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Moving Pictures: Men, Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live

By Entertainment, Featured

a person sitting on steps with a mask on. The mask depicts a feminine face with blonde hair and red lips. There is another person out of focus, seeming to walk toward the sitting person with their back to the camera.

Photo still from “Men” provided by A24.

“Men” is such a weird movie that, during one of the film’s most disturbing shots, someone a few rows behind me took out their phone to take a flash photo and I wasn’t even mad. I respected them for it, for their brazenness, for their courage, for their knowledge that they would not be able to convince anyone in their lives that this was a real shot from a movie without pictorial evidence.

To say that “Men” pushes the boundaries would be an understatement. “Men” finds the tiniest slit in the boundary and slides through it, disappearing in the crevice to give birth to the bizarre. If you think I’m being too obvious here, then boy oh boy, you are not ready for what “Men” has in store for you.

Because despite its obtuse literal narrative, “Men” beats you over the head with its themes and imagery. There’s the Garden of Eden, the rib taken from Adam, Original Sin, the siren’s call, pregnancy, birth, rebirth, and rebirth yet again. And beyond that, there is yonic imagery abound. Yonic, a word that I had to look up knowing that whatever this movie was, it was definitively not phallic. 

Though its imagery is direct, it’s not lazy. Alex Garland, writer and director of “Men,” is incredibly imaginative, almost disturbingly so. What was familiar becomes unsettling, whether it be the body, the trees, the face of a young schoolboy. No film has tapped so directly into my unconscious discomfort since the first time I saw Ridley Scott’s “Alien” when I was nine years old at a sleepover.

And that’s just one half of the movie. Because if I had to sum up “Men” with only one word (and I wasn’t allowed to say Men), the word would be “uncanny.” This movie is caught between the real and the unreal, situating the viewer and our protagonist, Jessie Buckler as Harper, in the spaces of overlap. There are the deeply unsettling visuals of surreality, of freakishness. But surrounding that is Harper’s very real experiences with misogyny.

Buckley’s Harper is shell-shocked with grief, determined to heal and recover in a country house, a rural retreat from her home in London. But Harper can’t escape the ever-present threat of maleness, embodied in multiple ways by Rory Kinnear, playing the titular Men. Kinnear’s performance, much to his credit, is not limited by his “function” within the narrative. Yes, every character he plays is a symbol of some form of misogyny, be it micro or macro. But behind those characters seem to be full worlds, not empty archetypes. Kinnear finds the humanity, as much as there is to be found, in these characters, never making them feel like mere functions or envoys for a message from Garland. 

If anything, these characters are more horrifying than most of the film’s more conventional horror elements. Because with the unreal, Garland deliberately defuses the supernatural. Though they’re eerie and disconcerting, they also feel distant. They’re far away from us, unlike the tenseness between Harper and any of Kinnear’s counterparts. These moments feel more dangerous than anything else in the movie, which is saying something considering its levels of supernatural violence. 

Which raises the question: Who is this movie for? Let’s assume that’s a valid question. That for a movie to be made, it has to be for someone. That is an intense fallacy, that misunderstands the purpose of art, and also would stop us from getting all sorts of delightful weird cascades like “The Green Knight,” or “Enemy,” or really, most of A24’s oeuvre. But let’s ignore that it’s a rubbish question, and instead try to answer it. Who is a movie that is dreadfully accurate about misogyny and its replication for? Is it for people who experience misogyny, women who have to endure the realities of this movie daily? Or is it for people who don’t understand misogyny yet and need a naked man clad in leaves to make it clear? 

As I said, this is a flawed hypothetical question. But it was something I couldn’t stop thinking about, as Harper crawled on the kitchen floor away from an intruder, supernatural or otherwise. And it’s something I am thinking while writing this review about how much I enjoyed the body horror, the tenseness, the performances in this weird, weird, weird movie, that I don’t think I would recommend to many of the women in my life.

Because though it’s ostensibly a movie about the female experience with misogyny, it is primarily a movie about men: their failings, their projected insecurities, and their privilege. It’s about generations of misogyny, passed down through tradition, unchallenged and unimpeded. It manifests with a touch on the thigh, an insistence on using Missus, instead of Miss, or just a simple leer. Because though the unreal is unsettling, it is the real that is deeply horrifying in “Men.” It’s a disturbing movie that seeps into your brain like the moss on the side of a tree. 

Myle Yan Tay (MFAW 2023) cares a lot about movies and comic books. One day, maybe they will care about him.

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I Thought FOMO Was A Myth – And Then My Favorite Designer Closed Her Brand

By Arts & Culture

Model and designer Alexa Chung. Courtesy of Alexa Chung.

 

At the naive age of 15, I came across a Twitter post referencing fashion designer and model Alexa Chung’s 2013 book, “It,” as the “manifesto for aspiring it girls.” 

Two days later, I found myself in the back corner of a Barnes & Noble clarifying to an employee that I was searching for an autobiography, not a 500-page horror novel (because a girl dressed in a plaid skirt, red turtleneck, and handmade black beret would look like she reads books about murderous clowns feeding on children for fun). Unknowing to me the book would provide a window into a stylish reality from the multi-faceted woman, where denim dresses and ballet flats were best paired with an undeniable aesthetic of NYC party glam. I wanted to soak up every bit of this book that I could, wishing I had experienced its reign on the internet four years prior. For me, who had been connected to style this intensely only once before, Alexa Chung seemed to stand for a generation of girls with a timeless bond to fashion.

For nearly twenty years, Chung has set trends for young women that hang off her every outfit. Her Peter Pan collars and boyfriend sweater musings have been replicated en masse, turning unexpected pieces into highly coveted assets in your closet. Her grasp on the industry had proven unbreakable, and it was only a matter of time until a line of her own had manifested.

My excitement for fashion and my newest role model found the ultimate middle ground when her eponymous line launched in May 2017. Lush with hand-drawn designs, references to cult mementos like “The Shining” and the Sex Pistols, and romantic prose following the garment’s price in lieu of a mundane description of an item. “I just made things that I was missing or that interested me. I don’t know how else to do it,” Chung said to The Wall Street Journal.

The brand maintained contemporary aesthetics that fit a largely feminine and conservative silhouette, including Glasto-ready Barbour collections I promised my dad, and silk sleepwear that reminded me of my mom. There was just so much to be enamored with, so much that I wanted and was keen to get my hands on. 

Barbour by ALEXACHUNG.

It’s been a little over two months since Chung announced that she was closing the doors of her line. The brand’s obituary was the first thing I saw when I opened up Instagram that morning. “It was beyond an honour to be able to create my dream wardrobe, and I would like to thank our wonderful customers for the love you sent our way — you have great taste” wrote the now ex-creative director underneath a bittersweet montage of some of her personal moments shared with the company.

Before the announcement, I believed “fear of missing out” (FOMO) was just a myth.

Call it whatever you want; divine timing, alignment, or the equivalent. If it is meant for you, and if the universe wills it, it’s yours. These mantras were a reminder that every time I skipped a party, I knew I could go to a much cooler one and have more fun that wouldn’t incapacitate me. When I would oversleep the breakfast hour on a day they offered sausage patties, my day went on the same way. I would just wait a week, and get it on a fresher, warmer hour. Missing out never fazed me, because there isn’t much to miss.

