Calling all Theater companies and performers!

Open Call to Theater companies, performers, researchers:
I would like to hear other voices besides my own on this blog. If you'd like to write about your TLP experiences here, e-mail them to me and I'll put them up.
Topics can include dramaturgy to staging to personal responses to the play. Anything goes!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Some Short Creative Nonfiction from RBU

In Appalachia's blank winter skies and endless rain at the end of this November, I find myself longing for stars and family.  This is a piece I wrote for Real Bloggers United some months ago and find myself revisiting, so I thought I'd share it.

Starlight Requiem

God is an intelligible Sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

-- Alan of Lille
*      *      *

This is my Father's world, 
And to my listening ears, 
All nature sings, and round me rings 
the music of the Spheres...
“What’s wrong?”  My then-boyfriend asked me when I stopped singing.  I turned to face him with a frown. 
“The ‘music of the spheres?’” I said over the noise of the worship service.  “That’s so anachronistic.   It’s an image from a geocentric universe.”
“But it’s really just a metaphor,” he offered helpfully.  I shook my head. 
“But that’s exactly the kind of thing that gets me funny looks at college when I tell people I’m a Christian now,” I protested.  Some of the other parishioners started eyeing me doubtfully, so I shrugged it off and joined in at the refrain. 

Back when I was twenty years old, I could have sworn things like that mattered.  I grew up in Montana as the youngest child of amateur geologists who worshiped a faceless but benevolent God in the vast church of Nature, and the dome of that supposed crystalline sphere formed our cathedral.  My mother’s God, the grand scientist driving Nature, wasn’t exactly an absent watchmaker—but He was punctual and a little distant, and He was careful to keep that watch brightly polished and wound tight.   As a neophyte Christian with one foot still planted inside that starry cathedral, I was reluctant to denigrate Him, or so I thought, with such an outmoded view of the universe.  The stars were most definitely not fused into some crystalline globe, I adamantly declared, and no music filled the skies with a sympathetic ring from their revolution—and it secretly embarrassed me to hear such a thing proclaimed in the church I attended, seemingly to confirm all the stereotypes my old friends held about my new faith.   

And yet, when I was a child living in a house of science, my childhood cathedral was dominated by the turning of the spheres and I never knew it.  You see, star watching guides don’t talk about the motion of the earth around the sun—they talk about the night sky and sun revolving eternally around the horizon line, with Polaris its hub and the constellations churning about in their various declinations.  The stock-still earth served as my kneeling-bench as I gazed up, up, into the rood-loft of the night and learned the names of the stars in the Northern Cross in almost the same way that a medieval priest might have taught his flock the names of the Patriarchs whose lives were painted on the walls.  In my head, I knew that the earth turned around the sun; but in the deep recesses of my imagination, God’s stars and His sun turned inexorably around the earth. 

Now that I am several years further down the road in my stargazing (and in my Christian faith), I’ve come to realize that I needed both views of the stars in order to help me cope with the vastness of a world I don’t always understand.  For one, I was surprised to discover that my smug dismissal of the geocentric world is really a side-effect of my recent urbanization.  When I looked up into the Chicago sky some years ago, my earth spun off its axis, zipping around the sun, and I realized as I gazed upon so much empty, black space in the sky how deep it was, how lonely.  That heliocentric universe, lit up by the light of our own hubris, was admittedly vast and mysterious; its unknown workings fascinated me.   But even though it made me feel awe, it also left me feeling cold.   There is no good light to see a loving Creator by in that sky; His hand vast, but it is also harder to see as it turns the universe around a hub that science still can’t locate.    

