Spring 2015

Page 1


spring 2015

VOL. 150 NO. 3

COLUMNS 4 6 7 9

Journalistic Ethics at Harvard Fantasy, Action, and Acting Out The Many Lessons of Cannibalism Broad City’s Amorphous Partiality

Henry Shah Daniel Schwartz Caleb Lewis Reina Gattuso

ART 12 13 24 25 44 53

Sap II Volatile Territory V Operation I Hearts in My Veins Chrysalis

Anna Koeferl Anna Koeferl Alistair Debling Alistair Debling Tamilyn Chen Anna Koeferl

POETRY 11 23

‘Cypress scepters in the rocks, paint-green water...’ Aquamanile in the Form of Phyllis and Aristotle

Ben Blumstein Zoë Hitzig

FICTION 14 39 54

At the Edges “Watch Me” The Smut Spectrum

Emeline Atwood Anna Hagen Ethan Loewi

FEATURES 26 32 48

Sisyphus & Mary Jane 1-800-TOILETS Three Tales of Displacement

Margot Grenade Sam Reynolds Bailey Trela

ART Kiara Barrow, Brad Bolman, Brooke Bourgeois*, Ben Chabanon, Harry Choi, Lucas Cuatrecasas, Isaac Dayno, Luke Fieweger, David Herman, Mattie Kahn, Jen Kim*, Sarah Rosenthal, Jake Seaton, Caroline Silber*, Nora Wilkinson, Yunhan Xu. BUSINESS Nelson Arnous, Hayden Betts, Haley Daniels*, Camille Jacobson*, Jack Kleinman, He Li, Sara Rosenburg, Kristin Tsuo, Krithika Varagur, Calvin Willett.

The Harvard Advocate www.theharvardadvocate.com

EDITORIAL BOARD President Publisher Art Editor Blog Editor Business Manager Design Editors


BOARD OF TRUSTEES Chairman Chairman Emeritus Vice-Chairman President Vice-President and Treasurer Secretary




DESIGN Garrett Allen, Julia Cohn, Connor Cook, Louise Decoppet, Simone Hasselmo, Michelle Long, Eric Macomber, Kathryn McCawley, Kelsey Miller, Mahan Nekoui, Myagmarsuren Purev-Ochir, Sam Richman, Jeannie Sui Wonders, Emma Weil*, Julia Yu*, Renee Zhan*. FEATURES Matthew Browne*, Moeko Fujii, Christine Legros*, Caleb Lewis, Kate Massinger*, Olivia Munk, Sam Reynolds, Lily Scherlis, Indiana Seresin, Kurt Slawitschka, Ezra Huang Stoller, Bailey Trela, Faye Yan Zhang. FICTION Emma Adler, Christopher Alessandrini, Emeline Atwood*, Brad Bolman, Grazie Christie*, Miles Counts, Bryan Erickson, Gina Hackett, Matt Krane, Julian Lucas, Laurel McCaull*, Moira McCavana*, Rebecca Panovka, Yen Pham, Tania Rivers-Moore*, Henry Shah, Maia Silber, Emily Wang. POETRY Claire Benoit, Robbie Eginton, Edith Enright, Reina Gattuso, Sam Goldman Reiss*, Brandan Griffin, Roxanna Haghighat, Zoë Hitzig, Kevin Hong, Alice Ju, Eli Lee, Ethan Loewi, Natasha Sarna*, Colton Valentine. TECHNOLOGY Luciano Arango, Brendan Bozorgmir, Juliana Castrillon, JN Fang, Jenny Gao, Henry Gomory, Jawad Hoballah, Yuqi Hou, David Hughes, Josh Palay, Alex Sedlack*, Rachael Smith, Diane Yang*.

*The Harvard Advocate welcomes its newest members.

The Harvard Advocate considers all submissions of art, features, fiction, and poetry anonymously. Submissions may be emailed to art@theharvardadvocate.com, features@theharvardadvocate.com, fiction@theharvardadvocate.com, or poetry@theharvardadvocate.com. Submissions may also be mailed to 21 South St., Cambridge MA 02138. All submissions should be original work that has not been previously published. If you wish to have your submission returned to you, please include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Questions about submissions may be directed to the individual emails above or to contact@theharvardadvocate.com. Founded in 1866, The Harvard Advocate is the nation’s oldest continuously published college literary magazine. It publishes quarterly from 21 South St., Cambridge MA 02138. Published pieces and advertisements represent the opinions of the authors and advertisers, not necessarily those of the The Harvard Advocate. Domestic subscription rates are $35 for one year (4 issues), $60 for two years (8 issues), and $90 for three years (12 issues). For institutions and international addresses, the rates are $45 for one year (4 issues), $75 for two years (8 issues), and $110 for three years (12 issues). Rates are payable by cash or check made out to The Harvard Advocate and mailed to the above address, Attn: Circulation Manager. Back issues are available for purchase at www.theharvardadvocate.com. No part of this magazine may be reprinted without the permission of The Harvard Advocate. Copyright 2014 by the Editors and Trustees of The Harvard Advocate.

April, at 21 South Street, is far from the cruelest month. But melting snow reveals spring breeding: birthing dormant lilacs from our archives, mixing institutional memory with a new, stirring rain. Our spring issue resurrects an Advocate tradition of engaging with contemporary issues in a new section called Columns, in which members respond to an aesthetic, cultural, or political phenomenon of the moment. The inaugural edition offers a feminist reading of Broad City, a psychoanalytic critique of liberal ideology, a review of Adriana Varejão’s art and cultural cannibalism, and a cautionary appraisal of outdated journalistic policies that exclude essential voices under the auspices of “objectivity.” By contrast, the long-form features address questions of fiction: Their writers wind through rivers and inhabit smoke clouds—always with a small, pea-sized urge to urinate tucked away in their pelvic zone. Everything, they claim, happened this way because they said it did. They revel in the question of whether their lives, and the lives of others, are stranger than fiction. The Fiction Board, meanwhile, has selected three pieces to be considered under the (unfolding) umbrella of the bildungsroman. “Watch Me” juxtaposes the coming of age of one half of the population with a personal narrative, “The Smut Spectrum,” takes the loss of innocence to new and profane heights, and “At the Edges” depicts a protagonist compelled to grow up fast by circumstances outside her control. The board has decided to ignore the semantic issue that “roman” means novel. The Poetry Board finds itself in a more fatalistic mood. ‘Cypress scepters in the rocks, paint-green water...’ may seem low on hope, but its Rorschach test of a childhood trauma and agile tonal shifts merit close scrutiny. “Aquamanile in the Form of Phyllis and Aristotle” is an ekphrasis like a slow wink, spoken by a voice both alien and domestic. Read it aloud, slowly. Then look up the original—and the legend the artifact depicts. The Art Board brings us six pieces by three artists, all of which reimagine and reorient us to process, from evolutionary point mutations to aerial military operations. In Sap II and Volatile, organic patterns emerge unplanned and unexpected, as vestigial features reappear further up the evolutionary line. Pools of ink present an unsettling illusion of life: slowly shifting, breathing. Out of the grid’s sterility in Operation I and Territory V erupts a playfully sinister motif of wallpaper polka-dots, while the flesh-colored dreamscape in Untitled distorts otherwise recognizable forms. In this issue, the Design Board seeks to maintain the Advocate’s traditional aesthetic while simultaneously grounding the magazine in a contemporary context. The cover, illustrations, and designs in this issue are largely process driven, drawing on 3D modeling and simulation techniques to produce a clean, yet relevant design. Twelve years after the original and for the first time since 2010, the Technology Board has redesigned and relaunched our website: theharvardadvocate.com. In addition to a cleaner aesthetic, the site includes refurbished donate, subscribe, and shop pages and proves to us literary luddites that the simulacrum of a screen need not pervert the intentionality of the printed page. 2016 marks our 150th anniversary, for which we have already begun work on a commemorative anthology and launched a Capital Campaign with the goals of: digitizing our archives, inaugurating a financial aid initiative, boosting our endowment, and updating our beloved home at 21 South Street, protecting blooms of generations past and fertilizing the roots of many more springs to come. We hope you enjoy the unfurling of this Editorial Board’s first such bouquet. THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 3

columns Journalistic Ethics at Harvard HENRY SHAH

Last semester, black student leaders organized a confrontational protest at the start of Primal Scream, an annual Harvard undergraduate streaking tradition. The Crimson’s editorial board decided to opine. Typically, the board invites all interested staff members to convene, deliberate, and then vote on a consensus opinion. But when they scheduled this meeting during the March on Harvard—a campus-wide #blacklivesmatter solidarity protest with almost 1,000 participants—they left certain voices outside of the conference room “consensus” and came down against the Primal Scream protesters. The choice was either ignorant or slyly malicious. The board may have not known about the protest or it may have known about the time conflict and intentionally left participants out of the decision. In either case, the size of the protest, combined with the overwhelming turnout of Harvard’s black community, meant that one side of a divisive issue was unable or unlikely to attend the meeting. It’s worth taking a closer look at this decision, which fits into a pattern of journalistic exclusion that often leaves people of color, queer people, and others outside of conversations that directly affect them. At the heart of this pattern is the issue of bias. The Harvard Crimson strives to avoid bias. When the involvement or opinion of the journalist enters into a purportedly unslanted piece, this bias is known as a conflict of interest. The Crimson, like most papers, has a defined conflict of interest policy to help staff handle biases. The paper aims to “recognize that the appearance of a conflict of interest is the same as an actual one,” and, like all such policies, this one’s lines are left blurry, open to interpretation. Over the past few months, however, The Crimson’s management has made decisions about the blurred lines of those policies that consistently leave out those traditionally on the wrong side of Harvard’s ivy-covered walls. They cling to an



columns outdated gold standard of journalism, in which “objectivity” lines up with the perspectives of straight white men. Walter Lippman, often considered the father of modern American journalism, sought to eliminate the presence of bias by creating a standard of scientific control. His theories can be seen as a possible origin for The Crimson’s conflict of interest policies. An excellent piece of journalism, for him, achieves “the unity of the disciplined experiment.” The journalist distills the world through interviews and observations and swirls it around in his test tube, holding it up at arms length to the light streaming through his lab window. Lippman’s model of scientific uber-detachment is now considered outdated. A recent Poynter Institute publication declares, “Where we once argued for independence, we now advocate transparency.” Concerns about bias can no longer revolve around involvement, for involvement seems inevitable in a connected world. Are you involved if you like an article on Facebook? Tweet at a political or activist figure? The new model sees bias only if these perceived or actual entanglements hurt the experiment. On a college campus, complete detachment is particularly difficult, unless the journalist is a monk. Students sleep with one another, they work with one another, they see each other hungover in class. The best we can do, it seems, is to follow Poynter’s new recommendation and be straightforward about those connections. The Crimson hasn’t caught up to these changing standards. Their current ones are a holdover from a significantly less-equitable past, and over the past few months, it has become increasingly clear that The Crimson’s ethical transparency isn’t transparent or ethical at all. This February, I had been writing a 5,000-word article for The Crimson on black student activism. I wanted to paint a detailed portrait of a new generation of activists that had risen up over the past few years. It was the exact sort of narrative that The Crimson and American journalism at large often miss out on, unless protesters are blocking highways and throwing water bottles at riot police. I had also attended the March on Harvard, the same massive march mentioned earlier, a few months before. Two nights before the piece was supposed to run, the managing editor and president told me that this violated The Crimson’s conflict of interest policy. The piece could not be printed even if it included a note about my attendance, or a brief ex-

planation. All my involvement in the article—hours on hours of interviews and research, countless conversations, trust built—all had to be scrapped. For many people of color, the decision was none too surprising. Many of my interviewees for the article brought up incident after incident in which they felt The Crimson had published material that excluded or hurt their communities. For many activists, a catalyzing moment was a 2012 op-ed claiming that affirmative action “makes as much sense as helping the visually impaired become pilots.” Many agreed to be interviewed only after I explained that I was trying to include unheard stories and voices in The Crimson. They worried that the story would cherry-pick quotes to falsely suggest either unanimity or chaos in communities of color. They worried that I would have no sense of the organizational or social landscape and that I would continue to alienate the persistently disrespected through omission of important details, background information, and context. The paper at times has failed to cover even major events that may not be on the radar of white people at Harvard. The Crimson never covered the Blacktivism conference, a meeting of hundreds of student-organizers from around the country and world and a continuation of the nationally known “I, Too, Am Harvard” movement. Their newsletter on the first day of the conference featured coverage of The Bach Society’s latest concert and a piece on the Cronut, a New York City pastry fad. Every person of color I know was at the March on Harvard. If mere attendance at a protest constitutes a conflict, then very few people of color can cover any facet of black activism for The Crimson. This forces journalists of color to make a choice: stay on the sidelines, mute, or engage in the most important issues of our time and sacrifice their journalistic voices. Uninvolved reporters interested in covering these issues must become explorers, on the hunt for sources and stories in a terrain in which they’re unfamiliar. This comes in the form of longform, purportedly definitive articles on “the Asian American experience,” the life of the “gay and female,” and an article on interracial dating. The last piece used only three couples as sources; the author explains that “other couples that represent many other ethnicities” declined to be interviewed. Those trends cannot be chalked up to Harvard alone as an institution that for too long was a cozy staging ground for a narrowly sourced elite. The admitted class of 2018 was made up of almost half visTHE HARVARD ADVOCATE 5

columns ible minority students. Over 65 percent of students here are on financial aid. We clearly have the tools, or at least the stats and bodies, to actively remove barriers to understanding and fair representation. It’s up to publications to start using those tools and removing those barriers. Institutions like The Crimson must not only adopt policies reflecting the changing journalistic standards, but also ensure those policies do not exclude the narratives and voices they currently do. Undergraduate organizations should be leading the nation-wide movement on this account, not lagging behind it. The March on Harvard should pose neither a conflict of interest nor a time conflict to responsible and well-rounded coverage; readers and writers, publishers and the public alike would all stand to benefit.

Fantasy, Action, and Acting Out DANIEL SCHWARTZ

As a child, I often fantasized about killing Hitler. Many of these fantasies involved gruesomely humiliating him—and this, more than his death, seemed to be their salient aspect. As I remember it, when I felt emotionally paralyzed—beset by an uncomprehending nausea at the magnitude and inventiveness of evil—these fantasies distracted and pacified me. Oddly, in these imaginings I never quite appeared or acted; I pictured the violent scenes in such a way that the perpetrator remained anonymous. This anonymity shielded me from the painful irony that I had unwittingly stumbled upon the same violent fantasies in myself that I detested in others. Perhaps then, the true horror stemmed not from my inability to comprehend the subterranean roots of evil but from sensing these roots in myself and grappling with the possibility that forbidden, half- conscious impulses could be acted on. Today’s collegiate consciousness suppresses this uncomfortable fact, disavowing perverse fantasies, exiling them to the realm of perverse action. The art of Socratic ignorance and self-questioning is thus abandoned. Certain values and moral judgments are taken for granted, and assumed patterns of thinking and reasoning are confused with thought and reasoning as such. Biased and exclusive modes of consciousness masquerade as objective and inclu6


sive totalities of consciousness. Where we might ask questions, we instead assert unassailable facts of human relations. Abuse and abuse of power, from police brutality to rape to misuse of privilege, are almost never considered in relation to individual desires and fantasies—in terms of psychological structures present in all our minds. What is thus lost is an awareness of the distinction between natural feeling and aberrant behavior. We (justifiably) vent our frustration and rage, belittle and exclude those with disagreeable viewpoints—and refuse any kind of identification with those guilty of or sympathetic to violent or oppressive acts. Ironically, in doing so, we betray the presence in ourselves of the same impulses that, when outwardly expressed by others, we reflexively disown and condemn. Would it even make sense, or be conceptually possible, to experience rage and indignation over acts committed by people with feelings and desires utterly foreign to our own? When an animal is killed for killing a human, our empathy tends to attach itself to both the human and the animal, both the victim and the culprit—our psychological distance from the animal allows this. Why, then, when solely humans are concerned, do we recoil from empathizing with the guilty? Perhaps our revulsion obscures the inward injustice we feel upon discovering that, where we tyrannically inhibit ourselves, others indulge. Our wrath is consistently aimed at institutions and impersonal offenders. We confront the puppet strings of oppression in political, legal, and educational systems—but these puppet strings are anonymous, invisible, difficult to grasp, impossible to control. At Harvard, University policies and Final Clubs are frequently scrutinized for condoning reprehensible behavior—while quietly, imperceptibly, we become unable to stomach the innateness of impulses that deserve censure as actions, not as fantasies. The recent controversial Spee Club invitation sparked a fervent backlash against ‘structures’ and ‘cultures’ that reflect power imbalances and promote the degradation of women. Students are eager to discuss and reform these structures and cultures, but how can such an endeavor possibly succeed if we do not first explore the individual feelings and motives such incidents betray. If the loathsome desires at stake were not shared by perpetrators and condemners alike, I cannot see how Final Clubs would be a problem— no one would attend their parties. It is likely that an uncanny half-awareness of the omnipresence in imagination of that which we detest in reality defensively directs our scrutiny toward

columns policies and practices and away from individuals— toward an institutional unconscious and away from our own unconsciouses. However, if we cannot acknowledge the existence of aggressive and base desires in ourselves—if we do not dare investigate the repulsive majority that underlies the rational minority of the mind—how can we hope to do more than retroactively address instances where the mind ceases to function democratically and its hostile and unprincipled majority forsakes the lofty demands of socialization? How can we strive not merely to punish and protest but to anticipate? The rise of political correctness expresses precisely the opposite of that which it purports to represent. Targeting fantasies and impulses that have leaked into gesture and speech but not action, PC dogma also gratifies tamer versions of them. The desire to censor, to include all by excluding some, undoubtedly stems from aggressive feelings. Moreover, unreflective political correctness suppresses a crucial dimension of self- awareness, conflating the natural scope of feeling and desire with reprehensible behavior. Such a paradoxical collective attitude is bound to depress and provoke, alienating us from both our communities and ourselves and exacerbating the same problems it addresses. Where feeling and speech become shameful and forbidden, acting out becomes more likely. Of course, PC dogma is itself a form of acting out, at once prohibiting aggression and indulging in milder forms (i.e. aggressing against the aggressors)—and it thus projects the imperative to resolve this conflict of feelings onto the external world. It requires offenders as fervently as it denounces them. As Nietzsche observed more than a century ago, when such a vast portion of our inner lives becomes unacceptable and inaccessible to us, we become lost, aimless intruders in our own lives. We desperately need reasons to live, motivation to act, senses of purpose, and causes by which to stand. “When I think of the craving to do something, which continually tickles and spurs those millions of young people who cannot endure their boredom and themselves, then I realize that they must have a craving to suffer and to find in their suffering a probable reason for action, for deeds...These young people demand that—not happiness but unhappiness should approach from the outside and become visible; and their imagination is busy in advance to turn it into a monster so that afterward they can fight a monster.”

