Confessions of a College (Almost) Grad

[one]When a major era comes to a close, you dream of it being epic. It\’s a vain indulgence, a classless way of thinking that you really deserve a smashing exit—or in other terms, a grandiose entrance. But even if there will be champagne, kisses and nostalgic sentiment, I have a feeling it will all be very quiet. No sirens, no one awaiting a triumphant arrival and very little bravado—I\’m not Odysseus, after all. What may be a very commonplace ritual will soon turn into a bizarre reality; but it had to happen eventually. My four years are exhausted, cheap movies at Wells Hall are spent, excuses for not having a job—retired. Graduation is here, the cliché “next move” is on the line, and damn, I\’m scared.
The land of academia had a safe grip on my comfortable lifestyle for what seemed like months. As classes come to a close and blue books are dominated, there seems little left to do but panic, reminisce and grab a cocktail at a local drinkery. Honestly, I don\’t feel well prepared for a life without classes too early, freezing walks for miles and endless reading too late. But alas, the big city awaits; the cruel world is waiting for another menial graduate to confront it. So with gusto, I shall dance out of our small, but precious, nowhere-town Michigan, and try to relate to everyone struggling for a buck…and healthcare benefits.
College brought me more than just new friends, cheap beer games and Kurt Vonnegut. It introduced me to musical and literary outlets that challenged my perceptions and shaped my identity. It was, and is, a really beautiful thing. Nowhere else can I imagine a condition so conducive for young, vibrant people to express themselves freely, and be able to share that, unhindered, with others. We have roughly 45,000 students at MSU, and by cherry-picking through campus, there have surely been some fruitful resources. It\’s an integral landscape for what\’s innovative, political and hopefully good.
The Music
I can thank my dad for early musical contributions like The Beatles, Dylan and Mozart—but that was only the start. Freshman year is a time of clinging on to the safety of high school, listening to the same strongholds and reciting lyrics verbatim because it\’s comfortable. Admittedly, I clung onto the mainstays in my CD player at the time because transition is strange, and music is medicinal. At angsty, romantic times I would listen to Jeff Buckley\’s Grace, which soon turned into an obsession over the next two years. In all of its beauty and ironical tremors alluding to death, the album became an almost spiritual safe-haven—and my brother was into him (what\’s cooler than what your older brother listens to?). My other favorites were Ben Folds, Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest and, I now unfortunately admit, Ani DiFranco. The dorms were a wild time of letting down guards, letting in unfamiliar faces and hearing some crazy stories late at night on the back porch sharing cigarettes, even when you don\’t smoke. The Brody complex had so much to offer, although a slightly contrasting entity as it was. I won\’t forget the doorman who reminded me of a young Bob Dylan, as he wrote all of his papers in pencil, or my hippy friends who made me listen to Led Zeppelin. Thankfully all those coffee mugs I \”borrowed\” from the cafeteria are now precious reminders of my yester years, and tokens of my memories.
The shift from freshman to sophomore year was huge. The choice to move out of the dorms, head across town and live with six other boys may have had an influence on that. But if a slight 60s/70s musical theme had shaped my freshman year, the next year would seriously be rattled. I turned in Ani for The White Stripes and became attuned to getting mix tapes from a then roommate and good friend of mine. And yes, I said mix tapes. He got me deeper into Radiohead, The Smiths and gratefully, Joy Division. [two]It also helped that he was a local DJ and had turntables set up in our living room. But more than anything, I came across a midtown gem during the year, a noble establishment that sits coyly, that is up all night: the 24-hour Beaner\’s. If this wasn\’t a virtue of my college GPA then I guess all those books I read were. Coming in at a close second was Flat, Black and Circular, where, to my astonishment, I could find cheap CDs, chat with the managers and pick up interesting looking flyers about musicians I knew nothing about. The walks to class were far, and oddly enough, I\’ll sort of miss those maniacal zealots who shout at passersby in front of Wells. As confrontational as their message is, it\’s comforting to know that they\’re choosing a university, our university. It signifies not only the electricity of spirited youth, but also reminds us that we have prevalence to ideologies. Our opinions are in high flux, our minds are spontaneous and our voices are strong—even if they are used to telling the bigots to can it.
From junior year to the present, my musical persuasions have been staggering. I\’ve gone back to rootsy music, explored the Indie scene until I was almost sick and have eventually landed comfortably in the land of Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams, among many, many others. Reading the classic authors I missed out on in high school and back-issues of the New Yorker took on a weekend life of its own, and replaced, on many occasions, getting swilled with friends or bowling in the Union. The East Lansing landmarks will remain hilarious, dubious, seedy, comfortable and dramatic, each with their own personal history attached.
The Atmosphere
More than anything, I\’ll miss the extreme sense of a \”college ghetto.\” Walking home on a street strewn with sandwich wrappers, cigarette butts, broken sunglasses, cracked plastic cups, chewing tobacco cans, and in rare but inspiring occasions, crumpled class notes. There\’s nothing like watching the sunshine play off of the shattered bits of glass that bathe on the cement, adding a glimmer that only old Hollywood knows. The sparkle of glass reflects parties of the weekend, and the trash that gathers by the curb adds to the visual experience of a trashy, but glamorous, lifestyle. Broken blinds, dirty kitchens, angry landlords, delinquent neighbors who throw beer cans at your head while walking by; the real question remains: what will I not miss about college?

