Jordan Cox

Beginning fall semester

 

My collection of fragile animals. They'll never move.

My collection of fragile animals. They’ll never move.

I’ve begun work on another story. This story is about a world with only one difference from our own: every person is part of a pair. You recognize this person immediately and get along with him or her better than you get along with anyone else. This kind of setting might sound wonderful, but there are seven billion people in the world. For all you know, you’ll never meet the other half of your pair.

My particular story about this world begins when Weston sees Felicity across a graveyard. He’s visiting his father’s grave. Her mom was just buried. He knows immediately that they’re a pair so he approaches her. Felicity talks to him, but Weston feels as if she’s very unresponsive. Here’s a short excerpt from after Weston moves in with Felicity:

There was that expectation that because we were a pair we would also be in love with each other at first sight. I liked her, but I didn’t love her and I didn’t think that I ever would. There was something too sterile and robotic about her. She cleaned other people’s houses all day then came back and cleaned her house. The vacuum was always on when she was home. Her arm was always going back and forth.

I don’t think she ate in that house. There was no food on the shelves or in the fridge besides what I put there. When I put milk and eggs in the fridge it felt as if I was violating some rule that she had never told me.

I was asked over the summer by a friend why the main characters in this story don’t immediately get together. He said, “I’d get together right quick with my soulmate if I found her.” I told him that my story isn’t about soulmates. It’s about people who have the potential to mean a lot to you. Weston and Felicity aren’t meant to become a couple. They’re just a pair of people who help each other through difficult times.

Here is what Felicity’s perspective might be like:

When both of your housemates are gone, you don’t know what to do but run a sponge over the kitchen counter. You like the way the granite gleams when there’s a residue of water on its surface. You vacuum the floors. Dust the windowsills. You scrub dirt off the molding. Pour bleach in the sinks and toilets. While you move, you feel the same size as your body. When you stop moving, you sink back. Your vision becomes small and surrounded by black.

Your body is a cocoon. It protects you from the harshness of the outside. You think of yourself as different from it. There’s you, then there’s your body. When you don’t want to feel anymore, you loosen up on the controls for your body.

Learn more about my project.

Summer Wrap-up

Time for some leisure reading!

Time for some leisure reading!

It’s the end so I thought that I’d share an excerpt from one of my essays to show that this not truly an end. Things will keep spinning and churning.

Here’s the excerpt:

In 2012 the Mayan calendar ended. Some believed that the end of this calendar meant that the world would also end. One night in 2012, an electrical powering station exploded near where I live. The whole sky lit up and started flashing. People ran through the streets screaming that the world was ending. My father and I thought that the light outside was lightning, but it wasn’t storming. We went outside. I felt as if the sky was going to turn, revealing gears. There would be a clunking noise as our reality and the truth welded themselves together. I had this feeling that our world was a small piece of what truly existed. We were ants who didn’t know what being an ant meant.

Moving forward, I’ll be writing more, more and more! More poetry, more stories, more essays. Not only will my semester include lots of writing, it will also include lots of revision. And I’ll be considering how to put what I’ve written this summer into one manuscript.

I have to say that I really enjoyed this summer and the fellowship program. It was a great opportunity that I’m really grateful to have been accepted to. I liked being in Pittsburgh for the summer and meeting my fellow fellows. I think that I was able to look at my project in a different light because I was able to consider how students from different departments look at it.

 

Weeks 9 & 10

Cox - door

My original idea for my essays was to write about people who I’m close to, but who I don’t see in person. I reconsidered this idea and decided to write about a couple different topics instead. The topics include vegetarianism, inability to change/death, love, dream of change and doors. I wrote some of the essays as letters. They are addressed to you which makes it feel as if I’m addressing every person who reads them, connecting me to you. They’re also letters because they retain some of the ideas and emotions that they might have if I had remained with my original topic.

This is the essay on doors:

Dear You,

Closed doors barely stop the dogs that I know. They all kick at the doors until they pop out of their jambs. They don’t look at the doors. Their faces say: It’s only natural that the door would make way for me. Just like how closed doors don’t stop the kicking legs of dogs, they also don’t stop people from walking in on these two friends that I have.

These two friends don’t understand that a closed door is not a locked door. They see a closed door and they think they should proceed to make out. This means that people walk in all happy, see them completely involved and then back out feeling sad about their own singular natures. This same couple thinks that closed doors are soundproof doors, which means that those around this couple have invested their money in good headphones.

