A letter to a friend

For the analog experiment, I decided to write a letter to a friend. When I communicate with people who I don’t see all the time, I usually call or text them. However, one of my good friends, Anthony, I don’t regularly communicate with other than through Snapchats and a text now and then. We never have long conversations on the phone, although we used to. And we see each other maybe a few times a year. Yet, when we do finally see each other after long periods of time, it’s like we pick up right where we left off. It doesn’t feel as though however many months has passed since we last saw each other. We’ve known each other since we were both six years old through summer camp, went to middle school together, and then remained close friends through high school and I still consider him one of my closest friends. He is a senior at Princeton University in New Jersey and we both lead busy lives making it harder to talk regularly.

           Once I decided to write the letter, I almost immediately thought of Anthony because we hadn’t talked in so long. We’ve communicated but we hadn’t really talked. Although I rarely write letters, despite the fact that I think sending and receiving them is such a wholesome and intimate feeling, I always have everything needed to mail one out. Since my summer sleepaway camp days of 2011-2013, I’ve kept all the stationary, (the paper and envelope sets) that my grandma gave to me to write letters to her and my parents. The reason it’s lasted so long is because apart from my digital technology-less summer camp experience, I can only think of maybe one or two occasions in which I actually sent letters to people. This doesn’t include postcards, which I’ve sent a few of during my travels.

            I also always have stamps and extra envelopes on hand in my desk. I think of them as one of those things that is necessary to have, like matches or band-aids, because I never know when I might need it. The particular collection I currently have I got from the post office a year or so ago, because I needed new stamps. The post office has seasonal or specialty Forever stamp sheets, and the ones I have are inspired by the artwork of the sculptor, Ruth Asawa. I saw the stamps and had to have them because of how unique and mesmerizing they were.

The sheet of stamps inspired by the sculptures of Ruth Asawa, along with the stationary I used for the letter

The letter that I ended up writing wasn’t particularly long or intense. It filled up the stationary card and once I finished, it felt complete. After rereading the letter, I felt that the content of what I was saying to Anthony would’ve taken on a different context if I had said it in a text message. It wasn’t a particularly sentimental letter, but I think the fact that it was handwritten adds another dimension of thought and effort. Even the small aspects, like taking the time to write out his name and address on the envelope and writing my return address, deciding which stamp to use, and walking to the USPS mailbox, are all extra steps that add to the experience. Also, because snail mail is so much less commonplace nowadays, receiving a letter from someone is more special than receiving a text message. I can send a text to someone I just met and it won’t really hold much weight. But I rarely write letters so if I do write to someone, that means they are someone I really care about.

            My letter was light-hearted and simple, and that was my intention. I just wanted to say hello, give him a quick rundown on my life, tell him that I’m thinking of him, and tell him that I’m interested to hear about his life and how he’s doing. I told him that I expected a letter back from him, only half-jokingly, and I’m sure he will send me one. Hopefully this begins a new tradition between us.

            This exercise was honestly really pleasant and enjoyable. Writing a letter to my friend made me feel more connected to him in my heart. There was also something so aesthetically pleasing about placing the stamp in the corner, sealing it up and placing it in the mailbox. It filled me with a sense of completion. It’s also a simple task to complete. It’s not as simple as sending a text or calling someone on the phone, but it wasn’t that much more time-consuming in comparison. All of the additional aspects of sending a letter were the aspects of the task that made it enjoyable to me. I plan to write more letters to people I love and care about, because it’s a simple and thoughtful way to let people know how much you care.

Community Research Project: J. Dewitt Physician Record

At sunrise on September of 1803, J. Dewitt was accidentally shot in the arm and had his forearm shattered. The bullet seemingly entered his arm at the wrist, travelled vertically up his forearm and then lodged at his elbow. The primary physician, Dr. Bogardus, with the assistance of Doctors Brodhead and Wheeler, decided that the arm was to be amputated.

This document presents a record of the process of local physicians performing a difficult procedure. Written by Dr. John Bogardus, the first page describes the techniques and tools used for the amputation procedure.

