The Problem of Plaster

Darcy in England

Image Credit: Darcy Christoffersen

 

It was my first day in England and I was already bleeding.

I had just endured a 24-hour travel day that consisted of two six-hour flights, a three-hour layover in-between, a two-hour bus ride to York, and all with about four hours of sleep. I was exhausted, hungry, and I was feeling overwhelmed at being outside of the country for the first time.

And now I was bleeding. I am not entirely sure how I’d managed to injure myself after only a few hours in the country, but it had happened—most likely from me getting a papercut or hitting my finger on the edge of a door (that’s a common one). Regardless, I was bleeding and I couldn’t find a Band-Aid.

I walked up to one of the York St. John Global Guide, students at the school whose job was to help international students adjust to their time at York, and asked, “Excuse me, do you have a Band-Aid?”

She gave me a blank stare and replied, “What’s a Band-Aid?”

In my sleep-deprived brain, I stupidly replied with, “You know a Band-Aid. Like that thing that goes on your cut when you bleed to stop the bleeding.”

She and I stared at each other for a moment. Neither one of us entirely sure what the other was thinking. I literally had no idea how to describe a Band-Aid, as I had never tried before. Everyone I had ever talked to knew what it was. I turned to my best friend who was there with me to ask her how she would describe what a Band-Aid was, but before I could, the Global Guide stated, “Oh! I know what you’re talking about. But, uh-I don’t remember what it’s called.”

She then turned to another Global Guide and tried to describe to him what I wanted. He appeared confused and shook his head, so I said, “A Band-Aid?

He also stared at me, as if trying to figure out the answer from my blank stare. After our stare-down, he shrugged his shoulders and turned to another Global Guide. This time though, she knew what I was talking about.

When I said that I was looking for a Band-Aid, she said, “Oh a Plaster?”

Plaster.

What a freaking weird name to me. When I think of “plaster,” I think of an art supply, or something that is used in a DIY house project. Not something that you used to stop the blood rushing from my finger.

But that was just the beginning.

Throughout my time studying abroad, I would see many more differences between America and the United Kingdom.

For example, there was an event hosted by the Global Guides that celebrated different countries around the world. The American table hosted the game: British English vs. American English. From “trash can” to “rubbish bin,” “fries” to “chips,” or “cotton candy” to “candy floss,” it was kind of amazing to see how, although both countries speak English, some simple words could differ so much. I remember there were many times that I asked for “fries,” and the British person taking my order would automatically reply, “chips?”

I distinctly remember another time where I struggled with the differences in language. I was at a restaurant in my early days at York, and I was unsuccessfully looking, like my life depended on it, for the bathroom. I was embarrassed to ask anyone where the bathroom was (because I didn’t want to seem like a dumb American), and I figured that that it would be easy to find. I was wrong. I spent a solid five minutes walking around the restaurant, searching for the stupid bathroom.

Eventually, my need to go pee outweighed the embarrassment I felt about searching so hard to find the stupid bathroom, so I asked the waitress. She stared at me, almost like I was a puzzle that she didn’t understand, and then pointed at a door that said “WC.” At that point, I didn’t care what the words meant, I just wanted to go to the bathroom. But, I would later find out that the WC meant “Water Closet,” aka the bathroom. This proved to be another of many instances, in which I struggled to overcome the language differences between British English and American English.

And it all began with me asking for a Band-Aid and them giving me a plaster.

 

By: Darcy Christoffersen

Please Stop With the Dew and the Tulips

Image Credit: Wikicommons

Image Credit: Wikicommons

If I have to read about dew on tulips one more time, I’m gonna die.

Spring is a rough time. For all the colors, sunshine, and sexed-up emotions there’s also allergies, adjustment, and tropical cyclones. Even sexed-up emotions can be a downer if you’ve got different priorities, to speak nothing of those among us who are in that strictly anti-Vitamin D, anti-UV business. (I’m not, but I respect you)

However, more than allergies, more than cyclones, more than sunburns and cancer from space, the biggest problem I have with Spring is the way people choose to describe it. So much of what I’ve read borders on Looney Tunes-esque parody that I wonder if those chosen phrases, the mist and the daffodils and the buzzing bees and the rainbows coming in through the window are just copy/paste shorthands from a book nobody’s ever read, that takes less effort to put on a page than a noir detective does to quietly dismiss a woman’s personality. I wonder if some group of us have convinced themselves that things like this are necessary fixtures rather than potholes, something so apart from a compelling visual setting that it skips straight into anesthesia.

Equally tiring is the opposing view. The one that, despite the implicit positivity of the season, casts a glum and dismissive look at its contents. When the sunshine and tulips isn’t enough, when the rainbow and the children outside are missing the point, and we’re all ignorant for thinking goodness is rewarded and seasons are anything but cosmic drift.

One thing I learned early on in writing, but not quite early enough, was that people are looking for the story they haven’t heard, the voice that hasn’t spoken. It’s one of the most salient points I’ve ever seen about the work, one that still resonates every time I sit down at my desk to create just about anything. When it comes to spring, ask yourself:

Am I creating something brand new, weaving place and time together to really make the point of this story stick, or am I just badly quoting A Winter’s Tale again?

