the undergraduate journal of humanities
cover art Nicole’s art explores issues of loneliness, failed communication, and a ruined world. She uses cartoon-like characters with few distinguishing features to create a feeling of removal. At the same time, she tries to create environments or situations that urge at least some identification to these distant figures. Sometimes with or without arms, sometimes male or female, these “little guys” always seem to lack full agency in their surroundings. The cover piece is a serigraph of a hand-drawn image. In addition to printmaking, Nicole also works with artist books and video.
1. (Cover) Search Party / 14” x 25” / Serigraphy 2. On Clearance / 9” x 15” / Etching 3. En Este Mundo / Artist Book / 5” x 7” x 1” 4.
4. ...and the greatest of these is loneliness / 36” x 24” / Serigraphy
Idea Rack / Amanda Schmitt / Varied / Found Objects
Table of Contents Spring 2009 Poetry
virginia dearest, leah schmid montmartre, roxanne gentry the crocodile boy, kari rongstad lost in translation, lee crickman how the raven stole the sun, moon, stars, amelia foster lacuna, allison lake ballad for an ailing grandmother, sarah michaelis lunch, amelia foster she and her virginity, erin bannen long distance, katie malchow
4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Prose the talk, ryan heraly pebbles, maura crowley the eighth floor, evan hall 27 30 34 36
14 18 22
unkoolspace, sean stewart city of lights, gavin mccabe weir
red cliff partnership, gavin mccabe weir a learning experience in prison, andrea bromley
Letter from the Editor
Staff Editor-in-Chief Layout Editors Layout Assitants
Sandra Knisely Elizabeth Barth, MaryJo Fitzgerald Kara Kopec, Mary Chen
Art Editor Art Reviewers
Kate Campbell Gayle Cottrill, Zahra Haider, Kerry King, Alaura Seidl
Copy Editor Emily Smolarek Copy Editing Assistant Cailly Morris Essays Editor Paulina Schemanski Essay Reviewers Amanda Detry, Eamon Doyle, Paul Waldhart, Jamie Utphall Poetry Editor Poetry Reviewers
Cara Dees Andrew Averill, Gerilyn Hisiger, Adi Lev-Er, Rachel Bindl Andrew Averill, Hannah Graber
Prose Editor Prose Reviewers
Caitlin Gath Michelle Czarnecki, Anna Wehrwein, Patrick Johnson, Carolyn Lucas, Ashley Dinauer
Wisconsin Idea Editor Wisconsin Idea Reviewer
Kate Neuens Savannah Camplin
Publicity Director Submissions Editor Web Editor Wisconsin Union Publications Committee Director Advisor
Sarah Ackerman Sarah Horvath Mary Chen Annie Kleinert Vickie Eiden
Board of Advisors: Al Friedman, Richard Brooks, Carrie Kruse, Elizabeth Owens, Jim Jacobson, Kathi Sell, Ken Frazier, Mary Rouse, Ron Wallace
Dear Readers, Welcome to the eighth issue of UW-Madison’s only student-run undergraduate humanities journal. This semester we witnessed an increase in the quantity and quality of submissions, and I hope you enjoy our varied selection of work by some of the university’s most talented writers, scholars and artists. Beyond production of the journal, our staff continues to foster creativity on campus. We regularly host open mic events and receptions for our art gallery in College Library’s Open Book Cafe, and this February we partnered with the Chadbourne Residential College for two new reading events. Illumination also remains an important cornerstone of the Wisconsin Union Directorate Publications Committee, and we are especially grateful to WUD this semester for providing Illumination with an office in the Memorial Union. This issue is personally bittersweet for me as it is my last. After four eventful years as a member of Illumination, I will graduate in May. I have watched the journal through its many incarnations over the past semesters, and I am proud of where the Illumination organization is today. I wish future staff and submitters the best of luck as Illumination continues to publish high quality work, and I look forward to becoming an avid reader of the journal long into the future. As always, thanks to the many advisors, supporters and friends of the journal who help Illumination grow and thrive. I encourage you to stay in touch with us via our website at http://illumination.library.wisc.edu. Cheers,
Mission The mission of Illumination is to provide the undergraduate student body of the University of Wisconsin-Madison a chance to publish work in the fields of the humanities and to display some of the school’s best talent. As an approachable portal for creative writing, art, and scholarly essays, the diverse content in the journal will be a valuable addition to the intellectual community of the University and all the people it affects.
Lemuel R. and Norma B.
Vicki Tobias, Dave Luke, Andrew Gough, Eliot Finkelstein, Kelli Keclik, Adam Blackbourn, Gary Sandefur, Jenny Klaila, Ron Kuka, The Font Bureau, Inc., Magdalena Hauner, David Null, Pamela O’Donnell, Chris Kleinhenz, Tom Garver, Lee Konrad, Bill Reeder, John Fink, Jeff Rolling, Paul Broadhead, Mark Hanson, Troy Suski, Nancy Lynch
Special Thanks to John D. Wiley, who established sustainable funding for Illumination and the Friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library, which provides Certificates of Achievement and honoraria for select literature and essay pieces.
Artist Index Nicole Powers Lauren Morrison Mary Beth Johnson
cover 4 5, 37
Amanda Cheung 6 Katie Gallik 7, 30 Allyson Hanz
11, 12, 13
14, 20, 21
For more information and to submit work visit our website at http://illumination.library.wisc.edu.
Open your legs And brandish a sword And you’ll learn How the world HATES Femaleness The pink, pouting lips New Shiny Like the disembodied heads Of my Barbie dolls Smiling, decapitation At my brother’s hands Pristine plastic lives Cut off By brute maleness Find your love At the hands of midnight And as Cinderella’s pumpkin You’ll be full Of sinew and seed, dumb And mute With daybreak Escape is impossible From the stifling Of manhood Invading your body Invading you To conquer The unruly way You glance sideways Love is what you call The brand of things You loathe parting with A pair of shoes Laced over the heart To dress it up To keep it dry
Bird in Space / Lauren Morrison / 24” x 48” / Oil paint, collage, wire, and screen
Duck Hunter / Mary Beth Johnson / Photograph
roxanne gentry There was somewhere that smelled liked coffee, cafĂŠ, whatever. It tasted like every other scent and oil paint, oranges, rain. God was perched on the top of the hill in travertine: above sin and within it. And the cloud came with all the fury of nature, smelling like people and coffee and wet cobbles. It stormed with the fury of love born out of hate. I think that some people would call that God. But I call it oil paint, oranges, and rain.
the crocodile boy
kari rongstad A boy in Australia broke into a zoo one morning and killed 13 animals. He wrestled tiny limbs, scraped off their scales, twisted their tails to bloody stubs, clamped and cupped birds with chubby hands and pulled taffy heads from taffy bodies. He did not flinch. He put the pieces in his pockets. A surveillance camera caught his crawl to the crocodile pool. He fed them bits of turtle and lizard; he was seven years old and did not fear their chainlink backs and rolling spines, their slick oil eyes that pooled on the water. He left the zoo quietly, wiping his dirty hands on his pajamas. He crept back into his bed and waited to weep big and dark, tough-fleshed tears.
Hans / Amanda Cheung / 20â€? x 20â€? / Etching, ink
Growth / Katie Gallik / 12”x12” / Relief print
lost in translation
lee crickman serious films mistaken for b grade metallic space suit movies. a blob oozing neon down brick black city streets. an avocado of terror— pit pulsing, bursting cracks in thick witted skin, brackish, concrete, pliable, the color of shadow, available only with the 124 pack of crayola crayons, none of that roseart bullshit. don’t want just orange want burnt sienna, don’t want just blue want robin’s egg. no kid knows how to say cerulean, in france they don’t even have the word. i whip out my language guide, “salut, est-ce que vous avez vu l’avocat de terreur?” comes out “hello, i am a shiny green sedan.”
Metamorphose II / Allyson Hanz / 10â€? x 22â€? / Softground and hard ball ground etching
how the raven stole the sun,moon,stars
This poem was selected to receive a Certificate of Recognition and $200 honorarium by the Friends of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Library.
Close your eyes, and now you see where we started. I was 16 years old when my father put the stars in a box, the sun in a box, put me in one too, oh wait, that was the moon; and inside me grew: pine needle raven boy. Sneaked inside me at the midnight river. Close your eyes, and see my childhood of empty sky and empty throat; I pushed water down, filled my belly with dark waters, swallowed grainy earth and felt satisfied, to keep it, to keep him, between the wet grit, keep the raven inside since he was still white, and still seducing me, childish, from his pine tree roost. He came out as a baby boy against my grizzled faced father. My father, melting amidst his cries handed raven boy box after box. Each with light split seams with cries for release that I echoed. Through the chimney, my baby flew out smoldering, left me to tell how a dark drink of water brought me a child and then later each scar on the blue bellied sky.
allison lake The olfactory center in the brain is so close to the memory center that a stinging nose full of Lysol can eradicate a day’s occurrences, causing electrical malfunctions, millions of dead neurons. The hope is that prolonged exposure will exterminate a whole life: every Sunday, putting away, spraying, wiping her out. With every inhale, cleaning up the tragedies she left. We want to forget as perfectly as she forgot, the brain uncluttered by familiar faces and words, even how to swallow. We know the mind is able to eat itself, to slowly melt—the hemispheres cracking apart, the widening sulci. With an electric shudder, the mutter of voltage deep in the sea horse hippocampus, she is neater, still the smell of dissolving flesh.
Pill Box Amulet, containing the healing power of coral / Samantha Gray / 1” x 4” x 1” / Fine and Sterling silver and coral
ballad for an ailing grandmother
sarah michaelis Here with you, submerged in the scent of amnesia, I am waiting for your pull. But we are the crease of an elbow—joined and never knowing how. I was brewed by you in your kettle of nerves, teaching me the ways a heart could gasp; how the creep of thunder never felt more like dying. You rewarded me from the belly of your recollection: swoop line dresses, lips like the skin of a Red Delicious, rollers that teased the scalp into submission. Then the water cooled in its ceramic embrace and you shifted to the past tense. I saw you like the remnants of an erased sketch and you saw nothing but the blank sheet. I sit drinking the lapsed water, heavy beneath the tongue, the shroud of our bond torn by hollow glances.
“I Don’t Think I’ll Make it to Your Graduation...” / Dana LeMoine / 22” x 30” / Intaglio
99¢ / Jan Brugger / 36” x 36” / Oil on canvas
We ate Italian sandwiches on thick, white bread, the mozzarella not quite warm enough but still spitting lines of grease into the creases of our palms. We let it collect there as we picked basil leaves from between our teeth, let the oil stream until it reached our wrists, became too familiar, and we wiped our hands against paper napkins, embarrassed. We were with his parents that afternoon, and I saw the way their eyes monitored our meal. There was some talk of work and weather, but we soon settled into a silence. his white skin known better blooming under my sticky fingered touch
she and her virginity
erin bannen she is 12 and she and her virginity are wrapped up tight with red yarn so they can barely breathe together. I want to hear the snipping of tight red fibers cut and blooming into a hundred releases. I want her hands, courageous and untied, to go exploring. I want her to touch the deep core of who she is, and stretch away that pain for the first time and bring herself into the world of coming. she is 12 and her untying should not have to be her wedding night.
