Tuesday, October 10, 2006


by Zinta Aistars

"Rudens," watercolor by Viestarts Aistars.

So opens another October:
with serene and golden face,
its blush still a secret kept close

to the aching of a summer heart,
as yet undiscovered. Autumn undresses
all the wounds of previous seasons

exploded, lush and vulnerable,
raw and naked to a thousand eyes.
Unashamed of its fiery suffering,

an honor well earned, if not deserved.
Denuded limbs soon exposed
to opening sky,

to be dressed in the white veils
of the sanctified.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lapsus Memoriae

By Zinta Aistars

Photo courtesy of Melissa V. Bowman

The week has been a long one,
even – the year, the decade,
this life spanning nearly
a half century but one.

Rain gathers in the crook
of an exploded Friday.
We used to say: thank God
it is Friday, day of release,

redemption of all weekday sins,
to be born into the weekend
a squawling babe, innocent
and clean. Pink. Smooth-skinned,

untouched. By anyone.
Even so and in spite, knowing
it was but illusion, wide
of the mark, always

just, and our lapsing
into the pleasantries of self
deception, an error
of flawed happiness.

Now refuted. It was laced,
it seems, and in retrospect,
with errors and slips, delusions
and momentary hallucinations,

a meandering of the lonely
hanging out, side by side,
gazing into the same

Monday, August 28, 2006


Tattered hair, in oily seep
along ever more sloping shoulders,
cap slumping to one side
as if Mother
has gone sloppy, no longer
giving a damn. Hell with this.
And why shouldn’t she shrug?
Worn to the nub, a faltering fatigue,
cracked spine, scarred hands, knotted joints,
a gimp in one hip, once so elegantly
swayed, rocking to the tide.
And we, her simpering brood,
once believed Atlases, proved to be slugs.
Heedless parasites, we suckled her
dry, a litter of squalling ticks pressing her
empty, leeching her anemic, crushing her bones
to dust and ash, our burgeoning
weight an unrelenting burden.
We roll, fat and bawling,
in her lap, at her feet, tugging at her skirts,
even now clinging in high pitched whines,
warring for her ultimate sacrifice:
a mother’s slow death for her offspring
of boundless appetite.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Just for Grins

Cover story for Spring 2006 Issue of LuxEsto, Kalamazoo College alumni magazine.

By Zinta Aistars

Paul Sotherland leans forward in his chair, and grins. No ordinary grin, mind you. This is the kind of grin that splits a face into bright light from ear to ear.

"Did you ever get that feeling" Paul says, "like something grabbing at the back of your head, or that tingling between your shoulder blades that grows out to your fingertips? That feeling when you first glimpse a fascinating set of data, a graph, or a new idea that you immediately know is significant in some way?"

If you were a biology student of Paul Sotherland, the answer is yes, you learned that feeling from Paul during experiences prefaced by the words “just for grins.” To honor their professor, and the miracle of his Just-for-Grins mantra, 14 graduates of Paul Sotherland’s science classes made the trek to Kalamazoo from various points across the country last November for a scientific symposium appropriately titled “Just for Grins.” Michael Finkler ‘91, Aaron Bommarito ‘97, Markus Boos ‘00, Sarah Bouchard ‘95, Karen Carney ‘93, Tara Darcy-Hall ‘97, Edward Dzialowksi ‘93, Tess Killpack ‘06, David Marcinek ‘93, Timothy Muir ‘03, Mairi Noverr ‘96, Wendy Reed ‘92, Brock Selbo ‘06, and Jeffrey Wilson ‘91 had felt that feeling, that tingling, that grab at the back of the head, and grinned for the sheer fun of pursuing their bliss in their newfound professions. They wanted their professor to know that.

Paul Sotherland has been teaching at Kalamazoo since 1985. The associate professor of biology and current chair of the biology department, received the Florence J. Lucasse Lectureship for Excellence in Teaching (1997-98), and the first Outstanding First-Year Student Advocate Award (2004). He teaches biology and a love for nurturing a life of the mind.

"The idea for a symposium came to me a year ago," says Mike Finkler, an associate professor of biology at Indiana University-Kokomo. I was driving home from the Indianapolis airport returning from a scientific conference which had also been attended by Wendy Reed and Tim Muir, also two of Paul's former students. I had been thinking about my upcoming sabbatical. I was planning to spend time at the University of North Texas where Ed Dzialowski, another of Paul's students, is an assistant professor. My mind turned to Paul and the incredible influence he had on my professional development both during and after my years at Kalamazoo College. 2005 would be his 20 year service anniversary, and it seemed fitting to put together an event to celebrate that milestone and to highlight the influence this one man has had on the development of so many excellent scholars."

