Rosa Parks

Photo by Thomas Hawk


Associate fiction editor Jason Teal on today’s bonus essay: An essay preoccupied with humanness could not have arrived at a timelier juncture in our country’s marred history. With everything piling up, almost insurmountably in recent months and weeks, we need revelations like “But There Is Also Rosa” to remind us it’s okay to be tired. Poring over “steel-heavy” qualities of McCauley’s distant relative in the essay, we glimpse Parks’s legacy mirrored in Cousin Ricky’s pride for his doctor uncle, Black Lives Matter protests, and students united against death threats at University of Missouri. Investigating Reconstruction in these trying times, McCauley has unspooled a startling self-portraiture reified by that “Something Important” roaring within generations of loved ones and groups fighting daily for basic freedoms.

But There is Also Rosa

Sometime ago, Cousin Ricky found out about my father.

Ricky lives close to where Daddy grew up, which is five minutes outside of Ferguson, Missouri. Ricky is sharp-brained, slick-tongued, and fought in the Iraq War. He was surprised Daddy became a famous doctor, especially since my father grew up true-poor and life-hurt. Ricky was impressed Daddy got out of the Lou and became an Important Man who makes kidney medicines you can find in every hospital. McCauleys don’t do shit, Ricky said, far as I know. Almost didn’t believe it when Mama told me your Daddy was a doctor.

Ricky does not have my father’s last name. He told me he thought the McCauley name was plagued with prisonbars, drug trouble and liver sickness. To him, McCauley meant failure, a bad fate. But here was my Daddy: one of those bad-named folks. Acting smart and doing good with that no-good last name.

I understand this thing Ricky said, because I always thought my last name was no-good.  Unlike Ricky, I never knew a McCauley outside of Daddy and my brother Tim. I didn’t like McCauley for different reasons.  I simply wanted a last name that fit my Blatina-black skin, something like: Marisol King or Kenya Gonzales or Magarita Freedman, a name that showed my ancestors had some kind of agency; a name that offered no dark surprise when I came into a room. I didn’t know how to be proud of my last name, but I wanted to be.

Sometime ago, when I was a teen-kid, I found out about Rosa.

I discovered Rosa Parks’s maiden name was McCauley. I found this thing out while working on a project for 7th grade social studies. I got a book about Black Heroes with Rosa’s name on the first page. That name, in big golden scrawl: Rosa Louise McCauley Parks. I stared at the McCauley, loud and long, between the delicate-sounding Louise and the stately Parks. I thought then: could Rosa be one of ours? Was she, even superficially, part of me?

A year later, Grandmama let it out at a family party in St. Louis: she knew ‘bout Auntie Rosa, said she was our kin. She was my greatgreatgreat grandcousin.

When I learned all of this, I thought my name wasn’t so bad. Hey, a holy dark woman on a history-bus shared my blood-line. She’d spent her full, young life walking around Alabama with our ill-fitting name.

#

I am an adult, in Montgomery, Rosa Parks’s homecity. Montgomery is clean, old-feeling and normal. Many folks claim Rosa’s blood here; they are proud and confused and searching for heritage, like me. I say my last name to the folks who work at her museum and they say oh wow. Like it means something. Like it’s a good name that doesn’t belong to a Scottish whitegirl. Like it’s a name that fits my skin. They say: Well, you’re part of some legacy, aren’t you? You should be proud. I think of my Daddy, Timothy, my Mami, my Georgian cousin Dee, Ricky and his Mama too. I say YeahIam.

I am an adult, in Montgomery, at the Rosa Parks Museum. I am sitting on a big fake bus, and going back in time via digital presentation. There is all this rainbow flashing and it stops on Rosa’s face. I know this picture. There are only three or four photographs of Rosa Parks you’ll usually see on television or in books. What Rosa looks like: calm-faced, fair-skinned. In that picture she is straight-backed, ready, pleasant, about to turn history into revolution.

