by Jackie Wallace
My dad has this library. It’s mostly history books, and books on various religions. He has a whole corner of the room dedicated to all the books and pamphlets he collected from his church over the years. When I was little, I’d sit in that corner, in the old, purple velvet chair, and just look. It felt like church.
I haven’t been in the library for a long time. Probably since the summer, almost a year now. I close the door behind me when I enter, and flip on the overhead light. Most of the room is taken up by this giant model train set my dad built. I made all the tiny log cabins out of match sticks and putty. I circle the train set, and survey the shelves. First are the encyclopedias. My dad likes old encyclopedias because he thinks they’re more truthful. I’m assuming that by “truthful”, he means “aligned more closely with my own belief system and therefore easier for me to accept.”
Next is the church paraphernalia. I will not call it “propaganda” because I am not bitter.
The purple chair is gone. It finally rotted away. I let my eyes slide over the books, and feel the words hover in front of my face, staring me down. I feel as if I’ve been asked a question. I hold my breath and turn away.
I pass by the extensive collection of Louis L’Amour western novels. My dad convinced me to read an embarrassing number of them the summer I was twelve. They were boring as hell, and I forced my eyes to focus on each word. There was one I remember liking, though. It was about a girl from the mountains who ran away.
I’ve reached the history books. There’s an entire bookcase dedicated to North America. Fur trappers, settlers, Indians. The next bookcase is world religions. My dad has a copy of the first five books of the Bible, in Hebrew and English. I remember looking at them when I was little, and trying to decipher which English words translated to which odd scratches of Hebrew.
The last bookcase is mostly miscellaneous. The very top shelf, out of reach, is diet books and books on parenting. I can’t believe the perfect metaphor that is created by the situation, and spend a few minutes smirking at those books, untouched and untouchable.
One row down, I see some possible targets. This is a shelf full of old textbooks. There is a book on ballet; I’m assuming this was my mother’s. Next to it, a psychology textbook. Introduction to Psychology, seventh edition. It is covered in faded rainbow colors. I let my eyes rest on the spine of the book. I shouldn’t choose this book. I’m fairly certain choosing my father’s psychology textbook would be considered self-destructive by a more stable mind. Also, the situation feels vaguely Freudian and I try to avoid anything that I think would please Sigmund Freud. I don’t like making Freud happy because he was kind of an ass.
My parents were fairly surprised when I chose to major in Psychology, but they were shocked into disbelief when I told them I wanted to be a psychologist. In this house, psychologists are druggie voodoo hippies who turn you away from all that’s holy. I am choosing not to be offended by this.
I pull the book from the shelf, and drop to the floor where I’m standing. I am sheltered by the Styrofoam mountains of the train set. The book is from 1979. The year my parents got married. I skim through the table of contents, looking for interesting reading material. I flip to the introduction. I want to get a feel for modern psychology in 1979. The book uses a lot of outdated language, and I get the impression that the humanistic approach has yet to gain any sort of respect in its field, or at least from this author. I skip ahead to about halfway through the book, and read the chapter on abnormal psychology. They cover a handful of broad categories: neuroses, psychoses, schizophrenia, anxiety and mood disorders, personality disorders, and addiction. I don’t think we use the word “neurosis” in formal diagnoses anymore.
This is what my father knows of psychology, filtered through a heavily religious college. I try to imagine living in the 1970’s, and wonder what might have happened to me a couple of years ago if I hadn’t had the resources I take for granted now. Maybe I would have ended up in a state hospital. Or maybe some idiot would have come at me with holy water.
I want to cry. I want to throw the book away from me. I want to burn the pages. I want to carry it into the next room, where I can hear my dad playing a Wii game, flying an imaginary plane and shooting imaginary bad guys, and drop this book in his lap. I want to tell him how psychology is the baby of the science family, and we’re still learning new things every day. Sometimes we got things wrong.
Sometimes people get things wrong.
