Piotr Szewc – Story about a day in the life of a town: it is beyond reality, both metaphysical and mystical, like a biblical canticle
Piotr Szewc, Annihilation, Trans. by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough (Dalkey Archive Press, 1993)
"Like Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood, Annihilation is about a day in the life of a town - in this case, a Polish-Jewish town shortly before World War II. The reader participates in the life of the town instant by instant - from the moment when the local courtesan pours the contents of her chamber pot out her open window up to the moment when the city policemen return to night duty. For the narrator, every object, every person and event belongs to the world he strives to save from impending annihilation: the landscape of beer drops left on a counter, the dance of the Hasidim before the Town Hall, the taste of mint drops in an attorney's mouth. As the minutes on the Town Hall's clock measure the day's passing, and as this day's passing brings the town one day closer to its historical annihilation, a Book of the Day writes itself, preserving the town in memory against the ravages of time and history. Already a success in Poland and in translation in France, Germany, and Italy, Piotr Szewc's novel has been compared to the novels of Proust and to the paintings of Chagall."
"Though the story takes place during the 1930s, we feel the future on every page, or rather the absence of a future. If the author works assiduously and with an engaging simplicity to chronicle 12 hours, only 12 hours in the life of this small city, it is because he knows, and we know, that is has already been annihilated substantially if not totally. The parks and the buildings are perhaps still there, but not the Jews, engulfed in the shadows.
It feels like an album by Roman Vishniak: a series of photographs annotated by an author who sees clearly and knows where to look and what to keep. When he does not know, he admits it. And he proceeds to another person, another fate.
Men and women, children and adults, Jews and Christians, some dreamlike, others nightmarish: Capturing them in his 'camera,' or incorporating them into his memory, and into his reader's, the author offers to eternity what we can only hope to find in a few lucky encounters... He knows, Szewc knows, that life is made up not of years but of instants. So he collects them and welcomes them between two blinks, between two sighs, between two regrets. He knows, and so do we, that the city in his story no longer exists." -
"Annihilation... is one of the most extraordinary, tremblingly beautiful and chilling novels I have ever read... The author has managed a miracle of enshrining not only every moment of this day, but of recreating, like jewels, each dust mote, each pop of bubble in the nearby stream, and every whir of the pigeons that fly above. Szewc's writing resembles the sharp perceptivity of Proust and the bizarre but lifelike gamboling of Chagallian scenes... Annihilation is a sob choked in the throat of all who remember." - Jewish Currents
"This homage is neither nostalgic nor anecdotal. By capturing the fugitive, it is beyond reality, both metaphysical and mystical, like a biblical canticle." - Quotidien de Paris
"[Szewc's] aim here is to make a story like a sharply etched grainy photograph of all the minor actions and events that make up ordinary life in an ordinary day. To see, he says, to remember, to record scrupulously, to follow what disappears, not to miss anything... He captures all of this, amazing to do it in a hundred pages or so. He hasn't missed a thing." - Alan Cheuse
"Nearly bereft of dialogue, this daring, beautifully understated experimental novel recreates a single day in the life of a Polish-Jewish town doomed to be destroyed in the Holocaust. On this single day in 1934 nothing much happens: children play; a lawyer visits a prostitute; cheerful Hasidim dance in the streets; merchants, policeman and citizens go about their business. Although the Nazis are nowhere in sight, the townsfolk's premonitory dreams hint of disaster to come. In meticulously re-creating an ordinary day, the omniscient voice of the narrator consecrates the everyday reality of a world he wishes to save from annihilation. Seemingly trivial events--a Gypsy reading fortunes, a rooster's crowing--take on momentous import given the horrific foreknowledge that the town will one day be obliterated. The smooth translation conveys the elegiac tone and underlying tension of Polish novelist Szewc's jolting first novel." - Publishers Weekly
"Your home town is about to be annihilated. What would you save? What epitomizes this place that will soon be no more? Szewc's answer to these questions is an elegiac meditation that reconstructs individual moments in the life of his hometown, razed by Nazis years before his birth in 1961. The tastes, smells, and mundane activities of an ordinary day in a small eastern Polish town are preserved here for posterity. A single day is minutely and lovingly resurrected, all of its lost opportunities and inconsequential details savored. All life here is cherished and suspended, innocent and ignorant of the passage of time. This first English translation of a mesmerizing first novel published in Poland in 1987 is highly recommended for all who revel in poignant imagery." - Ruth M. Ross
"Told in the second person plural, Annihilation takes us on a one day tour of a small Polish-Jewish town just before the Second World War. We can move around at will — onto rooftops, from street to street around the town, and even, following memories, into the past — but are limited to an external perspective. We watch cloth merchant Hershe Baum and his family, woman of loose virtue Kazimiera M, a pair of policemen, attorney Walenty Danilowski, tavern-owner Rosenzweig, a group of visiting Hasidim, and gypsy woman Rosa. And every so often we stop to frame photographs.
