Home in the heartland

JOURNALISM, LIFE, NOTRE DAME, NYC

This essay was awarded honorable mention in Notre Dame Magazine’s 2017 Young Alumni Essay Contest. It was originally published at magazine.nd.edu

My final night in Toledo, Ohio, I climbed up to the roof of my apartment building to watch the sunset. Brilliant orange hues silhouetted everything below the horizon a dark, velvety black, and only the banks poked above the skyline. The colors were bright and bold, beckoning me to stay.

Straight in front of me on North Superior Street, I could see the old newspaper building where I’d spent long hours that summer covering everything from robberies to school board meetings to controversial city investments. From above, the streets looked clean and still and silent, but I knew that was far from true. Up on the rooftop, I couldn’t see trash rolling through the roads or crooked “for sale” signs hanging in dusty windows. I couldn’t see the crime, deterioration and poverty, all hidden in plain sight.

I lived that summer in a building that once housed the famous LaSalle & Koch Department Store, and until 1984, one of the largest Macy’s stores outside of New York City. It had since been converted into massive loft apartments, but you could still see the Macy’s sign painted on one side, like a faded tattoo. As I watched the sunset that night on the roof while a couple on the far side clinked Coronas, I thought about my three months in Toledo. I’d been intensely lonely and completely out of my comfort zone, but reporting stories throughout Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan solidified a longer relationship I’d been building with the Midwest as a region, a fascination with the place and its history.

I knew I’d come back. After all, there were more stories to tell.

The first time I connected with the Midwest was through the words of Nebraskan poet Ted Kooser, when I was 16. I picked up one of his collections at a book festival near my home in New Jersey and couldn’t stop reading — the poems were nothing like what I’d read in school. His words were simple, beautiful and timeless. I did not find out until later that Kooser was in fact Poet Laureate of the United States at the time, the first selected from the Great Plains.

Kooser’s poems, with titles like “Dishwater” and “Creamed Corn,” find beauty in the mundane. Kooser takes basic daily occurrences and shows that just beneath the surface of everything and everyone is something extraordinary. He changed my perspective on what constitutes great writing. Now, I believe great writing is found not necessarily in complex plots or exotic settings but in people — their histories, struggles and challenges. And no region in America exemplifies this kind of writing better than the Midwest. Think Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, a classic depiction of small-town America, or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. The Midwest, of course, is vast and varied, but a common theme fueling its literature is a strong sense of place and a focus on the people who live there.

Another aspect of the Midwest that makes it ripe for great writing is its relationship with the past. While New York City, my current home, paints over the past as quickly as it can build new skyscrapers, the past seems to linger in the Midwest. When I lived in Toledo, everywhere I went I could see remnants of a time long gone — beautiful Victorian houses slowly decaying, an old theater that sat empty most nights, even hot dog joints that opened in the 1920s and haven’t changed much since. Toledo’s past hovers over every street, over every building that was once grand and isn’t anymore. In Rust Belt cities like Toledo, the past is so present, it’s almost a character in its own right.

I spent my formative years in the Midwest, and only after five years of living in New York City do I understand how much that impacted me — as a writer and as a person. Both sides of my family are from Brooklyn, New York — I have no roots in America’s heartland. But after four years at college at Notre Dame in South Bend, a few weeks in Iowa City in high school and, of course, my summer in Toledo, the Midwest now feels like home.

The region is a crossroads of cultural influences, but I believe it shares some common characteristics. For one, the land is mainly flat, surrounded by the Rockies on the West and Appalachians on the East, giving the region its distinguishing wide-open feel. While the small agricultural towns of the Great Plains differ immensely from the Rust Belt cities of the Great Lakes, I’ve found Midwesterners to be politer and more community-oriented than their counterparts on the East Coast. And while, in New York, most people come from somewhere else to achieve and transform, Midwesterners have a strong sense of identity and pride in their roots.

So which region better reflects me as an individual? The self-assured, quieter Midwest, or the more rushed, aggressive Northeast? Right now, I don’t long to live in the Midwest — I’m happy where I am, in a city that simultaneously excites and exhausts me. But every time I arrive back to Ohio or Indiana or Iowa, a part of me feels at peace. I love the predictability of main streets, the kindness of the people, and the brilliant summer sunsets that soar on for miles into the distance because the topography offers so few disruptions. Being in the Midwest reminds me there’s so much more to America than I know.

