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In Elastic Company

 

“Yeah, I’d just never seen anyone do that before.”

“Do what? Take a book without asking?”

“Open it in the middle and just start to read.”

She closed the book and looked at him with the same, soft pressure she’d just been using to turn the pages. “But isn’t that how we meet each other? At a random page in the middle of our independent stories?”

She failed to acknowledge that any time you meet someone in the middle of their story, it was simultaneously new Page One: the birth child of two seperate paths, two individual and incomplete sums, converging into a budding origin story. She bit her tongue and bought him a coffee, choosing not to mention that she could one day tell their children how they began at this small odd table where she picked up his tattered, bound copy of essays by James Baldwin. How she’d begun to ruffle through it without asking, responding to his question of “You’re familiar with him?” by shrugging and smiling; how she just stood there reading until she suddenly sat down across from him, offering that when he arrived at page 161, he’d find himself at the foot at her new favorite passage.

“New favorite? Have you read all of him already?”

She laughed. “Do I need to read all of Baldwin to have a favorite?”

“I think I see what you’re getting at.”

“What’s your favorite ice cream.”

“I see what you’re getting at.”

“I’ll wait.”

He smiled and leaned forward slightly. “I’m a pistachio kinda guy.”

“So you like almond ice cream.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s got a surprising amount of almond flavoring.”

“Okay, but I like the green.”

“So you enjoy being tricked.”

He laughed and threw up his hands. “Who are you working for? Who sent you?”

“Do you know every ice cream in the world?”

“I’ve tried very, very many.”

“But every?”

“Many.”

“Not the same thing.”

“So you’re saying it can’t be my favorite.”

“On the contrary, I’m saying it can absolutely be your favorite. Favorite is a constant state of flux, and alters through experience expansion, mood shifts…”

“I enjoy tricks, you obviously enjoy tricking people–whatta pair.”

She leaned in. “People get ‘favorite’ wrong all the time. People interpret favorite as unchangeable, when really favorite means preference. Preference arrives wherever there is choice, and choice arrives wherever there are options.”

“Your point being…”

“For today, as of now, this page,” she looked down at the open book on the table, “is my favorite passage.” She smiled then added, “Did you know that you’re my favorite person in this place?”

“Besides the half-asleep barista, I’m the only one in this place.”

“Logic didn’t stop you from feeling flattered anyway.”

He was grinning, shaking his head.

“Logic doesn’t stop you from liking green, almond ice cream.”

He raised his hand, “Pistachio.”

“Gesundheit.”

She let the flirtation run away with itself, making no effort to return to our original conversation about why it is that no book actually starts at the beginning it introduces.

That stories don’t really follow the timelines they advertise. That the reader of this story only mildly questioned the tenses that shifted beneath them as the narrative wound on.

That the reader of this story may have already forgotten that they were dropped in the middle of dialogue, that the reader doesn’t even know if these two met in a library or a café or an airport. They don’t even know what time period this occurred. You, the reader, may not have yet developed the care to know whether or not these two get married.

The reader’s curiosity is so expansive, it allows anything at first. It’s only with time that we begin to resent the missing details.

Oh, to be so curious about people that you care about them without asking! To feel free having favorite parts of them without knowing all of them!

To make adjustments of character with experience. To allow ourselves to be tricked by lovely things, knowing the playwork of the constant, never-ending allusions at work.

Oh, to learn lessons from short passages, and quick people!

Let us learn something in five minutes without realizing we were thinking. Let us be tricked by lovely things to remember how beautifully curious and open we are.

———————–

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Sunday Outing

Wonder,

wonder

My heart does

roll

Through the archipelago–

 

Of lovers left

And strangers fought

And city streets

And buildings wrought

With rotten stores

And imported chips

And children rushing

With milk on lips;

Where fresh bread soars

Through the air as wind,

On the curve of babble

To all who’ve sinned;

Who’ve poked and prodded

Each peach in view,

Those who pricked and popped

A berry or two.

 

Wander,

Wander

My mind does

Go

 

Through this archipelago

 

Of flat-footed memories

And concrete rivers,

High-heeled futures

And butter-soft shivers,

Seconds baked together

In the market’s eye

We walk with peach scones

You and I.

 

Were we not just children?

Will be both grow old?

I ask you by each bite we take,

“Does staying make you cold?”

 

On this island of a moment

Unchased by cars and tagged by bags,

The sweat of Now is beading

And my fingernails sag.

 

Clutching at the weight

Of a map that won’t return,

The white tents fall behind us

And the sun begins to burn.

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The Trimmings of a Künstlerroman

“I’ve traveled around. I’ve seen so much. I did things without camera, without pen and paper, all just to see more, more, more, and goddamn, you know what I’ve found in each place? That no one is you. I don’t care if it’s taken so long for me to say so. It’s not the excitement, but the mystery of you that always stays, you know? Excitement fades, but curiosity could sustain forever. I know that now.

It’s not just the way you think, drink, and walk. And you know it drives me crazy, the way you throw you head back when you laugh. But it’s more about how we both go off and learn and shift into new things, but still turn back into each other. And I don’t trust anyone to give you everything you’ve ever deserved, not a single woman will care for you like I need them to care for you. I need you to live this best life like I need to live it for myself. Does that make sense?

And that’s why I stretch, why I have such a killer skin care regime, why I’m determined to participate in triathlons and teach children the art of beauty and tenderness.

