Sunday, January 8, 2017

BundleUp - Please Help!

Hello readers,

If you don't know me (which would make sense since I haven't posted in forever) my name is Maura McDonagh and I am a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying biomedical engineering and communication arts. While on campus I've been doing some cool stuff.

UW student organization BundleUp is raising money to purchase winter clothing to create "bundles" to distribute to the homeless in Dane and Green counties. This winter, BundleUp is seeking to provide winter clothing to 400 homeless individuals, double the amount of people helped last year. With your donations, we can achieve this goal.

Often times, people wonder what they can do to help homeless individuals they see asking for help. All donations through BundleUp go towards collecting winter clothing such as gloves, hats, socks, coats, and blankets to help those whose only way to bundle up and stay warm is through these basic necessities.

We at BundleUp are proud of what we have accomplished in the last few months, from increasing campus donation sites, to rebranding to even having a spot on the UW student radio station, WSUM. But right now, we are in dire need of raising money to purchase bulk orders of smaller items (hats, scarves, gloves and socks) to complement the huge excess of large/bulk items we have collected to complete the bundles.

Please donate if you can, and share if you can't!

Sponsor Us

Plus, be sure to visit our website here to find out more about what we've been up to!
Thanks for reading <3

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Music in the time of hipster

"I was into them before they got big," known as the classic hipster phrase. In today's fast-paced need-to-know attitude fueled by the web, there's a certain pride that comes with being the first to discover something, whether it be a novel scientific discovery or what year the actor from the movie you're watching who also starred in that T.V. show was born. And who his parents were. And what his life was like.

But what really concerns me is when this attitude is directed toward music. In a matter of weeks, an artist can go from being a rising star to just another one-hit wonder. It becomes uncool to like a song or a group after so many weeks of their fame. And that, to me, is very uncool.

Admittedly, I've been caught in the same trap. I've been quoted saying "I was the hipster before the hipsters," and "they were so good until they got big." But the fact of the matter is, the whole idea that good music has to be new or only appreciated by a small group of people to be considered good is ridiculous. Music is supposed to be uniting. There shouldn't be shame in enjoying something that a literal million other people also enjoy listening to.

The hipster sentiment is one I'm still trying to fight myself. I remember being upset when I was told most of my music consisted of "mainstream indie songs that everyone knows because it's been overplayed on XRT" not because it was untrue, but because it was insulting. And it was only until recently that I realized how ridiculous that feeling was.

On my Indieness playlist on Spotify you'll find just one song by Alabama Shakes, and I'm pretty sure you know which one it is. You'll also find several of Florence + The Machine's hits, The Cranberries' "Linger" and Vampire Weekend's "A Punk." Yeah, I'm into some pretty mainstream indie music. But I listen to what I listen to because at the end of the day, all I want is to sit with a cup of tea and listen to Ezra Koenig's voice while creating a giant to do list for tomorrow. I like what I like, and I'm not going to let anyone shame me because of that.

Whether you're into Taylor Swift or Igor and the Red Elvises, Mumford & Sons or Daft Punk, you have the right to enjoy what you enjoy and you shouldn't let anyone make you feel otherwise. Billboard hits are awesome, so are tunes made in garages in the summertime by teenagers who will never get famous.

Let's not make music one of those things that determines a person's worth. People are already finding enough ways to do it otherwise.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

We feel and think

It's been a while. I haven't even looked at this blog in ages. I've started so many posts and had so many ideas but it just never happened. I always found a reason to not post. In any case, I have decided that an update of sorts is due...

Today my best friend and I made up. And while I won't get into all the gory details (there was A LOT happening), I will say that a lot of the issues we had stemmed from miscommunication and just being close-minded or egocentric, on both sides. The making-up process was sobering and enlightening and just an all-around good conversation consisting of some frustration (but not infuriation) and laughing and a lot of "It's not about you."

So I feel like we're moving past that. And I don't want to rekindle it with this post. But I do feel that the uncomfortable situation and subsequent events have granted me an opportunity to talk about something that's applicable to everyone.

