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How to Reconcile Repulsive Geniuses

This is a reprint of an article originally published in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper. 

Recently, Dylan Farrow sent an open letter to the New York Times, which revisits the horrific accusation that Allen molested her as a young child. In light of this, I feel it’s imperative we reexamine how to respond to brilliant work that stems from shitty human beings. (If you haven’t read the letter, and Allen’s recent response, definitely worth doing so now.)

The question of how, and if, we can separate an artist’s work from his or her immoral personal life is not a Woody specific conundrum. Countless artists, far more than we can ever grasp, make unbelievable works of genius but act in unjust and despicable ways. Can we still laugh in the face of the all too familiar anxieties present in Annie Hall? Ponder why he made To Rome with Love? Should we refrain from admiring Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, resist dancing and crying to all 5,000 episodes of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet?

Recently, “Liberal Girl Number One” herself, Lena Dunham, tweeted to her hordes of followers, begging them to both read the letter and reevaluate the ways in which Hollywood continues to treat such people with the utmost respect and adoration, stifling the voices of those they traumatize.

 

I was lucky enough to ask Lena this question in person, and amidst trying to stroke her hair and tell her all my secrets, she answered with her typical poise and eloquence. Lena responded that, although personally she has difficulty watching Allen’s work without his actions seeping into her experience, the problem does not truly lie in our subsequent refrain or indulgence of these works. Though it may seem like a noble endeavor to steer your Netflix away from Manhattan, (yes it’s on Netflix) your solo protest will be like a tree falling in a forest. Unheard. 

 

As Lena suggests, the issue is much larger than our consumption as audience members. The overarching injustice is interwoven into the movie industry, an industry that glamorizes and idolizes individuals because they contribute important work, give roles to the best and most notable actors, and make fuck loads of money despite their well-publicized personal failures.

So while we as viewers should be conscious of the ways in which the work we consume is inherently affected by the tortured minds of those who create it, it seems we have to separate the art from the people themselves. We can still appreciate the hilarity of Sleeper, the brilliance of Midnight in Paris, the nuance of Trapped part 4. We can judge these artists however we want, and consume their works in a way that corresponds with our own personal opinions. Yet we can’t ignore the ways in which the industry they are embedded within continues to put them on a pedestal, shower them with little golden trophies, and never, ever, get played off stage mid acceptance speech.  

Is Walter White Worth Watching?

This article was originally printed in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper. 

This is hard for me to write as I am going through serious withdrawals (no drug pun intended) from Breaking Bad. What else am I supposed to do Sunday nights at nine? Like, my laundry? Sike. That will only remind me of money laundering, obviously, which will make me yearn for Saul Goodman, or bring back sweet memories of Gus Fring’s superlab underneath the Laundromat. I just want my Sunday nights free to contemplate morality and be unabashed in pondering the meaning of life. What else is a gal to do?

But let’s get to business. Is Walter White one of the most masochistic, narcissistic, insert other istics here, television antiheroes of all time? Yes. Follow up question: Is he worth watching? Yes. Yes. Yes. Why, you ask? Okay. Let’s talk.

For starters, let’s clarify why you’re watching TV. If you want to escape, be whisked away by a world with no real stakes or believability, that’s cool. Snuggle up with your Sig O/Life sized body pillow, read those Dove Chocolate whispers aloud (treat yo self) and watch some attractive cops almost land their jokes and totter deftly around blood spatter on five inch heels.

Don’t come home from a long day of work to Netflix-OD on Breaking Bad. Watching this show is work. This show is a mind fuck. As in, it will relentlessly fuck your mind.

To truly appreciate the genius and complexity of the show, you’ve got to know what you’re getting into. Just as you wouldn’t flip on Homeland to see Claire Danes’ winning smile, or turn on Game of Thrones to see some modest cleavage and G-rated violence, BB’s inherent convulsion of our moral compass is an inherent and crucial part of the Emmy-riddled phenomenon.

Walt is evil. Just because he can make a mean waffle and rock a button down sans pants does not mean he isn’t a treacherous asshole. But I’ll stick to him like white on rice (more like ricin, am I right guys?) because Walt is a fascinating example of how we can be conned into caring for people who we know are the worst.

