My Quest For Magnetism

Fire-Swallowing, Love Letters, and Other Dances with Death

I’m stalling in a secluded corner of the library on a Saturday afternoon. It’s quiet over here in the useless books section, and no one can see me with my scatter of printer paper and G2 pilot pens, readying myself to do something impossible and crazy. Something that involves two letters and saying goodbye to the love of my life. 

Shields Up, Red Alert, Incoming Climate Change

Humans learn to trust one another because they discovered the universe is bigger than our solar system and they positively adapted to change. It’s not impossible; the Star Trek convention I attended was a taste of what could be: all creeds, all nations, all colors living and working together for the greater good.

The Next New Normal

Her older sister argued the value of humans, our light and our darkness, the beauty of Shakespeare, the positive contributions of Buddha and jazz. The nine-year-old held her dog close, unmoved. “I just think the planet might be better off without us.”

Double Vision

The mirror may be a simple tool of glass and metal, but its simplicity belies its true magic: reflection. That reflection has the power to project, distort, and reveal multiple realities. And it is only through reflection that I came to understand that power lies not only […]

Before and Beyond the Moon

I recently read an article about Itaru Sasaki, a citizen of Japan, whose cousin died in 2010. A designer by trade, Sasaki erected a glass-paneled phone booth on his hilltop garden, and placed a disconnected black rotary phone inside. Every time Sasaki missed his deceased cousin, he went to the phone booth and called him.

Health Well Fit

But soon the frustration congealed around my ignorance starts to melt, giving way to hope. An education about my body and the proper care of it—one I’ve always wanted and never known how to access—has suddenly appeared before me in the shape of a big-hearted personal trainer.

Admissions: Part II

It made me giddy to think that sixteen-year-old me was furious by the time I got home. I wish I could remember that drive, the transition from fear to fury. I wish I could see my face transform as the new me was born, the one who would insist on seeing only female doctors, and who would imagine the violence I’d perpetrate against anyone who touched me without my permission.

My Parents Didn’t Have a Personal Library

The idea that good and great writing is somehow innate pushes those who had the potential but aren’t properly trained to the sidelines. Everyone has potential, nobody is ever just born being great at the arts.

Purple Poodle Skirt

It means I have to willingly pull back the curtain and expose the ugly parts of me. The part that ugly cries in my car, the part that stokes my deepest darkest fears, the me I work hard not to let the world see. And maybe I just feel ugly in those moments, weak and bare revealing the parts I don’t want seen, because then I’d have to truly admit they’re mine. I’m supposed to turn a cheek to those hurtful moments, to prove how strong a woman I am in the face of pain.

How J. Cole Taught Me To Love Minez

It could have been easy to forget that I got out of breath walking the few feet from my car to my job every day, or that I was already in the largest size clothing my local plus size store sold. Then I discovered J. Cole—”I hope one day you hear me…you ain’t never gon’ be happy til you love yourz.” I let his lyrics run on repeat in my mind instead of doing what I always do: quitting on myself.

Mover’s Guide: How to pack up a house (and not lose your mind)

Moving can be daunting. Relocation anxiety is real, especially if you’re hoofing it alone. But, fear not, we’re here to help with a few simple steps. Let’s get started.

Body Love: A Group Blog

Ten writers on what they love about their bodies.

Remember Raw Oysters?

Often I wondered how food could let him forget himself and when I asked him, he said it was probably because they grew up together, in a three-story house on Brooklyn’s Avenue J, in the midst of the Great Depression. The circumstances of his upbringing didn’t allow him to think about what he wanted, to eat or to become, he had simply: to eat and to become.

Orange is the New… Metamorphosis

At twenty, I should have been educated on how to avoid this road, but instead I dove into the forbidden territory, eyes as bright and wide as my eager grin, expecting my skull not to ricochet against the asphalt. When the rest of my graduating class was having the time of their lives, I was tangled so deep into this web that I became a cocoon of drugs, control, and misery. What kind of butterfly could possibly emerge out of that? […]

The Lottery

Moving to a better school district would mean leaving behind a community where seeing Black leaders, business owners, and even law enforcement, is commonplace for my child. And in the current political climate, it means exposing her to a much higher likelihood of overt racism, on top of the well-documented racial disparities that have long plagued Black students. […]

