Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Author: Keegan

Keegan Linnett, “Cake, the band”, 3/10/16

There is a bull flanking my right shoulder blade. I’ve leveled my plane, having reached the crest of West Bay Drive, now having made the conscious decision to literally and energetically elevate myself to this higher place. His left horn is squared to my right shoulder.  At first his glistening horn, wet from the drizzle, maneuvers its way through my fibrous muscle tissue. He enters off of my central nervous system almost intentionally as if only to make his presence known but not to cause any real damage. But he’s stronger than I am and runs faster which drives his horn down deeper, pinning me still against myself. What was once a white scream of a pinch that feels at first good becomes a swelling unending ache of a growl as my muscles make room and adapt to this foreign, two hundred and seventh bone in my body, one more than my biology was made to handle.

By now my lungs are pink taffy bound in the puller. Running with asthma is always a tight. Running with asthma is always a test.       There’s a lot of thinking I can do to arrive at the same “no” but I know now it’s worth it to follow just one “yes”. By the ninth step my mind re-learns what a rhythm is but my body never forgot. My appreciation delivers a trust in myself, knowing and remembering that my body will continue to carry me miles. I’m proud because I never thought my body would ever be something I could trust.

The airways constrict, more sticky in the puller, in my chest. I reach a point in a feeling of resentment that this is something that has been imposing on me the entire time. Its reality is in me lying motionless, caught in the act of deflation through a pinhole. Asthma is a trickster I don’t want to see. As I move more air and the road moves more me, my taffy pulls a fast one to become brittle, flake, and be blown away by the same wind that keeps the hair out of my face.

Something shifts to become thousands and thousands of shimmers of glass that break in me all at once. They have been massaged to gentle rustles by a hundred years of rumbling in the sea. Their fragility collides and I exhale, blowing them into a fine mist across the space. My material form is let go and blown away to leave a glimmering liquid of urge to be spilled out from the top only to go more upwards. I am golden across the threshold of freedom and beauty. Given to me is the leverage to finally become unstuck from a world without choice. I look and actually point out from the trailing vapor I am moving through to a place over the water. There across the bay is the most welcoming cataclysm to witness: humbling clouds born to move across the spectrum of orange and who boldly proclaim who they are. I follow away, watching myself down the path run on.

Ways down I see a wall in the path. It’s built out of the illusion of distance to a make it appear vertical. I check in. My knees that click and pop when I go up stairs are doing just fine. “This will be tough,” I hear. “Take it easy, take a breath, you’ve worked hard enough.” But my legs churn on, building up my pace ,stretching my stride like they already know the moves of the road. I start on the hill but things flatten out because my legs have known what to do the entire time. My speed slows but my legs keep moving. I’m fighting a resignation to the slant of the road and I keep myself upright and perpendicular to the neutral ground that is somewhere else right now. I keep myself upright like the earth made me to be. So much more than gravity is pulling me down but I bare my trust. Into the white and out of the mist I had set out to find and then found, I land on my porch. And she opens the door.

Keegan Linnett, “Risky Tips”, 2/28/16

On the road home there stood an establishment not much more than two shacks flanking a parking lot and a palm tree. The only seating were outdoor plastic benches or curbs and there was a tall sign with a donkey on it that stood high overhead. The frequency one ate at El Burrito Jr., LBJ’s for short, was one consideration for being a local, loc (pronounced loke) for short, of the South Bay. And at almost any time of day or night you could find friends or the friends some of your friends knew who were older and given to questionable standards of rank and worth. Friday afternoons were a habit at this hub. The Special C was two bean and cheese burritos and a drink for $5. It was also the name of an established punk band from the area. Though the menu was large with all the standard variations on standard Mexican dishes, the Special C was the only thing without question to order because their lard was darn tasty and its economy unbeatable. A side of guacamole might make an appearance if one was willing to splurge or, like my friends and I had, had a rotation for whose turn it was to buy the community guac for the group. Five friends meant five Special Cs for a total of ten burritos which was received almost instantly. LBJ’s was well aware of this order’s popularity and in the peak of the day would have a temple ten wide, four high of tinfoil wrapped burritos kept modestly under the prep counter just behind the register.

