Today we are pleased to feature author John Milas as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, John discusses his short story “Tide Roll Away,” and emphasizes the theme of the “humanity of people who wear uniforms.”
John states that “We live in a society in which we are taught to dehumanize the uniformed, regardless of our place on the political spectrum.” Whether it’s the uniformed police, members of the military, or even “the teenager behind the cash register at a fast-food franchise,” John emphasizes that we are taught to use uniforms as a way to “dehumanize and exploit” those who wear them, and to only see such individuals “as part of a larger group.”
John muses on the idea if we, as members of society, “ever interrogate the specific, detailed reasons that an individual may have for wearing [their] uniform.” Eventually, he finds that “we spend more time jumping to conclusions than we do exercising our ability…to empathize with individuals, or our imperative as artists to do so.” He concludes by quoting “fellow veteran writer” Ulf Pike, who says that “I can’t tell anybody else what they should be writing about in terms of war or the military…My responsibility is to myself, that I write from a genuine conviction…to find traction and friction and move forward.”
You can read John’s story, “Tide Roll Away,” in Issue 19 of Superstition Review.
“Statement Piece: Erik Gronborg and Ehren Tool” on view through Nov. 21 at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard
Tempe, Ariz. – This fall, the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center will present Statement Piece: Erik Gronborg and Ehren Tool, an exhibition that brings together two socially-engaged artists from different generations. The exhibition is curated by the ASU Art Museum’s curator of ceramics, Garth Johnson, and will be on view Aug. 1 through Nov. 21, 2015 at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard, located at 7th Street and Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe.
In the 1950s, Erik Gronborg, who was born in Denmark, spent several years in a work camp for conscientious objectors before moving to the United States, where he made his mark with a series of functional pots addressing the Vietnam War. At age 83, Gronborg is still working in his studio, although he has shifted from ceramics to woodworking and maintaining an elaborate garden that he began in 1976.
Ehren Tool joined the Marine Corps in the early 1990s and served in Operation Desert Storm. Upon his return, he began to study ceramics, using functional pottery as a way to explore his evolving views about military service and the human toll inflicted by warfare. Over the past decade, Tool has given away more than 14,000 handmade cups loaded with images related to the United States military. He was recently featured in an episode of the PBS program Craft in America that revolved around veterans in the arts. When asked about the function of his artwork, Tool has said, “I hope that some of these cups can be starting points for conversations about unspeakable things.”
“Gronborg and Tool have been paired for this exhibition because of similarities in their work and parallels in their personal histories,” explains Johnson. “Both artists harness the power of images pressed into wet clay. Both create approachable, functional pottery with social content built in that causes the person using the artwork to contemplate their own relationship with the U.S. Military. It is also no coincidence that Gronborg and Tool both received advanced degrees from the University of California-Berkeley.”
From Sept. 9–11, artist Ehren Tool will be in the Phoenix area, creating cups and speaking to and making art with veterans groups and the general public. The ASU Art Museum is partnering with ASU’s Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement and Pat Tillman Veterans Center, which seek to help veterans and their dependents pursue their educational goals, and Wings for Warriors, a nonprofit that helps wounded veterans with healthcare and financial benefits counseling and travel expenses. Further details will be made available by late August.
A reception for the exhibition will be held Friday, Sept. 11, from 6:30–8:30 p.m. (with a members, alumni and press preview from 5:30–6:30 p.m.). Tool will spend that day making cups in the gallery space at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard. Members of the public are welcome to collaborate with Tool to create their own handmade ceramic cup
All ASU Art Museum events are free and open to the public.
During the course of the exhibition, the ASU Art Museum’s Ceramics Research Center will welcome classes and groups to meet at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard for discussions over coffee and tea served from Ehren Tool’s cups. To schedule a visit, please call the ASU Art Museum Brickyard at 480.727.8170.
This exhibition is supported by The Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Ore., Ron M. Werner and Scott McCoy, Dan Berman and Greg Weller, James Wallace and Julie Bergstrom, Erik Gronborg and Ehren Tool.
ABOUT THE ASU ART MUSEUM
The ASU Art Museum, named “the single most impressive venue for contemporary art in Arizona” by Art in America magazine, is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.
Location/Parking: The museum has three locations across the metro Phoenix area: the ASU Art Museum at 10th Street and Mill Avenue, on ASU’s Tempe campus; the ASU Art Museum Brickyard at 7th Street and Mill Avenue, in downtown Tempe; and the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program Project Space at Combine Studios, in downtown Phoenix. Designated parking is available at all three locations.
Admission: Free at all three locations.
