Tuesday, January 15, 2019

In the Storm Sewers

As originally seen installed about a mile into the storm sewer emptying into the Rillito River in Tucson at the Campbell bridge, the skinned Big Mouth Billy Basses return for a surprise engagement in the University of Arizona's Tiny Cabinet. So as not to destroy the sanity of the denizens of the Modern Languages building they are not turned on…for now. Instead, you can see them in their glory below, should you care to:

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hidden Significance: A Personal Account

A collection of books with peculiar names, a cup with “pokey puppy” imprinted on it, a deck of cards from a smoky 1970s era casino, and a portrait of our world from a 3rd person point of view. How could these seemingly unrelated objects tell you something about a particular person? Well, let me try to show you. 

I try to get up most mornings at 4AM. The alarm on my phone wakes me; emanating from the nightstand on which it sits. The phone is the first thing I see, the second is the earth. No, not my general surroundings, like the shoddy oak-wood desk that sits near my decade old bed frame, or the lamp that is missing its shade though I keep telling myself I’ll buy a new one. Instead, it’s a literal image of the earth, from a third person point of view. Probably taken by a voyaging space craft as it ventured out towards the stars, looking back on the terrestrial ball on it which it owed its existence. The earth appears to be surrounded by complete darkness. This offers me something. A reminder, if nothing else, that I’m a very, very small speck, briefly lingering on a tiny dot in a increasingly vast universe. It helps to start my day with the realization and mindset that while this life, this year, this day, may be my one chance, and my actions matter; it also keeps it in perspective, that no one really cares about the mistakes I make as much as I do. The small mistakes I make today are opportunities to learn from, not dwell on for the sake of 7 billion others. If this resonates with you, I suggest you find a picture of the earth and dwell on it for awhile, and the significant insignificance of the simple mistakes you make on a daily basis. 

I’m walking in loneliness. 

A small black book. Engraved into its spine with gold lettering, the words “Bad Hair”. A very relatable title. I’ve spent twenty three years trying to figure out how to style my fine, wispy hair; always envious of those with thicker locks, and an easier experience. I’ve bought more gels, pomades and waxes than I ever could have used, but most I’ve thrown out within a few weeks because they never work out. Within the book itself are endless pictures of how not to style ones hair. I’m sure many of my styles over the years are somewhere to be found. My dad had the same issues, though he gave up trying to style his hair, he just let it be. At some point I asked myself why I do it, and for who? Especially since I hate the struggles with my hair, it’s important to know. If I’m honest, I was doing it for others, especially in my teens. To fit in? Now, It’s less important, though I still have to maintain a mane for work. Again, doing it for others. Maybe I should follow in my dad’s footsteps, let it sit. Would anyone actually care? 

I want you to look at this deck of cards and let me gloat, that’s the only reason they’re in this tiny cabinet. One evening my girlfriend brought them home from one of her thrifting journeys and flashed the case at me. I told her I could do a parlor trick and predict what year they were printed. I had no clue, but guessed “1974”. When she flipped up the top lip…. “1974”. I’m currently exploring my psychic abilities. 

Underneath “bad hair”, lays a thick pink volume, published in the early 20th century entitled “Vogue’s Book of Etiquette”. I found it for 10 cents one morning at a Goodwill. It instructs the reader how to act in public and private, it gives examples of proper handshakes, goodbyes, dinner-dates, even how to (and when) to invite your boss to dinner. All important lessons, at least in the 20th century. During the last decade of that century, I began attending a private Lutheran school. From preschool to eighth grade the kind, seemingly God-fearing teachers taught me the fundamentals of schooling. I also had the opportunity to develop rapport with my teachers with one-on-one interactions. Though, there was a downside. There was one other student in my grade, and he wasn’t what one might call “socialized” either. I hadn’t developed the “etiquette” (or lack thereof) that was expected when I entered the public school system in 9th grade. There were rules I didn’t have the chance to learn. Suffice to say, my high school years were filled with my own insecurities and the development of my social capabilities. If only i’d had a book that could teach me these things. 

