My red right eye

This article originally ran as an Inside column in The Observer

Occasionally, people ask me why the corner of my right eye is unusually red and splotchy.

Short answer: it’s a birthmark. No, really.

Long answer: no, not really. It’s actually the remnants of a limbur epibulbar dermoid, which is an overgrowth of normal skin in an abnormal place. When I was born, the white of my eye encroached a little onto my pupil. It didn’t do anything too crazy (dermoids are generally benign), but it was pretty weird-looking, so when I was three years old I had surgery to remove it. I remember waking up, eating ice cream, crying and wearing an eye patch for awhile.

Problem solved. Except the surgery didn’t go quite right, and I ended up with a red and blotchy patch where the dermoid used to be. A few months later, I had another surgery to correct it. It wasn’t corrected. Hence, splotch.

Camp counselors who don’t know what pinkeye looks like have thought I have pinkeye ever since.

Here’s the interesting thing, though: when I was three, and my parents became concerned about my mutant eyeball, eye-dermoid surgery was still in its early stages. Apparently, if you were unfortunate enough to be born with a dermoid (which, considering all the things that could grow out of your eye, is not especially unfortunate), you just had to walk around without a perfectly round pupil. Although toddler me might have been too loopy to appreciate it, the surgery that gave me my splotch was kind of cutting-edge.

And the eye doctors are apparently pretty good at it now. I’ve been told the doctor who did my surgery was instrumental in developing the surgery itself. You don’t see three-year-olds today walking around with bloodshot eyes after their cosmetic surgery. In fact, if I wanted to, I could have one more procedure to get rid of the red part entirely. The optometrists I see on a semi-regular basis started telling me that when I was around 12, and the risk factors they give me decrease with each subsequent check-up.

I keep my splotch around, though. I’m not entirely sure why. I guess I’d rather not undergo a medical procedure on my eyeball unless I absolutely need to. Or maybe it’s sentimental, a small reminder of the tremendous work that has gone into making my face look presentable. Maybe it’s also a reminder of the importance of medical advancement and how I might have played a small role in the development of one particular branch of optometry. Perhaps it makes me feel unique or important or something.

In any case, my blotch is a part of me, and I feel strangely protective of it. I’m not tired (well, I am, but that’s not what makes my eye red), I’m not sick, it doesn’t hurt and I’m glad you brought it up – I actually like to talk about it because I think it’s a cool story.

That’s what I tell people, if they ask.

My mom suggested I just call it a birthmark, but I prefer the long story.

‘The Curious Incident’ Shines at DPAC

From The Observer

To be honest, I was a little apprehensive going into the screening of National Theatre Live’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” last Thursday night at the Browning Cinema in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name is one of my all-time favorites, and I wondered how any theatre company could possibly recreate it. Its brilliance, like “The Catcher in the Rye,” comes from its writing — the main character’s thoughts on the page. How do you represent that visually?

Answer: you create a play in a black-box theatre, and then you film that play.

“The Curious Incident,” book and play, follows Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old boy who loves space, “maths” (he’s British) and his pet rat, Toby. Though it is never actually said, it is understood that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, and he attends a special school where his teacher, Siobhan, encourages him to pursue his interests. Christopher, whose mother died before the events of the story, lives with his father on a street in Swindon, England. When Christopher decides to investigate the brutal murder of a neighbor’s dog, despite the disproportionately-strong objections of his father, he sets off a chain of events that changes everything he thinks he knows about his life and family.

The story is, of course, told from Christopher’s perspective; we see the world of Swindon through his eyes. He is straightforward in speech and writing, expects everybody else to be the same way and is confused when they are not. Numbers and puzzles permeate this world: each chapter in the novel is a prime number, and he spends significant portions of the book explaining complicated logical problems and hypothetical scenarios. We read (or hear) Christopher’s thoughts, and we see how they are different from our own, but we also recognize the teenager’s eloquence and poignancy.

National Theatre Live translates this inner world to the stage remarkably well. The adaptation, which was first performed in 2012, follows the book almost exactly, using the black-box setting to recreate elements I once thought could only be written. For example, the novel contains several drawings or visual representations of Christopher’s ideas. In the play, Christopher (Luke Treadaway) actually draws these pictures with chalk on the floor of the stage, which can then be filmed from above so the movie-theatre spectator can see the shapes. The stage floor, laid out in tiles, also lights up to demarcate, say, the houses on Christopher’s street exactly as he would see them. Other novel-specific elements are simply said: in both novel and play, Christopher’s first-person account is actually a book his teacher Siobhan reads. At one point, Siobhan tells him, “It’s very clever how all the chapters are prime numbers.”

