Feel Your Presence with Tai Chi.

Thank goodness we were inside. With the heat index in triple digits, I’m not quite sure I would have survived a “meditation in motion” session, which usually takes place outside at the Air Products Town Square every Wednesday at noon. This week, however, with the sun bringing on the heat and humidity, it would have been hard to feel somewhat graceful.

I was a Tai Chi newbie and slightly intimidated by the 30 or so people who felt comfortable in their bare feet. Now inside in the Connect Zone (far end of the ground floor), we were certainly trying to connect ourselves in the mind-body-spirit way. And though I didn’t take off my Nikes, I really enjoyed learning about how I can find peace among the chaos. Tai Chi is one of those ways for people looking to escape the stresses of their every day routine and instead harness some positive energy. Will Lehigh students ever venture down here during a free lunch hour during the school year? Probably not. But then again, Lehigh students have done stranger things.

In fact, Tai Chi wasn’t at all strange to me. It was calming. And it was further reassuring that I wasn’t the only new person there. That means at least 25 were summer regulars and a handful of others were brand-spankin’ new. So the curiosity is there. I hardly noticed I was the only person under the age of 30. I can think of no better way for students to hang out with a demographic outside of themselves: capturing Chi.

Or energy. And using it for good. If Bethlehem is the up-and-coming Renaissance town, then it makes sense that we collectively try some methods in being enlightened. Not for nothing, I felt pretty incredible after the 45-minute session. I wasn’t wearing a watch and I didn’t need to. The minutes passed by effortless. Why? Because I was focused. I was In The Moment. Really, I was. This is important when making forward progress because it forces you not to get ahead of yourself. It brings you back to the basics of breathing and moving your limbs in poetic fashion. Sure, we don’t do this every day. But it would only help if we did it once in a while. Say, once a week.

It’s easy to get caught up in grand ideas just as easy it is to become exhausted with the dedication and commitment to see that idea visualize. Tai Chi is a great way to clear your mind and feel your presence. Yes, you will feel silly. But some part of you will also feel like a kid again. You know, when anything was possible.

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SmartsQuest Trivia Night

The last thing I wanted was to become that girl. You know, the one that rallies a bunch of people together for a night out, only for that night to be complete bust. Never having been to SmartsQuest trivia night at Steel Stacks (Thursdays at 7:30 pm) I was pretty concerned about over-committing and under-delivering. I had promised all of my friends it would be a fun night, even convincing them that there was no better place to be spending our Thursday night. Truth is, I didn’t want to be playing trivia against ourselves. I prayed for other people in the community to show up at Steel Stacks.

Turns out we won third place! Out of three groups, of course. But more than the trivia, I was impressed by just how many people were spending their Thursday night at the new venue. Maybe it wasn’t for the same reason we were there (to drink, be merry, and pretend we knew what year the Spice Girls came onto the American scene: 1996, NOT 1997, as I had thought). There were hundreds of people hanging out at the outside Levitt Pavilion listening to live music or checking out the book signing of an author who used to work at Bethlehem Steel. There was a steady stream of people walking to and from the outdoor spaces to the inside bar area. So maybe they were drinking and being merry; two out of three isn’t bad.

As for the trivia, they call it SmartsQuest for a reason: it is a very complex version, with in-depth score-keeping methods. In short, you’ve got to pay attention to detail if you’re going for the gold (US Women’s Soccer, phenomenal fight but hats off to Japan, bringing home so much more than a trophy). If you don’t want to be completely embarrassed by your intellectual inadequacy, there are plenty of ways to sneak a peak at your SmartPhone. But of course, this is cheating and I’d encourage this only as a last resort, incredibly desperate effort. Or, you can just decide to have fun and laugh at yourself for not knowing that only in a Bruce Springsteen song can you wrap your legs around velvet rims and strap your hands across engines.

Local comic, Steve Bost, is the host of trivia and he made it fun for the three groups, who neither got too competitive nor trash-talked. It was a nice clean game that can only get better once more people decide to check it out. And even though plenty of people had stopped to ask us what we were playing and stayed to watch for a little bit, none had decided to actually join in themselves. I suppose that’s alright for now, we were a very intimidating group, anyway. What mattered for me, was that there was plenty of interest from many people.

Like anything in life you find curious, the next step is acting on it. And that will come. I know this, because many people at Steel Stacks that night were already doing so. They were that girl. You know, the one decides to mix it up a little bit, who rallies a group of people together for a really great night at a new place. What a beaut!

