“Glorious” by Amy Martin

Glorious

by Amy Martin

 

Glimpses of his dreams pass by his eyes in the calm solitude of the waiting window. It’s one thing in Sean’s life that he wants slow and still and calm. One of few. He always seems in a rush. In a way, he is; in a way no one but James has ever been able to describe. Even James can’t explain him in words. James uses art that is enchanting. Sean’s constant movement blurs the edges of James’ sketches, and the movement is tangible. That art, that inherent magical quality when putting charcoal to paper- it is something Sean has only ever known James to posses. It is beyond his words. It is perfection. It is glorious. Sean hardly thinks he’s seen anything quite so breathtaking. He jokes that it’s because he is the subject of these creative endeavors, but he can hardly lie to himself.

Now he sits patiently, cold leaching into him from the unsealed cracks around the edges of the glass pane, he waits for the other thing he wants slow and still and calm. James enters. Sean can sense him, and his stomach does that odd flip he hasn’t yet accustomed himself to. He wants to hear the quiet voice say “Sean?” half a question, half an announcement of his presence. Instead, James simply crosses the room to him, standing silently beside him as the view into the swirling snowy darkness changes.

James doesn’t say the view is beautiful, or picturesque, or magical, or any of the sappy things that Sean suspects he’s thinking. Sean suspects James would love to sketch this scene; he is no doubt imagining how much black he’d need to cover the canvas, how to make the pinprick flakes of white swirl in a whorl that swallows you in the same way he makes Sean move. Sean guesses James isn’t quite sure himself how he makes his art come alive, that it’s simply a natural talent that surprises James as much as it amazes others. Sean has no reason to think this, but he guesses from the way James will stare blankly at a canvas or his sketchpad for full minutes, stops work and simply gazes, before becoming once more absorbed. Sean has always wondered if there is anything else in the world that can absorb James the way creating art does. He hasn’t yet found anything that does.

James shifts beside him, and Sean finally tears his gaze from the mesmerizing snowfall, tears his brain from its racing commentary, his senses from drinking in the presence of the man he knows too well yet not enough. He grins, and looks into the dark-soft eyes that have accompanied him through six years of friendship. James’ smile is broad, James the artist, James the quiet one, James whose innate happiness most people cannot see. But Sean has always seen it, and he will until the day that inner brightness fades.

Somehow, Sean knows James isn’t thinking about drawing or painting or art or the view out the cold glass, because that smile is for Sean, and no one else can see it. James’s eyes are subject to that goofy grin when they adore him in that moment. Sean lifts a hand from his lap, the crinkle of plastic too harsh between his fingers and real as is any noise in these moments with James he tells himself every day mean nothing.

“Cracker?” he offers, and it is the first word spoken between them and the sign for them both that this is just going to be another normal, casual, friendly encounter, and once again they won’t address the sparking fire that has been lit by their smiles. Sean doesn’t know James is slightly crestfallen, this time as well as every other; James himself refuses to acknowledge the slight lurch in his gut as he reaches out to take a salty delight from the proffered package.

He holds the foodstuff delicately, nibbling at the corner, and Sean laughs uproariously as is his custom when seeing James behave overly politely. To enhance the disparity between their eating methods, Sean shoves his fist into the plastic sack and, still chuckling, shoves a handful of crackers into his gaping mouth. He chews with his mouth open, too. James grins. The humor of this friendship is infectious. Even if no one but Sean sees it, James’s secret smile is never more satisfied than when they’re together.

Sean shrugs his legs off the window ledge, kicking his heels against the wall and staring at James, who no longer has a cracker to conceal his unrefined glee. It wouldn’t have had much chance, in any case.

After a moment, not a second too soon, Sean leaps off the windowsill, eyes sliding past James into their living room, where he spins in a dramatic circle before falling back onto the couch. It’s not long before he’s rifling through James’s things, James sitting in the armchair beside, ignoring the constant commentating Sean has running about the half-concealed personal belongings he’s sifted through a million times before. James is unconcerned, an empty page in front of him being filled with darkness by his nimble fingers. He’s recognized by now that he’d waived his right to privacy when he’d accepted Sean as his friend, even more so when they’d become roommates. He learned on the first day he’d ever met Sean that nothing would ever be safe from his sticky fingers and prying eyes. Prying, in Sean’ case, simply translated to curious. Or bored. Or, even, very occasionally, suspicious. But, it was always a good-natured suspicion, and James had never since kept anything he didn’t want Sean to see.

