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Contests & Original Work TCU Department of English descant TCU PRESS eleven40seven Bryson Literary Society Center for Digital Expression
2018 CREATIVE WRITING AWARDS Contests & Original Work
Contest #1. The Neil Daniel Drama Award SPONSOR: AN ANONYMOUS DONOR Judge: Dr. Chantel Langlinais Carlson Winner: Grace Ann Rothwell for “Unexpected Visitor” .....................................6 Honorable Mention: Caroline Batcheller for “The Last Something that Meant Anything” .................................................16 Contest #2. The Bob Frye AddRan English 10803 Award SPONSOR: MRS. ALICE FRYE Judge: Dr. Carrie Leverenz Winner: Caroline Cravens for “To Legalize Rhino Horn Trade or Not” ........................................................................................23 Honorable Mention: Katherine Rall for “Keep Calm & Do the Next Right Thing” ..............................................................................30 Contest #3. The Australia Tarver Award for Critical Essay on Race, Post-colonialism, or Multi-Ethnic Studies SPONSORS: DR. KAREN STEELE AND DR. STACIE MCCORMICK Judge: Dr. Mona Narain Winner: Ann Tran for “Vietnam’s Loss of Occupational Prestige and Homeland After Western Colonialism” ....................................32 Contest #4. The Non-Fiction Prose Award SPONSOR: THE THURSDAY GROUP, TCU WOMEN EXES Judge: Dr. Charlotte Hogg Winner, 1st Place: Katie Marler for “Uprooted” ..................................................41 Winner, 2nd Place: Ann Tran for “Home and Chicken Nuggets” ........................50 Honorable Mention: Decha Cullen for “Of Wolves and Women; Desert Paradox” ..............................................................................61 Contest #5. The Woman's Wednesday Club Research Paper or Essay Award SPONSOR: THE WOMAN'S WEDNESDAY CLUB, FORT WORTH Judge: Dr. Joe Darda Winner: Ann Tran for “The Virginal Bondage of Renaissance Woman” ..........................................................................................71 Contest #6. The Woman's Wednesday Club Fiction Award SPONSOR: THE WOMAN'S WEDNESDAY CLUB, FORT WORTH Judges: Dr. Sidney Thompson and Prof. Cynthia Shearer Winner: Sarah Booth for “Neck Deep” ...............................................................81 Honorable Mention: Suzanne Yost for “Fruit Salad”....................................87
Contest #7. The Bill Camfield Memorial Award for Humorous Fiction, Screenplays, and Essays SPONSOR: ENDOWMENT ESTABLISHED BY PAUL & STEPHANIE CAMFIELD IN MEMORY OF MR. CAMFIELD'S FATHER Judge: Mr. Tyler Price Winner, 1st Place: Jordan Cole for “Star-Crossed” .............................................95 Winner, 2nd Place: Jack Moraglia for “An Attempt at Not Dying” .....................103 Honorable Mention: Jackson Nagel for “Estrogen Overload” ......................108 Contest #8. The Margaret-Rose Marek Memorial Multimedia Writing Award SPONSORS: DR. STEVE SHERWOOD, AND THE CENTER FOR DIGITAL EXPRESSION Judge: Dr. Jason Helms Winner: Decha Cullen for “Hegemony/Beauty” .................................................111 Honorable Mention: Lucy Mariani for “LOOP” ...........................................112 Contest #9. The Subversive Thought Award SPONSOR: DR. RICH ENOS, DR. NATHANAEL O’REILLY, AND PROF. ALEX LEMON Judge: Dr. Nathanael O’Reilly Winner: Sarah Campbell for “The Demise of Bury Your Gays” ........................113 Contest #10. The Tony Burgess Environmental Writing Award SPONSORS: DR. STEVE SHERWOOD, AND THE CENTER FOR DIGITAL EXPRESSION Judges: Dr. Dan Williams, Prof. Cynthia Shearer, and Dr. Steve Sherwood Winner: Abigail Jennings for “Night Lights” ......................................................138 Contest #11. The Siddie Joe Johnson Poetry Award SPONSORS: Dr. Donald W. Jackson, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, TCU, and Dr. Takeshi Takahasi Judge: ANONYMOUS Winner: Hannah Taylor for “Side Effects of Antihistamines” ............................144 Honorable Mention: Nathan Ching for “Texas Tea” ....................................145 Contest #12. The Bob Frye Satire Award SPONSOR: AN ANONYMOUS DONOR Judge: Dr. Rima Abunasser Winner: Joshua Borders for “Hawthorne’s The Birthmark, Re-imagined” .........146 Honorable Mention: Aubrey Hutson for “For You” .....................................150
Contest #13. The David Vanderwerken Short Story Award SPONSOR: THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH FACULTY Judge: ANONYMOUS Winner, 1st Place: Andreley Bjelland for “The Deep End” .................................151 Winner, 2nd Place: Joshua Borders for “Still Life with Mr. Met” .......................161 Winner, 3rd Place: Hayley Zablotsky for “An Endeavor to Be Happy” ..............171 Contest #14. The Woman's Wednesday Club Essay Award SPONSOR: THE WOMAN'S WEDNESDAY CLUB, FORT WORTH Judge: Dr. Rich Enos Winner: Tyler Dukes for "Coleridge and the Hypnagogic State: Blending Folklore and Fairy Tale to Create the Unconscious in 'Christabel'" ....182 Honorable Mention: Jeniffer Beahm for "Finding Home" ............................195 Contest #15. The Betsy Colquitt Graduate Poetry Award SPONSOR: LINDA CLARK OF GEORGETOWN, TX Judge: Dr. Lachlan Brown Winner: Allison Zentz for “Blush Array” ............................................................204 Contest #16. The Margie Boswell Poetry Award SPONSOR: THE BOSWELL FAMILY, HONORING MARGIE B. BOSWELL Judge: ANONYMOUS Winner, 1st Place: Abigail Buckley for “Covet” ................................................205 Winner, 2nd Place: Amber Hovanec-Carey for “Hushed Heat” ..........................208 Honorable Mention: Katarina Boudreaux for “The Written Word” .............211 Contest #17. The Sigma Tau Delta Essay Award SPONSOR: CHI ALPHA CHAPTER, SIGMA TAU DELTA, DR. KAREN STEELE & DR. ARIANE BALIZET Judge: T.J. McLemore Winner: Grace Ann Rothwell for “Down Under and Far Away” ........................212 Honorable Mention: Kathany Owens for “Refined by Dumpster Fire” ........218 Contest #18. The Woman’s Wednesday Club Merit Award SPONSOR: THE WOMAN'S WEDNESDAY CLUB, FORT WORTH Winner: Abigail Jennings Contest #19. The Graduate Student Fiction Award SPONSOR: ANONYMOUS Judge: Dr. Christine Fadden Winner: Toya Mary Okonkwo for “A Whoopin' to Remember & Valentine's Day” [omitted at author’s request] 5
Grace Ann Rothwell
EXCERPT FROM UNEXPECTED VISITOR SCENE FOUR OLIVIA sits on a park bench wearing her long trench coat. She stares straight out at the audience with an expressionless face, except for her eyes which are slightly widened in shock. Her right leg is crossed over her left, and she is moving her foot in a quick rhythm. She keeps glancing at her wrist only to find nothing there. Nothing happens for 28 seconds. OLIVIA I’ll admit, I’m not very observant of people on a regular basis…. But today, in particular…. (A man wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase approaches her. He is the same man that received the ice cream cone from ELISE the day before.) MAN Excuse me, ma’am. I was— OLIVIA What? What is it? Do you know? Are you one of her friends? MAN I-I was only wo-wondering if you c-could give me the t-time. OLIVIA Ah, yes. Time. It’s a funny thing isn’t it? It zooms away when forgotten and once remembered it inches into eternity. I really don’t think we can confine it to seconds, minutes, and hours, do you? MAN Um…. OLIVIA I’m afraid I don’t have the time. You see, my phone died just five minutes ago. Do you want to know something else? MAN I…well— OLIVIA I haven’t missed a day of work in seven years. Seven! Can you believe that? And here I am, clearly not at work. (She begins laughing hysterically, and the MAN hastily moves down the sidewalk.)
OLIVIA What a terrible day to forget my watch. I know exactly where it is, too. On the counter in front of the toaster next to the granola bar I would have packed for breakfast. (She stands up and begins to pace. MARA runs awkwardly in heels in her direction from stage right. Her arms are slightly outstretched. She is wearing work attire.) MARA OLIVIA DANIELS, what are you doing all the way over here? OLIVIA Do you ever enjoy wandering around for hours at a time in the city? No worries? No place to go? Nothing to do? MARA Absolutely not. OLIVIA No, you wouldn’t, would you? MARA I wouldn’t really call work “no place to go” with “nothing to do.” (OLIVIA waves off her comment impatiently.) MARA And you’re not one to leave behind worries. They nip at your heels constantly. OLIVIA Who’s to say I can’t turn a new page? MARA I am. I’ve known you for eight years and you haven’t changed a bit. You look terrible! OLIVIA You’re too kind. MARA Are those your pajamas under your trench coat? OLIVIA Making a fashion statement. MARA Do you want to tell me about what’s going on?
OLIVIA My daughter, whom I believed to be dead, appeared at the door to my house this morning very much alive. (Tense silence.) OLIVIA I kid. MARA Naturally. Do you even have a daughter?
OLIVIA Nope. MARA That’s a pretty big life detail to not reveal. OLIVIA I suppose. MARA Well, darling, I must be going. Call me if you need anything. Should I be worried about you? OLIVIA Me? No. I’m just peachy. MARA Right. Ciao. (Another man wearing a business suit enters from stage left and slows down when he sees OLIVIA in a distressed state.) PATRICK Long day, huh? OLIVIA Oh, wonderful. A talker. PATRICK My boss held me up twenty minutes talking about his family’s trip to the lake last weekend. OLIVIA Unbelievable.
PATRICK I’m Patrick, by the way. And you are…? OLIVIA Mallory. The name’s Mallory. PATRICK How was your day, Mallory? OLIVIA Oh it had a little of this and a little of that. PATRICK Care to elaborate? OLIVIA My daughter, whom I believed to be dead, appeared at the door to my house this morning very much alive. (Tense silence.) Joking. You wouldn’t believe how many people have actually believed that today. PATRICK You had me! Good one, good one…. So what do you do for a living? OLIVIA I work for a publishing company. PATRICK Interesting. And is that— OLIVIA Any chance you’re running late for work? PATRICK Huh? Oh! Yeah. But do you need— OLIVIA I don’t. PATRICK Oh. If you’re sure…. OLIVIA
Have a nice day! PATRICK Right. You too. (Slightly confused, he walks off the stage.) OLIVIA I haven’t missed a day of work in seven years. I didn’t even bother to call in. What’s next, will I be skipping church too? Hmm. Routine. That’s what has kept me going. Helped me to forget…. Let’s see. I’d been tossing and turning since 4:00 as usual…I got up to go to the bathroom at 5:00…at 5:27 there was a knock on my door…I checked through the peephole. The girl looked harmless. She didn’t want any money…and then…and then…she said strange things…pretended to be dead…too many expectations…. I grabbed my coat. I said I’d be right back. I’ve been gone all day. I haven’t missed a day of work in seven years…. DIANNE Something on your mind, dear? (She turns to find an elderly woman is sitting on the bench next to her.) OLIVIA Oh! Was I— DIANNE Thinking out loud? Yes. OLIVIA I’m sorry. I’m not crazy. DIANNE Don’t apologize. Besides, you’re not crazy. OLIVIA I’m not? DIANNE No. You’re frightened. OLIVIA Do I look scared to you?
DIANNE You look as though you are trying very hard not to be. OLIVIA Why would I be frightened? DIANNE Ask yourself that, dear, not me. OLIVIA I could be frightened because I’m crazy. DIANNE You just told me you weren’t crazy. OLIVIA Does a crazy person know whether or not they’re actually crazy? DIANNE You have a point. OLIVIA My daughter, whom I believed to be dead, appeared at the door to my house this morning very much alive. (Silence.) I’m only— DIANNE Joking? No, I don’t believe you are. OLIVIA I was hoping you would. DIANNE Not a chance at my age. I’ve seen too much fear and grief to be fooled. OLIVIA What does it look like? DIANNE Different for every person. OLIVIA Maybe she is frightened too….
DIANNE Can I buy you dinner? You’re looking a bit faint. (A street vendor rolls a hot dog stand onto the stage.) DIANNE Now, that’s just the darndest thing! They just seem to come out of nowhere! OLIVIA Dinner. Food. Nourishment. DIANNE Considered vital for one’s survival. I don’t imagine you’ve had anything to eat all day. OLIVIA Yes, that would be lovely. Thank you. (They wander over to the vendor, purchase hot dogs, and walk back to the bench.) DIANNE Tell me your story. OLIVIA The beginning was very normal. Nothing unusual. Silly young girl. Fell in love with an easily, uh, distracted boy. Married right out of high school and suddenly there was a baby. The father was long gone before the child came. DIANNE And so you raised her on your own? OLIVIA No. I put her up for adoption. Again, the usual. I thought someone else could do better for her. DIANNE I see. OLIVIA I wanted to know her, though. At least observe her from a distance. Make sure she was always okay. So, I settled in a town close to her new family. Now, that actually sounds kind of crazy. DIANNE Just a natural motherly tendency, I’m sure. OLIVIA On her 17th birthday, she died.
DIANNE That must have been difficult. OLIVIA It was. That’s when I moved here. Knowing she was nearby kept me from feeling completely alone. After she was gone, there was no point in staying. Then, I got used to being alone. DIANNE Until this morning. OLIVIA Until this morning. And do you know what I did? DIANNE You ran away. OLIVIA I ran away. DIANNE What did she tell you? OLIVIA She said her parents had had overwhelmingly high expectations for her. She couldn’t bear the pressure. She found out about me. So she convinced some friends to help her fake her death on a hiking trip to the river. DIANNE Sounds extreme. OLIVIA It does. But it also sounds like something I would have done when I was young. DIANNE Like mother like daughter. OLIVIA Precisely. DIANNE What happened after she died? OLIVIA We didn’t quite get that far…I ran out. I wouldn’t be surprised if she were gone by now. I left her. For the second time in her life.
DIANNE Funny thing. I met a girl yesterday who— (DIANNE freezes and looks toward the audience, realization lighting up her face.) OLIVIA What? What is it? DIANNE (Shakes her head.) Nothing, nothing. Dear, what is your name? OLIVIA OLIVIA. What’s yours? DIANNE DIANNE. OLIVIA? OLIVIA DIANNE? DIANNE It’s time for you to go home. OLIVIA I don’t want her to be there. DIANNE I know. OLIVIA I don’t want her to be gone either. DIANNE It’s time. OLIVIA Thank you. DIANNE Of course, dear.
(Slowly, OLIVIA stands up. She tightens the strap around her coat and walks off stage. DIANNE whistles and looks out at the audience.) I feel as though I have been shoved into the midst of a drama! (The stage goes dark.) SCENE FIVE The stage is once again dark with a lone spotlight shining on OLIVIA on stage right. OLIVIA This is ridiculous. You’ve faced much harder things, OLIVIA. Okay, actually you haven’t. What if…what if she hates you? For what you did? Maybe that’s why she’s here…to look you in the eyes while she makes accusation after accusation and…. (She closes her eyes, clenches her fists, lifts her head high, and walks out of the spotlight. Light floods the stage to show the inside of a light and airy apartment. There is a white couch sitting at an angle with a grey rug in front of it. Candles and stacks of magazines are placed around the couch. On the left side of the stage, there is a small kitchen set up with a fridge, a stove, shelves containing random boxes of food, and a counter with bar stools, behind which OLIVIA will later be cooking. On the counter is a landline. ELISE is sitting on the couch rather stiffly as though she has been in that exact position all day long.) ELISE You’ve been gone for ten hours and forty-three minutes. OLIVIA And you’re still here. (ELISE remains quiet.) I feel like we need to start over. ELISE I surprised you this morning. OLIVIA I’ll admit, I was a bit startled. ELISE I wanted to explain— OLIVIA What is your favorite thing to eat? 15
The Last Something that Meant Anything
SCENE 1 It is 1997. Drew and his wife, Nancy, sit outside a dismal hospital room in Wichita, Kansas. Byron, Drew's father, is fatally sick. Drew has had a strained relationship with his father his entire life. From neglection to forgetfulness, Drew has been let down by his father his entire life. He has always wanted things to be different, and has tried for years, but nothing was ever fixed.
DREW (sitting, head in hands) It shouldn't be this hard.
NANCY (arms crossed, irritated) You're right, it shouldn't be. So, go talk to him.
DREW I need more time.
Are you kidding me? For what? To think.
NANCY You've been sitting here for hours.
DREW I need to gather my thoughts. I don't even know what I would say.
NANCY Everyone else has gone to see him already. Me, the kids, -
DREW (cuts her off) Well it wasn't like this for everyone else, was it?
NANCY What the hell does that even mean?
DREW You know he's never cared.
NANCY We've all been with him for years, Drew. He's always been friendly.
DREW All the kids ever saw was "Papa". They didn't have to be raised by him.
NANCY Stop acting like he tortured you or something!
DREW (abruptly raises and turns head) What? It's not like he ever deserved the "Best Dad" title.
He provided everything you ever needed, and continues to even now. He's paying for half of Thomas' tuition for god-sake.
DREW You're saying money and security is all that matters from a parent?
NANCY It would have been nice to grow up knowing I was going to eat that night, so yes.
DREW And you really don't think it was important for him to fucking nurture me, or at least act like he gave a shit?
NANCY Well, I still think you turned out alright.
DREW I honestly don't know how our kids are turning out okay, with parents like us.
NANCY What do you mean? We're doing a great job.
DREW I mean, with the cards we were dealt, yeah, I guess we're doing okay.
NANCY Thomas is in college, Julia is getting great grades and is on varsity soccer. What more could you want from them?
DREW So, you're just going to disregard the fact that Thomas has been a pothead since high school, or that Julia is a pretentious asshole and has no real friends?
NANCY Don't talk about our kids like that! Jesus!
DREW Tell me I'm wrong then!
(Nancy pauses) NANCY Those problems are their own, Drew.
(Drew stands) DREW Are you actually serious, Nanc? We raised them into the lives they're in. All of their problems are our faults!
NANCY We loved them as best as we could, I don't know how much more we could have possibly done for them.
DREW I donâ€™t think you understand how incapable I am of fully loving our children, Nancy. Even holding them as babies, all I can remember thinking is how the hell I was going to get through everything that was coming. All we have ever done is push and push them to be the best student, the best athlete, but how is that going to leave them in the long run? We completely fucked them up, because we never knew how to raise them to be good people. Because we never learned that ourselves.
(a nurse passes, entering the hospital room) NANCY I never realized you thought we were so messed up.
DREW You've had to have known, on some level, that we are not the best parents.
NANCY Why have we never talked about this before?
DREW I don't know. Maybe neither of us ever wanted to face the truth.
NANCY Well, maybe now is the time to.
DREW Yeah, you're right. I need to stop wishing I had a different life and just deal with it for once.
NANCY We'll work on it, together. We'll start to change things.
DREW It's probably too late to fix the kids by this point.
NANCY This isn't for the kids, it's for us. We need to heal for the first time.
DREW I'd like that. (Drew sits back down) I can't remember the last time I told my dad I loved him.
NANCY You don't have to, if you're not ready. There's still time.
DREW Time's running out fast, Nanc.
NANCY Well, at least tell him you're grateful for all he did. That's what he needs right now. DREW I don't want to force my father to face how badly he messed up while he's on his deathbed.
NANCY Thatâ€™s not what I meant.
DREW I don't see how else I would go about that.
(Nancy sits beside him) NANCY Drew, even though you have your flaws, you clearly turned out well. Maybe not the best person in the world, but decent enough. If you can't forgive your father yet, at least let him know everything he did right.
Yeah. I guess.
NANCY Don't be this stubborn. Not now.
DREW I know, I'm sorry. You're right. (Nancy grabs Drew's hand) Will you come in with me?
NANCY Of course. I really am proud of you, I know this isn't easy.
DREW Thanks. I should have done this sooner than this though.
(Drew stands, immediately as a doctor exits the hospital room. His mask is removed, eyes cast downward) DREW Can I go in to see him now?
DOCTOR I'm so sorry, Mr. Henderson, but I'm afraid it's too late.
To Legalize Rhino Horn Trade or Not
In 2011, “Africa’s western black rhino was declared extinct by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature” (Biggs). The remaining black rhino species are about 5,000, and could possibly go extinct within the next 20 years or so. In 2007 only 1 rhino was killed a month, but in 2014 around 101 rhinos were killed monthly by poachers. That’s almost three a day! Clearly it’s no secret that rhinos are in trouble, but why? Rhinos are being killed for their horns, and the demand for their horn comes from Asia where rhino horn is seen as both a status symbol and a possible cure for cancer. The demand in Asian countries is deeply-culturally rooted and isn’t dropping anytime soon. There is no one solution to saving the rhinos, but one solution proposed has been to legalize the trade in rhino horn. However, by lifting the ban on rhino horns, people are only endangering rhinos further; therefore the solution to the rhino poaching crisis must be a combination of techniques1, but not lifting the ban. Currently there is a ban on trading rhino horns. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) declared the ban on rhino horn trade back in the 1970’s, and since has been updated and debated. The official ban is posted on CITES website and addresses specific countries, as well as committees that could possibly be involved in the rhino crisis. The document online does not just state that rhino horn trade is illegal; it includes things like how illegal horns found should be dealt with, how punishment for poachers should be updated, and who should be working with who when various situations arise. Ever since the ban has existed, there have been opponents and supporters. In order for the CITES ban
Techniques I will later address are selling synthetic rhino horn,
to be lifted, “the majority (two-thirds) of the 180 CITES member countries would need to vote in favor [of lifting the ban]” (Earth Touch) Many in favor of lifting the CITES ban argue that by lifting the ban the demand for rhino horn will decrease. I do not believe this to be true, but this is what free rhino horn trade supports believe about demand: the incentive 2 for rhino horn drives demand. The idea is that since rhino horns are so hard to acquire, the price for them rises, and then the price skyrockets even more as the rhino population diminishes. As the price skyrockets higher and higher the amount of poaching increases because there is such a great incentive for it. For example, some rhinos are currently under protection of military services and there is harsh punishment for poachers, and thus many that are pro-legal trade believe that this “only serve[s] to drive up prices further because supply is restricted in the face of growing demand” (Biggs). These points may hold some truth, but the price on the black market is not the only thing that drives the demand for rhino horn. As I briefly mentioned earlier, the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries is great and deeply-culturally rooted. This doesn’t mean that changing Asian countries perspective is impossible. In fact, changing perspectives is quite do-able and has happened before. In the 1970s-1990’s, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan were all major rhino horn consumers; now, South Korea and Taiwan are no longer consumers of rhino horn and Japan has been successful at demand reduction strategies. These three countries did not legalize trade on rhino horn. In fact, they did the opposite. In 1980, Japan ratified the CITES ban on rhino horn, and the “Ministry of
On the black market “consumers readily pay upwards of $6,000 per 100 grams [of rhino horn],” (The Rhino Crisis) which is more expensive than gold or cocaine.
Health required all manufacturers of rhino horn medicines to find substitutes for their products” (Ellis). This caused the horn to be controlled more by the Japanese government, and thus rhino horn consumption reduction was successful. Japan’s situation gives ban supporters hope that CITES does make a difference. Pro-legal trade people also argue that the demand for rhino horn can be met naturally through things like natural rhino death rates and dehorning (spoiler alert, it can’t). On November 26, 2015 a South African judge lifted the ban on rhino horn trade because two South African rhino breeders, John Hume and Johan Kruger, took legal action to have the ban lifted. Though they argued mostly against the way that the ban had been imposed (that “South Africa’s environment ministry had failed in its legal duty to properly notify the public of its plans to impose the ban” (Earth Touch)), Hume had roughly 4,000 kilograms of rhino horn at his farm, which would support many millions of dollars’ worth of trade. The judges lift on the ban didn’t last long because the South African government challenged the ruling and the ban was reinstated. The demand for rhino horn cannot be met by dehorning and natural rhino death rates. Dehorning does not work as a “natural” way to harvest rhino horn. Though dehorning eliminates the threat of poachers, rhinos and their young have other threats in the wild. In an early dehorning study, “infant mortality [for rhinos] was 100% when dehorned mothers were sympatric with spotted hyenas. In contrast, infant survival was 100% for horned mothers living with hyenas” (Berger 1). So ultimately dehorning is not a way to aid in the demand for rhino horn because dehorning these beautiful creatures would lead to their extinction. There must be a way to reduce poaching and since lifting the ban is not a solution, one might ask, what is the solution? As my Environmental Science teacher once said, “there is no
silver bullet for the rhino poaching crisis.” The solution will be a combination of several methods of rhino conservation techniques (excluding legalizing trade of rhino horn). Some techniques that may work are selling synthetic rhino horn, increasing safer conditions for rhinos in Mozambique, and adding more (and more technologically advanced) drones. Few companies have proposed to make synthetic rhino horn, but synthetic horns are generally made out of keratin powder. Rhino horns are essentially what human fingernails are made of (keratin), and with new technology companies are able to make synthetic horns genetically similar to real rhino horns. Most companies have not yet released prices for their synthetic horns (as they are still in the development processes), but their market would likely be people that use rhino horn as a powder. Which means that this could replace the medical demand for rhino horn, but I think this would only work if the price was substantially lower than rhino horn on the black market. Currently there are people that see rhino horn as a status symbol, and a synthetic horn (especially in powder form) would not meet their demands. Synthetic horns would not meet the whole demand for rhino horn, but it would satisfy some and thus slightly reduce the killing of rhinos. According to Mozambique’s Role in the Poaching Crisis, the vast majority of rhinos killed in South Africa are poached in Kruger National Park. Poachers “easily” slip through the Mozambique’s border to South Africa’s Kruger National Park. There were 94 poaching arrests related to rhinos in 2013 in South Africa and 44 were in Kruger (Mozambique’s role). Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world and many people there see poaching as a way to earn a living. Poaching is considered a misdemeanor crime in Mozambique so it can also be seen as a sort of safer haven for poachers. Plus, Mozambique faces so much corruption; entire towns thrive off of illegal money made from poaching. It is clear that Mozambique cannot
afford to tighten their border control but perhaps South Africa can. In addition to having South Africa tighten their border, South Africa should partner with Mozambique to help deter poachers. On its own, Mozambique must make a law establishing poaching rhinos as a major crime with greater punishment. These steps will hopefully help reduce the poaching in Mozambique and create more safe spaces for rhinos. Drones have been effective in finding poachers and stopping them before they can kill rhinos. The benefit of drones is that they can cover and observe a greater area (during the day and night) than just wildlife rangers can cover. However these drones are unarmed so they are only useful if there are wildlife rangers ready to go out and stop a poacher once they are spotted. Although it would be expensive 3, it may be a good idea to start producing armed drones. The United States and even some companies like Google currently produce many of these drones for Africa, but perhaps they can support a little extra of the drones funding to advance drone technology. The trade on rhino horn should not be legalized. Arguably, countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are the most obvious examples of why the CITES ban on trading of rhino horn is effective. There are many holes to poke in the argument that trade of rhino horn should be legalized. Perhaps selling synthetic rhino horns, or stricter protection methods in problem countries, or better drone technology is the answer to stopping rhino poaching. However, it should be obvious that there is no single solution to poaching. Whatever the solution to the poaching crisis is, it is not just one single element. It will be a combination of several methods of rhino conservation efforts that is going to save the species.
One estimate for drone costs in an article published by BBC is $50,000-$70,000, and those are just drones with cameras. Those costs also donâ€™t take replacing batteries and other up-keep into account. 3
Author’s note: I honestly feel really good about this paper. I think it is probably one of the best educational, non-fiction things I’ve written. I beefed up the three paragraphs supporting solutions for rhino poaching a bit, and edited a couple of other sentences. I really felt like I had no trouble meeting the page limit and could go on forever about this topic.
References Berger, Joel, and Carol Cunningham. “Phenotypic Alterations, Evolutionarily Significant …..Structures, and Rhino Conservation”. Conservation Biology 8.3 (1994): 833–840. …..<http://www.jstor.org/stable/2386524>. Biggs, Duan, et al. "Legal Trade of Africa's Rhino Horns." Science 339.6123 (2013): 1038-39. Sciencemag.org. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <http://science.sciencemag.org.ezproxy.tcu.edu/content/339/6123/ 1038.full>. CITES. "16.84 to 16.92 Rhinoceroses (Rhinocerotidae spp.)." CITES. UNEP, 2016. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <https://cites.org/eng/dec/valid16/217>. Earth Touch. "Rhino Horns: What We Know About South Africa's Trade Ban Since 'That' Court Ruling." Earth Touch News Network. N.p., 3 Dec. 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <http://www.earthtouchnews.com/environmental-crime/poaching/ rhino-horns-what-we-know-about-south-africas-trade-ban-since-that-court-ruling>. Ellis, Katherine. "Tackling the demand for rhino horn." Save The Rhino. Save The Rhino International, 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <https://www.savetherhino.org/rhino_info/thorny_issues/ tackling_the_demand_for_rhino_horn>. Monks, Kieron. "Biotech startup creates rhino horns - without rhinos." CNN 21 May 2015: n. pag. CNN. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/21/tech/pembient-rhinohorns-mci/>. "Mozambique's Role in the Poaching Crisis." SavetheRhino.org. Save the Rhino International, 2014. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <https://www.savetherhino.org/rhino_info/thorny_issues/mozambiques_role_in_the_poa ching_crisis>. "Synthetic Rhino Horn: Will it Save the Rhino?" savetherhino.org. Save the Rhino International, 2016. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <https://www.savetherhino.org/rhino_info/thorny_issues/synthetic_rhino_horn_will_it_s ave_the_rhino>. "The Rhino Crisis." The TCU Rhino Initiative. Texas Christian University, 2015. Web. 18 Mar. 2016. <http://www.rhino.tcu.edu/
about_the_rhino_crisis.html>. Wall, Matthew. "Can drones help tackle Africa's wildlife poaching crisis?" BBC News 21 July 2014: n. pag. Print.
Keep Calm & Do the Next Right Thing
If I could pick one thing to do tomorrow, it would be to sit down and write out notecards to study for my biology test. But this is not what is going to happen. I will get up tomorrow morning. I will drink my first cup of coffee. I will get my lunch and my kids’ lunches made. I will get myself ready. All the while, I will be dreaming of a quiet library with a comfortable chair and a boundless attention span. I will get my notecards done, but it will be later in the day after the kids are in bed or when I am on campus and the kids are at school. The motivation to get my notecards done is freedom from the burden of procrastination. My motivation to get my work done comes from doing the next right thing. The next right thing is the next most necessary step in my day. It is getting the most pressing tasks done first. The next right thing is ordering my day to get the priorities done first before they become a crisis. I am a very lazy person. This is what makes me do the next right thing. When I do a job well the first time, I don’t have to remember to do the next right thing later. I’m finished. My life can be hectic. When I think about everything I have to get done, in every part of my life, I become easily overwhelmed. Overwhelmed to the point of panic. This is why I can only focus on the next right thing to do. I grew up in a big family. I am the oldest of four kids. My parents expected all of us to do our chores and to do them right the first time. This does not bode well for a lazy child like myself. Dusting the house was the worst. I went out of my way to do a mediocre job. I wiped the oily dust rag, as-close-as-I-could, to crystal vases without actually picking them up. I did not clean the dusty spindles of the worn tables and chairs. I barely touched the delicate wood work of the cabinets and couches. I would then sit and worry that my mom would notice and hope she would not make me do it over. 30
Now, I have four kids. There is nothing more annoying than telling a child over and over again to get something done, and with four kids it can feel like trying to herd cats. I’m trying to teach my kids how to take the initiative to do the next right thing. My kids have a rotating chore schedule. I tell my kids when they do a good job and leave it alone when chores are done poorly. Then something amazing happened. The kids started self-policing among themselves. They do not want to have to do double the work to make up for their sibling’s laziness. The next right thing is to do the chore the way they want it to be done for them. I believe in doing the next right thing. I believe in doing it immediately and going on to the next right thing. I am back in school now and my life could easily get out of control if I don’t continually do the next right thing. Today, I figure out what the next right thing is by asking myself some questions. “Am I going to be anxious tomorrow if I don’t study for my class tonight?” “Am I going to be too tired to actively listen in class and study during the day?” I order my day so when I go to bed at night I have few regrets. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything left to do. It means, I’ve packed my day with all the good I could do and that tomorrow will take care of itself. I can now trust myself to do the next right thing.
Vietnam’s Loss of Occupational Prestige and Homeland After Western Colonialism
First it was the French, and then it was the Americans. For more than six decades, Vietnam suffered under the tyranny of the oppressive French colonial government and watched as her people died in poverty and sickness. The embittered countrymen who observed the horror from the shores of France planted the beginnings of a revolutionary movement that would bring independence to their nation, but the seeds of freedom lasted no more than ten years before another broiling war ravaged the country. In April 1975, the first evacuees from Vietnam arrived in Guam as their beloved city fell into the hands of communists. The refugees traveled perilous routes over sea and sky with nothing else but memories embroidered into their skin. To their rescuers they were a faceless crowd imbued with hopelessness and potential trouble, but for many of these Vietnamese refugees, America was their haven and sorrow. The country offering them refuge was the same country they lost everything to as bombs obliterated the villages of their homeland. Adjusting to the foreign fabric of the Western lifestyle was both uncomfortable and challenging, the textures of life so different from home that many refugees died an inner death when their country no longer bled in their bodies. This version of wars, particularly in the study of French colonialism and American empire, is rarely ever told. In his short treatise on the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, Viet Thanh Nguyen, professor of American and ethnic studies at the University of Southern California, writes: “The tendency to separate war stories from immigrant stories means that most Americans don’t understand how many of the immigrants and refugees in the United States have fled from wars—many of which this country has had a hand in…But at the same time these Vietnamese Americans fought for America…[and] struggled to carve out their own space in this country.”