The photographs are presumably among those Szewc had before him while writing Annihilation — the town it describes is based on the town he grew up in, but he was born in 1961 and must have relied on secondhand sources. Szewc also brings to his tour a photographer's feeling for light and space and perspective. The framework might not have sustained a longer work, but Annihilation is a striking and original short novel." - Danny Yee
"Annihilation is a day in the life of a village full of people who are all about to die. They don't know it, but of course we do, because the village is in Poland and the citizens are primarily Jewish. Piotr Szewc's novella captures the essence of place, time and memory; he avoids action completely and dialogue mostly, instead focusing on those meaningless moments of time that, when added up, constitute a life that was always assumed would be lived another way. Life tends to happen to us whether we will it or not, and Szewc understands this, devoting time to people getting ready in the morning, or idling by a puddle made from yesterday's rain, or sharing a quiet beer with a colleague at the end of a work shift.
The tone of Szewc's novella is set from the start, and holds up well over the course of the day. The narrator is a firm character, and while he does not possess any traits or qualities as such, he is very much in control of the text and where our “camera” will roam while observing the village. The narrator talks to us, asks us questions, and ponders mysteries. Szewc notes early on that “Data, documents, and credible explanations are unavailable.” He is referring to Persian butterflies, but the quote easily applies to the text as a whole – it is no accident this line comes halfway into the first paragraph of the novella. Because we cannot refer to data and documentation, then, we must instead rely on Szewc's languid roam from one area of the village to another. He wanders inside a house, out along on the street, up above the houses on to the rooftops, and a little ways outside the village where there are branching trees and cool streams.
The word camera above is apt, because Szewc often refers to the photographs he is 'taking' as the novella progresses. A particularly vivid scene will inspire the narrator to commit it to film, which usually then leads to a description of even greater detail:
We are at the edge of the market square, where Lwowska begins. One of us takes a picture. The photographer can shoot at will. Only the width of the lens curbs his freedom. The world is frozen for a fraction of a second. What do we see after the film is developed? Unnatural, somewhat grotesque figures of passersby and of a bicyclist. Two policemen are entering the tavern. The swinging door hasn't quite closed. Through the crack we see a raised hand holding a beer stein.
From here, the narrator examines each discrete portion of the photograph, exploring the history of the policemen and their beliefs about duty, wondering who is the owner of the raised hand, and so forth. Again and again the narrator will capture a scene as a photograph, and sometimes he will even consider photographing before, ultimately, discarding. There are hints (often quite explicit) that the narrator is in fact leafing through a photo album many years in the future, long after the annihilation of the title will occur.
But what is this annihilation? It is never stated outright, but of course the reader coming into the story knows what surely must happen. Szewc refers only rarely to the doom we both know will eventually occur, and this obliqueness adds to the poignancy of the images collected by the narrator. Early in the piece, the narrator comments that:
Those few minor events most likely will not influence future events universally considered most significant. The minor events will vanish in the turmoil surrounding more important events and will not be salvaged by memory or photographs. They belong to the past that isn't studied – they are question marks left by each successive generation. Like burned paper, they, together with similar facts and circumstances, will turn to dust scattered in time.
Szewc's primary characters throughout the novella are the town itself and the narrator. That said, there are touchstones characters and places we return to again and again. One such location is Rosenzweig's tavern, and it wouldn't be far off to say that all the characters essentially revolve around it, coming and going throughout the day. The Attorney Danilowski is another touchstone, and it is with him we spend a good chunk of the first half as he goes about his day. Another character we return to often is Kazimiera M, a sensual, lazy woman who enjoys admiring her body in mirrors, and who perhaps relies too heavily upon the favours of wealthy men about town.