As much as I love to claim that I feel and not think, I know the statement isn't entirely true. There are times when I will sit down and consider my life, especially after an outburst of emotion. There are also times when she, who prides herself on her remarkable logical mind (which I simultaneously and consistently envy and fail to comprehend), simply can't ignore her feelings.

The fact is, we all feel and think. And the problem isn't that these two approaches/mindsets/processes exist simultaneously in society (and sometimes within the same person), but that we don't know how to reconcile them. Especially when it involves people of differing beliefs and customs. We all too often blame unfortunate outcomes on another's actions and attack their reasoning without looking at ourselves and realizing the damage that we have done and the role we have played.

It comes back to something I discussed in my 8th grade class, with our Facing History and Ourselves teacher: civil discourse. A huge topic right now is Ferguson... and it's complicated. I have my own opinions about the recent Grand Jury decision to not indict Darren Wilson. A lot of people do. But the backlash on all sides, for there are more than just two, is just not conducive to any type of change.

Shoutout our wonderful World Lit teacher who started a conversation with us. On top of that, she's given us so many pieces of wisdom ("It's not about you" and "It's complicated" among them). What truly resonated with me was a fact: our generation is the most well-read.

It seems simple. Of course. Because "we're connected." But think about that. We've seen the role of social media in organizing and fueling protests... and we've blamed Millennials for being too attached to their phones. And the fact is that they go together.

But I strongly believe (feel and think) that our generation has the capacity to be remembered as the one that caused great change, due in great part to the incredible advances in technology we've seen. But I believe that it is equally easy for our generation to become self-involved and let the ephemeral nature of Twitter and other social media platforms preclude the possibility of permanent change.

An amendment hasn't been made to the U.S. Constitution since 1992... it's our time. I think we have a lot of progress to make and a lot of people willing to try to make a difference.

It starts with a conversation... let's make some noise. But be willing to listen. And then act.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A short (but maybe not-so-sweet) one

So, it's been a while. I've actually been drafting a couple posts recently, but just haven't found the time to be able to finish them. School started today. And senioritis is definitely a thing. Never thought it would happen to me, but it has. One of my teachers started teaching in class and I wanted to groan out loud. But it's not that I don't want to be there, I just think of all the other things I could be doing. Anyway, that's the not point.

Today, while putting the dishes away, I was struck by a thought. Someone I nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge finally completed his challenge, and I was reminded of it. As if it had been years since I had seen a video, even though it had only been a week or so. The speed at which social media, and people, get over things is remarkably fast... and I think that's kind of bad.

But also, we're running into a problem. Or actually just coming more face-to-face with one after having danced with it for probably ever since we've existed. And it comes down to one thing: money. Compared to other diseases, ALS kills very few people. And the question is, how do we decided where to focus our research efforts, our money.

But first, as with many models, we must simplify the problem. So imagine we have the money just sitting there to be taken, there's no need for campaigning for a specific cause or anything, it's just there, waiting to be put to good use.

With this simplification you could look at the challenge in a purely economic fashion, dividing the funds proportionally to the number of deaths the disease causes per year. This is a seemingly fair distribution of capital. But there are some number problems. One being that as treatments that extend life and prevent death due to heart disease are found and people begin living longer and dying less, do you begin to cut back on the amount of funding just as researchers on on the brink of actually getting somewhere? It gets messy.

So there's the number reason. But there's also a personal one. Like the major kind of super huge big deal idea of how it is impossible to say one life is more important than another, which is essentially what you are doing when you split up funds in any way. You deciding whether someone lives to see another day in a purely cold, numerical way. In a way it comes back to the classic train (or is it a trolley) car example: kill the one to save the five, or let the five die? It's not a perfect connection (there's less of the worry about what role specifically you play because we're focusing on a decision that would not be dealt with so immediately, and the decision wouldn't be up to just one person) but it gives the idea, it asks a question: where do we draw the line?

