Sunday, June 24, 2018

What Happened on June 21, 2018: Maddie Norris • Amy Butcher • Michele Sharpe • Jim Connolly • Jim Ross • Terese Svoboda • Merle Brown • Randon Billings Noble • Abby Hagler • Nathaniel Rosenthalis

Today we present ten more dispatches from June 21, 2018 to you. More details on the project here, but, in brief, we asked you to write about what happened on one day in June, and are publishing the results, largely unedited, for the next month and change, roughly ten a day. If you wrote something (it's not too late!), send us your work by the end of June (at the latest: earlier is better!) via this submission form (it's okay if you didn't RSVP before: the more the merrier).

—The Editors

DAY 3: Maddie Norris • Amy Butcher • Michele Sharpe • Jim Connolly • Jim Ross • Terese Svoboda • Merle Brown • Randon Billings Noble • Abby Hagler • Nathaniel Rosenthalis


I wake up hungry. The black, shaggy dog snuggles above my head. We are in my parents’ bed, which is where I sleep when I’m home. I’ve done this since my father died. My mother has already left for work, leaving an emptiness in the bed, but the dog still stays close. It will be 6 years in August.
     I text my friend three heart emojis. Her grandfather is undergoing surgery today. She’s flown back to rural Ohio to take him to his appointments and help with his recovery. She is worried, I know.
     Downstairs, I have granola and coffee and take the medicine that keeps me sane and healthy. One pill is small and chalky, the other a sleek capsule with two green lines encircling it. I should also say I woke up composing my actions in my head, trying to set them to meaning. I do this most days, trying to scythe sense from an overgrown life. I don’t think my level of attention to narrative is healthy, but I don’t think it’s particularly unhealthy either.
     I try not to burn my tongue on the black coffee as the dog destroys another toy, pulling threads from a brightly woven, knotted fake bone. Should she be doing this? She pulls with her teeth, stretching the strings and ripping them away. The unraveling unnerves me, so I distract her with a different toy, one that she hasn’t yet learned to deconstruct.
     I read a book about a faraway state, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris. She writes, “Reading is a solitary act, one in keeping with the silence of the Plains, but it’s also paradoxically public, as it deepens my connections with the larger world.” The dog lays beside me on the couch, her fur still puppy-soft, a white milk spot on her chin. A few chapters in, I turn on the TV for background noise. It sometimes distracts me from reading, but it also distracts me from loneliness.
     It is still morning, which means it’s hot but not unbearable, so I put on my red and white striped one piece and go for a swim. The pool is a chlorine blue, a mirror for the sky. The water ripples like a bedsheet pushed back, and light breaks on the bottom when I pull my head under. There are no clouds in the sky, and the trees are leaving waxy green. Other than the brief barking of the neighbor dog, the only noise is the wind shuffling trees. Underwater, there is no noise. I’ve begun swimming every morning for about half an hour. I swim breast-stroke, sometimes dolphin kick on my back. My arms cut through the water, feeling the liquid sluice along my body. Swimming, for me, is not about speed. It’s never about speed. Sometimes it’s about strength, feeling the muscle belly in my body. I think about the ways strength can make itself known and the ways my body navigates space. In that way, it’s also about movement, but more than anything it’s about the time-void swimming creates. In the pool, in the water, I think of nothing but the breast stroke. I focus on my breathing, my legs, and my arms. At the edge of the pool, the dog sometimes waits for me to pet her. Mostly, I only turn and continue.
     Wrapped in a towel, I sit on the porch waiting for the heat to dry my body. I read about blizzards: “Being closed in makes us edgy because it reminds us of our vulnerability before the elements; we can’t escape the fact that life is precarious.”
     I agree to shopping for baby clothes with my cousin tomorrow. I tell my friend she can call at 2:30 when her grandfather goes under for surgery.
     After showering, I put ice, an old banana, five red-ripe strawberries, yogurt, almond milk, and peanut butter in a blender. Mom comes home for lunch, and we sit, and eat, and talk for an hour. She wears a bright pink sweater, and the dog is happy to have two people pet and snuggle her.
     I’m still hungry after the smoothie, so I have leftover pasta salad.
     Before they leave for the hospital, my friend and her grandfather have trouble finding his living will. She is worried, I know. There is an auction for poetry books that will benefit a nonprofit providing legal aid to those in immigration custody in Arizona, where I live most of the year. I bid on several of the books, hoping to send one to my friend, who happens to be a poet, but the bids quickly climb too high. I wish I was there, to buy her a beer, a bitter IPA, our favorite.
     When my mother leaves to return to work, she addresses the dog: “Keep her company; she’ll be lonely without me.” The dog stays at the door long after she’s gone.
     The hardwood floor reflects the afternoon light like a foggy mirror as the dog sleeps on my lap. She whimpers through nightmares, so I put my hand on her stomach to still her tremors. On the television, in the background, plays a show about dead bodies. I continue reading under a soft, white blanket: “Maybe the desert wisdom…can teach us to love anyway, to love what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are.” I keep checking the clock, waiting for my friend to call. It is nine minutes past when she said her grandfather would go into surgery.
     She steps outside. “Is it raining there?” my friend asks. There’s a steady stream where she is but nothing here. We talk about dogs and poetry. In August, a day after the anniversary of my father’s death, we will see each again in the desert. For now, though, we talk for twenty minutes about an off-brand Dalmatian and her old poetry professor. At the end, she says, “I’m going to go back inside because it’s raining. I feel better now.” The dog is in my lap, her head nudging beneath my chin, and it occurs to me perhaps she is so close not for her own comfort but for mine.
     There’s still an abundance of strawberries in the fridge, so I cut up the ripest. They leave trails of pink gloss on the cutting board. I scoop up the cold pieces in my hand, slipping them into a bowl with balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. As the fleshy pieces soak redder, I cut up a red onion, quickly, so as not to cry. On low heat, the onions cook in olive oil, faint steam ribboning out. While the onions are browning, I get a call. A friend from college reminds me it’s our four-year friend-aversary. We talk about burns, superficial and partial-thickness, though we have neither visible. We remember the times we drank too much, and we discuss letters and chapbooks. Their grandmother is dying, and the two of them are returning to Nepal to visit where she grew up and set things in order. They had to travel several states to get a Visa. “She had to pee every hour, and it takes her thirty minutes to pee, and fifteen minutes to walk to the bathroom because she refuses to use a cane or walker.” In college, neither of us imagined growing old, but now we talk about how we’re going to be responsible. We’re going to learn to cook more things and how to do taxes.
     The onions and strawberries and some mozzarella pearls nestle atop spinach. Mom drinks red wine and I drink white. I tell her I’ve been cataloguing the day. “Not much cataloguing then, huh? You didn’t leave the house.” I remind her there’s life inside stillness. 

