Breathing Through Tragedy

by Carla Savino

I don’t remember what I wrote and I don’t remember what I said. I only remember how I felt. I was so numb with an emotion overload on January’s coldest day. I wish I could remember the words that I said through the tears and the blank faces and the church. I never realized how important strength was until I need to rely on it so much. It was that one-week in January, five years ago, that brought me to that pulpit as it brought me to the podium on stage to discuss my greatest experience with my entire high school. Two years ago I stood on stage in a dark-lit auditorium and told the most personal story of my life to my peers and the faculty members. To my surprise everyone listened, embracing my words.

The day my life changed, almost six years ago, started out like any normal day. It was surprising warm yet it was also January and the sky was very dark. I woke up and went to school and had a basketball game. Looking back on these routine acts, they all seem like a blur -one that has smudged itself into that month. I also realize how cold and dark my house appeared on the outside. As I approached it to walk in, its structure and shadows seemed so unknown, nothing like a home. It was as if these signs were placed to tell me to prepare myself, to tell me that some news was lurking and waiting for me to walk through my front door. My family was quiet which is unusual for them. I sat in the most familiar place only to hear the most unfamiliar thing. My cousin Darla died. She was twenty-three and murdered. Her murder happened less than a mile away from my home.

Our names rhyme, which I was always proud of. I looked up to her and in many ways she was and still remains my hero. I remember as a little girl clinging to her hip as if I wanted to be a part of her. I went to every play she acted in and when my parents sat me down staring me square in the eye to tell me the news; the only thing I saw was her performing on stage. Upon hearing how she passed, I shook my head shocked by how much five minutes- no five seconds- could change everything. It wasn’t until a day later that I found out who killed her. Her labeled murder, who happened to be someone I knew all too well. It was my other cousin; Darla’s brother.

The media describes murderers as bad and mentally disturbed people who are dangerous. But what about the families of the murderers, what about the families of the victims they kill? I found confusion in both my answers when I lost both my cousins: my cousin Darla, who was killed, and my cousin Gerald who had become someone else, a labeled murderer. Someone I didn’t know. His mind was completely absent from himself, as it still remains today. That day, he could not control himself or his actions. Yet, for the rest of his life he would be held responsible for taking life. Today, I miss both of my cousins. When someone is lost from your life in any way, you begin to feel a major hole. That feeling started six years ago and it is still massively present today.

Previous to that, I had never known loss or anything like it. But, I quickly discovered the pain of it. The day of her funeral was the coldest day I have ever known. That morning, people lined up outside the door of the funeral parlor to mourn her death. As difficult as this was, I witnessed an accepting and caring community naturally form around the tragedy. Our loss united us, despite our differences. Yet, I would later discover another dimension of humanity, one that was dark and judgmental. On that day, however, I felt loved; and out of the most tragically negative situation, strength started to take shape. This strength was an attribute that would prove to be vital to my existence.

The media got a hold of this whirlwind and labeled the event as family tragedy. They publicized it for brief media hype. It was something that I didn’t want other people to know about. I was compelled to feel ashamed that this could happen to my family. I felt a deep breach and I wanted to go home. However, when I arrive home all I found was more sorrow and more TVs with more names with personal, publicized information and descriptive labels. My world changed from that moment on. Familiar places sent chill up my spine and brought darkness to the brightest of locations. These are the components that I struggle with as I analyze my journey of my captivity while growing up in an environment with social labels placed upon me.

“This is family business

And this is for the family that can’t be with us

And this is for my cousin locked down, know the answer’s in us

That’s why I spit it in my songs so sweet

Like a photo of your granny’s picture

Now that you’re gone it hit us

Super hard on Thanksgiving and Christmas, this can’t be right

Yeah you heard the track I did man, this can’t be life

Somebody please say grace so I can save face

And have a reason to cover my face

I even made you a plate, soul food, know how Granny do it

Monkey bread on the side, know how the family do it

When I brought it why had guard have to look all to it?

As kids we used to laugh

Who knew that life would move this fast?

Who knew I’d have to look at you through a glass?

And look, tell me you ain’t did it, you ain’t did it

And if you did, then that’s family business”

- Kanye West

-1000 kisses

In worlds away what have we sacrificed?

Birds can fly over.

The colors of the sky are the truth.

In a world of control, labels, and more control

What is left to fight for?

If seeing is believing

I can’t accept what there is to believe.

There once were many,

But now there are none.

-1000 kisses

Severity

Gerald is schizophrenic. He hears multiple voices in his head. I know what I can bare to know about the severity of his disease. I cannot imagine what was going trough his head on the day he took life. All I know is that he was a loving, kind individual who I trust completely. For hours I would listen to his intelligence hoping that it would radiate on me. But, things changed. Time changed them. He changed.

He has a forty-seven year sentence in prison. Not only is he physically incased in a gray blob, but he also has a mind that is absent from him. He experiences captivity in ways that I cannot imagine. I recognize the difficulty of his life- but refuse to comment on it anymore than I already have.

