A Poem by SJU Writing Studies Student Maura Shenker

Photo courtesy of the author.

Photo courtesy of the author.

 

Worldview Words That Describe How I Feel on a Sunday Morning in November After the Election – by Maura Shenker

 

 

 

 

Stomachacha-pained and ravanaged

my blue I’d blurry self. Eyerainful.

Blerked with nuked coffee

Infinite simile, intestinally twistoptic

 

My thoughts turn entrospectif

In the quiet of my domestisilo

 

Safety becomes my primary concern in this

Society of trumpeeting divisination.

With out honor; with out humor –

just a malignificent terrortumor.

 

Semi-radicalized extraspecticktocular

Intellectual pseudobscurbation

 

Corpse aquiver, mouth agape,

throat scorched with acid regretsting.

Unkind hindsight causes fleshtions

flashing: come up wanting (air)

 

Nerves blergomous in the silence

Ears straining for the clatterpanic of the

UPcoming

UPrising

 

Their carnivagorging all consuming,

crunch…crunch…McNibble…

As a family we break freak feast

Ribbonibulous time streaming out.

 

Maura Shenker is the Director of the Center for Professional Development, an SJU alumna with an MS in Organizational Development and Leadership, and current Writing Studies student. Maura has an MFA in Glass from Ohio State University and a BFA in Glass from the Rhode Island School of Design. She is a current board member of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, a catalyst for sustainable development and community building in North Philadelphia, and lives in Kensington with her one-day-to-be husband, their two children (Maverick age 6 and Lucky age 3) and a very crotchety 17-year old dog.

 

 

Tackle – Funny in Less than 500 Words by Ryan Latini

Photo Courtesy of the Author

Photo Courtesy of the Author

Photo Courtesy of funnyinfivehundred.com

Photo Courtesy of funnyinfivehundred.com

 

 

Thank God it wasn’t hunting season,” was the last thing I could remember saying to Officer Bill before I blacked out. Usually, he wakes you with a clipboard smack to the forehead, but this morning it was the tapping of a No. 2 pencil. As I stirred, I could feel the eraser keeping beat out of time with the inherent beat of my hangover.

“What’s that song you’re tapping out?” I asked.

“Ain’t no song.”

Officer Bill stood and smiled, looking down as I rubbed my eyes. I squirmed on the floor of the holding cell, stretching toward the fluorescent lights. “

It’s Morse code for, you’re a goofy asshole. Your mommy is here to pick you up again. We’ve got another public intoxication award for you.”

“What do I win?” I asked, rising in the cell, rubbing my right eye.

“A court date.”

“A while since I’ve been on a date,” I said. “Who punched me?—Is it bruised? Feels a little swollen.”

“Murph did,” Officer Bill said. “In fact, he said you were trying to get a date with him last night. Want to see my rod, is what you said. It’s all in the report.”

“Oh!” I followed the officer down the hall toward booking. I remembered. “Fishing.”

“What?” He said, sitting down behind his desk with a squeaking swivel. I couldn’t see my mother standing two feet to my right, but I could smell her “out-and-about” perfume. My eye was swollen and nearly shut.

“It was a fishing rod. I have a new one. For catfish.” Officer Bill rustled paper. My mother sighed. I couldn’t look at her—literally or figuratively. “Graphite composite rod. Three bearing reel. Ergonomic design. Two-piece construction,” I said.

I didn’t see it coming, but pain suddenly blinded my good eye. My mom flicked the side of my head with her finger. “You’re a dumb boy. Fishing in the street?”

When the pain subsided, I remembered the night before, out front of the Spread Eagle Tavern, casting my fishing rod into the street. I remember the police approaching. I remember slowly reeling in, jerking the rod to bounce my jig worm on the asphalt. Officer Bill had asked for my license. “My fishing license?” I asked.

Officer Bill was gentle with me—the way he’s been since I was a teenager. My mother—not so gentle, but she has to “keep up appearances.” That holding cell is home for her just the same. We’ve left notes to each other carved on the rail of the cot.

After signing my rod out of the evidence room and placing it carefully in her sedan, down the center and out through the trunk, we sat in silence.

“What kind of bait were you using?” She laughed and slapped the dashboard. “Want me to drop you at the Spread Eagle?

“No,” I said. “Drop me off at the river. That jig hasn’t seen water yet.”

