Monday, July 2, 2018

July 2: Sophfronia Scott • Lisa Levine • Samantha Bell • Jacqueline Doyle • Lynn Z. Bloom • Steven Church • Kristine Mahler • Stacey Engels • Matt Jones • Genia Blum

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

July 2: Sophfronia Scott • Lisa Levine • Samantha Bell • Jacqueline Doyle • Lynn Z. Bloom • Steven Church • Kristine Mahler • Stacey Engels • Matt Jones • Genia Blum


Woke up in my room at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick, New Jersey minutes before my 5:30 a.m. alarm. I’m tempted to stay in bed because for the first time in days I don’t have to prepare to teach a workshop or deliver a keynote speech. But I rise because the room faces east with sweeping views and I hope to catch, as I have before, the blush of sunrise staining the sky. But this morning it’s cloudy. The few cars going by have their intermittent wipers on for a light rain falling.
     Check out time is hours away so I take my time and relax into the day. In the lobby I take a photo of the artwork I’ve admired but had no time before to study. The golden apples caught my eye and I found the women holding them enigmatic. 

     I walk down the street to the Starbucks where I order hot peach tea with two packets of honey. I continue my walk, under the tracks of the New Brunswick train station and alongside the Rutgers campus. I sip my tea and look in the window of the Rutgers Barnes & Noble. I like looking at the different styles of regalia wear even though the school is not my alma mater. A scarlet athletic top, long sleeve, does catch my eye. I decide the red is not my red—it’s too bright. Besides, the store is closed so I’m safe from the temptation.
     Back in my hotel room I pack my suitcase. The hosts of ESPN’s Get Up show keep me company on the television. They are speculating on the picks for the NBA Draft scheduled to take place that evening. I wonder how many more weeks before they switch over to talking about NFL preseason camps and how little they manage to talk about baseball despite that season being in full swing.
     When I’m almost done I text my friend and Harvard classmate, Palisa, to let her know I’m on my way. I’m stopping at her house, about halfway on my journey home, to drop off one of twelve Harvard chairs I acquired from my local library when they wanted to get rid of them. Palisa was one of the lucky ones in our class Facebook group to claim a chair when I said I was giving away the ones I’m not keeping for myself. 
     At Palisa’s house we eat freshly cut watermelon and a delicious soup she’s made from kale and white bean. I ask for the recipe. We have a lovely time sitting in her kitchen and discussing our teenage sons, our work, and the ongoing challenge of being introverts while still being “out there” in the way our work requires. She’s a lawyer; I’m a writer, speaker, and teacher. We discuss our upcoming college reunion, and the memorial service I’m helping to plan for our classmates who have died. I ask if she would like to participate in the service and she says yes.
     We go outside to take a photo of us with the chair. The sky has cleared and the sun is hot. My son’s class is having a field day and I wonder if he has remembered to wear a hat and sunscreen to school. Palisa asks her son to come downstairs to take our picture. When that’s done we say our fond farewells and I get back on the road in my minivan.

     I’m listening for the first time to my husband Darryl’s new CD, Fact from Fiction. I notice the opening songs are more country than his previous CD, while the tunes in the second half are more the Americana rock sound he’s known for. When it gets to the song he wrote based on Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…) I feel grateful that he’s finally recorded it. He wrote it ten years ago for his brother-in-law Greg’s funeral, but the song never fit any of his other projects before this one. I’m glad more people will get to hear it now. 
     Crossing the new Tappan Zee Bridge feels like a mini-vacation, like you can feel the ages of the ancient Hudson River. It’s all I can do to keep my eyes on the road while taking in the lush green rolling hills. I can see why Toni Morrison chose to have a home nearby, in Nyack, New York. I wonder how much it would cost to have a river view house in her neighborhood.
     An hour later I’m back in Connecticut and it’s back to my world. I get off at my exit and have a few mini-errands to run. I stop at the bank and deposit my pay from the conference. I get the cash my son will need to pay for meals on the Boy Scout trip to Gettysburg he’ll leave on tomorrow. I stop at Castle Hill Chocolate for a treat, a s’mores candy bar, to celebrate the success of this week’s work.
     When I pull into my driveway I see the rose campion flowers have bloomed in my absence. Their winking pink faces welcome me home. I make a mental note to water and weed my flowerbeds over the weekend.

     I leave my suitcase in the kitchen and go into the living room to lie down for a nap. It seems I have barely closed my eyes when, in the next moment Tain, my son, is standing there, fresh off his school bus. He sits next to me and we talk about the field day, how the laser tag was lame and the huge blow-up slide kept tipping over. He shows me his middle school yearbook and he pages through it, pointing out the ten pictures he is in.
     He gets a snack and I open my laptop. I register him for a tech camp in August where he can learn game design and development. I check my email, order more water filters for the refrigerator.
     My husband comes home and we have a similar catch up conversation. There’s leftover pizza to eat so I don’t have to make dinner. I check my messages and Palisa has sent me her soup recipe, noting that she made a couple of her own additions: potatoes and a vegetable bouillon cube. That’s nice. Some people don’t do that and when you try to make the recipe, have no idea why it didn’t turn out like it did when you ate and loved it in the first place.

     I turn on the NBA Draft but only watch it for a few minutes. It strikes me that it’s not as interesting as the NFL Draft and I don’t really know the players they’re talking about. The Cleveland Indians have the night off so Darryl isn’t watching sports either. He, Tain, and I sit on our cushy comfortable sectional and read and talk and play video games and enjoy each other’s company. Suddenly I am tired, despite my earlier nap. I can’t keep my eyes open. I head up to bed, grateful to be home.