The acting is also generally spot-on. Treadaway’s Christopher stands rigidly still, focusing only on what catches his attention, making little eye contact with the other characters, playing with the strings on his hoodie, saying whatever comes to mind. His father (Howard Ward) is scruffy, downcast, sometimes angry but well-intentioned.  One neighbor, Mrs. Shears (Sophie Duval), is angry and neurotic while another, Mrs. Alexander (Sherlock’s Una Stubbs), is frail and kindly. A few characters are overacted, but perhaps that’s the point: in Christopher’s world, there is little subtlety in expression.

The play really shines, however, because of what it adds to the story and Christopher’s character. The production is fluid — actors move around, alternating between characters and props, seamlessly blending storylines, trading the job of narrating Christopher’s story — giving me the sense that the world whirls around Christopher while he only sometimes notices. The stage is a chalkboard and a map, but it is also a projection canvas: when Christopher has a pointed thought, that thought is written out on the stage. When he stressed out, sans-serif prime numbers emanate from where he stands.

In one breathtakingly beautiful scene, Christopher talks about his desire to go to outer space: as the thought progresses, as he extrapolates on how much he would like it, what he would need to do to get there, how easy it would be and who he could take, the stage melts slowly away . The lights focus on him, and stars and galaxies blink to life on the walls and stage floor and Christopher’s body. Music eases into the scene as the other actors bear Christopher aloft, letting him drift away through the void, leaving the confusing and complicated world behind. The scene — and the play as a whole — speak to the beauty, humor and sadness of Christopher’s world. It both respects and adds to the novel; in a way, I now consider my experience with “The Curious Incident” complete.

Though “The Curious Incident” showed only once at DPAC, there are more takeaways than just the play itself: the novel, of course, remains amazing, an beautiful and sympathetic look at the world of autism, and I could not recommend it more. National Theatre Live is a unique and entertaining theatre company, and DPAC often screens its performances, so be on the lookout for more.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time” was, however, an incredible adaptation of an incredible novel, one that deserves every accolade it wins and every audience member it wins over.

Choir aims to serve community

From The Observer

Last March, the Notre Dame Celebration Choir visited the Westville Correctional Facility, an Indiana prison with thousands of inmates.

Sophomore and choir vice president Anna O’Connell said the experience was profound.

“To see the prisoners come in, it was a really cool thing because people in prison are definitely marginalized and forgotten about a lot,” she said. “… There’s not much excitement in their life, but we were able to bring some joy and some happiness. Obviously it’s hard to tell when you’re singing to people, whether it’s impacting them. But there was one guy in the front row. He was standing up and swaying.”

Service and community outreach are central features of the Celebration Choir, which was created in 1997 to accommodate campus visitors who could not fit in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart for Mass on football Saturdays. Director Karen Schneider-Kirner said the choir regularly sings at correctional facilities, including Westville and the Juvenile Justice Center.

“I had some poignant letters from afterwards of the prisoners saying how much it meant to them that people were willing to do some outreach,” Schneider-Kirner said. “[The prison is] largely a forgotten place where most people aren’t going to go.

“When we went, we tried to have some interaction where we can talk with people, to show human compassion. We’re really trying to live out all of what [Pope] Francis has exemplified in his Evangelii Gaudium document, of bringing the joy of the Gospel to those who most need to hear it.”

Schneider-Kirner said the choir, in addition to singing at football Masses and prisons, also visits local parishes and dorms, goes on an annual tour with the Handbell Choir and performs at special events and concerts, often with other Basilica choirs. She said the choir has a diverse repertoire, ranging from traditional hymns to 20th-century compositions, with a variety of accompanying instruments.

“Catholic means ‘universal,’ so [we want to] be indicative of the whole universal church and sing in different languages and in different styles from different eras of music composition,” she said. “We enjoy doing gospel music as well as classical music. I’m also a published composer, so often I’m using the choir as a training ground for trying out new compositions.”

Schneider-Kirner said the choir welcomes students without much experience in order to help them develop their musical skills.

“We tend to be open to all,” she said. “We don’t put up any barriers. We want to meet students exactly where they’re at with their music skills.

“I realize, for instance, that a lot of — primarily — men may be used to, in high school, being pushed towards sports, but then they get to be college aged and realize they might want to develop those gifts, but then they haven’t really sung in a choir, haven’t played an instrument. I do some vocal coaching on the side just to help students with their skills.”

Senior Celebration Choir president Kenny Kraynik said the choir’s accommodation of beginner-level singers as well as the service component encouraged him to join.

“I wasn’t much of a singer before college, and I knew the Celebration Choir really welcomed new singers with not that much background, so that’s what I was originally looking for,” he said. “Then when I started to sign up, I started hearing about all the service opportunities they do – prison visits, visits to parishes that could use the help – it just seemed like a really good fit for me.”

Schneider-Kirner said the choir also acts as a “training ground” for students interested in getting involved as liturgical musicians, by incorporating lessons on planning liturgies, recruiting musicians and including Catholic Church thought on liturgical music into choir rehearsals.

