Rosie Stockton, (they/them/theirs) is Alumni from the Creative Writing Program, 2017 who is currently pursuing a PhD at University of California, Los Angeles. They (RS) take a few moments to chat with current blog writer/admin staffer, Christina-Marie Sears (BH). We discuss their work, current practice, and time at Eastern Michigan University. Proudly we share this news:
Rosie Stockton’s recent work: Permanent Volta won the Sawtooth Prize and will be published soon by Nightboat Books.
This conversation began via email and continued with a real-time interview. We had a lovely chat, and hope that you will find this post informative and as enjoyable as our meeting.
BathHouse: What is your daily practice like? Do you write in solitude or do you enjoy a community or peer relationship with other artists?
RS: I write alone and journal alone. But I love writing with other people.
Poetry is grounding and ritualizing for me.
One of my daily rituals is- I get up and I journal. It’s not narrative. Journaling for me is a stream-of -consciousness and image-focused practice. I have a really active dream life and I just wake up and write before I even look at my phone, but of course on some days that doesn’t always work.
BH: The vitality and somatic grounding of your manuscript is so vivid and engrossing. What kind of effect or reaction do you wish to stir in the reader? Or is that not a consideration?
RS: When writing, I’m not thinking about the reader at that moment.” They elaborate, describing some pivotal experiences with Professor Rob Halpern at EMU- Daily practice was kind of drilled into me.
They go on to share that this Poetry manuscript developed out of their Master’s Thesis project, with Carla Harryman, Language Poet and Professor, advising. However, the draft from the thesis was one of four sections of this final manuscript. And RS has made many revisions over the years.
Permanent Volta refers to a kind of eternal revolution.
Towards that end, I wonder:
What can poetry accomplish? What does it do and how does it contribute to literature? To society? To social action?
Poetry is a sensory organ.
RS: Poetry possesses… a different type of knowledge, according to Aimé Césaire, it’s poetic knowledge. The poem knows something that I don’t know. I ask the poem what it needs to teach me.
BH: Do you work with formal structures in poetry? Do sonnet forms and the like impact your work?
RS: I worked (for some time) on the form of the sestina. That was like a machine. The way it churned the language– defamiliarizing it. (Additionally, )
Putting two semantic fields together creates new content and obscures meaning and generates new meaning.
Deeply political and aesthetically innovative, while RS writes alone, she also enjoys community. RS co-facilitated Writers’ Bloc for several seasons. In this program, Professor Halpern and workshop leaders such as Stockton have a close, creative relationship with writers who are incarcerated at Huron Valley Women’s Prison.
RS: In terms of her work with the Huron Valley Writers: this work, writing (in community) tackling prompts with women in the workshop, allowed me to take vocabulary, cogent thoughts, different elements from disparate areas of my life, and create something new.
Additionally, RS notes the importance of non-conscious additions within their poetry. They express interest in accessing latent though and latent feeling. (Deconstruction and alteration) is an important process for my creative thinking.
Breaking sentences allows for new sentences.
Enjoy this excerpt from Rosie Stockton’s Manuscript, Permanent Volta.
Your sestina exceeds the bar and I sip. Windy with adjectives, my view of thunder. In that notebook, what are you writing in that notebook. In the notebook, that book with notes, which order are the words, which words slight the order.
You need a word for waltz, and I said breeze, breeze or slide, march or breeze or slide.
I sip your excess, your sestina in my notebook, the breeze it says be careful, be careful with the sestina, the sestina in your notebook.
Where I wonder and I sip, where you got that sestina, what machine gave you that sestina. You can write a sestina, I demand, you can really write a sestina. In your notebook with thunder, I sip windily. I waltz to think of your order, the words in the notebook, my careful sestina.
Your breeze is marching excess, it is slow and pauseful. Always with the pauses, you are thunder in my bar, and I sip, all excess. All excess and pause. And pause and pause. Be careful says the sestina, marching along, with all that excess in your notebook, with that machine that waltzes on.
No pause for the machine, only windy prediction, be careful of that word, or that order. Excessive sestina, bent over the bar. It is writing, writing thunder and care. I sip excess, I sip carefully, my excess. Windy with order, my excess.”
Rosie Stockton is a poet based in Los Angeles. Their first book, Permanent Volta, is the recipient of the 2019 Sawtooth Prize, and is forthcoming from Nightboat Books in 2021. Their poems have been published by Publication Studio, Monster House Press, Jubilat, Mask Magazine, and WONDER. They received their M.A. in Creative Writing at Eastern Michigan University. They are currently a PhD Student in Gender Studies at UCLA.