In contrast, anyone who has spent time in wilderness knows how self-evident the geocentric universe is.  Back in my lonely stargazing days in Laramie, the stars burned so thick in the air that I couldn’t slot a fingernail’s width between them.  Without the light of town to block my view, the sky looked both solid and yet strangely alive with motion.  The closeness of those stars offered a comfort that the other, neverending sky never could; as they moved restlessly around my inert frame, I could also see the Hand which pushed them around their imaginary axis—and I could also imagine, at least briefly, that such a Hand just might also hold me within its grasp.  Back in those years of my greatest doubt, this was the sky I tried with such care to re-create on my dorm ceiling with tiny glow-in-the-dark stars, a string compass, and a star chart.  Even though I hung out with intellectualist astronomy students and agnostics back then, I didn’t think I wanted a universe warmed to a few degrees Kelvin.   It was that close, immediate sky that a transcendentalist friend of mine adored when he went camping for the first time in his life; as he dropped his empty flask to the earth, he drunkenly exclaimed, over and over again, “Oh my God, look at all the stars…” 

I could, in my own way, understand his reaction.  For someone who had never once had seen anything more than the Big Dipper on a city skyline, the pressing weight of the spheres against his mind now threatened to overwhelm him. I, however, had seen and known both of these sides to the universe, and spending too much time under the turning spheres after my conversion made me start to take Him for granted.  I still needed to figure out how to make these two worlds fit together under the same night sky. 

*      *      *

My grandmother, matriarch and axis of my family’s careful universe, passed away last year.  My mother was especially grieved at her passing, but the one who suffered most, and the most silently, was my sister Sparrowhawk.  She held a deep affection for my grandmother, being just as restless and free spirit as she was, and Sparrowhawk’s own failing and sometimes violent marriage gave her a sense of kinship to my grandmother which no one else shared.  In the days before Grandma’s funeral, none of us understood the weight of the grief and rage Sparrowhawk kept inside until it flared out unpredictably against us all.   

Her most frequent victim of that fulminate grief, however, was her eldest daughter.  My niece Kestrel had just turned fourteen and, just like her mother had once done, she found herself straining at the jesses for reasons she couldn’t explain, desperate to break loose, go haggard.  On the day before the funeral, my sister and Kestrel had a vicious spat over something pointless; Sparrowhawk’s hidden tinder met Kestrel’s flame, and within seconds a screaming match flared up in our tiny hotel room.  I made the mistake of interfering, and predictably, I escaped with a scorched face and singed fingers to mock my foolishness.

Later that night, after tempers died down to embers and we all sat sulking in my grandfather’s kitchen, Kestrel looked up towards me.  “Aunt J., can you help me with something?” She asked over her schoolbooks. 
“Sure, what’s up?”  I asked. 
“Can you help me count stars to figure out how bright the sky is?  I have to do a star magnitude study for my science class while I’m out of town,” she explained.  She and I slipped outside to the backyard to the comforting veil of darkness which hid our losses. 
Once outside, we stood for a while at the blank stillness as she tried to tally up the night sky.  “Wow, I’m getting, like, sixty stars.  That’s pretty good, isn’t it?”  Kestrel asked.  I tried hard not to smile. 
“Kestrel, hasn’t your mom ever taken you stargazing out-of-town?”  I asked, baffled.  She shook her head, and I tried hard not to growl in disapproval at my sister’s apostasy.  ‘That’s it, we’re headed out,” I grumbled, which made Kestrel smile.  “Grab a coat.”  We slipped out of the house, away from our family’s muted rage and silent grief, to visit the stars. 

In a real sense, these stars which Kestrel and I drive beneath are my grandmother’s.  I drive several miles west out of Lewistown to where the road turns toward the ghost town where my grandmother grew up, and I pull off the highway onto a suggestion of a dirt road, just a couple of bare lines cut through the wheatgrass.  The darkness slams a lid over our car, pierced only by the dome light as Kestrel gets out of the passenger seat.  We lean back against the trunk of the car; after a couple of minutes, her eyes adjust to the perfectly moonless night, and she gives a low whistle.  “God, look at all the stars,” she whispers reverently.   I smile inwardly. 

We do a short catalog of the stars in the night sky, and after some scientific discussion, Kestrel decides that she can see up to magnitude seven stars in the sky.
“Not so fast,” I tell her.  “Look to the east.”  She peers over to where a dark pink smudge creeps up the edge of the sky. 
“You can’t really see stars at that magnitude unless you get about forty miles away from town lights,” I tell her.  “That light pollution is hiding a lot more than you realize.”  The idea hits her like a revolution. 
“So, there’s even more than this?”  She gapes in awe. 
“Yeah, Kestrel.  There’s a lot more stars than even this.” 