Dr. John Evertse Bogardus was an influential and prominent physician in the New Paltz community in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He held various positions in the Ulster County Medical Society, including secretary, vice president, and president in 1823. This society seemed to be a big marker of prominence as a physician. An external document on behalf of the society explained that “It appears that the society determined to establish at once a standard of professional regularity, and desired to bring into connection with themselves all licensed, reputable physicians.” Dr. Bogardus had a big role in the New Paltz community overall, as he was one of the first teachers at the first public school, one of the original trustees of the New Paltz Academy, and served as the Town of New Paltz Supervisor.

The document, while appearing to be quickly written, indicates an accurate understanding of human anatomy, as Dr. Bogardus properly referenced the anatomical nuances of the procedure. The document also indicates the doctors’ surgical confidence and their ability to adequately perform the surgery.

Something that the document fails to mention, is the practice of sanitary measures throughout the procedure. There is no mention of handwashing by the doctors, sterilization of surgical tools and dressing equipment, or antiseptic practices with the patient’s arm. It is hard to ascertain whether Dr. Bogardus failed to mention this in his record for the sake of time, if this wasn’t something considered significant enough to record, or if he simply didn’t take any of the measures at all. However, it may be safe to say that because of the date of the procedure, the physicians likely took little to no sanitary measures.

In 19th century England, something known as “the great sanitary awakening” occurred, which was the public acknowledgement of filth as a cause of disease as well as a vehicle for transmission. This led to an awareness of the significance of cleanliness and the role of sanitation in ensuring public health. Drawing inspiration from Britain, small reforms began in the U.S. In New York in 1848, John Griscom, a science educator and scholar, published The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population in New York. This led to the establishment of the first public health agency, the New York City Health Department, in 1866.

Until this period of medical advancement, there was an utter lack of understanding of aspects of medicine that today are essential. There was no concept of pathogenic microorganisms, and most illnesses were diagnosed using the same few principles which were backed up by outlandish theories.

In addition to the lack of sanitary measures, Dr. Bogardus makes no mention of the use of oxygen therapy, or consistent checking of vitals. As anesthesia hadn’t been invented yet, the second page of the document reveals that J. Dewitt was only given wine before the procedure- it is most likely he was in severe pain throughout, if he was conscious.

What is incredible about the lack of cleanliness in daily life and especially in medical practices during the early 19th-century is that it was coupled with a vast understanding of the complexity of the human body, how it heals, how wounds and other ailments were to be treated, and the necessary medications and post-operative measures that were to be taken. It illustrates the paradoxical nature of society during post-colonial America. Not only does it apply to medicine and science, but it is reflective of the social normalcies and practices of this time as a whole.

Another interesting component from the document is one of the tools that was used for the surgery. Specifically, the tenaculum, which Dr. Bogardus used to pull the ends of the arteries together so he could tie and close them off, is a tool that is still used today but usually with a different purpose. It’s still used in surgical operations to hold parts such as arteries, but it’s mostly used in gynecological procedures. It’s used for procedures that require dilation of the cervix to access the uterus, such as the insertion of the contraceptive IUD (intrauterine device) into the uterus.

The kind of tenaculum used by Dr. Bogardus to pull the arteries together

The kind that is used in gynecological procedures is very different from the type that Dr. Bogardus details using in his surgery. The tool that is used by gynecologists, formally known as the “cervical tenaculum forceps,” was first invented in 1899 by a gynecologist, and the ones today are eerily similar to the first models. This has been a point of anguish for patients because the tenaculum is an extremely sharp tool that often causes bleeding and intense pain. The tenaculum is used to hold open the cervix as it provides a firm hold, but doing so involves piercing the cervical tissue and pulling it to hold it steady. Additionally, this procedure is often done without anesthesia.

