The Gleaner is a theme-based literary journal edited by the undergraduate students at Delaware Valley College.

We showcase all forms of written work as well as artwork and photography pieces.

This year’s theme is Transformations.

By Publication Year

By Genre

By Recognition


Appeared in print edtion

First Prize

Second Prize

Third Prize

Which Way is Up?Which Way is Up?

Photography
2013-14

Whale BeachWhale Beach

He shuffled slowly in his naked feet. The gravel road with its jagged pebbles was no match for those callused soles.  Gusts whistled out of the south and demanded his silver wisps to stand in opposition.  Pale blue and lousy with holes, the tattered edges of his sweater clung desperately to his bony frame.  Through bloodshot, he scanned the horizon that lay ahead and watched the pillowing grey clouds plump and roll closer towards him.  Crooked telephone poles and lamp posts lined the road as it narrowed and trailed off into the distance.  A nasty storm however many years ago had swooped in and damn near broke almost every last dome shade so that now the poles just stood there tall and starkly underdressed. 

This used to be a quaint little town where familiar families would arrive every year in late spring and take up residence in the humble roadside cottages with their blue and white gingham kitchen curtains and worn front porch rockers.  The sun was a buoyant saucer in the sky for what seemed like every single endless day of the summer.  The fishy sea air would lie on your skin like an invisible salty film, and then somehow, by the end of the day, it would transform itself into a chalky layer, so thin you could just gently carve a lover’s initialed heart into it with a keen fingernail.  It was only when the sun began to dip early and the air acquired an unshakable chill that the summer guests would stack their wicker chairs inside, button up the shutters, and head back to wherever home was until next season.  But all that changed when greedy builders decided to turn the little strip of land adjacent to this sleeper town into a hotbed for summer crowds.   Anxious beachcombers looking for a quick cut-through route to start their weekly vacations would flock over the rickety one-lane bridge and kick up the dust and gravel with their too big cars containing their too big families to settle into their too big houses for which they paid too much money. 

As he made his way past the bridge and down the road, Mott glanced at the now-abandoned shacks with their ripped and skewed shutters and battered frames.  Slivers of dilapidated siding flapped wildly while the overgrown sunflower corpses woefully hung their heads.  He crinkled the edges of his mouth in bewildered amusement.  Such were the snippets of life he could vividly recall: random families, the creak of a rocking chair, faded gingham curtains.  These ineffectual nothings filled his brain with such clarity, but the other stuff—the important stuff of his livelihood, the faces of his family, his son’s name—had found their way through the drainage holes of his memory so that all he had left were half-hearted recollections and unfinished anecdotes. 

He neared the steps embedded in the dune and braced himself on the wooden railing, to catch his breath. The reeds were tall now as he stood next to them and felt their itchy tickle on his knees and elbows.  No more a lush green, they had already begun their descent into a somber shade of amber, and soon they’d be ready to bolt and go to seed for yet another year. He mounted each step slowly as he held the splintered wood under his gnarly grip. The undersides of his hands had a silky paper-like quality to them, and there was something almost soothing to their touch, if you had ever had the occasion.  

Under his feet the sand was soft as he made his way onto the beach and past the broken brown picket fence.  He saw in his mind that day those three young boys kicked the pickets until they folded like matchsticks.  Mott remembered how he scowled at the boys as they reveled in their savage joy from using the wooden carcass as swords for the remainder of what should have been his peaceful day on the beach.  He continued to trudge along now and finally dropped his body into a weary heap on a cool, grainy mound.  Although the clouds were knitted tightly above and the breeze was swift, the old man felt flushed and thankful for the mist as it gently lay on his scruffy face. 

He brought his knees to his chest and tugged the sweater over them like a blanket. A gaping softball size hole let the crisp air seep in and crudely rush under his legs.  The dirty loops of knitting had been broken and frayed beyond what nimble fingers and knots could repair.  He’d have to ask Mare to bring out the sewing kit to darn it for him. He wondered if you darned sweaters. Was it only socks that were darned?  He couldn’t remember.  Either way, he’d ask her to fix it for him. Oh, how she’d been so proud that day she brought home the yarn. “I’m making you a sweater,” she said with eyes wide and that voice of determination she roused whenever she took on a new project. “I am, and you will wear it all the time. It will be fabulous!”  Her excitement faded when she learned that she couldn’t cast off correctly, and some of the rows had a tighter knit than others, and the lengths between the front and back were grossly uneven, which made the edges look horribly off and crooked.  She’d cursed that god-damned sweater and cried with frustration at least a half dozen times, and yanked out rows upon rows upon rows, and even threw it in the waste basket a few times and told him, “he could just go buy a god-damned sweater from someone who knew what the hell they were doing”. But she eventually finished it. And he wore it. And it was fabulous. 

He hadn’t heard her voice in some time. She never spoke to him anymore these days. He would say things like, “I’m going to have eggs this morning. Doesn’t that sound good?” He’d speak to her about eggs, about the Piping Plovers that had chosen the local stretch of beach for mating and how the whole left end was roped off so no one would disturb them.  He’d speak about all kinds of things, but she wouldn’t respond. He’d go home today and nicely request out loud that she fix his sweater. “Mare, honey, do you think you could ah…do you think you could maybe fix my sweater? It’s got this big hole in it and, and I keep makin’ it bigger when I reach for my pockets and…” He’d ask her to fix it. To fix the sweater she’d once so lovingly and painstakingly knitted for him.  But she probably wouldn’t. She didn’t do anything for him anymore.

A frothy edge crept over his toes as the tide came further up the beach. The ocean’s surface was angry and moving with a fierce volume that only accompanied the really spectacular storms, and as the waves raged in front of him, he was enamored by the delicately scalloped outline of twisted seaweed and broken shells left in their wake.  A seagull stealthily landed and began to graze on a dead horseshoe crab that had come to rest beside him. The old man watched as the bird needled his beak in and out of the crab’s crevices, poking and jabbing with every millisecond, flipping its lifeless crusty body over and over to get every last bit possible before casually meandering down the beach to find its next prize.  How carefree he was, just dropping in to sample the fare, and then off again when he’d picked it clean and knew it had nothing left to offer him.
Mott dug his hands down into the wet sand and felt the gritty coldness pass through his fingers. He felt the space between his fingertips and his nails fill with the thickness as he curled his fingers into a fist. He lifted his hand and outstretched his grip towards the sky and looked at the remaining thin cake of sand that had been separated by the unique creases of his palm. “Let’s build a sand castle, Dad,” he heard his son exclaim in his tiny almost four-year-old voice. “Ok, sure, let’s do that.” And for at least an hour on that warm summer day they filled their red bucket with moist sand over and over and made a castle of two levels with a moat that surrounded it so they would be safe.  He showed his son how he could make pointed tops on the castles by taking a pinch of wet sand and slowly dropping bits of it at a time as he raised his hand in one fluid motion.  His little boy was delighted and clapped his hands wildly in amazement.  He then got the giggles and demolished the castle as if he were Godzilla and landed in hysterics with his knees resting in the soupy puddle. Mott became furious and scolded his son for ruining their creation.  “Why would you do that? We’ve been working for hours, why would you be so inconsiderate?”  The old man winced as the scene played in his mind.
What kind of a monster yells at a child for bulldozing a sand castle? Why did he care about such an inconsequential thing? 

He wiped the corners of his eyes and let the wind dry his cheeks. He would call his son tonight. He’d apologize for the castle, for his temper, for all the things he was sure he had done over the years but couldn’t remember now.  He hoped that wretched woman wouldn’t answer the phone again when he called.  She always refused to put his son on the phone, and she told Mott he didn’t know who he was talking to—she wasn’t going to deal with this any longer.  Then her voice would become sharp and shrill and she’d eventually hang up on him and not pick up when he’d dial the number again and again and again.  One time she even called the police on him and lodged a complaint of harassment.  They followed up and paid him a visit at his home, but Mott said she must have been crazy. What harassment? He didn’t know what she was talking about.

The sky began to deepen just enough for the lamp posts to flicker with life.  A droplet of rain fell randomly on the old man’s nose, then a few more on his eyelashes. He hugged his knees for warmth and pushed his feet and ankles into the sand to shield them from the cold.  Behind him he heard the murmur of an engine and the sound of heavy tires on sand. The red and white patrol car gently came to a crawl, and then with a whistling squeak of the brakes, the murmur calmly shifted to idle.  He heard the car door open and a jangling of keys and then a young man’s voice said, “Evenin’, Mr. Mott.  Everything okay tonight?”  Without interrupting his gaze of the sea, the old man picked up his hand and gave a cursory wave of acknowledgement. 

“So, it’s uh, it’s getting dark now…you probably be best heading home soon.”  The patrolman waited for Mott to react, to say something, to raise his hand again. But he got nothing. 

“Mr. Mott?  I think it’s time you…”

“Yep,” the old man muttered quietly.

“Yea? You’re gonna head home then?” he said while nodding his head in agreement with himself.  He paused to glance quickly at his partner in the passenger seat and rolled his eyes in dismay.

“So, okay then. You go ahead and go home. Okay?  You got that, Mr. Mo…”

“Yep.”

“Alright then.  ‘Night.”  And with a one-two tap on the roof of the cruiser, he quickly folded himself back into his seat and shut the door.  He looked at the other cop and gestured his index finger in a circular motion at his temple, “Crazy old man.” 

The new officer looked at Mott through his passenger side window. 

“So, do we do anything here? Do we take him home or call his family or something?”

“Nah.  No family to call.” His voice was dry.  “Something happened to his kid a long time ago. Not sure what, accident or something.”  He fastened his seatbelt and turned on the windshield wipers. “His wife died too about ten years ago.  So he just kind of roams around, talkin’ about who knows what, getting nuttier as the days go by.”

His partner shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  “But shouldn’t we, I don’t know, make sure he gets home safe or something?”

The patrolman adjusted the rearview mirror and smoothed his windblown hair, then he put his foot on the brake and reached for the gear shifter.  He looked through the spotted windshield at the hunched outline that sat before him and for a fleeting moment, he thought of his own home. He envisioned himself tip-toeing up the stairs, poking his head into the rooms of his sleeping children and watching their chests slowly move up and down.  He’d hear their tiny voices babbling in dreams as he kissed them goodnight. 

He shrugged his shoulders and cleared his throat.  “You really think it matters anymore?” 

There was a clink as the gears shifted into drive.  Over the softly packed sand, the cruiser eased down the access path, past the grassy dunes, and into the faint lamplight of the quiet gravel road.

Short Fiction
2013-14

I Am…I Am…

I see others sketch.
I see them draw lines of life.
I see the strokes of graphite burst with emotion.
I see them silently tell great stories without words.
I see mountains. I see landscapes.
I see heroic champions defeating mighty foes.
I see creativity and imagination brought to fruition.
They are artists and I see them all around me.

I try for myself.
I try to draw lines of life.
I try to burst strokes of graphite with emotion.
I try to tell my own great stories without words.
I try to erect mountains and paint beautiful landscapes.
I try to bring my own heroes to being.
I try, but I see only a mess of undecipherable shape in front of me.

My hands are creatively paraplegic.
They cannot move in the swift motions of others.
They cannot create what I see in my head,
With vigorous phenotypic detail and color.
I only see a blank white paper in front of me.

One final attempt: a leap of faith.
I create endless mountains and landscapes,
I create heroes that slay mighty dragons,
I create whatever flows through my head.
I create.

I do not use elegant brush strokes.
I do not use artistic technique.
I do not create phenotypic masterpieces.
The blank white paper in front of me is covered in script.
I am a writer.

I am a writer that brings lines to life.
I am a writer who tells of great stories.
I am a writer who scripts epic confessions of emotion.
I am a writer who portrays great landscapes on the pages of a book.
I am a writer who tells of mighty heroes and the foes they slay.
I am an artist of the page.
I am a magician of the mind’s eye.
I am a writer.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2013-14

UntitledUntitled

Painting / Illustration
2013-14

GlimpseGlimpse

Photography
2013-14

EllisEllis

“You’re a Capricorn too,” The man smiled and nodded, leaning in close so she could smell the light scent of flowers and asphalt the emanated from him.
“I am…” She sighed and looked straight out the window to see the passing concrete on the wall of the subway. Spray-paint prophecies flashed before and then retreated again into the hollow corridors where the trains somberly slithered.
She pulled her messenger bag to her chest and posed her feet closer together as if crawling into herself. Her boots had patterns inside that looked like tribal weaving and the outside’s leather cover hugged her feet protectively. Grey knitted socks over-flowed from the brims of her boots and onto her jeans. Fingerless gloves harbored her hands that fumbled with her IPhone.
The man drew back; his white hair splashing in waves from his maroon hat.
“That means that the day ahead will be good to us, unlike the past few,” His smile was rosebudded.
She looked up from her glasses’ rims.
“You look beautiful in these lights… There! The next part of your horoscope is true! More people want to give you compliments, they’re just shy.”
The car was empty and each thump of the train on the tracks nudged her.
He slid gently closer as the train pulled into the stop at Times Square where all the trains seemed to meet up to share secrets in sighs.
Doors slid open.

She stared out the window of the train still, to see the sauntering of the station. Rustic walls framed the inhabitants. A man was humming to sleep with a violin playing him, while a woman older than her age curled a scarf around her face to hold her eyelids shut. The lights never went out on the subway.
“It’s a new day,” He mused, “And a new place.”
Doors shut.
The train started again entering the hollows.
“Are you scared of me dear?”
“It’s late.”
“It’s early to someone else.”
“It’s late to me,” Her coffee colored lips dropped the words like weights.
“Can I see your hand?”
She didn’t speak, but put her phone in her pocket to open her palm to him.
She looked up to read the advertisement that hung right across from her.
It read, “ It’s Never To Late To Get Where You’re Going” and under it in smaller letter it mumbled about New York public transit.
His fingernails were filed down so that his nails were tiny circles. Fingers chalky and brittle, he peeled off her glove to reveal her soft skin. Nails painted a subdued dark-teal, they were cold and trembling.
Trying not to touch her hand too much he traced the lines only with the rough tip of his index finger.

“Take advantage of the joys ahead, don’t scrutinize or analyze anything farther what you can see. Your name is Ellis is it not? The city wears it like a welcome mat for you.”
Her eyes perked up and she drew her hand back.
“You took the Ferry over?”
She nodded.
“It runs all night like the subway,” His eyes glittered in the blinking train’s light, “And there’s always someone on it.”
  She closed her eyes and forced them open again.
“Where do you get off?”
“Cathedral Parkway… “ She slipped her glove back on.
“Have you been here?”
“Not since I was three…”
She moved something in her pocket.
“How long you been traveling to get here, your eyes hold mountains?”
“Long enough… I left my parent’s house last night and I’ve been moving ever since.”
“Sleep and I’ll wake you up at your stop.”
She shook her head with an unintended scowl that held instilled cautions.
Sleep whispered to her in lullabies and enveloped her body. The seat pulled down on her body, it was a mattress. Her body went limp and swayed more willingly with the locomotive.

Her eyelids shook slightly with nightmares and dreams till her mouth finally opened to breathe in the frightfully foreign air until she smelled like flowers and asphalt too.
Someone shook her and she leapt up in an instant, having not felt her bag in her lap and jumping to the conclusion that it was gone with the man.
Her face was touched by red as she saw it sitting patiently in the seat where the man had sat before. A tired voice on the intercom sighed, “Cathedral Parkway at 100 Broadway.”
She left the train hesitantly and before she could turn around it pulled away empty.

Personal / Creative Essay
2013-14

Game of LifeGame of Life

Zahira stared blankly at the white ceiling, wondering if this is what her life had amounted to—an empty hospice room without any signs of visitors and nothing but pure whiteness. She decided she hated the color white. She didn’t see any pureness or innocence in the color; it was just the color of pretense. A lie. It made you think that everything was okay and things were simple and clean, but just like a two faced liar the more you looked at it the more you saw it slip up and make mistakes. The white now wasn’t so pure, it was fading yellow and had other stains surrounding it. Stains that people had tried so hard to get out but couldn’t quite remove the harm it left behind. She hated the color white.
Zahira laughed. How pathetic was she? Her last days and she was thinking about the paint of the walls. She laughed again.
“Someone’s feeling better, aren’t you Zaaaheera?” One of the numerous nurses said, walking in with more white sheets.
Zahira also hated the way they pronounce her name, elongating the syllables. Za.Here.A. Was that so hard?
“Just… peachy.” She really needed to stop thinking about colors.
The nurse smiled, like that was the greatest news she ever heard. Then again, since the nurse worked at such a gloomy hospice it really could have been the greatest news. Most of the other patients there had already given up on life one way or another. Zahira was the youngest there, only twenty one to their late forties and up, so even dying she was still more active than most. “I’m sure your parents will be so happy to see you feeling better.”
“Yeah. Right.” Like that would ever happen. Her mother was too hung up over her new husband; she couldn’t spare a single moment to be with anyone else but him.
“And maybe you can finally go see your sister again. Amanda was it? Amandy?”
Zahira’s eyes widen and she clenched her fist tight. “Amani. Not Amanda or Amandy. A. Man. EE. Why can’t you get any of our names right!”
“I-I didn’t mean to offend.”
“Well you did. Do you think that you could just get away with pronouncing my name wrong every day and then bring her up? Don’t you know anything?!” Zahira grabbed her pillow and hugged it tight to her chest. “Aren’t you suppose to learn our names and find out what makes us tick? Huh? Why aren’t you doing your job?”
The nurse was flabbergasted. “I think it’s time you had breakfast and some of your medications.” She turned her back to grab a glass of orange juice and one of the pills from the tray.
“I don’t want your crummy breakfast or your medication!” Zahira was so angry that she threw her pillow at the nurse, knocking the glass out of her hand. Zahira took sick pleasure of hearing the glass shatter against the floor. “See nothing lasts in this place for long. We all break eventually!”
She laughed gleefully at the absurdity of the situation; broken glass should not be funny. Or the thought of dying. But she was dying anyway and there was nothing they could do about it. No way to fix the problem. They could only pretend that everything was okay, but she didn’t want to pretend anymore.
The nurse tried to ignore the laughing girl and bent down to pick up the large fragments with a napkin, then tossed them aside on the cart.
“Are you just going to toss me aside too when I break?”
“You aren’t an object to throw away Zahe… Zahira.”
“But I’m something that’s going to break.” She laughs again. “Or am I something that’s already breaking?”
The nurse gets up and dust off her clothes. “I think the doctor might want to have a word with you.”
“Dr. Carter?”
“No, not that doctor. Dr. Thiel, the psychologist.”
“You think I’m crazy?” 
“I think that you are going through some very hard things at a young age and you need someone to talk to.”
“I’m not “going through some very hard things”. I’m dying. There’s a big difference!” Zahira hated when they pulled that act, made it sound like she just had the flu or going through a tough break up. Those were things you would eventually get over. There was no getting over dying. Once you died, you were done. There was no coming back.
The nurse just looked at her sadly. “Dr. Thiel is amazing. I’m sure you’ll like her and find her comforting.”
“Great, I’m sure we’ll be bonding over broken glass in no time.”
“That’s the attitude.” The nurse chirped, trying to get out of the room as fast as she could.
Zahira was glad to see her go but bemoaned the fact that now she had to talk to a shrink. She slide lower into her bed and held her left wrist up in front of her  ace so that she could get a better glimpse of the bracelet on it. It was the cheap, homemade kind. The type little kids made at camp that spelled out their names on tiny blocks. A.M.A.N.I. That was what was hers spelled. It was childish but Amani use to wear the bracelet all the time and it made Zahira feel close to her.
Amani was ten years younger than her, which made Zahira feel more like a mother to her instead of just an older sister. Poor little Amani. They always said that cancer could be hereditary, but it was so rare for it to hit siblings around the same time. Just misfortune and bad genes, some of the doctors said. Zahira had another theory and she blamed her step-father for their sickness. When her mother remarried and they moved into his one bedroom home, he convinced her mother that her daughters could live comfortably in the attic for the time being. It was perfectly safe. Yeah right. She had a feeling that the paint in that room was lead, but no one listened to her. A year later and both her sister and her were diagnosed with cancer.
Zahira was lucky to have been older, diagnosed at the age of 17 whereas poor Amani was just 7. The chemotherapy actually helped her for a little bit, but the chemo was too much for Amani’s frail system and she died a couple of years after treatment. Zahira was going to follow her soon. After four years of being off and on chemo, her body had finally stopped responding to it. There was nothing left to do now but just let the cancer run its natural course. And no one wanted to have their daughter die under their roof, least of all watch it happen for a second time, so her ever loving mother shipped her off to the cheapest hospice in the area. Nothing but the best for Zahira.
Zahira stroked the beads, wishing with all of her heart that she was just having a horrible nightmare and that when she woke up this would all have been a crazy dream and Amani would still be sharing a room with her. But life didn’t work that way. No matter how hard you wished for things, it would never come true. Life was cruel game and she just happened to have a shitty draw.
She sighed, not wanting to have to face the shrink later. The shrink wouldn’t tell her anything that she didn’t already know; she was just going to help her “find peace” with such a grave situation. Sure, easy for the shrink to say. It was much harder to practice what you preached when you still had a full life ahead of you. What about Zahira? She was twenty-one and she’d never have the experience of going to a bar and getting drunk. Or go to any fun parties and get caught up in semi-illegal things. Hell, she wouldn’t even lose her virginity. Not that she wanted to do all of those things, but still it would be nice to have the options like everyone else. 
It wasn’t even that Zahira was afraid of dying. Not really. She was just more outraged at the unjustness of it all. It wasn’t fair that she and Amani had to go through this. Even more unfair that her mother wasn’t there for any of it. It just… stunk that she was losing the game of life so badly.

Short Fiction
2013-14

UntitledUntitled

Photography
2013-14

Out of the SandOut of the Sand

Photography
2013-14

My Model U.N. ExperienceMy Model U.N. Experience

I’m standing in front of a room full of strangers.  My heart throbs in my throat, blocking out the words they’re waiting for me to say.  My skin glistens with faint evidence of a cold sweat.  My hands tremble as if an earthquake was coursing through my veins.  I feel the crimson burn spreading across my face like a wild fire.  The crowd of teenagers sitting before me becomes distorted by their serious faces and stiff, awkward business clothes; of course my left eye’s uncontrollable twitch couldn’t have helped.  Finally, I open my mouth and struggle through my assigned part.  It was a complete and total mess, a jumble of “um”s and bumbling pauses.  After what seemed like an eternity of standing up at the podium, we finally put my group’s resolution to a vote.  Surprisingly it passed despite my floundering interference.  For the rest of that session of committee I sat, watched the clock, listened, doodled, and raised my placard when it was necessary to vote, but I didn’t dare attempt to speak again.  Eventually as lunch approached committee drew to a close.  Following tradition, our committee chair took those last five inescapable minutes to read us the character development acknowledgments.  They’re basically compliments written out on scraps of paper, sometimes with inside jokes or little cartoons.  I was only half listening, mostly thinking about lunch and telling my friends about my embarrassing blunder, when I heard my country get called. 

I looked around as if there was another Nigerian delegate in the room but everyone was looking at me.   It was from the delegate from Germany, a confident senior who was always raising her placard and offering opinions.  The acknowledgement read: “Great job on your first resolution!  I can’t wait to hear more of your ideas!”  It was not much but it was far more than I ever expected.  After my earlier train wreck I figured no one would want to work with me for the rest of the conference.  I went to lunch feeling proud, showing off my acknowledgement to everyone I encountered.  And once committee was back in session I felt ready and confident.  I spoke often, approached delegates with resolution ideas, and spoke with a new found boldness; I even received a few more character development acknowledgements.  By the end of the conference I was actually mourning the close.  This conference had gone from just being a means to skip school to an empowering experience where I found my voice.

When I came back for the second year, I looked around my committee room and spotted a jittery freshman.  All the signs were there.  Red, blushing cheeks, wide, fear filled eyes, and that constant adjusting of his tie and binder like he had an itch crawling up and down his skin.  It was like a mirror image of what I must have looked like last year.  All I could think about was how something so small as a measly complement changed my entire disposition.  So I approached the novice delegate and introduced myself.  I told him about committee and encouraged him to speak up and how supportive everyone is.  Now as a senior I continue my participation in Model U.N., this being my fourth and final year, and I still try to do my part to help others find their own voice.   And I realized this attitude didn't have to only apply to Model U.N.  I could use the confidence I gained at conference to make a positive impact on others.  Whether it means giving a compliment or just saying hi, what you believe to be the simplest efforts can make a world of difference to someone else.