[four]While it seems like a lifestyle of glorious depravity and midnight meals is a shoe-in for most, there also must come the moment of retraction. For me, it came in the form of replacing bar D.J.s for really good books and Coors Lite for late-night espresso. It\’s been a waning process since fall semester, mostly because finding a job is a sobering experience and because it just felt like the time. That\’s not to say that I don\’t exploit drink specials and enjoy a.m. eating, it\’s just taken on a new, nostalgic feeling. It\’s less about the alcohol or which guy at the bar I\’m trying to ignore, and more about the atmosphere, my friends and how it\’s all soon going to take the form of a bittersweet memory. Soon everyone I\’ve grown so comfortable with—those who have seen me at every emotional state—will disperse and it will be a new place, with new music, new books and hopefully a late-night pizza joint with a coffee shop nearby. But until we\’ve packed our bags and head for the unknown, it\’s time revel in the end of lectures and the beginning of whatever\’s to come.

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Texting: A New Word for a New World

A single vibration alerts me of a text message in class and right away I feel Ferris Bueller-cool. It\’s funny how such banal little messages can strike visceral nerves (he said what?), outsmart clueless professors and invade our lives in almost every arena. Getting the fleeting beep or vibe can make any receiver feel suave – whether in class, on the road or at home. [one]
Sometime within very recent memory, our generation developed a curious pattern in its communiqué. Informal conversation dominates, we rely on brief spurts of periodic contact to avoid feeling awkward and the proliferation of strange acronyms doesn’t even seem strange anymore. In one sweep, texting changed the whole cache of interpersonal decorum.
However, this raging phenomenon is nothing novel. The nonchalant rules of engagement have been losing formalities since the birth of e-mail, which was a few decades ago. It\’s \”not a new problem, it\’s been around for 25 years,\” said telecommunication professor Charles Steinfield. The questions users should be asking themselves are, \”What are the right situations to use e-mail, especially when there\’s significance? What is the right etiquette?\” said Steinfield. This can become a huge problem. At least those Post-It note breakups are in someone\’s own pen. But does the change in medium matter? the possibility of losing sight of communicative chivalry is on the line.
Element of Surprise, Etiquette, Snide Remarks
Nonetheless, the lone vibration or blinking light has become an unexpected surprise, a test of curiosity. While not as exciting as an unopened letter, the text has an individual dynamic all its own. Whereas an e-mail or handwritten letter is usually from an expected – or sometimes buried-in-the-past – party, the sender of a text message is ambiguous, random and temperamental. The limits of the text are virtually endless, yet they leave no trace once your mailbox is purged of all the one-liners and endearing greetings from friends. \”E-mails are more structured like a letter – you have to enter a subject, type the address, etc.,\” said linguistics professor Tara Sanchez. \”I will just send a text saying \’bitch\’ to a friend, something that I would never do in an e-mail.\”
[two]The casual nature of the text is a subtle art that can be used in an endless number of ways. Finding out homework answers without the awkward phone call pauses of a group-mate, or sending a happy birthday message to an estranged ex-boyfriend are now acceptable answers to rather frivolous ordeals. But often it\’s questioned where the fine line between being cute and being profound is drawn. \”It\’s easy to hide behind technology,\” said Sanchez. \”It can be used as a way to limit yourself if [you\’re] looking at avoiding contact.\”
Overall, being a texter is inconspicuous, and hip. As a recently established connoisseur, I can now type elaborate paragraphs to friends, acquaintances and ex-boyfriends while driving on the freeway. Texting accomplices appreciate my agility to steer with my knees at 80 mph while typing sans T9, which many revere as a godly shortcut. And equally, I appreciate their cute comments, like the ever-endearing, \”I luv u bitch.\”
Stimulation Central: Highs & Lows
But there are also downsides, as with all technology that moves life at warp speeds. The shorthand method of texting is a vehicle for laziness and allows close friends to shut down proper conversations in a few, jolty sentences. When was etiquette lost? Some things deserve a well-rounded story; a nice, lengthy conversation and at least the proper inflection on words. And BTW, don\’t tell me you\’re mad at me or you\’re pregnant or you\’re moving to Helsinki. That would be very seventh grade (even though none of us texted back then) and much better suited for AIM, obvs.
