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March 12, 2014 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2014-03-12

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The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 5A

Learning
to unplug
didn't have your typical enough, and I'm entitled to this
Spring Break this year. and that ... because I'msober.
While thousands of peo- And so, down to Austin I went,
ple my age flocked to the South to and I spent four days learning
sip on margaritas,bask in the sun how to unplug the game - how
and playhard, to unlearn what I have learned.
I was sipping Yoda would be proud.
on bottled One of the copious tools I
water, bask- gained from this experience cen-
ing in flu- ters on the work of Dr. Joe Dis-
rescent lights peza and a book he's written
and working called, "Breaking The Habit of
hard ... on BeingYourself:Howto Lose Your
myself CARLY Mind and Create a New One."
While it KEYES While it sounds like your typi-
would've cal self-help read, it couldn't be
been far less further from. In his book,Dispen-
emotionally and financially za discusses quantum physics,
stressful - and arguably a whole neuroscience, brain chemistry,
lot more fun - to go to the South biology and genetics, and he com-
by Southwest festival while in bines these concepts with spiri-
Austin, I was there to attend a tual practices to illuminate the
four-day workshop called "The possibility for human beings to
Inner Journey." change their realities and alter
When I shared my plans with their life trajectories.
people close to me, a few of them "Nerve cells that fire together,
inquired with concern: "Are you wire together," Dispenza writes,
thinkingaboutdrinking?" citing the Hebbian theory that
I'm not thinking about drink- explains the brain's neuroplastic
ing. I don't need to drink too capability. Essentially, we have
much in order to be miserable. the ability to rewire our brains
All I need to do is think too much. through spiritual practice.
Thinking can be a dangerous Let me clarify what I mean
pastime for someone who has a when I say spiritual practice,
mental disease. because I don't want to scare you
Addiction is baffling enough to away. I'm talking about medita-
those who haven't experienced tion.
it for themselves, but I'm going
to go ahead and toss in anoth-
er integral yen confusing facet Ic nth v
about the illness: Abstinence is
merely a pre-requisite for the
healing process. I'm an alcoholic, just one of
but my problem isn't alcohol; my anything.
problem is me.
The only reason I don't also
identify as a "drug addict" when
I talk about my addiction is I'm terrible at sitting still. I
because I never used drugs. But probably rearrange my position in
had I snorted a line of cocaine, my chair during a 90-minute class
injected heroin, or taken pills fifty times on average. I despise
during one of my booze-driven silence. I'm most comfortable
benders, I'd have been addicted. jaunting about campus with my
Guaranteed. I know I dodged a headphones on. But I've learned
bullet there. that life begins at the end of my
Because I canthavejust one of comfort zone, so here I venture
anything, this is where that con- bravely into the land of discom-
cept of abstinence gets confus- fort... the land of change.
ing. There's no such thing for me I'm only three days into this
as one cookie, one piece of gum, meditation program that accom-
one episode of House of Cards. panies Dispenza's book, which
Instead, I consume a bag of cook- utilizes soothing, whimsical
ies, I chew a pack of gum, and I background music and his soft,
plow through Season Two in one encouraging voice - training
sitting. wheels for those of you who also
These behaviors only wors- can't stand silence. In the first
ened after getting sober because week, the meditation lasts 24
- without alcohol - they minutes, and it climbs to 35 min-
morphed into compensatory utes in the second week, 48 min-
crutches. My life has been a lot utes in the third week, and 70
like that arcade game "Whac-A- minutes in the fourth week.
Mole." I hit one addiction on the Forget about 70 minutes. I
head, it recedes into its hole, and can't even comprehend that, yet.
then another one pops up in its Twenty-four?! I have to sit still,
place. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. to do nothing, for 24 minutes? I
I used this metaphor when never realized how hard it is for
I was asked to share my story me to shut down, to turn off my
recently at a recovery meeting in brainand tojustbe, surrender and
downtown Detroit, and I received trust in something. And I never
a wonderful piece of feedback could have anticipated the feeling
from awise, seasoned man who'd that follows.
been sober for years. Is this feeling peace? Is it
"In the beginning, I played that serenity? Is it truth? I'm not sure

