Thursday, September 30, 2010

Meg Wood -- Bus Etiquette: A Primer on Picking

It’s back-to-school time here at the college campus where I work, and with each year comes a new horde of students boarding my bus every morning, fresh-faced and ready for class (at least until the second week, anyway, when they start to look bored and ready for Friday). Some of these students catch onto bus etiquette fairly quickly. Others, however, seem to require a bit more guidance.

Take, for example, the guy sitting catty-corner to me on the bus this morning. Who was, of all things, picking his nose. Not just a subtle scratch ("I wasn't going to pick my nose, I was going to thump him!" -- name that movie) or a casual quick dig for a boog that was driving him bananas. This guy spent a good ten minutes rooting around in each nostril, elbows-deep, like his fingers were French sows that knew that somewhere, deep in those crevasses, there were truffles to be had.

He'd grope around in there for a second or five, then drop his hand to his knee and casually rub his fingers together to drop the detritus onto the bus floor. From the way he did this latter move, I could tell he was actually attempting to be subtle about it -- at least he wasn't flicking the stuff clear across the aisle or, worse yet, tucking it behind his ear for later. But what I found particularly amusing about the whole thing was that, out of the corner of my eye, I could see he was closing his eyes every time he brought his hand up for the pick. This is something I call "The Bugblatter Beast of Traal" mentality, wherein you think that if you can't see others, they can't see you (see Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for details on the BBoT, and don't forget to pack your towel, you hoopy frood).

My cat does this too, though you may want to note here that she has a brain the size of a peanut. In her case, what she does is hide by sticking her head under the bed, leaving the rest of her body out in plain sight. Whenever I walk by and see this, I cannot resist sneaking up and tugging gently on her tail. "Whaaa...?" her shocked face will exclaim as her head whips out from under cover and whirls in my direction. "How did you find me? I was invisible!"

Now, if only there were a comparable action I could've performed on the Nose Pickah, because clearly someone needed to clue him in to the fact he wasn't being nearly as clandestine as he seemed to think he was. However, of course, he had no tail on which I could gently tug, and besides, it's considered bad form on the bus to grab at anybody's backside for any reason, ridiculously deserved or not. Also, he was actually sitting on said backside anyway. I suppose I could've leaned over and flicked him on the forehead, but, well, I didn't think of that in time, I guess.

Dear Nose Pickah: just because you can't see me watching you systematically mine your nostrils for gold does not actually mean I'm not watching you systematically mine your nostrils for gold. By the end of the ten minutes, I had run through so many emotions I was pretty much over being grossed out and had moved smoothly into a state of utter amusement. Luckily, before I could start tittering behind my sleeve (I'm so immature), a young girl, probably a high school student (though these days, all the college kids look 16 to me, which is how I know I’m officially OLD) came and sat down next to him and that made him quit. He probably thought, and rightly so, that said someone would not appreciate having boogers dropped so closely to her own knees and feet. It was a full bus on a rainy morning, after all -- not a hotbed of tolerance, patience, or joy, typically.

Anyway, if it turns out that Nose Pickah is a regular, I think I will be steering clear of him for a while. At least until the second quarter -- ostensibly, he will have learned some things by then. It's not that I think there's anything inherently bad about picking your nose -- haven't we all done this at one time or another? I don't even really have a problem with eating boogers, though it's not a delicacy I have a taste for myself. I guess it's more germophobia than anything else. Well, that and the image of one of his truffles permanently attached to the bottom of my shoe for the rest of the day. Now that's gross. No, like, really gross, now that I think about it.

Okay, so, to sum up, for all you n00bs out there:

1. Do not pick your nose on the bus;
2. Do not think that closing your eyes means I can't see you;
3. Keep your truffles to yourself;
4. Do not put anything in your nose smaller than your elbow, including your elbow;
5. Welcome to college.

Meg Wood can be even goofier than this. Check it out, IF YOU DARE: and

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Miss Mokes -- Untitled

After work, on the way home, I ran by the liquor store, the good one, to get some sake. We don’t expect what life often provides us. We don’t know what new in-your-faceness it’s got for us. This is a fact, you might say.

Checkout line, I moved to a shorter one. I saw a man I had not seen in many years, a man who had sex with me in 1999. He’s a lot older than I am. Was then, too. I must have been 25? Hardly seems right, but I was. He was in his forties.

Ned, we’ll call him, for the sake of shortness and anonymity. Ned Smith. Mr. Smith likes poems, songs, girls, and art. He likes beer and authenticity. He’s got a daughter my age, too. I imagine he likes her, but, last I heard, she did not like him very much. Things change, though.

Ned was kind of funny, kind of sweet, kind of smart. A leader in the group. I fell in with that group just because, hey, why not. I like poems and music and art.

One evening, a bunch of us were at Ned’s apartment. Small place, very, very small. He’d been joking that evening about moving in with me and letting me support him. I suppose that’s, what? Flirting? Yeah. Flirt with the young woman, the one who is SO MUCH younger than you, by saying she should support you, pay your rent. That is what girls like.

I stayed later. The conversation seemed good, I had few friends, I was alone in the city. I wanted company. Up to that night, I’d had four lovers. Four. They were all long-term relationship types, all but one.

It got later. Ned said I could stay over and "it won’t be weird or anything." Now, I’m no linguist, but one could infer that by that he meant he would not try to have sex with me. I thought that was a-ok. I did not want that.

He unrolled his hobo roll (did I mention this was a small apartment?) and made room for me with my own blanket and pillow. I tried to get comfortable. Not too long into the quiet, Ned decided he should make things weird.

Now, some people understand the word no. Some people need to hear it a couple of times. Other people disregard it and wait until you tire of saying no, and then do what they will. Ned is the third kind. But I was young and very sleepy. It was over before it began, but I remember every moment of it. In my memory of this event, there was no kissing. No hugs, no shared experience. It was not enjoyable. It was not traumatic. It was creepy. It was gross. It was cold. I felt shame. He felt good, and punctuated his experience with "Good golly, Miss Molly."

I have friends who have been dramatically, violently raped. And one friend in particular, she calls my experience "regrettable sex." I do not know what I call it. I’ve been parsing out the nomenclature for years. And it’s confounded by the fact that, two days later, Ned called me to see when I wanted to go out again. See, he apparently thought we were dating, in love. In the meantime I had gone out, found another man and bedded him.

An ex had told me of one of his old girlfriends, a world traveler, a French Woman. She had been raped at knife-point in Asia somewhere, and in answer to that indignity, she took a man to bed and kicked him out, naked, when she was done with him. Sounded like a strong, smart, womanly thing to do.

New count: 6.

Ned was surprised, flummoxed even. I pretended to be his "friend" for a few years. You know, not being a victim and all that. Not being a statistic.

Tough, am I.

But I wonder if I’m misunderstanding the concept of not being a "victim." I wonder if contemporary, strong, worldly women all over are misunderstanding this. I wonder if we are taking that thought and stretching it, like plastic wrap, over our bodies, our faces, our eyes, our mouths.

I heard later on, in college, that a girl, a minor, had publicly accused Ned of date rape. People were outraged and said the girl was clearly trying to gain something from this. I told some of those people that Ned was not so good with the word no. Still, they were unconvinced.

We learn "no" at the beginning, when we are very small. What do we call this? What does no mean? What do we mean when we stop saying no? What do we mean when we absorb that feeling and decide we made a bad judgment call? Did we? Did I? What do I do with this? Do I just go on, and on? What if I see him again and he tries to talk to me? How do I do this?

I can avoid this store. I can avoid the queasy stomach and the nervousness, the adrenaline and nausea. I can avoid him, as much as possible. But life often disallows this.

Life will send you back to the beginning, whether you want it or no.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Marsi White: Complacence

Regime. Every school has one. I was once a part of one. With every new school year, school politics change like the tides. And I am not just talking about the PTA.

On September 20, 2010, Bill Gates and John Legend appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to try to stir up some politics of their own, regarding the failures of the American school system. The intent of the show was to discuss the new Davis Guggenheim project, Waiting for Superman. The movie documents the reasons parents remove their children from public schools, the financial struggles of keeping them in private schools and the startling consequences of not. The movie also documents students who are unfairly assessed and are denied access to higher quality educational programs based on that assessment. According to Oprah, Waiting for Superman is a movie that will help transform our schools. At minimum, she means to raise awareness that schools are failing and that the system needs to change.

This is not new news. However, I may be more educated than most. My husband and I were both raised by educators, and my husband is an eighth grade science teacher. We have watched trends in education cycle repeatedly, known great teachers and bad and watched our dedicated parents engulf their lives in their jobs. My dad was a district administrator for more than 20 years and school district politics were regular dinner conversation in my house.

Oprah prefaced her show by saying that the discussion and topic were not directed at the good teachers. Even so, the dialogue that followed was one-sided and seemed to be a direct attack on the teachers’ union. In fairness, they quoted Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. However, Ms. Weingarten was not present for the discussion regarding the flaws in the system that ensued.

My husband and I agree that offering teachers tenure after two years of teaching is an out-dated practice. My husband, an eleven-year veteran, is an excellent middle school science teacher in a middle-class neighborhood close to the U.S. border. There are 1,600 students in his school. He works countless hours and is continually commended by parents, administrators and even the special education department and counselors for his effective strategies with the school’s most challenging students. However, it took him several years to achieve a level of comfort in the classroom conducive to excelling in his craft.

One of the main points of the show was that there is no protection for the child who is placed with a teacher who is not effective. As a parent, I want that protection for my children. As a professional, however, I realize that there has to be time and space for good teachers to learn. I understand that teachers’ union policies breed complacency in some. However, I also think that some teachers are unfairly judged by standards that they cannot possibly meet, based on circumstances and lack of community and administrative support. In an era of budget cuts, if the unions cannot protect the teachers, then who can?

