Friday, December 8, 2017

A Better Option to Cynicism

We're living through an unsettling time in history, a time we'll talk about to younger generations as we shake our heads and wonder how we ever got through it. We have a White House suspected of treason, an erosion of environmental controls, an increase in hate crimes, formerly well-regarded men accused of sexual misconduct, and, on an average day, 93 Americans killed with guns. Sometimes it feels as though the world has gone crazy.

It's easy to get cynical. But cynicism takes us to a dark place, so when we feel ourselves sinking, we need to find reasons to climb back up. We don't need a miracle to do this. We just need each other.

Community restores our sanity and humanity. In this issue of MU Voices, you'll find a community of writers, photographers, and one artist who give us reasons to shrug off cynicism. Marwah Ayache writes about the tension between her Lebanese and American identities, LeAnne Campbell and Dequonte Maxwell write about the joy of love, and Jillian Law shares a story about a team of unlikely and endearing female superheroes. Daccarette Thomas inspires us with her essay on the liberating power of education, and the poetry of Vicki Khzouz and Patrick Gonsior echoes the sting of loss. Jackie Pruitt shares her grandmother's wisdom.I write about the Writing Center's imaginary take-over of the U.S. government (for our grammarian community). Andre ("Dre") Wilson's artwork honors past idols, and Marian Gonsior's photos of France and Spain remind us that communities can cross borders. Photographs from the Franciscan Day of Service show us how the Madonna community's boundaries keep expanding.

During this holiday season, remember your own communities: your family, your friends, your classmates, your colleagues, your neighbors. They will help you--and you will help them--through this challenging time in our history.  And keep in mind the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

-- Frances FitzGerald

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Taking Charge, from Jackie Pruitt

Student Jackie Pruitt shares the following quotation from her grandmother, Mrs. Pruitt:
"Don't let your mind control your body. You control your mind."

Livonia Breeze, by Patrick Gonsior

Crumpled pigeon beneath the pergola
beside the Angela Hospice
behind the Chapel of the Felician Sisters
across the Gunn Branch, across the
interlocking commas carved in concrete on a rotating
planet stood one affixed to a cross. It’s defined as a crucifix,
but I don’t know it as one.

Here knelt Crystal
Here knelt Patrick on a stone hassock
We bowed our heads, crossed our hands
and said together this Catholic prayer:

to the wind
to the wind
that planetary wind
that solar wind
movement of gases
movement of charged particles
to that flow of gases
flow of nitrogen, oxygen
on a large scale
on a rotating planet
to that bulk movement of air
stronger on Neptune
stronger on Saturn
you gust
you squall
you breeze
you gale
you storm
you hurricane
you unborn, unnamed, unconceived child
you Elsie Walters, gray hair, asleep, IV and gurney cradle

How do we classify you
by your spatial scale, by your speed
by the types of forces that cause you
by the regions in which you occur
by your effects— was it the wind that took you Elsie
How do we classify you by that effect
How do we classify that local wind, that prevailing wind
that Mountain breeze
that Valley breeze
that Livonia breeze
where did you have to start
was it the length at which you lasted
was it the eighty-seven years you had

Thunderstorm flows
Heating of land surfaces
Global winds resulting from
the difference in absorption of solar energy
between climate zones on a rotating planet—the differential heating between
the equator and the poles— thermal low circulations
high plateaus can drive our beliefs in abstract nouns
our belief in God.

Livonia breeze
Where did you have to start
to answer our prayers?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Untitled Superhero Story Excerpt: Prologue, by Jillian Law

Narrator: Allison

I’m not really sure how it all started. Joss and I were just sophomores in college, you know? We rarely sleep, and we eat crap that barely qualifies as food. (Prime example: microwavable Velveeta mac and cheese. Never again.) I trip over Joss’s shoes every day without fail, and she complains that I leave dirty mugs everywhere. When we’ve both had enough of school and work and our parents, we open the window of our dinky, little apartment, blast the music we’ve sung at countless sleepover karaoke nights, and dance along. I have anxiety so bad some days that I cannot get out of bed, and Joss is the highest functioning insomniac I’ve ever met. We are not people that were built to be superheroes.

We’re just kids. We were never meant to save the world. We just want to figure out how to live in it. We had a plan, the same plan we’d had since middle school: go to school in the city, live together, and figure the rest out later. I would get my probably useless degree in History, and Joss would conquer the world of computer science. We had a plan. The world, however, had another plan for us. Joss would say that is was never that poetic. She would say that people needed our help, and so we helped them. As simple as that. She is right in a way. Joss has always been good at getting to the point. But I have to think it was more than that because we were the only ones who become vigilantes. We were the only ones who did something.

