Monday, February 23, 2015

Greetings! 2.23.15

Welcome, English majors! We are the only subset of people who recognize the acronym "DFW" as "David Foster Wallace" and not "Dallas Fort Worth."

(This made for a very confusing SXSW this year, as they're featuring a movie based on DFW's life, and more than one English major had a layover at DFW. Head-scratching and confusion in spades!)

Please don't run away. I promise, there's good stuff here. 

  • The English Department Open-Mic is February 24, 12:15-2:15. Sign ups are on the door of Boylan 3416
  • Please! Submit your poem or prose for The Junction. Send submissions to It's a PUBLISHING CREDIT, English majors. PUBLISH OR PERISH. *that sounds much more ominous in bold and all-caps.
  • PLEASE Submit to 2014-2015 CUNY/Labor Arts Contest by March 2nd. They're accepting submissions in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and visual art, the only caveat being that the pieces have something to do with labor or labor issues. For more details, check out $1000 dollar prize, AND A PUBLISHING CREDIT. *seriously cannot stress the importance of this enough.
So, all good things, all good things. 

Except the snow. The snow can go away now. 

News Briefs 2.23.15

Bacterial Map of NYC Subway

For the past year and a half, Christopher Mason and his team swabbed the entire New York City subway system, in order to finally find out what exactly is crawling along those plastic subway seats. Earlier this month, they released their findings: turns out New York is a relatively healthy place, in terms of the genetic makeup of the bacteria.

That doesn’t mean some of the stuff they found isn’t terrifying. Septillions of microbes were collected and analyzed and at least 637 known types of bacteria were found, including traces of bubonic plague at 3 stations, as well as meningitis, staph, and anthrax. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, or NYCDHMH (pronounced “NIK-duh-HIM-uh,” probably), refutes a lot of the findings, but their protests seem a bit token and halfhearted. And many of the bacteria found are good ones too, organisms that clean up toxic waste and harmful oils, or even ones that help with digestion. Funnily enough, Mason’s team also found microorganisms associated with Mozzarella cheese and kimchi concentrated in certain areas, suggesting these may be the places to stop by for a nice slice!

A lot of reporting on this has emphasized the DANGER-DANGER-DANGER-GROSS-GERMS-ICKY-YOU-ARE-UNSAFE-PANIC-NOW-APOCALYPSE-IMMINENT angle to the story, but just because there are traces of these more dangerous bacteria, it doesn’t mean that you’re actually in any real danger. Mason has said you could lick a few subway poles and odds are you’d be totally fine (although I might not suggest doing this in the current temperatures).

What does make me a bit uneasy is how many of the bacteria are highly resistant or almost immune to most antibiotics. Even if these aren’t of the most threatening variety, it seems to show the steady ramping of the antibacterial arms race that has been escalating recently. Oh also, like ~50% of the stuff they found hasn’t been identified yet?

Also included in the study is a fun/terrifying interactive map, so you can see what germs were found where! Some highlights from our own Flatbush Avenue 2 & 5 stop include tetanus and various pathogens with high antibiotic resistances! Luckily, we skip out on urinary tract infections, staph infections, and e. coli/food poisoning so that’s nice. (Might I suggest Church Avenue for those last two?)

Studies are also in progress in Shanghai, Tokyo and Paris, so we can finally start competing with those cities on the microscopic level. Just wait til Boston gets mapped out: “Oh yeah? You New Yorkahs ah full of it, our bacteria’ll kick your bacteria’s asses!”

Next week: The world of underground illegal bacteria fighting rings. (Think dimly lit Petri dishes and Legionella pneumophila with barbed wire adhered to their flagella.)


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50 Shades of Grey

With Valentine's Day came the release of the much-anticipated movie adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey, which somehow became uniquely popular among its “trashy romance novel” contemporaries. Its roots are interesting; it originally involved the two protagonists of the ludicrously successful Twilight instead of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. The fan story was popular, E. L. James apparently replaced all mentions of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan with her own characters and sold it to a publishing company, and now it's a movie. Wild.

Twilight romanticized abusive behavior to begin with, but 50 Shades is really on another level. The male love interest, who is wealthy, older, and more sexually experienced, manipulates the young virgin Anastasia until he is controlling every aspect of her life, justifying his horrible treatment of her by attributing their dynamic to the BDSM lifestyle (short for Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism). BDSM is a well-established sexual/social practice meant for consenting adults, definitely not to be enforced on someone who doesn't understand the nature of the agreement, or has reservations about the conditions of her treatment; such is Anastasia's case in 50 Shades. Even so, the forbidden fruit aspect of kinky sex is apparently the chief allure of the book and movie, and most people don't know or care enough about red flags and consent to recognize that Anastasia is being severely mistreated, including Anastasia herself.

The popularity of the series—three whole books of glorified sexual, physical, and emotional abuse—has made safe practitioners of BDSM pretty angry. The community endures a constant stream of criticism for being inherently violent and problematic, and has a hard time explaining to people outside of the community that the foundation of the practice are Caring, Communication, Consent, and Caution (or “the 4Cs”). No one who practices BDSM would call 50 Shades an accurate portrayal of the lifestyle, which makes this appearance in popular media all the more worrisome. People are going to attempt to engage in BDSM practices and severely hurt someone they intend to please. People are going to see this movie and confuse abuse for “sexy dominance,” as if abuse isn't difficult enough for a victim to recognize already. This is dangerous. “It's domestic violence dressed up as erotica.” Don't support it, don't buy the books, don't see the movie. Apparently it sucked anyway.


