Friday, July 6, 2018

July 6: Andrew Maynard • Krista Dalby • Katy Sperry • Dustin Parsons • Marie O'Rourke • Elizabeth Evans • Sandra Lambert • Albert Goldbarth • Lorri McDole • Joni Tevis


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 via this submission form (it's okay if you didn't RSVP before: the more the merrier).

—The Editors



July 6: Andrew Maynard • Krista Dalby • Katy Sperry • Dustin Parsons • Marie O'Rourke • Elizabeth Evans • Sandra Lambert • Albert Goldbarth • Lorri McDole • Joni Tevis




ANDREW MAYNARD

Running Rivers In Hiroshima

Near Hiroshima station I run northwest on a path outlining the Enkogawa River where it forms an acute angle with the Kyobashigawa. I weave my way in and out of two-way bike and walking traffic. It’s congested: clusters of buildings reach for the sun, small children scurry in lines like ducklings, traffic lights interrupt motion every few blocks where bridges intersect the water. 
     It’s the first day of summer, but there was no trace of the solstice this morning when I awoke in an overcast Kyoto, my sister and dad at the foot of my bed nudging me to go for a run. I opted for a short walk and then posted up on the 10th floor of our hotel for breakfast, gazing out the window at Japan’s largest Buddha perched at the base of a tree-covered mountain. I kept an eye out for my dad and sister jogging the Kamogawa, a river dividing Kyoto in two, but never spotted them. Between sips of coffee I read Francisco Cantu’s “The Line Becomes a River” which felt timely due to the current attention on the American/Mexican border; every time I turn on the international news I backtrack across ocean and continents to my home in the American Southwest.
     But now in Hiroshima the sun is out and it is undeniably summer. It’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit with Alabama-level humidity, and I’m sweating through my shirt that has a screen-printed picture of my best friend in a tuxedo adjusting a bowtie as he stares stoically into the distance. A caption reads “This Is 30, Babe.” His wife made the shirts for his milestone birthday party that I’ll miss due to travel and left one on my doorstep in Phoenix the day before I departed. 
     On this run, like almost every run, the first mile is the hardest. My legs are still stiff and heavy from Sunday, when I completed a half Ironman with my dad and brother in Nagoya. It’s becoming a Father’s Day tradition, sort of. The year before was Cape Town. Annual races feel in line with who my father has become, a man exercise-crazed since he turned 50. I turned 30 a couple weeks ago, and I feel myself gradually succumbing to the madness. It’s not that I particularly like races or anything like that, but I like how setting a goal forces me to arrange my week with long runs and bike rides and open-water swims. I like the alone time, the grinding, the setbacks, and the indiscriminate progress. I’m fond of my origin story into endurance sport: I didn’t complete my first triathlon until I was 26, two weeks after being canned by the only women I’ve ever let myself picture a future with. Daily runs made being alone seem like a choice, and there’s nothing more satisfying than the powerful illusion of agency. What a gift it was to be on those high-altitude trails in Lake Tahoe enveloped by such physical pain that for a brief moment I forgot entirely about heartache, like when you bang your elbow and your father pinches your side to “fix” it.
     The sidewalk ends and I turn around. I backtrack to the corner where the two rivers meet and head down the Kyobashigawa. Now that the triathlon is behind me, I’m training for a 50-kilometer trail run in the hills of the Marin Headlands. I’ve never run more than 15 miles, but I’m gearing up to spend my weekends alone in the trails with nothing but strangers and the water strapped to my torso, a vision that fills me with a rush of excitement as I maneuver a river cut through urbanity. 
     There’s something reassuring about rivers, how the water travels downstream with such constancy until it reaches a body that’s new. My coonhound, River, is staying with family in Oregon, where just yesterday she caught the scent of a deer, bolted into the trees, and was gone for hours before they found her sniffing around a meadow. When they whistled she ran up the road and dropped to the dirt, then turned over on her side panting rapidly without an ounce of energy left in the tank. 
     Maybe that’s what I’m after.
     I run until the river hits a panhandle that leads to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, a response to the day America changed the world forever in 1945 by dropping an atomic bomb named “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, killing nearly 140,000 people, releasing radiation and such scorching heat that in the aftermath starving citizens dug up potatoes and pumpkins that had been fully cooked in the dirt, contemplating whether they were safe to eat. As I consumed the exhibits earlier this afternoon, my focus was not on the timeliness of Trump’s recent visit in Singapore with Kim Jong-un to discuss nuclear disarmament or how in a decision to save American lives we ignored and dismantled all pre-established rules of war—you don’t kill women and children and civilians, you don’t blow up schools or entire cities—but rather on the groups of children dressed in matching chin-strapped hats and t-shirts taking notes as they studied artifacts from the catastrophe. They moseyed past the remnants of tattered school uniforms draped on wooden mannequins, a scorched wristwatch, the skeleton of a child’s tricycle. 
     I used to teach young children—second graders for a couple of years, then 6th grade English. After a recent hiatus from teaching, I’m about to move back to San Francisco to continue teaching middle school English. I’m thinking of the semester I introduced young kids to the Civil Rights Movement and answered their questions about how white Americans can be so cruel. I showed my students a Bryan Stevenson interview where he discussed the need for reconciliation and how progress is impossible without first taking ownership of our narrative. He proposed constructing monuments of lynching and slavery to remind us of our past and give context to our present. Today the Japanese kids browsing through artifacts of a middle school that was shredded as a casualty of war felt like manifestation of Stevenson’s pleas. They didn’t blink when they heard a man in a video describe people’s skin “hanging from their arms like a kimono” because they’d been conditioned to the devastating truth of their history. But to witness these kids absorb their truth is only part of the equation, because in Japan they were the victims of humanity at its worst. In America, depending on your race and heritage, in the face of a lynching memorial depicting our history of domestic terrorism, you might be the Japanese child reliving the destruction delivered onto your ancestors and everything they’d built, or you might be like me, a man mulling the rot of his foundation.
     What can be gained from the study of a single day? That today is always shaded with colors of yesterday and tomorrow? That there are patterns and echoes to be drawn from the wind rustling through the trees, the river’s refusal to waver, the man who lowers his mask beneath his chin to smoke a cigarette? That there is depth and beauty in a child who embodies our best as she wrestles with our worst? 
     I run my final mile alone on the river in search of exhaustion and clarity because this is how I’ve learned to digest. I soak in the sweat and experience of a long run and the longest day of the year knowing that what happened on June 21, 2018, can be sculpted into anything depending on the precision of the hand behind the scalpel. Maybe today is just a run down a river in a place I’ve never been but always known, one foot in front of the other, with a deep breath as I return to the place I started, changed, maybe. Undeniably in need of a shower. 