Sophfronia Scott

Sophfronia Scott is author of the novels All I Need to Get By (St. Martin’s Press) and Unforgivable Love (William Morrow) and the essay collection Love's Long Line (The Ohio State University Press/Mad Creek Books). She holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in writing, fiction and creative nonfiction, from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s also co-written with her son Tain a spiritual memoir, This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World, published by Paraclete Press. Formerly a writer and editor for Time and People magazines, Sophfronia now teaches creative writing at Regis University’s Mile High MFA and Bay Path University's MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Her website is


I didn’t know, on the morning of June 21, 2018, that the day would gather the many-colored threads of a month in Chile into a describable bundle of moments bright and tightly bound. I knew it was my forty-first birthday. I knew it was the day of the indigenous Aymara population’s festival of the sun, the start of their new year. I knew my friend John Che, owner of the camper truck in which we traveled, would sleep past sunrise. 
     I would rise: when the alarm went off for the third time, I stepped down from the bed into the corridor. John coughed into a pillow as I tugged on long johns, zipped into hiking pants, layered on a shirt, another shirt, another shirt and finally a maroon, down jacket that a woman, unknown to me, had once returned to REI with the declaration she didn’t want it in her life anymore. 
     I walked. 
     From the town square of Cariquima, I hopped in the back of a pickup with four university kids, here from the nearby town of Iquique for the new year’s festival. Sociable strangers, we hid from the wind under hoods and blankets as the truck wound along dirt tracks. The driver parked below a hilltop with ancient stone walls that had served the ancients as houses and corrals. Local Aymara people and visitantes gathered on the hill, as a small fire of aromatic branches and broken wood boxes lit up under the lined hands and muttered words of a few men. Drawn into a loose circle by the drum-and-pan pipe tune, twenty or so bodies danced until the leaders, each with a bright sash across the body, turned to face the sun, now glinting over the eastern hilltops. 
     We held up our hands, palms open. I heard Spanish prayers, and myself wondered what to pray about to a sun god. My arms tired. I mimicked the others and spoke out loud, a real prayer. To my ears, American English in my rough voice sounded like a piece of bark torn off the wrong tree. The sun rose to a full orb, sky winking between it and the hilltops, and hands dropped. Two by two, pairs of men and women knelt on a woven rug, lifted up a pan of coals and water, touched the water with their fingers, and lifted their hands again to the sun. 
     Prayers over, the circle of bodies slackened into a party. I huddled with the university kids. Cristal beer went around; I refused, then accepted, and stuck the can in my pocket for later. Many drank, pouring a stream to the ground between sips. The mid-90s movie line for my dead homies floated past my mind, but there was no one to say that to; they all spoke Spanish and it alluded to the inescapable politics of difference that an experience like this softened. I’d joke to John, later; I didn’t want to be hard, up here on the hill with the sun warming a cold altiplano morning. Soon sash-adorned women spread out blankets. Onto their bright, woven folds, they slid cookies out of packages, sliced breads, set down mini-bottles of orange soda, and laid out other treats. One of the fire-makers said these items were offerings for us to share. I ate a piece of sweet bread and listened to speeches about Aymara culture and 5526, the new year beginning on this day. We circled up again, all of us now, and to close the ceremony, danced to the now-familiar beat of drums and pipes. My birthday forgotten, I shuffle-stepped with the eclectic crowd, by now recognizing this or that face by the lit-up eyes, the smile, or the wrinkles. 
     “The whole village celebrated your birthday,” John told me when I returned to the camper. To me, his idea seemed sweet and myopic. They didn’t know it was my birthday; we did. He did: he stopped my busy preparations for the day to give me a marzipan and wish me a happy birthday. To celebrate it with simple adventure, we’d planned a two-day, sixteen-mile backpack back to this pueblo, Cariquima, from one town north. Finding a ride took almost two hours, but we made it to Colchane, on the Chilean/Bolivian border, where the route—Trama Kala Uta—started. 
     After pan, tomato, avocado and cheese sandwiches, I decided that we didn’t want to walk the 200 yards to set foot in Bolivia, because a few weeks ago, when we tried that, out came three men with machine guns. In that instance, they were kind, but I didn’t desire social risk, being in South America for the first time. Instead, we stuck to the Chilean side, hiking past llamas and an Aymara church bell tower held together with dried mud, rocks, twigs, and bones. Veering toward a salt flat, we stepped over four or seven or twenty fences around fallow fields to stand on the salar. Its salt-hardened crust held up to my boots, and we followed encrusted paths where dirt and minerals bled through vast stretches of the white. After a long, flat hike, we reached hills dotted with more llamas. Llamas never failed to charm me, but John pointed out: “Those ones are sheep.” True; after a few paces a woman in a now-familiar Aymara skirt, leggings and bright sash appeared among them. She walked, then ran after her herd, as if 4000 meters in altitude did nothing to alter her stride. I thought about how her attire and physique, from a distance, made me assume she was my elder. 
     In recent road-trip conversation, John had said to me that we see ourselves very differently than others see us. I wondered about all the snapshots an Aymara shepherd might assign me, or us – crazy tourists. Silly Americans. Rich. Ragged. Old. Young. Anonymous. Strangers, passing through her land. 
     We held hands. Hiked on. 
     We hiked on, soon back on our route, and when we found a river it before sunset, it seemed like camp. The area felt pure, calm and isolated – flowing water in a little creek, creosote-like scrub, and an air of apartheid from civilization, without a shred of danger. This idyll, with its unknown stars and icy creek, heightened the illusion of familiarity provided by a rediscovered friend, in the midst of his own travels. John might have been the last happening of my day. Shivering, I craned my neck to take in the unfamiliar stars. He returned from a walk. We kissed. The earth accepted us, silent, inscrutable and beloved as ever. June 21, 2018, drew near its final hours, threads of akimbo experience dyed bright and spun together, already collecting themselves in words, as safe and snug as must have been those two humans sleeping under the moonglow of night in the southern hemisphere. 

