Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

Tomcats Vs. Owl’s Nest

I am in Ottumwa, Ia covering the Tomcats Vs. Owl’s Nest  coed softball game.  You can follow my live game coverage here.


International Writing Program Reading

“Every public appearance of my work feels like giving birth to a child.” –Farhad Sulliman Khoyratty, before beginning his reading.
“I don’t believe in truth with a capital T. I believe in smaller, more subjective truths.” –Farhad
Sitting in the back row. Fumes of various perfumes wafting around, people dressed in their finest literary garb, pleated skirts, leather oxfords, wool cardigans, and glasses with the little loops on the stems.
Farhad begins reading, a letter from a son to his mother, a story about a man who thinks all things find in him their originating causes.
A quiet atmosphere pervades, the hiss of the espresso machines coming muffled from the coffee shop in back. Members of the literary community sit slouched in their chairs, smiling as familiar faces come and go, clasping each other’s hands in silent tender recognition. Farhad reads steadily on, earnest orator, a sensitive and introspective writer.
The plane crashes, the son feels his soul leaving his body in midair. Someone’s cell phone rings, a bad pop song, autotuned vocals. Man gets up, steps behind a shelf and says audibly “Hello?” Farhad’s reading quickens, gets louder.
“How does one link all the words? Which the shade and which the light?”–Farhad (I just like that line I guess)
Farhad’s writing ends. Speaker wishes all the writer’s safe flights back home, safer than the one in Farhad’s story. Muffled laughter.
Rachel Yoder of the UI non-fiction writer’s worksop. Her reading is an essay about her experiences growing up in a Mennonite community in Ohio.
Very rich prose. “something chemical and dark…” I like.
Describes her home very eloquently. The idealism of her parents. One day her dad suffocated some cicadas and cooked them in the oven, asked her if she wanted to eat some with him. Dad and mom ate them with honey, said they were nutty.
Angry, biter storytelling, traces of teenage angst, of a girl wanting to escape the craziness of her backwards upbringing.
Describes her discovery of boys and youthful passions, Rage Against the Machines, then in agonizing detail, the preparation of a meal in her family’s Mennonite homestead. The contrast is stark, the choice clear.
Next up, Ian Rosales Casacot from the Philippines. “All of the members of the IWP seem to be bent on finishing a literary project while they are here in Iowa City.”–Ian.
Begins a story, a sunset in Chicago, a corner in Macy’s, a starbucks, the dull roar of the L train. Mmm. I am transported…I miss Chicago!
Mentions Palatine. I drove through there with my dad when I was learning to drive. Drove into an intersection and almost got sideswiped, my dad shrieking in terror. Enough time has passed now for me to look back and laugh.
Jesus, he’s describing my usual walking route through downtown Chicago, along Wabash ave! I can damn near see the street and the window cleaners, the scaffolds over the sidewalks!
End of transmission for now. All good readers. Rachel Yoder was my favorite.
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Local College Student and Friends Give Photobomb a Run for Its Money

By: Greg Otten


A local college student takes photo bombing to the local crowd, and the reactions couldn’t be more appropriate.  Or inappropriate depending on how you look at it.

What is photo bombing, one might ask?  It’s simple.  Find a picture being taken, position yourself (obscurely) in the picture and smile – or not.

According to, ThisIsPhotobomb, a website that is devoted to the art, has been functional as a stand-alone site since 2009.

With more than 1000 pictures, it is easily the biggest collection of ruined photos anybody has ever taken the free time to collect.

But with the advent of Facebook, creeping has become a more intimate project.

Tom Miller

Creator of Creepin Album

“My brother showed me Photobomb,” said the creator of Facebook’s Creepin Album about his inspiration.  “Then I was at my rival high school’s prom, and I decided to ruin a couple of people’s pictures.  I just stuck my head in there and said, ‘Cheese!’”

Thomas Miller, a sophomore at Kirkwood’s Iowa City campus, has taken the task of compiling his friends’ best ruined pictures.