I wrote, “as he goes about his day” above, when referring to Danilowski and what happens to him. It's true that that isn't much of an explanation, but that is really how Szewc's novella flows. The characters never do much, not really – or they do as much as you or I would do during an ordinary day from our lives. Which is to say, to summarise would be boring, to expand upon would create Annihilation, or something similar. Time, memory and place are very strong for each of the characters, but they are times, memories and places of their own, things that are important to them. Szewc shows us them, but he does not embellish or enhance. Each character's day is described with honesty, but the day itself is not special.
But a day that is not special can certainly be beautiful. Szewc writes well of ordinary moments, both those that deal with person to person interaction, and those that require simply that we possess five senses and are receptive to our surroundings. A good example of this is the following quote:
Blended with the hot steam, the smell of lavender wafts in the bathroom. In June, likewise, hot steam, blended with the smell of simultaneously blooming herbs and grasses, wafts through the meadow air. Because June comes only once a year, the warmed-up meadow vegetates recklessly, impetuously, with every leaf counting the pieces of sun that keep falling from the sky. The attorney likes the atmosphere in the bathroom, the sweat flowering in large drops on his skin. A tiny window at the level of his head is closed. Steam covers the windowpane.
Perhaps the best way to describe Annihilation is to consider the following: If you have ever watched a person – or even an animal die – then you will understand the intensity of Szewc's prose. There is a time, when a living being is dying, where they breathe out, slowly, very slowly, and it seems, for an extended moment that stretches and stretches, that they will never inhale. While you wait for what you so desperately want to see (the jagged sounds of ailed inhalation, the lungs expanding, the continuance, however brief, of life), the world loses its focus and becomes blurred, and all that matters is the breath inward. Szewc's prose is this moment, expanded out to one hundred pages. We all know that the waited-for inhalation never actually occurs – the Jews die – but we don't know which breath, exactly, or when. Szewc's scenes are maddening in their ordinariness, their smallness, as we wait for the axe to fall – but it never does.
Annihilation is that rare gem, a work of literature which takes a well-worn subject and finds a new way to approach it. Its menace lies in what is not said, and that which is not done within the confines of the pages. Everything that is really important – and again, it is critical that these people, and the village itself, remain unaware of their future – is off in the distance. But it is there. It is no accident that Szewc refers to a train heard from a distance in the last few pages of the novel. This image, brief amongst the rest, reinforces the dread of what will be. Szewc laments that, no matter how will a time and place is captured, there is always something missing, and that something is everything. All that can be done is one's best, and the implication at the end of the novel is that this is Szewc's best effort at capturing the truth of his small town before he was born, before the Holocaust." - Damian Kelleher
"In the second half of the twentieth century, the literature of the Holocaust developed a tradition of indirection, wherein attention shifted from the reality of the Holocaust to the reality of our cultural memory of it. Taking for granted the horrific factness of the event, novelists turned to something more immediate—the ways the Holocaust has shaped our sense of self, or the strategies by which humans continue to make sense of both the event and its repercussions. The great novels of this tradition of indirection, by authors such as W. G. Sebald, Thomas Bernhard, Georges Perec, and David Grossman, approach the past with particular attention to the mechanisms by which history comes to us—the changing structures of both official and personal memory—so as to bare history’s narrative devices, to expose its received ideas, and ultimately to understand the Holocaust as an irreconcilable presence rather than as mythic, unchanging, and remote.
Polish writer Piotr Szewc’s 1987 novel Annihilation is a small masterpiece of this tradition, not only for how indirect it is (it is set prior to World War II and does not mention the Holocaust by name at all), but also because the fictional world Szewc creates—a world of details, of small observations and whimsical asides—involves the reader in a different (non-narrative) type of historical accounting. In this way, the novel offers an alternative to the official narrative of events and causes by which the past most often comes to us. History, in the context of Annihilation, is revealed to be a story that is badly told, one that creates its own hierarchy of events and consequences then pretends that this hierarchy is not invented at all, but is, instead, reality. But reality—Annihilation seems to tell us—is everything that we experience. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrible, reality is always, if nothing else, utterly mundane. And it is in recognizing the particularity of this mundane experience that we do honor to it.