The universal instant messaging is a versed communications web in itself. There\’s the buddy list comprised of historical high school chums, the new casual acquaintances and then the ones you don\’t really know but still check their away messages when you\’re bored. \”It\’s just an extra component of relating to people,\” said Sanchez. And relating to so many people simultaneously. We\’re the generation of technological excess, pushing our multitasking opportunities to the edge – reading away messages, T9ing expletives to awkward acquaintances while checking our e-mails and listening to iPods.
Human biology senior Catherine Le has mixed feelings. \”It makes people more apt to say things they wouldn\’t [say] face to face,\” she said. And these bold remarks form the makings of online personas, the façades created through away messages, greetings and even font. Tom Downey, accounting major and AIMer with a knack for hard-assed away messages, thinks IMs are \”taking over our generation\’s social skills.\” As an avid user, he still points out the critical elements we recognize but don\’t always take into consideration. Sometimes, \”calling each other is completely unacceptable,\” Downey said. In terms of confronting a potential romantic interest, there are unwritten rules that come with the informal territory. \”If I call somebody it gives them the upper-hand on being hard. They can call back if they feel like it and be none the worse because I initiated the communication, or you could just ignore the missed call totally and gain an even larger edge,\” Downey said.[three]
Assuming that instant messaging is apolitical is a big mistake. \”You can not know someone at all, look at their away message and profile and learn all there is to know about them – sexual orientation, musical interests, travel plans, best friend, phone number, relationship status,\” Downey said. As personal as profiles and short messaging may seem, Steinfield thinks IMing has also become a medium of boredom. \”Among young people, [instant messaging] has taken on its own life.\” And, \”norms differ between generations – sometimes people just say \”hey\” because they\’re bored. It\’s really equivalent to a \’poke\’ on Facebook,\” said Steinfield. The virtual nudges are little ways of saying hello, or even being flirtatious.
Journalism junior Alicia Freeze enjoys text messaging for solely this reason. It\’s \”the best way to flirt, and it\’s not personal like hearing a voice on the other end of the line,\” said the former Big Green staff writer. And on a platform of such brevity, there isn\’t much time to talk about petty detail. \”You don\’t have to say, \’What\’s your major?,\’ or any of that bullshit greeting stuff. You can just say, like, \’What are you doing tonight?\’ or \’You\’re cute,\’\” Freeze said.
Whatevs, We Like it
Rather than turning away from technological saturation, we\’re embracing it. Sanchez wonders, \”How did we live without these [forms of communication] before?\” Without questioning the past, it\’s hard to understand the present and, essentially, the future. Even though the preceding generations had little or no reliance on these extended communications, besides phone and some e-mail, it\’s obvious that human nature is progressing. The natural evolution of being able to stay connected and up-to-date is just another dimension of the complicated web of people we call bitch, avoid awkward moments for or even wish to flirt with. Some people even rely on instant messaging and texting to maintain intimate relations. \”If you have to be away, it\’s a nice way to communicate,\” Sanchez said. \”However, you could move across the world and think it wasn\’t a big deal because of the advancement of technology.\”
[four]Relying too heavily on technology can cause sarcastic remarks to sound sour and not tongue-in-cheek, or can leave questions unanswered. It\’s a multi-dimensional medium in terms of dynamics and how many different people are connected concurrently, but sometimes messages are simply lost in cyber translation. In a text message, ironically, social work senior Caitlin Herrold said, \”other than convenience, nothing is good about text messaging.\”
Despite what technology may or may not mean to you is almost beside the point. In a complicated world that is almost post-wired and looming on wireless adaptability, we are all becoming acclimated. \”I don\’t know what the new inventions will be, but when they\’re created we will find ways to use them,\” said Sanchez. Surely, we will. But in the meantime, avoid texting at high speeds, breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend via AIM and remember to stay comfortably connected.

