Even though I never met David Oliver in person, his larger-than-life presence on Facebook made a deep impression on me. Through a hometown connection to his son Brad, I learned about David’s efforts to create a compassionate model of end-of-life care. I also discovered how much Brad and David loved Rush after a double-strength dose of Oliverian charm persuaded me to send both men Rush stamps from Canada in 2013.
Both in death and in life, David has inspired me, and I hope his love of travel, nature, family, and the black and gold of the Missouri Tigers is reflected in this collage. Brad told me that haiku was one of David’s favorite poetic forms, and the three arches (a reference to trips to Istanbul) each contain one line from a haiku of David’s. May “Living the Moment” do justice to a brave man who embodied the art of living like a cosmic force of joy that came to Earth to be with us for a little while.
Niagara Falls, you deliver glory and awe this winter! Heaped with white, long cracks scar your river-ice, a survivor of mythic battles: water versus freezing air, movement versus paralysis, and the struggle to break free, break through, break open.
I love the edges of your ice banks, the borders of upheaval against which green swirling cauldrons steam, pool, and hiss. I love the seams of blue ice and the irregular holes in the ice-lid, especially the one beside the north bank and the other in the center of the river.
Niagara Falls, I love your giant ice sculptures, their humps, swoops and Matisse shapes. These small glaciers settle me into the soul of winter, birth echoes of the Great Lakes, great pools of ancient melted ice cupped by basins. This water, this ice so old and yet so fresh, sluices clean through me and gives me peace, ice peace.
Today I had the privilege of facilitating two collage workshops on the theme of relaxation. After I got home this evening, I rushed to process pictures of the eighteen collages the students created. I cannot wait to share their beauty, poetry, and magic!
The earth is at the bottom of the collage. I come from China, which is the other side of the world. There is a wave pushing a ship towards the colourful future (the flowers). My house is on the ship. The crane is like me because it looks back towards the sun, towards China and towards the past. My heart is with my family.
When I came to Canada, I had to start again at the bottom. I struggled and had a lot of stress. The stairs show my difficult climb back up to success.
(Then Geraldine removed the paper veil from the gold coin, making other participants literally gasp with surprise).
Brazil is not just about soccer and beautiful women. We have beautiful nature in the Amazon and a lot of interesting animals.
I wanted to make a collage about Mexico and one about Canada, my second home.
Students have a lot of stress with exams and assignments. I chose this road because it leads to a relaxing place in nature. I thought this lady looked relaxed, too.
I come from a small town in Venezuala, and I used to spend a lot of time in nature. I miss it. It’s so different from city life in Toronto.
I wish all animals to be happy and to have enough to eat.
I have a mysterious side, and the right side of the collage represents this. I’d like to share some of these quotations with you.
Love isn’t just about love between a man and a woman. Love can also be for your family, your friends, for nature and all the animals, and for the world. Personal freedom is also important. I believe each person should be an individual and not have to be the same as everyone else.
I think our society is too focused on outer beauty and things like make-up. I believe inner beauty is more important.
The following day’s workshop on February 19th produced twelve more engaging collages which also call out to be shared here.
I wanted to show connection and emotion in this piece.
This is home life. The family around the table are missing their ancestors and praying. In the picture, some people are sad, lonely, or happy.
I grew up in the era of black and white photos, and I really like them. I think the world was simpler in the past.
If you go to Beijing, you can see old houses like these.
I want to escape Toronto’s cold winter. I also love to travel, so I put a postcard stamp on my collage.
My collage is about overcoming fear. In life, we are often afraid, but we should take risks to achieve our goals. Fear is like a mask that limits our view. If we dominate fear, we can change a tiger to a kitten. It’s also important to smile and laugh. We have to laugh at life. Otherwise, life will laugh at us.
My collage is about freedom.
Love is love!
To have hope, we need three things: fire, water, and family.
As a mostly self-taught collage artist, I had never studied the medium formally until I took an eight-week course this fall. I am so grateful I decided to attend Donnely Smallwood’s class at the Toronto School of Art, for it helped me look at collage through fresh eyes and taught me new techniques.
Even though I failed to catch about 30% of Edith (née Schwalb) Gelbard’s testimony, her engaging, warm presence did not need words to communicate its strength. With admirable ease, the 82-year-old grandmother of nine captured the attention and affection of a lively crowd of teenagers from two French-immersion high schools in the city.
For example, when she introduced a surprise guest, a long-lost friend from the 1940’s, the audience went “Awwww!” in unison, especially at the sight of her planting a kiss on his forehead. The kids’ reaction was the same when Ms. Gelbard showed pictures of her family who had fled Vienna in 1938 for Belgium and later from Belgium to France in 1942. Edith and her older sister Therese were joined by a baby brother while the family was in Belgium, and a picture of little Gaston elicited another enthusiastic chorus of “Awwww!” from the crowd.