I Want to Tell You Everything...but it’s None of Your Business / Jan Brugger / 11” x 14” / Screenprint
Come With Me / Jan Brugger / 3’ x 4’ / Acrylic on canvas
katie malchow Worries woven into wishes, tissue-wrapped, and sent across the ocean. I think of you too often. Palm open to a stone’s kiss. Green sea glass smoothing the whorls of my fingertips. Motionless against passing seconds, I’ve loosed thoughts of you upon this stone, friction forcing these troubles to fester like cancer in my bones. Leagues between us: if you were in the ocean, I’d boil it.
the talkryan heraly
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had and add some extra, just for you.” -Philip Larkin
Regular Metrics / Karl Bollig / 22” x 30” / Mono Print
here’s an x-ray photograph of my intestinal tract on the other side of the room, hanging just above the black garbage bag one of the nurses gave me for my clothes. She tied it tight, and placed it inside of another bag. The sticky stench stains the room. “Believe it or not, I’ve seen this kind of thing before.” Dr. Bauman keeps his eyes on the x-ray. His jaw is clenched, and he avoids eye contact. Then he turns to face me, his eyes directed down at his clipboard. “The guy with the light bulb,” he shakes his head and cracks a smile, looking at me now, “now that was a delicate operation.” He looks at my fingers, clasping the silver cross around my neck. I place it under the blue hospital gown, against my skin. “This operation should be quick and easy,” he says. “Don’t tell my wife.” Dr. Bauman looks down at the clipboard. “Marilyn. Correct?” “Yeah.” My bulging intestines glow blue and white across the room. “What would you like me to tell her, exactly?” My eyes move from the x-ray down to the floor, to the garbage bag with my pants and shirt, covered in shit and vomit. This isn’t just a bad day. This is atonement. That black garbage bag, it’s my own little ransom payment. This is all bad enough, there’s no need to make it worse. I look at Dr. Bauman, who probably thought today would be just another day. He can’t wait to tell all his doctor buddies about me. That much is clear from the smirk on his face. And I say, “Make something up. You’re the doctor.” Then I remember Marilyn’s Mexican Lasagna. The dinner she made tonight, just three hours ago. I couldn’t eat more than two bites of without gagging. The spicy beefy cheesy dish she knows I love. “Tell her it was food poisoning.” Dr. Bauman doesn’t say anything. He just nods his head and scribbles something down on his clipboard. When he finishes he says, “Would you like to tell me how this happened?” Gritting my teeth, I search for something to say. Maybe I fell in the shower. Maybe…
prose “And don’t tell me you fell on it.” Dr. Bauman smiles as he reminisces. “Everyone is always falling on something. Car keys, shampoo bottles.” He shakes his head and laughs. “Cell phone— that guy had three missed calls in surgery.” When you want to be forgiven of your sins, in most religions, you find your priest or pastor or spiritual leader, and you confess your sins. Tell them all your deep dark secrets. The income you didn’t claim on your taxes last year, or the year before that. The time you told your wife you had a late meeting when you were really getting hammered at the strip club for a coworker’s birthday party. The fantasies you have about bending your secretary over in the conference room after hours. That one always gets their attention. Then you are forgiven. It’s like wiping your soul clean with holy toilet paper. Fresh as a baby’s bottom. Donations work too. Dr. Bauman tells me about the guy with the flashlight. He said he was looking for something. It didn’t even have batteries in it. He tells me about the patient with a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s Syrup. You have to make time for breakfast, he tells me and laughs. Think back to Friday, just before Marilyn and the kids got back from visiting her mother. She had called around two or three. Said she would be back by six at the latest. An hour later I lost the cap to my shaving cream can. No time to panic. Things would just work themselves out. Friday is pizza night. Marilyn makes the best chicken fettuccine pizza. She sits across the table, shaking Parmesan cheese on her pizza. She is very quiet, looking at Daniel and then at me. “So. How was grandma’s?” I ask Daniel. “Boring,” he says as he plops another piece of pizza down on his plate. “Daniel, that’s not nice.” Marilyn scolds. “You had fun.” “She only gets like three channels.” He takes a giant bite of pizza. “She doesn’t even have the Internet. It’s like a desert island or something.” Marilyn looks at me, giving me a glare that I’ve seen before. The way her brows sink forward in the middle, her eyes unblinking, lips pulled tight; that means we have to talk. “I think maybe you need to spend a little less time on the Internet and in front of the television and maybe spend a little more time with constructive activities.” “Like what?” It’s almost like there’s a fuse running across the table. Burning its way around the plates and glasses of milk or soda. Past the pizza and then splitting off into two directions, toward Marilyn and Daniel. She looks at me, giving me a slightly different variation of “the look” that means it’s time to back her up. When I don’t say anything, she says, “Why not join the after school youth group? Your friend Billy is in it. He’s a nice boy.” “He’s a spaz.” Marilyn’s eyes get wide, then very narrow. She looks at me before I’m able to stop grinning. I take another bite of pizza. “Pizza’s good,” I say. She turns her glare back toward Daniel. “That’s enough.” He
takes another bite of pizza, but he’s not smiling anymore either. “You’re finished with dinner. You may go to your room.” Then she looks back in my direction, and I’m wiping pizza grease from my face. “Your father and I need to have a talk.” Dr. Bauman tells me about salami. A curling iron. A frozen pig tail. After dinner, Marilyn corners me in my room. We’ve been sleeping in separate rooms for nearly five years now. She says she sleeps better at night when she doesn’t have to listen to me snore. “We need to talk about Daniel,” she says, sitting on the edge of the twin size bed. Daniel is our only son. When Marilyn was pregnant with him, she was always rubbing cocoa butter onto her skin. Or Vitamin E oil. Tretinoin cream. When she got out of bed in the morning, she’d leave a big greasy shadow of her body on the sheets. She would spend hours in front of the mirror, her swollen belly exposed, meticulously scrutinizing her body. Searching for the earliest sign of a stretch mark. Pinching at places that had once been firm and smooth. His birth marked the death of our sex life. After he was born, Marilyn said she didn’t want any more kids. According to Marilyn, sex isn’t about desire or love. It’s about fulfilling our duty to God. Procreation. To her, it was just a necessary evil. “What’s up?” I ask. The sex was terrible anyway. The way she sees things, there is only one way it can and should exist. Between a man and woman. And this man and this woman, once they are married, they can forget all about the Kama Sutra. There’s just one position sanctified by God. And forget about birth control. A couple doesn’t have the right to have sex simply for pleasure. Marilyn once said that if we were to give in to our lustful desires, there would be no difference between us and the animals. And don’t even think about leaving the lights on. “The other day I checked my e-mail,” she says, then lowers her voice to a near whisper. “Then I happened to check the browser history.” My face flushes hot. Stay calm. Retain eye contact. My mind traces back through the events of the afternoon, and I can’t remember whether or not I deleted the web history. When I don’t say anything, she says, “I think our son has been viewing some very questionable material.” Play dumb. “Questionable material?” Soft-core. Hardcore. Centerfolds. Amateurs. Girls with girls with toys. Double penetrations and gang bangs. Facials. Hidden cameras and live streams. “What do you mean?” Marilyn leans close to me. She bites her lip and whispers, “Pornography,” and her face flushes a deep shade of red. “I think he’s been looking at pornography.” She shakes her head. “Are you sure?” I ask. “Well, it’s certainly not either of us.” Certainly not. This is how you turn your son into a martyr. I nod my head gravely. Pornography. Lust. Grave offenses against God. Forget about wrath, pride, gluttony. Our biological instincts guarantee we will always be depraved animals in the eyes of God. There will always be a need for supernatural intercession. “What should we do?” For Marilyn, to admit to lustful desires would be to put
humanity amongst the beasts of the earth. Crawling around with our bellies in the dust. God forbid. “You need to have a talk with him,” she says. “Of course.” The talk. The birds and bees. The dirty little sex talk every parent and every child try to avoid for as long as possible. My parents refused the talk. Marilyn and I met in senior year; at some church picnic my parents would drag me to every year. After a month or so, when it became obvious to my parents I was seeing a girl, my dad didn’t say much. I think he was relieved I wasn’t gay. My mom, on the other hand, she just sat me down told me that I better have plans to marry the girl. Don’t do anything you’ll regret, she said. Looking at Marilyn now, as she sits on the little twin size bed in my room, a virtual stranger with a wedding band tight around her finger, a ring I sold my old Fender guitar and saved seven months to buy, I think I’ll have to remember to send a ‘thank you’ card to my mother. “You talk to him. And do it soon,” She removes herself from my bed and begins to walk toward the door. “I don’t want a little heathen living under my roof.” Then she stops at the door and turns toward me. “Goodnight.” The tap of her footsteps fades down the hallway. Her bedroom door shuts and the lock clicks. “Goodnight.” Dr. Bauman tells me about these two guys who were messing around. One mixed concrete and used a funnel to pour it into his buddy’s little poop shoot. What happened next was four hours of surgery and a perfect concrete cast of the patient’s large intestines. Saturday morning begins with cramps. I wake up with the bed sheets clinging wet to my skin, soaked through with sweat. Across the room hangs a cross glinting in the morning sunlight. Marilyn put that up for me. A symbol of God’s love for us, the sacrifice of his only son. A ransom to Satan. The life of a perfect being sacrificed for the sins of imperfect creatures. This thing in my gut, this pain, it’s my own personal expiation. When I pull on my pants, I set the belt one notch bigger. Then I to proceed gulp Ex-Lax and sit on the toilet for the entirety of the Saturday morning newspaper. Nothing. In the kitchen Marilyn is making breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, toast, and sausage. Daniel is seated at the dining room table, shoveling fork-loads of scrambled eggs into his mouth. Sitting down with my own dish, I’m busy pushing the food around the plate like a kid who refuses to eat his vegetables. “Are the eggs okay?” Marilyn asks. Her eyes on my plate. “Eggs? Fine. A little dry maybe,” and I scoop a big bite of syrup-drenched pancake into my mouth. Then, forcing a chubby smile, “Everything’s great. Just feeling a little under the weather today.” Marilyn looks across the table to Daniel, then to me. “I thought maybe you two could spend some quality time today.” Daniel takes a gulp of milk and looks at me. “Actually, I have some work to do at the office.” “But it’s Saturday. Can’t it wait?” Marilyn asks in a way that sounds less like a question. “I’m sorry. The boss is really pushing my department. We have the big proposal on Monday. He wants me to make sure
all the loose ends are tied up.” My midsection throbs. I take a breath, my eyes watering. I grit my teeth. Marilyn looks disappointed. Daniel keeps eating. “How about tomorrow then?” she asks, looking from Daniel to me. “Daniel, how does that sound to you.” “Whatever.” “Great. Tomorrow then,” she concludes happily, glancing in my direction. “Sure. Yeah. Tomorrow sounds great.” Dr. Bauman tells me about a case he had heard about in med-school. A soldier with an artillery shell stuck up his ass. God knows why. In the operating room, the surgeon jokes, “At least it’s not live.” The soldier corrects him. The bomb squad is called in. They build a lead box around the soldier’s rectum and defuse it right there in the operating room. It’s Saturday night and Marilyn makes spaghetti and meatballs. Every bite hits my gut like concrete. It’s all building up inside me, and I’m popping aspirin every half-hour to keep from biting through my lower lip, it hurts so goddamn bad. I’m wearing sweat pants from ten years ago, the elastic band stretching tight against my swollen gut. Burping is like taking a deep breath inside a porta-potty. That can’t be good. Every few minutes heavy gurgles erupt from my gut, and I have to play it off like I’m hungry, and it’s just my stomach. The irony might just kill me. I clean my plate, just to keep up appearances. Sweat has soaked through my shirt by the time Marilyn puts dessert on the table. Pound cake. Vindictive bitch. “No dessert for me tonight.” I slap my stomach gingerly and pull at the elastic waist band. “Diet,” I say, forcing a smile. “Well, I’ll save you a slice. Put it in the fridge for tomorrow,” Marilyn says. “Sure. Thanks, sweetheart.” There was no rest for the wicked that night. I lay in bed with my eyes fixed on the cross glinting in the moonlight, gritting my teeth. My abdomen throbbed with each shallow breath. My briefs were spotted with blood. Every few minutes I contemplated picking up the phone to call for an ambulance. But then there was Marilyn. There was Daniel. Tomorrow it would all work itself out. I had faith in that. This couldn’t go on much longer. Dr. Bauman tells me about baseballs. Two to be exact. A whip handle. A pair of reading glasses. Magazines rolled tight. “You’ll never guess what magazine they weren’t reading.” I shrug. “The Church Times! Can you believe that?” Somehow I can. Sunday night is Mexican Lasagna night. Two pounds beef. Four cups cheese. Onions, tomatoes, salsa and sour cream. Plenty of hot sauce. Every bite brought me just a little closer to regurgitating it all over our dinner table. Marilyn eyes me suspiciously. Before dinner she corners me once more in my bedroom. “Have you had your talk with Daniel yet?” “No. Not yet.” I swallow to keep bile from spilling into my mouth. “After dinner then.” “Sure. After dinner.” And there we are, Daniel and I, sitting together in his room.