—Maddie Norris

Maddie Norris is an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona in creative nonfiction and was previously the Thomas Wolfe Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill. Her writing explores loss, the body, and the many ways to illuminate the two. She is currently at work on a collection of essays. 


It rains and rains and rains, and every day I feel a little farther from where I’ve come from, a little closer to where I hope to be. The man I love is states away—I don’t even want to be your friend he told me last, I don’t want to talk to you—and soon he’ll put his life in cardboard boxes and those boxes onto a truck and the states between us will only triple. Once he built us a bonfire and we lay on our backs for hours, watching the planes take off. Once we drove around central Florida, trying to find the apartment where he first lived. Another time we bought a puppy, buffered her dozing body between us as we slept.
     Now he screams at me, and I give in, I do, scream back.
     What to say of this life of my own invention that is only ever lonely? Last week a man lowered me into water and when I came up, I felt hot sunlight and a love I’ve been told by man is unfathomably enormous—“impossibly,” someone said, “grand”—but today it rains so hard puddles have formed inside my shoes.
     In the classroom, I tip them over, listen to mouths move for hours.
     Night comes and, with it, choices. In the corner store, I buy us candy—Skittles and gummy bears and sour, colored strings named, simply, “‘Sketti,” a pasta made from citric acid and sugar granules and artificial berry. Blocks away, in their bathroom, Cohen opens his mouth in the lukewarm water and I lower a ‘Sketti in.
     “Tweet,” I tell him, “like a bird,” but he is too shy to tweet. He is boy, he reminds me, not animal. I think it must be nice to still prefer reality.
     His mama is beautiful, my close friend, and she opens her mouth wide and I give her a ‘Sketti, too.
     Outside the rain keeps on. It is hot, the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, but I am grateful to feel it ending, to know every morning, we wake anew.

—Amy Butcher

Amy Butcher is an essayist with recent work in The New York Times, Lit Hub, The Iowa Review, and Brevity, among others. Her graphic essay, "Consolatory Puppies," illustrated by Martha Park, is forthcoming from Granta later this summer.