One summer morning in New York, I was on a subway train so packed that I couldn’t even put my left foot down — all of the floor space was taken up. After about 10 minutes of this discomfort, a woman in front of me got off the train, revealing one of my favorite poems by Kooser, “A Winter Morning,” on a billboard where advertisements usually go on the subway walls:

A farmhouse window far back from the highway

speaks to the darkness in a sure, small voice.

Against this stillness, only a kettle’s whisper,

and against this starry cold, one small blue ring of flame.

That poem greeted me like the familiar smile of someone you haven’t seen in a long time, and for a moment, the oppressive heat and crush of people vanished. Kooser’s words were a small but comforting reminder of my connection to somewhere else.

I know I’ll travel the long, flat roads back to America’s heartland again, before the future finally steamrolls its lingering past. I want to drive around the region, listen to the stories to be told there, learn more about these cities and where they’re headed. Maybe those wide roads will take me out to the rolling cornfields of Nebraska, or back to my former homes in Toledo or South Bend. But for now, I’ll find my Midwest haven in the worlds of Kooser and Robinson and Anderson, and escape, through their stories, to the places that have become a part of me, while the sirens of New York City wail incessantly outside.

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Lessons learned from my college newspaper

CAREER, JOURNALISM, NOTRE DAME, PUBLISHED WORK

Late nights. Early mornings. Not enough coffee in the world to keep you awake during that morning calculus class. It’s a story most college newspaper editors know well but would never change. We’re willing to put in the hours not only because of the close-knit community, one of the biggest draws, but because the skills you learn working for a college newspaper are invaluable across professional industries. Here are five reasons why.

You meet a wide range of people.

College is a bubble, but working on the paper exposes you to a wide range of people and viewpoints. During my four years on The Observer at Notre Dame, I interviewed a British literary scholar, the Chief Marketing Officer of Subway, the University president and the only Orthodox Jewish student on campus. Reaching beyond the bubble has huge value later on in the working world.

You get used to criticism.

Most professors at Notre Dame weren’t outwardly critical of my writing, focusing on what I could do better instead of what I did wrong. While I appreciated this approach in my classes, criticism is an unavoidable aspect of the professional world and life in general. My freshman year, I remember the first article I received back from my editor was completely covered in red ink, entire sections crossed out. I probably went home and cried that night, but soon learned not take things so personally (and that criticism helps you improve).

You master the art of succinct writing.

I used to think the phrase “writing is an art” meant I could use an unlimited number of words to make things sound beautiful. Now I believe that regardless of the writing form, every single word needs to have a purpose. Working on the paper taught me to boil down stories to their very core, write conversationally and include only the most powerful quotes. All of this prepared me well for a career in digital media.

You get comfortable leading conversations.

Most people love talking about themselves. Once you learn that, asking questions and leading conversations isn’t all that hard. When I started out as a reporter, I was scared to even place a call to a stranger. I read and reread my emails 10 times before requesting an interview. But with experience, I gained the confidence to assert myself during interviews, pursue contacts and ask the tougher questions.

You learn to work well under pressure.

Some of my most stressful days in college, I was under deadline for an article on the same day I had a major test. I spent free moments calling sources and writing while simultaneously trying to memorize history or statistics formulas. The Observer demanded everything of you, and you had to figure out how not to let your grades slip. It took years, but I learned to stay calm and trust that everything would get done (and that the world wouldn’t end if it didn’t).

I loved being an English major at Notre Dame. But truthfully, none of my classes stand out to me years later the way my days and nights spent in The Observer office do. While I nurtured my love for literature through my major, the newspaper that gave me the hands-on, practical education I needed to jump into the real world after graduation.

In the end, I’m thankful for the sleepless nights and overconsumption of chocolate. The Observer was the best (free) course I took at Notre Dame.

*This column was originally published in The Observer 

Lula’s Café: The Community Living Room

NOTRE DAME, PUBLISHED WORK

Photo Source: 365 South Bend Blog

*Author’s note: this article was first published in Notre Dame Magazine at magazine.nd.edu. 

I had never seen this much flannel in one place at Notre Dame. The room was filled with men and women in plaid shirts, and standing at the microphone was a poetry student from Notre Dame’s creative writing M.F.A. program, reading selections from her work.

A few girls “whoop whoop” and others in the audience clapped, smiling at the student’s cleverness. This group thrived on wit, intellect and the beauty of language.