prose My focus is more on keeping dinner down and less on what exactly I’m going to say to my son. “So what’s up?” he asks impatiently, breaking the silence. “Your mother wanted me to talk to you about something.” Pornography, masturbation. Here is my son, paying for my sins. It started innocently enough. Call it curiosity or sexual frustration. It began with centerfolds and nude celebrity sites. Then I became the Christopher Columbus of the obscene and grotesque. Was it fascination, curiosity or perversion? Maybe all of the above. But each time I logged in I was entering uncharted territory. But even that wasn’t enough. There was physical experimentation. New ways to get off. I tasted the forbidden fruit and I liked it. “You’re getting to be about the age when girls aren’t gross anymore.” Did I really say that? “What I mean is, you’re beginning to go through some changes.” This conversation is a doomed commercial airliner without a pilot. Nose dive straight into the mountains. My forehead feels damp and hot. My stomach is a churning vat of yogurt. Daniel just sits there. Amused. Bewildered. The look on his face like that of a child poking a dying bird with a stick. Watching it convulse in death spasms. “Listen. I’ll make this quick.” My stomach begins to quiver, and my breath tastes hot and sticky. “When a man and a woman love each other they get married. And when they get married they may decide to have children, and…” And that’s when I lose it. A thick, viscous geyser spews up from my throat. Hot black juice sprays from my mouth in violent convulsions. A mix of stomach bile and half digested food. That, and feces that had nowhere else to go. It flies from my lips and nostrils, dripping down my shirt, splattering my pants. It bursts between the cracks of fingers cupped tight against my face. My eyes water from the stench and it fills the room, coupled with the screams of my teenage son. Dr. Bauman tells me about a guy in Taiwan. This guy at some gas station sticks the hose from a compressed air pump up his ass. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds before nearby patrons are witness to a loud and abrupt explosion. True story, he tells me. “So what’s your story?” he asks, finally looking up at me from his clipboard. This is what the religious call confession. You admit your faults and ask forgiveness and your sins are absolved. When your clothes are tied in a garbage bag, getting crusty with shit and vomit and Mexican Lasagna, there isn’t really any saving face. “It was a can of shaving cream.” I swallow, my saliva dissolving the shit still working its way out from between my teeth. “When I pulled it out, the cap was gone.” “Gone?” The doctor laughs and looks at the x-ray still glowing hot across the room. “Doesn’t look like it’s gone anywhere.” The look on his face tells me I’ve made Dr. Bauman’s night. A new anecdote to tell the next guy who slips and falls on salami or a cell phone or whatever might be just lying around. When they release me from the hospital Monday I take a cab home. I have the driver stop at a local gas station first. When I get home Marilyn is sitting at the kitchen table.
Except this time there’s not breakfast or lunch or dinner or a mid-day snack waiting for me. Her mascara’s smeared across her cheeks and she’s got the rosary wrapped around her bony fingers. Maybe she’s praying for a divorce. That would make two of us. She begins to speak, but just starts sobbing some more. She turns her back to me and I stand there, trying to think of an appropriate thing to say in this situation. When nothing comes to mind, I turn and make my way to Daniel’s room. He’s there lying on his back, a pillow propped up behind his head, reading a Batman comic. “Hey bud.” The room smells like bleach and the window is wide open. “What’s up?” he asks suspiciously. “Is it all right if I come in?” He nods his head. Sitting down, I pull a brown paper bag from my coat. “About last night…” and I hand him the thin package. “I think you’ll learn a lot more with this than me or anyone can tell you.” Cautiously he opens the paper bag and peeks inside. A smile spreads across his face as he pulls the magazine from the bag. “A Playboy?” “Yeah. Just don’t tell your mother, okay?” He nods his head, his eyes fixated on the glossy cover. “She’s hot.” “Yeah, she is.” And I chuckle a bit. “And there’s nothing wrong with that, is there?” Daniel looks up at me and laughs. “Nope.”
Paper Girls II / Lucy Jost / 22 cm x 23 cm / Sewing patterns, tracing paper, masking tape, pen
usan turned the pebble over in her hand; its smoothness skidded across the bumps of her fingerprints. Today was a one-pebble day. It was a Sunday, a day of errands, places she went to on a regular basis, nothing new or unexpected but one couldnâ€™t always be sure. She kept her gaze steady in front of her as her hand worked the pebble over in her pocket. It was not a stone or a rock, it was a pebble, and Susan refused to use those other words because she liked the way the word pebble vibrated against her lips. She kept the pebbles in a white porcelain bowl by her entryway. Since the pebbles were all uniform in size and color to the unknowing spectator it looked as though the bowl was a modern take on flowers to ascetically enhance her house. It had not always been that way; the bowl had not always been full of black smooth pebbles. When she lived with her parents she would walk the cold seashores on holiday breaks from her corrosive boarding schools, scouring the soft white beach for the refined, polished stones that were unassuming and indiscernible among the shells. She had started collecting them when she was young, by the time she moved to the city she had six large jars full of them, all different colors and sizes. It was when she moved to the city alone for the first time that she began to carry them in her pockets, fiddling with them as she walked. She had been to so many places to leave six jars of pebbles scattered about. Of course they were not all in the city, some were in the distant lands across the tumbling waves that churned out her precious markers and some in other states. They were flung from car windows into cornfields, or dropped outside of concert halls after an evening of Italian opera. After she had dropped the last of the pebbles she had collected she began to buy them in bulk bags from craft stores, keeping the sandy bags underneath the kitchen sink, occasionally grabbing a handful and rinsing them to refill the bowl. There were times when the bowl remained full or almost full, like when she got the flu and she spent two days traveling between her bedroom and bathroom. To determine her recovery she kept a smaller bowl of pebbles on her nightstand and would grab one each time she went to the bathroom, after an hour she would count how many she had and return them to the bowl. When she recovered and returned to work she discovered three pebbles near her kitchen sink that she had forgotten about. She had left them there when she would wearily emerge from her bedroom to fetch ice or water. She worried how she was
prose subconsciously moving the pebbles. Sometimes when she walked from work she noticed the pebbles underneath rolling trash, or in the gutter. She would forget how they got there and look them up in her journal at night. She always wrote about the place that she left a pebble, because it usually meant something interesting had happened. At first the pebbles were dropped for really special reasons, to commemorate a first date or an art gallery opening. But as she lived longer in the city those special occurrences happened less and less and feeling defeated if she returned with pebbles in her pocket she would find less important things to drop them for. Eventually she began to gauge her days for pebbles, like today was merely running errands, which had about one pebble instant occurrences (there were never no pebble days). It was very upsetting when she didn’t have enough pebbles, like on the day she was just running errands and she found five dollars in the street and on her way home was catcalled by construction workers. This had occurred often enough that she kept a small velvet drawstring bag full of pebbles in her purse; they would only be used under special circumstances. There was nothing different about these pebbles but every time she reached into the bag she felt a certain awe, it was certainly a good day when she had to dip into the reserves. She dropped pebbles for bad things too, when she was dumped or fired. On one occasion she swallowed a pebble. She hadn’t written it down in her journal afraid of what writing it might make it, but there were days when she swore she could feel that pebble rolling around her stomach. Very few people knew about her pebbles, a few close friends that had disappeared over the years, and the therapist her mother had sent her to when she first arrived in the city. He had been obsessed about the pebbles, he was intently focused on them until the day that in explaining the pebbles Susan let slip about swallowing one but more importantly why she had, then that was all he wanted to talk about, so Susan stopped going. She remembered one instance when she was out on a weekend trip with her ex-boyfriend William. They had gone on a weekend trip to the country one summer, they had finished making love in a field when Susan, assuming William was asleep, flung a pebble into the field. “I saw that.” “What?” “I saw you throw that rock.” William opened his eyes and stared up at her. “Oh, it was digging into my back.” Susan turned away from him and lay on her side. She closed her eyes. “I’ve seen you do it a lot.” “Hm?” Susan reached out for her shirt; she was suddenly chilly and aware of her nakedness. She pulled the shirt over her head and continued to get dressed. “All around the city, everyday that we are together. You don’t think I see you, but I do. Why do you do it?” His tone was cautious she could tell he was just curious. She rolled over and kissed him on the lips. “To get rid of them of course.” She smiled and went back to getting dressed. “Well why do you have them in the first place?”
“I don’t know.” She sighed. Frustrated and unsure of how to continue she simply said, “To save money.” “What?’ He let out a snort of surprise and laughter. “Everywhere people go they buy something or take something to remember it by. Well I leave pebbles and I write down why I left them and then all I have to buy are pebbles and journals.” “I don’t think I understand.” “Look its nothing, don’t worry about it.” She smiled at him, she felt like his mother as she kissed his cheek. His face was still pulled in confusion, but he didn’t ask any more questions. The pebbles would later serve as a catalyst for their break-up, every time she dropped one he let out a guffaw of disgust and embarrassment. Today had not been a good day. She had traveled from the grocery store to the movie rental store to the coffee shop without a single pebble worthy occurrence. She had to find a reason to drop the pebble. As she left the coffee shop she stopped and looked down, there on the sidewalk were three of her pebbles. One for a day when she ran out of coffee and she needed to drop a pebble before returning home, one for the day a man smiled at her, and one for the day she gave a dollar to a homeless man outside. She did not want to waste her pebble. She looked across the street at her building and wondered how she would drop that pebble in the two minutes it would take to cross the street. She looked at the deserted crosswalk, she glanced down the road; it was full of generic city people rushing along, avoiding eye contact. The doorman would not be outside her building for another two hours, she mused; she could not drop a pebble after a quick conversation with him, maybe she would have to do something different tonight, go for a walk or pick up Chinese food. She hadn’t seen the car, hadn’t even realized she had stepped into the crosswalk. As the tires squealed she tensed her grip on the pebble. Her arms were tossed above her head, one hand a fist clenching the pebble tight. The car struck her at the hip, her body curving over the hood. She appeared an awkward ballerina. As she lay on the ground and the people rushed to help her, her mind flooded with thoughts of the pebbles. The first ones she had collected as a child with her grandfather, the special green sea glass pebble she had found the night she found out her parents were getting divorced. There was the pebble she gave Chris Hart her first boyfriend, the first pebble she dropped outside her apartment building in the city and the pebbles she had dropped since then in the city, across the country and around the world. She pictured the journal she kept tucked inside her nightstand and the details of each pebble, how she had hoped that she could write a book or give it to her daughter. She thought of her secret dream of getting married and walking down an aisle that was lined by the pebbles and how it faded with every passing year and with every new bag she bought. And then she thought of the large bag of unused pebbles that lay dirty under her sink and the clean ones in the bowl, and the velvet bag in her purse and of all the places she had still meant to go and drop them. The thoughts of the pebbles gave way to flashes of red and white. The searing pain took her breath away as she loosened her grip on the pebble and dropped the last one.