The Many Lessons of Cannibalism: CALEB LEWIS

In November of 2014, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art hosted the work of acclaimed Brazilian painter Adriana Varejão, marking the artist’s first major consideration in the United States. Upon entering the exhibit, the viewer immediately encounters the life-sized figure of a nude woman painted in deep steel-blue against an off-white canvas. Right arm wrapped around an oversized war-axe, and left arm outstretched sweepingly, she appears at first to welcome the viewer into the space. But there is a guilefulness in her smile. Her hand, inscribed with the same floral tattoos that traverse her entire form, gestures beyond the columns behind her, not in the direction of the other paintings on display. Between those columns unfolds what can only be described as cannibalistic bacchanalia. Smaller, nude figures dance and cavort around large fire pits over which legs, ribcages, and various other dismembered human bits roast grotesquely. A few of the anthropophagi participants stand apart from the others. Partially obscured by the gesturing woman in the foreground, they plunge their teeth into human meat, backs bent into the action, heads severely ripping flesh from bone. Scenes like these are common in the homes and meeting places of 18th century Portuguese aristocrats. Like Varejão’s image 300 years later, they are called “entrance figures” and are typically found on walls adjacent to the entrances of buildings. One such figure painted in the Church of Santo Antão do Tojal in Loures, Portugal bears striking resemblance to the nude warrior woman: though he is clothed and male, his right hand clutches the same weapon as hers, and his left extends the same welcoming motion. However, the viewer will find no cannibalistic orgy taking place behind him or any of the other baroque figures commissioned by wealthy Portuguese nobility. For that, the works of the 16th century Flemish printmaker Theodorus de Bry must be consulted. Drawing on narratives of cannibalistic indigenous people such as the Tupí, who ceremonially consumed the bodies of defeated warriors, de Bry fashioned dramatically affecting prints that depict naked men, women, and children gathering hungrily around roasting human limbs. Both of these motifs—the aesthetic tastes of Portuguese colonizers and the accounts of savagery that formed the moral basis for their subjugation of THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 7

columns native people in the first place—are profoundly important to understanding modern Brazilian culture. In “Entrance Figure I,” Varejão consumes, digests, synthesizes and reorganizes them. In short, she cannibalizes them. The importance of this “cultural cannibalism” to Brazilian culture cannot be overstated. First espoused by Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade in his 1928 “Manifesto antropófago,” (or “Cannibal Manifesto”) it arose as a means to construct a coherent national identity. The Brazil of the early 20th century was a land of confused multiplicity. The progeny of Portuguese colonizers lived among (or rather, better than) the offspring of the same groups against which the colonial state had historically perpetrated violence: various indigenous peoples, the five million black slaves brought over in the Middle Passage. Portuguese influences abounded, yet the remnants of colonial-era tropes like the cannibalistic Tupí filtered through the lens of European supremacy and worked to station the modernizing country between worlds: the savage old and the civilized new. Drawing from the cannibalisms of both de Andrade and the Tupí, Varejão’s work deals with the devouring of influences and cultural barriers as well as the devouring of human life. She accomplishes both by bridging the gap between the literal and metaphorical conceptions of the “body.” In her 1992, “Map of Lopo Homem II,” Varejão reconstructs a 1519 world map created by Portuguese cartographer Lopo Homem. The oceans are non-continuous, Antarctica wraps dramatically around the basin of the globe like a well-nourished serpent, and Europe is either bloated or Africa deflated, as they both appear to be roughly the same size. Down the center of the atlas, perhaps where the Prime Meridian would sit, runs a long, puckering gash wound. This jarring evocation of human trauma set against the ostensibly inert illuminates how our conceptions of history and civilization—our beloved bodies of knowledge—are just as susceptible to coercion and violent manipulation as we are. Similarly unexpected juxtapositions appear in “Carpet-Style Tilework in Live Flesh.” Using masterful trompe l’oeil, Varejão presents what appears to be a wall covered in Portuguese “azulejaria” tiling (made ubiquitous in Brazil by colonial tastes) bursting with innards and guts. The piece has a decided dynamism. The intended illusion is that the rupture is new and ongoing, that just before the viewer approached, the wall was intact, its bloody secrets held at bay. Like the cannibals of lore, Varejão recognizes the power gained in the consumption of human life. 8


In doing such, she acknowledges that sources of authority in our lives—narratives, countries, societal structures—all bear the blood and viscera of the bodies broken for their construction. She also recognizes that in post-colonial, post-slavery societies like Brazil and America, a disproportionate number of those broken bodies have been and continue to be dark-skinned. In a series of three self-portraits entitled “Eye Witnesses X, Y, and Z,” she depicts herself in the skin-tones and garb of three racial minorities that have been marginalized throughout Brazilian history. Each of the Varejãos—Chinese, indigenous, and Arabic—is missing an eye. The bloody sockets painted in their lieu suggest a painful extraction process—perhaps surgery, but more likely, brute force. “Eye Witnesses X, Y, and Z” is the first of an ongoing series of self-portraits wherein Varejão portrays herself, a light-skinned Brazilian woman, as different races. If authored by a contemporary American artist, such works would undoubtedly be accused of minstrelsy and insensitivity, and not wrongly so. However, Varejão’s work betrays an approach to collective history and racial identity that is distinctly anthropophagic and distinctly Brazilian. Whereas much of the current dialogue on cultural difference in America centers on a general desire to preserve it, Brazilian racial self-conception is much more fluid but also much more concerned with the identity of Brazil as a whole. Americans will readily trace their ancestry back generations, but cultural cannibalism and miscegenation has left Brazil with no desire (or ability) to do so. It’s an interesting approach to the type of diversity that the two countries share, one that lies curiously in the space between assimilation and multiculturalism. To be sure, Brazil is not the “racial democracy” that it often claims to be—a quick glance at the demographics of an inner-city slum versus those of a top-tier four-year university will reveal as much. Still, as a culture that insists on marketing itself as a melting pot, The United States can undoubtedly learn from a society that has made cannibalizing difference into a single, syncretistic identity a source of national pride.

Broad City’s Amorphous Partiality REINA GATTUSO

Adrienne Rich was not writing in an age when women could video chat each other while riding their male partners cowgirl-style. But when she

columns wrote about existence as a spectrum of decentralized pleasure—about the hands and the clit and the cunt, about the wrists and the toes rather than the vagina—she might as well have been writing about Broad City. Season One, Episode One: The opening image of the show. Abbi and Ilana—two young women whose codependent best friendship and stoned New York City adventures star in the Comedy Central series— are video chatting. Ilana bounces to music as the women plan their day. Or we think Ilana is bouncing to music. Suddenly, she adjusts the webcam, and we discover that Ilana is mid-intercourse with a man. “Okay,” says an exasperated Abbi. “I don’t want to see you have sex.” “That was hot. That was cool. That was like a threesome,” Ilana says. Abbi and Ilana are partners. They spend each day together. They video chat in the morning and before bed. They are obsessed with each other. They are, for all intents and purposes, in love. But Abbi and Ilana never have genital sex. Other characters think that Abbi and Ilana have sex. Ilana wants to have sex. She routinely attempts to glimpse Abbi naked; she suggests they try a sexual position called the “Arc de Triomphe”; her world shatters, momentarily, when she learns that Abbi has made out with another girl. Abbi always turns Ilana down. Yet Abbi and Ilana’s relationship is intensely, even grossly, physical. Ilana stores the pair’s weed in her vagina. She manually moves Abbi’s poop when Abbi’s crush is over and the toilet is clogged. Even the more squeamish Abbi likes to call Ilana during hookups: post-sex next to a sleeping man in bed, or from the bathroom mid-sexual encounter to discuss the merits of anal penetration. The women want sex, they have sex, they talk about having sex, and they do all of it together. The weird physicality of Abbi and Ilana’s relationship—the intensely intimate, yet non genital-sexual physicality—is more than a story of best friendship. It challenges the very dichotomy between genital and non-genital eroticism. In doing so, the show speaks for and to the ambiguous snugglers and the lip balm-sharers, to those of us in wild friendship. Broad City opens up new kinds of desire with our friends. What’s the difference between friends we do and don’t have sex with? Despite the moral uproar about millennials being a generation of friends with benefits, our thinking

has maintained a fundamental dichotomy: There is friendship, and there is romance, and the two different kinds of relationships are distinguished by whether or not we have genital sex. This binary is hierarchical. Yes, we love our friends. Yes, we value them. But what we ultimately want—the climax of every marriage plot; the ordering logic of Sex and the City—are “significant others,” as though only our sexual relationships are significant. Or, as though sexlessness leaves us as unfinished Platonic bodies, “other halves.” But in Broad City’s universe, Abbi and Ilana’s obsession with each other is the central story. And it’s pungently physical. Yes, the women have genital-sexual partners. But they are rapt with each other. Abbi watches erotic cupcake-eating videos with Ilana, not with her sex partner. And when Ilana goes into anaphylactic shock from a shellfish allergy, it is Abbi who, in the slow motion of a romantic hero, carries her out. “We begin to discover the erotic in female terms: as that which is unconfined to any single part of the body…as an energy not only diffuse but, as Audre Lorde has described it, omnipresent,” writes Adrienne Rich in her 1980 essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Rich is one of a coterie of lesbian feminists, including the likes of Audre Lorde and Monique Wittig, who seek to liberate eroticism from the vagina. Though with diverse political and cultural affiliations, these theorists agree on one thing: Decentering the linear and patriarchal logic that privileges genital sex can reorder our relationships with our bodies and each other. This more diffuse eroticism is politically radical. Rich argues that non-linear lesbian pleasure challenges institutional heterosexuality. And in Wittig’s work, eroticism between women can reorder the very logic of the body. Abbi and Ilana’s relationship follows this alternate logic. It is not the neutered homosociality of demure lady friends, the female friendship carefully sanitized, the duo in a quest for men. Ilana telling Abbi, as they sip ice coffee on Ilana’s bed, that she’ll watch her give birth even if Abbi poops during the process (“Bitch, duh!”) isn’t exactly The Lesbian Body. But it’s close. In an essay on racialized sexuality published in The New Inquiry, Luke Pagarani argues for weird friendship as a political practice. For 2300 words he writes that Grindr culture creates a neoliberal grocery-store model of sexuality. And then he says, screw it. THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 9

columns Forget sex. We live in a time when friendship can be more revolutionary than sex. Society seems to fear the transformative potential of friendship, that amorphous concept of partiality…Perhaps we should take that seriously and see love as that desire to discover new desires with our friends, the base unit of politics. With their pseudo Skype sex and strange codependence, their knowledge of each other’s habits and excrement and hands, Abbi and Ilana challenge the dominance of sexual and narrative linearity. The intense physicality of their desire for each other—the intense physicality of our desire for each other—disrupts the tyranny of the genitals. Broad City tells us that sexless, we are not half-absence, but full to the brim. We are collaborators in pleasure with our friends.

10 SPRING 2015

‘Cypress scepters in the rocks, paint-green water...’ BEN BLUMSTEIN

Cypress scepters in the rocks, paint-green water crept like shadows about our feet. Swallows ricocheting overhead in aimless cursive like the accident of evolution, the calligraphy of the wind. An evening is like a postcard so easy to cherish. The easy memories. The familiar grooves, well-worn, my vision slides into. Where are those buried ones, the dusted with forgetfulness? There, the untrodden soil unstamped by the wheels, still loose about the fingers. The time I was nine I told my parents every once in a while a moment comes and I know I am really alive again, I exist and I know it and it is as though I have been unaware all this time and there arrives a second so vivid suddenly and they said are you okay I get taken to the hospital they sticker wires to my head and told me sleep why couldn’t that be beautiful. Why couldn’t we resist. Wherefore did the anxiety arise like dew, indiscriminate. You couldn’t forget this now, though the spines would crack like whips and the spells would pass and the results were inconclusive and we all just lived with the symptoms, symptoms of nothing like your fabric flowers. The arrangement we outlived. The water we could not, the fire we could the scissors we could not, take me those geraniums break me the cassettes. Slurp me like a spool and pin me by my neck. The flowerbeds, the furrows were ordained.


Anna Koeferl Sap II Ink on paper 20 x 30 inches

12 SPRING 2015

Anna Koeferl Volatile Ink on paper 35 x 23 inches



My uncle told me once of the angels in his bedroom. From the ceiling fixtures, they fell, and hid like moths under the rumpled red curtains of his apartment. In a lamp shade edged brown with age, atop the blue striping his duvet, scattered about the darkness that dripped to each corner of the room those same sad mornings someone else left him. He would shake them from his pillowcase and dust them from his hair, and sometimes, instead, he let the angels gather to give the room more light. It was the spring of 1983, when everyone was dying off—the desk clerk at Donaldson’s, my grandfather’s investment partner Frank, a childhood friend, that boy with the pickup truck from high school, my uncle’s college roommate, an old boyfriend, a current one, and then the next. It was like that day, in the Bible, when God collected the good ones: up out of their clothes, they fell to heaven, and the leftovers—everyone else—wandered behind. When my uncle talks about that time, he brings up fig trees and his old piano, the one he tucked between the bookshelf and bathroom door, its wood black and faded like the scars of Leviticus. I don’t know why he thinks of fig trees except that they’re there, in his memory, along with a piece of his ex-boyfriend’s sweater and a box of old gauze. What I think of most though, when I think of what he tells me, is the staircase. He says it happened when he was sleeping. I don’t know whether it was in his sleep or whether he woke to it, or whether he thought he woke to it but never woke at all. In detail, he describes the movement of the room, the air slipping out from under him like currents from a windmill, as the thousand angels that had been hiding flew out from behind the curtains, from under the lampshade and inside the pillowcase, and coalesced in front of him, in front of his bed, spiraling together toward the ceiling like the voice of a choir. When he speaks to me, I hear all the wings clicking like magnets, one by one, pulled from the pockets of the apartment. And in front of him, the angels, and all their bodies, formed a staircase—and here 14 SPRING 2015

is where I lose him—a circular staircase, alight and reaching, and begging to be climbed. He didn’t climb it. He stayed in bed. That winter, he moved to the tip of Cape Cod, where they all wound up eventually, annexed to the very edges, to where the sand dunes swell and fade and swell again. He calls this the story of what dragged him there. So when my sister died last summer, I thought back to the stairs and my uncle’s light, and how an emptiness grows and sits in your pocket like mold when someone dies, and how all the hollows that once drilled holes in your life seem suddenly like the most substantial thing, and it is suddenly the holes that are what you are holding onto. And the truth is, even though they’re nothing, you’re okay with it, because at least it’s something. My mother told my brother and me that sometimes young people die, and grief halts only those who let it. But we could feel her sadness, the immensity and gravity of it, when we would sit up against our mother’s bedroom wall together and listen to her talk very quietly into the phone. The quietness of her voice pounded up against the house, and we could both sense just how insufferably satiated she was with grief, and how she was closing every door she could to contain it. “We’re not going to let this define our family,” my mother told Noah and me at the funeral reception after everyone left. We were all sitting together in the kitchen and my mother’s friend, the last guest, had just gone to the grocery store. Her friend was staying with us that week, and her voice still echoed in the kitchen tiles above the sink. Now, the emptiness that had been kept at rest with the coming and going of so many visitors over the last week finally began to settle around us, and for the first time, I felt how this was the start to our life now. Noah sat in a stool at the counter looking at our mother, and I sat at the round kitchen table, dragging my thumb through croissant crumbs and sesame seeds left over in one of the appetizer trays. My mother turned on the sink, ran her hands

