Separation of Work and Death

Suicide As A Means To End A Disease, Not A Literary Statement[1]

Suicide is not an uncommon end to a writer’s life. A quick Wikipedia search will give you a well-organized, alphabetized list of writers who have committed suicide, including (but obviously not limited to):

  • Gertrude Bell (travel writer; overdose – 1926, age 57)
  • Yuri Abramov (poet; self-disembowelment[2]- 1927, age 32)
  • Harry Crosby (poet; self-inflicted gunshot to the head[3]- 1929, age 31)
  • Virginia Woolf (novelist, etc; drowning -1941, age 59)
  • Jochen Klepper (poet, journalist, etc; gas – 1942, age 39)
  • Ernest Hemingway (novelist, etc; self-inflicted gunshot to the head[4]- 1961, age 61)
  • John Kennedy Toole (novelist; gas – 1969, age 31)
  • Arthur Adamov (playwright; overdose – 1970, age 62)
  • Jerzy Kosinski (novelist; self-suffocation[5]- 1991, age 57)
  • Sarah Kane (playwright; hanging[6]- 1999, age 28)
  • Spalding Gray (playwright, screenwriter, etc; possibly/probably jumped off Staten Island Ferry – 2004, age 62)
  • Hunter S. Thompson (journalist, etc; self-inflicted gunshot to the head[7]- 2005, age 67)

And then the two biggies for me (and for this essay):

  • Sylvia Plath (poet, novelist; gas – 1963, age 30)
  • David Foster Wallace (novelist, essayist, etc; hanging[8] – 2008, age 46)

A decent list, just the tip of the 280+ listed on Wikipedia, and nothing compared to the inevitable amount of unpublished writers that have killed themselves. Curiously, for Wikipedia’s “Writers by cause of death” index, only three are listed: Execution, Murder, and Suicide. A list of writers who died of cancer would have been helpful to make my point, but cancer isn’t romantic or interesting enough to be indexed.

With the notable exceptions of Plath and Wallace, most of the writers listed here and on that Wikipedia’s page can have their work talked of without their suicide brought into play. Even the more famous ones (Hemingway, Woolf) can be discussed without bringing it up, at least in my experience.[9]And, if you ask me, this is how it should be done. Because here’s another list of writers who have pretty widely-read works whose deaths tend to not make it into discussion:

  • Shakespeare (everything important; probably a fever – 1616, age 52)
  • Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice, etc; possibly Hodgkin’s lymphoma – 1817, age 41)
  • Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre, etc; died in childbirth – 1855, age 38)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter, etc; died in his sleep – 1864, age 59)
  • Charles Dickens (Great Expectations, etc; stroke – 1870, age 58)
  • Louisa May Alcott (Little Women, etc; possibly mercury poisoning – 1888, age 55)
  • Mark Twain (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, etc; heart attack – 1910, age 74)
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby, etc; heart attack – 1940, age 44)
  • John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men, etc; heart failure – 1968, age 66)
  • Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire, etc; choked – 1983, age 71)
  • William Golding (Lord of the Flies, etc; heart failure – 1993, age 81)
  • William Styron (Sophie’s Choice, etc; pneumonia – 2006, age 81)
  • Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, etc; lymphoma – 2008, age 66)
  • J.D. Salinger[10] (The Catcher in the Rye, etc; old age – 2010, age 91)[11]

I’ve never heard of anyone saying that Shakespeare wrote so well of the fevered passion between Romeo and Juliet because he was anticipating his own death by fever. Or that J.D. Salinger wrote his most famous work from the eyes of a teenager as a way to capture an age he knew he would live so far beyond. Suicide is a form of death, usually the end result of a disease[12], just as a heart attack is a form of death, usually the end result of a disease[13].

So why in some cases, especially Sylvia Plath and David Foster Wallace, is a writer’s work colored and sometimes even overshadowed by their cause of death, just because it was suicide? There’s the idea that suicide is preventable, and that they did it to themselves. That’s true of course, but no more true than saying many car accidents are preventable, and someone killed after not wearing a seatbelt did it to themselves. There’s the fact that they wrote while suffering from the disease that killed them, with the disease seeping into their writing, Plath in particular. Which makes people want to look for “clues” as to “why” they killed themselves. A pretty natural reaction, I think. But a totally unnecessary one. Plath and Wallace killed themselves because they finally succumbed to the disease that had plagued them for years. End of story. Yes, Plath went through a seriously messy break-up. Yes, Wallace stopped taking and then switched anti-depressants with disastrous results. But people live through breakups and bad side effects from medicine. What killed them was depression. That’s what “made” them do it.

So if we move forward assuming there are no mysteries hidden in Plath’s or Wallace’s writing that will help anyone better understand their respective suicides, then the question of Why do we read their works through a suicide filter? becomes that much more pronounced. When The Pale King was published in 2011, a little less than three years after Wallace’s death, there were all kinds of literary murmurings about what would be found within the text. As it was his last major work published[14], people couldn’t help but wonder if certain why-based questions would be answered. Not everyone did this, of course, but enough did[15]to bother me. We know already[16]why Wallace died, so of course, nothing in The Pale King “explains” anything[17].