Some might say that doors are lies. A door that is a lie is a blank space that looks like what a person imagines a door to be. Every door is different for every person. Doors being lies would explain why the dogs get through so easily. It would also explain why people always walk in on that couple. No door exists for anyone to knock on.

Doors separate people with their false nature. But if doors are lies then dogs have more abilities than we know. It would mean that they can see what is and isn’t a lie. On the other hand, if doors aren’t lies and they’re not really doors then they could only be dirty cheats secretly cackling at our human woes. They hear a giggle and they say, “My oh my, wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone could hear this beautiful giggle?”

Then they release through the door what is an unnatural giggle. Everyone you know hears that giggle. Your life comes crashing down on you. You become known as The Giggler. People warn their children to stay away from you. Supermarkets stop selling tomatoes to you. You retreat into the woods to commune with cicadas.

As you sit on what remains of a tree that was cut down years ago, you shrink. You don’t notice at first. Leaves and bark are all that you can see. Then you notice that you’re getting smaller. The dirt is getting closer and closer to your face. When you sleep at night, you smell the dirt. You wonder if it will swallow you in a natural coffin. It eventually does, but you shrink a lot more before that happens.

While you’re shrinking you grow wings. Skin sloughs off your main body. Your new skin is shiny and tough. You’re very small now. The grass is taller than you. The noises of the night frighten you. It sounds like there are hyenas out there.

There are no hyenas. There are a couple of people telling jokes while they camp. A vague thought crosses your head about how hyenas sound like they’re crashing apart with laughter. You dig into the dirt. You want to escape those kinds of thoughts.

You dig deep enough that you can’t hear the hyena laughter anymore. Your awareness drifts until you’re no longer you. You’re the earth and the water flowing through the soil. Then you’re nothing but darkness over a never-ending night. Someone far away tells another person that it was never you who giggled. You never know. You sleep down where they will one day find dinosaur bones.

Truly,
Me

Weeks 7 & 8

Cox - sketch
During these two weeks, I outlined and wrote one of my stories. I wasn’t sure at first what kind of problem I wanted to develop between the group of girls, but I knew that there should be some kind of problem. I decided that the leader of the group (Jezebel) wants to bully one of the other girls (Yan Lin). But she never comes out and says it. She starts to leave Yan Lin out of activities. Problems develop as Allison realizes what Jezebel is doing, while the other girls don’t understand. The other girls are beginning to dislike Yan Lin. In the face of these events, Yan Lin doesn’t doubt herself as some girls would. She rightly blames Jezebel, which causes her to confront Jezebel at the end of the story. Like in the beginning, they end up falling from high up. They’re both sent to the hospital.

Here is the first page of the story:

It started small like most things. The six of us stood before a grey stone wall. The wall wasn’t that tall, but to me it felt like it could have been the outside of a fortress. Jezebel climbed up first. She was our leader. Most of these girls had followed her since they were in middle school. I had joined their group last year straight out of Korea.

Jezebel reared up at the top of the wall, arms out. She turned toward us. The little silver studs in her ears glinted with the sunlight. She smiled at us, then jumped. The ribbon of her dyed red hair flew up then disappeared behind the wall. She called from the other side, “Who’s next?” Her voice was breathless with excitement.

I grabbed the wall at the same time that Junco did. She looked at me unblinking for a second. Her blue eyes had a ring of gold around the pupil. I froze until her unnerving gaze was focused on her hands sliding into the gaps between the gray blocks. She didn’t talk a lot. When she did, she said sentences that cut me to the bone. I wasn’t sure if it was intentional or if I was translating wrong.

We went up the wall together. At the top, I didn’t look, just immediately jumped off. I wanted to beat Junco down. The moment I was in the air felt longer than it should have, but was still short. The world went up while I went down. I stumbled. Dirt dusted my cheeks. My jaw clicked. My left ankle rolled. I held back the noise of pain.

Jezebel smiled at me. “How was it?”

I forced my mouth into a smile. I wanted Jezebel to be proud of me. “Great.” But only for a second. Tomorrow it would probably hurt worse.

Jezebel called over to the next girl, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your long hair.” I didn’t understand who Rapunzel was or what hair had to do with jumping, but I smiled. Jezebel was funny. She should have smiles after her words.

Junco turned to me. She said, “You stumbled.” I flinched at the comment. Jezebel probably hadn’t stumbled. Jezebel probably landed like she was a pillow. The girl beside me probably fell like a rock, but one of the hardest rocks you’d ever find. The ground would crack before she broke.