The décor was an eclectic mix of things that shouldn’t go together but somehow did. Sunflowers sprang from the walls beside oddly shaped mirrors. Shelves held books and random knick-knacks. A wall was painted in red and yellow stripes, and a dusty emerald lamp hung in one corner. None of it made logical design sense, but that was the whole idea of Lula’s—letting loose, being creative and taking risks.

Mostly M.F.A. students filled the room that night, but scattered throughout were undergrads and professors. In the middle of the readings, two huge football players walked in, dressed head-to-toe in Notre Dame gear. They were out of their element, and intentionally so. There was just something wonderful about that.

16 years of Lula’s

“It was a happy accident, really,” Lula’s owner Steve Egan ’93 told me over coffee one fall morning in 2010. “Lula’s was a hit right away.”

The idea for Lula’s was born 16 years earlier when Egan, a public accountant in Chicago, talked over dinner one night with a friend and Notre Dame alum about opening a café near campus. “There was nothing like Lula’s in South Bend,” Egan recalled. “I felt pretty confident in the idea.”

“I did the benchmarking at every café in Chicago practically, to just kind of figure out ideas, and figure out as much financial data as I could from the owners who would be forthcoming with it,” he said.

The next step was writing a business plan and executing it.

“We wanted to be close to campus, and this was a good crossroads area, with high traffic,” Egan said of the 1631 Edison Plaza location, at the Edison/23 intersection near The Linebacker. “I didn’t leave my job in Chicago until we had a location that made sense.”

From the very beginning, Lula’s was meant to be more than just a café — inspiring the sharing of ideas and life stories. And Lula’s was always intended as a bridge between South Bend and the surrounding campus communities, including Notre Dame, Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) and Bethel College.

“We wanted to break down barriers … misconceptions that people from town have about people from campus, and vice versa,” Egan said in 2010. “We wanted to appeal to all demographics. I think that’s one of the tricks to Lula’s, that it’s been able to appeal to a lot different types over a long period of time.”

But after 16 years it became apparent that Lula’s time — at least its time on Edison Road — was limited. On October 5, 2010, Egan spoke to an entrepreneurship class at Notre Dame. The very next day, he was surprised with a notice that his lease would not be renewed.

Egan had just 50 days to vacate Lula’s.

After months of searching for a new location, Egan let go of the dream and took a job with Anthony Travel. Egan said one of the blessings of going through this change was hearing what Lula’s had meant to so many different people.

“It’s kind of like getting to hear your own eulogy when you’re alive,” he said then. “That’s a powerful affirmation that Lula’s has mattered to a lot of people. Lula’s has meaning outside of just a restaurant or coffee shop. There’s something deeper here.”

“The community living room”

Over the years, Lula’s was called “the community living room,” “the gateway to South Bend,” and “the place in Michiana where people come to try to save the world.” Lula’s embraced open-mindedness, encouraging its customers to sit, talk and stay awhile. Students perched at corner tables with laptops, books lined shelves like a library, and cards and board games invited customers to play over coffee or after meals.

“We created so many collisions,” Egan said, explaining that Lula’s was a crossroads for people, communities and ideas. The cozy, thought-provoking space attracted college students, Midwestern hipsters, counter-cultural high school kids, professors and professionals.

“Somebody said, ‘That’s one great thing about Lula’s: you can be next to a nuclear physicist, two high school kids on a date, and two grandmas playing Scrabble,” Egan recalled.

Egan attributed Lula’s success to its customers and staff, the good food and drink, the community and cultural events it hosted, and its general “vibe.” He said customers who recently moved to South Bend were told, “the first place you need to go is Lula’s. That’s where you need to start connecting to people.”

When I arrived on campus in the fall of 2008, I struggled to find a place that felt just “right.” As a quiet freshman uprooted from my New York City suburb, I needed more than Notre Dame football and tight-knit dorm life to feel at home. I often complained to my family that I hadn’t found a community of writers on campus. In fact, I hadn’t found any arts community at all.

One day I heard about a poetry reading at Lula’s Café, which was close enough to campus to walk. I fell in love at first sight. The relaxed atmosphere, friendly staff and delicious food welcomed me right away. Lula’s became a refuge when campus was overwhelming or when I just needed to think.

And Lula’s had been that safe haven, that escape, that home away from home for many.

Matt Storin, a former Boston Globe editor who worked and taught at Notre Dame, said Lula’s helped compensate for South Bend’s inadequacies as a college town. “I was originally attracted to Lula’s because it reminded me of what a college-town coffee house or restaurant should look like,” he said. “Being from the East Coast, I felt that it had a kind of Cambridge-like feel.”

