On Grad School: A Personal Statement

Many of you know (because many of you know me in real life) I’m on my way to graduate school in August. This is the second time I’ve applied to programs, and it’s been a wild ride up to my eventual acceptance into Virginia Tech. I was not expecting to accept an offer this year, and I had resigned myself to another year of deep reflection and artistic reevaluation. I was so fully prepared to apply again this winter, I already started my third grad school spreadsheet and decided to aim only for the highest, most funded programs. I was going to learn another language! I was going to get a famous writer to write a letter of recommendation! I was going to start applying in June! Thankfully, I don’t have to do any of those things, because Virginia Tech came through at the 13th hour (long story) and I could scrap my 3rd spreadsheet with a huge sigh of relief.

Before my eventual acceptance, I spent November to February applying to ten schools, narrowed down from about fifteen. By the time I was halfway through the applications, I was spending ten hours a day on my personal statements.

TEN HOURS A DAY.

My samples had been revised and tightened and polished so many times in the previous months in my writing group, all I had to do over my three-week winter break from work was talk about myself and my goals for an MFA program. I’ll tell you: the quickest way to realize you have no goddamn idea who you are and what you want out of a strange, risky, creative career is to write 500-2,000 words about it ten times, to ten groups of faceless strangers who hold the fate of your life and your $75 application fee in their hands. Hence the obsessive ten-hour days.

This post will hopefully help new MFA applicants write the dreaded personal statement without as much anxiety. I haven’t included the whole thing, because some of it is really specific and might be boring to non-committees, but I explain the pieces I cut out and left in the rest for a more thorough demonstration, particularly where I felt imaginative statements met a practical purpose.

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Meeper, the guardian of my insane pre-moving to-do list

 

The Opening: Origins & Ambitions

My opening paragraph came to me in an epiphany-like moment halfway through my application season, so I only got it into five or six applications. Previously, I had a hard time with the personal aspect of the personal statement. My intro was too straight, too dry, until one sparkling moment I had this new idea. I scribbled sentences in my notebook in a delusional flurry and refined the ideas in Word when I got back to my computer. This, I’m convinced, is what landed me a spot at VT, and was maybe as important as my writing sample. I had always heard one must “get to the point” as fast as possible to not waste anyone’s time on the committee, but this hook is not only a crucial part of my origin story, it’s also fun to read:

“If you were to rewind ten years, you would see me as a sculptor attempting conceptual art about communication, and as a writer attempting conceptual stories about communication. I did this by writing stories about teenagers whose only dialogue was “What?” back and forth for five pages, and by setting up big sheets of industrial felt in the middle of areas with heavy foot traffic. This messy but essential origin as a writer led me to explore language barriers and miscommunications in my fiction, inspired by the two creative disciplines bickering away in my heart.

Each time I write, I pull the thread of my thesis a little more, edging closer to some human truth that can only be represented by leaving it unsaid. I am driven to write because I am driven by questions that fuel narratives: Do these linguistic obstacles exist in children? In animals? Is it possible to understand that which has no word attached? Writing about language absence and lost translations comes from my personal journey to connect across the space between what I can say and what I can feel.”

BAM! Took me years of experience and lots of shitty first drafts, plodding introspection, and eventual satisfaction with a few short stories to come up with that opening paragraph. Your opening paragraph should give the readers a sense of where you came from and where you’re headed. Think beyond the typical “I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember” and punch it up several notches to paint a fuller picture of your rich creative life. For me, I felt it was essential to begin with a demonstration of my ambitions and early interdisciplinary origins. You also get a sense of my youthful ego in the opening line, but that segues into an honest reflection of why I do what I do and how I began to take it seriously. It’s also funny, because I know much of what I do under the pretense of living my best creative life is a little absurd. But it’s true, and it’s part of who I am and part of my creative process. Do some similar digging when building your opening.

 

The Journey/Research/Experience section

In the main body of the personal statement, I talk about my journey from visual artist to writer, and what led me to seek an MFA in creative writing. I talk about the writing courses I took at KCAI, who I studied with, and what I gained from the visual arts environment that influenced my writing. I talk about what happens when I study literature and how I keep track of my personal and academic growth in my own terms…basically demonstrating I haven’t wasted my time between degrees.

Today, I study writers who provide space for subtle details to bloom in a reader’s mind. I look for this because it is how I once approached sculpting—as a complete narrative containing moments where language could vanish, giving rise to an emotional texture I’m not sure has a name.”

This is a snapshot of my abstract thinking tendencies and ability to switch gears between visual and written work, something I have been practicing for many years. In this section, I also talk about the writers I currently study and what I admire most in their craft. I chose two contemporary American examples and one mid-century non-American example, because my work is mostly contemporary and set in America, but I have been heavily influenced by the styles and sensibilities of non-American writers. I chose writers who are recognizable to people of literature—not really mainstream examples, or anyone I discovered in high school or earlier. If you have the space to talk about writers you read or try to emulate, definitely consider what you appreciate about their style and how it informs your work. This is more than just “I like his use of language.” Instead, be concrete: “I study the character arcs of her aimless young adults to inform my coming-of-age novel-in-progress” or something equally evocative. This is a chance to show the committee you’re a worldly reader who appreciates subtle and dynamic literature, and as someone who kept reading after high school.

The next paragraph talks about my philosophy as a writer and how this developed over time. For me, it was in small press publishing, reading prose for a magazine, writing for The Pitch, belonging to a weekly writing workshop, and participating in contemporary visual art dialogue. My philosophy was developed over about ten years, so I’ve had time to think about my phrasing and presentation, summing the whole thing up in three varied sentences. If you have participated in any kind of critical/creative writing exchange, talk a little about what kind of peer you are. How do you approach writing written by other writers? What can you add to the workshop experience? How has that informed your decision to apply to this program? I applied to Virginia Tech because I have always been a cross-discipline writer, and I want to collaborate with writers in running a publication. Virginia Tech emphasizes both facets of the writing life, and I saw in the program a chance to build on my strengths.