“Ever since it got kind of big,” said Miller, “I get five to ten messages a week in my inbox of people saying, ‘Dude look at these.’”

But just because you send the pictures to the Keeper of the Creepers, you are not guaranteed entry into the system.

“A lot of them don’t make it because they aren’t worthy,” said Miller.  “The standard is pretty high.”

One of the most beloved pictures of the audience has two male friends kissing on a dare, and what do you know, another person creeps into the picture underneath the arms of the two friends.

With material like that, the effort put into creeping needs to be top-notch – kind of.

“If it makes me laugh it goes on.”


Slow to start, the album contained only the prom pictures of Miller.  But soon, the competition started.

“The ones of me are the best,” said Miller’s brother, Andrew.

The art of creeping is on par with the skill needed for some of the most daunting tasks.

Andrew describes it as such:

Photobomb Excellence

You'll never guess which one is Andrew

It’s not easy.  You have to be patient.  It’s like trout fishing.  You may see an opportunity, but by the time you see it they always see you.  So you kind of have to act like you aren’t going for it, and you have to time it, so when they push the button you just slide right in there.  Also, a lot of people do it wrong, and that irks me. A lot of people just like to stare at the camera.  Why stare at it when you can completely ruin it and draw complete attention to yourself?  That is what I think makes the best creep.

And his pterodactyl creep is proof of his excellence in the field.


Since the creation of the Creepin Album, Tom says he has received some weird comments.

“I’ll be at a party and some random people will walk up and ask, ‘Are you Thomas Miller?’ ‘Yeah.  ‘Oh my God, I love your creeping album.  So and so showed it to me and I thought it was hilarious.’”

The pressure to keep a quality product on the internet has done nothing to stop his creative eye from scanning hundreds of pictures to find the best ones.

If the math is correct.  At two years running, giving the start up process six months, Tom has received, estimated, between 400 to 800 pictures to add to the album.

However, the album now only contains a roster of 83 pictures.  The best of the worst, so to speak.

“One of my friends was getting his senior pictures done,” said Miller.  “And while [my other friend’s] mom was doing it, [he] creeped off in the back behind a couple of trees.  There he is in about seven or eight pictures.  Ruined some senior pictures. Taking it to a whole new level.”

These pictures have yet to be nominated for Album status, but rest assured, something like that has not gone unnoticed by Miller.

“Those were some expensive creeps.”

NOTE: Link to album has been requested by creator to be unlinked.  But it does exist.

Edit: Not 5 to 10 messages per day, it’s per week.  Corrected math as well.  Sorry gang.

Ahmadinejad Riles UN with 9/11 Slur

During a speech today, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad characterized the terrorist  incident on 9/11 as part of a US conspiracy to protect its intersts in Israel , causing some UN representatives to leave the chambers in protest.

In writing a localized take on this particular story, I’d be interestd to see what comments Kelly M. Kadera, Associate Professor in the UI political sciences department would have to offer. I located Kadera on the UI political science web page. The site indicates that she has written extensively on the subject of war, most noteworthy perhaps being her article  Conflict Management and Peace Science. Ahmadinejad’s comments have caused concern about the feasability of a peaceful solution to the various conflicts raging in the Middle East. Kadera’s expertise on “conflict managment” and “peace science” may give the UI an unique take on the situation.

Another local expert it might be worth talking to is Brian Lai , another Associate Professor in the UI politial sciences department. His expertise is on terrorism in the Middle East, an area of study whose relevance is readily apparent in this particular case. He would be useful in discussing the mindset of terrorists in the Middle East, and perhaps in parsing the motivations behind Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory rhetoric. I found this professor in a simple google search.

Matt Heflin

Matt Heflin is a psychiatric nursing assistant at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. I used to work with him at the info desk at the hospital, where he worked for several months as a student. He has experienced a lot in his job at the psych clinic and knows how to weave those experiences into fascinating stories.