Lula’s last call

Egan said closing time was bittersweet, but he felt an outpouring of support as Lula’s history at Edison Plaza came to an end.

“The last day was a tremendous day,” he said. “Both Tuesday and Wednesday were two of the best days we ever had. I gathered the staff at about nine, and in true Lula’s fashion there were customers and friends of staff just hanging around. We all went around and talked about what Lula’s means to us and the community.”

Lula’s final day of operation was Wednesday, November 24, 2010. It closed for good on Thanksgiving Day. Lula’s staff spent the next few days taking the restaurant apart, and by November 30, all that was left at 1631 Edison was an 8×11 inch sign on the door.

Another café followed but didn’t stay long, and the space once filled with Lula’s is still vacant.

Irish Boys of Brooklyn: New Year’s Eve 1973

CREATIVE WRITING, NOTRE DAME, PUBLISHED WORK

Author’s Note: This article was first published in Notre Dame Magazine at magazine.nd.edu.

***

Some would say bartenders John Pelan and Harold Kelly had the best spot in the house that New Year’s Eve.

All night, off in an alcove behind their simple makeshift bar, Pelan and Kelly poured foaming pitchers of Budweiser and stirred up the occasional whiskey and ginger ale. A radio in the corner spouted updates from the Notre Dame-Alabama national championship game.

Beyond the alcove, men in suits with skinny ties and women with beehive hairstyles danced the waltz and fox trot to a live band.

It was the final night of 1973. About 200 gathered in the auditorium of Notre Dame Parish in New Hyde Park, Long Island, for the annual New Year’s Eve dance. Among the revelers were my grandfather, Patrick Coyne, and my grandmother, Dorothy.

Friends crowded around tables for 10; plastic cups quickly emptied. Men were making regular jaunts back to that little alcove to refill pitchers for their group.

Regular jaunts, of course, to the radio at the bar.

“Wives would be wondering, ‘What’s taking the hubby so long to get a pitcher of beer?’” my grandfather said. “But it was kind of exciting times, and you couldn’t walk away.”

As the time till midnight grew shorter, the beer runs grew longer. Every man wanted an excuse to slip into the little alcove and catch the latest on the game. And as the game moved into the fourth quarter, they lingered longer, crowding around that radio the way they might crowd around a campfire.

“Then it went down to 24-23 [Notre Dame], and Alabama had the ball now with only like a minute and 48 seconds left,” Papa said. “But that could take a lifetime to play.”

Within the parish, alliances to Our Lady’s university ran deep. Most members were first-generation Irish-Americans who had grown up together in immigrant neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens.

The majority had not gone to college. Those who did went on the G.I. Bill. To my grandfather’s knowledge, none had gone to Notre Dame.

But since childhood they had idolized the Irish.


Patrick Coyne, an Irish fan for 70 years, on Notre Dame’s campus for the 2008 game against StanfordPatrick Coyne, an Irish fan for 70 years, on Notre Dame’s campus for the 2008 game against Stanford

My grandfather was raised in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, in the 1930s and ’40s, an area teeming with poor Irish, Italian and German immigrants, called the “Ninth Ward” by Brooklynites. His father, a longshoreman, worked hard but sometimes drank even harder.

Despite the crowded apartment, tattered clothes and meager, unstable income, Papa looks back at those years fondly.

Children in the tenement had few possessions but vast, sprawling imaginations. For the tenement kids, the streets, the parks, the abandoned lots and the stoops were their kingdom.

Papa remembers waiting on the street corner for the 8 p.m. “bulldog edition” of the Daily News — only 2 cents then — to arrive. He’d flip to the sports section to read about the “Fighting Irish,” the only college football team he and his buddies took interest in.

On Saturdays, Papa and his friends might head to the theater to see a double feature for 25 cents. A newsreel of current events always played between the two films.

“The [newsreel] would have a less-than-a-minute snippet of the Notre Dame game,” Papa said. “That’s all we waited for, that was the whole thing for us.”

The boys took their love for the Irish out of the theaters and into the streets. But since the movies were in black and white, kids from Papa’s neighborhood never knew what colors Notre Dame really wore.

“When we played organized football we’d call ourselves the ‘Fighting Irish’ and we’d get green and gold uniforms,” Papa said. “When they’d line up behind the center, our quarterback, Marty Dougherty, would say something like ‘down big green and gold!’ Meanwhile, we were these scrawny-looking skinny Irish kids.”

