Volume IV | Spring 2019
Local queens ignite Oxfordâ€™s drag scene at Bar 1868 page 24 by Haley Jena
Volume IV | Spring 2019
Editor-in-Chief Maya Fenter Art Director Alissa Martin Editorial Staff Sam Cioffi, Chloe Murdock, Riley Steiner, Megan Zahneis Art Staff Courtney Dunning, Min Kim, Fatima Knight, Sadie Van Wie, Connor Wells Photo Staff Matt Heckert, Jugal Jain, Heather McCowan, Macy Whitaker Copy Editors Sydney Hill, Brianna Porter Business Manager Beatrice Newberry
cover photo by Alissa Martin
PROSE Maya Fenter
Letter from the Editor
Adult Lego Builders
Calm in Chaos
Head of Student Media Samantha Brunn
Nowhere to Turn
Faculty Advisor James Tobin
Brothers in Song
Do You Believe in Magic?
Business Advisor Fred Reeder
Once Upon a Visit
For Your Amusement
Distributor WDJ Inc. - Bill Dedden
POETRY Emily Dattilo Ben Finfrock
a memory written in sunflowers Butterflies
from the editor
photo by Jugal Jain
Dear reader, Someone recently asked me how I got involved with the magazine — a friend, an internship recruiter, a professor, I don’t quite remember. It’s fairly simple. One night at the beginning of my sophomore year, I received an email from a girl named Megan, who you might know as the previous editor-in-chief, the one who we all have to thank for getting this publication off the ground. But back then, I didn’t really know her at all, a fact that she pointed out in the first line of her email. As I was reading her message sitting on my twinsize dorm room bed in the dark, I don’t think I thought I’d eventually be here, three issues under our belt, and now responsible for the fourth. Inside and out, this issue embodies the idea of growth. In our cover story, you’ll read about the drag queens of southwest Ohio growing into their onstage personas as well as themselves. Then, about one writer growing out of her childhood obsession with Harry Potter and her friend who did not. You’ll read about the man who shaped Miami’s Art Museum into what it is today and the legacy he left behind. Another story gives you a glimpse inside Alumni Hall, where architecture majors spend late nights learning how to make buildings. Then, you’ll visit the Hefner Museum in Upham Hall, where people are learning the craft of taxidermy. There are stories about personal hardships — how one student has grown from her past into the artist she
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is today, and how another has started to carve out a place of her own at Miami in spite of spending her first year feeling like she didn’t belong. There’s even a story about storytelling itself (I promise it’s not as hard to wrap your head around as it may seem). What you won’t read about, and what is quite frankly difficult to put into words, is how much I’ve grown throughout this semester. Being in charge of a magazine isn’t exactly easy — you can take my word for it so you don’t have to try it for yourself. Thankfully, there’s a whole cast of people who have not only made this wild ride a bit easier, but worth every late night and dedicated hour. This issue wouldn’t exist without the writers, who were willing to share the experiences of themselves and others, and accept countless suggestions on Google Docs. I’d also like to thank the dedicated folks behind The Miami Student Media — editor-in-chief Samantha Brunn, faculty advisor Jim Tobin and business advisor Fred Reeder, just to name a few. I’m also grateful for our new art director Alissa Martin, who can attest to the stress and struggle of taking on new (and quite large) responsibilities, yet was able to put together the pages you’re holding in your hands with the help of the rest of the design staff, illustrators and photographers. I couldn’t have pulled this off without the editorial staff either — Megan, Riley, Chloe and Sam — for making this issue what it is, but also for bearing with me as I learn the ropes. And lastly, thank you. Thank you for your eyes and for your time, but especially for believing in what this publication has to offer. We’re proud to present the fourth issue of The Miami Student Magazine. We hope that you get something out of it, whether it be a newfound sense of self-confidence or appreciation for art, knowledge of how to stuff a dead bird or simply an hour or two of entertainment.
Maya Fenter Editor-in-Chief
In Memoriam Audrey Marie Davis
by Megan Zahneis
We believe words are indelible. It’s why we’re journalists and creative writers and poets. That belief has been one of the few consolations for us in the last few months, after one of our friends and colleagues, Audrey Davis, a senior journalism major, died suddenly in late December. Audrey wrote last issue’s cover story, “The Champion Standard.” An in-depth profile of Miami’s award-winning synchronized skating team, it took dozens of hours of reporting — often early-morning hours, ones Audrey spent in the locker room with the team or rinkside during their practices. She gave me updates on her reporting week after week with the biggest grin on her face — she couldn’t wait to tell me about the latest great interview she’d had. It seemed Audrey was endlessly enthusiastic, almost giddy, about the story. One Saturday night in November, she texted me a picture of 17 typed pages of interview notes, spread out on the floor of her apartment, saying she was about to “take a machete” to them and would soon have a draft for me to read. “This is not meant to scare you,” she added, knowing that as editor, I was worried about word counts and page layouts. “My final draft will not be 17 pages long.” It was 11. Eleven pages, 3,633 words. Audrey clung to each of those words. She wanted
to use them to tell everyone who would read the story all about the synchronized skating team — to include every quote, every detail that she’d uncovered in her reporting. She wanted, to use an old writing cliche, to show, not tell. Audrey wanted to show us what it was like to be on the rink with the skaters, to watch them rehearse their routines and perfect their technique. Without Audrey, it seems, we’re stuck with telling, not showing. Words — those supposedly lasting imprints — don’t express what it feels like to have lost her, for me or for any of us on the editorial staff. Two hours before she filed her first draft, Audrey sent me another text update. She wrote that she was “a ball of anxiety,” that she’d been felled by writer’s block. “I’m just at that stage of writing where I think everything sucks when in reality, if I take a step back, it’s probably fine...You know?” I did know. And of course, it was fine — more than fine, in fact. “The Champion Standard” was recently named a finalist in the Society of Professional Journalists’ regional Mark of Excellence awards. But most importantly, that story, those 3,633 words, are our way of remembering Audrey, of ensuring her indelibility in each of us and in the writing we’ll each go on to do.
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THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
Adult Lego Builders photos by Matt Heckert, illustrations by Connor Wells
A look into the lives of Miami’s architecture students by Maya Fenter
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The first thing that every student who walks through the doors notices is how hot it is. It’s one of the first days in Oxford that truly feels like spring. But the warm, humid air gets trapped in the studio, making it feel more like summer inside. The first-year architecture studio is located on the top floor of Alumni Hall. It’s a large room with high ceilings and a soft evening glow flooding through the windows. The floor is a maze of desks cluttered with sketches, half-built models and supplies. Posters of past projects — building photos, floor plans and color schemes — are tacked up onto the walls. Paige Cardwell sits with a tiny gray fan perched in the corner of her desk, which pushes the slightest breeze in her direction. It’s 8 p.m., and there are about 20 people in the studio, which is what Paige calls a typical Sunday night. “Unless we have a project due the next day. Then
this whole place is filled,” she said. The week before their last project was due, Paige pulled two all-nighters. She thinks she only spent 12 hours in her actual home. That Sunday night at midnight, every desk in the studio had a student working at it. It wasn’t until around 5 a.m. that people began to finish and trickle out. The students don’t get much time to breathe between projects. Tonight, Paige and the other firstyears are starting their next one. It begins with a prompt, site guidelines and a list of requirements typed up on a sheet of paper. For this project, they need to create a civic artist center for two artists that can serve as both a living space and a work space. The building needs to have two small apartments, a work space for each artist, a shared library and communal study place, two staircases connecting the spaces, an outdoor space, a gallery space that can fit at least 10 pieces of work, an el-
“The more people told me I should go into engineering and not architecture, the more I felt I needed to go into architecture.”
evator to accommodate the artists’ work (if the gallery isn’t on the first floor), a small private office for the gallery and a storage space. It all starts with a drawing. *** This is Paige’s first year at Miami after attending St. Charles Community College for two years, a school near her hometown in Missouri that she could attend for free. She’s considered a first-year student in Miami’s four-year architecture curriculum, but a junior by her age and number of credit hours. She grew up in an artistic household. She remembers making her first painting alongside her mom and aunt when she was six or seven years old. Her dad used to work on the engineering side of architecture designing cement plants, and as a kid, Paige was curious about what he did. Throughout high school, she planned on being a pre-med major and then going to dental school, but she still drew all the time. During her senior year of high school, her schedule was packed with art classes, which made her reevaluate her plans. “I was like, ‘I’m not going to have fun doing premed; sounds like I need to go back to like my roots and, like, what I wanted to do, which was architecture,’” Paige said. To be admitted to Miami’s architecture program, students have to submit a portfolio after their initial acceptance into the university. Paige submitted some of her photography, a waTHE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
tercolor painting and a charcoal drawing that she did in one of her high school art classes. Some students applying to the program have a more limited artistic background, but rather than looking strictly at ability, faculty want to see potential. That’s what senior architecture Evan Warder was able to display in his application, despite his less extensive high school art curriculum. “They’re not looking for the quality of art, they’re looking for a creative seed,” Warder said. “So someone like me, coming in with almost no art background, or a minor art background compared to most people … I was able to show some form of creative ideas.” Evan considers his background to be more mathand science-oriented. When he was in eighth grade, he began thinking about what he wanted to do in the future. He wondered if architecture was the answer. During his summer breaks in high school, Evan attended architecture summer camps at various universities — the University of Tennessee, the University of Illinois and Miami — to feel it out and see if it was something he might like doing. He started giving architecture tours around Chicago as his high school job. By that point, he was fairly certain that architecture was what he wanted to do. “The more people told me I should go into engineering and not architecture, the more I felt I needed to go into architecture, as the design problems were completely open-ended,” Evan said. “I knew there was no right or wrong solution. And so having that opportunity to find an open-ended solution of my own was really what I was interested in.” It was a little different for junior architecture major Blake Kem, whose mom pretty much told him to go into architecture. Her father was a draftsman who eventually became a lead engineer for a design firm. Blake’s mom has always been enamored by architecture. She would take Blake to houses designed by
Frank Lloyd Wright and other notable buildings when they traveled. Along the way, she nudged her son to pursue architecture as a career. “It was her way of offsetting the, I think the lack of art in her life,” Blake said. “She’s a human resources representative, so I think she always thought it would have been something she should have gone into.” *** By 8:30 p.m., there is no longer light shining through the windows in Alumni Hall. Paige’s drawing table — a slanted surface with a ruler suspended by strings on either side that can glide up and down along the surface — takes up most of her desk. A cup holding pens, pencils and a pair of scissors sits next to a lamp with a roll of masking tape hanging off it. Under her desk, she has a filing cabinet that stores supplies and snacks, both of which are crucial for long nights in the studio. A folded-up piece of tracing paper lies abandoned in the corner of her drawing table. That was her first sketch, where she’d tried incorporating a rooftop space that she ended up not liking. She pores over her current sketch, dragging her pencil along the straight edge to draw perfect horizontal lines. With her pencil and ruler, she marks a series of straight lines on the tracing paper, designating the different rooms the assignment requires, as well as the windows, staircases and doors. Every so often, she swears under her breath before erasing the line she just drew, sweeping away the shavings with a long brush. Paige crumples up one of her sketches into a ball and drops it into the nearest trash can. She grabs the roll of tracing paper and tears off a new sheet for
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No matter how late the night gets, students almost always have company. sketch number five, then reaches for the masking tape to secure the sheet to the surface. According to Paige, the drawing process takes a long time. Sometimes, she keeps thinking of new concepts and wants to rethink her design. Other times, she finds herself second-guessing what she’s doing. “You just have to think of the way that people move throughout the building, because if you can’t functionally move within it … people just feel awkward within it,” Paige said. But the next step — making models — takes even longer than drawing does. Students cut all of the pieces they need out of wood using X-Acto knives or tools in the woodshop — larger panels for the walls and floors, smaller pieces for stairs and interior structures and thin rods to frame windows. Then they assemble their model, gluing everything together. It’s a process that takes a steady hand and a lot of patience. Paige likes to think of herself and her classmates as adult Lego builders. Her first-year class of architecture and interior design majors started out a bit larger than most, with 90 students entering the program, rather than the more typical group of around 60 that Evan and Blake remember from years past. As students drop the major, the first-year class has since decreased to about 80 students. Blake’s cohort has gone from 60 to around 45 since his first year. As with any major, some students find that it’s not for them after a semester or two. This might be more understandable with the rigor and time commitment architecture majors put towards their projects, but regardless of the reason, it’s noticeable when they do leave. “For most people, you wouldn’t notice that in the major,” Evan said. “But since we’re all in one building, you notice who’s not around anymore.” Spending long hours in the same building with the same people makes the students feel like family. During busy weeks, Paige spends more time in Alumni Hall than her own home. On late nights in the studio, there’s food, music playing and people dancing to try and stay awake. No matter how late the night gets, students almost always have company.
*** Paige sits with Reba, Caroline and Cole. They all became close friends last semester, but tonight they’re working in silence, other than the occasional question about the assignment or comment about how much they all hate drawing stairs. Across the room, another group’s chatter about Chipotle orders carries over to Paige. “That’s distracting,” she mutters, glancing up from her sketch and in the general direction of the most recent loud outburst. Next to her, Cole hums softly to whatever is playing in his earbuds, oblivious to the noise. Macey, another one of their friends, walks over to Paige’s desk, a routine occurrence since her desk moved to the other side of the room at the beginning of the semester. Tonight, she’s announcing that she cut herself with an X-Acto knife, sticking out her bandaged index finger as proof. Another girl is with her, carrying a firstaid kit that they borrowed from an upper-level studio. “They always have more bandages than us,” Macey said. “Probably because they never cut themselves, since they don’t have to cut things out by hand.” ***
THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
For first-year and sophomore architecture students, their hands are their most important tools. This means sketching floor plans with a pencil and paper and building models by cutting out and assembling pieces manually. It’s more time-intensive than using a computer to render their work, but hand-drawing ideas will always have a place in the design process. “The idea is that in order to understand the significance of what you’re creating and the size of it, you need to be able to connect your hand to your brain, and the computer is sometimes a block on that,” Evan said. “It’s hard to translate your ideas quickly onto the computer. So you always use hand drawing as a way to quickly produce ideas.” The first two years of the architecture curriculum is fairly structured, including foundational classes such as Graphics, which teaches concepts like drawing techniques and color theory. These courses supplement work in the studio course — students’ main design course, in which they sketch plans and make models. A sophomore architecture major’s year begins with having to build something for their desk. Some opt for practical shelving units for storage. Others make something decorative that sits above their desk, like a trellis. Some installments even have lights. At the end of first semester sophomore year, students design a nature center for Hueston Woods. At the end of second semester, they design a library in the Clifton neighborhood of Cincinnati, accounting for details such as where different types of books will be shelved and the design of the bathrooms. It isn’t until the end of their sophomore year that they transition to digital work. From then on, students
use a variety of different programs to make designs and renderings, including SketchUp, Rhino, AutoCAD and the Adobe Suite. To cut pieces for site models, students use a computer numeric control (CNC) tool, which carves out the shapes they’ve designed using a drill bit. But the help of programs just means professors expect that much more from their students. “When you get into your third and fourth year, design becomes much more theoretical and so does your research, which is supplemented with higher-level technical knowledge,” Evan said. Some classes are more theoretical, such as Architecture in Society, while others get technical, teaching students about how buildings or structures function. While the first- and second-year studios typically consist of the same projects year to year, juniors and seniors pick their studio courses based on a lottery system. Professors pitch the design ideas and projects of their studio course, then students rank the classes based on their interests and are ultimately placed in one. This semester, Blake is in the Solar Decathlon Studio, which is a national collegiate competition led by the U.S. Department of Energy. The objective is to design a net-zero energy building, or a building with no net energy consumption. Blake and his classmates have been working on this project since the beginning of the semester, and brought their design to Colorado in April to compete against over 40 other teams from 38 institutions nationwide. Blake appreciates the more technical side of architecture — the side with less open-ended questions and more right-or-wrong answers — but he still prefers
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“In order to understand the significance of what you’re creating, you need to be able to connect your hand to your brain.” the more artistic aspects. Evan is in an interdisciplinary studio, which incorporates both architecture and interior design. His class was assigned to evaluate a site in Cincinnati that was formerly the Terrace Plaza Hotel, a famous landmark from the ’40s, but is now vacant. The class of 30 has been broken into six teams of five, each proposing a different use for the building based on what would fit the space and the needs of the people in the area. Evan’s group’s proposal incorporates social housing with public spaces that people working downtown could utilize, such as cafeterias and gyms. At the end of the semester, his group will give a presentation explaining the existing structure of the building, their proposal, the design of the public spaces and apartments and how the building would be branded and promoted. “Getting to know all the way down to the details, more about lighting and furniture and providing functional spaces, was really what I was looking for,” Evan said. *** With three years left at Miami, Paige is still unsure about the details of her post-undergrad life. Right now, she wants to work at an architecture firm for a few years, but what comes after that is still just a list of possibilities — finding work outside the country, getting a job that focuses on helping other people, starting her own business. Evan is set on getting his architecture license. Though it’s not required to work as an architect, being licensed opens up job opportunities. After graduating
in May, he will attend either the University of Michigan or Tulane University in New Orleans. He’s been working on the application process since fall semester. The bulk of the application is a student’s portfolio. While Miami’s undergraduate program seeks out potential, graduate schools look for a representation of skills, point of view and an overall fit for the program. This often means revisiting past projects and editing them so they meet a certain standard. “Something from your sophomore year is not going to be up to the level you want it to be,” Evan said. “Nothing from your first year will make it because that’s just not enough design. So, you go back and you rework things.” Blake also hopes to go to graduate school and receive his license, but as a junior, hasn’t begun the application process beyond considering which schools he might want to apply to. “I think I’ve got a good amount of time until I have to begin to apply. So I haven’t put a whole bunch of thought into it quite yet. That’ll come in the summer.” *** At 2 a.m., there’s still around 20 people in the studio. After several trials, Paige finally has a floor plan that she’s happy with and ready to show her professor for feedback tomorrow in class. Or, at this point, later today in class. She packs up her bag and clicks her desk lamp off. She pushes open the studio doors to escape into the cool air, relieved that she might actually get some sleep tonight. S
THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
Calm in Chaos
photography by Julien Griffith
Designer Julien Griffith finds her stride from the smudges of her past by Audrey York
he door to Farmer room 1035 is at the back, and squeaks unbearably with every entrance. At the professor’s request, it hasn’t been fixed — it helps keep students in their seats because it’s too awkward to leave. But senior Julien Griffith doesn’t notice. She struts into the bland classroom. She’s running late — she usually is — but today, it’s only by four minutes. The professor has already started talking about the next project: a brand analysis that’ll be worth 25 percent of her grade. But with her oversized, stu-
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dio-quality headphones, she doesn’t hear his directions, and frankly, she doesn’t care to. She steps in rhythm with the electronic maze of sound blasting in her headphones. It’s so loud the entire class can hear it. She meanders past rows of classmates who have already been seated and ready to begin for quite some time. She still hasn’t looked up from her phone. In her designated seat at the front of the class, she settles in with another cacophony of sound. She gives a confident smile to the professor. He acknowledg-
The swirl of noise and color that follows Julien around has now calmed, stark against the “we mean business” setting. But she means business in a different sense. Julien, an interactive media studies major, is used to having big design-related projects. She has a 3D modeling project due at the end of the week that will require a couple all-nighters, which she’s used to by now. She has a tendency to take a simple project and make it complex. The next hour and 16 minutes will be used as her own time. *** I’m not sure what reaches me first
fill the small space, overwhelming even the visual noise. He glances up just long enough to say hello and nearly gets killed in his game doing so. Julien is working in chaos. Tipper is running in circles around the small room. On the bed. Off the bed. In front of the TV. Into the kitchen. Repeat. Meanwhile, Julien’s eyes are glued to her laptop, reviewing classmates’ projects. She has to comment on each person’s submission, an assignment she has made clear is a blatant waste of her time. Greg is sitting on the bed beside her, attempting to continue his game through the black flashes obscuring the TV screen as Tipper continues her run. Julien’s eyes dart up to meet the dog’s. Her voice changes tone when she
It’s like the world went shopping, and her room was the result.
