Tag Archives: Rochester

Rain, Graduates, and Goodbyes

Well, it’s been just a little over a week since Commencement, and I feel like I’ve finally settled back into home life in the country. I just spent the last few hours buying and repotting gerbera daisies (my favorite flower) and summer herbs. This ritual with my mom is the usual mark of the start of summer vacation made all the more important as this summer is most likely to be my last full one at home in Tennessee. Very bittersweet. The transition from school to home life is always a little challenging. Trading in paper deadlines, the bustle of campus and city life, and parties for pastoral life, large expanses of free time, and the simple  existence around here. I definitely feel like a foreigner now whenever I come back. I used to fit into a rhythm here before I left for school. I was used to it all, but now I feel like a stranger in a strange land, a feeling that I know is good, but feels odd regardless. However,  although I freely admit that I would rather live in a city any day, the first couple of weeks following my return to the country act as a nice stress reliever after the madness of finals, and this year, graduation.

That brings me to the real purpose of this post. Unfortunately so many of you could not join me for Commencement so I thought I could recap those final days to fill you in. For those of you who don’t know me, I recently graduated from the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York with a B.A. in American history. Now you’re up to speed.

I think the last place I left you all was the night before the big day when I was horrendously sleep deprived due to my nagging insomnia and in a stress-induced melancholy. The week prior to Commencement at my school is called Senior Week. They pack activities (wine tours, club nights, museum tours etc.) into that week in an effort to…well, I’m not really sure why they do it, but by the number of alcohol-related events, I can only safely gather that it was an attempt to keep us perpetually drunk until Sunday morning. I chose to do some of the activities and tried to rest and pack when I wasn’t spending those last precious moments with my friends before we all scattered to the winds. My parents and our dear friends Barbara and Wayne arrived Thursday, and from then on I spent most of my time during the day touring Rochester and giving them a taste of my life for the past four years, something they had only heard stories about. It was good, a bit hectic trying to fit that in with packing and socializing with friends, but good none the less.

We had gorgeous weather that week…until Saturday. It has been a wet spring in the East. The weekend of Commencement proved no different. The rain socked in Saturday night, and, as everyone feared, it continued non-stop through Sunday. The cold moved in as well. My school, though, in its unbending commitment to tradition in the face of whatever gets thrown at it held true to its on the quad rain or shine policy. I woke up the morning of the 15th at five hoping that by some miracle of mother nature the rain had moved on, but alas, the soft tapping of a steady barrage of water droplets on my window was still audible. Foolishly I showered and spent about an hour and a half trying to tame and style my unruly (made even more so by the damp) mass of long blonde hair. Surprisingly it turned out well, and looked rather fabulous until I stepped outside upon which it immediately went to pieces. By the time we all lined up at the starting point for the march, all of us looked like drowned, shivering rats. At least we all looked awful together. It also gave us one last opportunity for camaraderie as we could collectively gripe about Rochester’s atrocious weather and the often ridiculous decision-making abilities of our university. If there is one pastime students at my school participate in religiously, it is complaining. It really is a bonding experience, and mostly done in a good-natured way, mostly. A little known fact: upon the awarding of one’s degree(s) at UR, one also receives an official degree in bitching.

We were separated by colleges, those of us in humanities and social sciences were separated from the engineers and other sciences people. Most of my friends are of the latter persuasion, so Murthmaster (my fellow social scientist) and I arranged it where we could at least stand in the procession next to all our sciencey-type friends (practically all of them). We also managed to snag spots right in the front, so we were able to see the platform unblocked by umbrellas and mortarboards. It was quite nice, except for the multitude of official cameras trained on our bedraggled, soggy selves during the ceremony. Unfortunately, this evidence is up on our school’s website, which I WILL NOT be sharing here.