Interestingly enough, the same afternoon that Oprah’s show aired, my husband had a meeting with a parent and a child regarding the child’s grades. The child is failing every academic class and may not have enough credits to pass middle school. The conversation went something like this:

My husband: “Johnny is not getting his work done in class, choosing to socialize and waste time instead of stay on task.”

Mom: “Johnny, why aren’t you getting your work done in class?”

Johnny does not answer and slumps his head down to his chest in a look of defeat.

Mom: “Johnny is just lazy. How much time did you give him to complete the assignment?”

My husband: “I gave him a half-hour to complete the eight-question assignment. He only completed two questions. He chose to talk to his peers the whole time.”

Mom: “Johnny, why did you not get the assignment done? You had plenty of time. Why do you talk so much in class?”

Johnny does not answer again and slumping his head back down to his chest.

Mom: “He is just so lazy. I don’t know what to do. My husband and I both work and are too tired to help him with homework. Besides, he always tells us he has no homework and that everything is fine at school. What can we do?”

My husband: “I understand your frustration. My wife and I both work, as well. What we do is make homework time between 7-8PM. That way our kids know when it is time for school work. And if they have no school work, they can read. You could try to do something like this in your home, working every night with him between 7-8 on math and English, for example, until those subjects are caught up. Then move on to science and history, and so on.”

Mom: “No. No. We are just too busy. Johnny is too busy. That would just not work.”

My husband: “Why, is Johnny in sports or Boy Scouts?”

Mom: “No. He rides his bike around the neighborhood and plays with his friends.”

Johnny does not ever contribute to the conversation, keeping his head down, never answering, never taking responsibility for his actions, allowing his mother to make excuses for him.

Conversations as described above are commonplace, unfortunately. Yet, parent expectation of what teachers and the school need to be providing for their child seems to grow every year. What Oprah’s show failed to recognize is that complacency is a common issue in schools. Certainly, teachers cannot be accountable for the parents’ unwillingness to support their child.

Which leads me to what bothered me the most about this Oprah show: I fear that misguided parents will use the show and the movie as ammunition to blame the teachers for other parents’ lack of accountability. Parents sometimes abuse power when involved with PTA or a school committee. In my children’s school, our PTA has taken a stance on nutrition. Imagine if this same energy was directed toward academic enrichment instead?

In closing: to Oprah, I get the point of your show. Administrators should be able to fire a teacher who fails to perform, like the example of the teacher who repeatedly fell asleep in the classroom during instruction time. The conversation has to start somewhere. However, please give the average, public school teacher, not the charter school teacher, not the private school teacher, a voice. Let’s talk about complacence and how we can fix that. Let’s talk about how we can make the kids learn about accountability. Let’s talk about getting teaching aides back into the classroom and reinstating after school programs aimed at low performing students. Let’s fund some programs that offer support to the average, public school teacher and see what happens.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Emily Idzior: Back to School - A Brief History

“I still respond to the academic / year, the sound of the school bell, the hot Wednesday morn- / ing after Labor Day.” -- Lyn Hejinian, My Life

I was hooked on the first day of school, clinging to the day like a raincoat to a hook. The clean smell of Windex and hope; the thrill of new crayons, new books, and a new year. It was first grade that did me in with all of those lovely new words to spell, my obsession with ellipses, being allowed to use markers only when it rained and kept the class inside. It’s the Wednesday morning after Labor Day that’s kept me in school now for almost twenty years.

I’m twenty-four, (almost twenty-five thank you very much) and I’m still in school. I’m still chugging along, still trying to figure out how to turn my love of poetry and literature into some kind of viable career. Still buying books the first week and still looking forward to what my teachers or professors will be like. I’m twenty-four years old and I still love the first day of school with all of it’s promises of the future, the “we’ll get to that later in the semester” or the delightful projects and readings I can’t wait to delve into.

For so many years, though,  the first day of school was a little different. Blue pleated jumper, blue blouse, headband, socks folded down the right amount of folds. New shoes, of course, and new supplies, a new attitude.

Here’s the honest truth: I’ve always been shy. Being shy, of course, means that not a lot of people get to know you and a lot of people get to make assumptions based on your shyness. Either you’re a brat or you’re a snob; you’re an idiot or you’re really smart. I can be all of those things (and none) but most of the time I’m just me, Average Lady. The first day of school is the day you get to try and change all that. It’s the day when all the homework is going to get done perfectly the first time and it’s the day that every one's actually excited to see the Shy Girl. “How was your summer, Shy Girl?” “Do anything fun, Shy Girl?” “Can’t wait to play together, Shy Girl.” But of course, a couple of recesses and lunches later, after trying to find where to sit in the lunch room, everyone has divided themselves back into their groups from the previous year.

Fast forward through the complete awkwardness of elementary school and junior high, I remember the first day of high school. A real second chance. Most of the kids from my small Catholic grade school were going to other high schools and the ones that were going to be there, well, I wasn’t going to let them tell anyone what a loser I was for the past eight years.

The first day for eight long years had been a time of both anxiety and excitement hoping to somehow reinvent myself into someone else, trying to leap out of the skin I was in and become the girl everyone wanted to be around. Of course, in social circles it’s almost impossible to come back from the dead of being a wierdo. It really is impossible, it turns out, to pretend you love Nicholas Sparks when actually you just don’t.

Acne and  glasses were both against me on that first day of high school. My skirt was longer than most of the other skirts and I had stood five feet, zero inches for long enough that I knew I’d never get any taller. I like to think I was a little butterfly waiting to burst out of her chrysalis. But I think I was more like a rough draft, needing some editing and better worded sentences.

Sure, the first day of high school wasn’t so memorable that I actually remember everything that happened. I did the usual things like turning bright red when I found out I actually had to go to a gym class. I met a nice girl named Britney and then my best friends. But I think that most of my high school career and first days, were just a terrible replaying of Madonna’s career: trying to invent my image.
It’s more or less that I wished the first day of school would play out like a bad teen movie (for today’s generation something like Twilight, but I’m thinking more like Never Been Kissed). The first day of school I’d come in like that shy but gorgeous girl who just needs to be given a chance from the cheerleaders and really the most handsome guy at school would pick me (ME!) to be the girl he dated. And then I’d get asked to prom and I’d become Prom Queen and life would be kind of perfect but in a “look where I came from” kind of way.

That of course never happened. I remained the “girl no one wanted to date” for the next four years. I went to dances of course, but was never asked. I was set up on a blind date for homecoming. I glued together something that resembled “the high school experience” but the first day for me was always the same. Maybe this year I can show everyone else how smart I am! Maybe this year they will understand that really I am pretty funny. Maybe this year I’ll lose the acne and get perfect skin just like all the cheerleaders.

I survived the angst, the awkward first kiss(surprising, yes), the notion that it was OK to ask a boy out, the notion that being smart somehow would attract anyone under the age of 21. I survived countless conversations about being like a sister, or being the kind of girl you would marry and bring home to mom and dad not the kind of girl you’d date in high school. I survived and began college.

University was like the ultimate do over for me. No one knew me. I could drive to class unnoticed and I could make friends and reinvent my past. So the first day became nostalgic. The wounds of High School were healing, I made a name for myself and I realized that I’m stuck with the body that I have and I’m the only person who can change me. I looked back for awhile on those first days as a learning process, as a “what not to do” from now one.

Now, after earning a masters degree and working on a second one the first day of school has become a little less dramatic. Here I am, a newly married woman, and I am looking back to all those first days, all the days I wish I could be someone else, all the days I wanted to disappear or run away, all the days that I so badly wanted to go back and yell at all those people who rejected me, I look back and I wish I could time travel to one first day. The first day of first grade, I want to tell myself to remember the laughter, the smells, the important things like algebra. I want to tell myself to remember all the state capitals instead of worrying about whether or not Brian two seats over thinks I’m cute. I want to run over to myself back then and say hey, guess what, life is difficult but everyone else has the same fears and anxiety you do, so go ahead and raise your hand, you definitely know the answer.

I’m looking back, smelling my favorite smells of Fall, looking forward to the crunching leaves, the oranges, the red, the taste of powdered sugar doughnuts being washed down with apple cider, the pumpkins, the frost on the green grass as it slowly falls into Winter sleep. I’m remembering the smell of the clean classroom and the smell of bonfires and I’m remembering all those successful first days. Successful because they brought me here: me with not one but three best friends from high school; me with the husband, the house, the cat; me with the masters and the dreams; me with my own goofy sense of humor; me, here now, a woman with nothing but happiness in her life. I’m still awkward a lot of the time but somehow, I still love the smell of these first days of school. I want to send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils, like Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail. I want you to feel the excitement of what could happen. The smell of hope and renewal, a second chance to start fresh before New Year's.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sabrina Parke - Crisp

Seeing all of the people that I missed over summer was never my favorite part of going back to school. I had play dates with all of the girls that I liked from June through August. I could take or leave the September through May set. To me, the best part about going back was shopping for school supplies.

I was absolutely in love with the crisp feeling that only a trip to Staples can provide. Since I went to school with the same 55 kids from kindergarten through eighth grade, school supplies were the only fresh start that I got each year. Crayons or colored pencils? Regular pencils or mechanical? Trying to predict what would be ‘in’ that year was a challenge I relished. My biggest personal dilemma was always what folders to get. They had bright, colorful pictures and set the tone for the entire year. I needed six – one for each subject – and since I was obsessive compulsive, they had to match. Was this the year to show my affinity for the Coca Cola polar bears? Was Garfield too third grade? Usually, I kept my head down and played it safe – puppies in baskets.

As I continued through school, the crisp feeling became less intense. In high school, they stopped providing books and my parents realized the importance of buying used. The crisp feeling began to fade. In college, after the initial thrill of buying new furnishings for my dorm, each semester became a test on how far I could stretch my shoddy resources. That crisp feeling was all but a memory – until my last semester of college, when one of the 55 returned, and everything was new once again.

