interview with dessa:
cutting into the literary genre
through the eye
of the storm stereotypes of
june/ july â€˜09
Put a Little (Hip) Hop in Your Step Why, on the coattails of such lovely and idealistic themes such as Dreams, Health and Wellness and Concepts of Community, would you plan an entire issue around a specific segment of the urban pop music scene (and one that, for that matter, has done very little good in promoting healthy body images of women)? Seem like a leap? Well perhaps, but hopefully not as far as you think. I chose the theme of this issue two summers ago after I attended an international festival hosted by Intermedia Arts called B-Girl Be, a gathering of women in hip-hop from around the world working to make an impact in a traditionally male-driven industry. I met passionate graffiti artists and emcees, athletic and inspiring b-girls (break dancers), attended performances of spoken word (and fell in love with the art) and sat in on a few open forum discussions about women’s increasingly prominent (albeit controversial) role in the hip-hop scene. Now let’s get one thing straight. I grew up in a small college town in Iowa listening to classic rock and folk music. If there was a local radio station airing hip-hop music, it was certainly viewed by many to be evil as it lured innocent youth into a brazen, sexy world where women’s bodies are exploited and men are puffed up to idolize gang members. So the desire to plan an issue of Alive Magazine around hip-hop and spoken word grew not from a long-standing love of the genre, but an all-consuming sense of urgency to shed light on the powerful voices of the increasing number of women whose artwork adorns city walls and whose poetry speaks straight to the heart of issues too delicate to touch. In this issue, we’ll introduce you to Desdamona, the spoken word artist who founded the B-Girl Be summit, address some of the stereotypes associated with hip-hop, bring you the written form of Sierra DeMulder’s spoken word poetry and also offer stories related to the broader understanding of spoken words in “Here With You,” a reflection on the difficulty of language in translation. We’ll take a look at the digital transition of music media, giving more people the ability to DJ their own playlists or radio stations, plus introduce our newest column, “Flex: Sensible guidance to strengthen your mind and body” with an article offering creative ways to incorporate dance (hip-hop or otherwise) into your workout routine! As you peruse this issue, I hope you’ll hear the strength and beauty of these women’s voices and let their passion infect your vision and opinion of hip-hop. After all, the sweat, the heat and the rhythm of summer is unfolding all around us. What better time than to pop in your earbuds and put a little bounce in your step?
JENNIFER DOTSON EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
H D V N E U Y S T
2 Put a Little (Hip) Hop in Your Step by Jennifer Dotson | photography by Michele Ebnet
a word from our editors
I grew up in a small college town in Iowa listening to classic rock and folk music...
6 Poetic Confidence
by Rachele Cermak | illustration by Tiana Toso
what makes you come alive?
I took a breath and started to read the page that was filled with words printed in Times New Roman but written with a determination that no font could translate.
9 Expanding Influence
by Rachele Cermak | photography by B Fresh Photography and Michele Ebnet
music, dance and other inspiring sounds
picking up the pieces when life falls apart
Desdamona also has a passion for helping the next generation grow into a positive, proactive group.
12 Cuts and Romance
by Janelle Bakke | photography by Michele Ebnet How could she do this to herself? Deep down, I understood why she might have done such a thing. I had read Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.” Twice.
16 Líbí Se Mi Praha
by Liz Larrabee | photography by Kirissa Grams
tales of travel and adventure
Upon seeing that my preconceived notions of college escapades in Europe were not at all what I actually found in Prague, I was too intimidated to step beyond...
18 The Summer
by Sierra DeMulder | photography by Kristina Perkins
original poetry and fresh lyrics
The summer my parents lost their marriage like so many magnets kicked under the refrigerator, my cousin and I...
one-sentence answers to our favorite questions
by Alive readers
What is a diva? I believe a diva is a women who accepts her flaws and flaunts her beauty. They can walk into a room and command attention without doing anything...
25 The Cost of Going Digital
by Sarah Bodeau | photography by Jenny Williams
where to spend your money wisely and effectively
Unfortunately, vinyl sales probably aren’t enough to compensate record stores for the revenue lost to digital...
28 Simple, Scrumptious Summer Entertaining
favorite dorm recipes, snack ideas, and cafeteria creations
by Alennah Westlund | photography by Jenny Williams
In the intense summer heat, I often find myself looking for a fresh and simple, yet tasty summer meal to share...
table of contents
a word from the editor
table of content
Z A B R C flex
W M I L
art for art’s sake... and your viewing pleasure
inspiring successes, curious ambitions and unique interests
read. share your story. join the movement.
30 Hidden Language
by Kirby Montgomery
When I think of hip-hop I think of passion, movement and colorful expression. Trinidy Combs and Lamonte Thunberg, the hip-hop dancers I photographed...
36 Her Turn with the Saw:
Cutting into the Literary Genre
by Emma O’Brien | photography by Kii Arens and Michele Ebnet
Dessa has been able to fulfill the dream...
finding God in unexpected places
MISTER life from his perspective
40 Always With Us, Always Among Us
by Jessica Zimanske | illustration by Tiana Toso
After spending multiple seasons admiring its beauty, I now know that my love affair has not really been with the chapel, but with God, whom the chapel represents.
42 Children of the Rains
by Michael Toso | illustration by Tiana Toso
You sing the song as you walk along, and more likely than not, your song will find its companion. Another Djerma youth’s whistle will join yours…
CONSIDER 44 Stereotypes of Hip-Hop news-related stories relevant to you and your world
sensible guidance to strengthen your mind and body
wonder answers to life’s hard-to-ask questions
tales of fiction, truth, shenanigans and friendly foolery
how would you change the world, if given the opportunity?
perspectives on life from someone older and wiser
The most effective way to show your support is to become a member, pledging a monthly sustaining gift to Alive Arts Media (a 501(c)3 public charity) to continue the programs that create valuable opportunities for young women. To join, visit www.alivemagazine.org/membership.php or email email@example.com. While you’re at it, sign up for our street team to help publicize submission deadlines and issue releases to the young people you know!
by Courtney Still | illustration by Tiana Toso
Alive Magazine is created by young people around the world. We review submissions every Monday, so send your story or artwork to be considered for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about how your writing or artwork can be considered for publication in a future issue of Alive, check out www.alivemagazine. org/submissions. The next submission deadline is July 15, to be considered for the issue theme, Knowledge is Infinite. We look forward to reading your submission!
Hip-hop has established itself as a means of stepping outside of the box, and is a definitive voice amongst other genres.
46 It’s Time to Dance!
by Kaylee Laudon | illustrations by Michele Ebnet
But these workouts can be deceiving – you’ll be having so much fun that you won’t notice you’re getting a full-body workout.
We were founded on an audacious vision: That a new generation of women – given the opportunity, access and vehicle to do so – could change the world. The bi-monthly production cycle of Alive Magazine is fueled by our internship program, where college-aged women design layouts, work with writers and publicize Alive Magazine. To apply for an internship with Alive Magazine at our headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn., visit www.alivemagazine.org/ internships/index.php.
48 Here with You
by Sharon Bangsund | illustrations by Tiana Toso I began to realize what a gift it is to be bi-lingual and explore different sides of your personality in other languages and words.
50 Who’s Got the Jell-O?
by Lisa Teicher | illustrations by Jenny Williams
Our house could have been featured on the “Real World” with all of the drama and odd occurrences. My senior year became the most chaotic, life-changing and difficult year...
52 Through the Eye of the Storm
by Adrienne Johnsen | photography courtesy of NASA
It was as if Patricia’s words let me see through the eye of the storm, and the pain of the people... was made real.
54 Keystrokes to Emancipation
by Donna Penticost | photography by Jenny Williams
It is as though someone else is typing while I sit there, reading my life story as the words appear on the screen.
ALIVE MAGAZINE: JUNE/JULY 2009 PUBLISHED BY ALIVE ARTS MEDIA, INC. Executive Director Jennifer Dotson Managing Editor Nicolle Westlund Development Director Jamie Millard Public Relations Director Lisa Teicher Executive Assistant Abby Zimmer Poetry Editor Kelin Loe
Assistant Editors Rachele Cermak Adrienne Johnsen Courtney Still Graphic Designers Michele Ebnet Tiana Toso Jenny Williams Public Relations Cheyenne Kirkpatrick Kaylee Laudon
Founder and Board Chair Heather Scheiwe Board of Directors Janelle Schulenberg, Vice Chair Jim Scheibel, Development Judy Jandro, Treasurer Martha Franke, Wellness Advisor Heather Mattson, Secretary Development Committee Jim Scheibel, Chair Greg Schlichter Justin Daley Rachel Smoka
Alive Arts Media, Inc. | 1720 Madison St. NE, Ste. 300 | Minneapolis, MN 55413 p: 612.284.4080 | email@example.com | www.alivemagazine.org
The FICO formula is broken down into 5 categories:
Record of paying bills on time Total balance on your credit cards compared to your credit limit Length of credit history New account and recent applications for credit Mix of cards and loans
After combining all this information, your FICO score can range between 300 and 850. A score between 300 and 500 marks you as a financial risk and will cost you higher interest rates. Your goal should be a score between 760 and 850. This score will give you low interest rates and a commendable financial profile.
by sara weathers illustrations by michele ebnet
people use credit cards for the convenience. Others avoid them for the cost. Some people say credit cards are dangerous. Others say they’re safe. So which is it? Are credit cards good? Or bad? Before you use a credit card, you should be aware that credit cards are two-faced. They are both convenient and expensive. The card is very easy to use. You swipe it, the machine validates the number, approves your account, and you sign your name to authorize the total. But the convenience ends there. Credit cards are costly when you forget to pay off your monthly balance. This usually results in higher interest rates and increased debt. So, are credit cards worth the risks to reap the benefits? Your Credit History and Credit Score Your credit history and credit score are the two most important benefits to having a credit card. When you use a credit card you are building a credit history that will determine your credit score. You have to consider your credit card as a chance to build credit. How you use your card will affect your history and your score to determine your financial reputation. Businesses and lenders will want to know your credit history and your credit score, and if you want to purchase a cell phone, take out a loan or rent an apartment, you need credit. It will be difficult to convince a lender or business that you are financially responsible without a credit history and credit score.
Maybe you already have a cell phone. Maybe you don’t need a loan or an apartment anytime soon. That doesn’t matter. You should be building credit now because you will need it someday. People often debate about what age is best to start building credit. The longer your credit history, the more it proves your responsibility and gives you a better financial status to claim. This becomes an argument for having a credit card earlier. Even though a longer credit history can be beneficial, there are risks to having a credit card before you are ready. If you don’t use the card wisely, it will have a negative impact on your credit history and credit score. Businesses and employers rely on your credit to determine your value as a client or employee. How do they get this information? They ask for your score. Your credit score, also known as a FICO score, stands for the Fair Isaac Corporation, a firm that created the formula to calculate your three-digit financial identity. Your FICO score determines how much interest you will pay when use your credit card or take out a loan. Interest is the amount you pay when you borrow money. A high FICO score means a low interest rate. When you use your card, it is reported to three credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. These bureaus know how much you spend, who you owe and if you are the type of person who will pay bills on time. From this raw data, the credit bureaus calculate your credit score using the FICO formula.
To get your credit score, you have to pay each credit bureau $15.95, but you don’t need to see all three scores unless you’re taking out a loan for a car or mortgage. You only need to buy one if you’re just interested in checking up on your financial history. Plus, if your credit history is accurate, all three of your scores will be in a similar range. To buy your credit score, check out www.myfico.com To get it for free online, check out www.annualcreditreport. com. Due to recent credit legislation, this official Web site grants everyone access to one free credit report a year. But beware of online scams, such as freecreditreport. com, which claim to offer free access to your credit report – they do not. Remember that the only agency that does give you free access is annualcreditreport.com. Choosing a Credit Card You understand why credit is so important, but what type of credit card is in your wallet, and what card should you consider using? There are many types, which makes it important to read the fine print of your card agreement. A standard credit card is the most common. It has a revolving balance on which you get charged an interest rate. You also receive a finance charge if you don’t pay your balance off. A secured credit card is a good option to begin with if you don’t have a credit card. A secured card requires you to make a deposit that can be used if you miss a payment.
