Composed: The Literary Journal of McNally Smith College of Music



Composed: The Literary Journal of McNally Smith College of Music
The Literary Journal
of McNally Smith
College of Music
Spring 2011 Issue 1
Liberal Arts at
McNally Smith College of Music
Composed: The Literary Journal of
McNally Smith College of Music
Liberal Arts classes at McNally Smith College of Music have a creative edge.
We offer a unique and dynamic curriculum specially tailored for our students,
designed to sharpen critical and creative thinking and problem solving skills while
building an understanding of the world. The Liberal Arts Division provides a
breadth of knowledge and skills important for launching professional life
after college.
Composed is a delicate combination. A perfectly poised brush. A hand trembling
above a piano. The fine point dipped in ink. The meeting of art and soul. It’s
the “being” of art, being blind in it, lost in it, scared in it, totally and irreversibly immersed in it, the making of it, the state of mind. Composed is the process
of finding ourselves in something whole and out there. Composed is where we
as humans and we as artists exist as one. The ark filled to the brim with the wild
beasts inside all of us that we’ve somehow tamed. Composed is passion and compassion spread across pages once blank and empty. Composed is the eyes and the
ears—what’s tasted, smelled, and touched. Composed is what’s held suspended
within the heart. What soaks in waters of the soul. Composed is all that’s inside
and outside released. The essence. Composed is waving wands of ink to paint
words. Composed is a frame, stretched canvas, a state of mind, a perspective.
Something poised on the edge of mind over matter. Made of matter with mind.
An attention, attitude, awareness. Composed is where the story ends, where the
story begins, a centeredness, a coming together, a harmony, a balance, a point of
departure, and a point of ending. A moment of stillness. Composed is the act of
beginning and the act of completion. The feeling of achievement once the piece
is finished. Composed is the still point before the next act. Composed is coming
together. Come. Pose. Composed is the first album you put out, the first essay
you write, the first time your pencil sketches, your last drop of paint on canvas,
the last letter you type to your keypad of the memoir you’ve been writing your
entire life, the last song you ever strum on your guitar.
Cover Art:
Unrest 2010 by Adam Erickson (Graphite, charcoal, gold leaf, silver leaf, acrylic,
and China marker on canvas, 48 x 36 in.)
About this painting Constructing a record; recording a construct
“The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” —William Faulkner
Paintings, like people, bear the marks of their past. There’s no way to separate
the process of creating a painting from the final painting, and that’s what drives
me. When a phase of the work-in-progress seems finished, I step back to snap a
photo–documenting the progression of each step at regular intervals and sharing
the record online. And so the painting is constructed and exists as a record of
stains, marks and scars. The process becomes its own work, its own evidence, a
residue of an ineffaceable past that reminds me of who I have been and who I am
today. Check out his progress:
Book Design and Layout:
Maurice Champion & Matt Lunneborg
This publication was produced on an iMac using Adobe InDesign CS3 and Microsoft Word. All images were formatted using Adobe Photoshop. Typefaces are
Champion, Router, and Mrs Eaves
Jared Boria, Maurice Champion, Ross Charmoli, Ryan Horton,
Brice McGill, Paul Shallcross, Yesha Townsend
Special Thanks to Jan Weller and Aundrea Billings for their on-going support;
to Adam Erickson for our cover; and to Maurice Champion, Matt Lunneborg,
Brian Burton, and Jodi Jetson for expediting the design and printing of Composed’s
first journal.
Terri Whitman, Faculty, Liberal Arts Division
For more information contact: [email protected]
Copyright 2011. Composed: The Literary Journal of McNally Smith College of
Music. All rights reserved by the individual artists and authors upon publication.
ONE “everything sweats”
Watching like a hawk
I Was Sculpted from Wet Earth
Inspiration in the Basement
My Brother, the Astronaut
The Subtle Art of Joyful Noise
Without Words
The Spirit of Improvisation
Yeah, Go Ahead and Clap
Of Accordions, Guitars, and Ukuleles
Dark Wave
Forever there: ephemeral but unique moments
Peter Henkels
Harley Patton
Brice McGill
Ivonne Padilla
Jeff BaileY
Ross Charmoli
Sarah Burk
Arthur Davis
Lily Stanton
Ashley Wiermaa (Ocian)
TWO “my cat hates water/the way i love you”
i never said i wanted him
Home Sappy Home
Blue Note
Getting the Bends
Aunt Jemima vs. Marlboro Man
Tree Drenched in Ink
Allyson Gaietto
Allyson Gaietto
Ross Charmoli
Yesha Townsend
Allyson Gaietto
Terry Boullianne
Brice McGill
We Drew the Map
Jared Boria
Paul Shallcross
THREE “i find poems in the strangest places”
Hide & Seek
The Soundtrack of My Life
Sweet Loretta Jane
A Warped Day
Five Haiku
Yesha Townsend
RaCHAEL McKinney
Gregory Hanford
Peter Henkels
Yesha Townsend
Park Slope, Brooklyn, 9/12/01
Times Square, NYC, 3/12/10
Gemini Tribe
In My Grandma’s Kitchen
Lowertown, Saint Paul, 10/2/10
Twelve Noon
Chris Cunningham
Bruce Cook
Tim Lyle
Aundrea Billings
William Franklin
Sean McMahon
Kareem Ahmed
Joseph Horton
Jonathan Fant
Harley Patton
Ross Charmoli
Laura Gleason
Dan Wieken
Terry Boullianne
Terry Boullianne
Ross Charmoli
Zachary Thayer
Sean Chaucer Levine
Paul Shallcross
Ross Charmoli
Nicholas Wetzel
Michael Holloway
Blackberry Boys
Crows over the Wheat Field
Leaky Faucet
No More Apples
Lemon Tree
Love Sweet Misery
Summer Yellow
Merge Faster
A Faceless Enemy
Closed Jar
Old News
The End
Contents by Genre
FIVE “try and use your voice/when you have words to give away”
People Among the Forest of Rain
How to Heal a Broken Wing
Bits and Pieces
The Mystery of Mount Johnson Hands
Rock Collecting for the Eight-Year-Old Male
Dewey’s Scavenger Hunt
i usually crank up my crazy
That Secret Place
Dear Jack
Venture for Moving Air
Contributors’ Notes
Allen Dupras
Allyson Gaietto
Ross Charmoli
Ivonne Padilla
Ryan Horton
Jonathan Fant
Zachary Thayer
Ross Charmoli
Sarah Burk
Yesha Townsend
Shayla Woods
Madelin Snyder
Allen Dupras
Leaky Faucet
Lemon Tree
Summer Yellow
The Mystery of Mount Johnson Hands
Dewey’s Scavenger Hunt
Terry Boullianne
Harley Patton
Laura Gleason
Terry Boullianne
Ryan Horton
Zachary Thayer
Peter HenkELs
Ivonne Padilla
Ross Charmoli
Allyson Gaietto
Allyson Gaietto
Jared Boria
Yesha Townsend
Yesha Townsend
Chris Cunningham
Bruce Cook
Tim Lyle
Aundrea Billings
William Franklin
Sean McMahon
Kareem Ahmed
Terry Boullianne
Zachary Thayer
Sean Chaucer Levine
Nicholas Wetzel
Sarah Burk
Yesha Townsend
Watching like a Hawk
My Brother, the Astronaut
Without Words
i never said i wanted him
Hide & Seek
Five Haiku
Park Slope, Brooklyn, 9/12/01
Times Square, NYC, 3/12/10
Gemini Tribe
In My Grandma’s Kitchen
Lowertown, Saint Paul, 10/2/10
Twelve Noon
Merge Faster
A Faceless Enemy
Closed Jar
The End
i usually crank up my crazy
Contents by Genre
Blue Note
Aunt Jemima vs. Marlboro Man
Sweet Loretta Jane
Blackberry Boys
Crows over the Wheat Field
No More Apples
Love Sweet Misery
Old News
How to Heal a Broken Wing
Bits and Pieces
That Secret Place
Dear Jack
Harley Patton
Brice McGill
Jeff Bailey
Sarah Burk
Arthur Davis
Lily Stanton
Allyson Gaietto
Brice McGill
Rachael McKinney
Peter Henkels
Jonathan Fant
I Was Sculpted from Wet Earth
Inspiration in the Basement
The Subtle Art of Joyful Noise
The Spirit of Improvisation
Yeah, Go Ahead and Clap
Of Accordions, Guitars, and Ukuleles
Getting the Bends
The Soundtrack of My Life
A Wraped Day
Rock Collecting for the Eight-Year-Old Male
Dark Wave
Home Sappy Home
Tree Drenched in Ink
Park Slope, Brooklyn, 9/12/01
Times Square, NYC, 3/12/10
Gemini Tribe
In My Grandma’s Kitchen
Lowertown, Saint Paul, 10/2/10
Twelve Noon
People Among the Forest of Rain
Venture for Moving Air
Ashley Wiermaa (Ocian)
Ross Charmoli
Paul Shallcross
Chris Cunningham
Bruce Cook
Tim Lyle
Aundrea Billings
William Franklin
Sean McMahon
Kareem Ahmed
Dan Wieken
Ross Charmoli
Allen Dupras
Ross Charmoli
Allen Dupras
Yesha Townsend
We Drew the Map
Jared Boria
Gregory Hanford
Joseph Horton
Jonathan Fant
Ross Charmoli
Ross Charmoli
Michael Holloway
Allyson Gaietto
Ivonne Padilla
Ross Charmoli
Shayla Woods
Madelin Snyder
everything sweats
– Harley Patton
“I Was Sculpted from Wet Earth
by Two Superb Human Beings”
Watching life like a hawk.
I float around waiting for it.
Laziness. No.
It doesn’t strike –
I strike at it.
I see it coming
because I create it.
It’s not always about being methodical.
Sometimes I dive straight
at the ground hoping to hit what I am aiming for,
bypassing the limbs that hold their hands defiantly.
Signaling stop.
In Louisiana, everything sweats. I remember the summer after the seventh grade, holding that sweaty BB gun for the first time, carefully taking aim on
the Campbell’s Chicken Noodle can some 15 feet away.
“Hurry up and shoot, Harley. If you wait any longer that can might just
get up and leave,” my dad teased, but with a smile on his face. I pressed my slick
finger against the trigger and heard the BB rush out of the barrel. Swiftly, I stood
up and ran over to the stump, checking for bullet holes.
“Nobody gets it the first time. Try again,” Dad said, when my search came
up dry. We spent hours on that porch at my great grandparent’s land in West Monroe, a town of about 13,000 in Northeast Louisiana. Dad called it The Farm and
so did everyone else. Without a single cow or rooster, it was the best farm I’d ever
been to. Acres and acres of trees, one could more easily count the stars. Patches of
pine, so old that only the uppermost branches remained; tall stalks like the legs of
frozen giants. Maples so wide as to be un-huggable. A little lake, but not too little
for fishing, with a sandy shore on one side that could make me hear the ocean.
The golf cart Granny used to drive me around in, feeding me shortbread the
whole time, the tractor that Dad would let me ride when no one else was around.
The perfect place for the curious, hyper child I was. A haven.
During the school months in Minnesota, I struggled through my classes.
I got sent to the hall, the principal’s office, or anywhere they could stick me for an
hour so I’d shut up. Summer vacation was my sanity’s savior. I’d go to my dad’s
house in Dallas to take a break. The heat made us lazy so we’d spend the day cooped
up in the air conditioning, making mini golf courses that spanned the whole house
or playing baseball on the dart board. We’d make pancakes for dinner and steak
for breakfast.
At some point every summer, we’d meet up with my aunt
Janice and my gramma Teresa, pile into two cars, and drive to West
Monroe. Rest stops along the way, picnics and hijinx. On one trip I was in the
car with Aunt Janice and Gramma. Janice was driving her brand new car, some
sort of Audi, all black and shiny. As we got onto the exit ramp from the highway, Janice started to swear, “These damn brakes don’t work! Mom, do something!” I looked up from my Gameboy and we were cruising through the rest
Harley Patton Creative nonfiction 13
Peter Henkels POEM
Watching life like a hawk
I Was Sculpted from Wet Earth
by Two Superb Human Beings
stop parking lot at 75 MPH! Benches and vending machines went whizzing
by. When I rolled my window down, I heard a few startled shouts. Apparently,
Janice’s new car had a different pedal arrangement than her old one. Soon we were
on the highway again, safe and sound, headed for the next rest stop.
After the five-hour drive, we would squeeze all the cars into the small,
dirt and gravel driveway at The Farm, get out, stretch, and go inside. The storm
door at the front of the house always squeaked. I think Papa never fixed it so he’d
always know when we were there. As we entered the house, we were greeted by blue
carpet and stacks of board games, an old TV that barely worked. A battered Lazy
Boy that only raised its footrest if you said “please.” Granny and Papa had four
organs, one in nearly every room. They loved music. I was allowed to play them
all and this was usually the first thing I did upon entering the old, dusty house.
Granny taught me all the old hymns and I told Papa who Ozzie Osbourne was.
(Dad stopped me before I got to the Prince of Fucking Darkness part.) Then, if it
wasn’t already too dark, we’d go fishing. Sometimes we went out on the little canoe
but most of the time we stayed by the shore, with cans of coke for us and cans of
worms for the fish. I always made Dad take the fish off the hook for me; they were
gross and some of them had teeth! We used to spend an entire day on the shore
of that little lake, catching as many perch as possible so we could have a fish fry at
One time I was on the shore and my dad was out in the boat. I cast my
line and, as I was slowly reeling it in, felt it catch something. I started to reel faster
and faster and then I heard my dad yelling at me, “HARLEY STOP! STOP STOP
STOP!” My hook was caught on the back of his shirt. I had almost pulled him out
of the boat.
Another time we had to speed Papa to the ER after fishing. While taking a
fish off of my hook, his hand had slipped. He’d buried that hook right into his cuticle. He didn’t even flinch, just said “Damnit” and started yanking at it. When ten
minutes had passed and Papa’s hand was covered in blood, we took him to the hospital, even though he was protesting the whole time, “I can get it out, just gimme
a minute.”
But time at The Farm wasn’t all play. Chores always had to be done. The
paint on the shed was peeling; a few windows in the green house were broken;
the grass was getting too long. Figs needed to be picked, apples too, gardens to be
weeded, wasp nests to be removed. Still, I loved doing the work. Dad let me paint
my own designs on the shed before he came over with the roller and covered it up.
Picking fruit was the best; everything tastes better straight from the tree.
After a day of playing and fishing and running and tripping and sweating
and dripping was done, Dad and Papa would fry up the day’s catch to perfection.
Everyone always had as much as they wanted and all the food was always eaten.
Dad told me that catfish were the best and Papa said he was wrong. Dad showed
me how to get all the bones out, but I made him do it for me anyway. With no real
kitchen table, we grabbed old bar stools from the closet that looked like they’d been
snatched out of some Spaghetti Western and squeezed around the bar. Bumping
elbows and spilling drinks, we feasted.
After dinner we’d relax in the big, dusty house. Papa would tell story
after story after story; he had a story for everything. He knew it all and I never
doubted him; if Papa said it, it was the truth, plain and simple. We’d tell jokes back
and forth, everyone laughing. Papa’s jokes went on and on, a punchline at every
“And that’s when I noticed his pants were on backwards!” Papa coughed,
all out of breath and sore with laughter. Even Granny couldn’t stop laughing, and
she was a very reserved woman.
Once, I got up the guts to tell this great new joke I’d heard at school,
something with a punchline like: “Oh ping pong balls? I thought you said King
Kong’s balls!”
Instead of raucous laughter, I was greeted with silence. Eventually, Papa
said, “That’s not funny Harley. That’s just gross.” He quickly changed the subject
and all was forgiven, but I will never forget the terror I felt that night. That was the
closest Papa ever got to chiding me. I never told that joke again.
The old man didn’t hold it against me, though. He gave me little gifts
every time I visited. A new fishing pole. A book titled The American Boy’s Handibook or
Harley Patton Creative nonfiction 15
Harley Patton Creative nonfiction 14
I Was Sculpted from Wet Earth
by Two Superb Human Beings
something to that effect. Jars and jars of the most delicious homemade jellies and
preserves. Apple butter was his specialty. Some of the best gifts were the ones he
didn’t give on purpose. The intelligence I felt just being around him. The knowledge that I could ask him anything and he’d have the right answer. The dream to
grow up to be anything like him.
Oliver Boyd, “Papa,” died a few years ago. When he finally ran out of
stories, I knew he didn’t have much time left. Ever since I met him, he was an old
man. But I never really realized how old until his last year on this Earth. He was
ninety-two when he finally stopped breathing. For the last few years of his life, he
had been confined to a nursing home that smelled like dust and Lysol. The walls
adorned with floral wallpaper and framed presidents. I knew no one could survive
too long in a place like that. He wasn’t even the same person any more. A part of
me was glad to see him go.
He and Granny had rooms on opposite sides of the building. Granny’s
dementia required her to be put in the secure wing of the facility, equipped with
a security system and 24-hour attendants. When I went with Gramma to go visit
her, she didn’t even know who I was. I knew she recognized my face because her
eyes would light up when she saw me, but she’d call me “Donny.” Apparently I was
the spitting image of my father at eighteen. Sometimes she’d call me “Buddy” or
“George” or really anything she could think of.
But she still played the organ. She never forgot. Watching her arthritic
fingers struggle to press the keys down, I was amazed. A woman who could hardly
walk or hold a conversation still had the power to play music. When she played the
organ, her wrinkles smoothed and her hair got darker and her laugh got lighter.
She was sitting on her plush piano bench in her own home playing her Steinway
grand. She was young again, or at least younger.
We would visit during lunch. The cafeteria house band played old hymns
and folk songs. Plates of semi-solid food and giant cups of coffee filled the table.
Whispered conversations and familiar exclamations filled the room. I would lead
Granny to her seat. Her slippers shuffling against the green carpet created static
electricity. We’d sit and she’d talk. She told stories that went in and out of reality: a
jumbled mix of past and present, real and imagined. I’d let them all wash over me,
sometimes counting the minutes till we could get the hell out of there, sometimes
just passively listening. Papa would listen with us. He never interrupted her. Only
when she stopped to take a breath would he interject, halfway spinning one of his
old tales until he forgot the ending.
It was hard to watch my great-grandparents leave this world. Papa’s passing made me rethink everything. It changed my life in a way incomparable to anything else. Granny and Papa taught me a lot about life; some of the truest and surest things I’ve ever learned, I learned from Papa. Granny showed me music before
anyone else even thought to. Without her encouragement, I wouldn’t be who I am
today. Both of them shaped me. Letting them go has strengthened me. If I can deal
with the loss of two such extraordinary people, I can handle anything.
Harley Patton Creative nonfiction 17
Harley Patton Creative nonfiction 16
I Was Sculpted from Wet Earth
by Two Superb Human Beings
It was the summer of ’98, the summer I was ten, and my sister Jada, and
my younger brother Jay, and I were riding home from church with our mom at the
wheel. As the van pulled up to our old home in Lancaster, Ohio, a song came on
the radio that blew my mind. It was heavier than a heart in love and had a crunchy
bite that made my teeth grind. It sounded so cool! I could barely hear the lyrics
until the chorus came in: “Despite all of my rage I am still just a rat in a cage.” I was
in love with this sound.
As my mom parked the car, I knew of only one place where I would be
able to hear the end of that song. Heath’s room. Although he was technically my
half-brother and eighteen years old, Heath lived with us. Like every young boy, I
looked up to my older brother. He wasn’t always around so I treasured the times I
got to be with him. His laidback, carefree, generation-x attitude appealed to me.
One, because I was pretty wound up, and, two, because it was way badass!
Heath, being a part of generation-x, took a great deal of pride in his
collection of tapes, CDs, vinyls. My plan was simple. I would tell my mom I was
going into the basement to play Nintendo, and then I would quietly sneak into
Heath’s room and search his plethora of CDs for this song. If anyone caught me
in his room, there would be hell to pay. Like any teenager, Heath guarded his privacy and paraphernalia with intensity, and both were secure in his room. Loosely
translated: “Never go into Heath’s room.”
However, the fear of getting caught was only one of my obstacles. The
second dilemma was that I didn’t know the name of the song or the name of the
artist. So the only thing I knew to do was to go through all of his CDs, one at a
time, find a group that I thought sounded like that song and then listen to all the
tracks until I got to hear the end of that song I heard in the van. The final problem
was the staggering number of CDs that Heath owned. He kept half of them in the
basement and half of them in his car.
Regardless of the obstacles, I had to hear this song and I was going to do
whatever it took. When I got inside the house, I followed the plan. I went into the
basement to play Nintendo. I even went as far as turning on the video game so the
noise would make it seem like I was playing—very clever for a kid.
I proceeded into Heath’s room and found his collection under his bed.
I opened the first ten-pound CD case and found a light blue CD with black letters
spelling Weezer. Very minimalist, a perfect expression of its time. I decided to
start with this one. So I took the disk from the case and put it into the sound system
my brother took so much pride in.
The first song came on. I knew for a fact that this wasn’t the band, but I
couldn’t get myself to turn it off. The first line was so catchy! “My name is Jonas./
I’m carrying the wheel. Thanks for all you’ve shown us./This is how we feel.” It was
so good I had to keep listening to this CD until the end. About halfway through,
a song came on called “the sweater song “or “undone.” This song was so damn
good, I almost started crying. The perfect depiction of a typical teen’s every day.
With a catchy melody and honest challenges.
Before the song was over, I thought I heard a reverb coming from outside. I turned the volume down a little. The reverb was still coming. I realized I
was hearing Heath singing along with the CD: “If you want to destroy my sweater
/ pull this string as I walk away.” I was trapped inside his room. There was nothing
I could do except say a quick prayer and hope that he would go easy on my beating.
Before he entered, I think he already knew what he was going to do to me. He
walked in still singing the tune, turned to me, and said, “Do you like these guys?”
That was a relief. I answered, “Yea, I love these guys! But I was looking
for a song I heard on the radio.” He helped me find that song by the Smashing
Pumpkins and so much more. I owe my brother Heath a million thanks for opening the world of music to me.
Brice McGill Creative nonfiction 19
Brice McGill Creative nonfiction 18
Inspiration in the Basement
My Brother, the Astronaut
My brother is an astronaut
with a PhD in astrophysics.
He went to the moon to start a life –
only packed a turntable and Vanilla Ice.
My brother is an astronaut.
He’s always been a little different.
He’s lived life with his head in the sky.
It’s only right he now lives among the stars.
1st Bass
Bravely scared as I walked those familiar four blocks. Equal parts youthful resolution and complete new-beginning mystery. It was going to be different.