Stayed in bed until 8:30 a.m., stretched out alone in the bed, dozing between dreams and intentions. Sliced a peach for breakfast. The fuzzy skin does not annoy me. I’ve given up on getting the old dog to eat in the morning. She’s shrinking and dying. Should we feed her bacon? The younger dog barks at the UPS guy delivering packages across the street.
     Then a walk in the thick, too-hot-for-dogs heat. Forgot to bring a sweat rag. Used my t-shirt. I like the heat, and the humidity. A check of the garden: caladiums, coleus, tomato plants, green bean vines, the native anise and beautyberry shrubs. Cut the last gardenias to bring indoors. Their scent is better than sweet.
     Writing in bed, watching the edge of a thunderstorm pelt the camellia. The tufted titmouse doesn’t mind the rain. He perches on top of the birdfeeder pole daring anyone to interfere with him. More writing, with a couple of pomegranate popsicles for that sugar rush. One dribbles on the top sheet. I put the sheet in the washing machine along with the pillow case my bug bites bled on the night before. When my shoulder begins to ache, I go outside to stand in the sun. I hate air conditioning, but without it, the floors grow mold.
     In the early evening, I make chicken salad for sandwiches and an avocado, tomato, and red pepper salad. My husband rode his bike fifty-eight miles today. At the table, his arms are dark and veiny, but his hands are pale from wearing biking gloves. He feeds the dogs table scraps. I drive to my friend Aliesa’s house and from there we go to the city’s library, where we facilitate a community poetry workshop. A man about our age stands on the corner surrounded by plastic bags; another man about our age stands under the shelter of the library’s overhang, also surrounded by plastic bags.
     On the drive home, I slow down while passing Home Depot to see if they’ve put out expired plants. I’ve been scavenging there for years, but last week an employee yelled at me from behind a fence, “Lady, those plants aren’t free.”
     Later, I walk around my neighborhood under a perfect half-moon. The sun set an hour ago; it’s still eighty degrees. A breeze ruffles my hair.

Michele Sharpe

Michele Sharpe, a poet and essayist, is also a high school dropout, hepatitis C survivor, adoptee, and former trial attorney. Her essays appear in venues including The Rumpus, Guernica, Catapult, and The Sycamore Review. Recent poems can be found in Poet Lore, North American Review, Stirring, and Baltimore Review. More at 


Awoke, wished I hadn’t, at 5:30. Dealt with the dog, warmed some tea, hopped in car, headed to the gym. Played basketball from 6-7. I didn’t play well but that didn’t matter. It’s good exercise and I laugh more than at any other hour all week. Plus, it’s absorbing. When I once described what it was like to play basketball, totally focused on the game while playing, I had someone compare it to meditation because all other thoughts and worries fade as I concentrate on one thing. Maybe so. Actual meditation probably doesn’t end with sore knees. It turns out to be about the only time today where I’m truly zeroed in on what I’m doing.
     Home, shower, eat, more tea. My usual debate about how healthy breakfast needs to be is cut short because I’ve got a 30-minut drive to eye doctor for early appointment. Toasted baguette, a little jam and bowl of fruit. Too many carbs but, hey, I just exercised. Talked with wife about oldest daughter, currently doing a summer internship/job in New York City, and her plans for a short vacation and about her post-college plans. Nothing resolved, but nothing was going to be. We need push to come to shove.
     Rushed out to eye doctor’s appt. Drove slightly too fast and managed to be just two minutes late. A harbinger for the day. Late already, on the longest day, a harbinger. I have glaucoma and an initial treatment appears not to have worked fully, so I’m having a few more tests and deciding on next steps. Mostly it's a reminder of mortality. No vision loss imminent but I opt to start eye drops to head things off as early as possible. Don't love it. It will be my first regular and ongoing medication if it sticks—an unpleasant milestone of sorts. Dash out to get to work to get a few things done in a short window of time I have. But I hit Starbucks on way to office for more tea, more carbs. Hey, I exercised today.
     In office briefly, got caught up in some bureaucratic tasks tied to the coming end of the fiscal year. Annoying and delaying, which leaves me once again dashing to the car to make a lunch at a local service club where I’m the guest speaker. Lunch is fine, crowd is friendly, gray-haired. Discussion of flags, the constitution precedes my presentation. Sadly, such topics have a slightly unsettling political tone these days, at least to my ear. That needs to be fixed. My talk seems to go over well. Perhaps cued by the political undertones that preceded it, I stress the ways in which the work we’re doing (about everyday life!) can help forge some common ground in our polarized, siloed world.
     Head back to office to get a few things done before a 2 pm meeting. Interrupted by a colleague who wants to deliver a gift we bought for another colleague. We dash up to her office and drop it off, a nice exchange. I cut out to catch the meeting, where I sort out some ideas for the coming year’s activities with another colleague. Cut that short so I can hurry home to meet a repairman who will fix a broken garage door.
     The repairman is late, so I wait, half watching the end of a World Cup soccer game (Argentina-Croatia) while answering emails, then doing some work related tasks on my laptop. He finally show up at 5. It’s a quick but not cheap fix. I feed our old dog as the repairman wraps up and the dog promptly has a well distributed accident. Clean-up is quick because I’ve gotten a lot of practice with that task lately. What’s a word for a mixture of sadness and annoyance?
     Not hungry yet since I had a larger-than-usual lunch, I settle in for a bit more work-related reading, with a beer. My daughter comes in to tell me something, but I keep drifting back to my work. She gets mad, justly, at my divided attention, and walks away. My wife and I agree to get pizza, skipping cooking, so I head out for pickup. This satisfies our vegetarian daughter, no easy task. 
     Eat, chatting, then a little more work followed by internet surfing—mostly political commentary, some sports. I had one bit of work reading left undone and I wanted it done before bed. Then I stream an episode of a serial show I’ve started. Engaging, but I doze off anyway. Awaken enough to finish it and get ready for bed. It’s 11, even though I promised myself I’d get to bed at 10. Behind schedule all day. I’ll start my eyedrops tomorrow night.
     My last task is to make some notes for this essay, to be completed in the morning. I’m in a business—academics—where I’m supposed to spend a good bit of my time thinking deeply, carefully. Not much of that today. The day may have been long but there still wasn’t enough time to dig in. 
—Jim Connolly

