They say don’t go to the beach in winter

But we tried to prove them wrong. And we spent about an hour on the beach before we froze. 

We tried to play pickleball. The wind grabbed the ball with icy hands and threw it into the sea. The waves brought it back. We put away the pickleball. 

Inside we lit up a gas fireplace. You flick a switch, wait a minute, and flames appear from translucent green rocks behind a glass wall. If you sit really close, you can feel something. 

The first thing I do when I wake up is put an ice cube on my eyes. I rub it over the lids, below the brow, over the cheek bones. It makes my face wake up. Then comes the coffee. It makes my mouth wake up. Then, the words. 

My day job is to keep the planet from warming up. “Make Winter Cold Again.” Friday was the coldest DC day in three years. 

We went to the beach in winter for a birthday. Seth’s thirtieth. The Big One. The nice thing about him having a birthday during the worst time of year is being forced to Go Out and Do Things, when all you want to do is sit by the windows and mourn your lost cat. We got her ashes back two weeks after we gave her away in a cardboard box. It was only supposed to take one week. I called every day after and they told me she was still in “processing.” 

We gave up on the beach and went inside. There was a pool with a basketball hoop. Pool basketball is like regular basketball but super slow motion. And there’s no dribbling. You hold that little ball with all your might. And you run through the water like you’d run on the moon. Long, elegant leaps. You float between each one. 

I got Ellie back in cherry wooden box inside a brown paper bag. Also in the bag was a poem about finding her one day ‘beyond the rainbow’ or something stupid like that. 

She’s cuddled me through all my heartbreaks, every single one, except this. And through the milestones too. Becoming a real human adult. Now I’m thirty-one and Seth is thirty, trying to catch up. I spent all day cooking a big birthday meal, stressing over the bread that didn’t get stale enough to crumb, the missing cheese grater, the cake that crumbled when it came out of the pan, and the fact that no matter how hard I worked on this meal, he’d be just as happy with a DiGiorno. That I chose this. 

We went to the beach but spent hours inside. Talking, talking, and talking about life. Then we went back outside and couldn’t talk any more. The wind pushed the sand sideways and waves crashed over our voices. Our cheeks stiffened with cold. It rained, then it stopped raining. The sun poked a hole in the clouds. We thought we were prepared for the cold. We weren’t. But we chose this. 

—Denise

cold

The Lifecycle of Snowmicron

In DC, every snowstorm has a name. “Snowzilla.” “Snowpocalypse.” “Snowmageddon.” When it snows in DC, the world stops. The government stops. The buses stop. My breath stops. The anticipation has long been blown out of our systems. We’ve lost all sense of expectation. It doesn’t snow: suddenly, snow is.

Suddenly, eight inches of winter coats every parked car, with windshield wipers sticking up like whiskers.

Suddenly, hundreds of people are in the park, trying unsuccessfully to turn fluff into men.

Suddenly, dogs in booties flail their legs as they find one another and the ball that disappeared.

Suddenly, I’m leaning over a ledge, tossing snowballs onto a frozen pool, watching a few of them crack it open and a few of them obliterate, letting strangers join me in this new game, a new way to ‘break the ice’.

Suddenly, I’m stomping on storm drains, letting thin icy layers crash into trickles.

And suddenly, I’m eleven years old, in the Wisconsin forest behind my friend’s house, in snow boots that don’t fear brooks and streams, frozen over but running underneath, waiting to be crunched. I’m finding a walking stick that’s good enough for a wizard — no, a bigger stick, over there. There are no trails except the ones we make by trampling saplings and snow. It’s after a hockey game where she scored two goals and I celebrated each time I touched the puck, and although our legs are tired, they need to keep going.

I’m back in DC, treading carefully over frozen streets. My feet relearn how to find stable ground, a bit of mud, anything that can catch a rubber sole.

Then I’m pulled back several years, running alongside a river, on a path covered in snow hiding the thick layer of ice beneath it, and my foot slips, and my chin catches the ground and splits. The snow turns red. The cut is deep. I’m nowhere, walking four dripping miles to the emergency room to be stitched.