Beef Rosemary / Karl Bollig / 22â€? x 28â€? / Ink and watercolor on paper
French Onion Soup / Karl Bollig / 22” x 28” / Ink and watercolor on paper
the eighth floorevan hall
urse Dee Dee says I’m getting a roommate today. I’m taking a whiz in the jug when she tells me, a low whisper muffled by the folding vinyl door between us. She clears her throat and I almost dropped the jug, urine drumming down the clear plastic. I hastily pull up my jeans. They had taken away my belt the day before. Dee Dee blinks through the crack in the door, eyelashes caked with black mascara like so many spider legs. “I’m not supposed to tell you,” she says, breathing heavily, her cheeks flushed from stalking down the west wing. She has her hands on her wide hips, filling every inch of her scrubs, straining the tree frogs with beady orange eyes. She reminds me of a Viking queen at the prow of a dragon-headed long ship, straw blond hair pulled back in a single braid that brushes the nape of her neck, her double chins quivering. “I knew you wouldn’t be happy about it.” I look at myself in the mirror and rub the faint, burning red blotches on my neck and pale throat. A dusting of stubble under my chin feels like sandpaper against the soft pads of my fingers. I watch in the mirror as Dee Dee pulls out a tube of cherry Chap Stick and start gnawing on the end of it. “You know how disgusting that is, don’t you?” I grimace at her reflection. “Sorry.” Her cheeks flush an even deeper crimson. “I can’t help it, I’ve done it since I was a girl,” she says, shoving the tube in her breast pocket. “It’s so addicting.” She smacks her lips and peeks out into the hall, as if she has said too much. Even Dee Dee avoids looking me in the eyes, flicking past my face to the pistachio green tiles on the bathroom walls. I had noticed it first in the other nurses on the floor, who turned into open doorways when I came walking towards them in the hall, glancing sidelong at me or pretending to check something off on their clipboards. Don’t make eye contact. It was something my mom told me as a child when we walked by an unleashed dog, its lips wet with spittle, as if the eyes could reach deep down to rouse some sleeping colossus in the soul. “When’s my roommate coming?” I ask. “Sometime today. I’m not sure. It was on the admissions chart.” I recall my last roommate with a shudder. He was a hulking Cro-Magnon with a jutting underbite and thinning brown hair, pacing the halls in his Where’s Waldo? pajama pants that cut off at his ankles. He moved stiffly, his hands balled up in front of him like a marathon runner, pausing as he rose up on
prose the ball of his foot and mumbled to himself. I would lay awake at night, listening to him grinding his teeth. We didn’t talk much. He once told me he played guitar in a rock band with his brother, before he started seeing numbers everywhere. He would count the dead flies in the lamp globe, the pills lining Karen’s breakfast tray, the steps to the dining room—then reverse and count backwards. He adored the nurses and would always slip them notes under his plastic medicine cups. Dee Dee and the OT lady had to drag him to the elevators at the end of the hall when he was discharged. Apparently it wasn’t the first time. A navy pantsuit with a clipboard in the crook of her elbow sweeps by and stops beside the open doorway. “What’s with all the dawdling?” I immediately recognize the rasping Russian accent of charge Nurse Nastia. She has tightly curled silver hair, and starched shoulders that accentuate her sharp, petit angles. Every fold and tuck of cloth stays frozen in place, seemingly out of sheer will. She has a sallow, sagging complexion, as if someone has smeared tallow on her face and let it harden and crack. “Just checking on the, ah, volumetrics,” Dee Dee flicks her tongue across her waxy lips. Nurse Nastia barely comes up to her shoulder blades but Dee Dee shifts uncomfortably in front of her. Nastia’s fingers are constantly moving, itching the air or fingering the tortoise-shell horn rims that hang around her neck by a chain. It was Nastia who admitted me, wild-eyed and numb, a shadow weighted down by a swollen duffel bag. She took away most everything: books (I had tried to smuggle in Frankenstein, clutched to my chest under my hooded sweatshirt), shoes, shaving kit. She hadn’t thought to take away the belt, I guess. I had curled up on the cot with my head wrapped in my hands, and she sat down beside me. “Why are you crying?” She had gripped my arm, her almond fingernails biting my flesh. “Don’t cry.” It was a command, but spoken with a raw, almost desperate sadness that opened something inside me, something that had rusted over. For a while after that I felt naked whenever I met her gaze. But then I happened upon her in the games closet one day, sdragging on a skinny cigarette. She had a crooked smile on her face, wreathed in clove-scented smoke. So now we are even. Nastia steps into the bathroom, grabs the jug with a hand covered in toilet paper and holds it up to her nose, tapping its highest point with a pen and marking the measurement down on her clipboard. “Well, that’s done. Weights and showers.” She doesn’t even blink. Black heels narrowing into dagger points clack down the hall. The others are already dragging down the hall with glazed eyes, a ruffle of flannel and slippers sliding on the waxed floor. I follow Dee Dee out of the room and bend down to get a drink from the bubbler. Suddenly a cacophony of shouts and confused elevator bells echoes down the hall from the lobby. I jerk my head up, knocking against the smooth white porcelain. “That must be your roommate,” Dee Dee says, turning and squinting toward the elevators where Nurse Nastia was headed.
I straighten up and rub my forehead. “Velcome to the U.S.S.R.,” I curdle the vowels in my mouth and whisper them into Dee Dee’s lumpy neck. She smiles. The intercom at the nurse’s station crackles to life at twelve o’clock sharp. “It’s time for dinner everyone!” A shrill falsetto pierces the hushed halls of the eighth floor, like a department store manager proclaiming a special on scotch tape in aisle four. “Please remove your sweatshirts, roll up your sleeves and enter the dining room.” Every day breakfast is at 7:30, dinner at noon, and supper at five. They keep it this way to break up the vast desert expanses of day, blurring together into the quiet routine of digesting meals and therapy. The doorframes are low in the west wing and I have to duck slightly so as not to scrape my head along the top of the dining room entrance. Dee Dee once told me the eighth floor housed the children’s ward years ago, and I sometimes feel like a goliath, the light switches, doorknobs, and porcelain drinking fountains at my knees. A steady rain drums against the single window in the dining room, which faces out onto a red brick wall. Two long glass tables are laid out side by side with covered plastic trays, each with a nametag attached to it. We circle the tables mechanically, as if in a predetermined game of musical chairs, to find our names. The nurses have tried to make the tables festive with bamboo mats and miniature glass vases holding toothpicks with orange and pink crepe paper umbrellas. Aides scurry about handing out white thimble-shaped cups. “I’m feeling anxious!” Karen moans across the table from me. Karen has recently refused to eat; she maintains that the nurses are trying to poison her. Still, she doesn’t seem bothered trilling for her daily allotment of Xanax. Karen has a thin, quavering, self-righteous voice and is shedding hair copiously from her frizzy auburn head – clumps of hair have been discovered on the dayroom arm chairs, the rubber mats in the PT room, and drifting onto dinner trays like lazy tumbleweed. She does yoga before breakfast, balancing on one leg or getting down on all fours and arching her back like a cat stretching after a nap. But her yoga has been severely hampered by the tube that pinches her nose and is draped over her shoulder to a narrow metal cart she pulls beside her. A bloated IV bag of what looks like eggnog swings freely behind her head. I open my melting styrofoam cups of vanilla ice cream first and lick the lids. Someone howls that they didn’t get tartar sauce. Beside me Brenna has her eyes squinched shut, elbows resting on the table and palms pressed together, her fingers against her nose, silently mouthing a prayer. I had attended one of her bible studies at the end of the hall with a few others that week, hoping to rediscover some sense of guidance and forgiveness. Instead, I found out Brenna thought she was the prophet Deborah, condemning us to weeping and gnashing of teeth. “We are all of us lost,” she had said. We chew our overcooked tuna casserole. There is quiet but for the scratching of plastic silverware and chairs groaning against the tile. “Does anyone have visitors today?” The nurse at the head of our table asks, and we snap our heads up, as if she suddenly materialized before our eyes. She’s young and new, you can tell;
weatherwoman good looks with blown sheathes of blond hair, a forced smile of bleached teeth and a look of vacant optimism. Perhaps she’s one of those incognito journalists who would disappear the next day to write up a scandalous expose about the eighth floor. Either way, she’ “Has everyone heard about our new addition?” she tries again, to blank stares. As if on cue, the dining room door bursts open. “I’m back!” A small man—or more appropriately, the remains of a man still clinging to the bone—appears in the doorway, slumped in a wheelchair maneuvered by Dee Dee. He looks like a photo my high school history teacher showed us from liberated Buchenwald, one of the corpses stacked like cordwood in a cart, a dark grizzle on his hollow cheeks. “I don’t need a wheelchair, really, you big Amazon.” His large mouth and penetrating baritone are all out of proportion to his shrunken body. A grey t-shirt and black sweatpants hang from
NÜrnberg and Offenhausen / Meghan Johnson / 15” x 22” / Chine Colle and etching
his raw-boned limbs as they would a wire hanger. “I tell you this every time, double D.” Dee Dee purses her lips together and wheels the man over to the table behind me. “Didn’t think you’d see me again, did ya?” He waves to the girl across from him, hands flopping as if they were on invisible strings. The girl stares down at the grape Jello brick on her tray. I rarely hear her speak and when she does it is with a highpitched lisp, like a stage-shy Shirley Temple—only she is 19. The man leans back in his chair as a nurse places a tray in front of him. “Hope it’s still warm,” he says. “Hands out from under the table,” the weatherwoman snaps, her voice disarmingly low and steely. It takes me a moment to realize she’s talking to me. I place my hands back on the glass tabletop and stare at my fingers, long and thin like snap green beans. Your hands are purple, the doctor told me every morning after taking my blood pressure and pulse, cradling my fingertips in his warm red palms that smelled like fresh diapers. Sitting on the edge of the hospital cot I could only nod and hope I was disappearing. “What’d you do this time, John?” Karen calls out haughtily from our table, picking at the tape on her nose. “I microwaved a baby. Yeah, that’s right, Karen,” John spits back at her over his shoulder. “See you’re still fucked up as ever.” He returns to swirling the limp gray noodles with his spork. Nurse Nastia, who has been writing down the nurse assignments for the night shift on a dry-erase board, sets down her marker and turns to face John. “Do you want to lose your orange band already, John?” she asks, her lips contracting in a taut frown. “Oh, you want to watch me piss, don’t you, can’t resist?” Ignoring him, Nurse Nastia picks up the marker again, but John clutches her elbow and pulls her close. I hear him whisper, pleading, in her ear. “Bum me a cigarette? I’m dying here.” “Okay, time’s up,” the weatherwoman says, and herds us out of the room. John stays behind, finishing his meal with Nurse Nastia sitting beside him, listening with a furrowed brow. The schedule posted in the dayroom says we have group session and DBT this afternoon, and everyone groans. The latter is my most loathed time-annihilator on the eighth floor— Dialectical Behavioral Therapy—meditation on yoga mats and painting beads and writing out hollow self-affirmations in magic marker. The DBT lady talks like a cowgirl, a low dusky croon as she leads our stretches. She wears black alligator-skin boots, a long red braid tapering at her waist. “Straighten your spine, hold it…and relax.” Her neck goes slack and our heads droop and roll. We get down on our knees as if we are praying down on the mat. She bounces on a red rubber yoga ball the size of a tractor tire and critiques our postures. John reaches out his hands to the tips of his toes, his knob-kneed legs jutting out like a flamingo from his mesh shorts. The Shirley Temple girl has curled up in the fetal position in the corner, long lashes fastened to her freckled cheeks. After our Enya-fueled meditation, we take seats at the craft table. “Write ten things that you love about yourself,” the DBT lady says. “You can put these up on your windowsill with the grass seed we planted last week.” She glares at me whenever
