Shelbie Dimond drops her high-waisted jeans, shirt, bra, and thong into a pile beside her camera kit. She looks over Hollywood’s rooftops from a large patio. Strangers amble out of the house, smoking cigarettes or chasing their dogs.
“Um, can you get naked?” she asks Kevin, who’s given her access to this place. She’s just met him in person, though they’ve followed each other on Instagram for a while.
“You want me to get naked right now?” he asks.
“Yeah, we’re going to make this quick. I’m cold.”
Kevin’s girlfriend presses a button on her laptop, and “Take My Breath Away” begins playing.
“O.K., you don’t have to be naked yet,” Dimond says.
Kevin clambers across a mattress set in the corner of the space, onto the balcony ledge.
“Is this going to take a while?” he asks.
“Yeah. It’s film,” says Dimond. “And I’m the photographer and the model.”
In the middle of February, Kim Magowan walked into her American Literature class, leaned against the front of her desk — she never sits at it — and began a discussion of the high modernist poets.
“I haven’t said this for a year, so I may mess up,” she said, her voice high-pitched but throaty.
She proceeded to recite T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” — all 131 lines of it — from memory, without making a mistake.
When entering her classrooms at Mills College, Magowan brings the usual things teachers tote to class — untidy stacks of paper, folders, a book bag, a to-go cup of coffee. But the things she holds in her mind are what make her lessons shine: myriad scraps from the books she’s read and read again, whole poems secreted away, page numbers, and word etymologies.
When Magowan recites and reads aloud to her classes, or when she tells her students that “decide” comes partly from the Latin “cesare,” which means “to cut, to kill,” she is pushing her students into a deeper relationship with language.