Before His Last Smile

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Catherine Tersoni


Underwood Archives  UIG / Rights Managed

Underwood Archives UIG / Rights Managed

I walk up the stairs and take a quick left to get to the time clock. I punch in my employee numbers two-five-eight-two-nine-eight just like I do after I clock out of every other shift. I walk back down the stairs to the sales floor. I walk out the automatic door faster than it can open, helping it along with the tip of my shoe. The cold air hits my face as I walk quickly to my car. I get a hold of the icy metal handle to the driver’s side door. My breathing is heavier now that I’m sitting still in my unstarted Nissan Rogue. I push the key in the ignition and hear the engine roar after sitting in the cold all day. I sit and press my toes lightly on the gas for a quick second at a time, in hopes it will warm up faster. I begin to get impatient and put the car into reverse to leave the parking lot.


Robert Frederick Page, Jr, was born on June 26th, 1923. He was the middle son of Robert and Julia Page. He grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where he attended parochial school. Leter, his family moved to Norwell, where he played baseball for the varsity team, achieving a record RBI. After graduation, he enlisted in the army and was assigned to the 416 Night Fighter Squadron. He was involved in multiple combat zones as an Air Operations Specialist. In 1945, he was discharged and soon became a sales representative for the National Lead Company, where stayed for 38 years. Then he worked for the Gillette Corporation, retiring 1985 at age sixty-two.

But that really doesn’t tell you who he is.


I drive the same roads home from work every day. Some days I stop on the way home at my grandparents, which is just a couple miles from home. I have watched the red stop signs in their neighborhood fade with time. I see the same sidewalks that lead right to the pathway to their front door. I walk up that path and open the door to the warm draft coming from their home. It’s always warm in there.


It was crowded on the dance floor, and young Marjorie stared at almost every gentleman in the vicinity, but didn’t see anyone special. Her friends had spent an hour bribing and convincing their younger friend to come. It wasn’t going great.

Robert walked into the room, flashed his smile, and headed toward Marjorie.

She saw him coming. He was certainly handsome.

He tried a joke. “I would take you home tonight, but my wife and kids are sleeping,” he said.

She wasn’t amused. Robert saw his mistake, took back what he’d said, and asked her to dance. She accepted the dance and fell for his smile. She liked his smile.                    


I always say hi to Grammy first. She is always the one to greet me at the door. The hardwood floors are bare; rugs get caught in Pa’s walker. I round the corner into the sunroom to see Pa sitting in his chair, watching “Wheel of Fortune,” an everyday routine. As soon as he notices me, he smiles and says, “Who are you?” He still has a beautiful smile.

I reply, “Who am I? Who are you? And since when do you live here?”

It was our little joke.


I take the first left onto Route 9, the same road I have traveled all my short life. The radio is playing an overplayed Justin Bieber song. I press the off button to the power of the radio, but it’s too silent for me. I turn it back on but adjust the volume to a softer notch. Before noticing what song is playing, it hits me. I am driving the same roads at the same time as always. This time was different though. My destination is the same place as usual, but for a different reason. I drive for 20  minutes, numb. My heart starts to race. Five minutes before I arrive, tears start forming in my eyes. I rub them out of the sockets of my eyes and hope my face hasn’t turned beet red from the tears. I can’t look like I’ve been crying.

I pull into the driveway of my grandparent’s home and put my car into park. I open the door to my now warmed car, step out,  and shut it hard behind me. I approach the door to the house and take a deep breath. The cold isn’t bothering me. The only thing on my mind is what words will be the last words my grandfather hears come out of my mouth. I open the door to the house, walk down the hall towards the hospital bed that seems so out of place in the living room, and sit next to my grandfather to say hello and see his smile one last time. 


Catherine Tersoni of Massachusetts studies English with a creative writing focus at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire.

Photo credit: New York, New York: 1941 .Couples dancing to the Dolly Dawn band at the Roseland Ballroom.. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Jun 2016.

Photo of a Tiger

Summer 2016, Uncategorized
Bengal tigerAndy Rouse / Nature Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed

Bengal tigerAndy Rouse / Nature Picture Library / Universal Images Group / Rights Managed


By Shauna O’Meara

Aiming his camera carefully, a little boy photographed the world’s last tiger.
At the flash and click of the device, the tiger stopped on the track he had worn in the dirt beside the finger-smeared glass of his enclosure and regarded the boy with mournful green eyes. “What do you see when you look at me?” the tiger asked.
“A tiger,” replied the boy.
“What makes me a tiger?”
The boy blinked at that, the question seemingly obvious. “Your orange and black stripes, of course.”
The tiger studied his coat’s reflection in the enclosure glass: long, branching lines of black cut through with burnished gold, like a forest at day’s end–the sunset of an entire species marked upon his flanks.
Stripes for camouflage, stripes to warn both prey and competitor alike to give his ferocity wide berth; though there was little need for either anymore: the zoo had long rendered his patterns redundant, a sign of remembered majesty. The cat asked, “Is that the only thing that makes me a tiger, what I look like?”
“Well, I heard you growl before, and I bet you could purr if you tried,” the boy replied.
“I was raised by humans. I have never spoken to another tiger in my life. I am not sure how one is to act, what one is to say. Tell me, can I still be a tiger if I’ve lost my language and my culture?”
“I don’t know,” the boy murmured. He sat down on the ledge at the foot of the enclosure window and put his hand against the glass. After a while, the tiger sat down opposite,  and, lifting his great golden foot, laid his pads against the boy’s palm, just the pane of glass between them. 
A woman passing by the tiger alcove with a child in a stroller clicked a photo of them and moved on.
The boy studied the tiger’s foot, where just the white tips of the claws were visible. “How about hunting?” he suggested. “I mean, I know other species hunt, but tigers are the biggest cats in the world and everyone knows cats make the best hunters.”
The tiger withdrew his paw and studied it, flexing the scythe-like claws. “My food comes to me dead. I have never had to kill.”
An awkward silence fell between them. The tiger listened to the background hum of human visitors admiring the zoo’s rare and elusive animals; heard them clamouring for ice cream, for toilets, for the animals to come out of their vegetation and sleeping quarters for photos.
They hardly looked before clicking and moving on. The tiger studied the black camera slung around the boy’s neck. He wondered if the images were something the humans admired over and over or if the visitors merely hoarded them in preparation for a day when pictures were all that remained of his kind.  
A bucket banged and otters twittered, snapping the tiger out of his reverie. Their feeding time always drew a crowd: people laughing, children squealing, the snap, click and boop of images being preserved.
In the distance, a lion roared.
“It seems I am not much of a tiger, for all that I look like one,” he said.
“You are! You are!” the boy protested. His face creased with concentration as he tried to think of some other feature that would confirm the animal before him a tiger. “I know! You can make baby tigers! That definitely makes you a tiger!”
“Not alone I can’t, and not as a male.”
That brought the boy up short. “What are you then, if you look like a tiger, but don’t know anything about being one? If you can’t speak tiger or hunt like a tiger or even make other tigers?”  
The tiger indicated the camera. “I am what you all wanted–a picture of a tiger.”

Shauna O’Meara is an artist, writer and veterinarian based in Australia. She was a winner of the 2014 Writers of the Future contest and her short stories have appeared in several Australian anthologies and magazines. Her work and links to her art portfolio can be found at:

Photo credit: BENGAL TIGER. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Jun 2016.


The Rememberers

Summer 2016

by Joseph G. Smeall-Villarroel

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…

King penguin couple/De Agostini Picture Library/Universal Images Group / Rights Managed When Allis was three years old and living with his parents in Wisconsin, his great-aunt Meropia came to visit from North Dakota. It was the middle of August, when Catholics remember the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, at the end of her mortal life. For the occasion, Tía Meropia brought presents—a gift certificate for ice cream, and a VHS copy of the movie Mary Poppins. On the video cover, Mary Poppins and Bert the Chimney Sweep danced around with a flock of bow-tied penguins.

The ice cream was delicious but short-lived. The movie, on the other hand, enthralled Allis. It became the extended metaphor that defined his early childhood.


Like you, Allis would grow up to become someone who remembered more details from his past than most people do. He remembered Tía Meropia’s gift well, without understanding why. Its significance would become clear years later, after he had met you.

The following year, in Worcester, MA, you sat in the backyard playing with your sister. You were three years old. You both looked for lizards and toads and all sorts of crawly things. Any that you found, you added to your elaborate make-believe games. Your sister was a budding director, and you were only too glad to play the starring roles in her stories.

You had often felt troubled by things that didn’t seem to bother other people, like defining the boundary between imagination and reality. This day, your sister had invented a story in which all the dinosaurs got herded onto a boat that floated above a flood that covered the world. You saw there were storm clouds on one side of the sky. You were used to seeing it rain. The sun was setting on the other side of the sky, between two of Worcester’s seven hills. An arc appeared across the storm clouds—purple inside blue inside green inside yellow inside orange inside red.

These sights gave you such a feeling of looming terror—unfamiliar, overwhelming and magnificent—that you began to cry. You didn’t understand why the sun should shine at the same moment that it rained, nor what had caused the rainbow. Your father ran outside and took you in his arms to comfort you. Then you knew there was nothing to fear.


A few years later, your mother began taking you both to the Mendon Zoo on Saturdays. You would look at the animals, and then go to the main pavilion to get ice cream, from a stall shaped like a lion’s head.

The zoo ritual seemed like more of your sister’s make-believe games, although you didn’t fully realize it yet. Your interest in animals had waned since those early days of looking for backyard critters to populate her dramas. Nature did not, it seemed, mean for you to develop much of a connection to animals. But the Blessed Virgin Mary intended to override Nature’s thoughts on the matter, late in May, when you were seven. And she did.

That Saturday was hot. You had just finished your ice cream, when you caught sight of the Royal Penguin exhibit. You had seen the penguins before, but never truly noticed them. Something about the penguins struck your fancy that day, where previously they had seemed indistinguishable from the other animals.

You asked your mother if you could pet the Royal penguins.

She said no, it was against the zoo rules.

You protested that if you could touch and even eat the ice cream, then it stood to reason that you should also be allowed to touch the penguins. To prohibit one but not the other was an unfair double standard.

Your mother replied that the penguins and the ice cream were two entirely different things.

