Takin' It Slow

issue 01 | spring 2014
Takin' It Slow
Beautiful Biology

Slow Photography

Because Your Instagram Photos All Look the Same


When biology major Rachel Laughlin ’14 peers into a microscope, she sees the tiny cells that make up the living world. But she also sees beauty. So perhaps it’s not surprising that whenever she saw a particularly notable pattern or structure of bacteria in her “Diversity of Microorganisms” course, she pulled out her smartphone and snapped a photo through the eyepiece of the microscope.

But what is surprising is what she did next. Instead of letting those images languish on her digital camera “roll” or posting them on a social media site, she developed and printed them by hand. “I dripped developer on the images, applied it with sponges, and had different exposure times,” she says. She used everyday objects—a hairbrush, an empty toilet paper roll—to apply developer in unique ways. The finished photos often took her days, if not weeks, to complete. The resulting images, layered and transfixing, are ones that no 99-cent smartphone editing app could ever match.

Plenty of photographers seem to be pulling away from the lures of digital photography and editing in favor of an analog approach. Respected street photographer Eric Kim and online reviewer and photographer Ken Rockwell make the case that there’s still plenty of reason to consider an old-school approach. When photographers work with rolls of real film, for example, rather than the almost infinite capacity of a digital camera, they learn to be disciplined. When shooting and editing take more than a millisecond, photographers learn to see light and space in more nuanced ways, instead of just assuming that enough images and filters will overcome any sloppiness in their shots.

Laughlin hopes to show people that there’s a lot that we miss when we speed through our day-to-day lives. “You don’t actually see things like bacteria when you’re just walking around in the world,” she says. “I hope these photos make people slow down and look more closely."

Takin' It Slow

Believe it or not, Laughlin is not the only one turning disease and bacteria into art. A quick search of art.com turns up colorized and vibrant microscope photographs of sexually transmitted diseases and paintings like “Bacteria of Human Intestinal Tract” by artist Jane Hurd. Photographic prints of avian flu and hepatitis B can be surprisingly pretty.


Slow Service

Because Relationships Make a Difference


When new students arrive at Denison, Alford Center for Service Learning Director Gina Dow knows that many of them come with résumés longer than a Tolstoy novel. “They’ve been in 50 clubs or organizations; they’ve won awards; they’ve invented water,” she says.

But during their four years on cam-pus, she hopes she can nudge them to a more sustainable approach: Slow down. Do fewer things. Then go deep. It’s a philosophy that applies not just to the work she does with students at the Alford Center, but to anyone who volunteers. She encourages everyone not only to consider quick-hit service activities, like a morning at a food bank, but also to pursue longer-term relationships with nonprofits around the community.

As an example, she cites a class that she teaches in which students are required to spend three hours a week throughout the term working as class-room assistants for children with developmental disabilities. “I could teach students about Down syndrome or autism, but when they’re in the class, they make relationships with the children and the teachers,” she says. “Students see them as children first, instead of seeing them as their disabilities first,” she says. That more nuanced perspective doesn’t come from a textbook, and it also doesn’t come in a single afternoon.

Dow isn’t one to dismiss short-term opportunities out of hand. If a soup kitchen needs a couple of dozen extra people to help with a meal, those volunteers play important roles. But, she says, the real benefit to both the community and to the volunteers comes when volunteers truly commit to an activity, using it to reflect, to learn, and to grow.

The real question people should ask themselves about their volunteer work, says Dow, is not “What did you do,” but “What did you learn?” “That’s when you can say, ‘I worked in this area for a year and a half; I learned about access and barriers to medical care in language minority communities, for example. I learned how to run a meet-ing. I learned how to compromise.’ Service isn’t about checking off a box.”

Denison has created many long-term volunteer service relationships with organizations, including Newark City Schools, America Reads, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Many students who participated in the latter group continue to keep in touch with their “little siblings” long after graduation.

No matter what kind of service you choose to do, just make sure you do something.It’s good not only for the people and organizations you’re helping, it’s good for you, too. In fact, in a study review published in BMC Public Health, researchers found that mortality rates drop by 20 percent for those willing to “give back.” Volunteers are also less depressed and report greater life satisfaction.

Slow Research

Because 496,000 Results in 0.32 Seconds Aren't Sufficient

In the age of Google and Wikipedia, do we really need actual books on actual shelves, dusty papers in climate-con-trolled archives, or (shh!) librarians?