To all appearances, Annihilation is a very simple book, quiet and charming. Its most immediately remarkable aspect—the thing the reader notices right away—is that it is composed almost entirely of details. Set in 1934, it recreates, from morning to night, a single July day in a town modeled on the eastern Polish city of Zamosc, which prior to World War II was a center of Jewish culture. In 1942, Zamosc was declared the “First Resettlement Area” by the Germans, after which “ethnic cleansing” began and tens of thousands of the city’s inhabitants were either killed or shipped to extermination camps. What is surprising about Annihilation is that, with the exception of the title and some indirect foreshadowing, none of this destruction is found in its pages. The text itself, its surface, maintains a tone of tenderness and unhurried observation, concerned not with the future but only with its present ambition to “chronicle the events in the Book of the Day,” of which everyone and everything in the town is a part. Thus the novel’s ambition is not to create a narrative of events and causes (i.e., a history) but rather to perform a massive act of attention, to force the reader, through unabashed insistence on detail, to inhabit a present that is otherwise irretrievably past.
We might ask how a novel composed entirely of details, a novel with almost no plot, nonetheless maintains momentum, creates literary tension, and manages not only to avoid being boring, but to carry considerable emotional weight. In the case of Annihilation, the answer is not by being aggressively subversive: the fictional world Szewc offers is, on the surface at least, familiar and inviting, and more importantly, its readerly satisfactions are immediately available in a way usually associated with realist narrative. Szewc manages to provide this satisfaction by replacing standard devices of narrative (for example, plot) with what we might call devices of attention, which create and satisfy expectations of attention just as narrative works create and satisfy expectations of action. Acts of perception replace narrative action; details, in a sense, stand in for verbs.
This process starts from the first word of the book, which is an unusual use of the pronoun “we”:
We are on Listopadowa, the second street crossing Lwowska. In one of the tiny backyards close to the intersection, Mr. Hershe Baum is standing near the house and feeding pigeons perched on his arm. Here they are called Persian butterflies. Isn’t it a beautiful name? In all likelihood they were brought from Persia. But is that certain? We won’t be able to verify it. Data, documents, and credible explanations are unavailable.
This “we” proves extraordinarily slippery, involving the reader right away in a high level of intimacy—“we” share a single perspective throughout the book—but existing separately as well, a kind of tour guide of the imagination. The narrator occasionally makes reference to the future, to how “we” will look back upon this day, this town, but even these gestures are speculative, looking forward from the particular space and occasion of this past in which “we” exist as a surrogate character, a physical-yet-invisible presence, knowledgeable about the town’s inhabitants but unable to affect daily events. “We” can see into characters’ thoughts but cannot verify most factual information, and are vaguely aware of the future but not explicitly concerned with it. A typical line in Annihilation —“As our eyes follow the cart, the sun, reflected off a window that someone is opening, blinds us” —reinforces the reader’s position inside this shared perspective, which, though physically impossible, is nonetheless extraordinarily intimate, two consciousnesses sharing a single pair of eyes.
The intimacy of “we,” its conflation of the roles of reader, narrator, and character, allows it not only to provide the reader with details of the day—what any narrator could do—but also to ground the reader in the physicality of this town on this day by insisting on specific acts of attention, acts that “we” perform and are repeatedly made aware of as acts. The difference between the sentences “The sky is blue” and “Let us stop and look at the sky, which is blue,” for example, is the difference between an observation and an experience, between information and participation.
Moreover, when the narrator says, “Let us stop and look at the sky,” he also insists on the need for this action, that “we must not miss anything, even the clouds.” Nearly all the functional action in Annihilation is of this sort: explicit acts of attention, of framing perception, that belong to the reader/narrator, i.e., to “us.” There are also characters in the book, they walk places and do things, but in general the events of their lives are given no more importance than any other details of the day (the light reflected by a mirror, a child spitting out a piece of maggoty apple, pigeons landing on the brewery roof). Instead there is a flattening of experience: every aspect of life in the town is treated equally as a detail, and every detail, in turn, carries the immediacy of an action—an act of attention that implicates the reader and that carries “us” along.