—Andrew Maynard

This is Andrew Maynard's third contribution to Essay Daily. His other essays have appeared in True Story, Mud Season Review, DIAGRAM, Switchback, Bayou Magazine, and elsewhere. He has taught creative writing at the University of San Francisco and San Quentin Prison. He is at work on a novel about running and tricycles. 





KRISTA DALBY

I wake up early, drink my coffee and eat a yogurt while scrolling Facebook and checking emails. It’s quiet. I look out the window towards the greenhouse. There’s been a baby bunny sitting in the same spot every morning and evening for weeks. Yep, she’s there, alright. I brush my teeth and get dressed for my morning walk: t-shirt dress and tights, County Pop trucker hat, silver fanny pack with my iphone loaded with podcasts, wireless earbuds in my ears. Sunscreen. I slip into my sneakers and out the door, down the gravel driveway to our country road. Not a car or tractor anywhere in sight. I set out down the road, the same direction as always.
     It’s sunny and the air is fresh and cool. I’m walking for about 5 minutes when my ankle starts to hurt. I don’t want to deal with a messed-up ankle all weekend at the festival, so I decide to go easy on myself and head back home.
     Instead of going for a walk, I’ll clean the outhouse.
     Our outhouse was knocked over in a spring windstorm. We’d finally raised it up just a few days earlier and it was pretty dirty. I mean not stinky dirty, just like, regular dirty. With dirt.
     The outhouse had posters and art on the walls and they were ruined now, so I pull them off and am filled with regret of how many staples I’d used to put these posters up so thoroughly over the years. I spend the next hour pulling staples, then give the whole outhouse a good sweep and wipe-down. Much better.
     I toss the trash and the tools in the workshop and head for the house.
     I start a load of laundry in my office/laundry room. I answer some emails while waiting for the spin cycle and when it starts I lean against the machine so it won’t do a violent dance across the floor.
     I shower and put some clean sheets on the bed. The window is open and the smells of spring are flowing in.
     My husband Mile comes in the door laden down with shopping bags of home-made food in plastic containers. He’d been to Scarborough overnight to visit his parents, and his mom always sends him away with homemade pizza and meatballs and cheese that she found on sale.
     I get a text from Glen reminding me that I have to go to work, so I hurry to get ready. Most of the time I work from home so it’s not often that I have to be somewhere at a certain time. I hop in my minivan. It’s a gorgeous drive through farmland and towns, one of those drives that reminds me of why I love living here.
     I arrive in Wellington twenty minutes later and park on the street in front of the theatre. Well, it will be a theatre, but right now it is very much still a construction zone. Workers in the next room—soon to be a box office—sing along to the radio while laying really cute tile flooring. Glen and I install a wall of Pinterest-y bookshelves in the soon-to-be script library. Actually, Glen mostly puts it together while I drive back and forth from the hardware store picking up pieces that had been forgotten. Shelves assembled and looking instaworthy, Glen leaves and I haul a dozen bankers’ boxes out from the theatre space which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is also still a construction zone. The boxes are heavy—they’re packed full of playscripts. Today’s task is to get these brand new shelves full of scripts so Aaron and Sarah will have a backdrop for their photo shoot on the weekend. I try to be efficient unboxing the scripts but it’s hard to not get distracted—there are so many scripts I want to crack open and read… but that’s for another time. The library looks great when I’m done. I mean, it will look better when it’s properly organized, but a wall of books is just a beautiful thing.
     I drive home and eat some cold pizza straight from the fridge. Pineapple, interesting. Mile’s mom doesn’t usually put pineapple on her pizza.
     I get myself cleaned up, another costume change, and Mile and I get in the van and drive into Picton. I drive because he’s eaten some pot-infused chocolate. The streets of our small town are busy with cars and foot traffic. It seems that everybody’s heading to the opening night of the art show. Mile has two pieces in it, a painting and a sculpture, and he’s been told he’s getting an award.
     We walk from the parking lot that overlooks the cemetery, down the sidewalk on the sloping street, and I notice a few trees bored full of holes by woodpeckers. I love how you notice things like that when you’re walking.
     We enter the gallery and Mile’s painting—and it’s a biggie—is hanging prominently near the door. The tag has a red dot on it! The show’s only been open 15 minutes and his painting has been sold! I’m super happy for him, it’s not every day that he gets this kind of double validation and I know it means a lot to him, even though he says it’s not a big deal.
     The gallery is packed. I realize how tired I am from all the outhouse-cleaning and library-making. I know lots of people. I don’t want to socialize. I try, a little. Mile gets his award and I attempt to get a picture of the moment and I fail. He and I walk around looking at art, sometimes together, sometimes apart. We talk to people, but I am tired. I am done. I drink a tiny glass of beer, and refill the glass several times from the jug of lemon water sitting atop the bar.
     I drive us home; it’s just getting dark. I park the van by the workshop and Mile goes into the house. I pack the van for the festival—yellow tool box, wooden crate of paints and brushes, frame for the side stage, cardboard. Always lots of cardboard.
     I walk back to the house. The night is cold and dark, there’s a clear sky and a bright moon. The crickets chirp.
     June 21: you’ve been all right.

