Monday, June 10, 2013

Final: College Looms for the Black Sheep of Blessed Sacrament

Tonight, Darien Parlick won’t sing. He says it’s a matter of national security. The last time he sang, the Twin Towers fell. So he plays his favorite Son House song on his hand-me-down guitar without the vocal accompaniment, while he tells his friends about “the revolution” and gets drunk off of five-dollar wine in Dave’s basement. The guy who provided the wine, Mike, isn’t anyone’s friend really. More like friend of a friend of a friend, says Dave. This is the first and last time time he will welcome Mike into his home.


Dave has a lot of practice confronting situations like this by now. He’s been working as a program coordinator at the Blessed Sacrament Teen Center in McKinley Park since August, so he’s around Darien and kids like him everyday. Some are like Darien, who dropped out of high school because he didn’t have the discipline. Others dropped out because their girlfriends got pregnant and couldn’t afford their time and money to both. Sometimes they come like Mike, and the Center welcomes them with a cautionary eye.


Dave will do anything to get Darien out of the neighborhood for even a night, so before acquiescing to Mike’s request to just chill, he tries to find an under-21 club they can all go to. Darien’s face lights up. Earlier in the night, Darien talks about retiring from the wild life at age 20, then complains that his under 21 year-old “bros” are too low key for him sometimes.

“These guys aren’t satisfying my rage fever,” he says.

“Life is a dance party. Sometimes we just can’t hear the music,” he continues.

Darien’s initial excitement wanes after a few minutes of searching the internet. He wants to dance, loves to dance, but doesn’t want to hang around a bunch of 18 year-olds after all. He likes hanging around Mike and Dave because they’re at least a couple of years older, and Mike has a brown bag in his hand tonight. He makes the executive call.

Dave is itching to go into the city but agrees to stay knowing Darien will be safe in his home tonight. He lives a few blocks from Darien in a converted convent with seven other recent college graduates participating in a year-long service program in Chicago, so there’s plenty of space for Darien. He prefers staying here at the Amate House because the couches are bigger than the one he sleeps on at home.

Dave suggests playing board games when the group files into the basement, but after a few rounds of Loaded Questions and a few cups of wine for a near-intoxicated Mike, the friends are restless and want to watch a movie. Dave turns the lights off and puts Darien’s favorite movie, “Pulp Fiction”, into the VHS. Darien moves to the back of the room where Dave can’t see Mike pouring him a cup of wine. With the physique of a malnourished giraffe, Darien is drunk by the time Vincent Vega takes a shot of adrenaline to Mia Wallace’s heart.

Taking advantage of the dark room and his blissful sedation, Darien crawls over to the girl he’s had a crush on for a couple of months now and asks her to get coffee sometime, but his breath smells like cheap red wine and his stained red, overlapping teeth give him a vampiric look, so she teeters on his question. She asks him about the revolution. He tells her he’s building an army of young people to overthrow capitalism and give power back to the people, but it’ll be a nonviolent revolution the way Gandhi intended. They’ll meet in secret locations to discuss their revolutionary ideas. So far only one person has joined the revolution, himself included. He asks if she wants to join. She says yes but reminds him she goes to college a couple of hours away, so she won’t be around for the meetings, and that coffee date might have to wait. A few days later, he tells Dave he’s falling in love.

Dave is annoyed when he turns the lights back on to find Darien intoxicated on the couch. Dave checks in with his other guests while Darien gets up. In the back of the room, Mike asks Darien to join him outside to smoke. Dave walks over. It’s time for Mike to go. Times like these, he feels more like a parent than a friend to Darien.

It’s mostly boys who frequent the Teen Center, and Dave’s made good friends out of them. He invites them to his house on the weekends and to get hamburgers at Portillos every Friday night, and they never say no because he offers to pay. It’s a small price to keep them from doing bad stuff, says Dave.

