Where are there millers and plowmen? Or rather, when were there millers and plowmen? Did villages like the one in the play exist in the American South in the 17th or 18th century? I don’t think it matters at all — I think “Knives in Hens” is set in a kind of primordial human community. This play, I think, is mythic, and maybe symbolic. If I were a theater historian the “isms” would flow. We’ll try this: It was effective.
I’m writing this review ten minutes after the play’s finish, and I’m still carrying an emotional charge, the kind which a newspaper review is not the ideal conduit for transmitting.
Three characters. A white strip six feet wide, the length of the Yale Cabaret. A white bed on either side, in front of the silhouette of a white farmhouse. One woman — whose character is named “Young Woman,” but who is only ever called “Woman”(Elizabeth Stahlmann DRA ’17) — starts in one bed and ends in the other. One belongs to her, or her husband, Pony William, a plowman (Niall Powderly DRA ’16). He is rough in his looks and his demeanor, wears a tight-fitting linen shirt that reveals most of his hairy chest. These are his work clothes, and his work seems to involve horse-care more than anything else.
He often cups Young Woman’s face and neck; it’s a firm embrace, or if not that, a chokehold, and he kisses her often, spanks her, grabs her, smirks. They like to have sex; indeed, there’s not much else for her to do, childless and jobless as she is. They fear God. They hate the miller (Paul Cooper DRA ’16) to whom they must give their harvested wheat; he is rumored to have killed his wife and child. They are simple, libidinous, agricultural. She is ravishingly beautiful. Her face stretches, her brow furrows, with the most compelling urgency.
This is a play about language, and knowledge. Writing. Permanence. Interior worlds being called forth, named, communicated. This is a play about murder, and agency, and gender.
Do I seem overwhelmed?
Plot — more of it. Young Woman is tasked with delivering the wheat to the miller, who is an itinerant worker – he travels between towns, performing his specialist service. He is creepy, but not necessarily more so than her husband. He wears an apron over an undershirt; his pectoral muscles curve out from the sides. He is lanky, has wild blue eyes, gruff in the same way as William, less predictable, smarter. His and Woman’s first meeting is tense — she refuses to enter his house, she tells him he has evil breath, the prospect of rape is imminently real. He ridicules her husband. He ridicules her.
Their second meeting is different: He shows her his pen — a “useless stick” a traveling musician sold to him at the market. She condemns the pen as irreligious — “It’s a devil stick you made” — but then shifts to defense. “Look how much of me there is,” he says, gesturing to his notebook before accusing her of illiteracy. She proves him wrong by writing her name.
On Young Woman’s way between houses, a microphone drops from the ceiling, hanging in the air by a cord, and she speaks into it — to herself, to the audience, to God, or something — searching for the words to describe God’s creation before the microphone is unceremoniously retracted into the ceiling. The thoughts that she learns to articulate in these fleeting performances she tries to express to her plowman husband, who fails to understand, condemns her ideas as irreligious, becomes almost violently aggressive; they have sex. This is the vague trajectory of their conversations.
Everything is white — clothes, ground, bed, skin, house, but not the ink. Young Woman tries, after the name-writing episode, to rid her hands of ink before returning to her husband. But a charm has been cast — she is under the power of something new, and complicated, and dark — and she’s tormented by nightmares of the miller sprinkling black powder throughout her home. Her world’s whiteness is tainted.
She goes to his house to try to reverse the ink-charm, but two things happen: She kisses him, and she falls into a night-long trance of writing. In the morning she discovers what she has written and delivers an epic soliloquy, declaring, “This town has lied. William has lied.” Her pilgrimage toward self-knowledge has begun in earnest.
Things get harder to follow toward the end — there is a rock-pushing ceremony, somehow a rite of passage for the newlyweds. She faints afterwards, in the presence of both men. The plowman espouses his theology — he suspects that God’s glory is not God, as he’s learned in church, but Creation. He proposes that Young Woman’s body parts have been named inadequately, that their beauty makes language futile, that Young Woman seems to him to reveal the glory of God.
It’s a moment of clarity for William — an insightful heresy, that sex and the body are the true sites of revelation. But it must be too late, because Young Woman and the miller kill William, rolling the wedding-rock over him as he urinates outside. The sex they have afterwards constitutes their new shared identity, their awakenedness.
Does literacy compel people to kill their spouses? It’s as if the knowledge the two have tapped into breaks their old faith — in the town’s traditions, in the humble finitude of an unhappy small-town marriage. Tellingly, the miller lives outside of the village; his and the Young Woman’s knowledge turns them into wanderers, outsiders.
Much is made of language, and of names. Once something has a name, the miller says, it has a use. Maybe YOung Woman’s important realization is about her name: that her being called “Woman” is not unrelated to the terribly small sphere of possibility in which she lives, and has sex, and carries bags of flour. Is this the story of her liberation? Is it a retelling of Genesis? A monograph on the terrible power of autonomy?
“Knives in Hens,” written by David Harrower and directed by Jesse Rasmussen DRA ’17, presents its conflict physically: Young Woman is pulled between two poles — white, pastoral, brute simplicity and the inky moral uncertainty of interiority and the written word. I’ve spoiled the ending, but I haven’t done the play itself justice — the wide net this review cast missed plenty of exciting details, not to mention the feeling of watching it. “Knives” runs tonight and Saturday night at the Yale Cabaret.
Years ago, I went to camp with a girl named Olivia. She was everyone’s friend, or at least seemed that way, and everyone envied her charm. She was the type that could sneak out one weekend to a concert in Boston, get caught in a storm and come back soaking wet and escape the whole episode without getting in trouble.
A few weeks ago, I came across Olivia’s Facebook profile for the first time in over a year. Olivia and I hadn’t been particularly close and hadn’t felt any obligation to keep in touch after camp ended. But, when I came across her profile, the words “Remembering Olivia” occupied the space where just her name should have been, and I had the chilling feeling of encountering a ghost. After all, Olivia had passed away a year earlier from leukemia.