She sits silently in thought while I teach her the names of the constellations and their courses; I tell her about the ecliptic, the declination of the night sky, running through the same celestial catechism I had learned by heart but she was never offered.  In the dark, I can almost feel her mind punching through the boundless limits of her new-found sky, escaping the confines of her youth and disappointment into the arms that turn the heavens.

A sudden realization stops her short.  “This is what Great-Grandma saw every night on the farm, wasn’t it?”  Kestrel asks me.  As I lean against the trunk of my car, parked in a field on the rim of the Judith Basin, her question turns my mind over the axis of the heavens, back to my grandmother’s adolescence: before her own grand rebellion, before my grandfather and their disastrous marriage.  I see her just as young, as wild and angry as I once was and my niece is now becoming, her thin, still form blocked in silhouette against the revolving sky; she sits on the back of her father’s tractor in a frozen landscape of hard winter wheat, watching the same sky that her great-granddaughter now ponders with an equal and restive fascination.  In the edges of my niece’s blue eyes I see reflected her great-grandmother’s, restless with anger at the vast cage that her father’s acreage makes of her freedom.  As she combs the endless skies with her eyelashes and plumbs the depths of the same shifting stars I now watch, suddenly she finds what I had lost so long ago and just so recently discovered:

“The music, in the stars.  Jackrabbit, can you hear it?” 


1)  Night Sky (Wish you were here Andreas) by Indian.summer 1901's Flickr photostream: / CC BY-NC 2.0

2) Night sky in Wyoming, taken by Gary Elasser: 

Monday, November 22, 2010

UW's Web archive collection for Matthew Shepard

 The University of Wyoming has collected a web archive of information relating to the murder of Matt Shepard and the political aftermath through the Internet Archive.  The information is collected and stored via 

You can access their link pool here and check out what they've amassed.  It ranges from LGBT activism to WBC home movies.  If you're more interested in the social issues surrounding Shepard, it's a good resource.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Laramie in Pictures: The fences of Laramie

Ever since the Shepard murder, most people can only imagine a single fence in Laramie, Wyoming: the buck fence, specifically the one used in the beating. Strangely, that fence has become an indelible part of the landscape, and yet it no longer exists. In reality, fences do often define prairie landscapes like Laramie, but not just one kind. There are a complex of different fences which all come together to give our limitless, rolling landscape a false sense of borders and edges. Some of those borders are exclusive. Some are meant to protect, shelter, or include. And all of them have strong cultural valences to them just like the buck fence.

So, I didn't get a really broad survey of fences over my short stay, but here's a few shots of the variety which fences bring to our landscape. Yes, buck fences are included. But they are only one kind of sign in a whole system of signs which impress upon our imaginations. I hope you enjoy!

Snow fence, Curt Gowdy

I will forever have a soft spot for snow fences. Here's a couple more in the off-season:

Snow fences, north of Laramie


The next few are from around the enormous rail-yard running through Laramie's downtown district:

railroad yard

From the Catwalk, Laramie

Oh, buck fences.  How you continue to beguile and yet horrify me...


An old style buck-and-rail fence, Laramie

And of course, the ubiquitous barbwire fence, the most common sight outside of the town spaces:

Prairie scenes

Prairie Storms, Laramie

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Eds, Take 2

So, in 10 Years Later we had an interesting insight into the tense weeks surrounding the tenth anniversary of the Shepard murder.  On the one hand, the Boomerang staff did a wonderful five-part series on where Laramie as a community stands a decade after they found their values severely challenged in the national spotlight.  They dedicated that bench on the A&S plaza in Matt's memory.  We see the LGBT community in Laramie developing a new presence on the campus and keeping dialogue alive.  Those were all great things (and you can read about most of them if you search the Boomerang's online archive.  Links are on the "Bibiliography" page to the right.)  