 

The Self-Reflection section

You should also talk about your weaknesses, because ultimately, weaknesses are what get you into grad school. A brief detour: I love failing! Failure is the single best type of learning experience out there for creative people. There is no faster shortcut to creative self-reflection than crushing, debilitating, irreversible failure. I’m not saying this is fun to experience, but it’s so necessary in finding out how to direct our creative energies. For a personal statement, it’s good to recognize your shortcomings and tell the committee how you want to improve, what you’ve learned from rejection, and how you deal with criticism. If you address ways you want your cohort to help you improve, the committee can see A) that you are serious about improvement, B) that you won’t be a jerk to other writers, C) that you probably aren’t a genius (yet) and can admit to that, and D) you are capable of intense and productive self-reflection. All good things for a graduate committee to recognize in an applicant.

If your day job or professional work is of writerly importance, put it in the statement. MFA programs are not just for people who were “born to be writers” or “have been writing stories since childhood”. In fact, committees see that cliché all the time, and the truth is we live in a capitalist society that devalues or ignores creative work up until the point a creative person becomes famous. Most writers have jobs that pay the bills, and really good writers use that job to add something to their writing career—not always in the way Kafka used a job as fodder, but also as a way to grow and develop your skills in an area that will reflect in your creative discipline. For me, the routine responsibility of helping students with their writing and professional skills gave me academic experience in reading syllabi, constructing an academic plan around calendars, and articulating the creative bridge between visual art and literature. I gained research experience, worked on my chronic self-discipline problem, and recognized that I still consider myself a student of literature, even as I help students in their earlier stages of writing. I put all this in my statement.

I did not write that, as a bartender, I secretly made notes on the changing dialogue of my patrons. I did not write about my ruthless editor/mentor, who challenged me to write art journalism with greater clarity and precision. I did not write about how my time as an oyster shucker in Alaska, and a teacher in Cameroon, and a kid in the Michigan sand dunes developed my observational skills and help me imagine setting in new creative ways. But any of these personal things would have been fine to write about if I had unlimited space and attention. Choose the most effective personal experiences for the essay, and make your case for further study as persuasive as possible.

 

The Closing: Goals & Purpose

In the end, the committee wants to know exactly why you should be in their program. Talk about how you have prepared yourself for graduate level work, what self-direction you imposed on your routine, and where you see yourself headed as an artist and creative person. This is going to be different for everybody, and that’s what makes your perspective unique. If you want to get your MFA to teach, or get feedback on a book you’ve been working on for ten years, you’re not making a very convincing argument for your own capacity for growth and development. If you want to get your MFA in Virginia because you need 2-3 years to study the dialogue patterns of Appalachian natives because regional dialect is super important in your series of short stories, and this particular writer on the faculty has inspired you with their rendition of local speech etc. TELL THEM!! That example reason is much more colorful and unique to the program.

“I’ve discovered my drive to answer my creative and critical questions comes from the love of practice. I have prepared myself for graduate level work by applying this philosophy to self-directed writing, research projects, and professional activities. The more work I do, the more curious I become, the more I grow as an artist. Only Virginia Tech can pair me with resources, peers, and faculty who will embrace the interdisciplinary, collaborative essence of my trajectory. I am seeking a program with a history of educating writers who have taken artistic risks in their work—writers who have merged traditional and avant-garde ideas into a signature narrative style.”

For each statement, I found the most attractive aspects of the program I was applying to and I used that in my closing paragraph. For VT, it was their interdisciplinary curriculum and opportunity to work with two publications. For CalArts, it was the art school environment, which has proven beneficial to my practice. For Iowa, it was the understated writing tradition in the Midwest, a region I have lived in all my life. Every program I applied to (this time) had specific qualities that could improve my work and study of literature. One thing that sucks about applying: You might not know if your work fits the program or incoming cohort, but the committee knows, and sometimes even if your work is perfect for that school, it might not be the right time to attend. Rejections can say a lot about your readiness for rigorous work, but can also say a lot about the program itself.

“My goal is to emerge from an MFA program with a new body of work that continues connecting the communication ideas I started exploring in my undergrad. What I am looking for after a graduate program is a sustained relationship between art and language—a new way of writing that unveils the semantic bridge between visual and written work. After a graduate program, I want to continue to work with artists and authors to explore the collaborative grounds between creative disciplines. I will do this in a community role that compliments my fiction practice, either as editor of an experimental small-press, in publishing, or in a position an MFA from Virginia Tech will help me discover.”

I ended with this paragraph about my goals and ambitions in the coming years (to pursue the thread of my ongoing thesis) and the years that follow after an MFA (to bridge community work with writing work). Some goals will inevitably shift in August when I start the program, and they will shift again in January when I start teaching. My goals will continue to grow and shrink and change, but I’m totally open to this flexibility, because I’ll be in a supportive and engaging environment with other ambitious writers. Think about your goals as a writer and artist. What does your work look like in five years? How will you adapt to a changing job market? Will your creative work always be more important than your money-generating work? (It should be.)

