Posts from — December 2009
Primer on Contracts:
Know What You’re Getting Into
– And With Whom
By Mark Levy & Ryan Miosek
We attempt to cover topics having the greatest interest for as many artists as possible. Many of the legal concepts that apply to one type of artist also apply to others. Although we try to discuss topics that matter to all artists, including but not limited to visual artists, graphic artists, sculptors, composers, photographers, moviemakers, writers, and dancers, certain topics are clearly more appropriate for specific artists and their work. For example, musicians are concerned with performances, while visual artists are interested in showings at galleries. But be patient. Over time, we will discuss topics that concern every artist.
Beginning Basics of Contracts
In the coming months we will cover all of the contractual concepts that must be considered before executing a contract. In this column, it is important to provide the beginning basics of any contract. In most situations, contractual terms will be moot as both parties will perform as they have provided theywould under the contract. In cases where one party fails to hold up their end of the bargain (i.e. breach), it will be very important to have the black-and-white contractual terms to fall back on.
It may seem elementary, but the one of the most important terms of any contract is the names of the parties (to the agreement) forming the contract. In the event of a breach, knowing who the parties to the contract are will save a lot of time and money determining who the proper party to the suit is. As an artist, you want to know who it is that you are entering into business with. Is it the individual who owns the gallery, or is the gallery owned by a corporation? Is the person you are contracting with the person who will ultimately be on the hook for a breach, or is this person a representative of a larger group? In that case, does that person have the authority to enter into a contract on behalf of the group? As you can see, knowing who is entering into the contract is not a trivial item, and one that must not be ignored.
The second term that can be overlooked or over simplified in the contract is what exactly is being contracted for? Recently we met with an artist who was contracting to sell prints of original works for $5 a piece. This particular artist had drafted a very well written contract laying out all the intricate details, many of which we will discuss in future articles. When it came to what was being contracted for, however, the contract failed to mention the works to be sold were prints. In the end this simple mistake could have resulted in that artist contracting to sell original works for $5 a piece. Without specificity of what was being contracted for, a court considering the contractual terms may have read the ambiguity in favor of the buyer. This is especially so when the artist contracting to sell work is an emerging artist and does not have a reputation in the art community, or another verifiable basis from which the court can determine reasonable selling prices.
Such a potentially unsavory result leads us to the moral of this section: Never, ever, ever leave anything to chance, or to the interpretation of the court. If it seems too basic to include in the contract, chances are it will be the term you wished you had included when you find yourself fighting for your rights.
Types of Property
As mentioned in our previous conlumn, the three classes of property are real property, personal property, and intellectual property (IP), which, simply stated, relates to what comes out of your head. You, as creator of an artistic work, can transfer your rights in your creative work by assigning those rights, much like a real property owner can sell a house, or a car owner can sell a car. Or, you might decide to maintain ownership, but allow others to enjoy the work, as would occur when you sell someone a photographic print or a DVD. The latter situation is more like an apartment owner who leases an apartment, or a car owner who rents a car.
Similar to compensation for real or personal property, as the IP owner you have options for receiving payment. First, you may desire objects or services that are valuable; or, (much more often), you may want to be paid in cash. If that’s the case, a one-time payment or lump sum might be agreeable to the person who buys your artistic work. That person is known as the “assignee” – or the “licensee” in IP parlance. Alternatively, the licensee may be able to afford only a portion of your asking price. In that case, you might consent to receive payments over time. Such payments are known as “royalty” fees or “royalties.” An analogy to royalties is the fee a car renter pays to a car rental organization. The driver may pay by the mile, by the day, or a flat fee for a week or for a year. Similarly, the licensee of your artistic work can also pay you a flat, lump-sum fee or a given amount for each unit of time. If your licensee intends to make recordings or prints or postcards or bumper stickers from your work, with your consent, of course, you may decide to receive a royalty fee for each product sold to the public.
Royalties are considered taxable income, and that’s all we’re going to say about that.
If you are promised sufficient payments, you might agree to grant an exclusive license to the licensee. That is, only one party will have the right to enjoy your work. Exclusive licenses are usually considered more valuable than licenses granted to two or more parties simultaneously, a so-called “non-exclusive license.” In other words, non-exclusive licensees usually realize that they may have competition from other licensees, so they will offer you less money for the non-exclusive license.
In addition to an ongoing royalty fee, you might also ask for a down payment. In this way, even if your licensee does not follow through with his or her promise to sell many copies of your work, you still end up with money in your pocket. How to determine the amount of a fair down payment requires research based on supply and demand. Here is where an attorney who acts as a negotiator can help you arrive at a reasonable offer.
There is more to the subject of licensing, some of which Mark Levy has included in a short paper: “Should I Consider Licensing?” For a free copy of that paper, please contact Mark at email@example.com.
Mark Levy & Ryan Miosek are attorneys with the Binghamton-based law firm of Hinman Howard and Kattell. They specialize in trademarks, copyrights, and the general protection of intellectual property. You can telephone Ryan Miosek at (607) 231-6804 and Mark Levy at (607) 231-6991, or contact them by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
December 22, 2009 1 Comment
Everybody Should Go To Law School
By Mark Levy
As crazy as this sounds, I think everybody should go to law school. I know what you’re thinking: we have too many lawyers already; an entire society of lawyers would be like a science fiction horror movie come to life. But hear me out, please, before you call the men in the white coats.
Law school can be an enlightening experience. It requires only three years after you graduate college —— four if you go to night school, which law schools like to call “part time” or “the evening division.” Really, in the great scheme of things, what are three or four years of your life? You’ve already probably spent more time doing unimportant things, like spending quality time with your family. You’d hardly miss three or four years. Trust me; I’m a lawyer.
Here’s another benefit of going to law school: you get to read about all sorts of crimes and bad behavior. In a way, it’s a TV reality show without the pictures or the sound effects.
I know three good reasons to attend law school, even if you never want to practice law a day in your life.
First, a legal education will teach you how to negotiate. That’s an important skill, since we all negotiate dozens of times a day. When I wake up in the morning, I have to negotiate with my wife who will get to brush his or her teeth first. Then we negotiate who will prepare breakfast, what the breakfast will be, who will walk down the driveway to retrieve the newspaper, who will use the last five drops of milk in his or her coffee, and who will decide where to meet for lunch.
That’s the typical morning routine that I engage in on Saturdays and Sundays alone. During the work week, I negotiate with business associates, with retail store employees, with bank tellers, with grocery store cashiers, and with taxi drivers, not to mention dealing with a fairly long list of requests demanded by my children, of course.
So you see how valuable it is to have good training in negotiating tactics.
Here’s the second reason I think a law school education is helpful: you get to know how to get around the law.
Take the simple “do not enter” sign. How often have you seen that sign and been deterred from going where you want to go? How often have you had to pack up your suitcase and rush out of a hotel room before the 11:00 a.m. checkout time? How often have you had to pay your income taxes? (Just kidding, all you IRS agents out there.)
How often have you heard someone say, “You can’t do that” or “We can’t do that” or “Nobody can do that?” When you’re a lawyer, you don’t blindly accept those statements; you take them as a personal challenge.
Going to law school means never having to take “no” for an answer, with the possible exception of when an aforementioned IRS agent says it. There’s almost always a way to accomplish your goal if you learn how to approach every problem as if there must be a solution. Of course, that’s what lawyers get paid to help you with, but if you get the education and you can develop the correct mindset, most of the time you won’t need no stinkin’ lawyer to help you out. Look at the money you’ll save by attending law school for yourself.
Which brings me to the third advantage of going to law school and perhaps the most important reason I think everybody should have a legal education: you learn when you should call a lawyer. You may think that’s a trivial reason for spending so many hours reading cases about plaintiffs and defendants, but you’d be surprised how often people go to a lawyer too late in the game.
For example, in real estate only a small percentage of home buyers consult a lawyer before they sign what the real estate agents call a “binder,” but which lawyers know is a contract. Turns out, the lawyer they select has one hand tied behind his or her back, since the client has already agreed to certain terms and conditions and forfeited some options in that binder agreement. Usually, it would have cost the buyer the same to engage the lawyer before the binder was signed as after.
In the patent business, where I spend most of my time, I can’t tell you how often inventors approach me more than a year after they’ve publicly disclosed their invention. That’s a shame. The patent law states that an inventor cannot obtain a patent unless the invention has been publicly disclosed, if at all, for less than a year. If the inventor had made the appointment with me a year earlier, he might have obtained a patent. But because he didn’t know when to call a lawyer, he’s out of luck. That’s why Mr. Rubik never received a patent for Rubik’s Cube, by the way.
So there you have it. Everybody should go to law school to learn how to negotiate, learn not to take “no” for an answer, and learn when to call a lawyer. Luckily, it’s never too late to go to law school, so start saving up for the tuition now. I should have mentioned that earlier.
Hey, tuition fees may be negotiable. If you look for loopholes, as we say in the legal biz, and you don’t take “no” for an answer, you’re already on your way to being a lawyer. See how easy that is?
December 20, 2009 Comments Off on Casual Observer
At Grandma Teri’s House
Grandma slowly steps down
the yellow stairs,
her left hand on the banister,
her right twitching to a silent beat.
Her fading red hair matches
the paint on her fingernails—
she is a sunset.
She takes me to the grocery store
where I watch her inspect
a cluster of grapes,
turning them over in her hands
as if they are jewels.
The four of us help her decorate
for Christmas, mounting garlands on
the figures of two white dogs which sit
on opposite sides of the fireplace. I perch
little angels by the long vases filled with glass
rocks, by the white figurines of ballet dancers,
and by the plastic fruit on the table
I always think is real.
While my parents talk
with her, my sister and I take out
the box of checkers which rattle
with pennies since there are not enough
pieces inside. As we play,
I hear them laughing.
My sister and I are then hustled downstairs
for bed where I walk past the shelf
of framed photographs and I stop
in front of one of my family and her—
my sister and I in our pajamas,
our hair still wet from the pool—
standing in her front yard, ready for the ride home.
December 20, 2009 1 Comment
(Translated by Emanuel Di Pasquale)
Prima notte, seconda notte. Qui le cose hanno sempre meno bisogno della nostra presenza.
Sotto questo tetto, dentro i nostri occhi, oltre i visi ncontratti. Ognuno tiene per sé parti del ricordo.
Solo qualche volta, in qualche stanza, appaiono le cose senza di noi. Grazie alla nostra assenza.
Pare che abbiamo gli occhi chiusi, invece muoviamo lo sguardo e sembriamo lenti in quest’ azione.
