore exempting me from being held always responsible for staying up-to-the-minute with my email, Facebook, etc.

I often wonder how it would be if we could just totally “unplug” for periods of time. I think about how stress-free it would be to escape the pressure to check our email and text messages, which contribute to feeling the constant need to tend to every instant need of those who call upon us, inciting fear within each of us at the mere thought of how angry someone will be if we don’t respond within a “reasonable” time frame.

The rise of smart phones has proven great strides in modern technology, reinforcing the idea that the futuristic dream of yesterday can be today’s immediate, tangible possibility. It has provided an entire new world of potential, with one amazing quirk after another, but at the same time, the more we become obsessed and invested in the pocketable communicative devices, the more dangerous a line we walk. With each “advancement” we further our enthrallment with simply a piece of technology, always striving to make each new phone or app better than the last. But it all comes at a cost.

“More and more people are buying smartphones because they can surf the web, text message, watch television and video highlights, as well as many other functions beyond the capability of regular cell phones,’ says internationally renowned dating and relationship coach and author, David Wygant, in his article “Are Smartphones Making Us Stupid?”

But the more “plugged in” we get, we become more disengaged with our real-life relationships. Not who we text or whose “wall” we post on, but who we talk to and develop interpersonal relations with and how. We spend so much time developing technological devices to “communicate” with, but our human communication skills fall to pieces with the baggage of smart phones. More and more emphasis is placed on how quickly and effectively we respond to electronic messages, be it a text, email, HeyTell, BBM, or what have you. But this perception is skewed, and unrealistically emphasized.

When a friend doesn’t text back promptly, people get annoyed. The more time that passes, people either become irrationally angry at their friend’s lack of response, or they think that said friend is dead. Yes, it is that dramatic that people either mentally begrudge their texty pal, or kill them. What choices! We place a heinous amount of weight on text messages – reading too far into them and expecting too much. Instead of talking about real issues in person, people have text quarrels, text fights and even text-break-ups. And the more addicted people are to their phone, the worse off they become in the socially-functional department. People even go so far as to call a friend a “mean” or “angry” texter from their use of correct punctuation. Imagine that! We now live in a world where correct grammar and punctuation are considered so serious for electronic messaging, that we believe such properly composed messages are laced with meanness or anger.

I have managed to avoid “phone-finger syndrome” – an unfortunate paralysis where one’s fingertips unnaturally magnetically attract to the keys of one’s phone. A pitiful amount of my friends have tragically fallen victim, prohibiting them from engaging in normal human interaction, and inhibiting their ability to properly function and engage in social situations. Smart phones further exacerbate this syndrome with their aptitude to connect, taunting those susceptible with the web, apps, games, videos, cameras and more. You know you’ve got it bad when you elect to play Bubble Breaker on your phone instead of actively engaging in conversations with the friends around you. And you know it’s bad when you can’t even sit through a full movie without checking your phone, or attempting to break your high score in Angry Birds.

“The fastest-growing group of smartphone addicts was 18- to 24-year-olds, though it’s 25- to 34-year-olds who continue to own the lion’s share,” says an article from eweek.com. The new generation of socialites has bred a serious monster – one that cannot seem to survive for an extended (or short) period of time without communicating via text, Tweet, post, etc. People have become so seduced by these flashy, sleek devices, that they have thrown all caution to the wind, not stopping for long enough to consider their privacy may be in jeopardy.

According to a recent report about identity theft from a study by Javelin Strategy & Research, “people are making it easier for identity thieves to piece together the information needed to steal their credit name…the survey found that 7 percent of smartphone users were victims of identity fraud, compared with the 4.9 percent among the general population,” as cited in this Boston Globe article.

According to a report from TIME, nearly 50 percent of Americans now owning a smart phone, with Androids and iPhones in the lead, the norm for how we communicate is shifting planes. Expectations are morphing along with this shift, so how do we adapt? Do we sell out (literally), and buy an expensive phone with an expensive data plan and load it up with games and apps we spend yet more money on, signing a contract to agreeably accept a seemingly incurable addiction? It isn’t just a choice, but it’s a lifestyle to commit to. It isn’t to be taken lightly. For me, I plan to stick with my dumb phone, living in ignorant bliss for as long as I can, maintaining a healthy mind set about electronic communication with the hopes that there are others out there like me. I’m not perfect, but I can try to be as healthily detached as possible. I like leaving my phone places. I like when it “dies” when I’m out and I am immediately relieved of an endless obligations. I take those moments and I cherish them, and I advise more people to do the same. Unplug to unwind. Remember how to talk with your mouth. Slow down in this modern world where it is so easy to get swept up in the busy craze. ‘Cuz once you go smart, you can never go back. Stay grounded, stay dumb. It’s worth it.