Again, I believed FOMO was a myth created to subvert hesitancy.

Well, that’s what I thought. There were so many Chung pieces I wanted, even putting money aside to later invest with. Timelessly charming clothes that I would have worn for the rest of my life, forever locked away on an Instagram wishlist. Ever since the brand announced its closure, numerous resale shops have received pieces soon to be considered “RARE ALEXACHUNG.” Every day, I’m checking to see if the ‘Barbs’ bow pumps and the ‘Grace’ or ‘Duchy’ striped dresses are listed on TheRealReal or Vestiaire. 

Luckily, I was able to snag a navy blue horse sweater during a limited restock last fall. It’s now a staple in my weekly ensembles. My selfies folder can tell you that I wear it probably two times a week. 

This kind of news casted a remorseful weight over my morning. After imposing my grief on my Instagram Close Friends story for a few hours, concluding with a repost of the ‘Coralie Crochet Cardigan’ off the company’s account and a heartbroken ‘sorry guys i’m so fucked over this.’ I asked my mom to describe her favorite elements of Chung’s style within and outside of the brand. In response to a screenshot of the ‘Big Fleur’ Intarsia Sweater, she interprets “The 3 C’s – casual, comfy, cozy. I’m in my mid 40’s but I think I can get away with this.”

There was something for everyone, often photographed in dreamy editorials and contemporary, pop culture ingrained campaigns. Now, there’s an Alexa-sized hole in my heart and in my closet, and I keep questioning what went wrong with the brand.

Alexa Chung by Lily Bertrand-Webb.

After the brand’s first ready-to-wear collection hit the runway in 2017, fans of Chung and industry mavens watched the personality-sentient line hit red carpets, Hollywood, and off the shoulders of several high-profilers. All you need to know is that the big three could be seen out and about with a piece: Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, and the designer in question. Even Jennifer Lawrence could be seen wearing the Checked Double-breasted coat in Adam McKay’s film “Don’t Look Up.

The label’s success lasted for as long, and as little, as it did because of its roots in celebrity culture. With her history as a TV presenter and “it girl” notoriety, someone as connected and naturally chic as Chung created quite the following for herself. Droves of young women who had grown up idolizing Chung and manipulated their wardrobes to resemble hers had been very animated about the line, yet unsurprised the endeavor had finally been established.

In turn, attention from copious fashion editors and PR lists has given her name the Midas touch. Everything with her name on it sounds more stylish, doesn’t it? With a name that has become synonymous with a resume of trendsetting and turning mundane products into overnight bestsellers, a large inventory of the company’s apparel had escaped out of the price range of her predominantly young following.

But is this entirely her fault?

Though Chung had been the creative director of her namesake brand, she wasn’t the head designer, let alone managing the business aspects of the company. Edwin Bodson, the brand’s managing director, had outlined the brand as “high contemporary” during its launch. Having a few shows during London Fashion Week, and even a coveted on-schedule show during Paris Fashion Week, hopes for the brand’s financial success had been very high, with a roster of luxury stockists like Net-A-Porter, Bergdorf Goodman, and Mytheresa ready for international retail. Peter Dubens, Chung’s main backer, had invested personal wealth into the brand back in August 2021, a year following reports of financial loss due to an ill-fated consequence of a pandemic. Despite all of this, customers were quick to pick up on the high-valued prices that came with the products

After hosting Netflix’s “Next In Fashion” alongside Tan France, which premiered at the end of January in 2020, any projected income that came in conjunction with the show’s promotion of the brand fell through a month and a half later after COVID-19 hit.

It’s been questioned if she had done a collaboration with a less well-known and affordable company that profits would have increased. And where she doesn’t plan on writing off a further career in fashion — “my enthusiasm for fashion remains undimmed,” Chung said — her transatlantic style has proven amiable for nearly two decades, and I would guarantee a few more. I have no doubt that she will one day be appointed as the creative director for another contemporary, amiably dainty brand like Prada or more collaborations with Madewell, but the optimist in me is hoping that the “Sign up to receive the latest news from Alexa Chung” email link on the semi-defunct website might foreshadow a potential comeback for the brand.

In the meantime, I’ll be bitterly daydreaming about eloping in some European countryside wearing the Phoenix satin midi dress once I can find it listed somewhere.

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Student Spotlight: Ish Lipman

By Photo Essay

 

Ish Lipman in his studio.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Gini Lee: Hi Ish, please briefly introduce yourself and your work.

Ish Lipman: My name is Ish, I was born in San Francisco and I grew up in Los Angeles. Both of my parents are artists and filmmakers, so I grew up in an artistic environment. I started out in photography and then eventually switched my focus over to painting.

GL: Do you feel like your photography experiences have influenced you as an artist?

IL: Definitely. Photography gave me the opportunity to study composition and taught me a certain amount of patience. It allowed me to investigate space that existed in an external world before I was able to explore a more inner reality through painting.

“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.”

Ish Lipman talking about his painting.

GL: What are your influences on you and your work?

IL: I often look at early Renaissance paintings, specifically painters like Sasseta and Giotto. I also love the work of Flourine Stethimer, Matthew Wong, Gertrude Abercrombie. Most recently I have been looking at Albert Pinkham Ryder’s paintings. Outside of painting I admire Maya Derin and Michelangelo Antonioni. Most of the work I am drawn to often revolves around mystical/mysterious landscapes.

GL: What is your work about and what are the issues and concerns that influence your work?

IL: My paintings often aim to explore the feeling of being in a dream and passing through a landscape or environment that is vast. Most of the time my own dreams prevent me from exploring these landscapes but I often wake up with a sense of longing to explore the mystery of these landscapes. Painting allows me to sit with these experiences without the need to come to a specific conclusion. Although I am interested in the dream state I see the paintings as more of psychological landscapes that exist in between waking and sleeping.

Ish Lipman’s preliminary drawing for his piece Below The Tower in the exhibition Seasons Creep.

GL: What does your usual working process look like?

IL: I find that if I settle on a specific working method it eventually leads to a dead end. With that said, sometimes I will make a drawing that I translate to the canvas and sometimes I paint directly without a preconceived idea.

I often feel like painting is similar to asking questions that have no solid answers. Something happens over the repetition of the question that pushes the paintings forward and this is what continually draws me back to the canvas.

Ish Lipman (MFA 2022) is a student in the painting department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His MFA thesis show is happening from May 14-22 at 33 E. Washington Gallery. For more information, visit www.ishlipman.com.

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A Glimpse of Crit Week

By Photo Essay

Painting pieces by Latifa Alajlan. Latifia is a Kuwaiti women artist whose work focuses on responding to the current social and political issues in the Middle East. She uses paint, graphite, and linen.

Paintings by Latifa Alajlan. Latifia is a Kuwaiti women artist whose work focuses on responding to the current social and political issues in the middle east. She uses paint, graphite, and linen. Photo by Natalie Olivia Plata.

Collage pieces for research by Eleanor Lusciatti. Three collages depicting images relating to the climate crisis. The collages are framed in 11x14 frames using photos, plastic, and dried moss.

Collage pieces for research by Eleanor Lusciatti. Three collages depicting images relating to the climate crisis. The collages are framed in 11 x 14 frames using photos, plastic, and dried moss. Photo by Natalie Olivia Plata.