Plath’s writing is a little more blatant, what with writing The Bell Jar, about a young woman’s mental breakdown and poems like “Lady Lazarus” that describe Plath’s multiple major suicide attempts. There are important things to note about things like The Bell Jar and “Lady Lazarus,” though. For one, Plath was alive and well when she wrote these[18]. For two, both Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar’s protagonist, and the speaker in “Lady Lazarus” live through to the end of each piece, and one would assume beyond that. Esther Greenwood is heavily compared to Plath herself, as both had many of the same experiences. This was intentional, obviously, this writing from experience. But if we are to assume that Plath’s suicide is so closely related to her work, shouldn’t Esther have killed herself, preferably by putting her head inside her gas oven? You could argue that Plath didn’t see her own death in her future at the time that The Bell Jar was written, which very well may be true, [19] and that’s why Esther survived. But Plath wasn’t stupid; she knew how much of her own experience was poured into Esther’s, and the fact that The Bell Jar was published under a pseudonym can be interpreted as Plath’s self-imposed separation of Esther Greenwood and Sylvia Plath. Taking that into consideration, I think it’s pretty lazy to think that the writing of The Bell Jar has anything to do with Plath’s suicide or vice versa, or that any connection can be made between the two.

David Foster Wallace’s writing is subtler than Sylvia Plath’s on the subject of depression – Plath wrote an entire novel about it and Wallace didn’t, for instance. I’ve never heard his greatness as a writer denied by anyone[20] and if he were alive right this very second and The Pale King was published as a finished novel, I can’t imagine those opinions changing. And while I haven’t heard of his suicide negatively changing anyone’s opinions of his writings, it has certainly added something for many people. Sort of built him up as not just a great literary voice/figure, but as a tragic literary voice/figure, who died a preventable[21] death too young. Before his death, his writing was treated the way any other writer’s work[22] is treated. Now it tends to be treated as something almost holy and negative remarks about his work are akin to sacrilege. Though I didn’t know Wallace personally[23], I would imagine that this would drive him crazy. I know that while some incredible research went into some of his pieces, his natural intelligence and voice are in every single word he wrote, which leads me to believe that he was one of those people who wrote because he had to, because one can only keep in so many ideas and words before they have to come out[24]. He wrote because he had things to say and he wanted people to read those things and respond to them, not necessarily pour over every word or apply Biblical[25] qualities to them. His writing was not meant to be untouchable.

Some of this, I know, comes from the fact that his writing collection has ended now and so everything that was published is somehow precious. I understand this and feel this way, too; there are some pieces of Wallace’s writing that I’ve avoided just so that there are, to me, still new things that he’s written. And the reality of Wallace’s suicide makes it pretty hard, if not impossible, to try to read everything as if he were still alive, so I’m not suggesting that anyone do that. What I’m suggesting is that readers separate the life and death of the writer from the writer’s work. While Wallace’s death was, by the nature of the thing, an end to his writing, that’s not what was primarily ended – that, of course, was his life.

Wallace’s death was not a literary act, and should not be seen as such. Thinking that his suicide was anything other than the end of a life plagued by a disease is borderline insulting. As someone who has mentally been there, I can say with some certainty that Wallace wasn’t thinking about how what was about to happen was going to affect his bibliography the afternoon he hung himself.[26] So why should everyone left behind think about it?

The fact is, suicide acted as the final punctuation mark on Wallace’s and Plath’s lives, but not their writing. They weren’t writers who committed suicide, they were and are writers.


[1] Footnotes as an obvious DFW homage.

[2] !

[3] Pistol.

[4] Shotgun.

[5] Plastic bag.

[6] Shoelaces.

[7] Smith & Wesson handgun.

[8] Belt.

[9] In high school and college I studied different Hemingway and Woolf pieces without a single mention of their respective suicides. Which surprised me at the time, as Woolf especially can get pretty dark.

[10] Going to use this time to point out that a young James Woods is a dead ringer for a young JDS

[11] The average age of that list of death-by-suicide writers is 47 while the average age of this list of death-by-other-things writers is 57. So one could (maybe) argue that the suicides weren’t cutting their time down by much.

[12] Depression

[13] Heart disease

[14] So last as to be published unfinished, even.

[15] That’s just publicly. How many people have read The Pale King and come across a certain line or passage that seemed to illuminate the seeming mystery being Wallace’s death and felt like they had discovered something about his mindset on the day he killed himself – but kept it to themselves?

[16] See above

[17] Also important to note: The Pale King is fiction.

[18] Obviously.

[19] Though it should be noted that Plath’s death came a month after The Bell Jar’s first UK publication.

[20] Claims of overrated-ness, though, yes.