In addition to creating a world that calls our attention to the beauty of particulars, Szewc continually reframes the reader’s experience of this world. “Our” role is always shifting: while in one sentence we are noticing the flight patterns of birds above the town, in the next we are analyzing the slipperiness of human perception—and then we are watching birds again. Szewc regularly digresses this way into psychological and philosophical, narrative and non-narrative spaces, including the characters’ pasts; the narrator’s reflections and speculations on memory, history, and time; and an ongoing series of mental “photographs” that imply a future perspective (“we” will look back upon the events of this day) that is nonetheless nowhere made palpable within the book. In such digressive moments, Annihilation performs a kind of juggling act with perspective, moving the reader subtly into and out of the book’s imaginative present without ever ostensibly “leaving” it. This accumulation of perspectives allows Szewc to create meaning on many levels at once, and to maintain a sense that what is happening inside the book is both apart from and connected to the world outside—the world of history but also the world of experience, the reader’s present.
The ongoing movement between the imaginative universe of the book and the world outside prepares the reader for Annihilation's central act of literary subterfuge, which is to evoke loss in and around a text that is itself concerned almost exclusively with the immediacy and presence of the world it has created. This is how Annihilation—this book-length act of attention—finally turns into a story of sorts, an elegy created by the juxtaposition of the vibrant world of the book and the horrific fact of the Holocaust. Although the town’s impending destruction is never named, there are images of doom woven throughout, unsettling the overall calm. The only direct reference to the town’s specific fate occurs on the final page, after the sun has gone down and the “Book of the Day” is ending:
The boxcars carry huge logs hewn in the forests of Zwierzyniec—a priority shipment to Lvov. The sparks flying over the cars vanish, die down, leaving not even a faint trace.
That trail of sparks, irretrievably vanishing in our eyes, will shoot up again many more times, though at another place, at another hour, over another train.
At this moment, it is as if a vacuum has been created by the book’s lack of plot, and history is pulled in to fill it, the Holocaust serving as the unwritten end of the book’s present. The imaginative world that we have come to care about suddenly becomes a thing of the past, of historical narrative, and we experience the weight of its loss, an actual displacement (when the reading stops) more immediate than any past-tense recounting of a historical event. The effect is devastating. The trick—for it is a kind of brilliant trick—is that we have not been reading about loss at all, but its opposite. We have not been focused on destruction but have been intimately involved in the creation of something beautiful and particular. Then the reading stops, and history rushes in." - Martin Riker
"If there was ever a story that could outshine a photograph, Annihilation is it. A whole series of photographs would tell fewer words, as the author, Piotr Szewc, shows us in his short but poignant first novel that illustrates one day in the life of a town, documenting life before its destruction. The town is modeled after his own hometown, Zamosc, an eastern Polish town, and is set shortly before the Holocaust, when both towns, real and imagined, faced annihilation. With this fact in mind, Szewc's tale is especially heart-rending, but it is his style and compassion that makes it so worth reading.
He uses several elements of what we might call "real life," such as the details and intricacies of nature; the sun as a universal measure of time; and an inexpressible metaphor of dream, art and imagination as metaphor for life. We discover that the statement that "nothing is happening" is easily disproved when one looks at, for example, one's footprints in the dewy grass and see how quickly they fade.
The novel is told as part of the Book of the Day, whose chapters attempt to chronicle every movement- every possibility, in fact- of one full day encountered by several people in the town of Zamosc. It takes the paradoxical point of view of an intimate stranger, invisible and able to change locations in the town at will, but still limited to an almost-human visual perspective, which is only widened beyond the town itself by climbing onto a rooftop.
We are also privilege to the thoughts and dreams of highlighted individuals, especially the attorney Danilowski. The author dips into the attorney's memory as a young boy frequently, and this is one of the best ways in which we see Time as a beautiful, horrific, ever-marching beast. (devil dogs, perhaps?) At each moment (note: at times it is minute by minute, others, one long extended moment in which many things happen simultaneously, and at other times several passing minutes that we cannot retrieve,) the important events that take place are documented.
To Szewc, this includes the pale ribbon of smoke rising from the Baum's chimney; the time it takes to suck one mint on the attorney's way to work, the possibilities surrounding Kazimiera M's evening activities. He tells us, "Those few minor events most likely will not influence future events universally considered significant... [They] will vanish in the turmoil... and will not be savaged by memory or photographs... we shouldn't ignore all these minor events that are occurring before our eyes."
As the reader, we act also as a photographer, taking pictures at will; these photographs omit crucial details, seemingly unimportant and soon forgotten. That is why we are here, to catch every minute of this day, to demonstrate how impenetrable Time is to our memories. They must be documented before this extraordinary (or ordinary? to whom?) town is annihilated; not only by the Nazis of course, but also by Time, which has a way of erasing such things.
