Elevate Difference

Reviews by Erika Mikkalo

Erika Mikkalo

Erika Mikkalo — fiction author, essayist, poet, product reviewer and humor columnist — earned a M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from Columbia College, Chicago. She received the Tobias Wolff Award for short fiction in 1998 and her work has appeared in the Bellingham Review, 2nd Hand, Massachusetts Review, Exquisite Corpse, Columbia Review, fence, Another Chicago Magazine, Chicago Review, and other journals. She lives and writes in Chicago.

A Journey with Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet

“But if the tradition would not admit me, could I change its rules of admission?” Eavan Boland asks in her new book, A Journey with Two Maps. This volume honors the accumulated change wrought by earlier woman poets, the self-claimed permission for women to write identities outside of the feminine, and the female victory of bringing the ordinary into the canon. She also proselytizes for a transcendence of the binary: that the writer can perceive the contradictory aspects of poetry’s history and practice and reconcile them through her work, and then use these two maps to reach a poetic destination.

Georgic Stories

Mariko Nagai’s Georgic Stories is a book worthy of its acclaim, but that does not necessarily imply that I want to read it again. When I recounted it to a friend once I finished reading it, I did not feel as if I was describing the stories or engaging in critique as much as I was repeating a terrible testimony. The stories demand retelling: they are compelling views of a world where the pinnacle of joy is a child’s possible, but not guaranteed, escape from starvation.

Daring Steps: Traversing the Path of the Buddha

In his interview last summer with Jet Mort, Ringu Tulku—teacher, author, and Rinpoche—detailed the necessity of helping, healing, and harmony to grant meaning to otherwise meaningless lives. His book Daring Steps advances all three through its thorough and accessible description of the Buddhist path. The three vehicles—yanas—are described: Shravakayana (Theravada), Mahayana and Vajrayana, or tantra.

Hibiki (Resonance from Far Way) (10/20/2010)

The dancing performed by the Japanese butoh company Sankai Juku in Hibiki (Resonance from Far Away) at the Harris Theater in Chicago, Illinois, manages to invoke simultaneously everything and nothing. In choosing the word ‘everything,’ I am attempting to describe the fact that the six dancers and their choreographer execute actions that remind the viewer, possibly, of children, stones, priests, frogs, soldiers, streams, women, the wind, and a flower.

Detroit (9/18/2010)

Half of the U.S. population lives in suburbs, places where there are no theres there. In the suburb outlying the eponymous city in Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit, all the streets in the Bright Homes subdivision are named after light. If Bill Vaughn’s observation is correct—“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them”—then this particular development is consistent in its dearth of light, literal and figurative.

Form, Balance, Joy

It is an irony of contemporary aesthetics that accessibility is not considered a virtue. A degree of alienation between the general audience and the creator is a given, and a work of universal appeal is suspect. Any creation that is an uninhibited celebration of color, shape, and motion would go begging in a world of minimalist forms or conceptual constructs. Humor as a quality is particularly suspect. Alexander Calder not only produced work based on these elements, he made the first mobiles as a young artist in Paris.

A Parallelogram (7/1/2010)

In Euclidean geometry, parallel lines never intersect. In post-Euclidean geometry, all parallel lines under specific conditions—for example, placed on a globe—will converge. In Bruce Norris’ new play, A Parallelogram, parallelogram is the term used to describe a window of sorts in space and time. The protagonist’s future self visits her through such a passage and discloses details of her life and the world to come.

Xenogensesis II: Intergalactic Beings (4/30/2010)

I purchased a copy of Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild at a secondhand bookstore and let it rest on my shelf for years as next-to-read. Fortunately, it was in my bag when I was shuttled from the ER to a hospital for a week-long stay: I possessed a means of transport away from a battered attempt at sterility and the monotony of crisis to an intense, sparse yet beautifully rendered world. I was reading Octavia Butler.

Endgame (04/13/2010)

The final stage of chess, the endgame, is a stage of the game in which few pieces are left on the board and pawns increase in significance. Endgames often center on trying to promote a pawn by moving it to the eighth rank. The king, typically sheltered from checkmate, changes into a strong piece that can be brought to the center of the board for attacks.

Philosophy: An Innovative Introduction: Fictive Narrative, Primary Texts, and Responsive Writing

I was interested in Philosophy: An Innovative Introduction because I so thoroughly enjoyed Steven Church’s Theoretical Killings.