The Pokey Little Puppy. If someone in your life read you children’s books growing up in the Midwestern United States, this was probably one of them. I know it was for me. So, as a six year old with a serious love for Sunny-D, I obviously needed a cup that could resemble two of my favorite things. A sugar fueled, tooth rotting liquid, and a playful pup. This cup has seen all the stages of Calvin. It’s held more than just Sunny-D over the years; cough syrup, chocolate milk, etc. These days though, it serves as more of a symbol than a functional glass. We all need our relics right? 

An integral part of my career is the effective de-escalation of people in difficult situations. Sometimes they’re agitated, sometimes they’re livid and acting out. Many times all I need to do is give them some support. Others, only a rigid edge and clear direction can contain. Not all situations end happily, but I firmly believe that 100% of confrontations can be ended amiably with a whole lot of verbal de-escalation and a certain amount of emotional defense. The physical should never be something you want. This book is a reminds me that the “gentle” can be just as important as the “harsh” or “firm” in these situations. I carry this out of my career, and into my personal life. It might serve you well too. 

My trekking pack was lost by United Airlines somewhere in between Phoenix - Minneapolis - Amsterdam. When I arrived in Europe for what was supposed to be a month long backpacking expedition, taking trains from the Nordic to the Mediterranean, I didn’t have anything but my passport, euros, and a North Face jacket. I bought a few things to start out once the airline told me they’d work on getting it to me in a couple days. Then, a couple days turned into a few weeks, and eventually the entirety of my journey. I bought a temporary backpack, a few shirts and some underwear, and the essentials such as deodorant and soaps; and what I found was, as long as I ended my day at a hostel, that was enough. I shared a universal electric converter with fellow travelers, I didn’t ever find myself needing a straw that would allow me to drink dirty water, I didn’t even miss my laptop. The longer I went without the safety nets I’d packed for myself, the more pleasurable the experience became. I spent more time truly enjoying others and the moments or places I found myself in. I didn’t become sidetracked as I might have with a laptop in my bunk. Though, I really could have used the puke bags I packed; and on that note, excuse my cliche, but sometimes less really is more. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Marlene Effiwatt: A Collection of Items Which I Do Not Want but Cannot Bear to Part with So I Keep Them Together In an Orange Cardboard Box

I read an interview on Literary Hub a couple years ago. I do not remember who was being interviewed, it was an artist or a writer, but I remember they said there is a correlation between a decluttered environmental space and a decluttered mental space. Reading that now, I’m like yes of course, but when I first read it, I stood in my old bedroom, naked, looking at my wooden desk which was and had always been covered in candle wax, pennies, and various odd sculptures. I ruthlessly assessed every item I owned, donating bulging Trader Joe’s bags of clothes to shops. Now, I interrogate my physical space whenever I feel out of harmony with myself. Confronting my attachments and loose justifications for keeping things around that I don’t even use, and recognizing how disturbing it is to desperately convince your purging hands that this object makes you feel something, that you need it, that if someone saw it in your room they would think it was cool even if you are largely indifferent towards it, is a sort of high. But the power move within that is over myself. I see it as strengthening my will power, as self governance. But I have a box of items which I may be stuck with into the foreseeable future.

I don’t dance ballet anymore. I was never good at it, I just looked like I would be. I love the red shorts with yellow stripes, but polyester makes my butt look weird because polyester clings, and I don’t have hips to be clung to. The little glass jar is impossible to clean, my fingers can’t fit past the mouth hole, but it is so, so cute in its shape, and glass is a material which I am a sucker for, because it is durable yet doesn’t hold any color on its own, which makes me feel relaxed because color causes me a lot of distress in my life. The paper mached skull is cool, but it could be done better, and if something can be made better, why wouldn’t you want the better version? The runes, white stuffed animal, and the CD titled songs to miss someone by by are all relics of a dead relationship, and while dead, and agreeably so on both ends (now), I get the sense that I’ll endure some sort of karmic punishment if I throw them into a landfill. Ideally I would like to give them all back to him, in a package in the mail, but I don’t know his P.O. box address anymore, and the thought of asking makes me want to jump off the roof of Modern Language, and even if I did ask, it would just be problem shifting; the items would still exist, and still hold every spell cast by loving something ever, but it would turn into his burden, his conundrum, and that also seems like a karmically punishable offense. And I’m not sure what it means that my motivation for not making myself perfectly comfortable by mailing everything I hate back to whoever gave it to me is the fear of cosmic imbalance rather than because it would hurt the feelings of whoever gave me the object. This is the case of the pedometer, and the wax board, the former given to me by my mom (who gets this sick pleasure out of gifting me things she knows I will not like, and then making me watch her cry as I tell her I don’t like it), and the latter which was given to me on my birthday by a friend who I wasn’t close with, and who I haven’t seen or heard from in over ten years. But she told me she made the piece for me. I intuitively knew she had made it around the time of my bday, but not specifically for it, but I accepted the gift with glee because it made me feel special. And the Stewie sticker. Ughhhh. My sister loves Family Guy. No one can explain this phenomenon, but she does, and that exists, and she left the sticker of Stewie rubbing his hands together saying “victory shall be mine” on my wooden desk the summer she moved to Iowa, along with her “Scorpio” necklace, and her favorite teal square clip-on earrings with silver elongated tear drops dangling from the bottom, which she knows, which she knows, I wouldn’t stop staring at, and with that gesture I know true love.






Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Bone Gatherer

One day, a mother returns home to find that her children are missing.  She looks and she looks, they are nowhere to be found, so she leaves to search for them.  She travels far, looking everywhere; she searches for so long that she becomes lost.  Distraught, starving, her cries are heard from miles around, but no one comes.  In the absence of hope, she dies. 
This woman is known in myths from early on in the world: She is Demeter, Goddess of Life and Death, she is La Llorona, she is Niobe, she is she is the woman in white. 

Except now, she will be reborn, and she will have revenge. 


The story of La Huesera is not mine to tell.  I will say, however, that I believe in ancestral memory, in the collective spirit of women, and the wisdom left behind from all who have walked the earth, since in the beginning.  The history of the world is woven in to the very helices of our DNA.  Do you still hear it sometimes?  I can say that I knew, even as a little girl, that my bones carried memories with origins long before their time.  The ways of the old world are still among us, but they are hidden.  You can find them only in places people have left untouched. 

La huesera means Bone Woman, though she has many other names.  I imagine her as the slow hands of transformation, she stokes the fire and raises a phoenix, she pulls forth what is reborn from ashes only after setting itself aflame.  She does not answer prayers, she does not come when called.  She appears only after all hope is lost.  She is the bone gatherer.  An ancestral aggregator.  Keeper of the keys.  She creates new life from what remains after everything else has died and fallen away. 

Nothing borrowed, nothing owed.


Robins are said to symbolize renewal and new birth. They were always amongst the first migrating birds to return at the end of winter to the trees outside of my childhood home in Virginia Beach.  Adults, red-breasted with charcoal coats and fluffy white butts, would sing to each other from powerlines and across the sky as soon as the sun peeked over the edge of the horizon.  I'd see twigs and trash scraps begin aggregating, their nests slowly transform, and then one day - pop!  Four to six little blue eggs in the nest.  Robin's eggs are a unique shade of blue – a kind of cyan, a kind of turquoise – sometimes speckled but, more often than not, you don’t roll them over to find out because if you touch them, the mother might not come back to the nest.  Or so my Dad told me.   I would count the days from the day they were laid so I could try to see them, newly made. 

I remember watching a mama robin pull an earthworm up from the damp, soggy, early morning ground, swallow a little, actually regurgitate, chew it up, and then take it back to feed the little ones.  When they were old enough to learn how to fly, there was, every year, at least a bird or two that just didn’t make it.  I had never seen them fall, but their carcasses would sit until the evening, when they would be ripped apart by cats and by morning, have ants crawling out of their eyes, left to rot on the ground beneath the nest where the others cried the morning after, waiting for their mother to return. 

Until I started burying their bodies next to each other along the fence of our backyard.  


“You can’t keep them as pets,” my Dad told me one day, “pets are animals that we feed and keep alive.” He was trying to be funny but I was inconsolable.  The first set of bones I brought home were those of one of the many fallen baby robins.  Something had dug one of the graves up and ripped one of its wings off.  I cried and cried and cried, but my Dad remained unwavering.  