McKinley Park is a mostly Latino neighborhood that falls along the stretch of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods known for high crime and gang involvement, so most of the kids who take advantage of the Teen Center are Latino and some used to be in gangs. Almost all of them have a story to tell about how gang and intimate partner violence have affected their lives. With the help of Teen Center Director Jim Kozy, they’ve turned their situation around. The Teen Center is home, so even though Dave’s only required to work until five p.m. every day, he keeps it open until the kids are ready to leave.

Even with so many teens to watch out for, Dave keeps both eyes on Darien. When Dave began his year of service at the Teen Center, Kozy asked Dave if he could put a little extra time into making sure Darien finishes high school and makes it to college. It didn’t take long for Dave to figure out why. As the only white boy who visits the teen center on a regular basis, Darien’s the black sheep of the group. He wears a black leather jacket, Ray Ban-look alikes, and skinny jeans that accentuate his twiggy legs. He sits on the computer researching philosophy terms that he comes across reading Nietzsche for fun, while the other guys play basketball or pool. Sometimes he plays the guitar even though the sound of dribbling mutes him. He watches documentaries on astrophysics and listens to the Blues. His favorites are Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf.

“Son House got me through many a hard times,” he says.

This revolution he speaks of came to be because he needed some sort of intellectual stimulation after he dropped out of school. He’s not against recruiting kids from the neighborhood, but every attempt has failed for some combination of reasons, like they don’t know what capitalism is and therefore don’t know what they’re supposed to be overthrowing, or they don’t understand Darien’s very specific revolutionary vocabulary.

It’s unclear whether this language he speaks is so futuristic it borders incomprehension, or if it’s something regurgitated from Star Wars movies. In his perfect world, the Star Wars theme song would play for him all day.

“First thing. Open my eyes. Imperial March!” he says.

He’s settled for creating his own life soundtrack. He plays the harmonica wherever he goes and brings his ukulele, Goddard, around on special occasions. He starts each day with yoga, which he taught himself with the help of YouTube, and sends off his conversations with a peaceful “namaste.” He carries a pocket notebook at all times in case of profound thoughts, like this one he posted as a Facebook status: “Expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that we can do, or any kindness that we can show to any fellow creature let us do it now. For we may not pass this way again. Namaste.” He scrolls down his wall to reveal another: “Kids these days swim in the sex, drugs, rebellion of adolescence and forget to dry off now and then.” Then another: “No one wins in biological warfare.” He scrolls down again: “Those beans were a bad idea for dinner. I’ll be back in a few hours. Ugh. The bathroom calls me.” At the end of the day, he’s retained some innocence.

Dave is only required to work during the week but wakes up as early as eight a.m. on the weekends to take Darien to the nearest community college and enroll him in classes. He has a unique potential he doesn’t seen in the other teens, especially not the ones still in Chicago’s failing public school system.

It sounds like a simple formula. Dave takes Darien to Malcolm X College, enrolls him in classes, helps him pass his GED by the time college classes start in the fall. But even though Darien prefers to spend his time with people like Dave and Oscar--a recent University of Illinois graduate who volunteers at the Teen Center--as opposed to guys like Mike, something pulls him back every time he makes progress. Dave arrives at Darien’s house at seven-thirty a.m. on a saturday so they can take the bus to Malcolm X, and Darien answers the door with his pajamas on and eyes half open. It’s his living environment.

Darien hasn’t had a bed for himself in years. Darien was relegated to the couch of his cramped, one-family house once his half-brother, Nick, got his girlfriend, Ashley, pregnant a few years ago. Then there’s Ashley’s mom and sister. Dave lists a host of other people who move in and out of the house like a motel room. Dave is happy to host Darien if it means getting out of that environment for a weekend, but fears Darien will become too dependent on him. His year of service ends on June 16, when he’ll fly back to New York to pursue his masters in social work at the University of Albany in August.

