Lecture to Self on a Two-Day Week

Dread is not called for here. It’s only Tuesday, and the week is up after today. This is a holiday week, a happy occasion, so be happy.

Sit awhile. Listen to the Dresden Dolls. Sip your mocha. Cover your head with the scarf so it feels like no one in the whole Starbucks can see you (that’s called magic, folks). Other people’s career aspirations have nothing whatsoever to do with your own. It doesn’t matter who brags about their window office; you’re floating above it all, windowless, so let them speak their Greek.

This is your day job. It is not your career. Artists have day jobs all over the city and at least yours doesn’t involve balancing stacks of plates, since you’re such a terrible klutz. See? If you drop a book it doesn’t shatter.

As a kid when forced to spend those endlessly long days at the factory, watching your parents work, you had a favorite game called “Office.” Remember? You would form the shipping cartons into walls and use old rusted desks and chairs with broken backs to arrange your own department, at which you did… something indefinable. You stamped pages, scrawled signatures for no reason, answered dead telephones, photocopied reams of your face. This was fun at the time, playing grown-up, and now here you are doing just that. You have a desk! You have walls, and they’re not made of cardboard! Your phone works! Your signature counts for something! Even though you do not spend hours photocopying the myriad expressions possible on your own smushed face I know there is a tiny itty-bitty part of you that remembers the days of playing “Office” and thinks it funny that you’re there at all, business cards and everything, like an impostor.

Fun, huh? Yeah, that’s the spirit. Besides, it’s still early and you don’t have to leave for the actual office for over an hour. Write your story… while you still can.

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Start Small

I’ve started small. There are many things I want to write—some I’ve admitted here, some I haven’t admitted even to myself. So much to do, and such small scraps of time in which to do it. So I’ve narrowed my focus this week, holiday and all. The story I’ve returned to is already 25 pages long, and yet filled with holes so gaping I can shove a foot through, oh and the character is smarter than I am and thus harder to write, and it takes place upstate, and it somehow involves the Black Plague, in passing, about which I know nothing, and guest stars my own father, with whom I have not spoken to in years, and the car being driven is a black Rabbit, and I have dreamed about it before (the story, not the Rabbit) and so I want it to say so much. It sounds outlandishly large and scattered when I explain it like that, but really it’s a sentence here and a sentence there and somehow, someday soon the sentences will all come together into a semblance of a story. (This is what I hope.) Fact is, I am writing a story instead of revising the one novel or writing the new other novel just to get into the habit of writing for myself again. It’s a lovely feeling to write anything I want. ANYTHING! Yes, when I type in all caps I am happy.

Magic

An old friend who has come to visit is a magician. I didn’t know until last night, and it thrills me. I am the most gullible person when it comes to tricks. I want them to be real magic. I do not want to know the secret (please do not tell me). When his trick made it seem that he had guessed the exact card I had picked from the shuffled deck in my mind, I felt a pure thrill, a shiver up my spine—no joke. After we left, I couldn’t stop talking about it. “How did he do it?” I asked E. Then added, “No, don’t tell me.” Then, “But, really, HOW did he do it?” And on, and on. There should be nothing wrong in believing—hoping—wanting something to be entirely unexplainable. He saw the Ace of Hearts in my mind and pulled it out of thin air. That has to be it.

Failed Fellowship Essays

1.
Dear Fellowship Committee:
Please, please, please let me in. I’ll owe you forever. Plus, I’ll bring chocolate.
Kisses,
Nova

2.
I’ve had stories published here, here, here, here, and here.
I was a fellow here.
I have an MFA from here.
I had a residency at this writers colony.
I edited this literary journal.
I organized this reading.
My left leg falls asleep often, and I cannot wink my right eye.
I can crack my neck like a shotgun.
I cannot whistle.
I am shy, and being in a room full of people gives me a blazing headache.
I type with two fingers and my thumbs, but I am very quick about it.
I do not know why I eat eggs: They are gross.
I also do not know why I am telling you these things.
Maybe because I ran out of literary credits?
I don’t like boats—is that of some significance? Or that I can’t use ballpoint pens? Do you want to know that I love reading my stories aloud in front of a room full of people even though I can’t mingle with them afterward? Do you want to know that I loved the writers colony and produced many pages, but am nervous to ever go back because I discovered I am deathly afraid of the dark? Do you want to know that I regret getting my MFA too soon? That I love rainstorms? I’m five feet tall? I’m in terrible debt? I am tone deaf? I don’t like the number 8? I believe in ghosts even though I’ve never seen one? I have a birthmark shaped like a UFO on my leg? I would rather drown than be burned alive, even though I have been told it lasts longer and is more painful? I like stripes? I love to write? Maybe that’s all you need to know.
My stories are attached. Thank you for your time and consideration.