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The Campbell Soup Canon

At this point, Andy Warhol is a household name. His own image has evolved into a modern icon, ironically epitomizing what he meant to create in the first place. The sheen simplicity and stark detraction of the artist\’s \”hand\” from the work created a sly manipulation of popular American culture and the erupting fusion of advertising and media influx. Aside from Warhol, pop art as a genre enjoyed a brightly-colored bubble-gum voyage that has outlived Marilyn, Jackie and those eye-catching Lichtenstein comic-book allusions. [art11]
The Kresge Art Museum\’s current exhibition, \”Blast from the Past,\” features artists from the 1960\’s and 70\’s, shadowing the emergence of Figurative Expressionism, Geometric Abstraction, Op Art, Color Field Abstraction, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. With work from recognizable names, the exhibit is a modest but critical exploration into an era that has been frozen in time through college dorm posters, widespread anti-war/peace sentiment and Beach Boys vinyl that seems immortal. Kresge Art Museum attendant Amanda Bodner said that the exhibition \”brings attention to different areas of art.\” In addition, the art of the 1960\’s and 70\’s was \”innovative in its time; [it] changed what modernism had been known as.\”
A walk through the exhibition shed light on popular techniques and added new dimension to actual texture, brushstroke (or lack thereof) and surface value. The figurative expressionists, with their free-wheeling addition of actual form into abstract expressionist paintings, added a more personal touch to the snarled web of \”drip\” that Pollock and others had employed. Op Art offered a sense of illusionism within a strict pattern with lines that seemed to \”vibrate against each other,\” as a brochure for Kresge stated.
[meh] But according to Kresge Art Museum curator April Kingsley, \”the main feature of the show is Color Field Abstraction which was an extremely important 60\’s development, characterized by large paintings made by staining, pouring, spraying or otherwise applying the paint without expressive brushwork in a rejection of aspects of Abstract Expressionism.\”
With enormous canvases acting as an aesthetic \”stage\” for the painting to \”perform,\” the Color Field section of the exhibition seems to quietly dominate in a room with an amalgam of high-profile artists. With a large eggshell canvas accompanied by thick, sinuous ribbons of blues and purples, Morris Louis\’s Alpha-Theta covered the wall. Further down the room, Geometric Abstraction changed viewer perspective, rejecting a free-spirited connection of painter and canvas for a cold detachment of clean, hard lines that left no identity of an artist\’s imprint.
[art21]But hanging boldly across the room from the poetical color field paintings and meticulous Geometric Abstraction paintings, are indulgent relics of our recent popular artistic and cultural past. The Pop Art section may not boast a deep, metaphorical value, but it has a glamorous and seductive candy-colored allure.
Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns are the most recognizable names to the general public, said Bodner. Interestingly, all three artists are considered in the Pop Art persuasion. Bodner added that the artists \”really draw people in.\”
And curiously, that has always been the case. With a genesis that seemed as evolutionary as television sets and microwaveable dinners, Pop Art\’s arrival was manifest destiny. And if art can be said to be mimetic of time and place — or at least of an artist\’s interpretation — then the Pop genre employs the prototype.
Carl Oxley III, a 25-year-old pop artist living in Hamtramck, Mich., said that pop art was born as a \”response to a huge boom in advertising,\” starting in England in the 50\’s. In its wake, the influence stretched to American shores and was given life in the works of artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Concerning these two artists, Oxley said that the art \”became more about an artistic image that was easily recognizable to everyone due to its content. That\’s where I think it is now, something easily recognized by the masses and easy to understand.\” And it was easy to understand. That was, and still is the point.
It can be debated whether Warhol was an artistic mastermind or just an observant aesthetic narrator commenting through visual text on the idealization of Western culture. Regardless, he actively pioneered a genre and put a whole new outlook on feminist culture, Hollywood, the death penalty and condensed soup. [jessica2] In Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook, edited by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, Warhol remarked, \”the reason I\’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine.\” It’s a revolutionary idea Modernists would\’ve cringed at, and yet his work is representative of the work he produced.
Warhol\’s glittering violet silk-screen in the Kresge exhibit shows two pixilated images of Jackie Onassis Kennedy on the day of her husband\’s funeral. And even staring at it up close, there isn\’t a smudge to be found; the artist\’s hand may as well have been a machine lever. [art31] He even opened a studio called The Factory in 1962. If mass culture was to mass produce everything from Coca-cola to Brillo pads, then Warhol would be a sociological mirror. In A Sourcebook, he once said, \”a Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.\”
Recognizable images of celebrities, fatal car accidents and the thirteen most-wanted men and women who suffered fatality through a \”tuna fish disaster\” have all received treatment on Warhol\’s surface. Pop Art\’s reminder is that trousers, lipstick, computers, magazines, mineral water, etc. can be products noteworthy of being exemplified as mass produced, in high demand and ultimately as cultural vestiges of a generation. Through repetition, bright and often symbolized color choice, skewed or blurred outlines, Warhol used his world as a referential and two-dimensional color palette. And interestingly (or not), people loved it — just as they still do and most likely always will.
The driving force of Pop Art is its reliance on popular culture. This undercurrent seems obvious, and ultimately, it is. Unlike Modernist artists whose objective was to deter societal or political influence and penetrate their inner expressions, the Pop Artists looked to the opposite spectrum. It was ballsy, glamorous, exciting, fresh, eye-catching and obviously capitalistic. [jessica3]And the natural and resilient concept of staying current is the notion that still produces pop art today. Oxley says that he gains inspiration for his art through \”cartoons, movies, billboards, magazine ads and listening to music.\” Oxley adds that \”a lot of ideas come from conversations with people about random things, and word or statement will just stick in my head.\”
But an important factor when considering any kind of art (or writing for that matter), is that the artist is still choosing what popular images to portray. While Campbell\’s Soup or Lichtenstein\’s comic book caricatures may be openly recognizable at all hierarchical levels, the artist\’s objectivism is still active in such a discursive field. Inspiration is individualized and particular, and for Oxley, his \”biggest motivation is Happiness.\” Similarly, Emma Kruch, curator and director of East Lansing\’s (Scene) Metrospace thinks that Pop Art\’s growing phenomenon can be seen as a correlation to the original movement.
\”In the 60\’s, people were really interested in pop art and I think that today, being in a war situation, people want to look at bright colors and comic styles to make them happier,\” she said. [art41]Similarly, Oxley believes, \”There are a lot of things happening with the popular culture in America that need to be taken out of their original context, and looked at a little more closely.\” An unusual beauty that viewers can find in Pop Art is its usual light-heartedness, use of energetic colors and relatable concepts. Instead of intense symbolism or mysterious allegory, Pop Art strives to be available for the masses: familiar in the images and concepts presented- and easy to digest.
\”A lot of art I have seen lately is really conceptual or giving some dreary ‘glass-half-empty’ outlook on our world,” said Oxley. “And while this work is important for what it is, and what it says, not all art has to be this way. It\’s OK for art to be fun, or make you laugh, or just simply be nice to look at.\”
But for some, Pop Art lacks vital significance. \”Frankly, I\’m not particularly interested in pop art, and don\’t feel that it is important today, except for the prices it brings at auction,\” said Kingsley. It may be a lesson in history for some, or just an eclipsed phenomenon that\’s hay-day is over. Whichever the case, its longevity can\’t be denied. And as long as Americans continue to buy iPods, frozen pizza, those hideous furry boots, Busch Lite or even an entire cultural persona, Pop Art will continue to live on.