Because I love you, you idiot. And you love me. And I want to be clean, real, strong, and affecting— not just once, but every day — for all the real living we could do together. I mean, and have you smelled my face wash? Sweet, incredible, it’s like you— something hard do just morning and night.”


This is a list of some things I’ve found.

Carrying a book makes all lines feel short. The use of ‘I’ is interesting in small doses. It’s not literary if it’s not novel and ancient at the same time. Simple things can be art, but simplicity does not make something artistic. Don’t fear being specific. It’s impolite to cut in line, period.

Wipe your shoes before you go inside homes. You almost never regret hanging your items. If you’re new to being a plant owner, leave reminders on the fridge for when to water them. You have nothing to lose from loving people. You love people by paying attention to what they need. Don’t write more than necessary. Dance hall ain’t dead.

People from other countries are the same as you, just built out of a completely different history. Start from seeing the same and then allowing difference, don’t look at someone different and then searching for what’s the same. The order of this operation matters.

Being active is essential, and there’s a million and one ways to do it. Letters take time. Taking deep breathes and walking straight really changes the sound of the voice in your head. Talk just enough so that your words to another feel like a reward for their time. Don’t be afraid of stopping someone from treating your language too casually. Maya Angelou insisted a student call her Ms. Angelou. It’s important to speak with respect to people you just meet. Learn customs of respect and use them until offered not to. The women in my life have taught me it is possible to be both gentle and to have a lion’s heart.

Opt for veggies but accept some cake. Don’t hold back on love. Ask your self what takes priority over that moment. What you need to do is not always what you want to do. Unless a certain place is exactly what you’re in the mood for, go somewhere new. Being passionate is not a problem but invite people only if you’re prepared to walk them through it. Don’t tell people how they are, no matter how tempting or clear it seems. You may tell people how they seem; they hear you clearest if you’re gentle.


She was pretty stingy about her phone digits, but positively (and invisibly) reluctant when it came her manual ones. She didn’t like the idea of someone taking her hands, nor did she find it good manners to rob another of theirs.

Save that one time she’d brushed his hand while he slept, surprising herself when she let it rest on top of his. It was more exhilarating than any handholding she’d ever done.


This is a list of  some things I’ve found.

Get a cast if you break a bone. It saves money to bring your own lunch and cook your own food. A charming man can still act like you owe him something at the end of the day. You don’t have to invite people in when they come to your door. Extra calcium never hurt nobody. When something feels better, you’re healing. When getting better is no longer your preoccupation, you’re recovered. The only way to get better is to acknowledge the issue. The smell of cement reminds me of my father.

Black Panther is a must-see. If they take you in the morning, they’ll come for me that night—it means your problems are my problems. Never skip meals. Commitment to a conversation is done by looking at someone in the eye. Looking someone in the eye is easy to do when you’re genuinely interested. Dress all your perspectives in diamonds, because diamonds are made of open light, and open light listens.


I have been told that I have satisfactory emotional intelligence. Someone else once referred to it a “adequate emotional intimacy” and I—instead of losing the compliment to time—wrote her words down, folded it carefully, put in my pocket, took it to my mother’s home, and nestled it in the back corner of the white Ikea dresser drawer she kept in my old bedroom. It is to this tiny corner I go when my heart has rainy days.

This corner is made mostly of paper. It includes a birthday card from Papa, my father’s father, for my 11th birthday. It’s a large picture of a cat with the words printed as “Have a puuurrrfect birthday!” I received one for each of my birthdays, every Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, but this was the only evidence I’ve kept from all those years of inked affection.

I’ve always felt that was enough.

In this corner was also a stash of all the phone numbers I have collected from the men I’d ever crossed paths with, and the boys who’d tracked me down. I was always amused by the paper they’d found—post-it’s from the front desk, old receipts, rips of newspaper, magazine, napkins.

I’d replied to each one of them back with various versions of “I so appreciate your bravery; reaching out with manners is a quality I hope to keep alive, and I’m glad you seem to think so, too. It means you deserve my acknowledgement, even when I cannot return the attention with my time, and I hope you never stop keeping kindness and class in the way you approach other humans. Best to you, and thank you again for the thoughtfulness—what it’s done for my attitude will definitely encourage what I’m working towards now! Good luck in finding the woman who’s got the time you deserve, and thanks for understanding that we’re not intersecting where I’m prepared to give it. If you ever see me around again, be sure to say hello!” And then when they respond back, I don’t.

I’ve always felt that more than enough.


This is list of some things I’ve found.

All men aren’t pigs, but they aren’t all kings either. If receiving calls from a old friend feels good, make effort to make those phone calls, too.  Women aren’t objects but yelling “You aren’t an object!” doesn’t wake up the women who have been brought up to believe so. Even if people don’t take your hand before crossing over into a new way of thinking, make sure you offer it. Shooting someone with angry words ensures they’ll never cross.

I write because I cannot sleep. My mother says to write about softer things. In my opinion, nothing is more attractive than someone carrying a coffee cup. I have no doubts about my music taste. Progress depends on a healthy relationship between action and reflection.

Hot chocolate reminds me of the first time I ran away. I used to talk on the phone only if I was under a desk or deep in the corner of my closet. I love a good split-lip, the taste of my own blood when I’m not expecting it. The sound of a chainsaw triggers me to think of my mother, smiling and sweating, in the yard and standing over our cut up fig tree. Running away was how I used to punish people who treated me wrong. I practiced cursive before I learned to write normally.

