The Legend of MU English
by Ken Schultz
Not to make it seem pretentious (since each person’s experience is unique and interesting in and of itself), I love it when the authors of super-complex narratives reveal the behind-the-scenes subtexts of their work. It’s like being together with an intimate friend, side-by-side during the act of creation. In the interest of explanation and not least for my own ego, I present forthwith the notes about all of the experiences I’ve tried to capture on my poster entitled “MU English.” Keep in mind, these experiences are A) my own perspective, and B) rendered through the limitations of my own artistic artifice and therefore resemble as much or more of my “feeling” about that particular event or person, as the actual fact of them. Also, what’s on the poster is not comprehensive, nor necessarily representative of the complete list of highlights – just samplings that came to me as I was designing the thing. As always, there is much more to be said.
(Beginning from the upper left-hand corner of the poster and proceeding in western English reading fashion across, then down)
Multnomah County: I work in the Public Guardian’s office in the Department of County Human Services – a location and vocation I have loved with equal amounts of passion to my Marylhurst experience for the past 16+ years. I met got married and divorced while working here, learned and practiced how to write and draw, what it means to be socially conscious and strive for empathy, witnessed 911, Iraq, the Obama election, countless over things. I found friendship, companionship, met with bureaucratic futility, derision, complexity here. I found true, “no shit all of the sappy romantic myths and clichés about love and soul mates are absolutely true here. My Multnomah County career, is a central part of me and it has to come first because it’s where I come from and am. It’s where I start. It is my Skyfall.
Solo: That’s friend, fellow student, Star Wars aficionado Rick there doing his best Han Solo imitation.
Marylhurst University Logo: updated for the 2000’s, I understand.
Kelly Sue: That’s Kelly Sue DeConnick with flaming fists on the other side of the English. Not only is she the funnest, coolest comics creator in town/the world, Rick and I had the chance to take her maybe only Writing for Comics class over at CCC and get credit for it through Marylhurst. She might be one of the most famous people I’ll ever have the pleasure of calling by a first name. And if you haven’t, you should go out and read Bitch Planet right now.
Shakespeare in Performance: This class is a weekend trip to Ashland to view the plays, to Q&A an actor and get a tour of the facility. I drove down with Carrie and Jackie on that trip, stayed at the (I can’t remember the name) hotel in the center of town. It was a great trip: I wandered around the deserted Southern Oregon campus thinking it reminded me of a post-apocalyptic deserted movie set and ate breakfast at the Morning Glory café on the recommendation of my “foodie” friend. The reference is into waffles covered in raspberry syrup. It was sooo good. We saw King Lear, Robin Hood, and the Taming of the Shrew that trip. I memorized my stanza from King Lear where Edmund, the base-born son is about to depose his father and legitimate brother and steal the throne. His final cry: “And now gods: Stand up for bastards!” I love the word bastards for some reason. I didn’t actually cry that out in the middle of the restaurant.
Senior Thesis: Thanks to Perrin Kerns who allowed me to use a comic: Morrison and Quitely’s We3 that I hadn’t previously done a paper on, nor is part of anyone at Marylhurst’s current curriculum to teach. Its stylistics and narrative conceits make it an interesting study for a thesis, though. The image recreates one of the cool postmodern scenes in the book with the cat cyborg jumping out and through the panels in its death dance as it eviscerates some soldiers. Truly, a comment on the form. The “Kenny” remark comes from fellow student Brittany who freaked out when I walked into the hallway to go up to give my presentation, disappearing for a second and freaking her out. Also: Perrin, at one point, did say I couldn’t use the dictionary as a source for defining postmodernism.
Literature of Rome: In 2012 I went on the study abroad trip to Rome. Three weeks in September. It was the place to be. Meg Roland led us brilliant, made dear friends with Amy, Nate, Jessica and others. We walked the shit out of that town and there are a zillion unforgettable instances worth recounting. One of my faves: I got to read the part of Anthony from the play while standing above the actual Forum. I cheated a bit by putting Constantine’s triumphal arch up there since it’s a little more iconic.