This makes the borrowing less risky. However, secured cards often have high penalty fees. A balance transfer card is useful if you need to combine several credit card balances. These cards allow you to take advantage of a lower interest rate. This is a good option to consider once you have an extensive credit But beware history. of online scams, such as A rewards card will give you freecreditreport. free “stuff” based on your com, which claim card usage. It is important to to offer free find a rewards card that will access to your reward you more than it costs. credit report... Be cautious when considering this card – reward cards can be tempting, but the usage details are messy. A student credit card is designed for college consumers who are just starting out with credit. These cards help you build credit and are specifically offered to those who don’t have credit history. After you’ve chosen one of the above options, make sure you get a card with the lowest interest rate. This will require some shopping, and remember there is no such thing as free lunch. The introductory rate may be zero percent, but it could jump up to 15 or 16 percent when the promotion ends. Watch out for scams. Also, look for a card with no annual fee because it’s not necessary. Some cards require an annual fee because of their rewards services but since you are mainly concerned about building up your credit history, avoid the reward offers – save your money instead.
Understanding the Details So you’ve decided on a credit card. Now it’s time to get familiar with the penalties and fees. Understanding the details associated with the card will help you avoid debt and high interest. Know your annual percentage rate (APR). This is the percentage of your balance that will carry over if you don’t pay off your monthly balance. Your APR can vary depending on balance transfer or cash advances, so make sure to check out both of those in the fine print of your specific card details. Make sure you understand the billing process. Your grace period is the amount of time you have to pay off your balance before a finance charge is added. The grace period is usually 28 days from the billing date of the balance. Finance charges are cardholder specific, so make sure you know how much you will pay if you carry over a balance.
This will help you stay on top of your spending. You are using the card to build credit, not pay for things you can’t afford. Being frugal with your spending will allow you to manage your debt to credit limit ratio – a lower ratio will affect 30 percent of your FICO. Limit the amount of credit cards you own A regular credit card and a retail card should suffice. Remember, you should have a mix of credit to show you can handle the responsibility (10 percent of your FICO score), but simplify your life by having only two or three. It’s difficult to keep track of more than that, and if you apply for too many cards, lenders may wonder why you need so many. Remember, applications for credit affect 10 percent of your FICO score. If you feel the need to cancel a card, consider the value of the credit history: The longer the history, the better it is to keep it. Instead of canceling the card, think about cutting it up so you don’t use it, but still preserve the history and not affect your score.
Understanding the details associated with the card will help you avoid debt and high interest.
Know your credit limit. This is the end of your purchasing power and a number to which you should never come close. If you are one to fully indulge in purchasing power, set a low limit. Improving Your Credit Score Once you’ve decided on a card and figured out all the details associated with your card agreement, you can use your credit history knowledge to increase your credit score. Establish your payment strategy. Make an effort to pay off your balance when you use the card, avoid interest by paying more than the minimum, and pay on time or earlier. Avoid penalties. Remember that making timely payments is 35 percent of your FICO score.
Avoid using the card for everyday expenses.
This is only a small part of the world of credit, but it’s important to know for your financial health. Your credit card will help build your financial reputation, so be proactive with your credit card. Understand that unless handled responsibly, your credit card can do more damage than good. It is a useful tool, but you need to know how a credit card works and how to use it effectively. Understanding both sides of the card will allow you to make wise decisions and contribute to your future financial well-being.
by rachele cermak photography by b fresh photography and michele ebnet
On the first Monday of every month, the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul, Minn., hosts a slam poetry night. I watch Desdamona, tonight’s featured poet, prepare to address the audience. An hour earlier, as we sat in the Great Waters restaurant, she told me she’d be performing new material that nobody had ever heard before. She felt a little nervous because it had been a while since she performed without all of the bells and whistles incorporated with music. But tonight presented the perfect venue to promote her new spoken word album, “Inkling,” scheduled to be released in May. As she took to the stage, she emitted pure confidence and composure, a true veteran of the craft.
Desdamona has been performing spoken word in the Twin Cities since 1997. Her first encounter with a St. Paul mic was at a local bar called Jazzville. As she recalled the night, she said that she was one of only four people performing. She had shared one poem and one hip-hop song. That night a man named Black Power insisted that she come back because the next week, more people would be at the club and they needed to hear her. That was her first introduction into the world of performance poetry, she said.
“When a kid realizes their voice is powerful, that they can do something, they can create a change, and that people will listen to them, it just does something for self-esteem.” -desdamona
Before moving to the Twin Cities, Desdamona grew up in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Small towns may be stereotypically known for rambunctious teens getting into trouble, but Desdamona never took part in the negative distractions that could have slowed her down. Instead, she stayed focused on the creative outlets her school had to offer like dance, choir and band, anything that allowed her to express herself. “It’s so easy to get lost in all the things that are going on, and to have that creative outlet, it can help ground you,” she said. She advises that everyone find a creative outlet because it helps form the person you are by boosting confidence and self-esteem and promoting consistency. Desdamona said that being consistent has helped her overcome some of her career struggles. One of the biggest obstacles in her career was getting over the desire to want everyone to like what she does. She knows that even if others don’t like what she does, if she’s consistent, at least they’ll respect her. “I can’t make someone like me. I am who I am,” Desdamona said. “You either take it or leave it. It’s important to learn not to be upset over it. We don’t all have to get along but we also don’t have to be mean to each other. And, at least let each other live.”
Standing on the stage, the room became silent as she spoke. The first piece she read wasn’t exactly what I had expected from her. As she warned, she was going to switch it up tonight. The words caressed the audience softly and a round of applause filled the jazz bar’s dimly lit air. Being a woman in hip-hop and spoken word, said Desdamona, gender has definitely been a factor in her career. As a woman, people assume she’s always in the background. When on stage with a man, people automatically think she must be his wife or girlfriend instead of his musical partner. At shows, sound technicians treat her differently because she’s female. “Hey, I’m a professional,” she said. “I know what I’m doing… I’m here and I’m getting paid to do this. It’s not like I have to shove it in someone’s face, but it shows that we’re just not on the same plane.” This frustration has motivated her to work with young women to build their skills so they can collectively contribute more to the hip-hop scene and the overall community. Desdamona spends a lot of time going into schools to teach and lead workshops for youth. “When a kid realizes their voice is powerful, that they can do something, they can create a change, and that people will listen to them, it just does something for self-esteem,” she said.
Desdamona also has a passion for helping the next generation grow into a positive, proactive group. This is part of the reason she helped found the B-Girl Be summit in the Twin Cities. The festival, which operates through Intermedia Arts, was conceived in 2005 and brought together women who practice the four main elements of hip-hop: breakdancing, graffiti art, emceeing and disc scratching and mixing. The festival hasn’t been held since 2007and has an unknown future, but has influenced young women three years in a row.
“More male supporters were there,” she said. “Here [in Minneapolis], guys were like, ‘Can we come if it’s all girls?’ And I’m like, that’s such a silly question. Am I invited to your shows? Yes. It’s not like because it’s all guys on stage that only guys can come. But over in Berlin it wasn’t even an issue. There were tons of guys there and totally into it. I thought, ‘Wow, I wish we could see this in Minneapolis.’”
“I never wanted B-Girl Be to last forever,” Desdamona explained. She said she wanted it to build a female identity in the scene. And now that it’s happened, she wants to see some of those younger girls start to do their own thing. While B-Girl Be isn’t around in its original convention, the founding members are further developing the portion of the summit that focused on creating curriculum to bring into schools. But with the tough economic times, everything is at a bit of a standstill, Desdamona said. One festival that is going strong is the We B-Girlz Berlin festival. Desdamona was asked to be a performer at the show in 2008. Many of the same artists from B-Girl Be were there, and people couldn’t stop talking about the Minneapolis event. Desdamona expressed excitement about the buzz and was surprised by the audience turnout at the Berlin event.
The gender barrier isn’t the only problem Desdamona can see surfacing in the Minneapolis area. Negative competition between performers occasionally rears its head. It’s one thing to have competition that motivates someone to push herself and do better, said Desdamona, but it’s another to trample over your peers because of the fear that there is limited opportunity. Desdamona’s next goal is to travel more, whether it be because of her music or in support of her other endeavors. In late April, she went to Seattle to attend the Langston Hughes African-American Film Festival where a film of B-Girl Be was featured. She is currently planning to go on tour and play in New York, Seattle and California, but no dates are set yet.
“It’s so easy to get lost in all the things that are going on and to have that creative outlet, it can help ground you.” -desdamona
With the release of “Inkling” in May and big plans to travel in the near future, it seems as though none of that enters her mind as she recites her piece, “Miss America,” to a crowd of local slam poetry enthusiasts. As the last breath is exhaled and the end of the night draws near, the 40 or so people respectfully hoot and holler for a woman who has done so much to make a name for women in the scene. She smiles because she receives these sounds as a symbol of praise, admiration and respect for everything she has done in her career. And I cheer loudly to thank her.
Rachele Cermak, editorial and Web development intern
made her angry and uncomfortable since she looked out of the window impatiently. Frank backed out of the driveway, and Anna put on some loud music. They began to discuss the musical artist with passionate overtones. As we turned onto Watertown’s Kemp Avenue, the stores’ holiday decorations gleamed and sparkled like iced cakes in a bakery window. Anna meticulously noted the precise whereabouts of Lex. She later told me that when their relationship ended, it was hard for her to let go. As the wreaths whipped past the windows and stopped spontaneously with each red light, I could see the concern in her face. After several holiday episodes of “South Park” in Frank’s living room, he brought us back to Anna’s house and left. We had picked up a copy of “American Beauty” from Blockbuster a few blocks from her old white maison so we went down to the basement to watch it. I took advantage of the wireless Internet connection to check my newly formed MySpace account. Anna’s screen name was cutsandromance. I was a little confused by the photo of a red pair of scissors cutting a tongue on the profile photo page, but we were about to start the movie so I didn’t ask about it.
by janelle bakke photography by michele ebnet
Anna was not the type of person I would typically associate with, until we got to know each other better. We shared two classes, Freshman Debate and General Science I, both utterly boring subjects to anyone soon entering her 15th year of life. One day, as we were working together on a project, she turned to me and asked if I wanted to hang out with her on Friday night. Tonight was the product of my response, and from the looks of it, the night could be nothing short of a mischievous adventure. “Frank is going to pick us up in 10 minutes,” Anna said as she pulled on her red and gold Harry Potter vest. Her long, dark brown hair fell over her shoulders as she picked at the contents of her homemade Bohemian bag. Anna’s face could be distinguished by its heart-shape, small nose and round cheeks, her lip ring protruding curiously from the pale skin beneath her bottom lip. She had pierced it a few weeks earlier, shoving an earring through the fleshy interior of her mouth. “It hurt a lot when I put it in, but it’s pretty much healed now. It’s fine. My mom was angry about our Christmas pictures though,” she said to me as she continued to rifle through the contents of her room. Outside, I heard the wind shudder and howl against her delicately thin second-story window.