It’s sunny in DC, snow stacked on rooftops, and a wind blows, and the snow flutters sideways like crystals.

Then I’m feeling the flush excitement of high school trips to the mountain, with frozen-peanut-butter-jelly stomachs, rigid snowboarding boots that shuck your shin forward, spraining my wrist and my elbow, falling on my ass, giving up on getting up, just lying there on the soft ground, watching snow flutter off trees as snowboarders scrape by beside me.

My life was once bookended by snow. Five months of the year — the beginning and the end — were wrapped in white. Now snow is rare, and getting rarer. But each time it’s transportive. My memories are encased in ice.

I’m grappling with the fact that I might live a very long time, which is almost as scary as dying, because to do with all these hours? “Snowmicron” made the world temporarily stop, which gave us the gift of time, which, when you’re not careful, can be terrifying. I love empty mornings (open, potential-filled) but hate empty nights (tired, bleak). Sometimes it’s good to confront this emptiness and see what you can fill it with.

So I’m trying to remember things about my past. What parts of my youth I want to bring back. For a long time, I’ve put them away. When I moved to New York for college, I left my cello at home, along with my then-favorite cat, my Jewish faith, my stereo system. I’m trying to feel out the cycle of my life. What it meant to be a child who made no life decisions. What decisions I can make now. Sometimes I fail to remember; sometimes the memories come unbidden and it’s my job to grab and study them.

Memories aren’t truly preserved. They’re never accurate. They’re recreated each time. They melt and refreeze and melt and refreeze and are forgotten and remembered and forgotten once more. But the feeling — sometimes there’s a feeling, like the water molecules that fill the shape of whatever glass holds them — the feeling stays true. It feels so strong, and you don’t know what it is, but it has something to do with the first time you crack a pond with your boot, or lie on the couch feeling dizzy.

I’d like to discover something new, or something old and true. For now I’ll go outside and lie down in the snow.

-Denise


Publication alert: My first poem has been published in a lovely local newsletter called 730DC. (If you live in DC, you should subscribe.) The poem is about libraries. Click here to read: Apology to the DC Public Library System.

Ellie

Ellie (aka Elliephant) died on December 29th.

There were many moments in Ellie’s final weeks I made an effort to remember. But I can’t write about them. I’ve never been able to write about grief. They are my memories and they wouldn’t mean as much to anyone else and I worry the act of trying would corrupt them. Like a VHS home video that gets rewound and replayed too many times. 

I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Still it felt sudden. I thought I was prepared. Turns out I was only prepared for the hypothetical idea of her one-day, years-off death. I wanted “old” to last ten years.

Seth and I were there for her final minutes. She woke us up at five am to say goodbye, meowing underneath our bed. It was not peaceful. It was terrible. But I’m glad we were there. And she was very happy until the final day. So were we. Our little purring furball.

Here’s to moments worth noticing, and letting those moments become hours, days, years, a life. 

Happy New Year.

❤ Denise 

Time Travel

(and another new short story)

First, quickly: I’ve had a new story published called “Oh, how the world turns in the circle of a can.”

This is a short one, and, hopefully, funny. At least I made myself giggle while I wrote it. It’s about two men who work in two different landfills and how they compete with one another — which is another way of saying that their lives revolve around each other. 

Another day of work in the can. Another day smarter. What a lucky job Bob has at the landfill. Pays great, feels great, and smells, well, it’s not just women that can’t have it all. 

Keep reading


Two and a half months ago, I dreamed of going to Scotland. The potential future of it was so strong it infected my present. I was so awake I couldn’t stand it. The world tingled with possibility. I walked over a bridge to calm down, listened to a song, closed my eyes, and felt it. 

This past week, I walked on the same bridge and listened to the same song.

What’s changed in two and a half months? 

A lot, and at the same time, not very much. I’ve been many places. I worked a crazy job. But that’s all over. Today, I’m sitting at the same desk, rubbing gunk from the ears of the same blind cat. It’s a bit colder, but not much (not enough). Many trees have disappeared their leaves; where once my view was blocked, I can now see dogs run around a park. 