prose she rolls by on her ball and sees my blank sheaf of construction paper. I’m two words away from filling in the day’s crossword. “Really, nothing?” she says. “Somehow I can’t believe that.” I love myself, I scribble quickly, or some similar blather. Too late. Her doughy cheeks dimple. “Everyone? We’re having trouble making a list here.” She gets up from her ball and stands behind me at the table, her hands clamped on the back of my chair. “Can anyone help us out?” A thick silence envelopes the room. I glance up at the DBT lady, her bushy red eyebrows arching on her high forehead. I can see her on the wind-scorched plains of Wyoming, clicking her tongue at her sheepdog tearing across the hills. “He’s really good at chess,” Kirsten finally offers, flashing a mouth of gunmetal braces. I had once thought I loved Kirsten, a tall hockey goalie about my age with a long neck and Chiclets for front teeth. We played Risk, Stratego, chess and checkers together in the dayroom—I always let her beat me. That was before I found out why she was always asking the nurses if she could brush her teeth. “He’s not a loon,” John says, setting down a bottle of rubber cement he had been sniffing. I look at him across the table and his eyes glisten darkly. “There you go,” the DBT lady says. “That’s three already.” We drag chairs into a half-circle back in the dayroom, looking out on a pair of concrete smokestacks puffing in the paperwhite sky. The walls are bare but for a picture of a palm-lined beach lapped by ocean waves with the word SOLITUDE in all capital letters beneath it. Our therapist, Rae Ann, is waiting in an armchair. She’s spray-tanned an orangish bronze that gives her skin an oily sheen under the fluorescent lights. “I thought we’d talk about guilt and shame today, talk about some of the things we regret,” she says. “Shame is such a powerful emotion, it burrows inward rather than going out.” We shift on the pastel straight-backed chairs. I have already learned my canned response for this one: I never got to say goodbye. “That nurse at the front desk is still cutting all the good parts out,” John says, pawing through the newspaper, which is sliced up like a paper snowflake. He’s sprawled out in a couch beside Rae Ann. “Even the funnies! Can someone tell me what’s so wrong with Charlie Brown? I mean, come on!” He drops the paper and it flutters down to the floor. “You seem to have a lot of feelings bottled up today, John. Why don’t you start us off?” Rae Ann says, skin forming parenthesis around her lips as she clenches her teeth. “You already know what I’m going to say.” “The others don’t.” “Everyone is just saying a bunch of shit anyway. How many of these people do you think is actually telling the truth?” He gestures at us as though he were flicking away a mosquito. “Well, grant us some of your veteran knowledge.” “It’s our fault we’re here, and don’t try laying that guilt trip on anyone else.” He glances at Brenna, who has inched up to the edge of her seat on her hands. “We are all here for a reason,” Brenna says, smoothing the leg of her red and white-striped tracksuit. “And He will make some of us stronger for it, if we let Him.” Rae Ann’s gaze is drifting toward the slender palms on the
wall. I imagine she’s dreaming of that beach, Tajiti or Cancun, with her much older boyfriend—leaving behind the man counting backwards down the hall and Brenna’s pontifications. That white sand the only thing keeping her from picking up her chair and tossing it through the plate-glass. As it happens, I actually do have visitors this afternoon. My parents have come for a “family session” with my therapist, which means watching my parents bicker with each other and crossing their arms before lapsing into silence. They are still dressed in their freshly laundered Sunday clothes, having made the three-hour trip right after church got out. They sit across from me in the therapist’s loveseat, and I carefully pull Karen’s hairs off the armchair I’m slouched in. I think how far we have fallen. My father was once our high school basketball coach, took a team to state two years ago, and my mother the pioneer of the town’s Progressive Gardening Club. My own life immortalized on a bumper sticker plastered to the back of our minivan. At first it was embarrassing and somewhat surreal, trying to explain to them why I could not leave the eighth floor. I had given up the fantasies of escape that had knocked around in my head those first desperate nights: making a break for the elevators at the end of the hall, latching my belt to the window handle and rappelling down the crumbling brick wall. Now I feel nothing but a devouring sorrow when I see my mother’s wet eyes, the dark gray semicircles smudged under her eyelids. She hasn’t shaved for a few weeks and a shadow has crept over her upper lip. I want to scream: have you even looked at yourself in a mirror? Knowing she hadn’t. Or Dad, whose eyes darted everywhere but my face, his arm draped around my mother’s shoulder. He is silent, letting my mother speak, her voice weary and cracking. He wears the same amber sweater vest he wore when he would crouch on the court with his huddled basketball players. I think of him watching his team in front of the entire town, without Blake there on the court, twisting his program into shreds and patting his hands together when we scored. Sometimes he would just stare up into the metal gym rafters, at a fluff of insulation hanging down. Our sessions together are always the same. They try to convince themselves it wasn’t my fault, that I can have a normal life again. That we could somehow shield ourselves from the unremitting eye of memory that blazed white hot, burned through my insides, the acid tears of regret. They claim they love me. But even as they say it the glint of him is in their eyes, reflected in my father’s glasses, his face folded up in the crinkles of my mother’s rumpled tissue. I take my time brushing my teeth that night, somewhat apprehensive about meeting my new roommate in person. The nurse waiting by the door starts tapping her foot, so I rinse out my mouth and she padlocks the bathroom door with her key. John has tilted up his hospital bed and is reading from a hefty paperback titled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Under the lamplight he looks much older than he seemed earlier. He’s wearing boxers and his skin is pale, almost translucent, like the flesh around the pit of a plum. A cobra tattoo laced around his upper arm is pocked with small mulberry bruises.
“Good book?” I ask quietly. John takes off his glasses and squints carefully at me. “My bible.” He shuts the book and flips off the lamp next to the mute rotary phone on his bedside table. I lay down on top of the sheets on my bed, arms at my sides, staring up at the ceiling. “I was really into cycling—bike, not motorcycle,” John says, as if continuing where he had left off from some previous conversation. “Wiped out bad in a road race and they had to put metal plates in my head to piece it back together.” He sighs. “Things went downhill from there.” “You seem to know this place pretty well,” I say. “Yeah, been in and out of here four, five times. They keep cyclin’ me in and out, don’t know what to do with me.” John says. “Been to just about every kind of rehab, you name it. Kind of an addiction of its own, you know?” He lists off all the nurses and their individual quirks: Mary, Sandy, Dee Dee, Joy, Deb, Ann Marie. “Don’t know that blonde chick. They’re all great, though. Even the Big Nasty. She can be a bitch, but she’s got a sweet spot for me, I can tell.” John shifts over in his bed, his back to the wall. “I used to get bombed out of my mind with a buddy of mine—drugs, crystal meth. I was a lugger. When I got off that I would hit the bottle and I just couldn’t put the plug in the jug, you know?” I can see his shadow leaning towards me through the beige curtain hanging between us. “Why are you here, anyways?” he asks. “You don’t seem like the usuals.” I try to speak, but my tongue is thick, like I’ve been stung by a bee. All that emerges is a grating noise from the back of my throat. “Hey, if you don’t want to talk about it, don’t,” John says. He coughs into his hand for a few minutes. It sounds like he’s hacking up gravel and phlegm. “I was in the state pen for awhile, saw stuff that would give you nightmares for the rest of your life. My last cellmate, he had this impulsive itch thing. At night he’d keep scratching his head, said the itch wouldn’t go away, and he’d wake up with a bloody pillow. One night he scratches all the way through his skull.” We lie in silence for a while in the dark, the nurse’s flashlight sweeping by and resting briefly on our beds. “What are you gonna do when you get out of this place?” He asks. “I don’t know.” In truth, I hadn’t even really considered it, the future a gaping black hole. It yawned open just behind the elevator doors, an open window, the dead eyes of my parents. “How about you?” I ask. “You could escape with Nastia.” John snorts. “Me, I want to go down to this motorcycle repair school in Pheonix. Learn to fix up some bikes. Once I get my pulse back up, I’m out of here.” I sleep fitfully, as one does in hospitals. John is knocked out, though, his breath rattling. He’d trailed off somewhere after the court-ordered ankle monitor, when he’d gone on a hunger strike in protest. “Don’t mess me up with Karen,” he had said, “that two-headed Shelob.” Even after a month I still sleep like a cat, head twitching at the squeak of sneakers on linoleum, the lights flickering along the Interstate outside my window. All
night the dull beep of the nurse’s station echoes down the hall like the heartbeat of an anemic robot. I remember now. It was the beep of the Check Engine sign lit up on the pickup’s dashboard after the piano recital, as we tore through the chain-link fence of the tennis courts. You with the eight ball cradled in your palm, I leaning back with my eyes closed in the shadows of the football bleachers, my neck molded to the seat. We ripped the concrete anchors from the earth, straining against the fence, screeching, wrenching something from deep inside me and I was throwing up all over the cracked black vinyl. The windshield spiderwebbed and finally collapsed in, splattering blood and glass that glittered under the floodlights of the tennis court, casting everything in a ghastly pale glow. The spring peepers shrieking and the Check Engine light dinging politely all the while. I punched it with my fist and looked at your crumpled form, blood seeping across the clean white lines. I jolt up in my scratchy white hospital cot, the old mattress springs whining. Sweat beads along my back from the rubber mattress cover beneath the thin sheets. The panic of not knowing where or who I am lies heavy on my chest, like an x-ray apron. I feel a wet trickle down my leg and grasp blindly for the plastic jug beneath the bed, shifting back and forth on the cool tile. For a moment everything has a lucid quality to it—like those Magic Eye books where you stare cross-eyed at some nonsense, and eventually it crystallizes into a tangible object. The white lights glowing on the freeway far below like fireflies crossing the bridge over the marsh. My parents returning to a dark home, lying beside each other in their Sunday clothes after my mother takes out her hearing aids. John’s hair whipping in his face along a stretch of wind-scorched waste en route to Phoenix. The belt in my hand even though it isn’t, chestnut leather worn smooth with use, the torn notches I had to stab, twisting the tip of a fountain pen. I close my eyes and lay still, listening to the sounds outside the barred window—a car burning out, the lonely wail of police sirens in the distance. I think of Brenna’s words, that we are all of us lost, the words dripping slow and dark as molasses in my mind. Though the moment has long passed and everything is blurred once more, I fall almost instantly into a deep, dreamless sleep—a sleep I have never had on the eighth floor. This short story was selected to receive a Certificate of Recognition and $200 honorarium by the Friends of the University of WisconsinMadison Library.