Our glimpses into Danilowski's memories are a true gift then. He recalls himself as young Walek, during brutal winters in this same town, as well as tepid spring days to be explored as thoroughly as only a thirteen-year-old boy can. The surprising levels of detail in these memories contrast with the perceived dullness of his adult life (at least insofar as his career is concerned; we discover as the day ends that his amorous life is much more exciting.)
One of the most tender moments Szewc describes is Walek's curious examination of a blade of grass; "Descending to the sources, to the root (it's not a metaphor)... he can see where the life of life runs and how long it is... where the line of life will cross the line of death." (page 25). This is essential to the understanding of one's lifeline, which Walek studied so carefully, much the same way Roza, the Gypsy woman, reads the lifelines on palms of strangers for a few coins. How important these lines are! What a wonderful metaphor for natural life and its progression!
The same can be said of the meteorite that fell that night, "that trail of sparks, irretrievably vanishing in our eyes... like the sundust noticed by only one policeman, will vanish in our memory. For its own sake, our memories determine the hierarchies of what is or isn't worth remembering... Yet the pain is always the same because we have managed to save barely a fraction of events happening simultaneously."
Additionally, Szewc uses the sun to demarcate Time on this very special day. It is the overarching symbol of time in almost every culture; not just daily but regarding lifespan as well (why else would we refer to our waning lives as "the twilight years?") The first chapter of the Book of the Day mentions that the sun has been particularly bright the past few days. We follow the path of the hot July sun from east to west, and seem to hold our breath as we anticipate its peak. This sun is said to send sharp rays onto the pavement of the market square, leaving behind "sundust" (mostly) unseen to the human eye.
However, another sun rises over the town to match the other's ticking. At noon, the Town Hall dome with its clock, this second sun, shows us that the market square is the true Center, brilliantly white, just like the Center where the beginning and the end of the world take place. It seems that at any minute the second sun will burst into flames and roll down the streets into the market square, if one looks closely at the sun bouncing on the pond. In its reflection, everything seems to soar above the town, covered in fire. We wait for this by taking more photographs, recording more footsteps.
While we are taking pictures, Rosenzweig, the busy bartender exclaims, "Surely this day will never end!" We know for a fact that his is merely his perception. For Rosenzweig this day is not as pleasant as it is for our two policemen, or for the Baum's five children. It is only at sundown that he is able to rest, and ironically, that is when all pleasantries end for Officer Romanowicz and the Baum's oldest son. Clearly, events as insignificant as a goat wandering and a child being punished have a disproportionately large effect on the future of our beloved attorney and Kazimiera M.
However, it seems strange that Rosenzweig would make such a claim, considering he is privy to incredible secrets. First, he recognizes the possibilities: "from the sphere of probability, he throws in details and facts known only to him... What could have happened is as important as what did happen." (page 36). One of the secrets of this town is the presence of the Hasidim, who fade into the shadows of the Jewish Cemetery so completely that we can't be certain they were ever there at all.
"All the events we witness are certain and obvious, but the presence- and existence- of the Hasidim is and was uncertain... [like] the white steam sliding down the brewery roof." (page 74). We didn't document these things. We were not able to capture the steam or the singing of the Hasidim, and both were unknown to the tavern owner, who knew that "what we can't ascertain with our own eyes we should bring to life by the law of probability."
One last secret is contained within the painting on the wall of the tavern, apparently unnoticed by the patrons for years. The scene shows a small town that looks very similar to this one, especially because it is bathed in sunlight; in fact, the only difference seems to be the people soaring through the air. Wrapped in flames, they fly high above a fiery ball rolling down a narrow street. "The scene is like a snapshot from an improbable dream." (page 37). People who were beginning to leave the ground now soar among the others; the fiery ball crosses the market square; now it is rolling onto the floor and sending off sparks of light.
This is very important to the understanding of Time and its inevitability, as most dreams are. What does it mean for this town, which stands on the edge of annihilation? Szewc painstakingly records these details so that we might do the same in our own lives, because our lifelines may be short. We have no idea when we might encounter our own annihilation, and we all want to leave behind more than ambiguous photographs, incomplete stories of who we were; we want to smile lazily in the face of uncontrollable Time." - Stefanie Biancaniello