Austerity in Higher Education by Will Chaney

We often hear the phrase “college is expensive,” stated as if student debt and absurd fees are natural laws of the universe. However, it hasn’t always been this way. In other countries, it’s not even this way now. As Sam Rodgers pointed out in last month’s edition of The Monitor, the United States is the only country in the world where the average college student graduates with $26,000 in debt. The price of college is increasing at a rate four times faster than inflation, a rate that has very little bearing on the consumer price index (which strongly influences your wages). To find out why students are charged so much for their golden ticket to the American Dream, I was granted an interview with David Rector, Truman’s Vice President of Administrative Finance. He has served Truman for 40 years and held his current position for 20 years.

I entered McClain Hall, but left the busy crowd of students and teachers behind as I ascended the staircase to the second floor, where Mr. Rector’s office is located. At the top of the stairs, I found only a maze of rooms. The front lobby was empty, and looked like that neglected storage room in everyone’s basement. After some clumsy wandering, I finally found his office and was able to start the interview. He would later explain why this was the case.

As a state university, where does Truman’s funding come from?

Mr. Rector: Now, the primary source is student fees. Historically, if you go way back, there was much more state support. What has happened to all state universities in the country, and Missouri is not unusual in that, state support just keeps going down. When I started here, 75% of the budget came from the state. Now it’s down to 44%. It’s really a shift of national philosophy that students and their families should pay the bill.

Governor Nixon and the media have recently made a big deal about $2 million dollars in additional “performance funding.” What exactly is “performance funding?”

Mr. Rector: (chuckles) Performance funding is a very complicated formula. The General Assembly granted Truman a 5% raise in funding, or $2 million. However, this funding can only be realized if five criteria are met, one for each percentage point. Fortunately, Truman met these requirements this year and will next year (points to a intricate looking diagram). However, some universities only meet three or four of the criteria, and don’t get the extra state funding every year. “Performance funding” is so complicated that many faculty members don’t even know it exists. Just looking at the chart makes your eyes go crooked. Only a few individuals know how it works, and the Department of Education is in the process of writing a document with all of the details.

What kinds of cost saving measures has Truman had to undertake in the past five years, since the beginning of the Recession?

College is a very labor-intensive activity, so we have had to cut around 8% of our workforce. Fortunately, we’ve not had to lay anyone off and have instead been able to offer early retirement incentives and remission (the practice of not replacing jobs where professors have retired). We have cut an equal number of faculty and staff jobs. (He motions out the door) There used to be a secretary out there, and one for the administrator in the office next door. You can even tell by looking at all the empty parking spaces.

A lot of universities are switching from full time professors to adjuncts to save money. Many adjuncts are paid much lower salaries than their full time tenure track counterparts, and often earn close to the poverty line despite overloaded workdays. However, Truman’s faculty has a very low percentage of adjunct professors, only 16%, compared to the national average of 48%. What keeps this number low, and why hire adjuncts at all?

Mr. Rector: Truman has a firm commitment to teaching and avoids using adjuncts as a cost saving measure. Many of our adjuncts are retired professors who want to teach part time, or fill-ins for emergency cases. There was a communications professor who quit the day before classes began, so an adjunct was able to smooth the transition.

 Is there ever discussion, at the university level or above, of funding Truman completely with state funds, as is done in countries like Germany and France?

Mr. Rector: We wish. You could probably find that discussion if you went way back to the 1950s, but now the question is “can we hold our own when the General Assembly is making appropriations?” One of my mentors when I got here, who served in the Korean War, used to talk about the “quarter system,” where tuition was only $25. When I was in college in 1974, the cost was only $250 per semester. If you look at some communities like La Plata, which still has scholarship funds that were set up around this time, the award is permanently fixed at $250. It would have paid for college then, but is hardly worth your time now.