Personal / Creative Essay
2013-14

UntitledUntitled

Photography
2013-14

Jersey SkyJersey Sky

Photography
2013-14

Ice Encased DaisyIce Encased Daisy

Photography
2013-14

Close Enough for DistanceClose Enough for Distance

[The room is a brightly lit basement. A young man and woman sit completely naked on a black leather couch. There is a small wooden dining room table on the right, with a pile of clothes by the legs, a television off to the corner next to a black leather armchair, which matches the couch
MOLLY, short and petite with thin legs and thighs, sits with her knees pulled tightly against her chest so her breasts are hidden. Her chin is resting on her knees so her hair falls over her face. She sits at the far end of the couch, the audience’s left.
JAMES, tall and stocky, sits in the middle of the couch, his legs outstretched and his back slouched and head resting against the back of the couch. He has one hand resting on his thigh, the other rubs his flustered face and then, through his short, slightly curly hair]
JAMES: (panting, catching his breath) I told myself I wasn’t going to do that.
MOLLY: (giggles, sits up straight so her hair is out of her face) Do what?
JAMES: Do that to you.
MOLLY: Clearly I didn’t mind.
JAMES: No, you certainly didn’t.
MOLLY: (extends legs slightly, rubbing her calves) I’m glad I started going to the gym.
JAMES: As if you needed to go to a gym.
MOLLY: I like going!
JAMES: You’re so busy; I’m surprised you even have time.
MOLLY: Well, I make time for the things that matter.
JAMES: I’m glad. Come here, get closer. Oh wait (JAMES puts on his boxers) Here, do you want your clothes?
MOLLY: No, I don’t feel like getting dressed yet.
JAMES: I’m perfectly fine with you staying like that (JAMES sits back down, pulling MOLLY in).
MOLLY: (rests head on his lap and curls her legs up against her body in a small child-like position, her one hand lingering on his upper thigh) I still can’t believe this, that you are here, with me.
JAMES: Believe it. But I feel the same, it doesn’t even seem real.
MOLLY: How long has it even been?
JAMES: I’m sure over a year.
MOLLY: At least a year of no communication.
JAMES: Yeah, well there could have been communication if someone didn’t delete me from Facebook…
MOLLY: You know I had to. My ex was jealous.
JAMES: My feelings were hurt! (laughs)
MOLLY: Oh stop, I’ll make it up to you! (slightly turning her head to look in his eyes) I’m so happy now.
JAMES: (leans down and kisses her on the hair) Me too. You’ll have to come to the city soon, so I can show you what you’re missing. If you think this was fun, wait until I’m in my element. I can show you everything.
MOLLY: You’d like that?
JAMES: Of course! It will be nice to show you around. I really have to take you to Milk and Sugar, since you’re such a coffee snob. It’s a great café.
MOLLY: Any place that has coffee is good enough for me.
JAMES: If you would have visited last week like you said you were going to, I was going to take you there.
MOLLY: I said I was sorry! It just had work the next day and, it wouldn’t have been worth the trip.
JAMES: I’m just teasing you silly rabbit. (rubbing his face) Speaking of coffee, that made me sleepy. You really wore me out.
MOLLY: (facing forward now, staring into the audience) You’re tired already?
JAMES: I won’t fall asleep yet. I’m always tired, you get used to it.
MOLLY: Ha! You still haven’t changed. Remember when we would work together, and you would always sleep on the train when we would ride into the town?
JAMES: Trains are relaxing, I’m surprised everyone doesn’t sleep. But they really need to get reclining seats. Now that’d be perfect. The trains in the city are way better.
MOLLY: Everything seems better in the city, according to you.
JAMES: If you’d visit, you’d be able to see how great it is.
MOLLY: I don’t know, a small town girl like me in the big city…(laughing) could be a disaster!
JAMES: (pauses) I wish you lived closer, Molly.
MOLLY: I know.
JAMES: In the city…with me.
MOLLY: (facing the audience still) But I don’t. I live here.
JAMES: It just would make things easier.
MOLLY: (sitting upright immediately and inching back into the corner of the end of the couch, left side)
JAMES: What?
MOLLY: Never mind, it’s nothing.
JAMES: Molly, you can tell me.
MOLLY: It’s nothing.
[JAMES removes his hands from MOLLY’s and she nervously picks at her nails.]
JAMES: Well it’s getting cold down here. Do you want to go upstairs and watch one of those movies now? I have a couple on my laptop that you might like.
MOLLY: So what now, this is it?
JAMES: (looking startled) What are you talking about?
MOLLY: I just…I don’t know…Never mind it doesn’t matter.
JAMES: Here, can you just tell me? Please? I don’t understand.
MOLLY: (sitting upright against the corner of the couch) We’re just going to have sex and then that’s it?
JAMES: I don’t know what you mean.
MOLLY: We don’t see each other, or talk to each other, for more than a year. I thought I’d never see you again. And then we do this (moves arm back and forth, motioning to the couch) and then we’re just going to watch a movie and pretend like it’s normal.
(JAMES goes to speak but MOLLY quickly interrupts him)
MOLLY: But I mean, I wanted this too, so I don’t really know what I expected.
JAMES: Well, what do you want to talk about?
MOLLY: Not this, anything. I don’t know…it doesn’t matter. How is applying for jobs?
JAMES: That’s definitely a change of subject.
MOLLY: You said anything. So tell me, did you find anything in Manhattan?
JAMES: I can’t afford that yet. The job search alone is stressful. My parents are pressuring me a lot to find something. It’s not all that easy.
MOLLY: I thought you weren’t going to move back after graduation?
JAMES: I wasn’t, but I had to move back to save up some money. College loans don’t pay themselves.
MOLLY: Have you tried looking for jobs around here?
JAMES: (laughs) There is nothing around this area, everything is in the city and even then there isn’t much. You just need to move to New York when you are done with school.
MOLLY: That’s still a year away James.
JAMES: Don’t remind me.
MOLLY: (angrily) I don’t see why it really matters.
JAMES: (sits up straighter, inching slightly closer to MOLLY) No, it’s just (fumbles over words) it’s hard to see you now that I’ve moved back home.
MOLLY: So what?
JAMES: I’ve done this before. (shifts away from MOLLY)
MOLLY: But you haven’t done it with me.
JAMES: I know, but trust me. It ruins relationships.
MOLLY: What does?
JAMES: Distance.
MOLLY: (shifting away from JAMES) It’s always that.
JAMES:  You asked me, I’m just telling you how I feel!
MOLLY: (Shifts, pressing her back closer to the far end of the couch) Being close doesn’t always ensure a good relationship. What if it’s different with me? How do you know it won’t be?
JAMES: I don’t.
MOLLY: (looks away from JAMES) Everyone is always afraid of distance, even when they feel so close to someone.
JAMES: Molly, you know I care about you. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. So you can stop thinking that I just wanted sex, it’s not about that at all. (pauses) 
MOLLY: (continues to sit against the edge of the couch silently)
JAMES: Here, come lie with me.
[He pulls her so she has to inch forward away from the edge of the couch. She places the side of her head on his chest so her face is towards his. Her knees are curled up towards her chest again and MOLLY starts crying uncontrollably]
JAMES: Babe, are you crying?
MOLLY: No.
JAMES: Aw, no you are. Babe, what’s going on?
MOLLY: (frustrated and in between sobs) Shit…I just…can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m so embarrassed (roughly wipes her eyes with her hands)
JAMES: (pulling MOLLY closer to his chest) Don’t be embarrassed.
MOLLY: I just…can’t lose you. You can’t leave me again…
JAMES: I said I’m not going anywhere, and I mean it. 
MOLLY: Just don’t go.
JAMES: (shifts and pulls MOLLY up, then stands and tries to find the rest of his clothes) Come on, let’s go watch that movie before we both fall asleep.
MOLLY: I’m not tired anyway, I feel like I could stay up all night. What’s the latest train you can to take tomorrow?
JAMES: 9:30 a.m. Don’t worry, that still gives us plenty of time.
MOLLY: (picks up her clothes and starts to get dressed) Yeah, thankfully the station is close.
[JAMES and MOLLY finish putting on their clothes, and JAMES pulls MOLLY in for one last kiss before they turn the light off and head up the stairs]
CURTAIN

Short Fiction
2013-14

A Portrait of the First Day as a FreshmanA Portrait of the First Day as a Freshman

The pillow was a wall in front of her. She didn’t want to get up. It meant that it was over. She would have to be brave and let them leave and then she would be left alone. Mama and Papa and Helena would go home and she would be left there all alone. With the roommate. Last night Mama had made them go meet the roommate. Her voice had been different on the phone. She was supposed to be tough and funny and Celina’s ally. But Celina knew now that she wouldn’t be any of that. The roommate had opened the door to the room and Celina had seen the empty blue bed and the walls that were so white it hurt to look at them. And the pink. It was ugly. Pink was a color that lots of girls liked. The roommate liked pink. The bed on the right and the lamp and the pillows. Pink and sparkly. Loud. The roommate was loud. She talked at them as they tried to evaluate the room and Celina had sat on the empty bed that would be hers in a day and had been scared. It was not where Celina was supposed to be. But Papa and Mama and Helena were going to leave her there for the rest of the year, and she would not get to be at home anymore. And she had to be brave about it because if she cried then they would cry and it would hurt more than it already did.

In the car, the seats were soft against the back of Celina’s legs. Spots on the upholstery. Helena was messy. Family cars looked like that. Spots on the upholstery and shoedirty rugs with pens under them. That was a family car. There was a laundry basket between the seats. Yesterday Papa had put it there, because the trunk was full. Mama had made Celina pack everything in the blue suitcases. They were old, and had wheels and Mama’s initials on them. Mama had had to fly to Stanford when she went to college, and Gee-Gee bought her the suitcases and Mama said that they were the best for packing because they held a lot and you didn’t have to pick them up on account of the wheels. The green suitcases were Celina’s since Mama had bought them for her. The medium-sized one wasn’t there because it had broken in Costa Rica, when she and Helena had been at the hotel. Spanish wasn’t so hard, but the lady at the front desk didn’t know what safety pins were and the word wasn’t there for Celina. So the bag had a rip in it and at home it was thrown out. That was a different kind of being alone, because Helena had been there. They slept in the same bed, and had two roommates from Massachusetts. But it wasn’t like with the college roommate. Celina and Helena had liked the roommates from Massachusetts. They had been funny and friendly, and Celina had Helena and Helena had Celina and they weren’t scared because of that.  But with the college roommate it would just be Celina. She tried to memorize how it smelled in the car. Celina remembered when they bought the car and it had smelled funny, but now it smelled like her family and Buster, who hadn’t come because they couldn’t keep him in the hotel while they were moving Celina in. Buster was a good roommate except for when he had nightmares and howled through them. When Mama and Papa and Helena got home, Buster would have Celina’s room all to himself. Helena said it wasn’t fair the dog would have a bigger room than she did but Celina hoped Buster wouldn’t sleep anywhere else because then she could always know that her room was okay because Buster would be there.

The car got to the school too fast. Celina could recognize the driveway where the car went, and the parking lot where Papa left it, but she was slow to get out because it might be the last time she got to sit in the car, and see out her window and use her car trash bag. Mama bought the trash bags when Helena and Celina used to color in the car on long drives to visit Gee-Gee and Grampi. The dolphin was gone off Celina’s bag but Helena’s bag still had the flowers on it. The flowers were embroidered, not cheapy plastic like the dolphin. But the dolphin was blue and the flowers were pink and pink was not for Celina. Mama made Celina empty the trash out of the bag yesterday, and Celina knew it was because she wasn’t coming back to the car for a long time. Was it stupid to hold Papa’s arm as they walked up to the building that was called the Student Center? Everyone else was with their parents but no one was holding on to their father because they were excited to be free. It wasn’t “free” for Celina. Celina signed the poster that all the new students had to sign before going to check in. The signature was small because Celina was scared and couldn’t keep the Sharpie in her hand.

-Are you nervous? Papa joked at the scribble and Celina laughed to make it seem like nothing.

There were lines and check in to get the room key. First key ever. Home uses a garage punchbutton and the front door is for guests. So many tables in the room, and people and noises of voices. The girl who gave her the orientation bag had a smile, and Celina recognized her from the Open House in June.

-Go to that line, then that line, then get a t-shirt then go over there.

Too much pointing, too hard to follow. The girl was an orientation leader. All those orientation leaders were there, and Celina could remember their faces and some of their names. She was good with names. Celina had been sad in June, because it had been Helena’s birthday but Mama and Celina had to go to the Open House. Celina and Mama had to talk to the health center ladies, because Celina was sick before she came to school, and so she had to meet the Health Center ladies because they were going to help her.  It was nice to meet them, because they knew Celina’s name and called her by it and then she finally had a name at the new school.

-Unlock your potential.

The green orientation bag said that to Celina back in the car.  Potential could also be at home, at the preschool with Papa. But here was the zoo, and that was what she wanted. There was a schedule in the bag and Celina was glad there was a lot to do in the next few days because that way she would get to meet the other kids and maybe she wouldn’t have to be alone for a long time after Mama and Papa and Helena left. Parking again. Does it sound youlman or Ullman? Celina’s key opened the door and the roommate left when Mama and Papa and Helena came in with the suitcases. The room was small with all the bags, so Mama started unpacking them. Papa and Celina took a trip to buy the things that couldn’t fit in the car. Celina pretended they were at the stores in Connecticut, and that it was the summer, like the last time Papa had taken her to Home Depot. But all the things they had to buy didn’t make sense for home, and when Papa tried to be goofy like he always was, behind Celina’s laugh it felt empty. Blue lamp, two drawer units, mirror. Didn’t make it home. Back to the room. Helena had put up all the pictures on the wall, and a drawing she had made for Celina that summer. Pictures of people and places circling a pirate. Celina wanted to admire it but the pirate paper was too bright against the white, white walls and the new comforter on the bed underneath had an ugly sheen that stung. Celina left to go to an event, because in the room Mama and Helena were moving things in, and Papa was building the new drawers, and Celina didn’t want to help them move her out of their life.

The events in the day were supposed to help the new students meet each other but they just made Celina feel very, very small. The kids were big and loud and everyone had someone else to be with.

-My grandfather is my inspiration. Johanna. That was that girl’s name. Celina was good with names.

Grampi told Celina right before she left that college was terrible for the first few months. She thought it was joke until now when she couldn’t look Johanna in the eye. This game was hard. Sometimes the kids had friends, but most of them had their roommates. Celina’s roommate was nowhere. The roommate had moved in weeks ago and met people and started living as a student before Celina had even packed up all the things Mama had been collecting in the room at home. The roommate was not what Celina wanted. Celina wanted Alexa Davis. Alexa was Cuban and loud and funny. But Alexa was home and Celina was on the quad, and none of the kids knew her name. When Celina had been little and started at the new elementary school, Mrs. Hopkins had put a name tag on her desk with stickers of lions, and Celina had visited before so that she knew Mrs. Hopkins and Mrs. Hopkins knew Celina. But at this school, no one knew Celina’s name, except for the Health Center ladies who she would only get to visit every three months. Celina wanted her name back.

When the games on the quad were over, Celina and Helena and Mama and Papa went to the Convocation. Celina sat alone. The seats near the stage were for the kids, and Mama and Papa and Helena sat way in the back on the bleachers. It was hard to find them. All the kids were wearing the yellow shirts from the beginning of the day, and everyone looked the same. Core values read a hundred times on a hundred yellow backs.  Celina didn’t know the names of the yellow backs. Then the teachers filed in and the President started talking and Celina watched the sign language interpreter at the front of the room because the President and the teachers were more faces that meant nothing yet. The deaf girl was up in the front row, that’s why the sign language interpreter was there. Celina put her hands up for a second and closed the little flaps over her ears and pretended she was the deaf girl. She looked at the President’s mouth  moving, then back at the sign language interpreter and tried to read the words that the interpreters’ hand were making for the deaf girl. A long time ago, Celina, Papa and Helena had taken a sign language class, and quit two classes before the end. Celina wished that they hadn’t given up, because maybe if she had stayed, she could speak in sign language with the deaf girl. Then they could be friends, and maybe if the deaf girl was scared, they could be together and Celina wouldn’t have to be so alone in the yellow sea of T-shirts. But the sign language class was far away, and all Celina’s hands could do was the alphabet and a few of the easy words and shaking.

When the President had said his words that Celina didn’t listen to, Mama and Papa and Helena were done with the room. Celina stood in the middle of the floor between the two beds. The brown tiles were squeaky as Helena stepped forward to hug Celina goodbye. Earlier on the quad, Celina had watched some parent’s say goodbye to their daughter and she had heard the orientation leaders behind her.

-Look! Someone’s having an emotional moment with their baby!

And then they had let out mocking laughs at the father who was holding his daughter and whispering in her ear and scrunching up the back of the girl’s yellow T-shirt. Helena’s eyes started turning red and she tried to smile, but it wobbled and Celina pushed her sister’s face away as playfully as possible so that she could swallow the rock that was burning right in the center of her throat without Helena seeing.

When Mama and Papa and Helena had left, Celina had to get out of the building because it was full of families that were still together. Dinner with her assigned group was full of roommate pairs and the orientation leader was talking to another person and even though she tried, Celina knew that none of the people sitting at the table would remember her name tomorrow. After dinner, Celina went back to her room and tried to distract herself. She read the book that Helena had recommended her, but its plotline was scary and, alone in the room, Celina didn’t want anything to add to her fears. The roommate came back as the night got later, but shared few words with Celina, and left for the night to sleep downstairs. The door shut and then it was dark and Celina was alone again. When Celina had talked to the roommate on the phone, Celina had imagined a person that had never existed. Before she had left, Celina had visited her friend Kate, and gushed about the roommate who had been a voice. That roommate was scared and slept with a nightlight like Celina, and was going to be someone that Celina could trust to be there for her. That roommate knew why Celina had been sick, and had offered to share her printer. That roommate died when the real roommate came across the grass the night before the move in.

Celina turned off the blue bedside lamp and pushed off the striped sheets so the fan could take the hot air off her. The stuffed giraffe Jeremy was under her arm. Celina had bought Jeremy at the only zoo in Connecticut, when she was just starting her volunteer work there. That volunteer work was what had brought her to the empty room. It smelled like the roommate’s air freshener. Mama was allergic to scents, so Celina’s home couldn’t smell like that. But home still smelled better than this. She wished for the smell of Buster, and Helena’s shampoo, and Papa in the kitchen. Celina rolled over to look at the patch of pictures. There was Helena and Alexa and Mama and Papa and Buster and Gee-Gee and Grampi, and the cousin Lily, and Luke and Mr. Humphreys, who were too hard to explain to new people, even though they were very important to Celina. Cousin Lily was holding a baby Celina that the Celina in bed couldn’t remember and high school Celina was leaning on Alexa’s shoulder at the chalk festival in the last year, when all the kids and teachers had known her name. Celina in bed hugged Jeremy tighter. In the hall there were voices of freshman who were happy to be free of their families and be in their own spaces and not have to tell their mothers where they were going every hour of the day. Celina in bed felt small and sad and lonely and pathetic. So she put herself to sleep without crying so that she could wake up the next day and try really hard to become a college freshman instead of the helpless infant who was lying there alone and miserable in that white, hot, empty room.

Personal / Creative Essay
2013-14

El MachoEl Macho

Photography
2013-14

GriffonageGriffonage

When I cracked open my chest

and let you peek inside to see my heart –
pumping heart-shaped red blood cells all throughout my body
(and beating extra fast because you were right there) –
Well, I just want you to know that you were the first.

I gently handed you the needle and bottle of ink
and closed my smiling eyes while you tattooed that heart of mine.
It didn’t even hurt – well, not really.
Embracing every dip and swirl of your pen,
I imagined the ode with which you professed your endless love to me. 
So personal.  So permanent.  So… naïve. 

You sure got away quick. 

You should know that when I finally built up the courage
to stand bare before the mirror and look upon your masterpiece,
I didn't cry. 
In fact, I cocked my head to the side, squinted a little harder,
because I could not possibly read what you wrote. 
I think that was the moment I realized you never really cared. 

Call it chicken scratch or call it poor penmanship,
It doesn't change the fact
that I still have no idea what that scrawl is trying to tell me
with every single pulse.
That formless, shapeless, meaningless scribble – I feel it.
And it hurts.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2013-14

A Glass FigurineA Glass Figurine

Next to arrive on Track 1 is train to Trenton on time, 1:05 p.m.

Charlotte had always hated the woman's monotone, robotic voice, the one that would interrupt her thoughts while she waited to board the train. Today, she didn't quite mind. Her chest heaved deeply as she waited, trying to focus on anything but the last seven hours of her life.

She had imagined today would have been like every other morning. She would wake up, swallow argumentative words and wipe away hot tears while Mark's back was turned. The past month it had gotten worse. When their alarm jostled them awake, Charlotte would rest her head on her pillow a few extra minutes, hoping the man she was supposed to love wouldn't say anything to her.

As she sat in the bustling train station, she still couldn't feel the weight lift off her shoulders, the full recognition that she had left him. Although she was away, she still felt anxious, worrying he would find her amongst the other passengers that waited for their trains. She worried about the belongings she didn't pack, knowing that the remains of what was hers would be thrown, broken, ripped from shelves and removed from resting places. She worried about what people might think of her if they knew her bags that sat on the filthy, concrete ground were the only things she owned. Looking down at the bench, she hoped the spot next to her would remain empty.

She had made a quick decision to leave him and their pristine apartment. Charlotte and Mark had been living in the city since college, but it wasn't until the summer after they graduated from the university that they decided to move in together. When they found their first apartment, it was dreary and sat above a lively coffee shop. Charlotte had been hesitant about putting a down payment on such a dilapidated apartment, but he reassured her it was a blank canvas that just needed an artist, or two. Mark had decided to completely renovate it, while Charlotte sat around watching and waiting for him to need her help.

One night, he had come back from the home good store with handfuls of paint swatches, reading shades of Rustic City, Meadow Trail and Calico, asking her which one she liked the best for each room in the apartment.

"There's too many to choose from!" she squealed.

"Could you at least pick your top three? Not that blue, it's too feminine."

"I, for one, like feminine shades. You are asking me my opinion, aren't you?"

"You're right. I should just ignore whatever you say and go with my gut."

He didn't smile; only continued to fan through all the swatches.

"Oh come on Mark, you know I'm only teasing you!"

"We just can't have such a girly blue for a living room wall."

"I understand what colors are appropriate. You know, you're not the only artist in this house," Charlotte winked at him and reached over to kiss him on the cheek.

She loved balancing herself on the edge of the couch, watching his tanned arms move up and down as he painted the walls. The soft scraping of the paint roller and the distant music on his turntable relaxed her, and she felt that she could sit like this for hours, not needing anything more. After he had finished his painting project, he constructed her favorite part of the house; the stone fireplace. The apartment had been equipped with a fireplace, but its existence was crumpling, the stones and mantel needing to be replaced. It was time consuming, but he knew she had always wanted a fireplace so he spent hours hunched over and drawing, thinking of the best way to create something she would like. She remembered flipping through his sketchbook while he was making dinner, secretly looking through all of his designs. She took pride in how he could truly take something old and broken and turn it into something beautiful and new.

When he had finally finished one Sunday afternoon, they sat curled up on the sofa, admiring his labor. Charlotte had made them both cups of green tea, which he reluctantly drank.
He had whispered to her, "Now every time you're cold, you can think of this fireplace as me keeping you warm."

She gave him a smile at this and snuggled closer under his arms.

Charlotte wanted to start decorating after the renovations were complete, and Mark told her she could set up whatever she liked around the apartment and on the fireplace mantel. She placed her small pots that she had bought from an art museum in the city and lined up her paperweights from college that she got in an Indie thrift shop ran by a girl named Rasha. They were more artsy than the rest of the décor suggested, but she was grateful he allowed her to put them out on display. In the spaces that were left, she set up thick black picture frames that she knew he would appreciate, seeing as they matched the leather sofa and the coffee table that always was home to several business journals and television guides. She had wanted a tall bookshelf, one where her novels could be propped up on the deep shelves, their thick covers looking inviting and dusty. Their varying sizes would be scattered amongst the shelves, arranged oddly, and she would have liked the disorganization. It was a discovery. But, Mark had selected a top-of-the-line coffee table, which she didn't like, although it really wasn't the coffee table itself that was the problem. She hated how organized the contents of the table was, how the magazines seemed to never move from their perfectly stacked state. It looked informal.