I looked around her room and noted the bold red walls, black trim and ceiling. She hadn’t picked her clothes up from the floor; sweaters and jeans fell scattered like heavy, soggy leaves. A huge “Edward Scissorhands” poster covered the wall to my left and another of The Used on my right. Her three-disc changer sat in one corner next to the large bed covered in more clothing. After Anna made a few more shuffled movements, we walked down the creaky stairs to the living room window. I could see Frank’s green Chevy Blazer outside. Frank was a friend of Anna’s, someone I was unfamiliar with as well. The two of us walked into the frigid weather and I slid into the back of the vehicle; the coolness of the vinyl seats made me shiver. I was excited. I rarely left the house, and spending time with someone so connected to the people at school made me feel like a part of the whole. Among all the adolescents in my high school, I didn’t know any of the upperclassmen and couldn’t seem to understand any of the other freshmen. Everyone considered me too serious, too focused. I felt Anna could provide me with something I lacked: tact, social alignment, approval.
The basement I felt anna was small, but could provide me finished. Photos with something from disposable i lacked: tact, social cameras littered alignment, approval. the computer desk, and a space heater in the corner kept the area warm in the mid-December chill. An old sofa occupied the back corner. The walls were painted bright blue and yellow with black handprints and sloppily painted names like “Alicia” and “Alissa” below. It was creative. I cut the lights and we sat on the blue couch in the corner in front of an ancient, 24-inch screen. The movie illuminated the trash scattered around the room: a few Coke bottles, some cans and chip bags. I looked over at Anna in the light of the television. I envied her bone structure, her Irish heritage, her face. She was pretty.
the time. He reminds me of the boy with the camera, too. Sometimes I get upset.” Her voice was flat and precise. Anna said it as if she were lightly making a decision, but even with my lack of experience with the opposite sex, I knew these decisions were worth much more to her than she made them sound. Suddenly, she sat up and rolled the fabric on her long sleeves upward, each roll scrunching upon another, a staircase. I didn’t move, or speak. It was grisly, macabre, horrible. Like a loaf of French bread, diagonal gashes rose out of her skin, dark brown, scabbed over. Some of the gashes were still a little red, some of them quite deep. I shuddered, nearly vomiting from the sight of Anna’s arm. Besides the occasional emergency room trauma show my mom watched during dinner on the Discovery Channel, I’d never seen anything like it. “I… I don’t do this all the time, just when Lex finds another girlfriend. Joe takes the razors away from me. He counts the marks on my arm to keep track of them. Now that I can drive by myself, it’s easier to get more, though. I make money.” With a monotone voice she rolled the sleeves of her nightshirt down slowly. Anna climbed out of bed and shut the lights off, pausing at the window. “It’s starting to snow.” She crawled back under the pile of blankets on the outside edge of the mattress. I continued looking at the pale orange glow through the small pane opposite the bed. We stayed up late, talking in the dark. We whispered what seemed like confessional initiation rites to a secret hero cult – where we grew up, what traumatic experiences we survived, who died, who didn’t, who we knew and who we didn’t like. Gradually, Anna drifted off to sleep. I
“The boy with the camera – you see the world just like him, I think, even if he is a guy and you’re not,” she whispered. “You can see behind things.” She didn’t break her stare from the screen.
“Where’s Lex tonight?” Frank asked.
After the movie, we laid underneath the black ceiling in her room upstairs. The hour was late, and the three-disc changer spewed out loud, raucous music.
“The skating rink. He’s with Alyssa at a hockey game,” Anna answered with little inflection. I sensed the topic
“I should get past Lex. I mean, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Joe. He writes me poetry and talks to me all
concepts of strategy and rhetoric while I drew intricate pictures in my notebook. It was a good thing Anna was in class, because I could give her the poem. As we split into discussion groups, I cunningly made my way across the room toward the fresh, colloquial speech she shared with her friends. I handed her the text. “Thanks.” She had a gleam in her eye, crafty, clever. “Happy birthday. How was it?” I asked. “Joe has a serious relationship with Carly now. And I tried to kill myself.” She grinned. could hear her breaths rising and falling like feathers. The blasting, confused screamo continued, and I looked up into the dense black ceiling. I never adjusted well sleeping away from home. The air outside the bubble of covers was cool, and my nose twitched with the lack of heat. Anna – Anna’s arm – kept me awake, as if a sharp metal edge was slowly peeling my eyelids up. As the winter light eased in through the window, Edward Scissorhands held his jagged fingers above my head. How could she do this to herself? Deep down, I understood why she might have done such a thing. I had read Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar.” Twice.
her hair up. I could never wear my hair up; it looked too plain. She was happy, glowing against the obscured light coming in from the frost on the driver’s side window. “I love Joe. Our relationship is becoming more serious. I walked to his house. his father was angry with him. We just sort of happened to fall in love.”
I wasn’t expecting her to say that. I had barely taken a seat in the vehicle. We weren’t even talking about Lex or Joe or anyone in general. Her openness surprised me, but then again, she had seemed comfortable sharing before. From the way she spoke of Joe, I really envied her. I never had to make that type of decision before, and Maybe I would pierce my lip. Maybe I would start picking my knowledge of dysfunctional relationup on her thrifty style. Maybe I would shred my overships consisted of Lifetime movie marasized, button-up shirts and wear dresses. Maybe thons. Since both of us were only 14, I I would fall in love with someone like Joe. But I wondered if this was too early for that wouldn’t do that to my arm. She taught me kind of relationship. I was concerned that people are for her. I’d often heard those types of A few days after Christmas, Anna picked capable of change relationships were hard on the emome up in her newly purchased white Honda for the better tional complex. Escort, and we drove around for a while. if they want to Nearly 15, her new South Dakota driver’s change for the School resumed two days after Anna’s permit gleamed from the card case between better. birthday, in January. I wrote her a poem, the two bucket seats, and even though she since I didn’t have any money for a gift. couldn’t drive at night, she used her newfound She wasn’t in school though. On January freedom to cruise around our small town. She 4, Anna was in Debate, and class, as usual, was wearing her sandwich shop shirt and visor with dragged on endlessly. Mr. Leighton explained
She was grinning, like she was proud of it. Grinning, she reminded me of the Cheshire cat sprawled leisurely across a high branch with multi-gradient, gaudy purple stripes. Her face displayed her emotions, but her body was just a body, slowly vanishing into the background. Suddenly, I was afraid of her. In fact, I didn’t know if I even believed her. Why didn’t she tell me or call me?
Anna and I were close friends for a few years afterward, until senior year. We keep in touch now and then. Her friends were never mine, but I realized in time I didn’t need them; I could only be there for her. The smiles, the winter car rides, the conversation, the arm – I never forgot to remind myself that she would do what she wanted to do. I, too, would do what I wanted to do. Sometimes I think about how different we became. She finally did meet someone she loved, and someone who loved her – I noticed that this occurred right after she started loving herself. She taught me that people are capable of change for the better if they want to change for the better. The horrible cycle of self-destruction I saw in Anna can be broken in time and with encouragement from loved ones. Anna also taught me to help the people in my life who trust me. And I know that if I started down a road riddled with destructive behavior, the people who I keep as close confidants would be the ones to help reign me in. Janelle Bakke, contributing writer, is pursuing a B.A. in English honors at the University of Minnesota. She delights in reading and hot beverages.
I didn’t know if I mattered much to her as a friend. I also didn’t know how to react to her excitement. At the end of class the bell rang. I packed up my papers, and walked out into the dim hallway. The 1960s décor of the high school surrounded me like a sweaty basement, and the thudding feet and speech around me ceased to matter. Gray lockers coated the walls. I walked outside where the January light hit me in the face. It was cold, all white and gray. I didn’t know what to feel with a multiplicity of confusing questions swimming around in my head. What could I do? She was in school and her friends were obviously not interested in contacting me. Would this happen again? Would I ever understand why? I didn’t know.
by liz larrabee photography by kirissa grams
...cultural and linguistic differences were something to be studied and appreciated, not something to be afraid of.
Líbí Se Mi Praha
I have been a traveler at heart ever since I can remember. My parents are the same way and infected me with the travel bug very early on. I remember countless family road trips: crossing state borders, counting license plates and trying to see as many places as possible on a cheap budget. I learned tricks and games to pass the time, how to use the right combination of coupons and discounts to get the cheapest prices possible on hotel stays or tourist attractions and, most importantly, I learned how to ignore my need to use the bathroom long enough to make the 50 to 70 mile journey between rest stops. Once I began college, I knew I would have the opportunity to study abroad and that meant the chance to travel and experience things I had never seen before. I also knew I was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen. I hit the ground running and researched every program that my school approved, finally settling on a spring semester in Prague, Czech Republic. I wasn’t completely sure why I chose Prague, but I knew I wanted to be outside of my comfort zone and be immersed in a new and unfamiliar culture. I also wanted the ability to travel to other places, so the Czech Republic
seemed to stand out, even though I knew absolutely nothing about it. Everyone talks about culture shock when you stay in a new country, especially if you are staying for an extended period of time. Before my departure from the United States, I was convinced that there was no way this would happen to me. After all, I was an experienced traveler and understood that cultural and linguistic differences were something to be studied and appreciated, not something to be afraid of. Culture shock also hits different people at different times, so while my new friends were missing home, failing to recover from jetlag and expressing their distaste for the local cuisine, I was perfectly content where I was, which made me assume I had escaped it. However, once I got over the high of being in a new, exciting place – after all, I was the stereotypical college student living the dream of traveling in Europe – the frustrations and difficulties of being in such a different culture finally settled in. Even though the Czech Republic is a major, centrally located European city, it was vastly different from my home in Minnesota. For one thing, it was much darker and more solemn than I had expected. Whenever I thought of European adventures, I always imagined colorful buildings full of neat, square windows with equally colorful shutters lined up along a glistening river while the sweet smells of local restaurants wafted through the air, carried by the gentle breeze. In the distance, a man in traditional garb, sweetly singing and paddling a boat down the water would add to the serenity of this scene. And there I would be, relaxing on a café terrace, sipping on a steaming cup of espresso and speaking of poetry and art with some local Czechs – in Czech of course, a language I would pick up easily while living there. In reality, Prague is a bit of a dichotomy. It has wonderfully beautiful architecture that has been there for hundreds of years, spared from the ravages of World War II bombings. However, not far from these gorgeous gems are tightly stacked, grey stucco office buildings and apartments, tangible evidence of the country’s communist past. Strange as it is, the stark contrast of this Conversations city’s landscape only adds to are perhaps what I its charm. miss most about
the United States.