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A Few Ways Not to Talk About Ferguson, Missouri by Ryan Moore

Happy Holidays everyone! I hope your turkeys and holiday shrubs bring merriment and holiday cheer. Also, when you get a break from buying/gifting/receiving things and appeasing the capitalist gods this season, you might find yourself talking with friends and family about the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Personally, I am not yet aware of a best practice for this conversation. I am, however, aware of some worst practices. The following are a few.

Hackerzzz

You know that headless techno-beast comprised of weird white dudes in masks spending inordinate amounts of time on the web that we call Anonymous? Feel free to discuss them all you wish, but know that this certainly does not add to the needed conversation about race in America nor does it count towards you actually discussing issues in Ferguson. Rest assured, if you are sitting behind a $1000+ rig with unfettered access to the internet and your favorite snack food, you probably have very little in common with the folks protesting in north St. Louis. Also note, that as fun as it is to ‘rage’ against the machine, and break shit online, it will NEVER be more constructive or helpful than creating safe and inclusive spaces online. Leave your ddos and cross-scripting code at home please.

Race

Calling Ferguson solely a racial event is like calling a jellyfish an object. Its true, but not a very helpful nor definitive descriptor. The more important question is what do we know about this jellyfish? Will this jellyfish lead us to change? Why am I talking about this jellyfish still? Is it because talking about jellyfish is a much more comfortable conversation to have with myself than the one about race in America? Probably. If, like me, you’ve lived your American life on the Default setting(i.e. ‘white’), you may not feel qualified to talk about this subject authoritatively. You may just want everyone hug it out, to have some national Gilmore Girls watch-a-thon that where we can all feel witty and relationshippy. This probably won’t happen. We probably won’t hug it out. And I probably won’t be able to tell you what it’s like to be black in America. Just know that you cannot separate this issue from the serious poverty in North St. Louis. You cannot separate it the colossal failure that the Normandy School District has been in the past year or so(Ferguson area). You cannot separate it from the nature and structure of the police forces around this country, and the consequences of privatizing our prison system. And you can’t separate it from Jellyfish. Because like the jellyfish, we will all one day be translucent, raceless objects. Until that day, don’t generalize.

Personal Ideology
Ummm…this one I’m a bit iffy on, but be careful in this territory. Its fun to talk about controversial things where you feel safe. It may be more enlightening to venture into a new critical lens.

If you, yourself, are black
Congratulations! You may be the Monitor’s first reader of color!

Feminism/Cultural Studies
Just playin’. These are both acceptable frameworks for discussing Ferguson.

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Hofstadter’s Law and My Dried Grapes from 1988 by Chris Sotraidis

I never thought I would plead for nuisances in a logic system. All machines are inevitably built with latency from entrance to exit. I accept that I will not receive my hamburger right when I order it, and the waiting period becomes a ritualistic capsule of self-reflection. Nobody gets the hamburger immediately. I’d imagine most people just think about the food as they’re waiting. Talk about dull. The cashier hands me a stackable numbered plastic triangle and I find a place to park my delightful rear-end. But not always; sometimes they just make you stand there covered in apple fritters and guilt. My favorite is when multiple people are waiting, and everyone assumes a different, very temporary occupation. Our perception might as well be in slow-motion. A slow-motion ketchup dispension. A slow-motion fetching of the napkins. A slow-motion upchuck of said ketchup. Febreze instead of proper cleaner.

The chairs in fast-food restaurants are always wobbly. The cleanliness is a facade. The employees don’t want to be there. Ideally, nobody wants to be there. If I could materialize a Hardee’s Thickburger at my house, that place would be out of business fast. I’m unsure of what would happen to my body. Sometimes I fantasize about becoming obese, but I never act on it. Everything about the fast-food experience is so utterly spurious, and that somehow makes it even more fantastic. If I wanted to eat an uncooked onion in the dark, I would have stayed home. Everyone I’ve ever talked to has said to “keep onions on a lowly shelf”, which is precisely why I choose to refrigerate mine. I’m not about to play around with potatoes in the freezer, but onions are totally fine in the fridge. When you pull them out, they’re crispy and cold. Like apples.