And unlike Charlotte, Mark's reading had a focus on structure and the world they lived in. Charlotte didn't mind that he wanted to learn about oil prices and city buildings under construction, but she had no interest in any of it, even though he tried to persuade her otherwise. They were both creative minds, but she started to feel their conversations were divided. She wanted to talk about interpretation and love, and he wanted to talk about buildings and sometimes, the stock market. As a way to escape the idle, forced talks they had begun to have, Charlotte would read glossy fashion magazines on her own; secretly. And under a large blue tray in the center of the table, where he stuck his favorite copies of The New Yorker, was a copy of Cosmopolitan she would sneak into her purse before heading out to work. He didn't even know she was subscribed.

***

Charlotte bounced her foot up and down over her crossed knee. The display board that showed whether trains were on time or delayed told her that it was 12:46 p.m. Although she hated how much her life revolved around a pre-determined schedule, she liked the train's sense of direction and the chaos of it all. Still, she just wanted to leave. The bench felt cold against her legs, and the noises were too loud. There was a young couple next to her on the adjacent bench, snuggled up with their arms interlocked. The girl had her head rested on his shoulder while his arm coiled around her, and she noticed his free hand was rapidly typing away on his cell phone. In front of them stood a greasy haired twenty-something man, taking a drag from his cigarette even though a sign said, "No Smoking."

Sighing, she looked down to make sure her bags were still by her feet. Such a pitiful group of carry-on luggage, between the thick leather handbag with a fraying strap, a black backpack with a hole in the mesh pocket, and the green floral-print suitcase with rusty wheels, she certainly looked like a runaway. Charlotte never felt the need to buy fancy, matching luggage. For one, he never wanted to go on trips with her, and most importantly, she had never liked packing and long trips in general. Her commute to work each day was the farthest she preferred to go. The idea of planning to leave for weekends or extended vacations made her flustered. She would always end up forgetting something, like her toothbrush or phone charger. She hated feeling rushed.

***

Charlotte's hands were draped casually around Mark's neck, as her fingers played with the crisp collar on his button up blouse. His hands found their way down her wool sweater, to the small curves of her waist, where she allowed them to stay for some time.

They had finished an entire bottle of red wine, and the empty glasses were hidden in the clutter of Mark's architecture textbooks, sketchpads, beer bottle caps, napkins and receipts from the drugstore on the corner by the university. She had laughed at the mess when she walked into his tiny apartment, joking with him that she could never date a disorganized guy.

"I think you need a bigger trash can, Mark."

"They take up too much space, that's why I use the coffee table."

"I mean, the mound of books I can understand. But really, you couldn't throw away this granola bar wrapper?"

"I might need that one day."

"And I bet you also need this expired coupon for a dollar off of a purchase of a six piece wing order."

He had laughed and grabbed the coupon from her hands.

"When I have my own place, I'm going to keep everything together and keep everything organized," Mark said. "I have this idea of how I want my life to be, but right now I just have to focus on finishing school."

He then walked over to his stereo and placed The Civil Wars newest CD in it, turning it up and stripping free of his blue cardigan that had been keeping the October chill out.

"Now that the wine's all gone, what do you say we do some dancing?"

They danced to several songs and with each sway in his arms she felt the wine sinking into her skin, making her forget that she had work in the morning and that she didn't bring a toothbrush. Charlotte couldn't think of anything but the pressure of his hands against her hips and the anticipation of the song ending.

"Charlotte," he interrupted her thoughts.

"Hmmm."

"I...well, this is really nice. Being with you."

She looked up through blurry eyes and smiled. His mouth opened, as if he was going to say something else, and he did.

"Charlotte, I'm not trying to rush anything, but I really think I love you," he paused. "No, I do. I do love you."

She couldn't tell if it was the wine or the look in his eyes, but she pulled him in and let her lips fit against his, and they kissed like this, so sure and passionately.

"I think we need more wine," she told him, stepping back a few inches.

"More wine? I think I have another bottle. Did you hear what I said, Charlotte?"

"I did, I'm sorry, I'm a little fuzzy right now."

"Maybe another bottle isn't such a good idea."

"No you're right. But I did hear you Mark. I don't think it's rushing because I do too."

***

"Oh, you do?"

The girl who had been coiled up next to her text-hungry boyfriend was giggling loudly. Charlotte saw them standing close together, his phone now in his pocket and his hands on her waist. She saw him mouth, "I love you" and she guessed they had been swapping goodbyes before one of them would board the next train. Charlotte felt irritated with the couple, having the urge to tell them to stop being so hopelessly attached. She wanted to grab the man's phone out of his pocket and tell him that whoever he was talking to earlier could have waited, and that he should focus on his girlfriend, not whatever game was on or what frat-boy friend was having a party.

"Just wait until after college," she muttered softly to herself.

But, Charlotte didn't get to tell them anything because they walked hand-in-hand to the next platform, and she knew she would never see them again.

***

Charlotte would make her way out of bed each morning and would sit at the edge of the bed, waiting for him to make his way to the shower. She had always timed his showers because it was her only free moment to be alone and with her thoughts. She could lie back onto the bed without having to say anything. In these silent moments she wouldn't have to think of a witty comeback to his half-drunken state, and she wouldn't have to listen to him yell at her for things that were not her fault, like not properly bagging up the garbage or forgetting to open the curtains in the living room. Her solitude didn't last long because Mark only took about 25 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes to shower and an additional 10 to brush his teeth and get dressed.

This particular morning, Charlotte immediately got up, knowing it would be the last time she would get out of the bed. She felt energetic and sure of herself, so she crept toward the door quietly, trying not to disturb Mark. She didn't want to agitate him already. She turned back towards his sleeping state, noticing his one arm curled neatly under his head, the other flattened down by his side. His curly hair stuck up in all directions, looking soft to the touch. She wanted to slip back under the covers and press her body against his, feeling the warmth of his back against her chest. Charlotte didn't do this and instead wondered if she should make herself breakfast. 

Several minutes later, Charlotte made her way back to the room. She saw Mark moving under the blankets and knew he was finally waking up.

"Morning," he mumbled, slowly crawling out of bed and stripping out of his bed-shirt, ignoring her outstretched hand with a cup of hot tea.

"Hey, here I made this for you. I used that new honey I bought from the market."

"I don't want that shit. Stop trying to give it to me."

"You liked Earl Grey."

"Yeah, liked."

"I can make green tea instead, I think there's a bag left."

"Oh, you think? You probably misplaced it."

"How can I misplace a tea bag?"

"You misplace everything, a tea bag is just another thing to add to the list."

"I just thought it might wake you up before your shower. I made it for you, why can't you just try it Mark?"

"You drink it then! I said I don't want the fucking tea!"

He faced her now, his shirt off and his face hot. Charlotte hesitated, but then took a step closer to him.

"I bet if one of those trashy blonde high school girls gave it to you down at Barry's you'd drink it up."

Mark then pushed the mug away, and a few drops of hot caramel-colored liquid splashed on her wrist. She didn't even wince.

Charlotte watched his mood change every day, a slow process that soon became regular. He had been relaxed and determined in college, although now Charlotte thought maybe that was just how she saw him.  College provided frequent laughter and carefree moments, but now, seconds could go by and she would see different faces of Mark, like a child trying on Halloween masks in a costume store. Some were beautiful, some kind and gentle, others scary, or ugly and angry. She wasn't sure if it would be a morning where he would wake up and ruffle her choppy red hair, or if he would throw his pillow against the purple lamp that rested on their desk, several cracks already engraved from the many times it had hit the floor. 

After he slammed the door to the bathroom, she quickly placed the not-sipped tea on the nightstand, the liquid rocking side to side, almost pouring over the mugs rim. She ran to the closet and placed her bags on the bed. Charlotte started throwing clothes into the suitcase, not caring what it was that she was packing. It's funny how in such little time things that were once valuable mean absolutely nothing to me.

She silently moved to the living room and scoured the room for anything she might want to take along with her. Charlotte never really had a lot of material items anyway, and as she looked around the room, she saw no point in traveling with things that reminded her of him. He began to grow particular over what was on display in the apartment, so most of Charlotte's possessions found their way to the boxes in storage and hidden behind house plants. If it didn't match how he wanted it, a silly argument would begin, which would end in door slamming and Charlotte silently wishing he would disappear.

Charlotte looked around as if she was an outsider, not ever really belonging to the home they created, the home he created. The apartment was not a collaboration of modern furniture mixed with their personalities like most young, city households. Sometimes she wondered if anyone lived in the apartment at all. It looked like a model house that people tour when they are searching for their first home. She could picture a newly-wed couple that would stroll through, taking in the wide windows with crisp, white curtains, the mahogany table with fake fruit in a green bowl, the vacant crystal vase. They would run their hands along the perfectly painted walls, tiptoe across the hardwood floors, and search for one imperfection in the masterpiece he had created. There was nothing wrong with the place, only that it was an advertisement in a magazine, a set-up in a home good store. She began to think there were signs set up saying, "Look but don't touch," or, "Warning! Fragile."

There was no time to calmly explain why she was leaving him. He wouldn't be reasonable, he wouldn't cry and hold her, begging for her to stay. It would be just like the last time, and the time before that. She would try to reason with him, he would yell and throw things, leave to go drinking at the bar, and come back with Rolling Rock still on his breath, kissing her and saying he needed her to stay. She needed to do something different this time, so she could actually leave. This idea of packing up and leaving was so irrational, so unlike-Charlotte. She couldn't be so sure as to what her other options were, and she still wondered if she should make herself breakfast.
Moving to the center of the dining room, she stopped for a moment. She noticed the sun was sending light beams in through the window, bouncing off of a glass china cabinet in the corner. Charlotte walked over and grabbed the ceramic knobs of its doors pulling it open.

The contents of the china cabinet were typical. There were plates with blue flowers printed across the edges, with silver lining each dish, plate, cup and bowl. Towards the bottom shelf there was an array of mugs, mostly a matching set of white with baby blue handles. The plates and mugs were never used; in fact Charlotte rarely opened the cabinet. She wished she had put something else on their wedding registry, other than useless plates and bowls that were only designed to impress people. They never even had guests over. Only once did her friend from the art institute stop by to grab some lunch and to show off a diamond placed on her left ring finger. Mark hadn't been around that day, and Charlotte had been glad.
Besides the china set, inside on the top shelf there was a variety of glass blown animals, which was a collection that brought her absolute joy. Charlotte displayed them on this top shelf because she felt they didn't belong anywhere else. They never really blended in. They just existed.

The collection began when Charlotte would go to the beach, spending her summers by the ocean with her family until she graduated from high school. Each shore shop by the bay had several sized glass blown animals for sale. Some were made into necklace charms, some were paperweights, but her favorites were the ones that could fit in the palm of her hand. She had jungle and barn animals, ocean creatures and monsters, all tiny versions of something much larger. Charlotte touched a small gray mouse, picking it up and trying to see through the glass, but only seeing a swirl of cloudy colors. She noticed a weathered wooden box was towards the back of the cabinet. The latch on the box was broken and hung loosely, looking as if it would break off with the slightest touch. Without thinking, Charlotte grabbed the box and swiped all of the figurines into it, their bodies lying on top of each other in a sea of delicate glass.

She ran back to the bedroom with the box, quietly, not letting him hear her bare feet smacking the floor. She kneeled under their bed and reached to find her shoes, and recoiled her hand when it hit a cardboard box. What is this? She squeezed her body under the bed frame, pushed her way past old sneakers that didn't fit and soft sweaters with holes in the sleeves, and pulled the mystery out of the darkness. She tenderly pulled off the lid, and inside were old letters, birthday cards, and journals-- memories of the budding and happy romance of Mark and Charlotte. 

Sifting through everything, she let her knees sink into the carpet. The water from the shower sounded distant and muffled. Was the water even running? She pulled out letters, weathered with crinkles and smeared ink, peeled apart gathered Post-It notes that had tiny drawings of hearts and stars, mixed with "I love you lots" and "Have a good day at work." One note was written on a white napkin with a kiss in Maybelline's Mauve Mystique pressed firmly in the corner. My favorite shade, she thought. Another note said, "I love you, have some wine," and taped across the notebook paper was a red-soaked cork. Digging to the bottom she found ticket stubs and photographs, maps of amusement parks and deflated anniversary balloons.

The click of the door opening startled Charlotte from her nostalgia. She looked up to see him standing in the doorway, a toothbrush dangling from his mouth. The motion of brushing stopped when he saw the bags in a messy pile by the door, the bags she only uses when she visits her parents for the holidays.

"Where are you going?" he said.

She looked down at her lap, her knees still folded on the ground, a birthday card with a glittery elephant smiling back at her from the box. Its trunk was pointed to the sky, and bright confetti was sprinkled all around the front of the card.

"I said, where are you going?" he repeated.

She opened her mouth and a cracked, garbled noise came out. What do I say? she started to think. He turned around and went back into the bathroom. She heard the running water and the click of a toothbrush against a porcelain sink, followed by his feet on the hardwood floors, not bothering to silence the sound. 

In a second he was at her side, crouched down next to her so she could smell his spearmint breath. He pushed away the box that was at her knees and reached his calloused hands up to her neck, tightening them around her throat. There they stayed, thankfully only tight enough to force her to speak, not enough to suffocate her.

"I will ask you again. Where the fuck are you going?"

She stretched her neck hoping it would give her a little more breath to confess.

"I...I...I'm leaving. For good."

He released his hands in an instant and stood up. Grimacing, he walked over to their dresser, and placed his hands down firmly on the top, grasping the edges, his nails digging into the wood until she was sure they were bleeding.

***

Charlotte blinked around the same time the display board changed times, letting her know that it was 12:58 p.m. She placed both her feet on the ground and rested her head on her lap. She felt a headache coming on, feeling the pain start to spread from the tip of her nose, to the bridge and finally all around her cheekbones and into her temple. She guessed it was from the door that he had pushed her into. It was her own fault; she shouldn't have been going through the box under the bed. Poor planning as usual, she thought with a sarcastic smile.

"Where the hell is the train?" she said aloud.

She knew very well that it wasn't at her stop yet, but she wished time would go faster so she could board the train and get out of the damp station. She touched a bruise on her wrist, pressing the splotch of black and purple. She noticed a married couple huddled together like penguins, standing several feet away from her, replacing the young couple that stood there before. It was now 1:00 p.m. She contemplated for a quick second, hurling herself onto the tracks as her train approached the platform. How many passengers would rush to her aid? Probably a few, but she imagined people would gather around and murmur about what a tragedy it was to witness, or maybe they would whisper about how the new street drugs were driving people to insanity, or perhaps they would cry a little for her pathetic life that she chose to end. Charlotte wished she would stop thinking. She felt sick.

***

"Leave me alone!" She had found a voice to scream.

Glass shattered around her body as he threw what was on the mantel at her. Charlotte noticed that his aim was terrible, even though he spent his Sundays at the batting cage. He wasn't any good, but still he would go, slinking back at 2 a.m. smelling of cheap beer and nicotine.

Hearing her speak up made him stop. He placed what he had in his hands back onto the mantel. Mark then crumpled to the floor, placing his hands over his face and rubbing the redness from his cheeks.

She pulled herself up from the floor, carefully, trying to find a place to put her hands so she wouldn't touch the glass. Charlotte stood tall, pressing her body against the back of the living room door and watched him. The glass covered the floor like the rice their family and friends threw at them upon leaving the chapel. Such a bittersweet connection, she thought. She had the sudden urge to sweep up the mess, but noticing the destruction of what was hers made Charlotte stop. She stared at him. He looked like a broken puppet, body in half, limbs loose and useless. All of his anger left his body and remained in the shards that scattered the hardwood floors.

***

Reaching into her leather handbag, she pulled out one of the paperweights she grabbed off the mantel; the only one he didn't try to hit her with. It was a glass semicircle, and in the bottom was a dried flower sealed within its smoothness. The bottom was flat, but a crack ran along down the middle, right through the center of the sad, dead flower. It must have cracked when he slammed it down. She stroked the crack, moving her hand back and forth along the jagged line. She wasn't sure why she grabbed this, or when. She was just distracted and uncomfortable, and she didn't want to focus on him, hunched over, thick tears pouring out of his face as he begged her not to go. Things will change, and I will change. She had walked over to him as if to say she was sorry, or maybe to embrace him.

"I think this is the only time I will see you not totally in control, Mark," and then she left.

***

Next train to arrive on track 1 will be to Trenton on time 1:05 p.m.

Charlotte reached down to pick up her bags, but as she shuffled her bags around, the paperweight slipped from her hands. She watched silently as it crashed on the concrete platform, bits of blue glass shattering and spreading like a spilled cup of milk. Each tiny piece hit the ground and bounced around her feet. Staring at the mess she created, she saw the dried up flower float towards the edge of the platform. She kneeled down to pick it up and held it in her hand as the rush of the approaching train blew it out of her palm. It was now a broken figurine that could never be fixed. There was no amount of glue or tape that could make it whole again, and noticing this gave her a pain in her chest. 

As the train departed, she realized nothing from that point on mattered. She could forget her deadlines, birthdays and anniversaries. She could miss trains, forget to turn off the teakettle, and not remember if she had a Monday morning meeting. Parts of her life were now fragmented, each piece as tiny and broken as the paperweight on the platform, insignificant in a grand station. The train stopped for several minutes and people exited in a hurry, rushing to their taxicabs or relative that waited with open arms. The conductor stepped out and looked at her, as if to ask if she was coming along. Charlotte stood and waited for him to speak. He turned around and closed the doors, and she watched the train whirl past her, each clouded window the only thing she could bring into her focus.

Personal / Creative Essay
2013-14

I’m No RunnerI’m No Runner

the sun hasn't peaked over the horizon  and I'm already fighting


I'm in constant competition to outrun emotions and needless to say, I'm losing.


I think it's safe to say I've already lost. Lost my love. Lost myself.


I'm trying to spirit away from these thoughts of my reality yet my mind continues the slow distance medley pace.

I struggle to drag my shot put ass heart off the ground in hopes that I'll hurdle over the all the heartache by chasing after temporary highs. Not runners high. I’m refers to everything else.

Love sex shopping money gluttony.  You know, the usual.

Anything is better than watching myself fail. Watching someone else dash past me to you. Hearing the gun pop and not being able to move because my past is like molasses in my ass that keeps me from surpassing the starting line.

Handing off my feelings like a baton to the next man only in hopes of being retrieved and loved. When all the while I'm Reaching out to someone whose not there only to be dropped to the ground, like a baton.  That's when you know you've hit rock bottom & just want to give up.

Days like this, Id like to believe I not a runner but in reality i am.

I run my pen across a page and travel to places that most people have never seen.


I run my hands over the seams of my pants when i am determined to start my day.


I run around in my own mind all day to escape from the rest of the world


Running my pen across the page in the only escape I’ve been able to find to stop thinking able you.

Everyone is so concerned about the reward of running away from their problems that they forgot that no matter what race, we all start the race on the same line.


And yes there will be times when we fall and fail. It's how you finish our race that determines who you really are.
 

Poetry / Spoken Word
2013-14

UntitledUntitled

Photography
2013-14

The Legacy of a Chestnut TreeThe Legacy of a Chestnut Tree

Sixteenth century, northern Pennsylvania: the landscape is bountiful and lush with the all-encompassing shades of green and brown that pleasure the eyes as if they just leaped off a painter’s palette. The zest of life and untouched wilderness is palpable in the air. Here, freedom is not some childish clichéd phrase: it is an essence of being, and its value is not so easily forgotten as every creature here fights the magnanimous battle of life and death, hour by hour.
A black haired girl spiritedly runs through the woods with all the agility of a jungle cat, cradling a basket of luscious red raspberries in her arms. The tassels dangling from her deerskin dress tickle her legs in the breeze as her long, loose hair whips around her face like a tornado. They call her “red skinned”, those invaders who will come from the East, but today the troubles of the future could not be further from her mind. On her journey back through the woods to her Iroquois village, she pauses to admire a newly sprouted sapling peeking out of the fertile earth. She gently caresses its young, vibrant green leaves, identifying with the vitality and purity of its youth.  She was taught to value all forms of life, knowing everything has a purpose, and she fondly pictures the sapling growing up tall and strong like its kin around it. One day its job will also be to sustain the forest with its abundant fruit: the chestnut. The chestnut is an essential source of life in this place, connecting all creatures in the food chain with its invaluable boon. Without it, who knows what could happen to this wondrous ecosystem? For now this sapling is content to simply marvel in the innocence of its infancy and learn to grow under the watchful eyes of its elders.
The chestnut trees are always watching.
1681, William Penn founds the Pennsylvania colony. The intruders from the East have arrived with their massive machines that float on water and their weapons that spout fire and black smoke like demonic spirits from hell. As our chestnut sapling grows so do development, industry, and humankind. Innocence is lost as the ominous foreboding of change drawing ever nearer lingers in the air like a dense fog. It strikes fear in the innocent souls of the native inhabitants of the woods. To the beat of the drum they dance and seek guidance from their great spirits. To the beat of the drum their hearts endure together despite the dread disrupting the rhythm. Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump. Looking closely, one can notice the slight stirs of the chestnut leaves in the forest as if moved by a nonexistent wind. They tremble in unison.
The chestnut trees are always watching.
1776, the American Revolution is won, and the once prodigious and powerful Native American Iroquois Nation is crumbling due to the white man’s intrusion. The little black haired girl whose spirit was intertwined with those Pennsylvania woods has grown and passed on long ago, leaving behind only her descendants to fight a losing battle for a dying way of life. Her sapling, now an adolescent tree, silently takes vigil over the ever-changing land. Does it remember that little girl with the red berries who stroked its fledgling leaves so long ago? Does it mourn for the loss of the native tribes that peacefully coexisted in its woods for so many years? Does it fear for the future? Does it foresee what is to come?
The chestnut trees are always watching.
1904, the fungus Chestnut Blight is introduced to North America. Many years after the long introspective life of our sapling chestnut tree has been abruptly struck down for lumber, its descendants are now in jeopardy just like the little black haired girl’s. The fungus devours a majority of the chestnut trees and mankind ravages the survivors. These magnificent beings, teeming with life and visions of the wonders of the past, are nonchalantly sawed, cut and tossed aside with the care of child throwing away a forlorn toy. Pennsylvania’s woods are no longer lush and untamed; houses, factories and cities have taken over like a swarm of nosy and perturbing locusts, smothering the wild and untamed beauty right out of land. But the few remaining chestnut trees still keep watch doing the best they can to provide for the dying world around them.
Like the omnipresent eye of a protective parent, the chestnut trees are always watching, immobilized witnesses of their children dying around them. 
1950, the American Chestnut almost disappears from Pennsylvania’s woods. There are only a few chestnut trees still standing keeping watch, the equivalent of the last Truffula tree of the Lorax. Who will speak out for the destruction of the trees that have no voice? Is there no one left with a desire to protect the commonwealth of the environment for the future? Do the trees know their despair and helplessness, cringing at the thought of this injustice?
Not graced with the power and curse that is speech, the chestnut trees have no choice but to morosely endure and mutely watch over their woods as they always have, powerless to take action as their world is shaken.
Present day, Pennsylvania: an old woman takes a walk through a familiar wooded park near her home as the dark hands of dusk begin to steal away the last remnants of light from the sky. It is a cool autumn night and the wind nips at her exposed skin, which is not as resistant to the chill as it used to be. The debris of fallen leaves coats the ground like a scratchy blanket, crunching under her feet as she ambles along. She is alone; her husband has passed and her children, now adults, are busy living their still seemingly infinite lives. She remembers walking her children through these very same woods when they were young, teaching them the names of the trees as they obliviously trampled through the dead leaves having a grand old time, blissfully ignorant. She marvels at the folly of the young, their ability to take pleasure in such simple things, and how quickly time passes and she abruptly stops in her tracks. Before her stand two impressive trees, now almost full grown, that she planted as mere saplings when each of her children was born: American chestnuts.
The sight of these trees invokes memories of the blood of the woman’s Iroquois ancestors that runs in her veins, and she stands there in silence, mourning for a time she never knew when the forests were pure and untamed, bountiful and full of untainted life. She longed to run through those ancient forests among the watchful eyes of the chestnut trees where her people used to live and know true freedom, un-plagued by the corruption of society. 
The natural descendants of the formerly magnificent chestnut forests that once covered Pennsylvania are now but sickly parodies of a forgotten past, the gene pool of the tree species having been so depleted and perverted by selective logging and the vicious fungus Chestnut Blight. She fears that there are not enough chestnuts left keeping vigil on this ever-changing world, not near enough left to provide for the future. Her only consolation is that her chestnuts have grown beautifully, tall and strong. At least they will leave a legacy for the future.
She tenderly procures three more chestnut seeds from the deep crevice of her pocket to plant in honor of her grandchildren. She wistfully stares at her open palm, the rich brown of the seeds strikingly contrasting with the pale, wrinkled skin of her hand. There’s no escaping the vicissitudes of time.
If for nothing else, her chestnut trees will always be watching.