I had already spent most of my school life in band, and THIS was not an addition to THAT. I was fifteen, old enough to mow the grass for a couple bucks. Old
enough to bust the suds at a local Middle Eastern restaurant for some get-around
money. Old enough to realize I was not walking those four blocks the same way I
had each day . . . to the bus stop, from the bus stop. I was nervously keep-it-inside
walking. Walking to the neighborhood music store, blades-of-grass-cut-shortturned-to-dollar-bills-in-my-front-pocket walking. Walking to a beat in my head,
a pulse of something that added to the motion of . . . either my footsteps were
the beat, or they were trying to fit in, like when Happy Birthday isn’t completely
together. But, looking back even then, the moment-to-moment turned tapping to
rhythm, turned inside a jukebox that was being built . . . or maybe I came into the
world with a jukebox already plugged in.
After the walking there . . . the song of stepping, there was the walking
IN. For anyone who devours music, walking into a music store feels like the place
in tornado alley where the cold and the warm air meet. Once inside, I had the kidstaring-at-not-one-but-many-cookie-jars “feeling.” Where to begin my nibbling?
I was known in that store, having taken trumpet lessons for almost two years. To
be clear, and fair, my trumpet lessons were not in the most recent two years. They
were “back then,” back when I was young and everyone played some kind of band
instrument. As I entered, I was greeted by Gene who ran the place like I had just
walked into his living room. He was that knower-of-all-names of all the kids from
all the years. He said “hi” the way you do when you don’t actually speak a word, the
way you take an audience on a musical journey with no words. Gene ran his music
store with a smile that talked; he just gave you a look of hello and that made sense.
It was no real secret. There was no more hovering to be done. I had
walked through those doors, past Gene, past the trumpet books, to the back wall
many times of late. The back was where my deep waters started. The further back
Jeff Bailey Creative nonfiction 21
Ivonne Padilla POEM
My brother is an astronaut.
He lives on another planet.
He owns a customized suit
that comes paired with the newest Jordans.
The Subtle Art of Joyful Noise
I went, the closer I got to the beginning of my next chapter . . . the back was where
my “it’s time” lived. Where the too-much-pop-poured-at-one-time-over-theedge excitement fizzled. I had stood there thinking through the hows and whys.
Thinking about the singular black bass. Not like a case full of trumpets, or a whole
row of generic flutes, the one bass sat on its thin throne of a stand. Black with that
circle of white in the center, neck stretching out like a musical periscope. Maybe it
knew, looking at me all those times, when I would come in to check in on what was
to be. Maybe if I hadn’t been so preoccupied with what I was feeling when I visited,
I would have heard the talking in that no-words kinda way, telling me the time was
right. That back wall royalty was not what it appeared. It existed to be in the mix
below and inside the gumbo of creating. To make music. To be hanging around
my neck, wood to hip, hand to wand, like in the pictures on the album covers:
Rush, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Jimi Hendrix, Bad Brains, Bootsy, Jamaaladeen
Tacuma, Jaco, Stanley, and so many more.
I still remember the wise words Gene had for me that day, while I stood
at the counter with lawn-mowing money, trumpet boredom, and a dash of courage. Ringing up the bass, pulling out the front pocket wad of cash, putting it in its
cardboard box of a case, Gene said, for the first time using his words, “Good idea
playing bass instead of guitar. You’ll always get lots more gigs. Everybody needs a
good bass player.”
The door slamming behind me. I was on the street again, one of the
many moving parts of this day’s comings and goings. I’m sure I looked classic. Tall
skinny brown kid, holding a cheapy Lotus bass guitar hidden away behind a tall
skinny brown box . . . exactly just too big to hold simply, walking as if he were holding some ancient sacred scroll. As I walked home, I thought out loud inside my
head, mapping out which songs I was going to learn first, which musical potions
I would learn to conjure. The list was written and erased, written and rewritten
many times during those four blocks home. Four familiar blocks, four beats to a
bar, four million gigs, playing and unplaying many times over.
The beginning of a thing is funny. It is a place in time to reflect on, a collection of seeds to soil, of far-back-looking-alone time. A choosing to practice how
these pieces fit together IN SOUND, and the power of learning how to unfit them.
A look at what I used to think was playing bass, and now think more clearly is a life
creating music. The day music leapt off the page, out of the school band room,
out from inside my speakers, from behind the frozen pictures of my favorite band
album cover, into the realm of self-creation, composition, and, most beautifully,
improvisation. Bravely scared, and on my way.
Doug Nelson
My old high school band director used to have a saying, “The more you
practice, the more you realize you cannot play.” I was explaining this musical mantra to my mom after a frustrating bass lesson one day by adding, “You must learn
what to practice from a real bass player before you can sound like a bass player who
cannot play.” These were the tenuous rules of beginning level bass lessons:
1. Store sticks you with a guitar player who needs extra hours.
2. Said bass teacher/guitar player is functional at best because, well . . .
3. Most bass students quit just before the guitar-turned-bass pro is asked
to show them the “get down to it” licks.
I was that kid, the one who wanted to “get serious” . . . and it was obvious
that we, both of us sitting in that tiny 4 X 4 private lesson room knew the score.
Like any good fifteen-year-old kid who wants to make a point, I had my mom call
the store and threaten to cancel lessons UNLESS . . . I get a real bass player bass
teacher. That very next week I met Doug Nelson. He met me in the hallway of the
row of lesson rooms in the basement. Doug was a Rock Star. He looked like Rod
Stewart plus thirty pounds. He was bigger than life: wild bleach blond, dyed-todeath hair, cigarette going at all times (and one in the ashtray), and he played the
bass with an amazing casual arrogance. Like I said, he was a rock star. We went into
a lesson “nook,” and an hour later I crawled out, excited, exhausted, and needing
to go straight home . . . needing time to sort through what just happened. Each
week I would go into the lesson cave and come out with another small star of an
idea to place into the night of my musical world.
Then one day Doug had some news. He had decided to leave the store.
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He said he had too much to do outside of teaching and this would be our last lesson. Most of that lesson was us talking. By the end of the hour, Doug had agreed to
keep me on as his one, come-to-his-house-for-the-lesson, private student.
Doug had a little apartment by the lakes. He would often answer the door
wearing only boxers, a T-shirt, a cigarette, and an apologetic smile that said, “Is
it three in the afternoon already?” Our lessons flew by. There was no secret—just
Doug playing little musical wonders right in front of my ears. Me witnessing all
the slight finger adjustments, seeing how the notes became sound . . . ideas into
motion. Doug and I became friends . . .well, more like he accepted his role as
my mentor. We would talk music, and walk to get coffee and pizza if the spirit so
moved us. The lessons became hangout sessions with no real ending, other than
my need to go home and do homework. He would sneak me in to see the bands he
was playing in, “ok” wink to the bouncer as we slid through the back door, through
the kitchen and into the darkness of those wonderfully filthy clubs, full of beer,
and smoke, and loudness.
My Doug years. I studied with him for just over two years. After that, we
just kept in touch. I was starting a band; he was busy gigging, but he would stop
in sometimes to catch me playing and yell-talk, “I shouldn’t have shown you all
the hip shit, man, you’re gonna play me out of a gig . . . ah what-the-fuck it’s just
music.” Doug finally got a great touring gig with international exposure. He was
on the road, playing, making videos, living the dream.
Many years passed before we were able to meet for drinks at his favorite
bar. He was happy. Later that winter, home for just a day or two from a long 6-8
week tour, my cell phone rang. Me standing in the middle of the Mall of America
searching for stupid, meaningless gifts for people who needed nothing. Juice asked
if I had heard. Dougie . . . my bass hero . . . my mentor was gone. He had been hit
by a truck and was dead. I dropped onto one of those metal benches in the mall
meant for senior citizens and parents with crying little kids. At that moment I was
old. I was an infant who didn’t know where he was. I stared at the santa displays full
of plastic snow, but inside I was far away. I had already run to the bookshelf in my
brain’s library and was flipping through my Doug books, all the volumes in rapid-
fire mode. My memories of knowing him, of feeling so alive in music around
him. It had been over 15 years since I last knocked on Doug’s door at three in the
afternoon. It had been less than a year since we had raised our glasses and laughed
the winter blues away. Forever I will think of him and remember everything he did
for me as a young kid who had caught the bass bug, as much a musical interest as
it was a gigantic musical paddle rowing me away, in those quiet practice moments,
from a world full of teenage crumblings and family crises.
Soul Reaction
My high school years brought another big change in my life—Soul Reaction. Four young brothers out to prove we had “IT”! We got together, worked
through riffs, and sorted material. This new collaboration was completely
different from all those solitary, monk-like, meditative hours practicing. My
house was HQ, which, roughly translated, meant my mom had ok’d the noise
after school. Two to three days a week, we would meet by the parking lot door after
the school bell rang, carpool the two-and-half miles to my house, and commence
the sonic war.
Martin was a shredder on guitar and had already toured the US with a
thrash band. Malo, the shortie fifteen-year-old had pipes for days, and my guy
Aron was, well, equal parts talented drummer and crazy techie geek. We were a
band. A four-tet. Like many life-changing events this snuck up on all of us. We
opened the window, ushered in the wind, and were surprised the papers were
blown off the desk. A band was a big deal, a commitment, a mission. Soon after we
started those rehearsals, word got around, mostly because Martin spread it around
that we were ready for our first gig. These weren’t actually the words I thought we
had agreed to use, but Marty . . . Martin, he was a say-yes-build-it-later kinda
guy. Several weeks later, the night of our first gig came. First gigs are not typically
headliner gigs. We were typical. We set up, soundchecked first, as openers do, and
went for a bite to eat to have our S.Q.U.I.B.T. Special, Quiet, Un, Interrupted,
Band, Time was very important, just a moment to gather ourselves together. I
would usually start with some words I deemed VERY deep . . . staring into each
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face with serious eyes . . . ,”friendship, and, and . . .” Usually right about then,
Martin would cut in with a perfectly-timed joke. This was what we did. This was
our way of getting to that place that pushes through into beyond the right now.
Our little pre-game locker room pep talk, except, we were both the players and the
Back into the club filled with bodies. This shit is real now, gentle sirs. This is not my
basement. We walked onto stage. I closed my eyes. And then, it was over! What happened? I mean I was there, but I was also not there. I looked down at the set list on
the floor. It looked like a surrender flag to me—the song titles the signatures of the
generals we had outsmarted. The music, the words, the motion, the playing that
section twice . . . that was my music. I felt as if we had fallen straight onto our feet,
cat-style! We rushed to pack up our gear, grab a drink, and sell our cassette tapes to
our first-ever fans. Soul Reaction was on the map.
The next year was intense. Lots of basement time. Lots of gigs: 7th St.
Entry, First Avenue, stage diving, Best New Band of the Twin Cities, Midwest
Showcases, and more. We were the Pre-Living Color Twin City Darlings. But
something was changing. I had started school. I had decided to make music my
homework. I was deep inside the thises and the thats of how music beams got put
into place. How towers of sound came into being, Bach and Bird, Coltrane changes, and third species counterpoint. That searcher inside of me wanted more. That
unstill nature had crept back in. Looking back, I think I wanted more height, more
up-and-out for each bounce I took. I knew inside this was a deal breaker for me
AND the band. I bowed out of Soul Reaction. Packed my musical things. There
was more exploring to do, more letting go, more music to sink into.
The University of Minnesota Bullshit Factor
Making music my homework came with lots of challenges. Stressful challenges. Having only ever played electric bass, I assumed I would play electric bass
in music school, to use the musical tool of my choosing to play the same notes
as everybody else. Don’t ever assume! The University of Minnesota School of
Music did not, and to my knowledge does not to this day, consider ANY electric
instrument “real,” which for me was a very big “small rub” in my master plan.
There is no real work for an electric bass to be not electric, hmmmmm? I felt
like I was a circus bozo—jumping through hoops, deflecting constant attempts
to dissuade me from pursuing music, struggling to get the proper names on the
proper documents.
All the gigs and accomplishments of my former life meant nothing in
these walls of learning. Apparently only Art Songs and Euro-centric orchestra
music were worthy of praise. I still wanted more. More insight into how this machine of music worked. My goal was to enroll in the Jazz Program, to avoid those
people and their pointy fingers altogether. Finally, I decided I would jump into
the Matrix and challenge things from within, so I dove in headfirst and bought an
acoustic bass.
The bass dealer was my bass teacher-to-be James Clute. He was nothing like Doug. I remember walking into James Clutes’ house, suit of armor in the
doorway, dark and classic. Up the stairs to his music salon where he produced several basses for my inspection, which made no sense, because I had no idea where
to start or what to inspect. He offered up the notion that perhaps he should play
the different instruments to allow me a listener’s ear. This is what we call in the
business a bailout.
He began simply, then added, and built, crawling along the neck, horsehair bow being drawn across strings without effort. He stopped and gave me a
look, a look that asked three or four things at once. A silent giving to me his likes
and dislikes about what he heard. I thought it best to nod back. I didn’t give him
that big nod that might give away too much. I went with the gentle, amused, somewhat pensive, pleasantly vague nod. Without a word, he agreed, and went on to the
next bass. Mr. Clute played the same passage, the same notes as before. This time
more confidently with more let-me-show-you-what-could-be-ness.
When he finished, he put the bass down and turned to face me, “Well?”
I thought for a moment, allowing the conversation to happen inside my head.
The first one did sound way better, fuller and richer, but knowing my budget was
the deciding factor, I led with the all-important question, “How much do they
cost?” Clute explained that the first bass was an old German Flatback from the
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James Clute: The Art of the Transition Lessons
When you enter a martial arts studio, you typically bow to show honor for those who have come before you, the ancestors, the tradition. I felt like I
should be somehow paying my respects, holding this strange wooden beast for my
first lesson, my head thinking if I unfolded this thing, if I ironed my “new to me”
plywood bass out flat, it would be the wood floor of any ancient Dojo. Stare into
the mirror as I play, watch the angle, pivot the arm just so . . . like learning the
stances and positions from a sensei, who is circling around me like an entire flock
of buzzards picking at their next near-dead victim.
This was not my happy place. This was not something MORE connected
with the magic of music. It was hell. It was Navy Seal boot camp with push-ups, and
rope climbing, and learning the art of gentle sawing. The lessons were a slap in the
face. In reality they only stung the ego a little, but the body blows were more painful, and they came from me. As for all doubting Thomases, the extreme “Brain’s
Brain’s” damage is done by ourselves, to ourselves. That doorway at the back of the
logical brain that leads to circle thinking, self doubt, and trouble. I was putting in
the hours. I was “in the shed” as they called it, practicing for eight to ten hours a
day. Putting rosin to bow, to string, to squeak after squeak. Those were dark days.
They were continuous back-to-back moments of quiet panic. A kind of unspoken
disaster filled my thoughts, bringing to mind my first first-grade bicycle accident.
Lessons with Clute were booked in a way that would please any board of
directors or investment group. They were scheduled for maximum use of time,
AND maximum financial return. Like that childhood trick the older sister plays
on her younger brother. Mom said share, so here we go . . . one for you, one for
me, one more for you makes two, so two more for me . . . the saying it seems fine,
but the actual doing of it . . . not so much. Clute booked his half-hour lessons back
to back to back, touching each other like too many people on an elevator in the
summer, with no air conditioner.
I would unpack my bass, tune up, and begin. First, was always a recap of
the previous week’s assignment. These sixteen bars . . . all down bows or exercise
number fourteen in E flat major using only the D and G strings. Clute was a man
of many talents. He would turn away from me, give me his back, looking out the
window at the day giving itself over to the day. I remember feeling unsettled by
this, and by “unsettled” I mean frustrated. Clute would lift his hand just so when
he heard a mistake that needed fixing. These exercise books were THE map, and
how to’s—they were for each new student a proving ground. A printed battlefield.
Clute knew these pages. They were written to present musical hurdles, so each
student faced the same troubles . . . insert the raising hand of one unwatching
teacher here.
The second half of the lesson was to consist of sight reading the next assignment. We never got to this point, EVER! Twenty minutes into my private lesson, his doorbell would ring that old-house-butler-in-black-tails sounding ring.
Clute’s giant-sized poodle would jump to attention, nose leading the way back and
forth between turn of the century windows, past my holding-pattern place to the
salon door only loosely shut for pretend privacy. Clute would, each time, look up
into a corner of the room where the walls met the ceiling, where he kept his invisible calculator. He would pause for effect, adding up the money minutes or hitting
the equals button to see the new total in the air, or both. This was his “who could
that be?” routine. He would have to excuse himself from his back-turned window
perch to get the door, and leave me my mini assignment while he was gone, “Play
the section you just played, but slower. I’ll be back in just a moment.”
The sound of the familiar would follow Clute back upstairs. Young student voice eager for instruction, searching for ascending commonality with the
master sensei, creaky stairs too old to care how many had climbed up and down in
search of refinement. Twenty-one minutes into my thirty-minute private lesson
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early 1900s and cost $8,000, and the second, a beat-up plywood which went for
Driving home that day from Clute’s, my beautiful $1,500 plywood bass
in the back of my car, I found myself having that same feeling I had walking into
the music shop. A feeling of future, a sprinkle of nerves, and a dash of crazy . . .
what was I doing?
and now there were two. Clute would return to his politely ignoring big-backed
chair, casually instructing me to play again that same section . . . the slow version,
while at the same time instructing the next student to unpack his bass in preparation for his private twenty-one to thirty minute lesson. Without fail, this arrivedearly next student was a seasoned classical pro of a student.
So there we all were . . . the teacher looking out the window, the next student behind me holding his expensive vintage orchestral bass waiting for the clicks
to add up to his turn, and me in the middle, knowing neither one of them cared
about me. I was taking up that slice of space between them getting on with more
crafty and serious lessons, and me getting the fuck out of there . . . pride battered,
but not broken. Climb up the stairs each week to get knocked down. This was the
paradox: I left the lesson Dojo near tears many nights, near white flag of surrender
many times. But, the delicious taste of small victories was enough, somehow. That
one bite of chocolate, the first warm spring gust of, the end of the first week of a
new workout plan . . . walking to jogging, to slow run, to sweaty completion. One
scale at a time, one knowing that slowly this grabbing at air, this mopping with dirty
water and calling it clean, this quarter being pulled from behind the earmagic was
making sense. Not in that it’s all clear, but more in that math teacher “show your
work” way. The page of scribble that is equal in value to the actual right answer.
After a few months, I wasn’t embarrassed to bring the Upright to school,
to practice next to anyone. Sing your Aria! Try to trombone me to death! It won’t
work! I will not fail. The power of the simple was emerging. By that, I mean, I was
not afraid to be inside of simple. My mind was letting go of the seeing of it all. My
heart’s hearing of the music was growing fast. Practice was, and is, the systematic
creating of sound for the sake of knowing how to successfully recreate those sounds
when needed. Like Clute said, “Play it again, but slower . . .”
Jazz, the Real World, and Other Pretend Things Made of Noise
We were a small but mighty tribe. We had not intended to be together
like this, friends as we were. We spent our days together in school, our nights
together in basements, or by the stereo, or in a club. One by one, we had found
each other, had stumbled into each other’s “not the sameness.” The hallway of any
music school is a roll call on what people are trying to accomplish, and so it was
for us: room F3 Bach, D2 trumpet long tones, room A2 Donna Lee. Wait! What?
That confused hallway moment when you slow down to suss out where that sound
is coming from. What practice room is filling up with the sounds of fresh, of alive,
something not-so-dead composer from 1756.
Like I said, we found each other, cause we had to. Inside the walls of this
very Euro-centric classical music school were, in small numbers, those of us who
wanted something completely different. Whether it was pop drumming dreams of
stadium tours, or a New York City late night Jazz scene . . . we spent hours and
hours talking about, playing about the how to’s of making it sound like. . . something new. Something from US that we blindly and joyfully offered up, into the
boiling pot, changing the taste ever so slightly.
Nicki on piano, Dave on drums, Mark on horn, Nate on organ, and me
on bass. We would play a song; we would play two bars of a song for an hour just
to see what sound we could get to. Looking back, I know so fully that more than
half of music school for me, the joy inside the pain in the ass, was becoming lifelong friends with these musicians. This group, these and a few others. . . we were
out there doing it. In the real world, outside the protective walls of academia. We
started getting gigs. We started getting gigs and getting each other on those gigs.
Let me say this and get it out of the way. There isn’t a gig I haven’t played.
I don’t mean that as a generic blanket statement. I mean I have played them all:
polka weddings with seventy-year-old pranksters, smoky blues clubs with guys who
wouldn’t talk to you all night long, jazz cats that made me responsible for “being,”
for playing the ocean, the waves carrying the piano player “boat” underneath the
rays of a sax player’s ray beams during our collective one song-free jam hour set,
to modern gospel . . . and all points: bebop, salsa, and brown-eyed girl . . . in between. I have made the mistake of not asking beforehand and getting paid pennies
for a night’s work. I have taken my share of strangers throwing $100 bills in the tip
I remember standing in Donald Washington’s basement one New Year’s
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The Subtle Art of Joyful Noise
night. He had invited people over for a New Year’s jam session. We started playing at
10 pm and didn’t stop until 2 am. This was not your average get-together. Monster
musicians were in the house, off-the-charts talent, but Donald always has a twist.
After about 20 minutes, Mr. Washington changed it up. Ok. People switch. JB you play
drumset. He himself switched from saxophone to rainstick. We brought in the New
Year playing instruments we knew almost nothing about. Creating sound we were
serious about. That, along with many Mr. Washington moments, changed the ways
I heard music. The simple challenge, that which seems the most important, is to
achieve some mastery over your axe, my bass . . . my vertical record player. But that
is the not nearly half the battle. The call to arms is to PLAY past that urge . . . to a
place where the notes give way to something much bigger, much grander. Like being
dropped off in a foreign country with no translator. Make it about something more
than what you know . . . how you would choose to communicate.
The Subtle Art of Joyful Noise
Numbers stacked. Overseas tours, country club socials, one-hand clapping dives, and years having passed as they do. The time-telling which we think
we hold firmly is a ghost, is a mouthing of the words only. I stand taller than ever
before. More proud of how I hear music. The version of humble and fearless I am
willing to offer up is much more than before, much more than playing the right
notes, or reading the page from top left to bottom right. What is there to tell yourself that isn’t already inside waiting to be heard? Don’t we know our own soft spots?
Aren’t we fishtailing away from the way we hear our own most inside observers?
The beginning is never singular like we think. Like I thought. Like I told
myself when I walked out of that music store with the Lotus bass in hand, young
and daring, and desirous of something stupendous! We are next to, and along
side, and amongst others as we raise the courage to leap. From Lotus to Acoustic Bass madness, from playing the notes that are inside the lines, the nervous
kindergartener etching in the picture, crayons sticky with focus, to a free-falling
fearlessness—arms wide open to earth fast approaching. The wonderment of music
is an ever-expanding world too massive to ever claim a true bird’s eye view. I am a
willing wonderer not afraid of the Etch-a-sketch, to see it blackened with beauty, to
see it gracefully shaken clean like the end of a marathon jam session, no audience,
no desired goal but to do. Like skydiving from 13,000 feet. No audience to hear
your thoughts, to listen, and answer. No witness to when and how you put fingers
to strings. The coming out of the sky, the wind pulling the tethers . . . me pulling
those strings in time with the pinging of a cymbal—air, getting out of the way as it
does. Music remains as mysterious as skydiving upwards, connecting me to where
I started back through time. Four familiar blocks, walking a bassline that you can’t
hear unless you listen close.