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Memoirs of a Memoir

[pieces]The slick exterior adds an element of mystery. The dedication page may reveal a hint of authorial introspection, but no one can prepare what lies inside a memoir. They\’re heavy, meticulously detailed and often melodramatic. Whether a recovering addict pours his self-deprecation and newfound following of Christ onto the page, or an aging immigrant displays her tale of exile, the subject matter will always deliver.
English senior Nick Miller thinks the initial purpose of the memoir is to \”sort through your own life experiences.\” And though the writing is based solely around the author, they also reflect the times. Memoirs are woven through \”cultural history\” and \”shouldn\’t be factual,\” said Miller.
Conversely, sometimes simplicity outweighs cultural influence and speaks for itself. Ali de Groot, the associate publisher of Modern Memoirs, Inc., works with clients who are interested in creating their own memoirs. The private publishing company is based out of Amherst, Mass., and specializes in limited edition memoirs and family histories. Founded in 1994 by Kitty Axelson-Berry, Modern Memoirs, Inc., has flourished by creating close relationships with clients and shaping their visions into dream-like realities.
\”Most of the time our clients write memoirs for their families,\” said de Groot. Older generations are encouraged by members of their family and told, \”you should write your story down,\” she said. Clients have the option either to send their memoir manuscript to the company or to arrange a set of interviews where the clients interact with Modern Memoirs, Inc., staff to get their ideas and life history in ink. The process involves several areas of expertise, including editors, designers, project managers, printers, binders, etc.
\”People are paying for a great amount of attention to detail, a lot of personal contact and a very aesthetically pleasing design to match the integrity of the author,\” said de Groot. From the initial interviewing stages to sending paper swatches back and forth through the mail, choosing a cover design, editing the memoir and finally binding it, the cost can be intimidating. On average, from start to finish, de Groot estimated the total for \”full services\” to be about $50,000. This is assuming the client orders 200 books at 200 pages each, hard-bound and in an off-set (longer lasting, finer) print. But if you handle writing and editing the manuscript yourself, the amount for design and formatting is averaged at $25,000.
Creating memoirs for family is much different than producing them for a mass audience. \”For family you don\’t need to embellish anything. There\’s no necessity to make the personal memoir sound more exaggerated or more fascinating. The really understated [memoirs] are the best,\” said de Groot. The vast sea of people interested in reading memoirs isn\’t all genealogically connected however. There isn\’t necessarily shared blood among avid memoir readers, and their backgrounds differ enormously.
The memoir is a unique breed of literary discourse; it rejects the rigid format of an autobiography while still fulfilling the self-reflective quality with more creative bravado. It isn\’t necessarily in chronological order and it isn\’t pointedly true. The writer has the power to meander creatively off-course into uncharted, unlived areas solely in the name of creating a palatable work of prose. Although some may struggle with the idea of feeling \”cheated\” or \”betrayed\” by the script, the reader must know what\’s to come before diving into the fragmented world of a memoir.
According to English professor Marcia Aldrich, there are \”plenty of commonalities between writer and reader.\” The genre of introspective writing, as Aldrich suggests, spurs the curiosity of the reader into interlacing his or her life with the author\’s.
Perhaps the reason the memoir is so fascinating and even controversial lies in an elemental downfall of metaphysical humanity: truth is fluid, fragmented and gets created anew over and over. Traces of memory become scattered through the transit of everyday life, concepts transform through the years and become embellished and moments in time float anonymously, losing the exact time or place. But when exaggeration is excessive and the writer takes daring liberty in formulating his or her life story, the ethical reasoning becomes blurred. The truth in memoir writing is a slippery slope, so where should the line be drawn?
\”[Memoirs] are important for people to read so that they can explore themselves,\” said Aldrich. Perhaps human trials aren\’t much different. The variables, locations and people may be dissimilar, but the coalescence of ideas may be universal. All people struggle and memoirs seem to be the perfect signifier.
Though they can be seen as an outlet or emotional refuge, memoirs are also a pivotal step in self-renewal and deep inner scrutiny. \”I don\’t think writing a memoir is therapeutic, I think it actually creates issues for writers,\” said Aldrich. And since the memoir is a specific genre of writing, Aldrich facilitates its literary cogency. \”They\’re literary renderings of writer\’s experience; it is most akin to an autobiographical fiction,\” said Aldrich.
But the question of subjectivity must interject. Is it possible for an author to recreate memories without distorting them in the first place? The question of whether or not embellishments or alterations of history are ethical practices naturally rises to the surface. Recent controversy surrounding Oprah Winfrey’s acclaimed book club author James Frey and his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, has been staring literary ethics in the eye.
The Ethics of a Memoir
James Frey has pocketed and will continue to earn millions of dollars from his autobiographical memoir that has since been exposed by the popular ball-busting Web site, His story is one of debauchery and has been questioned as being a tale of lies. But all the controversy surrounding the book raises the ethical question of whether it really matters. \”I completely disagree with all of the negative media that been thrown his [Frey\’s] way,\” said business senior Rachel Ruthven.
According to Merriam-Webster, a memoir is an account of something noteworthy. This ambiguous definition leaves questions unanswered but may open a literary backdoor for Frey\’s argument. An account doesn\’t necessarily have to be truthful – judging by the highly exaggerated and epically decadent \”accounts\” heard from friends, family and Bill Clinton. And although there is an expected leeway in storytelling allowing said teller to embellish, gracefully, in order to captivate the audience, these stories have the potential to become overdone. When aesthetics are stripped and all that remains are bare formalities of context and composition, readers are realizing that people enjoy portraying their lives as monumental points of interest. In Frey\’s case, he chooses to expand the truth to create his obstinate persona.
But Ruthven maintains her backing of the memoir. \”I don\’t feel betrayed at all,\” she said.
Maybe the backlash is based on the idea that people feel cheated because they can no longer hold Frey\’s work as a piece of hard-and-fast non-fiction. There isn\’t a relatable centerpiece to examine and compare oneself to; the idea that these certain circumstances happened in a particular order and place in time is now a known fallacy and people feel betrayed. Readers who devoted their time to digest all those little pieces in print are now facing textual indigestion. But while some readers are feeling nauseous, Aldrich believes the memoir as a literary genre embodies authorial supremacy.
\”There is quarrelling over accounts – what\’s true and what\’s not,\” said Aldrich. And when questioned on subjectivity of memoir writing, Aldrich claimed, \”all memoirists create the dialogue.\”
Whether or not readers feel deceived by memoirs taking slight turns of truth, the battle of ethics in writing will remain an issue for years to come.
Like Narcissus, who drowned staring at his own image, Frey\’s self-aggrandizing, self-told tale may leave his credibility sinking but at least his story will stay afloat in the minds of millions of readers. As Miller said, \”We all want to make something that outlasts us.”