Flavor by Number.

This past weekend marked the first ever iSabor! Latin Festival at SteelStacks. And because I have not an ounce of Latin in me, I was uncertain if I would be able to relate to a festival that celebrated flavor. Would a bland white woman from Lehigh be able to move it, move it?

I represented the 71% slice of the university ethnicity pie graph, and there I was investigating what the second biggest slice, 7%, was all about. Though this percentage is listed as “Hispanic,” I have done my Google research and concluded that white people don’t know how to be politically correct when it comes to talking about ethnicity. This may or may not be because “white” refers to a skin color and not at all a particular ethnicity or heritage. In truth, a white person is, most times, an average mutt of European cultures. Which may or may not explain why the US white Census groups the two terms, Hispanic and Latino, together as one; reasoning, “Hispanic is commonly used in the eastern portion of the United States, whereas Latino is commonly used in the western portion.”

In a 2009 Slate magazine article by Christopher Beam, the debate between Hispanic and Latino could not have been better fitting for Lehigh University and Bethlehem. “Ultimately, there is no strict definition of Hispanic or Latino. The College Board, which administers the SAT, leaves it up to the student to self-identify. The U.S. Census Bureau makes no distinction between the two terms. It defines Hispanics and Latinos as ‘persons who trace their origin or descent to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spanish speaking Central and South America countries, and other Spanish cultures.’ But if someone from Brazil says he’s Hispanic, the census doesn’t say, No, you’re not.”

This makes me wonder if our second biggest school population is being represented accurately…

As I made my way through the festival, I took note of the audience. Was this a festival for Latin people to celebrate themselves or for white people to step outside of themselves? The truth is, it was both. In all honesty, it was the essence of sharing. There was music and dancing at the Air-products Town Square and vendors selling food, clothing, and jewelry in PNC Plaza. Though I would say that the percentages were reversed and I was now in the minority, I didn’t mind learning about everything I was unfamiliar with. In fact, that is precisely why I love writing and the arts: it transcends self-imposed boundaries and connects people on a human and if you’re lucky, spiritual level.

So for me, it wasn’t about numbers and assigning them a supposed significance. It was about the context. In the shadows of the long-firing steel burners, where there once was dirt and dust and whole lot of gray, there was now the bustling of people walking, singing, dancing, moving. There was flavor, and there was color. Above all else, there was life. I can think of no better way for ArtsQuest to have kicked off its 10-festival schedule than with iSabor!

Keep the Prize in Your Eyes.

For as long as I can remember, my favorite part of any dramatic movie has always been that two minute montage that bridges the gap between what was and what will be. It is usually accompanied by motivating music. The best example I can think of is any kind of fighting/boxing movie. You know, where the protagonist finds himself with a conflict so (cue the montage) he trains and runs and gets yelled at by his coach, but also, he’s meeting new people, laughing, things are looking up. Before you know it, we’ve fast-fowarded to The Moment so often described as that once in a lifetime opportunity. And every single time, I’d be let down in some sort of way. Because this two minute montage in the movies is more like twenty years in real life. And when you’re living it, you are always wondering how they made it look so easy.

Regardless of the outcome, I’ve learned to love the process. It took me a long time to realize that despite whatever title people may give it (journey, cycle, path, route, etc) it really has only one name: LIFE. To think anything else will just send you on a tangent wild goose chase. Which is why it is so important tokeep the prize in your eyes.

That phrase was spoken in the opening night film Africa United, a story about a group of young kids journeying to Africa for the FIFA World Cup. There was no two-minute montage. It was more like 90 minutes. And it depicted a story of great courage. Sure, maybe the characters always somehow managed to finagle their way through their obstacles with an ease that may or may not have been realistic, but it required the audience to be imaginative in order to believe the story. This is not any different, and completely necessary, for our own life’s journey. If you have a passion, in this case it was futbol,then you are going to do whatever it is that you have to do to share that with as many people as possible. That is what That Moment is for.

For people like Graham Stanford, Jeff Vaclavik, and John Saraceno, their two minutes took them to the birth of the Southside Film Festival. Their moment began eight years ago, and it hasn’t stopped since. And that is the beauty of life: it always has potential. This makes the Beginning and the End synonymous. The credits don’t mean recognizing it’s over, applauding the work, thanks for your time, drive safely, Goodnight.  It means acknowledging something has just begun, inviting people to be a part of it, Hi, Welcome, Let’s Go.

