The Timepiece

Hanan looked at her watch at eleven o’clock. The timepiece on her wrist felt lighter than it used to, although the old silver was heavy with old fashioned gears and a thick glass face. When she removed it at night, she thought her arm would float up above her head and stay there like a helium balloon. But on her wrist it felt natural, a sheath she had grown into. By some miracle, it still worked. Hanan wound the watch each day until she felt tension from the main spring inside. At eleven o’clock, she tied her hair back, wrapped a burgundy scarf around her head and pulled on a long garment that touched her ankles. She was uncomfortable and hot. Hanan found her shopping bags and left her apartment for the crowded Friday market. Her feet ached in the women’s slippers that blistered her ankles until rivers of hot, clear pus burst from the skin. She longed to go home and change into the plush leather shoes made for men. Hanan wondered why men’s shoes were so comfortable when it was the women who did all the walking, while men sat in cafes, judging what was appropriate for others to wear.

The men in the square used to laugh at her hair until she covered it. They had laughed at her men’s shoes until she switched to the women’s slippers. The men in the square laughed at her watch—her father’s watch—but this, she refused to relinquish. Each time she walked by, the lazy men who sat on the roundabout curb chortled and gaped at the big silver timepiece wrapped around her wrist. A men’s watch! She wears a men’s watch! A woman must wear an appropriate watch, one that is dainty and covered with false diamonds or gold, or one that cracks easily like a woman’s emotions. Her father’s watch was wide, sturdy and discolored in places the silver had started to patina. The tick of the minute hand was loud and authoritative, appropriate for a man who wanted the world to know his time was important. Hanan ignored their comments, preferring to retreat into her personal history with the watch, which, her father said long ago, originally belonged to a powerful woman. Who was she? Hanan never knew.

Hanan was examining potatoes when a fisherman slopped a bucket of sardines beside her. A careless wave jumped the cart of ice and sloshed Hanan with the fishy juices.

“Smeh-li,” the fisherman said and continued the job while Hanan dripped with sardine water.

“Really?” she said to the fisherman, but he pretended not to hear her. Have compassion, she heard her father’s voice in her head, as she often did. You be quiet too, she told the voice. She paid for her potatoes and rushed home to change. Stray cats followed her at a distance, delighted by the odor.

Hanan unclasped her watch and patted the leather band dry with a towel. The smell endured. She set the watch on the windowsill to let it air in the sun. Hanan removed her dress and changed into jeans and a t-shirt, took the scarf off her head and let her curls of dark hair fall back into a natural order. The thought of changing back into cumbersome clothes on this hot day made her weary. Hanan dropped onto the bed with a sigh. A flea landed on her skin and she smacked it down. How did a flea get into her room? She glanced at the windowsill, where an orange cat perched, looking at her. Two pieces of soft leather hung from its jaws as the cat clamped down on the silver face of the watch. With a cry of protest Hanan lunged for the window, but startled the cat, who hopped off the sill and galloped out into the street, watch in its jaws. Panicked, Hanan slipped on the nearest shoes—the men’s shoes—and dashed after the animal. The orange tail slipped through her fingers as the cat made a sharp turn into the streets of the lively medina. Hanan raced after it.

***

When she was a girl, her father would let her wear the watch around the house. Back then it was heavy on her wrist, almost slipping off her on the tightest clasp. Before she could tell time, she stared into the face and watched the thin hands tick around the numbers, sometimes for a full hour, only for the pleasure of the movements. During the Revolution, her father’s work took him to rallies and secret meetings, or into hiding in Madrid or Lyon. When he left town, he would let her keep it, and she would sleep with it under her pillow at night. Each muffled tick of the hand was a reminder of him and his eventual return. As she drifted into sleep, lulled by the reliable stroke of the watch, she imagined her father lying awake at the same time, feeling his wrist for the timepiece. She would have rather lost a front tooth than lost her father’s watch.

When unrest bubbled in the region, each loud tock of the watch became a reminder of the fragility of power, the delicate line that separated life from death. Her father’s work during the Revolution cost him his life. With his death, the wisdom he taught her slipped into a similar fate, a little at a time, until Hanan had a partial graveyard of old values spread out inside her. Hanan now wore a scarf around her hair, traditional slippers on her feet, and covered her eyelids in black shadow. As the years went on, she betrayed her father by blending in, by doubting her own strength in the world. But through her transformation, through all the cultural rules she learned to accept, the watch remained on her wrist.

When watches were still a new invention, men wore them on chains in their pockets and women wore them on their wrists. As a little girl, Hanan laughed when her father said this, pointing at the silver piece wrapped around his wrist.

“You’re wearing a girl’s watch” she said. Her father smiled.

“That’s because it belonged to a fearsome female pirate,” he answered and unbuckled the thick leather strap, soft from time.

Before the industrial era, women pirates controlled the river that ran along the southern border of the town. Hanan’s father told her stories of the ungovernable women who took the river as their own and ruled the waters with violence and compassion. Riches entered the city in the hulls of hulking boats, absconded from Italy, Spain, and the sub-Saharan nomads. Men stockpiled the treasure and transformed overnight from modest workers to living like pharaohs. They bought enormous houses and exciting clothes and wore diamonds and gold on every finger. As long as the pirate women—who had no use for material goods—continued to raid the Mediterranean sea, the city would brim with riches. This was the lifestyle, until the kings of other countries sent boats and men out to recover what was stolen from them. Roundups lasted years and many foolish men died protecting their ill gotten means. Only those who were discreet and resourceful slipped passed the search while everyone else was stripped of their gold. Hanan’s father tapped his watch with one finger and winked at his daughter.

“And they never could find all the treasure. Some pieces are still missing.”

Hanan’s mind filled with tales of the Mediterranean marauders, who inlayed ivory and gold in the city walls. She gazed at the silver watch with amazement. Her own father possessed an item of particular value. Who knew how the watch came to him, or his father, or his father before. Hanan longed for every detail.

Then the Revolution came. The old walls exploded, leaving only a cracked and colorless canvas for the soldiers to vandalize. Propaganda still flaked off in ugly tatters years after the fighting ended. When she closed her eyes, Hanan could still see the images of these stories imprinted in her mind from when she was a child, but when she opened them again the city was nearly in ruins. She wanted to go back, to be a pirate untamed by society, to be a woman who was more fish than human.

***

Silver flashed past a pen of chickens. Hanan leapt over pools of grey water feeding into the gutter. The medina ran through the city like an artery, pumping the lifeblood of commerce to the little roads and alleys that fed the seaside port. As she chased the cat past the half walls of the old quarter, where ancient women crouched in doorways and muttered prayers at passer-bys, she imagined she was in the old city under hanging baskets of silver and gems. Instead, more cats watched the chase from their window perches overhead, like tabby gargoyles, indifferent to the outcome of the hunt.

