Category Archives: Life

Happy Birthday, Greta Dohl

For those of you who are offended by sappy love things on the internet, I’m not sorry, because it’s totally up to you to keep reading this.


I’ve known you since we were two new faces on a path in the woods, you: fourteen, northwoods, energetic. Me: sixteen, wandering, timid. I was fascinated by your charm, charmed by your energy, and energized by your presence. Before I joined the theater program at Conserve to be with you, I remember sitting outside the auditorium being bored out of my mind but hoping so much that you would walk by outside and I could say hello to you.

You couldn’t go to dances and I was terrified of your parents. I would sit in the gathering space and sneak glances at you from across the couches where we – the couch monkeys – gathered. You preemptively turned me down before I asked you to the Haloween dance. I remember being upset, but at the same time happy, because you had acknowledged that I existed. It sounds kinda creepy now but when you’re in high school that’s the kind of thing that happens. I asked you out three more times, according to legend. I remember only two of them but I’m sure we’ll be telling people it was seven times eventually for the sake of a story.

You held my hand in the woods. I nearly died. Iana made fun of you for confusing me.

One of the happiest days of my life is the first day we kissed. I remember it like a movie in my head. You were sitting on the couch watching Mulan with Mara and Ben and maybe some other people. I was in some odd position that put my head on your soulder. Our cheeks touched accidentially and then not accidentially and then we kissed and I still remember exactly how it felt and how the light looked through the glass and the texture of your shirt and the feeling in my stomach and the feeling of the couch cutting into me but I didn’t care.

We broke up for the summer but spent so much time talking on the phone that it wasn’t really like we were apart.

We fell in love walking through the woods 6 years ago.

Greta, you inspire me and give me purpose – thank you for allowing me to be a part of the latest third of your life. Happy 21st birthday!

From Brooklyn,


Reflecting on my English Major

I wrote this paper as part of my English Capstone Experience, which I enjoyed immensely.

If you’re attending Lawrence and thinking about an English Major, you might find it interesting. I’m proud of the voice and style.

It’s also something I want to reference in my next post, so I figured I’d put it online first so I can link to it.

Despite the overwhelming urge, I haven’t edited this since it’s original inception on the date stated.

Erty Seidel

English Capstone Experience

Three years ago, I wandered on to Lawrence campus as a lonely, confused freshman who had decided to study English and Computer Science. I had enjoyed writing in high school, achieving various accolades, and so I thought that it might be a good, creative, worldly major to offset the hard quantitative world of computers. In fact, I had already completed a 50,000 word “novel” during National Novel Writing Month, so I thought I was pretty cool.

Well, I am soon leaving the Lawrence campus as a not-quite-so lonely, not-quite-so confused senior. I have somehow made it through ten terms of English and Computer Science, and stand now on the precipice of graduation, with a solid foundation in the two subjects, and a foreboding sense about exactly how much I don’t know about them.

Which is a lot, but that’s okay.

Earlier this year I was pleasantly surprised – no, shocked! – to learn that Advanced Creative Writing can be taken as a capstone course. I was resigned to taking another course about analysis of texts, which I have never been keen for, yet have found myself quite practiced at. My goal as a freshman in the Lawrence English department was to take Creative Writing: Fiction, and then Adv. Creative Writing: Fiction, and do only as much mucking about with Shakespeare and Milton and Dickens as was required of me. My schedule had so far blasted my dreams of taking the lesser class, so learning that I could switch into the Adv. version was as though the god of Lawrence had descended, kissed me on the cheek, and said, “you know what, you’re alright.”

I digress. What I mean to say is that the Adv. Creative Writing course is the capstone of my English and Computer Science experience at Lawrence, mainly because it was the one goddamn course I’ve wanted to take in the department. I didn’t dislike my other courses, and some of them (Modern Drama, for example, which I’m sure I’ll extoll the virtues of in a page or so) were downright mind-expanding. But it was really the creative outlet that writing allows that I’ve been seeking.