e’s fat. He’s red. He’s jovial. A compulsive smiler. A benevolent force of good will. And he materializes like an archangel of refreshment during the hellish days of school’s-out-summer, when all hopes of thirst-quenching are lost to the forsaken Death Valley like wastelands of unsprinkled playgrounds, smoldering asphalt, and conspicuously absent guardians. He’s the KOOL-AID MAN, the veritable Santa Claus of summertime! But not so fast; the times they are a-changin’. Kool-Aid Man’s mythic, supernatural identity is now morphing into an urban neighborhood peer, a blue jean wearing, hip hop dancing, regular “Joe Six-Pouch,” wandering into your social gatherings like the dork who keeps on sitting at your lunch table without asking. Kraft Foods, the parent company of the Kool-Aid brand, is attempting to shimmy its way into the culture of young urban minorities with a mock MySpace page entitled “KoolSpace.” Capitalizing upon KoolSpace as an interconnected cyberspace, Kraft distinctively tailors the Kool-Aid brand to a conceived iteration of this demographic’s culture while using Kool-Aid Man as the Trojan horse to help fulfill this marketing strategy. Close analysis of a Web site like KoolSpace can reveal the range of effrontery that contemporary advertising expects us to accept. To bridge the disconnect between Kool-Aid Man’s otherworldly presence and the rest of humanity, Kraft crafted KoolSpace to mimic a social network cyberspace. Trying to define Kool-Aid Man’s typical persona in the first place is often a delightful hoot, evidenced here by Wikipedia’s uncharacteristically good humored definitions of him: “KoolAid Man (aka The Big Man), is a large anthropomorphic frosty pitcher filled with Kool-Aid . . . a fun loving and jolly beverage provider . . . known for bursting suddenly through walls, seemingly summoned by the making and imbibing of Kool-Aid by children.”1 This definition was likely derived from Kool-Aid Man’s previous television ads. Sure, it keeps the good natured spirit of Kool-Aid Man intact, but it also ensures that his audience will have no greater conception of him beyond that of a voodoo-like sugar shaman, some demigod of American capitalism who is conjured out of thin air by the never failing incantation of “HEY! KOOOLAAAIIID!” KoolSpace, on the other hand, provides more personal, humanized information about Kool-Aid Man with a design that channels the feel of a MySpace page. He now has interests, snapshots of activities, and a “kooltunes player” to
demonstrate a hitherto unknown talent for street style hip hop dancing. But KoolSpace involves no interactivity with KoolAid Man outside of selecting his Flash powered, far from krumping dance routines. (Beyond time and cost constraints, safety and lawsuit concerns of children communicating with online strangers are likely relevant here, further evidenced by external link prompts reminding the user to ask their parents before visiting Web sites outside of KoolSpace.) KoolSpace’s first function is to demystify the visitor to Kool-Aid Man more than befriend him. Outside of dangerous cults, children are widely accepted as the key consumers of Kool-Aid products.There are many suggestions that KoolSpace is intended for children, but Kraft also makes it clear that they are attempting to relate to a conceived definition of urban minorities with specifically synergistic marketing.2 The concept of synergistic marketing involves taking cultural elements familiar to certain social groups and blending them with a product in order to increase the likelihood that this targeted social group will find the product “cool” and relatable.3 However, what is considered cool can rapidly change, and what is relatable is drastically different between one social group and another. In order to convince their specifically targeted audience that their product is more “real” than the competition and less of a commercial pitch, synergistic marketers like Kraft incorporate highly specific “cultural practices” of their audience into their advertising.4 Beyond the animated street dancing example, KoolSpace’s visual style presents a faded, weathered background with frequent use of splattered paint and graffitilike text to reflect creative graffiti art practices. It also presents a video advertisement of a surprisingly fleet Kool-Aid Man who swaps late into a basketball game, predominantly composed of African Americans, to assist a teammate with a game winning score.5 However, the most striking (and potentially egregious) example can be found when surfing through KoolAid Man’s photo album. One photograph shows a cropped, fictional grade school yearbook page with six visible children; four portraits of African American children, one Hispanic child, and one Kool-Aid child. The photo is subtitled “Back in the Day!” to suggest Kool-Aid Man grew up alongside these minorities, attended the same school system, and likely shared the same conceived cultural interests and practices presented frequently elsewhere around the site. Kool-Aid Man’s alien and distancing spontaneity has been replaced by a mellow neighborhood figure, one that is familiarized, racialized, and immediately understood. KoolSpace frames him within a specifically youthful, urban minority oriented cyberspace. But the purpose of KoolSpace goes beyond just demystifying and culturally coding Kool-Aid Man; the Web site also takes full advantage of its interconnected cyberspace status for more advertising. Douglas Rushkoff, in his exploration of virtual marketing, explains how the Internet was transformed from a “community based medium” of free exchanging ideas into a “broadcast medium” by corporations; something that could be used for advertising and similar to the previously mastered television or radio.6 KoolSpace acts like the posterchild for this kind of corporate propaganda, ultimately using a newly realized Kool-Aid Man to sell the same old kiddie cocaine; but differing now through its unique capabilities within cyberspace.
essay and will likely persist stubbornly into the future. Admirably, KoolSpace does include a link to a non-profit organization encouraging the creation of playgrounds for children. It may not be as obnoxious or intrusive as a pop-up advertisement, but Kraft’s decision to fill KoolSpace with mere sales pitches and laughably superficial veneers of companionship speak to the larger hollow nature of consumer advertising. Such laughter cannot be colored without a tinge of contempt when children are so clearly treated as potential conscripts within a commercial sodality. All of these efforts attempt to spread the word of Kool-Aid in as many realities and spaces that exist. Advertising appears to have no boundaries, constantly chasing humanity down with a tantalizing offer in hand (à la Kool-Aid Man). He breaks through walls, firewalls, and now with his KoolSpace page, the fourth wall. You can’t stop him.
links. This essay will refer to KOOLSPACE’s website as it appeared when accessed November 28, 2008, the time around which this essay was originally written. Out of disclosure purposes, all further notices of changed elements on the website will be noted in this essay through an asterisk (*). Douglas Rushkoff, COERCION: Why We Listen to What “They” Say (New York: Riverhead Books, 1999) 239. Ibid., 236.
To read a copy of this essay with images, please visit our online journal at: http://illumination.library.wisc.edu/ojs/index.php/home. This essay was selected to receive a Certificate of Recognition and $200 honorarium by the Friends of the University of WisconsinMadison Library.
Endnotes: 1. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kool-aid (accessed November 24, 2008), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kool-Aid_Man (accessed November 24, 2008). 2. Caveat Lector – Kraft Food’s “conceived definition” of what constitutes urban minority culture as presented within KoolSpace can be perceived, in the least, as stereotypical. However, for the purposes of this essay, Kraft’s definition will be used to help explain its manipulation of this sociological construct. Also, “Kraft sociological construct” can be anagrammed into “Kraft[’]s racist occult logo icon” . . . Coincidence??!!! 3. Greig De Peuter, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Stephen Kline, “Pocket Monsters: Marketing in the Perpetual Upgrade Marketplace,” Digital Play, The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing (2003): 225-227. 4. Ibid., 219. 5. *As discovered on March 13, 2009, some elements of KOOLSPACE such as this video advertisement have been replaced or removed by other graphic elements/
Table Talk / Kacey Christman / 24” x 23” / Wood
city of lights
gavin mccabe weir
Underground / Katie Gallik / 40” x 27” / Mixed Media
’m in San Francisco. I just walked through a mile of Chinatown to find out that the famous North Beach neighborhood doesn’t have a non-Italian restaurant in which to eat, and the famous Vesuvius café is a colorful yet shady bar next to the City of Lights bookstore, where I happen to be meditating on my career prospects. When I entered school as an engineering student, I didn’t do it because I thought that I would be able to make money. To be honest, I hadn’t considered the job market. I study engineering because upon entering school I had taken to heart the idea that I could be anything that I wanted. Fortunately for my future job prospects, my careers of choice have evolved from dinosaur hunter to paleontologist and from mad scientist to inventor. Inventor eventually eased into mechanical engineer, but unfortunately, I find myself drifting back towards mad scientist. The song on the PA system (which has been on repeat since we arrived) echoes my thoughts, “and you may ask yourself, how did I get here?” I can’t remember the name of that song, or of the group that wrote it, but that line certainly describes my position aptly. 2,735 miles. That’s how far Sam and I drove in the last 96 hours. Minneapolis to San Francisco with summarily brief stops interrupted only by abduction in Roswell and a detour to the city of my mother’s birth. My car never would have made it. I had tried to tell Sam that, but she insisted that it would be too expensive to rent. It turns out she knew that my mother was going to donate her new Volkswagen Beetle to our trip. The car is cramped, but the driving is pleasant. Sam is a better navigator than driver; but to be fair, I led us on a 50 mile detour through the deserts of southern New Mexico while I was navigating. There is a beautiful town called Cloudcroft nestled in a mountain south of Roswell. It is more like a ski resort than a town, with heavy stone buildings that partially obstruct the view of massive snow covered peaks. To the east of Cloudcroft is a barren highway littered with signs that warn travelers not to pick up hitchhikers due to local penitentiaries. To the west, the Sierra Madres rain shadow. I was partially forgiven for the detour, but I definitely took credit for the view. On day three Sam pushed to drive through the night from Roswell to Santa Barbara. That is 1,093 miles if you are keeping track. I made Sam drive until dark, but after that we switched off every two hours. My first real nap energized me; I felt as if I could drive all of the way to Santa Barbara. We had made it through Arizona and had just come down from the
essay mountains of Eastern California, only 100 miles from Indios, the beginnings of the Los Angeles sprawl. I knew that Sam would make me drive through Los Angeles (she aspires to live in a city, but refuses to drive in one) and in my delirious state I thought that if she awoke on the coast after I had driven all night, she would insist on driving the remainder of the way to San Francisco. I desperately wanted to sleep on the beach and decided to wake Sam. I told her to wake me when she was tired, thinking that she would wake me in Indios, but instead I awoke with Sam’s head on my lap. We were in a rest area. She insisted that we drive through the night and had fallen asleep well before sunrise. Normally, I wouldn’t have taken issue with sleeping in the rest area. It was moderately safe, sound, and in my sleepy state extremely comfortable. However, by the time I awoke and took the wheel, the slow trickle of cars had turned into a steady flow. We would be driving through Los Angeles at the height of rush hour. I drove through the largest city in the United States on a pittance of sleep during the morning rush. We planned this trip very well. Through it all, we haven’t been more than 15 feet apart. It reminds me of a story I read in the New York Times about two Buddhist teachers that vowed never to separate. At the time, Sam thought it was romantic and I thought it was slightly off. I now understand that the Buddhist teacher’s vow is utterly insane. 96 hours into our trip, I’ve found myself sitting alone in the City of Lights bookstore reading a coffee table book. Sam is ecstatic to peruse the novels that the Beats may have perused, and she is excited to buy a pocket edition of Howl that will forever sit on our bookshelf. I flipped through a few pages of historical fiction before settling into my current position. My pile of books masks where my attention has actually wandered. A woman dressed in all black has caught my eye. Not because she is pretty, but because she has matched her eye shadow to the color of her hooded sweat shirt, and she has apparently tried to connect the two. She and her boyfriend were reading poetry to each other. They obviously haven’t driven 2,735 miles together. But I am not being completely fair. For example, Sam happily encouraged the detour through Silver City that my father had required as the cost of borrowing my mother’s vehicle for a 6,000 mile road trip. We stopped by the long-closed visitor’s center to take a picture of my mother’s car in front of the sign that named the city of her birth, and then we stole a rock or two for good measure before returning to the road. Sam was game for whatever this trip had to throw at her. At hour 60 of the trip, we pulled into Refugio Beach along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. I barely slowed the car to a roll before Sam was sprinting for the beach. I’m not sure if it was the ecstasy of reaching our destination or the thrill of escape from what had become our sleep-in beetle. But it would be wrong of me to say I slaved away on setting up camp when I almost beat her to the beach. People say that time travels too fast on vacations, but those people have obviously not spent the majority of theirs in a car. We only spent eight hours in the sunlight on that beach before the cold crept up the surf and drove us into the tent, but those eight hours were some of the
most relaxing and memorable of my moderately short life. She’s never camped before, and Round One was a moderate success. We slept on a beach west of Santa Barbara after driving all night. It was beautiful and romantic until a little after sundown when the temperature dropped; I’ve never seen her try so hard to be amicable. The tent that I bought for our trip was a three season backpacking tent, only slightly bigger than the backseat of the bug. It was designed for camping in those seasons when the heat is stifling and warm, and suffocating air dominates camp life. I remember marveling that this engineering marvel would eliminate uncomfortably warm nights by allowing air to ventilate the tent through a conveniently located chimney. I also remember the smell of the first of many salt water winds that rushed through our tent that night, carrying away body heat and waking each of us in turn. In retrospect, I’m thrilled that she at least tried to be amicable. The pretense for the entire trip was to visit graduate schools along the coast and make a decision about our future. She has not let me forget that she has a job offer to respond to back in Madison. So among constant questions of our future, we left Refugio for San Francisco. We traveled quickly at first, and then more slowly as coastal highways gave way to mountainous two lane switchbacks. Behind each curve we encountered a new vista. Behind each mountain lay another, larger, taller, more impressive mountain. And behind each of these was a subtle voice that intoned, “I would like to live here.” The beatniks moved once more, now onto commentary of a novelist of whom I’ve never heard. If I am to believe everything that I hear, I will soon be drowning myself in this unknown hardcover, enriching my mind with soliloquies of the alien cultures of small town Texas. Texas: vast open plains of broken farmhouses and lonely windmills. Where hopes and dreams go to die. That was my impression of Texas, or at least of the Panhandle of Texas. Sam and I had been driving for six hours already when we found our “giant ball of string” in Texas. We had left Kansas long behind and dipped through Oklahoma in a flash. But the plains of Texas stretched on. They loomed on the horizon in every direction, save that from which we had come. Our giant ball of string was a cross, the largest cross in the western hemisphere. We watched it approach from what felt like hundreds of miles away. It passed from the rearview mirror hundreds of miles later. I was not thoroughly impressed by Texas. Perhaps this process of elimination is how we will decide where we will be living and working next year. After Sam and I graduate we will be educated and informed adults. Desired by employers for our creativity and decision making capabilities; we will change America for the better. We will single handedly reverse the recession. But before we launch into such menial tasks, we will have to decide where we are living and working. I’ve applied to dozens of jobs and five graduate schools. It will be months before I hear back, but decisions are also looming. Just like the plains of Texas. I hate Texas. Thankfully the beatniks have moved on to the next room, and my coffee table book has recaptured my attention. There are sketches in this book of everything that passes people by in their busy lives. Here are the cables that lay across the intersections of San Francisco like spider webs, each carefully redrawn from multiple perspectives.