The many years of communist rule the Czech Republic has experienced are not only evidenced in the architecture, but in the people as well. In Minnesota, it’s very easy to start up a conversation with someone you have never met; such a conversation will usually begin with a comment about the weather, and may very well end in a new friendship and plans to meet for coffee. This was what I was accustomed to, but is the polar opposite of what I encountered in Prague. At the beginning of my journey, I admit I didn’t pay much attention to the Czech people, but was instead consumed by my own world of exploration. Once I began to actually take in my surroundings, I realized I could tell who was a tourist and who a native by just looking at someone. Because of their warridden and politically volatile history, the Czechs tend to be much more reserved than people I had encountered in the United States. It was very strange for me at first because I would only get short, one-word answers if I spoke with someone, and very, very few smiles. It’s not that the people here are cold; it’s simply a difference in culture and social norms. All things considered, the hardest thing for me to grasp here in the Czech Republic has been the language. I am a right-brain thinker. I have always been drawn to more abstract things, and language is what attracts me most. I have become bilingual after many years of studying Spanish, and it was something that came fairly easily to me. Because of this ease, I assumed that I would be able to pick up Czech with little problem, especially because I was immersed in the culture and language while living here, as nearly no one speaks English. I was also delighted to find out that my program included a two-week intensive language class, and I was excited to dive right into the language and begin speaking. However, I was in for a rude awakening, as Czech is unlike any language I’d ever heard before. There are sounds that are nearly impossible for non-native speakers to say; even some Czech children must go to a speech therapist in order to learn how to say these sounds properly. There is also a striking lack of vowels – a favorite phrase the Czechs like to make foreigners say is “strč prst skrz krk,” meaning something like, “stick the finger in the throat.” The phrase can be heard in pubs across Prague. I have studied and studied, but I can only retain simple Czech phrases that help me get around on a day-to-day basis. It’s better than nothing, but I wish I were able to formulate my own
sentences, express my own thoughts and have a real conversation with a local resident. Conversations are perhaps what I miss most about the United States. It has been easy to fall in love with this alluring city. In the beginning I was just a confused tourist, dropped in the middle of a strange new country, a perplexing language and an eclectic culture. Upon seeing that my preconceived notions of college escapades in Europe were not at all what I actually found in Prague, I was too intimidated to step beyond the borders of my comfort zone and was at a complete loss for what to do with my time here. But Prague drew me in with its enchanting spark, and I have begun to look beyond face value by developing adoration for Prague’s hidden beauty. The Czech Republic will always be an inseparable part of me, and, despite defying all of my expectations, Prague will always feel like home. Liz Larrabee, contributing writer, lives for wilderness camping and traveling the world. She is working toward becoming a clinical psychologist. Kirissa Grams, contributing artist, is a fine arts student at SCSU. She's currently planning her postgraduation endeavors pursuing her career in Berlin, Germany.
by sierra demulder photography by kristina perkins
The summer my parents lost their marriage like so many magnets kicked under the refrigerator, my cousin and I named trees after babysitters we never had. We lived in our bathing suits, washed our hair in pond water and sunburn. (Once, my mother slammed the screen door so hard, I comforted the hinges.)
A project to add insight to the viewfinder.
I taught my cousin how to make face paint out of spit and dirt. She taught me to swim underwater.
Picturing Everyday Beauty is a project of Alive Arts Media that aims to extend our perceptions of beauty beyond physical appearance to reflect the depth of character and lively spirits of everyday people.
(Once, I found my father weeping on the bed they did not share anymore.) On the green carpet of summer, we played until the cicadas, dressed in dusk, called us to dinner. We kissed goodnight and I ran home barefoot on the dirt road in the dark. (Once, I sat between my parents and placed their hands in my lap like a seatbelt. I do not remember this.) To this day, walking at night on that creaking road still reminds me of wolves.
Sierra DeMulder, contributing writer, is a spoken word artist from upstate New York. She enjoys cranberry juice, goosebumps, and feminism. Kristina Perkins, contributing artist, attends Drexel University and is focused on planning Clapperclaw Festival in Minneapolis, Minn.
KIRISSA GRAMS, 21 Hometown: South Minneapolis, Minn.
FREESTYLE A LINE/VERSE.
What is a diva? I believe a diva is a woman who accepts her flaws and flaunts her beauty. They can walk in a room and command attention without doing anything but walk in the room. But a diva also makes others shine with her and does not forget that she is not the only diva in the room but brings the diva out in others. EVERY WOMAN IS A DIVA.
WHAT IS A DIVA?
JAEWON LEE, 25
Hometown: Seoul, South Korea.
MORGAN STILL, 13
Hometown: Appleton, Wis.
How are words powerful in your life? I use them to express myself and my feelings in everyday life. If you express yourself by how you dress or the art you make, somebody might misunderstand, but everyone can understand words.
Freestyle a line/verse. I’m going to quote some beat poetry from “So I Married an Axe Murderer”: “Woman. Whoa-man. Woooooo-man. She was a thief. You gotta believe. She stole my heart and my cat.”
KAYLEE LAUDON, 22 Hometown: Maple Grove, Minn. Do you like hip-hop music? Absolutely. When I’m in the mood there’s nothing better than a good jam.
SHANNON GREAVES, 22 Hometown: Gainesville, Fla. What images come to mind when you think of hip-hop? Graffiti, turntables, breakdancing and good vibes. What is your impression of the hip-hop industry? It represents political issues and a lot of racial tension issues and also speaks about happy things to hear about that make you laugh. Basically, speaking your mind, what’s real and what’s going on in the world.
WHAT DOES SPOKEN WORD MEAN TO YOU?
GENEVIEVE JOHNSEN, 23
Hometown: Rochester, Minn
JAMIE JOSLIN, 22
Hometown: Austin, Tex. How are words powerful in your life? It’s like the expression by Shakespeare: “the pen is more powerful than the sword.” Words have the power to linger and you need to be careful what you say. I think this is why women seem to have more problems than men, because they fight with words.
KATIE SCHANK, 24 Hometown: Eden Prairie, Minn. How are words powerful in your life? Words are powerful because when another person is able to express their feelings or emotions about who they are it defines themselves concretely.
What does spoken word mean to you? I think of it as speaking your thoughts in a passionate manner.
HOW ARE WORDS POWERFUL IN YOUR LIFE? 23
SARA SAJADI, 22 Hometown: Eagan, Minn. What is your impression of the hip-hop industry?
SARAH SNYDER, 24
Hometown: Kansis City, Kan.
I feel a huge majority of the industry is focused on demoting women and their bodies. Even if the music has nothing to do with women, females are often on cd covers, in videos, and on stage for performances, rarely respectfully clothed or portrayed as weak and needing a man.
How are words powerful in your life? There’s the written word of God that directs most of my life. It’s stuff that I meditate on and act on. I would like to think that it directs my activites, relationships and work. And there’s promises in it. That’s something I can trust in and put my hope in.
Why Women Play Games by jamie joslin illustrations by michele ebnet There is a long-standing perception that the video gaming world is an all-male world. Yes, this perception says that your mother and grandmother might casually play “Tetris” or “Zelda,” but for the most part, the gaming industry is considered to be a boy’s arena. Well, times have changed. Women do play video games. In fact, it is estimated that females make up about 40 percent of all gamers, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Interestingly enough, the International Game Developers Association notes that males account for an overwhelming 88 percent of video game developers. With men dominating video game development, the gaming market is flooded with testosterone-centered games like “Madden NFL” and “Gears of War.” No wonder the common perception is that women dislike video games.
RAFI PEREZ, 38 Hometown: Vieques, Puerto Rico. What are your stereotypes of hip-hop/spoken word? I don’t hold any sterotypes about hip-hop or spoken word but many people believe it is all about shooting people, killing cops, getting high, making money and having sex.
WHAT ARE YOUR STEROTYPES OF HIP-HOP/SPOKEN WORD?
There are a few popular games that are not as gender specific as the above games, like “The Sims,” “Spore” and “Civilization.” “The Sims,” well known for being the best selling PC game of all time, has a 65 percent female audience says Sharon Knight, the Electronic Arts vice president of Europe Online, in the GameSpot article “EA: Women ‘Too Big an Audience to Ignore.’” However, currently the gaming industry is primarily marketing its products towards a mere half of its potential audience – the male half. If the developers can work toward designing more female-inclusive games, they have the chance to substantially increase their revenue. Unfortunately, this seemingly simple idea is actually complicated and difficult to dissect. As a female gamer myself, I’ve tried to answer the question of how to make video games more “female friendly,” but I’ve run into some problems. Do females inherently desire a different kind
kind of video game? Do we crave a more fantastical world layered with deep characterization like “Zelda” and the world-adventure games that are statistically proven to have a higher female gaming base than the more one-dimensional first-person shooters? Or is it that the content is decent, but the delivery and marketing of the games are more geared toward males? When walking down the game aisle, the shelves are lined with games depicting strong men lugging around enormous weapons; it is not unreasonable to assume these game boxes have been marketed more toward males. Some of these intense first-person shooters do have an element of narrative in which most women would be interested, but women are turned off by the exaggerated masculinity of the games’ presentation. Another element that I believe affects a female’s likelihood of wanting to play a game depends on the number of choices she has in designing or selecting her character. It would seem that women are less likely to play an overly sexualized female or muscle-bulging male character than something more realistic. I know I am. But these and similar questions are not easily answered, and only recently have studies begun to try to unlock the female gaming puzzle. One female veteran has made answering these questions her career. Sheri Graner Ray, senior game designer with Sony Online Entertainment, is well known for bringing up women-centered topics at the annual Game Developers Conference. During one of these GDCs, she sponsored a table about making the gaming industry more open to women. This table became the foundation for her volunteer organization, Women In Games International. The organization’s mission statement says it strives to respond “to a growing demand around the world for the inclusion and advancement of women in the gaming industry.”
In an article by Nicole Girard featured on CNET News entitled “Explaining Disconnect Between Women, Video Games,” Girard interviews Ray, who argues that female gamers need more than fast-paced action and intense visuals to stay interested in a game. Ray advocates that we must not “trivialize the importance of the emotional experience.” One way women are able to feel involved in their game is by being able to engage more meaningfully with the characters. The article paraphrases Ray, saying that “video game companies that truly want to market to female gamers will provide a way for players to become acquainted with their characters… even allowing for an emotional attachment to develop.” one way women are able to feel involved in their gameS is by being able to engage more meaningfully with the characters. Ray concludes by saying that the key for getting more women to play video games is that they need more than just action. But do we really just need more than action? I’ve played a wide range of video games, from first-person shooters like “Halo” to MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) like Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft.” Action based games such as “Halo” or “Grand Theft Auto” hold my interest and attention for a while, but after about 45 minutes they do tend to get a little boring and repetitive. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy the gameplay, especially if playing with friends, but I usually don’t lose myself in an action-based game. The kind of game that can hold my attention for hours and hours is usually more strategic and has a component of fantasy. In a game like “World of Warcraft,” players
are able to give their characters professions, talents and Little Baby,” but there are elements and marketing tools pets that allow them to individualize their characters. that can be added to video games to make them more When creating the character, the player has options that appealing to females. don’t restrict her creation to something that looks like it It is hard to really know what could have come straight out of an kind of games females want until issue of Playboy, like most actiondo females inherently we get more females designing based video games. I chose to make desire a different kind of video games. Currently, only a four-feet tall female dwarf with video game? 12 percent of video game pudgy cheeks, a pierced nose and developers are female. It looks awkward pigtails. My adventures as like if we want to start increasing the number of “female this little dwarf are open ended and I am not pigeonholed friendly” games, we might have to start by increasing the into saving a princess or conquering a kingdom – I make percentage of women working behind the scenes. my own story. The aspects of this game are not solely appreciated by women, as is evident by the 11.5 million I know that women are playing video games; I’m one subscribers currently playing, but they do serve to draw of them. I think the first step toward gender equality women into the game and can be used as a blueprint for in the gaming industry is to destroy the stereotype future games marketed toward women. that women do not play video games. As Torrie Dorell, One thing game developers are starting to realize is that diversifying their game selection opens new markets in all realms, not just to female participants. In terms of offering a diverse selection of games, Nintendo is considered one of the leading developers, especially with its new hit, the Wii Fit, which has attracted not only more females, but has opened up the gaming world to many new demographics.
senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Sony Online Entertainment, explained in an online CNN article, “Women are out there in significant numbers playing MMOs, action games, first-person shooters… What is lacking in the equation are women behind these games.”
It’s nice to have options in gaming. I’m not sure if my video game library is eclectic because I am a female or if it is just because of the type of gamer I am, but I am sure that the more varied video games become, the more I will enjoy shopping for video games.
Today in the gaming industry, the market is saturated with games designed by men, for men. An intelligent game publisher will identify women as the next best target audience to expand the industry because women are playing games. The more diverse our developers are, the more diverse games we will get – and as gamers, that is the best thing we can ask for.
