Who thinks they’re immortal here?

On a rainy November afternoon, Maria Zervos asked a group of students what it meant to be immortal.

“Who thinks they’re immortal here?” Many students responded, stating that immortality is never dying or going away. So, is it really just that?

Zervos, a visual artist, poet, and translator from Athens, Greece, is known for her vivid artistry and her investigation of themes including poetry, artwork, politics, nature and social criticism. She uniquely embodies the ancient world, as well as the modern artist.


Maria Zervos, visual artist, poet, translator

The discussion, which was hosted by English professor George Kalogeris and his “Tragedy and Literature” freshman seminar focused on the idea of being present in our everyday moments. Zervos started off by talking about a lyric poem by the ancient Greek poet Telesilla, which she translated from Greek to English. In the poem, the Mother of the gods, who gave birth to everything, becomes a woman in exile when Zeus attacks her, demonstrating the conflict between the different genders.

“Today, we talk about equality and the difference of the sexes, like it’s something that is quite contemporary, but this poet [Telesilla] did the exact same thing in 494 BC.”

Zervos asked the audience to participate in an experiment in which she had four volunteers stand at the front of the classroom and read lines from the poem. Each student had to read one line of the poem, and each had to start reading his or her line before the previous person finished. Repeated three times. 

“So, what just happened now?” asked Zervos, as stumbling words and laughter died down.

“We all became immortals. How? Because we’re present. We’re here and we forgot time. That is performance. That is theatre. That is philosophy, and that is literature. To forget there is some time there, and some time before. We’re here now.”

Zervos then went on to introduce a video she produced titled, My Half of the Sky, My Half of the Earth. In the visual piece, a silent group of Olympians emerge from the woods before journeying to Mount Olympus in stillness and movement. They are dressed in bright, distinct colors in the middle of an earthly raw landscape. A narrative of the hymn poem by Telesilla also accompanies the video as the gods transcend Mount Olympus.


“My Half of the Sky, My Half of the Earth” by Maria Zervos

“I had this idea based on the poem by Telesilla to activate myself in terms of being an artist and performer, and sometimes an actress,” Zervos said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to have to go on top of Mount Olympus’ because I thought one element of being untouchable, immortal is to cross borders.”

Moreover, Zervos explained her experience climbing to the top of the mountain, and how she was able to activate a sense of immortality, even though she felt she initially failed. 

“When you’re actually at the top of [Mount Olympus], you don’t see the top. Climbing it was a striking moment for me, because you don’t see the mountain as you’re going up, and I kind of felt like I failed, even though I knew I was up there.”

“I don’t know how many of you are familiar with contemporary art,” she continued, “but much of the contemporary art today activates technology, and very fast, like advertisement.”

“Instead, I believe movement is activated by stillness. The most difficult thing is the first step. Then, you go on, but the first step is crucial.”

Zervos painted a picture by using her choreographers, dancers, performers, and actors, who at one point asked her what she wanted them to really do. She answered by telling them she trusted and believed in the future of dance and performance, and how it is embedded in stillness.

“As an artist, I feel like there is sometimes almost too much information,” she went on. “We don’t really know what’s happening, so there’s a moment where you just have to wait a minute and see what’s there.”

Professor Kalogeris also explained how the video was a parallel to the class’s study of ancient sculpture. “We looked at ancient sculpture, and particularly at the first step, and how the sculptures are often taking that first step, which is perpetual movement,” said Kalogeris. “The statues themselves are still, but they’re stepping forward, so they’re in perpetual motion if they can get that first step.”

That is, to be immortal takes courage, and it is not an easy task to be present. Zervos continued the discussion by showcasing two of her additional video projects titled Nomadology (The Route) and Peripatetics [ATHENS], and another poem titled Artemis. In Nomadology (The Route), Zervos documents a trip she once took to Chile, where she stayed with a tribe of Native Americans in a remote place, inspiring her to explore the themes of remoteness, and the nomad— the one who doesn’t have a home and is always on the move. 