This was why he was confident as Sean rambled on about the state of his underwear, the hideous porn that Roger had slipped to him, and even James’ handwriting on business documents and meeting notes. James smiled and laughed and let his eyes wander to survey Sean discreetly, only to return them instantly to his fresh drawing when Sean held up a new object for inspection. Sean fell silent for the first time in ten minutes, and for the first time fear crept into his veins. As the waves of sound rolled away, James’s ears pricked and he froze, waiting for the moment when Sean would rip James’ attention from the sketchbook and demand an explanation behind the acquisition of some new addition to James’ belongings. It didn’t come. Slowly, James raised his eyes to examine Sean. A page of James’ notes was clutched in Sean’s hand. There were doodles in the margins partially concealed by Sean’s fingertips. Sean’s eyes had gone blank as he gazed down at the paper. James tried to surreptitiously sneak the page from his friend’s hands, but Sean drew back to life, and held it tighter to himself. Before James got the chance to ask what was wrong, Sean pulled a fresh stack of paper from a pile beside him on the coffee table and covered the offending document, launching quickly into a new rant on the CEO and how he was an enormous greasy jerk. James let it pass. He returned to his charcoal drawing, but kept an eye on where Sean placed that pile of parchments, keeping track of where he moved it six different times. He wanted to know what Sean had seen that had made him so uncharacteristically silent and distant.

Sean was cold, colder than he’d been at the windowpane even though he had a warm comforter bunched up around his waist and James’s long legs stretching out across the sofa beside him. In fact, James’s closeness had made him warm in a way he refused to acknowledge, but the chill in his brain and his chest had not been touched. Office meetings were ridiculously boring, notoriously so- had James spaced out so much that he’d not realized what he’d doodled? The picture of the man, from waist up and shirtless, on the side of the page was unmistakably the same as the image Sean faced in the mirror each morning. James must have done the doodle from memory, which begged the question- how much did James stare at him half-naked? So, alright, he was shirtless quite often at the gym or parties or swimming in the summer, or hell just wandering around their apartment- but that didn’t give James an excuse to remember the lines of his body so well.

Surely, this was a fluke. James had never drawn anything like this before, at least not that Sean had managed to get his hands on. Either James’s imagination had gone haywire while listening to the boss’s droning, a real possibility, or he’d been concealing immoral feelings for his best friend for an undetermined length of time. Sean hoped to God it was the first.

After he’d scattered James’ possessions everywhere, Sean retired to the kitchen for a beer. Since the tense moment with his notes, everything had been normal, or at least he thought it had. The camaraderie and easy routine the two of them had had only skipped a beat, then Sean had been back to cracking jokes and leaving the both of them laughing. Still, as soon as Sean had left the room James picked up his things and carefully replaced them into piles around his briefcase. On the pretext of organizing them, James hurriedly rifled through the stack that contained that particular page of his notes. Despite their near-instantaneous return to friendly banter, James was curious what had caused Sean’s momentary lack of composure. He had not yet located the correct page when Sean returned, holding out a beer for him, his hair tousled messily in his usual fashion. Sean’s eyes were drawn to James at once, and suddenly James felt guilty for prying, although the notes he was shuffling through were his own. For a moment, Sean stared at him with an expression that James had never seen before. It left him feeling raw and thoroughly examined. Sean raised the beer to his mouth and disappeared towards the kitchen once more. James was struck still for a moment, then returned to his task as quickly as he could.

Eventually, he found it in the stack. He scanned the doodles that filled the sides of the page until his eyes found it and fixated. His brain took a few seconds to process the drawing, and in that time his jaw dropped open. When his brain caught up, he quickly scanned the room, relieved to see that he was still alone. He slid the paper out of the stack and into his pocket, and hurriedly replaced the pile on the table where Sean had found it. He finished organizing the last of his belongings, and walked into the kitchen.

Sean didn’t look at James as he leaned against the edge of the counter. It wasn’t really awkward, just silent for a few minutes until Sean announced he was going to bed, and disappeared into the other room.