There are the buildings that surround Fisherman’s Wharf. I am vocal about my discomfort. We decided to sleep in the car for proud of how many of these simple sites in San Francisco I can the second time on the trip, but an hour later it was Sam’s turn identify without reading the captions. Can I see myself living in to flatly refuse. We found a motel. San Francisco? So Round Three was approached dubiously. We had driven I applied to graduate programs in mechanical engineering far enough that it would be difficult to turn back, and the sun at Stanford and Berkeley. They are reach schools but each is had begun to dip dangerously low to question our decision at definitely worth the stretch. Tomorrow Sam and I will visit the this point. I blithely offered to leave if Sam decided not to Berkeley campus. I will find that none of the professors that I camp on top of a mountain named Diablo in the middle of a wanted to speak to are on campus this Friday afternoon, and Californian winter, but she pressed on undaunted. I will spend a significant amount of time walking the halls, I sealed the accursed ventilation system of the tent firmly peaking into laboratories and following graduate students with duct tape, and then I built a massive fire in our grate. through the building. It will be a relaxing walk compared to Sam cooked dinner while I worked. She complained that the what we experienced yesterday while touring Stanford. cookware was insufficient. I swore that tomato soup and grilled After breakfast Sam and I split up. She took the car and I cheese sandwiches never tasted so good. We went to bed early walked to the campus. I would later find out that she got lost under a fierce howling wind, but the duct tape held. We slept and drove around the city for hours before finding a parking soundly. In the morning we hiked up the mountain, and I spot. I stopped off at the visitor’s center and eventually found climbed a spindly tree to claim Sam the prize of the forest: a the mechanical engineering offices. I spoke to five professors. sap-covered pine cone the size of her head. I proudly presented Three of them were perfectly civil, nice people who spoke to it to her, and she laughed as she accepted my gift. She then me for a few minutes before returning to work. One took the asked if there would be camping near our home next year. time to show me his laboratories and explain his research. I The beatniks have returned so I’ll sit here, watching, until Sam empathized with the man as he told me how busy he was as is finished, then we will continue on our trip. After, of course, I’ve the only plasma physicist at Stanford with a pack of graduate purchased a thicker book that will swallow Howl on our bookshelf. students to corral. I was extremely grateful for the hour he lent One of the beatniks asks me what song is playing over the PA me. system. Sam responds from the stair, “Talking Heads, ‘Once in a The fifth professor was possibly lifetime.’” the most arrogant man with whom I have ever spoken. He began the conversation with statistics of acceptance to Stanford, and he ended it with commentary about financing my studies if I were ever accepted. He soured the experience. I later found that Sam had an equally embittering time beneath the homogenous Mauresque architecture that is Stanford. I will remember this as a horrifyingly hard fall back to reality. What am I going to do next year? I hear a creak on the step above my head. That would be Sam. I am not quite ready to come out of my overpriced coffee table book. It is friendly and doesn’t ask me about my future plans, aspirations, or job prospects. Last night was Round Three: Sam vs. Camping. We spent the night at the top of Mt. Diablo outside of the metro area. Two nights ago Round Two had ended in failure, but that was only because I had refused to city camp. We drove to the camp site and were greeted by a tepid fog that undulated as it rolled around the locked gate of the camp ground. It reminded me of a cheap horror flick, and I was extremely Accident Regret / Matt Plain / 10.5” x 11.5” / Pen and Ink
Spectacle Lake After a Storm / Nick Potts / 14.5” x 11” / Photograph
the wisconsin idea
UW President Charles Van Hise proclaimed that he would “never be content until the beneficient influence of the University reaches every family in the state.” It was in this spirit that Van Hise created the Wisconsin Idea in 1904, a vision that has endured for more than 100 years. As the world shrinks and the University grows, it becomes increasingly important for the University to maintain its tradition of outreach in Wisconsin, while extending its programs to encompass a larger national and global community. Many UW-Madison undergraduates are rising to the challenge. Illumination is proud to highlight not only those students making a difference in Wisconsin, but also those serving around the country and abroad. Using the University’s incredible resources to extend its borders, these students keep Van Hise’s vision alive.
To learn more about the Wisconsin Idea, visit http://www.wisc.edu/wisconsinidea.
red cliff partnership
gavin mccabe weir
his spring break, 14 UW-Madison students traveled to Red Cliff, Wisconsin where they co-hosted a feast for the community with the tribal council of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. This event, with support from the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment, was part of a continuing partnership with the tribe during which students from Engineers Without Borders UWMadison traveled north to meet with community members, discuss community projects and gather data for designs. The broad goal of this partnership is to address economic and engineering deficiencies in the Red Cliff community that are directly affecting the Tribeâ€™s quality of life. This project is part of the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders UW-Madisonâ€™s (EWB-UW) Domestic Projects group. EWB-UW is a non-profit humanitarian student organization that works with communities to improve their quality of life through sustainable engineering solutions. The partnership with the Red Cliff community is part of an ongoing initiative that began in the spring of 2008 when EWB-UW was invited to perform its first assessment trip of the region, and it is part of a larger outreach activity that encompasses several Native American Communities in Wisconsin. The Domestic Projects group strives to promote cultural awareness and exchange in the state of Wisconsin, while providing an opportunity for students from all backgrounds and academic fields to do non-traditional community service. The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has prioritized projects through which EWB-UW may partner with the Tribe. The first and second priorities of the community are to perform a study of the ground water table and its effect on a cemetery and a residential housing development. The tribe has requested assistance in managing seasonal floods at both locations because they suffer from the lack of a storm water management plan. In ugust, a team of five graduate and undergraduate students gathered topographical survey data in the cemetery and began preliminary designs for drainage and flood prevention. Over spring break, in addition to co-hosting the feast, the 14 member travel team dug test sites near the flooding community to monitor ground water levels and began a community health survey. This data will allow a team of approximately 30 students to begin designing a drain tile system to help mitigate flooding
in the cemetery. This was the fourth successful assessment trip during which students have met with local community members, identified problems, gathered data, and discussed potential design options with community representatives of the 2500 Tribal members this project will directly affect. The intended outcome of this project is to benefit the state of Wisconsin by promoting humanitarian effort from student organizations that directly benefit the greater Wisconsin community. The Tribe hopes to prevent the flood damage that has become an annual event and constant drain on the local economy, as well as restore a community cemetery and potentially inspire youth to pursue higher education through involvement with UW-Madison students. EWB-UW Madison students will gain the opportunity to apply their knowledge to real-world problems while developing greater cultural awareness. The Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment will provide up to $25,000 in support for this partnership over the next two years during which EWB-UW Madison hopes to complete reconstruction of the community cemetery, finish gathering data on the flooded housing development, and install sustainable solutions to flooding in the community. Partnering Organizations include EWB-USA, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Indian Health Services, Red Cliff Tribal Council and Community, and the Department of Pharmacy. The Pharmacy and Civil and Environmental Engineering Departments are technical resources from which we draw our project advisors. EWB-USA and IHS have oversight over this project and the Red Cliff Tribal Council and Community members will be providing additional funds and human resources. The Tribal Government and EWB-UW have made a commitment to partner on these and similar projects for at least the next five years. Due to the cemeteryâ€™s cultural significance, the design process will continue into construction and require a great deal of communication between the Tribe and UWMadison students. Opportunities for further cooperation between the Tribe and EWB-UW are available and will be chosen by the community after these projects are completed. The Red Cliff community is located on Lake Superior, north of Bayfield, WI.