—Krista Dalby

Krista Dalby is a multi-disciplinary artist and community builder living in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada.





KATY SPERRY

It is my last summer solstice in the desert for a while. The summer I turned twelve, I moved to the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona with my family. It was 2006 and my sister and I played the Black Eyed Peas' “My Humps” and Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” on repeat via burned CD as we swam in our cousins’ pool. We were on the edge of puberty, and the song lyrics didn’t really apply yet. But we felt cool splash dancing in the shallow end of the water, attempting to mimic Fergie and Shakira’s dance moves.
     We moved from the Pacific Northwest, where mostly we wore our swimsuits inside gigantic public swimming pools called aquatic centers on especially rainy summer days.
     In the desert, I learn to stay inside to avoid sunburned shoulders and slushies melting too quickly. Sometimes, I stay inside to avoid monsoons and haboobs. But that first summer, I miss the rain eventually. I walk to the mailbox as the afternoon monsoons begin, before the rain falls too hard and quick on my skin. At night, I sneak outside and stare at lightning flicking across the sky. Try to catch swelling raindrops on my tongue.
     It is a season of moving, and, in a couple of weeks, I’ll move again. Away from the desert. Lately, those first summer memories keep returning to me. Maybe because I am nostalgic and moving amplifies this quality in me. On this solstice I remember that summer again: three times.

  1. I spend the morning in the desert visiting Arcosanti with two friends. We explore Visitor’s Trail to see an expansive view of the property—would-be city. I don’t bring sunscreen and my shoulders begin to burn and blush. On the website, there are photos of a pool with a view of the Agua Fria River Valley. The tour does not take us to the pool. We don’t sit on the edge and let our legs sway in the water. For a moment, I think about swimming at my cousins.
  2. As the sun is setting I drive with my husband to downtown Phoenix. We are driving to see the last show we will go to before moving. We park just as the last flicks of sunshine are disappearing. While we walk, it occurs to me that I have not seen Shakira or the Black Eyed Peas.
    1. Lauren Ruth Ward is opening. And, if I am being honest, we arrive a late. Midsong. We curve through the edges of the crowd to find a spot near the first-come benches. I stare at Ward. For a minute, the way she flips her hair and thrusts her pelvis makes me think of Shakira’s hips not lying. Her dance moves—smooth slide of arms along body and jolt of head rippling hair—make me dream of being twelve again, dancing in chlorinated water 
  3. When the concert ends, I imagine that it will be raining outside. First glimmer of monsoon summer. But it is dry and hot when we exit. On the walk to our car, we pass a sidewalk with sprinklers softly spraying grass. Sprinkler system turns to reach edges of green, and I feel cool water spritzing my ankles and shins. Monsoon for my legs. 

     The next morning, I download Ward’s album and EP onto my phone. A few weeks into summer I’ll listen to her sing, while I’m flying to the other side of the country. Sit in row 23 seat B and sing “How do you feel? I feel cool” to myself on repeat, think of dancing and water and my last solstice in the desert. 

—Katy Sperry

Katy Sperry holds an MFA from Northern Arizona University, where she studied hybrid and flash writing. She previously worked as the nonfiction and hybrids editor of Thin Air Magazine. Her work can be found in Ghost City Review and PIVOT Literature. Sometimes she writes about citrus. 





DUSTIN PARSONS

Morning:

Bread that bakes in a wood fire oven in Thasos, Greece, bakes fast. As part of the Writing Workshop in Greece, students collect the herbs on the morning of the solstice and use them to make the sourdough starter, but cheat with a little instant yeast. Flour. Sugar. What grows there is from there, and while none of us can name many of the herbs around us, we are confident they are thoroughly Greece. Solstice herbs probably aren’t any better than everyday summer herbs, but they can feel like it if everyone making the bread believes it.
     Dough is mixed by hand, many hands, turned and slapped and folded and pressed. A wet dough slapping the simple wooden table, holding together but only barely. Kids turn it and teens turn it and college students turn it. Their professor, Christopher Bakken, looks on proudly, asks them to think about the process. Will it change what we taste?
     Proof the bread and form the bread and place the bread in the oven. The long handled peel will do nicely. The oven heats to approximately 1500 degrees before the wood is taken out, and every half hour or so the oven loses about 50 degrees or more. Other food for the restaurant is in the oven: potatoes and lamb shanks and whole chickens and chick peas and vegetables of all kinds. But everywhere we can smell the bread as it comes out of the oven.
     My kids eat bread. They tear into it just after it comes from the oven, kissing and cooing at their burning fingers. They’ll eat it for days.

Afternoon:

Bodies that swim in the Aegean will be cold. Winds bring cooler water into the small coves around Aliki beach, slapping brisk foam against the cool marble. The marble was cut from this area of Thasos and hauled on a road cutting right through the heart of the island. It was sent out on ships. The coves and shallows all look like country sinks slightly submerged—large rectangular cutouts. Sea urchins take up residence, tiny asterisks begging pardon for their dark interruptions of the white.