LBJ’s tip jar was a small wooden box with the word “TIPS” crudely inked on the side. The same workers were there every day and knew people’s faces and we knew when there was new staff, rare as it was. One time Dillon was caught stealing from the tip jar. That day Dillon proclaimed that there was nothing holy and there was no respect, no honorable exchange, just me and mine and those trapped in the shack. He was caught by the man behind him in line who then forced him to empty the remainder of his wallet into the box for initial reparations. His mom found out later.

The older ones who kept to the shadows as much as they did to the sunlight were closer to the workers behind the counter. They must have understood or cared some bit that helped make eating at this place as significant as it was. It was rumored that a deposit and leap of $20 in the box, by one’s own volition that is, would have you walking away with a Special C free of charge not just that once and not time and again but time to time because if that risk was taken and the offering was accepted, it was understood one would enter a place that those behind you in the same line could not find.

Keegan Linnett, Winter’s Bone, Week 8

Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone is a story written clean and poignantly that creates a world that is instantaneous and chewable. The plot is kept streamlined: a girl trying to track down her criminal dad to preserve the tattered remains of her immediate family. The setting is evocative: a unfriendly landscape whose bitter frost is found also in the personalities of its inhabitants. The structure is generous: short snapshots of one character’s encounters like journal entries told from the third person. The book does not necessarily make this a surprising narrative. Readers pretty much know everything about the story by the halfway point. This is tough living in tough society. Ree is a daring character and is almost too smart for her own good, is probably going to have a relationship with another girl, probably going to get into some sticky situations, keep pushing where there’s dangerous resistance, and her dad is almost certainly already dead. With someone this independent on a mythic and female-centric hero’s journey, the struggles, connections, and longings Ree feels come with little surprise. More so what deserves attention is gathering the image of the larger relationship between an individual and their roots all the while with Woodrell’s chilling imagery holding it all together.

Most of the book feels like a description of a dream, snow and cold that most people probably can’t imagine. Ree’s time on heavy painkillers in her prolonged state of a waking dream I can imagine is similar to what reading this book is like for real people. Winter in the Ozarks has a level of palatability that seems so low and a feeling so surreal it is difficult to imagine that people do in fact experience this kind of lifestyle. The people who are the roughest and most unsympathetic to Ree come around to help her in a way that is just as tough and remorseless whether that means taking her to important locations, granting her presence with someone, or giving her medicine. It’s not easy and rarely seems true, but in the unspoken laws that govern the characters of Winter’s Bone family and kin do count for something when it matters.

 “Maybe tonight Blond Milton’ll bring us by one to eat.”

“That could be.”

“Don’t kin ought to?”

“That’s what is always said.”

(5)

 

Telling the story from Ree’s point of view gives clear idea of the difference in perspective between the inside and out. We learn why Ree is the protagonist and what makes her different enough to shake things up so much. Even though the business of meth is already pretty shaken up, someone with the courage to start digging around for their own agenda will inevitably disrupt the tolerated balance that’s been prepared for by the unwritten laws of this land. Those who need to know do and those who don’t look the other way. Ree rides the line between abiding and stretching the established order.

Help here works in a sadistic, begrudging model of symbiosis. It may seem that the actions of most characters are either taken in self-interest or clan-interest with violence as a commonality and the cost of earning any favors is jousting successfully in the ballsy proving ground of something not limited to just masculinity but a personal dedication of mind, body, and soul. With the mind, orient it around your kin. Be willing to lay your body down for them. Evaporate your soul in the embrace of death or meth as Teardrop preached, “You got to be ready to die every day — then you got a chance.”  Neither of Ree’s parents exited successfully. Jessup had his mind and soul in the right place, promising to return with money and food, making money in the chemical kitchen. He kept his body for himself though, taking it on passionate whims. “Dad might think he had reasons to be most anywhere or do most anything, even if the reasons seemed ridiculous in the morning.” (29) And he ended swollen in the bottom of a pond for his own thoughtful reasons. Mom, as we learned, had the courage of mind at one point and managed to keep her body around but fell out of passion, afraid of death and abandoned by love and now floats in a limbo on earth being neither dead nor alive. Ree’s entire function in this book is to serve her parents even though she convulses at the thought of becoming anything like them. That is to say, Ree has dedicated herself to tradition and family even though it’s plain to see she has intentionally stepped part of the way out of it. Her fantasies of running away to join to military are not cogent enough to make her want otherwise than to locate her father, maintain her mother, and prolong the creations of those two: herself, two brothers, and the house. Ree is not admirable as a protagonist because she is  or becomes enlightened, because she does not. It is because she is determined.  She is both within and without and has crafted her position in society bravely.