L’animale attraversa il prato. Lo si vede correre, come se inseguisse qualcosa. Oppure è solo il nostro inseguire qualcosa.
Come quando erano partiti, senza chiedere indirizzi, credendo di poter vivere con le sole tracce.
Ognuno ora pensa al tono di voce, disperso tra le cose, tra le domande che sono più difficili da fare.
Perché adesso si è come chiusi, seduti alla fine di una frase, insieme ad altri suoni, non uditi.
First night, second night. Here things need our presence
less and less.
Under this roof, inside our eyes, beyond the contracted faces.
Each holds on to parts of the memory.
Only sometimes, in some room, things appear without
us. Thanks to our absence.
It seems that we have our eyes closed; instead, we shift our look and seem slow doing so.
The beast crosses the field. One sees it run, as if it were
following something. Perhaps it’s only our following something.
As when they departed, without asking for addresses, believing they could live with traces only.
Each now thinks of the tone of the voice, dispersed among the things, among the questions that are the most difficult to ask.
Because now it is like being closed, sitting at the end of a phrase, together with other sounds, unheard.
Alziamo le braccia, vogliamo qualcosa da fare, ce lo chiediamo a tratti, pronti a credere di averlo trovato.
Gli altri sono già partiti, passati. Hanno superato il confine dove è difficile crederli veri.
Ci sono molte ombre qui. Alcune fanno parte del luogo, altre appartengono a noi.
Rumori dalle scale. Allora si pensa agli altri, al loro salire e scendere, a cosa facciano e dove vadano.
Quando apriamo la porta è come se non fossimo mai usciti di qui. O meglio, l’ultima volta non eravamo le stesse persone.
Cambiare i vestiti, il volto, le parole. Con brevi pause, brevi silenzi, ora siamo quelli che altri vedranno.
We raise our arms, wanting something to do, suddenly asking
ourselves, ready to believe we’ve found it.
The others have already departed, passed by. They’ve gone beyond the border where it’s difficult to believe they’re real.
Here are many shadows. Some are part of the place, others belong to us.
Noises from the stairs. One thinks of the others then, of their going up and down, of what they might do and where they might go.
When we open the door, it’s as if we had never left
here. Or better, the last time we were not the same people.
To change clothes, words, face. With brief pauses, brief
silences, now we are those that others will see.
E’ meglio non sapere, a volte. Lasciare le cose circolare, lasciare che ci passino accanto e solo dopo pensarle.
Per esempio, ora non sappiamo molto di più di questa stagione. Solo il fatto che muta, imprevedibile, vicino ai laghi.
Siamo estranei alla stagione, noi. Siamo fuori e solo possiamo assorbire il suo comportamento, diverso.
Né vorremmo capirne di più. E’ come avere una certa distanza che ci fa ragionare di essa.
Crea argomenti, discorsi sul clima che comunque non li richiede. Siamo noi che entriamo nella discussione.
It’s best not to know at times. To let things flow, to let them
pass nearby and to think of them only later.
For example, right now we don’t know much about this season.
Only the fact that it changes, unpredictable, near the lakes.
We’re strangers to the season. We’re outside and can only
absorb its different behavior.
Nor would we like to know more about it. It’s like having a certain distance that makes us think about it.
It creates arguments, discussions on the climate which doesn’t ask for them. It’s we who enter the discussion.
III (Sull’idea di attendere)
In posizione d’attesa si estendono i pensieri, vanno a creare forme del dire che poi si perdono.
In attesa che qualcosa cominci si guarda all’esterno. E’ il momento in cui un animale appare.
Nei momenti d’attesa, senza vento, ci si rifiuta di credere che altri siano già passati da qui.
Emergono ombre, nell’attendere. Come quelle che ieri sera ci circondavano, sicure di se stesse.
Si cambiano i numeri dei nostri conti, seduti in attesa. La vita li richiede, a volte molto tardi, la sera.
III (On the idea of waiting)
In the waiting attitude, thoughts reach out, create ways
of saying things that then are lost.
Waiting for something to begin one looks out. That’s the
moment in which an animal appears.
In the moments of waiting, windless, one refuses to believe that others have already gone by here.
In the waiting, shadows emerge. Like those that surrounded us
last night, certain of themselves.
As we sit and wait, the numbers of our accounts change.
Life summons them, at times quite late, at night.
IV (Dei futuri)
Si potrà dire qui eravamo noi, nella foto, sulla mappa o luogo. Si dirà qui siamo stati, ieri.
Senza un senso non sarà possibile fare prove per riuscire a dire. Per lasciare tracce sull’albero.
Non sarà possibile descrivere questo prato se qualcosa non sarà accaduto, a produrne il ricordo.
La finestra sarà chiusa, qualcosa di simile al congedo di chi parte. Sarà un’altra presenza a dettare il tempo.
La porta sarà chiusa. Non si aspetterà più la chiave per entrare. Sarà già dopo.
Questa è la strada da cui saremo passati, quando lasciata questa zona saremo noi a raccontare d’esserci stati.
IV (On futures)
We’ll be able to say we were here, in the photo, on the map, or in the place. We’ll say, here we were, yesterday.
Without a meaning it will not be possible to speak. To leave traces on the tree.
It will not be possible to describe this field unless something has happened, to create a memory of it.
The window will be closed, like the gesture of departure. Another presence will dictate time.
The door will be closed. The key will no longer be needed. It will already be already.
This is the road. After leaving this
zone we’ll tell the story of our having been here.
Mario Moroni was born in Italy in 1955. He moved to the United States in 1989. He has taught at Yale University, the University of Memphis and Colby College. He currently teaches Italian at Binghamton University. Moroni has published seven volumes of poetry and one of poetic prose. In 1989 he was awarded the Lorenzo Montano prize for poetry.
Emanuel di Pasquale. translator, is recipient of the Bordighera Poetry Prize, and the Raiziss/dePalchi Fellowship from The Academy of American Poets.
December 20, 2009 1 Comment
sitting at 14th and Broadway
staring up at steeple on Grace Church
I often wonder if Pascal smoked
contemplating spires watching smoke
rise like wagering thoughts in white
bursts of heat climbing crockets until
field of vision diminishes to
point of vanishment from earth cross
perched on pyramid sight passes
infinity streaming stratosphere
into nothingness of space and on
and on and on directly to
void of sound, color and reason
uncrossed by paths until it reaches
outer limits of understanding
and intuitively arrives
at same spark in electric thought
that is the origin of our soul
December 20, 2009 Comments Off on Raymond Hammond
The Three Families from Istanbul
In our neighborhood lived three Sephardi families —
The Levys, The Hattems, and The Abrevayas —
all cousins, all from Istanbul, who would take their slow
evening strolls in the spring and summertime, all together,
the men in front, shoulder to shoulder, hands clasped
behind their back, with their wives following. Passing by,
they would not to speak to us Eastern European Jews,
but would deign to nod and perhaps half-wave
in our direction as a sign that they had seen us,
and were resigned to our existence. As we sat
in the spring and summertime high on our brick porches,
I watched them pass, and listened to their strange,
distant, medieval Spanish bobbing in their wake,
and I wondered if it was true that they kept under their beds
the iron keys to the gates of their Iberian houses.
Myron Ernst was co-owner with his wife Shirley of a Montessori School in Vestal, New York. Retired, he is a frequent contributor to ragazine.cc. His work has appeared in many other publications.
December 20, 2009 1 Comment
Dude, Take Me Apart
The deconstructivist art
of Roger Williams
Photos Courtesy of Larry Hamill
Roger Williams, now a voice from Columbus, Ohio, went to New York as a postmodernist artist in 1978, and lived there for 15 years. He worked for art galleries, including John Weber, Nina Nosaie and Al Salvatore, and for artists Sol Lewitt and Basquiat. His paintings were shown in Soho, the East Village and uptown galleries. Here he speaks about his art and career.
I came back to Columbus in 1993 to take care of a sick friend. That year I joined the deconstructivist movement with information that I learned in New York. Deconstructivist (alternatively called “deconstructionist”) art is an outgrowth of postmodern art, a thought process by which you analyze … tear apart, the existing academia.
The result is a lot more energy, with use of conceptual properties overlapping, and layering of rhythms and transparencies. According to the architect Frank Gehry, you can deconstruct anything.
Gehry deconstructed a fish in Barcelona . With that in mind I deconstructed a number of portraits, cartoon characters, people, objects, and events that define the decade.
I have my my own style of deconstructionism. It is formally articulated and the drawing goes to painting dark lines and flat shapes with bright transparent color, with rolled-on glazes and arbitrary overlaps to find space.
The technique is not so painterly or pickled, but with sharp crisp lines with a straight edge built for each task. The subject is very important, as the lyrics must define current events and recent history. This tells the viewer where I am in time.
Hometown art-politics here (in Columbus) translates into a popular appreciation for folk art, outsider, untrained, and prison art. I am the only deconstructivist artist in town .
I have Resistance, but I also have pieces in many important collections, corporate, private and public. This month I am working on five commisions, including a 7′ x 12′ mural called Flight of the Dragon Fly deconstructed for Cosi’s 10th anniversary celebration. It will be installed at the Cosi building, 333 West Broad Street, Columbus.
I have made the transition to deconstructionism and plan to continue
December 20, 2009 3 Comments
The Theater of Service:
Winnie Owens and Patty Minkler
By Jonathan Evans
Colorado City, CO — I went to see the latest production at The Playhouse in Rye recently, not really knowing what to expect. What I saw was a fun amateur comedy, primarily acted by teenagers; it had been rehearsed and produced in only four weeks and in the circumstances, it was a very brave effort.
The following morning I went back to the Theater to talk with Winnie Owens and Patty Minkler, the co-directors of the show. I have to say that I had been warned that Winnie was a spiky lady, hard to pin down and outspoken when she was. Patty is the local deputy sheriff in Colorado City, a forceful and prominent member of the locality- and not somebody I would have normally associated with the ancient art of Theater. I came away from the meeting with my ideas completely turned around, not only about these members of the Greenhorn Valley community but about the role that theater can play in all our lives.
Winnie was born in Butte, Montana, settled with her husband in Rye in 1966 and has been with the Greenhorn Valley Players for twenty years. She took her two children to an audition for a play in the late eighties and never looked back. Painfully shy as a child herself, she admits, theater and acting have given her greater self-confidence but went on to draw my attention to the fact that she’d still felt more comfortable wearing a Halloween mask when she’d introduced the show from the stage the night before. This is not a woman who wants to hog the limelight and she is still frightened by the stage lights!