Papa and his friends were just a few of Notre Dame’s poor but passionate “sidewalk alumni.”
Sports journalist Jimmy Cannon also grew up in an immigrant neighborhood of New York City. In a 1967 column for the Daily News, he writes about the pride that bonded the Irish slums of New York to an affluent university over 700 miles away.

Like movie stars, Cannon says, Notre Dame players were revered from afar.

“Football was important. But Notre Dame was a cherished symbol,” he writes. “In our neighborhood, where a good education meant graduating from grammar school, the Notre Dame football players were the perfection of our kind.”

“On our mean streets, no band played and a pennant never waved when Notre Dame won,” Cannon writes. “But we were as much a part of that distant university on the prairie as though we had a diploma to prove it.”

As a child, my grandfather barely crossed the boundaries of New York City. So for all he and his buddies knew, South Bend, Indiana, could have been a landlocked Emerald Isle.

Perhaps Notre Dame’s remoteness made it even more captivating.


As the boys of Brooklyn built their careers and rose into the middle class, they moved east into modest homes on Long Island but have remained close friends for over 70 years.

Hugh Mullin, one of those friends, broke the good news about the championship outcome that New Year’s Eve of 1973. He had disappeared back with John Pelan and Harold Kelly — much to his wife Mary’s chagrin — and wasn’t seen again until around 11 p.m.

“Hughie came running back, yelling, ‘They won, they won, they won, they beat Alabama!’” my grandfather said. “He was jumping up and down, and then everybody was jumping up and down.”

Even the previously irritated wives joined in on the excitement. The band played The Victory March.

“The revelers went crazy with joy,” Papa said. “The real party had begun in earnest.”

When 1974 arrived at midnight, the bittersweet words of “Auld Lang Syne” soared through the auditorium and couples swayed in beer-fogged bliss.

“But needless to say, the ringing in of the New Year was a bit anticlimactic,” Papa said. “By the time 12 o’clock rolled around, we had already done all our [real] celebrating.”

Thirty-nine years will have passed when Notre Dame faces Alabama again in another high-profile matchup for the national title. Since then, Papa has had a son and a granddaughter graduate from Notre Dame. He has visited campus countless times with his buddies from Brooklyn, watched it blossom beyond the original quads. He’s discovered South Bend is a second home for the Irish but no replica of the Emerald Isle.

For my grandfather, he certainly won’t be in a church gymnasium this time around with the Crimson Tide.

“Before, I could go to the dance,” he said, laughing at the absurdity of listening to the game on a bar radio. “Now, I couldn’t go to a dance. No way.”

There’s no place like #12and0

NOTRE DAME

It’s often said there’s no place like Notre Dame. There’s also no place like Facebook and Twitter after a Notre Dame victory.

I love the raw emotion, the hundreds of posts appearing just one second, three seconds, two minutes after the win. I love the rapid flurry of “love thee NDs,” quotes from legendary coaches, excessive hashtagging and sheer excitement.  I even love the spelling errors.

Because this isn’t a time to think.

This is a time to be Irish.

I created the above graphic using the most-used words and phrases from my Facebook and Twitter feeds last night. Listed below are my favorite posts from last night. And the excitement’s only beginning. One fellow alum posted today a “public apology to any college football fan who doesn’t support ND” because she “will be insufferable until January 7.”

She won’t be the only one.

“To those who know NotreDame, no explanation is necessary. To those who don’t, no explanation will suffice.” -Lou Holtz

Irish in Miami? We should 12-0 more often. Let’s go!!!

Relevant yet, Rick? #12and0#LoveTheeNotreDame

Love thee Notre Dame! REDEMPTION

Mr. Smith, could I get your reaction to ND’s first undefeated regular season since the 1988 season? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSmKuVSocN8

UNDEFEATED! UNDEFEATED!! UNDEFEATED!!!!!!!!!!!

I find myself unable to post anything, because nothing would be enough. #ND

Love thee NotreDame!!!

Ticket to Miami BOOKED

How many @NotreDame tweets is too many Notre Dame tweets? Probably approaching that limit. #dontcare#12and0

How to make friends fast: wear a Notre Dame sweatshirt to the airport.#NDsolutions

As a member of the losingest class in Notre Dame history, this is pretty cool.

It’s 6:39 am, and I haven’t slept a single minute. I don’t even care.#12and0

I just love everything about Notre Dame

What a great day to be Irish! BCS bound 2013!!!