under the water, no soap, then twisted off the faucet. “This is not going to be what breaks us,” she said. It was the kind of summer where the days just barely cemented together, or maybe were entirely cemented together all along: indistinguishable, a clump of hourless days full of minuteless hours. And my brother and I would spend them the way we used to spend the weeks Holly went away to camp during her middle school years, when again it was just us two. We would sit on the swing set at the playground nearby—Farland Park where Noah used to play t-ball and I had my first real kiss on top of the sledding hill behind the field. Some mornings, we rode our bikes to pick up muffins from the town bakery. Our town square used to be nice, but then the state added a piece of interstate underneath it, so now an overpass slices the square in half, and a bunch of graying nail salons litter the streets, some real estate offices stuck in between, and then not much else besides the muffins. And on the days all Noah and I wanted to do was sit together on the living room couch and stare at the wallpaper or watch television, our mother would rush in and pull us from the house as if it were on fire, telling us to get outside and do something, which made us only not want to do anything that much more. On those days, often to avoid a fight, I drove Noah to the rock climbing gym in Hyde Park and we would boulder around in the cheaper part of the gym where you didn’t need to rent a harness, and toss ourselves down on the mats and then just lie there, looking up, and wonder how much longer we could go until our hands got so blistered and chalked we could not go anymore. But really, how I remember it all is this: The nights I was the last up, I would sit on the landing of the stairs and look out the big diamond window facing the lawn, and watch my sadness, like moonlight, slide in through the staircase railings, then drop away. I went through a period where I pretended Holly was away at camp again, on a brief hiatus to return in a few weeks, but when that became too painful, I stopped. Barely, at seventeen, was I beginning to realize death was something that stuck. It was after this summer that my uncle came to stay. Late fall, and I was sitting on top of the furnace by the mudroom window, looking out at the streetlight, the dull one in front of our neighbor’s drive-

way. It was low morning, and I was eating raspberries out of the plastic pint with a spoon. My brother was still sleeping upstairs, and my mother was brushing leaves off the porch steps. They swept through the white banister and fluttered down upon the sidewalk. At the corner, where our road and the busy road touched, the headlights of my uncle’s station wagon emerged. It bumped atop the pavement, its wheels dipping into each divot. In front of our house, his car slowed at the curb, and my mother, who was now picking maple seeds from the porch swing cushions, turned to look at it. Surprises like these sat uneasily with her, in the same way an ambulance siren flinched her awake at night even when she knew both her children slept safe in bed. I put the berries on the windowsill, rested the spoon on top, and shifted a little so that the back of my knee, which had sweated to the furnace, unstuck. “What are you doing here?” my mother asked when he opened the car door. She balanced the broom against the house and hugged him. “Have you lost weight?” The cat purred up against my leg. Noah came down the stairs in spotted pajama pants that dropped three inches above his ankles. “Uncle Wyatt is here,” he said dully. In the past, Noah thought visitors the most exciting thing, especially family, but now they weighed on him, and watching his fatigue stretch across his forehead made me lonely. I saw it in the way he sat down on the furnace next to me instead of rushing to greet our uncle or condemn my hesitancy to wait inside. His knee bumped against mine and I moved my leg. A pause, then I moved it back. Noah and I never used to touch except when we battled over the TV remote. So this was new for us. “Have you said hi?” “No.” I turned back to the window. “Is everything okay?” “He’s just stopping by,” I said. But he wasn’t. He was here to stay. Later, from my mother, I found out that he had lost almost all his money that summer, and by almost she meant all, and had to give away his home. Most of his friendships in Provincetown he had soiled. He even gave his dog Lyla away to a woman down the street, which was particularly heartbreaking to Noah. She was a mutt with a freckled snout who growled when we got too close to her food bowl, and peed all over the floor when we visited. My THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 15

brother had loved Lyla since the day my uncle brought her home. It wasn’t as if our uncle’s addiction wasn’t talked about. It was something I always knew about him, and never felt any shame for. It was a given, ever since I was old enough to understand why some summers we went to Cape Cod and other summers we didn’t. It was one of those things my mother tried to be open about, without ever being too casual, although sometimes that was the way it came off. Of course, she also danced around it. We saw him really only in the best moments, his sober ones. And the times he lost it, or was in rehabilitation, these were the times that my mother took us somewhere else in June, the times that coincidentally coincided with our having enough money for a family vacation somewhere special. His addiction was one of those patterns that we grew up with. It was either very much there or it wasn’t, and we would simply swim around it. Our mother told us his addiction in no way dictated our lives as it did his, but I felt its magnetism, an orbit pulling us into and away from it, a current running underneath our lives. For Noah, Holly and me, rarely did it find us in any dangerous form. For my mother, the currents were always piercing. The summers we visited, my siblings and I walked among the drag queens and burger joints, the pink cupcakes from Scott’s and all the dogs that ran along the beaches. But we also came to understand the town’s dark underbelly, the place my uncle often got caught. There were drugs, and maybe, too, the depression of living at the very end of everything, the very tip, was the riptide that pulled my uncle under. That first night he stayed, I watched my mother make dinner while Noah did math upstairs and Uncle Wyatt showered. In Georgia, my mother grew up surrounded by peach trees and gold potatoes, or at least that’s how I imagined it. Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, potatoes and peas. Sometimes, she told us, her mother added bacon. These same potatoes, mashed with peas and meat, my mother set down on the table that night. A long time she spent mashing, her forearms muscled and sweating in the kitchen light. I think she made them that night for her brother. At the table, Noah and I sat in our normal seats. While we waited for Uncle Wyatt, my brother reached for a green pepper slice off the top of the salad and I fingered the crust in the bread bowl. 16 SPRING 2015

Our mother set down plates in front of each of us, and then came to sit in her seat next to me. A fourth chair was left open for Wyatt. “Noah,” my mother snapped. “Don’t start yet.” He turned red and put his fork back down. “That’s never been a thing,” I said back. When my mother snapped, I snapped too. “It’s rude.” She glared at me. Then, my mother put both her hands out on the table, spreading them open like a beggar. I stared at her outstretched fingers. Noah did too. We made eye contact across the bread bowl. “Take it,” she said. She made us say grace. We had never said grace before, but we let her lead it. My mother bent her head down at the table, eyes closed. I stayed upright staring at Noah across the table, his eyes fluttering closed as he tried to decide whether or not to buy into this. It’s awkward, always, when your eyes are supposed to be closed and you make eye contact with somebody else, and you both know you’re caught together, but you know, too, if you close your eyes now it will only make you seem more like a fool. My mother’s hand felt cold and dry in mine, and we waited for her to finish. Noah kept his eyes open, but bent his head down toward the table to keep from looking at me. Our mother’s faith had been slipping back. We both noticed it. It came in little ways: once at breakfast she lectured us on how the Maasai give mothers only one day to grieve, death then left unassisted. Some afternoons she came back from her jog and told us about the signs she saw in license plate numbers, or the names of new neighbors; at night, these signs huddled in stars and headlights, the sweet smell of Southern sauces she boiled time and time again for dinner. The South was slipping back, too. She and Wyatt were raised Protestant, and so, she raised us nothing. Our mother said she felt closer to God when we four caught tadpoles together in the high pond or picked miniature blueberries from the back bushes in the woods. The stiffness of a church pew did little for her faith. When I was younger, I collected God in the way my shadow slid along the sidewalk, and in the light that lingered from the nightstand after my mother tucked me into bed. It was a gathering of particles in hidden places that then compiled into some larger thing, often dismissed by others as nothing. And soon, I began to wonder whether it was all made up to make me feel better. And soon after that, I stopped looking.

My mother called up for Uncle Wyatt but to no response. “Is he still in the shower?” I asked. I was getting hungry. “He’s not feeling well,” my mother said. She took a bite of chicken, so Noah took a bite of his. I took another piece of bread. He never came. We sat around the table until my mother cleared the plates, and put them in the sink. Noah and I ate chocolate ice cream from the box, and my brother went upstairs. I watched my mother close up the house. She locked the back door, then pulled out the curtain ties in the living room and let them fall in front of the windows. It reminded me of the way my mother used to take barrettes out from my hair. I stayed at the table, so my mother asked me to make sure to turn off the kitchen lights when I left. “Don’t stay up too late,” she told me. I sat for a few more moments. I considered eating another pint of berries. Instead, I turned off the lights and followed upstairs. Uncle Wyatt’s door was closed. In my room, I straightened the hairbrush on my dresser and looked at Holly’s magazines. I took my towel off the door. Uncle Wyatt was in the bathroom brushing his teeth. He had a towel around his waist, and his hair was spiked wet. As I walked in, he spit in the sink. “It’s rude to come in without knocking.” He twisted the cap back on the toothpaste. “It’s rude to not come to dinner,” I said. “Mom made mashed potatoes.” He grimaced. Then I added, “I thought you showered earlier.” “No.” He extracted a razor from the Ziploc bag he was storing his toothbrush in and took my brother’s shaving cream off the shelf. He squirted it into his palm and patted it down on his cheek. You never realize how many face muscles you have until you see someone who has none. My uncle’s cheeks drooped inward, his pores hollowed as honeycomb. I asked, “How long are you staying?” He shook his head, and smiled. “Boy, this was a bad one.” He shook his head again. The razor ran down his cheek and the shaving cream slid off into the sink. “I might be here awhile.” “What happened?” “Giving Lyla away was the kicker.” Patiently, he shaved above his lip, then under his jaw. Still, it was sloppy. He splashed water on his face, patted his cheeks, and looked in the mirror. We made eye contact in the reflection. I blinked. From the toilet

kit, he took out a white box of floss. He said, “I don’t think you ever really realize just how far down the shithole your life is until you’re handing over the leash to a woman with purple sequins on her sweater.” He plucked the floss quickly through his top teeth. His gums started to bleed and he sucked his lips together. “I mean she has two poodles.” “Those black ones?” My uncle nodded. He threw the floss string into the toilet and flushed. “We see them on the beach sometimes,” I said. I thought of Lyla waiting at the door for my uncle to come back, the poodles yapping at her tail. “All yours,” he said, zipping up his toilet kit. He leaned forward to take one last look in the mirror. I wondered what he thought of himself. At the door, he turned back to me. “No where to go now but up,” he said and smiled. I smiled back. “I guess.” He left. The heat from my uncle’s shower steamed the mirror at the bottom, and moistened the windowsill. The smell of his shaving cream was clean and humid. I guessed there was a relief in hitting rock bottom. With nowhere else to go, you are really left two choices: either settle there on the bottom, or get it together. The real trouble is not when you reach the bottom, but catching yourself as you’re falling—it must be much harder to resist the gravity pulling your life to its end, than simply use the ground to bounce yourself back up. At the top of Benhill road, Noah and I got off our bikes and unclipped our helmets. From his backpack, Noah took out two sandwiches, apples, and a bag of chocolate hearts we rummaged for earlier in the snack cabinet. There was a stone wall marking the entrance to an Audobon sanctuary along the road. We laid our bikes on the ground, swung our legs over and ate the hearts first. At the top of my neck, right underneath my hairline, I was sweating. We had biked the full morning. “What are you thinking about?” Noah asked me. “Right now?” “Yeah, I guess.” He paused, chewing his apple. “More like when you’re biking.” I considered this. I kicked my legs against the wall. “I usually have some song stuck in my head. I think there’s always some song stuck in my head.” He snorted. “Like even when I’m just getting dressed, some THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 17

song is always buzzing up there.” I took a bite of my sandwich. “It’s actually kind of annoying.” “That’s because your radio is always on.” “So I like walking into a musical room. Sue me.” I took another bite. “Wait, I think this is yours.” “Is there bacon in it?” “Yeah.” “Gross. Give it to me.” “You want it back?” Noah ran his tongue over his teeth. “Not really.” I opened up the bread, picked the bacon out, and tossed it to the ground. The morning was chilled. We wore sweatshirts over our sweatshirts and I sweated more inside. My toes were clenched cold in my sneakers. My brother spoke again. “I’ve been thinking about darker things. I don’t know.” This surprised me, but I tried as hard as I could not to let my body show it. Noah was always gentle, always would be. He tried to fit in with the other boys, the ones on his sport teams who kissed girls and talked about them later, but having grown up with two older sisters, it was hard to fit in with that. I think with me, Noah always kept more quiet than he did with Holly. But when Noah and I did talk, he usually disclosed thoughts and secrets that rarely plagued the playful banter he and Holly had exchanged. “Like what?” “I don’t know, really. But I can’t get them out of my head.” I nodded. I took a bite of my apple. Then I said what I wanted to. “Are you thinking about Holly?” “Aren’t you?” I looked at him. “Yeah,” I said, louder than I wanted. A car drove behind us. The puddle by the manhole splashed up on the curb. I took a breath. I put my sandwich down. “What dark thoughts?” Noah kicked his feet now against the stone wall. His sandwich was still in the Ziploc bag. “Just how little really keeps someone from turning their handlebars into oncoming traffic.” It was almost sheepish, the way he said this. Then, he added, “you know what I mean?” “Yeah, of course. That’s normal,” I said. “Everybody thinks those things. How fragile everything is, you know?” “I guess.” “I promise.” “Okay.” “Are you going to eat that?” “You want it?” 18 SPRING 2015

“I just want to get going.” He put his helmet back on, and I put on mine. The ride down the hill was a rush. The song left my head, and I thought about my brother behind me, pumping hard into his pedals, trying to keep up. I leaned forward into my handlebars, using my weight to pull me, and made sure my bike wheels stayed as strict to the side as they possibly could. One afternoon, I was playing piano when my uncle came in. He stood right behind me. Penny Lane, the one song I knew, I played when it felt in season. I liked the way it moved my forefinger over my thumb. My uncle watched over my shoulder. I hated this, when people looked over me or read over my shoulder. Late at night, when I walk in the dark up the stairs from the kitchen, I feel the heat of someone watching me. This same watcher scared me as a child. I feel the stare strengthening, chasing me midway up the steps, and my pace quickens and my heart trips, and then at the point it is about to grab me, I run into the light of my room, my sister’s company, and I escape. I hate the feeling of people behind me. “Did your mom ever tell you that story about the ghost in our piano?” he asked me. I shook my head, but kept playing. Those same chords, over and over. “One night at dinner we were all sitting at the table,” he began, “and the piano started playing. Actually, I think only me and your mom were home.” He paused. His jaw stayed slightly open. “That’s right. We were eating waffles. And the piano starts playing, so we get scared.” Again, he paused, his eyes starting to drift in that way eyes do when trying to remember something distant. “And, I think maybe your mom decided to go check it out or something. It ended up not being a ghost at all, just a mouse running up and down the keys.” He finished. His voice wandered off into the room. I wasn’t sure what reaction he wanted, if any, but I stopped playing and looked at him. I wondered where his head was, what percentage of it was here with me, off lost with my mother, and which part was that part always craving something else. He was still staring off when he asked, “Where’s your mom?” “Grocery store.” “Ah.” He nodded. “I hope she picks up those cheese sticks I like.” “Yeah. Those are good,” I said. He bit his lip in agreement, his mind fading again. His wrist looped over the piano, and his hand dangled above the

highest key, the nail of his middle finger skating over D sharp. Something about seeing him at the piano brought it back. I asked, “Do you remember the story you told me about the staircase?” He said nothing. I don’t even think he was hearing me. He listened too much to himself. My mother always said this was his problem. “The angels in your apartment that time?” I tried again. “You told me about them when I was seven.” I wanted to tell him how much I had been thinking of them. I wanted to ask if he made them up, or if maybe I had dreamed up the story entirely. Did you even tell me all that? Then, he snapped back. “I am so tired of people arguing over whether you are legitimate or not. Have you turned on the TV lately? It’s just these stupid fucks who know nothing about you, or anything you are, arguing over whether you should exist. And this has gone on. You know how long? Forever.” I looked down at the keys. I didn’t know what to say. On my wrist, I noticed a small scab in between two indents in my skin. I picked at it, where it was from unknown to me. It was like the bruises I found above my knees in the shower. Scabs appeared, scars did, out of nowhere. “Look.” The tone of my uncle’s voice was different this time. I was getting tired of it and wanted him to leave. The scab fell from my wrist. I started to bleed. “Look.” Still, I didn’t. When he said it a third time, I turned. My uncle was pointing to a photograph of Holly. It was one from years ago. She was sitting on a wicker chair out by the porch when she was six, a red headband pushing back her hair and a floral cardigan tied around her waist. “Did you see that?” The photograph was on the living room bookshelf. For a moment, a strange itch scrambled up my back, hitting the octave just below my lower neck—and I felt the same way I feel when that something chases me up the back stairs. My shoulders tensed. “What are you talking about?” “Your sister. She blinked.” “What?” “Look.” My uncle pointed again. “Don’t you see that?” I wouldn’t look. He was walking toward the photograph now. He picked it up. I prayed to God he

would not bring it toward me, but he was. Inside, a sudden, deep, deeply rooted, aversion kept me from the photograph; every bone in me nullified. “See how she blinks?” “Stop it.” “What?” “Stop it.” I wanted to hit him. “Watch, Anna. Look!” He was looking intently at the photograph. His eyes widened. “There. Did you not see her?” He thrust the photograph at me. “Take it, Anna.” I stood and left. That night, I fell asleep thinking of the beach where my uncle, knee-deep in the sea, used to lift me and Holly by the elbows, up out of the water to hop each wave that came. Right over its crest, we would fly, our toes barely touching the spray of it. He was getting better. Better and better, I thought, better and better. My Uncle Wyatt was getting better. And I slept. And I wondered when it would happen to the rest of us—us good ones—if ever, if ever, or if really—yes—it all just stayed the same forever. If nothing ever was fun anymore, just tinted in this hazy, hazy haziness that settled, gathered, a meadow, dispersed, settled, and no biking nor hiking nor anywhere my mother found God helped settle it. No. No. I wondered. And then, again, the waves. Did I hop them, up by the elbows? He asked me this. I fell asleep. Not really, no. He asked me. God was in them. I knew. That year, 1989, that last year that last friend died off, he went to Provincetown, that last place, and death destined all the world and not much else, and the ocean fell in to save him, and the stairs he climbed them. He was drawn to it: the shores, Herring Cove, extended far beyond where he thought ocean could ever go, and the jetty, rocks and rocks, sanded to a smooth, smooth skull of rock, netted with wasps, salted, smoothed, rocks and rocks, reached out, curved as a shoulder into the bay, and he walked across, smelling seaweed on one side, tossing his sandals to the wind, stepping off the rocks into shells that cut across the soft part of his foot, the sand, the water, the seals, and he wondered, then, if anyone was watching. No, no. There was no one. I have dreams of my brother dying. Sometimes it’s the car door that slices him in half because I close it too fast when we leave for school, his body falling in ribbons to the ground. Sometimes it’s the snow that buries him when we go skiing alone THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 19

