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Do We Really Want to Live Forever?

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If you’ve spent any amount of time with me in the past couple of weeks, I’ve probably tried to get you to watch Altered Carbon—a new cyberpunk noir murder-mystery based on Richard K. Morgan’s novel of the same name that recently came out on Netflix. The show is set in a world where humans have found a way to download personalities into bodies (a.k.a. Sleeves), and in doing so, the human form has essentially become disposable and interchangeable. While the following is mostly my own musings, I will try to avoid spoilers where possible, but if you don’t want spoilers go watch the show then read this.
First off, let’s talk about pain for a bit. Humans have, as a society, generally accepted that pain is a bad thing. The International Association for the Study of Pain defines it as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.” What does this mean for the world of Altered Carbon? The IASP definition mentions one of the principal factors: damage. We, in our frail human bodies, are extremely susceptible to damage. We are not exactly the sturdiest things around. And as of right now, we have no way of recovering from many types of damage. But what if we could?
Altered Carbon’s Protectorate has their sleeve technology, Elysium (the film, not the afterlife) has their Med-Bays, and Star Wars has space magic. Escaping the physical limitations of our own bodies and mortality (and mind you, I’m only counting glaringly obvious ones here, so no mech suits, A.I., or crazy life-support machines in this issue) is something we mortals seem to be mesmerized by. In this context, where either the real impact of any damage is reduced (as in Altered Carbon and Star Wars); or where damage is easily repairable, does it become less negative?
We see this interaction between damage and cost play out in Altered Carbon when Lieutenant Ortega tries to arrest Kovac for “sleeve damage” after a fight. Her reaction is what one would expect if a cop in 2018 caught someone smashing a car. It’s still a serious offense, but doesn’t have nearly the same moral implications, which is, in my view, much more significant. It’s almost as if our current ethical and practical dilemmas (punishing those who cause pain and harm) have become the future’s holdover laws. In the same way that we see Tulsa, OK’s “You need an engineer present to open a soda bottle” law as old-fashioned, or as some kind of meme, a future society may eventually come to find our laws to have no contextual grounding for them.
Let’s extrapolate from this something we hear about briefly in the show: death. Now, we’re talking about sleeve death, not real death, because that’s another can of worms entirely. It’s reasonable to say that death, right now, is a bad thing. It is, as far as any of us can prove, the end, and therefore, any damage that causes death is something that we as a society find in our best interests to criminalize. But what if we could just plug ourselves into a new body and keep going? Bodies still cost money, and they are still things you own, so it’s still property damage, but it would be as easy as activating car insurance.
So, this lack of a true conclusion leads well into the question I want to ask: considering a society where the practical justifications to outlaw, criminalize or marginalize a given thing or behavior has been addressed, should we judge solely on moral objections? If so, can we do it fairly and accurately? Going a little further still, to what extent can we really compare what we know as our human experience to that of a society like this? Personally, I’d like to say that while I’m often the first to present moral objections, I’m also the first to acknowledge that those morals are entirely baseless and set in nothing but my own conviction. Because of this, I do not at all think that any judgment we pass can really be called fair and accurate, especially considering how completely different our experiences are.
I would love to hear what you think, so you can email me at cavic001mail.goucher.edu with questions, comments, thoughts, and suggestions for shows or topics you want me to take a look at.
Catch y’all later!

Poetry as Community

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It is not so frequent an event that speakers are introduced as having created oceans. Oceans with “clear and clean water,” into which one can be submersed, “with no part left dry.”
On Thursday, February 15th, poets Airea D. Matthews and Ladan Osman visited Goucher for an evening of dinner, conversation, and, most importantly, poetry. They were the first in a series of poets whose visits will be sponsored by the Kratz Center for Creative Writing at Goucher College.
Typically, the Kratz Center sponsors one visiting writer event in the fall semester. For example, last semester Elizabeth Strout made a visit, and in previous years, other big names like Sherman Alexie, Seamus Heaney, and W.S. Merwin have come to Goucher. Then, in the spring semester, the Kratz Center sponsors a visiting writer to teach a course. This semester H.G. Carrillo is leading a fiction writing workshop. Goucher alumni Edgar Kunz is also visiting and teaching creative writing. In addition to these annually-run programs, however, the Kratz Center is also sponsoring something new this year—an “experiment,” in the words of Bill U’Ren, current Kratz Director and Goucher creative writing professor.
The Poetry Series is the experiment. Although U’Ren is the acting Kratz Director, the go-ahead for this experiment was given by last year’s co-directors Madison Smartt Bell and Elizabeth Spires. Meant to work in conjunction with this semester’s theme of “community,” the series involves creating several smaller events with visiting writers, rather than try to acquire big-ticket names. The series is also an attempt to organize a variety of readings which may not be the most traditional. For example, Matthews and Osman both employed mixed media presentations, using images along with their work. Future visiting poets include The Black Ladies Brunch Collective, a group of poets who work collaboratively.
Goucher poetry and peace studies professor Ailish Hopper was the curator of the series (and the author of the lovely introduction at the Thursday night event). As the curator, Hopper reached out to poets in the broader Baltimore community and asked for their help in creating the events. To create a pair for a joint reading, she would first contact one poet, and then ask whom that poet would like to read with, be it “a friend, or mentor or poetry-crush,” as Hopper put it. The poets were then asked what the phrase “poetry as community” meant to them. The focus, or subtitles, for each event, came from their answers to this question. Aptly, Hopper used a metaphor to describe her involvement as curator in this process: “I was like a sail on a sailboat, and all these winds came along to push the sail,” said Hopper, miming the movement of blowing winds to represent the various people who made the series possible.
At the event on Thursday, throughout the evening Matthews and Osman showed their friendship and respect for each other, each sharing stories about the other. At the end of the night, Hopper thanked both for their time, their poetry, and, ultimately, for their togetherness. Matthews and Osman laughed and looked at each other. “We really love each other,” said Matthews.