In order to do all this, you need to REALLY look at what you’re writing and research the hell out of programs. I’ve applied to 18 programs in all and I’ve been rejected from 14 outright. Those 14 programs weren’t right for my learning and writing style, and that’s not always something new applicants are willing to accept. Although I’ll always be a little bummed I didn’t get into Brown or Iowa or University of Michigan, I also recognize my multi-discipline engagement might not have been a good fit for these straight-forward, traditional programs. It just took two years and many rejections to come to terms with that. The three schools that accepted me outright were The New School, CalArts, and California College of the Arts—three prestigious art colleges, not traditional writing universities. Virginia Tech is somewhere between an art program and traditional literary program, and this is totally where my work fits best. I ultimately decided on VT over the other three because it’s a three-year program with a broad focus (I can take non-fiction, digital media, and screen-writing courses), it’s fully funded and comes with a stipend for teaching, and I want to eventually relocate to the east coast. San Francisco is too expensive for my lifestyle, CalArts is great if I wanted to write for TV, and visiting The New School made me realize I don’t want to live in New York right now. Although I exchanged these hip metropolitan cities for a rural mountain community, Virginia Tech is only a few hours from DC, Richmond, the Outer Banks, Charleston, and Pittsburgh. I can scout these areas for cool internships and jobs in the summer when I’m not teaching.

Now you know how I managed to barely con my way into a program (just kidding! I don’t have impostor syndrome!! Not at all!!!) and secure the next three years for writing and studying literature. Whatever comes from this experience, I know it’s up to me to revisit my goals from the last ten years and set my sights on more challenging projects. This includes checking back on my statement of purpose and remembering the reasons I applied to school. If you’re going through this process now, or considering it this season, keep your arrow aimed straight at your target and allow yourself some flexibility when looking into programs. Make your spreadsheet, go visit schools, and write your head off!

Good luck!!

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The First Humans

The older I get, the fewer stars I see. It must be the glasses, something in the lenses. Or the frightful thought: something in the eyes. On our backs in the camp, the start of the night sky appeared overhead. All four of us wore some kind of corrective lens. There were seven stars, and then there were eight. I counted as many as forty-five until I decided the number was less than I had seen in skies years before. Astronomers believe space is rapidly expanding, moving away from our galaxy faster every year. The first humans must have seen the night sky glittering with stars so bright, they could not have stared all night. If telescopes could see this and predict the distance of the stars over time, the fault was not in our lenses. It was definitely something in the eyes.

We left home without a lot of things we needed. We had enough food for a week for the weekend. Not one of us remembered the water. It was cold and humid in the morning. There was dew on the oven mitts, reflecting the sun in lime green drops, one bit of light at a time.

If we had Pat, he’d chop us some wood. If we had Courtney, she’d build us a fire.

If we had. If we had.

We drank beer so we wouldn’t think about water. Thoughts of water turned into thoughts of a lake of water, of a fresh spring that flowed into our campsite, as if we could will one into existence.

We wouldn’t make it through the weekend without water.

We turned over a stone with the beginnings of a sculpted leg. Da Vinci was just a torrential rain, we said. Michelangelo was a tornado of sand and wind. Lambs ears sprouted in the creek bed, where flat black spiders darted under warm stones when we were posed to step down. Drowned and dried up weeds looked like tattered clothes in a violent way, as if the dry rocks and trickling stream was complacent in a struggle. But they were only plants caught in a flood. But the only tattered clothes were on our legs.

To emphasize our group potential, each of us had a job at the site. The men strung ropes between trees with loops interspersed to hang wet clothes or—jokingly—ourselves when we got too thirsty. The women, used to their morbidity, rolled their eyes and cleared spider webs off the picnic table with sticks of fragrant cedar. Snowy ash from the fire fell into the guac. At least we remembered the guac. We heard a round of bullets fire into the woods, and somewhere in the park a bird left a space in the sky.

At night, a creature walked through our campsite when we turned off the flashlight. We held still at the edge of the woods in the pitch black. The animal moved slow as if stopping to pick fallen berries off the ground. I held my breath when it grew close enough for me to hear her grunts and grinding teeth. When she was beside me, I still could not see. The tip of a soft ear brushed my arm. Danger, fear of wildlife took over, that existence almost exactly like our own, but feral, indigenous. Life was meeting life in an arena with no rules. I closed my eyes to see the sun. I thought please be tame, please be kind as the ear ran across my arm, then my cheek. For a moment, the only thing in the world anymore was the connection of that fur and my skin, the meeting point between girl and unknown animal in the blinding dark. I felt like the earliest human, like I was meeting the world for the first time, like I could look up and the sky would be all white with stars.

Later, in the tent, I put my face into a moist armpit and felt the emptiness of the open night around us settle, turning, in my dreams, to water.

In the morning we left the site in damp boots and unbrushed hair. Our tents were wet, the floor was quenched, but we were not. At the nearby stream, we built a ship. We called her The Mermaid and released the ship into the drink. A maiden voyage, we shouted. Long live The Mermaid! The Mermaid went over a waterfall and drowned in the river.

What we never realized was this: The Mermaid was only a float prepared by thirsty friends. That the stars are there until they’re not. That fur and skin are the only separations between us and the deeper connective tissue of the world. That this life was our maiden voyage.

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.

Things are Happening!

rifmtns-tetouan

Tetouan (from an internet search) below the Rif Mountains

On November 9th, I was officially accepted into the Green Olive Arts residency program in Tetouan, Morocco, for a one month residency where I will focus exclusively on writing short fiction. For all my readers and friends, here are some of the developments that led to this wonderful opportunity and what it means for myself and my supportive community:

I was having a difficult time deciding whether or not to attend a graduate program in the coming year–as they are expensive, unless fully funded–and very competitive. An MFA in creative writing also does not guarantee anything, except usually regret at having spent so much time paying for something that many writers have taught themselves. My other option was to continue on the track that I began last year, which is working a paying job enough to grow my writing career and filling up the rest of my time with everything and anything related to writing and supporting a writing community. Many of you know I volunteer as the senior prose editor at Kanas City Voices and on the board of their parent non-profit publisher, Whispering Prairie Press, both of which have extended my understanding of the mechanisms behind non-profits as well as the unending creativity of the larger community. This year marked a turning point for me when I published the article, The Empress’s New Clothes in July. The wide and surprising circulation of this piece gained the attention of individuals and organizations I would not have previously become connected with. When I was approached by the editor of The Pitch to write art criticism for the weekly paper, I thought, “this is among the top five things I never expected to come out of this”. You can now find my published reviews here.