Jim Connolly is Director of the Center for Middletown Studies, Ball State University.


My June 21 started at 4:44 a.m., when Furball the cat yowled and scratched the couch where I slept. Ignoring him didn’t work. He wanted outside. Opening the back door was like opening an oven door to check a cake. How could it actually be hot at 4:44 a.m.? Florida.
     I got home late the night before after teaching. Then Furball interrupted the sleep cycle and my body forgot where it was. Why can’t the body remember? Why can’t it hit pause instead of rewind? I wasn’t up again until 8:15 a.m., a shameful hour for a working man.
     Pulling out of the driveway, I realized I hadn’t taken my daily allergy pill. Maybe I could get by without it? Well, maybe I could have, but once I started thinking about it, I knew I wouldn’t be able to forget that I’d missed it. I circled back and took the pill. While home, I picked up the Diet Coke bottle I’d forgotten on the counter and remembered to pour bleach down the bathroom sink to ward off drain gnats, which had mounted a mild infestation earlier in the week. Good thing I had forgotten about that pill.
     Playing on the car stereo was a CD of lectures about St. Augustine’s Confessions. I’m on Book 10, post-conversion, and Augustine has lots to say about memory. “Things that we experience at the time and things that are called up by our memories are really very different things,” the professor says. “Memory can also bring things up that are not really being experienced.”
     We remember that a dental procedure hurt, but we don’t re-experience the exact pain when the memory surfaces in consciousness. Good thing. We’d never go back to the dentist.
     I finally arrived at the newsroom about 9 a.m. Bruce, one of the photographers, greeted me. Our running joke is about the local woman who insists she has seen Bigfoot. Bruce just had his annual performance review. I suggested some goals for 2018-19: Find Bigfoot and get his picture? Meets expectations. Get an interview with Bigfoot? Exceeds expectations. Get an interview and a photo of Bigfoot driving a sheriff’s patrol car? Superior rating.
     I jumped into the news loop. Checked our site’s web traffic. Stories about tragedy (FedEx driver killed on turnpike) and weird crime (Internet “cafes” busted for illegal gambling) were doing best. They always do. Updated a previously posted story. Checked web traffic in real time. Checked Facebook likes. Checked Twitter hits. Back again to the tragedy stories. How much web traffic? The numbers register; the sadness seldom does.
     CNN played on the newsroom TV, but without sound. I looked up to see Dr. Sanjay Gupta slicing a loaf of bread in some kitchen. It was a break from all those segments about migrant children being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Experts say the separation trauma will be seared into the kids’ consciousness. It will always be part of them.
     A press release popped into the email stream. An online company announced same-day delivery service from ABC Liquor. Is this a good idea? Maybe the company’s executives should read St. Augustine, especially the part about his mother, Monica, and her fondness for the sauce. Or the part about Augustine’s lust, and his never-ending quest to wipe away its imprint, which lingered even after it had been intellectually banished.
     Hey, how about same-day literature delivery? Build an app. The customer can enter his/her feelings/worries/joys/anxieties. An algorithm can select an appropriate book that is then delivered to the customer’s home, with portions helpfully underlined. At noon, the text crawl on CNN told me the president was holding a Cabinet meeting at the White House. Someone please deliver a Bible to that meeting. Underline every word on every page.
     My daughters, ages 19 and 16, drove to the newsroom parking lot. I met them there and forked over my debit card. Errands to run. They’re all grown up. Young women. Upstairs, on my bulletin board, hang drawings they made years ago when I brought them to work. A bird and a snowman. My youngest drew something she'd never actually seen.
     At lunch, the dark clouds gathered but there was no rain. It rains here every day during summer. The sea breezes build on each coast and collide over Central Florida. This day would be different. This day was slipping away. I hadn’t edited anything, hadn’t written anything. Nothing tangible to show.
     For charity, I hire myself out as a butler for parties and special events. This year I raised $1,000 for the local adult literacy council. At 6 p.m. the council held a party at a local bank to honor the fundraisers. I won third place. The winner's prize was a chance to kiss a horse, a gray Clydesdale named Earth that was brought by trailer to the bank's front door. This was supposed to be an honor for the winner, if not necessarily for the horse. I’m glad I didn’t win.
     By 9 p.m. I was home watching Chopped on the Food Network with my wife and two daughters. The oldest goes away to college in two months. Her older brother already is graduated and gone. The food show didn’t interest me. A contestant from France made noodles out of pureed seven-layer dip. But I didn’t leave the family room. I could already imagine my future self trying to remember moments like this.
     My June 21 ended at 11:11 p.m. I was the last one to bed. If I dreamed, I don’t remember anything about it.