Suddenly, she couldn’t see the orange cat. She halted in the middle of the medina, the center at which all roads converged. When she stopped, she realized she had left the house in men’s shoes, with her hair down and legs stuffed into jeans. The whispers began, then grew louder until they filled her ears. She caught her breath and spotted the cat under a cart of onions. The cat had the watch on the ground and was licking off the sardine slime that still clung to the face. A-ha! She leapt and once again the cat picked up the timepiece and took off down a narrow side street, one that lead deeper into the residential slums. Hanan ran past closed doors made of heavy wood with great iron rings dominating the façade. Family quarrels thrummed on the other side of barred windows. The cat bounced ahead of her, its thin hips protruding, moving like pistons beneath the skin. Just as she was closing in on the animal again, the cat launched itself up to the top of a wall and disappeared down the other side. Thinking quickly, Hanan continued down the residential path. A few more turns and she was on the trail again, chasing the swift animal through the colored light filtering through the blue tarps that covered the narrow street. They ran between shops under banners of hanging green peppers and pale dead chickens, naked of feathers with beaks locked open. They skidded around corners populated by bags of black and red spices. They ran together between women with only their eyes showing, eyes that cut to Hanan’s modern clothes in disapproval. When she caught up with the cat at one final turn, it was by the river. Hanan was out of breath. Had she really run all the way to the river? The sparkling waters lead to the Mediterranean and out into the old waters once commanded by the pirate women. If the watch was swept into the stream, Hanan would never see it again. It would be fished out by a toothless old man who would pawn it for a net, or it would drown under the waves until the loud tick was silenced forever. The cat dipped to the water and released the watch from its mouth. Hanan dove to the bank to grab the timepiece and plunged her hand into the cold river, but she missed. She watched it sink to the bottom, the watch that survived her girlhood, the Revolution, and her father.

Before it touched down on the silty sand of the riverbed, something happened. The leather band stretched out. The face became an eye that studied her. Amazed, Hanan caught her reflection on the surface of the rippled water, her black hair spread wild around her determined face. Like the pirate women of old drawings, she looked dark and formidable. She just had time to gasp at her reflection before the watch made its complete transformation. As she caught sight of her fathers old timepiece again, the watch joined a school of sardines rushing by, and swam back to where it came from, where Hanan suddenly felt herself rushing towards.

Oh, How We’ve Failed

This morning, The Kansas City Star published a spectacularly destructive article by Laura Herrick on the ways in which women can adjust their lifestyles and actions to prevent rape from happening to them. Here, you will read the original article, titled “Women can take action to prevent rapes” in italics and the responses below each section. To write a letter to Herrick, reach her at oped@kcstar.com.

(Update: The Star has removed the original article from their website. If you would like a PDF of the original article, send me an email. I saved it.)

With a long history of publishing awful fluff pieces and generally obnoxious clickbait, The Kansas City Star and whoever approved the original article reached a new height of incompetence when deciding to run this dazzling number. Here you go.

Let me preface this by saying that I empathize with women who have been raped. These women have endured terrible experiences and need to know that what happened was not their fault and that whatever they did to stay alive was the right thing.

I would also like to remind men that “no means no” (and if someone is too drunk to say no, then no is implied); that no matter what a woman wears or does, she isn’t “asking for it”; and that if men witness a woman being treated inappropriately, they need to step in and attempt to stop what is happening.”

Stop right there. Your article is over. As many times as I read and considered this garbage piece of writing, this was the only part I kept coming back to and thinking “at least she said one good thing before the turgid swirl of bad rhetoric came out like from a broken sewage pipe.” If you haven’t read the original piece, be prepared, because that’s what it is. Sewage.

“I saw a quote on Facebook that said, “When a woman drinks too much she expects to wake up the next day hung over, not raped.” I agree.

But as women, shouldn’t we take responsibility for our bodies by not becoming so intoxicated that we don’t know what is happening? Every woman should know her drink limit and stop there.”

Props to you for finding reputable news sources to agree with. Nevermind Facebook uses algorithms harvested from your friends, your internet browsing, your online shopping, etc to structure your content. So, good for you for finding a Facebook quote you agree with. But by the lizard-logic of your next sentence, I can only conclude that this was as far as you went into navigating the wide-spread discussion of the harmful perpetuation of victim blaming you can find almost ANYWHERE on the internet. I imagine this is how it happened: You saw a quote on a page designed by experts to filter and tailor content to your liking, had a blip of a thought about blame cross your mind—which has no doubt been conditioned by other blips of idiocy you found by whiny men’s rights activists crying over their perceived loss of power—and you spent what I assume was the better part of an otherwise unproductive day to cobble these thoughts together into one, gloriously ignorant Star-appropriate op piece about the fault of women in accepting responsibility for the history of sexual violence that has targeted them from multiple sources for the entire history of humanity. I try to imagine this, but honestly, I can’t.

“No, she’s not asking to be raped by being drunk. But isn’t it her responsibility to reduce the risk by not getting to that point? And if you wake up the morning after doing the ‘walk of shame’ don’t yell rape if you regret your actions of the night before.

Accept your role in what happened, learn from the experience and move on.”

 I wish I could remember what my reaction was when I read that little gem of a statement for the first time. I might have lost consciousness from the blow of backwards reasoning and, when I came to, found my kitchen table flipped over on fire. That’s an exaggeration, but I did—and I’m sure I’m not alone—release a cry of absolute pain into the world at the evidence another woman who lives in the same world as I do could connect such appallingly oppressive ideas together to form words I so naively expected could still only come from non-woke men. A part of me died a little inside. The only way I can recover from this is to take your harmful statements apart piece by piece in hope of preventing such harmful hypothesis from you ever inflicting them on the world again.

It’s really quite fantastic to hear an educated and eloquent woman such as yourself refer to the journey home after a sexual encounter as a “walk of shame.” Because for a woman, sex is a shameful and degrading act that was only invented to please the male kind no matter how you slice it. Thanks for that, patriarchy!

Regarding responsibility, let’s use this analogy. When men drink, they have to be careful not to operate heavy machinery. (Note: gender has nothing to do with it. Don’t operate big stuff drunk.) Luckily, heavy machinery can be largely avoided if one has limited access to construction sites, airplane hangers, leisure boats, the keys to their car, stuff like that. When women drink, they have to be careful in every situation you can think of. Sexual assault happens in public and in private places. It happens at house parties, at the club, at a friend’s house, at your own house, outside, inside, in the presence of others and in the presence of nobody. If the only way to prevent operating heavy machinery is to not do it, why don’t we view rape the same way?