As someone who hopes to enter the biomedical field someday, these are the questions I ask myself. Will I be able to find a way to feel comfortable with drawing some lines? Will some be forced one me?

Well, I should probably get back to my books and stop asking so many questions. Thanks for the 500 views!

Keeping the spotlight on ALS for a bit, I encourage everyone to watch Anthony Carbajal's inspiring (and also funny) story. He brings up another interesting point on why ALS isn't being studied by pharmaceutical companies, along with a lot of other cool stuff.

Also, I guess I lied. This wasn't short... or sweet. Whoops!

Friday, August 15, 2014

It's the middle of August...

School is going to start in less than three weeks. I have summer homework to do (except I don't actually know if any of my classes are solidified so I haven't started yet...), scholarships to apply for, a job to go to. A lot of things. And I'm kind of doing them. I've been good the past week, actually doing my laundry, buckling down on those scholarship applications, planning out my common app essay (gulp).

But the thing is, I've also kind of not been doing them.

Take right now for example. Right now I'm listening to "Linger" by The Cranberries, imagining who the song was written for and if anyone ever got unwrapped from someone's finger. And who's finger was it? Were their nails jagged and painted black, or perfectly manicured ovals? I think they were black. And isn't it interesting how "they" has become an acceptable gender-neutral pronoun for an unidentified individual (as opposed to always using "he")? Go feminists. Woah, Florence and the Machine was just playing... now it's Talking Heads... they're going by so quickly, like a never-ending tide of just music washing all over me.

You think this is bad? You should see me on the train. I may appear to be tuning out the world, checking emails and making sure my makeup isn't smudged on the way to work, tapping my feet and yawning on the way home. But I'm not.

If you think about, traveling (going to and getting from) places takes up a huge amount of time. Sometimes more than the actual time anyone actually does anything. I used to want to be able to skip transportation, it being such an expensive and time-consuming expenditure... but now I realize that my life, or anyone's for that matter, wouldn't be the same without it.

Because I'll tell you what I am on the train or bus, in the car or on my own two feet: I'm a witness.

I'm watching the people read/tweet/laugh. I'm imagining their lives, aware of how one of them is bound to have lost a mother/son/friend and wondering just how that might have hurt/shocked/left them. I also look like a tourist on the train. No matter how hard I try to pretend to be utterly indifferent to the passing scenery, there's nothing I can do to stop my gaping at the way the sunrise hits that window on the Trump Tower, and how the Sears Tower will always be the Sears Tower and nothing else because that's just what it is... and how it actually isn't because what something's called isn't what it is. And how what I just said has been said before, and is a quote... and I can't remember the author or find the specific quote right now and how that's bothering me and you'll have to trust me on it.

Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" is on, I'm thinking about how my mom just got mad at me because I forgot to wake her up when she asked me to (25 minutes ago). She and my dad were planning on seeing "Calvary," which sounds like a very good movie and is something I would like to see sometime. Too bad it's only playing at the Landmark Century right now and there is no train that goes there, only a bus because I don't like buses. Train people are different than bus people. I'm definitely a train person. I hope my parents do go. I feel bad.

Now a Red Hot Chili Peppers song is playing, which oddly made me think about how "Hotel California" was playing at work on Thursday and Friday, and how Mike was telling everyone about how the song is about purgatory, listing out the lyrics and trying to convince all of us. And how today he tried translating "sharing is caring" into Spanish, and asked for my help (to which all I could respond was "compartir es..." because there really is no direct translation of that type of "care" into Spanish.

So yeah.

That's what's going on my head right now. There's a commercial on Spotify, I guess I better get back to finishing Naviance (only three more questions!). You know, the things that I have to do. Despite the fact that there's always music in my head no matter that the music hasn't come back.