Yet, even though scholars like Viet Thanh Nguyen and Yen Le Espiritu illuminate on the countereffects of Western imperialism in Vietnam, they overlook an important aspect that dislocation renders upon the people of a lost country. When the French invaded Indochina, the reorganization of jobs based on ethnic origins stimulated a partitioned country, forcing the native people to do blue collar work as their oppressive settler colonialists filled out the top rungs of the labor force. When the Americans became involved in the next decade, these occupational losses never recovered as immigrants began from the bottom in a new society. The forced relocation of war refugees not only uproots them from their homes but also from their previous occupational positions, which are not reinstituted on their arrival in America because of racial categorization and ill feelings from the war. I will be arguing from both the French colonialism and American postcolonialism perspectives to cover the extensive effects of war on the Vietnamese community. Studies of contemporary scholars on the effects of Western intervention and AsianAmerican novels such as Monique Truongâ€™s The Book of Salt and Viet Thanh Nguyenâ€™s The Sympathizer allow unique perspectives of the Vietnamese to be heard as they struggle within their respective foreign settings, thereby illuminating the loss of occupational prestige and country experienced by civilians and refugees during and after the French and American involvement. Attaining a job and keeping it, especially one of merit, during the colonial years was difficult, if not impossible. By the end of World War I, there were a sizable number of Europeaneducated Vietnamese who had enrolled in French schools or enlisted with the French army and immersed themselves in the Western world, only to return home with a disillusioned view of the conditions in their country. Among these were Ho Chi Minh and other future Communist leaders of the DRV, who would later spark the beginnings of the revolutionary movement. Despite the
education they attained while abroad, these Vietnamese intellectuals were undermined by the subversive hierarchy of their colonized homeland. Many of the top jobs were closed to the Vietnamese people, and “they usually found themselves subordinate to Frenchmen with less education than themselves…and received one-half to one-fifth the salary paid to the French in similar positions” (Joes 71). In The Book of Salt, characters undergo the same mistreatment under the French, particular within the culinary world. When the French Governor-General in Vietnam needed another head chef in his home, the previous chef’s immediate replacement with another French chef de cuisine despite the Vietnamese worker, Anh Minh’s, longer tenure at the Governor-General’s house demonstrates the inferiority of the Vietnamese among their French counterparts. Anh Minh is given the alternative moniker Minh the Sous Chef as he begins to “serve under yet another French chef,” suggesting the permanence of his position below his deserving title, regardless of experience (Truong 14). Anh Minh’s inescapable situation betrays the effort he puts in to climb the ladder of French monopoly, a similar demise experienced by other Vietnamese elitists who remained as second-class citizens within their country despite the merits they attained, so long as the French were there. Furthermore, the chances of securing a job abroad might even be higher than at home if one could afford to travel because all the positions in civil service and private enterprise in Vietnam were closed to its own citizens (Joes 71). The man on the bridge who Bin, the protagonist, encounters tells him that “the French are alright in France” but treat the people “like bastards in the land of [their] birth” (Truong 137). This supposition supports the underplayed narrative of the Vietnamese who were subordinated once the powers of imperialism came into play, the French withholding prestigious jobs and occupations from the citizens who should have them. The struggle for upward mobility and the
subsequent dissatisfaction of the educated Vietnamese led to the civilian unrest that would later compound into the revolutionary movement to expel the French. Similar problems awaited the Vietnamese refugees as they arrived in America and dispersed themselves across the country. Many of the refugees were among the educational elite and had occupied a high socioeconomic class in Vietnam. However, most of the jobs that were open to them in America were low-paying and had no opportunity for advancement (Montero 627). The struggle was insurmountable for many because the work was either temporary, unfitting with their skill set, or required a proficiency in English, which only few possessed. In The Sympathizer, the Captain describes how the men who were once high-ranking generals and military officials in Vietnam were now “collecting both welfare and dust…consumed by the metastasizing cancer called assimilation and susceptible to the hypochondria of exile” in their new positions in America (Nguyen 91). The hypochondria of exile becomes an obsession with the construction of another army to overcome the new communist regime, a fate the General befalls because he lingers restlessly at a job he does not want or believes is his calling. The General opens a liquor store, a job far less prestigious than his previous occupation, and Bon becomes the cashier. The unfortunate outcomes of their assimilation process are not unlike many of the refugee experiences with their first jobs. According to the Third Wave Report, surveys made three, seven, and fifteen months after the first influx of refugees show unemployment rates of 32 percent, 18.2 percent, and 14 percent (Stein 32). These numbers support the assumption that underemployment and unemployment were high among the Vietnamese refugees’ first job experiences in the States. Without a doubt, for those who had occupied prestigious jobs in their home country, adopting insignificant and service occupations fomented feelings of shame and humiliation. The unpromising positions of the ex-soldiers and military personnel whom the
Captain sees a year after their last meeting at the refugee camp in Guam “[confirm] the verdict of defeat” as they sport “bargain-basement penny loafers” (Nguyen 90). For Bon, who lost his wife and child and is no longer a soldier, “when a man isn’t a man he’s nobody” (Nguyen 98). His feelings of insignificance are magnified by the lack of purpose he finds in America, which ultimately brings him back to Vietnam on a suicide mission later in the novel. The pain and regret evident in the statements dominate the story’s depictions of the refugees who are mere shells of their pasts, causing an emotional crisis among a large proportion and a definite feeling of “deprivation and loss of prestige” for many Vietnamese (Montero 627). Therefore, the loss of occupational stature and inability to find steady employment played critical roles in the socioeconomic adaption of the refugees to their foreign residence and created struggles often overlooked by the American media. Losing one’s nation was a critical component of the civilian experience. In the literal sense, the loss of country first began when Vietnam came under French control in 1887. If viewed in the philosophical perspective, the loss of country becomes the unwilling abandonment of one’s culture and homeland, an inner loss of the old and comfortable for the unfamiliar and hostile life. For Bin, who dwells in the lively city of Paris hopping from kitchen to kitchen, remembering his existence is a problem, and he carries a small, speckled mirror to assure himself that he is still there (Truong 19). The troubling absence of a core identity is rooted in the physical loss of home and the vacillation between places. Without any permanence in his life, coupled with his detachment from family, he experiences a lack of identity that makes him die inwardly. Running blood becomes the reminder of his living existence, connecting him back to memories of his mother who remains in Vietnam. Bin threads a knife into his hands and sees “a landscape that would become as familiar to [him] as the way home” (Truong 73). He sees the blood, a sign
of life, leading him back to his mother, to the country of his birth. His predicament embodies the experience of those who lose their country, the transformation of a person from living to inhumane because of the traumas of acculturation and assimilation. This is often a forgotten narrative in war stories. True war stories, according to Viet Nguyen, insist on the inhumanity that exists within the human and uncovers the banalities of that inhumanity. The civilians and refugees who die upon the knowledge of their country’s upheaval are the “living dead” because of the memories they cannot forget (Nguyen 235). The nostalgia that lingers in every corner of their minds remind them what the things they once knew and loved are unrecoverable, making their reality meaningless. In the novel, Bin’s Vietnamese “takes on the pallor of the dying, the faded colors of the abandoned” (Truong 117). Vietnam, to him, has already become a memory because of the death of things he once loved: his mother and the childhood he had with her. Thus, the loss of country amalgamates the inhumanity of the living and the lost past that one once treasured in combination with the physical separation from one’s homeland. Memories characterize the culture and body of a people, undiluted even by the pressures of migration and assimilation. When the people lose their motherland and their homes, memories are what ground them to a past they once loved and fill them with sorrow. When U.S. aircraft began evacuating Vietnamese civilians in 1975, the narrative of the rescue played over its crushing defeat and allowed the United States to represent itself as “a refuge-providing rather than a refugee-producing nation,” eliminating the civilian reaction from the framework (Espiritu 40). But despite this redemptive alteration to the story, the reality was that “thousands of refugees wailed as if attending a funeral, the burial of their nation, dead too soon,” as they waited in holding camps for their next temporary residencies (Nguyen 21). The invisibility of the experiences and emotions of post-1975 Vietnamese refugees from the Western perception made
their loss of country an even greater crisis, emphasizing American heroism and failing to recognize its effects on the people it withdrew. The memories that the Vietnamese refugees brought with them to America “mourn the tattered conditions of their beloved Vietnam” even while they are grateful for the refuge offered by the Americans (Espiritu 46). Loss was so heavily felt among the masses that to leave it out of the Vietnam story would mean to completely erase the country from its people’s memory bank. To acknowledge its absence would be to acknowledge its prior existence as their own. Dwelling on the loss of his homeland, the Captain realizes, with satirical abruptness, that “the past was forever gone, missing along with the proper variety, subtlety, and complexity of [Vietnam’s] universal solvent, fish sauce” (Nguyen 70). The sudden realization comes with a harsh truth, that loss is inescapable to those who try to reproduce the textures of their homeland into the fabric of the American tapestry, only to find that they cannot recreate the same image. The profundity of the tragedy illuminates the suffering of the refugees who cling onto the hope that their new environment is only temporary, while knowing deep inside that their nation is dead. The French and American intervention in Vietnam obstructed opportunities for many Vietnamese to obtain a high-level job or advance in their careers because of the oppression imposed by the French and the deleterious effects of emigration enforced by the Americans. Vietnamese citizens and refugees who were unfortunately entangled in the perplexing web of war struggled with their identities and adaptation to foreign places because of the loss of their country to an opposing force. Memories became their only crutch to the past, reminding them of the glories of a country they once knew as they toiled to build a future for the next generation, who would never the same home. The recognition of these civilian narratives is crucial to the understanding of the war beyond just the soldier’s perspective so commonly depicted in war
films and books. Acknowledging the citizensâ€™ presence in war stories would allow their voices to be heard and remembered, a small compensation for their irreplaceable loss.
Works Cited Espiritu, Yen Le. “Militarized Refuge(es).” Body Counts: The Vietnam War and Militarized Refuge(es), U of California P, 2014, pp. 24–48. Joes, Anthony James. “French Vietnam: A War of Illusions.” Victorious Insurgencies: Four Rebellions That Shaped Our World, University Press of Kentucky, 2010, pp. 69–140. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jcwn2.5. Montero, Darrell. “Vietnamese Refugees in America: Toward a Theory of Spontaneous International Migration.” The International Migration Review, vol. 13, no. 4, 1979, pp. 624–648. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2545179. Nguyen, Viet Thanh. “On True War Stories.” Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, Harvard UP, 2016, pp. 223–50. ---. “Our Vietnam War Never Ended.” The New York Times, 2015. ---. The Sympathizer. Grove, 2015. Stein, Barry N. “Occupational Adjustment of Refugees: The Vietnamese in the United States.” The International Migration Review, vol. 13, no. 1, 1979, pp. 25–45. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2545270. Truong, Monique. The Book of Salt. 2003. Mariner, 2004.
My mother used to sit on one specific cushion of our black leather couch. It was crinkly and softer than any of the other cushions from years of wear. This particular cushion was most adjacent to a blackish-brown side table that held a lamp whose shade was always slightly askew; next to it were a few miscellaneous items and a box or two of Red Hots—probably the only candy that could be left out in the open in a house of six people without the fear of any of them going missing. My mother would sit in this spot every single day, exhausted, after teaching third graders their continents and devour kitschy romance and mystery novels one right after the other, (authors like Jodi Picoult, Nora Roberts and David Baldacci come to mind) while incessantly popping her ankles. Yes, she would roll her ankles around, flexing and pointing her feet, feeling her ankle bones shift against each other with every turn of the page, and with every handful of those bright, spicy candies, I’d hear click click from her feet like a tongue against the top of the mouth. My siblings and I knew that during this time we could ask her anything and she wouldn’t react. All four of us would joke with each other and say that we “could tell mom that the house was on fire and she’d still keep reading.” We all knew that during this zoned-out reading period, the few hours before dinner and after work—the only time she had to herself free from children —was the time to relay bad news to my mom, to tell her of the less than spectacular report card she needed to sign, or that we forgot about the dance team fundraiser and a deposit was due. It was the time to ask: “Am I done being grounded?” Or, “Can I have my iPod back?” She would grunt a “hmm” not looking up from her book, lest she loose her spot, and we could interpret that grunt in whichever way would benefit us most. In fact, a grunt in response at all during this reading period was notable. One of my siblings would chime in on the one sided
conversation between the other sibling and my mother and say: “She can’t hear you. She’s reading her book.” It was an often repeated phrase in my household, and it was at that point that we would just go ahead and do whatever it was we were asking permission for. All of this to say: If I heard the sound of popping ankle bones or the crunch of Red Hots, it was not the time to ask for my mother’s attention. It was the time to give her a break. To give her a few hours. God knows she deserved just a few hours buried in the lives of the characters in her books, people that, unlike her at the time, were healthy. At this point, being eleven years old, none of us knew how sick she would become. None of us knew how much weight she would lose. We also didn’t know that she would get better near my fourteenth birthday. If we had, maybe, during that time, we would have let her read just a little longer.
My mother, like all mothers, can tune out the voices of children, the T.V., doorbells, and husbands. It’s a special gift they possess to be able to make it to bedtime with at least a whisper of sanity. The living room could be full of laughter or screaming and if my mom was reading; she wouldn’t hear any of it. We used to have to beg for her to watch movies with us without a book, or to participate in conversations during the reading period. I remember one instance in particular when I was about ten or so, and we all sat lazily around the T.V., me on the rug with my back against the couch, my brothers and sister on the couch and my dad on a kitchen chair he had turned toward us. This way, we were all in a funky kind of circle facing each other; in the middle of all of us this purple- reddish rug that had patterns of flowers and leaves. My mother would hate it when we would sit on the couch and slide our feet underneath the rug and kick. For some reason, this day we were talking about what we would do if we found out we only had one year to live. I said, “I would go to Disneyland and then to the beach. I would have
as much fun as I could.” My dad chuckled at this, and my brothers said something similar, all involving extravagant vacations or experiences. My dad, a calm and collected type, doesn’t like to entertain “what if” scenarios that I would too frequently come up with. I always attributed this to his upbringing—the son of a dairy farmer, a life of simplicity and financial struggle. He would often sign over his paycheck to his father in high school to help buy groceries. Things like that will make you careful about dreaming. So, it took a bit of prodding from my siblings and me to get him to answer what he would do if he only had one year to live. Finally, turning his hat backwards and running his hands down his face to assess the scruff of his five o’clock shadow, he said with a sigh of defeat, “Yeah, I guess we would take a trip or something. Just the family.” I now cringe at the memory of squealing with delight at his response. At ten, I was focusing on the notion that my dad would ever spontaneously do anything, much less a vacation. I was not focusing on the fact that I had to pose the scenario that he had to be on his deathbed to do it. I recognize now why he chuckled at me and shook his head. Understanding so beautifully that I didn’t understand death, that it would always be something too far away from me, that my “what if” scenarios like this were as harmless to me in my brain as imagining we had a million dollars or super powers. I smile when I think that he must have known that at ten years old, all I wanted to hear was that we could live like there was literally no tomorrow. My siblings and I turned our attention to my mom, sitting in her cushion, eating her Red Hots and reading a Nora Roberts novel. We called out to her until one of my brothers said, “She can’t hear you. She’s reading her book.” After some more group effort and the relentlessness nature only children bear, she flopped her book down on her lap and threw her head backwards, whining, “Whaaaat?” I looked
at her and she had a small smile dancing on her face, and it gave her away. We all giggled with her as she let her guard down and we understood that she can hear when she reads. I worried then that she heard all that we’ve said over the years when we thought she wasn’t listening. I remember thinking that was interesting and logged it away as important information. I can only imagine the frustration she had some days of coming home from a job of eight-year-olds accidentally calling her “mom” and talking out of turn to four more children wanting her attention. “We just want to know what you’d do if you only had one year to live.” I asked earnestly. “Like, we all want to go to Disneyland probably,” I said pointing to my siblings and me. “And dad says he would go on a trip, too. Where would you go?” My mom rolled and clicked her ankle bones and thought, pushing her lips together and drumming her hand on the top of her book. Finally, she came back with her response: “I wouldn’t go anywhere.” “What do you mean?” We begged as we all asked follow up questions. “Wouldn’t you want to see all the things you haven’t seen?” “Wouldn’t you want to have fun?” “Wouldn’t you want to go somewhere amazing?” “No,” I remember her saying. “I think I’d just want to stay home. To be with the family at home.” And then she picked up her book and a handful of Red Hots and started reading again. I stuffed my feet under the rug and tried to kick the anxiety out.
It wasn’t until three years after this family conversation that the threat of death became closer and more tangible for me, and everyone else in my family. Death, now, really was a “what
if” scenario, and at thirteen I realized why my father laughed at the absurdity of celebrating his last year of life at Disneyland. Yes, it would be too oxymoronic to be shriveling up and watching a parade, wouldn’t it?
I had forgotten about that death conversation we had, as it seemed so unimportant then, and it only came to my mind this past summer when I was visiting home for a week with my husband to see the renovations my parents had made to my childhood home. New paint, countertops, molding, flooring, fixtures. A new deck outside with iron railing and a hot tub. A new lamp, a new side table and a new couch, one without the softness of worn leather. New, new, new. Even my mother’s body was larger—filled out compared to what she used to look like, elbow and wrist bones jutting out and threatening to expose themselves were now cushioned and plumper. I knew from her side comments and mutters under her breath for the past couple years that she was uncomfortable with both bodies she’s inhabited, she felt like one was too small and one was too big; she didn’t know how to just reside. My old room had been turned into a guest room years ago, but this was the first visit that I truly started to feel like a guest. The hard floor felt different beneath my feet where soft carpet used to be as I stepped out in the middle of the night to get a glass of water. Even more jarring, it took me a while to find the cups as the cabinets had changed. Being here, searching for a glass, I suddenly felt too old to be home and too young to have ever left. Everything had time to shift and change since I’d been gone, moved on from this place and left for college and then marriage, yet if someone asks me where home was, I’d reference here, this strange place with no cups.
During the second day of my trip home, I woke up to my dad in the backyard uprooting a few large bushes that had been planted when I was in elementary school. “Those have to go?” I asked, my voice still groggy from sleep. “Yeah, they’re bringing the cement truck tomorrow and all this here,” he said, pointing to the reddish leafy bushes, “has to go so they can pour the concrete.” I nodded and he slid his shovel underneath the roots of the bush, the same way we used to slide our feet underneath the rug, and he stomped on it. Hard. “By the way,” he started again, grunting at the shovel, “Mom called me earlier. She’s at a doctor’s appointment to see what was going on, and they told her she has Hashimoto’s disease. With all of her autoimmune stuff you inherited, you might want to go get checked. Get a blood test or something.” At the end of the sentence he was breathless from pulling on the roots of the bush. He jumped on the shovel again, digging a bit deeper. “No kidding,” I said, sounding more sure of myself than I meant to. I cleared my throat in an effort to clear my brain. It was silent besides the sound of the shovel disrupting the dirt. I spoke back to it with a loud sigh.
I have often been referred to as my mom’s “mini-me.” We share the same personality traits, and the same blonde, thick, curly hair that we both fight against with blow dryers and straighteners. We even have the same crooked tooth—the top right one. I was asked recently by my dentist if I wanted to fix it. I said no, that I didn’t mind it. We also share the same health diagnoses. Celiac disease, depression, anxiety. Connected, my mother and I, by elective crooked teeth and incurable illnesses.
When I was thirteen, my mother was at the peak of her sickness. At ninety-five pounds and far too tall to be so thin, she spent longer and longer immersed in her reading periods. Years later she told me, “I didn’t have the strength to stand up and make dinner. I didn’t have the strength to respond to your questions, I just had to keep reading. I was so exhausted all the time. I would come home from work and I just had to sit down and I couldn’t get back up.” She vomited multiple times a day, and when concerned people would ask her how she was doing she would tell them, “They can’t figure out what’s wrong. They took a stack of blood samples this thick.” Holding up her bony thumb and index fingers as far apart as she could. She cried often, and her ankles and feet swelled to twice their size, mocking her skinny frame and delicate, thinning hair that carpeted her bathroom floor.
Months passed, and my sister and I were sitting on her bed staring at her ceiling, trying to find patterns and shapes in the textured paint—an activity we used to pass dragging Sunday afternoons. We’d lay and stare at the whiteness and try to find a place to put meaning; trying to find gaps to write the names of boys we liked in pencil. She told me, “Mom is sick,” as she carved out the letters T-O-M. I said I know. She said, “I heard them talking. The doctor said if things progress the same way they’re progressing, that she’ll only have six months.” I didn’t say anything. I didn’t like this “what if.” I didn’t know what to say. I felt like someone had jammed a shovel underneath me and stomped. Hard. I searched for a space to write a name but none came to mind. I wondered why my parents wouldn’t tell me, why we didn’t sit around in a funky circle in the living room with my feet underneath the reddish rug and talk about it. I watched my mom from then on, and when she read I didn’t ask for her. My parents never officially told me how sick she was, and I never told them that I knew. Tooth for tooth.
As she got weaker, she did less and less. Mostly sitting and reading at home, quiet and together with no Mickey Mouse parades. Is this what she meant; is this what she wanted for her last year? The sitting and the nothingness?
It’s assumed now that I’m an adult, of course, that I’m aware of my mother’s “health scare.” But we still don’t talk about it; not in depth anyway. We glide over it out of fear I suppose—speaking of it might make it a bit more real than we’d all like it to be. Perhaps we fear it will take up too much space in our brains again. It consumed us all separately once, maybe silencing it and ignoring the fact that it ever existed will, eventually, make it disappear. I guess not everyone would react the way we have about it. Perhaps some families would speak of it often, reminding themselves of the hardship and how far they’ve come. Perhaps some families would use the experience to grow closer together, to reach out and strengthen each other like roots diving in the earth. We didn’t. I didn’t reach and no one reached for me.
All these years later, and here I sat on my parent’s new porch as my dad dug up the bushes before the afternoon sun set in. I watched the sun inch west and recalled nine years earlier at my fourteenth birthday, and thought of how my mom had gotten better in, what felt like, the nick of time. She was gaining weight after being diagnosed with celiac disease. And, although she still collects autoimmune diseases, her body isn’t threatening to fail anymore. I told my dad I liked the new stain on the porch, that it suited the house. I thought about going back to Texas and getting my thyroid tested—it seemed that whatever my mother found in her body, it was only a
matter of time before I found it in mine, too. A remodeled version of her, younger but the bones are the same.
Home and Chicken Nuggets
“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” ― Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye
I stared out the window of my dad’s car, watching the passing street lamps and car headlights blur into streams of orange-red. My eyes reflected faintly off the glass, their unmoving black orbs shining with the passing of every car. Aside from soft music playing on the radio, there was no other noise. My dad was passing in and out of lucid sleep as his fingers gripped the wheel; my mom, softly snoring, was cocooned in a fuzzy green throw; and my sister, entranced by the vibrations of her phone, was straining her eyes to read broken English grammar. That moment stayed with me. Despite knowing that we would soon separate, the stillness with which our lives intertwined, acknowledging both the privacy of our thoughts and the presence of our physical beings, was the most comforting feeling I had ever felt. *** My mother always told stories of her childhood. She grew up in a poverty-stricken town in Vietnam with clothes dancing on her pallid limbs and saliva coating her parched lips. Abandoned by her mother at the age of two, my mother grew up with an uncle who physically abused her and forced her to do the family chores as soon as she could read. She didn’t go to college and barely managed to graduate high school because of exhaustion from her house labor. To this day, her eyes are windows to a dark past. “I could cook, clean, and sew by the time I left grade school. I took care of everyone in the household and got little to nothing in return,” my mother recounted one day after I got home from high school. She was sitting at the dinner table peeling an orange. I sat next to her, only half-listening, my mind concentrated on scribbling down some crazy idea I had for a sci-fi story.
“Hong An, are you listening?” My mom had stopped peeling. I stopped writing and looked up at her, pushing up my glasses. “Yes, I’m listening.” She resumed. “When I was in high school, I only had a pair of undergarments that I hand-washed and wore again every day. I didn’t have a washing machine to wash my clothes either. Do you know how blessed you are to have that?” I grunted. “Yes, Mom.” I had heard the same question many times, and not always with a washing machine. There was also the mattress, the fridge, the air conditioner, and every other technological innovation that she didn’t have in Vietnam in her day. My mother made sure I counted my blessings. Literally. My mother was dutiful to her household, and this sense of responsibility was something she expected me to have as her own daughter. Not a day ever passed without her reminding me of the things I could do to help clean instead of sitting around on my butt all day, which I tended to do. When I was younger, whenever she got mad at me for not helping around the house or for being unappreciative, one of the first things she liked to do was sit me down on her bed and remind me of the things she had done for me. This often included an oration of her proficient skills in house management and my lack thereof, supposedly. “I make food for you, I clean the toilet and bathroom for you, I make money for you. What have you done for me?” She would pause for a second or two to see if I was remorseful. “Nothing,” I’d respond, my voice tinged with exasperation. I knew that wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear, even though she made it seem that way. I knew she wanted some sort of apology for my laziness, but after so many apologies I just gave up and accepted I was too lazy being a teenager to meet her expectations.
The truth was, I did help around the house. My mom made sure I knew how to do chores from a young age. She had me watch her cook, help her prepare meals, vacuum the house, do the laundry, and wash the dishes after every dinner. She believed capable women needed to know how to take care of the home, no matter how talented and smart they were. “If you run a company but your house is a mess, you’re just a pretty face with no substance,” she’d tell me casually while stitching up a tear in my shirt. She would look over her glasses across the room at me reading a book and shake her head, her little gesture of disappointment, and I’d slowly close my book to go clean my room. *** “I was at the top of my class in high school,” my dad said one evening in the middle of slurping his watercress soup. I had just slumped down into the chair next to him after returning from a long orchestra practice. He looked to my mom for appraisal, but she was preoccupied with packing the fridge with groceries. His face deflated, he turned back to me and continued. “I scored the highest points on all the math and science exams, and everyone praised my writing skills.” He beamed. I must’ve given him a skeptical look at that last part, so he added, “I was a very good writer, let me tell you. I wrote poems and prose pieces and some of my writing was even published in the newspaper. It’s unfortunate I don’t have any of them, or you would believe me. But I do have some pictures.” He then left to retrieve his photo album and showed me photos of his classmates who had been his rivals, pointing out each face and detailing each person’s life story. “This guy right here,” he’d say, pointing down at a smiling Vietnamese boy in a black and white photograph, “he was good at math but never came out first in our competitions because I would beat him.” My father would then smile to himself, his eyes nostalgic. My father wanted his first child to be exactly like him, academia and all. He took on the role of my personal tutor as I was growing up to “train me early,” as he liked to say. Excellent in every academic subject under the sky, he taught me more than I needed to know for a little kid. I was barely five, skipping home from preschool, when he told me to sit down in a chair and solve math problems. They weren’t the typical 2+2=4 problems, but rather something like 34+59=93. I
hadn’t even learned how to carry numbers! It wasn’t easy for my dad to teach a child that only wanted to play outside and jump rope her energy away. I refused to focus, rushing through my work and leaving a trail of intentional mistakes until my dad grew frustrated and let me go play. When I was living in Vietnam, he took me to eat noodles every morning before school. If I was not eating quickly enough, he would know that I was not having a good morning. He’d then buy me a sweet rice cake, which he knew were my favorite food, and I would finish it within a minute. This often escaped my mom’s knowledge, because she was a stickler for healthy food and would probably berate him for not nourishing me with “good nutrients,” so to speak. More often than not, my father got me those rice cakes anyway and gave me the leftover money for concession stand food at school, which were even unhealthier. As I got older into my teens, once in a while, in a quiet moment bereft of laughter and jokes, my dad would tell me of his deepest regrets. One of them, he says, is never achieving much from his college career. He wanted to become something bigger than himself, an elephant of professions, a doctor, a lawyer, an architect, but when life took its turn he had to settle for a service job. “Your grandparents had no money to fund my schooling,” my dad said. His eyes were always glassy at this part. “I always owed money to someone. But I still studied so hard. Everything I did in high school was for nothing. All that potential.” Those proud stories of high school achievements seemingly dissipated into thin air in a mere second. He also regretted, though he rarely says this, leaving his home in Vietnam for America. *** On my second day of school in America, I tried my first chicken nugget and hated it. The starchy breading combined with the bland, refrigerated chicken meat made me rush to nearest bathroom and regurgitate.
After continuing the rest of the day in complete culture shock, I came home crying to my mother. “Mom, I hate it here. I don’t understand anything and they made me eat really weird chicken,” I said into her shirt, my tears staining the soft cotton. My mom wrenched me away and fixed me with a stern gaze. “You are lucky to be here. You can’t take any of this for granted. You have to adapt.” She paused, then softly said, “I am not making your lunch.” Then she kneeled and wiped away the tear tracks on my cheeks, kissed me on the forehead, and walked away. Later on that night, my mother cried. She was scared, too. *** On one rare occasion that my dad couldn’t take me to school because of a job interview, my mom took his car and buckled me and my sister in. “Ask God to take us to school safely, okay?” she said. She gave me and my sister an uneasy smile and patted us on our heads. When she buckled herself in in the driver’s seat, she heaved a deep breath and gripped the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles turned white. She started the car and drove off slowly, her body as stiff as wood. My mother was adept at driving motorcycles, as she was accustomed to in Vietnam, but cars scared her. She had never been behind the wheel of one until she came to America, when she was forced to learn from her uncle to get herself to work. She had only driven for as long as three weeks, and this was the first time her kids had ever been in the car with her behind the wheel. Being young, I thought little of her fear, only caring about what I would do at school that day. The drive was bumpy, to say the least. My mother jumped every time a car honked at her for driving too slowly, her brakes jerking to the palpitations of her heart. “Don’t worry, they’re just rude people. We’re being safe,” she said to me and my sister as she looked at us through the rearview mirror, but it sounded more like self-reassurance. Her pallid face betrayed her words.
We eventually made it to the elementary school safely, and as my sister and I climbed out of the backseat, I saw my mother slump forward in the front seat, her eyes squeezed shut. Her mouth was moving visibly, her hands clasped at her chest in a prayer. I stood outside the car door and stared at her, this woman that was so strong yet so vulnerable. *** In Vietnam, my dad was excellent at every subject, a revered and well-spoken gentleman, but in America all his weaknesses showed. His English was inadequate, his math skills outdated or different from what I learned, and his science knowledge untranslatable. When I started reading short children’s books in an attempt to learn English, I tried to ask my dad for definitions, thinking he knew every word. Eventually, he grew tired of not knowing the answer to my questions and bought me a Scholastic dictionary. That was the beginning of my love for words. Because he had to start over, my dad worked two jobs, one of them a night shift. I saw him less and less. He would pass out as soon as he got home from work in the morning and left before I got home from school. His dark circles deepened dramatically within the first few months, and his happy jokes gradually waned. When he had the day off on Saturdays, he would take me to Walmart and buy me a Happy Meal from the attached McDonald’s. Though I didn’t like chicken nuggets, they grew tolerable to my taste the more we went. Perhaps that ran parallel with the time I spent with my dad, the snippets of joy in the chaos of cultural change. In those spare moments that he was around, my dad drilled into me about the importance of my education. I had only just begun second grade, and the only things I was good at in the American system was math and cursive. “Hong An,” my father began, looking in my eyes, “you have to do your best in school, okay? Your mother and I didn’t get the chance to go far with success, but it’s different for you. You’re in America now. You have a future that we didn’t.” His eyes gleamed with hope as he looked at
me, but his face was dark. He looked down at his fingers that were imprinted with an array of calluses. His eyes, it seemed, had glassed over with the film of past memories. The mixture of unfulfilled dreams in the cauldron of America’s abundant opportunities was my dad’s only vision as he pushed me along to success. “We’re immigrants,” he said. “You have to work harder, okay?” I did. *** “Repeat after me,” Paul, my ESL tutor, said. He pointed to the bolded text in the picture showing a cat and a ball of yarn. “The. Cat. Plays. With. A. Ball.” I struggled to repeat his words. It felt more like I was imitating the sounds coming out of his mouth rather than reading the text on the page. When we were done “reading” the book together, Paul gave me a lollipop and walked me back to class where the rest of my classmates were learning English at the normal pace. I sat back down in my seat. My teacher slipped by the aisle and handed me a coloring book and a pack of crayons before she walked back to the board and resumed the lesson on phonetics. I colored for a little bit, then looked around. Everyone else was writing down what was on the board, focusing intently on the teacher’s lesson, but I was the only one that was coloring. My mouth turned down. I took out my notebook and sat up in my chair. Though I couldn’t make sense of what was being written on the chalkboard, my pencil copied down everything up there. Somehow, it made me feel like I belonged.
I raced up the front steps that day to show my dad what I had written down in my notebook. “Look, Dad! I’m learning English words!” I exclaimed. My dad stopped what he was doing and took my notebook to examine it. Then he grinned and pulled me into a hug. “You’re doing great, Hong An. Can you tell me what they mean?” I hesitated. After a long pause, I mumbled, “I don’t really know.” I expected my dad to be disappointed in me, but he simply smiled and tussled my hair. “That’s alright, darling. You will learn.” He didn’t say any more than that. Three days later, on my birthday, I came home to see a brandnew, children’s Scholastic dictionary on my desk. Inside the cover, in beautiful cursive writing, my dad had written, “Happy birthday, my lovely daughter. I am proud of you for working hard. Put this dictionary to good use, and you can tell me what those words mean.” A few weeks later, I learned how to spell chicken nuggets. *** With a trusted dictionary by my side, books became my life. I read everywhere and anywhere. I filled up spirals with random thoughts and stories that came to mind and looked up the dictionary for every word I didn’t know. It didn’t take me long to become proficient at English, and as I found more ways to reorganize my imagination into elaborate sentences, my love for the language grew. I shared this love with my parents. Eager to impress, I drilled my dad with different words and helped him on his pronunciation. Unable to find the time to take ESL classes, he struggled with practice books and slumped over from the difficulty of transferring the depth of one language to the surface of another. Often, the books didn’t help him say words correctly, which was where I came in. The roles had seemingly reversed; I became his personal tutor.
My mother, ever so impatient and more preoccupied with her job, was less willing to learn, but listened regardless as she carved up fruit and forced me to eat them. *** By the time I hit sixth grade, I was on an upward trajectory. When I brought my first award home in fifth grade for winning a spelling contest, my parents called up their relatives in Vietnam and praised me to the skies. In middle school, I breezed through my classes with A’s and found out I was quite good at several subjects aside from English: history, sciences, math, and music. I was a natural learner when it came to school, I realized, and combined with hard work, I was unstoppable. In high school, my backpack weighed no less than a ton. Textbooks dragged my shoulders down with a weight that felt like bearing two boulders. Eight hours of AP classes a day plus hours of homework outside of school resulted in complete exhaustion at the end of each day. Though I tried to avoid sickness at all costs, my health slowly declined from lack of sleep and high stress. “You’ve worked too hard,” my dad said, feeling my forehead as I was bedridden on an unfortunate school day. My dad had found a stable job by this point and came home early on that particular day to watch over me. He thought it must be a very serious situation now that I had fallen sick, having avoided illness for three years of high school so far. I gave him a quizzical look. He sighed. “I know it’s not a bad thing, but take care of yourself, too.” My mom came back from the kitchen with ginger tea and forced me to drink it. “He’s right. Don’t forget you still need to raise your own family in the future and good health comes first.” I let myself feign a groan. “I know, Mom. You say that every day.”