When nobody was looking, you tried to scale the fence at the penguins’ enclosure. The zoo attendant pulled you down. She asked you what you were doing.

You told her your wish to pet the penguins. But like your mother, she said no touching the penguins. That was the zoo rule. You told her about the double standard, but she remained unimpressed. The penguins and the ice cream were two entirely different things.

Your mother came over looking for you. She apologized to the attendant. By this point, you were starting to cry at being thwarted in your efforts to do the one thing you had ever truly desired to do at the zoo. Over the insistent sound of your bawling, the attendant asked your mother if she understood that the penguins and the ice cream were two entirely different things, and requested that she please keep a closer eye on you, because otherwise you might get hurt.

Other kids around you were staring, and their parents were starting to move away quickly, dragging them by the wrists.

You had glimpsed briefly the boundary between where the play-acting ended, and real life began—it was like the eerie silence you hear the split second before a tornado touches the ground. You had crossed the line. You couldn’t go back to ice cream now that you had discovered the superior charms of the Royal penguins. Why didn’t anybody understand that?

For some time, your mother would not take you back to the zoo because of the embarrassing scene you had caused. But she eventually did take you back, right around the middle of August that same year. You ran for the penguin exhibit. But it had disappeared. Then you saw the sign across the front of the empty enclosure—the Royal penguins had been a traveling exhibit.

First you couldn’t touch the penguins, but now you couldn’t even look at them. The one thing you had ever truly wanted to do at the zoo! It was all so unfair. You burst into tears.

Your mother said she was sorry about the Royal penguins. She asked if some ice cream would make you feel better.


Many years later, at a college in western Massachusetts, your memory about the Royal penguins and the ice cream found its way into a story you published in the college’s literary magazine. That was the same year you began playing guitar for the campus Catholic mass, under Allis’s direction. He was one grade ahead of you.

Allis read your story. He thought it sounded familiar, without understanding why. Your friendship with him was weird. Sometimes, arguing with Allis, or even just seeing him briefly across a crowded room, he gave you a feeling you also got every now and then, catching sight of your own reflection in the bathroom mirror, where for just a moment, it seemed truly like you were looking at a perfect stranger whose life story—warts and all—you happened to know intimately.

A couple of years after that, you and Allis were sitting at dinner with other people in the college dining hall. You mentioned the earliest memory you had, of how you had cried the first time you saw a rainbow during a cloudburst, and then your father had comforted you. The feeling Allis got from the story about penguins and ice creams returned to him. This time it stayed and grew, despite that (or maybe because) you and he took paths that diverged after college, first gradually, then suddenly.

You both graduated. Some years later, wandering the streets of a faraway city, also built on seven hills, Allis found himself revisiting the memory you had imparted about the rainbow and your father. At times, it replayed in his mind like an infinite loop, against his will. Allis couldn’t understand why he still talked to himself about that memory of your memory. It had been years since you and he had spoken. It felt like your memory had happened to Allis, but he was sure he had never cried about seeing a rainbow, or about penguins and ice cream. He would have remembered things like that. Sometimes he wondered if it was just because of the rainbow’s associations with the indigenous political movement in Bolivia, his mother’s home country. Or maybe it was because rainbows made him think of leprechauns and pots of gold, since he saw you as Irish-American? The rainbow, the penguins, the ice cream, and the crying bedeviled Allis.


It was early spring, right before Allis’s nervous breakdown began. He sat in an ice cream parlor in Boston. He had just finished visiting the aquarium with some college friends who were in town. They had seen a display of Royal penguins. Allis’s mind floated back to the eerie feeling of familiarity that you had sometimes given him.

Then he remembered something he hadn’t thought of before.

When Allis was in eighth grade, five years before he first met you, his father took him and his brother on a long road trip from Wisconsin to Oregon to visit his aunt Aretha and her partner. She had been estranged from the family for many years. The trip was a mending of burnt bridges.

Passing from South Dakota into Wyoming, the Black Hills’ jagged forms leveled out. The car entered a wide plain, and stopped at a gas station to refill. Looking back on that trip years later, sitting at the ice cream parlor in Boston, Allis could still remember the wind when they stepped from the car. He would never forget, as long as he lived. He had to push against it—it felt solid—to cross the parking lot into the nearly deserted station. They saw no humans for miles after that. As they drove, the wind howled all around the flimsy vehicle.

The wind gave way to billowing clouds—tenebrous, gray and purple. They gathered across the plain, piling up against the first ridge of the Rocky Mountains that blossomed from the horizon. Allis’s father drove straight towards it. If you had been there at that moment, you too would have heard the sprinkle of rain splattering against the car as it pushed through the wind, like a little yellow bird. The rain turned into a torrent and the wind continued. If you had been there, you would have seen bolts of lightning at the exact spot where they touched the barren ground of the Wyoming high plain, and the sky all around, and the thunder purred and snarled after it. Allis didn’t cry, but deep within himself he felt a looming terror—unfamiliar, overwhelming and magnificent—of what? Maybe that lightning would strike the car, or that the wind would flip it over.

Still they drove. As they neared the western ridge, sunlight streamed out through the thunderhead against the mountains. Looking back over his shoulder, Allis saw three gigantic rainbows inside one another—purple inside blue inside green inside yellow inside orange inside red.

“God is watching us,” his father mused aloud, in a tone of voice that sounded like he was both awake and dreaming. Then Allis knew there was nothing to fear.


Sitting at the ice cream parlor in Boston, Allis’s mind floated back over this memory again as he thought again of how your father had once comforted you when you felt frightened by the storm and the rainbow at the age of three. It floated over the exhibit of Royal penguins he had just seen, and the ice cream he was licking slowly now.

He understood better why your childhood memories had haunted him across the coils of space and time that had separated the two of you. Tía Meropia did after all have a knack for giving gifts that turned out to have a weird resonance later on, at a certain distance. Silently he toasted her health and wealth with his ice cream. And the thought also crossed his mind, as he licked the cone: Royal penguins mate for life.

Far and away—at that moment, somewhere in Wyoming, close to the spot where Matthew Shepard died once—you sat alone, watching a rainbow on one side of the sky while the sun set between two mountains on the other. You felt a spring breeze rustle your blue and orange baseball cap, so that it momentarily rose into the air just above your head. The wind whistled around you. It’s such a weird feeling—when your heart remembers something that your mind cannot. You began humming John Coltrane’s cover of “Chim Chim Cheree,” without understanding why.


The following winter, after Allis’s nervous breakdown had run its course, he went to the freezer one night, a few days after Christmas. He was at his mother’s house, in Wisconsin. His mother Nadia had forgotten about one of the ice cream drumsticks, out of the ones she had stocked in the freezer, the previous summer. He fished it out from the back of the piled up food items, and ate it when he got sleepy. And then he dreamed he was trying to charm a flock of penguins so they could fly. He’d been shouting esoteric gibberish with amulets and all manner of occult hokum, but to no avail.

Then Allis’s mother came over looking for him, carrying a rainbow-colored umbrella. She asked him what he was doing.

He told her his wish to make the penguins fly.

“Oh Allis,” Nadia said, “why do you always complicate things that are really quite simple. Here:”

She waved her hands once in a graceful motion.

The penguins rose into the air, just above the ground. With a flap of their stubby wings, they barreled high into the sky, far and away, towards one of the seven hills of Worcester. Allis turned over in his sleep. He smiled slightly, without understanding why.


Joseph G. Smeall-Villarroel graduated from Amherst College with a B.A. in English and music in 2010. Since then, his work in fine arts, education and academia has taken him through the cityscapes of Green Bay, WI, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Massachusetts Bay area. He lives in Newton.


Photo credit: King penguin couple (Aptenodytes patagonicus), Spheniscidae, Neck, north coast of Saunders Island, Falkland or Malvinas Islands (British overseas territory). Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Jun 2016.

Wine-Colored Butterflies

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Melissa Mason


leaves flutter
across the ground
like the butterflies
that used to flap
their wings against
your stomach
twirling and whirling
at the sight of her
lips her hips
her eyes
butterflies wreak havoc
at the sound
of her voice
mention of her name
butterflies sit
heavy and waiting
eager to flap
and flutter
and churn
your stomach
butterflies reserved
only for her


Melissa Mason is an English major with a focus in Creative Writing and an Art minor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She hopes to be anovelist one day, though she also enjoys writing short stories and poetry.

Photo credit: Scanning Electron Micrograph (SEM) of wing scales of a Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta), magnification x 450 . Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 15 Jun 2016.