Wherever I went, I saw everything as if for the first time. Large shrubs. Dimly lit sections of the parking lot. Enclosed staircases. All these things that had been there for years, probably decades, had fallen below my radar. Now, there were new realizations, new discoveries to be made. Classes were missed. Meetings were skipped. The possibility of unearthing a surprise was too much.

As a child, I remember time spent gazing at myself in the full-length mirror at the end of the hallway. Before going back to school, I always hoped to see changes from the previous year. A fully formed mouth of grown-up teeth. Breasts large enough to justify a training bra. Now, my body was covered in temporary/permanent changes. So, the pair of sweatpants that I was forced to buy for a high school P.E. class were fished out from the bottom of a drawer. A college sweatshirt hid the rest of my frame. Bangs weren’t cut and soon I was barely visible. At least, I hoped I was.

I was never hungry. My jaw still hurt like hell when I ate. But, I forced myself to eat. Since I was never hungry, I was never full. I had no gauge of when to stop. If I gained weight, maybe people would assume that was the reason for the sweat pants. If I gained weight, maybe men would leave me alone.

For the first time, I looked on the men in my life with suspicion. Hours were spent deliberating who could be trusted. I could not afford to be wrong. Although few ties were permanently severed, I forced myself to create distance with any possible threats. I clung closer to the men I believed could protect me – although I would never ask them to.

I have never been a feminist. I belong to no ethnicity and am merely a bland blend of Europe. Generic jokes hardly ever apply to me, and even more seldom do they offend me. But, there was that crispness again. Now I, or at least the category of person that I now fell into, was constantly the target of jokes and thoughtless comments. They were said on TV and by friends. But, it wasn’t fair to withhold what had happened from my friends then condemn them for acting as they normally would around me. So, I laughed – laughed and hoped that no one looked too close.

Despite the fact that I’ve grown up in a city with one of the worst police forces in the country, I had always been a fan of cops. Even during my teenage years when it’s basically a requirement to have a deep-seated problem with authority – I didn’t. I really thought that if I was good, they’d be there if I ever needed them. Now, I finally get it. Rodney King. The Rampart Scandal. Hell – the Bloody Christmas of 1951. The LAPD are the worst of the worst, and their detectives are the bottom of the barrel.

My life was and continues to be run on a need-to-know basis. If a friend catches me sobbing, I’ll give them the Reader’s Digest version. If an acquaintance catches me, I’ll say my cat died. Technically, I’m not lying, but I leave out the fact that Roy died in 1997. This essay marks the end of my need-to-know policy. If you’re a friend of mine who’s hearing about this for the first time, I’ve probably tried to tell you several times – I’m sorry I didn’t.

After a year of horrible crispness, it was over. While I have not become fearless, I am just no longer struck by the newness of small dangers I confront everyday. My sweatpants have found a new purpose – I’ve joined a gym. I’m doing my best to build up my upper body strength. Thoughtless comments have stopped hurting. Sometimes I make them.

The drawback to all of this is the realization that I will never feel crisp again. There will never be a newness to any aspect of my life. I was already too old for my age – now I feel ancient. I’m too weighed down by my past to experience a fresh present. When my boyfriend and I started dating, the excitement that comes with new love quickly vanished. I knew that soon I would have to tell him about my past, so that my erratic behavior would have context. While we love each other, I wish that we had been allowed to experience the joy that comes with a fresh relationship. But, considering the realities faced by many women who fall into the same category as I – I consider myself lucky.


If you are reading this – no, not you the reader – you, don’t worry. I won’t say your name. I won’t say your address. I won’t say where you went to school, what type of car you drive, or what profession you plan to go into. As of this moment, you are a nonentity to me. You are not worth the time or energy it would take to destroy you - to do to your life what you attempted to do to mine. You have no reason to be nervous. You said it yourself – it was consensual. Maybe it was even great. I just wish I had been conscious for it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Josh Grimmer: State of the Union for September 25, 2010

Hey there, riters and wreaders. Thanks for stopping by for another week of Writing, Writer, Writest. I don't know about you, but I'm certainly having a good time, despite the crippling anxiety I feel every time I post something. You're probably nodding, thinking “boy you sure are a dope, Josh Grimmer.”

So summer vacation! Fun, road trips, the Beach Boys, girls, boys, the sun, meeting people from the internet – there are plenty of fun things to do during the summer! I would like to commend each and every one of you for not writing an essay reviewing the Tiny Toons movie, How I Spent My Summer Vacation. I'm not saying I wouldn't like it, I'm saying it would have been too easy.

Now that summer vacation is over, we sadly turn our attention to school. Back to school. New pencils and textbooks and teachers and homeroom and whatever. There's a lot of newness to school, particularly if you're going to a new school. I had the unmatchable joy of going to five different school systems in my public school career. What a delight.

Now, fitting with the back to schoolness of this week, you've all got homework. Two more themes coming your way.

Due Friday, October 1: The theme is power struggles. Asshole boss? Bad relationship? A really nice shirt that just won't fit right? Write about it. Send it my way.

Due Friday, October 8: Weather! I know that strangers only talk about the weather, but we're all friends here. Maybe a particularly memorable rainstorm, or a tornado that ripped up your house, or a flood that caused you to move out of your parents basement where you were living like a fucking loser. Whatever it is, let me know.

And hey, non-writers: Get off your duffs! I want to post more essays, so get your act together and send them in. What's the worst that could happen? I tell you it needs to be longer or shorter or something. Just send me something.

And double hey, readers: Tell your friends. Let them know about WWW. Be a missionary for good writing on the internet. Spread the gospel of whatever who cares anymore sheesh. Spread the word.

Grosses bises,

Josh Grimmer, Editor-in-Chief

Friday, September 24, 2010

Marsi White - Soccer Summer

My name is Rollie, short for Raldon. Raldon was my great grandfather on my dad’s side, or something like that. I am ten and in fifth grade. I am kind of a smart kid. I always get 100% in math on those State tests that they make us take every year. My friend, Zach, says that he is smarter than me. He thinks that because he finishes first all of the assignments in class. What he does not know is that I always wait for him to raise his hand before I raise mine. I do not want to get labeled a “know it all”. That is the worst.

I have a little sister and a dog. My dog, Benjamin, Ben for short, is a golden retriever. Ben is a lot bigger than he thinks he is. He is always hungry, no matter how much food I give him. Ben has a very big head; he kind of reminds me of a bear that way. He tilts it to look at me and raises his ears when I am giving him food sometimes. He looks so cute when he does that! He also naps on our living room floor and for some reason likes to sleep on his back with all four of his legs spread wide. What a goofy dog.

My sister is goofy too. She gets her way a lot because she whines. I am not sure why my parents let her get her way. I think that maybe my mom is just tired. My dad too. My mom had cancer last year. She has had a lot of surgery. The cancer is gone, but she is still recovering. Anyway, I get frustrated by my sister but have to admit that I do like to play with her from time to time. Not all kids have a little sister who likes to help them with adventure quests in the Wizards 101 video game!

I am all about sports. I am pretty good at most of them. I have been playing soccer since I was four years old. This year, I got good. I play on a traveling, competitive soccer team, as a starting defender. My teammates are crazy. One time, I got 61 text messages in one day from one of them. They like to talk about girls. My coach also coaches the girls’ team, and my team scrimmages them sometimes. I am not so sure that I understand what is so cool about girls yet. When my friends asked me which one of them that I like, I was careful not to choose one that I knew my friends already liked. So, I just said that I liked the goalie. She is kind of cool and not snobby like a couple of other girls on the team. I am not sure what else to do with that.

One of the coolest thing that happened this summer was the FIFA World Cup. My parents even bought me a Team USA World Cup jersey. I really wanted the Mexico jersey because that is the team that the kids at my school like, but my dad says that I needed to route for Team USA first. We had a long talk about why it was important to be patriotic. I just want to fit in.

The other coolest thing was winning a soccer tournament. We played in four tournaments this summer. We did a pretty good job, except for the one where my coach was ejected. We did not do so well that game. The referee was seriously not calling fouls on the other team. I was getting elbowed and pushed constantly; my teammates were getting tripped. My coach just wanted a safe game for us and the referee kicked him out. Obviously, we did not win that tournament.

We won the next tournament by coming from behind in the second half of the last game. Coach yelled from the sidelines a lot: “Follow it through until the end!”; “Win the ball in the air!”; “Play with a purpose!”; “See the field!” These are all ideas that I totally understand, but I am not sure that my parents do. My mom and dad are always telling me what I could do better. I would like to see them try to jump two feet in the air and head the ball into a goal, or trap a ball coming at them full speed with opposing players pushing at their back! That would be funny. Anyway, our team trophy is nearly as big as my sister. We each won a medal that is so heavy that I am afraid it is going to make my old baseball trophy that it is hanging on fall over.

My coach used to play professional soccer. He can juggle a ball more than 100 times without the ball hitting the ground and dribble the ball between us so fast that by the time I blink, he would have passed me. He has the fastest feet I have ever seen. Coach wants us to play the game of soccer with strategy and forethought. He says that the other teams we are playing only have one or two good players. We are all good. I know that lots of the other teams cannot change pace like we can, either. The only way they play is fast and hard. We can play fast and hard but still maintain control and can slow the game down like a tortuous game of keep away. I like when that happens.

Coach makes us keep a journal of the soccer games that we watch on TV and take notes about the games we play. I think this is what made watching the World Cup so fun. Not the writing part, but seeing players like Tim Howard and Landon Donovan make amazing plays that I recognized as things that I learned from Coach. My parents watched the World Cup games with me. One day, we all got up at 6:30 a.m. to watch Team USA play. I was late for camp that day and my mom was late to work, but it was worth it!

So, school has started and so has our regular soccer season. I hope we scrimmage the girls sometime soon. I have not seen them in a while and my friends and I still talk about a couple of them. I hope we win this season. I think we can. State Cup is in January - I hope we win that too. In the meantime, I will just play my hardest, play with my goofy dog and try not to let my little sister’s whining annoy me. After all, we have a lot more Wizards 101 to play.