Let’s start at the beginning.

The first English class I took here was Literary Analysis. If I recall correctly, we spent a lot of our time studying Virginia Woolf, whom I had already studied for some time – my best paper from high school was a treatise on Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway written in the style of Woolf. Yet it was nonetheless a fun course. Bowles taught it, so we had a distinctly feminist slant (again, which I was used to from high school), and I enjoyed the reading. My favorite reading from that course, actually, was a play called “The Pillowman”. I turned in a paper on the play, done in the style of the author, which I am particularly proud of. I liked it because it was contemporary, it was dark and new and deep.

I should mention that writing papers in imitation of an author’s style is, I think, one of my strengths. For this paper, I have chosen to write in my own voice.

Forward! To a Survey of Postcolonial Literature, with Professor Kohr. A fine class, although particularly difficult. Heart of Darkness was exciting at times, and dull at others, and I pulled from it a sense of narrators – the story is told by the author about a man telling a story to his shipmates who may or may not be asleep – which resonated with me for the first time. That was important for my writing, since it’s essential for any author to understand unreliability in storytellers.

Major British Writers, with Bowles again – more Woolf. Major American Writers with Barrett; Transcendentalism et al. How I got through high school without having read Thoreau and Dickinson is a mystery to me, but I didn’t find them particularly interesting. I think if I had taken Modern Drama first thing freshman year, this all would have made a lot more sense. Alas.

The English Novel was my next stop. My most vivid memory from that class is mixing up “Pamela Andrews” – the protagonist of the novel, with “Pamela Anderson” – who is decidedly NOT Pamela Andrews. The shame still haunts me to this day. Someday I will work that into a story and it will be hilarious.

I also learned in that class about character development versus plot development. I saw how the novel was a big step toward contemporary writing, where the psychology of the characters becomes the focus – change in a person over time – and development of plot beyond just conflict between protagonist and antagonist. I had seen these novelistic traits before, but this was the first class that had ever really caused them to resonate with me.

Renaissance Drama was, with no offense to Bond, probably the most boring class I took here. Honestly – he did his best and always brought energy to class, but I had no desire to learn the material. My girlfriend of six years had just moved to California (she’s back now!) so my morale was a bit low at the time.

Spring term of sophomore year I took 18th century literature with Barnes, which was probably the most sex-laden class I have ever attended. We read 18th century pornographic novels as the repertoire, and it was… exciting? I certainly gained knowledge of how to write a sex scene, if that ever comes up in my writing career.

Mm, yes.

Junior year, that is to say, last year, I took only one English course. Modern Drama, with Prof. Dintenfass.

Dintenfass is old, wise, crotchety, and was probably crafted out of Zeus’ left over lightning. On the very first day, he asked us where the word “Drama” comes from. Woosh! Off we were on a magical journey through the ancient Greek theater. Swoop! We were given – for the first time in my career here – a solid overview and timeline that encompassed the authors that we were going to learn about in class.

Dintenfass was the kind of guy who was not afraid to lecture on English material. One of the main points of modernism is that there are infinite ways to interpret something, so he would give us some of the more accepted ideas, while allowing us to figure out others on our own. He would tell us what people thought about things – especially what he thought about things – but acknowledged that sometimes we would be more right than the Ph.Ds. That class, for the first time in my career here, felt not like a book club, but like a good old-fashioned class that taught me not only what the canon was of the time, but also what people thought about it.

And in my spare time, I looked up Dintenfass on the internet. “Writers Write,” had been his motto when he had been teaching Creative Writing here at Lawrence. (This was, as well, a time when he was allowed to chain-smoke through each lecture.) Everyone says that the trick to writing is writing, but I realized then that the trick to any craft is to practice it. Not just, “Practice makes perfect,” but really a sense of understanding that the only way to get good at something is to work at it, which is something that Creative Writing requires. There is no secret formula except hard work and dedication to the craft. This expands even into my studies of Computer Science – the only way I am going to succeed in that field is to practice computer science.