Painting piece by S.H Kim “Prepare for Battle!” 66 x 110 inches and 55 x 106 inches. Made with oil, oil stick, and oil pastel on canvas.

Painting by S.H Kim “Prepare for Battle!” 66 x 110 inches and 55 x 106 inches. Made with oil, oil stick, and oil pastel on canvas. Photo by Natalie Olivia Plata.

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Vegan with Benefits

By Featured, News

A white contour spread of foods on a black table cloth.

Illustration by Ketaki Kulkarni.

The last time I ever ate meat I was very inebriated sitting in the backseat of my friend’s car on our way home from a Britney Spears concert. Rolling through a McDonald’s drive thru off the highway, I ordered my last supper of 10 chicken McNuggets, french fries, and a large chocolate milkshake.

Fast forward to today, and I’ve been a vegetarian for over a decade. The catalyst of my vegetarian transformation was a project for AP Environmental Studies, where we researched a lifestyle change that would positively impact the environment. For my research, I read books about the inhumanity and brokenness of our food system, including unsustainable land use practices. Claudia Tam for Earth.org writes that global farmland use could be reduced by 75% if everyone in the world adopted a vegan diet. According to Ann Lowrey for the Atlantic, “Food production counts for roughly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and limiting global warming will be impossible without significant changes to how the world eats.”

The people who are most likely to pay the price of climate change are typically the most marginalized and have contributed the least GHG. Tam points out in her article that millions of Indigenous People have been displaced because of Amazon deforestation “to clear land for grazing animals and their feed.” Similarly. Rachel Massey of the Global Development and Environment Issue discusses similar trends in her report on Environmental Justice: “Low-income communities and minority ethnic groups often bear the most severe consequences of environmental degradation and pollution.”

After learning the beefy truth, I gave up red meat and then graduated to poultry and fish. Within two years, I had quit meat cold turkey. (Pun intended.) However, I still ate animal products such as dairy, butter, and eggs. I couldn’t imagine brunch without an omelet and I had an illicit relationship with late-night cheese pizza. If goat cheese was involved, I wanted in.

My full transition to veganism took me about 10 years. I usually refer to my current dietary ideology as “Vegan With Benefits:” I eat vegan most of the time, but if I need to eat animal products for convenience or because I’m really craving something, I allow myself to be flexible. I’m a vegan in the sheets, vegetarian in the streets, if you will. Naming this flexibility is important, because the word “vegan” can be intimidating. When people find out that I don’t consume animal products, they treat me like I’m trying to indoctrinate them into a joyless, butter-free cult, or they are afraid they might turn into a head of lettuce if we make eye contact.

A lot of the “fear” and hesitation surrounding veganism is largely due to militant veganism. Organizations like PETA use animosity and controversiality to preach an all-or-nothing approach to a greener diet. This version of vegan activism seeks to shame, guilt, and villainize anyone who still consumes animal products under any circumstances. PETA has used a cornucopia of questionable practices to spread their message, including making claims that dairy products cause autism, producing fatphobic marketing campaigns, and comparing animal cruelty to the Holocaust. Arguably one of the more offensive PETA moments occurred in 2015 when they tweeted, “The best #Thanksgiving meals are the ones no one had to die for [wink emoji] #Thanksliving.”

PETA’s blatant disregard for the oppression of Indigenous People in the U.S. is a perfect example of the big pieces that are missing from our conversations about veganism, land use, environmentalism, or all of the above. As Raphael Miller outlines in their essay, “It’s Time We Decolonized White Veganism,” the loudest voices in the vegan community are often those that dominate conventional discourse: White, cis-gender, able-bodied, thin, and affluent. When most people picture a vegan, they likely imagine a waifish blonde woman carrying a yoga mat around Whole Foods and side-eyeing the hotdogs in your basket. She self-righteously declares that consuming animals is cruel and inhumane while she drinks green juice.

This trope is a hyperbole, but also sometimes scarily accurate portrayal of, white veganism: The centering of white supremacy in conversations about veganism. Focusing on this narrative erases BIPOC identities and histories within the vegan community; it neglects to acknowledge environmental justice; it denies the realities of who has unlimited access to food and who doesn’t; and it is culturally appropriative and insensitive. If the vegan community wants to encourage everyone to adopt a more meat-free lifestyle, we first need to address the way that food is distributed in our society. Adopting a completely vegan lifestyle is not possible for people who live in food deserts or can’t afford to purchase fresh produce or vegan ingredients.

For the record, eating meat has not caused the problems persistent in our world food system or the climate crisis. The Lakota People’s Law Project points out that Indigenous Nations hunted animals for centuries without harming the environment, focusing on only taking what was needed to sustain themselves and their communities. Jonathan Safron Foer acknowledges this in his book “Eating Animals,” citing that many cultural traditions include consuming meat and the idea that we must collectively banish these practices is obtuse. The practice we must banish is factory farming and its progenitors: corporate greed and capitalism. Instead of alienation, vegans should invite people in with the core values we claim to preach: kindness, compassion, and conservation.

I’ve had many friends share their personal flirtation with veganism, but also confess they “couldn’t give up steak, or cheese, or fill-in-the-blank.” The thing is, I think you don’t have to give up animal products entirely to make environmentally conscious choices. Whether your favorite food is BBQ short ribs or you also prefer “rabbit food” like me, it is possible to alter your eating habits if you want to without succumbing to all-or-nothing thinking. Campaigns like Meatless Monday are a much more accessible, attainable, and inclusive message regarding plant-based eating: In my opinion, the world eating less meat produced or farmed in an ethical way is a step in the right direction.

So go ahead and call yourself “Vegan with Benefits” if you want. I promise I won’t accuse you of plagiarism: You can have your vegan food and eat butter too.

***

If you’re interested in eating more plant-based food around the city of Chicago, I’ve provided a list below that will hopefully inspire you to eat a little more sustainably in the future.

Loving Vegan Café | Uptown: This cute little café has the best buddha bowls you’ll ever eat in your life.

Bloom | Wicker Park: New and getting lots of hype recently.

Kitchen 17 | Logan Square: Famous for their vegan deep dish pizza but I personally think their “wings” and desserts take the cake.

Chicago Diner | Boystown, Logan Square: Get the spicy “chik’n” sandwich. Thank me later.

Blue Sushi | Lincoln Park: Sushi is the pre-vegan food I miss the most, so I nearly cried when I tried their vegan “spicy tuna roll.”

Penelope’s Vegan Taqueria | River North: Proof that manifestation is real because I have been begging the universe to send a great vegan restaurant to my neighborhood.

Handlebar | Wicker Park: BRUNCH! BRUNCH! BRUNCH, BRUNCH, BRUNCH, BRUNCH,
BRUNCH! EVERYBODY! (To the tune of Lil Jon’s “Shots,” please and thank you.)

ALTHEA | Streeterville: If you’ve binged “Bad Vegan” you’ll recognize the same Mathew Kenney. Fancy with a capital F. Delicious with a capital D.

Soul Veg City | Grand Crossing: Southern soul food with a juice bar and local art exhibits.

B’Gabs Vegan Scratch Kitchen | Hyde Park: Creative vegan options, juices, and smoothies.