Open Your Mouth (Silence Won’t Save You)

Silence was a luxury I couldn’t afford as a little girl. It’s a luxury that no little Black girl can afford, really. I learned quickly that I either fought with my words or fought with my hands. Sometimes, if called for, I fought with both. Being loud was an act of reclamation, saying, “You’re going to look and listen to me. You’re going to hear […]

Five Myths: A Daughter’s Guide to Surviving (your mother’s) Stroke

The day your mother has a stroke, you have to admit you know almost nothing.It starts when you receive a text from your sister that lights up your phone in the darkness of a movie theater: Mom is in the hospital. […]

Looking Toward My Reflection

My words held up a mirror and exhibited the same qualities she’d always instilled in me, one last time. Two weeks later, she let go. She found that bravery I’d asked her to, our bravery. Her last lesson to me was how to love myself again […]

When You Have NPC Parents and No Cheat Codes

This whole situation was like trying to find all the hidden items of Zelda. Can’t you enjoy the game without discovering all the secrets? Not for me. To truly know myself, to be able to successfully walk through my life, I had to understand my parents’ programming.

Admissions: Part 1

I was 16. It was fall of my senior year, and I was applying to colleges. But I knew where I wanted to go. For most of my life, I’d lived down the street from my dream school, an ivy-covered university that loomed large in my consciousness. My father was affiliated with it, and it played a central role in my family’s life—we went there for plays, exhibits, sports events. I’d even dressed up on Halloween as the school’s star football player when I was a kid. I was sure this university was my destiny […]

Julian

Shame defined my womanhood, then motherhood when I gave birth to my first son two years later. The vessel in me expanded and shrunk, carved and bubbled, carrying the scars, my past becoming my present: a hysterectomy.

Polo by Henrietta Harris

The Mind, The Body, The Voice

When asked, I almost always give up and offer the term “a nonsexual orgy.” People enter a dance studio in a leafy Boston suburb and commence to touch, play, and move with each other’s bodies. What else should I call it? The people who come here often know it by its technical name: A Contact Improv Workshop. The people who […]

What We Think We Know

I wondered what it must be like to live every day looking death so directly in the face. I stepped closer. The marble he was cleaning had long ago lost its sheen, but he cleaned with a vigor that defied all skepticism as if he would only stop working when at last he could look down and see the reflection of the sky […]

More Than Four Squares

A recent DNA analysis told me I’m “less likely to freckle,” “more susceptible to male pattern baldness,” and have “a stronger tendency to be agreeable.” Coincidentally, I do have very few freckles, am shedding hair by the fistful, and when in the right mood, I can be as congenial as Sandra Bullock in a rom-com flick […]

What We Hold Inside

Nesting Matryoshka dolls were originally created as an homage to family, each doll at home inside a loving matriarch. Now an important part of Russian culture, the first sets were designed as toys. Traditional sets consisted of eight hand-painted pieces: the largest a Babushka, holding a rooster with a headscarf tied […]

Diagnosis

Two years after being hospitalized, I’m still not 100% certain if I’m bipolar or not. I mean I’ve had two different psychologists tell me that they think so. That I “exhibit” the key characteristics. They’ve said so after sessions where I’ve talked too much, but felt like I was only starting to describe how I felt every day. How it started as depressive episodes in High School when sat on the corner of my bed without moving for hours. I used to blame it on the music I listened to. Elliott SmithDaniel Johnson. I used to think I was just a moody teenager that needed Lexapro. I was labeled as manic depressive and hurried along my merry way. The first time I recognized my mood swings was through the daily fights I engaged in with my mom. We’d both circle each other like angry bulls until something caused us both to explode. I’d lock myself in my room and punch the walls. My little brother was the first to ask if I thought I was bipolar. I took it as an insult. How would he know that about me without me knowing it myself? He hasn’t said anything to me that honest since.  The chemistry in my head darkened as I transitioned into college. While all of my friends explored and found themselves, I could only see myself make choices and act from some distant prison inside my chest. I started hearing my mouth spewing words I didn’t recognize and didn’t mean. Even as I asked my body not to scream, not to feel so panicked I couldn’t breathe, not to hurt itself, my body did as it pleased. In a way, it was like walking away from a good friend after seeing burn your bridge on purpose. The more control I lost the more impulsive I got, too. While my mood shifts were brief, their consequences stretched on like scar that refuses to forget. At least I started to learn more about myself. Then came the insomnia. Around that time my eyes started to refuse any rest.