There is a presentation in Rosa’s Museum that takes you on Cleveland Avenue on December 1st 1955, when the Alabama night got cool, purple-red, shaggy with fog. They show us digital Rosa: she is dark-eyed and dead-tired, waiting for this historical bus to take her home. Rosa sits in her hard, famous seat and the night gets full-black. Her busmates are grumbling, the museum shows the other passengers—black and white—getting mad she’s holding up the ride. She stares out of a bus-window while the bus driver barks for her to get up. She doesn’t. Everyone on the bus is annoyed and yelling. The driver says he’ll get authorities if she didn’t move, and Rosa says, firmly, near-politely, “You may do that.”

Rosa, you know, wasn’t always-polite You’ll never see pictures of her hollering, but you know she can get upset. Rosa Parks, you know, wasn’t always a Negro Saint; she was a woman who could get tired. She wanted folks to know she wasn’t body-tired on that day, though. Her spirit had been kicked enough times it got hard from hurt. Then that hardness got steel-heavy, wouldn’t let her move from that damn seat. She said: “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” The video at the museum quotes her saying this too.

I think about when I was a little girl, friendless and bullied by a bevy of suburban white faces. I think about them coolly slinging “niggers” at my child-face, remember them theorizing my skin was brown because God didn’t wash black folks. I remember a whiteboy I sort-of liked saying, “I can see you in private, but we can’t go home ‘cause Grandma lives there and she’s racist.” I remember the richboy who cornered me after class and asked what black girls taste like. I think of when I was at Trayvon and Mike Brown protests in Miami explaining to red-eyed critics why black folk lives matter. I remember being at the University of Missouri, the morning after the death threats on black students. I remember coming to work and seeing empty buildings and sidewalks and quads, save for a few dark faces, even though dark folks were the ones targeted. I remember the blackboys in front of the library who came up to me, asked to escort me to my car just in case someone started shooting. I remember asking them if they were scared of what had happened the night before. They said, “Nah. No way. We’ve seen worse. We got classes to go to.”

I remember thinking, then, manoman, darkfolks can get so tired.

After Rosa got tired of giving in, she did That Great Thing. They show you it on the fake bus. How she kept sitting, until the cops showed up. She is staring forward; you can’t read her thoughts. You think, maybe she is angry, maybe this soft-featured woman is boiling inside, but you won’t see that anger because her lips are a straight line. She is barely blinking, her small body taut; she is preparing for a battle you can’t see.

You know, just by looking at that face, you should watch out.

#

The museum presentation is over. I am talking to some folks who work at Troy, who knew Rosa. They say she was small, saintly, and kind. They are trying to find ways to talk about her like she is a real person while still being reverent. They are trying to say she wasn’t all about that bus. They come back to the bus eventually, because how can you not?

They are talking about her as if she is an idea, not a person. They don’t know how to go beyond her hagiography, but they want to. They try. They say Rosa was good at cooking. Her husband loved her; she loved her kin. I am wondering if this is how Ricky felt when somebody told him about Daddy being a doctor. Ricky didn’t know anything about Daddy but he got proud quick. It was easy for him to talk about my father in symbols, as if my Daddy represented success and transcendence of stereotypes. I think of my own father the same way, resume-first.

This is a survival technique, for dark people: if your kin does good, you mention that good first. Everybody else will be trying to find some speck or thorn.

#

I am an adult, in Montgomery. I linger in the lobby of the museum. An elderly blackman walks in, goes straight past the front desk. He does not share Rosa’s blood. He has lived in Montgomery all of his life, and came in the museum looking for a bathroom. The oldman can’t find it. He approaches me and grumbles about the lack of obvious bathrooms. I say ohyeah, though I’m not in the mood to care about what he is talking about. He says, “You look like a young woman,” as if he assumes I don’t know what I look like. “Sure,” I say. After being in antebellum South and researching Reconstruction for the past few weeks, this skin feels ancient, but he is right– I  am nauseatingly young, in the scheme of things.