I wanted to keep the bones, but instead, I started a fire.  I understood that the only honor there was in death was the way in which the living honored the lives that had passed before them, so I took my journal, the gasoline can from the garage and a matchbox and went back into the backyard with the bones.  I dug a single square-foot hole with a shovel too big for my small hands, and I placed what remained of the baby robin’s body inside of it.  I collected twigs, just like the bird’s mother would have, and I built a temple of twigs around what remained of the body.  I gave the bird a name, wrote a short eulogy, and preached my first sermon about the meaning of life so quietly that only the bones could hear.  I placed my note at the foot of the temple, poured out a little gasoline, lit the match and tossed it in.  First, the stench of sulfur filled the air, then, the acrid smell of turpentine.  The rising black smoke snaked into the sky as the twigs caught fire and the gasoline burned off.  I watched the smoke turn grey and continue to rise as the sun set from the window of my room after I had gone back inside and collected what remained of the bones the next morning to bury them again.

Many of the bones I have found carry stories that are not mine to tell.  Some already lived second lives and have since been laid back to rest.  I can tell you, however, that while I have always been a collector of sorts, many of the things I found feel as if they found me.  I know when it is best to leave something as it is and when it should be retrieved.  I know that even bones occasionally get lonely.  They are – the things I have collected – among other things, brief snapshots of time.  They are images that are present in all things.  They represent what came before, what may remain behind.  Something perfectly preserved.  Brief snapshots of time, in stamps and coins, flowers and bones, seeds and leaves.  Things that have a story.  Inside of them are the remains of an entire universe - life that has been and gone.  


Go and gather the bones, girl. 
Gather everything together.  Make something from the ashes. 
From the earth.  From the wind.  From the water.  From the fire. 
You are life.  You are the slow hands of time. 
You know what came before. You know what comes after. 
The beginning and the end. 
Listen, girl.  Listen better. 
The bones know.
The bones remember.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

My Tiny Cabinet by Ziwei Yu


Five hand-painted letters using the LGBTQ community color;  


A hand-painted wooden house model with the rainbow (LGBTQ community) color, drawing a smile on the roof, which represents that we all are the same;  


Me and Miller 


Me and Charlotte 


Me and Andrew 


“I’m different,” he said, “not like you.”
     “We are the same,” I said, “we all are.”


When my date to design the tiny cabinet came, the first person that popped up in my mind was Miller. He was one of my best friends in high school, and we share some secrets. The reason I said “some” was because that I could feel he was hiding something, something that he thought I shouldn’t know.
We argued this since we met. The best friend should share all secrets with each other. I mean, I could share my secrets with him because I trusted him—how could he not trust me as I did?
     “I’m different,” he said, “not like you.”
     At that time, I didn’t know what this meant. All I could feel was his helplessness deeply in his mind that I as a “normal person” couldn’t touch, understand, or embrace. I never argued with him about this “issue” after what he said to me, starting to think of a way to make him feel better. But what I really appreciate him was that he finally told me his biggest secret.
     “I’m gay,” he said, “do you know gay?”
     “Yes,” I said, “I’m one of the supporters of LGBT community.”
     There was no word to illustrate the switch from sadness to excitement on his face. It was pretty rare at that time when there was someone supporting them.
     I understand. Who we fall in love don’t depend on the gender; it depends on the soul, the one that matches you perfectly, and no matter who has that soul—a boy, a girl, a transgender, etc.—we will fall in love with that soul.
     But I mean, he wasn’t the first person I’ve known being in that community.