She smiled one of her rare smiles at me and took my hand. “I only tell you what’s best.” For the first time in a long time that night, we watched a family movie together in the coziness of our home. I had snuggled next to my mom, my little sister to my side and my dad next to her. Perhaps such moments were more significant than chemistry homework. *** The day before high school graduation, my mom picked out my outfit and my dad tucked me into bed. I had everything laid out and ready to go. My medals, cords, and gown. “We’re proud of you, don’t be nervous,” my dad said, placing a kiss on my forehead. “Give that speech with all you’ve got. We’ll get it on video and distribute it to your family members.” My mom gave him a look. I laughed and nodded. “Of course, Dad. I’m your daughter, after all.” *** The car lurched to a stop. My dad turned around in his seat as I unbuckled my seatbelt. My mom shifted awake and twisted to look at me from the passenger seat. I smiled at them. “I’ll be good, I promise,” I said. I got out of the car and retrieved my duffel bag and the remaining suitcase. The evening wind bit at my arms. I turned around to look at the front of TCU, where I would be staying for the next four years pursuing two degrees, one of them English. My parents exchanged a quick glance. A small sigh escaped my dad’s lips followed by a kiss to my forehead. “Be safe,” he said, “and remember to study hard. But take care of yourself, too.” “Make sure to keep your dorm clean,” my mom chimed in. She kissed my cheek.
“Also…Also,” my dad choked on his next words, “don’t forget who you are and where you come from.” He pointed to himself, and then to me.
Of Wolves and Women; Desert Paradox Decha Cullen nd Women I tend to think of my family structure much like that of a wolf pack. Wolves are typically led by an alpha male and female and if the alpha is killed the pack could parish. My pack has never had a strong alpha male, but the alpha female has always been Mammaw who established her dominance as a single mother long before I was born. She birthed three children with a man who would weave in and out of our lives until cancer grounded him within the family and then into the earth. As if intentionally, systematically Mammaw subdivided her three children into structured groups. Like she only had a certain kind of love to give each one. My mother: seemingly Beta- Mammaw’s right-hand, responsible for taking care of the house and her younger siblings in the alpha’s absence. Mammaw viewed Mom as a weakling she could keep under her thumb. The thing about Mom is she’s a quietly strong person, she’d have to be to be the mediator of this family. My uncle: the golden boy, the chosen one who was lavished with attention, praise, and material items. Mammaw has retained an old-world mentality of males in the family. My aunt: the rebellious free-er spirit, the black sheep. (When your in your fifties and your mother responds to your “I love you” on Christmas morning with “I love you too, but I don’t like you.” Yeah, you’re the outcast.) This dysfunctional family structure was innately inherited by my generation at birth like a gestational labeling theory: The Weaklings, The Golden Girls, and The Outcasts (except for my aunt’s one son, of course). How Mammaw remains alpha is part age, part southern tradition, and part divide and conquer. I know it sounds excessive to talk of one’s grandmother this negatively, but you must understand that she is not like this all the time— at least not with every person. If one of my cousins, The Golden Girls, were writing this essay it would very much follow the societal ideal of a grandmother. As a teenager, my best friend, Steff, and I would read the birthday cards
Mammaw received from one of her Golden Girls that she prominently displayed at her place at the table or upon her altar dedicated to the Goldens. This alter was actually the space above microwave cabinet. Their sparkling eyes, straight teeth, slim bodies, and healthy California glow beaming down on me as I microwaved a bowl of oriental ramen noodles. Every year, the Goldens has family family portraits made and sent them to Mammaw. These frames contain layers of their lives— the oldest girl’s ill-fated short haircut, the younger’s missing front teeth, and multitudes of coordinated outfits. The large horizontal one in the middle, always a whole family photo, flanked by 8x10 portraits of each girl. The oldest on the left (facing right) and the youngest on the right (facing left). Steff and I would laugh so hard at these letters until our sides ached: “Mammaw you’re the strongest woman I know” (seriously?) and my favorite “You’re my hero” (I shit you not). What I didn’t mention to Steff is how much reading these letters set my insides ablaze. Looking at the bubbly print that Mammaw emphatically praised as we were growing up as being superior. I deserved a grandmother this wonderful, too. I don’t want to have a lifetime of awful sayings as my memory of Mammaw, but that’s what she’s given me.
This personality juxtaposition could probably best be summed up in one Christmas, when I was about sixteen. Mammaw was out-doing herself in the rage department. The same bored familial faces watching the same boring football game in the large den that subbed for our living room. Except this Christmas was special. This was the year The Golden Girls were coming in from California on Christmas Day at 6 p.m. Whenever company (the zombies in the den not included) came to visit she was a wild tornado of energy and piss about getting the house in order. The walls were literally dark faux wood panels with vertical black stripes separating them and the golden-green short carpet (I’m not sure what color it started out as) hadn’t been changed
since well before I was born. How in the world could this place ever look anything but drab? We’d spend weeks getting the house “in order” only to be yelled at on Christmas Day that her house looked so shabby. But this wasn’t just any company…this was special. By the time I was a teenager with my own room in the house, I spent my holiday locked away. Separated by a hollow wooden sliding door that would throughout my lifetime come off the track more times than it stayed on. I was ‘too rough’ with it. I was the problem. I sat in my room listening to dishes banging around, turning my television up so loud to drown out Mammaw’s shrill voice, always too loud…only elevated by her agitation. I can’t bear to hear Mom’s voice— strained, trying to keep it together and make the holiday the best she can and avoid a shouting match. She tried. Next thing I hear is them yelling followed by Mom opening the sliding door and telling me to turn the tv down. Not as nicely as she usually would. To this day I can’t remember the words that were exchanged that day except for one, crystal-clear line. “My Christmas comes in at 6.” That was the straw that broke Mom’s back. It got quiet, except for one person stomping through the kitchen and slamming the creaking wall oven. My room had another door, a door that led out into the hallway by the bathroom and around to the right was the actual living room. A room that no one sat in, a room that was passed on one’s way to the kitchen or the front door. The only time someone sat in there was when they wanted to get away. I made my way to this room to find Mom crying on the farthest chair towards the front door. I consoled her and listened to her vent— which would become a staple in our relationship. The usual dramatics gave way to obligatory preparations and tense silence. It was near 8:30 when the girls arrived, the extra delay in time only agitating Mammaw more. When their car pulled up I watched as Mammaw’s face physically brightened in front of our eyes, the normal reaction. The face that squeezed painfully at my heart— I’ve never received
that look. My cousins excitedly hug all of us, Mom is happy to see them and her mood improves. Though at this point I can’t stand to look at them. I hug them feigning happiness, and then excuse myself to my room.
I want to be clear. It’s not that Mammaw has never been nice to me, she has. Just if our relationship were on a scale, the bad would considerably outweigh the good. Yes, she let my mom and me move if after my parent’s divorce. Yes, in my early twenties when the economy went in the gutter she let me move into her house with my husband in tow and put our dogs in the backyard. I got a lot of flack from the Goldens for not acknowledging this enough. The problem is the Goldens see the world through rose-colored dollar signs. To them everyone takes advantage of Mammaw. But the rest of the family can see reality. The rest of the family knows exactly what I’m saying. Overarching gestures of obligation don’t make up for the day-to-day emotional and psychological warfare that permeates that house. The negativity that leaves the air too stale to breathe and squelches life from blossoming. Other than that, Mammaw does have her good days. Sometimes she’s so nice to you. (Don’t get too excited it doesn’t last long.) It’s creepy. Hearing “I love you” is suspicious; hugs, which believe me are few and far between (try years in between), are incredibly uncomfortable interaction. When we were living with her in my twenties Mammaw and I had an argument. Nathan and I had come home close to midnight from the dog park (the only park in the area that actually stays open till 11:30pm). This is not late for my family. Anything before 2am is normal. Mammaw was working herself into a mood when we left. Based on previous experience, I was prepared for the possibility of an argument when we got home. The text from Mom letting me know Mammaw was pissed and ready to start something was unnecessary. When Mammaw gets
worked up she’ll blow for sure. It’s just a matter of what about and to who it will be directed towards. This time…we went out the wrong door. (Yes, I know that’s insane.) “Disha, I wanna talk to you,” Mammaw said in a loud, but sternly suppressed manner. I’ve already told Nathan on the drive home to just go to our room immediately. To walk through the den so she doesn’t even see him. He never makes fights easier because of his autism. I asked him not to come out of the room this time. He gets agitated fairly easy and watching me get ripped open wouldn’t help. Mammaw, of course, takes this as me ordering him around, but I’m just trying to help him survive in this environment. I’m a pro-survivor at this point. Cue Destiny’s Child and give me some camo. She’s angry because we go out the back door that leads to the carport instead of the glass door by where she sits just to avoid her. It’s true. Sometimes we do. I can’t imagine why. This night we’re innocent. Most of the time we go out the back way because we can see our dogs from the back room. They get excited and meet us on the other side of the yard, ready for a car ride. I try to explain this to Mammaw, something Mom has already told her, but she won’t listen. In her preliminary text message, Mom begged me not to engage Mammaw. I’m supposed to let her yell at me. Get it out of her system. Say the right words, whatever they are. I’m not as good at this as Mom. I try to deadpan my face while she yells from her chair in front of her computer. “Yeah, stand there with that smartass look on your face,” Mammaw’s face looks like a puffed up toad when she’s this angry. I’m trying so hard to keep my face straight. My voice toneless. It’s always my eyes that give me away. Pure hatred. I feel it radiating out of me. Tears already pooling, reddening whites highlighting the green of my eyes. My father’s eyes. I hate that I cry when I’m angry. I always feel the need to explain that I am not crying out of weakness,
but anger. Next thing I know my composure is broken. I’m yelling back at her. Mom, whose computer is ironically in the middle and off to the side, is trapped between us. This fight is different than all the others that came before it. I bring myself to say nearly all the things that have bothered me throughout the years. The Goldens. (She denied it.) The fact that she has never pronounced my name right. My name is uncommon, but it’s not hard to say once you’ve heard it a time or two. It’s the first two letters of Mom’s name followed by the first three letters of my dad’s name and made to sound pretty. Yet, my whole life she has called me Disha. There’s something highly degrading to a child for an integral adult in your life to consciously refuse to call you by your own name. It’s not an accident, it’s intentionally spiteful, and now it’s habitual. I yell that she only allows us to live with her because of family obligation. (This hurt her.) “If I didn’t love you, you’d be on the streets” she says. This may be true, but this is the first time she has told me she loves me in years. After a few more minutes of yelling, purging myself of everything, but the one thing that has hurt me the most (being called a ‘Fat Slob’ on and off since the ripe age of, as far as I remember, four) my will to yell dissolves into angry silent glares. From across the room her eyes look blue from her own angry tears that refuse to fall, I realize I don’t even know the normal color of her eyes. Hazel, maybe? “Come here,” she says, anger no longer in her still too harsh voice— this is her comforting tone, I assume. “No,” I say in a breathy way that has no more fight behind it. I sway at the top of the steps feeling weak from exhaustion or maybe too light from unloading a couple decades of burden. “No. Come here,” she repeats, a little softer. I want this to be over so I walk down the two steps and cross the room. I’m floating. I stand in front of her and she takes me hands in her bony palms, long nails folded over still uncomfortable.
“I love you,” she says. I look into her eyes through wetness. I can see she means it and I feel discomfort. I want to leave, but my hands are snatched in talons. “We have to both try to do better.” She says as she pulls me to her into a hug. Though it’s uncomfortable at first I sink into it. I agree that we need to do better. Relieved that the burden I’ve held onto so long was what finally got through to her. I enter our bedroom to find Nathan pacing the room. I thank him for staying away through all of the drama and he holds me. I go to bed that night with renewed faith that Mammaw, the woman who never admits she’s wrong. Never, ever apologizes. Had given me the closest thing to an apology I have ever heard her give to anyone. The next day she’s sugary sweet. The way she always is after a big fight when she’s purged all her venom. It only takes a couple days for our renewed relationship to fizzle out, I guess decades of being bitter and living in her structured system are too much to change— for either of us. Not long after that, Nathan and I moved out with the help of his mother. A Hail Mary move when we weren’t ready, but it was the best thing that ever happened to us. Like being pulled out of toxic quicksand that you’ve been stuck in for verging on five years and thrown into a townhouse-sized oxygen tank. Yes, we had a place to live and I’m thankful for that. We didn’t lose our dogs, our little family stayed together. We weren’t living on the streets or in a shelter…and I’m incredibly thankful to my Mammaw for that. The day I told her we were moving out she seemed assured that we would be back. My brother and his wife, who were living at Mammaw’s house at the same time we were, had returned after moving out for a month or two. It’s now been four years since we moved into our new place. I’ve only been back inside Mammaw’s house twice since then, shortly after moving out. That wasn’t the last hug I gave my Mammaw, when we saw her at Mom’s retirement party I gave her a polite hug in greeting. But that hug that ended the fight was likely the last real contact my Mammaw and I will ever have.
That fight will likely be the last time I will ever hear Mammaw tell me she loves me and knows she means it. I never intended to see Mammaw again, but life has its funny way of forcing things upon us. When given the choice to share a car with Mammaw or wait longer for a ride, I chose the rational thing. I only live five minutes from Mammaw and it would be easier on Mom for me to be a big girl. I had spent the day dealing with difficult people and felt prepared for anything Mammaw may throw at me. The thing about Mammaw is that she’s often polite to anyone outside her inner circle. The car ride starts with us both holding conversations with Mom. From the backseat I see Mammaw looking at papers she’s just received from her doctor’s visit. Then Mammaw addresses me, “Disha, did mom tell you that Aunt Jo is in the hospital?” “Yes, ma’am” I answered and she beings to rattle on about the details of how she found out about Aunt Jo’s cancer and the specifics of what’s being done. I note that her long diatribe seems like a front for her concern. I notice how the last few years have taken its toll on her appearance. How her bones cling to her velvety skin which has lost more of its Filipino tint. Distance has enabled me to see the fragility of her body Mom has told me about and I feel a twinge of sadness. It won’t be long until our alpha passes. I wonder, what it will be like to attend her funeral amongst family members with varying levels of animosity built between us. Will our pack, as disjointed and strained as it is, be the kind to completely dissolve into new, smaller individual packs? Or will we find a way to band together? I guess we’ll be finding out sooner rather later.
My scariest realization is that out of all the grandchildren, I’m the one most likely to end up just like Mammaw. I cringe when my lifelong best friend says that I’m just like Mammaw. It
hurts my soul in a profound way, but she has a point. I push against this reality because the fear that I could become a bitter old woman responsible for passing on another generation of dysfunction plagues my subconscious. I don’t expect to be the Cleavers, but a normal family (whatever that means...) sounds nice. Sometimes I wish I was more like Mom, but I’m not the kind to be stifled to keep the peace. Peace for me cannot be where I’m caged. Though I can empathize with the hardships that have formed Mammaw into the woman she is today, I can’t find the empathy enough to keep myself tethered to family merely out of blood. My great-great grandmother raised Mammaw— from what I’ve been told she was a short, angry German woman who treated Mammaw like crap and adored her grandchildren. One who could be sweet to some people and truly awful to others. Worst of all she kept Mammaw away from a loving father because he was a Filipino. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge that Mammaw’s childhood was highly damaging to her psyche, but what I do say is that she made a choice. Either blatantly or not— it happened. She didn’t rage against the dysfunction, she came to embody it. I refuse to do this…I have to make conscious choices not to become this and it’s not easy. I’m impatient. I have a chip on my shoulder and a sharp tongue that gets me in trouble from time to time. I’m just thankful Mom is there, too. Mom taught me that while Mammaw would yell at people on the phone and get new appliances or free cleaning services, it’s much better to be polite to others. Why make someone else’s life hell when it’s not even their fault for the service man leaving a mess in your laundry room or your package not arriving on time? Mom taught me how to stifle my impatience and internalize it, access the situation, and realize that the loudest person isn’t always the most powerful. Often time, it’s the quietest person who’s the strongest. Whenever my worries of becoming Mammaw creep up I just remind myself of all of our differences which includes my strength. I still hold on to my concerns regarding my ability to be
the kind of mother a child deserves, but acknowledging these worries makes me feel like Iâ€™m going to be okay.
The Virginal Bondage of Ann Tran Renaissance Woman n Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, virginity was a misunderstood term with numerous cultural implications. Its multiple facets have subverted both gender hierarchy and marriage roles, leaving the early modern woman to contend with the claustrophobic walls of her societal seclusion. The patriarchal dominance of the noble classes gave the virgin woman a misconstrued glory that became more public and contentious as Queen Elizabeth prolonged her husbandless reign. Much to the enthusiasm of Renaissance scholars, however, the prominent issues of virginity that arose in the time of her sovereignty inspired an expansive collection of literature and studies to try and interpret virginity’s various definitions and explain the reasoning behind the queen’s decision to be celibate. Understanding of the female virtue within the Renaissance period requires a thorough analysis of the evolution of its perception from before Elizabeth’s reign to after her death. Working as dominant literary texts of the Renaissance era, Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night and Othello contribute to the literary depiction of virginity within its historical context, and by further analyzing the term’s multiple angles as Christianity’s spiritual holiness, the archetypal lady, and sexual integrity in both religious doctrines and academic journals, a greater perspective of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and the possible reasons for her unmarried status can be grasped and understood. The advent of the Christian doctrine was perhaps the beginning of the virgin’s link to moral character. The virtue of virginity attained an aura of untouchability presumably because it asserted the idea of a woman’s impenetrable barrier, which also meant she had resisted the temptations of sexual intercourse. Chaucer’s writings on the physical virginity of a girl during the Middle Ages projected it to a high level of concern within the Church because it imagined a woman’s body, once penetrated, to be “’stained’ or ‘defiled’, as though deprived of a kind of
ritual purity” (Blamires 4). The metaphor of penetrability was closely connected to the demand for a woman’s husband to have an uncontaminated bloodline through her childbirth, an ideal achieved only by her physical purity before the wedding night. This idea was further accentuated by the symbol of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ and the role model for the Catholic Church, who conceived a baby yet remained a virgin through divine intervention. Mary’s transcendence of nature’s laws by way of her conception introduced the notion that virginity could also be attained spiritually, which led the medieval Church to promote its virginal ideals as “an aspiration to transcend bodily matters” (Blamires 5). Through these teachings, virginity acquired a spiritual integrity that granted its possessor heavenly regard and esteem within the church, particularly if one led a life of celibacy. Abstinence thus gained a moderate following among those who desired a bodily release. Though sexual modesty was the prevailing thought within religious circles in the Middle Ages, the nobility at court tended to depart from Christian teaching, predominantly because their perception of love was closely associated with sexuality, which the church had purged in its denunciation of physical pleasures for spiritual enlightenment. The medieval lady could hold power through her fiefdoms, which under the system of feudalism allowed women to secure property rights under her family’s inheritance. Thus, the lady “fostered a gallant attitude” that often “fed into a conception of passionate love” (Kelly-Gadol 180-2). This allowed her to surreptitiously partake in adulterous activities without immediate repercussions, as husbands often required their wives’ support and inheritance to maintain a fief. However, the medieval Christians’ negative connotations of sex, in the religious sense, persisted into the Renaissance age, where it flourished under the new patriarchal system as women retreated within their private spheres. Europe’s transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance period reconfigured
women from courtly creatures of liberated sexual passions to immovable parts of the marital bed. Within the new framework of coital subjugation, few women had the ability to engage in recreational sex without the action being interpreted as a fundamental ritual of procreation or a consummation of the Christian marriage. In the new ideology, “a spiritualized noble love supplemented the experience for men while it defined extramarital experience for the lady” (Kelly-Gadol 193). This barred women from exercising any sexual liberties without their husband’s approval, restricting them to a life that seemed more like domestic imprisonment. Likewise, virginity itself is not definitive, but rather malleable by the temperatures of its society. As social mobility became more of a trumpeted value during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the propensity for women to maintain domestic duties within the home became not only natural, but important for the conservation of the hymen. The demands of their society restrained them in both public affairs and marriage and holed them in private spaces to maintain their temperance. The patriarchal dominance that emerged out of the removal of feudalism and its replacement with statehood demanded strict abidance in practices of chastity, particularly as it now associated closely with legitimacy and property inheritance. Virtue and virginity were the prerequisites for marriage within aristocratic families, which heightened cultural standards with the promise of stabilizing the inheritance line with legitimate sons. Pastoral romance literature that originated in the 17th century argued that “the preservation and well-being of the family [depended] upon the vital presence and moral authority of the virginal aristocratic daughter” (Starke 1). As her virginity was the determining factor on whether she could marry and carry on the family’s honor, the daughter was forced to maintain her chastity regardless of her sexual inclinations. Furthermore, a woman’s withdrawal from sexual promiscuity contributed to her public perception and acceptance, even as this required a careful brachylogy of speech. Pastoral
romance virgins, the fictionalized representations of aristocratic women, were described to be “a virtuoso of controlled speech, constantly aware of the strictures of decorum in the poetic sense” (Starke 16). This model of the ideal virgin was replicated in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, whose character of Bianca embodied the characteristics of the modest woman. Contrasting her sister Katherine’s brash demeanor, Bianca is said to possess “silence” and “maid’s mild behavior and sobriety,” indicative of her mild temperament (Shakespeare 1.1.7071). In comparison, Kate bears the insult of “shrewd and forward” for her unabated language (Shakespeare 1.2.89). By observing the quality of the suitors pursuing Bianca versus that of Petruchio, who was only after Kate’s dowry, one can assume that Bianca’s modesty was attractive and possibly exaggerated just by being in the vicinity of her sister. Bianca exemplifies the archetype of the Renaissance woman for her silence and gentle attitude in addition to her undemanding hobbies in musical instruments and poetry, which were paradigms of mild and thus appropriate activities for an unmarried lady at the time. Her portrayal of the virgin’s passive appearance supported the societal expectation for women to function on the sidelines, her rhetoric muted by her superior’s masculine voice. Yet, despite the appraisal of such a perfect woman by Renaissance contemporaries, Queen Elizabeth’s virginity and external composure sparked controversy among many members of her court for the mere reason that her virginity, and by that her singular rule, was never taken and relented to a man. Queen Elizabeth’s various reasons to remain unmarried have been contested continuously over the last several centuries. While arguments against her physical virginity have surfaced because of her tendency to choose favorites within her court, no affirmative conclusion has been made regarding the true facts behind her symbolic virginal reign. However, the reasoning behind her decision to uphold the image of the stately Virgin Queen was not without logic. In the
controversial atmosphere of her early reign, suitors persistently vouched for her hand in marriage while England waited with bated breath for her acceptance. As expected, when the attempts failed, more opinions began to circulate regarding her heirless future. To this, Elizabeth replied, “I am already bound unto a husband, which is the kingdom of England.” Her refusal to partake in a physical union gave her a metaphorical supremacy over the kingdom as its bride and granted her sole ownership of the throne. Thus, she joined England to become one entity. Elizabeth was fully aware that “virginity [stood] for impenetrability—in the person of the queen and England itself” (Eastwood 45). Because no man could seduce and domineer her against her will, neither could any outsider weaken England by invasion. To the Common’s petition that she should soon marry, Elizabeth answered, “I have made choice of this kind of life, which is most free and agreeable for such human affairs as may tend to His service only,” clearly asserting her attachment to the divine God above earthly matters of love in her duty as the Protestant ruler of England. This statement reiterates Chaucer’s point that to place the love of God above the love of another human being would come close to idolatry (Blamires 7). Elizabeth’s virginal worship amplifies her dedication to England by her assumption as the Head of the Church, metaphorically viewed as a marital union between church and state rather than another man. Perhaps as Carol Levin argues, Elizabeth’s body politic also “saw all too clearly the dangers of losing her subjects’ love through an unpopular marriage” even while she might care for the affections of men. For the protection of her authority, Elizabeth could not risk coming under the control of another male and subsequently falling out of favor with her people. The sagacity that guided her thinking projected her to a high level of esteem among her people in the later years of her reign. The metaphorical virgin, then, was subjected to a patriarchal society that ironically thwarted its own principles by the ascension of a female monarch.
Peculiarly, Elizabeth’s assumption of the throne posited her as a kingly figure as much as a queenly one. Her unmarried status allowed her to expand what she could do as monarch by simply eliminating some gender-constructed boundaries surrounding the office of a king. While Elizabeth was known by her popular portraits to dress in fancy lace and decorum, her feminine characteristics paralleled her notorious appearances among her soldiers in full-body armor and her ruthless command of power, actions typically delegated to men who paraded on the throne while women sat idly by their side. She took on “the male role, certainly the position of power, controlling the courtship and intimacy” (Levin 126). Her language to the people even ascribed her in the roles of both queen and king, particularly in her famous line, “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king” (Eastwood 47). The fluid vacillation between the two separate bodies of power gave Elizabeth the freedom to choose her own sexual behaviors without the fear of being compromised strictly because she was a woman. Therefore, her rejection of her society’s gendered expectations by keeping her virginity intact throughout her reign allowed the virtue to become less of a dependency factor and more of power booster. Perhaps another contributing factor to the queen’s avoidance of sex, at least to the public knowledge, and the societal enforcement of virginity was the fear of sex and its relation to death and violence. In his treatise on Death and Theory, Schwarz writes, “Death is an auxesis that overstates the dissolution of sex; sex is a meiosis that undermines the finality of death.” Sexual involvements carried the risk of vulnerability, as was observed in the tragic fates of Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, and her step-mother, Catherine Howard, who were beheaded under accusations of their adulterous affairs. The question then arises of “whether Queen Elizabeth’s much idealized virginity may not have been partly rooted in psychosexual fear” (Forker 13).
While the reasoning for her virginal state was presumably to keep her throne out of the influence of a male superior, scholastic conjectures have pointed to the possibility of her fear of a repeat of Henry VIII’s reign, which was filled with bloodshed and adultery, and not to mention the public execution of her own mother, as another likely explanation. In the literary equivalent, eroticism and death were closely associated in Othello, in which Desdemona dies an innocent death by her husband’s hands (though whether her virginity was intact on her deathbed is a question for debate). Near the ending of the play, Othello combines the concepts of virginity and death by killing Desdemona on their marriage bed, the stains of losing one’s virginity replicated by the blood of murder. He utters, “Forth of my heart those charms, thine eyes, are blotted. / Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted” (Shakespeare 5.1.35-37). The parallel in his imagination incorporates the violent aspects of losing one’s hymen to the ultimate outcome of death, which not only embodies the erotic fear that could have deterred Elizabeth from her sexual activities but also might have reconstructed virginity as something vulnerable to damage and harm, furthering weakening its potency as a virtue to be idealized. In the cultural acclivity of the Renaissance, the Virgin Queen’s conspicuous reputation as a virgin did not escape the eyes and ears of the prominent literary playwrights. Shakespeare undoubtedly drew heavy inspiration from Elizabeth’s personality for his works. In Twelfth Night, both the characters of Viola and Olivia transcend the expectations of virginal ladyhood in different ways resembling Elizabeth’s example. Viola’s cross-dressing enables her to explore an identity previously unknown to her and challenge the classical view of the mild woman by her reenactment as a male Cesario. The absence of male authority in her life is the first deviation from the typical Renaissance societal structure, similar to Elizabeth’s singular dominion over the throne with no threatening male relatives to steal her power. Viola is not subjugated to the orders
of a husband or male relative, as were most women in Shakespeare’s time, and her ability to govern her own choices uproots the popular conception of female obedience and introduces a character who proceeds with her actions independent of external pressure. Despite being a virgin, she is not expected to marry because she has assumed the body of a male, alleviating her from a marital situation that would have otherwise restricted her friendship with Duke Orsino. Cesario is described by Malvolio as “standing water between boy and man,” a conjoined version of female and male characteristics, which resembles Elizabeth’s governance of both bodies of power on the throne and her ease with using ungendered language (1.5.153). Unlike Viola, Olivia never goes under disguise, but she subverts the marriage expectation of the virgin to the farthest extent of her ability while remaining poised and ideal in the eyes of men. Described as a “virtuous maid” with fair beauty, Olivia possesses an aristocratic air of regality, yet undermines the assumptions of her meekness with her consistent defiance of courtship with Duke Orsino and other suitors (Shakespeare 1.2.33). The same chords of rebellion can be heard in Elizabeth’s rejection of many offers of marriage during her reign, a deviance that was regarded with heavy criticism by those presiding in Elizabeth’s court. Olivia’s amorous pursuit of Cesario to “wear this jewel for [her], ‘t is [her] picture” alters the role of the man as the chaser in relationships and places her in the aggressor position, not much different from Elizabeth’s promotion of her favorites in the court (Shakespeare 3.4.219-20). Olivia passionately vies for Cesario’s attention, even at her own noble expense. Though Olivia may fit the external image of a virtuous lady, her bold actions are more representative of Elizabeth’s precedent in taking initiative and subverting virginity’s controlling power in the patriarchal society. Though her reign was shrouded in controversy, England’s “Golden Age” was a byproduct of Elizabeth’s successful authority over the kingdom and her close connection with
the people. Her popularity as the Virgin Queen in the period of cultural expression inspired works of literature to incorporate unprecedented plots and characters resembling her life. While no clear answer may come about in with regards to Elizabethâ€™s virginal intactness at the time of her death, studies about the impact of her reign and her unmarried status continue to proliferate as new discoveries concerning the virginâ€™s livelihood and its historical significance emerge. Though critics may dispute, Elizabeth set an exemplar in the preservation of her symbolic virginity by not subjugating it to the marital bondage, releasing herself from male authority and pioneering the path for women to lead powerfully on their own.
Works Cited Blamires, Alcuin. “Love, Marriage, Sex, Gender.” Chaucer and Religion, edited by Helen Phillips, Ned - New edition ed., Boydell and Brewer, 2010, pp. 3–23. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt9qdk31.8. Eastwood A.L. (2010) “The Secret Life of Elizabeth I. In: Semenza G.C. (eds).” The English Renaissance in Popular Culture. Reproducing Shakespeare: New Studies in Adaptation and Appropriation. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Elizabeth I. Collected Works. Edited by Leah S. Marcus, Janel Mueller, and Mary Beth Rose. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Forker, Charles R. “Sexuality and Eroticism on the Renaissance Stage.” South Central Review, vol. 7, no. 4, 1990, pp. 1–22. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3189091. Levin, Carole. "The Heart and Stomach of a King." Elizabeth I and the Politics Of Sex and Power. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. Schwarz, Kathryn, and Valerie Traub. “Death and Theory: Or, the Problem of Counterfactual Sex.” Sex before Sex: Figuring the Act in Early Modern England, edited by James M. Bromley and Will Stockton, University of Minnesota Press, 2013, pp. 53–88. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt46npcq.6. Shakespeare, William. Othello. Oxford University Press. 2014 ---. The Taming of the Shrew. Oxford University Press. 1982. ---. Twelfth Night. Oxford University Press. 1994. Starke, Sue P. “The Pastoral Romance Heroine in English Renaissance Literature.” The Heroines of English Pastoral Romance, vol. 20, Boydell and Brewer, 2007, pp. 1–40. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81rbn.5.
Neck Deepk Deep
Monday is a weird day to have a wedding. The cloudless sky is so clear that it feels like the sun’s rays are burning my skin six times as hard as a normal summer day. It’s a beautiful afternoon, except the wind is causing all these bits of sand to stick to the reapplied sunscreen on my bronzed skin. This is my favorite beach in southern California. I have grown up in Emerald Bay since the day I was born and it’s the only beach I go to in Laguna. It’s a private beach so I know everyone. Sometimes I think my connections to Emerald Bay are the only reason my “friends” want to hang out with me. But I like company, sometimes, so I take them. Today I’m here alone. I don’t mind being alone; sometimes I often prefer it. The ocean is such a peaceful piece of nature, but it also is the most dangerous natural force on our planet. I dive in the crisp water, comfortable enough to go for a solo swim after 20 years of beach days. Refreshed, I happily slip out of the ocean and lie on my beach towel to read. It’s so hot that within seconds, the water droplets have evaporated and sea salt is dried all over my body. Tons of people are enjoying the beach on this summer Monday afternoon. I observe all the funny families, big and small, tall and short, young and old. I say hello to the ones that I know. I am surprised they notice me considering I set myself up on the North end of the beach. This end has a stereotype of being the “Old People” part of the beach since it is quieter and less lively and crowded. But then I looked to my left and figured they saw me because of what was occurring just a few yards away from my pink and yellow beach towel. Six women stand in a row dressed head to toe in silk gowns with fabric scrunched up in the most unflattering areas. Their turquoise color, though matching the shade of the picturesque
ocean behind them, made me want to be sick. The young women wear strappy heels, even though they are standing in the deep sand. Their faces try to hide their discomfort. They each hold half a dozen red roses, the most romantic flower of all. Each one of them fidgets with their bouquets and silk drapes every time the ocean breeze hits them like a wave. A family member of the groom unhooks the small door of a birdcage to free the elegant doves, representing a peaceful marriage and life together. But much to everyone’s surprise, the doves stay stagnant in the cage, not budging. The embarrassed family member quickly shuts the cage door, and fakes a grin as if that was supposed to happen. The priest nonchalantly rolls the memorized lines off his tongue for the crowd to speak now if the couple should not commit to a life together. Sitting with my head rested on my palms, I’m engulfed in this 6-second scene, waiting to see if anyone rejects their marriage. Every guest at the wedding looks anxious, wondering if some bold person is going to object. It feels as though everything is moving in slow motion, and the voices are drowned out by the white noise of the sea. I feel a small tickle on my left ring finger. “NO!” I shriek in a spastic manner, slapping the bee away. All of a sudden, the young girl lying on her bright pink towel, who was quietly minding her own business at the beach on a Monday afternoon, was now the center of attention. All heads turned towards me like a massive flock of seagulls that all spot a french-fry. I freeze of embarrassment, wondering what more I have done other than just yelling, “No!” From these reactions, I feel like I have sparked the flame to a greater problem. I don’t know what to do or where to look. Immediately, I lock eyes with the bride who’s not over 25. My heart goes from my throat from embarrassment, quickly to my stomach from concern. This woman’s large brown eyes are
desperately pleading to me. Although I’m a few yards from her, I can see her eyes glisten, but not sparkle. Sparkling eyes represents happiness, joy and love. This woman is forcing tears back into her eye sockets, not daring to let a tear drip out. I gaze around at all the guests’ facial expressions; they’re just appalled at my objection, which was meant to only be for the curious bee on my finger. My eyes find their way back to the bride’s. Still, but now even more desperately, she is burning holes into my soul. As much as I do not want to admit it, she is trying to communicate something terrible to me. Her plump lips quiver violently as she tries to mouth something to me, but I can’t make out the word. I feel dizzy and suddenly forgot everything that has just happened, almost like I blacked out for a moment. Now all I can focus on is saving this woman. I don’t know her problem and I don’t know what terrible situation she is in, but I can tell she needs help. It feels like everyone has been death staring me for the past hour, but it’s only been a few seconds. I turn my gaze towards the groom, wondering if I can pick up any strange information from his appearance. He’s an older man, probably in his late 50’s, dressed in a light blue tuxedo with a matching sea foam green bowtie. His tux matches the bridesmaids’ silk gowns. This man has a fake tan and blinding white teeth. You would think he would have smooth skin since he basically resembles Barbie’s boyfriend Ken, but he has a rough look to his skin. He has wrinkles, like any other older adult, but they are deep, almost scar-like. His thin lips can barely keep his white teeth inside his mouth. All in all, this man looks like an oddball that I would not trust. The one trait that led me to this conclusion of uneasy discomfort is his eyes; not only the look of his eyes, but the look he gives me. They’re green like a cat, but blue like the sea, but they are not beautiful. They are manipulative and controlling, like he’s scheming an evil plan.