I’ve always been able to stay up until three or four at night and wake up the next day without an alarm before the sun comes back. The truth is both sides of me need each other. That is the half that is overwhelmed with love and warmth for the people and things I care about and the other half which tries to inflict as much pain as possible onto myself and all those around me. I’ve never gotten a formal diagnosis. I’ve tried. But not really. A work schedule that required my attention twelve hours a day didn’t help and I’ve always been bad at talking to anybody about these things. At complaining. Not knowing my diagnosis all the way is like walking through a pitch-dark room and then realizing you’re standing in a tunnel instead. The goal posts running away from you.  When I told my parents about the first time the psychologists said they thought I was bipolar, they said I was just stressed. Underneath the tug of war between my mind and my body lay my being, urgently needing to be liked and loved by everybody I came into contact with. It’s more than a little pathetic. At times I feel like my personality is just a combination of performances meant to seduce and entertain while I cringe inside. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I wonder if I am actually sick or if this is just actually doing all the heavy lifting for the rest of my personality? My game of avoidance came to an end one night after my band played a show in Somerville. That night throughout our set, I drank my favorite emotional trigger. Towards the end I stopped playing some songs halfway through and fell on top of the drumset. My bandmates’ fury outweighed their concern so I snuck away after the final song to another bar next door. I don’t really remember getting home, but I know that it took multiple people to restrain me from running into my bathroom or locking my door. They thought I was a danger to myself and called for an ambulance. Am I just a piece of shit looking for an excuse not to blame myself for all the things I’ve done? Are my feelings just another easy way out? I question this and then remember there’s nothing easy about this.

 

Esteban Cajigas is a writer, musician, and MFA candidate at Antioch University Los Angeles. His short stories and poems have been featured in publications such as Venture Magazine, Foliate Oak, and others. Esteban also previously wrote for The Boston Globe as a correspondent and The Suffolk Voice as Editor-in-Chief.

For the Love of It

am·a·teur·ism

/ˈamədəˌrizəm,ˈaməˌt(y)o͝oˌrizəm,ˈaməˌCHo͝oˌrizəm/

noun: amateurism

  1. the practicing of an activity, especially a sport, on an unpaid rather than a professional basis.
  2. the fact or quality of being incompetent at a particular activity.

A friend of mine took up ballet at forty. It’s been ten years of chassés and ballonés and wobbly pirouettes. There are some moves she will never do well, and even more that she’ll never do at all. A whipped throw, anyone? But that hardly matters. Where one pair of eyes might see blundering futility in tights tottering across the wooden boards, my friend, she experiences a moment of grace.

I know how she feels.

Three, five, maybe seven seconds on a wave, is enough to carry me through the day. When I’m up on my surfboard, gliding along the wave’s shifting face, the whole world hushes for an instant. There is just the energy of the ocean pushing me forward, while my body calibrates to balance and steer for the ride. It is a place beyond thinking, a pure immersion in the Now.

And then it’s over.

Did you picture someone in the perfect feline crouch or standing tall with a lazy poise, or even better, making delicate cross steps up and down a board? Don’t. I really suck at surfing. And like my friend, who has no delusions of becoming the next Margot Fonteyn, I don’t mind if I tumble off the side, starfish off the back, get rolled in a rush of white churning water. I only want to get better because getting better means catching more waves and catching more waves means catching that brief feeling of being totally in the moment, of feeling one’s incessant inner chatter silenced. The euphoria from a string of those few wave riding seconds can last hours, the sense of calmness, days.

This is not an advertisement for surfing. God knows, there are enough bodies and boards in the water. From Montauk to Malibu, on a sunny weekend with a swell, you can gaze off the cliffs and imagine the D-Day landing, were it not for the joyful whoops echoing through the air. The water below is so carpeted with rubber-suited forms bobbing and flailing about. It’s hectic out there. No, don’t go surfing.

