Category Archives: Thoughts on…

Irish Revelations 


The Cliffs of Moher: Doolin, Ireland June 2016

We arrived in Doolin at 6:30 pm. The sun was still well above the misty far-off horizon line and my four friends and I decided to strap on some extra layers and hiking shoes, and walk to the Cliffs of Moher. We rounded the last hill where the  pavement ended at a fence bordering a pasture. We took careful steps around cow paddies and muddy puddles for a few yards, and then the sea opened up. The cliffs were only about 500 feet from the surface of the water and yet it felt like if you were to fall you would never hit the cold shock of the ocean.

This picture was the first photograph I took on the cliffs. In the blurry distance there are cliffs over a thousand feet high, the sunset trying to show itself between heavy clouds and a rainbow, ready to be refracted across the sea. This image of wildflowers clinging to the edge of a cliff-face hundreds of feet above the nothingness of empty air, and the memories that it evokes for me makes me think of survival, success, and the ability to thrive. Ireland changed a lot about how I see the world and my place in it. While I like to think that those changes in perspective are permanent, everyone needs a reminder every once and a while, and this picture does that for me.

A few days into our five weeks in Ireland, the entire study abroad group boarded a train (the first one I’d ever been on ever and let me tell you it is just as inspiring as all the movies make it seem) and rode to the town of Cobh. Cobh is a small town where the Titanic had its last port of call, set on the side of a blustery cliffs and a bustling fishing economy. Casting a stained glass shadow over the town is St. Colman’s Cathedral. A 19th century stone construction that towers over the coast line and holds the hill line under its flying buttresses. Curved around the side of the cathedral is a hidden Bible garden, where there is a fully functioning Abbey that tends to the garden.

Bible Garden at St. Colman’s Cathedral:Cobh, Ireland June 2016

It was here that I took the second photograph. The day that I was to leave for Ireland was when the daily news cycle of the Orlando shootings reached me. So I went into my summer travels with the reality of danger for the LGBTQ+ community weighing heavily in my thoughts and in my writing. But nestled at Mary’s feet in this small community bible garden was a candle inside a subtly decorated mason jar with the words “Orlando 2017” written across blue painter’s tape. Here in the heart of catholic puritanism, was a thought and a wish for prayer for a community not so easily accepted by the staunch and strict Catholics of the world. I was reduced to grateful tears in this lush green copse of trees and I hope to never forget that nothing can be as strong as a kindness when no one is looking, and love where no one expects it.

Narrative of Luck  

I think people get lucky in odd ways. In little ways, big ways, round-about and upside-down ways that have us thinking we aren’t that lucky after all. There’s luck here, in the small spaces that surround people. I count myself lucky to see the crow’s feet that line the edges of my mother’s eyes when she smiles at my father while she thinks no one is looking, or in the exact angle of how my best friend always tilts her head back to laugh.

To find this innate luck in the intrinsic connection of humanity may be cliche, but I find that when the week piles up and I can’t see my own hands for the amount of work and stress I’m buried in that it is the way I feel the most lucky. These are the glimmering gold coin gifts that seem to keep falling into my lap and kept in a pocket to pull out when a dash of luck seems most needed. My favorite kind of luck is something that happens to me rarely during the sprint to the end of the semester, but is welcomed with open arms when it arrives. Sometimes, if I sit in the quiet of my room, with the dusk falling over the mountains in soft pastel waves casting an easy light on my keyboard, I can just about hear the shape of a poem.

There might be the lower sounds of consonance beating rhythmic drums to push the narrative forward, and ever onward, or perhaps the softer sibilant softly gentle culmination of sounds. But eventually, resolutely, I will be lucky enough that the screen will be filled. The hated black-blinking cursor on a white Word document will be preceded by artfully disordered-order in which a story unfolds. And who are we all really but storytellers? I count among my luckiest of days those when I can capture the faint strains of something that feels necessary. Something that pushes, at least, my own idea of how I relate to the world around me and how that pushes my own narrative.

So luck, small or large, whether it be winning the lottery or writing a poem that may never leave the inside of my computer hard drive, is another thing for me to be grateful for.

All about Finding Perspective

By Elaina Taylor

While this blog post is supposed to be about the most important thing we’ve learned this year, I’ve found that the growth I’ve experienced cannot be examined, confined, or defined by a single event or lesson.  So I choose to touch on multiple moments and experiences because they all have shaped the person I am now.

In the realm of self-realizations, I have found I decidedly hate change, which happens to be a serious problem, since our lives are forever changing, our spirits and souls forever evolving.