The oldman asks why I am here, in this place without obvious bathrooms. I say I admire Rosa and add quietly, as if I don’t deserve to say it, she was related to my Grandfather. The oldman doesn’t congratulate me. He tells me to remember Rosa was just another sweet-smiled woman who lived in his town. She wasn’t just about busses and revolution. He says remember she was a woman too, like you. He means things I know but hadn’t thought much about because I was so full of pride: That Rosa loved, got sad, was unhappy. That she had other sides too, not just what they show us in Negro Temples.

Then the oldman says: Man, I got to take a shit.

I try to help him find the bathroom, but he walks out quick, unsatisfied.

#

When I leave the museum, I see a gleaming statue of Rosa. I look at this Rosa, the not-real, frozen one encased in polished bronze. She is sitting serenely, looking off at something. You don’t know what she is looking at. You can’t know what she is staring at, this fake Rosa, and you’ll never know what the real Rosa—the one they modeled this statue after–was looking at either. In this museum, at least, we are supposed to assume she is looking through a bus-window, forever.

I stare at her man-made eyes. Those eyes: defiant and aggressively calm. That look: lonely, tired of being slapped, resolved. Those eyes tell her body, a body warm with blood like mine: sit and rise on your own terms.

I’ve seen that look in my Daddy’s eyes, in the eyes of so many dark folks who have not been awarded Negro Sainthood.

Their eyes: beat-up, steely and shining, looking forward to Something Important.

Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a writer, teacher and PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Missouri. She is also an editorial assistant at The Missouri Review, a reviews editor at Fjords Review and an associate editor of Origins Literary Journal. Her most recent work appears or is forthcoming in editions of The Los Angeles Review, Jabberwock Review, Split this Rock’s “Poem of the Week,” Puerto del Sol, The Feminist Wire, New Delta Review and A Shadow Map Anthology (CCM Press), among other outlets.

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Rocket Launch

Photo by MMMescalino


Associate fiction editor Brenna Womer on today’s bonus story: There is discernible pleasure and vulnerability in Jamie Shrewsbury’s writing, which, in her short-short “Welcome Home,” is achingly simple, like the truth of two parallel lines, and resplendent with whimsy. The story highlights human inclinations toward hope and empathy and leaves the reader with the notion that, while there may not be protection in honoring passion, there is peace.

Welcome Home

One of the parachutes landed in the lush, rolling hills of the English countryside. It was tiny. The blue and white logo contrasted against a field of creeping buttercups, which bowed to break the object’s fall. Attached to the parachute was a small metal box with a latched door on one side.

They were on holiday in Devon with their daughter Sophie at a nearby farm cottage. They enjoyed the quaintness of the countryside, the solitude of muted earth. Three-year-old Sophie could not control her timbre as she ran through endless fields with only the top of her head visible in a sea of green and yellow. She happened upon the scene of the flattened flowers with eager curiosity. Her tiny, jam-sticky hands lifted the box, shook it, and thrust it forward. She stood in awe as the parachute deployed and flew in the same direction of the wind, evoking her laughter and applause. When her parents called for her to retreat inside for the day, she took the box, too.

When asked about the origin of the box, Sophie could only answer that she found it in the flowers. Sophie’s mother spotted the latch and opened its door. This revealed a yellowed piece of paper, folded in half, with a hand-written letter inside. She called her husband into the room and read the letter aloud:

To Whomever This May Reach:
I accept the fact that there was a miscalculation made. It is rocket science, after all.  Perhaps in some ways I consider myself extremely fortunate. Who else can view cosmic light reverberating in multiple dimensions whilst eating their breakfast? Send my family all the best.                                                                        

-Commander A.T. White.

The mother could remember learning about the NASA organization in her United States History course at university. This was many years ago—and she vaguely recalled space missions and exploration. Names like Scott Kelly came to mind, but A.T. White was lost on her. With this, she activated her inner-chip:

SEARCH: Commander A.T. White

RESULTS: Commander Alexander Theodore White, Mission XT411, Lost in Orbit  – All Transmissions Terminated, May 16, 2017.