I hesitated to explore any further, as it felt like disturbing a grave. But I read on. The page had become a memorial, a testament to Olivia’s life. Friends still regularly posted photos and messages to her, often saying how much they missed her and reminding her of the empty space she’d left behind. Others wrote messages that didn’t mention her death — her best friend had posted a link to Taylor Swift’s newest music video, and another left regular updates about college life.
After coming across Olivia’s Facebook, I began thinking: What will happen to my Facebook after I die? Or my email accounts, or all the texts and photos on my phone? It’s strange to think of those things as a type of property, something that becomes owner-less at one’s death. We live in the digital age; what happens in the digital afterlife?
With that question in mind, I began doing some research online and discovered a whole range of services offering to help plan your digital afterlife. Google allows you to determine what will happen to your emails when your account becomes inactive, while Yahoo even has a service that allows users to pre-write emails to be sent once the company is notified of their death.
I was more than a little disturbed by this morbid side of the digital age, using technology to extend a person’s existence beyond the limits of mortal life.
But there are other ways to manage one’s post-mortem online presence. In February, Facebook announced a new policy allowing users to designate a “legacy contact.” This person would be able to write one last post on your timeline, respond to friend requests and change your profile picture and cover photo.
To me, this seemed much more natural than sending emails from beyond the grave. Rather than mimicking the person’s presence, this policy allows his or her death to be acknowledged, with the word “Remembering” added before his or her name. Facebook’s inherently social nature provides the perfect forum for people to communally mourn a friend or loved one while celebrating that person’s life, immortalized in a Facebook profile.
When I found out about Olivia’s death, I cried.
The tears startled me, because I’m not an emotional person. I don’t know if I even cried when members of my extended family passed away. I tried to figure out why I was so affected. Maybe it was her youth, the tragedy of a life taken too early. Maybe it was the shock of knowing that even my peers were not excused from mortality.
But I think I took her death hard because I had, in some ways, watched it approach. Facebook had provided a window for me and 800 other Facebook friends to watch Olivia battle her illness.
Although she rarely posted about it herself, Olivia’s sickness was reflected in her profile. In the early days of her diagnosis, during her senior year of high school, her page was flooded with encouragement and support. And for the rest of that year, her life was documented on Facebook with the same nostalgia of any other high school senior. But her illness marked every moment: She received her college acceptance letter while in a hospital bed, and her graduation cap sat upon a head that had lost its hair to chemotherapy.
Through Facebook, we watched Olivia’s life from afar, never personally involved in events so distant that they seemed unreal. But it’s hard to distance yourself from death, so unequivocally absolute that it feels real no matter how far away it is.
On the day Olivia passed away, hundreds of people left messages on her timeline. Friends and relatives posted, as expected, but most people left messages that began, “I didn’t know Olivia well…”
I didn’t leave a message. Maybe that was out of self-consciousness, but I just didn’t feel that I had earned the right to publicly mourn her. Instead, I dug out an old memory card that held our photos from camp, and privately mourned a life lost.
This week marks the launch of Marina Keegan’s ’12 first and last book, “The Opposite of Loneliness.” While an undergraduate at Yale, Keegan was a frequent contributor to these very pages. Her work varied from reported features to personal essays, but sustained a clear faith in her audience’s ability to be more than what was expected of them. Keegan’s life was tragically cut short in a car accident days after her graduation. Her writing and her memory survive.
In this issue, we have reprinted excerpts from pieces by Keegan that ran in the News, along with reflections on her enduring spirit from those who met her, read her and knew her from afar.
The “Ferrocarril” Test
// GABRIEL BARCIA
I am still at The Lynwood. Marina had hired movers to transport her furniture to New York on June 2. K came in this past week to leave her own furniture in Marina’s apartment. T, the rising senior taking over her place next year, bought all my furniture. I had arranged with Marina to move my stuff into her apartment by the time I move out on May 31, as it now belongs to T. She was going to ask her movers to take my bed downstairs to her place. It’s really heavy for me to move on my own.
Marina approached me the first week of freshman year, at a party. She spoke to me in resolute Spanish. I remember asking her to say the word “ferrocarril,” jokingly, as a test. I also remember, and with strange accuracy, how well she pronounced it. She was wearing a very pretty white dress that night. White looked so good on her, but the color she really liked to wear was green.
I asked Marina to write the last WEEKEND cover of my tenure as editor because I wanted it to be memorable. She told me she was honored that I asked. I was only thankful that Marina would even consider devoting the time to write a long piece for the News; I knew she was working on “Cold Pastoral” and “Independents” at the same time.
I initially wanted that story to be about the Yale chapter of DKE, which had been banned from campus but was still fully operating, underground. She didn’t think that was interesting and suggested writing about the popularity of finance and consulting jobs among recent college graduates. She came up with “Even artichokes have doubts.”
The story was the most viewed of the year, and one of the most viewed in the history of the News’ website.
Marina would email me every time she got a mention anywhere on the Internet. She’d thank me for asking her, for editing with her, for giving her “so much freedom.”
Marina and I were not friends by either of our definitions of the term, and that never bothered us. I would tell her how much I admired her all the time. I’d say, How are you so talented? How do you do so much? I’d compliment her hair.
“Is it dirty? Are you making fun of me?” She was always suspicious.
Some have to work hard and some are extremely talented. Marina was an extremely talented person who worked hard.
I still become paralyzed every time I think about how angry she would have been if she’d known that that was it, that so much of her potential would remain unrealized.
I spent the summer after her death trying to rationalize what had happened to no avail. I only found some comfort in the thought of my own death.
One more time, Marina had made the unimaginable feel proximate and less scary.
Gabriel Barcia was a WEEKEND editor in 2011.
“I want to watch Shloe’s movies and I want to see Mark’s musicals and I want to volunteer with Joe’s non-profit and eat at Annie’s restaurant and send my kids to schools Jeff’s reformed and I’m JUST SCARED about this industry that’s taking all my friends and telling them this is the best way for them to be spending their time. Any of their time. Maybe I’m ignorant and idealistic but I just feel like that can’t possibly be true. I feel like we know that. I feel like we can do something really cool to this world. And I fear — at 23, 24, 25 — we might forget.”