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Abdel Fattah was a prominent leader in the 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak. On Monday, an Egyptian court sentenced him to five years in prison for violating limits on demonstrations. Coincidentally, his father was also a human rights activist who served a five-year prison sentence while Mubarak was in power. Several other defendants have been punished for demonstrating peacefully, yet the police officers who were a part of Mubarak’s regime, who participated in physical violence against those who were protesting peacefully, they will not be sentenced. Instead, they have since been “gradually rehabilitated.” To add insult to injury, the high court overturned the only remaining conviction against Mubarak, clearing a path to a possible release.

I remember watching the demonstrations on the news four years ago and feeling hopeful for the people of Egypt. It’s an unexplained feeling of overwhelm when thousands of people come together and stand up against their oppressor. It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the brave leaders/activists/ organizers are the ones who pay the price for the fight for change.

Rest in Power, Shaimaa Sabbagh, poet, activist
c. 1984- January 24, 2015



Currently Reading 2.23.15

Lovecraft and Colour

So I was recently reminded of a story I liked back in high school, and I wanted to revisit it now that I am older and with a bit more experience under my belt, because when you read something for pleasure in high school, I’m willing to bet 99% of us don’t do a close reading and analysis of its themes. The story is “The Colour out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft and it goes something like this:

The story is that tried and true old model of ghost stories: a story within a story, in which the narrator, a census taker, asks Ammi, an kooky old local farmer, the story behind a certain “blasted heath” located in the primeval forests of Appalachian New England.

In Ammi’s story, a meteor falls in another farmer’s yard and sort of evaporates and releases some indescribable color, something of an unknown spectrum. Scientists do some studies but in the end sort of shrug and admit they have no idea what is happening. The Colour proceeds to infect the whole landscape; first the fruit tastes bitter and odd, then the wild plants and the wild animals around the area begin to look strange, in a way that the inhabitants can’t quite place, in true Lovecraft fashion. Even the trees sway without any wind (and not just sway, they twitch, claw, jerk, writhe). The whole farm begins to glow in the dark. Eventually it gets into the well and the family, who begin to go insane and start making faces and crawling around on all fours (I don’t know why that little detail is so creepy to me; the faces aren’t described, and it’s such a simple childish peculiarity).

The plants all begin to die off, as do the livestock (who turn grey and begin to bloat and fall apart before they die), and then the family members, drawn toward the well or just crumbling where they lie. When Ammi finds them dead he also sees a sort of vapor moving with a seemingly intelligent purpose. He brings a party the next day to investigate, and as night falls they find themselves trapped by the weird glowing light. They run away, and as they do a beacon shoots out of the well and there is the hope that it’s all over, but Ammi sees a bit of the color still left, and it becomes clear that the corruption has spread slowly over the last 50 or so years since then. The impetus of this examination is that the valley is going to be flooded to create a reservoir and the narrator concludes that he is glad that the evil will be buried under the water, but he won’t be drinking this town’s tap water.

I was pretty big into the campy pulpy old-school horror back then and this was one of my favorites. If you’ve ever read Lovecraft you know that the writing is indulgent and he is prone to windbaggery; for a guy describing in words what can’t be described in words, he sure does use a lot of words. And he consistently describes things as “impossible to describe,” a truly laughable thing for a writer to say. Not only that, but instead of actually describing things, he says “oh it looked like a Fuseli or a Salvatore Rosa painting.” It’s nice to reference things, and I enjoyed the nod to Macbeth by calling the landscape a “blasted heath” in particular, but it comes off as rather lazy most of the time.

But there is still some great imagery and the story itself is trying to do some really cool things. For instance, Lovecraft wrote it because he wanted to create a truly alien presence, something we could not understand on the basic physical level, not just a person in a lizard costume, which is a pretty great goal. And the product, a sentient color, is pretty novel even if the delivery (ghost story + meteorite) isn’t. He also uses the word “skyey.” I’m not sure how I feel about that.

What made me think about this piece after so many years was actually Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Interestingly, I read both of these in high school, probably both junior year, and didn’t put this together then at all. Or maybe that isn’t really interesting at all, considering how little I wanted to have anything to do with that book. Anyway, examining “Scarlet Letter” in the context of the American Gothic genre actually lumps these two stories in the same pool, albeit at different ends.

Both are obviously concerned with color; Scarlet Letter uses red to impart a humorist sanguinity, but also to impose alienness onto Hester, just as the Colour alienates (literally) the world it touches. They also both share an interest in meaning, or more specifically, in semiotics. The titular “A” upon Hester Prynne’s breast is defined over the course of the novel by its instability. What begins as “adultery” becomes “able” and even “angel.” The letter also represents Pearl, the elfin creature of primeval chaos, which acts as its agent. The point is that the meaning is fluid, that at a certain point, our signifiers fail to capture the signified.

As the Colour takes over the landscape, previous definitions of things begin to falter. The trees behave untreelike, the wood unwoodlike, etc.. In this sense, therefore, when Ammi says that “only by analogy that they called it color at all,” if we can only define this thing by its relation to other things, and these supposedly static analogous objects are in fact amorphous, he is denying that it can be described in any reasonable way. The Colour, something traditionally used only as a descriptor, perhaps a feature or reflection of something but never its own entity, has a power over the described. The Colour is described as “draining” its victims, much like the “A” drains Hester of her femininity.