Jackie Wallace is a Senior Psychology major at Whitworth University. At a dinner party, she can typically be found making friends with the resident animals. She enjoys gardening and painting, and knows very little about either.
Photo above is from here.
by Pierrette Rouleau Stukes
“Are you a believer?” the veterinarian asked.
My one hundred and two pound Labrador, Jack, strained and wiggled against his prong collar. The stainless steel nubbins mimic the mother’s nips on puppy flesh, a dog’s first lessons in domestication. Jack smiled. His doctor had scolded me about pet obesity. We’d discussed preventive flea medicines. I’d fed Jack biscuits as needles slid through muscle.
“In what?” I asked, my mind sorting arcane canine health treatments. “Oh, oh, in God.” Caged animals howled and whimpered through the walls. I inhaled a shallow breath, and The Conversation I’d been dreading began.
My husband calls me “the confessor.”
Raised Catholic, in the South, I revealed my sins in musty, walnut cubicles, worn red velveteen-covered benches cushioning my girl’s slender knees. But the lattice which separated me from the priest’s naked gaze also filtered the transgressions I claimed and those I held in my secret heart. I admitted being a tattletale, but not stealing Boone’s Farm from the A & P.
Twelve-step meetings taught me to place my faith in unsparing self-scrutiny. Sober old timers assured me that a humble vivisection of my drunken life would save me. It did. I anatomized my petty crimes and misdemeanors in a cloistered cell of anonymity and confidentiality.
I feel compelled to write memoir. But I must ask: Has this drive replaced my conviction that confession will “create in me a pure heart”? Is memoir private anatomy made public spectacle? At a writer’s salon, a woman-not-old-enough-to-be-my-mother thought so. Her southern drawl declared my essay about my mother and me “cathartic.” She missed the artistry. Perhaps, my piece echoed a parent-child bond closer to the bone, and she squirmed, unconsciously shifting her shame to me.
Memoir exposes the deep fascia of tissue which connects the muscle, bone and nerve of a single body. It’s too bloody, too visceral, they say. We don’t want to hear your soiled stories. Your words remind us of our own feelings, fears, truths, skepticism.
The vet’s question didn’t materialize from profane air. I’d published an essay in an anthology which focused on Ashe County, North Carolina, a predominantly and proudly conservative Christian community. The first dozen drafts were about the dream-come-true of my husband and me to live in the mountains. Another theme emerged—about reconciling with the path my faith had taken. I wrote that story, and I’d been waiting for someone to nip at my courage to stray from the fold.
“I believe in God,” I assured him. “Every human being contains the Christ within.”
He examined me like I was a sickly chameleon that could no longer adapt to her environment.
I believe with Bill Wilson, the co-founder of AA, that “God is everything or else God is nothing.”
I believe God is the impulse to know the totality of ourselves, frail and glorious.
I believe Jesus, the man, knew himself.
I believe the Christ is a symbol for that wholeness.
I believe writing is prayer.
I believe memoir is art.
Memoir is both the whole truth I withheld as a child and that truth made meaningful. Words beget sentences, story, symbol. I dissect the deep fascia of my one life and discover in its cells the soul’s universal narrative. I confess to the cosmos, praying that the reader may be ordained a humble priest who recognizes his own Christ within.
Pierrette Rouleau Stukes loved words as a child, but forgot. Relishing others’ words, she earned degrees in English literature. She remembered her first love and has published creative nonfiction in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Mountain Memoirs: An Ashe County Anthology, and The Rose. Her essay “Swimming” was awarded first place in a regional creative nonfiction contest. “Tilted Toward Life” was nominated for the 2011 Best of the Net for nonfiction. A short-short fiction story, “Between the Lines,” earned an Honorable Mention in New Millennium Writings.
by Susan Vander Kooi
I decided to interview Scott Kolbo, who made the artwork for the cover of Rock & Sling 8.1. We shot a few e mails back and forth and here’s what happened.
