Meditation Extreme: a Team Sport

medextremeRecently I was given the special privilege of being at the screening of the short film, Meditation Extreme. The film is the culmination of an “Acting for Screen” class taught by Daniel Roemer this past summer. This screening was the first time the actors — all locals — had seen the finished product. I had no clue what to expect from this product of our community.

Daniel Roemer grew up in this town, graduating from Mansfield Christian in 1999. He moved away to study film at USC and stayed out in LA for the next 15 years. In that time his CV exploded impressively with top honors and finalist positions in such programs as “On the Lot,” a reality show produced by Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett, showcasing filmmakers “bound for stardom.” He was also twice a finalist for best director in the esteemed Project Greenlight. Continue reading


Mansfield: We Are Creating


From an alley, Mansfield, Ohio

I visited New York City last weekend and spent enough hours wandering through the boroughs that I began to compare it to our town. We are not New York and we know this. We are not New York and are yet happy for that. We are not New York, we are Mansfield, Ohio, and we are creating.

There are parts of New York City where each breath I drew was art. It was not merely a painted canvas, a vibrating string, or an astute analogy, but a sense of ecstatic freshness. The world as I knew it was new again, shimmering. I could feel my own creativity roiling just beneath the surface of my composure, and my mind, surprised with new agility. In the presence of others’ imaginations, mine ran giddy and wild. And the people standing around me, they were ready to experience everything I had to give, absorb my offerings and further the cycle of ideas.

In Mansfield, we artists breathe rust. We breathe poverty and establishment and someone else’s idea of what our town should be. When we experience the moment of collaborative elation, we have worked damn hard to get there. We work in factories and gas stations and chain retail stores where we lock our art in the break room and keep it to ourselves until we clock out. Art is not an employer, but not a hobby either — it is an unstoppable drive we have, the one that reminds us we’re alive, the one we must have to stay alive. Continue reading

When Swing Was King

After the February 18 Mansfield Symphony Orchestra Pops Concert


Carl Topilow and the MSO

Carl Topilow, in red coat with red clarinet, leads the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra with his knees and shoulders, bobbing on the podium to the music as he plays along. The conductor leans with a sidelong glance to the drummer and, as one, the group moves toward the end of the piece, finishing on one blue note of a dime. Tonight, at the MSO’s “When Swing Was King” pops concert, Topilow is not Topilow. He’s Benny Goodman, he’s Artie Shaw. He and his bright  red clarinet lead a big band and it’s 1944 and the audience is young again.

At the introduction to each song the crowd murmurs appreciatively. Next to me my grandmother hums along. Everyone of a certain age has a memory that corresponds with each song. A piece of their youth, of the early years with their spouse, of their time serving their country.

The songs Topilow picks range from Gershwin excerpts to Glen Miller to an entire patriotic piece fitted around a bugle solo. Before I had thought of swing as swing, but now I begin to think of the complete range of sweet to sultry to stars and stripes.

The sweet songs inspire my grandmother to turn to me and tell me memories of her courtship with my grandfather. She uses the word courtship, and it occurs to me that I’ve only ever heard this word from someone of her generation, and also that I’ve never been courted. Stardust, Moonlight Serenade, Night & Day — a sweetness and innocence that I cannot fathom, but desperately want to know. Continue reading

The Art of Orie Rush


Poor Power Supply

Orie Rush’s show in the Book Loft Gallery opened two weeks ago to a crowd of friends, family, and total strangers. It is Rush’s first solo show, though you wouldn’t know by the huge group gathered in the loft of my bookstore. For a solid two hours, Rush is pinned behind a table on which his sketchbooks and prints sit, entertaining one admirer after another.

The show consists of twenty-plus drawings, paintings, pieces of digital art, and piles of prints plus a selection of Rush’s sketchbooks. For those of us not well-versed in the techniques of visual art, it was difficult to distinguish one style from another save by the title cards. Micron, digital, watercolor, acrylic: all stand together in the delicate precision of their execution as well as the question they pose to the viewer — can you tell my story?


A selection of digital prints

Though the subject matter varies wildly — sleek samurais and geisha, art deco-like figure studies, whimsical critters in watercolor — the thread that remains consistent is that of wonder. By wonder, I mean the power to create questions and curiosity, to create stories in the viewers’ minds. A triumvirate of wizened heads, a hand like a firecracker, a startled creature — part potted plant, part octopus…one cannot help but insert their own stories and create their own worlds. From gritty to dreamy and rough to flawlessly clean, these works demonstrate the fecund, twisty wilderness of Rush’s imagination. Continue reading

The Ghost of Ballets Past


Renaissance Theatre Chandelier

I hear the oboe whine its A in the orchestra pit, and it dawns on me how incredible this is. I’m living in a medium-sized Rust Belt town that actually has its own orchestra and a dance troupe and a grand old theatre that has drawn well over 700 people to see a ballet. The turnout to tonight’s cultural event echoes a different Mansfield, Ohio, an earlier, livelier version. Tonight, my Mansfield is out on the town.

Bobby Wesner, the artistic director of Neos Dance Theatre, has set tonight’s Nutcracker in 1940s Mansfield, and uses projection mapping and other technology I don’t understand to turn the stage into a snowy, glowing, palpable nostalgia of wartime Mansfield. A place I have never seen, that may not have existed, but that I am still homesick for.