Narham’s (the farmer’s) wife can describe it “not a specific noun, only verbs and pronouns.” There are also moments where the storytelling itself falters and deeds are “nameless”, or “words could not convey.” This is that old Romanticist horror fallback, that language falls short, but this failure of language and perception seems more central to Lovecraft’s story; it isn’t a climactic copout, the climax has been building toward that precise unnamability. The crumbling corpses aren’t the terrible force, the unnamability itself is. Both stories consider semiotic failure, the “A” failing over time and the Colour failing instantaneously to impart any true notion of meaning.

And if all that wasn’t enough, they both even have meteors! So obviously very similar. (Hawthorne + Lovecraft headcanon: The “A” is an alien. Must research later.)

This was going to be the end here but, and sorry for going on another tangent, but it probably needs to be said. In case you didn’t know, H.P. Lovecraft was, and probably still is in whatever indescribable nightmare universe he now resides, a blatant anti-Semitic, homophobic racist. And this isn’t just something inferred from metaphors in his writing or some mildly distasteful joke he told, or some sort of in-retrospect-exploitative primitivism, a la Picasso. Here is one of his published poems:

On the Creation of Niggers
by H. P. Lovecraft  (1912) 

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove's fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th'Olympian host conceiv'd a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

It’s really hard to swallow. If that wasn’t enough, here’s a quote of his about homosexuality: “So far as the case of homosexuality goes, the primary and vital objection against it is that it is naturally…repugnant.” He married a Jewish woman, but only because he described her as "well assimilated,” and, not entirely surprisingly, their marriage was a failure.

And since we're talking about it, it is a very interesting story to analyze racially. It doesn’t take a genius to see the racial allegory present in this story; a mysterious, evil, alien Colour invades and destroys a good hardworking (white) farm. The placement of things is interesting in reading it as a racially charged story too; the meteorite, the source of evil and the infectious agent comes from an alien, outside place (i.e. Africa, magnified to as outside as possible) but at the same time encroached from beneath - an alien infiltration from within, from beneath, from an interior source, in an atavistic sense. The Colour is also associated with ungodliness, not too mention that skin color is usually paired with a lack, nonwhites seen as lacking, and Lovecraft’s Colour sucks something out of the farmers.

So. He was a bit of a POS. But is this so surprising? He had periods of reclusion and suffered from anxiety; his work is defined by fear, so should we be surprised that he would be a frightened little man, easily swayed by any fearful propaganda he should come across? This isn’t to humanize him or to excuse him in any way. But how can we enjoy his work knowing this?

I hate to just fall back on Barthes’s “Death of the Author” as an end-all, be-all to the argument, because that's highly problematic too, but I like reading this story. And maybe this is just me trying to rationalize my guilt away, by separating the story from Lovecraft. but let’s use this work as palimpsest, let’s scrub it clean and use it for what we want. The author doesn’t get to dictate what we read, the reader does.

(And just to make me feel better, go read some Octavia Butler or Nnedi Okorafor now.)

Poem of the Week 2.23.15

William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
“Invictus” is Latin for “unconquered,” and the power in Henley’s Victorian verses has resonated through the decades. The poem has been associated with struggles across the globe, but that’s not the reason why it’s always stood out to me since stumbling across it online a couple years back.
Henley’s sentiment is unflinching, and that’s why it strikes me. The poem acknowledges life’s inherent hardships and the cruel turns of the wheel of fortune; in fact, it devotes its strongest language to describing this - from “the bludgeonings of chance,” “the Horror of the shade,” “the menace of the years,” the scroll lined with punishments that awaits us. Death, in every sense of the word, the progression of the inevitable. But “Invictus” is dedicated to the belief that life is stronger than death. That, despite the reality of the end that hovers over our lives, the power residing in our souls can change our destinies. There is no predestination in Henley’s mind, aside from hurtling towards the end. Everything except the end is left up to one’s own sense of self-determination. “My head is bloody, but unbowed.” Henley has not given in to his trials, and he urges us to do the same. He assures us that no one can erase our sense of agency; it is ours as long as we seize it. Of course, sometimes the idea of taking that first step in claiming our self-control can sometimes be the most intimidating part.
Who among us has not felt untethered and out of control in our lives? We have all felt, at some point, powerless against the hurdles life sets for us. We all sometimes end up drowning in our failures, losing ourselves in our flaws, feeling like we will never make a difference in our lives or anyone else’s. But the power in every stanza of this poem has been a comfort to me in difficult times, reminding me that of course I have power, of course I have a voice, because no one and nothing can take away my spirit. My soul is unconquerable and I am its captain, and together we can triumph over the entire world.

