watch magazine Literary Issue, Spring 2016
Managing Editors Matthew Key & Monica Nyland Publishers William Chapman, Benjamin Joye, Tillson Galloway, Andre Hebra Faculty Advisors Mr. Childs Smith & Mr. Wesley Moore Cover Art by Matthew Key Featuring Artwork by Chris Doll (above), Claire Lawrence, Cinnie Saunders, Leslie Wade, Simone Hanfield, Ross Simmons, Kate Herrick, Katie Lyons, Madison Coleman, Morgan Blanton, Charles Hartsock, Jessica Weitz, Garis Grant, AnnaGrace Greenho, Gettys Moore (back cover) With special thanks to Prof. Alan Shapiro, Dr. Aaron Lehman and Mr. Brink Norton
1ST PLACE, NARRATIVE
Waterlog It began as a minor inconvenience, in the way of most staggering events. A light rain greeted me as I walked to my father’s car on Thursday after school. I paid no mind to it, except to bemoan the snarled traffic it would inevitably cause. Precipitation is no abnormality in Charleston – residents paddleboard through flooded downtown streets, sail tinfoil boats on enormous backyard puddles, and sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic peering desperately through white screens of rain. It enhances the local flavor. After dinner, weather asserted its power over the human race. It started slowly, taking a little at a time. First, school was canceled because of flooding downtown. Then, I could not go outside for a walk. The former far overshadowed the latter: no school! I was at once overjoyed and apprehensive. “What about all the work we’re missing?” I wondered aloud. “What was that?” asked my mother. “Well, far be it from me to complain about missing school. But we have a group project due in Science on Monday. Only now there’s no school tomorrow or all weekend, so what are we going to do?” “I’m sure your teacher will give more time.” Mom was thoroughly appreciating this display of inherited academic anxiety, I could tell—she’d graduated from high school already. “Just enjoy an extra three-day weekend.” Being the obedient child that I am, I slept in the next morning. Sunlight hit my face the moment I lifted my head from the pillow. Birds sang outside. Small children hollered happily, reveling in a day off. But where was the dreaded rain? It all seemed a glorious hoax played by God on the school administration. I sat on our front porch the entire morning, admiring the low-lying mist over the marsh while knitting, reading, and drinking coffee. My friend Clara and I decided to take advantage of a free day, arranging to hang out at my house around one. Hour after hour was spent catching up on everything we never got to dissect because of that pesky institution known as high school classes. Many psychological and philosophical dilemmas met their match that cloudy October day. “If the guy you liked asked you out, what would you say?” Clara asked me between sips of piping cinnamon tea. We were lounging on the porch furniture, enjoying a rare spell of cool air. “I dunno… Yes, I suppose.” “Whoa. You’ve never actually answered that question before.” Surely my face was only warm from the tea. “I must have. You’ve sure asked it enough times.” “True. Okay, here’s another one: What would you do if he asked me out?”
“Hmm.” I stared into the amber depths of my green-and-white-striped mug, swirling the dark dregs thoughtfully. “Nothing, I suppose. It’s none of my business.” “I already know what I’d say if that happened.” Clara wiggled her eyebrows at me in our trademark boy-talk expression. “What?” “Are you sure you’re talking to the right person?” When I stared blankly at her, she elaborated: “I’m not Eleanor, you know.” “Clara!” I honked in incredulous glee, almost spilling my tea. “Well, we do get mixed up all the time! He might be confused.” “I think he’d know….” Soon after Clara left, the clouds burst and rain tumbled down. I lay in bed that night listening to the then-soothing patter of drops over my head. Next morning dawned gray and soggy. A clear, rainwatery smell permeated the air. Soon the clouds rallied and soaked us with another deluge. Sitting at the piano to practice, I found myself playing Chopin’s “Raindrop Prelude,” its warm, gentle notes making the constant rain seem friendly, despite the grim news of flooding that poured from the front page of the paper. Hurricane Joaquin was passing by over the Atlantic, sending wonderfully heavy storms to South Carolina. In time, this weekend would set records for rainfall and flash floods. Footsteps clunked on the porch and I sprang from the piano bench. Brinkley and I had been planning to meet for tea today long before Joaquin decided to put in an appearance. Fortunately, she was still able to make it, and we could have a long-overdue chat between Chaplain’s Advisory Council prayer buddies. Soon the house was filled with Irish Breakfast tea’s bitter scent, and a “tea tray” (in actuality a repurposed cookie sheet) was carried up to my room. I poured milk into my tea, watching it billow up in an undulating cloud. Brinkley spooned sugar into her mug and stirred it gently. We sat across from each other on the carpet, an upended laundry basket serving as a table. As our mugs emptied, our words filled the air. Deep friendships require deep trust, and nothing bonds females more than the sharing of secrets. Slowly, we discussed our struggles and our doubts. Why did God allow destructive things to happen? What was He doing? It was hard to blindly trust Him. Dinnertime came, and still we had more to say. Dad asked Brinkley if she wanted to come to dinner with us at Melvin’s. She did. We set off with Henry and Mom. Melvin’s was closed. In fact, almost every restaurant was closed, their employees hemmed in by inundated roads. Sticky Fingers was open, however. A few patrons hung around the bar, obviously reluctant to leave and face the treacherous outdoors. By the time we finished our meal, the rain and wind had intensified, whipping the trees into a frenzy. Sodden leaves skidded across the asphalt in droves. Driving Brinkley home, we passed knee-depth puddles and severed tree
Artwork by Simone Hanfield
limbs. I fell asleep that night wondering if there would even be a church service tomorrow. Yet church was held. The furious rain had subsided, but the sky was still gloomy and overcast. So was the news. Dams had broken in Columbia. People had been rescued by boat – from the top floors of their houses. All this caused by rain. Obviously, man had not conquered nature. It would have been amusing had the situation not been so dire. As I lay on my bedroom floor, listlessly composing a history paper, my mother brought yet more news. School was canceled again. On one hand, now I had more time to do my homework. On the other hand – I rolled over and stared without seeing at the ceiling – inactivity was driving me bonkers. Rain thrummed on the palmetto tree outside, taunting me with its seemingly insignificant yet undeniable power. Who would have thought tiny drops of water from the sky could shut down an entire city? Monday passed in a fog. I longed for the sun, for its golden warmth and unspoiled light. I longed for my friends, for laughter, for purpose, and, yes, even for pressure. Moreover, I was ashamed of my longing when I still had a house to live in, unlike others in the area. But this shame was realized only dimly. Everything was colorless and dull, except for the fierce unrest deep within my core. Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day” had come alive; I wanted out. Finally, finally, Tuesday came. The carpool dropped us off at Lower School, where waist-high individuals frolicked, finally released from the dreary confines of their houses. Nodding and smiling at students who seemed slightly more buoyant than usual, I walked across campus, paused in front of the Upper School library, and faced the marsh. Glowing proudly through insubstantial scraps of cloud was the sun. Its light fell softly on the marsh grass, turning it a luminous golden-brown. Pink and orange and blue soared unbounded through the sky as if to say, “Here we are! Don’t worry, storms can’t keep us away for long.” The scent of spent rain and growing plants filled my lungs. I could almost see the live oaks growing, their dark green leaves fanning out to catch a coveted sunbeam. Cool air washed against my skin as I spread my arms wide, silently thanking God for this deliverance into new life.
1ST PLACE, POETRY — WILL LIMEHOUSE
Homo Sapiens Sapiens: The Animated Series Some of the memorable characters include a gangly kid making strange remarks, a bearded man teaching everything at once, and a patriot wearing a backwards cap, and the cast goes on. I see their faces everyday. I try to shut it off or watch something else. I change channels, landscapes, friends, styles, peoples. But they chase me like they were born to. Some aren’t memorable, so it seems like I could escape them. But I can’t. They nip at my heels in the gas station and the hotel elevator. I leave the door open as I rush to turn on the T.V. to find humans I had already met. Living stories I had already heard. I regret telling them all that they were special. A word with so much use, I have already forgotten its meaning.