Ancients called the water wine-dark before they had a name for the blues.
     Solstice Greek coves are no warmer than non-solstice Greek coves. Swimmers still exit shivering slightly, but there are many today who risk it. Sense the largesse of the day, the import of summer. Gifted so much light.
     The sand is warm and the Grecian marble pebbles fit into pockets, warm slow and cool quick. It is easy to get sleepy.
     The sea, it really is wine-dark.

Evening:

Still so light so late. I am asked to give a reading for this group of students and teachers congregating here in Greece, and I do. I share an essay about my kids. The same kids who baked bread and swam in the sea earlier this day. Who are thousands of miles from their home but who are loving this time, on this island, on the longest day of the year. I admit, I get a little emotional. Have a hard time finishing the essay I read. That’s never happened before and in the moment I can’t name what is overwhelming me.
     Before you have a name for it, an experience is best described based on what it resembles. We could call all of this—the heat and the bread and the cold and the water and the choking up from pride and love—yes, we could call this name into being: solstice.

—Dustin Parsons

Dustin Parsons is the author of Exploded View: Essays on Fatherhood, with Diagrams from University of Georgia Press. He is the winner of the Laurel Review Fiction Prize and the American Literary Review Fiction Prize as well as a New York Fine Arts and Ohio Arts Grant in nonfiction. He teaches at the University of Mississippi.




MARIE O'ROURKE

Worrying

I wake to the chimes of my alarm and an email of last minute instructions from Ander. It’s a day late, for me: I am already in June 21, in the wrong half of the world. This time last year I was in the right half—fucking Facebook with its memories reminds me again, as it has every morning for the past few weeks. Flicking through this latest collage of English countryside and canals, I remember that sense of the world opening, a gentle easing of seams and strictures before it could begin unravelling.
     After rousing my youngest son for school, looking in on the other who’s still sleeping, I tend to my need for tea. My daughter is up, standing at the easel. Her eyes are barely open, and she reports only two hours’ sleep. There’s just four more days until the exhibition, and the white of bare canvas scares me, but the crumpled packets of No-Doz next to A’s coffee cup, the look of her, scares me more. I talk her back to bed and set an alarm for 10. Showering, I worry about her and me and what last night’s dream means and what my day will hold.
     Driving to school, I’m conscious of the silence and size of J. I let him choose the music to get those ear-pods out, but the lyrics pumping through the speakers unnerve me. I try to keep a light tone whenever I question the sexism embedded in the rap he loves. I’m not sure I manage. He laughs and says of course he doesn’t believe or agree with these lines, that they are just words. But I know what words can be or do, how they can open to a panorama or narrow the world to glimpses through a keyhole. I am thinking of distance and resonance as he shuts the door and disappears beneath his school’s verandas.
     James Brown’s ‘It’s a Man’s World’ fills the car, draws a cynical smile from my lips as I head for the post office to collect a parcel, worrying if there’s enough warmth in the sun for my washing to dry, wondering what I might cook for dinner. I silence The Godfather’s wailing with a call to my sister and we have another of those five-minutes-saying-nothing conversations as I navigate through the morning traffic. Is it possible to be as fucking chirpy as she always seems to be? It is, frankly, hard to believe we two come from the same family. Again, I worry that maybe I don’t really know her. That she just doesn’t trust me enough to be real, to tell me what she honestly thinks and feels.


Wondering

I exchange pleasantries with the lady at the out-of-hours collection window. The paper envelope she hands me—thick with gloss packing tape and a Ukrainian postmark—is a pleasant surprise. God bless internet shopping! It’s over a month since I clicked this through my Etsy cart, and as I rip the package open and rub the jewel-toned velvet between my fingertips I wonder what the Ukraine is like; wonder how Aziza’s day might be different (or similar) to mine. Today I’m sporting hi-top sneakers clad in sequins patterned snakeskin one side, gold if flipped the other. My elder son C says, ‘they’re fire,’ the loudest shoes he has ever seen. The new velvet socks seem a perfect match, so I pretzel myself in the front seat of the Volvo, untying, removing, replacing, retying. Too much/not enough: I imagine plotting my clothes and my life would produce a graph with surprising results.
     The morning’s makeup was a struggle, so I check myself in the rear-view mirror before taking off: liquid eyeliner really is a young girl’s game, demands a sharp eye and a steady, fearless hand, as all hesitation, all wobbles show. I’m wearing an outfit that 90s me (the same me who had just discovered the joys of liquid eyeliner) would have worn and loved, and I think again of the way fashion loops back and revisits the past, changing ever so slightly but significantly each time around. My clothes, my memories, and life are moving back to a space where they haven’t been for over twenty-five years. It’s reassuring and alarming, comforting and confronting.
     Snaking my way along Riverside Drive, I crane my neck to see what the Eliza statue is wearing this morning. Wonder again how they get out to her, there in the midst of the water, how they wrangle clothes onto those outstretched bronze arms. The river is glass under blue sky, which I find strangely irksome. Yesterday I drove to my office shrouded in fog, and worked on ways I might describe it poetically, in preparation for today. Sun was not part of my plan, and the winter-crisp light and clear sky just seem kind of bland.
     Appreciating the present moment is not my thing. I’d make a crap Buddhist.


