No places come without their ghosts. Lilly House, where the Artful Dodge office is stationed, is no exception, whether the ghosts are literal or metaphorical. This is most noticeable in the attic, a heavily cobwebbed space complete with crumbling walls and peeling carpets, the thick air parting like a dusty curtain as you make your way through. Something about the silent rooms void of furniture and the cracked-open doors makes you feel as though you are being watched. Instead of clomping through a storeroom, you’re invading a little girl’s playroom or an old man’s study. Clumps of wires bulge from the walls like bundles of malfunctioning nerves. The attic is alive with stillness, ringing with unheard voices.
Yesterday afternoon, I noticed that the door to the attic was ajar, and I figured whoever had opened it would come close it. This morning, the door was still open, so I grabbed the key from the desk and went up to close it. It can only be opened or closed by someone with a key, unless someone uses the lock from the inside. Upon reaching the attic, I cautiously climbed the first few stairs, curious to see if anything had changed since the last time I was up there. Indeed, all the doors that had been open before were more than halfway closed, the rooms and their contents (occupants?) hidden from view. Not being the daring type, I scurried back down the stairs and locked the door. Why would someone go into the attic to do something, close all three open doors for no reason, and leave the attic door unlocked? For now, it remains a mystery, and I secretly hope that it always will. Logical explanations often have ways of ruining what appears to be strange and beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with believing in ghosts.
—Holly Engel, Assistant Editor
As an introvert, I am familiar with the concept of solitude. My idea of the perfect Sunday is waking up late, going for a hike with my dog, working on my latest writing project, and curling up on the couch with a good book. I am completely content to be by myself; in fact, being alone is how I recharge and get ready to face the world. Loud parties and late nights have never been my notion of the ideal weekend. Still, I have a complicated relationship with solitude. While I crave it, I cannot be alone all the time. Some days, I need conversation; I need face-to-face interaction with another human being. I need to stand on a city street and watch the chaos of life unfold all around me.
John Kooistra wrestles with the complexity of solitude in his short poem, “Solitude,” found in Artful Dodge 32/33. The poem simply details the speaker’s Sunday morning routine and describes the joy the speaker finds in being alone in his house and in nature. The final few lines, where the speaker asks if being alone is “a good or bad thing,” really stand out to me. This is a question that, to me, does not have a clear answer. Being alone can be good, but it can also be terribly isolating. I think a balance between the two is needed; at least, that is what I have discovered from my own experience.
Last summer, I worked as Artful Dodge editor-in-chief Daniel Bourne’s research assistant. I spent quite a bit of time alone, travelling back and forth from the English building on campus to the Artful Dodge office in Lilly House. I had a roommate, so I always had someone to see when I came home from work, but I still became very intimate with solitude. I began to become comfortable in my own skin. I grew accustomed to silence. I learned to enjoy the sound of my breathing and the thump of my heartbeat and the slight creak the floorboards make in Lilly House if you step on them a certain way when walking up the stairs. There is beauty to be found in solitude, and I think Kooistra captures that brilliantly in his poem, despite the persistent, nagging question, “is being alone a good or bad thing?”
—Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor
Having finally opened the main door to Lilly House, I found many other doors inside. There are rickety closet doors, new white bathroom doors, heavy locked oak doors, and mysterious attic doors, most of which I’ve taken the liberty of opening, peering at the contents of each unique room, taking in the painted walls and the creaky wooden floors. In the closet under the stairs, a ragged pair of slippers stands stoically, waiting for its owner to return. The kitchen closet is attached to both the kitchen and the Artful Dodge office, like a secret passageway in Clue. In the attic, a smudged mirror in a purple room opens to shelves void of keepsakes or cosmetics. Each open door conjured endless questions. Has anyone lived here? Died here? Whose slippers are these? What ghosts walk these halls?
This house contains scores of tales slipped within each other like old hatboxes. In an interview in Artful Dodge 42/43, Robert Mooney and Christine Lincoln discuss the depths of such stories and the effect that they have on readers and listeners. “[A story within a story] helps make [the main story] more universal,” says Lincoln, deliberating upon the Irish and Native American folktales she has read. She also recalls how her grandmother would tell her stories about other people and how, at the same time, these were still her grandmother’s stories. Mooney gives an example of George Moore’s “Albert Nobbs,” where the narrator recounts a tale as he was told by another storyteller. New layers are added to a narrative as it is told and retold by different people with different experiences. Though I do not have anyone here to explain the many corners of this house, I can create my own understanding. This house now lives in me as I have worked in it. Here, I too am a story within a story.
