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Minerva Week 10 & 11: Family Ties & Freedom

November 15, 2014

I haven’t written for two weeks! I know! Look below for the reason why – my sister came visiting. In the space of four short days, we feasted! Food for the belly, for the eyes, for the heart and for the mind.
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We met on Thursday night for incredible tuna and shrimp tacos, and then made our way to the Yerba Buena center for the arts for our evening’s entertainment: a gallery exhibition about Riot grrrrl and a performance of Sadeh21 by Batsheva, a dance company from Israel.
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We saw fuzzy sasquatches, art made of jagged glass frames, and a wall of riotously coloured paper. Riot grrrrls were (and still are!) women who refused to be treated like objects, and who refused to hate or compete with other women. They were angry, and they were kickass. Recently, the internet has been abuzz with concern about the treatment of women, so the exhibit couldn’t have been more timely. It was nice to be faced with 3-D versions of ideas I’ve usually only seen on screens.
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The dance performance was… so much in such a short time. 21 small dances, tracing the progression of a life, or of many lives. Love, war, birth, death, isolation, dependencies, community. I found myself awed by the power of the ‘war’ scene – all the male dancers were furiously stomping the ground and chanting together. The whole audience gasped at the end of the 21 dances, when one of the dancers climbed to the top of a wall at the back of the stage, and then fell off into the unseen space behind. Initially, I thought some kind of terrible accident had happened, but as the other dancers started to do the same, and come back up to the top of the wall for more falls, I realized that it was a fitting end to a very rich performance.
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The next day, we almost missed our boat to Alcatraz because I had misread the time on our tickets, but after a heartstoppingly slow cab ride, we made it in the nick of time! I am so glad that we did, because the Ai WeiWei exhibition on Alcatraz was like nothing I’d seen before. WeiWei is a Chinese artist. He is famous for his artistic resistance and large-scale sculptures. He is currently under house arrest in China, so he had to design the Alcatraz exhibition remotely (already there is symbolism, eh?) and have a team of volunteers assemble the pieces once they had been shipped. The exhibition was called @Large – a cute reference both to the idea of escaping from authorities, and the power of the internet/social media to spread dissenting ideas. The exhibition was mostly held in one of the “industry” buildings of the prison, where the inmates would go to do their menial jobs. The dark grey, weathered walls made the light paper dragon, kites and garishly bright Lego bricks pop. Dissenters of all kinds, many currently in prison in countries around the world, were honoured.
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At one part of the exhibition, you were encouraged to write a post card to one of the political prisoners. I chose Omid Kokabee, an Iranian student trained in the US who had been imprisoned after he refused to work on the country’s nuclear program. As I wrote the letter, I reflected on how different my world was from his, and, indeed, from all of the people whose faces had been captured in Lego. I have no captor but myself. If I am imprisoned, it is because I have accepted the idea that I can be unknowingly influenced by others’ thoughts or expectations.
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A fantastic seafood lunch, and then we headed to Coit Tower, made in the shape of a firehose nozzle because the benefactor was saved by firemen as a child. We looked out onto the bay, crossing our fingers that the mist we saw would clear by the next day.
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Luckily, the skies cleared. We spent a day in the hills and forests across the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping to see the Redwoods, visiting the frighteningly charming houseboats on Sausalito (made me obscenely happy to see them), enjoying a buttery crab roll, hiking in the Marin Headlands, and watching the Golden Gate turn even redder in the setting sun. We also witnessed a marriage proposal on the beach…note that the man did not move his beer can away before getting on one knee.
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The next day we went to the Mission to see the murals. Many expressed the struggle of Latin American peoples, and one skewered the recent ‘gentrification’ of Mission by “yuppie artists.” It was funny and well-painted, but also troubling. What right does a person have to invade a community and call it their own, even if they have finances on their side? Where will these people go when their neighbourhood changes beyond recognition?
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My sister left, and then I was back into the swing of Minerva, enjoying the Nigerian breakfast prepared by Joy for our weekly 10:01 feast, and then helping with our first Student Activities fair. I created lettering and stand-in logos for the eight different “MiCo” (Minerva Community) ideas that have bubbled up. It was fun, and nice to feel like I was contributing something.
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This week came and went, and most of my time was spent in my bed. After all my adventuring, I managed to bring home a nasty cold (or perhaps picked up the one that’s going through the residence). Barring a report on my naps (and no one wants to hear that!), there is not much to say. We did have an interesting session (the beginning of a series) about the learning science principles that underpin Minerva. Here are my sketchnotes from that session:
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That’s it from SF. Take care of yourselves and see you next week for a hopefully timely next installment of my adventures at Minerva.

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