Hardee’s doesn’t pretend to care about anything, and that’s why I like it. They know the target audience: people who have lost hope. Every 3 months Hardee’s gets a new special Thickburger, and every 3 months I go to Hardee’s to try it. The last 6 months have been relatively lackluster. In March of 2013, Hardee’s announced the Jim Beam Bourbon Thickburger. In March of 2013, I fell in love. I got my friends to try it. They loved it. I loved it. Everything in my life seemed perfect.

There was a major obstacle in the way of eating myself to death: money. Luckily, Hardee’s offers coupons every month via the newspaper and crier. At first, my own newspaper sufficed for my coupon needs, but I was a hungry bastard. Soon I was digging through the neighbor’s trash, and getting so desperate as to actually ask mild acquaintances if they had a copy of the latest paper.
ME – “Do you have it?”
CITIZEN – “What?”
ME – “The newspaper from last week.”
CITIZEN – “I think I still have it at home…why?”
ME – “Hardee’s has this special coupon offer and I’m addicted to the Jim Beam Bourbon                          Thickburgers.”
CITIZEN – “I guess I can bring it to next week’s cricket meeting. Is monday cool?”
ME – “No, that’s not going to work. I need one tonight. You need to give me your address.”
CITIZEN – “Oh, shit Chris. You’re serious?”
ME – “Did you drive here?”
CITIZEN – “Yes.”
ME – “Take me to your house so we can get the coupons.”

Fast forward a week. I wake up covered in thickburger bits. I walk into the kitchen, as well as a familiar smell. The sewer line in my basement is clogged, which consequently causes my furnace to shut off. I check the fuse box. I reset fuse #9, the furnace. As rapidly as I flick the fuse switch, I hear a voice, a tenor singing voice, coming from my flooded basement. I rush over and fling open the large wooden cellar door.

“HOH BABY, CALIFORNIA RAISINS.”
ME – “Who’s there?”
“F. F. Strings, my #1 humanoid! From the 1988 Hardee’s California Raisins limited edition PVC   figurine set!”
ME – “My goodness, you’ve grown! What news of Carl Jr.?”
F.F. Strings – “He wants you to work quicker. We can’t assemble the team before Christmas Eve                                     if it takes you two weeks recompile a single California Raisins character through                                  the sewer-line system.
ME – “I just need more coupons. That’s all I need! Tell him to send me more coupons!”
F.F. Strings – “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s law. And coupons.”

Chris Sotraidis author is fraud, who doesn’t really understand physics or how polyvinyl chloride is mass produced.

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An Open Letter to William Chaney by Aaron Albrecht

I am writing to thank you for your previous contribution to the Monitor. “The Spirit of Communism in Ferguson” was an interesting article. I believe contributions such as yours perpetuate the ongoing social dialogue and advance the nascent social consciousness we share as students on campus. I am in support of your actions, and through them I see that you share my sentiment of the importance of confronting the grave problems facing our generation and the world. Such is our human social responsibility.

I find it disturbing that a number of students are politically apathetic and generally disengaged. Such political apathy and disengagement is not a moral failure on the part of the individual, nor is it on account of a poorly developed character. Rather, it is borne out of the circumstances in which we students find ourselves. On deciding to pursue degrees, we have made a conscious decision to improve our future standard of living and our life chances, and this a rational decision is motivated by interest. However, our common identity is temporary and transitory; after graduation we hope to enter the workforce and adopt professional identities. Because of the temporary and transitory nature of our common identity it is no wonder that a sense of social responsibility, community-investment, and political participation is lacking. This phenomenon occurs across college campuses broadly. Contributions like yours reverse the tide of apathy and inspire individuals to thicken the social fabric of our student community through contributing to the ongoing social dialogue and advancing a sense of social responsibility and participatory, critical engagement. For this reason I thank you.