There are many ways to become a writer and give yourself time to pursue a self-directed education, many of which are hidden unless you look deep enough inside your own goals and dreams and commit to the oft difficult task of constant writing. I’ve decided to postpone any MFA applications for now and let my new opportunities in Kansas City lead me places I could not arrive at simply by holding a new degree. That said, I have taken my education into my own hands, writing and reading and practicing everyday until my lifestyle is inseparable from my goals. One way to continue to do this with uninterrupted time is to attend a residency. I applied to five residency programs this year and Green Olive Arts was the one that came through. Gaining admittance to this residency is a huge step for my career as a writer, as I have never been allowed a complete month away from daily responsibilities to focus exclusively on my work. With the support of grant organizations, friends, family, writers, readers, and believers, I’m hoping to raise the money I need to pay my travel expenses from May 8th-June 5th while I attend Green Olive Arts in Tetouan, Morocco.

I am not attending this residency as a tourist. Global conversations require a new approach–one that is not dictated by the outrageous political figures or religious fanatics. While these men are fighting to be heard louder than their opponents, Muslim women are being overlooked entirely. This conversation effects their lives, but they are not permitted to have a voice in the male-dominated debate.

Morocco has been a famous haven for expatriate writers–all men, who have enjoyed a certain amount of male privilege in the US and abroad. As a woman traveling alone, I will see a side of Morocco that has not been romanticized or glossed over.

During the month in Morocco, I will write and refine my growing collection of short stories, which will act as a kind of self-directed thesis, in lieu of grad school.

Here is a break down of my budget for the one month time period:

Lodging: $800 ($200/week)

Studio Fees: $960 ($240/week)

Traveling expenses: $900 round trip plane ticket (or cheapest possible)

World Nomad Insurance: $125

Food: $300 ($10/day)

Home expenses–I will be holding my apartment, paying student loans and bills, health insurance, etc: $800 (not my monthly budget, this is just for bills)

TOTAL:___$3885___

This total represents the minimum funds I must raise to have a productive and successful residency, covering my basic needs and peace of mind.

TOTAL GOAL:___$4,000___

This amount factors in Murphy’s Law, allowing flexible room for any unexpected expense that may occur during my time in Morocco. I have lots of traveling experience and I know that no matter how well you plan and how fixed your agenda, something is always thrown into the mix. Maybe I get stung by a jellyfish, maybe I lose my shoes, maybe I take the wrong train, maybe I make the wrong currency exchange. Who knows? It happens.

Since my paid work is directly connected to being present in Kansas City, I will have no flowing income during my time in Morocco. I average about $1,200/month in income (which is a pretty substantial pay cut for a girl in student loan debt). Even if I saved the $200 a month I use as flexibility money just for the residency, I would still come up short. I have not created a campaign yet to help relieve some of the pressure of these expenses, because with the right amount of grant money, the amount I would need to crowd fund would drop. If and when I decide to make funding public, I will let you know right away.

Writing is my life. It’s all I do. It’s all I want to do. It’s the only thing I don’t mind doing for complete days at a time with no payment. My future and my joy is directly connected to the task of writing and satisfaction of a story completed and shared with the world’s readers. This exciting opportunity for me to focus inward and practice my voice, my nuances and empathy, is one of a kind. Thank you to everyone who has supported and believed in me for this long, and thank you to those I have never met but somehow turn up at my website and read my fiction. Thank you for everything.

Here is some work I am proud of. Your support during this time is greatly appreciated, and not all support is financial! Read and enjoy, talk about and respond, and never discount the importance of creative exchange through fiction.

Whales

(Whales at See Spot Run, Whales at Axolotl, Whales at Pear Drop)

The Artist

Brother and Spider

The Frayed Edge

Rosy

Time Machine

The Tongue

What Holds Us Together

The Story There

And a brand new story, before any hard edits: Survivors

What Holds Us Together

Most of us already knew about the kiss. Friends told friends in confidence, all while keeping the secret away from the friend who would be most affected by it. We wanted to see what happened first, so we all pretended to forget about the kiss Mariah planted on that Olympic equestrian. She and Dan sent their kids to camp to work on their marriage. Hell, we all sent the kids to camp that summer, some of them to the same camp. A great pain, we discussed at the Yentz’s party one evening, to want everything for your child and to lack the skills or knowledge necessary to provide. In our childhoods, we learned in school and we learned at the library and then we learned on the street. The things we wanted were mostly within reach. When we wanted something better for ourselves, our parents said “tough,” or, “get to work then, Matthew.” I became something I had to work for, while our friends were groomed for their careers by private schools and Ivy Leagues. Camp was for sleeping outside near a fire, or at it’s most luxurious, sleeping in a musty spider-filled cabin with nine other kids. We know today how dangerous spiders are. How corruptible counselors can be. How nobody ever puts out the fire before they fall asleep. We became weak and fragile vessels that held our children inside us, because if the world came at them with knives out, we had to take it for them. We sent our kids to camps with dorms, stocked pantries, and positive reviews. Our wives warned them not to let anyone touch their privates.