Radiohead and Beachhouse make for excellent coffeeshop work music. Sleeping next to my male friends was never a problem until it was. “I couldn’t help it,” has followed every unwelcome advance. “I’ve been planning this for a while,” came from the least likely person. “I thought you’d be happy,” came another. Only once have I been asked outright “Is this something you want?” That moment replays in my head more than any of my traumas.


“He’s definitely someone you’d be into,” Her Friend said, handing the phone back.

The Girl is irked and finds herself saying, “You mean, like, his talent, right?”, sharply exiting out of YouTube and dropping the device to the kitchen table.

But this invites a slight smile from the Friend, her eyes becoming slits, and she seems to savor how the seconds before her speech stretch out like a gala carpet to deliver her royal repetition, “Definitely someone you’d be into.” Her voice is wearing Italics this evening.

Their wars are waged this way, through cursive stabs, and the Girl is feeling the heat of her face rise. She roll her eyes to say I found that a very solid performance, and Her Friend shrugs and nods as if to say But have you ever been able to separate the two? It was alright, but I wouldn’t watch it, like, twice. The Girl sits awkwardly opposite from her companion, her previous enthusiasm tarnished by the unexpected judgement, her brain suddenly corrupted by the anxiety that maybe someone knows something about her that she does not.

She has trouble dealing with the anger that arrives when someone challenges how much she knows about herself.

She has trouble dealing with her anger in general.

She decides to punish Her Friend by opening her phone and scrolling aimlessly through her email, filling her inside with a black tar of self-reproach the deeper she descends into the chore. Her posture begins to slump, and the Girl has already forgotten the music she was playing moments ago, that had nearly inspired her to fly.


This is a list of some things I’ve found.

Think before you act, love before you think. Love comes easier when you breathe slow. Breathing slow takes practice. Loving well is practice.

This is your life, drive it like you stole it. I didn’t write that, someone else did. Don’t take credit for what other people have done. I put my heart in the pockets of those who wouldn’t have the time to look for it; it goes in their jeans, they toss them in the laundry, and lays hidden at the bottom of the washing machine where other lost things—stray beads, strings, and coins— stir themselves for cycles on end. This is how I’ve avoided getting my heart broken, and I’d like to change that. People who reject grammar aren’t to be trusted. People who aren’t good at grammar are human. “Story is honorable and trustworthy, plot is shifty.” Stephen King said that, and I agree. Goals are honorable and trustworthy, plans are shifty. I said that.


Put the credit card all the way where it belongs, safe in your wallet, which you return to your purse, which you don’t leave with the new strangers, or who’s guard you don’t pawn off to someone else, after you buy the drink you actually want, after refusing to buy a drink for someone you respect, opting instead to buy beverages for those who respect you. You’ll be happy you did it later.

Could adulting be just the steady accumulation of actions that end with “You’ll be happy you did it later”? The sidewalk below her consumed her musings until the sidewalk next to the river became nothing more than a concrete treadmill.

She enjoyed walking by rivers.

Is it better to write an article about the steps one has to take to get Senegalese braids, about maneuvering around cultural appropriation? Or is it better to get the braids, and write about the experience as a story? Or should I write the story from the perspective of someone else without even getting them? Is a story better than an article? Is either useful? Is an impact only felt through a story on paper? Do people even read on paper anymore?

The other day she wanted to take someone else’s hand.  When was the last time she’d ever taken someone’s hand because she liked them? She thought about all the times she’d done so, and spent several minutes counting the times in her life she could remember such unions arriving from the pure desire to thread her treasured hands into someone else. In the minute she  counted six (and a half), which did not include the amount of times she’s taken another’s hands to let them know she was there for them during Big Sadness or Big Yippee, nor did it include the times when she didn’t pull away from someone’s hand who grabbed hers. “Hyper-responsive handcuffs with fleshy cages at the end,” she’d once written. “Where the keys can only be found in your mouth, at the back of your throat, behind the lump of disappointment that rose from the abrupt anger in your belly.” Who can you tell these things to, when it’s hard enough to realize? How do you reveal scars without being called damaged?

She surveyed the grey area, and glimpsed some sunlight.

The smoothest way out of a hand-hold is to fake a cough, a sneeze, or laugh too hard, creating a motive for yanking your hand away, for the withdrawal of palm to mouth in an air of accidental reflex, followed by a remark that would catalyze in them a fleeting and immediate self-absorption, blinding them momentarily to suspicion. If a natural theme doesn’t occur to you, nothing works better at triggering them to reflect on themselves like memories of glory: say how great you’re sure they were at sports in high school. Lastly, make sure to smile from your heart during this miniature flee; it’ll confuse them later when you suddenly don’t walk so close anymore, when you insist on paying for your own meal at the restaurant, when you never sleep over again, when you run away from this silly boy who wants to make you His. You cannot beat them, but you can confuse them, and in dating, it’s close to the same thing.

She enjoyed walking in silence alongside a river; thoughts swim so clearly there. She took a spare thought (“People should be able to get discounts at the check-out register if they share a personal dream of theirs to the cashier”) and skipped it as a stone across the convulsing gold fairies who danced as reflections to the raining sunlight, eroding quickly to the loud calm of her enjoyment of walking by the water.

A great dessert to bring over to Gina’s would be some strawberries, with some mint, drizzled with some honey. How easy is that?