With the help of biology department office coordinator, Mary Jane Holcomb, Mike was able to gather the contact information for a sizeable group of Paul's former students, and with surprisingly little effort, he convinced more than 14 of them to come back to Kalamazoo to pay their former professor their respects and, at the same time, connect with another generation of biology majors studying at Kalamazoo College. Each returnee agreed to give a presentation on their area of expertise in a daylong symposium. Topics ranged from printmaking and photography, nutritional ecology of freshwater turtles, maternal effects in the American Coot, locomotion in sauropod dinosaurs, allergic disease, and many others.

"The turnout was impressive," Mike says. "Eight of the speakers are instructors at other academic institutions, seven of them are professors, nine have doctoral degrees, and two are enrolled in graduate programs. It's easy to see how this postgraduate success ties in with Kalamazoo College's record of the proportion of its life sciences students earning doctorates."

That's a topic that gets Paul Sotherland especially excited. He attributes this success to the Kalamazoo Plan. "Some people say that the K-Plan is no longer unique because virtually all schools now offer internship programs, study abroad, and senior honors programs. But the fact that Kalamazoo College offers all these programs to nearly all our students, and that we build our on-campus curriculum around these experiences, makes our education unique and powerful."

While studies have shown that Kalamazoo College students do not consider themselves risk-takers upon matriculating, by commencement they often attribute becoming risk-takers—youth grown into adults who enjoy meeting challenges—because of the mix of rigorous academics accompanied by the experiential components of the Kalamazoo Plan.

Study abroad, says Paul, has proven especially transformative. "Adapting to new situations, learning to live with uncertainty, tolerating ambiguity, these are hallmark outcomes of the study abroad experience."

Paul is convinced that elements of the Kalamazoo Plan play a role in instilling or enhancing a love of learning that has translated into a positive trajectory of increasing numbers of postgraduate students emerging from Kalamazoo College.

“Compared to their peers,” he says, “on the average, Kalamazoo College graduates feel adequately prepared in their first year of graduate school. I think this reflects the fact that our students spend most of their junior year away while their peers at other schools are taking courses in their major. In the area of academic skills—research, reading, writing, and presentation—studies show that Kalamazoo graduates consider themselves better prepared than average.”

The symposium provided evidence of just how effective the Kalamazoo Plan can be. Each speaker concluded his/her presentation by acknowledging how interactions with Paul had given them direction and taught them far more than they expected.

Karen Carney, who now works on the Forestry Team of the U.S. Agency for International Development, says: “When I heard about Mike’s idea, I was thrilled. I thought it was a fantastic way to show how much Paul has meant to so many of us over the years. At the end of the day, I left the symposium with a real sense that we were all on the same team, all trying to build interesting, fun, and fulfilling lives. We had each found our own way of doing that, and I had this sense that we were all cheering each other on.”

The audience included alumni and current Kalamazoo College students as well. Connections were made, perhaps new fires lit, between graduates and undergraduates.

Karen says, “Having the opportunity to see our lives through the lens of an undergraduate was probably my favorite part. I totally got jazzed about helping them with the next steps in their careers and lives, and I also found an entirely new appreciation of my life choices and experiences. I also realized that I need to start listening to the advice I give out so freely. That is, don’t make choices for other people, don’t be afraid to try new paths, do take the initiative to get the job you want, and do realize that the process matters as much as the end goal. Lately, I have been obsessed with making my own career choices. The symposium reminded me: it’s all about learning, discovery, and fun. What a great gift!”

Paul calls this gift the “Fellowship in Learning.”

“Teaching is a noble enterprise,” he says. “There is an interaction between teacher and student that ignites a fire in both and is then spread to others. It is a teacher’s role to focus our attention not only on what we teach but whom we teach. I learned from my own teachers early on that science, biology in particular, is a human enterprise rather than just a pile of facts and theories to be memorized, understood, and enhanced. I learned that we can learn much by working with colleagues and students in this endeavor called ‘the study of life.’”