Accept your role? What role? The role of existing in the world? The role of going about one’s day unmolested? The role of there’s a 26% chance a woman will be raped in her lifetime? The role that nearly half of all women will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime? What role are these women accepting in the violence they, you have so beautifully stated, could easily prevent? And what makes you believe it’s so easy to simply “learn from the experience and move on?” Does the fact that 54% of rapes go unreported add up your conclusion that women should just learn and move on?

“Women want to be treated as sexual equals when it comes to desires, the ability to have casual encounters and the enjoyment of sex. But some women act on this freedom then want to deny their involvement later.

Every woman who falsely accuses a man of rape makes the battle harder for women who are actually raped. And the lives and reputations of the men who are falsely accused are often irreparably destroyed.”

Bringing desire into a conversation about rape and sexual assault is the most offensive, juvenile, retrogressive piece of whatever-you-can-even-call-this-hot-mess I have ever seen. The only thing ANYONE can assume about ANYONE ELSE’S sexual desires is this: Even in fantasies, nobody wants to have sex 100% without their consent. Saying “women want to be treated as equals when it comes to sexual desire” ONCE AGAIN removes the responsibility of not raping from rapists.

Furthermore, the notion that women lie—that anyone lies—about being raped is incredibly damaging and undermining to an event that alters someone forever. Who do you suppose was the first person to claim a woman was lying about being raped? I’ll give you two hints: it was probably someone who felt their power would be taken away by the truth, and it probably wasn’t a woman.

It is not women who lie about rape that make the battle harder for women who have been raped. It’s you. It’s people like you who continue to shirk your responsibility to educate yourself against the pervasive culture of toxic masculinity and the patriarchical grip of victim blaming, shaming, and dehumanizing. If you give even one single shit about the reputations and future success of rapists, you need to seriously, hugely and forever, fucking check yourself.

“When men drink, their decision-making abilities are also limited. If a woman was too drunk to know what she was doing and should be excused for what happened, then why are men not allowed to be too drunk to make good decisions?

And if a woman is so intoxicated that she can’t remember giving consent for sex, then how can she know that she didn’t give consent?

If she was so drunk she was unable to make good judgments, then how can we be sure that she has any idea what actually happened?

Maybe she forced herself on the man. Or maybe she initiated the encounter.”

Did you read anything before deciding to push this garbage out into the world? A chance of a woman being raped is 1 of 5. For men, that number looks a little different. Only 1 of 71 men experience rape in their lifetime, and while it’s not impossible for a woman to force herself on a man without his consent, it’s way, way less likely to happen. Giving consent while intoxicated is a tricky grey area for everyone, but educating men to be respectful and use good judgment in these situations is more important than teaching women to moderate their impairment or stop drinking altogether. Also, ever heard of date rape drugs? There are some levels of impairment a victim of sexual assault just cannot control.

Many of us have been there in the morning when a sense of deep regret sets in, but you cannot assume everyone who has been in this position will automatically leap to accuse someone of this especially heinous crime. Sure, we all make mistakes, but one night of drunken consent does not send most people into creating revenge-seeking lies about what happened.

I’m puzzled by the question, “why are men not allowed to be too drunk to make good decisions?” Men can make good decisions when they are drunk. Anyone can. It’s hard, sure, but it’s not impossible, and it’s definitely not an excuse for rape. Drinking impairs judgment, but at no point in anyone’s life should that judgment slip so far as to justify the rape and assault of another human being. The fact that this is something you use liquor to excuse—implying that it’s already in the man’s brain to rape, booze just helps it along—is super fucking harmful to everyone of every sex and gender.

“I am not talking about the extreme situations like group rape or the Stanford incident. Those men should be held accountable for their inexcusable actions.

I am talking about the casual encounters many people have had — waking up the next day and realizing they are next to someone in bed and being embarrassed and regretful that it happened.”

Why not stop worrying about other people’s casual encounters and individual regret and start having a productive conversation about sexual assault, rape, reeducation, equality, and all the other things you clearly need help understanding.

“I hate that I have to tell my son that if he sees a drunk, unconscious woman, he needs to either run the other direction or find women to help her.

Men should be able to help a drunk female without thinking about calling a lawyer first. And people should be able to interact sexually with someone they are attracted to without fear of being convicted of a crime.”

Wait…didn’t you just admit you tell your son to run away from a woman when he sees she needs help? Are you implying already that it is mentally and evolutionarily engrained in your son to rape an impaired woman? This hands-off approach to education because “what can be done?” is the biggest problem we as a society have when discussing how we should teach people not to rape. If you truly believe men should be able to help that crafty wild animal, “a drunk female,” don’t educate your son to fear the ~*~irrational female brain~*~ that has only evolved secondary to the ~*~male brain~*~ to make his life more difficult. In the space of three sentences, you a) admit to educating your son the same way the toxic patriarchy has educated us all for hundreds of years, b) complain about the lack of helpful and progressive education of young men, of course for which you are in no way responsible for creating, and c) connect the two in a conclusion about the complex and ever-changing web of human sexuality as a whole.

“Bottom line: Men, stop acting like animals and having sex with anything that breathes, and intervene when you see a situation that you know is wrong.”

 This is one of the oldest and most harmful assumptions we have in our culture of toxic masculinity: that men “just can’t help themselves,” or “boys will be boys,” and other familiar adages that excuse the system for not educating young men to not rape.

“And women, take charge of your bodies and your sexuality by being sober enough to stop unwanted advances and sober enough to actually enjoy sex when you choose to have it.”

 Fuck you.

Morocco: Daily Life

There was a nest of birds outside the kitchen window. I heard the little ones peeping, their cries rising in urgency when one of the children in the yard climbed the ladder to prod them with a finger. From my terrace apartment, I could hear the mother shouting to her children. They responded with a shriek: “LA!” they said, the Derija word for “no.” It came from the house with some frequency. The mother called again. Something wooden clattered on the concrete floor of the back area where the laundry was hanging to dry. I did my laundry too and dried my clothes on the rack on the balcony, but everything came out stiff no matter how many times I scrubbed and rinsed. Those children were crabby. Like other children inTétouan, a designated bedtime was not imperative. I heard them up and screaming at all hours, harassing the swift’s nest, rattling the cages of their lucky finch. I saw bird cages around Tétouan, holding the sad animals with featherless heads and thin wings. Stressed birds are ugly birds.