“Heaven” by Julien Griffith
es her tardiness by making a half-assed joke to the rest of the class. She doesn’t hear this either. Her plush headphones come off, the wire slapping the desk in front of her. She pulls at her water bottle snug in its pocket, and it hits the table a little too hard with a metallic clang. She tugs her backpack zippers back and forth as she searches for her computer charger. It’s the first class of the day, but her laptop is already dead. The judgmental eyes of her classmates burn into the back of her head, though she doesn’t let them stop her from shifting until finally settling comfortably into her chair.
when I walk into her bedroom — Julien’s dog Tipper or the smell of incense, which has seeped into every fabric. There are tapestries taking up most of the available wall space. But what little area remains is filled with her work, remnants of her time spent in San Francisco last spring and shelves of trinkets from her mom. One wall has Polaroids she printed off the internet. They’re not pictures of her friends or family, but there is one of a llama with his head out of a car. Below that is a photo of Marilyn Monroe smoking a cigarette. There is also a poorly-drawn picture of a dog (I think, but it could also be a bird). There’s a clock with the words “blaze it” collaged over the numbers and a picture of Frida Kahlo that Julien designed in her 3D art class. Julien’s room is so packed with things, you could sit in one spot for hours and always notice something new. It’s like the world went shopping, and this was the result. Her bed is shoved into the corner so it faces the TV on the other side of the room. Among the pillows and throw blankets is Greg, Julien’s boyfriend of two years, sprawled out playing Fortnite after his group project meeting. The sounds coming from the video game
talks to her. Her body language changes, too. She puts her hands on her hips, squints her eyes and uses a deep, manly voice. “Tiiiiipperrrrr.” The dog pauses, panting from running laps, and drops to the ground in an instant. Julien looks at Tipper, and Tipper stares back. The standoff between the two only lasts a second, then her voice returns to its normal tone, noting a “sick kill” Greg made in the video game. Julien is back in character and gets back to her work. *** “Here’s the house code. Just let yourself in, I’m making dinner.” Coming through the front door on my next visit to Julien’s house, I am overwhelmed by the scorching scent of chilis. The spice drifts through the whole house from the kitchen and stops me in my tracks. I give a holler into the house, so she knows I’m here. “You HAVE to get in here,” Julien calls in response. “This food is dank.” Her voice rings out from a place I can’t see. I smile. Then from around the far corner, I see her head peek out, seemingly detached from the rest of her body. She smiles at me.
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“Snake” by Julien Griffith I walk into the kitchen to find total chaos. There is food everywhere. Remnants of packaging on every counter and three bowls set aside. On one counter are smaller bowls with different toppings: shaved carrots, zucchini pieces, steamed spinach and sautéed shitaake mushrooms. Julien is at the stove, flipping sliced steak and adding more chili paste to the pan in front of her. The mess engulfs her. The spicy air clouds the room. Tipper circles at her feet. But in this chaos, Julien looks at peace. She distributes the contents of the pan of steak into the three bowls, then holds one out to me. “Here, I made you bibimbap.” I hadn’t expected her to cook for me. In fact, I made sure to eat right before coming over so I wouldn’t be visibly
hungry while she ate with Greg. But, I take the bowl happily and tell her I’d never had the dish before. She can’t believe that, can’t stand for it, and shows me how to make the perfect bowl. Rice first, then steak. Heavier toppings on the bottom, lighter ones on top. Zucchini, carrots, shitaake mushrooms. She takes a sprig of cilantro and drops it on the top, followed by a heavy dose of sriracha. “The final touch.” In her room, we sit where we can. Julien and Greg (and sometimes Tipper, if she isn’t drooling in my face) are on the bed. I’m sitting on a small storage bin on the opposite side of the room. On the TV is a show called “Love Island,” a reality show where people live in a house on some tropical island and are supposed to fall in love. It’s the type
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of show where all the beds are creepily put in one room so viewers can see all the action, the type of “white girl basic love story” I frankly didn’t anticipate Julien enjoying. She and Greg have their eyes glued to the screen, bantering with each other about the latest drama between one of the couples. We sit there in the tiny bedroom, fighting back tears from the spice while watching bikini-clad girls on TV fight over the same boy. Julien admits she had gone a little “heavy” on the chili this time around. “OK, I’m tough, but wow. Fuck, this is spicy. I don’t think I can eat this.” But despite the spice, she packages the leftover bibimbap to eat the next day. She won’t waste it. Growing up, there was a time when Julien, her older sister and her younger
“With my shitty life, nothing else could possibly go wrong.” brother weren’t sure where their next meal would come from. When Julien’s dad got home from work, he would take her and her siblings to go do something fun — going to the pool or Chuck E. Cheese or out to eat. But Julien’s dad spent most of the time they were out of the house and away from her mom on a phone she didn’t recognize, talking to voices she had never heard. In a Chuck E. Cheese at age 9, Julien realized her dad was cheating on her mom. It was Easter weekend when Julien asked her mom about her dad’s other phone. But, her mom didn’t know about it. Other than that, Julien says she doesn’t remember much during the pre-divorce era. This is the way she refers to sections of her life narrative — pre-divorce, post-divorce. Then a custody battle. The divorce. The moving. The poverty. Her mom started her own house-cleaning business near Ann Arbor, doing anything to feed her family. This was the “hurt phase” of the divorce. Julien remembers feeling abandoned by her dad and alone while her mom worked long hours. Julien was 12 years old and living in a run-down house with a porch in Ann Arbor, spending half her time with her mom and half with her father. It was during the days she spent at her dad’s house that her love for cooking took off. She would search the house and eat the “stuff people forget is hiding in the back of the pantry, you know, that stuff you buy because you might need it someday.” Her favorite things to cook were Asian-inspired dishes. They were the easiest and cheapest. She could manage something with rice and whatever meat
she could scrounge together. Julien took care of herself and her brother the best she could. But at other times, she explored Ann Arbor with her friends — presumably where her captivation with old, decrepit buildings is rooted. The street she lived on was lively thanks to the wandering college students. Next door was an abandoned building once used as a school to teach girls art, now empty and teeming with graffiti artists. She spent her time painting on her front porch, exploring and enjoying the way nature met industrial life in her town. Her life felt more settled, though she was physically moving around more than ever. Until the crash changed her life. *** In her digital branding class, she does everything except listen to what the professor is teaching. He has no idea. While he spouts out facts about search engine optimization, Julien is hiding behind her laptop screen and analyzing her hand. She rotates her left wrist, twisting and turning it in the natural light from the window. She notes her hand’s discolorations and imperfections, and traces its lines and creases with her right finger. She jiggles the mouse of her laptop. The black screen awakens to light a misshapen and robotic-looking hand cut off just below the wrist. She clicks and drags her mouse, causing this hand stump to spin on the screen. She brushes a darker nude color on the spots she noticed in her examination. A little below the index finger and a deep line on the palm. Her mom taught her to pay attention to the little details.
*** Julien’s mom was driving to work one day when she got t-boned, leaving her with a broken neck. Julien remembers getting the call from the hospital. “It was terrifying. My world was just spinning. It felt like my protector was gone.” That summer was isolating for Julien. While her mom recovered, her dad kept Julien at his house and away from her mom. A summer went by before she got to see her mom for the first time since the accident. Her mom looked at her and told her the doctors had found something else — a brain tumor. “My mom. My poor mom. It felt surreal. A haze settled over everything. It felt kind of like the time before a sunset fades into nothing. There’s still a light there, a shine from it, but it’s fading every second. It felt kind of like that. Like I could almost see my time with my mom shrinking before me and I couldn’t stop it. ” The surgery to remove the tumor went well. The doctors were happy. Friends were supportive. Life felt normal again. “With my shitty life, nothing else could possibly go wrong.” Then it did. Julien’s mom went in for her twomonth checkup and was told she only had three months left to live. But her mom was still supporting the family completely. She was still going to work. She was still walking the dog. Julien felt like the doctors had to be lying. Until things got worse. The tumor was taking over sections of her brain that controlled her speech and movement. Julien remembers watching her mom try to communicate. “You could tell she had things to say,
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“I don’t think it’s a bad life, it’s just an eventful one.”
“Homelessness” by Julien Griffith but she just couldn’t.” The two joked about her forgetting certain words, like calling Julien’s mouth retainer a “bead” and Julien by her cousin’s name, Chloe. Julien’s life had become subsumed by watching her mom die. Her mom was getting worse each day, eventually throwing up and not speaking at all, and Julien remembers carrying her dead weight to the bathroom. On New Year’s Eve, the two of them watched “The Twilight Zone” in a comfortable silence. “I watched my strongest person decay into nothing.” On April 28, her mom passed away. Julien was 15 years old when she went to say goodbye. “Seeing a dead body is the weirdest thing ever. They’re there, but they’re not.” This was the moment when it was all real, when it all ended. Standing there looking at the person that provided for her. Seeing a person lying there.
“And that’s, like, that’s my mom.” Behind teary eyes, Julien finished her story, saying that her mom always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon before she passed — she never made it, but her ashes were spread there by Julien’s sister. “I can’t summarize it. It wasn’t a moment, it was nine years full of fucked-up shit, but I don’t think it’s a bad life, it’s just an eventful one.” “I think you need to go to the Grand Canyon and send your dad the bill,” I teased. “Yeah, I think my mom would’ve liked that. A final ‘fuck you,’” Julien responded. *** As she reads an online assignment, Julien sighs at her computer. She’s supposed to draft personal logo sketches for a design class that she hates and she could probably teach.
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She’s impatient when people waste her time, and this class is a prime example. In class, she spends the three hours listening to a professor drone on about a reading they did for homework the night before. The group work is just as frustrating. The professor hands out rubrics that break projects into more manageable sections. But Julien doesn’t work that way. She never plans. In a group setting, Julien looks like the slacker. She sits there in joggers tucked into thick Doc Marten boots, listening to everyone’s bad proposals before presenting hers. She insists that she has the best ideas. Julien’s classmates will collectively throw out a dozen ways to approach an assignment. Once it’s her turn to talk, she takes over the group with her way — the right way — to do the project. “My life is all about finding shortcuts to doing things, but actually, I’m the one doing them the right way,” she says. Life often feels this way for Julien. It’s easier for her to do things on her own. For her, other people seem to complicate things. Back at home, she finishes reading the assignment. With an eye roll, she stumbles out of bed and over to a bookshelf to grab her sketchbook. Tipper climbs down after her, retracing her steps with her own four-legged ones. The two re-settle on the bed next to Greg. Her sketchbook is battered from use. It has random sheets of paper tossed in between its pages. Some of these are watercolor paintings, others are doodles. Most of them are of mushrooms cutely animated with tiny smiling faces. One is a line of trees in a dark and foreboding forest. The most interesting is an alien drawn in thick black Sharpie with normal-looking features, but with
“New Age Saints” by Julien Griffith huge, oversized tits. “That? Oh, that’s nothing,” she says, quickly flipping past the alien to an open page. Without thinking, she moves to the bottom-right section of the page and draws a small number five. Beside it she lightly etches her initials, “JG,” erasing and re-drawing sections that aren’t symmetrical. They’re bold, round and bubble-looking. Honestly, they’re perfect. “Start at the finish,” she says with a chuckle. She looks up to meet my eyes, smiling mischievously. “I already have a logo,” she says, pointing to where she’s just drawn the bubbled letters. “That’s it.” The logo she’s talking about has been in use on her personal website for over a year already. The website is an impressive showcase of her creations: her resume, portfolio and random projects. “That’s what I use on my website. But my professor doesn’t need to know that.” She continues drafting on the sheet, now beginning at the top left corner and
drawing the number one. Beside it, she creates mechanical-looking blocked initials. Next to the number two, she’s drawn an equilateral triangle with “JG” at its center. Moving onto draft number three, she has “J” written beside a lightly-shaded square and “G” on the other side. She continues this process for the fourth drawing, gradually getting closer to the final logo design, the one she designed a year ago. Number four is a thinlined, rounded design. It has the same elements of round edges and interlacing letters as her actual logo. She pulls out her iPhone and takes a picture of the page she’s just created. It looks as though she spent more than a few minutes on the product. From her phone, she half-asses a caption about her iteration process and submits the assignment. “Five minutes for five points. Sounds good to me.” She uncurls her crossed legs and gets off the bed, disturbing the sleeping Tipper lying next to her. Across the room, she replaces the sketchbook to its position on the shelf,
then returns to the bed. Tipper’s head in her lap, she turns to Greg, who is sitting beside her and clicking away at a PlayStation controller. “How many kills do you have?” she says. *** The next time she walks into class, the same scene will play out. She will come in late, the professor will joke about it, she’ll take too long and make too much noise when sitting down. Around 11:25, she packs up and immediately throws her headphones back on. The professor is talking about the reading due next class, but she hasn’t heard his instructions. She wasn’t going to do the reading anyway. Walking out, she gives him a friendly nod. Her spirits are a little brighter now that she gets to leave. She’s heading to the Interactive Media Studies building. She won’t find herself back in the business school until the next time she’s four minutes late to the same class. S
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photos by Jugal Jain
Hefner Museum invites amateurs to try their hand at stuffing animals by Kevin Vestal
The first incision is along the keel. My glove-covered fingers comb the European starling’s gray down feathers to the side in order to get a cleaner cut, but they keep drifting back to the bird’s belly. The top part of the chest is good for practice. When I cut too deep, I pierce the bird’s muscles, but don’t have to worry yet about accidentally releasing its last meal. Once I move down toward the stomach and intestines, however, the extent of my cuts starts to matter. Over my shoulder, Steven Sullivan pops in and out to check my progress. His long, sharp fingernails double as tweezers, a fact he proudly demonstrates when he reminds me how to safely attach the blade to an X-Acto knife. As the director of the Hefner Museum of Natural History, located on the first floor of Upham Hall, Sullivan coordinates Taxidermy Tuesdays. This new initiative invites anyone over the age of 18 to try their hand at taxidermy — or,
as Steve puts it, “moving skin.” Due to a snafu with the freezer, my starling was still frozen when I arrived. As we wait for it to thaw, Steve pulls up a PowerPoint presentation detailing all the precautions needed to protect against diseases. “Have you ever touched a dead bird before?” he asks. I pause to think, then mumble something about a time when I was 10 or so and a sparrow crashed into my kitchen window. I might have touched its tiny wings before my dad placed it inside a plastic container that served as the coffin for its garden funeral. “You’re telling me you haven’t touched a dead bird since you were 10,” he says. “Then let me ask you this: Have you ever celebrated a traditional American Thanksgiving?” My first assignment is to inspect the starling lying on a newspaper in front of me in order to make sure it’s suitable —
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that it doesn’t have any broken bones or punctured organs. I sniff the still-cold specimen, but it doesn’t smell anything like death. Its muscles are still stiff from rigor mortis, so I jostle its legs loose and, with prompting, expand the bird’s wingspan, posing it as if it were in flight. There are two types of taxidermy: study skins and display skins. Display skins tell stories and require more craftsmanship. Hefner Museum displays many of these, from tigers, a bear and a warthog to ibexes, a zebra head and a coyote. Study skins, on the other hand, are more focused on recording information about an animal. They are quicker to make and easier to store, which is why Taxidermy Tuesday focuses on this form. Steve moved from Chicago to Oxford in May 2016 when he took over as the Hefner Museum’s director. Taxidermy Tuesday came out of his desire to engage with students outside of biology.