Perhaps she’d wanted to take his hand because it had been sunset, and the center of the star was simply too gold to be free. All around them had been a chorus new-born greenery clinging at her with it’s coy overgrowth and ruthless fertility. The entire scene mounted them in a bath of absurdly pleasant cliché; she looked over at his face, ready to see him performing a look of longing to kiss her. He would not disobey the demands of the scene; he would play the character he believed to be his genuinely romantic self.

But he did not look back, rather kept staring at the solar medallion blazing ahead of them.  She blinked, forgiving him for his mistake, and let another second pass for him to appropriately act out as a boy who just realized how beautiful she was, like he was supposed to, like they were bred to, tutored to, begged to.

But he did not look back at her. What began as a glance now became a hovered regard, her surprise filling up the space between them like a cloud pregnant with lightning thoughts of angry command. Find me beautiful, dammit.

Not because she needed his validation. She needed him to look at her in the same way one pleads silently on stage for the stuttering co-star to remember his lines. I cannot perform Love without you, it’s the rules.

Then he looked over. An instead of telling me how beautiful I was, he beamed, as if he was happy to see me there. And then he went back to looking at the sun, like nothing was more stunning in the world.

In that moment I forget all about romance. I just wanted to know more than anything what he was thinking about,

and how much that made me want to take his hand.


Here is a list of some things I’ve found:

Writing clearly and taking notes is a sign of self-respect. The sound of children laughing is peace to me. The ugliest thing I could think of is someone judging someone else’s sense of adventure. Any establishment can be exciting with the right book. I find it attractive when men bounce their leg while talking, along with people who throw their head back when they laugh. Pointy shoes distress me, I’m not sure why. If I can’t find the bathroom light, I can pee without one just fine. I thoroughly enjoy the  performance of shopping, all the way to the point where I ‘reconsider’ at the check-out line and put it all back. I wonder if I love in the same matter that I shop, or if I shop in the same manner that I love; which is to say, I prefer the performance over the result. There is one true self, hidden by many other true ones. I didn’t say that, Virginia Woolf did.

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The Man Who Could Count to Forever

He heard her shut the front door, counting to thirteen before getting up from the couch to wander over to the window. He slipped his fingers between the blinds and twisted them to catalyze the crispy slinking sound of blinds slightly-agitated, the satisfying sound of sneakiness, as he watched his fiancée’s red MR2 pull out of the driveway. She said she left to get lemons from her mother’s tree for a recipe she wanted to try, and to drop off a borrowed stool while she was at it.

He watched the vehicle pick up speed as it passed the Near Lamppost, past a brown Honda, past the Dying Tree, past the Far Lamppost, and turn the corner, which was the point at which he’d count to ten to make sure she’d really left. Then, after deciding that she really had committed to leaving, that she hadn’t forgotten anything, he still kept watching the street to make apt room for buffer error.

He knew that the best way to be sure of anything was to never let yourself be too sure of something. Measurement in time is holy. You can trust what you can count.

He would wear a top hat and carry a cane when he would walk down the make-shift garden aisle to marry her. The suit was already rented, his favorite circular glasses withdrawn from the junk drawer and sitting on small Ikea shelf that stood near the door of their Glendora flat. In one week’s time, he’d be in his future mother-in-law’s small backyard marrying a girl. A woman, rather. A woman who ate peaches from a can when she wished to spoil herself and who had to wear two pairs of socks when she went to sleep. Who’s laugh woke the dead and who’s golden hair burned her enemies. A woman who grouted bathroom tile like God gave her the permission and mowed your lawn without it. A woman who painted moulin-rouge red talons onto the Farrah-Fawcett-fawning southern California populace who wore their hair like Drew Barrymore’s Ivy. A woman who enjoyed glamorously swaying in and out of her role as unofficial therapist to the chatty, her six-inch heels pumping on the metal bar of the hair salon studio chair to raise her client into view of the huge vanity, where they’d search briefly and desperately (when they thought she wasn’t looking) for the tip of their souls. He was going to marry a woman who would look away from such clients on purpose, pretending to be neurotically cleaning her scissors, alive and keen to the importance of an intense soul-searching gaze in a public mirror.

She was a woman who got gum in her hair last night and used peanut-butter to get it out, somehow making the whole endeavor more entertaining to watch than the television.

The radio in the living room began steadily to increase in it’s crackling until “End of the Road” became one giant rip of static, leaving invisible and irreversible scratch marks all over the second-hand furniture. In haste to save mankind, the man added a quick percussion of dropped blinds and left his post by the front window to reform his life’s purpose around adjusting the attacking noise.

He loved controlling noise, he lived for the rules of noise. Garbage trucks are made for garbage day. Alarms are made for rising. Whispers are made for mornings, secrets, and libraries. Cracking plastic welcomes hydration, sugar, bubbles. Rustling blinds herald episodes of privacy. Static was a cry for help. Crying was done in silence.

He’d seen her do it before—once, when he came by to bring her Chinese for lunch. From the entry-way bench he watched her turn away from her client and busy herself with organizing her combs, allowing a sixty-year old woman to stare at herself in the halo of light bulbs in the all-white salon, to let her wrinkles heave slightly and wonder What is beauty, and can I still have it? Would I look foolish asking this young thing for her haircut? Will my son call tomorrow? The man’s fiancée made a nearly imperceptible glance sideways, and then went back to her improv of occupation. What is beauty, and can I still have it? I am so ready, but for what this time? I am so tired, and I know why. What is that on my face? Then the old woman would reassemble her face, and the man’s lover would retrieve a presence after promptly abandoning her task, and the collaboration remet itself post-cleanse.

