To remember you in honor
but I can’t remember your voice
Who art in heaven
I must make a confession
The eldest, a big and strong true Italian man
who we all
Looked up too
Hallowed be thy
Thy kingdom come
I’m still numb.
dropping out of high school.
To get a 9 to 5 to provide for your mini me
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Tell me this is make pretend
A smile that will warm your soul
Now seen only through photographs and memories
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespassed against us
I cringe in disgust
We want reimbursement
They took one of ours
They need to feel our pain
And lead us Not
What tempted you that day?
Why did you take him?
I can still hear the bang.
I pray for salvation
But deliver us from evil.
This evil comes back over and over
When does the salvation begin?
The holiest man I know
Thrift Store Sweater
Softly, rain falls crisply onto the asphalt pavement, hitting in a soothing rhythm. I can smell the rain through the window, somewhat misty and dramatic, and I take a deep pull of a breath, letting the air fill the space inside of my chest to heal my rotted bones. With each breath, I feel a wrenching pain, but also as time passes, the pain recesses into a shadow, torturing me from the shade of the rain fallen trees. Like a whisper, he floats towards me, wrapping his arms around me securely under the blankets, leaning his head down to rest on top of me. I smell his spicy cologne, mixed with the downy cotton soft scent of his sweater, which I picked out for him at the thrift store on the corner. He wears it every winter. The fact that we have stayed together through it all, the toughest and most brutal winters, remodeling into the kindest roses of spring with the sneakiest thorns (pollen), and here we are again at the monsoon season, when my bones scream for a rest and he just continually comforts me, holds me tight. Even when the monstrous pain inside of me turns my heart against him, he still stands tall and strong by my side.
Tears prick softly at the back of my eyes, as I grab his hand and hold it. Strangely and wonderfully, it seems like our hands were customized to fit in the other’s grasp, perfectly and snug. Slowly as not to disturb his perch on the top of my head, I look up into his cinnamon swirling eyes, gazing into them, carefully looking at his locks of hair falling into the confines of a werewolf cut, so pretty and so like him, it’s unfathomable. It’s crazy to me how we find our people, and through that, we find our true selves, or is it the other way around? A smile blooms on his lips, and he snuggles into me more. At his gentleness, my tears fall, landing on the extravagantly cozy fabric of his sweater, and when he sees my tears rolling and rolling, a few leave his eyes as well, clinging onto his long lashes.
Even though the rain is falling from our eyes, we still aim the sunniest of smiles at each other, and my broken heart is healed with gorilla glue, with a strength that will last until the day that my heart stops beating, because of him. Someone so generous, kind, and understanding, someone whose mind used the definitions of logic to dig deeper into the bottomless well of feelings, not afraid to travel down into the depths, with a headlamp and a gracious spirit, willing to hear anyone tell any story that plagues them, the secret story that is holding them down on the bottom of the ocean bed like weighted stones. We keep crying and keep smiling, still holding onto each other, our eyes speaking and communicating in a language that our tongues could never explain or replicate.
Call For Those Considering Musical Theater Degrees
On behalf of the Inscape editorial staff, we would like to sincerely apologize for initially publishing the essay below without ensuring that the students identified within the original draft consented to publication. We acknowledge the oversight in our editorial process and are making changes to ensure that a mistake like this does not happen again in the future. We would like to sincerely apologize to all those who were named in this piece and who were hurt by its content. Again, the editorial staff of Inscape recognize and take responsibility for our editorial mistake, and we will ensure that an incident like this will not happen in the future.
After consultation with Jewell’s administration about our institution’s core values, we are choosing to republish an edited version of the essay that has removed individuals’ names and with an author’s note that further contextualizes the piece. We hope that allowing readers to re-engage with the essay in this new form will foster productive conversations about the purpose and ethics of art. Though we may not all agree, we hope through the conversation this essay provokes that we can actively live out our community’s commitment to critical thinking and civil discourse.
Inscape Editorial Staff
Dr. Ruth Williams, Faculty Adviser
Under the title of creative nonfiction, it is assumed that there is some truth in what is being written. Creative nonfiction is “true” in so far as it is rooted in real, lived experience, but it is not true in the same way a piece of journalism is true. There is an “emotional truth” as opposed to a “factual truth.” In this understanding, everything I have written is true because it is rooted in my personal experience and the emotions I have felt. My experience and my perception may be different than yours, but that does not disqualify either of them from being true.
This essay was originally published with the names of individuals which was an unfortunate oversight on my part. This piece is not meant to be read as an attack on any person, student, or faculty. It is instead an emotional piece in which I chronicle my journey from a hopeful, dreaming student to someone accepting the reality in front of me. Our dreams do not always come to fruition and it is disappointing. This piece was my way of coping. I also used it to critique the world I saw both in my theatre company and in the theatre industry at large in the hopes that the critiques would be heard and then used to create a better future. I hope you enjoy this piece and I welcome further discussion and questions.
CALL FOR THOSE CONSIDERING
MUSICAL THEATRE DEGREES
People who have decided to pursue musical theatre, those whose dream is to be in theatre. Someone who was captured by the magic of seeing people on stage. Someone who finds joy in being someone they are not. For someone who made the stage their home. For someone who saw a performance so moving that they cried because nothing had made them feel such expression and emotions before. For someone who loves theatre, wholly and completely.
4 years, with an option to extend your study in master’s programs
This brand-new Musical Theatre program is looking for applicants! Midwestern State Vultures is proud to offer a B.A. in Musical Theatre, with our first class of majors graduating in 2023. Developed carefully between our theatre and music departments, this degree is comprehensive and provides students with a well-rounded education. We offer courses in theatre history, stage design, music theory, ear training, private voice lessons, and many more electives. All graduates will be present a capstone their senior year which can include producing a show or revue, all entirely student led. Our faculty is friendly and helpful with industry experience. Located 20 minutes from the lively theatre scene of Kansas City, there will be numerous opportunities for our students.
White Older Male (Voice Teacher): Will intimidate you at first. Is very caring and very helpful. Dedicates part of lesson times to checking in with how your family is and how you are. Wants to make sure you are not being overwhelmed. Offers you days off from lessons when he knows you are busy. Will become of your most trusted professors on campus. Is encouraging of your dreams and creates a safe space in his studio. Tells you the truth, always.