Brit Lit: The incomparable Mary Cote led this class. We all bought the damn amended version of the Norton Anthology and she made us sweat how much we actually need to know from its tissue-thin pages if we’re actually going to go on to graduate school in English. My final paper for that class I titled “Draculiminality” about some of the architectural and thematic transitions in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It was a long paper but in retrospect, I’m not sure I accomplished much noteworthy, except for pointing out that that there’s an octagonal room in Dracula’s castle which they pass through at the beginning. A room with 8 sides, how unusual! Anyway, the paper sits behind the anthology on the roof, sliding down down down…
The Holy Trinity: I wanted our three English Dept. heads to be centered and floating above it all because they are super heroes and we all revere them. Nothing within the curriculum happens without their guiding hand.
Perrin the Perfect: Perrin is perfect, she is my advisor. She teaches gender lit and modernism and wields an all-powerful magic pen that helps you push and pull classes around on an EDP and graduate sooner than you thought. As for colors on her figure, I initially was going for primaries: green for Perrin, blue for Meg, red for Jay. Then I blew 200 bucks on pens at the art store and my sensibilities changed. The flowers are orange because they offset the green. I don’t think I’ve actually ever seen Perrin wear a green dress or one with flowers on it, but I was kind of thinking “new age sensibility,” naturalness, flowers, etc. when I designed the outfit. Critically to my eye, it looks a little like a great-grandma dress. Sorry, Perrin, if that’s how it reads. On the plus note, I really like how the two-tone lighting worked out on the green.
Mighty Meg: Meg is our fearless leader. She is the best. She led us halfway around the world so capably, so expertly, that we all thought she should open her own travel agency. Study abroad in Rome was one of those powerful experiences that is almost inexplicable now: like falling in love or having a child or eating a sfogliatella for the first time: there isn’t a form of media that exists that can accurately reproduce the powerful sensations, emotional contexts, concrete knowledge and camaraderie. Of all my esteemed faculty, Meg has given the most to me in terms of life experience: her time, her energy, her insightful conversation, humor and willingness to share. For us student world-travelers, she opened the door to her lovely house for wine and togetherness even as she opened the world to us for the same. Words are not enough to thank her for that.
Here she appears in blue in what turned out to look almost like a Fantastic Four uniform. The old Marylhurst logo appears on her torso (see the sidewalk outside of Flavia) and she hovers in a Wonder Woman pose. Okay so I cheated a bit with the longer legs – hey Meg’s a super hero!
Rome 2012: Several of the anecdotes from our study abroad trip appear in relief behind her in the windows of B.P. John. I could’ve filled up the whole thing and more with them. From left to right:
Amy: That’s the illustrious Amy in the left hand corner. Amy and I spent a lot of time robbing graves and chasing Nate and Jessica all over the place and supporting each other as American travelers in a foreign world.
Blonde on Blonde: Jessica, with her long flowing blonde hair is beautiful and petite and super-super sweet almost to the point of shyness and we all sort of wondered about how much attention she would draw from the natives. In the Campo de Fiori, Amy and I had occasion to witness her true form, however, as she used feigned casual interest, dismissive gestures, and exploited her own personal flare to communicate across the language barrier and negotiate a street vendor about 15 Euros down on a pair of sunglasses. Our sweet fawn Jessica is really a shark!
Run, Nate Run: For those of you who know Nate, you know that he’s down for just about anything. An early gag on the trip proved to be an ongoing theme: there are a shitload of tall stairs in Rome (seven hills and all that) and we teased Nate to run them all. He did.
Eels in Schiphol: Before we even got to Rome we were laying over for our flight at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam and hit the deli market for snacks. One of those: you’re not quite home anymore, Toto, moments. The deli in the airport had a chilled meat section. In the chilled meat section there were eels next to the fish and sausages. It made the weird European off-brand M&M’s seem kinda normal by comparison.