Barbi Beckett - Cielo Vista

There must have been summers before 1975 but, prior to that, my memories do not always have seasons attached to them. That summer I had just completed kindergarten, by the skin of my teeth, and I moved out of my dad’s house with a brother and my mother first to one apartment, then to another.

The swimming pool at the Villa Sierra was right outside our door. I learned to doggy paddle there and kept myself from drowning. My brother, Ken, was eleven and initiating a lifelong relationship with trouble. I wasn’t privy to details but I could feel a cloud descending around him. It felt heavy and dangerous. There was something about a fort in the desert he’d built with some other boy. There was the stash of candy he always had; in particular, these delicious peanut things with a bumpy red shell from a nearby vending machine he’d learned to tap into for free.

There was Jaws. He was obsessed with Jaws and saw it many times. This apartment complex was not far from a mall with a movie theater and Ken had been caught sneaking in. There were threats of Wisconsin and of sending him to live with his dad. I wanted him to stop doing things that might get him sent to Wisconsin. We later learned our mom had tried to ship him off but his dad took a pass, his hands full with a new family.

The apartment was sponsored by my mother’s third (and fourth) husband, Paul. He worked out of the country and she spent her time watching soap operas and teaching her pet parakeet to say things like “Pauly want a blow job” to entertain her husband when he came around. I wished the parakeet had something to talk about besides Paul’s wiener.

When my mom wasn’t training birds or cashing my silver dollar collection she was out on her own play dates. When she was gone, Ken would show me his vending machine loot or, if I was really lucky, he would fry up some bologna. This was a rare delicacy that I couldn’t get enough of.

One day our older brother Terry came over to visit. Terry lived with my mother’s second husband, the one I would think was my biological father for another six years and then be sworn to secrecy, by my mother, that he was not. I’m not sure why Terry had it in for Ken that day, but he came into my room and locked Ken out. He started making it sound like we were having the time of our lives, laughing and putting Ken’s favorite song on the record player (Elton John’s version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”). Ken kept knocking and turning the knob, begging to be let in. It was killing me. I pleaded with Terry to unlock the door but he ignored me. For a while there was silence in the hall and a few minutes later I saw a plate start to slide under the door on the shag carpet. It was a slice of fried bologna. My desperation in that moment to let my brother know I heard him and I loved him would shape our relationship for years to come.

For reasons I don’t even remember being curious about, we moved to the Cielo Vista apartments. I’m not sure how Ken fared there but I became acquainted with his friend, trouble. Wandering around, bored, I found myself at the pool. I wasn’t allowed to swim without an adult so I thought I’d soak in jealousy while watching the other kids cool off in water. It was blindingly hot, which was why my mother didn’t leave the refrigerated apartment. I was standing by the pool with this kid who bugged me. He was fully clothed but. . . I pushed him in. It did not occur to me that I could garner anything but praise for dunking that sniveling boy. This was my first experience of a thing being so obvious in retrospect. I realized it was nuts to believe this would yield positive results when, actually, it was the worst idea I’d ever had. It was more of an impulse than an idea, really, but, the point is, not a single person congratulated me. Instead there was a scurry and a drippy, sputtering boy. I was escorted by some adult to my apartment where my mother was informed of the situation. She dragged me to the kid’s apartment to apologize. She wasn’t so much mad about what I’d done as she was about the inconvenience of having to take me over there.

Another day, I squeezed Featherstein, the kitten, gradually and continuously until he mewed. I felt bad, then I did it again.

Another day, I peed my pants.

One exciting morning was spent preparing for the arrival of my oldest brother, Jimmy, who was coming home for a visit from the Navy. My mom dolled me up, which included confiscating my glasses. (I recently overheard a little girl say to a woman taking her picture, “my mom doesn’t like it when I show my teeth – they’re all messed up”. I felt rage disproportionate to that offense, or maybe not, but I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that there are no pictures of me with my glasses on during the time I lived with my mother.) We waited for Jimmy into the night. He was late and later and not coming. It was my inaugural all-day-waiting. The rest were waitings for my mother, through the years, when she lived in various other places. I never understood how someone could so inaccurately estimate when they would be arriving in a town.

We stayed at the Cielo Vista long enough for me and Ken to start first and sixth grade. We spent a week at the new school before moving back across town to new living assignments without our mom. I returned to my dad’s house with Terry, and Ken went to live with our grandma. He was invited (that may be a strong word) to live with us but he was intimidated by my dad and chose to live with our wonderful but spineless grandmother. An eleven year-old should not be making that kind of decision, which goes without saying. . . in some circles.

Our last summer together was officially over.

And then began the Fall.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Steve Strong: One Last Summer, Before Growing Up

“Johnny! Check it out, slow down.” “Turn up the 8-track.” “No. Forget the Beach Boys. Lay rubber.” “Yeah, peel out. That’ll get their attention.”

It was the summer of 1974. My buddies Johnny and Steve had just graduated. I had my senior year still ahead of me. We were three long-haired, teenagers, crammed in the bench seat of 1966 Ranchero. Well, not actually a real Ranchero. It was a 1966 Chevrolet station wagon that had a chopped-off backend which was cut down and converted into a sort of pick-up bed with the original station wagon back door serving as a tailgate.

It was Johnny’s car. As funny as that wannabe Ranchero looked, at least Johnny had a car. Steve and I were resigned to borrowing our folks’ car anytime we had something to do in our little town.

Johnny spent his money on the Ranchero where it would have the most impact. He did his own custom body work, and the three-toned paint job featured metallic blue quarter panels which faded to sky blue doors, and then faded back again to the metallic blue rear end. The rims and wheels were new, and cost more than the rest of the vehicle was worth.

In our little group of three, we each had our assignments. Johnny’s dad was a lawyer, so naturally we thought of him as the rich kid. He had a swimming pool at his house and a freezer in his garage full of steaks that we were allowed to have any time we wanted one. He owned the car, so he was the driver. Steve could play any musical instrument and had perfect pitch, so of course he directed which music we would consider cool, and which music was off limits.

Me? The previous summer my girlfriend had broken up with me in a most public manner when she discovered I had been kissing her little sister. This gave me some sort of god-like status among my friends. I was the only one of us three who had been on a date or kissed a girl, so I was the designated guy who would do the talking if we found a group of girls who seemed impressed by the car.

The problem for us was the town itself. Fremont, Michigan had 3,400 citizens and was proud to be called the “Baby Food Capital of the World.” Gerber was headquartered there, but beyond that, there wasn’t much else.

We were a good 45 minute drive away from anything that would interest a teenager. The nearest McDonalds was in Muskegon. Instead of the normal fast food hangouts, we had an A&W with carhops on roller skates that was only open from May through August. We had a movie theatre that sat 60 people and played movies from two years ago. We had the only stop light in the entire county, and it had a sign on it that said “No Turn on Red.” Honestly! Was that really necessary?

So there you have it. Johnny driving his car with the three of us in that single seat. Steve in the middle so he had control of the music. Me at the passenger seat window so I could talk to people.

Up and down Main Street we drove. From the high school, straight through the stop light, and to the park. A total of 4 blocks. We would turn around at the park and perhaps lay a little rubber by the cannon to mark the territory.

Other boys were thinking the same thing and we’d give a respectful wave as we passed each other. Up and down Main. Up and down Main. Turn around at the park, give a wave, and do it again.

After an hour or so of that, it gets old. Not only that, but even if there were girls in the park or on the street, did we really want to talk to them? I mean, these are the same girls we went to school with, and if we were interested in them we would have just asked them out in the first place.

So, when my dad told me he was driving out to Michigan to pick us kids up for our summer visit with him instead of flying us out to Seattle, I thought, “What the hey… it might be fun to do the road trip with my dad, his wife, her two daughters and my two little sisters.”

It turns out this was to be my summer of station wagons, because my dad showed up in Michigan with a three-seat station wagon with the suitcases on the roof. We were already packed and eager to go, so we hopped in the vehicle and were off.

It was already determined that Dad and his wife would ride in the front seat with my youngest step-sister. The back seat would have my two sisters and the older step-sister. That left the back end of the car for me.

The last row of seating in that station wagon seemed to be a design afterthought. It was a hideaway rumble seat that when set up, faced out the back window. I immediately decided I loved it. For the next 3,000 miles I enjoyed seeing where we had been.

My Dad decided it was best to leave the radio off for the entire trip, which of course, was a blessing to me. Who knows what kind of music I would have been subjected to. As it was, I made my rumble seat my private castle, and I nuzzled in among the pillows, boxes and camping supplies and read book after book.

As I looked up from time to time I saw the Great Mid-West passing by. I started reading The Valachi Papers just outside of Chicago. I thought that was fitting, even though Joe Valachi was a New York City mobster.

I looked up from the cosa nostra initiation long enough to see the Badlands go by. I took an hour nap, and when I woke up, the Badlands were still going by. So I guess it wasn’t a great stretch for whoever named that region. That was really some boring, bad land.

Mt. Rushmore was cool – for the 30 minutes we were there. Then it was back in the car and into my cocoon in the back.

I finished The Valachi Papers as we were pulling into Cody, Wyoming. Needing a new book, I was impressed by the locale to buy a paperback called Billy the Kid and Outlaws of the Old West, which I read for the rest of the trip.

I saw a demolition derby in Wyoming. I saw Old Faithful in Yellowstone. And I saw a moose in Montana. But more importantly, I learned that Billy the Kid escaped from custody using a shotgun hidden in an outhouse. How cool is that?

When summer was over, my Dad flew my sisters and me back to Michigan where life hadn’t changed one bit. Having graduated, Steve went to work for his Dad sharpening drill bits in a small machine shop. Johnny went to a trade school in Big Rapids, Michigan to study auto body repair.