Tinker Toys / Amanda Schmitt / Varied / Plywood and dowels
a learning experience in prison
efore I knew about the specifics of the service we would be providing in the class, I joined one of the several English 201 sections as a last resort to fulfill my Communication B requirement. The course had a much greater effect on me than at all expected, specifically the service-learning portion, which was one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. I found the assignment for our class to be particularly unique, as we worked at an all male, local, minimum-security prison, the Oakhill Institution. We tutored students for the English portion of the HSED test (a high school equivalency degree) at the prison. The service we provided paralleled the main concept of the Wisconsin Idea; as we grew as writers from the education we received in our university classroom, we were able to reciprocate that privilege by helping others with an immediate need for similar skills. Our class visited the prison weekly in small groups of three or four, and were able to work individually with inmates who had chosen to attend the institution’s school in order to prepare themselves for this test and to further their education. The room we worked in was a small classroom. It had a chalkboard with a poster of the ABC’s in script attached and one bookshelf full of children’s books. Our group of three was all female, and we worked around a small, intimately spaced circular table, left alone with the male prisoners. The only security was a guard in the room across the hall, who did not have a direct line of sight into the room. We were also without any kind of monitor or alarm system in place—it was just us and them. Yet it never was a frightening experience, and our interactions with the men proved that, almost always, they were solely there to learn what they could from us. One younger man we tutored during our second visit explained to us how he had big plans for himself once he was no longer in prison. His aspirations began with passing the HSED, and once he was released, he would immediately enroll in college and eventually create his own real-estate business. His optimism and ambition were inspiring, for he had great confidence in his dream, despite his circumstances. The importance of our visits was very clear at moments like this, because we became one of the components helping to make a dream like this possible. Our very last session was marked by another student’s insight, when he explained that it upset him when the guards assumed that he and the others attended our sessions just to ogle us girls. This was simply not true for him, as he proceeded to explain: “I am here to learn something, to get an education.” Most of the students our group worked with had to put in
wi idea a lot of work and effort in order to improve, which was the only way our instruction would make a difference. It was a shock to us that almost every single student we met had never written an essay before. The sense of responsibility and urgency for our task became even more acute at this knowledge, as I realized how little time we actually had to teach these students from scratch. We had to start from the basics of how to form a sentence, along with lessons of spelling and grammar. Students needed to build up to the point where they would be able to write a good enough five-paragraph essay to pass a section of the HSED. With practice prompts like “what is your favorite holiday and why?” the structure we explained was straightforward. We taught students to have a single sentence introduction that states one’s personal opinion, and three main reasons why that was the opinion, with those three reasons as the main focus of the three body paragraphs, ending with a one sentence conclusion literally restating the introductory thesis. Often, gaining a solid understanding of this procedure involved writing practice both during and outside of class. We had them write several drafts, for several different prompts, until it seemed that the framework sunk in. It may seem like a basic task for college students comfortable with writing essays, but I quickly realized how challenging this process can actually be for teacher and student. As a teacher, it was difficult to effectively communicate a concept that felt so simple to individuals for whom this felt painfully foreign. The students, some of whom must have been in their forties and fifties, had not been exposed to education in a long time, if at all, in their lives. Despite the challenges our students faced, they were enthused by the advantage of our help, and were eager to learn. Not every single student we met was dedicated to accomplishing the endeavor before them. Some sadly appeared to have given up without having tried, but the most heartening part of the experience was witnessing those who did have the determination. Within our own classroom back at the university, we practiced and improved our own writing skills by writing on the topic of incarceration and prison systems within the nation. Our class’s final project was a proposal to promote some action that would better the prison systems based on what we had learned about the subject. Almost all of us wrote about creating a better system of education, with an emphasis on vocational skills that would prepare those close to release to reenter the world outside and have a chance to succeed. We were able to witness firsthand the enthusiasm in many of the students, which made us see the need for sweeping changes in the system. Changes could help provide greater opportunities for people in these positions to make a real life once leaving prison, which would help lessen the recidivism that currently afflicts prisoners. Within the limits of the semester timeframe, it felt like our efforts at Oakhill had proved successful in many cases, although we were collectively only able to help a few handfuls of people. Some of my classmates, me included, became particularly connected to the tasks of our experience there, and have continued to work with the students at Oakhill. Although I joined the class due to a lack of other options, this English 201 course was an enlightening opportunity for me. It allowed me
to see a part of the world I live in that I had never previously contemplated. The tremendous progress we were able to see with some of our students’ writing skills confirmed this positive experience as a great way to give back to a community in need and to a community that does not usually receive much support. On top of this, it was a great means to give something back with the extraordinary education we are lucky to receive at UW-Madison.
Hunters in the Field / Mary Beth Johnson / 8”x10” / Photograph
Contributors Erin Bannen is a sophomore in English/ Creative writing. Her influences include thread, breaking, and the scratches on her hardwood floors. She is an actor and a dancer, she sings, she cooks, she makes found object art. Because of all of this, she writes. email@example.com. Karl Bollig: With this collection of drawings and prints, I am attempting to deconstruct narratives by juxtaposing pre-loaded images with compositions and iconography that derive from pop culture, Catholicism, and Western literature. However, I intentionally offer no resolve within a given work, intending it to communicate a sense of despair that reflects my loss of faith. firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrea Bromley is a senior majoring in Art History and minoring in Religious Studies. After she graduates in May she is moving out to California to pursue a career in gallery/museum work. email@example.com. Jan Brugger: I am fascinated and humored by the American ideals of perfection and tradition represented in old family photographs and attempt to use these notions to create a vague, yet greater meaning. Juxtaposed with these photographs are symbolic images from American culture and memories of my childhood and past. I use this contrast to create surrealist settings that playfully comment on both yesterday and today. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maura Crowley: I am a Madison, Wisconsin native. I spent my first two years of college at DePaul University in Chicago. I transferred to UW-Madison and am in my third year majoring in English Literature. I am also an avid photographer and ropes course enthusiast. email@example.com. Amelia Foster: firstname.lastname@example.org. Katie Gallik: email@example.com. Roxanne Gentry is a freshman planning on majoring in English. She certainly finds this third person thing awkward and simultaneously freeing. firstname.lastname@example.org. Samantha Gray: email@example.com. Evan Hall is an English and Journalism major from Luck, Wis. firstname.lastname@example.org. Allyson Hanz: I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in December of 2008 with a concentration in Printmaking and Metals. My specific areas of interest include etching, chasing and repoussé, and enameling. I am currently enrolled as a Special Student creating a body of work for Graduate School in the future. email@example.com. Ryan Heraly is a junior in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amanda Cheung: email@example.com.
Mary Beth Johnson: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kacey Christman: I fell into woodworking at an early age and grew to love it. Once I got to the University of Wisconsin-Madison I wanted to continue this passion. I built this conversation piece between two stools. My inspiration was based off of circular shapes and an intertwining of dowels to create the understructure. email@example.com.
Meghan Johnson: My work deals with the concept of Western culture through highlighting the perverted sides of fixed traditions and nationalistic categorizations. Expressive lines combined with painterly gestures add a certain ironic elegance to the work. Common motifs include: patchwork-like swatches, obsessive patterns, and dripped paint/ink. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lee Crickman is in poetry for the easy money. Her life goals include flashing bling, throwing down fliff, and burning fat stacks of cash to stay warm. email@example.com.
Lucy Jost: A Junior pursuing degrees in Art and Art History, I am interesting in reinventing the ordinary. Untitled (Paper Girls II) explores
a 1950’s inspired world that harkens back to the domestic charms and concepts related to crafting. By cutting up sewing patterns and masking tape and repositioning their pieces, I seek to reinvent and reconstitute my materials’ meanings. They pose as a type of cartography, creating an imaginative, parallel world offset from the mundane. In incorporating my figural silhouettes with my map-like backdrops, each element works to resolve the other’s voids and balance their faults. firstname.lastname@example.org.
to convince herself to go on a run. email@example.com.
Allison Lake: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(approx. 26 x 30 cm containing the trapdoors inside my brain) email@example.com.
Dana LeMoine is a fourth year BFA candidate focusing her studies in printmaking. Her most current work deals with her grandmother and how age affects the body and the mind over time. Dana’s work is also concerned with women’s issues and how their roles must change with the times, even if society is resistant to these changes. firstname.lastname@example.org. Katie Malchow: email@example.com. Gavin McCabe Weir: I am an Engineer without Borders who will be graduating with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and Physics this May. I’m leaning towards graduate school, but the title barista may be in my future. I aspire to own a coffee shop with a drafting table. firstname.lastname@example.org. Sarah Michaelis: email@example.com. Lauren Morrison: firstname.lastname@example.org. Nick Potts: email@example.com. Nicole Powers: See inside front cover. A Madison native, Nicole wants to make art that everyone can enjoy. Her favorite artists are ones whose work forces us to question history and ourselves, including Adrian Piper, Hans Haacke, and Banksy. After taking a victory lap next year, Nicole hopes to find a job that combines art and the larger community. When not making art, Nicole is probably eating, watching “30 Rock,” or unsuccessfully trying
Matt Plain: MATT PLAIN MATT PLAIN is an artist MATT PLAIN is an artist in madison ACCIDENT REGRET ACCIDENT REGRET is an ink drawing ACCIDENT REGRET is an ink drawing on bristol
Kari Rongstad is a fifth year student, graduating in May with majors in Creative Writing, Gender and Women’s Studies and a certificate in LGBT Studies. She hopes that someday her parents will recognize the vast possibility that exists for all English and Gender and Women’s studies majors and applaud themselves for money well spent. She plans to work in a coffee shop/Gap/Coldstone until seeking further schooling. firstname.lastname@example.org. Leah Schmid is a junior majoring in English and Spanish and she aspires to one day live in a city not plagued by blue-green algae. Her interests include e.e. cummings, bungee jumping and mojitos, heavy on the lime. email@example.com. Amanda Schmitt: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sean Stewart is a graduating senior at UW Madison, majoring with a Bachelor of Science in Art and an emphasis in drawing. A Madison area native, Sean plans to pursue a career in California with a growing interest in film and multimedia based entertainment. email@example.com.
Collecting the voices of UW-Madison
Troy Reeves knows that good stories aren’t always written down. As director of the UW-Madison Oral History Project, Reeves coordinates staff and volunteers who interview those with stories to tell about notable events and projects that have happened on the UW-Madison campus. Nearly 3,500 hours of interviews with former faculty, students and community members are filed in the UW Archives. Established in 1971, the Oral History Project initially focused on collecting the memories and research of prominent emeritus faculty. Since then, the project has expanded to include the voices of campus administrators, staff and students. Much of the current collection focuses on topics such as the Teaching Assistants Strike of 1970, the UW Merger, the Arboretum and printmaking at UW-Madison since World War II. But Reeves, who has more than 10 years of experience in public history and academic oral history, is just as interested in collecting more recent UW-Madison memories. “We may communicate a lot more on campus today thanks to technology like cell phones and e-mail, but we don’t really gather that communication more,” he says. “Oral history gives us a chance to gather material from people who have been on
campus a long time. We can see the life history of campus through their eyes.” Currently, Reeves and his staff and volunteers are collecting stories about Madison’s LGBT community and the history of UW-Madison’s campus governance. Reeves plans to jumpstart several additional projects in the next few years, including a project to collect stories about campus literary magazines, including Illumination, as well as other campus publications. Students can get involved with the Oral History Project in a variety of ways. They can be trained as interviewers for a current project or learn to index, transcribe and edit current interviews. Ambitious students can actually design and begin a new oral history project that interests them. Other opportunities include the annual Wisconsin Oral History Day held each spring, as well as a summer oral history course through the Library and Information Studies department. For more information about the Oral History Project, please visit http://archives.library.wisc.edu/oral-history/ or contact Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This issue of Illumination uses Farnham for display and Adobe Calson Pro for the body copy. About Farnham: German-born punchcutter Johann Fleischman, contemporary of Baskerville and Fournier, worked at the Enschede Foundry in Haarlem. Expert in advanced tools and the qualities of fine steel, he pushed beyond the frontiers of his time, cutting active typefaces famous worldwide for their “sparkle.” Christian Schwartz focused on Fleischman’s exuberant angularity, carrying it to all weights of his new Farnham series: FontBureau 2004.