I am seated up front in our iconic Renaissance Theatre. Plush red seats, an extravagant crystal chandelier, generous gold trim. The woman behind me gasps when the red velvet curtains part and the set is revealed. For me it’s not the set but the dancers who inspire awe. I watch the woman playing Marie, the main character. Her body occupies the space around her with the grace that makes movement art. The grace that makes humans human. The smile on her face is both sweet and somehow industrial — a part of her machine that will never fail. Continue reading

“Swimming the Dam”, a letter from Llalan Fowler inspired by sovroncourt’s song of that title

This feature is a letter written by Llalan Fowler that was inspired by “Swimming the Dam, track 5 on the Waves and Wheels album. Please read Llalan’s ekphrastic piece and then listen to the song that inspired it. Enjoy!

* * * * *

My old friend,

How are you? I’m hanging in there–thanks for your last letter. This time of year is always hard for me. It’s that “certain slant of light.” I know you know that. Remember the day we drove to the lake? That was around now — early fall. I wrote a poem about it the next day. This was back when I wrote poems. The leaves were turning and some were dropping already. One line described a yellow tree across the lake from us that unravelled like a sweater, its gold leaves spiralling down onto the motionless lake. The water was so still it reflected the colorful hills back at us. In my memory we sat on a pale tablecloth, though I can’t imagine either of us having one back then. You carried a picnic in plastic grocery bags up the levee to where it flattened out. You brought hummus and chips and little sealed sandwich baggies with vegetables you had cut up. I didn’t eat much. I was busy pretending I didn’t notice you reaching for my knee or my hand, and you were busy pretending not to notice me scooting away from you, bunching up the tablecloth around my folded legs until I was wedged in one corner, almost in the grass. The grass was still bright green even though the leaves were turning, the way it is in southern Ohio when school starts. So green I thought of rolling away down the grassy hill. Bugs hopped around my fingers and I wanted to cry. I was embarrassed to be in my socks with you. We weren’t in the poem, just the tree and the water, but the poem is long gone and here we are. Thank you for the pictures. Your daughter is beautiful. I wonder what you will tell her about me. Tell her about the sky that day, that ecstatic blue and the bright alive smell of dirt and water and leaves. Tell her about the yellow tree.


* * * * *


On Base, by Llalan Fowler

Summer tastes like cut grass and infield dirt and warm water out of paper Dixie cups. Between the ages of ten and sixteen I spent every summer banging dirt out of my cleats on the dugout cement, dreaming about the boys in the big league.

First Base

I was fourteen and pretty sure I’d be the first girl in the history of ever to get a high school diploma before she got kissed. And then I got kissed and it was so sadly cliched I wanted a do-over even at the time. We were on the band bus on the way home from a football away game when I was fed a sluggish mouthful of tongue. I would not kiss anyone else until I was in college.

First base was my favorite base in softball, though I never fielded it, being neither tall nor left-handed. But as a runner you can run past it and still be safe. On the other bases an infielder could tag you out with the ball if you overran the base, but you can stomp on first and blow on past at top speed into the outfield. You could could just keep going, really, out past the fence and the wild grass into the corn and down to the river or beyond.

Second Base

In girl’s softball, you aren’t allowed to lead off the bases; you have to wait until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand before teasing to the right. On base at second I was invisible to the pitcher and felt sly as though holding up bunny ears behind her in a snapshot. I was slow, so the possibility of getting past the shortstop and third baseman to steal was slim, but still, I liked that I represented a threat.

The boys in high school thought I was a tease, but I was really just terrified. How long do you play defense against them? I liked that I represented a challenge, but not the prize. I was more comfortable shifting from one crouched leg to the other along the baseline between first and second, swaying slightly, letting my glove trace the sign of infinity in the infield dirt between my cleats.

Third Base

In eleventh grade Jackie Parson turned to me in English class and said, “Did you know a blow job has absolutely nothing to do with blowing?” I answered something like, “Oh yeah! That’s so weird!” even though I didn’t really have clue.

It is the most physical of bases, always sliding into it if you’re doing it right. Hit a triple, steal, get caught looking at home a little too hungrily and take two lurching steps back before sliding in safe. The third baseman, shortstop, pitcher, and catcher all keep a wary eye on it: the penultimate step before changing the whole game.

Fourth Base

In college I slunk away from a bonfire when they started passing the bottle of Jack Daniels and playing “never have I ever.” The girls giggled and acted coy, as though they actually had done the acts they pretended they hadn’t, saying they’d  never “done it” in a lifeguard chair or their parent’s minivan. I just never had. Ever. I was very far away from home.

Fourth base represented my target, the goal I studied in class behind my eyelids. I was a pitcher. I threw windmill — the style of whirling your arm in one fierce circle while taking a saucy, hip-swinging step towards home base. I pictured a channel of energy stretching from my open hand, beneath the hitter’s bat, smack into the catcher’s glove. I was in charge. I got what I wanted. What secret did I know? There is no fourth base; only home.

© Llalan Fowler, 2013

Llalan Fowler

Hello. My name is Llalan, pronounced LAY-lin. I am a reader, a writer, and an Ohioan. I am also the manager of Main Street Books, the only independent, general bookstore in Mansfield, Ohio. So not only am I a big reader, but I am also an avid supporter of local business. Please visit my blog, The Bookstore Lady, which follows the ups and downs of bookselling in a small town, the trials and successes of running a small business and some difficult or beautiful parts of just being human.

Other incidentals that might be helpful to know: I love beer, am kind of a snob about it, and have been known to brew it when the mood suits (I actually write for another blog called PitchKnives & ButterForks in a column called “Just Add Beer”); sometimes I cry at commercials, even the ones just about paper towels; I have never been tan in my life.