Stop and Shop

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Grace Cook

John Burcham / National Geographic Society / Universal Images Group

John Burcham / National Geographic Society / Universal Images Group

You were in the bread aisle that morning stocking loaves of Wonderbread. I was startled that your hair was pink. I don’t know why that startled me, especially since mine was blue, but it did. Your hair was pink and you were stocking bread. I needed that bread, but you had the bread. To get it, I needed to talk to you, look at you, and maybe even touch your long fingers that could play piano (I was sure they could).
I stood there far longer than I’d like to admit, my hands twitching and my blood buzzing, hot, through all of my veins. The decision felt like one of life or death, honestly, like all new decisions on crazy days. If I didn’t get my bread, I couldn’t make tuna, tomato, and bacon for lunch or dinner. If I didn’t make lunch or dinner, I’d have to order it somewhere. Ordering it meant speaking to someone over the phone. A phone call would mean a fast, stuttering death, I was convinced.
I had to go get the bread, so I did what any sane person would do—approached you. You looked at me and smiled your sunshine, daffodil smile, and I began to burn. You asked if you could help me in your windy blue voice and I apologized, turned around, and left.
I put my basket down somewhere and went to another store.
I saw you again after lunch while I was at the library. My mind was all colors and buzzing static like a broken TV. I was touching every single fiction book individually, because one might be something other than a book—maybe something new, and then there you were again, next to me. Your pink hair smelled clean and you had your piano fingers pulling a book that I had touched and wasn’t previously struck by. But now you touched it, and when you touched it, my ears had big ringing alarms in them. I needed to open it now, but you were holding it, and I couldn’t do it. I fumbled and picked up a book that was smooth, had no interesting binding, and was nothing but a decoy that I used to distract myself from you.
It would have been easy to get the book had you not had pink hair or green eyes or a flabbergastingly calm, gentle air about you.
The more I thought about you and your kind vibes and soft skin, the more skeptical I became. Who were you? Why were you following me? Were you following me? Why are you nice to sit next to? Why did you have to be at the R’s while I was at the R’s? WHY DID YOU HAVE MY BREAD?! I was so lost in my own racing, muddy head that I didn’t realize I was staring at you. You stared back. I messed up. Oh my god, you hate me. I panicked. I couldn’t breathe or hear. Everything was too bright suddenly.
“Hi,” I said.
“…Hi?” you said back in your voice—still windy, but now green instead. You were green and I was orange. We clashed, I knew we would.
“Can I see that book?” You handed it to me and I took it, my hands shaking like leaves blown by your presence. I held the book. It was warm, and I shook and struggled to open it. Caressing the cover, I flipped through the pages, one by one. You were looking at me, gently, but still you were looking. I squeezed it and thrust it back at you, apologized, and—once again—ran away.
I got outside and ran to my car and cried. I had disturbed your day—I was sure of it. My brain ran like a lawnmower: “You hate me hate me hate me HATE me hate me hate me” and I had upset you, scared you, worried you. You: warm, sunny, spring day you. I didn’t even know your name, but I hurt you, I knew it. My veins were full of angry stinging bees, my tears were boiled water and my head screamed like broken brakes. I took a breath, deep and staggering, and leaned my head back. Suddenly—tap tap tap. I jerked up, tightened like a spring, and turned to my window. You again.
“You forgot this.”
You held up the book. You smiled kindly, gently, and your eyes were like a cup of tea after the rain. I rolled down my window and wiped my face with my sleeve.
“Thank you.” I took the book from your piano fingers.
“I like your hair,” you said. I bit my lip and looked down, hiding a stupid smile.
“I like yours too.” It was quiet for a second and you looked directly into my eyes.
“I hope you feel better. That’s a good book,” you said, and you turned and started walking away.
Maybe because you were a new day full of sun and music, or maybe because I was delirious from crying, I asked, “Do you want it back when I’m done?” You smiled a big Wonderbread smile, but tried to hide it and nodded. I gave you my name and you gave me yours. We parted, and I ran your name over and over in my head like it’s the only word I knew.

Grace Cook is a student at Worcester State University studying Elementary Education and Theater. She hopes to become a reading specialist to help better kids’ understanding of reading.

Photo credit: A row of shopping carts.. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 9 Jun 2016.

The Old Goddess

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Muhammad Kasule


She had a certain pink rose blush
That youthful look they like to see
All eyes were set on her
But that attention’s never free

The hottest dancer at the bar
A goddess to onlookers below
Happy that she’s the star

Happy that they love the show

This was back when she was pretty
When she could hold a genuine smile
Back when she loved life in the city
When waking up was still worthwhile

Started hanging with the attention
3 gents who dealt out blow
They gave her a bit but forgot to mention
The icy stab of craving snow

Cause soon she needed it pretty bad
Cold chains won’t let her go
Biggest smile, you know she’s so sad
She’s giving a blow for batch of good blow

Her body became her main income
A.K.A, more money for dope
Slowly turning her body more numb
Soft eyes abandoning hope

Started taking on some loans
She’s gotten in pretty deep
The only furniture she owns
Is the news on which she sleeps

Look how far our goddess fell
Collecting needles from a bin
Her life’s become a living hell
Now that money’s running thin

Hated choosing between the cold and dark
Getting fucked up or food for the week
Coldest nights were those in the park
Hoping they still wanna mess with antiques

Cause let’s be honest, she’s now 38
Makeup can’t cover her broken skin
Throws in the towel, Life’s not getting great
Doesn’t care what ditch she ends in

Not worth it to smile through the pains
So when she decides to call it a day
She does it with coke choked up in her veins
Letting the waves wash her away

She reminds me so much of myself
Many decisions I hope she won’t make
I too was a dancer, from the top shelf
Before I made all my mistakes

I had that youthful look, you know
A blonde with red lips so lush
A goddess to onlookers below
With that familiar pink rose blush

Muhammad Kasule is from Uganda. He is studying physics at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Photo credit: Joanne Woodward from the trailer for the film The Stripper / Wikimedia Commons.



A Romantic Reawakening

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Kelcy Williams

Reawakened, a great read for lovers of mythology, love triangles, Egyptian princes and adventure, is the first novel in the Reawakened series by Colleen Houck. The protagonist, Lily Young, is a seventeen-year-old living in New York City. During spring break she goes to her favorite museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and comes across the mummy exhibit. What she doesn’t expect is for the Egyptian prince Amon to awaken, handsome and shirtless, and inform her that he needs to borrow her life force until he can find his brothers. Lily, being raised in the present day, where shirtless men wearing skirts are not  the norm, thinks he is crazy and has a plan to feed him and then return him  to whatever mental institution she believes he has escaped from.  Through a magical twist, she finds herself in Egypt on a quest to find his brothers, the personification of the moon and the god of the stars, so that they can defeat the evil shape-shifting god Seth and save humankind before time runs out. Quite a yarn.

I’ve found Colleen Houck is a captivating writer whose books I cannot put the book down, and she does not disappoint with Reawakened. She starts the book wonderfully, describing the basic genealogy of ancient Egyptian mythology which, unbeknownst to the reader, is the foundation of the whole story. Indeed, the tale of Amon and Lily’s demonstrates the author’s extensive knowledge of Egypt and Egyptian mythology, and she weaves together these myths into a fascinating narrative.

Houck uses inner dialogue and diction to add depth to the protagonist Lily, and to bring out the personalities of other supporting characters in this novel. For example, she uses interesting dialogue in the line “I flashed my membership card,” as an exciting way to show the reader that Lily loves museums and visits this one often, instead of saying that Lily goes to the museum every Monday and Wednesday and stays until closing. Houck has also mastered the art of diction. This novel features a lot of adventure, and Houck captures it all with her colorful words. This book made me talk at the pages like I would a movie, pleading for Lily to not touch that rock, or to watch out for booby traps; for her to listen Amon, when he tells her to wait inside. She allows the reader to not just read words on a page but to live them out through the characters.

One of my favorite quotes from Lily is in the beginning of the novel when she says, “Though in my heart I longed for some chaos and adventure, the truth was that I very much depended on order to function.” This is a great quote, because it is ironic and foreshadows the impending chaos and journey she will soon partake on. If she thinks she needs order to function now, then she will so be proven wrong when she is thrown into a heart-stopping adventure. Lily  develops into a stronger character able to handle the new challenges that life throws at her.

If I have any criticism of the book, it is that the first part of the story escalates too quickly. Lily meets a strange man in the museum and thinks he is mentally ill, but then three chapters later she wants to kiss him. This introduction of romance into this novel seems rushed and awkward. From that point on, however, as the story begins to really unfold, both the romance and plot is set at the perfect pace. If you enjoyed the novels in her Tiger’s Curse series, then it may take a while to stop picturing her other heartthrobs, Ren and Kishan, in place of Amon and his brothers, but believe me, Amon’s features and mannerisms are definitely swoon-worthy. It’s a great read. Be careful when you read it, because the second book is not out yet and you may very well fall off of the cliff you’ll be hanging from.

Editor’s note: The second novel in this series, Recreated, will be published this summer.

Kelcy Williams of Maryland studies Mechanical Engineering and Professional Writing at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts,  to be a Mechanical Engineering major, soon to have a Journalism minor. She loves books and  Korean barbecue.

My Enemies

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Adam Maarij

My enemies don’t scare me
I have walls that keep them at bay
The spikes
The cannons
And the river that surrounds me keep them wary and away,


And even if they poison my waters
Or the air I breath
Or the food I eat
my body has become immune
And maybe a bit too strong
Enemies are less dangerous than friends
Because friends have the key to your castle
your walls are worthless
Your mines will be harmless, and the cannons silent

How can I lock out dangerous friends, when I have given them a key?


Adam Maarij was born in Iraq and immigrated to America at the age of eight. He attends South High school in Worcester, Massachusetts, and enjoys soccer, running, reading, writing, and procrastinating.

Photo credit: JERUSALEM: ROMANS, 63 B.C. – Roman soldiers under the command of Pompey the Great assault the northern wall of Jerusalem with a battering ram while Jewish defenders resist from the battlements, 63 B.C. Line engraving from a 17th century edition of Josephus’ ‘Works.’. Fine Art. Encyclopedia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 8 Jun 2016.


Netflix and Chill

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Kelcy Williams

“Netflix and chill” is a short expression with a surprisingly long history. The phrase came into being when Netflix allowed users to binge-watch several episodes of a show or even an entire series in one sitting instead of waiting two weeks for that episode of Golden Girls you ordered in the mail. (Yes, movies used to come in the mail.)

In 2007, The words “Netflix” and “chilling” were used to describe what someone might do during that evening instead of homework; over the years, however, this meaning became skewed. Around 2013, this saying began to develop a slight sexual connotation. For example, if you were to say “Do you want to come over to watch Netflix and just chill? ;),” this might mean you are going to watch a movie and relax; however, if you are talking to a potential date these words, along with the winking emoticon, could mean something quite different.

By 2014, the phrase had become a code word for hooking up. A college student might receive a text reading, “This guy started talking to me but I know he only wants to Netflix and chill.”

This indicates how the phrase evolved into a euphemism for sex. The use of “Netflix and chill” as another name for sex was reinforced by the appearance in late 2014 of “Netflix and chill starter pack” the meme which includes a pair of socks, sweatpants, a shirt and a condom.

At first, this phrase was mostly used by teens and college-aged students, but as it became more popular, social media platforms such as Instagram, Vine, and Facebook began to spread the idiom, and even celebrities began to post using the sexual charged meaning of the expression. The phrase has now spread so much that there is even a song by the music artist B.o.B called “Netflix and Chill,” that was released last August.

This publicity evidently hasn’t hurt sales/viewership of Netflix, which now has more than 80 million subscribers.  The phrase has earned a moment of fame in the teen lexicon.

There are many different reactions to the new meaning of Netflix and chill. Some, like Tsering Dolma, a college sophomore at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, are strongly opposed to this usage of the phrase and feel shocked and disappointed.  “This is upsetting,” Dolma said. “I want to use that phrase when I am hanging out with my friends, but I don’t want them to get the wrong idea.” She also thinks that using the phrase could be embarrassing if one  wasn’t aware of the new meaning, which could make life a little more difficult for people whose second language is English.

