Art Biz with Liz: A Final Semester and Farewell

I received the email from Joe on April 7th: “Wednesday, May 4th will be the official LAST DAY to post your column!”

No biggie, I thought at the time. May 4th was still nearly a month away. I had multiple weeks to write more posts about the arts before I graduated and went on my merry way. But life grew too busy. Finals season began at that same time future plans were being made, and there was no time to catch my breath before the series of graduation ceremonies hit. Before I knew it, I landed here, on May 4th, to say my goodbye to arts, ink. and a huge part of my life at Michigan.

I have a million things to say and one post to articulate them. Part of me isn’t ready to post this piece, either, because it’s the last one. The very end. When I told people about my writing endeavors here at the university, I used to refer to my writings with arts, ink. as “silly little blog posts about art,” which were in stark contrast to the seriousness of academic writing or my other work at the Michigan Daily and in literary magazines. But in a way, as discussed in a previous post, my work at arts, ink. has also been a time capsule. I didn’t always dedicate the amount of time and energy to them as I wish I had, but it’s neat to have been able to churn out weekly writings across the span of four school years. Looking back, it’s also been nice to become involved with the arts in numerous ways. I’ll spare you from the extensive trip down memory lane, but I’ll close out with some of the artistic feats I’ve been involved with this past semester.

Part I: Writing

I’ve always loved to write, but as time went on, I found it increasingly difficult to make myself sit down and write on my own accord. The University of Michigan has been a blessing in its plethora of opportunities in this sense, but as a creative writing & literature major, I found myself lacking in experience compared to my peers. I used to think it was a blessing to be “well-rounded” in interests and pursuits, but this proved to be challenging once I had to pick a major (and thus limit myself in what I learned from that point on). I can say, however, that as much as I’ve had doubts about my majors, my abilities, and myself throughout college, I’m proud of the work I’ve created in regard to my two senior honors theses, which earned high honors and highest honors.

If you’ve been reading my posts throughout the past year, you may have noticed my (potentially annoying) mentioning of my honors theses. This was never meant to be a brag or complaint but rather commentary on something that took up much of my time and focus the past year and a half. People often told me I was crazy for writing two theses (one for each of my majors), but doing so seemed like the natural culmination of my studies and time at U-M. They allowed me to challenge myself while narrowing in on specific subjects of interest. For my creative writing & literature major, specifically, I wanted to challenge myself in writing a longer piece of work. The disciplined yet supportive structure of writing an honors thesis allowed me to do so, and I ended up with a longer novella at 135 pages.

Since these posts are all about the arts, I’ll focus on my creative writing thesis. When I think about the sort of person I wanted to connect to my writing, why the story is important, and what I hoped people would get out of it, there are several things that came to mind. My novella is a coming-of-age story centered on complicated family dynamics, but it also speaks to culture and identity. The main character, Christi, is a mixed Chinese-Filipino American whose father is white and mother is an immigrant from the Philippines, which resembles my situation. Growing up, I loved the young adult genre, but I didn’t find many stories that included the main character with an identity like mine. There are many layers to being a mixed Asian American, and when Christi visits her mother’s homeland, she is challenged with all sorts of inner turmoil surrounding identity and culture that accompany the central storyline. Christi’s perspective when she visits the Philippines is often ignorant yet candid. The teenage viewpoint offers an interesting means to express culture shock and family conflict. Overall, I didn’t want to write a story simply for representation, but I am hoping that setting the story in the Philippines yet from the point of view of a young American can engage readers with a different place/culture in a way that’s accessible and relatable.

As previously mentioned, I’m interested in a variety of subjects, which is great in granting me different lenses, perspectives, and experiences to inform my writing. I’ll admit, however, that being stretched out across different academic disciplines means I don’t practice writing nearly as much as I should or as many of my peers do. I’ve struggled with writer’s block and self-discipline in the past, so it was interesting to approach a project with such high expectations for myself despite a limited timeframe. I consistently produced 5-10 pages of new content each week for a semester and a half, which I’ve never been able to do before. There was a lot of crappy writing, and much of it ended up being cut, but simply getting content on the page was the first step toward getting a whole draft together. In the past, I would always get bogged down with edits, whereas with my thesis I didn’t really have that option if I wanted to finish it in time. That would be my advice to others wanting to write a novella/novel – write! You can get trapped by constantly editing/revising, but you can always do that after you have more content to work on. There’s still a lot of work to be done on it, but it would be amazing if I could revise my thesis and turn it into a novel one day. Books have always served as an escape for me, and I hope that one day, my writing can have a positive impact on someone else.