A few days before Dave’s going away party, he calls to say Darien passed his GED with flying colors. In between the astrophysics documentaries and Nietzsche readings, he managed to finish his credits online. A while back, Dave and Darien discussed the possibility of Darien flying to New York to live with Dave and go to college out east. Everyone was on board, including Kozy and Dave’s parents. Then Dave took a good hard look at what the next four years might look like and thought, just maybe, it'll hurt Darien more than it’ll help. They decided it's best that Darien stays in McKinley and goes to school in Chicago, so Dave will rely on regular phone calls to keep him on track.

With two weeks until he leaves, Dave's been walking a lot of laps around the lake by his house. It's a nice place to reflect. He goes alone when he wants to speak to God, but most of the time brings company. He thinks about Darien everyday. He doesn't doubt the difference he made, reminding himself of the story of the young girl who throws starfish into the ocean. A woman approaches the girl and says there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it, so she can't possibly make a difference. The girl pauses, throws another one into the sea and tells the woman it made a difference for that one.

This is an important reality of Dave’s work at the Teen Center. He touches these kids' lives for a year then leaves without a return ticket. He says he's ready to leave Chicago and return to his home and his girlfriend, but his work here feels incomplete because of Darien. He hopes for the best but understands the challenges Darien is up against, yet he's never met anyone quite like Darien so maybe he'll make it out of McKinley. For now, he waits.

Word Count: 1957
Intended Publication: Chicago Tribune

Audio/Visual Slideshow: Kim Russell

video

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Process Writing: Darien Parlick Profile

What was initially an explanatory piece about young people of color from underserved communities not making it to college, as told through the story of Darien Parlick--a 20 year-old white male living with all of the same obstacles as his Latino neighbors, yet on the road to college--turned into part explanatory and part profile of two different guys, Darien and his friend/mentor, Dave.

By the end of the piece, I forgot what I was trying to explain because I was so focused on telling Darien's story and what Dave is trying to do for him. I still don't know what this piece is trying to accomplish. It feels like a mix between profile and explanatory journalism.

I'm not really confident calling this a "profile" because Dave and Darien are both central characters, and the piece speaks to larger issues of race, education and class.

Right now, though, it doesn't speak much to the implications of Darien's race. What does it mean that he's the only white boy among so many Latinos who frequent the Teen Center and the only one making it to college...and the one that Dave and the director are placing their bets on? He's faced many of the same obstacles as his friends, yet he's more likely to make it out of the neighborhood. What is that attributed to?

I thought about making this a simple profile about Darien because he's a fascinating kid, as you can read. I really wanted to focus on that questions I just wrote. But halfway through writing this piece, I unintentionally made Dave the (or another) protagonist. Maybe Dave was always the protagonist...I'm not sure.

Am I trying to do too much here?

Do you feel that the message is confusing?

That's a lot of questions. Here's the one to think about for workshop: What is this piece about?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Darien Parlick Profile

Tonight, Darien Parlick won’t sing. He says it’s a matter of national security. The last time he sang, the Twin Towers fell. So he plays his favorite Son House song on his hand-me-down guitar without the vocal accompaniment, while he tells his friends about “the revolution” and gets drunk off of five-dollar wine in Dave’s basement. The guy who provided the wine, Mike, isn’t anyone’s friend really. More like friend of a friend of a friend, says Dave. This is the first and last time time he will welcome Mike into his home. 

Dave will do anything to get Darien out of the neighborhood for even a night, so before acquiescing to Mike’s request to just chill, he tries to find an under-21 club they can all go to. Darien’s face lights up. Earlier in the night, Darien talks about retiring from the wild life at age 20, then complains that his under 21 year-old “bros” are too low key for him sometimes. 

“These guys aren’t satisfying my rage fever,” he says. 

“Life is a dance party. Sometimes we just can’t hear the music,” he continues. 

Darien’s initial excitement wanes after a few minutes of searching the internet. He wants to dance, loves to dance, but doesn’t want to hang around a bunch of 18 year-olds after all. He likes hanging around Mike and Dave because they’re at least a couple of years older, and Mike has a brown bag in his hand tonight. He makes the executive call. 