It’s been about 36 seconds now and still not a word has been spoken. I find it odd that they aren’t ignoring this lone girl on the beach and continuing with the ceremony. They look at me like they want something out of me, except that I am the only one unsure of what that something is. The only person in the wedding that is not matching the ocean’s green tint is the bride. The elegant woman with deep brown hair and dark skin is wearing a red wedding dress. As untraditional as that might be, I thought this couple must be an authentic, wacky couple, but after studying the two for the past 60 seconds, only the groom reveals contentment with a sly half smile. The bride’s body does not fit the dress and her distress shows in her frantic eyes. Her darker features resemble those of a Filipino woman. Her skin is bronze, but not in a sun-kissed way; it’s a more natural tan, but one that has never seen the sun. Not one guest in the audience appeared Filipino, or of any other ethnicity than Caucasian for that matter. The more I look around, the more panic builds within my body. Every guest appears like a zombie, eyes glazed over. And every guest is a woman. She looks alone. On the happiest day of a couple’s life, the bride looks alone and hopeless. I feel hot. I feel infuriated. My fits clench together until they are so red that they turn white. My insides burn and I wouldn’t be shocked if there was a layer of steam releasing from my skin. I must say something. I need to save this innocent woman. I bet she had a life before this, free with many friends and a huge family that support her and love her no matter the circumstance. I bet she didn’t used to feel alone. I can’t take it. I have to stop this. “You can’t do it!” I cry out, trembling, staring at the bride whose face has suddenly relaxed and softened.
“Will you please state your reasoning, young girl?” the priest asks with a sigh of annoyance. “Sh—she can’t marry him.” “Why not, young girl?” I have that same blackout feeling again. The sun beams down, penetrating my perspiring back. I look out towards the ocean. The reflection blinds me, creating the blackout feeling once more. Slowly, but with confidence, I turn my head and focus in on the priest. He’s blurry because of the warm tears that I’m hiding back. He’s looking at me like I’m dumb teenage girl wasting his time. “Because I want to marry him,” I say with assertion. The bride collapses to the ground, allowing all her stale tears that she has been holding back for however many years to stream down her face. I can tell that she is overwhelmed and thankful, but no explanation is needed. It is clear to her what I have done. The ex-bride stumbles over the footprints in the sand out of sight while the guests are focused on my absurdity. Suddenly, a loud thump sounds from the other side of the soon-to-be newly weds. Six doves frenziedly flock in all different directions out of the cage. My groom gazes at me with loving eyes that terrify me. But I’m numb. Words seem almost foreign to him. His devilish eyes speak for themselves. I hesitantly stand up, already obeying his orders. He raises his arm, holding his slimy hand out towards me. I step towards him, slaving to each of his gestures. My body is no longer vibrating and my teeth have quit chattering. I feel nothing. He attempts to smile with his eyes, but there is no good in this man’s soul to convey a feeling of love and sincerity. I grab his clammy hand, wet from the boiling sun, and he gives me a look of
disturbing contentment as if he has finally found the one he’s wanted. But how romantic is that? It’s like love at first sight, right? I’ll have a companion now; one that will stick by my side and not use me to get into a private beach. He strokes my flushed cheek with his balmy fingers. “Ah, you are so young, so pure. There’s so much left in the world for you to experience.” Wide-eyed and dazed, I don’t respond. “With me,” he quickly adds in a hushed whisper, so that only I can hear his—I mean our—plans. My hands are in my groom’s strong hands as we stand in front of the priest. I look to my left at all the grinning guests, and to my right at the peaceful piece of nature grazing my toe. The priest hurries through the speech trying to avoid the high tide washing away the romantic rose flowered arch we stand under. We stare deep into each other’s eyes and while I wonder what is about to be, he bats his lashes, knowing exactly what is about to be. And on Monday, June 6th, in my black bathing suit, I say, “I do.”
The woman was asking him to sing. He wasn’t even sure she was a doctor. Her desk was cluttered by an unorganized stack of files, a boombox, and one of those relaxation fountains that, for Howard, had less to do with inducing calm and more with reminding him of his full bladder. But right now, she sat in the chair opposite of him, a keyboard resting on its stand between them, and her maintaining the Middle C until it felt like it was the only thing ping-ponging around in his brain. Howard felt himself start to hum the C and the woman perked up at the sound. “Oh, that’s wonderful Howard! Now can you try it with solfege? Sing: ‘Do’ and just try to sustain it as long as you can,” she said, supporting the tone along with him. Howard touched his tongue to the roof of his mouth and rounded his lips, trying to press the humming out through them in the way she wanted. He met the woman’s eyes as he did this and heard her falter in her note but pick it back up again. “OK,” she hesitated, “well done. Um, now let’s try ‘Re’.” She moved her finger to the D above the Middle C and began trying to draw the pitch out of him though he knew that what he was singing wasn’t at all what she was hoping to hear. Howard left the appointment 15 minutes early on the account that he needed to use the bathroom and just didn’t ever return. Instead he met Meredith in the waiting room, saying that the first appointment is only 45 minutes instead of the full hour and that they’d better get home before Thomas showed up at their door. --Thomas, his wife, and the kids were visiting for the week. It was their Spring Break and they’d come down to crowd Howard and Meredith’s two-bedroom condo near to Florida’s most beautiful beaches. And since Siesta Key was mobbed with tourists at this time of year, there was
no such thing as a hotel with vacancies on the island, so they’d agreed to host their son’s family for the ensuing 6 days. The kids greeted their grandparents with open arms and they were received with gladness. But not a moment later, they ran to the living room where a small collection of toys was assembled. “It’s so good to see you up and about, Howard,” Thomas’s wife said as she gave him a gentle side-hug. He smiled in response. He realized that the last time they’d seen him, he’d been in a hospital bed. Now, he was steady on his feet and only his voice made a habit of wobbling. Thomas’s wife went off to get their stuff settled in and Thomas and Meredith went off into the kitchen to work on lunch. Howard slowly lowered himself to the ground to be near his three grandkids, ranging from ages 6 to 11, as they played with the only toys Howard and Meredith still had from when Thomas was a kid: Legos and Star Wars action figures. The two boys tussled over the beloved Chewbacca figurine and the oldest, Jonathan, began attempting Yoda impersonations to the point where the littlest, Lydia, started pelting him with Lego pieces and laser sound effects. The boys began building some sort of structure with the weaponized Legos, so Lydia turned to her grandfather, handing him the Luke Skywalker figurine. It was a little sticky—from what, Howard had no idea. “You be Luke and I’ll be Princess Leia,” she said, gripping the female cast member in her stubby, dirty fingers. “O-ok,” Howard stuttered through a thin smile. “Hi, Luke,” Lydia said, tilting the doll side to the side as she spoke. “Do you want to go on a ride in the spaceship with me?” “It’s the Millennium Falcon!” middle-child Quincy interrupted.
“What-ever,” Lydia sassed back. “Do you want to go on a ride in the Millennium Falcon?” Howard shook Luke up and down, as if to nod his head. Lydia placed the figurines on a flat Lego and lifted it in the air. Soon she was flying them around the room, “Zoom, zoom!” Howard looked at his lovely granddaughter and his heart, which had been so heavy lately, started to feel light again. But he was soon brought back down again when the Darth Vader in Quincy’s hand claimed paternity over Luke. Quincy whispered to his grandfather: “Have Luke say: ‘No, that isn’t true! That’s IMPOSSIBLE!’” But Howard couldn’t get past the word “no” before the faces of his grandkids turned, like rubber, into masks of horror. He wasn’t speaking their language—or any language—and he quickly stood and went to the hallway outside the kitchen, leaning his back against the wall. He could feel the mortified blush creeping across his cheeks. A few minutes passed and his heart began to thud a little slower until he heard from the kitchen words in a hushed tone that wasn’t quite hushed enough: “How’s Dad been doing?” “Why don’t you ask him?” Meredith replied. Thomas hesitated. “Oh, I don’t know. It’s just hard to talk to him these days. I feel like he doesn’t get what I’m saying and then he doesn’t respond.” “He can still understand everything you say, and he can formulate his own thoughts. He just can’t say them in a clear way.” “It’s been almost two years since the stroke, though. He was so quiet when he greeted us…shouldn’t he be able to speak more?”
“Tommy,” she said, calling him what she had for the past 38 years despite his pleadings to call him by his given name, “sweetheart, your father has Broca’s Aphasia; you know that. He’s been working hard to improve his speech but it’s a matter of motor control: he knows what he wants to say but it just comes out as word salad.” “Word salad… Yeah, that’s definitely one way to put it.” --Howard got the idea for the Banana Boat while on his morning pontoon ride with Meredith. Meredith drove since he’d had his boating license revoked after the stroke, so he’d sit at the stern, letting the cool breeze rustle through the remaining hair on his head. Usually this was what calmed him and set him in the right state of mind for the rest of the day. He’d empty his thoughts out onto the water and leave them there, basking in a sweet hour of bliss, populated only by early bird songs, the sound of the water lapping against the boat, and Meredith’s occasional humming along with the motor. But this morning, his mind wouldn’t shut up. Over and over again he replayed the looks on his grandkids’ faces as he’d opened his mouth and out came a disgusting, sloppy pile of word salad. They were confused but he could also see it was more than that. They were wondering who he was: what had happened to their Grandfather? He was the side effect of a fatty clot blocking the blood flow to his brain, skimping his brain cells of their much-needed oxygen and glucose. After years of pride in his eloquence, he was left unable to hold a conversation and more than able to make his beloved grandchildren want to stand at arm’s length. So that afternoon, Thomas’s wife helped Howard spend a hefty chunk of his savings to purchase the inflatable fruit, to be tied behind an aging pontoon boat, that had the potential to
trick three kids into loving their bumbling grandfather again. Soon after the order, he had Meredith tell the kids what to expect later that week and their smiles were indicative of the great joy Howard hoped to witness come Thursday. Though he didn’t quite get how it could possibly be shipped in two days all the way from the Amazon. The world was becoming a smaller place, it seemed. --The boat was gone. After he’d blown it up, he’d tethered it to the dock where the pontoon spent the nights. He knew it’d been there when he went to bed; he’d checked out the window. “I-it’s g-g-gone!” Howard cried when he reached Meredith in the living room. The kids were playing with the Legos but they stopped and turned to look at their grandfather with wide eyes. “What, darling? What’s gone?” she said, startled. He stammered, a collage of consonants and vowels trapped in his mouth by his useless tongue. His despair was making the word salad even more jumbled. “Howard, it’s not that big of a deal.” Oh, but it was, it was. Thomas walked into the room as Howard looked down at his watch. A blob of letters slid out of his throat, and he wasn’t sure they were at all comprehensible. “MIT?” Thomas said, wearing a hundred questions on his face. “Dad, you didn’t go to MIT and you don’t now. I think your confused,” Thomas said, concern creasing his brow. Howard shook his head violently; how could his son just not get it? He wondered if Thomas could see steam coming out of his ears. But before he could blow a gasket, Meredith
placed her hand on his elbow in that way she did, and he felt her calm transcend his anger. They took a deep breath together. “Tommy,” she said, “your father isn’t talking about MIT the school. It’s Melodic Intonation Therapy; that’s what they call it: MIT. It’s a new treatment the doctor suggested.” Thomas nodded in response and began to turn back to help his kids continue to build their Lego mansion. But he kept looking at Howard, his eyes slightly narrowed, glinting at him from the side: suspicious. Howard knew he didn’t fully understand. Maybe he never would. But he put on his hat and followed Meredith out the door, off to MIT. Howard stormed into the therapist’s office, still peeved from the interaction he’d had with his son and distressed over the missing boat. “How are you doing today?” she asked, though in an obviously apprehensive way. Howard told her that he wanted to get on with the singing and she must have understood what he meant because she quickly plopped down in the chair with the keyboard and began to play a melody that sounded much like childhood taunting: “Na na na-na na,” she sang, “Can you sing it with me?” Howard gave it his best shot, more determined than ever. They sang through the line a few times. “Wonderful job. Now, let’s try putting words to that melody. Let’s try some phrases you might use in your everyday life.” Howard sang with the music therapist: “I-need to-use the reeest-room,” loudly and proudly until he could hear the words coming from his own mouth, the way they were supposed to sound. When Howard made his way to the waiting room where Meredith sat flipping through Neurology Today, he walked up, sat in the seat across from her and sang the words he’d
relearned to say that day: “I-need to-use the reeest-room.” Meredith leaped up, held his cheeks in her palms, and began to cry. --That afternoon, Howard enlisted Jonathan, Quincy, and Lydia to help him search for the missing Banana Boat. The crew hiked along the seashell-strewn paths that ran between the island condos, prepared to knock on the doors of year-long neighbors and Spring Breakers. They reached the first condo. It was one of the older ones and had one of those door knockers that seemed horribly out of place on a Florida Keys’ condo. But Quincy eagerly reached for the knocker and wrapped sharply a few times. After a minute or so, two college-aged girls answered the door. “Have you-seen a ba-nan a-boat?” Howard questioned through song. They looked at him, looked at each other, and burst into a fit of giggles. Howard felt his face turn bright red and his grandchildren looked at their shoes. “L-let’s go,” he said, placing a hand on two kids’ backs and moving them towards the seashell path. The next house was an elderly woman who looked at Howard in fear and slammed the door. The third was a man with a thick mustache, menacing scowl, and mean temper. He began to shout at Howard and the kids, jabbing a finger at the sign on the door frame that warned off solicitors. They left in a hurry. “Grandpa, I don’t think anyone’s seen your banana,” Lydia said, still not quite grasping why they were looking for something her mom could just pick up at the grocery store. Howard sat on a roadside rock and felt defeat creeping in.
A hand touched his knee. Jonathan. “How about we just go looking for some alligators instead? Grandma says you know where the best spots to find them are.” “Dad said he didn’t want us to go looking for alligators,” Quincy reminded him. But that was all the information Howard needed to stand up, and sing: “Annny-thing for you kids!” And this time, there were smiles.
Nothing puts fresh matrimonial vows to the test like outer space. I patted myself on the back as the coffee machine released some brown goop into my NASA mug. “Why do you still use that mug after they fired you?” My boss was always a ray of sunshine. “They may not be great judges of character, but this mug is pretty damn microwavable. I can’t just give that up!” When I first told Brad about my idea, his pudgy little face squished into a smile. The demand for space shuttle simulations given by a knockoff thrill-seeker company in Florida was not very high – especially one that recently had a fiasco with an elderly woman skydiving. Poor thing slipped right out of the parachute. The good news for physicists everywhere is she proved wind resistance theories when her dentures made it to the ground before her. The bad news is she definitely made it to the ground. For some reason customers are deterred by that. Nonetheless, not only have we had a shortage of skydiving interest, but our space shuttle simulator hasn’t seen business since a Dungeons and Dragons club decided to go a little wild for spring break. That is, until I came across an interesting article in the New York Times. It was about a couple who got married during the recent eclipse. “He Promised Her the Moon and Stars,” it said. I threw up a little in my mouth. After recovering from the sheer cheesiness, I continued reading. Turns out, after their mooncake-clad wedding and Tardis getaway, the couple moved to Eglin AFB, which is a 30minute drive from here. They also weren’t planning on honeymooning. And our space simulator wasn’t booked for at least the next 10 years. If I have to explain this thought process further, you might as well stop listening. For those of you who can keep up, you know what I had to do.
I dramatically slammed my hands down on my desk before realizing I was the only person in the room, so the moment was lost. I ran into Brad’s office. He frantically started pressing random keys on his keyboard as if he hadn’t just been dozing off. I ignored the fact that his office smelled like energy drink and cigarettes. “I found us some customers.” “Wh- what? Where? They have to sign the liability waivers because we can’t ensure-“ “Brad. Shut up. Listen to me.” He blinked hard in response, still waking up from his mid-workday nap. “A couple of straight-up Spocks had an eclipse wedding. They live for space shit. And they’re right down the road at Eglin.” “So? They probably won’t want to come within a mile of this place.” “They would if we offer them a completely free space simulation.” The chubby bastard almost fell right out of his swivel chair. “Why the Hell would we give it to them free?! We’re already going under!” “No no, hear me out. New York Times follow-up article. ‘Generous Company Gives Couple Dream Honeymoon. No One Dies.’” I made a sweeping motion across the room, imagining the headlines. This time, Brad did roll out of his chair.
So, call me the fucking honeymoon fairy – full beard and all – because 3 days later, Kelly and Chris arrived in our parking lot in their hatchback, sporting a bumper sticker that said “none shall pass” next to a little wizard. I shook my head a little as I leaned against the doorframe and observed. Kelly hopped out of the car with way too much energy. Her bangs were apparently cut by a blind seven-year-old, who also must have drawn all over her Chucks. Chris climbed out of
the car next, and I immediately wondered how he ever fit inside. He was about 6-foot-12-inches, making his extra-long jeans look like capris. He opened the trunk and began unloading their bags. Kelly, who had been taking in the sight of our oh-so-baroque concrete building, suddenly darted to the back of the car. In a Notebook-esque moment, she leaped into Chris’s arms and began making out with him. I had to will my lunch not to come back up. After they were done sucking out each other’s souls, they picked up their bags and started walking toward the door. Brad ran out to meet them halfway. “Oh please please, let me take these for you.” He came back with a duffle in each hand, panting. “Here’s our home!” he was bright red – out of excitement or sheer terror for his job security, I know not. Kelly marched right up to me and stuck her hand out. I shook it and she immediately pulled me into a too-tight hug. “Thank you so much,” she mumbled into my shoulder. “This is going to be the most incredible experience I’ve ever had.” I almost had sympathy for her. Brad showed the ecstatic couple to the simulator. Inside the glass, we could see one wall of blank computer screen, two white bunks built into another wall, and a bunch of controls. We suited up Kelly and Chris, gave them a box of “rations” to last 24 hours – stuff like freeze dried ice cream and packages of questionable stuff only dedicated astronauts could bear.
“Okay, we’re going to seal the door behind y’all. It’ll be just like a real shuttle. We’ll be able to check on you guys through the glass, but you can’t see out. If at any point something goes wrong, pull the red panic lever by the hatch.” Brad gently pushed them through the door like a mother herding young children. “So do we just, like, chill?” Chris turned around looking confused. “Oh, you can play around with the controls. It’s low-stakes,” Brad laughed nervously. “It will give you different scenarios. And make sure to keep track of fuel! The preset amount has to last all 24 hours or the simulation will end.” I closed the hatch behind them and sealed it. Now was the 24-hour stakeout to make sure they didn’t fuck up a videogame. After about two hours of playing trashcan basketball while they stared at the “windows” in amazement, I started a field log. Hour 3: Big Bang Theory characters are staring longingly into each other’s eyes. Chris decided to take a nap in his bunk, but it looked more like he was trying to fit into a shoebox. He had to curl his legs up to his chest, holding them with is arms so he didn’t fall right out of the bed. As soon as he started snoring, I noticed something intriguing. Kelly snuck her way over to the rations box and pulled out a food tray. She heated it up quietly, watching Chris as she pulled back the film to make sure he wouldn’t wake up. Kelly shoveled the mashed potatoes into her mouth and discarded the meal container without her husband noticing a thing. Hour 4:
Kelly downed another space meal, along with some freeze-dried ice cream. Chris is still snoring. Chris finally woke up from his nap around noon, rolling right off the bunk with ease. “Hey honey,” he croaked out as he stretched and kissed her on the cheek. “Want to eat some lunch?” “Sure thing! Let’s figure out how to heat these meals up.” That lying she-devil. Chris began pulling open a rations box, but his hand slipped across the cardboard flap. “OUCHIE!” He whined, sucking his thumb. I rolled my eyes so hard, I almost pulled a muscle. “Oh no, what happened?!” Kelly came to his rescue. “I hurt my finger.” “Do I need to kiss it and make it better?” She assumed a baby voice now. Chris sniffled and nodded in return. I saw absolutely nothing wrong with his finger. This is what we got for inviting a Chair Force sissy into our simulator. Maybe the next space freak would be a Marine, and he could reprogram our computer to fight aliens or some shit. “Wait—” Chris was now looking through the ration box. “There’s only one meal in here.” “What? No, there has to be more.” “No, Kelly, there is nothing else. And we still have 20 hours in here. Did you eat while I was sleeping?” “I might have had a snack…”
“A snack the size of a damn whale?! What are we supposed to do until tomorrow??” “Well if you’d just stop being a diva for a minute, we could figure it out.” Now this honeymoon was getting good. “You know what? Let’s just go to bed,” Chris threw his arms up in exasperation. “We can’t be hungry if we’re unconscious, and I’m still tired from being in the car for an hour with you and your singing.” He climbed into his bunk once again, curling into roly-poly position. “It would have only been a 30-minute drive if you would just go the speed limit.” Kelly took the bottom bunk, and they were both out in no time.
Hour 7: Both passengers still sleeping. One snoring loudly. They left the lights on. I hope they realize that runs down the fuel like crazy. I had time to take a nap at my desk before the happy couple regained consciousness. At about 2 a.m., I went to make more coffee. Brad joined me as I waited for it to brew. “Hey boss. You about ready for this shit show to end?” “I think it’s been pretty successful so far, don’t you? I mean the rations were a minor hiccup, but I’m sure they can make it a few more hours.” “That’s hoping nothing else goes wrong before—” I was cut off by the sound of an alarm sounding. Brad and I ran to the simulator to see what they had fucked up this time. Kelly and Chris both stumbled out of bed, and were staring in confusion at the fuel gauge on the wall. It was flashing red. Even they had to know that meant empty. “How the hell did our fuel go down so fast?” Kelly yelled over the alarm.
“Like I would know! They must not have given us enough.” Then, the lights inside the shuttle flickered out. “You idiot!” I heard Kelly through the darkness. “You must have left the lights on!” “You could have turned them off just as easily as me.” “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot I have to do everything for you because it’s just too hard on your fragile self.” “And I forgot that I’m always to blame in a relationship with a lawyer.” I couldn’t see either of them in the dark simulator, but they sounded like they were about to square up. “I know I shouldn’t blame you,” Kelly said, suddenly sweet. “Thank you.” “Because your mother always turned lights off for you. It’s not my fault you lived with her until you were 26.” Now they had to be strangling each other. I heard lumbering footsteps across the shuttle, and then a loud clicking noise. Red lights began flashing. That bastard pulled the panic lever just to get away from his bride. The door unsealed immediately, and Chris climbed out. “Woah woah, wait a second!” Brad tried to stop him, but Tweedle Dee was no match for Sasquatch. Chris kept on walking right out into the parking lot. Brad and I rushed to the door to see him climb into the hatchback and start it up. Kelly pushed her way between us and ran toward the car, carrying three packages of freeze-dried ice cream for the road. Chris began driving off, Kelly trailing him through the parking lot at top speed. He stopped abruptly, let her climb in the passenger seat, and sped away.
Last I heard, the divorce papers were being signed days after Chris and Kelly’s little excursion. New York Times did write a follow-up article about us headlined “Generous Company Gives Couple Dream Honeymoon, Causes Divorce Instead.” Needless to say, this was the cherry on top of the elderly lady incident, and the whole company went under.
With my office now bare, I taped up the cardboard box of my belongings. I heard a gentle knock on the door. “Come in.” Brad’s pudgy face peeked through. “Hi, uh, I think you forgot something.” He handed me a small ceramic mug, but instead of NASA, this one had our company logo on it. Auburn Space Systems. A.S.S. “It’s pretty damn microwaveable,” Brad grinned. “Maybe if NASA hires you back, you can use our mug there.” “I’ll be sure to show them my A.S.S.”
An Attempt at Not Dyingg
As the sun sets on Sunny Creek Homes, John Myers sits in apartment 3B contemplating the Chinese takeout menu. Last week the beef with broccoli was dry, but the week before it had been very moist. While ordering beef with broccoli would be a risk, John knows that the hot and sour soup will be moist, because it is mostly liquid. However, because John only cares for one taste at a time, either hot or sour, he does not order this item, although had he ever tasted the soup he would know that it is not sour at all and is only hot. Another viable option could be the shrimp. However, because John lives far from any ocean, he knows that a seafood dish would be a poor choice since at least a week would pass by the time it got to the Chinese restaurant. What John does not know about the shrimp dish is that the Chinese restaurant flies in shrimp within a day of being caught, so it is very fresh. The real reason the shrimp is a poor decision is because tonight’s shrimp were contaminated by the BP oil spill in 2010. John’s reason for not ordering the shrimp is irrelevant but having meager knowledge about the restaurant’s seafood-transportation system has saved John the trouble of getting sick from oily shrimp. John enjoys wonton soup. After all, it is guaranteed to be moist, like the hot and sour soup, and unlike the beef with broccoli, which is inconsistent in terms of moistness. John decides to order wonton soup, but when John calls to order his dish he will be told they are out of wonton soup. John, unable to decide a substitute order, will hang up. John now calls the Chinese restaurant, Chinese Restaurant. “Hello, I’d like to order one large wonton soup. Oh, you don’t have any?” John hangs up. As the sun continues to set on Sunny Creek Homes, John Myers sits in his apartment contemplating the pizza takeout menu. John has a fantastic pizza place right down the street from
his apartment called Mangia. Mangia goes through the trouble of importing their water from New York to get a real, authentic New York pizzeria taste. It is a very convenient place for John to get pizza on days when John eats pizza. However, John never goes to Mangia, because their imported New York water reminds John that he never followed his dream of living in New York and starring on Broadway. John is Jewish and is well aware of the song in the musical Spamalot that goes, “You won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews.” He now knows that this is not true, since many shows succeed without him. Because John never goes to Mangia, he goes to Pizza Lovers, which explains why the takeout menu John is perusing does not say Mangia on the front, but rather Pizza Lovers. Pizza Lovers only uses local water for their pizza, which is a big selling point in John’s case, and in not many other peoples’ cases. John’s pizza of choice is spinach, because spinach shrinks when cooked, so John feels he’s getting extra spinach, since there is more spinach on the pizza than it might appear. However, John will not order spinach pizza tonight, because he is growing spinach in the garden on his balcony. John has avoided eating spinach for many weeks, because he wants it to be special when he eats the spinach he has grown. John eats meat sometimes, but not always. If John has hit an animal with his car, he will not eat meat from that point further on that day, since he feels he has already been responsible for the death of an animal. Sadly, on his way home from the animal slaughterhouse where he works, John hit a deer with his car. Therefore, tonight John will not eat meat. John browses the veggie lover’s pizza and realizes that he likes vegetables but does not love them. He also realizes that he likes pizza, but does not love it, and since the restaurant’s name is Pizza Lovers, John cannot order pizza from there.
As the moon rises on Sunny Creek Homes, John Myers sits in his apartment contemplating life. “This doesn’t make sense. If there’s nothing I want to eat, I won’t eat anything. If I don’t eat anything, I will die. That’s quite an unreasonable punishment for craving moist food or not loving pizza.” John looks over a takeout menu for Planet Burger, a local burger joint. When he sees the “Build-your-own Burger” section, John decides to give it a try; he has fond memories of building a tree house with his dad as a child, and the building skills he learned should translate. John first selects a veggie burger, because of his meat-eating quandary. John knows that most burgers are made of meat, typically de vaca or “of cow.” John does not know what a veggie burger consists of, but since it is called a veggie burger, it must contain vegetables, and since spinach is a vegetable, it must contain spinach. Therefore, since the veggie burger contains spinach, John is getting more food for less cost. Of course, since John has his spinach plant growing on the porch, he cannot order the veggie burger. John goes to the porch and throws the spinach plant off the porch onto the sidewalk below, thus solving all his problems. The next step in the burger-building process is selecting toppings. However, because John lives on the second floor of his apartment building, he feels that he himself is a topping for the building’s first floor. Therefore, if John were to order toppings on his burger, his apartment complex could very easily topple over; it was constructed on top of a limestone foundation, which was only meant to withstand one topping, being the second floor. John calls in his order to Planet Burger; all goes as planned and his order is successfully placed. John departs from his small, but homey home in his 2001 Subaru Forester, which is a good car for icy conditions if an ice storm happened to hit, although it had been many years since the last big ice storm. This information is irrelevant because there is an equal chance of an ice
storm no matter how many years have passed. John’s check engine light is on. John likes to keep his check engine light on, because it reminds him to check his check engine light, which always stays lit. John drives fast, but he also drives slowly. It really depends on the speed limit. John likes to drive carefully when he drives others, because when John drives with other people in the car there is a higher statistical chance of killing the people in his car than when there are not people in John’s car. When John drives with people in the car he does not drive in the HOV lane, because he is not sure what HOV stands for. If John knew that HOV stands for Hear Our Voices, he would probably listen. Of course, HOV does not stand for Hear Our Voices, so John would not listen. John arrives at Planet Burger and parks in a parking spot. He thinks about how mandatory parking minimums, which require a certain number of parking spaces per 1000 square feet of a building, have created a parking lot twice the size of the restaurant itself. John thinks this space could be better used for urban development, but John is not worried, because the laws on Planet Burger don’t apply to Earth, where he lives. John walks up to the counter and sees an employee with a nametag that says “Moriah.” John says, “Hello, Moriah, I’m John.” “John, we’ve been waiting for you.” Moriah gives John his burger. John decides that if he ever has a daughter he will name her Moriah, although he will never have a daughter, so the outcome would be the same had he decided to name his daughter Claire, which is Moriah’s real name. Claire is borrowing Moriah’s nametag while hers is professionally cleaned. When John comes outside, he realizes that it has started snowing while he was in Planet Burger. He quickly throws away the burger, because vegetables cannot grow in the snow; since the burger is made of vegetables, it must be no good. When it snows, John goes to the park and
makes snow angels, so he goes there now. However, John is very private and does not share this information with anyone, so it will not appear in this story. When it snows, John does not go to the park and does not make snow angels; he goes home and contemplates what to eat for dinner.
Kale salads, Greek yogurt, and The Notebook. Catfights, tears, and don’t forget about all the tampons. Oh the wonderful joys of having sisters! Daily I am forced to say goodbye to steaks, sweat, John Wayne, and most of all, my manhood. Having only sisters is a nightmare. From the moment I was born, I was my sisters’ favorite toy: what little girl wouldn’t want a real-life baby doll that sleeps, eats, and poops? My childhood revolved around playing games my sisters chose, such as “house”, “school”, and a Nagel personal favorite, “Little House on the Prairie”. In case you were wondering, Madeline always told me, “Jackson, you are playing the role of the horse, no ifs ands or buts about it.” And so I played the role of the horse, pulling my sisters around the house for hours, and whipped if I dared to stop. One day I decided I wanted to play as the bucking bronco and took my eldest sister Madeline for the ride of her life … unfortunately for her, I bucked my sister off and left her crying in the hallway with a fractured wrist. Needless to say, that was the last time they ever told me to play the role of the horse. Life for me as a child can be described in one word: horrifying. Not only were my childhood memories haunted with dress up and make up, but also by my daily diet. Don’t even begin to ask me about my inconsistent weight fluctuations. Three voices have much more power than one when deciding where and what to eat. To this day, I never have the luxury of picking the restaurant. I have too often had yogurt bowls and granola for an entire meal…my stomach cringes every time I hear the words, “portion control”. Have you ever taken a road trip with three girls before? Let me break it down for you: I am always the one squished in the back of the suburban, surrounded by luggage, hairdryers, and purses. But wait, there’s more! Not only do I get the short end of the stick when it comes to car rides, but also when we discuss sleeping arrangements. Upon arriving to the hotel after the congested car ride, I don’t dare to ask to sleep
in a bed. I’m always given two options: either to sleep in the same bed as one of my sisters, or to cozy up on that clean, hotel carpet. If you ask me, sleeping on the ground is always the better option. You’d think my parents would want to salvage my back for when I am grey and old, right? But hey, I’m a guy; I can handle this, or “man up” as my dad would say. Well, at least I have the day at the beach to look forward to. Except a day at the beach during Nagel family vacation involves tanning, people watching, and more tanning. No football, no surfing, and no sand castles. Having only sisters is a nightmare. Now my sisters know I feel this way. They say things like, “Jackie, you’re going to make a great husband someday”, or “this will make you more patient”, blah, blah, blah. Is all of this estrogen really going to help me? I think not. What I need are steaks, guns, and football. These are the things I resort to when trying to escape my ever so feminine life style. Unfortunately, these things do not cover up the countless chick flicks and dramatic catfights I have watched. I am willing to wager I have seen just as many, if not more chick flicks than every girl in this class. And those catfights…the hairbrushes thrown, doors slammed, and voices screeching are more than enough to entertain me. It’s almost as if I could open up a comedy club starring, “The Three Nagel Sisters”. This would definitely keep my wallet fat. No matter what “time of the month it is”, I always come home to some sort of altercation between my oh so lovely sisters. There was a time in my life when I would bring up adoption: “Dad, dad, dad, can we please adopt a boy? I need a brother! I need someone to wrestle with and make mud pies with”. This question was quickly burned out, but never forgotten. In my house, I lack attention, benefits, and most importantly, testosterone. Just ask any of my guy friends, they’ve also had similar experiences when spending time at my house. Yes, this might make be a good husband
one day, and it may somehow make me more patient, but bottom line is, having only sisters is a nightmare.
The author has requested this winning entry not be a part of this publication.