Denison’s Director of Libraries BethAnn Zambella admits she’s a little biased, but her answer is an unequivocal yes. For one thing, these online resources tend to encourage people to skip and skim without ever sinking their metaphorical teeth into anything. But if you head over to the archives or special collections section of a library you’ll likely come across materials you’d never find if Google is your only guide.In some cases, these discoveries merit national—and even international—attention. In 2009, for example, a researcher working in a London library archive discovered a trove of never-before-seen letters to and from Benjamin Franklin that largely focused on his correspondence with Gen. Edward Braddock. But even if a special collections search doesn’t lead to a historic find, in-person research offers a sensory experience that not even the highest screen resolution can match, says Denison’s Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Heather Lyle. You’ll never be enveloped by the beauty of centuries-old world maps if you see them only on a 13-inch laptop screen, for example, nor will you smell the glue of a book’s binding if all of your books are electronic. “Many of the old manuscripts from medieval times are on vellum—animal skin,” she says. “Being able to touch that is part of the learning experience.”

For Zambella, the real joy comes when visitors realize that all these materials—all the raw bits of life and history and people—represent not a burden, but an opportunity. “There comes a moment—and it’s magic for us—when we convert someone from ‘Help me fulfill this requirement’ to ‘Wow, I’m really curious, and I’m going to take some time to appease that curiosity,’” she says.

In a story about the Franklin letters in The Washington Post, staff writer Joel Achenbach wrote,“The discovery not only adds texture to a key chapter in early American history, but it also raises the question of what else about the founding generation might be lurking out there, overlooked or miscategorized in a library, or perhaps stashed in an archive in some distant land.”

 Love letters from your parents? An envelope that contains the locks from your first haircut? The tattered crayon drawing from your son who is now a Denison sophomore? Your Adytum? Oh, oh, oh! Or head to your local library and snoop around. You know, just for kicks.

Slow Journalism

Because Cat Memes Do Not Change the World

In his role at The Columbus Dispatch as managing editor for news, Alan Miller has learned how ravenous the paper’s readers are for up-to-the-nanosecond updates on breaking news. Even though reporters file stories the moment they have accurate details, it’s never soon enough. “Even if we’ve got an update in a matter of minutes, readers will jump on the comments to say, ‘Why aren’t you telling us the whole story?’”

That breakneck pace has its own thrills, but Miller argues that the real work of journalism percolates beneath the frenetic surface. And that’s why, when he teaches “Advanced Journalism” as a visiting instructor at Denison, he lets students explore important, powerful stories over the course of months.

While there is an addictive, clickable quality to “Top 10” lists and the latest celebrity scandal, we forget these things almost as soon as we finish the last sentence of the story. Miller aims to teach students—both as journalists and as readers—the value of having higher expectations for the work they read and create. It’s about more than page views. Tenacious, in-depth reporting has taken down presidents and sparked national discussions. And he hopes his students see that journalism can jump-start these conversations.

One year, for example, students in his class dug deep into the credit card culture on campus. Card companies were coming onto campus with armloads of goodies, from Frisbees to T-shirts, to lure students to get their own cards. “Kids were getting into financial trouble, and my journalism students saw this,” Miller recalls.

What could have been a quick-hit news story turned into a major feature in the Dispatch. Student reporters talked to bankers, to other students, and to college officials about what was going on—and why. They sought data to build a strong foundation for the anecdotes and quotes that they collected.

Then they spent weeks crafting a rich and persuasive story about how credit cards affect students. And though the problems were myriad, the story also included unexpected nuances, like the student whose card was the financial lifeline she needed when her father lost his job. In the end, the story came down hard on card companies’ on-campus practices and led to change. (Company representatives are no longer welcome.)

And for Miller, that’s the point. Breaking news will always get eyeballs. But the slower stories, the ones that were written with—and encourage—thoughtfulness and reflection, may have a more lasting impact. “My goal for these stories is to produce something that can lead to change,” he says. “I want those who read these stories to say, ‘You know, there’s some-thing here that needs to be fixed, and we’re going to fix it.’”

Investigative Reporters and Their Major Stories

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: Watergate

Robert Parry: The Iran-Contra Affair

Sharyl Attkisson: The Benghazi Attack

Andrew Ross Sorkin: The 2008 Financial Crisis

Ida Tarbell: The History of the Standard Oil Company

Sara Ganim: The Jerry Sandusky Scandal

Slow Food

Because Few Things are Bleaker than a Vending Machine Meal.

If you want a tomato, you can pick one up from your local grocery store. Or you can plant some seeds, then fertilize, water, weed, and cross your fingers for 10 straight weeks. Easy choice, right? Well, don’t tell that to the 43 million American households with food gardens.

Or the hundreds of students, staff, and faculty members who sign up to cultivate plots in Denison’s community garden each year.