In her journey and pursuit of the knowledge that will determine the future of her family, Ree has numerous encounters with mythic figures and appreciations or realizations that give her what she needs to take the next step. This book feels like a cross between Harry Potter and Twin Peaks but with a much heavier, colder infusion. The dream-like imagery and mysterious characters create fantastical and adventurous mythos that meets investigative mystery in a smalltime rural town

The rules and expectations of the community are visible in the image and ideals seen in the older characters in this book. The one and insignificant sheriff plays no role in this justice system. The personalities this community values is evident because Sonny and Harold are entering a time in their boyhood that will expose and mold them largely for the rest of their lives. Ree chooses it to be her who teaches them how to shoot, skin, and fight. She does not teach them in any way that is particularly gracious or wise, just one that is effective and practical. It is not important to think differently about the relationship to then gun but rather about the people standing with the person standing with the gun, the kin. It is important that it is Ree herself who is teaching the boys and not some maliciously guised adult or even the boys themselves.

The ideals and expectations of society members are seen in the section where Ree teaches Harold and Sonny how to skin squirrels. This is a rite of passage for something that might easily be confused with masculinity that the boys need to experience because they are boys. It is not about gender but how to survive. Ree is beginning to give them tools for the ownership of their bodies and lives. Harold is young. He is eight years old and is visibly pained to see a squirming squirrel drop bloody out of a tree onto the snow. He takes himself away from the skinning table when asked to remove the guts. Harold realizes a lot is happening right now. A life has been taken and at eight years old, all lives might still be held sacred. But there is also his own identity on the skinning board with the bloody squirrel. There is the risk of letting his fear show, which like all kids he can’t hide one bit. And then there is the factor of competition with his brother who actively wants his hand to be writhing around in the animal. Ree and Gail understand and subtly acknowledge the weight of this moment for Harold. They do not outright force him to get inside that dead fur ball but they also don’t make an excuses. Ree encourages him with the truth that “he’s got a whole bunch of stuff [he’s] goin’ to have to get over bein’ scared of… Harold, you got the sand for this, ain’t you? I’ve always known you to be such a brave little rascal” (107). After Harold is guided into the animal and realizes what he’s doing and that it’s not so terrible as he though, he joins the rank of his brother and they celebrate together running with hands bloodied.

The toughness needed for Harold to gut a squirrel is no different than the toughness Ree needed to take a beating by Mrs. Milton and her sisters. It is a matter of demonstration and code that is purposeful beyond just a display of rugged machismo. This is a point that society in Winter’s Bone operates. These certain kinds of acts are self-affirming  and group-affirming. In a community where everybody know s everyone else and most people are related, image does matter.

Keegan Linnett, “Hints”, 2/21/16

The ground rules, they established, were just that they weren’t going to drug him. Beyond just that everything else could be considered fair game with the bendable, overarching appreciation for consent. Following this ground rule worked easily enough because if one of them lost their head in a passion fit, the other of the two could bring them back to a workable rationale. To date, this dynamic had always worked but the concern still lingered in the backs of their minds that if the day came when both felt too captured by their own moaning siren song like Medusa’s own reflection, caught in the whirlwind of their own ploys, things would get quick and bad. 

More of a pressing concern than going too far was actually starting to go anywhere and doing something that wasn’t only nailed to the walls of their imaginative minds. They needed to learn how to fish and start dropping hints like lines in the water. Using bait seemed too insidious because instead of trapping him out of his own obliviousness, they’d rather him come by his own volition, swim up to some reflective lure and be shown the way in. Rubbing legs under the desks in school and inviting him out when he’s alone to get him away from his friends were all things they’d already initiated with the hope of sending a message in a bottle down a stream of the juices they wanted so badly to get flowing.

Even though they’d only known him for less than two months, they had big plans, even though they’d only be seeing him for a few more weeks until the start of summer. Who comes to a new school in April anyway? How can someone like that give the blessing of their presence to a group of unfamiliar folks for not even a dozen weeks? It, their fantasy and planning, was all rather innocent but no less pungent than the noticeable shits their heated lusting had caused in the pheromonal smells found not deep into their armpits.

