Mind over Medium

Art, Literature, and Pseudo-Science

Tag: Writing

Losing Yourself

The door to the bedroom creaked open
Letting in a hot yellow stab of light.
The biting rattle of bullets
And crackled screams for retreat
Filtered in from the other side.
It was dark except for the spike of light through the jar.
A small glow from the round peep hole through the wood
Left a red-ringed shadow of the sunset above the dresser.
My clothes were thrown about the room
Casualties of looting for the last precious string of Art Deco
Beads from my grandmother’s youth.
Then I remember:
They were gone to Italy in a cardboard box
Sold to finance frivolous dreams of someone actually using them for prayer.
The antique rosary was probably parted out for money.
The sock it had been wrapped in was empty
Except for a scratched medallion of Saint Christopher.
He carried the Child over the river
Away from the bullets and the hot dust
To here, in the dark bottom drawer in Texas:
Cold rain-washed and full of flaky bark chips along some over-manicured road.
Where are they going,
They who came this far through the war and the rattling defeats
To be placed on a long chain around my neck?
I wear the medal close to my heart
It reminds me of where I was
And urges me onward, but it will not tell me where I am going
Besides here
On the torn feed-sack and rag quilt
Thinly shielding me from the chaos of rapid-fire failure.

– August 15, 2011

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Depression

Shadows and dust blew through the cracks in the house,
A red and yellow and grey haze sifting over the people inside.
It refused to settle, but hung in the air.
We breathed it.
We ate it.
It was in everything, like God.
It stung and we bled from our noses, our mouths.
We could not escape the storm.
Gummed tape, wet rags, paper shades:
It was too late: building a levy after the floodwaters were at our necks,
But there was no rush, no water, no respite.
Only powder and heat, and hatefulness.
Someone grabbed a knife from the block counter
I think it was my brother
And he stabbed viciously at the air, screaming
“I hate you! I hate you! Get out of my house!”
The dust barely parted around the blade
He dropped the knife aside
It clattered on the floor and he hung his head.
You cannot kill the dust.
It was part of us now, like God.
There was no atheism for the dust, for it covers everything
And flies faster than cloud or bird.
It eats everything it comes to, consumes, strips the flesh.
We are its sacrifices.

– February, 2012

The Lamentations of a Thistle

Finding a picture stings
As though you had died.
Seeing them, I cannot touch you.
In many, I do not know you.
It is so different.
You are so happy.
Somehow my face begins to burn with shame
And I must look away.
It hurts like death,
But without the glory.
There is no acceptance of my mourning.
I am so hopeless and disgusting,
I must withdraw.
A vulgar thistle infecting a garden of roses.
No one speaks of me.
Nor offers me solace.
They only whisper in judgmental tones
Or remind me disdainfully that,
“Others have it worse”
Then they cut me off at the root,
Leaving my raggedy, unfinished flower
To burn in the sun.
Any seeds I had scattered are too young to survive.
While you, elsewhere,
Bloom without me,
The most celebrated in the garden
Blessed with brightness and unfettered by thorns
Treasured by the gardeners and revered by the passersby.
I sought to grow in your sight
And strove only to emulate your beauty.
It was beyond my meager ability.
I was only a weed in your glory.
A sad little shadow stealing your sustenance
And trying to hide my ignominy behind your grandeur.
I was never worthy to grow in such a garden–
Able, perhaps,
But never deserving.
Such a garden is only a dream,
A flower such as you: an esoteric angel.
I miss your petals,
The cool canopy of your leaves.
It is so harsh here on the sidewalk,
Barely able to murmur a scream:
“I blossomed under your shade,
When we were young, we spoke as equals.
Now I am grown.
They have cut me off at the root
And the sun burns me with his accusing gaze.
Who in the garden can help me?
You are too deep in the soil.”