down that skinny trail out back. But mostly it’s a slow dying, like gas, that takes him into the night, and I’m sitting unaware in bed, turning the pages of my book, one bedroom wall between us, as Noah slips silently into the dark. Christmas came slow. The season smelled to me like wisteria and chamomile. The cigar man two houses down was late in stringing lights around his windows. When we drove home from school, Noah and I watched him drag plastic reindeer by the antlers across the lawn. Most figurines lit up no longer, the bulbs dead, their plastic casings stained with dirt, faded with snow. Still, the old man arranged them delicately about the grass. At night, his house pulsed with a dull, graying glow. We put a wreath on the door with the purple spotted bow Holly liked, and my mother replaced the pumpkins in our garden with red potted plants. The night before Christmas Eve, Uncle Wyatt came with us to pick out our tree. We took the tall, skinny one, and tied a red ribbon around its trunk. Then in the store, a tradition, Noah and I both picked out an ornament, any one we liked, to put on the tree, and Noah started to cry. We all got into the car after that. A freckle-faced boy tied our tree to the top, and my mother slipped the Christmas CD into the player. I told her to turn it off. We drove home in silence. At the stoplight, I looked for all the tiny red dots that melded together to make the large red dot that braked us. And then it was Christmas morning. Every year, it was always a little sadder, just naturally, as every year you notice yourself becoming a little less excited than you were the year before. I woke up in bed, rolled over in Holly’s absence. It was deep and painful that morning, but I got up anyway. I took The Polar Express off my sister’s bookshelf just in case, and went into Noah’s room. He was sitting in bed, staring out the window. “Merry Christmas,” he said. His eyes were wet. I went to him. “Move over.” He scooted to the side and I slid under the covers. He was wearing his old pajamas, the spotted ones, and looked much younger than he was. I realized how true it was that he would always be my little brother, forever and ever. His window misted at the bottom with cold. I touched one finger to the glass, and felt winter press against it. “Do you think Mom is still asleep?” “Let’s wake her soon.” 20 SPRING 2015

Noah agreed. We sat like that for a while. I’m not sure how many minutes. The morning turned yellow in the window, and we watched a cardinal land on a branch of our crabapple tree. No snow was yet on the ground, but still there was something poetic in the bird, and so, for a little bit, we watched it peck at the ground. The oatmeal we tossed on the grass last night for the reindeer was still there. I could see little specks of it on our walkway. “Do you want to read it?” I asked Noah. A car drove down our street. The bird flew away. He shook his head. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s wake Mom.” It was after we stood at the top of the stairs waiting for Uncle Wyatt to wake up, after we walked downstairs together, my mother still playing the game of hoping Santa came—what if he didn’t, kids?—and after we smiled at the tree, bellyful of gifts, and read the note Santa left us. This time, he wrote how much he missed our sister and admired our courage, and I couldn’t read much more after that, so Uncle Wyatt took it quietly from my hands and finished it. Noah left to go to the bathroom. “I have faith this won’t break you. I send you strength, steadiness and spirit in a time of such loss. Love and prayers, Santa.” That last part, the prayer part, pulled me back. It sounded untrue and I realized how much my mother’s faith bothered me. I stood from where I sat on the bench by the fireplace, and my mother took her arm from around my shoulders, and I asked Noah if he wanted to unwrap stockings first. And after we had emptied our socks onto the couch and remarked with appreciation at each chocolate bar and knick-knack, that was when it happened. Those tectonic plates under the family shifting. “No.” Noah and I paused. I had just popped a chocolate into my mouth and was chewing it. My mother was pointing at Noah. “There should be something else for you.” Silence in the living room. The cat jumped down from the couch and purred against my calf, her hair sticking to my sock. “There should be something else in there, Noah,” she said again. “Did you look?” Noah looked confused. He reached his hand deep into the stocking. I could see his fingers outstretched at the bottom, groping. “No, Mom.” He laughed uncomfortably. “There’s nothing.” He asked it as a question. More

silence. Uncle Wyatt stared at my mother and my mother stared at Noah and I looked at the window. The cat knocked into the andiron, and it clattered against the logs. With the sound, she darted from the room. Abruptly, my mother turned. “Wyatt,” she said. “Where is it?” My uncle looked taken aback. His face flushed. She stared at him. My mother made her way to where Noah’s stocking lay on the couch and picked it up, sticking her hand inside. I took a step away from the wall. “Mom, stop. What are you doing?” She started picking up each one of his little gifts individually—the chocolate Santa, colored pens, candy cane, a container of magnets, neon flashlight—that he had diligently laid out on the coffee table. Noah spoke quietly. He was standing by the window. “It’s fine, Mom.” “No, honey.” “Please, Mom. It’s fine.” She was back at Wyatt now. “Why would you do this?” I looked down at the ground. Not at Noah. Not at the fallen andiron. Just at my socked feet and the place where the rug ran into the floor. There was a stain in the corner of the threads, brown and fringed. “Calm down, Meredith.” “Don’t you dare.” My mother spoke more harshly than I had ever heard and it sent a chill up my arm. I wanted to leave the room. I knew Noah was looking at me desperately, waiting for a cue, but he was so stuck at the window that escaping to the bathroom was hopeless now. I could feel the cold from the glass on his skin on mine. I thought of the window in his bedroom. I thought of the bird and the crabapple tree. Then, I thought of the fig tree, too. And in the living room curtains behind my Uncle Wyatt’s back, I thought I saw an angel flutter. The nauseous and circular kind of quiet filled me. I let it wash through and around and gurgle up inside, and I watched my uncle stand in front of my mother, the rubble of a man, my uncle. I wondered how he stood there, what strength he was drawing upon. Calmly, he said, “I don’t know what you think I took.” “A gift for my son, Wyatt.” “Honestly, Meredith, nothing a twelve year old gets is going to be much use to me.” “He’s fifteen.”

For a moment, I wondered whether he could stand there so still because there was nothing inside him to risk. He wasn’t getting any better at all, just more and more vapid. His insides shelled and bare, he stood with no feeling left. All of it went with Lyla and the poodles. “You’re never here. You’re never around. You never help. You selfish bastard.” He didn’t say anything. My mother started to cry. Her voice did not crack, her stature did not struggle. But her face wetted, and I prayed that my uncle would not speak. I prayed, too, that my mother would do something to fill the silence stretching itself into the room, even though when she did speak, I cracked inside. The gifts under the tree lost their magic. The tree itself wilted. I could not look at Noah, for fear he was crying, too. And if he was, I was definitely going to. I couldn’t. “My daughter dies and you do nothing. Then you come to me five months later, no house, no money, and I do everything.” A floorboard creaked. A rustling. “No more.” At first, I thought this was one of those moments where nobody breathed, but I could hear my brother breathing, and my uncle, and it soothed and tired me. I let my uncle’s breath turn to static, and listened to my brother. I kept listening, worried it all might stop. Each breath he took, I held mine for his next. And each second that passed, my breaths shallowed out. Was this what happened every time my uncle burned through a friend, those ones that abandoned him in his town? This scene of leaving. This settling of residue after loss. Maybe family was not so durable; it burned through, too. If this was so, I lost faith, then, in my mother. There in the living room, in front of the fireplace, the way she looked at her brother somehow strung me and Noah closer together and distanced her, in a tragic way, from us. How Noah felt was lost on me; he would probably never let himself feel any of this. But I was not a fool. What seemed foolish was how my mother could send her brother out the door and still feed us faith on how it all comes back together eventually. The next time, if ever, she said anything like this to me, I knew something even more would be lost between us. Until then, I would wait. My uncle dropped his eyes, not in defeat, but carelessly, little energy left to keep them up. My mother bit her lip. Her cheekbones sharpened in the light. He shrugged, and breathed, and looked THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 21

at me. His eyes drifted to the piano, to the bookshelf, to my brother. And then he left. My mother threw the Christmas tree out the day after. This, she always does. The ornament boxes are taken from the closet, set on the coffee table, and she picks them all off the tree and puts them away in their separate spaces, vacuums the living room floor, and tells me and my brother to take the tree out with the trash, roll it onto the street where the cars come lightless and quick around the corner. This year, we brought the tree to where dew pools in plastic trash tops, then rolled the bins back up, our laces dirty with snow, the plastic hitting the pavement in steady thumps. She says it is depressing, the needles falling on the living room floor like hair. But the lights stay up. February, and the lights are still strung around the climbing tree. The red plants remain potted in the garden. The cigar man drags his reindeer back, and our house stays lit, the brightest on the block. Three days we have the tree, barely three, and it lies on the street like a corpse, body down, someone hide it, it burns, the snow doesn’t even stick to it. The smell of pine evaporates from the living room; our mother sprays, cleans. This year, the whole thing goes by faster. My uncle doesn’t come back. He will, my moth-

22 SPRING 2015

er says, he always does. And again, we feel the heat of some things never changing, and worry some things never will. Too deep, too permanent—they break us. My brother and I keep biking, even in the snow. We sit on the mudroom furnace together and pick at our nails, and go outside when our mother gets tense. It’s these months that are the hardest. By New Year’s my mother found the gift in the back corner of her closet, the one that was supposed to be in my brother’s stocking—it was a new tie, nice but reasonably inexpensive, and although we would never admit it, the smallness of it was sad. I don’t think she ever really thought she lost it. Sometime later, I sit in my bed with a mug of tea and hear the nighttime birds coo so deep the sound sits in their throats. Like little crystals, the headlights of cars reflect off the snow edging the road, and fall into my window. Light gathers in a sheet, and I think of my sister. That dull streetlight, I see it from my room. It glows orange through the pines lining the patio. The house lights flick off downstairs, my hair falls to my shoulders, and I listen to my brother breathe next door; my radiator rattles with the radio. I keep it low at night to keep off the loneliness. In my mug, the tea bag bleeds. Through the window, I watch a light dot the top of a hill somewhere south. I used to think it a rocket, then a cell phone tower, but now I think maybe it’s her blinking back.

Aquamanile in the Form of Phyllis and Aristotle ZOË HITZIG

Consider also desired things. The currant in the navel under my long robe. A split in the lip yields its hard red ball the one in the tip of a pen and as sore. Rough and parted. Coccyx pressing spine in sidesaddle I span head to tail scratching circles on the scalp to roil. A small machine a sphere in the corner of the room makes noise’s noise. Swamps the sticking swish of release. Is knowing. You are here to carry—pour.


Alistair Debling Territory V Silkscreen and Collage 22 x 28 inches 24 SPRING 2015

Alistair Debling Operation I Silkscreen and Collage 16 x 21 inches THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 25


What do we do now, now that we are happy? –Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

You have to be meticulous, reverent. Strip the brittle stem and crush its leaves with the flat side of a cold fifty-cent coin. Now tear careful cardstock rectangles and wind them into tight spirals with your fingernails. (It’s best to use business cards. Steal them from local haunts, and choose carefully: The origin of these neat little scrolls makes a tangible difference in sentiment.) Temper the weed with a precise measure of tobacco, which should be soft and stringy and smell sweet and earthy. Two even piles of grass and wood: Fold them together and halve the heap again. Two rolling papers, side by side. One heap, sifted carefully onto each. Gum in the back, roach on the right side (careful to do this backwards for good luck). Roll between your fingers lovingly until the spliff begins to cohere. With your thumbs pulled all the way down, tuck with care, starting with the roach, twist up twice, salivate, lick, and seal. Once more now. Mary Jane and I did all this two or three times a day, in a little room in our second floor apartment. It was not more than forty square feet, with a door to the balcony and cold white walls. Our church. At the beginning we thought we were really cool. Well, I did; she had done it all before. We met on this island where the hilltops sprouted neon yellow flowers, and from every inch of our world you could smell the sea. The island is a way station for people in transition: lost twenty-somethings, recent divorcees, high school dropouts. You come for as long as you need to get your feet on the ground and your mind on the right track (as if neurons were little trains of thought, a whole railroad network inside of our heads), and then you leave. On the island, before doesn’t matter and neither does after. You don’t understand: Everything here is perfect. We live in a beautiful place with no commitments except to cultivate the crispest possible appreciation for the present. Here is where the little green leaves come in: They spill onto the table from the backpack of a local friend. These are supposed to augment our experience. We breathe them in quickly, without savor, because we don’t know any better. The windows are open, and the wind is floating in. Green hills stud the skyline. We can feel the world turning around us, hugging us with great centripetal arms, pulling us along with it. When they’re gone, the table looks empty. We look at each other. We decide to make a call. “This is a bad idea,” one of us THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 27

28 SPRING 2015

says over the dial tone. We both laugh. *** You probably visualize time as a line, with the future way out to the right, moving ever forwards and the past stretching backwards and leftwards. The present is a point, an infinitesimal differential, something and yet nothing. I have a very aggressive case of Spatial Sequence Synesthesia—in my head the months stretch around in a complete circle, with summer at the top and New Year’s at the bottom. With each year I go around and around, circling back over the previous February, March, April, and so on. It feels like a loss, a complete overwriting of the past. As we slip into the rituals of worshipping these little green leaves, this becomes the central dogma to our two-person religion: Motion is pain. I mean time; I mean being pulled through the fourth dimension without brakes or acceleration. Moments are slippery, infinitesimally small and impossible to inhabit. We want to hold each one in our hands like a ceramic pot and examine it from every angle, but the past is melting into the future without pausing to catch its breath. Hours are viscous and lethal. Luckily we have built a sanctuary. In the traditional sub-Saharan concept of time, there is no future. Time centers around two foci— zamani, the past, and sasa, the present. Events slowly fade from present consciousness into ancestral memory, belonging to an extensive repertoire of oral history and distant legend. Things that will happen, like next winter or tomorrow’s sunrise, belong in the sphere of potential time, occurrences that may soon become the present. All you can think is now. Unlike the sub-Saharan, we had an end point. Each of us would leave, and most of us would leave soon. That ending, with nothing beyond it but a great unknown, squeezed the present into cover photos and Instagram, into attempts to make tangible and preserve ephemerality itself. The island’s beauty could only be appreciated through the hopeful awareness of future memories; the present existed for the sake of becoming a sweet past, and a sweet past was little consolation for a monotonous present becoming a past. You can drown in this paradox. Which is worse? An ending or none? I think of Dante’s Limbo, where virtuous yet unbaptized souls flounder in perfectly pleasant conditions, crushed beneath the weight of forever. And yet, the anti-aging industry thrives on more than 80 billion dollars a year.