“You got your license?”

Ryan R. Latini is a freelance and fiction writer living and writing in the Greater Philadelphia Area. He received his M.A. in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph’s University, and is currently on the editorial staff of The Schuylkill Valley Journal. Contact him on Twitter, @RyanRLatini, gmail: ryan.latini856@gmail.com, and check out his website, The Narrative Report at www.ryanlatini.com.

Twelfth Night – by John M. Rafferty, SJU Writing Studies Student

john-rafferty

John M. Rafferty

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twelfth Night is a flash fiction piece inspired by the work of Raymond Carver. It is concerned with a man’s struggle to find work, and the unexpected place his search takes him.

I went on the audition as a favor to my friend, Cole. I’m not an actor and neither is he, but I used to work full-time on his construction crew. His wife, Maria, is an actor, and as Cole related to me over the phone, Maria had told him that they “were really very desperate” for more actors, just for small parts. I had been struggling so hard to get consistent work, I figured Cole might help me if I tried out for this community production. He told me it was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

I practiced the lines they had sent me. I felt nervous, sick, the whole day of the audition. I drove to the church in the rain, about forty minutes. It was a medium-sized theater. Bright, clean, wood floor, royal-blue stage curtain. The director, Simon, and two other older people–one a man, one a woman–sat at a table. Simon had a grayish-white beard and was paunchy, friendly and relaxed. The older man and woman, late sixties, early seventies, were a little fragile in how thin they were. They both had white hair, too; the older woman, glasses. They all smiled as we said hellos and shook hands. I filled out a sheet with my basic information and walked up onto the stage.

I read for three small parts in total. At first, I felt it was going fairly well–and then better –but I had to do an accent next, which I fumbled: I was having so much trouble with the lines that I forgot to keep up the accent; the last character I improved, I thought, but it was all overwhelming. It appeared they were not impressed when it was over. I walked down off the stage and they thanked me for coming out and I thanked them for the opportunity and was courteous and well-mannered.

When I left, it was still raining, driving home, and I felt unbearably strange: I didn’t want to act and I never wanted to be in the production, but I felt like a failure now that it seemed as though I would not be offered a part. At home, I sat in the kitchen and felt worse. I was tired. Maybe if I did some leg work, found other actors to recommend, that would help. That might count for something.

I never heard from the theater. I got a gig, full-time, selling alarm services door-to-door. I hated it, but I had to stomach it. I went and saw the play. I was a little worried I might run into Simon or the older man and woman (it would be embarrassing), but I didn’t. I saw Cole watching Maria up on stage and wondered if there was any point in talking to them when it was over. But really, I focused all my energy in understanding what was going on upon that stage: Who was playing who and what the characters wanted, and if it worked out for any of them.

Thanks to John for sharing his work with us!

 

 

 

Sex in the cornfields: The agony and ecstasy of dating at a strict Christian college

This piece is part of SJU Writing Studies student Dan Rousseau’s thesis, published on Salon.com last week. Loved it!

life_essay_corn_field-620x412

(Credit: MaxyM via Shutterstock)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Indiana corn weaves like a maze of chastity. My girlfriend, Becca, and I are driving in my black Subaru Forester, hunting for a solitary space. I am a sophomore in college and am studying the Bible in hopes of entering the ministry. My left hand dictates the steering wheel, while my right hand is clasped to Becca’s manicured fingers. A double-looped, olive scarf and a single chestnut braid contrast her blue eyes, dilated juniper berries that have been expertly framed.

Our relationship began in high school. Although her allure lay somewhere beyond my league, she, the graceful cheerleading captain, and I, the mop-headed metal drummer, found an immediate Eros — one that remains clothed and censored by burgeoning, Christian morals.

Now, we drive as college mates, best friends and eager lovers. There is necking and driving, reckless passion born of young frontal lobes. Our relationship needs a hidden roadside without an audience, where we won’t make love but will dream of doing so. And in the process, press upon ingrained religious and physical boundaries.

It is early October, and the dry cornstalk still stands. Time-worn, dirt roads are masked by seven-foot plants. We would like the vegetation to hide us while we enjoy the back seat, but it only masks the oncoming traffic: Farmers in ancient pick-ups appear out of nowhere, flash their headlights and roll down their windows. “You kids OK?”