On the other hand, we also got an unsettling glimpse of a community in deep denial.  We saw both intentional and unintentional forgetting of Matt's name and a fear for some kind of permanent change.  We saw people who still deeply resented the stigma that the national spotlight cast on the town.  And then there was this

The second editorial in the Boomerang ran on the tenth anniversary of Shepard's death, and it is the editorial that is specifically mentioned in The Laramie Project.  It's also the editorial to which Jonas Slonaker tries to respond, but they wouldn't run his letter.  For some reason, you can't find the copy for either of the 10th anniversary editorials on the Boomerang website archive even though other editorials are available there, but an hour or so on the microfilm machine right before the library closed yielded my very own copy.   Man, I love public research institutions. 

There are a few interesting things to note on this second editorial piece, which is entitled "Laramie is a Community, Not a Project."  First of all, there's no byline on this, so it seems that the Boomerang was putting this out as its official position rather than just the editor's personal view.  The email listed for responses is for the actual publisher, too, rather than just the editor. 

Secondly, the amount of snark right at the end where they're pushing the robbery motive is just... well, baffling.  But I guess even journalists have a right to have an opinion, and at least it's on the Opinion page.  My experience is that small town newspapers are a lot more strident when pushing personal opinion than most, so perhaps I shouldn't be as surprised as I am to see how blunt it is.  

But, with that said, this opinion piece is not entirely bad.  The first several paragraphs are actually a fairly good summary of the community reactions, and it's useful for that.  And the editorial is very right about one thing: Laramie is more tolerant than most other communities in the area.  That should be kept in mind.   However, I definitely would challenge the publisher about his dismissal of this as the problem of "a few questionable characters."  It's not.  Those people don't define Laramie exclusively, but they are still a part of who Laramie is, and you can't just reject McKinney and Henderson because they make us feel guilty.  Whether we like it or not, Laramie does share some societal guilt for what happened to Matthew Shepard because we are part of the society which shaped them;  ignoring that solves absolutely nothing-- and unless we learn to embrace the McKinneys and Hendersons in our communities as a part of who we are and try to transform their hate with love, it's only a matter of time before this happens again. 

In any case, the Boomerang's had their say on the matter.  And I'll be happy to let the rest of y'all know about it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Laramie in Pictures: Curt Gowdy State Park

East of the Laramie city limits is a vast state park named after Curt Gowdy, a former Wyoming native, UW graduate and sportscaster for the Boston Red Sox. The park is especially notable for its varied landscape ranging from prairie to pink boulder hills to mountain forest. It also sports some of the most awesome twisted trees in the state.  It's extremely popular with the locals for camping, four-wheeling, and hiking.  On many days, you can see cattle roaming through the back stretches of the park.  

Even though this is a space heavily used by humans, in a sense, this is the landscape that probably defines Laramie as a natural space.  On my very last day in Laramie I took some pictures of the park's strange, ethereal beauty from the top of a ridge to give you a sample.  I hope you enjoy it! 

4th of July Clouds, Laramie

Stark Tree Still4th of July Clouds, Laramie

4th of July Sunset, Laramie

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Eds, Take 1

While I was in Laramie, I didn't get a lot of academic-y stuff done.  Most of the people I had hoped to chat with were gone for the July 4th weekend, and after some bad planning and some car troubles, I only had a few short hours to make use of the university library before they closed up for the 4th of July weekend.  

But my time in Laramie wasn't a loss by any stretch.  I spent a lot of time with my brother Coyote, who let me see this community for a weekend through his eyes, and for which I thank him.  I spent a lot of time lost in the wilderness trying to learn how to be alone with myself again.  And I got three whole hours in Coe Library, where I spent my time digging in the basement and looking at the microfilm.

And what I found was really interesting.  I only had a short time to look at the Boomerang's coverage of the original beating and the ten-year anniversary, but it was extremely revealing, and I'll be talking about that in more detail later.  But the best gems I came back with were some editorials from the current Boomerang staff.  After 10 Years Later, we all learned about one snarky editorial on their Opinion page; as it turns out, there were two.

The first editorial (which I highly encourage you read) doesn't get a mention in the play from what I remember, and it's pretty interesting.  It was entitled "Ten Years Later, It's Time To Move On,"  and it's a bit of an over-the-top emotional argument about why the community needs to let the specter of Matthew Shepard go.  For one, I noticed that this one is actually attributed to the editor personally.    She's also asking a legitimate question: why do some stories of murder remain and get memorialized and others don't?  That's a great question, actually.  What I don't like is using that question to dismiss any attention paid to Shepard.