The Demise of Bury Your Gays
Violation of queer representation is so common on screen that there are coined phrases to indicate such mistreatments. These include "Bury Your Gays," "LGBT Fans Deserve Better" and movements like the "The Lexa Pledge" (Carbone). With an incredible amount of attention and fan focus on these issues, large-scale shows such as the CW's The 100 and Hulu’s The Handmaid's Tale have been publicly accused of blatant exploitation through the deaths of specifically queer and minority characters. This mistreatment is more than just what’s on screen and creates a toxic, consumable environment in the industry and to those who view it. Ultimately, when a character’s demographic is poorly represented to begin with, to then kill off that character is absurd and counter-productive to a culture that is already prone to such violence. The idea that media content does not affect mass culture or public perceptions is false, and ignorance of this is what leads to an already alarming rate of violence against these communities as seen with the death of The 100’s Lexa, and its resulting backlash. The 100, a show following a group of teenagers from space banished to a postapocalyptic earth to test its inhabitability, featured a recurring character named Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey). She was first introduced in the series’ sixth episode of the second season, titled “Fog of War.” She was known as “Heda,” meaning Commander, who led a group of allied clans on Earth. She was known as a fierce but fair leader and warrior, quickly becoming a fan-favorite character, who was also openly queer. On March 3, 2016, The 100, aired an episode titled, "13." In this episode, a stray bullet killed Lexa after sleeping with another queer character, Clarke (Eliza Taylor), just a few scenes before. Aside from the fact that she died, these two details concerning her death are particularly disturbing. The cause of her murder was a stray bullet, shot without thought or intention, a sinister metaphor for the ways that queer characters are thought of
or valued within media, as if her death was simply a side effect or accidental byproduct of unrelated circumstances. Lexa's murderer would not be responsible, nor would any true blame be placed in regards to her death. The timing of her death is also symbolic beyond the show, as instances of queer death or torture often come after a point of personal happiness or achievement, and the consummation of Lexa and Clarke's love for one another came moments before being ripped away. Fans saw this as a pure betrayal, particularly intense because The 100 championed itself as a beacon of positive representation, being the first network show to feature a bisexual main character. This outrage was not sparked by just the loss of a character, but for the unnecessary manner it occurred through an accidental one-off bullet and the specificity of what Lexa represented in the queer community, an unfortunately repeated pattern in television. Such portrayals of queer characters and communities on screen have proven to be inherently false and offensive depictions that deeply affect viewers. A staggering majority of queer characters are either met with violence, rape, and murder, or stripped of the right to be happy, which is disproportionately awarded to their straight counterparts. A few of these characters include Poussey Washington of Orange is the New Black, Barbara Kean from Gotham, Annie Kaplan from The Blacklist, Monica Gallagher from Shameless, and Mia Rochland from Rogue (Carbone). All of these characters were murdered, all within the same 2016-2017 television seasonâ€”far too frequent to be a coincidence. This trend was not new this year and even directly followed the deadliest recorded year for queer women in 2015-2016, â€œwho accounted for 10% of all deaths on TV, a number highly disproportionate with the rate of representationâ€? (Carbone). To further violate an already poorly represented community by unnecessarily killing its characters is an alarming depiction of how society views these communities.
Outside just the scope of on-screen depictions, the LGBT community is a major target for hate crime—specifically defined as criminal acts or violence that is “motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin” (Hate Crime). Violence against this group for simply existing within an identity has been a major issue in The United States alone, where LGBT people are “the most likely targets of hate crimes” (Park and Mykhyalyshyn). The statistics of these crimes are staggering; 20-25% of lesbian and gay identifiers experience hate crimes, and continued violence against transgender people are so strong that life expectancy is only 35. These numbers are likely not even entirely accurate as many hate crimes go unreported because “victims are fearful of outing themselves to family members or employers … and most crimes are not reported to the police, and those that are reported are not classified as hate crimes by local jurisdictions” (Park and Mykhyalyshyn). Feeling unable to even report violence shows how unsafe and vulnerable queer communities truly are. The terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida at Pulse nightclub where 49 people were killed was the deadliest attack against LGBT people in US history. The location of the massacre and motivation of the terrorist irrevocably define it as a hate crime. These statistics and this horrific attack are in no way equal to the death of a character, but when all occur in the same year, all in spaces that promise safety and freedom to marginalized communities, whether it be a nightclub or a television show, the LGBT community is repeatedly shown that violence is a byproduct of their identity. It is created in the writers’ room, fuelled by a society driven by heteronormativity and patriarchal values, and then carried out on-screen. This demonstration of power through violence in the media is representative of hate crime or the way many minority groups face violence in life, fuelled by misguided ideas about groups of people that lead to deaths similar to
Lexa’s. The privilege of not only being able to enjoy television but to also see a positive reflection of personal identity has solely been granted to non-marginalized groups; direct violence in media is one of the starkest examples. We are not past systematic violence against queer people as a society, nor should we pretend to be by normalizing it in our media.
Queerbaiting in Sci-Fi With increased visibility of queer characters in the media, such as Lexa, comes an equal response from queer communities who identify with those representations. Since there is a lack of queer characters on screen, queer fan communities often flock to any individual show, film or platform that produces these representations. This stems from desperation for content, and due to scarcity, even if a minor character or storyline reflects a marginalized identity, viewership is warranted. These fan groups have often found community through social media platforms including Twitter and Tumblr tools that help amplify voices and interest in shows or characters that would not have been able to before. Through this movement, media industry executives and producers have begun to understand this niche and very passionate assemblage of fans. They then exploit these groups in order to help garner more support for a particular show or production without any real intention of portraying authentic queer characters; this strategy to solely gain certain viewership has been coined “queerbaiting,” or the practice of hinting at, but never actually depicting, queer-romantic relationships. Creators have found this to be a no-risk plan of action precisely because these marginalized groups have no other outlets for representation and because of this, will gift the content with attention and views, as seen with The 100. This practice is not limited to, but heavily used within the science fiction genre, where the genre itself often becomes a popular defense.
Science fiction shows including The 100 claim that in a world categorized by death and destruction, no characters’ safety is guaranteed, therefore content should not be responsible for violence concerning oppressed groups. This argument would be valid if it were true, however, one of the most common tropes within dystopian stories is the disproportionate amount of minority to majority deaths. Some of these recent character deaths include shows like Vikings (2013- ), The Walking Dead (2010- ), and Sleepy Hollow (2013-2017). As the numbers of these specific dead continue to rise, there becomes a “sneaking suspicion that certain characters on the TV landscape wear a Cloak of Invincibility” (Ryan). White-straight men are less likely to die, while the deaths around them are only “used to prod [their own] growth or vengeance” (Ryan). Clearly, the writers and creators of these deaths only see minority characters as expendable, yet use the blanket statement that “anyone could die” to reject criticism.
Similar themes to what transpired with Lexa are found in The Handmaid’s Tale. This show is also set in a post-apocalyptic America, and run by a totalitarian government that only sees women as property or means for reproduction. In the episode, “Late,” an openly queer character was explicitly murdered on screen. Coming after a sentence to death for being gay, Martha (Laura Wilson) is hanged from a crane as her lover, Ofglen (Alexis Bledel), watches tied and gagged in the back of a truck. The brutal death is shown through a tracking shot, and the moments leading up to the event feature two women helplessly taken to a fate they cannot escape, unable to even speak to one another. The way that science fiction often “portrays dominant conventions, practices and structures as normative” (Johnston 30), such as the killing of minority characters, is ultimately a disservice to the genre as a whole. This is not to suggest that science fiction should be a happy-go-lucky depiction of reality, it can still be gritty, intense, and unflinching, yet grounded in inclusivity. At its best, science fiction “creates a new or expanded worldview” (Johnston 1). So when the only people who
die are criminals, queer, and people of color, it sends incredibly damaging messages to viewers and fans, particularly jarring for those who identify with these characters. Lexa and Martha are perfect examples, and it is not unusual for a queer person’s death to be deemed unimportant, where happiness will always be met with some form of despair (Dowling, Rothenberg). Queerbaiting, though blatantly opportunistic and deceitful, is a double-edged sword; as shows pander and give attention to audience groups, viewers’ power is validated. It is an inadvertent signifier that queer people’s dollars and viewership are worth just as much as straight people’s. Through creators' acknowledgment of these queer communities, enough to write in "bait," there is a direct reflection of the influence these queer communities have. This power was extremely amplified after Lexa’s death on The 100; the showrunner, Jason Rothenberg, lost over 10k followers on Twitter in less than 24 hours after the episode aired; hashtags or topics on Twitter including #LGBTFansDeserveBetter and “CW Stop Jason Rothenburg” earned worldwide trends and over 100k retweets; the following week’s episode was an all-time low, with viewer count dropping to 1.25 million from the previous week’s 1.39 million; a donation page for the Trevor Project in Lexa’s name has raised over $170k with more than 4000 donations, and a movement called “The Lexa Pledge” urges creators to sign a pledge denouncing queerbaiting, a promise to work towards inclusive, honest representation (Jamal). Queer audiences have begun to gain and recognize their own agency in ways that impact more than just fandom. This is a demand to be understood and a direct reflection of how deeprooted the issue is and for change to occur. Queerbaiting has become an almost common occurrence throughout modern media, though through this growing power, many queer communities are forcing creators to think past conventions of genre or trope. These viewers will not be taken advantage of through intentionally misleading representation, and as seen through
The 100, will force creators to see the consequences. If they want to continue to use the advantages of a committed community, they must follow through with inclusivity.
Intersectionality Poor representation is an issue that affects more than just one category of queer, but essentially every identity that is not white, straight and male. Known as intersectionality, this idea “highlights the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed” (Crenshaw 2), complicating the idea of a single-layered identity. Intersectionality does not focus on one dimension of identity such as gender, race, or sexuality, but confronts a multiplicity that reflects dynamics in power structures. Poor representations often come with a neglect to understand intersectionality, resulting in blanketed depictions of characters and projecting sameness, even within complex identities. In the context of representation and marginalized characters on screen is a hierarchy of oppression that increases in severity in relation to how oppressed a particular character is within society; there are queer people, and then there are queer women, and then there are queer women of color. How much on-screen punishment a character “earns” is directly correlated to how deeply they may satisfy such a checklist of traits. This cycle is a continuous invalidation of as many marginalized groups as possible, striving to only depict negativity and exclusion to distance audiences who do not fit the mold of a heteronormative society. Judith Butler, the author of Gender Trouble, discusses many issues related to the binary of heteronormativity and societal stigmas that the perpetuation of gender performance manifests. She states “ ...the law produces and then conceals the notion of ‘a subject before the law’ in order to invoke the discursive formation as a naturalized foundational premise that subsequently legitimates that
law’s own regulatory hegemony” (Butler 3), to clarify how power structures intentionally dismiss or actively avoid marginalized people to argue the lack of an issue. Specifically, a racist, patriarchal and heteronormative society creates the issue of marginalization by profiting from its power structures and then refuses to address the problem when it is culturally manifested. However, those who do not fit the categories deemed relevant within society exist whether or not they are validated. Validation, though, lacks substance unless it breaks down the structure that created its need. Butler also discusses how “the universal person and the masculine gender are conflated” (Butler 13), formulating a sense of normalcy within the identity of white, straight men and the idea that all else is deemed alternative. Butler notes that the identity viewed by society as “normal” is usually the one that holds the most power and who also gets to deem what is “other” (Butler 14). This speaks to the larger power structure of the patriarchy and reflection of fear for anything that is contradictory. From this fear stems anger and violence, or in terms of creator content, anger and violence towards certain characters on screen. Systemic oppression does not simply stop at straight vs queer or white vs non-white, but is decidedly more intersectional and comprehensive. Historically, validation and pursuit of social justice have followed this hierarchy as queer rights campaigns began with white, gay men in the 1980s, lacking any notion of a broader queer audience, including women or people of color until much later, as marriage equality and trans rights became culturally relevant in the mid-2000s. In this search for equality, a constant starting point of those least-oppressed perpetuates such oppression and power structures that the intention is to dismantle. It is a fair point to state that all characters should be treated equally and within the same sphere of creative control, while treatment in this context is not necessarily only good things
happening to everyone all the time, but a basis of respect in terms of story, character development, and significance; however, this notion is often misconstrued as eliminating all differences, which is entirely problematic. This brings into question the topic of color-blind casting; an issue that molds into the wider scope of queer representation through the multiplicity among identifiers within the LGBT community. Many people involved with the industry view color-blind casting as a new trend that is diversifying Hollywood. For example, a Deadline article titled “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Casting” shows a reporter’s explanation of the “uptick” of non-white casting, using backhanded compliments and critiques of actresses such as Viola Davis and showrunner Shonda Rhimes. She describes these women’s careers as “hot [commodities]” or a “current wave of ethnic programming” (Andreeva), entirely invalidating them as anything other than a check on a diversity list. This type of commentary categorizes the inclusion of non-white characters as a fad without identifying long-lasting effects or its inherent flaw of lacking specificity. At its core, this assurance of “diversity” is ultimately counterproductive and does not serve the purpose it seems to promise in avoidance of the problem instead of working to fix it. In a perfect world, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender would be irrelevant, with storytelling at the forefront of all production; though our world is fundamentally flawed with power structures firmly in place, confirming the issues of diversity are not only important but essential to all content. Color-blind casting or creation without genuine thought of inclusion negates the specificity of those not benefiting from a patriarchal, heteronormative society where anything not categorizable as straight, white and male is alternative. In other words, while it is important to not simply create stories to check off minority characters, it is more important to
focus on how these characters may serve to contradict and fight systemic power dynamics in an honest and informed perspective. Kristen Warner, author of The Cultural Politics of Colorblind TV Casting interrogates the paradox of what it means to cast without color. Proponents of diversity in media have become more culturally popular and genuinely viewed as a step towards progress; however, it is an “overly simplistic act” (Warner 131). Diversity alone does not fully embody positive representation as it negates why representation exists in the first place. The rejection of authenticity and specificity in minorities does nothing but cloud content with watered down experiences. Warner describes the experience of people of color who “want to belong and desire to believe in the collective ‘we’ but who, on the other hand, also recognize that the cost of joining is that their difference cannot be acknowledged and, what is more, that even to suggest that difference might be important would transform them into instigators of racial division” (Warner x). Hollywood sees inclusion so reductively that it is only “focused at the level of physical difference” (Warner 132) Warner argues that meaningful inclusivity is not centered around skin color, but individual experiences beyond what is white. She proves the consistent paradox created by shows that boast their service to diversity when casting non-white actors, like Bonnie in The Vampire Diaries (2009-2017), as devaluing race and turning it into a large, ambiguous idea of normalcy. This sense of normalcy or default is directly related to whiteness. There is a critical difference between promoting spaces with multiplicity in identity and “universalized character types synonymous with white mainstream values [that] displace the racial and ethnic specificity of the actors portraying them” (Warner 2). Similarly, color-blind casting also seems to condone the practice of casting white actors for perceived non-white parts in its name. This argument stems from the idea that if actors of
color may be cast in traditionally white roles, like an entirely non-white cast of Founding Fathers in Hamilton (2015- ) or the casting of a black Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (2016- ), then the same should be said for the white actors being cast in non-white roles. This again ties back to the notion that if society lacked oppression and institutionalized power structures that argument would be valid. Since that is not, in fact, the world entertainment exists in, casting white actors for non-white parts is essentially white-washing, or the erasure of nonwhite identity with what is seen as â€œnormalâ€?: the white experience. You canâ€™t argue for equality by propping up behaviors or practices that continue to instill marginalization and otherness. Color-blind casting, misguided attempts at diversity and a general ignorance of deeply rooted issues in identity are ways in which poor on-screen treatments and representations are perpetuated. These subjects are especially harmful when fronted with the guise of good intentions as those in power claim they are working to solve issues when they are simply working superficially in ways that will garner media praise or attention and do not look more deeply at comprehensive change. Warner argues that there is little hope for successful colorblind casting in a post-racial world, though fighting against ignorance and striving for specificity in inclusion would be steps in the right direction. The queer community and its reflected depiction in media is not a single-layer issue, and must be considered for the importance of intersectionality in order to properly pursue representation. A dangerous belief in diversity or color-blind casting leads to an erasure of what gives definition to those who do not identify as white, straight and male. This pursuit, included in the LGBT community, can only stem from an understanding of specificity or distinction rather than the idea that sameness trumps difference.
Starting Somewhere With any cultural shift or intention of altering norms comes the task of understanding where to start. There has been an increase of queer representation on screen within the last decade as more characters that contradict traditional depictions are more prominent in the mainstream; these include major network shows like NBC’s Will & Grace (1998- ), HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011- ), and How to Get Away with Murder (2014- ) on ABC. These examples could be a case to state that with more visibility, comes better representation and a step forward. While visibility is important, the quality of that visibility determines its societal productivity and unfortunately, not all representation that has been on screen is good representation. It is difficult to condone and accept characters that wear the label of queer or women or non-white and yet are treated in ways that perpetuate the systems they are created to contradict. Warner explains this pitfall as the necessity for writers to see “representation [as] complex and require forethought before assuming characterization and storyline affect everyone the same” (Warner 155). This idea directly rejects the notion of stereotype and trope, as representation is not a “zero-sum game” (Warner 155). Simply having a minority on screen, often stereotyped or non-specific, is not enough to satisfy viewers, as much as some creators would like to believe. However, many viewers do not have an option of rejecting poor representations and unfortunately must decide between poor representation and no representation. This choice faced by queer audiences is ultimately whether or not content, a show, or a character is viable enough to support. Should the fact that an underrepresented identity exists on screen be cause to overlook other potential problematics? Rejection or refusal to lend support to a show containing queer characters may inadvertently send a message to creators and industry executives that these shows or characters are inherently unviable, which is entirely untrue. For
example, in season two of CW’s Supergirl (2015- ), an entire season long coming-out arc was written for one of the main characters, Alex, and by the end of the season she was engaged to another queer character, Maggie. However, just four episodes into the next season their engagement and entire relationship came to an end. Producers cited contract and scheduling issues with actors, though dropped ratings and poor reviews may speak otherwise. This fear of needing to support all representation produced, or else the community will be pushed to the wayside, is where the difficult line of “needing to start somewhere” comes into play. It is okay as fans and viewers to maintain accountability and honesty for all forms of representation, especially those who are traditionally underserved. Alexander Doty, the author of Making Things Perfectly Queer, discusses the complexity of queerness and how queer identifiers can be socially influential outside of just a physical act. He argues that culture as a whole may be seen through a queer lens and “to identify as a queer means to be politically radical and ‘in your face’: to paradoxically demand recognition by straight culture while at the same time rejecting this culture” (Doty xiv). While queer people are inherently a minority and do not conform to the majority, the presence of this community is unavoidable and critical in the larger scale of culture. To push through previously established normative behaviors and ideologies means asserting inherent differences into the normative ideology, and refusing to allow room for misinterpretations or appropriations, thus promoting “the process of queer identity formation” (Doty 7). Valued queer representation goes beyond the scope of simply allowing a queer person to exist, but to understand how and why a queer person exists within the scope of a heteronormative society. This is historically counter to the mainstream idea of identity within Hollywood where, universally, the only perceivable behavior is straight. Doty discusses that within a patriarchal, heterosexual society, the interests of that
society include a media that “should want to devalue any potential site of [queer] pleasures in mass culture” (Doty 41). Essentially, when vying for constructive, meaningful counterculture representation, you are radicalizing society as a whole. The notion of needing to start somewhere is important to the conversation, though does not mean poor representation is void of criticism. The argument for proper representation is intricate and complex, and will certainly not end with a baseline of anything goes. Doty also argues that mass culture is constantly being influenced by queer culture, whether that influence is acknowledged by the masses or not, often left “[in] the shadowy realm of connotation (Doty xi). Despite this, queer identities have helped shape and transform modern society for centuries, by generating “a completely fresh aesthetic—in fashion, of course, but then also in dance and cinema and theater, and ultimately in popular culture” (Abraham). More specifically, figures like Oscar Wilde and his refusal to maintain traditional gender roles, the origins of the style of dance known as vogue by Harlem drag queens, or Doty’s analysis of sitcoms like I Love Lucy (1951-1967) have all helped cause cultural shifts, though very rarely awarded credit.. Doty notes that queer creators in the media are intrinsically part of this influence and a fight towards viewing queerness beyond subtext and interpretation is vital. A queer person should not exist within a show as a tick-mark or permission to claim a diverse cast. These representations need to be meaningful and understood without appropriation, otherwise, “straight culture [may] use queerness for pleasure and profit … without admitting to it” (Doty xii). This ultimately leads to repeated patterns of exploitation. For example, Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast garnered massive hype and praise when the film's director revealed that LaFou would have an "exclusively gay moment" (Romano), brandishing the title for the first gay Disney character. Despite the hype, publicity, and outrage over this
comment, the reality of LaFou’s "gayness" was nothing more than a split-second scene of potentially queer subtext. LaFou made subtle remarks towards his male companion Gaston, which may suggest an un-requited crush or hint at his sexuality, and there is a brief moment of the character dancing with another man moments before the credits role. This left many viewers, advocates and opponents alike, asking “that was it?” By declaring the existence of a queer character, Disney’s supposed first, to then completely under deliver is an example of how manipulative industry executives and media treat the queer community and its hopes of representation. Because this issue is prevalent throughout a majority of the creative process, it is important to analyze its perceived source, before ever hitting screens.
Behind the Camera Michelle Mama, a queer writer, and director who helped champion the Lexa Pledge in 2016 understands the climate of queerbaiting and invalid representation as ever-evolving. She saw first-hand the pushback and refusal of creators of The 100 and other projects to make a commitment denouncing such harmful tactics. Ownership and self-importance in creation often overrule a need to service universal audiences, despite proof of such monumental backlash. Mama found an effective way to get writer’s attention is essentially belittling their content. Blatantly describing storylines or characterizations that follow trope and stereotype as “poorly constructed and lazy” (Mama) is how she believes progress will come about. If creators and executives won't listen when social value is at stake, they certainly will when told their work is uninformed; which, when following such tired tropes and stereotypes, it is. Mama believes that "change starts in the writers' room," (Mama) and focusing these stories at their core in honest, productive ways will lead to a more positive future on screen. The most important tool a creator
can have is a “unique point-of-view that deserves to be heard” (Mama). Whether it be an experience as a woman of color, a closeted teenager or a transgender activist, all identities that inform society outside the norm should be valued and given a place on screen. Because this idea essentially goes against the grain of history and the cultural status quo, it is not easy to follow through. Mama understands this as a time to “passionately advocate for change at a fundamental level” (Mama), specifically in the places where content creation begins. Ultimately, power of production and expression on screen is left to those behind the camera as creators. These creators, as writers, producers, directors, heads of casting and showrunners, maintain the ability to tell stories as from their perspective, in service to a narrative and individual agency. A majority of these positions are held by straight, white men. According to The Writer’s Guild of America, only 29% of employed television writers are women, and only 13% of writers are minorities (Deggans). This obvious exclusion and reliance upon one perspective is a reflection of patriarchal value and its concentration within media through the demonstration of what, or who, is significant and should be serviced in society through created content. Although there are characters and depictions that differ from the straight white male category, the mind behind crafting those characters often does not, causing a monumental disconnect between creator and character. This is not to say that writers are unable to write from outside their own sphere of identity, but when doing so, there should always be outside influences that are involved and experience the intended perspectives. When this does not happen, there is an exponentially higher chance for stereotyped and trope depictions to become representation. Creators may not set out intentionally for this to occur, but intentions are not what ends up on screen and responsibility for what audiences see, and the larger social issues that condone such content, is reserved for those who are in power.
Many creators reject the idea of social responsibility, citing creative ownership or simply revert to service of their own story, whether or not that result is beneficial to cultural issues like queer representation. This includes Rothenberg who stated, “In [The 100], all relationships start with one question: ‘Can you help me survive today?’ It doesn’t matter what color you are, what gender identity you are, or whether you’re gay, bi or straight” (Rothenberg). Bruce Miller, the showrunner of The Handmaid’s Tale had similar sentiments, claiming “[The Handmaid’s Tale] is operating on a different plane than [the Bury Your Gays] conversation” (Dowling). This sense of ultimate control with little regard to social repercussions is exactly what harmful representations are born of. A perceived threat to influence or authority, particularly within creative communities, in order to shed light on marginalization, is usually met with immediate, instinctive rejection or a that-is-not-my-problem mentality. Creators don't often think their sphere of work should align with cultural relevance and choose to only focus on how their characters participate within the frame of their story world. A false sense of ownership, stemming from very narrow and trivial worldviews, prevents the progress of representation within marginalized groups. No matter how desperately creators wish to believe, no form of art exists in a vacuum. Everything adds to the conversation of society whether it be beneficial or detrimental. All creators should be socially conscious and actively fight towards oppressive power structures through their art, using privileges that helped them gain a platform to dismantle systemic injustices. Art attempts to dismantle power, otherwise, it is simply propaganda.
Conclusion The “Bury Your Gays” trope and similar poor representations are examples of how the media, and Hollywood as a whole, must change in order to move forward, and leave behind an
ultimately destructive historical reverence. The status of Hollywood has always been thought of as malleable or ever-evolving; with an industry propelled by culture, the only constant has to be change. This has resulted in multiple revolutions or transformations, often referred to as an overtaking of a New Hollywood “emerging from the Old” (Lucia 87). Most of these New Hollywood emergences are defined by aesthetic, style, cinematic grammar, and technology. For example, the era of Hollywood Renaissance, which “stretched roughly from 1967 to 1976,” (Lucia 88) boasts a large collection of content that many modern filmmakers cite as a source of creative inspiration, and a traditional canon or Classicism. While these films’ contributions to the world of cinema and entertainment should not be diminished or overlooked, this sense of obsessive remembrance is often over glorified. When studying and identifying what exactly targets the revolutionary nature of a period such as the Hollywood Renaissance, its defining characteristics are completely internalized and minimal; change was purely through how stories were being told, not who was telling them. Creators, those in power, and even the portrayed stories were almost exclusively from the same demographic. These changes were never in identity or storytelling at its core. Variations of similar stories told by variations of the same person does not truly rectify a revolution. This value of sameness is how tropes like “Bury Your Gays” are perpetuated. The consistency and intense reverence of this system strengthen exclusivity within Hollywood. If what critics, professors, creators and audiences continuously point back to as great or valued is inherently white, straight and male, the message that is being sent is white, straight and male are what should be aspired to. This standard is holistically limiting and reductive when compared to the vastness of experience and identity of humankind. No single demographic should hold the accessibility and opportunity to tell stories. The way forward, and essentially the
new cultural epoch, should not be a group of young white men succeeding a group of older white men, but an entirely new era of inclusivity. This is by no means an unachievable objective, and cultural shifts within the entertainment industry have already begun effective change. While there have been multiple, notable pitfalls and obstructions to queer representation on television, such as The 100, these instances are not entirely negative. Discourse is power; meaning the ability to call out mistreatments within a marginalized community renders the opportunity to then speak back in ways that will create change. The repercussions of these events are what will remain important and lasting because of this power. The Lexa Pledge has encouraged creators to write and develop more thoughtful content, the response of showrunner Jason Rothenberg has encouraged those in power to not make the same mistakes, and donations to The Trevor Project under Lexaâ€™s name demonstrates the tangibility and honesty of how poor representation affects real people. It has been proven that the continuation and validation of this pushback when entire groups are ostracized or simply used as a ratings ploy will not stop. Creating space is another incredible tool that those within minority communities can do and have been doing for decades within the industry. When a creator, actor, writer, producer or anyone involved in a project asserts power in themselves as an advocate for or, more importantly, an identifier of, an underrepresented group there is a path left for those that come behind, creating room and opportunity that was not possible before. Such trailblazers include Ellen Degeneres, who came out on her hit sitcom, Ellen, in 1997, RuPaul, the host of RuPaulâ€™s Drag Race since 2009, Todd Haynes, the director of films Iâ€™m Not There (2007) and Carol (2016) and Laverne Cox, a trans activist appearing on the Netflix show Orange is the New Black. Without the beginnings of these individuals and a multitude of others like them, with simply their public presence as a political act, later further representative progress would not exist.
It isn’t difficult to acknowledge and appreciate the space these creators have made in context with even the most recent television awards seasons. Lena Waithe was the first ever queer, African-American woman to win an Emmy in 2017 for best writing in a comedy series for her work on the Netflix show, Master of None. Not only was simply her win important, but the episode credited, “Thanksgiving,” revolves around Waithe’s real coming out story, giving viewers an intimate look at what her experience was growing up. Another important win was for outstanding writing for a limited series to the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero,” which depicts a bi-racial romance between two women and a happy ending. These two awards in largely popular categories are helping to further define the benefits and quality that come from telling honest, diverse stories. An assertion of importance and a demand to be recognized is where speaking truth to power leads, inevitably proving that creating space can cause reflective, cultural shifts. To quote Waithe, “The things that make [the LGBT community] different, those are our superpowers - every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world, because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it” (Dockterman). Despite these recent achievements, the most important and persistent question is whether or not progress is sustainable. The transformative nature of Hollywood does not necessarily mean its change will be ameliorative or follow growth, and small pockets of positive representation may not last through a season. It cannot be negotiable whether or not this answer comes from natural industry trends or a passing fad for profit, but must be found in a constant conversation and relentless attention to who and what is being created. Those within the industry must keep each other accountable and continue to inform what is constructive as well as what is demonstrative on screen. We are not in a place where passivity or ignorance is acceptable and
now is the time to continuously push, relentlessly, until poor representation and minority mistreatment is an issue of the past. New generations will outnumber the old and with it a more comprehensive, understanding idea of identity.
Abraham, Amelia. “How Gay Culture Shaped the Modern World.” Vice, 27 Apr. 2016, www.vice.com/en_us/article/bnp9dd/how-gay-culture-shaped-the-modern-world.
Andreeva, Nellie. “Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings.” Deadline, Deadline, 27 Mar. 2015, deadline.com/2015/03/tv-pilots-ethnic-casting-trend-backlash-1201386511/. Bastién, Angelica Jade. “How The Beguiled Subtly Tackles Race Even When You Don't See It.” Vulture, 10 July 2017, www.vulture.com/2017/07/the-beguiled-subtly-tackles-race-even-whenyou-dont-see-it.html. Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015. Carbone, Noelle, et al. “Pledge.” LGBT Fans Deserve Better, Apr. 2016, lgbtfansdeservebetter.com/pledge/.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé Williams. "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color". In: Martha Albertson Fineman, Rixanne Mykitiuk, Eds. The Public Nature of Private Violence. (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 93-118.
Deggans, Eric. “Hollywood Has A Major Diversity Problem, USC Study Finds.” NPR, NPR, 22 Feb. 2016, www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/22/467665890/hollywood-has-a-majordiversity-problem-usc-study-finds.
Dockterman, Eliana. “Lena Waithe Emmys Speech: Read the Full Transcript.” Time, Time, 17 Sept. 2017, time.com/4945661/lena-waithe-emmys-speech-master-of-none/. Doty, Alexander. Making Things Perfectly Queer: Interpreting Mass Culture. Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1993. Dowling, Amber. “'The Handmaid's Tale': Rape, Mutilation and That Shocking Death Explained.” The Hollywood Reporter, 26 Apr. 2017, www.hollywoodreporter.com/livefeed/handmaids-tale-shocking-death-rape-mutilation-explained-995751. Ensler, Eve, and Susan Celia Swan. “On ‘Intersectionality.’” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 July 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/07/03/opinion/on-intersectionality.html.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Pantheon Books, 1978. “Hate Crime.” National Institute of Justice, 4 Apr. 2017, www.nij.gov/topics/crime/hatecrime/pages/welcome.aspx.
Johnston, Keith M. Science Fiction Film: a Critical Introduction. Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
Lucia, Cynthia, et al. American Film History: Selected Readings, 1960 to the Present. Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.
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Miller, Bruce. “The Handmaid's Tale.” The Handmaid's Tale, season 1, episode 3, Hulu, 26 Apr. 2017.
Nussbaum, Emily. “Archie's and Veronica's Misconceived Return To.” The New Yorker, 18 June 2017, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/03/archies-and-veronicas-misconceived-returnto-riverdale. Park, Haeyoun, and Iaryna Mykhyalyshyn. “L.G.B.T. People Are More Likely to Be Targets of Hate Crimes Than Any Other Minority Group.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 June 2016, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/06/16/us/hate-crimes-against-lgbt.html.
Rothenberg, Jason. “The 100.” The 100, season 3, episode 13, The CW, 3 Mar. 2016. Rothenberg, Jason. “The Life and Death of Lexa – Jason Rothenberg – Medium.” Medium, Medium, 24 Mar. 2016, medium.com/@jrothenberg/the-life-and-death-of-lexa-e461224be1db. Romano, Nick. “'Beauty and the Beast' Director Says LeFou Reveal Has Been 'Overblown'.”EW.com, Time Inc, 4 Mar. 2017, ew.com/movies/2017/03/04/beauty-and-thebeast-gay-lefou-overblown/. Ryan, Maureen. “‘Anyone Can Die?’ TV’s Recent Death Toll Says Otherwise.” Variety, 13 Apr. 2016, variety.com/2016/tv/opinion/tv-deaths-walking-dead-the-100-arrow-1201751968/.
Shaheen, Kareem. “Rumi Film Will Challenge Muslim Stereotypes, Says Gladiator Writer.”The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 6 June 2016, www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/06/jalaluddin-al-rumi-film-muslim-stereotypes-gladiatordavid-franzoni.
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Wile, Rob. â€œIt's Still Dangerous to Be Gay in America. Here Are the Statistics That Prove It.â€?Splinter, Splinternews.com, 12 June 2016, splinternews.com/it-s-still-dangerous-to-be-gay-inamerica-here-are-the-1793857468.
Imagine looking up at the night sky that reigned over ancient civilizations. In ancient times, after the sun set, the sky filled with billions of pinpricks of light, stars that inspired stories, guided travelers, and promoted scientific discovery (International Dark-Sky Association). Then fast forward a few thousand years to the United States at the turn of the 20th century, to a sky nearly unchanged over that span of time. In the last hundred years, though, it has changed drastically (IDA). Now 80 % of the world population, and 99% of people in the U. S. cannot fully see this natural wonder because of artificial lighting that causes light pollution, according to the International Dark-Sky Association, an organization that works to reduce light pollution worldwide. Washing out the stars with skyglow (brightness in the night sky because of artificial lighting) was not the goal of installing lighting at night: the goal was to enable us to continue our activities once the darkness had settled in, to increase safety, and beautify the night life scene (IDA, Falchi). These are valid reasons to have artificial lighting at night, but is there a way to maintain the benefits that have come with this electric shine and also restore Earthâ€™s 4.5-billionyear-old wonder? Some people, including astronomers, amateur stargazers, and those concerned about the effects of artificial light on sleep, would like to reduce artificial lighting at night, while other citizens concerned about personal safety and crime see lighting at night as beneficial and think it should be increased. Astronomers and amateur stargazers speak of the opportunity that is lost to observe and study the stars, planets, and other celestial bodies, our neighbors in the universe (Portree). Proponents of using artificial lighting at night proclaim its usefulness in preventing crime, improving psychological well-being, and increasing the hours available for work and social activities (Falchi, Walsh). Other citizens are concerned about the impact of lighting at night on human physical health (Falchi). Despite opposing views regarding the value artificial 138
light, these groups share intent. Groups for and against artificial night lighting are concerned about its effect on human health, with those against decreasing night lighting thinking about the effect on psychological well-being and those for decreasing it measuring the effect on physical health (Falchi). We can see these opposing views in effect in a few cities in the United States. On the surface these cities seem to have opposing beliefs, but in fact they share a common trait. Some cities, such as Los Angeles, install programs to increase neighborhood lighting at night in an attempt to reduce crime (Salvi). This functions in two ways, by increasing probability of arrest and by creating a sense of pride in the community so they will be more likely to report crime (Farrington). Other cities, such as Tucson and Flagstaff, have taken the opposite course of action, passing ordinances that restrict lighting at night to preserve the skies for astronomy (Yu). In Flagstaff, the city limit sign even declares, “World’s First International Dark Sky City,” which demonstrates community pride very similar to that which is created in Los Angeles through the lighting at night (Portree). Recognizing these similarities, we can then find a way for counties to create ordinances that darken the sky to reveal the Milky Way without compromising citizens’ safety. Artificial lighting at night affects human health both positively and negatively. According to Fabio Falchi, et al. in “Limiting the impact of light pollution of human health, environment and stellar visibility,” published in Journal of Environmental Management, one psychological health benefit is a decrease of fear of crime and predation when areas are well lit. There also are others, as argued by Bryan Walsh in “The Worst Kind of Poverty: Energy Poverty,” an article from TIME Magazine. Without artificial lighting, activity stops when the sun sets, limiting time available for work and social activity. Though lighting at night has positive issues on mental health, it has negative effects on physical health. The ability to work through the night means
that there is no pressure from the physical environment to stop work and sleep. Further, artificial light at night suppresses the production of the hormone, melatonin, which is important in helping people sleep (Falchi). Though there are not widespread regulations regarding night lighting, some counties in the U.S., such as Pima and Coconino Counties surrounding Tucson and Flagstaff, Arizona, already have ordinances in place to protect the dark skies above their observatories, as Shang Yu summarizes in the article “Arizona’s Night Lighting Regulations Facilitating Astronomical Observations,” published in the Arizona Journal of Environmental Law and Policy. Pima County’s “Outdoor Lighting Code” divides the county into six zones and provides lumen (the amount of light emitted per second) and color temperature limits, shielding requirements, and curfews, which vary for each zone (Yu). These restrictions correlate with light pollution solutions given by Falchi. Lumen limits help reduce excess lighting where a dimmer light would be sufficient (Falchi). Color temperature refers to the spectrum of white light, with red light on the lower end of the spectrum and blue light on the higher end (Falchi). The maximum color temperature in Pima County is 3500K (Pima County Code). Beyond this limit, the light becomes bluer, and blue light scatters most easily in the atmosphere (as can be witnessed every day in the color of the daytime sky) to create the skyglow that draws a curtain between Earth and space (Falchi). Falchi also suggests shielding which covers the top of a light source, ideally so that no light escapes above horizontal. This directs the light where it is wanted and needed and helps block it from shining up into the sky. Finally, in Pima County, the curfews depend on the zone, and there are exceptions, but in general, they serve to extinguish lights, particularly unshielded lights in the deepest hours of night (Yu). Falchi agrees that this is very rational, especially when a lit area is not in use, such as a parking lot at a closed mall.