Making the general population more aware of the fact that women do play video games will allow for the industry to be more accepting of hiring female developers. Once we have an equal ratio of female to male developers in the gaming world, we can hope to be satisfied that games produced are considering the needs of women. This is not to say that women should only be expected to play games like Nintendo DS’s “Nintendogs” and “My
Kirby Montgomery Kirby Montgomery, contributing artist, is an up-and-coming professional photographer from Duluth, Minn.
When I think of hip-hop I think of passion, movement and colorful expression. Trinidy Combs
Thunberg, the hip-hop dancers I photographed, paired with a background of artful graffiti made this subculture come to life. Their dance duo is called â€œHidden Language.â€?
I came across the newly published book, “Spiral Bound,” in the last place one might think to look for a collection of witty and desperately honest essays, poems and short stories by a young burgeoning female philosophy major – a hip-hop record store. Such a venue is not at all unthinkable knowing that the author, Dessa, moonlights as a rapper in the local Doomtree crew. It is through her involvement with Doomtree, a Minneapolis collective of five rappers and four DJs/producers, that Dessa has been able to fulfill the dream of publishing her writing. Although in her raps she has claimed, “I’m not a writer/I just drink a lot about it,” her first published work proves otherwise. At Sebastian Joe’s in uptown Minneapolis, Dessa and I sit over strong coffee (her) and a chocolate malt (myself) and discuss her dual careers as writer and rapper. I start out with a basic question, “How did you start writing?” and get a basic answer in return: “I’ve always really dug prose.” Our conversation becomes more comfortable then, with my questions diving deeper into the specifics as Dessa dives deeper into her past. “When I was really, really little, like before breasts little, my mom had this really, really world-class voice,” Dessa begins. “She could do note-for-note Whitney [Houston],” Dessa proudly states, explaining that it was her mother’s amazing singing while washing the dishes that first instilled in Dessa a desire to make music. As she moved on into her school years, Dessa developed a love for writing short stories, though she was unaware that such a format could be considered “real” writing. It wasn’t until graduate school, she admits, that she became aware that there was more to the world of professional writing than novels. It was with this realization that “smarmy tongue-in-cheek essays” counted as a viable genre that Dessa first had hopes of publishing her writing. Her transition into performance came through a fluke encounter with a poetry slam one lonely Valentine’s Day. Impressed with this method of performing poetry for an audience, Dessa entered the next month’s slam and promptly won. Unbeknownst to her, it was the qualifying slam for the national finals. “I kind of stumbled into it and made, inadvertently, a big commitment on my first night,” Dessa says, laughing. But her trip to nationals, and the chance to hear the country’s best slam poets, made a deep impression on her artistically.
by emma o’brien photography by kii arens and michele ebnet
It was shortly after that experience that P.O.S., Doomtree’s most well-known member, encouraged Dessa to try her hand at rapping. “He was like, ‘Why don’t you rap like you write?’ and I was like, ‘You can do that? This counts?’” Dessa admits that she struggled at first to overcome the preconceived notions she had about writers and rappers in order to be able to see herself as either. “Novelists seemed like certain kinds of cats, and rappers seemed like certain kinds of dudes.”
Through Doomtree, Dessa released her first album, “False Hopes,” in 2005. Though she has contributed to songs on other Doomtree members’ albums and on crew albums, her first solo CD has just five songs. “I lucked the hell out in that I got to coast for years on 15 minutes of music,” she concedes. But Dessa offers a much-needed feminine touch to the otherwise all-male rap crew, and the assets she provides to Doomtree are a part of what keeps them ahead in the rap game. Doomtree has also provided Dessa with some serious scaffolding as she’s embarked upon her various ventures. She speaks of the roles her crew plays as “life support,” “professional support” and “aesthetic or artistic support.” When Dessa decided she wanted to self-publish a book of her writings, she turned to her crew for guidance. “I asked Doomtree, ‘Would you guys be willing to put the Doomtree stamp on a work of literature?’ and they said,‘Sure!’”
At first, the rapper/writer had her qualms about the project. “I wasn’t sure it was a good look. I worried that self-publishing was associated with some serious stigma,” she admits. She also wasn’t entirely sure how to go about self-publishing a work of writing, though Doomtree has been self-publishing CDs for half a decade. It took a great deal of individual drive, and the help of crewmember Paper Tiger, who designed the book, for Dessa to plan out a publication and marketing strategy for “Spiral Bound.” Dessa hopes that by publishing under the Doomtree label, her book will gain a bit more exposure and credibility. “I would say it’s definitely less [exposure] than if it was under the Random House label, but more than if it was under the Dessa label… it doesn’t look as self-published.” She is confident that Doomtree is an appropriate enterprise on which to rest the hopeful success of her writing career. “People know the name Doomtree,” Dessa
explains. “P.O.S. has done this fantastic job of making that a trustworthy name for art… I’m hoping that the Doomtree name will maybe help establish a legitimate DIY grassroots hustle in the literary world.” The venture into book publishing with the creation of Doomtree Press is just the most recent leap the crew has made beyond the small box of rap music. Doomtree has grown into an artists’ collective, widening its focus to include sound arts, mixed-media pieces, interactive album art, digital media, music videos and promotional shorts, and now literature, on top of the phenomenal rap lyrics, beats and live performances its been known for. With a range like that, Doomtree’s members must maintain a work ethic high enough to effectively hustle their plethora of crafts, and so far, they’ve been able to chew what they’ve bitten off. “I did the best kind of grassroots publicity campaign that I knew how to do,” Dessa says, noting that the books can be found in record stores like Cheapo, Electric Fetus and Fifth Element, as well as bookstores like Magers & Quinn and St. Paul’s Common Good Books. The majority of her book’s sales, however, have come from Doomtree’s Web store, where the crew members virtually peddle their albums, clothing and other paraphernalia. Reviews of “Spiral Bound” have been positive for the most part, with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune calling it “profound and moving,” and the Minneapolis City Pages acknowledging Dessa’s “dazzling literary debut.” “I’m encouraged by some of the generous reviews that have come out so far,” says Dessa, betraying a sense of relief that, yes, people do value her life’s work. “I think it’s every artist’s secret conceit that all you’re going to get is, ‘This changed my life!’” she laughs. The positive response has been very affirming for Dessa, who admits she struggles with self-doubt at times. While “Spiral Bound” has taken Dessa down a new creative road, she has not thrown in the rap towel. In fact, a new album has been in the works for some time now. The track list includes songs with beats by Doomtree members Paper Tiger,
MK Larada, Lazerbeak and P.O.S., but the album will have a very different vibe than her previous work. “It’s like church music for whiskey-drinking secularists,” Dessa summarizes, adding that the album, much of which will be a capella, has “sad and melancholy” harmonies and lyrics about “death and loss of faith and all that jazz.” Like her move to literature, Dessa isn’t sure how this new sound will go over with Doomtree fans, old and new, and she admits it’s a bit terrifying to have an entirely new sound. But if songs like “If & When” from one of Doomtree’s recent group albums are any indication, her new style is very befitting of a rapper-turned-author. So how then does Dessa, who excels at telling stories through her songs, make that choice between rap song or short story, lyric or poetry? “Um… if the words at the end of an idea rhyme easily, that would nudge me towards rap music,” she says as she laughs rather embarrassedly, adding that she rarely holds her poetry to standard rhyming conventions. But as she elaborates, she reveals that in her writing, song or otherwise, she puts a great deal of thought into what sorts of ideas compliment each genre. Rap music, she explains, is a “collage of similes,” a gathering of tiny, self-contained poems. Words often shoot by at an alarming rate in hip-hop, leaving a listener just enough time to catch a two-line image but not the time it takes to process a complex idea over stanzas and stanzas. As an example, Dessa gives a line from “The Wren,” a song she co-wrote with Doomtree crewmember, SIMS: “It’s not vengeance, it’s not bloodlust/Justice is just a rule of law/Hold down the magician, the beautiful assistant/should get her turn with the saw.” She liked the idea of that image, but wasn’t interested in developing it further into a poem or story, so the line was destined to become a rap lyric. In a way, the line from “The Wren” summarizes the role of women in the hip-hop genre. Women have been a necessary ingredient in rap music since the start, but often in a background role like the magician’s assistant. But why should the assistant be content to remain the magician’s silent
servant, and women content to remain silent props in men’s rap videos? “There is no faculty for lyricism that dudes have but girls don’t,” Dessa maintains.
Consequently, Dessa would rather not be acknowledged as anyone’s favorite female rapper. “Just have me be your 10th favorite emcee. Or bump me off the list!” While Dessa believes men and women rappers should be evaluated by the same criteria, she also worries that sometimes women are just as guilty of reinforcing negative gender stereotypes as men are. Hip-hop is very competitive, and some female rappers attempt to prove their toughness by repressing other women just as much as male rappers do. This “exaggerated hypermisogyny,” as Dessa calls it, is something that female rappers must work to refute while listeners learn to judge rappers not by their sex but by their abilities. The release of “Spiral Bound,” Dessa hopes, will attract the attention of some folks who may not recognize her from the Doomtree lineup. As a promoter, she knows she must find ways to get her writing out to an older readership. In the back of her book, Dessa has included a list entitled “If you enjoyed ‘Spiral Bound,’ you might also like…” The list includes such sophistications as the radio program “This American Life,” books by Annie Dillard and Malcolm Gladwell and whiskey amaretto on the rocks (fine taste for a broke rapper). But Dessa is not concerned with being placed into any specific category. “This is such a back-of-the-hand artist thing to say,” she comments. “Ready?” With a twinkle in her eye that suggests it has taken her years to accept her current view, she says to me, “I’m just not that interested in the lines.” Emma O’Brien, contributing writer, majored in history and urban studies and her thesis on Minneapolis hip-hop has been published by Columbia University.
by greg tehven illustrations by michele ebnet
It was 3 a.m. and merely 10 days into my freshman career at college when I made a decision that would change my life. It was a weeknight and I should have been sleeping, but I was up with three people that I hardly knew. The four of us started talking about how we wanted to change the world. Our frustrations with the assumption that young people are inadequate and college students made poor decisions continued to surface. We decided that we wanted to take action. We launched a vision to prove others wrong and our idealism right. We created the outline for a Pay It Forward Tour, community service on wheels. We wanted to convince 40 friends to travel on a bus with us, and ultimately change the world by serving others and asking nothing in return, in hopes that those served would “pay it forward” by serving others and making an impact.