My fear is that he will be release decades from now, and I will eventually have to see his difficulty; that I will have to stare into his eyes and absorb the captivity, which he is feeling now.

His Words about the Ocean

He once told me why the ocean was blue.

I did not understand him.

He was too technical with his terms,

Oceans equals mystery

At least to me.

But so was he. A complete mystery, or was he incomplete?

As he talked to me, his words failed to express the future he would create for our world.

He never expressed what lay ahead for him, what the horizon predicted.

But if I only knew…

The sun did rise on the cold winter day, taking so two lives away with it. She being one of them.

I wish I could ask him again why the sky is blue, and this time I would really listen

Being careful not to miss one word or single moment.

For now the ocean will make me wonder.

Bedford, New York

I went to a prep school from preschool to ninth grade. For a total of twelve years I was surrounded by the same kids. While these kids were all my friends, I always felt separate from them. It was not as if I was an existentialist; I was just more interested in running around in my boots at the barn, rather then playing tennis at the country club. I was happy with the horses and I made my own community through my hobby of competitive horseback riding. This is where I devoted most of my time.

I wasn’t concerned with the Lily and Pulitzer shirts. I preferred my jeans and sneakers. Yet, a part of me always longed to walk into a country club, pick up a racket, and be just like all the other girls that I went to school with. As I got older and learned that there was a whole world outside of school, I began to release myself from the desire of being apart of the ‘prep school club.’ I never completely felt accepted by many girls at school; my interests were so vastly different that it was hard to grasp onto a common grounds with them. So, at fifteen, I stood to be an outsider who went to school with multiple insiders.

Then my life changed in 2005. At school, I pretended that everything was okay. I smiled when people asked me how I was doing and I pretended not to hear when people whispered about what they heard on the news. I even denied the labels that coincided with the twisted truth. There were many accepting individuals at school yet; it was the gossiping, chatty people that shaped me, in a way that made me who I am today.

Mr. Kober

Mr. Kober had been my History teacher in 7th and 8th grade. He taught me everything about American History, from the colonies to World War II. I always liked his friendly and interesting way of teaching. I constantly looked forward to his class because it was fun and exciting, yet extremely challenging. One day I met with him for one-on-one extra help. It was a couple of weeks after everything had  happened. I needed to catch up of the week’s worth of history I missed because I had been absent from school recuperating from my ‘family tragedy.’ The session went well, I was able to catch up on all my work and, at the same time, maintain an understanding of the material. I was late for practice, and just as I was about to leave, he looked at me and said, “Wait, Carla…How are things at home?”

It wasn’t what he said, it was the way he said it. Up until that point, I convinced myself that maybe the entire school didn’t know. After all, my cousins had a different last name than I. Yet, the immense concern behind Mr. Kober’s simple words made it crystal clear that everybody knew. That it was in fact a public affair; my family business was all over the school. This would prepare me for two years later when I would experience the same thing in high school. Yet, in this moment with Mr. Kober’s eyes on me, I froze.

Time stopped. I wanted to say “WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TO ASK ME THAT. YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW. YOU CAN’T EVEN IMAGINE.” But, I didn’t say any of it. Grief can make you mad at the world, but it doesn’t have to make you permanently bitter. In that moment, I knew the abrasiveness I felt from Mr. Kober’s question was really not meant to make me angry or uncomfortable; he was just checking in with his student that had recently experienced a great ordeal. He was concerned about me.

So I replied back saying, “Fine. Thanks for asking.” What else was I supposed to say? I was happy when Mr. Kober accepted my empty response to his very personal question. At the time, I though I did him a favor by covering up the ugly truth. In my 15-year-old mind-set, I thought that Mr. Kober didn’t really want to hear all the nitty gritty details of the horror that had become my everyday life. I felt like a captive, chained to the labels given by the news, my classmate, my friends, and myself. Reflecting on his words now, I appreciate the sincerity of Mr. Kober’s question. He was genuinely concerned with my well-being and he wasn’t intrusive with his behavior. However, even with this recent revelation, I probably still would have responded in the exact same manner.

When your personal affairs are publicized all over the news and all over your community, you don’t want anyone to know that you are weak. You want to maintain a façade of being FINE. If you break down, then you give ‘them’ something else to talk about; you give them the right to label you with more names. So I lied to my favorite history teacher.

Mr. Kober told me to run along to field hockey practice and to be “careful crossing the street.” I nodded and left. I realize that he didn’t really mean look both ways before you cross the street because you are in a rush to go to practice. His instructive words I took to heart; I have been careful ever since.

Freak

Why now? An independence or my independence.

She scratched me. I screamed.

He killed her and I didn’t make a noise.

Am I a freak? Or perhaps just in need of a major freak out.

My eyes are droopy and purple, so I fix myself with makeup’s tricks and fool everyone with the finest fine.

Nobody notices the discoloration or the lying in my voice.