There are opponents, however, that argue that it is important to keep lights outdoors at night because it increases safety (Farrington). In 2008, Los Angeles began a program called â€œSummer Night Lights,â€? a program to decrease gang violence (Salvi). In 2011, Siddheshwar Salvi, a student from Amherst College, studied the effects of Summer Night Lights by comparing it to neighborhoods that were not part of the program. Since 2008, in the summer, the lights in the parks that are a part of Summer Night Lights are left on until midnight, and there are recreational activities in the parks (Salvi). The Los Angeles Times boasted a 40.4% decrease in crime in neighborhoods surrounding the parks that were part of Summer Night Lights (Salvi). However, gang experts thought those numbers were unrealistic (Salvi). Based on his analysis, Salvi found that the program did slightly decrease the crime at night and during the day, but not to the extent that was previously reported. In another study on lighting and crime, David Farrington and Brandon Welsh analyzed the effect of lighting on crime in 13 experimental areas, 8 in the United States and 5 in Britain. They found that in the combined experimental areas, crime decreased by 20%. It is interesting to note that in this experiment, the crime also decreased during the day, just as much as at night. There are two theories explaining why adding lights in a neighborhood decreases crime (Farrington). The first is known as the surveillance theory, suggesting that better lit areas increase the potential for detection of criminals (Farrington). The second, the community pride theory, suggests that street lighting improves the environment and increases the pride a community has, signaling to criminals that they are more likely to be reported as the citizens uphold the high standards of their neighborhood (Farrington). Because the studies showed that crime decreased in the day as well as the night, they point to the community pride theory (Farrington).
If it is the environmental quality that a neighborhood displays that deters crime and not using lighting itself to detect it, there is likely another way to create the community pride deterrent effect without increasing lighting. The city of Pueblo, Colorado suggests many ways besides lighting to improve a neighborhood. This can be done by cleaning up or reporting trash or other similar eyesores around the neighborhood, trimming trees and bushes that cause hiding places for burglars, and getting to know your neighbors, among others (Ten Ways to Improve). Empowered with these methods of improving neighborhood safety and looking to existing laws that limit light pollution, such as those in Arizona, as models, it is time for all counties to take the necessary measure of creating similar ordinances. Our population will enjoy better health, and once again, the majority of the population, not just an isolated few, will be able to look up and see the incredible Milky Way.
Works Cited “2012 City of Tucson/Pima County Outdoor Lighting Code.” https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/pdsd/codes-ordinances/2012_outdoor_lighting_code_.pdf Falchi, Fabio, et al. “Limiting the impact of light pollution of human health, environment and stellar visibility.” Journal of Environmental Management. Vol. 92, Issue 10, Oct. 2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030147971100226X?via%3Dihub Farrington, David P., and Brandon C. Welsh. “Improved Street Lighting and Crime Prevention. Justice Quarterly. Vol. 19 Issue 2, June 2002, p.313-340. International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). http://www.darksky.org/light-pollution/ Accessed Oct. 16, 2017. Portree, David S. F. « Flagstaff’s Battle for Dark Skies.” Griffith Observer. Lowell Observatory. Vol. 6, No. 10, Oct. 2002. Salvi, Siddheshwar. “Does Increased Lighting Reduce Crime? Studying the Effects of the Summer Night Lights Program on Crime in Los Angeles.” Amherst College. April 14, 2011. https://www.amherst.edu/media/view/329628/original/SalviDoesIncreasedLightingReduceCrime.pdf “Ten Ways to Immediately Improve Your Neighborhood.” City of Pueblo Colorado. https://www.pueblo.us/1391/Ten-Ways-to-Immediately-Improve-Your-Nei Walsh, Bryan. “The Worst Kind of Poverty: Energy Poverty.” TIME Magazine, 11 Oct. 2011. http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2096602,00.html Yu, Shang. “Arizona’s Night Lighting Regulations Facilitating Astronomical Observations.” Arizona Journal of Environmental Law and Policy. http://www.ajelp.com/wp-content/uploads/Yu_Comment_Final.pdf
Side Effects of Antihistamines I dreamed I was reading a Eulogy for a man wearing a rainbow tie. While sleeping, the mind cannot form a clear picture of letters. I could see the black worm of lines on the paper shaking in my wrinkled hands but I stood breathless, unable to make out any of the words. I dreamed the round-faced boy John wrote me poems I lay in wooden- floored room from Dirty Dancing. He wore only a lime sweater. There were flamingoes on my underwear. I started wheezing after he kissed my neck. He fell asleep while I coughed in to my elbow pit. I dreamed that I was hung, an oil painting, exactly as I laya handful of cough drops, pupils so enlarged I couldn't see, tangled in a pile of stained sheets. I could hear the patrons commenting: what a portrait of anonymity, of human stagnation. What an image.
Texas Tea Where is God? In the backyard, sipping sweet tea? Who knows, who cares. We’ve been too busy naming hurricanes. Carla. Rosa. Rita. Harvey. The things I do for love. Natural disaster or man-made? Same thing over and over again: game over, try again, start over, enter a new− name it and claim it, baby. We are born again like true Americans. Nothing can separate us from our inalienable rights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of painkillers. Happiness is a warm gun. Speak softly and carry a warm gun. Cocks not Glocks, ya’ll. Jesus Christ. The writing’s on the wall: I love you so much. I love you so much.
Nathanael Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark,” Reimagined (And Better!)
Cornelius (K) in the role of Aylmer
TCU Administrators Dr. Boschini (J) and Dr. Chambers (E) collectively in the role of Georgiana
TCU Administrator Dr. Tull (R) in the role of Aminidab
Open with a boardroom-type setting, where Drs. Boschini, Tull, and Chambers are conducting a board meeting, complete with name placards (Vicky B. Ballin’, Tull Order, and Chambermaster, respectively) Boschini: Okay, gang, let’s get started. We’ve had a great fiscal year so far, our 1.5 billion dollar endowment is doing well, so it looks like we won’t have to raise the cost of attendance for the next academic year… All three burst out in laughter Boschini: You know how I like to start things out with a joke. We ‘boutta price gouge these mugs! Ha ha, anyways, do you guys have anything to add or subtract? Tull: Yes, we feel like Student Life could really be improved if we had more events in the Commons that people don’t go to. Also, is there any way we can subtly encourage students to drink more alcohol through online educational programs? I’m afraid we don’t have enough underage students getting “turnt” on the weekends. Chambers: I agree with Dr. Tull. Alcohol is an integral part of the college experience. Boschini: We’ll definitely look into it. Okay, as some of you know, there is a blight on our great University, so I’ve asked the expert who actually recognized this great flaw to come and speak to us and tell us how to fix it. Cornelius enters to “Me Too” by Meghan Trainor…Cornelius has a lot of energy, and the goal is to create a cult-ish vibe, almost like he’s selling essential oils or a similar product
Cornelius: WE ONLY REALIZE OUR DREAMS WHEN THEY BECOME REALITY! OUR ONLY GOAL IS TO BECOME OUR BEST SELVES! SOMETIMES KNOWING WHO KILLED JFK IS LESS IMPORTANT THAN KNOWING WHO KILLED OUR PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS OF SELF-WORTH! ARE YOU GUYS READY TO SOLVE SOME PROBLEMS?! Tull: Absolutely! Chambers: Yes! Boschini: I suppose! Cornelius: Everybody stand up! Everybody stand up! The Drs. stand up slowly Cornelius: The most important thing we can do is trust one another! Dr. B! Do you trust Dr. Tull? Boschini: With my life! (pumps fist) Cornelius: Okay, tone it down a little bit. Are you ready to do a trust fall? They trust fall Cornelius: That was amazing! Okay, now that the warmups are done, let’s get to the pressing issues. Dr. Chambers, why did Dr. B call me in here? Chambers: Um…well, it’s kind of embarrassing to the University. Um…(starts crying) Cornelius: It’s okay, Dr. Chambers. You’re safe here. Chambers: (says through loud wails) Some of the bricks…at the University…are a shade lighter than our official color! It’s a crying shame! Why do bad things happen to good Universities? (continues weeping) Cornelius: Thank you for sharing, Dr. Chambers. You’re braver than you realize. Okay folks, so what are we going to do about these mismatched bricks? Wallow in self-pity? Bring a lawsuit against the contractors who, in a fit of gross negligence, failed to recognize how one hue could bring so much pain and suffering to those afflicted by it?
Boschini: Well, our attorneys told us that wasn’t an option, but if it is… Cornelius: It’s still not. No, we’re going to go paint all those bricks with our own two hands! Tull: Are you serious? We’re academics, not common laborers. I have a Ph.D. Cornelius: Isn’t education just a mechanism to control who can rise to the top of the social rung and who must remain latched to its lowest level? Tull: Hey Dr. B, I think we should change our mission statement to that. Boschini: That’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it’s conducive to the operations of our institution. Anyways, we should get back to solving our problem. Cornelius: Like I said, let’s get to painting! We all want to see our dreams of a perfectly uniform institution realized, so let’s do it ourselves! Or do we just want to remain an average college, like…I don’t know… Baylor? Chambers: No, we cannot be Baylor! I’m in, no matter the cost! Let’s go paint some bricks! What say ye, fellow administrators? Tull: I don’t know about this. I mean, having a few bricks that are a slightly different color isn’t that big of a deal. Besides, this Cornelius guy had to point it out to us before we even suspected anything was wrong. Boschini: Well, we definitely are not an average institution. I think we should be striving to be perfect. Tull: Yes, perfection is a great goal, but it’s unattainable. Painting these bricks isn’t going to make a big difference, and having academic administrators who likely haven’t done manual labor in their lives paint bricks will probably just end in failure. Chambers: Goodness, Deborah Downer, why do you doubt our abilities to do this simple task? Tull: It’s not just about the task, but also about our mentality. Why is it so important that all of our bricks are uniform? Chambers: It’s the TCU way.
Boschini: Really, having our bricks the same color is just our way of exerting control over a world in which we feel very little. Tull: That was deep, Vicky B. But are we sure that this is the best way to go about “fixing” our school? Cornelius: It’s not just the best way; it’s the only way. Tull: I still disagree with you, but I’m not the one who makes the final decision. Dr. B, what say ye? Boschini: I’m in a real brick-painting mood. We’re gonna’ make this University homogenous again! The Drs. and Cornelius exit the room The Drs. get paintbrushes and go find a random university building, then start painting. This scene is shot from a distance. A la Hawthorne’s Birthmark, a supernatural event knocks the administrators off their ladders, and they die. Cut to credits
For You I have compiled a list of all the things I never told you:
Last night, I stayed awake crying until three A.M. I think you were the cause, But I don’t know for sure. I want to cut my hair short again. I have forgiven you for thinking it was atrocious. I have taken up jogging again, And yoga. And I have given up soda and sweets. I think I am prettier than her. I used to write poems about your eyes, Even when you would look away. Those were always the best. You called me last night. I don’t think you remember, But you told me you loved me, And something else I can’t say. I hate that side of you. I was the girl who put roses in your mailbox on your birthday. I also admit to putting a dead fish in your car. I think it was trout, But they all look the same to me. You hated that. My grandfather died two months ago. I think yours is still doing well? Does he remember me? I ran into Rob at the grocery store. I have started eating apples again, Apples and strawberries and peaches. I also drink almond milk now, too. She is vegan isn’t she? I wasn’t awake the last conversation we had, But you thought I was. You are wrong about me. You don’t know my favorite color, Or the name of the city where I grew up. I talked to my therapist about you. I lied. I don’t love you anymore.
The Deep Ende Deep End
You know the moment her name pops up on your screen that you should turn your phone off and go to bed. You know that, but you type in your passcode anyway. 2259. Her initials and yours. She set the code at a band party because her water bottle was filled with vodka and her loser boyfriend was nowhere to be found. You haven’t changed it yet. You keep meaning to, but there is something about thinking of her and the one time she felt like yours every time you unlock your phone. You are too young to be in love, you think. But she is so pretty, and the two of you have so much potential. She just doesn’t see it yet. Even if she doesn’t see it, or ignores it, (you think that’s more likely), you aren’t giving up. So you open the snapchat to see her, half clothed and a little drunk, struggling through a French pop song you know she has been learning in class because she was Google translating it when you drove her to school yesterday morning. Her hair is a mess – you love it that way – all blonde and tangled and falling in her face. You want to run your fingers through it, and hold her hand while she drunkenly giggles at everything you say. She loves to hold hands when she’s been drinking. You’ve watched her drag her boyfriend all over every school dance. You can tell by the way he smiles at her he is only putting up with it because he likes the view down her dress. She likes him a lot. Maybe even loves him. She told you last week when you asked why she kept laughing at her phone. Michael keeps sending me the funniest memes. You forced a laugh but your stomach dropped at what came next. Her voice got serious, like she was about to tell you an important secret. This is it, you thought. You were sure she was about to tell you Michael was funny, but she liked you better. You’d sensed it coming for weeks. She smiled bigger when you screwed up your French every morning than you had ever seen her smile for
him. Landon, I think I might love him. You thought she must be joking, but she just held a finger to her lips and went back to her phone. She might love him. But something is holding her back. You are at least a little bit sure that something is you, so you respond to the snapchat with your best Abercrombie model face and get your golden retriever in the shot for good measure. A reply comes back within seconds – not normal for her. You know from years of counting the minutes she often takes hours to answer. She is pouting in this one, her friend Kaitlin asleep on the couch next her to. My friends are the worst, the caption reads. You realize she probably only answered because Kaitlin is asleep. Kaitlin doesn’t like you – she called you creepy once when she thought you were out of earshot, but it doesn’t bother you. One person out of the whole high school isn’t too bad with graduating classes of seven hundred. One person out of the whole city, if you’re being honest. The parents of Rolling Green usually love you even more than their children do. You aren’t sure how it happened; you didn’t have to work hard at becoming the golden boy. One day you were fourth chair trumpet and had a mouth full of braces that no girl wanted to kiss. Then you got student council treasurer and your braces came off and you started going to the gym and suddenly every girl (and her mom) couldn’t stay away. Every girl except Adeline Clark. She probably still saw you as the little boy who had invited her over to swim every day. Everyone in the neighborhood knew about your crush, and everyone thought it was hilarious. Except you and Adeline’s mom. Both of you know this is a match made in heaven, and both harbor a not-so-secret hatred for Michael. She wouldn’t still be snapping you though, you don’t think, if she only saw you as a creepy little boy. She is clearly bored, and her family is asleep, and your parents aren’t home.
You were going to have a party, but you got too scared. Your neighborhood is terrible for parties because all the backyards connect and some nosy neighbor always texts your mom wondering why they hadn’t been invited. That has always struck you as funny – the definition of the Midwest. Everyone is always sticking their noses in other people’s business under the guise of “Minnesota nice”. Normally you would be mad you didn’t have a hundred bikini-clad girls running around your house, but today you thank God for the spying neighbors. You decide to take it slow – you won’t invite her over yet. Instead, you step out onto your patio and snap a picture of the pool, which is gleaming perfectly underneath the star-studded sky. Who could resist that on this unseasonably hot September night? If anyone can, it’s Adeline, but you don’t think she will. She doesn’t respond for almost twenty minutes, and your heart is racing for fear she’s asleep. If you don’t get this chance, she might decide she really loves Michael. You can just picture the smug look on Michael’s face whenever he catches you watching them. He knows you’re jealous, and he acts so tough, but deep down you can tell he’s afraid. How could he not be? You have so much more going for you than he does it’s laughable. She’ll see that tonight. You’re sure of it. You don’t plan to try anything – if you’re going to be the good guy in this situation, your record has to stay clean. But you think if you just talk to her, just the two of you and her Moscato, she’ll have to understand she’s been wrong. And then you’ll forgive her, and you’ll send her off to Michael, who will be pissed but probably not particularly surprised, and then you’ll have Addie all to yourself. The icing on the cake to a perfect high school career. If she stays as pretty as she is now, she wouldn’t make a bad wife either. You remind yourself that is creepily far in the future and focus back on the task at hand. She opened the snapchat thirty seconds ago.
Just a few seconds later, her response comes in. Oh my God, I would kill to go swimming right now. And you would kill to see her in a bikini. You cannot believe how easy this is. You hesitate briefly, wondering if she isn’t maybe too drunk and you should tell her to go to bed and save your elaborate speeches for another time. No, you decide this can’t wait any longer. You never drink, because this town is so small and MIPs spread like wildfire, but you figure you should probably be at least a little tipsy so it isn’t weird when Addie gets here. Your parents don’t lock up their alcohol the way most parents do, because they want you to feel like they trust you. Bullshit. No parents of a teenage boy really trust them, but you appreciate the way yours make an attempt to fake it. You’ve siphoned off a few shots’ worth over the past two years, and they haven’t noticed yet. You tiptoe over to the liquor cabinet, afraid to walk loudly even though no one’s home, and pour two fingers worth of whiskey into one of your dad’s nicest tumblers. You take a confident sip, choke, and promptly decide straight alcohol is not for you. You find a Diet Coke in the fridge and fill the rest of the glass while trying to guess what color swimsuit Addie will wear. She looks best in blue – it sets off her eyes. You realize you aren’t sure if you have any clean swim trunks and go upstairs to check. While you’re there, you make your bed and toss your dirty boxers deep into your closet. Just in case. You’ve only brought a girl up here once before, and you will never make the mistake of not cleaning beforehand again. She stepped on an apple core halfway through the door and didn’t even stay ten minutes before claiming she’d forgotten her mom wanted her home for dinner. It was nine o’clock at night. Your phone buzzes with an incoming iMessage. Addie has switched to texting. You’re surprised – Michael is so obsessed with her she usually uses Snapchat text when she talks to
guys so the evidence will conveniently disappear. Personally, you think it’s probably a bad sign that she feels like she needs to lie to her boyfriend, but you don’t feel like you know enough about relationships to give her advice. Give me ten minutes and I’ll be over! Well shit. Ten minutes seems like a lifetime. But then you think of everything you have to do before she gets here, and before you know it ten minutes of teeth-brushing and deodorizing have passed in an instant and she’s standing at your back gate, wrapped in a towel and shivering. You aren’t sure if the shivering is excitement or fear or both, so you smile your nicest church-smile and usher her to a plastic lawn chair, which she perches on the very edge of as though she might fly away without a moment’s notice. “How’s Kaitlin?” You ask, desperate to keep her in place. She launches into the story of their night, and you try to listen. You really do. But her towel is drooping dangerously low and when she laughs she tilts her head back so the light catches perfectly on her neck and you have a sudden desire to cover that patch of golden skin with kisses. Michael, you remind yourself. You might not be the perfectly innocent band geek that all the Rolling Green moms think you are, but you aren’t a big enough douche to hook up with someone else’s girlfriend. Even if she clearly wants to. “Isn’t that so like Kaitlin?” Shit. She’s obviously expecting an answer. “Sorry, isn’t what like Kaitlin? I got distracted . . .” She giggles at you as though she knows exactly what has been so distracting and flips her tangled hair over her shoulder. “Are we swimming or not?” “Uh… yeah … sure. We can swim.” You sound idiotic. You’re starting to see why she chose Michael.
C’mon, Landon. Get yourself together. She’s here, isn’t she? She is here. Not with Michael. Which is odd, now that you think about it. You might have wondered why in other circumstances, but the whiskey is starting to hit and everything is taking on a pleasantly fuzzy glow. Your tolerance must be shit; you realize with a jolt. You don’t remember getting drunk like this before. Addie stands up – you wish she would stop giggling; just for a second. You can’t have a serious conversation with her about – what exactly was it you wanted to talk to her about? It seems so far in the past now, although the rational side of you knows it hasn’t been an hour. Is she laughing at you? You don’t like that idea. Nobody laughs at you anymore. You wonder if you should ask her to stop, but then she drops her towel and steps into the pool and you notice how much she looks like an angel with her hair spreading around her in the water. You stand up to follow her and the world spins. You know you should probably sit back down, but Addie is still laughing and you wish she would be quiet. If a neighbor hears – what if her parents hear? Suddenly paranoid, you plunge in after her and put a finger to her lips. “Addie, shhhh.” “Shhhhh.” She says back, putting both hands over her mouth with a childish expression of delight. “Addie, I’m not kidding.” You can’t understand why she is still laughing. Doesn’t she understand how serious this is? She climbs out of the pool and walks toward the diving board and you watch her in awe. You suddenly remember why you needed to talk to her. “Addie. I have to tell you something. I know that you’re dating Michael, but –” Addie splashes into the water, cutting off your declaration of love. You swim to her and grab her arm,
determined to make yourself clear. You know she feels the same way and you think she will admit it if you promise not to tell anyone. You are having trouble balancing on the bottom of the pool, so you lay back and let yourself float for a bit, staring up at the stars that seems closer than they ever have before. “Let’s take a shot!” Addie half-yells into your ear. You realize you don’t really care if the neighbors can hear you. You think this house and this pool and this girl and you are all enclosed in an invisible bubble that will keep you safe until you can tell her how you feel. You smile back at her and grab her hand and lead her into the kitchen. You’re both stumbling, and she giggles every time one of you trips. You knock over a wine glass reaching for the whiskey and somewhere deep in your brain an alarm goes off and you know you shouldn’t have any more of this but Addie is still holding your hand and her face is closer to yours than it ever has been and you don’t want to tell her no. So you sloppily pour something like a shot into two of the souvenir shot glasses your parents got on last summer’s road trip to Niagara Falls and raise yours when Addie makes a toast to your aunt who kindly gave birth last night and got your parents out of the house. You remember the burn of the last straight drink and dread this one, but you find it goes down easily this time. There isn’t any burn, just a pleasant glowing feeling, so you suggest another one. This time you make the toast, to “Addie the angel”, which makes her blush but you can tell she’s flattered. Her face lights up and she runs outside without warning. You’re afraid she is leaving so you run after her and open the door to a splash and her bikini on the pool deck. She pops up in the deep end and motions for you to get in. You forget every reason you have to not go skinny-
dipping with someone else’s girlfriend and do what you think is a perfect jackknife off of the diving board. “That was so good!!!” Addie yells in your ear, clapping and gazing at you with a look of adoration. “Addie shhhhhhh.” “No one can hear us, silly.” She climbs out of the pool with the confidence that only comes from too much whiskey and perches on the edge of the diving board. “I’m going to flip!!” Shit. You watch her and the world slows down as she catches her chin on the edge of the board. She is crying so hard she can barely tread water, so you swim over to her and comfort her as best you can, hyper-aware even in your inebriated state of the heat of your body against hers. “I – I’m so sorry. I got blood in your pool.” She looks so upset at this revelation you can’t help but laugh, and soon she is giggling too and then the two of you are gasping for air, hanging on to the cement siding, but she hasn’t let her grip on your shoulder relax. You look at her hand and you look at her and there is a glint in her eyes that is driving you crazy. “Addie – there’s something I need to tell y –” She cuts you off with a finger to your lips. “Don’t ruin it, please.” You realize she doesn’t want to think about anything beyond this night and this might be the first and last time you are this close to her so you decide that morals be damned because you don’t think God would have brought her here if he didn’t want you to kiss her. You’re shaking and she’s shaking, probably because it’s the middle of the night and you’re both still a little bit afraid of getting caught.
“You cold?” You’re talking so close to her face that your lips are practically touching already and her grip is tight on your shoulder but the centimeters left between you feel like miles. “Nooooo.” She shakes her head slowly but the movement makes you dizzy. “Maybe we should go in.” You try to ask her questions with your eyes but you’re having trouble keeping them open. “Just a little longer . . .” She gives you a half smile that’s so inviting you can’t help yourself and suddenly you’re kissing her and she’s kissing you back and you think you know what heaven feels like. Your lips are on her neck and she makes a sound that could be pain or ecstasy but you don’t stop to think about it because you don’t want to know. You pull her to the shallow end where you can stand on the ground and her back is against the cement and both her hands are over her mouth and you realize maybe this isn’t what she wanted but it’s too late to stop now and before you even know what is happening it is over and she’s crying and you’re gasping desperately for oxygen that seems unreachable. You try to wipe the tears from her face but she smacks your hand away and climbs out of the pool, shoulders shaking, puts her swimsuit on – you notice the bottoms are backwards – and shoots you a look that seems like disgust before slamming the gate behind her. You aren’t really sure why she’s mad because she did kiss you back and you start to go after her but the cement comes rushing up to meet you and you are on your hands and knees losing every shot of whiskey you took along with the Chipotle you had for dinner and then the world goes black.
You wake up to the sunrise and the worst headache you’ve ever experienced in a disgusting puddle of your own vomit. You drag yourself inside and nearly slice your foot on one
of a million shards of glass that litter the floor. You realize you don’t have any idea where the glass came from and start to worry about what you did last night. You don’t think you had a party – but someone was here. Who was it? You decide you never want to touch alcohol again. You crawl up the stairs on your hands and knees and sit down under the double showerhead in your parents’ bathroom with the water turned as hot as it will go and suddenly it comes to you. Adeline. She will know what happened, she drinks more often than you do, so you wrap a towel around your waist and go searching for your phone. You find it on the pool deck with a thin crack right down the middle. You’ll have to come up with a reason why it’s cracked, but you’ll worry about that later. Addie is the first person in your messages, the last text says I’ll be right over! You pat yourself on the back for getting an exclamation point and type a message in response. Hey Addie, super embarrassing, but I haven’t drank in a while and I think I blacked last night. You mind connecting the dots for me? You spend the day cleaning, checking your phone every few minutes until your parents get home in time for dinner, ecstatic to see that you’ve taken the initiative to make spaghetti with marinara sauce. Adeline doesn’t respond.
Still Life with Mr. Metet
“Why is your head bigger than the RE/MAX balloon?” the little girl chirped to Mr. Met, unprompted. She craned her narrow chin upward the specific way that young children do, arching her back and slightly leaning forward. “My mom is a real eggs taste agent; that’s how I know what the RE/MAX balloon is.” Mr. Met, forbidden by team policy and Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Mascot from speaking, tried to affect the posture of sadness, a nearly impossible feat with the crescent moon smile plastered on his baseball face. His white, globular head looked towards the concrete of the concourse, the red on his skull’s seams jiving with a scarlet sign behind him advertising an absolute steal of a BOGO on ambiguously-sourced hotdogs. He brought a gloved hand towards the corner of his semicircular eye, mime-wiping a tear. Ever the deft crowd pleaser, Mr. Met snapped back to jovial mascot mode, ruffling the little girl’s blond hair until it became a golden cobweb. Her giggles were like listening to a songbird. --Jonas woke to the sound of a ceramic bowl shattering against the wall. He looked up from the couch to see a woman, always a different one, stomping her foot in the kitchen. This one had a streak of blue in her hair. “You said you weren’t married, asshole!” she shouted at Jonas’s best friend. Christopher was kind enough to let Jonas crash on his couch for a few days, which turned into a few months. He would never call Christopher an asshole.
Christopher ducked to avoid the next piece of kitchenware the blue-haired girl hurled across the room. The blender, composed mostly of plastic, made an unsatisfying thud as it hit the wall. He stood up straight and stuck both palms out in exasperation. “Babe, I’m not!” “I didn’t ask if you are married; I asked if you were married! I remember very clearly when you used whatever half-assed pickup line at the bar, and I said, ‘Hypothetically, yes, but not if the pickup artist were married….’ I even inflected the ‘were’ for emphasis!” She stomped her other foot, used it as a pivot, and crossed her arms. “Sure, it was an odd tense to use,” she conceded. “But I meant it, you womanizing blockhead!” The blue-haired girl grabbed her rumpled coat from the countertop and ran out the front door. Christopher opened a beer from the fridge and plopped down in a velvety-beige recliner. Jonas told Christopher that he wasn’t stupid. Christopher said thanks. Christopher also said the girl was someone he knew from his only semester in college. She was now a graduate student doing her dissertation work on how a hard-ass, militant prescriptivism in English grammar was the only thing that could save Western civilization from precipitous cultural-linguistic decline. Christopher didn’t know how she found out he used to be married; he also wasn’t sure why it mattered. Christopher’s late wife passed away two years ago from some type of aggressive cancer. Stomach, Jonas thought, but it could have been something else. The woman’s death was hard on Christopher. At first, he coped by lying in bed all hours of the day, and then he coped by embarking on a brief, relatively mild stint with alcoholism. It was mostly fruity drinks garnished with multicolored umbrellas, like the kinds featured on the Today Show. This is with the exception of the first day Jonas met Christopher, when Christopher was six beers deep through seven innings at Shea, sitting alone at the edge of an aisle a few rows behind Jonas, who himself was sitting alone and still wondering if he should take the low-
paying, mascot job offer. Reverse engineering the timeline, Jonas figures it couldn’t have been more than a couple weeks since Christopher’s wife passed. It was Young Professional Females with Exceptional Creative Talents Night at the stadium, fertile territory for single young men who somehow expend just enough effort to track the abstruse promotional calendars so common among sports teams. A cohort of Young Professional, and might he add, Attractive Females had just climbed the stairs beside Jonas, who couldn’t help but ogle. Christopher called out to Jonas, “Pretty nice evening, isn’t it!” Jonas asked Christopher why he doesn’t go after one of those Young Professionals. Christopher said, “I’ve got one waiting on me at home, good sir.” A few minutes later Christopher asked, “Hey, do you want to sit over here?” They enjoyed the final innings and went to a post-game bar event, where Christopher could have his favorite, floral-colored beverages with only a minor amount of teasing. When Christopher asked Jonas back to his place for a nightcap, Jonas noticed the house’s absence of a woman, but he was more than a little inebriated already and decided the difficult conversation of his newfound friend’s loss could wait until morning. They went to more Mets games and bars together and Christopher even asked him to move in, but Jonas still waiting for the right time to talk. Recently, Christopher has coped by joining a grief support group. When Christopher said he hadn’t touched a woman since his wife died, the grief support group encouraged him to put himself back out there, and she’d want you to live a full life even while she’s gone, et cetera. He took their advice. When Jonas asked him about his newfound promiscuity, Christopher always said, “Living is coping, and I’m alive,” albeit with a strange blankness to his gaze. His eyes were little more than smooth stones most mornings after.
Jonas had his own methods of coping with that particular sense of impending, systemic failure common among those with too much time on their hands. He tried to tame this existential beast a few months back by taking a cross-country, slice of Americana road trip from Queens to Seattle, but he eventually turned around in North Dakota. The nothingness of the Plains was too much for him. The Mets had an afternoon game, so Jonas was locked in the exercise of convincing himself that getting up from the couch and making the trek to Shea Stadium to don the Mr. Met outfit for God knows how many times in the past two years was worth it, slowly repeating how a paying job is a paying job, and drunk sports fans are kind to the mascot, and you certainly can’t crash on Christopher’s couch for the rest of your life now can you. “Yo’ Jonas, you wanna’ go to a house party after the game tonight? Some lady from my group is throwing it.” He placed the top of the beer bottle to his lips and imbibed. Jonas, still muttering how the world needed hard-working young men to play employersanctioned dress-up, said sure, what else was he going to do tonight, it’s not like there was a Mrs. Met to go home to, and asked Christopher if he told his grief support group that he drinks beer before all the birds have even waken up. Christopher grasped the neck of the bottle in such a way that his middle finger was the only one visible to Jonas, and they both laughed the laugh of two men on the down-and-out who couldn’t even fathom where the up-and-up might actually be. ---
Jonas arrived at Shea Stadium two hours before the game, high-tailing it to a corridor deep within the bowels of Shea that was designated for gameday staff. The door outside the dressing room Jonas used had its own placard, reading, “Cheerleaders, Broadly Defined.” After he dressed in the bottom two-thirds of his costume, he stood in the gray, concreted hallway, waiting for at least two female cheerleading escorts before he made his rounds throughout the stadium. Mr. Met is always surrounded by his posse. The first cheerleader, one Jonas didn’t recognize, came out of a dressing room adjacent to Mr. Met’s, applying final touches of mascara to her eyelashes. Jonas thought she was lovely, the type of beauty so conventional that her journey throughout the cheerleading world had to lead here, beside the best mascot in all the City. “Sup,” she said. “I’m Alice. Are you my dad?” She sheathed her mascara and threw it in a royal blue shoulder bag slung over her shoulder. “I wish,” Jonas said, too quickly. “Wait, that’s not what I mean. I meant that I wish I knew you in the way fathers know their children.” He rambled on for another thirty seconds about the virtues of family units, his cheeks reddening with each passing sentence. Alice locked eyes with him the entire time, her face in stoic rest. Jonas finished talking, then Alice said, “Does that mean you want to boink my mom? Cause that’s gross.” Jonas’s face twitched as he alternated between starting and stopping a response, but Alice quickly spoke again. “Shit, man, calm down. I’m just screwin’ with you. What’s your name?” Jonas told her, and she said that’s a cool name; Jonas returned the favor by complimenting Alice.