Part II: Music

On the morning of April 30th, I strolled past the hoard of graduates lined up outside the Big House until I reached the designated “Glee Club Check-In” sign. Once inside Michigan Stadium, a select number of members from the Men’s and Women’s Glee Clubs stood in the center of the field on a circular stage. Underneath a cloudy sky, our fingertips numbed in the cold as we waited for the agonizing ten minutes to pass before the opening procession and cue to sing occurred. As dreary as the atmosphere seemed, however, I’d do anything to go back in time to experience what came next.

Graduating was cool and all, but singing “The Star Spangled Banner” in the Big House and hearing the applause from thousands of people was magical. I already miss the “sisterhood” of “song and strength” I was once skeptical of, but I hope to always cherish the feelings of excitement and gratitude I had on graduation day. These emotions encompass how I feel about my time at U-M in general. I could make this post even longer by discussing the bell towers or concerts that have also contributed to my music experience here at the university, but I’ll leave it at that.

Part III: Sculpture

Even though my academic and career goals shifted away from the arts, I always made it a point to still keep them in my life. I never took fewer than 16 credits in a given semester, yet I still couldn’t take all the classes I wanted to or found interesting. There just wasn’t the time. I knew from the very start, however, that I wanted to take some sort of visual arts class during my senior year. I had already taken drama courses and music courses as electives, but I really wanted to learn more about painting or sculpture.

I am so, so happy I did. RCARTS 270 with Raymond Wetzel was one of the best classes I took at U-M. I learned a lot about working with different materials and tools while having tons of fun in the process (wow, homework in a college class can be enjoyable!). I worked with materials such as wood, cement, and clay to create a variety of mixed-media art works, and I learned different techniques for casting, constructing, and assembling sculptures. I’ll end this chaotic post with an equally jumbled collage of images featuring art pieces both in progress and completed. Oh, and I’ll throw in my artsy graduation cap, because why not.

  

 

   

   

 

 

The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 26: Why Are We Still Here? Just to Suffer?

Plink.  Plink.  Plink.   Behind the wall in Hal’s dorm room, water dripped.  No matter how many times he tried to block it out–plugging his ears, playing white noise from his phone, summoning Cthulu, crying into his textbook–it persisted.

 

Why am I studying anymore?  This is literally the final day of finals week.  There’s literally no reason to be on campus.  Hcould have left last week were it not for these dang tests.  It didn’t matter anyway; his GPA was going to be a flaming dumpster fire no matter how well he did on today’s exam.

 

“Why are we still here?” he croaked, flipping the page of his book with tater tot-crusted fingers, “just to suffer?  I can still feel the heat of the sun…taste the freedom of the wind upon my face…and yet, here I am, alone.  Alone but for the silence of self-reflection and tater tots.  After being up for 69 straight hours, I have finally snapped.  This, all of this, is just manufactured to induce torment as punishment for mentioning my love of math on my application.  Well, that love of math is no more.  The only thing I know I can cling to is the presence of pain, the absoluteness of agony, tater tots–that’s three things, but I can’t count very high.  Anyway, all I see when I glimpse into the future is pure torture designed to throw a wrench in my plans to ever feel an inkling of happiness for as long as I shall live.

 

“I’ve done problem after problem in this book, this dang book, and none of it has yet to make any sense.  I might as well try to learn how to dance the Macarena for all the good this is doing me–this isn’t even that relevant to my major.  I am only here by the sheer will of the university and the professor who schemes and plots and plots and schemes to bring about my downfall.  Not even tater tots will tie me to this place, not when the bustling of freed students fleeing their cramped doors has kept me up all day after nights spent attempting to study for this blasted test, a test that will amount to nothing in the end.  The only thing I gain from this is being one step closer to my next plate of tater tots, and then–even then–it amounts to nothing.”