Dave is itching to go into the city but agrees to stay knowing Darien will be safe in his home tonight. He lives a few blocks from Darien in a converted convent with seven other recent college graduates participating in a year-long service program in Chicago, so there’s plenty of space for Darien. He prefers staying here at the Amate House because the couches are bigger than the one he sleeps on at home. 

Dave suggests playing board games when the group files into the basement, but after a few rounds of Loaded Questions and a few cups of wine for a near-intoxicated Mike, the friends are restless and want to watch a movie. Dave turns the lights off and puts Darien’s favorite movie, “Pulp Fiction”, into the VHS. Darien moves to the back of the room where Dave can’t see Mike pouring him a cup of wine. With the physique of a malnourished giraffe, Darien is drunk by the time Vincent Vega takes a shot of adrenaline to Mia Wallace’s heart. 

Taking advantage of the dark room and his blissful sedation, Darien crawls over to the girl he’s had a crush on for a couple of months now and asks her to get coffee sometime, but his breath smells like cheap red wine and his stained red, overlapping teeth give him a vampiric look, so she teeters on his question. She asks him about the revolution. He tells her he’s building an army of young people to overthrow capitalism and give power back to the people, but it’ll be a nonviolent revolution the way Gandhi intended. They’ll meet in secret locations to discuss their revolutionary ideas. So far only one person has joined the revolution, himself included. He asks if she wants to join. She says yes but reminds him she goes to college a couple of hours away, so she won’t be around for the meetings, and that coffee date might have to wait. A few days later, he tells Dave he’s falling in love.

Dave is annoyed when he turns the lights back on to find Darien intoxicated on the couch. Dave checks in with his other guests while Darien gets up. In the back of the room, Mike asks Darien to join him outside to smoke. Dave walks over. It’s time for Mike to go. 

Dave has a lot of practice confronting situations like this by now. He’s been working as a program coordinator at the Blessed Sacrament Teen Center in McKinley Park since August, so he’s around Darien and kids like him everyday. Some are like Darien, who dropped out of high school because he didn’t have the discipline. Others dropped out because their girlfriends got pregnant and couldn’t afford their time and money to both. Sometimes they come like Mike, and the Center welcomes them with a cautionary eye. 

It’s mostly boys who frequent the Teen Center, and Dave’s made good friends out of them. He invites them to his house on the weekends and to get hamburgers at Portillos every Friday night, and they never say no because he offers to pay. It’s a small price to keep them from doing bad stuff, says Dave. 

McKinley Park is a mostly Latino neighborhood that falls along the stretch of Chicago’s South Side neighborhoods known for high crime and gang involvement, so most of the kids who take advantage of the Teen Center are Latino and some used to be in gangs. Almost all of them have a story to tell about how gang and intimate partner violence have affected their lives. With the help of Teen Center Director Jim Kozy, they’ve turned their situation around. The Teen Center is home, so even though Dave’s only required to work until five p.m. every day, he keeps it open until the kids are ready to leave. 

Even with so many teens to watch out for, Dave keeps both eyes on Darien. When Dave began his year of service at the Teen Center, Kozy asked Dave if he could put a little extra time into making sure Darien finishes high school and makes it to college. It didn’t take long for Dave to figure out why. As the only white boy who visits the teen center on a regular basis, Darien’s the black sheep of the group. He wears a black leather jacket, Ray Ban-look alikes, and skinny jeans that accentuate his twiggy legs. He sits on the computer researching philosophy terms that he comes across reading Nietzsche for fun, while the other guys play basketball or pool. Sometimes he plays the guitar even though the sound of dribbling mutes him. He watches documentaries on astrophysics and listens to the Blues. His favorites are Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. 

“Son House got me through many a hard times,” he says.

This revolution he speaks of came to be because he needed some sort of intellectual stimulation after he dropped out of school. He’s not against recruiting kids from the neighborhood, but every attempt has failed for some combination of reasons, like they don’t know what capitalism is and therefore don’t know what they’re supposed to be overthrowing, or they don’t understand Darien’s very specific revolutionary vocabulary. 