Susan Vander Kooi: Are you speaking to a specific story or experience with these artworks (I’m specifically thinking of Heavy Man Hears His Kid Say the F Word series and Jeremiah Attacked by a Swarm of Flies)?
Scott Kolbo: I tend to think of the work that I do as an extremely exaggerated version of things I have seen myself, or imagined. Since I have kids, I try to go out of my way to explain that they don’t go around cursing all the time. I have heard little kids cursing however, and it doesn’t take too much work for me to imagine what a character like heavy man would feel if he heard his children dropping F-bombs. I think all artists and writers draw from their own experience, it’s sort of the filter that we use as we understand the world and make art about it, but that doesn’t mean that everything is autobiographical. I have little back stories and character sketches in my mind for all the characters, but rather than making a big cohesive narrative out of it all, I like to focus on little vignettes or schemes, and let the viewer fill in more of the blanks.
SVK: How did Heavy Man come into being? You have a collection of characters that you use in your work, can you talk a little bit about that?
SK: Heavy Man is one of a long list of characters I have used over the years. I sort of have a collection that I pull from depending on the project. I started out making generic characters, but soon found that it was better for me to work more like a writer, so I created these people and had them do different things. Sometimes I am as surprised by what they do as anyone else.
Heavy Man was my reaction to the sort of middle-class malaise I was seeing around me. I imagined a character who was always overwhelmed by the problems of world and felt like he had no way of taking action to solve any of them. I always liked those “super power gone wrong” concepts, or ideas like Pinnochio’s nose getting longer every time he lies (a response out of his control).
So I imagined Heavy Man feeling the weight of the world and becoming spontaneously heavy – he falls through floors, breaks chairs, etc. I think I originally got the idea when I had something like 30,000 e-mail messages in my inbox and no hope of ever cleaning them up or answering all of them. So I took my experience and exaggerated it by projecting it onto a fictional character.
SVK: Are the prints you included in Rock & Sling created to go together or stand alone?
SK: All of the work used in Rock & Sling existed before on its own. It’s all related in that I work out of a loose narrative and all the characters inhabit the same universe, but they weren’t designed as set. More of a meditation on different ideas and aspects in my work.
SVK: Can you describe your process?
SK: I usually start with lists. I have sketchbooks full of notes and ideas, and once I get the time to work on them I draw and research. I have way more ideas than I’ll ever have time for, so I have to pick and chose, or try to complete some things that will go together nicely in a show. I like to integrate digital/photographic media with handmade images, so lately I have been using myself as a model, or collaborating with other people to get some “performances” on file.
For Heavy Man I dress up in this costume I keep in the closet just for him, and go perform the kind of Heavy Man activities that make sense for the idea. I record the performances in my studio using a high resolution camera, and then I go through the digital information looking for footage of still images I can use. I like to print things out, draw by hand on top of the print, scan it back in, and mess with it more in the computer.
For the video works I clean them up and add funny animation elements, then project the video files onto a wall with a piece of paper attached to it and drawn on the paper with ink, charcoal, etc. The video projections end up being strange hybrids of static imagery and moving digital projection. I really like the way the two things interact with each other.My most recent work is utilizing some children I collaborated with and making little vignettes out of the crazy stuff they decided to do.
SVK: I’ve noticed you don’t use a lot of color but work a lot with lines. Is there a specific reason you choose to work in the style you do?
SK: I have always thought of myself as more of a “graphic artist” as opposed to a colorist. I’m obsessed with lines and marks. I don’t always care what color they ar So my concern is getting a beautiful drawing on a surface, and then I just add in color for effect and to liven things up. Most of the color in the works comes out of the photographic information I started with, and it is really just there to describe the “reality” of what was in the scene. Most of the time the color is sort of symbolic – light blue for Heavy Man, red for Jeremiah, green for Inga, etc.
SVK: What do you want viewers to take away from your artwork (these pieces specifically, but also on the whole)?