Continue Search?

“No,” she answered. She walked over to the window and looked out at the vast sky.

“Perhaps someone is playing an elaborate joke on us,” he said.

“Should we contact some sort of historian for verification? If it is real, it may be worth something,” she said, with her back still turned.

***

His muscles were beginning to atrophy now—the Interim Resistive Exercise Device had malfunctioned weeks before. There were fourteen vacuum-sealed metallic pouches remaining. He still attempted communication at least once a day, holding out hope that a new nearby satellite would pick up his signals. He spent most of his days staring at the void, wondering if his family was staring into it as well.

He promptly located pen and paper and began writing his first letter. This took him longer than usual, since his arm muscles were in a weakened state.

Houston:
We have a problem. By my calculations, I’ve drifted farther into the darkness than any man has ever before. By the time this reaches you, I’ll be stardust. My faith is pushing me to send it anyway.                                              

-Commander A.T. White.

He delicately folded the paper and placed it in the box. The vacuum port sucked it through a tube and out into space. He watched it drift away into the cosmos.

Useless machines surrounded him now: Wires, particle detectors, laboratories, ports and air-locked doors. The engine was still running. Microgravity whirled his body into fetal positions, and he fed on the oxygen that remained.

When only seven food pouches were left, he decided to write yet another letter.

Earth:
Will I ever see your shades of green and yellow again? Your prodigious oceans? What do your poets know of loneliness? Please send help.                              

-Commander A.T. White.

It was all so futile now, all his years of training and study. He had no sympathy for himself. This was his dream, his religion. We began as universal particles, and we ended as such.

He composed his last letter with irrelevant calculations in mind. He wished he could shrink and shoot himself out of the ship and into the void. Would something he touched really make it back home to create his memorial centuries after his departure?

He pressed his bare hand on the cold window, and a tranquil air orbited his bones.

Jamie Shrewsbury lives in Ocean City, Maryland, and is a recent graduate from Salisbury University. She has previously been published in apt and decomP.

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Flowchart for Fixing an Awkward Sentence


*Click on image for a larger version.

Chelsey Clammer is the author of BodyHome and winner of the 2016 Red Hen Press Nonfiction Manuscript Award for her essay collection, Circadian. She has been published in The Rumpus, Hobart, McSweeney’s, and Black Warrior Review among others. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown and a volunteer reader for Creative Nonfiction. She teaches creative writing online with WOW! Women On Writing, and received her MFA from Rainier Writing Workshop. Visit her at www.chelseyclammer.com.

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Blueprints for Willborough Home

Photo by Brian W. Tobin

Editorial intern Jason Chenette on today’s bonus stories: In this pair of short-shorts, Michael Alessi explores the inherent dangers of brotherhood through video game worlds. At just over 100 words each, these stories pack a lot of extravagant death and introspection both into a space that’s shorter than Mario without powerups.

Blocks

For work my brother and I go outside and break blocks with our heads. We get a running start and headbutt the cubes of brick into smaller cubes of brick and money comes out. I pretend I’m my brother and he pretends he is me so neither of us feels anything and we never age. After a while the rubble looks like the hills that look like the clouds in the sky that never move. Or maybe they only move like us—in the same direction at the same speed forever. We find a line of turtles and they die at our feet, fizzling out of their shells into effervescence, as if to applaud us on being human.

 

The Doom Game

The goal is to die in a series of rooms until there are no more rooms or ways left to die. In his first room, my brother collapses with a summer sausage tucked in his throat like a second tongue. Then a sawmill accident. Then he drowns at his own birthday party, caught in a riptide while his mother feeds seagulls the sodden cucumber slices she picked off his sandwich. I’m stuck growing old in my first room, worrying about all the death I’m not having. I’m running out of rooms, my brother brags. A shark just ate me. Time slows down, but there is nothing smaller for me to grow into. I feel like I’m dying, constantly, but I’m not. Finally the door to my room opens and my brother steps inside, his pale spidery hands twirling a pipe and scythe. This is my room, he says.

