Friday, May 30, 2008

For the Love of Non-Waterproof Sea Life

Morgan K. Reynolds '08 turns a mistake into a cottage industry.

By Kristen Koczarski 

Morgan K. Reynolds, grew up with a phobia of cephalopods. While she has always had a love of the ocean and sea life, she was always inexplicably terrified of octopi and squid. This all changed last summer, when Reynolds, now 23, had a nightmare about being attacked by an octopus and in the process of trying to fight it without hurting the animal, and she ended up just holding the creature. The dream turned from a nightmare into one of genuine connection.

“That the next day, all fear I had of tentacle creatures had melted away and had been replaced with a really deep and peaceful curiosity,” she said.

This newfound fascination came to a head two months later when she was snorkeling in the Aegean Sea and came face to face with a live octopus and stared its “beautiful octopus eye” as long as she could before having to surface for air. Since then, Reynolds has had great interest in both octopi and squid, so it isn’t a surprise that when her attempt to crochet a heart for this past Valentine’s Day failed, the half heart turned into a yarn squid.

Reynolds, who graduated from Chester College of New England in May with a bachelor degree in Interdisciplinary Arts, has turned a botched heart into a cottage industry. For her senior project she crocheted a number of squids and put them up for adoption. Her gallery opening on April 18 featured a multitude of colorful crafted squids, each with their own unique designs, personalities, and histories. Each squid had a small booklet that contained its birth date, hobbies, likes and dislikes. For example, Poncho the Mexican superhero saves piñatas from destruction and enjoys enchiladas and sauerkraut. At the event there was a table where those interested could fill out adoption forms to take a squid home with them. There was a $25 adoption fee; $5 of that Reynolds donated to Warm Hands, Warm Hearts, which distributes clothing to families in need. Before she began birthing squids, Reynolds crocheted scarves for Warm Hands, Warm Hearts and wanted to find way to continue to give, without taking away from her squid-making.

The squids caused such a scene that before the night was over, all the squids were spoken for and there were requests for more. Many were taken in by their unique look and careful craft. One professor said, “Just look at that one’s face. You can see that the poor little cephalopod needs a home.” For most it was the stories and personalities that drew them in to the little yarn squids. One happy squid adopter said, “Each squid reflects the personality of its owner. I feel that Morgan has captured little narratives in each squid. Each one has a history and exudes a certain humanity.”

For all those who missed out on the gallery, Reynolds has continued to produce more squids on her own and via commission. The price for a commissioned squid varies depending on the specifications. Since February, Reynolds has brought nearly 30 squids into the world, and has many more in the works.

Like any good adoption agency, Reynolds wants to keep track of all of the little ones she has put into good homes. She maintains a MySpace blog and encourages squid parents to keep her informed on how the new member of the family is doing. Many have already sent in pictures of their squid in their new homes and stories about how their squid is getting along.

“I want it to just be a community of people, who can know each other through their squids, and feel good about something that’s silly, but has a great undertone,” she said.

More information about squid adoption can be found at Reynolds can be reached at

Kristen Koczarski is a senior creative writing major at Chester College of New England.

Friday, May 23, 2008

What it Means to Make Art or Tell a Story

Marie Stern, valedictorian for the Class of 2008, shared her thoughts about making art at commencement on May 17. 

So I promised myself that I wouldn’t write the cliché speech. You know, the one that says, “Congratulations. This is the first day of the rest of our lives. I love you all and good luck.” Just go ahead and take these sentiments for granted (They’re true and I do mean them, but you knew that already, and it’s not very interesting).

Instead, I’d much rather spend my time with you talking about art, what it means to make art or to tell a story.

I’m going to read a quote from a book by Jonathan Dollimore in which he talks about art, transgression, and Oscar Wilde (I know, right? It’s a great combination):

“What is abnormal in Life stands in normal relations to Art. It is the only thing in life that stands in normal relations to Art. One who inhabits that realm, ‘the cultured and fascinating liar’… is important because he or she contradicts not just convention… but its sustaining origin, ‘truth.’ So art runs to meet the liar, kissing his ‘false, beautiful lips, knowing that he alone is in possession of the great secret of all her manifestations, the secret that Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style.’”

I don’t think that there is a single person among us here at Chester to whom this is a secret. Truth is a matter of style. It is also a matter of Art. Only, nothing is ever as simple, clear-cut, and frankly, boring as the plain old Truth, is it? At least, I certainly hope not.