Or, the alternative:

Am I writing something unique and worthwhile about decaying flowers and forests or exorcising demons I have from watching Bambi too early?

Both are entirely plausible.

A season or a setting can feel entirely inconsequential, but I find that this is very rarely actually the case. Time and place are so wrapped up in story that to ignore it save for a few tacit details is to err. What it comes down to is constructing a truth that matters. You might have heard this in a writing class before this but it bears repeating: Every detail has a point, every setting breathes. Spring, for example, breathes wistful breaths.

Less heard is the follow-up: A detail is only as important as it is singular, each setting only as it is felt. There are times when I remember being so struck by a work’s environmental honesty that it alone held my attention. A Serious Man, the Coen film, did this with summer. It didn’t need heatwaves, or sweat beads wiped with a neat handkerchief, all it needed was a guy standing on his front lawn, watering his grass, squinting slightly. The characters lived it, and they did in such a way that you’re convinced it’s imagery deeply emblazoned in the creator’s minds.

So go out there and find someplace expressive. It won’t necessarily be obvious. Listen to conversations and have some yourself, occupy spaces felt deepest past the equinox, listen to the weirdest songbird in town, live the Spring that’s worth living and come back to me.

And say nothing of tulips.

By: Thomas Radke

Rewards of Empathy and New Perspectives

Image Credit: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 4.0

Image Credit: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 4.0

Perspectives are diverse and how any given person observes the world is unique and beautiful. Poetry speaks in images, theories, joy, pain, and has the ability to change views, alter beliefs, and present common threads through artistic uses of language. When we dance down enjambments and hang from impactful line breaks, we are knowingly or unknowingly engaging in a journey that serves as a social ground for souls to mingle. Let us mingle amidst words, rhythm, and images that speak many stories of who we are, but most importantly toward all that we might not see.

How does any form of literature apply to my own life or experiences? Jericho Brown’s book of poems, The New Testament, gave even more weight to this often asked question. Every time I open the cover of a book reading becomes a journey, a there and back again experience that returns me to my world with new ways to see it.  The theological explorations, allusions and themes brought forth from the Bible weave an amazing tapestry of suffering, tragedy, commonplace misperceptions, and rebirth into new understandings and ideas. We had the pleasure of having Jericho Brown visit Pacific University.

My poetry class shared good conversation and delicious sushi with Mr. Brown. His playful manner and wild laugh welcomed us all to engage with him in jokes and lively banter. Jericho Brown spent time in our classroom as well, a more serious setting where we discussed his poems, how he interacts with his own students, and his admiration of Langston Hughes and the influence Hughes has had on him and his love of poetry.

Jericho Brown had a wonderful sense of humor, but I could see his seriousness as a writer, poet, and professor; his presence and energy at the podium during his reading captivated those in attendance.  His passion for poetry and words that he gained through his time as a youth in church and library helped me see why theology and poetry should be explored in the way he examined it. I feel it was all about perspectives and new thought, as the doctrine of Science of Mind Church in which he attends might seem to encourage through the studies of life, nature, and tenants of thought in a spiritual universe. The church has connections to the essays and ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a great detail in adding the unique perspectives in The New Testament to my own.

Poetry is powerful; words hold meaning that can destroy or create, cut or heal, and show us how to see through different eyes. Empathy is one such reward that is bestowed upon its readers. Life is full of battles, and living scars us inside and out.  Those who share those scars and growing pains make living a richer experience.  Jericho Brown’s collection of poems shares many scars of racial intolerance, adversity, poverty, identity, and society. The sharing of the scars and blessings that shape a life or identity is one of the many things that make poetry one of the best ways of showing and sharing what it is to live and experience.

The voices of the speakers in Brown’s poems do not speak in hatred or animosity; the voices speak in sadness, frustration and anger. “The Interrogation,” a poem within the collection speaks through gritted teeth toward hope for change that exists within the words that speak toward truths of intolerance and fear projected by a mislead society. The poem, “Colosseum,” has images of struggle, pain, and scars outside and inside. The gladiators being fed to the lions or fighting for their lives had every day to fear; they also and every day to embrace while dealing through the pains and suffering of adversity. Brown’s words allude to life being a colosseum where all the battles are fought or lost throughout every day of living. Life is fleeting and sometimes ends all too soon, but the scars pile on while the living gets done. Poetry is the gift that is born out of how society and the world at large affect us.

The matter of society, class, race, and sexual orientation come together through many of the poems found within The New Testament. While I could not plug my own life into all the experiences in these poems, there are some that translated through empathy. One of the important rewards of reading is empathy and understanding beyond our own limited perspectives, and the poems from this collection gifted new sight beyond my own little rat race. The poetry from Jericho Brown is deep and meaningful and there is much understanding to be gained through his writing.

Jericho Brown’s website: http://www.jerichobrown.com

By: Steven Childress