As narrated in Hiding Edith by Kathy Kacer, Edith and Gaston were sent to a boarding house in the southern French village of Moissac in March of 1943 (p. 30). (Because some details eluded the grasp of my intermediate-level French, I have relied on Kacer’s book to fill in the gaps).
Shatta and Bouli Simon, a brave couple affiliated with the Jewish Scouts of France, managed the safe residence from 1939 until the post-war years (Kacer, pages 35 and 38). The efforts of the Simons and “toute la ville” of Moissac protected the Jewish children in their care by keeping the safe house a secret, thus saving hundreds of lives (p. 151). During her talk, Edith praised Moissac as a “Ville de Juste.”
While Edith sheltered at the residence in Moissac, she went to school in the village, made friends with other ten-year-olds, performed her assigned chores, and learned camping skills. Although fun, the lessons in knot-tying and tent assembly were not for recreational purposes; they prepared the children for Nazi raids. Each time the mayor of Moissac warned the Simons that a raid was imminent, the children went to Camp Volant — Flying Camp — to escape to the countryside until the danger passed, moving “to a different location every night, in deep thick woods offering shelter and cover” (80).
By August of 1943, deteriorating conditions in France led to the decision that it was no longer safe for the children to stay in Moissac (89). Stricken over having to flee again, eleven-year-old Edith was transferred to a Catholic boarding school in Ste-Foy-la-Grande, which meant assuming a new name, pretending she was an orphan, and attending church in the village every week, all the while guarding her true religious identity. In the new hiding place, she suffered from hunger, lice, the constant terror of being discovered, and bombing raids. “C’était dur,” Edith said.
In the summer of 1944, Edith was moved to a farm to escape the frequent bombing of Ste-Foy-la-Grande. She stayed on the farm with a kind family until reuniting with her mother, sister, and brother in September of 1944. In 1945, she heard the heartbreaking news that her father had died of dysentery caused by overtaxing his starved body with food after the Americans liberated Auschwitz. Turning loss and grief to social service, Edith continued to help the Simons in Moissac until 1949, and six years later she immigrated to Canada (144).
Listening to Edith Gelbard’s testimony reminded me that the highest call of humanity is the imperative to shelter and protect the vulnerable from brutality. Victory belongs to survivors like Edith who have endured unspeakable trauma to emerge with their compassion intact. She is a true heroine in my eyes.
When the Berlin Wall fell in November of 1989, I had recently arrived at the University of Durham for a junior-year-abroad experience. In April 1990, I flew from England to West Germany to visit my friend Bart, a fellow sociology major from a small college in Missouri. After a few days touring Heidelberg, we took a train to Berlin.
Unprepared for the shortage of rooms in this swelling city, Bart and I had to spend our first night in bunk-beds at the train station’s BonHof mission. My pocket-sized journal (slightly edited for clarity) tells the story of the following day and its endless night, starting with a visit to the remains of the Berlin Wall and ending up in East Germany on the steps of the Berliner Dom.
April 10-11, 1990
Early morning Berlin contains East Germans toting piles of DDR currency, Polish people stockpiling electronic goods, Turkish men selling pineapples and kiwis, and Americans chipping at the Berlin Wall with chisels. A Turkish boy gives Bart and I bits of the wall and then climbs behind it to collect more fragments.
I see an East German flag with its communist sickle as we walk beside the wall from Potsdamer Platz to Tiergarten. Foreigners have spray-painted “Fuck the Poll Tax” and “And the Wall Came Tumbling Down” on the vertical concrete. There’s a Roosevelt quotation about glorious victory in neon orange, and someone has crossed out Gorbachev in “Thank-you, Gorbachev” and replaced it with Reagan’s name.
After shuddering at the sight of Hitler’s bunker, Bart and I duck through a hole in the wall and attract some negative attention from an East German guard, who barks “Raus!” As he approaches on his motor bike, scattering the Americans along that part of the wall, it suddenly seems a good time to go admire the Brandenberg Gate. Afterwards, as we walk east along Unter den Linden, we see Soviet tanks by their embassy and a muscular Russian soldier on top of one of them.
The monument with gold Germania on top attracts us, so we climb it, first looking at the mosaic on the middle of the column. Once we recover from the vertigo caused by climbing so many narrow steps, we take in the panorama of Berlin at the very top. Then we clomp down and Bart goes off to the bathroom, leaving me on the steps to comb my hair and play with the ants in the sun.
As we pass statues of Goethe and Bismarck, I start to worry aloud about where we are going to sleep that night. So Bart goes into a phone booth to call an acquaintance who is living in Berlin. Maybe we can sleep on his floor. Surely he would know how desperately crowded the city is and take pity on us.
While Bart is trying to secure shelter, I wait on a nearby bench. Suddenly, an agitated American matron in a multicolored Day-Glo jacket comes out of another phone booth and gestures at me wildly. She shouts, “Do . . . YOU . . . speak . . . ENG . . . lish?”
