ARTS | CULTURE | EVENTS
Fall 2017 / Winter 2018 | Vol 6 No 1
“A Walk in the Woods” by Judy Rand
fluent Fall 2017 / Winter 2018 | Vol 6 No 1
CONTRIBUTORS Catherine Baldau is a writer and editor. As Executive Director of the Harpers Ferry Park Association, she has edited and designed numerous books, including the award-winning Harpers Ferry Under Fire: A Border Town In The American Civil War.
Nancy McKeithen editor & publisher Sheila Kelly Vertino associate editor Kathryn Burns visual arts editor Todd Coyle music editor
Todd Coyle is a journeyman musician who has performed in and around the Eastern Panhandle of WV and around the country for over 30 years. He has worked in folk, blues, pop, jazz and country bands as a guitarist, bassist, singer, producer and sound man.
Contributing Writers Catherine Baldau, Paula Pennell, Keron Psillas, Ed Zahniser
Paula Pennell, having developed technical proposals for over 20 years, enjoys the contrast of writing about creative people and their art. An artist herself, Paula works with hot glass and keeps bees at her home in Monrovia, MD.
Contributing Photographers Benita Keller, Mark Muse, Judy Olsen, Keron Psillas, Carl Schultz, Sterling “Rip” Smith, Hali Taylor
Keron Psillas is a photographer, writer, instructor and mentor, with an extensive background in the print and publishing industry. She has three books published: Meditation for Two and The Alchemy of Lightness, both with longtime collaborator, Mestre Dominique Barbier, and Loss and Beauty. Find her work and writing at www.keronpsillas.com and www.lossandbeauty.com.
Submissions For information on submitting unsolicited fiction, nonfiction, plays and poetry, please see the website: www.fluent-magazine.com/submissions. Please submit arts news to email@example.com. Fluent Magazine is published quarterly and distributed via email. Available online at www.fluentmagazine.org. To Subscribe www.fluentmagazine.org/subscribe All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be duplicated or reprinted without permission from the publisher. © 2018 Fluent Magazine, Inc.
Sheila Vertino is returning to her roots as a freelance writer and journalist, after a career as a magazine editor-in-chief and book and research publisher. Based in Shepherdstown, she describes herself as a culturally curious word nerd. Ed Zahniser is a retired career bureaucrat and co-founder of the Shepherdstown (wv) Good News Paper. His poetry has appeared in over 150 literary venues in the U.S. and U.K.; seven anthologies; five books, five chapbooks, and three gallery shows of poetry as works on walls. He contributes to Fluent, WV Observer, Adirondack Almanack blog. His recent book of poems is At The End of The Self-Help Rope, Slowread Books, 2016.
THE COVER IMAGE “A Walk in the Woods” by Judy Rand. See pages 8–16 for more of her work.
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CONTENTS WINTER 18 JUDY RAND A Circuitous Path
PHOTOGRAPHY Keron Psillas
POETRY Ray L. Sibley
FICTION Zachary Ryan Davis
ED : CETERA Ed Zahniser
CODA Chris Steffey fluent | 3
Winter: Time To Prepare for Spring BY KERON PSILLAS
Seasons pass, and we enjoy the weather, the changing light, and activities that come with the seasons. But I prefer to look at the seasons in a different manner as well: how our bodies and minds relate to the seasons; in particular, as it is winter, how we resonate with this quiet, darker time. As photographers, we can take advantage of lower, sideways light. If we are lucky, we can find a pastoral, snow-covered scene to photograph at sunrise with golden pinks. Or a hillside dotted with cedars with their dark hearts illuminated for an instant by the setting sun. Our options are endless, really, from macro photography of snowflakes to moody, gritty, city streets with slushy footprints and heads bent down and into the wind. Windows steam easily, giving us marvelous “shooting through” opportunities. The world outside is softened and becomes a geometry puzzle with moving color and vaguely recognizable forms. When we decide to engage the arts it is often because we have seen or heard or felt something that stirred us, that resonated with some part of us. This stirring made us want to investigate further, and then perhaps learn to dance, or play the piano, paint, sculpt, or photograph. That act of investigation—if we are passionate about our art—is limitless. This is the beauty of a life filled with the making of art or the appreciation of art in all its forms. There are no limits to what we can discover. And if there are no limits to what we can