Evenings were otherwise pleasant on the terrace. My apartment was small but the view spectacular. I brought a chair and sketchbook outside and drew the tops of buildings around me. Seagulls cried and swifts bounced through the air. Once in a while, the sky grew quiet as a single crane went gliding by, backlit by vermillion clouds. The street below livened in the evenings. I grew familiar with the distinct calls and voices of each vendor competing for the most airtime. A river of locals pushed through the street and in and out of the medina. A few times I braved the crowd on my own, but the speed and urgency of the shoppers (people who actually had a purpose in being in the busy market) was overwhelming.

At the busiest hour, I was invited by another resident to wander around and we wove like bees around the maze of the medina. Actual bees were trapped under film-wrapped sugary pastries. Everything in Morocco is dipped in honey and rolled in nuts or seeds, but I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I do have cravings for heat, but I never encountered a decent hot sauce. I ate olives everyday and never got sick of it.

The vendor outside the studio has peddled several different kinds of fruit, from peaches to cantaloupes, onions and strawberries. I became most familiar with the sounds from the vendors below the studio, who started their days closer to noon, allowing me a few morning hours of relative peace. One young man’s aggressive calls boomed above the others as the day stretched out, cutting through their words with his important message. The weird thing was, the vendor shouted (what sounded like) the exact same phrase over and over since I arrived. I thought he was calling out the price of peaches, but then the food changed to apples and the calls were the same. I looked down over my balcony and try to make out what on earth he was saying. My best guess was he was calling out price by kilo, which apparently never changes (at least not to my untrained ears). After deciding this was right, I peered over the rail the next day, only to see the man leaning over a cart of watermelons.

When the voices of the street vendors don’t drown it out, taxis honk and screech along the other road. There seemed to be a custom of holding down the horn for as long as one can to get someone to move. No gentle taps here on this side of Tétouan. Sometimes, although it was rare, I heard cats meowing or fighting with each other. Most of the cats were pregnant, nursing, or leading a parade of kittens down the sidewalk. In the evening, everything gets loud. The birds screech overhead, cutting the sky with their pointed wings, sharp like the edges of an arrow. The streets fill with vendors, raising their voices over one another in competition. Students leaving the language school for the day enter the crowd walking abreast. Men come in from the desert and spread out blankets in the square. They had very black skin and wore deep blue—lapis lazuli blue—robes. They brought objects from the edge of the Sahara into town, statues of men and animals beside huge neck pieces with rough stones.

The tortoise shell cat had her babies outside of my studio. She was so pregnant, and the day before she had the kittens, I saw her lounging in a doorway, the pink nipples on her fat belly poked out toward the street. When I returned to studio from the medina one night, the man who sold fruit under my studio handed me a newborn kitten, a little orange one with tiny flaps for ears and eyes that were not open. It didn’t make noise, but searched for a nipple as I held him to my chest. His mouth was hardly anything more than a little hole for sucking. He fit right in the palm of my hand.

At the end of my time in Morocco, I wanted to cast even my beloved jeans into the ocean. They made my flea bites itch and I still wasn’t permitted to wear shorts. I wanted to shred the long, sensible dresses I thrifted from Kansas City and change into a crop top. It was hard to tell if I was gaining weight or losing it. The Moroccan diet is foreign to me. I reminded myself it would be easier to eat like I am used to in Spain, where I wouldn’t have to wash my fresh foods in vinegar, or watch out where it came from. I frequently saw greens on the street, on pieces of cloth, as the man from the shop next door swept particles of dirt from the street inadvertently onto the dark leaves. My heart sank a little each time. I went to get ice cream on the corner by the plaza. The girl had a spot of chocolate on the back of her hand. She lifted it to her mouth and licked it off, flashing her braces, before diving back in to scoop my order. It was uncomfortable, but I knew I couldn’t be too squeamish. I also couldn’t be too careful, as I’ve been sick abroad before. I ate my ice cream anyway. It was sweet.

Morocco: Food and Dreams

IMG_3813Cous cous family meals are a traditional Friday affair in Morocco, but for lack of blood relatives, Green Olive Arts invites our makeshift intellectual family. Artists and writers from the area join us at the long table where we will partake in the age-old tradition of sharing a meal. Two towering dishes of cous cous are set on the table, ringed with boiled or steamed vegetables, rich and juicy from broth, piled high atop the quartered chicken marinating below the mountain. Caramelized onions and chickpeas with a brown sauce of sugar, cinnamon, and cumin top the grains and drip with sweet molasses. I had come to learn it was not a proper Moroccan meal until there was something sweet in the dish. Bowls of a salty, fatty broth passed around the table and ladled on the sections of the cous cous we claimed as our own. There are no plates, no borders between your food and your neighbor’s food save for the dam that naturally forms between the areas carved out by the spoons. Everyone is given a traditional glass of room temperature buttermilk and encouraged to dig in.

The multi-lingual meal is best complimented by arguments over which region of Morocco makes the best cous cous. Some add cashews, some use a fattier hen as the meat. Others have acquired a taste for seasonings more exotic than the traditional cinnamon and cumin. Most of this conversation occurs in Arabic, but friendly heated dinner conversations fall into a sort of predictable pattern no matter what language is spoken. Even the Arabic-illiterate Americans at the table understand the tone and timbre of friendly competition as we all stuff our faces. Conversations sprout off and become more focused between two or three people at a time, turning to anecdotes about religious upbringings that could be sinister in a certain way, but are lighthearted at the table. The buttermilk sits heavy atop piles of food in the stomach, but it’s hard to stop eating.

The sugary chickpeas and onions melt down into a thin and pleasant caramel on the tongue. The savory chicken bathes in its own broth, collecting in pools at the very bottom of the bowl, where all the flavors concentrate. As they say, this is where you get “the mouth of the goat”—the last of the meal that has spent time collecting flavors from the rest of the ingredients. The gooey center. The good stuff. When the not-even-close-to-empty bowls are taken away and stored for leftovers, steaming pots of mint tea are poured a foot above the small glasses. Bubbles form on the surface of the liquid, the “turban” of the tea, the aim of which is to cool and aromatize the traditional drink. Mint tea is semi-sweet, like an herbal agave, and aides the digestion of the meal and the offense of the breath. Post meal, since it is 2016, everyone pulled out their phones and exchanged facebook information, promising to stay in touch. I held a conversation about the challenges of being left handed that was entirely translated, but one thing that didn’t need to be translated was the fellowship of perfect strangers.

 

 

One night, two dreams disturbed me. In one I squeezed a pimple in the mirror and the head of a larvae emerged, wiggling. I squeezed more and it started to come out of my skin and then I reached up and pulled it out. It was two feet long and plump and writhing in the sink. I kept squeezing the spot and little maggots poured from my skin without end. I was screaming and crying and disgusted with myself and the contents of my head. I woke up and that spot on my face buzzed as if still trapped in the dream.