The four of us continued to meet. We hammered out the route we would take across the country, shared our hopes for the projects and wrote our mission and vision statement. We then decided it was time to go public. Two of us shared the idea with our community adviser, also known as the person in the resident hall who was paid to be our friend. She gave us little time and blew us off quickly. We moved on. We shared our vision after class with our leadership professor. She quickly wrote our idea off as too big and gave us a lukewarm “good luck.” We found the answer we’d be looking for when Jerry Rinehart, the University of Minnesota’s vice provost of student affairs, agreed to be our adviser. For the next few months, Jerry encouraged us to work on our plan. Brian, Irene, Nick and I continued to meet. We even decided to meet once a week and not talk about
business, but rather focus on our friendship, knowing the coming months would be challenging and that it was more important to be friends than anything else. As winter break approached, we had a clear vision, a plan – and zero people signed up for the trip. we decided we wanted to take action. we launced a vision to prove others wrong and our idealism right. When we arrived back on campus after our break, we started sharing our hopes for spring break. At first, it appeared no one was interested. Yet, we were resilient. We found one of our neighbors in the residence halls that wanted to come. Darren Frederickson, an accounting major, was our first sign-up. Then, others from Territorial Hall started signing up. We even found some friends from North Dakota colleges that agreed to be part of the trip. In March of 2004, 43 of us began the first-ever Pay It Forward Tour. It was a magical trip. We were idealists who wanted to create change. We worked at an affordable housing exposition in Chicago where we set up tables and answered questions for the 150 people who attended that day. Many of us were able to use our Spanish skills to speak with the residents. In Canton, Ohio, we teamed up with the mayor and did an inner-city cleanup project with 100 residents. We partnered with community members to fill up 45 bags with garbage. In Greensburg, Pa., we partnered with high school students from Greensburg Central Catholic at a food bank. Our role was to organize food that had been donated by the community. In Philadelphia, we did street outreach with National Student Partnerships. Each of us was asked to distribute five business cards with information on affordable housing and job interview skills, all free services. The trip ended in Washington D.C. where we worked at a soup kitchen and met with elected officials. As we traveled home, we shared stories of what we had learned. Many concluded that serving others wasn’t just
a spring break trip – it could be a way of life. We decided we wanted to continue to serve our home community, get organized and invite others to be part of this transformational experience. I personally had been changed for good. I learned more about myself in a week than ever before. I reflected on personal prejudices I held, was inspired by new friends as we shared our hopes and dreams and made a commitment to myself that I would help others find value in service. We came to the conclusion that formalizing a student group to support the Pay It Forward Tour was necessary. We formed Students Today Leaders Forever and established a formal mission: to reveal leadership through service, relationships and action. Nick, Brian, Irene and I have stayed focused on the Pay It Forward Tours since the group’s formation. In just under six years, we’ve sent out 102 Pay It Forward Tours with close to 4,000 participants. We work with 16 college chapters of Students Today Leaders Forever and 30 high schools and middle schools. We have established a nonprofit, created a board of directors and worked hard to continue our mission of revealing leadership through service, relationships and action. MANY CONCLUDED THAT SERVING OTHERS WASN’T JUST A SPRING BREAK TRIP - IT COULD BE A WAY OF LIFE. In that freshmen residence hall at 3 a.m., our idealistic, lofty goal was to change the world. Though we’d always felt we could accomplish such a goal, it wasn’t until September of 2008 that we realized other people might be hopping on our bandwagon. Students Today Leaders Forever was featured in a TIME magazine article entitled “21 Ways to Serve America.” As number two on the list, we finally felt that our goal had been actualized, and we were well on our way to propelling an even larger transformation.
Over the past decade or so, Lindy Hop has given me more than just something to be passionate about. I had tons of older brother and sister types hanging around making sure I was not getting into trouble, which in return, made my mom and dad very happy. I was learning how to hold myself in front of groups of people, and after competing and starting to teach, it gave me a great doorway to make some extra money and travel all over the world. I started competing about a year after the first time I danced in Davis. My first competition was called Jitterbug Jam National Swing Competition. It was held at a huge five-star hotel with a beautiful ballroom. Chandeliers hung from the ceilings and the dance floor looked so smooth it seemed as though it had a sheet of glass over it. I couldn’t wait to get my dance shoes on and start moving. There were dancers from all over the country in attendance.
by kelli wilkerson illustrations by michele ebnet
The music was loud and upbeat, and all over the place there were people dressed in vintage clothing I had only seen in movies and read about in magazines. The men, or “leads” as they called them, moved from facing their partners, or “follows,” to side-by-side positions effortlessly with the music; their legs kicked in sync or stepped to the beat. Every once in a while, I would catch a glimpse of a girl flying through the air in a back flip over a guy’s shoulder or sliding under his legs in some sort of acrobatic stunt. Every person in the room wore a huge smile, and the energy that was pouring from every ounce of sweat coming off their bodies was entrancing and kept drawing me closer to the dance floor. Of course, I must have looked like a complete idiot the first time I tried the basic steps that my date barely knew himself. One thing I did know for sure – I was completely hooked. In the simplest words possible, Lindy Hop dancing has changed my life. Not only has it changed me in ways of which I am aware, but I am positive it has also shaped my personality and improved my life in many ways of which I am not conscious of as well. From the first night I discovered Lindy Hop, I knew I had found a passion that would stay with me for the rest of my life.
It was the week before my 15th birthday, mid-February, 1998. A friend of mine had set me up on a blind date with a guy with whom I was not exactly thrilled to spend my evening, not to mention that I hardly even knew what a date was at that point in my life. Nonetheless, my date and I, along with my friend and her boyfriend, ventured out to a local club for all ages in Davis, Calif. That evening was their weekly swing dance and Lindy Hop night. I had always loved music of any type and had been dancing since I was a child, but when I walked through those doors, I knew I had stumbled upon something spectacular. I have seen almost every major city in the United States and visited almost every country in Europe at least twice, and I am only 26 years old. Lindy Hop is a vernacular couples jazz dance that originated out of the 1920s Charleston, and eventually turned into one of the most popular couples dances in the country between 1930 and 1959. After Charles Lindberg “hopped the Atlantic” (hence the name “Lindy Hop”), swing music became the craze. A group of young African Americans perfected the new dance in ballrooms such as the Savoy in Harlem, N.Y. Shortly after the East Coast had discovered Lindy Hop, it quickly moved to Hollywood. After being showcased in a few movies, Lindy Hop spread like wildfire all over the country. To me and other dancers who revived the dance a few generations later, these clips and movies are the moving blueprints to our passion. Even now, I watch the old clips and try to emulate what I see the originators of my dance do.
The whole weekend was filled with dance classes taught by world-class instructors, live bands at night for social dancing and competitions held into the early hours of the mornings. To my surprise, I made finals in the novice division, and although I didn’t end up placing, it gave me just enough spark and absolute determination to be one of those teachers and a top national competitor – and that is exactly what I became. I started traveling to every competition and dance workshop I could all over the country. I even went to Sweden in 1999 to take lessons at a dance camp called Herrang, a camp at which I eventually taught several times. Through the next few years I made my way up the ranks, changed dance partners a couple dozen times, moved to Los Angeles while earning my Bachelors degree at UCLA, broke some bones, lost and won many competitions, taught in studios and began teaching and competing on the national circuit. By my sophomore year of college, I had become one of the top five “follows” in the United States and the very next year, my team went to the World Championships and placed in the top three. I had accomplished, at that point, big things in my dance life and felt at the top of my game. The best part was that it kept getting better. Over the years, dancing has led me to so many great opportunities. I have seen the world. I met a dancer in New York, moved to Minneapolis while we dated and met some of my best friends while there. I have traveled all over the country teaching in different places. I have seen almost every major city in the United States and visited almost every country in Europe at least twice, and I am only 26 years old. It is the greatest thing to know that even though I have now settled back in Northern California, I can travel anywhere in the country and most places in the world and know someone with whom I can stay. And I can be sure to have one main thing in common with them – an extreme love for dance.
Chandeliers hung from the ceilings and the dance floor looked so smooth it seemed as though it had a sheet of glass over it. Now I am teaching locally in Sacramento, Calif., with my original dance partner from back in the late 90s, and, oddly enough, my “blind date” is now my promoter and helps me run the local Sacramento venue, Midtown Stomp. I still travel about once a month to other cities, and my partner and I are still ranked as a top 10 couple in the country; we will be competing on the national circuit this upcoming year. I feel very blessed to have the art of dance in my life. It is what I do when I am happy. It is what I do when I am sad. It clears my mind when I am stressed, and it gives me a sense of security when I am feeling lonely. Everyone needs something to cling to in life and if you don’t know what that “thing” is, I would encourage you to try dance. Who knows? It may completely change your world as it has mine, and give you the wings you need to soar through every chapter of your life.
When I moved out of the dorms, it became more difficult to eat meals with my friends since we all lived off-campus. This made it even more meaningful whenever my roommate and I had the chance to sit down and have a meal together – whether we cooked it ourselves or ordered from the nearest Chinese restaurant.
Serve Over Rice by maridex abraham illustrations by michele ebnet
As I sat eating my lunch during work one day, I thought about how vital food is to our lives. We feel nourished after each bite since our bodies are energized from the nutrients stored in food. Cooking food is also considered therapeutic for one’s soul because we release a lot of tension when we turn our minds away from our personal worries to the more immediate task of preparing a meal. Yet food isn’t just an individual necessity; it also plays an important role in establishing community. Growing up, my family almost always ate dinner together. My mom would come home from work and start cooking right away, whether her day had been stressful or relaxed. She believed it was important for us to eat dinner together, so there was always a meal ready for us by the time my dad came home from work. Some days we had traditional Filipino food such as chicken adobo, fried fish with vinegar or sinigang (a tamarind-based soup with onions, green beans and seafood or meat). Other nights we’d eat less traditional food: ready-made lasagna, burgers, takeout from a Chinese restaurant. These were quick and easy fixes that took a huge weight off my mom’s shoulders, especially when she had a long day at work. I helped out by doing any necessary preparation such as chopping vegetables, thawing meat or making shakes if we had strawberries or avocados at home. On a regular basis, I set the table and made rice to have with our meals. Rice is a staple in a Filipino diet, and we ate it with most of our meals, even when we weren’t having Filipino food. When dinner was ready, our whole family would gather at the table and chat while we
ate. My parents would usually ask my siblings and me how our days at school were. Honestly, school wasn’t always a happy topic of conversation, especially when I was in high school and the pressure to perform well increased as college applications became more of a reality. Although it annoyed me when my parents would nag about grades or future plans, I still enjoyed talking about how our days went or what our weekend plans were. When we were finished eating, everyone helped clear the table, and each night we took turns washing dishes – although, being the oldest, I did them most often. Yet, food isn’t just an individual necessity, it also plays an important role in establishing community. When I left for college, my siblings took on some of my dinnertime responsibilities. It was a nice break, but I missed the bond that developed from having meals together. While my mom and I worked together to prepare the food, the entire family worked together to clean up. I realized quickly that food plays a similar role in community building at a college level, though it manifests itself in a different way. At the dorms we didn’t prepare the food ourselves since we had cafeterias within walking distance, but my friends and I did have meals together, and we got to know each other over slices of pizza or mashed potatoes. I learned about my friends’ hometowns and what their high schools were like. Some days we talked about the classes we were taking, swapping stories about boring professors or scatter-brained teacher’s assistants. At times we would fret over exams to the point where we’d seclude ourselves in our rooms or the library to study, but take a break and reward ourselves with a scoop of Babcock ice cream.
When we cook chicken adobo at home, we really don’t follow a recipe with precise measurements. Here are some approximate measurements if you want to try this at home.
Going out to eat was also a way for me to reconnect with people. My friends and I had many different commitments beyond school, so after we moved out of the dorms, we made it a point to hang out at least once a month. Food was involved the majority of the time we got together, perhaps out of convenience. Despite our non-stop schedules as college students, we all needed to eat at some point during the day. What Chicken Ad better excuse to take time out of our busy obo lives to catch up than to go out to eat? Plus, 1 medium c going out to eat was a better atmosphere hicken (cut up) olive oil or for conversation. When we went out to eat, 1 head of g vegetable o arlic (crushe il 4 whole bla we could sit down and relax, which made it d) 1 tsp black p ck pepper epp cloves 3 1 cup wate easier to focus our attention on each other dried bay le er r aves 1 cup soy sa as opposed to seeing a concert or watch2/3 cup of uce vinegar ing a football game, where the attention is more focused on the performance or play. Cut up the chicken and clean well, into serving I realized quickly that food or buy chic pieces. ken that is played a similar role in comalready cut Heat oil an munity building at a d sautee th e crushed g arlic in a po college level, though it Once chick t. Add chic e n is tender, ken. manifested itself in a add the rest (covered)un o der medium f the ingred different way. ients and c heat for ab ook out 30 min Serve over utes. Stir o rice. ccasionally. Now that I have graduated, I work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days and live with five other women, but the bond created by sharing a meal hasn’t lost its value. I work for a transitional home for women where I’ve witnessed the residents help each other out with cooking and cleaning, and they don’t hesitate to share their food. I have had the tremendous opportunity to facilitate the cooking schedule and menu of their weekly community meal on Wednesday nights, and the women have shown me just as much generosity as they show each other. I am honored to be able to share a meal with the women for whom I work, and I am equally blessed to come home to my roommates, with whom I do the same. My roommates and I eat meals together three days a week. We take turns cooking and clearing the dishes and have great conversations about our days at work, just as my family does back at home. The tables may have turned slightly – I may be the one coming home from work and cooking dinner – but the bonding is still very present. And, instead of talking about homework, we talk about our jobs. We eat pasta with locally produced cheese and organic seasonal vegetables instead of chicken adobo or dorm cafeteria food, but despite these minor differences, one thing remains constant: Having a meal together draws people closer, as they are in communion with the food and with each other.