White Early 40s Male (Music Teacher): Can also be intimidating. Will push you to your limits, in a good way. His classes are challenging, challenging to the point of tears sometimes. Gives assignments that have you staring at sheet music until you go blind in a practice room. Will never doubt you and your abilities for a second. Becomes the reason why you stop fearing asking for help when you struggle. Shows you that you are capable of more than you think. Helps you answer questions, but never gives you the answer outright. Will never talk down to you. Wants to see you succeed. Tells you he is proud of you and how far you’ve come, all on your own. Another trusted professor.
White Middle-Aged Male (Department Director): A man who tries but is often oblivious. Not much of a backbone. Will teach your stagecraft and design classes along with single-handedly designing every main stage production. Oversees the work study crews and employs them to build the sets. His sets won’t get completed however until two days before opening, and he’ll do most of the work himself after hours. The set work is not by his choice, he just can’t seem to employ students in the department who want to work. Your academic advisor, though you’ll come into the meetings more prepared than he will be. He’ll be proud of you; he just doesn’t provide a lot of help. You’ll need to be self-sufficient to work with him.
White Early 40s Male (Stage Director): Has favorites and you probably won’t be one of them. Also teaches theatre history classes. Will never give you 100% unless it’s an exam for his class. Essays will be constantly graded as a 49/50 even when you’ve done everything right. Will like you better as an academic despite being a performance major. Other people will get 50/50, just not you. Doesn’t agree with differing opinions and makes it known. Unwilling to discipline actors. After three years you still will not be able to get a read on how he feels about you. One month neither of you will say a word to each other, the next he’ll be encouraging you to do an honor’s project with him. Perhaps one of the most confusing people you’ll ever meet.
Women: One singular adjunct professor of dance you will only encounter for the required semester of musical theatre dance you take. Other than that, she is not involved in the department, or even mentioned.
* Several Females: White, thin, mezzo-soprano or soprano. Must be pretty, able to look young, and can play an ingenue. Prefer those who will listen to directions with no questions asked. No one who pushes back, please. Be prepared to be the director's favorite and get significant roles in every show. Will also accept those who are boisterous or have lower voices if they meet most requirements.
* Plus Size Female: Will accept 1-2 plus size females. Please be ready to only play older characters or mothers. We all know ingenues are not over 150lbs. Also, you must have a higher voice. We will not be doing shows for those who are altos, despite having them in our company. If you do, then be ready to not have a role more than ensemble. But don’t be upset, after all the ensemble is the most important part of the show. Isn't that how the old saying goes?
* Men: Anyone. Literally any male. Expect to be either cast or forced to be a part of productions because there simply aren’t enough of you. Please come and audition so we can stop having to insert faculty into the show.
* Non-Binary or Trans People: Seeking purely to claim we are a diverse company. Would be best if you presented as male or female. Those who are androgynous are hard to cast. Speaking of you will not be cast well or often. May we suggest you move behind the scenes? You might be able to do more there.
Do keep in mind that musicals will only be performed every other year. So, if you’re lucky, you’ll add two shows to your resume. If you would like to perform in more musicals, maybe stick around for the summer and audition for the stage director’s off-campus, unpaid, shows, because that’s all you should be auditioning for. However, we cannot guarantee your casting nor that you will be cast in a role that reflects your status as a student/performer. Despite being an educational program, seniority and being close to graduation does not affect decisions. We are not responsible for making sure you get to perform musicals, despite it being your degree.
Be prepared to hear that this theatre company is professional despite always being on the verge of a disaster. Disregard any rumors you hear about the musical of 2020, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, when we had two weeks left and no one was memorized. Ignore any stories mentioned about how production meetings sometimes devolve into disagreements between the technical side and the director. And certainly, don’t believe that rehearsals are constantly filled with actors chatting, being disruptive, stage managers losing their mind and the director not doing anything. After all, we always manage to get the show on its feet and isn’t that more important than anything?
Disregard any rumors or murmuring from unhappy juniors. Their stories of impending disaster in the 9 to 5 rehearsal and casting room, the stage director’s favoritism, their preparatory capstone class not being planned at all, or the department having no idea about what to do with this class’s capstone projects are all just hearsay and do not reflect the standards of the program. (The standards are actually much lower)
If you work the tech side of a show and are good at it, say goodbye to being onstage. Both the Stage Director and Departmental Director will keep you off stage so you can help, despite your desire to perform. The alternative is they put you on crew and ensemble and absolutely run you ragged.
You will see your friends and freshmen get cast over you. It’s going to hurt. Don’t talk about it with them though, they won’t understand. You’ll get a sympathetic “I’m sorry” or “yeah I don’t understand why you weren’t cast” but they don’t really mean it. They’re on stage and constantly have good roles, why would they care about anyone else who doesn’t get the same opportunities they are presented with? Try and find solace with the fellow uncastables, like Morgan, who we don’t know what to do with because she doesn’t fit our ideal female performer in size or voice and will push back on decisions and directions she doesn’t agree with. Also, we might have forgotten about her while she was abroad for three months. They’ll understand you and share your anger and grief better than anyone else in the company.
Don’t ask the director why you weren’t cast. You won’t get something to help you be a better actor. Instead, he’ll say you had no character in your audition. He’ll tell you that there is no way he could have worked with you on this during rehearsals. He couldn’t take that chance on you., despite having taught you and even complimented your growth over three years of study. He will build you up by saying you were the best performer vocally, and you were technically perfect. But then he’ll drop the bomb that you were his 4th or 5th choice by the end of the night. It'll leave you crying in a practice room, not understanding what went wrong. You’ll question your choice to attend Midwestern and if the past three years been worth it. Transferring will cross your mind but it’s too late to do that. So, you’ll have to accept the fact that you are stuck in a company who does not value you as a performer or a member of the company really. It’s also a fast way to destroy your self-esteem.
Midwestern State Vultures, Department of Performing Arts. Complete your college application and then sign up for a time to audition for a scholarship. We’d love to give you a meaningless amount of money that gives you several commitments you will be contractually obliged to attend upon acceptance. Upon acceptance, please clear your entire schedule as theatre should come first. All workshops and participation in every show, on or off stage, the company produces is mandatory. There is also a chance of the department forgetting you are a scholarship student, so you’ll want to be present to remind them that you would like money. If this is not a level of commitment you want to give, then please reconsider submitting.