Eager to help, I say “Yes, I do” and go over to her booth. She hands me the receiver and commands: “Tell . . . HIM . . . the . . . po . . . LICE . . . have . . . TAK . . . en . . . a . . . WAY . . . my . . . CAR!!!”
So I take the phone and obediently repeat, “The police have taken away her car.” Laughing and mad at the same time, she yells, “No, not in English! In German!”
The story of my mishap cheered Bart up a little bit, but he was shaken by his friend’s refusal to host us. Eventually we had to just stay up all night, roving from McDonald’s (where we saw other homeless wretches like us), to Burger King, back to McDonald’s, then to the underground and finally the bus. We bought milk, hot chocolate, and small packets of fries to give us the temporary right to stay in the restaurants.
The moment we accepted our sorry condition, we started laughing on a bench outside Kaiser William’s church. Our plight was so hilariously dire that I lifted my legs straight out in front of me, shrugging with my whole body. We considered what we would do for a bed. Sex? Work? Anything. A drunk man lunged at Bart and I. We attracted crazy men, forlorn Poles, and troubles.
The only sleep we got that night was from one thirty to three thirty on the top deck of a bus. We ended up all the way over on the western edge of Berlin, bouncing over cobblestones and deserted roads, while I tried to keep my head on Bart’s shoulder. We had no idea where we were when the bus officials forced us off, shouting “Raus!” and banging on the hand rail leading to the top level. We were spinning into utter darkness without any orientation, comfort, or security. Waiting at the bus stop were three African men who remarked on us dryly in an unknown language.
At four o’clock in the morning, we clambered back on another bus. We rode back into the the city, entering a morning world hidden from tourists, the routine of commuters before sunrise. Lonely and shapeless, they waited by the stops in the cold, sleeping on the U-Bahn after they boarded. Watching them loll in their seats, I felt sympathy for sleepy, vulnerable humanity. I wanted to give them all a big blanket.
Bart used his military ID to get on the underground, but I rode illegally and felt guilty. Masses of people were going to work before six in the morning. At an S-Bahn station, I tried to freeze the scene in memory — the sun not yet risen, people in dark jackets gathering on the platform, smoking, yawning. They get on the train and slump over, not caring to impress, stable in the aftermath of war, just riding a train without fanfare.
I welcomed the sunrise with profound relief, and my gratitude for the dusky, snowy dawn made it all the more beautiful. Around seven, after purchasing some chocolate and a croissant (silly me saying “oui” to the lady), we took the U-Bahn to the one East German underground station that is open to the West. The route gave us a view of the East German part of the U-Bahn which had lain in disuse since the war. Bomb damage was still evident, making the empty station booths looked haunted. It was something out of a childhood nightmare — endless empty corridors, dusty and lost. I felt like a refugee.
We rose and went up the stairs to the exit, emerging into a 1950’s world as we joined a stream of people going to East Berlin. Waiting to present our documents, we stood in a corner eating croissants and chocolate, me getting crumbs in my hair. Then we reached passport control, where I paid the ritual 5 marks. (In the past, an American would have had to purchase 25 East German marks and spend them in East Berlin). The line moved quickly. Soon we passed through another maze (like a haunted house, only lit), got our day passes checked, and Lo! we were in the East. Exhausted, we stepped out into the cold morning.
Since most of the museums didn’t open until ten, we wandered around the shopping area for awhile. We studied shop displays that seemed out of date, contrived, sorrowful, the dresses like relics from an old Sears catalog. Why did the shops make me sad? Maybe it was their emptiness, lack of color.
Spacious East, room to be alone because the people are not shopping. Yet there was a Bigfoot jeep on display, reminding Bart uncomfortably of his Ozark hometown, where masculine egos demand such rugged vehicles. People gathered round to stare at the monstrous four-wheeled beast.
We then turned toward the big glass train station, which looked elegantly Victorian from a distance but up-close seemed militaristic, iron-girded and massive. We went lower and lower into the underground, seeking warmth. Shivering, we made a huddle on a high wooden bench, waiting until nine thirty when we could emerge in search of tea.
After about forty minutes, we left our temporary burrow and crossed the square again by the Bigfoot. We went to one shop, but it had no tea. At the next one, our entrance changed the atmosphere. The waiter turned with a smile on his face as the door opened, but when he saw we were Westerners, his happy blue eyes went cold. All the East Germans seated in smoky camaraderie and warmth stared at us, so we left without ordering anything. It was an unhappy awakening for me that people could tell I was Western just by the way I dressed. I had always prided myself on my poor fashion sense, but Bart pointed out how expensive my purple raincoat looked and the confident message my bright yellow scarf sent.
