Haverford — Spring/Summer 2014
Change Language:
Mixed Media

Q&A: Carmen Crow Sheehan ’00

What is it like to be a woman on the front lines of humanitarian response?What motivates someone to run toward the horrific scenes that others can’t even stand to watch on the news? And how do aid workers feel about the difficult work they do—do they wonder if they make a difference?These are just some of the questions that Chasing Misery: An Anthology of Essays by Women in Humanitarian Response grapples with. Co-edited by Carmen Crow Sheehan ’00 (along with four other women), the book collects 21 first-person essays and 23 photographs snapped at aid locations around the world to give readers a sense of what it’s like to work in a conflict or natural-disaster zone. (Not all the locales are far-flung; there is a section about post-Katrina New Orleans.) Sheehan also contributes a photograph, “A Midwife Assessing a River Crossing,” and an essay, “No Place,” about her time in Darfur as an emergency aid worker with the American Refugee Committee.Chloe Tucker ’07, the international programs coordinator for Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, talked to Sheehan, now a D.C.-area programming and training specialist for the Peace Corps, about the difficulty of writing about her Darfur experience and the importance of self-care for aid workers.

Chloe Tucker: How did you become involved in this project?

Carmen Crow Sheehan:

This project percolated for years. I have known Kelsey Hoppe, head of the Chasing Misery team, for about a decade now, and writing a book was the type of thing we would talk about among friends on dark nights in Darfur while we waited for the generator to kick in. Then, just before New Year’s Eve 2012, after this idea had been Brewing for years, Kelsey sent out an email that began, “So, I’m driving along in South Africa the other day thinking…” She was reaching out at long last to a small group of humanitarian types to float the idea of Chasing Misery— something that would incorporate different voices, elements, and experiences about humanitarian work in a single volume. Did we think we could do it? Could we capture the complexity and depth of humanitarian work and its true impact—not just on beneficiaries, but also on aid workers? Could we go past the “do-gooder-ness” and really get at the rawness of the work, for good or ill? I looked up the old email chain and reread it today. My response: “I think this sounds smashingly fun.”

Everyone else on the email chain agreed. And so it began.

CT: When did you write “No Place,” your essay?

CCS:The piece was based on a hodgepodge of things I had written while in Darfur—emails, journal entries, that sort of thing—but I hadn’t gone back to compile or polish any of it until I decided to submit a piece of my own for Chasing Misery. This was the first time since being in Darfur that I’d re-read anything I had written there, and it was actually a very tough process. Those types of memories really stick to you, and even now as I think about it, I can feel my heart rate rising. I left Darfur in 2006, and seven years passed before I brought myself to re-visit those days with “No Place.” I’m glad I finally did.

CT: How do you define humanitarian work? For example, was the Darfuri midwife whom you photographed also performing humanitarian work?

CCS: If I had to boil it down, I’d say humanitarian work is the provision of assistance in crisis or emergency situations to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity. Was the midwife by the flooded river in Darfur performing humanitarian work too? Absolutely. She was the dean of a midwifery school and a very close colleague—we traveled together, worked together, ate together, brushed our teeth together, all those things one does on long trips to the field. … When I think of her, I, of course, think of everything she did to save lives, but perhaps more than that, I think of her dignity and Humanity. In a place where people did, and still do, such awful things—the rape, the killing, the destruction—that element of human dignity can be hard to keep hold of. She never lost it.And she carried it for others. I think that element of human dignity is a piece of humanitarian work that doesn’t get as much press, but that makes all the difference.The midwife in that photo didn’t just save lives. She made them feel valued as people in an otherwise hostile environment— that mattered a lot.

CT: I've found the term “help to helpers” cropping up with increasing frequency.
How can “helpers” better prepare to engage in help in sustainable ways?

CCS: One recurring theme in my own observations is the importance of “self care,” recognizing that helping others can take a toll and trying to remember that we are much more effective in the long run if we take care of ourselves along the way. I suppose it’s like that speech they give on airplanes before takeoff: “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.” That can be very hard to do in the field of humanitarian aid, and I think it’s something most of us could get a lot better at. This is part of the reason the collective group of authors and photographers for Chasing Misery decided that 10 percent of all book royalties will go to the Headington Institute—to help them continue to provide care and support to aid workers when they need it most. If you go to the Headington Institute webpage, it states their vision in a bold, yellow box: “One day, all humanitarian workers will have the personal skills, social support, organizational resources, and public interest needed to maintain their wellbeing and thrive in their work.” I think a lot of us share that vision.[It’s] easier said than done, but clearly there are people out there who dare to dream.