discover, there are no limits to what we can create! My students say to me from time to time that they are bored or blocked or uncertain of what to photograph. I tell them not to photograph. If they have nothing to say, then their photos will be mute as well! I encourage them instead to fill their life with curiosity, with investigation. I encourage them to inhale beauty. To eat beauty. To devour beauty! Soon, this regular practice leads to inspiration, and inspiration can lead to renewed passion and renewed vigor in your photographic voice. During this time of not photographing, we are feeding ourselves with the vitamins and nutrients that enable us to make beauty. My friend and legendary photographer Jay Maisel says, “If you want to be a more interesting photographer, be a more interesting person!” That is a typical, direct statement from Jay, the essence of a great New Yorker. We can go a little deeper and find a quote from Ernst Haas, father of color photography. Ernst said. “If beauty is not within us, how will we ever see it?” How does all of this relate to winter? Winter is the time to be quiet, to be still. But this does not mean to be inactive. It is the time to turn inward. It is the best time to feed our roots so that when we feel the stirring of inspiration, we have the ability to sustain and deepen our commitment to creating our work. During the long, dark hours of winter we can feed ourselves. We can nourish and strengthen our minds and hearts u
Right: With thanks to the Scottish romantic painter, Henry Raeburn, I could envision and create the lush backdrop for the scene at the Buchaille Etive. I was seeking a landscape that spoke of timelessness, and perhaps loneliness with a wild blustery edge. 4 | fluent
With thanks to Willard Metcalf, I could see the beauty in the spare winter scene of birches in Poland (top), an elm in the midst of a storm (bottom), and see the color palette of the cedar in evening light on Antietam (right). 6 | fluent
so that they resonate with ever more refined visions of beauty. We can train ourselves to see the beauty in a spare, nearly colorless landscape or spark the desire to create a lush, wintry backdrop for a scene on a Scottish Moor. We can train ourselves to see the faintest of light as it washes across a foggy scene. Open your art books, visit the museum, go to a performance of dance, listen to a concert or
read aloud some poetry! (I often see/feel rhythms in photographs.) Investigate painters and other photographers online, or order books from the local library. There is an unlimited amount of art “out there” for us to ingest. And every molecule of what we take in resides in us. We become what we have seen and what we seek. Time to inhale beauty and prepare to exhale your own creativity. fluent
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A Circuitous Path S
tand in front of a Judy Rand painting and you sense that you are not merely looking at it, you are entering it. “In almost everything I do, there’s a way to move into it or through it,” says Rand. It’s not accidental. Rand realized very early that she was drawn to art that “brings the observer in”—from a photograph her grandfather took in New England in the early 1950s. That photograph, which shows a path, hangs in the dining room now, perhaps a reminder of that realization. At the New Morning Gallery in Ashville, North Carolina, owner John Cram, who’s been selling her art for over a decade, “doesn’t want me to send him anything that doesn’t have that,” meaning a path, Rand says. “He encourages me to do more, to vary seasons, to keep pushing in the type of landscape.” Rand’s own path from roots in Framingham, Massachusetts, to working artist in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, has veered in different directions. In the mid60s, as assistant Dean of Students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she took a summer course in experimental psychology, and knew from the first class that she had found “it,” career-wise. Three years later, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and desperate to find work, she accepted a full-time, tenure-track position teaching at Bowie State. “I liked it in the beginning,” Rand says, “but after a few years, it became clearer and clearer to me
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that it wasn’t a good fit—not so much the location, as it was what I like to do and how.” Walking into a classroom and presenting material was “too much out there” she says. “I was never comfortable with it.”
Taking a New Direction Rand learned that she loves to build and make things, on her own. During a summer break from teaching and in need of a dining room table, she bought a lathe and a planer—neither of which she had ever used— took out a library book, and made the table. “It took me all summer,” says Rand. She loved the lathe and continued making things— small pots and bowls and such. On Memorial Day weekend 1977, she took her lathe to the Smithsonian Mall for “Artists in Action,” a program sponsored by the National Park Service. There, she turned some pots and bowls, and sold them. “I made $47 the first day,” she says. “I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s what I want to do.’ ” That day, she made the decision, one her dad thought was crazy—to give up tenure and a good salary to pursue art. She was cautious, though, and it was three years later when she took a year-long leave of absence from Bowie and went into arts and crafts full-time. “That year, if I really fell on my nose, I could go back,” she says. “But I knew I wouldn’t, and I didn’t.” She had found the lifestyle she wanted: working for herself. “I worked harder, but I loved it.”