I am wary of authoritative eyes in the harvest and the lips that call nakedness shame. My staunch, self-induced morality whispers, “Sex is reserved for the shadows.”

I am reminded of a juvenile angst.

It was a midnight high wire act: arms out for balance, white socks moved heel to toe. Wide pupils were focused on the stair railing to my right, and fretful ears were fixed on the copper hinges on my parent’s bedroom door. The maple floorboards were bubbled, and my twelve-year-old stride activated a creak. It echoed. I froze, then wrenched my neck to the head of the hall and listened for movement. The air sat still. My pastor father and stay-at-home mother remained asleep.

I considered my sixth grade English class and Poe’s light-footed night stalker. But I was not on a murderous search for The Tell Tale Heart — I was a libido-driven, fuzz-stached pre-teen in search of late-night cable boobs.

My family had just moved to the Chicago suburbs from North Carolina. This was my seventh house. Preacher’s families are often blown about the country, tossing God’s Word to the common-people, and receiving a free month of HBO with each new city.

I crept down the stairs, back hunched, knees bent — attempting to lower my center of gravity. Our yellow lab, Caleb, named from the Hebrew for “dog,” met me at the ground floor. His tail swayed in anticipation of play; dull claws scratched at linoleum. I pinched his muzzle with my right hand. “Not now,” I whispered. The dog’s brow tilted backward. He let out a muted whimper, promising silence. In sympathy, I let him follow me to the beige-carpeted living room, a companion in the carnal exploration.

The television’s cathode tubes hid behind a forty-inch square of black, bowed glass and rested on a two-foot, red oak cabinet. For months, the TV had prodded my budding hormones. I wasted days by flipping through channels, looking for skin. I would spend a half-hour viewing “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” trying to will the gold-plated bra off of Teela: the long-legged, red-haired Captain of the Royal Guard. I would change the channel to “The Cosby Show” and feel palpable tension between myself and Denise Huxtable, portrayed by the tempting Lisa Bonet. The dreadlocked renegade sported extra-large, cable knit sweaters, leaving everything but her high cheekbones to the imagination.

Conjectured pictures moved in my head: The bare chest of Eve from my Illustrated Children’s Bible was plastered over Teela’s sultry hips — all of this capped by a Huxtable smile. Using the thin, grey remote, I powered the television, expecting to find my fantasy girl gyrating on late-night, premium-cable porn.

The erotic light of channel 501 swallowed the space, and my thumb pressed mute. A pale, blonde female security guard sat alone in a surveillance room: naked. She monitored a video feed of a masked, shirtless burglar. I had seen protruding abdominals like his before on the glistening, blue body of Captain Planet. I stared, bewildered as the woman massaged her tight, left nipple and caressed her inner thigh with petite, red-tipped fingers. She bit at her lower lip with the same euphoric agony as a kid lusting after a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card — “1989 Upper Deck, oh baby!”

I was uncertain as to what the woman was doing or trying to do. But the longer I looked, the warmer I felt. My senses clouded, chest trembled and muscles clenched. My left hand was urged to the fly of my baseball-print pajama pants. A sudden wetness was accompanied by dream-like ecstasy, then a return to perspective with my pulse’s decrescendo.

I powered off the television. There was blackness. I could feel Caleb’s warm pant against my left hip. The dog’s eyes shone green and inserted regret. The experience was unknown and therefore was sin.

Becca winces and my perspective is pulled back to the present car-ride, “You’re crushing my hand.” I apologize and blame a pent-up libido. She leans her shoulders toward the passenger window and fixates on the moonlit fields. “You only care about the physical stuff.” My fingers move to her denim-covered knee, a safer spot to prove a gentle agape.

I speak to her backlit silhouette, “I’m sorry. It’s this place. This school. They make it impossible.”

Taylor University’s 40-foot brick bell tower rises like a stalk from the Indiana corn. The bell tower is split into two columns which meet at a head: a symbol of the integration of faith and learning. The 2,000 students are deeply committed, evangelical Christians. The community is tight and secluded; the campus sits in the middle of a 4,000-resident farm town. In this place, which boasts of conservative roots, there is vocal guilt attached to sex: “Should it actually feel good?”

The wing where I live houses 60 men. Our pleasures are secret. I’ve only seen alcohol here once, have never heard porn through the concrete walls but have a hunch the guy two doors down smoked pot when he went home last weekend. Sin is obsessed upon.