In the same way his future wife would do this kindness for strangers, she would leave him hours in their small home.

It took only a minute of twisting to get a clear channel—noise control was his true job, after all, since one’s true job was always that which one does dutifully even when no one’s around. Whatever you focus on hard in your free-time when no one’s paying you, he’d once ranted in a hot-boxed car, some ten years before with other boys from his prep school, in a rare fit of outspokenness, is what you really love. Mikey Warder had said something back about homeroom’s Lucy R., and everyone had laughed. He couldn’t quite remember what, but it’d been clever.

Though not cluttered, all the belongings in their tiny two-room condo-apartment-flat-thing were in close proximity to each other, and being large-ish and athletically built sometimes made it too easy to do everything at once. He had to move twice as slow to make room for the magic of crossing a distance, which he tried to engage in right then between the act of grabbing the round glasses and pacing over to wear them in the mirror. He wanted all the movements to be done with determination without seeming calculated; spontaneous without seeming careless.

For he wanted to stand and look at himself in the mirror head-on while masterfully sidestepping the fact that he’d wanted to be home alone for the sole purpose of looking at himself in the mirror without fearing being caught. Do I look good with glasses? Should I always wear glasses? Why did no one want me? He blinked. Traffic hummed in the distance. Spliced light dripped from the wall behind him, long rectangles of setting sunlight that had soldiered through the trenches of the half-closed blinds. I could be stronger. I could be smart when I wear these things. Do I look like my mom? Why did my mom not want me? I love these glasses.

The man made many faces for a time. Perhaps twenty minutes, perhaps thirty. His audience was the clumsy furniture of the small room and the rows of attentive light in the background, which slowly rose from their seats the longer he performed or—one could argue—as the sun went down. His performance was a collection of Overdue Faces, the ones he never gave out and which need expulsion; he stared stonily at Mikey Warder, he seduced Lucy R., he told off cruel bosses, he shed a tear for a good friend, he laughed at his own jokes, he confessed his love to his fiancée, and finally,  he folded his arms and held a baby girl, made faces at her that he couldn’t quite see in the mirror, but had fallen so deep into the role he could almost see her face, almost, almost…

Maybe that was love; caring for someone else’s face so much you forget how to perform your own. You simply are, because they’re there. Did that even make sense? And who would she look like? If he was already caring for someone who wasn’t even around yet, did that mean parenting was his true job, too?

The light, which had been at a standing ovation moments ago, had left the wall altogether and had been replaced by the glowing grey that pulses only at a newborn night. Dropping his arms only to raise them in taking off the glasses, he tried to look at his face as if it wasn’t his at all. He felt full enough to do so, like he’d stretched all the loneliness and hope out of him by playing all those parts; like there was room for objectivity again.

He was going to be married. They were going to have a little girl, they’d just found out. He would be smart for his wife. He would control the noise. He would make sure his girls knew they were beautiful—no matter if they were six, sixteen, or sixty— no matter which mirror they looked in, private or public.

He heard the engine in the driveway and rushed back to the couch, fussing around for a magazine. His fiancée did not follow the rules of counting and time—sometimes she moved at lightning speed, sometimes she dance in, sometimes she’d pause to roll up the hose, sometimes she’d sneak around the backway and pop up behind him, sometimes she’d just sit in the car and cry. But he could always count on her to come back, to doodle on the nearest piece of paper when she talked long-distance with her cousin in Canada; he could be sure she’d press her cold feet against his legs in the middle of the night, that she’d always make the world stand still when she rested her head on his shoulder.

He knew that the best way to be sure of anything… was to never let yourself be too sure of something? Measurement in time is holy? You can trust what you can count?…

Can you count love?

He might one day count to three: three little girls with gold hair. Or five: five cracked water bottles dancing in cup consoles of a Ford Expedition speeding along the freeway. Or one: one promise of a man, wearing a top-hat and holding a cane, before kissing a woman– wearing a flower crown of baby’s breathe and herself stemming from a puffy white dress–  and promising something wild, like Always. What would it look like? What would that sound like?

It suddenly smelled of citrus, and she was laughing.

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In France We Kiss Often

It is my experience in France that the non-smokers still smoke. That there are as many women with short hair as there are with long hair. Fur coats are not limited to gala affairs; faux or otherwise, they are numerous. Many establishments do not have accessible outlets. My waiter might tell me which part of my meal to begin with, based on the intended experience of the platter. My waiter rarely gives a shit about me.

It has been my experience that Sketchers are acceptable to wear here. Drinking wine at lunchtime does not make you an alcoholic. Dinner cannot be one plate.  A good guest always asks if they should bring red or white. One does not bring out a computer at a café and still be liked. Many young men and women read while in transit. In Bordeaux, at least, women are audibly critical of other women. At the cash register, one is not asked how their day is going. As a customer, one does not ask how the cashier is doing. Teeth can be crooked and can be yellow.

It has been my experience in France that there are no mimosas at brunch. A man who is interested in a woman will not leave her alone until she has succeeded in offending him. Wearing glasses is common. A woman who is interested in a man will not quit her affections until she decides to give them to someone else. There is stigma against wearing athletic gear outside of the gym. Men wear jewelry. The difference between drinking at a café, a brasserie, and a bar is the time of day. The difference between meeting up for drinks on Monday or Friday evening is one glass. It isn’t strange to park your car on the sidewalk. It is ostentatious to order a large coffee.