[21] See my aforementioned opinion of suicide as being more preventable than any other death.

[22] Not that Wallace was just any other writer. What I mean is that his writing was read, generally enjoyed, his writing was reviewed by critics, he was commissioned to write articles for magazines, etc etc. In short he was a regular writer but just also happened to be a genius – if that makes sense.

[23] Before he died, though, I did have this relatively great fantasy of meeting him. Wallace was from Philo, Illinois, barely over 20 miles away from where I graduated high school in Tuscola, Illinois. After reading essays like “A Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley,” which name-dropped the hell out of the towns that surrounded both of our hometowns, it was pretty clear to me that Wallace knew exactly where Tuscola was and maybe he had even been there before. So my fantasy entailed of me meeting him at a book signing or whatever and telling him that I graduated from Tuscola High School, and he would smile and say something about how he knows about Tuscola and we would talk about that whole patch of East-Central Illinois and he would discover how intelligent and nice I am and I would somehow slip in that I was a writing student (true at the time) and he would either A.) Fall in love with me (a quarter-century age difference meaningless at this point) or B.) Take me under his wing and mentor me until I was molded into a DFW-like writer-genius/Pulitzer Prize winner etc etc. I still have this fantasy, by the way, it’s just much more fantastical now than it was before.

[24] And, in his case, can turn into something like A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, the lucky bastard.

[25] As in, not to be fucked with.

[26] I should say here, though, that with intense sadness I have read (several times) Wallace’s autopsy report and can’t help but be struck with certain elements of it. The rather detailed description of the area where he killed himself, including measurements of the patio where he nailed the belt, oddly reminded me the time Wallace would sometimes take to describe something technical, like the measurements of tennis courts. Though his wife’s, Karen Green, name is blurred out on public copies of the autopsy report as the one who found his body, the description of his body says mildly, “There is a tattoo on the right upper arm laterally with word ‘Karen’ and a symbol of the heart,” which so reminds me of the way Wallace could use relatively plain wording that, when placed in the right context, will hit you square in the gut. But all of this is not only besides the point but totally goes against it.

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Rudy Huxtable’s Bedroom

I’ve been in Austin now for about a month and a half. Since I’m still unemployed, most of my days have been devoted to job searching. But anyone in my situation knows that one can only write cover letters and send out resumes so much at a time without going insane, so I’ve also spent a lot of time with Netflix and Skyrim. I tend to bounce around a few shows at a time on Netflix; right now I’ve been mixing it up with Intervention, How I Met Your Mother, South Park, and The Cosby Show. The Cosby Show is something I picked up earlier this year, during the snowy days of last winter. I sort of dropped it for a while, for whatever reason, and then a couple of months ago picked it back up again. And since I’ve moved here I’ve watched an average of at least an episode a day. I’m currently smack in the middle of Season 5, having watched every episode up to this point. I’ve seen other later episodes before in my life, but not with the same dedication as I’m watching it now, so I don’t really count that.

There’s a lot of amazing things going on in The Cosby Show, which is pretty clear from the show’s 8-season run. I could dedicate multiple posts on all of the things that make it so great (the fashion, Clair’s sassiness, Cliff’s faces, Cliff and Clair’s overall annoyance and love felt for their children), but right now I’m going to focus on one small thing: Rudy Huxtable’s bedroom.

The room's main inhabitant, though, as Cliff would point out, not the room's owner.

At the beginning of the series, 4 out of the 5 Huxtable children are living at home: Sondra Huxtable, the oldest child, is away at Princeton, while Denise, Theo, Vanessa, and Rudy Huxtable are in the house. Denise has a bedroom, Theo has a bedroom, and Vanessa and Rudy share a bedroom. All three of these rooms share something unique, however: they each have two beds. Vanessa and Rudy share, so that’s obvious. It can be assumed that Sondra and Denise shared a bedroom before Sondra started college (they might have mentioned this toward the beginning of the series, in fact), but it’s never been explained why Theo has two twin beds instead of one double, queen, or king bed in his bedroom (though let’s be real, Cliff and Clair would never buy a king-sized bed for one of their children). But that’s all besides the point.

By the time Season 5 is happening, Sondra’s still gone, Denise has dropped out of college but is on a mysterious African photography trip and is gone, Theo is in college but forgot to pay for a dorm, Vanessa’s still in high school and Rudy is still in elementary school. As the case tends to be in situations like this, Vanessa has moved beyond her shared bedroom with Rudy and now has Sondra/Denise’s room, so now every child as a room to themselves (though each room still has two beds).

There’s Rudy’s bedroom, as seen in Season 4′s episode “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” It’s really just half of the room, but it’s nearly impossible to get the entire thing in one shot. But do notice the two beds (both of which are made pretty impressively, in my opinion).