“My Half of the Sky, My Half of the Earth” by Maria Zervos

“For me, this was an amazing experience, because I documented the images of a ceremony they were having from afar,” she explained. “I stayed in a car, and that position was incredibly interesting because I had a glass window separating me from reality, which was performed in front of my eyes, without knowing what it meant. I was there, but not there.”

Thus, the images Zervos captured were comparable to individual lines of poems. With a ritualistic element and approach, Zervos successfully activates a different iconography, blurring the lines between documentary and witnessed reality. In Zervos’ most recent work-in-progress, Peripatetics [ATHENS], the camera is focused on a performance that is taking place in a city square of Athens. The area is filled with locals, immigrants, and tourists alike, emphasizing the act of walking. 

“In my Peripatetics [ATHENS], it is not through walking that will get us to philosophical arguments, but the very act of walking and being present itself,” stated Zervos. “There are no filters. I’m there present without adding my lines. The images are coming from a contemporary politicized ideology that we’re looking for, so it becomes a new philosophy.”

“Peripatetic” means traveling from place to place, especially working or based in various places for relatively short periods. It is Aristotelian and refers to his teaching methods. “This activation is not fragmented, but can happen because of different fragments of reality,” said Zervos.

She concluded the discussion by reciting her poem Artemis and echoing a sentiment that is present in all of us.

I am the child of Artemis.
The plethora
of goods in the market is haunting.

My mouth is full of Greek.
My fingers touch my tongue.
I’ve got no problem climbing mountains.

The clouds are lonelier than my lips
while the naked palms of dreamers
touch the snowflakes
slowly falling to become the ink
of my fingerprints.

“When you find what you want to tell, you find another step in you: the art. The project becomes you. To create something that is yours, that you are so embedded in, that is so synchronized by your own heartbeat, is immortality.”

“So, who thinks they’re immortal here?” 

Perhaps all of us, you could say.  

Connie Ruby Lai, Student Reporter, Class of 2017

“Idea of America” class explores the USS Constitution

On October 21, 2016, Professor Gregory Fried and his “Idea of America” class traveled to the USS Constitution Museum in Boston. The main exhibit is the USS Constitution – nicknamed “Old Ironsides” – which is the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, since its official launch in 1797.uss-constitution-furling-the-sails


The USS Constitution is an American icon, as it was one of the first commissioned ships of the United States Navy and named by George Washington after the Constitution of the United States.


With the guide Randy Foreman


The vessel has constantly been repaired and preserved since the year 1800, and provides students and tourists alike with a unique experience to witness and learn how the concepts of liberty and independence transformed the United States of America. Students were shown what it was like to live and work aboard the ship over 200 years ago. They also had the opportunity to witness some of the innovative technologies used on the ships of that time.

Student Humza Usman recalls:

The guide was telling us stories about individuals who were on these ships and how they got there. It really personalized the whole experience during the tour. Obviously the best part of the trip was going on the ship itself. It was really interesting to see the different parts of the ship and learn about how the crew worked every day.

Whereas the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution created an independent nation from the English empire, it was the American people that swore to fight and protect and uphold the values created by these transformative documents. Students signed their names into the new copper plates that will be fitted on to the USS Constitution’s hull during its renovation.

The USS Constitution is a staple of the early United States, marking its fresh beginning as world power. The USS Constitution and museum feature the outstanding features of American pride and nationalism, making the idea of America what it is today.

in-front-of-the-uss-constitution-2          boston-harbor

 Submitted by John Burke, student reporter, class of 2018

Socrates and Buddha: “Know Thyself!”