 

– February, 2011

Fly : Annoying Poetry

FLY

How can I endure this blather
the raging fans wheezing and whining
I hate them all
and pity them too

Bottled flies
with grey bellies
I cannot free them
so shall they starve

Blenderize the heatless bodies
into a cocktail
you are what you eat
drink this and you will fly!

Feel the itty-bitty buds
sprout from your neck
your hands
your feet
This is not what you wanted

the wings flare up like glass panes
purple veins seething with crushed insect blood
you are flying
but it is not pretty

How can I endure the whine
of your flagellating wings
I despise you, fool,
and I pity you too

-EH (2007)

MLAPA Citations: A Reference Mess

As an English and Writing tutor, I am in charge of dutifully repeating lessons that the students should have learned in class, but for a myriad of sometimes fantastical reasons, they have missed or forgotten. I repeat vocab (“obscenities,” not “cuss words”), drill them on grammar (“In” is what kind of word?), and teach them the difference between “unite” and “reunite.” One of my biggest challenges, however, isn’t the spelling or the grammar; it’s the paper formatting itself. Having spent more time playing Angry Birds than fiddling arround in Microsoft Office, most students come in, panicked, begging for guidance. How big are my margins? How do you change a margin? What is a margin?

This is not a margin. Please try again.

These sorts of questions can easily answered by patient teaching: Click, Explain, Repeat. Eventually, after copying your on-screen actions and asking permission before every click, the students get the basic fundamentals of Word formatting together: font, margins, paragraph spacing, indents, etc. There is no shame in having to plod through a program you’ve never worked with before. Heck, hand me a video game controller and half of my actions will be jerky failures and the other half will be happy accidents.

Suddenly everything is....purple?

The hard part is when I ask, “So, what format would your teacher like you to use?”

Now, for those of you who have lost track of all the writing styles, here’s a sample:

MLA
APA
Chicago/Turabian/CMOS
Harvard
MHRA
Bluebook
CGOS
OSCOLA
CBE
IEEE

Why is my screen filled up with random...capital letters?

What are those?! They look like a mash-up of venereal diseases and Dungeons and Dragons manuals. And that’s not even half of the styles available worldwide. The British, the Chinese, the Canadians– all of them have different styles and variations on those styles. Oh, and for added fun, the styles are often updated every few years, making many books obsolete, even if they were printed only a year ago! All this adds up to a mess of reference texts. Each writing style has its own guide which is updated and revised periodically, so you have to either toddle down to the bookstore and shell out $50 every year, or pray that you find a reputable website for your format. Even professors and researchers often have to rely on guides to show them through the maze of citation placement and formatting.

Of course, each type of writing style has a purpose, usually specific to the field which is being written about. The styles are specifically set up to emphasize certain information that the field values, such as citing authors’ full names in MLA style (which is used in literature studies) or indicating dates in APA (which is used int he sciences where research is constantly changing). In a general college education environment, however, students will probably take many different classes in many different areas of study. If their teachers have to rely on guides for reference,  that dependence is ten-fold for a student. They squint at their books, struggling to remember first how to spell the author’s name (usually something exotic like Grigory Yefimovich Grumm-Grzhimaylo) while also trying to recall the lesson I gave them yesterday in how to italicize book titles.

So when they slam down in one of my chairs, hang their head, and mutter obscenities under their breath, I know that I’m dealing with a writing style problem. Unguided, they completely shut down. There is too much info to find, too many rules, I don’t know the rules, myteacherisstupidiwannajustbea(insert job here)andwewontevenneedthiscrap!

Of course references are numbered in the text in ACS style. Would you like fries with that?

Most of the difficulty is that the institution at which I tutor recently decided to ease the burden on their teachers and students by standardizing the writing style across the curriculum. The majority of students attending this particular community college are working towards nursing, manufacturing, science, or teaching careers, so they have to learn APA formatting anyway. Simply put, working purely in APA would make things easier on the students because they only have to learn one citation style and teachers only have to teach one style instead of having to deal with styles falling willy-nilly all over their desks. So, instead of individual teachers or departments deciding what style papers should be written in, all writing in all classes in all departments would be formatted in APA style. Sort of.