Weird Things #1-#2

Here’s Rudy, again in Season 4′s episode “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” staring at a portrait of herself. A few seconds from this shot, she can be seen stroking the face of the portrait. Maybe all of my rooms have had different decorating schemes, but I just find it odd that Rudy has large-ish framed picture of herself on her dresser. There are no other photos of any other Huxtables, not even of Sondra, whom has not lived in the house for years, or of Denise, who is also out of the house, or her beloved grandparents, Russell and Anna Huxtable. I’d also like to point out that in Season 5, there are still no other photos of any other Huxtables, even though Rudy is by then the aunt to Sondra’s twins and Denise is on a seemingly endless trip to a rather dangerous continent. Now if we know anything about children, it’s that they’re self-centered. That’s all they can be, and really all they should be, to an extent. Now I believe Rudy is about 7 years old in Season 4, which would still put her well into the Self-Centered Child category. But usually that self-centeredness is marked with naivety and a lack of self-awareness, not so much self-worship. We know Rudy is confident and sometimes overestimates her abilities, but isn’t it weird that she takes time out of her day to gaze at herself? Now, to be fair, she’s sad in the scene above and there’s a decent amount of self-pity going on, but I think it can also be assumed that she sees the photo everyday and is happy enough with looking at herself to keep it there. You can also note the photo’s close proximity to the closet, and in the closet door is a mirror, for an even more up-to-date Rudy checkout.

The other thing is the nightlight to the right of the dresser. What is on that nightlight? A baby’s head? Is that what makes Rudy feel secure at night: a glowing baby head? Seems strange. If that’s not in fact a baby’s head, I don’t think I really want to know what it is.

Weird Thing #2.5

Full disclosure: the above almost doesn’t count because these weird paper fish are not a permanent fixture in Rudy’s room. But in “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” there’s a decent amount of time spent on Rudy sadly sitting at her desk, looking at and holding the weird colored cartoon fish, so I felt like I had to point them out. I have to assume they’re some sort of school project, or maybe some kind of flashcards, but they really aren’t doing a great job of cheering Rudy up and ARE doing a great job of being confusing.

Weird/Awesome Thing #3 (and note the aforementioned mirror)

That stuffed dog is not weird, and is in fact sort of awesome, but I have to keep with the theme and call it weird. But what its purpose is is quite confusing. Is that dog some sort of safety spokesdog? Or the face of doggy construction workers everywhere? Whatever he represents, he’s good at it, as indicated by the medal around his neck. The hat could either be some sort of safety helmet or strange plastic 10-gallon cowboy hat, but for dogs. And if that’s the case, then I’m extra curious about what he won an award for. Cow wrangling? Cow branding? Maybe he’s some sort of rodeo doggy. But since Rudy has, at this point, never shown particular interest in either safety or cowboy activities, your guess is as good as mine.

Straight-up Awesome Thing #4

Okay, so that record player isn’t weird or weird/awesome, just straight-up awesome. But I’m still numbering it the same. I just wanted to point it out because I think it’s really cool and interesting. My first thought is that it’s pretty cool of a 7 year old to have a record player, but when I was 7 I at least had a cassette player and possibly also had some sort of CD player, as it was 1993. But still, I’m really into Rudy’s record player, especially the giant metal rod in the middle (for the record [ha!] I tried looking up to see if that metal rod on a record player has a specific name but couldn’t find one, so if there is one and you know it, know that I tried).

Also, bonus side-view of the safety cowdog.

Awesome Thing #5

Now here’s Rudy in her bedroom from Season 5 in “Cyranoise de Bergington.” Notable are the beds, not as well-made (but that’s a plot point here) and the pretty awesome new addition to her door. If you refer back to the first photo, you’ll find that there was some poster of unknown origin on her door, being pretty uninteresting. But at some point between Season 4 and Season 5, Rudy got into Whitney Houston, and added a poster on her door to show for it. And so now Rudy has (as far as we can see) exactly one other photo in her room except for the one of herself (which is still there, just obstructed from view here), so Whitney must be feeling pretty accomplished.

Awesome Things #5.5-#6

A few things worth noting here: the poster above the safety cowdog and record player (but I can’t tell what it is so it doesn’t get a number), the sweet addition of the dust cover to Rudy’s record player, and, most importantly, Cliff’s awesome annoyed/disgusted face. Again, this annoyed face of Cliff’s is not exactly a permanent staple to Rudy’s room, but one can be assured it shows up in her room often enough to count. He’s annoyed because he’s making Rudy do chores to pay him back  for the necklace that he bought Clair for Clair’s birthday, which will be from Rudy. And Clair has just discovered Rudy cleaning her bedroom and is overjoyed with motherly pride for her go-getter daughter. And Cliff knows Rudy is just full of shit.