Others like Keith Verdini, also a sophomore at WPI, have a more neutral opinion. He thinks that people should be more specific to avoid misunderstandings.  Verdini believes,  “If you say anything about Netflix now, it automatically seems like it is ‘Netflix and chill’. So say watch a movie if you’re asking someone.”

Verdini said that word choice is important. “When you say Netflix, ‘and chill’ is automatically added in your mind. If you say chill, then it’s fine, but it’s the word ‘Netflix’ that brings it up.” Lastly, there are some people like Devlin O’Conner, another sophomore at WPI, who agrees that use of the phrase can occasionally cause communication problems. It doesn’t help that ‘Netflix and chill’ can be used “more playfully” as opposed to the more serious slang phrases “hang out” and “hook up.”

Kelcy Williams of Maryland studies Mechanical Engineering and Professional Writing at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts,  to be a Mechanical Engineering major, soon to have a Journalism minor. She loves books and  Korean barbecue.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / By Cs104group15 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Mecha: When Human and Machine Are One

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Michel Sabbagh

Gundam statue in Odaiba, Japan

Gundam statue in Odaiba, Japan

In the early 2000s, following the international success of Japanese anime and manga (Pokemon, Dragonball), video games (Legend of Zelda, Super Mario), and film (Spirited Away, Ringu), the Japanese government realized that, despite the economic setbacks of the time, the country’s cultural influence had expanded greatly. Thus, the creation of “Cool Japan,” an expression of its emergent status as a cultural superpower, and for the next dozen years, the Japanese government boosted cultural exports from these creative industries, including one of its oldest and most influential anime genres: mecha.

The origins of Japanese mecha (an abbreviation of mechanical) can be traced to the end of World War II and the dropping of the atomic bomb. During Japan’s Occupation and post-Occupation years (1945-early 60s), an explosion of artistic creativity occurred in the manga industry, possibly aided by the medium’s exclusion from U.S. Occupation censorship policies. One artist, Mitsuteru Yokoyama, took advantage of this loophole to craft one of the most influential mangas of all time.

Yokoyama had been motivated to become a cartoonist after reading Osamu Tezuka’s Mighty Atom (Astro Boy, 1952), the story of an android who fights crime with mechanical powers yet was capable of displaying human emotions, essentially acting as an interface between man and machine.

Yokoyama took a different approach, drawing heavily from his childhood encounters with war, technology and film. The result was Tetsujin 28-go (Iron Man No. 28, 1956), a parable about technology’s dangers and benefits. It tells the story of Shotaro Kaneda, a boy detective who fights criminals by operating his robot by remote control. Their adventures were depicted in fast-paced, action-filled panels.

Tetsujin 28-go: the series that begot the Japanese mecha genre.

Tetsujin 28-go: the series that begot the Japanese mecha genre.

Much of Tetsujin 28-go’s appeal comes from the strong bond between boy and robot, enhanced by the robot’s benign and knight-like design, which suggests it is an avatar of unstoppable justice. Tetsujin 28-go was the first instance of a Japanese cartoon based on the idea of a giant humanoid robot controlled by a human being, with the former acting as a tool for the latter to realize his fullest potential. This was, perhaps,  a metaphor for a resurgent Japan, reawakening like a giant from the rubble of WWII.

If Yokoyama established a link between man and machine with Tetsujin 28-go, then Go Nagai forged that link into a union. One day, while waiting to cross a street, Nagai contemplated the backed-up traffic and mused about how the drivers were wishing for some way to get past the other cars. This inspired a novel idea: what if the car suddenly transformed into a robot that a person could ride and control like a regular vehicle? Nagai’s concept — a pilot sharing the body of a robot — made the man-machine bond both figurative and literal. The resulting manga, Mazinger Z (Tranzor Z, 1972) would prove to be the next big evolution in the mecha genre.

Mazinger Z: man and machine as one dynamic entity.

Mazinger Z: man and machine as one dynamic entity.

Mazinger Z is abouti Kabuto, an orphan who stumbles upon a giant robot in his grandfather’s secret lab. The robot’s name evokes the image of a majin (demon god) with its similar-sounding syllables (‘Ma’ meaning ‘demon’ and ‘Jin’ meaning ‘god’), suggesting  it is both a machine built by humans for protection as well as an ancient, unfathomable being.

Mazinger’s appearance was striking for its time: a brightly colored mechanical juggernaut ornamented with a mixture of military equipment and samurai armor. Its design resembled the sleek new roadways, bullet trains and skyscrapers being built in Japan during the 1970s. A small hovercraft docked on the robot’s head housed Koji, who acted as its ‘brain’. This established Mazinger as an extension of the pilot’s abilities and will, symbolizing a powerful symbiosis between man and machine.

Splintering of the genre

Before this busy decade ended, Nagai’s work was surpassed by yet another development in the genre. Created by Yoshiyuki Tomino, Mobile Suit Gundam represented a shift in both tone and scope. In place of isolated weekly episodes, Gundam presented a continuously developing story with a more ambiguous sense of morality and the effects of war on the people who fought. Instead of humans using machines to fight off evil aliens, Gundam had humans fighting humans, with both sides having their own ideological motivations. This new approach led to the splintering of the mecha genre into two subgenres: Super Robot and Real Robot.

Whereas Super Robot stories focus on near-godlike mechs in fantastical scenarios, the Real Robot emphasizes drama, human characterization, a realistic civil-war-in-space backdrop, and plausible mech creations that required adjustments and repairs. This could lead to moments when the protagonist might actually lose a battle if the machine was not properly operated and maintained. This is in sharp contrast to Super Robot works, which depict mechs as near-invincible entities that only seem to sustain damage when needed to drive the plot.

Characteristics of Japanese mecha

Unlike clunky, lumbering Western mechs, Japanese mechs were anthropomorphic and highly mobile entities. They espoused recognizable classes of people — snipers, soldiers, knights, etc. — including symbols of Japanese culture such as the samurai.

Motion was equally important. Like the samurai sword, the mobility of Japanese mechs was managed by the user within, whose own bodily control and prowess determined the mech’s amplified analogues of human action. This granted the mechs a striking agility as the humans inside the mechs became empowered. The Japanese mecha philosophy promotes the idea of having people work alongside humanoid machines, a desire associated with Japan’s long religious history and culture.

Much like the Western superhero genre, with characters like Superman inspired by Judeo-Christian ideals of an anthropomorphized God, the Japanese mecha is influenced by East Asian religion. Both the Shinto concept of revering natural phenomena as kami (gods) and the worshipping of carved images of Buddha in Japan suggest the protean notion of inner energy that can cause a mechanical form to show human traits. This is the Japanese mech’s most distinctive characteristic: it is the tool through which its pilot expresses their power and will to overcome by bonding with the machine. This union imbues the mech with what might be called a soul.

Coming to the West

Shogo: Mobile Armor Division offers an example of a Western “first-person shooter” game that captures the thrilling essence of Japanese mecha works like Patlabor and Venus Wars, combining speedy mechs with the fast-paced gameplay of Doom. Released in 1998 by Monolith Productions, Shogo puts players in the shoes of Sanjuro Makabe, a wise-cracking commander in the United Corporate Authority, who is emotionally recovering from an accident that killed his brother Toshiro and childhood friends Kura and Baku.

Audiovisual presentation

Shogo: an amalgamation of epic mecha anime and high-octane FPS gameplay.

Shogo: an amalgamation of epic mecha anime and high-octane FPS gameplay.

From the outset, Shogo displays many of the characteristics of anime. On booting the game, the player is treated to an anime-style movie sequence, accompanied by a Japanese pop song whose lyrics embody typical anime themes of courage, perseverance and optimism.

The audiovisual design is equally noteworthy. The large, bright eyes of the characters, grandiose explosions and in-game mock advertisements are characteristic of the anime aesthetic, as are the cheesy one-liners, hand-wringing angst and cocky humor of the dialog. This is especially apparent in Sanjuro’s conversations with allies like Kura:
Kura: “Watch my ass!”
Sanjuro: “My pleasure.”
Kura: “You say the sweetest things!”

In addition to its audiovisual design, Shogo displays strong mecha anime influences in its narrative, which is appropriately chaotic, conspiratorial and convoluted. The plot contains many sudden twists and turns that leave Sanjuro questioning his alliances and objectives.

The tone of Shogo leans heavily towards Gundam and Real Robo. The UCA, CMC, and Fallen all have their own legitimate reasons to fight one another. The Fallen, in particular, become less antagonistic in the eyes of the player through a late-game revelation that unveils the Fallen’s raison d’etre: to front the interests of a superbeing known as Cothineal. This underground creature is the secret source of kato, and is trying to regain freedoms accidentally stolen from it by the colonizing conglomerates.

Further complications arise from Sanjuro’s commanding officer who gradually becomes irrational in his attempts to eliminate the Fallen. This places Sanjuro in a dilemma he must deal with near the end of the game when given the ability to choose one of two paths: either bring Gabriel to justice, or help him seek a truce with the UCA to put a peaceful end to the conflict.

All of these audiovisual and narrative elements serve to imbue Shogo with a distinct mecha anime ‘feel’ that balances drama and playfulness, a feat made all the more impressive by the game’s Western origin. But Shogo’s real appeal and biggest nod to the mecha genre lies in the four Mobile Combat Armor (MCA) suits that players can choose from and pilot throughout their adventure.

Mech design

The MCAs in Shogo: Mobile Armor Division reflect the aforementioned Japanese philosophy of suggesting combat classes, such as the Akuma’s ‘scout’ look and the Predator’s ‘assault’ design, and display a mix of Real and Super Robot elements. On one hand, the MCAs reflect their industrial origin through the name of their manufacturing firm (e.g. Andra Biomechanics) and classification numbers (e.g. Mark VII). On the other hand, two of the MCAs bear Super Robot-style names that refer to malicious supernatural beings: Akuma means ‘evil spirit’ in Japanese, and Ordog is Hungarian for ‘devil’.

Becoming the pilot/machine

By transplanting one of Japanese pop culture’s most iconic media forms to the quintessentially Western first-person shooter genre, Shogo gives the player the opportunity to experience firsthand the chaotic action and drama typical of mecha anime, and live out their own power fantasies by ‘becoming’ the pilot/machine.