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words run from this page
afraid of being caught
i wander to the end of the world
gathering them all up
in a net of breath
and gates of teeth
a wave of tongue
I’ll rock them to sleep
carry them safely to
white fields to eat and eat and eat
like growing caterpillars
among these folding leaves
The Spirit of Improvisation
To prepare each note of a solo “improvisation” in jazz music is to undermine the very spirit of improvisation. Yet that is exactly how I won the pianist
position in the ninth grade jazz ensemble. Six years later, my tumultuous relationship with this idiom was reinforced when a similar plan went awry. The experience made me realize that an audience is not a witness to improvisation but a vital
participant in its spontaneous energy.
In junior high, I played violin in the orchestras and sang in the choirs,
but what I really wanted to do was play piano in the jazz band. Nothing compared
to the feelings that surged through me when I heard that ensemble play. I liken
these feelings to what I felt as a kid on a bike zipping wildly through the lines of
the high school marching band while it rehearsed. The primal vibrations of chestthumping beats and sassy brass and flashing knees aroused in me a reckless energy
that made participation an absolute necessity.
The jazz ensemble evoked a similar desire to participate, so I tried out for
it. I was surprised and unnerved to see there were so many witnesses at the auditions. Spectators spilled out into the hallway, while inside the steamy band room,
bodies were tucked in pockets all around the periphery, lurking with an eerie silence. I thought I would burst with the pounding of my heart and the heat of the
ace I had up my sleeve.
My mother had helped me prepare a really swingin’ “improvised” solo,
and I knew it was a winner. When I finished playing it, the witnesses grunted
“Yeah!” and hooted and whistled and clapped. I assumed this lively response was
because my performance was not only well-executed but stylistically appropriate.
After all, it was composed by a pianist who played jazz in the Big Band era. Impressing the audience that day meant that I had won a contest.
There were many fun times playing in the jazz ensembles throughout
high school. The music was dynamic and engaging, and our playing was enhanced
by spirited teachers who would challenge us. Together we would bring home
trophies from competitions. But for all my enjoyment, I experienced an equal
amount of agony arising from the issue of improvisation.
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Ross Charmoli POEM
Without Words
I was completely comfortable reading and, to some extent, interpreting
what was printed on my piano parts. It was safe to experiment amidst the security
of the band’s large sound when I thought no one could hear me. But when it was
time to take a solo, the printed parts left me floundering like a fish out of water.
Suddenly the necessary information was a secret that I did not have access to. Instead of showing me the voicings, rhythms, and melodic lines I needed to play, the
page displayed some sort of cryptic code. I only recognized letters that vaguely resembled chord symbols. Everything else was numbers and pound signs and minus
signs and strange graphics that I did not understand and that my classical piano
teacher could barely address.
While the concept of jazz and its spirit of improvisation seem rather
simple, its language is not. I did not possess the vocabulary to speak in the idiom,
and therefore felt incapable of improvising or even preparing what I deemed to be
valid musical statements. It never occurred to me that improvisation might involve
something more than just musical skills. As I saw it, my feeble attempts were a waste
of an audience’s attention, and to be forced to do it anyway made me constantly
After high school, I decided I was through with those stomach aches and
butterflies and would not play in another jazz ensemble. When the college jazz
band director asked me to play piano in his group, I declined. Yet, he frequently
continued to ask because he was desperate to fill the position and apparently had
no other options. Finally, I gave in and joined the group, sensing that this was
something I was supposed to do as part of a bigger, yet unknown plan.
So I martyred my guts for over two more years of countless days when
I’d be walking to rehearsal, sweating bullets and desperately praying that today
we wouldn’t do the songs I had solos in. I made lofty promises to change my life
and discard all bad habits if just this once I could be spared, again. Sometimes it
worked, and other times we’d run those songs mercilessly.
It seemed that, for some twisted reason, arrangers liked to have the entire band of nearly twenty people fall completely silent when there’s a piano solo,
without even the drums or bass or a guitar for support. They want you completely
naked in a spotlight, with all eyes on you and a quiet in the room that would amplify a dropped pin to a deafening level.
Fortunately, when I was faced with this scenario in an arrangement from
West Side Story, I at least had some ideas of what to do, because I knew the music
from that play. So planning for this spectacle of musical nudity was simply a creative puzzle of piecing together some melodies. I practiced for long hours in the
musty stench of my basement before finishing my masterpiece and memorizing
every note of the “improvised” solo.
The setting for the performance was much more intimate than usual,
as the stage had been lowered flush to the first row of seats and the piano was set
further down in front rather than in its usual spot toward the back of the band.
Consequently, I was closer to the audience, and the full house of bodies nearly surrounded me from all sides, extending up into the unseen reaches of the balcony.
I thought I would burst with the pounding of my heart in anticipation
of my big moment in the spotlight. When it finally arrived, I began playing with
a confident tone that cut through the thick silence of the hall and commanded
attention with its premeditated authority. This lasted for only a brief moment,
however, as suddenly my mind went completely blank. I was so unnerved that I
broke the first rule of performance: I stopped playing. In past musical crises, I
could at least keep a momentum going while faking something and then the muscle
memory would kick in and I’d be back on track again. But not this time. I stopped
cold and immediately felt a collective gasp in the room. Then the presence of the
surrounding beings overwhelmed me with an energy that was surprisingly warm
and encouraging. So I took a deep breath and just started recklessly wailing away on
the keyboard.
This was the first time I ever experienced such a tremendous amount
of energy translate through my fingers. It started because I was embarrassed and
angry that I was once again forced to improvise, but I had never attempted it with
such complete abandon and honesty. When my “masterpiece” went awry, the resulting improvisation was fueled by the empathy of the audience, and when I finally finished playing, people exploded in applause, hollers, whistles and shouts
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The Spirit of Improvisation
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Yeah, Go Ahead and Clap
that seemed to go on forever. I was completely shocked, for I was certain I had just
blathered on in a stream of unmusical nonsense. The heartfelt response told me
I was relieved to finally learn an important lesson about improvisation.
It involves much more than skills and strategies. At its heart lies honesty and spirit.
What matters most is not what you say but how you say it.
The experience made me realize that an audience is not a witness to
improvisation but a vital participant in its spontaneous energy. Audiences want
to hear what musicians have to offer. And when a musician plays with a spirit of
giving, the energy in the room takes on a glorious life of its own. When I had no
choice but to offer a raw and unbridled musical expression, I was rewarded with an
overwhelming gratitude. I found that to put fears of inadequacy aside and just go
for it is to truly share my unique talent, skills and musicianship. That’s the spirit
of improvisation.
It’s 11 pm. I am very tired, and somehow I pull out my Contemporary
Literature music guitar scores for the next day. They’re hard; I know, but I have to
learn them. I learn the basics first, and then I start dabbling with the more complex
lines; one by one, I try to learn them all. Then I forget them. I pull out my metronome and try again. Its 12 am already. Now it’s time to learn the solo. What a day,
but I love this! There is something in me telling me that I can’t be unprepared for
this class, and in order to do my best I have to know these songs by heart.
My past experiences have affected the kind of guitar player and student I
am. When I was little, I had a really strict classical guitar teacher. This forced me to
acquire a lot of discipline. As a teenager, and no longer in classical guitar lessons, I
lost a lot of the musical discipline I had acquired, and suffered greatly when I went
to study abroad for a year. I played shows for classes, and people would clap, so I
assumed I was playing well. And then I would get my teacher’s feedback, and it was
usually negative. I met a lot of dedicated people during that time, and figured out
I had to be like them to become the player I wanted to be. This is how I discovered
there are different types of guitar players, and regained my discipline.
There are three types of guitar players. The first group are those who
have the natural talent to be good but don’t put in the time to build on their talent.
These are the guys that could get the songs down perfectly but choose not to because they would rather party the whole weekend (not like they don’t get enough of
it the other five days of the week). The other day in class, I was waiting for my turn
to play. I watched a couple of guys perform, and they didn’t sound very good. The
guitar player had awful tone and didn’t play the notes in the solo. The solo went by
and people, including me, started clapping. But why was I clapping? “Don’t clap,”
said my friend sitting next to me, “That was really bad.” He was right. Clapping for
him probably didn’t help him. He might have thought that he was really good, and
now he is probably doing the minimum amount of work. He will never improve
this way. A friend of mine who wanted to be a guitar player, and had the talent for
it, was one of these musicians. Now instead of being a well-known performer, he
is studying business.
Arthur Davis Creative nonfiction 39
The Spirit of Improvisation
The second group are those that put in the time but have a hard time
with the basics. These guys try really hard, but, sadly, they lack the natural talent
and are not cut out for this. Like I am not cut out for cooking school. There is a
guitar player in the school that didn’t pass his first semester guitar exams. He tries
hard, but the guitar is really difficult for him. He can play some chords, but he is
not made for serious guitar performance. Encouraging him now by clapping could
send him the wrong message. In the future, he is not going to be ready for professional life. I’ve seen people like this who, early on, realize that they are putting
their effort in the wrong place. Instead they decide to study something else that in
the end makes them happier.
The third and last group are those who work hard and have a lot of talent to exploit. Some of them are really experienced, and they put in ridiculous
amounts of time to keep improving. Others are less experienced, but their hard
work and talent will eventually take them far. One student I know always surprises
me with his highly advanced solos; they reflect his practice habits. Clapping for this
group encourages them to continue working to improve their skills. It makes them
love what they do. This support will make them succeed in the professional world.
A drummer I met in 2007 practiced at least eight hours a day on top of his classes. Now he is touring with Love Amongst Ruin, a well-known band based out of
the UK.
I did a music performance course before coming here that taught me a
lot. We had to perform every Tuesday and do a bigger concert every three months.
After some solos, I remember, people didn’t clap; and I can tell you it helped me
a lot. At the end of the year, only the best performers got to be at the graduation
show, and I wasn’t one of them. Not being on stage that night, but instead being
in the crowd like so many others, made me disappointed in myself. I knew that if
I had been more dedicated I could’ve been up there. When people don’t clap for
you, it forces you to realize that you aren’t trying hard enough. The people not
clapping for me made me realize that I had to spend less time dreaming of being
amazing, and more time practicing to become amazing. I have brought this experience to McNally Smith with me, and now I practice on average four hours a day. I
consider myself one of the players in the third group. I try very hard to do well, so
it frustrates me when others do not.
As you can see, I’ve had a lot of performance experience, but I still don’t
always get it right. I am not a professional. I have my bad days once in a while. After
all, we are only students; and one of the important aspects of being a student is to
make mistakes and learn from them.
So, next time you hear a guitar solo, don’t clap just for the sake of clapping. Think about how it’s going to affect the player. Make sure the guitar player
deserves it, or you could negatively affect somebody. The school and your own
peers are here to make you the best player you can be. The more prepared you are,
the more fun the music becomes to play. And furthermore, the experience is more
enjoyable for your audience. It’s Sunday night, and I’d rather be sleeping, but here
I am practicing my solos. I know someday I’ll be as good as Paul Bollenback, and all
this hard work will pay off. Until then, you’ll find me in a practice room.
Arthur Davis Creative nonfiction 41
Arthur Davis Creative nonfiction 40
Yeah, Go Ahead and Clap
I was born in 1989 into a half-musical family. My father was a guitar
player, teaching and gigging in Boston, Massachusetts. He had been playing guitar
since he was twelve years old, playing in bars since he was fourteen, and playing
more professionally (in nicer bars) since he was seventeen. So, needless to say,
music has been a very important part of my life.
Except for a brief stint with a saxophone in elementary school, my
mother is not a musician. She goes from art (fashion, graphic design, jewelry) to
business (administration, mostly) every few years, and is usually somewhere inbetween the two, if she can help it. She doesn’t have much interest in being in the
music industry.
When I was a young child, my father was teaching and taking classes at
Berklee. I would often go with him to the music theory and guitar performance
classes he taught. I would look over the homework he would be doing and grading
and try to figure out what it all meant.
He shared an office with three other faculty members. One of them
played piano and looked remarkably like Jonathan Frakes (who played Commander Riker on Star Trek, which I would watch every weekend before the Headbanger’s Ball with my cousins and mother) and would teach me little songs on his
keyboard. I don’t remember what many of the songs were, except for the funeral
song, but I remember that I enjoyed the sound and the mechanisms of the keyboard enough that my father brought me down to the little music store down the
block and bought me a small children’s keyboard.
I was four years old when I was able to read music, and six months later,
I was learning how to play the accordion. I loved the accordion as a young child,
for a few reasons; namely because I had two of them in my name waiting for me
in Minnesota from a family member, because I loved Cajun music, and because I
enjoyed Weird Al Yankovic.
My parents asked me what instrument I wanted to learn, since I was getting bored with my keyboard, and I blurted out “Accordion!” It was a nice transition from my keyboard since the accordion was small and had a keyboard on one
side. It was a lovely little children’s learning accordion, about fifteen inches tall,
and it appeared to be made out of white marble. I thought that particular accordion was the loveliest thing I had ever seen.
They brought me to a small music shop in Danvers, a town outside of
Boston near Salem Village, to take accordion lessons from a saxophone player.
It was the end of summer, and the leaves were almost starting to change colors.
Nobody is quite sure why a saxophone player was teaching a four-year-old to play
accordion, or other kids to play various instruments, but that was what happened,
and he was a very good teacher. We went into a little room that had a really old,
dusty smelling piano in it. Most of the songs I learned were old standards, like “All
of Me,” polkas, and the provided material in the little textbooks that I had. I went
back every Tuesday for my lesson and got through the first textbook before I started
Unfortunately, when I was six years old, my classmates did not understand the music that I liked. They ruthlessly made fun of it, saying it was for old
people and that it was stupid and somehow made a relation between accordions
and farting. In hindsight, everybody made fun of everybody for everything, because that is what children do. I started to hide my instrument and pretended to
like rap and pop music. The popular song at my elementary school was “Gangstas
Paradise.” I officially put my little accordion to rest when I was eight years old and
we moved to Minnesota.
We moved partly so that my dad could work at a new college and partly to
be close to family. My father started to teach at Music Tech. The school was across
the street from Déjà Vu, a strip club in Minneapolis. Parents were not pleased
about this, and past the humor of it, neither was my father.
After we moved, I was distracted by being 2,000 miles away from home.
I floated for a few years, not really liking much music enough to try to play or actively listen to it, and not caring for many instruments. I heard N Sync when I was
ten; they were the closest thing to decent music aimed at my age group: their voices
weren’t obviously altered, they could dance AND sing, and they were not terrible
looking, whereas most of the boy bands did not fulfill those requirements.
Lily Stanton Creative nonfiction 43
Lily Stanton Creative nonfiction 42
Of Accordions, Guitars, Ukuleles
At twelve, I tried to learn how to play guitar. My father had attempted to
teach me how to play many times before that, but he always got frustrated or distracted because I flatly refused to practice. But, then I was interested again. I signed
up for a lesson with a college student at the YMCA and learned a few different
chords. The only space that they would allow him was a very small, three-by-fourfoot closet that had been used for cleaning supplies.
Up until this point, I had been listening to Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and all of the other music that a typical middleschooler of the time would
listen to. I decided to finally play guitar because I had started listening to 93X, the
rock radio station, instead of KDWB, the top 40 station. I was going through a
nineties phase, as I still do sometimes, and was listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and
Smashing Pumpkins. I really wanted to play these songs, though I cannot remember what songs they were.
I never got to the point of learning any songs, but I tried to. I still noodle
on my guitar sometimes, but no guitar-heavy music has quite caught my attention
like it did then.
I started high school at Minnesota Academy of Technology when I was
fourteen. My friend Natalie, who did not go to that school, decided it was time to
start going to concerts, by ourselves, in Minneapolis. In our freshman year, she
called me up and yelled into the phone “I got us tickets for Phantom Planet!” They
were the band that did the theme song for The O.C. The show was at a small club
in downtown Minneapolis, and the walls and ceilings were black, and the stage
seemed so large at the time. Being the daughter of a musician and spending an
alarming amount of time in bars and clubs as a young child, I had been to plenty
of shows before that, so none of this was news to me. But I saw how she loved the
environment, noise, and lighting, and decided that maybe there was something
special about seeing a band live. Natalie is still my concert buddy, and we see at least
two shows a year together, more if we’re in the same state at the right time.
I discovered the band AFI when they came out with the single “Girl’s Not
Grey,” and MTV even played it occasionally. Rock music was becoming big again. I
loved AFI, to the point of finding their albums and going to see one of their shows.
That was when I really understood what a live show was like when it was a band that
you actually liked. It was like being inside of the music.
After that, life went crazy. My school closed, and I again found myself
trying to fit in somewhere new. I started at a new high school called Avalon, and I
fit in nearly instantly there despite my shyness and awkwardness. I was distracted,
however, much like when we moved to Minnesota, so I was again floating. I still
went to shows, but my friends started giving me music to listen to, like screamo,
metal, horrorcore, and indie. I didn’t really think about music for myself, and I
didn’t really care for that music, other than the occasional metal band. I just listened to what they listened to and to what magazines and books and the radio told
me to listen to.
This lasted for three years, until I started my senior year of high school.
Around this time, I stumbled upon Moby again. I had been hearing his songs on
the radio and on TV and in commercials for years, but I had never really listened.
The song I heard was “Porcelain,” off the album Play. It was like water, like waves,
like everything I was feeling and had been feeling my whole life. It spoke to me.
Immediately after I had the revelation that “This man is incredible,” I went out
and bought his albums Play, Animal Rights, and Hotel. I have never found another artist
that I love and connect to more.
I was nineteen when I started college at McNally Smith. I never had
much interest in music as a career, but it was a full employee scholarship, so I tried
to jump right in. I wasn’t placed into any music classes until my second semester,
for which I was quite happy, and when I was, I just sort of did what I was supposed
to. I didn’t have any connection to or interest in music as I had had with my accordion.
And then, when I was twenty, my father bought me a ukulele.
He tried to hide the fact that he had bought it for me. He was preparing to go on the road for Shrek: the Musical, and was getting four new guitars, and
found that he also needed a ukulele. When the boxes finally came, a week late,
I had just come home from class. I helped him bring the boxes inside and open
them. When I saw the two little ukuleles, one bright blue with dolphins and one
a burgundy with flowers, I asked him “Why do you need five guitars and two
Lily Stanton Creative nonfiction 45
Lily Stanton Creative nonfiction 44
Of Accordions, Guitars, Ukuleles
“The guitars are all different. And I wanted them. I’m not sure why they
sent me two ukuleles, though . . . WHICH DO YOU LIKE BETTER?” He really
did nearly yell that out–he was so hyper about it. He’s always a bit hyper, and even
more so when he gets new guitars, but this was a bit excessive.
“Right . . . I like the pink one. I know you like the blue one.” (His favorite color is blue.)
“Okay!” After that little conversation, my father proceeded to teach me
“House of the Rising Sun” on my new ukulele, and I loved that when I was playing
it, I had the same feeling that I had when I was little, playing my accordion, and the
same feeling I had when I heard Moby for the first time. That feeling that no matter what happened in the world, everything would be okay, that I would be okay,
and that I could make things okay.
Dark Wave
Lily Stanton Creative nonfiction 46
Of Accordions, Guitars, Ukuleles
my cat hates water/the way i love you
– Allyson Gaietto
Home Sappy Home
hey, man
my cat hates water/the way i love you
with an askew view
of the world;
in an
“i need it, but i
can’t let it touch me”
sort of way.
i never said i wanted him
oh no, oh no
i would never wish a man
i just said
that if he happened to leave
for a more permanent amount of time
that there would be
a lighter chest on my part and
fewer problems in the long haul
Ross Charmoli INK AND MARKER
Allyson Gaietto Poem
hey / i never said i wanted him
Verse 1
Verse 2
y’see this one girl, she kinda reminds me of Blue Notes/
like bent and curving spines of folks who hung from ropes while muttering hopes
of/ maybe days of hands clutching things other than/
coiled fibre or spun harvest woven in attire/
she barely smiles,
frowns be home, scowls be government delegating muscles and/
she spends her free time fraternizing with the ill corners of her mind/
the frontal lobe, there she goes, there she goes/
escaping reality, and it’s a habit she, inherently, adapted from the maternal
capacitance that
once filled her habitat/
but now, is an empty cage, littered with hopes she buried in graves
when faces changed to unspoken names,/
when real things, became things then,/
and now she’s constantly mumbling, rumblings of promised lands/
may not be so far/
she’s embarking on a journey to a maybe, it’s a start
and that Maybe,
had her in heydays/ for momentary lapses of self hating for chasing
this destination/
but she’s waiting, such a slave to impatience/
but she’s just tired i guess, an unrest soul she is/
even her tears fall continuous/ watering the broken heart she harvest every
January 21st,
the worst coldest spring she knows/
unbalanced rhythms in her spirit even time her heart beats to sorrow so she can
hear it
sickness/ she blames the faulty neurons that must be sparking slow to brain
that she’s sure of/
so cures she’s praying for/ grace and mercy humbles
sore open chest wounds, she has yet to tend to/
for now she’s tumbling through, life’s broken glass lined avenues/
ever blue, never ceasing to, hum melodies of inconvenient truths/
so can you hear her?/ i wonder if we pull like paper can the agony tear her.../
i ask her this question in the mirror.
Yesha Townsend song lyrics
Yesha Townsend song lyrics
Blue Note
“We’re going to KFC,” says my friend as soon as I walk in the door. He’s
twenty-two and invincible. “There’s this new sandwich out. Well, it’s kind of a
sandwich. It’s bacon and cheese between two pieces of fried chicken.”
I gag a little, and he laughs.
“Seriously?” I ask. He nods.
“Put your shoes back on.”
I shake my head the whole way down to the parking garage. We find his
car, and as it starts up, I turn to him.
“Bacon, cheese, fried chicken?”
“Yep,” he replies, shortly.
“No lettuce, no bread, no vegetables at all?”
“Nope. With a side of potato wedges, if you want.”
“Dear God.”
The car exits the garage, and for the first time in several years, I find
myself in a vehicle moving towards a KFC.
As we pull up to the drive-through, I start feeling nervous. I am notorious among my friends for my fear of fast food. We drive up to the talking box, and
my friend orders without even knowing the item’s name. The teenage girl on the
other end has obviously been getting requests for this monstrosity all day, and immediately rings up the correct order using only his vague descriptions.
This fast food is disturbingly fast, and by the time we pull up to the second window and pay, it’s done. The girl behind the window hands my friend a
plastic bag filled with chicken and bacon and copious amounts of cheese. The moment of consumption is nearing.