They were all too amused with the labels that define beauty and are brought out with the luxuries.

Too good to miss, to late to miss them

No more.

Now they all bare on me.

Home

Christie has long blonde hair and is very tall. She was friends with most of the girls in my small class, including me. In middle school, she intimidated most people. She was extremely strong which earned her various manly nicknames from the boys. I always sympathized with her, I felt bad that she had to deal with negative labels.

It was a lovely spring Tuesday outside in the courtyard, and a bunch of us girls sat at a long picnic table eating lunch and complaining about the disgusting cafeteria food that we were forced to eat. I was planning to have some of the girls come to house for a sleepover that Friday. I mentioned it to most of my friends and they all seemed really excited about it. Many said that they could definitely come. I brought it up at the table because all the girls who were invited surrounded me. “So who’s coming to my house on Friday? I’m so excited! It will be so much fun!” I radiated my enthusiasm over the table.

In a couple of weeks I would be graduating from Rippowam Cisqua and the following year I would be starting high school as a 10th grader. I could not wait to leave this place that I had been stuck for twelve years. I was anxious, young, and extremely naïve.

“I can’t come,” Christie said.

“But why? I mean I understand…” I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t coming. Throughout 9th grade, we had grown very close with one another and I thought she would absolutely at my house on Friday.

“Oh my parents aren’t letting me. They said I couldn’t go to your house because it’s dangerous.”

It has been over a year since my family tragedy, yet, Christie’s parents wouldn’t let her stay at my house? It wasn’t dangerous; it was safe, it was my home. She was my friend, I had known her for more than ten years, and yet at that moment I felt like I didn’t know her at all.

As I sat in the courtyard eating lunch at the prep school that my older brother and sister had graduated 9th grade from, I considered the place a complete waste of my time. I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. But, I couldn’t. I would have to wait until I graduated which would not be until weeks later.

The sunny picnic table went silent. Lindsay Laird quickly changed the subject from weekend plans to how short the uniform skirts should really be. The rest of the day, as well as my time at that school were both like the whole incident never happened. As the others pretended, I still felt the prejudices that my friends held against my family and me. It wasn’t something that I could hide as easily as my friends did.

Christie’s comment became a defining moment in my life. As I was trying to move forward from grief and the horrific past, I was stuck in the midst of its labels.

Even today, when I walk into a room full of people I have never met, I automatically think that they know about my past and will judge me for it just like Christie had done all those years ago. I think that strangers believe my family to be dangerous and that I am a person to stay away from. Yet, I am forced to remind myself that this it is not the case. That not these people who don’t know me at all, don’t know about my personal history. People are not judgmental. People are not bad. I tell myself that I cannot let the influential minority of people that I have encountered in my life influence my view of people in general. And as soon as the fear, prompted by my past experiences, comes over me, I immediately force myself to release it. I am no longer defined by the prejudices that middle school created for me. Yet, I feel the consequences of it everyday with these constant, brief moments of paranoia. In this way I am still captive to Christie’s label.

High School

I started St. Lukes High School in 2006. I was extremely excited that one of my best friends from middle school, Megan, was also be starting high school with me and I found comfort in the fact she would be there as well. As soon as school started, Megan began to distance herself from me. She would ignore me in the halls and in the cafeteria. She stopped calling me on weekends. I didn’t know what I did wrong.

I also found it extremely challenging to make friends. I didn’t understand why it was so hard to because I thought I was extremely friendly and open to everyone. After four or five months I began to acquire friendships, which is when the truth started to come out.

Starting a new school is hard enough, especially when you only have been to one school prior to attending the new one. You try your best to find a niche, a place in the school where you belong. High school is about trying to find that place where you feel comfortable and not completely exposed. All teenagers go through their adolescent lives searching, which accounts for all the changing hairstyles and clothes that we see. My journey wasn’t a new look.  It was a search for acceptance, something I had been without. I thought that when I finally changed schools my family history, which I had no control over, would stop defining me.

But Megan made that difficult for me. For the first couple of months, without my knowledge, she was spreading false truths about my family tragedy. These rumors were like little knives into my being. Not only was she breaching our friendship, she was also destroying any chance I had at a new beginning, my chance to live with out prejudice remarks and judgmental stares. For this reason, it took me six months to settle into my new school.

Previous to learning of Megan’s deceitful rumors, I thought that there was maybe something wrong with me: that I wasn’t being friendly enough or open enough or funny enough or enough of anything. I felt as if my persona was somehow falling short. I thought I was merely feeling the self-doubt that accompanies teenage life. I could never imagine that Megan was going around to anyone who would listen and telling him or her about my personal history. She spun the whole thing, making it seem like my family was crazy and that I was one of the crazies. People I didn’t know were hearing a distorted version of my personal past.