It’s unclear whether this language he speaks is so futuristic it borders incomprehension, or if it’s something regurgitated from Star Wars movies. In his perfect world, the Star Wars theme song would play for him all day.

“First thing. Open my eyes. Imperial March!” he says.

He’s settled for creating his own life soundtrack. He plays the harmonica wherever he goes and brings his ukulele, Goddard, around on special occasions.

He starts each day with yoga, which he taught himself with the help of YouTube, and sends off with a peaceful “namaste.” He carries a pocket notebook at all times in case of profound thoughts, like this one he posted as a Facebook status: “Expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that we can do, or any kindness that we can show to any fellow creature let us do it now. For we may not pass this way again. Namaste.” He scrolls down his wall to reveal another: “Kids these days swim in the sex, drugs, rebellion of adolescence and forget to dry off now and then.” Then another: “No one wins in biological warfare.” He scrolls down again: “Those beans were a bad idea for dinner. I’ll be back in a few hours. Ugh. The bathroom calls me.” At the end of the day, he’s retained some innocence. 

Dave is only required to work during the week but wakes up as early as eight a.m. on the weekends to take Darien to the nearest community college and enroll him in classes. He has a unique potential he doesn’t seen in the other teens, especially not the ones still in Chicago’s failing public school system. 

It sounds like a simple formula. Dave takes Darien to Malcolm X College, enrolls him in classes, helps him pass his GED by the time college classes start in the fall. But even though Darien prefers to spend his time with people like Dave and Oscar--a recent University of Illinois graduate who volunteers at the Teen Center--as opposed to guys like Mike, something pulls him back everytime he makes progress. Dave arrives at Darien’s house at seven-thirty a.m. on a saturday so they can take the bus to Malcolm X, and Darien answers the door with his pajamas on and eyes half open. It’s his living environment. 

Darien hasn’t had a bed for himself in years. Darien was relegated to the couch of his cramped, one-family house once his half-brother, Nick, got his girlfriend, Ashley, pregnant a few years ago. Then there’s Ashley’s mom and sister. Dave lists a host of other people who move in and out of the house like a motel room. Dave is happy to host Darien if it means getting out of that environment for a weekend, but fears Darien will become too dependent on him. His year of service ends on June 16, when he’ll fly back to New York to pursue his masters in social work at the University of Albany in August. 

A few days before Dave’s going away party, he calls to say Darien passed his GED with flying colors. In between the astrophysics documentaries and Nietzsche readings, he managed to finish his credits online. A while back, Dave and Darien discussed the possibility of Darien flying to New York to live with Dave and go to college out east. Everyone was on board, including Kozy and Dave’s parents. Then Dave took a good hard look at what the next four years might look like and thought, just maybe, it'll hurt Darien more than it’ll help. They decided it's best that Darien stays in McKinley and goes to school in Chicago, so Dave will rely on regular phone calls to keep him on track.

With two weeks until he leaves, Dave's been walking a lot of laps around the lake by his house. It's a nice place to reflect. He goes alone when he wants to speak to God, but most of the time brings company. He thinks about Darien everyday. He doesn't doubt the difference he made, reminding himself of the story of the young girl who throws starfish into the ocean. A woman approaches the girl and says there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it, so she can't possibly make a difference. The girl pauses, throws another one into the sea and tells the woman it made a difference for that one.

This is an important reality of Dave’s work at the Teen Center. He touches these kids' lives for a year then leaves without a return ticket. He says he's ready to leave Chicago and return to his home and his girlfriend, but his work here feels incomplete because of Darien. He hopes for the best but understands the challenges Darien is up against, yet he's never met anyone quite like Darien so maybe he'll make it out of McKinley. For now, he waits.


Word Count: 1943

Intended Publication: Some Chicago publication....not sure yet.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Burger That Shattered Her Life

I remember reading this piece when it ran in the New York Times back in October of 2009. The author, Michael Moss, won the Pulitzer for explanatory reporting the following year. It's not a profile, but since we have the option to do our final piece as explanatory journalism, I thought it would be good to read.