My friend makes the executive decision to pull over into the parking lot;
we’ve brought a camera to document the experience. I flip the switch to “on.” “Am
I in focus?” he asks. I nod, and so he takes the box out.
I’m already laughing as he opens the box. This is so absurd. He lifts the
un-sandwich from its shell, and brings it to his mouth.
“Here goes,” he says as the grease touches his lips.
He starts to laugh, too, with the processed meat making strange noises
between his teeth. This is what America is about–fried chicken, bacon and cheese
eaten in a parking lot. He makes jokes at the camera, one after another. It’s impossible to eat this without making jokes at one’s own expense. Once he’s run out of
jokes, he looks at me and reaches out his hand.
“Take a bite.”
“No way,” I respond. I don’t eat fast food, and I especially don’t eat things
that look like this. I’m not even sure what kind of cheese is sticking out from between the meat. I’m not sure if that is real bacon.
“Do it.”
I shudder and shake my head violently, protesting.
“C’mon! It’s a rite of passage. You’ve gotta do it.”
I can feel myself caving in. It is a bit tempting, just to see. For science,
you know?
“I’m not gonna restart the car until you take a bite.”
At this, my fortitude gives way. I can feel the grease through the paper as
I take it into my hands. I balk for a second. This is a bad decision.
“Just do it!” he cries.
“Okay, fine! Only if you turn off the camera.”
I shut my eyes and take a bite. It’s not as horrifying as I had expected, but
I still feel the necessary amounts of embarrassment that I’m ingesting this.
“Alright, done,” I say, strangely proud that I’d conquered my fear of a
chicken sandwich. We high five, and I hand it back to him. He has to finish it, of
Once the last bites have been eaten, he starts up the car, and we head out,
leaving the KFC and most of our shame behind us. The rest will be gone once we
throw the box away.
Allyson Gaietto Creative nonfiction 55
Allyson Gaietto Creative nonfiction 54
My parents were throwing a family party, one of many to take place
throughout the year. This meant my cousin Brooks was with me. The main floor
of my house was alive with atmospheric lighting, socializing, drinking, and laughter. The TV set in the living room was on for whoever cared enough to pay attention. Most people loitered in the kitchen, keeping in close proximity to the
chitter-chatter conversation and to the snack tray on the central island-counter.
Unfortunately, this scene lacked the ever-charming presence of Brooks and me.
Brooks and I were off entertaining ourselves on our own terms. This was
common and quite often encompassed some form of weird silliness or activities
that risked mild trouble. In the mood for the latter form of activity, Brooks and I
decided to get outside and let the ideas start flowing. It was a typical winter evening
in Oakdale, Minnesota. The air, not quite cold enough to bite, was quiet and still.
Though we weren’t avid troublemakers by any means, Brooks and I had
our fair share of having a little fun around the neighborhood during these party
evenings, usually via ding-dong ditch. To this day we talk about the time we finally
got the courage to “triple D” (ding-dong ditch) the house across from my friend
Paul’s place. After ringing the bell and scooting across the street to hide behind
Paul’s bushes, we eagerly waited.
Waited . . . waited . . .
Finally a light came on in the main floor, illuminating a giant staircase
that descended from the darkness up above. A person in pajamas descended the
stairs, followed by another, then another, another, another, another . . . By the
time the largest single-household family in Oakdale reached that front door,
Brooks and I could no longer hold our hilarity in. Our bellowing laughter escaped
our bellies like a fiery belch held in for centuries. Luckily we could get back to my
house by going through some woods in Paul’s backyard, so we immediately flew
the coop. Yes, there were many stories much like that one, though not all had the
“got-away-with-it-scot-free” ending.
On this specific night, however, we were in the mood for a taste of something fresh. Paul (the friend whose house so kindly supplied the bushes in the previous story) was with us this time and was all for our up-to-trouble attitude. It was
quite a rare occasion for Brooks and me to have a third member, considering two
was usually plenty company for us, but we just knew that meant something special
was in store tonight. After a little bit of walking around and pondering lame ideas,
we finally realized that the answer was right in front of us. There was snow and
a road.
Snow = snowballs, road = cars.
Having finally found our fresh idea of the night, we immediately began
discussing who would do it and where we would run. After a minute or two of
some three-way bickering, I finally cut it off.
“FINE. Just . . . I’ll do it.” Why not? I kind of wanted to anyway.
I began to gather up some snow. We were at the intersection of the entrance to my block and the main road that went through the area. The snow banks
were so high on each side of us that the oncoming drivers would have no idea what
was coming. Unfortunately, neither would we . . .
After I had a hefty snowball ready to rock, we all tucked up next to one
of the snowbanks. From this angle, all we had were our ears to tell us when a car
was coming and when to throw the ball. We waited rather tensely, fully aware of the
danger of what we were about to do. After a few minutes of silence and a growing
impatience between the three of us, we finally heard the low murmur of an engine
coming our way. Quieting down, we all tweaked our heads to get our ears in optimum listening position. As the murmur grew louder and louder, our anticipation and excitement became visible in our tense, quivering posture. The murmur
reached the point where we all agreed the ball should be thrown. I tossed the ball
in the most un-sportsman-like manner you could imagine and missed the car by
several feet. It was rather pathetic. Getting groans from both Paul and Brooks, I
defended myself. “Then you guys throw it.”
Brooks opted to be next. We waited in the same position, made the same
anticipatory posture changes as the next car’s murmur grew louder and louder.
Brooks, being a tall, well-built person, looked quite natural throwing a snowball.
However, his tall, well-built physical presence is matched with a personality that
tends to lean toward timid, and that meant this was an act I never thought I’d see
Terry Boulliane Creative nonfiction 57
Terry Boulliane Creative nonfiction 56
him attempt. Brooks threw his ball with much better form but still missed the car
by a couple feet. This was proving to be quite the challenging task.
“All right, ya know what?” Paul uttered. With impatience in his voice,
he immediately began gathering up snow. This took slightly longer to do than it
did for Brooks and me. Paul meant business. After putting a significantly extra
amount of snow into the snowball and shaping it to perfection, Paul had his cannonball ready to rock. He curled up next to the snowbank.
This time we waited an especially long time. Minutes later, the murmur
came. We tweaked our heads, perked our ears, tensed our postures, and just when
the rumble of the engine was getting near critical throwing volume, Paul began
inching his way away from the snowbank to better anticipate when to throw the
ball. Once Brooks and I caught a glimpse of the headlights gleaming onto Paul’s
chest, he sent his giant creation flying high into the sky. My eyes followed the ball,
its perfect round body breaking into the cold air of the night, little hunks of white
falling off of it as it made a perfect parabolic arc from Paul’s hand to its destination:
the dead center of a cop car’s windshield.
The cop car’s lights immediately flickered on and the siren made a quick
chirp. Just as the cop car slowed itself to turn around and catch the perpetrators,
we quickly glimpsed a second horror. An intensely bright neon blue spotlight
burned onto the back of the cop car and quickly made a turn in our direction.
Behind the cop car was a cop SUV, and they were both out for vengeance.
We sprinted back down our road to the nearest slot between two houses.
Chest burning and laughs barely escaping my convulsing lungs, I ran as fast as I
could, given the uneven snowy terrain.
At some point, Brooks fell behind. While rushing through the deep
snow between the miscellaneous houses, I realized that he was no longer at my side.
I turned around and saw him lying in the snow, groaning and laughing. After all,
the heart-pounding-edge-of-disaster-adrenaline-rush of this very moment was
why we did stuff like this. I ran back, hoping that I could get to him before the cops’
spotlight sliced its way between these two houses and exposed us. I got to Brooks
and helped him up to his feet just before the cops could light up our escape route.
By this time, Paul was well ahead, probably just now realizing that both of us were
missing. Luckily the houses that we darted between were situated just behind mine,
allowing us to hop the fence and slip into my back door. There Paul stood, waiting
for us, his chest rising and falling in sync with ours.
“What happened?” The question escaped Paul’s mouth along with a gust
of breath.
“Brooks . . . fell . . .” My inability to control my heavy breathing made me
feel like the kid in the wheelchair in Malcolm in the Middle.
After a brief explanation, we all stepped inside. The warm lighting and
party atmosphere was welcome after our cold Oakdale adventure. Brooks, Paul,
and I exchanged glances thankful for a safe haven.
When I look back on those days, I’m amazed that Brooks and I limited
ourselves only to pranks. One would think that after leaping so often into the
world of troublesome activity and never getting caught, we might have begun to
develop a dangerous sense of invincibility. I guess our instinct for not going too far
combined with our need to go as far as that instinct allowed. We made a great pair.
Terry Boulliane Creative nonfiction 59
Terry Boulliane Creative nonfiction 58
I can’t remember how old I was–eight, nine, maybe ten. I don’t recall
much during that point in my life. The only thing that truly sticks out in my mind
is my mom driving me and my younger brother and sister to Chuck E Cheeses. Ha
ha Chuck E Cheeses! This would be the first and only time I would ever step into
one of their establishments. In all the commercials, the kids are having so much
fun. Playing all the arcade games, jumping in the ball pits, and wandering through
the seeming endless tunnels filled with all kinds of exciting treasures. A paradise
for any youth.
As a child, I always wanted to go to places such as Chuck E Cheeses,
but my parents were poor and never had the time or money to take us. My father
worked long hours sometimes waking at 6 am and not returning home until midnight. To this day, he is obsessed with work and rarely relaxes or takes time off.
My mother worked for various insurance companies in Columbus, an hour-long
commute there and back. She was forced to take these jobs for the insurance benefits they provided.
My family needed the insurance because my younger brother was constantly in and out of hospitals for complications with his kidneys. I thought I might
lose my brother on the operating table on numerous occasions. Although when he
was well, he caused nothing but trouble. That didn’t change the fact that I loved
him. I loved all my family. We functioned in a weird way. Almost as separate units.
Me, Jada, and Jay were always together, and then my mom by herself, my dad by
himself, and my older brother and sister occasionally stopping by from their respective “alternate families.” Regardless of all of that, we all loved each other and
grew together as a family.
Around 6 o’clock in the evening, just after the sky turned dark, my mom
told us that we were going to paradise on earth. Chuck E Cheeses! So Jay and Jada,
and I climbed into our rusted forest-green mini van that an insane sales man at
Reinhart Ford had suckered my dad into buying. The only efficacious aspect to
the purchase was a free acoustic guitar that the salesman threw in to “sweeten the
deal.” A fantastic gimmick that makes perfect sense! Who hasn’t bought a vehicle
and thought, “Well, the car’s all fine and dandy, but I really wish I had an acoustic
guitar of debatable appraisal to keep in the trunk.” To this day I keep that guitar in
my closet as a reminder of the tricks and trades of men in desperation.
Anyway we were headed to Columbus, where the nearest Chucky E
Cheeses was located. As a kid, a thirty-minute drive to quite possibly the greatest
place on earth took somewhere in the range of forever and eternity. All the while,
my younger siblings and I were inventing games to pass the time. Our being ridiculously loud normally would have upset my mother after ten minutes. But this
trip was different. She kept quiet the entire time. Just kept focused on the road,
never faulting from her course. It struck me as a little odd. Being the oldest in the
group, I was always the one who had to set the example for my younger siblings. So
I was the one who noticed when my parents were getting pissed, or if Jay and Jada
were fighting too much, or whatever. I guess I was just a little more conscious than
Jada and Jay.
About fifteen minutes into the drive, I was expecting a stern, but effective tone to carry a devastating threat to the back of the van professing, “I’ll turn
this van around right now!” Looking back, those threats are absolutely hilarious.
Okay, the parent paid for the gas to get us this far, and we probably had just as
much fun anticipating the actual experience. So we’ve already had our fun. Yet,
somehow, when we were kids, that threat was enough to stop us in mid-air. So I
am sinking in my pilot seat just waiting for that scolding, like a kid in the back of a
classroom without any answers, and so far . . . nothing. After another five minutes
I thought surely . . . but still, nothing. This continued all the way to our destination. By that time, my sister had been in tears numerous times from Jay hitting
her for calling him “fat.” The volume of noise had escalated to the point where I
couldn’t hear the shitty breaks grinding metal on metal every time traffic slowed to
a crawl.
As we pulled into the parking lot, my sister immediately stopped crying.
The excitement for what was to come recharged the atmosphere. For that moment
we were three oranges in a still frame. Full of life and color, but unable to animate.
We just sat there with the widest grins on our faces.
Brice McGill Creative nonfiction 61
Brice McGill Creative nonfiction 60
Getting the Bends
For a moment my mother remained silent. Then she turned around in
her seat and asked us very calmly to listen to her. Normally, whatever she was about
to say would have been nothing of consequence and probably just instructions
on how to stay safe, never forgetting to “stay close to mommy.” But this time, she
commanded attention in the softest of voices. She almost whispered. This was no
ordinary “protective mom speech.” She had tears in her eyes and was fighting to
hold them in. Seeing a parental figure in pain immediately quiets even a thousand
children. After catching her breath and wiping away a few tears, she opened her
mouth and said, “I love you guys with all my heart.”
We all gave the easy answer, we had been taught since birth, “We love you
too, Mom.” She then continued on by saying, “This has nothing to do with you
kids. Your father and I love you very much. But I am divorcing your father.”
Utter confusion! I knew the term. I understood the definition, but I
couldn’t grasp what it meant to me . . . because I had never encountered divorce
before. Maybe it was the sight of my mother crying that provoked my own fears, but
I couldn’t help but think that I knew what this truly meant.
After an hour-long explanation that was like watching a bad episode of
Everybody Loves Raymond, my mom had managed to calm us down. Jada and Jay were
thinking about how much fun they were going to have at Chuck E Cheeses again,
but I was still mulling over her words. Dozens of questions went through my head,
and I was too distraught to ask for answers.
Inside the restaurant, I lost my appetite. I left my family and climbed up
into one of the endless colored tub mazes. In the corner of one, I sat down on the
rubber mat and grabbed onto a wheel. The bright colors of the hardened plastic
shaped the bubble surrounding me. I looked out the porthole of the cockpit and
absorbed my surroundings. I tried my hardest to gather pieces and to make sense
of my changed life. The only sure figures were my mom and two siblings a story
below. They were sharing a medium pepperoni pizza.
The texture of the yoke in front of me guided my nervous hands. I was
the pilot of a rudderless submarine descending into the abyss. I studied the confusion that comes so easy in this life. I was steady at the yoke, but it felt like I was sinking. I was sinking, leaving everything I used to know behind me. I held on, forced
to defend this position. Until the bends collapsed what was left of my lungs, and I
started to cry.
Brice McGill Creative nonfiction 63
Brice McGill Creative nonfiction 62
Getting the Bends
Aunt Jemima vs. Marlboro Man
Waving through quilts of ground bonded like thread seams escaped jet streams spill.
Not in the wildest gusts, did we see this coming,
‘cause the wind front’s out running.
Too much good turns a nice girl spoil, carved like wood, waves with fenced forests and oil.
We’re drawn towards water, near the least resistance,
yielding ability brings dependence
We drew the Map song lyrics
it weaves and splits
from one ocean to another.
You told me you loved me
then kissed my forehead
pulled up your running shorts.
I watched them
settle tight
against your behind.
While it’s so hard to say goodbye
it’s quite a thrill to watch you leave.
Can it please wait until after lunch?
I’m so hungry.
You’ve always kept that butt in shape
running from something –
I’m just stuck here waiting.
Now there’s too much disregard
and I can’t be a man without your respect.
The truth is I’ve heard every excuse
and I can’t take any more.
Am I expecting too much from you
to show up on time?
Just an ounce of respect from you
Show up on time.
While it’s been so nice to call you mine
I’d sure appreciate if you’d show up
one time when you say you will.
How long does it take to jog five miles?
It’s been a few hours
and there’s no sign of your return.
The virtuous side of me is patient
but you take your time
and waste mine.
Jared Boria Poem
Down through the body of our mother,
Pressure (Produced by: Iz Vintage)
Bill’s high, rent’s due on the first, as usually
If you’re late with the pay, a fee they gonna charge you/
Recessions make it, hard to, get job to, call you
For an interview, now you’re selling hard regards to
I got dreams, I’m plotting on a grammy
Walking on stage giving thanks to family/
Showing love to the man that’s above
For this gift but sometimes it feels like it’s not enough/
Now I’m second guessing, myself, stressing getting, bad health,
I wouldn’t feel this way if I wasn’t chasing after wealth/
All alone is, what I felt, thinking should I, get some help
But fuck it I’ma ride and play the cards that I was dealt/
(I’m under the pressure)
The system is built to keep me down
(Dealing with pressure)
Got to make it out some way some how
(I’m under the pressure)
I can’t quit, I can’t stop
Familiar with bottom now I’m ready for the top/
(I’m under the pressure)
It’s either gone send you to heaven quick
Or transpire into another hit/
Sitting three (3) hours in a classroom
Another F because your homework is past due/
A 20-page paper due next week
But yet, I still have other assignments to complete/
Bump school thoughts of, dropping out
Some say it’s copping out, why the hell you care they not doing shit help me out/
Maybe there’s a better route, I don’t see, one to count
So I’m stuck to this, back to the drawings boards now/
They say hard work pays off
So I’m working 24/7 no days off/
Body running off Red Bulls
These are things I do just to ensure that my family’s cool/
I’m never free, always gone fam thinking I’m wrong
Cuz when I’m there, mentally I’m always not at home/
Constantly in a zone, working tying to put them on
So they can live in comfort and buy every single thing they want/
(I’m under the pressure)
I can’t quit, I can’t stop
I’m familiar with bottom now I’m ready for the top/
Danami SONG Lyrics
The pressure, the irony of rapping
12 years straight, ain’t no happening/
Yet I keep going in, still flowing in
Even though I’m rapping there’s still no money coming in/
Pressure (Produced by: Iz Vintage)
Tree Drenched in Ink
Think success and be it, if man can think ith,
than man can achieve it, it’s all what you believe in/
I go for what I know, simply b/c I can
My only limitations are myself, no man/
I made a vow to get up when life kicks you down
No matter the circumstances, I’ma make it out/
Every fall is a gain if you spell it out
Just redefine the meaning and what it’s about/
The pressure to not fold and never quit
Stay focused with hopes toward your betterment/
The pressure will send you to heaven quick
Or transpire into another hit/
Paul ShallCross Pen & INk
I’m that diamond, that pressure is applied to
Not the pipes that bust when pressure says it time to/
Need I remind you, the greatest form of pressure
Is originated cuz you let yourself to start thinking of failure/
i find poems in the strangest places
– Yesha Townsend
“Hide and seek”
Yesha Townsend Poem
i find poems that i’ve written in the strangest places
stanzas scribbled on the soles on my feet
on the inlets on my palms
i’ve found
metaphors drawn on my lips
and sketched on my hips
i seem to put poetry
i went to the fridge the other day
and in between the milk and the butter
there was a poem about
my vices and my lover
i found one etched on my bathroom mirror
drawn in last night’s soap bar
there are even poems in my cupboards
sometimes they spill into my bowl of cereal in the morning
more then once i’ve swallowed letters
when i was looking for marshmallows
i’ve seen them on the tongues on my shoes
and in the creases of my smile
i even saw one once
scrawled on a strand of my hair
written with care
growing with time
and those,
i love to find
they have become my own personal
my hide and seek players
leaving traces and tags
a lyrical yellow brick road
a composed route
to the crux of my soul...
and everyday
i widen eyes
and explore child-like
coaxing their uncovering
home based hideouts
hoping they respond
The Soundtrack of my Life
Raffi, Casey Kasem, and Those Crazy Boys From Liverpool
I’ve always loved music. My first memory involving music was playing my
Raffi tape over and over again. I was probably four or five? I listened to the kiddie
folk so much I knew all the words to every song: “Baby Beluga,” “Down by the Bay,”
all of them. Unfortunately, the ultra-technological magnetic tape that they used in
cassettes back in the day wasn’t the ideal medium for recording and storing music
on and eventually the tape wore out.
As I got a little older, my tastes evolved. I began loving pop music. Does
everyone go through this stage? I listened without fail to the Twin Cities’ pop music station every single Sunday morning to record songs from the week’s top 40. I
would wait excitedly with my finger poised and ready on the record button of my
tape deck. I listened intently and eagerly so I could push the button at just the right
moment and capture my beloved tunes forever on a mix tape. Illegal duplication
of copyrighted material wasn’t even an inkling in my mind. I was a kid in love with
songs! I had to have them at my beck and call for when my ear needed a friend! It
was serious business getting those songs on tape!
This was probably around the time that my mom bought the red Beatles’
album of songs from 1962-66. I was eleven or twelve and I couldn’t get enough of
the catchy pop. We’d drive around and listen to the songs and sing along while she
told me all about the Fab Four and growing up in the sixties and seventies. The
Beatles quickly became my favorite band, and I bought my own copy of the blue
album. It’s funny, I didn’t really explore the entirety of their music until much later
in my life, but for the time being that red album was tops.
The Soundtrack of My Love Life
What I remember about the men I’ve dated is what music they listened
to. I’ve had five substantial relationships in my life, and they’ve all affected me
musically. Tim listened to country, Bob Seger, and mainstream hiphop; Cole listened to old school rap and 311; Paul liked Led Zeppelin and Trampled By Turtles;
Bryan liked Hall & Oates and classics like The Allman Brothers and Van Morrison.
Rocco is too diverse to describe. I’ve blended bits of all their musical tastes into my
own likes and dislikes.
RaCHaEL McKinney Creative nonfiction 73
Hide & Seek
Some songs I avoid because of these associations with the men I’ve dated;
some I cling to because they evoke an emotion or memory, but I’ve kept them all
in my library. Sometimes I hate that the song is connected to a specific person–it
almost ruins the song for me. Nothing changes about the way the song sounds or
what the lyrics are saying, just how I feel when I hear it. Some songs make my heart
hurt. Some make me remember happy times. Some make me remember not so
happy times. But I never hide songs from people from fear that they’ll be ruined
for me. I’m not so selfish as to keep the beauty of music all to myself.
Music should be shared and enjoyed with the people we love, even
though we might not always love them. Listening to music together is one of the
best ways to connect with another person. You can explore what they’re hearing or
feeling or responding to in the sounds. I don’t think I could ever fall in love with
someone who didn’t appreciate music.
Rocco recently gave me his old iPod still loaded with the majority of his
collection. There’s nothing better than skimming along and discovering something in there that I a) didn’t expect him to have and completely shocks me, or b)
finding something that I’ve never heard of and falling in love with it so quickly
that it’s all I listen to for a week. In a way, I’m discovering parts of him through the
music even though he’s not actually around at the particular moment. It’s such a
fun way to get to know the pieces of him.