Heflin has a tattoo that reads “We the People” in parchment script that stretches across his torso. He actually appeared in an Off Deadline story about the tattoo parlor where he got this interesting piece of body art.  On a personal note, he’s an outgoing character with strong political views, usually tending towards the liberal persuasion. I know this from having spent some time previous to my interview. However much of my interest lies withing the scope of his current occupation, and tt is difficult to perform a webbased bacground search in this area, as none of it has been  previousl publicize. Furthermore, the information about his work in the UIHC is largely restricted by HIPAA laws, so there is very little out there pertaining to the actual events within the Thought Disorders unit. Much of the personal anecdotes will come form my interview.

Nonetheless, information can be gathered on this subject online, though not as directly as in other casess. Job descriptions for psychiatric nursing assistants can be found, detailing the responsibilities and in-job nuances of dealing with patients who suffer from psychological illnesses on a day to to day basis. These responsibilities can be as intimate as performing restraint to prevent bodily harm against others or themselves, and as rudimentary as simply watching TV with these patients or talking with them about their lives. Reading up on the duties of this emotionally and physically taxing occupation is an invaluable source of information about the daily trials undergone in such a confusing and–pardon the term–manic working environment. 

Again, few personal anecdotes from any nursing assitant are likley to show up online, but futher background can be gathered on blogs. This particular blog offers localized information about psychiatric nursing assistant jobs, the training involved, and the salary that can be expected. Again, not much in way of in-field detail, but valuable nonetheless.

It might be useful to  gain the perspective of the patients in these types of clinics. To do so I would consult  a message board where the thoughts or complaints of previous or current patients can be addressed.  This could provide avenues of questioning during the interview. If the complaint of mistreatment is common in psych clinics, I could ask a question about whether or not Heflin has witnessed or even administered treatment that could be considered cruel or unusual.

I chose these links quite frankly out of an absence of other relevant data available. These were the most directly informative about the topic at hand, offering a glimpse into the mechanics of working in a thought disorders clinic. Knowing this before stopping into an interview provides a foundation on which to build my questioning.

Working in Reality

By: Wiley Schatz

“Working in non-fiction allows for me to experience things I couldn’t otherwise,” says Sasha Waters Fryer, Independent Filmmaker and Associate Professor of Cinema and Comparative Literature at the University of Iowa, “I enjoy being out in the world and meeting people with my camera.”

Waters Freyer describes her own work as “a mix of documentary and experimental non-fiction.” For over ten years Waters Freyer has produced four feature length films as well as five shorts.

“All her work seems to have a close personal connection to her,” says long time colleague and Chair of the Department of Cinema and Comparative Literature Russell Valentino “it seems to come out of her in some organic way.”

Making any feature length film is always a huge undertaking, but Sasha Waters Freyer’s latest film, “Chekhov for Children,” has been ambitious enough to take a total of four years to finish.

Rediscovering the Past

Sasha Waters Freyer

Born and raised in New York City, Sasha Waters Freyer studied her undergraduate at the University of Michigan and the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and later earned her Master of Fine Arts degree at Temple University.  She eventually came to teach at the University of Iowa in 2000 where she has remained ever since.

“She’s a very enthusiastic teacher,” says Valentino, exemplifying the positive reputation Waters Freyer has built over the years, “She is also a very conscience colleague; if you need something done she wont let you down, that’s not true of everyone.”

In November of 2005 Phillip Lopate, Waters Freyer’s teacher from when she was ten years old, came to Iowa City as the Keynote Speaker for the “Non-Fiction Now” conference.  Back in June 1979, when Lopate was Waters Freyer’s teacher, she along with a dozen or so other ten to twelve year-old put together a full production of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.”

“When he came down here, I rediscovered all the video from that play,” recalls Waters Freyer, “Phillip Lopate had written an essay called ‘Chekhov for Children’ and I wanted to make a film about that production.”

The project required gathering as much archival footage from the class as possible, as well as contacting as many people involved with the production that she could.  “Contacting people wasn’t super hard because of the internet,” Waters Freyer says, “some people stayed in touch so once I got hold a few, the others weren’t hard to get.”