Artwork by Claire Lawrence
1ST PLACE, ESSAY
The Complexity of Nature Writers pour a stream of thought into the art they create, and, as a result, this work of art becomes an expression of the artist. Yet, this logic seems to bend once the subject resides outside of the writer’s consciousness, such as the natural world. Instead of providing a unique connection between the reader and himself, the writer has replicated an image that the reader can already access in its purest form. However, the writer conveys more words than he writes through the details, bringing out many key ideas and knowledge about his topic. Nature possesses seemingly endless detail, giving the writer vast freedom to express his thoughts. William Cullen Bryant provides an example of expression through nature in his poem “Thanatopsis,” in which Bryant constructs an elaborate personification of nature with motherly love and human emotion. The entirety of “Thanatopsis” can be overgeneralized as a personification of nature, but to truly understand the character Bryant creates, the reader must take notice of specific examples of nature’s compassion and sympathy. In an act of comfort towards a disturbed man, nature “glides into his darker musings, with a mild and gentle sympathy, that steals away their sharpness.” “Glides” here expresses the lack of unnatural force in his action. Rather than swooping in abruptly, nature glides in, making sure to damage nothing in the process. Nature’s presence alone “steals,” which oddly goes against the natural action of gliding, since stealing is an unwarranted and forceful action. However, it must be noted what nature is stealing: sharpness. The quality of sharpness on an object usually carries the intention to harm. Along with this connection, nature usually doesn’t produce sharp objects, but rather people do. Therefore, this stealing establishes a dichotomy between nature and manufacturing as well as nature and harm. As a result, nature becomes the embodiment of compassion and sympathy for those in need of nature’s aid. While Bryant describes nature as compassionate in many distinct ways, he also describes nature exhibiting a specific form of kindness: motherly love. After foregrounding the death of the reader, Bryant states that “Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim thy growth, to be resolv’d to earth again.” Bryant first depicts motherly love in Earth’s nourishment, since supplying someone with life’s essentials differentiates a mother from merely a close friend. The claiming of growth directly alludes to motherly love, since a mother who has raised her child from birth has rightful possession of their child’s growth. The portion “to be resolv’d again” creates an endless loop of nature’s motherly care for us and therefore implies that this love is eternal; however, it also establishes the specific motherly relationship nature has with people. Very young children have no idea they will one day leave their house; therefore, their mothers are eternal to them, much like how nature is eternal to the reader. People are infants in the human-nature relationship, and we are completely dependent on nature’s motherly love. Bryant had a multifaceted view of nature, and, naturally, this led to Bryant’s interpretation of nature possessing flaws, which Bryant portrays through its human-like physical and emotional characteristics. Bryant describes a scene with “rivers that move in majesty, and the complaining brooks that make the meadows green, and, poured round
all, old ocean’s grey and melancholy waste.” The physical characteristics for each body of water give more clear interpretations of nature. “Old” describes the age of nature still being healthy, and “majesty” implies a slow and careful progression of nature, similar to how a king walks. The emotional characteristics become clear upon analysis of the different bodies of water and their major difference: size. A brook is very narrow and can simply be stepped over by a human. As a result, brooks tend to be ignored more when compared to a larger body of water. Bryant then uses “complaining” here to describe nature’s complaint of people’s constant ignorance of nature’s role. Rivers, on the other hand, require swimming to cross, and therefore demand respect upon an encounter. The rivers then represent the larger, more respected aspects of nature, and these acknowledged portions tend to have better complexions that those left uncared for. Finally, all waste from these rivers and brooks is dumped into the ocean without any possible resistance from nature’s side, showing a side of helplessness in nature for even the most horrendous actions. This array of size therefore holds an array of characteristics in nature that, without careful diction and writing style, simply go unnoticed, much like the brook described in this quote.
Artwork by Ross Simmons
Through his poem “Thanatopsis,” William Cullen Bryant constructs an elaborate personification of nature with motherly love and human emotion. People are very complex, and replicating a human therefore becomes quite the daunting task. However, Bryant handles this challenge by not only recreating a motherly image but also describing aspects of nature that otherwise go unnoticed. While the reader may not completely agree with his perception of nature, Bryant still provides invaluable insight to an invaluable topic: the true complexity of nature.
2ND PLACE, NARRATIVE
Absent The following story was submitted in response to a complex assignment requiring the use of a narrator who unknowingly experiences a hallucination, which in turn clouds the reader’s perceptions.
Oh great, this morning the sky teased me with patches of blue, but now it’s grey again. Where did I lose my water bottle today? Where’s Dad? Finally, I see his ugly olive car in the pickup line. He’s late again. “Hey Gel, how was school?” “Okay, I guess. I’ve got another science project due next Wednesday. Yippee! Do you have anything to drink or eat?” “No, but we can stop for Cane’s if you want.” I like my mom’s car better, as it’s clean, and she always keeps snacks, and water, and tissues in the back seat pockets for me. “What’s for dinner, Dad?” “I can make hamburgers or macaroni and cheese.” “I want Mom’s lemon chicken.” “I don’t know how to make it, Gel.” “Then, whatever, Dad.” At least Dad’s car has satellite radio. Dad turns on Sirius XM’s BPM station, and I just chill, staring at the brake lights of the cars snaking down the road ahead of us on the thirty-minute drive home. We turn left at our house, and the car brushes against the overgrown bushes of the tunnel of green that our driveway has become. The garage door rises, and I notice, with a pang, that mom’s car isn’t in the garage. But then I hear Rosa kitty. She is yowling for me as I enter the house. “Hi Rosa,” I call out, and she grows quiet. Dad walks in with the mail, and I go upstairs. With my mom not at home, I figure that I can lie in her hammock, and so I spend the next hour finishing my math homework on the porch with Rosa kitty sleeping peacefully on the lounge chair. “Gel, Birdy, Gel!” My dad calls up from the downstairs porch. “We’ve got twenty minutes till swimming, and you have to eat something and change.” “Okay, okay,” I yell back and see that Rosa must have already wandered inside. We clamber back into the “ugly olive” and drive to the Park West pool for swim practice. Coach Meredith says, “Welcome back, Gelsey,” and gives me 12
a hug. Then Tara gives me a hug, and even Katie hugs me. Awkward! Katie is usually so nasty to me. I’m swimming slowly today, so I take the last position in the lane and start. Coach Meredith calls out the strokes; first a two hundred butterfly, then a 400 breaststroke, then the 600 freestyle, then 400 backstroke. We grab our snorkels and start swimming again. Face down, the noise of the team practice is muffled by the water in my ears. I count out my strokes in my head, then flip and turn at the wall, blowing the water out of the snorkel tube like a whale clearing its blowhole, and continue back the length of the pool becoming lost in the rhythm of my strokes. An hour and a half later, I can barely haul my carcass onto the pool deck. Dad’s waiting on the bleachers, staring at his cell phone, again. He grabs my gear bag, and we walk out to the dark parking lot together. As he opens the car door, I smell the pepperoni pizza. “I picked it up, figured you’d be hungry, Gel.” I say thanks, open up the pizza box, and munch happily on the quiet ride home. The house is dark when we pull up, but, walking across my mother’s empty parking space, I hear Rosa kitty calling for me. Upstairs, in my room, she’s a small inky circle curled up on my bedspread. I spend a long time luxuriating in the almost scalding water that my mother calls my Onsen shower. I think about my mother’s promise to take me to Japan and visit their traditional Sentos, natural hot spring bath houses to parboil ourselves. Steam billows around me as I exit the shower, and I can’t see myself in the bathroom mirror. I feel so tired, but it’s too quiet in the house, and Rosa kitty isn’t on my bed. Dad’s in the kitchen finishing the pizza. I tell him that I’m still hungry, so he makes me a vanilla milkshake and microwaves a bowl of popcorn to help me fill my stomach. I settle down at my desk, munching and muttering at the Sanskrit that is my geometry homework. Then I remember the food drive at school tomorrow. “Dad, they’re collecting food at school tomorrow. I need to bring rice.” “Can’t you bring in something else?” “No, my grade brings in rice.” “Gel, I didn’t get any this week.” “Mom always has bags of Uncle Ben’s rice on the bottom shelf of the pantry.” “There aren’t any left now, Gel.” Suddenly, I’m so angry at my dad. “You can’t do anything right!” “I’m sorry, Gel. I’m trying.” He looks so sad, and my anger leaves me. I’m just so tired again. I tell him that it’s okay, and I’ll just bring in juice or beans or whatever we have in the pantry that’s on the donation list. Then I hear Rosa kitty calling me from the top of the stairs, and I head up to bed. But Rosa isn’t in my room, so I look into my
Artwork by Madison Coleman
parents’ bedroom. I think about how unhappy my mom would be seeing my Dad’s dirty clothes piled on the floor by her reading chair. There’s still no sign of Rosa kitty. “Dad, is Rosa kitty downstairs with you?” “Gel, what are you talking about?” “Rosa, I can’t find Rosa!” Dad walks up the stairs very slowly. “Gel, you need to calm down.” “No! When Mom isn’t home, Rosa sleeps in my room!” “Gel, honey, Rosa isn’t-” “No!” I cut him off ruthlessly. “Gel, sweetie, Mom is-” “I’m going to bed.” I brush my teeth hurriedly, noticing that the steam still covers the top half of the bathroom mirror. Pulling off my bathrobe, I hear purring. There is Rosa kitty, a furry black comfort, still asleep on my bed. Outside my bedroom door my Dad asks, “Gel, do you want a hug goodnight?” “No thanks. I’m good.” “Okay, goodnight, my bird girl.” I hear my dad’s heavy tread down the stairs and, taking one last look at my kitty, I switch off my bedside table lamp and go to sleep.
Fruits of Labor So how do you devote your time? Just wait? Just sit and wait to be reborn? But life Too sits there, waiting for the gorgeous days! Yet nothing comes except cruel, callous nights. So what is life with little effort? Goals Of love and finding sweet prosperity. But prospâ€™rous days are miles away! The soul Shrieks loudly. Dreams disowned in misery. But then, epiphany! All dreams are far At first but can be nearâ€Ś with bolder minds. Inaction brings no loot; go raise the bar. Collect the fruits of labor toil finds! So how should you devote your time? Just strive. Take risks; be brave! Since we were made to thrive.