Short Fiction
2013-14

Ice Encased LeafIce Encased Leaf

Photography
2013-14

Into the Wild: Living the College LifeInto the Wild: Living the College Life

The electronic chimes of a church's bell tower assault my ears at promptly six forty five every weekday morning as I stumble out of the plush zebra patterned covers on my bed like a drunken sailor and attempt to silence my holy phone alarm. Another day of college has begun, I think to myself.
I am grateful to be in the Honors Living Community and live in South Hall at Delaware Valley College, for it is the only dorm building with air conditioning. This comes in handy on the blazing hot days in the beginning of the semester when everyone else is sweltering in the overcrowded, stuffy dorms that comprise the other freshmen living quarters.

My roommate must love this feature of our dorm too, because she insists on turning the thermostat to "Arctic Icebox" every time she enters the room. I, however, have the cold tolerance of an exothermic reptile from the Mohave Desert, so as I walk around the dorm room in the wee hours of the morning I feel as if I'm about to go ice fishing with some Inuit tribesmen. Looks like someone forgot to inform me that I would need to pack my parka and mukluks. (It must be no coincidence that our hall was given a "Welcome to the Arctic" theme for the hallway decorating competition.  The giant roaring polar bear revealing his fangs and staring me down whenever I open my door really completes the sensation that I'm about to freeze to death in the Arctic Circle, or perhaps be mauled.)

After completing the Iditarod marathon to get to my bathroom, the hot shower I take every morning to wash the icicles from my face is like jumping into the fiery pits of Mordor.

I can feel the irritation emanating from my heckling, sarcastic and always humorous roommate, Taylor, as she constantly reminds me that I take an eternity in the bathroom. Since I have the functioning ability of a hibernating grizzly bear in the morning, I have to get up so ungodly early to get ready before my eight a.m. class.

There are three reasons for my morning cantankerousness. First of all, the college life is just simply exhausting. Dealing with the mental stresses of my classes, the emotional stresses of trying (and failing) to socialize with people throughout the day, and the difficulties of merely attempting to figure out how the hell time management works at college are enough to drive anyone crazy. Secondly, I am still adjusting to this college life schedule, which apparently means in order to hang out with anyone you have to stay up until five in the morning because the rest of the time is filled with classes, homework, club activities, and only an infinite number of other things that need to be done. Staying up this late every night is definitely taking a physical toll on me, which is evident when I wake up the next morning with my eyelids glued to my face and my body feels like it just ran a marathon and was then repeatedly beaten down by Mohammad Ali. And lastly, when I am finally ready to go to sleep, I am kept awake by my lovely neighbors. The safari decoration theme I used inside my dorm room seems appropriate here, because every night I feel as if the sun has just gone down on the Serengeti Plains as my next-door neighbors obnoxiously cackle like hyenas fighting over a zebra carcass, and herds of mysterious other nocturnal creatures stampede through the hallways.

Once I am done beautifying myself, and composing my sanity after a restless night, I throw my supplies for class in a bag in the morning and grab something quick to eat for breakfast from my fridge like a yogurt or a smoothie, because I do not have enough time to go to the cafeteria. (Not that I would want to eat there any more than necessary anyhow, when the cafeteria seems to only serve sustenance with the quality of freeze dried astronaut food.)

Every time I enter the dreadful eatery I must play hopscotch to avoid the land mines of mysterious substances splattered all over the floor getting on my shoes and ask myself, what can I eat today that will spare my stomach the most pain later? Should I choose the delectable mystery meat entrée they pulled out of the bottomless grease-pit they call the oven and slathered in not-so-awesome sauce? Should I go "healthy" today and make myself a salad full of visibly decaying lettuce (probably left over from yesterday)? Why not throw in some vegetables? They're only so dry that they look like they just demon-spawned out of the sand of the Sahara desert. No big deal. I sigh as I hear the somber sound my taste buds crying out for the loss of their innocence. I think I'll just go with ice cream.

I persevere through the day's classes but my stomach proceeds to scream like a banshee in protest of its lack of nourishment. Each class presents a different challenge: trying to stay awake while listening to a boring lecture of content that I already know, wondering why I even have to be in this class, or trying to wrap my head around the liberal amounts of work given out by other classes, and attempting the daunting task of keeping all the deadlines straight in my head. Once my classes are over with for the day, I return to my dorm and hastily attempt to accomplish everything I need to for the next day before the vice-grip of sleep takes hold.

What truly excites me most of all at the end of each day is the fact that I have to get up again tomorrow and do it all over again. I think I might die with the excitement of it all. My conclusions thus far about college: it's hard for me to fit in here because this place is nothing like home. 
I remember not so long ago practically running off a stinking school bus full of raging, hopelessly prepubescent children and coming home after a tiring day of high school. I would walk in the door to my house to the familiar feeling of my eardrums bleeding from the sound of my mom blasting her obnoxious pop music as it echoed throughout the kitchen while she made dinner. The sweet smell of whatever was on the menu that night would waft in the air and I would joyfully breathe it in as my chubby, gray tabby cat, Ben, would come up to greet me at the door and lovingly rub on my legs. That cat was the best sight in the world for sore eyes. I would heave my backpack off my shoulders, feeling like Atlas shrugging off the weight of the world. I reached down to scratch Ben's back and his soft warm tabby fur felt like stroking a cloud. It never failed to relax me as I tried to unwind from a day full of stress. I quietly observed my family, chuckling as I watched my brother hastily getting some homework done before dinner and saw my dad grabbing a quick bite to eat before heading back to work at the police station. At home, I could always count on a delicious meal (quite unlike my second-rate adventures to the toxic waste dump that is Delaware Valley's cafeteria), a nice warm house (as apposed to a frigid igloo), and my loving family to talk to while still having a room to myself for peace and quiet when I needed it.

This memory seems light years away now after having been immersed in my new college routine so quickly that it was forced to become my norm. Going to college initially felt as if I was thrown out of a jet plane, fell down Alice's rabbit hole, and ended up landing in the middle of the ocean, helplessly struggling to stay afloat. Feeling nervous and alone in this chaotic and unexplored place with no one to guide me, I begin to identify with Frodo and Sam and their misadventures across Middle Earth. Seriously, where is Gandalf when you need him?

After the frenzied events of move-in day, I was too overwhelmed to fully comprehend that I was now living away from home and essentially on my own for the first time. Dazed and confused, I blindly and erroneously followed my Orientation Leaders around during the "Week of Welcome" like a lamb to its slaughter, and suffered through every painfully awkward icebreaker activity they lobbed at us. After seeing some of the outrageous activities they made us participate in I realized why they call it W.O.W., because that was the only censored word in my vocabulary appropriate enough to describe the situation. I think a more fitting name could be selected by replacing the last two letters with a "T" and an "F."

Almost every one of my attempts at conversation with people throughout the W.O.W. went a little something like this.
"Hi, my name is Kate, what's yours?"

"I'm [insert name I will forget in five seconds here]," said the kid I'm talking to, so helpfully offering no additional comments to assist in furthering the conversation.

"What's your major?" I ask, naturally the next question one would have for a fellow freshman.

"Wildlife and Conservation management," they would say nonchalantly, their eyes flitting around like a pinball, avoiding my gaze, desperately searching for an escape from this situation. One would think that my being a zoo science major, also related to animals, would give us something in common to talk about. But instead we are both just stuck in this self-conscious conversation together, not knowing what to say next as the awkward silence rolls in like the blackest, most menacing storm cloud. In an attempt to assuage the tempest, I would use the only other preprogramed question I had left in my repertoire.

"Where are you from?" I would ask, and they would then follow with the name of some small town that I had no idea where it was, and I would tell them I was from Allentown, which they also did not know the location of, and that would be the end of the conversation. The storm of silence has arrived. I would hang my head down at my feet as it began to pour droplets of discomfort, and my contemporary would take the opportunity to hastily back away from the situation and find his or her other friends across the room. Every time I endeavored but failed to make new friends through these embarrassing and degrading events I could hear Patrick's comical and iconic, dopey voice from an old Spongebob episode whispering in my ear, "Well … maybe its because you're ugly."

While I did not actually think my ugliness was the source of the problem scaring people away, my fears that I would never make any friends here because I was too inept at conversation or awkward were real. These fears may have been completely irrational and pointless, but I nevertheless retreated back into my introvert shell, cursing the moment I ever decided to put myself out there in the first place. The events of the week even made me question my decision to come to Delaware Valley College. Was a small school the right choice? Maybe if I had went somewhere larger I would have found friends. If I can't make connections here, how will I accomplish all that I want to at college? All of these thoughts ran through my head with the same draining and vexing recurrence of a hamster spinning its exercise wheel all night.

When the terrifying thought of being on my own here finally began to sink in, and my ridiculous fears of socializing began to consume my thoughts, I remembered a quote from Benjamin Mee from the movie We Bought a Zoo. Benjamin inspiringly says, "Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just, literally, twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery, and I promise you, something great will come of it."
I promised myself before I came to college that my life here was going to be different from high school. I was going to get involved with everything I thought looked interesting, I was going to make lots of friends and be more social, and I was going to enjoy myself more. But most of all, I was going to make an impact here at Delaware Valley College.

There have certainly been times here that made me feel like I would never make any friends, like I hated this place and I just wanted to go home. I'm sure I will have those feelings again at some point in the future. But I repeatedly told myself: Just have twenty seconds of courage; twenty seconds to start up a conversation with someone, twenty seconds to sign up for that club, twenty seconds to say: "Yes, I want to go hang out with people because I can have fun; I do not have to sit in my dorm all day and do work."

It was not until classes were underway and club meetings began that I really started connecting with anyone, now free from the pressures set in place by the activities of W.O.W. and finally allowed some natural human interaction. For example, now that I was not obligated to attend any W.O.W. events, I began hanging out with people in their dorms, and taking the shuttle into town, and participating in other activities that were more comfortable and natural and not filled with the awkwardness of forced conversation or the fear of being criticized for not making friends.

One of the most uplifting experiences I've had here so far has been joining the newspaper. When I attended the first meeting, I was welcomed with open arms.

"Look everyone! These are the awesome freshmen who want to join the newspaper!!!" an excited Madi yelled when my roommate and I timidly walked into the first meeting. Madi, the Editor in Chief, was so overjoyed that we came, and really made us feel like we belonged with her kindness and comfortable, confident, relaxed personality that was refreshing after having met only nervous, self-conscious freshmen all week. I knew immediately that I had just found a great friend in her.

It was then that I finally realized: All of the amazing opportunities that I wanted from college were out there, I just had to put aside the crazy issues of dorm life in the animal kingdom for a second, the fears of socializing and not being accepted and the bad luck of not finding people I liked sooner. Once I was able to dispose of these mental blockages that had all the suppressive power of the One Ring of Sauron, I began to find my way out of Mordor and back to my shire of the idyllic college experience.

At the end of a long day, I now enjoy traversing down campus to Lake Archer for some peace and quiet away from the busy life of the dorms. As I amble down the pathways lined with white picket fences and wind through the majestic trees of the arboretum, I imagine myself wandering through the forests near me back home where I used to hike. My eyes and ears are in tune with the wilderness; patiently waiting for a glimpse of the ethereal wildlife I know hides in the shadows. As I drift further into the recesses of my mind, pictures of the future flash before my eyes. One minute I'm in the great plains of Africa watching rhinos peacefully munching on grass while herds of zebra and antelope soar by, galloping with the grace of ballerinas. The next I'm in Sumatra, on the hunt for the rare and elusive orangutan in an effort to observe and protect the few that remain in the wild, and then I snap back into reality.

I am seated tranquilly on a bench by the lake gazing out over the water watching ducks swim by, listening to the droplets from the fountain as they hit the water, and reminiscing about all of the experiences that have brought me to this point in my life. All of the connections I have already made here at this college through the newspaper, my classmates, teachers and other clubs have amazed me. Yes, college life is hard. It is unfamiliar and uncomfortable and takes a while to get used to. Dorm life is just gross. There's no getting around it. Missing Mom's good old-fashioned home cooked meals is inevitable. That's a fact. The work is fairly difficult and success requires major self-discipline and self-responsibility. Making friends sucks. It is probably the most horribly awkward thing one could ever have to do, but making true lifelong friends is a beautiful thing, and all it takes is one conversation. The bottom line is; I'm here at college for an experience to better myself, to pursue a career I love, and to become a productive member of society. And with every new day that I again wake up to the electronic church bells ringing and feel amazed that I get to live on the beautiful arboretum that is our campus, I begin to feel more and more like I am in the perfect place to do just that.

I can feel in my bones the sensation of belonging and a great urgency to seize every opportunity here. I now realize with confidence that I made the right decision in coming to Delaware Valley. I no longer doubt that this is where I'm supposed to be. Not once will going home cross my mind this weekend. At the end of this day I will again return to the menagerie that is my dorm building and uncomplainingly coexist with the other wild animals that inhabit it. I will don my parka and mukluks, befriend the polar bear and admire the Northern Lights as they dance across the walls of my hall. I will unwearyingly await the arrival of night in my little African savannah, and contentedly listen to the howls of the wild dogs outside because; as I think to myself, well because I'm finally at home here.

But I still will not be happy about the cafeteria food.

Personal / Creative Essay
2013-14

StolenStolen

Kaleidoscope canopy
glitters okra, saffron.
Shushing. Rustling.
Filigree beads of sunshine
beg trespass into this world
where hazel fades to brown,
where sun-spray speckles on skin,
where freckle-peppered shoulders
are tempted to blush and ankles
are taunted by the milkweed’s tickle.
Here is where promises linger
in pollen-soaked air;  
new vows unveiled to the
clickbeat of the cricket’s song.
But a sudden switch and bolt
of a tail sends bending boughs
with the weight of wings
to shudder with shaking, spring-
ing release. Gracious
as a thunderclap, their sunkiss retires
as tragedy of twilight encroaches,
banishing them to bed until tomorrow.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2013-14

RearingRearing

And it’s kind of a funny little thing
Was never told it’d be this hard
Tempers, tantrums, skinned knees that sting
And it’s kind of a funny little thing
That my patience is what needs practicing
To count to ten and then restart
And it’s kind of a funny little thing
Was never told it’d be this hard.

And it’s kind of a funny little thing
how it was never endearing before:
A bump, a bruise, skinned knees that sting
and it’s kind of a funny little thing,
when cats are curled and tots lie dreaming,
foreheads sweaty, small snores I adore.
And it’s kind of a funny little thing,
how it was never endearing before.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2013-14

In Sadness There Can Be BeautyIn Sadness There Can Be Beauty

Photography
2013-14

Fairy Tale ZooFairy Tale Zoo

One of the greatest trademarks of the Disney franchise is the “cuteness” of its characters. From the baby deer Bambi to the Seven Dwarfs, Disney possesses a legion of cuteness in its armory of fairy tale creatures. According to Gary Genosko, Disney used to go from desk to desk pinning a note on his animator’s desks that read, “Keep it cute!” (Genosko 1). This reminder helped Disney to become the great empire it is today. Cuteness has become about as much a trademark of Disney as the Mickey Mouse ears. Cuteness, according to Genosko, is:
Vehicular and transferable from human to non-human creatures and hybrid  forms… ‘Cute’ signifies beings or objects whose attributes elicit affective responses. Cuteness produces a feeling of warmth and closeness accompanied by behavior patterns of caring associated with brood tending about beings or objects aroused by their specific infantile attributes.” (Genosko 2)

Cute requirements described by Konrad Lorenz, and written about by Genosko, have eight traits. They must have a large head that is thick compared to the body, a protruding forehead, large eyes, short, stubby limbs, round fat body, soft body surfaces, round, chubby cheeks, and they must be clumsy (Genosko 4-5). This play on consumer’s emotions and natural defense and attraction of infant-like objects allows for Disney and similar companies to take usually ugly or detested animals, such as rats, mice, ducks, dogs, and even the dwarfs, and make them human like, taking from their animal likeness and adding to their persona and humanness, specifically their baby similarities.

Disney gives these creatures’ features that allow viewers to better relate to it, to form a sort of bond or connection between the character on screen and real life persons. Examples of this would be the similarities of Doc to a father or more so a grandfather figure, or Grumpy to an older sibling in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, or the relation between the mice, Gus and Jaq in Cinderella compared to a tight friendship.  Cuteness allows for human consumers to relate to simple creatures and objects that have been dubbed “cute,” allowing for easier and more popular productions and sales. Disney’s use of these animals serves not only to help children connect and get into the movies easier, but also helps foreshadow and represent different characters that would be involve in a child’s life. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the animals serve primarily as friends or siblings that will sing and dance and play with a child. They help with the chores and even curl up in bed together. The somewhat animal-like portrayed dwarfs serve as brothers, friends, fathers, grandfathers, and even crushes, but are limited from total resemblance by their animal-like animation and their “cuteness.” They, too, sing and dance with Snow White, much as a brother, friend, and grandfather would. They go out to work as a father would and accept Snow White’s kisses bashfully as a young crush might. In Cinderella, the mice, birds, cat, and barnyard animals each serve a role that is similar to those that may be encountered by a young child. The mice and birds are, as in many such films and productions, representations of friends, siblings, or even offspring, allowing parents to also relate by waking Cinderella up, helping her dress, singing and dancing with her as a young daughter might her mother. They share her dreams, and accept food, clothes, and affection from Cinderella. They even end up aiding in her arrival and attendance to the ball, turning into the horses, coachman, and driver after trying to make her a dress for the dance.

From Disney movies to the Wild Kingdom, Disney uses story book animals to portray their messages and market their produce. They play off children’s’ perceptions and learning styles to help them better sell their educational paraphernalia and resources (Willis 61).  They domesticize nature, making it something safe and friendly, when it is in actuality an extremely dangerous place. It makes predators look like the villain, save for the dog and raccoons, both of which can be commonly found consuming flesh. They attempt to promote the coexistence between man and animal (Whitley 1). This is portrayed in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella through the quick trusting relationship between Snow White and the local wildlife and the constant battle between Cinderella and the mice against the cat, symbolically named Lucifer.

The relations between man and beast, however, serve as much more than simply promoting the coexistence between the two. They serve as a sub-plot, allowing for the emotions and feelings and encounters of the main characters to be portrayed more clearly through these animated animals. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the lost bird that sings to Snow White is asked if it is lost, only to follow Snow White’s abandonment and banishment into the woods. The animals attacking the wicked stepmother represents Snow Whites conflicting thoughts and emotions as she tries to decide whether to trust the old woman or to follow the dwarf’s advice. In Cinderella, the constant battle between Cinderella’s friends, the mice and dog, and the stepfamily’s cat, helps to foreshadow and act out how it is Cinderella feels, allowing for viewers to feel some satisfaction or justice when the mice outsmart the cat. In the end of Cinderella, before Cinderella comes out victorious over her stepsisters in winning the prince and the crown, the family hunting dog chases the stepfamily’s cat out a high window, resulting in his assumed death. These animal characters serve especially well in helping viewers to understand the true plot by acting out more specific roles that are more common in imaginations over real life.

Animals are used liberally throughout the Disney films of Snow White and Cinderella. In Snow White, from the beginning, animals are drawn to Snow White, almost as if by magnet. They sing with her and bring her comfort while she works at the wishing well. They copy her melodies and possess a similar affection to the prince. Before she is abandoned by the huntsman, she is found talking to a bird that had lost its parents, a recurring character and foreshadows the soon exile she was about to face, being rejected by her stepmother and left alone in the wilderness. After her frantic run through the woods, Snow White finds herself surrounded by menacing eyes that glare angrily at her, only to realize that they are but small forest animals that soon become her friends and new family. Even the dwarfs possess animal like animations, making them not quite human but not quite fully animal. In Cinderella, her only friends are a group of mice that she has saved from the house’s mouse trap, birds that she has also dressed and sings with, and a dog that seems to almost have an older man’s sense to him.

As similar as these two features are, there are also many differences, allowing for different moods and feels to be administered. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the animals help Snow White for little to no return and are mute aside from occasional birds singing. This is contrasted against Cinderella almost immediately by her selfless service to the mice and birds in her room that she feeds, dresses, and names, giving them an identity. The animals speak to her in high, squeaky voices and hold conversations with each other and Cinderella herself. The differences between these two stories represents a difference between a daughter and mother like character. Snow White represents a daughter figure, while Cinderella mother figure. Snow White must rely on the animals for comfort and protection from the wicked stepmother, while the opposite is true for Cinderella. The animals in Cinderella rely on her protection against the cat and traps of the house, accept food and clothes from her, and, in return, make her a dress without being asked.

Throughout the different versions of Snow White and Cinderella, many different uses of animals are portrayed. In the Scottish version of Snow White, “Lasair Gheug,” a trout takes the place of the mirror used in Disney and the Brothers Grimm, and a group of cats are actually a prince and his squires that had been transformed by a witch. The Brothers Grimm’s version, the version used and adapted by Disney, contains the most animals. It involves, as does the Disney version, animals with Snow White after she is abandoned by the huntsman, the use of a boar to fool the stepmother queen, the inclusion of dwarfs, though Disney portrays them as more animal like, and the mourning of the animals at Snow White’s funeral. In the Cinderella versions, she is found talking to and raising a fish whose bones bring her whatever she wishes for, a gold excreting donkey that is later killed to provide her a jacket so she can escape her incest father, and a bird guardian that brings her whatever she wishes for when she prays for it under a tree on her mother’s grave (Tartar 74-137).
Throughout the history of mankind, stories have been passed down from generation to generation with almost all of them involving an animal in some way shape or form. These stories provide cultural history and reasoning, entertainment, and moral and general knowledge. These stories have taken on many different mediums. Many of the animals in these stories are beasts of great size and standing, posing great threats to the heroes of the tale. In Jane Garry’s, Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature, many of the different animal types and motifs of traditional fairy tales are described. Many of these traditional animals were animals that were common to the people, but mutated and distorted in frightening ways to add character and fear to the story. These animals include the Roc, a giant rooster large enough to fly away with elephants in its talons, devastating animals, such as monster cats, hounds, mares, pigs, bulls, and sheep, hostile animals such as griffins, behemoths, and leviathan, and beast men like the centaur, a human trunked horse bodied creature, and monitors, bull headed man bodied beasts (Garry 67-71). These creatures and monsters are far from what is seen and read in the well-known Disney features such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella. In the words of Disney himself:

Animals through which the fables as well as the virtues of humans can best and most hilariously be reflected… Fable animals are not real animals. They are human beings in the guise of bird and beast…animals which can be controlled, caricatures, exaggerated, are best for fable and morality tales (Pinsky 1-2).

This quote sums up the entire purpose of Disney’s use of animals in its story telling. Disney uses animals to help portray its stories, much as traditional fairy tales did, using, “symbol animals which can be controlled, caricatures, exaggerated” (Pinsky 1-2). These animal symbols help produce works that appear innocent on the outside, but internally possess hidden social issue messages, morality issues, conservation issues, and many satirical and virtuous messages.

Animals are used in many fairy tale stories to represent different characters. They represent father figures, grandparents, mothers, daughters, brothers, friends, enemies, acquaintances, rescuers, and many more. These are just a few of the uses of animals in fairy tales. Their frequent and wide spread use helps us not only to see how the different global cultures looked at animals, but also how animals played such a big role in the lives of people all over the world. Animals represent many different things, holding different meaning for different people, allowing for different stories to have different effects on different listeners. In short, animals are probably one of the most vital and popular characters in fables and fairy tales alike.