In order to keep on schedule, Steve skips past the slides on measurement and documentation, moving ahead to the dirty work. Once I have opened up enough of the starling’s chest, he shows me how to shimmy the skin off the starling’s leg, then leaves me to mimic his actions on the other side. After scraping away at tendons, I trade scalpel for scissors to snap through the knee, separating the drumstick from the rest of the carcass. Unlike the factory-packaged frog I dissected in middle school, the starling is not injected with any colorful dyes to aid me in my endeavor. Nevertheless, I lean on color to guide my way. I aim for the thin, white skin, carefully separating it from the red muscle. Along the bird’s sides, I encounter an orange, gummy tissue between the white and red. Per Steve’s instruction, I scrape it away with the grip of my knife. I notice that somehow, some of the intestine had sprung free. Thankfully, it had remained intact, but its presence
is threatening. If I was cautious before, my pace grinds to a crawl as I try to find the best place to make a horizontal slice through the bird’s colon. Cutting too low will cause the tailfeathers to fall out, but too high will spray my workspace with God knows what. In case of emergency, I have a plastic cup of Borax powder on standby to hold the contents in place, but for now it is for naught. With the cut complete, the bird’s poop and tail feathers stay right where I want them. At this point, Steve leaves to run an errand, leaving me with just the PowerPoint’s pictures as a guide for the next step. Fortunately, working my way up the back is easy, like symmetrically unpeeling a fleshy banana. I still cut the occasional tendon with a knife, but for the most part I work with my hands. Much like with the legs, I snip the bone of each wing, then pull back the skin as far as I feel I can. When Steve returns, I feel confident enough to tackle the head. Between the squishy, naked carcass and the floppy
skin hanging behind it like a cape, I’m not quite sure what to hold on to as I pull the skin-cape inside-out over the skull. Once the neck feathers hug the bird’s beak and I’ve switched into a tighter pair of gloves, Steve demonstrates how to reach in with a knife to cut out the eardrum. For once, I don’t worry so much about damaging the skin when I go in for the other side. Any tiny, ugly gashes I make will be forgiven by nature of being inside the head and out of human eyesight. The rest of the face is riskier. Because there are so many nerves in the cheeks, I second-guess every cut as I nick away at what I fear might be skin in disguise. Alas, the museum is closing and the skin has dried out from my time-consuming timidness. With no better stopping point, my final tasks for the day are to poke holes for the eyes and to slice into the brain. I steady the scissors across the skull, then squeeze my knuckles into the brittle bone. Confirmation comes in a crack, then the unmistakable pink goo.
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“Did you get out the tongue?” I have not, but with a few quick scissor snips to the jaw, Steve sees to it that the thin white organ is out of the bird and on the table. With that, I bundle my study skin into a damp paper towel and place it in a Ziploc bag along with the carcass, which now looks like a small red potato with a spine and half a head. Before I leave, I wash my hands and tools in the sink, then leave the tools in a metal rack to dry. *** As its name implies, the European starling was not native to the United States until 1890. A Shakespeare superfan named Eugene Schieffelin brought a box full of 60 birds with him across the ocean from England, along with enough insects to keep them fed. The man intended to introduce every bird mentioned by Shakespeare to the United States, regardless of how they’d affect their new ecosystem. In the third act of “Henry IV,” the Bard praises starlings for their mimicry, which was all the justification Schieffelin needed. Upon returning stateside, Schieffelin released
his starlings in Central Park, much to the delight of the American Acclimatization Society. The flock didn’t survive the winter. A year later, Schieffelin tried again. Today, descendents of that second flock number 200 million birds across North America. As expected, the European starling population explosion has had unpredicted consequences. The species is highly adaptable, thanks to its ability to eat almost anything and to roost almost anywhere. Other species couldn’t compete with their new neighbors, resulting in the decline of bluebirds and woodpeckers. In 1990, Congress passed the Lacey Act to outlaw the practice of importing animal species, but by then there was no stopping the starling. True to its namesake, the European starling has colonized coast to coast, spreading grievances from Alaska to Mexico. Some farmers use nets and poisons knowns as starlicides to protect their crops from the pesky peckers. “You have seen a starling today because Eugene released those, and you have not seen a bluebird today because Eugene released those [starlings],” Steve says. “And that, in some way, has
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impacted your life whether you are concious of it or not.” *** Two weeks later, I’m face-to-face with my starling again, paring away the remaining nerves in its grape-like head. My first targets are the eyeballs. Steve warns me that they can be explosive, so my caution level spikes. I stab my scissors behind the eyeball toward what’s left of the brain, then twist underneath to lodge it out. No dice. “Just yank it out,” Steve says. “You’re taking too much time here. We’re not going to get done by 4.” Feeling pressured, I succumb to his command and reach to pluck the eye out with my bare fingers. It takes a few tries to retrieve the pulsing blueberry, but after switching back to my scissors, it finally breaks free. The second eye comes out roughly the same way, joining the first on the corner of my newspaper page. Today, I am not alone at the table. Beside me is Yun Fang, another student who has been practicing her taxidermy skills all semester. She works on a
mourning dove, a test from Steve that leaves her in quiet frustration whenever a knife nip lets a small feather break through the bird’s delicate back. Across from us, Steve brushes a preservative onto the dried remains of a garter snake that he has coiled into a defensive stance. “This guy is one of my old breeder snakes,” Steve says. “He’s 20 years old and he didn’t make it out of brumation this year for whatever weird reason. It’s kind of a sad day that he passed, but he’ll live on.” Before I’m done with the starling’s head, I’m left to deal with the remains of the brain. Steve hands me a pair of tweezers — a real one this time — that hold a clump of raw brown cotton. This will be my broom as I scoop the pink goo out of the skull. For the first time in this whole process, a wave of nausea passed over me and I force myself to look away as I wiggle the tweezers from side to side. Steve chimes in that my broom is dirty and I require a clean tuft of cotton so I’m not just smearing the brains around. After a liberal sprinkling of Borax turns some of the stubborn bits into a friendlier putty, I go through four more rounds
of brushing to empty the tiny noggin. Steve is satisfied, so I move on to roll two small cotton balls and plop one into each eye socket. Steve goes to his office to make a call, leaving me in Yun’s charge. To make the mannequin’s body, I tightly pack cotton around a wooden spoke, kneading it as if I were rolling up a miniature sleeping bag. Like with sleeping bags, it takes a few attemps to get it right. Yun picks a few tufts from my mannequin so that it better resembles my carcass and helps me dampen the cotton in the sink so that it will compact to the optimal size. She also clears my confusion when I have to revert the skin to a sense of normalcy, showing me how to use the beak to drill back through the neck. Before I can fix the skin to its new body, Yun points out the muscle still clinging to each of the starling’s limbs. Reluctantly, I pick up the knife once more to hack away at the rest of the red. Perhaps out of zeal or a readiness to finish, I steady my scissors to cut out the bone entirely. Before I do, however, I turn to Yun for confirmation. “Oh no,” she says. “You need to keep the bones to maintain structure.”
Unfortunately, my finagling has already left a massive opening around the left shoulder, but Yun assures me that with some adjustments to the plumage, no one will notice my error. Sure enough, when Steve returns to inspect my progress, he gives me his blessing and arranges the starling into its final position. With the wings down at its side and the legs crossed into an X, I take a needle and black thread to baseball-stitch the belly shut. For once, my hands work quickly as I weave right to left from the neck on down. Finally, I pin the bird in place to a pink styrofoam slab. Yun suggests I run a strand of thread through the nostrils to keep the beak from falling open, and at last my first study skin is complete. S
THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
Nowhere to Turn illustrations by Courtney Dunning & Connor Wells
Microaggressions haunt Taiwanese-American student by Chloe Murdock
ing tells stories in a thin, nonchalant voice. Like when she mentions that on a near-constant basis, professors and international students alike approach her with a flourish of welcoming Mandarin, before they find out that Ying can only respond in English. Or when she recalls the various moments throughout her life when someone thought it was OK to ask her if she fit Asian porn stereotypes, some of which she wasn’t even aware of. Bukakke? A sideways vagina? She had to Google them. A lot has happened to Ying on this campus, but it is simply following a pattern she picked up in her hometown. She grew up in Dayton, Ohio, with first-generation immigrant parents who fled violence in Taiwan, and a grandma who told the Buddhist monks at their local temple to pick on her for being an ungrateful American child. “Maybe you’re just a magnet with a
big, white, racist ghost following you,” Marisa, Ying’s close friend, joked with her. Ghosts, both white and Asian, seem to haunt Ying. The classrooms that dismissed her Ying didn’t speak English for her first two years in school. Her teachers and peers thought she was dumb, but she just refused to speak out of spite. Ying understood them, but she simply didn’t want to talk to people who pulled their eyelids back and greeted her with “Ching chong ching chong!” Her teachers put her in the mental retardation class a year before the school rebranded it as special education. Eventually, Ying spoke English. Her teachers put her in regular classes. Ying grew up, but perhaps her peers did not. Once, she was giving a tour to a new freshman student at her high school.
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They finished the tour, and she dropped him off at his next class. She left the classroom thinking she was alone, but the student ran out of the class to catch up with her. “Hey, come back here! You dumb chink Asian slut!” the student, whom she had never met, said before he ran back into the classroom. Ying rushed in after him. “Get the fuck out of here! You need to leave!” She cussed him out. In front of the whole class, the new student, the teacher. Ying got in trouble. Not him. Make it Miami? Ying is unusually kind. She will help someone she just met to carry a heavy load. She will walk a new friend home. She will offer to connect someone she barely knows with another friend who can give free stick-and-poke tattoos and piercings. But Ying has a lot of anger. Lately, it has been bubbling up more often.
Ying saw the warning signs in the months leading up to the fall semester of her first year at Miami. Students protesting the campus’ handling of the Thomas Wright n-word scandal last year had taped up posters in Armstrong Student Center to warn prospective minority students and to make the university worry about how it could affect admissions. While touring the campus after being accepted, Ying snapped pictures of these ominous posters and sent them to her friends, adding, “This is the fucking school I’m going to.” When they saw the posters, they told her to deal with it. Ying didn’t choose Miami. Her parents did, for the sheer amount of scholarship money she received here in comparison to Ying’s first choices, the Ohio State University and Yale. Ying attended the Bridges Summer Scholars program, which offers scholarships between $2,500 and $5,000 and emphasizes diversity, but couldn’t bond with people of color in the program. They were snobby, standoffish. A sophomore helping to lead the program bragged that she could get into all the best parties because of her race. The next time Ying returned to campus, it was to start her four years of college — “the best four years of your life,” some people call it. Within a week, she considered transferring. Just hours after moving into her residence hall, her roommate mentioned showing a picture of Ying to her grandma. “Oh, she’s oriental!” the grandma had said. The old slur didn’t alarm the roommate.
“Yep, she’s smart, too,” the roommate added. After her first time going Uptown, Ying walked along frat row to return to her residence hall. Drunk bands of brothers splayed themselves on their respective porches. She made eye contact with them. It seemed like they assumed she was an international student, because they talked as if she couldn’t understand. “Why are there so many people of color on this campus now?” “We shouldn’t have let them in.” *** Ying is Taiwanese, and so is her name. She doesn’t bother sharing it at Miami, though, no matter how easy it is to pronounce. So she goes by a generic English name. This is the one similarity between her and international students on campus, other than not being white. But for Ying, not being white nor Asian enough has put a target on her back. She’s having a hard time finding her place at Miami because of this. Sometimes, people drop the casual “yo, chink,” “yellow” or “oriental” on Ying from the opposite side of the sidewalk, as if in greeting. Frat boys have catcalled her, targeting her Asian appearance with these same words. Her eyes. Her skin. Her hair. Her eyelids. Ying’s appearance makes her the target of people who don’t look like her, but international students see a friend in the same features. That is, until she opens her mouth. They become disappointed once they find out Ying is too embarrassed to re-
spond to them in her broken Mandarin. Outside the locked door of Clawson Recreation Center Ying and a friend waited for the gym to open, leaning on the stair railing that leads up to the door. They went to the gym together every Saturday afternoon during fall semester, so they didn’t have to look at the gym’s hours of operation, on a sign beside the door, to know the facility would open in less than 10 minutes. A group of students sauntered up, muttering to each other in Chinese. One pulled on the door handle. They inspected the sign, not seeming to understand it. One turned to look at Ying: at her skin, her black hair, her familiar eyes and eyelids. He asked his question in Mandarin. Why is this door locked? Is the gym open today? His questions were expectant, hopeful. She stood up straighter, off the railing now. She understood, but she responded in English. They didn’t understand, so Ying tried again in her rusty Mandarin. The group only grew more confused and walked away. Ying returned to the railing. At 2 p.m., the door lock clicked open automatically. Ying and her friend walked into the gym alone. The closed exit doors of a packed bus “HEY! What do you think you’re doing?!” the bus driver screeched, glaring at the mirror above her. The Butler County Regional Transit Authority bus hadn’t fully stopped. The doors weren’t open. Yet a group of students were out of their seats, crowding
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“I feel like you can’t be a minority and be here, and not notice it all the time.” the exit doors. The driver kept yelling while Ying watched and listened from her seat, jaw clenched. They all looked the same to the driver: another bubble of international students who could only understand each other. She opened the doors and turned to continue her tirade while the students escaped the bus. “WHY can’t you all just —” Ying snapped. Her voice became shrill. “They can’t understand you! Yelling is not going to help them know what you’re saying. Why can’t you understand that?!” Ying left no room in the air for the driver to keep yelling after the students, who had already left the bus. Ying watched the driver’s face morph as she registered Ying’s words, clearly stunned. As if she was on autopilot, the driver turned back in her chair, turned the handle to close the doors and kept driving. Meanwhile, Ying seethed. She couldn’t help but say something in a sit-
uation like this, even if the same international students may not have treated her with the same respect. *** The eyes, the skin and the hair do not always equate to mutual respect when centuries-old politics are involved. The island of Taiwan became a Chinese colony for Han Chinese immigrants during the 17th century. Taiwan and its people — Ying’s people — were given to Japan as war spoils in 1895, and the neighboring island governed Taiwan for 50 years. Despite Taiwan’s lingering genealogical connection to China, both Taiwan and China would transform during their time apart. Japan had used classic censorship and propaganda from afar in an attempt to assimilate the people of Taiwan into Japanese culture, while China’s communist state emerged. Then, amidst a civil war, Chinese nationalists loyal to the old government — or, as the Chinese would
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call them, traitors — had fled to Taiwan. Japan eventually gave Taiwan back to the Republic of China as its penance for being on the wrong side of World War II. Under the new China, Taiwan was under harsh martial law. In the 1980s, when Ying’s own parents grew up in Taiwan, China’s iron grip weakened and finally left room for Taiwan’s independence. War spoils. Assimilation. Fifty years of separation, bookended by propaganda. Traitors. Over 100 years of political conflict are dumped unceremoniously on Ying when a Chinese international student lets her know she doesn’t belong. Yes, Ying looks familiar to international students. But in the case of Chinese international students, this interaction gets more complicated. If Ying doesn’t talk about her country, they don’t have a problem with her — but of course, the first thing they ask Ying is her nationality. When they discover she’s Taiwanese, they assume she’s not wealthy. When they know she was born in the United States, they assume her parents must be traitors for leaving China. Then, they release a verbal wrath that carries a ghost of what history unleashed onto Taiwan — a ghost older than the original racist white ghost that Marisa had joked about.
What should have been an uneventful line Ying waited patiently in line to get a stamp from a table at Chuseok, a Korean Thanksgiving festival organized by the Korean American Student Association. Once she and her friend collected enough stamps on their “passport,” they could get in line for traditional Korean food. An international student with an entourage of two girls started speaking Mandarin to Ying. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Mandarin,” Ying said. “Oh, so where are you from, then?” he said. “I’m Taiwanese.” “Oh. But you don’t speak Mandarin,” he said, not believing her. He continued to speak Mandarin. “Look, I can understand, but I can’t speak back to you. I don’t know how.” “Oh, so you’re not actually Taiwanese. You’re just American-born, you’re not actually from Taiwan.” “No, I’m not. But I do speak Taiwanese,” Ying said. Taiwanese Hokkien is a dialect of Chinese Mandarin. The differences can be compared to how British English and American English use different words for the same object. “That’s the same language,” he said. “No, it’s not,” Ying corrected him. “So why don’t you speak Mandarin?” he pushed again. “I speak it at home with my parents. But I don’t usually speak it while out in public, because it’s not good enough,” Ying said. He began a tirade. Your country’s not real. It’s not a real place. Taiwanese people are all shit, and you don’t speak another language. The two girls backed him up: Why don’t you just speak Mandarin with him? You’re literally being so rude right now. She shut down. The food hadn’t even arrived, but the ghosts were here. So Ying left without a word.