On a completely different note, I remember a time right after Paul broke
up with me. We had tickets to see John Butler Trio at First Avenue, and we both
still wanted to go. I had my friend Luke come with me and we met up with Paul at
the show. I belted out every word of every song and danced my ass off. I remember
thinking that I wanted Paul to see how much I loved the music that he loved, and
maybe that would make him reconsider and we’d get back together. My plan failed
miserably, but in retrospect, I loved the music way more than I loved Paul. It’s been
a trend in all of my failed relationships. Because music, for me, is such an easy way
to bond with someone, I’m constantly sharing it with the men in my life and they
share it with me. Music is a unifying force, and I love music so much that I assumed
this force could fix the incompatibilities that grew in the relationships. But while
my relationships with those men failed, the one I had with music only grew stron-
ger with each heartbreak. Music will never leave me, or dump me via text message.
Music won’t sleep with my friends or use me maliciously. Music will never talk shit
about me behind my back or ignore my calls. These days I’m working on building
my relationship with music first instead of indirectly feeding it through my relationships with men.
A Rude Awakening
The summer of 2009, I was living in a small studio apartment in downtown Minneapolis. It was an old brownstone building that felt like an oven May
through early September. Luckily, I scored a free air conditioner from my landlord, and spent most of my days off sitting in front of it. I was working at the downtown Macy’s as a makeup artist and at Champps in New Brighton as a waitress;
unhappily, I might add. They were jobs. Something to break up the day and get
me out of the house. I was bored, wasting time and treading water, just trying to
keep afloat in my very first apartment all on my own. I had no television and no
Internet to mindlessly peruse. So naturally I spent the majority of my days searching for records to play on my newly acquired record player. (Thanks, dad.) I spent
my nights chain smoking on the concrete steps I used as a patio while listening to
music’s sweet sounds and contemplating the meaning of life. No, seriously. I did.
Some nights I’d cook dinner for my two neighbors and coworkers, Candice and Sal. We’d smoke hookah, listen to my records, drink copious amounts of
cheap wine and sometimes peruse the “Casual Encounters for Trannys” on Craigslist. I never said I was a classy broad. Sometimes (okay more than sometimes) we’d
get gussied up and walk seven blocks to the center of downtown and get blindingly,
falling-down, stupid drunk. We’d laugh at each other, throw drinks at people, take
silly pictures in the photo booth at the gay bar, and then feel like complete shit at
work in the morning while reminiscing about the night’s debauchery.
I remember a period of three weeks where Candice and I went out every night. We’d go to the bars downtown and I’d suck down my drinks while she
danced on stripper poles and flirted with douchebags. I guess the reason I feel like I
have to explain all of this is because, as I was standing there amongst the ridiculous
buffoonery that surrounded me, I came to realize that this wasn’t, and shouldn’t,
RaCHaEL McKinney Creative nonfiction 75
RaCHaEL McKinney Creative nonfiction 74
The Soundtrack of my Life
be all I did in life. I know it seems obvious when the situation is laid out on a pretty
white sheet of paper, but at the time, it wasn’t so obvious to me. It was what all my
friends were doing, so I just assumed that was what I should be doing, too. But going out didn’t make me happy. In fact, it made me really self-conscious, anxious,
and socially retarded in a way. As sad and pathetic as it is, I realized that going out
and drinking was my hobby. And after I admitted that to myself, I made a conscious decision to change. So when the blistering heat from the sun went down,
I would sit on my makeshift patio and chain-smoke while contemplating my next
I should quit Champps because while it’s good money, it’s holding me back. I’ll find another serving job in the city so I don’t have to travel so far just to work. I should go back to school. Ugh. I hated school.
Or did I just hate North Hennepin, the community college I barely attended for a year right after high school?
What the hell do I want to do with my life? What do I see myself making a career out of that I actually enjoy?
What is it that I actually enjoy? Do I even have any legitimate hobbies? Does listening to music count as a
hobby? Maybe it could . . maybe I could make it into a hobby. Can you make a living out of loving music and
wanting to hear as much of it as possible? I don’t actually play any instruments or sing or do anything involving
being talented . . .What do I do with that?
This was the train of thought that developed.
I read a lot that summer. I read a lot of biographies and memoirs, and
while skimming through titles at Barnes & Noble, one day, I came across a memoir called Here, There & Everywhere. Geoff Emerick wrote it about his time as the
recording engineer for the Beatles. I bought it and devoured it quickly, thoroughly
interested in what and who he was writing about. After I read the book, I immediately started looking for music schools. I knew I wanted to get a degree in something, and I didn’t want going back to school to suck. I figured if I went to school
for something I truly loved, it wouldn’t be as grueling. I wanted to see if maybe I
could learn to do what Emerick did, or something like it. I toured IPR, certain that
I should go there. It was so conveniently located, had the classes I needed, and my
friend Kyle went there and loved it. My dad even knew someone who taught there!
He suggested I call him up and ask him some questions, so I did.
The conversation I had with him was a bit discouraging. He told me that
IPR was a very technical school and most people who went into sound engineer-
ing had been tinkering with recording devices pretty much since they understood
how to push “play.” He also told me that I should check out other schools before
settling on IPR. Ugh. I wanted to be lazy and go with my initial decision. Begrudgingly, I took his advice and found another school to look at.
The day I went to check out McNally Smith started poorly. I realized the
school was in St. Paul, a city I knew nothing about. I was born and raised in Minnesota, but oddly enough had avoided St. Paul for twenty-two years of my life. I
knew Minneapolis like the back of my hand. Grr. Okay, I didn’t have a car, so I
figured out the bus that would take me to the school. But then I got on the wrong
one. I guess in my rush to get on the bus, I didn’t see that I had boarded a 14C
instead of a 94C and didn’t realize it until fifteen minutes later. So then I had to
hurry up and get off (in a foreign part of the city), wait for another 14 going the
other direction, get back to my original stop and wait for another frickin’ 94. By
the time I finally got to St. Paul, I was late for my appointment and very crabby.
My mood quickly turned around, though, once I started touring the school. I told
my admissions representative that I had no musical experience and she told me all
about the business program (something IPR didn’t have). I guess I was a little nervous about going to a music school with no musical talent. She assured me it wasn’t
a big deal and told me that as long as I was passionate about music, this would be a
great fit for me. Of course, I knew this in the back of my mind, but things seem so
much more concrete when heard from others. She was so friendly and welcoming
that I instantly felt a better connection based on our interaction than I had with my
IPR tour guide.
I guess the only thing I can say is that McNally Smith was a helluva lot
more inviting than IPR. It offered a bachelor program as opposed to just an associate degree or certificate; it had different equipment to use; it had its own auditorium, and it offered a lot more musically-inclined business classes that I was
interested in. Within an hour of being there, I had practically changed my mind all
together about which school to attend. I sent my application in one week later.
First Avenue & 7th Street Entry
I’ve pretty much stopped going to bars entirely. I’m in school full time.
RaCHaEL McKinney Creative nonfiction 77
RaCHaEL McKinney Creative nonfiction 76
The Soundtrack of my Life
I work three jobs. I have two different internships at one of the nation’s top music
venues, First Avenue, and I try to work out three to five times a week. I don’t have
time to get blindingly, falling-down, stupid drunk anymore. Not only that, I don’t
like it. I hate feeling out of control and like I’m making a fool of myself. On nights
I don’t work til 3 am, I go to sleep around midnight. After work, I might stick
around for a delicious craft beer. Note: I said “a,” as in one. Occasionally I’ll have
two. Sometimes I’ll have a couple of glasses of wine if I make myself dinner on a
night off (which doesn’t happen very often). Don’t get me wrong — I like going
to bars and being social with friends. I love dive bars and delicious microbrews.
But I’ve got so much work to do, and I’m trying to be responsible, I guess. I’m
sure my co-workers all think I’m lame for not getting shit-faced with them every
Wednesday at the Triple Rock, but the truth is, I don’t give a shit. I don’t like being
hungover. Plus, it’s a waste of money. I’m no Suze Orman, but back when I drank
every night, I would spend my entire night’s tips on beer and shots. What a waste.
Geezus, and I wondered why I struggled to pay my bills. I put so much emphasis on
being social and well-liked, but that’s not the way to be influential and leave a mark
on the world. It sounds trite and a bit cheesy, but isn’t that what we all strive for? To
really make a difference? I tell ya, it’s not gunna happen by guzzling captain diets
and grape-apes. I’m focusing my energy instead on building a career for myself.
Like I said before, I work at First Avenue, one of the nation’s top music
venues. I bartend and serve at their restaurant, The Depot; I work in the Mainroom, and I intern (ahem, work for free) with the marketing team and in the
Entry, working sound. I practically live there, but I’ve wanted to work there since I
discovered its existence. Literally, they’ve probably gotten close to twenty applications from me. And, finally, I’ve conned them into thinking I deserve a job there!
I kid, of course. I do work my ass off when I’m there. And in all seriousness,
I’ve held First Ave on such a pedestal for so long that I’m still in awe that I get to
work there. Last Saturday, I worked a combined fifteen hours between two of my
jobs. I was sitting on the Entry stage at 3:30 am waiting for my ride at the end of
the night and I commented to my coworker, “After working two shifts and almost
getting puked on, my knees are radiating pain and I’m emotionally drained; but
after all that I still can’t believe I get to work at such an awesome place. There is
literally nothing else I’d rather be doing.” Don’t get me wrong — I’m definitely at
the bottom of the totem pole there as far as importance. Most of the time my tasks
are tearing ticket stubs, kicking underage drinkers out of the club, or cleaning the
bathroom. Glamorous, huh? But I get to see all the shows I want for free. I get half
off food and drinks. I’m learning what it takes to run a successful venue, and I’m
meeting tons of great people who will hopefully aid in smoothing the path to my
ultimate destination.
RaCHaEL McKinney Creative nonfiction 79
RaCHaEL McKinney Creative nonfiction 78
The Soundtrack of my Life
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A Warped Day
The Beginning
I stumbled into the job by going to show at a teen center in January of
2009 to meet with a band called Versaemerge. They had recently purchased a set
of scrims–think of them as miniature banners–from Eloquent Creative where I
worked as a sales representative at the time. My job then was to follow up with
the band and make sure that the job was done well and met the requirements they
desired. As usual, I showed up to the show an hour before the doors opened to
try to spend some time with the band and get to know them before the show. I
dressed in a black-collared shirt with a white vest and a black tie while still wearing
my jeans and Toms. Formal, yet informal, I looked nice; still I was overdressed at
this teen center where most kids were wearing cut-off jean shorts and white t’s.
On the upside though, my black tie and white vest made me stick out. I met with
the tour manager Mike Finn shortly after arriving, and we made small talk. The
show started, and throughout the night, I talked to the band here and there as they
passed by
Before I knew it, the show was over. My job was done; the band was happy with the work, and they decided to commission the company for another job so
I traded contact information with Mike. Little did I know that was only the beginning of my journey with Versaemerge.
About a week later, I received an email from Mike, asking me if I would
be interested in going out with the band on the 2009 Vans Warped Tour. I said
yes without any hesitation. Shortly after that, I freaked out. I had no idea what to
expect, what to do on a tour, or how things worked, but it was an opportunity I
couldn’t pass up. I had been dreaming about going out on Warped Tour since I was
Peter Henkels Creative nonfiction 83
Gregory hanford lead sheet
I constantly get asked “What’s Warped Tour like?” by friends, colleagues,
aspiring tour rats, and family members. I’ve found it’s best to simply tell them
about one day and then how to perceive the tour as a whole. One day is the whole
tour with slight variations. Imagine eating a cheeseburger and, then, the next day
adding extra cheese. That’s what my days on tour were like: eating a cheeseburger
100 different ways.
12 years old. Here, at the age of 19, I would actually be out on the Vans Warped
Tour. I had to wait five months, however, so I had plenty of time to get my affairs
in order and make the arrangements to leave. When the time finally came, though,
I was still packing 30 minutes before I left. I had no idea what to bring, how much
to bring, or what was even necessary. Luckily, Mike was there for me to call, to ask
questions, and to guide me. He told me to bring dry shampoo, baby wipes, and
plastic bags.
After a less-than-memorable flight, I was in Florida, standing in the
home of Sierra, the Versaemerge’s singer, surrounded by eight people I didn’t
know. It was a mixture of family, crew, the band, and friends from the area. This
was the band’s first time on Warped Tour so they were just as excited as I was. We
were going to be on a tour bus—god! a tour bus! I had dreamt about traveling across
the nation in one and who knew my first time would be on Warped Tour! To my
dismay, I found out we had to drive 10 hours to Nashville to get to the bus. The
drive went by quickly though, and it gave me time to get to know the band and hang
out. I mean, what better way to get to know seven other people than to sit crammed
together with them in a 15-passenger van for 10 hours? I got to know the other
crew member, Nate, along with the rest of the band: Jerry, Anthony, Blake, and
Devin. We all got along great at first, but like a season of The Real World, everything is
fine until everything gets real.
The Da(y)ze
Fast forward five days. We drove from Nashville to San Diego, and Mike
woke me, “We’re here.” I had no idea where “here” was. I didn’t know what time
it was, where we were, or who the people walking around outside were. I was, for
the first time in my life, lost. I had no idea who to talk to, what to say, where to
go, or what was going to happen. I stepped off the bus into the California sun as
people passed by me in a blur. I could smell diesel exhaust. The drone of generators filled the air. Looking around, I saw at least 40 other tour buses neatly lined
up in a massive asphalt parking lot that covered the area of three football fields. It
was mind-blowing. I lit a cigarette. Mike stepped outside, put a reassuring hand on
my shoulder, and said, “Let’s get to it.”
I followed Mike around for that whole day, weaving through mazes of
boxes, lines of people, shaking hands as he introduced me to people I quickly
forgot simply because there were so many. At the end of the day, however, the
party started. I had imagined Warped Tour being just this, the biggest party of my
life. The next morning and four Advil later, I found out I was drastically wrong. I
would be wrong about many things on this tour.
Skip forward 20 days and here’s a day on the road. I wake up in a daze in
my bunk as usual, the ceiling only inches away from my face. The rocking of the
bus has stopped. It is probably around 7:00 am. I hear the familiar hum of the
generator through my pillow, and I know it is time to get up. Throwing the drape
of my bunk open, I roll out onto the floor. Putting on the cleanest clothes I can
find, aka the least smelly, I grab my radio, a warm Coke, and head off the bus. No
one else is awake, and Mike is nowhere to be found, but I know what needs to be
done. I light a cigarette and head towards the back of the bus where our trailer is,
drop the tailgate, and start pulling the band’s merch out and loading it onto the
dolly. Surveying the area, I see the tops of the stages off to my left. I don’t know
what city or state we are in. I don’t even know the day, but it looks like the merch
area is about a half a mile away. It is going to be a good day. The sun is out and it
is only 90 degrees, a lot nicer than yesterday’s 98-degree day with a 80% humidity
index. I finish loading the dolly that now weighs over 200 lbs. Walking at a jogging
pace, I make my way over to the merch area and find the other band tents I usually
set up near–The Devil Wears Prada, Senses Fail, and Saosin. I have become friends
with these fellow merchies, and whoever gets to the staging area first saves spots for
the others, so no one has to run around and fight for a tent spot. I pull my 10x10
EZ-Up tent off the dolly and pop it up between the massive 20x10 tents of The
Devil Wears Prada and Senses Fail. We are set up in a cube today, which is nice because we can walk between each other’s tents on every side and won’t have to worry
about “randoms” walking through.
I set up the table and merch displays as fast as I can. I have a drop shipment of new merch coming in today, and I want to get it before the doors open at
10 so I won’t have to push my dolly through a sea of people. Checking my watch,
I realize it is 9:00. Shit, I have to make this quick. Tossing the rest of the bins off
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A Warped Day
the dolly, I run around looking for the production offices where dropships usually
come in. We are at an amphitheater today so I know it will be near the loading docks
of the amphitheater, which today is down a massive grass hill. Shit, I don’t know
if I can get this done in time but I’ve gotta try. Doors open in 45 minutes. I make
my way down to the familiar scene of boxes and quickly find any labeled “Versaemerge.” I don’t bothering looking at my invoice because, at this point, I don’t know
when boxes are going to show up. I will have to just check back throughout the day.
Scurrying back to my tent and up the 30-degree incline of the grass hill, I see kids
starting to filter in through the gates. I still have merch to set up. I have to count
in the shipments I just received, update my Xcel inventory, restock the tent, count
in table inventory, and find out the signing and performance times for the band.
Just as I am unloading the drop shipments into the tent, Mike comes over the radio
telling me that Versa’s set time is at 6:00. It is going to be a late night. I respond
with a quick 10-4 and set the signing time for 7:15. The band plays from 6:006:30. Fifteen-minute tear down on stage, 6:45. Ten-minute break, 7:05. Band
heads to the tent, which will take 10 minutes. 7:15 signing starts. Set time 6:00.
Need to leave the tent at 5:45 to help strike the stage and set up scrims, find Nate
and have him meet me at the tent at 5:30. Ok. I know what my day looks like and
what I have to do.
It is now 10:30. Some of the band members should be up and will probably roll by the tent in a bit. I need to make signs for them to hang up for the
signing time. Finished setting up the merch display, crank out 200 signs. Almost
done—but, great, the drummer, Anthony is here. Immediately, he starts complaining about how there aren’t any signs up with their set time and signing time. I tell
him I had a lot to do this morning, but I know that won’t matter. There’s nothing I
can say to appease the kid. He expects everything to be done for him. Didn’t realize
that I’ve up since 7:00 and still got everything done and am running relatively on
time. I tell him if he wants to help, he can start making signs so that when the rest of
the band gets here they can go hang them up. He doesn’t. Instead he grabs breakfast
and picks up some cigs, leaving me to finish the work I am already behind on. God,
I would love to get breakfast but whatever, another cigarette to stave off the hunger.
Day rolls on. Mike stops by at 12:00 with lunch and a cooler full of water and beer.
Couldn’t thank the guy enough for that. Mike is my saving grace on the tour. I eat
quickly because I still have kids coming up to the table and buying merch so I have
to take a bite, grab the shirt they wanted, chew, pull out change, swallow, pull out
their change, say “Thank you” and “Make sure to check out the band at 6:00 on
the Ernie Ball stage, left of the Ampitheater!” then smile and repeat. Radio chirps,
Mike again, apparently there are more boxes that showed up at dropship. I turn
to Joey, Saosin’s merchie, and ask him to cover the tent for a bit while I go to grab
more merch. As always, he says no problem, another saving grace. I weave my way
through at least 5,000 kids, taking at least 15 minutes to get to dropship whereas
this morning it only took five. Toss the new boxes on my dolly and make another
15-minute trek back through the sea of lot lizards.
Back at the tent, I have the four boxes from this morning there and four
more I just picked up. I need to get these back to the trailer and update my inventory sheets. It’s 3:00, and it will take me at least two hours to count everything and
that should still give me an hour to get back to the tent, maybe grab dinner, and
head over to the stage. I radio Nate, asking him to cover while I bring the dropships
to the trailer, radio Mike and let him know what I’m doing. Get an OK from both
and take off as fast as I can. With the dolly now weighed down by eight precariously stacked boxes full of brand new t-shirts, I have to carefully maneuver through
the same mass of kids. Working my way past stages with kids jumping around and
moshing, I take half an hour to get back to the bus.
Once at the bus, I grab my laptop, go into the trailer, tear open the boxes
and begin sorting and counting shirts by design and size while punching in new
numbers into my Xcel sheet to update our inventory. Moving as quickly as I can
in the trailer on a 90-degree day with no airflow, I’m not sure how much time
has passed, but I quickly find out when Mike radios me, asking where I am. He
is setting the stage. Shit. Looks like I’m not grabbing dinner anytime soon. I finish counting and sprint over the stage, running through the crowd like a running
back, dodging and weaving between elbows and feet that could easily cause me to
fumble and arrive late.
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A Warped Day
On a side note, writing this has left me feeling physically and mentally
exhausted even just thinking about this. Who in their right mind would ever do
this? Oh yeah, Me.
Make it to the stage. It’s 5:50. Gotta finish help setting up, then take my
position as stage hand, mindlessly watch these songs be performed again, watch
out for crowd surfers, watch out for technical difficulties. Performance is over and
the only thing that happened is Anthony’s crash cymbal fell over. Caught that quick
and it was only down for about five seconds. Lord knows, though, that he’ll be
complaining about it for the next three days. I gotta wonder if this kid ever lets shit
go. Whatever, not my problem. Time to tear down and get back to the tent for the
signing at 7:30, or was it 7:15? Doesn’t matter. I need to move! All right. Drums
are off stage, tear down cymbals stands and load everything into the drum boat and
help load it onto truck seven. Done. Scrims are already down and on the dolly.
Shit, need the dolly. Forget it, I’ll tear down the guitar and bass rigs first. Sierra’s
in-ears are packed away in the case and in the accessory bin along with Anthony’s
interface, Ipod, and in-ears. Done. Guitars are in their cases and cleaned, front
covers are on the road cases. Now to run and get the dolly . . . All right. Moving all
the gear back to the bus. Done. Minutes to get the band to the tent. Shit. It’s 7:30
running late signing was at 7:15. Sierra . . .Where the fuck is Sierra? Doesn’t matter she’ll show up. I’ve got the rest of the band here. Sling merch, hit the line with
CDs, hand out posters to be signed. Mike brought dinner for all of us! Eat and sell,
eat and sell. Signing is over. 8:15. Time to close. Count out, mark, load the bins.
No, you can’t buy anything. I’m sorry. I just packed up all of my stuff. Load out,
weaving between more kids. Patience is thin, get out of my way. Make it back to the
Time to drink a beer. First of the day. Shit, I’m completely out of cigarettes. Had a full pack at the beginning of the day, too. I should cut back. Whatever.
Okay, end of the day reports. It’s 9:45. Should be done by 10:30. Count-ins plus
restocks against total new inventory less amount returned equals X, the amount of
tangible merchandise sold. Cash on hand should equal Y and total amount equals
Z. Perfect. No errors. Time to relax and take a baby bath.
Oh, remember how I mentioned baby wipes, dry shampoo, and plastic
bags? Well this is when they get used. Since I didn’t have time to run to the showers, this is how I stay “clean,” whatever that means on this tour. First start by stripping down to your drawers. Then proceed to take out three baby wipes. Start with
your left foot, make sure to get in between your toes from the amount of gunk built
up from wearing sandals all day. Repeat this process with three new wipes on your
right foot, legs, groin area, torso, arms, and hands. After bathing take out your can
of dry shampoo and hold the can six inches away from your head and spray. Rub
the powder in thoroughly until hair no longer looks greasy. Next take all dirty baby
wipes and place them in a plastic bag and throw them out the next day. Baby Bath:
Shit. Bus call is at 11:00 and it’s 10:45. Damn, no time to hang out.
Might as well go to sleep after these reports go through to management. Just another warped day.