Once upon a time, in the early 70s when Zen Buddhism was becoming popular in the United States, there was a Zen Buddhist monk who came to this country to try and teach what Zen Buddhism was about. He was interviewed on TV by a famous journalist, let’s call him Dan Smith. Smith said to the Buddhist monk, “So you’ve traveled all around the world teaching Zen Buddhism. What is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever seen?” The Buddhist monk smiled his Zen smile and asked, “Who are you?” Smith, taken aback, replied, “A newspaper reporter…I’m interviewing you?” And the little Buddhist monk smiled and said, “No, no, no, no. Who are you?” At this point, Smith was a little annoyed— he was on national television and was getting fed up. He turned to the Buddhist monk and said, “Look, I’m a father, a husband, a son, I’m a newspaper reporter.” And the Zen little Buddhist monk once again asked, “Who are you?” Dan Smith was completely terrified at this point. He said, “Look, I don’t know, just answer my question.” The Buddhist monk replied, “That is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen – someone who doesn’t know who he is.”

Professor Donna Giancola recalled this story last Monday as she shared her insight on Socrates and Buddha regarding self-knowledge, with Professor Evgenia Cherkasova and the students in their respective seminars.

Giancola, professor and director of the Religious Studies Program, visited the “Meaning of Life” SF class on October 17th  to share her expertise on the differences between Eastern and Western Philosophy, and the contrast between Socrates and Buddha in the search for ultimate reality.

To start the discussion, Giancola made the distinction between Eastern Philosophy and Western Philosophy.

buddha“Generally in the West, the purpose of human life is happiness, and happiness as we know is conditioned or brought about; the surge or striving for perfection. In the East however, happiness is not so much the goal. In fact, the goal of Eastern Philosophy is the idea of Enlightenment or Nirvana. The East doesn’t strive to be happy, nor unhappy. They just strive ‘to be.’ The biggest difference is also that the West is dualistic about thinking patterns, while the East sees everything in non-dualistic terms.”

In other words, Western Philosophy tends to divide fragments of reality. Western Philosophers separate themselves from God and nature. They see these things as two opposing concepts, while the East does not consider mind and matter as two different substances.

Giancola used the Hindu expression ‘Namaste’ as an example. “Namaste is the expression that is used to greet someone in Hinduism,” Giancola said. She explained that the term comes from the phrase ‘bowing to you.’ “What you’re doing is you’re acknowledging the divine in you.”

Giancola also affirmed that the divine in each of us is essentially the same. “The divine in you is no different than the divine in me,” the professor said. “And to that extent, we are not separate from each other. We all share the same humanity, and though we may have different personalities, our humanity, which bonds us together, is greater than what separates us.”

Thus, in the East, subject-object distinction breaks down, because, according to Buddhist philosophy, we are all one. We are one in the world of nature, whereas in the West, we’ve garnered an idea of separateness that establishes us as isolated, autonomous individuals.

Giancola continued the discussion by referencing the exchange between the Buddhist monk and Dan Smith, and explicated why many people do not know who they are.

“When you strip it all away— gender, nationality, race, education, likes, dislikes, personality, many people will not be able to tell you who they are,” Giancola said. “Socrates claimed that he did not know— meaning that the first step towards wisdom is to recognize the limits of our knowledge.”

Noting that the Buddha echoed something very similar, Giancola explained that his advice to his disciples was to never go beyond the limits of one’s own knowledge. In the course of our everyday lives, we often try to go beyond what we know, always assuming we know more than we do.  

“How many times have you thought to yourself that you knew?” Giancola continued.

death-of-socratesSocrates and Buddha, for all their differences, both concurred that only through the practice of moral perfection can one reach enlightenment. The professor also alluded to one of her favorite dialogues, Plato’s Apology, which recounts Socrates’s self-defense at the trial in which he was charged for not believing in the gods and corrupting the youth.

“Socrates tells us not to care so much for the power, not to care so much for the money or fame or fortune,” Giancola stated. “The whole purpose in life is to make our souls as beautiful as possible— we spend a lot of time dressing ourselves up and we spend very little time polishing our souls.”

Giancola said we, as modern Western people do not keep ourselves in a check and balance because we spend very little time practicing discipline and mindfulness, but instead concern ourselves too much with the outer world, leaving behind our interiority.

“The Buddha said that when we do something, we must do it with our full presence, our full mindfulness. We’re so distracted multitasking that we lose sight of our single purpose.”