As someone who has always struggled to fit in, I clung to my close friends with a tenacity some did not deserve.  Certain friends often failed to treat me with the same respect and kindness as I did them, and while that hurt, I still struggled on to make the friendships work.  To be terrified of change in this case was to be petrified of letting anyone go, even those who did not deserve my friendship. Through the friends I’ve made during my time thus far in college, I’ve found a wellspring of support for the person I am, and learned my own self-worth. And in that, I realized that I deserved better than those false friends and was finally able to let them go.

I also learned the hard way that first impressions can make or break you, and that a resume and writing samples can only go so far. How blunders in mannerisms or word and clothing choice in an interview can destroy your initial chances of leaving behind the most positive impression of yourself. I left my first interview feeling like I’d missed a step on the stair, doubting if I was treading on solid ground; so shaken was my confidence. In my case, I got very, very lucky. My passion, fearlessness, and dedication to pursue writing for TAD are what landed me the job, and only by the narrowest of margins.

And as cliché as it will sound, I’ve learned to recognize and reflect on how my first-world problems are not the end of the universe, nor are they even the end my own little universe, as I often have to remind myself. I have found the perfect remedy for whenever I feel grumpy or begin to lament my worldly woes: the Humans of New York Facebook page. Photographer Brandon Stanton goes around New York City interviewing his subjects, who give him the most interesting, and often thought-provoking answers. These little snapshots of humanity never fail to put me back in my little college white girl, middle class place with equal doses of laughter and tears alike. It also enables me to see the best of my situation after reading the heartfelt words of people who have survived infinitely more trying experiences than I have.

Though I may bemoan a poor result on a test, I know that my own work ethic will push me to achieve more next time because I myself demand better. So what if it is raining and my shoes are ruined? Maybe that’s Mother Nature’s way of saying I need a pair of rain boots! A summer job opportunity closed up before you could apply? It wasn’t meant to be this time, but there’s always next summer. And if a relationship didn’t work out the way I wished it would have, well then there are clearly more worthwhile fish in the sea! The perspective you gain simply from reading the sorrows, or even joys, of others will more often than not cause you to reanalyze your own problems and priorities. I hope you find your own perspective, your own snapshots of humanity as I did with HONY, and I hope you grow from it as I continually do.

Life Outside the Office

What do I do outside of TAD?

Well, I could go a couple routes here. I could tell you that I’m extremely passionate about sexual assault and intimate partner violence advocacy, and that a majority of my time is spent working on that. Or, because less of my time is spent on leisure activities, I could focus on those, since those parts of me don’t get as much airtime. Or I could talk about how much I love writing…but that must be obvious right? Continue reading Life Outside the Office

What Harrisonburg Sounds Like to Me

What would your answer be if someone were to ask what music means to you? It’s one of those questions that can be tantalizing and frustrating, not because of our lack of a response, but because it’s sometimes difficult to put such an intangibility into words that do it justice. Music has the amazing ability to make us smile, laugh, cry, and even write about it in a long list of clichés. For me, music has played a huge role in preserving memories and even defining periods of my life. Hanson will always remind me of the first time I bought a cassette (I know. Laugh it up), the Smashing Pumpkins bring vivid recollections of my first girlfriend, and Rage Against the Machine will forever be tied to the day I realized a white, affluent pre-teen from the suburbs could raise his middle finger to the government. Now as I get ready to leave college and reluctantly watch another milestone of my life fade into the distance, I’ve thought a lot about the ways music has made a difference these past few years and how it will resonate with me in the future.

When I came to JMU two years ago as a transfer student living off-campus, the change in scenery was intimidating. Adapting to a new school and friends was something I had all but forgotten how to do. During this time, music played a crucial role in the process by helping me connect with those around me to establish meaningful relationships. The first day I met my new roommate Michael, it was easy to overcome social barriers because of our shared interests. Even if the conversation was something as simple as discussing what the best Weezer album is (Pinkerton of course), it provided us a relaxed topic through which we could easily connect.

As my time at JMU progressed, I continued to use music as a means of extroversion. After only about a month, my good friend Nate and I had our own radio show through WXJM. Airing during the primetime slot of Saturdays at 12 am, this outlet provided the incredible opportunity to share something that was so important to us with a wide (probably like 6 people) audience. Between WXJM and other chance encounters, music has proved to be a binding aspect of building the relationships that I still value to this day.