With everyone’s kids off building character, getting feasted on by mosquitoes and giving each other bad haircuts, we decided we were all overdue for a good, long, drunk together. The Yentz’s home had a mountain view. Big picture windows framed by rustic wooden beams allowed us a splendid view of the waves of green, patched with skinny firs the sun painted gold and blue, and let the warm sheets of light fill the room as we sipped our cocktails and thought privately about what our kids were doing.

The Yentz’s sent their daughters to regatta camp.

My wife started with white wine, then switched to red if the party lasted after dark. She leaned against the emerald granite island in the open kitchen and held her glass like a freshly plucked tulip. Her awkward elegance was charming, one of the reasons people liked her so much, and in her dark jeans and blue tank-top under and open white shirt she radiated this rare harmony. I tuned out of my conversation with Lauren for a second and watched my wife from across the room.

“Hey, Matty, are you still thinking about golf this season?” Lauren Yentz leaned forward onto the back of the couch in a way that made his biceps throb. If one were to look only at his hairy forearms, one might think he was in the middle of climbing the flat face of a rocky range with no safety gear. Instead, his hands clutched a hilariously small cup of orange juice. If kids ever made fun of Lauren for having a girls name, they sure wouldn’t today.

“Golf,” I turned away from staring at my wife. “I’m not a member.” Lauren disturbed a pillow at the end of the couch with one large hand. I couldn’t help but think the word minotaur.

“I can get you in.” He left the pillow alone and turned, leaning his back against the couch. “We pay our rates and then some.”

“Tempting,” I said and did a half-hearted push-up against the back of the couch. I almost spilled my gin on the plush seat. “I’ll run that by Gill.”

Lauren nodded and threw the orange juice back down his throat. I expected him to crush the empty glass in his meaty hand. He nodded toward Mariah and Shelly talking in low voices against the east wall, lit by the far reaching light of the picture window on the opposite side.

“You know they’re talking about it,” he said. I lifted my drink and peered over at the women, close friends in our circle for as long as we all knew each other. Dan was demonstrating his free-throw techniques to a cluster of men in the driveway. It felt weird to watch him dash around outside while we talked about the equestrian. “Do you think he neighs?”

“I don’t think it’s worth talking about,” I admitted.

“Terry says it happened again, in a more…illicit setting.”

“What? A stable?” I asked, suddenly picturing Mariah in a skirt cut up to her thigh, ducking into a barn with the handsome Olympic trainer.

“She wouldn’t go into detail.” Lauren excused himself to the kitchen for a refill and I looked for the women again by the wall. They had disappeared. Gill came over and we clinked our glasses together.

“Here’s to a childless summer,” she sighed and sipped her white wine. “Do you think they’ll make friends?”

“If they don’t, we’ll have to send them back,” I said. Gill cracked up. We finished our drinks.

On my way to the water closet I passed a dark shadow in a dim room. At the toilet, I held my breath to save myself from the heavily perfumed air. I thought the shadow in the room seemed odd and out of place. I passed the room again and leaned in to inspect the shadow. It was still there, backlit by the big window, reading a thick book. It glared at me.

“Hi,” I said. “Sorry. Didn’t think anyone was in here.”

The young man did nothing. His black pants were frayed at the cuffs and he sat like the dignified owner of a dilapidated manor, the whole house awash in his shadow.

“Part of the Yentz clan?” I asked.

He shifted his weight and uncrossed his legs. “Sometimes,” he began. “They pass me around.” He sucked in one cheek like he was biting it and stared at me, feathering the pages in his book with his fingers. His eyes never left mine. I tried to be polite, but my vision darted around the room instead. The walls were bare except for a few tacked up items, unsettled and unsure of themselves. “Aunt Terry says somebody’s having an affair,” the nephew noted, as casual as if we were discussing baseball. “I heard her spill it this morning,” he smirked. “Those idiots think I don’t listen.” A draft came through an unseen open window and fluttered the images on the wall.

“Right. Well, nice to meet you,” I pulled back and turned to leave.

“Who are they?” he called.

I hurried back to the party. Gill handed me a drink.

“Did you know the Yentz’s have a nephew? And he’s here? He asked about Dan and Mariah.”

Gill swirled her white wine around, uninterested in my discovery.

“Sure, why not?” she said and waved at a friend across the room. There was something about the nephew that seemed improper, socially unkempt like it could be brushed out with the attendance of a few good parties. I wondered why he wasn’t away at camp, or why the Yentz’s kept his presence a secret tonight, or how a trivial crumb of gossip could lodge in his mind like a cud.

We continued to drink. The party had grown to it’s fully mature size. Gill stood with Terry at the picture window, watching the colors from the sunset change to darker hues. The men were moving between the basketball game in the driveway to the kitchen sink to gulp down more water. Once, I looked down the hall toward the bathroom, hoping to see the young nephew stick his head out of the room, his mussed black hair a clod of shadows against the pastel walls. Everything in the house matched, with lurid knick-knacks tucked into corners like goblins in the shadows. I searched for Mariah, suddenly sympathetic to her position—in a room full of friends, most of them clued in to her extramarital escapade if only by a fine tuned ear—yet unable to discuss it openly. I realized I hadn’t seen her since I saw her with Shelley, and that some of her other close friends were also missing from the party. In the dim light, the shapes of the men—the doctors and the golfers and the swimmers—dominated the area with their big chests and voices. It was a group I inherited with my marriage to Gill. She had the money, however small it might appear to some of our wealthier friends. We had what we had.

