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)

Patience.

Cicadas wait seventeen years to crawl out of the ground, rub their butts together, and die. 

I waited twenty-five days after filling out an apartment application to sign the lease and thought I might die. 

I have two new pimples named ‘Julia’ and ‘Kelton.’ For the past twenty-five days, my days have been like this: I phone their namesakes. I hear “It’s a wonderful day, how can I help you?” I’m told they’re out to lunch, or not arrived, or already gone. There is a precise ten-minute window when the cicadas’ songs align and the moon passes over the sun on the dim fiery morning of the rapture when, after twenty minutes of being on hold, Julia and Kelton are available on the phone. At which point I am told that I need to send the documents I’ve already sent five times. 

We had a problem-child application. Apparently ‘aspiring novelist’ doesn’t look good on paper. Nor does ‘makes her own kombucha’ or ‘has listened to the same yoga podcast for ten years’ aka frugal. Instead I had to prove the legitimacy of my ‘business’ aka me. I’ve never filed a tax return for it, but believe me officer, it’s real! It’s, uh, growing? 

Patience. I had none of it. We were a problem child and they didn’t want to deal with us, and every time I had to wait another day, I sprouted another pimple. My other zits are named ‘homeless’ and ‘rejected’ and ‘your career isn’t valid.’ 

We became well-acquainted with Julia’s hold music. It’s one long repeating song. There’s a nice lift with a saxophone. There’s the part where it turns to a minor key, dark and moody. There’s the part at the very end, which — and I don’t know if this is a mistake or intentional — there is a phone clicking noise, as if someone is releasing you from hold-purgatory; but they’re not, it’s part of the music, and the song begins all over again. 

This phone click. Is it meant to inspire hope? Or to knock you down from believing? At this point it doesn’t matter. It’s there, I know it well, I’ve come to love it. It’s consistent, and, unlike Julia, it will always be there if you wait long enough. 

Patience. I have a vision of myself as the embodiment of patience. This vision has popped like a pimple. What is it about waiting? It’s not the waiting. It’s how your mind runs wild with all the ideas of what might happen. It lingers on the bad ones. Getting rejected, which would portend future rejections from other places, other Julias, a roguish homelessness, cat in tow. Why not linger on the good? The beautiful bay windows, the roof deck. Or why not think of something completely different? Sitting in this beloved chair. Now I anticipate myself in future patient moments, petting the cat and not thinking about anything else. Patience. One day I will achieve it. Until then —

We move in ten days. We’ve booked the movers. We’ve signed the damn lease. Now we just need Julia to sign it, too…

-Denise

Elliephant of the week: Getting nervous about all these boxes, she’s staging a sit-in on my backpack to prevent me from leaving

Someone threw an egg at me

(but it missed.)

I was walking on Milwaukee Avenue, in Chicago. I was with Seth, and we’d passed through Little Italy, Greektown, andPhilly’s Best Cheesesteaks to get here. Our bellies were full of flaming cheese, the kind where, at Greek restaurants, they bring it to your table, torch it, and yell “Opa!” And our heads were full of questions. The questions were all variations of: Do we want to live here?Not today, not tomorrow, but a year from now, or five? What about Philadelphia? What about, I don’t know, Dublin or Mexico City or Antarctica? 

Sometimes we forget that we’re allowed to go wherever we want. Nobody is telling us no. But there’s the cat to think of, and the local grocery store where we’ve memorized the aisles (ours stocks kitty litter behind the checkout counters; wtf?). What would it take to memorize a new grocery store? To pick a new route for an evening walk? To find a cat-friendly apartment and create a network of friends to take care of her when we go out of town? 

We were talking and walking down Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. I was wearing my ‘city fashion’ outfit because I wanted to feel like Chicago while we experienced Chicago. It’s a matching floor-length skirt and crop top, with light-blue cotton fabric that almost looks like denim. (I’ve since realized there is no ‘city fashion’ in Chicago — sorry, Chicago — the fashion there is essentially ‘Wisconsin, with a little business casual’: Birkenstocks, jeans, t-shirts, and a few pencil skirts.)

We were walking down Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, wearing out-of-town fashion, passing by a Philly’s Best Cheesesteaks, full of Greek cheese, thinking of our futures, when someone threw an egg at me. 

It landed at my feet. 

I thought something had fallen from the truck that passed us by (we weren’t paying attention, and it was quick, but in our peripheral vision, our memories pieced together an image of a blank white cargo truck, zooming too quickly around a curve). But the trajectory was all wrong. Its shell splattered forward, not backward. It was no accident. Someone had hurled it at me. 

It didn’t hit me. But it was supposed to. But it didn’t, nothing happened. But it could have, and why? Who cares, nothing happened. But why me, was I targeted? 

We kept walking and found more egg shells splattered in similar trajectories. I didn’t get an answer to ‘why,’ but I did get an answer to ‘why me.’ The answer: I didn’t matter. It had nothing to do with me. There was a guy throwing eggs, and that was that. 