I appreciate Alex Wernerberg and the others that produce the Monitor. They have opened up a space for critical, reflexive social dialogue, have created an outlet for human expression and a means for thickening the social fabric of our community. These social dialogues are the vehicles that move history. It is my hope that the present contribution furthers this dialogue in a progressive, constructive direction; the direction of a student body that is socially invested in our community and world, that is excited by democratic participation, and that is conscious of the influence we have as students, and the means we have to advance progressive social change.

It is clear that you have achieved a measure of social consciousness uncommon to much of the student body. I was impressed by your knowledge of Marxian analysis. Such an ability to understand, analyze, and communicate arguments through Marxian analysis is a feat in and of itself. These Marxian class and structural analyses are particularly fruitful given the growing levels of wealth and income inequality domestically, abroad, and internationally. As you correctly identified, issues like the global economic crisis, the global security crisis, the coming environmental catastrophe, poverty, hunger, unemployment, drug abuse, and crime are indeed connected to the structure of the world capitalist economic system and its influence on human nature, psychology, character, and health. Marxist theory and critical theory in general give us comprehensive analyses which make clear these systemic relationships connecting social problems to the structure of the institutions that make up society and direct its evolution. But I fear that couching such analyses in the language of marxism, which seems to be loaded with dogmatic and ideological baggage, may not advance our cause of unifying and inspiring the student body to discover the power we hold collectively. This is due primarily to its popular inaccessibility, but also because of the negative reaction it inspires in our peers. Such analyses may alienate the very public that we are trying to reach and inspire toward political participation and action.

While Marxian analysis may be less than perfect in advancing our goal to the degree that you, William, and I might hope, it indeed has constructive elements to it, and one I find particularly important. At the core of Marxian analysis and critical theory is the deeply felt democratic spirit of political and economic equality, social fraternity, and the value and capacity for the individual to participate politically and create progressive change. It is toward the constructive nature of this democratic spirit of individual participation and social responsibility that I hope to call your attention and toward which I hope to direct this social dialogue.

This democratic spirit is at the root of many different strands of progressive, critical thought and social movements. It is a spirit so old and deeply rooted in human nature that it is found manifest in the social relations and composition of early hunter/gatherer societies and religious communities. The value of the individual and his/her social responsibility is a pillar of Abrahamic religions, and its call has been heard from the mouths of the biblical prophets wandering the wilderness. Latin American Liberation Theology is an example of a political program derived from the radical social responsibility doctrine of Christianity. The influence of this spirit is found in the writings of the ancient Greece and Rome, the modern philosophy of political liberalism, and in the subsequent socio-political critique of social democrats, socialists, communists, and anarchists. In fact the normative themes of individual agency, political participation, social responsibility, and social, economic, and political equality are ones that unite the disparate parts of the progressive left: the anti-war movement, the movement against racism, the feminist movement, the LGBTQ movement, the indigenous peoples’ movement, the environmental movement, the movement for economic equality, and the labor movement, among others. It is interesting to note that this normatively charged spirit of democratic participation, social responsibility, and equality radiating from the depths of these movements is but one common characteristic.

The other characteristic common to the existence of these social movements is the causal relationship between the problems they are fighting with the the world capitalist economic system. The culpable face and bloody hands of Capitalism are shown upon the final analysis of the root causes of any one of these societal issues confronted today by our generation. To bring the emotionally and normatively charged language of an optimistic democratic ideal may beget more fruit than the heavy language of political marxism. It is toward a consideration of this approach that I hope to call your intellectual and moral energies. While Marxist analysis may lead to orthodoxy, intellectual elitism, alienation of the general public, fractiousness and fragmentation within the progressive left, and an equally charged reaction from the opposition, the utility of making primary the social democratic “spirit of democracy” is made evident in its “universality” as a social value, and its historical ability to unite the progressive left in a common effort toward the just reform of society.