Whether bands were playing soundtrack to the good or the bad, they helped make these past two years become the unique and special times that they were. During my first month at school, The National’s brooding lyrics and soft piano melodies accompanied me perfectly. I will never forget listening to the new Vampire Weekend album while walking home to Stonegate, or watching my friend stand on his porch with a beer in hand, loudly singing Whitney Houston to anyone who cared to listen.

When I finally head home after two fantastic years here at JMU, my life will change drastically, but like always, music will remain a constant. It will be there to help me re-connect with the old friends that I’ve been apart from, as well as remember the ones I’m leaving behind. As I said at the beginning of this post, however important music is to us, sometimes it simply defies description. In an effort to try and share these feelings in the most direct way possible, I have put together a short playlist of the songs that define my time here in Harrisonburg. Whether you love them or hate them, it is my hope that at least one of these songs will resonate with you the way they did with me, and perhaps even become an important part of your life.

Eric’s Definitive Harrisonburg Playlist

Brainy – The National

Movie Star – Swearin’

Amenamy – Purity Ring

Everything Goes My Way – Metronomy

Klapp Klapp – Little Dragon

Genesis – Grimes

Every Single Night – Fiona Apple

Lodi – Creedence Clearwater Revival

The Mother We Share – CHVRCHES

Made-Up Dreams – Built To Spill

Breezeblocks – Alt J

T.S.R – Against Me!

Someone Great – LCD Soundsystem

The Drying Of The Lawns – The Tallest Man on Earth

Custom Concern – Modest Mouse

Pusha Man – Chance The Rapper

I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Whitney Houston

Money Trees – Kendrick Lamar

Obvious Bicycle – Vampire Weekend

Harrisonburg’s Curvy Profile

by Lauren Privette

JMU has a large campus. Everyday students trudge up the ISAT hill in an effort to make it to class from the quad in 15 minutes.

You may be thinking—as you’re sitting, drenched in sweat from your race against time to make it to a Gen Ed—why is this campus so hilly? I can’t tell you why it’s hilly; that’s simply how the earth formed. However, I can introduce, or reintroduce, you to another approach to looking at hills: topographic maps.

Topographic maps illustrate the natural features and curves of the earth through lines called contours. The lines you see on the bottom left topo map are ‘contour lines.’ Contour lines that are closely spaced indicate a steep grade while wider spaced lines indicate a more gradual slope. The number you see next to a line is the elevation of  that site above sea-level. In this case, the units are in US feet.



The proximity of the contours in the left image between Lower and Upper Turf shed light on Upper Turf’s namesake. Notice how close together they are? That means there is a steep grade there. As seen in the image on the right, you would not have been able to see the hill in the image itself. The stairs leading to Upper Turf from the sidewalk in front of convo is the only clue that there is a hill there. This is one reason why topographic maps are useful.

JMU’s campus ranges from about 1300 to 1450 feet above sea-level. To put this into perspective, Miami Beach is only 0 –to 35 feet above sea-level (0 is where the water touches the beach). So you might want to visit Miami Beach soon, or you’ll be boating around the streets in about 50 years. We use elevation above sea-level simply as a standard from which to measure.

To get more in depth, in the United States, our government-made maps are organized by a 7.5 minute grid. A “7.5 minute grid” is a reference to Latitude and Longitude. This coordinate system allows you to obtain highly accurate coordinates for a location. It’s broken down into degrees, minutes and seconds. In Harrisonburg we are at about 78° (degrees) 52’ (minutes) 30” (seconds) longitude and 38°30’30” latitude. The 7.5 minute grid topo map of Harrisonburg, for example, shows the area and contours of 78°52’30” to 78°45’00” longitude and 38°30’00 to 38°22’30”. Unfortunately, if I put an image of the Topo map on here, you won’t be able to see the numbers, so I’m leaving it off, but you can go to this site to find topo maps of anywhere in the US!

Below is a screenshot of a part of the actual Harrisonburg, VA 7.5 minute topo map. Look at those gorgeous contours; that’sMassanutten Mountain. The lines are very closely spaced, revealing the steepness of the land; the lines then become wider as you descend, moving away from the ridge. Circled in red is a tick mark showing the latitude of the location. The bold number circled in blue is another type of coordinate system, the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM), which I won’t be getting into because it’s simply not used as much.


Unlike the earlier two images, this topo map shows the contours without the distraction of satellite imagery. Topo maps like this are used for urban planning, architecture, mining, etc.

While topographic maps are interesting, they don’t offer a cure for the hills. You’re still going to have the ISAT hill and those foreboding steps, however, there’s power in knowledge, and now you have some. Embrace the exhausted condition you arrive to class in, it’s keeping you in shape, and, remember to respect the hill.