“God, you’re pathetic, but in an adorable kind of way,” Alice said. “When you like someone’s name, you’re really telling them that you think their parents have good taste, and we both know how you feel about my mom, you perv.” Jonas leaned against the wall, feigning an attempt at casual behavior. Alice pulled her smartphone out of the royal blue bag, then sighed. “Looks like it’s just you and me today, champ,” she said. “The other cheerleaders went bar-hopping after the win last night, and they all called in sick.” “They never invite me to go along with them either,” Jonas offered. “Can you blame them? You’re like an imitation of a human being.” She leaned against the wall beside Jonas, then said his sprawling and kind of limp posture was exhibit A. “But,” she continued, placing her phone bag into the bag, “I do need something to do tonight. My mom is hosting bingo tonight, and the old dudes always hit on me. There’s always alcohol though, so that’s something.” Jonas told her about a particularly promising party he was invited to, then asked if she wanted to tag along. “It’s not like a date or anything, and it should be over just past the old folks’ bedtime,” he promised. “The hell,” Alice said. “I’m in. Let’s go pretend to enjoy baseball.” Jonas put the Mr. Met head on, and they walked down the corridor and took an escalator up to ground level. Sunshine splashed their faces, and the grass smelled like spring’s rebirth. ---
Alice and Jonas rode the subway straight from the stadium to a stop near the grief support woman’s address in Astoria, neglecting to stop by the dressing room before they left Shea. He wore his Mr. Met costume in its entirety on the subway to keep the anonymous, silent integrity of the mascot intact, which garnered fawning requests for selfies from Mets fans and clever amalgamations of profanity from Yankee faithful. Alice stood in her cheerleading outfit, doling out professional smiles like they were candy. The grief support woman, a widow of six years, lived in a spacious turn-of-the-century two-story with a yard sign that said we should all accept the things we cannot change and change the things we cannot accept. Her door was propped open by a toad made of blown glass, its increasingly absurd lilac and marigold color scheme competing for aesthetic dominance. Jonas entered in the bottom two-thirds of his Mr. Met costume, head nestled between his right arm and ribcage. The grief support woman’s parlor was illuminated by a litany of tiny tealight candles, the ordinary pictures and accoutrements topping the furniture’s flat surfaces. Out of his eye’s corner, Jonas glimpsed a side room where the party’s attendants were seated cross-legged on an assortment of colorfully-striped rugs that looked to have the sandpapery texture of burlap. Jonas thought their respective positions couldn’t have been comfortable, but parties weren’t supposed to be little enclaves of bliss. He and Alice shuffled into the side room and took a seat on black shag carpeting outside the circle of burlap rugs behind Christopher, whose squinting eyes and furrowed brow hinted that he either was concentrating intently or had just eaten a lemon. The side room was mostly dark, with scant rays of light provided by the adjacent parlor. The grief support woman was clearly
leading whatever kind of grief supporting was taking place, as she was seated at the slight jut that signified headship over the rest of the circle. Her face was hidden by a scarlet veil. “We are all space fungus,” she called. “From space fungus you were formed, and to space fungus you shall return,” the group responded. “Death is a fetish, and we are sexual deviants.” “Time is a flat circle, and you are its two-dimensional hula master,” they chanted. Jonas moved the Mr. Met head from behind him to his lap. It was a defense mechanism of sorts. Alice elbowed him in the ribs, then told him to stop interrupting the balance of the room. The grief support woman continued. “Sadness is the only bottomless reservoir, and we are not afraid of its depths.” “Scuba diving is rewarding, and you are a certified instructor.” The grief support woman inhaled, exhaled, then inhaled once more, lifting her veil in conjunction. “Thank you, all. We have some fellow-travelers this evening,” she said, gesturing towards Jonas and Alice. “Welcome to our journey. Where did yours start?” Christopher leaned over to Jonas and told him nice job bringing a girl, and this was just a mystic way of asking Jonas to introduce himself. Jonas said, oh, of course, absolutely. He also said his name was Jonas and he moonlighted as Mr. Met; he lived with Christopher and waved to the man himself, and he wasn’t so sure about this grief stuff but was under the impression this was a party and thought there would at least be some fun party games if not necessarily alcohol because he knows that major life bummers can lead to addictive behavior, why not to point
fingers but just look at his main man Christopher, who drank a beer at promptly eight forty-two this a.m. but that was probably an isolated incident due to uncommon stress. Jonas said all this while cradling the Mr. Met mascot head. The grief support woman smiled at Jonas and said he was exhibiting textbook capital d Denial. “Dear, grab a rug from the corner there and join the healing circle.” Jonas obliged with only a little bit of reluctance, placing the lavender and navy-striped rug beside Christopher, who clearly had to know that this wasn’t a party in the traditional sense of the word, right? Maybe he was becoming a bit of an asshole. “And you, my daughter?” the grief support woman said to Alice, encouraging her to share. “My name is Alice, and I” – she inhaled deeply, then swung her arms upward and interlocked her fingers – “have done yoga before. I do not know what grief is, as my loved ones have yet to enter this world. I work for the New York Mets as a vindictive cheerleader.” “Thank you, Alice,” the grief support woman said. “We commune with our loved ones in all kinds of ways, and I hope you can touch their spirits tonight. Grab a rug, and join. Let us resume.” She re-donned her red veil; its lace combined with the flickering tealights to make a shadow dreamcatcher on the wall behind her. Following the grief support woman’s example, Jonas donned headgear of his own, shoving the bulky Mr. Met head onto his noggin. The grief support woman said she and the others couldn’t hear his responses with that large mascot head on and it’s better for group cohesion if all members show their faces. Jonas thought that was a load of hypocritical if
sonically-sound bullshit but he was already in too deep with this whole thing and might as well commit now. The grief support woman opened a cabinet to her left and brought out a large baguette, tearing it in half to pass around the circle both clock- and counterclockwise. “Nourishment for the pilgrimage… to the center of ourselves,” she said, her veil gazing towards Jonas and Alice, like it was an overly sentimental joke only newcomers were supposed to understand. “Well then,” she continued, waiting for the bread to make its rounds, “we are all space fungus.” “Merely spores fermenting under the canopy of the cosmic jungle,” the group echoed. “We are sustained by the energy of our loss,” she said. “Our lack is the Energizer bunny, and he is a merciful shaman.” “Pain is like an old sitcom; we only laugh at it when instructed.” “Instruct our new friends, co-executive producer,” the group pleaded. Jonas was content to marvel at the incredible coordination and memorization skills of Christopher’s grief support group, as he knew in his professional capacity as Mr. Met how tough memorizing any type of routine can be. The grief support woman moved both of her hands to roughly mid-way down her veil, placing them over her eyes. Her posture snapped from the casual, slight slouch of one seated crisscross Applesauce to perfectly erect, her spine the clinical definition of elongated. Jonas used his peripheral vision to see Alice tear off a giant chunk of bread as Christopher’s incisors shred a section of the baguette. That nourishment looked mighty tasty. “Let’s begin,” the grief support woman began.
An Endeavor to Be Happy
Carl and I were lying on the bed, me on the right, he on the left. There was half a foot of space between us, like usual. The salesman, Felix, was watching us eagerly, leaning forward on his toes as far as he could without keeling forward. Felix had thick black glasses sliding down his nose and a pale blue short-sleeved button-down. It was already our fifth mattress. None had been satisfactory yet. “If this one isn’t firm enough, we can head to the back wall…,” Felix suggested. “Most of our customers with back problems prefer the ones back there.” “I do not have back problems,” Carl grumbled. “But your wife…” I pushed myself up on the mattress. “He has degenerative disc disease,” I said. “That is a back problem.” My husband has had back problems for years and won’t admit it to anyone. “Amanda, I don’t,” he said. “Carl, you do,” I said. “I asked you not to make a big deal about this.” “I’m not making a big deal about anything.” Sensing the mounting tension like a frightened deer in the hedge, Felix quickly jumped in before Carl and I could really get going. “Would you two like to check out the other mattresses?” “We’d love to,” Carl said. “Don’t speak for me,” I mumbled.
We scooted off opposite edges of the bed and tugged at our clothing to pretend that we hadn’t just been in bed with an eager beaver salesman staring at us.
The front door to the Mattress Warehouse jingled open, and a whoosh of hot air gushed into the store. A young man and woman bounced into the air conditioning. He was tall and dark and well-shined. She was petite and giggly and glowing. He watched her with a protective reverence as she practically skipped into the store. The way he looked at her… he would walk barefoot through a field of fire ants for her. And she would bake him the most perfectly round chocolate chip cookies when he reached the other side. A saleswoman hurried over to them. I watched as they all shook hands. I tried not to eavesdrop, but I couldn’t help it. Eavesdropping has always come naturally to me. Her name was Brittney. His name was Tyler. They were about to be Dr. and Mrs. Tyler Hill. They were getting married, you see. Getting married in Cancún next month. They’d bought a charming little house just outside Monterey. They were adopting a puppy. From the shelter, of course. They needed a mattress. They didn’t live together now. They were traditional. Maybe they were old-fashioned, but they thought it was bad luck to live together before the wedding. They were here to find their marriage bed. Did I hear all of this? It didn’t really matter. Whether I heard it or not, it was true. “Amanda.” It was Carl. He was not looking at me like he would walk barefoot through a field of fire ants for my sake.
“Yes,” I said. I would not be baking him perfectly round chocolate chip cookies, either. “Would you like to try out a waterbed or not?” I narrowed my eyes at my husband. “Don’t push me,” I whispered. “And no, I would not like to try out a waterbed. Would you? It’s your back that needs it.” I had to add that last bit, you know. Just because I couldn’t remember the last time Carl looked at me like he’d walk barefoot through a field of fire ants for my sake. Actually, I did remember it. I wondered if he did. “I’d recommend the firmer mattresses before moving to a waterbed,” Felix advised, clearly trying not to be overly judgmental of my husband’s ignorant suggestion. “We should try out the firmer mattresses, Carl,” I said. “Fine,” Carl said.
I tried to remember the first time we went mattress shopping. I tried to remember our wedding in Cancún and the first time we set eyes on our new puppy. But then I realized I couldn’t remember these things because they hadn’t happened. We’d just used my mattress when we moved in together. Our wedding was in Modesto, and we inherited a cranky, emotionally unavailable cat named Angelica from Carl’s grandmother when she died a week after we got married. I’m not saying these things can’t be beautiful. They were. In their own way, in their own time. But they had a shelf-life, and everything had gone sour slowly, slowly, like radioactive decay.
Brittney was twittering and bouncing around on one of the squishy mattresses that would have destroyed my husband’s already degenerate back. “It’s like a trampoline!” she squealed. Tyler kicked off his shoes and jumped onto the bed, tackling his fiancé and tickling her till she absolutely screamed with laughter and had to be hushed by the saleswoman. It was a disgusting spectacle. “Manda, get on. What do you think?” Carl said. He was already sprawled on the left side of a new mattress. I slowly dropped onto the bed and leaned back, acutely aware of Felix’s stare. I held very still. Not even the edge of my hand brushed against Carl’s. “How does your back feel?” I asked, trying to drown out Brittney’s breathless laughter with the monotone sound of my own voice. “Fine,” Carl said. It wasn’t fine. It hadn’t been fine in seven years.
I started saying I was fine after I’d been married a month. My mother called every Tuesday and Friday, and she’d always ask, “And how are you, my little girl?” in the sing-songy voice of a divorced romantic. “Fine,” I told her. “I’m just fine. How are you?”
She always asked about Carl and how I liked being married. Sometimes I thought she wanted us to be a sit-com couple, happy and cheesy and madly in love. Other times, I thought she liked to stir up some trouble. Nick the edge of a scab. Remind me that I’d fought with her when Carl proposed. I told Carl’s parents that I was fine, too, when we went to his house for dinner one Sunday a month. They were marriage counselors and always joked that they’d give us free services should we ever need them. Carl laughed and told them that wouldn’t be necessary. The bar for a happy marriage was incredibly high for Carl. He was, after all, trained by the experts. Besides, his parents were simply the most nauseatingly happy couple in the state, who still flirted after forty years of marriage. The bar for a happy marriage was rather high for me, too. I was trained by What Not To Do, which made it necessary that I Do It better than my parents. To redeem them. To spite them. I don’t know. The point was that Carl and I both had a deep need, a deep expectation, to be violently happy. And maybe we were a little disappointed when we realized one day that we weren’t. We were fine. We were just fine. And sometimes at night I crawled in the bathroom and sat on the cold tiles and stared at my numb toes, wondering why it felt so wrong to feel fine.
Brittney and Tyler were spooning. Spooning in public. They were on one of the beds Carl and I had found too lumpy. He was murmuring something into her hair and she was absolutely
melting into the bed and into him. They were trying out the bed for real. They were even trying out pillow talk. “How long are these models supposed to last?” Carl asked Felix. “Twelve years.” Part of me wondered if Carl and I would last another twelve years. Or if we’d even last twelve years total. But mostly I knew we would. We were sure enough to make the investment of a new mattress. I thought about our mattress now. How old was it? Seven years of marriage plus one year of living together plus one year before that. It was nine years old. “Are those twelve years under warranty?” Carl asked, no doubt trying to sound smart. He bounced around a little on his side of the mattress. “Nothing’s under warranty,” I announced, lying down and crossing my arms over my chest like a dead queen in a bejeweled coffin. “Not all twelve years, but--” Felix tried to answer. “Of course not,” I said, wiggling my shoulder blades into the hard mattress. “Manda,” Carl hissed. “Why are you being so cranky?” “I’m not cranky.” “You’ve been cranky all…” “Morning? Week? Year? What are you trying to say, Carl?” “Cool your jets, will you?” “I don’t have… jets… to cool, ugh.” Felix hovered closer. “Sir, ma’am, could I suggest that--” “Shh,” I hissed at Felix over my shoulder. “We’re trying out the mattress.”
We were trying out the bed for real. You see, this was our version of pillow talk.
I moved in with Carl before the wedding. We were cheap then, so we did the move ourselves. Moving my mattress to his place was the hardest part. It almost fell out of the moving truck we rented, and it got stuck in every doorway. By the time we got it inside his apartment, we were both sweaty and exhausted. We dropped down onto it right there just inside the front door. And Carl might have tickled me, might have blown something nice in the wisps of hair around my ear, might have spooned me. We were at our absolute best. This was our finest moment before quiet, meaningless, incomprehensible degeneration.
“No, no,” Tyler said with mock gallantry. “My princess feels a pea beneath the mattress. This will never do.” And he swept Brittney right off the mattress, gave a half twirl with her in his arms, and set her down in the warm curve of his arm. “Something firmer maybe?” the saleswoman asked them. “Yes, but not too firm,” Brittney insisted. “Nothing too firm.” I sat up quickly and turned to Felix. “Felix,” I said severely. “This is too firm.”
“Manda, I think it’s actually--” “Carl. This is too firm.” I stood up. “I’d sooner sleep in the dog bed than on this.” “We don’t have a dog bed. Or a dog.” “Right,” I said. “I never told you, but I want a dog.” Felix piped right up. “Well, if this isn’t perfect. My aunt’s retriever just gave birth to a litter of--” “Felix,” I said severely. “Not now.” “Manda, I’ve always wanted a dog, too,” Carl said, and the sudden softness of his voice completely threw me off guard. I stared, stunned, at my husband. He was still on the bed. His eyes were strange and unreadable. “You… want a dog, too,” I whispered. This felt big. “Yeah… Amanda… yeah.” “Maybe… maybe… maybe we can euthanize Angelica and start fresh with a dog,” I suggested softly. “Ma’am, one cannot simply euthanize a--” “Felix,” I said, the severity snapping back into place. “Do your job and show us a softer mattress.”
“This is it,” Brittney announced to the universe. “This is the bed.” She was lying like a starfish in the middle of a puffy/firm/soft/supportive/squishy/frothy/feathery dream called Decadence Model Seven. “Is this it, babe?” Tyler asked. “Is this the one?” “THIS IS THE ONE!” she practically screamed in excitement. I suddenly wanted Decadence Model Seven. I wanted it more than anything else in the world. “Felix,” I said suddenly, sitting up from the little Crap-Crap Foam Model Two-and-a-Half we were trying out. “Can we try Decadence Model Seven? I want to try Decadence Model Seven.” Carl looked at me like I’d sprouted horns. Felix blinked. “You did try Decadence Model Seven. It was the first one you tried. You didn’t like it.” “How do you know I didn’t like it?” I snapped. “You said so,” Felix said. “You said, ‘Felix, this mattress is crap.’ You were rather severe.” “No,” I protested. I patted the current mattress. “This mattress is crap. I didn’t know that one was Decadence Model Seven.” “Well… it looks like Decadence Model Seven just sold,” Felix said, glancing over to make eye contact with the saleswoman. “And the Decadence Seven line is being discontinued.” I stared at him a long moment. Something drained out of me and I was left with quiet defeat. “Manda, this one’s really nice,” Carl said, patting the Crap-Crap mattress. “Or the one over there.” “Fine,” I said softly. “What are these called?” Carl asked Felix, gesturing at the mattress we were on as well as the other one Carl liked.
“Model six and eight of our Goodnight line.”
Felix left us to make our decision. Both Goodnight model six and eight were firm. Both had a mark on the label saying Great back support! I couldn’t tell the difference between them, but Carl insisted we try them out several times to make sure we chose the right one. I may have started whining a bit. “What does it matter?” I asked for the millionth time. “They’re the same.” I stared at the ceiling lying on model six while Carl went back and forth between the two. “It matters,” he hissed, suddenly beside me, so close beside me that I could feel his body heat. I looked at him, and his face was frozen into an expression of such desperation that I think my heart might have cracked just a little along the edge. He glanced over his shoulder at Brittney and Tyler. “It matters to them. It should matter to us.” So he’d noticed them, too. It was suddenly glaringly obvious. He’d noticed them the minute they walked in the door. And I had been so wrapped up in my notice of Brittney and Tyler that I hadn’t noticed that Carl saw everything, too. Their effervescence. Their effortlessness. For us it would always be an endeavor to be happy. We would always hang here in this stasis, this near-defeat, lying side-by-side but not touching. Too disinterested to make love, too afraid to ever divorce. “We’re not them,” I said. “Carl.” I sat up. I moved to the other mattress. “We’re not them anymore.”
Maybe we never were.
Coleridge and the Hypnagogic State: Blending Folklore and Fairy Tale to Create the Unconscious in 'Christabel'
“Should children be permitted to read romances, and relations of giants and magicians, and genii? I know all that has been said against it; but I have formed my faith in the affirmative. I know no other way of giving the mind a love of the Whole and the Great” (S.T. Coleridge, Letters 16).
Coleridge, in his 1817 Biographia Literaria, characterizes his poem “Christabel” as “nothing more than a common Faery Tale” (The Major Works 476). To the amateur reader, this statement may seem somewhat true, but to those familiar with S. T. Coleridge and his works, this statement is merely one, of many, self-effacing Coleridgean comments. In other remarks, he refers to his intellect as “somewhat above mediocrity”; he questions whether or not his literary accomplishment in “Kubla Khan” can even be “called composition” (The Major Works 102, 164). That is to say, because of Coleridge’s modest attitude toward his work, we should not take his classification of “Christabel” as a “common Faery Tale” to be completely literal, but we should question why he chose to identify it as such. Of course, there are many folkloric and fairy tale tropes quickly identified in “Christabel” (e.g. the castle in the woods, the protagonist’s large bright eyes, the sacred tree, the key, the serpent-like villainess), but this story goes beyond the typical morality tale. It is a fairy tale, subverted, and despite his self-criticism, Coleridge knew this. Initially, “Christabel” was to be included in Coleridge and Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, but ultimately, it was not. When addressing this change in publication, Coleridge states that instead of Christabel “forming a balance” with Wordsworth’s poetry, it seemed an “interpolation of heterogeneous matter” (The Major Works 315). Coleridge knew his poem was 182
different. His poem was “other” in literary terms, and it discussed the “other” in thematic terms as well. The romance, the supernatural Gothic, the fairy tale – these genres often included discussion of the “other,” but Coleridge did not keep them mutually exclusive (as Wordsworth might have liked). In “Christabel,” Coleridge thrusts these forms together to forge a body of text that is liminal, between genres, between reality and fairy tale, and between the conscious and unconscious. As a product of Romanticism, “Christabel” privileges the relationship between Nature and emotion above all else. In Part I of the poem, a connection between the “midnight wood” and Christabel’s constitution is made explicit (29). She “kneels beneath the huge oak tree” to do something very emotional, pray “for the weal of her lover that’s far away” (30, 35). Immediately, Coleridge roots Christabel’s emotions in the trees of the forest (a pagan location), and continues this theme throughout Part I. When Christabel hears a noise in the forest, she steals “to the other side of the oak,” adopting Nature as her protectress. When the midnight intruder is revealed as what seems to be a lovely lady, Christabel blesses the “gracious stars” in Nature watching over her (114). Contrastingly, a bond between emotion and Nature does not structure the totality of the poem as it does in many of Coleridge’s other works, including “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” and “The Nightingale.” The preceding examples are beacons of Romantic style, whereas “Christabel” is restrained, demanding the reader to look past the Romantic form, and on to something deeper, something internal. As noted in the epigraph of this paper, Coleridge believed people should be “permitted to read romances,” and “Christabel” is most certainly “romantic,” as well as “Romantic.” The rescue and refuge of a “maiden most forlorn” is the primary plotline of the narrative (although, at times, it is unclear whether Christabel or Geraldine is the maid who needs saving) (195). In his article, “Making Christabel,” Grossberg argues that Geraldine is the rescued, and that Christabel
not only “steps out of the feminine role of passive maiden,” but “steps into the masculine role of rescuing knight” (Grossberg 152). Christabel occupies both male and female gender roles, and is required to switch between them. At one moment she offers Geraldine the “stout chivalry” of her service, and in another she is obeys the command to undress with little more protest than an affirmative, “so let it be!” (108, 234). This gender role reversal was, according to Grossberg’s research, “shocking” to Christabel’s “early readers” (Grossberg 146). But less shocking is that Christabel’s mercurial gender expression pries open the door for the preternatural, and interrupts the text before it can strictly conform to either “Romantic” or “romantic” command. Because “Christabel” contains the preternatural, generically speaking, the poem belongs as much to the supernatural Gothic as it does to the Romance. The opening couplet prepares the reader for an otherworldly experience: “‘Tis the middle of night by the castle clock, And the owls have awakened the crowing cock.” It is midnight, the supposed witching hour, and in a departure from his usual sunrise proclamation, the cock is crowing. But later in the narrative, “night” is an even more sinister identifier. Elizabeth Liggins, in her extensive classification of the supernatural and folkloric elements in Christabel, argues that the “very fact that Christabel was born during the night means she has the power to see ghosts and phantoms” (94). This superstition casts a foreboding terror on the entirety of the poem, and explains why “Christabel” has such a complex assemblage of supernatural components. One such component, is the characterization of Geraldine as a witch. In Christabel’s chamber, when Geraldine reveals her breasts to Christabel, there is the suggestion that Geraldine has “the mark of the beast,” as it was referred to in the Middle Ages (Nethercot). Geraldine herself refers to something on her chest as, “this mark of my shame, this seal of my
sorrow” (270). It is obvious that there is a scar of malediction on her torso, and that she is beholden to a perverse, higher power. Ledbetter, in his book Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination, suggests we look to Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters for a more complete understanding of the preternatural witch in “Christabel.” Coleridge admits to having read Shakespeare “nearly daily” since the “age of ten,” so it is no wonder that the Weird Sisters from Macbeth would have had a profound impact on his imagination (Ledbetter 212). In Coleridge’s Essays & Lectures on Shakespeare, the poet states that the Weird Sisters, “blended in themselves the Fates and Furies of the ancients with the sorceresses of Gothic and popular superstition” (156). This “blending” is precisely what Coleridge does in “Christabel”; he blends not only source material, but genres. Yet, there are scholars who want to pinpoint a precise source material for Geraldine’s character. Arthur Nethercot delves into Coleridge’s reading logs and library subscriptions to make the argument that Geraldine is definitively, a she-vampire (The Road to Tryermaine 84). He is joined by the critic James Twitchell in this belief, but Nethercot goes a step further than Twitchell. He argues that not only is Geraldine a vampire, but she is a “psychic sponge” who drains the life-force out of Christabel, turning Christabel into a succubus creature herself (69). The poem supports this claim, to a point. Following the censored, sexually-charged (and apparently vampiric), encounter between Christabel and Geraldine, the two sleep together while the narrator proclaims “A star hath set, a star hath risen” (302). This suggests that a transfer of “power” has occurred, and the lamia-like Geraldine looks “fairer yet!” in the morning while Christabel looks so ill her father asks, “What ails then my beloved child?” (374, 470). According to Nethercot, the female vampire was “comparatively rare, at least at the earlier period of
vampirology” when Coleridge composed “Christabel” (Nethercot 32). But regardless of rarity, “Christabel” cannot be circumscribed as a solely vampiric narrative. Why would Geraldine have a “witch’s teat” if she were a vampire? Couldn’t Geraldine be seen just as convincingly as a ghost? She has the authority of a psychic medium, and states that she has “the power” to make Christabel’s mother, a ghost, “flee” (206). What about a sorceress? There is a compulsion in Geraldine’s gaze that she uses to cripple Christabel and seduce Sir Leoline. And a faerie? She’s repelled by metal at the castle gate, a folkloric kryptonite to the species. A daemon? Geraldine is repeatedly aligned with the serpent, and the narrator begs “Jesu, Maria” to “shield [Christabel] well!” from Geraldine’s malefic intent (54). Narratively speaking, it does not make sense to give Geraldine all of these fantastic qualities, if Coleridge meant her to be wholly vampire, wholly witch, or any other phantom individual. She is an all-being; she exists outside of, and in between the lines of identifiable creatures. Even more so, Liggins admonishes critics who “try to be needlessly specific about [Geraldine’s] nature,” suggesting that “in folklore there are no sharp distinctions between witches and fairies, between fairies and devils, and between fairies and the dead” (Liggins 92). Through this argument, we can conclude that specificity of the supernatural was a non-issue with Coleridge. In fact, it seems as if his authorial technique was to grab “ingredients” from various books he horded as a “library cormorant,” and then brew them together in the cauldron of “Christabel,” to create something that was spectral, and “betwixt and between” ordinary generic categorization (The Coleridge Bulletin). Returning to Coleridge’s own specification of “Christabel” as a “Faery Tale,” the poem can be analyzed for the veracity and subversivity of this statement. A perturbed maiden does take central stage in the narrative, a common fairy tale trope. Additionally, Christabel pines for an absent knight, her mother is decidedly absent (except in spirit), her father is simultaneously
doting and harsh, and there is an evil villainess who threatens her social standing in the castle. Like many fairy tales, Taylor argues that “Christabel” is a poem that “narrates incidents in the emotional life of a young woman; it shows her acting and being acted upon” (Taylor 60). But if we take the latter part of Taylor’s statement, and dissect it in Bettleheim’s terms of the fairy tale, we might see the people “acting upon” Christabel as a sexual parable (The Uses of Enchantment). In this way, Coleridge uses sexuality to bridge the gap between fairy tale and reality. With Bettleheim’s approach, we can identify Sir Leoline and Geraldine as the two characters who “act upon” Christabel the most forcibly in the story. The former, is a lonely man who has tolled the “matin bells” excessively for fifteen years, since he “found his lady dead” (335). Welch theorizes in his article, “Christabel, King Lear, and the Cinderella Folktale,” that Sir Leoline’s grief at the loss of his wife has made him a miscreant in his relationship with Christabel; he argues that the “normal relationship” between father and daughter becomes “inverted into [a] grotesque relationship between would-be husbands and wives” (303). The archetypal incest story is common in fairy tale discourse. The maiden becomes a substitute for the mother who is absent (e.g. the story of Lot, Allerleirauh, and several variants of Cinderella), and if this substitution fails, there is often the introduction of an “other” mother (Herman 44). Geraldine is this “other.” Twitchell agrees, and contends that “as Geraldine becomes companion/lover to Christabel’s father, she becomes surrogate or “step-mother” to Christabel” (41). In The Erotic Coleridge, Taylor advances Twitchell’s argument, and says that not only does Coleridge present a perverted view of motherhood, but also indicates that when Christabel’s carnal “impulse[s] misfire,” “she is absorbed by the (M)other she has lured to her bed,” completing her sexual initiation into adulthood (Taylor 70). “Christabel” is an exemplar of
Bettleheim’s sexual parable, and a concept that is parallel to the “transfer of power” seen in the supernatural vampire. But in parabolic terms, the maiden brings a stranger into her bed, and she is punished, much like in Charles Perrault’s 1697 Le petit chaperon rouge, where “Petit Chaperon Rouge,” or “Little Red Riding Hood,” strips off her clothes, jumps into bed with the wolf, and is then devoured. Translated, the moral of the story reads thus: As you’re pretty so be wise; Wolves may lurk in every guise. Handsome they may be, and kind, Gay, or charming- nevermind! This is a haunting conclusion when applied to “Christabel.” Geraldine is most certainly handsome, with her “stately neck” and gem-entangled hair, but in symbolic terms she is also a wolf (62). Despite this symbolism, and its harkening to fairy tale source texts (seduction by a temptress, Psyche and Eros; rape of a virgin, Hymn to Demeter), “Christabel” does not end like many kunstmärchens, because it does not have a happy ending. And although there are plenty of fairy tales that do not necessarily end happily (e.g. Le petit chaperon rouge, Hansel and Gretel, Den lille havfrue), the overwhelming majority of them do (e.g. La Belle au bois dormant, Cendrillon ou La Petite Pantoufle de verre, Sneewittchen, Rotkappchen, and others). It could be argued that the reason “Christabel” does not have a happy ending is that it remains, in many scholars’ opinions, unfinished. In fact, Coleridge himself said, he had “the whole plan” for “Christabel,” “entire from beginning to end in [his] mind,” but even Wordsworth doubted if this statement was entirely true (Letters 241; Nethercot 62). In Coleridge’s physician, James Gillman’s account, Coleridge planned to finish his ballad with Christabel marrying her
“betrothed knight” (28), which would have fulfilled a traditional “fairy tale ending” (Welch 298). But regardless of whether Coleridge actually intended to finish “Christabel,” the way it was published in A Vision; The Pains of Sleep, it was not a fairy tale. It was a fairy tale subverted. It discarded the “fairy tale ending,” depicted a sexual parable, and in turn pushed toward the territory between fantasy and reality. This liminal space, I’ve argued, is prevalent throughout “Christabel,” in its supernatural source texts and its generic classification. But psychologically, this narrative liminality is reflected in the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep. Coleridge is obsessed with a dream-like sphere in “Christabel,” and mentions the word “dream” at least six times: Christabel’s dream-prompted wandering in the woods is an escape from the “dreams [of] all yesternight/Of her own betrothed knight” (27-28); when Christabel sees Geraldine’s “mark of shame,” the narrator says it is “A sight to dream of, not to tell!” (253); after her encounter with Geraldine, the narrator says Christabel is “Asleep, and dreaming fearfully,/ Fearfully dreaming” (293-294); the next morning, Christabel greets Geraldine “With such perplexity of mind/As dreams too lively leave behind” (385-386); bard Bracy tells Sir Leoline of the “strange dream” that “hath come to [him]” (528); and finally, Christabel, while mentally reliving the trauma of her previous night with Geraldine, says that her “dream,” “would not pass away—/It seem[ed] to live upon [her] eye!” (559). It makes sense that in a book entitled The Pains of Sleep there would be some discussion of dreams, but in “Christabel” dreams grip the protagonist in a trance. Twitchell mentions this briefly in his book The Living Dead, suggesting that, “The atmosphere of [Christabel],” with its “eerie half-light and strange incompleteness creates a sense of subconscious or even hypnagogic states” (Twitchell 42). Coleridge published long before Freud
and his theory of the unconscious, but the hypnagogic states may have been something Coleridge observed in himself, as a side effect of his intense opium addiction (Letters 104). Even more, this subconscious state is a psychological breeding ground for “out of body” experiences. In his notebooks, Coleridge recounts one of these experiences as such: “Ghost of a mountain – the forms seizing my Body as I passed & became realities – I, a Ghost, till I had reconquered my substance” (Notebooks 523). If we substitute Coleridge’s notion of “Ghosts” with the “unconscious” (again, a phrase before Coleridge’s time), the acute psychic experience he’s having is clarified; he is being seized by something that is outside of reality and within himself. Thus, “Christabel,” in its “in-betweenness,” is an invasion narrative, turned inward. The character of “Christabel” can be seen as Coleridge’s conscious self, and Geraldine as Coleridge’s unconscious self. Ada Snell, in her article, “‘The Meter of ‘Christabel’,” identifies a pattern that supports this argument. According to Snell, the narrative moves “quite regularly” up until Geraldine’s “spell,” or the confrontation between the two consciousnesses, but after the line, “These words did say,” (268) the poem continues with a “purely anapestic line and other [lines] with extra light syllables until the poem breaks into two stress verse for five lines, then widens with anapestic substitutions. The total effect is as if one, chanting, walked in constantly diminishing circles toward a center” (Snell 104). Coleridge/Christabel are removing layers, focusing towards a center, and focusing towards a sense of Self. Additionally, because of the hypnagogic themes, a Jungian interpretation of “Christabel” is appropriate. In his own words, Jung identifies the Shadow, a piece of the “collective unconscious,” as the ““negative” side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities
we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious” (The Essential Jung CV 7). So in Jungian terms, Geraldine is the Shadow, and Christabel/Coleridge take the place of The Persona, or the image the dreamer projects to the outside world. However, the mark of a successful Jungian individuation process is the identification and balancing of all parts of self (The Persona, The Anima/us, The Shadow, The Wise Elder, The Divine Child, The Trickster, The Great Mother), and as Coleridge’s poem is potentially “unfinished,” we cannot properly analyze it using Jung’s theory. That being said, there is a suggestion that Christabel is moving towards a complete integration. When Christabel is sleeping next to Geraldine, the narrator refers to her sleeping “Like a youthful Hermitess/Beauteoous in a wilderness” (320-321). She has become one with, and akin to, Geraldine. Ledbetter suggests Christabel accedes to the title of “woman of the woods,” a woman outside of norms and between realities (213). In the Biographia Literaria Coleridge suggested that it was his responsibility to maintain some “semblance of truth” while exploring “supernatural elements” (The Major Works 314). And he does just that, he maintains a “semblance.” There is a half-truth, an in-between truth in “Christabel.” Coleridge adopts various supernatural elements – the witch, the vampire, the fairy, and others – and disregards strictly Romantic or fairy tale conventions in order to argue that “folklore” is “the starting point for the metaphysical implications” of the conscious and the unconscious (Liggins 100).