And herein lies the brilliance of the show. It’s not easy to blatantly hate him, nor have I encountered anyone who loves him with no questions asked (I know you’re out there, you psychopath.) On the contrary, just as Walt so skillfully manages to convince his family and friends – but especially himself – that even his most atrocious behavior has firm roots in rationality, he cons us into feeling we shouldn’t abandon him just yet. That maybe somewhere in there he still is the nerdy, sweater-wearing, scientist that started cooking the blue just to make the green.

That at times we can overlook his blatant abuse of those around him is why the show can be so difficult. We must look at Walter in the context of all the shitty deeds he hath committed, and use these to try to grapple with the ever-present ethical rhetoric that is interwoven with the show.

His evilness and skilled manipulation shouldn’t deter you from reveling in this epic masterpiece if you have been living under a rock and not yet done so. His fucked up, multifaceted persona is a testament to how incredible the show is. In an hour of TV, everything we thought we knew about a character can be inverted. The show seeps into our very being, and haunts us for hours/days/weeks long after each episode, yet we come back to watch with equal anticipation and trepidation. 

It’s a show that never presented us with the easy way out. It does not classify good and evil, but shows us the reality of how intricate these distinctions can be. So if you’re not ready to have your mind blown and be alternately frustrated, delighted, confused and excited (my DJ name is Dr. Suess, it’s cool) then don’t watch. But don’t miss out on a good thing because the characters are fucked up. We’re all fucked up!

In closing, I purposely avoided specifics and tried not to give away too much of the wonder that is Breaking Bad. As a catharsis to my own suffering, I place my faith in the next generation of watchers; those of you who still have your BB virginity intact. It’s a precious, precious thing, and it should be an extremely special moment when you lose it. So don’t rush anything.

But, what I will spoil from the series finale is an eerily relevant line Skinny Pete says to Walt. Summing up my argument far better than I could have, Skinny Pete says “the whole thing felt kinda shady. You know, morality-wise.” Preach, Skinny Pete, Preach.

But You Look so Healthy!

This article was originally published in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper. 

**As a disclaimer, I share this anecdote from my personal experience with chronic illness, and am in no way attempting to generalize what this experience is like for other people. Similarly, my interaction with the Office of Disabilities is not a judgment of the work they do or the support they offer for many students, merely my perception of a meeting and how it played into larger narratives regarding communication about chronic illness**

When I was 10, a doctor asked me if “I was enjoying my time at school.” Though I didn’t have the language for it then, I sensed the disbelief, the immediacy by which this doctor decided to pathologize me in lieu of treating me. It appeared easier to concoct a narrative that blamed my dissatisfaction with 5th grade as the source of my illness, rather than believe my own perception of my body. The language, saccharinely coded as compassion, said to me, “I don’t believe you. You’re not sick.”

Weeks later, when my blood work came back and the same doctor diagnosed me with a chronic autoimmune disorder, I remember feeling a twisted sort of triumph.

Gotcha! Who is laughing now, Doc? [Insert sheepish voice] Not me! Hah...hah.

This precarious moment, wherein my body proves itself as dysfunctional without necessitating my own futile explanation, is as upsetting as it is relieving, for briefly, my otherwise invisible condition—one incredibly hard to crystallize into lucid explanation—is verified by hard fact, errant numbers, and irrefutable malfunctions.

Yet if I go to such lengths to prove my illness to doctors, whose skepticism can be challenged by a litany of tests, my experience outside of their cold, strangely decorated offices (I have lots of pictures to prove this fact, and am happy to share), wherein I cannot provide results as evidence, an undeniable claim to my own experience, becomes complicated.

This leads me to a semi-recent interaction I had with the Office of Disabilities that I feel compelled to share before I leave Oberlin. After seeing many of my friends with chronic illness receive support from the Office of Disabilities, I ventured to see what help I could receive—namely, a meal plan exemption, as many of my symptoms are worsened by what I eat.

The nature of my meeting was, I believe, was meant to learn specifics about my health condition, meant to “help them help me,” rather than an interrogation into whether I was “really” sick. I want to emphasize that the Office of Disabilities were doing their job—this I understand. However, the apparent intention and the method by which this was enacted were at odds—while I was in no ways expecting a meeting where I was immediately given what I needed without any verification from doctors or more extended explanations, I did anticipate a space wherein, regardless of the services they could or could not actually provide me with, I would first and foremost be believed.  I anticipated a space that was savvy to the difficulty of discussing illness, how vulnerable it is to discuss your body’s failings and how incredibly invalidating it is to be met with skepticism about those very failings being “real.”  

