Every year on Thanksgiving, my great aunt would read a poem her father read to her called The Turkey Gobbler. In honor of that tradition, here is a poem of all of the things I am grateful for (and you should be grateful for!) at The University of Michigan.
Tag: ann arbor
Out @ the A2 Film Festival
Under the beautiful umbrella of the Spectrum Center, I was able to attend the Ann Arbor Film Festivalâ€™s â€œOut Night,â€ which showcases short films that focus on LGBTQ identities. Donning my all-black apparel and tapestry-turned-scarf, I was sufficiently visually prepared to enter the space. After getting through the initial sausage-fest reaction (all the non-university Grindr men in Ann Arbor seemed to be in attendance) of entering the space, I was ready to watch some weird shit.
I love weird shit.
But, for better or for worse, there was no weird shit present besides myself.
The films were brilliant and took me to many different locations, many different emotional states, many different lives, many different bodies. What surprised me the most, besides the non-experimental nature of the films (which is a partly misleading generalization because all the films were experimental in their own right since the representation of queer bodies and, particularly, queer bodies of color are experimental in the visual register in-themselves) was the relatively un-in-your-face-queerness, which I did not expect.
Most of the films had some very poignant remarks about identity but it also seemed that all the LGBTQ folks were more or less real normal. A couple took a roadtrip to an amusement site, a rapper told his story, a musing on an authorâ€™s stay in Istanbul, a mother and son reminiscing, etc. While there were definitely parts of the films that spoke to LGBTQ identity in its visceral, raw form, there was nothing too out of the ordinary, at least not for an audience mainly comprised of LGBTQ folks.
What was shown, then, were beautiful meditations on LGBTQ life and what it means when identity isnâ€™t just identity but bodies, experiences, and ways of living in the world. A topic that can particularly be unpacked in the short film.
Glimpses and moments were captured. Plots were developed or left out entirely. Emotions were given in their raw form before they could be turned into some metaphor for queer existence. Connections could be made and hinted at, but nothing clear came in conclusion. The short film, while transgressive to real life, has an interesting way at really holding moments that I have experienced and that I wish could be untainted by the continuity of life and my endless goal to make or unmake meaning.
In short, the film festival offers what most movie theatres, televisions, and computers cannot: a real film. Something that doesn’t fit into the pre-made notions of what movies can do, what they are, how they are, and why they are.
The Multi-Valenced Ann Arbor
I really had no other reason to be at this concert besides who I was sitting next to. He asked and I said yes. Luckily.
I glimpsed (more like studied; the room was silent and there was little else to do besides read since my voice tends to fill most spaces even at their largest) at the program and read, â€œSchumann: Dichterliebe.â€ Or I at least read Schumann and had a flashback to curly hair, beautiful professor, Deleuze event, and something about â€œthe Refrain.â€ Lately, Iâ€™ve often forgot how amazing it is to be at the University of Michigan, not because it is amazing
(the Central Student Government silences and oppresses the very students it claims to represent)
but rather because there are a lot of opportunities for class and life and interests to have a real conversation. Namely, there are chances to take what I study and apply it to situations OR I can see what I study â€œin the real world,â€ which, as an English and Philosophy student, is sometimes difficult. Tucked behind/beside/near the Aut Bar (some could say a gay bar, family restaurant, or gay studies lab), the Kerrytown Concert Hall is one of the cutest venues Iâ€™ve been in and I absolutely love the cozy atmosphere. There is a facade of escape at such concerts, and for me the escape is heightened when the music performed isnâ€™t from this century–it is my form of time travel.
(Since, as Iâ€™ve said, campus life is beyond unbearable, and this is coming from a person with almost all agent social identities, i.e., I identify as a white, cis-man, middle class, temporarily able-bodied person . . . . And to see not only the student government act atrociously but also other students stand behind such actions makes me (on the tame side of my emotions) want to never look at this campus again. And then when you pile on my queerness, Iâ€™m ready to evacuate immediately and call this campus, more or less, a war zone where a majority of my friends and my community remain unsafe on a daily basis. I would like to travel by any means necessary: time, space.)
As the Schumann started, I realized that I had analyzed (or been in the presence of an analysis of) this very pieceâ€™s first movement. For a Deleuze Interest Group event. How did a friend taking me to a concert send me spiralling into the philosophico-musical feels? I donâ€™t know, but it happened.
The song melted away, much like when I oil pull in the morning–it starts of granular? or at least in some conglomeration of solid until it melts into a liquid and congeals in some sort of liquid mass of â€œdetoxification and whiteningâ€–and only solidified, perhaps, when I left the venue, walked away, into my night (a drag show). Chords unfinished continued to haunt me as a queen flashed the audience and I was left agasp not at perfectly sculpted breasts but at Schumann, lurking just behind me, never to be fully seen or taken in.
