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Winter 2002
Volume 39, No. 2
Issue Home

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PCMOnline Editor
Sarah Dolinar


» Read Letters to the Editor

Letter from the Editor

Whatever That Is...

The term creativity isn’t the strongest word in the English lexicon—that’s for sure. Like any word that’s the result of grammatical piling-on (in this case, a noun formed from an adjective made from a verb), it was a bit nebulous to begin with. And to make matters worse, it’s been overused to the point of meaninglessness. Today, every job description demands it. Every résumé claims it. It’s an inevitable point of parental pride, an excuse for forgetfulness or temperament, a romantic myth. It has been mapped out in popular simplifications of science as one entire half of the human brain (as opposed to the other half, devoted to such things as reason and order). One undoubtedly creative person whom I consulted pronounced the word DOA—a denotative cipher.

So I chose it as the theme of this issue.

I did so because I can’t get over the notion that whatever the word’s failings, there’s a concept here that is important to me personally, and to a lot of other people as well—especially the kind of people who gather around a place like Pomona. And that is the notion that the endeavor to create something with a claim to newness—something that adds new meaning or beauty or order or safety or honor to our lives—is part of living a worthwhile life.

That is a pretty broad definition of the creative impulse, I know. In that broad sense, every issue of this magazine could be said to be about creativity—about people doing new things in every conceivable field. I wouldn’t argue with that. But I still think it’s a meaningful concept—or perhaps I should say a meaningful distinction.

It is possible, after all, to live one’s life without creating much of anything. It is possible to live a largely destructive life, or just a life of moving pieces around on the game-board, winning and losing, pocketing the proceeds and starting over again. It is possible to live a life that provides no value-added for society. It’s not only possible; it’s depressingly common.

So I guess I’ve come to think of creativity as something far different from the lonely and lofty impulse painted by the Romantics or the plain problem-solving skills in today’s job descriptions. I see it more as folks at the MacArthur Foundation describe it when discussing what they hope to encourage with their so-called “genius” grants—one of the recipients of which is profiled in this issue.

“Creativity, like humor, can get lost in definition,” says the foundation’s Website, “not because it cannot be described, but because it can be expressed in limitless variations. In this program, we have found it useful to regard creativity as the expression of human endeavor as individuals actively make or find something new, or connect the seemingly unconnected in significant ways. The Fellows Program places its emphasis on individual creativity because the discoveries, actions and ideas that shape our society often result from the path-breaking efforts of individuals.”

One of the great values of liberal arts colleges like Pomona, I think, is that they acquaint us, in our tender years, with those who made contributions to the world we know, and so they lead us to an understanding that we have a choice of our own to make. We can leave things as we found them. Or we can try, at least, to create.

—Mark Wood

Letters to the Editor

Early Computing
Your recent magazine article about early computers [PCM Fall 2002] recalled memories of the Clary in the Chem building basement. Although Professor Donald McIntyre acquired it, we had possession. The first term after its arrival Professor Nelson Smith gave keys to us senior Chem majors and promptly doubled the amount of homework in Physical Chemistry, saying that we would have to learn to use the computer to pass the course. We did, and I’ve been financially assisted by computers since 1975.

The “user manual” that came with that machine (which had a 10-key adding machine as the input and a Selectric typewriter—then new—as its output) was useless. So Dr. Smith wrote his own and tested it on his 13-year-old son.
I do recall that the folks in physics managed to get their Bendix to play a tune.

—Jim Ludden ’61
Seattle, WA

Dark Side of the Web
While Adam Rogers’ “Wiring the Liberal Arts” thoughtfully included a section entitled “The Dark Side of the Web” [PCM Fall 2002], I don’t think he touched on the dark side at all. True, piracy and the like are misuses of the technology that must be brought to light, but what about the technology, itself, and the nearly invisible effect it keeps having upon us? Is an inquiry into the presence of technology worth having, or shall we take it all as a given and only ask ourselves what bad or good can come about afterwards?