The painting that hangs over the piano (above) wasn’t there two days before this photograph was taken a few weeks ago, although another painting was—a landscape with a road in it and trees, dense, intricate and colorful. The three bottles were not there. Rand’s partner, artist Rebecca Grace Jones, had seen the bottles at The Bridge Gallery, loved them and wanted them. Rand liked them, too, and suggested putting them on the piano. “But they won’t go with that painting,” said Jones. They bought the bottles. The next morning, Rand woke up at 4 o’clock and thought: “I don’t like that painting there either.” So at 7 am, she took it down and started painting over it with a big flat brush. She finished the new painting later that day. “Nothing like doing spontaneous work,” says Rand, laughing. “There are three paintings in that picture. That could be a quirk, that I’m capable of painting over things.”
Figuring It Out on Her Own Rand never took a woodworking class, which, she says, was probably a mistake. “It’s by far not the right thing to do to get there quickly.” She did take art classes in painting and pastels at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, and lessons in brushwork from Rebecca Grace Jones after meeting her at an art show. Rand credits Jones as being a major influence on her work. She’s also influenced by the work of Whistler and other painters, and by people she admires in
books, like The Group of Seven, about a group of Canadian landscape painters. Early in her second career, she focused on functional woodworking—building tables and chairs, and jewelry boxes. For a while, she inlaid silver into walnut, and did sculptural things. “But I always wanted more color in wood,” she says. Even though she worked in exotic woods where there is color—like Purpleheart, Bubinga, Macassar Ebony—but it wasn’t enough. She decided to try painted furniture, and began building benches and rocking chairs. u
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The following galleries carry Rand’s work: The New Morning Gallery, Asheville, NC The Real Mother Goose, Portland, OR The Bridge Gallery, Shepherdstown, WV Dickinson and Wait Craft Gallery, Shepherdstown, WV 10 | fluent
“That’s probably the most intricate thing I’ve ever done,” says Rand, pointing to the cabinet above (Art Deco Cabinet with lights 76” x 22” x 22”. “For example, I did the bottom part twice, because I didn’t like what I had done. I usually do things like that up from the bottom, and once I finished the bottom part, I didn’t know what the next layer would be and so on. I just sort of progressed through it. Even that’s quite intuitive, although there are certain things that once I commit to an idea—like what the top part is going to be—it’s carefully measured. ‘Oops, damn!’” she says, laughing at remembering the measuring process. “I did get a little better at it, but not very much.” (Far right) Tall Fall Landscape Cabinet, 76” x 22” x 18”.
(Below) Nature’s Sanctuary Lamp 15” x 15” x 17”; Underwood Road Cabinet, 40” x 20” x 36”. Rand’s characteristic images—paths, roads, trees, landscapes—cross over from her woodworking to her paintings and multimedia pieces. “I get hungry to make things still; maybe not woodworking. I’m kind of tired of that,” she says.
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“Valley View” is a combination of a cut wood applique on a wood panel.
Rand tends to work intuitively, whether it’s woodworking or painting. “I don’t make firm plans or drawings. I’ll sketch something on wood; then I know where to go.” She is never without inspiration: a look out the windows of the home she shares with her partner outside Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and frequent drives to southern Virginia and North Carolina, for example. “I love the Shenandoah Valley, that look, patches of open land with trees in the background.” 14 | fluent
In the Studio Although she now focuses more on painting than on woodworking, Rand still builds her own panels, and will continue doing that until she’s used up her stock of Baltic birch, quarter-inch plywood that’s a very good surface to paint on. No priming is required. “I just start painting,” she says, then laughs. “Of course, if I end up painting something three times, the
surface is primed. “When I walk away from something and turn back quickly and I hate it, I get rid of it, or paint over it. It’s an emotional reaction, and I know immediately whether I like it or not.” Although she used to paint her blank canvases black (see the cabinets on page 13), now she underpaints with spray paint—red, brown, yellow or blue—and then paints up from there. “The first surface is acrylic paints,” she explains. “Then, when I finish with a u
“Dark Hollow in late February.”
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painting—and I think this is unique—I go over it. I shape a lot of areas with Prismacolor pencils. I start with black, then go to a red, then various colors… ochres and yellows. The last thing is oil pastels.” She finishes with a hard acrylic spray.
Mixing Media: Cutouts and Contour Lines Rand has moved away from doing the wood cutouts that were a distinctive element in her artwork for many years. “I felt it was confining… I couldn’t be expressive in that line because it was hard cut, and so I stopped.” In her recent work, the contour lines are like cutouts. She points to the painting over the piano (above): “The strongest part of this are the trees on the left, which have a suggestion of hardness. There’s a barrier. “And definitely a mood,” she says. “I like more somber things.” Recently, she has pushed herself to use more color, and she enjoys that, but says it’s not necessarily what she’s attracted to. “Big paintings… a moodiness to them… even the path. Those are my choices.” Rand sees optimism in her paintings, especially the roads and paths, and the way forward or into them. “They’re moody, but not dark,” she says. “There’s something a little hopeful even.”