Jamisen Paustian (MAATC 2024) colors more than most adults, but she rarely stays inside the lines. @jamis3n

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Node Living in Chicago

By News

A city skyline has an underground network.

Illustration by Shijing Li.

In 1960 “The Image of the City” by Kevin Lynch was released. This book, like many at the time, sought to reevaluate the ideas by which we had been constructing cities for the past century. Lynch’s specific contribution took note of the way people form mental maps. He posited that people build their image of a city around five things: districts (such as Cook County or The Loop), edges (such as the Chicago River or the Chicago city limits), landmarks (such as Cloud Gate or Wrigley Field), paths (such as Lake Shore Dr. or the Blue Line), and nodes (the epicenters of action in a city where people amass all on their way to do different things). 

The concept and use of nodes has evolved in the last sixty years. A large part of this has come from network theory and the widespread use of computers, but its application reaches into nearly every scientific field. In the world of urban planning, node living has cemented itself as a primary concept over the past few decades. This is when everything we need from housing, jobs, entertainment, and access to food is centralized. Before, nodes would typically arise in neighborhoods forming from zoning prescriptions that allowed businesses to meet the needs of clients in a close vicinity. Today, however, we are seeing the rise of large-scale mixed-use developments. These are buildings and complexes that contain residential living, office space, retail fronts, entertainment spaces, dining options, grocery stores, open communal spaces such as parks or pavilions, and easy access to transportation. 

These mixed-use developments have been proposed and advertised as a new, more environmentally friendly way of living. But it should be noted that the living accommodations at complexes of this sort are always luxury apartments, and often these nodes exist with a certain tax bracket in mind for their clientele. The environmental impact is not what people are paying for. Above all, people pay for convenience: a way of life where every want and necessity is within reach. 

I spoke with Jill Riddell, an author who also helps write governmental policy, has multiple delightful podcasts, and teaches in the MFA writing program here at SAIC. Jill pointed out to me that the luxury housing of today is the affordable housing of tomorrow. I like this notion. The idea is dreamy.

I live in Block 37, one of these mixed-use nodes. It opened in June 2016 and in the six years since has already been outdone by buildings such as One Bennet Park, or Lincoln Yards which is currently being constructed. But it’s still hard for me to see a future where the Marquee Apartments, the residential portion of Block 37, is anything but a luxury apartment building. The location — the land, the physical space — of my apartment building holds a value that outweighs all the amenities it can provide. 

Without needing a coat, even in Chicago’s harshest weather, I can get to Evanston and O’Hare Airport on the blue or red lines, not to mention the pedway system that runs through the basement of Block 37 to the millennium park train station. If I don’t leave the building, I can go rock climbing, go to a gym, a pool, a spa, a movie theater, an indoor golf course, a whole mall, and several restaurants. Securing a piece of land like this means that the owners control a central point of access for the Chicago residents. The foot traffic that passes through Block 37 alone is incredibly valuable to control. Morguard and CIM, the companies who own Block 37, have used the space to make money as all real estate speculators do. 

With such a secure hold on a central location and a steady stream of renters, what could shift the rent of Marquee Apartments to become more affordable?  A drop in rent could happen; it has happened in the past (Block 37 was leveled during the 80’s in the name of urban renewal), but it would take a major shift in the city. A shift akin to the building of The New Hudson Yards in New York, where real estate mogul Stephen Ross quite literally attempted to shift the center of New York City to his new mixed-use node built over the MTA transit terminal in Hell’s Kitchen. A project of this magnitude is in fact under construction in Chicago: Lincoln Yards. 

Lincoln Yards, which is being built by the real estate company Sterling Bay, aims to create a new downtown for Chicago. It is a colossal eighteen-acre mixed-use development with everything a resident could possibly need. It will take a massive number of resources to create. In doing so it will allow us to increase density, possibly shave off some fossil-fuel use, create new jobs, and attract commerce to Chicago, social and otherwise. But if Lincoln Yards is to become the affordable housing of tomorrow, will it mean that our capitalist society must create new, more luxurious and impressive mixed-use nodes to attract those wealthy few who live in Lincoln Yards today? 

Jill and I discussed our views of the future. I think we could both agree that the current systems in place prey on our weaknesses, pleasures, and instincts to create a world where people make money off one another. In doing this we secure and accumulate resources like land, commodities, and wealth. To change our society from one where new development after new development must be created, it will take a massive shift in both culture and consciousness. It’ll mean a sharing of responsibility in order to maintain and dedicate ourselves to what we already have. It will require work from all of us to manifest a world where we share what we own to create a sustainable life where we can peacefully prosper together.

In the overwhelming communication of the internet, sharing information you think others should know is important; it can begin collective action, but the system can only be changed from the ground, on a local scale. This is not simply about land use but about the overarching structures in which we exist and land use is merely exploited. We need to fund organizations doing work we want to continue, go to our local beat meetings where we can push against the police state one block at a time, and to fight gentrification and the toxicity of the urban renewal cycle we need to get to know our local alderman and make our way to city hall where our voice can be one in 65 instead of one in 6500. 

If this sounds unsexy, that’s because it is, but these actions are how real change occurs. “If every city dealt with their own contribution to our climate problem,” Jill said, “there would be no need for federal policy.” Think about the massive change that would occur if responsibility for local and global issues was not just shared but worked by every individual. Jill told me the Riddell family has a saying, “get up, dress up, show up.” It’s only through this mentality that the future of land use and resources can be anything but grim. 

Most of us at this school have an incredible capacity to create things. This is a skill that many people will pay for. But the systems we become a part of are the impact we make, and regardless of our intentions, the effect is what lasts and matters. As creators, our responsibility is to find out where the materials we purchase come from, how they are extracted, how they are disposed of, and how the workers are treated. We need to create with reuse in mind and make choices in our creative process that will have lasting effects we want to see. We cannot simply think we fixed a problem by attaching a solution, if the system that created that problem remains unaltered. We must solve problems by taking into account as many variables as possible; nothing we do exists in a vacuum, and we can no longer afford to look at problems in their simplest form, only accounting for the factors directly affected by our choices. The indirectly affected consists of everything, and only through accounting for these larger systems of cause and effect can our solutions be helpful to all of us. This work is no small task, but if done thoughtfully by all of us, it can change the way everything works, bringing about better systems.

I want to ask you to try something. When you form your mental map of the city, when you examine our built environment, evaluate it on the same basis we should be evaluating our own work by. When you go to get dinner somewhere in Lincoln Yards, or your local node, think about what these spaces are telling you, but also think about what it took to get here, what they are hiding, what is not considered, and contemplate critically your place in their impact on the world. If we can all do this and actually show up where we can have an impact, we have a chance of using our land to help everyone, not just those who own it.

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Everything We Have

By Featured, News, Photo, Photo Essay

Ken Dunn explains how he’s able to keep his recycling trucks running by salvaging donated materials. These tubes will be used to repair the truck’s hydraulics.

Ken Dunn explains how he’s able to keep his recycling trucks running by salvaging donated materials. These tubes will be used to repair the truck’s hydraulics. Photos by Lillian Heredia.