Maybe Lehigh’s story and Bethlehem’s story are on two different pages. Perhaps in two completely different books. Their snippets of change are taking longer than expected, accompanied by a soundtrack that neither can understand. But if there ever comes a time where they both share the same prize in their eyes, they just might find themselves living out their moment. When that time comes, nobody will be thinking about the credit(s). Everyone will be wondering how they made it look so easy.

Hi. Welcome. Let’s Go.

Nobody’s Doing It.

It occurred to me, as I was Tweeting and updating my Facebook status, that not many (if any) people are going to believe me when I recommend they should all check out the Southside Film Festival tonight. You see, while I was studying and playing basketball at Lehigh for five years, I rarely talked positively about Bethlehem. So when I advertise, not only my interest but my actual physical presence, at an event that honors filmmaking in the city, I understand the response I receive: crickets. If anything, people are going to find it quite odd that Kristen Dalton suddenly cares about the one place she couldn’t wait to leave.

The truth is, I am just as dumbfounded as they are.

But this reveals a greater problem that goes further than cognitive disonance, or the conflicting relationship between what we say and what we do. It has something to do with disbelief and loss of credibility. People who know what I stand for and represent are going to wonder why all of a sudden I’ve changed my tune. Why am I singing a different a song? And more importantly, why should anyone care?

Here is the fine line that makes everyone re-evaluate the idea that they know somebody. In reality, this line is more like a wide gap. Many things will fall in. Many things will fall out. When they do, we call it change. And we all adjust ourselves accordingly. But the trap here, is losing credibility during this transition, for better or worse. No one is going to believe that what once was, is now changing before their eyes. And they’re certainly not going to follow anything you say.

As the collective few of the Bethlehem strong are trying to make change among the community, they are eventually going to need the help of the Lehigh population. But what is going to make a current student want to listen to a recent graduate when she says Yes! Check out the film festival! Especially when everyone knows that present Lehigh students hardly get involved while recent graduates rarely stick around. One of the most important things that is falling through the gap, is the wanting to step off the mountain. So if we are going to build some credibility, we are going to have to start from the inside out. When students realize it’s not about what the city of Bethlehem can do for them, and more about what they can do for Bethlehem (insert finger point and political message here), they’ll start to take interest. For me, it was a way to write about one of my favorite things: change. It was an opportunity to give myself: my thoughts, my ideas, my words, to audience that more than welcomed it. Before I knew it, I was apart of the conversation.

The trouble with this idea of giving your gifts and putting your talents to good use, is that many Lehigh students believe they are too good for Bethlehem. With Philadelphia and New York housing major companies across a variety of industries, why wouldn’t you want to work there? Bethlehem isn’t there, just yet. Plus, it’s just way too hard to build something from scratch than add to something already proven to be successful. If you’re not creative, you probably won’t find any value in Bethlehem. You won’t see what the open-minded visionaries see. Which is why one day, you will just have to see for yourself.

There is an equal and opposite part necessary to pull this off: continue working from the outside in. The trick here, is to not get caught up in the game of convincing. It wastes too much energy. Instead, Bethlehem events and programs should stay focused and active and on-going. All it takes is one person to think that the film festival is the greatest thing ever before it becomes contagious. The real progress happens face-to-face, person-to-person. And you the know the best way to do that is? Having a conversation. You know what’s better than Tweeting and status updates? Word of mouth. Sure, it’s a slower and ancient way of doing things. But it’s always worked. Story-telling has always worked. Why? Because human emotion is universal. And you can’t get that through technology that paralyzes the soul.

Will any of my Followers on Twitter or Friends on Facebook stop by tonight for the kick off at Home and Planet? Probably not. Will they at least come to the opening night film of Africa United? Doubtful. But I won’t give up that hope that maybe someone will. I guess it doesn’t matter much anyway. The truth is, I’m a pretty cool kid. And when pretty cool kids do something that nobody else is doing, it soon becomes cool anyway. I have no worries.

(New)Found Art Illustrates Life.

Whenever art and science join forces, something amazing happens. Perhaps it deeper understanding of the human connection. That we cannot have one without the other. And in most cases, they more than just complement; they highlight the other’s strengths while compensating for their weaknesses. The Electric Sculpture exhibition atSteelStacks does just that: displays collaboration.

The project is a culmination of light, wires, and glass that all work together to create something new. Ten years ago, William Middleton (no relation to Kate) was passionate about the concept of singularity, or formless energy, in pieces of glass illuminated by moving light. With the help of fellow artist James Harmon and cell biologist Dr. Mindy George Weinstein, the sculpture has now evolved from a Post-Modern “ready-made” and into a symbolic art form. One of the most notable “found” art pieces originated in 1917 with French artist Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. It was recognized by most people as a urinal.