—Jim Ross

Jim Ross is managing editor of the Ocala (Florida) Star-Banner and an adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Florida. He is the editor of In Season, a Florida-themed essay anthology just out from the University Press of Florida. 


Awake at 2:38 a.m. Think of something very clever looking out the bathroom window. Certain I'd remember it, I don't bother to write it down and promptly forget it. Rain across the pane. Dream of directing a short, but faced with shooting the actress' hand, can't figure out which way it should enter the frame. The ocean's overcast and silent, the birds wary. Cloud-heavy. My husband sleeps past 7:30. He's so quiet I'm sure he's dead from last night's headache.
     The email rounds: responses to my pleas for readings, a mis-sent report. With temerity, I open the file that tells me what of my parent's possessions I might try to inherit. To avoid sure death by argument, the siblings have resorted to a sort of silent auction.
     My husband asks why my family, which seemed so idyllic when he married me, has changed so dramatically. I say his was never any fun to start with. I suggest that families have to face the reality of their individuality, in order to scatter their seed. I fling my hand up as if spreading dandelion seeds. I spend the next four hours working on the file.
     Reading The American Slave Coast by Ned and Constance Sublette in the bathroom. Brilliant. The economics of the selling of humans entangled in American history is shocking. How could I be so ignorant? Thomas Jefferson – all the big names really – tied to slavery for their own profit. I mean, buying the Louisiana Purchase so as to increase the value of Jefferson's slaves! I've just finished the part that demonstrates how he was the first white supremacist, advocating to send all black people into exile, a million at a time.
     On the exercise bike/desk, I investigate storage for possible inherited items. My brother calls and relays that the bad brother vowed years ago never to let anyone have anything. My sister emails to say the bad brother's letting the mover in. 
     My husband goes off to a meeting in the city, a lavish dinner with nurses that his partner set up to show him how drug companies do their business. He's not in the drug business so what's the point? 272 miles, he shouts as he leaves, the number of miles the solar roof put on the car.
     I eat a chicken salad standing up, adding mustard, adding lemon juice, adding a touch of honey. It tastes great by the time there's almost nothing in the bowl.
     I work on two chapters of the second half of my novel about polygamy and the Chinese building a pipeline across Sudan but my brain is on figuring out the rest of my family house picks. Want vs. need.
     I read how Trump is now incarcerating whole families so that billions to go to prison-builders. My husband donates our old car to the eastern long island farmworkers. They're not a non-profit but we've seen their good work and ICE, despite Greenport declaring themselves a “sanctuary,” has been sweeping through, taking the Guatemalans who work in the vineyards.
     Bicycle to the post office and to the grocery to pick up a turkey pot pie. I like a bare fridge. Admire the maroon leaves of the Japanese maple against a purple house. Change into my bathing suit. The air still, so is the water. The ladies next door are starting to drink.
     The martens can't see me swim while they fight off the sparrows. I'm thinking about immigration, the presumption of ownership, fighting for one's young. I take half a drink over to the ladies and stare into the sun and think up gossip. Then I edit Molly Giles' exquisite tiny story set in 1965 about a woman being suddenly kissed at a party and her husband later saying it could have happened to him. I also edit an essay by a friend who doesn't know how to write an essay. Then sign sixteen petitions to stop the border jails. 
     Time for the pot pie and a two mile walk. I'm scratching my old tick bite. Children are calling to each other outside, always a good sign. The mist is cut by what I imagine are the bonfires of Native Americans. Ha. Thought how to make the opening scene of the second half of the book where the local Sudanese girl is buried under a bulldozer more believable.  
     My sister emails that the mover's insurance won't cover the move. Nothing can happen – again.
     Watch a youtube video of a purple marten along with four chicks die from a starling attack, then, really distracted, one about a Japanese tiny house. Another sister calls to tell me her daughter had all four wisdom teeth pulled and she is eating whey ice cream. She offers me the table she's just won in our little auction, the one my mother said always went to the eldest daughter. 
     I burn my tongue on the pot pie, my choice inspired by Pie in the Sky, an English TV series from the early 90s about a British policeman who only wants to run a restaurant. 
     I investigate Sinatra songs for this Chinese character whose father croons them, write two pages in the novel, lift weights until husband appears. AARP puts the lid on the day with complicated Roseanne Cash on the Beatles' “No Reply.” 
—Terese Svoboda