game, too," he said. "ButI had to what you'd call the product of
quit putting in the quarters, try- meditation, but for me, it's best
ing to win. Ijust had to unplugthe defined by what it's not. It's the
game." absence of what's typically echo-
This notion pierced my ing throughout my mind. It's the
thoughts, challenged my resolve, absence of anger. It's the absence
and it frightened me. of fear. It's the absence of pain,
"How free do you want to be?" shame and guilt.
The man asked me, rhetorically. And so I've realized that, for
I don't want to just be sub- 24 minutes, I've unplugged the
stance-free. I'll never rise above game. And next week, it'll be 35.
human, I realize, butI don't want
to justify my other harmful addic- Keyes is looking for inner
tive tendencies with the excuse peace. To join her, e-mail
that I'm sober, and so, that's cekmusic@umich.edu.
DAILY ARTS IS
BASICALLY A "SO
YOU THINK YOU CAN
WRITETH"COMPETITION.
PROVE YOURSELF.
Email jplyn@umich.edu to request an
application.

'U' MFA Thesis Exhibitions
to examine issues of identity

Students to
showcase their
works spanning
many mediums
By COSMOS PAPPAS
For the Daily
This week, the 2014 MFA The-
sis Exhibitions in the Penny
W. Stamps School of Art and
Design will
begin its run School of
through the Art and
first week of
April. Design
"It's one MFA
of the high-
lights of the Thesis
year for the Exhibitions
School of Art
and Design Various dates
and for our Robbins,
university Slusserand
community," Workgalleries
said Professor in Ann Arbor
David Chung,
director of Free
the MFA pro-
gram.
This year, nine graduate
students are exhibiting their
work, with pieces ranging

from documentary film (Peter
Leix's "Muscatawingh - Plains
Burnt Over") to painting
(Katie St. Clair's Wayside) to
live video projection and per-
formance art crossovers (Ann
Bartges's Holding Still).
Students from all areas of
the visual arts display their
work during this time, mark-
ing the end of a college career
and, for many of the program's
soon-to-be graduates, the
start of life as an artist.
In fact, when asked why
the program made the transi-
tion to being a two-year pro-
gram from three, Chung said
that many of the program's
students were artists who
lived off the profits from their
work prior to application. For
many of these artists, three
years is often an unmanage
able amount of time away from
the working world. They come
to the program to refine their
craft and learn how to navi-
gate the more difficult world
of institutional art including
residencies, grant applications
and exhibition proposals.
The MFA program, whose
alumni feature Guggenheim
fellows and residents at some
of the world's most renowned

artistic institutions, pro-
vides disciplined instruction
through experimentation with
different visual media and
subject matter. To crown this
rigorous training in the pro-
gram there are the annual the-
sis exhibitions.
Comparing it to the accom-
plishment of an MFA in Cre-
ative Writing who finishes a
book or a collection of short-
stories or poetry, Chung said,
"Think about it that way, since
the visual arts are a kind of
unknown territory for a lot of
people."
"The other important thing
is the interdisciplinary nature
of the program," Chung said.
As a requirement of the pro-
gram, students work alongside
an "outside cognate," a faculty
member from a department
outside of the School of Art
and Design, who acts as an
advisor. This is only one piece
of evidence of the program's
commitment to interdisciplin-
arity and social consciousness.
Many of this year's pieces are
concerned with issues of cul-
tural difference and identity.
"Parisa Ghaderi, who is
originally from Iran, is doing
a very interesting piece about

these two worlds trying to
connect and how communica-
tion is difficult. It's a really
beautiful piece that features
projections," Chung said.
Rolando Palacio, on the
other hand, is working inti-
mately with the immigrant
community of in Mexican
Town of Detroit to create a
series of documentary photo-
graphs that captures the mod-
ern immigrant experience in
the city - working alongside
faculty in the Department of
Anthropology to broach these
questions in his art.
These artists and others
will display their work at loca-
tions in both Ann Arbor and
Detroit, reinforcing both the
growing artistic community in
the city as well as Ann Arbor's
and Detroit's increasing cul-
tural and social interaction.
The MFA Program is attached
to the city through connec-
tions with exhibition spaces,
artists, community groups and
other schools.
"Our artists are addressing
things that are very immedi-
ate to them," Chung said.
A full list of the exhibits and
their dates can be viewed on
the school's website.