I’m not even sure it’s a valid question. Someone once told me that in your last moments, your perception of time follows a similar path to Zeno’s arrow, halving and halving again its distance from its target ad infinitum. You never arrive. *** If we did have a past, it would be something like this: both of us sprinting at equal velocity in opposite directions. I was running towards being something, accelerating through college admissions toward the foggy endpoint of “success.” I ran hard sprints, crammed between myriad commitments. She was running to become nothing: three-hour jog sessions in baggy clothes, grasping for some kind of control over her body, her mind. MJ and I arrive to the island separately. We are both at the edges of our respective cliffs; we have both recently decided to try stillness. We imagine we can subvert the pain of growing up by subduing our attentiveness. Little baggies come from off-island in kilo-packs, we soon learn, traveling impressive distances to spill onto our table. We start to share tobacco and laundry detergent and mental space. Quickly we stop needing to talk to communicate and start forgetting to spend time apart. We propose a merger: No sensation will go unshared, no thought without voice, no spliff unpassed. I go on a couple dates with an island bartender. He is twenty-six, with a septum piercing and a tattoo for Led Zep (John Bonham is my god, he says when I ask). A few nights a week I go to see him on his graveyard shift, after MJ is asleep. The winds are rising, hissing in the valleys and shattering windows against their own frames. They carry chalky red dust from the Sahara and turn the white houses orange. The waves break over the roads, and everyone forgets where the sea is supposed to end and the island is supposed to begin. People who have been here long enough to know say the wind makes people crazy. They call it the scirocco, and when it blows for longer than five days “weather-induced insanity” becomes a legitimate legal defense. We are attempting to recreate the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in my living room, testing how far we can delay gratification as if it can predict our future life success. Our dogma is one of pleasure optimization. Once upon a time this was about getting the most bang for our buck, but now it’s obsession: THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 29

How far can we push ourselves? The grown-up version involves fewer marshmallows. Instead, we sew hand-bound sketchbooks, set chickpeas to soak, scrub some shine into a week’s worth of dishes, pre-roll enough cigarettes to permanently steal a voice. We have nothing to prove: There’s no way to win and no way to lose because it always ends the same. We cave. Everything we do we do for this moment—your thumb on the sparkwheel, spliff in your teeth. But it has to pass: the gas flame hits the tip, and something that was once a living plant transmutes itself into light and heat. It hits your lungs. It feels—wait, what does it feel? Good? Relaxing? It feels like I am doing a desperate breaststroke through a lap-lane of honey. What was I expecting? Sweet harmony, bliss, perfect serenity where all of my past selves wrap their arms around me into a tight warm knot, or yellow blossoms shimmying up my spinal cord and whispering you are okay, you are okay, you are okay. I keep smiling until it’s down to the roach because if I don’t MJ won’t. We could stop smoking, I think. But these days with every drag of a spliff we inhale not just THC and toxins and additives but also each other, our secret love club running on biofuel. I want to burn in her throat. We put the roach to bed. I press a hand over the ashtray so it can’t breathe. I think about all the things I could do now, all the directions in which my fourth dimensional self could branch. I list them in order from hard to easy. Hard: painting. Less hard: taking out the trash. Easy: going for a swim. Even easier: lie here until it feels appropriate to roll another. Why do we do this? Remember: Our model of time does not contain a concept of future. There is nothing to fuck up. There is no lung cancer, and there are no brain cells. There is now, and maybe there is tomorrow, and there is the end that is always on its way. Then, nothing. The wind blows slightly stronger with each passing minute. Classes are cancelled indefinitely; we take refuge in my little living room, faces sinking into pillows, our bodies splayed still and horizontal. Initially we make the occasional trip for fresh produce, liquor, bags of brown rice, and tins of olive oil, but mostly we stare at my ceiling like it has something to tell us. As it turns out, our basic calculus is wrong. One plus one makes one. We become lonely in each

30 SPRING 2015

other, wrapped so tightly around the other that we have become a single entity. The angsty corners of our barely-adult brains have fused to become one mass of routine. With this greater mass we like to think we have gained gravity, with which to give weight to the day-ins and day-outs that make up the bulk of our lives. The scirocco reaches hurricane speeds. Shops close; the radio advises us to leave our dwellings only in the case of emergencies. We find ourselves irreversibly implanted in my apartment in absurd meditation, rumination, chewing our mental cud. The sensuality of the whole ordeal is thinning quickly: Any anticipation evaporates, and our angst goes gray, losing its glittery sheen. We continue to roll the same perfect spliffs and light them purely out of habit. We don’t stamp them out but let the flames run their course in the ashtray. Let them have their fun. As one of these roaches smolders, we hear rapping on the balcony door. MJ groans and buries her face in a pillow. I stand up and open it, ushering Sisyphus out of the scirocco and into our self-inflicted haze. Sisy is our new friend, slowly replacing the bartender as the winds make the pre-dawn walk unthinkable. He is broad shouldered and smiles with yellow teeth and is probably some kind of shared hallucination. We can’t play music with him around: Every song winds him up. He sits at MJ’s feet and hums to himself under his breath. “Cig?” MJ offers, pulling one from the pack and tossing the lighter. He takes one miserly drag and, losing interest, stamps it out. The ashtray is full of these abandoned beginnings. He hulks over us, filling a full quarter of the room. He seems to haul the air in and out of his lungs. He won’t look you in the eye, but he’ll stretch his lips into the widest of grins, a smile full of ecstasy and absolute death. “When was the first time you smoked,” MJ asks me. We’re slowly working on merging our memories. I answer: In a pulsing, boozy basement several years away a boy places a hand in the hollow of my back, guiding me out the fire door and up the cellar steps, into a small alcove full of skulking teenage boys. He claps a lanky kid on the shoulder. The boy pulls a joint from the inner pocket of his fleece and holds a palm out to the skinny one, who swiftly provides a light. The yard fills with opaque smoke. The joint is a bad roll, mostly down to the

roach by the time it makes it around. I clamp it between two fingers and drag hard, taking it swiftly into my nose without really meaning to. The lanky boy eyes me sideways. “Did you just French that?” he asks. It was exciting, feeling cool. Sisyphus smiles at me. I’m suddenly not sure when this memory happened, or if it has happened yet at all. I don’t feel very cool here. MJ pulls Sisy’s cigarette from the ashtray and reaches for a lighter. *** The scirocco dies, and the silence is somehow more oppressive than the wind’s howls and the slamming shutters. I go to the bar, and the bartender is gone. Two of his friends have died in a drunk-driving accident, I hear from a friend. He returned to his hometown. A lot of my best thinking during this period of time occurred lying on that couch in our living room and staring at a lighter flame, thumb pressed snug over the fork. Sometimes I thought about wasting lighter fluid, climate change, etc. Occasionally I thought about the quality of light. In 10th grade Chemistry, my disgruntled teacher taught us about wave-particle duality. Sometimes light acts like a particle, a contained and centered quantity of matter with mass and weight and volume. At other times, it appears as a frenetic wave,

a disturbance, an oscillation, continually in transit. The wave ferries energy to and fro, defined by constant motion, constant transfer: It is the physical manifestation of change itself. We were taught that, as usual, the answer hangs somewhere in between: Most situations can be accurately modeled through the combination of classical wave theory and a particle model updated with quantum mechanics. But the models have limitations. Light is simply light, and it does not care if we say it ought to act like this or that. The end comes. Mary Jane gets on a boat that takes her away from the island. I lock up the balcony and tape the door to the living room closed, leaving a dusting of green leaves strewn across the table. I think I hear Sisyphus knock while I lay in bed in the early mornings or as I chop the vegetables for a late-night single-portion stir-fry. I keep the door closed and don’t enter the living room again. As I board my own boat soon after, I think about the idols hidden behind that door: papers, a full ashtray, empty plastic baggies, an assortment of lighters infused with varying quantities of luck. I should mention I changed MJ’s name for her privacy. It doesn’t really matter though, does it? Sisyphus did like one song: Irene Cara’s “Fame.” When I remember him, I remember him bellowing on the balcony, voice drowned in the scirocco: I’m gonna live forever / I’m gonna learn how to fly (high!)



32 SPRING 2015

I called it my porta-potty. That rectangular prism next to my mailbox. The contractor left it one day, wrapped in the excuse that every building under construction in the state of California must support a portable toilet if the project lasts longer than three days. A quick online cross-reference revealed there is no porta-potty-law; it’s just a practice in decency, courtesy, and efficiency to leave a monolith out there as a temporary outhouse. The workers used it, I guess. I never saw them use it, but they probably did. I only saw one man open the door, let it swing shut behind him, and then open it again from the inside. His name is Man-with-red-Toyota-Tundra-who-noticed-the-incriminatinghole-in-my-cowboy-pajamas-and-waved-at-me-before-he-entered-the-space. He didn’t ask permission to use it, and I didn’t stop him. After a porta-potty is used, there is no sound of completion, that clear end marked by a flush. There’s just silence, until the door opens and the slam comes. Quiet returns, and the man walks away, back into the seat of his truck, and you have to watch him drive off, around the curve of your cul-de-sac, as the breeze blows through that hole again and reminds you some man just used your porta-potty. The exact name of these boxes is unknown. Even the voice behind 1-800-TOILETS, a service with an “unmatched selection from basic Porta Potty Rentals to best-in-class portable toilet rentals,” will admit they have no set title. Some people at the company call them portable restrooms, others will just talk about them as lifeless “product.” She’ll tell you this after you tell her you’re writing an essay about them, and remind her three times it’s not a humor piece, but a serious exploration of porta-potties.


That’s probably the easiest thing to call them, two conjoined words infantilized by cutesy endings, tied together by alliteration and the power of the p-words that happen within. Although, once you say the word, the object builds itself in your mind. Walls of plastic connected by a few rivets, under a white roof that contains what is within and keeps away the without. There’s a logo on the front door, and on the sides, and on the back, to advertise the brand to those who pause and notice. The lock abides by the green-go, redstop convention and will change with a click from empty to occupied. I brought the story of the porta-potty back to school with me, sharing those two minutes as a response to “how was your summer?” It all stretched out into around a three minute anecdote, beginning with the sun caressing the lids of my eyes, preparing me for a bright day, a happy few hours spent sipping coffee and flipping through the Times, when suddenly a slick man rips up my street, slams on the breaks, penetrates my porta-potty, and leaves it violated. That’s the word I said. Violated. It seemed to match the listener’s response to the story. The story of the summer didn’t stop when the heat chilled. It was to continue into the semester, when I said I wanted to write an essay on violation in relation to porta-potties: on these layers of plastic as false constructs of safety from the outside world, when anyone from anywhere can come, apply pressure from one side, and watch them fall to the ground. *** CHRIS1

So, are you a government concentrator? SAM No. CHRIS Maybe political aspirations in his future, eh Nori? NORI2 Oh, yeah, yeah. (laughing, forced) CHRIS Why did you shake my hand?


I learned it was the polite thing to do. CHRIS If not politics, a future in what then? Consulting? Go on, take a seat, don’t just stand there. Sam wants to say “writing short stories.” He wants to reveal himself. He wants to accept his wants and place them on the white table. But he says something else, not something that exists inside him, but a title that will look good placed against the small, white magnets across the wall. CHRIS Screenwriting? Interesting. I wanted that word to stick to the white walls. In that half moment the interviewer gives an interviewee to formulate an answer, I saw that empty space surrounding us and threw myself against the wall, once. That version of me slipped down, slowly returning to the pool of bcc’d applicants. So I made something up, rather than reveal anything about myself. I was put on the course’s waitlist. End Scene. *** A difficult part of the porta-potty journey has been keeping life clean of the puns that stink up every day. Each listener who hears the story for the first time grins and tells me how shitty it is. What a load of crap I’m full of. Why I can’t smell the roses. I feel shitty. How can I just dump this on them like that. All their comments are worthless piles of crap. But at least they’re talking about it. I told Chris the story during one of our introductory classes together3, with ten other potential laughs listening. Down the hall, there’s a restroom. It has three stalls, one of which is handicapped. The entire space contains the distinct smell of a bathroom. You know that smell. It’s strong, inside the pockets of your nose as soon as the door opens; it embraces

“Chris Killip (born 11 July 1946) is a Manx photographer who has worked at Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts since 1991, where he is a professor of visual and environmental studies. Thank you Wikipedia for writing one sentence for me in this sea of hundreds of others; perhaps I should have read it myself before applying to his introductory photography class. 2 Nori isn’t on Wikipedia, but he is a wonderful TF in the Visual and Environmental Studies Department, whom I would like to thank for his help and patience and presence in this piece. 3 I got off the waitlist; turns out that does happen, sometimes. 1

34 SPRING 2015

your body, attaching itself to the holes in your skin. You worry it’ll follow you out of the restroom, back to class where everyone watches the slides move across the screen: A black mastiff, caught running through the snow on a country estate at night. A pregnant addict using her blue arms to pump heroin into the man who will become her husband and is the father of her unborn daughter. A bus, with a sliding scale of white to black as the windows move from front to back. The last slide is blank, an absence of an image that leaves a square of light on the projector screen. In the restroom, when there’s another person, there’s silence. There’s often a wall between you, one that ends at your chest or the top of your head, depends if you’re seated or standing. The space is stocked with amenities, and the entirety of the visit can pass without conversation, one of the few spaces where small talk is not forced into the air, but instead overpowered by the precise frequency of the Dyson Hand Blade. But I’m still next to that guy with his South Park Christmas underwear bunched in the seam of his jeggings, and two feet from my right ear there’s a man who I can’t even see peeing on the image of a bee. Underneath my butt is the warmth left by someone else. On a bad day I can smell him, and on the worst days you can see him etched into the bottom of the bowl. The walls leave spaces at their seams for any eye to scoot into and see your legs spread. Listen to the sounds around you, everyone engaging in a personal, private movement. It’s a communal act now, a violent shift into society that mom never mentioned in potty training. And to get to that point, where you can exit a swinging door in the process of zipping up, you must wait in a line, behind the backs of their heads, all facing the same throne, for their own ends.

On the corner of an intersection. By the Northeastern boathouse. At the top of the hill behind the baseball field. Under the arches of the football stadium. Inside construction sites. In backyards. Behind fences. And in many front yards, unique, solitary objects, standing guard over houses, the only figure in a scene under construction. I found them wandering the streets of Cambridge. That sentence has a confusing subject-object-verb arrangement, so let me clarify: I was the wanderer; they were stationary, each planted on the ground for a low fee of $110.00/billing cycle. Before I photographed portable toilets, there were two motifs in my work: scraps of food and the backs of others’ heads. They were linked by two trends, one being they both did not happen in the restroom, and two being they avoided the completed subject, showing a piece to finish the original object. Placing a whole orange in front of camera overwhelmed me: That was a complete sphere, something whole and orange, and I was just me, taking a picture of one half of its surface content; why would anyone look at my picture if they could just pick up an orange? I understand the ridiculous nature of that meta-

*** Coprophilia is the derivation of sexual pleasure from feces. Somewhere in the world, at some time, that interest became a reality, a moment of visual, visceral, olfactory intensity. I don’t have any photographs of that, but I do have five hundred of porta-potties: Along the River during the Head of the Charles, lines of the same shade offering a uniform experience in any slot. Touching the side of church undergoing renovations. THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 35

phor. And I like hiding in metaphors. But that sentence, with its colons and commas and questions, is not a figure of thought, but an actual thought I had. *** RON4 SAM

Hello. Hi, Ron. I’m a student at Harvard researching a paper on porta-potties, and I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions? RON Okay, yes, we’ll do that. I’m busy this week, let’s talk next. What’s your first name? SAM Sam. RON Last name? SAM Reynolds. RON Town of birth? SAM(pause) Glendale? RON What you studying? SAM English? RON Okay, goodbye, call back next week. Five minute pause. The cellphone buzzes; it’s Ron. SAM Hello? RON Hello, what’s your name town of birth and major? SAM This is Sam Reynolds, from Glendale, the English guy. RON Okay Sam, just checking in. I know my buddies, and they like to fuck with me. I don’t want to be scammed. Call back next week and we’ll set up an interview. End conversation. A voicemail doesn’t mean someone will call you back. And if one recording of your voice left somewhere in their files doesn’t do it, I’ve found two or three more approach a marginal effectiveness of zero. The Throne Depot told me to “talk to your school, they’re the ones who will know.5” The toilet psyche happens to be something people don’t want to talk about to another person, so they offload their information to a webpage, where

a family-friendly sanitary slideshow advertises the three-word structure of trust, needs, and support, all concepts that will ensure a pleasant user experience: A construction site with one blue porta-potty much larger than a swinging crane. Lines of mobile restrooms with a man’s profile glancing at them. Some people in groups. It goes without saying the photographs are awful; the upload quality on most is so poor that even the company’s phone number is illegible. The only part that’s clear in every image, even when the sky lacks depth and the writing melts into an out-offocus mass of pixels, is a monolithic toilet always present in the background. When a face does make an appearance in the photograph, it’s tucked in the background, far away from anything remotely personal. Streaming

Ron, the regional New England Manager of United Toilets, also known as 1-800-TOILETS. Can be reached direct: 508-245-4410. 5 “Hello President Faust, I’m a junior at the college writing an essay on porta-potties. Is there someone in your office I could contact that could set up an interview/photo-shoot?” 4

36 SPRING 2015

through all these slide shows, it’s as if the companies don’t want to sully their porta-potties with any sort of humanity, even a smile6. The average consumer might not notice the absence of smiles, but as someone whose most frequently visited websites all contain the word “toilet,” the lack of humanity is draining. It makes you wonder if they’re saving their smiles for when they’re inside, away from the watching cameras and noise of others, alone to look at the back of a door. *** When I was small, my family shopped at Costco. Now we buy groceries and toiletries or electronics at separate stops, once a week. They ride on the back seat, a few paper bags transported on the cushions of my childhood car. One time at Costco, I needed to poo. I told my dad this when the sliding doors let us into the store, before we reached the aisles but after choosing a cart. He told me to hold it. This is the sort of story that’s inappropriate for a nine-year-old. Had I been seven, or younger, we could excuse this to preschool anxiety/a lapse in training/life before memory. And if I were a teen, or a tween, maybe I could call it rebellion, or add it to a bout of high school illness. Dipping into a younger age group would also have allowed my mommy to take me into the ladies restroom, avoiding the conflict entirely. Older me could have popped in by himself at any time. But I had to wait for dad. This incident has no real excuse, except that it takes approximately two to three hours to navigate Costco, select the correct brand of wholesale pickles, diverge for samples often, and reach the checkout. I kept saying, “Dad, I need to go poo.” He told me to hold it. In the checkout line, I watched each box fill with items, bread, peanut butter, rolls of toilet paper covered in that mocking Kirkland shoving double-quilted irony in my face. Check the bill to make sure it’s correct, and wait while dad swipes, then argues about a double charge, then swipes again. When we finished there, he took me to the re-

stroom. In an empty one with two stalls, you always choose handicapped. The extra square footage adds to the illusion of privacy: more room to move, more power to pretend you’re not in a superstore that sells baby-grands and cabbage inches from each other and that there’s not thousands of people eating while you’re trying to not eat. I didn’t think about that then. All I could think about was that toilet bowl, right there, in front of me. All I had to do was turn around and sit. Here’s where the memory becomes a story, so stop and skip to the final section, please. I drop my pants, but before I can sit, I shit a pool up to my ankles. It covers the tops of my white socks and completely obscures whatever underwear I had been wearing. Have you ever seen a brown figure eight, a warm infinity loop wrapped around two small, pale legs? SAM Dad. DAD What? SAM Come here. Obviously the door’s locked so I shuffle over and let him in, careful to hold everything within the confines of my shorts. It’s important that the bathroom remain clean, so no mark of my presence remains when this is done. DAD Oh Sammy. SAM I said I needed to poop. DAD Uhh, I’ll be back. Exit Dad. I waddle back and finally take my seat. Everything slips off, and I form a pile with it in the corner, where it sits against the wall as I wipe my legs and feet. A line starts to form outside. Other people, on their normal day, wait in the silence of the restroom. No one speaks, but they can smell, and they know that I’m in the handicapped stall naked wearing my new gold wire glasses that I think look cool when I’m alone but dumb in public. And that’s a pile of shit in the corner. Silence, suggested five minutes; maybe longer? Dad returns DAD Sam, open up.