If Ying doesn’t talk about her country, they don’t have a problem with her — but of course, the first thing they ask Ying is her nationality. tle with the same people who say these things to her. “When these things happen, they’re not intentional. They don’t grow up around people who aren’t like them, so they don’t know how to talk or act,” Ying said. When Ying reached out to other minority students on campus, they told her the racism at Miami was about the same as it was in their own hometowns. But Ying seems to experience more than the normal student. Ying told her RA everything that had happened after a month into fall semester. The RA gave the standard response: report them. “Nothing’s gonna happen,” Ying said. The RA said it was all she could do. Ying filed the reports. Nothing happened. It’s at least easier than it was in high school for Ying to never see these peo-
ple again, but it’s not unavoidable, and it adds up. Ying still passes by the same people who mocked her, on campus sidewalks, in class and on dating apps. *** She doesn’t feel at home with her roommate. As a Taiwanese person, she doesn’t feel welcome in the Asian American Association (AAA), a Miami organization for students from all backgrounds to celebrate Asian and Asian-American cultures. Ying doesn’t want to steel herself against another person who doesn’t understand her culture and demands for her to explain herself, so she refuses to go to AAA meetings. Last semester, she wanted to transfer. But she had to do her best to make Miami feel like home. She interviewed for the RA position and made it, so her room and board will be paid off next year. She hopes to support other students with similar struggles. “I want to help other kids like me,” Ying said. “It’s suffocating here, and it’s worse when you feel alone.” Financial security softens the blow of everything else. Ying’s roommate is hardly ever in the room anyway, and Ying simply chooses to avoid going to Asian American events. The ghosts are still here. But so is Ying. S
*** “I feel like you can’t be a minority and be here, and not notice it all the time,” Ying said. Ying can have a visceral reaction to both casual and targeted racism, but at the same time, she usually tries to be genTHE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
Local queens ignite Oxfordâ€™s drag scene at Bar 1868
GROUND by Haley Jena photos by Alissa Martin & Heather McCowan
ou enter through a narrow door and slink down a flight of stairs, walls confining you on both sides. As you descend the steps, you feel a beat thumping against the soles of your shoes. It’s a Wednesday night, and the street outside is mostly empty — nothing special seems to be taking place in this small college town tonight. But what shines in this underground bar is so much more. At the bottom of the stairs, you’re greeted by pop music, two bouncers and zero windows. Warm string lights adorn the ceiling, complementing the colorful party lights flashing on and off repeatedly — a textbook dive bar. Five high-top tables and one long bench surround a cement dance floor, and seats are quickly snatched up. Two pool tables sit to
In back-alley bars and dance halls, drag grew into itself.
the left of the door, but right now, not a single person is playing. Now is not the time for billiards. It’s the night before Valentine’s Day, and outside, it’s cold and dark. But after getting through the line and entering the bar, you don’t think about the gloomy weather or tomorrow’s Hallmark-card holiday. Anxiety seems to evaporate as empowerment fills its place. As the clock ticks on, the bar begins to fill rapidly. This is Bar 1868, and tonight, there’s a drag show in Oxford, Ohio. *** It’s fitting that the only regular drag shows in Oxford take place in a bar that’s beneath the surface, because that’s where the root of modern drag comes
from: underground. In back-alley bars and dance halls, drag grew into itself. That’s not to say drag culture didn’t exist before it made a home in bars — it’s been around for millennia, and has evolved throughout time. “Men have been dressing in what’s considered ‘women’s clothes’ and vice versa for probably as long as human beings have been wearing clothes,” said Trixie Mattel, the winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” season three, in an interview with Allure. However, the term “drag” originates from the theatre world. Centuries ago, “drag” was primarily used to describe a man or woman dressed in clothing typically donned by the opposite sex, usually for plays. The name “drag” is a reflection of itself, describing long skirts and dresses dragging along the floor.
In the early 20th century, drag culture became an underground scene, where queens felt safer to express themselves in a time when homosexuality was outlawed. In the second half of the century, drag balls soared in popularity — a viewing of the 1990 documentary “Paris Is Burning” gives a front-row seat to Harlem drag balls, featuring legends like Pepper LeBeija and Willi Ninja, as well as several iconic drag houses. We can thank 1980s drag balls for today’s go-to sayings like “yas queen,” “spill the tea” and “throwing shade.” Mother Flawless Sabrina, Dame Edna Everage, Divine, Lady Bunny and RuPaul are just some of the queens who helped pave the path for drag throughout the late 20th century. As the decades passed, drag became more and more mainstream, with sev-
eral queens taking lead roles in film, TV and theater (think Hedda Lettuce, Miss Coco Peru, Miss Understood, Candis Cayne and Joey Arias). Today, “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a reality TV competition in search of “America’s next drag superstar,” has been widely credited for bringing drag into mainstream culture. The show has aired for 10 years and displays no signs of slowing down. Over the years, the show has won nine Emmys and boasts a half million-plus viewers. With drag becoming bigger and bigger, it’s no wonder, then, that Bar 1868’s monthly drag shows bring in an ever-growing crowd. As the minutes pass on this particular Wednesday, a line of people eager to hand over their IDs and a $5 bill for cover fills the stairway. On drag show nights like these, Bar 1868 hosts an open stage beginning at 9 p.m., which gives rising queens the chance to perform. Shortly after 10 p.m., more experienced queens take the spotlight. P.H. Dee, a drag queen local to Cincinnati, Dayton and Oxford, is the emcee for tonight’s open stage. She scans the room and slides between two rows of people to the center of the spotlight. “Y’all texted your friends [to come], didn’t you?” P.H. Dee asks the crowd a quarter after 10, noticing every seat had been filled. The crowd cheers in affirmation. “Y’all havin’ fun?” The crowd woos louder. Yes, they did, and yes, they are. Just last October, P.H. Dee performed for the very first time on this ex-
act concrete floor at the open stage. Five months later, she’s officially on the cast at Bar 1868, and consistently performs at several bars and events in the greater Cincinnati and Dayton areas. In February, she was even crowned Miss Red and White, which is a title for the Imperial Sovereign Queen City Court of the Buckeye Empire, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit that raises money for a variety of local charities. Tonight, she introduces rising queens to a room full of college kids. “These are our fierce queens who come out for the love of drag,” she says to the crowd. “If you may, kindly tip them a dollar or tip them a $20, or buy them a shot.” Almost everyone in the room collectively lifts their vodka sodas and cheers for what seems like the millionth time
“The second I stepped out on the stage and just heard the cheering — it’s like a high. That kind of got me going.”
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that night. Positivity radiates around the room, and you can’t help but feel it. Once the open stage ends, the more seasoned queens perform. Close to midnight, P.H. Dee takes the stage for her first performance of many that night. She dons long yellow hair that drapes down to her waist, a black statement necklace, a silver-studded bodysuit, fishnet tights and shiny thigh-high boots, finished with a leather jacket. She struts down the concrete dance floor as the crowd cheers her on, holding out dollar bills for the taking. She lip-syncs along to “Woman’s World” by Cher. “Torn up, busted, taken apart / I’ve been broken down / Left with a broken heart / But I’m stronger / Strong enough to rise above / This is a woman’s world /
This is a woman’s world.” *** P.H. Dee is the stage name of 30-year-old Joshua Jones, who’s always had an affinity for drag culture as an audience member, but is new to the scene as a performer. “Drag is a staple in gay culture,” he says. “I go to drag shows all the time and for a long time, it’s just been something like, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to do that? Wouldn’t it be fun to do that? Wouldn’t it be fun to do that?’ And the timing was right last semester. … [My drag debut] was back in October, and it just kind of snowballed from there. I just went hard.” He says he wanted to give drag a shot shortly after beginning his tenure as a doctoral student in Miami’s English department.
“Grad school forces you to kind of be on 24/7,” Jones says. “Even my advisors were like, ‘What are you doing for yourself outside of this? ’Cause, like, you’re kind of a workhorse.’” Jones realized he didn’t have an answer to that, and wondered if drag could be that outlet. After his very first performance, he says he knew he’d immediately found something he loved. “The second I stepped out on the stage and just heard the cheering — it’s like a high,” he says. “That kind of got me going.” P.H. Dee serves as Jones’s alternate ego. “She’s a character, but she has so much more confidence than I do as Josh,” he says. “I’m actually pretty reserved and kind of shy and timid, but P.H. Dee is just very willing to dance around. She just has a badass energy that I wish trickled into my boy life.”
But Jones’s journey to emitting such courageous energy in P.H. Dee’s performances hasn’t come without difficulty in his day-to-day life. “The number of times I was called the f-slur just walking down the street on and off campus, in the grocery store and wherever is wild and disgusting,” he said. “They don’t necessarily have to say anything [for me] to know what they’re thinking, you know? Even if they aren’t calling me that as I’m walking down the street, the side glances, the double takes — like, I’m very visibly queer. I mean, I wear clothing that conforms to the gender that I identify with, and so I kind of have privilege that goes with that, but my behaviors and my mannerisms are pretty flamboyant. … I don’t quite have the straight-passing privilege that a lot of people feel pressured into performing.” But Jones persists, despite the unde-
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“I could work really hard to try to fit in, or I could just be me and say, you know,
fuck the haters.”
niable hardships he’s faced. “I actually saw a really beautiful meme that said something to the effect of … living your true self, for lack of a better term, is an act of bravery,” he said. “It just really resonated with me because, like, I could work really hard to be hyper-masculine and try to fit in, or I could just be me and say, you know, fuck the haters.” *** Drag is a source of pride and fun for Jones and other queens in the spotlight, but also for those watching and cheering from the sidelines. Lucas VanArsdalen,
a 22-year-old senior at Miami, has gone to every drag show, every single month, since last fall. “October, November, December, January, February,” he counts on his fingers. “And I’ll for sure go to the other ones. They’re already in my calendar. The moment I found out when all the shows were, I immediately called off of work [for those dates] for the whole semester,” he says with a laugh. While VanArsdalen has been to drag shows before in New York and Columbus, Ohio, he says going to his first drag show in Oxford back in October carried extra meaning for him. “It was one of the few times that I’ve
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felt, like, very comfortable being gay in Oxford or at Miami in general,” he says. “[The shows] are just fun to see, and it’s one of the few times that there’s any kind of LGBTQ-themed event, not just at Miami, but in Oxford in general.” The feeling is mutual between the audience and the queens who perform. “Any show in general is a privilege to be up on stage,” says Scarlett Fever, a drag queen on the cast at Bar 1868 and one of the show’s hosts. “The crowd here is absolutely amazing. They’re accepting and everything ... I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and the crowds never cease to amaze me here and there. Absolutely incredible.”
“Drag queens have the hardest job in show business.” But behind the positive energy and elaborate wardrobes, being a drag queen is far from easy. For the majority of queens, performing is a labor of love without much financial kickback. “It’s very expensive. You have to do it for the love of it,” Jones says. “For local queens like us, it’s a hobby. It has to be a hobby.” He pauses. “It can at most maybe be a part-time gig, but it’s not really sustainable,” he says. “You put much more money into it then you get out of it.” Jones says that while an average performance will rack up $20 in tips for P.H. Dee, he’s easily spent $1,000 in the last few months building up a wardrobe and buying makeup. “Drag queens have the hardest job
in show business,” said Randy Barbato, the co-founder of World of Wonder, which produces “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” in a phone interview with The New York Times. That they do. At tonight’s show, Scarlet doesn’t let the crowd forget it, either. “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” she says into the microphone. “I got feathers around my goddamn neck!” *** Tonight’s crowd at Bar 1868 is notably bigger than the ones at last semester’s drag shows. And just like at this show in Oxford, the global audience of drag shows has amplified exponentially. Most of us know about the huge success of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and its
spinoff, “RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars.” But beyond that, events like DragCon are soaring in numbers, and are projected to keep getting bigger. Last year’s DragCon racked up “$9 million in merchandise sales on top of the $40 entry fee paid by more than 40,000 people last year,” according to an article published by the BBC. But does bigger always mean better? “I think the mainstreaming of anything is a double-edged sword,” Jones says. “On the one hand, it brings visibility, and with visibility comes empathy, inclusion, acceptability. But … mainstreaming anything kind of has a history of [something] losing its roots.” VanArsdalen agrees. “I think it’s good drag is becoming mainstream — in parts,” VanArsdalen
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says. “You still have to remember to support your local drag queens, because otherwise they’ll never become that famous if that’s what they desire to do. Sure, go to events where these famous drag queens are at, but definitely go support the local ones. Support the ones that are just doing it for fun.” Jones says that while woman-passing drag (like you might see on “RuPaul,” for instance) is becoming more culturally popular, other forms of drag are often swept aside. “Acknowledge that drag can look any way,” he says. “A lot of the drag that gets the attention is like, the feminine side of drag. But there’s non-binary genderfucking drag, there’s drag kings, there’s whole slews of manifestations of drag that don’t get the recognition.”
Jones also points out the importance in acknowledging drag’s rich history and all its parts. “I think RuPaul, for example, has kind of opened a gateway to visibility of drag in mainstream communities. I think that as one of the trailblazers, he has a responsibility to acknowledge other types of drag. … Drag is not just men in dresses, right? Drag is an art form that has a history and that is very closely related to trans identity,” Jones says, noting that while drag and trans are two very different things, they have a big overlap that can perhaps is forgotten in the mainstream culture. Several professional drag queens have publicly spoken about the mainstreaming of drag, too. An article published by Vox notes that a “RuPaul’s
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Drag Race” contestant spoke out against the show: “Jasmine Masters stated that ‘‘‘Drag Race” fucked up drag’ by creating a culture wherein queens who haven’t been on the show get shut out in favor of anyone who has, regardless of their other qualifications or lack thereof.” Mainstreaming is, no doubt, tricky. But, in the growing world of drag, this tiny bar in Oxford and its cast of drag queens pushes calmly against any negative tides, promising to always offer an exciting, accepting place to escape. “You have the big development of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ and you have a lot of development of certain mainstream gay cultures,” Scarlett says. “[But] there’s not a lot of places still for people of a younger age or mid-age even to go out and just celebrate who they are and
“This is the getaway from any of your day-to-day problems. We’re here to lift your spirits.”
who they want to be. And we’re here to celebrate that comfortability.” To Bar 1868’s owner Lee Ann Shoker, the drag shows are a success. “It is always a fun night for the talent, audience and staff,” Shoker said. “Generally a high-energy event.” Kisha Summers, another drag queen at Bar 1868 who’s in charge of organizing the shows, says that the cast holds warm regards for the bar. “Every time we come here, there’s something new. There’s something better,” Kisha says. “The management, the bar staff, the crowd, it always treats us exceptionally.” VanArsdalen, too, says he enjoys the setting of the shows at this underground dive. “This [bar] is just so much fun be-
cause it’s so small,” he says. “Like, you’re so close to the drag queens, which makes it really enjoyable. There’s a sense of being so close to them, surrounding them in a circle, in Bar 1868 that makes it really cool. The ceiling is so low that one time a queen’s high heel hit the lights on the ceiling.” For so many, this bar is more than just a bar, and these drag shows are far more than just performances. “This is the getaway from any of your day-to-day problems, any emotional things you might be going through,” Kisha says. “We’re here to lift your spirits.” “If [you] appreciate what we do, no matter if you’re straight, gay, bi, trans, whatever you are, then come here to have fun,” Scarlett says. “This is kind of a place where we keep reality outside.”