With an incredibly hectic life spread between the running of her home, a long-term job as liaison at the Muddy Creek Ranch and her position and responsibilities as president of the Playhouse Theater, Winnie has total commitment to Theater. For her it is the ultimate art form and medium for self-expression, incorporating fiction, art, acting and the nitty-gritty magic of live performance.
“What you see is what you get”, she says, “right there in front of your eyes.” She might well be talking about herself.
This year she has seen five plays onto the stage in Rye, acted in three of them and directed two.
Patty comes from Beulah and has been in law-enforcement for twenty four years. She has been active in the Lions Club and their distribution of food and care packages and is head of the Parade of Lights, a project very important to her because, she says, it serves to unite the towns of Rye and Colorado City at Christmas. Most essential to her, is her service in the schools with young people and with the elderly in the community. For her, a new involvement with the Greenhorn Valley Players and the Rye Playhouse has been an extension of this service, in a life spent looking for new ways to serve.
She came on board as an actress to play a cop in the production of ‘Spirit’ early in 2009, got the bug and stayed on. Patty loves to sew and makes all the costumes for the shows as well as recently moving into the role of director.
Between the two of them, they have been instrumental in the cleaning, the revamping and the makeover that the Playhouse has had recently. With further ambitions to improve the seating, the interior and exterior, the building itself has gone from an old Mercantile store to the comfortable, well-lit ninety-five seat theater that it currently is. And one has the sense that their work on this theater has only just begun.
But by far the most important role that they have seen for the theater goes beyond the next play or the next production. For Winnie and Patty, the theater is about family and community building and about preserving local history and culture. For some families, the theater is a thread of continuity which runs throughout their lives, as they take part in productions as children, grow up and have their own children do the same. Acting can be a great confidence builder and can take the participants into realms that they never even dreamed existed.
Theater, too, is the great educator as it holds a mirror up to life, up to our own faces and follies, both as actors and audience, and explores, exposes and in the end, applauds our common efforts. It can bond a society, actors to audience, in a way that no other art form can. It is a shared experience that can affect the way that each and every one of us sees ourselves and each other. You have to be brave to participate on the stage of everyday existence and theater is no less demanding.
Ed note: With this issue, ragazine.cc begins a search for what’s happening in the far reaches of America, and the globe. We’d like to know more about theater, art events, musicians, etc. We’re looking for quality writing/reporting from the heartland and the hinterlands to share with a growing global audience. If you write about music, theater or art, take photographs, record poetry and song, or have an idea for an article that highlights something special in your world, from the arts to politics to economics, keep us in mind. We need all the help we can get!
December 20, 2009 1 Comment
in Iceland, mostly hidden in the mist.
Iceland: Land of Contrast
‘Other-worldly” — those are the words that come to mind as you travel Iceland’’s “Ring Road” and try to describe what you’’re seeing. From glaciers to fjords, from black sand beaches to steam-spewing geysers, from desolate “moonscapes” to starkly beautiful mountains and waterfalls, no two places are quite the same. And they’’re all unforgettable.
With its ever-changing weather, Iceland is a photographer’s dream. No two days, no two hours, are ever alike. Wait two minutes and the light will change. The clouds are among the most dramatic I’’ve ever seen. This island nation, which borders the Arctic Circle, sparks creativity at every turn and is one of the most visually exciting locations I’ve ever visited.
The mountain range, Víkurfjall, with its reflection in a pond,
dominates along the east coast.
A steampot at the geothermal area of Hveravellir. Iceland
is one of the most active volcanic regions in the world.
Barren landscape surrounds Mount Lomagnupur along
Iceland’s Ring Road in Suðurland, the south.
The turquoise-colored water at the Blue Lagoon, situated
in a lava field and created by geothermal water.
Clouds hang over the highland desert.
Mountains covered with moss by the coast near Iceland’s Ring Road
in Suðurland, the south.
Four-wheel-drive vehicles drive the Kjolur Route through the
Icebergs in the lagoon at the bottom of Vatnajökull,
the largest glacier in Iceland.
Chuck Haupt is based in upstate New York. His award-winning work during a 30-year career at the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin is recognized throughout the region for its impact and excellence. Chuck is known for his captivating images of residents of New York’s Southern Tier, images that reveal character and evoke a powerful response.
His work as a photojournalist has taken him to a wide variety of places, from hospital operating rooms to professional golf tournaments, to lower Manhattan in the hours after the 9/11 attacks, and into the homes of ordinary people with extraordinary stories to tell.
When did you get into photography?
I always had an eye for details and started with a Kodak Instamatic that I got free from saving box tops way back when. In 1965 I got a Polaroid “Swinger” and soon after my first 35 mm. I haven’t stopped shooting since.
How does your approach to photography differ between what you shoot as a news photog and what you shoot ‘for fun’?
When shooting a news assignment you are shooting something specific, usually to accompany a story and reach a specific publication’s audience. When shooting for fun, you are seeing things in a different light.
Have you done much with digital photography?
I have been shooting in digital since the first the first Nikon D1 came out in 1999. I have made the change back to “full frame,” now that models of the “FX” digital camera with 12.1 megapixel sensor has been released. At first you really had size limitations with the 2.7 megapixel sensor of the early digital cameras. Today, if you want to spend the money, you can shoot 35mm with up to a 24.4 megapixel sensor. Shooting RAW format gives you all the control you need in preparing your images for publications or prints, the same, I feel, as when shooting film.
What do you think the future is for young people who want to enter the profession of photography?
If you have the passion for making photographs, nothing will stop you. You’re going to have to work hard at it to get yourself established, creating a niche. Whether you shoot for publications, stock photography, events, or fine art, there will be a market for quality images. While technology has improved the ‘point & shoot’ camera the past couple of years, you still need an eye for composition and for capturing the moment.
Do you worry about what happens with your work when it reaches cyberspace, such as publishing in ragazine?
Yes, it is so easy for people to download photos off of a web page. Most don’t understand photography is copyrighted for use. That’s why it is important to copyright a body of images to protect your work when infringement occurs.
What’s your favorite photo? Why?
Legendary photographer W. Eugene Smith’s “The Walk to Paradise Garden,” a photo of his two children walking hand in hand toward a clearing in woods. It was the first image he made after he was seriously injured and hadn’t been shooting for a long time. The photograph hangs in my home to remind me of the power an image can have on you.
Would you rather photograph people, places or things?
All three — it depends on my mood. I started shooting “rocks and trees” when I first discovered photography. Being exposed to photojournalism during high school got me interested in being able to tell people’s stories visually, which I went on to do professionally for 36 years. Now that I’m retired from the newspaper profession, I’m getting back into those rocks and trees. Still, I’ll never tire of wanting to shoot that interesting face and tell the story behind it.
© 2009 Chuck Haupt
December 20, 2009 8 Comments
Model citizens by day, ideal citizens by night:
Colorado City’s ‘Ideal Citizens’
By Jonathan Evans
The ‘Ideal Citizens’, Colorado City’s premier (and only) punk rock band is one of the area’s best-kept secrets. As there are few opportunities to play music in this locality, the band plays mainly in Pueblo where they say, they have played every venue, every bar and every dive at least ten times and still keep being asked back. They’ve played parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs but at this point, say that they are ready to expand their assault on the Colorado youth front and want to work further afield. The College circuit up north is one obvious place for them to go, as options down south are very limited.
I caught up with them in a large garage next to Dean Agee’s house in the west of Colorado City where they were rehearsing one night. Outside there was a blizzard as the third storm in two weeks struck hard; inside, a blizzard of sound assaulted me as I ducked inside to escape the heavy snow.
The band, a foursome consisting of Dean on drums, Louis Wirth on guitar, Jimmy Macdonald on bass guitar and Jeremiah Perez on main vocals, was set up by a warm wood stove in front of a mud-splattered Jeep. They were running through their set list, grouped together on their makeshift stage, Dean smashing fast rhythms on his drum kit, Louis bashing out chords, Jimmy pinning it all together with throbbing runs up and down the neck of his bass and Jeremiah facing in towards the musicians, his voice rising and falling above the music. They varied the tempo of their songs, alternating between fast boogies, hardcore punk rocker shout-outs and softer numbers. They write all their own material and song writing duties are shared equally. Not all their songs are fast punk rockers although the band is adamant that they are a punk band. ‘Hallways’, written by Louis, is an outstandingly melodic number with a rich chord sequence and intriguing words. The ‘Ideal Citizens’ have an engaging way of taking a relatively conventional pop song like this and smearing it with feedback, rhythm and attitude so that the basic structure of the song is almost unrecognisable. The band is capable of playing a sugar-sweet melody but merging it with filthy distortion and head- shattering rhythm. They produce music which is often poignant and always danceable and this is a rare quality in a genre which, to an oldie like me, is often repetitive and monotonous. All the members of the band sing so that even the hardest numbers have harmony. They have the ability to tether meaty classic rock hooks with a sludgy, rumbling bass and martial drumming; combining this heavy sound with sharp melodic vocals results in an often attractive hard rock sound which can transcend the implied violence of their punk attitude. I came away from the rehearsal session feeling that the ‘Ideal Citizens’ might rough you up a bit but would then want to kiss and make up! It’s an appealing combination and really, I thought, these are sweet young guys. Above all, the music is rhythmic and is driven along by Dean Agee’s polyrhythmic drum energy; there is no doubt that he is a strong asset to the band.
However, most interesting to me is that all the group members are normal guys in real life. Away from the rock n’ roll stage, they say, they all dress properly, have occupations, homes and families. They feel keenly that they come from this community and are part of this community; they pay their taxes, although the accident-prone, bass-player Jimmy says that he mostly pays hospital bills. He is currently recuperating from a serious knee injury although I couldn’t see that it was cramping his style too much.
Louis, a fourth year Psychology major at university in Pueblo, is as near to being the leader as the democracy of the band allows. It is he who keeps the equipment together, conducts the band’s business and is perhaps most ambitious for the band. He feels keenly that it’s vital for the band to get a CD of their music out and to expand the area of their gigging.
The music industry is in the midst of a technological revolution in its distribution right now; CDs don’t sell much anymore as music is circulated and acquired through downloading and all bands are facing changing times and this same problem. How a band is to make money and earn a living through music is currently a debatable issue; like most bands, the ‘Ideal Citizens’ have to rely on live performances in an area where venues are scarce and getting scarcer and where pay is generally poor.
But money is the least of the issues the band faces. They say
“Our goal is not to get rich but to achieve true originality; in general we lose money by plowing all we make straight back into the band anyway.”