SK: I don’t know that I feel a whole lot of responsibility for what the viewer takes away from the work. That is really hard to control and the broad diversity of how humans interpret images makes it tough for me to predict. I hope that they engage with the work – either because it is visually stimulating, or because the subject matter is thought provoking (ideally it’s both). I really love humor, so I hope they find it funny – even if it’s in a dark way. I use my art to help me think through the reasons that our world is the way it is, and what my responsibilities are. So if viewers asked themselves those questions I’d be pretty happy.
Susan Vander Kooi is a senior at Whitworth University studying Art and English. Her greatest aspirations in life are owning a dog, getting a job a a photographer, and traveling to Italy.
Scott Kolbo is an associate professor of art at Seattle Pacific University.
by Matthew Burns
At the small rural school where I’ve been teaching for almost two years, I’ve apparently managed to become known within student circles (or so I’ve heard) as “the depressing professor.” That’s balanced a little by the “really helpful” and “funny” comments, sure, but these latter descriptors are intentional; I actively work to be those things. What I mean to say is I don’t try to bum you out, students!
But I know where that perception comes from. In class we read a lot of different texts; some are funny, others poignant, and a few, I suppose, are a little…heavy. I’ll admit that telling a class of students in the first weeks of an Environmental Lit course, “Sorry to remind you, but we’re all going to die” might be a little shocking. (Those laughs it elicits are more nervous than anything.) And yes, when we’re discussing Wendell Berry’s “A Native Hill” and we get to the end where he tells us
I apprehend in it the dark proposal of the ground. Under the fallen leaf my breastbone burns with imminent decay…. My body begins its long shudder into humus. I feel my substance escape me, carried into the mold by beetles and worms…. I sink under the leaves
some students get a little panicky. Maybe it’s the first realization or just a reminder of something they’ve worked hard at forgetting, but there it is. And when I press them to think deeply about this passage, there are as many averted eyes as there are searching ones. But it’s something at the heart of what we’re going to be discussing—in one way or another—for the rest of the semester. That is, to paraphrase Berry: We are less than we thought; but more importantly: We should rejoice in that knowledge.
Even more, I think that knowledge hits them like it hits anyone. It’s recognition of some order that is far, far beyond our meager comprehension (Berry talks about this as well, but, in class, it’s just too much to handle). Whatever name we give it—Circle of Life, Life Processes, Nature, God, and on and on—we are both at the mercy of and beholden to it. That’s it and there it is. It’s that simple—frighteningly simple.
Since moving to a rural area and driving farm roads daily, I’ve seen more dead animals than I could’ve imagined ever seeing. Not necessarily big ones—a mule deer here and there, once a coyote—but more like the hundred dozen small ones—feral cats, farm dogs, birds, rodents—that, in the morning, begin as distinct corpses and, on my return trip, are little more than stain or smear. It was strange at first, then depressing. New ones appeared every day. Every day they rotted and stunk and spread until they were just another shade of gray on the asphalt. Somewhere along the line I grew numb and even morbidly curious (Ooh! What was that?!). It wasn’t until I hit one myself that I began seeing the death as something else. It was a snake and I wrote about it:
To the Snake I Ran Over this Morning
After the little drum solo that was my tires
flattening and then flattening again
your languid morning body,
the hum of road appeared.
It was as if there was a knock
and someone opened a door: there, all around,
was the sound of tires and road touching
and letting go and touching again, fast as lovers
in a backseat expecting to be caught,
to move me toward a parking lot,
the way tires must.
Then horses in the field I went past rubbed
head-to-flank and goats in the one behind
laid in their patches of grass and nibbled
out of boredom or hunger. The corn grew dry
and rattled in the rising wind that said
there was to be rain later.
And there was rain later and it fell
because what else does it know to do
beyond that? And when, on the way home,
I passed what was left of your body—
a shadow under a pair of magpies pecking
the wet road—it was just beginning to wash away
into the culvert that is to be washed into,
the way everything out there is out there
to do one thing and do it beautifully.