*** The night continues with more pop anthems and dollar bills flooding the dance floor, but, as all things do, the evening eventually comes to an end. Kisha and Scarlett perform one last song, dancing and lip-syncing together. Then the music fades, and the lights come on. “Thank you for coming out,” Scarlett says to the audience, smiling. “Thank you for being yourself.” S
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Brothers in Song Men’s Glee Club members find success through dedication to their craft and to one another by Ben Deeter photos by Macy Whitaker November 30, 7:30 p.m. For much of the year, Hall Auditorium sits empty. Save for the philosophy department that’s relegated to the attic, the building has no other regular inhabitants. The green felt seats collect dust, the hinges on the glass doors rust. Tonight, though, Hall Auditorium has a line that stretches down the sidewalk outside. People brave the early-winter cold to get their tickets. They’re here to see the Miami Men’s Glee Club. The tuxedo-clad army files onto the stage from both sides, ascending the risers and moving toward the center until they reach their spot. They’re packed onto the ancient risers like well-dressed sardines. A few songs into the concert, the choir begins “Quatre petites prières de saint François d’Assise,” or “Four small prayers of Saint Francis of Assisi,” by Francis Poulenc. Ancient religious works aren’t new to the club. One of the group’s traditional songs is Franz Biebl’s arrangement of “Ave Maria,” and they usually perform material from at least one religious text per concert. The Poulenc is different, though. The
club only sings two out of the four movements, and they only last about four minutes total. As the title suggests, the prayers are indeed “small.” The text and music that overlays the music showcases the club’s reserved and pensive side. The bass notes are present and provide foundation for the rest of the sound, but the notes aren’t heavy. The sound floats. It builds to climactic and full moments, and effortlessly softens thereafter. The applause for the piece is silent; the audience is in such awe that all they can muster is the clapping. That sentiment of awe carries a question: How do they do it? *** The Miami University Men’s Glee Club was founded in 1907. It’s among the oldest organizations on Miami’s campus. The group consists of 100 singers divided into four sections: Tenor 1, Tenor 2, Baritone and Bass. Most of them are undergraduate students, but the group is open to anyone affiliated with the university. Many of the singers aren’t music
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students, either. Only about 10% of the group studies music, and the rest come from just about everywhere else in the university. In that way, it resembles a standard student organization rather than a university music group. “We all have different backgrounds and different experiences that allow us to hear and feel the music differently,” said Colin Evans, a junior in the Tenor 2 section. “We all care about the songs, even those that aren’t our favorite, and we want to do the best that we can.” The group members refer to one another as “Brothers in Song,” a moniker that comes from one of the club’s traditional songs, “Brothers, Sing On!”. The brotherhood runs deep enough that on club-related email correspondence, everyone signs off with “YBIS”—Your Brother in Song. “Our ability to familiarize with each brother is astounding,” said Jordan Bicknell, a senior Tenor 2, “and it’s because we feel for every member of this group and because we have each other’s back that this group is able to produce such powerful music.” Jeremy DeWayne Jones, the group’s director, has the chief responsibility of bringing so many guys from so many
“It’s because we have each other’s back that this group is able to produce such powerful music.” different walks of life together to create musical excellence. The group has had a tradition of excellence for decades, but Jones has taken the group to a different level. Since Jones came to Miami in 2011, the group has traveled abroad to Western Europe, performed at a slew of regional and national conferences, gone on a weeklong winter tour every year and recorded two CDs under a professional record label. The group is preparing for an upcoming tour through Italy in summer 2019. It’s that tradition that infects every member of the group. “So much of it is about being there to see Club in action,” said Casey Newton, a first-year baritone. “It’s hard to actually explain, but seeing how the group is
in rehearsal and being a part of that rehearsal gives me a sense of duty, almost. I want to be good because I know that’s what’s expected of me.” October 23, 2:48 p.m. The Glee Club’s Tuesday afternoon rehearsals sit in a “sweet spot” of sorts, for singing during the day. Early-morning rehearsals come with a low, husky “morning voice” and tiredness. Rehearsal too late in the evening runs the risk of people falling asleep. Rehearsal starts in two minutes. Room 222 in Presser Hall buzzes with energy from nearly 100 guys chatting. The room itself isn’t special. Two doors in the back left and right corners lead into a room painted a bland yellow. Light pours in from large windows along the long side walls. One hundred black chairs with 100 desk attachments sit in two circles, one inner and one outer, 50 chairs each. Two pianos, a grand and a baby grand, sit at the center of the circle. Jones finishes a conversation with a student, takes a seat at the baby grand and plays a B-major chord. He cocks his head, almost expressionless. It’s time to get to work. The guys start to find their way to their corners of the circle. Basses in the back left, baritones back right, tenor 1s
front left and tenor 2s front right. “Lip trills,” Jones says, looking around the room. “Buzz.” “BrrrrRRRRrrrrRRRRrrrr.” One hundred pairs of lips buzz up and down the lower half of the B-major scale for two seconds. Jones moves with haste up one halfstep to C major. “BrrrrRRRRrrrrRRRRrrrr.” Another two seconds. Now up another half-step to C-sharp. “BrrrrRRRRrrrrRRRRrrrr.” Two more. Jones continues up in half-step increments, never spending more than those two seconds going up and down each scale before two quick hits on the piano change the key. The choir goes all the way up to B major again, one octave higher than when they’d started. Before the choir finishes the last descent of the lip trill, Jones stands up, points his finger and moves it outward and downward in front of him. “OOOOOOOoooooooooo,” he sings, starting very high and bending the pitch endlessly downward. The choir follows. The pitch descends so low it might as well go through the tile floor. Jones crouches, still pointing his finger. This time, he scoops it upward, and
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the choir follows his motion, starting the pitch low and bending it up into the stratosphere of its falsetto. “B major, Jon,” Jones says, gesturing to Jon Sanford, the club’s piano accompanist. Sanford outlines the notes of the B-major chord: B, F-sharp, E-flat and B again, up one octave. This exercise doesn’t have an official name. Everyone just refers to it as “One one one one one.” The basses start on the low B. “One one one one….” The tenor 2s join on the F-sharp. “One one one one….” The baritones join on the E-flat. “One one one one….” The tenor 1s complete the chord with the high B. “One one one one….” “Oooooooooooooone.” The room rings with a perfect B major. Jones cuts them off and cues them in. “Daaaaaaaaay.” Cut off. Cue. “Niiiiiiiight.” Again. “Hiiiiiiiiiigh.” Once more. “Loooooooooow.” Grins bounce around the circle of
faces. They’re raring to go. Even on the simplest of chords, everyone sees the prowess, the potential in this group. Every one of them wants to seize it. Jones finally cuts them off. “Welcome, gents, happy Tuesday. Go ahead and pull out the fourth movement of the Poulenc,” Jones says. They’re singing the Poulenc mostly because it looks and sounds “proper.” Jones picked it for the national conference performance in March. Apparently that crowd of mostly choral directors is going to “eat this up.” The group had performed movement three of the composition at its fall concert the week before. As everyone turns to the fourth movement, some eyes shoot to the new notes, some to the new French lyrics they’ll have to learn. “What key is it in?” Jones asks the group. Only about 10% of the guys in the group are music majors, and only about 10% of the group answers, “G minor.” “Let’s do a little sightreading,” Jones says with a smile. This is the first step in learning a new piece, a blind readthrough to get a feel for how a piece sounds. “Loo loo loo.” The group always starts learning a
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song on some syllable like “loo” or “doo” or “dee” in place of the lyrics. “You’re not worthy of the text yet,” Jones has told the group before. So for the next few rehearsals, it’ll be “loo loo loo.” Music only. November 1, 3:38 p.m. The chairs in Presser 222 are arranged in two rectangles today. Basses in the back left, baritones back right, tenor 1s front left and tenor 2s front right. Jones is out of his usual perch at the front center of the ensemble. He sits off to the side by the baby grand piano, looking at his score for the Poulenc. Front and center stands Jonah Hirsch, a junior from the baritone section. He speaks French, so Jones asked him to lead the group through the next stage of preparation: learning the lyrics. Jonah started class by handing everyone a brown sheet of paper with a bunch of crudely-written syllables on it (“GWARH,” “SOO,” “PEE,” etc.). He’d prepared a diet version of the International Phonetic Alphabet to aid the learning process. Jones has Jonah take the group to
the final four bars first. “All right,” Jonah begins, “so the first syllable there on the ‘A-I-N’ is ‘eh.’” He gestures to the group to repeat after him, and they follow with every silly variation of “eh” possible. “OK, so it’s ‘eh,’ Jonah says. “The next syllable is just ‘see.’” The group follows with goofy impressions of 1920s wise guys going “Ehhhh see.” Jonah tries valiantly not to burst into laughter. He manages to hold it in and muster out an “Ooooookay.” He finishes out the four-bar phrase, the final product sounding like “Eh see swah teel,” two times over. Jones has the group put their progress to music, which carries rehearsal to about 3:50 p.m. “Here’s what we can do now,” Jones said. “We could put this away because we’ve done a fair bit of it and work on something else. Or we could just knock it out with the 20 minutes we have left and have the words under our belt.” He puts it to a vote. The guys look around at each other as they decide how to vote. Everyone, deep down, wants to stop and call it a day. But they also see Jones before them. This is for nationals, they think. We have to do it at some point, and we have to do it well. So well that people are brought to tears and open mouths at our music. And it’s not like we can’t do it. We’ve done just as good before, and we’ll do it even better this time. “Who wants to keep going?” A hundred hands shoot into the air.
November 15, 2:58 p.m. Two weeks until the concert. For the fall concert, the club was “on book,” meaning members held sheet music as they performed. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal. But for nearly everyone in the group, using music at a performance is seen as a crutch reserved for lesser choirs. The University of Michigan’s glee club doesn’t use music. Neither does the University of Kentucky. Or Baylor University. Even the church choir down the street doesn’t use music. “We’re better than that” gets uttered at least twice a rehearsal as of late. It’s crunch time. After the usual “one one one one one” warmup, Jones walks over to his MacBook Air that’s hooked up to the room’s sound system and plays a long, low note. He gestures to the choir to match the pitch on “do” (do, re, mi, etc.). The exercise is designed to get the group used to the key of the fourth movement of the Poulenc: G minor. Everyone, save for a few tenor 1s who can’t sing that low, hangs out on the low G. A few looks pass across the room as the group tries to match pitch and create one voice from a hundred. “Tenors,” Jones says. “Move to sol.” “Sooooooool,” the tenors follow. The sound shakes a bit, though. They’re not quite matching. “Back to do,” Jones says. “Doooooooo.” “Match better, and go back to sol.”
“Soooooooool.” There it is. Jones looks out over the choir. “Basses and baritones, keep holding. Take a breath when you need to. Tenors, descend.” “Fa, mi, re, doooooooooo,” the tenors sing. “Go to mi, tenors,” Jones says. “Miiiiiiiiii.” “Now to the minor me.” “Meeeeeee.” “Mi again.” The tenors move back up. “Now me.” Back down. “Mi.” Up. “Me.” Down. This is what rehearsal will consist of for the next two weeks. Music. Words. Tuning. Music. Words. Tuning. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. There’s nothing any of those 100 guys would rather be doing. They look around at each other, and through the Patagonia sweaters, duck boots, Cleveland Browns jerseys and blue jeans, they see brothers. They see excellence. “Welcome, gents. Happy Thursday.” S
THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
Do You Believe in Magic?
How childhood obsessions age with us — or don’t by Julia Arwine
’m not sure who I met first: Helen McHenry or Harry Potter. In my mind, the two are irrevocably intertwined. J.K. Rowling first published “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” — or, as it was titled here in America, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” — on June 26, 1997. The movie based on that first book was released Nov. 14, 2001. I started kindergarten at the same school as Helen in the fall of 2004. For both of us, Harry Potter
was always there, and our shared love for the series seemed to grow naturally into a major part of our friendship. Junior high was the peak of it. Helen, a big fan of Hermione Granger in particular (as many bookish girls are), started the Emma Watson/Hermione Granger Fan Club, an informal organization that included a significant portion of the girls in our small grade. Each month she typed up letters with the latest in Harry Potter and Emma Watson news, complete with desatu-
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rated pictures copy-and-pasted from Google Images and 2000s-era Microsoft Word page borders, and mailed them to every member. And, in the summer, she held the Emma Watson/ Hermione Granger Fan Club Sleepover Extravaganza. And it was extravagant. Helen’s house, a suburban two-story with high ceilings inhabited only by herself and her parents (and several cats, rabbits and a goldfish or two), was transformed for one night each sum-
illustrations by Alissa Martin
mer into an explosion of Harry Potter memorabilia. Clothes and robes in the colors of all four houses hung from the railings of her staircase. Little pieces of paper with facts and quotes from the books and movies were taped to the walls. Books about the making of the movies and imitation props were scattered in every room. In the kitchen, Helen’s parents helped make chocolate frogs and poured homemade butterbeer into goblet-shaped glasses.
When it was time to sleep, we all laid our sleeping bags out in the living room and looked up at the flickering electric candles hanging from the ceiling as we whispered and giggled and eventually drifted off. In the dark, we couldn’t see the strings suspending the candles in mid-air; it seemed that they really were floating, that we were gazing up at the enchanted rafters of Hogwarts’ Great Hall. In the summer of 2011, the day following the slumber party was the day
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II” came out. In the morning, we rolled up our sleeping bags, donned our merchandise and marched into the theater, ready to watch a Harry Potter movie for the first time, for the last time. Helen’s mom kept a box of tissues in her lap for most of the movie. Near the end, when Harry went into the Pensieve and discovered that Snape had loved Lily Potter all along, she heard the sniffling of about half a doz-
THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
“I’m not sure who I met first: Helen McHenry or Harry Potter.”
en 12-year-old girls all the way down the row and silently passed the box along. “After all this time?” Dumbledore asked Snape. “Always,” Snape said. Thwip, thwip, thwip, went the tissues out of the box, all the way down the row. Not much later, Harry, Ron and Hermione watched their children board the Hogwarts Express, and all was well. And that was the end of it. The credits rolled, and we walked out into the sunlight again. More than a million words spread across seven books, almost 20 hours spanning eight movies, countless tears shed over characters we’d grown up with — and just like that, it seemed the saga of Harry Potter had concluded. So some of us moved on. And some of us didn’t.
It is difficult, for a fanbase as massive as Harry Potter’s, to evaluate the ebb and flow of interest. How to quantify passion? How to measure emotion? The only way to know for sure is to be in the middle of it, to play the long game and witness the change firsthand. Still, there are some numbers we can use. On Archive of Our Own, a website where fans of any media can post transformative works (primarily fanfiction), there are about 193,500 works listed under “Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling” — the most for any piece of literature. On Fanfiction.net, an older trans-
formative works archive, there are about 798,000 pieces in the “Harry Potter” category — far more than for any other single piece of media. On LiveJournal.com, a blogging platform and an even older hotbed of fandom activity, there are nearly 15,000 official communities containing Harry Potter content, and just short of 293,000 individual blogs. All that on just three websites; it’s clear that the Harry Potter fandom is a juggernaut. What these numbers don’t say, however, is whether the posting of content has slowed or sped up, or how many of those communities are no longer inhabited. Google Trends, however, gives a clearer picture. Using data going back to 2004, peaks in interest in the term “Harry Potter” have coincided with the release of books and movies, with the highest peak being in July 2007, the month in which the final book was published. Since the last movie came out in July 2011, interest has lingered around 10–15 percent of what it was at the highest peak. So that’s the hard evidence: Harry Potter has left a lasting imprint on the internet, but interest is way down, if steady. Here’s the anecdotal evidence: I’ve encountered Harry Potter fans almost everywhere. They might not be obvious (although sometimes they most certainly are), but it doesn’t take much for them to reveal themselves. Whenever I wear my Time-Turner necklace, whenever I wrap myself in my scarf striped with the colors of Gryffindor, whenever I drop a reference into casual conversation — if there is a fan present, their face will
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light up, and they will profess their love for the series. It happens all the time. And here’s one more piece of data: According to Google Trends, although general interest in Harry Potter has dropped, when it comes to Google Shopping, interest has never dipped below 19 percent of what it was at the highest peak in 2011. And as of November 2018, in the midst of the “Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald” hype, it was’s at 82 percent of that. Since then, it has steadily dropped closer to its normal rate. In March 2019, it was down to 31 percent. Harry Potter remains a cash cow, and even when it seems dormant, it’s always capable of rising again. Like a phoenix from the ashes, one might say. Like Fawkes.
When we graduated from eighth grade, Helen and I went our separate ways: I to Bishop Fenwick High School, her to rivaling Archbishop Alter High School. Our love for Harry Potter did not diminish, but without the excitement of new content, the fire of passion had somewhat dimmed. And with high school came new friends, more work and heightened responsibilities. As time went on, we stopped texting each other, although we had been best friends in junior high. I invested my energy into soccer, she into marching band; I into the TV show “Supernatural,” she into Marvel movies (with a particular focus on Loki from the Thor movies and Tony Stark from Iron
Man); both of us into academics. And so for years, we saw very little of each other. Helen would still pick up the books from time to time, whenever she got upset, once re-reading the whole first book in a day. I, who had read the whole series seven times in grade school, rarely touched them. In 2015, the announcement came out that “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them,” until then only known as one of Harry’s textbooks, was being made into a five-part movie series. This was huge news, and I contacted Helen for the first time in about two years. We had thought Harry Potter was finished, that we would never get anything more, but here was this unexpected and generous gift. The fire was lit again. I saw the movie the day it came out in November 2016, and when the Warner Bros. logo emerged from the clouds on the big screen and the opening bars of the iconic Harry Potter theme played, my eyes welled up. Back again, I thought with a rush of nostalgia-powered sentiment. Back home once more. And I loved it. Helen did too. And most fans and critics agreed. Helen wasted no time in adding the wands of Fantastic Beasts characters
to her collection and committing the soundtrack to memory, just as she did with all the original movies. “Since Fantastic Beasts is like a thing now, there’s more of a reason to still be into Harry Potter,” Helen said, but admitted that even if it weren’t, she still would be.
“Some of us moved on. And some of us didn’t.”
The second film in the franchise was two years away. And in that time, we would enter the biggest change of our lives so far: college.
There’s a steamer trunk in the basement of Helen’s house that once belonged to her great-great-great grandfather. It is heavy and battered and army green, with faded yellow stickers on the lid from its journeys across the world, on boats and in train cars. It smells heavily of mothballs, or at least that’s what Helen’s mom, Maurene, says. I have never seen nor smelled a mothball, but there is a definite whiff of age that spills out when the lid is opened. Who knows how much history this trunk has seen over the past century, or what it has contained. Now it holds just a small portion of the McHenry family’s Harry Potter merchandise, including stuffed owls, wizard chess and Quidditch equipment. The McHenrys are a tight-knit unit of three, and what they love, they love together. Helen’s parents have always indulged her interests and fostered some of them. Maurene was a Har-
I ask her, is he into Harry Potter?
“Not as much as he should be.” ry Potter fan even before Helen was, and she brought her daughter to Harry Potter book launch parties before she could even read. They’ve been to Harry Potter World in Orlando, Florida, twice, where her dad, Tim, took hundreds of photos to commemorate every moment. Both Maurene and Tim are capable of holding their own in conversations with Helen about the series, conversations that often veer into esoteric topics that only the most dedicated fans would know about. And over the years, they have sponsored the accumulation of vast amounts of merchandise. In the room a few feet away from the steamer trunk resides the rest of the McHenrys’ Harry Potter merch. Rows of shelves and towers of plastic bins make the room seem narrower, the ceiling lower; at least one whole shelving unit and a few extra bins are dedicated to everything Harry Potter. Some of it hasn’t been touched in years. But I’m curious as to exactly how much paraphernalia the McHenrys have stashed away, so I ask to take a look. Maurene pulls down box after box and the three of us rifle through. I try to compile an exhaustive list of the items we find, but after about 20 min-
utes, I give up and scribble down generalities instead as we unearth potion bottles, empty jars of pepper imps, holographic chocolate frog cards, imitation jewelry, dragon eggs made from papier-mâché, Tom Riddle’s diary, Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem, the crystal cup Dumbledore drinks poison from in the sixth movie, a solid block of wizard gold, more and more and more and more. It’s been a long time since some of this stuff has seen daylight. Some of it I recognize from the last Sleepover Extravaganza, like the wands we made out of dowel rods and pipe cleaners and the pygmy puffs we made by gluing googly eyes onto pom-poms. Some of it is still in its original packaging, unopened, untouched — some board games, for example, and some props. We discover a pink plastic bottle with a heart-shaped cap and a pink tassel. It reads, “Love Potion,” and it is still covered in plastic. We deduce that it’s some sort of liquid candy. “Best by: January 20th, 2018,” Maurene reads off the back of the package. That was 10 months ago. “Dare I open it?” She does, and we pass it around, taking little cautious tastes. “It tastes like perfume smells like,”
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Maurene says. “It kinda tastes like if you melted down some of the better-tasting Bertie Botts’ Beans,” I suggest. “It tastes like rose water smells,” Helen adds. (In the books, I remember, love potions smell different to everyone, according to what each person finds most appealing.) “Well, we’ll save it, in case you need it with Chris,” Maurene jokes, and we all laugh. Chris is Helen’s boyfriend. They’ve been together for a couple of years now, and Helen talks about their future like it’s absolute. I ask her, is he into Harry Potter? “Not as much as he should be,” Helen says. “I keep telling him, you need to get on that and read them again.” The few times I’ve met Chris, he’s been too quiet for me to really gauge how much he actually likes the things Helen does, but he goes along with her elaborate future plans well enough. “I was like, ‘Chris, what if our kids aren’t in Ravenclaw or Gryffindor?’” Helen recalls. “‘That’s gonna be so hard to work with the color scheme! It’s gonna be so hard to decorate the house!’ and he’s like, ‘We can worry about this later.’”