James heaved a deep breath, finished his beer, and decided that retiring was probably a good idea. After shutting the door to his room behind him, he pulled the paper from his pocket, his charcoal stained fingerprints smearing the edges of the page. The drawing of Sean was left intact. James didn’t remember drawing it. The boss’ lecture had been droning on, and he’d spent the lesson staring at Sean’ head. His face was in profile to James, and he could see himself idly scratching out the lines of his nose, the familiar angles of his face, but he’d thought that then he’d dozed off. James tried to confront himself honestly. What were his feelings for Sean? At this point, no matter what they were, Sean deserved to know the truth.

Sean, who had been raised devoutly Irish Catholic.

Sean, whose Dad had disowned his Uncle Matthew when he’d come out to the family.

Sean, whose priest had had such a kind face and such gentle fingers when they’d lain themselves across his arms while he’d said his prayers.

Sean, who’d been such a disappointment to his father.

Sean, who’d discovered that kissing Sadie Brown after the Christmas Party was not half as exciting to him as being close to James.

Sean, who was even now curled in a ball against his bedroom door, clutching at his rosary and chanting, repressing the tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum…

 

***

 

Amy Martin is a senior studying abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is an Environmental Writing individualized major and an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology minor. She loves dogs, travel, and food.

 

 

Journal Feature: The Blueshift

I had the pleasure of speaking with Tyler Tsay, the editor-in-chief, of the profound new literary journal The Blueshift Journal. This journal features young, relatively undiscovered writers and artists, hoping that great art will provide an ethereal closeness between humans. Tsay is only a senior in high school himself and yet he has managed to create a beautiful web-based literary journal featuring the works of young literary enthusiasts around the globe.

As a young editor myself, I was quickly captivated by the tenacity and wholesome ambition of Tsay. I asked him questions about how the journal functions (considering many of the other editors are scattered across the US) as well as his aspirations for the future. Tsay is one of those special human beings who retains the optimism of art and literature, when so many of us have long given up hope for the future.

 

The Blueshift Journal

  •  How does the journal fund itself? Does it rely mostly on donations and profits from fundraising?
We originally raised $1,500 for the journal itself, and since then have been running off that.  We have limited donations via Tip Jar submissions, where authors/artists submit for a donation fee of $3.00 (of which we make about $2), and through the donation tab on our website, theblueshiftjournal.com.  However, as a small, online press, we generally do not have to worry too much about funding.  By issue 4, we might need to start fundraising again, but in the meantime, we’re in a good place.
  • What sort of circulation does your journal have?
Our audience is mainly young.  About 70% of our readers are around the ages of 17-35 for both male and female.  However, we publish all ages, have published all ages, and never see age as a factor for our issues.  Our staff is young, and the journal itself is young, so we obviously attract a younger crowd.  Eventually, we will start to move away from that, as both our staff and the journal itself mature.
  • What is the biggest challenge for the journal? Were there any major obstacles in the way?
 