And says Louis, “We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time!”
When they play, their transformation from regular guys to party animals is striking; these guys are committed to their music and have never missed a gig. They would like to thank E Man for his constant support of the band and his invaluable help in recording their music. To all their loyal fans too, they would like to say a big Thank You! Ten of their songs may be heard on the Net at Myspace.com/IdealCitizens and their itinerary can be found by emailing the band at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are looking for a manager who will show them the way to the next step in the rock n’ roll ladder; anyone who thinks he can help should get in touch with the group.
For these four young men, success is being able to pay the bills and to move onto the next gig; after more than two years on the road, the ‘Ideal Citizens’ are in for the long haul. It takes all kinds to make up our community and, in my book, the ‘Ideal Citizens’ live up to their name.
Ed note: With this issue, ragazine.cc begins a search for what’s happening in the far reaches of America, and the globe. We’d like to know more about theater, art events, musicians, etc. We’re looking for quality writing/reporting from the heartland and the hinterlands to share with a growing global audience. If you write about music, theater or art, take photographs, record poetry and song, or have an idea for an article that highlights something special in your world, from the arts to politics to economics, keep us in mind. We need all the help we can get!
December 20, 2009 Comments Off on Colorado Sounds
Inner Sleeve Confusion
Records are my weakness. I never gave up on them. When the masses turned to those new-fangled little discs, I didn’t balk. Far be it from me to look down on new technology. CDs were fine, and I bought ‘em up. Still do.
But get rid of LPs? I didn’t understand that sentiment. Vinyl was deeply engrained in our musical culture and, God knows, everyone had a record player. What was the hurry to ditch collections of much loved platters? When our second son was born, I didn’t have the urge to dispose of our first because he wasn’t as fresh as the new kid.
Like the children that I love, my records are a subject of my devotion and care. They are neatly categorized by genre (rock, jazz, country). Alphabetically sorted, of course. That goes without saying. I dreaded thumbing through other people’s stacks of wax when they weren’t properly ordered. How could you have an Elvis Costello record followed by one by the reviled Yes? Then, ten discs further, THERE WAS ANOTHER ELVIS COSTELLO RECORD! Come on, how can you expect one to function under such conditions.
I take it further. Each artist is lined up chronologically. It all makes sense. Bands are easy to find, and any particular record is right where it should be. There is one extra step I take, one that is the subject of great arguments among friends who care, and, happily for me, most of my friends still have albums. Actually, not surprising, since someone who is likely to have kept their record collection is more than likely to share other similar tastes, in music, movies, and books. This is no fluke.
For those who know a world populated exclusively by CDs, or, Lord help us, mp3s (having no physical substance they are unworthy of discussion), might need a brief lesson. Every record came with an inner sleeve. You had the cover, simple enough, then, inside, the record was wrapped again in paper. From simple white to photo heavy, some with lyrics, some without, the inner sleeve was important and needed to be treated in such a way.
Nearly every sleeve would have a taller side. My system is this: side one of the disc always faces the higher side, which is slid into the cover facing front. Obsessive, sure. Compulsive, without a doubt. Necessary, absolutely not. Purposeful, absolutely. Here’s why: I always know what side I’m putting on the turntable without looking, and that over three decades, has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of seconds, time put to good use, no doubt, picking the next selection.
In 1988, we moved from our Chicago high rise to a brand spanking new suburban development. My college pal Jimmy, who’d preceded us on the trek west, was living in the city and was keen on taping. I figured, why not let Jimmy have all my records for a while, making cassettes at his leisure. Then, he could drive them up to our new house. He’d gain a huge addition to his music collection, I’d save moving costs. Man, boxes of albums are friggin’ heavy.
What originated as a simple loan has become a twenty year running gag. Why? You guessed it, Jimmy didn’t put the records back properly! How do I know? Well, because I’ll pull out, say Graham Parker’s Heat Treatment, plop it on the spinning felt pad to hear the title track, side 1, track 1, and what starts playing? “Pourin’ It All Out,” the opener to side 2. Dammit Jimmy!
And I would call him, or email him, or, now, write on his Facebook wall and tell him what happened. His response is always the same: “So, wait, you’re telling me you haven’t listened to Heat Treatment in over 20 years?” I have thousands and thousands of records; I can’t be expected to give them an annual, or a once a decade, listen.
Lately, though, sinister theory has developed among my pals, who scoff at my process. Maybe side 2 should face the larger flap. Ever think of that, wise guy? Paul posed an interesting theory as to why he thought the smaller side of the inner sleeve should face forward. It looks like a t-shirt. Small strains of doubt began to appear. Could I have been wrong all along? Would I have to go through every record and flip them over?
Nah. I owe my confirmation to Graham Nash and David Crosby. Their first solo album, called, oddly enough, Graham Nash/David Crosby, has provided the answer. Printed on the bigger side of the inner sleeve is side 1 information – song titles, lyrics, etc. There! See! Now I’m on the prowl for more records to validate my theory. I’m on the right side of this inner flap flap, side 1, facing forward towards the high side.
Copyright Jeff Katz. Used with permission of the author.
December 20, 2009 4 Comments
On Monday Dr. Brussels says, “It is a new month. I think it is time. Do you feel ready to express your anger, and be honest with the people in your life? When you start to let go of your fury you will shed its physical manifestation …”
She grabs her midsection passionately and squeezes.
“Oh, right. It’s going to be bathing suit season in a couple of months.”
Her voice is stern, a reminder to be serious.
I look away, at the empty sushi tray by her feet. Why does she always eat during my appointment, doesn’t offer to share and leaves her trash sitting out? I have doubts about Dr. Brussels.
“If you get this anger out of your belly,” she continues, “I think you will see results right away.”
I want to be healthy. And hot. At least it’s not a liquid diet.
I look at the clock and then she looks at the clock.
“Time,” she says.
I walk to Washington Square Park because it’s close to Dr. Brussels’ office. I don’t want to go back to work. What I really want is a beer, but it’s only one o’ clock so I just sit on a bench in relative isolation from the homeless people and lunching office workers. I think about Dr. Brussels’ theory. It was actually my theory first. “I want to lose thirty pounds,” I said, “but I carry my anger in that fat and I don’t know how to get rid of it.”
The extra weight has distributed itself pretty well on my 5’2” frame. I’m bigger than I was in my twenties but most of it is from the anti-depressants. You get an office job and realize you don’t need to go to the gym every day because you’re not sleeping with as many people as you were in college. Maybe you’re not sleeping with anyone. Maybe you find gyms as pleasant to be in as holiday-season shopping malls.
Dr. Brussels loved the challenge. For a year she made me talk to her footstool. The footstool became my mother, my ex-lovers, my skinny sister, my co-workers. By the end of the year I was spitting, gesturing, crying, and screaming at that footstool. Once I threw up. She was kind enough not to charge me for the re-upholstering because I already pay on a sliding scale.
Pigeons fleck the grass on their lunch-hunt. I decide to start with my most recent ex-boyfriend because I don’t think an expression of anger will surprise him. I just hope the public arena will keep me from freaking out. My stomach tightens with anxiety and I remember that I haven’t eaten lunch, but I’m not hungry anymore. I don’t want the beer either. My stomach is closed; it is adamant. Nothing gets in before something comes out.
“Hello,” Justin says. “If this is about your books, Lydia, I don’t have them boxed up yet, okay? I’m a little busy right now.”
“This isn’t about my books,” I say. “I need to tell you something.”
He sighs. I can hear other voices in the background, one of them a woman’s.
“I’ve been pissed off at you for most of our relationship, but definitely more so since we broke up, and definitely the most since we started sleeping together again.”
“We slept together, like, three times. I don’t think it’s something we’re starting.”
“You can’t treat me like a convenience,” I squeeze out.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that you only call and ask how I am when it’s convenient for you, which is usually when you want to sleep with me.”
“Three times, Lydia. Three times.”
“For most of our relationship,” I say, my voice getting higher, “I put all the effort into making things work. We wouldn’t have stayed friends if not for me, and maybe we shouldn’t.”
“Then why do you still call?”
“And one other thing. Every time we slept together I was thinking about the boyfriend before you.”
He is silent.
“Okay, maybe that’s a lie,” I say, “but even the most amazing sex, which I’ll admit we had on occasion, cannot make up for the way you treat me.”
That’s a lie too.
“I feel like a non-person in your life,” I say.
He takes a deep breath.
“I don’t really know what you want. I think you’re still relying on me for emotional support, but I can’t give you that. Maybe we shouldn’t talk for a while, just let the air clear out.”
“You’re probably right. But I still want my books back. And I have to ask: do you still love me in any way?”
“I’m not in love with you anymore,” he says slowly, “but I still care about you. I think you’re a good person to know.”
“That last thing,” I say, my voice rising again, “is bullshit. I get mad at you when you say things like that.”
A space the size of a Robin’s egg clears out in my stomach.
I lose five pounds by Wednesday. The next Monday I feel a little weak. I try to get out of bed, but my legs wobble when my feet touch the hardwood floor. I call into work and my boss’ administrative assistant answers the phone.
“Marissa, it’s Lydia,” I say. “I’m not feeling well. Need to talk to Henry.”
“He’s attending a conference. Would you like me to tell him you won’t be in?”
I think I hear exasperation in her voice. She’s on my list along with the rest of the office, but not for today. I feel a clean line of nausea go down my throat and pool at the bottom of my stomach.
“Yes, Marissa, that’s exactly what I’d like you to tell him,” I reply evenly. “And please tell anyone who needs to get a hold of me that I will check my email today.”
“Sure,” she says in her artificial sweetener tone. “Feel better.”
I hang up. Before I worked for a non-profit I thought that everyone would be extra nice. I mean, when you’re walking around fulfilling some higher mission how can you not smile? But everyone is fake. It’s like there’s some kind of invisible Joan of Arc Virtue Pageant taking place at all times, and if they sense you’re even the tiniest bit ahead they have no qualms about elbowing you off the runway.
I try to get out of bed again. I have to use the furniture to steady myself on the way to the kitchen. I think I just need to drink some tea and have breakfast. I’ve noticed that my appetite has been down since I called Justin; honesty is stressful. I open the refrigerator; there is a block of fine cheese I could eat with bread. My stomach growls, but not in the hungry way. I fix my eyes on every object in the fridge, one at a time, and wait for my stomach to react. Halfway through I notice a pattern. My stomach vetoes every item that isn’t green. Strange, but what can I do? I make a salad for breakfast. I reach for a cucumber and then remember that they’re white inside. I consider buying Fruit Loops and only eating the green ones.
