Hello, and welcome to www.vmcooney.com, a place to access samples of my writing and, soon, photography. I’m in the process of updating this site to reflect the past year, which I have spent working in Michigan’s breathtakingly lovely and unexpectedly busy Upper Peninsula, so check back for updates!

If you have any questions about my work, feel free to reach me through the “Contact” tab.

~Tory Cooney




The Professor Said “No Rules”

Today I finished my last ever final.  Now, three days away from graduation, six days away from a move, and nine days away from a new job in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I wanted to look back to my favorite question on my favorite final . . .

The third question on my “No Rules” final exam for Advanced Writing:

Question No. 3, Advanced Writing, Fall 2012
“What do you plan to do when you grow up?” 

After briefly dabbling in the notion that she would do something well paid and reputable, Tory Cooney, a junior at Hillsdale College, has officially announced that she will be returning to her original “when I grow up” plan and focus her efforts on becoming an archeologist princess.  She is one of many Hillsdale students suddenly reconsidering career options, and we would like to figure out why.

Q: Miss Cooney, why the sudden change in career plans?
A: Well, this time of year, students really begin to ask themselves what matters in life.  We stop eating entirely and only sleep in three-hour-intervals.  Even then, it’s usually by accident and we have ink stains plastered on our face when some librarian wakes us up because they’re closing the building.  All of that – and the caffeine – contribute to this constant dreamlike state where some things just become clear.

Q: What things?
A: Like how much more enjoyable trekking through the Amazon Rainforest wrestling with pythons and dodging poisoned darts would be.  In comparison to this 20-page paper on Rousseau’s opinion of women, at least.

Q: I see.  Now, what is it about being an “archeologist princess” that you find appealing.
A: I want to find a lost civilization and then rule it.

Q:  Oh . . . Is there, um . . . Is there a market for that sort of thing?
A:  I go to a liberal arts college.  We’re used to ignoring the job market.

Q: Oh.  Well, how does one break into this particular field?
A: Well, the original plan was to work with Indiana Jones until he tragically died in an escapade I planned to title “The Golden     (one syllable)   of the   (two syllables)     (one syllable)” and, in a tear-filled press conference, announce that I would be carrying on his legacy and just take on all of his support as well as his role in circumventing the Nazi conspiracy to gain control of all magical artifacts of great significance.  But that plan is a little anachronistic, given the current lack of Nazis . . . and Indiana Jones, so I’m working on some modifications.

Q: And the finding and ruling a lost nation would come in where?
A:  I would just stumble upon this lost civilization in my travels.  Early retirement plan.  As well as an appropriate mysterious disappearance.  Amelia Earhart had that one right.

Q: How do your parents feel about this?
A:  They avoid talking with me during the last three weeks of school.  My mom always starts fretting over the fact she can’t mail me soup and my dad begins to panic that I’m going to fail all of my classes and end up living in his basement.

Q: Now, you are not alone in your sudden career shift, are you?
A: Of course not!  This time of year gets to everyone and we all really start to reconsider our life choices.  A group of Simpson guys are planning to join the Night’s Watch [from Game of Thrones], two hipster girls are going to marry for money, and one Kappa is going to live in poverty in Southeast Asia working in a rice paddy and sharing the love of God. . . There’s even this tall blonde girl from my Arthurian Literature class who’s going to join the Knights of the Round Table.

Q: Anything really outrageous?
A: A few people think that they want to go to grad school [laughs].

A Woman to Know: Elizebeth Friedman

I stumbled across a one-sentence blurb regarding Elizebeth Friedman in February, while working on another story that took me into the Hillsdale County Historical Society archives.  She was a pioneer in the field of cryptology and a 1915 alumna of my college — an interesting combination.  So I grabbed a Post-It, jotted a quick note, and slapped it onto the edge of a tea-caddy-laden shelf overlooking my desk.

I relocated the note in early March — appropriately enough, Women’s History Month — and my interest in Elizebeth began.  She is a woman of amazing intellect and ability who managed to become a pioneer in her field before women even had the right to vote.  She and her husband adored each other, and both managed to have rewarding careers and healthy home lives. And she managed it all with remarkable wit and poise.