2nd PLACE, POETRY
Artwork by Jessica Weitz
2ND PLACE, ESSAY
Walt Whitman and The American Collective Through his poetry, Walt Whitman expressed the nationalistic spirit of an uncertain nation undergoing civil war, and he aimed to benefit his beloved nation through emphasis on the desperate conditions of the war, yet he also emphasized the necessity of war in order to create a unified American people to strengthen the nation and provide hope for its unclear future. Unlike other poets who praised soldiers for their heroism and placed them on a metaphorical pedestal, separating the poet from the common man, Whitman entered himself completely into the lives of the common men, watching and attending wounded soldiers in hospitals throughout the Union. He aimed to represent the soldier by emotionally becoming the soldier himself, empathizing greatly with his pain and difficulties. The imagery in Walt Whitman’s “A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown” embodies the desire for hope amidst the suffering of the Civil War as well as the importance of a collective identity of the American people during this uncertain time. The Civil War justified Whitman’s expression of the national desire for hope by creating a state of desperation within the American people, killing thousands, injuring millions, and dejecting the spirit of America by severing both the nation and the individuals involved in the War. Whitman’s pro-Union optimism faded into realization of the uncertainty of the time ahead, the “road unknown” (Whitman 1), after the humiliating defeat of the Union at the Battle of Bull Run (Fuller). He spent three years visiting wounded soldiers in Washington, D.C. and recorded the grotesque details of life in such a desperate state, encountering bodies in every state of disarray and damage (Murray). The horrors of the scenes he witnessed resonated with Whitman and manifest in his writing, where he describes the wounded with passive observations: “most in obscurity, some of them dead” (14). The devastating casualties and chaos of the battle caused Whitman to see both the uncertainty of life and the inevitability of death, and thus prompted a need for hope for both the outcome of the war and the lives of the wounded soldiers he tended daily. Using symbols of light and darkness, Whitman observes how life and death interact for soldiers, where light encourages hope in a dark, uncertain place. He wields poetry as “an instrument toward confronting the conflict between Life and Death” (Elliott 456), addressing the horrors of the Civil War in order to find peace with death and hope for the outcome of the war and the destiny of the American people. He describes a gruesome hospital filled with “shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and lamps” (8). The spots of light in the desperate, dark place symbolize the sense of hope that Whitman emphasizes throughout the poem. The “dim lighted building” (4) might lack much light or encouragement among the dead and dying bodies, yet the sense of hope persists. In a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Whitman wrote that he wished to portray America in this stage of her existence by describing his
perspective in the “white sepulchre of Washington itself ” (qtd. in Murray); he wished to depict the “real war” through poetry (qtd. in “Walt Whitman” 2192), in which casualties mounted daily and soldiers likely found themselves in dismal hospitals or, worse, dead. Whitman describes “one great pitchy torch” (9) in the hospital, which perhaps symbolizes how he views himself: a nurse, caring for young, injured soldiers and Artwork by Morgan Blanton
bringing them hope that they might yet survive. The speaker’s health and vitality shine among the dead and dying, much as Whitman’s must have when he worked in Union hospitals. By the end of the poem, once the speaker has adjusted to the dim light of the hospital, he exits the building towards the “darkness” of outside, the “unknown road” ahead (23 & 25). His hope no longer lies in the certainty of life and the outside light, but instead he views life in its vulnerability, ambiguity, and insecurity. Whitman expresses the need for a collective American identity through imagery because he believes in the value of human beings, as a humanist, and that America must unify in order to strengthen and solidify its imagined community. He connects the individual to the collective with the idea that common experiences are personal,
and personal experiences are common (Elliott 448). He wishes to define this common American identity, the “divine Average” of the collective American being (qtd. in Murray), and he accomplishes this definition through imagery depicting collective beings in the hospital, both dead and alive. He realizes the commonality of all people once he has cast his eyes upon the deathly faces of the wounded and the rotting faces of the dead. Whitman, who admired “the body eclectic” (qtd. in Fuller), now centers his imagery on the dead, dying, and dismembered. The speaker views “the crowd of the bloody forms” (16) in the hospital as one collective being, yet he also sees himself always as part of a group, either the soldiers marching or those inside the hospital. He marches “on in the ranks” (24) towards his uncertain destiny, but led by the collective force of the group, which guides him. Similarly, Whitman sees the importance of a collective American identity, which will provide guidance and protection in the uncertain early period of its development. He views the nation as an enemy to itself, the political toils “threatening to eclipse the American identity of Body and Soul” (Elliott 452). His language attempts to embody this American identity by representing the masses. He wishes for his style to become part of the American identity, for America to absorb “him as affectionately as he has absorbed it” (qtd. in “Walt Whitman” 2191). Whitman, like the speaker when united with a group in the hospital or in the ranks, gains guidance from the personal connection to the American collective. Whitman frequently displays his emotional connection with the soldiers, writing as if he served in the war himself, despite only observing its manifestations, and his imagery emphasizes his connection to the wounded soldiers and to the American collective as a whole. Instead of praising and idolizing soldiers for their bravery, his poetry centers on their “fear and humiliation” (Fuller), emphasizing his emotional connection to the soldiers and immense empathy for their situation. He feels personally connected to the young soldiers, who often craved the personal attention that Whitman eagerly provided. He befriended many soldiers, including Oscar Cunningham and William Hugh McFarland; however, many of his newfound acquaintances never returned to health (Murray). The speaker sympathizes with specific soldiers as well, singling out a single man from the mass of the wounded who “more distinctly” appears before him (Line 11). The soldier separates himself from the collective by catching the speaker’s eye. In this way they are similar—both separated from their respective groups. Perhaps the speaker relates to the soldier and realizes that he might find himself lying on a hospital floor, injured and helpless, too. The soldiers form part of the American collective, and, thus, their struggles affect Whitman and every American citizen since commonality consumes personal experiences. Whitman saw the Civil War as a necessary step in order to reunify the nation, a crucial task in order to fortify the American identity that proves essential to solidifying the imagined community. He emphasized that the outcome of the war affects the country as much as the battles, and thus the physical wounds of the soldiers become metaphysical wounds to the spirit of the nation (Fuller). When the soldiers over whom he watches face bullets and disease, doctors swiftly amputate the afflicted limbs and hope the patient escapes the high risk of infection. Perhaps witnessing multitudes of
deaths due to these perilous amputations caused Whitman to view the country similarly: “amputation” of the South fails to eliminate the illness in the nation, and, therefore, the hazards of warfare must be endured in order to reunify the nation. The speaker witnesses one soldier who separates himself from the crowd, a “mere lad, in danger of bleeding to death” (11), perhaps due to his segregation from the collective identity in the hospital. Thus, the detachment of the south from the Union only proves fatal in Whitman’s eyes, and he retains his faith in the strength of the collective American identity. Whitman’s imagery conveys his nationalistic optimism and encouragement of hope as well as his uncertainty for the future of the individual if America fails to unify itself into one collective being. The severed state of the nation, according to Whitman, created a severed state of individuality, in which the common man neither held security for his future nor understood the consequences of separating from the whole. Whitman’s pro-Union, nationalistic ideology permeates his poetry, which acts as a subtle commentary on the Civil War. However, Whitman acts further on his desire to influence the body politic by nursing the sick and wounded, acting as one cog in the great American machine in order to improve the state of the general collective. Although many poets and readers criticized his work during his lifetime, Whitman’s work typifies the emotional struggles during the Civil War and remains an influential turning point in American literature: introducing personal views and experiences to the collective literature of humanity.
Artwork by Claire Lawrence
3RD PLACE, NARRATIVE
Alone I felt the frigid, thin air brush against my cheek as my mother and I progressed toward the subway station. I tucked my chin into my Spiderman hoodie and descended down the filthy stairs into the tunnel. The natural light was slowly transposed with an artificial one as I began to feel a deep rumble beneath my feet as the Brooklyn express train rocketed off under the river to Manhattan. I heard the monotonous repeating beeping of the ticket gates as I rounded the corner. I scanned my crumpled ticket that my mom had retrieved from her pocket. The gate unlatched and let us through. While we descended the final flight of stairs, I could see the platform, and I felt a gust of wind rush up the stairway as the blue line arrived; this was our train. Picking up the pace, my mom’s grip on my hand tightened, and we dashed down the stairs because if we missed the train, I would surely be late for school. At last from the platform, I could see the entirety of the underground expanse. Running now, we saw the doors of the train open and people quickly boarding. The droning voice of the automated alerts became increasingly louder repeating, “The doors are closing soon. Please stand clear.” We kept pushing trying to enter the train because the next one didn’t come for another fifteen minutes. Surrounded by businessmen and women, perfume and cologne filled the air as we kept pursuing the doors. The robotic voice sounded again, “Please stand clear, the doors are closing.” We were just outside of the threshold when the doors began to close. My mom thrust herself into the train, attempting to pull me behind her. Just then, a suited man nudged himself before me, severing my mom’s tight grip that had been unbroken since we plunged underground. Time slowed, and the window of space in which I could witness my mother’s panic dwindled. Soon enough, I could only see the backs of bulky coats, and the cold metal doors came out from their hiding places: the robotic tone sounded once more, “Please stand clear; the doors are closing.” I heard my mother’s desperate pleas for help as the two seeming blades sought to sever the connection between my mother and me. The doors at last slammed with finality, and I felt a gust of wind across my neck as the green line arrived. Suddenly my mother, banging her fists onto the wall, appeared in the window of the train. The train emitted a hissing noise from its underside and began to lurch forward. As the train accelerated, I watched my mother’s face grow blurrier before she faded into the roaring sound of 22
the following cars. Then silence, as I watched the caboose lights become overwhelmed by darkness. The train was gone. I stood, stunned by shock. I neither cried nor worried; I just existed. My backpack, filled with chapter books, felt heavier on my shoulders, and my shoes felt loose on my feet. I turned around looking for answers and shelter, only to find nothing but strangers and unfriendly faces. I noticed a napkin,
Artwork by Katie Lyons
hovering, twisting magically, hurled into the air by another trainâ€™s arrival. It danced in the breeze before landing gently on one of the tracks. Fear engulfed me, and my bliss disappeared. My eyes became watery and I trudged to the nearest bench. I sat down, covering my face with my cold hands. My eyes clouded with tears, as I was alone, truly alone, for the first time.
MARY ELIZABETH SALLEY
3RD PLACE, POETRY
Hello, My Name Is: I am me. I donâ€™t need a nametag to prove it, and I donâ€™t need your acknowledgement to exist, because on my own, I am still me. And I am me in the darkest storms, when the lightning strikes the branch and causes it to tumble from the sky. I am me in the brightest part of the day, when the sunshine gleams between tree branches and warms up my skin. And me is not my body. I am not just the color of my skin, or of my hair, or of my eyes. I am not just the curvature of my nose, or the height of my cheekbones, or the depth of the circles under my eyes, or the number of freckles that dot my face. I am me. I am the passions I love, the goals I strive for, the compassion I am blessed with, and the heart I have. I am the knowledge that I love to retain, the quiet soul who gets embarrassed in crowds, the goofy kid who can never stop laughing. I am the person I am now and the person that I someday will be. I am not my exterior. I am not just a nametag stuck to my shirt. I am not labeled.