Joe Frank (03/13/2010)

To presume to review Joe Frank is somewhat to akin to being a happy floating paramecium—although I do tend to fancy myself more of a sleek euglena, and in reality might more resemble an amorphous and permeable amoeba—to be such a creature, swimming giddily or cluelessly drifting in a little globule of ooze, and to attempt to gaze up through the tensile surface of the liquid from beneath, through the intervening air, up through the lenses of the microscope in their black enamel encasement, although such microscopes may be but a relic of my youth, and then attempt to

Precision Pro Kitchen Scale

I hesitate to endorse a ‘nutrition’ oriented product on a feminist website due to the ongoing tyranny of the emaciated female form in marketing, eating disorders, and fear of accusations of insensitivity, insecurity, close-mindedness, and size-ism. However, here are the facts of my situation: an undiagnosed medical condition made me overweight, and now I want to lose that weight. Half of the pounds evaporated as the result of successful (non-bariatric) surgery, but I would like to lose the entire quantity and return to my healthy size.

Kaija Saariaho and the International Contemporary Ensemble (11/19/2009)

In the LeGuin novel The Left Hand of Darkness a character notes the dearth of female composers. Thus, I was delighted to learn of the music of Kaija Saariaho.

YummyEarth Organic Super Sour Pops

I don’t have a sweet tooth; I have sweet teeth. No: I don’t have sweet teeth, I have sweet bones. So the challenge is to get through life with a minimum of caloric catastrophe and dental damage. Thankfully, there are a wide variety of health-conscious treats available from YummyEarth. Founded by two fathers who wanted to spare their children chemical dyes, fake seasoning, and corn syrup, all YummyEarth candies are USDA and EU certified organic.


“When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras,” admonishes the medical aphorism. There are some quiet percussive hoof beats in “Goodbye Little Song” and other tracks on Karl Blau's new twelve-song release, Zebra. “Waiting for the Wind” opens with bells that sound like wind chimes and a relaxing vibe. The tempo picks up on “Dark Sedan Returns,” but returns to a righteous sedateness.

Somewhere Gone

More subdued than X, less twang than the Knitters, this album might be what you listen to once glad bags have been replaced by retro shifts as the little black dress of choice—more spirit than spit.

Greens Plus Protein Bars

Snacking is inevitable. I regularly snarf all varieties of energy bars, even though I am not climbing mountains, lofting from ski jumps, or training for triathlons. I schlepp groceries and books and stomp down city sidewalks, but do not exert myself on Himalayan Peaks or the Appalachian Trail.

Organic Dark Chocolates

If you have a vice, you might as well indulge it responsibly. Shaman Chocolates' profits propagate Huichol communities and culture. Descendents of the Aztec, the Huichol population is approximately 18,000. They reside in the sierra of Jalisco and Nayarit, and their traditions persist despite the encroachment that ensued with the arrival of the conquistadors. Huichol ceremonies use peyote, and the people are known for vivid depictions of themes from nature utilizing beads and yarn.

Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine

Whether you're rebuilding yourself or just doing daily maintenance, healthy food is a necessity for bringing the body back and keeping it going. Now that I can't go to Whole Foods, it's time to get creative with the selection from produce stands and farmer's markets. Today I saw a man with a straw cowboy hat selling tomatoes, melons, and sunflowers out of a battered pick-up truck. Chilled soup, sorbet, and an arrangement for the table?

Sicilian Orange & Mandarin Body Hydrate Oil / Rejuvenating Face Cream / Active Face Hydrating Gel

My skin is dry. How dry is it? It's so dry that it makes the Kalahari look like the Everglades. It's so dry, that it makes the Gobi look like the Ganges. It's so dry, that I'm going to be flayed for Sham-wows. The lizard-leather shins and cracked elbows do not appeal. What to do? Thank goodness I discovered Organic Apoteke products. The Rejuvenating Face Cream and Active Face Hydrating Gel samples did not allow evaluation of the results of extended use, but were not unpleasant after a single application.

The SimplyRaw Living Foods Detox Manual

Which should I do first, save my butt or save the planet? The SimplyRaw Living Foods Detox Manual contains much useful information, but it appears that any local food aspirations may conflict with many of the program's staples. Some recipes incorporate avocados, bananas, and papayas.