My conversation was an odd, upsetting mirror of my experience in doctor’s offices when I was young, wherein I was met with skepticism before I even had a chance to define an illness that truly, evades definition. The “help us help you” model seemed to become an increasingly vague idea as I felt tested, interrogated, and met with resistance in my own accounts of my body and its failings. I felt this strange, meta-cyclical surreal landscape, wherein as I tried to communicate how hard it was to communicate about my illness, I was challenged on the words I used, met with incredulity on the basis of my inability to accurately define my illness.

I live in a liminal state, wherein my life revolves around words, and yet there is no definition for the defect of my body. On intake forms, I usually provide what that pesky doctor a decade ago, and many since, use as an umbrella term—Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis” (named for the doctor who discovered it). Writing “multiple vague symptoms” (which is a real term!) on forms doesn’t get me very far, for obvious reasons, and thus I hitch my complicated current state to a tangible and WebMD verified illness, opting to explain in person that there are various, potentially correlated but unverified, autoimmune complications. When I related in person that I had chronic autoimmune illnesses, the person I met with corrected me, saying, “isn’t this”—referring to Hashimotos’—“a thyroid disorder?” with a look of sheer disbelief. I elaborated on a definition I unfortunately know all too well—thyroid disorders are autoimmune disorders, seeing as any malfunction which causes the immune system to attack healthy as well as unhealthy cells can be defined as such. I was made to simultaneously defend my experience as I struggled to define it, trying to seem legitimate as I struggled to prove that what remains linguistically elusive has tangible, felt impacts on my daily life.

After I explained that for my personal situation the dining halls had been worsening my symptoms, I was told there were many healthy decisions I could make. I was told that “exemptions are not given based on convenience,” in response to my assertion that making what I ate was the best guarantee at my optimal functioning, which necessarily impacts how I thrive in both academic and personal spaces while at Oberlin. At the tail end of our conversation I provided the note from my doctor which helped me get permission to finish away in the Spring and be closer to adequate treatment. The note was immediately dismissed as being “too vague,” and I was given a concrete list of all the items my doctor would have to provide to prove I was sick, the first being, “a definition of the medical condition and how it impacts daily life.”

To receive written validation of your condition by doctors is necessary—this is a fact. However my doctors have difficulty defining what exactly is making me sick, and as I repeatedly tried to explain this, I was asked, “what sort of doctors are you going to?” which made me feel that, somehow, their inability to locate the problems in my body was my fault, my inability to correctly choose a doctor who could find a suitable name. When this person told me my existing medical note was too vague I felt further away from any semblance of support, or even acknowledgement that illnesses are complicated, specific to the individual, and not always easily defined or discussed. This person yearned for a name to my illness to help me, and while I appreciated this gesture, there was a lack of empathy for how hard hard it is to cope with something that is unnamable, not just for their sake—we all want a name for it, myself most of all. To name, in this instance, would be freeing. It would mean a lack of searching, feelings of free-floating amidst the world of everyone’s-opinions-about-your-mystery-ailments. It would mean giving strangers a concrete, google-able subject matter before they told you how their own research told them x, y, and z about your illness.

I heard, “this isn’t real enough,” “you’re not sick,” and “but you look so healthy,” in my head. I own that my own participation and projection of this conversation is directly informed by negative experiences I’ve had with people—doctors, friends, strangers—invalidating my illness based on my inability to define it, or the sheer fact that I “look healthy” and therefore, must be “okay.” While I was disappointed that this space, one I expected to be more forgiving and understanding about discussing illness, I am getting at a larger point here, one I think we can all learn from.

To have to prove you are not healthy is exhausting, often humiliating, and invalidating. To be able to choose whom I tell about my illness is a privilege, one I recognize and consider daily—to know that I “seem fine” is to fall into a visual standard of “health,” a standard that for many is harmful, biased, and wholly incorrect, using false representations of what “health” is supposed to look like (what the fuck does that even mean, right?) as a some sort of universal. When people respond to my disclosure of illness with, “but you seem so healthy!” or “oh I couldn’t even tell!” thinking they are somehow assuaging a deep concern I have of appearing “sick,” (and I respond with a vocally-fried rendering of “thank you?”) this invalidates what refuses to be named with what often remains unseen. We cannot know, ever, the experiences of other people with illness (and every experience) from our own observations, we can only know from engaging with them, from asking. However this instance can guide us all—there is a blurry line between questioning to learn more and interrogating, from asking from a place of curiosity and from disbelief, and how people who experience these interactions are sensitive to how others might perceive their presumed health or illness.