Keegan Linnett, “Neighborhood Starting Gate”, 2/14/16

The closing of the door to my posterior and the first breathe to implode in me a vibrant new world is the first reminder of every crashing new day in this cul-de-sac . And there’s no rest and there’s no breathe to take that will hold me down in the way that I want it to. And the last hum of the sunrise dissipates itself as a gift to the clouds en masse.

Going to school, going on my bike, on bike fully chilled, my head bobs to the power trip substantiated in the canonized lyrics of the Wu-Tang or the fat power punk of Titus Andronicus still sounding true. Legs can float and bikes float faster.

My starting gate is the entire neighborhood because it is inconveniently partitioned by the deep ravine that separates us from the going to anywhere. It isolates a whole neighborhood, dooming it to a diagram featuring the characterizing “NO OUTLET” signs of the place. With one way both in and out, I nuzzle the familiarity of the starting gate.

The trees here are mangy and sick looking, the ones that are built strong and impenetrable but in asking too little have forgotten their own claim to lush homeland. It’s like the settling of this neighborhood was a colonization that introduced things unholy in an unnatural evolution, like houseloads of students. The malleable binaries are not enough that blend the natural and the implanted. Streets ride to dirt in subtle transitions sure enough but this only raises the question of intention or interest.

Now I have my landmarks here in my starting gate: the stone statue of a hound by the mailbox that is not stone, the fenced garden lined with prayer flags, the interior porch of the red house that used to hold an upturned bicycle but now just storage boxes into which I cannot see, the detached  garage I watched being built by two for the four weeks of December: rocks, cement, frame, and one day it materialized into existence. In fall there was the man who walked the biggest dog. At least as frequently as every other day, I saw him in never the same place. There was the familiarity between nods, but that landmark has since gone and left the tiny residual sadness of those nice things that are not very important but leave you missing them nonetheless because some small part of your cumulative happiness was shallowly burrowed there.

Keegan Linnett, “Saving My Money”, 1/30/16

So emblematic of elementary school were the agendas given to each and every student. They came out of the shrink wrap complete with a plastic spiral binding and a really neat holographic cover with an image of frog or some other specimen fidgeting across it. In the third grade the particular agenda that had been decided on for the who knows how many third graders across the country had one generally unexciting fact printed for each week. They were like a reward given to us eight year olds for pluggin’ though another week at the mill. In the system of rewards and punishments that seems to be the underpinning of primary education, this insulting compensation of a singular fact per week was the closest thing we ever saw to a reward. It was a big joke, I thought. And how could they give us only one fact a week and not think we wouldn’t ruin their whole game by just reading through them all, week after week, in the course of one average afternoon, as we surely did? Well somebody decided on one fact a week, maybe fearing one a day might inspire us kids too  much with a curiosity for the world.

One fact has remained in my memory because of its sheer ridiculousness and what I perceived then as its sinister nature. Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words. It was printed next to a cartoon of a purple hippopotamus sitting at a desk. It wasn’t so much that I was amazed that this was a real thing because I cannot deny people their righteous fears and there are stranger thing after all. What struck me was that such a word could, would exist. It is clearly made up. And don’t lecture at me that all words are made up. We all know that. But any coherent Latin roots have been overlooked for the un-whimsical novelty of this word. Hippopotamuses have no business here. Hippopotamus is not even that long of a word and its five syllables are only moderately impressive for it be elected as the most identifiable part of this Frankenstein monster. I found it to be in low taste.

My second part of contention is the villainy that must have been involved in its genesis. As if having a phobia as uncanny as this wasn’t embarrassing enough, the inability to pronounce it because its name surely falls past its defining threshold must add miles to the emotional scarring. The lesson it this: if you have an extremely uncommon ailment, prepare to be mocked and used to fool eight year olds.

 

Keegan Linnett, “Compassion and Companionship” in Tokyo Story

It is possible to count an exhaustive list of the various meanings and representations woven into  Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 masterpiece, Tokyo Story. At the same time, this film’s portrayal of the implications in the unspoken familial contracts of tradition, responsibility, and compassion are all reducible to a simple, masterful expression of domestic life. The title Tokyo Story is hardly representative of what this film actually shows. Almost entirely set indoors with all the action in the film being the subtleties of the interrelations between family members of both blood and marriage, this film could have taken place anywhere. Tokyo itself is quite irrelevant  to the plot besides the city itself acting as a symbol for contemporary life with its new list of priorities that feature a responsibility shift towards economy and away from the family.