Direct inquiries to either Department or Stage Director. If you would like to hear from a student, please contact who we recommend. Our outreach student is employed by us and is one of our favorites. We highly discourage speaking to anyone else in the program, especially if they have an unreasonable grievance. They are the students causing issues in rifts in the program because they are trying to break the norm. They are trying to flip the department on its head by forcing us to be more diverse and fairer in our casting and play selection. Why would we do that when the broken system we have is working well for us and those who benefit from it? Is that not enough for everyone? Remember, we have the ability to control your success here, so follow our lead if you want to even have a chance of success. We prefer individuals driven by the thought of creating a perfect ideal company stay hidden, dreaming backstage.
Inside of the Mind
Living like Ants
When I was a boy, I remember a time when I stood in a sand pile. Doing nothing but enjoying my day at recess, I did not realize the lives that I started to disturb. Stings that felt like fire then rushed through the cuffs of my jeans. Next thing I know my whole lower body was filled with this feeling. My teacher tried her best to pry them away, ripping my garments off one by one. In this moment all I could do was howl in agony, wishing that the end would soon come.
Of course I was embarrassed of what my peers thought of me but I was also intrigued by the ant’s army. They moved so swiftly. Which seemed all at once. Their agenda to make sure that I felt pain for ruining their very own place of comfort. It was kind of impressive. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong end of the spectrum but from that day forward, I gained respect for them.
I became so fascinated by these ants. How can something so small inflict such pain? Wondering what was the burning sensation in them that made them so fierce. Ready to pounce on whatever that came in their way. The strength of these ants were unmatched. How were they so confident, yet so much smaller than other animals in nature? What is their general purpose? Scuffling with my curiosity, I look up the true purpose of these small creatures. They were called
“natures janitors”. The source to help keep everything clean. Underwhelmed by my discovery, I go to my mother for further answers. As a child she would tell me, “Don’t take no wooden nickels”. I never understood that innuendo but I knew that the meaning was powerful. I go to her and I ask “Momma, why are ants out here?” She looks at me and then asks me, “Did you look it
up?”. I say, “Yeah but I don’t like their definition, it has to be something else”. My mother pauses, as if she was thinking of some breathtaking words. Then with a blank look on her face, she says, “They are here to show us big folks how simple life can be.” “That’s It?, I ask, even more disappointed than before. I can’t wrap my finger around the answer I was expecting but, that certainly was not it. Nonetheless, I took her response for what It was. Although, I was far
more resilient for an understanding.
Something that I understood early as a kid was that I often felt like the black sheep. As I recall the first time in 3rd grade, when my teacher Ms. Millien, allowed us to work in groups. The classroom would break off in sporadic laughter and horse playing by the other boys as we transition into this phase. I never would comprehend how something like this was so exciting for the others. Although, as a student, I was forced to comply to the rules. In the midst of it all, there I stood, twiddling my fingers and looking around the classroom. I walk up to other students as they already seemed like they knew each other. The looks on their faces gave me the urge to
continue my search. I see a girl, and this wasn’t just any girl, but the first girl that had my heart. We never spoke, but it was because I didn’t have nothing to say to her and right now seemed like
a good time to do just that. I see her, she sees me, and we see each other. Once I get to the table, three other students pounce to the left and right of her. Instantly I felt a tremble down my spine. More warm bodies that we preparing to tarnish the mind of the girl that I loved so much (at least thought I did). As I carry on my journey, I catch Ms. Millen’s eyes looking at me. I look away quickly but realized that I had something to inform her. I walk over, innocent and shy, and I say, “Ca-Can I work by myself?” She questions me at first, “Why don’t you want to work with your peers?”. Mind blank, I just shrugged my shoulders and allowed her to think of what to do with me. Of course she didn’t let me work by myself. Something about how the activity is to help us to think more critically blah blah blah blah blah. This put me in a bad mood but, I found this occurring for the next nine years.
I’ve been a lone wolf since the day I was born. Finding myself more powerful and focused in my own company. In my heart there has always been this feeling that people aren’t fulfilling. The proof to my hypothesis were the many failed friendships and relationships that I had acquired over the years. I saw nothing wrong with this. In fact, I looked down upon others who were opposite of me. The ability to only rely on myself was the best thing ever in my eyes. Going to classes in middle school, as I would sit in silence by myself and hoping that nothing would break this occurrence. I had a niche for only speaking when I had something real important to say and that was hardly never. Sitting in circles of conversations and allowing my friends to call me a weirdo weren’t the most I was looking forward to. Dodging conversations, eating alone, and walking with my head down to avoid the awkward looks on other peoples faces. I was veering away from the trail that was left behind for me. Ultimately, not even acknowledging that it was there. I understood that there was beauty in being alone but I constantly acquired that fire sensation. Where assistance was needed to build this hill, and that hill was to make sure that all of my needs were met. I was not even realizing that my actions were biting me and they weren’t stopping until I made that leap. That leap to get out of what was hurting me. That leap of faith, and as cliché as it sounded, it was much needed. The absence of contact that was required to live in this culture was hidden behind the grips of my fingertips.
The older you get, the more life will pound you down. This argument, I feel, can be justified by the strength of numbers. It's a case of the more the merrier. At an ants peak we can infer that they are at their best when they are working with their peers. “Unlike most insects, ants live and work together in huge teams called colonies.” These colonies are responsible for their many accomplishments and their ability to live. Their selflessness sheds light on their morals. Their work ethic is unmatched and most feasible to make sure that they get the most out of their day. My mother’s words then started to make more sense.
My mother would tell me that we are a lot closer to change to than we think. She would say, “Everything in life is pretty simple, everything meaning EVERYTHING. It can be done.” I reckon we are so fixed in our own inabilities that we get stuck in this place of only thinking about ourselves. Manipulating our way to the top and stepping on others to get a better view.
What do you think of when you hear the word “Change.” For me, there are many things. I think of the “March on Washington”, “MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech”, and so much more. I think of a time when the world was more separated than it is now. The difference between black and white. Of course, there was not a big difference beside the fact that our skin colors weren’t the same. I do not believe that we would get this far if it was not for the togetherness of our people. Figures like MLK, Rosa Parks, Hosea Williams, and Huey P. Newton, just to name a few, all played an important role in making the world better for the generations to come. Instead of separating and working alone, they chose to stand up and be together on the front lines to be heard.