We sat outside in the cold once more, lamenting our outcast state. We were very cold from the unfriendly treatment and the weather, but a grocery store offered diversion until the museums opened. The aisles were huge and the carts incredibly small. Bread was freshly made and lay unwrapped on the shelves. There were no brand names. The few Western items, such as jam and crackers, were priced very high, but the rest were very cheap. Huge sausages, candy, and tins of fruit were available. They wrapped their purchases in blue paper.
Outside, a female employee of the store chased away three young Polish men who were lounging near the entrance. They seemed scared of her — she was quite big and threatening. One tried to bluff and joke with her but the other two were like, “O.K. We’re outta here.”
When ten o’clock finally came, Bart and I walked to the Berliner Dom, where we sat on the steps and ate marzipan. Swooning and unbalanced from lack of sleep, we then toured some of the cathedral (the main part of it wasn’t open). Ornate gilded woodwork impressed us, along with a marble staircase and rich brown marble columns.
Framed photographs on the gray marble walls showed us what Berliner Dom used to look like before the war and then after bombs had struck. The dome smoked. Many days later, this image reappeared in a nightmare. My dream self was looking out the upstairs window of my childhood home in Missouri. The window frame was smoking and I could see the Brandenburg Gate on top of the Lambda Chi fraternity house, all in flames.
I am a ruined barn, empty but smelling of ancient hay. I sit in a lost valley, no longer a shelter nor part of a living farm. I used to be warmer, to glow orange from lanterns on February mornings, to retain animal heat. Now my shadows fill in their outlines, brief flashes from the highway my only relief.
I am tired of being a relic, a rural ghost that attracts photographers from the city. Their insulting attention reminds me that I am just a skeleton of economies past, a symbol of romantic decay.
All my sounds are whispers and echoes now, where once I heard grunts, shouts, whinnies, cries of pain and hunger. It’s so quiet now. Ruin is quiet. My unsteady walls feel dry, brittle, so straw-like that one warm hand on my door would set me ablaze. I welcome this fire, this sweet extinction into ashes.
When it rains, I feel the blessed water soaking my beams, splashing through broken panes, swelling the hayloft floor so that I forget my ladder is broken and my stalls now shells that once held a family’s wealth and sustenance. I miss being whole. I miss being real. I miss the animals I used to protect.
(The audio recording below is from my reading of the poem at The Urban Gallery on Saturday October 25th, 2014)
Constructing and deconstructing this collage has given me the chance to play with ideas of aging, identity, and the artifacts of external validation such as grade reports, standardized test scores, photographs, newspaper articles touting achievement, and even a badge from a 1987 teen pageant that I attended at age 18. It felt cathartic to glue down and tear back these defining layers of personal papers, creating something new from the documentary “evidence” of academic perfection and parental approval, examining the official proof of my self-worth.
The following photos show the process of collage and then décollage that constructed “External Validation 1987.”
Along with flip flops, sunscreen, and a hat, I did not forget to take my collage bag with me on vacation! I made the following collages on rainy days and quiet evenings in a hotel in Elliot Lake, Ontario.
As my mother clears boxes of old papers from her house, hundreds of pieces of ephemera have surfaced from previous decades, including a set of Wispy Walker paper doll clothes that I played with in the 1970’s. The pantsuits, nightgowns, and dresses were too unique to simply throw in the recycling bin, so I kept them to become the stars of twelve collages.
On a washing day, I place the white basket on the patio table, move the line into position, and grab some single socks. As I administer the stability of clothespins, I relish the sun on my face and the breeze that moves the tall thistles and Queen Anne’s lace.
My hands attach the socks, shirts, towels, and pajama bottoms to the line, connecting me to a pre-electric time when the power of the sun was central not alternative.
Full of solar gratitude, the pulley and I send the clothing further down the line, deeper into the garden. It is exhilarating to feel like a sailor who unfurls her sails for the wind to catch them. I scootch the entire set of washing as far as I can, until the first sock is almost touching the top of the plants. Each time, it is a great sideways launch into the unknown, pennants of the sky meeting green messengers of the earth.
Task finished, I stand on the deck to admire the animated line, smiling at the dance of billowing cloth that the wind creates as it plays with pant legs and flowing hems. I observe the moving shadows cast on the grass below. And I breathe the scent of summer warmth that the laundry will later hold in memory, releasing sunshine on thankful skin.
Four years ago today, I lost a childhood friend to cancer. She was only forty-one years old. To celebrate Jenny and her love of all things purple and fun, I’d like to dedicate this tufted art piece to her memory. I communed with her playful, artistic spirit as I built layers of paper with matte medium and then began a process of décollage.
The photo-chronology below begins with the first layer of collage, builds to the top layer, and then documents the process of tearing away and other alterations.
I miss you very much, Jenny! I’ll never forget your hilarious laugh, astuteness, and loving smile.