Works Cited Basler, Roy P. Sex, Symbolism, and Psychology in Literature. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1948. Print. Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Vintage Books, 1989. Print. Castle, Terry. The Literature of Lesbianism: A historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall. Ch. “Eighteenth Century, ‘Christabel’.” New York: Columbia University Press, 2003. Print. Coleridge’s Essays & Lectures on Shakespeare. London: J. M. Dent, 1907. Print. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Ed. Ernest Hartley Coleridge. Anima Poetae. London, 1895. Print. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Ed. H. J. Jackson. The Major Works (Oxford World’s Classics). New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.
Coleridge Bulletin, The. Ch. “Coleridge as a Bird: a Flight of Fancy,” Francis Court, 1996. Web. <http://www.friendsofcoleridge.com/MembersOnly/Acourtbird> Dundes, Alan. “‘To Love My Father All’: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Folktale Source of King Lear.” Cinderella: A Folklore Casebook. Ed. Alan Dundes. New York: Garland Press, 1982. Print. Grossberg, Benjamin Scott. “Making Christabel: Sexual Transgression and Its Implications in Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’.” Journal of Homosexuality 41.2 (2001) 145-167. Print. Herman, Judith L., with Lisa Hirschman. Father-Daughter Incest. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981. Print.
Horrell, Joseph. “The Demonic Finale of Christabel.” The Modern Language Review 37.3 (1942) 363-364. Print. Jung, C. G. Ed. Anthony Storr. The Essential Jung: Selected Writings. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1983. Print. Ledbetter, Gregory. Coleridge and the Daemonic Imagination. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web 12 March 2015. Letters of the Wordsworth Family from 1787 to 1855. London: Ginn and company, 1907. Print. Liggins, Elizabeth M. “Folklore and the Supernatural in ‘Christabel’.” Folklore 88.1 (1977) 91104. Print. Mulvihill, James. “‘Like a lady of a far Countree’: Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ and fear of invasion.” Papers on Language and Literature 44.3 (2008) 250-276. Print. Nethercot, Arthur H. “Coleridge’s ‘Christabel’ and Lefanu’s ‘Carmilla’.” Modern Philology 47.1 (1949) 32-38. Print. Nethercot, Arthur H. The Road to Tryermaine: A study of the History, Background, and Purposes of Coleridge’s “Christabel”. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, Publishers, 1939. Print. Orensteing, Catherine. Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality, and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Print. Sedgwick, Eve K. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Print. Snell, Ada L. F. “The Meter of ‘Christabel’.” Fred Newton Scott Papers. Ed. Thomas E. Rankin. Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1929. Print.
Swan, Karen. “Literary Gentlemen and Lovely Ladies: The Debate on the Character of Christabel.” ELH 52.2 (1985) 397-418. Print. Taylor, Anya. Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce. Virginia: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. ProQuest ebrary. Web 12 March 2015. Twitchell, James B. The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1981. Print. Welch, Dennis M. “Christabel, King Lear, and the Cinderella Folktale.” Papers on Language and Literature 32.3 (1996) 291-314. Print.
I roll down the window, and the smell of Ponderosa Pine floods the car; the wave brings a surge of memories and nostalgia in a place I’ve never been. I close my eyes and take a deep breath of the sweet, piney, Black Hills air. It smells like home. Suddenly I’m seven years old again, rolling down the window as we pull into the driveway of the cottage on Highland Lake in New Hampshire. I’m fifteen years old now and hiking in the White Mountains with my dad. I open my eyes, trying to stop the memories from playing out, but it’s too late. I’m homesick. “Not so touristy after all, is it?” Brad says. My boyfriend has a smugness about him, like he’s been right about this place all along. Our trip to South Dakota was his idea—this gem of a hideout is his best-kept secret. He pulls the car into a dirt parking lot next to Horsethief Lake. The sun has just come up and shines through the tall pines and aspens onto the sign in front of us: “Willow Creek Trail.” Driving into the Black Hills overnight from Nebraska, I wasn’t expecting so many trees; so much green. Where we live, the cornfields dominate the landscape. Where they don’t, the rolling sandhills take over, their golden prairie grasses moving like ripples on a lake. To those of us who live in the plains, there’s a romance to the dance of the meadowlark and the sounds of wheat waving in the wind. As a native New Englander, though, I find this moment of reintroduction to mountain air floods my mind and overwhelms my memory. I stare straight ahead and see the bright green leaves on the white aspen trees twist and roll in the soft morning breeze, making the sunlight dance like the twinkling reflections of light off a lake in midmorning.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” I can hear my great grandmother singing downstairs in her high-pitched voice, which crackles with age. She’s ninety years old but has the mobility and personality of someone decades younger. I know she’s cooking bacon; it’s part of the summer Saturday morning ritual I’ve known my whole life. My mom knew the same ritual as a kid. I lie in my bed, the one that was my mother’s when she was a child, and look to my left to see my brother is still fast asleep. I dog-ear the page of Nancy Drew: The Secret in the Old Attic and put it on the bedside table. Mom says she read the same book when she was a kid at the cottage. Not much has changed in this room since my mom was a child. The room still contains three beds, one for each of the Bennett children, even though my generation only has two. A doll cradle rests at foot of my bed and heavy metal, now partially rusted, toy tractors and trucks rest neatly on the shelf next to the Tinker Toys, Bobbsey Twins books, and the complete series of Nancy Drew mysteries. It’s my job to help Deedee with the toast. I get up quietly so that I won’t wake Tommy and I peek across the hall out the front bedroom sliding door window to see the lake. The sun is dancing off the water like crystals catching light. God, I miss the cottage. I let the memory slip away as I open the car door, stepping into the crisp mountain air. The weather is a stark contrast from the heat and humidity in Nebraska in May. I can’t believe air is so chilly just a few hundred miles from where we live; I can’t believe I can deep-woods hiking in South Dakota. I had always imagined the Badlands and bison when I thought of the Mount Rushmore area. I never thought the “hills” were actually mountains. They’re not Colorado mountains with snow-capped peaks and sharp rock formations. The hills around me are a strange conglomeration of steep wooded summits and smooth spires of rock that look softly weathered with age.
I stand in awe, staring all around me. The forest is so much more beautiful than I could ever imagine, and we haven’t even hit the trail yet. I traveled a lot with my family growing up, but I was too young to remember our visit to Mount Rushmore. Brad’s seen it, too, but we both don’t want the typical tourist experience of the Black Hills—the souvenir t-shirts, the family portrait in front of the presidents’ faces, and gold panning outside a fake mine. Instead, we scoured the internet and hiking guides for backcountry trails that would lead us to Gutzon Borglem’s American treasure. We were determined not to pay a parking fee for a free national memorial. It’s our first trip together, a true test of our relationship. Brad told me on our first date that he liked a good walk in the woods. We’ll see. The first two miles of our morning hike take us gradually uphill on a single-file twisting silt trail. My bare arms are cool and slightly damp from walking cozied up to the moss-covered bases of the gentle giant granite spires. Unlike hiking in the White Mountains, I see no giant boulders to scale. Instead they tower above us like skyscrapers in the middle of a city. It’s leisurely and quiet. We walk in silence, listening to the slight trickle of water in the creek and our hiking boots on the trail. With every footstep, the rolling rocks and shifting dirt under my rubber soles create a crunching and grinding that’s reminiscent of the sound of tires on a dirt road. The same soothing sound lulls me into a daydream every time. “Hope the goddam fish are biting,” Grandpa says. “Sure as hell hope so,” Dad replies. It’s 5 a.m. on a Saturday. The sun isn’t even up yet, and while most of my middle school friends are in bed, I’m wide awake. Long Pond isn’t far from the family cottage, but getting there isn’t easy. For an hour, we twist and turn down back dirt roads. I don’t want to tell Dad and Grandpa, but I’m a little carsick from the rolling hills and the stale smell of dog in the back of the blue pickup. Beauty is a good Springer Spaniel, but she
reeks of fish guts and mud. We put up with the smell because we know she’s Grandpa’s best friend, but it’s nauseating. I roll down the window and rest my chin on the door frame. I can smell the dust kicking up from the tire trucks rolling across the loose dirt. I love fishing with Dad and Grandpa. The way they talk in the truck makes me laugh— they have the thickest New England accents and they swear too much, especially when they talk about the Red Sox, but I don’t mind. I’m happy they take me with them. I guess I’m kind of like a good luck charm or a fish whisperer. We fit three of us and stinky, old Beauty in Grandpa’s red canoe and cut across the pond, creating the slightest wake on the lake that’s otherwise been still as glass. Grandpa has us up before the sun because he wants to catch his limit of rainbow trout, but I don’t care if I don’t catch a fish—I just love that there’s no one else on this pond but us. I bait my hook with the Berry family secret weapon: half a night crawler from Grandpa’s garden sandwiched between two balls of pink Powerbait. Before the hook is even in the water, a fish bites. “By God, how about that, Jeniffah,” Grandpa says. Normally, if I catch the first fish he gets mad, but because he hasn’t even dropped his pole in the water, it doesn’t count. Once I catch the first fish, it’s a feeding frenzy. Within an hour we’ve all caught our five-fish limit. God, I miss him. There aren’t many things that make me emotional, but the sound of my rubber soles on the gravel trail reminds me of fishing with Grandpa Berry. He wasn’t the kind of grandpa who went to school plays or kindergarten graduation, but he always included my brother and me when he’d hunt, fish or garden. I never heard him tell me he loved me, but I never felt unloved. I guess I just didn’t need to hear the words to know how he felt. His absence hurts me to the core, but my vivid memories of him console my aching heart.
Past the granite columns, the trail cuts through a dense section of woods. In the early morning light, the sun shines through the branches, casting glowing beams across the forest floor. The trail is still an easy climb—we’ve gone more than three miles in the past hour—and we’re still reveling in the near silence. Brad’s just a few feet ahead of me. I can hear him breathing and the sound of his water bottle clanking against the buckles on his backpack, but neither of needs to say a word. Our relationship is still new. We have yet to talk about important topics, like personal values and expectations, but now isn’t the time and we both know it without either having to say a word. I stop to retie my boot, telling Brad to keep going and I’ll catch up. The trail turns sharply, and I start the first real tough ascent of the day. It’s steep, and in the dense forest where pine needles coat the trail, I have a hard time catching my footing. Sweat starts to bead up on my forehead and I’m breathing heavy for the first time today. It feels good. Just as the trail starts to trend downhill again, I notice Brad, perched high atop a thirty-foot boulder. He’s sitting and staring, arms wrapped around his legs, ballcap backwards. He looks content and doesn’t even hear me approach. I’m tempted to call up to him, but I drop my bag at the base and climb to him, instead. “Where are we?” I ask, in an unnecessary whisper. No one can hear me, but I don’t want to disturb this otherwise perfect moment. From where we’re sitting, I can see for miles in every direction. Where we’re sitting is the epitome of “the middle of nowhere.” I see no buildings, no cars, no roads, and no other people. We are above everything—the trees, the mountains, and the hills. The massive granite formations I seemed to be staring up at just a few hours before are now a thousand feet below me, sticking straight up like needles pushing out from an ocean of ponderosa pines. The spires tower over them so high they make the nearly 200-foot-tall trees,
look merely like blades of grass at their bases. Beyond the trees and rocks, flat land stretches out as far as I can see. We’re in an oasis of vegetation. I see the edge of where the Black Hills meet the prairie grasslands and the sky stretches on forever. My lip quivers and I take a few deep breaths, but it doesn’t help. Gentle tears roll down my cheeks. Brad wraps his arm around my shoulder and I lean into him. I’m not thinking about work or family drama; I’m not anxious about what I’m going to do with my life or worried about bills. I feel free and at peace—the feelings I think one only experiences when finally making it to heaven. “Hey Niff, let’s just sit awhile,” my Dad insists. I’m fifteen and this is our first hike together without my brother and mom. It’s also our first time together up the strenuous east side of Mt. Washington. We’ve been hiking the Tuckerman Ravine Trail for four hours and we’re only halfway to the summit. The trail so far has been exhausting, nothing but rock—like hopping from stone to stone in a riverbed but going straight up. Dad needs to sit and rest a lot. He’s not a young dad; he was in his fifties when I was born and he tries to keep up, but his knees hurt a lot. To be honest, he probably wouldn’t summit the mountain any faster if he could. Dad likes to sit and take in the scenery. He likes to tell stories and daydream, and sometimes he’ll even pull out his sketchbook or journal. It’s exhausting sometimes. “Niff, this is as close to God as you’ll ever be,” Dad says when he takes another break at the top of Tuck’s. I step off the trail and turn around to see how far we’ve come. The past forty minutes, we’ve been crawling hand over hand up the headwall of the ravine, and I haven’t dared look down. Now is my chance. I can barely make out the ski shelter where we last rested. The sound of the waterfall hitting the rocks below echoes in the vastness. I’m so focused on what’s below me I don’t realize we’re above the clouds until the frosty droplets hit my face and create a
fog around me. Once it passes, I can see for miles. I can’t see where we parked or the highway we drove in on, but I can see the White Mountains for miles. Dad’s pointing out the peaks around us that make up the Presidential Range, including Mt. Adams and Mt. Madison, but I’m not really paying attention. Instead I’m mesmerized by the few patches of leftover snow in late July, the pattern of the ski trails across from us at Wildcat Mountain, and the number of trees, rich with green leaves and needles. As we sit looking at the nearly untouched natural area in New Hampshire, listening to no other sound but the waterfall and the wind, I agree with Dad. If ever there were a place I could go that God could hear me loud and clear, this would be it. God, I miss the old dad. I wipe away the tears that had soaked my cheeks and let out a big sigh. I’m so fortunate he’s alive, but our relationship is nothing but broken promises: “Sure, I’ll come visit you this summer; yes, I’ll be at your college graduation; we’ll hike the Appalachian Trail together next year.” He’s broken every one. I’m ready to keep going. Without him. “We’re almost there. Just another mile or two,” Brad says. He points to one of the rock formations I had just been looking at and explains that it’s the backside of Mount Rushmore. It’s amazing how a different our perspective is. Knowing how close we are to our destination makes the final few miles of our trek seem to drag on forever. The trail is mostly downhill through the same wooded forest that looked so small from high above. I’m so focused on making sure we don’t miss the sign for the cutoff from Centennial Trail to Blackberry Trail that I nearly miss what I had been waiting to see. “A president!” I yell, jumping up and down like a child. “Mum, please can we stop to see him! Please?!” I sound like a child, pleading like this with my mother, but I’m nearly eighteen. Every summer mom and I spend a day in the White
Mountains. Usually she indulges me and tromps around Storyland theme park like I’m still five years old, but today we’re headed to Mount Washington Resort for a more adult getaway. My parents divorced six months ago and we’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on life and relationships together. We even bought a new car—a red VW Beetle. It seemed like a fitting extravagance for two single ladies. Mom pulls the car off into the profile outlook and we step out and turn around. “Still there, like he always will be. You satisfied?” she asks. I don’t respond; I don’t get back into the car. I stand there, staring at the beautiful granite stone profile of the Old Man on the Mountain. It’s silly, really, that I care so much about this New Hampshire symbol, but especially this year I need something unchanged. We always stopped as a family to see the Old Man when we were in the White Mountains. He’s a part of our family and a big part of our New Hampshire heritage. He’s on our license plate, for God’s sake. God I miss the Old Man. I miss my family. The way it was. I stand there staring up at the profile of Mount Rushmore’s George Washington, saddened by the memory of the Old Man that fell just weeks after mom and I stopped to see him. While the memory makes me sad, I’m happy to have a new stone face in my life. Every turn of this trail brings me closer to home. “He’s perfect,” I say to Brad. We hike a mile more, ending our journey at the visitor’s center of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial and I almost feel bad for the children who are seeing the faces for the first time from this angle. Will they remember the moment, or are they only going to have the photos to remind them? We don’t stay long before heading back on the trail from where we came. I revisit my memories of childhood the whole way to the car, taking a few moments at the profile location,
the boulder lookout, and on the gravel section of the trail to reflect, just like my dad would have. I’m happy. I’m the kind of happy I normally only feel when I’m back in New England at the cottage and with my family. Today has been therapeutic. It’s not easy for me to delve into my past; looking back is often painful—I’m angry at my dad for letting me down and I feel guilty for leaving New England for college and never going back. I normally try to avoid going to places or looking at pictures that trigger these memories, but I can’t deny the catharsis I experienced while hiking in the Black Hills. I can be homesick and still be happy because I’m at peace with where my life has taken me. I’m falling in love—with a man and a place that are everything that was missing in my life. When we put our packs in the trunk and close the lid, I stand at the Willow Creek trailhead and look around, inhaling deeply one more time. I am homesick, and for the first time in a long time, I’m okay with that. I’m homesick for the smell of pine that reminds me of my childhood. I’m homesick for the views that make me realize God’s presence in my life. I’m homesick for the places that will remain the same no matter what else changes in my life and the places that make me feel closest to the people I miss the most. I’m homesick because I’m about to leave the Black Hills, and I know that in two hours, when I’m driving back across the Nebraska prairie, I’ll be counting down the days until I return to my South Dakota.
Blush Array after Sylvia Plathâ€™s Words pages cycle over and over while the chapters of the book collapse as I rock back and forth on that eldered tree who dropped after the flag flew half and as they turn ink gathers in a shallow white skull empty and eaten by the liliesâ€™ weedy roots draining away all its greens dividing all my years into vivid blush hue or the latter.
Covet God said to Adam: â€œYou may partake in all I have made, so long as you remain obedientâ€?, so goodness first required willful ignorance. But for all that women are well practiced mutes, we have never been afraid of information; it is the only weapon that requires no strength physically, leaves no trace beyond tongues, and remains useful without any polish. Eve knew this without Knowing, just as she could not know that she should feel shame for coveting that which is forbidden. Thus, the greatest paradox of her sex was born before Eve had cause to act: a woman is to be shamed for wanting before she has the opportunity to decide what it is she wants.
Sisters of Silence Do you know the feeling Of rough, rushed hands And a heavy, hungry body Pressing, pushing, pulling Against torn and tender skin And bruised and broken bones? Do you know the feeling Of raw, relentless memories Of hushed, humid kisses, Strong and sweaty, sly And unyielding though unwanted, On your frail and frigid frame? Do you know the feeling Of rampant, reaping pain And haunting, hidden truths, Seclusion, self-blame and silence, As you force a smiling face Over weak and wounded whimpers? Do you know the feeling Of a restless, racing heart And a hollow, hopeful soul, Anxious, adamant, and alone, As you quietly wait and wish for A valid and valued voice?
Cold Sheets Maybe the light from the dawn will give me courage to move again. Maybe it will show me that a new day truly does bring new hope. But still, Iâ€™ll be forced to forget this. And tomorrow, the world will sing me lullabies and say go to sleep, like nothing happened. Because to most people, nothing did happen. Two people met at a bar and went home together; Then, those same people went to bed together, sharing kisses and touches. Whatâ€™s so unusual about that? Nothing. Except the touches werenâ€™t shared. They were taken.
You weave through halls, eager to get to class before the bell rings. A smack heats your butt and an eruption of laughter follows; your eyes burn behind suppressed tears and you walk faster, escaping into a classroom, a textbook, a test. You’re just a little girl. To them, your body is a land to be explored. Their eyes travel the curves of your body, mapping out their own excursion; you will them to look into your eyes, but their tour is a round trip past the 5 Wonders of a Woman: Legs, Hips, Butt, Waist, and Breasts. Everyday you think this body is for me to live, breathe, and make a difference. One day, you escape into your 8th grade math classroom. Here you are partnered with the “popular” guy. You are focused on an assignment when you hear your partner say that if he likes a girl, he asks her to be his girlfriend. He uses you as an example. He says, if I want to date you because I think you are pretty, I will. You would never date him but you press your lips shut and work through each equation. Your partner turns to you; he notices your long, slender hands. He forms a circle with his thumb and fingers then smirks. He comments on how nice that would feel. Your cheeks burn; you write in the margin of the page: Live, breathe, make a difference. Inside your head, you yell for him to stop but the only noise that echoes in the room is the bell, signaling the end of another day.
The Art of Alchemy Oh yes, I remember the delicious feel of slick on slick, my tongue loose in your mouth, my mind a balloon floating. But I remember the emptiness better, how birds wait on wires for hours before the coming light; how muddy the gutter is when the air is sucked out from around you.
The Smell of Heights His eyes closed, feet on automatic, steering impossible to recount in the half light, he lifted the child and thought of Rio where he had watched the sun rise many times before the belly came, the circles, and now the ten of fingers and toes that trapped him sweetly late nights in the almost broken chair that love built anew each night, each day between rocks.
The Written Word He retired to his study for the rest of the large hours, the glass of sherry she poured him loosely balanced in his left hand, his books and papers piled neatly before him like the children they had not wanted then and yet yearned for now as age began to sift` through their bones. His written words had lost their importance years ago, but he poured himself between the leaves, each syllable a sad mystery he unraveled sometime before the old clock struck eleven and his mind began to wander through the years that he had wasted with her deciding whether or not she was right or wrong for him.
Down Under and Far Away
Grace Ann Rothwell Part 1
I was raised in a family of adventure seekers and "go with the flow" personalities. You kind of have to be that way in the military. Instead of fretting over how you'll adjust in the next state, the new town, you assume the shoulder shrug and learn to adapt. Transitions were not always smooth, but they were always full to the brim with new experiences, a huge learning curve, and ample opportunities for laughter. Second semester of my junior year, I set out on my own adventure, this time without my practical dad, my common sense-filled mom, or my witty younger brother. I had to cram my brain with my memories of each of them along with my own independent streak and instincts for dealing with new situations as I boarded a plane for Australia, my final destination being New Zealand. I was awfully glad I had a window seat. The moment the plane's wheels left the tarmac at the DFW airport, a hysterical grin spread across my face, one that might have caused concern amongst other passengers. The thought blared in the forefront of my mind: "What have I done?!" This was not the last time these four words popped up in my inner dialogue. They were with me when my ticket refused to scan in Sydney, when the dog in the Christchurch airport sniffed out a banana that had long since departed from my bag, when I accidentally bought two bottles of shampoo (I'm in a country where English is the primary language, mind you), when my feet were sore and blistered from walking 12.37 miles around the city, as that was the best form of transportation at the time. What. Have. I. Done. But mixed in with all of the mishaps were the magical moments, the ones in which I caught my breath and thought, "Ah, yes. This is why I'm here. This is why I came." Forming new friendships with fellow Americans from the north and midwest who were initially confused
when I introduced myself, thinking I said "Gray Sand." Munching on dumplings and pot stickers at an evening symphony rehearsal on a cool, summer night. Sitting on a bus trundling along winding roads as we left behind the city and surged toward the countryside. Proud evergreens chasing shorter shrubbery chasing pastures of freshly shorn sheep and cows lazily flicking their tails. Jet-boating over cyan blue waters, zigzagging in between rocky cliffs, smothered in greenery. The mountains in the backdrop, jagged and majestically purple, punctuating the horizon, low-hanging clouds floating on the peaks. As I reflect on just one week of experiences, on the cusp of many more, I am reminded of Colossians 1:16. This city, this country, these people, this tiny flat in which I write this...all are part of God's plan, His craftsmanship, His purpose, His grand, incomprehensibly beautiful and true novel of all time, one for which He has already designed an end, a victory in Jesus. I hope the misadventures and adventures alike that I will share in the coming months produce a few smiles and ultimately glorify God's name.
Part 2 Currently, my clothes are hanging haphazardly from the back of my swivel chair or lying limp and unfolded in the cubbies on the opposite side of the room. Half of my books are piled on my unmade bed, and shoes without their partners are strewn across the floor, waiting to trip me early in the morning when I go for my cereal. It's rather amazing how I can still manage such a mess in a smaller space with fewer possessions (I feel you shaking your heads and rolling your eyes at me, Chandler and McKenna). I suppose you could say writing this is providing a lovely opportunity for procrastination. There's more to spending a semester in another country than the trips that bookend the weeks. There's more than the planning or the spontaneous execution of the next excursion. For
one thing, there are the courses. (My history essay due at the close of the month stands stark and sobering within the passage of sunlit, summery days.) However, there are also different kinds of plans, perhaps not as involved as a road trip out west, but equally pleasant and satisfying. There are the evenings when everyone pitches in with vegetables and drinks and extra forks as one friend treats us to ratatouille. Sunlight slinks in through the sliding door, glinting off of the glasses, creating a lolling, laid back atmosphere as we shove the last scraps of rice and tomato sauce across the plate with our forks, laughing as nine of us sit elbow to elbow at a table meant for six. Then two tubs of ice cream materialize, and we don't bother waiting to fill our own mugs with the creamy goodness before topping it off with some chocolate syrup; we squeeze it straight into the container. The fudge ice cream disappears first. There are the small, ordinary occurrences. Making my coffee sans coffeemaker with some grounds, boiling water, and a strainer. (Is the grounds to water ratio still a bit off? Sure, but I'm getting there.) Reading to my heart's content and beyond as I check books off my list, breeze through new discoveries, and visit old friends. (Of course I'm not doing that while I'm supposed to be reading for class.) Walking to the farmer's market on Saturday mornings and soaking in (with mouth gaping ever so slightly) the unique and inviting gates that surround the houses: the classic white picket, wrought iron with delicate loops and swirls, red brick that is worn yet sturdy. The vibrant flowers in the gardens beyond poke their curious faces out at the passerby. It's all an extraordinarily simple kind of bliss. These are the moments in between, and I want to remember them just as fondly as I will the ethereal landscapes. God graciously crafted together these precious moments for my good and his glory. And it's amazing to think that just as He has counted all of the hairs on my head, just as He knows all of my steps and that, if possible, my head hits the pillow at 10:00 p.m. (once a College Grandma, always a College Grandma), He numbers and knows the same for every
person I have encountered here and those persons I have not met. Doing life here has provided some perspective on the measureless expanse of His love. Now, I should probably tend to my room.
Part 3 Having lived with myself for almost 21 years, I like to think that I know myself reasonably well. I know that I like to sink into a good book and not resurface for another three hours. I like to sing and bake cookies for people and study with obscure score music and warm drinks (that is, if I get around to studying). I like to listen and absorb as much as I can about the person sitting with me, and, if it's someone I happen to know really well, I might ramble like there's no tomorrow and not remember how to shut up. Mid-semester break was quickly approaching. It was going to be at least two weeks of zero homework, a sweet release from the exams I was sure I had just failed, little responsibility, and day after day of pure, raw, unbridled adventure. And I was dreading it. 11:37 PM the night before, I had thrown two shirts and partnerless socks into my pack. I had no cash. My room was a war zone. Sleep was elusive that night. I was mentally preparing myself for two weeks constantly being surrounded by people, people, people. Truly wonderful people, mind you, but people who I would not be able to escape when my introverted self needed just an hour of respite. So the next morning, with bleary eyes and unkempt hair, I boarded a plane with my classmates bound for Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. And the week that unfolded was nothing shy of paradise.
We danced, we stuffed copious amounts of food in our mouths and danced some more. We snorkeled amongst bright schools of fish and other fascinating aquatic life, lounged on the sand or let the water lap at our feet as we watched the blood orange sun slip beneath the sea. We biked down back roads and stopped to eat fresh fruit, scrambled up and over tree roots under a canopy of lush green leaves and trekked across water briskly falling over large rocks. We were unplugged, unworried, taking in a new world with curious eyes, drifting listlessly in a colorful, sandy, salty-hair kind of dream. Naturally, by the time we flew into Auckland, I was ready for a good twelve hour snooze, but I was on the cusp of the next leg of my mid-semester journey. One of the vans shuttling people to and from the airport pulled up, and I recognized the familiar twang of a music genre I have not heard since being in New Zealand: country. Now, I'm not a big fan of today's country hits. But you start playing some Brad Paisley or Alan Jackson from the 90's/early 2000's and I will get very emotional. Low and behold, the song I heard blaring from the radio was Alan Jackson's "Drive," a song that drags up memories of riding in the back seat of my grandfather's suburban as we made our way down south to Lake Ouachita or fishing from his camouflage boat somewhere in Oklahoma. Instantly, I was refreshed in spirit and ready to tackle the week ahead. And the week that followed was Paradise Part 2, but of a different sort. It consisted of slightly uncomfortable car rides with quite creative packing and seating arrangements; ice cream and shenanigans in Auckland; heaps of oatmeal and peanut butter and twice as much brown sugar; the rolling hills and circular doors of rainbow-adorned Hobbiton; devouring $5 pizzas and laughing with abandon on the edge of a skate rink; setting up camp after dark five nights straight; uncommonly bright stars gazing at themselves on the motionless surface of a quiet lake; surfing down scree on Mount Ngauruhoe; ceaselessly zig-zagging down
the Tongariro track; a used bookshop in which I had to practice much restraint; lots of Harry Styles; more ice cream and more shenanigans in Wellington; and people. High quality people. Before the start of my two weeks, I was afraid of running dangerously low on steam after so much time with so many people. Yet on the other side of the two weeks, I found that I missed their company once I was back in my flat on my own. You learn a lot about people in that amount of time and in those settings. You learn who the prominent snorers are, who's the best at navigating, who's the most ruthless in card games, who spreads jelly on a separate slice of bread, who plops the jelly right on top of the peanut butter, who talks the least (me), who is the least likely to make a decision (also me), who wakes up the earliest, who can stomach the most food, and so on. You learn about family life. Friendships. Dreams. What they left behind in the States, and what they will be going home to. Over and over, I was reminded of how humans are naturally in want of companionship. We were created to function with and around others. However, every friendship and relationship we build points to something so much greater and so much sweeter. Ultimate companionship comes with an intimacy with Christ; nothing and no one else in this world can satisfy. Are the experiences and the people worthless then? On the contrary. They teach me how to love deeper and wider, they challenge me to explore and persevere, and they direct my eyes to Him, whether or not they are aware of it.
Refined by Dumpster Fire
Galileo Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was a safe space. I found it in late 2015, the year I began to come out as queer. The time had come to find a faith community who would support and affirm me as the person God created me to be. Katie O of 2015, a sometimesChristian, sometimes-atheist, most-of-the-time-cynical lesbian, walked into the back door of Galileo, and felt safe. Galileo did not need me to change. Nevertheless, they would change me. After a year and half in that space, after learning to trust them and lean into them, I would allow myself to participate in their story in a life-changing way from which I hope never to recover. â€œGalileo Church exists to seek and shelter Spiritual Refugees and rally spiritual health for all who come...Especially (but not only!) LGBTQ+ people and the people who love them.â€? This is a message that goes up on our screen during the pre-Worship slide-show every single Sunday, along with our missional priorities: justice for LGBTQ+ people; kindness for those in mental and emotional distress, and celebrating neurodiversity; beauty for our God who is beautiful; real relationship, no bulls***, ever. Last, but not least, at Galileo, we fiercely and stubbornly believe that Someday, God Gets Everything God Wants (Micah 4:1-4; Isaiah 25:6-9; Luke 3:1-6; Matthew 22:1-10; Revelation 21:1-4; 22:1-5). At Galileo, we did not believe any person exists to whom we would close our door. Until we found him. For the sake of anonymity, we call him Robert. Robert was a gay man who, due to an unaccepting family and faith community, bottled up his feelings, and married a woman. Robert eventually discovered online dating, and began using it to relieve his sexual tension. One escapade brought him to a person who was, unbeknownst to Robert, only 14 years old. Robert was arrested and convicted. When he found us, he had been put on probation, and was thus
required to ask permission to enter our space. He told our Lead Evangelist his story, and she told him she would consider it, and consult our Missional Logistics Team (MLT). The MLT had to make a choice between either telling someone no, he was not welcome, or compromising the safety of those we already called our own. After months of praying, crying, and discussing, Katie Hays, our lead evangelist, discovered another church. Their own missional purpose was to welcome folks exactly like Robert and re-integrate them into society. The MLT told Robert “no,” and referred him to that church. That church also affirms Robert’s queer identity, and we have confidence that they are taking good care of him. True to “real relationship, no bulls***, ever,” the MLT told the congregation about their decision in a litany of confession. Many congregants were upset that we had even considered accepting such a person, while others were appalled that we had said no. We lost a few folks over the issue. To this day, we refer to the whole kismet of events as “The Dumpster Fire.” Now, what does all this have to do with me? Well, before the “Dumpster Fire,” I had been tentatively considering that maybe, possibly, I might be called to some form of vocational ministry. Then this Dumpster Fire blew up, and I thought, “Oh, no way. This leadership thing seems really hard. I do not ever want to do that.” I wish I could have heard God laughing while I thought that, because God had other plans. I thought a lot about the Dumpster Fire. The whole story. What did it mean for those rubber rainbow bracelets we wore that read “Test Our Welcome”? We never thought our welcome would fail someone’s test. What about our missional priorities? Was this not an issue of justice for LGBTQ+ people? It was, we had concluded, but not one that was ours to do. At the forefront of my mind was communion. Every Sunday, when we took the bread and the cup and said the Words of Institution, we also said, “All are welcome at the table of our Lord. Please,
come.” We simply could not say that anymore. So then what was communion, anyway? What did it mean? What was the point? I talked these questions over with Katie H. She agreed that they were important to consider, and we didn’t have all the answers yet. At some point in our conversation, I said to Katie H, “I think at some point I might have imagined that every Sunday, here at Galileo, God was getting everything God wants. I guess this even is showing me that we’re just not there yet.” Katie asked if I would be willing to share that insight with our congregation. I agreed. Before leaving from that meeting, I walked all around our Worship space and prayed. For everyone who had sat in those seats and heard Robert’s story, for everyone outside who would never find us, for our leaders to find peace with their decision. Upon hearing the story, I had thought I would never want to do that work. In the days that followed, I found that I did not want to do anything else. The following Sunday, I shared my insights in the form of a communion devotional. I explained how selfish it was of me, to imagine that on all God’s green earth, this little barn was where God was getting everything God wants. I affirmed that it is still true, as it always has been, that all are welcome at the Table of our Lord, and that at our little piece of that table, we welcome as many as we can. That devotional was a turning point in our community, from surviving the changes of our church identity to thriving in them. The role I played in that transition affirmed my call to ministry, and I’ve been chasing that goal ever since. Since the Dumpster Fire, I have grown significantly in my roles at Galileo Church. In June, I was asked to join the Missional Logistics team, as Co-Treasurer. I have led several communions since then, and shared theological insights at each of them. I am also leading a small group study. Among all of these efforts, and in announcing my intentions to pursue
vocational ministry, my fellow congregants, co-workers, and pastor have affirmed my call to ministry. Now, I am studying history and religion at Texas Christian University in preparation for Divinity School at Yale University. I am thrilled to be walking the path towards my calling and my lifeâ€™s purpose.
This publication contains the winning pieces from the 2018 Creative Writing Awards at Texas Christian University.
Published on Apr 20, 2018
This publication contains the winning pieces from the 2018 Creative Writing Awards at Texas Christian University.