Hours: The ASU Art Museum and ASU Art Museum Brickyard are open 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays. The ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program Project Space in downtown Phoenix at Combine Studios has variable public hours depending on exhibition schedules and is open by appointment.
I was gonna write about making stories in second grade with my spelling words. I was gonna write about how my mama, who grew up abjectly poor and who didn’t go to college herself until she was forty-seven, understood so well that she gave me Walt Whitman when I was nine–A child said What is the grass?-– and the collected William Carlos Williams when I was twelve. I was gonna write about loving Wittgenstein, that space between the name and the thing he explores, that space I think we inhabit as artists. The power of story, poetry as prayer, how teaching reminds me every day of how miraculous the language we use to live in this life–I had written 500 words.
Then Boston blew up.
And West, Texas.
I quit watching the news years ago, but I stalked Facebook, texting people I know and love in the Boston area. I heard snippets of the working-class drawls of people on the streets in Texas. And I cried.
One sweet-faced freshman at the small liberal arts college where I teach in Virginia, shifted from foot to foot in my office, saying he had family in Boston, asking if he could keep his phone on vibrate.
Other freshmen–wide-eyed and curious and scared–in my American Lit class the next morning, discussed Whitman’s Song of Myself–”What is removed drops horribly in a pail”–as a manhunt locked my Boston friends in their homes, keeping their children home from school, away from windows and doors.
Shelter in place.
My students asked me Why and I didn’t have an answer. I said, “He’s your age, the one they’re chasing. Can you tell me why?”
They didn’t have an answer either.
What we did have was pain, fear, the shared understanding of how vulnerable we all are. We talked about that vulnerability, and they revealed to me that they, these children who were only six years old when planes hit the Trade Towers, feel that vulnerable, that defenseless, all the time.
One, a girl, generally giggly, who reminds me of a sparrow, bit her bottom lip and, said, “We know how much there is to lose.”
Yes, they do.
They were first-graders, carrying lunchboxes and crayons and Pokemon trading cards, when our military went into Afghanistan They barely remember when we haven’t been at war in the Middle East.
They were in middle school when the economy tanked. They’ve seen their parents lose jobs; they’ve packed up their picture books and soccer gear to move out of their childhood homes as a result of job loss or foreclosure. Some of them have learned what it means to be hungry, to be without heat or healthcare, what it means to make do. And to do without.
I, like lots of other people, have lived or still live in these kinds of truths, but for these kids, this is new.
Many of the kids I teach are from northern Virginia, growing up in the shadow of DC, in those belt-lines of power, in a culture accustomed to not only financial security, but to the security of government work. They are, for the most part, sheltered by their DOD and corporate parents, more so than the kids I taught at a large state school before this. Sending them to our mostly residential university in rural Virginia is, for a lot of them, a continuation of their parents’ desire to protect them.
I’m not judging any of this. It is what it is. But much of the work I do with them, coming from my own poor and rural background, is simply helping them understand, through writing, through literature, that not everyone lives the way they do, in this country, or elsewhere.
I teach as a writer. It’s how I live in the world, and I simply don’t know how to be anything else. I work at a teaching institution; everyone teaches General Education classes, and I love teaching those brand-new-just-out-of-high-school freshmen more than I can say. Even when one of them asks, every semester—
I’m a Bio-PoliSci-Business-Anything-but-English major. What does this class have to do with me?
I tell them, as best I know how, what literature, all art, means to me, and why I think it matters to them.
For me, it is only in literature, in art, that we hear and can intimately know the individual human voice. I tell them that, to my mind, the literature we read belongs much more to them than it does to us, the writers who create it. We, I believe, are reflectors, and in fifty years, the literature created by their peers will reveal their time, their dreams, their fears and values, the hopes they hold close to their hearts. .
Without apology for the tears this discussion always brings, or for what I know many of my own peers will dismiss as sentimental, I tell these young people, that for me the function of all art is to allow us to look across the room at another human being, at each other, and say You are not alone.
We felt alone that day.
As Boston’s police force sought a broken young man their age, and as the death and injury toll rose outside the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, and as the media bombarded the airwaves with conflicting and frightening partial stories, one of my students quietly said, “You know, at first I was kinda pissed at having to read a fifty page poem.” He leaned back, arm thrown over the back of the desk, sprawled in the seat like a young strong animal. Then he smiled. “But, yeah, I really like this Whitman guy.”
I asked, as I do at the beginning of any reading discussion, “So…what struck you? What didn’t you like? What part stayed with you?”
He gave us a page number and we turned to the part he selected, reading it, gratefully, together.
“The city sleeps and the country sleeps,
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time,
The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband
sleeps by his wife;
And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself….”