After almost a full hour of digging through heaps of trinkets, we begin to pack everything away again. Predictably, it doesn’t all fit in the bins the way it did before we opened them. “We should have another Harry Potter party,” Maurene says. Helen and I hum in agreement. It’s been seven years since the last one. Who knows where all the girls who slept over that last night are now. Maurene forces the lid down hard onto the last bin and slides it back on the shelf.
The walls of Helen’s dorm room in Hillcrest Hall are filled with paraphernalia from her various fandoms, but Harry Potter dominates. On the wall above her bed are two large framed posters — one of Hogwarts, the other of Newt Scamander and young Dumbledore from the Fantastic Beasts franchise. On the opposite wall, banners with the crests of all four houses hang in a neat row. Helen’s roommate dropped out before the semester even began, so she has a double room all to herself; the extra bed is draped with a Gryffindor throw blanket and several whimsical pillows.
There are traces of her other loves, too. A calendar on the wall is flipped to a picture of Black Widow and Hawkeye. Pinned to a corkboard, alongside postcards and pictures of her cats, are several photos of Robert Downey Jr. There’s a large framed photo of Audrey Hepburn above her rack of clothes. But walking through the door, the first impression is overwhelmingly of witchcraft and wizardry. In my room, a single in Elliott Hall, the only sign of Harry Potter is the large Hufflepuff banner hanging next to my door. I only put it up as an afterthought. I found the banner crumpled in my closet on a visit home one weekend (I had gotten it for Christmas a year or two ago, and even then thought that it was embarrassingly big) and used it to cover up a plaque with a creepy picture of a man on it that I could not remove from the wall. As I was putting it up, I hesitated, thinking, This is childish, this is embarrassing, I’m really not that kind of a fan anymore, but then I rebuked myself. Why not put it up? I’m not ashamed to like Harry Potter. It means a lot to me. It always has, and it always will. Still, whenever people comment on it, I am quick to pull it aside, to show
them the plaque, to say, I only put it up to cover this. I don’t look down on Helen for decorating her walls so completely with what she loves. But at this point in my own life, I’d be too embarrassed to do the same.
But where does that embarrassment come from? That shame just for showing that I like something? Well, mostly I’d say it’s because the wind is changing in the Harry Potter fandom. The trouble began in 2007, when, shortly after the last book’s publication, J.K. Rowling revealed at a public Q&A that Dumbledore was gay. At the time, it was a very progressive reveal, and one that Rowling said she had always had in mind from the start. But the years went on, and the times changed, and where once there was praise, there is now criticism. If Dumbledore was gay, why not say so in the text? LGBTQ+ kids could have used that representation, critics say. Well, Rowling defended herself, it was never mentioned because it wasn’t important to Harry’s journey. I’ve seen this answer mocked many
THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
“She loves what she loves, what should she care? And a few years of mockery does not outweigh a decade of devotion.” times; people call it a cop-out, a lie, a cover-up for the fact that Rowling didn’t actually have it in mind the whole time and is just trying to retroactively force diversity into books that have very little. Whatever the truth, it was the first in a long line of revisionist claims, many of which seem like a thinly veiled excuse to embrace progressive ideals. Such claims include but are not limited to: Lupin’s lycanthropy is a metaphor for HIV. Hermione is not necessarily white. Tuition at Hogwarts is free. Rowling’s habit of confirming individual fan theories on Twitter has drawn mockery and irritation. Leave it alone, J.K., many people write. They say, Don’t make things worse for
yourself, don’t taint the beautiful world you built. Write new things with diversity and progressivism; don’t force it where it never was. Acknowledge that you were young and not as socially conscious when Harry Potter began. An article crossed my news feed recently, the headline announcing that a 4,000-year-old megalithic tomb in Spain had been defaced with a Harry Potter symbol. The picture showed that someone had indeed spray-painted a crude Deathly Hallows — a triangle containing a circle and bisected by a line — on the ancient stone, and underneath it, had scrawled, “ALWAYS <3.” Needless to say, the comments were not kind.
“Harry Potter fans are poison,” said one person. “Harry Potter = ew. Vandalism = ew,” said another. “READ ANOTHER BOOK,” one said. And at the bottom, another commenter had simply posted a badge-like image that read, “ANTI- HARRY POTTER ACTION.” It’s far from the first time I’ve seen this sort of thing. The most rabid fans, it seems, are — as they are in any fandom — their own worst enemy. And like many a popular piece of media, the internet has begun to slowly yet surely turn on Harry Potter. And so, I distance myself, as if to say, Well, sure, I like Harry Potter, but I’m not one of the crazy fans, you see? I’m not a kid anymore, I can act like a grown-up. Sometimes, though, it still feels like a betrayal. Helen is fully aware of the criticism leveled the franchise’s way. But, somehow, it doesn’t bother her. She loves what she loves — what should she care? And a few years of mockery does not outweigh a decade of devotion.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” came to theaters this past November, and I barely even realized it beforehand. It was more than a week after the release date that I was able to go see it with Helen. Watching the opening sequence, I remembered all of a sudden how the same sight had moved me to tears two years ago. There was no such swelling of emotion this time. About three-fourths of the way through, I realized with a bit of a shock that I was wondering how much time was left until it was over. That had never happened to me at a Harry Potter movie before — certainly not on the first viewing. When the end did
arrive, there wasn’t much in me but confusion, and some disappointment, and mostly just … meh. Precious few of the characters captured my attention. The twists at the end made me frown rather than gasp. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling. But apparently, I wasn’t alone. No Harry Potter or Fantastic Beasts movie had previously gotten less than 7.3/10 on IMDB, a 65percent on Rotten Tomatoes, a 63percent on Metacritic, or less than 94percent approval from Google users. “The Crimes of Grindelwald” received 6.9/10 on IMDB, 39percent on Rotten Tomatoes, 53percent on Metacritic, and only 87percent of Google users liked it. Outside the movie theater, on the
was the presence of Professor McGonagall at Hogwarts years earlier than she should have been, according to Harry Potter canon. “They may have said, you know, ‘We need names people are going to recognize,’” Maurene suggested as an explanation. “I mean, they have tons,” Helen said. “I don’t think they ever say her name in the movie, but the main French lady, she’s a Rosier, and that’s a family in Harry Potter.” “Well, how many people know it as clearly as you know it?” Maurene replied. A week later, at a party back in Oxford, I would mention that I had seen the movie to a friend, and she would ask, with a guarded expression, “What
dreary Wednesday, late in November. Outside, it was dark, and a wet mist hung in the air and blurred the streetlights. But in Shideler 001, the atmosphere was welcoming and warm as music from the Harry Potter movies’ soundtracks played and club members talked and laughed while they waited for the meeting to start. The club was having a Thanksgiving food drive, and whichever house brought in the most non-perishables would win points for their house. At the end of the meeting, the winner of the House Cup would be announced. I raided my dwindling food supply in my dorm and brought four individual packs of ramen to contribute to the Hufflepuff cause. Helen walked in several minutes late, just as people were
She would lean in and confess in a low tone, “I didn’t like it,” as if it were a betrayal, or a secret, or a shame. way out to the car, I confessed to Helen that I would have to sit on it for a while before I decided if I liked it. Helen agreed it had its issues, but stayed loyal. “I liked it,” she said. It was her second viewing, and she added, “Some things make more sense now. And I really liked the music.” In the car on the way to her house, the subject turned to Dumbledore. “Some people are upset because they didn’t think that they made it clear Dumbledore was gay,” Helen said. “And I was like, ‘Did we see the same movie?’” She was referring to when Dumbledore said of his old friend Grindelwald in the movie, “We were closer than brothers,” and when he saw Grindelwald in the Mirror of Erised — a magical artifact which, Dumbledore told Harry way back in the first book, “shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.” At her house, we continued to discuss the movie with her mom; one thing neither Helen nor Maurene liked
did you think?” There would be a pause, and then I would say, “Eh,” and relief would break over her face and she would lean in and confess in a low tone, “I didn’t like it,” as if it were a betrayal, or a secret, or a shame.
Helen’s dorm walls are barren now. At the end of the fall semester, she transferred to The Ohio State University. Helen wasn’t happy in Oxford. She didn’t like that there’s nothing to do if you don’t like to party all the time. She wanted the chance to start over with friends, to make fewer and closer friends rather than a wide array of acquaintances. The main thing she’d miss at Miami was the Department of Magical Appreciation (DMA), the official campus Harry Potter fan club. Helen was on the exec board and had more fun at their meetings than any of her other organizations. Her last meeting as part of the club and part of Miami was on a cold and
beginning to wonder aloud where she was, with two grocery bags full of 32 items for Gryffindor. It was a valiant effort, but when Hufflepuff won the trivia game we all played soon after, their lead was too great for Gryffindor to catch up. Each member of the club’s sizeable Hufflepuff house became the proud owner of a new pair of Harry Potter–patterned socks. At the end of the meeting, the club president opened up the floor to any general announcements. I wondered if Helen would mention that it was her last meeting, but she did not. Nonetheless, several people expressed dismay at her leaving as a number of us walked out as a group. “Guys, I’m really gonna miss you,” Helen said to the room at large. But this wouldn’t be the last they saw of her. Helen fully intended to come back in the spring, when DMA would host its annual Triwizard Tournament. At OSU, she is now involved with the executive board of the Harry Potter club there — it’s much bigger, but
THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
So not an obsession, no. But a constant.
A comfort. less active, than DMA. Harry Potter is something she, through DMA and Fantastic Beasts, has rekindled her love for, and will carry with her on to the next stage of her life. To call it an obsession, at this point in her life, would be overstating. She already knows almost everything there is to know about Harry Potter, after all — there’s little left to be newly obsessed with. And there are other things to focus on. Her studies, for example. Starting over again at a new school. The fate of Tony Stark in the next Avengers movie. So not an obsession, no. But a constant. A comfort. “I’ve definitely cooled down some,” she told me. “I mean, you remember, I was a Harry Potter freak … But even when it’s sad, it’s still sort of a happy place. It allows me to get rid of all my stresses because, at the end of the day, I can still go to Hogwarts.” At the end of the year, I will take down my Hufflepuff banner, and I probably won’t put it up in my room next year. Helen has transferred her decorations to her OSU dorm. When I permanently move out of my parents’ house, I will probably leave all my Harry Potter Pop-Funko figurines behind. When Helen has her own place, she wants to buy a display case for all 23 of her replica character wands. When I’m building my own book collection from scratch, I’ll buy the complete series in paperback online. Helen will keep the set she already has, and add the special
illustrated version as well as several editions in different languages. And when we are old, who knows? Will we still love these children’s books about a boy who goes to wizard school? Will it stay with us that long? After all, isn’t it just a story, just imaginary, made-up, not real? Well, maybe so. But for Helen, and for millions of fans, and even, still, for me, it’s more than that. “Tell me one last thing,” Harry asks Dumbledore in the final book, as he nears the end of his journey. “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?” “Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry,” Dumbledore tells him. “But why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?” S
Monument Man The visionary behind Miami’s Art Museum
by Céilí Doyle
Profile illustrations by Min Kim
“I will always be proudest of the moment when I found the courage to stand up and shout we must stop this! without thinking of the personal consequences. It is my eternal wish that all the missing art treasures will be recovered and that they will be available for the whole world to see.” — pg. 117, “The Safekeepers: A Memoir of the Arts at the End of World War II” *** Wednesday, Nov. 7, 1945 In the middle of a bombed-out city, the Wiesbaden State Museum in Germany was one of the few buildings still intact six months after the Nazis surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II in Europe. Walter I. Farmer sat in his office in the museum, staring at a telegram that had been delivered hours earlier ordering him to deliver 202 “German works of art of greatest importance” to the U.S. Army. Walter, a 1935 graduate of Miami University, was the director of the Wi-
esbaden Collecting Point for the U.S. Army’s Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) division. That meant he was one of a group of specialists who worked to find, safeguard, return and restore works of art stolen by the Nazis all over Europe throughout the war. Overcome by frustration and rage, he began weeping. The U.S. government was ordering him to ship some of the world’s greatest German-owned works of art back to America for “safekeeping.” Walter didn’t buy it. Two-hundred and two precious works of art were not going to be “safer” transported across the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of winter. The orders ran counter to Walter’s commitment to handling these priceless cultural properties with integrity and respect. Walter thought he understood the real reason behind the “safekeeping” excuse: The government wanted those paintings, some of the most famous images in the Western world — from Rembrandt’s “Man with Golden Helmet” to Botticelli’s “Venus” and Watteau’s “Réunion en Plein Air” — to be exhibited
in American museums. These 202 works of art originally belonged in German museums across the country: nearby Frankfurt, Berlin, Dresden and Munich, to name a few. After gathering himself, Walter wired 35 officers in the MFA&A. Thirty-two men answered his appeal, and they traveled that day from various cities across Europe to discuss how the MFA&A would protest the shipment. Walter was prepared to disobey his orders and face the prospect of being court-martialed. The following day, Thursday, Nov. 7, 1945, he and the other officers gathered in his office to discuss how best to lodge their protest. America would not join in the theft of art, not if the MFA&A had anything to say about it. The result of the meeting in Walter’s office was a document now known as the Wiesbaden Manifesto, the only protest made by U.S. officers during World War II. “Though our obligation is to the nation to which we owe allegiance, there are yet further obligations to common
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photos contributed by Margaret Farmer Platon justice, decency and the establishment of the power of right, not of expediency or might, among civilized nations.” — Wiesbaden Manifesto, U.S. Forces, European Theater Germany *** Walter was born on July 7, 1911, in Alliance, Ohio. He spent his childhood collecting mementos, stacking family heirlooms in an extra room he referred to as a “museum,” researching his Quaker heritage and discovering the arts. “He must’ve been a rather unusual child,” his daughter Margaret Farmer Platon muses. Margaret grew up hearing the tales of the MFA&A, or the Monuments Men, as they are informally known, and became an art connoisseur and archivist herself. She lives in Chillicothe, Ohio, and served on city council and as the town’s mayor before retiring. Walter’s legacy as an archivist and supporter of the arts deeply informed Margaret’s own life. “I won’t throw out little treasures of family history,” Margaret declares. “He was forceful and boisterous, but taught me to love art, to love taking care of things.”
Even 20-plus years after Walter’s death, Margaret’s basement is covered with memorabilia from her late father’s life — photographs, bookcases, boxes and documents chronicling Walter’s contributions to society. One of the earliest of those contributions was Walter’s work at Miami during his undergraduate years. As a mathematics and architecture double major, he learned how to clean and repair the frames of the university’s paintings — a skill that helped him land a job as an interior designer after college. That job took him to Cincinnati, where he worked for a man who claimed to be the oldest art dealer west of the Alleghenies: Alfred Burton Closson. But Walter desperately wanted to be an architect, and hated working for Closson. He met his first wife, pianist Josselyn Liszniewska, shortly before World War II began and married her a month before he left for Germany in March 1942. They were together for only 100 days. Walter had poor eyesight, and his Army prospects were slim at age 30. But through a fluke, he didn’t receive a military eye exam, and after proving his ability to be resourceful, he rose to the rank of adjutant, or captain, in the
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373rd Regiment of Engineers. A little over two years after his initial deployment, Walter was offered a postwar reassignment to the MFA&A, where he would be the director of the Wiesbaden Collecting Point at the Wiesbaden State Museum. “He was a go-getter, a problem solver,” Margaret says. “That skill really carried over into monuments work.” The Wiesbaden Collecting Point was established to keep and restore art (including antiquities, paintings, sculptures, etc.) as well as to safeguard the historical artifacts from the Soviet army and any potential postwar looters. The position was a major source of pride, but it also ended his marriage. Josselyn said she had waited long enough for Walter’s return from overseas. Given his background in architecture, Walter was ordered to rebuild the museum in addition to helping organize and catalog the truckloads of European collections that had been hidden in salt mines and various repositories. Walter arrived in Wiesbaden with a Jeep, little equipment and no command of the German language. “The first person he hired as a translator became my mom,” Margaret says.