Allison and Martha grabbed hands at the top. They laughed as they jumped. The stumbled after they hit the ground, but it was silly stumbling. They put their arms out, reeled around each other like spinning dreidels.

Yan Lin was the last one. We looked at the empty wall. Jezebel said, “You get sick and die over there?”

We saw her hands on the top then her black bobbed head rising up. “No, I’m here.” When she was at the top, she straddled the wall. She looked down at us through her blocky glasses. Her mouth opened. She sucked in air. This side was farther from the ground than the other side. She wiped sweat off her cheek. “I can’t do it.”

“Yes, you can.” Jezebel put her hands on her hips. “You’re going to do it.”

“No, I really can’t.” She wrapped her arms around her middle and grabbed fistfuls of her shirt as if that would prevent her from falling. She blinked really fast.

We expected Jezebel to make a scene. Allison and Martha stopped their silliness. Junco’s back straightened as she stared at Jezebel’s face. I was quiet, scared that I was about to see what would happen to me one day when Jezebel realized that I didn’t fit in with her little group.

But Jezebel didn’t make a scene. She just said, “That so?” Then she turned away, pulling out her phone. “Junco, help her down.” Junco went over and helped Yan Lin down. Soon after, we forgot that frozen moment. I should have known then that Jezebel would never let it go, but I was so relieved. I felt as if it had been me up on that wall, being given a pardon.

 

Honors Fellows Wrap Up Summer Research

Group photo

Eleven Dietrich College Honors Fellows are poised to begin their senior year with a head start on piloting psychological studies, conducting field research and laying the groundwork for film and writing projects.

Over the past three months, the fellows have examined citizenship and belonging in South Korea, the impact of La Loi Toubon on French nationalism and coming of age as a Vietnamese American, among other topics.

Recently, they presented their works-in-progress to each other and faculty members including their advisers and fellowship program directors Jennifer Keating-Miller, Brian Junker and Joseph E. Devine.

“This summer’s group was particularly impressive,” said Devine, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “While their topics were interestingly diverse, they displayed shared qualities of high enthusiasm, confidence and preparedness that served them well this summer and will surely continue to do so over the coming academic year.”

Read more.

Sixth Week

Jordan Cox Week 6I went camping recently and I realized that because people don’t bring their technology, camping is a way for people to become closer without interfering barriers. Technology plays a big role in human separation. It allows us to talk to our friends who live on the other side of the world. It also allows us to talk to our friends that live down the street so we don’t have to walk over. Technology has created distance in our society. People say that it’s also made the world a smaller place.

Anyway, I went camping with a couple people I knew well and a couple that I didn’t know well. I felt as if it was a way to see a different side of those people and that there was a distinct lack of separation between us. We removed ourselves from the rest of society and only concentrated on each other.

A Description of the Night

The thin walls shake with the wind
like a wolf is huffing and puffing,
blowing our tent down.

I wake every couple hours
to laughter and the rattle
of aluminum poles.

My mind is as taut as the strings
on her cello. She sleeps
next to me, eyes like box flaps.

My thoughts bash around, stuck
in a loop of dream then the sight
of green and tan overhead.

When my alarm finally blares
at me I see flecks of snow,
but I’m warm with her beside me.

Learn more about my project.

 

 

Fifth Week

Cox - Fifth Week photo

Models: William Boyajian and Annabelle Lee

This week I thought about a more specific theme: physical manifestations of emotional problems. The idea for this theme started with a dream. In the dream, I was walking in a muddy ravine. Below were white crashing rapids. Leaning against a tree were several paintings that my mother had made. As I walked toward the paintings, they started slipping. I moved toward them faster. In the dream, my mother was dead so I didn’t want to lose these precious remnants of her. I noticed my sisters (don’t have any in real life) on the other side of the bank. They watched as I pushed the paintings up with my hands. My feet slid in the mud. I knew that I was going to fall into the ravine with the paintings while my sisters simply watched.

I decided to adapt this dream into a poem. The ravine acts as a physical manifestation of the emotional distance between the point-of-view character and her sisters. I wanted to go a step further than the separation being displayed through the surroundings. I wanted the difference between the sisters to be shown in how they looked – as in their exteriors revealed the difference between how they act. I chose for the P.O.V. character to look not as human as her sisters. Maybe she is ascending from the human condition. Maybe because the poem is told in her perspective, the accounting of events aren’t as accurate as they might be.