Four years ago, I bought Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm’s The Druid Animal Oracle Deck with the intention of offering collage workshops based on animal teachings. My friend Ellen Jaffe and I gave the deck a trial run at a home yoga studio, each of us selecting a card at random without looking at the illustrated side. I chose Wolf.
Ellen and I took turns reading about the selected animal from a booklet provided with the cards. I learned that wolf’s keywords are “Intuition, Learning, (and) The Shadow” and that wolf can encourage us to not to be afraid of “the inner power and strength you feel when you spend time alone” (22).
After discussing the meaning of the cards, I pulled out a folder of images I had collected for the animals contained in the deck (each animal had its own transparent sleeve full of pictures). From an assorted set of wolf pictures, I selected a few for my collage.
As a follow up to our experiment the previous year, Ellen and I facilitated an art workshop in 2011 called “Collage Your Animal Spirit Guide” at Fermata‘s Music Therapy Centre in Hamilton. Each of the participants selected a random card, read from the booklet about their card, and received a set of pictures on which to base a collage. A beautiful silence, palpable with concentration, filled the room, and it was wonderful to share the finished pieces with each other at the end of the session.
My personal animal guide for the day at Fermata was Otter. According to Carr-Gomm’s explanatory booklet, Otter “invites us to play, to ‘go with the flow’ of life and experience — to become a child again” (32).
Trying to capture the idea of flow and movement, I found some swirling fish and active grasses. For playfulness, I gave the otters and their fish friend some red flower hats.
In addition to art sponsored by Wolf and Otter, five other collages have been inspired by engagement with the Druid Animal Oracle Deck. After a gap of a few years, I got the deck out again when my mother was visiting me in Toronto. This time, Eagle surfaced from among the cards laid out on my kitchen table. (Mom selected Hawk).
“Intelligence, Renewal, (and) Courage” are Eagle’s key words. The booklet asserts that Eagle “will . . . show you how to renew and rejuvenate yourself, by demonstrating the art of plunging — at the just the right moment — into the lake of the heart” (24).
My eagle collage ended up depicting a rare species of knitted raptor, a bird who is surprisingly at home in the water as well as the sky. Much less predatory than its non-textile cousins, the knitted eagle enjoys a quiet life of introspection.
Several months after my mother’s visit, another friend and I decided to consult the animal spirit guides and make collages in a food court in North York. This time, the card I selected belonged to Raven.
Raven is all about “Healing, Initiation, (and) Protection.” The booklet suggests that the Raven’s message “may also mean that we can come to a resolution of the opposites — experiencing that in darkness there is light, and in light darkness” (20).
In my collage, three ravens consider life among the swirling patterns, discerning mysteries with their keen eyes.
In a subsequent session with the same friend I’d met at the North York food court, I chose Frog, whose key words are “Sensitivity, Medicine, and Hidden Beauty and Power” (19).
We started our collages at a coffee shop with a large wooden table, and I completed mine at home. The resulting piece emerged with the help of paper, stickers, paint pens, and watercolour.
Carr-Gomm’s booklet states that Frog is “a companion of the rain spirits” who can “help you develop your sensitivity to others, to healing and to sound through your skin and your whole body” (19).
Frog also encourages us to “look for the beauty and the magic behind appearances” (19).
Goose followed Frog as the next creature collage made in response to The Druid Animal Oracle Deck. My friend and I auditioned a different wooden table at a new coffee shop for this session, and it turned out to be a goose-friendly venue.
When I turned to the Carr-Gomm booklet to find out more about Goose, I discovered that its main attributes are “Vigilance, Parenthood, (and) Productive Power” (27).
One possible interpretation of the card’s meaning is that “goose, with its strong attachment to family and the ability to fly extraordinarily high from one continent to another, shows us that it is possible to be both grounded and spiritual in our daily lives” (27).
Finally, Seal was the most recent animal spirit mentor to appear during an oracle session that my friend and I conducted at a home retreat.
Symbolizing “Love, Longing, and Dilemma,” Seal can “act as a guide and companion through the watery realm of the emotions and the Otherworld” (40).
After Seal, who knows which animal will be the next guide? As for the seven creatures who arrived over the past four years, I’d like to express my gratitude to Wolf, Otter, Eagle, Raven, Frog, Goose, and Seal for their energizing insights and creativity!
The collages pictured here take inspiration from eleven letters written by my hometown friend Eric Canuteson. He wrote the first one in 1986, and the last one I received arrived in 2002 before e-mail took over as our means of correspondence.
Near the end of 2011, I was devastated to learn that Eric suffered an untimely death at age 43. I had trouble believing that the teenager I had passed notes to during Greek and Roman History could be gone. His friendship meant a great deal to me, and I wanted to honor his memory with an art project that incorporated actual text from the letters and images, people, and places he described.