Markus Boos, a graduate student at the University of Chicago Medical Scientist Training Program, adds, “The great thing about Paul is that he is so accessible to students. This characteristic came up again and again at the symposium, but it can’t be overstated. As a first year, he was very intimidating to me. He was essentially my first college professor, and he seemed to know so much. Over the course of the quarter, I saw that he really cared whether we understood the material. When I look back from where I stand today as a medical student, I really see his influence on my life. My interest in medicine stems directly from my time in Paul’s classes, and my research requires me to apply, on a daily basis, principles that I learned in those classes. Even some of my pursuits outside the lab have been influenced by him. Together we organized the triathlon my senior year, and that got me running and biking a lot more (I was a swimmer in college); this past October I ran the Chicago marathon, and I don’t think I would ever have done that prior to the triathlon at Kalamazoo.”

“To teach at Kalamazoo College,” Paul says, “is to have an impact on a large number of world views, because we work very closely here with our students. We help them develop a clearer view of the world around them, and thereby have an impact on how they live their lives. When this is done with care, the results can be marvelous, and our indirect influence on the intellectual community can be enormous. All of us, our teachers and their teachers, our students and their students, are involved in this uniquely human enterprise of learning and teaching, and we are connected, one generation to the next, through relationships forged and ideas shared.”

It is Paul’s hope, and it appears a hope that is enthusiastically supported by his students, former as well as current, that the Just for Grins symposium will evolve into an annual event. If the first symposium was born of a wish to pay respect to a remarkable teacher, then the legacy would be to continue that exchange of ideas shared and relationships forged into future generations. When Paul speaks of a fellowship in learning, he travels back in Kalamazoo College time to President Allan Hoben (1922-1935) and Dr. Frances Diebold, professor emeritus of biology, recalling their influence and teaching.

“Through research being done by my colleague, Bob Stauffer in sociology and anthropology, I am learning about the early influences at the College and of the more recent effects of the Kalamazoo Plan,” he says. “Providing an academically challenging and supportive environment is a long-standing tradition at Kalamazoo, extending all the way back to the College’s founders. A fellowship in learning, President Hoben’s sage aphorism, captures this tradition and conveys a compelling message about who we are today and who we need to continue to be in the future. Are there ways to make this ‘Fellowship in Learning’ more palpable, bring it closer to the surface, to help guide our decisions and actions?”

A part of learning is continuing to ask questions. Scientists know that every new discovery and every enhancement made on a previous discovery begins with asking questions and testing the many possibilities.

Paul adds, “A college education is not acquired, or given, or purchased; it is built, piece by piece by apprentices working with, and learning from mentors. All of us—faculty, administrators, support staff, facilities management staff, trustees, and students— are in this endeavor together. And all of us ought to feel mighty good about our collective handiwork.”

Good enough to grin from ear to ear. That’s how the phrase was coined among those who have sat in Paul Sotherland’s classrooms. In the midst of serious scientific discussion, a sudden spark would appear in the professor’s eye. A grin would spread across his face. “Just for grins,” he would say, “let’s consider this possibility…”

And the class knew—they were about to embark on a new tangent, a new discovery, another adventure.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mars Retrograde

by Zinta Aistars

Portend this day from that day:
disjointed dreams and pale gold flights.
Open two palms, hinged at thumbs,
to release the final fledgling,
damp-feathered bundle,
trembling with newborn hopes.
Will she fly? Will she?
Out of that pale gold sea
of yesterday. Lay waste
the fields of fire
where now only embers gleam.
A moment of peering
into my own ancient eyes
of so many lives ago,
wondering if I might have missed
a whispered warning, a clue,
a Morse-coded map
tapped with two soft finger pads
into this emptied palm
or with one knuckle
at the third eye between my two
to find its open door,
to have been a better guide
for such a stumbling path.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Leg Up!

By Zinta Aistars. Published in LuxEsto, Kalamazoo College alumni magazine, Spring 2006 issue.

In his sophomore year at Kalamazoo College, Jothy Rosenberg '78 was told he wouldn’t live to be a junior. He had lost his right leg to osteogenic sarcoma at age 16 and the cancer was in his left lung.

"The doctor told me no one had ever survived this kind of cancer metastasizing," Jothy recalls. It was the early 70’s, and chemotherapy was a relatively new concept in cancer treatment.

Jothy submitted to an experimental treatment for ten months and surgery removed the diseased lung, but his odds remained the same in the doctor's eyes — zero.

Jothy's eyes, however, were focused on another horizon. If he had only a little time left to him, he thought, he might as well spend it skiing. All his young life he had been an athlete. In high school, he held a state record in swimming, played football, hockey, and baseball. Jothy packed up his car, left Kalamazoo College, and headed west to the snowy mountains.