Weirdest Thing of All #7

And of course, the weirdest/most terrifying thing Rudy’s room is saved for last. Maybe you caught glimpses of it earlier, like when we saw Rudy’s room as a whole or when Rudy was stroking her photo. I am of course referring to the painting of the satanic clown that can be seen above Rudy’s dresser. Is that a clown in blackface? And is the clown kidnapping one child while beckoning its other child followers along? Naturally, the face is the scariest thing of all. Rudy sleeps in the bed to the left of the door, essentially right next to where she’s standing in the photo above. So, as far as we know, when Rudy goes to sleep at night, she turns over to see that horrifying monstrosity staring back at her. That horrifying monstrosity, as illuminated by the glowing baby head below it.

If my calculations are accurate, Rudy will be about 11 years old in the show’s final season. Will she have outgrown all of this stuff by then? Will she still have the photo of herself as a 5 year old to look at everyday? Will she still be a Whitney Houston fan? But really, most of all, will that scary clown be gone or will he be a part of the show until the end?

There’s only one way to find out, so from now on, I will be finishing the series for the sake of art.

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LIFE UPDATE

Moving to Austin next week. That’s all I’ve got for now. We’ll see how it goes . . .

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Thanks, But No Thanks.

There are a lot of opinions on what it’s like to be in your 20′s. I’m sure the same can be said for every age group but being halfway through 23 myself, this is what catches my attention. I’ve read a lot of blog posts (that’s probably part of the problem) and little essays written by people in their 30′s and even late 20′s giving me advice on how to successfully enjoy being 23. Don’t worry what people think of you, enjoy being attractive, date around, party with your friends, travel, live in the moment. And here’s what I have to say to that overall sentiment:

Are you serious?

On principle, I agree with all of those things. I just had my five year high school reunion. It wasn’t long ago that I was a child. I think you should still have fun when you’re 23, get drunk with your friends, flirt, “live in the moment.” Of course I think that. But for me, and a lot of other people around my age, it’s just not an option. I see a lot of advertising with this image of being a 20-something. Stuff like this:

Very attractive young people (one with a notably unnecessary hat) playing bocce ball with some cool old people. They’re so young and beautiful, with so much time on their hands to be with their friends and have fun. Isn’t youth grand? Or take this gem:

Jumping into the pool with your clothes on! Carelessly cutting jeans into cutoffs while an old person looks on in confusion! Taking off your top in an open-air car! Skateboarding in a pack for some reason! Crowd surfing! Fun! So much fun! Everyone is so beautiful, the girls are so thin and their hair is so lush! And I bet those kids don’t even realize what fun they’re having because they’re just kids, after all.

I don’t blame older people for being jealous of those in their 20′s, if their 20′s are like that. And no, I am not denying the existence of this lifestyle, as I have (I did go to a private art college, after all) in fact seen with my very eyes kids my age leading similar lives. What’s interesting is that they all seem to have a common thread: parents with money and parents willing to give them that money.

Here’s my reality, of being 23: I have a BFA from a “respected” (?) art university with nothing to show for it except a piece of paper and massive debt. My last paycheck was $100.25. I live at home, where I don’t have to pay rent, because I don’t have money to pay rent. There is no money for me to move anywhere. I can’t get a full-time job anywhere (and I mean that in both any place and any field). I can’t get a second part-time job to supplement the maybe-10-hours-a-week-if-I’m-lucky part-time job that I do have. All of my friends from college live, at the very least, 150 miles away, though most of them live in the 1,000 miles away range. I don’t have money to visit them. Even a weekend trip to Chicago costs, with gas and food, at least a paycheck. And that’s not accounting for actually doing stuff while there. And that’s a paycheck I need for monthly student loan bills and my pathetic attempt to save for a move out. There’s also the fact that, because I am no longer a student, I no longer have health insurance. And before you suggest something about that Obama policy of keeping post-graduate kids on their parents’ health insurance, please understand that of course I’ve thought about that, but that is not a blanket policy. In my case, it doesn’t make a difference. It’s complicated, but all that really matters is I am uninsured and cannot afford to be insured.

Oh yes, isn’t youth so carefree? It’s so much fun. I love wasting my life sitting in my mom’s house, applying to 1700+ (and that is an accurate number) jobs that I haven’t gotten and will not get, in a town of less than 4500 people. I love thinking that I am still 22 at first thought before I remember that a year of my life has been lost to debt and unemployment. I love the stress that my family feels because of this debt and unemployment. I love the anxiety that comes with being uninsured. I love never seeing my friends (but obsessively thinking about them because I don’t have much else to do), those who, for various reasons, have managed to at least move out of their parents’ house. I love hearing about beautiful 20-something girls, who can wear little dresses and get their hair cut at salons and be cool because they’re thin and curse without flinching and know that I will never be one of them (minus the cursing, but if you aren’t cute then it’s not cute). And I think what I love most of all is being told time and time again to “stay positive.” That a positive attitude will do anything. Because yes, I guess that’s the one thing that’s really holding me back.

So thanks, everyone, for telling me your version of what it’s like to be 23 in this country right now. But please understand that youth is not wasted on the young. Youth is wasted on the privileged.