It was an autumn when I met Charlotte. She was a transfer student, who always loved to bring snacks to school so that she could find a time after class sneaking into an empty room and ate cookies or chocolate. I remembered it so clearly because on the first day we met, she gave me a piece of dark chocolate. I didn’t like chocolate; it was sticky (on my teeth) and sweet (including the dark chocolate). But I didn’t know; I still ate it. For some reason I had a great feeling on this girl and I wanted to know her more.
     It might because she was the one who could easily understand what I was thinking without me saying a word. Every day when in school, we would always be together, studying the math, working on the homework, and going to the restroom together. She wasn’t like another me, but she definitely had all my information on her hand; otherwise, how could we be so tacit? 
     We became the “best couple” in our class. My other classmates would always tease me, calling us as a couple. She sometimes would argue with them, but I never said anything. It was a strange time when I felt happy and even exciting when others called us couple, and one day in my dream, she even became my couple—we almost kissed.
     I was scared and felt panic. My mom told me that I would eventually fall in love with a good boy and marry him. It was the fact that I’ve always remembered and now, it was different. I didn’t know if I fell in love with Charlotte, but I definitely wanted to stay more time with her. It was a weird relationship between us: I was a friend of hers, and she was the one that I like.
     One day she finally realized it, and I started to hide from her. She found me at the end of the hallway of the second floor where there was a tiny corner that nobody, but we, knew as our secret “home”. She found me and told me: “There is no shame on it. I’m happy to hear that. But we are too young, and you don’t who you really love for your entire life.” She held my hand and led me to the classroom, continuing saying: “a person would fall in love with more than one person, and eventually, you would find the one who really suited you.”


Andrew is my boyfriend. He is the first one who knows what happened between me and Charlotte. How lucky I find this man. When he first heard of it before we were together, I was ready to accept all of his judgments. He didn’t say anything at that time but hugged me. “What you love is the soul. It has nothing to do with the gender. You loved her, and now you love me. That’s enough.” He says when I’m writing this story. He is not in that community, but he has no critics on us, and that’s enough.
     I’ll never forget Charlotte. In fact, we are still best friends who met with each other every year when I went back to China. She still treats me the same as what she does since we met, and I appreciate her to lead me out of the dark zone from hating myself to accepting who I am.  I have rare contacts with Miller, but it’s OK. I can see that he has a great life with his boyfriend right now, and I wishes him the best far away from the U.S.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Krista Burns: Kiss Me I Have Prosthetics

I was seventeen and deeply infatuated with almost every boy within an arms length radius to myself, along with the Jonas Brother’s. Was I going to marry Nick Jonas? Yes, yes I was. Was I also going to marry my best friend that I had had a crush since I was thirteen? Honestly, it still could be possible. In seventh grade did I put hearts next to all the boy’s yearbook pictures that I had a crush on? Embarrassingly, yes. I picture it now, “mom, you had a crush on a guy that wore a Volcom t-shirt everyday?” “Sweetie, ya know, I really couldn’t help myself it was the skateboard”. In fifth grade did I use to draw pictures of boys fighting over me? God, ya. 

Had I ever kissed a boy?

Since as long as I can remember I have been always been a “late bloomer” and not kissing anyone prior to my seventeenth birthday was no different. It’s not that I hadn’t wanted to kiss anybody, because I had. My mouth just seemed like a much bigger obstacle than it probably was. I was born without Lateral Incisors. I should have been cast in that 2000 movie The Little Vampire with that spazzy blonde kid. Being born without Lateral Incisors is apparently quite common. Despite its commonality, it was a highly inconvenient situation as a teenager. I had braces from thirteen to sixteen. Try and picture how cute it is to have braces, and then, try to picture how cute it is to have braces plus having two gaping holes on either side of your two front teeth. I was still relatively cute even with braces. The trick was to never smile and look miserable all the time. I think misery might be on trend always. Luckily I wasn’t alone in my brace face misery, everyone in 2008 had braces. (Hey, what’s up 2018 screw your invisalign) There were fifteen year olds probably making out metal to metal without a care in the world. Not me. I was convinced I would 100% become fused with the braces on the receiving end. Plus I was way too busy watching my Disney Channel boyfriends to even realistically consider boys I knew in person. I still gazed intently from a far though, but my heart belonged to Nick Jonas.

Shortly after my seventeenth birthday I got to say goodbye to my glow in the dark green retainer with the front metal bracket; and said hello to the retainer that would have so many firsts. I snuck out for the first time to see the midnight showing of Twilight’s New Moon, I broke my prosthetic tooth biting into an Eegee’s veggie grinder, and I had my first kiss. It was the summer of my senior year. After my parents had gone to bed I would put on my black bra with the leopard print on the inside of the cups and my black nylon boyshort underwear and ask my best friend how I looked. She would stare at my blankly as if I were batshit crazy. I hadn’t even kissed this boy yet and I thought I would be sleeping with him. I would then put on what ever outfit I deemed worthy of the night’s future escapades, which typically involved me “borrowing” my mother’s 1996 Suburban to sneak over to this boy’s house to watch scary movies in his bedroom.