Here’s more information on Writers’ Bloc
POETRY FROM INSIDE WOMEN’S HURON VALLEY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY
“Since 2011, The Writers’ Bloc has been nourishing personal and collective evolution through the writing and study of poetry inside Women’s Huron Valley Prison in Ypsilanti. Through the study and practice of poetry, the Writers’ Bloc has discovered that we can transform our relations to ourselves, to one another, and to the social conditions of incarceration. If social justice depends on creating new forms of solidarity, then the Writers’ Bloc writes for social justice from behind prison walls, turning otherwise negated forms of social relation into the stuff of living solidarities. In doing so, we make the prison walls porous, while imagining and enacting new horizons of social and political possibility.”
This statement, emailed to Graduate Students as an announcement of EMU Honors College Star Lecture in the fall of 2019, supports and contextualizes Rosie’s interview comments about the individual writer and the community and sociability of poetic writing. At this event, Prof. Halpern presented and discussed the work of The Writers’ Bloc, and included the project’s facilitators and past participants, as well as the voices of poets inside Women’s Huron Valley.
Received by Rob Halpern, TOMORROW! Star Lecture Featuring the Writers’ Bloc at Women’s Huron Valley Prison, 18 Nov. 2019.
Stockton, Rosie, “EXCESS” a poem selected from their book manuscript, Permanent Volta.
Sierra’s Capstone Project is entitled: Too Many Projects and Not Enough Time: A Writer’s Story.
This is a hybrid work of narrative, prose, and poetry addressing the nature of writing from a fictional university student’s point of view. Sierra is a third-year student majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in Electronic Media and Film Studies Sierra Brocklehurst, aims to pursue a career as a writer for Cartoon Network Studios.
This year’s Capstone Showcase will be presented virtually. Writers will be featured on the blog and on the BathHouse Events Facebook page. The event will be “going live” on April 21st, with each writer sharing a selection from his/her/their work.
We look forward to sharing the outstanding creative work our graduating writers with you.
Sadly, this amazing opportunity, a reading with Kiese Laymon and Aisha Sabatini Sloan, will not be able to happen this spring. However, we at BathHouse and the Creative Writing Faculty at EMU hope you will be able to enjoy their work from a safe social distance.
Please enjoy the biographies and support the work of our visiting writers. Books are available from all fine booksellers.
Kiese Laymon is a black southern writer, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. Laymon attended Millsaps College and Jackson State University before graduating from Oberlin College. He earned an MFA in Fiction from Indiana University. Laymon is currently the Ottilie Schillig Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of the novel, Long Division; the collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America; and Heavy: An American Memoir, winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal. Visit Kiese Laymon’s website for upcoming events.
Aisha Sabatini Sloan
Sloan’s first book of essays, The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White was published by the University of Iowa Press in 2013. Her most recent essay collection, Dreaming of Ramadi in Detroit, was chosen by Maggie Nelson as the winner of the 1913 Open Prose Contest and won the CLMP Firecracker award for nonfiction. She is the Helen Zell Visiting Professor of Creative Nonfiction at the University of Michigan. In 2020, she received an NEA Fellowship in Creative Writing. Visit Aisha Sabatini Sloan’s website for more.
To join our Mailing List, sign up here. Click here to view our most recent newsletter issue which offers links to local booksellers. Take good care during this difficult time!
Don’t miss this opportunity to hear guest authors read in the recently renovated Strong Hall.
Hilary Plum is the author of the novel Strawberry Fields, winner of the Fence Modern Prize in Prose (2018); the work of nonfiction Watchfires (2016), winner of the 2018 GLCA New Writers Award; and the novel They Dragged Them Through the Streets (2013). She has worked for a number of years as an editor of international literature, history, and politics. She teaches creative writing at Cleveland State University and in the NEOMFA program and is associate director of the CSU Poetry Center. With Zach Savich she edits the Open Prose Series at Rescue Press. Recent work has appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, Full Stop, Poetry Northwest, West Branch, Oversound, the Mississippi Review, and elsewhere. More at http://www.hilaryplum.com/about.html Samples of Plum’s writing: www.awpwriter.org/magazine www.fenceportal.org
Susan Steinberg is the author of Spectacle, Hydroplane, and The End of Free Love. She is the recipient of a United States Artists Fellowship, a National Magazine Award, and a Pushcart Prize. She teaches at the University of San Francisco. More information on her recent novel Machine is available from Graywolf Press. Samples of Steinberg’s writing: “Punctuation” and her story collection Spectacle
We are counting down to our February 12th event. We hope you will join us at our first reading of the year, which will feature Hilary Plum and Susan Steinberg on Wednesday 2.12.2020. The event will take place from 2-4 pm at 100 Strong Hall, in the recently renovated auditorium.