Nearly a century later, Middleton has dramatically changed the game. What appears to be some sort of fancy light fixture is actually where science and art converge. His current work uses blown glass and light wire to illustrate how the brain transmits, receives, and processes sensory information. Who knew neuronal forms could be so beautiful? No doubt, there is an appreciation here for their structure and function; and the ability to demonstrate our internal workings in an elegant and informative way. Art imitating life.

On the second floor of the ArtsQuest building, you can find the Alvin H. Butz Gallery as a part of the Creativity Commons. The Electric Sculpture will be on display until July 4, 2011. This space is calm and quiet, with numerous tables and chairs to study, work, read, or eat. Prior to being on display at SteelStacks, the Electric Sculpture was featured in the Twenty-Two Gallery in Philadelphia.

Farmers Market Tuesdays.

Every Tuesday from 3-7 p.m. you can peruse fresh produce, meats and cheeses, wine, and a variety of breads and baked goods at PNC Plaza in SteelStacks. You can even buy organic, and very healthy all-natural dog cookies for Fido. Or in my case, my 10-year-old chocolate lab Jake, who we had to put on a crash diet since his recent 103-pound weigh-in last week.

The first time I had ever attended a Farmers Market was last summer when I had traveled to Madison, WI to visit my brother for a few days. I was blown away, to say the least. If you’ve never been, all the vendors line the four streets of Capitol Square early on Saturday mornings and hundreds of people buy a plethora of home-grown goods. It was a sense of community that had been lost on me, so I was excited to explore Bethlehem’s Farmers Market. I enjoy people, and I am very much fascinated by the idea ofmaking something and then sharing it. What better place to do that, then a place that specializes in a food, something that already brings people together.

It was nice to be meet people who call Bethlehem home, even nicer to meet people who bring in their goods from nearby towns in the Lehigh Valley wanting to make a difference. Bethlehem’s reach is growing from the outside in. Children were creating pictures on the pavement with florescent chalk while a musician was singing and guitar-playing for a gathered audience. Vendors were talking, customers were asking questions, and the fresh foods spoke for themselves. Everybody was contributing in a wonderful producer/consumer dynamic of give-and-take; a comprise necessary to help sustain any lasting relationship.

Lebanon, PA at the Frank Banko Alehouse.

The tagline for this independent film is “Life Happens When You Least Expect It.” Which makes me wonder what is happening when we expect things.

The ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks is home to many creative spaces that provide music, art, and culture. One of those spaces is the Frank Banko Alehouse Cinemas located on the first floor and features two theaters. The Red theater seats 200 people while the Blue theater seats 100. I was one of five people sitting in the Blue theater watching this official selection in the 2010 SXSW Film Festival. And one of perks of the Alehouse Cinemas is that you can bring your food and (alcoholic) drink into the show.

So naturally, not wanting to miss out on such a fine opportunity at three o’clock in the afternoon, I ordered a $4 Yuengling and a Polka Dog, which is a delicious hot dog dressed in a delicious dough. I liked that Yuengling was the featured beer considering they are America’s oldest brewery and a Lehigh family.They also sponsor the Musikfest Cafe on the third and fourth floors of the ArtsQuest Center, which is scheduled to provide world-class entertainment 200 nights of the year.

Lebanon, PA is a film that tells an emotional story, and from the very beginning you are intrigued, perhaps even excited, to dive deeper into the small Pennsylvania town. Like most places located in the countryside, it is implied that not much is happening. For Josh Hopkins’s character, Will, it becomes a place of humanity. The death of Will’s father brings him to Lebanon to clean out his father’s old house and belongings. There he meets CJ, an 18-year-old girl played by Temple University theatre major Rachel Kitson. Oh, and by the way, a boy in town got her pregnant.

This movie tackles the serious issue of teenage pregnancy and abortion and sets it in a supposed “easy-going” town. Turns out, it makes for great turmoil in the conservative countryside. At the same time, it posits the death of Will’s father against the potential birth of CJ’s baby. The tension is noticeable, but what really strikes at the heart of the audience, is how difficult it is to make decisions that you know will affect more than just yourself. Will becomes entangled in an affair with a married woman while CJ struggles with the idea of sacrificing her college dreams.