And me, I had one more year of high school. Although the three of us had big plans for getting out of Michigan, Steve and Johnny never did. Steve ended up taking over his Dad’s business, and he lives quietly in Muskegon with his wife and son.

Johnny finished his tech degree and with his rich dad’s financing, opened up an auto body repair shop. He married, and had five sons – each name beginning with the letter J. He lost his home last year in the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

Sometimes I think back about those days when the three of us were a team, and they both thought I was so worldly and wise. They still think about me that way now. I guess I’m worldly and wise because I had the good sense to get up and leave that little town.

I had no idea at the time, but that would be the last two-month summer vacation I would ever have. The rest of my life would be about earning a living, getting college degrees and supporting a family.

When you look at me today, you may see an old man – an overweight guy with thinning hair and out-of-control children. But when I look in the mirror, I can still see that skinny, long-haired innocent. I’ll be forever riding with friends, making each other laugh, and rocking out to the sounds of the Beach Boys.

Coco Higgins - Liberation

The story of my summer vacation really begins with events that transpired over a year ago. In the spring of 2009, I ended a 5-year relationship. If we were heterosexual, one of us probably would’ve gotten knocked up and we would have thus entered into a contract of holy matrimony. Despite our inability to repopulate the earth, in my eyes this was indeed a marriage, and therefore I am indeed a divorcee. There was property involved, joint finances, and even a custody battle over the cat (which I won, and I thank my lucky stars that I still have Mr. Weatherbee).

But enough about the old ball and chain. The point is: free from this oppressive relationship, I was finally able to do with my life what I wished. In the months between then and my “summer vacation,” I took some night classes (on top of my full-time job as a manager of a construction firm, a job I loathed), got my act together and applied to some top art history graduate programs. It was a return to my first love, what I intended to do after getting out of undergrad before I got sidetracked by love and resentment. I managed to get accepted, despite having been away from the art world for five years. With my future secure, I resigned from Shattered Dreams, Inc. and thus began my extended “summer vacation” in March 2010.

I don’t know if this is characteristic of all lesbian relationships, but we lived under a rock. For the most part, outside interaction was limited to work friends and controlled time with family. So what I was really craving was human interaction outside my condo. With all this free time, I sought out the experiences I felt like I missed out on during my 5-year hiatus from life. This meant reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and spending as much time as I possibly could with my extensively large, boisterous, close-knit Filipino family.

For the first time in years, my best friend from college and I were living in the same city. The mark of a true friend is the ability to reconnect like no time has elapsed even if you’ve been separated by years and physical distance. This was the case with Anthony. [He made me promise that if I were to ever write about him, I needed to portray him as “a little bit taller, and with a more active sex life.” So for the record, Anthony is a 7’ tall man-whore.]

Anthony and I were quite the pair, rediscovering Los Angeles together. We ate Brazilian, Argentinian, Cuban, Mediterranean, Lebanese and everything else all over town. We even went hiking! I, the laziest person I know, who refuses to stand any longer than she has to: HIKING! Anthony and I also had this inexplicable urge to relive our high school years by rekindling this fascination -- nay, near-obsession -- with Courtney Love. We were compelled by an homage to her on VH1’s Behind the Music (yes folks, she really did Live Through This), listened to Hole non-stop, tracked down an elusive copy of The People vs. Larry Flint, and even went to Frances Bean Cobain’s art show. Call it a yearning for the nostalgia of lost youth, or the actions of a madwoman. It matters not, because it was more fun than a barrel of monkeys -- whatever that means.

Above all, what I enjoyed most with Anthony were the endless nights sitting on my balcony -- cigarettes, beer (or other) on hand -- reminiscing about our days in Berkeley and musing about our futures. We hadn’t skipped a beat and it was just like “the time before.”

In the same vein of friendships, I found new ones in the most unlikely of places: the Interweb. This can be quite embarrassing, but I may as well own up to it now because the truth is, I’m happy it happened. So here goes. Ahem. Hello, my name is Jessamine, and this year, I was an American Idol fantard. There, I said it. Cue the closed-mouth snickering and finger-pointing. It’s okay. Even I laugh about it. For if we can’t laugh at ourselves, life just isn’t as enjoyable.

I became enchanted by the vocal prowess and charming personality of one Siobhan Magnus, and I hesitantly entered an utterly incomprehensible and sometimes downright absurd world of internet fandom. Let me tell you, there is a never-ending supply of people who are a few corn dogs short of a picnic in this world. But I found a select group of like-minded people with whom I shared many episodes of laughter. I even saw Siobhan perform live three times (she’s amazing, by the way), and met her twice. Heck, I met Josh, someone I now call a friend, because of Siobhan and Twitter. Without Siobhan, I never would’ve met Josh, wasted afternoons at a cafe, gone to some low-budget comedy gig in the Valley, and above all, never rediscovered my love for writing. See, being a fantard isn’t all bad. You should try it some time. Or not.

And finally, I remembered what it was like to belong to a large and loving family. I spent many a night with the Fauni Poker Club: aunts, uncles, cousins all in one place, playing cards for $10 and bragging rights, boozing it up and laughing all the while. Jokes and playful insults flew across the table along with spilled alcohol from drunk, upended wine glasses. And the Faunis are serious about the poker, kids. There are statistics of wins and losses, average points for placement and elimination, and even an annual Tournament of Champions. As intense as it all sounds, poker was just an excuse to get the family together and have a good time.

More significantly, my brother became my best friend. Separated by eight years, we never shared any common ground growing up. During that formative time, we simply had separate lives and whenever they intersected, he was just a jerk who existed purely to antagonize me. Back then, his idea of fun was to fart in his hands and blow it my way, or chase me around the room with our dad’s medical books opened to grotesque pictures of diseased and decaying bodies. The latter was quite traumatizing for a 7 year-old. Then when I was a teenager, he would steal my car and leave me stranded on nights when I had plans. See? Jerk extraordinaire, that guy was. But now as adults, we bonded over the comic relief known as our parents, our common experiences in failed relationships, and life moving on. It took 28 years, but I never felt like I had a brother until this summer.

Now my vacation has ended and I have moved halfway across the country to go back to school. I survived a 1,400 mile trek across the desert in my trusty little Corolla, and even faced near-deportation in Arizona. Joking to myself of this possibility, I listened to the most Middle-American thing I had on my iPod: Carrie Underwood. This little ruse DID NOT WORK. The cop pulled me over, asked me to get out of my car in the middle of the highway, requested all my documentation, and, when it was apparent I was a legitimate citizen of this fine country, explained that I was “following too close.” We all know though that I got pulled over for a DWB -- Driving While Brown.

Now here I am getting settled in a new town, making new friends and starting my career as an art historian. And it took some clichéd chicken soup soul reflection and this essay to finally, truthfully, definitively, proudly say that I’m over her.

Jessamine Fauni is an aspiring art historian, post-hipster, obnoxious Twitterer, proud owner of delusions of grandeur, has a knack for remembering useless trivia of all kinds, all in all an extraordinary machine.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Nathaniel Hoyt - Summer Vocation

I shuddered and died and stuttered and fell. I lay on the bricks and spilled out on the gravel highway. Names came and went, but whatever it was, it was we, and us. We climbed the trunk of a city of roots, while the advertisement beacons bid us to buy another beer, buy another beer. So we did and we did and we did. I kicked open a dumpster like a treasure chest and stood on my tiptoes to peer in. We ate dough and sand, and we ate raw bleeding hearts and minds. We were met with applause. I was outside, inside this city of blisters and infants, and I met up with the wind on two wheels, and I shrugged at twenty-two tons of rolling death. I laughed at tasteless jokes. I moved too fast, and fell, and hurt myself. I was what I wanted to be: I was a child and a nuisance.

I will hone the edge of summer to its sharpest point, to stab into the heart of November and out through March's back. I hate March. I hate November. I need December and I need January. I always forget about February. None of that matters anyway. I'm remembering, in a place where every day is pretty much the same, the trash heap on the docks -- massive, easily the size of a hill, made of scrap metal skeletons and the unidentifiable remains of physical infrastructure. Tools, pylons, rebar, gaskets, drums, bolts, bearings, casings, bits, mounts, chassis, cables, and rust, exhumed from the foundations of the little port city and displayed, for a time, auburn and cold, on the dock to wait for the Stygian ferry, the godhand to clutch and drag away. Waiting to be out of sight, and out of mind. I used to approach the scrap heap as if it were a sleeping beast, shapeless and terrible. You couldn't even touch it, every point was blood. But I so wanted to dive in, to burrow my way beneath the dome and live like some trashlord fox. One day the whole damn thing was gone, lifted away like my hat in a headwind.

We always keep in mind the silly game we are taught to play with authority, and obediently tuck our cheap beer cans into our sleeves while the cruisers slide past. They make me uncomfortable; they are reminders. They don't let me forget this isn't a lawless wasteland (although I'm not really too sure). I know I am being watched; my bravado is a frog's croak on the highway. My rebellion is met with ambivalence, tolerance, condescension too. But when they're gone, I'm back in the wasteland; back in the grit and desert of my fantasy. I just want to build a fort and forget.

I allow the question to linger. Sometimes I think I need the tension that comes from unanswered questions. Sometimes I even like it. I can be satisfied enough just waiting for satisfaction. We rarely make eye contact; our conversations are always in motion, always moving, never going anywhere. Strange, but it doesn't drive me crazy anymore. I let it be. Stet.

We see from strange angles. We have no secrets, but we know all the city's. I think I climbed every tree in this park, and I've probably pissed on every tree in that one. At some point at least one of us will be naked. How old are we, twelve? Don't think we ever grew up. Our time lines are made from movable pieces. We are dogs, or rodents. We are a pack without the politics. When it's over I'll remember how foolish it all was, how futile. But I'll remember it with a grin -- a big, gormless, shit-eating grin.