As I recall the time where I was ambushed by the ants, I found myself becoming more aware of the lives of these creatures. Something that was very traumatizing for a young mind like my own, turned into this big awareness of the species as a whole. From this, I also gain a bigger awareness of myself in the process. I found out that in this life there is so many things that we are allowed to learn from. This domino effect of lessons that teach us one thing after another. We must step out of the pile. Surely, it may hurt to do so but we are allowing change to present itself. Sometimes, the best things in life are the ones when we are together. Whether that is with friends, family, or your significant other. We need each other. To thrive in this life is almost impossible to do on our own. So the best thing to do is put ourselves out there, and appreciate the ones that we have.
We are canoeing and it is hot and the air is thick. I rub sandy sunscreen too close under my eyes and the skin around the outer corners of my eyes burns. Everything is painfully bright because of the ocean’s reflection of the sun. We have been canoeing all day in the Florida Everglades. We have charts with little specks of green representing tiny islands and we each have a compass attached to our life vests. Each morning we wake up with the sun to create a navigation plan with coordinates. The plans consist of scribbles that only make sense to us. There is an island called Kingston Key that we are traveling to today. It looks like a crab claw on our charts, so we refer to it as Crab Claw Island.
It’s windy today and I spent the morning softly crying as we paddled looking for a place to stop for lunch. I don’t know if it is because I am emotionally exhausted or overwhelmed. There’s an energy here and I can’t describe it. I left my phone at base camp five days ago and my mind is only on what is physically in front of me or my past is superimposed onto my reality. The Everglades is the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles coexist. It is a wetland home to 39 endangered species. Many people think that the Everglades are a swamp, but the Everglades are a series of streams and rivers surrounded by mangroves that make up a subtropical marsh. Further northwest in Ten Thousand Islands, there are seemingly ten thousand tiny islands within 35,000 acres. The water is never more than four feet deep, or so we were told. At night time, we hear dolphins pumping their tails on the seafloor, pushing themselves along the bottom of the shallow coasts to catch fish.
We’ve lived in these canoes for five days now. We camp on the island beaches in two-person, green tents. In our dry bags, we have a sleeping bag, our dry clothes, our dry shoes, and a knapsack for snacks and toiletries. I have only packed 16 articles of clothing. For each island we land on for the night, our instructor tells us a story around the campfire of the indigenous people that used to live on the southern tip of Florida. The Calusa people existed in and around the Everglades for 12,000 years. They didn’t farm. Rather, they fished and gathered. They didn’t create pottery or clay tools. Instead, they used shells for everything. They used them as bowls, utensils, hand tools, and jewelry. Sometimes when we would stop for water or a meal, we would find shells with perfect holes screwed into them, or shells shaped like spears on the island beaches. The Calusa people used shells and clay to build man-made islands called shell mounds. Mound Key is one of the few shell mounds that still exists. This shell mound is thirty feet above the bay and was believed to be a ceremonial site. It is a campground now.
Much of the land the Calusa inhabited was surrounded by mangrove trees. Mangroves have long skinny roots that stretch deep into the shorelines. They house or feed many of the species that live in the Everglades. The tree’s root system is entirely exposed because instead of being rooted in sand or dirt, the roots have to secure themselves to the ocean or river floor. They are hardy plants that keep the shorelines from eroding and protect the coasts in major storms. In the Everglades, the channels are surrounded by mangroves, creating tunnels. The spidering roots reflect off the water and the sun shimmers through past the mangrove’s thick leaves as we slowly paddle through. The shade feels so nice. My skin can breathe as it no longer feels the direct rays of the sun. I can feel specks of sunlight through the mangrove leaves twinkling on my face. The mangrove tunnels echo the sounds of our paddles slowly pulling the water around our canoes. These tunnels remind me of Celtic folklore. They say that the patron Saint of Ireland, Brigid of Kildare, was born in a door frame. Door frames and natural tunnels are passageways. They are thresholds between our world and the next. The mangrove tunnels are thresholds. They are trying to reveal something to us. Something about resilience or loyalty. They are asking us to look between their roots or between their branches, to notice their hospitality. They ask us to traverse a space unknown to us.
As we paddle, we come across a periwinkle blue roof in the middle of the bay. I feel like I am dreaming, but I am not. It is uncanny– the roof. It looks so out of place floating in the bay. The roof is perfectly intact as if it had always intended to be detached from the rest of the house, like a removable doll house roof. Our instructors tell us it has finally made it to the coast after Katrina. They had spotted the metal roof further out at sea weeks before. I wonder if the owners of that roof would find it funny or curious or sad that it is here now. I hope the new owners of the roof are birds. I hope that the islands surround the roof and take it for themselves. Or that in years from now, it no longer looks out of place and the roof is engulfed by air plants, algae, and brush.
When night falls, we tie glowsticks on the front and back of our canoes so we can follow each other's light. Just before the sun fully sets, we are far enough south of the islands that there is nothing between the sky and the sea. It is as if they are converging into one. It is a new moon tonight, and the only light is a glimmer of light pollution barely visible above the trees from the city miles away. The stars are so bright and so plentiful that they reflect on the water. As we paddle, the water glitters and glows green. There are bioluminescent algae in the water. They glow when they sense a change of pressure in the water. If we are lucky, we will see the bioluminescent jellyfish. If we are really lucky, the dolphins will follow our canoes’ bubbles.
When we get to our campsite, it is too late to pitch a tent. We sleep on our mats on the beach. We sleep under the stars between the ocean and the trees. I don’t believe that the reason I sleep so hard is solely because I am exhausted. I have never slept so deeply or dreamt so vividly, other than now.
I have found a sheet of paper with different shells and sea sponges and snails. We are going on a scavenger hunt. I find a shell with tiger stripes and I match it to the sheet: chambered nautilus. It is a spiral and it is the size of my palm. The shell sinks into my hand and my hand and the shell merge into one. I don’t like the feeling. My palm is stiff and hard like a shell.
