FROM THE INSCAPE ARCHIVES, vol. 63, Oct.'08: Framing Terrorism and Filling The Vacancy of First Departure PART I
by Frank Turrisi
Our staff review their favorite issues from the Inscape Archives, available at Shatford Library, Pasadena City College (click here)
In the same way any of us might choose to frame our favorite pieces of art, the ’08 Inscape Print Issue conceptually uses its cover to frame the literary works selected within. As a reader, I never got the sense of a particular theme this Inscape staff was operating under for this issue, but in judging a magazine by it’s cover instead imagined they might’ve approached the assemblage like a curator not willing to rule out any possibilities for beauty within its empty frames. The result is an eclectic “gallery” of writing that spans several eras. Two award winners, like Cecilia Flynn’s non-fiction piece “Leaving Home” set from the 1960’s to the 90’s, and “Terrorism” by Claudia Muyle bring some historical perspective to the major historical events of 2008. Muyle’s bleak “Terrorism” feels like it could’ve been set in Baghdad, and is reminiscent of our nation’s immersion in the Iraq War at the time, perhaps even foretelling of how the U.S. Military’s destruction of the old Iraqi Regime had in fact given rise to a newer, more sinister face of terror. Though not directly related to the times and subject matter, Flynn’s “Leaving Home” is a story of displacement and forced new beginnings, and couldn’t help but evoke my own personal feelings of how the U.S. Subprime Mortgage Crisis triggered the downward spiral of the economy, and affected as many as 10 million Americans in this way.
“Leaving Home” takes us on the journey of a twelve-year-old girl, Cecilia, uprooted from her L.A. childhood by a mother that wishes to escape domestic violence by deciding to go to Northern California to learn how to become a farmer. On her way to the farms of Gerber, CA, Cecilia’s mother elects to drop her daughter off at the Convent Of The Sacred Heart, about an hour south of San Francisco, where her daughter will live out all of her adolescence and become schooled. Cecilia recounts never remembering saying goodbye to her mother before just suddenly winding up in a Catholic Schoolgirl uniform.
Though the grounds of Sacred Heart were adorned with lush trees and gardens, and she was welcomed with quiet prayer, Cecilia describes her adaptation to her new home as, “immediately assuming a compliance which allowed me to adjust to becoming emotionally mute.” She goes on to discuss the memorable beginning to her seven year journey away from “home”, dining family- style at a mahogany table that seated six girls: “When a platter of slices of chocolate cake was placed on the table, we immediately stuck a finger in the piece we wanted.” She describes this behavior as “savage instinct of claiming ownership of something.” In learning these new rules, and developing these instincts of self-preservation, a thicker scab forms over the wounds Cecilia suffered from the displacement caused by her mother’s decision. “Leaving Home” begins to explore this displacement over many different phases of the unhealed little girl’s life.
During her course of 7 years at the convent, Cecilia makes several trips to see her mother by train. In learning to navigate this trip solo as a young girl, she remembers, “the distinct sound the train made as it traveled across the wooden bridge that spanned over the Sacramento River from Las Molinas to Gerber. That sound became the herald to the passage to my mother.” This metal on metal, clanking, bumpy reality and how this sound manifests itself emotionally in reality may be evident in Cecilia’s description of who her mother becomes. In Gerber, she finds a woman that is now a capable farmer, even assuming leadership qualities amongst those on the farm, and rugged enough to handle the duties traditionally reserved for men. Yet, it is evident this is unspoken, and the forced new beginning they’ve both endured, is also a hardening of themselves that they accept and carry throughout their lives.
As Cecilia sums up the next thirty-two years, she expertly establishes a tone in her writing that seems detached by her own necessity, but slowly drills a hole in your heart with the aching depiction that only a child who longed for a mother for their entire life could portray. The strength of “Leaving Home” lies in Cecilia being able to accept her lot without once feeling sorry for herself, despite her admittance to being in a “lifelong fog” from the uprooting decisions made for her when she was a child that she never fully comprehends on an emotional level as an adult. How Cecilia is able to adjust to her new beginning, and within her efforts to maintain the relationship with her estranged mother, we see how vital the relationship between mother and daughter remains even when you’re no longer dependent.
Things for Cecilia do take a turn for the positive. She becomes schooled by the nuns for what she describes as “debutante passage into a world she previously knew nothing about,” later graduating from Santa Clara University, before eventually moving back to the L.A. area. At this point of her life, Cecilia has been able to compartmentalize the feelings of abandonment her mother’s actions left her with, but it is evident her heart hasn’t properly healed in the cold text, “I became a teacher of children in East Los Angeles, and my mother became an old woman.”