Megan spread wrong facts about my family tragedy, but what hurt the most about everything is that I let it greatly affect me in such a negative way. I believed she was my friend and I trusted her with the reality of my past. In this great, new environment of high school, I found myself stuck in the same cell I just left at my old school. It was the label Megan dubbed me as: one of me being apart of something negative, dark, and crazy. Not only were Megan’s words wrong and inappropriate, they were also powerful. She managed to isolate me, and for months I was an outsider. But, unlike my early childhood with riding and school, this existentialism was not by my choice; it was by Megan’s.

So what did Megan say? To this day I only know the bits and pieces of her words. I could not bare to listen when I was later told what they were. I refrain from repeating the words in this writing because they are too painful to write and would not contribute to the message of my work. I emphasize the consequence of the rumors she spread. I continued to feel them, even after I had the confidence to face them. That is why today I still feel a split sense of uneasiness when I walk into a room full of strangers. In many ways I am still captive to this environment that created itself out of my experience with publicized family loss.  Yet in the midst, I learned that one has to move forward. At sixteen when somebody created an image for me, I chose to move forward or rather then hide in the image. I decided to reject the reputation that Megan created for me. Through this rough time, I began to absorb the idea of acceptance. I started to think; maybe people can affect you only if you let them.

At this point of High School I decided that the best thing for me to do was move forward. I was able do so by addressing my school about the issue. It was hard to get up in front of the entire school and talk about something, which had defined me for a very long time. But, it was not until I gave the speech to the crowd of schoolmate and faculty members that I finally felt a release. It was the point of acceptance and strength.

I never directly confronted Megan about it. And to my own surprise, I still remain in vague contact with her today. She made me deal with my own issue; I was captive to these labels because I gave power to them. My captivity with the title of my ‘dangerous’ nature has ended. Today, I still struggle with confinement of grief. I miss both of my cousins who I lost that day, almost six years ago. That will hold me captive for the rest of my life. With time, its power lessens. However, it will never truly completely fade away.

Breathe

I was surprised to find that I could finally breathe.

It had been several years of drowning but I finally seemed to understand the concept of treading water.

Glasses later, a shot gun was missing,

Doors were locked tight even to his family.

It was the known that became unknown.

Dark strands became bleak and black.

I did not recognize that I was sacred at that time in my life, until two or three years passed for that day. All my experiences lay perfectly done with my future seemingly undone.

An unknown risk in 2005- but I left my sliding glass door unlocked that warm winter’s night, only to awake to the coldest winter day I have ever known.

Years- almost six to be exact, and its hold on me has been lifted but not forgotten.

I remember, I feel, and I go forward. I can comfortable let the air pass through me.

I can breathe.

Finding Strength

The day of her funeral I spoke. It was my first public speaking of my 15 years of life and I felt great about what I said. I was surprised through everything, but I was given the strength through Darla, my family, and my true friends. My family tragedy made me a stronger person. Sometimes in the most unlikely situation that you can never even imagine to happen, you will find strength and along the way yourself. This is why I decided to address my school. It was only with my total self-acceptance that I was capable of living in a positive environment.

Everyday I feel the same emptiness I felt that January but I also feel that strength that drives me forward. I wish I could remember the words I said at her funeral, but more importantly I remember how I felt. It was a beautiful poem, and as I read it my words echoed through the stain glass walls. Here I stood staring at the crowd, in a church where I had been baptized, and received communion. When I look at the coffin I felt sad, yet I was able to say the most influential words of my life. I wish I still had the poem that I read, but somewhere along the way it became lost. Even others don’t remember the poem that I read that day. I suppose that is what happens at funerals. People can only remember bits and pieces, but not the whole thing. I would love to remember, but I fail to. I only recall the courage, the fighting of tears, and the feeling I had within myself.

Strength can come from the most unimaginable circumstances. It was through this immense vigor that I was able to speak to my entire school about my most significant and personal experience. There will always be people labeling and talking about you, but you can choose how this will affect you. I chose to talk about it, in front of my entire school because I believe in the message. Having and holding onto strength is important. Strength is something that is needed in light and heavy situations throughout your life. Outside forces can make you feel ashamed, only if you let them. Overtime I was able to feel comfortable to talk about this aspect of my life. And I take that experience with me each step ahead.

“I must have been sleeping, 
I must have been drinking, 
I haven’t been dreaming about you for years. 
There was a sharp turn and a sunburn 
I was too cool for high school that year. 

Must have been new years, no one invited you, 
You took things too far but I missed you 
And your antics. You were lonesome and 
Blue-eyed and so special to us. 

You should have taken a long break 
Instead of a long drop from a high place. 
Ten years I never spoke your name. 
Now it feels good to say it. You’re my friend again. 

Said he forgave you, I said I hated you, 
He was the bigger man, I was sixteen. 
All the innocence it took well 
I guess you finally made the yearbook. That year. 
That year. 

You should have taken a long break 
Instead of a long drop, instead of a leap of faith, 
Ten years i never spoke your name, 
Now it feels good to say it you’re my friend again. 

I was angry 
I was a daughter 
I was a Baptist 
I was wrong.”