—Lisa Levine

Lisa Levine writes realistic fiction about rebellious, tightly wound women and humans of all genders interacting with nature. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Manifest West, The Tiny Town Times, The Furious Gazelle, The Southern Arizona Climbing Anthology, and Bird’s Thumb. Lisa earned a 2015 Pushcart nomination, and holds an MFA from the University of Arizona. Read more at


The dogs refused to go out into a misting dawn rain to relieve themselves. They huddled under their green striped backyard awning instead. I coaxed. I cajoled. I explained impatiently that I had other things to do, that standing here while a scourge of mosquitoes made meals of me and my fingernails grew was not an option. They cared about as much as cats. 
     “Fine. Pee on the rug. Again. Not my dogs. Not my house.” One white face and one beige smiled back at me happily. Stupidly.  I don’t really recommend engaging me as your dog sitter. 
     On the way out, I accidentally brushed against a tangle of red and white leashes on the kitchen counter. Bruce saw. He lost his little yorkie mind all over the place. The yipping!
     I relented. We walked.
     Did I mention the misting rain? 
     Halfway down the block, it became a shower. We kicked it up to a trot. I am unafraid to say that I can jog without a sports bra just fine, as long as I flex my pectorals just so. Just so. For a block. Or nearly a block. That’s when Bonnie stopped know what? Never mind. Skip it.
     Skip the drive home and the morning tasks of waking kids, pouring cereal, overlording the toothbrushes and correcting the bedmakers. Skip the twelve interruptions to a twenty minute yoga routine. Skip the math and reading practice. Skip the hour I spent editing pictures from our recent trip to Brazil. Skip the ramen noodles. The separated combatants and frustrated lectures about kindness and respect? Hop right on over those too. Let’s get to the good stuff. 
     At 3:30 pm, I mopped my hardwood floor. Then I polished it with some fancy lie of a floor polish that won’t pollute my home with chemicals but will leave a lingering smell of almond cookies. At 5 pm, I finished. The floor looked exactly the same. Exactly as 30-years-old, dented, scratched, splotchily faded, honey oak and weathered as it looked before. But it did smell of almonds. My children pressed their little noses against it and inspired. 
     We made a chair fort. The dining room chairs were already lined up just so. Just so. Jude dragged the green plaid blanket up from the basement. I fetched the woodworking clamps from our garage. Eden held the draped ceiling and walls taut while I fastened everything in its place. That was it. The next thing any of us knew, it was raining fire lava from the sky while snow fell and we had to get the babies into the shanty before we all died. We all nearly died. 
     Fast forward again. Through my husband coming home from work, past him making waffles for dinner.  Breeze right by pajama time. Pause for a moment with us in The Tale of Despereaux. Listen, if you will, as we finish the book. Think of Chiaroscuro and his wrongly-mended broken heart. Slurp the soup. Bathe in the darkness. Then in the light. Try not to laugh that the princess is named Pea. Travel on. 
     The children are in bed now. It is 9:20 and the solstice sunlight is a barely discernible smudge of charcoal above the trees. I am writing. The fireflies are out. I have buried the lede. Haven’t I?
     Thousands of insects are blinking in my backyard. I have yet to figure out if all of them are mating, or if some of these fireflies are from an imposter species, their luminous flickers a sexy deathtrap.  I try to count the seconds separating each glint of light. I search for a pattern. Glow. Dim. Illuminate. Obfuscate. There is so much movement in between.  
     "It’s just flashes that we own, little snapshots made from breath and from bone, and on the darkling plain alone, they light up the sky." 
     Jeffrey Foucault, a folk musician whose name only sounds like I’m referencing an obscure but important French philosopher, is definitely not singing about fireflies. His lyrics come to mind anyway. Flashes that we own. Snapshots. Alone. Light up the sky. 
     I have to know how this happens, so I spend a few minutes looking it up. Luciferase is the key enzyme in the fireflies’ bioluminescence. Liciferase. Lucifer? The Devil? I look that up too. One interpretation of the name Lucifer is “bringer of light.” Tell me that scientists aren't poets, that devils aren’t also gods.
     May I tell you what seems exactly right? That the world’s most efficient source of light is found on a beetle’s keister. That this light goes on, and then off, and then on. That the bearer of it dies after a short life of weeks. That the next generation hibernates and then slowly changes for months before each June’s rebirth of light in darkness. Darkness in light. 
     All of the lights in my house are off now. Only my laptop remains, an unnatural glare. I will snuff it out and walk to bed in a darkness that never finds completion in a city of a million people and billions of insects and a cacophony of little moments flashing past from a perfectly ordinary day.

Samantha Bell

Samantha Bell teaches writing at Sinclair Community College.


The longest day of the year and already I can hardly remember it. Probably sunny because it’s almost always sunny in the San Francisco Bay Area, at least in the East Bay where I live. I raise the bedroom shade each morning to the sun-dappled front yard, a green profusion of shrubs and ferns sheltered by enormous trees, two of them, and the sun makes me smile before I even think about the day. But I’m finding it hard to breathe sometimes, often when I first get up, and the doctor does an EKG, which turns out okay, and then asks me, “Is there something you’re anxious about? Is that possible?” And I say, “Are you kidding? Have you read the newspaper lately?” But my calendar tells me that the doctor’s visit was Monday, not Thursday. An unremarkable Thursday. A long day. A sunny day. Another day of vacation from teaching. I eat a bowl of cereal with blueberries and drink two cups of coffee. I sit outside with a third cup, the sun warm on my shoulders, and read another essay in Ryan Van Meter’s If You Knew Then What I Know Now, which I’ll be teaching in September. I go back inside and spend too long at my computer, checking e-mail and then social media to see whether anyone has read my latest flash fiction, disappointed that no one seems to be online. Or they’re online checking the news sites instead. Wailing children. Melania Trump’s jacket: “I really don’t care, do u?” Is everyone crazy? “No hidden message,” the White House says, but there are hidden messages everywhere. What happens to the rest of the day? Dinner in the kitchen with my husband Steve and son Ben, burritos Steve brought home from The Burrito Shop. More reading, curled up on the couch. More time online, hunched over my computer. I can’t really remember. At least I’m breathing. 