The men all came in from the driveway and fanned themselves with the wine enthusiast magazines scattered around the common area, cooling the sweat on their necks. Dan was beaming at everyone and no one, like a flashlight that had fallen to the ground. His sleeves were rolled up over his forearms and he looked less pudgy than when I last saw him, although he was never exactly fat. I sipped my gin on the couch with some guys who were locked in a conversation about ski resorts. I missed my son and daughter, who would be either just coming home on their bikes from a friends house, or sitting on the front porch together watching the fireflies, talking about things my wife and I could not access. I searched for Gill, but she had disappeared.

A shadow passed by the picture window, darker than the early night outside, and I recognized the nephew. My glass slipped from my hands. Gin-covered ice cubes and a few drinks’ worth of lime rinds spilled to the floor and slid under the couch. The men looked up at the noise and someone brought me a towel.

“Oh shit. It just fell out,” I said to Dan, who helped me scoop up the mess.

“Don’t worry, Matt. It’s just a drink.” We knelt on the floor and retrieved wayward ice cubes from underneath the couch. Dan carried the mess to the sink and rinsed his hands. I followed with the soaked towel. All the men were suddenly gathered in the kitchen, staring at the nephew and staring at Dan. The sanguine chatter of women was missing.

I approached the sink as the nephew said, “that’s just what I heard.” Dan’s head was hung between his shoulders and he gazed deep into his amber drink. I watched the liquid for ripples, not wanting to look at his eyes. His muscular body looked suddenly deformed in this awkward moment. He was just a pinched face on a mass of misshapen meat. The blur of gin drifted through my brain like a sail across briny water and I wondered how long it would take us to talk about this moment in the future. Finally, Dan sighed and threw back his drink with one gulp. He set the tumbler on the island and poured another, three fingers full. The nephew leaned against the sink, sober as a nun.

“I knew,” Dan said at last and we all silently released our breaths. “She told me it was over. We’re seeing somebody.” Half the drink disappeared down Dan’s throat and he shrugged, now feeling drunk enough to open up about it. “Have you seen the guy? I know she has a thing for horses, but this guy really loves horses.” The rest of the drink disappeared. “He has one tattooed on his forearm.” Several of us chuckled uncomfortably, picturing the Olympic trainer on his mighty steed, a horse’s flat face peering out from his sleeve with big, dead eyes.

“It’s probably in a wreath,” someone offered.

“Or rimmed with cursive letters!”

I laughed a little too hard and choked on some spit. We came back to life. Dan laughed earnestly, restored to his inflated form, his wrinkles smoothed over.

I needed Gill. It was dark outside the picture windows and the mountains turned ink black in the distance. I wondered if people were walking around outside, looking up into the lavish home, seeing a group of grown men bent around each other, leaning into or away from the moment of intimacy that dropped in the room. Gill wasn’t there. A tune drifted from below our feet and I found the staircase to the finished basement. I felt like a diver on my way down, about to enter the mysterious caverns of the ocean where beautiful fish gather after an evening spent in coral reefs, somewhere they could disappear. Halfway down the stairs the catcalls began. They snapped their fingers at me, knowing I was helpless to their taunts.

Blue moon, now I’m no longer alone without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.

But the words were sung through smiles, through whoops and laughs. My wife snapped and swayed. She closed her eyes and leaned into it. Her voice dipped and rose and wavered out of tune, but her spirit was invested. The women lounged on the fat couches, reclined on the plush carpet, or twirled each other around in pairs. Mariah swirled past me and brushed a wine-scented finger beneath my chin. Those who knew the song sang together, and those who didn’t kept a steady beat.

I was dumb with joy.

Gill danced with one hand on her hip and the other spinning gently through the air. The women cheered and began again, pulling each other to their feet and dancing all around. I set my drink down, wrapped one arm around Gill’s waist, and grabbed her hand with the other. As I sent us spinning in a circle, navigating the drinks on the floor, she opened her eyes. The women cheered. Her red wine lips half parted.

The Tongue

A tongue came through town with a traveling parade of spectacles. Gypsies, my mother scoffed and waved at the word like it were a bird come in through the flue. The heat stuck on her skin and lingered in the air of the house, where the smells of our combined sweat and the well-fed houseflies held still in the windless summer. Please son, she began. She wiped her temple with the butt of her palm. Go if you really want to.

The gypsies brought wagons and tents fabricated from rich cloth, designed in busy cosmic patterns and repeating images of naked women. Although the show had only just arrived in town, the ground was worn with dusty paths and trails leading up to the tents. Men and dogs reclined on each other in the midmorning heat, each giving off the distinct odors of oranges and tobacco. The grass flattened around each ware-scattered rug, lit by lanterns shaped like stars. We heard the main attraction was not the great black tusks of the fabled white elephant, nor the woman who could play a violin with so much heartbreak, the instrument itself wept. Women in loose skirts lifted up handfuls of brass figures bearing the image of a god I did not recognize. None came to see these as much as they came for a six inch long tongue, floating in a glass mouth.

I followed the worn trail to the tent of the tongue and fell into the long line of hopeful observers. The jar was designed by the glassblowing widows in a town near the harbor. Their paradise grew from the fall of an oppressive patriarch, leaving them free to pursue a new, more impassioned economic system. The widows treated the project with all their attention so that the mouth-shaped jar, as it emerged from the hot flames, blew a kiss in gratitude. The widows, their town independent of crushing male rule, melted like the heated glass when it expressed to them this love.