Back to the Future Long before Rand was a working artist, she was a musician. She took up violin at 10, and clarinet at 13, and played in junior high orchestra and high school band. Although teaching, graduate school, making art, and exhibiting at shows around the country took 16 | fluent
her away from playing music for years at a time, she’s always returned to it. After moving to Shepherdstown, she again started lessons, in violin and viola, and prefers each for different reasons. “I like the sound of the viola a lot; it’s a mellower alto,” she says. “But I like the music of the violin; there’s much more repetoire for it. And it’s smaller, physically so much easier to play.” She calls playing the violin “the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do.” And perhaps the greatest challenge to her creatively: “Mountains to climb… really, acquiring my skills to be able to express the musicality. I’m not there yet, and I probably never will be, but I am still striving mightily to be a better player.” She prefers to play chamber music, “because you’re on your own part,” she explains. “You have to show up and be heard.” She plays in both the Shepherd Orchestra and the Charles Washington Symphony Orchestra as well. Rand retired, officially, last year, having earned her living as an artist for 37 years. She stopped teaching when she was 37. “I was older then than I am now in my head.” She still keeps to a schedule, with time carved out to do what she loves: artwork in the morning in her downstairs studio, Sudoku after lunch (she’s an avid puzzler), and violin and viola practice in the upstairs music room between 4:30 and 7:30; not the entire time, she notes. “I do take breaks!” Rand says she doesn’t ever want to stop doing her artwork. “I’m fulfilled doing that in some important way. I still have ideas I want to pursue.” And music to play. fluent
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POETRY Mutual Ignorance I train her to distinguish walk, trot, and now canter. I trust her in a round-pen. She runs on a fifteen-foot lead; a one-horse carousel—the ring to my Saturn. I shorten the rope in my left hand and, with the loose rope in my right, I threaten her. I am drawn closer, out of my center into a small circle behind her. When she kicks I see it, in time to consider, but not avoid. Her hoof goes straight to my stomach, picks me up, and sets me down on useless feet. We both stop. Face each other. She is breathing heavy, head high, eyes white, waiting for what comes next. On my knees I hold the rope, watch her as the sweat in my shirt turns red. I know my breath will return, but I also know there is a chance it won’t.
Fear of Lightning The Wish To Be an Indian I am running, each foot pats the dust of tracks left by logging trucks that barely passed these ridge-tops and dragged the trees to mills, in tractor gears. In this place, trees, older than Louisiana, die of their own weight and feed a jungle of deer trails into bottoms of hardwood and up where water courses into sandy streams that slide past diamond-backs and copperheads who curl in the shade and watch wild azaleas stretch to kiss the surface occasionally. Here the treads of log skidders have churned the earth and pulled with chains, forty-foot sections of saw logs and pulpwood to load on trucks. They are gone now and the rain has washed their dust. I walk the woods in search of places where the soil is plowed and flakes of rock lie clean in memory of someone who sat for hours, thousands of years ago, and turned a stone into a knife. It is late summer and hot. I can hear the storm: I count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder as the miles close: 25 seconds, five miles and the thunder still rolls and shakes me. The sky dims. Clouds darken to green and yellow bruises that swirl around me. 20 seconds, 4 miles. My car. four miles away, opposite the storm, is at the end of what dirt road is left. I am barefoot, dressed only in swimming trunks to keep red-bugs from filling my clothes. I carry an eight-foot pole, dried cherry with its bark skinned, a snake-stick that is light and strong and can go into bushes before my legs. I balance the stick beside me and lope the ridge-line. 15 seconds, 3 miles and I can hear the crack split clouds as it roars past me. I keep my pace, but fear, of being caught on high ground when the lightning reaches me, lengthens my step. 10 seconds, two miles. I concentrate on my breath and the path, fast ahead of me: it’s like a dream where I race only half as fast as what follows. I see the flash behind me. 5 seconds, 1 mile. It rips the air and the hair on my body stands; I can smell the sky burn and the rain comes and it feels good and it pushes me, faster, more afraid than I can hold. My breath settles into some instinct and my steps become pats again. Softer, and light, on the balls of my feet, I come round, into a clearing, where a deer stands beside two yearlings. They startle, freeze, then scatter. The doe and one yearling cut right in front and disappear as the road turns behind them. The other one, cut off and confused, runs beside me at my left, too afraid to stop or turn back, determined to get ahead of me and cross, and we run, like this, side by side, with nothing but a barbed-wire fence between us, broken and rusted, and I run as fast as I’ve ever run; elated with our tangled fear. The rain consumes and sound and light combine, and he bounds sideways and crosses and I gain a step, and my spear rises on its own, and I stop the thrust, just before, it severs our rushing heart.