It tells the story of 22 year-old dance instructor Stephanie Smith, who fell victim to the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to Cargill ground beef (Moss's article was published two years after the outbreak). His piece  follows the path of the burger patty that left Smith in a coma for months, eventually paralyzing her and causing her to suffer organ failure, on top of other things, when she came out of the coma. I think her case was considered the most severe anyone had ever seen.

When I first read it in 2009, I had just gotten to K and hadn't been exposed to food justice issues just yet. The article stuck with me for months because the evils of industrial agriculture were new to me. It was the first time I ever thought about the origins of my food, and I've come a long way since thanks to the food culture on this campus and in Kalamazoo.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Profile (final): Kim Russell

Audience: The Index

Kim wears a different nail polish every week. Lilac puts her in an especially good mood. Her manicured nails are opaque but still shine from a distance. Along with her salon highlights, they add a much-needed glow to an otherwise dull ensemble: A pair of faded blue jeans, off-white sneakers. Like all Facilities Management workers, Kim is given an allowance to purchase clothes from the bookstore to wear while she works. She only buys gray because everything else is too flashy.

She’s happy when she wears lilac. She says she feels pretty. The next week she paints them gray. Maybe it’s just coincidence, or maybe it’s because of the rain, which causes her t-shirt to turn the same color as her nails, but Kim isn’t as cheerful on the days she paints them gray.

She doesn’t paint her nails this often because the color wears away from nine-hour days cleaning Hicks. Kim somehow manages to keep them in pristine condition as she begrudgingly cleans Dean Joshua’s office windows. After Dean Joshua filed a complaint with FacMan that her carpet wasn’t vacuumed thoroughly, Kim stopped taking her trash out as often. A few doors down, Kim empties Brian Dietz’s near-empty trash can because he’s nice to her.

At 9am, a voice comes onto the walkie talkie while Kim is cleaning the student leadership suite, which she says is always messy because of “those big girls who order pizza all the time.” The voice belongs to Kathy, another FacMan custodian. She says help is needed over in Severn. Kim divulges that the custodian responsible for the building was caught sleeping on the job, and after going three days without pay, he came back and retired. Kim turns her radio down.

“Kathy’s a real bitch. She’ll be over here just a bitchin.”

Twenty minutes earlier, Shane’s already grinning behind the security desk when Kim walks in. He teases her with a story and she smiles bashfully. She says be nice, or else she won’t take out their trash. It’s her favorite threat. These guys are the closest thing she has to friends on this campus, so she eggs them on. She heads toward the back of the office and returns a few minutes later with their carpet sweeper. Dave tells her she can’t keep taking it, that she’s racking up the fees. She walks out of the office with it and a grin.

She tells me that not everyone is nice to her around Hicks. She likes cleaning here but misses Hoben since they changed everyone’s placement this year. She misses the kids. She misses driving them to the mall or to the Amtrak station on the weekends or around campus in her red truck. She misses the girls from Texas, now seniors, who don’t stop to say hi to her anymore. During her lunch break, she used to sit in the Hoben lounge and wait for them to come by and gossip with her like high schoolers.

These days, she eats lunch in the Richardson Room with the same FacMan employees: Dylan, Stephanie and Mark. Some days she enjoys their company, like the day Mark reached for his phone to show everyone a video of Kim and another custodian playing in the sprinklers behind Hoben on a hot day last spring. It’s Girls Gone Wild, he says. Custodian style. Kim stops him before he gets to his back pocket, laughing. “You get outta here!” she says. Her eyes disappear from smiling so big. She likes when they pick on her. Mark says they target her because she takes it so well.

The next day, before she can finish throwing her trash out, the other three have already made their way down the hall to exit the building. Kim is annoyed because they’re supposed to walk out together, but she doesn’t yell for them to wait up.

“They do that sometimes,” she mumbles, resigned.