Waters Freyer said that one aspect of making the film that was quite hard was working with older formats; “The hardest part of the project working with dead technologies, things like Betamax that just aren’t used anymore were hard to get footage from.”

Interviews were a weeks work editing took significantly longer

According to Waters Freyer, working on the film was not one continuous process.  “The first interviews were shot in the summer of 2006 but because I was teaching, I had a baby, and have been raising a family I would work on it for a while leave it and come back now and again.”

Hitting the Big Time

Once the film was in a presentable state, Waters Freyer submitted it to the board for the Telluride Film Festival.  “Chekhov for Children” was selected to be part of the back lot of the festival.  “I expected it to get recommended for the smaller festivals,” explained Waters Freyer, “I didn’t think it would actually get programmed.”

Sasha's 1979 Class Photo

Once it was selected to be screened at the festival it was easier for Waters Freyer to finish the film having a deadline.  The biggest obstacle in in finishing the film was obtaining a release signature from one of Sasha’s dear friends and subjects of the film whom suffered from mental illness.  Once she screened it for him and got the signature Waters Freyer was ready to premier the “Chekhov for Children” at Telluride.

“Telluride is great because it’s fairly small relative to how prestigious it is,” just one of the many great things Waters Freyer had to say about the festival, “It has a very non competitive feel, there are no corporate sponsors, and it’s all about the films.”

Since its world premiere at Telluride, “Chekhov for Children” is scheduled to screen at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City, along with screenings in Huston, Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, and Walla Walla, Washington.

As far as future projects go, nothing seems to be decided yet, “I’ve started reading about refugees in Sweden which could make for an interesting subject… there are some small things in the fire but nothing is planned for right now.”

In the meantime Sasha continues live and teach in Iowa City while raising her two daughters Georgia and Ruby with her husband John.  And other than the few months her family plans to live in Stockholm next year, she doesn’t seem to plan on going anywhere; “I prefer to work outside and in counter to the mainstream.”  Lets just say she has no plans on chasing a big film studio job anytime soon.

Bridging outer space and soil, an ISU professor finds his calling

Brian Hornbuckle holds a scale model of SMOS, the satellite launched by the European Space Agency. He's leading a team in Ames that is checking the satellite's work from the ground. - photo by Jim Malewitz

Brian Hornbuckle is trying to improve crop yields and predict flooding by measuring soil moisture – from space.


When Brian Hornbuckle cranes his neck to the nighttime sky, he’s probably not pondering the beauty of the constellations, but thinking about what’s in the Iowa soil right under his feet.  Yet he’s neither absent-minded, nor a contradiction. He’s just a man who has found his niche – where astronomy, physics and environmental science collide.

Hornbuckle, an associate professor at Iowa State University, has a unique way of understanding how the world works and how we might keep it working.

He is a physical agronomist– a term he coined. It means that he uses physics to study how plants and soil interact with climate. But throw in his expertise in satellite design and data collection, and the work gets even more interesting – interesting enough to land a role in a European Space Agency project he calls “groundbreaking” and “a perfect fit” for his hodge-podge of interests.

Continue reading

Pulitzer Prize Writer Teaches At Iowa

James Alan McPherson

James Alan McPherson (Photo, Stefanie Schultz)

By: Stefanie Schultz

It’s a typical Iowa City fall morning. Bursts of chilly air blanket the campus. Hints of orange and red pop amongst the green leaves. Professor James Alan McPherson sits in his office. He is carefully reviewing a student’s file, preparing to write a recommendation.

“This is what makes [my job] enjoyable. It’s fascinating to see where the [students] come from and to see where they are going,” said McPherson, a professor at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.

As we discuss his love for teaching, his passion for writing and story telling begins to illuminate the room. To say his professional life has been successful is a vast understatement. In fact, before Professor McPherson began teaching at the University of Iowa he was an award-winning southern fiction writer.