It is within this juxtaposition and the negotiation of it between tradition and modernity that the terms of companionship, loyalty, and expectation must be worked. Noriko’s tenderness towards all is a reflection of truth in the value of selflessness. Her compassion becomes the crux of contention in the film, standing out from the self-serving motives of the other characters. Companionship can be seen as a derivative of compassion that is a sustaining force for the happiness of the characters. The quality of companionship that the Koichi and Fumiko share is it one that is incompatible with alcohol and other false stocks like the success of one’s children. Without a sense of compassion, when one’s faculties are given over to economy, that enchanting hierarchical structure devoid of any familial satisfaction, what is left is a susceptibility to passivity and disappointment.

Entering Noriko’s apartment for the first time is the most significant introduction to her hospitality that goes beyond just being a good hostess. This scene establishes her as a character apart from the rest. A single room, her apartment conveys her humble priorities. Even though that small room might be all she can afford from the salary of her clerical desk job, never does she allude to wanting any self-serving material gains. She is content with what she has with the exception that she wishes she could offer her two guests, her in-laws Koichi and Fumiko, more. Somehow, by reasons never addressed by the film, Noriko has managed to maintain a functional life philosophy based on serving others. The only other person in the film who rivals Noriko’s hospitality is her next door neighbor that provides her with sake, food, and cups, the material items she needs but does not own herself in order to provide for her guests.

Paper fans are prevalent throughout this film and are being waved by any given number of characters in any given scene: in the living room, at dinner, in bed, in conversation, in solitude, in the evening, in the morning.  It must really be hot in Tokyo. So often are characters fanning themselves, sometimes desperately, sometimes casually. But it is almost exclusively Noriko who does not fan herself but rather fans Koichi and Fumiko. The scene in Noriko’s apartment ends with her fanning the old couple as they eat the food she has ordered for them . It creates a feeling of solidarity among the three of them. The scene that immediately follows is of Shige and her husband lounging right next to one another, each fanning themselves with their own fan as they plot to ship their parents away to Atami. They could not seem more distant from each other despite their literal immediate proximity. And they could not seem more different than the loving trio that was just on screen. The same fanning happens in both scenes but it is the intention behind who is fanning who that makes the difference.

Noriko does not reciprocate the same attitude of service, respect, and love to herself though. Despite her late husband dying eight years prior in the war, and despite still being youthful and attractive, she does not have the confidence to think that she could still be a potential mate for some young bachelor. She constantly denies any praise given to her and, given her level of self-esteem, must really be confused why anybody likes to spend time with her at all. She does not recognize her qualities that set her apart from the other characters in this film. Noriko is the definitive representation of compassion, never once wavering from her position of self-less care.

The strength of Koichi and Fumiko’s relationship is visibly displayed during this scene. They move in tandem, simultaneously rotating around a picture of their deceased son. Their speech is complementary, often saying the same things in different ways. And, as Ozu’s 90 degree shots promote, they sit, one on each side of the table, surrounding Noriko. Koichi and Fumiko are shown as a single entity. Their companionship is what gives them strength and they are affirmed by the gentleness and appreciation they share.

As wholesome and firm as this relationship seems to be, it is not unbreakable. Even before Fumiko’s death, cracks start to appear in their bond, most notably with the introduction of alcohol to the story. One third of the way through the film, sake makes an appearance and maintains its presence throughout. It is unabashedly displayed in the scenes where Koichi gets sloshed with his obstreperous friends and when the young bachelors enjoy themselves at the spa. It is also shown subtly like becoming a routine at meals and being slipped into anecdotal dialogue between characters. Once Koichi drinks up at Noriko’s apartment for the first time, his and Fumiko’s relationship seems only to deteriorate from that point, ending eventually in a total severance with her death.

After Noriko’s, they are sent to Atami where the first signs of Fumiko’s weakness are revealed. As they sit on the cement break wall by the ocean, Koichi stand up to leave and begins to walk away but Fumiko is seen left on her hands and knees trying follow Koichi but cannot. They have fallen out of the harmony of complementarily. They are no longer one.  As both Koichi and Fumiko gather their strength from one another and their mutual companionship, a weakness within one is a weakness to the other.