It is my experience in France that jeans are not always skinny. Food delivery is done by bike. If plans for next week are mentioned, they will be confirmed soon after by message or call. One uses social media primarily to show how one relaxes. Scarves are used by both sexes. Unpainted nails on professional women are more common than painted ones. Because there are no cars for extra storage purposes, many adorn tote bags. Most homeless people have dogs because it keeps them from being arrested. Pregnant women are treated like royalty, unanimously.

It has been my experience, here in France, that nylons are staple items in the feminine closet. Most people change their names on Facebook to be difficult to find. Walking around with a Starbucks cup is an act of rebellion against traditional culture. Getting bread crumbs on the table is a sign of enjoying yourself. Responding poorly is forgivable, failing to respond is punishable. A slang among young people is inverting words: instead of saying “merci,” one says “ ci-mer.”  Feminism is perceived as abstract idea by the general public. In Bordeaux at least, there are no common recycling bins.

French people enjoy daily life and romanticize what they haven’t gotten enough of: loyalty and travel among the top two. It is my experience that if someone lingers during the goodbye la bise, it’s because they imagine the smell of both on you. In France, sincerity is gold and classical music is not dead. Dresses with short hemlines are eternally tacky, jackets with rhinestones are temporarily in style, and texture is the ruling aesthetic over intimacy. The beer is okay, nothing to write home about.

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Abstract, Health, Morality, Op Ed

We Interrupt The Usual Program

“What had hurt me so long was the pairing of an inherent privilege to an intense desire to feel the deep hurt of things done wrong to me.
And this hurt went away, not when I set aside my privilege or set aside my feelings, but when I finally acknowledged that I could use both to stand against the wrong done to others.”

The responsibility of the conscious writer is not to preach, but to clear out the clutter of questioning through their purest transcription of those most personal and questioning experiences; to strike one with a sudden awareness without beating a message of conversion is talent, and therefore possible, and therefore neccessary.  I would say the responsibility of the conscious human being is no less noble and impossibly humble.
And so in offering you advice for how to deal with the fragile pieces of ourselves that meet with disdain our fellow persons– their anger, their confusion, deafness, pride, or fear–  and in encouraging you to do so with the kindness one would bestow upon their heroes, I become irresponsible in my writing (and therefore existing). For advice is the counsel language of the elite, a realm to which I plan to never belong. And story is the landscape language of the experience, a web of paths and memories my own eyes cannot claim complete command over. In other words: it is not always my time to speak. And where I could advice, it is best to differ to another’s story for guidance.
And I do so now,  riling up to remind friends that there’s still room in the front row, that there’s nothing to fear from paying close attention and taking attentive notes right up close.
For there are far more noble double-consciousnesses at the podium that have never needed introduction, but deserved one each and every time they took stage. So for your collecting, observing, and transforming, I circulate some other essential stories and perspectives your way in the off chance they aren’t already in your system.
My notes from lecture, from sitting as close as I can to the front, read:
And may they heal any of your injuries by thrusting you out of those wounds and into the collective consciousness of our beautiful, flawed and fragile world. It is worth the venture, and it’s price is only the Time You Might of Spent Losing Touch.

For further notes:

If you always think how you’ve always thought, you’ll always do what you’ve always done. Send me postcards from the plateau, such friend, for such vast and simple blandness would be the only horizon achieved from such blindness.

“I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.” -Maya Angelou 

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Uncategorized

Karen the Lion-heart

“Yeah-no, it was good. Intense, kinda-sure, but no-yeah, really good stuff,” she said over the phone, with that irksome-but-admittedly-strategic manner of speaking where one negates something just affirmed, then confirms something she just denied.

And, really, hat’s off to Annika for successfully employing “yes” and “no” so simultaneously, so often, in so many of our conversations, with such smoothness: how she managed to annoyingly-but-strategically avoid any sense of responsibility associated with a having a clear opinion—while, of course, sounding fervently decided—was down-right magical, a talent fit to be studied by politicians globally, universally.

And yeah-look-no, it used to drive me mad, actually. But years of practice—particularly these more recent ones, where my patience muscles have gotten (Jesus Christ, have they gotten!) significantly more exercise— have taught me that of all things to fight over, another’s less-than-satisfactory habits of verbiage doesn’t have to be one of them if you kinda-sure already know what they mean. While I couldn’t be convinced she liked the commentary on suicide I’d recently written and posted, I also couldn’t know if she didn’t like it. And I could (irony hopefully acknowledged) live with that.

And anyway, I thought while exiting the little linen shop (how did I get into a linen shop?) that I was perusing through nonchalantly— nearly dropping my water bottle, my backpack, and The Broom of the System at being immediately rammed into by the impressively self-reproducing river of French chatter, crunchy shopping bags, and seductive cigarette smoke that made up the street Rue de Saint Catherine—Anyway, she’s the one who brought up the piece anyway.

And I shrugged to her on the phone, like I sometimes do, half to reintroduce the straining bag straps to my shoulders,  half to shake away thoughts fit for the Very Good Things to Think About But Now Isn’t Really A Good Time mental file.

Because it wasn’t something I felt like talking about, really. And it was probably why Annika was currently delivering out posi-negis like a foreign diplomat during an alliance hiccup, poking and prodding around in order deduce the reason behind my uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm about… myself.