The fate of the discarded is the obsession of Ken Dunn, owner and operator of the Resource Center, a warehouse on Chicago’s South Side that is a labyrinth of semitrailers and towering pallets. Contained within are uncontested materials salvaged on the premise of discovering value in the rejects, the surplus, and the waste. Items from the Resource Center are present in works of many Chicago-based artists, including Dan Peterman and Theaster Gates, both of whom have purchased materials from the Resource Center (in case you ever wondered where Gates gets his firehoses).

Dunn’s work emanates from what he describes as a formative experience with climate collapse
during his childhood. When he was 3 years old, Dunn’s family purchased land in Kansas in a part of the plains where the once-fertile soil had turned to sand as a result of short-sighted farming practices, which ultimately led to the Dust Bowl disaster of the 1930s. A grassroots campaign to reintroduce organic matter back into the soil was an ongoing struggle, and given the enduring legacy of the Great Depression, required extreme resourcefulness and ingenuity. Dunn described this process as “trash farming.” Farmers basically scavenged anything organic and tilled it into the topsoil.

Dunn has since devoted his life to understanding and cultivating sustainable societies, a practice that initially took shape at the University of Chicago. Upon completion of a graduate degree from the Ideas and Methods Department, Dunn began teaching within the university’s Human Being and Citizen Program. Though Dunn believed in the essence of the department, he lamented the university’s tendency toward isolationism, especially with regard to its neighbors to the south. He has refocused his energies within BIPOC disadvantaged communities, accumulating and redistributing what he calls “unchallenged resources” as a strategy for social progress.

Dunn’s activism, though focused, spills over into many arenas. He’s currently developing a program called the Sustainable Nutrition Institute, which strives to intercept and redistribute the 600 tons of food items arriving daily in Chicago that do not meet industry freshness standards, yet are still consumable. Dunn believes nutrition and community are intimately intertwined and represent the key to a sustainable future. “Let’s not all just sit back and wait for the politicians and industries to start it, because they’ll mess it up,” Dunn told me. “Every student now should be preparing to avert this crisis. Every discipline is needed.” We can only assume artists are included.

A pile of degrading industrial tubing changes color as the coating deteriorates.

Semi-truck trailers densely packed together in the Resource Center. Some areas of the warehouse’s roof have caved in, encouraging plant life to grow among the stores of materials.

Many portions of the Resource Center’s roof have caved in, leaving the interior exposed to the outside weather conditions. On a rainy day, deep puddles form on the floor.

Chairs that were once used in a school are arranged on a pallet. A sign signaling their removal is still attached.

Many pallets holding boxes of salvaged materials are still wrapped in plastic from their original location.

One corner of the Resource Center where the roof is completely gone. Grass and trees have begun to grow up around the debris that litters the floor.

Ken Dunn, owner and operator of the Resource Center sifts through a pile searching for the hydraulic parts to repair one of the many recycling trucks his program runs.

Two plastic patio chairs sit in an otherwise unoccupied area in the Resource Center.

One of many pallets of boxes containing takeout bags from a restaurant that closed down during the pandemic. The Resource Center has absorbed a range of materials from the dining industry that was hit hard by the pandemic.

A young tree sits beneath a patch of sky created by the crumbling architecture of the Resource Center.

A stack of old school desks sits atop a pallet in the Resource Center. There is evidence of prolonged use including scribbled names and peeling stickers.

A single white sheets drapes over the various contents of a pallet in the Resource Center’s warehouse.

Dirty paw prints climb the side of an old sofa. Raccoon tracks are a common sight in the Resource Center.

An enormous industrial-grade cylindrical plastic container sits on its side in the Resource Center.


Multiple rows of salvaged glass windowpanes still in their protective wooden crates.

Lillian Heredia (BFA 2024) is only sure about being unsure.

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Through the Gloom and Bloom

By Photo Essay

A snowy cityscape.

Photos by Natia Ser.

Waking up to blankets of snow during the city’s most freezing months is nothing out of the ordinary.

A close up of twigs in snow.

A walk to campus means battling past troops of snow.

Snowy benches outside the 280 building.

As winter nears its end, the sheets of white bid their final goodbyes, making space for earth to inhale their first breath of fresh air.

Very occasionally, we find ourselves drowned in pouring rain.

People's legs walking in rain.

People scurry past, feet squishing against the cold, wet grounds. Complaints are muttered. They regret not bringing an umbrella until they realize it’s pointless either way, because the wind will make sure you’re pierced from all directions possible.

Water bouncing up from the sidewalk.

But it’s also amid this chaos that we get to watch water angels dance on the floor.

You know spring is near when the sky puts on a jacket of blue.

Slowly and tenderly, buds peep out from the tips of branches.

Nothing marks the height of spring more than cherry blossoms at full bloom.

As the heat embraces us, don’t forget to behold the caramelized skies that linger till 8 p.m. Relish the brief but golden summer days paired with warm gusts that remind us we aren’t crowned the Windy City for no reason.

Close your eyes, take it in—before the first piece of snow touches the ground again.

Natia Ser (BFA 2023) is a crazy cat lady who takes photos, writes and bakes. She snoozed her alarm 9 times this morning.

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The Reek of Bubbly Creek

By Featured, News

Photo by Teddie Bernard.

It was one of the first hot days of Chicago spring, the kind of day that gives you a taste of summer humidity, when I had my first encounter with Bubbly Creek. The air was thick and muggy, and my roommate and I were looking for off-campus housing in the Bridgeport area.

Walking down 35th Street, we passed the Bridgeport Art Center and came to a bridge over a small stretch of river. A horrible stench radiated for a block on either side. As we walked past the PepsiCo warehouses, the putrid scent stayed in our noses, dense and unpleasant.

We moved into one of those apartments and walks down that stretch of 35th became more common. As the summer continued, the stench remained and I found myself biking down that road, breathing hard, but keeping my mask on in the hopes I could slow the smell, if only a little.

To my surprise, the stench stayed during winter. It would be months before I learned that this waterway was Bubbly Creek, a particularly infamous part of the Chicago riverway system. I had heard of Bubbly Creek before — in a U.S. history class. Then, it seemed far away, a place consigned to textbooks. Not a place where 21st century people lived.

What is Bubbly Creek? Bubbly Creek is the name for a branch of the Chicago River technically called the South Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River. The creek became incredibly polluted at the turn of the 20th century when the meatpacking industry set up shop on its southern bank. The Union Stock Yards stored livestock prior to butchering and processing. From the point of view of national food distribution, the Stock Yards were revolutionary. At its peak, Union provided 82% of the domestic meat consumed in the United States. But with such an operation came a great cost to the environment surrounding it. Slaughterhouses in the Stock Yard would dump animal waste directly into the creek, using it as a sewer. In his 1902 novel “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair wrote of Bubbly Creek: “Bubbly Creek is an arm of the Chicago River, and forms the southern boundary of the yards: all the drainage of the square mile of packing houses empties into it, so that it is really a great open sewer a hundred or two feet wide.”

Almost all of the natural ecosystem surrounding the creek died. Discarded animal parts created methane gas in the water. Compounding the pollution of the creek is the way the Chicago River was engineered to flow in reverse.

When Chicago was first becoming the city we know it as today, a clear issue started to arise. The wastewater produced by the residents of Chicago was being poured directly into Lake Michigan — the source of drinking water for the residents. In 1887 a plan was put into action to reverse the direction of the Chicago River. From 1892 to 1922 the construction began with water officially diverting into the constructed channels in 1900. Instead of flowing into Lake Michigan, the river was tamed and tricked into flowing away from the lake.