R.L. Sibley 18 | fluent
Acknowledgment of Paternity
Breaking a horse has nothing to do with breaking anything, except maybe your own habit of assuming that he likes you or is like you. Getting a horse to carry you is mostly about teaching yourself to see the world as he sees it. Only then can he trust that you will not ride him over the edge of the earth.
Well, the first thing you know: The yellow and black dust that is so fine and sticks so close you can barely wipe it off. The second thing you remember later: the clear holes in its wing.
A wingless horse sees two worlds: one on the right side, another on the left. He stands on the ground. Stars are up, and up has never interested him. He doesn’t see over things or beyond them very well. In front of himself and directly behind, a horse is sightless— blind to the places where each of his worlds helplessly fade, because a herd animal needed eyes on the sides of its head. If you stand on the ground up close, in front of him, he will only see your two foundling arms, dangling like bird snakes, some wicked beasts that, if you step back a little more, will disappear and then you will suddenly become completely invisible to him, evidently swallowed into a void where he can only hear you, a gap in the world where a shadow memory knows tigers who stalked his father’s father. If he turns his head to the right or left, you will fall from that void too suddenly and he will rear and bolt away from you afraid of what you have become. The two halves of a horse’s brain have been forever separate. Attempt to mount on the right side of a horse trained on the left and he will try to throw you; he doesn’t know you there, in that other world, on that other side. Lucky for you, and unlike you, a horse doesn’t usually tempt death. He runs from it as fast as he knows how and never looks back.
Ray Sibley is a teacher, farrier and knapper of traditional arrowheads who also breaks and trains horses. He holds a Doctorate in Performance Studies from Louisiana State University. Originally from northeastern Louisiana, he moved to Shepherdstown last year.
My First New Friend in Shepherdstown I find myself in his garden, untying his knots. He has been gone for five years. His wife, Frances, still lives here, upstairs: a landlady now. I rent the basement. I remember now his fingers tying this knot as I untie it, stretch out a length, and cut it with my pocketknife. It’s a coil of old clothesline he used for something, a tie down in his truck, I imagine. He left it for a new use, I also imagine, on a bottom shelf, just so. It will tie again, these tomatoes, up off the ground for a season. I try to tie them as if he might take note, if, he passed by later like me, minding bugs one day, in the waiting for this awkward fruit to ripen. After a few weeks of tending this garden, she gave me the keys to his workshop. I visit and work there too, while his ghost sits idle among his things. He points to me. Look how he arranged the pegboard. And here, his bike helmet, with his fingerless gloves still inside, hangs, strapped to the handlebars of his bike. See the vise on the table with its still open maw, as if it remembered his last putterings. I wander among, and borrow, his tools. He was meticulous. He was a maker of things. He understood tools and string and he knew good tools were sharp and good knots easy to untie. I see you Steve and hope to get to know you better. I will taste this tomato one day, like you tasted it. I will slice it clean, dress it on a dish, and smile for you when I eat it. I will also pick some for Frannie and leave them on her porch, because she loves you, still.