There were plenty of obstacles, mainly being that there’s not really a how-to on starting a literary magazine.  I think starting out was the hardest part.  For the first three weeks of our start, we were actually The Copper Context on an advertisement-ridden Google website.  Obviously, that has changed a lot.  Getting the issue itself was much more difficult than we imagined, since Claire (managing), Lily (exec), and I were in separate parts of the world (I think Claire was in Greece, Lily was in the forests of Maine, and I was somewhere all around in the US).  But we’ve really worked out the kinks for this next issue.  We switched over the Submittable, brought on a Layout Manager and more Interns, and we’re definitely getting the hang of things.
  • What are the biggest challenges for the editors?
If you’re referring to the upper management (Claire, Lily, and I), I would say that it’s hard to keep everything together when we’re at three separate schools in three separate locations trying to create an issue.  But that’s always a challenge.
In terms of the actual editors and readers, I think that the biggest challenge is probably the fact that very few of us have met each other in person.  We’re going to try to organize get-togethers, but sometimes, I can feel that it’s hard to interact when we haven’t yet put the faces to the names to the people to the voices.  In order to combat this, we offer our staff a position back every issue (unless something drastic changes, or they have to leave for undisclosed reasons), so that they can see the magazine grow with them, and get to know each other along the way.  I think we’ve truly gotten close as a staff.  It’s my favorite part of the whole thing that I never really anticipated.
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  • What does an editor like most and least about being an editor?
I know that as an editor, I’ve grown so much as a writer being exposed to the incredible array of submissions we receive, both good and bad.  Albeit, I haven’t written much in the past few years, only privately.  But I know that editing is one of the best ways to improve your writing.  You learn what works, what doesn’t, what styles appeal to you, what don’t.  There’s a bridge between exposing yourself and copying, of course, but if you are mindful of the gap, you can grow a lot.
The biggest challenge is going against the flow of other readers and editors.  I don’t encourage controversy, but I especially work hard to make sure that if five readers like a piece and one doesn’t, that one reader doesn’t feel pressured into liking the piece.  Because we’re all online and comments/votes by all readers are posted online through Submittable and are visible to all readers, that can be a challenge sometimes.  We’ve gotten more comfortable with each other, though, so I think that we’re more ok with arguing against each other if need be.
  • Where do you see your journal in 10 years?
I don’t think I even know where I want to be in 10 years, much less the journal.  At this point, I see a very clear cut path for my role at the journal through college.  To be honest, I’m in this because of art for art’s sake.  As long as we can keep discovering and publishing good art, I see no reason to change our trajectory.
  • Would you consider aesthetic more important than the content of the magazine, vice versa, or are both equally important to the magazine?
The content shapes the aesthetic, so I think that both are equally important.  As I said above, art for art’s sake.  We want to find good work.  We rarely happen to have a bias, or a certain theme or trajectory in mind.  I think there’s definitely a style of writing we like.  We have always played with the idea of perspective and loneliness.  But we’re out there to discover good writing and good art, so I would probably choose content over aesthetic if I had to go for one.
  • What kind of feedback do you get from your readers? Mostly positive or mostly negative?
We’ve been getting great feedback!  We actually just had a review published by The Review Review, giving us 4/5 stars for our first issue.  We’re shooting for that 5 for next issue, of course 🙂

Tsay’s optimism shines through with every piece printed in the journal, allowing the works of others to bring us all closer as one, feeling, thinking thing. The journal’s ultimate goal is human connection and I can say for certain that in reading the works published in issues one and two, I have never felt closer to a group of young strangers in my life. I look forward to see what new adventures through the human mind await in their next issue.

A Reflection on Journalism and Feature Writing

There are many different types of story-telling and, while we deal closely with the literary here, a close friend of ours is journalism: the art of reporting and relaying the stories of those around us. In particular, feature writing in journalism. More often than not, when journalists report on a story, an underlying message, lesson, or theme courses through the veins of the story itself (not unlike literature based stories). Therefore, because the stories journalists tell are true, getting the facts of the story is essential to the hearing and the believing of the story and of the message. Quite recently, a reporter failed to do this when covering an incredibly sensitive topic. Some are calling it the worst case of journalism in 2014, others are calling it a devastation to victims of sexual assault and to those working against rape and rape culture.

The article “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Erdely  was published in Rolling Stone magazine in December of last year. In a swiftly evolving series of events, the story unravelled due to large gaps in Erdely’s reporting. In wake of this, the Columbia School of Journalism (an outside resource with no bias) was asked by Rolling Stone to survey the damage. The school investigated and got down to the nitty gritty details of what the magazine did wrong. The result: “Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Report” a lengthy article that pores over every step Erdely and her superiors took while selecting and investigating the story, editing the work, and publishing the final document. In the Columbia School of Journalism’s words their analysis and publication became, “An anatomy of a journalistic failure.”

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Photo appeared in the article “Rolling Stone and UVA: The Columbia School of Journalism Report” published on the Rolling Stone website.

For me, as a literary student, the story written by Erdely was intensely horrifying and gripping; however, as a journalism student reading the report, the gaps and failures were glaringly obvious. Reading the report in its entirety succeeded in pointing out some very essential aspects to the journalistic method of story-telling. Please read the full report in the link provided above.

Artist Spotlight: Mika Caldera

Mika Caldera is an art student at the University of Connecticut who’s piece “Empathy” has previously been featured on the Long River Review Blog. I’m here to go a bit more in depth about the artist, her artwork, and her future projects. I sat down with Mika at the art building to discuss her work with the plan of not having a plan. I figured spontaneity, asking questions from the heart and blurting out whatever nonsense comes to mind first, would reflect a new light on her work.

