All posts by adotharvey

The Best Disaster

I’m a distinctly unlucky person.

We all know someone who seems charmed—the perpetual lotto winner who finds large-denomination bills in the street on the reg—but I can assure you, I am not one of those people. Far from it.

By the time I reached high school, I’d resigned myself to this fact. Seemingly random, unpleasant occurrences were just something I learned to deal with. (Now I know that these “random” accidents were probably a result of impulsive or unobservant behavior courtesy of undiagnosed ADHD.) Usually these things were minor annoyances: a scrape here, a bruise there, a missing assignment or lost piece of jewelry. Then, in the tenth grade, I hit my head. And then I did it again. And again. Three hits to the back of the head, all within six months of each other, the last two within a week.

The last one happened at school. It’s stupid, really—I was sitting out of gym (having sustained a sprained ligament in my knee during the fall that gave me the mild concussion of the week before). My friends came over to chat during a break in the game, and I threw my head back to laugh. Cue flash of blinding pain and a “sickening thud,” as my friend Maggie described it. I shook it off and went to my next class. Twenty minutes later, I was throwing up in a bathroom. Twenty minutes after that, I was horizontal on a bed in the nurse’s office, semi-conscious, arguing with another student who was bleeding profusely about who was going to take the ambulance.

You’re probably wondering how this could possibly be a lucky incident. And, to be quite frank, for a long while it wasn’t. I left school in an ambulance, went to the hospital, went into mild shock (which was completely ignored by the ER staff), given a CAT scan, cleared of any inter-cranial bleeding, and sent home. My mom made me go to school the next day to take my Algebra II midterm. (Fun fact: I got a 95% on that test, which, hilariously, was the best grade I made in that class all year.) It all went downhill from there.

By the end of the week, I was out of school and plagued with splitting headaches and blurred vision. It would be a while before I returned. A few weeks in, I was still suffering from blurred vision and sleeping twenty hours out of the day, with headaches during my waking hours. I was shuffled around to specialist after specialist—neurologist, ophthalmologist, neuropsychologist—to attempt to diagnose the root of the problems.

Six months post-concussive and I was still suffering migraine-type headaches and spending about 80% of my time asleep. I was having difficult remembering my friends’ names, classroom numbers, and other simple things. Unable to attend school, I was unenrolled from Fairfax County Public Schools. I spent what should have been my junior year mostly at home, sleeping and trying to take online classes (I failed, miserably). But two things happened during this period that have had far-reaching positive effects on my life.

First of all, I took up photography. I’d always been the academic type, but reading was difficult after my injury, and my memory and reasoning skills took a serious hit. After a few months, I started to worry I might never regain my previous cognitive abilities, and began searching for alternatives. I pursued a previously-ignored interest in photography with vigor, getting my own DSLR and starting to build a portfolio. By my senior year of high school, I was shooting dozens of headshots for fellow students, and getting paid to do so! For the first time, I realized that my cerebral tendencies had prevented me from exploring artistic interests beyond the music and theatre that had been part of my life since childhood.

Secondly, as I started to feel better, I took a role in a play. Steel Magnolias was one of the best things that ever happened to me. With a small cast of women (all of whom were more than twice my age), a dedicated crew, and a stellar script, it was a balm for my anxious mind. And then, at one of the shows, I met Mike Replogle. He approached me afterwards to congratulate me on my performance, thinking I was a local college student. When he discovered that I was still in high school (courtesy of some meddling by one of my castmates), he demanded to know why I wasn’t in his program. It turned out he was the director of the Musical Theatre and Actor’s Studio Academy program. Determined to return to school next year, my mother and I corresponded with Mr. Replogle, who helped me get pupil placed at Fairfax High School, where the academy was located.

Enter Repo (as we called him) and suddenly a vague, lifelong dream of being a performer was on the table for real. Repo’s professional experience and confidence in my abilities convinced my reluctant parents that I could actually make a living as an actress. I spent two years honing my skills at the academy, building close relationships with talented professionals-turned-teachers and like-minded students while finishing up my diploma. (And picked up a spot at the Professional Digital Photography academy while I was at it!) I graduated high school with honors, happier than I’d ever been and heading off to James Madison University to study my passion. I am indebted to Mr. Replogle more than I can say. He was my mentor, my friend, and my champion for two years while I built my new self after my injury, and I will never be able to thank him enough for it.

The changes in my confidence, personality, and relationship with my parents brought on by my injuries have vastly improved the quality of my life. If I was given the chance to do it over and avoid the months of pain, but potentially miss out on years of benefits, I’d take the injuries every time.

Remembrance: Film and Television

2016 was crazy. I think we can all agree on that.

It was a year of many and varied beginnings, but it was also a year of endings—a staggering number of famous, talented, beloved, and controversial figures were lost in 2016. Here’s a quick breakdown of a few of those who died and why they mattered.

January 14: Alan Rickman
An English actor perhaps best known for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, Rickman’s career spanned some 42 years, during which he won numerous awards, including a BAFTA and a primetime Emmy.