3.
Hi. You don’t read these essays, do you? I could write whatever the hell I want and spit on the paper, or have a crying fit and let my mascara run in long gooey globs all over this paragraph here (the one listing my so-called accomplishments), because really you’re not going to let me in unless you know me. Isn’t that right? All the slots have already been filled by so-and-so’s former students’ cousins and some kid the prof slept with at a writers conference, right? So this is futile. So why am I bothering? Can I have my $50 back? Thx.

4.
I want this. There are no words to explain how badly I want this. I could write an entire page on why I want this, and maybe it would mean something to you, or maybe it would sound like all the other pages about how badly everyone else wants this, and what you want to know is why do I want this more than they do, and why, if I am supposed to be a writer, can I not describe in perfect pitch and tone the detailed increments of my longing for your fellowship and how I believe it will forever change my life? Sometimes I think simplicity is better. I want this. Isn’t that enough?

5.
Hey, you.

Yeah you.

Give me a shot.

What could it hurt?

Call me.

Here I am…

Waiting.

Happy Typo Day!

This was forwarded to me today from a business email one poor (high-level) soul sent out, apologizing for a book publishing mistake:

We apologize deeply for the incontinence and appreciate your understanding.

It’s my favorite typo of the month! Or year! It’s beautiful!

I’m thinking of starting a collection for my wall at work, so if you have any good ones send them my way.

Philadelphia

The train leaves New York City

I needed to see my sister. It was imperative. I’ve talked about her before. She’s 9 1/2 years younger than me, a poet, a beauty, a student, a waitress, not a baby anymore and I’ve stopped calling her that, for the most part (or at least out loud). But she’s been going through a tough time and I needed to see her. I wanted to. This visit may have been more for me than for her.

The train approaches Philly

I arrived in the morning. The train ride to Philadelphia was quiet, and dreary, until we reached the city, where it was warm and with a nice breeze, and with the comforting noise of a city even if not New York, and where she met me in bright green tights and I hugged her for a long time and tried not to ask: Are you okay? Do you need this? Do you need that? I push people away by asking too many questions. Some people don’t like to talk about themselves unless they’re ready. My sister is one.

Our distorted shadows on the sidewalk

We walked at first. Then we ate (always, my family, with the eating—the liver is angry at me now). And we talked, and I wanted to tell her how much I love her, but the words just don’t explain the feeling for the little sister you saw be born, and helped raise, and felt as if she was yours, as if you wished for her and she came to be because you wanted her there.

She made life so much better.

Colorful door

She wanted to show me her city. It was colorful, like she is. It was better than I remembered, from the time we wandered through seeking out a restaurant when all the Virgin Mary lights were on.

Mural with glass, and more

Philadelphia is the city of murals. You don’t see them at first, and then they sneak up on you, and they’re everywhere, every wall and building, better to look at than the sky.

A mural behind a gate

How did she end up here? A random occurrence, and then it became her home. My fantasy of living in the same house (a brownstone, in New York, I picked the exact one on Downing Street) and keeping an eye on her—it would suffocate her.

Red shopping cart (empty)

She wants to be on her own. To cook for herself, live by herself, tell herself what to do and then tell me what she decided maybe later.

This phone is tapped

I’ll always be there to listen.

Stop lights

When I am with her I forget the age difference sometimes. I feel like we’re equals, two writers talking, two people who like shoes admiring shoes in a window, two people who share a plate of pancakes with strawberries and bananas because we both like the same sweet things.

Inside the taxi

But when she tells me a secret I hold it close and think: She is telling me. ME! She wants to tell me!

And it is right back to when she was a baby, and I would be jealous when other people held her. She was mine.

She walks down the hallway

She wasn’t really mine then. (My mother would argue that one.)

And she’s not mine now. She’s herself. I can only follow her, and listen, and wait for her to turn around.