Studying

Campus feels empty but the car parks are full. It’s exam time, and as always, I’m thankful it’s them, not me. Back to study after blurry years of small children and homemaking, I now spend my days at a computer reading and writing about the essay—what it is, how it works, why I want to write them. Three years into a PhD, the definitions my project began with are feeling ridiculously tight and false. Today, hours of ‘busywork’ reading and taking notes from a book theorising experimental creative nonfiction, is designed to ease me back into my thoughts and my own writing.
     I usually aim to hang out until 10am for coffee, but admit defeat and walk over at 9:30, worrying again that I have a caffeine problem. ‘Only one coffee a day,’ I say, but a double shot has become a triple, and often a late afternoon dirty chai is snuck in too. The addition of milk and cinnamon somehow makes it seem less needy and desperate than that mid-morning long black, I think?
     Reading Brenda Miller, I note what she says about objects both telling a story and calming ‘the connective tissue’ of the brain, helping to '[f]ocus it. Making everything a little more clear.' [1] Twisting the rings on my fingers, I think again about last night’s dream. I haven’t worn engagement or wedding band for over a year now, though their indentation is still visible. I developed some sudden and strange allergy; the ring of red angry skin took months and much cortisone to calm. I call A to make sure she is up and hasn’t slept through her alarm.
     Lunch conversation is stilted and sparse. I eat two-day-old salad, the smell and slight tang of the vegetables putting me in mind of our kitchen’s compost bucket. We talk about L’s latest revisions, his supervisors’ comments. D talks about graduation, lunch tomorrow to celebrate his glowing examiners’ reports. I look out the window, then watch the girl who always sits alone in the lunch room microwaving two-minute noodles, stirring through a can of tuna. I don't know her name, and don’t know whether the fact of her aloneness, her anonymity, or what she is eating for lunch makes me saddest.
     My afternoon’s reading brings more reminders that all memory is just a memory of the last time you remembered it. Pliable. Changeable. I think of the subject of my most recent essay. I wonder how those events will feel different in texture or shape years from now; how different the history that is already embedded in another’s brain. ‘Your problem, Marie, is that you just think too much,’ my Mum often worries, aloud. Often, I worry she might be right. But thinking, feeling, seeing, is hardwired into who and what I am. I know no alternative.


Thinking

The work day finishes with Lia Purpura’s essay ‘On not pivoting’ and I worry (yes, worrying again—are you sensing a pattern?) that to date, I have hung both myself and my essays on so-called ‘Pivotal Life Events’. Am I incapable of drawing crystalline detail from the everyday? Her final paragraph packs a punch (oh, they always do) and I type the words into my notes, change the font to bold. ‘And I could go on,’ she says, ‘I could walk for miles right now, fielding all that passes through, rubs off, lends a sense of being—that rush of moments, objects, sensations so much like a cloud of gnats, a cold patch in the ocean, dust motes in a ray of sun that roil, gather, settle around my head and make up the daily weather of a self.’ [2] I feel a little better about myself, and about my life and this thing I’m wanting to write about today; this thing that has revealed the bones of a life lacking interesting flesh.  

     Dinner is tomato soup and toast, and I look down at the flecked green and black of basil and pepper, crunch dark rye toast, its bitter undertones glossed with butter. Perched at the kitchen bench, I watch A paint. She talks a little about that feeling when she’s in the middle of painting, and can’t help but see everything in her day for its mixture of colours. That constant worry of how she might find the precise blend of pigment to put it on canvas and make it come alive.


Talking

I get a lift to Bookclub, the car filled with the ease of conversation between people who have known each other now for twenty years. The evening is chill and black, the sun long set before we set off: remember, the longest day of the year for you right-side-of-the-world folks is the shortest day here. Street lights and signage get sparser as we inch our way up into the hills.  J lives on the edge of a national park and a kangaroo startles in the headlights when our car rounds its final corner. A circle in her living room, we settle in front of a roaring wood fire to discuss a book about a serial cheat, and the deals people make with themselves to stay in a marriage. Her husband drifts through, hovers awkwardly, but doesn’t hang around. Pressing Blue Castello onto biscuits dense with fig and poppy seeds, I delight in the clash of unctuous cheese with sweet and crisp and crumbly cracker.
     As we edge around the book’s themes—whether fidelity in long term relationships is possible, whether we can ever really know or understand the composition of other people’s lives—I sense poppy seeds buried in a back molar, and work at them with the tip of my tongue. I drink more red wine and we talk carefully about our friend T who is too ill to be there, whose latest bout of radiation and chemo has knocked her too flat for socialising. She is heading overseas soon to see her UK family and friends. We don’t talk about what all this might mean, just as we don't talk about the parallels between the plot of the novel we’ve just discussed and the life of our friend P, who was the who one suggested we read it.


Seeing

My daughter is the only one up when I return. I slump on the couch, chatting just enough to keep her awake and on task. Two eyes have emerged in my five-hour absence. Their clarity and depth unnerves me, as does the blankness around them. A’s style is what you’d call hyperrealist, but she has an unusual approach, filling in random fragments across the canvas rather than finishing whole areas in full.
     If I think about it practically, it’s probably to do with using the colours on her palette, a search for spaces which need the same combination of oils, echoes and resonances in the dips and hollows and curves of her subject’s skin. Still, the process is disconcerting to watch, the effect akin to one of those puzzles which begins with a pixelated face, small patches of clarity slowly growing, bringing the whole into focus. Kissing her goodnight, I head for bed with guilty anticipation of hours of sleep I know she won't have.
     I undress in the dark, carefully removing, hanging or folding, then storing each item. A place for everything and everything in its place, they say, and I am trying hard now to organise myself, and my life. Body relaxed under the weight and warmth of the blankets, my fingertips work at the velvet bedcover’s edge, enjoying the slip and click of the fabric’s nap.
     My day ends as it started, with me worrying about that dream and wondering what I will write. I flick again through those Facebook photos of the Brontë parsonage, cobbled streets of Haworth and Heptonstall, Sylvia Plath’s unkempt grave. My husband is long asleep by the sounds of it, and curling onto my side, into myself, on the opposite side of the bed, the curve of my back mirrors his.