When I first took it up ten years ago, I wasn’t in the best of shape. I still had a lingering sand bag’s worth of the seventy-five pounds I’d gained during pregnancy, but it wasn’t the shape of my bathing suit bod that most urgently needed to rebound. It was the inner me I hardly recognized. Like one of those giant mylar balloons you find half deflated and tangled up in seaweed on the beach, I felt hollowed out and baggy all at once. Joy reached me through my young daughter but otherwise, a sodden emptiness crept in, a sense of disconnection, a low aimless drift. Phone sessions with a therapist on the other coast were of no help.

Melancholia, she is a most unwelcomed and impudent houseguest. Try to cast her out the front door and she’ll go around and sit on your back porch until you let the dog out. You never know if she’ll be followed by Depression. I had been blessed not to have had a protracted visit in years, but there she was pitching her gloom tent over me, settling in. And it was summer. Wasn’t summer supposed to be fun?

I can’t remember who hooked me up with my first lesson. If I did, I’d thank them. But I still remember the morning. I was the only one in the water without a strappingly handsome instructor who looked like he’d cruised out of a Rip Curl catalog. Instead, thank goodness, I was with an elfin, craggy-faced, white-haired man who’d definitely gotten his AARP card years before. His red Toyota pick-up was a tsunami of faded wetsuits, stained towels, wadded up Hawaiian shirts, and foam boards. Before he found me suitable attire and something to ride, he’d opened the passenger door of his truck, pawed through crumpled posters, half-empty bottles of suntan lotion, tangles of surf leashes and miraculously pulled out a perfectly yellow, unbruised banana. “Want one?” I declined. “Suit yourself,” Steve said, peeling it back. “But you might be sorry.”

After shoving myself in a wetsuit like sausage meat in its casing and doing some dorky push-ups and pop-ups on the beach, it was time to hit the water and “paddle out.” Imagine a drunken seal heading into the waves. “I’m not getting anywhere!” I’d shriek as another monster crashed in front of me and sent me careening backwards to the shore or, more often, off my board and into bubbling white foam. Finally, gasping like I’d summitted Everest without oxygen, I made it past the break. I felt totally spent. But I was grinning ear to ear.

If you’re lucky enough to have an instructor the first time you surf, you will paddle toward the shore, but they will give you an extra push to catch the wave. You may wipe out, you may pop up on your knees, or you may ride on your belly all the way to the beach.

With Surfer Steve in the Dirt Lot

I once asked an instructor down in Mexico if there was anyone he’d taught who’d just “got the hang of it” right away. Two, he said. One was a Cirque De Soleil acrobat and the other was Jimmy Chin, the extraordinary skier, climber, Nat Geo photographer and filmmaker – you may have seen his Oscar winning documentary Free Solo? Yeah, that guy.

As for me, I managed to catch a few small waves and get on my feet while we were out there. Maybe I coursed through the water upright for a total of 22 seconds. 22 out of the 3,600 that make up an hour-long session. But those few seconds buoyed me, and I felt a soggy layer of despair lift off me just enough. Better yet, it didn’t collapse over me again when I lost my footing and plunged back in the water nor even later when I was out of the water, dragging my board with rubbery arms up the beach. For Emily Dickinson, hope came as the thing with feathers. For me, it was a nine-foot foam log with a leash. I knew that if I could get a little more of this surfing thing into my life, maybe I would start to feel better.

The word “amateur” comes from the Latin verb amar: to love. You do it not to win nor for profession gain, not for recognition nor for money. You just do it because you love it.

Photo credit: Brittany Ambridge for Surf Shack

Since that day ten years ago, surfing has not only helped me reconnect with a happiness and peace inside myself, it’s connected me to the many wonderful people I’ve met out on the water, and to organizations committed to protecting our oceans and sharing the healing power of surfing. I’ve also been able to surf with my daughter (who fast outpaced me in the skills department) and watched as she developed a deep and abiding connection to the water. A party wave with your kid, as the sun hangs like a fat orange just above the glassy water, is bliss.

But I didn’t know any of that would happen yet when I hauled my aching, dripping body to the parking lot. All I knew was that I was really happy and really hungry. So yes, if Steve still had one buried in the depths of his truck, I wanted that banana.

 

Liz Tynes Netto is a lapsed journalist, TV producer, and current MFA candidate at Antioch University, Los Angeles. She is the flash prose editor of Lunch Ticket and she is writing a novel.