I’m tired, yet tempted to join the dogs running in the park. I know, theoretically, that once I get going I’ll feel more energized. I’ve been running for a long time. 

When travelling, Seth and I didn’t run very much. We walked and walked and walked. One day I wanted to run. But we didn’t have much time. We soon had to check out of a hostel. So I told Seth we should sprint. 

Seth burst away and suddenly he was far. Meanwhile, I was running… faster… but not fast. It was strange. And kind of terrible. My shoulders didn’t know what to do. My feet didn’t hit the ground quickly enough. I wanted my legs to go faster but they didn’t. 

When I caught up to him, he said, “But I thought you wanted to sprint?” 

😐

It was embarrassing but something clicked. My body felt alive in a new way. So I tried it again, and this time my legs went faster. Then we slowed to a normal pace, out of breath but relaxed… different. My body wanted it again. So I tried again. And, the next day, again. Now I’m still no great sprinter. But running feels better. My body wants more. 

This is not groundbreaking. They call it “interval training.” I call it: body shock. I call it: go crazy for a minute, then remember normalcy. 

Our cells are always multiplying and dying. If they stop multiplying, you’re dead. If they grow too quickly, you’re also probably dead. 

So I’m thinking about balance. I’m thinking about how the mind feels after hard work. How it’s more open to the world. 

I quit my full-time job a year ago. What’s changed? A vaccine in my arm, and a new apartment two blocks away — but the building blocks of my life remain the same. When I look back, I know I’ve accomplished a lot. Honestly, despite some huge challenges, it’s probably been the best year of my life. It’s so cool how once you have an idea of who you are and what you want, things tend to fall into place. These things were probably already going to fall into that same place, but you have a better sense of what to do with them. Does that make sense?

Maybe not. I’m kind of sleepy. It’s been a long, restful morning. The dogs from earlier have already left the park. Some trees are holding onto their dead leaves. And I’m still here, wondering when I’m going to run.

-Denise


Elliephant of the week: Oh, how she missed us.

Unusual update

And a new publication

Life has been very unusual for the past two months. I’m not usually working an intense job in Scotland or traveling in the Iberian peninsula. During this time, the idea of ‘noticements’ — moments worth noticing — has felt a little off. Because everything has been so strange and new that everything is worth noticing. It’s overwhelming.

So I apologize for the radio silence. In Scotland, I scarcely had time to write for myself. I tried really hard to wake up and write before work and ended up writing a shitty novella about devils in the Ice Age. I went back to read it a couple days ago and it’s… bad. Oh well. I might turn it into something better later. But thankfully, while traveling, I’ve had more time to write and it’s been generative. I’ve dived back into my new novel, brainstormed ideas for new stories, and started writing poetry. I’ll post a poem at the bottom of this newsletter. Hope you don’t hate it, I’m new. 

In the meantime, I’ve had some happy writing news. A few stories of mine have been picked up for publication. I’ll have five new stories published within the next few months!

The first one is available now. It’s through an awesome zine called King Ludd’s Rag. Coincidentally, this story is about Ireland. (Yes, I know theoretically that Scotland and Ireland are different, but they have similar vibes to me. I’ve lived in both and I love them both). It’s about two Irish children who try save their land through a reverse-haunting. It’s also about the psychological impact of working on climate change. And it’s about ghosts and myths. And dirt. Lots of mud. 

It costs $5 for the zine (or $4 before Monday), which has two longish stories (including mine). It’s a physical thing! So not available online, but if you order it, you’ll get it in the mail. That means you’ll be able to pick up my words in your hands, flip the pages, sniff it, rub it on your belly, or throw it away if you hate it (please recycle). Check it out here.

Order King Ludd’s Rag

If you don’t feel like parting with a fiver and/or don’t believe in the idea of physical paper, just let me know and I’ll be happy to send you a PDF of my story. 