Jacqueline Doyle

Jacqueline Doyle has recent essays in Zone 3, New Ohio Review, and The Gettysburg Review. Find her at


Midsummer day/night

June 21, Summer solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year is a day of beginnings and anticipations, reflective too of the season’s graduations and weddings. Currently, the promises of the solstice function also as an antidote to the deaths of four friends two weeks earlier.
     It is impossible to confine commentary, an interpretation of a day, any particular day, to the day itself. No day, not even James Joyce’s Bloomsday (only a week earlier), can be self-contained, just as no individual can be totally solipsistic. Nor can any written account of a single day, even an hour contain the totality of that experience—what were we thinking, feeling, remembering? What did we know beforehand to make sense of these events; what do we need to learn today to understand where we’ve been, where we’re going, the realities, and the dreams?
     Although Martin and I moved from rural Connecticut, where our house was surrounded entirely by trees, to an apartment in suburban Massachusetts, from every window of our perch on the wing of the building we can see only trees. So on June 21, when I first open my eyes to daylight, around 6:30, the sky spreading above the trees is layered with fluffy pink shredded wheat—striations I’ve never seen before.  When I look again, about a half hour later— Martin and I are preparing for our sixtieth wedding anniversary in July by celebrating early and often—the sky is a sheet of tranquil blue, soon filled with great swoops of fluffy white. 
     In rushing to get to an early morning Zumba class I am multitasking, as usual, making coffee, slicing a fresh peach onto yogurt while listening to the news, reading the paper, and commenting to Martin on the outrages du jour. NPR is reporting on Trump’s executive order to end the separation of migrant families at the border; the New York Times trumpets “Trump Retreats on Separating Families, but Thousands May Remain Apart,” commentary dissected throughout the day alternating with news of the intensifying trade wars. I worry while making the usual Zumba missteps—going left when everyone else is going right--not about my chronic lack of physical coordination, but about, as Paul Krugman opines today, the breathtaking “speed of America’s moral descent under Donald Trump . . . .  In a matter of months we’ve gone from a nation that stood for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to a nation that tears children from their parents and puts them in cages. . . . [T]here is no crisis of immigrant crime. No, the real crisis is an upsurge in hatred—unreasoning hatred that bears no relationship to anything the victims have done. And anyone making excuses for that hatred . . . is, in effect, an apologist for crimes against humanity.” Yesterday we honored our friends’ passing with donations to humanitarian rescue organizations; today’s contributions will be to influence next fall’s elections and thus provide hope for the future of our tattered, battered beloved country.
     To keep my balance, not just in Zumba but in life, I need a cheerful alternative. Travel, with its gifts of eyes and hearts open to total immersion in new worlds, enables us “to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more,” as Pico Iyer nails it—especially if we turn off the Internet. But our trip to Northern Greece, Northern Macedonia, and Albania is seventy-seven days off, and is not yet radiating the treasured new perspectives, whatever they may be, and I look closer to home, to the annual Concert on the Green by the Wellesley Town Band, some forty five musicians from high school age on up. If Mark Twain can move his uncle’s farm five hundred miles from Missouri to Arkansas with no shame, I can certainly fast forward the June 20 concert four hours ahead to June 21, perfect weather. The band plays Sousa (of course) marches, a medley of forty-second motifs of famous songs from America the Beautiful to Hava Nagila, and a bouncy rendition of Beatles tunes. The audience—families, friends, townspeople, the occasional well-behaved dog—relaxes on blankets and folding chairs, many with picnics, atop a gentle slope that descends to the concert space. 
     Although we may be listening to the music, being videotaped by local TV, our eyes are on the broad green adjacent to the band, where playground equipment is scattered in abundance. Sturdy blown up creatures (pigs? horses?) to bounce on or drag around. A geodesic dome made of giant tinker-toy type struts to climb on. A large heavy plastic sheet, perhaps intended as a wading pool, in which kids climb under, roll up, or pop out of. Little lacrosse cages for spontaneous catches and escapes. Beach balls to throw—or hug. Plastic stepping stones arranged in a big circle, parts elevated six-eight inches; while bigger children hop the circumference and glide along the bridges, toddlers hold parents’ trusted hands for balance around the enchanted circle. These children are in continual motion, strutting, swaggering, racing, climbing, chasing one another, older ones mugging for TV, some—mostly boys—marching like drum majors and trying to conduct the band. One energetic lad of perhaps three climbs up the slope by the natural bandshell into his mother’s waiting arms, and then runs down, over and over again for the entire first half of the concert. We share his glee, his excitement when the train whistles in and out of the nearby commuter station. “Train, train,” he exults while devouring an ice cream sandwich at half time. 
     If we could share this peace and freedom, the community closeness, our families with the children and families so cruelly severed at the border, we would do so. We will send more money, sign more petitions, vote. We will hug our children, grandchildren. We will worry.

—Lynn Z. Bloom

Lynn Z. Bloom is Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of Connecticut, where she held the Aetna Chair of Writing 1988-2015. Although she signed a contract for her twenty-sixth book (this on creative nonfiction) on June 21, 2018, this information didn’t fit the essay, so she left it out.