Weighing (gay) marriage, opposing Amendment One

Amendment One has caused a stir among both same-sex supporters and opposers alike. The amendment proposes to apply a legal ban on gay marriage in the NC state constitution, an already illegal institution. It would further bar all legal recognition of any union other than those between a man and a woman, including civil unions and domestic partnerships, even if acquired from another state. Those who have joined the battle for equality, fighting fervently for the legalization of gay marriage, are urging those who can vote to oppose the amendment on the May 8 ballot.

“We need to put the decision to the people so that they can define what marriage is, and not us,” said Speaker Pro Temporate Dale Folwell at a news conference. He believes that the people pf North Carolina should have the right to vote on such an important issue.

   

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, who is against the amendment, says it will hurt business and dent the job market, and negatively affect families and children. The NC House Republican leaders have dismissed these notions, who put this issue at the very top of the list for proposed changes, above numerous other stateside issues. An Equality North Carolina group member, Alex Miller, says that it’s shameful for lawmakers to design the ballot with the intent to damage the rights of a group of people just to have their way and score a win for Republicans to sway the upcoming presidential and governor elections.The amendment would make traditional marriage the only legally recognized domestic union within the state, where state law already defines “marriage” as being between only a man and a woman.

Although Folwell states that a strong portion of the state supports the amendment, an Elon University poll indicates that more than half of North Carolina supports the recognition of same-sex couples. The university’s LGBTQ awareness organization, Spectrum, with the leading forces of Ross Wade, Assistant Director Career Services for the School of Communications, and Dr. Kirstin Ringelberg, coordinator of the new LGBTQ Office and Associate Professor of Art and Art History, recently coordinated a “Vote Against: Race to the Ballot” event on campus to urge students to register to vote, and to educate them about why they should vote against Amendment One.

Marvin M. Ellison, an ordained Presbyterian minister who is widely published on the topics of same-sex marriage and heterosexism, the current co-chair of Maine’s Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, a member of the Board of Directors of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and on the advisory board for the Religious Institute on Sexuality, Morality, Justice and Healing, spoke at Elon on Friday. His lecture, “Is Same-Sex Marriage a ‘Must’ or ‘Bust’? Rethinking the Marriage Agenda,” presented by the Elon Center for the Study of Religion, brought thought-provoking angles to the Elon community. He spoke about the faults of the institution of marriage in general, and offered advice and possible solutions to more tactfully and effectively approaching it. From heterosexual to homosexual couples, he stressed that the emphasis should not be placed on the materialistic, “pageant-style” weddings commercialized in today’s society, or on marriage at all, but rather on human relationships that strive for justice and equality. His personal sexuality made his perspective all the more interesting – the gay minister articulated the core roots of the issues that surround the marriage battle.

Ellison emphasized a message that was “bent towards inclusion,” and that allowing same-sex marriage would be a huge human accomplishment. He pointed out the fight for specifically marriage rights and equality is setting us back, creating a vast body of new anti-gay laws and supporters. Focusing on marriage is to traditional to evoke change, he says, and problems arise from the “over-valuation” of it. Marriage becomes used a mark of social status. He quotes a fellow colleague who suggests “justice rather than legal remedies.”

There has always been a marriage debate on the political agenda. It has transitioned from the validation of women not as property but as their own person, to the acceptance of interracial couples, to acknowledging inner-marriage rape as a legitimate issue. Today we find ourselves in the fight over permitting same-sex marriages. He further illuminated that in each of these debates, Christians have been on the wrong side of the argument.

Taking the words right from the lawmakers who have been putting a foot down against gay marriage since it has been on the table, Ellison cited the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that even incarcerated prisoners on death row had the right to marry because “no right is more precious than the right to enter into intimate relationships with the person of one’s choosing.” They were granted this freedom because, as it was ruled, “marriage is a fundamental human right.” So not only is there inequality in today’s opposition to gay marriage, but also hypocrisy.