Also, knocking on all the wood, there might be some movement on publication of my first novel. But maybe not. But maybe so. But probably not? Who knows. Either way, I’m happy. Feeling very lucky. Blessed by life’s randomness. 

Anyways. Now for the Odyssean task of flying back home to the States on the first day of tightened restrictions. I leave you with a shitty poem. 

Much love,

Denise


Maps

I found an old map of a Roman city
showing paths through baths hot lukewarm and cold,
and a gladiator stadium,
and a basement cellar
with washroom holes lined cheek to cheek.
Winding sewers link lion cages
to emperors,
sewers that transform shit into gold
and words into water.
There is no romance on this map
except what your mind creates.

I found a useless map of an eternal Spanish city
with winding alleys maze-ing on a hillside
showing different paths in different lights:
By day, take the stairs
before twilight makes them dead-end.
By night, go under archways
before morning’s collapse.
The cobblestones create their own mosaic maps,
shaped to mimic gods
who keep out tourists with weak suitcase wheels.
The maps show no paths from here to there.
(All you need to do is look up).

I found a Portuguese train map.
It doesn’t show the lemon trees
easily confused for bitter orange trees,
or why we’ve come to accept sour lemons
yet shun oranges of similar nature.
It simply says the number of times
the train will shudder with relief
before we shimmy out
and look at the conductor
who silently points at the exit.

A Google satellite shows the lemon trees,
the erratic opening hours of the doors
of a market
(but nothing of the shops within).
And the little blue dot gets as lost
as if it itself used a map
in unmappable alleys
and orients towards not north
but to a god of its own creation.


PS: Typical Barcelona photo:

Heya (but Scottish)

How trees grow out of boulders

They say ‘heya,’ which is like ‘hey’ and ‘how’r’ya’ mashed together like taters and neeps. They say things like ‘peely wally’ if you look pale and ‘skinny malinky longlegs’ if you’re too tall; insults are an invitation. 

They have trees that grow out of boulders, and wind that will blow you over if you wear the wrong jacket. 

Their ponies look as grumpy as if you stole their morning coffee, but then they wiggle the hair from their faces and they’re just ponies, friendly; their people are the same way. 

I wish I could say my time in Scotland has been all roaming and rainbows and delightful conversations, but it’s been tough at times. I’m here to work, not play. I’m waking up early and working late. No more lazy mornings writing and thinking; now I wake up in pitch dark, squeeze in a little writing, go for a run in the slightly less dark, and go to work. I’m under a lot of pressure to make sure the efforts of the Glasgow Actions Team don’t go unnoticed. I’m solely responsible for driving media coverage of our events. And the whole reason we’re here is to be noticed. That’s a lot of pressure. So it’s been tough. I’ve been stressed. I flew across an ocean to a new continent, and I felt a continental shift inside me, complete with aftershocks. My old world — my old idea of who I was — colliding with this new world. It made me wonder, at times, if the me-ness of me was strong enough to survive the shift. 

Usually, I feel a strong sense of self when I write (because everything I write, even sci-fi and fantasy, is some refraction of the life I understand or want to understand), or when I have time to think, and I mean think, to meditate deeply on a topic and feel all its sides. Since coming to Scotland, there have been days of thing-thing-thing, action and reaction without time to think, and I felt my me-ness blur and fade. 

Does a person show their true colors when they react without thinking? Is that the phrase? I can’t think of the phrase. Or are they more truly themselves when they have time to think something through? Overthinking can be dangerous. When Seth and I get annoyed at each other, I usually try to understand why, to pick apart our interactions and mental states. But sometimes this does more harm than good, leading to circular conversations about conversations about conversations. When I get in a bad mood, I often try to find a reason, and if there is none, blame myself, and get mad at myself for feeling bad, and so it spirals. 

There’s a nice halfway point between not thinking and overthinking. Some call it meditation. Whatever it is, for me, it requires good health, meaning lots of sleep, healthy food, and something like a routine. 