Things that Did Not Happen on June 21, 2018

I did not:

Wake up at 5:30 to make breakfast for our son, wake him at 5:45 to shower, or shuttle him off to the bus stop by 6:30, where the two of us often sat quietly in the car waiting for the 28 to appear, talking sometimes about whatever was on NPR. This day, a Thursday I think, he slept, but I still stalked the house, up before everyone, including the sun, because I cherish the quiet time, because I never sleep well anyway, and because I need the alone time and the mental space promised by a summer day.

Spray the small neighbor dog through the fence with the garden hose because it wouldn’t stop barking at me. I sat outside, enjoying the cool morning and the riotous noise of birds, marveling at the mocking bird’s imitation skills. Once I heard a pitch-perfect car alarm echoing from the trees and I thought about the oddity of urban nature. The dog has been more quiet lately, and I wondered if they’re keeping him inside more now. I wondered if he died and I just didn’t know it yet.

Put hard pants on until much later in the day because these summer days are all about soft pants, second-day shirts, slippers, and hats over bed hair.

Realize what day it was, honestly. I know summer is here when I lose track of the hours and days, when my life, though still busy, is not charted out on a calendar or marked by checking items off a “to do” list.

Forget to move the bookshelf to make room for the piano delivery.

Forget to move the coolers into the dining room and clear a path for the movers to also bring in the new hand-me-down refrigerator.

Realize how big a piano is or how much you like its weight and promise.

Realize how much you could hate your old refrigerator or how much something as simple as an ice-maker can make you feel classy as fuck.

Forget that later my new hair clippers would be delivered or forget how much I enjoy the simple pleasure of running their buzzing body over my skull, mowing my hair down to stubble for my annual “summer cut.”

Watch the first World Cup match of the day, which airs at 4 a.m. PST because I needed my outside time, my coffee first; but I did tune in for the 8 and the 11 a.m. matches, violating our general household prohibition against television in the mornings. Later this summer, I’ll violate it again because I like to wake early and watch Wimbledon, letting the hypnotic sounds of the game provide background noise to my writing time.

Eat lunch at the Indian buffet with our son because he’s sixteen and was meeting friends there and the last thing a sixteen-year-old wants for his summer lunch is his dad piling a plate with curry and naan in front of his friends; so I ate leftovers and picked him up when he texted, “I’m ready to go now,” and I didn’t mind the trip or the time with him.

Wake our daughter for elementary school, though I know part of her will miss the structure. After all, she has written out a daily plan for her summer days on the whiteboard in her room, including time set aside for “no plans,” this girl who loves lists almost as much as I do, who craves their promise of order and security, this girl who is so much like me and so not like me, and so far already down her own path.

Write this list.

Have to think about them—my children—locked in cages, sleeping in an empty Walmart (aren’t all Walmarts empty?), used as political pawns, treated like animals, called “animals,” made victims of the latest American atrocity.

Sleep well after watching this week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale because it’s getting harder to separate fiction from reality, today from dystopia.

Forget everything.

Remember everything.

Have an idea to write about all the things I didn’t do on June 21. That would come later, perhaps the next morning, only after I’d had time to let the idea tumble around inside the bell of my brain for a while. It is, after all, often only in the summer it seems that I can carve out time for the tumble, only these long days that open up to essaying again.

—Steven Church

Steven Church is the author of six books of nonfiction, most recently the collection of essays, I'm Just Getting to the Disturbing Part: On Work, Fear and Fatherhood, and he is the editor of the forthcoming anthology of essays, The Spirit of Disruption: Selections from The Normal School. He coordinates the MFA Program at Fresno State, edits The Normal School: a Literary Magazine, and is the Series Editor for The Normal School Nonfiction Series from Outpost19.


I woke up from the third consecutive dream where I was wandering around a house I had just moved into; the houses in my dreams have all been houses I lived in before, but none of them are the house I live in now. I told myself it was because I had just finished separating my three daughters into their own bedrooms at last. We moved into this four bedroom house ten years ago with 7/9ths of a daughter growing in my womb and I hadn’t even remembered it was a four bedroom house; I’d been telling anyone who asked that there were only three.
     I ate almond cereal and sent my daughters downstairs to watch TV while I messaged with friends about a woman whom we’ve been gossiping about for six years. The woman had just changed her Twitter handle from her old GOMI-style name to one more sedate and very-appropriate-for-election. I concluded that she’d become boring, and I did not tell my friends but it made me sad to realize she’d grown up.
     I reread the two paragraphs’ worth of notes I’d typed almost a year ago about my great-grandfather’s diaries. He kept a daily diary for the last eighteen-and-a-half years of his life and I have been overwhelmed, at times, getting to know a man who died thirteen years before I was even born; a man whose children remained in the same northern Minnesota town and whose granddaughter, my mother, was nearly the only one to leave. I have been overwhelmed with longing for the sort of settledness he subtly describes by living there for fifty-six years, but I have also been overwhelmed by my great-grandfather’s extreme homesickness for the land of his youth, a couple hundred miles away in Wisconsin, which he’d had to leave when he was nine because his father had died. My great-grandfather would pass by “home” again and again, conveniently directing his itinerary to drive by the fields he hadn’t lived in for decades, and he acknowledged to himself, in the diaries, that the land had changed, but said he could still see things the way they had been.
     I watched a cardinal fly like a red stick into the ash tree in my backyard, the one I didn’t remember had existed when we moved into this house because it was so small, then.
     I was annoyed at being pulled away from Googling pics of Antoni from Queer Eye in eyeliner to deal with my daughters picking unripe sour cherries off the tree in the front yard and presenting them to me in a bike basket. I planted the tree seven years ago, and it has produced cherries I have made into pies only three times; to pit six cups of small cherries is a labor of love.
     I got my wrist twisted at my OT appointment and panicked myself into believing I have Heberden’s nodules on my left middle finger as an early sign of osteoarthritis because my father was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 47, 11 years older than I am now. I came home and wrote about hipbones.
     I wanted my period to have started today rather than yesterday so I would be starting a cycle with the solstice, but my body does not listen to me. I put my raw opal and ruby copper rings on my fingers to mark the entrance of Cancer, my home astrological sign.
     I realized I have been writing the word “synchronicity” a lot. I thought of the Police and I commanded “Hey Google, play The Police,” hoping I’d get “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” but I got a message in a bottle a hundred million other people have been sending; this is not the home I thought I lived in.