Looking back on this whole experience, I start wondering how in God’s
name I made it through the entire tour, and another tour during the summer of
2010. Yeah, I made friends–some of them are the closest friends I now have but I
also made enemies. The whole process taught me so much about myself and about
handling certain people and situations. It also brought to light what true friends,
like Mike Finn, really are. Without his guidance and patience, I would have had a
much harder time making it through the summer. I can’t thank him enough. Looking at everything that happened, both good times and bad times, I know Warped
Tour has changed my personality and outlook on life. The world is no longer a
small place. I know what’s out there, and I want to keep seeing it, experiencing it.
Although the days seemed the same, each one brought with it new challenges and
Peter Henkels Creative nonfiction 89
Peter Henkels Creative nonfiction 88
A Warped Day
new learning experiences that I still carry with me and use everyday. I’ve never been
more organized or more ambitious to jump at any opportunity that comes my way.
I am forever grateful for that first summer on The Vans 2009 Warped Tour. It’s
something I will not forget anytime soon. I hope this story leaves you feeling like
you can do things like this and greater. I only knew how to eat a cheeseburger one
way when I started this journey. Now I know how to make a cheeseburger in 100
different ways.
We hit it off like friends.
Talking on the phone, she was the other end/
Telling me, “Don’t say things you don’t mean”
I was just gassing her up to get between/
To have her when I want her was my plan
No attachments, no strands/
Just friends with benefits, that we can benefit
Only if she let me hit/
Spitting that game in her ear
I got her over here, pulling down her underwear/
After time after time it gets weird
She talking about feelings and how she cares/
What appeared to be lust turn into liken
But she wasn’t the type, I consider wifing/
Far from my boo, but someone to spend the night with
I hope that I awake from this nightmare/
I’m addicted to you
I’m addicted to you
I’m addicted to you
I’m addicted to you, you’re my addicted
What started as a harmless thing
Evolved into a harmful fling/
8 o’clock knocks at me while I’m still sleep
Tripping, thinking is it coming from my dream/
Peter Henkels Creative nonfiction 90
A Warped Day
Talking through the door, asking who is it?
Her voice, “It’s me, I came by to visit” (What)/
How is that when it wasn’t made known
That we agreed for you to come to my home/
Darling, please stop calling
Cuz our thing is over, it don’t even matter/
So don’t bother
She replied you gonna be a father/
See my homies don’t get it, they don’t understand
That shorty is crazy, type swimfan/
All they see is sex on demand
If they could they would trade places if they can/
I’m addicted to you
I’m addicted to you
I’m addicted to you
I’m addicted to you, you’re my my addicted
They fail to see beneath the surface
B/c they don’t fathom, talking defeats the purpose/
Trapped in box, nowhere to turn to
So gotta turn her loose/
I’m addicted to you
I’m addicted to you
I’m addicted to you
I’m addicted to you, you’re my my addicted
(Pause) You could see it in her eyes
Shorty was so surprised/
She believed we can be more
Than what we do behind close doors/
Danami Song Lyrics
Danami Song Lyrics
Five Haiku
Ephemeral but Unique Moments
The photography and poetry on these pages represent Forever there: ephemeral
but unique moments, Photography—Poetry—Soundscapes. This Liberal Arts
initiative captures how moments of our visual and aural experiences of the world
linger in the mind. To hear the audio, to learn more about the project, and to
contribute your own photography—poetry—soundscape, go to
Inhaled cloud-less yesterdays,
stilled windstorms
in turbulent lungs.
lush lips, crystal brims,
bent spirit of the sun
gnarls the morning.
reef knots of
ancestral bones lash,
to sea-legged natives
Park Slope, Brooklyn, 9/12/01
morning after death
children play in fountain spray
ash still flutters down
— Chris Cunningham
slumbering terrors,
sung myths of Shakespeare that we,
“...are such things as dreams...”
Various Poem
Yesha Townsend Poem
found an agony
cowering, in
an arid iris reservoir.
Times Square, NYC 3/12/10
Do you have the time?
I asked the Passer-by
He replied no
and hurried toward the din
— Bruce Cook
Ephemeral but Unique Moments
Various Poem
Twelve noon, the bells ring,
It’s a simple tune, as the city sings.
— Sean McMahon
Lowertown, Saint Paul, 10/2/10
What are you doing here? I asked
while we all felt the ground shake
like the most confident of all metals
determined to stay, colossal
— William Franklin
Various Poem
My daughters dancing
Rhythms of time past present
A Gemini Tribe
— Tim Lyles
Steam rises with warm aim
Without her, no more plum jam
Stir, listen, learn, stir
– Aundrea Billings
She had moved to LA to become an actress.
Instead she serves espresso.
She won’t return home.
- Kareem Ahmed
– Michael Holloway
Blackberry Boys
Our boys are fatherless, plucked
from blackberry bushes by white gloved hands,
crushed and molded into distinguished form
Our boys are tempted by unclaimed treasure–allowing for both
the inevitable re-invention of borders and regret
for lines drawn on one another’s behalf.
Our boys are fatherless, planted
and harvested in well-practiced throws, then
left to bloat and steam in the sun.
Crows in the sky bringing death on a hot wind
Lines in the fields run into my brain
Brother you can’t understand this oppression
How can say what I can’t explain?
Hot summer sun burning down on these people
Locked in a cage left to go insane
God is man hiding deep in the wheat field
Peace is his dog left to die on a chain
O Black crow rise in an Angry sky
O Wheat field fire burnin’ in my eyes
||: Black crow rise in an Angry Sky, Wheat field fire burnin In my eyes :||
Mind broken down drying up in the sunshine
Rain hasn’t come for some forty days
Brother the rust wraps around my revolver
Finger on the trigger and a shot for the pain
Men bend their backs to the sun in the wheat field
Sweat hits the ground on a summer’s day
God hear this prayer from a crazy sinner
Peace for a dog left to die on a chain
JOnathan Fant Song Lyrics
Joeseph Horton Poem
instead of, say, charmed from their mother’s womb,
crying out the wonder of their newly found existence.
Crows over the Wheat Field
All them boys
burning through air
left their bodies
to Soil’s care
No last wish
or single prayer
In one blink
it’s over
Over There
Finished Here
Mother’s Tears boil in her hands
Sister’s Fear drawn in the sand
Father locked himself in the tool shed again
Please come inside
I’ve been baking pie
Please come inside
I’ve made cherry this time
Otis, the junkyard dog, lies lethargic in the mid-afternoon heat, saliva
dripping slowly from his jowls like a leaky faucet.
The small bronze medallion hanging from the old canine’s neck is aimed
directly at the freckle located just to the left of Danny’s right eye, efficiently firing
photons at Danny’s retina.
Suddenly lacking the body’s most valuable sense, Danny curses and
stumbles. The shotgun slips from Danny’s hands as he gesticulates wildly to regain his balance. For a moment, Danny and Otis’s eyes are locked in a brutal ascent
as they trace the firearm’s anti-gravitational journey to the heavens. At the apex of
its trajectory, the weapon becomes weightless, like some handy apparition borne of
the cumulonimbus just extended its able appendage and balanced the shotgun on
the pad of its translucent finger tip.
Danny shuffles sideways, trying to step on the shotgun’s shadow.
Otis coughs up a half-hearted bark that leaves his jowls twisted into a
faint iteration of a smile.
They watch the gun drop from the sky, all spiraling and shaking and succumbing to gravity once again.
Danny dives into the sand. His hands already filled to the brim with intention, he grasps at air and the gun sits itself down two feet in front of his face, its
mouth wide open, screaming all of Danny’s fears and loves and hopes to the world.
A terrible sounding cough ricochets around the junkyard, hitting every
dented fender and broken window with slowly diminishing power until there is
nothing to be heard but the wind and the birds.
Otis slides himself towards Danny with his two front paws, the sticky
sand crusting his coat in sparkling maroon.
He licks Danny’s face, dislodging several metal pellets from their final
resting place.
Danny closes his eyes. Otis begins to drool, saliva dripping from his
jowls like a leaky faucet.
No More Apples
Ross Charmoli Song Lyrics
Harley Patton Creative nonfiction 102
Leaky Faucet
She sits on her hands and sips her drink. I imagine a lemon tree growing through
the carpet.
The next morning I have trouble opening my eyes. The mascara and
eyeliner from the night before has crusted into the corners and my top lashes have
fused with the bottom ones. I reach for the glass of water on the bedside table,
groan, and dip two fingers in to wipe against my eyes and open them. I blink a few
times and stretch, sorely, still in my jeans. I reach for the glass again with shaking
hands. So thirsty. The glass is so heavy. I feel weak. I shouldn’t drink tonight. I
should stay in and read, eat fruit. Apples?
I finish the water and move to sit on the end of the bed. I stare at the
clothes in the closet in front of me. What time is it? I stand up. Too fast. I kneel in
front of the full-length mirror, close my eyes. After a minute I blink open again
and lick the corner of a towel to wipe the rest of the black streaking make-up from
my face. I head downstairs, taking the empty glass with me. I drink another glass of
water, then refill the glass. I get some coffee going, spilling the water, always, spilling the water. I start to re-draw yesterday’s faded makeup in my reflection on the
microwave when I notice the time. Twenty minutes until work.
Work. No one is here. A bar full of empty tables and still stools. The
neon signs reflect off the granite bar, scattered with bowls half full of pretzels. I
can see a spot that I need to wipe. The chairs are not straight. The door keeps
opening and closing in the wind, constantly making me paranoid that someone is
stumbling in—old, stinking drunks who talk shit and don’t tip. I think of Merl and
his stained beard and sour breath that I can smell from across the bar. I think about
shoving a pilsner between his lips and then kicking him in the face. I think about
the time I was cutting limes and commented about the thickness of the skin. “The
farmers left them in the ground too long,” he had said, his mustache dripping.
The door: open, close, open, close, slam, slam, slam.
I pour another drink and sit at the far end of the bar, staring at the door.
Open, close, open, close, slam, slam, slam.
I contemplate my liver.
I walk into the bar and Luce is already there, smiling when she sees me
and hailing the bartender. She has on a knit sweater patterned with squares and
flowers that hangs loose past her knees, and her bare legs and feet swing freely over
her high tops on the floor. It is December, snowing. She is ludicrous.
When I sit down, she removes her earmuffs and starts talking rapidly,
“Hello! You’re here. You look pretty, it’s snowing, I’m having vodka. I think I forgot my glasses at Noah’s. Where did you park? Here, I bought this for you.” Luce
hands me a candle that is shaped like an acorn and that smells like . . . something.
I order a beer. The bartender, who is apparently new, scans my fake ID
and approves. I light the candle to set between our drinks. Is it pumpkin? Luce
lights her cigarette off the candle and behind her a banner tells me the bar is celebrating its five-year anniversary. I think to myself that we have been here almost
every night during those years. Every night, finishing work, I listen to Luce talk
and drink until “bed” sounds like a word that is welcome.
Luce talks constantly about anything that comes into her head and everything in front of her. I don’t mind. I zone in and out of her speaking for hours—
content to drink. She doesn’t mind, as long as she can sit and cross and recross her
legs at the boys half her age who will ultimately drive us home. I will be dropped off
first. However, no new and unsuspecting young boys have arrived yet, and Luce
begins a rant about how the pill she took is not working—or is it?
I watch the patrons drink around the half circle of the bar—lifting their
drinks now and again so that the crowd as a whole becomes a machine. Bottles and
low-balls rise and fall like pistons. A machine built since the dawn of bars that this
bar has fueled for the last five. Do you remember when it was Sharks? Sammy’s?
The Hut?
I squeeze a lemon into my beer and a seed pops out and lands on the bar.
I flick it towards the trashcan—I miss. I stare at it on the floor. Luce rolls her napkin and ties it into a knot that she swings above her head as she babbles, “Look at all
these bruises on my wrist. Noah says I punched a wall, but I don’t remember. This
one looks like Utah—ever been? I haven’t. Not ever. Look at the snow—it’s happy.”
Laura Gleason Fiction
Laura Gleason Fiction
Lemon Tree
“Oohh . . .your drink. Issit okay?” Both of them stare dopily at the broken glass
with great concern, but suddenly Amberlee-May swoops to save the shattered
drink, slicing open three fingers. She stares at her bleeding fingers, a mystery.
Watching the blood snake down her arm, she stares absentmindedly at the cuts like
they haven’t happened to her. I watch her slowly wrap her hand in the hem of her
dress, and sit contentedly in the pool of brandy and blood, waiting, looking out
the window.
I walk into the bar and Luce is already there, smiling when she sees me,
and hailing the bartender. She’s wearing the same knit sweater that hangs past her
bare knees and high tops. I watch her try to relight the acorn candle, but the wick
is too short.
Open, close, open, close, slam, slam, slam.
The door swings open. There’s a depth charge in my heart, and Merl
saunters in breathing loudly through his mouth. It takes him a moment to recognize where he is. When he sees me, he smiles slightly, holding onto the bar for
He staggers for two full minutes.
“Honey,” he says. “Honey, I need some booze.” He’s a slurring fool, but
I pour him his regular drink of brandy and water without saying a word. “Honey,”
he says, “Honey you gotta put the money in the juxebox so everyone can hear all
the music.” He stares empty-eyed at the drink, still breathing hard, and I can hear
his tongue stick inside his dry mouth as he breathes open for air. He sips the drink
with his eyes dulled toward the bottom of the glass, downs half of it, then gasps
again for air as the brandy wets his beard. I think about spraying him down with
the soda-water gun while laughing hysterically, menacingly, completely insane. I
imagine he would writhe and fall, lose his bearings of up or down, roll helplessly
in the douse of my gun, and crawl out the bar with my cackle behind him, echoing
into the night . . .
“Honey, honey…,” he says, his eyes closed.
What is it, Merl? I think about reaching out and slamming his head
against the granite bar.
“Honey, did you hear from that college?”
Not yet, Merl. If I lit him on fire, would I smell burnt hair or brandy?
I stare at him.
“That’sscause you gotta serve me the booze . . . forever . . .”
The door opens again, another burst from my heart, and Merl’s girlfriend strides in with hell in her eyes. Amberlee-May, all one hundred drunk
pounds of her, slaps Merl neatly across his temple, stumbles, and knocks his brandy under the bar so that it shatters onto their feet. I stare at it.
“Oh . . . no,” he murmurs, reaching out in an attempt to catch the falling glass far, far too late. Amberlee-May, struggling to stand straight again, coos
Laura Gleason Fiction
Laura Gleason Fiction
Lemon Tree
Hey Doc, I need to talk to you
(What are your complaints)
I think it’s
I couldn’t miss out on something that’s so pleasing
With that reason, I called her up that same evening/
Just my luck, we hit it off great
Made plans for dinner on a later day/
I’m having issues with my girlfriend’s past
I have a lot of insecurities so don’t laugh/
My best friend met her first
Five years ago they dated, but it didn’t work/
Within a month we started dating
Within in two, I fell in love’s safe haven/
No one could tell me differ about this love
My love drug, I mean, she really has me sprung/
He introduced us while they were kicking it,
Up in Michigan, at a retreat, on this one business trip/
He seemed thrilled, read it on his face
I thought that him and her could be each other’s perfect mate/
Head of over heels of the highest peak
Life’s not the same without her next me/
I’ll die before I’m down off this ecstasy
I mean, life’s not the same without her next me/
We’re going on a year strong,
But I’ve been thinking second thoughts wondering if we gone last long/
Lately, my mind is filled with pornographic scenes
Of my best friend and my girl in the sheets/
But some things are meant to be,
See I bumped into her four years later down at the AMC/
We shared a few laughs about the old days
Talked about some new thangs then numbers exchanged/
He use to he tell me bout these fantasies
The positions they tried, which ones made her scream/
Now my mind is corrupted, I can’t even stomach
Seeing these images of him thrusting/
Knowing what they did is taking a toll
I’m going off on her for reasons she don’t know/
Blacking it out, at any given moment for nothing
Over something that happen so long ago/
Hesitant to give her call (Why is that?)
Well, she use to go with my dawg/
But, I haven’t talked to him in a year,
Last we time spoke he was married with 3 kids/
I think I’m insane, I feel like I’ve been hit by a train
There’s only one way
I know how to cope with the pain/
Tell my girl I love her and I’ll see her one day/ (BLAAHH/Gun Shot)
But, my assumption was wrong
See they broke up b/c they couldn’t get along/
Time passed, him and her became history
And she was out of the picture, gone eventually/
Danami Song Lyrics
Danami Song Lyrics
Love Sweet Misery
Dan wieken Album art
The speed limit is 65 mph.
Why are you MERGING AT 40?!
Rhetorical question.
I can only conclude that you are a
Oh, you say you have a reason?
(I’m just being careful…)
Careful? Try endangering!
Is your GOAL to get rearended?
(There wasn’t enough room on the entrance ramp . . .)
That’s what the gas pedal is for. Use it.
Oh, and the best part?
You honk at ME when I pass you by in an angry fashion.
I wish I had a scrolling marquee on the front of my car
that scrolled backwards letters
so when I got up on your tail
you look in your rearview mirror and read:
Reagan Krimson, 86 years old, had lived life. The good, the bad, and the
ugly. Notice the dominance of negative terms. He wasn’t unsatisfied with the way it
all went, but he could certainly identify with the phrase “that’s life.”
Waiting in line at Burrow’s Bank on Thursday afternoon had been Reagan’s routine for some time now. He withdrew from his savings in the old fashioned way; he wasn’t a fan of online banking. Too many buttons to click, passwords
to remember, and systems to learn. Like many older folks, he wasn’t a huge fan of
technology. Half of that came from his genuine indifference to what it provided
and the other from a harbored stubbornness toward the new generation and its
tendencies to skip over the simple treasures of life. Reagan Krimson was an old
dude for sure.
The lady in front of Reagan was taking her sweet old time, asking the
dumbest questions after every sentence the teller emitted in her mouse quiet voice.
Her computer must be broken, Reagan thought. Making his best effort at patience,
he limited his physical portrayal of annoyance to a grumpy look and an eager posture. Seven minutes later, the lady in front of him had successfully deposited a
check and transferred ten percent into savings. Reagan stared her off as she turned
to leave. When he reached the teller, he was all business.
“Name’s Reagan Krimson, here’s my bank card, and ID. Withdrawing
Mouse woman, obviously refreshed by his straight-forwardness, didn’t
say a word, took the bank card, the ID,
and a shot to the chest.
Reagan hadn’t heard a noise so loud in over twenty years. The aural version of his world had long been diminished. Conversations were slightly mudded,
music was fuzzy, and the lady with the mouse quiet voice did absolutely nothing
for him. Unfortunately the lady with the mouse quiet voice could no longer do
anything for herself either.
The simultaneous occurrences of the “holy bang” and the image of
mousy innocence being blasted backward with several medium-sized red holes appearing in her chest caused Reagan to perform what can only be described as “an
awkward protective crouch thing” with the suddenness and intensity of an electric
jolt. Reagan’s whole good, bad, ugly life glinted, flashed, sparked, lit, flared to the front
of his mind, repainted in gold, and lined with jewels.
Merge Faster
Terry Boullianne POEM
Terry Boullianne Creative nonfiction 112
Summer Yellow
A Faceless Enemy
The way I’m forced to take the long way around
sitting for hours without a response
Driver after driver hurtling down the information superhighway
to no avail
I don’t want control
I want command
The option to shift into high gear
and to simply escape
instead of control-alt-delete
Zach Thayer POEM
Ross Charmoli Ink and Marker
The United States Constitution
requires the accused to face their accuser
But what if the enemy has no face
like a traffic camera snapping your picture at five miles over
Screw you! Windows
Closed Jar
A conscious mind is a peculiar thing.
I’m in need of a jar to put it in.
The living tissue can fester and prowl,
A burden to bear, nasty and foul.
I wish I could sleep for the rest of my days
Locked in the jar’s unsolvable maze.
Sean Chaucer Levine Poem
Is you cannot open it from the inside.
Possession: the state of having, owning, or controlling something.
Possession: an item of property; something belonging to one.
Possession: the state of being controlled by a demon or spirit.
I have possessions. We all do. Few of us have possessions we’ve actually
created ourselves. A mother can create a child. Water can create an ocean. The sun
creates life. It seems that true possessions are created, not earned, stolen, bought,
pawned, traded, given, or found. This is the future. Actually, my future ended yesterday. I was in the unknown part of life: death. I was no longer a physical human
being in this society. I was research. The rat in a maze, the monkey in outer space,
that’s how I felt. The few others along with me must have felt the same. We were the
possible answer to the human fantasy: living forever. We gave our lives to this research, and in return, we could be the first ones to have eternal life. The question
was “would it work?” Although I volunteered to be part of this experiment, part of
me felt that the whole thing was wrong. Now, I know it was. All those possessions I
once had, I’ll never have again. All those things are still in the world I left behind.
If I lived, I intended to get them back. Now that’s impossible.
Bright white lights swarmed my eyes like I was staring at the sun, and
every blink sharpened the blur. Suddenly, the feeling of life swelled inside me. Was
I dreaming? I knew it couldn’t be a dream; this feeling was too real. I’d dreamed of
coming back to life before, but now I actually felt my lungs filling with sterile air. I
heard a faint murmuring or humming, but my ears seemed like they were underwater or under the pressure of ascending in an airplane. As I tried to look around,
my eyelids quivered and struggled to remain open.
Slowly, my surroundings became clear. I was within a small cylinder. Just
then I noticed a twitch in my fingers. I was in a body! A wave of ecstatic energy
rushed through me. Then, a quick jolt of chills crept down my spine to my legs.
I tried to move, but my hands and feet were secured by uncomfortable, plastic
tubes. I tried thrusting my hips into what little space was above me, but I couldn’t
break loose. I looked down at my body the best I could. I was dressed in black
tuxedo pants, black socks, an off-white dress shirt, tie, and vest. I felt the fabrics
scrunching and confining my body. Past my feet, I saw a small room outside of the
Paul Shallcross Fiction
And the best aspect of the jar’s design
Possession: the state of having,
owning, or controlling something
to the cold floor. With my shoulder bruised, I lay there hoping someone could
hear me, hoping someone was outside that door.
Time passed—how much, I have no idea. In my frustration, I warped
my shoulder into a black and blue circle. Strangely, the pain wasn’t as intense as I
thought it would be. I almost cherished the ache as a few tears slid down the curves
of my cheeks. As I wiped my eyes with the back of my hands, my mind flashed images of my life before this research: my wife, Amanda. Her deep, dark brown eyes
that I always got lost in, her waves of brown, smooth hair that sometimes covered
too much of her gorgeous eyes, her delicate nose and her slightly plump lips. As I
remembered her face, I longed painfully for her, in a way I may never feel again.
I imagined her soft peach skin that I would gently glide my hands over, imagined
wrapping my arms around her as she wrapped hers around me. I imagined our two
daughters, Emma and Erica, running in their summer dresses and persuading me
that the weather was warm enough to fill the pool in the backyard with water. Like a
silent film, images flashed of the last time I saw them, before I decided to take part
in this research. I hugged and kissed them all and told Emma and Erica that I’d be
back soon. I told Amanda I loved her and said goodbye.