As I explained before, each style has a different purpose and field attached to it. For the science folks, APA was the norm. They’d been teaching it for years and had pretty much kept up with the variations and updates through the years. The English folks, however, had grown up on an entirely different system– MLA– as did many of the more advanced-level students who actually stayed awake in high school and learned an earlier version of MLA formatting. Throw APA at these folks and they have to tickity-tap their way to a reference website or dig through mountains of old books until they find a dusty, horribly outdated reference book.

So we have a delightfully disastrous mix of people: teachers who know APA, teachers who know of APA, teachers who knew APA and are still using an outdated version, teachers who are using an entirely different system, students using an entirely different system, students who don’t know there’s even a system, and folks on both sides who just flat-out don’t care.

What has emerged out of the chaos is a blenderized smoothie of formats that has been lumped under the label APA, but has no cover page, no subtitles, no abstracts, and no mini-titles by the page numbers. The turmoil was especially frothy in the English department where, I finally gathered, they had frappéd APA and sprinkled the shreds into their existing MLA format. What they birthed is an entirely new format that is neither APA nor MLA but a brand new alphabet soup monster: MLAPA.

MLAPA formats the paper in MLA style with the four line “name, class, teacher, date” heading and the “last-name, page number” combo in the upper right hand corner, but instead of the citations following the MLA “author, work, place of publication, publisher, date, medium” citation format, it follows APA’s “author, date, work, place of publication, publisher” format. It’s not a terrible format, but blanketing the format with the name APA is a blunderous misnomer.

Unrelated picture of adorable baby tigers!

Is this new MLAPA format the recipe for success or disaster? The teachers reason that there is no need for APA’s cover sheets in most college papers and that MLA’s paper formatting allows for quicker identification of individual student’s work while the APA citations meld more precisely with the school’s general tilt towards the sciences. The pairing makes sense in the immediate environment, but what if a student decides to transfer and continue education elsewhere when they’re only familiar with one half of each style? What will happen to them when they are asked to write a formal proposal in APA and turn it in without a marked abstract or cover page? Will an academic journal still accept their literary research paper?

And if they can survive in their college careers and real-life jobs knowing only MLAPA’s halfway mash-up of styles, what does that say about the potpourri of writing styles? Bibliographic pages once served as a search tool for researchers, providing all the information needed to find the work in vast print and audio libraries. In an information age of “googling,” “threads,” and “wikis,” where a single word typed into a box can yield thirty-five million pieces of information (many anonymous) and any person with an internet connection can become a research scholar, expert, and published author on any topic currently known to man, the purpose of the citation/ bibliography/reference page stapled haphazardly to the back of the three-page report starts to seem less like a necessary information portal and more like one of those crispy etiquette books full of convoluted instructions on how to leave calling cards so as to not offend the stranger whose work you visited.

Don’t misunderstand, I would appreciate credit for any of my work you recycle as much as the next author. I just wish there was simpler, more direct way of recording citations that doesn’t take more time to write than the actual paper itself. As we move towards an electronic age and away from the printed word, shouldn’t we try to standardize citation styles instead of branching them further and further into oblivion? As frightening as it may seem to my fellow print-lovers, perhaps the future is less a matter of MLA, APA, MLAPA, etc. and more a matter of hyperlinks, pdf. attachments, and a brand new, website-based writing style where a quick click on a bit of hyperlinked text can eventually take the readers directly to the bottom of page 105 in January 1984’s National Geographic:

So there we would stand, Jaume pressing the shoulders of his maroon sweater against the doorjamb, sucking on a black cigarette, plying me with mineral water, fruit juice, or wine. Jaume invested in several periodicals every morning, and he always had a favorite article to show me. “Look at this craziness,” he often began, slapping the paper with the back of his hand. “Look at what the bigshots have done now!”