Uterine tenaculum from c. 1910-1920

Miltex MeisterHand Schroeder Uterine Tenaculum Forceps with Round Jaw -  25.4cm - Cardinal Medical Supply
Modern-day uterine tenaculum

As the document has informed us of the lack of anesthetics during the amputation over 200 years ago, it is quite shocking that in the 21st century, women are still subjected to painful and outdated medical procedures without the use of anesthetics. The modern usage of the tenaculum has called for a demand of equal investment in women’s healthcare as in other areas of healthcare. Despite the incredible advancements in medicine and science since Bogardus’ time, women still cannot undergo a trivial, 5-minute procedure without experiencing intense pain and trauma.

This document illuminates the vast differences between pre-Civil war and modern-day medicine. It also provides insight into the archaic medical practices of modern America, and the advancements yet to be made.

Reilly, Robert F. “Medical and surgical care during the American Civil War, 1861-1865.” Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center) vol. 29,2 (2016): 138-42. doi:10.1080/08998280.2016.11929390

Institute of Medicine (US) Committee for the Study of the Future of Public Health. “A History of the Public Health System.” The Future of Public Health., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1988, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218224/.

“Amputation.” Amputation – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center, https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=92&contentid=p08292.

Marylea. “Firing the Canon: Fort Mackinac.” Flickr, Yahoo!, 3 Mar. 2012, https://www.flickr.com/photos/marylea/6950272395/in/photostream/.

Albornoz, Andrea. “Tenaculum: 100 Years Women Have Endured Pain in Gynecology.” Aspivix, Aspivix | Reshaping Gynecology & Women’s Healthcare, 1 July 2021, https://www.aspivix.com/tenaculum-for-over-100-years-women-have-endured-pain-in-gynecology/.

Putt Corners, http://hpc.townofnewpaltz.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1852&Itemid=78.

Sylvester, Nathaniel Bartlett. History of Ulster County, New York: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. United States, Everts & Peck, 1880.

Cornelius Agrippa’s Role in Frankenstein

In Victor Frankenstein’s youth at the age of thirteen, he came across the works of Cornelius Agrippa, a 16th century natural philosopher. Frankenstein recalls this book as that which catapulted him into his obsession with mastering the mystical, alchemical sciences; he says, “My dreams were therefore undisturbed by reality; and I entered with the greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life.” It was discovering this field of study and the non-accepting way his father had received his interest in the field that he claims ultimately led him to take on a quest for curing human malady and “rendering man invulnerable to any but a violent death.”

“If, instead of this remark, my father had taken the pains to explain to me, that the principles of Agrippa had been entirely exploded, and that a modern system of science had been introduced, which possessed much greater powers than the ancient…., I should certainly have thrown Agrippa aside… It is even possible, that the train of my ideas would never have received the fatal impulse that led to my ruin.” (Shelley, 68)

Agrippa considered himself a “magus,” someone who practices what was called natural or white magic, one who could perceive the connections of everything in the universe and manipulate them for the greater good. It was the idea of being able to create life out of dead matter by manipulating what was already in existence, that Frankenstein had which was a direct application of Agrippa’s described “natural magic.”

Agrippa’s most famous work, “Three Books of Occult Philosophy,” is one of the most well-known books on the subject to date and led to his repudiation by religious leaders and theologists. However, in Agrippa’s later years he published a book titled, “De Vanitate,” (short for “De Incertitudine Et Vanitate Scientiarum Liber,”) which surprisingly refuted everything he had written in his earlier years in his previous books on the occult. “De Vanitate” was even more widely printed and published in more languages. In it, Agrippa proposes the uncertainty and uselessness of every known field of study, including the occult, which was the heart of his work not too long before. He challenges the disconnect between different schools of thought and seeks cultural, religious, and scientific reform.

There is a lot of speculation as to why Agrippa wrote two books with such contradictory messages. Some scholars, such as Henry Morley in 1856 have posited that “De Vanitate” is a denunciation of the heedless quest for knowledge; a revelation of the dangers of knowledge when met with hubris. As to Victor Frankenstein’s reception of Agrippa’s writings, only the occult writings made an impression on Victor. It’s unusual that Victor didn’t acknowledge such an important aspect of a scholar whose work he admired so much.