At any rate, after standing in the rain for about an hour, we processed down the middle of our big beautiful old quad, first past our well-wishing professors, then our loved ones, and finally we took our seats. The ceremony itself was a bit on the long side considering the weather conditions, and we were all graduatecicles by the end, but the speeches were nice, the right amount of inspiring without being cliche. I am still on the fence about our class president’s speech. He took it upon himself to award our class a moniker (one that I hope won’t stick, but I’m afraid I hope in vain). Forever more the members of our school’s class of 2011 will be known as “party nerds who know how to win.” This phrase is entirely fitting coming from the mouth our our CP, as any of his emails from the last year will show, and I will accept and acknowledge that we are pretty damn good party nerds, but I do not appreciate being associated with a crazy Charlie Sheen reference. Ah well, the rest of his speech was actually surprisingly appropriate and  mildly entertaining. C’est la vie.

The rest of the day was taken up with the departmental ceremonies. Although they officially confer degrees at the large ceremony, we don’t  actually get our diplomas until our departmental ceremonies. For those who belong to more than one, they are given the choice of which ceremony they would like to receive their diploma at. I am just a history major, and only went to that one. After a rushed photo shoot with some of my friends in the library immediately after the big ceremony, my party dashed to the auditorium where the history ceremony was to be held. They decided to try something new with us this year (why do I always end up in the guinea pig group?), and we were all to line up alphabetically to process into the auditorium followed by our professors. My department is a small one, and many students choose history as their secondary (and sometimes tertiary) major so not many decided to receive their diplomas there. The ceremony was considered a bumbling affair by many of those without an insider’s view of the department, I believe one girl seated close to me referred to it as “a shit show,” but I found it perfectly fitting for our department. It was a little disorganized, disheveled, disgruntled in parts, and long winded, but those traits made a fitting reflection of the department I came to know and quite earnestly love in my four years under its tutelage. Awards were given to both graduate and undergraduates, and my friend Andrew who was a fellow student in many of the history classes I took including the graduate class we took after our nominations as Christopher Lasch Fellows. It was a good speech, and I’m glad he was asked to give it. One of my most beloved professors, the head of undergraduate studies and quite possibly the smartest man I have ever met, was tasked with giving out our diplomas. He made a point to talk about each of us as we came up. Those of us who he had had more experience with got more time naturally, which made me feel a little sorry for those in the department who hadn’t gotten as involved and chose to hang back. I was jokingly dubbed “the pride of Nashville” in my bit, which was sweet. After those were finished, another of my former profs sang a very apropos Garrison Keillor ( I think) parody of “My Way,” and we filed out. There was a lovely reception afterward and I was able to introduce my loved ones to my favorite profs they had heard so much about including my wonderful advisor. We were able to chat for a bit and have one last banter sesh before it was time for us to leave. I actually found out he is doing some research in Florida in the near future so I may get to help him a little with that, which would be quite fun.

The rest of the day was spent eating lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in Rochester, a lovely crepe place on the Erie Canal, and loading up the van with all of my junk I somehow managed to get packed that week. I ate dinner with my parents and savored the feeling my newly minted bachelor’s was giving me. They dropped me off at my friends’ apartment afterward so I could go out with the gang for one last drink together. We all met at a charming little bar and for the first time since freshmen year, despite the new and absent faces, we collectively felt like our old group again. Maybe it was just the wave of nostalgia gripping me as I furiously tried to take in every last ounce of our time together before we separated indefinitely, but it all felt good… until it was time for goodbyes. Goodbyes are so hard especially when they are prolonged as ours were. Change is always difficult, and when change means letting go of people who have been so close to you you actually take that fact for granted, it’s even harder. Stiff upper lips were kept as we all gave multiple rounds of hugs, final congratulations and good lucks, and made promises of regular AIM, Skype, and Facebook updates. It was a bittersweet mixture of loss and promise, a final look back before we all took our last steps through the doorway separating the last four years from our waiting futures.

Having said that, I would like to take the opportunity just to state what an amazing group of people I have had the pleasure of sharing a circle with in my time at our university. I don’t think a brighter, funnier, more fun, and (hahaha) better looking group of friends has ever been. It was a true honor to share the college experience with them, and as we all go off to make our ways in the world I will truly miss them and fondly look back on our time together. Despite our many faults, those years could not have been more perfect.