Currently Watching: Every Frame a Painting

Over the last few months, I've been trying to educate myself on artistic mediums outside of what I know (more or less) how to do. I started with photography, trying to get a sense of the aesthetics I enjoyed and why because, as a friend of mine was wont to remind, I once wrote off photography as an art because it was "easy," more about being in the right place at the right time than any actual skill. Obviously, I was extremely wrong. And while I never had an opinion quite as egregious when it came to films, I never understood what made directing "good" over "bad." Then I discovered this Youtube channel, Every Frame a Painting

Every Frame is run by Tony Zhou, a freelance film editor working out of San Francisco. He makes these videos as video essays, deconstructing elements of film (like how to display texting, as seen above), explaining key ideas in specific directorial styles (visual comedy for Edgar Wright, long takes for Spielberg, action for Michael Bay, action comedy for Jackie Chan, whatever it is David Fincher is doing), and deconstructing specific scenes, like in this video on Kurosawa:

Through his videos, he explains a lot of what I never knew about directing in film: screen quadrants, camera angles, camera pans, how to make two people in a room talking to one another visually interesting while exhibiting key information like power dynamics and conversational outcomes, etc. What Zhou is doing is providing me the means to see film's tool set, like any good Lit class should be doing for writing: the techniques used have their reason which adds to the meaning of the whole. Why characters are placed as they are, at what angle, and for how long runs parallel to why a certain word is used in description, what narrator is being used, and how verbose or concise the sentence constructions are. Though I still have much to discover about film's toolset, watching Zhou's videos have provided me with a way to further enjoy movies on a craft level. Which is cool, because now I feel less like I'm wasting time on a movie and more like I'm studying.

FKA Twigs

Lately, I’ve been jamming to this lovely songstress who hails from Gloucestershire, England. I stumbled upon her name after reading a list of top ten females of colour to listen to in 2014. Before clicking on the link to her music, I was intrigued by her album artwork. I’m a sucker for a beautiful album cover. It was of a beautiful, baby faced, photoshopped, brown skin goddess, with two high buns, serving beat face and hair laid for the gods. The first song I listened to was “Papi Pacify.” I was instantly hooked! Her voice is delicate, but is impressively haunting. Her lyrics, although simple and repetitive, draw you into a trance. It’s wonderful music for a long train ride, or for walking, sleeping, writing. My second fave jam by her is “Two Weeks.” I love the melody, the tone, and the lyrics are fresh. And by “fresh,” I mean, well, check it out:

Song with Lyrics:

Video, Two Weeks:

 Video, Papi Pacify:



How To Take An Old Hollywood Glamour Photo

I have many, many fond memories of studying abroad in Australia, some that I keep to myself like a selfish glutton and some that I love to tell to others. Some of these memories are simple and seemingly unimportant, and some of them are so strange that I sometimes find it hard to believe that I had done the things that I did. Sadly, I can't remember what I learned in the classroom, but it's the experiences that you have outside the classroom that matter most, right?

Anyway, when I was there, I would walk to the Dymocks bookshop on Collins Street in Melbourne every single day. I never got tired of it. Soon enough, the staff knew who I was and we all became good friends. They knew me as the New York girl whose credit card never worked because it didn't have a chip.

There was one week in which my friend from a different part of Australia came to visit me in Melbourne. Our days were spent mostly walking aimlessly through the city, traipsing along by river, exploring whatever caught our fancy, eating and drinking in the hidden cafes we found in alleyways, and of course, visiting every single bookshop we came across. At Dymocks, my friend found an enormous book of Old Hollywood glamour photos. It must have been over a thousand pages and probably weighed over a thousand pounds. There was no way either of us could buy it. We had baggage weight limits to consider.

"Let's read it here then!" he said.

There was only one armchair in that huge bookstore and it was made to fit one person, but we squished ourselves in it to the best of our abilities. Limbs stuck out at odd angles here and there but we sat there and read that entire gargantuan book from cover to cover for hours. Thankfully the staff did not beg us to please vacate the chair for someone else.

That book taught me a lot about the oft-overlooked lost art of the Old Hollywood glamour photo and of the celebrity culture of long ago. I've been fascinated by Old Hollywood since I was a child, but my obsession with that time period really kicked off in high school, a time when I felt very isolated from most of the other students. The films gave me warmth and company and I was happy that I finally found something that I could love deeply. I cut off all my hair and began experimenting with wearing my bob in Hollywood-style curls. I began to experiment with makeup. Later I grew my hair out and tried to achieve a 1930s/1940s long, waved style. I wanted so badly to look like those silver screen goddesses. I still want to look like them!

You don't have to watch any classic films to get the idea of how celebrities were perceived at that time. The glamour photos show it all. Movie stars didn't even seem human. They looked like gods or titans or something supernatural. Whatever it was, they looked too perfect to be from this earth. Their skin was flawless, poreless, smooth like the marble skin of a Renaissance sculpture. Their hair shone brilliantly in waves spread around their heads like halos, the lines of their bodies perfectly posed like the works of art you would see in the Deco period. The dramatic lighting and poses of these photos made it clear that these people weren't actors. They were icons. Take a look at a few of them and try not to let your jaw drop to the floor:

Bette Davis, 1939, by George Hurrell.
Jean Harlow, 1932, by George Hurrell.
Clark Gable, 1938, by Clarence Sinclair Bull.
Cary Grant, unknown (maybe late 1930s-early 1940s).
Despite the beauty of the Old Hollywood glamour photo, it's a forgotten art. For one thing, our idea of celebrity has changed. We don't really worship them the same way as moviegoers of the 1920s to the 1940s worshiped them. Now, they're easy targets thanks to an invasive paparazzi and the internet. Celebrities today do not have the mystery and allure that celebrities had back then, simply because technology and the media has moved so quickly that it has become impossible. We know what they look like without makeup, we know what they look like when they go grocery shopping, and we know what they look like at their very worst times. Audiences today want to see celebrities as they really are, but back then, audiences wanted to see them as beautiful dreams. Fashion magazine photoshoots probably try to recapture the magic of the glamour photo, but for some inexplicable reason, they fall short. Probably it's because today's photos are taken in color. Black and white has a sort of mystical aura about it that made these people seem unreal. Probably it's because the photos aren't as stark or as moody or maybe it's because the interviews that accompany these photos give too much information or are too stilted and fake.