 

Hal picked up his textbook and held it aloft, stroking its problem-ridden pages with a hatred that could dim a thousand suns.  “Tonight,” he hissed, “you are going to Oh*o where you belong.”

 

We have survived finals week!  Probably.  Maybe.  Well…it’s been fun, everyone!  Not sure if this is my ultimate or penultimate post of the week, but either way, The Rise of the Band Geeks will be back!

The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 25: They’re Called Rehearsals, Not Camps

“They’re called rehearsals, Hal!  Not camps!”  A snare drummer, Billy Bob, twirled his drumstick with his ring finger before flinging it in the air and catching it with his pinky.

 

Hal grinned mischievously and waggled his reversible stuffed octopus.  “I know.”

 

It was an inside joke:  the drumline summer rehearsals were not camps because camps were optional, but rehearsals weren’t.  Of course, the drumline members screamed this phrase in a jocular manner whenever said rehearsals were mentioned, or when someone either accidentally or deliberately misspoke.

 

“Where’d you get that?”  Franklin F. Franklin jabbed his finger toward Hal’s octopus.

 

“Bruh, I just came her to have a good time and I honestly feel so attacked right now.”  Hal cradled his octopus, surreptitiously flipped it so it showed its amgery face instead of its happi face.

 

Billy Bob flung his stick into the air again.  He caught it with his thumbnail and flicked the digit around so that his stick mimicked a figure 8 motion.  “Pretty sure he’s had it since last fall.  You know, when everyone got a stuffed octopus…”

 

“Oh.  Alright.  Carry on.”  Franklin sidled away, blowing air through his mouth in a horrid attempt to whistle.

 

“Why are we even here?” Hal questioned.  He stroked his poor amgery octopus and wondered why he hadn’t named the plushie Franklin.  “We don’t even have practice.”

 

“I don’t…actually know.”  Billy Bob frowned.  “In fact, I don’t even know how I got here.  Or what I’m doing.”  As he spoke, he balanced the drumstick on his hangnail.  “You?”

 

“I live in the supply closet.”  Hal shrugged.

 

“What?”

 

“Oh, nothing.”

 

Now, Billy Bob had the stick perched on the bridge of his nose.  Despite what gravity and common sense might have you think, the stick did not fall.  “I…can’t say I know when my finals are either.  Or what classes I’m taking this semester.  Or next semester.”

 

Hal knitted his eyebrows together.  He, too, had had the same experience; he felt like his high school career was a blip in his mind, and everything before that was darkness.  “Say, do you ever go anywhere other than your dorm and the band hall?”

 

“Not…really?”  Somehow, his drumstick was now vertical as it pressed a divot into Billy Bob’s nose.  “I don’t know what the world beyond this band hall is.  I think…”  He trailed off, and the drumstick fell at long last to the ground.

 

“Hal, I think we’re fictional characters.”

 

DUN-DUN-DUUUUUN!!!!!

The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 21: Traditionals

The Michigan Marching Band has a storied history accompanied by songs so ingrained in our collective psyche that we dare not go one football game without playing them at least once.  Such songs, aptly named “Traditionals” because they are, well, traditional band tunes, feature some of the most iconic music ever to grace Planet Earth (The Victors), as well as a couple others (Varsity).  Below is a brief description for every traditional I can think of at the moment, complete with a 100% unbiased analysis that contains no opinion whatsoever.

 

We will, of course, start with The M Fanfare.

 

The M Fanfare.  Pregame always begins with this amazing composition.  Drawn out in dramatic slowness compared to The Victors, the M Fanfare ushers forth a resounding burst of maize and blue from the hearts of all who behold it.  It also features the Drum Major’s iconic back bend during football pregame, and as such is accompanied by loud cheering.

 

The Victors (As Written).  The glorious march by Louis Elbel is a glorious rendition of everything glorious about the University of Michigan, particularly the glorious victories of Michigan Football.  It begins, as all marches should, with a trumpet fanfare and cymbal crashes, then moves through spacetime in thrilling waves comparable to the adrenaline rush one gets when thinking about Michigan’s countless triumphs over TTDS.  Loud, proud, and a definite workout, the unabridged version of The Victors inspires awe in audiences and the buildup of lactic acid in band geeks’ muscles.  Of course, every single note is a gift from God, and together they produce what can only be likened to the music of angels.