In the editorial, the editor gives a litany of other murders and tragic deaths which happened in Laramie (of which Cindy Dixon, Russell Henderson's mother, is one) and complains that none of them are given the same recognition.  She's not quite right about her examples of forgotten tragedies, however.  There was a memorial marker erected at Tie Siding where the members of the cross-country team died (and note the evasive wording in that statement).  This white cross stands near the location where the accident occurred.   Nothing, however, stands on the ground where Shepard was brutally murdered, not even the fence on which he was tied.  One location has a white cross marker to help establish the memory of a tragedy while the other has been wiped clean of all bad memories.  I'm not saying that this is a problem per se-- that landowner has the right to have peace on his or her own property-- but it does complicate her point, which the editor tries to paint a little too much in black and white when this is an issue that by definition requires shades of gray.

I also find it interesting that, in her litany of tragedies in her editorial, she chose to skip over Kristen Lamb.  That was the tragedy that had so many people in Laramie steaming (her murderer's trial roughly coincided with the Shepard beating) and is often cited as justification for those who resent the media attention over Shepard's death.  Perhaps some things run too deep, and too painful, even to be used as ammo by an angry journalist in a newspaper editorial.   Maybe there are other tragedies she would like to see remain at rest, and unmentioned. 

Anyhow, I guess that would be my main complaint here.  Sure, Deb, you're asking a legitimate question, and it's one that I (and many others) are interested in, too.  But you're not asking it in order to get an answer.  You're simply using it as an excuse to complain about an event that has left Laramie feeling bruised.  If you'd stop and explore that question-- why some stories are remembered and others are not-- you might learn something really fascinating about the nature of collective memory and human nature.  That's a lot more productive than trying to wish away a memory of an event that stings to remember and isn't going to go away.

Whether we like it or not, Matt will be a part of this community's memory.  The only real question, in my mind, is whether or not we incorporate that memory in a positive way or not, and an attitude like yours makes that difficult.   And it makes it impossible for everyone to "move on" from this tragedy like you want.  No one can "move on" from a story like this until it is confronted and you reconcile yourself to its existence.  That's the only kind of positive healing this community can ever have, and if you don't do that, you will continue to be haunted by this memory which will never leave.  The more you try to "move on," the longer he's going to be with you. 


1)  The roadside memorial at Tie Siding, Wyoming, taken from gregor_y's Flickr photostream:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Laramie in Pictures: Medicine Bow Natural Forest

Back on July third of this year when I was in Laramie,  I found my bother Coyote lounging outside of his little apartment, watching the traffic go by.  As usual, he looked a little underfed (he prefers to live off of coffee and cigarettes) but nonetheless happy, surrounded by loyal and oddball friends.  I'm rather used to his strange, bifurcated life.  On the one hand, he sincerely believes he's living life on his own terms; on the other hand, this is not the life he would prefer to live into his forties.  When I asked if he had any plans, the first thing he said was he wanted to go ride the Centennial highway into the Medicine Bow National Forest. 

While his request surprised me at first (I was expecting a restaurant request), it makes perfect sense for Coyote.  In some ways, he's more tied to the land than I am, and his only transportation right now is a borrowed bicycle.  He can't ever really get out, get alone and spend some time with nature.  And while I dearly love the plains as well, what Coyote really craves are the high places, where the tree lines thin out and the stark rocks of an ancient geology tower over his head.  What he craves is the smell of the wind combed by pine trees.  So, we hopped in my borrowed car and cruised up past Centennial into the frigid mountain air and threw snowballs at each other the day before Independence Day. 

So, here are some pictures from out west of Centennial in the Medicine Bow national forest. I hope you enjoy them (but especially Lake Marie.)



When you get this high, cold and windy, the trees start doing some funny things to adapt.  You know, like only growing in the direction of the wind.


These are dog-tooth violets, found just off of the summit.  I took this picture of them, and the snowdrift behind them, on July 3rd.  Then Coyote and I threw snowballs at each other. 

