Thursday, September 21, 2017

favorite short stories

I often write posts about books I've read and loved but I've never made a collection of short stories I love, which are equally important, but don't get the attention novels and memoirs do, for some reason I can't explain. I don't know why everyone isn't reading short story collections. Short stories are condensed versions of entire books! There is still plot and character and an epiphany (often more pronounced). Or sometimes its just a scene without a plot but you get to sit there, in that moment, with the character and live with them.

A writer friend asked for my list of my favorite short stories, so I made one. And then I figured I would share it. Because short stories are the tits and there is no excuse not to read them. They're short! You can read one while your kids are bouncing on giant pillows at the Pumpkin Patch. You can read three while the rice cooks.

In no particular order:

1. "The Yellow Wallpaper" 
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
If you want to feel a character, read this. You get to crawl around in this post-partum, maybe crazy, maybe gaslit, woman's skin. It'll make you want to peel wallpaper off in giant sheets, scratch through the wall until you have sheet rock under your fingernails. 

2. "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar"
by Roald Dahl
Lame title but incredible story. Probably my favorite. It is a long short story, but that's because it's a story within a story within a story. And all of them are incredible. Dahl somehow can give us minute details of a moment and the overarching summary of years all in this same piece. He is a master, making us believe what might or might not be possible because of how he tells it.

3. "Rape Fantasies" 
by Margaret Atwood  
Possibly my favorite title ever. Long before The Handmaid's Tale swept the Emmys, Margaret Atwood was writing incredibly funny stories like this one. She is a chameleon, an artist, the very best kind of writer.

4. "A Small Good Thing"
by Raymond Carver 
I know when people think of Carver, they think of "Cathedral," but it was this story that I liked the best. I constantly think back to the epiphany of this story, remind myself of small good things in my own life when I need.

5. "How to be the Other Woman"
by Lorrie Moore 
Lorrie Moore was the one who made me first fall in love with short stories. She is so funny and writes in her own way, damn everyone else. Second person? Hell yeah. Why doesn't anyone else use it? If they could like Moore does, they would. She twists conventions into something all of her own.

6. "The Man who Invented the Calendar"
by B.J. Novak 
Confession: I have a think for B.J. Novak. How could I not? He's a self-deprecating, funny writer who is also smart and thoughtful. His whole collection is smart and fun, but I found this story particularly inventive.

7. "Sparks"
by Susan Minot
Minot is a master of using language as more than words. Watch what she does to make you feel the crazy of her character with punctuation, scene changes, word repetition, tense vacillation, well-placed images. #aspirations

8. Parker's Back
by Flannery O'Connor
I'm probably not that literary because I'm not a big O'Connor fan. But this story is special. She created a whole story based on an image and I think of that image often, Parker's back, covered in tattoos he can't see. 

9. "Deep Kiss" 
by Tobias Wolff 
 Wolff packs so much to think about into such a small story. His writing is nice and tight. He even makes me consider writing in third person, because he does it so well, makes it look effortless. 

10. "Where are you Going, Where have you Been?"
by Joyce Carol Oates 
I love the tension Oates writes into both her characters and her story's action. She writes ominously, so the reader just knows shit's about to go down. She was inspired to write this story by an actual news story, proving writers are inspired by real life, but not necessarily their real life.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

resembling myself

I read the phrase, A woman who has only recently come to resemble herself ("The Folded Clock: A Diary" by Heidi Julavits). I underlined it. I read it again: "A woman who has only recently come to resemble herself." There was a break on the page then, which I used to mull over this sentence, why it stuck out to me.

Steve often tells me I'm a different person since I started my MFA. I don't deny it, he's right: I am. I'm writing all the time. Instead of watching tv, I'm reading. I started running again. I also have friends again, who I am in constant contact with: we text, send each other writing, see each other for coffee when possible. I didn't have friends for years while I was staying at home, not like this.

When Steve says I'm different, he might mean I'm pulling away from what he knew me as. Our kids are older now and they don't require the constant attention I gave them for years. Admittedly, I don't keep that clean of a house: I often skip chores to write now. Steve and I have always spent much of our time separately, but not to this extent. We used to meet up in front of the tv, which I never do anymore. I'm no longer the me he once knew.