Image Source: Everett Collection

February 3: Joe Alaskey
A voice actor best known for his iconic portrayals of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, he also voiced diverse characters such as Elmer Fudd, Tweety Bird, Yosemite Sam, Speedy Gonzalez, and Porky Pig, among many others.

(c) Getty/Warner Bros.

February 28: George Kennedy
This American actor is best known for his Academy Award-winning performance as “Dragline” opposite Paul Newman in the classic Cool Hand Luke (1967), but his six-decade career also saw him play such recognizable characters as Joe Patroni in all four Airport movies, Police Captain Ed Hocken in the Naked Gun series, and tycoon Carter McKay in the original Dallas television show.

(c) AP

March 4: Tony Dyson
This British special effects designer is best known for designing and building R2-D2, the lovable droid from the Star Wars film series. He also created robotics and props for Superman II, Moonraker, Dragonslayer, James Bond, and Saturn 3, among others.

(c) DR

March 29: Patty Duke
This American stage and film actress rose to prominence at the age of 16, when she won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, a role which she originated on Broadway. She went on to have her own show, The Patty Duke Show, and would win three Emmys and two Golden Globes over the course of her 65-year career.

ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

April 23: Madeleine Sherwood
A Canadian actress of stage and film, Sherwood originated some 18 roles on Broadway, including the primary antagonist of The Crucible, Abigail Williams. She reprised two of these roles on film, in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (also starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Burl Ives) and Sweet Bird of Youth. She may be most recognizable, however, as the Reverend Mother Placido in The Flying Nun.


May 1: Madeleine Lebeau
This French film actress is best known, by far, for her role as Humphrey Bogart’s spurned mistress Yvonne in Casablanca— she was the last surviving cast member of this iconic film.


May 19: Alan Young
This actor played many roles over his 77-year career, but was most famous for delighting audiences in his role as Wilbur Post, the only human being that the titular talking horse will speak to in Mister Ed.

Image (C) CBS

May 24: Burt Kwouk
This British actor is most recognizable in his role in the Pink Panther film series as Cato, the ever-vigilant manservant whose constant attacks on Inspector Clouseau (to keep him alert) form the classic running gag of the films.


July 24: Marni Nixon
Dubbed by Time magazine as “the Ghostess with the Mostest,” Nixon was perhaps the most-heard and yet least-recognized voice of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Nixon was a voiceover actress who dubbed the singing voices of many of Hollywood’s leading ladies— including the voice of Maria in West Side Story (as well as Anita’s high notes), the voice of Eliza in My Fair Lady, and the voice of Anna in The King and I, among many others.


August 13: Kenny Baker
This actor is best recognized as a character without a face—he operated the lovable Star Wars droid, R2-D2, in all six of the original episodes.


August 19: Jack Riley
This American comedian and actor is best known to this generation as the voice of Stu Pickles on Rugrats, but also gained recognition as Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show.


August 29: Gene Wilder
This multitalented performer is readily recognizable as the titular character in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but is also known for his long professional associations with Mel Brooks and Richard Pryor.

(c) Warner Bros.

September 17: Charmian Carr
This American actress is best known for playing the charmingly naïve Liesl von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

(c) 20th Century Fox, via Everett Collection

November 12: Lupita Tovar
This Mexican-American actress is best known for her starring role as Eva Seward in the 1931 Spanish-language version of Dracula.

Photo by Universal/REX/Shutterstock (5863812b)

November 24: Florence Henderson
The highlight of this American performer’s six-decade career was her role as Carol Brady, the matriarch of The Brady Bunch.

(c) AP

December 15: Craig Sager
This legendary CNN sportscaster covered an array of sports for the station for some 35 years, recognizable for his brightly-colored and flashily-patterned suits.

Credit: Fox Sports

December 18: Zsa Zsa Gabor
This Hungarian-American actress and socialite may be one of the earliest examples of “famous for being famous,” and though she gained some notoriety for her acting career, she is best known for her glamorous lifestyle and nine husbands.

Via Creative Commons

December 27: Carrie Fisher
One of the most shocking deaths of the year, Fisher was the female star of the original Star Wars trilogy, and was in the process of filming the third trilogy at the time of her death.

(c) Universal

December 28: Debbie Reynolds
Dying just one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher, Reynolds was a popular star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, best known for her role as Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain.

(c) MGM

An Ode to Practice Rooms: Wayland #101

To seek equilibrium
in lights and wings and
black board floors,
in red velvet curtains
and rows of seats
Seems strange to me

I am never quiet there.

It is here,
in the dark,
the chill of an empty room
stinging at my arms,
fingertips reading the ridges
that are the landscape of my release—

when wood and wire and ivory
cannot hold me any longer,
those monochrome intermediaries
for the riotous palette of my soul,
I look through to the stars,
A backdrop painted on plate-glass walls

And I am still.

— My voice rises with my song.
It seems my heart
should like to go too,
straining with the rest to rise with it
and fade into the silence beyond

I would let it,
but for the burn
in my throat

And the quiet
in my soul.

Harrisonburg Haunting: The Ghosts of Madison

At 108 years old, JMU is bound to have a few ghost stories and spooky traditions floating around, and this month, your TAD writing team has set out to find them!