As Women’s History Month draws to a close, please get to know this amazing woman and share her life and her work with others.  You can read the full article that ran in The Collegian here or on The Collegian’s website.  But for now, here are a few little interesting facts I love that didn’t make it into the article:

  1. Elizebeth’s name is spelled with the third “e” because her mother didn’t want anyone abbreviating her name to “Eliza.”
  2. During Prohibition, a hit was put on Elizebeth to keep her from testifying and the government assigned guards to Elizebeth—but she wasn’t informed until later.
  3. While living in Washington, D.C., the Friedmans held dinner parties where guests were given ciphers after the first course.  They had to break the code to discover where the second course was being served, and then yet another code to find dessert.
  4. William and Elizebeth would help people who wrote to ask for help cracking codes.  One such write-in was a group of guards from the Ohio State Penitentiary, who needed help decrypting messages passed between inmates and people on the outside planning a bank robbery and/or an escape.
  5. Elizebeth mostly received Bs while a student at Hillsdale, however she did get A’s in English XIII, English XI(abc), and Philosophy 1.  She also got a C in Sociology.  Grade books from the years she attended Hillsdale are still in the registrar’s office.

My interest and curiosity has only grown over the course of my research and I hope to write more about Elizebeth at a later date.  Happy Women’s History Month and enjoy The Collegian article here!

Friedman 007_2ESF 1918ESF WWIIIllus 58

(from left to right): Elizebeth and her husband, William, at Riverbank; Elizebeth in 1918; during WWII; and with William during the 1960s. All courtesy of The George C. Marshall Foundation.



Why We Don’t Want Men to Vote

While looking through the Hillsdale County Historical Society website, I found this entertaining little piece, written by poet, novelist, speaker, and suffragette Alice Duer Miller (1874-1942) and published in a Hillsdale newspaper in 1915.

Why We Don’t Want Men to Vote:
“Because man’s place is in the army.

Because no really manly man wants to settle any questions otherwise than by fighting about it.

Because if men should adopt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.

Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms, and drums.

Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them unfit for government.”

Hemingway and Mussolini

I recently read Ernest Hemingway’s article “Mussolini: Biggest Bluff in Europe,” published in The Toronto Daily Star on January 27, 1923.  The writer’s observations are not only interesting in light of the role Mussolini would play over the next few decades, but also just a fabulous character sketch.

“If Mussolini would have me taken out and shot tomorrow morning I would still regard him as a bluff.  The shooting would be a bluff.  Get hold of a good photo of Signor Mussolini some time and study it.  You will see the weakness in his mouth which forces him to scowl the famous Mussolini scowl that is imitated by ever 19 year old Fachisto in Italy.  Study his past record.  Study the coalition that Faschismo is between capital and labor and consider the history of past coalitions.  Study his genius for clothing small ideas in big words.  Study his propensity for dueling.  Really brave men do not have to fight duels, and many cowards duel constantly to make themselves believe they are brave.  And then look at his black shirt and his white spats.  There is something wrong, even histrionically, with a man who wears white spats with a black shirt.

There is not space here to go into the question of Mussolini as a bluff or as a great and lasting force . . . But let me give you two pictures of Mussolini at Lusanne.”

The first is my personal favorite.

“The fascist dictator had announced he would receive the press.  Everybody came.  We all crowded into the room.  Mussolini sat at his desk reading a book.  His face was contorted into the famous frown.  He was registering dictator.  Being an ex-newspaper man himself he knew how many readers would be reached by the accounts the men in the room would write of the interview he was about to hive.  And he remained absorbed in his book.  Mentally he was already reading the lines of the two thousand papers served by the two hundred correspondents “as we entered the room the Black Shirt Dictator did not look up form the book he was reading, so intense was his concentration, etc.

I tip-toed over behind him to see what the book was he was reading with such avid interest.  It was a French-English dictionary—help upside down.”

Much Ado About Something

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., is, in essence, an Art Deco temple to the Bard, complete with marble friezes, intricate tile work, and a beautiful theater where William Shakespeare is honored the way he should be honored: through the performance of his work.