Same Old Story DAWN POTTER ’86

With influences drawn from ancient myths, classic fairytales, 19th-century novels, and the letters of Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson, it’s no wonder Dawn Potter titled her third collection of poetry Same Old Story. After all, the book’s 27 poems, whether they describe a modern-day traffic jam or an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, are all suffused with the universal themes of birth, love, and death that have inspired writers since the beginning of time.“In many ways, this is a collection about storytelling,” says Potter.“I wanted the title to pay homage to the storytellers who preceded me.”

Potter’s stories may be Inspired by Norse and Greek myths or the great books of others, but they are also still rooted in her day-to-day existence.Her reworking of the Scandinavian fairytale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” into her poem “The White Bear” transforms it into a story about the difficulties of modern marriage. And it is hard not to read “Valentine’s Day,” her poem about the “snow plow guy,” as autobiography, with lines like these:

He smiles broadly, like a man should smile when he’s just finished plowing the driveway of a woman who’s rumored to write poems, who’s ten years older than himself, and whose son plays soccer on his daughter’s team…

Potter’s family—she is raising two sons with her husband, photographer Thomas Birtwistle ’87, in Maine— makes appearances in her work, but she is quick to add that, while her poems may be triggered by actual events, they aren’t journal entries and, as poems, their realities are heightened, exaggerated, or fictionalized.Her family members, therefore, have all read her work, and none have complained about being used as inspiration.

“From their early days, [my] boys learned that making art requires solitude and obsession,” says Potter, whose elder son is studying filmmaking and whose younger son writes, makes music, and acts. “They understand that an artist cannot focus on making other people happy or comfortable.They also understand that sometimes it’s just not easy to talk to another artist about the work she’s doing. Really, it’s an honor to be the mother of such astute and open-hearted young men.”

At the same time that Potter was writing Same Old Song, she had also started a sonnet project for which she copied all of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets out of a book, word for word. (A similar undertaking with Paradise Lost led to the creation of her award-winning 2009 memoir Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony With John Milton.) Every day she would also compose a sonnet of her own about what was going on in her life. So while the poems in the collection come in many forms, they are bound together by the sonnets scattered throughout the book.

“It was a hugely instructive project,” she says. “I learned so much about what a sonnet can And cannot contain, what kinds of words propel a poet further into a sonnet, how unimportant rhyme really is to the basic dramatic arc of the form.
Even though most of the poems in this collection are not sonnets, the ones that I did choose to include create a sort of formal backbone among the free-verse pieces.”

Potter, who also directs the annual Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching at Robert Frost’s home in Franconia, N.H., has three more books already in the pipeline. One is a manual on the writer’s craft, based on the work she does at the Frost Place Conference, and the second is a collection of essays about books she’s re-read many times over the course of her life. Both books are due out later this year. She’s also hard at work on a new manuscript of poetry: a verse history of the coal-mining region of southwestern Pennsylvania that, she says, begins in “prehistoric times and traverses through incidents such as the French and Indian War, the rise of Frick and Carnegie, and the area’s subsequent Rust Belt desolation.” —Rebecca Raber

More Alumni Titles

LAURA SHIPLER CHICO ’94, editor: This Light That Pushes Me: Stories of African Peacebuilders (Quaker Books) To mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, Chico, a program manager for the British organization Peacebuilding in East Africa for Quaker Peace & Social Witness, gathered the stories of more than 20 individuals from sub-Saharan Africa who are all Quakers or involved with Quaker peace work and have experienced some form of violence.Featuring portraits by photographer Nigel Downes, the book traces the peace builders’ personal journeys and reveals how suffering can be transformed into a force for social change.

COLETTE FREEDMAN ’90: The Consequences (Kensington Publishing Corp.) Playwright Freedman has written a dramatic sequel to The Affair, her 2013 debut novel, which Explored infidelity from the viewpoints of a husband, his wife, and his mistress.

Picking up five minutes after the last book ends, The Consequences continues its predecessor’s shared-perspective storytelling.

ELUN T. GABRIEL ’93: Assassins and Conspirators: Anarchism, Socialism, and Political Culture in Imperial Germany (Northern Illinois University Press) Gabriel, an associate professor of history and the coordinator of the European studies program at St. Lawrence University, uses various primary sources—from police reports to Reichstag speeches—to examine the early history of Germany’s Social Democratic Party and its influence on the history of the German empire.

EDWIN HARTMAN ’63: Virtue in Business: Conversations With Aristotle (Cambridge University Press) Hartman, a retired professor who was the founding director of the Prudential Business Ethics Center at Rutgers University, applies Aristotle’s virtue approach to business to deepen the understanding of business ethics and demonstrate how good character can and should matter in business.

THOMAS E. HARTMANN ’88: Broken Mind, Persistent Hope: A Memoir of Recovery From Brain Damage and Manic Depression (Tate Publishing) Hartmann writes about his struggle with manic depression, how a head trauma sustained during a car accident amplified its effects, and how alternative medicine aided his eventual recovery.

