Empathy in Difference

Books

Though modern culture continues to grow away from traditional mediums; replacing the journal with the phone and intimate conversation with online chat, the art of telling a story will always be a new concept. Not only does literature serve as storage for scholarly findings or political developments, it also works to express ideas and personal thoughts of the individual. As such, there is more to the book than cold facts for our own personal gain. What creative literature provides is a way into foreign living and interpretation. This is how we understand other cultures, how we empathize and relate to one another regardless of the fact we’re not the same.

In telling our personal stories, we share our individual view of the world. We inspire and shape new culture with our ideas for a better future and bring light to our unseen lifestyles. I’m not strictly talking biographies, I’m referencing the concept that within our creative works we share a bit about ourselves and how we view the inner workings of our society. Take any fiction novel, series, whatever, and find what makes that story relatable to you. In my case, Homestuck, a story about nerds who get trapped inside a game as the Earth is obliterated. Alien creatures called trolls band together with them to beat the game, and they’re able to create a new home planet for everyone to share. It’s very engaging, and the plot makes it easy to empathize with each character. How can this be? The story is fiction. The universe doesn’t exist. The characters aren’t even human. Yet I found something I could relate to. This is because the writer included a bit of their familiar world within their work, many times simply for the reason that readers would be able to follow along. No matter how hard we try, our own values and perception of life creep into our work. This is how we expose ourselves to our audience, how we let others in and help them understand our backgrounds. This goes for the conflict of our characters down to the way we write.

Everything we do is influenced in some way by culture and society. This is why fictional literature is just as telling as biographies. Just because it’s not factual, doesn’t mean it’s clean of personal experience. And this is what I’m getting at. Literature tells our story. It’s how we interact and empathize. It’s important. It’s us. It’s all we know. And we need to learn from other people. We need to become aware of foreign cultures, and different ways of thinking, and how to improve as one big family, and just how to get along. We can do all these things by reading and writing creative works. And the concepts within the works will always be relative to modern concepts. This is how literature stays current, how it stays alive amongst the frequent turnover of technology. Like paper and pen. What happened to that? Now it’s all typing. But who cares, that’s not what I’m talking about.

So what about me? Let’s change the subject for a minute. I consider myself to be a fiction writer. I spill beans about myself and my culture with every word on the page. This is how I input my experience, this is how I express my background. What do I write about? Little things like culture, love, and people. That’s what I’m passionate about. I like to write about embracing our differences, and sharing our views of the world, and finding hope. I was raised to believe these things, so my writing reflects it. Just how someone who was raised in a poor environment, and longs for more money, might write about finding success and how their characters struggle with their financial background. Or maybe they’ll write about rich people who don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. It’s all relative to how we’re raised, where we come from, what we believe.

I’m thinking once we read a variety of works by a variety of people, we’ll start to understand one another, and even though we may not agree, we’ll grow closer as human beings and learn to accept those who differ from us. That’s what it’s all about. With the current topics in creative works like gender, sexuality, politics, all that stuff that makes up who we are as individuals, it remains in public interest. This is one art form that will never die. It’s just too much of an outlet for people. Humans are going to tell stories, it’s what they do. And hopefully those stories will open our eyes to each other. And I don’t know, maybe we’ll let live.

 

By: Stephanie van Schijndel

Music Makes Identity

Image Credit: Melissa Hood

Image Credit: Melissa Hood

In junior high, I never really felt like I fit in anywhere. I would listen to music, wear clothes, do things because my friends were doing them. My friend liked Britney Spears? I listened to Britney Spears. My friends watch Invader Zim? I started to watch Invader Zim. I felt like I was different but not genuine. I couldn’t find my place, wherever that was.

For Christmas, my sophomore year of high school, my dad bought me a bass guitar. It came in pieces, a kit to build yourself. He put it together for me just the way I wanted it; covered in purple glitter, with roses engraved in the pickup frame. My sister already owned a guitar, and we started to play together, slowly creating dreams of finding a drummer and starting a band.

As well as playing music myself, I also started to listen to music a lot more. I fell in love with a lot of bands that weren’t the ones my friends listened to; Fall Out Boy, Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Brand New, Muse, among others. I didn’t know any other person in school, other than my sister, who had the same taste in music in me. There was absolutely no one else who had the same passion for music.

I also started going to a lot more concerts. I had seen Rush and Jethro Tull live with my dad multiple times already by the time I was halfway through high school; my dad is a huge fan of these bands, so naturally, his daughters fell in love with them as well, more than willing to go to concerts with him. Throughout high school, I added more concerts to the list: R5, You Me At Six, Seether, Fall Out Boy, and Warped Tour.

Warped Tour, started in 1995 by Kevin Lyman, is a music festival that travels around the United States. Among the most famous bands that got their start at Warped include Blink-182, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, and even Katy Perry. Although many might think that Warped Tour reached its peak in the early 2000s, it continues to be an anticipated event by alternative music fans every year, including me.

The first time I went to Warped Tour was in 2014. Our mother took my sister, our friend Kyle, and I up to Portland to attend. I was immediately staggered by what awaited me. Before the concerts even started, as we were standing out in line, I saw people with their hair spiked up in mohawks and dyed all sorts of colors. Tattoos. Piercings. Crazy makeup. Pop punk fans in tie-dye, metal-heads with dreads, punks and spikes. Normal looking kids in flannel. So many band t-shirts. I wore a My Chemical Romance tank top, shorts, black tights, and converse, and I had a few streaks of purple dye in my hair. There were so many other people there, mostly young, but definitely spanning all age groups.  It was all something I’d never experienced before; I was ecstatic.

The entire day, I ran around the parking lot of the expo center, seeing as many bands as I could, buying CDs, meeting musicians. Most bands who tour during Warped are still fairly unknown, so it’s not uncommon to approach their booth and find them sitting there, selling their own merch and having conversations with their fans.