So yes, the glamour photo is dead. However, that long afternoon spent with my right leg draped over one arm of the chair and my friend's left leg draped over the other arm of the chair taught me how to recreate it. The work that went into these photos was unbelievably laborious and intensive. So, if you ever find yourself with a vintage camera, vintage darkroom equipment, and klieg lights, here's how to do it:

They Had Photoshop Back Then
Yes, even the Swing era retouched their photos! I was very surprised when I learned this. However,
Old Hollywood's photo retouching was done entirely by hand. It was a tedious, painstaking process that took over six hours to complete. The negatives for these photos were huge--about 8x10 inches. Multiple duplicates of these negatives were made because they would get so scraped and scored and stippled and drawn on in the process. In addition to physically scraping away at the unwanted areas of the photo, photo retouchers would also physically airbrush the photos to give the skin that marble appearance. Here's what it would look like when it's all done:

Before: Joan Crawford unretouched image by George Hurrell, 1931. She had a lot of freckles (that she hated) and some laugh lines, dark circles, and brow furrows. In short, she looked like a real person.
After: Joan Crawford as everyone knew her-- a glamorous film star.
The Photographer
Of course, this retouching would not have been possible without the brilliant creativity of legendary photographers such as George Hurell, Ernest Bachrach, Clarence Sinclair Bull, and Ruth Harriet Luise. The photographer had to have a deep understanding of lighting, setup, and composition. The photoshoots, like the photo retouching, were a very long process, sometimes lasting literally all day. An actor would go through multiple costume and hair and makeup changes. The only exception to this rule was foundation. Stars were told to come to the sessions with clean faces except for eye makeup and lipstick when applicable, because it was easier to retouch an unmade face. Some stars, such as Joan Crawford, relished the glamour photo process. She was probably the most photographed star, easily doing 20+ costume changes a day without getting tired. Other stars, such as Clark Gable and John Barrymore, absolutely hated the process, putting off their sessions until the last possible minute and grumbling when they finally had to sit in front of the photographer's camera. With more difficult stars, it was also the responsibility of the photographer to keep them awake and cheerful.

Once again, I've let my enthusiasm get the better of me and I've written a post as long as the glamour photo process itself, but I hope that you were able to find it fun and interesting! 


Illuminations 2/20

I received a letter recently that read, "I've come to realize that, for some reason, most of the kindest people I know have undergone some form of tragedy. Why is that?" I read these sentences over and over; I wanted to have a definitive answer. I wanted to be able to say, "This. This is why." Finding I couldn't, I left my apartment one morning and walked until I had a response. This is tentative, and I'm bound to change my mind tomorrow, but right now I feel like I know what I want to say. Best to catch it on paper before it slips away.
This is dreary stuff, so here are some cute photos
Suffering can be beautiful because it's in the presence of bad that one can truly appreciate the good. I have a friend whose mother has been battling with cancer for two years, and Christmas has a special joy to him because it means he gets to spend at least one more holiday with her. Whereas the rest of us grumble about caroling and long lines, he's aglow with the knowledge that he will have more memories of his mother.

I have a friend who lived in a house rife with domestic abuse his entire life. While all college kids revel in the freedom that comes with living on one's own, my friend attaches special meaning to this independence. It means he doesn't have to witness his mother's accidents. He doesn't have to sleep with a baseball bat, and he doesn't have to live in fear.

one more cuteness break
Like most people, my home life was complicated; if it weren't, I don’t think I’d be as awestruck with ordinary activities. Having lived through what I did, I can see the stifling heat as a lovely reminder that I'm alive and free. When a friend tells me, over cups of tea, that I'm cared about, I can believe it. When I eat something particularly delicious, I can be fully grateful for it. It's unfortunate that we live in a world where suffering is part of the human condition, but would we really appreciate the beauty of the world if we didn't have to also deal with the ugliness?

Currently Eating 2.23.15

I love candy-themed holidays. Halloween is my favorite, just because the aesthetic and the traditions are most fun to me--who doesn't love funneling chocolate into a child's treat bag? But I appreciate any holiday that isn't subtle about its relationship to food. To be fair, I eagerly anticipate any day of the year that I can expect to eat more than usual, whether it's my birthday, or the day of a transfer student information seminar with free pizza.

Valentine's Day, Halloween, and Easter decorations are cute, and if nothing else, themed candy makes everyone excited, so I have every reason in the world to look forward to candy holidays. Plus, post-seasonal sales! Nothing compares to Christmas sales, but if you're craving discount pink-foiled sweets shaped like hearts and roses and whatever else symbolizes love everlasting, V Day is great.

Honestly, I'm not really into sweets. Given the choice, I'm pretty enthusiastic about salad, but I'm not picky. I do have some weaknesses though. Consider caramel Hershey kisses. I'll come back to those.