Plum and Steinberg’s recent books will be available for sale at the reading. Additionally there will be time for Discussion between the audience and authors, as well as an opportunity for book-signings.
(American Author) Biography: Susan Steinberg iis the author of Machine, Spectacle, Hydroplane, and The End of Free Love. She is the recipient of a United States Artists Fellowship, a National Magazine Award, and a Pushcart Prize. Her stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Conjunctions, The Gettysburg Review, American Short Fiction, Boulevard, The Massachusetts Review, Quarterly West, Denver Quarterly, and other literary magazines. She teaches at the University of San Francisco.
Vee, Graduate Student in the English Department of Language and Literature, is an immensely talented author and scholar. Vee identifies with the pronouns they/them and their, and their multiple talents thoroughly benefit three concurrent areas of study: Creative Writing, Linguistics and Compositions. For more on Vee, visit this article.
In September, Vee shared their reading of this eloquent and thoughtful introduction of our Fall BathHouse Events Series. Read the whole introduction below.
Thank you for joining us tonight in welcoming Sarah Schulman back for her second of three BathHouse Events this week. I don’t know about any of you, but I am not particularly well-rested this afternoon. I could barely sleep after last night’s eye-opening reading and discussion of Conflict is Not Abuse, and I don’t foresee this event being any less gripping. This afternoon we come together to hear her read from her most recent fiction works.
Born in 1958 in New York City, Schulman published her first novel, a crime novel called The Sophie Horowitz Story, in 1984. Since then, she has published eleven additional novels, numerous pieces of nonfiction, written two plays and produced three more, and served as a screenwriter for four films. She is a prolific writer, AIDS historian and activist, and also serves as a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at the College of Staten Island. Her novel Rat Bohemia, written and set in the center of the AIDS Crisis in the 1990s in New York City, was named one of the “100 Best Gay and Lesbian Novels of All Time,” by The Publishing Triangle.
In reading chapter fourteen of Rat Bohemia, I, a Midwestern, suburban white queer born in the years in which the novel is set, with little tie to the AIDS crisis, was struck by Schulman’s frank discussion of HIV/AIDs, and of the greater public discourse surrounding the crisis and possible cures. Like many of us in the audience, until coming into contact with Schulman’s work, I hadn’t thought critically of the messages around and behind most AIDS narratives, and the often perpetuated idea of the disease as being something that can be learned from, that is not an unimaginable burden, and, and I quote, not “just fucking sad.” Schulman writes: “My friend Ronnie LaVallee said that the reason he felt better when he took some useless drug was because it was his father who told him about it, thereby proving that his father actually loved him. So why didn’t newspapers announce the next day that parental kindness helps people with AIDS live longer? Because that’s asking for more than people can do. Love our gay children? Impossible! We just want a pill. It’s easier.” This passage reminds me of the complexities of public health crises often unaddressed by prevention campaigns, and of the immense health care system inequities that exist in the United States. Even if we did have a magic pill, who would have access to this magic pill? What would it cost? What other barriers would patients have to go through to receive it? More importantly, on the topic of cures, are they ever going to make a pill to cure the homophobia crisis?
With her most recent novel, Maggie Terry, Schulman returned to the crime genre with a lesbian detective novel featuring the eponymous detective-turned-private-investigator, fresh from rehab, coping with both the gentrification of New York along with the harsh reality of the Trump Administration. Maggie just wants to rebuild her life and be reunited with her daughter, but she soon finds herself twisted up in a sensational case with a strangled actress and the hauntings of police brutality that eventually cause her to recognize her complicity in a racist murder. In an interview with author Carley Moore, Schulman stated: “A really long time ago, I stopped writing protagonists that were based on myself, and I started writing protagonists based on people who were driving me crazy.” With this in mind, the book is dedicated to Thelma Wood, the real-life inspiration for the character Robin Vote in Djuna Barnes 1936 novel Nightwood, one of the worst girlfriends in literary history. I find that my experience in reading the character supports this notion. Maggie Terry is not always, or even often, a character I find sympathetic. However, I notice that in reading her, the reasons I find I am disgusted with her are that she resonates deeply with parts of myself I am dissatisfied with. Of the novel, Liz Von Kempeler of Lambda Literary said: “Traversing the personal to the sociopolitical, Shulman’s latest offers a strikingly rich portrait of lesbian identity, as well as a smart treatise on how an once righteous ‘outsider’ can end up at odds with the vital ideals of justice and equity for those who need it most.” Through Maggie, Schulman reminds us that each of us must continually work to fight against injustice, even if we are convinced we are doing that already. Thank you.