The genre of mecha, the blending of man and machine, shows no signs of slowing down. With Shogo the genre has made the leap from east to west. It will be intriguing to see what developments  await us in the narrative of the coupling of the human and the non-human.


Michel Sabbagh studies Interactive Media & Game Development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Photo credits:





The Idea of Home

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Jacob Allen


Edward Hopper. “House by the Railroad.”

In its barest form, a house is little more than a chasm—a shell enveloping an empty center. It seems, though, that when humans take up dwelling in a house their most private selves begin to reverberate off of the walls of the enclosure, leaving, the traces and remnants, both physical and psychological, of life. These traces, as they seep into the walls and as they give texture to empty space, may change a house into a home.

The door that closes and completes the home creates a sort of polarity: The first side of this polarity is the prison: the home may lock in, keep, and hold. The second, and the one most discussed here, is the virgin: the home is able to lock out and remain unpolluted. For nineteenth-century art critic John Ruskin, this virgin image emerges most lucidly amidst talk of the “Angel in the House.” Here, Ruskin paints the home’s virginal qualities as its most cardinal:

This is the true nature of home—it is the place of Peace; the shelter, not only from all injury, but from all terror, doubt, and division. In so far is it As not this, It is not home; so far as the anxieties of the outer life penetrate into it, and the inconsistently-minded, unknown, unloved, or hostile society of the outer world is allowed by either husband or wife to cross the threshold, it ceases to be home (Ruskin 1615).

Ruskin’s definition of home is here one free from all contagion and externality. What must be asked in this case, is what Ruskin believes inhabits the home if it is not anything from the “hostile society of the outer world.” What can grow in these circumstances? How can any home be free, completely, from these germs? It could be that the “true home” does not exist in this world according to Ruskin’s perceptions. Ruskin’s enforcement of this chastity and his close association of it with the home help him enforce the normative behavior modeled by the Angel in the House. While the Angel may subtly follow a woman everywhere, more subtly reminding her that she is enclosed, Ruskin illustrates this point blatantly:  “Wherever a true wife comes, this home is always round her. The stars only may be over her head; the glowworm in the night-cold grass may be the only fire at her foot; but home is yet wherever she is” (1615).

On the one hand, this constant force field allows a woman to walk the earth protected. She is always within a home, and, according to Ruskin, as a home is no longer such once contaminated by outside forces, the “true wife” must be incorruptible. Even when she is outside, home extends around her and makes her impervious to external forces. She is always internalized. This internalization doubly binds the woman to a “purity” that is only ascribed to her from outside sources; she becomes a prisoner—invoking the other side of the home polarity.

Some years after Ruskin’s outline, a woman emerges, taking up battle with the Angel whose power still looms. Virginia Woolf recognizes the defensive, virgin-like agency of the Angel, noting her utmost quality was that of chastity: “Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty – her blushes, her great grace” (“Professions” 2273). Purity was the ultimate value of the Angel and the blush of shame and humiliation it seems was the central tool in the maintenance of this quality. What Virginia Woolf fails to realize is that this purity-upholding quality of the Angel had rooted itself so deeply in her that she was unable to properly kill the Angel, an accomplishment she assigns herself. It seems Woolf was only able to rip off a wing; she claims, when speaking about two great struggles in her professional life that “the first – killing the Angel in the House – I think I solved. She died. But the second, telling the truth about my own experiences as a body, I do not think I solved” (“Professions” 2275).

When we look into this matter of truth and bodies, however, we find Woolf precariously ignorant of the Angel’s presence. Watch as she begins to discuss a matter of such psychological primacy that she must shift her narrative out of the “I” that makes up the rest of the section, to a “she” that emerges only in this important paragraph. She then further distances herself from this urgent truth by separating out the imagination of the “she” into an “it”:

It had sought the pools, the depths, the dark places where the largest fish slumber. And then there was a smash. There was an explosion. There was foam and confusion. The imagination had dashed itself against something hard. . . she had thought of something, something about the body, about the passions which it was unfitting for her as a woman to say” (“Professions” 2275).

Woolf had found herself clambering towards the ultimate hole—the very nexus of ambiguity. Yet she was locked out of the secret room. She found something impassible there. She was restrained by humiliation. She could not ruin her own purity. She had attempted to penetrate into the utmost depths of self and truth but had been stopped in the muddy underwater by a concrete figure; perhaps it was the murk of the deep water that caused her to swim back towards the surface, unaware that the hard thing which barred her way looked, beneath its barnacles, like a winged creature.

We find in this the beginning of the tragic reality of the Angel in the House: though it locks the woman in the house, so too does it lock her out of this house. Woolf had killed half the Angel and, in doing so, had established her publicity—her intellectual repute keeps her in the public eye to this day, but half of her domain, the dark, underwater throne was still guarded by the Angel. Purity is the Angel’s chief beauty, and it was this chastity that barred Virginia Woolf from completion of the perfect descent into truth. That is the hardness against which she battered. We find that the home must encapsulate the woman at all times in order to secure her virginity—she must be free from contaminants, as Ruskin sees it. Yet she must be denied full access to the estate. She cannot wander freely, and Woolf saw this, yet somehow failed to recognize it as part of the Angel’s function. Meaning, she had recognized that the Angel performed the prison function, but the more dangerous virgin remained unseen. She knew the Angel locked her in, but she did not know that it was the same creature locking her out.

Woolf appropriately addressed this problem under the title of “A Room of One’s Own” where she explained that, for most women contemporary to her time and previous, “to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound-proof room, was out of the question” (“Room” 2271). We see here that, though home was the woman’s domain, and she was arbiter of it, her constant surveillance within it was a must. Neither man nor Angel trusted her there. She cannot be touched by the outside world, but this the forces that be were willing to concede so long as they might keep her from being contaminated by something else—something worse. The Angel let herself be half-killed so that Woolf did not discover the more dangerous truth, a truth which the Angel herself, standing behind Vir
ginia, illuminates in a whisper: “Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure” (“Professions” 2274). Here we have stumbled upon a great secret of the virgin: If a woman must be selfless—or mindless—to be pure, then we must conclude that impurity arises from the self. Ruskin’s pure home must be protected from the outside world, but so too must it be protected from the inside world. There is dirt, we find, inside of Woolf, but the Angel has wrapped her concrete figure so thickly around Woolf’s own room—her own privacy—that she is unable to ever truly know what grows in this central-most soil.

Knowing this, we must turn to other sources to discern the contents of the secret and innermost room. What happens in the depth Woolf was banished from? Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the comforts of his own private room provides us with an answer that Ruskin seems to hint at. In his essay “Nature,” Emerson highlights the fact that, “a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me” (2). Who is this “nobody” that interrupts Emerson’s writing? Could it be the “chamber” itself, or perhaps the writer himself—a fractured piece of his personality?

Emerson provides only one further piece of information in his sudden disclosure  of this unseen watcher: “if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and vulgar things” (2). What Emerson has unwittingly established in this statement is that the reason he was not alone in his chamber was because of a vulgarity—Emerson also paints this vulgarity as in some way connected to his being. The stars “separate between him and vulgar things.” This separation between him and vulgarity was, we must remember, a manner of achieving solitude. The vulgarity that is somehow connected to him keeps him from being alone in the chamber. It seems, by this logic, that the chamber must defend, harbor or connect the vulgar “nobody” with Emerson—as it is only under the light of the stars that the separation can be completed. The home, or more specifically the private chamber, for Emerson is protector, if not creator, of the vulgarity. Is this the very same room that Woolf was locked out of? Is this vulgarity the same “biggest fish” she sought in her dive?

The Angel, in her submerged, statuesque purity seems to, with her skin, encapsulate a center of pure filth: a chastity belt built in the shape of a woman. Emerson agrees with the Angel in that his own imagination, his mind, and his private room all attract vulgarity, just what the Angel is attempting to stifle as she warns Woolf against the dangers of one’s own mind and personality.

Finally, if we are to attempt a closer look at this odd horror that the Angel was summoned to protect against, that Emerson must bathe in starlight to exorcise—we may find a clue in Woolf’s seemingly tangential conclusion in “A Room of One’s Own.” Woolf begins to, as she discusses the value of woman having a room of her own, muse on the subject of androgyny. When this mental androgyny is attained, she explains, “the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties” (“Room” 1025). This cryptic statement, and its parent concept of mental androgyny, may be the explanation for the Angel’s vigorous restriction of the self as a means of maintaining chastity. It may also give us the face of the vulgar “nobody” who kept Emerson company when he was alone—the presence of this character in Emerson’s private room may also serve to show that Woolf’s musing was no tangent.

Jacob Allen is a recent English graduate from the University of Maine at Augusta. He resides in central Maine as a builder, piano player, and amateur astrologer.

Photo credit: EDWARD HOPPER. – ‘House by the Railroad’. Oil on canvas, 1925.. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 8 Jun 2016.

The Eternal Fractal

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Moeko Noda

Fractal geometry showing Mandelbrot / setPASIEKA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group

Fractal geometry showing Mandelbrot / setPASIEKA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Universal Images Group

Some of the greatest literary works have in common a narrative structure of an interwoven set of fractals, according to a recent study carried out at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences. This news was taken up by science blogs, news sites, major newspapers such as the Guardian, and after a while by the online site of a literary magazine, thus reaching its way to me, a literature major who rarely reads science articles.

Ever since French Mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot introduced the idea to the world back in the 1960s, people have found this self-similar structure and pattern everywhere. In literature, in paintings, in the stock market, in vegetables, even in our heart beats, the infinitely complex patterns of a fractal reveal themselves, making it difficult for us to unsee them. Fractal is the rhythm that govern us all.

The term fractal was coined from the Latin adjective fractus, whose corresponding verb, frangere, means to break. It is a fitting word, for a fractal is an object that at first glance may seem broken, but on closer inspection reveals its distinctive “self-similarity”–no matter how the image is magnified or shrunk, one sees the same pattern. An often-used example of a fractal in nature, not coincidentally where the original search for fractals began, is the coastline of Britain. The island has a jagged coastline that, when its map is magnified, still shows a similar pattern of broken up lines that resembles the original coastline. Mandelbrot saw this pattern of co-existing roughness and simplicity everywhere in nature, and he set out to find a rule that governs it. His idea of encapsulating the order arising out of seemingly irregular patterns eventually culminated in his book, The Fractal Geometry of Nature. Clouds are not spheres,” he said, “mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.”