Artwork by Cinnie Saunders
3RD PLACE, ESSAY
The Long Haul Comes Up Short Imagine the fatigue of year-round school students on a constant hamster wheel. Advocates for year-round school have contended that this schedule would be beneficial to students across the country. Proponents of year-round school argue that a long break in the summer causes students to forget knowledge from the previous year, but opponents counter that the summer break helps students form crucial social skills and to have an opportunity to work in the real world: the ability to experience a hands-on “real world” education. If students attended school year round, valuable learning opportunities could be forever lost and constant pressure with no break to regroup, could also dramatically reduce students’ productivity in their schoolwork. With the summer approaching, many students push extra hard at the end of school year to try to excel on their exams and to earn the best grades possible for that year. This extra effort is often possible because of the anticipation of the approaching break. The time-off gives the needed incentive for students to work extra hard with the knowledge that they will have the opportunity to rejuvenate themselves over the summer. Without a break, the students would not have the stamina to sustain the long and late hours necessary to achieve their best on their exams and final projects, resulting in more mediocre grades. For example, I had high B averages in a couple of classes as the end of my freshman school year approached. A averages were only obtainable if I dedicated long hours over a few weekends. Since I had the summer break approaching, I sacrificed my weekends in order to reach my goal. The summer becomes the needed “carrot” to energize the students to peak at the end of each year. Without the summer break, students would burn out, be exhausted, and become more apathetic about school. Year-round school would also result in the majority of students having no “real world” work experience. During the summer, teens work at restaurants, stores, lawn services, and medical facilities. For example, I worked at a plantation cutting grass, bush hogging, plowing with the tractor, clearing woods, and other strenuous tasks. From this job, I learned how to operate large machinery and to appreciate how much hard work is required to make money. I also gained a higher appreciation for the value of education in order to have more choices in the future for a career. My summer job also brought my biology school lessons to life. I witnessed the difference achieving the right Ph levels in ponds made on its inhabitants’ survival. I was amazed at structured marsh burns allowing new vegetation to flourish in short periods of time, while also preventing future wildfires. Without summer job experiences, children would graduate without any “real work” experience. While a minority of students may work after school, most cannot because of the demands of homework and extracurricular activities. Summer jobs teach work ethic, the value of earning money, critical social interaction skills, dependability, and work skills. Summer allows students who do not attend year-round school opportunities for a global education. Over the summer, children can travel to many different areas and learn about the world around them from experience instead of just reading about it. Summer
camps provide children with incredible learning experiences, including vital social skills and independence from their family. Summer trips could include visiting national parks, taking a mission trip to a third world, and experiencing nature outside the classroom. While many of these trips come with expenses that some students may not be able to afford, there are countless opportunities to experience the real world free in their neighborhoods. For example, in Charleston, students could see historic forts and battle scenes around the town: historic events are then etched into studentsâ€™ memories. Charleston students could also visit the beaches and waterways and allow their science lessons to come to life. For example, a trip to Folly Beach could demonstrate how water can cut like a knife through an island and separate land that was easily accessible by car only a summer earlier. Students can see dramatic changes and recognize the urgency for quick action to stop erosion. These lessons could even affect potential career decisions. Without these â€œreal worldâ€? experiences, knowledge from books does not rarely come to life for the students. Year-round school is not needed for year-round education and actually hampers learning. Stepping outside the classroom does not close the door on education. Rather, the summer provides a wider horizon with new and broader means to challenge students. Artwork by Charles Hartsock
While structured environments, textbooks, lectures, and grades serve their purposes, the combination of those invaluable tools with a summer of learning is the winning combination for students to become future leaders. A vast array of experiences is imperative for students to face the challenges awaiting in the world today. Rather than taking the summer off, summers equip students to better handle an ever-changing world.
Between the Lines:
A Visit with PG’s Visiting Writer Alan Shapiro On March 10th and 11th, nationally recognized writer, poet, teacher, and translator Alan Shapiro will visit Porter-Gaud as our 2016 visiting writer. Mr. Shapiro has published over ten volumes of poetry, most recently Reel to Reel (2014), a finalist for the Pulizer Prize. In addition to receiving the Kingsley Tufts Award and an LA Times Book Award in poetry, he has also received two awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He currently teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. On the following pages, I share my interview with Mr. Shapiro, whose poetry explores a vast spectrum of life and offers much insight to the aspiring writers across campus. -Senior Matthew Key, watch Managing Co-Editor The facing poem, “Wherever My Dead Go When I’m Not Remembering Them,” from his collection Reel to Reel, is annotated by Senior and fellow watch Managing Editor Monica Nyland.
Artwork by Leslie Wade
MATTHEW KEY Alan Shapiro, award-winning poet, on the creative process, Bob Dylan and the heartache of hair loss. In our AP Literature class, we have recently read Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which investigates creation, artistry, and experience through an exploration of the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus. For example, Stephen is certainly “related” to Joyce himself—but Stephen is not James Joyce. What is the relationship between Alan Shapiro, the man, and the speaker in your poems?
I think all writers exercise a kind of upward hypocrisy especially when they write in the first person, in what purports to be their “own voice.” They all pretend to be better, wiser, more empathetic, more generously understanding and forgiving on the page than they are off it. So even the most personal poems are performances of a humanity, a way of being in the world, that’s greater and more inclusive than maybe is always possible in our actual lives. In Reel to Reel you explore a vast range of topics in your poetry, perhaps hinted at in the title itself. What are we to make of the title of the book and the title poem? How are they representative of the text as a whole? Although you contemplate so much in this text, what are the common threads that exist among all, or a number, of these poems? The old reel to reel tape recorders look like quasars, don’t they? The visual pun that the title and book cover image embody connect the personal and intimate with the infinite spaces of the universe. I think I’m trying to place human value and its fragility and evanescence in relation to the weird vacuum of outer space, out of which matter somehow emerged and into which at some very distant point it will return. If there’s an underlying feeling or preoccupation in the book, it’s just how unlikely it is that we’re here at all, that something has come from nothing. The inexhaustible wonder of mere existence, the incredible miraculous accident of our being here.
You have composed a prodigious number of books of poetry -- Vigil, Tantalus in Love, Night of the Republic, and Reel to Reel, to name a few. How do you begin a volume of poetry? Do you begin with one image? One poem? One line? A larger theme to explore? I never begin a book. I begin a poem. And I write it word by word. And then I write another poem. And eventually they organize themselves into a collection. It’s really word by word, line by line. If I sat down to write a book, I’d paralyze myself with the enormity of the task. But I can sit down to write a good line; that I can manage. For me the key to doing anything big is to break it down into something manageably small. In 2004, in the American league championship series, the Red Sox came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Yankees and win the pennant. When the manager, Tito Francona, was asked how he got the team to believe they could pull off such a monumental feat, he said they didn’t try to win four consecutive games or even a single game. He said they tried to win each inning, each at bat, each pitch. He broke the series down into its smallest segments, each one beatable even if the all of them together were overwhelming. When did you know that you wanted to be a poet? For the students out there interested in writing and literature, what advice would you suggest to them? Once I started writing (junior year in high school), I think I knew this was something I’d always do even if I didn’t know if I was any good at it or how I’d manage to live from day to day. You do it because you can’t not do it. If you can not do it, you probably shouldn’t, since as Truman Capote once said, “it’s a long walk between drinks.” My advice to students is to find that thing they can’t not do. That inner compulsion is the only thing that can keep you going. It won’t be recognition or acclaim, which when it comes in the poetry world is pretty negligible. Somewhere Elizabeth Bishop says that the thing we want from great art is the same thing necessary for its creation, and that is, a self-forgetful perfectly useless concentration.
That complete immersion in the activity itself which one does for no other reason than for the deep personal joy of doing it is the only thing that can sustain you as a writer. The reward for the activity is the activity itself, that experience of sitting down at 9 in the morning to work and then looking up a moment later to discover it’s now 5 in the afternoon, and all that time passed as a single instant—that deep concentration, what athletes call being in the zone, that’s what one wants from whatever it is one does as a life’s work.
Was there any high school text or poem that had a profound impact on your career later in life, or altered the way you viewed language, poetry, or art? Bob Dylan got me into poetry, into loving language and doing things with it that seemed fun and meaningful in ways that also felt new and fresh:
“Johnny's in the basement Mixing up the medicine I'm on the pavement Thinking about the government The man in a trench coat Badge out, laid off Says he's got a bad cough Wants to get it paid off Look out kid It's somethin' you did God knows when But you're doin' it again You better duck down the alley way Lookin' for a new friend A man in a coon-skin cap In a pig pen wants 11 dollar bill you’ve only got ten...”