It took a week of adjustment for me to realize what was wrong. My routine was all out of whack. I was eating shittily and at strange times. I wasn’t waking up early enough to write. So last Tuesday and I decided I would turn things around. I was feeling positive about feeling positive. Then, for some godforsaken reason, I drank a glass of Iron Bru (a terrible Scottish orange soda) just before bed. I woke up at two in the morning with my nerves on fire. 

I stayed awake the rest of the night. 

If you’ve had insomnia, you know how it goes. The longer you’re awake, the more stressed you get about being awake, how few hours remain in the night, how tired you’re going to be the next day, and every time you close your eyes all you can think about is how much you need to sleep, which works you back up to being awake. Eventually, at five, I gave up. I had three hours of sleep, two nights before our big event. (I soon learned that, unlike in American orange soda, there’s, um, caffeine in Iron Bru. Lots of it.)

Oddly enough, I was fine the next day. I was on edge, like I could break down at any moment, but also had come to a weird understanding with myself that this was pretty much the worst I could feel, physically, and I was fine with that. I went to bed early, slept through the night, and everything went… well. Really well. Our event was in the New York TimesPBSBBC, and more. And it’s just the beginning. 

Now a hundred world leaders are coming to Glasgow to determine the fate of the planet. I won’t get into the wonky stuff, but the stakes really are that high. Could a glass of Iron Bru be the death of human civilization? Honestly, maybe. It’s really gross. 

My being here is not about me. But my me-ness supports my being here. My mental health is the pillar which holds up the work. 

Here’s how a tree can grow on a boulder. First, lichen and moss take over. They find a crevasse, dig in, live, and die. While they live, they break down the rock slightly. When they die, they become plant matter that mixes with the broken rock into soil. Then a grass seed floats by in the wind and takes root, further breaking down the rock and opening up the crevasse, and dies, creating more soil. A slightly bigger plant can take root after that: a flower, maybe even a shrub. Finally, there is a deep and rich pot of soil in the middle of the boulder, with enough organic matter for a tree. This tree will be lucky enough to live on the sturdiest ground in the rainy highland grasses; as the ground around it becomes a muddy bog, the rock will remain a rock, and the tree will remain whole. 

Here’s how a Scottish person becomes so friendly. First, they survive dark, rainy winters, and then, they see the sun. They insult one another all year long and laugh and remain whole. 

This past weekend was a short respite before the “real” work begins. I had two days off. So yesterday morning, I woke up at five and told Seth we should get away. We took a four-hour train ride through the Scottish highlands, with changing leaves, craggy hills, and plenty of trees on boulders. We arrived at Fort William by noon, threw our bags down, and hiked to the top of Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK (which isn’t saying much). The top was snowy and windy and stuck in a cloud, so all we could see was the condensation on our glasses. But we did it. We walked down as the sun burned a hole through the clouds on a sheep- and rock-covered mountainside, then ate the best Scottish dinner with the worst British beers. 

On the long train ride, we had time to read, write, and take it all in. On our six hour hike, we didn’t talk much (apart from the inevitable Lord of the Rings quotes), focusing on the views and finishing the hike before dark. In the pub, our legs were jelly and our feet blistered, and we were a thousand miles from our apartment and cat and grocery routine, but, exhausted, we found ourselves whole.  

-Denise

PS: Photos follow. 

Yes, rainbows sprout like weeds
The top of Ben Nevis. Couldn’t see a though
Not a volcano

Major Arcana of Scotland

It’s a Thursday. I pull the Tower tarot card. A tower, struck by lightning, collapses. Cats fall out to their potential deaths. (The characters in my tarot cards are all cats). They meow, on their way down, Expect the unexpected

That morning, I’d applied for a month-long job in Scotland. A month in cold, rainy autumn Glasgow for the United Nations climate conference. 

I felt a shift, a world splitting into two futures. In one, I would enjoy a relaxing autumn in DC, watching the trees turn from our eighth-floor windows, finishing a draft of my second novel, baking bread, seeing friends, feeling overall healthy and well-rested. In the other future, I would go to Europe. 