 

 

 

Center of the Living Room

My father is a simple man in old age. He lives on the outskirts of Las Vegas now, in a rinky-dink apartment complex. The television blasts CNN at an alarming volume for such close quarters, but he’s outside, minding his business and squatting on the patio with a cigarette between his fingers. In between puffs, he pokes at his quaint, urban garden, a sign of his domesticated life as a retiree. He always wanted someplace warmer than the chilly, wet climate in Seattle, better for tired bones. In his heyday, he was a bell bottom-wearing playboy with dark features and a baritone voice. I always thought he looked like a Filipino Harrison Ford, but he is 73 years old now, his swagger tempered and grey.

My step-mother is inside, always the first to greet me whenever I visit with my children. She keeps a tidy home for my father in their tiny two-bedroom apartment. They returned to America from the Philippines with only a few belongings to send my little brother to college. Now, it’s neatly cluttered with nautical trinkets and various furnishings they’ve collected over the years. Amidst the sea blues, anchors and seashells is a massive subwoofer, now a makeshift side table. The coffee table is slightly askew from the living room futon to make room for my father’s prized possession, an 88-key Yamaha digital piano. He plays it on the futon whenever I visit, but not for entertainment. He plays it because it’s part of his routine, and the sound of him playing is so normal that I don’t recognize he’s playing unless I bring someone over that appreciates his talent.

Aside from his “real job” at Boeing, my first memories were running around bars or venues while he danced his fingers along the keyboard. My siblings and I grew up to synthesized disco beats and strobe lights. Our family lived and breathed music: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, A Taste of Honey, Mouth to Mouth, and every cover song from the 60s and 70s.

As a teenager, I would find him downstairs in the dimly lit garage studio, sitting down next to a lamp, riffing off a song, enveloped in a cloud of nicotine. We didn’t talk to each other most of the time because I didn’t know what to say to my reserved father. Connecting with him was tough when my parents divorced, and I grew more distant during adolescent growing pains. The only time I had a conversation about his music was when I was sixteen after I handed him a sheet of music and asked him to play. He handed it right back to me.

“No,” he laughed, “I can’t read music.” So, he asked if he could listen to the song, some millennial pop ballad, and he played it, improvising with his signature keyboard sound along the way. Anyway, the studio wasn’t a place for bonding. The music slowed everything down. I drifted away in his melodies, further away from anyone, but close to his sound.

The smoky garage studio burnt down years ago in Seattle. (A case of a cigarette thrown in a receptacle. Go figure.) His studio has now been relegated to the center of the living room where he sits down to play a song. Except I don’t drift away this time. This time, I want to know why he plays every day and will for the rest of his life. I do because I’m in my MFA program, and I’m hungry for art and music. I wonder about my creative process, and if it was born out of my upbringing. Now I wonder if it was born out of his. Maybe his hunger is hereditary?

When I sit down to ask him questions, he lights up and tells me stories I’ve never heard and can’t quite picture. My father was the oldest brother of five siblings and cared for the family as the “man of the house” when their father, my grandfather, left our grandmother, the family matriarch. Maybe this is how he obtained his survivor sensibilities, qualities I mistook to be too blunt and hurtful. 

My grandmother gifted his first guitar at fifteen and he played every morning after studying others play at clubs. He chaperoned my then teenage aunt when she worked as a restaurant crooner, realizing music was a passion during this time. My father was so good, in fact, that one of the restaurant band members asked him to form a band and tour Japan. He believed he would only be away from his responsibilities at home for six months, but soon he was a college drop-out, leaving his studies in Business Accounting.

I balked at the earlier prospect—my father bookkeeping in a dimly lit garage. It didn’t equate. But he didn’t choose that path. He stayed in Japan for six years and learned how to play the piano in one month after breaking his finger in karate. My late grandmother proudly showed me a black-and-white photograph of my dad with his band, dressed like an Asian Beatle.

The Japan tour lasted through the 70s near the end of the disco era. My father would have traveled to Singapore had my grandmother not petitioned for him to immigrate to Seattle, Washington, where he met my mother. She reluctantly supported his musician lifestyle for the better part of their marriage, waiting up at night or on the sidelines while my father stayed out for gigs. I watched as his musical endeavors tore at his relationships or mended them, depending on which story I heard. Either way, my father’s keyboard was always the center of his universe and now it was literally center of his living room.