You are a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a poet. While these tasks certainly keep you busy, we can assume, what are you involved in outside of writing poetry or teaching? I used to play a lot of basketball. I raised three children. I just got a new dog, part Great Dane, part Dalmatian, ten months old who keeps me pretty busy. I try to run 3 miles at least 5 times a week though since I got the dog that hasn’t been possible. In what ways does teaching contribute to your poetry? In what ways does poetry contribute to your teaching? As Chaucer says, the life so short the art so long to learn. To continue writing you have to be pushing against your own expressive limits, writing with a sense of always having everything to learn. Once you think you’ve mastered the art you’re
finished. You become the worst sort of imitator—the kind that imitates himself. So one of the unintended blessings of having taught for almost forty years is that my students remind me of where it is I have to be, what it is I always need to be—which is, a student with everything still there to learn and explore. The gift of discovery, the sensation of discovery, that’s what I have always gotten from my students. They’ve saved me from my own complacency. Your incredible amount of poetry covers many different topics, ranging from emotional loss to universal, philosophical dilemmas. Sometimes your poems explore public spaces; other times, abstract concepts; at still others, personal relationships. How do you continue to find new things to write about, new parts of the world to explore? By reminding myself that I’m only here for a very short time and this is my one shot to learn what I can about what it means to be alive. Cultivating habits of wonder keeps one alert to the richness of life, and to its passing. Throughout Reel to Reel, your poems philosophically hint at physical, familial, and metaphysical loss. Is poetry a kind of therapeutic exercise? Or does that reduce the art of poetry? Poetry doesn’t solve anything or liberate you from your own foibles and self-deceptions, or the hazards and contingencies of life. It’s therapeutic only in the sense that it enables you to convert experiences that maybe you’ve had to suffer passively off the page into something you get to actively make on the page. That is, it can give you a sense of agency, at least while you write. It can also if you’re lucky, give you a little clarity that you otherwise wouldn’t have. But it doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t make the loss of a loved one any less devastating. It doesn’t make the shock of getting old any less disquieting. What should we know about Alan Shapiro? I used to have hair. In fact, if I ever write another memoir, I think I’ll call it, When I Had Hair.
“Eeesy-Peeesie” I shoved the clunky boot on top of the unzipped duffel bag and stared at the bursting bundle of clothes in front of me. There’s no way this is going to zip, I thought to myself as I straddled the suitcase. The reality dawned on me that I was minutes away from stepping onto a bus taking me, only to desert me, to the base of Kilimanjaro. I, a fifteen-year-old white girl, am about to climb one of the Seven Summits of the world. That thought echoed in my head. “Elizabeth?” said a deep, confused voice that snapped me back into reality. “One sec, I can’t zip my frickin’ bag,” I groaned through my gritted teeth. I pushed all of my weight onto the sack and slid the metal zipper to the other end. “Drew, I’m coming. Don’t let the bus leave me!” I barked, lifting the heavy, black suitcase into the lobby. Thank God my room was on the first floor. In the lobby, semi-familiar faces were spread out and lounging on any empty piece of furniture they could find. These people, the twenty-three other Americans that chose to come to Africa and climb Kilimanjaro, weren’t showing the same emotions as I was about their upcoming week in the wild. How is no one else freaked out, uneasy, or even excited about this? The military boy, a burly, blonde sixteen year old, sat near the elevator wearing his school’s royal blue sweatpants and talked to his best friend Caroline about his baseball stats. Caroline, inattentive, stared at her phone and mumbled every so often. Two high school senior girls in the corner were also on their phones, giggling about some Instagram post. The adults were crowding around Drew like reporters verbally attacking a celebrity fresh out of rehab. “Which route are we taking? Did we miss the bus? How many protein bars should I have brought?” were being flung around the lobby when the bellhop grabbed the first duffel bag. “Bus is here,” he grumbled, throwing a suitcase over his shoulder. The room fell silent. Watson stopped bragging about his batting average; the seniors stopped scrolling through their phones. My eyes met Caroline’s. The whites of her eyes exposed her fear that they had so convincingly hid before. She definitely is as nervous as I am. Thank God. We walked out into the smothering heat and onto the bus. 34
Artwork by Garis Grant
Two hours later, I awoke to the driver hollering about our arrival at the base of the park. My head craned around Caroline and squished against the window. A mob of men screaming Swahili formed a fire line around the bus and unloaded our packs. Who are they? The murky green blanket of trees blocking my view of the snow-capped summit distracted me from the men. This is the beginning of my seven-day hike to the top of Africa. I peeled my face off of the window and sprung out of the bus into the sea of Camelbacks and bug spray. The group of anxious hikers stood beneath two large, dark wooden beams. I glanced up and read the sign between it: Kilimanjaro National Park. I couldn’t stop the corners of my mouth from shooting up. It’s exactly how it looked on Google. Dozens of other buses pulled into the lot, and I noticed other climbers stressing over last minute adjustments just like us. I looked around for Caroline or Watson, but the only people in front of me were the adults who seemed to only care about Drew. In that moment, I perceived the swarm of old men and women as a throng of cartoon adults– having long, slim bodies with their heads cut out of the frame yet still mumbling incoherently (all due to the protagonist’s lack of interest). I wandered around the unpaved parking lot and stumbled upon another large assembly of men. The gangly group wore torn up t-shirts, old hiking boots, and dirty basketball shorts. Hidden behind one of the buses, they seemed bummed out. In the midst of trying to figure out who exactly these men were, I looked up and didn’t see a single familiar face. Where is my group? These men look terrifying. I definitely shouldn’t be alone right now. I glanced down at my watch, then fleetingly spun around. Walking back to the gate, I saw another mass of men start to surround my group. “Elizabeth, where ya been?” Watson asked as he extended two hiking poles towards me. “Looking for you,” I snarled back, snatching the metal rods from his hand. “Ello mees, I help you with…bags,” spoke a gentle, trying voice from behind me. I turned to see the man say, “I am not very good at Eeenglish.” “Okay, yeah. Uhm, I mean, thank you,” I stuttered. Immediately, his face transformed into an ear-to-ear smile. “I Kenni,” he pointed to his chest with one hand and effortlessly tossed my duffle bag behind his neck with the other. “Elizabeth,” I smiled, still a bit confused. I scanned the parking lot and realized that everyone had a man picking up his or her duffels. These men must be hiking with us… Is that safe? I looked around for Drew, hoping for a look 36
of assurance. He immediately recognized my confusion and waved a hand in the air. “Hey guys, these are our porters; they’ll be traveling with us. Y’all have your own personal porter, and there are about ten extra that will be cooking for us,” Drew stated, squeezing the shoulder of the porter beside him. I looked up at Kenni and noticed that he was only carrying my bag; he didn’t have his own duffel. Maybe one of the other porters has his stuff. I faded back into the reality of starting the climb, and followed the group onto the trail. “That was only twelve miles?” I laughed as Kenni and I emerged from the jungle and into a clearing. Those were the worst eleven hours of my life. “Eeesy-peeesie, right Leez?” chuckled Kenni, readjusting my duffel on his back. I scanned the rocky, uneven clearing. We’re sleeping here? On rocks? I first spotted the cartoon characters swarming around Drew. Only this time, they were bombarding him with questions concerning dinner and their sleeping arrangements. Before, I perceived the adults as cartoon characters because of my nerves; now, I imagined them as a cluster of droning distortions due to my deliria. “The porters already set up the tents,” Drew replied to the group whining in front of him. “Just relax. Dinner’ll be at six, in this tent. Y’all can hangout in there or your tents; it doesn’t matter. Just chill out n’ think about how you’re thirteen-thousand feet closer to the roof of Africa while the porters make dinner.” Three days into the hike, I plopped down into a lawn chair next to Drew and Watson in the designated meal tent. A porter placed a silver thermos onto the table in front of me. “Thanks,” I accidentally squealed, spastically reaching for the cup of hot chocolate. This hot chocolate is the only thing getting me through this hike. “Drew, I’ve been meaning to ask you this: do the porters not have their own bags?” Drew pressed the mug against his lips. He lowered the hot chocolate and revealed a very convincing milk mustache. Watson and I laughed. “No, they don’t,” Drew said reaching for a napkin, “they just have what they wear the first day.” Watson’s eyes met mine. Then he asked, “But they don’t have jackets, and it’s below freezing. This is their job –wouldn’t you think they’d be prepared for it?” 37
“It might be their job,” Drew said as he wiped off another milk mustache, “but it’s hundreds of other guys’ jobs. All those men at the base of the mountain are also porters. The porters just wait at the base to be chosen to hike with a group.” He shoved a grilled cheese in his mouth, oblivious to the fact that Watson and I were staring at him with our jaws dropped. “What?” he spoke frantically with his mouth full, “Do I have another milk mustache?” “No, you don’t. But you do have a lot to explain –after you swallow,” I said, motioning for him to close his mouth. He smiled, finished chewing, and swallowed. “The porters aren’t guaranteed a job until the morning of a climb. And they’re so used to climbing Kilimanjaro that they don’t need all of the things we consider to be necessities.” Then he pointed to the hiking poles leaning against the side of the tent. “You didn’t answer the part about the jackets,” Watson stated. “They definitely do get cold, but they can’t afford jackets. So it is what it is, I guess,” Drew motioned to the plate of grilled cheese too. Can they stop eating? I’m trying to wrap my head around this. “Wait, so they have to wait around and hope for a job? A job that’s a week long and tests their physical and emotional endurance?” I glanced at my hot chocolate. “The porters are my lifelines on this mountain. There’s absolutely no way that I would’ve made it this far without Kenni,” I leaned back in my chair. I had unknowingly inched closer and closer to Drew during that conversation. “Pretty much. They do so much for us. It kinda make you think, ya know?” Drew mumbled, his mouth full again. But I didn’t notice; I was too lost in thought. I used the little energy I had left to push myself up and out of the chair. After saying goodnight to Drew and Watson, I sneakily took Watson’s flashlight and exited the tent. I flipped the switch, but the flashlight didn’t turn on. Gee thanks, Watson. I started to stumble back to my tent. They don’t have bags? They don’t need jackets? The flashlight started to flicker but quickly turned off again. They don’t have a stable job? Or a stable income? The flashlight flickered again, and this time stayed on long enough for me to figure out which direction I needed to go. The porters wait around for white Americans to spend money to climb a mountain. They have no legitimate income; they depend on people like me: a privileged white girl who’s searching for more in her seemingly 38
imperfect life. But I depend on them to help me reach the top of Kilimanjaro? A steady, bright beam of light emitted from the flashlight and I could clearly see my tent. I depend on them to help me survive, just as they depend on people like me to help them survive. I clutched the zipper to my pre-assembled tent and climbed in next to Caroline, who was already sleeping. It took what felt like hours to fall asleep. “Leeez? Caroleene? I have water and coco,” Kenni whispered from outside the tent. “Rise n’ sheene.” “Thanks Kenni,” I said lunging for the hot chocolate. Caroline and I sat outside the tent, draping a sleeping bag over our shoulders and sipped from the thermoses. Kenni sat down beside me. “Want some of the blanket?” I asked, pulling the unzipped bag towards him. “No thank you,” he said, smiling and looking over the landscape and to the peak. “Dee sun ees about’tah come up.” Kenni, Caroline and I sat in silence watching the sunrise, watching the sky brighten from a deep black to an intense blue.