Ellison said, “No right is more precious than the right to enter into intimate relationships with the person of one’s choosing.” He suggests that the church stop promoting marriage, and instead promote just, love relationships – what he cites as the cruz of Christianity anyways. His five main solutions for our current predicament are:

  1. to offer value-based sexual education concerned with relational integrity,
  2. to publicly and persistently advocate for a broader agenda, wealth redistribution, social justice and more power for women,
  3. to reinforce the idea that sin is far less about sex and far more about the misuse of power, the exploitation of vulnerability and the denial individuals’ rights, keeping the focus on what truly matters – human character and conduct,
  4. to resist the commercial wedding industry, and
  5. to become actively engaged in the discussions surrounding LGBTQ topics.

Ellison was clearly very well-educated, and he spoke with great clarity and conviction. His articulated many of my personal thoughts, and I found great resonation with his words, which have still loudly stuck with me. As a strong supporter of gay marriage, an opponent to the traditional institution of marriage, and a non-religious identifier, I found his speech exceptionally thought-provoking. He put into better words several of my own sentiments, while also challenging me to further scrutinize my own stance on these issues. I felt enlightened and inspired after I walked out of the lecture hall. I have  realized how it is more important to push the recognition and acceptance of all around equal relationships, and focus less on marriage. It makes so much sense. And in a battle where it is hard to stay grounded, and easy to succumb to emotion and get frustrated with the stereotypical heterosexual Christians who have made the fight so brutal, it is comforting to have the words of an intelligent gay minister to remind me that there still is hope.

Clinton: Reasons to remember

When our generation thinks back on the 90s, we think back on our first decade of life filled with overalls, Bill Cosby inspired sweaters, the rise of the Internet, Furby, the rise of teenaged pop music stars and the abundance of boy bands with their abundance of hair gel. The 90s were a time of overall economic stability, peace-time and happiness. The 90s were like sophomore year of college – essential, but a more mellow hiatus between the hype of the 80s (like freshman year) and the economic and political unrest of what was to come with the turn of the millennium (junior and senior year). Upon further reflection, we remember vaguely that Bill Clinton, the man with the unfortunate reputation as a result his notorious affair with Monica Lewinsky, remembered more for his misstep in character than for his political agenda. But there was more to Bill Clinton than his scandalized presidency, which was largely overshadowed by his sex-driven mistakes – his presidential “goodness,” so to speak, was thrown to the wind, and he became the object of vicious sexual humor and ridicule for years to come. But our comfort in the 90s can be attributed to some of the successes of his democratic reign.

During Clinton’s presidency, the U.S. was at a time of peace and economic well being, according to the Washington Post, more than at almost any other time in history. He served a second term, during which he achieved the lowest unemployment and inflation rates in the modern economy and low crime rates. He proposed the first balanced budget in decades and even accomplished a budget surplus. He fought to end racial discrimination, upgrade education, protect jobs, restrict handgun sales and strengthen environmental policies. The Arkansas born Georgetown graduate however had his accomplishments tarnished by his sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky (Clinton, of course, was married to the politically active Hillary and they were the parents of a teenaged daughter, Chelsea). He became infamous for his initial denials of sexual relations with the intern, which plagued the rest of his presidency so terribly that he became the second president in history to be impeached.

Clinton also notably implemented the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy,” and ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He increased national minimum wage, once again making him most noted for reigning over a time of great economic prosperity and equality. Of course there were failures, as in any presidency, such as the failure of the American military mission in Somalia and the U.S. inaction in the Rwandan genocide, but all administrations are blemished. What I have never understood is Americans’ obsession and taboo infatuation with sex. It drives so many of our downfalls and the inability to progressively move forward in this country. In a modern society, we are continuously held back by the overwhelming burden of traditional, biblical-based ideals of how sex should be, or rather shouldn’t be at all. In a society so uptight about the topic of sex, we have been unable to make great strides in numerous facets of the political spectrum. So many politicians have experienced their demise as a direct result of their sex life. While yes, perhaps their actions may have been immoral and a breech of the so-called “trust” we expect of our leaders, I find it wildly illogical how we as a society react to the very personal aspects of our public figures’ lives, right down to what they do in bed.

Clinton went on to recover from his plagued presidency by founding the William J. Clinton Foundation for global and climate initiatives, convening global leaders to find solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental challenges, for treating HIV/AIDS through the Health Access Initiative, and for fighting childhood obesity, upon several other initiatives.