Miss Mokes: Summer Vacation

Between the two of us
Summer and hope and grief and change
But fortune favors the brave:
We could meet, another place and time
We’re not as we once were

He is better than I remember.
Material form, smell and taste
Do not exist in digital, memory
His locksmith mind opens doors
I did not remember I had; where I’d left the tools for the windy shaking crush of This

Oh, but being good
Being vague
Being hollow for The Other One
Who is now just one
No-mind, no heart

We are as true as the lies we tell
We are as good as the blood we spill

When I finally see him, peeking from the cover of my hiding pillar,
I know that desire is the key to a longer life
Waiting weeksdayshoursminutes
wherein time is unglued
without its steam train rhythm
We both of us lived several years

See his face, touch his hands
Try to will ourselves into one
In the background, somewhere
does a slow circuit
Lights flash
Alarms sound
But inside our small world: shaking, touching, imploding

An old man walks by, and is kind enough not to mention
The fog of desire that chokes us

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tina Rowley - Convoy

Everything’s going along pretty smoothly. We live in Port Chester, NY. Third grade is drawing to a close. My pixie cut is growing out, I’m looking more and more like a girl by the minute. I made Gerald Braun laugh on the Third Grade Circle Line Cruise around the Statue of Liberty. I’m considered a damn fine speller, if I do say so myself, despite the mishap with “playground” that one time.

Then my dad goes on some kind of sudden trip to Seattle.

My mom is on the phone with him, crying and yelling, “I HATE MY LIFE! I HATE MY LIFE!” My brother and I are looking at her and looking at each other. What the hell is going on? She hangs up and tells us we have to go stay at our friend Elaine’s house. She has to go get on a plane to Seattle right now, tonight. What?? We scramble some things together and my mom calls a limousine service to take her to the airport and drop us at Elaine’s on the way.

Bad vibes.

-Mom, why do you have to fly to Seattle?
-I have to go look at a house.

Holy shit.

Two weeks later, we’re ready to launch this thing. We’re moving to Seattle. Like, right now. We’ve had the garage sale. Danny Covino came with his mom, which was weird. I wondered if it meant he was in love with me. That seemed like the only reasonable explanation. What a time to find this out, right before we’re separated by a country. Ah, well. And now it’s midnight and the giant moving truck is here from King Van Lines, and we were supposed to be on the road several hours ago but something keeps holding us up and it’s making my mom angrier and angrier. It’s about the driver of our moving truck, something about him coming with no people to load the furniture, and something about a gallon of rosé that he’s carrying around and drinking out of all day. His name is Jim, and he wears a t-shirt that says “The Canadian Hippie” on the front. His daughter is about my age, and we get along great. We play in my room while it gets darker and darker and later and later, and it’s difficult to see what my parents are getting all worked up about, but there you go.

1:00 a.m. and we’re finally on the road. Can’t make it too far because, well, it’s 1:00 a.m. We sleep in the car at a rest stop in New Jersey. I’m going to begin to agree that this is weird. We’re sleeping in the car. Yes, I’m with Team Mom and Dad on this one. Sleeping in a car is lame. This is The Canadian Hippie’s fault, we all agree. And suddenly our family is united, and thus begins my two week summer adventure wherein Tina Kunz of the New York Kunzes will become Tina Kunz of the Seattle Kunzes.

Back up. Why are we moving all of a sudden? What’s that all about? Well, at the time I don’t know. But later I’ll hear something about a nervous breakdown, maybe? My dad had a nervous breakdown? Results have never been conclusive. Let’s agree that he had a nervous breakdown. There has always been a lot of mystery around this. I have no new information.

Once we’re on the road, though, he seems fine. He seems great! So, here’s the setup. We have our two cars. My dad drives one of them, and a young friend of the family, Irving, drives the other one. We’ve got CB radios, and we all have handles. (It’s 1978, right in the middle of the CB craze. Everybody’s feeling very Smokey and the Bandit.) My dad is Slowpoke, because he drives really fast. My mom is Mother Hen. My brother is Numbers Man. Irving is Cookie Monster because he eats bags and bags of Chips Ahoys. (He has an alternate handle: Life Saver, because my mom keeps telling him he’s saving our lives.) And I’m Light n’ Lively, which is a brand of milk in New York but not in Seattle.

I always ride with Mom and Dad. Numbers Man sometimes rides with the Cookie Monster, sometimes rides with us. I’ve got my firecracker flag pillow by my side, which was a gift from my third grade class. Everybody signed it. It’s shaped like a firecracker, patterned like a flag. Andy Haas informs me that the Mariners suck. Everybody else is pretty sweet. The pillow makes me feel sad and good, and it smells fantastic, sort of warm and powdery. I smell it all the time and I’m always afraid I’m going to suck the smell out of it with my nose by smelling it too much, but that great smell really hangs on. In other flag news, I have a flag puzzle that has all the flags of all the countries in the world, with the name of the country beneath the hole where the flag piece goes, and the name of the capital city printed right on the piece. On their own, released from their countries, the capital city names sound like people’s names, and I assign genders and personalities to them all, and have them mingle with each other. Any capital city that ends with an “a” is a girl, with a few obviously feminine exceptions like Paris. All the others are boys. Ankara and Brasilia are my favorite girls. Athens and Amman are their dates. I have all the cities and their countries memorized in short order.

My superb memory proves to be a coup for us all in Pennsylvania. We stop at a Dutch restaurant for lunch, and they have a challenge going. If anyone at the table can memorize this very long poem about a bird before the check comes, lunch is on the house for your whole party. Our eyes light up. I grab that pansy-ass poem. I’m like a machine. “The Golden Finch is a lovely bird. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.” I have that shit filed away before we order dessert. The moment comes. The waitress and the manager watch as I reel it off. Lunch is free! As a reward, my mom and dad let me go into the gift shop and pick out a enormous, swirly, multi-colored lollipop to take with me in the car. This trip kicks ass. I don’t know what any of us were worried about.

Indiana is GREAT. Don’t know what my parents find so boring about it. There appears to be candy and ice cream available for sale no matter where we stop. Motels everywhere across the country are fantastic. Ice machines. The Badlands are compelling, those strangely formed green hills and cliffs. I peer at the land intently, trying to feel the badness. Something bad must have gone down around here, I think to myself. And then we get to Montana, and Montana fucking outdoes itself. We stay at a giant Holiday Inn in Helena. It has a motherfucking Polynesian-themed pool! Any hotel with a themed pool makes me want to run up and high five all the staff. AND! When we’re going into this hotel, I hold open the door for a man in a ten-gallon hat, and the motherfucking awesome old wealthy cowboy tips me a dollar! This is the first money I’ve ever earned. I stare at my dollar all night.

We’re getting closer to Seattle. Who knows what’s going on with The Canadian Hippie? We’re in worryingly less and less frequent contact with him as we drive across country. The atmosphere is increasingly chilly when we do see him. When we get to North Bend, which is about an hour outside of Seattle, some kind of confrontation happens between my dad and The Canadian Hippie. I don’t get it. I hang out with his daughter again, and we can’t figure out what all the hate is about, but it’s making things awkward for us. It’s less fun to play with her this time. We’re clearly on different teams, like it or not.

We arrive in Seattle on my birthday. July 3rd. It’s overcast. We don’t know anybody. We don’t have any furniture. (The Canadian Hippie abandoned us and our moving van after the mystery confrontation. We found it unlocked in a nearby mall parking lot a week after we got to town.) My mom buys a Pepperidge Farm cake and puts a cutting board on a small box and throws a pillowcase over it for a tablecloth. She has silver candlesticks that were in a box in the car, and we have candles. We sit on the floor and they sing the birthday song to me. The trip is done. It’s cloudy and strange and lonely, and I’m nine, and I live in Seattle.

Josh Grimmer - Tweeting People is Easy

I'm terrible at dealing with you guys. Yeah. All of you. Each and every one of you. You fill me with anxiety and fear and terror. I'm just lousy with people – especially new people. I can't handle too many of you at once. I'm sure that well over 50% of the people reading this right now are people I've never spoken to; an even greater amount I've never met. I have this intense fear that soon – very soon – each and every one of you will realize that I'm a fraud. A terrible writer, a lousy editor (I'm a pretty lousy editor, that's why Meg is on board.), an overall hack. This fear, above everything other than my fear of snakes, dominates my psyche each time I'm outside of my house. Nobody likes me. That's why I never meet new people. That's why I hate parties. That's why I stayed at a shitty job for two years longer than I probably should have – I can't handle meeting new people.


This summer, I accidentally met a lot of people. Believe me, I didn't want to. It started when I was followed on Twitter by an American Idol contestant. I was friends with her brother in high school, and I spent a lot of time at her house. Her family is like my second, more loved family. Since I was the only non-famous person she followed, her fans started looking for me. It started out flattering, turning to absurd, turning to even more absurd, turning to awful. A thread on the Idol Forums was devoted to figuring out who I was – why their preferred Idol cared about “some nobody.” Those of you who are asking to post anonymously, I understand completely. I really, really do. Idol fans from around the world read my reviews of horrifying pornography and sex toys. (Taken outside of the context of my own life, that's a really, really funny idea.)

A few weeks later, I accidentally (on purpose? Probably.) decided to meet one of the Idol fans. We talked a couple times online, she seemed like a fine, upstanding adult human being. She was running errands in my neighborhood, I had the day off from work. I hadn't had an anxiety attack for a while and figured I was due. We made plans to meet at a cafe, have a cup of coffee, maybe get a bite to eat. I gave myself a million outs. I'll leave after coffee. I have errands to run. Meeting my wife for dinner. I even set an alarm on my phone using the same sound as my ringtone, in case I needed to manufacture an emergency phone call. Turns out that, hey, guess what. I had fun. Like, with a person. Totally unnecessary. We've hung out a few more times, even.