Ten Numbers on a Napkin Ten numbers on a napkin: ten little numbers scrawling diagonally across a white napkin. A spot of salsa overlaps the final numbers: 5804. 5804. The four is barely legible. I rub the edge of the napkin between my fingers and argue with myself over making the call. Ten little numbers. My leg twitches anxiously as I sit in front of a blank TV, staring at the napkin. “Ava. Ava!” My mom curses at me. I look up, out of my trance, and see her looming shape above me. “There are leftovers in the fridge. I’m going out. I’ll be back late; don’t wait up.” She leaves, and I return to pondering the napkin. I trace the last numbers with my fingernail: 5804. The garage door’s shuttering noise reverberates throughout the house. Quickly, before I can second-guess myself, I type the number into my phone. The ten numbers drag out as I let my finger find each one of them. I realize I’ve already memorized the number, so I throw away the napkin as the phone begins to ring. Voicemail. I hang up and walk upstairs to my room. As I brush my teeth, I wonder why he didn’t answer. My eyes gaze back at me in the mirror, and they shift to watch a bit of toothpaste slide down my chin and into the sink. I spit and go to bed, wondering about the phone call and thinking about the ten little numbers sitting in my trashcan. The next morning, I dress and go downstairs to find my mom asleep on the couch, her makeup smudged and last night’s dress in a pile on the floor. I cover her with a blanket, grab a granola bar, and exit through the garage. It’s colder than I thought, and I hug myself as I walk to the bus station. My friend Jaylen greets me as the bus pulls up. “Hey, Ave, how’s it hanging?” “I’m fine, Jay. But your terminology is dated.” “Yeah, well, so is your outfit,” he snaps back. I give him a thin-lipped smile in return, and he nudges my shoulder. “I’m just playing. Hey, did you call that guy you were talking about?” “Yeah, but no answer.” “Ah, man, don’t worry about it. He was probably just busy.” “Yeah,” I say. I turn to look out the window, and Jaylen strikes up a conversation with the guy sitting behind us. By the time we get to school, my mind has drifted from the phone call to stressing about Calculus. I hand Jaylen my granola bar before walking to first period, and he gives me a wink as he dashes down the hall. “Thanks, babe!” “No problem,” I say, but he’s already around the corner and doesn’t hear me.
I spend the first two periods studying for Calculus and feel somewhat prepared for the test by the time class begins. As the teacher explains the directions, my phone buzzes. I look down at my bag: it’s a text— “Ava.” I look up to find my teacher glowering at me. “Your phone.” He holds out his hand. I give him my phone reluctantly, pissed that I have to get caught at such a crucial moment. Once the bell rings, I meet Jaylen in the cafeteria. “How did the test go?” “What?” I say. “Calculus, you idiot. Did it go as terribly as you predicted?” “Oh, it was fine,” I say. “Mr. McVille took my phone, though.” “Damn, caught in Calculus? Were you cheating?” “No, of course not—” “I’m teasing,” he says. I force a short laugh. “I was actually checking my phone because you-knowwho texted me back.” “Oh my god! What did he say?” Jaylen’s eyes widen at the news, like he’s surprised that any guy would actually text me. “I don’t know. Mr. McVille took my phone before I could read it.” “Damn,” Jaylen says, stretching out the word into three syllables: da-ah-yum. “It’s no big deal,” I lie. Jaylen rolls his eyes, and I say I have to go. “But we haven’t eaten yet! It’s chicken day!” “It’s always chicken day. And besides, I’m not hungry.” I hug him goodbye and walk to the art room, my favorite room on campus. I paint for the next hour and a half until the final bell signals my freedom. I walk as patiently as I can to Mr. McVille’s room. He isn’t there, but my phone is on his desk. Grinning, I grab it, and I perch myself on the edge of a desk to read my texts. One from Mom, three from Jaylen, and—there—one text from an unknown person: 5804. I open the message: Hey Ava! Sorry I missed your call. Busy tonight? Short. Sweet. My heart flutters all the same. I read the text again, then again, and again, until it’s 3:40 and I have to run to make it to the bus by 3:45. Jaylen is waiting for me there, and he immediately notices the shy grin on my face. “What did he say?” he exclaims. “He wants to meet up.” “When?” “Tonight,” I say, smiling proudly now. Jaylen hugs me tightly. “You see! I knew things would get better. You’re going to have a blast.” “Thanks, Jay.” As I exit the bus, I draft a response to the text: Nope, just homework. You? Send.
My mom is off the couch when I enter, and I smell eggs and bacon from the kitchen. “I’m home!” I yell, and I rush upstairs to my room to get started on homework. I wake up tired the next morning. School goes as usual, except for the added excitement of the occasional text. “He’s really cool, Jay. He distracts me from everything.” “I’m so happy for you, Ave.” Jaylen blows me a kiss as I leave the bus, and I go home to more bizarre cooking from Mom that I carefully avoid. She goes out again tonight and doesn’t come home until after I’ve left for school again in the morning. I mention this to Jaylen, and he gives me a sympathetic pat on the back. “It’ll be okay, kid.” I nod and smile, because as he says this, my phone vibrates in my pocket. Jay gives me a knowing look, and I eagerly respond to the text. Two weeks later, things are progressing rapidly. We text almost constantly, and Jaylen has been starting to notice I’ve become more distant. It’s okay, though, because he has lots of other friends to talk to, and he’s happy. I feel prettier, more confident, and more fun than I used to be. My clothing fits better, my skin looks paler, and my body appears to reflect how I see myself on the inside. Jay has noticed this, and he asked me if I’m trying the new smoothie diet, to which I laugh and say no. “Hey, Mom,” I say as I get home one day. “Hi, sweetie.” She’s eating pie on the sofa, flipping channels, and I run upstairs to change. “Can I go for a run?” I ask when I come back downstairs. “Did you finish your homework?” “Yeah,” I lie. “Then sure, have fun, sweetie.” I smile and run out the front door and down the block, panting as the heat brings up beads of sweat on my skin. My phone has been buzzing all day, but now it’s silent, and I enjoy the emptiness of the windless air as I race down the sidewalk. I see the park—my destination—as I turn the corner and speed up. I pump my arms and drive with my knees, my eyes set on an evergreen directly across from me. I am light as air, moving with the wind and flying across the sidewalk. My heart is pulsing in my ears, and I feel hot, breathless. Spots appear in the evergreen tree, and my feet are stopping—no, tripping me: my own feet, betraying me. I’m on the ground, and all I see is gray and black. A phone lies buzzing on the ground, its messages popping up on the screen: You’re so fat. Good thing you’re running to burn off the bread you had at lunch. On the ground a girl lays, ghostly as a corpse: her skin pallid, hair thin, ribs and collarbone protruding noticeably, eyes closed. You disgust me.
Artwork by Cinnie Saunders
In Puddles Rain. Outside, rain happened. Inside, nothing happened. So the rain happened, and thatwas all. When nothing happens, insanity happens. Walls close in. Ordinary objects transform into abstract feelings. The mind imagines all sorts of things, unaware of life. Its mental sensations influence physical sensations. Now take three days of this nothingness, with just… water. So the mind gazes out the foggy windows, wondering whether the weather will stop its downpour and walk northwards instead. It never stops. That is insanity. That was all except for my mother. She scurried down the stairways, worrying for no reason as she always did. I settled on striking a conversation with her, as there seemed to be nothing else to do. “Hey, Mom. What are you doing in this, oh, rain?” “Can’t do anything. But glance at the forecast back in Litchfield—two hours away. No rain pours there. Best to get our behinds out of Charleston. Then, we can do something productive.” “But we can’t leave. Venturing out in that flood would only result in disas—” “—Learn to take risks for once, Parker.” Mom uttered that in a condescending manner that was unlike her personality. “But how can we drive back in this flood? If there’s no probability of success, why bother risking? I would watch the news first.” Of course, I already gawked at my share of news for today. The news said buildings collapsed outside in Columbia, clouding the air with dense smoke. Roads closed leading to Myrtle Beach, leaving many civilians stranded. The news even said Charleston’s roads were lakes. Going out there would result in chaos. “Parker… I’m sure the roads aren’t lakes.” Mom smirked. “I tend to take an optimistic approach to things. Go pack.” I packed. Miscellaneous items went inside my suitcase. The monotonous act of packing served as something to slightly relieve my boredom. At last, I stood in the garage. The smell of oil lingered in the air. Rain outside pitter-pattered as usual. Suitcases loaded into the car one by one until my mother called the final words: “Let’s move.” The car was calm, prepared for the storm. Mom drove the vehicle with such grace that you could barely even notice a movement from inside. The rain even lulled me into a dream of sheep squealing off-key to the tune of soft clarinet music until… Bang. “Parker, wake up.” I woke up from a trance, gazing out the windows. Dusty debris swirled around the
windshield as car horns complained about the situation. Abnormal amounts of traffic dotted the highway like twinkling stars dotting the far horizons of space. And the road was a lake. If Mom listened to me, we would have been secure. No. She had to disobey; she had to venture out into this bedlam. If only she had been a better parent to me… “Mom, I hate-- I hate it when--!” I began to scream with fury. The atmosphere started to smell rather pungent. “I don’t care what you think. Parker, understand tha–” “—There is no time for understanding when you are in the midst of a flood. We almost crashed. Just… just get out of there. Now. We’ll talk later.” “Well, I am your mother. So we’re headin’ in. May God be with you.” “What are you—” She grabbed my hand as the car propelled into the lake below. “Mom… I’m sorry.” I rested on the Litchfield beach in despair. My mother seemed slightly distressed. “I still love you more than anything, sweetie. No matter what you say, I will always love you with my heart. In wet puddles your mind dissolves, —mine dissolved too— but sunshine lights your soul. My biggest goal today was to find that sunshine.” “Did you…” “Yes, my instincts guided me. I may have acted aggressive, but it was all for the better. Now, we are fine.” “Well… thank you, mother. I take back my words.” I relaxed as the sunshine warmed the sand below. Over the horizon lay a sapphire ocean. Sometimes, the ocean is still and calm. Other times, its waves move with great force. However, the ocean doesn’t travel anywhere. It stands there. It waits to assist you when you need it the most.