That woman, Renate Hobkirk, served as Walter’s administrative assistant at the Collecting Point. As the sole German citizen sitting in on the protest discussions, she played an important role in managing deliveries as art collections traveled through Wiesbaden on their way back to various European countries. The Wiesbaden Collecting Point housed and catalogued over 70,000 individual pieces of art. But it was the order to turn over 202 works of German-owned art that forced Walter to band his fellow MFA&A officers together to draft the Wiesbaden Manifesto. The men crowded into Walter’s office in the museum on the evening of Thursday, Nov. 7, 1945, arguing over the language of the document. They agreed that it was outrageous for the U.S. Army to demand Walter turn over hundreds of pieces of art to America while the Allies were preparing to prosecute Nazis “for the crime of sequestering” — or stealing “the cultural treasures of German-occupied countries.” Walter dictated as Renate typed: “We, the undersigned, feel it is our duty to point out that, though as members of the Armed Forces we will carry out the orders we receive, we are thus put before any candid eyes as no less culpable than those whose prosecution we affect to sanction.” The MFA&A was determined to hold the U.S. Army and its government to the same standards that the Allies were imposing on the Germans. Ultimately, Walter and his colleagues were forced to carry out their orders from headquarters. But their protest, via the Wiesbaden Manifesto, was published in the “College Art Journal” months later, in January 1946. Several publications — The New York Times, the Magazine of Art and TIME — covered the protest, and the publicity galvanized American museum officials and academics to petition President Harry Truman to return the art to Germany. Despite the mounting public outcry, the 202 works of art remained in storage in Washington, D.C. In February 1948, the House Armed Services Committee arranged for an American show featuring the 202. Again, former MFA&A members protested loudly. Finally, after touring 12 American cities, all of the art was returned to Wiesbaden for exhibition in 1949. Walter was one of many individu-
als who chose to defend the integrity of those 202 works of art. Without him, there would be no Wiesbaden Manifesto. For Walter, though, the Wiesbaden Manifesto was just a reflection of his lifelong commitment to art, culture and history. *** Feeling disillusioned after complying with the U.S. Army’s orders to turn over the 202 works of art, Walter wanted to regain the Germans’ trust. He had made a commitment to the citizens of Wiesbaden that he would respect their culture and help restore their country, which had been utterly decimated by the Nazis. So Walter and Renate decided to boost morale by arranging for an “Exhibition of German-Owned Old Masters” to showcase some of the many art treasures that remained in Walter’s care at the Wiesbaden Collecting Point. The exhibition launched on Feb. 10, 1946. Renate published a catalogue in German and English that explained the MFA&A’s purpose. A bust of Queen Nefertiti was the exhibit’s main attraction.
After the exhibition ended, Walter returned to the United States in March 1946. He brought Renate back a year later, and they got married in 1947. The newlyweds settled in Houston, and talk of the Wiesbaden Manifesto and the 202 works of German-owned art still in the care of the U.S. Army faded into the background as Renate and Walter worked tirelessly to help found the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston. The couple’s only child, Margaret, was born in 1949, right before the family moved to Cincinnati. But Walter and Renate’s initial attraction — and subsequent marriage — was not meant to last. “They had really strong personalities,” Margaret says now. “They were very demanding in how they approached everything.” By the late 1950s, their marriage was crumbling. They divorced while Margaret was still in high school. Margaret lived with her mother. She didn’t speak to her father again until 1970, when she got married. Meanwhile, Walter was making a name for himself as a tradesman supplying decorations to Cincinnati’s elite.
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*** In the late 1950s, shortly before his divorce from Renate, Walter purchased Greenwich House, which would serve as an office for the interior decorating company he had created. Greenwich House also had an art gallery. In between commissions, Walter would open up the gallery for art exhibitions, showing off his personal collection to his friends and family. In the 1960s, Walter renovated an 1870s villa in Hyde Park, filling it with a mix of modern art and antiques. He was a collector at heart, and Cincinnati made him feel sophisticated. A friend once remarked that he was the only man she knew who wore an ascot tie. He was a big talker and well-read — a gentleman with lovely manners who epitomized fine living, entertaining his friends and traveling. “These are all the words we don’t use to describe people anymore,” says Ruth Meyer, former director of the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati. She remembers his beautiful silk sport shirts and tweed jacket in particular. But above all else, she appreciated his support for the arts. Walter was a cosmopolitan man,
Ruth recalls. He socialized with many members of Cincinnati’s “Café Society” after restoring furniture and commissioning pieces of art for them. It was during one of those parties in 1972 when Walter first met Ted Gantz. “Walter and I started talking because we had overlapping friendships,” Ted says. The two developed a friendship that turned into a relationship, and Ted moved into Walter’s guest room. But Walter never felt comfortable being open about his partner of 27 years. The couple’s friends knew Ted lived in Walter’s home, but no one ever brought it up in conversation. In fact, before Ted, Walter went out with several women. And even after Ted moved into Walter’s guest room, Walter frequently took Ruth as his date to public events. Walter did not entertain any discussion about his sexuality. “I always joked we came out in the New York Times obituary,” Ted says with a laugh. “Gay men of Walter’s generation were petrified of being identified.” Both men loved gardening, but kept their mutual hobby separate. “Oddly enough, we never gardened
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together,” Ted says. “He had his, and I had mine.” It was a small reflection of how their relationship mainly functioned as two parts, and occasionally as a whole. “Love is painful,” Ted says with a smile. But to Ted, it was worth it. “Sometimes in life, love hits you like a brick wall and there are fireworks,” he says. “But then sometimes there’s people you grow into, and that can be much more profound. Walter and I were that way.” The two shared a passion for the arts and a mutual ambition to make a mark on the art world. Ted believes that Walter’s desire to effect change came from an uncle who funded a summer in New York City, where Walter first got a glimpse of a world outside his hometown of northeast Ohio. And it was Walter’s work in the MFA&A decades prior that continued to inform his work in Cincinnati. “He talked about the Monuments Men all the time,” Ruth remembers. “It was something that he was very proud of — that he had this service. And it was kind of his favorite dinner party story to tell what he had done and who his friends were.”
Walter would often ask Ruth to find a ghostwriter to put his experiences on paper. Meanwhile, in the Cincinnati art world, he enjoyed helping young artists and formed a chunk of his personal collection through his travels to Italy with Ted, a sculptor and collector in his own right. “His idea about collecting was, you didn’t have to have the most money to buy the best of the best,” Ted says. “He had extremely good eyes.” On cultural exchanges, Walter traveled to Russia, Spain, Portugal, Germany and England, all of which determined his vision as an interior designer and personal collector. When the couple first met, Walter was interested in building a teaching museum on his alma mater’s campus.
He was inspired by Orpha Webster, a professor and mentor during his collegiate years who always wanted Miami to have an art collection. Walter’s relationship with Miami ebbed and flowed as he butted heads with faculty members who fought his desire for the musuem to be a flagship for teaching, not just a place to display art. Margaret was heavily involved in helping her father establish the museum at Miami. She had recently become reacquainted with Walter around the same time he met Ted. Both of them knew how desperately Walter wanted to inspire future students to care about beautiful things. “He gave away his core collection” so the museum could display it, Margaret remembers.
Walter wanted the museum to emphasize modern art as well as the European and English decorative art he donated. “Collecting is a passion that rules your reason,” Walter said in an interview in spring 1978 while promoting the museum’s opening exhibition. “I had always been interested in learning more of a particular culture or of a certain area,” he added. “When I came upon a field in which I had little or no knowledge, there was always a great deal to learn. I’ve always read voraciously, and have had an intense desire not to be a stereotypical Midwesterner.” Walter selected Walter Netsch from the firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill to be the architect of the building. Netsch designed a structure that houses exhibition spaces, a multi-purpose lecture hall and work-study areas for students and faculty. “A building for art located on the brow of a beautiful site must strive not only to be a working educational environment, but a work of art in itself,” Netch said in October 1978. The Miami University Art Museum, featuring the Walter Farmer Collections, debuted its opening exhibition on June 17, 1978. Margaret and Ted both attended. A few years after the museum opened, a German prehistorian, Klaus Goldmann, contacted Walter about his experience as director of the Wiesbaden Collecting Point. He wanted Walter to fly to Washington, D.C. for an interview. Klaus wanted to know for his research: What happened to the MFA&A officers who defied orders almost fifty years ago? The question sparked a renewed sense of purpose in Walter. Walter began answering questions from art directors and contacting old MFA&A colleagues across the country to help Klaus’ research. Walter leaned on Margaret to translate letters in German; his grasp of the language was no better than it had been when he hired Renate to be his translator nearly five decades before. But Renate had taught their daughter German. Now father and daughter sifted through letters and articles sent from Europe. Meanwhile, Walter continued to pester his old friend Ruth Meyer about helping him write his memoir. Ruth eventually agreed to help write what would eventually become “The Safekeepers: A Memoir of the Arts at the End of World War II.”
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And after Walter sold Greenwich House, writing this book was what what he wanted to do more than anything else in life. When Ruth left the Taft Museum in 1993, she and Walter began to meet three times a week for lunch to discuss the book. She urged Walter to push the German government to recognize the work the MFA&A had accomplished after World War II, but especially how Walter had managed to mobilize the majority of the officers in the division to draft and sign the Wiesbaden Manifesto. On Sept. 27, 1995, Margaret and Walter learned that the president of Germany, Roman Herzog, had signed for Walter to receive the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, the country’s highest civilian medal. *** Friday, Feb. 9, 1996 “You disobeyed orders so as to remain true to your country and its ideals. You showed how a democrat and citizen of a free nation acts, one who distinguishes between right and wrong,
moral rectitude and opportunism.” — Dr. Klaus Kinkel, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs After decades of obscurity, Walter was touched that Germany wanted to honor his and the MFA&A’s protest against the U.S. Army’s orders. “Walter Farmer’s enduring achievement as an officer in charge of art protection is his firm belief that cultural heritage is at the disposal of no one, not even the victors of war,” said Klaus Kinkel, Germany’s federal minister for foreign affairs, at the ceremony. “The standards of international law, reaffirmed in the Wiesbaden Manifesto, are still highly relevant to today’s global debate on the return of art treasures as a result of war.” After the trip to Germany to accept the award, Margaret took over writing Walter’s memoirs. Father and daughter spent hours poring over boxes of family mementos and Walter’s letters from his service in World War II and as the Wiesbaden Collecting Point director. A little over a year after receiving the Commander’s Cross, Walter forced his daughter and partner to go through his apartment, marking which works of art they wanted and which would be donat-
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ed to the Cincinnati Art Museum and Miami Art Museum. At first Ted and Margaret were confused why Walter was so insistent on making Margaret and Ted formally sift through his belongings. It turned out Walter was very sick and had downplayed the ailments from his prostate cancer diagnosis to both Margaret and Ted. The secrecy behind his illness wasn’t an unusual move for the incessantly private Walter. On Saturday, Aug. 9, 1997, Walter Farmer, the architect, interior designer and original Monument Man, died of complications from cancer. For Margaret, her father’s life was a testament to instilling a deep respect for art, history, culture and his accomplishments as a Monument Man. “I can’t say that I ever had Dad’s full energy,” Margaret says. “The learning, the exploring the world … his curiosity has always stayed with me.” As Ted put it, Walter’s lifetime was spent respecting beautiful things: paintings, fine china, architecture and historical antiquities. “Our culture made all of those things, so why not value them?” S
Once Upon a Visit
Cincinnati storytelling events foster community and empathy by Madeline Mitchell
illustrations by Connor Wells
own in the heart of Over-theRhine, Cincinnati, echoes of chatter bounced around the tall ceilings of The Transept as guests filed in and settled down in seats among friends and strangers alike. A large candlelit chandelier hung above our heads, and tall, narrow panels of stained glass windows decorated the walls around us. At the back of the room, a full bar provided drinks for those of age. The audience — a mixture of the elderly, middle-aged, teenagers and young children — came dressed for a range of occasions; some were in full suits, others in jeans and sweaters. At the top of the night, co-host Anne Saker took the stage wearing her purple glasses, the single gray streak on her left side a stark contrast against the rest of her shiny, black hair. “What is tonight? I’ll tell you what it’s not,” Saker told us. “It’s not a TED Talk, it’s not Toastmasters, it’s a not a how-to tutorial, it’s not an inspirational speech, or an educational lecture, or a powerpoint presentation. It’s not even a sales pitch — except, of course, for a subscrip-
tion to the Cincinnati Enquirer.” The audience laughed as Saker gave a mischievous smile. “What it is, is storytelling,” she continued. “And storytelling is based on visiting. And you all know how to visit: You open your mind, you open your heart, and you pay attention to someone you want to know better, feel closer to.” This Feb. 26 event entitled, “Romance — or Not,” was my second time spending an evening with the Cincinnati Storytellers Project. The first time, I told my own story. The theme had been “Food and Family,” so I told the story about finding out I was not Italian at a dinner in Italy with what I had thought was my long-lost Italian family (it turns out we are French; our great-great-great grandfather up and moved over the French Alps and resettled in Turin, Italy some two hundred years ago, apparently). At the time, I treated it like I had treated presentations for speech team in high school. I was good at speech team. I won a lot of tournaments and competed at the state level my senior year. It was
fun to rehearse my story and put together something to share with an audience. I’ve been performing for forever — my parents met in acting school, so I had no chance of avoiding the theatre bug. But storytelling, I found out, is not the same as performance. As Saker mentioned, it’s based on visiting. My parents use this term when we go to see my grandparents. “Well, that was a nice visit, don’t you think?” my mom always says as all five of us load back into the minivan after an afternoon spent chatting with her parents. A visit: Time spent with loved ones, opening up to share with, and pay attention to, people who I want to feel closer with. Just as Saker said. Before she called up the first speaker, Saker reminded the audience that this event would display a variety of storytellers: some polished, some conversational; some funny, others nuanced in comedy. I settled into my seat, eager to have a nice visit with those who wanted to share.
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Why is it that people do this, tell stories to strangers? And, even more incredulously, why do other people come to watch and listen to stories from complete strangers? The storytellers of The Transept The first storyteller, Amy, came onstage to the sound of encouraging applause. She wore a black dress with printed white flowers underneath a jean jacket. Her blue hair poked out from her black beanie, framing her face. “I’m not the polished one,” she said. Amy, a chef by trade, captivated the audience with her intimate, quirky love story that took place in a restaurant kitchen. Amy said that she wasn’t looking for romance; at the time, she was focused on her daughter, Ally, whom she referred to as the first love of her life. Then Eli came into the picture as a staff member in her kitchen — handsome and tall, a good listener who had a similar story to Amy. Both were married and divorced at a young age, and now were raising their kids as single parents. We would chat from time to time, but I was also in a relationship with the wrong — I cannot stress that enough — the wrong person. So when that just ended, Eli was there with a strong shoulder, to say all the right things and to just be absolutely wonderful. Two weeks later, we decided to go on what we now refer to as our “non-date.” We went out for Korean food, we had drinks, we listened to live jazz, it was wonderful, and I was not ready for it. I was still kind of broken, and worse than that, I think Ally was too. So I told Eli, ‘It’s not the right time,’ and he just patiently said, ‘I can wait.’ It took Amy a long time to move on. Meanwhile, Eli didn’t just wait around. He fought for her. He brought her gifts
and told her to take all the time she needed. He was there for her. Amy said that she was overwhelmed by his thoughtfulness. Her hands punctuated poignant moments of the tale, enhancing her audio story into a live performance. I start working at Red Brick Inn. A couple weeks after that I caught a horrible cold, one of those really ugly, ugly colds — I should not have been at work. But he goes out every day and gets me hot and sour soup and leaves it on my desk. So this man that I’m not even dating goes out every day, because he remembered I had once said hot and sour soup can fix anything. And he gets it, on his own break, and leaves it for me. A couple weeks after that he got me this ceramic coffee travel mug, because I once told him that I’d love to drink coffee after I leave the house but I hate plastic travel mugs. So he, like, researched it and found one that fit my needs and got it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved the gifts, it was wonderful, but to know that he listened and understood me was priceless. I smiled. I knew what she meant. I think a lot of us did. Eli slowly but surely became an integral part of Amy and Ally’s lives. Ally was the one who actually convinced Amy to give Eli another chance in the romance department. A year after their non-date, they gave it another try, and Amy said everything after that came easy. The audience seemed invested. When Amy mentioned Nicola’s restaurant, two women sitting next to each other a couple of rows in front of me, one wearing
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an orange scarf and the other with blue glasses placed on top of her head, immediately turned to each other and nodded, sharing some silent, telepathic story of their own. When Amy got to the climax of her story — her engagement — a collective “aw” came soaring up from the audience towards the stage. “I know, right?” Amy agreed. The story was no longer Amy’s alone, but a shared experience intertwined with the related, unspoken stories of the audience. After Amy came Dara, sporting large sparkly earrings and a shiny hair clip stuck in her black, curly hair. Her voice, with its drawl and strong pitch variety, marked a clear contrast from the rest of the speakers. Dara started her story by going over the five must-have attributes that she looked for in a man: intelligence, compatibility, attractiveness, romance and consideration. This became her mantra, she told us. I immediately began thinking of what my five must-haves would be. As a college senior, it seems far-fetched that I might be able to find someone with even three of Dara’s five at the frat parties and bar crawls that fill my current social calendar. Dara met her now-husband, Ruben, at a Super Bowl party. He checked every box. “There were two people in the room: Sharice, and this fine specimen of a man,” she said of their first encounter. “Whoo! You hear me? Fine!” The audience buzzed with laughter.