To make art is to question and to learn. Just because we’re about to graduate doesn’t mean we’re about to stop learning, it doesn’t mean we’re about to stop questioning, and most of all, it doesn’t mean we’ll ever stop making art. We must contradict convention, throw stale tradition and accepted normalities away, let go of our ideas of what is common-sensical. Because where in that gray, alienating world is there room for a voice? It is not enough to be satisfied with the status quo. It is not enough to ever be satisfied.

This is what art-making and story-telling should be: A constant rolling hunger for more answers which only raise more questions. An off-beat harmony that can’t sustain itself without conversing with other, even more off-beat harmonies. An announcement in a silent crowd that there is still a voice willing and able, and the subsequent wave of unease. The restless pacing of someone who doesn’t know if maybe she only has another hour left to live, and should she laugh or cry or press her palms to her eyes and watch the colors burst. Or should she find another, better way to say I Love You.

When we leave this place today, don’t let yourself forget the liar and his “false, beautiful lips.” There is something to be said for fabrication, and for gracelessness, and for honesty, which does not always equate with Truth. Art is beautiful because it is false, because it does not abide by those rules – the ones that say that a painter is a painter and a writer is a writer and they are poor and unhappy because only money brings wealth. Art is beautiful because it leads a secret life, and in that life, there are no segregating walls: a writer is a painter is a doctor is a politicking revolutionary. There is only passion and the calling to learn.

So what does it mean to make Art? What does it mean to be a Storyteller? It means Revolution. Truth is entirely and absolutely a matter of style.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What IS Senior Project and other bits of wisdom

As the Class of 2008 prepares for graduation on May 17, Rachel Deciccio sat down with seniors Erika Bluemel, Michelle Daughtery, and Marie Stern to talk about their Chester College experience; specifically their senior projects.

Erika will graduate with a bachelor's degree in creative writing. Her senior project is titled Finally! A Collection of Short Stories.

Where did the ideas for the stories come from? 

Most of my stories (included in my senior project and otherwise) have some grain of truth in them. Some of them are based on things that have happened to me, stories my father told me as a child, family issues, and so on. I find it very useful to take things that have really happened and expand upon them or change them. Also, writing about something you actually like helps make the writing process more enjoyable.

Did you write all of the stories at once or individually?

Each story was written individually. Three of the five stories I am using were written the first semester of my senior year in my Advanced Fiction class. Another one was written the semester before, and the oldest one was written my first semester of junior year. All of them were written for classes and all of them have undergone many changes since their first drafts.

What was the positive outcome of peer editing and advisor input?

Peer editing has always been helpful for me. A lot of the time, it takes another reader to be able to pin point what can be improved upon. After spending so much time on a story, I sometimes hit a block where I don’t know what to do to improve it. With work-shopping, you get many different perspectives and it really helps the stories to evolve.

What recommendations do you have for other seniors?

Give yourself enough time to get everything done that you need to. You want your project to come out the best it can. Also, it’s very helpful to take Advanced Fiction Workshop in the first semester of senior year. You can write stories for the class and then use them as part of your senior project. It helps with keeping your deadlines in check and keeping your ideas fresh and new.

What is the most important thing you have come away with after being a student at Chester College?

I’ve definitely become a better writer. When I look back on the stories I wrote in high school, it blows me away. You really don’t notice how much you’ve improved until you look back at where you came from. I also feel that the knowledge I’ve gained here will help me to improve even further in the future.

What suggestions would you have for other writing majors?

Don’t take workshops personally. Not everyone is going to like your stories 100% of the time. The important thing is to come away from workshops with suggestions on how to improve your stories. There is almost always something you can improve upon and it’s important to listen to other people’s feedback. If you take things like that offensively, you won’t be able to grow in terms of your writing. Also, put all the time and effort into your writing that you need to in order to make it the best it can be. Keep revising and peer editing.

Michelle will graduate with a bachelor's degree in creative writing. Her senior project is a combination of poetry (Chester Conversation) and memoir (Los Angeles Address: a native tongue)

Where do your ideas come from? 
Growing up I read and reread Aesop’s Fables. What I have done now is to write my stories in a fable like collection.  But usually ideas just jump out at me from a picture in my head or a conversation I overhear.

Did you write all of the stories at once or individually?