Until that day, I will somewhat-patiently scoot closer to the computer screen, point, and say, “Look! There where you capitalized the title! It should be all small letters. No, no, I understand that it is a title and anywhere else it would be capitalized, but here we have to ignore what the rest of the world calls common sense and just do exactly what we’re told.”

Because Flowers Die…

Bouquet

Wrapped in soggy waxed tissue paper
Patterned in silver toile
Five blossoms and a sprig of something green
 
Two daisies spoked in white
Golden centers plush with garden dew
Forget-me-nots cluster in a posy
Blue and white                                                                                               
One crushed against another frantically
Eager faces peering out from beneath
A blazing poppy
On a long
Long
Stem
The petals flared like the hem
Of a devil’s gown
Scarlet velvet speared with lemon
And a black-flocked moon between
A burgundy rose, edges crimped
The petals soft and cupped
Around the center of tangled knots
 
Hidden under these living silks
The broad-leafed green
And supple branch of belladonna curls
Blackened berries ripe
Peering eyes glowing in the night
 
The paper rustles in my hand
And flecks of silver paint
Flake
With a broken petal or two
As I present this flowery gift
To the poet
The muse
And scarlet-lettered
You

Doodling is like Candy…

…you can never stop with just one piece!

I draw on everything all the time. In class, on my notes, between the lines on my final drafts, and on the back of grocery store receipts. Most are stupid doodles that start off as random, frustrated pencil strikes that become the angry eyebrow of a bull or bored, rolling circles that turn into a worming snake on Medusa’s head. Anything can be born of a  doodle.

I have a set of things that I draw more than anything, though and in my defense, most pertain to the class I am ignoring in some way, shape, or form. For example:

In history class, if the lecture drones on about Ben Franklin and the French Revolution, I delicately sketch a floral, ringlet-ed French Lady.

Or during Literature class I dutifully record a brooding King Lear.

The most entertaining moment is when you are drawing a face and it turns into your Communications professor, right down to the slightly mussed shirt.  

But sometimes the doodles turn into class-consuming projects that take the entire period to finish, and not necessarily on topic for the day’s lesson plans either…

Beautiful Books ~*

I love beautiful things, especially old books. Leatherbound, foxed, stamped, rough-edged, front plates with tissue paper covers…old books are like wonderous new friends you’ve known forever. They are one of my favorite things to collect.

Yesterday, Chris gave me the most beautiful book. It’s a copy of “Friendship” by Cicero and Emerson, with sprinklings of quotes from Suckling, Shakespeare, and all those other poetic Englishmen of old. The binding is breathtaking, bound in midnight blue fabric and stamped with ornate Art Nouveau designs. Usually the pretty designs stop at the cover or maybe the title page, but this book has 238 pages of full-color, gilded borders. EVERY. SINGLE. PAGE. And the binding is crisp, as though Miss Bernardine Hester (whose name is written delicately on the first page) never opened the book after Mr and Mrs. Jones gave it to her on June 7th, 1910. Perhaps Cicero wasn’t Bernardine’s favorite author, so the book ended up like many gift books do, tossed on the shelf and forgotten.  The book passed down the family for almost 100 years, before someone decided cash was better than a dull dissertation on Friendship and sold it to Half Price books. The gem of a tome sat on the shelf for God knows how long, before sweet Christopher decided to save it and give it to me.

Oh, the best part of any book, more than golden edges, more than great authors, or full-color plates, is the person who unites a book with a reader. And what a person he is! Thank you, Christopher, for giving me the most beautiful book in world. I will never toss it on a shelf to be forgotten –never.

{I Love You}

Friendship

Hello world!

Yes. So I have preserved the original generic title in honor of catering to the masses that will no doubt fail to materialize. Hence, let us then continue in our pursuit of inanity and joy!

This blog will be my art showcase so that I can elaborate {mostly for my benefit} why I painted/drew/wrote/burned what I created. The images are also availble on Facebook so that you can peruse the rest of my creations at your leisure.