- Brandi Carlile

Reflection

When I first started high school, it was a bit of a relief that nobody knew about this aspect of my life. I no longer felt ashamed of it, yet I felt compelled to want people to know me on my own terms instead of the terms that my family had defined for me. But, I was wrong. Rumors circulated with wrong facts, which made my first year of high school very difficult. I was labeled and defined by a dark event that occurred. But, through building friendship and people knowing me for who I am and not for this moment in my life, I arrived at a certain point: the point of acceptance. I am who I am and I can’t be ashamed of it. My family is a part me, the best part me. And my captivity can only occur if I let it. I still feel the major losses and tiny moments of self-doubt, but I can honestly say I that I don’t let people’s judgments and labels control me anymore. I have the power and only I can take that power away.

I have learned through this class that captivity is man-made. People that surround your everyday life make it and it becomes powerful because you surrender your power to it. I have felt this in the last six years of my life through sorrowful circumstances. It is a process; I am beginning to see my role not only as a captive but also as a captivator. Growing up in a society that puts labels on looks and actions, it makes it hard for me to get dressed in the morning or even raise my hand in class. In high school, both of these things seemed so important; and even today I put more emphasis on them then I would like to admit. What do my classmates think of me? How might society judge me?
But through the class, Art of Captivity, I have acquired the knowledge to know that everybody feels captive to something or someone. Humans make captivity in order to maintain order. We cannot all be like animals and act on our every basic instinct. We have obligations and rules. However, maybe we are trying to be the superior race when we are all just animals. Reading Tarzan brought this idea into perspective for me. Maybe I should live in the African jungle and be a savage; then I would not know of obligations, society, or the cruel world of labels, stereotypes, gossip, and high school.

I think I’d rather not. Even Tarzan feels captive in the jungle with only the animals as his companions. Tarzan can escape society, but he can never escape his own humanity. I believe that self creates captivity because the truth is that captivity makes life interesting taking into account the differences that everybody has.

These differences make for unique and interesting art. I am not saying that I liked having my High School classmates call my family and my home dangerous, nor am I saying that I enjoyed watching the television to see my family business broadcast on the local news. What I am saying is these experiences made me stronger. They made me grow up.  I am not thankful for them, but I do acknowledge the significance they had on my life. I was able to not breakdown in the face of my social captivity because I had such a strong community surrounding me including my family, friends, and mentors.

In the face of not making sense of anything that was going on in my life I would write and take pictures. Who knew that these prose and photographs* would perfectly frame out my captivity journey? I am thankful that I was able to channel this possibly negative energy and use it to create something as positive as this project. This whole process has been a tool that helped me to break the yoke of the captivity, which I felt and continue to feel at times. I find my captivity to be as powerful as I let it be. However, I cannot control it at all times.

Like I stated before, when I walk into a room where people do not know me, I still feel as if their eyes are judging me. It is that split second when I lose control and it passes quickly. These episodes are sporadic throughout my daily-life; however, their consequences are long enduring. These are the scars, which I will have for the rest of my life. The interesting thing about these remembrances of my captivity is that I find them to be vital to my personality. I am who I am today because all of what I have experienced. And, I am glad I was able to express it through this medium.

This work was not about analyzing my captivity or answering it. It was about recognizing it. I wish I could say that this whole process has completely abolished this controlling power that yields so much authority in my life; however, I cannot. Saying it would be untruthful. This opportunity gave me a means, a way of expressing myself. It is not done, as I am sure to encounter greater obstacles in life, other than those that coincided with my middle school and high school experiences. I look forward to tackles those, as they will inevitably come. This process has raised further questions about how one can live in captivity. It made me learn that everybody is battling with his or her own struggles; everybody is captive to one thing or another. And, because we all are captives, we are all together. I find comfort in the fact that together we are not alone.  Self is the common factor in captivity.

* The photographs have not been included with this post.

The Art of Captivity, Part Two Panel Discussion Video Excerpt

Captivity Zine: “Jane’s Sail for Freedom” by Aisha Blake

Jane’s Sail for Freedom

By Aisha Blake

It is clear that Tarzan of the Apes reflects some very different ideas about the interaction between men and women than those generally held today. Throughout, the language suggests, both implicitly and explicitly, the mental, physical, and social inferiority of women.

No female character in the book is able to overcome a challenge without the aid of a male character. Tarzan’s birth mother, Alice, is the first to demonstrate this. Following an attempt to assist her husband in fighting off an enormous ape, she loses her mind. From then on, she is unable to distinguish reality from a fantasy world in which she is still in England. “Lady Greystoke never recovered from the shock of the great ape’s attack,” (21). Alice is not injured by the ape that attacks her. Her mind is just so fragile that the experience is enough to send her over the edge. Her husband, who has single-handedly built their shelter and provided for them, carries on alone as the only rational human being for miles.