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Babyland BY ZACHARY RYAN DAVIS
It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for walking. Walter left his desk and went outside. There were flowers in the parking lot. The wind normally took them all over, but today there was just a light breeze. He found it odd that he never saw the flowers in flight, only where they landed. It felt strange that he should miss this, especially when it happened so often, and he wondered if he spent too much time inside. Getting up and stretching out the legs was good for you; it prevented blood clots from forming. He did not miss driving. It would be good to take walks more often. He passed what everyone at work called the smoker’s lounge without stopping; it was a bare stretch of asphalt behind the building. The dumpsters were back there, and he always felt silly whenever he went out for a smoke. It was worse in the fall and winter, when you had to huddle together with the other smokers next to the stinking dumpsters to block the wind. The cold was so intense it was difficult to bend his fingers at the joints; he used to be proud of the fact that he could spark his lighter with perfectly straight, cold-stiffened fingers. That seemed like a long time ago. Sara wanted him to quit for the baby’s sake. She always wanted children, and despite his best efforts to avoid it, Sara ended up pregnant. The first three months of quitting had been hell, and he snuck a cigarette or two whenever he could before realizing you could not stop gradually—you either stopped smoking, or you kept on smoking. He decided it was best for Sara, for the baby, and for himself, to stop. The quitting stayed when Sara did not, and he thought it would just be a matter of time before he started up again, but he never did. As he crossed the side street and ascended the hill, he could see that someone was being buried. There 20 | fluent
was a small tent with a green canvas stretched over top to give some shade. The heat had become intense recently, although today was mild in comparison. He could not see it yet, but he knew the tent was standing on artificial turf; he wondered why they did that. It must be a necessity because he could recall seeing it at every funeral he attended. The road leading into the cemetery was wellmaintained, but the side of the road was not. On the left, there was a patch of trees set off by a rusted barbed wire fence that ran to just above the knee. There was a small metal sign fixed to one of the fence posts. It said “Park Closes After Dark.” Walter found the phrasing odd. Who would ever think of this place as a park? he thought. The left side of the road was an eyesore—lifeless, long ago felled trees and heaps of trash. The flowers got stuck here, too. Artificial memorial wreaths and cardboard backing, silk petals and plastic stems, beautiful bouquets of fresh flowers and American flags, taken by the wind and scattered. It all ended up here. Someone ought to clean that up, Walter thought. He reached his hand through the fence, being careful not to touch the wire. The last thing he needed was a trip to the emergency room for a tetanus shot. He pulled back a small bundle of artificial flowers. The color was bright, and Walter brushed away as much of the dirt as would come off. Still bending over, he noticed for the first time that there was a small body of water through the trees. He assumed it was likely a collection of pooled rainwater, probably stagnant. Walter took the flowers with him as he began walking down the path. As he got closer, he could see the tent was not up in anticipation of a funeral; it was still standing after
the burial. The artificial turf was there like he thought it would be. Resting on it were what he assumed to be folding chairs. They were covered in black cloth, and he could not see their true shape. The turf, chairs, and tent were positioned near a small memorial plaque. Walter could not read the name on it without getting closer, which seemed disrespectful. In front of the plaque, the earth was dressed with hay to encourage the grass to grow underneath. A grave without grass seemed naked. Walter was disturbed. Old graves were fine. There was peace there. New graves were more immediate. He quickened his pace. The majority of graves near the entrance had memorial plaques instead of headstones. Near the building where the workmen’s tools were kept, there was a small cluster of headstones. None of them stood straight, and many leaned at dangerous angles. They were obviously old. The path ran behind the building and branched out three separate ways. To the right was a shorter road that led to another, newer cluster of graves. Straight ahead led to the new chapel where services
Photograph by Keron Psillas.
were held. The path on the left wound its way through the heart of the cemetery and looped around back to the main road. Walter heard the sound of a motor getting close before he saw the caretaker come around the back of the building in a cart. The caretaker took the turn quickly, and Walter froze. The caretaker stopped with a jerk and stepped off the cart. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I ain’t gonna hit ya.” “I appreciate it,” Walter said. “That’d just make more work for me.” The caretaker laughed and so did Walter, more out of reflex than because he thought it was funny. After both men let their laughter die off, they discovered to their mutual surprise and embarrassment that they were still standing in front of each other. “I guess you’re plenty busy already,” Walter said. “Yep,” the caretaker said, extending the word to two syllables. “Well, take it easy.” “You, too.” He continued down the path to the left. He saw four other people walking, coming toward him. He u