In another, I was alone in a dark hotel room. I could hear all my friends having a party in the room above me, heard them all talking and laughing together. I got up on the bed and pounded on the ceiling to let them know I was there and I wanted to come up, but the ceiling and walls were made of stone and nobody heard me. I tried to turn on the light so I could dress and leave, but I was trapped in the dark.

I did not anticipate the settling in of intense loneliness. It was the kind of loneliness that felt like an injury from which I might never fully recover. Even as I imagined my homecoming, as I eased myself back into the lives of the people I love, I couldn’t imagine ever feeling full again. I felt an unoccupied space in my mind, closed off like the haunted room of a castle, or that my body was missing some necessary nutrient. Yet, at least my prose did not suffer. I remember getting off antidepressants years before. My body made pounding waves as it craved the drug, but as time went by, these spells decreased.

It’s amazing how a month by oneself can shine light into corners you were too afraid to peer into before. I know I was afraid, but I had nowhere to go to avoid it. I was in the Deep Zoo of my mind, my work, my fictitious world.

But then, things changed. I stopped feeling some of the more intense edges of my emotional world after I had faced them. It was as if the edges flattened as my world expanded, a light rising higher above my head to illuminate a wider space that never was a drop-off at all. Now the things I am afraid of, the circumstances that make me feel vulnerable, are refreshingly new. I found new ways to love the people in my life and new ways to make peace, in the space of my mind, with others.

Is there any greater fear–to believe you are withholding love from the ones who deserve it most? I can think of few other personal disappointments that take up so much space in the inner life. What I discovered and am trying to put into practice is something I always believed: love doesn’t have an end point, only degrees of intensity. I sometimes dream of love as a circle. Now I feel an urge to deepen the emotional aspect of my work. As my own sense of self and emotional capabilities expand, I need to discover how it fits into the writing.

____________________

Dear readers,

If you’re looking for short stories, be patient. The stories I wrote at Green Olive Arts will be available one at a time as they are edited by myself and my expert team. They will be published chronologically to give you the sense of how the work changed from the first story (a cat steals an important watch) to the final and longest piece (a woman goes searching for her mother). The landscape and emotional ambiance of Morocco plays a role in every story, and characters are built off of traits in locals and foreigners alike. There are more women than men, more pirates than not, and more questions than answers about the consequences of love.

Thoughts on Loneliness

aloneOne evening I realized I had gone the whole day without speaking more than a dozen words—a mix of English, Spanish, and Derija. Think of twelve words, a twelve word sentence. Think of a going a day using only twelve words, or a week, or a month.

I was not entirely prepared for all the loneliness I feel here.

If you think you can handle being alone, go traveling by yourself.

I didn’t think it was weird to spend more time than usual in the mirror until I realized I was trying to fill a certain degree of loneliness, unconsciously using my reflection as my own company. Disgusted, for two days I couldn’t look in the mirror.

I felt the same as I did last month when I realized I had obsessively worried a bald spot onto my scalp. Living in the mind does this.

In my daily life back home, I spend a good deal of time by myself during the day. I wake up, make coffee, look out the window, and start to write. This routine suits me and my work. It helps me focus and settle comfortably into the contents of my head. I like being by myself and solving the minor problems I create. I have a harmless practice of diving as deep as I can into certain pools of emotion then resurfacing for air, writing it down, and going in again. As long as I don’t have to spend every waking minute deep in the parts of my brain I access to write, I am a functioning human. Creative people know there are places in the mind that need to be tapped into in order to produce meaningful or interesting work, and it takes practice to be comfortable with these places in ourselves, because we are conditioned to believe they are socially unacceptable. You learn how mixing creative waters with social waters can upset a civic balance. Get in, get work done, and get out. Without an exit from these ‘pools’, the mind can take an unexpected turn.

The residents I was hanging out with before have been gone for a week, taking my social life with them. Tétouan is a male dominated town. Women aren’t allowed to socialize in the ways men are. It is not socially acceptable for a woman to sit at a café by herself, or even be alone on the street. She is accompanied by a man, her children, or other women. I hardly see them alone. When I walk around I feel a little unsafe, especially as the light fades. I’ve been followed, grabbed, harassed, and watched suspiciously as I unlocked the door to my apartment by a man or group of men lingering by the entrance. It’s sad how women learn to acclimate to this, to experience isolation on a social and personal level and then be expected to adapt, move on, and burden no one.

To relieve myself at home, I take evenings off to bike around, hang out with one person or a few people, relax my mind with company and exercise. Even going to a job in the evening helps my mind take a break from the creative problems of the day. I think, up until now, I underestimated how important those breaks have been for me. I often declare boldly and confidently “I love to be alone.” I’m realizing now, yes, I still love to be alone, but I need a balance to keep me productive. Here in Morocco, I don’t know anyone, I don’t speak more than three words of the language (yes, no, thank you) and finding a healthy release from being enmeshed in my brain all day is more difficult than I anticipated. My day here looks different from my days back home. I get up, walk to studio, lock myself in my room, emerge for a light lunch, and at the end of the day walk back to my apartment to sleep. Between these movements, I write, read, and try to come to terms with myself, and then there is nothing to distract me from my own intensity.

What I’ve come to realize about myself and my creativity is that without social anchors to my routine, I start to unravel a little. The brain changes when we’re alone, and it changes more drastically when we are lonely. I chose to roll the dice this year and do things I know I’m not entirely comfortable with. I’m in a strange country by myself. I tentatively left my job with no back up plan. I lifted some blocks and created others. I am consciously choosing uncertainty over familiarity. A lot of this is coming down at once here in Morocco. I am trying to connect what I know on an intellectual level to what I feel on an emotional level and apply it to my work. I have had one downright howling emotional breakdown that accumulated from a series of minor punctures I tried to ignore. My work is changing. My immunity to solitude is being strengthened. Maybe with a little more distance, these things will seem minor. But here in the depths of the experience, even the smallest changes feel titanic, as if I am operating on a cellular level. A new condition of being embryonic.

Emotional distance is crucial to writing effective prose, otherwise it sounds precious and self-absorbed. One day all these intense highs and lows will find a way into my writing, and by that time, I will try not to forget what it took to get there.

Uncensored honesty is a growing importance in my life. The dark places in the mind reveal more slowly for a reason. We keep secrets from ourselves until we’re ready to face the truths, and that makes for a greater depth in creative work. I read Blake Morrison last night. He divides people into emotional and psychological terms: those who have lost a parent and those who have not. I think creativity can be divided into those who have accepted who they are and those who have not. Unlike death, a linear condition, self-awareness is a circle and involves a series of smaller deaths. We’re never finished discovering who we really are, because we accumulate experience, love, people, degrees of sadness. It takes a certain amount of loneliness to unveil new dimensions—not just in our personalities—but in our capacity to feel and understand. You don’t really know who you are until you have: a. lost part of yourself and b. gotten time to know yourself. I have found two things to be the biggest contributors to this kind of death: isolation and heartbreak. (In 2011, I experienced both at once, and it changed me on an elemental level.) Parts of us don’t really disappear. They evolve.