Remember that it’s also important to prepare your body for exercise. Shapefit.com recommends remaining hydrated, eating the proper nutrients, wearing layers of clothing that can easily be removed as your body warms up and stretching at the beginning and end of your workout to keep limber and avoid injury.
The concept of always trying to improve is what makes dance so challenging. To keep things exciting, explore all types of dance workouts. You’ll pick up new moves you can show off to your friends. You may not pick up all the dance moves right away, but keep practicing. Once you master the basic moves, you can easily add additional ones that will work your body even further. The concept of always trying to improve is what makes dance so challenging – and there’s always room to advance.
by kaylee laudon illustration by michele ebnet
We all know that in order to be healthy it is important to get the right amount of sleep, eat nutritious food and exercise regularly. It is not easy to admit, but in the midst of a busy day, we tend to sweep our workouts under the rug. It can be hard to find the time and motivation to get up and move. For most, life is made up of a weekly routine. You have your busy days when you feel like you cannot stop for anything. Then you have your relaxing days when you take time to do the things you need to get done. Somewhere in that weekly routine, it helps to include exercise. This could mean a slow walk with a friend, riding your bike or running around the park. Being healthy is an important aspect of life, and finding a method that works for you makes your efforts gratifying. The idea is that exercise can be enjoyable and temporarily take your mind off of all your other worries. It should not be something that feels like a second job. Dance workouts solve this problem and provide numerous options when it comes to exercise. They can be done at home or in a group class at a gym or a studio. They
are exciting ways to get cardio workouts while having a little fun. But these workouts can be deceiving – you’ll be having so much fun that you won’t notice you’re getting a full-body workout.
Dancing is a great way for anyone to stay fit. The Better Health Channel’s Web site states it has a wide range of physical and mental benefits, like increasing your muscle strength and endurance, improving coordination and flexibility, helping your balance and increasing your confidence. If you’re tired of the same old grueling workout, these options might be your cure. Take the “work” out of workout and dance your way to fun.
Being healthy is an important aspect of life, and finding a method that works for you makes your efforts gratifying. One dance workout you may choose is the Zumba. According to ocregister.com, the word “zumba” is Colombian slang for “buzz like a bee” or “move very fast.” This dance is a mix of Latin dances and some hiphop and swing moves, according to health-and-fitnesssource.com. It is fiery and upbeat and will leave you feeling spicy and energized.
If you’re not into Latin dancing, you might consider hip-hop. This style can be quite tricky and will feel like a workout, but you’ll have a blast at the same time, moving to the funky and upbeat music. I have done hip-hop before, and it’s not easy. The movements are quick and precise. Fortunately, I have learned to not be afraid to try new things and that it’s OK to laugh at myself. Just have fun with it!
Kaylee Laudon, public relations intern
Ballroom dancing is another unexpected way to get your heart pumping. It consists of quick moves, spins, throws and dips. The balancing work and constant concentration can make this style of dance a challenge, according to healthand-fitness-source.com. I took a ballroom dancing class in college and found it entertaining because most of the time you have a partner. Working together can teach you a lot. Your new moves will impress your friends, and you can act like an expert while watching “Dancing with the Stars.” If you want to stay closer to typical forms of exercise, check out aerobic dance. Health-and-fitness-source.com describes aerobic dance as a mix of dance moves with aerobics either on the floor or on an aerobic step. While aerobics can be difficult and somewhat daunting, the dancing component adds some choreography to make it interesting. Don’t underestimate aerobics dance – it will leave your legs and buns burning.
W here with you
by sharon bangsund photography by tiana toso
I am five years old, running down a dirt road in Tanzania. The oversized blue sandals that my mother bought for me to grow into go pat-pat-pat as I run home. I hear snatches of Swahili conversation as I run past my neighbors, a language that my young ears have grown accustomed to. Suddenly, my foot slips in my sandal and I go tumbling into the dirt and dust. Crying, I pick myself up and run to my mother with my skinned knee. I grow more upset as I make my way home and no one speaks the one word of comfort that I have come to expect while living here in Tanzania, the one word that makes everything better. My mother takes a cool washcloth, wipes me off, puts a bandage on my knee and kisses it better as I sob and tell her what happened. My story finishes in a wail: “And nobody even said ‘pole!’” A look of understanding sweeps across her face. She gathers me in her arms and whispers, “Pole, sweet girl,” in my ear. I heave a shaky sigh and lean into her. That is all I need to hear to make my world right again. At the age of two, I moved with my family from California to Tanzania, where I lived until I graduated from high school. Growing up in East Africa, I was surrounded by the Swahili language and quickly learned that there are some words (and emotions evoked from those words) that can never be translated literally into another language. Often, the depth of what is being communicated becomes lost in translation. Upon moving back to the United States at the age of 18, I received some odd looks as various Swahili words that had become a part of my daily vocabulary would slip out at the right time, but directed to the wrong listener.
The word pole (PO-lay) is one such word. It is an expression of sympathy, roughly translated into, “I feel for you.” It conveys the idea of standing alongside someone in that moment, rather than standing on the outside looking in on someone else’s experience. More than simply saying, “I’m sorry,” pole says, “I’m here with you.” It is the truest expression of sympathy because it covers every situation where sympathy – or solidarity – is called for. Walking by a stranger who is cutting grass in the hot sun, you could call out, “Pole na kazi!” (Pole for your work!) You may later pass a friend in the rain and mutually greet each other, “Pole na mvua.” (Pole for the rain.) More importantly, it can be used as a single word, directed toward someone in physical or emotional pain, when there are no other words to say. When I returned to the United States, I felt a hole in my life when pole was no longer a part of my daily vocabulary. I found I could no longer use it in the many and varied settings that had been so natural to me for the past 16 years of my life. When my college roommate’s grandfather
passed away, my English words felt empty as I sat next to her. When someone had a cold, stubbed her toe or received a poor grade on a paper, everything else that I tried to say felt forced and inadequate. I felt detached from everyone and out of place, as though I had lost a way to connect with them. It caught me by surprise how much the use of one word, or lack thereof, affected how I interacted with my community and how I felt. As I slowly realized what I was missing, I remembered a conversation I had had with one of my closest friends in high school who was from the Netherlands. We had attended an international boarding school together where classes were taught in English. It was required that all non-English speakers take lessons in their mother tongues. Those of us who spoke English as a first language learned Swahili. My friend said that she felt differently when she spoke Dutch as opposed to English or Swahili. She claimed that she felt more intimately connected with the person with whom she was speaking.
It caught me by surprise how much the use of one word, or lack thereof, affected how I interacted with my community and how I felt.
that it could be shared with those whom I cared about. I finally felt at home when one of my American friends would throw out pole to me. It linked me with my home in Tanzania, while connecting me with my new friend and the moment that we shared together. Since graduating from college, I have remained in the United States and now work with refugees. A number of my Somali colleagues speak Swahili, and again, in the midst of a cold winter, I find that I feel warm and comforted when pole is dropped into the conversation. It never ceases to amaze me what great power a single spoken word can hold and how it can transform a situation.
My transition into a student at an American university was the first time I experienced what my friend had been trying to explain to me. I had never been so conscious of speaking one language fluently. Although we had spoken English in high school, we frequently incorporated Swahili words into our everyday conversations. I began to realize what a gift it is to be bi-lingual and explore different sides of your personality in other languages and words.
Now, eight years after returning to the United States, many of my girlfriends have added pole to their own vocabularies. We all know, in our lowest (or sometimes simply dramatic) moments, what we most need is an arm around our shoulders and someone to say, “Pole – I’m here with you.” For me, it’s as good as my mother kissing my scraped knee.
As I became closer with a few friends in college, I taught them the meaning of pole. It occurred to me that I did not need to lose this word, this emotion, this connection, but
Sharon Bangsund, contributing writer, enjoys the thrills of traveling, cooking, swing dancing and creating music. She claims the world as her home.
It is the truest expression of sympathy because it covers every situation where sympathy – or solidarity – is called for.
This huge grey building, as I was to eventually discover, was the Home Affairs refugee reception office. The purpose of the building was to register asylum-seekers and give them legal documentation allowing them to reside in Cape Town for an extended period of time. Without these papers, hundreds of people were at risk of being arrested and deported. Many of them were even scared to leave their houses to travel into town and apply for fear of being caught without these papers. As it turns out, the office was barely functioning. The intimidation of large crowds and an enormous backlog of applications dampened the incentive and motivation of the officials to do their work. For the most part, government officials were coming every day to the office, neglecting their work and clocking all of their hours for pay. Sometimes, for just a little extra pocket money, officials would take bribes from refugees in order to process their documents, a service that legally should have been free. As a result, hundreds of people seeking asylum applications would appear in front of the building in the early morning, only to be disappointed at the end of the day when not a single person was helped. They would all disperse (besides the good number of homeless people that resided outside the office) and go home, still illegal, still just a number.
Decolonizing My Mind
story and photography by emily westerlund illustrations by michele ebnet
Cape Town is rather European-esque. In fact, it is arguably the most European town on the entire continent of Africa. The city is vibrant, bustling and entirely international. On any given day, one can peruse the quaint cafés downtown, meander up to the newspaper-cluttered bars and find a plethora of people from every nationality of the developed world. Whether they are business people, temporary residents or expatriates, there are thousands of Westerners of all types that reside in the Cape Town area, dominating the business district and beachside neighborhoods. However, hiding in the bustle of Western urban life are pockets of poor African lives that can far too easily be overlooked. One pocket is tucked away in a far corner of downtown in front of a huge grey brick building placed just on the other side of the freeway, out of sight. Surrounding this building are hundreds of refugees from various African countries,
I became involved with this population of people when I joined a local grassroots group that aimed to change this situation. The main objective of the group was to advocate for refugee rights and get people registered. Because this was such a big goal with no obvious execution, there was a lot of investigating that had to be done in order to carry out our project. We needed the approval and cooperation of those waiting outside the office, which meant it was vital for them to trust us and support what we were doing. Ultimately, we needed to build relationships with these people. This was the most passionate part about the process for me, and the most eye opening.
often harshly referred to as makwere-kwere in the local Xhosa language, which means “stranger.” Each of these foreigners is faceless, helpless and invisible to the Cape Town population. These hundreds of faces all have stories. They all have reasons for coming to Cape Town, and reasons for seeking asylum. Be it political persecution, genocide, famine or war, all of them have incredible stories left untold and unheard. They were pushed from the comfort of life as they had known it, and entered the uncertainty of a life they couldn’t have imagined. A young boy whose immediate family had been massacred for having the wrong political affiliation. Or a young couple who had been chased off their land by an advancing rebel group. An elderly woman who had watched her grandchildren starve to death in a famine. All the diverse stories became tangled and forgotten in the mass of bodies that congregated in Cape Town.
they were doing more to help me find my character flaws and discover my own personal issues than i was doing to help them.