Monday, July 28, 2014

This is the latest I've stayed up in a while

Which sounds kind of pathetic for a 17 year old, but whatever, It's true. And to avoid the things that are actually making me stay up this late, I am going to write about things that are completely unrelated because that's what I do. It's not actually a terrible way of dealing with it if there's no active way you can go about solving it. When a situation is out of your control, avoidance is sometimes the best way to learn to let go... but that's getting a bit too much into what I'm trying to not talk about. So I'm going to think about all the things I did today and find something.

I had a long list of things to do today. And I intended to do all of them and then some. But I didn't get around to it and part of it's my fault, but part of it's I needed a break. I started working a real job this week. Not a school-based time suck like robotics or a start-up created by a student that requires little-to-no commitment. A job, an escape. A place I can go and be expected to do good things and get paid $10/hour and fill my head with thoughts about customers and wiping down tables. It's nothing glamorous, but it's exactly what I needed. My morning commutes are time to wake up and put on last-minute make up, my 8-hour shift is a blur of coffee orders and salsas and 3 minute food breaks, and my commute home is a glorious 45 minute train ride during which I realize that nothing feels quite so good as earning your own money and being able to have a place where you can go and just forget about the "real problems" of the long term like college and robots and just focus on the present. So, I've started working. And it's been pretty great.

But work leaves me feeling kind of drained and I usually go straight home to just pass out for 3 hours and stay up doing essentially nothing for a few hours until I take a shower and repeat. Today was the first day of my weekend. I woke up on my couch at 8am and made a list of all the things I intended to do. I had done maybe 1.5 of them by noon, when I just stopped. But I did read about the importance of reading obituaries, genes and Schizophrenia, what products Americans are buying less of today (gum and soda are on the list), and how if the solar flare of 2012 had occurred a week earlier our lives could've been profoundly changed. I drowned myself in knowledge, and I found joy in reading again. In reading to read and to be informed and to feel powerful. I took a shelfie with my bookshelf in a contest to win a gift card for a used book store and put on make up for it. At some point later in the day I touched my eye and now have a mascara beauty mark under my right eye and now feel like a wannabe Marilyn Monroe even though the mark isn't in the right spot at all.

I thought about handwriting.

I'm one of those people that prefers a book to a Kindle, a pencil to a stylus, and a notebook to a laptop. I'm a techy, don't get me wrong, but I think there's something profound about the smell of the binding of an old book and the charm that comes with knowing pages 101-104 are ripped out and being aware of the exact way to hold it so they don't fly out. But that's an argument for another day. What I specifically thought about today was handwriting. I make to do lists almost every morning to plan and prioritize and just be able to visualize the moving pieces of my life. And I think my handwriting's pretty decent. Maybe not on a whiteboard in the middle of build season, but if I put even the slightest bit of effort, it's legible. And that's kind of profound. There are the people who are capable of looking at the world and translating it onto a piece of paper with shapes and lines, artists who sketch and shade and are capable of capturing a scene and a moment and sharing it with the world. Writers are the same way, we just use words.

There was a time when handwriting was considered a crucial skill for students. When kids would spend hours working in ensuring their I's were dotted correctly and their L's were never accidentally crossed. There was an art of being able to communicate ideas and feelings with those around you. When letter-writing was one of the only ways to stay in touch with people. On a trip to Mascota, Jalisco earlier this summer, I took the time to write 4 letters to people back in the States. I beat them back here, the postal system in Mexico may be worse than the one in Chicago, but it didn't matter. Storytelling is a lost art nowadays. Children get read bedtime stories from iPads and dream about Mickey Mouse and the latest Disney characters. I'm not about trying to go back to the way things were, I just don't think we should abandon our pens just yet. Being able to physically get something down on paper is still necessary, but only if it's legible. We may need to revert to these "old-fashioned" ways if another solar flare occurs, just saying.

That was my entirely random, incoherent regurgitation of a days worth of the thoughts that go through my head, but only the ones I could remember. For now, I think I should actually go to bed.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


So, I've spent a lot of time this week after returning from Mexico catching up on what I missed out on. I was up-to-date on the World Cup, but I had been oblivious to everything else that happened for the two weeks I was gone.