“Well I’m glad you liked it, I guess, thanks,” is all I said back, my lumbering evolving into the strut of the woman lancing on just ahead of me. Long steps. High chin. Crisp steps. Ears chasing shoulders out, looks like. Long steps. Pretends face is sunshine, probably.

“Why doesn’t she write something nice though?” came a voice in the background of Annika’s end.

“So I take it you’re at Mom’s.”

“You are indeed correct-o.”

“Don’t have her get me wrong!” Mom’s voice called again, “It was really good!” Her hands were no doubt elsewhere employed, as they always were, and I could practically see her neck straining to separate head from body and deliver itself straight into the Annika’s device. Unnecessarily shouting, as she always was. But years of practice—yes, these more recent ones, where my patience muscles have gotten significantly more exercise— have taught me that of all things to fight over, another’s less-than-satisfactory habits of intonation doesn’t have to be one of them if you know there’s love underneath.

“But what I’m saying!” A kerfuffle ensued, a flurry of raspy technology tossing where Mom, no doubt, has just swallowed Annika’s phone; she’s dried, wiped, scraped her hands of whatever domestic surgery she’d invented for herself, and stopped shouting. “What I’m saying is that you’re so talented, Katrina.” She sounds exasperated, and my eyes narrow while I flex my patience and practice my stride. Long steps. Remember. Love. Under. Neath.

“Why don’t you use it to write about happy things? Things people will feel, you know, good about reading? Why do you have to talk about all that dark, intense stuff.”

You sound, I thought angrily, a lot of like the people who got me there in the first place.

And Annika—whom I gave, right after she was born, the secret access code to the frequency on which to think so that we could communicate telepathically without our parents knowing what we were talking about— heard me.

A second kerfuffle, a commotion of exchange, and Annika’s back on the line. “What Mom meant to say,” she rushes, “Is that it’s hard for a mother to read, you know? Especially when it’s her daughter who’s writing about a girl who wants to kill herself. That’s all. She liked it, she really did.”
Excellent translation work, I think.

Don’t get mad at Mom, she’s thinks back, and suddenly I feel like I’m a lion, some sort of dangerous animal, that’s escaped; like Annika’s this zookeeper with a hand out stretched out front, standing in front of a bunch of terrified elementary children, speaking slowly and cautiously that we’re all just friends here, right? Right? Can’t I just turn around, like a good kitty? There’s a good kitty, go back to sleep….

You’ve made me a threat and I haven’t even said anything yet, I think, as a lion.

“Look, you don’t all have to like the things I write,” I say into the speaker, and meant it.

“And it wasn’t even that good!” I laugh to the sky, and meant it.

“And it wasn’t—” I don’t want them to hear I’m crying.

“—about me,” and I really, really meant it. And Annika hears the tears I tried to make invisible, and I feel her switching frequencies to give me some privacy, some personal space on our same wavelength.

“I know, Katrina.”

I felt like she didn’t, which was when it all became clear why I didn’t want to talk about this piece. I didn’t want to convince anyone the suffering little girl wasn’t me… because part of her truly was. But to add that I’d imbibed it with imagination wasn’t tasty to modern readers either. It wasn’t juicy if it wasn’t maybe about the author, and if she denied it—how wonderful—it gets yummier!—then it simply must be true, yippee and how awful! Or, as with the case of my family, they wanted to cuddle me or be scared for me… instead of doing the real literary, or even humanitarian, work of imagining where this girl could reside in ourselves. And that’s what made me cry.

I had no desire to explain those things, nada, zero. I’ve had to learn over the years—the most recent ones, by god, yes these most recent ones— when to (irony hopefully acknowledged) play dead.

So I was silent for a long time, saw the tram approaching through the throngs of people in the distance, and told them that I really get it, that I’m not angry, that I understand, and can see where she’s coming from. Yes, Mom, I sigh into the phone, I’ll totally give the happy-story thing a shot. Love you, bye.

I didn’t stir much during the twenty-three minutes of city transport, but the resulting walk from my destined tram stop to my desired bedroom is a kerfuffle, a commotion of exchanges, between three Katrina’s: one is slumping along the sidewalk like a beaten child, one is striding like a proud woman, one is slinking like an escaped lion.

She sounded like they used to, wept the little girl.

Those jerks, bit the woman.

Is it too late to eat them? asked the Lion.

They used to tell me I was so pretty, wept the little girl.

If only I stuck to smiling, bit the woman.

I’d like to eat them, said the Lion.

They said I made people happier that way, wept the little girl.

They told me I was ugly and stupid when I serious, bit the woman.

And look what happened, roared the Lion. All three pointed at certain broken pieces of the young lady in my latest story, the ones that looked like me.

“And you know what? I do write happy things,” I said, stepping through the front door, talking to nobody. “But Jesus, sue me for trying to be sincere, complex, and fictional all at the same time!”

“What was that?! Who’s home!?”

“Katrina!”