CHRISTOPHER KENT ’74: Staying Off the Wheel of Misfortune (Valley Vista Press) In this self-help book, Kent, a songwriter, performer, and teacher, tells how to avoid 10 of life’s biggest pitfalls.The book is a companion piece to the CD Piece of the Puzzle (12 Songs of Hope), which aims to inspire listeners to prevail over challenges and is available separately.

Rochelle Davis, MIMI KIRK ’96, editors: Palestine and the Palestinians in the 21st Century (Indiana University Press) Kirk, an editor at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, co-edited this collection of scholarly essays, which explore the legacies of the past century on Palestinian society and the possibilities of peace with Israel and self-determination in the future.

BRENDAN LANCTOT ’00: Beyond Civilization and Barbarism: Culture and Politics in Postrevolutionary Argentina (Bucknell University Press) Lanctot, an assistant professor of Hispanic studies at the University of Puget Sound, examines a turbulent time of vying political Forces in Argentina during the 23 years under dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas following Argentina’s independence from Spain.

TIMOTHY S. MILLER ’67, John W. Nesbitt: Walking Corpses: Leprosy in Byzantium and the Medieval West (Cornell University Press) Miller, a professor of history at Salisbury University, and his co-author give an overview of the history of leprosy, the attitudes toward it, and treatments for it from the ancient world to medieval times, with a primary focus on challenging myths about medieval attitudes towards the disease in both the Byzantine Empire and Catholic Europe.

JACK SCHNEIDER ’02: From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse: How Scholarship Becomes Common Knowledge in Education (Harvard Education Press) An education historian who teaches at the College of the Holy Cross, Schneider seeks to explain why some ideas from educational research gain traction in classrooms while others don’t, and uses four well-known historical examples to ask what can be learned from their successes in influencing teachers.

ART

Sarah Jacoby ’06 is bicoastal—if you consider the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay to be “coasts.” During the week she lives and works in a warehouse space in Baltimore, where she is finishing up her M.F.A. at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), and then she spends her weekends with her husband, Timothy TeBordo ’03, at their apartment in Philadelphia. The constant commuting isn’t easy—especially when you add in time spent in New York City sleeping on friends’ couches to meet with editorial art directors—but it is all in service of her burgeoning illustration career.

Jacoby, a former English major, has been working in commercial art since her Haverford graduation.She’s illustrated magazine and newspaper articles, such as her recent piece that accompanied the May 10 New York Times article “The Toxic Brew in Our Yards.” And her work has appeared in (and on the covers of) books, like a coming series from the retailer Anthropologie. “My favorite project was a piece I did a couple months ago for a book … about famous innovators, writers, and authors, and their companions,” says Jacoby. “I got to draw Emily Dickinson’s dog, Carlos.” (That book, The Who, the What and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Accomplices of History, will be out from Chronicle in the fall.)

Jacoby’s illustrations are done roughly 60 percent by hand, using watercolor painting and/or ink drawing, and 40 percent digitally, using programs like Photoshop. The results are innocent, poignant images, often of picturesque nature landscapes that seem decidedly homemade. “The computer gives me the ability to achieve certain levels of perfection that I am not personally talented enough to execute,” she says. “So I get this expressive, painterly quality, but also a sort of a digital intensity that compels people.”

Her work certainly compelled the people at the American Society of Illustrators, who awarded her their gold medal in January for her “Seasons” series. The award, which she says is “like winning an illustration Oscar,” was exciting not just because it was a first for her (she’s since won several other competitions), but also because it meant her work was displayed at the society’s New York headquarters and taken on tour across the country.

Having her art recognized must also help make her weekly I-95 slog feel worth it. Jacoby credits TeBordo, who plays in the band Tinmouth, and her other artistic, ambitious Haverford friends with inspiring her work and keeping her motivated.“Doing creative work takes huge amounts of tenacity,” she says, “[and] without them I’m sure I would have settled for a different, ‘safer’ career by now.” —R. R.

THEATER

At the heart of the Holocaust allegory Brundibar is the story of a brother and sister rallying others to overthrow a tyrannical organ grinder. So it is appropriate that another brothersister team is at the heart of a recent production of the children’s opera at Meredith, N.H.’s Winnipesaukee Playhouse.

Bryan Halperin ’95is the executive director of the Playhouse, which mounts shows by both professional and community-theater companies, and for six years he has staged a reading of a play in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. When his sister Glenna (Halperin) Lee ’02 moved her family to New Hampshire from New York last summer and took a job as the director of education at Temple B’nai Israel, the siblings decided to join forces and mount a full-scale production instead.