Kala embodies a female’s physical weakness. Though she is described as “large and powerful—a splendid, clean-limbed animal, with a round, high forehead, which denoted more intelligence than most of her kind possessed,” she is seen to be quite vulnerable time and time again (25). She never fights to escape danger. Instead, she runs away, such as in the first scene involving Kerchak’s apes. Despite her huge muscles and teeth, she seems unable to defend herself. Even a very young, badly equipped Tarzan is able to save her from the rampaging bull ape, Tublat. “…the infuriated bull found himself facing the man-child who stood between him and Kala,” (50). She is eventually killed by a single arrow shot by a young villager.

We see the social aspects of womanhood in this period through Jane Porter, by far the most well-known female character. Esmeralda may be seen as an extension of Jane in this respect. Neither one of them is ever really taken seriously. In Esmeralda’s case, this is understandable considering the fact that she’s largely useless with the exception of a few pearls of quaint wisdom. Despite his incredible lack of common sense, Jane’s father continually speaks condescendingly to her, as if she were the one without sense, or a small child. Tarzan’s love note to Jane is extremely possessive, even though he has yet to interact with her directly at that point.

Marriage also plays a huge role in tying women down. After all of the excitement is over, both Clayton and Tarzan insist that, “You are free now, Jane,” (216). In reality, she is just as trapped as she has ever been. The removal of Canler from the equation serves only to add to her moral dilemma. Instead of simply having to sacrifice her own happiness so that her father’s debt would be forgiven, she must now choose between the wild Tarzan, whom she loves, and the safe Clayton, who loves her. Being a mere woman, she appears to have made the wrong choice.

These preconceived notions about the lesser abilities of women are like a self-fulfilling prophesy. We are told we cannot do certain things, so we don’t try. Since we never do these things, it is assumed that we can’t and the cycle continues. Though we might wish any of the good women in the novel would break free of this cycle, none of them are able to do so.

Works Cited

Burroughs, Edgar Rice. Tarzan of the Apes. Mineola: Dover, 1997.

Captivity Zine: “The Survival Game” by Sarah Spring

Anne Sherwood Pundyk and Professor Leonard Cassuto with captivity class in Fordham's Center Gallery.

The Survival Game
By Sarah Spring

“Well…sure.  I know there was a lot of luck involved, but he was amazingly present-minded and resourceful…It’s as if life equals winning, so death equals losing.” (Spiegelman 45)

It is all a game.  Whether surviving American chattel slavery or a Nazi concentration camp, there are rules to follow, strategies to employ, risks to take, and challenges to overcome.  The object of the game is clear:  to come out alive, and with your freedom and spirit intact, if at all possible. There are a seemingly infinite number of ways to lose.  But in order to win, one must possess a combination of three elements:  luck, skill, and strength.  Yes, it is all a game.  A sick, twisted game with the highest of stakes—but a game nonetheless.

The first essential element: luck.  No one can control the cards that he or she is dealt.  Frederick Douglass was chosen as a boy to leave Colonel Lloyd’s plantation and work as a house slave in Baltimore.  Not only was the life of a house slave generally less grueling than that of a field slave, but the move to Baltimore also opened up many doors for him, such as the opportunity to learn to read from the neighborhood boys.  Douglass himself recognizes the role that luck played in his own destiny:

“I have ever regarded the selection of myself as being somewhat remarkable.  There were a number of slave children that might have been sent from the plantation to Baltimore.  There were those younger, those older, and those of the same age.  I was chosen from among them all, and was the first, last, and only choice.” (Douglass 18)

At the most, it was divine providence, as Douglass asserts.  At the very least, it was luck.

In Maus II, Vladek Spiegelman had the great fortune to be fluent in English and Polish, and because the Kapo wanted tutoring in English, Vladek received a certain amount of protection and special treatment.  Without that intervention early on, it is doubtful that he could have survived.  There are countless other examples throughout both texts of incidents where both Douglass and Vladek owe their survival to pure luck.

The second element:  skill.  Douglass and Vladek both faced a number of similar challenges, challenges that they overcame with a little bit of luck, and a big bit of skill.  For example, one of the major challenges present in both narratives was an inconsistent and inadequate supply of food.  When Douglass lived with the Aulds, he was not given enough food, so he begged and stole from the neighbors in order to survive.  Vladek learned several tricks to avoid starvation.  Vladek learned to ration the little food he was given, and when getting in line for soup, he learned to stand toward the end of the line (but not at it), because solid food chunks sank toward the bottom of the vat, while the top was only water.

Just as in a game of poker, Douglass and Vladek also had to do some bluffing.  Not all jobs on the plantations and in the camps were created equal.  Both men pretended to possess specialized skills in order to gain a higher quality of life.  Douglass passed himself off as a caulker.  Vladek had to pass himself off as a tinsmith and then as a shoemaker in order to receive more food and to escape the backbreaking “black work.”