The story of the tongue itself was what captivated the audience. It belonged to a sailor of the seas, a lover of women and treasure alike. On a meeting with a Persian lord, the sailor let slip some snide observation and had this most vital muscle torn out with his own blade. I looked into the shredded edge of the tongue, ripped apart as if with a dull blade. In fact, the blade had gone dull. The sailor’s own weapon had been used against him in the struggle. Gone were the days of the swarthy sailor’s charm, his tricks, and his humor. His favorite way to please women was through that vital instrument, whether by serenading tales of treasure and adventure or as he dove to part the hair between their legs and lick as if extracting honey from a freshly baked roll. Gone were his feasts of fish—bones and all—the ink-stained potato and squid in tough bows of pasta. No more would his tongue spit in the eyes of his crew.

No longer would it curl around crystals of salt on the posts once the ocean spray had dried. No more would it mutter in the dark the early childhood songs from school, oh which weather would you rather skip along to my dear? We could bury the day or we could run away together through rain or through sun, as the boat rocked and daybreak was a skid in the heavy ocean clouds.

I stared at the muscle, looking tip to base as close as I could to try and see beyond the tongue, into the language of the sailor—foreign to my own, into the warm wet crevasses of a woman’s sex—also unknown to me. I wanted to walk barefoot up and down the tongue until I understood exactly the taste of something sweet after tasting the salt of the ocean for so long. I wanted to feel the surprise of my wit in a room full of men, who laugh and slap me on the back and spit out their drinks on the table. I wanted to feel the dense flattening of those muscles beyond my teeth when someone told me I could not have what I arrived for, and taste the irony specks of blood that came from inside my mouth when I took a bite to the cheek. Indeed, the man lost everything. I paid to see the spectacle over and over. Every time I got back in line I fidgeted and inched until I was in front again, facing the tongue, fascinated, until I was nudged aside by the people behind me, waiting their turn to understand what kind of dishonor would cause a person to lose this important tool.
I ran out of money.

When I returned home Mother was flopped into a chair and fanning under her arms. Lord, she said, bring us some damn rain. I looked out the window toward the gypsy tents and longed for the tongue. I longed to feel the sailor’s drink on my own tongue, his laugh to burst from my chest. I turned to my mother, who was slackened in her chair, her thin arms like clotheslines that let her soft white dress dance in the mild breeze of her fan. One of the big flies rested on her arm and cleaned its back legs.

I want to sail a ship, I declared. She looked at me and I thought she would cut out my own tongue right there for saying it.

Like hell, she replied. No son of mine…she trailed off and that was the end of it for her. I studied the windless air outside and felt the cool kitchen tile on my bare feet. Before I had a ship, I better have a drink. A drink like the sailor drank, then a curse like the sailor cursed. I left my mother in the kitchen and went to the stash of coins she thought I didn’t know about. Under my father’s urn was a loose wooden board where she kept our smallest valuables. I dipped my hand into the musty dark and skimmed a few coins off the top. This is not an everyday thing for me to do. Only in emergencies, and becoming a sailor was an emergency. I scooted the urn back into place and gave a silent thanks to my father for giving me this money for something to drink.

I followed the worn trails again to the gypsy market, passing by exotic birds in golden cages and toothless old men stringing up purple flowers. I turned left down a shady narrow path crammed with vendors advertising goods under their breath. Their eyes darted around, looking for any unseen danger that could put them out of business. They looked ready to scoop up their goods at any moment and dash off into the shadows. A small raspy voice called out rum, rum, rum and I followed it, holding the coins tight in my pocket. The path darkened. Words from the vendors grew more obscure. Some names I recognized and others I didn’t. Opium, hash, hemlock, cyanide. The low rasp of rum was close. Men and women in dingy cloaks swept past me, kicking up grey dirt tornadoes. Their breath heavy beneath dark clothes like another storm blew inside them. Rum, rum, rum pulled me down, down, down the alley of vendors. I kept the tongue at the front of my mind. I knew what I wanted for the first time in my life.

A drink.

A ship.

A life as free as his.

Finally, a decrepit old man with long hair in his ears and on his chin appeared. His hands planted on the small table, only tall enough to cross his legs beneath, and the dusty green bottles laid out front called my name. I approached the old man. Even seated, I could tell he was small, smaller than myself perhaps.

What can I do for you, young fella? he asked and discontinued his chant.

I want to sail a ship. I replied. I’m here for a drink.

He bulged out one eye which he used to look me up and down. How old are ya?

Sixteen, I lied.

Bit small, he concluded and drew his wet eye back under the lid. He reached for a mid sized bottle on his left and yanked out the cork. This’ll here’s a personal favorite with the young boys. A rum from Spain. He handed me the dusty bottle. The liquid glowed amber behind the green glass as it caught a glimpse of sunlight through the awnings of the market. I tilted the spout up to my lips and let the sugary fire fill my mouth. My tongue swam in the sweet bath for a moment, all buds on the surface blossomed to take in the details of every flavor. When I swallowed, my tongue longed to chase the liquid down my throat as if to elope in some intestinal love affair. I coughed from the strength of the drink and wiped the spit from my mouth. The old man cackled like a small, fierce fire. First taste, eh? That’s the mark of a good rum there. The next sip goes down a little better, you bet.

I tilted the bottle again for another sip but his thin hand snatched it away.

First one’s free. Not the second.

My tongue lusted after the sweet sensation of the golden liquor. It all but leapt from my mouth and dove into the bottle, where it would have been happy to stay forever, alive in it’s own glass display. I dug out the coins from my pocket and made the exchange with the man. When I dropped the change in his hand he smiled a black and silver grin.

A pleasure, son.

I walked the streets of town with the cool dusty bottle pressed against my hot stomach. I had some money left from the purchase and thought about going back to the tent to gaze at the tongue some more. The long days of summer with mother and the fat house flies would be there when I returned home. There was a bay nearby, not quite walking distance, but at least I knew the way.