That is to say, in order to experience the fullness of a moment, we must be able to exercise control over our emotions and our mind. We are constantly led around by the thoughts, desires, needs, and wants of our physical bodies. For the Buddha, the ultimate goal is freedom from those conditions, and for Socrates, the goal is the cultivation of virtue so we have the capacity to exercise that which has been given to us.

The conversation closed with Professor Giancola recapitulating what Buddha and Socrates both fundamentally strove for: interior knowledge that can’t be taught.

“For Socrates, you can’t teach self-knowledge or virtue,” said Giancola.

“For the Buddha, ultimate reality is a process of self-realization. Nobody is going to save you. The only person that can liberate you from your own pain and suffering is yourself, and the only person that is going to take the consequences of your own bad acts and misjudgment is also yourself.”

“Life is not meant to be comfortable; the whole purpose of life is to evolve, and to evolve consciousness,” Giancola expressed. 

She concluded the discussion by echoing a famous Pierre Teilhard de Chardin quote: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience,” a statement that Socrates and Buddha, in spite of their differences, would agree on.

So, from one spiritual being to another, Namaste.

Report by Connie Ruby Lai, student reporter, class of 2017

A Visit to the 18th-century Printshop

“Problems and Solutions in American History ” class visited the Printing Office of Edes & Gill near the Old North Church. For one of class assignments students read early 19th-century newspapers.

probems-and-solutions_bob-allison_trip-to-18th-cent-printing-press_10_4_2016At Edes & Gill students met a historian and master printer Gary Gregory, who demonstrated how an 18th-century press worked and how the papers were produced. Students’ blog entries tell the story: https://sites.suffolk.edu/sf1133/



“Storytelling in the 21st century” hosts novelist Zoe Zolbrod

“I felt like being silent and stoic wasn’t the best approach. My conviction that it might help other people in some way was something I leaned on.”

Those were some of Zoe Zolbrod’s opening words last Wednesday afternoon as she shared her experience writing her memoir, The Telling, with Professor Amy Monticello and her students in the seminar “In the First-Person: Storytelling in the 21st Century.”

Zolbrod, an acclaimed novelist, is at the frontline publicly, speaking about topics like child sexual abuse and trauma. The Telling, which came out this past May, recalls her long-kept, devastating and disturbing secret: she was repeatedly molested by her teenaged cousin between the ages of four and five.

In the casual discussion setting hosted by Monticello, Zolbrod answered student questions and discussed the complexities of sexual abuse, shame, and the power of storytelling.

“I came to believe these topics weren’t right for everyone to talk about or disclose, but I felt like I was contributing to hopefully mitigating and dispelling some of the myths,” said Zolbrod. “Educating ourselves about child sexual abuse could prevent some of it and alleviate some of the effects when it does happen, and for me, I was able to do this through writing.”

Professor Monticello’s storytelling seminar considers the forms, venues, and impacts of narrative nonfiction in contemporary culture, and how individual lives are shaped by different types of archiving, including heavy subjects like child sexual abuse and trauma.

Zolbrod spoke of how her decision to write something so personal helped to conquer her anxiety.


Professor Amy Monticello (left) with her guest memoirist Zoe Zolbrod, September 28, 2016

“I really tried to bring in the current day analysis and my thinking of now, and acknowledging things I may have not remembered. That became my device in writing this book. This book isn’t written as a novel. It’s not trying to present a chronologically clean narrative, and it’s not trying to assert a reality,” said Zolbrod.

Monticello explained to the students how instead, the memoir closely painted an extended analysis of life experience. She alluded to a scene in the book, where Zolbrod recalls finally disclosing the dark secret to her parents.

“That was one of the most powerful scenes,” said Monticello. “We’ve talked about the role of speculation in non-fiction, because so much of our mental activity is shifting between what happened, what we wish had happened, and what we wonder could have happened, or didn’t happen, and that has a place in non-fiction when we’re explicit about it.”