I feel alright after eating some broccoli and decide to call my mother. First I brush my teeth. She can smell bad breath through the phone lines and will ask why I’ve let myself fall into such a slump. I coil myself around a large pillow in the living room and press the phone against my ear. It’s only 7:00 a.m. on the west coast, but she’ll be up, ahead of the rest of the country.
“Good morning, sweetie, are you calling me from work?” she asks.
“No, I’m at home. I’m feeling sick today.”
“One is or isn’t sick, Lydia. If you only think you might be sick you really should go to work. You don’t want a pattern to develop.”
“A pattern? Mom, this is pretty much the first sick day I’ve taken in my entire life.”
“Is it very important, darling? I was just watering my tomato plants.”
“It is,” I say.
She exaggerates a sigh.
“Before I tell you, you should know that this is a therapeutic exercise designed and overseen by Dr. Brussels.”
My mother loves my psychiatrist. She was recommended by a friend of a friend of a friend, but Mom acts like they were college roommates.
“She’s been a miracle worker with you,” Mom says.
She thinks I’m such a nut job that anyone who could treat me must be a genius and a hero.
“I’m so happy to hear that you’re cooperating with her.”
“Just listen to me, okay, Mom?”
“Why didn’t you pay more attention to me when I was little? I was your only child. What was going on in your life that was more important than me?”
I hold my breath.
“That was a long time ago. You’re thirty now. How is it relevant?”
Her voice is high and pinched, which is what it sounds like when she’s trying to stay in control.
“Well, it was a handicap both when I was growing up and into my adult life. In fact, it’s the experience that I attribute my current unhappiness and trouble with relationships to.”
“Trouble with relationships?” she repeats, an edge coming into her voice. “I don’t think you can blame that on me. You pick such terrible men. They’re trouble before the relationship even begins.”
I hug the pillow until I start to lose circulation in my arms.
“Mom, I just want to know why you were hardly around. Can you answer that? I mean, if you’d only shown me a little more encouragement …”
“I did encourage you,” she interrupts. “I wasn’t around because I was getting my MBA so I could get a better job and send you to the best schools so you would be encouraged and have the chance to do whatever you wanted with your life.”
“But I didn’t want encouragement from anyone except you and Dad,” I say.
“Lydia, don’t be a baby. You want to know the truth? You never had any clear direction. Dance lessons, gymnastics, a drum set, swim team, photography – whatever your interest was that year we made sure you were nurtured in it. You chose to go to art school in New Mexico over Princeton. Do you think we were happy about that? I couldn’t sleep for a month.”
I hold the receiver away from my ear.
“And you still don’t have any clear direction. You went from art to the medical field, but we’re so happy you got that job at the non-profit. If nothing else, you’ve got to have health insur-“
I drop the pillow and run to the toilet. My stomach clamps and sends its juices up my throat. This is the first time I’ve ever hung up on my mother. It feels good.
On the last day of the second week I weigh myself. Ten pounds lighter and I feel like shit. Weak, achy, sluggish. The weirdest thing is not being able to eat anything that isn’t green. I go to friends’ houses for dinner and pray that there will be vegetables. They think I’m on some kind of fad diet, or maybe starving myself. I tell everyone that I’m trying something new, involving honesty, and swear that I didn’t read it in a book or on the internet.
“My body’s adjusting,” I say, “and I’m listening and it’s telling me that it only wants to eat green.”
What can they say? Luckily, I have supportive friends.
I get naked in front of the mirror. My body doesn’t look too different. My boobs have shrunk, and there are places around my stomach where the skin seems to have receded but is still loose. Anyway, ten pounds means I’m one-third of the way there and I haven’t said anything at work yet.
I skip an appointment with Dr. Brussels.
“I’m on a roll and I’d just rather wait to talk about it until it’s all done,” I tell her.
“Why do you think you can dictate a new therapeutic arrangement, Lydia? Don’t you think you pay me to know better?”
“Not this time,” I say.
“Fine,” she says, “but if you don’t come back next week I will not be able to see you anymore.”
I go to work and it’s terrible. My boss turns in his resignation and everyone is on edge. Their conversations circle around the empty spot like they’re sniffing out opportunities with words. No one is qualified to replace him. Marissa cries after he tells her. She cries the whole day, doesn’t even bother to wipe her nose before answering the phone, and makes sure everyone can hear that every sentence she utters is forced out mid-wail.
After another lunch of steamed spinach with a side of broccoli I am not in the best mood.
“Shut up!” I finally snap in the 3:00 hour. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
She stops crying. Everyone stops whatever they’re doing. I’m not an ass-kisser, but I’m usually polite.
“I’m angry because I don’t think you are sincere,” I say to Marissa.
I look around the office.
“No one is being sincere,” I repeat.
Then I switch to the ‘we’ pronoun because I think it will be less threatening.
“We are a selfish, catty, scheming office.”
Marissa starts sniffling.
“And Marissa, I hate to break it to you, but you didn’t even like Henry. You thought he stared at your chest too much. So stop the crying already. No one believes it.”
She stares at me, her mouth slack. I walk into my office and very calmly shut the door.
I am getting ready to leave at 4:55 when an unfamiliar woman opens my door. She identifies herself as someone from HR, a department I didn’t know we had. I know what comes next; they always fire people at the end of the day.
“Ms. Pearson, the outburst you had this afternoon created a hostile environment for your co-workers. I’m afraid that we find this kind of behavior unacceptable. I have a resignation letter with me; you can sign it right now or we can terminate you. Whichever option you choose is effective immediately. Please collect your belongings. You will not be allowed to return to this office tomorrow. See the shipping department if you need boxes.”
She slides a piece of paper across my desk. They must actually keep resignation letters on hand for a situation like this. I ponder my options. I have little savings, not even enough to live on for a month. If I resign I can tell my next employer that my mother suddenly fell ill and I needed to care for her. As much as I hate its generic language, I sign the letter.
When I come home I go right to sleep. I don’t wake up until ten the next morning. I can tell that I have lost even more weight, but I don’t bother to check. My clothes hang with a ghostly emptiness off of my shoulders and hips. Could it be the flu? I call Dr. Brussels.
“I need to come in today, if I can get out of bed. Do you have any openings?” I ask.
“What is the nature of your emergency, Lydia?”
“I wouldn’t call it an emergency, although my whole life is kind of being derailed along with this plan of yours.”
“I can see you at 3:00.”
I feel energy come back into my body. I drag myself to the bathroom, turn on the shower, take a bar of soap from its holder and begin to lather my skin.
At exactly 3:00 I take a seat in Dr. Brussels’ waiting room. A small radio plays classical music at an inoffensive volume. Magazines fan out across end tables, the same four actresses reappearing on the covers. My eyes jump with my stomach, from Lose 10 Lbs Here’s How, to Why Men Cheat and Women Secretly Don’t Care (Because They’re Cheating too), and back to Three Miracle Workouts from Three Oscar Winners. I feel anxious. I check the time on my cell phone: 3:05. Sometimes when Dr. Brussels is late I think she’s forgotten about me and I knock on the door. Usually there’s just an especially upset person in the room running over their appointment time.
At 3:08 a middle-aged brunette emerges. Dr. Brussels gestures for me to come in. She takes in my appearance, but doesn’t allow her expression to change even slightly.
“Lydia, how are you? It’s been a long time. I am very eager to hear how you’ve made out with the plan.”
“I feel like I’ve had the flu since last week.”
“Why don’t you start from the beginning?”
“Well, I called my ex-boyfriend first. It did feel good to tell him that I was angry about the way he treats me and that I won’t put up with it anymore. He didn’t hang up on me or say he hates me. We just agreed not to talk for a while.”
She nods. “Good, good.”
“And then I talked to my mother. I told her that I felt like I didn’t get enough attention as a child. I hung up on her and she hasn’t called me since.”
“This could be a huge breakthrough for you,” Dr. Brussels says, “we will begin to focus on your mother as soon as this treatment succeeds.”
“But, I feel terrible. I’ve lost like 25 lbs this month. I have no appetite, and when I’m hungry my stomach balks at any food that isn’t green. I lost my job because of your treatment.”
“Green, green,” Dr. Brussels muses. She looks up at the ceiling as if to ponder a riddle. “What do you think the significance of that color is?” she asks.
“It’s the color of jealousy. I don’t know. I’m afraid to talk to my friends, afraid that I’ll suddenly start yelling at them even if I’m not angry.”
“Well, you must stay the course.” She says. “I think your present strife will lead to great rewards in your mental health.”
“Is that all you have to say?”
“Emergency sessions are half as long as regularly scheduled appointments. I had to squeeze you in and I’m afraid our time is up now.”
I leave, feeling more than a little bit sore about the $100 check I handed over. I feel like an anecdote in an article she will write: “Subject reported feelings of fatigue and isolation, yet progress has been encouraging. Instructed subject to continue.”
I turn around in the lobby and ride back to the ninth floor. I knock on her door, even though I know it would inexcusable to interrupt someone else’s session. She is alone, which makes me even angrier.
“Listen,” I say, “I’m feeling pretty angry about the check I just left with you. I don’t feel you really earned it. sYou didn’t give me any emotional support.”
She steps back and turns her head to look at something on her desk. When she looks at me again she has a huge smile on her face. Her eyes display the conviction of people holding bibles or guns.
“It’s working,” she whispers, “I knew it, it’s working.”
December 20, 2009 Comments Off on Elizabeth Helen Spencer
D.C. artist’s encaustics capture
The varied influences and experiences in Angela White’s life come through clearly in the ranging images of her work. From international travel in pieces such as “Karpathos Island, Greece”, to explorations of the inner and outer self in “Traces” and “California Summer”, her encaustics capture moments and emotion that, as is common with abstracts, allow the viewer to fill in the blanks from their own lives.
Artist’s statement excerpt:
“Body prints I created in 2007 interpret memories held within the body, as well as the body in motion. Body printing is well known within art history, but my unique focus has been to show movement with the body. Using a digital camera, I took digital images of my body prints and then transferred and embedded them into new encaustic paintings – fusing translucent layers of luminous encaustic surfaces allows me to create visual depth and density in my work.
“The seascapes and landscapes are created using encaustic and water-based oil paints, and are occasionally embedded with gold and silver leaf and covered with iridescent oil paints. A deep sense of awe and reverence for the beauty and power of nature is expressed in all of my water and land paintings. These natural landscapes, along with the body print paintings, all reflect a desire to show constant movement and natural rhythm.”