Later in life, Cecilia’s mother moves down to San Diego.
Though some of the distance between them is cut, the space almost serves as metaphor for the emotional relationship that never really gets closer until Cecilia’s mother reaches her mid-eighties. At that point, and out of necessity, Cecilia moves her mother into an apartment in Pasadena only a few blocks away from her. In assuming the role as her caretaker, Cecilia has the revelation, “I was taking care of that young girl, that same young girl who had left home in August, 1960”. Not until this happens, does Cecilia’s true healing begin. After most of a lifetime of wrestling with their separation, assuming a caretaker role is how she finally manages to find redemption for her mother in their every day greetings and departures. When the distance is finally closed between them, their own clarity of how their displacement forever shaped them, also takes shape in the story.
In the final reveal of “Leaving Home”, Cecilia learns about the emotional breakdown that rendered her mother incapable of taking care of her, and which gives rise to the decision of her “leaving home”. Cecilia also learns, “she used the physical labor of farming to heal herself”. As Cecilia learns all of these things she doesn’t become overly sentimental, but instead concedes with strength, “forgiveness became a silent partner in our relationship.” In the end Cecilia’s mother dies, and Cecilia admits it came when she was finally ready to let her go. She ends the story with powerful words of resolution, “The vacancy of our first departure had become full.”
(click to READ PART II)
By Kathlene McGovern
The setting is all standard college special-event: beige room, folding chairs, paneled lectern; the audience, comprised of students, faculty and plain-old lovers of great writing, chomp cookies, chug lemonade and eagerly await the first speaker of Pasadena City College’s Fall 2017 Visiting Writer’s series, Sean Bernard to take the stage.
This is my first foray into attending an event at school. As a returning student who has a lot (a lot) of years out in the world under my belt, I wonder what Bernard, who holds degrees from Arizona State, Oregon State and Iowa Writer’s Workshop, a winner of the 2014 Juniper Prize in Fiction and who serves as the Director of Creative Writing at University of LaVerne, will be like. The cynic in me prepares adjectives: elitist… overachiever… misanthrope. Hey, by his own admission, he writes “lots of nameless narrators who aren’t particularly nice…” I wonder why that is, Sean?
Then, he takes to the lectern and he is… lovely. Gentle, unassuming… the sort of guy you chat with when the Ralph’s line snakes halfway down the cereal aisle. I’m flummoxed. This is the guy who wrote a woman who feels “not a shadow of remorse” when a horse gets shot? The guy whose narrator goes into neighborhoods and demolishes the meager rainwater collections of a depressed population for a little under-the-table scratch? This is that guy? This is that guy.
He smiles, his eyes shifting as he shyly admits that he’s “not great at maintaining eye contact.” Then, he begins to read… It’s his short story “Water” from his collection Desert Sonorous. And almost instantaneously this modest Ralph’s shopper drops his audience smack into the center of the arid life of his nameless-Arizonian narrator.
The writing’s great. You’d be silly to expect otherwise, but as I scan the audience I’m also taken in by how far he’s taken us all in. His words and voice turn this ordinary space into a sanctum containing the machinations of the life of a Tucson public service worker whose “embarrassment and shameful awareness of how meager his job is” Bernard later explains, lead this narrator to tell his readers “You can get paid well to be an asshole. You don’t even need any training.” We’re hooked, my fellow audience members and I. There are closed eyes and slight smiles, vigorous nods and occasionally loud laughs as the minutes fly by. And then he’s finished. Bernard looks at us with careful smile and assures us of his goodness by asserting “It’s not me – not a true story!”
For the next twenty minutes or so he graciously takes students’ questions:
Q: Is it difficult to write a different gender?
A: Don’t worry about it from a creative point of view… but there’s a responsibility – make sure you’re doing it for reasons that are good.
Q: A lot of your characters are jerks. How come?
A: Misbehavior is interesting. People behaving in bad ways, is an interesting way to tell a story.
And he shares advice:
On some things writing programs look for in applicants:
A statement of purpose tailored to the program; strong technique and ambition of technique.
On getting published:
Read short story collections, then flip to the back and see where the stories you love or are similar to your work were first published. This will allow you create a roadmap that will help lead to publication. Also poke around www.newpages.com it’s a great online resource for literary journals, magazines, contests etc.
Gracious ‘til the end, Bernard signs books and continues to answer questions even after the event ends. In short, Sean Bernard delivered a stellar kick-off to this fall’s Visiting Writer series.