After they leave Atami, the two are never seen together again for another forty minutes of the movie. They join again when the whole family is shown waiting in that grimy, throbbing Tokyo train station to see them off.  This train station is an awful place and one would hope that Koichi and Fumiko’s reunion would be somewhere more endearing. She’s not dead yet, after all. No one is happy here, the goals of coming to Tokyo seem unfulfilled, and there is a pang of disappointment in knowing certain expectations now cannot be met. This is their last trip to Tokyo and everyone knows it and Fumiko dies shortly after. It is with the sake that the degradation of this relationship begins. Prior to its introduction, even though they are practically on house arrest and what little they’ve seen of Tokyo is unexciting, the couple have each other and were able to exist in their own world with their own means to happiness. Whether or not Ozu intended alcohol to represent a force that empowers egoism, the muse of the young, while destroying anything wholesome, alcohol is noticeably present in this film and draws attention to its relationship with the characters.

From Noriko’s hospitality, she may be the only character who gains something truly valuable. By contrast, Shige, at the submissiveness of her siblings, acquires some nice possessions of her newly deceased mother whose body is probably not even cold yet, but aside from that her change is nonexistent. It is Noriko who achieves a true catharsis by the end of the film when Koichi gives her Fumiko’s old pocket watch. Finally, Noriko receives something more than just flimsy, though genuine, formalities for her unconditional kindness. This is something she can feel. Finally, it is Noriko who is the one saying thank you. It is here that her endless self-imposed sense of duty towards others is rationalized for herself. She can stop all of her efforts and let her guard down. For once her proper composure is lost. She sobs into her hands as tears flow with this internal reconciliation taking place and just revels in the feeling of gratitude knowing that somebody loves her with the same tenderness that she expends everyday of her life.

Even though the plot of this film is insignificant, its beauty lies in the minutia. The tedium of it may be hard to watch for viewers accustomed to more plot driven narratives. Even still, there is something heartwarming and satisfying about it all. The style of this movie can be likened to poetry; it takes the everyday and gives it a sense of profundity so that the reader may find beauty in the common experiences of life.

 

Keegan Linnett, “How the Living Room Died “, 1/24/16

A room needs to be lived in to survive. Etymologies aside, most especially is this the case with the living room. It is the modern hearth of the house where we keep our living shrines: the television, the fireplace, the family photos, the company of loved ones.

The living room in my house is dark and quiet now. It sits just to the right of the front door but lies distant and crippled, resigned because of us. We don’t use this room anymore. In fact, it was the same person who once inspired life in this room also came, however unintentionally, to stamp our its smoldering potential as a hub of our disjointed house. 

She first moved in as a subletter of an upstairs bedroom. Well actually all of the bedrooms are upstairs. But with her, among the many other things (things!) she brought that found a home of their own in the garage, came a cushy love seat, the kind that almost east you up entirely. It’s so over stuffed that in my mind I am a kitten and it is a bear.  She also brought a few hours of unanimous motivation that swept through our bodies and rooms to actually take pride in the shape of this house. In other words, we cleaned. We arranged and rearranged. Ship-shaping. 

And so our living room came together and swelled with people and joy. This room alive, so too it seemed was the entire house and its residents. 

Returning from Winter Break, I found what looked like a blanket fort for adults that had colonized the back corners of the living room. In an architectural amputation of sorts, the living room was split in two. The housemate-on-hiatus had returned and Ms. Subletter began occupation in the blanket lair with nails freshly hammered into the plaster.

Half of the living room remains but it has not been the same. Half of a room. Not the same. To do what it does, a room relies so dependently on its space and the peoples’ relationship to it. 

What was once just blooming became so cold and so barren almost overnight. Neglect found a home. Us residents found seclusion in the sterility of our own rooms where there is now flow from you to me.

A room lies silent in our house, maybe only to find a wandering soul now and again. But for what? Our living room is dead.