 

Hours later, in my journal, written in the sloppy, fast scrawl of someone evidently hot-tempered, is this:

I’m going to write a wonderful, amazing, insanely beautiful story. I’m going to make it the best story in the world, and it’s going to be about two people who go on long journeys of self-discovery. And every time they reach a point where they feel like they just made a huge, irreversible mistake (plot ideas: lost job, lost car, empty bank account, ran over cat)  they end up keep running into each other in yet another charming, funny, and deep way (setting ideas: supermarket, New Mexico, a really low-rated motel in New Mexico*, Las Vegas, Finland) that always ends up making them feel better, and leading them right to where they need to be, it’s freaking fantastic. And at the last place (France?) they both run into each other and find that they both have been wondering about the other all this time, that no one ever managed to say things as powerful or as funny or as kind as this other person they kept running into, and one of them (both of them?) say something along the lines of “Because of you, I had to stop believing in mistakes. I tried, over and over again, to just give up. But they never stopped leading me to the best parts of my life… to you.”

And then there’s a really epic-but-not-too-long description of the French country side where they get married. And it’s really precisely written so that it’s believable, this is important.****

And then I’ll have one of them be a writer, and he writes something really serious and dark and intense, and the woman is so upset that she can’t even finish it and she leaves him, says she preferred him when he was young and happy, and then he dies from the  the grief of thinking that he’d found someone who loves him for all his sides, all his colors, and being irreversibly heartbroken at finding out he was so wrong.

And then the last page is her sitting at his funeral listening to the priest up at the podium, who opens up his book and reads his final chapter– which is actually incredibly sweet and kind and happy– and the story ends in this scene when she finds out it that his serious, dark, and intense novel was actually a story about the triumph of love the whole time, and the last words of  her dead lover’s book was, “Because of you, I had to stop believing in mistakes. I tried, over and over again, to just give up. But they never stopped leading me to the best parts of my life… to you.” The end.

And then I dedicate and give it to Mom.

What my mother did in her youth to deserve such a petty, asshole of a daughter, I thought as I was falling asleep, I. Shudder. To. Think. And I fell asleep wondering if I’d just solidified the odds that I’d have one myself someday.


 

But as much as I want to write “But luck was on Karen’s side,” that’s not the real reason her petty, asshole of daughter didn’t write such a merciless, unnecessary revenge plot onto her mother’s conscious. And it wasn’t for sake of laziness either.

Nah, I didn’t act on my impulse because it was my mom’s out-of-this-world parenting that lead me to writing something much, much different.


 

Her daughter was absolutely bawling, and it was awful. But she held tight to her child, who was struggling for the door with such intensity that the clawing had drawn blood from both of them. “Let me go!” screetched the little girl. “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!”

“You can hate me.” The young mother was saying calmly between the toddler’s screams. “Go ahead, hate Mommy with everything you have. But I love you. I love you anyway, do you hear me? Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you.”

And this made the little girl go absolutely banshee: her scream’s only aim became to break it’s own voice box, her flailing dedicated to breaking every bone– anything to make sure her anger won. “I HATE YOU!”

But despite the pinching, the biting, the scratching, the mother held tight, and soon the little girl’s tantrum reduced itself to a whine, and then to a whimper. “Mommy…” sniffed the little girl, finally, her skin burning and her face buried in her mother’s lap. “I’m sorry, Mama.”

“I know, my love.” And despite the outward searing of her own skin, and the inside pain of watching such anguish run through the system of such a young creature, she bounced her knee slightly to complete the lesson, “Can you look up at me for a second? There we go, my sweet girl. Do you know why Mommy didn’t let you run away and hate her?”

The little girl, eyes still filled with tears, shook her head.

“Because you have to feel all that icky bad stuff, my love. No hiding. If you hate Mommy, you can feel of it with Mommy until it’s all out. Because I’m always going to love you, Katrina.”

This is how the little girl grew up to believe in miracles, even though she did not realize it for many, many years. Instead she nodded, and nodded, and nodded –all cried out, all hatred spent—and nodded until she was fast asleep in her mother’s embrace. A fuzzy, scorched warmth was vibrating off of them as the mother rocked her not-so-small daughter slowly in her arms, the two of them making up a strange human fireplace; the two became soft hearth of ending embers so sweet, so loving, that only the wise would recognize it as a sign that a wild, violent fire had to have once burnt there to leave it.

And the mother would do this her whole life for this particular daughter, who would get so angry when people loved her and she didn’t understand why. She was such a clever mother, always finding ways to hold her daughter close to her chest, even when they were far apart. Finding ways to appear into her daughter’s dreams, into her daughter’s thoughts, even into her daughter’s moral compass. Finding ways to always let her daughter know that her love would win, always, forever.

And her daughter, who grew to live until she was a very old and happy woman herself, always knew.


 

I wrote that story instead.

Because after I’d gotten all my anger out in pen, just like you taught me, I saw that all I was made up of was sadness that you didn’t think I wrote feel-good things.

And so, for your birthday, I wanted to illustrate to you how I’ve grown up because of you. That I take your lessons, I apply them, and I become a better person everyday for it.

And this was my best attempt at being sincere, complex, and feel-goody. I’ll get better with practice.

And that I looked up what “lion-hearted” meant (after I felt it the Lion in my chest on my way home) and it means someone who’s brave, bold, passionate, and noble. Someone who’s a fighter. And, I’d qualify, someone so strong they could defend their cubs against anything… even against themselves. But the description matched me less than it matched someone else I know… and then it all clicked.

Mama, that’s why you know my heart so well: you made mine out of yours. You made all three of ours out of yours.
Happy Birthday to one of the most sincere, complex, loving women I know.

Proudly,
Your Occastionally Petty, Asshole Daughter, Katrina

(who’s love for you wins, always, forever.)

 

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