 

Who Ate the List?

This article was originally published in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper. 

This was my first year as tribute in the Hunger Games.  I kid, I kid. It was my first time at Art Rental. But I did find Art Rental this year a bit cutthroat, fluctuating between semi-sober students squabbling in the Allen courtyard to a dystopian chaos akin to a Lord of the Flies sentimentality. The order, or lack of order, that arose in the absence of authority, and the questions this provoked, prove to be a rather fascinating case study of how Art Rental, a process meant to leave us with fantastic works of art, in fact leaves us rather fanatical and flustered. 

I don’t want this article to be a play by play of events, but in order to get to the meat (sorry not sorry vegans) of the story; I feel a brief recap is necessary. As a prefatory comment, this is how I personally interpreted the events - and as such the following is incredibly biased and totally awesome and absolutely correct.  

Late Friday morning before Art Rental, a student arrived in the courtyard, and being the first individual there, posted a set of rules and a signup list. As in years past, this list functioned on roll calls – where you would periodically check in throughout the day/night to hold your place in line.  The only amendment made to this process was the addition of proxies: people you could send in lieu of yourself if you were otherwise occupied. Other than this, the hundred plus people who signed their names to this list agreed to the rules. Albeit it being problematic that one imposing individual dictate how Art Rental would run for everyone who arrived afterwards, I felt a general consensus surrounding the fairness of these rules, and an appreciation for the semblance of organization this process provided.

The list worked until precisely 5:40 pm, when the list was torn down. Or, as I’d like to interpret it, was eaten. Lists of such magnitude could, in fact, sustain a human life form for a good part of the semester. So I hope somewhere, someone (or something) is satiated. In the hollow spot where the list hung was the eloquently worded note, “Fuck the list.” You tell em, list gobbler. 

What occurred next was the Hunger Games/Lord of the Flies ambiance I recalled earlier. I watched as the gathered students devolved into anger, resentment, and a deeply competitive nature towards their fellow students, the space literally divided by where our allegiances lay. There were those who had signed up on the initial list who tried to reconstruct the order from cellphone photos (why people had pictures is another question entirely) and memory, arguing vehemently for the spot they held pre list-gate. There were the individuals who arrived in the twenty minutes since the chaos broke loose, and apparently baffled as to where they fit into the scheme of things, started a completely separate list. Finally, there was a group of people who had been physically present from the time the list was torn down to this exact moment, individuals who asserted that because they arrived post-list and had remained present since, were more deserving of a higher place in line.

From this point onward, the chaotic almost-hour between 9:00 and 9:50, there was a polarizing shift in the atmosphere.  Speakers from each party tried in vain to assert their opinions, a cacophony of voices echoed around the columned space of the Allen courtyard. In a corner, someone emitted a deep, guttural and lasting note, like a human bagpipe or didgeridoo. The drum circle that had been playing got very Jumanji very quickly. Someone yelled, “Lists are part of the bureaucracy!” to which Career Services responded, “we have candy and gluten free cookies.” A bewildered first year turned to me and asked, “is this what it’s usually like?”

Thankfully, there were individuals in the crowd from OCDC who graciously assumed the role of organizing discussion, a facet that was imperative to having any sort of successful and open dialogue about the current situation. As they stood under a doorway to open stack about the various lists, someone yelled, “Fuck the lists!” to which a responder cried, “LISTS ARE ALL SO STUPID ALL LISTS ARE STUPID.”

Although they individuals from OCDC did a fantastic job leading the conversation, the tone between the student speakers and energy within this space was indicative of the lack of communication and understanding among students about what this event even means. That someone resorted to a physical act to obfuscate the ruling that had been in place previously is a clear indicator of the ways in which, instead of having a discussion about the “fairness” of this student run process, someone vehemently disagreed and apparently changed the rules to benefit their own interest.

One speaker who arrived after the list was torn down asserted that being physically present in proximity of the museum for an extended period of time was not only more legitimate than the signup process, but showed a “moral commitment” to the art which implicated a lack of commitment among the list-signers. Quoting the Allen website, this speaker distinguished how Art Rental is supposed to be a physical process, and that if you returned only for roll calls you were less deserving of the art.

There are many aspects to this claim I find fascinating, and though this group of speakers was treated rather hostilely among the group dynamic, I think it’s worth looking at this perspective as a means to understand the validity of various concerns raised by both non list believers and list enthusiasts.