The road, the door, the horse, and all that—
that’s what they do, the same way
I am telling myself this as I roll toward home
through the early night coming on
too fast to judge, speeding toward
my tired and unsuspecting head.
That’s just how it happened. Whatever’s coming is coming without any concern for us. It’s not that it’s frightening—it shouldn’t be. It’s that the whole thing is benign and hits everything the same. It doesn’t care. That’s it. I think what gets my students—what gets me that “depressing” moniker—is the idea that there is some kind of “lessening” going on in this whole thing—that if we’re not important, then our “imminent decay” somehow loses weight and meaning. But that’s not the case. We know this. We talk about it and discuss the other side of the equation and what that could mean.
It takes a little while to get there, but eventually we do and just yesterday a student said it. She wants to work with Berry for her final paper and starts off by saying, “It’s not that we are any less; it’s just that everything else is more.” And she smiled at that.
Matthew Burns is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Heritage University in Washington. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Binghamton University where he was co-editor of Harpur Palate. He was the winner of the 2010 James Hearst Poetry Prize from North American Review and his poems and essays have appeared in Folk Art, Ragazine, Cold Mountain Review, The Georgetown Review, Paddlefish, Upstreet, Spoon River Poetry Review, Jelly Bucket, Memoir (and), Paterson Literary Review,Quiddity and others.
Rad snake image above is from here.
by John A. Taylor
I was sitting with Thom, our managing editor, watching a hipster specimen meander through the rows of booths near our table, but never quite reaching Rock & Sling (which is just as well because I’m not sure if I would have cared to talk to him). He had a very thoughtful walk, thoughtful in the sense that he probably thought about it, practicing, in front of a mirror until he got it just right. His shoulders were back, head stiff, looking either directly forward or 90 degrees to either side, and he trudged. It was a marching trudge, though, a thoughtful trudge. A little bit like C3PO but with elbows in check. Thom leaned over to me and said that in past years he had had an AWP bingo card with things and characters to watch out for. This particular hipster would have fulfilled the “trying too hard” block. His bag never changed hands. His bag never changed shape or weight. His clothing looked expensive because they were the type of clothing made to look like they were from the thrift store but really not because sometimes hipsters still get an allowance from their parents and are too lazy to thrift. And his dark Ray Bans stayed on. Indoors. Because, as we all remember, it was really bright. This was my first memorable experience of AWP.
My favorite parts of the trip were walking through Boston when the snow was not blowing horizontally, having a lobster omelet Saturday morning at the Boston Harbor with a new friend from Gonzaga, standing at Timber’s booth within the half hour they sent me a rejection, discovering a game-changing television show after a long day at AWP: Amish Mafia (hide your children from the hut parties), and meeting the people (Booth: Journal) who published my poem about kidney stones and who were surprised to see that I was twenty, not eighty. The rest of the trip has remained an absolute blur. I suppose that in time I’ll remember some of it clearly. I do remember feeling deeply ambivalent about the whole experience. I was surrounded by so much beautiful writing and beautiful art, but there was also a whole lot of garbage. (And, despite all the good writing, I could not even image a world in which Jack Gilbert would attend such an event; this was a discouraging realization.)
Before AWP I considered Rock & Sling to be a strong journal for what it is / where it is / why it is, but those qualifiers dropped away during the long weekend. Our art rivals or surpasses that of the strongest, most widely read journals. Our content grapples with some of the easiest material to unforgivably screw up, and yet it stands up even at such a large conference. I’m biased, of course, and just spent the last week as a sort of Rock & Sling salesman, but the journal ranks. It’s small but growing, and I am really excited to be working on the journal now. I’ve seen it in context and was pleasantly surprised.