I have been many variations of me over the years, none of which were honest. There was a long stage where I played fantasy football. There was the try-to-be-the-best-mom-ever stage where I was always taking my kids places. There was the wake-up-early stage. There was the listening-to-other-people's-music-instead-of-my-own stage. There a wino stage, there was even a yard work stage. None of these stages stuck. None of them were me. They were personas I wore to benefit someone else.

Now that I'm being honest with myself, I know I hate football. I also don't like yard work or waking up early. I like to make my own playlists. Wine gives me headaches. And as much as I'd love to give my sons a perfect childhood, a perfect mother, I know that I am an imperfect human that can not be more than I'm capable of. It has been in learning what I'm not that who I am has pixelated.

I am a writer. I am a mother. The order doesn't matter: I am both without one taking precedence. I like to listen to my headphones. I can only tolerate so much time around other people. I like to read and piece together puzzles and run and practice yoga. I like to edit other people's work, discuss literature and the craft of writing. I like to drink too much coffee, sometimes too much vodka. I like to keep friends with people who make me laugh and think and sometimes even cry, because they keep me honest. Sometimes I'm funny, sometimes I'm sad. I like jokes that go too far, past what is politically correct. I like to give people gifts when they don't expect them. I like to feel the breeze in my hair. I like to sing aloud, horribly, to the song I'm feeling, the one on repeat. And, best of all, I'm courageous.

It takes courage to be yourself. Because yourself isn't who people expect you to be. They tell you to be yourself, but they don't mean it. They mean, "be what I need you to be for me." But all of those personas I wore for other people, the ones that didn't suit me, are gone now. I'm dropping the act, the charade, the mask.

I think all of this is why I underlined the line: A woman who has only recently come to resemble herself. And I thought: finally.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

somewhere discoverable

Once I was a writer in the sense that I wrote sometimes.

Now, I am a writer in the sense that I depend on it. Like exercise, or sleep: it is a part of my day. My head fills with words and sentences to write and each day, I empty my head: scribble it down or type it out.

It was harder before, when I cared too much about structure and organization. I would keep things in my head too long, until I could be at my computer, put it in the proper Word doc. Or until I had my proper journal, which I have some inexplicable system as to what warrants entry. My thoughts would vanish there, into some dark corner of my brain, never to be found again.

But now, I have a "fuck it" notebook that I put anything and everything in. A sentence to use in a new piece, a revision idea for a current piece, a journal entry, a poem, a check list. It's a fucking mess. But it empties me out so I can fill back up with other thoughts to write down. I am creating content that I might use one day, might not. But it exists, somewhere outside my mind now, somewhere discoverable, which is what writing is, basically.

Writing is putting your thoughts somewhere discoverable: somewhere that someone one day will find it, maybe even appreciate it, maybe even tell you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Milwaukee

Writing was lonely.
So very lonely.
Until the day I discovered other writers.I knew they existed, of course, on couches being interviewed, represented with jacket pictures, in print. But not in real life like this. 
When I joined this MFA Program last summer, my world exploded. Suddenly I was filled to the brim with the camaraderie I had so desperately craved before, alone at my desk. Now, I could see in color.
I was home, with these people who thought a little like me and laughed at the same jokes I did, people who noticed subtleties like I do. We talked well into the night every night. No one wanted to go to sleep, no one wanted it to end.
This summer, during student readings, Jen and I acted in Colleen's ten minute play. I was the first Indestructible, Jen was the first Dorothy Wick. We rehearsed much more than necessary because we just really loved running lines together, making each other laugh. I wrote a poem inspired by the character I played. I read that. The crowd loved us. 
So when Colleen texted us that her play, the play we loved, was being produced at a play festival in Milwaukee with "road trip?" Jen and I each texted back "hell yeah" without contemplation. Of course. Writers support writers. That is what is so incredible about the MFA community. So we drove, a lot of hours, after Jen and Brandon were out of school, in the dark, and arrived at 3:30 a.m. We woke up and ate gluten-free pancakes and we went and saw Colleen's play acted out by "real actors" 🙄. They were incredible. Colleen was a celebrity. We were groupies.