As an overarching point, the Allen website is clearly not the rule maker in this situation. We as students are responsible for best ordering ourselves, and whether or not the method in place was fair is debatable, but I do believe it was effective. On a logistic note, implying that physicality is an indicator of deservedness for art than none of us can actually lay claim to seems rather ridiculous. On a logistical note, one speaker pointed out that the Allen space itself wasn’t suited to hold a physical line, and as such, a signup allowed an order that the spattering of sleeping bags and jam circles did not clearly evoke. In addition, necessitating that an individual be physically present all night both excludes those who are physically unable or preoccupied with legitimate business, i.e. work of any sort – and also creates a hierarchy of commitment that I feel calls into question the entire Art Rental process.

Does staying overnight outdoors make you more deserving of a Picasso that isn’t yours to begin with, that is temporal and lent to us with the utmost care and trust? Does it prove something you are willing to stay outdoors only to tote back a priceless piece of art to hang above your twin bed? I’m not sure – food for thought.

Moreover, this question of morality, and deservedness, seems antithetical to the idea of Art Rental. Isn’t the point that anyone can hang an awesome piece, aren’t we all equally deserving of a medium meant to be shared among the students in a unique opportunity that so many are not privileged enough to have? Isn’t the fact that we are arguing about who gets to be first into this museum to have a premiere pick of art that we could most likely never afford somewhat ironic in light of everything? This is a program that allows everyone to have pieces that, in the “real world” are far beyond our reach. It allows us to hang pieces by our favorite artists – and yet, doesn’t even knowing these artists suggest that we have been educated and privileged in such a way that we desire the famous works, as what, as a signifier of status?

In many ways, the ideas and events at Art Rental this year seemed incredibly Obie-eqsue, and also quite antithetical to what we stand for. The real dialogue that occurred in the midst of the chaos was in many ways, quite astounding, and a testament to the ways in which we as students have the capability and maturity to self govern. That said, there were very specific voices being heard – which questions the ways in which, although this is supposed to be an opportunity for everyone, does leave out a vast majority of the campus population.

Though list-gate was incredibly heated, and at times, hilarious – it did raise these points. If a system is adopted without protest, is it justified to rip it down in disagreement? Is there a physical prerequisite for having this opportunity? What “commitment” is necessary for this amazing program that should and is open to anyone on campus? And where is the joy in this program if it becomes an hour-long blame game – don’t we lose sight of what this whole rental is about? Perhaps we need to reevaluate why and how we do this. Shouldn’t we just have a lottery, go play music and hang out all night, and take solace in the fact we will all get amazing art, regardless of the renown of the artist you choose? 

Deerhoof Plays the 'Sco

This article was originally printed in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper. 

Is that Mac Demarco? No, that was a few weeks ago. We’ve been through that. Okay, but this guy really looks like he goes here. He’s got fucking paint splattered on his teal colored chinos for god sake. And he just reeks of good taste in music, art, film, etc. All right he might be like, a little too old. Twenty years or so too old. Did he take ten gap years? That’s not entirely unheard of. Oh. I got it. He doesn’t go here. He’s in Deerhoof.

The night after Celestial Shore, Awkafina, and Deerhoof graced the ‘Sco with their presence, Main Street was buzzing with added artisan flare. It was like we had 9 new students, milling around our local haunts, casually strolling from Gibsons to the back of Slow Train like it was their home.

On four twenty the second, or as non-celebratory folks call it, April 22, the eclectic, fantastic, and strange trio of these bands came to Oberlin, all connecting (or intentionally disconnecting) to the audience in their own unique ways.

Celestial Shore opened, the Brooklyn based “math rock” band providing an innovative, hard to dance too, but fascinating set. The point wasn’t to dance to them – it’s sort of contemplative music that makes you think about what music is or isn’t, pairing well with the unclassifiable jam-rock-noise-wonder that is Deerhoof.

Even so, there were times when I felt disconnected, and I’m not sure if that’s because I was so overwhelmed by the B.O. of the person in front of me, or because I was truly, honestly, very self conscious about my limited repertoire of headbob-centric dance moves. While it wasn’t something I would blast with my windows rolled down, nor play quietly while reading Foucault, they engaged the ever-widening crowd with their tunes and rather infectious stage presence. 