Works Cited

  • Garry, Jane. "Mystical Animals." Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature. New York.: M. E. Sharpe, 2005. 67-92.
  • Genosko, Gary. "Natures and Cultures of Cuteness." Invisible Culture 2005.
  • Pinsky, Mark I. The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. Print.
  • Tartar, Maria. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999.
  • Whitley, David. The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation. Burlington: Ashgate, 2012. Print.
  • Willis, Susan. "Disney's Bestiary." Ed. Mike Budd and Max H Kirsch. Middletown: Weslyan UP, 2005. 53-70.

Critical / Analytical Essay
2013-14

I Used to LiveI Used to Live

I Used to Live
In a room with two walls.
They were parchment white,
Bound by glue,
And wallpapered with fields,
Neat rows of ink.

Each splotch of black was a seed
Which sprouted and flourished
Into words, twisting like ivy.
I untangled them
And savored
What the gardener had grown.

Gradually, my hands that held the walls apart
Turned parchment white.
Then I dissolved into the wall,
Content to be there,
Hanging, just a fixture of the room
Until awoken by the snap of the door.

I am released.
My hair and nails have grown long.
There are lines under my eyes
Like the creases of dog-eared pages.
I put the book aside
And pick up another.

Time passes,
Measured not by a clock’s tock.
I age by the swish of pages
Though my back has lost its hunch.
My spine is stiff, straight and strong.
A hand reaches out to stroke it.

I am grasped in a grip
Tight as a tourniquet.
Swish, swish, swish…
Ransacked by furious, prying claws
I scream,
Spilling my guts all at once.

My door slams.
I guess my tenant didn’t like the décor,
Or my tendency to ramble and preach.
I am starting to feel closed-
Minded. I will try
To be more hospitable in the future.

I am a room with two walls
Up for rent.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2013-14

Evening StrollsEvening Strolls

The time read half past seven when he checked his watch.  Pausing for a moment, his finger still resting on the pushed-up cuff of his sleeve, Mr Crowley anticipated a few more droplets on the glass face of his timepiece.  He fancied late autumn rains during his night time strolls through the gloom of Connelly Square.  Walking quietly by himself, he could watch the reflection of lamplight pass along in the moist shininess of his shoes.  He dodged couples crouched tightly under umbrellas while taking special care not to step on the cracks in the pavement. It was a skill he’d grown quite proud of mastering over the years.
The storefronts were lit brightly from within as Mr Crowley turned the corner of McIllney and Pearce.  Wrap-around bars and tables of popular pubs burst with cackling strangers and lonely bedfellows hoping to find a home for the night. Mr Crowley had no interest in gathering for a pint with colleagues or joining acquaintances for dinners that would be accompanied by conversation as bland as the potatoes.  Instead he chose to close out his files for the day, turn out his desk lamp, and exit through the office side door without mentioning a word to anyone.  On one rare occasion the red-headed office clerk named Samuel asked him to join the group. 
“Hey, whatever-your-name-is, want to come along for a quick one with us?” 
“No,” Mr Crowley said as swift as the door that closed behind him.  No invitations were extended after that, and he quite preferred it that way.
Mr Crowley settled into a nice pace as he neared a yarn store nestled between a brick wall and souvenir shop.  Outside sat a scraggly-bearded man on an overturned paint bucket, his back towards the cardigans and cloaks so neatly displayed in the window.  His violin case lay open on the walk, exposing its purple insides sparkling from the precipitation as he played Claire de Lune on his violin. An old woman just a few paces ahead of Mr Crowley tossed a coin or two from her purse into the worn velvet as the man screeched his bow through sour notes. Mr Crowley, gaffing at the sight, kept his hands firmly tucked in his pockets and let his fingers jingle the slippery coins inside as he passed by. 
The crowd on Pearce Street was beginning to thin as the rain maintained a steady pace. Men and women dashed their damp faces of pursed lips and squinted eyes into the back seats of cabs or began running with the newsprint folded over their heads.  A scent of fresh rolls floated past Mr Crowley as the front door bell of Annie’s Café rang with a welcoming tone. It was almost quarter to eight and he hadn’t had supper yet, so Mr Crowley entered the tiny shop and took his favorite seat at an empty table in the back by the lavatories. 
A young waitress in her mid twenties walked to his table and handed him a menu.  Fair in complexion and plain in looks, her name was Lydia, which Mr Crowley found most interesting since he’d originally pegged her for an “Alice” or a “Rose”. The name Lydia seemed a bit exotic to him, much more so than a Rose or Alice, and he remembered the first time he’d heard it and the secret excitement it brought him as he sat tucked behind a café table.  Lydia’s mousy brown hair hung in strings that had fallen from her bun since her shift began seven hours ago.  She smiled with tired eyes and slightly crooked teeth and was not exactly a homely girl but not one who would be considered pretty either.  Mr Crowley watched her movements as she set out a napkin and cutlery in front of him.
“What do you think, trying something new tonight?” Lydia said gently.  Already knowing the answer to her question, she smiled and said she’d return in just a moment or two.  She shoved her order pad under the cinched strings of her apron ties and scurried to the quarreling couple two tables over to see if they needed their coffees or teas refilled. 
Mr Crowley watched her move from table to table, her slightly plumpish figure rubbing against the pale blue waitress uniform, her legs looking like two curvy spindles painted a creamy milk white. She began clearing the empty teacups and saucers from the booth across from him.  Mr Crowley watched as her cotton uniform tightened around the curve of her buttocks as she reached back and forth, clanging spoons against porcelain. As he watched her hem move up and down, just barely exposing the backside of her knee pits, Mr Crowley began to wonder what might be under Lydia’s day clothes. She seemed like a nice girl, he thought.  Naïve and with a quiet timidity.  Sensible white cotton underpants with maybe a few pink rosebuds scattered about the fabric were what he could assume.
“So, chicken and brussel sprouts, yes?” Lydia said with an air of certainty as she stood before him, her masked, unbloomed flowers just a few feet across the table from his face.  Mr Crowley shifted his eyes from her crotch and pretended to peruse the menu. Then he answered in a way that even shocked himself.
“Corned beef sandwich and a soda water,” said a confident Mr Crowley and his finger grazed hers as he handed back the menu. He felt proud of himself and hopeful that she would react in a similar fashion. Lydia paused with her mouth slightly open and her crooked teeth exposed, then she smiled politely at him.
“Well, okay then! What’s the special occasion?”
Mr Crowley smiled back, unsure how to respond with any answer other than the simple fact that he was making a bold move so he could get a feel of her undergarments. But Mr Crowley was cunning and knew he needed to sweet talk such a young girl into giving him what he wanted.
“It’s a new day for me. I’ve beaten a sickness, I have. Out with the old and in with the new. Time to live life!” he said with such gusto that even he, himself, was impressed.
“I had no idea,” Lydia said with thoughtful breath. “Fabulous news for you! Corned beef, coming up!” and she turned about face and headed for the kitchen.
Mr Crowley felt pleased with the performance he had given. Surely she wouldn’t deny his request to accompany him for a drink tonight. After all, it was to be a celebration. He returned to the thoughts of her panties, only now, when he imagined them, they were no longer a matronly white but rather satin or perhaps silk. Silky and soft and printed with leopard or zebra designs, he didn’t care which. Mr Crowley loved the feel of silky women’s panties on his skin. How they grazed over the stubble of his unshaven chin with much more ease than the harsh fabric of his own undergarments. And did she wear a garter belt to keep her milky white hosiery in place? Or did they have elastic bands on top that made the fleshy part of her thighs crease and pucker after a long days work? Although he liked the idea of a cold clasp against his upper leg, the snap of elastic made him stiffen with excitement.
“Here you go, sir. Special delivery on a special day,” and Lydia slid the sandwich plate towards him with pride.
“Oh, thank you,” Mr Crowley said. “Say, this looks delicious!” and he began eating with a ferocious appetite.
Mr Crowley watched Lydia bounce from table to table as he mashed chunks of corned beef between his teeth and washed them down his throat with the fizziness of his soda water. He felt confident and aroused as he imagined her silken animal print sliding back and forth between his thighs after a walk in the rain and a few stiff cocktails in his apartment.
Lydia strode back to his table upon seeing his empty plate and grabbed her order tablet.
She smiled shyly and asked, “I guess you enjoyed it then?”
“Ah, I enjoyed it,” replied Mr Crowley through a grin as he dabbed the crumbs from his lips with a napkin, “very much indeed.”
“Is that all for tonight or would you like dessert? Or tea?” Lydia was poised to rip the check from its perforation when Mr Crowley spoke in a most uncharacteristic tone. He was smiling unlike any time she’d seen before and it filled the space between them with a tension that made her feel uneasy.
“How ‘bout a drink?” he said quickly and with a raised eyebrow that caught Lydia off guard.
“Oh, we don’t serve…oh,” realizing her mistake, Lydia bit her lip and bowed her head in embarrassment. She shook her head slightly and thanked him for the invitation but time was getting on now and tomorrow was an early open for her. Perhaps next time, she told him.   
Mr Crowley felt disappointed and made sure his face expressed as much.
“So much for a celebration, eh,” he sighed as he tossed his napkin onto the table like a heartbroken fool. 
Lydia glanced at the remaining two dinner guests at her other station. They were finishing their apple crumb cake and sipping the last bit of lukewarm tea from their cups.  Once they’d settled their bill, her shift would be over and she’d be free to walk home in the rain alone, make herself a cold deviled ham sandwich for dinner and listen to the leaky faucet in her kitchen as it dripped into the dirty aluminum basin. 
Lydia, having a knack for feeling guilty and being a bit lonely herself, reluctantly agreed to join Mr Crowley for one celebratory drink. “Just one” she repeated emphatically as she slid on her navy blue slicker and walked along side of him down Pearce Street back towards Connelly Square. The rain had begun to pour down harder than earlier and conversation became tricky as Mr Crowley, in the oddest of fashions, felt the need to jump over every puddle that had formed on the pavement. As they approached the dark brownstone building, Lydia felt an uneasiness swelling in her stomach. She hadn’t realized Mr Crowley’s intention was to have drinks in the privacy of what she could only assume was his home.
Lydia’s nervousness somehow surfaced as an apology for assuming they’d be having their brief celebration in a local pub. A local pub with large swarms of people and background noise and numerous opportunities for quick exits if need be.  Mr Crowley’s palms felt sweaty as he stood at the front steps of his building and watched Lydia retreat a few paces from him. Thinking quickly and careful not to panic, Mr Crowley summoned a somber tone and sighed deeply.
“I’m sorry, it’s just…with the illness and all, I haven’t really been out much, never knowing how I would feel and all,” Mr Crowley said in a timid voice. Looking at his shoes and shrugging his shoulders with dismay, he continued, “I’m just more comfortable in less public settings I suppose.  It’s okay, really. I’ll just celebrate alone then. I understand if you don’t want to.” He turned his back to her slowly and mounted the second step.
What a terribly lonely thing to do on such a night, thought Lydia. She imagined him sitting alone in his dark apartment, drinking a snifter of whiskey at an old wood table in his kitchen, and congratulating himself for beating such a nasty ailment, whichever one it was. Lydia felt awful for making such a rude remark and for forcing this poor man to admit to the fears and limitations his condition had imposed on him.
“No, no. I’m sorry, forgive my rudeness. One drink. I suppose I can come in for one drink to celebrate,” and Lydia followed Mr Crowley up the steps and through the door to his apartment. 
Inside the one room flat, the air was musty and dank despite the chilly temperature. Lydia hovered in the doorway as Mr Crowley crossed the room and flicked on a glass lamp that adorned the side table just adjacent to the couch.  It glowed in amber against a deep green sofa with sunken cushions and worn armrests. A bed pillow rested on the far end of the sofa along with a folded up blanket, and the idea of having conversation while sitting on Mr Crowley’s sleeping quarters seemed dubious, she thought, as he encouraged her again and again to come in and sit down.
Mr Crowley poured two glasses of port and handed one to Lydia. She smiled and tipped her glass to his, bidding him good health. He grinned and nodded back in agreement and then took a long overdue sip. Lydia was hoping to quickly finish her drink while standing near the door, her slicker still wet and dripping little pools of rainwater onto the dirty carpet. But Mr Crowley insisted she take a seat and he hurriedly, and without permission, shimmied her coat off from behind and tossed it onto a kitchen stool so it could dry for a few minutes or hours.
Lydia perched herself on the edge of the sofa cushion, unable to shake the nervousness and chill of the evening from her posture.  She held her glass firmly in her hands as her eyes darted throughout the room, searching for a plant or receptacle to empty its contents into when he wasn’t looking.  Mr Crowley took a seat next to Lydia and let his leg rest snuggly against hers while his fingers walked up and down the hem of her uniform. He winked in response to Lydia’s startling and took another big swig from his glass as he became acutely aware of the rustling sound her nylons made on his pantleg.  There was something so exciting, he thought, about the warm tingle of a stranger’s fleshiness. 
As Mr Crowley pressed closer, Lydia could begin to feel his warm breath on her skin. The earlier evening had her wanting to be courteous and kindly, but the stink of his breath nearing her face had perpetuated a queasiness in her bowels, and she began to shiver as she mustered the courage to say goodnight.
“I’m sorry, but I have to go now,” Lydia said with a quickness as she arose from her seat and shook off Mr Crowley’s fingers from her hosiery. He stood with her almost in unison and softened his voice.
“Oh, but you just got here. Stay. You must stay,” insisted Mr Crowley.  “It’s still raining outside and your coat couldn’t possibly be dry yet.  Are you chilly?” he asked as his eyes scanned the goosebumps up and down her arms. “I can give you a sweater, here.” He took her glass and finished the port himself before clunking it down onto the table. He then grabbed her elbow and escorted her to a closet next to the door.
“Really, Mr Crowley, I don’t want a sweater. I just want to go,” Lydia said, trying not to plead with him but sounding a bit desperate as she began to wriggle her arm from his grip. 
When Mr Crowley opened the closet door, Lydia exhaled an audible sigh of relief. She’d been expecting to see some kind of torture device, like a noose or a burlap bag that he could easy place over her head so she wouldn’t see what was coming next or, perhaps even, dead bodies hanging alongside his grey flannel sweaters and neatly pressed dark trench coats.  Instead, and to her surprise, she was greeted by a burst of colorful blouses and cardigans. Lovely floral dresses made of satin or chiffon, not unlike what one might expect to see on display in the windows of the lady shops in town.
“Here you are,” Mr Crowley said with a smile and an excitement in his voice as he flicked through the hangers and settled on a yellow cashmere sweater with gold buttons. “This one’s my favorite.” 
Lydia paused with her mouth slightly open, uncertain of exactly what to say to such an offering. It had never occurred to her before now that Mr Crowley could possibly have a wife or girlfriend or anyone other than a mother, for that matter. He had always come in to eat supper alone and had never even spoken to anyone very much with the exception of tonight, of course.
Lydia began to sob at the mere thought of Mr Crowley’s intentions. Her mind flooded with horrifying images of his cold hands dressing her in his favorite clothing. How he’d demand that she parade around the flat for him, his fingers running the length of her nylons. He’d force her to perform sexual favors as he called her some other woman’s name, and then finally he’d have his way with her on the dirty sofa as he breathed down her neck with the smell of warm port. 
“I don’t want to wear this, Mr Crowley, I just want to go,” Lydia said with a whimper.
It was in this moment that Mr Crowley seemed strangely unaware that Lydia had spoken. His hand had begun running up and down a floral silk scarf that hung around a pleated red blouse, and he seemed mesmerized, almost entranced, by the feel of it.  “It feels so good,” he said with his eyes closed, “when I slide this across my bare skin.” He slid the scarf off its hanger and began rubbing it over his face, across his cheeks and mouth, then down his neck. He let out a quiet moan as his hands traveled with the scarf down his frontside, and he seemed quite overcome by its silkiness and the thought of freeing himself from his constricting trousers.
The sudden clatter of the front door snapped Mr Crowley from his enjoyment and he opened his eyes to find that Lydia was gone. He could hear her thumping down the staircase, her cry echoing through the hall, as she headed for the street where she would most surely run all the way home in the rain and then cry herself to sleep in an empty bed. 
Without hesitation, Mr Crowley closed the front door and turned the lock.  He grabbed her glass from the table and gave it a healthy refill. He then went to the kitchen stool and pulled her rain slicker up to his face. Its fragrance was something of plastic and perfume as he inhaled deeply, and he was quickly able to dismiss the thoughts of her panties, as a rain slicker was something he hadn’t thought of before.
Mr Crowley walked over to a dresser and set down his glass and Lydia’s jacket. After removing his button down shirt, he unclasped his trousers and let them fall to the ground with his undershorts. Sliding his arms into the slicker, Mr Crowley admired the soft inner lining as it gently warmed his naked arms and thighs. He then opened a tiny dresser drawer and began to ease a pair of carefully chosen baby blue silk panties over his knees and into place, covering his crotch. How wonderful they felt between his inner thighs and against his buttocks as he walked to the closet to select a lovely pastel scarf, a nice complement to his coat, he thought as he marveled at his passing reflection in the mirror. 
Mr Crowley enjoyed the crinkle and swish of the slicker as he walked back into the kitchen and refreshed his drink. He turned on the small radio he kept on top of the refrigerator, making sure to keep the volume low so he could enjoy the patter of the rain falling outside. Humming along to the familiar tune, Mr Crowley checked his watch. It was only a quarter to eleven. Perhaps he might throw on his pants and head out for another evening stroll, he thought. It was, after all, one of his favorite things to do on an occasion such as this. He imagined it wouldn’t be too crowded what with the rain and the time of night and all. And he needed to find a new café to eat supper at tomorrow, that much was certain. 