The experience of the 1960s movement of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) is an illustrates this idea. SDS was born during the Cold War period of relative post-WWII prosperity of the 1950s and a cultural climate of conformity and suppression of critical dissent. This climate coexisted and fed into the climate of institutionalized racist bigotry. This was the time of the political disenfranchisement of blacks that led to the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). There was also an atmosphere of anti-communist McCarthyism, which effectively silenced dissent. Moreover, the Southern Democrats, or racist Dixiecrats, strangled progressive reform from within Congress and swept the progressive legs out from under the democratic party.

The SDS was born out of an effort to realign the democratic party toward progressive values, to combat the deep seated political apathy on college campuses, and to fight against social injustices such as Jim Crow, McCarthyism, the Cold War, the War in Viet Nam, and other issues of social, political, and economic inequality.

The Students for a Democratic Society released a political manifesto known as the Port Huron Statement during their years of political activism, civil disobedience, protests, and demonstrations. This statement effectively united the progressive front under the banner of participatory democracy and social responsibility. The authors of the statement, chief among them Tom Hayden, sought to stay away from fractious Marxian analysis and elected to use the vocabulary of the democratic spirit. It was on account of this conscious choice that the New Left of the 1960s became united and by which were able to achieve some measure of social reform. They are to be amended for their exercise of “prefigurative politics,” whereby in their every day actions and operation they worked to mold their society by consciously practicing the ideals they sought to achieve. In this manner, status hierarchies and elected leadership were done away with in favor of mass, direct participation. Although the progressive movement of the 60s achieved much, it did not go without criticism.

The Students for a Democratic Society movement has been criticised then and now by radicals for being pragmatic, instrumentalist, populist, and reformist. It was criticized for deviating from strict Marxian analysis. Its fracture and ultimate disintegration came about due to the radicalization of inner elements that channeled debate in a non-constructive direction, in the direction of Marxist analysis, a direction that fragmented the movement instead of unifying it.

Today we continue to be faced with the problems of inequality of wealth and power, racism, sexism, and all-pervasive global war. We continue to to find ourselves in a sea apathy among our peers. I believe we can learn powerful lessons from our parents’ generation, the generation of SDS. It is because of this belief that I write you today. I want to invite you personally, William, and the other socially conscious readers of the Monitor to come and join the newly founded chapter of Students for a Democratic Society at Truman, and to put this social dialogue into political practice. I call on you and the others, in the spirit of participatory democracy, fraternity, equality, and freedom, to find meaning and fulfilment through expending purposeful, social and intellectual energies toward the ongoing social dialogue and political praxis on our campus. Only through such efforts can we hope to to unite the progressive left under a common banner, to reverse the tides of political and social apathy, and to set a fire underneath the feet of the Power Elite. Let us come together, actively live the society we want to create, and contribute to meaningful personal and societal change. May they cower at the strength of a politically conscious and unified movement in the spirit of participatory democracy and social responsibility!

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Beehive Collective Interview by Sebastian Maldonado-Velez

Early this fall semester, a couple of representatives from Beehive Design Collective gave a presentation about their latest art project entitled Mesoamérica Resiste. They are an activist art collective based in Machias, ME with a goal of teaching others about current global problems through storytelling and copyright free art. By touring, or “cross-pollinating”, they spread the voices and stories that have been incorporated into mural-style drawings about issues in Central America. After coming up with the idea for their latest project they gathered a group of artists who visited several Central American countries and then started working on how they were going to present the stories told to them through a visual. The following interview was with Tyler Bee, one of the artists and “cross-pollinators” involved with this ten-year labor of love and activism.

Sebastian: How and when did you become involved with the Beehive? What projects has the collective taken up until now?

Tyler: I became involved in 2008, when folks were first starting “The True Cost of Coal” project, and they were recruiting new team members to take on this ambitious project. Graphics projects include “Free Trade,” “Plan Colombia,” “The True Cost of Coal,” and “Mesoamerica Resiste.” There are also numerous small graphics that individuals or small teams have created, but I usually don’t count those. Local projects mostly center around Machias Valley Grange Hall (there are other recent endeavors, still in nascent stage).