Lebanon, PA is a well-done film that won numerous awards on the festival circuit, and I recommend it if you are interested in good storytelling and not at all in expectations.

Proceeding With Kindness: First Step in the Transformation.

Throughout college, you hear a lot of talk about saving the world, or at least changing it for the better. And this is always comes across as a noble endeavor. But maybe these are the wrong words to be using. Maybe we should start talking about loving the world. And this always comes across as an unrealistic ideal. It is true that there is a lot of hatred and meanness out there. It makes sense then, to counter it with love and kindness.

Changing and saving imply that one does not actually enjoy the place they are in nor the things they are doing. Loving accepts, and more importantly it liberates. It is simply a starting point, a first step. And this is exactly where I am with my relationship with Bethlehem. For five years, I wasn’t accepting nor appreciative of the history and the culture that once was, but also never consider what could be. I’m not trying to change Bethlehem nor am I trying to save it. I know this will happen on its own time and in its own way. What I’m trying to do, is love it simply because it exists.

In order to do this, I first needed to do some research. I needed to understand the history if I was to make any forward progress. And what do you know! SteelStacks provided me with a wonderful two-hour walking tour through the ruins of the old Steel Mill. I find it no coincidence it was in the midst of its transformation, with the new PBS building putting on its finishing touches and the Levitt Pavilion breaking ground. Terry Larimer, Lehigh class of ’68 and former sports editor at The Morning Call, was my hard-hat-wearing tour guide. He offered me my own to wear during the tour, explaining that all the rookies who worked at the plant were identified by the red X painted on top. Even though I am new to all of this, I politely declined and he said it was okay.

The tour was two hours only because I was the only person who attended it. All the walking tours are available everyday at 12:45 p.m. but I understand that everyone in Bethlehem is wearing red X’s above their heads. This is new to them, too. Soon, walking tour information will be common knowledge, but for now, I was not in the least bit upset that I had a private tour of Bethlehem Steel.

Without giving it all away, because I want each of you to do some active research for yourselves, there are some incredible stories streamlining the foundations that this ArtsQuest Center now stands on. What I found most interesting, besides all of the facts and figures that Bethlehem Steel is most notable for, including the cities it built, was how much of a secret operation this all seemed. The company was an entity unto itself. Self-sustaining, self-operating, self-made. It just so happened it was located in Bethlehem. And the company made a conscious effort to keep out the community even though the community was what kept it alive.

This makes sense to me, knowing that this distant relationship still exists between the university and the community. This is nothing new, I thought. This disconnect was here long before I was. The Bethlehem Steel Company often hired Lehigh graduates as managers while the nearly one-third of the people living in the city were hired as workers. The hours were long, the benefits were scarce, and injuries were not spoken of. The only way The Morning Call found out about what was going on at the mill was if someone got hurt bad enough to be sent to St. Luke’s hospital. Otherwise, the workers spent their 17-hour days breathing in all kinds of toxins in order to produce tons of steel. Their only day off was every other Sunday.

Meanwhile, the executives, spent most of their time sitting up high in their office buildings doing “work” or playing golf at the Saucon Valley Country Club. Does this sound familiar? Eugene Grace may ring a bell. He was a Lehigh graduate and eventually became the President of Bethlehem Steel from 1916-1945. He was responsible for the company’s radicalgrowth, striving during the war years as the main supplier for the Navy while expanding to bridge-building during peacetime. During this time, he was also on the Board of Trustees at Lehigh. I say this with bold and italics because this is also when the university saw its biggest growth spurt. And you know those Lehigh people,always up to something. No doubt trying to save and change the world. And no doubt, they have already made huge progress for better learning. While Bethlehem Steel did not survive, the truth is the university has continued to thrive. They are no strangers to sustaining change. The difference now, is the effort to include the city.

As I look forward, I understand why things are the way they are. The lack of communication between the university environment and the Bethlehem community in 2011 is no different from the estranged dynamic between the workers and the executives during the early decades of the 1900s. The only difference I see, is that there was zero conversation going on then, especially between a secretive company and the surrounding community. There was a reason it was built like a fortress just the same way one could argue there’s a reason Lehigh was built on the side of a mountain. But there is chatter now, and however low a rumbling it has been, it is beginning to get a little louder.

Today, more and more people are getting involved in a conversation that has started long before I arrived. I reckon it has something to do with people accepting the city in which they live, understanding the reasons for its company’s downfall, and proceeding with kindness during this transformation. Like every awkward teenager, Bethlehem just needs some love.