Short Fiction
2013-14

UntitledUntitled

Painting / Illustration
2013-14

Just A ReminderJust A Reminder

Kikka really hated the cold mornings of Sapphino, where the temperatures dropped to negatives and the only way to survive it comfortably was to wear multiple layers. Or in her case, bundle herself in multiple layers and cocoon herself with all of the blankets and scraps of clothing she could find. Now all she wanted to do was sleep and wait for the weather to improve a little bit, or at least wait until it reached a nice zero degrees before leaving the safety of her cocoon. But her brother had different plans.
“Rise and shine!” His obnoxious voice sang towards her bundled head.
She didn’t respond. Maybe if she pretended to be dead he would grow bored and leave her alone? That worked for opossums.
“Come on, I know you are under there.  You don’t want to waste the morning away now, do you?”
Actually, she did.
“Don’t you want to hear the weather forecast for the day?”
Kikka knew there was no way to get rid of him now. “Let me guess, rain, followed by fog, followed by more rain, and then snow. Oh and did I mention rain?”
She could hear him laugh. “That’s where you’re wrong. It’s actually SUNNY out.”
“Sam, you’re delusional. Go back to bed since it’s obvious you’re still dreaming. Actually, let me go back to dreaming too.”
“I’m not dreaming, Kik. It’s out there. I’ll prove it to you!”
“Because I can obviously see it…”
“You don’t need to see it to feel it.”
“What are you going on ab—” She broke off as her blankets were suddenly lifted off of her and she was left in the frozen cold. “My cocoon!”
“You don’t need that anymore, not when you have sunshine.” Sam then swept her up before she could protest further and dragged her outside. “So what do you notice?”
“It’s dark.” That wasn’t new though; her world was always dark now.
“Just try, Kikka? Please?”
She sighed and actually tried to focus, but it would have been easier if she knew what she was supposed to be focusing on. All she could focus on was the fact that her whole body was freezing…wait, not her whole body: a single patch of skin on the back of her hand was actually warming up. Puzzled, she traced over the area. “Is that…a patch of sunlight?”
“Yes!” Sam’s tone was brimming with excitement “And there’s more of that.” He moved her over to a giant patch of sunlight, putting her carefully onto her feet. Kikka tilted her head up to the sky and spread her arms out wide, trying to absorb the sunlight.
“What’cha doing, Kik?”
“Can’t you see? I’m photosynthesizing.” Sam just laughed. Kikka just couldn’t get enough of the sunlight; true it was nowhere near as warm as her home country’s but she doubted that she’d ever get to feel that sunlight again. She’d actually didn’t think she’d ever feel the sun again.
Rubians always had a strong connection with sunlight and warmth; they were the country known for its roaring fires and the dauntless people who tried to control it. Sapphino was its polar opposite in every way, loving its rains and appreciating the strength of the tides above all. She and Sam were probably the only ones in this country homesick for the sun.
“How long has it been? Since you been out in the sun?” Sam actually sounded serious, which was unusual. He did his best to avoid sounding serious.
“…Since the last time I saw you?”
“That’s almost three years.”
Kikka shrugged. It’d actually felt longer; it felt like she had been stuck in those hostage camps forever and that she was still being tormented about her unusual orange eyes. The place still haunted her dreams. ‘Your eyes are useless.’ The villain of her nightmares would remind her. ‘They lie. Eyes so vivid should hold magic but yours holds none. Completely useless they are. So why not just make them reflect their uselessness?’ But she didn’t want to think about that any further. She was blind but she was safe. Sam had saved her and they were a family again. She didn’t want to remember the past; she just wanted to enjoy the sunlight while she had the chance.
“You know, it feels like it’s been three years since you smiled.”
“Mmhmm.” She wasn’t quite sure what he said. The sunlight was just too intoxicating for her to pay attention to his jabber.
“It’s weird. So much has changed in three years. Sometimes if feels like the whole world has forgotten how to laugh or smile.”
“I feel like I’m the only one who really remembers how,” Sam gave a weak laugh and looked up to the sky, admiring its beauty the way his sister couldn’t anymore. “Makes me feel like I have to try to remind them.”
“Remind?” Shoot, was she suppose to have reminded him of something? Think, what could have Sam forgotten.
“Would you help me?”
“Of course.” Help him? What could he need help with? Laundry? It had to be laundry, he was still a guy. “Just tell me when you want it done by?”
“Wait? Done by? Hey are you even listening to me?”
“Of course I am.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Well you should.” She turned her attention back to the sunlight. 
Sam smiled wickedly, deciding to have some fun. “By the way, Kikka, good news and bad news. The Tyrant finally got overthrown!”
“Great.”
“Down side is that he was overthrown by giant, pink bunnies so they’ll be our Overlords instead.”
“Bunnies?” Now what he talking about?
“But don’t worry! I made us pink bunny costumes that will help us blend in and survive the takeover.”
“Great—Wait, what?! Sam, what are you going on about?”
“I knew it, you weren’t listening to me!” Sam waved his hands dramatically, not caring that his sister couldn’t see them. “Poor, poor me. Forever ignored by my baby sister.”
Kikka reached towards her brother, following the sound of his stupidity, and grabbed him by his shirt sleeve and pulled him into the circle. “Just shut up, drama queen, and enjoy the sun while it lasts.”
Sam looked up at the sky, noticing the rain clouds move closer and closer over the horizon. “Yeah... While it lasts.”
They didn’t get to enjoy the sunlight for long before the rain clouds finally moved over the sun.  “What?” Kikka complained, then whined when she felt an all too familiar raindrop. “I’m done. I’m ready to go back under my cocoon.”
“Not so fast, you have to get used to the rain too, life’s not just all sunshine. Plus it’s just a drizzle. You’ll live.”
“No, I’m going to freeze to death.”
“Who’s being the drama queen now?”
Kikka growled and tried to tug Sam towards the direction she thought was home, but he wouldn’t budge. “Come on, Kik. We’re low on food anyway and it’s about time I showed you how to forage around here.”
She didn’t want to go so he had to drag her for the first couple of feet before she finally complied with him. “Having a blind forager sounds like a bad idea.”
“Nonsense, just look at bats. They’re completely blind and they still do a mighty fine job of hunting. I’m sure with some training you’ll be just as awesome as a bat and that you’ll be able to notice things that I won’t.” Kikka didn’t believe him.
They spent the next hour learning; Sam, learning how to teach the blind, and Kikka, learning how to grow frustrated with Sam. It was difficult, attempting to explain edible versus poisonous plants to someone.
“Is this alright?” Kikka said, grabbing some small berries that felt like blueberries.
“Ahh! Only if you are trying to kill me! That’s nightshade and you don’t ever want to digest that sucker.”
Kikka angrily threw the berries onto the floor. “How the hell am I supposed to tell the difference?”
Sam grabbed her hands and led her to the plant. “First check the plant out.” He made her fingers trace up and down the plant stem and the shape of the leaves and how many leaves where on each stem. “Memorize its shape and texture.  Now smell it.” Kikka complied and her nose wrinkled in disgust as she caught the waft of the noxious aroma. “If it doesn’t smell good, it’s usually safe to assume that you don’t eat it.”
“What made you such a poison expert?” She grumbled. As far as she knew, Sam had always been just as clueless about wildlife as she was.
“Easy. I’m marrying one.”
“What?!”
Sam laughed and rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. “Well, I’m going to marry her someday. I proposed and everything, but I promised her I get her a ring once I came back to her. She’s a little paranoid, thinking that I’m going to die on her.”
Kikka played with the leaves of one of the nonpoisonous plants. “How long have you known her?”
“Almost three years.”
“When did you last see her?”
“A little…a little bit before I was reunited with you.”
She tore the leaves off, one by one. “So I’m holding you back from having a life.”
“I don’t see it that way.”
“Then how do you see it?” She tried and failed to keep the hurt out of her voice. “Just admit it; I’m a burden to you.”
“No! You’re not a burden. You have no idea how great it is to have you back, even if you’re…”
“Blind now?”
“Look, this war messed everyone up. No one’s whole anymore. I’m just trying to teach you how to—“
“Survive?”
“No, I’m trying to teach you how to LIVE again.”
“I don’t think that’s possible.” She muttered bitterly, going back to destroying the leaves. “We can’t live in a world that’s already dead.”
“That’s where you’re wrong again, Kik. The world’s not dead, it’s just sleeping.” Sam knelt down next to her and pried her hands away from hurting the bush anymore. “We just need to start waking it up.”
“How do you intend to do that?”
“By laughing.” And he did laugh, long and loud, but his sister refused to join in.
“How can laughing solve anything?” Kikka growled and tore her hands away from him. “Stop being an idiot and grow up, Sam.”
She would never see the hurt that her words caused him, it was there for a second and then gone. “Growing up and being sane is overrated. It’s more fun to still be a kid at heart. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to keep you safe.”
“What if I don’t want you to keep me safe? What if I want to take care of myself?”
“Then I’ll continue what I’m doing and take care of you.”
“Fine, then how do I know if a place is safe?” This was something that concerned her. She and Sam were safe for now in the cabin they’d found, away from the thieves in the cities and the Tyrant’s soldiers, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t still the threat of barbarians or worse.
“Just listen to the forest.” She did as he said. “Can’t you hear the life buzzing around it? The animals are saying ‘hello world! Everything is just fine and dandy here.’”  Kikka rolled her eyes.
“What do you hear?”
Her brows furrowed in concentration. “Birds singing? No, it’s more chirping.” She heard rustling in the tree above her a craned her neck upwards. “Movement? I guess a squirrel?”
“Good, really good. Now if something was wrong then there would be either silence, or you’d hear things that don’t belong in the forest like…” Sam took out his metal bo staff and hit it hard against the tree. “Metal cracking into something. People talking. Screams. Anything.”
Kikka listened even closer, glad to not hear any other sign of human life. But the more she listened, the more it sounded like the forest was starting to fall asleep. “What does it mean if it’s silent?”
“Depends on how silent it is.”
“Dead silent.”
Sam stiffened up and listened closely, brows furrowing as he noticed just how quiet the forest had become. He quickly grabbed Kikka and scanned the forest, noticing a big hollow in one of the pine trees that could easily hide a person. Ignoring her complaints, he shoved her in it.
“Sam—“
“Shhh. It’ll be okay, Kikka. Just sit tight, okay?”
“But, Sam, what is it? I thought there were no signs of other people.” Sam refused to answer her. “Sam?”
“Wraiths. It’s probably wraiths.”
Wraiths. Humans experimented on to be the perfect killing machine and loyal puppets to the Tyrant who started the war. Their deadliest weapon was the lethal barbs on their finger nails. These creatures were almost perfect in every way, except for their hearing. These creatures were mostly deaf.
“Sam—”
“Shhh, it’s okay.”
“But, Sam, if we still have time we should run.”
“If we run now than we could lead them back home. I’ll handle this, Kikka.”
“What use are you against their poison?”
“I told you, my future wife is a poison expert. That means she’s good with antidotes too, so I have plenty of them on me. I’ll be fine. I promise.”
“Then just let me come with you.”
“You’ll be safer here.”
“In a tree hollow?”
“Of course. Squirrels trust this place to hide their acorns, so it has to be the safest place in the forest.”
“Sam—”
“Just stay here, okay?”  Kikka didn’t get the chance to argue before she heard his footsteps thudding away from her.
She waited, heart pounding and switching back and forth from sweating to shivering like crazy; waiting for any kind of sound to tell her if Sam was okay. At first there was nothing, but then she heard an agonizing scream that was clearly human.
‘Sam!’  She threw herself out of the hollow, landing flat on her face but ignoring the pain; her top priority was Sam. She flipped herself over and up onto her feet, and reached inside of her pocket and pulled out a wooden cylinder. She felt for the switch on the side and felt it expand to its true shape—a six foot bo staff. Clenching it tight, she angled it ahead of her so that she wouldn’t run straight into a tree or a Wraith, and she ran, following the scream.
“Sam!”
“Kikka? What are you doing? I thought I told you to stay in the hollow?”
“I’m not an acorn, Sam, I don’t belong in a squirrel’s hollow!” She paused quickly to take a breath.  “I was scared and heard you screaming.”
“That wasn’t me that was a Wr—”Sam didn’t have time to finish as a Wraith lunged at Kikka’s side.
It tore her shirt sleeve, trying to break the skin underneath but the material was too durable from that. Adrenal coursing through her, Kikka took a step back and swung in the Wraith’s direction, madly swinging the weapon back and forth until she could feel in connect with the creature’s body and made the bones crack. She didn’t trust the creature to stay down from just a single hit so she hit it repeatedly, even as it fell to the ground. She didn’t stop striking the creature until she felt it give one last shiver of a breath underneath her foot and died. There was no time to celebrate, she could hear Sam fighting more off in the distance.
Sam as usual was more confident than her and wasn’t taking things seriously again. “Hey, Kik? Think these Wraiths ever get cold? I mean, all they have to wear are those frayed robes.”
“Sam, are you really going on about this NOW?”
“I think I should be nice and warm them up.” Sam’s eyes suddenly shifted from black to blue and his staff glowed just before releasing a giant stream of blue flames, which ignited the Wraith’s robes. “You messed with the wrong siblings. You don’t mess with people from Rubia, we’re known as ‘People of the Flames’ for a reason.”
The Wraiths let out a horrible but very human scream as they were scorched; the light drizzle hindered Sam’s flames from complete incineration. Their screams convinced the siblings that they had never encountered a Rubian in this land before, based on the shock involved with their screams. But the screams were too human and made Kikka’s knees feel weak. They were easier to fight and kill when you overlooked the fact that they were once human, but now she couldn’t forget the fact. She felt like puking just at the thought that she actually killed another person. While she was distracted, one of the Wraiths tried to have one last hit before it went down and flung itself at Kikka and pulled her down by the arm.
“Kikka!” Before the Wraith had the chance to slit his sister’s throat, Sam came behind it and impaled it through the head then kicked its corpse aside, next to the body of its brethren. “Kikka?” He swept his sister up and gave her a look over.
“Sam? Are they…are they all dead?”
Sam nodded before remembering that she couldn’t see him. “All dead. I made sure of it. Now can you tell me if those things touched you at all?”
“My arm?” Sam looked at her arm and cursed. “What’s wrong?”
“It nicked you. Pretty good too.” He traced a long cut underneath her arm.
Kikka shivered. This was it; she was finally going to die. “How long do I have? A couple of minutes? Hours?”
“Your entire lifetime. You aren’t dying today. I have the antidote, remember?”
Kikka relaxed, but as she did she realized that she was wet. “Sam? Are you bleeding? Wait, did they get you too?”
“Just a wee bit, but I’ll bounce back in no time. There’s enough antidote for the both of us.” He carefully set her down on a fallen log, and then searched his pockets for the antidote. He was silent for a while and Kikka couldn’t hear anymore shuffling in his pockets.
“Sam? Is everything okay?”
“Just peachy, Kikky. I’m just grabbing a separate bottle for you.” He reached inside of his pocket again, grabbing another bottle. “Here one for you and one for me.” He handed her the one with the antidote still in it.
“I propose a toast. To my darling sister, for taking on her first Wraith. May the rest of your life be filled with adventure, happiness and avoiding death.” He clanked his bottle next to hers, his bottle giving an more hollow ring to it. “Cheers.”
“Cheers.”  Kikka drank the antidote in a single swig as Sam watched her. The antidote burned down her throat, making her cough. “S-strong.” She noticed that Sam didn’t make any sounds. “Are you that use to it? Does it not bother you anymore?”
“No. You never get use to that stuff.” His voice was more subdued than usual. “I still gag whenever I have to take it.”
“Then why didn’t you this time?” Her stomach started to sink, already knowing what he was going to say.
“Because I didn’t take it.”
“No!” She threw her empty bottle as far as she could, hearing it shatter to the ground. The bottle was broken and completely useless now, just like she was. “You idiot, why didn’t you take it!”
“Because there was only enough left for one of us.”
Kikka was crying, lungs heaving for air even though she willed them to stop breathing. “Why? Why would you do that? You should have saved yourself. You never should have given it to me. Never. You’re an idiot, Sam. You always were and you always will be.”
Sam laughed softly. “Then at least I’ll still be dying as myself.”
“Shut up.” She hissed. “I hate you. You’re a liar. You said that you would be okay. You said that there was enough for the both of us. You lied. You keep lying. I hate you. I hate you!”
“You don’t mean that.”
She didn’t. She could never hate him, but she wanted to so badly. “You lied. You told me that we’d be a family again. You said you wouldn’t leave me.”
“And I’m not. I’ll be with you ‘til the very end.” Sam hugged her, even as she struggled against him.
“I’m not going to make it on my own.”
“Yes you will. You took on a Wraith by yourself. You’ve survived without me for three whole years, you can last the rest of your life without me.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Please? You have to live for the both of us now.”
That killed her. “I don’t know how…”
“Well three things are important. First, you can’t stay in that cabin anymore. You need to find my future wife. Her name is Isabella Donna. If you follow the river downstream for a week then you’ll find her.”
“A week?”
“Yeah, that’s why I never got the chance to see her.” Sam tried not to look sad; even though his sister couldn’t see him it didn’t stop him from keeping his happy façade. He refused to let regret seep into his words. “The next parts are going to be harder. This place is a lot more dangerous than I’ve been letting on and I can’t shield you from it anymore.  You have to do whatever it takes for you to disguise yourself; a girl on her own during these times will bring unwanted attention. Your life will be easier if the world thinks you’re a guy. And remember, don’t let on that you’re blind.”
“That’s going to be hard.”
“Being a guy? It won’t. You already act like one.”
“Shut up, I meant not being blind.”
“You also don’t act like you are. I keep forgetting that you are. Just be confident and pretend you know what you’re doing. And try not to walk into any walls.” He laughed. “On second thought, if you do just blame it on being a klutz. That won’t be too hard either.”
“Thanks, Sam…” She clenched her jaw and fought back angry tears. She didn’t like hearing this. She didn’t want to hear this.
“Kikka? Can you do one last thing for me?”
“What is Sam?” Kikka drew the words out slowly, like it was too painful to say them.
“Live.”
“Live? I thought we went over this.”
“I want you to smile when you want to, laugh when you find something funny, and not be afraid to trust someone or fall in love. I want you to live each day like it’s your last, but not worry about your mortality. I want you to laugh.”
“I don’t think I can ever laugh again.” She admitted. “Not once I lose you.”
“Then at least try.”
They were silent for a while, the only sounds were them inhaling and exhaling, Sam’s breaths becoming more and more laborious until it was just pure panting. Soon he couldn’t stand anymore so he sat down on the ground next to Kikka. After a couple of minutes, she slipped down next to him.
“Are you scared?”
“Of dying? Nah. I still think chickens are much more intimidating.”
“Be serious.”
“I am. Have you ever looked into their eyes? They’re deep, soulless things that scream ‘I will eat you’! Or did you notice their beaks and talons? They’re meant to rip people apart. And don’t even get me started on the weird red things on their head!”
“Please, Sam.”
Sam sighed. “I’m not afraid of dying, really. It’s a part of life and I’ve already seen enough of it. The only thing I’m afraid of is…being forgotten.”
Kikka hugged him, tight as she could like hugging him could prevent him from dying. “I’ll never forget you, and I’ll make sure the world doesn’t either.”
“Didn’t you say the world was dead?”
“Nonesense,” She said seriously. “It’s just sleeping.”
Sam smiled and laughed. “That’s my Kik.”
They stayed there, just hugging one another in silence until Sam broke it again. “Kikka? Can you do me a favor?”
“What?”
“There’s one other thing I’m afraid of. You know, besides chickens.” He closed his eyes. “I don’t want to die like everyone else. Feeling miserable and regretting my decision. I want to enjoy every last second of my life. I want to die happy. I want to die laughing.”
“Then go ahead. Laugh.”
“That’s the thing; I think I’ve forgotten how. Or as I get closer then I’ll definitely forget, and I’ll die trying to remember. I need you to remind me. I need you to laugh with me.”
“But, Sam—”
“Please?”
“…fine, but I might be bad at it.”
“It’s okay. But it’ll be our last laugh together so we might as well enjoy it.” He gave a weak laugh.
Kikka paused, forcing herself to have the urge to laugh and then she did. ‘For, Sam. Laugh at him for all the things he did for you. Laugh for all the times he’s made himself a fool for you. Laugh for all the times he’s saved you. Laugh, you heartless coward. Laugh because you get to live while he dies.’
Her laughter slowly rose, gaining more and more volume, until it blended perfectly with Sam’s. They laughed and sounded just like they were little kids again. The world was still alive and so were their parents. They were back in Rubia, inside their home that glowed scarlet when the sun hit it just right. Where every day was sunny and the air tasted like cinnamon because of all of the spice bushes they had. Where parents didn’t have to die for their children, kids weren’t kidnapped to be soldiers, and brothers didn’t have to make the hard call between living and dying. But they could only live in the past for so long. Sam’s laughs were growing weaker, so Kikka made up for it by laughing louder, her laugh tinged with hysteria. She would laugh for the both of them. She would live for the both of them. They continued to laugh until Kikka was the only one left laughing.
‘I’ll remind the world. I promise. I’ll continue to laugh in your place.’

Short Fiction
2013-14

MetamorphosisMetamorphosis

Looking into the reflective space,
I see this beauty is displaced.
They say I’m not “man enough”.
I don’t stick around when things get tough.
They are right, but also wrong.
A man! I do not belong.
However, I stick around for those I love.
From the day when my dad gave me a glove,
I knew that the mitt would never fit.
Being male is something I’d quit,
Being a woman is my dream.
No matter how far-out it may seem,
This is my everyday reality.
My patriarchs question the morality
Of being transgender.
I always was a rule-bender.
But only I can choose a path.
My only request is that I don’t feel the wrath
That transitioning may bring.
I just want to hear the angelic choirs sing,
Welcoming me to womanhood.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2013-14

UntitledUntitled

Painting / Illustration
2013-14

BoardwalkBoardwalk

Photography
2013-14

Saving YourselfSaving Yourself

You grow bitter with age. Each year, a larger part of you frays away, like the shedding of skin, and it’s so subtle that it goes unnoticed.

You begin as fresh as a rising sun. You are three years young, full of giggles and scraped elbows, toddling along with the vague familiarity of living. You dance of your dad’s toes and ride down the five-foot-slide in your back yard. Life is a crumpled bunch of forgotten yesterday’s that blur to this very moment.
       
Time has shifted, but you’re much too busy to take notice. Growing up is a tenuous task. Valentine’s Day passed and you gave out cards to every person in your first grade class. The boy with the round blue eyes tried to hold your hand. You’ve not any time to think about boys, or anything really, for being young is much too momentous in the scheme of things. You’re learning to read and how not to spill your cereal all over the table. You wear your brand new pair of bright red sneakers with your blonde hair loosely in pigtails. On your sixth birthday, you grin as you blow out your sparkly candles, one tooth missing, your mom holding your baby brother on her lap. Everyone is awake.
       
Summer is dawning – the flowers in your front yard are sprouting almost as fast as your legs. The night sky is as clear as it always was, the air as warm as it always should be. You lay where your old slide once sat, now a square patch of dead grass, and watch the amiable stars stay happily in their place. Next door, you hear your best friend arrive home. She’s curly-haired and bright-eyed and wears a lot of plastic rings on her tiny fingers. You wonder why your dad hasn’t been at dinner lately or why your mom takes so many naps. “I’ll always be here for you,” you tell your little brother, freshly five, as he drifts off to sleep. You’ve been alive for almost a decade – don’t you have it all figured out by now?

Life begins to unfold before your innocent eyes. The world is muddled, like a swamp, a spherical blur of smudges and fog. You tuck your long honey hair behind your ear and let out a long breath. Tears well in your chocolaty brown eyes as you stare at your reflection, a shaking hand covering the imperfections of your stomach. You hear your mom and dad fighting in the kitchen - their words vile and cruel. Barely thirteen, and you’re already worried, wishing you could still fit on the tips of your dad’s toes. Metal braces line your teeth, tight jeans slim your legs, black mascara coats your lashes. Who are you? You want to answer, but you simply can’t find the words upon your tongue.
       
It’s your sixteenth February, and you’re so busy trying to be happy that you don’t even see the calendar deteriorate. You keep yourself busy as you grow inwards, like the roots of a tree. You don’t give any valentines, though the blue-eyed-boy still smiles at you when you pass in the hall. Waking up in the morning is becoming unbearable, for sleeping proves a much easier task than being fully ‘here’. With hair chopped short and self-esteem diminished, you don’t recognize yourself. And so, you down your very first shot of vodka and chase it with dusty memories, and chase the next with nothing at all.

Staring in an old photo album, shivers rake through your tired body. Six-year-old you stares back - smile goofy, eyes bright, posing in your old red sneakers. You can’t remember being her. You sit, numb and alone, in your college dorm, listening to your ex-boyfriend’s favorite song. It turned out that the blue-eyed-boy wasn’t interested in you so much as the curve of your hips and the length of your legs. The phone rings beside you, an irritating shrill. It’s your not-so-little brother on the other line, his voice being deeper than you remembered. “Mom’s on her fifth glass of wine,” he tells you. “Dad just bought a new apartment in the city. Things are okay, I guess, but I wish you were here.” Something inside of you snaps as you realize you aren’t there for him like you promised. You have stretched your body like a rubber band, prodded it like cork, and left it in tatters.

The sky is dark - a canvas of navy and speckled light. The aroma of sand and salty water fills your lungs. You lay on a crimson blanket, soft and light, hugging your from underneath. Your fiancé sits beside you, tracing circles in your palm, and life suddenly seems much less clamorous. He proposed to you hours before in the silence of the nighttime. Three years ago, you were ready to let yourself go, until a brown-haired-boy offered you his coat in the pouring rain. Hundreds of kisses later, you’re lighter than air, and you don’t remember exactly how you became so sad. Your brother graduates high school this Spring. Mom began getting up in the mornings - she’s been sober for eleven months. Dad has a new girlfriend that is just as kind as he is. You ran into your best friend last year at a concert. She stills wears a lot of rings and has a lot of freckles. You recently changed your major to Astronomy, in light of a new part of you that is just awakening from its slumber. Somehow, after all those years, you realized the one person that could save you was yourself.
       
You grow bitter with age and you also grow stronger. Each year, a larger part of you frays away, and an even larger part patches you back up. It all goes unnoticed, until one morning you wake up and realize that it isn’t so hard anymore. It all becomes worth it.  

Personal / Creative Essay
2013-14

A Changing WorldA Changing World

As a little girl

I thought my room was immense.
The ceiling so high

The wall design- a picket fence

My room was my sanctuary
My dolls I adored

So much to play with

No chance I'd be bored.

High school came quickly
Hours on the phone

In my room for privacy

I'd speak in low tone.

College went fast

I moved back in my room.
But something was different
It felt like a tomb.

My room was tiny

An odd transformation.
Everything shrunk!

A strange accusation.

As I walked outside

I thought I was deranged,
But then I realized

It was me who had changed.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2013-14

UntitledUntitled

Photography
2013-14

TransformationTransformation

We all start out as nothing; we all begin completely nonexistent to the whole world. There was once a time where no one knew that I as a person was going to exist, and the same goes for you. Then all of a sudden, we were all magically brought into this strange world one by one, and suddenly we were known by many, you existed. At the moment that you take your very first breath of air, you have finished the first of millions of transformations that will occur in your lifetime. You transformed from a mere nothing into a living and breathing human being, and now you are to go through the largest cycle imaginable that will change your appearance, feelings, knowledge, and more, this cycle is called life. 


Childhood, this is one of the most precious times in your life. This is the time where we go from crawling to walking, from listening to speaking, from watching to doing, and so on. As children, we grow everyday, always learn new words, meet new friends, and growing smarter and smarter. When we are young, is when we learn most of our life lessons. For example, I am sure we all learned not to touch a hot stove the hard way when we were younger, and probably many more silly things that we now know not to do. I think being a younger child is the best possible time, because ignorance is bliss and our thoughts have yet to be altered by society. We are going through so many changes, however, none of us realized it at the time. For example, were not concerned about how "unattractive" we looked when we would lose a tooth, or constantly worry if we "gained 5 pounds." As kids, we believed that as long as we were happy with ourselves everything with great, however our thoughts slowly begin to change as we grow older.


Teenage years, these are some of the best and some of the worst years of our lives. We have transformed greatly since childhood, and not always necessarily in a good way. We have stopped living to please ourselves and started to try to please others instead. All of our goals pretty much include trying to look like some Photoshopped celebrity, getting the boy/girl they like to go out with them, to not fail school, and to make ourselves look better than the person next to us. For teenagers, life revolves around "who is hot, and who is not." Society has given us images of "perfect" celebrities and has transformed our mindsets into believing that that is what we must all look like, so we transform ourselves. Girls load on makeup and spend hours on picking out their clothes so they can try to change their appearance into something you'd see on a magazine because that is what they believe they must do. However, if you think back 5 years ago, we were all as happy as can be without doing our hair or makeup and just wearing a T-shirt and jeans. No one can escape the media because it is everywhere that we look and society has sucked us all into their trap and has completely changed our mind sets. As teenagers our bodies have matured, our hearts have been broken, our mindsets have been changed, and our knowledge has increased. However once high school and collage are over, you are going to think back and realize that it never mattered what gossip some one started about you or how much you regret wearing those shoes with that shirt, the thing that is going to matter most is what you learned.  Knowledge sticks with you forever and it is the one thing that will help you most when you make the transformation into the next stage of your life, adulthood.


In elementary school they prepare you for middle school, in middle school they prepare you for high school, in high school they prepare you for collage, and in collage they prepare you for the real world, and now you are here. Once you turn 21, you start the first day of the rest of your life. You don't have guidance councilors to help you with your problems, you don't get a weekly syllabus to tell you what to do anymore, you are completely on your own. There is so much pressure on young adults today. You have to of course have fun, however you cannot have too much fun or else you will never be able to get a good job. You have to find your perfect match whom you will spend the rest of your life with however; you are not allowed to go from person to person without being judged. You have to find a house that you can start a family in, however it has to be within your budget. There are so many things to do with so little time to actually do it. Barley 10 years ago you had someone taking care of you, but now you have no one to rely on except yourself. So this is the real world, isn't it great?


You finally have figured out this whole adulthood thing. You now know how to pay taxes, cook, do laundry, clean, etc. However, it seems as if you are beginning to slow down, it seems as if you don't have the energy to do these everyday things that were once so easy to do. You have reached the last stage of you're life, your "golden years." You have stopped worrying about having the "cutest clothes" or how great your makeup looks, you now have only one concern, your own well being. Your body has transformed and you are now weak and frail. There was once a time where you could wake up and run around from dusk until dawn, now you can barely leave your bed. The older you get, the worse things become and suddenly, you transform back into nothing. You are dead.