You can find out more about Sean Bernard by visiting his website: www.therealseanbernard.com
More about the Visiting Writers Series:
By Kathlene McGovern
2005 met us with Katrina, Bush’s second presidential term and a death rate of three Americans per day in the Iraqi conflict. While trying to remain outwardly calm, many of us were experiencing a sort of inner chaos in relation to this new and ever-changing landscape of our country and our well-being.
Inscape’s print cover for 2005 is almost a direct reflection of that chaotic experience. A dizzying jumble of pattern and information draws the reader, beckons them, perhaps by no means other than chaos recognizing chaos. In fact, the issue feels as if it’s trying to figure itself out, much like we were at the time. A collection of bright, beautiful color-block prints on paper ranging from vellum to pages torn from a sketchbook, that are designed to allude to the piece with which they are paired are nestled between black and white photos that are directly related to the writing. A mixed bag of themed pieces comprise this edition’s centerpiece “What Drives L.A” which is bookended by solid blocks of poetry and short stories while the journal is anchored by a series of essays that range from humorous to heated. It’s as though the staff wanted to present the reader with material that could shake them up in the most comfortable, staid and safe a way as possible.
One standout in the volume is the Literary Prize winning essay “Fears” by R. Marie Jennings who, in a post-9-11 world, can’t make herself work up the appropriate amount of fear that the obscure science museum where she works in Los Angeles would be a first-strike target for terrorists “during awards season, no less,” while admitting she can’t watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Wizard of Oz because she’s “terrified of Oompa-loompas and Munchkins.”
Another is Carlos Lemus’ beautifully written “Good Looking Out,” an essay about a drug-dealing student he councils. Lemus laments toward the end of the piece “I hope to possess the powers to remove all the variables in this experiment of life that make him the successful study in deviant behavior instead of the successful youth he is capable of becoming.” While Lemus knows the chances are slim, he takes comfort that the student hasn’t completely given up hope for himself and his unexplored talent as an artist.
And finally “Riding in Cars with Strangers” by Eva Brune. A short story in the “What Drives L.A.” section of the journal that grows from a humorous depiction of neighboring drivers on the streets of Los Angeles “there are hot heads, bed heads, roller heads and dead heads” to the explosively poignant moment when the narrator witnesses a fellow driver spew vitriol at his cheating wife, calling her a whore in front of their children who are strapped into car seats in the back of their car. Brune’s narrator drives on, watching the husband in her rearview mirror while thinking “about the burden of choice and the pain of having made the wrong decision.”
Overall, while Inscape 2005 strives to present material in a compelling and entertaining way, its frenetic look coupled with its very safe layout creates a tug of war between the predictable and the unpredictable in this volume, making it a less than remarkable read.
by Frank Turrisi
Take part in the silence of "Silent Africa"! What do you mean, what do I mean? I'm talking about checking out the "Silent Africa" exhibit in PCC's Center For The Arts, Gallery V, that is also a silent auction to benefit the college’s Galleries' Programming. Still confused? Well, that's because right from the time you step into “Silent Africa”, you'll suspect this isn't the typical student exhibit. Instead, it looks more like something you would find in a museum than a college art gallery. None of the distinctly cultural pieces display the names of the artists, era, origin, or any other detail almost always included in a gallery or museum show. Interesting...? Well, that’s because the original owner of the collection, the late (and generally regarded as the last original Hard-edge painter) June Harwood, was not an expert collector, and the collection was provided to by her trust for the college to sell. Still confused? Well, if we were producing this thing from the giddy-up as a movie, maybe (not) it'd go something like this:
PCC Galleries Programming #1: I've got a guy over at the June Harwood Charitable Trust that holds the last original Hard-edge artist's collection of all kinds of African Artifacts. Masks, sculptures, everything! Really fascinating stuff!
PCC Galleries Programming #2: Amazing! Sounds like a great exhibit for Gallery V in the Center For The Arts! I've got a space for it from August 28th-October 20, 2017. Let's set it up! Get on the horn...
(Cut to swanky office. Phone rings)
June Harwood Charitable Trust: (picks up phone) Dennis Reed here. Go ahead PCC...
PCC Galleries Programming #1: I talked to my people, and they said it's a go!
June Harwood Charitable Trust: Whoa, whoa! Slow down PCC. Here's how it's gotta be. June Harwood was one of the most important Hard-edge painters of all time. We have to respect her legacy, echo her dedication to the arts. We'll only extend this opportunity where we can maximize the cultural enrichment of the lives it touches. You get what I'm saying? It's really gotta benefit the arts!