The first and only time I saw Marina was when I visited Yale as a senior in high school, giddily excited about the prospect of being in college but also experimenting with my newly found nonchalance toward societal expectation, authority, and respect. I was only half-listening. I sat on the floor in a corner with the friend whom I’d come to see perform, and we whispered over her spoken word poem. When Marina apologized for the fact that she hadn’t practiced it in a while and would be reading it off of her laptop, he and I grinned at each other. But somewhere in there, I started listening. Her words about all of the glee and nostalgia associated with being a junior in college were stunningly similar to what I was going through as an almost-high school-graduate, and I had to silence my cynical friend to have more of a listen. By the end of it, I was touched, but I still hadn’t heard it all.
But the poem stuck with me for months. I emailed my friend at Yale quite a while later and asked him to find out her name for me and send me her email address. I got in touch with her and asked her to send me a copy of “Bygones.” She responded right away with the poem, and asked me if I was coming to Yale the following year. I told her I was choosing between Yale and Harvard, and her immediate response was, “What’s your phone number? I’m going to call you and convince you to come to Yale.” I made the usual excuses of homework and no time but sent her my number and asked her to call me over the weekend. She called right away.
What followed was a breathless two-minute call of Marina energy and listen-I’m-walking-to-class-and-I’m-in-college-so-I-don’t-have-time-to-talk-either-but-if-you-care-at-all-about-the-arts-or-poetry-or-having-fun-you-HAVE-to-come-here-and-NOT-Harvard talk. She blew me away. She was the single factor that made it hardest to pick Harvard. When I emailed her to let her know I’d made my choice, she responded with a beautiful, “Harvard is despicable, but perhaps less so for your attainment. GOOD LUCK!” In the same email, I’d told her how “Bygones” continued to inspire and illuminate even the most confusing emotional crises and she replied, “I can’t tell you sincerely enough how much it means to me that my poetry has helped you. It’s really an ultimate goal of mine and I’m so happy you can relate to some of my concerns and anxieties and quandaries and happiness’!”
By some wacky coincidence, I was reading the same poem again, many months later, when I got the news. It was my tried-and-tested pick-me-up, and I was going through a rough patch during my gap year. I pasted a link to a video of Marina reciting the poem at the end of a blog post I was writing, and my friend sent me a link to the article about the end of her life. If someone had told Marina three years ago that her first book would be coming out in April of 2014, I’m sure she’d have been overjoyed. If someone had told me three years ago that I’d know Marina’s mother so well today, and that I’d be working with her on a project to publicize that book, I would have been happy and honored. I am happy and honored. This isn’t the way I would have chosen to read Marina’s words, but she reminds me every day to stamp out some of that too-cool-for-college nonchalance and be thankful, so that someday when the sun dies and the human race ends I won’t still be texting to see if that other party’s better. Thank you, Marina.
Ratna Gill is a sophomore at Harvard.
“We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time. There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious as we lay alone after a party, or pack up our books when we give in and go out – that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement…
We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I’d say that’s how I feel at Yale. How I feel right now. Here. With all of you. In love, impressed, humbled, scared. And we don’t have to lose that.”
There’s a line in Marina Keegan’s “The Opposite of Loneliness” that will make you stop in your tracks. “We’re so young,” she writes. Then again, for emphasis: “We’re so young. We’re 22 years old. We have so much time.”
Keegan died shortly after the piece was published, in a car accident made all the more tragic by her recent graduation from Yale. I was studying abroad in Paris at the time, between my sophomore and junior years, and had just received some bad news myself: My Italian grandfather and namesake, Andrew, had suffered a massive heart attack and died on the way to the hospital, the night after I arrived in France. My parents contacted me via Skype to let me know. Grandpa was 77. His last words to me, before my departure, were: “Parlez-vous français?” I still remember him waving goodbye with his usual toothy grin as our car pulled out of his driveway.
The news of these deaths hit me like a one-two punch. On our first day of class, a friend enrolled in the same French program told me about Keegan’s passing (she had learned of it online) and explained that she didn’t know how to feel. Neither of us had gotten the chance to say goodbye. And both of us, I suspect, felt guilty for essentially being on vacation while our loved ones grieved at home.
I never met Keegan but her name had been among those Yale upperclassmen who you know will find success in life. She seemed capable of so much: She led the Yale College Democrats, wrote various pieces and plays and interned at The New Yorker the summer before she died. How did she do it all? How could she? Keegan was one of those Yalies who make you feel inadequate and impressed at the same time. She appeared “effortlessly excellent” in every sense of those words.
Still, Keegan’s story forces us to confront a reality that many of us tend to avoid — we just don’t know how much time we have. Keegan didn’t, my grandfather didn’t, and I certainly don’t either.
This is a terrifying thought, and one which Keegan — a true intellectual — probably confronted often. But it didn’t stop her from pursuing her passions, and it shouldn’t stop us from pursuing ours. I, for one, aspire to be an author, and Keegan’s memory serves as a model. Her writing haunted the halls of The New Yorker office, where I interned last summer, and it haunts me now as I wrap up my senior thesis on the French author Albert Camus.
He also died in a car crash too young, at the age of 47, and is widely remembered for his lucid, moral voice. In the wreckage was the manuscript of Camus’s unfinished memoir, which now survives as “The First Man.” It’s a beautiful and tender story of the author’s childhood and the forces that shaped it.
Over fifty years later, although the accident that ended Keegan’s life smashed her laptop, it didn’t destroy the hard drive containing her most precious writings. These are now preserved in a book available on Amazon and in stores nationwide, for those who knew her and those who didn’t.
I can only dream of such success. But Keegan — as much as she makes me feel both inadequate and impressed — continues to be a source of hope.