Consumers tired of the impersonal webpage and interested in both good conversation and customer service should dial NSC Restrooms, who surpass their motto of “the difference is in the Toilets” and provide a standard of care unprecedented in my experience with the industry. Brenda, their general line responder, provided most of the stats on porta-potties: $110/toilet/billing cycling (28 days), with the guarantee of a weekly service of the restroom, which involves the company truck driving around Boston, sucking sludge from each toilet, and pumping a few gallons of clean water back, with a blue tablet added for color and cleanliness. When the chemicals stop functioning, the mixture turns green.



Sam waddles/walks like a duck; up to dir. interpretation. DAD Here. SAM These are your shorts. DAD I wasn’t going to buy you a new pair. SAM Okay. I leave there with a 38-inch khaki waistband bunched in my right hand. The pile was still in the corner as I walked by the three balding men waiting for a stall. At the car. DAD Wait. Don’t sit. Lays a towel. DAD Okay, now sit. They drive home. This is the same car they use today. They like talking about shit. For years their conversations will blend bowel movements with “what’s for dinner?” and “did you see last night’s episode?” This story will never come up, except as “Costco,” one word to push Sam back into a nine-year-old moment of terror. Often, sensational topics invade conversation as a stand-in for sincerity. When you’re comfortable in your space, with the people you’re with, you’ll say anything to watch it bounce off the walls because you know at any moment you can stick out your hand and grab it. This story, however, happens on blank pages, to a reader I do not know, as I pull my nine-year-old self out of his room with his pants off. It’s not the same as twenty-one-year-old me writing with shit between his legs, but it’s as close as I’ll get right now, closer than I’ve been before. *** None of my images enter the porta-potty. The toilets stand in for the people, portraits themselves. It wouldn’t be right to open up their doors and expose them to the world. That would be exploitive of their interiority, right? On my final day of shooting, I walked through the football stadium with a friend and came across a new crop of toilets in just the right overcast light. I needed to take this picture, to continue manufacturing my story, and to finish it with a few final shots. But then there was that urge for something else. I opened the door, slid behind the metaphorical

38 SPRING 2015

curtain, into my subject. And I peed, all without taking one breath, but still feeling the smell inside my nose, and bearing with the grimace that spread over my face before I could pump the hand sanitizer, slam the door, and leave. We want the safety from being vulnerable transferred to whatever space we stand or sit in, a moving set of walls or stalls that follow my steps and protect me from that which lies out there. When something “violates” you, attacks your presence in that moment, it defamiliarizes the most familiar places, the home, classroom, restroom, and leaves you exposed, even if your clothes are literally on. Who would want to be conscious of this change? To look at others looking at them naked? I really don’t. But I will continue to do so because otherwise I’ll still be nine, somewhere in an aisle, needing to, but not having, pooped. Once I let the door of the porta-potty shut behind me, this wasn’t just something happening to me. I was doing it; I was active, engaged, peeing! I don’t think I’ve ever written an exclamation point before. There’s been someone who wanted to exclaim this entire time hidden in my cuticles, and he’s glad he spoke up. Writing violates your vulnerability. You’re not just leaving yourself exposed for someone else to stop and dissect; your goal should be to strip away every last piece of cloth and present yourself chipped away by words. It’s scary to tell a story about anything because it presumes what I’m telling is valuable and the listener will enjoy spending their time listening. Filling the minutes with myself increases the stakes, as I’m now the subject tangled with the tale. It’s not so strange that dinner parties fill themselves with stories of “my crazy uncle” and “my friend’s summer vow of silence” rather than stories of ourselves; it’s easier to hide behind others, or other things, than present who you actually are. But power comes when you swing out the doors on your own restroom and poop with them wide open. We often read in the restroom; I recommend writing there sometimes, too. It shows, not just tells, the world you’re okay to exist without the walls of safety up at all times, that vulnerability is welcomed. Yes I am human, yes I poop, come shake my hand. There’s joy in self-consciousness, just letting it lie there, while you converse with the reader, showing them your stories and admitting, yes, those are my porta-potties.


In the end, we settled on gingerbread and baked brown rice for Karen’s birthday party. Gingerbread because we had woken to a world alive with snow, the windows flailed by frost and moaning with wind, outside the street and sky identical white. The radiators hissed. We hoarded the heat. We looked outside and watched the street, which could have been from any age. We flicked on all the lamps, not to fight the shadows but to deny the glow of the storm. We gravitated to the halos of lamplight. My parents settled on opposite ends of the couch, balancing their laptops, whose screens gave off the same light as the snow. I found myself under the kitchen’s battered steel hanging lamp, a relic from our apartment’s past life as a factory. I wanted to crank the oven to high and eat all the forbidden things. I said I would do the baking myself, and as I beat the butter I imagined kissing Jakey. I almost burned the rice. It came out shriveled and scattered with dark specks like bugs. Deciding to hope my mom wouldn’t notice the burned bits, I scooped it into a bowl, wrapped it in plastic, and stuck it at the bottom of the bag to bring to Karen’s. Brown rice, salt-free and extra mushy, because it was tradition to bring food that Karen could have eaten. Five years had passed since Karen died, and Ben kept up the parties for Jakey’s sake. But Jakey had grown a foot and turned gorgeous, Ben had a new girlfriend who looked nothing like Karen, and the birthday party, which began as a chance for old friends to gather and remember, had become a bit of a drag. It ruptured the holidays. Besides, her old friends weren’t all friends with each other anymore. Some of them never had been. “Karen had a gift for friendship,” my mom had said at the funeral. I think she meant that, looking out at the pews of faces, she could feel only awe, not understanding, at Karen having actually liked all of them. And so my mom’s solemnity about the whole thing struck me as a pose. Each year, I watched the grownups kiss cheeks and say hello in a way that was meant to say much more. I smiled and

refused to let anyone touch me. The year I turned twelve I called the party morbid, and boring, and when my mom didn’t take that as an answer I said I had too much homework. I think she let me stay at home so I wouldn’t ruin everything. The next year I skipped it, too. I hadn’t seen Ben for so long that I could only picture his face as it echoed in Jakey’s and as it appeared, partially cut off but beaming, in the photo of Karen he had used on the funeral announcement and the birthday invitation. My mom couldn’t understand why this year I suddenly wanted to come. Maybe she thought private school was making me nice. I had started at Jakey’s school in the fall. “What else am I going to do?” I said. “It’s not like I have my own friends to hang out with.” Which was true, even if it wasn’t the reason why I wanted to come. I don’t think she bought it, but she couldn’t have borne admitting I was hiding something. “We tell each other everything,” my mom liked to brag to her friends. But I couldn’t tell her about Jakey. He went by Jacob now, but Jakey was my privilege. Sometimes he still called me Little. The nicknames were badges from being each other’s first friends. I was terrified that my daydreams about the boy who I used to know like a brother proved that I had a sick mind. I kept my thoughts to myself. Our mothers became friends when they made their matching due dates a competition. There were three other women with due dates days away from theirs. They had girl gatherings, all pregnant painters, no husbands allowed. One time, my mom showed me photos. On the outside of the Kodak envelope grinned a family with matching tans and teal swimsuits. Stuffed inside were images from a world in which Jakey and I would never quite belong. In all the photos, our mothers sat side by side cross-legged on the floor, huge with us. I recognized my mom’s studio. I saw the castiron radiator, and the frond of a palm tree that she inherited when an old boyfriend left her. It still lived by the radiator and luxuriated in brain-dryTHE HARVARD ADVOCATE 39

ing blasts of heat. My mom talked while she watered it. I always wondered what she said, but I never snuck close enough to hear. Getting caught would mean the end of watching. I saw the corner of one of her wall-sized paintings from back then. The paint was layered so thick it looked like the skating rink before the Zamboni erases a morning of scraping and gliding. Before Karen died, we—she and Jakey, my mom and I—would meet at the rink on Sunday mornings and skate to stale pop ballads. My mom had a few fancy moves, and Jakey and I raced, but only Karen had the kind of grace that made a person watching think of flying. The cake came out flawless, moist and dark, the fragrance so strong that it flooded my body like an emotion, or like the edge of a headache. The smell mingled with the sense of being warm and safe in the storm. The snow melted as it hit the windowpanes, and outside, the skittish flakes scattered up as well as down onto the empty waiting streets. I shimmied and scraped the cake out of the pan and nestled it into the old cake box. I put on water for tea. Baking makes me picture myself as a mother. I imagined I would be a good one as I pinched powdered sugar and dusted it on like snow. I knew Jakey wouldn’t be so beautiful if his mother hadn’t died. Sometimes, if I looked at Jakey from the blurry periphery of my eyes, I could see him as I knew him to be, imperfect. He was too thin ever since the growth spurt that had gotten him onto the basketball team. He slouched in his chair. I had heard Mr. Martin talking to him after class about participation. He didn’t say much outside of class, either. One time I watched his circle of friends lounge by the lockers before chapel. He slouched. They performed for him, and he looked like he was watching them on TV. He kept his beautiful face blank and the less he cared, the more I wanted to make him feel. His hands proved the rightness of my thinking him special. I first noticed them in math class. He sat by a window, haloed by the outside world. I pretended to look outside to steal glances at him. I probably had a distinct network of muscles in my right arm from hoisting my hand up too often, but Jakey was so reliably silent that his quiet had a presence in the room. If Mr. Martin called on him he might or might not answer. Instead, he mastered little skills. He would poise a pen between his fingertips, then snap it spinning. Sometimes his hand curled and on the flat top of 40 SPRING 2015

the fist the pen unwound. Or else the pen would flick around each finger, moving downward like a Jacob’s ladder toy. The wonder was the continuity, the supple lazy endless spin. In a heartbeat, his hands could change from liquid movement to stillness. We were lucky that Mr. Martin was clueless. We all began to imitate Jakey. Any other teacher would have noticed pens falling or flying across the room, the clatter of their downfall, the occasional grace of spinning. Jakey didn’t really notice, either. He saw our jerky attempts but showed as little interest as I might give a children’s cartoon. He didn’t act flattered or annoyed at our imitations. He didn’t offer to teach us. He didn’t even laugh when Riva Zimmerman’s pen flew out the window. And so, on the last day before winter break, I couldn’t quite believe it when I felt his hand slip into mine as the crowd of us shuffled out into the cold for a fire drill. He didn’t look at me. I felt the warmth of his hand and the throb of a pulse as his wrist touched my wrist. Then the throng moved forward and his hand slipped away. He was carried ahead like a person carried out to sea. “You’re not wearing that,” my mom said amid the rush of getting out the door. My dad was already waiting for us in the cold. While we ran around remembering keys, scarves, hats, chapstick, lipstick, the cake, the rice, he announced that he was heading down to dig out the car and see if it would start. He was always trying to prove that the family lateness was our fault, not his. Trailing bootlaces, half-swallowed by a sweater still bunched at the top, I hovered over the sink, hoping to steal one last sip of scalding tea before dumping it. “What am I not wearing?” I asked. I braved a gulp and burned my tongue. I tugged the sweater straight, then turned on the tap and stuck my tongue in the cold trickle. “That dress.” My mom was already halfway to her bedroom. I stuck out my tongue and pulled at it, as if that would take away the pain. “What’s wrong with it?” I asked. It was tight enough to make me look like I had a butt. I tugged the dress longer. The stretchy fabric snapped back. “I have something you can wear,” she said as she returned to her bedroom. I heard her opening drawers. A pair of black velvet pants flew from the bedroom and fell in a heap in the doorway. “What if I like the dress?” I asked. “I baked your cake. I made the rice.” I could hear the whine in

my voice and I hated myself for it. I shut up. “I can’t argue today,” she said, and that was that. I pulled on the pants. I looked a mousy forty, not an underdeveloped fourteen. “Joy!” I said, not so loud that she would hear. Joy was my new word. I had stolen it from Sophie, who had long thin legs and neat teeth and pink lips that curled around the word joy as if it tasted bitter. I had heard that she was with Jakey. Most rumors don’t mean much, though. The snow had emptied the streets and turned the parked cars into slumbering giants tucked in with snow. Out the shut window I saw white. I spent the drive wondering if I was looking at a sheet of snow frozen onto the glass, or at a view of falling flakes made still and dense by the window fog. “We won’t know anybody,” my dad said. My mom flicked open the sun visor mirror and began to smooth on lipstick. “They’re not my friends,” he said. “They’re hardly my friends,” my mom said, and snapped the lipstick cap back on. “We don’t have to stay long.” She looked at me through the mirror and smiled as if her words were an offering of which she was rather proud. “Why are we going?” my dad asked. The wipers couldn’t go any faster. At a stoplight my dad opened his door and jostled the ice from the windshield with his sleeve, then tried to pry it clear with his bare hands. “Fucking storm,” he said. The cold wind hurtled into the car like a headrush. My mom hugged herself. We started again at a crawl. “Is this safe?” my mom asked. Of course, my dad took it as a challenge. He lifted one hand off the wheel and rested it on her thigh. “What a worry wart,” he teased. Somehow we made it. Jakey’s house didn’t look like Brooklyn. It was yellow painted wood like a house in the suburbs, but it stood on a corner that joined a row of brownstones with the industrial part of Fourth Avenue. The neighborhood wasn’t unsafe, exactly, but Karen always used to find an excuse to come with Jakey and me to the playground. “I need a break,” she would say. “Come on, before I ruin this painting.” And we’d be off, like she was one of us. Dark would fall soon, though it was only the early afternoon. The sky still shone smooth as a pall. Already the streetlights cast the sidewalk yellow. A walkway through snow banks had packed down

to ice. The cold gnawed at our faces and creaked underfoot as we walked to the house. We stomped toward the moment I had been waiting for. The front door stood ajar. The entrance was chilly and crowded with boots in sickly snow puddles. Wet socks nestled like small creatures. Chatter trickled in from the living room. “And you worried no one would come,” my dad said, meaning the boots, meaning that we could’ve stayed at home. We shed our shoes and opened the door to the living room, smiling, uncertain if smiles were appropriate. The voices swelled. The usual crowd flocked around the long dining table, and between their dresses and jackets and shawls I saw peeks of all the dishes. I looked around fast. He wasn’t there. Three sides of the house were windows, and the snow glared through, making the white room, which stretched from kitchen to dining room to living room, feel like the inside of a light bulb. By contrast, the furniture felt dark. The whole room looked like Karen. I wondered if they had put up her paintings and pulled out her favorite furniture for the occasion, or if they always lived in the thick of her. Karen’s father was a Broadway producer and she had loved things that looked like props. She had filled the house with the Last Supper dinner table, the green velvet fainting couch, the Balinese masks leering from the walls and the grandiose orchid on the nonfunctional mantel. She once surprised us on my mom’s birthday with a carful of old friends in costume. They walked into our apartment like a parade. I have photographic proof that even Jakey wore a gauzy dress. Karen lived like she was playing at it. When her doctor warned her against flour and sugar, she and my mom went for a trip to the everything plastic store on Canal, where they bought a stunner of a fake cake. Seven tiers of flounces, flakes like coconut, swoops like frosting’s imitation of a bow. My gingerbread looked nothing so good. The table was overwhelmed by offerings. To the right, the cakes, the gold-wrapped chocolates, the cheese plates and clafoutis, the teacakes and tarte tatin, the butter smears, the whole baked ham, and green bottles of wine made black by the red inside. And to the left the brown and beige or greyish green, the ghost meal we had made for Karen and placed beside the feast for the living. I took three cookies from a nearly bare platter to make room for the gingerbread. No one had noticed me yet. I let myself be greedy. THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 41

“Women over fifty tend to disappear,” a woman with long white hair was telling a man with hair just as long and tied into a pony tail. “I should know. I said I was forty-nine until my son was in his thirties.” I reached between them to stab a slice of ham, which looked so pink and moist that I took two more. I stuffed a slice whole into my mouth and rubbed my burnt tongue along the salty flesh. “Hey,” I heard. I turned around, and there was Jakey. The way he looked wasn’t fair. “Hi,” I tried to say without opening my mouth. I sounded like the tape-mouthed victims in horror movies. I pointed at my mouth and finished chewing. “Ham,” I said. His hair stuck up like he hadn’t showered. I held out my heavy plate. “You want some?” The white haired woman had stopped talking. I noticed eyes shifting our way. It wasn’t me they were staring at. “Want to sit?” he asked, and walked away before I could answer. The crowd parted for him. I left my plate and followed. Jakey slouched onto the low end of the fainting sofa. It was tucked into an alcove whose three windows cast a glare harsh enough to keep the area empty. Those grownups not by the table hid in pairs or threes in the room’s shadowed corners, or in circles near the room’s center, beyond the outstretched window light. I sat beside him before realizing that I should have pulled up one of the armchairs. I was too close, and it was hard to keep my balance on the slanted seat. Even the couch conspired to tumble me toward him. I could see the little movements in his body with every breath, the t-shirt shifting over skin over ribs girding lungs that seemed, with every inhalation, to steal the breath out of me. We squinted at the light and sat in silence. I watched his hands. He watched the storm. The wind howled against the window. “So,” I said. He looked at me. It was hard to look away. I tried to make my mouth move. “Do you get used to the staring?” I asked. The question surprised me. He laughed, maybe to ease the tension. “I stare back,” he said. I didn’t know what to say, so I looked at his hands. They lay palms up on his lap, like he was waiting for something to be given or taken. We sat in silence. “Are you bored?” he finally asked. 42 SPRING 2015