First, I need to explain something stupid I do. When I really, really like a food, I'll eat it until I'm totally sick of it. I was apparently born without self control, so in a perfect world (read: an alternate universe where I'm not a broke college student) I'd keep buying whatever it is, but usually it's too much of a luxury purchase to justify the money. Sushi-grade fish is way out of my budget. Turkey Hill cookies and cream ice cream is like six dollars unless it's on sale, and it only lasts me about 2.5 servings because I'm a monster. I have a seriously addictive personality, and unfortunately food fixations are not an exception to that trend. However, most people can't reasonably spend all their waking hours continuously eating junk food. This is annoying, as you can imagine, because if I can't focus on schoolwork I have to at least pretend the reason isn't a passionate daydream about mozzarella.

Here's where the stupid part comes in (I know, you thought that was it, but it gets worse): in order to be free from my own self-induced fiening, I'll expedite that stage where I'm totally sick of whatever I'm craving by overindulging well beyond the point of comfort. Rephrased: I'm such a gluttonous slob that I'll purposely overeat until I'm on the brink of death so I stop craving three dollar cookies.

Back to caramel Hershey kisses.

I've been addicted to these things since I was a 15 year old mall goth. After all this time I've never been able to get to that elusive “I want to puke and die and never eat these again” stage despite many truly admirable attempts. Apparently one serving is nine pieces. Ha. This year I blew more on sale chocolate than I typically spend on groceries in a week, seduced by my favorite awful candy in cute pink foils. I'll probably die of malnutrition before I stop eating them of my own free will. I can't remember the last time I made a proper breakfast. They're not even that good. What's so addicting about them? I don't know, but I can't stop.

Magic Hat 2.23.15

I never really understood my grandfather and now that he has dementia I'm afraid I never really will.

That I never understood him is not to be mistaken with not being close to him. My whole life I've lived within two blocks of my grandparents. He used to take me up to his house in the Catskills on long weekends. He would come to my house every evening on his after-dinner stroll, and when he saw me he would sing out my name, "Elisabetta."

Sometimes I thought about a time when those visits would end. I thought, as children sometimes do, about how one day my grandfather would pass away and how I would miss seeing him. I thought death would stop these visits, not a disease that would rob him of his ability to walk, to eat, to talk, to enjoy life. I never thought that would happen.

My grandfather, my nonno, was a police officer when he was a young man in Italy. He met my grandmother and said, "That's who I'm going to marry" (as family folklore goes). When he moved to New York he became a barber and owned an apartment building. When I ate dinner over at my grandparents' house, I would sit beside him and he'd share an apple with me. When he visited my house we would play a game where he'd sit on the couch and I would run at him full tilt and expect him to catch me. I imagine now that game got old for him fast. He would take me and my brothers and my cousins to the country in the summer to go horseback riding or swimming at the lake, and in the winter we would go sledding on garbage pail lids and roast marshmallows on the only fireplace I've ever known. And it's strange to think I could spend so much time with someone and not know them. My grandfather understood English but mainly spoke Italian, and to this day I still only have a loose grasp on the language. Because of this I never asked him what his favorite type of music was or what games he played as a kid or what is was like living in Italy during World War II. I think I figured I always had time.

Now my grandfather doesn't speak English at all; he says it confuses him. When he's confused, he's upset, and a lot of things confuse him these days. That's the worst thing about dementia. If it were just the incontinence, or the immobility, or the loss of appetite, we could accommodate him. The most despicable thing about this disease is the depression that is causes.

Last Friday was a bad day. My aunt called to say that she called by my grandparents' house and her daughter, who goes there after school, said that nonno and nonna were both crying and could someone walk by there. I went, feeling like I was walking into a disaster. It was surprisingly calm; my cousin was doing her homework, my grandmother was baking. But then I saw my grandfather. He was hunched over in his chair, handkerchief pressed to his face. His voice broke when he tried to speak to me. Then he began to sob. In his slurred, jumbled way I can only barely understand he repeated the phrases we've come to hear frequently: my head isn't working, I'm confused, staio muorino, I'm dying, do you love me?

I sat beside him and murmured every placating thing I could think of without knowing what I was saying. I held his hand. I told him of course I loved him. I wasn't sure if any of this was getting through, but eventually he stopped crying when I showed him pictures from the old days, before dementia stole him away and left this weeping, whimpering old man.

Unfortunately this disease is progressive; the grandfather I grew up with is not coming back, but he is still here. I don't have as much time as I thought, but I do still have time with him. It's hard to see him this way, but I'm not going to waste any more time.

Canvas 2.23.15

Embarrassingly, I find that my knowledge of the visual arts leaves something to be desired. Sure, I know what I like seeing on my walls, or donning the pages of the blog, but other than the requisite courses at our fine institution, my education is lacking. I can wax poetic all day long about minuets or couplets or Capulets, but brush strokes or types of clay? No. I did not set out to be some sort of visual lunk, but here we are.

BUT! I really don't want to be a visual lunk! Therefore, I've been doing my damndest to not be the only jerk around who cannot tell a Bosch from a de Backer.

What? They both painted edenic images!? I can sing the entire Gershwin catalog! That's almost relevant! It at least makes me feel like less of an incompetent doofus!