Artwork by Kate Herrick
Kuwait and Carolina: Discrimination Knows No Borders “Terrorist” is the first word that pops into people’s heads when they hear the word “Muslim” in America. Many Charlestonians stereotype Muslims from their perceptions and from ISIS and Al-Qaida’s reputation. Although Kuwait and South Carolina are very different, stereotyping exists in both cultures—for certain, misogyny, discrimination, and xenophobia can be found in both cultures. Sexual Harassment occurs in both Kuwait and Charleston in different ways. The Middle Eastern culture embodies more misogyny than the American culture. Because Kuwait is a very conservative country, most women choose or are forced to wear a hijab and to thoroughly cover themselves in restrictive clothing. Unfortunately, because of sexual threats, women must wear a hijab to stop sexual harassment by men. Even if not wearing a hijab, they must respect the country’s culture and beliefs and must obey of the law by wearing copious amounts of clothing. Women who choose to wear skimpy pieces of clothing outside their house are shamed and stared at. As I transitioned to America, I observed that women here tend to dress and to express their freedom by wearing the outfits of their choice. American women have freedom of self-expression through fashion, a trait lacking in Kuwait. In South Carolina, teenagers tend to wear “booty” shorts and crop tops, which appeal to them and, of course, to males. South Carolinians respect a woman’s choices and do not shame women for their attire. Also in Kuwait women cannot go out alone. Other females and I usually went out with a brother or in a group because of the possibility of kidnapping and rape. Although South Carolina is less extreme, men sometimes ogle at women like prey, and sometimes don’t take ‘no’ as an answer. Intolerance and ignorance occur in both Kuwait and Charleston; however, not all instances are alike. In Kuwait, people accept of Muslims and Christians; however, they discriminate against people of Jewish faith because of the political discord between Kuwait and Israel. Growing up in Kuwait, I remember my misunderstanding of the Jewish faith because Jews were not allowed to be in the country: Jewish people had to hide their faith and had to maintain secrecy in response to the intolerance. Similarly, Americans have stereotyped Muslims because of the atrocities of 9/11. When I got to South Carolina, I was blatantly asked if I was a terrorist, or if I knew any. Because of
ignorance and the misunderstanding in the media, this perpetuation of fear has led to stereotyping and false rumors about the Arab world. Xenophobia is also present in both cultures. Around Kuwait, people who look like foreigners are treated unfairly simply because they don’t resemble average Kuwaitis. People are bullied and stalked for looking different and unfamiliar. For example, I have been followed in the malls in Kuwait multiple times and have felt terrified that I wouldn’t be able to escape. In Charleston, foreigners are more readily accepted and allowed to fit in because equality is one of the most important aspects of the American identity whereas in Kuwait, the different cultures make it harder for the national people to relate to other nationalities. Yet although America is a country of freedom, immigration has still been a provocative political point in the past years. Ultimately because of xenophobia, building a “Wall” to keep out illegal immigrants has become a rallyingly point in the cuurent presidental race. Living in Kuwait for 11 years, I have realized that I wanted to escape the intolerance and repression of both Kuwait and Charleston and move to Paris. With the smell of crispy flaky pastries seeping through the cracks of my balcony window in Paris, I would study immersed in the French culture. Riding my bike on Champs-Élysées, singing a French tune, I would smile at the people of the city and watch their non-judgmental faces smile back. No one should be stereotyped by religion or nationality. At the end of the day, we are all humans, and we deserve to be treated the way we treat others.
Artwork by Claire Lawrence
Dreamland I peered at my brother through the crack in the door. It was 6 pm, and he was knocked out. Cold. All I could see was his curly pale hair sticking out from under his sea foam sheets. The stairs creaked, and I spun around. My mother was standing at the top of the steps. Her long ash blonde hair covered her worried face. “Blair, shh” she whispered, “Don’t wake Noah; he needs his sleep.” “Okay mom. Whatever you say, I’ll be in my room.” I tiptoed away from his solitude. Noah was always in his room, always. I could never fathom why he was always there; homeschooling wasn’t helping with it. I sauntered over to my white Victorian vanity, and swiped a makeup wipe across my freckled face. I then braided my lengthy brown hair, and put on my pajamas. I overheard a sudden sound in my brother’s room. I leapt up and scurried to his little island. He was awake and slouched over his computer. “Hey Noah.” “Hi, Blair. How are you?” he asked, still looking at his computer. “Good. Are you okay?” “Yeah, I guess I’m fine. Yeah, I’m fine.” “Good. Do you wanna hang out a little in my room before I go do my homework?” “No thanks.” “Ok then, I love you. Night night.” He flashed an annoyed smile at me in response. I slinked back to my room and took a seat at my desk. I started on my homework, but got distracted thinking about Noah. I loved Noah so much, and I wanted what was best for him. I wanted him to leave his room, maybe even go to school and make friends. I just hoped he was okay. I woke up Saturday morning and went into Noah’s room. “Noah? Hey. Do you wanna do something today? Maybe not in your room.” “No thanks. I’m good.” He gave me a glare. I thought for a moment about all the times he had missed, all the things he could of experienced. He might of actually enjoyed life if he tried. My thoughts came barreling out, “Why can’t you just leave your room? Why can’t you act normally? Why can’t you just go to school like everyone else? I know there’s something wrong with you or whatever, but can’t you just try and do something for once?” I realized what I had just done, and immediately regretted it. “Noah, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.” My gaze fixed on Noah snatching up his computer and holding it over his head. With a powerful force, he hurled it at me. Time froze as I ducked my head and watched the machine smash into the wall. It hit right where my head would have been. The silver laptop snapped in half, and the glass shattered around my body. “Noah,” I whispered.
He shrieked at me with anger, “Get out!” I ran out of his room and slammed the door. “Noah! Noah! Is everything okay, honey?” My mom ran to Noah’s safety, avoiding the scattered glass. I peeked back into his room and saw his crimson face covered with snow. My mom was hugging and consoling him. I listened as I slid down the wall and plopped down on the floor. My eyes begin to fill, but I fought back my tears. I had never set him off like that before. I wanted to apologize and talk to him, but I was scared. My mom walked out with a bag full of his broken computer parts. She hugged me, and said, “Go talk to him. I’m not sure if he’s okay now, but you need to stop pushing him to his limit.” “Okay.” I drifted into isolation. I sat on his bed and clung to him. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I love you.” I could see the wrath building up in his little mind. “I stay in my room so things like this don’t happen. I can’t be normal because I’m not normal. I can’t go to school because of that. You aren’t helping.” He forced my limbs off his shaking body. He motioned his eyes towards the door. “Go.” I rose and began to walk away. In front of me was my mother, filled with disappointment. I turned back, and looked at my furious brother. Anger fell over his face like rain. I saw my once sweet little brother take the shape of a monster. Surrounded by displeasure and rage, I exited the dreamland.
Artwork by AnnaGrace Greenho
The Peacock and the Pigeon
Violet Winters sat on a rusted metal bench beside a large brown door. The thumping of a bass boomed in her headphones, although she showed no sign of disturbance. She tapped her black combat boots on the ground, crinkling fallen leaves from the nearby maple tree. She held a book of quotations in her hands and pushed back a strand of deep purple hair falling in her eyes. Her lips hinted at a smile as she read, and her thoughts raced with ideas. She was excited for the project she was beginning and hoped it would gain her a scholarship into college. Footsteps approached from behind her, although Violet’s music blocked them out. Lilith, or ‘Lily’ as her family calls her, was being escorted by Mrs. Tyler to the principal’s office. Lily sat upon the bench delicately, which caused Violet to jump. Violet turned her body away from her, but thought it was odd that a girl such as Lily was sitting outside of Principal Hilton’s office, with her simple clothing and shy tendencies. Mrs. Tyler’s footsteps quickened as she entered the office, creating the sound of rain from her heels clicking on the pavement. Her high-pitched voice could be heard screeching inside the office, and Lily cringed at the sound. “What did you do?” Violet removed one of her earbuds, her deep purple lips pulling up into a sly grin. “Nothing.” Lily wondered why Violet cared. “Well, that’s obviously not true, considering where you are.” “Well… Um… Why are you here then?” Lily was proud of herself for evading the question. “Why do you think I’m here?” Violet smiled mischievously, hoping to get a typical response from Lily. She assumed that Lily would guess that she had been smoking weed, or doing something idiotic of the sort. “I… I don’t know.” “That’s no fun.” “I copied a paper from someone else.” Lily mentally yelled at herself for giving up her cover so easily. “Ooh, that’s pretty bad. You’re screwed.” Violet rolled her eyes. “I know.” Lily looked at her shoes. Her eyes were welling up with tears, but she tried to position her bangs so Violet couldn’t see. Violet noticed Lily’s tears and wanted to console her, but thought better of it, “Good luck I guess.” “Thanks.” An uncomfortable silence fell between the girls, with only the sound of Lily sniffling and Violet’s muffled music. A woman called out Lily’s name, breaking the quiet. Violet had gotten accustomed to the lack of noise and was aggravated by the interruption. Lily and Violet exchanged a painful smile as she was pulled into the office. Once Lily was gone, Violet pulled out a journal and began to draw. Her pencil effortlessly stroked the page and an image began to form. She concentrated on the image in front of her and was soothed by her ability to create. She brushed the pencil delicately in places, and forced it to draw hard lines on the page in others. Tranquility entered her mind and a meditative feeling overcame her. She thought she was happy.