The one production I managed to see there was The Taming of the Shrew.  It was my least favorite Shakespearean comedy at the time, but I felt compelled to take advantage of the opportunity regardless. The director set the action in saloon somewhere Out West during the late 1800s, made the traditionally male Baptista a whisky-swilling, tough-as-nails businesswoman, and completely changed my mind about the play.

By shifting the location and time period of Shakespeare’s plays, or even the sex of the characters, directors can emphasize different themes already present in the text and highlight subtle nuances that might escape a modern audience.

But most importantly, they can reveal the timelessness of Shakespeare’s words.

Because, at the end of the day, that’s what makes Shakespeare Shakespeare: his words.  When that changes, it’s no longer actually Shakespeare.

I’m not saying that I disapprove of people taking his plots and characters and putting them into a modern setting with modern words. It’s a wonderful way to make his work accessible to people who, otherwise, wouldn’t touch one of his plays with a ten foot pole.

Ten Things I Hate About You, based on The Taming of the Shrew and starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger (RIP), is a great example. I love that movie. While my high school friends wouldn’t watch the movie version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream if I paid them, they’d happily watch Ten Things every weekend for a month.

However, I would never claim Ten Things to be “Shakespeare.”

To be honest, if caffeinated and sleep-deprived enough, I would probably round on anyone who suggested otherwise and start calling them “Mammering clotpoles” or “Muling, rampallian hedge-pigs.”

Much Ado About Nothing is my all-time favorite Shakespearean play.  Partly because it’s the one that made me fall in love with Shakespeare in the first place, but also because it’s laugh-out-loud funny, with the pattering banter of a black-and-white 1940s screwball comedy.

Joss Whedon’s recent modernization — not coincidentally filmed in black-and-white — took advantage of Shakespeare’s amazing script to create a fresh, funny, and completely contemporary rom-com.

Beyond the pronouns needed to make a few characters’ gender changes consistent, he only changed one word to do it, too.  The wide lace collar known as “rebato” a few hundred years ago obviously failed to keep its place in fashion, so Whedon chose to replace it with the word “gown.”

Engaging, relevant productions of Shakespeare’s plays are completely possible.  Clever, entertaining productions inspired by Shakespeare are also possible. They’re different, and shouldn’t be confused, but an audience can benefit from both.

*Another version of this was published under the same title in The Hillsdale Collegian.  The Hillsdale Theatre Department is staging a production of Much Ado About Nothing later this semester and just announced their intention to modernize the language.

Why “V.M.” Cooney?

This site, my twitter (@vmcooney), and my signature all read “VM” Cooney.  However, my byline – and the name I most frequently respond to – is “Tory.”  The reason for this is a compromise made by my parents over two decades ago.

The story goes that my father wanted to name all of his children after influential British monarchs: in my brother’s case, William the Conquerer, and in mine, Victoria.  My mother, however, claims that she named my brother after a family friend and wanted to name me after her favorite author, childhood psychologist and non-fiction writer Torey L. Hayden.

As a result, I was named “Victoria” but called “Tory.”  No one knows exactly where the change in spelling came from, though it’s been suggested my father was amused at the idea of abbreviating “Victoria” to “Tory,” given The Bedchamber Crisis of 1839, or that he had only seen the word “Tory” in a historical/political context.  He simply claims that his only concern was preventing me from ever using a heart to dot the “i” of the more common “Tori.”

Regardless, I now pay homage to both: one in my initials and the other in common use.

Government Shutdown

I don’t think I was even vaguely aware of the existence of a Smithsonian PandaCam prior to the Oct. 1 government shutdown. I wasn’t aware of allot of things, really: including how intimately connected the U.S. Federal Government and everyday life in Washington, D.C. actually are.

I had some idea, of course. This is an unabashedly “One shop town” and it’s impossible to forget the fact when you walk past the Capitol and the National Archives on your way to work each morning. I signed up for that along with my internship at the National Endowment for the Humanities last winter.

But I really wasn’t expecting questions over whether or not the trash would get picked up. Or for the water fountains I use on my morning run to be turned off. Or for my first full feature in Humanities to be indefinitely delayed.

That said, what an interesting time to be in D.C. . . . and I have a full feature to be published by Humanities magazine once things get up and running again. I’ll post the clip up here along with other samples of my work once it becomes available. Stay tuned!