The appeal of a fractal lies not only in its mathematical innovation, but also in its beauty. The visualized form of the Mandelbrot set is considered a work of art, and an online search for “fractal art” will give a result of fractal images one after another, so mesmerizing in their complexity that the word “trippy” is suggested by Google autocomplete.

Fractals are not only artworks in themselves. Their patterns are also found in works of art which at first sight do not bear much similarity to these Google search images. The American painter Jackson Pollock’s paintings are one of these examples. In 2002, researchers Richard P. Taylor, Adam P. Micolich, and David Jonas published a paper titled “The Construction of Jackson Pollock’s Fractal Drip Paintings,” in which they statistically investigated the fractal features of his paintings. It’s not surprising that researchers found a similarity between Pollock’s dripped paintings and objects in nature, considering that critics often describe his painting “organic,” suggesting something akin to objects in nature found in these works. By running a statistical analysis of the self-similarity of Pollock’s works, the researchers found in them a pattern similar to a fractal.

The researchers fascinatingly suggest that it is human nature to “feel” fractals, that “the enduring popularity of Pollock’s Fractal Expressionism is based on an instinctive appreciation for Nature’s fractals shared by Pollock and his audience.”

A recent study of fractals in literature reached a similar conclusion. By analyzing the sentence length variation of more than 100 works of literature from around the world, researchers have found that “an overwhelming majority” of these works are written in “selfsimilar, cascade-like alternation” of various sentence lengths, creating fractal-like patterns similar to those of musical compositions or brain waves. What is more, they found that works in the genre of “stream of consciousness” show themselves to be multifractal, that is, a composed of a set of fractals irreducibly woven together. This result suggests that our thoughts cascade out in fractal patterns, which some authors, like Pollock has with his brushes, have managed to capture with their outstanding command of language.

Indeed, there is a literary genre called “fractal poetry” that is taught in a creative writing course at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. According to its syllabus, the course aims to teach how to appropriate fractals into poems by iterating certain linguistic elements within a poem or across a set of poems. Theater can also be fractal; the Japanese traditional theater of Noh is structured to reveal self-similarity in a Jo-Ha-Kyu pattern, Jo being the slow introduction, Ha being the acceleration, and Kyu being a fast close. This three-fold pattern is ideally found at all levels of the play such as line, dance move, scene, and the overall plot. Speaking of Asian culture, Mandelbrot was a fan of Hokusai’s paintings, which have fractal-like structures; Hokusai’s famous painting of a wave with Mount Fuji at the back took part in Mandelbrot’s 2010 TED talk  as one of the visual representations of a fractal in art.

Might fractals be the underlying principle of the universe? The infinitely intricate patterns of a fractal have always existed in the world, long before Benoît Mandelbrot “flipped on the switch” for the rest of us to see. Is the universe a completely determined structure with no uncertainty, infinitely complex but entirely settled, by the pattern of fractals? Well, I don’t know. But what at least seems clear is that the pattern of the fractal lurks beneath the complex phenomena in our everyday lives, its laws governing the breathtaking sceneries of nature, its rhythm reverberating within us and in so much that we create.

Moeko Noda is a rising senior at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where she is studying comparative literature. This is her first published piece.

Photo credit: Fractal geometry showing Mandelbrot set. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 15 Jun 2016.

Farming over the Abyss

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Mark Frank

Breughel, 'Landscape With the Fall of Icarus'/The Granger Collection/Universal Images Group/Rights Managed

Breughel, ‘Landscape With the Fall of Icarus’/The Granger Collection/Universal Images Group/Rights Managed

In the December of my eighteenth year, my best friend and confidant, partner in poetry, art, and sometimes romance, committed suicide. I heard about it during Christmas vacation at my grandma’s house in eastern Kansas. Though the two of us had often talked of suicide, her action took me by surprise. The entire trajectory of my life was changed, the way an earthquake can change a river’s course. Nothing was the same —there were no remnants of “same” to return to. The strongest feeling was not sadness, it was nothingness; the feeling that I was nowhere, left stranded above an abyss.

Her kind and beautiful soul ignited the love of literature and poetry and music in my own. I have spent the intervening years searching, collecting the pieces that were broken and scattered when she left. I lost faith and interest in tangible life, and turned to the things that we had shared: I tried to find life and solace in books and music, though they are sometime fickle friends. These sounds and shapes came and went, and I learned to live in pages torn from borrowed volumes and words suspended in air. In every new book, every poem, every album I listened to, I tried to find a trace of her. Sometimes I did, and I cherished that. The Ninth Wave by Kate Bush. The poetry of Rimbaud and Allen Ginsberg. The 4AD record label. The Surrealists. There were two things I looked for: the honesty to confront and discuss the idea of suicide directly and the courage to break through the everyday, the anchors to this life, to pull them up and cut loose.

I learned to appreciate life through reverberations, still feeling her presence in a way that could not be verbalized, that resonated somewhere out beyond language. Colors became tones, and the change of seasons was always accompanied by an encompassing music that only I could hear. A few days after she died, she appeared to me clearly. I was lying in bed, and she came into the room. She was angry, asking why I did not keep my promise to join her. At first I did try to join her. I felt it was my obligation to end my own life, but I failed for various reasons. Finally, without really thinking about it, I quit trying and just let life be. But, there is always that voice that calls from over the edge. It is a familiar voice, nearly every day. Not usually 24 hours a day—if it were, it might be something that could be tuned out or ignored. No, it comes unexpectedly, at the most unlikely times. It always feels the same, like the floor has dropped out from under me, the constant sea of sound stripped away.

It is not a matter of being one step away from the abyss, nor of being on the edge, but of being suspended over it, with no visible means of support. I realized I needed to dedicate myself to something connected to life. I couldn’t express it like that at the time, but I think that is why I chose to go into education and teaching. I found that the classroom was a living organism, the chance to interact with and maybe even change other lives. I have always liked people but was too shy to really connect. Becoming a teacher helped me (forced me?) to overcome that. And then, becoming a farmer.

It started when I was teaching in Japan, we had a garden at my college. The students would collect food scraps from the cafeteria and make compost. Our first season, we had a meter high mound of compost. One day, we were turning it together. A student placed her hand on the top. “It’s warm, it’s hot,” she said, “like it’s alive!” We took turns touching it, picking up handfuls.  We all felt for the first time the power of composting, of fermentation, of life returning. Feeling the compost inspired us all, and galvanized our will to create the best garden possible. From these early experiences, my own love and respect for farming was born, and it became my inspiration to start a farm here in America. Much like the classroom before, I sensed that the garden was a place of life and learning and positivity.

There is a scientific basis for this feeling as well. The soil microbe mycobacterium vaccae has been shown to cause immune cells to release chemicals known as cytokines. These in turn stimulate nerves which cause neurons to release serotonin, high levels of which are connected to general feelings of well-being, while a deficiency is often connected to depression. I don’t mean to suggest that going out and getting your hands dirty can take the place of therapy or medication. I don’t want to trivialize anyone’s experience or reality. No, the kind of farming I am talking about is not a cure, but a recognition, a way forward, or at least sideways. Like everything in life, it is another scenic road to nowhere, but here, in the dirt, on the ground, under an enormous sky.  Seeing life pass through death and in that death provide for another life has given me some degree of solace and balance.

The simple process of growing a cabbage from tiny seed to giant head, taking it to market,and passing it on to a customer–that is a tremendous feat.

Suicidal thoughts reduce the imagination, limit choices, tie off the story in a knot. Farming is exactly the opposite: every day is an opening up, an unpredictable now, improvisational and wild. I have found companionship in the soil among the worms and microbes and roots and pillbugs. You may fail, but the dirt, the ants, the weeds, the critters, they all will be waiting for you again tomorrow, no matter how badly you mess up today.

I no longer see apparitions of my dead friend, but I hear her and feel her everywhere around the farm. At times when I go to sleep I hear her talking to me, whispering, a beautiful litany of poetry I could never write myself. The edges of the words leave me stranded, looking right and left, aware only that I will never have the ability to keep up. But there are also iridescent afternoons with muddy knees and hands elbow deep in mulch. Farming is not so much about the production of life as it is about life’s cycle. The farmer is not the creator of life, but the witness to its continual passing and returning. Time spent with soil and compost somehow can anchor us in this uncertain, floating world.

Mark Frank was born and raised in eastern Kansas. After completing an M.A. Arts degree in American Literature at Missouri State University, he moved to rural Japan, where he taught. There he also studied traditional agriculture, fermentation, and sake brewing.A few years ago, he moved back to Missouri, where he operates a no-till organic farm specializing in Japanese vegetables and fermented foods.


Photo creit: BRUEGEL: FALL OF ICARUS. – ‘Landscape With the Fall of Icarus.’ Oil on canvas, c1555, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 10 Jun 2016.


Telling Cancer Where to Go

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Sloane M. Perron

Linda Brossi Murphy of Boylston, Massachusetts, is a cancer survivor. Throughout her cheekily titled book, Fuck Off, Cancer, Murphy shares candid details about her diagnosis, her changing body, losing her hair, maintaining a healthy sex life during chemo, and the importance of an occasional glass of wine.

Murphy’s story begins four years ago during what she describes as a “mid-afternoon romp” with her husband, David, during which she discovered a lump in her breast. The lump was originally diagnosed as being hormonally induced, but when it persisted she was referred to to UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester.

On Halloween, Murphy got the bad news that, yes, she had cancer.

The good news, however, was that her cancer was rated “ light to medium” by the doctor, and was  treatable. It was an aggressive form of breast cancer, however, and  Murphy wound up receiving five different forms of chemotherapy over a year and a half.

Despite her naturally positive outlook, the treatments took a heavy toll on her body. “Cancer does not make you sick,” Murphy said, “Cancer treatments make you sick.”

After a couple of weeks of chemotherapy, Murphy’s hair began falling  out in clumps, along with her eyelashes and eyebrows. She  texted pictures of the hairballs to family and friends and asked for help  naming the hairballs. They came up with Tom and Jerry, Rooster, Timmy and Tommy, and Cheech and Chong.