—Kristine Langley Mahler

Kristine Langley Mahler is a memoirist experimenting with the truth on the suburban prairie outside Omaha, Nebraska. Her work received the Rafael Torch Award from Crab Orchard Review and has been recently published/is forthcoming in New Delta Review, Quarter After Eight, The Collagist, Fugue, Gigantic Sequins, and The Rumpus, among others.


When I open the door to the hall, I see my mother’s reflection in the gold-framed mirror; she is sitting in her red chair in the living room, reading. She does not hear me coming down the hall; I get quite close to her before she realizes I'm there. I kiss her good morning on both cheeks and pour myself a third of a cup of coffee. While I drink that, she reads to me from the newspaper, about Trump pulling out of the UN Human Rights Commission. Then we meditate for ten minutes. The sun is warm on the back of my head. When we’re done, I close the semi-sheer white curtains. The orchids on the windowsill, purchased by the realtor over a year ago when my parents were selling their house, look like Indonesian shadow puppets with bowed heads. 
     Everyday things take time now, so it is nine or so by the time we go out for a walk. It is a beautiful morning – sunny, startlingly clear, cool. The fragrance from the French lilac trees carries on the breeze. I am like a sheepdog, constantly adjusting my gait, slowing to be sure Dad doesn’t get too far behind, listening for the thunk-ka-thunk of his cane when I am walking with Mom. 
     In the park, we stand at the side of the manmade stream, watching a family of ducks: two adults and eight ducklings. There is no notable difference between the adults, but eventually one rears up on its tail, flapping its wings out sideways, and we call it “him” and the other “her”, as long as we’re able to keep track. Mom’s ankle is hurting her. She lowers herself to sit on a dark, dry tree stump. The ducklings get out onto the bank of the stream, shaking themselves and tumbling over each other. Half of them settle down in a neat row, two to three inches apart; the other four huddle in a mass of soft grey fuzz, little yellow beaks and webbed feet.
     When we get back to the apartment, I take the quiche out of the fridge and begin washing lettuce. Dad falls asleep in his chair. I wake him up and suggest he go lie down. Half an hour before she is to be picked up to go out to lunch, I hang up my mom’s red dress on the back of her office door. She looks up from her computer and smiles, telling me it won’t take her long to get ready. I ask her if she’s planning to wear stockings. She nods, conceding stockings do take a long time, and puts her computer to sleep. Just before eleven thirty, I kiss her good-bye and send her on her way to her belated birthday lunch with Maria. She is not wearing stockings. I wake Dad up. 
     It is over three quarters of an hour later that Alec knocks at the door; he has driven Mom and Maria to the restaurant and has come back to eat with Dad and me, but traffic was unexpectedly bad. I plate the quiche and salad and pour some of the rosé Alec has just brought and ask them to sit, since Alec may soon be recalled to drive Mom and Maria home. 
     Somehow, within a minute or two, we are talking about an Egyptian colleague of theirs, whom I only met once or twice as a child. This is strange, because one of my earliest memories, dating to the age of two or three, is of being in a sandbox with Alec and Maria’s children, and the child of that Egyptian psychiatrist with a woman’s name. I have always meant to ask my parents about him.
     We have just finished the first course when Alec is called away to collect Mom and Maria. Dad and I clean up and talk about going on a mission to Home Depot. If ever there was a day when he could afford to go on a longer walk in the mid afternoon, it’s today; the temperature is in the mid-seventies. He is always eager to go on missions. 
     When Mom returns, she changes her clothes; she is going to visit a friend in the hospital. I help her put on her socks and sneakers. We all walk together to the corner of Lansdowne, and then Mom continues west and Dad and I walk down the hill, under The Glen. We stop as we emerge from the dark, cool tunnel to look up at the poplars, which look to be sixty or seventy feet tall. Their top leaves look like coins, jumping in the sunlight. I take Dad’s arm as we cross a patch of torn-up sidewalk. His bicep is still hard and sinewy, but I can’t help flashing on the image of a chicken wing, and thinking that, were he to slip, it might be better to let go of his arm; it feels like it might be easy to dislocate his shoulder. His skin is cool. 
     In Home Depot, I have him sit in seven or eight different chairs—nylon, faux wicker, wood, straight-backed, angled, with and without cushions. Just as we’re preparing to leave, he grabs hold of a metal post and closes his eyes. When I ask if he is feeling dizzy and wants to sit again, he says yes. When he’s feeling better, we make our way out the sliding doors, into the parking lot, up the sidewalk. He stops when we reach the road, apologizing for being winded. We lean against the cement parking structure while he catches his breath, then start up the incline again, over the patch of gravelly torn-up sidewalk, up to the cool, dark overpass, where he stops again, leaning against the huge, rough blocks of stone. A woman heading in the opposite direction leans out her car window and asks whether we’d like a lift up the hill. I’m grateful for her kindness, and say so, but decline, knowing my dad would be mortified if a stranger were to u-turn to come back and drive us up a not-very-steep hill. As the light changes and she drives away, I ask my dad if I said the right thing. He tells me my reply was perfect. 
     We turn the rest of our trip home into something of a game: we will do the walk in increments, from one bench to another. Our first bench sits alone on a gentle green slope, facing white lilac trees, its back to the fence around the municipal pool. I catch a whiff of chlorine and am listening for the splashes of cannonballs when I hear a lifeguard’s whistle, and feel suddenly as though this first day of summer is an accordion-day stretching all the way back through all the summer days of my life. 
     Though Dad has stopped apologizing and we are enjoying the bench game—we watch the reflections from the pond on the leaves of the overhanging trees, and laugh at the boys trying to ‘feed’ the ducks pebbles, and observe people sitting reading at the water’s edge—under the surface of my mind there is a dark, worrisome association. It is not until after we’re back that I realize that wending our way through Westmount—from the bench near Ste. Catherine and Lansdowne, to that on the edge of the pond, to one of the ones in a small semi-circle of benches next to the playground—reminds me of John Cheever’s The Swimmer. 
     When we get home, Dad plunks his cane into the dark terra cotta pot next to the door. He opens the front hall closet and carefully tosses his hat up onto the shelf. I make him drink some water. Then he lies down. When my mom gets home, she turns on the CBC news. Then she turns it off. I put my cell phone on the table right next to her chair, and turn up the volume as high as possible on the podcast I’d been listening to. My mom and I listen to the news about the “tender age” shelters in Texas as I chop red and green peppers and watch shrimp turn from grey-white to orange-pink in the cast iron pan.