Someday, when your life is flashing before your eyes, I hope you see no regrets. Everyone should be spontaneous, be forgiving, be able to always smile, and most of all be able to make yourself happy. In life, many things change, however it is up to you to take control and make the best of the changes. The world cannot change us unless we allow it to do so. The power of change is in our hands, use it to make yourself happy because in the end, who's left? You.

Personal / Creative Essay
2013-14

A Pretty Pink Princess SocietyA Pretty Pink Princess Society

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, lived a beautiful princess who was waiting for her handsome prince to come rescue her from her current life of cleaning, cooking, or looking after others to do the same exact thing, all the while being married to him. This is the main story that most fairytales are articulating to their audience who are mainly children. What do these kinds of stories teach young girls about life and themselves? The answer according to Peggy Orenstein, is that girls are taught they need to look pretty, "be saved by a prince, get married, and be taken care of for the rest of their lives" with the range of their capabilities ending at cooking, cleaning and taking care of others (Orenstein 23). Orenstein, mother and author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, decided to flip through a stack of drawings each child in her daughter's pre-school "class had made to complete the sentence ‘If I were a [blank], I'd [blank] to the store.' (One might say, for instance, "If I were a ball, I'd bounce to the store.") The boys had chosen to be a whole host of things: firemen, spiders, superheroes, puppies, tigers, birds, athletes, raisins. The girls fell into exactly four camps: princess, fairy, butterfly, and ballerina" (22). This shows how these fairytales make young girls have limited views on what they are capable of doing. "The boys seemed to be exploring the world; the girls were exploring femininity" (Orenstein 22).

The main outlet for young girls to view these fairytales in today's society is through the major corporation, Disney, and their feature films. These films highlight the fairytale regime through the famous Disney Princesses. By promoting and commercializing these Disney Princesses' ideals and their lives of helplessness, we are ruining the self-image and self-worth of millions of young girls in today's society.   

On the surface one could say how Disney Princesses are just an innocent pass-time for children, specifically young girls. Yet when we look at the Disney Princesses themselves we can see a much darker perspective. As Orenstein pointed out, even though "Mulan (the protofeminist young woman who poses as a boy to save China) and Pocahontas (an Indian chief's daughter) are officially part of the [princess] club, I defy you to find them in the stores. They were, until late 2009, the brownest-skinned princesses, as well as the ones with the least bling potential" (14). By this, she means that they couldn't make much money off of the merchandise corresponding with these movies as compared to the more girly princesses. The main princesses people tend to think of are Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, and Belle (Orenstein 14). The ideals of all of these more famous princesses are that a woman must be rescued by her prince in order to live a fulfilling life. Also, the merchandising of the Princess line "has not only become the fastest-growing brand the [Disney] company has ever created, it is the largest franchise on the planet for girls ages two to six" (Orenstein 14).

This concept of a Disney Princess take over is not as farfetched as some may be thinking. In the selection by Amy Davis, she quotes David Cohan who discovered that children are capable of learning ideas as complicated as gender roles at a very young age and he discussed how his son at two and half was able to distinguish between what's masculine and what's feminine (29). While the assigning of gender roles is taking place at a very early age, the result of this labeling becomes far worse as the child grows. There is "ample evidence" according to Orenstein, "that the more mainstream media girls consume, the more importance they place on being pretty and sexy. And a ream of studies shows that teenage girls and college students who hold conventional beliefs about femininity—especially those that emphasize beauty and pleasing behavior—are less ambitious and more likely to be depressed than their peers" (Orenstein 16). According to Marcia Lieberman, millions of women have determined what they are capable of accomplishing and what kind of behavior is worth a reward from their favorite fairy tales (Haase 3).

So, the ideals the Disney Princesses are instilling in young girls are nothing to turn a blind eye to. These girls are being deeply affected by the morals and concepts the princesses are displaying to them. This makes the world we live in very conflicting and confusing according to Donald Haase, because "today women are caught in a dialectic between the cultural status quo and the evolving feminist movement, between a need to preserve values and yet to accommodate changing mores, between romantic fantasies and contemporary realities" (Haase 5). Within that same mind-frame, the author Susan Douglass exclaims, "We can excel in school, play sports, go to college, aspire to— and get—jobs previously reserved for men, be working mothers, and so forth. But in exchange we must obsess about our faces, weight, breast size, clothing brands, decorating, perfectly calibrated child- rearing, about pleasing men and being envied by other women" (Orenstein 18). The grip that the Disney Princesses have on our society is strong and drastically affects both young girls and the modern women.

In today's world, according to Haase, "Cinderella, the Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White are mythic figures who have replaced the old Greek and Norse gods, goddesses, and heroes for most children" (Haase 1). This proves how influential the princesses are. If fairytales are so detrimental to young girls in our society, then why are they idealized? The answer is the everlasting appeal fairytales have. Fairy tales allow children to perceive and fantasize about where they belong in this world. In terms of human behavior, as a child grows older and starts to grasp a deeper understanding of the world, the effects of fairytales aren't as magical, because the child can find rational explanations for what's happening around them (Bettelheim 51). Bruno Bettelheim explains that "for these same reasons a child, as long as he is not sure his immediate human environment will protect him, needs to believe that superior power, such as a guardian angel," or a fairy godmother "watch over him, and that the world and his place within it are of paramount importance" (Bettelheim 52). Children use fairytales as a security blanket that protects them. Little do they know, by falling into the fairytale trap they are harming themselves in the process. Despite all of this, Davis says, "what does seem to be agreed upon by psychiatrists and psychologists studying the impact of media upon children, however, is that visual media have an influence on children (and on adults, for that matter) because film appeals to the sense of fantasy" everyone possesses (Davis 30). All of these components create the allure and prestigious value of fairytales, despite their destructive nature for children.

Princesses alter the self-worth and self-concepts of young girls, yet "parents cannot resist them. Princesses seem to have tapped into our unspoken, nonrational wishes. They may also assuage our fears. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty may be sources of comfort, of stability in a rapidly changing world" (Orenstein 24) "Princesses are uncomplicated, classic, something solid that we can understand and share with them, even if they are a bit problematic" (24). Through this perceived innocent pass-time parents are harming their children.

So placing the Disney Princess ideal upon today's young girls has more to do with the parent's need for supposed salvation of their child's innocence. In a discussion with a mother of a girl in Orenstein's daughter's class, she heard something that showed the effects of the Disney Princess ideals on even the parents. The mother told her that she also has a son and that they really focus on him being intelligent. She explained, "A reward for her [the daughter] is ‘You look so pretty, you look so beautiful' " while a reward for their son is "You're so smart" (20). The gender roles the Disney Princesses have assigned to girls and boys is even apparent in how adults treat their children. Not all of the gender associated roles that the children are acquiring, and even the parents, are the parents' fault. Alan Bryman explains that "Movie companies and toy firms are often accused of exploiting children and by implication their parents by creating too much merchandise or of using strategies that are aimed at manipulation children" (Bryman 98). Also, "when you're talking about 26,000 items (and that's just Disney) it's a little hard to say where ‘want' ends and ‘coercion' begins" (Orenstein 16). All of these things combined, from desire for innocence to the manipulation from companies, make parents think of fairytales and specifically the Disney Princess as alright for their children when in reality they are the opposite.

Poet Anne Sexton wrote many poems that were adaptations of original fairytales. In both her "Snow White" adaptation and her "Cinderella" adaptation, we can see the concepts that she is trying to accentuate to prove the horror of the Princess ideals. In "Snow White," Sexton commonly refers to the analogy for Snow White being a doll. When in her glass casket, she is referred to as "its doll's eyes shut forever" and again in the end at her wedding with her "rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut" (Sexton 4-5). This turns Snow White, who is a girl, into nothing but an object that can do nothing on its own. In her "Cinderella" piece, we can see even more of the objectification of the princess and also a twisted interpretation of the idea of "living happily ever after". When Cinderella puts on the glass slipper, Sexton writes, "This time Cinderella fit into the shoe like a love letter into its envelope" (13). This is a symbol for by fitting into a shoe she has sealed her fate of being the prince's wife and now that is all she can and will ever become. In the ending of her Cinderella poem, Sexton discusses and explains the concept of happily ever after and once again uses her analogy of the inanimate doll. She says, "Cinderella and the prince lived, they say, happily ever after, like two dolls in a museum case never bothered by diapers or dust, never arguing over the timing of an egg, never getting a middle-aged spread, their darling smiles pasted on for eternity" (Sexton 14). This challenges this idea that so many young girls today are wishing for. They want this so called "happily ever after," when in reality it doesn't exist.

Although this world of Disney Princesses and fairytales is now revealed as evil, manipulating, and extremely detrimental to how young girls everywhere view themselves and their role in society, there is still hope to change the Princess regime around. Haase states that "if women remember fairytales, consciously or unconsciously, they can reinterpret them as well. It is the possibility of such reinterpretation that gives hope that women can eventually free themselves from the bonds of fairy tale magic, magic that transforms positively at one age and negatively at another" (Haase 27).

Cathy Lynn Preston, however, shared how she feels a modern fairy tale should be in her "Once upon a time… (Offensive to frogs)" fairytale. Through her modern twist, Preston writes about a frog that hopped onto a princess' lap as she was contemplating ecological issues. He told her that he was once a prince and if she kissed him she could marry him and care for all of his needs for the rest of her life and be happy doing so. The fairytale then jumps to later that night when the princess is enjoying lightly sautéed frog legs (Haase 197). Through her parody of a traditional fairytale, she is describing the "world where princesses are independent and self-assured women who own their own property, cook meals to nurture themselves, use princes to satisfy their own desires, and contemplate the ecological possibility of a pollution-free environment" (Haase 198). This is obviously not the normal context of a fairytale but it proves her point that in modern society this is how a woman should view herself and her life.

The ideals of Disney Princess are extremely detrimental to young girls everywhere by altering their self-worth and self-purpose. Despite this, we can now understand the appeal as well as the insistence of parents to allow these princesses. We were able to see feminist approaches towards a more "modern" fairytale and can now see how young girls can escape from the grip of the Disney Princesses. In closing, we should all reflect upon "a time when their [young girls] character mattered more than their clothing, when a girl's actions were more important than how she looked or what she owned—a time before girlhood was consumed and defined by consumerism" resulting in a today's Pretty Pink Princess Society (Orenstein 30).

Works Cited

  • Bettelheim, Bruno. "The Child's Need for Magic." The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Knopf, 1976. 45-53. Print.
  • Bryman, Alan. "Merchandising." The Disneyization of Society. London: Sage, 2004. 98-100. Print.
  • Davis, Amy M. "Film as a Cultural Mirror." Good Girls and Wicked Witches: Women in Disney's Feature Animation. Eastleigh, U.K.: John Libbey Pub., 2006. 29-30. Print.
  • Haase, Donald. Fairy Tales and Feminism: New Approaches. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2004. 1-5, 27, 197-198. Print.
  • Orenstein, Peggy. "What's Wrong with Cinderella." Cinderella Ate My Daughter. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2011. Print.
  • Sexton, Anne, and Barbara Swan. Transformations. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971. Print.

Critical / Analytical Essay
2013-14

Muttering in the DistanceMuttering in the Distance

Me?


Are you talking to me?


Wow this is new. Umm I'm not used to introducing myself. My name is Kalynn. But most don’t get the chance to know that.


Why?


More questions, me oh my this is throwing me for a rope.


Well, you see that girl over there?


Yes that beautiful girl whose [beauty] has captured every soul in the room.  That's my best friend. We do everything together, go everywhere together. Were like 2 stars in the [ night sky, consolation] but as you can see she shine brighter . Everyone's eyes are fixated on her. [So much so I begin to fade into the background. In the distance and become nothing but a mutter

Ive been silent for so long I almost forgot I had an identity. It’s almost as if I became her full time shadows. Free of charge. Like a sidekick or flunky. A constant reason for the world to look at her first. she is better. Skinny. Softer.

I'm beautiful you say?


Kinda hard to tell these days when your left to fade In to background.

She alone makes me seem as if I don't exist. When approached by strangers they immediately look to her and while she tries to include me, she just doesn't try hate enough.

Ever been looked at second or maybe not even looked at all. Been seen but never heard because no one ever speaks to the lesser two evils.

Yes I do have a heart and thoughts and feelings. So the next time you blankly ignore me in an effort to talk to prettier girl, just remember that everything that glitter ain't gold.

Sure, her mocha skinned glistened in the sun. From head to toe, she’s damn near flawless. Her hair, always straightened the T, falls down back, stopping just above the crack of ass.  Her smile lights up any. And everything room she enters.


Little do you know there's darkness behind her smile.  Sin between her thighs.  she's  an angel in disguise. Hidden behind her wings were lies


In the end, I'd prefer to be the ugly friend. There's much less to hide.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2013-14

It’s ComplicatedIt’s Complicated

[A posh hotel room in the early evening. The curtains are already drawn and make-up and clothes are strewn about the room haphazardly. Five women sit around, talking casually. BRIDGET, around 23, sits in the centre of it all, wearing a tank top that brightly proclaims her “Bride 2 Be.” On the bed next to her are SOPHIE and MARIE who are roughly the same age as BRIDGET. On the other bed and a cot are DOROTHY and ANNA.]

ANNA: (with a sigh) I can’t believe my baby’s going to be married tomorrow….
BRIDGET: (rolling her eyes) How many times are you going to say that Mom?
Dorothy: Oh Anna, I know what you mean. They seem so young! Of course, I was younger than Bridget….I was only eighteen when I married Matt’s father.
ANNA: (thoughtfully) I was twenty.  Gosh it seems like so long ago!
DOROTHY: Doesn’t it? You know, I only ever dated George ….sometimes I wonder if we should have waited a bit longer, but then we were so in love….
MARIE: That’s so romantic! I wish I’d found a husband when I was eighteen.
BRIDGET: Well it’s a good thing I didn’t! It only took me what, ten tries to find a keeper?
SOPHIE: (rolling her eyes) Oh Marie, you’re a hopeless romantic. That stuff never works out…. (with a guilty look at DOROTHY) Well, maybe not never.
DOROTHY: (with a soft sigh) Well hun, it’s certainly never as easy as it seems in the fairy tales.
BRIDGET: Well I’m not looking for a fairy tale. I’m hardly a helpless princess.
SOPHIE: (with a snort) That’s for sure! You always seem to be the one wearing the pants.
MARIE: (teasingly) Yeah, watch out Matt!
[A gentle knock at the door disrupts the conversation.]
SOPHIE: Speak of the devil….
BRIDGET: (in a sing-song like voice) Come in!
MATTHEW: (Enters with a smile on his face. He walks swiftly over to BRIDGET and kisses her on the lips, before sitting down next to her)
ANNA:  (in a joking tone) Now, now. Save the kisses for tomorrow!
BRIDGET: (in a slightly embarrassed voice) Mom!
DOROTHY: Matthew, I take it you and the boys are all set for tomorrow?
MATTHEW: Mom!
SOPHIE: (giggles) You’d think they were going on a school trip.
BRIDGET: (slaps SOPHIE good-naturedly on the forearm)
SOPHIE: (jokingly) Ow!
BRIDGET: Matt, you have got your vows done, right?
SOPHIE (in a stage whisper to MARIE) What did I tell you about the pants?
MATTHEW: (with a grin) Actually, yeah. Obviously yours were done last month, although I suppose I’m not supposed to ask—double standards and all (he flashes BRIDGET a smile)
BRIDGET: Mhmm, that’s right, better get used to them!
MARIE: (to SOPHIE) You know, I’ve seen couples together for three times the time these two have known each other and they weren’t half as organized.
SOPHIE: (sighs) Ain’t it the truth. Wish my boyfriend could get his act together, I’d settle for a proper anniversary dinner.
MARIE (in a stage whisper): At least you have a boyfriend; I’m stuck with Bridget’s Great Uncle Jim as my “date.”
BRIDGET: (teasing) Well it’s not like you brought anyone else! Maybe you’ll hit it off!
MARIE: (grabs a perfectly plump pillow and whacks BRIDGET over the head with it, giggling) I hope you know you deserved that!
SOPHIE: Hey now, he’s getting better! He only called you Alice five times last night!
MARIE: Yeah but he spilled his wine on me twice!
BRIDGET: (with a snort) At least he didn’t puke this time.
MATTHEW: (rolls his eyes and, sarcastically) Honestly, you three are so cruel to dear old Uncle Jim.
BRIDGET: Oh right. So it was out of the goodness of your heart that you forgot to mail his invitation?
MATTHEW: (With an exaggerated air of offense) That was an accident!
BRIDAL PARTY: (in unison) Uhuhhhh
ANNA: You know, I’m going to pretend I can’t hear you talking about Jimmy like that!
BRIDGET: Mom, you tried to tell him we weren’t having Thanksgiving last year!
DOROTHY: (with a gasp and slightly shocked expression) Anna, you didn’t?!
ANNA: Oh, wait ‘til you meet him Dorothy, he’s a nutcase and a half.
SOPHIE: Not to mention creepy! No wonder none of his girlfriends ever stuck around.
MARIE: So Matt, why’d you let Bridget find that invitation? This is all your fault.
MATTHEW: (with a faux bow towards the ladies) Just trying to keep the family peace.
BRIDGET: (leans up to kiss MATTHEW on the cheek) You’re the best, really.
SOPHIE: (Pretends to gag)
BRIDGET: Don’t think I didn’t see that!
[BRIDGET’s cell phone rings]
BRIDGET: (looks down at her phone and frowns) It’s the caterer (answers the phone) Hello, Bridget Stern.
SOPHIE: (leans towards BRIDGET, in a teasing tone) Don’t you means Mrs Matthew Hudson?
BRIDGET: (with the phone pressed against her ear and a warning glare) Oh shut up (listens) Um, okay. Yeah I guess salmon’s fine….Yeah well I was really expecting catfish but if that’s all you have…. Yeah, well it’s tomorrow so it’ll have to be fine….Yeah, ok. Well thanks, yeah see ya tomorrow. Yep, 10:00. Okay, bye. (Hits “End Call,” speaking to group) Is it really so hard to have catfish?
ANNA: Salmon’s nice too though hun. And you didn’t give them much notice.
BRIDGET: Yeah, still. Your wedding’s kinda the day you expect to go perfectly.
MARIE:  (teasing) That’s pretty traditional coming from you.
SOPHIE: Well, when you are Mrs Matthew Hudson you can write them a very elegant complaint letter on the joint stationary I bought you as a wedding gift.
BRIDGET: (With a frown) Sophie, can you stop with the “Mrs Hudson” stuff, please?
MATTHEW: (with a matching frown) Um, maybe this isn’t the best time, but why the sudden anti-Mrs Hudson crap?
BRIDGET: (looks at MATTHEW) It isn’t crap Matt. And I just don’t see the point, it’s so—old-fashioned.
MATTHEW: Yeah, but it’s only a joke. And you’re going to be Mrs Hudson tomorrow so what’s the harm?
BRIDGET: Um, no I won’t. I’m not changing my name.
MATTHEW: Wait, what?
BRIDGET: I’m not! Why should I have to give up my name?
MATTHEW: Wait, why haven’t we discussed this before?!
BRIDESMAIDS: (exchange nervous looks)
BRIDGET: Why’s this such a big deal, if you can’t understand something so important—
MATTHEW: (cuts her off) I get that it’s your name and you like to be independent and whatever, that’s great. But I kind of expected you to take my name when we married. You know, like in a normal marriage?
DOROTHY: (sharply) Matthew!
MATTHEW: So people you know, recognize that we’re married! And what about for the kids!
BRIDGET: Kids?! We’re not even married yet and you’re talking about kids?! What, do you expect me to just become your broodmare—
ANNA: Bridget….
BRIDGET: No Mom! This is important to me, it’s my life too! (sounding close to tears now) Matt, this isn’t something I’m willing to compromise on.
MATTHEW: So how come this is the first I’ve heard of it?!
BRIDGET: I—I don’t know! It just never came up; it’s always something I’ve planned to do—
MATTHEW: Well, thanks for letting your future life partner know!
BRIDGET (loudly, louder than she means to): Well, thanks for not joining the 21st Century!
MATTHEW: (looking wounded, speaks softly) Bridget….come on, this is silly. Let’s just talk, please.
BRIDGET: You know what, it’s MY name. I don’t see what there is to discuss.
MATTHEW: Only our future life together!
BRIDGET: (quietly, sounding disappointed) Not now Matt (she stands up, pushing past him)
MATTHEW: (starting to sound desperate) Then when?!
BRIDGET: I—you know what I don’t know right now (she walks to the door and slips out)
ANNA: (stands and anxiously follows her daughter out the door)
BRIDESMAIDS: (Panic-stricken and clearly uncomfortable)
MATTHEW: (throws up his hands in a gesture of helplessness before dragging them through his hair, ruffling it. He looks at the silent people in the room. Speaking defensively) What?
[MATTHEW’s phone starts ringing]
MATTHEW: (With a sigh, slips his phone out of his pocket to answer it) What, man? ….Yeah, I think we’ll be leaving a bit later….No, I can’t be ready now….It’s—it’s complicated (ends call).
CURTAIN

Short Fiction
2013-14

Disney’s Distortion of Nature and Its Positive ChangesDisney’s Distortion of Nature and Its Positive Changes

Disney is like a bug under a microscope. It squirms and wriggles around in an attempt to get away, but cannot escape the analytical prying eye of its critics and consumers. As Mike Budd and Max Kirsch explain in their book Rethinking Disney, Private Control, Public Dimensions, "Disney has become a big and inviting media target, and draws special attention to its corporate behavior because writers, artists, editors, and segments of the public are increasingly aware that behind all those cute characters, that family fun, and that nearly impenetrable aura is another avaricious multinational corporation." While many may only see the bad side of Disney, there is at least one positive thing that they have done; they have succeeded in bringing about an environmental awareness to our society that is desperately needed. By using different techniques such as anthropomorphism and realism in their movies, films, and Animal Kingdom Theme Park, Disney has created a connection between their audiences and nature. Many criticize the company for their greedy motives, but Disney's use of nature isn't just for monetary gains, it brings about a sense of need for conservation and preservation of the world around us.

The key to understanding the way in which Walt portrays animals and nature in his films, is to acknowledge his childhood. Walt Disney grew up on a farm in the hills of north central Missouri. "For the Disney family, as for most Americans, farm animals were objects, devoid of subjective content. Their capacity to suffer was limited, and their duty in life was to serve" (Tobias 85). "Nature wasn't entirely one-dimensional for Disney however. Sometimes Walt and his brother Roy would go for walks in the nearby woods next to the farm, where the regimented orderliness of the farm gave way to something mysterious. But appreciating the distinction between the domesticated and the wild was not a lesson easily learned by a boy who'd gotten used to the idea of the human domination of animals" (Tobias 86). A story that Walt often told of his childhood, whether it was true or not, explains why he had replaced a "Darwinian system" with a more sanitized view of nature. "During an outing into the woods by himself, Walt spotted an owl perched on a low-lying branch of a tree. He reached out to pet the owl, but it flew off. In a fit of juvenile rage, Disney hurled the owl to the ground and stomped it to death. According to his account, he buried the owl in a fit of remorse only to have its ghost return to him in dreams-and later in his work" (Tobias 185-86). This incident frightened Walt into acquiring a new appreciation and view of nature which can now be seen in his works, "a place free from the ravages of time and the corruptive influence of humans" (Tobias 186).

Stephen Fjellman a professor of anthropology and author of Vinyl Leaves remarks that "From Aesop's Fables on, animals have been used in western folk traditions as anthropomorphic vehicles for human attitudes, foible, and personalities." The use of these characteristics are primarily employed to create an emotional connection between the viewer and the animal.  The Disney animators often used anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics and behavior to animals and inanimate objects to "trigger audience recognition and either sympathy or antipathy: Good characters (e.g., Simba, the Sultan, Flick, Lilo, Sully, and Crush) are drawn in curves (smooth, round, soft, bright) and feature appealing juvenile traits such as big eyes, round cheeks; villians (e.g., Scar, Jafar, Hopper, Randall, and the Sharks) have sharp angles, jagged, rough edges, and are usually dark and oversized" (Budd and Kirsch 77). Take for example the movie Bambi, a movie depicting the life of a young deer who survives the death of its mother. The use of realism and anthropomorphism are used in combination to create a naturalistic movie that would appeal to the audience's emotions. "Although the animals in Bambi speak, they still retain their animal characters, and the portrayal of their way of life is scientifically true" (Tobias 188). Some critics claim that misrepresentation of animals such as the opossums sleeping by hanging their tails from branches, and the distortion of deer bodies designed to make them cuter and more humanlike, motivates but does not educate environmental awareness. Although the movie may not directly educate the viewer with cold hard facts, the emotional appeal that the viewer gains for the anthropomorphic animals may motivate them to want to learn more about conservation efforts for deer and their environments.

