Tiger Games

The poem, “tiger, what it means to leave behind” by Jaden Crowder is a beautiful work, and one of my favorite pieces in the Spring Edition. It expands on the pains of growing and the bitterness of nostalgia, opening up on the heartache of faded friendships and lost innocence. The way it begins is playful – opening with a rhyme scheme most of us can relate to some of our most favorite lullabies from childhood. For me, this poem brought out a feeling that buried itself a long time ago – when the sun was something new on my skin, and the color green made my eyes smile. In many ways, this poem reminded me of my own lost childhood – having once thrived with pride like a cub, I am now older and as fierce as the world wants me to be. There is no time to play – we can only remember and continue to remember.

I, too, had a friend like the poem describes. She was as blonde as our pinky-swears and as playful as any kid could be. I remember her smiles in the car when we sat in the backseat while our parents drove, racing to be in the front seat when we were older, riding scooters in the parking lot, and making soap potions in the bathroom. Yet, I just barely remember the last time I saw her – we were 13, I think. I believe we were by the pool. I think the sun still felt warm as it went behind buildings, the shadows resting comfortably on our forms like they were our own. The conversation was nothing special – it certainly didn’t feel like the last. We probably said ‘goodbye’ when it got too late, something like: ‘see you next weekend!’ rolling off our tongues as though they budded with longing right then and there.

No, I don’t think she left because she disliked me. I don’t think she dislikes me now, even when she doesn’t respond to her birthday texts. It was a simple, ‘no, you can’t see her anymore’ from her mom that ended our friendship.

Sometimes I think about her – usually it’s late and the world has exhausted me of any other thought to do with the present. It’s when I want to live in the past, lying in my dark bed with the moon outside my window which, I know, was the same moon then; the one that peaked over us at the pool. I think: ‘what is she like now? what is she doing?’ I think about how much of a sister she was to me, and I wonder if it was ever the same for her. Then I ask god what life would be now if she stayed.

Does she not remember the days when we were small, dancing around the pool as sailors, mermaids, spies, and adventurers, just kids up to our tiger games, hoping the world was as big as our dreams and hearts? Leaving her behind; what that meant for me involved fabricating a wall around our memories to give the illusion there weren’t games to begin with.

Admittedly, I think of her on these nights, but I don’t want to know if she thinks of me; I just pull the moon close and let my eyes flutter their lids, pressing my cheek to the pillow.

This edition has many pieces that speak to me – pieces from teens who convey their own turmoil and passions through art. I opened up about two that had a very special impact on me.

Art as a whole is meant to connect us to each other and ourselves, and I think it is wonderful that Élan grants young artists the opportunity to give that experience to the world. These works are from teens, but that does not take away their impact; Élan proves how crucial it is to allow the voices of growing artists to be heard. To me, as both a student and artist, that is such a beautiful thing. As this Spring Edition impacted me, it can also leave something with you.

Reece Braswell, Senior Art Editor

Stories Without Words: Samuel Pabon’s Pressure Cooker

Looking through the final art and writing decisions of Élan is never a disappointment. There are always a couple pieces I am surprised by; maybe I didn’t pay much attention to them through the first selection process, but in their new context of the surrounding stories, they make perfect. Then there are the pieces I knew would be selected from the moment I first laid my eyes on them. The selection process is always tough, as we receive mountains of submissions from talented artists and writers, and we cannot include it all in the book. But from the moment I saw Samuel Pabon’s Pressure Cooker, I knew this piece would rise above the rest.

Even the name of the piece invites speculation into the emotions of the subject. Yes, “cooker” could be a literal reference to the apparent heat the subject is surrounded by. But the subject of the piece is interesting because it invites a host of questions that a literal interpretation fails to answer—why is the figure holding a bag over his head? And why does he appear so serene in the face of so much heat and force? The composition pulls the viewer forward, as the steam surrounding the subject is portrayed in less detail than the facial expression of the boy with a bag over his head, as if the focus is not on the steam, or even the bag at all, but the emotional content under the surface. These questions force the viewer to consider the situation from the subject’s perspective.

For me, the emotions of the subject registered on a personal level for me. I have a habit of taking on too many tasks in too short a time to complete them all. I call it work ethic, or perfectionism, or just being a workaholic—and, when I manage to complete all of my tasks, the pressure taken off my shoulders feels wonderful. But leading up to this catharsis, I put myself under increasing pressure, trying to live up to my own expectations of myself, failing to care for my personal needs, all with the goal of getting my work done to the best quality I can manage. The catharsis when I do complete everything is remarkable, but it creates a legacy of self-sabotage.

When I look at Pressure Cooker, I see the same self-sabotage. The bag over the head and the serene facial expression is not unlike my own serenity in ruining my personal life for the sake of productivity. Under heat and force, diamonds are made—but so is oil and hot tar, compressed from the bodies of living things. Pressure Cooker is a warning that, if we do not reexamine the situations we put ourselves in, we will put ourselves through unnecessary suffering.

Every piece in Élan’s Spring Edition tells a story, and this is the reason why I am so proud of this issue—reading through the book, noticing how the art expands on the stories of the writing themselves, is an emotional experience like few others.

Noland Blain, Senior Managing Editor

A Needed Intimacy: Élan, Spring 2020

One my favorite pieces in Élan’s spring edition is Noland Blain’s “When my Mother Calls Me to Say She Quits Being my Mother.” It takes a while, in this piece, for the narrator to come to terms with the fact that the mother is not somebody that they feel deserves to have the title of mother— but still, stuck in the past and the subconscious, likely from being manipulated into thinking the mother’s actions are somehow their fault, the speaker tries to understand their parent and why they, for some reason, feel bad about a relationship that clearly stopped being good for them.

Time and time again, I have heard my mother find ways to pin her dissatisfaction of the world on us children. For a long time, I took it personally when she would reach out to me only to say that she was done with us children, that we never loved her, were unappreciative and only wanted to do things that hurt her. Even as a child, even when I recognized that these words were only meant to get reactions, I ached. When I stopped talking to my mother, much like the narrator in this poem, I began to get nightmares that would scare me further and further away from wanting to call her my mother. I started to realize that there were and are times, definitely, that she isn’t. This poem articulates the desperate need to disengage from a parental relationship that many people have trouble articulating, especially when it comes to mothers, who we often expect to be the one person that will always love us and always be there when we need them.

The Spring Edition of Élan is packed with many deeply intimate and connective pieces such as this one– another that really sat with me was “Minor Grievances” by Katlynn Sherman, which explores how the speaker’s relationship with their paternal figure changes as she grows up and visits him in jail, now old enough to decide what this means to them and how they are going to process this moment and engage with the world from then on. What blows me away the most about this piece is that it was written by one of my good friends, and having talked to them about the situation in this piece and then reading the piece and seeing how they expressed and translated this piece into their art— it’s otherworldly.

I get chills sometimes thinking about how all of the pieces, poetry, fiction, and elsewise that I read are somehow derivative of somebody’s personal experience– even more so when I, often times a stranger, find myself in their work. With Élan being written by kids my age, sometimes when I read it, I think about how there is a chance that I could be friends with this person or know them outside of their work and see all the ways in which they manifest within their creative work. It feels like such an untouchable thought sometimes, because when I read these pieces, I am blown away each time by the amount of creative talent and intimacy that is in a world so close to me. Even more so, the amount of understanding and closeness I feel to strangers in another universe, might not end up being strangers.

Evette Davis, Senior Web Editor