 

The Victors (Pregame).  The version of Elbel’s march played every pregame is not the same as As Written.  Rather, it is shortened, with some repeats taken out to give the band geeks some illusion of mercy after doing entries onto the field.  It is just as glorious as the above, of course, and is always greeted by resounding cheering from the hundred thousand or more Michigan fans soaking up every holy note.   The sound delay coming from the opposite end of the stadium isn’t so bad–as long as you don’t get distracted by it while playing.

 

The Victors (Trio.)  The chorus of The Victors, the trio is nearly always played at warp speed because its emergence is always preluded by a touchdown, field goal, and, at the end of the game, the W.  The trio is a pure lightning bolt of awesomeness, particularly when the victory is against TTDS for the first time in a decade.

 

Varsity.  The song played in pregame right after The Victors.  It primarily serves as a transition from the opposing team’s fight song to Let’s Go Blue in football pregame.

 

Let’s Go Blue.  Groovy, upbeat, and brimming with maize and blue, Let’s Go Blue is a short and wonderful tune that engages fans both during pregame and in the stands.  Broken into two parts based on the trumpet part, Let’s Go Blue can be played in even shorter segments between plays during games.

 

Temptation & War Chant.  I had to mention this here.  It’s just–it’s just so beautiful.  From the first note, it’s bound for greatness:  listening to it alone is incredible, but playing it transcends the mortal realm and temporarily elevates you to a deity so that you can finish the song without dying of exhaustion.  And good Lord, is it fun to play.

 

The Yellow and Blue.  Hearing the alma mater without the Trio and at least one set of entries immediately following it feels wrong after doing this after almost every game during marching season.  When you sway and lock arms while singing the lyrics, you must be prepared to play the Trio when you’re in band practice or postgame. If you listen to The Yellow and Blue in an isolated situation, your skin begins to itch with the desire to play the Trio, but alas, ’tis not meant to be.

Scribble #19: Regret

“‘Just wait till tomorrow,’” 

I started off the school year thinking I just had to make it through. Through the day, through the week, through the year, through to better times. I waited all of high school to finally get to college and make friends there, and there I was, in college, waiting for it to be over so I could be on to the next era of my life, a better one with better friends. I fell fully into the trap of living for the future and simply enduring the present.

“I guess that’s what they all say just before they fall apart.”

I’ve learned since then that things change – and with enough patience, a little luck, and a good attitude, they can change for the better. Now, I am able to simultaneously look forward to the future and enjoy where I am in the moment. This past weekend, my best friend from home came to visit me in Ann Arbor. Throughout high school and into the present, she is so special to me because I always feel like I can be my entire self around her. Having her come to Ann Arbor made me realize that I feel the same way around the friends I’ve made here at Michigan – something that I didn’t quite realize was the case until this weekend.

“I was upset, you see, almost all the time.”

It’s a lot easier for me to get through the days, weeks, and months here knowing I am surrounded by the healthiest friends I could wish for, and I find myself feeling like I am enjoying my current state of being as opposed to viewing the present as an obstacle in the way of the better times ahead. I like to think the best is yet to come, but if my present is as good as it gets, I would be able to move through life happily as well – and that feeling is everything that my past self dreamed of.

“You used to be a stranger, now you are mine.”

Listen to Regret by New Order here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5V_jUncesw 

The Rise of the Band Geeks, Episode 19: Faded Halftime

Metal drips

Onto the planes of the floor that lists

And slips into a field across which grit

Spills in rubber bits over spits of grass

Within the lip of a concave beast.

 

Teeth

Pushing forth heat and the beats of notes that scream into an impenetrable mass of

Teeming beings melted into a gelatinous sheen

Their wordless voices are shrieks that form a backdrop against the reel of notes.

 

What is it except burning muscles and the battery’s echoic surge

What is it except the metronome of our feet and the sheet music

Imprinted upon our brains

Like oily tattoos that ooze into the grooves of the mind

What is it except our numb fingers that fuse to the metal in the bitter wind

And snow

Drifting in eddies

As the final strands of warmth fade into mist.