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Fiction: The Window

I was looking through my folder of writing and found a story that I hadn’t opened since May 2007, back when I was 19 and a freshman at SCAD. I didn’t remember it from the title and only remembered that I wrote it for a class because I had the class name in the heading. I read it and it was totally bizarre because I had no recollection of writing it at all. I remember coming up with the characters’ names and that’s all. So reading it was a very strange experience because it was like reading something for the first time that was also hauntingly familiar, as I can recognize the voice and tone as my own. My inability to remember much about the process is probably linked to a note I made at the end:

Started: 05/26/07 8:05 pm

Finished: 05/26/07 8:27 pm

So basically, I sat down, wrote for barely over 20 minutes, turned it in, got an A, and never looked at it again until yesterday, over four years later. But it’s a weird little piece, and I liked it, so I thought I would put it here.

The Window

Elizabeth Dixon

Looking at him was like looking through a big sheet of glass. Not the clear, boring kind, though. More like stained glass, or maybe sea glass. Yes, sea glass was definitely more like it. He had a bit of a green tint about him anyway. When she looked at him she could see the past and the future, his soul and her own. It was hard for her to look away.

He looked at her like she was an insect. Insect is really too professional of a term; he looked at her more like she was a bug. She was this thing that was shiny and big and skinny at the same time. She looked back at him with foreign eyes that he did not understand. He looked at her like a giant jade monolith that he didn’t understand the purpose of. He was scared to look at her for too long.

This ‘she’ was Mary and the ‘he’ was Pluzac. Mary lived on a flat farm in Illinois that didn’t do much but sit there and grow the occasional soybean. Pluzac lived in the darkness and he didn’t do a whole lot either but walk. I use the word walk very lightly, as well, and you would agree if you saw Pluzac move. He would speed up as fast as a little jetting bee and then slow down like the bee’s honey. Mary wanted to put oil in his joints because that had worked in some movie she saw when she was little, but she couldn’t figure out how to do it. She was afraid to touch him anyway. Pluzac’s skin looked as though it could slide off as easily as a baked fish’s and Mary was afraid that, if his skin did slide off like a baked fish’s, she would not like what she would see underneath.

Mary and Pluzac’s meeting was a complete accident. Mary says it was fate. Pluzac doesn’t know what it was. She was lying down on the earth too dry to grow the soybeans that were stuffed inside it. She liked the way the leaves smelled and she liked the feeling she got on her bare legs, either from tiny bugs or from little bits of dirt. She didn’t know which, but she liked the feeling anyway. Behind her, Mary could hear a faint grunting that sounded like an animal that didn’t belong on her farm. So she sat up and looked toward the noise but couldn’t see anything. It was 11:30 at night and was very dark, though everything was underneath a sheer blanket of silver moonlight. She looked harder, trying to make her eyes adjust while the noise just kept getting louder. That’s when Mary saw Pluzac for the very first time. He didn’t emerge out of the darkness like you would expect. Mary just stared and stared until he was suddenly there. At first she assumed she had made him up completely, just a figment of her small but thirsty imagination. But when their eyes met and Pluzac stopped and grunted at her, she could feel that this was completely real.

Pluzac didn’t know, at first, if Mary could see him. She wasn’t supposed to be able to but it seemed like she was looking straight at him. He turned around, but nothing was behind him. She was looking at him. He stopped moving and let out a grunt that he immediately regretted. Pluzac knew there was something he was supposed to do in this situation. There was a protocol, he knew it. He just could not remember what it said to do. His instinct was to turn around and try to run without making a sound. Looking back on it, Pluzac knew that this would probably have been the best choice. Mary would have assumed it was all in her head. But he didn’t run. He didn’t move at all. It was Mary who moved.

“Hello?” She took a step forward, then another one. “Hello?” she repeated. Pluzac still didn’t move. “I’m Mary. I live here on this farm. Who are you?” Pluzac stared at her. He could see her little mouth move and hear a sound that lazily swam over to him, but he didn’t know what the sound was. She kept getting a little closer. All Pluzac could do was grunt, longer and louder this time. Was that what he was supposed to do? He still couldn’t remember. Mary stopped. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. Are you lost?” She got closer again. Mary was getting bolder with her strides; she now stood mere feet from Pluzac. Pluzac looked down and saw how close she was to him. This was certainly not good. He could tell Mary was figuring him out with each passing second she spent looking at him.

In reality, though, the longer Mary looked at him the more confused she became. His eyes were completely black, like two big marbles mashed into his putty face. Maybe he didn’t even have eyes. Maybe he just had holes in his head, holes Mary could hook her fingers into to pull him closer to her. She got closer. Pluzac could feel air on his face. It was light and smelled sour. Mary did not feel him breathe on her face. He did not seem to move in the slightest at all. She smiled at him.