But Awkafina was really something. To be honest, I thought her name was Orangina until recently. She mixed her homemade beats (very clear that she made them herself) with a comical, witty dose of raps, that while smart, focused primarily on topics related to the lower extremities – ranging from an ode to queefs (corresponding dance move included) to a self-serving manifesto about the superior nature of having a vagina. Her raps, while not incredible, veered into Childish Gambino or Chance territory, heaping a dose of sassy social commentary along with (sort of) catchy and relevant tunes. Overall though, I felt her humor overrode any other intention of the music – it became less about the music and more of a sing-songy stand up set. That said, she seems incredibly self aware of what her music is or isn’t, and as such, should be seen in all her geeky-glassed-beanie-wearing-badassness, staking her claim as an Asian female rapper in a genre that is often inhospitable to marginalized voices.

Deerhoof, the band we’ve all been waiting for, was amazing. I don’t know how else to explain it – because it was, in many ways, unexplainable. And while their choice of opening bands could be similarly mystifying, it makes sense that an eclectic and genre bending band as themselves would gravitate towards innovative artists, regardless of how well it “meshed” with their own obscure sound. But really, does everyone love Deerhoof? It seems Oberlin students and the blogosphere alike herald Deerhoof, relegating them to a distinctly elite group of musicians that are so different than anything else, and yet, almost unanimously critically acclaimed. Deerhoof, described via some as experimental art rock, or noise pop, started in San Francisco (surprise!). They’ve toured with everyone from the Flaming Lips to Radiohead, played with David Bowie and Yoko Ono. You get the point. They’re a big deal who still manage to be, relatively speaking, incognito enough to keep challenging how we think of music.  There’s something enticing about how they continue to push boundaries, retaining the freedom to tour with whom they want and play whatever the fuck they want.

Drummer Greg Saunier graduated from Obie with a degree in composition, and during one strange stage interaction, was asked to acknowledge his time here. He sort of feebly evaded the question, but made up for it – obviously – when he played the fuck out of the drums .Did you know Saunier did the drum solo and soundtrack for the movie Stepbrothers? Now you do, fun fact! Though Saunier dodged the relevance of Oberlin to his current endeavors, the technical skill of his performance defied this point, and mixed with the energy of his band mates, overlaid with the childish but incredibly haunting voice of lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki, it was something all of us can look at, and say, “look ma! He went to Oberlin. Maybe I’ll be something too.”

The noise pop name really encompasses it all – the show shifted unpredictably between something undeniably catchy to something so fleeting, so close to what you recognize and yet distinctly challenging categorization or organic dance moves. If this article didn’t make you feel incredibly guilt for missing out, let me explicitly add insult to injury: if you missed this, you should have FOMO for the rest of your being. The end.

 

George W. Bush. Artist to Watch.

This article was originally published in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper. 

The artist who formerly employed the pseudonym “The 43rd President of the United States” is having his first art show in April, at an unaffiliated gallery called “The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.”

To give you some fodder for the next dinner party you attend, here are some highlights. A pairing suggestion is to bring up his attention to detail near the charcuterie, and start in on your thoughtful analysis somewhere between your fourth and fifth glass of pinot.

The artist in question was recently quoted saying “There’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body. Your job is to find it.” This poetic and potentially cannibalistic artist has been releasing said Rembrandt through a methodical and Westminster Kennel Club approved task of painting every dog in the vicinity.

For instance, take the beautiful tribute to his dog Barney who recently passed away (full disclosure, this one is kind of shockingly decent). Bush really captures the texture of poor Barney’s coarse fur, the true-to-life greying whiskers, the glossy sheen of his oval eyes, glistening with memories of the oval office.  

In another piece from the omnipresent era, “Dogs I saw and painted” a forlorn schnauzer comes to terms with his fleeting dog years. Situated outside the Whitehouse, the schnauzer is separated from his past life by a gate (or prison bars?), perhaps suggesting the artist’s exclusion from his past life. And yet, while this piece could suggest the bittersweet understanding of not being part of the club, the schnauzer defiantly refuses to look through said prison/gate, his whiskered cheek turned away, as if to boldly state “I don’t need you anymore.”

Then of course there is the visually and emotionally confusing portrayal of the corgi and his springer spaniel (maybe) friend. The dogs splay haphazardly and illogically amidst a room of all encompassing beige, the walls seemingly moving in on the dreaming/dead pair. The corgi lies, so contemplative as his two stumpy hind legs seem to float into the wall behind him, his friend lying pensive, ear flopped so quaintly against his pillow. What larger meaning can we garner from this scene? Perhaps it’s a microcosm for the delicate and tiresome nature of friendship? A commentary on marriage and the reality of growing apart? A cautionary tale about the aftermath of spaying/neutering?