The third and final element:  strength.  In a game of arm wrestling, it is simply brute physical strength that wins the game, but in slavery and concentration camps, it is something much more.  Both Douglass and Vladek possessed a deep inner strength that helped them to survive, perhaps even more than luck and skill combined.  Both Douglass and Vladek were separated from their friends and loved ones over and over again.  Both endured great levels of starvation and physical abuse from their captors.  Both endured the humiliation of dehumanization—Douglass was reduced to a beast of burden, Vladek to a number on his arm.  At any rate, both were reduced to nothing more than a pawn on a chessboard—to pieces of the least importance, easily disposed of, and with many identical counterparts.  They both reached moments of the deepest despair, but something within them kept them going—a flame of inner strength that may have flickered sometimes during the torrential windstorms of trials and tribulations, but absolutely refused to be snuffed out.

Perhaps it is a transgression of the highest degree of insensitivity to compare the heroic and arduous plights of African-American slaves and prisoners of Nazi concentration camps to a game.  After all, what is a game but a frivolous diversion of no real consequence, played for mirth and amusement to idle away the time. But I believe that there is an inherent irony in the fact that surviving such horrific experiences can so unerringly be compared to playing a game.  It is my hope that this irony only further demonstrates the monstrous and unforgivable cruelties of those situations. Yes, it is all a game.  Many lost.  But those who “won” only did so with a combination of those three essential elements:  luck, skill, and all the strength they could muster.

Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. New York: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus II: a Survivor’s Tale : and Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon, 1991. Print.

Captivity Zine: “The Visual World of Captivity” by Sara Azoulay

 

Professor Leonard Cassuto leading a captivity class discussion in Center Gallery, Fordham University (photograph by Elizabeth Stone)

Visual art is a fascinating way to better understand things that can’t be said in writing. In the exhibition entitled “The Art of Captivity” at Fordham College at Lincoln Center the artwork depicts different forms of captivity, giving the audience a chance to experience all of these stories collectively. Some of the pieces in the exhibit were very relatable and caused viewers to question captivity within themselves. Other pieces in the exhibit were a view into a captivity that was unknown to most of the outside world. The pieces of art illustrate intense emotions surrounding the difficult topic of captivity. Interestingly enough, the set up of the exhibit also provides some insight of captivity.

The most striking part of the set up of the exhibit is the big glass doors secluding the art. While the main purpose of these doors is to ensure security for these valuable pieces of art, the glass doors provide a certain mood for the exhibit. This mood is an uninviting yet intriguing one, mirroring the topic of captivity.  To the outside world, the exhibit seems limited and exclusive, thus creating curiosity. Behind the closed doors, the viewer can feel a sense of self-captivity. The doors close the viewers in and they feel trapped. They are separated from the outside world, similar to how isolated captivated people feel. The art is the only thing standing out to the viewers, similar to how art helped a lot of these artists express and maybe even escape their captivity.

Another interesting part of the set up is the sequence of the pieces. Upon entering the exhibit, there’s a small table that has information on the exhibit. This table is the starting point for viewers. Starting from left to right, the pieces gradually destroy a certain barrier built up between artist and viewer. “Testimony”, by Kara Walker, is a series of silhouette images depicting slavery and antebellum south. The portraits are haunting and disturbing but tell of an important view of history. It gives the viewers a chance to see the how mortifying the captivity of slaves was. This is one of the pieces that give insight on the captive world – but it isn’t directly relatable to today’s audiences because there isn’t any more slavery in the antebellum South.

Another piece towards the beginning of the exhibit is Karen Yama’s portraits of celebrity wives (“Paintball”). The portraits are great ways to try and understand the captivity within the situation. The portraits show a modernized version of three wise monkeys. See no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil are three things that celebrity wives sometimes have to do when hearing news about their husbands in the media. Unfaithfulness is a topic of popularity in the media world, and celebrity women must turn their heads to such notions. This kind of captivity is definitely not brought up often so it’s very interesting to look onto it, but viewers cannot identify themselves with these celebrity wives. There is little common ground between the viewer and the subject. These two pieces are two very powerful art pieces depicting the solitude and darkness of captivity, however, there is nothing relatable to the viewers. Both of them are meant for looking in on a world that in unknown to us.

The last two pieces, however, speak to the viewers directly. “I’m on Fire” by Alyssa Pheobus” is a drawing of lyrics from a well known song. The drawing itself is very large and it looks over the viewer in a very intimidating way. The words speak to viewers, and its almost as if the lyrics are dedicated to them. The line that is the easiest to read is “only you”. This line is surrounded by x’s, further standing out the phrase to the viewers. This phrase is haunting and makes viewers wonder if the drawing is only for their eyes. The opening line is also a way to call out to the reader and directly speak to them. It makes people wonder about their own captive state.  Peter Scott’s illustration, “Suspect”, definitely appeals to this generation since it’s about paranoia after the 9/11 attack. The faces of the people responsible for the disaster are embedded in the wallpaper. The whole nation was held captive under those faces because they made us feel vulnerable. Further more, after 9/11, the government kept an eye on everything Americans did – invading people’s privacy. The setting of the illustration is an American home. The faces in the wallpaper are supposed to symbolize our invasion of privacy after these men exposed our weakness. This is the last piece of the exhibit for a particular reason. We were all apart of the paranoia that resulted from 9/11. It makes the audience question if they too are captive. It brings on endless questions for any viewer of the exhibit. We all felt that fear after 9/11 and most of us still are captive of that same fear.  The barrier between artist and viewer is blurred, as they are both being held captive by the same thing.