Joss was right about one thing. There was no single triggering event that told us we had to do this. There was no dramatic murder or trial that signaled that our city needed saving. There was no Joker terrorizing the streets, threatening to blow up buildings. Which is probably a good thing because 1) we are NOT in any way qualified to handle that and 2) Joss has a serious thing for psychopaths. We’ll get to that later. Instead, things just started to change.

I’m not sure if the changes were the result of the election. Maybe this kind of hatred and violence had been brewing in our city all along, and we were just too blind to see it. Maybe we didn’t want to. Maybe the election just made a lot of bad things acceptable to the general public. After all, if the president could demean wide groups of people, wasn’t it okay for everyone to do so? Ban the Muslims. Build a wall. Grab that pussy. It was shocking for us to realize that we read out of Anne Frank’s diary in the eighth grade was wrong. All people were not good at heart. Some people were bad. Some people just wanted to hurt others, and some people would get away with it.
The city did not change overnight. Nothing really changes overnight, not even when you are afraid it will. But it did change. It changed slowly and systematically, and we felt powerless to do anything about out. No one seemed to be listening to us. No one seemed to care if our friends were hurt. No one was going to help people that the leader of our city did not even consider people. Our parents started to beg us to commute from home. The city was getting dangerous, after all, and wouldn’t we be more comfortable away from it all? We stayed, and my mom sent me two cans of pepper spray (one for Joss, too) and a Swiss Army knife. Joss laughed and told me I was lucky she hadn’t assigned us an older brother bodyguard.

Moment I Want to Capture in a Bottle, by Jillian Law

My parents dancing.
Swaying together to a Motown song, the dance floor full.
A moment where they like each other again,
A moment where they have fun together.
I can see it here, the people they were once
Before me, before the recession, before the hospitals
Before years and mental illness and bitterness set in
I join them occasionally, but I just like to watch.
They laugh together, his hand on her waist.
I can see them younger, dancing together at a bar
My dad knows all the words, sings softly
My mom wears red lipstick, lights up the room
Now they’re older, more worn
But still dancing, still together
Still here.

After Credits: Parking Lot, by Jillian Law

The best part isn’t the movie.
Half the time, I wouldn’t come if it was just about the movie
(because let’s face it, sometimes we see some junk).
But I do come.
I sit and eat popcorn and watch a screen silently.
I sit and wait for my favorite part.

We never go home right after a movie
Never, not once
We linger in the theater, talking over another
There’s so much to say and not enough time or words to say it
When do you go back to school?
Is that the actress from Shameless?
Show me pictures of your new bunny.
We talk until the credits end and someone notices a guy standing by the exit, waiting for us to leave so he can clean the theater

We leave the theater, but the conversation doesn’t end
We lean against our cars, parked in the same place we always park
Right under the streetlamps
I shiver and suggest we talk inside my car
Rachel gives me a blanket from hers instead
Getting inside the car feels too much like wanting to leave for us tonight

There’s no limit to where these conversations can go
We complain about school and our parents
We talk about the future and our dreams
Where we will be soon and where we want to go
There’s plans to study abroad and take LSATs and MCATs
There are plans to write more and worry less
Fears are shared, stories told

Tonight, we talk about the movie
We talk about our parents and how you don’t always get to choose your family but you do have to stick by them
We decide that it’s easier said than done to cut toxic people out of a person’s life
We agree that people are not black and white, not ever, and that childhood was wrong about that
Sometimes, I feel like we could solve all the world’s problems standing underneath this streetlamp

Somehow, my friends start debating if I’ve ever ate a vegetable in front of them
Gabby doesn’t think I even know where the vegetable section in the grocery store is
They laugh when I pause to think about vegetables I like, and I protest
They decide that corn will count for now and that my ranch to broccoli ratio is maybe too high

I’m still shivering, bouncing back and forth until Irese tells me I’m making her nervous
I start tapping my foot instead and wrap the blanket tighter around me, trying to keep warm
I don’t want to leave
I want to savor this moment, savor them
Bask in these girls, their friendship, their company
The way any conversation seems right with them
How nothing is too scary or too silly to say when we’re leaning against our cars in the parking lot

We keep talking until it gets late
And then Rachel’s little sister is texting her asking when she’s going to be home with her popcorn
And Irese has to work tomorrow
Gabby and I are both tired, and I’m still cold
But none of us quite want to leave

We slowly inch our way towards our cars
Giving at least three goodbye hugs
But we keep talking
Really, we could be here all night
Rachel says to get in our cars on the count of three
One more round of hugs
And then we do
One, two, three
We get in our cars and drive away

We drive away and I think to myself,
I can’t wait for our next movie night

Original artwork by Andre Wilson

A Better Option to Cynicism

We're living through an unsettling time in history, a time we'll talk about to younger generations as we shake our heads and wond...