Peroni on Parade: In terms of beer selection, Italy is worse than the American Mid-West, they have like three beers on tap anywhere, one being the national Budweiser-brand, Peroni. Fortunately, like almost everything food and drink-wise in Italy – it’s a pretty good beer. What makes it better: the fact that you get to carry it out and walk around town with it in your hand and see the sights. Howabout a walk around the Monstrosity, or contemplating Trajan’s column, or the Circus Maximus… all with a beer in your hand. We really need that here in Portland.
Dusk to Dawn: I thought would be fun to capture, in leitmotif, the fact that our group pretty much hiked all over the entire city of Rome, eschewing public transportation as much as possible. That’s how you get to know the character of a city, by walking its streets, ducking into its churches, and going elbow to elbow with its people. With the cobblstones and all, we were exhausted by the end.
Joltin’ Jay Ponteri: Jay Ponteri is one of the smartest, coolest guys I know: published author, poet, professor, father, typist extraordinaire. He’s the guy all us other guy writers want to be, seemingly inexhaustibly happy, expansively knowledgeable about his subject, worldly in his execution, deeply, poetically insightful and inciteful in his prose. Hip writing is where Jay is at, and I think all of us students want to experience that vicariously (which is why his classes are like 20+ capacity every time 😉 As for me, I learn more about the craft of writing and the artistry of teaching from Jay than anyone else. Long live Jay! P.S. Read Wedlocked, it’s fantastic!
Jay cuts a smooth figure flying a Superman leap. His coloring was a challenge because he normally wears muted, grungy colors with flairish little details, an antiestablishment T-shirt or red Nikes. I’ve drawn Jay two or three times now and one thing I still struggle with is the hair. Hard to get the hair right, and I’m not sure I’m doing it justice here. His telltale knickknacks surround him: the feather pen represents his golden writer’s touch, Wedlocked hovers by his side, his old school typewriter hovers on hip, and I couldn’t resist a nod to his typewritten feedback and instructions complete with smudged and crossed out typos. And yes, that is a pug on his shirt 😉
Short Prose Forms: This is one of my top favorite of all my classes. Jay led us through exercises each week where we worked to get a grip on 150-word prose pieces. I felt so inspired and had so much fun in that class that I think I’ve realized that this short prosity is my personal, true medium. I have a killer baseball metaphor to go with that, but I’ll save it to tell it in person. Ask me about it sometime! Appearing in the circle: a representation of the feedback Jay gave me on week 2, essentially retracting everything he’d said on week 1 because we hadn’t quite connected yet; he also left a footprint on one of my later pieces (I had him sign it) and was prone to loud disclaimers about the size of the Great Hall over in Marian in which we were meeting. It IS a big effin room!
Intro to Lit/Writing: Outside of Prior Learning Assessment classes, this was my first “class” class in English and at Marylhurst, generally, and boy was it a great way to kick off my Marylhurst career. I remember most of my classmates: Carrie, Brittany and Darwin kicked back in the corner and served as the feminist peanut gallery. Nate and Jessica were an inseparable item, Jake would roll in with his motorcycle helmet and insight, and Isaiah would write the most heady, thoughtful prose in the space of a five minute pre-write I’ve ever heard. The ultra-cool Lorie was there as was Larry (I later met wolf), Holly and quite a few others. One super-talented, gregarious dude, Jeffrey, served as a tragic story afterward, but I’ll never forget his fantastic representation of “the perfect sentence” being like a sandwich with layers of meaning in between grammar-crust. Jay had asked us to go home and draw a representation of the perfect sentence. Nate did an interpretive dance. I drew a poster of an upside-down clown balancing on a bomb with dynamite hanging off him. That was fun and had even more personal meaning for me in connection with my mother from a similar project with a similar clown we both worked together 20 years ago when I was in high school. This current clown was my first official assignment at Marylhurst (in an English class, no less) and I think I knew from that point forward where I belonged. Madame Bovary, a fantastic book and one of our readings, lays off to the side, present but ignored as poor Emma felt in her own life.