 

Keegan Linnett, “Only What I See”, 1/17/16

Jesse gets out in 17 days. More than a head taller than me and twice as wide, at first glance he’s an intimidating figure. But even then he’s surprising subtle, easily falls to the background of a room . His lisp and glossy big eyes help put people at ease. He draws and makes beautiful color designs with pen and highlighter. He skates and has broken more than a few bones (and is going to the doctor this week to see about his recovering shoulder that still pops when it moves.) Despite being so big he can do a headstand as part of his yoga routine. I’ve been volunteering with incarcerated youth for about ten weeks and before Jessie, never had I met one of the youth so driven for their future or open about their past. Even though much of his adolescence has been taken by foster homes and correctional institutions, Jessie isn’t resentful, he’s just done, hanging on for 17 more days.

The group home where he’s spending the last of his sentence houses other incarcerated youth nearing the end of their sentences. The group home has special privileges like the absence of a uniform and the ability to leave during the day so they can actually get a job and earn more than the 50 cents an hour wages in the prisons. Residency here is awarded for good behavior. But even still, there’s a constant in and out of residents. Many get sent back to the prison. Some get caught with contraband, usually a bit of marijuana. Some just run away. One can only imagine the seasons why, so close to getting out. It’s like a whole new level of self harm and deprecation so common in this part of life, maybe. Within the penal system or not, one finds a way with the means they have. 

Jessie and I spend our Wednesday nights playing Magic The Gathering. It’s reminiscent for me, a regular enjoyment for him. Other kids sometimes wander over and mess with our scorekeeping dice or ask answerless questions just to see what will happen. Jessie is gracious though. He asks if they want to play though he knows they really couldn’t care. Jessie doesn’t get upset about kids trying to denounce a “nerd game” that he collects. He’s seen it before. He’s done with this. 

Having not asked at all, as one is supposed to do in order to respect boundaries, Jessie is incredibly open with me. But I know it’s more because of him than it is me. I over hear him telling other people too. It would be easy to make the judgment that a guy who’s been in and out of institutions his whole life, been locked up, is just pining for some attention. But still, there’s something in his eyes that fountain authenticity. It’s almost like he’s doing me a favor and yet his pride is still yet to be seen.

Jessie is a great people person but that’s really all I know about him. I don’t know if he’ll do the  things he holds for his future and carry himself on his own or not. I believe he will but how can I really know the mind of another?

 

Keegan Linnett, “Land Unknown”, 1/7/15

The cobblestone  and brick-laid roads were the first thing I noticed that gave me the feeling I was now participating in an adventure. They felt real, not like some easily distinguishable recreated town in Disneyland but a real tangibility felt in the chilled air and my disorientation. Tattoo parlors, record stores, and bars seemed to be the only establishments harboring life inside, apparently each with their own dress code. Google Maps seemed only to get me more lost in these hills, through damp alleys and sharp hairpin turns. Getting to the bus station was proving more difficult than my phone could communicate.

Had I been there in the daytime, the cold, consumer-industrial façade of this place would not have been able to hide under the cover of darkness; I would not have been so enchanted that my excitement drove me past my fear. (I would later come to see this town for what it was with its highway overpasses and immense interior shopping centers that actually served as named roads and a throughway for pedestrians.) Fortunately I was shielded from those concrete images and able to maintain my magical air and wide-eyed ardor.

“Do you know where the 538 bus comes?” I asked a unassociated (dissociated) string of locals, one after another as each one in the shuffling procession left me with no more than a shrug as they disappeared into a smoke cloud pluming from their own blue mouths.

I had made it, after navigating throngs of these northern denizens on one of the microcosmic road-malls with many quadruplets of suzzball teens, finally to the station. But I was too late and had missed the last and only bus to my country-road destination. In a moment of divine deliberation I was just able to board the second-best that would at least (or really, at most) take me halfway to where I needed to go.

I got off at the correct stop after more than a few moments of apprehensive uncertainty regarding my location. I knew not where I was, but my direction was clear: eight miles down the road. Boots were made for walking.

Winter time in England is the land of lonesome darkness, or just a four o’clock sunset, depending on your mood. Though it was only six-thirty, I might as well have been paused in a void of night. Down the road I walked, with its muddy banks and thorny trees with eyelevel branches waiting for a union. My dinky headlight set to flash when I saw the faraway country drivers careening over the hills of this hair-width country road. Otherwise: lost in the stillness, the darkness, the stars, the chills, and the thought. Found in the land unknown.

© 2023 Eye of the Story
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

Log inUp ↑