Red Gold Tomato Products

Italian cuisine is my favorite, and I'm not adverse to chili or Mexican dishes either. Therefore, there is always some form of tomato in my pantry. Despite the fact that this fruit—not vegetable—was considered poisonous (due to its membership in the belladonna family) and warnings of reflux, to me, it's a staple. I missed the state fair this year, but apparently Indiana is second in the nation in tomato production—over 10,000 acres of tomato plants blanket the state—so the festival was declared the Year of Tomatoes.

Shea Butter Hand Cream & Foot Cream / Ultra Rich Body Cream Rosebud

Founded in 1976 in the small Provençal town of Manosque by Olivier Baussan, L'Occitane grew from his individual distillation of rosemary to its essential oil into an international organization offering an array of skin care and beauty products. The company partners with three women's cooperatives in Burkina Faso to obtain fairly-traded shea nut butter.

Pregnancy Body Oil / Nursing Tea / Skin Food / Sea Buckthorn Body Lotion

Mean, lean, and green is not a trend come-lately. Weleda has been producing natural, organic beauty products since 1921. Dr. Rudolf Steiner, a founder of anthroposophy, joined forces with Dr. Ita Wegman to take this transcendentalist world view to a personal practical level. They offer salves and solutions for human afflictions ranging from stretch marks to dental plaque, all derived from some of the two hundred species of plants cultivated in their medical plants garden.

Bluestocking Bonbons

I'm already picky enough as a dedicated omnivore. Attempts at vegetarianism, let alone veganism, resulted in such extreme fatigue I had to give up after a month. However, for those dedicated enough to a peaceable kingdom to live without omelets, ice cream, and steak, and are capable of pursuing the benefits of avoiding animal proteins, I am delighted to report that there are delicious vegan chocolates available.

Pink Grapefruit Body Lotion / Linen Spray / Botanical Facial Moisturizer, Facial Wash / Shea Body Butter Bamboo / Green Tea Facial Scrub

I am, obviously, pro-choice. And if you are similarly inclined to an abundance of options in personal products as well as personal life, I recommend a visit to Dancing Dingo. They offer unctions and salves for all members of your family, including the four-legged. Dancing Dingo lotions, moisturizers, oils, scrubs, and sprays are paraben, formaldehyde, mineral oil, sulphates, SLS, and phthalate free. Their 'Dog De-funkifier' and other products are approved by Leaping Bunny and PETA.

Pomegranate Facial Nourishing Oil

The pomegranate has a long history as a helping, healthy fruit. No less an authority than the (seventeenth century) Dr. Fothergill described as it among the plant species “most salutiferous to mankind.” Queen Hatshepsut's butler, Djehuty, attempted to pack one along in his journey to the afterlife. Its red, leathery hide, floral ends, and core of pulp-encased juicy purple kernels fascinated me as a child, although it struck me as a bit labor-intensive for a snack. I had no objection to grenadine in Shirley Temples at the same age.

Baby Care Gift Set

Everyone likes good shampoo. Even though I am neither a baby nor an African American, I am delighted to use pure organic hair cleansers with a fragrant blend of rose petal, rosemary, and sage. African American Baby Care offers a full range of infant care products made from pure organics, natural botanicals, and rare herbs.

Eco Lips Gold / Vegan Eco Lips / Eco Tints

The founding of Eco Lips is a charming romantic tale: a lone female balm-brewer gave out samples of her homemade lip tonic to friends, and an appreciative recipient sought her out, asked her hand, and upon their marriage, the couple invested her life's savings in the production of the limp balm “Hemp Lip Buzz.” I am happy to report that they're still at it, and that with the energetic assistance of their premier marketer, over two hundred competing lip balms were examined prior to the formulation of Eco Lips.

Red Bamboo Tank

Cotton is a quandary. To me, no fabric is more comfortable, but its environmental impact is vast. Cotton is sprayed with reservoirs of pesticides, dumping tanks of volatile organic compounds onto the soil. The wide spacing necessary to cultivate cottons also diminishes soil fertility. Also, if you use cotton, odds are that you are exploiting a child in Uzbekistan. Is there anyway to avoid culpability? Synthetics make me feel like I'm wrapped in plastic.