I was awake at 6am – far too early, and not for the first time this week. We’re still waiting on our blackout blind. It’s now a saga. When the first one arrived, it lay for weeks, both of us too tired, or too lazy, to put it up. When we mustered the energy, it was the wrong size. A typo (my fault) in the measurements box. We reordered, and this time the company screwed up. Mixing up the width and drop, we picked up a comedy-size blind, now just looming large in our hall. Two blinds, no blackout. The third is on its way, and the irony isn’t lost that it will arrive after the longest day.
     “The nights are fair drawing in now”, people say after the Summer Solstice here. It’s the worst type of joke, told by that Uncle we all have, who is only funny in his own mind.
     I dozed until 8, my head a little fuzzy from the night before. It’s a two-cup morning, I told myself as I put the kettle on. It was our wedding anniversary celebration the night before, and we ate steak and drank red wine and gin. I like to tell people we got married on the second longest day so that our first full day as a married couple was the longest, but it’s not true. We're not those people. I am reminded that July 4 was our original choice, but we changed it to suit my bridesmaid. We don’t speak anymore. I try not to think of her on any day, never mind the longest.
     I did my usual scroll through social media before I got out of bed, and a male contestant on a reality show had angered women’s refuge charities. He’s a manipulator, an emotional bully. He’s also discussed on daytime TV. I remembered my experiences with men just like him, as my eyes darted to the anniversary cards beside the television, and I felt not just happy, but relieved.
     My husband ran to work because he left the car there when we took the bus to the restaurant last night. He left his wallet at home and text me to say he’d be popping in at lunch.
I should have been at my desk all morning, writing, but instead I was doing the washing. It was sunny and breezy—the perfect drying day. And in Scotland they are not to sniffed at. I got two loads on and out. It was a two-loads day.
     My husband brought me a sandwich for lunch, and I was both simultaneously thrilled to see him, and irritated by the interruption. This is my workspace. This house is mine during the day.
     I got small pieces of work done in a long afternoon, hindered by the little cat. She’s decided of late that my lap is a great place for her repose. Every day.
     My friend arrived at 6pm, and we went out for a 10 km run. I’m running 100 km this summer for an Alzheimer’s charity. My dad has dementia. He used to run, properly, with decent times. He ran miles in four minutes and marathons in two and a half hours. I ran my 6.2 miles in 1 hour 12 minutes, and was pleased with myself. So, I had two white wine and sodas at the local pub to celebrate. It was a two-drink effort, I’d say. 

—Merle Brown

Merle Brown is a journalist and writer based in Scotland. She lives with her husband and two cats. 


What happens is that I’m miserable, sick, my head full of caulk, but I’m trying. I had this idea that I’d read Thoreau’s diary entry for today – in 1851 – because I’ve already spent too many hours in bed with tea and the tissue box and Black: The History of a Color and Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud and a miniseries of Madame Bovary and a Facebook feed of that little girl in the pink sweatshirt crying crying crying and I’m at that stage of sickness where I feel like I will never get well and nothing will ever happen to me again. 
     So I stagger out to the nearest café – a Starbucks on the ground floor of my apartment building. I’m slow and stupid but I’m hoping this flat white will help. I settle in and realize they’re pumping out what under any other circumstances would be a pretty decent mix of 90’s raps. But it’s hard to get jiggy with this rambling journal entry – seven pages that Thoreau somehow wrote (with what kind of pen, I wonder? In what kind of notebook?) while taking a four-hour walk down “old meandering dry uninhabited roads which lead away from towns—which lead us away from temptation, which conduct to the outside of earth—over its uppermost crust—where you may forget in what country you are travelling …” And in my ears a long bridge of off-beat yo! yo! yo! yo! yo! yo! yo! yo!, which is affirmative if not exactly compatible. 
     To be lead away from temptation. To forget in what country you are travelling. To forget in what city I’m living, with the White House in all its tragedy less than three miles away. I blow my nose into a napkin and try to walk further down Thoreau’s road “on which you can go off at half cock … along which you can travel like a pilgrim—going nowhither … Where you can walk and think with least obstruction—there being nothing to measure progress by.”
     How I only wish. But today my body is tired and my thoughts are dull, the coffee tasteless, my nose blocked. Digable Planets ushers me out the door reminding me that no, today I am in no way cool like that.
     At home I pour my coffee down the drain and go back to bed. I read a little more Thoreau and vow that when I am feeling better I will go out to Great Falls and read more, perhaps while sitting on a rock overlooking the Potomac, and then I will walk nowhither and my thoughts will rise without obstruction. 
     Meanwhile I flip through a few more pages of Black: The History of a Color but only to look at the pictures. I google, What kind of pen did Thoreau use? and find the answer is: a pencil. I watch Emma circle further and further down the funnel of her own desires until a fistful of arsenic puts them to rest. In my head I still hear that off-beat bridge of yo! yo! yo! yo! yo! yo! yo! yo! What happens today mostly happens to other people.
     And on other days. Tomorrow I will realize that I tried to live vicariously through the wrong one. I read Thoreau’s journal entry for July 21st. There is no journal entry for June 21st. Whatever happened that day is unrecorded or elided: there is only a small note between June 15th and June 22nd that tell us that one-fifth of that page is blank.