Lately I’ve been reading tarot every morning. Just one card. I read tarot to read my future. I don’t believe in the clairvoyance of these cards. I do believe in tarot as a mirror. Whatever problem you’re thinking about, tarot provides a new lens through which to look at it.

The next morning I pulled the Five of Wands. Conflict, conflict. A cat holds too many wands for his arms to carry. These wands are meant for battle. He needs to let them go. 

I wrestled with my two potential futures. They each gripped me by the arm — and Europe was pulling more strongly. I tried to focus on writing, on DC, on not letting myself get carried away by the drug of excitement.

Four of Swords. Exhaustion. Burnout. I was too worked up. I needed to rest. 

My two potential futures corresponded with the two major vocations in my life. Fiction writing vs. climate change advocacy. It’s almost been a year since I quit my climate advocacy job to focus on writing. Yet the climate advocacy has crept back in bit by bit. Then here I was, contemplating foregoing writing for a whole month to throw myself into a job. 

The Tower card, again. 

Typical interpretations of the Tower card beg the reader to consider: have you built your life on an unstable foundation? Are you living a lie? But I reject this interpretation. In every Tower card I’ve seen, the foundation stays upright. The top of the Tower is struck by lightning and bursts into flames, yes. But only the apex is destroyed. 

Ten years ago, I went to the United Nations climate conference in Cancun. I had a panic attack on the way there, on the plane. It was one of the worst I’d ever had. As the plane started moving, I wanted to get off. We hadn’t lifted up yet, and suddenly I realized this would be my last chance to leave. The tarmac rumbled but we were still on the ground and I felt I needed to stay on that ground. But I didn’t move an inch. My eyes were opened wide but I was silent, still, suffering. I’ve never been able to describe panic attacks other than to say it’s pure, unfiltered suffering. But thinking about it now, another way is to say that panic attacks are what happen when your mind splits off from reality, pulled into obsessive and terrifying futures that don’t exist. The best tips to overcome anxiety are exercises to focus on the present. Squeeze your hands. Feel the floor. Take a deep breath. Read a tarot card.

When the plane lifted up, my friend asked me to play hangman. I agreed. We made it through the clouds. My panic subsided. 

Ten years later — but wait. No. Those ten years mattered. I saw therapists and read anxiety self-help books. And I kept working on climate change. I worked for ten years in the climate world, building my career, getting to a place where I would be able to apply for a last-minute whirlwind job in Scotland and feel like I really could get it. Professionally, I’m building on a strong foundation, client by client, brick by brick. 

In my writing life, I’m still at the beginning. I’m trying to enjoy that for its own sake. Even if I’m many years away from getting a book published… I’m on my way there. My future is in the present. In this sense, tarot is clairvoyant. Every morning I get up to write, I’m building another layer in my writing tower, I’m creating my new future. 

But, yeah, this tower can wait a month. Because I’m going to Scotland 🙂 

-Denise


Elephant of the week: photobombing my Scotland rain gear photoshoot

Excitante

I’m excited about something that might happen soon. It probably won’t, but maybe it will.

But I can’t tell you what it is.  

I know. I know. I’m telling you without telling you. That’s so annoying. I know. I’m sorry. But I don’t want to jinx it. And you know what? While I’m waiting to find out if the exciting thing will or won’t happen, you can wait to find out what that maybe-exciting thing will maybe-be.

Calm down. It’s not life-changing. I’m not moving or dying. I’m just thinking about something that might happen, although probably it won’t, but maybe it will, and if it does, it will be very, very exciting. 

I keep thinking about that word. I’m excited. It’s exciting. These days I’m studying Spanish, and finding it helpful to explore word roots. (For instance, ‘encontrar’ might seem like a weird translation of ‘to find,’ until you realize it comes from the same root word as does ‘encounter.’) Exciting comes from the Latin word exciere, to call out or call forth. In Spanish, you can either say you are emocionado (excited), or that something is excitante (exciting). Emocionado (and emotional, the English counterpart) comes from Latin emovere, which means to stir, to agitate, to move. Excitante means both exciting and stimulating. Stimulating, as in drugs.