LETS GO IRISH!!!! Miami here we come!!! 12-0 and Manti for Heisman! Most amazing season ever.  I love my alma mater

We goin to the SHIPPPPPP!!!!!!! –>Manti T’eo

Notre Dame Football: 9-0!

NOTRE DAME, PHOTOGRAPHY

We’re 9-0 baby. Notre Dame is undefeated. Pretty unbelievable, considering I went through four years of college practically expecting the team to let me down in that last quarter. I have to admit- I’m kind of jealous of this year’s seniors, who get to ride on a wave of glory each game, swaying to the Alma Mater with sheer joy instead of disappointment. But I’m also thrilled our team is finally doing well. ( I’ve always been proud of my school, but now I have bragging rights…)

Fall and football go hand in hand; one inevitably reminds me of the other. In honor of Notre Dame’s recent success, I’m posting a collection of my favorite “Fall at ND” photos from over the years. Fall at Notre Dame is just so beautiful, one time of year when the colors on campus can outdo the perpetual gray perma-cloud hovering overhead. Come early to mid-October, the colors out there in Northern Indiana are unlike any I’ve ever seen on the East Coast. I’ve never looked forward to fall as much as I did in college: when it meant the return of football Saturdays, tailgating, brilliant colors, brisk air, and spending all day in leather boots, leggings and comfy sweatshirts. Whether you’re a Domer or not, I hope you enjoy these colorful shots of campus as much as I do. And GO IRISH!

ND Magazine: Looking out, looking over

FOOD & DRINK, LIFE, NOTRE DAME, NYC, OPINION, PUBLISHED WORK

Author’s Note: this article was first published in Notre Dame Magazine at magazine.nd.edu.
***

Looking out, looking over

BY SARA FELSENSTEIN ’12

After work one night in September I met up with a friend from Notre Dame, Meg, for drinks at a rooftop bar in New York City. We’d been talking about doing this for a while, getting to a rooftop bar before things got too busy and the summer passed right by. After consulting timeout.com and conversing via Facebook we chose The Press Lounge, located on the West Side and overlooking the Hudson River.

It was something to look forward to, something to break up the monotony of the week. And in a way, going to a nice bar like this after work on a weekday feels like a young-professional-in-New-York-City rite of passage.

We arrived around seven, ordered glasses of Pinot Grigio and took a prime spot facing the city to watch the sun set while we caught up on our new lives. We talked about how beautiful the city looked from this angle and how we hoped to never become one of those jaded New Yorkers who goes about life in such an irritated rush that the place loses its awe-inspiring quality.

Meg and I graduated from Notre Dame the same year and both grew up in New York City suburbs. We talked about college, of course, but it was strange how removed we felt from it after only three months as young alumni.

We realized there is a clear disjointedness to those two lives, college life in the Midwest and home life outside of New York City.

Those two lives don’t seamlessly meld into one another, but rather seem to be self-enclosed bubbles of months or years, sharing adjacent positions on the timelines of our recent pasts.

It’s odd too thinking that during those undergrad years, college was everything. Total immersion in papers, practices, clubs and parties meant I’d sometimes lose track of major news events, even family updates — as if all that mattered was Notre Dame.

Despite semesters in different countries, summers in various cities or breaks at home, as soon as we were back on campus and thrust into the regular workload, those other experiences faded.

It was like we had never left.

Then, all through senior year, our impending graduation was this distant siren growing louder by the month, but never quite loud enough to demand serious acknowledgement. Even weeks before graduation, some of us were still in denial it would happen.

If we remained firmly grounded in this place, in everything Notre Dame, how could we suddenly end up on the other side?

Of course, after summer break ends and students move back in — that’s when the reality of graduation really sets in.

I think that’s what Meg and I realized that September night at the rooftop bar, surrounded by dresses and suits and foreign accents, wondering how much this vibrant place surrounding us was actually our place. Letting go of the feeling that this could be any other summer we worked in the city, that our professional lives were just practice for later and we could still be going back and accepting that four years of college is actually a relatively small amount of time.

It’s hard to keep that perspective as a student, to really feel how short four years are.

Until they’ve passed.

So yes, college was dearly, dearly missed. But we were also thrilled with being in New York and completely in awe of the sights in front of us. We couldn’t stay out until 4 a.m., but there were no tests, papers or job applications in our immediate future.

We were “done for the day,” a brand new concept.

One that we very much liked.

ND Magazine: The Subscription Dilemma

NOTRE DAME, NYC, OPINION, PUBLISHED WORK, TECHNOLOGY

The approach of another new year begs the question: is it time to give up our print subscriptions? Check out my first blog post for Notre Dame Magazine below!