With my project, I collected pieces I had already written over the last three years. A theme had been running through them entirely unintentionally. Once I recognized the main concept, I am now able to flesh out the missing parts.

What obstacles occurred, if any, during the Senior Project?

The biggest enemy my senior project has is time.

What would you do differently?

Work less at my job; or not at all if possible.

What recommendations do you have for other seniors?

Get the basics done early. I took too many electives early so I had to cram the required courses in at the end.

What are your feelings about critiques?

I actually cannot stand them. I find that my own judgment on things produces a more original point of view.

What are your plans after Chester College of New England

I’m off to law school. Chester and writing are my heart; law is for my brain and wallet. At least I had them in the right order.

What suggestions would you have for writing students?

Read everything in the library. Classics need to be read; when else do you have time?

Marie will graduate with a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary arts. Her senior project is titled In Action and Apprehension, by Caleb Banciu

Where did the ideas come from?

Well, originally, in it’s earliest stage, the idea for
In Action and Apprehension came from a little snippet of conversation Kris and I had in the car on the way to school. She was saying how there’s one spot on the drive that where she always loses track of where we are. One street. And that really got the hamster wheels turning: the idea of a street that affects awareness or memory somehow. There was a story there. So from there, with a lot of research and a lot more development, came this story of Caleb, a young man who discovers a street that affects the brain in ways similar to Aphasia or Apraxia, it affects memory.

What obstacles occurred, if any, during the Senior Project?

One of the biggest obstacles for me was that I was putting together a show that needed to be a story, but also an installation. I needed to communicate a novella through objects, sounds, textures, smells, and images, not to mention words. But how do you present this? We are trained in a not so counter-disciplinary way – you don’t touch the art, or you read the book’s words, and you almost never interact (which, here, was essential). I was showing something that essentially needs to be “read,” but its main venue of access is through seeing and feeling. That requires a lot of re-training in terms of how it is received, first for myself as the artist, so I could then, on some level, manipulate the audience into re-training themselves to it as well.

What would you do differently?

One thing I would do differently would have been to keep myself more grounded in the physical creating of the works – I tend to get too cerebral, and I get lost in the thinking rather than the making, which isn’t good. The key is to always keep producing work.

What was the positive outcome of peer editing or critiquing and advisor input?

Critique is always positive – even if the critique is that something just not working, or isn’t successful. Critique and peer editing, or work-shopping gives you the opportunity to have fresh eyes look at the work in progress and give you another perspective on things. Other people often catch the mistakes that you are too close to the work to see for yourself, and it only makes the work stronger for it.

What are your feelings about critiques?

Always bear in mind that anything you say in critique needs to be constructive. It’s good to point out that you like or dislike something, but it’s much more helpful to say specifically why that is and how the problem might be fixed.

Do you have anything else to add to your Senior Project?

Oh, yes – I have a feeling this project will be a work in progress forever. The point of it ended up really being about creating not just a character, but a person. And people never get “finished.” They grow. And so, Caleb and his story are going to grow and change with time. For now, though, he’s getting put on the back burner for a while. He’ll come out again in the future, I’m sure, but lets say he’s finished for now. There’s always more to be done.

Have you considered collaborating with other artists in the future?

Oh, definitely! I love collaborating. In fact, I’m working on a collaborative comic story with about four other people right now, and I have plans to draw another comic based on a story written by Dan Keating over the summer, which I’m looking forward to a great deal.

What are your plans after Chester College of New England?

Well, as of right now, the plan is find work and keep making art, keep writing. I want to take a little while off from academia, so I can just live, get a taste of the real world and do some growing. In the meantime, I’m going to be applying to grad school, so I can hopefully be in a program by next year. I’m hoping to go for a terminal degree in Literature with a bent towards creative writing, but I have no idea where I’ll apply yet. I figure I’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

What is the most important thing you have come away with after being a student at Chester College?

I’ve grown so much and met so many important people, both students and professors, who I respect and admire so much, and who inspire me to make things, to keep working, and to keep growing.

What suggestions would you have for student artists?

My advice across the board is to always keep putting in your all, keep taking in knowledge while it’s being offered to you, and above all, keep making work. And when you’re given an assignment, don’t just make work for the assignment. Make Art that just happens to give you college credit. Make things you’ll be proud of beyond the assignment, beyond the grade. Make things because you love to, not because the teacher says to. It’ll mean so much more that way.