Stacey Engels

Stacey Engels was born and raised in Montreal and has lived in New York City since 1995. A Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry and prize-winning playwright, Engels writes in multiple genres and has received grants and fellowships from, among others, NYFA, TCG-ITI, Yaddo, Bread Loaf/Orion and the Canada Council for the Arts. She holds MFA’s in Playwriting and Memoir and a certificate in Arts in Healthcare. She is an Adjunct Lecturer at Lehman College-City University of New York. 


Every summer, one of the does that lives in the park behind the museum gives birth to a fawn. Last summer, the fawn died. Its body was found just inside the treeline that encases the theater and public pool. This summer, the same doe has given birth again. There are signs up around the neighborhood that say, “Warning! Aggressive Mother Deer! (protecting fawn). Avoid walking dogs on Mt. Adams Drive & behind the Playhouse in the Park.” This is good advice, because last summer, the doe followed me all the way up Parkside Place. When I got too close, she reared up on her hind legs and brought one hoof down on top of my dog’s head. 
     Today, when walking the dog, I did not see the doe. Yesterday, I did. She had a minutes-long standoff with a gray great dane that wears a pink collar. I did not see the fawn today, either. I have never seen the fawn. 
     My wife and I took took the dog up around the old reservoir that is now a grass field where a local LARPing group stages battles once a week. Two of the old reservoir walls still remain. Their uneven stone extends 20 feet into the air and serve as the backdrop for engagement and maternity photoshoots alike. The trail that wraps around the reservoir eventually leads up to the fountain at Eden Park. Last year, a flock of geese arrived and stayed for over a month. My dog ate their droppings and contracted giardia and had diarrhea on the apartment carpet almost a half a dozen times over the course of a week. Today, there were no geese, just two ducks floating on the water’s surface, and out in the distance, the Cincinnati skyline. It was hot and humid. There is an air quality alert almost every other day in Cincinnati. Today was no different. 
     After our walk, our dog panted in the hallway and our cat slept on a dining room chair that has never been used as a dining room chair, only ever a secondary, tertiary, quaternary cat bed. We have lived here for almost two years, and today was no different than any other day. After the sun went down, our downstairs neighbor hit her life alert button and summoned the fire department and an ambulance. Her dachshund named Mauzy barked while they pried open her front window to find a way in. She was fine, of course, our neighbor. She calls the fire department bi-weekly. The paramedics know here by name. She is old and gets loneliest in the summer and the winter. After the ambulance takes her away, a neighbor or a maintenance worker from the condo association looks after Mauzy. 
     In summer, especially, my wife and I lose tracks of the days. It seems the only way to mark the passage of time is to ask whether or not there were ducks at the fountain. Did we take the dog out yet? Has the cat been fed? Did we see the doe today? Did she watch us from afar as she so often does? And where, exactly, does she keep her baby hidden? And does she remember the summer before this one? And what about what comes after? Fall? Loss? Winter? Waiting? I am always waiting for summer, and when it is here and I am in the thick of it, I am vigilant of how slowly times moves forward. 

—Matt Jones

Matt Jones has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alabama. He has been awarded an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, as well as residencies from Willowtail Springs, The Leopold Writing Foundation, and The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. His writing can be found at 