Yet perhaps his most moving work come from his deeply introspective series “Bathroom.” The artist brings us into the mundanity of these everyday routines, yet allows us to experience with him these stolen moments alone, the needed time to contemplate life and glimpse into our figurative and literal reflection. “The Bathtub” orients the viewer as Bush himself – looking at our shared, stubby, pale toes submerged in a murky tub. By contrast in “The Shower” we are removed from the artist, seeing him from the back, and yet his worried little face glimpses back at us from a mirror unexplainably pinned just underneath the shower head. In these deeply personal scenes, the artist levels both his own status and ours – making both creator and spectator the same, we all get to be 43. His “reflection” hints at his inherent struggle with the silence that is inherent to bathroom contemplation, perhaps suggesting an discomfort at being alone with his own thoughts.

All in all, this Rembrandt reincarnated has a lot to offer, and the art world waits with giddy anticipation to see what his next work will be. Just remember that there are a lot of forgeries floating around – so make sure it has his “43” signature scrawled in the corner.   

 

Marry Me, Matt!

This article was originally published in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper. It was co-written with my brilliant friend Jess Banks. 

It’s early spring. Puddles are abundant. Shirts grow shorter as the days grow longer. Suddenly everyone owns a Frisbee. From a distance, you see a vaguely familiar gait, as a person-shaped blob coheres into the recognizable blob of your first semester study pal. Hello old friend. Remember that time we had back-to-back research librarian appointments? That was great. I remember all those smart points you made about Foucault. You really get him. I’m pretty sure I know your name. Definitely Mark. Or Mike. Hey Matt.

The expanse of grey-brown sludge between you begins to disappear. This is the first time we’ve crossed paths on the same path in a while. You see if there is anyone behind you that could be the actual recipient of a greeting, a wave you could mistakenly intercept and then, upon realizing, quickly pretend to smooth back your already oil slicked hair. This is a crucial moment: you wonder who is going to make the first move. I should wave. Matt, how do you feel about a wave only relationship? Do I want a wave relationship? That obligates me to a semester of waving to Matt. My hand is exhausted thinking about it. Can I call time out and think about this, Matt?  You see yourself, day in day out, buying a vegan bagel while Matt gets the chili (oh Matt). Your palms are sweaty, heart knotted with fear. I’m not ready for this.

He grows nearer, the dappled sunlight highlighting every nuance of his features. It is irrefutably Matt. No circle scarf, heather grey beanie, or apathetic grimace can obscure his shining grace on this March afternoon. Let’s be clear: you aren’t attracted to Matt. This whole business would be purely platonic. If you saw each other on Tinder, it would be a courtesy swipe. And yet...If I wave, will he think I love him? I don’t want to love him. I don’t think I want to love him. Not yet Matt. Let’s take it slow. Matt, oblivious, is scrolling through Spotify, probably. His eyes are locked to his screen; over the ear headphones resting on his head, Matt would have nothing to do with the ever-tangled mass of iPhone earbuds. Matt cannot waste his days untying such tiny, frustrating, Gordian knots let alone agonize over how to greet someone, who if not for the elusive lure of attendance being 10% of the final grade, would never have interacted face to face.

I could just say Hello. Wow am I overthinking this. I’m just going to say hi. No one says hi more than once a semester to past semester friends. I’ll just do it now and we can curtly nod to each other from here on out. But what if my hello opens the Pandora’s box of actual conversation? What if he wants to say hello every time we see each other forever? I’ll be saying hello to Matt until I die. Oh god. No, Matt, run!

If you lunged with your hand outstretched you could touch fingertips. The moment of truth nears. One of you has to decide. What if he acknowledges my wave yet doesn’t deign to return it? I am so scared of commitment. I am so vulnerable. I must be scared of commitment. You realize the complexity of your situation: you fear an eternity of halfheartedly recognizing your half-formed friendship, whilst you simultaneously fear extending yourself [literally, figuratively] and being unreciprocated in your brazen, if not Herculean, efforts. Matt would never even entertain such time consuming and nonessential meditations .He is beyond this. He knows exactly when to wave. He is king of the interactions, and we are his playthings.  Now, nearly face-to-face, your heart thumps, eyes automatically cast downwards. My shoelaces, there they are, I am so interested in you right now. Matt’s encroaching shadow falls delicately across your laces, here we go. Okay, Matt, are you ready? Are you ready for this? I just. This is moving really fast. I’m not sure I want to start this relationship. We haven’t even talked about our future. You haven’t even met my parents. Are you ready to meet my parents? What will we name our kids? Will we even have kids? I think Parker is a great gender-neutral name too, Matt.

