The Kelly Writers House is a place for writers, for poets and for those who value the expression of self. To rewrite a cliché: it's a community for artists, created by artists. And artists like to make statements, especially about themselves and their art. That's why it was so surprising to sit in the audience of Brendan Lorber's talk. I expected that Brendan, Invited as a lecturer for the Kerry Prize Talk, would be talking about Lungfull!, his magazine, and the reason why he was invited as a speaker. Instead, he talked about triskaidekaphobia and the current political climate. "It did not start here and will not end there" was his message.

Referring to Kerry as a saint who helped found an invaluable community, Brendan commented that he felt that his talk should focus on something not quite so selfish as himself and his deeds, plenty as they may be. Thus, after reading a few of his poems, he launched into a speech about fear and its creation. It wasn't surprising to hear that Brendan didn't care much for the Bush administration, but it was surprising to hear him say that America's money came from wars and that Bush just happens to be more blatant about wars and its atrocities than our previous presidents. The information isn't new, but in a politically charged atmosphere where writers and poets are busy using their influence to wage a war of words against the current administration, it's always a refreshing change to hear something a little different.

The true intensity of the talk, though, came from Brendan's belief in self-expression. The problems didn't start here, and they won't end there, but we can combat it by believing in art, the expression of self. Living in a money-centric society causes all of us to seek a more satisfactory answer to the question "so what do you do for a living?" For each artist that gets recognition, there are so many others give up the dream for a job that is more socially acceptable - the "local musician's day job that became a real job." But Brendan is quick to note that even these people make a difference. They do so by trying to be different. For that reason, Brendan's talk managed to reach me more than most other talks presented at the Kelly Writers House. He reconciles the conservative values I was raised with and the more progressive values I'm growing to appreciate.

Growing up within the "Bible Belt," surrounded by conservative values, it's difficult trying to fit in at Penn, where conservatism is generally vilified. America is a land divided. As a general rule, the coasts are the lands of the progressives, but time is slow to move in the middle of the country. It's a place where art is something to be appreciated, not a profession to go into. Self-expression is encouraged, though not outside the home. Difference is tolerated, not accepted. People are nice and polite because it is socially unacceptable to be anything else. And the Kelly Writers House is a foreign concept. Listening to Brendan Lorber's talk reminded me that trying to be different is at least better than bending with the winds, that expressing yourself is important even if it matters to no one else but you. It's a message I somehow lost track of despite spending much of my waking time at the House.

 Phuong Alexis Nguyen