After a few more songs that helped to fill out the theme of â€œA Loversâ€™ Discourseâ€ started, happened, and ended, the pianist/composer/friend-of-my-friend-on-the-left-of-meâ€™s compositions began.
The first. Three Frank Oâ€™Hara poems. The second. One Sylvia Plath poem.
Now it is dangerous, as someone who â€œstudies literature,â€ to attend such events. I have been trained to be a snob, although the training has been undertaken, more often than not, by myself. SO. I obviously have a lot of feels about these two songs.
I think what matters most to me, and to this blog, is not how I felt about the composition itself (which I loved by itself, however, I disliked the tenor singing the lyrics of the poetry since I felt there was a HUGE disconnect between form and content, which could be the point even though I doubt) but how I felt inside of someoneâ€™s interpretation of the poetry. Live music is not just something I listen to, but I become the music. It fills my nostrils, it enters my body, and fills, yes, â€œmy soul.”
(My soul aches. I am aching because the Ann Arbor campus, a place I was taught and eventually learned to love in some real way, is parasitic to its most important inhabitants. It is a sad thing for an institution to remain passive when individual, one-off microaggressions happen. It is an unspeakable offense for an institution committed to â€œsocial justice and diversityâ€ to enact the very crimes it condemns. The rampant racism, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, sexism is abhorrent. I can only hope the University and its various governing bodies take responses like this one to heart and take responsibility, acknowledge their accountability, and do things (not just say things) to rectify what they’ve done.)
And I hated the interpretation. Though it was refreshing to be in a conversation about poetry without using any words. It was like listening to the most beautiful one-sided debate, and I was the other team refusing to speak.
What is beautiful about this campus may be purely aesthetic. I can study, I can read, I can feel, and then I can go and see things enacted, performed, experimented with by those in or near my community.
Days like today I cling to the aesthetic, sit in my corner, and count the minutes I have left before I can take flight.
Look Towards The Light
Itâ€™s about that time of the year, or, perhaps, way past that moment when Fall darkness sets in. I get home from class and work in the dark, I study and write in the dark, I socialize in the dark, and during the day (which is usually dark because Michigan) Iâ€™m kept inside tiny rooms within more rooms within more rooms. Life in winter is kafkaesque. Work seems to pile up around me and Iâ€™m overwhelmed. But there is something else going on entirely under my skin.
I used to romanticize the winter melancholia that would set in every year. I would feel terrible and love it. Wear moody clothing, quote Kierkegaard and Sartre about existential dread, and drink pots and pots of coffee so I could be not only be sad but also be ecstatically sad, performatively sad. My grades always seemed to suffer only a bit near the end of Fall semesters, which I attributed to the end of term finish line haze of terror; I usually ended up not exactly in fights but friendships always had more tension; and I would leave most social events angry. And then Iâ€™d be alone. And then angrier. I would look at my work and realize that I had no motivation to muster and that motivation seemed to exist only outside, in the leaves freshly fallen, decaying.
Last weekend, in particular, I felt I had to internalize â€œI had funâ€ so that when people asked me â€œHow was your weekend?â€ I wouldnâ€™t reply â€œreal shitty.â€ People respond poorly to negative things, or I find that people build on the negativity, and I didnâ€™t need more bad reactions. Little things got in the way, moments that were unexpected set me off into a chain of dizzying apathy, I began to really sink into the sadness and â€œthriveâ€ there (aka more of me convincing that Iâ€™m fine). And then after watching Scandal on Saturday (which is a whole other thing that needs to be unpacked) I realized that I was NOT okay.
Now I had been to CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) before. After two semi-failed attempts at having therapy sessions, â€œWhy do you feel this way?â€ â€œWell Heidegger in Being and Time Â says this . . . and then Nietzsche really compliments this by . . . and the existential void, no? THE VOID.â€ In the end all of my problems seemed to come up philosophy (which is partially beautiful I have to say). But another factor that cropped up was the time of the year. Fall-into-Winter and Winter were dreadful to live through and then Spring and Summer were pretty much fantastic.
Adventuring to CAPS for different reasons also helped me be aware of the Wellness Zone, which, I have to say, is currently saving my happiness.
SUN SQUARES. These (roughly) two feet by two feet fluorescent-but-not faux sunlight containers that flood your body and eyes with an impenetrable light seem a bit terrifying. The Wellness Zone, in general, has soft mood lighting that is pretty much stomped out by this (amazing) light box. I feel like Iâ€™m a flower, or some weird vegetation, or some creature of the future.