To purchase a copy of Schulman’s moving novel, visit here. The text is available where ever fine books are sold.
Poet, editor, translator, journalist, and teacher Austin Bragdon was born in the largely french-speaking rural expanse of northern Maine. He currently lives in Ypsilanti Michigan, and is a current creative writing graduate student at Eastern Michigan University, where he teaches undergraduate writing courses and serves as editor-in-chief of BathHouse Journal. His work has appeared in The Open Field and elsewhere.
Here is the thought-provoking text Austin wrote for Sarah’s recent visit to campus.
Welcome everyone to the first of three events featuring Sarah Schulman. Tonight we are here to listen to Sarah Schulman read from and talk about her 2016 book, Conflict is not abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair. Sarah is a distinguished professor at the College of Staten Island. She is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, nonfiction writer, AIDS historian, journalist, and active participant citizen.
Conflict is not Abuse, forces us to ask questions about the violence and conflict we see in the world around us. It forces us to wonder why institutions have so frequently become the arbiters of our personal relationships, and how our failures to successfully navigate conflict within our personal lives bleed into the larger social landscape. Rooting her perspective in queer and feminist analyses of power, Schulman explores how the dynamics of conflict in the personal sphere replicate power dynamics in the larger social landscape. As a writer, this perspective, placed outside what pop-culture might view as the normalizing structure of the family, allows her to write the characters she does, with different identity markers, all while being open to and accepting of the mistakes she makes while creating those characters. As humans who may or may not be writers, this kind of openness allows us the vulnerability required to navigate conflicts which we may otherwise dismiss reflexively.
Who, for example, hasn’t known a stalker? Or at least, someone your friend calls a stalker. Clearly, your friend believes, the only answer is to shun and condemn the stalker, potentially to report them to the authorities, to allow the state to arbitrate any conflict involved. Schulman suggests that this reflexive use of the word “stalker” to address what may be a nuanced conflict would be reductive to those who have experienced genuine violence and abuse at the hands of real stalkers. Instead, in order to make a real judgement, assessment, and potential resolution of this kind of conflict, you must risk the most frightening social dividend — honesty. She also explores how our understanding of honesty itself might be flawed, showing how our distorted thinking might lead us to think we are being honest, when really we are being honest about the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Navigating the kinds of conflict which might have led to the original confrontation, which may or may not be justified, requires vulnerability, and honest, genuine communication — the willingness to admit fault, to learn, to transform, and to understand. It may well be that the impetus to reach for the word “stalker” so reflexively, stems from an inability to correctly assess threat, an inability that can lead to the failure of a relationship.
In Conflict is not Abuse, Schulman explores this inability to assess threat at all levels of society, from our interpersonal relationships, to the governmental lack of ability to assess threat which lead the Canadian Government to require those living with HIV to report their status to the government, to invoke fear in their citizens and establish punitive measures for those living with HIV, rather than encourage more open communication between people, as Schulman writes “imposing itself as a substitute for learning how to problem solve.”
Schulman writes that “this is not a book to be agreed with.” It’s not composed of hard evidence, and it is not a list of facts. Instead it is designed to be engaged with, to provoke discussion, and to get a bit closer to understanding human behavior, so we can learn, both as writers and as people, to listen more closely to the stories of those around us. As Schulman writes, “it is the cumulative juxtaposition that reveals the story.”
On a more personal note, I found the process of writing this introduction difficult — the personal revelations this book provokes has made me rethink past and current conflicts with my partner, my friends, my students, my parents — the book often feels like years of therapy packed into a smaller, and frankly, much cheaper module, and it’s brought out a lot of guilt and curiosity, and optimism, much of which I’m still working through — I even found myself concerned for the person who flipped me off in traffic yesterday. It is my sincere hope that it can bring you towards the same kind of emotional labor it’s inspired in me. With that in mind, please join me in welcoming Sarah Schulman to the stage.