The door to the office opened, and inside came Lily’s parents, Don and Melanie. Melanie’s eyebrows were furrowed with concern and confusion, while Don looked on the verge of screaming. Don had been interrupted from a game of golf; he was still wearing his golfing shoes and cap. Melanie, on the other hand, had been at work when she had received the phone call from the school. Her blouse was slightly wrinkled but her skirt was pristinely white. Lily noticed her breath quaking and attempted to steady it. She was terrified of the consequences; she never screws up. “Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, how are you?” Principal Hilton attempted to calm down her parents. “We’ve been better,” Melanie laughed, “Can you tell us what’s going on?” “I’m afraid Lilith has plagiarized her research paper, using another students work as her own.” “Lilith April Stewart! Why would you do such a thing?” Don fumed, his cheeks growing redder with each passing breath. “I… I… I’m sorry.” A tear fell down Lily’s cheek and she attempted to brush it away, “I h-h-had so much homework and I got desperate.” “That is no excuse.” “We need to talk about consequences,” Principal Hilton said, “She will receive a 0 for that assignment and will be suspended for one week.” “That seems fair,” Melanie looked so ashamed of Lily, making Lily feel even guiltier about her mistake. “I will take the punishment without any issues,” Lily said, lowering her head in shame. “Please sit outside for a minute while your parents and I sign papers,” Principal Hilton ushered her out. The comfortable autumn air hit Lily’s face, creating a great sadness in Lily. She sat down next to Violet and gazed at her drawing. Lily noticed how Violet moved so effortlessly with a pencil. It was second nature for her; she seemed joyful. It was odd for Lily to see Violet in this state of mind, usually she seemed pissed off or sad. Lily was entranced by Violet’s deep blue nails and painted face; she envied her for being able to present herself so confidently. Lily was so accustomed to being in the shadow, that it was odd for someone like Violet to talk to her. Violet noticed Lily watching her and glanced over, “Do you need something?” “No, sorry.” “How’d it go in there?” “I’m suspended for a week.” “That sucks.” “Yeah…” “At least you can get a break from this hellhole for a small period of time.” “I guess so.” “I can help you with your missed work if you need.” Violet was shocked at her words. Something about Lily made her want to help her. “That, that would be nice.” Lily smiled genuinely for the first time that day. They exchanged phone numbers and Violet left with a sense of serenity. She thought how odd it was that the most different of peoples could become an acquaintance, heck, maybe even friends.
White Walls A light knock on the door interrupted my attempt to fully accomplish my homework - for the first time - in all of my classes. My father sauntered in my the dank, gloomy room and gently sat down on my bed, exhaling a sigh of relief. He rubbed the five oâ€™ clock shadow on his face, making an abrasive sound that cut the habitual awkward silence. He glanced around the room while obviously thinking of a semi-relatable topic to open up a conversation. I set aside my uncompleted homework and prepared for bed as my father plied me with questions about school. I replied with vague answers in a monotonous, wearied voice. To keep the conversation afloat, he offered to tell me a story about my enigmatic Armenian grandfather. My grandfather was fascinated by literature: his ambition as a young man was to become a writer. He had the desire to perfect his craft, so he went to the store to purchase paper and pencil. He then rushed home, eager to begin his career. He arranged a comfortable setting in his room, predicting that he would be fully invested in his newfound hobby. He gently pulled his out rickety wooden chair and sat down at his desk. Placing his smooth blank white paper on its surface, he gripped his wooden pencil between his thumb, middle, and index finger. He stared down at the white abyss of the paper, attempting to conjure ideas for stories that would prove his talent. He was glued to the paper, probing for an idea that would spark his creativity. The clean white paper intimidated him, causing his mind to retract back into its shell. His mind failed him as he futilely attempted to invoke the muse and to develop a topic worthy of writing. After the utter failure of the blankness of his imaginaion, he realized that he could never pursue the career he believed he could. My grandfather was bereft by the realization of his ineffectuality. He had realized the limitations of his true talent. I am his grandson. I sit at the same desk in school and within the confines of my home, surrounded by content, motivated students. I do not fulfill my true talent much like my grandfather. The motivation I desire at a young age ceased to exist, and school has been last on my agenda for many years. As I stare at a blank document on the computer screen, I contemplate the same void as my grandfather. My ideas, which overflow outside of school, seem to be extinguished when Iâ€™m engulfed with the pressures of earning adequate grades. Every day I pass through the threshold of PorterGaud, my mind is overcast with anxiety of my discouraging fate; my time dedicated to learning is nothing but a blur. My father stood up and headed towards the door; he took a sip of red wine and brushed the wall with his hand, struggling futilely to turn off the lights. He soon gave up and swiftly spun himself around to catch the 52
doorknob. Eventually he caught hold of it; he clumsily turned to me and slammed the door shut. Silence prevailed in the atmosphere of the room. I lay apathetically in my bed and gazed at my grainy white ceiling. I tried to comprehend the feeling of staring into the endless paradox of the color white: white is a color that could potentially be the product of all colors or nothing but an endless vain abyss. Much like my grandfather, I faced this color in the solace of my bed, surrounded by the paradox that coated the walls of my room. My thoughts meandered as I tried to deduce the enigmatic answer. My mind became fatigued along with my body as a deep sleep overcame my struggle to encounter the haunting solution.
Artwork by Ross Simmons
Tangled up in Strings
Cross Tolliver, Brown University-bound, shares his college application essay. I’ve had a long day. Just this afternoon I got seasick, practiced cold fusion, skinned the gerbil—both sideways and horizontally (not the same thing)—and walked the dog. Let me explain. The truth of the matter is that my inner ear is doing just fine, I haven’t solved every country’s energy needs, I’m not a sociopath with a sadistic vendetta against rodents, and I don’t even own a dog. What I did do, however, was work on some yoyo tricks. Admittedly, being a yoyoer isn’t exactly the same as starting as the quarterback for your high school football team, but I’ve found some advantages tangled up in the string. After all, you don’t get into yoyoing for the money. In the perennial journey to express oneself that all nonconformist teenagers inevitably set off on, most turn to art, some to tattoos, others to deviance. However, I never really mastered making a bowl of fruit appear as if it weren’t run over by a two-dimensional truck, so I had to search elsewhere for a creative outlet. Luckily, an inspirational YouTube view of Hiroyuki Suzuki’s winning routine in the 2006 World Yoyo Contest, an order from yoyoexpert.com, and years of practice have led me to today, where my quest for expression has turned into a revelation of identity. I’m somebody who undulates between different spheres. Academically, I become captivated whenever faced with a demanding math, physics, or computer science problem that I need to solve, but I’ve also grown infatuated by the limitless range of open-ended interpretations and thoughts that language and the humanities offer. My practice sessions have varied between the tennis court, the piano bench, my school’s theater, my ordinary bedroom if I’m yoyoing, and an array of other venues. There are so many different aspects of life to explore and so little time to do it, but the yoyo has let me travel between the intrinsic values of my passions, existing as a bridge that links them together. Like a fractal flower, yoyoing is part scientific explicitness and part art, and from this perspective, the essence of the yoyo is a microcosm of my identity. When seeking to create an original trick, I have to geometrically map out the string like an architect would design a structure, but also push the boundaries of creativity to add flair and discover something innovative. The best place to display my invented tricks is on stage, whether in front of my high school or in a professional yoyo contest. A contest routine is judged on two encompassing criteria: technical execution and performance evaluation, so it’s imperative that my tricks are precise and incorporate as many elements as possible in order to rack up points. But the best performances perfectly synchronize the body, yoyo, and music, effectively creating performance art. When in front of a sea of eyes that don’t register the subtle weaving in and out of string, yoyoers use the simple yet flamboyant tricks called “bangers” to electrify the audience. In these performances, where expression and showmanship run rampant, the yoyo becomes an appendage used in a dance just like an arm or a leg. Without a yoyo, I could never externalize my rhythm.
I could go on and make a string of puns about how the yoyo has taught me that life has its ups and downs or that the earth is constantly revolving, but that would as easy as walking the dog. The simple truth is that I yoyo because it’s fun, and it lets me explore myriad aspects of life. What started as a cheap chunk of wood wrapped in clamshell packaging has done so much more for me than I ever thought possible: I’ve met new people, simply relieved stress, and been invited to perform for crowds other than my cat. But I haven’t gotten a date with a yoyo yet, so perhaps that’s my next trick.
Photography by Monica Nyland