My final thoughts are to try it. Destroy your notion of comfort and your grip on yourself. Sink into your mind and your work. Be the deep sea diver of your own emotions. If you wait for life to decide loneliness for you, you will be completely unprepared.

Markets

The comfort and hospitality of El Reducto seems far from the chaotic medina that streams like an artery at the end of the pathway. Anything becomes possible under the colored tarps strung between buildings that provide a spectrum of shade for the vendors, the colored light broken only in the places where the evening sun slips through. For once it is not raining, so the markets are crowded and busy with families and gangs of youth, pulsating with unspent energy. Bags of grains, bouquets of verdures mint, baskets of brown chicken eggs give way to dazzling shops of steel teapots and crystalline chandeliers crammed so close, the shop itself becomes a faceted diamond. Plucked, dead chickens hang by their feet, the last of the blood dripping from their necks into the walkway. The fluid trickles to the center gutter to join the guts of fresh sardines, and juice from the womb of a cat that has just given birth. Goat heads smile up in a row, unblinking at strings of green peppers that twirl in the wind. Pleasant aromas of cinnamon and cumin in large open sacks are disrupted by rotting vegetables and fresh animal death. Wafts of leather from the tannery vats choke in my throat as I wend by the entrance, where men stand up to their knees in the pungent chemicals. My hand goes out instinctively to a kitten perched on the edge of a vendors table and it lets me pet its soft, scabby head. The air chills around carts of fish on mounds of ice. A little boy waits with his father as the vendor packs the silvery morsels into a bag, and as they wait, the father rests his hand on the child’s head, who is level with the dozens of eyes that gape back. Labyrinthine alleys appear between shops as if summoned, leading to another pandemonium, or down a residential path that is empty and shadowed, somehow forbidden to the casual wanderer. The scent of these medina’s is not for the faint hearted. It is a place where anything can happen, where the cycles of life, death, and commerce come together in a beautiful and intimidating disorder that tries, turn after turn, to knock you over with something new.

If I am being heckled by the young men as I walk the streets of Tetouan alone, I’m lucky I don’t understand the language. To them I am a blonde American, and judging from the TV shows I receive, dubbed over in Arabic, German, French, and Spanish (but never English) their views of American women are about as limited as my views of Moroccan men. Certain signs of heckling are universal: stares, kissing noises, mutterings in the direction of my ear as I walk by. But most of the words in my environment carry no meaning in my uni-lingual mind. It’s rather peaceful to tune out something that bothers me because my ignorance shields me from offense. That never happens in the States—I’m a vocal and aggressive anti-catcaller. In my other proceedings with the locals, I can coast by on a little Spanish—although Mexican Spanish is different from Spanish Spanish—but most of my transactions, such as buying bags of salty olives or a tuna sandwich, are completed with a combination of gestures, self-confidence, and trust in the vendors. If I have been taken advantage of yet, I don’t know it. It is possible, but it seems smiles and pleasant openness will get one far even when there is a language gap. I buy a grouping of garlic pulled fresh out of the mountain farms, a bag of green and purple olives, and a papaya that smells like the air did in Cameroon.

I turn around and make my way back through the uproarious market, remembering to turn at the third pen of live hens clucking behind the butcher. The street signs are in Arabic, and a wrong turn down one of the other alleys would make return from the unknown difficult in the dwindling light. I pass the familiar landmarks, not willing to get lost in the maze of hidden doors and whispered prayers as the sun goes down and the young men begin to travel in bigger packs. I return to my apartment and watch the events unfold from my balcony. Not much changes, except a group of children kick around a tennis ball outside the guarded palace gates, a young man leads an old blind man through the crowds, and I see more clearly the depth and magnificence of the Rif mountains, now that the rain has ended, framed by fine pink clouds as the sun goes down.

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The tannery behind the medina

The Refuge

Green shutters in my large studio open to a small balcony, where I can lean out from my post on the second story and watch the traffic of the fruit markets below. The Rif can be seen from anywhere in the city, but looking straight down the street from my studio, I have a particularly alluring view of the grey tops, often (this week) pointing to the undersides of heavy rain clouds. I can get work done here, wasting a minimal amount of time on worrying about things that would take up my head space back home. New work is flowing out of me, not yet great but not too bad. Being a writer is a day-by-day struggle against ‘I’m brilliant!’ and ‘I’m a fraud!’ I’m lucky if I can keep myself somewhere between. I was sick yesterday with a bad stomach, maybe from a peach or a batch of coffee, but two charcoal pills and a banana eased my discomfort. A forceful exhale at the state of one story or another produced a cloud of black ash from my nostrils that dusted the wood of my desk. I looked down at the soot, perplexed. Charcoal.

El Reducto is our own private refuge. Located in the same alley I stay in, a constant trickle of grey water runs down the middle of the walkway, cutting the road in two small paths. Occasional recessed door frames provide shelter to crowd into, with covered women and men who stroll with their hands clasped behind their backs, when the sudden rains appear. El Reducto is run by the Spanish woman and has a fine selection of wines on the menu. The other writers and I find a booth, lined with decadent red velvet and plush pillows, smelling faintly of sweet cigarettes. We are set with olives, walnuts, and golden raisins on the table. Mustapha brings us a bottle of wine. His English is good but his wine knowledge is dismissed with a passive shrug. He has the necessary beard and glasses combination of a young philosopher, wears collared shirts under dark sweaters pushed up his elbows to complete the impression. Even when I have my hair down past my shoulders and my cheeks are flushed from the wine—signs of a loose woman in this pious town—he is kind and respectful, responding to my zeal for a good Cab with timid English colloquialisms, fingers working the heavy coins of my payment. I am minimally in love with Mustapha, but only in the trivial way a hopeless romantic is with everyone she meets. Outside the ornate door and colored glass of El Reducto, three cats sleep on the entrance rug, waiting for calamari scraps while their fresh fighting wounds dry slowly in the damp air. Presently, there are three of us here at Green Olive, all writers. I am younger by thirty years but I talk the same stories, from Chekhov to Munro, Oates and Joyce, and indulge for hours in conversations about literature I rarely have the chance to do back home. It’s ok to tune me out, because those who are closest to me know I could talk about writing forever.