Remembering Racial Difficulties

Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1943, Professor McPherson personally endured the racial tensions that ripped through America’s south. Consequently, his work has been devoted to many of these issues. His book, “Hue and Cry,” deals with a variety of issues, such as homosexuality and racism, which remain just as relevant and captivating as they did during the late 1960s and 1970s.

“I grew up in the south during a time of white domination. My work took me across racial lines. It introduced me to a variety of stories,” said McPherson.

Pulitzer Prize Winner

Through the 1960s to the early 2000s, McPherson’s work flourished. In 1978, he became the first African-American writer to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his short story collection “Elbow Room.” Later, he was awarded a MacArther Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1995.

McPherson’s professional life has been filled with bountiful amounts of success. Yet, while talking with him, it is easy to recognize his natural humble and passionate persona.

“[Winning the Pulitzer Prize] made me more of a target. It puts pressure on you to excel. Even at a time when you may not be able to do so,” said McPherson.

Still, awards, Pulitzer Prizes, and national recognition was never his ultimate goal. Instead, his love and passion for writing is what drove him to succeed.

“I’ve never wanted a conventional and traditional life. I just wanted to do something different,” said McPherson.

Before attending the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, McPherson attended Morgan State University, Morris Brown College, Harvard Law School, and Yale Law School. Additionally, Professor McPherson taught at the University of California, Santa Cruz and lectured in Japan at Meiji University and Chiba University.

“Teaching in Japan was a great experience. I loved socializing with the people. I was fascinated with their mannerisms and their socialization skills,” said McPherson.

Settling Down in Iowa City

Today however, Professor McPherson’s exotic traveling has come to a standstill. Instead he can be found teaching writing courses at the Dey House at the University of Iowa.

“He [McPherson] really gives it his all. He truly wants students to succeed and wants to help them. He is an extremely dedicated teacher,” said Janice Zenisek, Secretary at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.

Although his zest for traveling may be gone, his love for the Writers’ Workshop and Iowa City remains.

“[Iowa City] has and old-fashion deeply embedded communal sense. Here [Iowa City] you receive reinforcement of who you are on all levels. I admire and appreciate that,” said McPherson.

Working Through Confusion

The Code Green

Matt Heflin was making the rounds down the corridor, enjoying a quick chat with his co-worker when a large bearded man began screaming at the end of the hall.

“I’ve gotta hit somebody!” the man shouted, lunging down the hall towards Heflin. With a practiced calm, Heflin’s co-worker deftly side-stepped the charging giant, grabbed him into a head-lock, and threw him to the ground. After a brief struggle, the man calmed down and Heflin was able to fit him with a set of velcro restraints.

This is what Heflin and the rest of the PNAs up in 2JPW, the Thought Disorders unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, call a Code Green.

“Code Green’s are the biggest cluster fucks of all time,” Heflin said, “Fifteen chiefs and no Indian. Everyone wants to be in charge and no one wants to listen.” Heflin admits that this particular Code Green wasn’t exactly by the book. When a patient threatens physical harm, a PNA (psychiatric nursing assistant) is trained to neutralize the situation with several conflict defusing techniques. Headlocks and takedowns aren’t exactly part of the repertoire, but they happen all the time. Heflin demonstrated one of the techniques in the living room of his cousin Megan’s apartment. Heflin, tall and lanky, wearing grubby gray work pants and a green American Eagle polo, stood up straight with a grin on his face to show all in attendance how to handle a patient who has aimed a kick at your shin.

Keeping the Peace

“I could get in so much trouble for showing you this,” he said, standing with his back straight, his feet locked, hands balled into fists. The invisible attacker charged across the room and aimed an invisible kick toward Heflin’s right shin. Instead of blocking the insubstantial blow with a graceful chop of his forearm, Heflin shot his knee up to his chest, a jerky gesture reminiscent of the first move in some sort of goose-stepping parade. With a pivot, he pumped his foot back to the ground, turned, and marched straight out of the room, away from the invisible attacker. A successful dodge and disengage.