Good morning! 
     It’s one minute past midnight in Lucerne, Switzerland, and I’m wide-awake and bursting with energy! 
     I’ve just scrubbed the stovetop, the counter, the sink and the backsplash; now, I close both doors to the kitchen because the ungodly fury of the cordless vacuum cleaner could wake my husband. Our DustBuster is sleek and black and looks like it was designed in the future—the alternate one, where technology to mute appliances will never be invented. In the laundry room, I load the washing machine. Despite its retro appearance, it has no noise issues: depress the start button, and all you get is a soft click and a delicate gurgle, and its rotating drum will merely whisper throughout its gentle agitation. In the living room, on the green leather sofa, I browse the Kindle library on my iPad mini and dip into books. Soon, I’ll flip open my MacBook, expand Netflix to full screen, and watch Hannah Gadsby: Nanette. Later, I’ll tweet about #nanettflix from my iPhone.
     My husband comes in. He’s worried about work, and because he can’t go back to sleep, decides to go to his office on the other side of the river. I pull the curtains and watch him walk across the deserted bridge, and wait for his lights to go on. By the time he returns, I’ve washed my face and brushed my teeth, and examined all the pores on my face in the mirror. We both go to bed. Since our son is away at college in Berlin, my husband escapes my insomnia by crashing in his room; in the master bedroom, I roll around on a black fascia ball and do stretching exercises. I get up for a glass of water, close the window and open it again and, back in bed, switch the lamp off and on several times. I scroll through Instagram and Facebook and read emails on my iPhone. Here’s one from CBC Books with a reading list for kids, #IndigenousReads. Yay, Canada, that’s worth a tweet! I go on and discover a harrowing essay by Jonathan M. Katz on the history of concentration camps. That’s another tweet. I reach for my iPad mini, open the YouTube app, and choose a video of David Sedaris reading "The Incomplete Quad.” I close my eyes and listen. Halfway through, maybe sooner, I fall asleep.
     Instantly, it’s 11:00 am. Dammit, the sun is bright! Before I roll out of bed, I receive a WhatsApp message from Elle, my friend in Philly. She’s up early! We message back and forth as I migrate slowly to the kitchen, and sign off with heart emoji. I boil water, brew a cup of tea, and carry it to the dining table. It’s draped in a gigantic, slate-blue, linen tablecloth which spills over the floor in all directions and is covered in clutter: books, papers, pens and pencils, two candlesticks with vestigial candle stubs, a silver vase, a wooden tray, and several unmatched silver coasters. This is my desk.
     To organize my thoughts, I draw patterns of dots on a sheet of graph paper with multicolored, felt-tipped pens: my morning ritual. Then, it's coffee and computer time. My MacBook is open and Scrivener is running. I write. (I’m writing this.) I drink espresso, nibble on a croissant, and eat chocolate. 
     Our daughter calls from London. She’s moved out of her flat-share and is searching for a new place to live. Last night she slept on a couch in the studio where she works with other recent Fine Art graduates. Today, she’s tired and fed up: It’s London, nearly impossible! I try to infect her with my optimism: Only nearly, not completely! 
     Back to writing. But first, I have to put the wash in the dryer—better do it now, before I forget again. My husband sends me a WhatsApp from across the river. He wants to know if I need anything. Nah, I’m good. I check Gmail, and then continue editing two flash essays, removing adjectives, changing commas to semicolons—an endless loop of minuscule changes. Reminded of an Oscar Wilde quotation, I search for it on Google: In the morning I took out a comma, but on mature reflection, I put it back again. OMG, shoes! How did I end up on 
     A detour to Twitter … Renée, my writer-dancer buddy in Lugano, doesn’t have WhatsApp—she barely has what you’d call a phone—so I’m tweeting her an unencrypted direct message: Are you writing that What Happened on 6/21/18 thing for Essay Daily? I thought I wouldn't, but now I am!
Something’s popped up on Facebook Messenger: Kirsten, a Canadian friend from Creative Nonfiction Collective, has discovered a site called Canadian Writers Abroad. Immediately, I visit it. Interesting! I’ll explore later, because right now, I’m busy with …
     Wait, Renée has messaged back: Yay! Yes, I've been doing it!
     Me: LOL I’m including this exchange.
     Renée: Yes, please! Include this: I won a FANTA for the COOP World Cup promo!
     She also sends an adorable photo of her dachshund Tootsie curled up on a pillow, head resting on a plush unicorn. So cute!
     Me: Congrats! That's amazing!
     Renée: Fuck me!
     Me: I'm not censoring my essay, just so you know. Say hi to Tootsie!
     Renée: *paw emoji 2x* Tootsie says, “Yay, Genia!”
     Me: :-) < 3; !!!
     I’m tired. I keep clicking on Word instead of Scrivener, even though their icons are not at all similar. They aren’t even adjacent to each other in the dock. Damn, I forgot to eat. (Chocolate doesn’t count.) Oh look, my husband bought a salad and left it in the fridge—it’s a Vegan Rainbow Bowl from the Bachmann bakery! I see cubed mango in there, cashews, roasted cauliflower florets, pomegranate seeds, loads of healthy stuff. 
     Both flash pieces are finished now. I hope Dzvinia, my poet friend and mentor, will have time to read them next week. 
     I receive a message from Wayan, a friend and dance colleague. She owns a small ballet school in Lucerne that will soon fuse with mine, and she’ll take over as the new director. In my iCloud Photo Library, I scroll through images of my farewell dance recital, only three weeks ago. Lovely memories, but I’m enjoying my new freedom—to write, to think about writing, and to worry about my family instead of the ballet school.
     Every time I turn my head away from the computer, I look out across the Reuss River and its clear, turquoise stream, at ducks and swans, and swooping seagulls. All day, the sun was out. People sat on the stone steps on the opposite shore, dangling their feet in the water; a few even went swimming. Now, it’s cloudy, and it looks like rain.
     Another WhatsApp arrives from our daughter. I call her back. She’s in a park, feeling down, and doesn’t know where she’ll be sleeping tonight. 
     My husband comes home, but leaves for the gym before I can mention our daughter’s dilemma. 
     I message her: Call your dad. She messages back: I’m talking to him right now.
     My friend Dzvinia texts to say she’s sent me an email.
     Our son sends an iMessage with a photo of his new sneakers. 
     My phone rings. Our daughter has found a short-term rental, and is moving in tonight.
     I’m done with writing for the day. 
     We’ll have pasta for dinner. 
     Later, I’ll have insomnia. 
     Even later, I’ll fall asleep, but by then it’ll be tomorrow.
     Good night!

—Genia Blum

Genia Blum is a dancer, writer, and translator. She was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and lives in Lucerne, Switzerland. Her work has appeared in Assay: Journal of Nonfiction Studies, Atticus Review, Bending Genres, (b)OINK zine, Creative Nonfiction Magazine (Tiny Truths), Solstice Literary Magazine, Sonora Review, and Under the Sun. She​ ​haunts Twitter and Instagram as @geniablum.

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

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