We have a masturbation jar. Each time you get your rocks off, you must stuff a dollar in the jar. God is watching. The jar fills fast. I don’t think they do this at state colleges. A buddy of mine says its alright in God’s eyes to masturbate to inanimate objects, “Just don’t lust after girls.” He’s never kissed one.

Taylor’s academic reputation is strong, but so are its rules. In the 1960s, a handbook was constructed of promoted, Godly conduct, and of restricted behaviors that might lead to sin. The University officials who penned the work named it after Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, “Life Together.” Bonhoeffer, a radiant theologian, was hanged by the Nazis for planning an assassination of Adolf Hitler and reportedly died a virgin. He showed no regret in missing out on sex, claiming to have lived a full life — although a sexual summary is an unfair judge of the honest man.

Upon signing the Life Together Covenant, students agree to refrain from the following behaviors: dancing, lying, profanity, drinking, smoking, premarital sex, involvement with pornography, homosexual relationships and immodest dress, among others. Refusal to sign the covenant may result in expulsion. While consensus might agree that abstinence, or moderation, from some of the aforementioned actions could promote physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, there is a loss of critical thought in the removal of a student’s free choice to act on, or refrain from, “sin.”

Like an authoritative parent, the University’s sexual mistrust is layered. Dorms are categorized by gender. Men and women are allowed in one another’s rooms twice a week, for four hours. Resident Assistants troll the hallways during visiting hours, like nurses in a psych ward, making sure all lights are on and all doors are open. There is plenty of flirting, but no way to act on it.

Raging hormones are repressed to the backs of minds, where they are interpreted as guilt.

The young women are told that having sex is as painful as labor, while the men place the vagina on an ivory pedestal, of sorts: “I’m going to rail her on our wedding night.” In a community so focused on not having sex, there is much lost in the beautiful intricacies of learning to appreciate the soul and body of a loving partner.

Each fall, the school devotes a week to sexual education. The week’s festivities are referred to as “Sex in the Cornfields.” Men and women fill separate auditoriums where speakers romanticize celibacy before marriage, and outline, via animated PowerPoint slides, ways to reduce and quit masturbation. The term “sex” is thrown around as a ubiquitous catch-all for promiscuous sin, but is never defined. Thus, the sexually illiterate evangelical students develop operational definitions of sex based on their childhood and teenage experiences.

In an effort to define sex, I call upon my own late night, cable-enhanced sixth-grade exploration.

Elementary school sex education videos taught me how to hide a random erection: “Here’s a cool tip, carry your books in front of your penis.” These same tapes showed cartoon testes, with bug-eyed sperm swirling about, chomping at the bit to reach the woman’s high-cheeked, Maybellined egg.

I was twelve and, for two years, had been waiting for a chance to examine real semen, to watch my sperm bounce like guppies. The opportunity had finally arisen. There I stood, dog at my side, holding a fresh, albeit fast-cooling, sample in my pants.

I moved to the kitchen, and trod a wide gate to keep the sperm in place. This was a sleuth mission — the Pink Panther theme song crept from the corners of my subconscious. My parent’s bedroom lay above. The white pantry door was ajar, so it opened with a breath of a push. I scanned past the canned soup, most of it split pea, then found the plastic sandwich bags sitting atop a wire shelf. My hand plucked a bag from the cobalt, cardboard box. This was followed by a soft close of the door. The brass knob’s click was consumed by the darkness.

My sly legs moved to the staircase. I exhorted a whisper at the rustling dog: “Caleb, stay. You’re too loud.” He obeyed and watched me climb toward manhood. I avoided the middle of each step, where the bare wood was likely to groan.

The second-floor hall was as I left it: serene. Although I figured the Holy Ghost and his judging eyes were planted in a dim corner. I slid into my room and flipped the snow-white light switch on. Not wanting to waste precious time, I turned the plastic bag inside out, as I was accustomed to doing when picking Caleb’s poop from the neighbor’s lawn, and reached into the front of my pants. I pulled out a hoard of creamed, buried treasure. With surgical efficiency, I flipped and sealed the bag.