Dintenfass’ class was the first one where we took Modernism, killed it, and pinned it into a cardboard box with its wings displayed so that we could try to figure out what it is. We dissected what it meant as a movement and as a genre, using the plays of the era as the magnifying lens through which to do so. Almost every class session changed my mind on some subject, and expanded my view of the world. It goes without saying that I wrote him a glowing end-of-term review.

Finally I arrived, quivering with excitement, on the doorstop of Adv. Creative Writing. A class that pulls from all prior experience, English, Computer Science. Life. My writing is informed by my attention to the world and nothing else. I have begun to attend to my voice – the one that high school teachers tell you that you haven’t found yet – and make it my own. The class was incredibly useful in showing me what worked and what didn’t. What flowed and what crashed.

I have yet to take Shakespeare with Bond in the Spring, so my English career here is not at The End, but it is nearing The End, which is in itself something quite literary and profound. For me, Adv. Creative Writing is that End, since it represents my goal – to take a course in Creative Writing at Lawrence and gain instruction of how to do that elusive thing that all writers do, which is to write, and write a lot, and someday hope to begin writing well. Reading helps, too. I cannot discount the books that – at the time – I had to trudge through to achieve a grade. Without them – even Eliot’s Middlemarch – I would not have the solid foundation of language, vocabulary, structure, and ideas from which to construct my own prose.

–Erty Seidel

(From the 2170 to Boston)

Brooklyn Hipster

This is a pretty self-centered post, so if you’re not interested in my life stories, you might want to check out my more technical posts.

Trying to sleep more this morning was like trying to blow air into an overinflated balloon. I’d really messed up my sleep schedule over the last week – On Monday I took .5mg of melatonin in an attempt to re-regulate my sleep schedule, which ended up being too much for my tiny frame. I slept for 12 hours straight, and woke up halfway a few times, without enough energy to lift myself out of bed.

So, there I was, lying on a couch in Brooklyn at 6 in the morning with nothing better to do than get out of bed, walk to a coffee shop, and write a blog post. Because why not?

It turns out there aren’t many coffee shops on 5th avenue in Brooklyn that are open that early. I’m sitting now at the Starbucks at Flatbush and 7th. I tried, tried so hard to go to a local coffee shop, but none of them were open, or they only served coffee. As a chai drinker, those places aren’t particularly useful to me. It’s kind of like Apple, though – I really dislike how much I like it. Apple products and starbucks coffee are well-designed and delicious, respectively, but I’d rather drink locally owned coffee and use linux. Why? I blame my hipsterness.

Speaking of being a hipster, I’m already wearing an outdated cap and collared shirt, and writing my blog in a starbucks in a trendy area of brooklyn while I apartment hunt for my job at Etsy, which if that’s not hipster I don’t know what is.

This chai is good and I get a new Macbook pro in two weeks. I feel so dirty.

From Brooklyn,


Greta’s Grandfather

Greta’s grandfather passed away sometime Sunday night. I didn’t get much of a chance over the last 6 years to really get to know him except the occasional visit, and, of course, providing tech support. He was part of the old guard – won his house in a poker game while returning from the second world war. Had a predilection for hunting animals, prepping the meat, and making art from their feathers or skins or whatever. I was never particularly into that but when you’re engaged to a girl who’s shot a deer or six, you get used to it and at least learn to respect it. The meat was tasty, wholesome, and particularly preservative-free, and the art was rather spectacular.

Greta and I visited him sometime in the last year – I don’t remember what for – but I do remember the conversation we had while Greta wasn’t in the room. He was sitting on a short bench, his feet wrapped in gauze and tight socks and swollen to about twice their normal size. I asked him, “How are you doing?”

He responded with some disdain for the exercise bike he had just dismounted. “Getting old”, or something similar.

I probably said something ineffectual at this point, like “oh”, or “mm”.