While it might seem counterintuitive to spend hours of time each week growing vegetables that are readily available for a couple of bucks, Denison’s Campus Sustainability Coordinator Jeremy King ’97 says that there’s good reason that convenience doesn’t always trump everything else. “I can think of no cooler thing than to start something that’s just a small little seed and turn it into a plant with tons of tomatoes on it that’s all a result of your hard work,” he says. And unlike raising kids and pets, plants tend not to be nearly so temperamental. “Plants want to grow. Give them water, give them nutrients, and they’ll do the rest,” he says.

For people who work desk jobs, it can feel almost like a revelation to produce something that goes beyond pixels on a computer screen. “I see that faculty and staff especially are driven by the idea of just getting their hands dirty,” King says. For many, it’s also a way to feel better, both literally and figuratively, about the food they eat. Are those grocery store cucumbers covered in pesticides? Probably. And the spinach from the restaurant salad bar? Well, don’t think too hard about where that’s been. The best way to make sure you’ve got the healthiest possible food may just be to grow it yourself, says King.

And that grocery store tomato? It’s always there if you need it.

After slow-growing, don’t forget about taking it slow in the kitchen. Use a slow cooker to turn those veggies into delicious soups and sauces. There are plenty of recipes online, and slow cooker or crockpot cookbooks line the shelves of local bookstores. The benefits of slow cooking? Flavors have time to blend and meld; cheaper cuts of meat emerge tender after hours of cook-ing; and getting a meal ready the night before or first thing in the morning frees up your evenings to read a book or talk to the family. It might also help keep you away from the drive-thru lane.

Once it's established, maintain-ing a garden really only takes about two hours of your time per week, according to Burpee Home Gardens. That’s assuming you’ve got a relatively small plot of land. The bigger the garden, of course, the bigger the time investment.

The New York Times did a story back in 2010 called “The Rise of Company Gardens.” In it, writer Kim Severson cites some big companies encouraging their employ-ees to get growing. Among them, PepsiCo, Google, Yahoo, Aveda, and Kohl’s headquarters.

Takin' It Slow

Slow Growth

Because Your Stuff Matters Less than You Think

Associate Professor of Economics Quentin Duroy isn’t sure there’s any-thing more American than the mantra, “Work hard, play hard.” The only problem, he says, is that it’s a pretty terrible guiding philosophy. Our voracious appetite for more everything—longer working hours, bigger houses, newer gadgets—may give us higher incomes and thinner iPads. But what it doesn’t give us is happiness.

Indeed, Duroy says, while Americans’ inflation-adjusted income has soared since the end of World War II, it’s led to no greater levels of happiness. Then, as now, one-third of Americans say they’re happy.

And it’s why Duroy believes it’s time to take a closer look at the economic model that posits that we must always seek ever-stronger economic growth and productivity. “We’re getting to a point where the benefits we’re drawing from economic growth are starting to decline,” he says. “We might need to stop looking at growth and start look-ing at the variables that matter.”

Certainly, there are plenty of people opting out of the model that says we always need more to be happy. The tiny house movement—in which followers live in spaces of less than 400 square feet—has hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook. And the endless magazine cover stories that promise that we can “Clear Out The Clutter” suggest that we’re at least theoretically interested in a more minimalist lifestyle.

Want to be truly happy? There may be no perfect formula, but Duroy notes that health, education, and meaningful relationships with our family and friends typically move the needle more than an increase in income. “At some point, we need to ask ourselves, ‘Is this fast-paced life really making me happy? How much do I really need? What do I need that I don’t have now to have a satisfactory life?’” Duroy says. “Maybe we don’t need to work countless hours. Maybe we need to change the model to ‘Work well, play well.’

In fact, there are lifestyle choices like the Simple Living Movement and organizations like the Simple Living Institute, in which people employ “voluntary simplicity,” casting aside most of their possessions and 9-to-5 jobs in search of true happiness. One family featured in a 2008 New York Times article ditched most of their stuff, including their house, for an RV and a life on the road.

Unless you make around $75,000 a year, that is. Researchers at Princeton University have found that as incomes drop below that magic number, so goes the happy gauge. But they also found that higher incomes don’t necessarily bring on the glee.

Live in the city? Or new to the emerging gardening trend? Colin McCrate ’00 and Brad Halm ’02, for-mer Homies, authors of Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard, and co-founders of Seattle Urban Farm Company, can help. The pair offer garden design and provide consult-ing services for backyard and commercial gardens. They’ll even help you put a garden on your roof if you’re short on green space.

Published March 2014
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