Several thousand loose baseball cards, stacked in eighteen-inch piles atop my honey-cedar desk, were swept to make room for the semen sample. I then rummaged my closet, whose cramped, carpeted floor ramped above the staircase. My hands dug through die-cast cars, a stiff catcher’s mitt, once-lost math worksheets and a battery powered X-wing starfighter; liquid freeze pops, American Girl doll glasses, stale tightie whities and a “Check yes if you like me” note. Then the all-powerful semen-deducing tool emerged: a Wendy’s-brand, Peter Pan magnifying glass.

My eye almost touched the glass, turning it into a monocle of sorts. As the first person to examine my semen, all observations were noted as discoveries. The initial revelation pertained to color. I’d been under the impression that semen was bleach white, but it was more of a linen with a hint of French vanilla. I wondered if my blonde hair affected my semen color. The second detection was of odor. The viscous sample smelled of must — not unlike mildewed baseball pants; I considered a washed uniform to be bad luck. I thereupon became statuesque, with pupils focused on a centimeter-wide portion of the specimen. My eyes were fishing for sperm. In held breath and wishful thought — I swore I saw one move.

A roadside clearing jogs my mind back to the meandering path beside Taylor University. I turn onto a rocky, dim road and ask Becca if she can see any houses. Her vision is better than mine, “I think there’s a house way up there, but it could be a silo. Nothing to worry about. Just pull off here.” I slow the car. Weeds whip beneath the tires. I cut the engine; I turn the lights off. We coincide a sigh and sit for a moment, listening to the wind against the windows. I turn and lean to kiss her, but my seatbelt impedes my progress. She unlocks the belt, then climbs from her chair.

We lay in the backseat, stuck to faux leather, our desires enhanced by the full moon. I am focused on her eyes — not the world outside. She reaches for my jeans.

Suppressed longing escapes.

Fog rises.

A heavy thud hits the passenger side window.

“Oh, shit.”

I force my body off of Becca, hitting my head on the glass moon-roof. She groans, “Your knee is in my crotch.” I look to the window, ready to appease an angry farmer. But all I see is a cud-chewing, flared-nosed, voyeuristic cow — sent by God to protect my virginity. We laugh, re-assume the upright position, turn the car back on and meander beneath the moon.

Dan Rousseau is a Philadelphia-based writer and MA candidate in Writing Studies at Saint Joseph’s University. He holds a degree in psychology from Taylor University in Upland, IN, and has worked in behavioral psychology through the Institute for Behavior Change.

Congrats to Mary Beth Peabody ’15 On Her New Job!

MaryBethPeabody-WEB-300x182

Courtesy of the Catholic Star Herald

“I’m still pinching myself about this job. It’s quite a departure from the corporate world I left when I came to SJU, but it enables me to transfer a lot of the skills I developed along the way. I have often thought I missed the boat not being in education, especially after taking Ann Green’s Writing Teacher Writing class, but I couldn’t really see my way to another degree at this point in my life. So this is perfect. Maybe I’ll get that next degree after I retire.” – Mary Beth Peabody

 

 

Read on for more about Mary Beth and her new position.

On March 21, Mary Beth Peabody joined the Diocese of Camden as communications and marketing manager for Catholic schools. In this capacity, Peabody is responsible for developing and implementing communication and marketing strategies to support the ministry of Catholic education.

This new position is an important element of the long-term strategic plan for schools in the Diocese of Camden, which was detailed in the report commissioned by Bishop Dennis Sullivan, “Forming Minds and Hearts in Grace: A Plan for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Camden.”

In this new role, Peabody will leverage years of experience in corporate communications, where she specialized in managing change through effective communication. A former consultant with two national firms, her experience spans the early phases of strategy and planning through branding and media selection, copy writing and production management.

“Mary Beth’s experience will have a significant impact on elevating the public awareness of the good work being accomplished in diocesan schools,” said Superintendent of Schools Mary Boyle, who noted that Peabody will work collaboratively with the diocesan Office of Communications.

Peabody is excited about focusing her efforts on a single mission, the future of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Camden. Her mother, Anne McBride, taught at Camden Catholic High School, and her three sons attended Catholic schools in Pennsylvania.

A graduate of Clemson University, Peabody recently earned a master’s degree in writing studies from Saint Joseph’s University. She is a member of Saint Denis Parish in Havertown, Pa. and an associate with the Sisters of Mercy, with whom she is active in efforts designed to promote social justice.

Article courtesy of the Catholic Star Herald.

Well done, Mary Beth! Keep us posted on how it goes.