It seems fitting that through disregarding an entire element of Agrippa’s works, one which should have made him rethink “his creation,” he did exactly what Agrippa was possibly warning us about. He allowed the innocent pursuit of knowledge to be corrupted with ego and selfish motivation.

I believe the tunnel vision he developed for one aspect of Agrippa’s works while disregarding the other, was Shelley’s intention. Her incorporation of someone with such powerful yet conflicting ideas into Frankenstein’s young impressionable self, was meant to reflect humanity and the motivations that drive our quest for knowledge, the obsession that takes over, and the insatiability that is inherent to it. It was also a perfect foreshadowing of Victor’s fate.

Bowen, Barbara C. “CORNELIUS AGRIPPA’S DE VANITATE: POLEMIC OR PARADOX?” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 34, no. 2 (1972) http://www.jstor.org/stable/41430209.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/41430209

Nauert, Charles, “Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, first published March 30, 2007

https://stanford.library.sydney.edu.au/archives/sum2010/entries/agrippa-nettesheim/

Books Bring Joy in Different Forms

Of the various collections of objects I own (I’ll admit I have a very hard time letting things go), I decided to try Kondo’s “joy test” on my books, specifically the books in my bookcase (I have books in other places). In my bookcase I have two shelves designated for books.

I began with 110 books. I accumulated these over the course of years and have gotten them from a multitude of places.

The two shelves I decided to sort

Before I started sorting, I couldn’t anticipate how I was going to feel. I have always considered my books to be some of my greatest treasures. They share their lives with you. They become a part of you when their messages turn into the values you live by. They inspire. They represent the art of storytelling and the magic of imagination.

It turned out that this experiment was much easier than I could have imagined. The books that sparked joy in me I didn’t really have to look for. As I eyed my bookshelf they seemed to pull themselves out on their own leaving me saying “Of course. I love you dearly.”

These two immediately sparked joy in me. These are two of my favorite books.
This book, one of my favorite plays of all time, also immediately sparked joy in me.
One of my favorite books read for school, “The Book of Job.”
“Slaughterhouse Five,” another one of my favorites.

Something that I noticed is that different books brought different types of joy to me. The ones above brought me joy when I held them because I love them so much. To me they are beautiful, meaningful pieces of art and life. I love them simply for what they gave me when I first read them and also for what they continue to give me when I think of them now.

A book that has provided me comfort and calm during tumultuous times.

This book represents a different type of joy that I experienced. This book contains reassuring spiritual wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, and during several conflicted points of my life I turned to his guidance to find comfort and solace. Knowing that this book helped me during rough times is a different kind of joy, one reminiscent of hope. I plan to hold onto this book forever because I can always come back to it during any point in my life where I feel I need guidance.

These two books were my mother’s when she was in high school, “Kung Fu Meditations” (my mom did kung-fu in high school), and a photo novel of the movie musical “Hair.”

The two books above I have probably opened each only a few times and in a casual, flipping-through-the-pages manner. Despite my lack of using them, I won’t part with them because they were my mom’s and I love having things that belonged to people I love.

Similarly, the books in the pile below belonged to my grandmother. When my grandma passed away about a year and a half ago, I took in several of her books, I think as a way to memorialize her. My grandma loved literature, and she and I would spend many mornings sipping coffee and talking about books. I think much of my love for reading I get from her. For the joy it brings me to have these books that belonged to someone I loved so dearly, I won’t get rid of them, even though I likely won’t read many or most of them.

My grandmother’s books.

As for the books that didn’t spark immediate joy in me, some of them I haven’t read yet, but I genuinely plan on reading them in the future. I recall Kondo saying “I’ll get around to it someday” is often an excuse given by her clients. However, as a full time college student who has a job, it’s difficult for me to read for pleasure as much as I’d like to. So I mean it when I say “I’ll get to it someday.”

However, from going through my books, I was able to get rid of a total of 13. I actually am going to donate them after doing this experiment. Of the 13 I decided to get rid of, I only read 2 of them. Of the 2 I had read; “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” and “Diary of an Oxygen Thief,” neither of them were memorable, and I didn’t feel any attachment toward them. The other books I had decided to get rid of were all ones I had purchased at some time in my life when they piqued my interest, but I had never gotten around to reading them and I no longer have much of an interest.