Around the same time as the Idol business, I was (found? discovered? unearthed?) by actual adults on the internet. Led by Tina Rowley, the Twitter Cabal gave me an opportunity to be social and meet people in short, manageable bursts. Turns out, Twitter has served an actual purpose. I really only signed up so I could read a bunch of Michael Vick jokes posted by Matt Besser. Anyhow, what with all these nice new adult people paying attention to me, I realized I needed to start being interesting and funny. Failing that, I figured I could at least get a cool group project together. I organized a mix CD exchange via Twitter. Strangers nationwide, exposing other strangers to their musical tastes. If I was going to be made uncomfortable by dealing with strangers, then Goddamnit, I'll make other people uncomfortable, too. About a dozen people participated, with nearly all of them getting a CD. A massive success, I feel.

Each passing day I felt better and better about my fantastic group of terrifying strangers. They still haven't figured out that I'm actually a dope. They'll never catch on. I'm on top of the world! They even think I'm a good writer. They're all writers, even. They like me. Great! I know, I'll start a blog, with the intent of compiling everyone's writing. Oh shit, they're all really, really good. Better than me. Way, way better. The stark contrast of their good writing and my bad writing is going to shine through. Well, it was a nice run. Three weeks in, they'll figure me out. I'll hand this project over to somebody talented. Ugh.


How much of that last paragraph do I actually believe? I don't know. Half, maybe? Three quarters? I never really know how low my self-esteem is anymore. You know when you meet a really pretty girl who always complains about how ugly they feel?

“No, you're really quite pretty!”

“No, just look at me. I'm wretched!”

“No, look, you've got great [eyes/bone structure/hair/whatever].”

“I was so gawky-looking growing up, I can't see what you're seeing.”

That's how I feel about being liked by strangers. Growing up I was pretty awful. Unlikeable. I was loud, boorish, unappealing. There's a weird dynamic in groups of teenagers, where somebody is the smartest, somebody is the funniest, somebody is the best looking. I was never any of those things. The problem is, I figured since I wasn't the best at anything, I couldn't be that thing at all. Not the funniest? Not funny. Not the smartest? Not smart. I took that insecurity, applied it to the rest of my life. It crept through my brain, dominating my life. Every social interaction feels like an episode of The Chris Farley Show. I make a dumb statement, I get the answer, and then punch myself in the head. Stupid, stupid, stupid. It's an awful, self-perpetuating cycle. I'm bad at meeting people, so I hate meeting people, so I avoid meeting people, so I don't get better at meeting people and I'm still bad at it so I hate doing it so I avoid it and I don't get any better at it so I can do more coke so I can work longer so I can earn more so I can do more coke.

It's tough, now that I'm an adult and people like me, to believe it.

Josh Grimmer lives in Hollywood with his wife and cat. He kinda sorta runs this blog, and has another one at Twitter him up at

Monday, September 20, 2010

Meg Wood: Bloomin'

Summer used to be my least favorite season – so hot and involving the least soothing clothing of the closet. No more sweaters to turtle down into, hide out in. No more scarves to curl around my neck in broad woolen loops protecting my breath. No more hats providing the perfect excuse for messy hair.

Socks! Soooooooocks!

But about four or five years ago, that all changed. Suddenly, the heat of the sun became transformative instead of stifling. Tearing off layers to get down to the barest of minimums and going out into the yard to work in the dirt, tugging at plants, examining leaves, petals, stems for signs of health, sickness, pets, imminent snacks – all these things became vital. Energizing. A full system’s snap-to.

Some of this change had to do with buying a house and having an outside of my own to play in at last. We moved in at the end of May 2005, and a week later, I took my first toddling steps into the world of gardening by planting peas. I still remember the jolt – zing! – the day I went outside and found there were actual peas on my peas. It had happened all of a sudden, it seemed to me. One day, there was nothing but plant, the next, fully-grown food!

I dug into the twisting reels of vine, turned one of the pods gently until it came off in my hand, plucked its string, and pulled it open. Inside were three perfectly round green balls, so sweet and crunchy, so flawless. It was the first living thing I had ever created and I had somehow, some magically how, created it masterfully.

I was as a GOD.

But it wasn’t just the divine feeling of creation that continued to entice me into the yard each bright evening after work. The more I let summer’s heat sink down into my skin and bones, flooding gently over every fibromyalgic part like spilled warm milk, the more the constant ringing of my skin seemed to quiet, lulled by an ultraviolet hug into a gentle snore. Sometimes I find myself having to fight the urge to race out naked into the hot sun, neighbors be damned; to expose all flesh to rays, to make every inch go quiet.

I don’t, though. And you know why?

Because that would be crazy.

Last summer, however, I was so consumed by the misfires of my head and heart that I grew nothing. All the garden tools remained cleanly untouched in the shed, the beds and pots empty. I threw a few flowers into the ground out front – that much, at least, seemed mandatory (let’s not arouse suspicions, now) – but just going out to water them periodically felt like a torturous waste of time. Who cares about flowers when there’s so much else? So much more important elseness? I spent a lot of time outside that summer, but almost all of it was really spent in. Inward, anyway. No deepening warmth, no soft, sustained snore – my heat that year was more a brutal, tearing fire, with me in constant struggle to find its source and put it out.

This summer, I’ve been back in the yard again, almost obsessively, weeding, growing, nibbling, examining. I spent two hours in July hand-washing the ailing leaves of a squash infested with slime-trailing pests. Grow, grow, grow, please. I need this. I need it. Please. Just. Grow.

There’s been little sun this year, however, little warmth, little sleep. And it has not escaped me that my hours outside have been more about avoiding the inside than anything else – a complete reversal, thinking back, and I can’t tell if that counts as progress or not.

Yet perhaps all change can represent net forward movement in some way, even if it takes periodic loops of retreat. It’s true the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but, at the risk of going all Robert Frost on your asses, maybe it’s the road less traveled by – the unkempt, weed-overrun, gravelly one you stumble across when you’ve been flailing around in the woods, panicked and disoriented, for what feels like a lifetime – maybe that’s the road that gets you to Point B, if not as quickly, then at least with more self-satisfaction.

I was lost. And then a road was found. Maybe that really does make all the difference.

In any case, the flowers don’t seem to notice the change, looping travels and busted compasses or not. Bright, blooming, and radiantly cheerful, they continue on in an endless cycle of birth, growth, wilt, and renewal.

And yesterday: my first ripe tomato.

Meg Wood doesn’t know the meaning of the word “Miracle-Gro.” You can read her sillier work at her two web sites: and

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Katie McMahon: You Are Here

You’re sitting there with this really nice guy and he’s holding your hand as if it’s his own. He’s bought you things like sandwiches and mint ice cream and gone out of his way to make you feel like you’re not all that awful. He’s treating you how a 21st century boy should treat a 21st century girl.

He smells good because he showers daily and uses things like soap and deodorant. He has a job -- clearly a good one because of all this free food and music shows (where you are now) and little extravagances here and there (glasses of water, mixed CDs, rides to and from places). You have missed the band you didn’t want to see and now the bands you want to see are moving on stage as you slide into your seat. The weather is perfect. The sun is keeping you warm and the breeze is making sure sweat doesn’t permeate your sweater. Other people are laughing and sharing wine from unmarked bottles. Someone passes you cookies and strawberries from a place you didn’t even know existed. There is satisfaction all around. Lots of people are smiling, so you make sure to smile too. You are on the perfect date. You’re in it. Congratulations!

He’s told you that you’re beautiful like a million times and he tells you again. You do your very best not to laugh and you explain that no one’s ever told you that. You’re trying to get used to it. You’re trying. I mean, seriously, you really should.

You are literally sitting in the music, like you’re in a bathtub. Your feet are finally warming up and you let things go for a minute or two. The extra air that you were keeping inside pours out of your mouth and into the air, like a cigarette, except these people don’t smoke. You sing quietly and he sings off key, which would normally be endearing. Why isn’t it endearing? You’re singing together and holding hands and getting all these wet little kisses on your cheek and your forehead and your hands. And your bathtub water starts to get a little cold.

So you can just empty some of the water and refill it with scalding hot water, right? Sure. Take a bathroom break, look at yourself in the mirror to see what’s really going on, but there aren’t any mirrors. None. Who knows if your face is the same face you had when you left home? You just have to figure it out blindly and head back into the tub, into your seat. It feels okay again. Warm enough.

There are two women in front of you and they are holding each other. You can’t even tell whose arms are whose. Every now and then they change positions to get more comfortable, to warm up, to make sure the other has enough room or to get rid of extra room. They share a kiss. They share a bottle of water. They share and share and share. Something hits you like a hundred freezing cold bottles of expensive sparkling water.

They are in the bathtub together.

You are in the bathtub alone.

Or you’re not even in a bathtub. Or your bathtub is just not the right size for another person, no matter how much they try to squeeze in. You’re outside in the perfect weather sitting next to a pretty awesome guy, but something is just not right. It hits you hard and all the cold water wraps around you, so you drain it. And you stop immediately and take your hand back and realize it’s attached to your own body because it’s your hand after all; it’s not for someone else to hold right now.

And you become a little panicky, but not so panicky as to scare the boy off or ruin the whole evening. You continue the evening and you go get more food and milkshakes and sit with friends and they talk and talk and talk and someone invites you to some thing the following week. You realize you cannot go to any “thing” and that this is the last “thing.”

There are all these other things you begin to realize. Like maybe you’ve never dated anyone who irons his pants for a reason. Like that other guys have called you pretty or said nice things to you before and you laughed just the same saying, “Oh, forgive me, no one has ever said these things to me before.”

Panic. Panic. You start drinking lots of coffee. A whole pot of coffee. Two pots if you can. To warm up. To help you figure it all out. You realize your perception is off.

There is a feeling missing here. The pieces are all laid out upside down or maybe put together wrong. It’s as if you have been pretending you had this passion for puzzles and spent hours looking for missing pieces or trying to connect parts that didn’t match up with what was on the box before realizing that you don’t. even. like. puzzles. Someone told you that puzzles were better than reading books and watching movies and you’re always looking for ways to improve. But the damn puzzle you are making doesn’t look right at all. It’s not upside down. It’s like you were given the wrong pieces.