The first shock when I came back was the horrible 4th of July weekend Chicago had, during which 82 people were shot and 16 of those victims had died. The Twitterverse responded rather quickly, using the hashtag "FixingChicago" as a way of generating awareness and share ideas on how to change the city. The issues range from violence to education and are all tangled up together in a web of politics, racism, and money.

Now, I've led a pretty good life on the North Side of the city, but I don't think that bars me from believing that something needs to change and having an opinion about maybe how we should go about doing that. It disgusts me how a city I love, at city in which I have spent most of my life, can be so broken. I'm not a first-hand witness to a lot of what goes on, but I'd love to try. I mean, at this point I think we're pretty desperate. 16 dead is 16 not alive and is 16 too many for the 21st century.

So there's a lot going on in Chicago all at once. But before we say "I spot a problem, let's do this and hope it'll go away," as we have done in the past, maybe we should look at how all these problems are related and find the most efficient way to go about solving everything. Yes, everything. I'm out to save the world, I think you should join me for the ride.

Now, hold on. Let's just make a nifty list of what these shifting problems, we'll call them variables so it's like math, are: gun violence, access to education, and public transportation are the biggies, at least that I see.

Now, let's dissect them, starting from the bottom:

Public transportation is a biggie because without it, a lot of people can't get around to school or work or wherever they need to go to be able to support themselves and prepare for their futures. It's a big deal. And when Ventra was launched, it was a hassle but ended up being pretty good to CPS kids, it's 75 cents a ride, with 15-cent transfers. Not terrible. But this summer, despite many kids being involved in school-related activities such as sports or summer classes, or having internships or jobs that'll have a great impact on their post-high school lives, the CTA bumped prices back up to full fare for students. But even when it is at a reduced price, the CTA doesn't go everywhere. There are areas of the city that are in desperate need of a bus service, but I haven't heard anything about that. So public transportation's a biggie that isn't being handled very well at the moment.

Education is a biggie for what I hope are obvious reasons, but let's look at how it's impacted by public transportation and how it impacts gun violence to really get a sense of what's going on. So, like mentioned earlier, CTA dropped the ball on fares for students this summer, and a lot of kids rely on public transit to get to school. Like, a lot a lot. So there's that. And also, it's been pretty much proven that when kids are in school (good, safe schools, specifically), they have less time to do other things like getting involved with the wrong people and the wrong things. But with all the recent school closings and budget cuts, students have been forced to travel farther (amplifying the dependence upon public transportation and the issues with it not being accessible by all students), which also means more time on trains and buses and less time studying. Education is powerful, we've learned it from Malala Yousafzai. It amazes me that people still don't understand this. If anything Chicago, a 131-year-old city, should know by now. So education's also a biggie.

Violence is a biggie because it's what's caused outsiders to call us "Chi-raq," what's made residents afraid, and what, most strikingly, has killed way too many mothers, sons, fathers and daughters. Now, it's also a biggie because it's what sparked the whole #FixingChicago movement a few short days ago. It riles people up, it provides hard data, and it needs to stop. And the thing is, I believe it can. With the new awareness this tragedy has generated, maybe it's time that people will start looking for a new, multi-faceted approach to truly fixing Chicago. The bandaid approach of patching up little issues here and there just isn't cutting it anymore. And in my opinion, starting from the bottom, with public transportation and education, it's possible to change the culture around here. So, I say, let's get kids to school in a fast, safe way, and then let's actually teach them some things with teachers who are well-qualified and want to be there, and then let's let them work out their own problems and make their own decisions. I feel like the numbers will drop.

So, that's my quirky kind-of-solution-but-more-like-an-explanation of what I think needs to happen and is currently going on in my city. These are my biggies, but there are many more issues, like medical care and food deserts, homelessness and minimum wage. So, forgive me, if I left out one of your biggies and you're upset. Maybe it's a good thing you're upset because maybe it'll inspire you to come up with your own kind-of-solution-but-more-like-an-explanation and share it with the world.