“Other than creating ‘plays’ as kids at home, this is the first theatrical production we have worked on together,” says Halperin of the recent staging of The Brundibar Project,which includes not just the 1938 opera Brundibar but also Tony Kushner’s related 2003 one-act play But the Giraffe.

Brundibar was first performed by children in the Prague Jewish Orphanage in 1942 and was famously remounted by its composer, Hans Krasa, in 1943 in the concentration camp Theresienstadt, where it was eventually performed 55 times by the camp’s children, many of whom eventually perished at the hands of the Nazis. Kushner was inspired by the opera (which he and Maurice Sendak had turned into an illustrated children’s book) to write an accompanying one-act play about a girl who must choose between taking her beloved stuffed giraffe or her uncle’s Brundibar score with her when her family is sent to Theresienstadt.

“Bryan and I come to Judaism from very different places—I am observantly and spiritually Jewish, and he is culturally [Jewish]—but this production connects us,” says Lee. “We both care about our history as a Jewish people. We both care about people learning tolerance and respect for others.”

While Halperin focused on the theatrical components of the project, Lee created a complementary educational packet and an exhibit for the Playhouse’s lobby that helped illuminate the opera’s historical significance for the 650 audience members who attended the five early May performances.

“I found photos, artwork, and poetry and conducted interviews with people who had performed in Brundibar in Theresienstadt,” she says. “This exhibit portrays about six of their stories. I hope people marvel at the numbers of the Holocaust—the horrific statistics—but remember a few amazing people to keep their memories alive.”

The production is a family affair beyond its brother-sister production team. Three of the siblings’ four daughters appear in the show, which features an unusually large 58-person cast. And the theater itself is run and was co-founded by Halperin and his other sister, his brother-in-law, and his wife (Johanna Bloss Halperin BMC ’94, whom he met in a Bi-Co production of Fiddler on the Roof ).

“I always had looked up to Bryan—I even followed him to Haverford,” says Lee. “This was the first time he and I both got to see me, the little sister, as an equal and an asset. I’ve learned a lot about us.Turns out we both are very similar when it comes to our work ethics, enthusiasm towards a project, and our productivity—I had no idea we shared those traits.” —R. R.

MUSIC

Ben Diamond ’11 has written and played all kinds of music since his days at Haverford: blues as a part of the George Urgo (’08) Blues Band, David Bowie and T. Rex covers as a part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival production of Eternal Glamnation, classical Arab percussion, indie rock, European klezmer, and many genres in between. But this past year he made music of a different sort— music for puppets.

At the urging of former Haverford Visiting Professor of English Peter Gaffney, Diamond wrote—and later played in performance— the score for an experimental puppet show that Gaffney created about the life of 16thcentury Italian nobleman, composer—and murderer—Carlo Gesualdo. The show, titled Gesualdo, in Heaven, had a six-day run in February at the Pig Iron School Studio in Philadelphia and featured life-size wooden puppets and Diamond’s music. His score, written solely for percussion instruments (vibraphone, bass drum, cymbals, and an Arabic drum called a doumbek), also included interpolations and impressions of Gesualdo’s own compositions.

“We knew we were making a show about a composer—indeed a rather well-known, even infamous composer, whose music was extremely influential [to] several prominent composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, namely Wagner, Stravinsky, and Schoenberg—so we had a lot of source material to work with,” says Diamond. “The show even involved our puppeteers singing one of Gesualdo’s Renaissance madrigals. A big part of my process was to take little bits of [his] music—interesting chord changes, for example—and to abstract them and manipulate them in order to build my score out of them.”

Gesualdo is well known for calling into question the key “center” of a piece. (Music theory students will know this as the “tonic” of a chord.) He shifts this key center constantly in his compositions, which has the effect of sounding musically unstable, a characteristic that Diamond’s score tried to mimic.

“One of the most interesting things about the process for me was thinking about the ways that the musical instability that Gesualdo created might have been both a cause and a symptom of the instability of his life,” Diamond says of the man who famously spent much of his life trying to decipher a book of incomprehensible symbols, was plagued by paranoia, and eventually murdered his wife, her lover, and at least one other person—possibly his own infant son.

The 45-minute piece earned good reviews, and the creative team has already been invited to take the show to Munich, Prague, and Berlin. So now Gaffney and Diamond are working to raise the funds to remount the show in Europe and other American cities.

Regardless of where the show goes from here, Diamond says he enjoyed the collaborative process of music-making for the theater.

“Creating music for an abstract puppet show is somewhat different from creating music for a jazz quintet or a percussion ensemble,” says Diamond, who is also a parttime music teacher at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy. “Because I have interests in a large number of different traditions, I vacillate between trying to separate my influences from each other in order to give each the respect that it deserves [and] trying to find connections and parallels that allow my interests to come together.” —R. R.
VIEW ALL ARTICLES
Message
SEND