My step-mother tells me he plays the piano every morning, as soon as he wakes up. My father, the simple man, but gosh—did he have glorious adventures. Some might call it foolish or risky the number of times he put music first, but he played because he couldn’t keep his hands off of it. The hunger was always there as soon as he found music in his hands.

When I asked him if he ever sought a record deal, he replied, “No.” He had his heyday, and now he spends days drifting off in chords. “I play to get away from negative thoughts,” he says.

That’s when I realize our creative lives are similar. I didn’t quite inherit the music family trait. I can’t even sing karaoke. No, my fingers drift over a different type of keyboard, the kind that allows me to write about my father and reminisce about disco balls and bell bottoms. I found the hunger in different ways, but there’s the same impulse, the same desire to channel a baritone voice chalked up in smoke, a riff, a melody, then poetry. And maybe I won’t get to live the rock star life in Japan, but I have my center of the living room in me and at my fingertips. I return to it day after day and make it sing, baby.

 

Cristina Van Orden lives in South Los Angeles with her family and Chorkie. She is currently an MFA Candidate at Antioch University, Los Angeles and Poetry Editor for Lunch Ticket. Her work can be seen or is forthcoming in Chaleur MagazineGordon Square ReviewHOOT Review, and Silverneedle Press.

Mad Scientist

Books rest on shelves, floors, tables, and chairs in my home. Film posters, book covers, maps, and even postcards hang on my walls. Plants crawl down the mantle, down from the ceiling, and sit in corners, window sills, shelves, and on tables.

A globe, a mason jar of number two pencils, a coat rack made from old skis, coasters from The Globe my cousin gave me, a poster from the Arcade Fire concert I attended, Virginia Woolf and Frida Kahlo saint-like candles from Strand Bookstore, the abstract painting made by my friend, paintings by my partner’s mother, sister, and uncle. My great-cousin’s shillelagh from Ireland given to me by my parents, my granddad’s WWII diaries willed to me with the hope I’d write his story, my childhood blanket made by a close family friend, my great-grandmother’s Cuban coin ring smuggled into the country during the revolution. Photographs close-pinned above our bed. Collected piece by piece over time.

Some given to me, some bought on my own. Some given to my partner, some bought on his own. Rich colors carried from place to place make white walls home.

The things we hang and rest on shelves speak. These walls and shelves hold silhouettes of people that lived here before, from the time the house was built in 1900 to the present. These objects, these things live in the words of those who lived here before us. Their words stick to plaster and coats of paint. Words and walls and shelves hold history—mine, and yours, and everyone’s—to tell it all takes time, takes practice, takes play.

We’re not supposed to care about things. And words are just things. Things written, sung, preached, shouted, and shared. Yet, I pledge my allegiance to them. I firmly support their power. Then, I pick them up for safekeeping, adding them to my collection. Hints of them sneak into my writing like boys at girls’ slumber parties.

My influences are like my Craigslist bike—the yellow Bianchi frame is still the same, but I changed the pedals to purple, switched the tires to blue, and made the handlebars green. Their words provide the framework, but I steer mine to their destination.

Even this metaphor is like the things Tim O’Brien carried or Zora Neale Hurston’s bag, but I’m making it my own.

We writers are hoarders of syntax and polygamists of diction. The compound, complex, and simple burst out of closets and climb to the ceiling. I welcome more words to my colony. Then, I lay them all out in front of me to play like a child emptying her toy box. No one told me I couldn’t put my He-Man figurine in Barbie’s Dream House. No one should tell me that I can’t use Leonard Pitts in my poetry or Louise Erdrich in my essays.

I am the mad scientist—stirring a vat of Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness, Sherwood Anderson’s grotesque, Langston Hughes’s resistance, Octavia Butler’s vision, Sandra Cisneros’s fragments, Elie Wiesel’s memory, Richard Wright’s poetic honesty, Maggie Nelson’s transitioning textual body, Kazim Ali’s text queering, Julie Otsuka’s point of view, Eula Biss’s braiding, Rebecca Solnit’s fire, Claudia Rankine’s exposure of imagination, Roxane Gay’s direct reflection of today. Each word still wiggling as I throw it in.