In other words, in fiction, a narrative is being told, and narratives move scenically. But in non-fiction, writers are able to overlay their understanding of what a narrative means, so the ways in which that is created becomes a discovery for both the writer and the reader.

Zolbrod answered questions of how examining the experience at different stages in her life helped to shape her understanding of the situation.

“In [regards] to how puberty affected my mental health and my understanding of the situation, it’s still so hard to untangle to this day,” said Zolbrod. “I can make stories up; that’s how we understand our lives, not that the stories aren’t true, but we frame things in such a way to say this and this is why this and this happened. I talked in the first chapter about how those years were hard for me and I hadn’t fully grasped what had happened to me until later on in adolescence.”

Zolbrod continued the discussion by dispelling a myth of child sexual abuse. “In my research, I found the rates of men and boys who are sexually abused to be much higher than expected. A lot of the discussion tends to be so gender-based, which is important but it masks something else that is going on, which is sexual violence can happen to anyone.”

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), as of 1998, 2.78 million men in the U.S. have been victims of sexual abuse. That means 1 in 20 males are victims of child sexual abuse.

Studies have also shown that males are less likely to report their sexual abuse, largely because of the emphasis on the role that males ‘should’ have, but part of Zolbrod’s mission is to dispel the social taboos that prevent abuse survivors from telling their stories.

Zolbrod stated, “My mission for this book was to provide helpful information, as well as my own individual story. My kids, including my son, know what the book is about, and I told them in a very matter-of-fact way that wasn’t so gloomy. If it were to happen to them, I would want them to tell me, and if they could see me being matter-of-fact and calm about it, it might make them less likely to freak about it and feel shamed.”

The conversation closed with a student asking Zolbrod if she had certain techniques that she used to help her remember everything she wanted to write down.

“I did a lot of solo traveling in my early 20s, in a completely different era, and I would be wandering around by myself in the dark in strange towns,” Zolbrod responded. “A lot of times, I’d be playing my life like a movie and I really think that helped. It was like, ‘I’m going to go watch a video, now.’ I retold my whole life to myself. Just lying in mosquito nets in some guesthouse in Thailand or something. And I attribute that to having really helped my memory.”

Monticello added to Zolbrod’s thought by comparing the act to picture taking.

“You can fill in the narrative gaps of that highlight reel that most wouldn’t guess what was going on…if you can look at pictures and ask yourself what else was going on then, you may be able to access some memories you didn’t even know you had,” said Monticello.

Picture taking has often been used to document and highlight positive experiences, but almost always, when looking at certain pictures in an individual’s life, they are able to see and remember other things that were going on, and not only the part visible in the picture.

As for the freshmen involved in Monticello’s storytelling seminar, they have only begun to explore the construction of storytelling, and the ways in which their lives are being chronicled by the narrations they create everyday.

A report by Connie Ruby Lai, student reporter, class of 2017


Boston – Out and About

We reside in the heart of Boston — one of the most vibrant cities in America. Through the Seminar for Freshmen Program, students are immersed in Boston’s rich historic and cultural life.

moder-theatre-suffolkThe Boston Theatre Scene seminar, taught by prof. Richard Chambers, is different every semester. Why? Because it takes the current Boston theatre season as its syllabus. Students not only study and discuss the scripts of the plays currently performed. They get to see these plays, take backstage tours and meet producers, directors, actors, designers, playwrights and critics.

Film Adaptation course, taught by prof. Monika Raesch, tours the past film locations in Boston.

Prof. Leslie Eckel’s Brave New Worlds class explores what it means to be a perceptive traveler and a citizen of the world. The class motto, supplied by Marcel Proust, can equally apply to world travel and to college life: “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Professor Gerald Richman takes his class Beacon Hill: Fact, Fiction, and Fantasy, to the Boston Black Heritage Trail, the African Meeting House, the Otis House, the Moakley Archive and Institute, the Vilna Shul, the State House, and other important landmarks of this historic neighborhood.