PCC Galleries Programming #1: Uh, lemme think here...I GOT IT! We'll curate her collection as impressively as we possibly can. Then we can sell everything in a "silent" auction and all the scratch can go to the college's Galleries’ Programming fund! Don't you worry, Mr. Reed! You just give us the collection, and we do the rest. Here at PCC we'll make sure we continue our dedicated efforts to support the arts.
June Harwood Charitable Trust: I like it...I LIKE IT! June would be proud! We'll call it..."SILENT AFRICA!" (Sighs, then takes a moment of wistful silence before quickly resuming) Looks like you've got yourself a partner PCC! (Quickly hangs up the phone)
PCC Galleries Programming #1: Yippy-yea!!! We're so grateful Mr. Reed! Uh...Mr. Reed? (Audible dial tone)
Let me fill in the blanks. The show will be going on just as PCC Galleries Programmer #2 said, in Gallery V of PCC's Center For The Arts until October 20, 2017. For details of the show without fictional embellishment, the Curatorial Statement and June Harwood's Bio (issued by the real Mr. Dennis Reed, Co-trustee of The June Harwood Charitable Trust) are available at the show or by clicking here. Now, a little bit about how the show hit me.
"Silent Africa" is unique in the way it exposes another side of the late Harwood, a fixture in every important show of the Hard-edge Movement. The Hard-edge movement, which emerged in California in the 1960’s as a reaction to the more painterly or gestural forms of Abstract Expressionism, is distinctly known for its purposely impersonal paint application and delineated areas of color with particular sharpness and clarity. Today, this aesthetic is particularly associated with the mid-century era, and especially complementary to this design. Yet, the “Silent Africa” exhibit features a slideshow of rare Harwood paintings titled "Africa Series" and "Sky Islands”, in which both series of paintings (that Harwood produced in the early 90’s) could hardly be associated with anything mid-century, and are very different in style from June's best-known work.
The slides begged the question, how do these works relate to June's interest in African artifacts? And, in this way, the exhibit forced me as a viewer into my own interpretations of how June's interest as a collector of the artifacts may have somehow influenced the alternative style she used in these pieces. The energetic paintings may be akin to Hard-edge in their geometric configurations, but with color schemes that often streak across, if not burst to overlap one another, the images hardly hold the clarity and sharpness of the form she embraced for the most notable portion of her artistic life. Reed speculates, "the paintings may have been meant to evoke the spirit, emotion, or form of these masks" while admitting, “June particularly liked works that were crudely crafted - rough with little details.” Certainly the paintings, though spirited, are by comparison far more crudely crafted than any piece that could be considered Hard-edge. Yet, it is the fact that nobody can be sure about the connection between all of the elements that compose "Silent Africa", that adds to its allure, contemplative effect, and mystery - especially as it relates to Harwood. Only one of the works of the “Sky Island” and “Africa Series” is still known to exist today.
Now back to what I was originally saying about taking part in the silence...."Silent Africa"....silent auction...get it? Perhaps the funnest part about the show, is that if you are intrigued by any of the African Artifacts, there is a very accessible chance to take home your piece of this unique cultural event!
All pieces are being sold as decorative, as June did not record any details of authentication for any of the objects. The starting bid for anything in the collection will be $75, with all subsequent bids to be increased in $25 increments. There is also a very reasonable $150 "buy it now" type option that allows you to skip bidding and purchase any of the pieces outright. The only caveat there, if you were to buy a piece, you won't get to make it part of your own curatorial plans until everybody is done enjoying it. That’s right, the show must go on, and you will have to wait until the exhibit closes to pick up your piece. If you really want to get the conversations going around these started, attend the Pasadena Art Night reception this in PCC's Center For The Arts, this Friday October 13, from 6-10p.m.
Don’t miss this unique chance to soak up some culture and stake your claim on that cool sculpture, wall art, or conversation piece that you've been looking for. Hurry up though, "Silent Africa" has been running since the beginning of the semester, and I noticed many of the pieces have bids placed on them already. All interested bidders will have the chance to sneak in their last offer right until the show’s close on October 20th.
All in all, "Silent Africa" is a great way to contribute to the Pasadena Galleries Programming, familiarize yourself with the last original Hard-edge painter June Harwood, and perhaps follow in her footsteps by cultivating that collection of African artifacts of your very own.
Blog Posts reflect the opinions of the writer and not the opinions of Pasadena City College or Inscape Magazine Editorial Staff Members.