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Into the Mystic

Besides being nestled inconspicuously within the walls of Olds Engineering Hall, Clarion: The Science Fiction Writer\’s Workshop, has nothing to do with scientific precision or, for that matter, any sense of a tangible reality.
Instead, the workshop provides a creative opportunity for aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers to improve their talents, hone further skills and learn from the pros.[clarion] The regimented, albeit creative, spawning of the workshop boasts a global impact that has drawn in hopeful writers from as far as Norway. Clarion\’s expansive workshop now is home to three locations worldwide: one in East Lansing known as Clarion East, another in Seattle – Clarion West – and the newest location in Australia, known as Clarion South. The widespread growth of Clarion has become a rich, exemplary model of what a creative writing workshop should be.
Robin Scott Wilson founded the workshop in 1968 at Clarion State College in Pennsylvania, now called Clarion University. It moved to MSU in 1972 and still holds a strong reputation among science fiction literary critics and popular magazines.
“We were mentioned in Asimov\’s Science Fiction,\” said Sarah Gibbons, assistant to director of Clarion East. The renowned science fiction magazine is just one outlet Clarion has received attention from. A plethora of well-respected science fiction and fantasy authors have taught, guided and inspired enthusiastic writers at the workshop, held every summer for six weeks. The selective process of choosing qualified and ardent apprentice writers is a task that Gibbons, an English graduate student at MSU, and the rest of the Clarion staff, put much thought into. The other challenge is finding established, professional writers in the genre.
\”We look to find professional writers who have credentials and who we feel will be able to help the apprentice writers,\” said Gibbons.
Participants are \”selected from applicants who have the potential for highly successful writing careers and who submit writing samples with an application,\” according to a recent press release from the Clarion Foundation. And although the selection process is highly competitive, novice writers receive helpful critiques and insight from professional writers in a concentrated and attentive atmosphere.
But how effective are writing workshops? With an array of different teaching techniques, it seems each serves its own function.
\”I always felt that the best writing courses I took taught me about forms – poetic forms, sentence forms, narrative structures and devices,\” said Dr. Stephen Rachman, an English professor at MSU. \”They did not dictate content so much as give students formal tasks.\”
\”Writing is deeply bound up with self-worth and people can be touchy about it,\” said Rachman. \”Workshops can be effective if the instructors find substantive but humane ways to criticize the work of their students.\”
Knowing when to push and how much to force an opinion on someone else\’s work can be a delicate situation and will affect the finished product. \”If it is all praise, then students will end up with the literary equivalent of The Emperor\’s New Clothes,\” said Rachman. \”If it is too harsh or personal, than no one can learn. Finding that critical space of humane neutrality and cheerful hard work is crucial.\” But rigorous critiques can also motivate writers and help guide their writing to be better suited for an audience.
The critiquing circle and workshop open at a friendly time of the morning. \”The workshop starts at 9 a.m. and is based on the Milford Format of critique,\” said Gibbons. \”The professional author reads three to five stories the night before and then critiques the piece for four hours.\”
The Milford Format is based on the principle of critiquing a literary piece by going around the circle of participants, adding input, lending advice, declaring opinion and hopefully helping the author of the stories to gain his own personal insight into his writing. One of the most critical aspects during the workshop is that each writer keeps writing. It \”really focuses on\” experimentation and development of new thoughts and ideas, said Gibbons. Rachman believes \”improvement in writing is hard to measure, especially over a short period of time.\”
Although writing is a timely process, Rachman still believes, \”for the right person, the feedback one receives from other writers can be very useful in specific ways.\” One way in which Rachman believes the workshop is beneficial is \”editorial advice – about specific stories, in general ways – finding out what one\’s strengths are, and occasionally in life-changing ways [like] finding one\’s voice.\”
But when the Clarion writers aren\’t plugging away on elusive concepts, they\’re being intellectually challenged by the professionals. Liz Zernechel-Bell, a 2005 participant and director of the Clarion 2006 Summer Writing Workshop and assistant theatre professor, said she was initially attracted to Clarion because it was \”an intensive six weeks of writing\” that seemed to be more aimed at adults, “even though we don\’t really look at age, more at the merits of writing.\”
Mornings are devoted to reading manuscripts and critiquing in a seminar-type setting. Afternoons, evenings and weekends are \”committed to individual writing, personal conferences with the writer-in-residence, social activities and completing class assignments,\” according to the official Clarion Web site. And as Zernechel-Bell said, age is of no importance; it seems to be a prominent concept that good writing and attentive dedication are par for the literary course at Clarion. Past participants have ranged from teens to professionally published adults, all with one thing in common: the courage to write fiction during their six-week boot camp-like training, and the valor to actually intend to write for a living.
Creating an atmosphere for imaginative writing may be just as important as the medium you use to work with. [andy]The process of even beginning a piece of creative writing takes a certain boldness and audacity. \”I think one starts with a desire or a compulsion to write, to sit down all the time and work from inspiration through the inevitable drudgery of draft and revision,\” said Rachman. \”Then one needs to find out what one is good at and cultivate those strengths. Then there is the long, arduous journey from competency to glib understanding to profound knowledge.\”
And even though creative writing is a passage into the unknown and imaginative, it also serves a purpose for the writer. \”Since writing is a tool of understanding it becomes the medium through which we articulate ourselves to ourselves,\” said Rachman. And since the road to producing a quality piece of creative writing is so teeth-grindingly strenuous at times, Rachman believes people should know what they\’re getting themselves into.
\”Having gone through such a process, then one needs to decide if one wants to make a profession of writing,\” said Rachman. \”Sometimes people confuse these two processes.\”
But for Zernechel-Bell, her passion for writing discourages all the painstaking downfalls. She chose to type on her laptop in her room, located on the third floor of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house. \”I would mostly write in the morning because I\’m more of a morning person, but other people would write after the circle and into the night,\” she said. One of the participants, a doctor, \”left at 11 p.m. every night and went to a bar to write.\”
Whether it\’s secluding yourself from the outside world and enveloping your ideas in a tight space or interacting non-verbally with society, writing creatively, especially science fiction and fantasy writing, can be explored in many different ways. Another participant, nicknamed Zen Boy, \”disappeared everyday after [the critiquing] circle,\” said Zernechel-Bell.
If Zernechel-Bell wasn\’t hiding out in her room completing her stories for the circle, she was cooling off from the obnoxious Michigan heat in the basement of her sorority house or sometimes at the local bookstore, Barnes & Noble on Grand River Avenue.
She was also \”transported into a world of writing though music,\” and enjoyed listening to Sarah McLachlan, Lifehouse, Evanescence and for more \”high fantasy,\” Enya. When asked what entailed \”high fantasy,\” Zernechel-Bell offered J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as an example. \”You know, hobbits, elves – a completely made-up world.\”
Regardless of whether participants are looking for a means of improving their writing or broadening their capabilities, the workshop acts as a canvas for an array of fantastical thinkers and technocrats alike. Even if ephemera, mystery, abstract theory or history are your fortes, the fantasy and science fiction genre won\’t discriminate. According to Gibbons, science fiction and fantasy writing \”deal with everything that could possibly be,\” which makes the genre open to interpretation, welcoming and free from isolation.\”
Science fiction and fantasy \”doesn\’t become dated because it\’s part of the imagination,\” said Gibbons. And for Clarion: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer\’s Workshop, the imagination is a thriving universe of abounding ideas, ready to be released and given wings.
Given the opportunity to engage in a writing workshop like Clarion can be very helpful, according to Rachman: \”Where else, outside of writing programs, can a writer do this? A workshop can be like having a temporary braintrust.\”