—Randon Billings Noble
Randon Billings Noble is an essayist. Her lyric essay chapbook Devotional was published by Red Bird in 2017, and her full-length collection Be with Me Always is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press on March 1, 2019. Other work has appeared in The New York Times, Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, and elsewhere. 


The whole train ride to work, I think about how I am too all over the place with my journaling. I’ve been up since five, burning through podcasts and dusting the insides of my kitchen cabinets because I am restless, or maybe lonely. It has been many months and I am not used to sleeping alone. It has become an evergreen problem, all this trying to shake the feeling that my heart is still in the process of breaking—a tiny metallic hammering coming from the inside of my chest. A podcast about journaling comes on. The guest is a woman who writes down everything in one notebook somewhat obsessively—the way Anais Nin did with her diary. And now the guest is a very successful motivational speaker. 
     Then, a downpour. Chicagoans always become extra gentle in weather like this. People smile and nod heads bashfully in the rain. No one plays TV shows on their phones. No one chit-chats or eye-rolls the people who push to get off while the bus is still moving. We make room in the already-crowded walkway. The bus churns through puddles that stretch to cover the whole street, palming the asphalt the way a gambler’s hand takes over chips. Shivering heat radiates off everyone, warming me. The bus is filled with breathable silence. It is easy to begin cataloging all the journals I’m currently keeping. There’s a green notebook for my intermittent tarot readings, which is actually more of a personal diary of longing, tracking pain and relief. And an orange notebook for personal diarizing, which is actually a set of very practical lists that keep me human, such as meals to cook, books to read, errands not to forget. There’s also a paper planner to track the moon and events I most likely did not, or will not, attend. I tweet my dreams. I scrapbook my kitten’s life on Instagram. I think about what it would be like if the internet blacked out and I lost these memories, left only with the writing that pushes me to look alive inside my life each day. 
     Today, the planner says: First day of summer. Relationship snapshot #2 due to writing group. Solstice party @ 5:30p. Water plants & fertilize. My meeting with my supervisor is the only time I talk to anyone about work. Otherwise, it never comes up. At my desk, I follow a very popular Twitter account, only to discover that the owner of it is engaged to the best friend of my ex’s new girlfriend. This new girlfriend is not even new anymore. She is the one he cheated on in order to keep seeing me before I cut off contact, brutally removing him from my online consciousness. I even bought new journals. This all happened months ago. The world is very small, I think while patting my chest like I expect to feel pearls there. I get up from my desk and picture myself falling down stairs. I walk through a party with platters of cookies, granitas, and soft cello music playing. Once in the gym, my mind relaxes and the little hammer drops. 
     After, I meet my friend Dina. She called unexpectedly while I was doing push-ups. Every time I see her, it feels like a boon. She is a sales rep who worked with faculty in my office. Our professional relationship turned personal quickly. Her friendship feels like a very random gift. I guess all my friendships feel that way. Her brown eyes sparkle watching me slide into her car, gym shoes stinking. She discusses a tough professional situation she had been dealing with for two years. The whole time, I had no idea. She never said anything. The rest of the day, I return texts very sparsely. I don’t attend the solstice party. Fertilizing the golden pothos, I think about how compartmentalization is a part of everyday life: We must constantly choose where we put our stories. 

Abby Hagler

Abby Hagler lives and works in Chicago. Critical and creative work appears in Fanzine, Alice Blue Review, Horse Less Press, and elsewhere. You can find her book of collaborative poems with Julia Cohen at dancing girl press.



I see a man in our subway car that the sun fills with slashing patterns because we’re riding over a bridge whose giant X beams rise up on either side. The Xs are really Ys with the long foot-stand-stem broken off then put between the leftover V, then that curious shape (like a worried W) is flipped upside down. The man looks European, has a Frenchable face: long nose, easel-and-almost-sad eyes that I caught looking at a taller-than-either-of-us woman whose hair rose upward, vase-like. His tight jeans lead to suede slip-ons with a solid white that looks buttery. The shoe is costly, has a velcro wing that folds over, is pointed outward, so when he takes off the shoe, he has to reach for the outside edge of the wing, and un-fold it back toward the inside of his foot.


