MFA Reading, Stuart Moore and Dean Sangalis: a Reflection by Ashley Alfirevic

Stuart Moore and Dean Sangalis
Stuart Moore and Dean Sangalis

After my last reading series fiasco, I made sure to arrive early to the Hatton Gallery, sitting among empty chairs until they slowly filled up with the familiar voices of my professors and classmates.

With the warm chatter dying down, the first presenter introduced Stuart Moore as a man who very rarely stands still, constantly fly fishing or hiking or biking or ice climbing. This constant movement, this nimbleness, comes through in his nonfiction writing as “karomi – the lightness of thought essential for art.” The lightness of his art comes across in his humor, too, easy and relatable.

Moore wrote his nonfiction essay on his long distance hike of the Colorado trails, opening with the beautiful and taxing world of the peaks where “lightening crackles in dry heaves above the forest.” In his writing, “time seems to be something edible” out on the trails, as the concrete digest-ability of what is occurring in front of him becomes of the utmost importance: the detailed steps of packing food, the ease of setting up a tent, the patience of catching a fish, and, quite frequently, the process of sh*tting in the woods. Moore’s descriptions of “letting one rip – loud and free” brought abject enjoyment to the audience, and the crowd giggled and laughed along as he talked about partaking in Colorado’s most (in)famous pastime with his hiking companions.

But what comes with this almost boyish humor is a struggle between a son and his father. Alternating  between retrospective memories of a boy peeking into his father’s office and the more immediate glances into intensive care units, he most often recalls his father’s bookshelf filled with blank journals and self-help titles to combat bipolar disorder, a failing marriage, and a distance from God. By the end of his time on the trail, an experienced hiker that can traverse the mountains with a comfortable ease, he passes on his wisdom to the two eighteen-year-olds he meets who are just starting their journey, offering a guiding voice to the young men looking for advice.

Debby Thompson then introduced Dean Sangalis, another writer in constant movement like an orbiting satellite. His astral view shines through in his commentary as a TA, she said; when demonstrating the effect of a braided essay, he drew seemingly random loops until they combined into an intricate flower.

“You have that flower that I drew! I want that back – it was beautiful!” Sangalis exclaimed on his way up. Reading a series of micro-essays, he punctuates his musings of almost cosmic reach with sincere and grounded bits of humor, his astrological and transcendental thoughts on auras and anarchy for a moment swallowed back with a rough swig of alcohol. The first story starts on a night out at the bars with friends. “Scotch sounds good in the rain,” he says, before he recalls calling a clairvoyant over the phone, who compliments his bright and complicated geometric aura, undisturbed by food or drink. He looks at a sage plant and wonders about pouring his gin and tonic in it, wondering if it would make it look ugly.

His second piece observes an intellectual discussion marred by alcohol, though it mirrors more the chuckling of a sober onlooker than the serious and philosophical insistence of the drunken debaters. An angsty young party-goer talks anarchy with his silent companion, and Sangalis tries to interject deep probes into his anti-government philosophy, only to be answered by confusion and, later, vomit. The last work, one he described as in “a rough state, but felt compelled to share” felt nothing of the sort. Lamenting the belief that he is going bald, Sangalis nostalgically recalls the bowl-cuts and later attempts at metal-hair from his youth, a Sampson-esque attachment to the potency and vigor attached to his formerly flowing locks. Between affinities for hairdressers and his urging them to “trust the hair” to his belief that hairstyles have the capacity to maintain your mental state, Sangalis manages to convey the vanity we all have towards our hair with hilarity, and some commentary on self-worth and self-reflection along the way.

On a night with the audience still moving slow post-snowday, Moore and Sangalis propelled their stories forward with humor, insight, and honesty. Whether a hike through the Rockies prompts attention to the fundamentals of survival, or a receding hairline creates a psycho-social examination into the world of follicles, these two authors tackle nonfiction with an unbound sense of creativity towards themselves and the world around them.