Preserving examples of Eric’s handwriting feels really important. Messy, scratchy, sprawling – I love the way he always signed his name in really huge letters. He also was a great one for circling or putting boxes around important phrases and doodling in the margins. They are the letters of a busy, dedicated person who has taken the time to share his thoughts with a friend. I’ll always be grateful to Eric for that.
Before I started this project, I photocopied the letters because I couldn’t bear to tear up the originals. I also gathered up as many images as I could that seemed relevant to the letters’ context.
The next collage, “Eric’s Excellent Intellectual Adventure,” takes its theme from the first letter Eric ever sent me. He had just started his freshman year at Colorado College and I was in my last year in high school. Postmarked September 24, 1986, it describes his classes, first term paper, and grades. He also asked me to pass on some messages to his former teachers, including a tongue-in-cheek summary of his political views.
I used the actual postmark from the envelope for this collage. The postmark and the political figures Eric mentions place our friendship in historical context, for his letters are both cherished personal souvenirs and valuable documents that give us a snapshot of an era. It seems an obvious point, but it still astonishes me that Eric’s first letter existed in a world before South African apartheid ended, before the Berlin Wall fell, before Clinton (sandwiched between the elder and junior George Bush), before 9/11, and before Obama.
Daniel Monion is a joke. (It took me awhile to figure out that Eric was referring to Daniel Moynihan. It didn’t help that I didn’t remember who he was).
Support the ANC!
I hate Republican business majors.
There aren’t any here, thank God.
I really like how he put the title “Mr.” in quotation marks next to his name. At age 18, maybe he didn’t comfortably inhabit the title Mr. Eric Canuteson, so he left the “Mr.” outside the box he drew around his new contact details.
The same letter of September 24, 1986 testifies to Eric’s academic success in his crucial first year of college. With Eric’s ambitious spirit and fierce intelligence, he laid a strong foundation to later complete his Ph.D.
I was impressed by Eric’s go-getter attitude in all the years I knew him, but that’s not to say he couldn’t be laid back, too. I loved the part in the letter where he admits he put off writing his paper to watch an Eagles versus Bears football game.
I got a B+ on my very first college paper (I wrote it in a very short time because I was watching football.)
An arrow starting from the letter “a” in football points to the words “Eagles v. Bears” floating in the space above the first line of the letter.
The letter goes on to describe how he received an A on his final test.
I got the highest grade in the class — there were only two A’s. By the way, My class is SATIRE AND CARICATURE.
I’m taking Russian (7 hours of it, no less) in the 5th and 6th blocks. (Colorado College’s block program allows its students to focus intensely on one class at a time in a series of eight blocks a year).
The next letter arrived in April 1987 and introduced me to Eric’s love of Pink Floyd.
I listen to Pink Floyd all the time. I’m doing so right now. The album The Final Cut.
I always enjoyed it when Eric told me where he was or what he was listening to while he was writing his letters. It helped me feel connected to his reality even though he lived far away.
The song is awesome. “Not Now John.” The song is about making a movie.
“Who cares what it’s about as long as the kids (go).”
The opening line is “Fuck all that, we’ve got to get on with these.”
The subsequent paragraph of the April, 1987 letter turns its attention to another Pink Floyd album, the iconic Dark Side of the Moon. He describes the songs as “very political and philosophical.”
Dark Side of the Moon is a very good album. It’s about death and depression (the “dark side” of human nature.)
One of the songs has the classic line, “All that you touch and all that you see is all that your life will ever be.”
Pink Floyd tends to be very gloomy, but I like it.
A lot of people hear listen to The Grateful Dead. I’ve heard some Dead but I don’t like it too much. Looks like I’m not going to be a “Dead Head.”
By the way, Dark Side of the Moon ends with a faint voice in the background who states, “There is no dark side of the Moon really; as a matter of fact, it’s all dark.” Isn’t that awesome?
I’ve got to go. Love, Eric.
Eric’s next letter arrived a few months later. It’s shorter than most because he was in the middle of his freshman year finals. The shape of his letters hints at what a hurry he was in, many of them blending together, such as the way the top of the “t” in Catherine stretches to touch the top of the “h.” The calligraphy of swiftness.
I don’t have much time to write because I reallyhave to study for my Physics final. I haven’t done any homework for the class and I’m about 300 page(s) behind.
I feel bad about not writing you. I like you a lot and consider you a very good friend. I hope you realize that. I just noticed that every sentence in this letter begins with “I.” Oh, well.
Do you like The Who? I think they are awesome. The reason I’m writing is because I was listening to “Behind Blue Eyes.” Have you heard the song? It reminded (me) of the conversations we used to have about me . . . . “ No one knows what it’s like to be the Bad Man/to be the Sad Man/Behind Blue Eyes.”
Do you know where you are going to school for sure yet? Write back if you want — otherwise I’ll talk to you this summer. Love, Eric
After a letterless five months, I was delighted to receive an illustrated missive in November 1987. He wrote the first part of it while visiting the Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs.