—Holly Engel, Assistant Editor
I do not consider myself a person who is overly inspired by music. I freeze up whenever someone asks me if I have a favorite band. My iTunes is filled with old songs that I purchased in middle school (every album Taylor Swift has ever produced and some Green Day), and I do not listen to music when I write. Still, I find the connection between music, writing, and art to be a fascinating one, particularly when considering how greatly music can shape our lives. Personally, hearing the opening notes of a certain song can transport me to another place and time. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey brings me back to high school dances: loud music, dark rooms, groups of my friends, our throats raw from scream-singing along. In contrast, I cannot listen to the song “Nine in the Afternoon” by Panic! at the Disco anymore because it reminds me of a friendship that ended badly. When I listen to it, I always feel a tightening in my chest and an anxious flutter in my stomach.
I am not alone in these experiences. The connection between identity and music is addressed in a wonderfully engaging essay found in Artful Dodge 50/51, where Joel Lee tackles the linkage between music and self in his idiosyncratic memoir, “Self: A Musical.” Lee uses the frame of nine different albums to explain how he sees himself and how he has grown as a person. With the help of laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes achingly raw, personal anecdotes, Lee takes the reader on a journey through not only his taste in music, but his struggles with depression and his search for meaning in his own life.
“I demanded an answer for pretty much everything,” Lee writes, “and in this case the best anyone could tell me was that I had a chemical imbalance. I had no trauma to blame, no horrific youth, no terrible tragedy to lament. I merely had neurons that somehow didn’t go where they were supposed to land.” I was moved by this simple explanation of depression because I think that, like other invisible illnesses, depression is often stigmatized. We want clear, concrete reasons for why we are feeling a certain way, and sometimes, as Lee points out, there is simply no complex, tragic answer. However, Lee stresses that music provided something of a relief from the frustrations of his diagnosis. He explains that an album titled I Get Wet by Andrew W.K. “saved [his] life.” Music gave him a “sense of solidarity” in a time “where [he] was desperate to feel something, anything…when [he] felt absolutely no ability to connect with the world around [him].” In fact, Lee’s story not only inspired me to diversify my own iTunes library, but also prompted me to think more deeply about how I manage tumultuous emotions and how I interact with my friends and family who have depression. Lee’s essay is a testament to the power of music in our lives, celebrating its ability to shape our interactions with the world around us and its capacity to help us understand ourselves.
—Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor
Hello to all Artful Dodge readers and enthusiasts! It’s my first year in service of this literary magazine, and I have spent much time getting to know the ropes of its many workings. This summer, I’ve spent most of my time sitting at a desk in Lilly House, perusing old issues of the Dodge and reviewing the brief literary reflections of my predecessors, which I will be posting every once in a while in the near future. Alone yet not alone, I work in a room lined with words that I understand more than I do people.
At first, even this room was out of my reach. Despite my efforts and those of the English department, I was unable to access the inner sanctum of Lilly House for a week. It was like an old fairy tale; I would come to the door every day only to be rejected by a little red light and an annoying BEEP BEEP BEEP. That meant yet another trip to campus access; either they thought I was a regular or they thought I was nuts. “It should work after graduation,” they said. “Try again tomorrow,” they said. So I tried again—BEEP—and again—BEEP—and again—BEEP—until I heard the lock beeping relentlessly even in my dreams.
Then, while reading Jeff Gundy’s essay about his trip to Prague in Artful Dodge 52/53, “Nobody’s City,” I ran into Gundy’s reflection of a Franz Kafka story, “Before the Law,” where a man waits at the entrance to a court all his life, being told that he’s not allowed in, and right before he dies, the gate “made only for [him]” is shut. On his visit to Prague, Gundy sympathized with this man as Gundy himself tried to make some kind of stronger contact with Kafka. Gundy was even locked out of the Kafka Museum, just as I was locked out of Lilly House. In a way, both of us were waiting to get into our own courts, wondering if we were going to be admitted or if the door would only “creak open as [we] walked away.”
I made it into this room, but many doors still stay closed, no matter how hard I knock. Every time I feel like I know all I need to know about working for the Dodge, a new puzzle arises. As for Gundy, he never made it into the museum, but he and his wife toured other parts of the city, taking in the history and beauty of the place. He was never able to break down all the doors surrounding Kafka either, though much of the trip he spent wondering what Kafka might have thought as he walked down the streets of Prague. These thoughts were closed to Gundy, but there are some doors we have no need of opening in order to see what’s beyond them. It is the simple desire for knowledge that is most important; the very puzzles we search to solve are the bread on which we live. I know very little about Kafka, but this story opened my mind just a crack. Reading presents many doors and opens others, which must be why I enjoy it so much. When you pick up a book (or a literary magazine), who knows what rooms might await inside?
—Holly Engel, Assistant Editor
Interested in reading “Nobody’s City”? Check it out here!
Our head editor, Daniel Bourne, has a new and improved website! The website features selections of his poetry, essays and translations. You will also find biographical information, news, and interviews with Daniel Bourne himself. A special page “Lost and Found Poetry” invites you to read poems by Daniel that might not be available otherwise because the work has never been collected in one of Daniel’s books or the original source ceased publication before the age of the internet when so much work became available online. To see all of this for yourself, click here.
–Megan Murphy, Assistant Editor