Heflin’s training is designed to minimize conflict and keep people safe in a potentially volatile environment. Every day he works in close proximity with a grab bag of patients who range from depressed to schizophrenic. Most of them have drug problems. At any given time, Heflin says, the unit has one or two star patients, patients whose neuroses are particularly severe. He recalled one patient who stuck out his own eye during Heflin’s shift. “Just took his finger and jammed it in,” Hefflin said. The PNAs had to restrain him so he wouldn’t stick out his other eye.

This is Heflin’s job, to intervene on the behalf of individuals who are unable to do so for themselves. He used to work in a shampoo factory, putting bottles into boxes. His current job required a weeklong training course in which he was taught CPR and made to watch sessions of electric shock therapy. Naturally, when he made the transition to working at the Thought Disorders unit during his junior year of college, he was a little nervous. “I have a lot more responsibility now,” Heflin said, “I mess up here, I break someone’s neck.”

Origin Story

Oddly enough, Heflin’s parents met in the same Thought Disorders unit that he works in today. His younger brother Travis also works with him, as do most of his aunts. When the family gets together for dinner, they spend the evening trying to outdo each other’s stories about their experiences on the unit, who did a one-on-one with the craziest patient, who got attacked by who and their best guesses as to why. It might seem insensitive, but in a family of PNAs it’s important to maintain a sense of humor about what can be a very stressful and emotionally taxing job.

Heflin and his mother, who transferred to the OR due to work related stress, share a story that’s hard to top. One day, one of the borderline personality patients approached Heflin’s mother and kicked her in the stomach. Heflin’s mother was pregnant with him at the time. To this day, the same borderline woman makes appearances in the unit, making her what Heflin and his co-workers call a frequent flier.  She is unaware that Heflin is the son of the PNA she kicked all those years ago. When he passes her in the hall, he can’t help but think that this woman could have ended his life before it even began.

Heflin walks among these emotionally disturbed individuals every day. His job requires him to be aware of changes in their medications and how that might change their behavior, try to empathize with them, remain a source of calm at their most violent. Not all of them interact with the world in conventional ways, so it’s important to remain alert, adaptable, and sensitive to their emotions. He doesn’t understand it all but Heflin says it’s important to remain respectful.

“You gotta learn to act like a kid,” Heflin said. Just listen, ask questions, nod, and try not be preachy. But it’s also important to be careful. “There’s definitely a professional distance you have to keep,” he said, waving his hand in front of his face, “You can’t bring it home with you.”

Behind the Kitchen Door

Brady McDonald said “it’s all about the finesse,” when it comes to being the chief cook.

By Nicole Karlis

Silver metalware  is hung from the ceiling and stacked on  counter tops. The shiny alloy is all that is in sight in the place Brady McDonald calls work. The sounds of clinging pots and pans echoed across the room as a machine spat out tickets that ordered the next dish McDonald would cook up.

McDonald, 23, has been working at Atlas Restaurant, 127 Iowa Ave., since June of 2006. He describes his nights as “hot and fast,” behind  the kitchen doors of the Atlas Restaurant.

As his first job out of college, preparing food is something that the Iowa City native knew he always wanted to do.

“I wasn’t the greatest student,” McDonald said. “But I knew one thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life was cooking.”

McDonald went to culinary school at Kirkwood Community College right after he graduated high school. In the fall of 2008, McDonald traveled abroad to Florence, Italy, to learn the ins and outs of international cooking. His time abroad contributed to his liking of Italian food, especially pasta.

“It’s like the pasta dough is part of me,” he said.

McDonald said his days in Florence were long, but he gained irreplaceable valuable experience. After an unfortunate event with one of the head chefs at the Florence restaurant he worked at, that had a Michelin rating, McDonald was promoted to be in charge of the pastries. It was during this time he found a new love for the creation of sweet treats.

“Desserts are a lot of fun to play with,” he said.

But what it all boils down to is the walk and talk about being a chef.

“It’s all about the finesse,” he said.

McDonald says he’s in the works of opening up his own restaurant, a goal he plans to reach before turning 25.