Greetings. I am watching the sunset at this time.
I’m out at the Garden of the Gods which is a large group of rock formations.
It’s only 4 o’clock but the sun will set soon because there are mountains to the west. I wish you were here.
Two dark parallel lines frame a simple sketch of Eric’s view. A hill with three lines sprouting from it is Norad, and Pike’s Peak is labelled, too. I love how he included the precise height of Pike’s Peak: 14,110 feet. To the right, jagged rocks burst out of the informative illustration box with the caption “Rocks obstructing more mountains.”
Below the box is an apology that holds painful layers of meaning. A five-month gap between two letters in 1987 seems like a brief interlude compared to the stretch of time that continues to expand without mercy after Eric has passed well beyond the world of letters, apologies, and stamps. His silence stretches both backwards and forwards in time.
I’m sorry it has been so long since I have written to you.
If you are wondering why I am writing though, it isn’t to be polite or because I owe you a letter.
It’s because I suddenly got the urge to talk to you. Why this urge? Well, truthfully, you are the first girl I ever felt really close to and you are always a friend (in the sense of friend much different than a superficial “social friend.”)
The three-page letter continues with news of a break-up and a reflection about how the presence of Norad makes Colorado City “one of the targets for a first strike.” With a wavy line to show a time and location break, he promises to finish the letter back at college.
I had a really great Ethics course. I did a lot of thinking. My favorite quote is (in) the class was from Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Nietszche.
There is no devil and no hell.
Your soul will be dead even before your body.
Fear nothing further. (F. N.)
I think I’ll have this quote inscribed on my tombstone if I have one (which I doubt.) I bet the religious people in my family wouldn’t appreciate the grim humor.
Turning to a new missive dated March 8th, 1988, Eric opens the letter with a response to a debate we’d been having about Christianity.
Catherine, I think your analysis of the Christian as one who would deny hatred is more than unfair. The Christian knows hatred. In fact, the hatred of the Christian is a brutal form of masochism which denies and hates with more energy than you can imagine. It’s this denial of self which is more cruel than any form of hatred you are capable of.
This self-hatred is linked closely with the key to Christian Ethics — that thought can in itself be a form of sin. This is the root of Christian masochism.
This form of ethics replaces choice in action with guilt over having the thoughts which caused a choice. An ethical system in which thought can be wrong can only lead to unhealthy repression.
I’m taking a class in Biblical Ethics next year. I think the prof. is going to dislike my ideas but maybe not. My minor is “Theories of Ethics.”
Eric’s next paragraph turns to less abstract matters.
Tomorrow I leave for a trip to the Grand Canyon. It is going to be really fun, I think. I’ll be gone for about a week.
I’m going to be home in two week(s) for spring break (March 23-April 3, I think). I’d like to see you if possible. Love exists, Catherine. Don’t be depressed or alienated. I really care about you.
The third page of the letter contains a post-script dated March 18th.
Well, I was rushing to pack for my trip and didn’t mail your letter. It was a fun trip. The Grand (Canyon) is an amazing place . . . I had a lot of time to be by myself and think.
I checked and my spring break does begin March 23 so I’ll drive with some friends and get home late that night.
Give me a call.
The exact date of Eric’s sixth letter is uncertain, but my guess is late spring 1988. Accompanying the letter was an application form and a catalog with “a lot of propaganda” (Eric’s phrase) about Colorado College.
I was thinking of transferring from Westminster College after an unhappy freshman year there, and I appreciated the concern behind his question: “Do you have a Financial Aid Form filled out yet? You should do that fairly soon and have it (need analysis) sent to the schools you are applying to.”
After letting me know that Colorado College “is dropping one block out of the year in the so-called ‘Eight-block plan’ (and) CC also hasn’t divested (another point they don’t dwell on in the recruiting pamphlets),” Eric responds to a story I had told him in a recent letter. The story was about how I started an Amnesty International chapter and my surprise when one of my fellow freshman approached me to say that she would love to join the group but she could not. She hesitated because she was worried that the CIA would open a file on her.
I also complained to Eric that I felt left out of social life at my Greek-dominant college because I was not selected to join a sorority. His reply was comforting:
Personally, I think Kappa Kappa Gamma and other herd-like organizations are a greater threat to Democracy than Amnesty International, even if the CIA and K. don’t agree with me.
The next paragraph continues:
I just started reading a book — Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol. I think it’s going to be a really good book. I went shopping with a friend . . . who bought a book by Nabokov and a Cheap Trick tape at the Bookstore — quite a contrast.
Friday night, he and I filled out our Boto Bags* with drinks and got slightly drunk while walking around Colorado Springs. It’s really a shit-hole of a city but it was fun.
Did you pick up the book by Kafka yet? I hope you like it.