“Hello. I’m Mary.” She held out her hand in front of him. Pluzac looked down at it. What was she doing to him? He tried to feel if his body was getting weaker, if she was projecting some sort of force onto him out of her hand. He didn’t feel any different, though. Mary put her hand down. “Not too much of a people person? Yeah, me either.” She said this with a laugh. The new sound that came out of her made Pluzac jump back slightly, the only movement she had seen from him since he stopped walking.  “Are you okay? I didn’t mean to scare you.” He knew that she saw him wince. What a stupid mistake that was. Now he could not stand motionless until she grew tired of him. He couldn’t be a figment of her imagination or a statue. Now what was he supposed to do?

“Do you want to come inside?” Mary moved slightly, standing at an angle toward her house that seemed miles away. Pluzac looked at her and then past her. Was she asking him to go with her? Now that he couldn’t think of any other options he didn’t know if was such a bad idea. Maybe if he got underneath some light she would look at him and run away screaming and though it wasn’t ideal, the situation would be somewhat taken care of. He moved forward. Pluzac was so slow that Mary didn’t even notice that he had accepted her offer to come inside.

“Well if you don’t want to come inside, maybe I could go in myself and bring you something. Do you need anything? Water? Maybe a nice sandwich?” Mary had moved squarely in front of him, the welcoming angle toward her house closed. Pluzac stopped immediately. Had he angered her? What was she going to do to him? He stepped backwards. Mary noticed this time. He was fast now.  “Where are you going?” Pluzac didn’t understand what it was, but something changed within her voice. Mary was speaking to him out of desperation, begging Pluzac not to leave her like she was begging her mother not to take her dog to the vet for the last time. He was convinced now that he had angered her. She was going to make him regret his impoliteness. She had already succeeded, in fact; Pluzac regretted ever making the turn that landed him on this flat piece of land. Now he knew he had to run. He turned around and prepared his body for the sprint, but only moved slowly. Not so slow that Mary did not notice his movements, but slow enough that he wasn’t running. I don’t know if you would even call it walking either. Pluzac jerked around like his bones were broken.

“What’s wrong? Are you hurt? Where are you going?” Mary moved forward to catch up with him. Pluzac, still moving, turned to her and grunted. He stretched his neck out in an attempt to make his body speed up but instead his neck just jerked a little bit, not increasing his speed at all.

Mary saw him nod toward the darkness, toward where he had come from. She stared at him. She wanted to take his hand but was afraid to touch him.

“Do you want me to go with you?” Pluzac looked at her still and grunted again. He wanted to slap her away, to grunt and move around until she was scared off. Mary looked into his black holes and heard his grunt; she felt it must be his only way to communicate with her. He felt it too; she had rendered him unable to speak. All she had to do was take his hand and look into his eyes and she would be free from this place. Mary was scared and did not know where they would go. All she did know was that he had come and sought her out and she would do whatever it took to return with him. Mary took his hand in hers. Pluzac looked down and expected to disintegrate. They were touching. They were touching for real now; it was not just a hypothetical thing anymore. The worst thing that could happen had just happened. Not only was she touching him, but also had somehow linked her body with his. He panicked and his fear propelled him forward, Pluzac finally getting the speed he needed. Mary’s head whipped back as she shot forward. Mary looked over at Pluzac, who in turn was looking back at her with those dark holes, and together they launched forward, out of Illinois and into the darkness.

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July 2011 Music Mix

CHILL\/\/A\/\/\/\/\/\/E UP IN HERE


I made a music mix for July. It’s good, trust me. Download it.

A lot of this came from Cats Purring.

Dent May

Thao & Mirah

Papercuts

Still Corners

Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Dead Gaze

Fleet Foxes

Real Estate

John Maus

Lykke Li

Tommy Toussaint

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti

Bass Drum of Death

Gray Things

Summer Camp

Bobby

The Naked and Famous

Panda Bear

A Gap Between

Washed Out

Patrick Wolf

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The King’s Speech

The last time I was in Savannah, back in September 2010, seems like it was forever ago now. It hadn’t been long since I finished my internship in New York, I just had a very promising job interview in Atlanta (the primary reason for going to Georgia), and my all-around post-college hopes were high. It helped that my own visit coincided with my friends Maggie and Walter’s Savannah wedding, causing a wave of friends to come into town, most of whom I hadn’t seen in over a year.

My most recent Savannah trip was pretty different. I was there entirely to support my best friend, Ben Frisch, who was not only graduating from SCAD’s Master’s program, but graduating at the top with being awarded the title Excelsus Laureate, which is SCAD’s way of saying valedictorian of the graduate students.

Here's Ben's name and fancy title, as seen on the giant monitor at commencement, for proof of his glory.