Fairman had a few of those moments in which she knew she would get a good laugh from her audience. Each of those moments were punched with her own wide, white smile as she shared in the delight of reliving her and her husband’s 15-year romance, which hasn’t always been easy. Dara and Ruben come from very different backgrounds. His mother was raised in Cuba, and he grew up in Jamaica. “For real?” Dara remembers saying to him upon learning this information. “Stop the presses. You mean we — being black folks — speak Spanish? As a first language?” Her family, on the other hand, has been in America for many generations, coming up from slavery and enduring the Civil War. “We looked so much alike, yet our cultures are different,” she said. The first Valentine’s Day they were together, he sent a dozen roses to her work. Seven days later, on her birthday, he sent her a CD filled with songs that reminded him of their relationship. After a year and a half of dating, they were engaged. Our marriage counselor told us that marriage was like planning for a tropical vacation and getting off the plane and realizing it was a ski trip. They are both great vacations, just not what you planned. Ruben and I packed our bags for fun and sun in the Caribbean; the plane descended into the Swiss Alps. Yin and yang. The spreadsheet was created by Ruben to address all potential contingencies that would affect our lives until retirement. How much mon-
ey each of us would make each year, the precise years that we would have our kids, our everything. I chuckled along with the rest of the audience — how could anyone plan so meticulously when life is so full of unexpected paths? Dara was right along with us. A few years into their marriage, with two kids at home, Dara decided to be a stay-athome mom. As soon as I held Maxwell in my arms, I made the intuitive decision to become a stay-at-home mom. Notice I said “I,” not “we.” This decision decimated Ruben’s beautiful spreadsheet. Our yin and yang was out of balance. An elephant was born into the room of our relationship: Elephant Tina. Elephant Tina played quietly in her corner as poor Ruben learned to live with the disappointment of missed income, and I learned to live with the disappointment of an unsupportive spouse. Elephant Tina began to grow, Dara said. She recounted her daily routine of driving kids to and from school and
their other activities, cleaning dishes, washing clothes, cooking dinner, helping with homework and averaging four hours of sleep per night. I know this schedule. My own mother endured it for well over 10 years when she stayed home with my two sisters and I to look after us. I remember how tired she always was as a stay-at-home mom, and I realized how frustrated she must have been when my dad would complain about his long day at work. She had long days, too — and she worked through those days without gaining a salary in return. “I was doing everything. Everything!” Dara said. “I didn’t complain. I suffered in silence.” Everything came to a head at Christmastime in 2017. The complaints and negativity set Dara off, and she said that Ruben listened in silence. The tension grew from there. Both Dara and her husband stopped wearing their wedding rings. They decided to try marriage counseling, but that didn’t have a lasting effect. When things seemed too desperate to go on, they began to have long, delicate conversations to save their marriage. One moment, hour, day at a time, Dara said, they began to work together to figure things out. “Marriage ain’t easy, but it sure is fun,” she said. A single, understanding chuckle rang out from the crowd. Unconventional yet universal By the time Bonnie’s low, soothing voice took over, I was deep into wondering: Why is it that people do this, tell
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“If it’s done right, a person in the audience stands next to you in the story.” stories to strangers? And, even more incredulously, why do other people come to watch and listen to stories from complete strangers? What is the draw? Bonnie told of a non-traditional love story that led up to an unexpected punchline, for her at the time and for the audience in her retelling, as her then-boyfriend asked for her hand in marriage on a hunting trip in Athens, Ohio. “Are you seriously asking me kneeling over a dead deer?” she remembered asking him. “You’re an asshole.” Bonnie fell in love over archery lessons and hunting bucks. Her tale, though unconventional for a suburban Chicago girl like me, still had all of the elements of sensitivity and adrenaline that have permeated so many of my own run-ins with romance. She talked about the way he made her feel safe, and the thrill of learning something new with the one she loved so much. “I trusted him, and I don’t trust easily,” she said with true vulnerability. An audience-wide exhale overtook The Transept in the pause that followed. Through her story, and my unexpected connection to it, I began to understand why the Storytellers Project and other events like it could draw in such big crowds. Even though I wasn’t the one speaking, I felt seen and heard. I felt like my own experience wasn’t so lonely after all. I felt connected. A few weeks later, I ran into Bonnie at a journalism conference in Cleveland. I sat with her at lunch and told her how
much I enjoyed her story. She was happy to talk about her experience, and just as delightful to listen to offstage as on. Bonnie is a writer and storyteller by profession, and has told the story of falling in love with her husband through writing before in a 10,000-word essay. But this was different. She said that instead of painting the pictures with words, she had to transform the message to include gestures and facial expressions. She wanted the listeners to connect to her and to her story. “If it’s done right, a person in the audience stands next to you in the story,” she said. Instead of memorizing the words of her previously written text for her Storytellers performance, Feldkamp thought through her love story as scenes. She wanted to be able to feel present and conversational on the stage, so instead of reciting an essay, she chose to naturally tell the story in a more improvisational way. “I know the story, because it’s my story,” she said. Although some people refer to social media and the internet as the “new back fence,” a place for neighborly gossip and conversation, Bonnie said she chooses to label the worldwide web as “the new road rage.” She said that the best way to tap into empathy and understanding is not online, but in face-to-face interactions like she experienced at the Cincinnati Storytellers Project. “People want to be heard,” she said, “and they want to be validated.”
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Closing the night with popping the question and Fiona the hippo The fourth speaker was Beryl Love, the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer. His slicked-back gray-black curls, sports jacket and Apple Watch gave off an air of professionalism that contradicted his deeply personal story of addiction, grief and stumbling back into love. He took us through a hard two years with his alcoholic wife, who eventually died of her disease. In the months that followed her death, he contemplated “how long” was appropriate to mourn before getting back out there. Eventually, Beryl’s friends and family encouraged him to start dating again, and even his son began to chime in. “One evening, out of the blue, when we were having dinner, he said to me, ‘Dad, I think you need to get on Match,’” Beryl recalled. “And I looked at him like, ‘First, how do you even know about Match?’ And I guess I should be thankful that he didn’t bring up Tinder.” The retelling of this memory with his son brought up laughs and sounds of surprise from the audience as they processed Beryl’s journey through grief. The audience stayed with him through the next chapter of the story, in which he began to fall in love with someone new. When it came time for the proposal, the crowd drew in a simultaneous breath and then let out squeals of outrage. “I asked her those words at dinner with her parents there, and my son beside me ... and she didn’t say yes,” he said.
It didn’t matter that there were over well over 150 people in the room. The level of attention and conversation shrunk the atmosphere to the size of that dining room table where he had popped the question in the first place. The story ended on a happy note. Beryl’s new love said “OK” instead of yes. After he finished telling their love story, Beryl headed straight to the bar clear on the other side of the room before rejoining his wife in their seats near the back of the audience. Last in the lineup was Christina, the most polished of the storytellers. Her black blazer, glasses and straight brown hair emphasized her straightforward style. She told of how Fiona, the hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo, brought out the best in their zookeepers, who traditionally don’t like to work with people. Christina is a mammal curator at the Cincinnati Zoo and was there the night that Fiona was born. “I can best describe her as a watermelon-sized water balloon covered in snot and slime,” she said of the hippo calf. “Literally impossible to pick up.” Christina’s hands occasionally snuck out of her pockets to accompany important moments of her tale through gesture. She talked about her team of zookeepers and how they learned to work together to keep Fiona, who was born six to eight weeks prematurely, alive. “She managed to be a teacher for us, and teach us animal people how to human, while she was learning how to hippo,” she said. This last line was greeted with a long applause as Saker mounted the stage once more to close out the evening.
Max Londberg, a reporter from the Enquirer seated in the last row to cover the event, looked up at the stage in amazement. He doesn’t think he could ever get up onstage to tell one of his own stories. “I can’t do crowds,” he said. Cincy Stories makes storytellers look like celebrities Seven days later and half a mile away, another storytelling event took place at the Woodward Theater. I was so excited to be out of my small college town and treating myself to a night of city enter-
tainment. I blasted Taylor Swift in my Chevy Sonic the whole 45-minute drive down to Cincinnati. When I got there, I was struck by the way the white electric guitar propped up by a large amp sitting at the center of the blue-lit stage gave the illusion of a rock concert about to begin. Was I in the right place? Cincy Stories has a different vibe than the Cincinnati Storytellers Project; it’s more relaxed and the element of music and merchandise being sold at the entrance made the performers seem like doted-upon celebrities ready to per-
THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
“Ultimately, you only need one person’s permission to tell your stories — and that’s yourself. But that is sometimes the hardest to get.” form one-hit wonders rather than average Joes and Janes with simple stories to tell. I went to a table selling T-shirts by the front door and asked if anyone knew where Shawn Braley, one the co-founders of Cincy Stories, might be. I was directed to a man wearing a flannel and holding a beer by the bar. Braley has a kind face that matches his gentle voice and friendly demeanor. I couldn’t help but like him right away. With one minute until go-time, nobody seemed to be in a rush. Half of the audience still lingered by the bar, placing drink orders and chatting with friends, sporting casual attire and warm hats, gloves and scarves leftover from walks to the theatre in the 13-degree weather. Three musicians — one drummer with flippy hair and a coffee to-go cup, a bassist in a blue button-up shirt and a female singer with her guitar — came onto the old-timey, gaudy, golden-framed stage as the program began well after 7 p.m. The singer started the jam session with a “Hello, welcome to Cincy Stories.” After a couple of songs followed by an introduction by Braley and Chris Ashwell, the two enthusiastic founders of Cincy Stories, the stories began. The same collective listening and intensity that had settled over the couple-hundred audience members at The Transept came over the roughly 200 listeners at the Woodward Theater. The stories ranged from Liz Young’s
hilarious naked race adventure that took place after splitting a gallon jug of moonshine with her rock climbing squad, to Manuel Iris’s bittersweet reflection on the last time he saw his father before his death. The distance between the speaker and the audience did nothing to deter the close relationship that grew out of the shared stories. When Liz leapt about the stage mimicking her experience “dodging dicks” to get to the naked race’s finish line, a burst of laughter and surprise swept the audience. Later, the audience made itself small and quiet as Manuel, a short Hispanic man with kind eyes, spoke about his dad, a man who rarely showed vulnerability, and their embrace outside of Manuel’s childhood home in Mexico. After they let go, Manuel left his father for the last time and took his wife and baby daughter to the airport and back home to Cincinnati. At the end of the evening, Braley and Ashwell appeared onstage once more. “Wasn’t there something electric, something magical about tonight?” Braley asked the audience. Ashwell encouraged everyone to reflect on the human experience, and observed that we, as people, are more similar than we are different. He asked the crowd to go home and find a neighbor, a friend or a relative. “Ask them to share a story with you.”
58 THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
Words from an expert storyteller Scott Whitehair is a Chicago-based storyteller who performs worldwide as well as produces events for others to tell their own stories. When he stumbled upon a storytelling workshop over 10 years ago, Whitehair knew he was entering something special and brand-new. “There was no Moth, I had never heard of The Moth, there was really nothing in Chicago, so we didn’t have a template,” he said. The Moth is a New York City–based non-profit storytelling organization that travels around the country to host storytelling events. Whitehair and friends got started producing small, Moth-esque shows for about a year before Chicagoans started to get interested. Since then, he has become the producer and director of three storytelling opportunities throughout the city: This Much is True, Do Not Submit and Story Lab Chicago. “Story Lab started because people started to ask me, ‘Hey, how do I — I wanna do this!’” he said. “So I just created something where anybody who wanted to do it could do it. There was no barrier.” One of these barriers is social media. “A big part of it is turning away from our screens, hearing someone’s voice, looking them in the face,” Whitehair said. “It’s something that we crave and don’t get as much of. And this technology brings us together in some ways, but also pulls us apart, obviously.” Another barrier that some people face when getting into storytelling is the fear that they are not good enough or don’t have what it takes to perform.
“What draws people in is the humanity; to hear, in other people’s stories, reflections of their own lives, to feel less alone, to connect with somebody.” Whitehair disagrees wholeheartedly with this mindset, claiming that all of us are “storytellers by birth,” and is confident that anyone and everyone can and should participate in storytelling. “If you’ve lived a life, you have more than you need,” Whitehair said. Whitehair and other storyteller producers try to create an inclusive, safe environment for people to tell their stories. “The best you can do is create the space and make it feel good,” Whitehair said. “Because, ultimately, you only need one person’s permission to tell your stories — and that’s yourself. But that is sometimes the hardest to get.” Storytelling is for all people, all ethnicities, all abilities and all ages. He said that many people in the community are not performers at all. He has worked with storytellers who are psychologists, teachers, marketers and physical trainers. He remembered once coaching a lab scientist who rarely worked with people at all, but who flourished on stage. The want to be heard is what Whitehair believes draws people to this inclusive folk art, no matter their background. Whitehair said that there is a big misconception that this new movement is for the young, but that is not true. “One of the newest storytellers I’ve worked with, he just got started in the last year, is 95,” Whitehair said. “He’s a World War II vet. Just found this, and he’s like, ‘Ya know, I like this, I’m gonna do it.’”
What keeps people coming? Whitehair admits that his blue-collar family still today struggles to understand what exactly it is that he does for a living. “They just know I have health insurance, which makes them happy,” he said. But those who do know what he does understand its value. Storytelling is a part of the human condition, and we have been doing it since the very beginning of creation. “When you talk about storytelling, look how far we’ve come from sitting around a fire after hunting and gathering all day,” he said. “I hope we never lose sight of what makes it magical, that simple, basic thing of connecting people.” Especially right now, Whitehair said, empathy and understanding are very important. He believes that storytelling acts as a reminder that we, as people, are really not that different from each other. “No matter how different we are, we’re all the same, we’re all human,” he said. “And so I think what draws people in is the humanity; to hear, in other people’s stories, reflections of their own lives, to feel less alone, to connect with somebody over an emotion or over loss or triumph. To kind of feel, ‘Hey, we’re so different, but look how we are the same.’” Whitehair doesn’t know where the future of storytelling will lead. Right now, he is focused on his events and
open mics, workshops and traveling to tell his own stories. He said that he feels like he grew up around this new community of storytelling, and that the movement is “nowhere near done,” although he knows that the community will always value and prioritize in-person, face-to-face storytelling. “We’re not even close to being done,” he said. “We’re just getting started.” If he had his way, Whitehair would get every person in the city of Chicago to get up and tell stories. “I want to see everybody in on it. I wanna see it more blue-collar. I wanna see it, in a city like Chicago. I wanna see everybody in Chicago telling stories. And we’re not there yet.” My next visit I have another story that I want to tell. It’s a story about rock climbing for the first time, about grief and loss and laughter and everything in between. It’s a story that I haven’t told yet, not really; not cohesively and poignantly and direct, as it should be. I’m not going to write out the story for you here. I’m not sure that would really give you the full picture. You would have to hear it in person. S
FYA For your Amusement 1
6 7 8
17 18 19
Have you been keeping up with this semester’s news? We’ve crammed facts from 22 of the school year’s top stories into this crossword.
ACROSS: 1. With 2 Down, a winning ticket. 4. This head coach is leaving
Miami to accept a position at Marquette University. 5. With 7 Across, the name of a Miami sophomore who will enter the 2019 NBA Draft.
Crossword by Emily Williams
7. With 5 Across, the name of a Miami sophomore who will enter the 2019 NBA Draft. 8. _____ Fest began at Miami in the mid-1990s and lasted until 2010, when it ended because some students argued the event was racially insensitive. 9. One might say it’s Miami’s most dramatic department 10. This publication, in short 13. This popular Massachusetts-based chain recently opened a store in Oxford 14. The Oxford ____ post a weekly “Weekend Update” on Facebook. 15. This beloved fast food employee was featured in a recent Miami Student feature. 17. This coach was recently fired after 20 years with RedHawks Hockey. 18. When the Miami University Symphony Orchestra played at Cincinnati Music Hall for the first time in the group’s history, it featured the work of ____ (first name only). 19. This Miami building with a reputation for being haunted will be demolished this summer.
1. Phyllis Callahan’s impending retirement means that Miami will need a new ______. 2. With 1 Across, a winning ticket. 3. One of the stars of “The _____” spoke at Hall Auditorium in March. 4. The Miami fraternity was suspended for allegations of hazing. 6. A U.S. _______ investigation found no wrongdoing by Miami’s Confucius Institute. 11. This year, students in Miami’s ______ program performed “The Producer” and “The Old Maid and the Thief.” 12. The Miami Student’s review of past issues of _____ uncovered multiple racist images. 16. Miami plans to spend about $125 million to construct a _____ facility. 20. With ASG, collaborator on a bill to define anti-Semitism. Think you’ve solved it? Go to miamistudent.net/ mag-crossword to check your answers.
CAMPUS COMMONS • CAMPUS COURTS • BERN ST APTS
HIGH HIGHSTREET STREET
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King King Library Library
E. SPRING ST.
E. SPRING ST. CAB
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Services Health Services
Goggin Goggin ROSE AVE.
Rec Center Recreational Sports Center
FA M I LY- O W N E D S T U D E N T R E N TA L S F O R M I A M I U N I V E R S I T Y
a memory written in sunflowers Emily Dattilo she dreams in sunflowers yellow
Butterflies Ben Finfrock It starts in the pits of your stomach and consumes your upper body Your legs go motionless Your cheeks turn red You start to giggle It feels so good This combination of nervousness and excitement When you meet someone and it just feels right Maybe it’s not love, but possibility It’s the idea of what could be What could be more than a hookup or one-night stand You feel like maybe, just maybe you could be more than a piece of meat Maybe you could be someone who could be loved in the eyes of someone else You have someone who fits you perfectly, you finally have your other half You start to do things you wouldn’t But suddenly reality slaps its cold hand across your face
sunshine dripping brushing pleading violets who whisper wishes, yesterday’s allusion. skies collapse into clouds fraught with vibrancy because you can’t explain words with letters. she dreams in yellow so vivid - it’s forgettable in an instant.
And you realize After all It’s just butterflies
THE MIAMI STUDENT MAGAZINE, SPRING 2019
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