I am sleeping in my tent and I wake up. My instructor is there and he is asking me how I slept. He has come to get me so that I can rejoin the group. He tells me that I should listen to my dreams and that someone is trying to communicate with me.
I am standing above my childhood best friend who is on the same trip, but with a different crew. She is sleeping on boards over her canoe. She is crying. I ask her how she is doing. She tells me she loves it here but that her crew argued that day. She tells me she is sorry, but I don’t know what for.
I am awake now. We leave the island after eating a breakfast of Raisin Bran with powdered milk and water. The tide has gone out and our canoes are sitting in mud two feet deep. We sludge through until the water is to our knees. The morning sun is bright and as the day progresses it gets hot, but I am at peace. This is the most beautiful place on Earth and I don’t want to leave.
When we arrive at our new campsite, our instructor announces that we are going on a low-tide walk. We are going on a scavenger hunt. She hands us information cards with pictures of low tide species. The tide that got us to shore earlier that day, has dropped off about 200 yards back. It is just barely two inches of water where the tide has gone out. We walk around and find different shells and sea sponges and snails. I do not find my shell.
In the morning, after we have spent 24 hours alone as a part of the experience, my instructor comes to wake me up. He told us he would retrieve us after the 24 hours is up. I am sleeping in my tent and I wake up. He stands 20 feet away and says good morning and he is telling me how hard of a sleeper I am. I tell him about the dream I had. He says, “I think you have prophetic dreams.”
When we finally arrive back at the base camp after the experience is over, I see my best friend. She comes up to me. “I had a dream about you,” she says. And it's incredibly strange because we believe we communicated with one another on the same night.
Celtic mystics say that Heaven and Earth are only three feet apart, but the veil between Earth and Heaven is thinner in some places. Celtic mystics believe that dreams, like doorways and natural tunnels, are a realm where the veil between our reality and the divine is thin. The Everglades is the first place where I have experienced a thin place. It is a place where I felt something so beyond understanding that I am left dumbfounded in awe.
And now that I am leaving, I am crying. I don’t want to return and I know that I am privileged to say that. My parents paid money for me to live in a tent and sleep on the ground with 16 articles of clothing on government-owned land that shouldn’t be owned. But how could I leave something so divine, only to return to a suburban hellscape with no access to a realm that has allowed me transcendence? I am crying because I do not know if I will return. I am crying because I cannot comprehend what I have just experienced.
Less than 50% of the Everglades remain compared to 100 years ago. In the 1800s, settlers tried to drain the Everglades. They believed the swamp and marshland were ugly and worthless. In the 20th century, they dredged part of the Everglades to create agricultural land. The remaining Calusa natives were pushed out of Chokoloskee Bay by settlers, and out into Ten Thousand Islands. It must have felt like they were living on the edge of the world. Chokoloskee Bay was an island, but in 1956 they built a 10-mile causeway to connect the island to Everglade City. The Everglades existed in a watershed with the Kissimmee River and the Okeechobee Lake, and Okeechobee provided the Everglades with fresh water. In the 1960s, the Herbert Hoover Dam surrounding Okeechobee lake was built. The life source of the Everglades was slackened. The Everglades are dying and they have been dying.
It has been a year since I left the Everglades.
I am in a canoe and I am alone. The Everglades has been recreated inside a warehouse. I think that I am paddling but actually my canoe is on a track and it rhythmically clinks as I travel forward. The mangrove trees are made out of plywood and crate paper. I am trying to get out, but I feel a sharp pain in my foot. The canoe stops. There are thousands of wood splinters in the soles of my feet. I am trying to pick them out and it hurts. It stings and as I pick them out, the water becomes red. The blood from my foot mixes with the water and the splinters float around me.
Some people believe that after a loved one has died, they will be visited by them in a dream. There is the possibility for resolution or a wider spiritual perspective. Some people believe that dreams should be written down in the present tense in order to resurrect details and bring the dream vision into present reality. I didn’t want to write this dream down. It feels ominous and unsettling. The dream that I have of returning to the Everglades in a warehouse feels like a strange visitation, a warning. It feels conceited to believe that I have prophetic dreams. It could very well be a coincidence. My final dream may just be a result of an overactive imagination and a guilty conscience. But how could an experience so profound and transformative mean nothing? Maybe it’s necessary to find something in what seems like nothing in order to comprehend what is beyond us. Is it really that strange to suggest that something as restorative and as intuitive as nature has the capacity to communicate with us?
The Everglades will always be meaningful to me. My body and my being crave that space. My dream symbolizes wanting to return to nature but not knowing how to do so. To me, my dream also symbolizes the anxiety surrounding the destruction of nature: the divine. I desire to escape the falseness of all of this. I hate the concrete jungle and I hate the suburbs. I hate the distance from nature in the pursuit of comfort. The production of these so-called luxuries that bring us physical comfort, distracts and destroys the divine. Earth is trying to tell us something: something about ourselves, something about humanity. These natural spaces allow us to be unsettled, to enter beyond the veil into something unknown. We need to be uncomfortable and we need to dream. We need to dream for introspection, growth, transformation, and renewal. We need to be unsettled and we need natural spaces to do so. We need nature for introspection, growth, transformation, and renewal. I want to return to the Everglades and I want the Everglades to return to us, too.
The Old Man and the Classroom
I was disappointed with being in his class at first, having hoped to get a different English teacher that I had already had for a class. Jordan chided me as we waited, he told me how coveted this teacher and his classes were by students. I waited now with renewed interest. Soon, the teacher came in, and just like that, I knew I had been wrong.
He was an old man. The only clue he would give about his age was saying “I was born in the first half of the 20th century.” He had snow colored hair and a beard, with comically large glasses and his school lanyard draped over his neck. He always dressed business-casual, khaki pants, traditional ties, and button-up shirts. He’d announce the start of class by saying “It’s another beautiful day in the valley of the grain.” He would spend the 90-minute class periods lecturing on prepositional phrases one moment and regaling us with dad jokes the next, and if we were really lucky, stories at class breakpoints. His stories were various and ranged from college days of getting into fights at football games, to teaching second-language classes at a school in China. Mr. Roberts was his name, and he’d been teaching English at Grain Valley High School for over 20 years.