Notes

[1] Miller, B. (2014). "Writing inside the web: Creative nonfiction in the age of connection." In S. Prentiss & J. Wilkins (Eds.), The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre (pp. 23-35). East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press, p.34

[2] Purpura, L. On not pivoting. DIAGRAM, 12(1). Retrieved from http://thediagram.com/12_1/purpura.html

—Marie O'Rourke

Marie O’Rourke is an Australian creative writer and PhD candidate from Curtin University. Investigating the quirks of memory and experimental essaying, her work has been published in Mediating Memory: Tracing the Limits of Memoir, Meniscus, TEXT, New Writing, a/b, Westerly and ABR.





ELIZABETH EVANS

Despite the fact that I took a trip to a tow yard way-the-hell-south-of-Tucson this morning (and, while at the tow yard, snapped at the lady behind the service window who wanted to convince me that the totaled car from which I needed to retrieve my stuff was someone else’s car; and the fact that I was on the telephone, off and on, all day—trying to reach the person who witnessed my car crash, and talking to friends, and answering many questions from insurance people—meanwhile aware that the left side of my skull is swollen and aching (which did not stop me from putting in my time on the elliptical trainer at the gym and reading the closed captions on MSNB and CNN regarding the latest crap coming down the pike from the POTUS)—I lived this day, June 21, almost entirely in a mental June 20, again and again replaying that sickening glimpse of the blue car speeding into my path and, then, the aftermath at the scene.
     The impact with its surreal swirl of horizontal stripes. There must have been a terrible noise as I spun from north to south, and I have tried to retrieve it, but failed. What follows: registering the disgusting, yellowish pillow that sits in my lap. What is it? Oh. Is this what a deflated airbag looks like? Then a man is opening my car door and telling me I don’t need to take the keys that I am trying to remove from the ignition, just leave them. 
     Which man was that? I have run through many series of blurred figures (one is young with a shining face, another is only a heavy torso in a gray uniform). Later, there is a beautiful red and gold firetruck that I initially don’t understand has come because of the accident, and it brings with it a handful of EMT’s, and, then, police officers arrive at the scene, too, but I think that first man was a mechanic from a nearby garage.
     Did he walk me to the sidewalk? Today, I repeatedly passed by the cluster of those people who, yesterday afternoon, stood by the blue car. One of the people, a gray-haired woman in a pale purple dress, calls out to me as I head to the sidewalk, “I’m so sorry!” The driver of the blue car. I am grateful that she acknowledges her fault, but too upset to speak.
     Very odd: it was not until this evening, twenty-four plus hours after the accident, that I realized that I must have briefly lost consciousness during the crash. Also, it now seems odd to me that the EMTs who arrived at the scene accepted my answer: Yes, I’m okay. But, of course, I did not tell them—I had no memory of the fact—that my head had hit what must have been the driver’s side window of my car. No memory of the airbag opening. My glasses breaking. No memory of my legs banging the door so hard that I have found bruises on the inside of the right leg as well as much larger ones of the outside of the left.
     Oh, throughout this day, June 21, it did seem most necessary—keenly important!—that I replay the conversation with the other driver who, after a series of telephone calls, told me that her apology didn’t mean she actually caused the accident: “I’m just an apologetic person.” That conversation flooded me with anger each time I recalled it, but there have been other emotions attached to other emotions from the scene: absurd shame after a man asks if I’m okay and, in my numbness, I hold up a hand that must have hit something, and when I peel off my broken fingernail, the man says a scolding, “Well, that doesn’t matter”—as if he imagines that I am some vain person who gives a fuck about fingernails. Again and again, I have been standing in the baking, ugly, parking lot of a Presbyterian church, telephone in hand, trying to get through to my insurance company while, off to my right, people—including the woman who hit me—talk in the shade of a sycamore tree. I am shy and half-deaf: the noise of the rush-hour traffic makes it impossible for me to stand where they stand and use my telephone. When I finally force myself to join the people, one of them offers me her name and phone number, identifying herself as a witness. A pretty woman with a stylish swag of orange hair, she must go pick up her child, but, later, when the police officer—a little guy with excellent teeth—tries repeatedly to telephone her, she will not pick up. My witness! Where is my witness? Did she become worried about being involved?
     I have stopped asking.
     The replays are dying out. An hour or so ago, I realized that all those visits to yesterday had yielded nothing and could yield nothing: they were just attempts by a traumatized person to make what happened not have happened.

—Elizabeth Evans

ELIZABETH EVANS is the author of six books of fiction, most recently the novel As Good As Dead (Bloomsbury, 2015). Her story collections are Suicide’s Girlfriend (HarperCollins) and Locomotion (New Rivers). Previous novels are The Blue Hour (Algonquin), Rowing in Eden (HarperCollins), and Carter Clay (HarperCollins). Distinctions include the Iowa Author Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the James Michener Fellowship, and a Lila Wallace Award. She has been a fellow at MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the International Retreat for Writers at Hawthornden Castle, and other foundations. Evans received her MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop. Professor emeritus in the Program in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, Evans serves as a guest writer at Queens University of Charlotte’s Low-residence MFA Program in Creative Writing. She lives in Tucson. 