More of White’s work can be seen at www.angelawhiteart.com, which also provides a link to contact the artist.
December 20, 2009 2 Comments
What Would Rachel Do?
I wonder how Rachel Carson would look in lycra.
These are the kinds of thoughts I have when out on a ride in the north Pennsylvania hills where I live and teach. Usually, such thoughts occur near the top of a tough climb, when the oxygen goes to my legs instead of my brain.
Today, I’m heading west on Cherry Flats Road, mashing the pedals of my steel and carbon fiber road bike up a steep grade, sucking wind, and marveling at the lime green leaves emerging from the hardwoods scattered on the north-central Pennsylvania hills. It’s been a long winter, and I’m enjoying riding my bike without multiple layers and freezing digits. After the climb, my breathing slows and I’m settling into a moderate pace when my gaze is jerked upward by splash of black against the sky. I see a raptor—an osprey, I think—winging toward me about 70’ above a small pond. I watch, transfixed, as the bird wheels 180 degrees, rises slightly, and plunges toward the water. As the osprey dives, I hear myself saying “oh, oh, oh,” then “boom!” when the bird hits the water. I realize that my hands are above my head, as if I have just won a stage of the Tour de France, while the raptor rises out of the water and wings south. I turn my head to follow its path and see water streaming off its wings. Too surprised to think about stopping, I face forward again and find that I’ve veered toward the yellow lines. No big deal. No cars anywhere nearby. Grabbing the bars, I steer toward the edge of the road as I replay what I saw in my mind. The glance, the focus, the turn, the plunge—I was shocked and awed, though probably not as much as the fish that nearly got nicked.
I’m fortunate that I live and work in this part of Pennsylvania. Though I don’t see ospreys fishing on every bike ride, I see animals and birds in greater numbers than I’ve seen elsewhere. I see deer, beavers, groundhogs, bobcats, turkeys, hawks, bald eagles, barn swallows, cedar waxwings, red-winged blackbirds, bobolinks, and killdeer. One recent ride, I saw the youngest fawn I had ever seen trot across the road in front of me. I’m always wowed by these encounters, and they have become a welcome aspect of my rides, in part because they remind me that there’s so much life out there.
I also ride my bike because it gives me space to think about teaching. I teach composition and environmental literature at Mansfield University, a small public university a few miles north of where I saw the osprey. And one of the things I ponder most as I ride are ways of capitalizing on this “wow” factor in my class on environmental literature (comp, too, to a lesser extent). For environmental literature, I assign Thoreau, Susan Fennimore Cooper, Leopold, Beston, Carson, Abbey, Hogan, Gessner—the usual suspects (well, except maybe for Gessner, but I’ve got a weak spot for essays about pissing outside). There are always a few of my students, usually from the sciences or English, who devour the texts and write essays that reflect awe and understanding when looking at nature. They get the “wow” factor—in the texts and outside of them—and it changes the way they think. These students get the idea that we need to care for the places where we live, and we need to do it now. But there are many more that don’t appear to care, and those are the ones that I carry with me most on my rides. It’s not that they don’t think there are problems with our treatment of and attitudes toward the environment. They do. And it’s not from a lack of contact with nature. Tioga County is rural. Local schools close on the opening day of deer season, farms dot the hillsides and valleys, and bears wander through campus during exam week. Many students eat off the farm. Many are intimate with land and animals in ways I never have been. But they don’t seem overly concerned about environmental problems. They just want to become better writers—at least, that’s what they say in my class anyway—and they want a degree and a job.
Enroll these students in a small university working to distinguish itself as Pennsylvania’s public liberal arts school, and the pedagogical issues get interesting. How does an English professor teach these students the value of a liberal education and the need to think critically and draw on multiple disciplines to solve problems like global warming? As I mull that question, the first thought that comes to mind is: I don’t. That’s a huge burden to put on one class, and the best I can do is help students find their own way into this perspective. These are students who, like me, didn’t grow up questioning authority as much as acquiescing to it, taking the written or spoken word at face value. A liberal education, however, asks students to look for ways to ask hard questions of one’s self and the public, and it insists that we discuss environmental concerns and the need for public action. But this is a difficult thing to do when you’re worried about passing your classes and making it to your job on time. My students want good jobs close to home, and they want to start families. The environment can take care of itself. So, I’m always wondering about ways to get them to buy into the idea that education is about more than getting a job, more than going through the motions and walking across the stage. I spend a lot of time on my bike thinking about this issue, and I have two main questions. One: How do I get students who grow up in families that are not predisposed toward liberal education (or any education, really) to understand the all-encompassing importance of it? Two: How can I stop being so damn serious about it? If I were one of those students and I heard me babbling about the importance of liberal education, caring for self by caring for the public, blah, blah, I’d run straight toward the nearest bar.
“Damn straight,” a voice blurts behind me, and I turn to see David Gessner pedaling up beside me on an old Cannondale while Rachel Carson slides her Raleigh into our draft.
“Do you always talk to yourself when you ride?” he pants.
Gessner wears a beer jersey and baggy shorts, his hair unruly in the wind. Sweat drips off his nose. Carson wears a wool jersey and shorts and a slight smile. In contrast to Gessner’s, her hair ripples calmly.
“Now, David, don’t get into one of your moods.” Carson says. “Don’t you want to help this young man answer his questions?”
We ride by the spring where I often stop for water. Maybe that climb was steeper than I thought. The road rises slightly and my breathing deepens. So does Gessner’s. Tucked in behind us, Carson appears to be riding effortlessly. It doesn’t hurt that she probably weighs thirty or forty pounds less. But I’m willing to trade a draft for some answers.
The road levels and Carson pulls between us. Gessner and I catch our breath.
“OK,” I ask, “what do y’all think?”
“About what?” Gessner replies. Carson begins to speak, but Gessner continues. “Being earnest is a buzz kill. Relax. Have fun. Beware serious conferences, serious people, and serious talks about nature.”
“But I enjoy those serious conferences and serious people and serious talks about nature,” I reply, while Carson nods in agreement. “I can’t help but be serious when I think about the way that my university sells itself as this public liberal arts school when the students who come here have no idea what the liberal arts are all about. They grow up in families like mine—working class, little understanding of the way colleges work. They sense education is important—at least, some do—but they have no idea what it means to make education and learning a part of every single facet of your life.” Gessner starts to speak, but I raise my hand. “I know, I know, that sounded serious. Earnest even. Ugh.” I look up the road, a bit frustrated because I can’t even articulate clearly what I’m trying to say.
“There’s you answer,” Carson offers and points to the white back of a bobolink zooming low over a field. We all look, freewheels ticking, as the R2D2-like bloops and burbles cascade over our eardrums. The bird swoops left in a low arc and settles on a stalk of hay. It’s one of those “wow” moments.
“But that’s so cliché,” Gessner responds. “Cool, but cliché.”
“Yeah,” I agree. “I love seeing those things myself, but I’m not sure that showing my students bobolinks will in any way help them grasp what I want them to. Nor do I think it will help my administration understand just what we are trying to do. Jesus, I sound gloomy. Maybe even whiny.”
“Definitely whiny,” Gessner says.
“Definitely whiny,” I say back.
“You know when I wrote Silent Spring,” Carson begins, “I wasn’t really looking to create that kind of hoopla, but I felt the story had to get out. I had suspected that pesticides were a problem and followed the research, and eventually our carelessness and ignorance just got to be too much. We were not using pesticides well, and those actions masked a deeper problem concerning the way humans viewed the world. That bothered me and motivated me. But there was another motivation, one that might help you here.”
Carson looks at me, then away, in time to flick her bike around a chipmunk carcass. She says: “The sense of wonder. The ‘wow’ moment, one might say. I wrote about this, too, a long time ago. I believed then, and still do, that it’s best to enable students, kids, anyone to feel nature, to experience it on a visceral level. That’s probably more important than knowing whether you’ve seen a bobolink or a robin. So the question of how to teach one’s students to appreciate the wow moment is answered in part by getting them outside. And the potential for change there is much greater.”
“Change, smange,” Gessner grumbles. “We’re writers and Jimmy here is a teacher. We don’t have that much of an impact on how kids view nature. We’d have more effect swinging these bicycles at them than showing them bobolinks.”
“I’m not swinging my bike at anybody,” I say. “I don’t want to hurt it.”
“David,” Carson says, “ask yourself how many times someone has taken students outside and given them permission to look and time to do it. You won’t reach everyone. I surely didn’t. But some will enjoy it. They will rekindle an emotional attachment already present or they may being to develop one. The key is to help them feel their connection in the pit of their stomach.”
“This is all well and good, Rachel—it’s ok if I call you Rachel, isn’t it? This is my bike ride and my essay, after all. Anyway, I’m picking up what you are putting down, and I’m liking the way this conversation is justifying the way I teach my environmental lit class by focusing on the different perspectives of nature as presented by the writers. Oddly enough, you and Gessner provoke the most reactions in class. Students get fired up when reading Silent Spring, and I once spent a large portion of class listening to my students wax eloquently about the pleasures of pissing and shitting in the woods after reading ‘Marking My Territory.’ But, and this is a big but, I’m not sure that’s enough. Are you saying I should take my students outside? They’ll love that, I’ll get the rep as the easy prof on campus—you know, we look at trees, that kind of thing—and I’m afraid my students won’t learn anything about the importance of educating themselves. Because, with all due respect, they need knowledge to go along with those feelings. I’d argue that many of my students come from families who make many decisions based on feelings and little knowledge. Pardon me, but that’s fucked. That’s the same kind of mentality you ran up against when Silent Spring was released. I mean, that book is not about the ‘wow.’ It’s about the need for education. Because of that book, I hold you up as the prime example of what a liberal arts education put into action can do.”
We drift downhill toward the town of Cherry Flats, moving single file to let a rattly Ford pickup pass. Gessner and Carson resume their spots beside me. I take a swig from my water bottle and notice that Gessner and Carson don’t have any. Weird.
Carson’s voice breaks through the hum of our tires: “Do you believe what you are doing is important and that your perspective matters?”
“Then why the doubt?” The question hangs in the air. I glance at Gessner, hoping for a comment about how things are getting too serious. No such luck. He looks out over the field to our left and fidgets on his saddle like his ass hurts. Pansy, I think. We’ve only ridden about three miles together. I know I’m stalling, knowing that I don’t have a good answer, and knowing that I’m a better doubter than cyclist.
