Weekly Opus

For my last Magic Hat of the Spring 2018 term, I thought I’d celebrate by writing a true “magic hat” – a black hole of possibility you can reach into and find little galaxies inside. The categories of our blog encompass this vast infinity of the human experience, something the interns tackle every week as intrepid, humorous, but mostly just broke college students calling out into the void. Hoping that someone will call back and bridge the distance, like light that touches us from a distant star.


NEWS: Choice

Kanye West says slavery was a choice. The Internet (and the world at large) disagrees.

to make myself clear. Of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018

My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018

They cut out our tongues so we couldn’t communicate to each other. I will not allow my tongue to be cut

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018

the reason why I brought up the 400 years point is because we can’t be mentally imprisoned for another 400 years. We need free thought now. Even the statement was an example of free thought It was just an idea

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018

once again I am being attacked for presenting new ideas

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) May 1, 2018


POEM: Alive

Self-Portrait Against Red Wallpaper

Close the blinds and kill the birds, I surrender
my desire for a logical culmination. I surrender my
desire to be healed. The blurriness of being alive.
Take it or leave it, and for the most part, you take it.
Not just the idea of it but the ramifications of it.

People love to hate themselves, avoiding the
necessary recalibrations. Shame comes from vanity.
Shame means you’re guilty, like the rest of us,
but you think you’re better than we are. Maybe you
are. What would a better me paint? There is no
new me, there is no old me, there’s just me, the same
me, the whole time. Vanity, vanity, forcing your
will on the world. Don’t try to make a stronger wind,
you’ll wear yourself out. Build a better sail. You
want to solve something? Get out of your own way.

What’s the difference between me and the world?
Compartmentalization. The world doesn’t know
what to do with my love. Because it isn’t used to
being loved. It’s a framework problem. Disheartening?
Obviously. I hope it’s love. I’m trying really hard
to make it love. I said no more severity. I said it severely
and slept through all my appointments. I clawed
my way into the light but the light is just as scary.

I’d rather quit. I’d rather be sad. It’s too much work.
Admirable? Not really. I hate my friends. And when
I hate my friends I’ve failed myself, failed to share
my compassion. I shine a light on them of my own
making: septic, ugly, the wrong yellow. I mean, maybe
it’s better if my opponent wins.

Richard Siken

Siken has a special place in my heart. I’ve never read anyone who could capture the headiness of obsession and the monotony of routine at the same time. He uses simple words without simplifying a complex experience, and the enjambment of his stream of consciousness refuses to yield to traditional verse. Instead, his thoughts burst from the seams – it reads like a mouthpiece for the rambling pessimism that lurks in the dark corners of your brain – it’s anxiety and disappointment and resignation tangled together in an introspective knot you just can’t untie. Siken is the kind of guy who you read and think, This is an author who gets it, this “blurriness of being alive.”


READING: Tragedy

Shakespeare also understood that blurriness. Macbeth is one of my all-time favorite plays because of its contemplation on time and the human condition in a very famous monologue in Act V:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

There’s something in this monologue that Siken grapples with as well: an idea of human existence as a futile battle with our own ego and the grand scheme of the universe. Time marches forward, waiting for no one, as people struggle to find their places and identities against its ticking countdown. All this sound and fury, and for what? Only for an hour upon the world stage.

I think about Kanye, and what it means to speak your mind as the thought comes without a filter. I think Kanye called slavery a choice because he didn’t know how to phrase his words just right, the genius language of his music failing him in the confines of Twitter talk as usual.  I think he surrendered his desire for a logical culmination, and I think he is vain for pushing his will on the world. What he tweeted was foolish, but the people responded to him might be just as foolish and just as vain. Chatter full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I think about Donald Glover, who released a charged series of tweets a few years back in a similarly controversial vein, wishing he was “big” and “white.” Nobody talks about it anymore, and the tweets are no longer on his Twitter. They sit in dusty death, dug up from the corners of the Internet only for a second of reprised glory by nostalgic bloggers. Heard no more.

i wanna be so white im the biggest rapper of all time.

— childish gambino (@donaldglover) August 14, 2014

i wanna be so white i can have a number one song with cursing and parents are fine with it.

— childish gambino (@donaldglover) August 14, 2014

i wanna be so white and so big i get eat dinner with the koch brothers.

— childish gambino (@donaldglover) August 14, 2014

i hope I’m so big and white i can go to clippers games and it not be a statement.

— childish gambino (@donaldglover) August 14, 2014

i hope I’m so white they let my friend out of jail sooner.

— childish gambino (@donaldglover) August 14, 2014

i hope I’m so big and white my cousin wasn’t shot and stabbed twice in the neck twice last month.

— childish gambino (@donaldglover) August 14, 2014

i wanna be so big. so white.

— childish gambino (@donaldglover) August 14, 2014


WATCHING: Comedy

Donald Glover actually performed on SNL in a parody of the thriller movie A Quiet Place, directly responding to Kanye’s tweets.

If you’re like me, you probably find SNL increasingly hard to enjoy. The show has few shining moments as of late, the skits often too forced or just unfunny in general. Recently, I only tune in for the musical guests – which is what drew me to the show this particular weekend. Still, I think “A Kanye Place” hits the nail on the head. Why do people care so much about Kanye does, anyway? He’s just a man. A very famous man, but still just a man. Are we really going to risk death – albeit an intellectual death, unlike for the skit characters – just to argue with something Kanye said? Did we somehow get the memo about Trump’s Twitter nonsense, but not Kanye?