To purchase Sarah Schulman’s Conflict is not Abuse, visit the publisher, Arsenal Pulp Press. To read more of Austin’s work, click here.
The creative pieces by Elizabeth Kulper, Selena Fack, and Drake Nardi were submitted as homework in Creative Writing 335 and Creative Writing 300 classes. They were composed between mid-March and early April, just after classes went on-line. These are spontaneous creative responses to the impact of the virus. I was impressed by the writers’ urgency to respond and the openness of their responses to the troubled moment. They do not hold back on the unsettling aspects of experience as they enlist the imagination to document the suspension of normal life at a moment of emerging crisis.
Carla Harryman, Professor Creative Writing Program
Days Like That by Elizabeth Kuiper
December 7, 2020
You will never find a leatherbound journal filled with the stories of how I saved a child from drowning in a frozen Lake Michigan and then left to climb Mt. Everest the next day, of how I became a doctor at the age of 20 while supporting my unemployed mother, of how I managed to stop World War Zero by writing letters to every government to teach them how to care about the next generation who they see as lazy, of how I created a vaccine for the incurable. We reserve cowhides for the Gods and Goddesses and the few unlucky mortals who “live in interesting times” and make the world boring again, writers and their peace treaties, lawmakers giving in to protests, doctors defying death. But not everyone who lives in interesting times deserves leather.
Give me a torn folder filled with grocery lists, Bar Louie receipts, weekly homework checklists, out of order diary entries, class notes, predictions, movie quotes, and song lyrics written in cursive over and over again tucked in the margins and white space.
I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life, but when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die, I’ll be on time.
Ouch. Like the stinging of steel wool, hot water, Dawn dish soap, and flesh, truth hurts. At least, I do not bury it beneath mountains, I dig for it through the stars, cards, tea leaves, and news articles.
November 7, 2020
If you could have one day that exists completely outside of time, meaning you had no obligations like homework, friends, family, work, how would you spend it? It is hard to set relaxation time aside for yourself when you spend that entire time thinking about the things you should be doing. I always thought I would marathon the Harry Potter movies starting at 9am with a cup of coffee and ending at 3am with an empty bottle of wine. Sarah would read the last hundred pages of the book she has been working on for a month. Jo would make vegetable soup and gluten-free bread for herself. Ryan would play World of Warcraft until he won or whatever the equivalent of winning is in that game. Ed would play with his cat, Cassidy, until she became annoyed with him and hid under the couch. Mom would clean the house. Dad would do yardwork.
I wonder if I will experience that in the next couple of weeks.
November 10, 2020
Within the moment it takes to cough, I decided not to go swing dancing. No new blue-striped dress, no eyeliner, no heels, no wings, no fairy lights, no gangsters (I would give anything to see gangsters hanging out with fairies), no Matt, no Henry, no choices. My mother would say that being unable to choose right now is a good thing and that choosing Matt or Henry is the wrong decision and that I should wait until after college to date. I would disagree, but I guess it doesn’t matter unless I randomly text Henry tonight and ask him to love me.
I’m kidding. Of course, in case future me is able to reread this, do not text Henry and ask him that. Do not text Henry under any circumstance not even if you are on the Titanic or chained to a hospital bed. Don’t do it! Because once you do, you will survive and must eventually face the embarrassment unless you fake your own death which might be relatively easy right now. Maybe you should text him when you’re in danger. The Gods and Goddesses will want to see you live long enough so they can laugh at your terrible decisions they placed before you.
Just kidding. Mortals are entertaining enough without adding myself into the mix. Maybe I should choose neither. Well, it’s not like I’ll be there tonight. Maybe I’ll take a bath and then the whole apartment will smell like geranium instead of the weed coming up through the vents from the downstairs neighbors. I wonder if they are mindful enough to worry right now or if they have reached peace in their brains.
November 12, 2020 9:20am
Sunday tarot reading. Outcome: Death. 3pm
“When tarot was born in the 1400s, vaccines, antibiotics, and pasteurization had not yet been invented. Diseases we now consider harmless led easily to death. And so this card appearing back then truly heralded somebody’s demise.”
No immunity. Yet.