For Bubbly Creek, this means that water no longer flows in and out. Instead, the water in Bubbly Creek sits and stews, stagnant. Bubbly Creek doesn’t just suffer from centuries old waste. An oil spill in 2017 along with heavy rainfall leading to sewage overflow have both been problems in recent years. Efforts by residential groups have put the creek in undoubtedly better shape than it was one hundred years ago. But will it ever be clean?

How would that happen?

The U.S Army Corps proposed a plan for cleaning Bubbly Creek. In order to deal with the muck, they will spread layers of sand and rocks across the bottom of the creek as a cap. The plan also includes planting natural vegetation alongside the creek in more shallow water. These changes, amongst others, will hopefully lend to cleaner waterways and return of more wildlife to the area.

Part of the problem the Army Corps has run into when trying to clean Bubbly Creek is the potential liability they could face from the Environmental Protection Agency. If the EPA claims that Bubbly Creek is acceptable but contaminations are found in the creek while the Army Corps is cleaning it out, their organization could be found responsible for putting those toxins there.

Despite the fact that it’s common knowledge those toxins are already there, the Army Corps doesn’t want to take the risk of being held legally and financially responsible for the preexisting damage to the creek when all it is trying to do is clean it. The two organizations have been in a standstill about this for the last few years.

Nowadays, the creek is surrounded by a combination of industrial warehouses and neighborhoods. The Union Stock Yards were demolished in the 1970s. Trees and houses face parts of the creek. Rowing clubs take advantage of the waterways within their neighborhood. Residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the creek love Bubbly Creek and they have for years.

Yes, the creek has a history of pollution and abuse that has led to it being a waterway that is generally looked down upon and seen as the butt of the joke. But there’s nothing funny about how the residents of the community really care about the creek and hope to see it restored to something that will act as a symbol of pride rather than a scar of history.

The stench on 35th, a combination of the methane-polluted creek and industrial facilities surrounding it, may never completely go away. The kind of damage done will never completely heal. But Bubbly Creek’s past shouldn’t prevent us from embracing a future, a future with cleaner waterways and more natural vegetation for people to enjoy.

Teddie Bernard (BFA 2023) is the Comics Editor at F Newsmagazine. They have never had a Pepsi.

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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book?

By Literature

book bans, mississippi public library

Illustration by Ketaki Kulkarni

In Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” books are outlawed and are burned by “firemen.” But this isn’t just the stuff of fiction.

Why is anyone so threatened by a book? Toni Morrison (whose first novel “The Bluest Eye” was recently banned by the school district in Wentzville, Missouri) called efforts to ban “Huckleberry Finn” (a book that initially enraged her) as “a purist, yet elementary kind of censorship designed to appease adults rather than educate children.” Even Fahrenheit 451, an ongoing best seller published in 1953, has ironically (but perhaps not unexpectedly) faced censorship as well. 

It’s not just school districts banning books, either. Earlier this year, Gene McGee, Mayor of Ridgeland, Mississippi, refused to release funds to the city’s public library. According to a report by local NBC affiliate WLBT, this was because of the presence of books with LGBTQ+ characters and themes. Initially, in an interview with the Mississippi Free Press, McGee admitted he withheld funds, despite previously approving them and despite not knowing whether he had authority over the board of aldermen to do it, because of “displays of sexual, whatever you want to call it, content.” Based upon this Ridgeland Board of Aldermen meeting, it is clear that “sexual content” is code for LGBTQ+. Now the city has asserted a contract dispute while also issuing a public statement that reads, in part: “The Board of Aldermen has not withheld, is not withholding, and will not withhold money because of any books in the library system.”

That’s right: the city is raising a contract dispute not only after anonymous  complaints about LGBTQ+ books but also after previously approving the funding in its budget. Were the mayor and the board of aldermen asleep at the wheel? 

Book bans may be as routine as complaints about weather. “A week never goes by without someone attempting to ban books,” says Kevin Goldberg, First Amendment Specialist at the Freedom Forum (a nonpartisan 501(c)3 dedicated to educating the public on the First Amendment). “They are also becoming more and more absurd.” Goldberg noted attempted bans of children’s books about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. 

Tonja Johnson, Executive Director of the Madison County Public Library (of which the Ridgeland library is a part), says book bans “tend to ebb and flow with the social issues and political or religious discourse dominating the landscape.” According to the American Library Association, a majority of attempted bans are for books “centered on issues of race, gender, and sexuality.”

But why ban these books? Goldberg sees this as part of the culture wars: some parents want to teach their children what they believe and, when they don’t feel in control, they overreact. It’s fear, according to Johnson: “fear of ideas that are different from our own, that push us outside of our comfort zone and challenge us to reevaluate ourselves and how we see others.  And I think because books have the power to show us something inside ourselves or in others, it’s exactly why it should be up to the individual to decide what is right and appropriate for their needs and their family’s needs.” 

This is why we have the First Amendment, says Goldberg. It “protects us from unreasonable intrusion by the government into what we say, express, read, not say, not read, not express.” Fundamental to our ability to self-govern, it allows us freedom “to express ourselves at our most basic level: music we listen to, shows we watch, movies, books, art.” It allows discussion of every issue and forces people to reevaluate their beliefs. Books geared to LGBTQ students are an important part of this purpose: “They need to be able to express themselves and remain a part of the debate, not just with the government and advocating for their rights, but informing all of us what it means to be LGBTQ.” Access to those books is important.

Free speech is preferred over regulation, “knowing we’ll be exposed to things we may not want to hear,” and, according to Goldberg, the First Amendment says we need that exposure. Still, it doesn’t mean “no law.” Goldberg summarizes it this way: “IF the government tries to regulate speech, it must be exceptionally narrow so that all protected speech can occur.” Basically, it’s okay to regulate “when the government has a compelling interest and the way it’s done is narrowly tailored to meet that need. So that you prevent that harm and nothing more.” Does this mean a book can be regulated? According to Goldberg: 

Even if you can find a compelling interest to limit access to a book in a public library (let’s say it’s inappropriate for kids), banning the book is way too broad and not narrowly tailored. Moving it to another section could be problematic. No children are the same, so age-based cutoffs will be hard because it’s vague to say what’s inappropriate. More importantly, view-point discrimination is almost always going to violate the First  Amendment. For example, not allowing ‘pro-LGBTQ’ books and allowing ‘anti-LGTBQ’ books will never advance a compelling government interest.

With such strong protections, do bans reflect a lack of understanding or a lack of concern for the First Amendment? Goldberg thinks it’s both. He’s seen situations where folks didn’t understand (like how the First Amendment impacts the internet), but, sometimes, they don’t care. Political officials “don’t expect to be challenged, especially in smaller towns and particularly with book bans in schools. Mayors don’t expect folks to stand up.” This is exactly when we need the First Amendment: to counter the government and combat peer pressure.