Intro to Lit Genres: I got to do a lot of illustrations for Jay and several other of my early classes at MU. This one I did a wire diagram of a Saturn-5 rocket and traced some notable highlights of the science fiction genre throughout its 20th century history. There wasn’t enough room to put all of the really significant stuff but it was a fun exercise. Also, this should be on here somewhere but there’s no room: Jay introduced me to Chris Ware and Building Stories. This is where my fascination with the comics form at an academic level sort of began. Thanks, Jay!
Film Studies: The Posthuman: Back when I first started, Jesse Stommel was the hot ticket teacher on campus with Ph.D. in cultural studies from Colorado bolstered by a dissertation on horror movies and the American psyche. This class was great: any time you get to watch Alien and write about it and talk about it as a group is a great class. Plus, we got to meet in Weigand Teaching and Learning Center, the media room above the Post Office in B.P. John. For my final in this class, I drew Jesse as a cyborg/alien Da Vinci surrounded by posters of the films we watched, artifacts and other concepts related to our discussions, and my classmates heads in formaldehyde jars. That was a great summer!
B.P. John: When I designed MU English, I knew I wanted to represent the school somehow and the first thing I thought of was to do a Chris Ware diagram of one of the buildings. I briefly noodled with somehow doing Flavia (as the command center for the English department) or even the modernist stylings of the library, but B.P. John is the iconic building of the campus so there was really no choice. This wasn’t an easy render to do and it took me awhile to pencil and even longer to color ink it. As the artist, I can see all the flaws, the places where I incorrectly altered perspective and where things don’t quite line up naturally as they should. I’m most disappointed by the grey tone of the columns and front steps since the actual thing is more of an ivory. Grey is all I had on hand, though, and I had already blown a wad on pens three separate times at Blick. In the penciled version, the windows (sans figures) were hard and all turned out pretty good so I was most loathe to cover them up, which is why the characters appear superimposed over the cross slats instead of leaving them out altogether. Those cross-slats were hard and I wanted them in there!
(Starting on the top floor left):
Graphic Novel: This class just concluded and I loved every minute of it. First weekend class where I’ve felt energized and engaged the entire time, in no small part due to Caroline’s (the Prom Queen) coffee, and hanging out with my English peers after what seemed like a long term away. I even managed to put a few faces to names I’ve had online classes with over the years. Then there’s the material. I really felt home in this class studying Chris Ware, Alison Bechdel, Art Spiegelman, and found my niche. If I ever decide to teach, it will be about comics and graphic novel. Comics continue to inform life and challenge my perspective in ways I would never have thought possible. I truly believe that all of my Marylhurst Text/Image course work has led to an expansive understanding of the form and the world around. And I have a lifetime of reading and writing comics and literature to look forward to because of it. Truly a gift, this class. Plus, the great Perrin Kerns is always wonderful to hang with!
Writing Seminar: Short Fiction: Natalie Serber has one of the best collections of short stories Shout Her Lovely Name I’ve ever read. It appears on the balcony to her right. She also introduced to several really excellent books on writing that are as philosophically insightful as they are easy to ingest and learn from. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamotte might be the best of the bunch, including an anecdote that echoes a personal experience we’ve all had at one point or another during our lives when facing a tremendous challenge: how do we write a complicated ornithological report? Bird by bird, my friend. Bird by bird.