Bar of Lindt chocolate
Package of tofu
2 one pound bars of chocolate (Trader Joe’s)
3 packages of tofu
November 12 Homework
Tuesday: Read article and start on Ethnography
Thursday: Finish drafting Ethnography
Monday: Read all of Mean
Topics for BIO Paper on Food and Culture
Could talk about the aging process
Banned in public areas for strong smell
How it became a staple
IMPORTANT: DO NOT FORGET TO CALL MEIJER ON MONDAY (Can work 23rd-2nd from 8am to 12am).
ALSO IMPORTANT: Therapy on Tuesday at 11.
ALSO ALSO IMPORTANT: Call Dad back
I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life, but when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I’ll be on time.
November 13, 2020
Today, I will marathon Harry Potter surrounded by lavender candles and coffee and ignore my phone. One day without expectations or homework. I wonder if my parents or my brother have started their fourteen days yet. Tomorrow, I will know.
November 14, 2020
Research and write my entire paper because even though the parking lots are filled with cars, but have not a person in sight and the bars are closed. The brain does not have a “Closed” sign. So today, I will write and read and write some more.
November 15, 2020
I wonder if my mother knows that I curse the people that come into Party City and yell at her, and I wonder if she would approve. I wonder if she knows that I pray for her and my father’s safety. She would not approve because unlike her and my father, I do not care which God or Goddess hears me so long one of them listens and protects, and if that damns me to a Christian hell for eternity, so be it.
Sometimes I wish I was as strong as my words spoken (or written) with the force of a bowling ball, but it is difficult to be a bowling ball when I have only ever been a pillow. Nice. Soft. I do not know how to turn a pillow into a bowling ball, especially when I want to be both or when I am so tired and never want to be a bowling ball again. Bowling balls have to have so much force, weight, strength and all I want is to be the pillow someone dreams on, drools on, leans on.
Besides, the bowling alleys are shut down and my bed is right here even if it is empty and I am both the pillow and the someone. Goodnight.
November 16, 2020
Heavy handshakes dislodge weapons, show fellow knights that you will not draw a weapon against them, carvings of handshakes on gravestones depict final farewells before leaving for the Underworld. How fitting. The handshake, a gravemarker. When did a handshake become the reason for a new generation of government officials?
You can tell a lot about a person by their handshake.
There will be feasting and dancing in Jerusalem next year, I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me.
–The Mountain Goats
November 17, 2020
Do you want to hear about my rainy days, wintery days where I slept til midafternoon and wake up in the dark, where I made lunch and dinner and dinner and folded my clothes and did my dishes, and did not step beyond the curtain leading downstairs, but danced around my room to avoid muscular dystrophy? Dance, dance da da da da, Fall Out Boy? Dancing on my own. Dance me to the end of love. Dance with somebody, but not anybody. Dance til you drop dead. Gorgeous.
Do you want to hear about my red lipstick days where I put on makeup to feel better, but I still cannot hide my frown lines and furrowed eyebrows so I grow my hair out and wrap it around my face until I fall asleep?
Have you ever had days like that? No? You will.
November 26, 2020
Phone rings and rings and rings and never leaves its cord. Voices marred by technology. Remember when voices traveled through the air? When you could feel someone’s laughter through their vibrations, their nervous breath through the six inches between you, when you could mumble and still understand people?
Germaphobe by Drake Nardi
I heard coronavirus has the world in mass hysteria. I watch silently as everything around me closes down: universities, businesses, concerts, sports events, parties. Societies across the board take extreme measures of precaution. Someone posts on Twitter that a college professor had placed students’ assignments into a microwave to make sure that if there was any sort of virus on them, the heat would kill it. The papers burst into flames. Someone posts on Facebook that they got fired after sneezing at their place of work. Someone posts on Snapchat that their high school’s senior prom had been canceled. Supermarket shelves have now been stripped naked as people stock up on food and toilet paper in preparation for self-seclusion. Society forgets that sickness lurks within all of us, that we carry our own diseases that are far more transmittable.
I heard that in the midst of all this, xenophobia still continues to be infectious in the United States. The president refers to the virus as “the Chinese virus” on live television, for the third day in a row. His concern of being called a “racist” continues to greatly overpower his concern for the growing number of people in America affected by this. A Fox News anchor demands that the country of China issue an apology. A video of an Asian-American student being beaten by classmates surfaces on Twitter. People sneer as they let subtly racist parodies bounce from tongue to tongue. The fury of the American people grows with each day of quarantine. People lose jobs, businesses shut down, the stock market continues to crash and the government anxiously pumps trillions of dollars into the country’s economy to keep it alive. Cities and counties go on complete lockdown as the death toll teaches the ten-thousands. In the midst of all the chaos and fear, I try to bring myself back to just a few weeks ago, when everything was normal, when everything was alright.