GVHS is as prestigious as a public school could be. The school’s motto is “Committed to Excellence.” Indeed, from Freshman year, homeroom teachers drill holes for the future into students’ heads. College was a big talking point in our weekly “Eagle Time” meetings. I’d sit with my buddies, and we’d joke and slack off on our career day worksheet or college research assignment. We all had our classes we looked forward to, Eagle Time or not. Band, shop, theater, mine was English. I don’t think any of us realized how conducive these were of our interests. My interests were greatly expanded during my upperclassman years, since I had Mr. Roberts for three Language Arts classes, American Literature (Junior year), Creative Writing II (Senior year, first semester), and Lord of the Rings (Senior year, second semester), as well as being his Teachers Aid during senior year, first semester.
Mr. Robert’s classroom was an average sized affair, with sparse walls decorated only by a map of middle-earth from Lord of the Rings, and a poster for the movie adaptation for Of Mice and Men. He had a large desk in the corner with his computer, DVD player, books, and assorted junk. The rest of the room was packed with five rows of blue-chaired desks that made it hard to move about the room without smacking into someone. Mr. Roberts would usually start class with one of his stories before moving into silent reading and journaling. Then we would explore the class material, often from dog-eared textbooks and often minced between long-winded rants. By the end of class, we always managed to keep ahead of the curriculum, enabling Mr. Roberts to tell another story during the closing minutes before the bell. This repeated for months on end, and never got old.
For those months that melded into school years, I’d walk into Mr. Roberts class and take my seat next to one of those aforementioned buddies, Jordan, for two of those classes. He didn’t care much about English, but he loved Roberts as a teacher. Everyone did, even students that couldn’t read a billboard in broad daylight. He had a way with impressing a lesson of the written story on any class. He would use the long class period to belay on minor details, such as the importance of the Old Man winning the arm-wrestling contest at the beginning of The Old Man and The Sea. He would show student films he found on the internet enacting the short novellas we read. He would tie his random deviations with some greater meaning to what we were reading, talking about his childhood in relation to the early 20th century works, for example. He wouldn’t always do this with his jokes and stories, and a lot of times what he told us had nothing to do with anything. But it was that humor and easygoing nature that made students listen when he began talking about class material.
Even then, for American Lit at least, students were motivated by their report cards. Mr. Roberts would teach about the meaning of a text so that most kids passed, but that wasn’t good enough for him. He wanted to teach us to become lifelong readers. He was very open about his own reading habits, particularly his love for mystery stories. During independent reading time, he would read a book from the school library, a YA mystery or adventure, and he would even guide our journal entries by discerning what he read and how it connects to the deeper story and encourage to do the same. I can’t speak for the rest of my sleepy-eyed class, but I took his advice to heart. While teachers aren’t supposed to play favorites, it was apparent he enjoyed having me in his classes. He knew I wanted to be a writer, and that I loved reading. Mr. Roberts was proud to have somebody who had a devotion to reading and writing in his class. There were no English clubs, or book reading after-school activities at Grain Valley, so I don’t know how many other students had similar interests. I was just happy to be in his class.
This was all accentuated by COVID. One day everything was normal and then the next I walked into class, and everyone was huddled together in little groups conversing about school closures. I stood still for a second before my pals called me over, and we talked about the same thing. The day after that and we were all thrust into doing schoolwork from home. It was fun at first, having so little schoolwork and so much time off. But it quickly became repetitive, not seeing friends, not getting proper grades, not being challenged, or tested, and not walking into that class. The next semester was on and off. Sometimes we’d have class, sometimes we’d have Google Meets depending on staff and cases. Mr. Roberts suffered during those times, between having to work the online classrooms and share PDFs of what we normally would have been reading. I was in a funk too during that time. The whole thing just got me thinking about time and the future, and how I wasn’t prepared. Through ignorance of my own, I was now a senior and had no idea what I was to do. I didn’t know if I should go to college or get a job, and I didn’t have anyone that I felt comfortable talking about it with. My coming-of-age story was spent locked behind screens, and yet the feedback Mr. Roberts gave on my assignments still meant the world to me. I put my best effort in, but Mr. Roberts felt a lot like I did, because by senior year, he decided to retire.
But regardless, he did what he could. He would do what he could to spike our interest in reading, reciting evidence that reading for 20 minutes a day increases brain activity. He would do what he could to help students understand passages and texts. He would do what he could to liven tests and make sure students knew what to prepare for. He still enjoyed having me in class, fleeting as it was. Then finally, senior year, second semester, we came back to school full time. It wasn’t the same, and the face masks felt like a metaphor for a years’ worth of stunted development. But even being back for a final semester couldn’t turn the issue around. Mr. Roberts felt disappointed with the way his final school year turned out and confided such in his class. Jordan and I encouraged him and told him all about the difference he made in our lives after class, although we were disappointed to. Not with the class, but with our final hurrah of high school coming out more as a whimper. Senior year was a morbid time, and one where I finally decided on my future. I always enjoyed reading and writing, but only Mr. Roberts taught me how far that interest can go, how so much can be learned from so short or so long of a text. I wanted to be in his classes during COVID, I wanted them all to be in person, and I wanted them all to fuel what I finally understood was my passion. But I could only settle for a half compromise on the final note, and it was enough. Because of Mr. Roberts, who thought I was a good student of literature and should pursue it, I applied and was accepted to one college.
“English? You better marry a doctor or a lawyer or something.” Jordan said to me when I told him my major. I didn’t mind. I was sure of my course now. Mr. Roberts did what he could and ended up influencing my life and my future.
Now he’s retired, and the class of 2021 has all gone. My friends have all split, although we keep in contact. Jordan’s thinking about an apprenticeship to become an electrician. The others are in college, one wants to be a pharmacist, a musician, a computer engineer, and me. Mr. Roberts and I email back and forth every few months, I tell him about college, he retirement, in which he is comfortably substitute teaching in the Jackson County area. We all have people in our lives that we can rely on for help in troubled times. That’s if you can muster the courage to ask for help, or to recognize you even have a problem. I didn’t realize it during those early days in Mr. Roberts classes, but those experiences are what influenced my future. It’s been almost one year since I left Grain Valley High School, while I miss it, I can only appreciate what a good teacher I had, one who knew me better than I knew myself and who steered me down a path I otherwise would have neglected.