This is Water: David Foster Wallace continues to enamor academics (such as myself!) long after his death. I was introduced to his writing in one of my first courses at MU, Liberal Arts Core with Mary Cote. Mary had us read a transcription of his 2005 graduation speech to Kenyon College that I’ve since listened to on YouTube 10,000 times. He is so erudite and his philosophy so overwhelmingly expansive that the more I read of him, the more impressed I am with the depth of his considerations. “This Is Water” serves as a warning and a reminder to work to be present in your life, to pay attention to the magic and romance that is all around you in everything, or you will fall into the lazy intellectual trap of self-centeredness and antipathy and suffer a lifetime of indignation and victimization because of it. Strong words to live by.
LOC: After my Posthuman class, Jesse Stommel invited a select group of us: myself, Carrie, Jessica and Lans to a special study class to help him support his friend Kathi Inman Berens working to co-sponsor an event on Electronic Literature through the University of Washington to be held at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. We drank tons of wine and put our brains together and came up with promoting the concept of Spine Poetry, which is to take the spines of books featuring their titles and place them together in such a way as you form poems. Really fun. We did a lot of social media, held an event at the Lake Oswego library, and eventually, the video we did talking about spine poetry played on video at the actual LOC during the event. This last summer, I went to D.C. to check out the Library for myself and came away with a further impression of how special that particular event had to be to have floor space there. Fun to be a part of, and how can you not love Kathi!
Camaro: I have an imperial blue, 2011 Camaro. It gets me to school and work and I park it on campus. I love that car. I love that school. The two are intertwined.
Carrie + Martin: Dear friend and fellow student Carrie and her beau Martin got married earlier this year and it was like an MU English class reunion. Lovely time, lovely venue, lovely people!
HyperText and Elit: This was my first online class, I think. I had met Kathi through the LOC and loved her energy, enthusiasm, and intellectual perspicacity about digital storytelling. I learned a lot in this class about the limitations of technology and the simple applications of form that are still considered frontier and revolutionary in that world, how unseen it is. I also learned that Jake Carlson is a fantastic writer and has a mean vocal delivery when in character.
Comic Art Studio: This course impacted my life as much as any other. John Isaacson, a small zine producer and cartoonist from the IPRC came over and led a group of us through the exercises of laying out and producing 16 pages of finished comic art throughout the term. John was the first academic to realize how difficult 16 pages of finished art were to produce in the context of student class work and so the required number of pages gradually fell throughout the term. Our final output was so interesting and dynamic and we were so jazzed by the end that for a time afterward, we created a student group: the Marylhurst Comics Support Group, with the intention of curating our work into an anthology. More on that below.
(Back down to the left side of B.P. John)
Big Head: Yes, that’s my head. It actually turned out better than I expected.
Text & Image: Ivonne Saed-Grego has a fascinating personal history and brings really interesting perspective to the interrelationship between text and image. This course is really at the core of my study at Marylhurst, and I find its wisdoms related as strands throughout the rest of our coursework. Central to Ivonne’s study is the idea of the Aleph, which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, but which is a vowel that does not appear in script for ancient reasons. It sets up the idea of the relationships between language and thought, and the meaning of picture versus word that Scott McCloud so elegantly touches upon in Understanding Comics. This course was highly theoretical, and Ivonne’s approach is really interesting and fun. The graphic novelization of Paul Auster’s City of Glass appears beneath the aleph, itself a comic adapting a novel about transliteration.
A Sorrowful Arrow: Emily Kendal Frey wrote Sorrow Arrow and read for us at a poetry event in the Old Library. I had yet to read her work. Her performance left an impression, and I felt so inspired by her personal animus and the self-deprecating smile on her lips that I really felt like I understood and connected with the act and art of poetry in a meaningful, personified way. It’s hard to explain outside of the context of maybe understanding how Shakespeare’s is a level of poetry meant to be spoken and heard as opposed to read. That single encounter galvanized my feeling about the nature of language, reading and writing and, coupled with the MU/Cote/PKerns tenets about “reading your work out loud to proofread.” changed the way in which I produce short fiction. Afterward, I began really paying attention to the poetics of prose, in how it reads, how it looks on the page and how it sounds out loud, I guess what you would call the performative aspect of art. She may not know it (I once sent her a silly piece of fan mail trying to tell her so), but 15 minutes of Emily really fired my creative imagination, and I totally thank her for it. I think that’s why the sorrowful arrow appears next to the entrance to B.P. John. If you’re going to create, like Green Lantern, you have to engage with everything that you are: from your body to your mind to your emotion: as Dennis Cunningham speaks your truth; we can all tell when an artist is lying.
