Real Deal

Click on the picture to start


As with the previous projects this one did not go according to the original plan but that is because I saw a better way of doing it.

Enter Part 1.

You will have to figure out the puzzle in Part 1 to get to Part 2. Email me if you need assistance.


Nick of Time: UPJ DIGI WRITE

IMG_20170407_101756Prompt: “Sit at your desk and listen” Franz Kafka

I hear my computer. It’s softly rattling-whirring not screech-choking as if possessed. It only does that when I am at ease. I hear the ticking of the alarm clock I never use as an alarm. There’s constant woosh of the vents.

At this moment there are only the ever-present sounds. I like a quote, — I don’t know who said it I saw it online — “Art is how we decorate space. Music is how we decorate time.” If music decorates time, these sounds are nicks in the wall. Better yet, they are the walls. 

The Attic


I grew up in Northern Cambria (formerly Barnesboro). Lived there until August 2001, moved to Alexandria, Virginia, only to return to Northern Cambria in October 2005.


My first home was 117 Ash Street. Yes, I am Ashley of Ash Street. There is a chance I was not named after the street we lived on. My father has told me that the street had a different name when I was born, but Dad has said many things. He told me he killed all the aliens when I could not sleep out of the fear aliens would abduct me. He says that he’s an alien.


He says that the Man in the Hat is real.


The Man in the Hat lived in my attic lived in the attic. For years I thought he was just a figment of my imagination, until I brought him up in conversation. We were in my grandmother’s kitchen, eating dinner.

Grandma was telling that she dreamt of the Little Man again. He was a dwarf with a pumpkin head.


“I had something like that,” I said, “The man in the hat.”

“Ashley, he was real,” said Dad.

I thought he was fucking with me. “What?” Laughing a little.

“A shadow. Had a sort of wide-brim hat and a trench coat.”

I had never told a soul about the Man in the Hat. “Yeah.”

Dad said me Sis and I saw him growing up. Sis talked about him. The dog would run from the attic door to the basement door, appearing to chase after something.

But not anymore.

My dad has many dogs these days.

“Does it happen anymore?” I asked.

“No. He’s gone” said my dad confidently, as if he were telling me the time.

A ghost doesn’t just go away, though.


Anyway, a few weeks ago, I had my mom send me some photos of places we went to while I was growing up. Each item will include historical information, a favorite memory, and a least favorite memory.
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Springfield Mall, Springfield, VA, circa 2004

The Springfield Mall opened in 1973 and reopened as the Springfield Town Center in 2014.


Favorite Memory: leaving school the last day of third grade early to go see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It was already a short day. Mom picked me and my sister up to go to the Springfield Mall AMC.


Worst Memory: it could have been when a singer came to the mall and Mom made a spectacle of herself, but it loses out to the last time I ever went to the Springfield Mall. By then most of the stores had closed down, making way for the Springfield Town Center. It was 2009. The mall was a desolate shell of what it was when I was a child. Worse than the Galleria in Johnstown.

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 4.45.15 PM.pngStarlight Hotel, Northern Cambria, Pennsylvania present

The Starlight Hotel is owned by Ron Scalese and is right across the street from the house I grew up in at 117 Ash Street. Try the stromboli.

Favorite memory: my 12th birthday party was here. I had invited 12 or so girls from class. It was one of the few times in my life when I felt like a normal kid with a regular life. To think it was over 10 years ago. It feels like it happened longer ago.

Least favorite: getting off the bus in fifth grade to see my grandma and Aunt Molly waiting to take me to Grandma’s house at Cherry Ridge. They had sombre looks on their faces. They informed me that my dad’s live-in girlfriend had moved out. The blame for her leaving was put on me. She within a few months she reconciled with my father, moved back in, and married my father. It was not the last time she walked out on him or the last time I would be called the reason why.

A ghost doesn’t just go away.