During the late 1940s, Walt arranged for two amateur photographers to document footage in Alaska, thus expanding Disney's business with a series called "True-Life Adventure." The documentary films became a box office success and received an Academy Award for best short subject. "The True-Life Adventures were praised for introducing nature and nonfiction films to a wide audience" and for "presenting forbidding and physically repulsive forms of wildlife" (Wasko 147). Though here again, in a film that is supposed to bring a naturalistic view of nature to our television screen, Disney distorts what we see by using anthropomorphism. Even those who saw a positive appreciation of nature in the films called them subjective and humanizing. Throughout the films, animal behavior is represented in human terms. "In other words, a moral hierarchy was established, with explicit human attributes, values, and morals ascribed to animals. We are introduces to ‘heartless mothers', ‘devoted mothers', and ‘kindly nature'" (Wasko 149). "While possibly more acceptable in fiction films, the extent to which Disney ‘humanized' animals was far more problematic in the nature films and sometimes even went beyond accurate representation of the ‘true' nature of some animals" (Wasko 149). Many depictions were inaccurate, and many scenes were staged. One of the best known incidents "involves a scene from white wilderness in which lemmings throw themselves into the ocean, a staged mass suicide that contradicts what scientists claim happens in real life" (qtd. in Wasko 148). These films however, may have had a deeper level of attraction to viewers. For many, it was their first time seeing footage of animals and their behaviors while in their natural habitats, "especially because of the increasing distance from nature experienced by most Americans who live in urban and suburban locations" (Wasko 150). Although the depictions of animals and nature, may not be perfectly precise, "Disney's nature films are credited with drawing attention to the relationship between humans and nature far more successfully than other sources and thus were ‘humanistically correct' in providing the groundwork for the growth of environmentalism" (Wasko 151).

Along with the Disney's movies and films which create an emotional connection to the environment, Animal Kingdom, a zoo in Florida, creates a physical connection by making the unnatural seem natural. The creation of impossible or unnatural landscapes is a distinct feature of the park and part of its appeal to the visitors. Mike Budd and Max Kirsch point out that "for here, constructed out of Florida scrub, are the imagined realities not only of Africa and Asia, but the dinosaur badlands of South Dakota, a Minnie and Mickey Mouse wilderness camp, a geographically nonspecific rain forest, and something of a Polynesian fantasyland" (Budd and Kirsch 53). "A visit to Disney's Africa begins with a stroll through the marketplace of Harambé, gateway to the wilderness and wild animals. For its sienna hues, brightly costumed cast members, imported South African musicians, east African craftsmen, and saucy aromas wafting from the Tusker Restaurant, Harambé offers an enticing and altogether pleasing environment. Disney's imagineers assembled an impressive array of decorative detail to create the aura of present-day east African coastal town" (Budd and Kirsch 54). Harambé also serves as staging ground for a safari ride, which presents visitors with a "realistic view" of animals ranging freely on open vistas. Conservation and species preservation are the main themes during this ride, which is made apparent when the "guide picks up radio communication from an aerial patrol. Supposedly poachers are in the area, and they are attempting to make off with an elephant. At this point the driver leaves the prescribed safari route and head off in hot pursuit" (Budd and Kirsch 55). During the safari, visitors are supposed to feel like a part of the story in which they need to help rescue the elephants. All fabricated, but realistic enough to make them feel as though they are helping with conservation efforts. "Disney's exhibit of Asian animals is presented in a built jungle and savannah environment dubbed the Anadapur Royal Forest" (Budd and Kirsch 57). "We traverse the ruins and come nose to nose with the tigers all safely separated from us by glass partitions, whose transparency demarcates the absolute separation of humans and tigers, tigers and deer. We are all in our proper niches in a staged environment that gives the illusion that we humans might enter the tiger's court while the tigers might stalk off into the bush to tackle a herbivore" (Budd and Kirsch 57). Disney's effort to create realistic environments in which animals are a part of, succeeds in making visitors feel as if they are actually walking though one of those portrayed distant exotic lands; a physical connection. Fabricated or not, the emphasis on conservation in Animal Kingdom brings about a sense of environmental awareness to those that visit there.

The handbook used at the Disney University states "Disney is a Business. As a business we are accountable to our stockholders to produce a profit. But in order to make money, we have to get the public to consume our product. And once we do that, we have to invest our money wisely to maintain our business" (qtd. in Wasko 29). Disney itself declares that it is a business, and like every other business, looking to increase its profits. Yet, although they are often criticized as being a large commercialized corporation, only in it for the money, the company has also brought about a positive idea and change in a non-profitable way. Through distortion methods such as anthropomorphism in their movies and films, and realism in Animal Kingdom, they have created a sense of environmental awareness in their viewers. "Many of the young people who grew up with Disney's nature in all its forms-cartoons, documentaries, animated feature, and wildlife fantasies-became active members in preservationist and conservationist movements" (Tobias 191). As David Whitley argues in his book, The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation:

Perhaps Disney films are ultimately like a kind of weed in the Garden of Children's cultural experience. Like many of the gaudy, resilient invader species that exist in nature, they have successfully colonized a sign area with-in the affective domain of contemporary childhood. We should appreciate the role that weeds play in brightening odd corners of the ground, bringing color to derelict sites, securing the earth we live on from further erosion, and preparing the way for other life forms. I think perhaps we could learn to appreciate the ecological role played by Disney films in similar vein.

Works Cited

 

  • Budd, Mike, Kirsch, Max H. "Rethinking Disney, Private Control, Public Dimensions" Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2005. Print.
  • Fjellman, Stephen M. "Vinyl Leaves, Walt Disney World and America" Colorado: Westview Press, 1992. Print.
  • Tobias, Ronald B. "Film and the American Moral Vision of Nature, Theodore Roosevelt to Walt Disney" Michigan: Michigan State University Press, 2011. Print.
  • Wasko, Janet. "Understanding Disney" Maryland: Polity Press, 2001. Print.
  • Whitley, David. "The Idea of Nature in Disney Animation" Second Edition. England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2008. Print.

Critical / Analytical Essay
2013-14

PhonyPhony

It was going to rain today. The skies were a cheery blue, and the clouds were fluffy and non-threatening. But it was definitely going to rain today. So when the first warning rumble of thunder sounded, and color began to leech from the sky, I settled deeply in the corner of retired bus stop bench. I love the sound of rain on a roof, and the thin, dark green metal above my spot was one of my favorites.

I was ready to sit and enjoy the coming onslaught when I felt the air shift and my back tighten, someone intruded on my space. He was tall and blonde and carrying a book. And he was sitting on my bench. He looked at me and smiled like he knew he was intruding, despite the publicness of our station.


In my head I was upset. In my head I was annoyed. But against my best protests on the outside I smiled back and tucked a lock of hair behind my ear. He really did have nice eyes, this intruder. His knowing smile fell into a relaxed smirk and he leaned back against the bench, hung one leg over his knee and cracked open his book in  a motion that looked so fluid I caught myself still staring.


The sound of the first drops of rain hitting the roof brought me back to the moment and snapped my head back to attention. I realized how tightly I’d been holding myself up in the presence of this man, trespasser, and let out the breath that had held me so stiff. I settled back into the corner of the bench, willing my eyes not to wander to their left.


A loud clap of thunder assumed the role of a starting pistol and sheets of rain began to fall unapologetically from the sky. They were fat, heavy drops that pounded the thin plastic that shielded me, and him, from the storm. I took in a deep breath, the smell of rain on pavement was one of my favorites. It was a smell that filled your chest when you took a deep breath, sharp and defined but never overwhelming.


The particularly loud turning of a page from beside me snapped my eyes once again to this stranger in my spot. He had nice hands. He was also reading Catcher in the Rye. I bet he’s the type who just reads that in public to seem deep. I was staring again. He was wearing corduroy pants. I didn’t realize that was even still a thing you could find. But they looked nice, the color of coffee with the right amount of milk in it. But he was obviously some pseudo-intellectual. I bet he shops at Whole Foods. And has a bead curtain somewhere in his house not ironically. I bet he owns a pair of thick rimmed glasses with the lens punched out. Types like him were just awful.


“That’s a great book.”


He looked up, I think surprised that I had spoken. I was smiling in what I can only assume was an attempt to be charming and interesting and everything else Cosmo tells you you’re supposed to be while my brain was trying so hard to protest. Remember the bead curtain!


“It’s one of my favorites.”


I hated that his voice was pleasant. I hated him for his slightly crooked smile. I hated him for reading one of my favorite books. I hated him for being in my spot.


“I just want to hug Holden and tell him it gets better.”


He laughed. And I think I hated him for that to. And I think I was beginning to get confused on the definition of hate.


“He’d probably call you a phony.”


“Probably.”  He let his book wrap up around his thumb. It wasn’t closed, but he wasn’t keeping it propped open, ready to return to in a moment.


A woman began tottering by in a pant suit, her exotic dancer-esque heels were making her travel a problematic one. Her makeup had begun to smear and her hair and fallen flat and dripped lines in her mascara. Me and the stranger followed her with our eyes as she clicked and humphed past us, until a few steps past our bench a heel snapped and she came toppling to the ground.
The station became warm with our muffled laughter, he uncrossed his legs and I swear in the motion he inched closer. The sleeve of his grey sweater pulled up past his wrist, and what looked like a tattoo peeked out of his sleeve.


“You have a tattoo?” I unfurled myself from my corner, leaning in slightly to get a better look, and did he smell really good or was I imagining it? He smelled like he was still standing in the bathroom after a shower. Clean and fresh and incredibly attractive.


“Oh. Yeah! It’s a kanji symbol for strength.”


Oh no.


“What about you?”


“I’ve got a couple yeah.” I felt my spine stiffen, my position only a few inches closer to him suddenly seemed uncomfortable.


“Any I can see?” I didn’t like the way his smile curled up in one corner when he said it, or the way his eyes flashed over me. I’d seen the same look on a fox once, just before it slunk into a chicken coop. The comfortable warmth of the bus station suddenly felt very suffocating.


“N-no not really, they’re all kind of undercover.”


“Alright then.” It wasn’t mean in anyway. He hadn’t even stopped smiling, but something about his tone made me wish I hadn’t said anything at all. I glanced at his book. It wasn’t even worn. In fact, it looked brand new.


“So what’s your name?”


I didn’t want to answer. He was a stranger and suddenly my name seemed so private and precious to me that I didn’t want him to have it.


“Jen.”


“Pretty name.”


I wished the rain would stop. And I was mad at him for making me wish that. I loved the rain. But with each second that passed the air around us felt heavier. Like I was being pushed towards this stranger in my station during my rain and I wished he would put down my book.


“So what’s yours?”


“Nate.”


“Pretty name.”


I couldn’t tell if I had tried to sound as mocking as I did. Regardless, the words had left my control. A line flashed across his brow and his smile pulled up in the corner but the motion didn’t seem comfortable. He gave me a stiff sort of nod before reopening the book.


The silence between the two of us became deafening. The rain on the roof aboved sounded thunderous, I could hear myself breath and hear the blood running sluggishly through my veins. I wanted to leave the strange place my familiar spot had become, all uncomfortably loud and warm and full of strangers, but it was my spot.


“So was that you first tattoo?”


He looked surprised to see me speaking again. He held his book open to the spot he had left off at while he spoke.

“No. I had one before this.”


“Cool. So what does it mean?”


“Strength.”


The warmth of the station evaporated, leaving me very abruptly feeling the cold and the wet of the rain around me. I wanted to be snappy, think of something witty to say to show him how poorly he’d failed to justify his incredibly cliché tattoo to me. But unlike the rain, the words didn’t come. I think it’s because I knew he didn’t care.


But a creeping uncomfortable feeling was leaking through my chest, it felt almost like being cold but not quite. What I did know was that I could blame him for my discomfort.


“I wouldn’t be brave enough to put a foreign language on myself.”


He looked up at me for a second, flashed an awkward smile that looked too tight for his lips and looked back down to his book.


I bet his other tattoo is a dream catcher, if we’re sticking to the theme of taking from other cultures. Or a dumb quote. One of those ones that sounds deep and really introspective and meta If you read it out loud but if you think about it for more than a minute their just words thrown together absent of meaning.


It was definitely that one.


The sound of coffee colored corduroys grounded me from my thoughts. He was getting up.


“You know it’s raining.”


“I know.”


I hadn’t noticed his messenger bad until he was using it to shield himself from the rain. I couldn’t read the buttons he had pinned along the strap, but I bet there was a lot of Helvetica.
My station was growing warm again. I curled back into my corner, the volume of the rain evening out to the familiar lull of before.


I bet he’s off to Whole Foods. Phony.

Short Fiction
2013-14

ApologiaApologia

That simple, but strong word giving
life to a
hope not seen by
Freud or Russel. But lived
by Jesus and Paul. That sensitive
ear, willing to listen to the whispers and
shouts of doubt. Defending that which is
inside rather than out. As if to ask the
questions  that awaken
the heart.
But instead of double blind tests and independent
variables, testing the heart, the mind. Not just the
heart, but the mind with it. Intellect and
emotion bonded as one.
This world seems filled with pointless suffering,
evil on the loose with neither purpose nor person
to stop it.  But Apologia calls a charge forward
instead of backward, to justify the
unjustifiable.
Resurrecting evil from the grave and
breathing new life. Evil is
the siren to awaken
a dead world.
It forces us to hear the call of 
Jericho road.
And through ministries of mercy we push back
the forces of evil. Hoping, praying and
building the City of God.

Poetry / Spoken Word
2013-14

Through the MillThrough the Mill

Photography
2013-14

Tern NestTern Nest

Photography
2013-14

Please Don’t Take My Sunshine AwayPlease Don’t Take My Sunshine Away

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away (Davis). It's a simple song that most people can recognize, having had their mother or grandmother sing it to them as a child. Every night for years, my older brother would climb into my bed with me when my mom came into our room for our nightly routine. We would recite our bed time prayer, asking God to keep us safe through the night, however, if we were to die in our sleep, to let us into heaven. Then we all sang in unison our adapted version of the song. "...You make me happy when skies are gray. Gray, gray, gray! You'll never know dear, how much I love you. Oh I love you, really do. Please don't take my sunshine away. Way, way, way!" It was similar to the original, just more appealing to my young mind that liked repetitive, goofy things.

This song is so prevalent in my memories of being a kid because of what I was going through. My childhood was nothing luxurious. My mom was a full time, single mother who worked two or three jobs to make ends meet. Sometimes we'd live with relatives, other times with friends. Colin and I didn't always have the newest toys or the name brand clothes but we never needed anything. We always had food, even if that meant my mom didn't eat that night. When I think back on my elementary age, however, I am overwhelmed with happy memories. Luxury doesn't always mean happiness. We didn't have much, but we had each other. Colin and I were all my mom had and mom and brother were all I had and we were just fine with that. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

One of my mom's many jobs was as a waitress at a pizzeria. She would come home at night smelling like pizza grease and French fries. I can't stand that smell anymore. Her shift didn't end until after my bedtime but some nights I would stay up and wait for her, fighting my exhaustion for a chance to kiss her goodnight. She would come through the door and I would walk up to her with a big toothy grin from excitement to see her and as an attempt to not get in trouble for still being awake. Sometimes she would reprimand me and send me back to bed, but sometimes I got to stay up with her for just a little longer. After she emptied the contents of her apron, she would get out a wad of cash from the evening's tips and sort them into piles. While she counted I sat quietly next to her. When she was done counting, I would ask her how good of a night it was. Some nights were better than others. Some nights were just plain bad. I would climb into her lap and rest my head on her chest, breathing in French fries and pizza. My mom would wrap her arms around my thin frame and sing to me before carrying me back to my room. "You make me happy when skies are gray."

My mom and brother were the only things in my life growing up that I knew I could rely on. In a life of indefinites, they were my guarantee. As comforting as this was for me, it also caused me to develop severe separation anxiety at a young age. When I was around seven years old, I had to spend every other weekend at my birth father's house. He would come to pick me and Colin up on Friday afternoon to take us back to his tattered row home. I would hug my mom goodbye with tears welling in my eyes and climb into Brian's white van with stained carpets and off-white shades in the windows. As I looked through the windows while we pulled away from my house, I would see my mom waving goodbye. The tears started before she left my line of vision. Da da da daa daa, da da da daa daa.

I relied on this song the most when I was distressed. While I lie on the bottom bunk in my room at my birth father's house and struggled to hold back the urge to cry for my mommy, when I climbed too high in the tree in our backyard and got stuck, and especially when my mom was sick. She was sick a lot when I was growing up. She didn't just get a cold − she got pneumonia in both of her lungs. She didn't just get cramps – she got cervical cancer. Some people had stomach aches, my mom had stomach tumors. Every time she got sick I was afraid that God was going to take her from me. I brought her buttered bread while she lie unconscious on the couch, sat on the floor next to her and held her hand onto my face while I sang and prayed. "Please don't take my sunshine away."

Songs are a powerful force. They go beyond words, making just the sound, the rhythm, important. Humans are emotional creatures and music is portrayal of emotion. This is why people respond differently to a song written on a poster than they do if they hear it on the radio. When I hear You Are My Sunshine, I hear it in my mother's voice and my mind is catapulted to my old bedroom with pink walls and Power Puff Girl sheets. Songs make you feel something. Not just through the lyrics, but through the music itself. It's not often that you will see someone smiling while they are rocking out to Five Finger Death Punch. That's because heavy metal makes you angry. You thrust your fists in to the air, you head bang, you scream. It's also why an audience will be in tears while listening to Opera, even if it's sung in a language they don't understand. The emotion that the music gives off has an undeniable effect. People generally don't just hear a song, they put themselves into it. My workout playlist is laden with metal and angry rap because it gets me angry, pumped up, and ready to wreck shit. On the other hand, my bed time playlist is full of Jack Johnson, The Fray and Florence and the Machine. That kind of soothing music calms me; puts me at ease and helps me relax. Bloodhound Gang doesn't necessarily have the same emotional effect.

Timing also plays an important role in the effect music has on people and how it has importance in their lives. As people age, their taste in music adapts to what stage of life they are in. As a child, I liked simple songs that weren't long or in depth. My young mind wouldn't be able to focus on something like Freebird. Children enjoy songs that have a happy melody and lots of rhymes. Teenagers tend to be attracted to styles like rap, hip hop, rock and grunge because of the rebellious messages and freeing feel they give off. They are at a point in their life where they are trying to figure out who they are and take on a new set of responsibilities as they approach adulthood. Stuck somewhere between the playground and an office cubicle, teens migrate towards music that lets them thrash out or shake their asses and send out a big "fuck you" to the big, bad grown-ups.

As the angsty teens age and pick up a spouse and have a few kids, they are more likely to adapt a liking for music like jazz, contemporary and blues. No longer wanting to throw up devil fingers or pop, lock and drop it, the middle-aged want to relax by the fire after the kids are finally in bed after reading three different story books and retrieving glasses of water for each child, all wanting ice. These genres of music aren't necessarily as mellow as classical, nonetheless they still offer a sense of calming for the overworked, exhausted adult.

Unless you're a hipster, classical music comes into play typically around the same time you're out buying depends and collecting social security. The elderly are at a point in their life where they have already done the hard work, now they just want to relax. Their minds drift off just like classical music does, not following any chorus, verse structure, just carrying on with its soft, mesmerizing symphony. Their lives and their music are both relatively free-flowing and unstructured.

In addition to timing of stages of life, music also gains importance to people depending on timing of events in their life. They can be as important as your wedding day or as menial as a high school break up. People tend to connect songs to their own lives, making them increasingly more influential when they can connect a song to an event. For example, when Pink's song Just Give Me A Reason came out, I was going through a break with my boyfriend of three years. Neither of us was too fond of the idea of not being together, especially since we have a child together. When this song came out, the lyrics seemed to speak to me and only me through my car radio. Just give me a reason, just a little bit's enough. Just a second, we're not broken just bent. And we can learn to love again (P!nk). It was like Pink knew exactly what I was going through and wrote a song for Cullen and I. Just Give Me A Reason will forever make me think of our break and, with that memory, bring back all of the emotions. And yet I still listen to it every time it comes on the radio. I guess I'm just masochistic.

It's not enough for some people to simply sing along to a song when it comes through the radio, hearing it in their mother's or father's or friend's voice instead. Some will write parts of lyrics on the cover of a notebook while others desire something more permanent. With the rising popularity and acceptance of tattoos, more and more people are choosing to go under the needle and get inked. Some people call it self-expression although it's much more than that. It's a declaration of independence from social acceptances and norms. The permanency that accompanies tattoos draws people to them. They can capture a moment in their lives on their skin forever. Or until they get it covered up or painfully lasered off. Tattoos are a way of illustrating to the world what is important to you in a deeper sense than pins on a backpack. The pain that you go through as a needle is injecting ink into your skin at an alarmingly fast rate gives the tattoo purpose. This is why it is different than just going to the store and buying a bumper sticker that you carefully place on your car's back window. Everyone's tattoo experience is different. Some just walk in and pick a design off of the wall. Some get a tattoo their father or brother has while others come in with a very detailed, exact design they spent months drawing and pondering over. The thing that brings all these differences together is the pain. It doesn't matter how you chose your tattoo, it's going to feel the same whether you drew it yourself or a thousand other people have the same design. Once the tattoo is done, the pain isn't over yet. Healing a tattoo is a process that takes time and effort. Rubbing Tattoo Goo on your still pink around the edges and sore tattoo after you've washed it with fragrance free soap three times a day. A tattoo is a process. And it's forever.

With almost a quarter of Americans having at least one tattoo, it's hard to go anywhere without seeing at least a few. Kids are getting tattoos younger and younger and not just that, more middle-aged people are taking steps into tattoo shops to go under the needle for the first time. There is no specific type of person who gets a tattoo. People of all ages, socioeconomic status, religion and race are joining in on the new trend. It seems to be an all-out revolt against social norms. People are reclaiming their bodies as their own to do with and to what they please. They are living out loud and loving it.

The way in which we portray text says a lot about us and the text itself. There is different meaning in writing a passage in a book or having a tattoo artist embed it into your skin. When you choose to get a tattoo, you say something about yourself and what you find important, whether it's a cartoon character, a bible passage or a song lyric. Tattoos have given text a sense or artistry. Artists are finding themselves tattooing less images and more text, making words a work of art.

If a tattoo is visible, it's something you want the world to see and know about you. It's art you want to show off. If it's in an easily hidden location, that also gives a message; that you got that tattoo for yourself and for your sake, or possibly so you would have a chance to pull your clothing up or down to show it off. Either way, the choice to permanently put a text on your body gives people a window into who you are without ever hearing you speak.

On my eighteenth birthday, I walked into Tattoo Mark's for my first tattoo. I had waited patiently for this day, sure to abide by the rules of the family of no tattoos before reaching the age of majority. I could vote, I could be drafted, I could buy cigarettes, and I could get a tattoo. The wait was grueling. Growing up in a house with my Uncle Mike and Uncle Damian who both were heavily tattooed was the spark to my flame. They were in the military; they were tough, they had shaved heads and muscles and gave me swirlies. They were my heroes and I wanted to be just like them. I spent my high school years drawing up tattoo ideas, pondering where I could get them that my mom wouldn't see but when my birthday came around, I knew exactly what I wanted. It was the perfect tattoo. One my mom wouldn't be able to object too strongly to, one I could hide in a tank top, one I could live with for the rest of my life and never ever grow tired of. So on the afternoon of my birthday, I walked into Mark's shop, lie down on the table covered in plastic-like paper and held up my shirt under my armpit so my artist could have access to my ribcage where he tattooed on me in loopy script, You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey.

You'll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away. And right underneath it was written in my mom's handwriting, Love, Mutti.

Works Cited

  • Davis, Jimmie, and Charles Mitchell. You Are My Sunshine. 1940. N.p.: Decca Records, Print.
  • P!nk, Ruess, Nate, and Jeff Bhasker. Just Give Me A Reason. 2013. N.p.: n.p., 2013. Print.

Personal / Creative Essay
2013-14