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.

Beaches Eyeshadow Duo

When I think of beauty, I don't necessarily think of New Zealand. Amazing landscape, certainly. Kiwi birds and groves, yes. Extraordinary sheep herds with the corresponding climate legend that there are holes in the ozone induced by ovine methane, sure thing.

French Blue Pashmina Shawl

Adbusters is holding a competition for an anti-nationalist flag. This made me consider the psychology of color: the obvious choice among the contenders is a black flag with a simple white ring. Would it be flown in conjunction with the sky blue field of the United Nations banner? Blue appears to be the most popular flag color, with red a close second. "Interview suits" are conventionally blue: it is assertive without violence, bold and certain, calm but strong.

Circle of Water Life Suite (2/27/2009)

There was a sparrow lose in Kovler Family hall. "Excuse me," I sotto-vocced to a worker. "Are you aware that there is a sparrow loose in here?" She nodded. "It's been here since five." The feathers fluttered overhead. It did not chirp, nor did it crap on the carp of bronze, or the verdigrised octopi that hold the chandeliers' lamps to their chains.  Although the interloper did not follow us into the hall and improvise, the scheduled singing was splendid, particularly 21st Century Sharecropper's Blues—"Give me my money. Give me back my mind." Consuming culture recalibrates.

Azure Sanita Professional Clogs / LUSH Foot Products

R.I.P. Fizz, 1995—2009 Yes, I hate being a stereotype-come-to-life, but I have been medically prohibited from wearing anything other than very healthy shoes. At least I do not own many cats. Nor do I own any reptiles, or other exotic pets. Actually, I am on bereavement leave regarding the loss of my dog, an extraordinary shelter Greyhound-Doberman mutt, Fizz. The dog left the planet on Monday, March 23, at 5:15 p.m.

Jane Goodall Bars

Monkeys have been in the news lately. Here's my favorite monkey story: once a researcher was going to test the intelligence of a chimpanzee by putting the subject in an empty room with assorted boxes in a pile and a banana hanging from the ceiling by a string. The scientist was about to retreat to an observation space and watch through the mirror in order to determine how long it took his subject to stack the boxes and take the food.

Strange Interlude: The Neo-Futurists (03/06/2009)

What is a reviewer to think as she is sitting and watching a production: austere set, minimal furniture, iconic ghost image of a handsome soldier in a size usually used to honor Mao, selected text excerpts in bright blue type sans serif typeface and what is the significance of the serif is it phallic?—the viewer, sitting and waiting and watching the production?  Oh so outré, so unconventional, so smashing of convention, oh yes, so smashingly surreal and unconventional and aren't we clever that we “get it” ha ha ha oh yes insert droll laughter here, as the considerably older and more affluen


I am currently reading, belatedly, Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire, and enjoying it very much. The book was inspirational to my book group, a circle of commendable females who have been meeting to discuss fiction, non-fiction, biographies, theory and plays for over a decade. At one point we were called 'The Menstrual Hut'—a logical choice for a hen party that gathers once a month—but some may have disavowed the name.


I had no idea that there was so much you could do with salt.

Endangered Species Chocolate

“Why do you have such a big stomach?” a charming child asked, poking me in the gut. It was inauguration day, so I took a deep breath and thought, “What would Obama do?” (Her mother and I had just concurred that the day was like waking up from an eight-year nightmare, and I'll still endorse the Mom's establishment, the Ukrainian Village's Café Ballou here in Chicago.

Divine Chocolate

Are ethics a luxury? It seems fairly obvious that if you can spend five dollars on a fair trade chocolate bar (as opposed to one dollar), you are comfortable indulging, or at the very least are attempting to indulge, with a sense of global awareness.

What the Nips?: Tune in Tokyo Tank top

Okay, the last thing that I want to be called is a humorless feminist, so I'll tell a joke: “How many men does it take to wall paper a bathroom?” “One, if you slice him thinly enough.” No, that's not funny.

Swap n' Stores: We Must Cultivate

A 'swap n' store' is an opportunity for dedicated gardeners to exchange from their seedstock, providing not only for their lots and pantries, but also for the genetic strength and proliferation of the plants. My interest in gardening has been piqued not only by health and global fiscal conflagration, but also because I finally got around to reading Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire.

Rose and the Rime (2/22/2009)

Folktales, fables, and fairy stories: all have a universal quality, display a certain timelessness and generality of place, and seek to instruct. Pedagogic confectionary. The Rose and the Rime provides a splendid and entertaining example, wrapping wry smiles and aesthetic enjoyment nougat around a crunchy nugget of Nietzsche. Radio Falls, Michigan is frozen in a perpetual winter due to a witch's curse one generation previous. The narrative unfolds beneath pretty fields of white with red accents and menacing chartreuse lights.