On the ride back, at a Walgreens somewhere in Wisconsin, I checked my email where I had an acceptance from a literary journal for the poem I wrote at residency based on my character in the play. I told the girls and we high-fived, shrieking loudly. We are writers, becoming published together, by writing together, editing for one another, texting prompts and urges to write and submit. We are friends who get each other, get this business, and give each other a tunnel out of the loneliness that could envelop you if you let it.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

like a child

When my arm is across Brandon's or Holden's chest, I feel their hearts racing, running. I think, slow down, calm down, breathe. You're running your little selves ragged, you're so high strung, you chatter too much. 

I think all of these things while I drink my coffee, trying to stimulate myself.

I tell them not to interrupt when I read them books, but they have so much to say, so many questions. I think, as Brandon falls asleep in my arms: I used to wonder like that. I used to be amazed, think aloud. 

Maybe they don't need to calm down. Maybe I need to get excited again. Maybe my heart should race and run all day until finally, at night, my chest heaves and my breathing slows and I fall into dreams which I believe because I am capable of something other than skepticism. 

I caught the sunset last night which did make my heart race, a smile spread across my face. I've still got it, I thought, although it is a minimal dose.


Over the weekend, I was playing a kids' game on the iPad while I watched Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and a woman on there said, "when you get comfortable, it's time to try something new." Yeah, like the next level, I thought, passing the last one.

But I knew what she meant: something that makes your heart race, your breathing shallow. Something that makes you giddy, something to chatter endlessly about. Something that makes you feel like a kid again: full of wonder and excitement.

Tonight I want to fall asleep next to my son, both of us exhausted, not because we survived a day but because we lived the motherfucking shit out of it.

Monday, September 4, 2017

time, money, and bath bombs

I need a break from this paper which is making my head spin.

So here's what I'm into lately:
 Bath bombs. I don't know if I can take a bath without one. It turns a bath into an experience. They're expensive, yes, but you can get six cheap tiny ones for ten bucks in a pinch.
 
I am listening to this EP on a loop. It's sexy and haunting. So it's both chill and chilling.
You know how girls say they could never cut their hair short because then they wouldn't be able to put it in a ponytail? I know because I was that girl. I wanted to cut my hair short last spring, but I was training for a marathon and was tying it back every day. It's true, ponytails are convenient and short hair comes with its own challenges. Luckily, bandanas exist for bad hair days, or, more aptly in my case, those days when I don't give a fuck (every day).


 I was at my friend's house, looking at this book her ten-year-old was reading when I said, "hey, is that a timer bookmark?" I knew I had to have one. I'm reading 20 books in 4 months this semester, so forcing myself to read for a certain amount of time each day is pretty much the only way I get all of my reading done. I don't really know how to work it forward, so I have it count backward for me.
I've always been into these bracelets, that part isn't new. I wear quite a few on my wrist and people always ask me what they symbolize. Sometimes I'm kind and shrug and say "nothing, I just like them," sometimes I say "one for each person I've slept with" because I'm not in the mood. But what is new is Pura Vida makes these for babies now, my sister told me. So I bought a couple for my five-month-old niece. Pudgy baby wrists! We need to draw more attention to them. They are not appreciated enough. I love that crease.
 My fall Sauconys. This time around, I'm going to iron patches to the inside because my right toenail pokes a hole through every pair of Sauconys I own.
I haven't worn a watch since my activity tracker (which fell into toilet water and I have since refused to wear). I don't like the look of activity trackers any way, and I can guess my steps pretty accurately, so I have no need. But I did miss knowing the time. I always misplace my cell phone so I can't count on knowing what time it is. Having a kid in school now, I always need to know what time it is. I have to drop him off and pick him up! Aah! What time is it?!?


I'm unemployed but I have no shortage of shit to do. I'm not very organized by nature, so I force myself to fill out and complete a weekly to do list every Monday. Even on holiday Mondays, like today. I think I'm adulting.