It may be possible that Mayor McGee and his constituents simply don’t care: they want the books removed. In response to a query by this FNews writer, the mayor’s office provided nothing more than the Board of Alderman statement referenced above. Although declining to comment on the current dispute, Johnson describes libraries “as a place of community where everyone is welcome to learn, work and share ideas.” In this communal space, Johnson sees the value of libraries every day: “children who fall in love with stories, job seekers learning new skills and building resumes, students completing homework or taking online classes, and patrons of all ages using the library as a place of education, entertainment, culture and community.”  

Jason McCarty, Executive Director of Capital City Pride in Mississippi, echoes this view of libraries as safe spaces, particularly for queer youth: “if they don’t have a loving family, they can go there after school and maybe along the way they read a book with a character similar to them, which lets them ask questions. When a child reads a book that provokes thought, it’s powerful.”

But the First Amendment is not just about a specific book or work. Censorship is a threat to everyone. The First Amendment is about the lives it helps, the minds it fosters. It’s inherently important for creatives, whether they create art through music, books, dance, film, on a canvas or a wheel, or some other medium. Some basic concepts every creative should know:

  • The First Amendment protects against unreasonable government intrusion. It comes into play when any government official or body is attempting to control or restrict access to certain types of speech or content. 
  • The First Amendment doesn’t mean there can be “no law.” When faced with censorship, ask two questions: 1) what is the government’s compelling interest? and 2) is the regulation narrow enough? Does it exclude speech (or prevent other people from speaking) outside of that compelling interest?
  • It’s about more than the artist and the work. Advocate for First Amendment rights – yours and of others. Know the greater connection in play: it’s about the benefit to all of society.

For additional resources: 

If you’re curious, here’s a partial list of the books in the dispute between the Mayor of Ridgeland and the Ridgeland Public Library:

  • “Toby Wears a Tutu” by Lori Starling
  • “Bling Blaine” by Rob Sanders
  • “What Are Your Words?” by Katherine Locke
  • “My Shadow Is Pink” by Scott Stuart
  • “Granddad’s Camper” by H. Woodgate
  • “The Queer Bible” edited by Jack Guiness

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The Job of the Writer

By Literature

Brandy Wilson, Ashley Jones, Jill Riddell, how to make money as a writer

Illustration by Anna Cai

“You’ll never make a living as a writer.”

“How will you support yourself?”

“Good luck making money.”

Sound familiar? Writers are well-accustomed to questions and warnings of a life of destitution, no insurance, no retirement, and always starving. But perhaps these tales of economic doom and gloom are simply another verse in Chicken Little’s overly dramatic proclamation that the sky is falling. Absent a trust fund or lottery ticket success of an international best seller, how do writers make a living? What ways have writers found to support themselves financially while also pursuing their craft? We spoke to three different writers to ask them how to nurture a practice while also being able to pay the bills.

Brandy Wilson 

Wilson teaches at The Mississippi University for Women (“The W”) and juggles life as a newly single parent. Wilson’s 2014 novel “The Palace Blues,” from Spinsters Ink, was named a Lambda Literary Award Finalist in Lesbian Fiction.

I chose university teaching for two reasons: 1. the flexible schedule would, in theory, allow me time to write, and 2. teaching craft and literature fuels my writing and creativity. I really enjoy artists and intellectuals, as well as art and knowledge or the search for knowledge. I love delving into literature, exploring what is possible, from a craft and analytical standpoint. All of this fuels my creativity, my zest for life, you might even say.

While the second reason is still true, I’ve often been in positions in academia that place more demands on my time and energy, particularly my creative energy, than I anticipated and leave little room for writing, or at least writing while also creating a work/life balance. Life wins. Work wins. I need to change this and am exploring how. In the last few years, I’ve struggled with attempts to carve out space for my writing. As a recently single mother, coming out of a pandemic (hopefully), and a commuter faculty member, there is only so much of me to go around.

Very few tenure-track positions offer the coveted 2/2 load (2 classes per semester), especially to beginning writers who need it most. There are writers out there who still manage to write with 4/4 or even 5/5 loads (plus all of the other academic duties). I am not one of them.

When I think I don’t have enough time, I am reminded of Frank O’Hara who jotted down poems on napkins in any spare moment he had while working full time at MoMA. As one critic noted, he turned the necessity of his job into a poetic experience because he was compelled to write. I aspire to this practice. Every piece starts somewhere.

Ashley M. Jones 

Jones teaches at the Alabama School of the Arts and is the youngest and first black Poet Laureate of Alabama. Jones’s third book “Reparations Now!” — a collection of poetry published by HubCity Writers Project — was released in 2021.

I was always told that I can’t make money as a poet. I CAN: I just had to figure out how. Everything I do as a writer (even my nonprofit work) can lead to a paid opportunity. One of my MFA professors advised us to always say yes first; I can always say no later. I don’t know where it will lead, who will be in the audience, or what results it may have. Initially, I’d prepared myself to adjunct like my classmates, but an opportunity arose to work in a public, grant-funded, magnet specialty school. My other career is being a writer. Initially, that didn’t pay much although now it’s a viable second job. 

Sometimes it feels weird to attach a monetary value to something like art. Some of what I do [as a writer] is free, because it turns into something else. Although I was paid a small amount to read at the Decatur Book Festival, I didn’t know that the poetry editor from Oxford American was in the audience. After that reading, they solicited my poems and paid to publish four. What I eventually learned is to charge a speaking fee. People were never really forthcoming when I was emerging: it’s like a big secret. 

I started to use a rubric based upon the number of published books and ask for travel and lodging. So, for example, if I use $1,000 per book and have three published books, then my base fee would be $3,000 plus travel and lodging. In comparison to bigger authors, that’s actually a low figure: some are charging $10,000 to speak one hour at universities. Still, I can’t do stuff for free if I’m not also getting paid — it has to balance. Trusting my gut is important.

My advice? I wish people had told me there is a place for me in writing, especially as a person from a marginalized group. Keep being yourself, even if it’s not reflected out there. BELIEVE IN YOUR OWN VOICE. What you have to say has value if you are coming from an authentic place. Don’t let all your hopes live in the book and don’t take a job that will kill your writing spirit. Don’t force yourself into teaching. Don’t be ashamed of having a job instead of just being an artist. These things take time.

Jill Riddell (Shape of the World Show)

Riddell writes about nature and science and has been teaching part-time at SAIC for 20 years.

If you love to teach, pursue it. If you think, as a writer, that is the standard way to go, throw that idea out the window.  Some people get into a little bit of trouble with adjunct teaching because they want it to be permanent. The truth is a lot of people can step into that job as easily. That will always be a bit tenuous. 

Teaching 1-2 classes/semester at SAIC has been great for me. But I don’t make a high percentage of my income from teaching: I earn a living through my writing and other ways. I have an expertise in nature, having spent 10 years at the Nature Conservancy, and I do a lot of consulting work. My path consists of having an expertise in writing (and constantly working on craft) plus another set of skills as an expert in another subject. 

The truth is simple: if you want to write, you need TIME. Even just two hours is a lot of uninterrupted time to focus. Time lets you show up to the page 5 days/week, just like it’s a job. You don’t need big chunks, but consistency. If you work a job that uses your writing energy, then all that energy you’d put in your work is going to someone else. It’s tiring. A lot of writers will pour their heart into nonprofit or communications work, and then years later look around and ask … where’s that novel? That short story?