Yours, Mine, Ours, or Theirs?: Accessing and Controlling Oil and Water

Humanities lectures and art openings are consistent sources of free entertainment, so I was delighted to attend “Yours, Mine, Ours, or Theirs? Accessing and Controlling Oil and Water,” a conversation hosted by the Illinois Humanities Council. Panelists provided an engaging and far-ranging forum regarding two globally vital substances of incomparable importance.

Homens ao Mar (Sea Plays) (1/28/2009)

Companhia Triptal's staging of O'Neill's Sea Plays refuses a fourth wall through three sets and forced-march participation, a “Blue Waterman Group,” perhaps. There was a risk of getting damp, but the audience was not pelted with salt pork. The plays are set on the S. S. Glencairn, a cargo freighter packed with dynamite heading from Baltimore to Britain. Viewers gather in the Owen Theatre and first hear intermittent singing, one presumes sea chanties—fifteen men on a dead man's chest, a yo ho ho and a bottle of rum—except in Portuguese. Supertitles were not provided, but a synopsis was.

The Emperor Jones (1/07/2009)

"I learn more when I'm being entertained," a student wrote in a journal last year.

Saint Dymphna

Saint Dymphna is the patron of those stricken with mental illness or nervous system disorders, epileptics, mental health professionals, happy families, incest victims, and runaways. The saint was martyred by a recently widowed father. He’d made advances at her and she ran away to Belgium with her confessor, the court jester, and his wife. The elderly priest and Dymphna were slaughtered, but they don’t say what happened to the jester. St. Dymphna’s attributes include appearing praying in a cloud surrounded by lunatics wearing golden chains.


Recently I was in my car listening to Raw Power and cringed to note that Iggy Pop's music is now being used to promote cruise lines.

Someone Else's Deja Vu

What would it be like to do a double-take at the memory of another? How would this be communicated? The simple dot-with-a-tail in this band’s name changes it from a death van for male offspring to a juxtaposition of a human and vehicle - or a parent, hand on shoulder, naming the thing with the siren as it passes.

Kick Ass Rubber Stamps

The padded manila mailer arrived and was opened to disclose a sticker reading “San Diego Craft Mafia,” three rubber stamps, and four small inkpads. The stamps are of a skull, rose and couple inches of barbed wire. All Asta Arts designs are drawn from old-timey tattoos and other gritty sources: the full-blown rose, snakes wrapped swords, nautical stars. The four ink pads—green, red, yellow, and black—are small enough that I needed to ink them by inverting the pad and placing the stamps on the carved rubber.


Sonja is a tale of unrequited love and adolescent bumbling depicted with typical Finnish tendencies towards the grand, dramatic and baroque; that is to say, none. A joke: “How can you tell when you’ve met an outgoing Finn? He stares at your shoes.” I note this because the director, Kirsi Liimatainen, is a Finn, and this highly personal movie is typically devoid of the teary-eyed, blouse-rending that might infect another teen drama about relationships. My pal. Manicella.

Mamba Condoms

Well, I did make a concerted effort, and asked for a deadline extension, and enlisted the assistance of my women’s book group, but it appears that product testing in this case is indefinitely delayed. I’m in good company: one of the most attractive members of the reading circle, a doe-eyed, winsome, gamin brunette, has informed me that she’s also given up. Another responded, “Oh, yeah—I read the e-mail. But I have a dozen in my drawer, gathering dust.” This is sad.

Women at Work

Women at Work did not, thank God, spin me back to 1982, the year in which I had to stop wearing my favorite wide-necked cotton t-shirt with the rainbow of teal, red and forest green behind a cartoon unicorn in repose because a certain biology class substitute teacher complimented me on it repeatedly in front of everyone and made me feel ‘ooky.’ And I was 12! Gross!

Carnival Diabolique Perfume Oil

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is the purveyor of assorted lotions, potions, and oils. Carnival Diabolique arrived in a small amber vial. Seeing as I was about to go to an event that I suspected would be attended by an individual with whom I have been flirting sporadically, but who apparently lacks the insight to realize that I am instantly and entirely adorable, I decided to test the allure potential of the concoction. I twisted off the black cap and applied sploshes behind my ears, on my nape, wrists, behind the knees, ankles, belly, top of mons pubis, and a dollop in my belly button.

King for a Day

King for a Day is the soundtrack of my last bittersweet hangover, the series of samplings leading to brie and pernod, unfortunately topped with a chile beer. This means that you should get the CD, even if it does not always inspire happy thoughts. Bobby Conn is not a minimalist, and that’s why I adore him. Rock opera, ornate orchestration filigrees with pretty raw – and raw, pretty – lyrics.

New Arrivals: Volume 2

Rachel Sage’s Mpress Records presents its second compilation, this one to benefit the organization Artists Against Hunger and Poverty, a division of World Hunger Year. Eighteen performers are showcased, most solidly in the “My heart: here” tradition of straightforward song stylings, some more twang than others.