“We talk into these scratchy microphones and take extra photographs but I still feel like there are just SO MANY PEOPLE. 1035.6 books are published every day; 66 million people update their status each morning. At night, aimlessly scrolling, I remind myself of elementary school murals. One person can make a difference! But the people asking me what I want to be when I grow up don’t want me to make a poster anymore. They want me to fill out forms and hand them rectangular cards that say Hello This is What I Do…
I read somewhere that radio waves just keep traveling outwards, flying into the universe with eternal vibrations. Sometime before I die I think I’ll find a microphone and climb to the top of a radio tower. I’ll take a deep breath and close my eyes because it will start to rain right when I reach the top. Hello, I’ll say to outer space, this is my card.”
I don’t quite remember where I first met Marina. The only thing I can say with certainty is that we met at an event for the Yale College Democrats. I joined the Yale Dems the first semester of my freshman year, when Marina was serving as the Elections Coordinator. Though I was hesitant to get involved—I had never done elections work before—Marina’s enthusiasm was infectious. I found myself regularly attending Yale Dems meetings.
At the end of the semester, Marina asked me to grab coffee and told me I should run for a board position. I was hesitant to run, and I didn’t feel qualified, but Marina told me that I had been one of the most involved freshmen. With her urging, I ran and was elected for Communications Director. Over the next year, while Marina served as President, I worked closely with her on different projects including repealing the death penalty, passing the DREAM Act here in Connecticut, and registering students to vote for the aldermanic election.
In her most famous essay, Marina wrote that she had found the opposite of loneliness at Yale. But Marina didn’t just find the opposite of loneliness, she created it. Under her leadership, the Yale Dems was a community that embodied what she wrote about. I will always be grateful to her, not only for welcoming me to Yale, but also for reaching out and encouraging me to take a leadership role with the Yale Dems.
The last time I saw Marina was at an event for the Yale Dems at the end of her senior year. She told us how excited she was for us to get involved during the 2012 election cycle, and she promised to take the train back from New York some weekends to help out, never wanting to miss an opportunity for elections work. Sadly that never happened, as she died a few weeks later.
Looking at my copy of “The Opposite of Loneliness,” I know we lost a brilliant writer who spoke for our generation in a way few others could. But we also lost someone who was a fierce advocate for the causes she believed in. Marina was a progressive, not just in thought but in action, unapologetically working for progress, for change, and for hope. It is that spirit, that belief that change could happen, that I miss the most.
On Monday, I found out that I had failed one of my midterms. Not like, “Oh, damn, probably got a B-” failure. Like straight-up, forty-six out of one hundred points failure. I slunk off to lunch; the Berkeley Mac and Cheese I love tasted less exciting than usual. Three hours later, I found out that the dean of Calhoun College, my dean, Leslie Woodard, passed away unexpectedly. Four hours later, I stood in the Calhoun courtyard, shoulders hunched, holding a white candle that had been poked through a paper cup.
I love the courtyard’s simplicity, the way it neatly delineates the whole college in one easy square. No coved sections with hidden entryways, no bisecting arches. No matter where you stand, you can see the entire inside of Calhoun. I never wanted to experience the courtyard the way I did Monday night: seeing hundreds of faces, warmed by candlelight but cold and silent; seeing my own vision distorted by tears. I didn’t want to be there under these circumstances.
But there we were, faced with a reality that had been too easy to deny when it came through email. With a microphone, Calhoun master Jonathan Holloway spoke to us, describing the spectrum of emotions that come with events like these. There were a variety of emotions, yes, but they mostly melded into a shapeless mass of confusion. My mind raced through them. With each one, I was pulled in a different direction. Sadness: This is too soon, for her and for us. Regret: I should have gotten to know her more. I should have recognized her warm spirit and made it a part of my life. Pragmatism: I have assignments due tomorrow and a midterm that I failed. The world is still turning. Anger: the world is so fucking unfair. Again, the confusion: what is the proper emotion to feel right now? I don’t know. My throat was sore from holding down sobs.
Master Holloway implored that we remember what Dean Woodard would say in the face of tough times, and with a startlingly accurate impression, he said: “Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. March with a capital M.” The words resonated for their power but also for the daunting task they presented. Dean Woodard’s infectious enthusiasm for life has stayed with me since the moment I first saw her at my sister’s graduation — which took place in that same courtyard. There she had been, announcing the seniors’ names and majors with immeasurable pride. I will never forget it. After such a loss, how do I pick myself up, dust myself off and march? What is the force that sets me on that path? Perhaps no external force is necessary. Perhaps just marching is needed. Just a step.
I think I cried hardest when someone walked dean Woodard’s Shetland Sheepdog Jimmy Dean around the courtyard to let students pet him. When he reached me, I crumbled. “What are you going to do now?” I thought. “Who is going to take care of you?” I bent down to brush my hand against his fur, but only for a moment, because I knew he still had to travel around the circle. I couldn’t keep him close; that wouldn’t be fair to the others. It wouldn’t be fair to Jimmy. I lifted my hand, straightened my body and let the people to my right reach their hands down. As I watched Jimmy move away from me slowly, I extinguished my candle. Motown music softly played over the speakers, and the crowd stood silently. After a minute, people began to break from the circle, either to place their candles into the courtyard’s lawn, or to talk to others, or to leave the courtyard. As I approached my fellow Calhoun juniors, I saw the circle dissolve into an array of moving people speaking in hushed murmurs and walking in different directions.
Chances are, you have never been to the Institute of Sacred Music’s Gallery for Sacred Arts. I, along with my dutiful companion, certainly hadn’t, and it seemed as though no one could even direct me (or maybe I’m just bad at remembering directions). But if you want to start exploring the extent of what the Yale arts community has to offer, I highly recommend taking the pilgrimage through the Divinity School’s heavenly quadrangle to visit the Gallery’s newest exhibit “All That Remains: Material Remembrances in Love and Loss.”
The exhibit showcases the work of four artists who have created physical manifestations of their grief after the loss of a loved one. The Gallery is relatively small, its soft lighting and white walls providing the space’s only physical backdrop. Immediately upon entering the room, you are struck by the exhibit’s centerpiece: a 25-foot reclining, somber, inflatable Buddha, based off of the stone Buddha at Gal Vihara in Sri Lanka. The piece, Lewis deSoto’s Paranirvana (self-portrait), remains inflated by a fan. The fan is its only life-source, and every night when the exhibition closes, the fan is turned off. In this way, the sculpture undergoes the cycle of life and death every day, providing the most explicit embodiment of the exhibit’s larger theme.