I listened to "Risky Business" by The Cab on repeat for 2 miles while praying I wouldn’t be pulled over. I didn’t exactly have a driver’s license. I sat in my mother’s suburban in front of his house and thought of all the reasons not to kiss him: you’ve never kissed anybody, you don’t know how, you’ll probably be bad at it, what if he sticks his tongue in there, what if his tongue touches the roof of your mouth and feels your retainer, then you’ll have to tell him you have fake teeth, and then he’ll think you’re a freak. His tongue never entered my mouth. We shared a moment of our lips gently touching, and a long embrace. I immediately started crying once I got in my mom’s suburban. I drove 2 miles in the opposite direction to my best friends house at 1am. We sat in her driveway as I cried in her lap telling her how the kiss was weird and how embarrassed I felt, and how I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it again. And I didn’t do it again, not until many years later. I eventually got prosthetic Lateral Incisor implants and my irrationally deep fear of tongues lingering too long on the roof of my mouth was no longer in the equation.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Farm

This is a scene from a larger inquiry into the decline of agriculture in Southern Arizona, of the shifting interest from farming to development and urban expansion, both in the flow of money and water. And a few photos poorly snapped and unredeemed through amateur Lightroom editing.

The Farm

I drove North out of Tucson, turning off the I-10 on Tangerine Road. Following a dirt service road, I skirt around fields of cotton and back to a stand of trees. Tucked into the shade, and overgrown with creosote and weeds is a white house with a half height chain fence around it - the house my mother grew up in. I lean on the fence, the hundred degree air lifting in a slight afternoon breeze. The last time I was here was before the turn of the millennium, at Easter and I remember it snowed so that all the eggs hidden the night before were lost under a few inches of desert snow. My parents, aunts, and uncles all stood out on the porch looking at the buried cotton fields and white feathered mesquite trees, while a cousin and I played with toy cars in the living room that smelled of mothballs.
Now, this fence is here to keep out vandals and the dirt of the parking area is so soft it falls into my shoes at the ankles. Small, dust-covered clumps of cotton litter the space between the trees, along with shotgun shells and broken bottles.
My grandmother, who hid the easter eggs, and my grandfather, who I never met, built the house themselves in the mid 60’s (for $17,000) and owned the surrounding eighty acres. They raised six children here, three daughters and three sons. In the late 80’s or early 90’s, they sold some of their land to the Central Arizona Project so the canal could cut through a corner of the property. The house flooded a few times (unrelated to the CAP) and after Max died and Velma couldn’t live alone anymore, the house was abandoned. A few relatives stop by every now and then, just to look at it.
I walk through an opening in the fence, and a wall of weeds up to my hips, stepping onto the concrete porch under an awning. An outdoor, red brick fireplace is filled with old soot and dirt. The front door, still on its hinges and closed is completely open to pass through, the broken glass still fanned out inside. Through another door on the opposite wall, the sun is beaming in, angling trapezoidal patches of light on the mouse-shit covered floor. Every window is broken.
I step on glass shards and chunks of plaster, and wander around the house; through the room my Mom lived in with one of her sisters, through the two bathrooms with point-blank cones of pellet-holes shot into the walls. There’s nothing left unbroken: faucets, light switches, pipes, wall tiles.
There is no sound in the house. No stuffiness, but no air moving either. Even though the windows are just frames the wind outside doesn’t reach in. There’s no draft from the bullet hole constellations in the thin plaster. The sound of floor debris shifting under my shoes is a small quiet in the house’s silence. It’s a place with its history expunged - no conflict between the past and present. I didn’t pick up any cracked photographs from the rubble. There were no rotting dresses in the closets. Nowhere did I find any record of the many years my family lived there. The house just kept being without having to explain itself to a human interest.
I walk back to my car. The wind is blowing now, the patterns of shade under the trees twisting and tugging. Across the irrigated cotton fields the North side of the Catalinas basks in cloud shadows, rearing up behind the cement plant. Someone else must own the cotton now. It’s a forced green in the brown landscape, the white buds look full and ready to be picked.