Just then the party hushed. I stood up to see. Jakey didn’t bother. Ben was standing on a chair, his lanky body made more so by the added height. “Hello!” he cried. For a moment he swayed. His tiny new girlfriend reached up, as if she could help him if he fell. He caught his balance and bowed. Someone clapped. He looked drunk. He waited for a shriek of wind outside to die down before he went on. “Thank you, all of you, for coming today to remember Karen. My wife, Jacob’s mother,” he said. I looked back at Jakey. He was watching the storm again. “So,” Ben said. “Let’s begin.” We all knew the ritual. Next we would move the chairs into a circle and share our memories. I moved to help. “Let’s go upstairs,” Jakey said. He stood up and the sun hit his eyes. I could see all the marks and shades in the green. His eyes looked like Karen’s. “We’re going,” he said to everyone in the same voice I use to shout goodbye through the house before heading to school. Ben hadn’t quite clambered down. He stepped slowly to earth and adjusted his sweater to hide the strip of pale stomach that had shown. “Jacob,” he said. “Come on. Please.” “Do I have a choice or not?” Jakey asked. “Right,” Ben said. “Fine. Kids have their own party upstairs.” Kids meant the two of us. The rest had started hoisting and shifting the chairs. Jakey hurried through the room to a door at the other end, and I pushed through the crowd after him. As the door closed behind us, I remembered that it led to the stairs to the bedrooms. It was dark in the stairwell and I stubbed a toe on the first step, but I didn’t even gasp. The upstairs smelled like cedar and felt like a tree house, dim and windowless and snug. Jakey turned on a lamp. The ceiling was two slants of dark wood, and the walls were wooden, too. I hadn’t been up there in five years. When Jakey was still shorter than me he bragged he was the only one in our two families who could walk from wall to wall without slouching. A sofa facing an old TV set was positioned directly beneath the seam of the roof, and there Jakey sprawled. I folded myself straight backed and cross-legged beside him, not too close this time. We sat in silence. I was getting used to keeping quiet. The wind shrieked and the wooden house creaked. I found myself wondering if a storm like this could tear a house apart. Maybe I shivered, be-

cause Jakey jumped up, went into his bedroom, and came back carrying a white down blanket. He draped the blanket over me, tucking it around my feet. He sat beside me and pulled the blanket over him, too. Our knees brushed. His ears blushed hot red and he shifted away. Our tiniest movements expanded in my mind. “We could watch something,” he finally said. “Sure, okay,” I said. He went to the TV and turned it on. The screen filled blue. “At my house we still have videos from when we were babies,” I said. “We can’t play them anymore though. VHS.” He ran his finger down a stack of DVDs piled by the screen. “Have you seen Apocalypse Now?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said. I hadn’t, but I knew what it was about. “Oh. We can watch something else,” he said. “I don’t mind,” I said. He shrugged and stuck a DVD in. The screen flickered to black and then became a shore dense with palm trees that waved below a hazy sky. Somewhere a helicopter whirred. The sky looked dreamy. A sound like mosquitoes swelled as the helicopter drifted in and out of view. A guitar began to whine. “Did your dad fight?” Jakey asked, and shifted closer. I could feel the warmth of his leg near mine. We kept our eyes on the screen. “Protested,” I said. “We both have old dads.” “Yours fought?” “He wasn’t even hurt, though,” Jakey said. “This is the end, beautiful friend,” the movie sang. Jakey’s hands hid under the blanket. I tucked my hands under, too, my right hand so close to his that when I shivered we touched. “This is the end, my only friend, the end,” the movie sang on. In a snatch of courage I tucked my hand into his. We held still together. I felt dizzy with feelings I didn’t know. On screen, the jungle had become a bedroom sifted with yellow light. Martin Sheen peered out the blinds, shirtless, gleaming. The movie closed in on his handsome face. His blue eyes dilated in the light. I watched Jakey in my periphery. I imagined his lips soft on mine. All I had to do was lean toward him. I uncrossed my legs and resettled. Now our legs touched. Somewhere below, the wind rattled a window

once, twice. And beneath the blanket, Jakey’s hand slipped out of mine and brushed my leg. The thick down gave no hint of the slow movement below. He stroked upward, caught at the waistband of my mom’s pants, and nestled between the layers of sweater and t-shirt to touch the skin. I tried to suck in my stomach. I tried to breathe. We kept our eyes on the TV but the screen felt far away. “Each time I’d look around the walls moved in a little tighter,” Martin Sheen’s voice rasped. My right hand lifted to Jakey’s lap. I let the hand rest there. His thumb brushed lower. My skin burned beneath his touch. I fought the urge to shudder away. The movie music quickened. The guitar sounded less like a drone and more like cries of pain. The drummer struck at random. Martin Sheen spun around and karate chopped a mirror. He stared at his fist, shocked by the sight of his own blood. He leaned against his bed, naked, his moans mute beneath the soundtrack. I slipped my hand beneath his jeans, and his smooth hand tucked under my underpants and between my legs and stayed there, not moving, my blood throbbing toward his hand, his blood toward mine. We stayed, and stayed, and I couldn’t have told you how much time passed. A moth in the coat closet gorged itself on the guests’ winter things. A streetlamp flickered and cast the street yellow, then dark. I saw the snow harden to ice. The grownups sat in their circle, and my mom held up the photo we’d chosen, staring at it as she spoke, as if it would disappear if she looked away. Slowly, Jakey pulled his hand out from under the covers. He froze. “What’s wrong?” I whispered, and then I saw. His hand had traced red on the white. His fingers were slick with blood. Red daubed the palm, too. He held the hand slack and stared. Blood caked in the cuticles and clotted dark under the nails. The lines on his knuckles looked etched in red. It had come from me. It must have. I was late, the last person I knew to get it. I had always imagined it would be grander than this, that I would feel the change, the womanhood settling around me. I had felt nothing, and now Jakey was gingerly rubbing his fingers together, as though testing the texture. He would never want to look at me again. I would change schools, or else I would find a way to avoid him THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 43

Tamilyn Chen Hearts in My Veins Acrylic, artichokes, pencil, gel transfer on canvas 10 x 13 inches

44 SPRING 2015

for the next four years. “I’m so sorry,” I said. I couldn’t look at him. The silence was killing me. Onscreen, a man with buggy eyes offered Martin Sheen a cigarette and looked away. Jakey started to laugh. Little at first, like a hiccup, but soon he was shaking with laughter. I laughed to join him, and then relief overflowed into real laughter, helpless laughter, nothing cute about it. The bleeding hand lurched closer and I jerked back, and then we were laughing harder, wheezing, painful laughter, my eyes squinting to make room for the laugh, a feeling like tears until we collapsed quiet. My stomach hurt. The shame started to come back. I got up and turned off the TV. “I’ve never had it before,” I explained, my back to him. “It’s okay,” he said. He said it again before I could turn around. “You won’t tell anybody?” I asked. “I won’t tell anybody.” He bundled the blanket to his chest. “Let me take it,” I said. I didn’t want to owe him anything more than I already did, and I worried that the blood would rub onto his clothing, but he had already started down the stairs. I followed. Dark had fallen, and the room now shone dull. The grownups had reached the last part. They sat with their eyes closed, breathing slow together. They looked like the victims of a fairytale spell. For a long moment Jakey stood there, holding the blanket and staring at his mother’s friends. His face was blank again. I touched his arm and we tiptoed past. My mom’s eyelids quivered. The floors in that house creaked, they must have heard us, but they couldn’t break the ritual. We shut the bathroom door behind us. I turned on the hot water and he rubbed his hands beneath. The water drained away pinkish and the blood came off easily. I passed him a towel to dry. “Don’t look,” I said. He held the towel over his eyes. The blood really was from me. I bundled toilet paper into my underpants and zipped my pants back up. “You can look now,” I said. We heaped the bloody part of the blanket into the sink and held the stains under the tap. The red faded a little, not much. The mirror began to cloud with steam. We shut the tap and stuffed the wet blanket into a hamper in the corner of the bathroom, our bodies sometimes brushing togeth-

er, and as we punched the fabric down to make it fit we started to giggle again. “Shh,” he said. The steam made me feel like I was floating. “Shh,” I said back. I had never seen anyone so beautiful. At that moment I felt I knew him, and I felt known. The weight of the knowledge flooded through me. It could have been my mother who died—I let myself stand on the threshold of the thought, just close enough to summon a rush of painful tenderness toward Jakey. I wanted to watch him forever. “Can I show you something?” he asked. We shouldn’t have gone outside. We should have looked out first and seen the extent of the storm. But instead, we creeped past our parents and their friends, and in the chilly hallway we pulled on all our layers and tied up our boots, and then we entered the wild street. The wind shrieked against us as we opened the door. The air had hardened and the ground had packed to ice. Snow swarmed around us like gnats seeking the tender skin between scarf and coat, sleeve and glove. The heat fled our bodies. I gasped for air. The cold stung my lungs. Jakey ran forward and slid on the icy sidewalk. He almost fell, windmilled, caught himself, and gave a howling cry into the night. He ran ahead and skidded again. I couldn’t see far through the snow. I blinked away the frost as he rounded the corner. “Wait up!” I called, but the wind stole my voice. I tried to follow and slipped. The ground reeled and then reoriented as I fell to my butt. Gingerly, I felt for the spot. Probably just a bruise, which made the humiliation even worse. I wouldn’t cry. Jakey hadn’t even seen. I brushed off as much of the snow as I could. Panting, wincing at the snow and the pain, I stomped on, trying to drive my feet straight into the ice so that I wouldn’t slide again. I rounded the corner and caught sight of him. “Jakey!” I cried, but he was still too far away to hear. The city felt erased. All I could see was the absence of the street signs, the brownstones, the gingko tree on the corner, the familiar landmarks all gone. My face was starting to ache, and my mom’s pants were nothing to the wind. I felt the first dull pangs of numbness. To keep myself going I imagined him hurt. In my mind, he slipped on the ice and injured himself, and as he bled into the frost, as the pain and the cold conspired to put him to sleep in a snow bank, I found him. I saved him. Don’t stop, I thought. I closed my eyes THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 45

against the snow and kept walking, leaning hard into the wind. I opened my eyes and saw his black coat turn the next corner. “Jakey!” I cried again. I began to think of what would happen if I lost him. I began to run. Now I let myself slide, clutching at the moldings of half-buried building facades, pulling myself faster and faster forward. I realized where Jakey was leading me as it loomed into view. The playground. Where else could we have gone? It had always been run-down, but now my first thought was that it looked like an ice castle. Snow banks had piled at the gate and hid the park from the street. Icy patches of asphalt glittered treacherous in the weak streetlight. Downy snow and speckled frost obscured much of the slide, but where the silver shone through it gleamed. The swing set dripped with bladelike icicles running down from the seats and from the toprail, tiers of icicles so long and dense they formed a wall that stippled green and clear and black. Ice encrusted the chains and the A-frame stand. I didn’t see Jakey until after I had swung open the iron fence

46 SPRING 2015

and ploughed my way past the playground’s entrance. He was perched on the swing set’s toprail. His legs dangled and he grinned down at me from twenty feet above the frozen earth. The wind howled, and the ice gleamed, and my heart tried to beat out of my body. At first I didn’t understand what I was seeing. “Little!” he called. “Isn’t it beautiful?” I couldn’t answer. “I found it like this before everyone came,” he said. “If you could see it up here, the way I see it.” “What are you doing?” I asked. “Come up here,” he said. “Are you crazy?” I asked. “It’s not so hard. I’ll help you.” He leaned his body against the rail and began to shift toward the side pole. “What are you doing?” I asked again. “Watch me,” he said. But I didn’t watch. I shut my eyes against the storm. The wind filled my ears. I kept my eyes shut. I’ve spent a long time wondering what would happen if I ever opened my eyes.



48 SPRING 2015

Man is a god when he dreams and a beggar when he thinks. –Friedrich Hölderlin

I In the early morning hours of January 12, 1963, a coup took place on the island of Zanzibar. It was a small, relatively silent uprising; those over whom the hand of government had switched in the middle of the night awoke none the wiser. As day broke, insubstantial rumors began to trickle in. The sun climbed in the sky like a fiery balloon, and with it rose the tide of hearsay. A name began to circulate. It hummed in the narrow, shaded streets, along the brilliant beaches and quays where bobbed the boats of ragged fishermen. It ran through the fields of corn and cassava, beneath the coconut palms and clove trees. Soon a message, freshly composed by the revolutionaries, quaked over the radio. John Okello, a warrior, had apparently given Zanzibar, until so recently ruled by a minority population of Arabs, back to the Africans. He cut a magnificent figure, the listeners were led to believe and until quite recently had been a high-ranking officer in Kenya. He could construct, with his own two hands, 500 guns in a single day, 100 grenades in an hour, and a bomb with a blast radius of three miles—and he had been planning the liberation of Zanzibar for months. But very little of this, as it would later emerge, was true. Seizing the opportunity to reinvent himself, Okello had disseminated a stream of fictions so rich and vermiculate that it would be months in the disentangling. The madness, turmoil, and attendant void of information associated with the revolt provided an exceptionally fertile launch pad for this reformation. The man who post-revolution would pompously deem himself “Field Marshal” of the military was, in reality, a semi-literate laborer—variously a bricklayer, a housepainter, a stonecutter—who had raised himself after being orphaned at ten. Furthermore, he was a spiritual man, in his own mind a prophet. God spoke to him of the righteousness of the revolution, whispered at his ear in the dark night hours. Sometimes he was so bowled over by these inspirations that he retreated to the forest to contemplate his dreams in silence. He had had no hand in planning the revolution but had merely been the firebrand, the instigator. At first a rank-and-file rebel, it was during the actual fighting that he had distinguished himself, his singular confidence and viciousness exalting him to the position of military hero and, eventually, to figurehead of the revolution. THE HARVARD ADVOCATE 49

Immediately following the revolution, Okello held great sway in Zanzibar. What followed was a confusing period of about two months. Though he had no formal position in the new government, Okello was essentially running the country, while more legitimate leaders—those who had actually planned the revolution Okello had usurped—tried to mitigate his power. Okello made daily radio broadcasts during this period, claiming, outrageously, that 11,995 people had died during the revolt. He made strange threats, such as: “We, the army, have the strength of 99 million, 99 thousand…Should anyone be stubborn and disobey orders, then I will take very strong measures, 88 times stronger than at present.” He would cut, drown, burn, and shoot dissidents. The foreign press was banned, and he began to make insane demands. Off the radio, he strutted about, gussied up and armed to the teeth with pistols, knives, and a Sten gun. He burst in on private meetings and proceeded to act the buffo. He posed for an endless number of photographs. In short, he was an embarrassment. Fortunately for his opponents, Okello’s violent Christian rhetoric, combined with the ravenous looting his armada of ruffians undertook in regular waves, was beginning to alienate his less zealous supporters. On March 8, on returning from a trip to Uganda, Okello was met at the airport by a host of guards. Unfortunately, they explained, he would not be allowed back into Zanzibar. He was set to wandering. He still felt the desire to liberate; he still retained his taste for grandeur. With only a handful of loyal men, he halfheartedly stomped around East Africa, dreamily plotting uprisings in Rhodesia, Mozambique, even South Africa. In 1971, he dropped off the map entirely. Speculation has it he was assassinated by a president or warlord who felt vaguely threatened by his high volatility. Regardless, his misbegotten plans, his synthetic past, the tentative grandeur of his future all disappeared, swept briskly under the rug of history. The magnificence of his illusions dissipated, their energy spreading ineffectually across the whole geography of his wanderings. He burst forth like a flame and petered out, underfed. II It was during his exile of the late 1960s—before his disappearance—that Okello began a correspon-