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was the only one walking in this direction. That was fine with him. Walter preferred to walk alone. People always asked questions. It seemed they were incapable of sustaining a silence, as if they were afraid they might lose the ability to speak if they did not exercise their vocal cords whenever possible. He walked the path without stopping, but he slowed down as he passed the new chapel. This was his favorite part of the cemetery. There were several ornate monuments in close proximity to each other, one of which had a fountain. Water had not spouted from it for a long time, but Walter liked the look of it, just the same. Blowing toward him in the light breeze, a dirty, white plastic shopping bag skittered along the road. Walter bent down and picked it up. He rolled it into a ball and stuffed it into his pocket, then continued on. He would look for a trash can later. There were several benches placed in memory of loved ones. There were benches for the Johnsons, for Ruby Mae Leiter, and for Steve and Margaret, from their loving children. Walter’s favorite bench was carved out of marble; the engraving let anyone who passed by know that it was Diana’s Sitting Place. He liked that. It seemed so friendly. One day, he decided, he would sit there, to see what it was like. Beyond Diana’s Sitting Place, there were three plots, separated from each other and the rest of the graves by short, individual rows of hedges. The headstones looked expensive and were oddly shaped. One looked to Walter like a jut of crystal from a grotto, and one looked like a small, black copy of the Washington Monument, although fatter at the base. The other was perfectly square, with alternating checkerboard patterns of gray and black on its face. None of the headstones had names or dates. God, it’s weird to reserve a burial plot, Walter thought. It’s like sending an RSVP to death. There was a long, bare stretch of grass after the last of the reserved plots. It was curiously empty, as if it had been agreed that the land was to be untouched. There were no more graves until you entered Babyland. There were cherubs all over Babyland. They were perched on stone markers and brass plaques, and they knelt in gentle supplication on the grass, their hands cupped together to hold flowers. One of the genuflecting cherubs held an American flag. It sat on top of a small patch of upturned earth clothed in hay. 22 | fluent
Walter was glad there was not a bench set up here. He could not imagine the type of person that could stop and rest in Babyland. The place itself felt unnatural, as if it should not exist. Walter stepped off the road and into Babyland. He walked on the grass, being careful not to step on the memorial plaques or disturb the cherubs. He stopped. The headstone he stood before was rough hewn and rectangular. On it was a smiling lamb and the dates May 4, 2003 - June 21, 2003. That was about the time of the accident. He had not been to the place where their baby was buried, just on the opposite end of town. He had not attended the funeral. He had been clean since the morning after. He had not touched another drop, even though he wanted it more than anything. Still, though, even after giving it up, this was not enough for Sara. His sobriety was never going to win back her favor, no matter how many AA coins he earned. She never spoke to him again. Her lawyer did the talking. He tried calling her and e-mailing, and he even wrote a series of letters to her in longhand, which seemed to him irresistibly romantic, but she never responded. In the end, he simply signed the divorce papers. The day he did, he went for a walk. Turning right instead of left from his apartment building, he walked into town and to the liquor store. He stood outside and stared in the window for a long time. Someone who worked there eventually opened the door and told Walter he would have to leave if he wasn’t going to buy anything. “This ain’t the place for window shopping, buddy. You buyin’ or not?” Walter did not know what to do. He stared at the liquor store employee, unable to make a decision. The employee ended up making the decision for him. “Get the hell out of here before I call the cops, alright?” he said. Walter walked home. Walter placed the plastic flowers in the holder in front of the headstone with the smiling lamb. This was good enough, for now. It was a start. He turned around and walked out of Babyland. He continued along the road, making the loop that led back to the entrance. He heard two cars coming over the hill, and he stepped over to the right as far as he could. The cars pulled over, their tires resting in the grass.
That’s not right, Walter thought to himself. They ought to show some respect. A woman and a man got out of the first car. Another man in a dress shirt and tie got out of the other. The woman immediately walked toward a memorial plaque. “See?” she said, “This is what I’m talking about. It’s like this every time we come out here.” “I’m sorry about that,” the man in the dress shirt and tie said. “That certainly isn’t good. We’ll get this fixed up for you right away.” Walter was interested, but he kept going. He could hear the woman ask something about how the man in the dress shirt and tie was going to make sure this never happened again, but that was all. The rest of the conversation was lost to Walter as he made his way out of the cemetery. He stopped at the smoker’s lounge. He lifted the lid of one of the big dumpsters and reached into his pocket to get the plastic bag. He threw the bag away, then he walked past his building and kept going into town. It was a beautiful day, perfect for walking, and he didn’t want to have anything to regret. fluent
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Staff Meetings Researched Across Multiple Disciplines BY ED ZAHNISER Recent research studies raise a bevy of questions about negative effects of staff meetings. Studies cover the gamut of disciplines from tectonic science to sleepwalking, exposure to lead, sociology, infant individuation, numeracy, brain cooling, energy drinks, and cosmology. The following sampling of recent research studies suggests the breadth of concerns evinced about this persistent, management-enforced, workplace phenomenon. — The Editors The mountains on Pluto appear to be floating, an experience many workers report having in staff meetings. Whether Pluto’s mountains are unsettled by the “free-floating anxiety” characteristically induced in employees during staff meetings is not yet known. Some workers report that their free-floating anxiety morphs into disconcerting out-of-body experiences. Crocodiles are able to sleep while keeping one eye open. It is also possible that one crocodile brain hemisphere stays awake while the crocodile sleeps. Researchers are designing studies to test whether workers can develop like skills as adaptive responses to staff meeting ennui. Exposure to lead works on children just like staff meetings work on adults. Both classes of study participants experienced overpowering daytime sleepiness. Subjects who present with a blanket fear of the approach of strangers, and subjects who have attended regular staff meetings for more than six months will both experience time slowing down at the approach of their trigger-phenomenon. Rats are naturally wired like a FitBit device to keep track of both time and distance on treadmills. Scientists associated with a Google offshore tax haven 24 | fluent