Lit Theory: This was an online course with Ger Killeen and one of those classic challenges to wade through and being so much the smarter for having done so. We read a lot of the major theory: Plato, Benjamin, Marx, de Beavoir, Derrida, Barthes. I think I learned the most, and ironically connected the most with the hardest, most esoteric thinking of the post-structuralists which I see to some degree in all forms of narration to this day. For an example of the subversion of meaning in words, go watch Abbott & Costello “Who’s On First” on YouTube. For my critical paper final, I wrote a 6-page analysis on the title of Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain.” For my mid-term, I wrote a semiotics analysis of a commercial for Bailey’s Irish Cream that featured a group of dancing chorus girls pouring in and out of a glass and bottle.
Financial Aid Lacey: Before I took classes with her, I first met Lacey while she was working the financial aid desk in the back of B.P. John. Lacey was cool almost immediately and helped connect me with knowledge I needed to straighten out student loan stuff and submit for scholarships. I remember her cell phone having pink ears.
MUniverse: So the Marylhurst Comic Support Group wanted to collect all of our final pages for Comic Art Studio into an anthology. We spent a few months collaborating on a cover, passing it around. I took it upon myself to research how to self-publish this thing through the Espresso machine at Powell’s Books. That involved collecting all of the art work digitally, recoloring it so that it showed up in crisp black and white on the page, laying it all out in InDesign, transferring it into PDF, and working with the Espresso dudes to get it published. Oh and having the student government pay for it. We had started as a group, but I realized that a lot of the editing work had to be done by a single person, so I volunteered. For some reason, I thought I could finish it all in a matter of weeks. The narrative boxes reflect the reality. At last we published a limited run of 13 editions, and it took almost as long to get a copy to all of the creators. I ultimately learned a lot about the realities of comics publishing, even in a comics city like Portland.
Genre Writing: Chuck Caruso. Chuck is amazing. He’s read everything. From obscure stuff all the way to the most popular works of genre fiction out there. You can literally bounce ideas off of him, and he’s on your wave-length with it, instantly. He also is a video game fan. I’ve taken three courses with him and just didn’t have the room to put them all on here. The most impactful in terms of English was his Genre Fiction writing class where he tasked us to research, plan, and write the rough draft of a novel over the course of a term. 1,500+ words a day was the limit. I learned so much about stamina in this damn class and what it takes to be a professional on the top of the game. Probably why I can now write 5,000 words in two or three hours like right now. Anyway, I finished my 90,000 word mess exactly by the end of term, one of the most challenging I’ve had here at MU. Someday I’ll actually get around to revising it. Thanks Chuck!
And thanks to all of you for and taking the time (and having the tremendous patience) to check out the poster and read through this diatribe; I am a maximal writer and can be ultra-wordy. Thanks to everyone I’ve encountered by and through Marylhurst for enriching my life in fantastic ways I had no idea were possible and for teaching me the value of life in scope from the universe all the way down to its quantum particles. You are all professors, teachers, students, colleagues, scholars, wanderers, travelers, poets, super heroes, but most especially, friends, and I cherish you all.
Thanks especially to my family and my beautiful daughter, Zoe Girl, for their support and allowing me the space to work at my level best. There are no words for that gift of love.
Ken Schultz is majoring in English literature and writing at Marylhurst University. He is on track to complete his degree summer 2016. You can see Ken’s MU English poster on Perrin Kerns’ office door in Flavia Hall.