I’ll conclude with a comprehensive list of AWP do’s and don’t’s, as I’ve learned them, and as everyone seems to be wanting to read / write:
Know who Amber Tamblyn is before she comes to your table
Have a Free Back Issue for a Kiss! deal (restrictions apply to mostly everyone)
Inform Amber Tamblyn of this deal
Look where you’re going
Apologize when you accidentally body-check meandering hipster
Help pick up scattered books and Ray Bans
John A. Taylor is a senior at Whitworth University. He loves gardening and goldfish, and knows a lot about both.
by Amy Rice and Janine Darragh
Janine and I knew we liked to read YA literature. We also might have deduced (Barnes & Noble’s signs were pretty subtle, after all!) that a specific genre in YA had some pretty good sales. So we decided to explore Young Adult Paranormal Romances. And the best way to explore the genre: read as much as we could! We read more than 50 YA paranormal books.
We started doing a qualitative critical multicultural content analysis (yep, it’s a mouthful!), which is essentially paying attention to things like how a person’s gender, race, age, etc. are represented. Is someone described as having “coffee colored skin” or “red hair and green eyes”? Does the author describe the person’s race/ethnic background at all? We thought it would be interesting to examine the gender dynamics in male/female relationships. We also needed to know what exactly puts the work in the paranormal category. Are there vampires, werewolves, faeries?*
We noticed an interesting (and unexpected) trend: spirituality was a recurring theme in some of the YA Paranormal Romances we read. Characters were struggling with religion, were preacher’s daughters, were identifying with a particular world view. Who would have thought that teen books about vampires and zombies would also explore issues of faith? A call for proposals at a conference on “Christian Evasion of Popular Culture” seemed the perfect opportunity to focus our reading and research on the portrayals of religion in the context of YA Paranormal Romances. Three series stood out as examples of the varying degrees of incorporation of religion, and representing different paranormal perspectives: the Vampire Academy series, the Dark Divine trilogy, and the Hush Hush series.
We first examined why Christians might want to avoid this genre. Em McAvan, in the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, introduced the idea of the postmodern sacred, which we used as a springboard to talk about potential problems with a series that discusses spirituality in a way that may not line up nicely with a particular doctrine. In fact, the postmodern sacred tends to blend in a lot of different religious elements, so there really are no clearly drawn religious traditions represented. We argued, however, that these books can be conversation starters, a different way to talk about religion and spirituality than someone might talk about it in church.
YA paranormal romances almost always include themes of good fighting evil. They are often coming of age stories, and one might argue that when religion is factored into the story, they also may be religious coming of age stories. Additionally, there is a theme of conversion. A person must reckon with the fact that the presence of a paranormal element defies empirical evidence. Characters must accept that not everyone is going to believe what they know to be true.
Each of our three series incorporated some degree of spirituality. In Hush, Hush, the opening quote references 2 Peter 2:4 and incorporates elements of the Book of Enoch, a Jewish apocalyptic book. It references the very short part of Genesis that discusses nephilim and men procreating (Genesis 6:3-5). And it builds an entire mythology out of these small snippets. In the Vampire Academy series, the culture is Russian Orthodox, and while the main protagonist is not a believer, her two best friends are, and she comes to see the value of prayer and faith, even if there are parts of religion she can’t quite come to terms with. The Dark Divine series is set in a small town with a strong religious presence (some of the characters attend a Christian school), and the main character, Grace Divine, is a pastor’s daughter. In the series, we see how she questions her faith in the midst of the events that transpire, but ultimately views it as a source of strength. Of the three series, the Dark Divine is definitely has the most overtly religious themes, but only in service of the plot, and not as a proselytizing technique. Grace is portrayed as a real person having real doubts about her faith. She doesn’t have all the answers. She is still learning.
So there you have it—research that’s fun! Think about how many YA books you can read through in a weekend, when you have no other plans—or how many YA books you can read because it’s RESEARCH, and therefore necessary and important to do instead of say, the laundry. We’re not saying all YA Paranormal Romances are great works that will transform the reader. There are still some that are better than others. But it’s also fun to do research with someone, to talk about what we’ve read, and to go through the process together.