are studying the rats’ neuro-physiological makeup for commercial consumer applications. Similarly, orchestra conductors are able to keep an exact count of their steps taken, even while walking and conversing with a companion on a range of topics unrelated to music. In outer space, anti-diarrheal drugs degrade no faster than during staff meetings on Earth. An office worker who fell off a chair during a staff meeting and injured the coccyx vertebra regrew six of them. A related study showed that brain cooling adversely affects head trauma suffered by sleep-induced falls from chairs during staff meetings. A worker compensation administrative court case awarded damages to a tall employee who fell asleep in an office chair and sustained a back injury when falling out of the chair. Eight of nine Canadians who murdered a stepchild were determined to be males who had experienced 40 or more staff meetings in the preceding 12-month period. American males disposed to traditional masculine roles find that commercial energy drinks have decided narcoleptic effects after the first 15 minutes of a staff meeting. Researchers forced male howler monkeys to attend weekly staff meetings at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C. The study subjects all exhibited smaller testes at the conclusion of the six-week study. Of Earth’s five major extinction episodes, three have been associated with the ritual
institution of staff meetings or serious discussions of instituting staff meetings. The findings held true across most species except cats, who were mostly asleep. Infants introduced to regular staff meetings before they reach the threshold of speech have been shown to be unable to tell that their being tickled involves an external causal agent. Corporate motivational speakers who consulted pediatric sleep experts now routinely promote incorporating a “bedtime mode” in cell phones provided to employees required to attend regular staff meetings. Accountants and other extremely numerate functionaries, when asked to distribute bananas during late-morning staff meetings, tend to base decisions on merit. A side effect of the study showed that the numerate folk held back extra bananas for themselves. Germans who routinely fall asleep in staff meetings, when given false definitions of Italian swear words, experience little or no diminution in overall language learning ability. Researchers explaining penguins’ distressing loss of ability to taste fish compared this adaptation to the common experience of temporary hysterical deafness in staff meetings. U.S. locations where tweets routinely include insults such as “haters,” “jealous,” “grrr,” “sooo,” and “Mondays” also rate high in numbers of businesses committed to spur-of-the-moment staff meetings, especially in response to the lack of crises in the workplace Adults in Saskatchewan experience leg cramps only half as often when on vacation from jobs that feature routine staff meetings. Dutch chimpanzees in Edinburgh, Scotland, when introduced to staff meetings,
began to emit snores sonically indistinguishable from those of their study monitors who eventually fell asleep, too, nullifying the study results and necessitating a re-design. Danish babies of parents who never attended staff meetings cuddle, smile, and laugh 82 percent more often than babies of parents staff meeting exposure. A New Mexican teenager went into a trance state during a summer job staff meeting. Administered scorpion antivenin by mistake, he functioned normally again within minutes. Clinicians discovered that therapeutic techniques used for athletes with long histories of multiple concussions also work for mid-career employees subject to regular staff meetings who exhibit cognitive dysfunctions of otherwise unknown etiologies. Pulmonary researchers report that regular weekly staff meeting attendance equates in effects on the lungs of daily smoking three packs of unfiltered cigarettes. The researchers look forward to self-testing newly legalized Cuban Cohiba cigar imports. Blood samples drawn from employees after regularly scheduled one-hour staff meetings induced comas in even the largest aquarium fish. Corporate chemists fresh from a special two-hour staff meeting about thinking outside the box returned to their cubicles and immediately un-boiled a hen’s egg. Mantle perturbations in an orogenic belt were found to coincide with the predominant Monday morning staff meetings throughout Eurasia. Also seabed volcanoes. Sulfur bacteria in Western Australia, where staff meeting frequencies far exceed global so-called norms, were found to have resisted evolving for the past 2 billion years. fluent
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Artist and professional house painter Chris Steffey created this art installation, “50 Grit,” at Shepherdstown, WV’s Town Run Tap House with everyday objects he’s saved for more than 10 years from his worksites—paint brushes, roller naps and paint lids. The title of the installation combines his age and the tooth of a sandpaper. It’s his second such exhibit: On turning 36, he produced a similar work, “36 Grit.” The self-portrait “wave” incorporates paintings all done on recycled materials that include wood, a chair cushion and stretched canvases made of drop cloths. Steffey, who has a BFA from Shepherd University, says he likes combining his vocation and his avocation.