I met people, and I met bands, who were very nice, and shared interests with me, and even though I’ll never meet any of them again, the interactions still mean a lot to me. I learned that there are people out there who aren’t all like the kids I had been going to school with all of my life. That there were actually many other people who love music and bands as much as I did.

My second Warped Tour, I met a newer band known as False Puppet, who I had known about when they only had a few recorded songs up on YouTube. I was actually one of the fans who helped vote them in as an up-and-coming band to be able to play Warped. I met with them, talked with them about tattoos and music, and bought a button for my jacket and had them sign the sleeve. The next year, 2016 Warped Tour, the drummer for that band was now drumming for a band called The Heirs. I met him again, and he was absolutely thrilled to see my False Puppet button and the autograph from the previous year. It felt amazing to be recognized by a musician, a musician in a band who was getting to play shows on a tour that meant so much to so many fans of music.

I think about my band, the fact that we have one song, and only one song, home recorded. We haven’t played our own show. Yet. But we all love music, and we all love playing it. I know I’m not going to stop. All the other bands out there, the ones that play Warped Tour, like False Puppet, and even the ones that play arenas, like Rush; they all started with only one song. They all started by listening to the bands that their parents listened to, playing in their houses, finding where they belong in the world by using music. Going to concerts and watching bands play, until they became the bands on the stage.

 

By: Melissa Hood

Nothing but Silence Now

Watercolor

Silence can grow and it can be broken, but silence is all we have left when everything is said and done. My sister, Cathleen Marie Childress, passed away in 2009. She was 38. Catie, as she liked to be called, suffered from Bipolar Disorder; she was verbally abusive, and when I was little she was my personal tormentor. When I got older our relationship evolved but it was still subject to her wild mood swings and depression. Catie wasn’t the easiest person to be around or communicate with. Each day came with some kind of emotional eruption that alienated not only me but my two other older sisters, Tracy and Becky. When Catie wasn’t pinning me down and lowering spit down to my face just to suck it up inches before it made contact, she was certainly getting under my skin with verbal abuse. If you asked me now what kinds of things she said, I couldn’t tell you, but I do remember her ice cold glare when she was enraged and looking for someone to unload on.

Most of my life with my sister was anything but silent; she had a rage in her that at times was beautiful passion that translated into her artwork. She loved to draw, paint with water colors, and create visual work with all sorts of paints, pencils, and markers. I think I remember her watercolor works best, especially the sunsets. The reds, oranges, purples, yellows, and blues blended into one another, with no clear borders of where one color ended and another began. Those watercolor sunsets were a lot like her Bipolar Disorder; she had no clear borders of where happy Catie ended and angry, hurt Catie began. But like a sunset, eventually her rage fell below the horizon and was extinguished for a time. In retrospect I can see the nuances whether intentionally or unintentionally translated through watercolor fusion. They say that hindsight offers perfect vision on the moments in our lives that start out as blurry and unclear; for me this is definitely the case.

Catie went to Portland Community College and then Portland State well after high school, and I went to PCC and then Pacific University in the same manner, even though we graduated almost a decade apart.  What I have learned that I know we could connect on, but our experience with being nontraditional students could have become common ground for us as well.

The midday phone calls my sister would make to my sister Becky and I still haunt me. I often think that after spending close to a decade as a low voltage communications contractor that I would have been able to keep the conversations going when my sister would call me at work and the words between us quickly ran out. We had lost the ability to speak meaningfully.

Catie usually called me at work, “Hey,” she would say.

“What’s up?” I would ask.

“Oh nothing, what are you doing?”

I’m at work. What’s up?” I would ask again while wondering why she called.

“Just wanted to see what you are doing,” She would say.

“Just working.” It was about this time in the conversation where the ability to communicate would break down. It was as if she wanted me to keep the conversation going, but the absence of conversation was where it led every time. I wonder if those calls were a quiet cry for help or an attempt to push back the loneliness that she often felt trapped in. But being young, in my twenties, I was pretty selfish with my time or I just couldn’t recognize that something was broken.

I had become quite proficient at troubleshooting when lines of communication were dead, and I was good at finding paths for new lines to be installed in even the most difficult places. Maybe I chose not to hear her unspoken message. Looking back, I was drowning at that time just as she was, but the irony of having a job troubleshooting dead telephone lines and establishing new ones doesn’t escape me now.  There is not a day that goes by where I don’t give part of it to remembering my sister. I recall the times my other sisters and I had the Catie we loved to be around.

Catie wasn’t always vindictive; sometimes she was loving and fun to be around. I can remember moments with her when I was little, watching MTV in the living room with her and my other sisters. MTV was all the rage in the 1980’s and for a while in the 90’s, but that channel gave us all something to connect with. What I remember most from the ‘80s was that she always styled her hair in the fashion of Robert Smith from the Cure. She was always so influenced by music, and that I think was something she gifted to me. I can still remember watching certain videos together. One video I remember was Billy Squire’s “Rock Me Tonite,” we laughed as we made jokes about Squire’s flamboyant dancing around his make believe bedroom. I couldn’t say what it was besides the music that had a way of keeping us together and not fighting. But MTV and movies were two common areas we could all connect.

We eventually established “stupid movie night” when I was in junior high. We would go to the video rental store and rent five movies for five days for five dollars. The films were all B-rated movies with titles like: Ed and His Dead Mother, Serial Mom, and C.H.U.D.  There are no more “stupid movie nights,” and I do miss them terribly. I miss my unpredictable sister and I miss those damn phone calls where the silence my sister and I had was better than the absence that swells in the aftermath of an overdose of prescription pills.

 

By: Steven Childress