What are the physiological effects, especially on young growing bodies, of spending hours in a certain position, eyes glued to an artificial light source? What happens when the computer starts dictating what is possible? (My daughter, Jerusha Montroy Ogden ’02, is known by three distinct names, but officialdom regularly allows her to use only an initial for her second—not merely middle—name. Or how about the California case of the retired professional who went back to school to become a teacher, but was repeatedly refused his credential because computers are unable to read his fingerprints?) As Stephen L. Talbott asks in The Future Does Not Compute, how can we keep our imaginations alive when the computer, an instrument constrained and defined by the past, keeps projecting a solely predictable future back upon us?

I have not had a television in my home for many years. People often say to me, “Oh, but there are good things on TV.” Or conversely, they commiserate, “Yes, there are bad things on TV.” Almost no one wants to discuss the actual TV. Have we allowed it to become such a transparent given in our homes that its presence cannot be questioned? It’s not about what is displayed, it is about the display unit, itself, and the extension this has become of who we are.

I am writing this letter on my trusty computer and I do love watching the Olympics or enjoying a good comedy show with friends. Technology is here to stay and there’s nothing wrong with any of it. My question only has to do with scooping up the notion of the dark side at the point right before we take the machine and our adherence to its dictates for granted.

—Pierrette Montroy
San Rafael, CA

Still Bearing the Torch
I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you for a long time now, but this morning, after listening to “Torchbearers” on the CD you sent me of all of the Pomona College songs, I knew I had to do it today.

You put out an issue of the alumni magazine with a beautiful article on music. In that article [page 18, PCM Winter 2001], you talked about Ramsay Harris, my father [a member of the Pomona English faculty who, in 1930, revised the original “Ghost Dance” into its current form as “Torchbearers”].

He is alive and well and living in Santa Fe, in the La Residencia nursing home. We just helped him celebrate his 102nd birthday on the 4th of October.

Unfortunately, he is extremely deaf, but is otherwise in very good shape. He does use a walker, but he’s still quite “compos mentis.” He often sits in the lobby of the building and greets the people who walk in, including the staff. They love him—as has been true wherever he has been, he creates a special atmosphere around himself—and he always makes people feel good about themselves.

Almost every weekend I take him out to lunch or bring him home for dinner. He loves to watch soccer and football on TV and watch his three great-grandchildren playing. (They are eight, six and two.)

His older brother, Glen, is also alive and well and is living in Seattle. Glen will be 104 in March.

What changes they have seen since they left Burma in 1920!

—Laura Harris Ware
Santa Fe, NM

Cover Kudos
My compliments to you and Terry Miura on a stunning cover (not to mention characteristically absorbing content) [Fall 2002 PCM]. My poor flatmates’ alumni magazines (UCLA and Cornell) have no business sharing the coffee table with this latest edition of PCM.

—Alex Jeffers ’98
Cupertino, CA

Sontag Still Shines
What a fine piece on Fred Sontag in the Fall issue! During my years at Pomona, his deep love and grasp of philosophy and his earnest desire to communicate its insights and challenges to his students shone through his every lecture. And his warm, personal availability to his students added quite another remarkable dimension. And from this latest article one is assured that all this still obtains. He certainly changed my life, and provides a principal model for my own teaching.

—Rev. Robert Hale ’59
Berkeley, CA

Justice and Injustice
Congratulations on your Spring 2002 special issue devoted to the theme of justice. You have done a remarkable service for us all by telling the personal struggle of Anthony Robinson ’83 in the Texas justice system and his courageous efforts to reclaim his life and to become a public interest lawyer who advocates for others facing injustice.

—James V. Riker ’81
Takoma Park, MD

A New President
I enjoy very much the news and articles in the Pomona College Magazine. Sorry to learn of President Stanley’s retirement—seems he just arrived. However, I am sure the Board will bring in another outstanding person.

—Richard N. Strong ’54
Salem, Oregon


We welcome letters about Pomona College or the magazine. Letters may be edited for length, style and clarity. When a letter raises significant questions, an appropriate respondent may be invited to reply. The editor reserves the right to cut off debate on an issue after a reasonable period of time. Send letters to: Editor, Pomona College Magazine, 550 North College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711 or by e-mail to mwood@pomona.edu.