I heard coronavirus has been forcing people to quarantine themselves, and it reminded me of that night we drank from them solo cups. The frat house that now is only occupied by those living in it was once a shell of walls shaking from trap music and crossfaded conversations. I remember the moment my inebriation became intoxication. It was the same moment I noticed that you were in attendance. You came up to me, joking about how I was falling asleep as I half-consciously rested my body against a corner. That corner held me captive for most of the night until I was drunk enough to have the courage to approach you. For six months, I had been socially distanced, completely detached from any emotions. I felt as if my inability to feel granted me immunity, but as I lost myself in the whites of your eyes, I began to experience symptoms. My throat grew tight as I opened my mouth to speak with you, coughing out what little phonemes were able to escape my vocal cords. My lips trembled as I fought back every urge to try and kiss you, in fears that you would retaliate. If that had happened, I would have regretted leaving that corner.
I heard that for every 10 seconds of kissing, 80 billion molecules of bacteria are transferred. At the end of that night, I had wondered how dirty my mouth was. As hands made their way to places never explored before, I felt our lips ripple off of one another. I felt a fire inside me that was quickly washed down as you pointed out how my breath smelled bad. I still brush my teeth four times a day. No matter how clean my mouth is, how often I wash my hands, I still grow more and more symptomatic. I never realized how infectious you were, how lethal a kiss could be. As the idea of you and I spread from the corners of my thoughts to pandemonium, I started having daydreams that slowly become feverish. The semester ended early, and the longer we spend apart, the more I feel this slipping from my grasp. The idea of us fades more and more and I wonder of fever dreams and delusion. After ejecting myself from emotional quarantine, I am put right back into another type of seclusion. I am reminded of past sicknesses that once or twice swept the nation.
I heard that the swine flu pandemic only has estimations in terms of the total number of cases. In 2009, I was only in the fourth grade, virtually fearless with my immunity proving strong and my invincibility complex still present. In my nine-year-old world, I never would have sensed that danger was lurking. Between April 2009 and April 2010, the CDC estimates that up to 89 million Americans were infected. I remember still attending school as usual. I never would have suspected that a more deadly sickness would return a decade later, only for me to fear for my safety. I would love to have the security I had at nine years old. Through the years, I have become more aware of my surroundings, as my anxiety keeps me from distraction. My immune system has significantly become more compromised. I also worry for you, as I remember you telling me that you often feel sick for weeks on end. In my nine-year-old world, never would have suspected that I would find myself in selfless emotions, as I try to offer any kind of protection I can for you. I never suspected that I would be afraid to be close to someone, just to conquer that fear and get pulled away from them.
I heard that the AIDS epidemic has killed over 10 million people in the United States. It reminded me of the night you asked me why I was afraid for people to know about us. You asked if I was afraid of people knowing I was gay, but I wish I could have told you that I was just afraid of catching something. I wish I could have told you how sick I’ve been made before you. I’ve let people with ill-intentions attack my trust until it was no longer healthy enough to fight back. After being tested positive for a broken heart, I abruptly remembered hearing about a woman whose cause of death was a broken heart. I’ve spent summers self-secluded in fear that the next heartbreak would be the last. You told me you were HIV tested last week and the results came back negative. With our skin pressed against each other’s, I forget about my germaphobia. I allow you to touch me in whichever way gives you pleasure. As you make your way into my soul and I realize I’m catching feelings.
I heard that we must love ourselves before we are able to love others. It reminded me of the days and nights I’ve spent searching for someone to cure me rather than taking precautions to protect myself. I wanted to have a relationship that didn’t make me feel sick in the end, like parts of me were attacked from the inside out and rendering me weak as I fight it off. In you, I realized that I needed to stop thinking that I was a host of emotions, bound to flare up and become explosive. I realized that I needed to stop isolating myself in fear of becoming attached. I needed to stop trying to find myself in everyone else but myself.
I realized I needed to find myself before allowing someone else to become a part of me.