Of course, Glover’s rap alter-ego, Childish Gambino, overshadowed himself in a musical tour-de-force. In his performance of “This is America,” Gambino brought up issues from gun violence, incarceration, police brutality, and black excellence.  He criticized meme culture for devolving real problems into jokes and black celebrities for thinking they could rise beyond “a barcode” in current society. His music video of the song drove his point home, funky dance scenes interspersed with abrupt gunfire in a warehouse. And perhaps Gambino is no different from Kanye, an artist screaming into the void and hoping people will listen enough to make some real change in this messed-up America. Donald Glover knows he can’t and won’t save us. Yet there’s something about the mask he wears as Childish Gambino that arrests my gaze anyway, and I wonder if it signifies something after all.

(I would include the “This is America” video here directly, but it contains explicit gun violence and recreational drug use, which can be tough topics. If you would like to watch the video anyway, please click here.)


EATING: Innovation

Cucumbers are my favorite late-night snack. They are a crisp complement to whatever you pair them with, from sweet to savory flavors. I remember eating them from an overpriced Starbucks snack set with sweet peanut sauce, delicious and fresh after a night of concert adrenaline. I have ordered countless salads from Ovi’s with the little green cubes mixed in with the creamy ranch and smoky chicken. I used to carry cucumber sticks around in a Ziploc bag with apple slices, munching on them mindlessly while working on physics questions. Cucumbers make you feel healthy and clean, even when you’re eating them with the unhealthiest thing imaginable.

Just recently, I’ve started slicing them into thin circles and topping them with spicy squares of pork jerky and shredded cheese. If you think that sounds delicious, you’re right. The cucumber strikes a perfect balance between the heat of the pork and the mildness of the mozzarella, providing a necessary crunch and palate cleanser to an altogether perfect hoers d’oeuvre. I applaud myself for presenting a new idea to my budget menu and wonder if anyone else has ever made the exact same snack and clapped for themselves. I wonder if I’m clapping for the wrong reasons, Columbus “discovering” a pre-existing America.


LISTENING: Singularity

Have I lost myself
Or have I gained you?

But in the end, spring will come someday
The ice will melt and flow away


CULTURE: Studying

I stare at the calendar with a sinking feeling in my chest. I do the math. That’s too many papers and commitments in too little time. No matter how many flashcards I shuffle through, no matter how many Khan Academy videos I watch on 2x speed, no many how many practice questions I take on UWorld. I’m overwhelmed; it’s overwhelming.

I send off a text, one question in a little bubble of blue.  I close my eyes, heart pounding.

I get a text back, the notification lighting up in a gray bubble before a few more follow in quick succession. It’s nothing I haven’t thought to myself already, yet it’s exactly what I needed to read. I feel the static indecision in my head settle on a choice.

Thank you, I type back. Deceptively simple.

I don’t know how to say thank you for everything – for always knowing what to say even when I don’t know what I want to hear, for motivating me just by being there, for meaning more to me than you will ever suspect. Sometimes, I think you look right at me more than anyone else does, even when others have known me longer or better. When you look, you really see me.

Seen ✓   Sat 12:26 PM


CANVAS: Unfinished

I saved a canvas from the jaws of the garbage disposal a few weeks before my first year at college. It was already painted on, but it was colorful and large enough to fill up a third of my wall space in my plain Brooklyn apartment. (Canvases aren’t cheap, you know?) I figured I would sandpaper the canvas down and paint over the original art: a red watering pail on a sloppy gray backdrop.

It’s been nearly three years since I’ve gotten it, but it’s still only half painted over. The spout of the watering pail peeks out from the acrylic blue and black layer I lazily painted over one side before I ran out of paint. I’ve gotten new paints since then, but I haven’t touched the canvas since.

IMG_1800.JPG

Part of me wonders if it’s because it feels wrong, painting over someone else’s work completely. Like it was never there, or worth looking at, when the truth is just the opposite. This canvas has been with me for these first three years of my college experience, a silent presence that you never notice until it’s gone. William Carlos Williams comes to mind: so much depends on a red watering pail, left by its owner, hanging in my apartment. Maybe I’ll find the strength to paint over it next year. Maybe.


ILLUMINATED: Illuminations

Will I wake up years from now and wonder what else I could have done? Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, I am creeping at this petty pace. 8760 hours, 365 days, 52 weeks in a year. 52 years after the inception of the Black Panther Party, Kanye West says slavery is a choice and modernity a prison. It’s a framework problem. Have we failed ourselves? This is America, after all: land of the slaved and home of the weak. Even as we find new ways to slice a cucumber, we wonder about the masks we assume to reach our goals and the people we leave behind. Yet I know this icy feeling will thaw; spring has come at last. I have people in my life who see me for who I am, even if that me is worn and half-finished and still learning. Ancora imparo, I reject the idea of a preordained ending. I will show you hope in a handful of dust. I will wear new colors, but never forget the colors underneath. Grab a brush, dip it, and paint.

-Monica

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