by Rob McClure Smith
Dear Graduate Director:
I am delighted beyond human ken to write a letter on behalf of Ms. Lauren Appleton for entry to your prestigious M.F.A. program. The transcript of her academic record in my own department hopefully speaks for itself, as I seem to have misplaced my copy, but I can think of no recent undergraduate more superbly equipped for the cutting-edge, genre-defying creative work your program elicits from the current generation of digital natives.
I will first observe that Lauren’s creative writing fully embraces the reality hunger (©Shields) of our post-postmodern episteme, embracing the manipulation of found text, flarf, randomly generated Google searches, exquisite corpse reveries, Eno-esque oblique strategies, I Ching stick-tossing, thrown dice, spilled beer Rorschach etc. For her Senior Portfolio she submitted a complete novel, Onno Korenino (a found text rewritten with a key vowel change and transposed to contemporary Nigerio), a stunning work whose climactic episode in a Logos (yes!) train station was brilliantly conceived and utterly heartbreaking in its meta-textual narrative surprise. Memorable also was her Writer’s Forum oral presentation ‘SDSS1416+3b And Other Galactic Phenomena I Like,’ for which she arranged an accompaniment by our local regional symphony, indigenous Moroccan Qraqeb, intermittent tubax honking, an overlay of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry dub, seagull squalls and a series of visceral recordings made by herself at the local Farmland Foods slaughterhouse while surreptitiously garbed as an FSIS poultry inspector. Her intense reading with musical augmentation that night evokes still, in my mind’s eye (sic), images of some horrifying industrial accident or perhaps a Scott Walker recording. ‘She’s something,’ the director of creative writing told me afterwards, still trembling uncontrollably. ‘But it’s sure as hell not a creative writer, have a word?’
The word I had was ‘conceptual,’ and it proved inspirational. Newly immersed in Dada and Fluxus, Lauren subsequently developed a series of impactful performance pieces including Walk (3), the video of which is part of her portfolio. On day one, she filmed herself walking naked across campus wearing only a backpack. On day two, she was filmed (by an accomplice) walking across campus in an empty (‘naked’) backpack. On day three she walked back and forth across her backpack for 3 hours 3 yards from Old Main, while being filmed filming her own filming, this last nude walkabout drawing a large crowd of onlookers including prominent members of the local art community, picketers from the nearby Church of the Immaculate Conception and, latterly, a cease and desist order from our college President.
Sadly, Lauren did not complete her Honors Project. By her senior year, she was already moving beyond language into a space of Beckettian conceptual silence.1 The intended thesis, a wordless performance inspired by Carolee Schneemann titled whippedcreamchocolateyumkinkypillows designed to be performed to select paying viewers in local motel rooms, had to be postponed due to an injunction brought by our philistine mayor under our small college town’s antiquated gross indecency regulation and then by her subsequent expulsion.
My own acquaintance with this student is longstanding and intimate [as her portfolio photographic sequence intercoursepro(o)f evidences]. I got to know her especially well in my ‘Intro to the Contemporary IPhone Filmic Experience course’ and I well remember the first time we spoke, some six weeks in. ‘Who are you?’ I asked, intrigued by her presence and Sherman-esque costuming. ‘I am Lauren,’ said Lauren, ‘My name is Lauren. This is my first time here cause I’ve been going to the class next door on accident.’ ‘How can that be,’ I asked, querulously. ‘Isn’t that Economics 101?’ ‘I know,’ Lauren said, smiling winsomely, ‘I was, like, micro this, macro that, how’s about you just show us some movies, dude?’ Suffice it to say she made an immediate impression upon me and I especially recall her astute remarks about Art.2 To speak further to this young woman’s wellspring of unfathomable creativity, I would observe that maugre writing a final paper, she chose to do an elaborate presentation in which she modeled all Hitchcock’s leading ladies, from Madeleine Elster to Norman Bates, appropriating Edith Head’s original costume designs, and if not for an inopportune interruption by campus police during her recreation of the necktie strangulation scene from Frenzy, would have received an A rather than the somewhat misleading Incomplete.
In summation, I can only reiterate that her exceptional artistic talent3 and grotesque creative propulsiveness make Lauren a superb candidate for entry to your distinguished graduate program. It is rare you will find a candidate so of our cultural moment, effortlessly limning as she does the flimsy osmotic boundaries between Sheila Heti, Frank Ocean and Johnny Manziel. Please God take her off our hands.
Department of Creativity
1 Lauren did not ‘tell’ me this having, as noted, moved beyond the prison house of language, instead miming it for me using a combination of an inflatable Bozo the clown doll and a sock puppet representing Marina Abramovic.
2 Art Cassidy, the TA for my course, a young man who sadly lost the lower portion of his left leg in a childhood tricycle collision and who Lauren, although usually sensitive to the differently-abled, affectionately dubbed Hopalong.
3 She also is lead bassist for the noted death metal combo Bataan Death Tango.
– Rob McClure Smith is an expatriate currently living and teaching film studies in Galesburg, Illinois. His fiction has appeared in many literary magazines and he is a previous winner of the Scotsman Orange Short Story Award.