But this is nothing sinister. I do not torture words; I let them bloom.

Still, I realize what may come to mind when thinking about the mad scientist caricature in film and literature. A white man driven insane by his work. Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde or the scientist in the film The Fly turns himself into the insect. Their humanity transformed into monstrosity. Good turned to evil. Or the already evil, downright diabolical, mad scientist with crazy white hair, a white coat, and bulging eyes, paces in his laboratory plotting ways to destroy the perfect society. What’s worse: writing a trope or being one? Carmen Maria Machado’s writer narrator asks in “The Resident.”

I am the mad scientist—but not him. (I may be paranoid but not an android.)

Re-vision

I’ve got white skin and crazy hair with white strands here and there. I’ve got doctors’ papers diagnosing my disorder. But what makes me mad is not my concoction but the world we live in. I am a woman. I embrace defiance, disorder, disillusionment, deconstruction. When given a command, I am absentmindedly wandering in a world that doesn’t yet exist—I hear Vincent Harding say, I am a citizen in a land that does not yet exist—a world where there isn’t an Other, only One—a You, an I, and a We—not an Us versus Them. I am absentmindedly, not aimlessly, sifting through my collection of constructed words that break, that bury the laws, the order deemed natural and normal that oppresses most of us—working to distance my mind from the carefully curated lies of the monstrous bodies who established these paradigms. (You don’t own me.)

Many writers say they are storytellers and that’s okay. I’m not focused on narrative arc, but what’s organic. I’m the mad scientist here to give words the space to do what they do—to move, to meander, to travel until they reach your door, soliciting next steps. (This must be the place.)

Words are living, we are living, ravenously. And we can’t survive on the diet we’re fed. We hunger for something more satisfying. Mere air, these words, but delicious to hear, Sappho says.

Unsatisfied by what is, I nourish what’s becoming.

In my vat, my words and influences clink glasses and dance to Lizzo’s “Juice” and Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.” Sometimes they get too rowdy, but sometimes they don’t get along. Intertextuality isn’t ever cut-and-dry. Sometimes Solnit confronts Anderson for his portrayal of fragile women. Sometimes Gay calls out Woolf for limiting intellectual worthiness to white, privileged women. I have to sit with the things conflicting. I have to confront them honestly. Listening to them helps me think about the past, the present, and my life within.

On TV: Uplife Studio’s What is Intertextuality? Literary Theory Course

But sometimes I’m overwhelmed by their wisdom and doubt my ability to continue. I hear that loud, sharp, high-pitched ringing in my ears. And sitting becomes stuck.

When my words aren’t moving, I have to move. (Twist your head around.) I pace from room to room and, if need be, around the neighborhood. I bring my dog with me. Together we’re two animals sniffing for a place to leave our mark. A wall of sweet perfume hits me as I pass the blooming lilac bushes. I think of my mother spraying perfume on her wrists, dabbing her wrists to her neck, then spraying again into the air and walking into the scent, letting it fall onto her clothes and skin. Lawnmower blades slice through blades of grass, flowers pop pink, orange, yellow, red, and purple at the first sight of spring, sawdust scatters in the light by the construction site. I’m reminded of Ana Maria Spagna’s Uplake and all the things she taught me. Twirling my hair, I wind thoughts down streets and, eventually, to white space. The music begins again. They fill the place. They feel the tempo of Giorgio Moroder’s arpeggiator as everybody sings to Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.”

I proceed with glee but caution. And only disturb the neighbors enough to wake them. And I hope other experimenters continue to offer me the same courtesy.

The record switches to Ween’s “Your Party.” We had a nice time at your party. I learn to contort my words, not my body, and how the right combination of them can stretch.

 

Listen to Kate Carmody’s Mad Scientist’s Mix Playlist.

 

 

Kate Carmody is a writer, teacher, and activist. While pursuing her MFA in creative nonfiction at Antioch University in Los Angeles, she works as a blogger, assistant blog editor, and a member of the community outreach team at Lunch Ticket. Her writing recently appeared in Stain’d Arts. She was born in St. Louis and lives in Denver, Colorado with her fiancé and dog, Corky St. Clair. The three of them are also in a band called Datafacer, named after her niece’s childhood doll. Twitter: @KateCarmody8 Instagram: carmo8