Everyone at JMU has heard of the tunnels—forbidden, dangerous, and difficult to access. They’re the holy grail of trespassing for many a student thrill-seeker. But do you know their history? You might have heard that before they were closed off in the 1960’s, they were sometimes used by the students and staff at the State Normal School to move safely and unruffled between classes during inclement weather. You may not have heard that they’re haunted.

over103The State Teachers College at Harrisonburg, ca. 1929. Courtesy of JMU Special Collections.

There are many stories about the tunnels, but one in particular has endured the test of time.

First, a little history about the tunnels themselves. Originally, the tunnels funneled steam from the old heating plant to Jackson Hall (formerly Dormitory No. 1), Maury Hall (formerly Science Hall), Ashby Hall (formerly Dormitory No. 2), and Harrison Hall (formerly the Students’ Building). The tunnels were large and dimly lit, but provided easy access to various campus buildings. As more buildings were built and the student population grew, the tunnels became less important and more dangerous, and were eventually closed off sometime around 1969. A lively mythology about the tunnels and their ghostly denizens grew quickly once they were forbidden, and it is still very much alive today.

studentbody1929Student body of the State Teachers College at Harrisonburg on the Quad, 1929. JMU Special Collections.

As legend has it, our ghost was a student at the State Normal School (or, depending on the exact year, the State Teachers College) in the 1920’s. It was a time of rapidly increasing freedom for women, both socially and professionally, with a booming film industry pushing an image of romance and sexuality onto the young people. One can imagine that many of the liberated young ladies attending the College were taken in by the glitz and joie de vivre of the flapper lifestyle. So it’s understandable that when this girl began receiving little gifts and romantic letters from a secret admirer, she was swept off her feet. The notes kept coming, each longer than the last, the words more sweet, the gifts more lavish. And then, one day, the letter was an invitation—to meet her admirer in the tunnels after curfew. The campus had been on high alert for a Peeping Tom for some time, and her friends begged her not to go. A stranger, in the middle of the night? What sort of man refuses to show himself in the light of day? But, wrapped up in her romantic fantasy, she ignored them, slipped on her fanciest heels and spritzed on her nicest perfume before sneaking out to meet her unknown beau. When she arrived at their amorous rendezvous, her fantasy rapidly devolved into a nightmare—her secret admirer was a crazed killer who had been stalking the campus for weeks. He attacked and eventually killed her, leaving her body in the tunnels.

It’s said that if you listen closely, you can hear her heels clicking on the floor of the tunnels late at night. And if you catch a whiff of perfume on your midnight stroll? You’re standing on the spot she was murdered.


JMU’s Centennial Celebration Info Page

Encimine Blog post about the tunnels

Jollett Etc. Blog Post about the tunnels

Ashby Hall Blog Post about creepy stories

Breeze Article on JMU’s supernatural side

JMU Special Collections photos

Hide your credit card, folks…


Taking a trip through the archives of ThisIsWhyI’ may not seem like the best idea for a broke college student, but hidden amongst the obsolete, functionally redundant, and patently absurd are some true gems. Sunscreen drones, runaway alarm clocks, real-life laser lightsabers—there’s something for every kind of person. But what to choose? While the edible spray paint and remote control tarantula had real potential, when the sleek Cacoon hanging nest crossed my screen, I was done for. With my ragged, sap-stained double-wide hammock dangling limply in my peripheral vision, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hang in comfort—and style.

A red Cacoon swinging in the desert.

Are you thinking about joining the legions of intrepid students who hang up their hammocks and study on the Quad, but worried about the lack of suitable pairs of trees? Worry no longer! For a mere $300 (you don’t really need that one textbook, right?), you won’t have to concern yourself about things like distance between tree trunks—simply find a strong limb and string up the Cacoon! You’ll be swinging pretty in no time.

The Cacoon comes from a burgeoning niche of makers of suspended “nests” and “hangouts,” but sets itself apart in form and quality. Featured on such diverse sites as HomeDIT, Design-Milk, TrendHunter, and High Snobiety, the Cacoon has been making waves since it first came on the scene in 2013. Inspired by the hanging nests of the Weaver bird, the creators say “you too can hide away, sheltered and cocooned, but still in touch with your surroundings.” (Oh, have I mentioned you can sleep in it too?)


With a host of sizes, colors, and forms (try the indoor version if you’ve got high ceilings, or the double-doored Songo for a more open feel), the Cacoon also has numerous accessories available—doors, bug nets, and free-standing tripods so you can use it even if you can’t find a tree! [Please note that we do not suggest setting up large free-standing structures on the Quad, and cannot be held responsible if you are chased down by campus police.] The standard Cacoon is the perfect size for you and your bookbag, and has an important advantage over hammocks, because its upright construction means that you won’t be constantly shifting and sighing as you attempt to actually be as comfortable as you want to look!

Enjoy the attention—or don’t, if you’d rather close the door—as you kick back and study in comfort and class. If that’s not worth a bit of loan money, I don’t know what is!