Ghosts of a Pandemicby Selena Fack
We won’t close down says my business professor
We’ll be closed by Thursday says my economics professor
We don’t need to worry I tell myself
The internet a beautiful thing a sharing thing a dreadful thing a thing that you have to distance yourself from to stay sane yet a thing you have to keep close enough to survive
The internet is a living paradox and so is humanity
It is half-way across the world I tell myself
People are dying but I don’t know these people so it’s just news to be briefly mentioned at dinner and with friends
But then my mother tells me her coworker’s brother is over there. He talks of the government locking people in their homes to stop the spread of it. More like to leave them to die
He talks of how they run away to Thailand
It sounds like something in history books
Like a dictator or war that people are running away from
Not an invisible microscopic ghost
Seattle and then D.C.
New York and then Dallas
and then Oakland county and MSU closes and are we next?
We are. Online classes for college they say. Classmates smile because they think this will be easier than in person. I know better.
Sports seasons are cut and Olympics postponed
All but essential stores are closing
I talk with a friend on the phone and we question what caused it. The outbreak. COVID-19
They’re saying it started in the exotic animals being eaten
Maybe the government wanted to use it as an assassin to thin out the population?
A terrorist attack? We both wonder
I am living in a dystopian novel
That is the only explanation
The world has literally shut down due to a global pandemic
I stay in the house for 12 days only going out to run and walk the dogs
On the 13th day I help my mother go grocery shopping and I have never been so terrified of breathing in the air in my entire life
I see a man wearing what my mother tells me is a painter’s mask
It looks like a mask one would wear to avoid toxic waste
Is that what we all are? I think so because I feel my body turn to sludge and see green ooze seeping out of my fingertips
The people I manage to make eye contact with look like they want to murder me
Their eyes are knives and I can feel them slice me in half just for existing
This is what paranoia must feel like
COVID-19 a ghost an invisible killer a thing like the internet many can’t see it but know that it holds a power that can kill and omnipresent like God it is everywhere closing in
Social distancing is the solution we are told and again most classmates rejoice
For not having to leave their beds for lecture halls
But my friends know better my friends like me
Those who aren’t lovers with the quiet
Those who fear it
This isolation is a ghost that manifests into flesh only to wrap its fingers around my throat
I can’t breathe. I’m not hyperventilating, just empty
Staring at a blank wall trying to wish sleep into existence
The quiet has never been my friend
It feeds my anxiety and they both pick the sanity off of my bones piece by piece
Writing has always helped me keep the quiet at bay but my arms are too heavy to hold a pen
Writing helps me remember what anxiety tries to rob me of
Writing holds power and gives me control control that I now desperately need
But I cannot reach
The quiet is an invisible like the internet like God like COVID-19 like anxiety like ghosts
Am I a ghost?
No I can’t be, the ticking reminds me.
The tick of the clock the tick of my own heartbeat in my ear the tick tick tick tick tick
that doesn’t stop that tells me to keep going down a spiral like a never-ending water slide
But this isn’t fun
Ticking like a bomb
of paranoia and white noise and ghosts and thoughts and quiet
Ticking like an icepick hitting its mark
That’s what the victims said of the ghost
That it takes an icepick to your lungs and drains the life out of you as easily as a needle drawing out blood.
Joel Miller reads two sections, which he hasn’t shared with his class yet, from his Capstone Project, Anxious and Autistic. In his own words: “I’m a creative writing major, with a film minor, and as you can guess, I’m on the spectrum. After college, I want to start writing a young adult series.”
Title of Capstone: The Blacker the Berry the Deeper Her Blues
Tatiaira Herndon is currently completing her final credit at Eastern Michigan, and will graduate with a major in creative writing and a minor in communications. In her own words: “For my Capstone Project, The Blacker the Berry the Deeper Her Blues, I have created a series of structureless poetry that addresses the issues surrounding and experiences of the black woman. It is a rather personal piece, however, I plan to further develop my work after graduating and incorporate the voices of other black women. I plan to eventually have this piece published in hard copy and electronically. My post-graduation plans mostly consist of getting my voice out there and pursuing a career that pertains to my major.”
Experience Tatiaira’s piece The Blacker the Berry the Deeper Her Blues Here: Part One and Part Two
Cinder is reading their Capstone Project “We’ve Got Personality,” a work of prose poetry using the language of advertising to explore queer identity.
Cinder is a Creative Writing Major. They are nonbinary and use their writing to explore their gender however it seems to manifests itself. While they’re still not sure what they’ll do after graduation, they do know– writing and creating.