The very real dangers of virtual reality

BySTEVEN TWEEDIE
DailyArts Writer
Virtual reality as a cinematic
and gaming medium is still in its
infancy, but the VR industry is no
longer a desolate graveyard filled
with the ancient and cumber-
some technology failures of the
'80s and '90s. Instead, the wildly
hyped and inexpensive Oculus
Rift headset has pummeled its
way to the forefront of main-
stream virtual reality explora-
tion, managing to secure over $75
million in funding in the process
and all but securing a successful
consumer launch later this year.
The Rift is an immersive experi-
ence like none other, allowing
people wearing the headset to
gaze around their environments
as if they were truly there. You
can even take a trip up the wall of
the Night's Watch from "Game of
Thrones" if you want to - just ask
Arya Stark. Ifa traditional televi-
sion screen is a window frame into
another world, VR lets you chuck
that frame into the woodchipper
and climb right through. This is
an exciting, promising and down-
right futuristic tech development,
but it's also a double-edged blade
with all the promise to potentially
create a level of dystopic obses-
sion thatmakes the World of War-
craft guy from "South Park" look
tame.
People naturally gravitate
towards activities that offer a
certain level of escapism. Back
in 2009, when "Avatar" began its
"titanic" voyage toward becom-
ing the highest grossing movie of
all time, people felt this kind of
escape in the lush, vibrant forests
of the fantastical Pandora. Stun-
ning CGI and high fidelity 3D
filming offered a level of immer-
sion that began to blur the lines

When "next level shit" goes wrong.
between imagined environment
and reality. And as surreal as it
may sound, for some people, this
harsh disconnect from biolumi-
nescent jungle to cinema park-
ing lot actually caused feelings of
depression and suicide, prompt-
ing fan forums and a CNN arti-
cle discussing how to cope with
"Pandora being intangible." And
this was still just a film being pro-
jected on a cinema screen, with
entire audiences participating in
the experience - now imagine a
personal technology capable of
much higher caliber of immer-
sion, and you can see how the
Rift will prove a slippery slope for
those already prone to the addic-
tive qualities of modern media.
The reasonable counter-argu-
ment is that this will only be an
issue for those already addicted
to escapists media forms. Yes,
classically addictive games like
"Second Life" are getting the VR
treatment, and yes, it will soon
be possible to gaze around a cozy

concert venue watching your
favorite band practice, but will
we really start observing people
opting for a virtual girlfriend Isla
Joaquin Phoenix in "Her"?
The higher the fidelity of
the illusion, the tougher it will
become to unplug. Already, you
can experience what it would
be like to embody the other gen-
der, and adult entertainment
companies have wasted no time
designing stimulation devices to
accompany the Rift. And yes, it's
exactly what you think it is. Keep
in mind the Rift hasn't even offi-
cially hit shelves yet. And while
technology that wins favor with
the pornography industry usually
finds mainstream success, it will
soon become far easier for people
to become lost in fantasy, and
harder to disconnect. Suddenly,
the issues brought up by "Her"
don't seem so futuristic.
This is where simple aware-
ness of, and caution toward, VR
won't be enough. One day I'll be

immortalizing my Rift developer
unit as a collectible milestone in
technology's rapid advancement,
much like any collector' would
wish to save the first radio or
television. But amidst all the pos-
sibility and childlike glee at such
a futuristic experience, perhaps
a warning should accompany VR
headsets, similar to the way mas-
sively popular video games flash
an "All things in moderation"
quote across the loading screen
every once in a while.
Hard to hit the
off-switch.
Stronger and more spectacular
illusions are exciting, and escap-
ism certainly holds its own thera-
peutic benefits, but a firmer nod
in the direction of the off-switch
might not hurt either.

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