50 SPRING 2015

dence with German filmmaker Werner Herzog, then a relatively unknown director. Okello wanted Herzog to translate a book he’d written on the Zanzibar Revolution into German, while Herzog simply wanted a chance to film Okello, whose grandiose antics he’d followed closely as they’d trickled into the western media. The two never managed to meet, however; Okello, having learned little from his ostracization and still inclined to boil over with vitriolic language, had landed himself in jail. Even a cursory understanding of Herzog’s filmography would seem to justify his interest in Okello. As Dana Benelli notes in his essay “The Cosmos and its Discontents,” Herzog’s films, particularly the early efforts, tend to focus on “central characters out of synch with, if not in open rebellion against, the societies within which they live” (89). The “rebellious response” subsumes the individual, and the revolt escalates, self-augmenting, until the characters are revolting against the universe itself: Stroszek in Signs of Life (1968) demands that the sun cease its constant rising; The President in Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) runs into the desert and orders a branch to quit pointing at him. These Herzogian protagonists tend to be characterized by their mythopoeic strivings, by the attempt at self-reinvention through a reckless and mad grab for power—elements found abundantly in Okello that no doubt attracted the director. Okello’s absurd and unsustainable demagoguery, marked by a penchant for flagrantly impossible threats, was in itself a bid for transcendence. As Herzog recalled in a 1971 interview: Okello delivered these incredible speeches from an airplane. He circled around Zanzibar…and before he landed, he had the aircraft’s radio switched to the local radio station and delivered a short speech: “I, your Field Marshall, am about to land. Anyone who steals so much as a bar of soap will be thrown in prison for two hundred and sixteen years!” The figure of John Okello—mad revolutionary, boastful weaver of absurd fictions—would come to influence not only Herzog’s style of filmmaking, but also the themes he undertook to excavate, most prominently in his 1972 feature Aguirre, the Wrath of God, a film which includes a character named after Okello and which marked Herzog’s first collaboration with another mad, transcendent personality: Klaus Kinski. The wonderfully strange, frequently violent, and wildly germinative relationship between Herzog

and Kinski has become a bit of a commonplace in cinema history. Herzog himself has emerged as a weird wizard of cinema, with various anecdotes attesting to his eccentricity; Kinski, the blonde powder keg, has always remained a larger than life figure, renowned for the shortness of his temper, the force of his outbursts. At the time of filming, Kinski, in his mid-forties, had a respectful though stunted career. He could act, all agreed, but his frequent and vociferous tantrums—which often bled into the physical realm— had garnered him a foreboding reputation. Many directors were afraid to touch him, but it was precisely this volatility that attracted Herzog. He was intent on making a film about revolt—who better than a revolting actor to play the lead? The film, which follows a doomed expedition down a mid-16th century Amazon River to find the mythic golden city of El Dorado, was filmed in Peru. The jungle was hot, unbearably hot, and Herzog, hoping to draw real performances out of his actors, allegedly kept them hungry and thirsty for most of the shoot. It was nearly impossible to drag the large crew and cast through the often perilously thin mountain paths, through the webs of viridescent foliage that sprung from the soupy ground. Sickness and fever were a perennial threat; the nearest large city was often dangerously distant and only sometimes in communication. Early in the filming, Kinski, per his wont, began to act up. “His behavior was impossible, and he raved like a lunatic at least once a day,” Herzog later recalled in an interview. “He also wanted to leave the set—he wanted to go home.” Accounts differ as to how Herzog confronted this last issue; the most frequently circulated rumor is that he forced Kinski to act at gunpoint. Herzog denies this, however. He claims, rather, to have simply threatened to kill Kinski, and then himself: “From then on, everything went very smoothly.” As filming progressed, so, too, did Kinski’s antics. At one point, an extra, waiting off-screen in a hut constructed for the filming, spoke while Kinski was filming a scene. Kinski, who carried a functional Winchester rifle with him at all times, “got so worked up that he took his Winchester and shot a hole through the roof.” (Some accounts have Kinski taking off three of the extra’s fingers with his shot.) Herzog—operating on a hunch, a nugget of inspiration—encouraged these tantrums; he egged Kinski on, working him into a lather and watching as Kinski’s rage bled into his acting. All of which, it goes

without saying, he captured on film. The environment that Herzog fostered was essentially hostile: the actors should feel uncomfortable and Kinski himself should feel transgressed upon, singled out. This displacement—the alienation engendered by being treated cruelly in a foreign land—would ideally result in a purer, distilled form of acting. Miraculously, the shoot wrapped up, and the film proved a massive success, catapulting Herzog into the spotlight of European art cinema while simultaneously reinvigorating Kinski’s career. Herzog and Kinski, battered by the process though pleased with its results, would go on to collaborate on several more critically acclaimed films, entangling themselves in a relationship that produced marvelous fictions while at the same time being, in a sense, another fiction. In his 1988 autobiography, Kinski, who had most recently worked with Herzog in 1987’s Cobra Verde, viciously derided his partner, claiming that Herzog was an execrable, self-obsessed filmmaker—a dabbler, a dilettante. Herzog, for his part, later claimed that much of Kinski’s autobiography was pure fiction, crafted retroactively, and that he had even assisted Kinski in penning some of the more acerbic insults on his own person. It seems fitting that Kinski’s last say on his relationship with Herzog should be undecipherable, an unresolvable entangling of the virile threads of rage and fiction. III Aguirre, the Wrath of God plays fast and loose with historical figures. It follows an expedition led by Gonzalo Pizarro in late 1560 and early 1561, despite the fact that the historical Pizarro died in 1548. Herzog places the historical figures on expeditions they never attended, displacing them temporally. They are pawns in an aesthetic game, their very shifts and anachronistic arrangements contributing to the film’s sense of compositeness, of incompleteness. Early in the film, the official expedition is stalled. A small party, led by Don Pedro Ursua with Don Lope de Aguirre (our hero, so to speak) as second-in-command, is sent down the river on a fleet of rickety skiffs to scout for food or help. Throughout this developing drama, Kinski, who has donned the armor of his character, a shabby suit of leather with oversized pauldrons, is preoccupied with delivering the most menacing performance he can manage. He fully utilizes his diseased-looking


habitus and the thick, Cro-Magnon ossature of his skull; Aguirre struts about vampirically, brooding and scowling and blaring with his wild, sunken eyes. Before long, his treachery is out in the open. Ursua is deposed, and Aguirre establishes the overweight and simpleminded Don Fernando de Guzman as the expedition’s new leader—while he, of course, retains his position as second-in-command. From then on, the film charts a general decline in sanity. The doomed party drifts down the river on a large raft that begins to resemble, with its various small additions and substructures, the barest bones of a theatrical stage. No minor significance to this, in fact. In a 1973 interview, Herzog discussed his understanding of the relation between history and theater: [A]s a theme, this horde of imperialistic adventurers performing a great historical failure, this failure of imperialism, of the conquerors, the theme is really quite modern. The method by which history was then made is actually one that can still be found today in many Latin American countries. History there is staged as theater, with theatrical coups. To echo this sentiment, Aguirre claims in the film’s final moments that he “will stage history, like others stage plays.” And, of course, the platform on which he crafts his fictions is fundamentally destabilized, a portable stage that bucks and trips and in its disturbance agitates its occupants’ minds, their thoughts, and the fictions that trend from those thoughts. Herzog indeed is interested in the essence of revolt, of rebellion, but he is even more interested in the relationship between revolution and the crafting of fictions. In his early work, he has limned a triumvirate of madness, associating these two propensities with his “out of synch” characters, snipped cleanly from their contexts, historical or other. As John Okello emerged from a dim personal past and found himself suddenly at the head of a revolution, Aguirre was transported into the tropical wilds of South America, torn from his comfortable lands in Spain—and it is no minor joke that Herzog likewise tore Kinski, a stunningly German actor, out of Germany and thrust him into the unlikely role of a Spanish conquistador. While the other actors display the fine Spanish features so often associated with the conquistadors, Kinski stands out, his lanky blond hair and brutal features purposely inhibiting the authenticity of his role. For Herzog, the displaced man’s propensity for re-

52 SPRING 2015

volt is irrevocably connected to his greater-than-average ability (or opportunity) to remake himself— that is, his ability to craft fictions. Without a proper social context, the displaced man will expand indefinitely, revolting and creating fictions of grandeur, of power. The revolt begins to feed the fiction, while the fiction in turn feeds the revolt. It this recursive loop that becomes the madness that leads the displaced Herzog protagonist to “rebel against the universe.” The last 15 minutes of Aguirre, the Wrath of God constitute a subtle phantasmagoria. The crew of the raft, merely a handful of tatterdemalion survivors struck with hunger, thirst, and fever, begin to hallucinate freely. They spot a complete boat—its sails billowing fluidly, dreamily—suspended in the uppermost branches of a tree and declare that it is merely an illusion. The line between fiction and reality, enervated by the crew’s physical weakness, begins to blur. Aguirre, for his part, claims the boat is real; he makes plans to retrieve the boat and use it to reach the Atlantic. The slave Okello—so named because Herzog owed the revolutionary’s “craze, hysteria, [and] atrocious fantasies quite a bit for [the] film”—lies crumpled on the raft’s floor. With a skyward glance, he whispers, “That is no ship. That is no forest.” In a stunning moment, an arrow sinks quickly and forcefully into his thigh. He reacts calmly, continuing his delirious ruminations: “That is no arrow. We just imagine the arrows, because we fear them.” Meanwhile, Aguirre hurries about the raft as arrows and spears bombard the remnants of his crew; he fires off rifles and makes noise, insisting with supreme confidence that the arrows are real, that the danger exists. It is then that Flores, Aguirre’s fifteen-year-old daughter, who has been carried preposterously in a sedan-chair through all these rough environs, is killed by an arrow. Aguirre cradles her, staring menacingly off into the jungle whence the missile came. We might expect reality to rush in now like a torrent, to bring Aguirre to his knees and cleanse his mind of any illusions. But, as it happens, Aguirre sets the corpse of his daughter down. He proclaims that he will marry her and in so doing found “the purest dynasty the earth has ever seen.” A procreative loop is established; the father will feed off the daughter, just as the fictions will feed off the revolt, the revolt the fictions. The raft twirls and yaws down the river. It might be going to the sea.

Anna Koeferl Chrysalis Ink and cut paper 38 x 24 inches


The Smut Spectrum ETHAN LOEWI

Aiden’s porn addiction began, unsurprisingly, with porn. For the first fifteen years of his life—or really just the past three, in this context—he’d had to make do with his imagination, a few war-torn issues of Penthouse inherited from Uncle Rico, and a copy of Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus that his parents had overlooked in their curation of the family shelves. “Sex,” thought Aiden, as he flipped single-handedly through the one about the mermaid and the necrophiliac, “is insane.” And it was good. A few magazines and some surrealist erotica, when combined with the incomparably vibrant imagination of a horny teenager, were an embarrassment of riches to Aiden. He wasn’t too naïve, either; he knew that the Penthouse stories were silly popcorn smut, and that Nin greatly exaggerated the average person’s propensity for molesting falcons. But these silly things sparked his fantasies, much as the Harry Potter books had a few years prior. It was a time of wonder. At fourteen, he met his first girlfriend. As high school freshman, both had slipped through the cracks; neither were hip enough to join the social elite, nor strange enough to be singled out for bullying. But Sara was practical, warm, and bold— and Aiden, though shy and unassertive, made an excellent follower. They met in shop class. By October they had made their first Adirondack chair, and by November they were fucking. *** They weren’t fucking right away, of course. There were a number of intermediate steps, each of which added fuel to the hormonal tire fire that was Aiden’s brain. When she slipped her fingers between his at the Iron Man 3 matinee, his pulse jumped fifty BPM. Later that night, as she rested her head on his shoulder, the rhythm of her breath and the scent of her hair were enough to make him dizzy. It was the subtle things, the hesitance and anticipation, that made every moment of their fumbling, sweaty-palmed courtship electric. Penthouse had shown Aiden a stilted, theatrical image of sex, but what dirty magazine can hold a candle to the real thing? 54 SPRING 2015

Then, on his fifteenth birthday, Aiden got his first laptop. *** Imagine going your entire life with four books, and then suddenly having 24/7 access to the Library of Congress. This is the situation that Aiden found himself in, pornography-wise, when his parents decided he was ready to have his own computer. In the ‘90s, you had to work to find the good stuff. Most decent-quality videos were locked behind paywalls. Internet connections were slow, viruses were rampant, and the material itself was ninety percent vanilla. But lo, in 2015: if there is one area of endeavor in which humanity has fulfilled its true potential, it is Internet pornography. Any video, any fetish, anywhere, at any time, for free: this is the utopian state in which we are fortunate enough to live. The boy was awestruck. His imagination was quickly rendered obsolete; after just a few weeks of browsing, there were no mysteries left for him to imagine. He started with the standard stuff, and quickly moved past it. Sex became lesbian sex became lesbian mud wrestling. A small percentage of it was tasteful: well lit, artfully composed, and not degrading. But most of it was, well, porn. Lurid, sensationalized, pornographic. The inflated breasts, the cartoonish squeals of pleasure, the shameless, sycophantic nature of the genre; Aiden was transfixed. Over the next few months, Aiden’s right hand left his dick twice: once to take the SAT, and once to wipe away Sara’s tears following their breakup. It was cruel, and he felt bad about it, but what else could he have done? The sex had become joyless, and sex occupied a good eighty percent of his waking thoughts. She was a nice girl but so normal, so depressingly earthbound. The following months, which Aiden spent most of alone in his room, saw his love affair with smut intensify. Nothing satisfied like porn—and before long, everything that wasn’t porn began to bore him.

*** In time, as the addiction grew, Aiden began to notice a number of bizarre parallels. It took him a while to connect the dots, but what opened his eyes was a video of kittens. He stumbled across it on a Friday night, in the midst of a six-hour Internet binge. One of his high school acquaintances, a girl he barely knew, had shared it on his Facebook feed. Bored, and at least fifteen minutes away from being able to masturbate again, Aiden clicked the link. The video, a two-minute clip of fluffy Persian kittens cuddling with their mother, was an atom bomb of cute. Aiden awww’d reflexively. There was something raw about the clip, something primal and invasive. It grabbed hold of whichever lobe in the brain regulates cuteness, and ripped out a visceral reaction. Aiden kept clicking. The “related videos” sidebar was practically endless. The variety, too, was jaw-dropping: Aiden could watch videos of any breed of kitten at any age. White kittens, black kittens, fat kittens, skinny kittens, newborn kittens, mature kittens (cats); there was something to scratch every conceivable itch. And when he got bored of cats, Aiden moved on to the exotic stuff: koalas, piglets, reptiles. Monkeys cuddling with iguanas, or baby wolf spiders wriggling on their mother’s back. As he waded through this orgy of kittens, Aiden’s eyes lit up. The excitement, the voyeurism, the instant gratification—these came in every flavor the mind could imagine. Sex, though pivotal, was only the beginning. *** Sadness, food, nature, and gore. These became Aiden’s favorite new genres, and his bookmarks folder sagged with the weight of new finds. What do a rack of ribs, the Grand Canyon, and a soldier’s gaping head wound have in common? To most people, very little. But to Aiden, they were all sources of potent and immediate stimulation. Animal pleasure drew him to and fro, indulging each desire in its turn. If he was hungry he’d browse food porn for hours, scrolling through moist chocolate cakes and gooey, glistening cheeseburgers. If morbid curiosity seized him he’d look at the bodies of car crash victims, or read up on insects that lay their young in human flesh. And if he felt like

getting into nature, he’d look at the world’s most majestic sights: Mt. Fuji at sunrise, neon blue waterfalls in the Philippines, the splendor of the Great Barrier Reef. Every image was stunning, high-definition, and heavily photoshopped: the finest examples of their type that the world could offer, enhanced even beyond their natural state. Aiden rarely left his room, because why would he? In the confines of his thirteen-inch laptop screen, he could see everything he wanted to see and feel everything he wanted to feel. If he needed to cry, the web could provide a million bite-sized stories of woe: tales of faithful, loving pets dying of cancer as their cold-hearted owners ignored them, accompanied with pictures of the pets and detailed descriptions of their suffering. They were maudlin and mostly fake, these stories, but Aiden didn’t care. Sensation was the point, not subtlety. And frankly, Aiden didn’t miss subtlety one bit. *** By his eighteenth birthday, Aiden had still not run out of porn. On his 200th birthday, there would still be plenty left. He had, however, grown used to it. Like a junkie with fried receptors, Aiden was numb. Oiled-up supermodels with cans the size of basketballs, once his greatest passion in life, now left him cold. Even the weird stuff couldn’t get him going; he’d seen it all before, including the stuff with chains and horses. Tired of his tarted-up naturescapes, Aiden went outside. But the small forest near his house, once so lively and mysterious, only bored him. Next to the photoshopped paradises he roamed online, it was just so plain. Confused and in need of catharsis, Aiden turned to his sadness porn. But every abused puppy and dead brother he read about couldn’t so much as mist him up. He’d seen these tricks before—it was all so fake, so crude, so shameless. Just a bunch of fucking smut. Desperate now, Aiden tried to think of Sara— her smile, her scent, how it felt when she first touched his cock. But the memories were too old and too hazy to be exploited. So Aiden, flaccid and alone, returned to his laptop and began to Google. Somewhere out there, in the infinite expanse of the web, there had to be something strong enough to thrill him. He’d get his rocks off yet.



On February 27, The Harvard Advocate launched our 150th Anniversary Capital Campaign in anticipation of our sesquicentennial in 2016. The target $150,000 funds four ventures: digitizing our archives, inaugurating a financial aid initiaitve, boosting our endowmnet, and updating our beloved home at 21 South Street. For more information on these initiatives, please visit our website. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to those who have donated thus far. MIDAS Becky James MUSE Anonymous PENELOPE Howard Adler, Bruce and Ann Lane Family Fund, Michael Hasselmo, Naida Wharton PHAEDRUS Neil Rosenburg ODYSSEUS Thomas Betts, Caroline Darst, Maureen Johnston, Paul Kleinman, Michael Ruby, Steven Silber All donors to the capital campaign will be acknowledged at these levels in our 150th Anthology. Donors at Muse and above will, pending permission, have their names featured in an original artwork done by an Advocate alum to be displayed in 21 South Street. All Midas donors will additionally receive a lifetime subscription to The Advocate. All gifts to The Harvard Advocate can be made through “The Trustees of The Harvard Advocate,” and are fully tax deductible according to 501(c)(3) non-profit donation guidelines. To donate online please visit our website, www.theharvardadvocate.com. Checks should be made out to “The Trustees of The Harvard Advocate” and sent to 21 South St., Cambridge, MA 02138. Please email contact@theharvardadvocate.com with any inquiries regarding gifts to The Harvard Advocate. Thank you for supporting Mother Advocate.

56 SPRING 2015



Millions discover their favorite reads on issuu every month.

Give your content the digital home it deserves. Get it to any device in seconds.