Panic becomes overwhelming and you take another bathroom break. This time you can’t even find the bathroom, but there are mirrors everywhere and at every angle. Your face is in reverse. Your left arm is where your right arm was this morning. You keep walking and try not to look. Suddenly, you’re back where you were at the table with all the talking people. More coffee.

People around you are drinking coffee too, but you can't smell it and there's no coffee feeling. The half and half carafe wears a necklace with it's name carved into white, square beads. They read "nonfat" or "half and half."

Cords dangle from the ceiling with cylinder lights dancing still at their ends. Colored light bulbs: pale yellow, blue, and green. One cord hangs in the corner, but the lamp part is missing. Chalkboard menus: again yellow, blue, green, and now the word "SPECIALS" in a bright red color, like fake blood or an apple or anything else that is red (a pen cap, a crayon).

You stand at the jukebox for fifteen minutes and eat whatever someone tells you to eat. Then, time saves you.

It’s time to go home and it becomes clear that you are no longer apart of this. On the freeway, there is a chandelier of headlights flying toward you and you realize that the chandelier is heading to where you have already decided to leave. Some lights are missing, but it’s still beautiful.

Then it makes sense for half a second. You can start again without doing puzzles or making something perfect with another human being. Because even if you are understanding now that you don’t want perfection and you don’t care about milkshakes or sparkling water, it doesn’t matter right now. Where you’re living, your bathtub only fits one person anyway.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Josh Grimmer: State of the Union for September 18, 2010

Another week is over, and not a moment too soon. Did we all have fun discussing perfection? I certainly did. I feel like I should write these things every week, but they always feel like fireside chats. “Hello, friends. I love you all so dearly, you know that, right?” Ick. Ugh. Blah. Anyhow.

This week saw more posts than any other week in the history (THREE WEEKS) of Writing, Writer, Writest. We're getting art and poetry and holy crow, all kinds of stuff. This is really exciting, you guys. Do any of you talented folks do music-type stuff? I know you do. Don't bullshit me. Maybe you make some other kind of art. You paint, you take photos, whatever. This blog may be about writing, but that doesn't mean it's for essays only. I mean, we got POEMS and shit. Take some photos. Write about them. If they fit the theme – and they're good – they'll get posted here.

The most important thing is that you guys get as much out of this project as you can. I'm glad I started this thing – mostly because I feel like I wouldn't be talented enough to make the cut if I weren't the kingmaker. Frank Zappa always said that if he auditioned for his own band, he would never have made it in. He couldn't change chords without looking for the frets, he couldn't sing and play guitar at the same time.

Anyhow, this week's theme is summer vacation. Summer jobs? Summer love? Summer school? Summer squash? (500) Days of Summer? Boy I hope not. That movie is infuriatingly, wretchedly, gratingly awful. Just a fact.

Summer vacation starts tomorrow. What comes after summer vacation? Well, back to school, naturally. If you're going to write an essay about the back to school experience, you should. You should totally do that, and totally email it to the Writing, Writer, Writest editing team by Friday, September 24.

If you want to get a real jump on everyone else – and frankly, why wouldn't you? - you can go ahead and start thinking about the theme after that. Power struggles. Two people vie for supremacy. Maybe an internal thing? Two outside forces fighting over you? An unruly or ugly dog that you simply cannot figure out. Some kind of power struggle. Those essays are due on Friday, October 1.

Finally, if anyone has any ideas or suggestions or whatever on how they'd spruce up this dump, let me know. I might even do it. Any graphic designer types out there who'd want to make logos or themes or whatever the fuck you'd call it? Maybe you want this place to be less... orangey. Whatever. Suggest things to me. And be sure to become a fan on Facebook and add us on Twitter. Sheesh. Self-promotion is the lowest form of discourse.

Love always,

Josh Grimmer, Editor-in-Chief.

Marsi White: Hat's Day Out

[ed note: A few weeks back I made a joke about this week's theme being hats. Marsi White wrote this essay and sent it on in. It's a really great piece, but it doesn't fit the theme. I was going to hold it for another week, but I figured what could be more nearly perfect than a great essay that doesn't fit the theme? That, combined with how dumb I am for not making the new themes more conspicuous. Enjoy. - JG]

Hats. I own a plethora of hats in all shapes and sizes, in all colors and fabrics. Hats that keep my head warm; hats that help me hide from the sun; hats that I sleep in at night; even a striking, red pompadour that I wear when I want to sport a little attitude. One of my very favorites is a modified baseball-style hat in a black and white houndstooth fabric with an embroidered and “bedazzled” breast cancer symbol across the front of the hat and the brim. It was given to me by two of my very favorite girlfriends who found it in a boutique while shopping. The hat feels more like a stylish accessory rather than something worn to cover my mostly bald head.
So, it was no surprise that when my mom took me to Wal-Mart to shop, I wore this hat. I remember the day clearly. It was sunny outside. I had completed a chemotherapy treatment the week before and I was just then feeling well enough to venture out of my house. We wandered through the store, selecting our wares and checking things off my list. We had just made it back to the front of the store and were preparing to check out. It was then that a woman approached.
The woman was small in stature. I remember thinking that she looked like she had just rolled out of bed, though her clothes seemed clean. She had short hair and was middle aged. As she approached, she reminded me of a puppy, looking for some attention, drawn to me like a magnet by the breast cancer symbol on my hat.
She told her breast cancer story in what seemed like five seconds. I was not feeling well and did not want to encourage her, but I was polite. Her conversation was going well, me not saying more than two words, until she took off my hat, unprompted and said, “How long have you been in chemo?”
I was completely bald at that point of my treatment. I was only showing my head at short intervals that usually revolved around some sort of hot flash (another story all together) or shower time. Not only that, but I hated the breeze on my head. It freaked me out a little. Not that I declined to show my head when asked by friends or other appropriate times. I just preferred to do so in a private setting. Not in the middle of Wal-Mart. And certainly not for a stranger.
In her defense, there is a true sisterhood among breast cancer patients. We share stories, we share advice, we share meals and sometimes even share wigs, clothes and bras. In addition, there is something that you lose when you are expected to talk about your breasts all of the time: modesty. Topics that were once viewed as “TMI” are suddenly acceptable dinner conversation. These two phenomenons were an obvious influence in this woman’s need to see my bald head.
Still, as the woman gregariously exposed my head to the fluorescent light of Wal-Mart, I was feeling none of those things. Shock gave way to immediate thoughts of anger and resentment. My hat was my safety net. My hat and this one in particular, is what reminded me that I was still a hip, cool chick. Someone peering underneath it, gave away my disguise and took away a piece of my armor that helped me to keep smiling even when all that I knew to be beautiful about myself was slowly being taken away.
However, I felt the need to appease this woman. Rude as her actions were, I could tell she was lonely. I could tell that the bond of her breast cancer sisters might be her only support system. I thought, “Karma”. Through out my struggle with breast cancer, my golden rule was that my direct and indirect actions played a role in my healing process. I felt that displaying my distaste for this woman’s actions would hurt her feelings, and more specifically, my choosing to not hurt her feelings created positive energy that would ultimately come back to me in some other form.
So, when she removed my hat, I just smiled and answered, “I have been in chemo for four months.” I closed the conversation as quickly as I could and sought the comfort of home. Done and done. Her feelings were spared. I shed a tear and got over mine. She left feeling good about herself. She probably even thought she helped me in some way.
Currently, I am a patient with a “history of breast cancer” and almost a full head of hair. The cancer is gone; the hats are not. They sit in my closet waiting for the day that I will pass them on to another breast cancer survivor. I know that day is coming, but in the interim, in a strange way, I am comforted just to know that they are waiting for me, should I need an extra piece of armor for whatever reason.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lisa Taylor: Persian Rug

There is an aphorism with roots in the crafting of Persian rugs: perfection belongs to God. The master-weaver, confident in his skill, will intentionally bobble a motif, insert a strand of the wrong shade, botch - slightly - the overall symmetry of a design. The idea is that to produce a piece of art capable of being described as “perfect” by the weaver constitutes usurpation, insult – an invocation of the wrath of the Almighty. Perfection is not the province of humanity. (As with many expressions of religious fervor, it’s a perfect blend of humility and hubris: after all, the master-weaver necessarily begins with the assumption he can, in fact, do it – make the perfect rug. He opts to swerve a bit, thought, for the sake of his immortal soul.)

Hubristic or not, I’ve always liked this approach. The ideal of perfection is often more than enough to keep me from doing anything remotely creative. The image in my head can never be perfectly translated in paint; the model in front of me is never perfectly realized on paper. God knows the point I want to make when I write often looks less than mind-bendingly profound when it hits the computer screen – why, for Christ’s sake, even bother?

Then there’s the matter of my own personal gods, and their damnable perfection. This is often a complicating factor for me. I don’t define myself creatively as a writer (half of you are now saying to yourselves, “No shit, Sherlock, get to the point”). I paint, I draw – and I am happiest in an art museum. I spend a lot of time looking at the beauty other artists create. And I’m here to tell you, perfection can be found outside of the weaving halls of Persia (probably inside them as well: I have no doubt thousands of weavers have tempted Allah’s anger, and produced the exquisite, unable to resist the lure of perfection. I’d like one of those rugs, please).

This, to me, is perfection:


John Singer Sargent, Albert De Belleroche.

Equipped with unlimited time and funds and privacy and inspiration and wine and cigarettes and great sex and good background music, still I could never approach this level of beauty in what I do, in what I make.

Nevertheless, because I’m human and there are things in my head that want to live in the world and dammit, it feels good, I periodically force the issue. I acknowledge I won’t, I can’t, achieve Sargent-like levels of anything. I put the ideal in a box and the box on a shelf. I get out my pencils. I stare down the blank newsprint. I draw something. I think of the Persian weaver, and I leave perfection to God.