“I am against shaving your head,” she said. “Any hairs that want to stay, can.” Eventually, Murphy bought three wigs that allowed her to become a blonde, a redhead, or a brunette, according to her whim. Her husband never knew what his wife was going to look like, she chuckled. She began to see the importance of wigs to people going through chemotherapy, and some of the proceeds from sales of her book will be donated to wig salons to purchase wigs (and wine, of course–may as well make the most of the situation) for their clients.

Murphy was touched by the outpouring of support she received from loved ones, “My family was awesome,” she said. “I have a great group of family and friends.” She developed the idea of “chemo parties,” where different family members and friends would drive her to Mass General Hospital in Boston for her treatments, spend the day with her in the hospital, and then enjoy time in Boston together. Murphy always brought cookies for all of the nurses. The staff became a second family to her, she said.

Throughout the course of her recovery, Murphy documented and photographed almost every aspect of the experience, from initially discovering the lump to her last day of treatment and being able to ring the bell at the radiation department of Mass General, a tradition that signaled the end of one’s radiation treatment.

    Murphy’s goal in writing “F Off Cancer” was to remove the stigma and fear that commonly surrounds cancer. She’s grateful, she says, for good health insurance, a strong support system, and a reliable car to get her back and forth to Boston. If her diagnosis with cancer means that a poor, single mother waitressing tables with no insurance does not get it, then Murphy would not change anything about her ordeal with cancer. In her mind, the death of a child, chronic pain, and ALS are all much worse than the experience she had.

    Her family brought the same playful spirit to the experience. Murphy recalled waking up one night and saying to her husband, “We have the best life ever.” He responded, “You are aware that you are going through cancer, right?”

A lot of such humor, as well as introspection and raw emotion are all to be found in in Murphy’s book. And she hopes that telling cancer to “f*** off” she can inspire others to face the obstacles they must overcome in their own lives with humor–and perhaps a glass of wine.

Linda Brossie Mupry / photo by sloane perron

Linda Brossie Mupry / photo by sloane perron


Sloane M. Perron is agraduate of Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts She enjoys writing in all forms and has a passion for telling the stories of others.



College, the Movies, and the Misery

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Sasha Kohan

Picasso, Woman Reading

Picasso, Woman Reading

As a film student who’s also an English major and deeply narcissistic in all the usual ways, one of my biggest and most sincere questions coming out of my undergraduate education is: why are there not more movies centered on college-aged protagonists?

I realize this is basically asking “Why aren’t there more stories about me?” but, seriously, there is no shortage of (wonderful, predictable, cheesy, reassuring, warm, fuzzy, upsetting, relatable) high school stories and, lately, just as many on that later-twenty-something part of life when you really should have your shit together but need all your adult friends and siblings to show you the light and guide you into a happy medium of staying true to yourself while also becoming a somewhat respectable member of society. That part I’m totally prepared for, thanks to movies like I Love You, Man (John Hamburg, 2009), 27 Dresses (Anne Fletcher, 2008), Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2013), and the more recent Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2014) and Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015). Even some of the latest films with plots revolving entirely around their collegiate settings, like Liberal Arts (Josh Radnor, 2012) and Admission (Paul Weitz, 2013), tell stories from the perspective of the adults on campus who, of course, have some growing up of their own to do. Both of these coming-of-age variations dominate the realistic fiction segment of Hollywood’s unrealistic vision of what goes down in modern America–which is why I’m somewhat baffled that the crucial, exploratory time between ages 19-22 is largely underrepresented in mainstream cinema.

Maybe it’s because, to the young people who go to the movies but don’t go to college, or to the adults who are now too far removed from the American education system to understand the nuances of the contemporary angst it brings, watching a bunch of privileged kids be confused and dramatic while walking around the most boring-looking set possible isn’t a particularly alluring cinematic experience. (And honestly, I can get behind that on the level of the aesthetics alone.) It’s common knowledge that universities keep students living in a bubble of safe spaces and like-minded folks for four years, a period which can be not only illuminating in many ways but also potentially damaging. Maybe the college age is often skipped over in film because, just as the bubble keeps us students largely oblivious to the way things work outside our ivory towers, it also keeps those outside the bubble at a distance, forcing them to squint and make their best guess as to how those inside interact with one another.

The best illustration of college life I’ve witnessed onscreen thus far is easily Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America (2015), a delightful comedy on the nature of storytelling made exponentially funnier when you can understand with a visceral empathy the aggravation of sitting through a class where that one person cannot seem to help responding with completely unnecessary aggression to everything anyone says; or the agony of seeing that guy you like walking with another gal and consoling yourself by sitting alone in the campus bistro at night with a tray of forlorn fries (or pizzeritas, or late-night mac-and-cheese grilled cheese) in front of you to soak up your misery.

Though classics like Rudy (David Anspaugh, 1993), Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 2001), Good Will Hunting (Gus Van Sant 1997), and A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard, 2001) ought not to be forgotten here, it seems that the university narrative has shifted considerably in the last decade and, as amazing as those movies are, they’re undeniably sensational, telling the most remarkable stories about the most unlikely heroes and touched up with that optimistic Hollywood gloss. Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore, 2012) is probably the best example of a recent movie that hits the right notes (sorry) as far as establishing a recognizable and even resonant, ordinary university setting, and then turning certain elements of that setting up to 100 for that dramatic, satirical effect, finishing off with a nice clean Disney Channel Original Movie feeling.

I find this apparent lack of unsensational college and/or typical college-age-centered stories in film noteworthy because (again, based on my own Googling and pragmatic conclusions) there very well may be no narrative more inherently dynamic, no life more determinedly dramatic and peppered with normal and bizarre supporting characters that also happens to be a microcosm of the capitalist, American-dream-seeking, Hollywood-ready system of elite education than that of the 19-22 year old college student. This may be partially because there is likely no other demographic more convinced that they are the star of their world’s film than this college student, particularly now. (I’m not even going to begin getting into the “Gen X versus Millennials versus Gen Z” discussion, but I don’t think I need to remind anyone how ardently the Baby Boomers have labelled us ‘the selfie generation’ among a number of other equally patronizing and aggravating media-safe slurs highlighting our exponentially increasing youthful narcissism.) In a way, even the most ordinary college encounters are experienced with a heightened sense of importance–even the most average students are living the most sensational lives. Melodrama is the norm, and every ordinary moment simply builds on the comedy and tragedy of it all.

I’m also aware of the role privilege and choice play in this phenomenon–of course, not every high school graduate will go to college, and not every 19-22 year old will have graduated high school. In this light, I suppose it makes sense for filmmakers to focus on the more universal experiences of high school and what happens a decade later (according to The Atlantic, the number of high school graduates who then immediately enroll in college has been slowly dropping over the years, falling to 66% in 2013). Okay, so, sure, if you want to get technical about fair representation in the movies, then go ahead and skip that part of life when you decide whether or not to pursue higher education in search of financial success and personal fulfillment–but, I ask you, when has Hollywood ever cared about fair representation before? I’ll tell you when: never. This is certainly not meant to defend the decades on decades in which the film industry has relentlessly focused on white heteronormative narratives rather than including and normalizing those of the many (many) gay, lesbian, trans, genderqueer, black, Asian, southeast Asian, Hispanic, disabled, elderly, and otherwise Other lives that also comprise our nation’s best stories (if not our movies or politics), or that baby steps toward progress aren’t being taken (I heard Dear White People (Justin Simien, 2014) was good!), but simply to point out that even the most average college student’s story is pretty much a pack of mini cupcake mix ready to be thrown into the Easy-Bake Oven of Hollywood’s top-secret three-act formula. In fact, with the number of parallels between the systems of elite education and the film industry, I’m fairly shocked this demographic and their (our) stories haven’t been seriously capitalized upon already.

But maybe it isn’t as unforgivable as all that. Because I, like John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000), tend to take refuge in my pop culture obsessions to escape the anguish of modern life and romance, I often think of his characterâ
€™s essential line: “What came first, the music or the misery?” The same logic applies to movies–do we watch movies because we are miserable, or are we miserable because we keep watching movies? Hard to say, but I’m inclined to believe a lifetime of cinematic consumption must contribute in some significant way to a later life of seemingly unstoppable disappointment. When you grow up preparing for your time at Cape Elizabeth High School with Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004) and Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004) in mind, such disappointment is inevitable, as I’m sure it will be in a few years once I’ve been a lonely Type-A bridesmaid 27 times and do not, in fact, find the love of my life in a cute and snarky journalist who happens to write wedding announcements on the side.

Was it better, then, to go through these last four years with no real (or unreal) idea of what to expect? With no clue how to instigate a respectful yet casual conversation with professors? With no idea how on earth college students spend all their time in libraries while taking only four classes? Without knowing how many times I would change my mind about who I am and what to do, only to end up agreeing to disagree with me and my many selves? Maybe we should thank Hollywood for providing us with all the uncertainty and anxiety that makes college students such fascinating characters and potential protagonists, by virtue of denying us any other unrealistic expectations (on top of the ones we’re already frantically trying to manage).

But this character and this narrative are remarkable, too, for the fact that this student may not always feel she is the star of her movie. College in America in 2016 is a magical place where one glorious moment might make you feel like The Chosen One and the next makes you wonder if this is what Luna Lovegood’s life is like when she’s not with Harry; if all the instants when the spotlight seemed to hit you were really just proving to all the real stars what a quirky supporting character you’ve been, and how your funny little side plot has really just functioned as a way to work some interesting details into the main storyline.

Maybe the real, uncut, unedited college student is simply too dynamic to work as an effective protagonist. Maybe things change altogether too often for a coherent narrative to be shaped around those four years where the plot points and characters and sets and music montages are so densely packed that each passing semester feels like a lifetime ago–and yet I can’t help feeling like these are exactly the reasons why university students are such ideal subjects. Minor goals and motivations shift and turn until the greater desires reveal themselves under the rubble of whatever’s leftover each time you change your mind. People who were once important move to the periphery, just as you move to the periphery of people you were once important to. Everyone changes as often as trends, and even if we wanted to truly move forward and step away from who we used to be and all the things that made us that way, we all still study in the same library, walk the same stairwells, use the same bathrooms, go to the same bars and check the same mailroom. The past variations of ourselves bounce around campus like ghosts in the subjective memories of all the people we scrutinized and who scrutinized us, who saw us change, who either respected us or didn’t. Maybe real college in the movies wouldn’t be so great after all–not like I would know or anything, but maybe the real story doesn’t start until the ghosts are only in our heads and not physically surrounding us at every corner–and maybe it still won’t be a real story yet, but it might be a better one, at least.