A Marmot at Lake Marie

Here we have an extremely bold yellow-bellied marmot hanging out on the white granite boulders around Lake Marie.  He was so close to me that I took this without a telephoto. 

Lake Marie, Medicine Bow National Forest
...and here is tiny Lake Marie, which is so beautiful it leaves me speechless. I hope you have a great day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jackrabbit's angsty blog turns 1 year old today!

Happy Birthday, Jackrabbit Blog!  

Exactly one year ago to this day, an angsty, melancholic grad student and former UW undergrad started this blog to get her head on straight.  Happy birthday!  I feel like I need emo party hats and streamers for the occasion.  

And now, one year later, I'm still an angsty, melancholic grad student.  I don't know if my head's on any straighter, but I certainly feel like I've learned a lot by blogging in this weird way about myself and The Laramie Project at the same time.  If anything it's taught me a lot about how people try to understand themselves through literature.  It's also taught me how to loosen up a bit and see where the flex and flow is within a person's self, that there is never really a "stable" sense of identity.  We bend and flex with conflict, seeking a resolution; this is how the Lord would mold us.  The self, I think, isn't so much a collection of essential memories as a series of tense negotiations. 

So-- what have been my highlights so far?  There are a few:
  1. The Laramie Project doesn't give me nightmares anymore.  
  2. There is a lot of interesting dialogue going on back and forth with TLP, and is freaking fascinating.  
  3. There still is a lot of story left to be told about Laramie itself, and the way it views sexuality, identity, community, and TLP itself is a lot more complicated than we let on.  
  4. I got to post lots of pictures making fun of Fred Phelps.  (Yeah, that was fun.)
  5. I'm getting active both in my faith community and the LGBT community to try and heal some of the rift that exists between them. 
Before that moment one year ago when my head was too full of questions to function, I had never blogged before in my entire life.  Now, after a year of constant writing, and thinking, and introspection, I've started to realize the power of writing-- not just for the reader, but for the writer as well.   Will this enterprise keep going?  Probably for a while longer, I think.  Let's see where the rabbit-hole takes us this year! 


Here It Is, originally uploaded by Caveman 92223.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Watch "TLP: 10 Years Later" online!

You can actually watch clips from the New York performance of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, an Epilogue online!

Tectonic Theater has launched a new website for The Laramie Project with a variety of great things included-- there's going to be community access, it looks like, as well as blogs and photos.  But the thing that's particularly exciting for me is that you can see eight minutes of the Lincoln Center performance online.  That means I have something I can actually cite from!  I can talk about 10 Years Later in a meaningful fashion-- sort of. 

If you wanted to see the sequel but couldn't, now you can have a taste of it online.  The performance recorded here includes some post-performance discussion as well.  I don't know if the plan is to keep this up, so visit while you can...

The bench: Matthew Shepard's memorial and its landscape

University of Wyoming
In The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later,  we learned about the Shepard memorial bench on the University of Wyoming campus, which is parked at the front of the Arts and Sciences building.  (That's A&S there at the right.)  In addition to holding the university's main concert hall venue, A&S is also home to the Political Science department (Matt's university home) and a lot of administration.
A&S holds a privileged location on campus, too: of all the enormous buildings which ring Prexy's Pasture, the functional center of the university, A&S occupies the entire western end, and the pasture in front of it sometimes feels like a grassy mall leading up to its front steps.  (The bench is basically right behind that maroon van.) 

So, without any further ado, here's the bench, with a closeup of the plaque:

Memorial bench, Matthew Shepard
Memorial bench, Matthew Shepard

It really is a sweet gesture, I think. It gives Matt an important place on campus to permanently commemorate his life, and it's both right in front of the A&S college and in a high traffic area when the A&S auditorium is being used.  I especially like the positive message of the plaque.  It commemorates Matt, not as a victim, but one who made a positive impact.  After so much bad press after his murder, I think reminding the campus that Matt was a person, and one who has made a positive difference on everyone there is important.  And, doing it on a piece of furniture means that people will actually interact with the memorial is a great way to set the right tone. This isn't a cumbersome monolith that forces an ambivalent memory upon a campus still covering its scars. Rather, it invites remembrance to those who stop to enjoy its presence.