The Poetry Series has already been building connections between members of the poetry community. Of the 40-50 people at Thursday night event, there were a number of local poets, who teach in colleges, high schools, and afterschool programs. One outcome of this community-building is co-publicity and the creation of a master list of all the poetry events happening this spring. If you’re interested in attending poetry events on or off campus, check out the list below!
The final visiting poet of the semester, Rudy Francisco, who specializes in spoken word poetry, will lead a master class at Goucher in the morning but will perform in the evening at the DewMore Baltimore Poetry Festival. Hopper hopes that Goucher students connect with Francisco and make an effort to travel into the city for the festival.
Upcoming events at Goucher feature Poets Jenny Johnson and francine harris on March 29th, 7-9 in Batza Room and The Black Ladies Brunch Collective on Thursday, April 12th, 7-9, also in Batza.

On a final note, the Q is hoping to publish poems and spark poetry-centered conversation this semester in connection with the idea of poetry as community and poets as truth-tellers.
Go to an event and compose a response. Or be inspired in any other way. Write a poem… passionate, reflective, heart-breaking, fast, slow, rhyming, free verse…whatever your style is and wherever your heart is, just write.
Then send it into the world.

Throne of Glass: A Review

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Like every Young Adult Fantasy novel these days, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas has it all: a swashbuckling teen heroine who’s lived through more travesties in her eighteen years of existence than most people have in one lifetime; a creepy male antagonist who is hell-bent on world domination; and the quintessential duo of (male) best friends vying for the main character’s affection (of course, one of which is grumpy and stand-offish while the other is a lovable playboy). All this, along with a “healthy” dose of female competition, adorable animals, names that cannot be pronounced, and magic.
Published in 2012, Throne of Glass was not an instant success. Sure it had raving reviews, but unlike Maas’s books nowadays, it did not debut on the New York Times Bestsellers List. What made it a classic in the ever growing and fast-paced industry of YA fantasy are the characters and the world that Maas expands upon throughout the series.
However, I plan on only discussing the first book, so here we go.
The main character is named Celaena Sardothien, a first-rate has-been assassin, fighting in a competition to become the King’s Champion. She’s a bit self-centered, a bit egotistical, and only on occasion willing to play nice (as befitting a true eighteen-year-old). So, along with her new friends, Prince Dorian Havilliard and Chaol Westfall, Captain of the Royal Guard, Celaena must figure out a way to stay alive in the tournament to buy her freedom, keep her head down in the castle of her arch enemy and catch the castle murderer before she becomes the next victim. Piece of cake.
All in all, Throne of Glass is good, but not a great first book. The pacing isn’t too fast nor is it too slow. It checks off all of the boxes necessary for YA fantasy: court intrigue, a shadowy presence, snappy comebacks, minimal romance (compared to the series presently) and innocent friendship; not to mention a dedicated fan base who will love the series till their last breath. What makes the book truly worth your time is the well-articulated and beautiful style of writing that Sarah J. Maas has. I mean, just the way she describes a forest gives way for pause.
“The forest had gone silent. The ebony hounds’ ears were erect, though they didn’t seem to be bothered by the stillness. Even the soldiers quieted. Her heart skipped a beat. The forest was different here. The leaves dangled like jewels-tiny droplets of ruby, pearl, topaz, amethyst, emerald, and garnet; and a carpet of such riches coated the forest floor around them. Despite the ravages of conquest, this part of Oakwald Forest remained untouched. It still echoed with the remnants of the power that had once given these trees such unnatural beauty.”
Maas’s words flow naturally in such a way that many authors struggle with, and it is due to her ability to write images, characters, dialogue, and action that could entice someone to pick up the next book. Sarah J. Maas does a remarkable job of pulling you in just enough with the characters, plot, and storyline. But it is her gift as a storyteller that ensnares a reader that leaves you with wanting more.

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