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(Mika Caldera’s “Empathy”)

I walked into her studio at the art building to find her diligently working on a new project. I had spent a while studying her project “Empathy”, examining the words and images and trying to put myself in her mind. Mika is sitting there, cutting up thick paper into 4×4 squares. Each square has the words “I am” written on them in various fonts. Blurting out the first thing that comes to my head, I ask: “Why words?” Mika shrugs her shoulders, not looking up or pausing in her work, and admits: “I have no clue.” She goes on to explain that she likes the way that words can communicate and define feelings. As a writer, this obsession with words makes sense to me.

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(Mika at work)

I go on to ask her a question that I, as a wordsmith, cannot quite wrap my head around: “Why did you choose these images to accompany these words? They’re all very current event-type images.”

Mika says, “I was trying to make sure I got pictures from every aspect of life, different cultures, societies, and social classes. I wanted to cover as much of a worldly audience as possible.” What Mika is trying to say with her “Empathy” piece is that emotions are global, universal. They do not belong solely to the poor or the rich, the white or the black, the first world or the third world. Emotions, words, and language belong to everybody. She is fascinated by the way words can be used to explain these intense feelings of anguish, empathy, terror, and so on.

I mention: “That’s very poetic of you.” When I say that, she seems surprised and replied: “No one has ever described that about my work before.” Modest, poetic, and intelligent, Mika’s work is something that she does because she needs to communicate something. She doesn’t do it for fame, or glory, and I can tell that much by the way she responds to my compliment. She creates art because she has something to say and she wants to make sure everybody hears it.

Mika goes on to say that: “I’m fascinated by the way [writers] are able to take words and create something.”

I laugh a little and respond with: “Well, words are just words until you make something out of it.”

Mika becomes very excited here and says: “Oh that’s actually beautiful, I like that. Can you write that down on my table of nonsense?” I look down and on the desk there is what appears to be brown packaging paper but it is covered with various drawings and quotes and other little tidbits.

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(A sample of Mika’s Desk)

Fascinated, I ask her about the drawings on her desk. She goes: “People come in and sit down as lot so I put down this paper and let them scribble on it. Then I collect it. I have three of them already.” I asked her what she planned on doing with it and was met with a shrug and “I don’t know yet” as an answer.

As we chat about classes and other casual topics, I can’t help but watch her as she slides her blade across the graphing outline to cut pieces of paper into equal squares. She continuously pastes on the words “I am” onto these squares, almost as if doing it were second nature to her. Cut, paste, cut, paste, cut paste. Finally, I get up the nerve to ask her: “What are you working on right now?”

She goes on to explain to me that this project is one of her prospective Senior Project ideas. She claims that, at a loss for a senior art project, she is “purging ideas” from her mind in hopes something great will come out. “I’m going to make these cards and mass produce about 100 or 200 of them,” she explains, “I’m going to make these little boxes and put them in categories. One of them is going to be culture, one is going to be emotion, one is identity, and then I’m going to go to a public space and hopefully someone will fill them out for me.”

She goes on: “Not everyone is the same, so some people may be drawn to one font as opposed to another.”

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(Mika’s Current Project)

This prompts the question: “So what do you think about people?”

Mika replies: “I don’t get people. They’re the biggest mystery to me. I don’t get how there are people who are generous and kind and will bend over backwards to help you. Then there are people who kill, and destroy and commit genocide and I’m like ‘what in the world?! How is this possible!?’. Like, how can these people be the same species? They have the same organs, you know, the same everything, but how can they be so different?”

The conversation steers towards us both preferring animals to people, and we come to the conclusion that I would be a cat if I had to be an animal.

I ask her about future projects she has in mind and she holds up several little handwoven books.

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(Mika’s Future Project)

She tells me that these books are something she wants to pass around to a bunch of people and have them write in them whatever they want, similar to her table of nonsense but more mobile. Then she will collect the books and see that has been written inside. She doesn’t know what she plans on doing after they are collected but, knowing her, I’m sure it’s going to be beautiful.

We finish off with one last question: “What do you think about the future?”

Mika replies: “I guess I’m like, I guess I’m a pessimist. You can’t help but notice the bad things. But, you know, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We leave off ambiguously, with an uncertain future, but Mika’s work relies on people, both the good and the bad. I’m sure no matter what the future will bring, but I know Mika will be able to turn it into great art.