A boy sits under a blanket center stage, a journal lies closed just beside him. The blanket is light blue and looks ghostly in the dark lighting of the room. It is storming outside and curtains attached to an open window flap wildly in the wind. The boy continues to sit still, as if unable to hear the water and wind coming through the window. There’s a particularly loud thunder crash and the boy rips the blanket off of his head.
Jack: Jack shouts “ No!”
He bends forward and grabs the journal, yanking it open, and scribbling frantically onto the pages.
He begins to mutter to himself.
Jack: “House. No cottage. Trees. Cobble-stone ...clouds...dark clouds…something else something.”
The door slams open and the hallway light spills into the room. Jack startles while two hooded figures walk in.
Levi: “Geez, dude, don’t you know how to turn on a light? It looks like you’re worshiping the devil in here.”
Jack rolls his eyes
Jack: “Shut up Levi, I was trying to journal.”
The other hooded figure pulls down her hood to reveal bright green eyes and dirty blonde hair.
Sue: “Did you have another one of your visions? I heard they come worse during stormy weather.”
Levi: “Now that’s a load of horse-crap. Where did you hear that?”
Sue: Defensively “I read it in a book I got from the library.”
Levi: Sarcastically “Oooh! How to interpret your friends' wacky visions?”
Sue: “No! It was called ``The art of oracl-“
Jack: “Will you guys please quiet down. The rain is loud enough and I don’t need you two adding to it.”
Sue: “You got another headache, Jack?”
Levi: “Dude you gotta get that checked out. You could have a tumor or something. I heard about this guy who-”
Sue: “Hey, stop that! You’re gonna scare him.”
Levi: “I’m just saying. I don’t wanna be the one to say, “I told you so at his funeral.”
Sue: “He’s not gonna have a funeral and even if he did, he wouldn’t invite you.”
Levi: “Oh that’s not true, Jacky you’d invite me to your funeral wouldn’t you?”
Jack: “No, but only because if I’m dead then you’ve probably been dead for years.”
Levi: sarcastic “ah ha ha. Very funny, wise guy.”
Jack smiles smugly and Sue walks over to his journal
Sue: “What was it you saw this time?”
Jack lifts the journal so all three of them can see.
Jack: “I’m not sure. It’s a strange cottage in the middle of nowhere. It looks old, but as far as I can tell, it’s not from anywhere I’ve been before.”
Levi: “Dude that looks creepy as hell”
Sue *rolls her eyes and examines the journal. She pauses* “What’s that in the corner of the window?”
Jack: “I don’t know. I drew it in a hurry, it’s probably just a scribble.”
Levi: “No, dude, she’s right, it looks like there’s something in there.”
Jack: “It’s just a drawing, I probably did it by accident.”
Levi: “No but look. It’s got shoulders too. That couldn’t have been an accident.”
Sue: “Yeah...Look closer, the detail is nicer than the rest of the drawing. Maybe you drew it subconsciously.”
The three draw closer to the drawing crouching down to see
Jack: “What the-”
Lighting flashes. They all scream. The stage goes black.
Levi: “I’ve been doing research, there are no cabins that look like that on trip advisor.”
Sue: “You don’t look on trip advisor, moron. You have to look at historical pages.”
Levi: “Oh, and how has that been working for you, my dear Sue?”
Sue: “You haven’t found anything either, Dingbat!”
Levi: “Well Jack’s artistic ability is crap. The whole house is drawn in one color.”
Jack: “Sorry the thirty seconds I have to scribble it onto paper don’t appease your artistic desires, Levi, but what it looks like doesn’t matter anyways. I don’t think we’re gonna find it.”
Sue: “How did you describe the area again? Did you say it was woodsy? I think I found a place in Colora-”
Jack: Mildly frustrated “No! It’s not, It’s not like that...It’s not like anywhere I’ve seen... It's strange.”
Levi: Timid “Okay, but you said you only have thirty seconds. How can you be so sure it’s nowhere you’ve been before.”
Jack: “It’s not just images. I mean it is, but there’s like...like a feeling that comes with them. The places all feel different. It doesn't feel the same as it is here…”
Sue: “What do you mean by here? Like where we are right now or like...like earth?”
Jack: looking down “It’s just not...It doesn't feel like this place. The air feels different. And the wind is just...it’s hollow. I don’t know, it just feels like it’s somewhere else.”
Levi: “So what, these “visions” are coming from outer-space?”
He shakes his head and rolls his eyes
Jack: exploding “I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t know how else to explain it! The place is like here, but it’s not. It’s like earth but misconstrued.”
Sue: “Maybe it’s something parallel. That would explain why it’s like here. Maybe it is, but just... somewhere else.”
Levi: excited “I read a book about that once! About parallel universes. Maybe it’s like that! The book was all theoretical but if it was real, I mean that would explain things, wouldn’t it?”
Jack: “It doesn’t explain why I’m getting the visions. Or why they’re getting more frequent. But...it would make sense. If it were true.”
Sue: “So let’s figure it out. We need to do more research though. I think I can find some stuff in my dad’s study. Maybe he’ll-”
She pauses when she sees Jack. He is looking at the ground, face clouded with worry. Levi is watching him as well.
Sue: “Jack, what’s wrong?”
Jack: “It’s just...I feel like we’re gonna run out of time. Whatever this is, it’s getting worse. I’m losing sleep and some days I can’t eat. I feel like I’m slipping out of place sometimes.”
Levi: “Well let’s get on it then. Come on lad and lassie we’ve got work to do.”
Jack: “Where are we going?”
Levi: “Somewhere to conduct our super sophisticated research. And in peace.”
Sue: “If you take us to the movie theater again, I swear-”
Levi: “I won’t. I promise.”
He looks over at Jack, who is now rubbing his temples.
“This is for Jack.”
They exit stage to a blackout.
The stage is dark. Light shines weakly through two or three windows that have blankets taped over them. Enough light comes through that the kids can see daylight outside, however, it is hidden enough that the stage is mostly black. There are silhouettes of old objects scattered around the room and most objects have collected a thin sheet of dust. The kids enter. Levi stands center stage while Jack and Sue walk around and observe the room.
Sue: “What happened to this place?”
Levi: “After my mom left, my dad threw all of her old stuff in here. He doesn’t come down anymore, so I turned it into a little hideout.”