If you need to ask me something about your appl. that can’t wait for a letter answer, give me a call. Otherwise, write
* Do you know what a Boto bag is? It looks like this.
It is great to hear from you, as always. I’ve been thinking of you too recently and I almost started a letter. However, my physics lab class doesn’t allow for such frivolous behavior.
Yeah, my class really sucks this block, but to answer your questions — yes, I would say that I am happy in my “pleasant by not idyllic existence.” In fact, I’m somewhat sad that I only have another year here after which, I’ll have to enter the “real world” — no more free time and lots of neat people around like the 15 years of school I have had. Of course, if I go to grad school I’ll a have a few more years — sort of a temporary extension. But I know that the Grade School – Junior High – Senior High – College cycle has been completed and from here on, I will have to make a life for myself. Its a somewhat lonely and frightening thought.
I was very disturbed to hear that you are unhappy. You are one of the neatest people I have ever known.
I understand your feelings of alienation — everyone is basically alone and if you choose to explore this reality rather than drown it in social activity or religion, you will only increase the feeling of alienation. It’s worth it though.
Make friends when you can but never forget that you are alone. I care about you a lot but you are still alone. You may fall in love and forget for awhile, but I promise that sooner or later you’ll realize — you are still alone. So is everyone, whether they realize it or not.
Letter number eight was postmarked July 20, 1990 and arrived on University of California, San Diego letterhead:
How are you? You’ve got to write me and tell me what the hell’s going on in your life. As you no doubt concluded from the letterhead, I am working in San Diego this summer. I will be starting my Ph.D. program this fall.
I want to know (how) Europe was. How have you changed Catherine? Not just in Europe, but in the last few years when I’ve seen you less and less. What are your long term plans — graduate school, job, get married and pregnant (just kidding), or something more original like mercenary, jewel thief, sex therapist, talk show hostess.
Are you looking forward to your senior year? Are you dreading it? Write back,
As a graduate student in Scotland, receiving letters from home was cause for rejoicing. I still remember how happy I was to receive an aerogramme from Eric in January of 1992.
I sit a stone’s throw from the house where you lived in Liberty (“your house?”, “your parents’ house”?) — where better to start a letter to you? I came with my dad up to Jewell because I was bored . . . . . By the way, I’m sitting on the steps up to Jewell at the corner of Jewell and Franklin so I really am near The House. I’m sure you yourself sat here occasionally.
Well, I’ll have to continue this back — Wow, I see your mother [I feel weird] — home. Your mother got out of a white car and walked up to your house. Your mother is back getting something out of the white car. Well, I’ve got to leave. I’ll just take one last look at the house and get out of here. Your house isn’t like other houses.
Significant break in time, place, and mood
Setting: back at parent’s house
What is going on in your psyche?? Would you like me to come visit you sometime? [Some friendships are firmly “rooted” in place and time and have no meaning outside of a given context. Is ours? I think not; what do you think? Anyway, I will probably come if you want me to.] What exactly are you studying? Do you have to eat a lot of haggis? Well, enough questions.
All I did this X-mas was sit around and read. Why did I just write that? It is not true. I did lots of things including: ski, go to a country bar in Denver, . . . . see several movies, try to call you. However, for the last 5 or 6 days I’ve mostly been sitting around reading. I’m reading Discipline and Punish (Foucault), a study of how the power to punish has evolved in the last several hundred years. Extremely good. I think my parents are wondering why the fuck I would choose to read such a book for no particular reason.
What else? I went out on a ship for the first time (only 3 days). I may be going out for 6 weeks this spring — I haven’t decided. It was weird being out on a ship even for a few days. I think I could deal with 6 weeks though. It would certainly give me time to reflect on confinement as a form of punishment and to read Moby Dick.
Notice that the density of information has the text has increased down the page. However, I’m fighting a losing battle and must wrap up this letter. I could use the “additional message area” but I would prefer to wrap up the letter on this page and put an “additional message” in the additional message area. LOVE, ERIC
– Random Thoughts –
What’s going to happen to Salman Rushdie? . . . . . Do you like bolo ties? I have one now. I like it. How does the thought of a half-Catherine, half-other parasite growing inside of you, sucking your blood, and finally ripping you open on its way out strike you? You write the best letters of anyone I know so write back.
Eric’s tenth letter, the only one not written by hand, reached me in Glasgow in the summer of 1992.
Between Eric’s penultimate and final letter, an entire decade passed with a new millennium folded inside. Further correspondence by e-mail followed, but I missed his distinctive handwriting. To honor the last letter, I decide to embed a photocopy of the letter in layers of paper and then uncover parts of it in a décollage process.
My eyes teared up when random paper-tearing revealed the L-O-V of Eric’s letter.
Eric, I miss you and wish I could ask you if you liked the memorial art. With all my heart, thank you for eleven beautiful letters and the loving friendship contained within them.