As I lay on the floor, a pressure built in my ears that caused my head to
feel like it was clamped in a vise. Suddenly, a violent breath of air washed through
them. I cursed the pain, then realized I could hear myself. I could finally hear
myself. I tiredly pushed myself up from the floor and leaned against the wall near
the machine. My mind attempted to find a possible way out, but the ideas grew
thinner and thinner. I stomped on different areas on the floor listening for any
inconsistencies: there were none. The ceiling was just out of my reach even though
I felt taller. A second round of beating myself against the door only ended with the
same outcome. I stared at the blank door, where now small splotches of blood from
my knuckles spotted the white surface with red. I shuffled around the room looking for anything, anything that could puncture the unforgiving door, reach the
blank white ceiling, break through a wall, or even dig into the floor. I searched back
inside the cylinder where I once lay: nothing. Then, a noise caught my attention.
After a small hum and beep, which seemed to be coming from outside the door, a
single piece of paper slid through a tiny slit in the wall, just to the right of the door.
cylinder I was trapped in. Attempting to pry myself out of this weird machine only
brought me pain around my wrists and ankles. My body grew anxious. I couldn’t
find a way out. My heart began steadily pounding. I started feeling the cylinder
caving in around me. Closing my eyes, I panicked, but tried to think of anything
to calm my nerves. My heart pounded faster. Sweat began seeping from my pores.
My body trembled. My eyes remained tightly shut as I shook. Like a cannon violently blasting in my chest, my heart pumped and sent blood rushing through my
system. I sucked in a huge breath of air. I couldn’t hear it as much as I could feel it:
my scream reverberated against the smooth walls of the cylinder. At that moment,
the machine shook enough to silence my scream. I waited in silence. After a few
machinery hums, my body began slowly moving towards the opening by my feet.
The gears of the machine inched me and the cot-like thing I’d been lying on out of
the cylinder. Then everything stopped. The machine let out a brief sigh, and the
plastic tubes released me from their hold.
Quickly, I hopped off and felt the weight of gravity center me on the
floor. I seemed taller. My toes curled on the gray laminate tile squares. The slippery clean surface allowed me to move over to the wall. Reaching out, I slid my
hand across white plaster. Each little tactile sensation fluttered on my fingers. I
turned around.
The only thing in this room was the machine and a blank door that almost blended in with the bare white walls. Perfectly centered on the wall, the door
was directly across from the machine. Oddly enough, a single pair of jet-black
leather shoes were placed perfectly in front of the door. Sliding them on, I looked
around the room, then stared at the massive, super-computer-like machine,
which closely resembled a MRI machine. I stood in the middle of the room, and
suddenly it dawned on me. We’ve done it! The fear of death will be gone forever
from humanity. We can achieve eternal life! The simple fact that I was alive could
change everything. Adrenaline burst through me. I frantically searched for a way
to get out, but the room was a prison of white. I began banging on the door. With
each hit, my hearing returned little by little. I repeatedly slammed my shoulder
into the door, but it wouldn’t budge. Giving up, I let my back slide against the door
Paul Shallcross Fiction
Paul Shallcross Fiction
Possession: the state of having,
owning, or controlling something
Possession: the state of having,
owning, or controlling something
Dear Mr. Xavier,
If you are reading this notice, you have probably realized the transplant was a complete
success. You are now in a new body and your brain is fully functional within it. Congratulations. In a few moments the door will open, and you will be able to walk freely
through the complex and into the world. If you experience any problems, just follow
the signs to the nearest Assisting Office. Welcome back to the world, Mr. Xavier. Enjoy
your stay.
A burst of beautifully fresh air whirled through the opening cracks as
the door began to open. My lungs splurged. The door fully opened, and I timidly
walked out into a small, gray hallway. I looked up and down. Along the walls, on
both sides of the hallway about every five feet, there were other doors similar to
the one I’d just exited through. On every door was a single numeral. The numeral
on my door was six. In between each door, a single light bulb was screwed into
the wall, barely giving off enough light to see the door numbers. The hallway was
empty; no other doors were open. There were no windows, and the only sounds
I heard were the humming of machines. I wondered how long I’d been here. I
wondered if the others were still in their rooms behind the doors. I banged on a
door, then waited for someone to make a sound: nothing. I made my way down the
hall towards an unlit exit sign, hitting every door I passed. I never heard another
voice. I reached the exit, slowly twisted my wrist as my hand clasped the handle,
then pushed the door open. I was heading back into the world, back into society.
After walking out the door, I looked around the building, which looked
abandoned. The walls were covered with dirt and graffiti; the few windows the
building had were broken, and every door remained locked, though the building
had obviously endured several failed break-in attempts. For a while, I stood in
confusion. When the research began, this was a newly built facility and the area
surrounding it was thriving. Now, the building was in shambles, and the area
around it seemed abandoned as well. I wondered where everyone was, and furthermore what happened to this place?
The sun hid behind a thick cloud and a breeze brushed against me. A
small feeling of happiness came over me when my eyes fixed on a tree just across
the crumbling asphalt parking lot. I began to quickly walk towards the hundreds
of leaves, then excitement rose inside me, and I found myself starting to run.
With every stride, my legs tensed. I almost couldn’t bend my knees, and my ankle
twisted and rolled on the asphalt. I collapsed on the jagged, sunburnt black tar. I
quickly understood my limits. I pulled myself off the ground. As I swept my hands
across my thighs, clearing off dust, I felt a square-shaped lump in my side pocket. I
reached inside and touched a leather wallet. As I pulled the wallet from my pocket,
the sun exposed itself from behind the cloud. I felt the heat of the rays instantly
warm my clothes. I flipped the wallet open, finding a man’s driver’s license belonging to a Californian organ donor by the name of Robert Vermeckis. When I saw
layers of almost every amount of bill possible through the top slit, I quickly closed
the wallet and stuffed it back into my pocket. I heard a rumbling motor, then spotted a bus a few blocks down the road. I gazed at the tree a moment, then turned,
and cautiously jogged for the bus.
As I stepped on, I saw only a few people sitting in random spots towards
the back of the bus. I took a seat up front, facing the windows, across the aisle
from the driver. I wasn’t sure if I should, but I asked the driver what had happened
to the neighborhood. He told me this small section of the city was now referred
to as “Nowhere” and that the original R.F.E.L., the Research For Eternal Life,
project failed. He said the project had been undertaken about a year ago and that
not a single person who had taken part in the project lived. I swallowed hard. He
explained that the company running the whole “eternal life business” had abandoned all hope and simply deserted the area, and probably the country. Once they
Paul Shallcross Fiction
Paul Shallcross Fiction
I grabbed it. The page cleanly ripped from the slit like a receipt off a cash register.
I began to read:
still hearing the girl wailing. I continued to sprint as fast as I could, feeling my
leg muscles starting to burn. After another stride, I felt my quad muscle harshly
stretch like a bungee cord. Limping, I tried to continue running but had no idea
where to go. I caught sight of the bus, which was stopped two intersections away.
I kept limping, now chasing after it. I threw my arms in the air to get the driver’s
attention. The brake lights shot on. The bus waited until I eventually got to it, my
legs burning and stiff. The driver sat confused as I walked on. I attempted to catch
my breath, then I finally had enough to explain what happened: wrong stop.
I found a seat and slammed my head into my hands, trying to hold
back the tears. I sucked in long, deep breaths, exhaling deeper every time, the
wallet sandwiched between my elbow and thigh. Sniffing, I wiped my nose and
reached into my pocket. I pulled the wallet out, flipped it open, and began searching through its contents. The tips of my fingers felt the edge of paper. My hands
started trembling as I held a picture that I pulled from a slit of the wallet. The
dancing driveway girl posed sitting in front of a colorful screen. On the back of the
picture, she had written her name in cursive: Celia Vermeckis. I couldn’t hold back
the intense nausea that overcame me. I was in a dead man’s body. I sat motionless,
but dizzy. The image of Celia’s face was branding the inside of my head as I tightly
closed my eyes and shook my head back and forth.
The bus continued driving towards downtown. The bus driver yelled
something back at me but I only heard a murmur. I could hardly breathe. My head
shook more violently as I realized what I’d done. A fury built inside me. The driver yelled again, but again, I didn’t respond. Vomit crawled up my esophagus as I
hunched over, rocking back and forth in my seat. I swallowed, allowing the acid to
burn my throat. For a few minutes I sat there, clueless about what to do next and
letting the anger fester. Then, the outrage overwhelmed me. I smacked my hands
on the top of the seats in front of me and jumped up. I yelled at the driver to stop
the bus and stumbled to the front as tears blurred my vision. As the brakes kicked
in, I slipped and fell forward, barely catching myself but still hitting my chest on
the bus floor. The driver clumsily pulled me up. Without listening to what he had
to say or what he was trying to get me to do, I shoved away from him, stumbled-
had realized their failure in the operation, the R.F.E.L. basically left the area to
rot, the people in the experiment to die, and many truths unknown. The city, and
even the state, the driver told me, have no intention of doing anything to rebuild
this area. Their focus is on finding the individuals responsible. So, this part of the
city is overlooked, ignored. He found it strange that I’d been walking around there
and joked that I looked like I’d come from a funeral. I said I was a tourist and had
gotten lost.
As we continued to drive, the city around us shifted from wrecked and
lifeless to thriving and populated. A couple of buildings brought a few sparse
memories back to me, but many passed by with no meaning to me whatsoever. I
watched as people went about their daily lives. I tilted my head and kept leaning
closer to the window to see the tops of the skyscrapers. A fierce shiver whipped
down my spine. I turned my head and felt a numbing pop in my neck. After rubbing the numbness away, I dropped my head back on the seat and closed my eyes,
listening to the engine cough and sputter.
Twenty-five minutes passed. The bus finally reached the Northwest suburbs of the city. My heart began pumping with excitement and nervousness. As the
bus stopped a block away from my old neighborhood, I got off in a state of high
anticipation. A breeze blew against me as I walked into the warm summer air.
Passing neighbors’ houses, I made my way towards the end of the cul-de-sac. I noticed a moving van parked in the turn-around, almost in front of my house. Then,
a young girl dancing in the driveway attracted my attention. A wave of happiness
overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t help but smile. Her bright red summer dress blew
in the wind. As I reached the end of the driveway, her eyes met mine. I paused. She
gave me a fragile smile. Then I saw her quietly mouth the word “Daddy?” Once I
saw her face, my body stopped. It seemed like everything stopped. I froze. This girl
wasn’t my daughter.
I started to back slowly away, but the girl was in a trance, and so was I.
Suddenly, the door opened and the girl’s mother saw the situation. I immediately
turned before making eye contact with the mother and started sprinting as the girl
began screaming while her mother quickly grabbed her. I bolted down the street,
Paul Shallcross Fiction
Paul Shallcross Fiction
Possession: the state of having,
owning, or controlling something
To Whom It May Concern,
If you’re reading this on an office computer, please print it and share it. If the Vermeckis
family reads this, I deeply apologize for any damage I may have caused. You should be receiving Robert’s wallet shortly. I hope I haven’t ruined any sentimental value that it may have.
If anyone knows my family, Amanda, Emma, and Erica Xavier, or if my family reads this,
wherever you are, know that I’ll always love you and I’m sorry for ever leaving. Without
you, my life is empty. To anyone else who may possibly ever read this, I hope my actions will
be viewed as noble. I am the first man to have eternal life, and possibly the only man who’d
give it away.
- Bradley Xavier
down the steps and got off the bus. I sensed him and the passengers watching me.
I limped along the sidewalk, accidentally bumping my bruised shoulders into
people. I could only withstand the pain for a few blocks. Wiping my eyes with my
sleeves, I found myself gazing up at the skyscrapers until I could see their tops. I
stood still and stared, feeling people brush past.
Moments later, I stood in an empty elevator with the button lighting
floor 66. Small drops of sweat seeped out from the back of my neck. My stomach
sank as I stared at the numbers slowly climbing. 5. 6. 7. My mind still flashed images of Celia’s face, my ears pulsated with her crying. 13. 14. I started believing that
maybe I could find my family. Maybe it was possible. They still might be living in
the city. They could be here! 19. 20. 21. Screaming, I slammed my hands against
the elevator wall. Thundering in my chest, my heart gushed blood through my arteries and veins. 26. 27. I began to wish the elevator would fail: a cable could snap
and send me shooting down past floors until I exploded into the solid ground and
felt nothing anymore. 37. 38. 39. 40. Trying to calm down, I deeply exhaled after
I smoothly breathed in through my nose. Steadily, but slowly, I settled myself. As
the elevator moved higher, nervous jolts surged down my spine. I closed my eyes
and leaned against the railing.
Then the elevator stopped. I looked up at the floor number—52. The
bell rang, and the doors opened. A man started to walk on but then glanced at the
arrow on the side of the elevator doorway, “Oh, sorry. Goin’ down.” He backed
up as I stared and barely gave him a smile. The doors slid closed and I heard the
machinery kick back in and continue to lift the elevator. I tried shutting my eyes
again but they didn’t stay closed long. 55. 56. 57. 58. I remained still, watching the
numbers pass, almost in a daze, as the elevator rose. 64. 65. 66.
The bell rang, the elevator doors drifted apart. I stepped out. A semibusy office scene was in play as I looked around. Sounds of paper rustling and
phones ringing echoed slightly throughout the large space. I found an empty cubicle away from most of the crowd. Sitting on an office chair, I turned and looked
out over a beautiful landscape of iron and steel skyline, an endless mountain range
of beams, windows, and concrete.
Paul Shallcross Fiction
Paul Shallcross Fiction
Possession: the state of having,
owning, or controlling something
Old News
I don’t know, but I’m sure
I may have been here before.
This house is too familiar
changes made in furniture.
Continents connected at birth,
divided by frozen shivers,
tectonic moans must have hurt.
She quaked with endless tremors.
of all that was,
of all that had happened.
If you weren’t there, you can only imagine.
There’s talk around town:
discoveries found.
Granite blocks smoothed round
to roll on the ground.
Static shocks through the crowd,
news spread through the sound
Nick Wetzel Poem
Ross Charmoli Song Lyrics
Dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
Destroyed by a meteor,
found them napping in the dirt
left to wonder how they were.
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Somnus (For String Trio)
Performance Notes
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Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains.
You could see them standing in the amber current where the white
edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow.
They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular
and torsional.
On their backs were vermiculate patters that were maps of the world
in its becoming. Maps and mazes.
Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again.
In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man
and they hummed of mystery.
Michael Holloway Musical Score
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Michael Holloway Musical Score
try to use your voice/when you have words to give away
– Madelin Snyder
“Dear Jack”
AllEn Dupras Digital
People Among the Forest of Rain
How to Heal a Broken Wing
There is no easy way out of your cage
made of love and lies.
I wish that I could show you how to escape
but it locks from the inside.
There is no key that I can bring
as you learn how to heal a broken wing.
You can’t always put the feathers back in
but you can try to mend the bones beneath the skin.
Can’t you see the sun. It’s calling you.
like Icarus, to soar.
But you won’t melt once you fly away —
you’ll be more solid than before.
You’ll cut off every binding string
once you learn how to heal a broken wing.
Ross Charmoli Ink and Marker
Allyson Gaietto Song Lyrics
It’s been so long since you’ve felt the sweet wings of flight
since your head was in the clouds.
It’s easy to see, now, in your restless eyes
what keeps you on the ground.
I’ll give you one more song to sing
as you learn how to heal a broken wing.
Bits and Pieces
There are bits and pieces of You and I
Scattered across the apartment floor
Some still sparkle through the night
But you silence their light
When you carelessly
So carelessly walk across
I need to be whole, I need to feel free
It doesn’t pay to love, it doesn’t pay to trust
Wasn’t easy enough, wasn’t ever pain free
It doesn’t pay to be kind and blind to all of your ways.
It’s easy to ask why,
To contemplate the lies
But the clock keeps on ticking
Standing still won’t change what’s missing
Stop walking into my life, to steal away in the night
Bits and pieces of me that can’t be replaced
Bits and pieces of me that are what I need
To remake the person I miss
So I’ll go and grow
To be new, to be true to my heart
To depart from your shadows
That have darkened my light
It’s not okay for you to come and play
With bits and pieces of me
Bits and pieces of me that are what I need
So next time you come
You won’t find anyone
You’ll be alone as I fly free
You can’t take what you need and leave
I want to be free
I want all the pieces of me
You said you were in love
You’d been waiting for me
Then you switched it up
You’ve walked away
Left behind the bits and pieces of We.
I’m here to collect the bits and pieces of me
You forgot to treat gently
It’s breaking me.
You can’t put some of me in a box
While the rest of me roams free
I’m much better whole, when my soul is complete
Ivonne Padilla Song Lyrics
Ivonne Padilla Song Lyrics
I just have to say that somewhere along the way I
Lost touch with the person I struggled to create
People will be people
They will take as they need and leave
But please, don’t take with you bits and pieces of me
“It’s a shame, Lester. I haven’t seen someone like that in a long time,”
Francis was driving down the road, eating a custard-filled chocolate doughnut, and
it squished into his mouth, providing a rushing flow of exciting flavor. Francis
and Lester were on HWY 59, known especially for its deserted appeal.
As Lester carefully admired Francis’s doughnut experience, he reached
into his pocket and pulled out a red bouncy ball. “You know, Francis, it’s actually
quite common to see people in the trees out here. They come parachuting down
out of planes, and when they land, they climb up into trees. Then, and this is the
best part, they take out their lunches—a Banana, Sandwich and a napkin—and eat,”
said Lester, rubbing his red bouncy ball.
“Really? I didn’t know it was like that,” said Francis, softening his grip on
the wheel as he stomached the rest of the doughnut.
“ Yeah. The weirdest part is that they usually die there, because they don’t
know what to do next.”
Francis rubbed his chin and said, “Hmm. I’ll let that one go, just because
I like you.”
Mount Johnson Hands is a mountain that had been carved into three
hands. Each hand symbolized something, but no one knew what that possibly
could be. Francis and Lester were going to find out, by using a Geiger counter
to take the radioactivity ratings and then translate them into an ancient language
specifically designed for Geiger counters. “It’s sad, the people who don’t know
these things,” thought Francis and Lester when in the process of developing their
bulletproof plan.
They drove constantly, day and night. They stayed awake by taking trucker pills and blasting the radio on an empty channel while having shouting matches.
Their throats became sore, and by the third day of the trip, Francis and Lester both
passed out at the same time. The car veered off the road and ran into a cactus,
breaking through it, eventually slowing, the radio still blasting white noise.
Two men who worked for Tommy’s Trucks, transporting a truck-full of
blankets with Easter bunnies on them, saw a green Buick with a squished front
end, parked beside a broken cactus. The two men pulled over. They heard the
white noise as they stepped out of the car, but then it flickered and stopped as the
car battery ran out. As they walked across the vocal gravel, the sun beat down hard,
like something bad was going to happen. When they peered into the car, they saw
the sleeping boys. “Hey!” one of the men shouted.
The boys both sprang up. Francis freaked out and shaking, tried to start
the car, but the engine did not turn over. They looked over at the puzzled men,
and said, “We need to get to Mount Johnson Hands.” “We have a Geiger counter,
too,” Lester said overlapping the end of Francis’s sentence.
“Well boys, it sounds like you have some important stuff to do, so we’ll
get ya jumpered. Ya just gotta help us push your car back to the road,” said the other
man. They pushed the car back and jumped it. Once again the world was in balance. Francis and Lester were free to pursue their dreams.
Ryan Horton Creative nonfiction 147
Ryan Horton Fiction
The Mystery of Mount Johnson Hands
Getting Started (or Sharks Are More Fair Than People)
Rock collecting is an exciting sport--just like fishing, but harder. Rocks
don’t eat anything. You can’t attract rocks with worms. Especially the shiny ones.
Well, not especially, just--you can’t. And you can’t use a boat. And it isn’t that
cheating anyway? Sharks don’t use airplanes to catch people. We should play fair
and stick with our natural abilities and terrain. So it is with rock collecting.
Start with a good pair of shoes, preferably something cool, like Nikes.
Sandals are great, too, because you can carry more rocks by storing some between
your toes, and they’re nice and cool if you live somewhere hot like Texas or near
the Pacific Ocean. Don’t forget to keep the shoebox. I can’t tell you why right now,
but don’t throw it away. Next, make sure you wear pants with pockets. If you would
like, wear shorts--they come with pockets, too. Also, remember to wear clothes
that can get dirty and don’t look like you are out with a girl or something. Holes in
your pants, good. Embroidered Lee’s Pipes, bad. Shirt with a guitar or dinosaur,
good. Shirt with collar, bad. Now, for the most important item of every rock collector’s gear: the hat. I really should capitalize that word. Mom says to capitalize
important words. God, Uncle David, Dinosaur, Mississippi, Dynamite. Hat. Hat.
Hat. Hat. Wear one. Don’t be loser.
Where to Look for Rocks for Seven-Year-Olds (or Can You Cross the Street?
Assuming you are at least eight years old and can safely cross the street by
yourself, we could start right away. But we can’t. I’m aware that I have a younger audience as well. And after that awful accident involving Sour Skittles, a seven-yearold, my instructions, and a microwave, I can’t afford any more legal problems. So,
I will start with the younger kids who might need parental supervision.
Getting permission to cross the street is hard, yes? Well, bad news. It’s even harder
to cross the street when all you want to do is look for rocks. So. This is what you’ve
got to do. Summon a cute face–seven year olds are disgustingly good at this–and
tell your parental unit you want to find a birthday present for__________. You fill in
the blank. And don’t let them take you to Toys R Us or somewhere awesome like
that. Rock collecting is all about sacrifice. Especially when you can’t cross the street.
Resist and tell them you want to help the earth and find a rock. They won’t be able
to say no, and you’ll be home free.
Where to Look for Rocks for Eight-Year-Olds (or Adults Have Problems)
Back to those of you who can cross the street on your own. Let’s talk
about locations. First up is the common park. The park has many upsides. All the
rocks are free, and if the picking is bad, there are always the swings. People can see
you rock collecting and that makes you look like a complete genius. The downside
is that the park is always picked over. Every rock collecting wannabe five-year-old
is grabbing a handful of rocks, shoving them into his or her mouth and pooping
them out at home. Such a waste. So maybe your park is also full of rock-eating fiveyear-olds. This is where things get interesting.
Some places are always ripe for collecting but can be a little dangerous.