Michael Alessi’s work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Pinch, Mid-American Review, New Delta Review, the minnesota review, and other journals. He is the recipient of the first annual Ryan R. Gibbs Award for Short Fiction, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and the 2016 Pinch Literary Award for Fiction. Raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, he lives in Chicago where he serves as the managing editor of Fifth Wednesday Journal. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Old Dominion University.

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My dacha

Photo by Julian-G. Albert

In The Style Of

1.
Sometimes at night I wake up without knowing I woke up. When I wake up not knowing I woke up, I will soon know sleep. But if I wake up knowing I woke up, I will worry about my awakeness, which will then keep me awake.

2.
A person writing in the style of Lydia Davis does not become Lydia Davis. Perhaps her style bears the influence of Lydia Davis’s style, or perhaps her style happens to coincide with it. Perhaps her style, while bearing the influence of Lydia Davis’s style or happening to coincide with it, also bears the influence of and happens to coincide with other styles. Perhaps her style, in certain ways, is distinct from the style of Lydia Davis and other styles. But if her style bears the influence of or happens to coincide with no other styles, if it is solely in the style of Lydia Davis, it still is not the writing of Lydia Davis. And yet, it cannot be said that the writing of the writer writing solely in the style of Lydia Davis is the writer’s own. If her writing is not her own, and it is not Lydia Davis’s, then whose writing is it?  Who is writing?

3.
Sometimes at night I wake up worrying about who I am not. For instance, why am I not Lydia Davis? Why do I spend years writing stories that no one wants to publish? Why does no one want to publish my stories? Is it because I’m not Lydia Davis or because I’m the kind of person who lies in bed wondering why I’m not Lydia Davis, rather than rising from bed to write? Why do I still think my life would be better if I were someone else? If I were someone else, would I know it? Or would I think I was myself and want to be like someone else? Maybe I’d want to be someone who spends years writing stories that no one wants to publish. Maybe I’d want only to write and not care about the rest. Is that the other self I should want to be? Or should I want to stay as I am, someone who spends years writing stories that no one wants to publish and therefore wants to be someone else? Could this wanting be a blessing? Without this wanting, would I lie awake worrying about only my awakeness, which would then forever keep me awake?

Jennifer Wortman’s work has been or will be published in The Normal School, North American Review, Confrontation, Massachusetts Review, PANK, Columbia Journal, DIAGRAM, River Teeth’s Beautiful Things, and elsewhere. She is an associate fiction editor for Colorado Review and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.

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3090 Window

Photo by nebojsa mladjenovic

Editor-in-Chief Jennifer A. Howard on today’s bonus stories: Today’s microfictions from Kate Simonian could fit into the palm of your hand but so does your house key, and they both unlock the way into something big.

A Sad Story

Save last night’s parable till you’ve left me for good, hot-footed from the motel to the taxi-cab to the dust-blasted station, hoisted your suitcase onto its allotted grille and settled your body into the train car. Here it is: a spider is hiding inside a man’s shoe, and he steps on in.

 

Diurnal

“There are two kinds of people in the world,” you say. I disagree: only night and day made humans think in binary. You reply with your body, fold it into me. Now every thought is one of two halves only.

 

Cats Looking Out Windows

With no regard for my career I have painted only them, scraping hundreds of bodies from damp oil, abdomens like bloated socks, curved prows, horns of plenty. Heads are chest-buried, jutting finely, feathered with light, purringly smudged. Still eyes look out with majestic expectation.

Kate Simonian hails from Sydney, Australia. She took her MFA from Brooklyn College (2014) She’s currently in her second year of an English PhD at Texas Tech, where she is a Presidential Fellow (2015-2020). Her work has been published by, or is forthcoming in, The Kenyon Review Online, Overland, and Best Australian Stories, and she is an associate editor for Iron Horse.