Here is the draft of this poem:

Our Mother Leaves Us

I step, jump from one wooden plank
to the next. On my tongue is the song
my mother hummed when I was a baby.

The bridge sways under my weight.
The rope hops in my hand, chafes skin.
My bare feet are soft on the rough

wooden grooves. On the other side
of the ravine, her paintings lean
against a spruce tree. I step, jump

until I’m there, stroking her blue oil
painted cheeks. Rain drips down
my cheeks like tears. I’m as cold

inside as any glacier. My sisters scream
from the other side of the ravine.
They cross their fingers at me. Demon,

monster, they yell. They’re tyrants.
They should be the ones with antlers
sprouting from the sides of their heads.

But it’s me being cast out before
the streams of blood have dried
around my antlers. One of them pulls

out a knife. She smiles as she cuts
up the bridge. The other sister
is saying, bye bye. Her eyes are averted.

I don’t make a run for the other side
as the twine parts under the knife.
There’s nothing for me over there.

They don’t notice when the mud gives
and the paintings slide down the slope.
I grab at them. My fingers stab through

the canvas of one. The rest keep going
out of my reach, to the river far below.
My sister finishes with the bridge.

It rattles as gravity takes it to this side
of the ravine. The leave without looking
at me. I feel pain in my head as the antlers

grow another inch. I look at my fingers
pushed through the painting. They look
like worms pushing up through the ground
during a storm. I know they’ll drown anyway.

Learn more about my project.

Fourth Week

The theme that I focused on during this week was smoking. Intrinsically humans understand that there is separation between those who do and those who don’t, but we forget about some of those divides that we see in every day life. Smoking is a public activity that creates a visible divide between people. There are those who smoke and those who don’t mind interacting with those who smoke. There are those who act elitist and preach the dangers of smoking. There are those who scrunch up their noses when they walk past smokers. There are those who are apologetic because they themselves do not smoke. There are those who were raised with grandfathers and fathers who smoked so they smoke too.

Cox - Woman Smoking on Craig St

Woman smoking on Craig Street

Clinger

We walk down the stairs.
Her heels don’t clack,
just tip tap against the brick.
Her hand flourishes out

from her heart into the open
air swirling with dust.
She turns to the light
lined doors. She reaches

across her body into the grey
purse printed on with cat heads
and dog feet. She pulls out a pack
of cigarettes. I could go

to the classroom, wait for her
there while trying not to stare
at the eyeless boys and girls gasping
for breath. I don’t want to look

into their empty dark eye sockets.
I move with her to the light, hoping
that afterwards I won’t smell
like burnt nicotine.

Third Week

Cox - Week 3

Model: Olivia Fin Lynn

I wrote about isolation this week. Isolation is typically when a person is separated from the rest of the world physically; however, humans mentally distance themselves often every day. When someone says that she “zoned out” she isolated herself from the conversations and activities happening around her. She went within her mind to a place where there was only herself and her thoughts. So isolation doesn’t have to involve physical distance. It can also involve emotional or mental distance.

Isolation is a quality that we relate to being animalistic. When a person separates himself from others, he is called a “lone wolf.” This poem contains a woman who is related to a bear in hibernation:

The knock on the door stirred
her from the hunched
position over her book. She reared

up, straightening her back. It cracked
at the same time that the fist again struck
the wooden door. She lumbered

while the floor squeaked. She prepared
apologies to reject the magazine
salesman. Her paw wrenched

the door away from its frame.
She jerked back as she smelled
home on the woman who stood

knee deep in snow and plastic bagged
newspapers. It was her sister
who had been a brown bobbed cub

when she left. Anger was tucked
in the lines of her face. Her excuses
for leaving died before they were born
like unfertilized eggs.

Learn more about my project.

Second Week

Cox family .jpegI think that family often comes up when discussing separation. Children leave home and their family behind as they make a life for themselves. You have a bond with your family, given to you through your birth, yet you go away from them. It’s an interesting kind of separation, because the physical distance also becomes emotional distance that allows you to become your own person.

This poem that I’m working on brings up these themes of family and distance:

Teenager

She describes the way she eats
with her parents as bolting
down food. She leaves the table
before they have finished slicing
up their dripping beef.

Her parents sit, eyes locked
on her empty chair. They feel
that she stabs them in their hearts
with her fork, rinses off the blood,
and places it in the dishwasher.

They pretend that their love
isn’t hardening into lumps of ice
as they shovel broccoli
into the maws of their mouths,
but they wonder if raising
a child is worth this pain.