Places like nice shopping centers, dentists’ offices, or the yards of relatives who
keep nice gardens. In all of these places, adults insist on piling tons of decorative rocks into planters and parking lot sub-dividers. Beautiful. Real lava rocks,
sharp and holey; authentic river rocks, smooth and round. Once you find these
spots, you’ll know it. Angels singing in rock collecting heaven! Here’s the problem:
people–mostly grown-ups–really don’t like you taking their rocks. Don’t ask me
why. They have no real interest in rocks. I’ve concluded that adults just like having
piles of random crap. The more the better. But then they pretend that their piles
of random crap don’t exist. Like squirrels with short-term memory issues. Bottom
line--old people have problems. So if they can fill an entire garden with lava rock
from Hawaii, they will do it. They will also ignore their humongous piles of cool
rocks until you touch them. Then “Oh My Lanta”-- you would think you stole
their baby. So, if you decide to collect rocks in these places, be prepared for retaliation. Make good use of your cool shoes if you have to run. Also, use your pockets
to make sure your throwing arm is free. You never know when you might have to
sacrifice a few rocks and fight your way out of the kill zone. I told you rock collecting is more exciting than fishing. Fish can’t call the police.
How to Pick Up the Right Rocks (or Crumbling Icebergs)
Simply put, picking up rocks takes years of practice and fine motor control. The best scientists can’t even make a decent robot machine to do this properly. The first rule is always scan before you grab. Making sure the rock looks cool
is very important. If I have to explain what a cool rock looks like, then you should
JOnathan Fant Creative nonfiction 149
JOnathan Fant Creative nonfiction 148
Rock Collecting for the Eight-Year-Old Male
probably find another pastime. Once you have a cool-looking rock in your sites
then execute the “Grab.” The Grab is a quick fluid-like motion used to pick up a
rock. Place your first finger and thumb around the large part of the rock and pull.
Easy? Not a chance, kid. Rocks are tricky and mean. The two worst kinds are the
“Iceberg” and the “Crumbler.” When you can only see the tip of a rock and the rest
is buried underground, you’ve got an Iceberg. Start digging, Indiana. When you
execute the Grab and the target rock falls apart to dust in your hands, you’ve met
the Crumbler. You won’t be able to do anything about the Crumbler. Like a thirsty
man tricked by a desert mirage, Crumblers will trick you. This is a fact of rock collecting. Therapy will help.
Once you have mastered the Grab and overcome a few Icebergs and
Crumblers, use your pocketed pants or shorts to transport your haul and keep
your hands free. When you weigh about five pounds more than you did when you
started out, it’s time to head home and store your rocks.
Storing Your Rocks (or Everyone Wants to Steal Your Rocks)
Once you are safely back home, you might be tempted to show off your
rocks to friends and family, take pictures, and generally brag about your good rockhunting fortune. Don’t. First, to ensure that your rocks will be safe, pour them out
in a small dark space. Closets and bathrooms work well. Then, grab a sharpie, and
put a small black dot on each rock. This is the universal rock-collecting symbol for,
“This is my rock and your eyeballs will melt if you touch it.” Once you have marked
them all, put them all into your shoebox. I told you the shoebox would come in
handy. Once in the shoebox, put the whole collection back into your super secret
hiding spot. Don’t think about your super secret hiding spot now! Just know when
the time comes, you will put the shoebox into that place you are not thinking about
right now.
Displaying Your Rocks (or Another Reason Fishing Is Not Like Rock Collecting)
This is one more difference between rock collecting and fishing. Nobody keeps a caught fish in a shoebox. Some people eat them; some people nail
them to the wall. We rock collectors are a little more civilized. Here are some basic
rules to live by. Don’t eat your rocks. Remember the two-year-olds. Nobody wants
to be a wannabe five-year-old. Don’t glue your rocks to the wall. That’s vain, and
a bad man could easily steal them off the wall. Plus, your house might not handle
the extra strain. Keep your rocks well-hidden, but if you have to show them to
someone else, don’t let them see your super secret hiding spot and always explain
how the eyeball melting dot thing works.
In Conclusion (or Money Back Guarantee)
Rock collecting can be a constant source of excitement and fun in your
life. It’s true that adults might not understand it. They are old and have their own
problems. Let them worry about yoga classes and PG-13 movies. You, my eightyear-old reader, need to hold on to these truths. Rock collecting will make you look
like a genius. People will think you are in the eighth grade. Girls will think you are
weird beyond all reason. You will probably become president and large fish will
never bother you. Guaranteed.
JOnathan Fant Creative nonfiction 151
JOnathan Fant Creative nonfiction 150
Rock Collecting for the Eight-Year-Old Male
Wandering aimlessly through the endless aisles, Vlad looked at the towering pillars of paper rising on either side of him. Shelves upon shelves all kept in
order by Dewey and anal retentive librarians. Not that he really cared. Books had
never been his thing. However, a heated argument ending with a foolishly large
wager had led him to the library in search of a specific tome.
Uncomfortable in the unfamiliar setting and unfamiliar with Dewey’s
seemingly arbitrary system of categorization, Vlad simply wandered. After stumbling through biographies, he took a left at children’s books. Skirting around nonfiction, he remembered something some high school English teacher said about
a computerized card catalogue. What he didn’t remember was that even the computerized card catalog uses Dewey’s ridiculous system. He made his way through a
jungle of periodicals, finally arriving at the media room. Taking care not to choose
a seat next to any of the other handful of people in the nearly empty room, he
slipped into a chair in front of a computer on the very end of an aisle, where he
could make a quick getaway.
He moved the mouse, and the screen flickered to life, blackness replaced
by the cool, familiar desktop blue. Maybe he would capture his quarry after all. Locating an unfamiliar icon all by itself in the corner of the screen, he clicked, opening a program, and was greeted with several search options. Excited by his success,
he quickly typed a few words and hit “enter,” only to be brought face-to-face again
with a series of letters and numbers whose significance escaped him. Silently cursing Dewey’s name, he stole quick glances to his left and right, confirming that no
one knew the extent of his ignorance. He closed the catalogue program, rose from
his seat, and left the room.
Again on his own without a lead, lost without a life vest in a stormy sea of
literature, he finally had to admit defeat and fire off his only flare, returning to the
front desk guarded by the surly librarians.
“Hello. How are you today? Is there anything I can help you with?” The
pleasant greeting caught Vlad totally off guard. He had to pause for a moment and
collect himself before replying.
“Yeah, I’m just looking for the Guinness Book of World Records. I had a bet with
a friend that . . . ” His explanation was interrupted by the friendly librarian’s quick
laugh as she reached underneath the counter.
“I was talking with one of the guys from I.T. earlier today about the football game this Friday,” she said. “It turned into a discussion of the sport in general.
I don’t know a ton about football, so when he told me the score of the highest scoring professional game ever, I had to look it up myself.”
She handed the book over the counter to a dumbfounded Vlad. “Hope
you win that bet!” she said with a wink.
Zachary Thayer Creative nonfiction 153
Zachary Thayer Creative nonfiction 152
Dewey’s Scavenger Hunt
Bathed in star shine,
you laugh, I’ll cry.
We’ll wait tongue-tied
in the dawn’s silent sunrise.
Press your fingerprints
into mine, my friend.
We’ll find truth in this
once we make amends
Lie here by my side.
If you go I might die,
peering out of the bind
for freedom’s final chime
Press your fingerprints
into mine, my friend.
We’ll find truth in this
once we make amends.
Count to Ten.
Indeed, the sister begins to drizzle and mingle
with the salt now streaming down my face.
One of them beckons as a siren;
the other reminds me
that both will decide my bliss.
Finally! Our eyes meet, but our embrace is delayed,
for the sister still taunts;
threatening with spit and breath and burps and flashes.
I race to erect a shelter, which,
when secured and sufficiently moistened,
is amusement enough for Sister to leave us alone.
At last we are together!
Will she allow me to touch her much, or
numb my ankles with her icy grip?
She seduces and secures each September visit
promising everything and nothing,
imposing her bold moods
in an outrageous generosity.
walk to the water,
wash away any trace
of scent these hounds follow,
make a clean escape.
Behold! I hear her faintly in the distance;
proof that reward is near.
Her voice seems ominously low.
Is that really the sound of her calling,
or her feisty sister, rumbling and posturing to
belch on my reverie?
Sarah Burk Poem
walk to the water,
wash this sediment circumstance.
We’ll float down the river
where flowers sing without end.
Ross Charmoli Song Lyrics
We will
We have a tryst every year the second weekend of September.
I go to her with my world strapped on an aching back,
sweat stinging my eyes,
and blisters threatening to burst and torture.
I beg her to let me in as
I navigate her slippery-rock, ouchy-walk welcome mat;
threshold to the mercy of her buoyancy;
the place of our long, unmetered slow dance.
Limbs on ground cannot revel like this.
Only she can call my whole being into action;
rendered weightless
wrapped in the Mystery
of a crisp caressing cool.
I can never understand her depths and moody powers;
she can never know my heartache without her,
nor does she care.
She brought me here to learn why
she pushed me into those rocks,
and rescued me just as swiftly.
Still, she reminds,
“I can kill you,
So she commenced the healing of blisters with a stinging spit,
then whacked them on her stones.
Led me to her finest sandy expanse,
and gave the best surf of my life.
After our day,
she whispered all through the night
as I slept unclothed at her side.
On the morrow,
teasing lips crept in to slurp up the fire
and wash away the world trekked in on my back.
We have always agreed she’s the boss.
Why then must she threaten,
when I lay myself at her altar
all humility and awe?
or choose instead to injure.
Vessels will need to take you away upon my back,
for who would carry you through the woods on theirs?”
Sarah Burk Poem
Sarah Burk POEM
We have an understanding: she will give me the time of my life,
so long as I be more bold than she
who stirs my adventurousness, while constantly
proving my vulnerability.
i usually crank up my crazy
My absurdity spurs out of necessity,
usually sits on my shoulders,
before crawling to my eardrum
and I’m sensitive to things of sonic nature
so insanity beckons me with melodic whispers
and I’m all ears.
I’m all ears,
always open to suggestions
or questions from folks who
probably wouldn’t understand my psyche
if I plated it for them and served it with a chilled iced tea,
I’m always gonna be a mystery.
I’m unfinished goods,
God must’ve had the timer set on the oven wrong,
emerged me half baked, half-maked,
I never got enough time to gestate properly,
hence why i’m lacking in less obvious senses
I still wonder if i’ll ever be fixed.
Wonder if I’ll ever be fixed,
Wonder if I’ll ever be fixed.
[repeat Praise Team]
Holy Spirit just flow, flow
Holy Spirit flow
Holy Spirit just speak, speak
Holy Spirit speak
Holy Spirit just dwell, dwell dwell
Dwell inside of me oh Holy Spirit
I’m always gonna be a mystery,
a lost valley
an undefinable combination of cells and atoms
that scientists would argue is a complete product.
I’m unfinished goods.
Lord take me to that place
That Place were My Spirit
needs to feel Your warmth & grace
Help me enter into
A new level of Your anointing
A new level of Worship
A brand new level of praise
Let my tree of purpose
Bare it’s fruits with every Godly phase
Shayla J. Woods Song Lyrics
Yesha Townsend Poem
I usually crank up my crazy
around noon
when I’m half past boredom
but not yet creative enough
to spawn ingenuity.
My absurdity spurs out of necessity.
That Secret Place
Dear Jack
I wrote this letter to my nephew. The song lyrics then grew out of the letter.
Dear Jack
Dear Jack,
I hope you read real books
made with paper and black ink.
Some plastic pads hold novels
but those are sad, I think.
This world you’re in now will keep you alive longer than necessary and make sure
you know all the ways you could die in the meantime.
Madelin snyder Letter
Please read real books, with paper from trees and black ink. Reading from a plastic
pad is sad, and the smell of bound pages is one of the best in the world.
They will try to convince you at school that you’re a certain type of student. Their
created categories aren’t your responsibility and should be ignored with as much
vigor as possible.
Find a real woman. Don’t be distracted by this fabricated idea that shallowness is an
unstoppable part of being a man.
Try to use your voice
when you have words to give away.
(You) Don’t have to join the masses
in cyberspace decay.
Dear Jack
Dear Jack
Go and find the places
that remind you of things true.
Hold no fear of people;
they’re good and so are you.
I love you,
Meet a lovely woman
who is perfect, cause she’s not.
Know that your life matters
even when the world’s forgot.
Dear Jack,
Dear Jack
Travel. You are safe in the world. People are good, and so are you.
Madelin snyder Song Lyrics
You will rarely use your voice to communicate with your fellow humans. Digital
words will fly through the air and vibrate in your pocket.
Allen dupras painting
Allen Dupras Painting
Venture for Moving Air
Contributors’ Notes
Jeff Bailey is an acoustic and electric bassist, composer, producer, and breather of air.
Jared Boria writes songs, poems, and fiction.
Terry Boullianne is an 8th semester Keyboard Performance major at McNally Smith.
Sarah Hohenstein Burk is a performing musician, theatre music director, playwright and McNally
Smith College instructor with Bachelor of Music and Master of Liberal Studies degrees from the University of Minnesota.
The Spirit of Improvisation” is the story of an experience that taught me a valuable
musical lesson. The experience changed my life in music, and it’s a story I often share
with students who struggle with a sense of inadequacy when improvising. The process of
composing “Gitchee” was a matter of typing as fast as my thoughts were firing. It is often
difficult to translate the visceral into words, but the subject of this poem has blessed me
with both rich experiences and the language with which to express them.
Maurice Champion /Danami (Duh-Na-Me) is a songwriter and Hip-Hop recording artist from
Detroit. Actively recording music since 2003, Danami released his debut CD, Success Is Intentional, in
2009 and is currently working on his next album. He has performed with Minnesota renowned artists
Toki Wright, Dessa & Sims of Doomtree, and Heiruspecs. From sound recordings to live performances, Danami genuinely connects with people. “Danami has a solid package of stage presence, content,
and voice. He’s on his way to great things.” –Toki Wright (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
Ross Charmoli Minnesota native. Nubile and weathered. Art for Eternity.
Arthur Davis, passionate about music, also enjoys good tea, good books, and good company.
Allen Dupras is constantly exploring as an audio and visual artist. People among the Forest of Rain is a
mixed media of photography and digital painting. Venture for Moving Air is part of a collection of pieces
inspired by the Pigeon Palace in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Adam Erickson is an artist whose technique of painting, drawing and dripping leaves a distinct residue
of engaging content and dynamic composition through reduction and abstraction. His artwork embraces the process. Erickson documents the construction of each work and openly shares the history of
his art online
The title for “How to Heal a Broken Wing” appeared after clicking “random article” on
Wikipedia for about 20 minutes. There is a children’s book of the same title by Bob Graham, which inspired the lyric for the bridge. “hey” was written in the shower one
morning when I was seventeen. There’s not much more to it than that.
Sean McMahon’s Film Scoring I class has a “film for the blind” project, where one scores
an audio piece with no visual component. This project was assigned just as KFC
announced their infamous Double Down sandwich, and with that in mind, I brought
a handheld recorder to the drive-through to record a friend ordering one. I wrote
the narrative piece afterwards, putting the final project together á la a This American Life
Laura Evelyn Gleason is singer-songwriter, guitar and piano player, and composition student.
I wrote “Lemon Tree” about the downward spiral my generation generally seems to
endure before they can move on to the many greater things.
Gregory Hanford is a second-semester composition student. In addition to being a songwriter, he is
a keyboard and guitar player.
The process of writing the song “Sweet Loretta” was a melody-first approach. I wrote the
melody and piano part out on paper, and then matched up lyrics with the melody.
The inspiration of the song was sitting down and writing and feeling like I was having a
good day.”
Michael Holloway is a composer of film and concert music.
Somus is latin for sleep. I chose this title because I wrote most of this piece while laying
down, right before falling asleep. In my head, I would map out phrasing, structure, and
in some passages, the actual notes that would later expand themselves into what is now
a full piece for a string trio. I approached this piece in a very linear fashion in that I was
not thinking about vertical harmony as I was writing, rather I used set theory to create a
harmonic language that I was pleased with. I chose sets that contained fundamental scale
degrees, which imply C minor, as well as some chromatic color tones that leave room for
more ambiguous harmonic implications. I have included a passage from the book
The Road by Cormac McCarthy in the score, not because this piece is intended to describe
our outline the passage, but because as I was writing I thought about the passage often and
it provided sources of inspiration for me.
Jonathan Fant has a long life to live and many bubble wrap sheets to pop.
Peter Henkels is a Music Business Major who has crisscrossed the nation on tour for the past six years.
Crows Over The Wheat Field” was inspired by the evocative Van Gogh painting of the
same name. “Rock Collecting for the Eight-Year-Old Male”: I was a strange eight-yearold obsessed with rock collecting and making sure no one stole my collection.
My story of a “Warped Day” is a glimpse into the lifestyle of a day on The Vans Warped
Composed Contributors’ Notes 165
Composed Contributors’ Notes 164
My writings have been influenced by Stephen King, other thriller genre writers, and my
own mildly warped mind. Hope you enjoy!
Allye Gaietto reads and writes; surprise surprise.
Contributors’ Notes
Joseph Horton is an Instructor in the Contemporary Writing Department at McNally Smith College
of Music.
Ryan Horton likes a good mixture of really spicy and sweet flavors to satisfy the pallet of uncategorized
Yesha Townsend is a music addict, poet, writer, hip hop head, occasional rapper and full time dreamer.
She’s usually somewhere among the stars trying to jump rope with Orion’s belt, or adding new galaxies
with her ballpoint. She’s also the long lost great great great great great niece of Beethoven…true story.
We Drew the Map (WDTM) is an indie rock trio out of St. Paul Minnesota composed of Andy Awsumb
(Drums), Edgar Lopez (Bass, Vocals), and Anthony Casey (Guitar).
Brice McGill is a multifaceted artist who has developed a passion for writing and creating inspirational
works of art. Through the course of his life, he has neglected his inclination to develop his skills and
present them to the public. However, with the creation of Mcnally Smith’s literary journal he was given
the opportunity to be a part of something great! The writing process has officially begun, and he hopes
it will mature and forgive his wasted time.
Rachael (Ray) McKinney, currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Music Business, hopes to devote
her life’s work to unifying people with music. She does this now through her work at First Avenue &
7th Street Entry.
Ivonne Padilla, singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Business
in December 2011.
Harley Patton was raised a young boy in Alabama. This may not explain much about his writing style,
but it is really all that’s known about the elusive writer. He apparently now lives in a large tower in
northern Ireland and only comes down to read his poetry to the people once a month. This is the only
way his work ever makes it to the public eye, as he never publishes his writings. This book includes two
of Harley’s works, as they were copied down by my uncle 12 years ago in Ireland. Please understand that
these transcriptions may not be word for word, as my uncle’s pencil broke halfway through the reading
and he had to race home and write the rest from memory. —Greyson Whitacre, Patton Scholar and
Director of Water Polo at Oxford University.
Paul Shallcross is kind of a big deal. He has many leather-bound books and his apartment reeks of
rich mahogany. People know him.
Madelin Snyder is a first-year composition student.
Writing has always made me happy. I wrote this letter to my sister’s newborn son in a
moment when the pureness of seeing a new human arrive in the world felt important and
inspiring. I decided to write a simple song that conveyed some of these same feelings. I
hope that my sister will sing him this his very own lullaby.
Lily Stanton, a fashion designer and a soon-to-be music business graduate, will be seeking her place
in the world where music and fashion collide and spark.
Zachary Thayer is an audio engineer, musician and enthusiast of all things shiny. “Dewey’s Scavenger
Hunt” is a short work of fiction detailing Vlad’s adventure into a jungle-like library.
Dan Weiken drew this album art for the band Cantharone, which started as dream shared by brothers
Joe and Jake Anderson. Joe plays guitar, Jake, drums, and Ryan Jannsen, bass.
The piece itself has the ideas we were throwing around with the werewolf mixed in, but
also sort of mocks our whole idea of not writing about politics and religion. You see a few
werewolves in the work, and what appears to be the death of a priest and two nuns. The
wolves also have pentagrams carved in their foreheads. All these ideas work together to
really capture the ideas our music communicates. For more information on Cantharone
and news on upcoming events, please check out or
cantharonemusic or /Also check out more of Dan’s work at his
Nick Wetzel can often be found disproving otherwise axiomatic doctrine, inhibiting the dissemination
of secret propaganda, and typically drooling on the ceiling.
The end of the world is so often considered with apprehension, but in our anxiety, we’re
dangerously close to losing sight of a unique opportunity to witness the grand finale of
all our existence. Every generation before our time, and stretching back to the dawn of
humankind, has carried the burden–the obligation of continuing existence for our
benefit . . .everything up to this point has been building to the tragic and vividly beautiful
culmination that is . . .the end.
Artistically known as Ocian, Ashley Wiermaa is a singer, composer, and visual artist. The clash of two
opposing forces creates a dynamic and powerful visual in Dark Wave, done in acrylic paint.
Shayla Woods is a 23-year-old gospel singer from Bermuda. Currently working on her Bachelor of
Music in Vocal Performance at McNally Smith College of Music, she recently recorded a demo CD in
Florida, which will serve as the introduction to a full EP album of urban gospel.
Composed Contributors’ Notes 167
Composed Contributors’ Notes 166
Sean Chaucer Levine writes poetry or Ghostmouth songs when he’s sad.
Submission Guidelines
Writing: creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, drama, and experimental forms.
• Creative nonfiction, fiction, and drama should be typed, double-spaced with 12-point
font, one-inch margins, a title, and page numbers.
• Poems should be typed.
• Writing should be saved as a Microsoft Word document (.doc) and attached to an email.
• Indicate genre in the subject line–for example, “fiction” or “poem.”
• In the body of your email, include your name, phone number, e-mail address, the title
of your work, a short bio, and a brief statement about the inspiration for, or the process
of composing, this piece.
Songwriting: song lyrics and song in lead sheet or score form.
• Song lyrics alone should be saved as a Microsoft Word document (.doc) and attached to
an email.
• Song in lead sheet or score form should be saved as a portable document file (.pdf) and
attached to an email.
• Describe the type of work in the subject line--for example, “song lyric” or “song in lead
sheet” or “song score.”
• In the body of your email, include your name, phone number, e-mail address, the title
of your work, a short bio, and a brief statement about the inspiration for, or the process
of composing, this piece.
Visual Art: album art, photography, drawings, paintings.
• Visual art must be high resolution ISO=300 pixels per inch (ppi). You can scan at that
resolution in the library or your work can be brought to the Print Center to be scanned.
• Submit visual artwork as an electronic file (.jpg or .tiff or .pdf) attached to an email.
• Describe the type of work in the subject line--for example, “photograph” or “album art.”
• In the body of your email, include your name, phone number, e-mail address, the title
of your work, a short bio, and a brief statement about the inspiration for, or the process
of composing, this piece.
Composed Submissions Guidelines 168
Composed seeks to publish creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, song, drama, and visual
art. While we are centered in the publication and celebration of student work, we also
invite submissions from faculty, staff, alumni, and other members of the McNally Smith
community. Submit your work to [email protected] We encourage submissions year-round.

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