Sue: “This looks more like a prison to me.”
Levi: “How dare you insult my hideaway after I so graciously allowed you into my home.” He sighs dramatically and places his hand on his forehead in a pseudo-distressed manner. “I knew I shouldn’t have opened my door to these street ruffians.”
Sue laughs and rolls her eyes. A smile flitters across Jack’s face.
Jack: “What do you need a hideaway for anyways?”
Levi looks to the ground briefly before he looks back up with a smile plastered onto his face
Levi: In an old Hollywood accent “To get away from the troubles of the world, darling. To get away.”
Jack rolls his eyes but a laugh falls out anyways
Jack: “Well it’s a very nice hideout. And prison or not, it’s quiet. No one will bother us here.”
Levi: “Exactly. When you get your headaches you can come here and just sit. Or if you need a quiet place when you’re having visions. We can even lift the blankets if you need light to sketch or-”
Jack: “It’s great, Levi. Really.”
Sue, who has been scanning over the various items in the room, looks up.
Sue: “Levi, where did your mom even get all of this stuff? Everything here is at least 20 years old. Lots of it is older. Much older.”
Levi looks down
Levi: “Um...Before my mom went away, she got really into old stuff. She started going to antique stores all the time. She wanted to quit her job to refurbish the things she found. At first it was fine, but then she got obsessed. When she left, she only took a couple things with her and stuck my dad with all the rest. And now we have a basement filled with new old things.”
Sue: “I’m sorry. I didn’t know that was why-”
Levi: “It’s fine. I don’t like to talk about it. And besides my dears, we’ve got more pressing issues to worry about.”
Levi walks over to a bookshelf in the corner of the room
Levi: “In her obsession with the past, my mother acquired quite a collection of old books. Most of which are filled with stories of ancient horrors. The occult, the multiverse, demonology, christology, and everything in between. Feast your brains my friends, on the answers to our problem.”
Jack: “How exactly does this solve our problem?”
Levi: “Think about it. I’m sure there’s something in here that has the information we’re looking for.”
Sue: “Is this where you found that book? The one about parallel universes?”
Levi: “Yeah! It was wedged in one of the stacks! I think with all three of us here, we could find a lot more though.”
Sue: “We could come here for a couple hours a day and dig through the novels. I can bring like notebooks, and stuff to write on. We could get snacks! It’d be like detective work!”
Jack: “Are you sure you guys wanna spend your summer sitting in a creepy basement?”
Jack: “You know what I mean. I appreciate this a lot you guys, but I don’t wanna make you-”
Sue: “You’re not making us do anything. We want to help.”
Jack looks uncertainly at Levi
Levi: Stepping forward “I act only to serve myself and I cannot believe you would have the audacity to assume anything but.”
Jack: “Okay...Let’s get to work!”
SCENE 4 (Finale Scene)
The stage lights dim gradually as the stage opens to Levi’s basement hideout. It is dark outside so no lights come through the windows. There is light rain patting against the windows. A huddled figure is sleeping under old blankets in the corner of the room. The hideaway, otherwise, is empty. The figure coughs, before turning over and sitting up.
Sue rubs her eyes blearily and her eyes widen as she looks around the room
There is no response
Sue: “Jack where are you?”
Again there is no response and the only sound is the rain softly hitting the windows. Sue roughly pulls the rest of the blankets off of her. She starts looking around the room, moving behind old objects. She looks confused and mildly panicked. As she’s about to sit the door pushes open and Levi enters carrying a bag of Mcdonalds.
Levi: In a sing-song voice “Honey, I’m hoooo-”
Sue cuts him off
Sue: “Is Jack with you?”
Levi confused: “Why would Jack be with me?”
Sue: “Uh, he wasn’t here when I woke up. I thought he went to go find you.”
Levi: Looking panicked “Well he didn’t.”
Sue: “Maybe he’s in the bathroom or -”
Levi: “You fell asleep?”
Sue: “Yeah, Jack was reading a book and I got tired so I closed my eyes for a second. I didn’t mean to fall asleep but I didn’t think he would-”
Levi sharply: “You weren’t supposed to close your eyes. You were supposed to be watching him. How did you let him just disappear?”
Sue: “Levi it’s not my fault and besides, he probably just went home or something.”
The rain outside begins to fall heavier. Thunder begins to shake the windows lightly
Levi: “He wouldn’t have just left, he’s not like that. He would’ve left a note or something.”
Levi walks around Sue and begins to look around
Levi: “Where’s his stuff? Where did he go?”
Once again the rain begins to hit the window harder. Lightning now flashes behind the blanket-covered windows.
Sue: “I don’t know, it was all there. Everything was there when I fell asleep. I don’t know where he is.”
Levi sudden and detached: “He said he was slipping away. He said he felt like he was going somewhere else.”
Sue: “What are you talking about?”
Levi: “Remember? When we first came here. He said he felt like he was slipping away. What if he did? Why would he leave without telling us?”
Sue: “He didn’t...he couldn’t of just...he’s probably at home”
Sue’s face is gradually becoming panic-stricken. Levi looks angry. The storm is picking up. On top of thunder and lightning there is now wind.
Levi: “He’s not here, Sue. He’s gone. I don’t know where he is but he’s gone. He’s-”
Sue: “Stop saying that! He’s probably fine. He could be anywhere, it doesn’t mean he’s gone!”
The two continue to argue. Their chatter grows louder, as does the storm. Lightning is flashing non-stop. Levi and Sue begin to scream at each other. The wind builds. The sound continues to get louder until lightning strikes, seemingly right outside the house. The windows shatter. The power shuts off. Levi and Sue scream and hit the floor. A figure is now standing center stage. He screams
Jack: “THERE’S SOMETHING ELSE! THERE’S ANOTHER PLACE. I WAS THERE THERE’S SOMETHING MORE. GRAB MY HANDS. PLEASE! LEVI AND SUE GRAB MY HANDS DO IT NOW!
Sue and Levi scramble forward and clasp his hands. As they do the stage lights flicker and go dark again. The storm dies out suddenly and the only sound is light wind and rain. There is no more lightning. The lights gradually rise to full brightness. The stage is soundless and empty. This scene lingers and then blacks out. END ACT ONE