If you know me, you know how I forget my body. I forget to eat, I forget what I’m wearing, I look at people or things and don’t register who or what they are (I have been told I do this, which perturbs my friends). I pay little attention to my physical needs, because they fade behind my thoughts. I forget people can see me. This is not out of any desire to self harm, or a depressive existence which consumes my routine, but a genuine and extreme case of living deep inside my own head. I feel refreshed and stimulated by these nightly conversations, once the three of us have emerged from our separate cocoons of productivity, greasy-faced and slow as we return to the foreign world of ‘other people’. I crave exchanges which make me feel I am outside my body and her physical burdens, and I can live floating in the world of the inquisitive and self-direction of the mind. What is different here is that I am joined by like-minded individuals. There is no gossip. We don’t know anyone to gossip about. As I recline in the luxurious booth, face heating up and wine dwindling in the tinted bottle, soft Moroccan music plays above us and smoke drifts into our corner from the other room. The decorative tiles and rugs soften with the buzz, subduing crimson, gold, and cerulean into the natural background. Mustapha smiles into his phone, tapping the screen as he sits behind the register, his face above the invasive light that remains on when all other power cuts out. Our conversations barely pause: “…and when the fifth child arrives, the tone flips the narration on its head and—oh!—transforms the home into a prison.” Now we sit in the dark as Ruth and Mustapha fret in Spanish over the fussy breaker. Lights pop back on, and, after a few seconds, off again. This continues for a while, the soft music returning and fading into silence over and over as the owner adjusts the switch. Light returns. The wine is almost gone.

“Well, shall we?” the writers ask, wrapping scarves around their necks to leave. I know it’s time to go back to the apartment, before the streets are taken over by the marriage processions that cause an uproar before Ramadan. I know it’s time to go, but what I want to say is no, gracias, dejarme aqui, in my own fortified refuge.

Greetings from Tetouan

I left Kansas City the morning of May 5th for New York City, and began what I considered a long span of trading glimpses of multiple cities over the next several days. Plane to La Guardia, bus to JFK, plane to Casablanca, train into Casablanca, light rail through the city, propeller plane to Tangier, run across the tarmac, taxi to hotel, car to Tetouan. I ride a boat across the Strait of Gibraltar next month. All I need to complete the list of transportation methods is a bicycle and a horse. Or maybe a camel.

I’m here in Tetouan today at my new studio, with green shutters and glass windows that look over at the market on the street below. I work on a wide desk in the rays of sunlight. I can stand on the small balcony and look down the narrow streets of the village, white buildings rising into the sky on my left, homes dotting the looming grey mountains on my right. The air is damp and cool this morning from the rain the night before. Brown puddles of water gather in the dips of the stone roads, providing the one-eyed cats with something to drink.

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My writing desk

My apartment is two blocks from the studios, just outside the palace of the Moroccan king. Ruth, a warm Spanish woman who runs a cozy traditional restaurant up the street (with modestly priced red wine from her home country) handed me a key to the apartment and apologized, in partial English, for the door that leaked when it rained. Up three flights of spiraling triangular steps, a door opens to the petit penthouse, equipped with a bed, a small bathroom, and a balcony that offers another marvelous view of the town and mountains beyond. During my unpacking, a sound filled the air, a mournful wail that echoed off the flat white buildings. I knelt on the floor, removing things from my suitcase, and the long chanting calls inflated outside my open door, calling the town to prayer. I stood, amazed at the reach of the voice, its ability to penetrate my body and lure me outside. Standing on the balcony, I was gripped by the power of the call, the sound like a song of tired bulls under a swarm of black flies. I was shaken, rocked from a place in myself I never visited. Seagulls cry in hysterical laughs from the edge of the Mediterranean sea, the same as in my home town, making the sounds I associate with a harbor. Milwaukee, Homer, Astoria, Tetouan. The seagull call is a reliable gate to wistfulness.

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From my apartment balcony

Forgive my overly romantic descriptions of Tetouan (sorry WTF). I am overwhelmed with the scenery and power of the town. I am inspired and eager to write, to produce, to learn from the atmosphere. This excitement will settle back into my style, or change it entirely. You don’t really know what you’re going to get when you leave your comfort zone in pursuit of something meaningful. Sometimes it’s what you expect, but mostly you get to be surprised. Stay updated (subscribe, facebook friend, follow on twitter, etc) with the events of this month as I write and travel around Morocco.

Full Review: Dark Days, Bright Nights

A partial review of “Dark Days, Bright Nights” was published in The Pitch on February 10th, 2016.

finland-Rauha-Makila-Mura

 

Now, in late December, the people of Finland will experience their darkest days of the year. With only about 4 hours of sun per day in some regions, winter has officially arrived. Lakes freeze over with meter thick ice, and snow can rise a couple feet off the ground, covering every inch until March when spring starts to hedge in. It is the perfect time of the year to see “Dark Days, Bright Nights” at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, where a collection of works by Finnish artists mirror the dropping temperatures outside. Political and personal, each piece in the collection feels a part of something bigger than the individual artist. Everything taps into a shared experience of living in Finland, be it the landscape, the necessary layers required to venture into the snow, or the brief but deadly wars that divided the land—the artists here are struggling against something bigger. Cable knit sweaters—familiar worn articles that would spell a frozen death if left behind in a moment of carelessness—are painted with as much care as it would take to knit the garment itself. Memories of a lonesome farm covered in snow bloom from large canvases like selections from anxious dreams. There are no fires in the images, but the glow of a functioning artistic community lights up the work from deep inside. What emerges is a sense of never being relaxed, never being inattentive to what the country produces by weather and by culture.

Finland is reflected in every face, pale and stoic, hungry for warmth—a unique landscape in itself. Rauha Mäkilä’s portrait series—five altogether—are of haunted girls and women with empty eyes and carnivorous expressions. Against flat, single color backgrounds of rose pink and icy blue, the women seem to be momentarily caught in the frame of the paintings, either as they pass through or try to escape their oppressive walls. These are faces in the winter. The uneven exposure to the sun and snow has left splotchy marks around the foreheads and high on pallid cheeks. Mouths have been ripped out or erased, eyes have been blindfolded, and the women press onward through the season, leaving behind something vital as the landscape around them dies. “Petite,” the largest of the five, is striking red and orange, but the warmth of the colors is not a comfort. A young woman bows her head in profile, but it is her mouth we are focused on. Blood and scabs replace what would have been a willowy pout, matching the crimson background. To the left, a smaller “Doora” looks directly into the viewer. Her high white collar suggest a religious association, but the way she stares out with almond shaped eyes sunk into the shadows of her face is deeply upsetting. Her small mouth puckers hungrily like a wolf on a dusky prowl.