"Two quarters went by as I skied in Utah, and when I saw the snow melting, and realized I was still very much alive —" Jothy smiles, "I figured it was time to go back to Kalamazoo and resume my studies."

Although he was born in California, Jothy grew up in the Detroit area, son to two physicians. His brother, Michael, graduated from Kalamazoo College in 1975 (and also went on to become a physician), so Jothy had an eye on the College early. "I liked that it was a small school with a personal touch, and study abroad attracted me," he says. "I had teachers with whom I had great relationships, but perhaps none more instrumental than Professor Thomas Jefferson Smith. These were the days before computers, so he actually spent two to three extra hours for each class that I missed due to chemo, sending handwritten notes to me at the hospital so that I could keep up. He allowed me to take open book tests from home, and worked hard to make it possible for me to keep up with my studies. And Bob Kent, who coached the swim team, allowed me to work out with the team even though I couldn't compete. That helped keep my self-esteem strong as well as to keep me in shape. This is what typifies the 'K' experience for me. Kalamazoo College respects students, and puts students first."

Jothy did not decide on a major for a long time. Struggling to get and stay healthy, he put special value on enjoying life. "There was no real method to my madness back then," he says. "I took physics, but didn't enjoy it. I switched to history. While I was sick, I read the 13-volume set of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire because I love history. But then I also started taking math classes, and I had no idea what to do with math. But that didn't matter. Math was fun. So I finally declared my major in mathematics."

Too sick to go on study abroad his junior year, Jothy was able to go to Strasbourg during his senior year. He purchased a car in Europe, modified to his needs with a left-footed accelerator, and toured the continent, after which he arranged to bring the car back to the States. For his career development project, Jothy worked in the same hospital where he had been treated. "I met Carole [Hohl] there. She was a medical technician, and I was a computer geek in the back room," Jothy recalls. The two of them went on to graduate school at Duke (Jothy earned a Ph.D. was in computer science), then married in 1981, when Jothy was given a clean bill of health.

With their two-year-old son Brendan in tow, the Rosenbergs moved to Durham, North Carolina, where Jothy became the vice president of a non-profit microelectronics research firm. They would eventually return to Duke so that Jothy could teach computer science at his alma mater for five years, "but I felt the constraint of the academic world when I wanted to spend time building a new kind of supercomputer. I decided to take the plunge at a new start-up business of my own, and where better to build a supercomputer than in Silicon Valley. We moved to California."

The start-up was called MasPar Computers, and Jothy headed up a team of 12 as senior software developer and manager. Two more Rosenbergs joined the family: Zachary and Joanna. After four years with MasPar, Jothy was lured away by the opportunities presented to him by Borland International, where he was hired as vice president and general manager. But Jothy was not one to stay in one place for long. By 1997 the East Coast called Jothy back once again as Borland transferred him to be General Manager over a company in Boston they had just acquired.

“My children weren’t very happy with me for making a move across the country,” Jothy says. “It took them a while to forgive their dad. But today, my son Zach is a diehard Red Sox and Patriots fan, and the family grew to love the rich culture of the Boston area. When a chance to return to California came up again years later, I passed it by.”

Jothy became the CEO and chief technology officer of another start-up company, GeoTrust, focusing on problems of Internet security. “The Internet is a hot entrepreneurial area, but many consumers are not comfortable using it because they are not sure they can trust it. We developed monitoring tools that allow Web site owners visibility into their users.” Jothy wrote two books, one from his debugger work at MasPar and Borland, and one from his expertise on Web security: How Debuggers Work (1996), and Securing Web Services with WS-Security (2004).

Although Jothy Has changed jobs many times, he has remained steadfast on his connection with Kalamazoo College and his enthusiasm for physical fitness. He served as president of the 1833 Society, and he helped the College build a secure Web site.

“I’ve always looked for ways to give something back to Kalamazoo College,” he says. “I want to do whatever I can to help the College remain strong and true to its principles, a place where more students could have the incredible kind of support I had.”

Challenges continue to fuel the furnace of his will and motivation. The same year that he began his start-up company in Boston, 1997, a friend asked him to sponsor her on an AIDS fundraising bike ride from Boston to New York. “Too bad you can’t do that,” she said.

Say what?