***

For twenty-six years I conquered the seas.

From the first bottle of rum–which fell into the sea with only a single drop remaining on the night of my first storm–to the rum I drank this evening, I remember it all. The merchants found me stowed away my first week, pickled from the salt and the sun. They tossed me out and I hit the Indian ocean like a sack of shriveled dates. I floated on my back for several briny hours, thinking about the layer of sweat my mother left on our wooden chair the day I left home. A shadow passed over me in the sky and I thought my time had finally come, until a voice shouted out and several gruff men hauled me on board. The men promised me fresh water and food, more rum, and gold medallions if I would provide a hand in their raid. I coughed up strands of salt water onto their deck and some of the men eyed me with disdain. There is no place for a boy on this ship, I heard them mutter. He will not be allowed to stay. They put me to work for the months we sailed on our way to the merchants. The men tossed me scraps of meat like they would to a dog, kicked me in the ribs if the ship wasn’t spotless, and denied my insatiable thirst for rum. At night I lay on the stuffed burlap sacks in storage, turning around with the weevils and roaches as the ship rocked and swayed. My lust for revenge on the captain that tossed me out grew with my desire to sail a ship of my own. Not one single night went by that I did not dream of the tongue floating in the glass mouth, reminding me in its perpetual silence what I had set out to do.

When they didn’t push me around, the men taught me to maintain agility and balance on a moving vessel. They gave me a heavy stick and made me practice sword play while they chucked apples at my head. They used my size to my advantage and shoved me into gaps within the ship to retrieve lost or hidden items. Since I was not strong enough to overpower a grown man, I practiced furtiveness. When a man would go insane from the lack of relations with women, I learned the art of stealth and the patience of waiting for danger to pass.

We caught up with the merchant ship almost a year after they tossed me out on their run to Haiti. I was delirious with the fermented choler that seeped out of the cracks the dry sun made in my skin, but I was stronger and smarter than before. I envisioned the merchant who found me stashed away. I replayed again and again the expression of pure hate on his face and the sweep of his hand out to the blue field of the sea as he gave the command to dispatch me. My life and my future now balanced on the tip of the nail that connected to the finger that gave the motion: “toss him overboard”. When we boarded their ship and the men shoved me back onto the deck I was exiled from, I sliced off that finger and then I plunged the knife into the merchant’s chest until his heart leapt out and smacked me in the ribs with its final beat. I stole his boots, which I wore stuffed with hay until I grew into them.

The thieves saw this and changed their plans. Instead of sinking me with the merchant boat like they discussed, they gave me control of the ship for as long as we sailed toward our next destination. My first ship, the ship I was ejected from and then took control of in a delicious revenge, sank first in the back and then was pulled down into the unforgiving waters. All I could see of the ship were the tops of masts sinking below the surface, like the fingertips of a man as he finally drowned. The thrill induced by pools of blood on the sand and the brutal father of sea in the distance carried me to a part of the sky I never knew. The men taught me to protect myself instead of my preferred method of sneaking away, only swooping in to save me from a brawl if they saw I was not going to come out alive. I lost many fights, being smaller than the boys who grew up in this rough life, but when I started to win, I was unstoppable. The fierce men of the ship listened to my story of the tongue and the ones who knew the fabled silent sailor filled in the gaps of my knowledge. They said he, like I, wandered onto a boat one day and never left the sea after that. They said he had a mother, who mourned his father after his death in a cliff-side struggle and was never a complete woman again. They said he also waved his sword, at first, like a girl. They cracked up and smacked me on the back and drank from their rum until daylight ruptured the sky. I looked toward the great expanse of water and thought I could hear the fat black flies buzzing around the kitchen, and a voice that wove through the air and whispered No son of mine…

 

Near Death

The tire was brand new too. The worst.

The tire was brand new too. The worst.

My car tire exploded on the highway today. My long-held fears of dying in a high speed car accident came uncomfortably close to being real. I pulled off on the left shoulder, on a curve in the road, and that was almost the worst part. Anyway, between punching the hazard lights and tossing the gear into neutral, I didn’t have time to check my mirrors, or think about anything else. Then I was on the roadside with my face in my hands, cringing and crying each time another car sped past, hugging the turn at top speed.

It was weird to have an empty mind. I didn’t have a moment of profound realization or regret, flashbacks to other times or people. It happened very fast, and when it ended, I was left feeling a strange solitude wrap around me, like everything I have done belonged to me alone, and if I died, it would all die with me.

Of course, I’m fine. Roadside service came and helped me put on the spare. I lived.

So far, nothing has changed. All my plans are still scheduled. My stories are still incomplete. My relationships are the same. My worth hasn’t changed. I’m not calling old lovers, or distant family members, or settling debts with peers. The daily death speculations have shifted a little, but that will pass. I am continued. The time on the shoulder of the road, leaning into the sway of the car created by speeding traffic, has occurred. Now I’m home in my single apartment, surrounded by material extensions of myself, and I feel something else–something gone. All my windows are shut, but there is a draft coming from all over. The usual clutter is strewn, but everything has shrunk. Corners in pillows seem dented and weak. Chipped paint on the walls expand to reveal more color, older color. Is the carpet puling away from the edges of the walls? I do not know that this exists, but I know where these feelings come from. I thought, for only the 2nd time in my life, that I was actually going to die, and I didn’t.

I want to share what I have, maybe so I feel something else next time I’m terrified. Maybe only so I know people saw I was trying to give something back to the world–trying to give back what I have taken from it. So I give you a new story, because we deserve it, and I need it to survive.

Come over October 11th, at 8am and read it. It’s not about what happened today, but the themes are the same. And if I haven’t told you I love you lately–I do.