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Book checked out of the Bush Hill Library, circa 2004-2005


This is a thing. I realize that, but when I found this book in fourth grade, I just about shit myself. It looked so much like him. I felt like I was looking at him. The Man in the Hat was a shadow, but I thought, if I were able to see his features, this is him. Not because of the hat. It’s the face. That’s his face. I feel it. I know as certainly as when my blood sugar is high.
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DC National Mall (Smithsonian in Particular)


The Smitsonian Museum of Natural History was founded in 1910. It sits in the heart of the National Mall: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560. It was one of the first Smithsonian buildings constructed exclusively to hold the national collections and research facilities

Favorite memory: My first solo trip to DC was my freshman year at UPJ. I was excited to go back to DC. I had not been there since I moved back to Northern Cambria from Alexandria. It was a hectic day though. DC as an adult on your own is a lot different from being their as an elementary schooler on a field trip, but when I saw the elephant in the Smithsonian, I felt like I was home


Worst memory: on the same day as the favorite memory, later on. I was on the phone with my sister, who still lives in Alexandria. She was worried about me walking around D.C. on my own. I get off the phone with her, feeling ballsy knowing that I had the guts to do something Sis wouldn’t dare to do. I thought, “I can take this big, old city on all by myself,” as I was walking to the Air and Space Museum. I caught sight of a tiny bridge over a road, then realized I walking on the road, without having looked both ways, I look behind and a car and a bus are heading for me. I do a weird shuffle back to the sidewalk, covering my face, saying “Sorry! Sorry!” I was humbled. Look both ways!


I look at these images and for answers. Too often it feels like my past was a dream. I look at them and know that there is something I am missing, not nostalgia missing, oblivious missing, something that eludes my perception. I stare at these pictures with the hope that one day I will be able to see it and I won’t feel such a need to reflect on my past anymore and concentrate on my future. The reason I talk about the Man in the Hat? I don’t know, but I can’t shirk the feeling he’s connected to this somehow. A ghost doesn’t just go away.

Mixed Signa: the Ivy League and Literary Success

Went to a conference today. It was two minutes from my dorm. It was good, but one of my worse habits is my need to compare myself to others and be like them. Not the best thing in writing. Most of the writers I look up to went to Ivy League. Think Kelly Link, Karen Russell, all the dead authors we’re taught about in college literature classes.The humanities chair opened up today’s conference by talking about Thorea. He loves Thoreau and says how he went to Harvard. He talked about the Lysium Circut and the American scholar. Afterwards he talks about how we cannot try to be our role models. We have to let our role models help us be our best selves. It’s a beautiful thought and despite the fact I know it’s true I can’t help but be puzzled by the fact that two hours later we have a keynote speaker who got his bachelor’s from Princeton.

These thoughts filled my mind because I presented my paper on magical realism that talked about Link, Russell, and Ursula K. Le Guin. For years I have felt that I have been fooling myself when I examine the lives of the writers who I admire. Is there any place for a low-income, first-gen with ADHD and mediocre grades in the literati? Or is she destined to always remain the lecturee, never the lecturer?

My Top Ten Memory Places

I thought of using distinguished places, but then I thought of my four houses; my father’s house (bought by my paternal grandmother), my maternal grandmother’s house, my paternal grandmother’s old house, and my great-grandmother’s house, where I currently live. These places are more like things, but I think when we think of  a place, we’re just thinking of a collection of things.