Sasha Kohan is a graduate of Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts. To read more of her work on music and movies, visit her website.  

Photo credit: Picasso, Woman Reading 1939. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 9 Jun 2016.


Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Andrea Gregory

Alone 1994 Daniel Nevins, 1963, American

Alone 1994 Daniel Nevins, 1963, American

Every night I watch my father get shot in the head by foreign terrorists on a hijacked plane. I’m in therapy for it.

All of a sudden no one is invincible. My parents are just people. And my dad is one of those people who flies all over the world for business. I’m scared, and I’m not allowed to watch the news anymore.

I make my mother check on him. I expect her to scream when she sees his head has been blown off. But she doesn’t scream. She looks over at him. She assures me he’s sleeping and not dead. It was just a dream. She wants me to go back to bed. She falls back asleep with me standing there. It happens almost every night.

I’m the worst speller at school. We are tested every week, and I’ve started cheating. I write the words out on a small piece of paper and keep it in my desk. Evidence of my wrongdoing. There’s talk of holding me back, what with the spelling and all the school I’ve missed. We went to Germany for a few months. I missed a lot of spelling tests.

I have more books than friends. During recess, I hide in the coat closet and read. No one notices I’m not outside playing. You would think I would be a better speller because of all the reading I do, but no. I like the Sweet Valley Twins books. They’re about twin sisters. I have a brother, but he’s younger and always has a runny nose. If I had a sister, everything would be different.

Do I have to go through things alone? We read a poem in school about how no man is an island. Am I an island?


I get caught. Not cheating on my spelling tests but reading in the coat closet. My teacher’s name is Norma. I think she thinks it’s cool to go by her first name. The problem is Norma really isn’t a cool name. She takes my book away and tells me to go play.

Everyone is teasing Julia outside. Someone calls her ugly. Someone calls her gross. She doesn’t brush her hair or teeth. I know this because we had a sleepover once and she came with no brushes. But everyone knows this because it’s obvious by just looking at her. She might actually have cooties. Now, she has to wear glasses.

One of the boys pulls them off her face. He holds them above her head and laughs as she tries to jump for them. Everyone laughs. No one is an island? Julia is an island right now. I yell out for them to stop. The boy throws her glasses on the ground and everyone walks away to play foursquare on the other side of the playground. I pick up Julia’s glasses and hand them to her. She’s crying. She says this happens to her all the time. It’s worse on the bus, she says.

I know all about the bus. They call me animal because they think I’m not human or something. I think when people tell you something long enough, you start to believe it even if you don’t want to.

I’ll show them animal. I bite Kristen on the arm. I bite down as hard as I can, leaning over the back of my seat as she tries to pull away. Everyone thinks it’s funny until she screams. I leave a hole in her shirt. I’m sure there are bite marks on her skin. But no blood. I never tasted blood. She says I’m going to pay for this.

Greg lives two doors down from me. He goes to a different school and rides a different bus, but we’re the same age. When our parents get together, we play in his finished basement. It has an old black and white television set that’s always on, but no one is ever watching it.

We color a lot. Greg’s mom lets us tape our drawings on the walls, and she doesn’t even take them down when I leave. Our pictures feel permanent.

Greg’s father is sick. We don’t know what that really means. The adults don’t either yet. Greg says he doesn’t want to talk about it. Then he says they still go fishing all the time, more now than ever. I ask Greg if he’s going to cry because he looks like it. He tells me no and calls me stupid. Then he stares at me, and I can’t tell what he’s thinking. He dares me to kiss him on the lips. We count to three and kiss for a fraction of a second.

I know what it’s like to feel like you’re flying. There’s a bike trail that the older kids made. Or maybe the older kids before them made it. It’s been there forever. It starts with a really steep hill. You go down it and get a ton of speed. Then you just have to steer. All the neighborhood kids line up. We take turns, cheering each other on. It’s a wild ride.

I’ve done it a million times, but this time I lose control going around the second bend. I fall off my bike and land in poison ivy. My knee is scraped. I think I’m crying because it hurts, but I’m embarrassed. The kids laugh at first, but then leave their bikes to see if I’m okay. Greg isn’t here. His dad’s in the hospital. I get up and run home, abandoning my bike in the bed of poison ivy.

My mother asks what’s wrong, and I just hold on to her as tight as I can. My dad’s at work somewhere. My mom says all I need is a Band-Aid, and she lets go of me too soon. I never want to ride my bike again. But she tells me that’s not how it works. She says everyone falls off bikes. I tell her the other kids don’t. She says they will. What matters is getting back up.

I wait until the other kids all get called in at dusk before I go get my bike. I don’t get back on. Not right now. Not this time. I walk it home with one hand on the handlebars and one hand on the banana seat.

Tonight I will dream about my father getting shot.

I have another spelling test tomorrow. I make another cheat sheet. I will get another 100 on it, and everything will look like it’s okay.


Andrea Gregory is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She is currently working on a memoir about living with multiple sclerosis. This is her first published piece of creative nonfiction.

Photo credit:  Alone. Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 9 Jun 2016.


Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Jason Elford

Annie Owen / Robert Harding World Imagery / Universal Images Group/ Rights Managed

Annie Owen / Robert Harding World Imagery / Universal Images Group/ Rights Managed

A weight of worldly anxiety settled in last night
our insides chilly,
he proselytized fear
declared his presence.
We cracked, crumbling foundations
    language shattered
outside, inside
two and one entangled
a battle without violence
    riding astraddle of moment shadow dueling
swiftly silent,
immersed in the other
we breathed
two and one fragmented
with a breath, feeling
a weight lifted
labels disintegrated
and language gauged freely.

Jason Elford writes short fiction, poems, and novels. His work has appeared in The Machinery and STOPGap. He lives in Calgary, Alberta.

Photo credit: Budhhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India, Asia . Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 9 Jun 2016.


The Road Back: A Story of Healing

Summer 2016, Uncategorized

by Victoriahope McAuliffe



Victoriahope McAuliffe

Victoriahope McAuliffe

When I was 17 I made the decision to go ahead with a surgery that would hopefully control what I had lived with since I was four years old. I suffered from intractable Epilepsy, and typically had 200 seizures a day. I would fall down on the floor, crawl, scream, and end up injuring myself in all sorts of ways. I remember constantly having to bandage my knees because they were always cut up and bloodied. Most kids have scraped knees from sports or running around outside, mine were from constant seizures.

This surgery, a right frontal partial lobectomy, would hopefully remove the source of my seizures and change my life in unimaginable ways. Little did I know how many ways my life would be changed.

My surgery took place during my senior year of high school, in December. I had left school in October because my seizure activity had become so frequent that I was missing classes, so I was isolated for most of the time leading up to the operation. I remember being so excited that my seizures would stop, that I didn’t have time to think about being afraid. How could I be afraid? My whole life was going to be different, this was going to change EVERYTHING! As the day approached I began to feel scared and nervous as the enormity of what I would soon undergo hit me. I admitted to one of my friends I was scared, and he just said, “I know you are. You have been. You just didn’t know it.”

My surgery went perfectly, but I was exhausted and overwhelmed in the days following. I hadn’t realized just how much help and support I would need in the days and weeks that followed. I had to learn to walk again. I couldn’t shower alone for  two weeks, and I couldn’t walk by myself for three weeks. It was hard for me to accept the help of others, because I had no idea I was going to need it. In essence, while the operation was successful and ended the seizures,  it  also left me with a brain injury, which caused an entirely new set of problems.

By some miracle, I was able to graduate with the 2010 Senior class at Doherty High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, and that fall I started school at Quinsigamond Community College. I soon found that I was tired all the time, and I needed to take naps everyday when I got home from school. The hardest thing for me was that I now struggled to read and comprehend information. I had always been a strong reader, and my slowed reading and processing speeds made reading a monumental undertaking. Still, I was able to finish my Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education in May of 2014, and I transferred to Worcester State University the following September.

Transitioning to Worcester State from QCC as a student with a brain injury was challenging, and disheartening at first. I had to navigate a new campus, meet new friends, understand how the dynamics of the school worked, and of course become familiar with the Disability Services Office. Adjusting to a new school is stressful for any student. Imagine trying to do it without  the part of your brain that controls emotion regulation, impulse control, inhibition, organization, executive functioning, and rational thought. Everyday difficulties were magnified into huge obstacles.

It didn’t help when the Disability Services office gave me a handbook titled, Transitioning From High School to College. Evidently my community college didn’t count. I stayed away from the office for two semesters after that, and when I had to return to use my accommodations for a mathematics course, I had a totally different experience and found the director amazingly helpful.

I get hurt and offended when people try to “help” me by dumbing things down, by diluting information so that I can absorb it. I am an intelligent individual, and I have met many people with cognitive and processing disabilities who have intelligence levels that far exceed those of the people who often try to help us.

What I need as someone with a brain injury and processing impairment is to be listened to. I want to be respected and heard as an individual with hopes, dreams, and goals. I am not just a statistic you write in your books to say that you graduated so many students with learning differences- I am a person and some days I struggle.

Some daysI struggle. I feel such extreme fatigue and exhaustion, I have to fight with myself just to get out of bed. Yet everyday I get up, and I show up, because I need to be there for myself. We live in a world where people like me can be overlooked, and it’s easier to do that when you seem healthy on the outside. That is the trouble with invisible illnesses– others cannot see them, but those who suffer from them feel their strength at full force. It is isolating, and often a heavy burden to carry.

My brain injury is a healing wound you cannot see. I am learning to live with that reality, this new me. Despite these challenges, I’ve managed to keep my GPA above a 3.0, and I’ve started working part time. Healing takes time, and someday I will reach the place where I want to be. And until then, I’ll keep my sights on graduating next May–which is not bad for a girl they said would never graduate high school.


Victoriahope McAuliffe is a student at Worcester State University, Worcester, Massachusetts. She enjoys singing, hiking, yoga, and writing, and her goal in life is to inspire others to keep fighting. She blogs at and can also be reached at instagram@wildheartedwanderer.