Jarmo Mäkelä’s series, “Kärpästen herra (Lord of the Flies),” “Kuninkaiden kumarrus (The Bow of the Kings)” and “Europa, Europa” depict identical boys in school uniforms in three surreal developments. The most striking of the trilogy is the eleven knee-high sculptures of the boys, identical in their stance and solemn expressions, emerging as if from the paintings of themselves on the wall. The material looks like concrete, although the description says clay, and where the mold for their shape was broken, hard flaps of stone stand out from the figures. Material leakage is common in mold-made sculptures, but Mäkelä’s decision to leave the surface unfinished is a queer one. As the little boys march forward into the gallery, they proudly wear their flaws on their skin, on their small faces, like some uncivilized troop of future sovereign. “Kuninkaiden kumarrus (The Bow of the Kings)” directly behind the sculptures represents the boys in a more animated and disturbing backdrop. They brandish sticks, raise a skull above the battleground like an ominous flag. Boys ride on their twins backs, ready to joust, and one of the decanonplets (what is the term for 11 twins?) beats a drum above the frenzy as he looks deep into the woods beyond—or possibly out at the sculptures of his brothers. “Europa, Europa,” the second painting, is a busy, contained drama of the same boys trapped in an underground room with hysterical German Shepards leaping off the ground. A boy’s face on the body and clothes of a grown man stands giant on an oil barrel in the small room, beating a drum strapped to his chest. Above the scene, two of the boys balance on an unfinished roof like fencers in combat. Mäkelä’s series explores the country’s civil war and eventual independence, which had to be defended during the Second World War when Soviet Russia rose to power. The identical boys, locked in battle in the paintings and banded together in the sculptures, signify the internal struggle Finland endured as the people fought for control during the transition into an independent nation. Their strength of self-preservation has eventually paid off, and a young, independent Finland has grown and even prospered.

Although most of the show focuses on paintings, Vesa-Pekka Rannikko’s colorful two-channel video installation, “Canary,” is set up in one walled off part if the gallery. Follow the taut climbing ropes, the sinew that stretches from a carabiner in the wall to the larger-than-life canaries projected into a corner. Masses of bright colors fill the shadows created by the ropes as birds alight on a perch and flit around. While we expect canaries to contain a certain amount of yellow, these birds are flat with primary colors, no shadows or varying hues define them. They are cadmium red, sunshine yellow, and bright cyan. The ropes and their matching shadows build a cage, and although the projected birds can move about freely, the effect of a controlled natural state prevails. A quick search into genetic modification exposes The Red Canary, a story of the first attempts to engineer an animal outside of it’s own evolutionary arc. This popular bird—in the wild and in captivity—caused English canary breeders to experiment with feeding the birds different types of food in attempt to change their color. In the installation, the color of the birds have been digitally modified (another type of human intervention that disrupts the natural state of things) erasing defining features like eyes and feathers and thus erasing naturally occurring traits. The story becomes a metaphor for ethnic cleansing and selective populating—with Finland experiencing some of this during World War II while their borders were still fluid. While the red canary was never perfected, Nazi leaders took notice of the experiment and admired the scientific approach to their brand of ethnic cleansing. While the literal desire to cage and control a wild life may be overstepping the meaning of the piece, the struggle against natural forces in the environment and political landscape which one exists can be so tiresome—so repetitive—that one wishes to exercise any amount of control at all. Within the context of the “Dark Days, Bright Nights,” the imposed cage of shadows reflects a nation’s desire to be self contained.

Anna Tuori’s three large paintings, “It Is All Now You See,” “Splendor in the Grass,” and “Things I’ve Seen I Can See No More” follow the dreary, reflective tone of their titles into glimpses of cold landscapes. The three paintings pulse like a memory slowly coming into focus. The vignette format of these large scenes keep the images from reaching the borders of the canvas, remaining in the stillness of a certain time without overtaking the present. A dreamy countryside is glimpsed through a clear spot in a frosted window, swirling with cold wind that does not disturb the culminating icicles. From our vantage point, the rural locale is safely in the past where it cannot freeze us. Tuori takes us gently into these moments while keeping us out of harm’s way, and as the vignette seems to breathe—expanding a little and contracting slightly—we may feel a stiff and far away breeze reach out to us from the cool colors of “Things I’ve Seen I Can See No More.”

Once outside the museum, the cold sets in for real. Chilly winds blow down Warwick and above the nearby park. Cheeks chap and fingers search for the warmth of deep pockets. It is as if you have traveled a great distance in a short amount of time, retuning home with a new appreciation for the environmental restrictions art can thrive in. There is no such thing as a culture without art, and the perspective the artists of “Dark Days, Bright Nights” bring to Kansas City is a fresh and effective reminder that anything can be accomplished in any weather.

“Dark Days, Bright Nights: Contemporary Paintings from Finland”

October 2nd, 2015, to February 21st, 2016

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

4420 Warwick Blvd

Kansas City, MO 64111

www.kemperart.org

In The Earth

Then there was the gentle but healthy pressure to have a hobby. Hobbies are the most wonderful, Agnes says, stroking winsome nightshade vegetables, distracted. Eggplants the size of your head. Don’t you just love the first sign of tulips? No, in fact. Short bloom, premature wilt. Area bees avoid pollinating a flower that crumbles at the lightest touch, like a reckless girl. I prefer the hardy plants—the carpet of moss, the juicy aloe, encroaching mint on everything. The community garden is divided by my tendrils of invasive herbs.

Overalls are what Agnes wears, like a Communist uniform, as she manages the tomatoes. Rotating sunhats for Maude, whose face is a tight paper bag. I simply go in what I’m wearing, being rebellious. I use my trowel to puncture the earth. I turn and knead until I can add the bag of Soil Enhancer. My soil will be so enhanced.

I pour half the contents in the ground and look inside the bag. Curled grey fur rests half buried, eyes closed. Its tail wound over its legs, pinched up to its body. I lift it out of the bag. The soil around it is warm. In my hand, the baby squirrel shivers, unfamiliar with a gentle touch. I have made a discovery in the dirt, like an archeologist. I hold this abandoned relic to my heart, beating like a child’s footsteps. I sink into the garden, holding the squirrel in my open palm. The potato bugs dig away, fleeing my unearthing.

Amber alert. Sirens. Dawn seen in the woods through the pale beam of a flashlight. The meteor impacts my heart, sending my careful saplings into extinction. A clump of yellow hair blooms from the damp ground. My search has ended.

My tulip. My child.

The squirrel stirs, opens her eyes. I lower her to the garden and brush a muddy patch off her fur. She thanks me by doing the only thing she can do: disappear.