  1. The mirror – my first memory is of walking across the living room to the mirror at the foot of the steps at my father’s house (house 1).
  2. The attic – my father’s attic was a place I frequented as a child and as an adolescent after I moved back to Northern Cambria in 2005. As a child, I saw a shadowy figure that appeared to have a hat and a trench coat, the Man in the Hat. Last year, we were discussing my grandmother’s dream of a little man with a pumpkin head. I brought up the Man in the Hat only for my dad to say that Mary Beth talked about him to, although I never told a soul about the Man in the Hat. My dad said the dog’s would chase something into the basement a lot, but that hasn’t happened in years. Maybe the Man in the Hat left.
  3. The hallway – at my maternal grandmother’s house (house 2). She lives in a bungalow in Alexandria. The hallway was the pathway to all the bedrooms and the bathroom. When I lived there, I liked to run down the hallway into my bedroom door at the end of the hall. I found the brain damage freeing.
  4. The wall – my paternal grandmother lived in low-income housing at Cherry Ridge before moving in with my great grandmother prior to my great grandmother’s death in 2010. Her house had white walls with a sinewy, veiny texture, more similar to my maternal grandmother’s house than the panelling of my father’s house or my great-grandmother’s house. I loved running my fingers along it when I would use the staircase.
  5. The backdoor – my father’s house has a backdoor that autolocks. One time, when I arrived home from school, the front door was locked. I got a crowbar from the unlocked garage and used it on the backdoor, busting it open like a tin can.
  6. The walk-in closet – when I visited my father during my time living with my mother in Alexandria, he would spoil my sister and I. He gave me a special room in the walk-in closet with a bookshelf, a card table with a Mario sticker on it, and a tiny TV where I would watch Ernest movies.
  7. The porch -at my great-grandmothers. When she was alive, she, my grandmother, and my great aunt would go sit out there to smoke and play “Prettiest Car” where one would say a number out of three, then they’d watch the cars pass the house, and whichever car was prettiest, the first, second, or third, would win.
  8. The basement -the basement at Dad’s house was home to my cat Dale while I lived with my grandmother who hated animals. Dale ran away a few years ago, but the most memorable part of Dad’s basement is the tornado. We stayed in the basement as a tornado tore threw our line. The long line of indentation remains to this day.
  9. The basement – Great-grandmother’s basement is a place I have to go to a lot. I have to fix the fuse and check on the amount of oil my grandmother has whenever I visit. My grandmother doesn’t dream a lot, but she dreamt of a little man with a pumpkin head coming up from the basement when I was in high school and has been haunted by it ever since. She gets pissed if you bring up “the little man.”
  10. The basement – my maternal grandmother’s basement is more of a den. It floods a lot. My cousins and maternal aunt lived there for most of my life, and my mother lived down there after my aunt moved out, until my mother moved to Harrisonburg. My sister lived down there to, but she lives in Burke, nearby now. I assume that now it just accumulates dust and must, as a basement should.

Mingzhi Pigu

Mingzhi Pigu is inspired by the Steal Like an Artist Journal prompt, “Write Down Everything You Fear Then Cross it Out.” I will not be including the picture from the journal. The fears I wrote were too personal.

The narrative is essentially a conversation between the player/viewer and a computer program that asks the player what they fear from a list of answers then responds with sassy comebacks. There are numerous layers to the narrative and the player explores the psyche of a quasi-AI.

The inspiration behind Mingzhu Pingu was mostly CleverBot; a  real-life quasi-AI. I also thought of Karen from SpongerBob, HAL 9000, and GLaDOS.

About the name: I wanted to give the narrative a name that was interesting but funny. Looking at Mandarin words, I found mingzhi (明智) “sagacious” and pigu (屁股) “butt.”

“Mingzhi Pigu”



Margaret Brundage


I talked about Margaret Brundage a couple of weeks ago and think given there is a few minutes left of International Women’s Day, I want to recognize her.

I think I heard about her from Margaret Atwood first but I have to think I heard of her prior. I definitely learned the most about her from my little hobby of putting music lyrics over pulp art. I find it hardest to use her work. It has some of the best coloring, but is the lewd poses of the women in her art that might put a bee in people’s bonnets. “Few women worked in science fiction and fantasy, and even fewer were portrayed prominently in science fiction and fantasy art” at the time Brundage illustrated the covers of Weird Tales. There is the pervading thought that a lack of modesty goes against feminism, but as Emma Watson said, feminism is about “freedom” and “liberation.” When you consider the time period when Brundage created this erotic covers, and the push for “modesty” it is empowering.

Is art depicting violence against women misogynistic if it is the art of a woman and the art depicts a woman enacting violence against another woman?

Anyway, that’s enough for tonight, I think. I may revisit this topic later.