“Moon Water” by Anne Sherwood Pundyk is the largest piece of the exhibit. It also stands in the middle of the exhibit, visually tying all the rest of the pieces together. While it is about the journey of a women’s struggle with breast cancer, something that isn’t relatable to everybody, it also has a theme of the circle of life attached to it. A baby is clearly seen in the portrait, the birth of a new and untainted life. Pundyk does capture the theme of captivity in her painting, but there is the feeling of freedom and rebirth attached to her painting as well. There is hope and aspiration in her painting shown by the bright colors and the start of a new life. This painting is the largest in the exhibit to show that while captivity is a topic worth discussing, there is also hope for any of those who are held captive.

“The Art of Captivity” is an amazing alternative way to look at captivity. The literature we have read has taught us a lot, but seeing art in real life brought the expression to life. The set up alone said so much about the topic at hand. Being closed inside of that tiny room with beautiful pieces of art lead viewers right into the world of captivity. Visual learning is a very effective way of learning sometimes, both the artists and the person who organized the set up of the exhibit did a great job in teaching people the dangers and sometimes even the beauty of captivity.  The exhibit made us look to ourselves and wonder what is it that’s keeping us captive.

Captivity Zine: “Perfection in the Eye of the Beholder” by Laura Cunningham

Perfection in the Eye of the Beholder*

by Laura Cunningham


The film Gattaca opens the eyes of its audience to a new world of brilliant advances and the terrifying horrors that accompany them. Human beings can be created in a Petri dish, all chances accounted for, a master race form a chemistry set. Vincent, a man born naturally and genetically sub-par, has dreams higher than himself and risks everything to pursue them- proving that there is more to a man than is planned for him.

Late in the film, when Vincent crosses the road at night to meet his lover, Uma Thurman’s character Irene, he has already thrown away his contacts to avoid detection by the police. As a result, he has trouble seeing the cars speeding at him in the night. In crossing without seeing, he would risk his life. In telling Irene he could not see, he would risk his secret- far more important than his life. So, forever moving forward, intentionally blind to the consequences, Vincent chooses what he wants to see- his future- and places the present in the hands of chance. Vincent sees what he is aiming for on the horizon, nothing more. Nothing that may get in his way. No obstacle that may stop him, no obstacle that he cannot overcome. Vincent’s special way of seeing will carry through the film.

Works Cited

Gattaca. Dir. Andrew Niccol.” Perf. Hawke, Ethan. 1997, Film.

*Excerpted from full essay.

Captivity Zine: “Out of Context” by Dillon Smith

Out of Context

by Dillon Smith

 

Standing in front of Alyssa Phoebus’ installation at The Center Gallery, I was at first taken aback by the size and intricacy of her work. The ominous words and attention to detail drew me into the paper as nothing else in the gallery did. As I approached the work I realized that the lines making up the words were meant to look like woven barbed wire. Impressed, I took a couple of steps back and focused my eyes on the words:

“Hey Little Girl is your daddy home/Did he go away and leave you all alone/ I got a bad desire/ I’m on fire/ Tell me now baby is he good to you/ Can he do to you the things I do/ I can take you higher/ I’m on fire/ sometimes its like someone took a knife baby edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley through the middle of my soul/ at night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of my head/ only you can cool my desire/ I’m on fire.”

This piece exuded raw sexuality and darkness but something was wrong and I could not figure out what it was. I ran through the sticky lyrics again as Jim Morrison popped into my head, rubbing his crotch against a microphone stand at The Matrix in 1967. No. That wasn’t right. Sly Stone? Chaka Khan? The Rolling Stones? Nope. Then, finally, divine revelation: “Bruce Springsteen! The Boss! That’s it!” I happily hummed the song.

But why did my mind automatically go to a darker figure so full of sexual energy that he was often banned from venues? Simply stated, Phoebus’ piece does not convey the same message that “I’m On Fire” does. When ‘The Boss” sings this song, it is not a fast paced, in-n-out, ‘balls to the wall’, sex ballad that Phoebus’ work implies. It is not covered in leather and barbed wire and it does not have a cocaine problem like the piece suggests. The song is slow and spiritual and in a concert setting, people sway to this song; it is, to use a word that Alyssa might not, loving. It is very interesting to see the dichotomy between the seemingly raw lyrics and the lyrics plus the music. As Alyssa suggests, there might be something more to the lyrics than what the song conveys but is it right to take Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics out of context? I do not agree with what seems to be Phoebus’ message, that the song is not what it seems, that it might be used to take advantage of the subject or even to incarcerate them unwillingly through a song.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.