———————————————————————————

The Subscription Dilemma

BY SARA FELSENSTEIN ’12

PUBLISHED: OCTOBER 18, 2012 POSTED IN: ALUMNI BLOGSSCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, AND SOCIETY & CULTURE Bookmark and Share

I remember one morning as a 10-year-old I was up early, reading a book by the living room window. A black car slowed before our house, the window rolled down and a package was thrust onto our driveway. I paused for a moment before running outside to retrieve the paper, thrilled that I’d actually seen the man who delivers The New York Times. My excitement was a mere step below seeing Santa or the Tooth Fairy. The paper’s magic was still preserved — I didn’t know where exactly they came from — but I was one step closer to solving the mystery.

That was 12 years ago. Twelve years ago, we had barely purchased our first bulky Dell, much less consider taking the morning news from a backlit screen. Twelve years ago, we still had dial-up Internet, woefully barren email inboxes and asked Jeeves instead of Googling.

A lot has changed in 12 years. That’s why my mom recently sat my dad down at the kitchen table to bring up a two-word, volatile phrase in my household: digital subscription.

“Bruce,” she said, “Don’t you think it’s about time we get a digital subscription to The Times?

I knew where this conversation would end even before it started. My dad shook his head and sighed.

“Sally, please. We’ve talked about this. It’s really not that much cheaper. We’re just not getting one.”

My mom protested, laying down her arguments. That we read the news on the NYTimes.com each day, pretty much only reading the physical paper on car trips. That it’s a heck of a lot of recycling and wasted paper for a low percentage of use. That the most functional purpose of the paper at this point is not the paper itself but the blue plastic bag it arrives in, which we collect and use for doggie waste receptacles.

“It’s an unnecessary expense,” my mom argued.

“We’re keeping the subscription,” my dad said, and that was that.

While it wasn’t my place to weigh in on this discussion, partly because I’m not paying for the subscription but mostly because I read news online 95 percent of the time, I was privately relieved at my dad’s decision.

As a member of the digital age, I spend most of my day working and socializing in the online sphere. But with The Times, I wasn’t ready to go digital. Somehow, making my life both wireless and paperless feels less like moving forward and more like giving in.

I tried to determine why I am so attached to print newspapers when reading news online is more convenient for my lifestyle. I guess I’m nostalgic for “old times,” remembering the excitement I felt as a kid when “I read an article Mom!” or picked up the morning paper and the ink was still wet. Even at a young age, I had a basic understanding of what amazes me today — that all of these stories were compiled, researched, written, packaged and delivered — in the span of one day.

That sense of a day’s entirety is lost on the homepage of a website. The NYTimes.com constantly updates and changes its top stories throughout the day. I rarely do it, but I want the possibility of reading from cover to cover, the satisfaction of tackling the news without the nagging feeling that some bold headline appeared just as I looked away.

The scope of The Times website is infinite — between all of the articles, archives, photo galleries, timelines and podcasts, I can never read enough, be on top of the news enough. Sometimes, this wealth of information and visual stimulation is exactly what I’m looking for. But I do find myself flitting from headline to headline and am much more committed to a story when I read it in print.

Those are my reasons for being conflicted. Of course, my dad has his own.

With the click of “submit,” so goes another year, another print subscription. Yes, we’re essentially buying the paper for the off-chance that we go on a car trip, that we want to read in bed, that the Internet goes out, but for now, that’s good enough.

I’ve decided The New York Times and the NYTimes.com are not interchangeable.


This article was published first in Notre Dame Magazine.  

ND. UM. ’08. Let’s bring this back.

NOTRE DAME

On the bus home from work this evening, I checked the weather for South Bend and was bummed to find a 50 percent chance of rain forecast for Saturday.

Rain during the 24 hours I’ll be on campus,  during the one ND tailgating experience I’ll have until next year, during the one home game I’ll be at this fall after attending all 26 over the past four years?  I wasn’t thrilled, to say the least.

But then I thought: let’s bring this back.

Sept. 13, 2008. Notre Dame: 35 / Michigan: 17

The mud, the wet, the win. Let’s bring ’08 back like we never graduated.

Saturday calls for some mucky, mucky Fichigan.

Epic mudsliding on South Quad. Sept. 13, 2008.

Notre Dame admissions video: Any Given Day

NOTRE DAME, OPINION

“It’s about shaping you as a person and really getting you prepared for your life after Notre Dame.”