The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers\’ Workshop will be held at MSU from June 26 through August 4, 2006. Application and materials must be received by April 1, 2006. For more information on how to apply, costs and general information, visit the official Clarion Web site at

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A Mad and Masterful Fusion

Burying our heads in one another’s shoulders, tears welling in our eyes on the verge of falling, we were torn by the vehement love affair and ironically beautiful sculptures before us.[sign2]
As we made our way through each gallery of the exhibition, their story became clearer. It was a chronological stepping stone into the lives, creative processes, influences and wild romance of two of the greatest sculptors of all time: Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin.
Claudel and Rodin are reminders that passion, torment and triangular love affairs are factors of remarkable artwork, in this case, incredible sculptures. The Claudel-Rodin \”Fateful Encounter\” exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) nearly had my friend and me weeping.
Rodin, an ethereal nineteenth-century French sculptor most famous for “The Thinker,” was compared to Michelangelo and could rank as one of the greatest artists the world has ever known. Claudel and Rodin had a dramatic love affair that was nothing short of heart wrenching, but through the fog of broken hearts and shattered lives came a mastery of the arts.
An Artist and a Young Muse
Rodin and Claudel were compared to other classic lovers like Romeo and Juliet or Antony and Cleopatra, and the DIA brochure agrees. It is not always obvious, either, whether Rodin and Claudel would have produced the same quality artwork had they not had the other’s influence.
The relationship began in 1883 when Claudel met Rodin. He taught sculpture to her, as well as to her friends. The following year, Claudel became Rodin’s muse and he used her as inspiration for his art. She was his model, his confidant and soon his lover. \”Her career had a meteoric rise and fall, while Rodin’s work increasingly gained prestige and fame, elevating him to a celebrated artist by the time of his death,\” said Brittany Gersh, curatorial and exhibition assistant of European sculpture and decorative arts at the DIA.
But the only thing standing in the way of their destined romance was Rodin’s 20-year lover, Rose Beuret. The Shakespearan, melodramatic affair was a recipe for disaster from the start. Claudel’s family, aristocrats with high standards, disapproved of her involvement with the art world, especially with an older man and vigorous artisan like Rodin. In 1892, Claudel put an end to the intimate side of their relationship, although the two still regularly saw each other until 1898. Throughout their stormy, tumultuous relationship, Rodin’s long-term lover, Beuret, was still very much a part of the complicated love triangle. Through letters displayed among the many galleries at the DIA, Rodin confessed his adoration and unrelenting passion for Claudel, making promises to leave Beuret for her so he and Claudel could finally marry.
\”As Ruth Butler explained in the lecture she gave at the DIA, Rodin was strongly influenced by the women in his life: his sister, and two closest friends and lovers, Camille and Rose Beuret,\” said Gersh. [thinker2]And though Rodin’s letters seemed heartfelt and sincere, reading through the translated versions, I slowly and then suddenly felt there was a hidden deceit: something buried under his words and letters didn\’t seem right. Whether it was the somber tone of the English-accented tour guide\’s voice that provided insight into their chaotic love affair, or just my instincts chiming in, I could feel disaster on the brink of eruption.
Rodin’s promises soon turned to empty statements as Claudel lost faith in him and he justified her skepticism by staying with Beuret, while still vying for Claudel’s love. Claudel was a headstrong artist that never married, and her “disregard for social conventions was revolutionary in redefining the role of women in the art world as well as in French society,” said Gersh.
Passion and Influence
As I walked around the magnificent sculptures the masters formed, I couldn\’t help but question whether they would have flourished creatively if they hadn’t had each other. Phylis Floyd, art and art history professor, thinks the two had a definite influence on one another.
“They shared a mutual exchange of creative juices,” said Floyd, “in more than one way.” The three-sided love affair is reflected in Claudel’s artwork, and it appears her feelings of heartbreak are demonstrative through her sculpture.
Reflected through the pair\’s sculptures is the passion they shared, both in their dueling sculptures of one another and in Rodin’s later works.
\”In many of their pieces, passion, love, tenderness, and jealousy prevail as dominant themes,\” said Gersh. \”Claudel’s The Waltz and Rodin’s I Am Beautiful, for example, are two pieces that portray two lovers with such passion that it would be negligent to assume that their love for each other did not influence their artwork.\”