SANDRA LAMBERT

The pinch of twisted velcro on my post-operative bra wakes me up. Without remembering, I shift in bed the wrong way and pain spreads over my chest. I cup my breast to hold it still. It’s swollen, tight, and resembles a bowling ball.
     Yesterday I had a re-do on a lumpectomy from two weeks ago. That time they didn’t find clear margins, so yesterday was another, deeper, go at it. And this morning, after tightening the bra, I feed the dog, walk her, and take out garbage despite increasing pain, wooziness, and nausea. That’s enough. I return to bed with an ice pack clasped under my arm, the little dog stretched out along my thigh, watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns, and eat grapes. I hope I won’t vomit.  
     After the last surgery I was not depressed. I was determined. We had a plan. I’d recover, have the seven weeks of daily radiation, and then I’d be good to go just in time for the publication date of my book. Fucking breast cancer was not going to steal my book launch from me. 
     But the plan is in limbo now. Today there’s pain and nausea, but also a terrible sadness. The surgery came up so suddenly that my beloved was away on a work trip. She rushes home as early as she can manage, and I spend the afternoon crying each time she asks me how I am. She can’t hug me because it hurts. And I’m still trying not to vomit. She says that I’ve been such a trooper so far that being sad now makes sense. A friend who calls tells me I’m such a trooper. If I hear the word “trooper” again, I’m going to scream.  
     Finally, it’s evening. I arrange pillows around my breast so it’s supported but not pressed on and wince each time the positioning fails. My beloved places herself gently under the covers. She reaches over, careful not to disturb the pillows, and puts a hand on my thigh. It reminds me that there are other parts of my body. 

—Sandra Lambert

Sandra Gail Lambert is the author of A Certain Loneliness: A Memoir due out from the University of Nebraska Press this fall. 





ALBERT GOLDBARTH









See also these supporting documents: a painting by Skyler Lovelace—

"Van Gogh's Bedroom, Aries" by Skyler Lovelace
—and five maps by Brian Evans:






—Albert Goldbarth


Albert Goldbarth has been publishing notable books of poetry for over forty years—two of which have received the National Book Critics Circle Award—as well as collections of essays and a novel, many of them from the admirable Graywolf Press. While his fingers have never touched a computer (laptop, tablet, etc.) keyboard, his wife Skyler teaches computer animation and digital media. Go figure. He lives in Wichita, Kansas. Go figure again.





LORRI MCDOLE

I’m not ready to greet anyone at 7:30 a.m., let alone a three-year-old with an attitude, but I opened the door this morning with my best everyday-is-a-goddamn-new-day smile. It gives me, for a hot second, the illusion of control.
     Time to shoot bad guys! The Kid said, shedding shoes and shirt like he owns the place. After his mom (my daughter) left, I pretended to shoot bad guys for a minute and then got him switched to books by suggesting one we could act out: If you’re happy and you know it, roar out loud. ROAR! We read for maybe five minutes before he got restless. I got out the hot wheel bin, and The Kid played happily for a half hour running cars down a spiral track. He chattered nonstop, naming each car (I particularly liked Eagle of the Desert), while I sat beside him on the floor shot-gunning collagen-laced coffee. We ate breakfast at the kitchen island: pancakes dipped in strawberry cream cheese and Kashi cereal with berries.
     At 9:30 (after a little dog torturing, fit throwing, and puzzle doing), we set the timer: countdown to the playdate with my sister and niece. When it went off at 10:00 and they weren’t here yet, The Kid frowned at me, just like his mother used to do. It’s no good explaining that I really can’t orchestrate things just for his delight, but I always try anyway.
     Sorry, I’m not in charge of traffic.
     Apparently not, Ma. The accompanying withering look probably goes without saying. Like most three-year-old’s, The Kid is expert at pulling oddly appropriate comments out of his ass. And yes, you can laugh—he calls me Ma.
We lived through the next half hour till they got here.
     It’s not easy, entertaining a ten-year-old and a preschooler. We tried badminton. Every time The Kid swung at the birdie, he made a dramatic dive to the ground, which we thought was funny at first. Both kids enjoyed our new tree swing and were more or less reasonable about taking turns. In quieter moments we watched a squirrel running up and down our fence to tease the dog. The Kid mentioned, for the hundredth time, that the dog has sad eyes; my sister agreed. I didn’t say anything but thought plenty: Hey, I walk her, I throw the ball for her, what does she have to be sad about? I didn’t get the nurturing gene, I got the defensive one. I understand all arts but the ones that count when you’re a mother and grandmother, the domestic ones. If something seems the slightest bit wrong in our home life, I blame myself. Which is why it’s funny or maybe just karma that I’m back in the role of caretaker. 
     Lunch was egg salad sandwiches and a million grapes; I tried to ignore my sister’s look when The Kid insisted on having a questionably-clean hand in literally all of it. At least he might learn to cook, which my daughter never did. My mother never taught me to cook, not that I was interested, so you can see how that all happened. At 56, I’m finally starting to figure a few things out.   
     Today was fifteen degrees cooler than yesterday (typical start of summer Seattle weather), but the cousins were determined to play in the water. My sister brought big water squirters (she doesn’t say “gun”), which only once resulted in a face full of water for her. Three of us thought that was funny. Luckily, she was inside drying off when The Kid called me Sassy Pants for reprimanding him. The Perfect Parent wouldn’t have appreciated my No-YOU-Are banter.
     When it was time to say goodbye, The Kid, who’d been an enthusiastic host, gave shy side hugs, and when my sister asked if she could have a kiss, he put a finger up in the air: Sorry, I’m all out. My niece and I shared a laugh behind our hands. The Kid princess-waved and revved up the kiss machine enough to blow some from the porch.
     Somehow, I got him down for a short, fit-free nap, and then I wasted time browsing emails about DIY butt facials (you mean a loofah in the shower?) and terrorizing political news that filled me with exactly what you’d expect. I resisted the urge to make myself an early cocktail so I could pretend I was “somewhere else doing anything else,” to paraphrase Lydia Davis on the subject. 
Later, I sat by The Kid on the couch while he watched Tom and Jerry and ate an apple. I never used to sit with my kids during TV time, but I’m Ma-not-Mommy, and if I want to spend every available minute with him (in a conflicted, exhausted sort of way), I will. 
     My daughter picked him up at 6:45 (I got a kiss on the lips from The Kid) and just like that, the house was still. My husband was out of town, which left this introvert exactly where she wanted to be after a day of kid and company: alone in my house.
     I’ve got two library books I’m on the clock for, Tomb of the Unknown Racist and Rachel Cusk’s Outline. At 8:00, after picking up toys and snacking on carrots and hummus, I settled on the couch with Cusk and a glass or three of wine. I looked out the window occasionally, thought about The Kid leaning into me while we read Good Night Gorilla and The Foolish Tortoise before nap. How he asked me to sing The Muffin Man and You are my Sunshine and all the rest. I was starting to relax when I got to the part where Cusk’s “neighbor” character quotes his mother: “I could weep just to think that I’ll never see you again as you were at the age of six—I would give anything, she said, to meet that six-year-old one more time.”
     I was close to done raising kids (if that ever happens) when my daughter got pregnant at 18. I didn’t want it. I don’t mean the baby, exactly. I mean going through it all with a young daughter who had an on-its-way-out relationship with her boyfriend: the grief over what she was giving up, the doctor visits, the babysitting, the sleep-starved overnights, the binky quitting and potty training, the fits, the fear and worry, the guilt. I didn’t want to start all over again. But when people say it’s “just a season,” that’s not the whole story: it’s the shortest season imaginable. The Kid will be four soon, and then he’ll be five. He will grow up (which I somehow couldn’t imagine my kids doing) and, in some fashion, away. I could weep. I do.