Matt waves.

You, paralyzed by fear and also now excitement, cannot get your hand out of your pocket in time, and it remains there, lightly fingering lint. You manage to robotically mumble, “Oh. Hello. Matt.” Matt turns, sunlight forming a halo around this hallowed moment of human interaction. “It’s Mike.” See you at the altar, Matt.

Sochi For The Win

This article was originally published in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper. 

If there were to be a t-shirt commemorating the Sochi games thus far it would probably say something like: “I went to the Sochi Olympics and am scarred for life.” Yes, the best exports from Sochi seem to be disgruntled journalists, poisonous urine colored tap water, and open manholes threatening to plunge you into the depths of Sochi for eternity. But if you haven’t been following, let me recap some feats performed by the world’s most pristine physical specimens. Yes, let me tell you about the Opening Ceremonies.

I feel like I don’t really need to say anything besides the fact that the choreographer from the Ceremonies was the one and only Daniel Ezralow, the genius being the awe-inspiring “Turn Off the Dark” Spiderman Broadway musical. And of course, by awe-inspiring I mean more of “Ahh!! Inspiring?” because of the very real physical and emotional threat his choreography poses to your livelihood.

But let’s set the scene. You tune into NBC’s live stream a few seconds late, just in time to catch Matt Lauer (Bob Costas had raging pink eye) saying, “a lot of these images might not be recognizable to you.” Okay! We’re off to a great start. Suddenly you are enveloped by a warm, melodic, honey butter voice. Wait, why is this voice so suited for saying the word “winter” in a cooing baritone, so comfortable with the artic setting in which this voiceover rests? Is this a deleted scene from Game of Thrones? No. But it is Peter Dinklage, who with every repetition of the word “Russia” seems to get slower and breathier. Are you running out of oxygen, Peter? Did they make you record mid-luge?

The goal of the ceremonies is to tell Russia’s history through a series of “dreams.” Whatever started as remotely dream-like veered into nightmare territory real fast. And this is no ordinary nightmare. This is a never-ending acid trip, being shaken awake mid Ambien sleep, having Enter the Void stuck in your DVD player for the rest of time with no remote in site.

The ceremony was equal parts Avatar 3D as it was a sinister Suessical nightmare, a trek to all the places you never wanted to go. At least Putin, the grounding force of these events, is there to provide a flat-line and weirdly suggestive smile as they cut to him during the old favorite “mechanical nightmare horse nibbles on fake grass amidst floating island.” Classic.

Then of course there were the animatronic and nightmare inducing, NSFW mascots. The eerily lifelike “scare bear” as it’s now dubbed, an oversized Charmin bear sans those pesky toilet paper particles, waves along side the “rabbit” and “cheetah?” all gazing into your soul with those too round eyes.

You must at this point know about the Olympic Ring fiasco. That unlucky Olympic attempt that scored a meager 4/5, the fifth member paralyzed in fetal position in the face of public performance. Thankfully, Russian television handled the situation with grace, casually substituting the live version with the perfect rehearsal version for us viewers at home. Even better, they relished in their fake success by tweeting a picture of all five rings open, captioning it “awesome – snowflake Winter Olympic Rings.” Whatever you need to do to cope with failing on the world stage is okay, Russia. Shrouding the truth kinda seems to be your thing, so just go with it. 

Alas, the ring wasn’t the only thing that couldn’t get up during the ceremonies. An Austrian athlete face-plated mid Olympic walk, a terrific foreshadowing for his hand/eye/body coordination that marks him as a world-class athlete. Way to stick the landing. Even the royals had their eyes turned downcast, Princess Anne handling her boredom/legitimate fear by reading J.K. Rowling’s “Casual Vacancy” during the entirety of the ceremonies. When asked later as to her choice of book she was quoted saying “I was desperate. And it only made me miss Harry.” The ceremonies were really Putin you to sleep, huh Anne?

While it’s fair to say I can understand the Cyrillic alphabet better than I grasped any of the opening ceremonies, at least the games are still going, so we can root for those two athletes we know by name.