So, yes, I rather like the placement and wording of the Shepard memorial, but if someone took a brisk walk around camps and even around town, she would realize that Shepard's commemoration is hardly unique.  For instance:

 Here we have an identical bench dedicated to former UW president Phil Dubois and donated by the Trustees. It's located a little farther up Prexy's pasture, on the side nearest to A&S.   

This one is dedicated to former president Dubois' mother (complete with crow droppings from the flock of crows roosting on A&S):

This one was paid for by the Dubois family, as she passed away in 1999.  The former Mrs. Dubois has her bench only about seventy-five feet from the plaza in front of A&S, sort of between A&S and Merica Hall just to the south.

There are lots of these benches around campus, and I'm willing to bet at least a dozen of them have memorial plaques, to everyone from beloved former professors to admins.  (I think one I saw was for a donor, but I have no idea, really.)  So, at this point I bet you're thinking, "Wow, the Shepard memorial bench isn't unique at all!"  I'm afraid so-- in fact, these benches are not just a campus phenomenon.  Here's one dedicated to Cal Rerucha, the former DA who prosecuted both McKinney and Henderson in 1999-2000:

You can tell from the picture that these are not the same kind of benches; I think they're part of a city rather than a university project.  These benches, which sit on the north (Ivinson Avenue) side of the county courthouse, are not really reserved as memorial markers, judging by the presence of a bench with a plaque for Wal-Mart stores (I think it's the one just past the upper left-hand corner of this photo.  Rather, they're more like tiny billboards.  I think that's the point of the Reruchas' plaque on this one: it simply names himself and his wife as "attorneys at law."  What better place for a lawyer to hang out his shingle than in front of the courthouse, eh? 

So, I guess there are two different ways to look at Matt's bench in the context of the surrounding environment.  The negative one might complain that Matt's memorial isn't really all that special, and the only way they managed to get on campus was to sneak it in under a campus beautification project.  It's almost like saying, "Okay, we'll actually let you mark the campus with his memory, but his memorial can't draw attention to itself..." Honestly, I suppose that's how I felt about it when I first wandered about the campus that afternoon, but I think that there's a second, positive way to think about the bench. 

What helped me change my mind?  On the way back to my car one afternoon, I was walking back towards Prexy's in the direction of my car when I saw this fellow chatting on the phone:

University of Wyoming

Seeing this student casually tracing his hands down the bench as he talked on his phone made me stop to think: what are the chances that this kid will look down and see the plaque? Maybe he will, but he might not, either.  Even though this student's act of remembrance isn't what most people think when they try to picture commemoration, this interaction with Shepard's memory on his own terms shows how the bench incorporates Matthew's memory into the very fabric of UW's landscape.   This is unlike a normal memorial marker, like the one for the Challenger explosion on the west side of campus.  When I lived on campus, the Challenger astronauts' stone and bronze marker only really got any attention when someone used it as a hole for Frisbee golf.  Then some of us felt a little queasy about the idea of slapping the Challenger astronauts in the face with a golf disc, and eventually we moved the hole.  After that, none of us really even noticed it anymore. 

 In contrast to the Challenger memorial, Matt's bench gets a lot of daily interaction because it's designed for interactive experience.  As students look for a quiet spot to read and bask in the sun, they seek it out.  And, since it's part of a larger network of memorial benches to other beloved people, the bench presents who he really was to the campus:  someone who was a part of the UW community and whose life has indelibly left its mark on us all.

One evening after photographing Old Main, I stopped to have a seat on the memorial bench myself.  As I sat in the lengthening shadows of A&S, I could gaze upward to its highest floors dressed in sandstone, or the huge, stately pines which dominate the green spaces on the north side.  To my left was Prexy's Pasture, with its diamond pattern of walkways leading to the family/unity statue in the center, and the flagpoles for the university, state, and nation beyond.  It's a good place to sit and ponder, I decided, and as students do that, they meet with a little piece of Shepard's life.  And every time we do, we remember a little piece of Matt.