The 13 books I decided to get rid of.

This experiment reiterated for me the attachment I have to books based on how many I felt genuinely connected to, and thus gave me joy. It also made me think about why objects are so significant to me. It is not necessarily the object itself that brings me joy but the emotion or sentiment it brings me. A book that I loved in high school for example will bring me joy because I feel like it was a part of my high school identity. Books embody certain feelings, attitudes or experiences I had during certain periods in my life and so in that way I feel like they embody a piece of me and my past. Holding on to them makes me feel like I am choosing to hold on to a piece of my past. This gives me comfort as the concept of time confuses and overwhelms me.

Maya Angelou has a famouse quote that says ““You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there.” I find this quote to hold a lot of truth. I believe that it also applies to perception. “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever perceived.” Books are one of the few (tangible) things that mold perception, and perhaps this is why I have such an innate desire to hold onto them.

A Pair of Silver Earrings

The object I’ve chosen to discuss is a pair of silver earrings. I purchased them today at the farmer’s market that is held on campus every Thursday. The vendor assured me that they were sterling silver, and the little 925 engraved on the hook of each earring confirmed this. Sterling silver jewelry should have the 925 engraved on it somewhere. This indicates that 92.5% of the metal is pure silver, and the remaining 7.5% is alloy, usually copper. This is a standard ratio for sterling silver that is utilized by most countries, with the exception of some places like France which use a higher percentage of pure silver. The reason for this is because pure silver, which is 99.9% silver, is too soft to make jewelry with. It’s mixed with harder metals to make products like jewelry and silverware, stronger and more durable.

The earrings are bell-shaped hoops, with a downward point at the bottom. The edges are scalloped. Each earring is no larger than a quarter.

I have no idea where the vendor acquired the earrings, but I know they were not brand-new. Everything he had for sale was second-hand; clothing, jewelry, books, CD’s, and other paraphernalia that he had collected over the years. The price tag on each item he had labeled and applied himself. Because of the fact that there was no original tag or brand attached to the earrings, it would make it even more difficult for me to try to find its origin.

Silver is a natural resource found all over the world, from South America to Europe, and even in the U.S. In 2020, the top 5 silver-producing countries were; Mexico, Peru, China, Chile, and Australia. My earrings could have been mined as nearby as “The Rochester Mine” in Nevada, or as far away as Potosí, the famous Bolivian mining town.

Today, silver comes from 3 main sources: silver mining; silver produced as a by-product of mining for other metals; and silver recycled from used materials. By which of these methods my earrings were produced there is no way to know. However, at least 80% of the world’s silver today is produced as a by-product of mining for other metals, so there is a high chance my earrings were the result of a surprise finding.

To mine silver, miners must go into open pits or in underground mine tunnels. They pack explosives into holes drilled into rock and blast it into smaller pieces. Once the ore has been collected, there are a variety of extraction techniques for the actual silver, which vary based on the type of ore. The techniques include mixing certain chemicals and powders to dissolve parts of the ore, or melting the ore and using filtration processes to separate the metals.

Once the silver has been mined and either exported or brought to a local factory, the process of manufacturing jewelry, specifically earrings in this case, begins. The silver and its alloy are mixed in molten form, and it is then poured into a stainless steel mold where it cools and hardens into a thick hunk of metal. This thick piece of metal is subject to various processes, consisting of flattening, lengthening, soldering, buffing, and other various technical processes that I don’t understand well enough to try to explain.

The labor that goes into this process is perhaps near impossible for me to detail. There are overlooked laborers such as the ones driving the trucks with the metals in it, the ones responsible for ensuring proper mine ventilation, the engineers who make sure the machines used in manufacturing are up to par. The labor that I have more of a grasp of are the individuals working in the mines, literally blowing up rock at the endangerment of their own lives. While there is ventilation in the mines, the air pollution coupled with working in such tight spaces is hazardous to their health. The temperature that deep in the earth can be over 110°F, enabling the possibility of dehydration and other serious heat-related medical emergencies.