“That’s a good question that I can’t fully answer. I feel it often, even after a good class. I think part of it stems from the fact that I’m not even convinced that my students need to be bothered with tales of terror about the environment. They need jobs. People have been hammered in this part of the country. Hell, I’m part of the economic elite, and I’m an English prof, for God’s sake. How are my students supposed to care for the environment if they can’t keep a roof over their heads? Part of it stems from the fact that I never feel like I’m doing enough, either professionally or personally. I give talks on campus about caring for the environment and make students laugh—I can be funny, David. A lot of students show up, too—more than faculty—which is cool. I push our administration to make changes to the campus that would show us taking responsibility for our impact on the environment. Let’s see, ummm, that’s about it.”
“So, you’re doing what you can do,” Carson says. “That’s a start. I don’t have much to offer, except that you need to live your convictions and continue doing what you are doing. It’s fine not to be yukking it up all the time. Just be sure it’s not gloom and doubt making you serious, but hope and purpose. Oh, and be sure to relish your “wow” moments. They will keep you charged up for facing a room full of students who are perhaps not as passionate about this world as you are. David, would you like to add anything?”
Gessner squints thoughtfully. “Yeah, I’ve got to piss.”
Carson slows and I ride on, figuring the pair will catch me before I turn onto Arnot Road. They don’t though. Maybe Gessner blew a tire. I think about turning around in case he needs my pump. But if he isn’t smart enough to bring water, then why should I baby him?
James Guignard is Assistant Professor of English and Director of Composition at Mansfield University, where he teaches composition, advanced and professional writing, composition theory, and environmental literature. He is the co-editor of Literature, Writing, and the Natural World (Cambridge, 2009), and has published essays in Liberal Education, Elsewhere: A Journal for the Literature of Place, and Virginia English Bulletin. Currently, he is researching the rhetoric of the natural gas industry in northcentral Pennsylvania.
December 20, 2009 Comments Off on James Guignard
Excerpts from the Memoir
of Jose Antonio Rodriguez
Cada quince días, says Amá when I ask her how often we burn our garbage. The cloud rises and covers some of the cacti in soot. But the cacti are very hardy and they never burn. They keep swaying slowly even in smoke. Clorox bottles take the longest to burn and it’s dangerous to get the burning plastic on your skin because it becomes gooey and it sticks and you won’t be able to take it off and it’ll burn like nothing you’ve ever felt before. But the leftovers of our burning aren’t interesting; we already know what was in there.
The neighbor’s, though, that’s fun. They live in a pretty yellow house with potted plants in front, flowering plants at that, and toys strewn in the front yard, like the kids don’t even like them that much. Sometimes I wonder if they’ve completely forgotten them, if the toys have become unwanted, unclaimed. But Amá says you can’t just go around picking up someone else’s things. The garbage they burn, though, that’s clearly unwanted stuff. So when the fire is done, my sister Morayma and I go and sift through the ashes, look for things we can save. Sometimes there’s nothing but the remains of Clorox bottles or half burnt cardboard boxes. If the boxes were whole you could use them to fan yourself or to fold into something, but because they’re made of the same thing as paper, the fire eats them up before anything else. And we come and ask Amá to rinse our feet that are the color of a cloudy sky. And she gets angry sometimes, but just a little.
Today though Morayma finds a coffee cup and I find a toy car wheel and a wooden block with a letter on it and those things we save, bring inside. Morayma feels the smooth surface of painted clay, beige with little orange flowers that would form a circle if the cup was complete, and I spin the one tire from the wire axle like a top. Then I place the tire on the ground and imagine the entire car. It would be a truck actually, one of those yellow ones and the truck would be so complete, so like the real thing, that I would never get bored running it along the ground or just holding it. I could place the wooden block with its perfect sides on the box. It could even hold Morayma’s cup.
When we’re done, we place the things in a corner. Amá says we’re just collecting junk but she doesn’t throw it away.
At the end of the day with the sky almost orange again, little black flakes start to fall from the sky, like singed leaves of grass, black and light as a baby chick’s feathers. They feel like paper, like the paper of the big dolls hanging from shops in the city. The frills in all sorts of bright colors adorn the large dolls everywhere and beautiful because the paper is thin and the light shines through. Amá says the dolls are called piñatas but when I ask her what they are for, she keeps quiet. Yes, this is what they look like but black.
Caña, alguien está quemando caña, says Amá.
Somewhere far away someone is doing something, burning sugarcane, and something other than smoke has risen to the sky. It has traveled from far away because fire leaves only the light part of things. The heavy part disappears. The little flakes are falling over me and it makes the evening magical. Now I know why we can burn garbage in the back of our house, why the neighbors can do it, and never run out of space, because the wind takes away the ashes, carries them and lets them fall far away.
After a long time of running around chasing after lizards I get a headache and go sit by Amá who’s kneeling outside in the shade by the house.
Te va a salir sangre de la nariz, she warns.
I stare at the pot of beans because it seems it should fall, tip over, as it sits all shaky on the grill that looks really similar to the corner of the box spring of a bed. The coils are rusted. They give under the weight of the pot. Amá keeps adding water to the pot. Next to the pot is a comal where she lays each tortilla that she makes perfectly circular with the tortillera.
Tengo hambre, I say and she takes a tortilla, adds a pinch of salt, and rolls it up into a perfect little flute for me.
I smell the tortilla first. I love the aroma, but I’m scared of the fire pit in the ground. The flames are always kicking up and the heat flashes out from the tips like sheets of hot wind against your cheek. You have to stay away a little. Also, the burning wood smokes up and leaves a layer of soot all over your face if you sit there long enough. Amá always looks a little gray, her eyes watery, unless the day is windy. If it is windy, having a fire outside is dangerous and so she has to use the stove inside, and that uses gas from a tank.
I wait until the beans are ready and she serves me a few in a plastic cup and I spoon them out and take bites from a tortilla. And then I run off to chase after lizards, the only animals out in the noonday sun. All the other animals stay under the shade in the hottest part of the day. We don’t have any horses or cows but I see them sometimes by the side of the road when I have to go run an errand. And if it’s very hot, they’re always resting under a tree. I should learn from that but I don’t.
A little bit later I’m in bed with a nose bleed, pinching my nose to coagulate the blood that just pours out. Amá is angry because she told me this would happen from running around all day under the sun in the heat and I didn’t listen. I wonder if all the kids I see from far away under the sun are also bleeding now in their houses. She says sometimes talking to me is like talking to a dog but who would talk to dog? That’s just silly.
I can feel the blood running down my throat as I swallow but I don’t taste it. And I think myself lucky that I don’t have to taste blood. Then I must have slept because when I get up, the house is noisy with the voices of my brothers and sisters who are back from school or work. I get up and go to the kitchen. Amá is ironing, which means I have to be careful around the iron because once, it tripped over and the hot part of it landed on my foot and it hurt worse than a headache. I was also running then. She stops for a second, takes a wet rag and wipes my hands which are splotchy with dried blood and my face which I figure must also be splotchy. I walk outside, play marbles with Juan. It’s not a lot of fun because we only have a few marbles and so the game is over right away. The best part is making the little hole in the ground for the marbles to land in because the dirt is cool just a little under the surface and it feels good on the fingertips. Lizards skitter by but I don’t chase after them.
Vengan a cenar, we hear.
There’s only like three chairs in the kitchen so most everybody stands. She places a plate of beans before me, refried and the hint of lard grease makes my mouth water. I take a piece of tortilla and scoop up a mouthful of beans, always careful to stay on one end of the plate because the other end has a hole in it and we shouldn’t be wasting food by letting it squish through the plate. When I am done, I have another glass of water, then I sit under the door frame that faces the sun that is leaving. The sky is turning shades of orange and pink and blue. The weeds and the trees are already ringing with the songs of cicadas and the early chirping of crickets. A goat is bleating but the sound is soft, like it is hiding behind all the other sounds. It must be somewhere down the road in some other house. Maybe it’s tied to a tree or sitting inside a pen. When goats bleat up close it’s really loud. I used to think they bleated because they were tied up or trapped in a pen but no, they’re always bleating, even when they’re out grazing on anything they can find. Even when they are not tied or inside a pen. Still, it always sounds sad, like they’re crying out for something. And I wish I could ask them, but they wouldn’t understand me.
I tell Amá I need to go to the bathroom. I’m scared of the dark so she tells my sister Aleida to go with me. We go out behind the house, close to the ebony tree. I pull down my shorts and squat. Aleida stands a few feet from me. We say nothing. When I’m done I grab a corn cob within reach and wipe myself.
I go back to the door frame. Just as everything is becoming darkness, somebody nudges my shoulder and leads me to bed.
Chickens are Nosy
I hate it when the chickens come around because they’re hungry too. The tank for the stove is out of gas and so my sister Mari cooks potatoes out of a dirt-filled barrel outside. It’s different to eat outside, exciting. The kindling is mostly little sticks and torn pages from my older brother’s comic books, pages with so many big-chested women and angry-looking men lying in bed together and kissing but not how relatives kiss us when they come visit. Amá is not here, she’s on the other side visiting Apá, who’s working hard. The potatoes are half raw because we’ve run out of kindling or because my sister got tired of stirring. I don’t know, but I don’t say anything. I just keep eating. The chicken’s run out of worms, I guess, and comes around wanting food, sneaking out from under the cactus bush. Its white feathers look so pretty against the pale gray green of the cactus bush. They ask with their beady yellow eyes, I know the look. It remains just a little longer than usual on the thing it wants. Then it moves on to other things, the look, but the chicken sticks around, walking in circles, pretending, like we’re not going to figure it out. They walk but never leave, hoping for something to fall from our hands, slip out of our potato tacos. I don’t think they like potatoes but they’re hoping they might. The chicken zig-zags. My brother Juan hits it with a stick, too hard, the chicken wobbles.
¿Juan, qué hiciste? shrieks Mari.
Nada. No’más quería asustarla.
And it’s true he only wanted to scare it away. I can tell he feels bad because his head hangs down a little and he eats more slowly. We’ll have to nurse the chicken back to health or kill it. And we don’t want to kill it, it’s too young, mostly bones, not enough meat. That afternoon the chicken is still kind of wobbly, slow. Mari crushes a mejoral in a spoon and dilutes it in a cup of water. I wish the mejoral was for me because when Amá gives us one when something hurts, she mixes the crushed mejoral with a little bit of sugar. It tastes a little mediciny but still kind of like candy.