—Lorri McDole

Lorri McDole is a semi-professional writer and an amateur wife, mother, and grandmother. She practices all these things in the Pacific Northwest. 





JONI TEVIS

Dad is the kind of person who remembers exact dates. Dad. Got anything for me, June 21? It’s lunchtime and we’re eating leftover pepperoni pizza from the box. Dad and David are nearly finished replacing the insulation in the basement. A hundred and twenty-one strips of pink insulation held in place by metal wires made in Hemingway, SC, population 573. Says the manufacturer’s website, “’There is an old saying, ‘Do one thing and do it better than anyone else.’ At Southeastern Wire, that holds true.”
     June 21, 1953, was a hot day in West Liberty, Ohio. Harold Tevis, Dad’s dad, worked alone, high up on the roof of Charlie Prall’s barn, built in 1888 and held together with hand-carved oak pins, not nails. He was replacing the shingled roof with tin. Dad was eight years old, and it was his job to run around collecting the shingles that fell to the ground. When he got tired he took a nap on the broad seat of the family car, a ‘48 Kaiser.
     This was a big barn with a steep roof covering a tall haymow. Farmers used to put up hay loose in the mow, but that takes a lot of room. The first hay balers made square bales, which saved storage space, but you had to be careful. You cut the hay and let it cure in rows in the field for a few days. If you baled the hay before it was totally dry—say, if rain was predicted and you wanted to get it put up before then—and dampness remained in the center of the bale, it could get hot enough to smoulder and catch and then the whole barn would burn. Barns all over Logan County caught fire in the 1950s because of that.
     But not Prall’s barn, which is still standing, far as we know. I think about that, how the rain and cold never wear out but we do. We do the best we can with what we have, whether that’s oak pegs or steel wire angled at the end so it digs into the beam and holds the insulation snug.
     I’m still thinking about that when I get some bad news. A woman I knew in high school died on June 21. Cancer. She was 43 years old. It had been years since we’d been in touch, but still I couldn’t believe it. Do one thing and do it better than anyone else. That was Betsy. She steered by her own lights no matter what anybody thought—hard enough as an adult, let alone when we first met as awkward kids in gym class. She was just as much a drag on the basketball games as I was, but she didn’t care. She favored red lipstick and floppy hats with silk poppies stitched to the brim. Shredded it in calculus, could draw anything in a flash, knew the Andrew Lloyd Webber songbook by heart. She was the first person I knew who watched both the Oscars and the Tonys, and she had had informed opinions about who should win what. Valedictorian. Grad school at Rice. Last I heard she was teaching macrobiotic cooking classes in her yoga studio in Miami. That’s a long way from Piedmont, South Carolina, her house just past the turnoff for Brushy Creek Bar-B-Que.
     I remember once in high school when my folks drove us to Charlotte, two hours north, to see Harry Connick Jr. play. On a school night. This was a big deal. How her parents called Dad on the phone and grilled him about his driving record and habits, asked who his auto insurance provider was, what time they could expect us home. Dad just shook his head and smiled. He was protective of us, too. I bought her a pink lipstick once, kind of hoping she would tone down her look, but she never wore it. The longest day of the year, with the most sunlight, that would be her way. I remember how the night of the show, Mom and Dad waited in the car in the vast parking lot as the band played encore after encore of You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. What lasts? The ‘48 Kaiser, long since melted down for the metal, the three-rib tin in galvanized sheets nailed down with lead-head nails, the cedar shingles thrown in the wagon by the sweaty child, now a grandfather himself, to be burned in the stove that winter. The sweet peppery smell cedar releases as it burns, the flame it makes bright and yellow-white. “You Are My Sunshine” was first recorded in 1939 and since then it’s been covered by singers from Johnny Cash to Ray Charles to Jamey Johnson, but that night in high school, we felt like we were the first ones ever to hear it, ever to throw up our skinny arms and sing along.
—Joni Tevis

Joni Tevis is the author of two books of essays, most recently The World Is On Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse. Her essays have appeared in Orion, Oxford American, Poets & Writers, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. She teaches at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.





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

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