S: The “Mesoamerica Resiste” project quite a bit of Spanish in the textual storytelling. What led the artists to keep the language as a part of the project?

T: In my opinion, it’s not a lot at all. That image is like a political cartoon the size of a textbook, and there are probably not more than 50 words in total across both images. And, of course, people in Central America speak Spanish, it would be pretty insulting to collect all their stories and then display them in a way they cannot understand (i.e. English). These graphics are not meant solely to tell people in the US about what is happening in other parts of the world (though of course they do that very well), they are also intended to help people in front line communities tell their own stories and organize their communities around shared experiences.

S: Are there bilingual partners of the Beehive who help during the researching aspect of the projects in Central America or are there hired translators?

T: Of the 7-8 people who traveled through Central America, most of them were Spanish speakers, who translated for the 1-2 people who did not speak Spanish. Images are great for transcending language barriers – one member of the group who lives in Colombia sometimes works with indigenous peoples who don’t speak Spanish, but the posters and banners can communicate in spite of this.

S: The “Mesoamerica Resiste” and “Plan Mesoamerica” visuals are incredibly stunning because of the style and story-telling aspects. Once these projects were finished on the drawing board what was the next step?

T: They got scanned in on a giant scanner (roll-through, 48 inches wide!), and then there was a little pre-press color manipulation to make the extremely dense imagery read a little better, then they were printed on big banners and on thousands of posters too.

S: You mentioned that you are an artist and a “cross-pollinator” within the collective. What does that mean exactly? What other roles are there within the group?

T: Mostly there are illustration, travelling education, and local community organizing roles. Its all pretty loose, we have become more of a de-centralized network nowadays and individuals engage in different ways, different levels of commitment. There’s also lots of required tasks like book-keeping (that’s me), sending out packages when we get webstore orders and corresponding with printers (that used to be me), and other things associated with running a small business. Roles change over often, as people come and go. Most of us do this in a part-time fashion, volunteer, so we just do our best to juggle the many tasks among few people. In general there is a lot of variety and change in roles and tasks.

S: During the speech you said that you would be going to India soon to help a group of artists start a similar project for their country. Is this the next step the collective has in mind by spreading the “beehive mentality” to others from different cultures?

T: I traveled to India last summer, and brought beehive posters with me. Many people really loved them, and a couple of collaborative artist/activist groups got really excited, saying “We could do this!” and they invited me to return to try to facilitate the process of getting a collaborative story-telling graphic started. Its all the organization can do to just pay our bills month to month, but the *IDEA* is what is really special, and many people around the world have been inspired by it – we have bees all over the US, as well as in Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, UK, Poland, and Australia.

S: Are there any ideas floating around the Beehive about what the next project or cause will be?

T: Too many to list, and I have no inkling about what folks will decide on. I would venture a guess that we are more likely to see multiple smaller graphics in the coming years, now that we have this growing decentralized network.

S: What can a college student who is interested in helping out or even joining the Beehive do to help (especially if they can’t donate money)?

T: Many people travel to Machias during the summer to meet the bees, work on local community service projects, and connect with other like-minded young activists. Keep an eye on the website, info about opportunities should be posted there as they come up.

For more about the Beehive Collective’s projects and process visit their website: http://beehivecollective.org/en/

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Gustav Klimt’s “Life and Death” by Anna Selle