The week I left for the trip I sent out my 1,600th resume/cover letter combo since I graduated in May 2010. Those 1,600 have gotten me three in-person interviews and two phone interviews and zero jobs. As I drove into Chatham County I got a rejection email about a job I was sincerely hoping I would get. The job I interviewed for in Atlanta back in September not only didn’t pan out, but absolutely nothing came of it. I was told I would know either way about the job two weeks after the interview. I sent a thank you card to the company and my interviewer and a thank you email. When two and a half weeks came and went with no word, I sent an email saying I was still interested and asking if any decision had been made. Two weeks passed after that with no reply and I sent a final email that said basically the same thing, which, of course, produced no response. The end of that Atlanta interview was the last I ever heard from them. Par for the course, I’ve discovered. On Halloween, after giving up hope on that job, I started working part-time at the outlet mall in the town (population: 4,500) I live in with my mom, a temporary measure (both the job and living at home) until I got a real job. A temporary measure that has lasted 9 months and counting.

So, I think it goes without saying that my outlook on life and the future changed drastically between visiting Savannah in September and visiting in June. And although this recent trip lacked that amazing onslaught of visiting friends, not even my frustration and depression regarding the stagnant state of my unemployed, broke, student-loan-spirit-sucking life could dampen a visit to see my friends and the city I lived in for four years.

It’s great to be honored. I’ve won awards and given speeches myself plenty of times. But I really feel that everyone should experience what it’s like to be around when your best friend is being honored. It’s amazing. Ben is fantastic. I’ve known this for a long time. His art is amazing, he’s incredibly smart, and intelligent and witty on a level way above me. None of this is news to me. So to have everyone else discover it . . . SCAD, Paula Wallace (SCAD’s president), all of the students who graduated in 2011, fucking Whoopi Goldberg for godsakes, was pretty amazing.

Ben’s speech was perfect. SCAD gave him a speechwriter to work with, and though Ben is no pushover, I wasn’t sure if the speechwriter was going to make it super speechy or not. Which would be okay, but wouldn’t be very Ben-like. But it was perfect. It was funny (I laughed genuinely among the nervous giggles I had), brought tears to my eyes, smart, and not preachy. What I usually dislike about valedictorian/salutatorian/etc speeches are that they tend to have at least a hint of snobbery. I’m not saying it isn’t hard work getting to that position, I know you have to work harder than most (including myself) to get there. But a valedictorian giving a speech at graduation is still addressing their peers. Especially at a school like SCAD, where I think it’s nearly impossible to compare how good someone is in one discipline to how good someone is in a totally different discipline, it’s a big turn-off to me to think that a few students are better than the rest. But Ben’s speech didn’t even get near any of that stuff. It was just real talk. With a quick gag about Battlestar Galactica thrown in.

Look at him go!

I was in Savannah for about a week and tried to fit as much food and friends as I could: Victoria, Ben, Adam, Tandy, Krista, Coleman, Jack, Mike, Paul, Ellis, Dalton, Allie, Sarah, Catherine, Gino, Sweet Potatoes, Zunzi’s, some new restaurants, jambalaya, and cherry pie.

I correctly predicted at the time that I took this picture of Zunzi's cottage pie that the photo would come back to haunt me at times when I wanted Zunzi's and wouldn't be able to have it.

It’s really weird visiting a city you used to live in. And I didn’t just live in Savannah, the way I do here. I had so many important experiences and first experiences there. I honestly don’t care for the city itself too much (heat, crime, conservative values) but it’ll always represent college life and newness to me. I never visited Savannah before I started school there, so my visit last September was actually the first time I ever visited the city without living in it. This second trip wasn’t any less weird. I divided my lodging between Tandy & Krista’s, Coleman & Jack & Mike’s, and Ben & Allie’s. My second day in town I was driving from Tandy’s house (southside) to Ben’s house (downtown), taking the same route I always took whenever I would go home after hanging out with Tandy, or shopping southside, or going to the movies. I was listening to music and not really thinking about what I was doing. When I turned off my car I realized I wasn’t in front of Ben’s house, but my old apartment. I had driven there without even thinking, it never occurred to me that I was making unnecessary turns that would lead me to the place I used to live, not the place I was going. It was very weird. And annoying.

It was sad leaving Savannah in September . . . I had seen so many friends, so many more than I had expected to see, and most of them were only in town for the weekend of that wedding, so they were gone just as quickly as they came. And I knew it would be a long time before I saw Ben again. After I moved away in June 2010 I knew I would see Ben in New York while I lived there and he visited, and then just a few months later I was seeing him again. But when I left Savannah then, I had no immediate plans that would lead to me seeing him, or any of my friends again. But I did have it in the back of my mind that he would be graduating in June, that there was a possibility for a visit then. Though as time wore on and no jobs or money came through, it seemed less and less likely I would make the trip just to see him walk across the stage for a few seconds. But getting valedictorian totally changed that. How could I pass up the opportunity to not just visit, but to visit for the sole purpose of celebrating how fantastic my best friend is? But there was a different sadness leaving Savannah this time . . . Ben will be moving away soon, Coleman is moving away in January, and Tandy’s planning his escape, too. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I had to say goodbye to a city that for so long meant so much to me and will always represent things that no other place could ever represent, but for real this time.

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