Six paintings, adorning the walls of the intimate space, tell the stories of human pain and recovery. While each piece encapsulates each respective artist’s personal — and perhaps a universal — struggle, one stands out in particular. In one piece by Rick Bartow, figures and fish bones emerge from a murky grey and blue background. The central figure grasps a supine body that seems to be floating away, perhaps into heaven, in spite of the harrowed protests of his loved ones. Another figure in the corner, a woman, bears the grizzled face of an animal, a depiction of her struggle to transcend the reality of human mortality. The painting is intensely emotional; and when viewed in light of the title “Give Me Back My Father,” the piece takes on an added layer, as the viewer is allowed a glimpse into the tender experience that Bartow seeks to convey.
Though less of an intimate view of loss, Harry Fonseca’s “Stone Poem” seemed to express a more universal view of grief. Painted only in blue — the color of sadness — black, and white, the figure in the piece is painted both like a cave drawing and graffiti. This mixture of styles suggests the continuity of generations, but also the destruction of each as it is replaced by the next. Small crosses, reminiscent of gravestones, appear next to circles that seem to suggest, again, the cycle of life.
Though the exhibit is small, the collection of seven pieces adequately fulfills the curator’s overall goal of exploring manifestations of grief in art. But for a message so powerful, it’s a shame that the exhibit finds itself constrained to such a small space — given the Gallery’s remote location, a larger exhibit would likely entice a larger audience. The exhibit truly left me wanting more, if only so that I could more easily recommend it to a friend with a free afternoon. Inevitably, for some, it may not merit the schlep.
Overall, the exhibit succeeds in encapsulating likely the most complex human emotions of all: love and grief. For artists, it is difficult to imagine a more daunting task — capturing such platitudes through a convincing material form. But “All That Remains” does just this, albeit in fewer pieces than one might prefer. So if you aren’t up for the walk, jump on the blue line — it’s a ride well worth it.
Every review I’ve read so far has gotten the title wrong. The full title — as it was meant to be spoken, never read — is: “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die,/ Cherish, Perish, a novel by/ David Rakoff.” You see? It has to rhyme. And isn’t that the point?
David Rakoff’s first — and last — novel is truly a must-read. Rakoff, a wry and funny critic who passed away last year from cancer, wrote the entire book in anapestic tetrameter. It rhymes, it sings, it moves, it’s only 113 pages. The novel can easily be finished in an hour or two. But you won’t read it just once. And you won’t stop thinking about it for a long time.
As novelist Paul Rudnick wrote, the novel “didn’t make me love poetry, but it certainly affirmed my love for David Rakoff.” Only Rakoff could take such a clichéd and almost juvenile form and make it into something moving and entertaining, tragic and funny. “Love, Dishonor” is a story that lacks a clearly defined plot or set of characters. It jumps around in time and place, and at times it’s even a little difficult to follow. But it gets at so many simple truths, so many dark places in our history. The book is ultimately about death — written with an intimacy all too familiar.
“Love, Dishonor” tells the story of diverse characters — these characters are all connected, but to trace the connectedness would be quite difficult and highly unnecessary. The novel begins in the bloody slaughterhouses of turn-of-the-century Chicago. A girl is born of Irish immigrants, possessing nothing but a poor mother, a sadistic stepfather and a length of shocking red hair. Sexually abused, she runs from her plight, riding the rails of the Great Depression, comforted by a nameless man who senses her agony. Later, that man faces some serious family problems. In another place and another time, a prim girl finds happiness in her love of drawing, and then she becomes a prim secretary who sleeps with her boss and can’t move up in her job. A closeted gay boy comes to terms with himself in booming Southern California. He moves to San Francisco, gets caught up in the city and art and happiness, gets many sexual partners, gets AIDS. A man gives a sad and inappropriate yet moving toast at his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. A directionless woman changes her name to fit changing times — from Susan to Sloan to Shulamit. These characters together tell the story of 20th century America.
“Love, Dishonor” is not a happy book, yet neither is it a depressing one. It’s funny. When a gay pornographic cartoonist is attacked by conservative critics, he responds: “I know it won’t sway you the smallest scintilla/ To point out the sex is quite firmly vanilla.” It’s poignant. A dying character reflects: “In thrall to the twists of his brain’s involutions/ The cranial mists and synaptic occlusions/ He’d had to contend with since he’d has his first stroke/ Like trying to sculpt something solid from smoke.” It gives a bizarre sense of closure. Of the nuns at a Catholic school, Rakoff writes: “They meted out lashings and thrashings despotic/ (With a thrill she would later construe as erotic).”
Rakoff even maintains his politics to the bitter end. Here is a passage I had no choice but to quote in full, which surely will stand the test of history: “The drugmakers, government — all who’d forsaken/ The thousands — the murderous silence of Reagan/ Or William F. Buckley, the fucker at whose/ Suggestion that people with AIDS get tattoos;/ (The New Haven lockjaw, the glib erudition/ When truly, the man’s craven moral perdition/ Made Clifford so angry he thought he might vomit/ Or fly east, find Buckley’s address, and then bomb it.)” Even if you disagree with Rakoff’s sentiment, you can’t fault his poetry.
You have a tough decision to make — book or audiobook. The book is a comfortable, slender volume, illustrated with odd and endearing cartoons by Gregory “Seth” Gallant, the illustrator for some Lemony Snicket works, among others. But the audiobook is narrated by Rakoff himself, recorded within a month of his death. His voice — formerly so lively and expressive — is reduced to a rasping whisper. It’s as sad a form as it is darkly comedic.
Ultimately, the book does not have a happy ending, but it gives a satisfying sense of finality. It is the intentionally final work from a man who knew he was going to die. This wasn’t a guess; Rakoff had undergone four surgeries for cancer in as many years. He’d been working on parts of the novel for 10 years, but he could only finish it in the last weeks of life. Of death he writes simply (and with characteristic wit): “Inevitable, why even bother to test it,/ He’d paid all his taxes, so that left … you guessed it.”