People often confuse status and money. I firmly believe that the creative who wants to write for a living should not focus on status. If your sense of self is writing, then focus on it.

Protect your time. Find a job that pays well and does not deplete your creative energy. The worst jobs are often prestigious to talk about, have the best working conditions, and often pay poorly compared to trade jobs, which can pay as much as $60/hour. For example, arborists are often well paid because not many want to do the manual labor involved, despite growing demand by cities to hire them. Even electricians, plumbers, and contractors can offer higher pay [for work] that doesn’t use the same part of the brain used in writing. So, instead of taking that job that sounds great, why not take a job making $60/hour and work less? 

Ask yourself: how can I be selfish to protect my health, my well-being, and my writing time? When interviewing for jobs, ask for alternatives: can you work 40 hours in four days instead of five? Start late and work 10-6? Can you work 80% of the time? That means less pay but a lot of companies are willing to consider it. Can you work as a night security officer that gives you time to write at work? There are so many ways to play the game, but consider the common goal: maximize your time to write two hours/day by maximizing your income and minimizing your expenses.

Lower family expectations of what your job will be. It’s a long game. Create time so that you can write better sentences and build your network of writing colleagues. If we think of money as fuel to provide food, clothing, and shelter, then it becomes easier to look at jobs solely as a means to live and write. Be flexible, and don’t put all of the emphasis on the first job. Figure out what works for you. Adjust your life and keep your perspective: are you in the job for status, or because you want a creative life and freedom? 

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Auteur Theory: The Enduring Imminence of “Children of Men”

By Entertainment, Featured

Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

“Auteur Theory” is a column in which Aidan Bryant dives deep into the work of some of the most original filmmakers of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Following a recent mass shooting attempt on the subway, New York City mayor Eric Adams announced he was considering installing metal detectors in the subway. In the same week, he had the NYPD destroy homeless encampments in an effort to “clean up the streets”. When I saw these two things, my mind went to movies, as it often does. The movie I thought of was Alfonso Cuarón’s “Children of Men.” This movie is often posited as a cinematography-porn kind of film, and that is a fair reading. It is a stellar turn from one of the modern cinematographic masters, Emmanuel Lubezki, and it has some of the most beautiful one-takes I’ve ever seen. Watching this movie as a teenager, I was in awe of how the camera moved, but the story itself didn’t move me much. When I returned to it years later, I was horrified by what it showed me.

“Children of Men” depicts a future (2027 to be exact), in which human beings have been infertile for 18 years, leading to decades of war and economic depression. This has led to large-scale refugee crises, which in turn led to the rise of fascist governments which detain and kill illegal immigrants, with the UK being one of the last safe bastions standing. Now, picture how that world would look. Our view of a dystopian future is one heavily shaped by Orwell, one of gray masses, no freedom, totalitarianism. Maybe if we’re lucky we could get something like the society in the film “Brazil,” a comic yet dark bureaucracy. But that overly fantastical sci-fi future is totally different from our reality.

“Children of Men” does the opposite. Their world is not much different at face value. There are coffee shops, restaurants, gambling, and newspapers. People still go to work, but when they do they walk past a pen of illegal immigrants getting rounded up. This is barely acknowledged in the film, because it’s just normal. A dystopia is often played for fear, or laughs. It is the future we could have if we don’t change. But that future is often hyperbolized. “Children of Men” presents a future we are just a few steps away from. It is not unrecognizable. In fact, it is eerily similar to our lives right now, especially in light of the border camps in the United States and the worldwide refugee crisis. We are being confronted with exactly where we are going, not where we could be.

I can’t take credit for all of these opinions. Many of the prominent philosophers and scholars of late capitalism have commented on the film, including Naomi Klein, Slavoj Zizek, and most notably, the late Mark Fisher, who wrote about it extensively in his book “Capitalist Realism.” While theory can definitely be stuffy and boring, Fisher writes about it through a pop culture lens, and has a great understanding of how to communicate complex ideas to his audience. Let’s take a look at his writing first.

Fisher writes, “​​The catastrophe in “Children of Men” is neither waiting down the road, nor has it already happened. Rather, it is being lived through. There is no punctual moment of disaster; the world doesn’t end with a bang, it winks out, unravels, gradually falls apart.” This is a very common theme in the study of late capitalism, neoliberalism, whatever you like to call it; this idea of living in the end times. The first time I encountered this idea was actually through a conservative writer, Frances Fukuyama, who coined the idea of “the end of history”. Essentially saying that with the triumph of capitalism over communism with the fall of the Berlin Wall, we are now living in the final form of humanity, post-history. The cards have been dealt, and we are just waiting for everything to end.

This is radically different from the normal assumption of what would lead to a dystopian future, which, in the realm of fiction, is usually caused by an event so earth-shattering that it introduces horrors beyond our comprehension. “Children of Men” has this event, sure. The mass infertility of all humans is certainly not something I’d expect. But this event does not change our world into some mutated monster. It simply amplifies what is already there. The torture and brutality we commit agaisnt those we deem beneath us is now public rather than private. In a documentary released with the film, Zizek says, “A good portrait is more you than you are yourself. I think this is what the film does with our reality.”

The second writer I want to engage with is Naomi Klein. Klein’s most notable contribution to the current discourse is her idea of “disaster capitalism.” To explain this briefly, Klein states that capitalism is most effectively employed after a massive event, be that war, famine, or natural disasters. As a nation reels from the shock of such an event, governments can do whatever they want to your subjects. This idea was first implemented in Chile in 1973, following a US-backed coup against the socialist government of Salvador Allende. What was implemented was essentially the modern plan for capitalism, known as neoliberalism, pioneered by University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman. To boil down a very complicated idea, neoliberalism is unfettered capitalism. It streamlines it. It removes anything in its way. Once that is implemented, because change cannot come about materially anymore, change has to be cultural. Any sense of solidarity, both inter-class and interpersonal, has been removed.

“Children of Men” takes neoliberalism to its conclusion. A constant state of terror is imposed upon everyone, thus desensitizing them to the atrocities they live through. When you see pure horror everytime you leave your house, eventually you’ll get so beaten down that it won’t bother you anymore. The film takes an already horrific system and turns the dial all the way up. But this system is not imposed without giving you your goodies. Neoliberalism is not totalitarian through brute force against those who are needed as consumers. It is totalitarian in its infestation of every aspect of your life. You are thoroughly alienated, and then that alienation is sold back to you.

What sticks with me the most about “Children of Men” is its subtlety. It may not sound like a subtle movie, but it really is. Cuarón does this in “Y Tu Mama También” as well. He places upheaval and unrest intentionally in the background. But in “Children of Men” you are harshly confronted with this unrest. It is an inevitable conflict. And when it stops, even for a brief moment, it’s a feeling I can’t really describe. I love this movie for a lot of reasons. The cinematography is great, and I can sound impressive (or insufferable) by talking about how Cuarón critiques capitalism, but what I love the most is that the movie doesn’t let you go. It grabs you and pushes you around, but it’s actually talking to you. It’s opening up a dialogue. You see yourself within it, and that is a very powerful thing. “Children of Men” represents where we are headed. It’s a scary movie in that way. But I think in order to change what will happen, you need to understand how you’ve gotten where you are right now, and what has gotten us there. This movie is a step towards that.

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