That’s right, I feel like I’m on drugs. My emotions are moving. My emotions are movement. My nerves are being called forth. My daydreams say, come out of hiding, nervies, see the sun and dance! It’s everywhere in my body. Fingers, toes, temples. Everything is wiggling without wiggling. As I call forth my body, my body calls me forth. It’s almost anxiety. If I’m not careful, it might morph into that. In college, I was so excited by the possibilities of life, I overwhelmed myself into a weekly panic attack. Where is all this energy coming from?

On Thursday morning I woke up excited. I ran ten miles, quickly. By the end of it I calmed down. Until the evening, when my nerves had recovered and started bopping around again. So I went on a walk. It was the most beautiful walk in existence. I walked over a bridge that somehow signified the past and future connecting at once. The sunset was relentless. I listened to Billie Eilish’s new album, which is also perfect, turned it up and danced on the sidewalk. Back home, I logged into my virtual Spanish class. The teacher asked me to create a sentence with la verdad. The truth. Any sentence, to pull one out of the air. I said, ¡La verdad de la vida es que toda la gente es buena! (The truth of life is that all people are good). What’s going on? When did I get so disgustingly optimistic? I don’t care. I’m having a great time.

Most of the time. Sometimes I’m just sitting here, waiting. 

Time travel is real. My future is now. What might or might not happen is already happening. I think that’s where the energy comes from. It comes from future-me, looking back. It’s the anticipation. It wiggles my nerves. My nerves can’t handle stasis right now. They are everywhere in time.

I’m trying not to think about the thing that might or might not happen. It’s okay if it doesn’t. Honestly it’s not a big deal. And at this point, it almost doesn’t matter if it happens or not. If it doesn’t, I’ll find something else to look forward to. I’ll need to. Because I’m realizing how much I’ve missed this feeling. It makes everything beautiful. When’s the last time you’ve looked forward to something big, something maybe huge? It’s been a long time. It’s been a pandemic-amount of time.

For now I’m just excited. I’m daydreaming like crazy. And I’m enjoying the hell out of this feeling. 

-Denise


Elephant of the week: slightly less excited than me

I was hit in the face with a basketball

The secret to staying young is feeling young

(I keep telling my old cat this but she insists on remaining blind)

So I’m trying to do the splits

Like I could when I was twelve

But I imagined something snap

I swear I think I felt or heard something pop

I stopped 

I’m fine

(I still can’t do the splits)

.

The secret to staying young is feeling young

So I’m trying to play basketball

Sometimes I sink the frees

Sometimes it bounces off the rim 

Hits me in the head

Sometimes that jerk bf blocks it 

Hits me in the face

I say he shouldn’t block me because I’m his gf 

(he doesn’t listen)

(but feels appropriately bad when I get hit in the face)

.

I once swam in a swimming pool

I touched the bottom of the deep end

The pressure killed my ears

I threw a toddler in the air

“Throw me again!” 

I threw her again

Gleefully, “I’m drowning!”

People glared

“You’re not supposed to say that”

“I’m drowning!” 

I’m an adult

“If you say that one more time we’re leaving” 

.

I’m trying to write without punctuation because that’s how high schoolers do it

Like how a period means you’re dead to me.

.

We were playing basketball in a DC park

Little kids came to watch

They clapped when I scored and booed when the bf did

They asked without asking if they could shoot too 

We gave them our basketballs

They didn’t give them back

Another kid brought a scooter

They started fighting over it

Pushing each other to the ground

Four trying to ride at once

Score! We got our balls back 

.

That’s when I got hit in the face

Playing one-on-one

Practicing new moves

Cross over

Behind the back

Pull to the left and SHOOT — 

The jerk bf blocked my shot

Ball hit my glasses into the bridge of my nose 

“Shit, you’re bleeding”

I thought about crying

But I’m an adult!

But I wanted to cry

Like a switch flipped

The ‘you got hit in the face’ switch

Cheeks burned

Forehead pounded

Glasses slightly smushed

How much blood was there? 

