Twenty four creative nonfiction students went to the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford in January to check out the “That’s Weird” exhibit that includes a portrait of a young boy poking out the eye of a doll and locks of Abraham Lincoln’s hair! The CCSU writers had a choice to write about an object in the exhibit or something they chose from their own daily lives. The goal: to build a true narrative about the object in less than 250 words that moved beyond basic facts. I admit some of the students surprised me and focused on everything from a hair pick to an alligator-skin covered cigarette lighter. This is just the second time I’ve opened the term in ENG 370 with a short text/image assignment and, once again, it really worked well, because students grasped immediately just how much they could convey in a page if they included reflection, wit, and paid attention to craft! I want to thank the editors at Blue Muse who went through dozens of submissions to select these four. – Professor Collins
The Bricks of a Secret Society | Noah Hulton
“Hey Bushy, shake my hand.”
Bushy looked at me with a staunch suspicion.
“Just do it.”
Bushy put out his hand and I grasped it while gently placing my thumb over his middle finger knuckle, just like article said to do.
Bushy jumped back, astonished.
It’s no secret that secret societies use secret ways to identify each other. And through some simple Googling, I found the Freemason handshake.
Bushy is a member of a historic and exclusive society that permeated human history with tales of mystery. The Freemasons founded themselves upon moral and ethical principles that binds a member to a sort of accountability for life—supposedly.
One-time Bushy pulled a knife on our friend. The outburst didn’t last long. Most of the time Bushy walked around campus at night smoking cigars. In his dorm lied a stockpile of liquor: various whiskeys, vodkas, mead. In the mornings he came and banged on our doors until we woke up.
The first night I ever met Bushy, outside his dorm building, with the calm evening darkness hiding his face, I thought he seemed composed, like a cool uncle who could talk to you about things that your parents couldn’t.
The second time I saw Bushy his true colors began to emerge, as most first impressions tend to prove unreliable.
Regulars by God | Tyler Adams
You could almost smell the inexperience, the cluelessness dripping off their crisp new Army uniforms with attitude and disrespect. I had to teach them the things that they’d never had time to learn in basic. The nuances that go into room clearing, the fastest way to set up a gun on a tripod, the easiest way to pull your dead buddy off it so that you can take his place; how to walk and shoot and talk and bound.
One day, I pulled out my company challenge coin, the one everyone in Old Bravo had received for our hard work a few winters back. Something that only holds its value when everyone around you has one, because they did the exact same shit you did to get theirs. I remember holding it, looking around and coming to the realization that I was the only one left, the rest of the coin holders were gone, discharged or in different units. It was just me with these soft ass fresh faced fucking new guys. It was easy to feel alone in a place I’d called home for almost four years, but through the pang of that loneliness I could laugh, knowing that in a few more years, they would be the new Old Bravo. That there would be some other last-to-leave sucker that would have to teach the next crop of new soldiers how to blouse their own damn boots.
I See My Father | Carly Rodgers
I remember him reading to me by dim lighting, my wide childhood eyes gazing up in wonder. His hands, free of the cigarette burns and scars they have now, turning pages. His voice soft and warm telling me of worlds so much more than the one I knew.
Later, my father would pull out more challenging reads, different genres and darker authors. I remember when I found Bukowski my junior year. His writing cynical yet so beautiful. It made my heart ache. My father, now so cynical himself, seems almost a kindred spirit with the 20th century drunk.
Late at night with a drink in his hand, pill bottles on the adjacent coffee table, I notice the hunched shoulders, the dark circles. Times like these I can’t help but feel only Bukowski could understand my father, understand what he’s been through. There is a pain there that is beyond me and most people, but when I read the words of Melancholia I think maybe it is in these words, these pages. I see my father in his poetry. I’m scared to see myself.
Charles Bukowski in all his drunken loneliness writes to fight off this pain. Maybe my father understands this. Understands a neglectful father, a weak mother. I worry someday I too will know what it feels like to sit at the window, vice in hand, and try to lose myself.
Strong and Stable | Adam Sandone
The lighter amassed its own fan base when I lived in England. At the time, to instill confidence in a post-Brexit world, Prime Minister Theresa May used the phrase, “Strong and Stable” to describe the country. My friends adopted that name for my lighter because no matter the time of day or how rough and disorderly things got, Strong and Stable in an extended hand was the answer for the question of, “Does anyone have a light?”
Before I left for Italy, my brother gave me a lighter with the romantic hope of being there at just the right moment, for some pretty brunette Italian girl outside a café in need of a light. It had a brown faux snakeskin case that’s since been torn and worn with age.
When I was a boy scout, I always carried a lighter. I could pass it off as a camping or survival tool in case twelve-year old me got separated in the woods, forced to fend for himself. But really it made me feel like an action hero, a James Bond or a John McClane who could crawl through air ducts using the light from his Zippo to find his way or toss it over his shoulder as he walked away from an explosion. I could do that too, if I wanted.
I really love how these four pieces came together. Thanks again to the Blue Muse students for crafting something really lovely out of the text/photo assignment in ENG 370!