So, everyone, that was my last week of undergrad in a nutshell more or less. It was good, it was wet, and it flew by so quickly leaving nothing but a multitude of memories and a rather dazed Betsy in its wake. Time to wrap it all up and meet my future. Good luck and bully for all of us, class of 2011, party nerds or otherwise, we have a world to conquer!

My parents' view of the ceremony amidst a sea of umbrellas



Filed under Just Me, Miscellany

The Lovely Lulu

Louise Brooks (This is not my image, and I am not using it for commercial purposes).

The other day I found myself rambling off to someone about classic films, as I have a habit of doing. I started on my burgeoning passion for silent films and of course began gushing about my idol Louise Brooks, and unsurprisingly the person I was talking to (or more likely talking at since I have a habit of going on and on about things people don’t really care about) had never seen any of her films and knew nothing about her. They actually were very interested in learning more about the lovely Lulu and suggested I write a post about her, so here I go.

Louise Brooks is perhaps one of the best loved sirens of the screen among silent film enthusiasts today, but she is virtually forgotten by the rest of American culture. During the heyday of silent film in the 1920s, Brooks was a superstar appearing in a number of American films produced by Paramount. She worked with many other noted film stars including W.C. Fields and John Wayne. By the end of her cinema career in 1938, Brooks had appeared in twenty-one Hollywood films and three German pieces.

Mary Louise Brooks, called Brooksie by her friends and family, was born November 14, 1906, in the small hamlet of Cherryvale, Kansas. Brooks’ very first taste of the theatre came when she was four, cast as Tom Thumb’s bride in Tom Thumb’s Wedding at her local church. She was a creative child and began studying dancing at a young age, but she experienced a relatively happy and normal childhood. Both of her parents encouraged Brooks and her siblings to pursue cultural endeavors, and Louise grew up with a love of reading and learning.

At fifteen, though, Brooks’ life changed dramatically. She was accepted into Ruth Saint-Denis and Ted Shawn’s Denishawn Dance Company in New York City. She danced with the company for two years until she was dismissed due to her poor attitude. It appears she acted a bit like a diva. After a brief stay in Europe, Brooks returned to the U.S. and signed with Paramount. She soon rose to stardom.

In 1929, though, Brooks made one of her most famous career decisions, and left Paramount to act in the film scene in Weimar Germany. She starred in G.W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box as Lulu the epitome of sex. This role became the one she was most known for the rest of her life. Brooks also appeared in Diary of a Lost Girl, my personal favorite, and Prix de Beauté.

Brooks’ European efforts received a lukewarm reaction at best from critics of the day on both sides of the Atlantic, and she was forced to return to the States with her tail between her legs in 1930. She was unable to reclaim her Hollywood stardom and acted in only a few B movies upon her reemergence and eventually fell off the map.

Lulu’s story does not end tragically, though, as many of the other stories of starlets who fell from grace did. Brooks eventually moved to Rochester, NY, after a visit to the George Eastman House at the urging of publicist John Springer and Eastman House’s film curator James Card. In Rochester, she reinvented herself as a successful writer from the 1950s to the 1970s, and her essays appeared in numerous respected film publications. She died in Rochester August 8, 1985.

I love Brooks because she was the first antithesis of the cookie-cutter Hollywood It girl. She recognized the game for what it was and wanted no part in it. She was comfortable being herself, completely owned her own sexuality, made female intelligence sexy , and became a style icon whose influence still can be seen over eighty years later.

Some fun facts about Brooksie:

~ She supposedly was the first person to popularize the now famous Charleston dance while she worked in a London nightclub in the early 1920s.

~ As a writer, Brooks visited various libraries and secretly corrected false information found in biographies and autobiographies.

~ Brooks’ sexuality has always been a rather ambiguous subject. She once wrote, “All my women friends have been lesbians…Out of curiosity I had two affairs with girls– they did nothing for me.”

~ She was the inspiration behind  “Dixie Dugan,” a famous comic strip about a Hollywood showgirl which ran from 1929 to 1966.