“We’ve had a great number of students over the years who [may not] have gone on to careers in sacred music, but they still use their talents and skills,” she said. “Even though they may be lawyers or other things, they’re still actively engaged in music ministry. I think that’s a really valuable thing to be able to offer the Church.”

Sophomore Morgan Widhalm, the choir’s accompanist, said she was a member of the Notre Dame Folk Choir, when Schneider-Kirner, who is also the assistant director of the Folk Choir, invited her to audition as a pianist for the Celebration Choir.

“Playing in a different capacity, being the accompanist, it’s brought me a lot of blessings,” Widhalm said. “I’ve gotten to develop my skill a lot. I’ve never accompanied a choir like this before.

“I’ve done pieces with my choir in high school where I would do a piece, but it was more classical and I would just have to go with the sore. But here I’ve had to develop improvisation skills and other general accompanist skills that I would not have gotten without this position.”

This fall, the location of alternate football Masses changed from Stepan Center to Leighton Concert Hall in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC).

Widhalm said the location change adds to her experience as a liturgical musician.

“It’s such a wonderful space,” she said. “I actually wasn’t part of the choir last year when they played in Stepan after football games, but I know from what everyone else in the choir has said [that] it’s been an immense improvement.

“For me, just the experience in DPAC alone has been amazing. Playing on an amazing Steinway piano, seeing that beautiful hall fill up with people, it’s a really wonderful experience, and I think it’s something that not a lot of people get.”

In the upcoming semesters, the choir will go on tour, perform with various campus musical groups in an interfaith prayer concert and sing with other Basilica choirs in a Beethoven showcase. O’Connell said the choir will also go on an annual retreat, one which fosters the sense of community that drew her to the choir.

“Choir gives me a foundation socially,” O’Connell said. “A lot of my really close friends are in choir, which is really cool. I hope that it provides that community for other people. That’s something I’m working on as vice president, to make it a community where people feel totally welcome.”

Changes to printing policy spark conversation

From The Observer

Notre Dame’s Office of Information Technologies (OIT) overhauled the University’s printing system during the summer, implementing changes that include consolidating campus printers to two queues and changing students’ printing allotments to a point-based system.

Vice president for information technology Ron Kraemer, who also serves as chief information and digital officer, said the purpose of the changes was to simplify printing on campus and reduce both waste and printing costs.

“The University and the OIT know that students need to print, and we want to deliver easy and cost-effective printing solutions for campus while still maintaining a high level of quality,” Kraemer said.

In previous years, students would send printing jobs from their computers to one of several queues depending on their location. Now, students can send printing jobs to every black-and-white printer or every color printer on campus at once, Kraemer said.

In addition, students’ standard printing quotas, or the amount each student is allowed to print from campus printers, switched from a dollar amount to a point system. According to the OIT website, undergraduate students receive a quota of 1,000 points per semester. Each single- or double-sided black-and-white page costs two points, and each color page costs 12 points. Graduate students receive 3,500 points per year, and law students receive 4,250.

Kraemer said points not used during the fall semester roll over to the spring semester, but points left over at the end of the year do not roll over to subsequent years, a change from the previous policy. He said students can increase their quotas by paying $3 for 100 points.

Kraemer said the point system would be easier to use than a dollar amount, and the new standard quota, although a decrease from the former yearly allotment, reflected the number of pages students typically print.

“The PrintND system shows that more than 90 percent of students print within 2,000 points each academic year,” Kraemer said.

Students have expressed concern that the new standard quota will not allow them to print as often as they need. Sophomore Jackie Winsch said materials for classes and projects have used a significant amount of her points.

“I was a week into school, and I was already a quarter of the way down, and then we did this half-hour presentation in one of my classes the other day, and we had to print a colored paper front and back, and it was like 50 points,” Winsch said. “It’s a really drastic change from having so much extra to being worried about running out.”

Winsch said the change has prompted her to exercise caution with the number of pages she prints.

“I don’t just print anything,” she said. “I have to make sure it’s double-sided, and [think], do I really need this? And I print four on a page — it’s really hard to read, but I get the most out of it.”

Freshman Olivia Colon said the point system was easy to understand, but she worried about the allotment of pages. Her biology class requires her to print out PowerPoint slides and pre-lab information.

“I feel like it’s been two weeks, and I’m already running out of points,” Colon said. “The classes that I have to take require me to print out a lot of stuff from Sakai and whatnot, and I just feel like 1,000 [points] isn’t enough. It may seem like a lot, but it’s not. It goes fast.”

In addition to students being able to pay for increased allotments, professors also can use department funds to increase printing quotas for their classes or for individual students, according to the OIT website.

Dan Graff, director of undergraduate studies of the department of history, said he often requires students in his classes to print out materials and bring them to class. He said his students have expressed concerns about using up their quotas in previous years but never this early in the semester.