We were supposed to arrive at Randall’s Island in New York City for a final day of electronic music that never came. Throughout Sunday, engineers prepared to disassemble stages on which some of the world’s leading electronic artists should have been playing. Instead of identifying Armin van Buuren and Avicii, my ears detected machinists and forklift operators.
A collection of tablets believed to be ecstasy (known as MDMA), which might have otherwise fit into an empty pack of gum, brought about the deaths of two young adults, hospitalized several others and prematurely ended Electric Zoo. Tens of thousands of fans streaming to Labor Day’s electronic rave woke up to the unfortunate news on their Twitter feeds. Despite electronic music’s automated and computerized nature, human emotion surged profusely in the aftermath.
Our crew of five congregated in the small rented apartment in Queens which we had used as a home base for the weekend’s event. Leading up to it, I was looking forward to expanding my musical horizons. I had done the background reading on the artists, and listened to the albums as well as the viewpoints of other fans. In a dimly lit and muggy room, sympathy, frustration and bewilderment fluctuated within us for several cycles until we finally arrived at lethargy. For many, the concert represented a significant chunk of summer wages put towards accommodation, transportation and food. The atmosphere resembled that which follows a destructive flood.
As a neophyte to the electronic concert scene, I took refuge in the expertise of my fellow concert chums. My friend James, a student music artist with an electronic-heavy repertoire often hired at Yale events, sagged on the futon. “People are looking to heighten their experience and find creative ways to get substances through security,” he explained to me. The lyrical lingo describing the use of ecstasy in popular culture misleads concertgoers about the destructive capacity of the drug. With softened synonyms such as “Molly” or “disco biscuit,” it grants the possibility of a more invigorating musical experience. It is not uncommon to find a subversive chapter of dealers who roam concert venues offering questionable hallucinogens to attendees caught in the moment. Dr. Danielle Ompad, an epidemiologist at NYU, stressed to me that users often have no clue what they are ingesting: “It is not always clear that the pill that was purchased is always MDMA.”
Leading into the weekend, I had fully expected to see substances, and pockets of individuals who used them — to deny this would be to deny the reality of an electronic concert. But I thought there was safety in numbers. No concert that attracts over 100,000 visitors could ever be canceled. That version of affairs lay outside my realm of possibilities.
Just prior to Electric Zoo’s cancellation, a concert in Boston hosting a techno band saw three reported overdoses from ecstasy, with one resulting in death. College campuses aren’t insulated from the growing prevalence of the drug either. As one acquaintance told me at the dining hall: “Let’s just say that Toad’s isn’t the only thing popping on a Wednesday night.” The illicit nature of ecstasy inhibits an accurate estimate of usage on campuses, but according to the Justice Department’s website, nearly 10 percent of incoming freshmen will have tried ecstasy at least once before even having stepped foot at their respective colleges.
The decision by the New York Mayor’s Office to cancel the final day of Electric Zoo highlighted the inextricable link between illicit substances and electronic music for me. The logic now flows: If there is an electronic concert, then there will be ecstasy. Vice versa, there cannot be an electronic concert without users of ecstasy. This is almost an inherent fact, not a personal belief.
The strong response to Electric Zoo will repel moderates like me who fluctuate between music styles. Prior to my descent upon New York, I was really excited to broaden my musical knowledge and investigate emerging artists. Instead, the events have cognitively distorted my attraction to electronic music and made the genre less accessible. Sunday’s twist will nurture the intimidating image I have of rave culture and harm what was once a growing attraction to the scene. It will take some time before I feel comfortable venturing off to an electronic music fest or fully investing in EDM artists. It is not a rational reaction, but the reinforced stigma of raves remains looming in the back of my head.
By the time I boarded the bus, a year ago yesterday, I was already crying. I knew a freshman boy in Davenport, in my own year and residential college, had committed suicide, but I did not yet know who it was. As we slowly neared campus, I pleaded and bargained with some higher power, begging that the student in question not be one of my nine suitemates. It wasn’t. It was Zach, our gregarious, curly-haired next-door neighbor whom we had dubbed an honorary member of our suite, the 11th member of Welch Hall’s 10-pack.
I walked back through campus on one of those idyllic spring days when the weather, more than anything else, mocks you. Shell-shocked and spilling tears, I drifted past spring’s many co-conspirators — the Frisbee-playing, sunbathing Yale students, painfully unaware of what had happened, and everything was deteriorating as they lazed on the grass. In the following weeks, I came to view each individual student that I walked past as a tiny sliver of my many freshman-year selves: too caught up playing games to anticipate the imminent sorrow, blissfully ignorant of the fucked-up conclusion that lurked around the corner.
Like a pebble dropped in water, death triggers a proverbial ripple effect on the lives of those who were connected to the deceased. In the days after Zach’s death, I observed the outpouring of emotional support from the Yale community and from Zach’s friends and family all over the U.S. In life, he had influenced a wide variety of individuals. In dying, he had done the same. After the initial period of shock, I anticipated my own ripple from Zach’s death, a small change in my life that would forever remind me of him and the relatively short time that we spent together. But the shock never fully subsided, and my own tiny ripple revealed itself as an inundating tidal wave, an overwhelming emotional response that, I believe, has altered the entire trajectory of my life.
I cried for Zach. I cried for his friends from home. I cried for his relatives, his teary-eyed parents who barely mustered the strength to utter a few cautionary words at the candlelight vigil. But, most of all, I cried for myself. And weeks later, months later, when it seemed that my friends had moved on, I was still crying.
As I grappled with Zach’s death, I imagined a point in the future when I would undergo an all-encompassing, Joycean epiphany in which I would accept and understand Zach’s death, and quite possibly, in the process, explain human life and death in their entireties. In my state, the potential emotional detachment available to the fatalists, to those who surrendered to the inevitability of life, appealed to me. Most likely, I figured I would embrace the philosophy that Billy Pilgrim adopts from the Tralfamadorians in Slaughterhouse-Five: “When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but the same person is fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “so it goes.”