“Rodin left his collection of art to the state, and in his will he said he wanted to the money to be used to buy Claudel’s artwork so that they could be exhibited together,” said Floyd.
Claudel, however, was not one to resign to the roles of only muse and female counterpart. “She ignored the social judgments of the time and carved and sculpted her own pieces — generally considered a man’s job because of the physical strength it took,” said Gersh.
But she was never able to remove herself completely from Rodin’s shadow, and her career suffered as a result, while Rodin’s flourished.
Fallen Sculptress and Thriving Sculptor
As if their love affair was not melancholic enough, Claudel’s career plummeted in the wake of Rodin’s. Elizabeth Whiting, curator of education at MSU’s Kresge Art Museum, emphasized how Claudel was caught behind the shadow of Rodin, and how she is liberated now through the exhibit. \”Claudel, emerging from the shadows of Rodin, was an important figure in her own right,” said Whiting. “Seeing the exhibit is a gratifying and rewarding experience in terms of both artists.”
But in her time, Claudel was unsuccessful at finding fame and her failed romance with Rodin could have been what broke her. From 1905 onward, Claudel’s behavior grew outwardly deranged. She started destroying her statues, disappearing for long periods of time and acting overly paranoid. In one particular gallery at the DIA, a narrator said Claudel had grown into a habit of destroying her own sculptures and then claimed Rodin had stolen and destroyed her pieces in the middle of the night. On March 10, 1913, Claudel was admitted to the psychiatric hospital of Ville-Evrard. Until her death in 1943, Claudel was trapped in mental institutions and, to art critics’ and historians’ dismay, sculpted nothing.
Rodin continued sculpting despite cutting ties with Claudel, and in 1903, he had his most important works enlarged to monumental dimensions. During his last years, specifically in 1915, Rodin traveled to Rome where he sculpted a bust of Pope Benedict XV, and The Burghers of Calais was unveiled officially in London without a ceremony, according to the official Web site of a museum which houses Rodin’s work in Paris, appropriately called the Musee Rodin.
In early 1917, Rodin finally married his long-time love, Rose, who died a mere two weeks after their wedding. Rodin died later that same year, on November 17.
Their works are best viewed as a creative amalgam of influences: they influenced each other in life and art. Claudel’s “incredible facility with [sculpting] hands,” was highly influential to Rodin’s work. “He stole a hand from one of her sculptures and it was missing until he finally admitted that he had stolen it to study,” said Floyd. “Her adeptness for sculpting emotion into hands had a profound effect on Rodin, and is reflected in his popular masterpiece, Burghers of Calais.”
Through Claudel’s accomplished talent of the human form, she had the ability to evoke certain expressions and emotion that affected Rodin’s sculptures. “They had a shared contribution: she helped Rodin to work toward symbolism, which was what her work was about,” said Floyd. “The way she worked captured the profundity of human emotions and passion.”
The very idea that a 19-year-old Claudel had a chance to work with a 43-year-old budding sculptor most likely had an intense impact on her work. But just as each artist gave their influential art to later generations, they also strongly influenced their own time.
\”In literal terms of their art, the technical mastery of the sculptures, the chosen subject matter and the aesthetic they adopt interrelate to make these artists influential in this early state of modernism,\” said Gersh. And although Rodin may be synonymously thought of for some of his more popular works, the rest shouldn\’t be ignored. \”Everyone thinks of ‘The Thinker’ when they think of Rodin, but everyone seems to overlook one of his more prominent pieces, ‘The Gates of Hell,’” said Whiting.

[sculpture1]Camille Claudel’s and Auguste Rodin\’s turn-of-the-century sculptures also defied the social order and convention of their time. \”Rodin was ahead of his time in terms of social conventions,\” said Gersh, and Claudel defied cultural gender roles and rebelled against popular stereotypes. The two, together, formed a masterful fusion of sculptural art. Their artistic longevity will resonate for eras to come.
\”Independently it was their ability to break boundaries, overturn the conventional paradigm of late nineteenth century French art and culture, and their ability to communicate effectively by means of sculptural representation,\” said Gersh. If non-conventional cultural phenomena are what you\’re into, visit the DIA before the exhibit is gone in February. Because, according to Gersh, Claudel and Rodin \”are now championed as two great artists, and Rodin as the best sculptor in all of art history.\”
Just think how resounding their art may have been if they had stayed together– or perhaps their genius resided in the torrid madness of a failed love.

The Detroit Institute of Arts will be hosting Camille Claudel and Rodin, \”Fateful Encounter\” until February 5th, 2006. For directions, ticket information and museum hours visit the DIA\’s website at

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