Jothy does not use a prosthetic leg when riding a bike, because he found it to be a dead weight. He clips into the left pedal (there actually is no right pedal) and pulls up as well as pushes down. He attaches folding crutches to the back of the bike for mobility when he needs to stop and move around. Each day he rode the bike, increasing his distance, working up from a half mile to 25 miles, then longer. The next year, in 1999, Jothy rode 375 miles in the AIDS bike ride from Boston to New York, and then continued to participate in fundraising bike marathons every year thereafter.

“That first year it was really about me,” he says. “I had to prove to myself that I could do it.”

Since then, Jothy has been on the Northeast AIDS 350-mile bike ride, the Lance Armstrong Ride for the Roses (an annual spring fundraiser for cancer survivors), and the Pan Mass Challenge bike ride for cancer research. He has also participated in the Alcatraz Swim in San Francisco, raising money for Boston Healthcare ride for the Homeless, the Provincetown Harbor Swim for AIDS, the Marblehead Swim for Help for Abused Women and Children, and others.

“I train every day,” he says. “I’m a maniac about exercise. I ride 100 miles on my bike and swim 5 miles a week to keep in shape. This, my twelfth year, I did my personal best in the Alcatraz swim at 37 minutes and two seconds, coming in with the first 100 finishers. It’s a powerful and moving moment for me every year.”

As Jothy emerges from the water at the end of his swim, the crowd watches as someone, usually his daughter Joanna, walks into the water to meet him with a pair of crutches. “There is this dramatic transformation in the crowd as they go from questioning why this person needs crutches to seeing me come slowly out of deep water. They roar their appreciation and encouragement as they realize the reason.”

The same effect keeps Jothy pumping on his marathon bike rides. “Way to go!” someone will call out, or, “You inspire me!” “You’re my hero!”

“My family threatens to wear ‘We’re with Jothy’ T-shirts next year to get some attention, too,” he laughs. “My personal favorite is—‘Great leg!’”

In 2005, Jothy raised more than $14,000 for causes sponsored by his swims and bike rides.

New challenges beckon. Recently, Jothy accepted a position with a Portland, Oregon fabless semiconductor company called Ambric while remaining an advisor with his last start-up, Service Integrity, back in Boston.

“I am being asked to tackle what I consider a grand challenge at Ambric,” he says. “It’s been an elusive dream for 25 years. Ambric's technology is the first example of 21st century computing that is real and practical, It's the first departure from 1950's computing approaches. I like to call it 'software at the speed of hardware'.”

Not wanting to give up home base in Boston, the Rosenbergs have decided, at least for now, not to move to Oregon, so Jothy keeps an apartment in Portland. He works in Portland for two weeks, then flies home to Boston to work for one week. “I keep up with my workouts,” he says. “I joined a club in Portland with a great pool, and I get in about 2,500 yards per day. I am having a bike built for me to use in Portland, and the good news is that you can ride year round if you don’t mind getting wet now and then. In Boston, I have to put my bike up in November and can’t use it again until April. When I am home, Carole and I continue our favorite workout together: we ride 12 miles to Walden Pond, swim across and back (about one mile total), then ride home. I don’t bother with crutches on the bike for that. I just ride the bike right to the water’s edge.”

Another new challenge has caught Jothy’s interest. For years, he has been asked to tell his story. People want to know how he has learned to deal with adversity and cope with disabilities. “I’m working on my third book. The first two were about software, but this one is my own story. I want to remove the word ‘considering’ from people’s descriptions of my accomplishments. I never want to hear ‘he’s good, considering…’”

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Raits Aistars - In Memorium

Photo of Raits Aistars with his grandson, Anders Raits Aistars, 2004

Photo of Raits and Anda Aistars, wedding day, 1964


For my much loved uncle Raits,
March 13, 1933 - January 2, 2006

Ka lai atvados?
Vel paliek nepateikts vards,
neizstastits stasts, neaizlikts solis,
neatdots glasts.

Vel vienu dienu gribejas lugt -
vel vienu, tik vienu,
bet no Tevis vairs tik paliek
sirdij mila atmina
aiz peksni aizslegtam durvim.


Photo of Raits and brother Viestarts Aistars in military, ca. 1955

Photo of Raits and grandson

Photo of Raits and grandson

(translation from Latvian)

How to say goodbye?
Still that unspoken word,
the untold story, the step not taken,
the caress not yet given.

One more day
I wanted to ask -
one more, just one,
but there remains of you
only a cherished memory
behind a suddenly
closed door.


Photo of the Aistars' men: l-r, Janis, Raits, father Ernests, Viestarts, Aivars