In a case of life imitating art, I, like Billy Pilgrim, would become unstuck in time, or at least would understand life as more than a linear progression with a finite beginning and end. With this understanding, I would free myself from the intense tangles of human emotion, from the burden of my own self-absorption. This form of existential fatalism to which I would subscribe would not only ensure that I would never feel the way I once did, but would also, with its accompanying ability to transcend time, heal the emotional suffering of my past. I would, most likely, even tattoo “so it goes,” my new personal credo, somewhere on my body, perhaps, logically, over my beating heart. That way, when my time came, whoever was left of my family and friends, when observing my lifeless corpse, would read the words aloud, off my still body, over and over again, until they too believed them to be true.
A year has passed — an event-filled, emotion-laden, life-altering year — and I still do not find solace in repeating “so it goes” to myself, no matter how often I say it in my mind.
During a particularly low point, I passed a week in a psych ward, struggling with my own questions of life and death. Before I left, a doctor asked me to explain what bound me to this earth. I struggled to answer the question at the time, but I think I might be closer to answering it now.
There is no escaping what happened, no literal or metaphorical alternative reality into which I may slip to avoid the truth: Zach lived, and Zach died. I must accept that. But I do not have to shrug at death; I do not need to — nor do I have the ability to — render myself unfeeling. Because disconnecting and succumbing to numbness is not the right answer to feeling too much for too long.
That’s what links me to those around me, what roots me to the earth, what keeps me stuck in time.
Last week, I lost my keys. I’d last had them in my suite, where I spent a day rummaging distractedly for them, half-expecting to see them at every turn. “I mean, they have to be somewhere,” my long-suffering roommate helpfully pointed out as I upended my closet for the third time. And she was right, they did. Anything you lose always has to be somewhere. It was just that, for a day, I wasn’t sure exactly where that somewhere was.
Losing someone is nothing like losing keys. I’ve always thought that “loss,” when it comes to people, is a particularly cruel euphemism. It implies absent-mindedness or neglect. It makes you feel guilty, like you weren’t taking good enough care of that person to make sure they stayed with you. Like maybe if you’d called them last weekend, they’d still be around today. It places blame on you. You left them behind in a back corner of your mind, and by the time you remembered them later, they weren’t there anymore.
Having to tell people you’ve lost someone is cruel too. It’s socially alienating to mention death in polite chit-chat; people leap back from the word as if you’ve tossed a grenade into the china-set of their conversation. “Loss,” by contrast, is neutral. Loss is casual; we lose things every day. By draping that euphemism over something big and dark and scary, we ensure that no one feels uncomfortable. It makes people relax, and proffer a prepackaged sound bite that probably includes the word “condolences.” But no word has ever been more impotent than “condolences.” And nothing is more alienating than feeling a grief that you can only talk about in terms that minimize it. “Loss” creates a distance between what we feel and what others acknowledge.
And what is cruelest of all is that talking about losing someone seeds false hope. It makes you think of the situation as being provisional. It makes you think of that person as temporarily mislaid. It makes you secretly imagine that if you look long enough, you’ll find them again. “They have to be somewhere”, right?
Little children have particular trouble with this. It’s not uncommon that the very young who have suffered a loss — there’s that phrase again — will understand that someone has died, but won’t quite realize that that’s a rather permanent state of affairs. They’ll ask over and over again when Granny is coming home. Sure, they can comprehend that she’s gone for now — but for forever is a different story.
What no one ever warns you about loss is that it reduces you to a small child. At first, you too can’t really believe in the finality of it all. For a while, it can be almost impossible to wrap your head around the idea that someone is no longer anywhere, anywhere at all. It’s disorienting; it’s terrifying. So terrifying that we all, at some point or another, seek comfort in that old chestnut of “a better place”. Because if we believe someone is in a “better place,” no matter where that place may be, we can promise ourselves they aren’t completely gone. We’ve put them back on a map we think we can use to find them again.
What they also don’t tell you about loss is what it’s like to deal with the things that are left behind. We’re not good at getting rid of debris. Our grandparents were the waste-not want-not generation; we’re the children of plenty. Today, “replacement wedding ring” churns up almost four million hits on Google. We’ve grown up in the age of the Internet, surrounded by an endless archive of everything that is us. We’ve been conditioned to think that everything we have is replaceable, and that nothing we ever say or do — as politicians and child stars have both learned to their peril — can ever fully be erased.
But here’s the sad thing: Offline, people can be. When someone passes away, they leave the traces of their last days behind them. Their unwashed coffee mug in the sink. Their leftovers in the fridge. Their book open by the side of the bath, the spine creasing deeper by the day. The trappings of their life stand firm around space they used to inhabit — but there’s nothing at the center anymore. So, when you start washing the coffee mug, eating the leftovers, suddenly it starts to feel like you’re undoing all that was left of that person. You feel complicit in their loss, as if instead of searching for them, you’re losing them all over again. It can feel intrusive; it can feel therapeutic.
But no one ever tells you about the strange hollowness that comes when that person’s things are all packed up and gone, and there isn’t anything of them anywhere, anymore.
I lost my grandmother three weeks ago this Saturday.
I found my keys in the pocket of a jacket under my bed.
Somewhere in the Dominican Republic, Jordi anxiously hauls sandbags onto the side of a road. Meanwhile, Cora panics amidst the traffic as she attempts to evacuate Manhattan by car. In another hemisphere, Akbar hurries to take shelter in his home in Karachi, Pakistan, as Jack buckles the seatbelt and ducks on his flight to China. It’s Dec. 21, 2012. And it is real. Suddenly, the Dominican Republic goes underwater, and Jordi’s frail body is washed into the Caribbean. Cora looks out the window, just in time to see a massive tsunami pummel New York. The ground splits underneath Akbar’s home in a violent earthquake, and he falls into an endless crevice. Jack screams and watches the destruction below his flight — but suddenly, a meteor falls from the sky and strikes his plane. But wait! It’s actu- ally Dec. 7 — the beginning of the WEEKEND. You have two weeks to prepare, and two weeks to anticipate your ending. How will you survive? How will you perish? WEEKEND investigates.