To my right a kid got water sprayed into his eyes

To my left one held the scooter as a girl pushed his face

He held on with an iron grip

And I didn’t cry

We kept playing and I scored. 

-Denise


New publication alert! A story of mine was just published in a fun magazine called Oyster River Pages. It’s a weird one. It goes through time backwards. It’s called Love and Pistils. Check it out here. 


Elephant of the week: Soaking up the sun

My cat is blind

I came back home to a nervous cat with a cloudy pupil. 

It was hard to tell at first. It looked as if her eye caught the light. But it was the same from every angle: white, milky, with nothing to reflect. Did you know cat eyes glow in the dark? They really do. But with her, only one eye glowed. The other was blank. Blocked. 

Googling commenced. I learned it was a cataract. We took her to the vet. They confirmed it was a cataract. But they said the cataract hardly mattered. Because both her eyes are blind. 

Yesterday morning, things took a turn for the worse. Or they ended up where they would always go. Her cloudy eye stopped working completely. Even with the cataract, her pupil would contract into a sliver in the sun. A reflex, perhaps. But yesterday, that stopped. Her big cloudy pupil stayed big and cloudy and unmoving. 

I had writing goals for the day. But I put them aside and… well, I cried. Because she really is blind. And old. This is the latest in a series of health issues. And this one is irreversible. She’s an old cat with a limited lifespan. Now I notice her bumping into things. Now I notice her testing the ground with her paw before making a small leap. Now I notice her crouching low to the ground, to feel the area out with her whiskers. Now I worry her future will be full of confusion, pain, and stress. 

Elephant, aka Elliephant, aka Elefante, aka Ellie has always had mediocre eyesight. But I’ve never worried for her because her other senses are so strong. Cats have 40 times more sense receptors in their nose than humans do. Their whiskers can capture movements in the air. They have 30 sets of muscles in their ears. 

But sight. Sight! What can replace vision? I can’t imagine losing my sight. I’d rather read a book than listen to an audiobook, or look at a photo of my cat than listen to a recording. When I go on hikes, I need to look around to feel alive. But why? Why does sight matter so much more than the other senses?

I think it’s the ability to linger. To reread a sentence when you want to experience it again. To let myself get lost in an image. To repeat, repeat, repeat and understand. With sound, in real life, you can’t rewind. When there are strange noises in my apartment — like new, heavy shoes, or a box dropping to the ground — my cat doesn’t have any additional information for context. As far as she knows, the world is exploding and there’s nothing she can do. 

Yesterday, I pulled out my camera to take photos of her and her eye: close-ups, long shots, videos. It occurred to me I’d want documentation of her life after her eventual death. This morbid thought occurs to me often, but sometimes I need a reminder. It also occurred to me while photographing her just how powerful the eye can be. The camera attempts to recreate what we see, and it’s flawed. In a room with varying light, the camera cannot capture everything. It must choose a range of light to focus on. Our eyes make so many miniscule adjustments we don’t ever stop to say thank you. The nice thing about a good camera is getting to learn about light. How to adjust shutter speed, f-stops, and ISO settings to create the right light settings for the right mood. When I’m feeling confident behind the camera, I feel a sense of control. I can play with the sunlight and make interesting images based on how it lands. It’s why I enjoy flying kites: the feeling of playing with the sky, controlling the wind. When there’s no wind, you can simply run fast enough to create your own. 

In reality, it’s less about control and more about understanding. I can’t change the sun or the wind. But in understanding, I can feel stronger about my relationship to it. 

There’s not much I can control about the scent in our apartment. (I tried giving Ellie a sweaty hug but she was not having it). But I can sing to her when I enter the apartment, and I can touch her as much as possible. I can let my hand linger on her neck, scratching underneath her chin. I can put my face in her stomach, making a pillow of her soft white fur. I can remind her I’m here. And in the darkness, as one cat eye glows back at me, I’ll imagine her other eye filled with my image, with my eyes reflecting back at her. 

-Denise (and Ellie)