I have heard of SAD (seasonal affective disorder) before this moment, but I was not only angered at the passive aggressiveness of the name, â€œoh youâ€™re sad, aw itâ€™s the season *pinches cheek and shines a flashlight on you*.â€ And I have an aversion to a lot of mental health diagnoses that is due to, in part, the medical-industrial complex, corporatization and pathologization of health, etc. So, while I may not technically be diagnosed with anything, these sun boxes are extinguishing my autumntime/wintertime/no-sunlight-time overwhelming, life crippling, perpetual state of mourning.
But I wouldnâ€™t be a humanities senior if I didn’t stare into, or just slightly off of, these boxes without imagining them framed in a museum, or put in hallways, or dorms, or classrooms. All of health I have problems with, especially mental health, because most services or areas of help are tucked away (3rd floor union, Wellness Zone in the back) out of reach/sight and they arenâ€™t often advertised (well or enough). What if we could hang these modern art pieces, because to me thatâ€™s partially what they are, all around campus during the winter and flood everyone (albeit this is problematic) with artificial sunlight. A bit much, no? maybe not?
What does it mean for a square of designed stuff to cause happiness? Or destroy sadness? I mean, I partially donâ€™t believe it still– but it works. So whatâ€™s to say? â€œWell this artwork affects me so much that I just have an overwhelming sense of OK.â€ If I were an artist, this would be my art.
When talking with friends, however, when they ask me how Iâ€™m doing this week, Iâ€™ve replied, â€œTHESE SUNLIGHT BOXES OF JOY.â€ It gets people thinking and many have reached out for more information. When I feel this way its a problem, but when all of my friends act this way and try to unpack their feelings, its overwhelming, problematic, and we need the sun to come back.
This experience for me has been life-changing. Every morning I go to CAPS on the third floor of the union, next to where I work (Spectrum Center), and read or write (like now) in front of a light box. Everyday I leave a bit giggly (sunlight always makes me WAY happy) to live my life.
Itâ€™s important to talk about success. Itâ€™s important to share success.
And my success is feeling amazing.
Our Noble Steeds of Steel
Like most college towns and urban areas filled with high pedestrian traffic, bicycle lanes and parking structures encourage the inhabitants of an area to bypass automobiles. As a result, the bike has become a pivotal tool used by the residents of Ann Arbor. Like any well-used tool, a relationship comes to form between the user and the object. Not like some Golem-esque petty obsession where the owner screeches â€˜my preciousâ€™ upon interacting with an object, but a meaningful mutual relationship. By providing the object with respect and TLC, the object can provide proper working condition to its user.
If only this was the case for these poor specimens of abuseâ€¦
The following images are graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers.
When we become drones of day-to-day living, ants marching about our mundane existence, we tend to overlook the violent disregard of our environment. We are desensitized to the mangled machines and twisted tools we have so carelessly disregarded and left to waste. What were once stallions to carry us through our daily routines, we let our bicycles take a downward spiral and succumb to rust and decay until they are no longer usable, like great horses put out to pasture in a desert.
As I walked outside Mason Hall yesterday afternoon, I could not help but notice the rusted bicycle chained to a pole beside one of the common walking paths. Ever since my first day at the University of Michigan, over a year ago, this bicycle had been tethered here. The tires were deflated to noting. The rims were speckled in blobs of orange rust. The chain had deteriorated off the bent gears. Forlorn, the bike remained bonded to its pole beside the cement path. Hundreds of students passed by it every day, but none held the key to its lock. Nobody cut it free. Just like nobody had come to grease its chain or fill its tire. It filled me with sadness.
I wanted to tear it free from the pole, give it a new chain and scrub the rust from its rims. I would slip on a new tire and polish up its finish. I could install a new seat or replace the handlebars. Refurbish this decaying beast and transform it into my noble steed of steel (if thatâ€™s what bikes are made of). Cruising beneath the late-afternoon sun, I would go about my life and draw attention to my stallion. My journeys to class or work would become a daily display of art. Â It would instill a sense of pride in my life, in something as simple as a bicycle.
As it turned out, I would not be the first to perform this rejuvenating act. As I continued on my walk, my feelings heightened with this fantasy of restoration. I became even more inspired by the wonderfully original bicycles in motion. Many of these were minimalistic in design; single speed, thin tires, no brakes, no stickers on the frame or unnecessary accessories. Standard hipster bikes. Some adopted more vintage features, with unique paint-jobs and varying seat styles. Some had baskets or uniquely-shaped handlebars. They were each beautiful in their own way. Each a piece of art.
While they are simply tools, vehicles to aide in the day-to-day transport of our lives, these bicycles embody something more. They are a part of us. Let us treat them appropriately. And make them into something beautiful. Something we can call art.