As we know it
// BY CINDY OK
It was the end of the world. When my parents went to New York one weekend 15 years ago and forgot to tell my sister and me. When my second-grade best friend Emily’s family moved away and we didn’t stay in touch. When I came to college, leaving the place — and all the people — I loved most. In each of those moments, I thought to myself. with childlike earnestness, everything has changed — everything.
And in some ways, everything did change, because it wasn’t just that it felt like the end of the world, it was the end of A World. But those were different worlds than my world today, weren’t they? And my world that I call “the world” today will end — maybe when I move back to California, maybe on Dec. 21, maybe before this goes to print.
Some of my favorite people in the world are graduating this spring, and you should know that it really is the end of the world. Everything will change, because everything can’t stop changing.
The world is always ending, and our hearts are always breaking, but we separate the zombie movies and the Oakland evangelicals’ predictions, and we go on. We get out of bed, we feed the cats in our backyards, we laugh till we almost vomit with the people we love and stop and chat with people we have to tolerate. Because those things are part of what it means to be one of the living, and we’re one of the living as long as we continue to be.
I know that’s a tautology, but are you really about to judge me on the strength of my reasoning at this very moment when we both know that the world is about to end?
And I feel fine
// BY AARON GERTLER
“12/21/12 survival tips?” Bah! If almost everyone’s dead and the world is covered in water/blood/zombies/killer bees/fire/ice/Britney Spears backup dancers, what’s the point of surviving? The real killer app for the apocalypse is ensuring one’s place in the world to come. Each of these tips you remember will increase your chance of a happy afterlife by 33 percent. The other 1 percent involves you being part of the 1 percent, in which case you’re reading this on an escaping space shuttle and chuckling to yourself.
1)If the afterlife is real: There are way too many gods for you to please many of them in the scant weeks remaining, but material trickery is much easier to plan for. When the looting begins, find a costume shop and grab a monk’s robe, a nun’s habit, a Sufi turban, a kippah, a toga and Groucho Marx glasses in case you get to an underworld you don’t recognize. With the right disguise, and given the billions of souls they’ll have to process, you should slip on by to heaven/paradise/Valhalla/whatever.
2)If karma is real: You’ll want to be reborn as a life-form that thrives in the post-oblivion world. I suggest great white shark or honey badger, depending on whether there’s any dry land around. Either way, that’s just a step below human, so commit a minor sin within the next two weeks. Which sin is up to you, but I’m partial to lust and gluttony.
3)If aliens are real: bone up on your math and mime skills. You’ll have to impress them enough to seem worthy of rescue; linguistic babble and/or your political science term paper won’t cut it.
Personally, I plan to mix things up by sneaking onto the space shuttle in Groucho Marx glasses. We all just need to do what comes naturally.
Lama Wilds gets s000 schwasty
// BY WILL ADAMS
I don’t know about you, but I want the apocalypse to be something I REMEMBER. We get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of preparing for the end of the world — everyone’s milling about, all, “Of COURSE I’m stealing this king-size bag of Sour Skittles and a copy of ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ on Blu-ray because ‘HELLO the WORLD IS ENDING’” and, “What if Karmin doesn’t release another Gucci Mane cover before then, OH NO!” If we don’t take the time to step back and take a breather, we’re not going to remember the important stuff.
That’s why I’m hosting a celebration where we dedicate our last few days to treasuring these moments for posterity! It’ll be at my swanky apartment in Chicago; everyone’s free to come! I’ll set up a fun photo booth so we can take pictures, we can write letters to ourselves in the future, and — this is the best part — we’ll make a time capsule and bury it in Lincoln Park, so 15 years later we can dig it up and see just how much we’ve changed!
So it’d be really awesome if you came. I understand that people are really busy leading up to The Day, so I’ve decided to schedule the party afterwards, on Dec. 22. It’s kinda cheeky, right? Can’t wait!
Will’s “Remember December Forever Bash!”
9 p.m. on Dec. 22, 2012
Will’s Super Cool Chicago Pad
Chicago, Ill. (duh)
RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org
Knee pains > World pains
// BY LARA SOKOLOFF
During the last alleged apocalypse, I was in my bed. I was supposed to have arrived at school by 9 a.m. for a club event. At 11 a.m., I rolled over to find multiple missed calls and text messages inquiring after my whereabouts. I had slept through my alarm — happens to the best of us. Most of the text messages and voice mails either directly or indirectly alluded to the apocalypse and how I had somehow managed to be its only victim.
And for this alleged apocalypse, I again expect to find myself in my bed. But unlike last time, I won’t be sleeping through alarms and rolling over to fan mail on my current location. I’ll be recovering from knee surgery.
Backstory: two weeks into freshman year, I tore my ACL. I decided to try out for the girls’ club soccer team the night before tryouts. Having not touched a soccer ball for two years, I knew my chances of making the team were slim, but I saw almost no possible pitfalls. Worst-case scenario, I wouldn’t make the team, and I would be exactly where I had been had I not tried out at all. Fast forward to day three of tryouts and picture me posted in my bed, my knee swollen to double its size with an ice pack on top of it to somewhat mitigate the situation.
So what am I doing to prepare for the apocalypse? I’ll be going extra-hard at my biweekly physical therapy sessions with my physical therapist, Nick.
Me and Jose by the meteors
// BY CHLOE DRIMAL
Dec. 21st: my 22nd birthday. I’ll be drinking margaritas in Mexico with those closest to me — my family and a man named Jose. Even the end of the world can turn into a party. Guess the Mayans meant for me to die at 21.
Sex = Death
// BY MILA HURSEY
In season 3 of the “The Walking Dead,” Lori dies from childbirth. Duh. People have babies when they have sex, and lots of women die from it. There are only two solutions to this problem when you’re about to enter an apocalyptic scenario: Have some foresight by taking control of all the contraceptives and OB-GYNs. You will be rich because you can grow food. You can’t grow condoms. Alternatively, you can bump ‘n grind willy nilly and have babies cut out of you. Good luck with that.