“Students might be getting mixed messages, that OIT suggests that they should be printing less,” Graff said. “. . . We don’t want you to be printing less because we want our classrooms to be technology-free spaces where there’s no distractions from email and Facebook and those kinds of things, so we want them to have stuff printed out.”

Kraemer said OIT is open to input from students. At the beginning of the semester, printing a single-sided page cost twice as many points as printing a double-sided page, but OIT reduced the price of single-sided pages this week after receiving feedback from student government. Kraemer said the point allotment on a per-semester basis also leaves open the possibility for future changes.

“The OIT opted to divide the quota for undergraduates between the fall and spring semester so that if students need us to make adjustments, we can make them at the winter break,” Kraemer said.

Kraemer said OIT consulted student government and other campus organizations before implementing printing policy changes. Junior Shuyang Li, director of student government’s department of campus technology, said his division recommended simplifying printing quotas last spring and this semester supported the reduction in the price of printing a one-sided sheet.

Li said student government also was working with OIT to communicate the changes to students. He said OIT technology liaisons in each residence hall explained the quota system to incoming freshmen during orientation, but student government and OIT were still looking for ways to reach upperclassmen.

Li said student government was gathering feedback on the new system from Student Senate members and dorm technology liaisons.

“We’re trying to get a compiled opinion on the changes, and we’re going to pose that to OIT and try to . . . make sure that the printing quota system is what students want,” he said.

Library receives Badin Bible

From The Observer

Badin Bible, Emily McConville

The University recently acquired a Bible belonging to Stephen Badin, the first Catholic priest ordained in the United States and a previous owner of the land that eventually became Notre Dame’s campus. The Bible currently is on display in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in Hesburgh Library.

Catholic Studies Librarian Jean McManus, who played a role in the acquisition, said John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States, gave the three-volume Bible to Badin in the late 1700s. She said Badin took it with him in his travels. These included visits to Kentucky and Northern Indiana, where he made his land purchases and built the original Log Chapel.

Emily McConville

Kathleen Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, said Badin gave the Bible to the Sisters of Loretto in Nerinx, Ky., who owned it for more than 200 years before only recently realizing its significance. She said the religious order had the books appraised and then contacted the Notre Dame, who purchased them with grants from the Library Acquisitions Fund and the Office of Research, with letters of support from history and American Studies faculty. The Sisters then brought the book to campus and gave it to the University at a special Mass in the Log Chapel in late June.

Cummings said the Cushwa Center and the Library were interested in making the acquisition because the Bible linked two early American church leaders as well as other aspects of the early Church in the United States.

“The way the Bible brings together the story of Catholics at every level – the leadership, the laity and religious – that’s enormously important,” she said. “The Fr. Badin connection makes it special, but the significance is far larger.”

Margaret Abruzzo, an associate professor of history at the University of Alabama, who is studying the correspondence between Carroll and Badin as part of a project with the Cushwa Center, said the Bible also is significant because of its rareness. She said the Bible was printed by Matthew Carey, an Irish immigrant in Philadelphia. The edition, which was only 500 copies, was the second full Bible published in the United States and the first Catholic translation.

“[Carey] was interested in kind of refuting the idea that Catholics didn’t read the Bible,” Abruzzo said. “He wanted to get the Catholic Bible into people’s hands because it was very important to Catholics at the time that they read the Catholic version of the Bible rather than the Protestant version.”

Abruzzo said the Bible, which contains an inscription from Carroll to Badin, speaks to the closeness of their relationship at a time when the American Catholic Church was small and far-flung.

“Badin would write questions to Carroll, and Carroll would write answers,” she said. “He was a source of advice for Badin.

“When there were issues, Carroll would intervene, so sort of imagine something that is a very, very, very small version of any sort of diocese today. Imagine Carroll running the Catholic Church out of his garage. It’s that level of informality. They’re really trying to create a church from scratch.”

McManus said the Bible, which shows signs of heavy use, will be on display this semester in Special Collections, and it will be the subject of a symposium on Oct. 10. She said the Bible will be available for scholars, who may study the book’s binding, marginal notes or relationship to Badin’s other writings and letters.

“Connecting those letters to this time frame, and knowing where the Bible lived, that’s all of interest as well,” she said. “Its biggest use is just gesturing towards this big story of the very early 1800s [when] Catholicism was very much a minority religion. Things could have gone very differently, but this is a piece of the evidence for how it did go, especially that westward movement.”

Cummings said faculty can bring classes to see the Bible, and researchers also can study the Bible’s translation and inscription.

“Researchers who come –  Bible scholars, scholars of American history –  it will be a text that will be studied by them for a long time now,” she said. “A lot of people come to Notre Dame to do research on Catholicism, and so it’s a crossroads of source to scholars, so it will definitely get more exposure.”