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run

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

Starting Block

0.1  There is nothing about running that is simultaneous.

0.2  There is a correlation between running and writing: that when we put feet to pavement we put pen to paper—there is an activeness that is unspoken and silent; the way that my nerves twitch after finishing a run, the way that I feel an unseen force on the bridge of my nose on those rare days where the words unfurl themselves without a second thought of how to breathe, how to formulate whole sentences out of partitioned letters. This is what I have been told over and over: that the discipline required to take those two steps off of my front porch, make a hard right, & truly “begin” to run will somehow correlate to the act of “beginning” to write. I am uncertain as to what I should be expecting: is this a natural syncopation of things, or does it require something magical—something romantic—something that allows the two ghosts to keep pace.

0.3  “I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle—it’s a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours. Back into book time, which is transparent—you don’t know it’s passing.” –Don DeLillo, The Paris Review

0.4  To write about running, I must run. When I first started running, I would write: all experiences were new to me—the sound of loose gravel, the lingering smell of exhaust after a truck speeds up to beat you through the crosswalk. This is the antithesis of long-distance training—the idea is to do the same thing over and over again until nothing is new—that when you run your race, no matter how many miles it may be, nothing will be surprising. There has been nothing new to come from any of this—even a fresh blister forming on the tip of my big toe is the result of the same act being repeated over and over again until the friction causes the layers of skin to separate. I have not been surprised in what seems like weeks.

0.5  I have been struggling with the idea of being a runner: that this is something that I could not possibly categorize myself as, despite running. One who simply runs is not a runner in the same way that one who simply writes is not a writer—there is something mythical about letting the action personify oneself, as if what we put out into the world envelops us in a slick film—that somehow the external actions become internalized until we become the thing that we do. I write. I run. I am terrified of my actions.

0.6  The Russian actor Konstantin Stanislavsky is considered to be the first person to describe what we now know as “method acting,” that is, attempting to create some sort of theatrical truth: the actor intends to embody the role that they are playing, taking the character out of the frame of the stage & bringing it out into the real world: actors never break character–they order coffee as their current role, they relocate, they live a different life than the one that has been afforded to them. In the same way, I write not to inform, but to make you understand what is occurring at this particular moment—not only what my thoughts are while scraping my heels up a particularly steep hill, but how the hill feels underneath my feet—how this is a merging of two concepts that should never meet.

0.7  “I try not to think about anything special while running. As a matter of fact, I usually run with my mind empty. However, when I run empty-minded, something naturally and abruptly crawls in sometime.” –Haruki Murakami

0.8  My training plan calls for brief walking breaks after I have run a certain amount of miles—I am asked to imagine that I am running a race & that there are tables of water, coolers filled with sports drinks. I am supposed to walk and sip—that when the time comes to actually perform, if I were to run and swallow water, I would take in too much air, that I would cramp up and float apart. Under any circumstance, I am not allowed to stop moving: all grabbings must be done in a swift motion—everything continues as it should. There is no room for an interlude here—no world to shake off in order to inhabit another for a brief moment. All energy is expended creating a future world where I am still running. There are small green cups on a make-shift table. There are large orange water coolers that need to be tipped forward to get the last drops. This is all that I can see. There is no luxury. I do not know what I think until I know it.

0.9  It was foolish of me to think that this would be simple: that the concept of finishing is attainable—I would end a run, & then I would write. Instead, I am both of these things at all times; it has less to do with being exhausted, but more to do with never feeling complete. The crawling is constant—the world described by others provides the artifice of fiction; that the blur of oak trees by the river can be one world, whereas the intricate details of a city that he fabricated can exist as another. I am stuck in the parallel—in the same way that despite timelines ending; despite the fact that it has been over a decade since my grandfather stopped running, stopped writing, stopped being a grandfather, stopped being of a world of which we are all familiar, there is no interlude; no moment where anything is forgotten. The lines are linear; constant. His presence is constant. This occurs over, and over, and over again. And yet there is no deviation—no way for them to ever cross. I am not given the benefit of the void when I run, but when it is over, I feel the heat in my eyes—the pulsating of all of the worlds trying to crawl back in.

Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey & currently lives & teaches in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks & five full-length collections, ranging from Craigslist Missed Connections, to NBA Jam, to 8-bit video games, to computer viruses. This piece is from a memoir in progress about translating his grandfather’s book on long-distance running. Other sections from this project have recently appeared in Denver Quarterly, Catapult, Another Chicago Magazine, and The Rumpus.

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Milo napping

Photo by Chris Gladis

This week, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our staff how they’re coping with end-of-semester stress.

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Eating even more chocolate than usual, which is quite extreme behavior if we are being honest here.

Jason Teal
Associate Editor, Fiction
Sandusky, Ohio

I take naps. Gosh naps. Shucks naps. Why naps. Naps inside of naps. Naps I can steal at work. Naps inside of thoughts. A nap now. A nap later. Look I’m napping. I have napped. I will nap. Napping is comfort. Napping is necessary. Napping is real. My cat naps less than me. I’m a burden to my nap schedule. My nap schedule dictates my life. If you call during a nap, forget about it. Good night every day, any time of the day. Why aren’t you napping this very moment? Will you nap already?

Hayli Cox
Associate Editor, Nonfiction
Morenci, Michigan

Petting my cat until he gets annoyed, then petting my stuffed dog Patches.

Deziree’ Brown
Associate Editor, Poetry
Flint, Michigan

VIDEO GAMES. Always.

Brenna Womer
Associate Editor, Fiction

Paxil. (Thanks, Doc!)

Jacqueline Boucher
Managing Editor
Juneau, Alaska

Poorly, but I think it’s important to talk about, you know? I’m not coping well. My stomach is in knots, and my stress dreams have me standing in front of crowds in my underwear at least twice a week. But there are bright spots. I get to see my family for the first time in over a year soon. That’ll be amazing. Also, books? Sending out my manuscript? Remembering that poems can be fun?? Sign me up.

Jennifer A. Howard
Editor-in-Chief
Escanaba, Michigan

Thank you for assuming I am coping with stress.

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Hudson River view

Photo by Stanley Zimny

Two Ways of Reading a Book

And doesn’t he sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his trade? —from “Two Ways of Seeing a River,” by Mark Twain

In his famous essay lamenting what is lost in the acquisition of knowledge, Mark Twain begins with a look at his own transition from a youth seeing the beauty of a sunset on a river to a man who can read omens in a “mark on the water” that signifies “a bluff reef which is going to kill somebody’s steamboat.” Twain ends his essay professing a pity for doctors and speculating as to whether physical beauty can still be appreciated by someone who has learned so much about the body.

We writers are encouraged to get degrees in our craft, to read essays on craft, and to read just about everything published in the genre of our craft. Does that necessitate a loss of our ability to see the beauty of the written word as crafted by another writer?

When I read Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrow’s novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—an epistolary novel structured as a series of letters—it struck me that this device choice enabled the authors to succinctly transmit details about World War II by having characters ask each other questions about their experiences, while weaving those details into the responses. Another device choice was the setting. With many of the characters located on the island of Guernsey—cut off from communication for much of the war—it became plausible for them to not understand references to common wartime terms, or to pose questions that would fill in further details about the war.

In consciously recognizing the importance of these device choices by the authors, I suddenly thought “I can no longer read a book without seeing the author’s hand behind it!” After studying and learning so much about the writing process, I realized that I can no longer read a book in only one way. I can no longer read merely for the pleasure of the act of reading.

When this struck me, I was temporarily concerned that I would never again read for pure enjoyment. Twain’s essay came to mind. But as I reflected on his pity for the doctor—and melancholy over the loss of his own ability to see the beauty of the river—it came to me that the pity was misguided. Just as there are “Two Ways of Seeing a River,” there also exist “Two Ways of Reading a Book,” and we should not have to restrict ourselves to only one.