As an American who had never left the United States before my trip to Africa, I was a bit uneasy about conversing with complete strangers with whom I felt no common ground. Quite timid in my own nature, I found it challenging to approach these individuals and tap into their stories. I couldn’t even imagine the kind of small talk that could be made with people who had experienced so much more pain and trauma than I had. My shyness only added to the intimidation of boldly confronting these complete strangers. It was a fear that I often let get the best of me, and one I found myself constantly battling. Thankfully, the small size of the group with which I was working forced me to pull my weight in the project. Soon enough, I began to get over the fear and intimidation, and was speaking at ease nearly every day with the people outside of Home Affairs. I learned so many things that silence would have held me back from learning. Through listening to their stories and spending time with them, I realized something about myself, and the common attitudes that can be found among Westerners regarding Africans. Being coined the ‘humanitarian aid’ workers, I couldn’t help but feel as though our group was doing a service to the people. I came to feel as though my role was that of a savior, and I was helping the refugees carry out a task that they couldn’t do on their own. A certain egoistic attitude arose within the organization, and I assumed that the people would feel so fortunate and blessed to have people like me
working to help get them documented. It was me, the able, helping them, the needy. As much as I didn’t want to admit it to myself, these thoughts were deeply ingrained in my mind. The more I worked with people, the more my built-in feelings of superiority emerged. I was utterly disgusted to find that these feelings could reside within me. It’s like when you go to a conference or read a philosophic book about issues of race or gender in the United States and discover that even in your oh-so-liberal mind, you find traces of racist or sexist thought patterns. My self-righteous attitude was finally being revealed to me. It was so embarrassing, and yet, I was relieved to have this experience that was bringing these thoughts to light. I talked with so many displaced people who had studied art or engineering, gone to a university, had been doctors, mothers, brothers or teachers. Many of them knew infinitely more about world history or politics than I did. They knew languages that I didn’t even know existed. I sat down with one man who started writing phrases and verb conjugations in Lingala in my notebook so I could study them and try to learn his language. He was far more confident in my language skills than I was. Every day, I was being exposed to this group of amazing, confident, powerful and incredibly positive people. They were doing more to help me find my character flaws and discover my own personal issues than I was doing to help them.
I had to realize that the prestigious way of my western life and education was entirely socially constructed.
I couldn’t even imagine the kind of small talk that could be made with people who had experienced so much more pain and trauma than I had.
came? Is our fast-paced, technology-obsessed, consumer-oriented lifestyle really something to be striving for? And here I was, yet another Westerner trying to “fix“ people, as though I knew what was best for them. I had to realize that the prestige of my Western way of life and education was entirely socially constructed. Sure, I may be getting what Americans consider to be a higher education, but who is to say that the people with whom I was interacting hadn’t acquired the same lessons of history and writing and expression through their own means? Many had seen firsthand the inner workings of politics and corruption and understood more about power and persuasion than many Americans bother to try to understand. They had learned lessons of business and marketing through the livings they earned in shops and market stands, and mastered matters of human resource by managing to navigate their ways through war-torn areas into Cape Town to find shelter and food.
With every conversation I had, and with every passing day, more of these truths were exposed to me. It was like a stream of revelations kept unearthing new aspects of my subconscious, imperialistic attitude. Just as I felt I was becoming more sensitive and more aware of the equality that I shared with these people, another imperialistic thought, embedded deep in my mind, would rise to the surface and burst. To truly unravel these stereotypes, I had to do more than simply value these people and respect their stories and their lives. I had to fully shake the innate notions of Western superiority that are so innate in my post-colonial world. Having been brought up in American public schools, it was very eye-opening for me to hear world views and accounts of history from the lips of those whose ancestors had been colonized. I gained an entirely new perspective on U.S. society and education systems, and realized how important it was for me to challenge the information to which I was exposed and look at everything objectively. I realized that common Western accounts of history had taught me that, while the backlash of slave trade in Africa was an unfortunate effect of colonization, the philanthropic motives and charitable intentions behind colonization were what justified it. Ideas of delivering Africans from the darkness through education and introducing them to the ‘enlightened world’ were completely acceptable.
My experience in Cape Town has caused me to take a deeper look into who people are on the inside rather than making assumptions and judgments based on what is visible on the exterior. I learned to recognize societal norms and stereotypes and understand how they affect the way I perceive other people. Through this process I not only discovered the true and unique potential of those around me, but I learned about my own potential as well.
Westerners are trained to spend years in one chosen area of study, which creates “specialists” and “experts” who are then convinced they are helpless in every other subject. The people I met were instead forced to be proficient in selfsufficiency. I was sure there were many things at which the people I met would be more successful than any well-read Harvard graduate. The experience I gained from working with the organization was monumental in my life. It gave me a new sense of confidence and self-awareness that I didn’t even realize I was lacking. It made me realize that ‘hierarchy of race’ is not just an outdated theory of ancient colonizers and missionaries, it is an idea that I found to be still lingering around Western society, seeping into history books and political science courses and surviving even on my notably liberal university campus. While colonization has theoretically been over for decades, colonial discourse is a pattern of thinking that can be far more difficult to destroy.
After experiencing life on the other side of the world and hearing of African colonization from another perspective, it made me wonder why pressing Western education and governing systems upon developing countries had been so important. What was it that made the Western world so much more superior to the African world? Was Africa not highly functional with its own concentrated governing systems and unthreatened wildlife before the colonizers
It was when I started working with the refugees on a more personal level that I really began to feel the deep connections and unity that exist among all people – racial structure is entirely horizontal. I realized that birth was an unforgiving determinant of the kind of fate into which we are each born and categorizes the whole world into different allotted degrees of worth. But it is my choice to either accept these constructions or challenge these thoughts and try to view the world through a new, decolonized mind.
Nicolle Westlund, managing editor, thinks that “Island Caretaker” sounds like the best job in the world, especially if the island is off the coast of Australia. In her limited free time, she can usually be found watching an episode of “Gilmore Girls” or singing along to the soundtrack from the musical “Wicked.” She wishes she knew how to surf, but thinks her intense fear of sharks may prevent her professional surfing career from becoming a reality.
Jamie Millard, development director, agrees with Demetri Martin and thinks that “when you get dressed in the morning, sometimes you’re really making a decision about your behavior for the day. Like if you put on flipflops, you’re saying: ‘Hope I don’t get chased today.’” Jamie grew up in Dallas and attended the University of Minnesota, where she received her degree in English.
Abby Zimmer, executive assistant, is a St. Joseph Worker living in community with five other women in Minneapolis. She enjoys taking the time to bike to work, to walk to local coffee shops and to read into all hours of the night. Abby looks forward to exploring the city’s bike trails this summer.
Lisa Teicher, director of public relations, has a passion for the arts and an obsession with Irish dancing and music. She has the ability to change any rock song into her own operatic version. Lisa also finds pleasure in the simple things in life such as jumping in rain puddles, taking afternoon drives and smelling fresh laundry.
Kelin Loe, poetry editor, graduated from St. Olaf College. She moved from the contented cornfields of Northfield, Minn., to the lakes and questionable urban planning of Minneapolis. Everyday she writes, reads and prepares to move to the east coast, where she will enter a Master of Fine Arts program in poetry come next autumn. In addition to reading poetry for Alive, she interns and takes classes at the Loft Literary Center.
Jen Dotson, executive director, is fairly certain that life is best viewed through a lens of imagination. As such, she lives in a world where playgrounds are meant for adults and cartwheels are a commonplace occurrence on city streets. She takes her greatest inspiration from her 92-year-old grandmother who taught her that the most effective way to get a new perspective on life is to climb a tree.
Rachele Cermak, editorial intern, spends hours at her computer and loves it. Whether it’s managing Web sites, writing blog entries or just updating photos on her profile, she is constantly posting information to the Internet for the world to see. When she needs human interaction, she enjoys going to shows and supporting the local hip-hop scene.
Michele Ebnet, graphic design intern, graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from St. Cloud State University. Her passions lie in traveling the world and seeing beauty in any form of design. She can easily find humor in awkward situations and often daydreams about exploring the Mediterranean while selling her art on the streets.
Adrienne Johnsen, editorial intern, is studying English and religion at Hamline University. A seasoned people-watcher, she spends most of her time observing and contemplating the world. Adrienne enjoys playing softball, laughing too hard at jokes, looking at old family photos and yelling at the TV when watching “Lost.”
Cheyenne Kirkpatrick, public relations intern, grew up in Minnesota but continues to be utterly shocked by the weather. She is studying media communication and psychology at Crown College. She loves to write and has a habit of smiling and singing to herself. She thinks the world would be better if people were transparent with each other.
Kaylee Laudon, public relations intern, is a graduate of St. Cloud State University. She looks forward to the changing seasons, would rather eat a salad instead of a dessert and enjoys a rainy day lounging in an old pair of sweatpants. She grew up dancing but secretly wishes she could be a boxer. She thinks the world would not turn without love.
Courtney Still, editorial intern, is close to graduation with a degree in English from Bethel University. She loves to spend the afternoon in a bookshop, discovering new authors. She also enjoys old movies, museums and playing guitar. Her passions include poetry, creating inspirational works of art and learning through everyday experiences.
Tiana Toso, graphic design intern, graduated from Luther College with a degree in art. After college, she worked as a video editor, freelance wedding photographer, and later pursued an additional degree in digital design at the Art Institute International. She is a lover of nature, swing dancing and learning about different languages and cultures.
Jenny Williams, graphic design intern, is addicted to spontaneity and believes that new experiences make life worth living – and good people to share them with is what makes those experiences unforgettable. She dreams of using her creativity to enhance a good cause. That, and to drive around the country in a RV taking unique pictures.
Our mission at Alive is to create opportunities for every young woman to discover her voice and realize her full potential. At Alive, we cultivate strong communities of men and women dedicated to reforming not just the media, but also the culture that surrounds young women. Our focus is clear, but our impact broad. Alive affects change in four key areas: Cultural Reform: • 75% of teen girls 15-19 agree that society tells girls that attracting boys and acting sexy is one of the most important things girls can do. Despite the harsh reality this generation of women face, they are, at large, a population of digitally savvy, well-read, deep thinking, articulate individuals who are burgeoning with leadership ability. As a community, we are capable of changing the messages that are aimed at these young people. By affirming their talents and dreams, and encouraging them to take ownership of their lives, members of Alive represent powerful segments of a larger population who together, have the power to shape our culture.
For me, words are a form of action, capable of influencing change. Their articulation represents a
Creative Expression: • When asked to rank its importance in making them feel loved, 86% of women responded “doing something you really love to do.”
complete, lived experience. -Ingrid Bengis
In a world that does not always take time to acknowledge the transformative powers of art and storytelling, Alive affirms the value of creativity. Through one-on-one, holistic editing and enthusiastic mentoring from Alive’s staff, we aim to build self-confidence in young women’s creative talents. Media Reform: • 81% of women in America strongly agree that “the media and advertising set and unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can’t ever achieve” (Dove Real Beauty Report). Today’s teenage women are tired of being talked down to, talked about, and targeted only as consumers. Rather than wait for existing leaders in the industry to present healthy images and relevant content to teens and young adults, the women who participate in Alive Magazine choose to set an example themselves of the media they wish to see. Leadership Development: • While women make up 46.5% of the workforce, they represent only 12% of all corporate officers. Integrating mentorship in every level of our business model, Alive helps to hone leadership skills in young women around the world. By connecting interns in our program with community members, and every writer with our interns, we help young women identify and develop their professional skills.
Alive Arts Media, Inc. 1720 Madison St. Ne, Ste. 300 Minneapolis, MN 55413 Change Service Requested
Published on Sep 11, 2011