~ Brooks left her contract with Paramount when they wanted to dub a different voice over her performance in her last silent film. The studio’s constant nagging about her liberated behavior (drinking and multiple affairs) didn’t help either. She basically gave the studio a big “Fuck you!” and left for Europe.

~ InSyle magazine named her signature sharp, black bob “One of the 10 Haircuts that Changed the World.”

~ She once had an affair with Charlie Chaplin (but, then again, who didn’t?)

~ Prior to breaking onto the Hollywood scene, Louise was one of the famed Ziegfeld Follies.

Here is the first few minutes from Diary of a Lost Girl. You can watch the entire film on YouTube as well. As I mentioned above, this is my favorite of Brooks’ films. It’s really a powerful telling of a pretty classic tale…with some interesting sadomasochistic and lesbian undertones (the scenes in the reformatory school), which make one do a double take when remembering this was a film from 1929!





Amelie Hastie, “Louise Brooks, Star Witness,” Cinema Journal , Vol. 36, No. 3 (Spring, 1997), pp. 3-24

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Filed under Film, History

My audience with a blues great

Very rarely does one get lucky enough to sit in the presence of a true legend, but recently I had such a pleasure. I am currently taking a class about the blues. It’s something I’ve wanted to take since my freshman year but either could not fit it in my schedule or it was not offered when I could. Well, I am so glad that my schedule finally worked out because for the first time in several years, my professor invited the immensely talented Joe Beard to speak to our class.

For those who are not blues fans, the name Joe Beard probably does not ring many bells, but Mr. Beard is really a living legend in the genre. He has played with virtually everyone from Son House (his neighbor in Rochester) to Muddy Waters to Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (the two artists he claims were his favorite artists to jam with).

Beard was born in Ashland, Mississippi, in 1938 and spent his first years there. It was in Ashland that he got his first taste of the blues scene by literally acting as the eyes for the famous blind Mississippi bluesman Nathan Beauregard. Beard, just a little guy at the time, would lead Beauregard around his various gigs.

Beard’s family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, when he was eight and in Memphis he got to know the Murphy Brothers who had a significant influence on his decision to become a blues musician. It was also in Memphis that Beard met B.B. King when B.B. played at the Roosevelt Lake Club.

In the years that followed, Beard and his family moved around a bit from Texas to Ohio and then eventually to Rochester, New York, where he became an electrician. He had been playing the guitar seriously since seventeen, and often traveled back and forth from Rochester to Chicago to hang out in the blues scene there, but he did not debut as a blues guitarist publicly until the early 1960s.

Through the next several decades Beard has played in several groups locally, nationally, and internationally. He raised four children with his wife, who he says never really liked him playing the blues, but he said that during those years his main focus was raising a successful family. While this perhaps kept him from becoming more of a household name like many of his contemporaries, he still has made quite a name for himself, especially in Rochester, playing and recording his music. He still plays at a couple of local venues, Dinosaur BBQ and Beale Street Cafe, every month, and I’m going to try my hardest to catch him live before I graduate.

After Mr. Beard talked to us about his life, we were given the opportunity to ask him questions which was a pretty awesome opportunity. These were some of my favorites:

When asked what kind of guitar he played, Beard claimed a preference for his Gibson 345. My professor asked if he ever played Fenders to which he replied, “The Fender’s okay, but the 345 is my favorite to play.”

Another girl asked if he he still practiced after playing for so long. Mr. Beard just laughed and said “Not a whole lot.”

When asked what he thought about the nature of the blues, he thought for a moment and said, “Blues is life itself. It tells a story.”

Finally, when someone asked if he had any advice for young musicians, he asserted, “Just be yourself whatever you do.” Great advice for anyone, I thought.

It was really a great experience that I will never forget. Joe Beard is the essence of cool and class, and one hell of a musician. Below is a video of Mr. Beard playing “Drinking Old Taylor” at the annual Hot Blues For The Homeless: A Tribute To Son House concert here in Rochester in 2008. Enjoy the awesomeness!

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Filed under Music