*and by the way, I found faeries to be creepy. Really, really creepy. These are no Tinkerbells (and even Tinkerbell had her dark side)!
Amy C. Rice is a librarian (her actual title long and uninteresting) at Whitworth University. She holds a BA in English from Northwest Nazarene University, an MS in Library Science from Simmons College, and is currently pursuing an MA in Spiritual Formation from Northwest Nazarene University. Amy is a contributor to the Spokane Faith and Values website, where she most often writes about the intersection of religion and popular culture. She has well-known partialities for sunflower seeds, artichokes, and exotic varieties of soda (dry lavender soda? Delicious!).
Janine Darragh taught high school English for twelve years in Ohio before obtaining her Ph.D. from Washington State University in Literacy and Language Education. In addition to reading YA novels, Janine enjoys eating sour gummy candies and trail running with her dog, Lancelot.
by Jacquelyn Wheeler
I was at Grandie and Poppa’s house, its weird guest room with the rainbow bed spread, the baseball lamp, the plaques on the walls with strange pictures, the tower that held all of Grandie’s old poofy dancing skirts. The hats, baseball caps mostly, full of pins, covered with them. I was with my sister. We were sitting on the floor playing Barbies on the coral, teal, and white carpet. I got up and picked up the hat and said, “Where did these all come from?”
“From their travels, I guess.”
“They wouldn’t notice if one was missing; there are so many of them.” I took a small one shaped like a maple leaf and placed it in the chest pocket of my purple and pink plaid flannel shirt.
I don’t know when my mom found it, how much later it was, but I do know that one day in the laundry room after she’d washed the flannel shirt, she asked me where I’d gotten it. I was lost in tears immediately and wave after wave of guilt washed over me. Grandie and Poppa would be coming to stay with us soon and I was to give it back and apologize then.
I began drawing repentant picture after repentant picture. I drew so many pictures, trying to build up an offering that would help them forget what I’d done. Artworks that said, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I wanted so badly to rebuild my reputation but there was nothing I could do. I was a thief. Nonetheless, I left the pictures outside the guest room door early in the morning, and avoided them for the rest of the day.
This was the first time I was deeply aware of myself as a sinner. This was the most blatant transgression I had known myself to make. I remember, vividly, crying myself to sleep. I asked my mother if I would go to hell as she tucked me into bed. I don’t remember what she said. She probably told me about forgiveness, but my fear was smothering me and nothing could get through. I knew the answer: I was bound for hell. I had made my one fatal mistake. I had bitten the apple and now the angels had escorted me out of Eden.
My family started attending church around this time in my life, but I didn’t go to Sunday school. I went to choir instead, where we sang songs about grace, but were rarely told about God’s unconditional sacrifice to save sinners, even thieves like me. They should have done more preaching to the choir.
I eventually forgot my guilt. Time smoothed over the lines on the wrathful face of the god I imagined. But looking back, this potent sense of my guilt was just too accurate a response.
I still fail, and do things that, apart from Christ’s sacrifice, would warrant the fear that I felt. My failures have become opportunities to celebrate the living God. And I make art out of joy rather than penance.
Jacquelyn Wheeler grew up in Portland, Oregon with two loving parents and a darling younger sister and is a recent English graduate from Whitworth University now working in Spokane as a freelance editor and visual artist. She is constantly moved by Jesus’ persistent rescue of her from being her sinful, hell-bound self.
We ask our contributing authors to consider the role of faith in their work, or in the pieces in our issue. It adds some depth to what is often just of list of accomplishments that lacks any real sense of who wrote a particular poem or essay or story.
Here’s a selection of what our authors had to say:
Daniel Bowman, Jr.