As a junior in high school, I found college touring exhausting. All of the info sessions, tours, scheduled meetings with student representatives– they all blended into one another. I had trouble defining what schools were really like when almost all the admissions literature teemed with vague words like “history,” “tradition,” “opportunity” and “success.” I can’t tell you how many schools I looked into that boasted “completely unique” opportunities for me. Was that even possible? How was I supposed to decide the location of my next four years, and the foundation of the rest of my life, based on a “gut feeling,” a programmed tour of interesting facts and some carefully worded handouts?

Since going to Notre Dame, I’ve always thought the only way to really know a school, to understand what it’s all about, is to be there as a student. Yes, there’s that feeling you get when you first walk on campus as a prospy, when you realize you “know” the school on some basic level. But that feeling grows, changes and transforms when on campus for good. When you discover the major you didn’t know existed or the club you dedicate all your free time to, that  feeling seeps into deeper parts of you. It’s no longer a fleeting emotion awakened only when looking up at the Golden Dome for the first time, but something more permanent, cultivated by the things you do on campus and manifested in the relationships you make.

Unfortunately, the wrapped-up-with-a-bow perspective typically handed to prospective students by the admissions office does not and cannot portray what a school is all about. The scope of the student experience– what’s possible over four years– is much too large.

But this new video released this week by the Notre Dame admissions office is different.  The video was produced by Philadelphia-based Neighborhood Film Co., a company that “mentors and employs individuals recovering from homelessnesss, mental-illness or addictions through the process of filmmaking.” Not only is it a fresh, modern and interesting work of videography, it both accurately and beautifully portrays the character of the University. Unlike videos I’ve seen in the past, I can’t pass this off as an annoying, overdramatic compilation of clips used by admissions to either play up or play down various aspects of Notre Dame.

Because it doesn’t. It’s not. It’s kind of the real thing.

Watch it.

Caffeine Culture

COFFEE, FOOD & DRINK, NOTRE DAME, OPINION, PHOTOGRAPHY, PUBLISHED WORK

Published in The Observer

If you’re anything like my friends and me, Starbucks downs your flex points just about as fast as you down its tall vanilla lattes.

I don’t even drink coffee just to stay awake. There are so many other great reasons to grab a cup: to fill an awkward break between classes, to catch up with friends, to procrastinate studying and to keep warm when the temperature goes subzero.

We live in a caffeine culture, and the ridiculously long coffee lines between classes prove that. You can even tell a lot about a person based on their caffeine preference.

We have the Waddicks types, who linger at the coveted red booths, reading Chaucer or discussing philosophy, slowly sipping large pumpkin spice coffees.

You know someone’s got a long day when their tumbler is filled to the brim with Grab and Go coffee and secured in the net pocket of a protruding backpack.

And then there are those who are perpetually holding Starbucks — never straight coffee but always with an excess of adjectives like nonfat, extra whip, unsweetened, light ice and no foam.

I may be stereotyping, but at Notre Dame getting coffee is a more social thing for girls than for guys. You are much more likely to see four PW girls in LaFun gossiping over coffee, than to see four Siegfried guys crowded around a Burger King table, chatting and sipping their nonfat lattes.

On the other hand, unlike guys, girls don’t typically purchase energy drinks to have fun with their friends. Let’s take the case of Five-Hour Energy shots. Girls never brag about taking them. In fact, most girls will down them in the privacy of a Subway booth or in their own rooms. But when guys pop open that small bottle, they have to broadcast it to whoever they pass by. It’s always like, “Dude, I’m so ridiculously awake now, I just took a Five-Hour Energy. Love that stuff.”

Addiction? Possibly. Problem? Not really.

But the Five-Hour Energy shot poured into the coffee? Yes, I’ve seen it done. Now that’s a problem.

At Notre Dame, we like to think that while we “play hard” on the weekends, during the weekdays we are studious, diligent and in control. However, our coffee drinking habits are oddly reminiscent of our weekend drinking habits. Why else would we order a double shot of espresso on a Monday morning, or claim that “one more cup” of coffee won’t hurt us? Why else would we suffer through headaches at 11 a.m., just because we didn’t have that morning cup?

Whether you’re a social coffee drinker, a caffeine addict, or, gasp, you “don’t like coffee,” there’s no denying that we live in a caffeine culture.

Of course, there are those out there who claim to survive without any caffeine at all. On good, old-fashioned sleep, they say. I still think there has got to be some method to that madness, but for now, more power to them.