I remember the news story a little over a decade ago of the 33 Chilean copper miners who had become trapped underground when the mine collapsed on them. They were there for more than 2 weeks before being rescued. They all survived. They got lucky.

The sourcing and manufacturing of silver for jewelry is more complex than can be done justice in 800 words. This assignment allowed me to better understand all of the manpower, environmental and human strain, and the many facets that went into making what was to me, a simple pair of silver earrings. I no longer see them as simple, and I appreciate them even more.

Sources:

https://www.sciencechannel.com/show/how-its-made-science

https://www.thenaturalsapphirecompany.com/education/precious-metal-mining-refining-techniques/silver-mining-refining/

More Than a Fancy Piece of Wood

View of the bar from the front
View of the bar with its middle and right compartments open, showing the storage space and shelves
Angled view of the side/front of the bar, where one of the legs can be seen

The object I decided to discuss is a bar that was handed down to me from my parents. Literally, it’s a sort of wooden cabinet, but it had been marketed as a bar (a place to store liquor), and had only ever been used as such. My parents bought it when I was about 2 or 3 years old from a furniture store that is no longer in business. They acquired it as one of their first of many beloved pieces of furniture when they bought their first home.

The bar stands at about 32 inches high, and a few millimeters shy of 40 inches wide. It stands on four short legs, each about 4 inches tall and resembling a gourd. The bar consists of 3 storage spaces. The center one is the largest and the two on either side are smaller and identical in size.

The two side storage spaces are semi-cylindrical cabinets that open with metal knobs that have an almost trapezoidal shape. These cabinets each have two shelves. Each shelf has a metal gate about 3 inches high on the outer perimeter for keeping the contents secured inside. The side cabinets each have what appear to be a hand-painted design. The design consists of two geometric images. The outermost is a thin golden rectangular line with small golden details in the corners, which consist of delicate tendril-like curls in either direction. The innermost image, about an inch or so from the other, is a 1-inch-thick black rectangular border with a golden three-pronged flower pattern within. The black border is rimmed on the inside and outside with a gentle line of gold.

The cabinet in the center has the same interior layout as the two smaller ones but on a much larger scale and is a full cylindrical shape. It too consists of two shelves each enclosed by 3-inch-high metal gates. It opens and closes like a Lazy Susan; you push the door and it swivels around 360 degrees to reveal the interior. The hand-painted design on the center has the same two geometric images as on the smaller cabinets but on a larger scale. They are both in the shape of a square rather than a rectangle. Inside the innermost square, there is a beautiful design featuring a vase of flowers, circled with a round border of thick tendril-like curls. These curls are like the ones in the corners but thicker and more pronounced. The colors of this image consist of light browns and muted greens, blues, and reds, which all fit in with the rustic, antique style of the piece.

On the center compartment there is attached a latch. My father installed it when I was in high school and prone to mischief so he could put a lock on it. The latch still remains although the lock no longer does. There are chips on the top of the wood in the form of perfect circles, likely where my brothers and I would place our drinks without coasters, despite my parents attempts to prevent that. There are other various scuffs and marks from all sorts of childhood hijinks.

After almost two decades, my parents decided it was time to part with one of their first pieces of furniture, a wooden structure that represented a milestone in their lives and which had witnessed their family grow. It retains the character to prove it. Now it sits in the living room of my first college home, which I share with three friends. It still serves as a bar, and also as our TV stand which was only supposed to be temporary. But once we got used to looking at it every day, it didn’t seem right to make anything else the centerpiece of our living room.

And it retained even more character in its new home. There is a red paint drip mark at the bottom of it from one of the many crafts my housemates and I have gotten into. I think specifically it was from the bloody hand print tapestry we made one Halloween.

This piece of furniture, while visually and physically unique, holds stories that can be realized through its physical characteristics. I plan to hold onto this piece of furniture that has watched me grow up, for a very long time. I hope for it to develop more character over the years and expand its little collection of tales.