So many of my poems have water in them in one way or another. It is, for me, among the most profound symbols, and a hugely important part of my faith. One of the four classical elements, it has always been used for cleansing and for healing. Jung saw it as representing the collective unconscious, where the archetypes reside. There is tremendous power in that place, and therefore tremendous threat. “The Waves” seems to relate to this somehow—the speaker has heard this call to greater depth and awareness, and has internalized it. I think he is on the faith journey, called to consciousness, to the fact that “The kingdom of God is at hand” and “within.”
In “The Bridge at the Bend,” the speaker visits a bridge over a creek in winter, presumably drawn to the power of the water but unable to summon any feeling. In the summer, the speaker and a friend go to Batavia to see a Muckdogs game (Single A, short season baseball). Batavia is the birthplace of novelist and critic John Gardner, and is also where he is buried. In the poem, the experience of the cold creek water late at night (after the ball game and a stop at the pub) is holy. They believe they see the ghost of Gardner sitting on the banks of that water. They honored his spirit that night, and were reborn, as we must be each day.
I see writing and faith joining hands in acts of witness—acts of seeing the lives of others (and my own life) acted out in their precise actualities. I’m not interested in glossing over truths, minimizing damage, or escaping this reality. As a Christian, I believe the Incarnation is a direct call to stay rooted in what’s happening here and now, in this present and fleeting moment. It’s an ultimate act of creativity that calls us to create ourselves. And to create vividly, we must learn to see clearly.
I hope these poems capture a precision and vision that is a kind of incarnation, in some small way. “Moonflower,” “Dissonance,” and “Cacophony” are poems, I think, of reaching outward toward our creatureliness—to desire full life, to try and understand death, and what it might mean to create life—however serious, ironic, or humorous. “Drift” and “This Winter Mix” are both earlier poems of mine about betrayal—the betrayal of the senses and mind against the body, and the betrayal of one human being to another.
It’s my hope that these poems will awaken you to something in your own experience, and begin to speak beyond these pages. At their best, I hope they charge you to sit down and create yourself, reveal yourself in your own creation, or ask more of you than just a quick glance. In any case, this is my voice—me trying to say that I see you, that I hear you, and that I’m trying to speak as clearly as I can.
I find faith to be an unbelievable thing, a magic trick of sorts. It is worth attempting to understand while always slightly outside our grasp. In literature we get to see glimpses of its process and tools and logic. It is like getting to see behind the curtain, for a moment, or sneaking a peek into the box where human beings will shortly be cut in half and then made whole again.
Jesus is a master of metaphors—the parables, the kingdom of heaven analogies. He’s always giving those poor disciples a brain teaser. And we can understand their confusion. We doubt along with them, we puzzle and question and scratch our heads, we give our own experience a hard look and try and imagine the kingdom of God. Is it in this rocky field? Is it in an untimely death? In the poverty of a hardscrabble life, or in the sweat-and-dust transformation that lifts us outside it? Is it the sense of flying, or the reality of crashing back to earth? “After the Funeral” doesn’t so much answer these questions as give weight to the asking. This poem previously appeared on The Far Field, a blog of Washington state poets.
For me, depression came quietly. It crept in one damp winter and lodged in my body like a parasite—dangerous and invisible and growing. It came by way of loneliness and displacement, and before long, it had taken hold of my heart.
How many months did I hack at the ground with a spade, trying to dig myself out? I was a good, church girl, and I believed that if I did enough Bible studies, wrote enough in my prayer journal, found the right church, I would find God. But in my head, it was pitch-black dark, and I couldn’t find him, couldn’t find my way out, no matter how I strained with the digging.
During those dark months, I wrote. I was halfway through my master’s in creative writing, and prompt after prompt, I wrote the Darkness. I wrote around it and into it. I wrote it in lists, in first person and third person, in past tense and present tense and infinite future. I wrote until it was a book.
And in that time when the Christian clichés and formulas were crumbling beneath me, writing gave me a way to be honest. When I couldn’t bring myself to read God’s words, he met me in mine.
When I say that memoir, for me, is a work of wholeness, it’s because this is where God healed me.
It was here that I found him again—in all of these words, written one by one in the dark.