Being death is a lonely occupation, but I’m sure that’s something you’ve already assumed. Countless stories have been written to include human notions of death, but has anyone ever taken the time to get to know me? To sit down at a coffee shop for a mid-day chat, to discover that contrary to what one might expect, I don’t like my coffee black. In fact, I’d take it with cream and a little bit of sugar. The raw sugar that comes in the little brown packets, not any of that saccharine superficial nonsense. Or on occasion I’ll have a latte. I mean, does anyone ever me over to watch football with the gang on Sunday afternoon or to stop by book club? No. Well, not intentionally at least. Holidays are particularly uncomfortable for me. Sure, I have plenty of people to visit. But when I knock, I can hear them say inside, “Shit, death is here. And during the holidays, that fucker.” Unwelcome, mostly. Honestly, I can put up with the negativity most of the year, rarely being welcome with open arms or greeted like an old friend, sometimes tolerated, but mostly met with disgust and anger. Isolation is not ideal, but then again it’s all that I’ve known in my existence. But this period of time in western culture between Thanksgiving and the New Year celebrations is more difficult than the other months of the human calendar. My co-workers in other parts of the world don’t seem to feel the same seasonal bleakness, and I’ve often wondered why. I’ve been keeping notes, actually, at our all-staff meetings in January and throughout the month, like a human diary, I suppose. Chronicling each visit I have, what people say when they think I’m not still within earshot. I’ve gathered a little information from the innocuous small talk I can make with the souls I guide to whatever after life they signed themselves up for, or back into life again somewhere else in the world, if they so choose. And what I’ve gathered is this: for some, and that’s not to say everyone I serve, there’s this implied majestic property of this time of their year. Blame the popular media and depictions of winter cheer, but it’s meant to be a sacred and protected time, or at least that’s how so many humans see it. I’ve speculated as to whether or not this is something that my predecessors have noticed as well, but unfortunately I can’t exactly contact them. So instead, I just continue to observe these patterns in human behavior.

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If you know what I mean by Alex Wennerberg

Joe bit into his bar of expensive dark chocolate, turning it over in his hand and reading the label’s description of the experience he was meant to have. His black hood covered his hair, which was also black, curly, and tied back in a sloppy bun. Very loud electronic music filled his ears through headphone­s. His gray desk was cold and reminded him of sickness, maybe because of hospitals. The silent air, or something else, made his body feel stiff and out of place, like a blemish on the cheek of a national park tour guide: something to politely ignore.

While idly finishing his chocolate, Joe watched, through glasses, a YouTube video of the South World Trade Center tower on fire filmed from an apartment building by an old-sounding man and his wife. The old man said “oh my god.” His wife gasped and later gave a soft, short yelp. Bodies fell from the smoky steel, softly arched, like something held from a point by a thin string being cut.

Joe’s History of Science essay was due at 9:30 AM, which was in seven hours. His dormitory room was dark and the white light of his computer screen, now displaying a Microsoft Word document, reflected a soft mask onto his face, illuminating the soft flesh & shimmering off his wet, hard eyes. He fantasized about explaining his feelings regarding the YouTube video to Kat, imagining the empathic speech and acting it out with quick gestures and a rushed whisper, but he knew he couldn’t. Nor could he ever have. He walked to his bed, kneeled for a second, then collapsed onto the floral comforter with a thump. He writhed until he was tightly wound into a black dome under the cover of his blankets, facing downward. He could feel his fast heartbeat. He decided he felt good as long as he was not moving. It was better when he closed his eyes. Thin music played from his headphones across the room.

Joe jumped up and walked barefoot down three flights of stars into the November cold. He meant for the night sky to reassure him. He lay on his back in the middle of the cold street and looked. There were no cars, but he only thought about cars. He didn’t want to die; he wanted to see the stars. He noticed it was raining a little. A small drop stung his eye, which recoiled. He stood up and ran inside. Breathing heavily, he handed his ID to a student worker, saying thank you twice, and then again.

Back in his room, he thought about punching a hole in one of his walls, which he had never done before, and which seemed wild and exciting and without negative consequences. Instead he sat down at his desk, releasing his body from his feet. He thought about the probably five hundred people sleeping in his building, invisible behind closed doors, maybe struggling. He wrote the rest of his essay while watching a History Channel documentary about a maximum-security prison in Colorado on YouTube, the second season of Adventure Time, several episodes of a YouTube cooking show and a pirated copy of The Social Network. A lot else happened. It didn’t matter. Everything was OK in the end.

Alex Wennerberg is president of The Monitor, which is the publication you are currently reading.

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