I decided to start in the art to which I am most drawn--Native American art.

The rich turquoise jewelry, heavy silver accents, carved pottery, and sandy images of the Adobe tribes remind me of growing up. I loved sitting at my huge, hand-carved Dine' table, gazing upon rusty-colored plaster that seemed to hold secrets in its swirling patterns.

The art that is born of the stark mesas and harsh landscapes soothe my soul. There is a beauty in finding the harmony in broken history. The strength of character of the artists in the region is inspiring; from the beadwork shown by amá sání to the gritty modern art of the youth, there is something to appeal to everyone.

Lately, my heart has been utterly captured by young Dine' artist, Patrick Dean Hubbell. A recent graduate of Arizona State, (class of 2010) he has already shown dozens of times, and has made quite a splash in the art scene, as I'm told. (By people who know a ton more than I.) He works in many mediums, but his paintings are my personal favorite.

His series "Almost a Portrait" is a gorgeous series of "near portraits" or partial portraits done in red acrylic on canvas. To me, it feels like it could be a clay petroglyph in the New Mexico sun. The colors are perfect. 
It almost feels like what Shepherd Fairey could have been, had he chosen to be less-commercial. Striking. Powerful. Original. 


Monday, February 16, 2015

Greetings 2.16.15

Hello all, and welcome to another week of the Boylan Blog! The weather outside resembles the arctic tundra but we won't let that stop us from having a good time. We have a ton of fun events and opportunities coming up that will make you forget the cold.

  • The English Major's Open Mic will be held on Tuesday, February 24th in the Woody Tanger Auditorium, from 12:15 to 2:15. The sign up sheet will be on the door of the English Major's office at 3416 Boylan. Space is limited, so sign up soon to be sure you get a spot on the lineup. And if you're like me and prefer to watch from the safety of the audience, all are welcome to come see some spectacular performances. 
  • On Monday, March 9, poets Sandra Maria Esteves, Mariposa, Bonafide Rojas and Emanuel Xavier will be performing in celebration of Vanessa Perez's new book. All are welcome to enjoy in the Woody Tanger Auditorium, from 3:40 to 6:10 pm.
  • Black Lawrence Press is looking for submissions for The Hudson Prize, given to emerging or established writers of poetry and short stories. The winner will receive a $1,000 cash award, book publishing, and ten copies of their book. The deadline is March 31. For more information and to submit your unpublished manuscript, visit
  • The Museum of Jewish Heritage is offering a paid internship in museum and Holocaust education. The deadline is April 1 to apply for Fall. Contact for more information. Also, Poets and Writers magazine is looking for Development and Marketing interns for Summer 2015. For more information visit
  • Remember, we're looking for submissions to The Junction! The deadline is March 20, so send us your poetry, short stories and art. Submit online at
And as always, stop by 3416 Boylan for advisement, information and general merriment at the best office in Brooklyn College. Have a great week!


News Briefs 2.16.15

Feminism, Terrorism, and Killing Your Idols

So this happened a while ago, but with our recent talk about Nicki Minaj and feminism, and with the advent of your new favorite tumblr, I thought it might be a good time to talk about pop culture and feminism. Before I continue, know that I'm a cis-gendered straight white male, so, if everything I'm about to say is voided for you because of that, feel free to skip along—the last thing I want to do is offend anybody's sensibilities while talking about this.  

So now for the really incendiary thing: highly-renowned intersectional feminist thinker and social activist bell hooks called Beyoncé a terrorist a few months ago, because of Beyoncé's TIME Magazine photo-shoot, in which the popstar is posed alluringly and scantily-clad. bell hooks said she sees "a part of Beyoncé that is anti-feminist, that is a terrorist," because she's "colluding in the construction of herself as a slave." Just so no one is confused, we're talking about this picture:

(The article I linked to up there, by the way, is a very interesting one, especially considering it's writer being Roxanne Gay, author of acclaimed book Bad Feminist, wherein she talks a lot about this exact kind of behavior. The article itself represents an interesting collision between three hugely important feminist icons.)

What bell hooks said is indisputably not okay—I really hope no one is arguing otherwise. Especially with a term like "terrorist," which I'm absolutely certain hooks thought was a fair critique, is way overboard. However, like Gay states in her article, "Beyoncé is not above critique;" the conversation of how the female body is portrayed in mass media is one to be had, but bell hooks isn't above critique either, because her way of going about the conversation isn't particularly conducive to actual, well, conversation. In a way, this goes beyond feminism: no one person should ever be upheld as perfect and without flaw in their actions—by human nature, we are all flawed, and none of us should be stripped of that because by doing so we become less than human and put on a pedestal. None of us reside on a hill; we should all have these conversations together where our voices echo along the walls of the valley. Until we realize that none of us are above critique, no meaningful conversations and following steps toward meaningful actions will go underway. 

— Kyle

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Black Market of Today, and Tomorrow?

By now, I'm sure most people I know have heard me rant and rave about the recent ongoings of a mummified monk found in Mongolia. Most interesting to me was the oft-overlooked first statement of the article published about it, which highlighted that the monk had been discovered while being sold on the black market. As somebody who had never before considered buying a mummified monk on the black market, I was dumbfounded as to what the use would be for such an item. Would one place him in the corner of the room as a type of taxidermy conversation piece? Is this a common item of status I was previously unaware of? Regardless, it got me thinking a lot about the black market, and how the black market works in our day and age.