Mari lifts the chicken from the ground and it doesn’t even flap its wings. Mari dips its beak in the water. I hold the cup but it’s not really drinking. It doesn’t know the water has medicine that will make it better. I wonder if the mejoral would help it anyway. It helps me sometimes when I get headaches, like something is pressing against the inside of my head. Amá says it’s because I’m too much out in the sun like a lizard, that I have to come in and be in the shade once in a while. And I try to remember this but I always forget. I think the chicken’s going to die because she hasn’t clucked very much today and she’s got sleepy eyes. I think we’re gonna have soup, but not a lot.
At the end of the day the train makes a stop and whistles loudly. It always hurts my ears but it also means Amá may be coming so I run to the side of the road, wait for her. The train is the only way in and out of this place where we live if you don’t have a car. And very few people have a car. When one of us is very sick and has to go to the doctor in the city, Apá has to find a ride. Or he used to. I haven’t seen him in a while.
Amá walks up the pathway with several fat bags. She stops and hands me a little wind-up monkey playing a drum. It’s ugly. And it doesn’t matter that this is the first new toy I’ve ever gotten. It’s still ugly. She can tell I don’t like it. She’s upset like ahh, forget it. She walks past me, goes inside, lays the packages on the table in the kitchen and sits, slumps on a chair.
She says we’ll be leaving soon, far away to the other side, to a place called the United States. I don’t know why it is the other side. I imagine it’s somewhere on the other side of the canal that runs close to the houses around here. But I’ve seen the other side of that canal and it looks the same as this side, with little houses and little potted plants and swings made of car tires.
¿Y Apá? I ask.
En el puente.
¿El puente que crusa el canal?
No, otro puente.
I’ve never seen any bridge other than the one that crosses over the canal. But Apá is across another bridge, one that is far away. Far away.
When you stand on the railroad tracks and look down at a wooden plank and then the next one and the next one, it gets so that you can’t count anymore and the planks keep going away from you in a straight line. Then you just end up looking at the sky because far away it looks like it touches the tracks, the clouds not above anymore, just down there with the tracks. I wonder if where Apá is he can see the clouds around him, he can touch the sky.
I look at the sheets, see the splotches of dried urine, my urine, the edges always threatening to seep further across until they cover the entire surface of the bed. Zorrillo, Amá calls me like joking but also a little angry or tired. It’s hard to tell. She says the sheets are covered in maps. This means she has to clean the sheets more often, which is more work and she’s always cooking or washing, cooking or washing, cooking or washing.
I run outside because I don’t want to look at those maps anymore. I’m not sure what maps are, but I seem to make them. I run to the tall mesquite and climb it. Then when I get bored of that, I go stare at the flowers of the cactus, one layer of yellow petals, simple flower, like the simple cactus that looks like huge thick leaves growing out of each other. No trunk, no branches, but still managing to work their way off of the ground into pretty patterns. Sometimes my sisters take the insides of the flowers and press them to their ears like earrings, but if I do that they get angry. After that I go to the pig pen where a pig rolls in the mud. I wish I could roll in the mud but Amá would get very angry cause I’d have dirtied my shorts.
After a while I get tired and go sit indoors. Sometimes Amá bathes me – I stand on a rock outside and she pours water over me and it feels cool – but not always. Sometimes she just looks at me, looks down at the dirt caked around my ankles humid from the sweat that trickles down my legs making odd shapes as it works itself over and around the layer of dirt that coats everything, everything that moves and everything that doesn’t.
Más mapas, says Amá and she means my body.
It Happened Again
She said it again, ya no te quiero. I don’t know how it happened that I forgot that she could stop loving me. But there it is, she’s said it. I’ve really ruined everything now. How could I be so stupid? How could I forget to behave? The dirt, the dirt everywhere is hard and oily from all the bare feet. There is a hole in the ground in the corner of the room and a little snake pokes its head through. It looks at me, sticks its tongue out and then dips below and disappears.
She comes around this time, bends down to me. Anda, sí te quiero, she says in a soft voice. And I am happy again. But around her face everything seems a little out of place. The walls seem crooked, the sky peeking in through the door is not the right blue. The chicken walking around stares at me too long, one leg suspended off the ground. It should be looking at the ground for kernels of corn or rice or worms. But it keeps looking at me. Amá took pity on me, sure. That’s why she said she loved me again. But I don’t know if she really does anymore. She confuses me with her threats, her words that change, her face soft one minute and hard the next. She loves me though. She loves me. She loves me.
I run out and there on the ground is a lizard the color of dust. Its neck expands and contracts. It is breathing and its glossy eyes see me. But it does not know where I have been. It knows nothing, only that it runs and hides. I tell myself, remember to listen, remember always to listen and obey. Then I run away, climb the large mesquite tree behind the outhouse. I hold one to a branch and close my eyes. The tough bark scratches my thighs, irritates my palms, but right now I am only the swaying branch, like a lizard, green this time.
One night I was in the house in my usual bed and the next I was here, in this house that must be what a palace looks like. Amá says some friends crossed us over in the night, me, Morayma, Juan, Aleida and Mirella, that we were sleeping and so don’t remember. And Apá is here and I can hardly believe it. He carries me and kisses me and it is like he never left. I feel bad though that I never got to see the bridge, the one Apá crossed, the one he never crossed back.
I’d never seen Tía Ninfa before but Amá says she is her sister and so I have to be respectful. She’s rich. Her house has so many rooms I can’t count them. We sleep in what Tía Ninfa calls the garage, which is supposed to be a room for cars. Why would cars need a room? Why would they even need a roof? The only concrete floor I’d seen up until now was in one little store on the other side and in the city of Río Bravo. But here this house has concrete everywhere. Amá and Apá sleep on a bed, and the rest of us sleep on the floor. We sleep on sheets of foam with blankets but it’s still hard. It’s like sleeping right on the concrete, which is way harder than sleeping on dirt. But it doesn’t matter because it’s only at night and the garage is warmer than the house on the other side. The coldest part of winter is leaving but it’s still cold outside.
The house has three rooms with beds and little rooms in them called closets. A separate room for clothes. Again, why would clothes need a room to themselves? My tíos’ bedroom has the largest bed I’ve ever seen. It’s gigantic, so big their bodies could move around all night and never touch. My boy cousin has his own room too and my two girl cousins share another room. There’s a large area at the center called a living room and it seems larger than our entire house on the other side. Next to it is the largest table I’ve ever seen. It has eight chairs around it. And I count only five people in Tía Ninfa’s family and I don’t know why they have so many extra chairs. And there are glass doors that slide open leading into what Tía calls the backyard. The sliding doors though, I’ve never seen those, not even in Río Bravo. You can see outside, see the sunlight, but you don’t feel a thing.
The strangest and best thing is that I’m not cold when I’m inside the house. It smells great too, like perfumed because it smells different than outside and I’ve never been in a house that had a different smell then outside, except maybe for a kitchen or the doctor’s office. This is where we’re staying now. This is where, until we find a place to live here on the other side. That’s what Amá said before she gave me the big speech about not being a pest, not hanging around the kitchen, saying no thank you if I am offered food, not playing with anything that is not mine, not touching anything, not asking for anything.
Why can’t we hang around the kitchen? Because it’s not our kitchen, she said. And we need to be nice and behave. I asked her if I could ask for water. And she said yes, you can ask for water, and I felt better. That’s how it was, then she had to leave for something and we all stayed behind.
All the objects in Tía Ninfa’s house sparkle like they belong in a store, like I’m in a store. A hissing noise comes on and off during the day and I know not to ask what it is. These things called lamps sit by small tables next to a long chair for several people that has big soft cushions. It reminds me of the long chairs at the doctor’s office in Río Bravo. My cousins call it a sofa. They have a television set in every room. I don’t know why that is, why they need more than one television set and if the same show can be seen in all televisions. The kitchen has a faucet with running water, indoor water. I guess they don’t need a well. The kitchen also has rows of little doors up high where I can’t reach and down close to the floor where I can but I don’t know what’s behind the doors or why they have so many of them. It’s beautiful, though, like a little fort.
The refrigerator is huge and it has doors side by side. I know what that is because I’ve seen something similar in the store on the other side, where they kept Cokes and chilled treats. It is beautiful, white and tall with smooth rounded corners. My cousin Criselda opens the thinner door and it is filled with boxes of treats and ice cream. They’re practically falling out of little white wire baskets, even more treats than in the store on the other side. And packets of frozen stuff that looks like meat. She opens a box and pulls out a little plastic wrapped thing. She asks me if I want one like she’d be happy to give me one, and I’m not sure what it is but I say no, thank you. Okay, she says, then she open the package and reveals an ice cream popsicle shaped like a round face with big dark brown round ears. I don’t know why but the face looks familiar. The face is vanilla and the eyes and smile are chocolate and the ears are covered in a hard chocolate film. She holds it from a smooth even little stick. When she bites an ear I see the inside of the ears are chocolate too. The dark chocolate film crackles between her teeth. And she’s licking and biting and the popsicle is really thick and it seems like it’s too much ice cream for her. It begins to melt down her hand, around each knuckle. I think of telling her that it’s dripping but I don’t because I shouldn’t be staring. That’s another thing I’m not supposed to do.
When she’s done, she licks the stick clean and the stick was smooth all the way up, rounded at the edges, no sharp corners. She throws it away in the waste basket and walks away down the hall. The refrigerator is silent. No, the refrigerator is humming. There is a motor of sorts, like the ones that make cars run, and it is keeping everything cold and everything else frozen. It does not move. I think of opening the thin door, taking an ice cream popsicle. But I can’t, she offered and I said no and the offer is gone. She should have insisted. I’ve seen grown ups insist to each other. Maybe if she would have insisted, I would have said yes, not knowing what I was saying yes to and thrilled to discover the surprise. But Amá said nothing about people insisting and what to do in that situation. And it doesn’t matter anymore, except that the door is there and it is not locked and not heavy to open. I can reach the handle because it runs all the way down the edge of the door so grown ups and kids can open it, I guess. And I am standing before it. And it hums and on the other side of the door is something soft and sweet and cold. And I start to pout and I don’t know why I’m pouting because nobody is laughing at me, nobody is making fun of me, nobody is chasing me with stones in their hands. Still, my lips tighten and stick out and I’m glad nobody is watching me. I walk outside, out back. A chain link fence encircles the backyard, and I know not to ask why the house has to be fenced.
José Antonio Rodríguez is a graduate student in the English and Creative Writing program at SUNY- Binghamton and editor of the literary journal Harpur Palate. He is the recipient of the 2009 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award. His work has appeared in Paterson Literary Review, Cream City Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Connecticut Review and elsewhere.
December 20, 2009 1 Comment