“I saw footage of him when he was doing...,” says one of the two men I have been eying, as he leaves the outdoor back deck area of this cafe in Hell’s Kitchen, head turned to his friend behind him. They’re actors; one is struggling to deal with the director of his current production. I wanted to observe more of the two men, but their echo (visual and aural) will do as stand-ins.


I’m here, on a back deck, on a low brown bench in what feels like a sukkah absent the leafy roof. I’m a wanderer by blood, anyway. The footrests scattered back here have the textural look of a weave but are plastic, so there’s mimesis, the doing of one appearance to affect another, and touching one gives me no real satisfaction. Matter-of-factness? A woman has entered the back deck area, sits, crosses her legs, the shirt is an off-the-shoulder purple and pink and blue pattern, with leaves and diagonal decals, black hair swept to her right side as she hunches over to scroll.


My eyes are on Sub-sisters: Selected Poems of Uljana Wolf. I am creating a word list:


“I play a city building game,” explains a man to another, on the same gray upholstered seat the two actors sat on. These ones also wear the tight clothes. It’s a date.
     They are moving past the job-interviewer-esque phase.
     “Did you accept your jet ski?” laughs one. The other had once been a contestant on The Price Is Right.
     “They knew my brain was bigger than what I was doing,” says the other one now, explaining his 5 year job as the assistant for Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman.
     “Her oldest brother died of AIDS,” explains the first, about why his mom has the uneasiness she does about “your sexuality,” as the asker had it.


One of the men has what is called gay voice; I once told my friend James about my theory about sounds and mouths. I’m into observing and inferring how speakers and singers use their articulators (tongue, lips, jaw, soft palate) to produce their sound. Singers, trained and untrained, are those who know how to use these articulators independently of each other in coordinated ways. It seems the voice of effeminacy is made by keeping the oral cavity small and tight, whereas the doofus-bro voice I sometimes hear, and joke with myself, is produced by making the mouth feel huge inside, saying “Bro!” in an affected deep open voice, the openness affecting depth.


Yesterday I passed a street art piece called “Current People”: stick figures tossing in a surging water body (a mess of lines), a horizontal glass plane the artist had leaned against the brick wall.


It’s the eighth day of my taking a new medicine. Speaking with a rapidity confusable with, but in her case affirmative of, expertise, my new doctor said: “You need to take it for seven days for the medicine’s blood level presence to be therapeutic.” At this moment, 5:47pm, there’s a protest of ICE happening at the Varick Detention Center, and two friends, independent of each other, both told me about it, which bodes well for turn-out. It’s day eight; my nausea has been mild but constant. The protest is a memorial for, I had to look it up, Roxanna Hernandez, an Honduran transwoman who died of AIDS-related complications in a detention center. I wonder about the fashion of phrasing: “died of AIDS-related complications.” I wonder what this go-to phrase does in shaping the impression of a life. Standard blending, a fade, a traditional haircut to render the head shape ideally, flattering how that person likes what he sees when he looks in a mirror.


The novel I remember walking by yesterday is called Into? It was propped on a shelf. It was blurbed by a man who I hooked up with a few weeks ago; he lives in Hell’s Kitchen. The blurb was telling: “...For the straight folks who ever wanted to know what the raucous Grindr life is all about…” So I’ll pass on, that. Dave and I met on Scruff. Some might call this less coincidence and more equivalence. We are living, as a person might say, adjusting the imaginary collar and tie, “across difference.”


16 guys you can view at one time, in your messages. Name the names:
Resisting and hung
Looking for a new
No for Tomorrow
Tall Top


When it’s kinder to not look I also know to notice. I’m in Lucky’s Famous Burgers, for food to take with my medicine; a family of 5 has an autistic teen son with them who yelps and stares about wildly, unevenly. Needs to be accompanied to the bathroom. He’s surrounded--when they leave, he and his mother have their arms around each other’s backs. When I made eye contact with the man who took my order, I had to stop myself from looking away because of his eyes.


Convo with X. It’s her wedding anniversary. Many years since her partner passed away.
     She says she hasn’t gotten off the couch (her bed) since Tuesday.
     We discuss intimacy which she corrects me about as being not a feeling but a condition between two people, not a feeling one has on one’s own.
     “It’s interesting it’s interesting to you.”
     “Maybe you haven’t had it.”

Tired, distanced; unfixable, ungovernable; wrong
words for lacking the capacity to take care of your


Nathaniel Rosenthalis

Nathaniel Rosenthalis has poems appearing and forthcoming in Lana Turner, The Harvard Advocate, Denver Quarterly, Conjunctions Online, and elsewhere. His criticism appears in Boston Review and The Common Reader. More can be found online at

Check back for more dispatches from June 21, 2018 tomorrow. —Editors

1 comment:

  1. A great expanse of daily-minutes - the flowing words of those in real time life!