For instance, all magicians know that they practice illusion. Magicians have sacrificed their ability to see only the “magic” of a magic show. They have learned the tricks-of-the-trade and can recognize them when watching fellow magicians perform. Yet, there are magicians who inspire the wonder of other magicians through the grace of their skills, and the art and charisma with which they captivate an audience. There are magicians who are so good that even other magicians can’t figure out how they do a particular trick. There are magicians who admire other magicians even though they themselves know the tricks.

And that is why, after much reflection, I have come to gladly accept and welcome my inability to read a book without noting the tricks-of-the-trade that are apparent to me as a fellow writer. Knowing the tricks has not taken away the magic of a book, but has enhanced it, just as I imagine the doctor—knowing all that he or she knows about the workings of the human body—can marvel that, despite all of the medical reasons it should not, the beauty of the human body continues to exist.

Bernadette Geyer is the author of The Scabbard of Her Throat (2013) and editor of My Cruel Invention: A Contemporary Poetry Anthology (2015). Her writing has appeared in 2015 Poet’s Market, Oxford American, Poet Lore, The Writer, and elsewhere. Geyer works as a writer, editor, and translator in Berlin, Germany. Her website is http://www.bernadettegeyer.com.

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Photo by Mason Witzel

With so much going on in the world, it can be difficult to remember how and why we found our way to prose and poetry in the first place. Trying to find his own answers, Associate Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill asked our staff why should we care about writing.

Jacqueline Boucher
Managing Editor
Juneau, Alaska

We should care about writing–and more specifically about creating a literary journal–because it means taking ownership of the curation and shaping of our small part in this cultural moment. This journal–any collection of literature–is literature on purpose, and our endorsement of something, our lifting it up to be babied and meticulously prepared and sent into the world, is an act of care that feels revolutionary to me. It’s the opposite of almost everything else that exists because everything about it speaks to an act committed with intention and thought and purpose. When the world is scary and feels random, I find deep comfort in that intentionality.

Jason Teal
Associate Editor, Fiction
Sandusky, Ohio

Writing is resistance and promotes understanding of others, but it can just as easily pervert our best intentions. We need good writers, honest people with the best ideas for humans, speaking out, speaking for each other.

As much as we need writers, though, we also need readers concerned with engaging with this sort of writing. We need to foster a community of thinkers and better modes of communication, and writing, whether social media or fake news or real journalism, makes a real difference, as we’ve seen. We can no longer ignore this–we see where the new hostile right is targeting America, in its learning communities, brandishing false tirades against a blanket “political correctness,” rather than adapting thoughts in order to create spaces for everyone in your life.

The new right means to destroy empathy and caring. We writers and readers and thinkers are the front lines of the American conscience. We are the first they will seek to corrupt or shut down. We must resist. We must write. I will write. I will resist.

See also:
INBOUND 2016: Ta-Nehisi Coates Keynote

Krys Malcolm Belc
Associate Editor, Fiction
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My wife and I are afraid sometimes, for our own safety and our friends’. It’s been hard for us to turn away from the news, to disengage from media.

Often I think of writing as a way to engage with this fear and with the big questions I have about people and the world. To draw attention to things I care about and that trouble me. I write my way into and out of the problems I see around me, and it feels like a way to gain some insight and control. To make myself and other people think about the scary things.

But in the last week, my wife and I have turned back to literature as escapism – and that’s what it was for both of us as queer nerds for most of our lives – and it’s been amazing. We’ve been trying to read the same short stories and then talk about them as a way to talk about something other than the election results and articles everyone is sharing. It’s funny because the story we talked about today had queerness at its center and yet was a way more refreshing conversation than the doom and gloom we’ve been putting ourselves through.

I want to write things that help other people engage but also escape. And to help find writing out there that does that for me and can do it for others, too.

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