Many of you are probably aware of The Silk Road. Until recently, it was the untraceable online black market for things of all illicit natures - things illegal, drug-related, dangerous, etc. The Silk Road was uncovered by authorities and taken down in 2013, and recently the wizard in this virtual Oz has been discovered. Ross Ulbricht, as of about a week ago, has been found guilty on seven counts of drug-trafficking, narcotics-trafficking, and the like. The site had garnered many fans and consumers during its two-year lifespan - effectively making the buying and sells of contraband as simple as using Amazon.

The problem that I think many of the government officials involved - as well as the prosecutor of the trial - are overlooking is that another Silk Road is almost inevitably going to arrive. We live in a society where a taxi cab is an app away, Seamless is utilized more often than telephone take-out, and clothes shopping is frequently done online. It seems to follow naturally that our black market will also make moves to become exclusively on the internet. The world wide web offers anonymity like nothing else ever has, and the destruction of the Silk Road only leaves a hole that is begging to be filled. The FBI made its move. What's next, internet?

To see Ulbricht's thoughts on the subject of the Silk Road (which are really quite interesting), click here.

— Courtney

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"Go Set a Watchman"

As many of you bibliophiles already know, Harper Lee is releasing a second novel, Go Set a Watchman, 55 years after the publication of her world-renowned classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee's new book, which will be released in July, is a sequel to Mockingbird, revisiting many of the characters from her beloved masterpiece, such as a much older Atticus Finch and his now adult daughter, Scout. 

According to Lee's publisher, Lee originally wrote the manuscript for Watchman in the 1950s, before she wrote Mockingbird. However, her editor was so captivated by the portions of the book devoted to Scout's childhood flashbacks and told her to write an entirely new book with a story told from young Scout's perspective. Thus, To Kill a Mockingbird was born, and the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman was thought to be lost or destroyed all these years. When it was recently rediscovered, it was decided that it should be published. According to the New York Times, Lee's new novel will take place in the same town—Maycomb, Alabama—and it will also discuss racial issues that took place in the South during the 1950s and father/daughter relationships.

Of course, millions of fans rejoiced, eager and excited for Lee's next contribution to the literary world. However, this wonderful news is not without controversy.

Many wonder exactly how much involvement Lee actually has in the publication of her new book. The details of the book deal are murky, and Lee, who is 88 years old and living in an assisted living facility after suffering a stroke in 2007, is notoriously private and has consistently shot down pleas from publishers and fans alike to write a new book. It's not surprising that the release of Lee's unedited manuscript is shocking to many. In a statement released through her lawyer, however, Lee said "I’m alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to Watchman." 

Is Lee being manipulated by money-hungry lawyers and publishers? All the statements about the new book are coming from Lee's representatives, instead of Lee herself. On the opposite end of the spectrum, many also say that Lee is in full possession of her faculties and independently made this decision.  The book's release continues to get more and more complicated.

— Sarah

Currently Reading: The Angel Hair Anthology

Hey Boylan Readers! Happy Monday and enjoy the chilly day off from school. Hopefully you guys will **try** to be productive today and during this polar vortex of a week we’re having. Midterms are approaching! I’m joking (somewhat).
But, writers!!!! Please do get ready for our open mic happening February 24th! Whether you’re a poet, fiction writer, playwright, singer, etc. All performed work is welcome. The actual event will take place in the Brooklyn College Library auditorium on the first floor. The sign up sheet is posted outside of the English Counseling office. I’m so excited to see what Brooklyn College students have for us this semester so stay tuned!
Speaking of some poetry~ this week I’ve been cooped up in my apartment despising and refusing to face the cold, so I’ve happily immersed myself in a great poetry anthology and loads of coffee. The ANGEL HAIR anthology , edited by Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh, was a wonderful companion during these dreary, wind swept past few days. The anthology was published by Granary Books (NYC) in 2001.
The anthology includes a great variety of known and obscure poets such as Frank O’Hara, Aram Saroyan, Ted Berrigan, David Rosenburg, and many more. During my reading I was very drawn to the pieces by Frank O’Hara. The anthology contains writings form the late 60’s to early 70’s, and many of the poets were affiliated with the late St. Marks Poetry Project. At the very end of the wonderfully fun anthology, there’s a collection of author memoirs. Reading these excerpts paired with the authors' poetry was an amazing experience.
The correlation between the poet’s work and their lives is such a beautiful thing to witness and try to map together throughout history. I had never come across many of the names in this anthology, so it gave me plenty of new potential reading material.
There were a few of the poems that I was incredibly drawn to, so I’ll go into one for a moment.
SELF by Larry Fagin is a piece of a larger poem entitled, Twelve Poems.

“In my pale
is a grim

but I have
to laugh.

My arm
Is a bone-


A red
Tin pan
Of tan




“When my head
goes too fast
I get out
And walk.”

“The evil eye
is ridiculous,
but it exists.”

This poem in its broken down syntax and simplicity speaks volumes to me. I am amazed by its depth and intensity despite its quiet nature. This poem, among others, chose to go to realms of poetry that I had not known existed before. I encourage this read so much. To anyone even vaguely interested in poetry, you will think about something you haven’t before, and probably be moved in your personal writing as well.
Check it out guys!!
Much love,