Ever since her best friend from childhood died 20 years ago, and her husband of seventeen years divorced her “for no reason”, Kim keeps mostly to herself. She says it’s because all of her friends want to party.

“Everybody tells me I’m boring.”

She prefers to stay at home and let her dog, Magnus, “man handle” her, while she paints or quilts or makes stained glass windows. Kim wants to be an artist. She’d quit her job if she could make a living out of it.

When she’s not creating something, she’s watching her favorite tabloid talk show, Maury, popularly known for its agonizing displays of baby mama drama and sexual infidelity.

“I wanna watch them idiots fight cause they’re so stupid.”

She’s convinced the talk show is a set up. It has to be. There can’t be that many stupid people in the world, she thinks. She likes Maury because it make her feel better.

“I think, maybe I don’t have it so bad after all.”

She doesn’t feel like changing when she gets home from work, so she stays in her faded jeans and gray Kalamazoo College tshirt while she watches Maury or quilts or plays with Magnus, until she goes to bed, putting it back on just a few hours later and returns to a sleeping campus at five am. She doesn’t mind the solitude those first few hours, but prefers when everyone is awake.

If she could go anywhere in the world, it would be Jamaica.

“I would probably go just ‘cause I know all the Jamaicans here and I probably don’t have to pay to stay anywhere.” She laughs and her eyes disappear again. She wants to go to Jamaica for the beaches, even though she won’t put a bathing suit on because she thinks she’s too fat.

“Although, if I was in Jamaica I would never see anybody again so I probably wouldn’t give a shit! Who cares, right?”

A fun day for Kim is when she, her sister and her friend Donna go quilt shop hopping for sales. When she tries to do something different, it never works out. Once she wanted to see a baseball game but couldn’t find her way into the parking lot.

“I got pissed off and went to the mall.” Malls are therapeautic for Kim.

She has no desire to find another husband or boyfriend. She misses her two grown boys but Magnus fills the silences of her home and the empty side of the bed at night.

She says her life was always quite simple. When she was still married, she took care of the pigs and cows on her countryside property in Otsego. She used to kill the animals for their meat, but stopped when she got attached to one of the pigs. Kim named her Precious.

Her husband let her keep the house and bought himself another property not too far away, so every once in awhile, she makes him come over to fix things for her. They’re not friends but they’ve learned to tolerate the other’s presence. She doesn’t mind him around. At least it’s company, she says.

Reading Response: Events of October

This book was a page-turner for me, which I attribute largely to its organization. I thought it was interesting that she chose to place the murder-suicide in the middle of the novel. This structure allowed her to address at length the effects of murder and suicide on a small college campus, so the book became much more than a narrative about the crime. It is about a community's response to it. After reading the murder-suicide that early on, I was left wondering how she would conclude the novel, but the organization makes sense given her ability to shed light on the bigger picture and larger issues. She zooms in (on the main event and campus response to it) in order to zoom out later on (on the larger implications for society and culture). 

I was also blown away by the magnitude of interviews she conducted, from Maggie Wardle's family and friends to college professors and legal authorities. These people lent a variety of perspectives that give readers access to the murder-suicide's effects on campus from various angles. I put the book down feeling like I had gotten a substantial, holistic view of the events. And as a student on this campus, I felt invested every step of the way, and I could empathize with the feelings of the many students and faculty members that Griffin interviewed. 

Even the second time around reading this, I was particularly interested in the way Griffin writes about Neenef and his friends. I remember the first time, I didn't know what to expect in terms of how she would treat him as a character and his actions, so I was surprised that she treated him and his friends with a lot of sympathy. I liked how she gives his friends a voice in the narrative as well, an outlet to express their grief as well as the grief of Maggie's friends and family. Again, she comes at the aftereffects of the events at many different angles to give readers a well-rounded understanding of something that affected different people in unique ways. This lays the groundwork for her to be able to address greater issues, like masculinity and its tie to culture and domestic violence. It also makes the situation that much more complex, another reason it was a hard book to put down.