I can’t remember the exact words, but he looked me squarely in the eye, and said, “I’m getting ready.”


“”I’m getting ready for what comes next. When you get this old, you have to.”

I think at that point he knew this was the last time we would see each other. I made sure to shake his hand before I left.

From Brooklyn,


Lila Emma Maria Rhen

I have not yet attended a funeral. When my mother’s mother died, not only had she been in an advanced state of Parkinson’s disease for most of my life. I was in the middle of school, and since I wasn’t particularly close to her, I ended up not attending the funeral. I didn’t have many memories with her, mostly around Christmas when we would go and visit California, and she would sometimes speak, shakily, quietly. I’m not sad that I wasn’t able to attend her funeral, I’m sad that I wasn’t able to get to know her better while she was able-minded.

My father’s mother, Lila Rhen, was much closer to me. She lived with us in San Jose – which I have very few memories of, but I’ve heard the stories many times. Myself as a very young child, walking along with my grandmother, and all of the cats and dogs coming up to me so that I could pet them.

She lived with us again in Niwot, Colorado. Both of my parents were working, and Lila helped take care of my sister and me. My memories of the time are few and far between, but I do remember that she had the room right next to mine, always with candy, bad TV shows, and, perhaps most stereotypically, the kind-old-lady smell: pleasant and soft.

My most vivid memories of the time are watching some sort of crime show with her and being very scared; playing StarCraft: Brood War and running around the house while she laughed kindly at me and asked me how my game was going. I explained that my main base had been destroyed and I was mining minerals from the adjacent one. She probably had no idea what I was on about, but she smiled at me and let me run around the house some more. As someone who now works with electronic media every day, I’m glad that she was supportive of my childhood shenanigans.

She volunteered at my school for a while – she had always been a teacher, and I think she enjoyed working with the precocious kids at the private school I attended. Her work earlier in life had been working with the mentally and physically handicapped, no easy feat, especially in the unsure era of the ‘50s.

When she got much older, that is to say, for the past few years, she was restricted from living at high altitudes without supplemental oxygen, which she refused to do. So, off to Minnesota with her. It worked out well for everyone except her – there was a lot of family within flying or driving distance, but she couldn’t live alone due to her memory problems, and the assisted living places were not good for making friends.

The last two times I visited her were very different. The first time was for her 90th birthday. Lots of family, food, reminiscing. She was bright and active, wearing a birthday tiara and opening presents. I’ve never learned a lot about my family on either side, and so to spend an evening talking with aunts and uncles and learning about Lila – her family, her trials, her history – was fascinating. Her career and life amaze and inspire me.

The second time I visited her was in, essentially, hospice care. She could no longer speak, and her memory was nearly gone. I cried a lot that trip. The thing that I really venerated her for was her stories, and those had been taken by age and disease. Lila the storyteller had already passed on then, and I sat and held her hand and cried.

I told her my secrets. I told her that I was going to marry Greta – only one or two other people knew this at the time. I told her that it was her who had inspired my life’s path of teaching, learning, and writing. I read her a story I had written and been commended for. She couldn’t speak, but I know she understood me because when Greta and Kristen rejoined us, she laughed and smiled and said, “mustn’t tell sweetheart.”

Lila Emma Maria Rhen passed away at around 5:30 this morning, Central Time, surrounded by family and friends.

When someone passes away, it’s possible to step back for a moment and examine their entire life. More importantly, perhaps, it’s possible to see the brief mark they left on the universe – everyone leaves one. For a small slice of time, they were here to talk and interact and create stories of their own. Lila left a lot of things with us, and comparatively few of them are material. She taught and raised children who now have children of their own. She worked hard to serve a country during wartime. I’ll always associate Australia and Sweden with her stories and pictures of those places. She instilled in many of us a love of story, teaching, learning, and critical thinking.

Thank you, Grandma Lila. I love you.

From Manhattan,

–Erty Seidel