One week later, I was in Madison at my brother’s house. He was at work and I, carless, went to the grocery store. It was a thirty-minute walk away and I forgot to bring reusable bags. Stupid. Despite this, the grocery gods compelled me to buy more than I intended, as they are wont to do, so I ended up with two plastic bags and one paper bag full of goods. The heavy items, including a large bag of frozen vegetables, went into the paper bag; into the plastic went lightweight items, including two boxes of mushrooms, one per bag. I’m not pointing out these specific items to brag about my vegetable intake. After ten minutes of walking, an edge of a mushroom box cut into the plastic bag until it split open and burst. The mushrooms made a break for it, scattering all over the sidewalk. I tried to reposition the items into the other plastic bag, which, of course, was in the process of being split open by the other mushroom box, and with a little extra pressure, it too cut open and released its contents. Okay, so I fit everything into the sole paper bag. Little did I know the frozen veggies had soaked the paper bag with condensation, weakening its fibers, and the bag completely fell apart. Everything collapsed to the ground. Including me. 

I called Seth and asked him to fetch me with reusable bags. He agreed, but it would be awhile. I sat on the ground with the contents of half a grocery store strewn around me. 

Then a stranger pulled up to the parking lot in front of me. “Do you need a bag?” He’d seen what happened, he said, and had a spare in his car. I said yes, yes, yes, and he traversed a muddy ditch in crocs to hand me a big, beautiful, strong green reusable bag. A few minutes later, a woman pulled over on the side of the road. “Do you need a bag?” She, too, saw my misery. Bagged up, I made it home. 

There’s no through line here. Chicago has Greektown, Little Italy, the country’s best Mexican Art Museum, and Philly’s Best Cheesesteaks. Philadelphia has its own cheesesteaks, two rivers, 11,000 acres of parks, and the world’s best tahini milkshakes. Madison has family, cheese, and birds. DC has my life. Chicago probably has people who would offer reusable bags to strangers. Madison probably has people who would throw eggs at me. Philadelphia definitely does.

I like being a stranger surrounded by strangers. I like the anonymity of a crowd. I like being able to sit on the side of a road with broken bags of groceries and not care how pathetic I look. But if I lived here, would I feel the same way? Or would I worry about who saw me — an ex-boyfriend, a former boss? Once you know a place, you become less of a stranger, and a little more grounded, a little less free. 

It’s nice to go somewhere and imagine something new. To travel not as a tourist, but as a human asking, what is this place really, and where would I fit in it? Chicago has more of everything. More people, more neighborhoods, more varying cultures. More interactions. More people throwing eggs. Less of a cohesive narrative. It can’t be figured out in three days or one blog post. 

After spending a month in a vaguely nomadic situation, it’ll be nice to return to the cat, our new apartment, and endless time. There are many different versions of life. But we’re in no rush to get there. 

-Denise


PS: I have a new story published! This one’s super short. It’s called Green Roof, published by Washington Writers’ Publishing House. Read it here.

PPS: I’m going to have another new story published in a couple weeks! August has been good to me. It’ll be in a magazine called Oyster River Pages and they’re having a launch party on Sunday, August 29 at 1:00pm ET, and I’ll be there, reading an excerpt I think? I’ve never done anything like this. You’re welcome to RSVP here.

PPPS: Madison birds are real birdy

A conspiracy theory about Bezos “in space”

Did you know Jeff Bezos went to space?

It was twelve days ago, so perhaps you’ve forgotten. Perhaps it never happened. Does the memory live in your brain? Right now, yes, because you’ve just read the words “Bezos went to space.” But what about five minutes ago? And what is this memory, exactly? Do you remember where you were when you learned about it? Does the memory stretch out over hours or days, or does it bring you a sense of feeling angry, excited, or generally bemused? Is it truly a memory or just a simple fact? Does it have thinginess? Does it have physical space? Does it really exist? 

“Best day ever!” he said when he landed — or was that a Facebook post I wrote in high school? 

“I want to thank every Amazon customer, you paid for this,” he said, as I paid for a pack of urinary-tract-friendly cat food and received zero luminous stars or sub-orbital moments. 

The earth’s atmosphere is “this tiny little fragile thing,” he said with great realization as I came down with a tiny cold that exhausted me for a week. 

“It’s another thing to actually see with your own eyes how fragile it really is,” he said as smoke from Canadian wildfires died the Wisconsin sun pink. 

I went for a run, and there was a cloud, alone and estranged, a circular thing that looked like a spaceship. It was a lenticular cloud. Lenticular clouds typically form on the downwind side of a mountain. There are no mountains in Wisconsin.

The run became a walk. When I got home I fell asleep. I slept for a week, waking to run and do necessary things. It was a body with a tiny cold, exhausted by living. A brain clouded by exhaustion. I didn’t write for a week. 

When my spell of tiredness disappeared, I went out for a drink with my mom. We sat at an outdoor table. There was a bird, a house finch, with a broken wing. It wanted to join us, though we had no food. It hopped around on its legs, flapping its good wing when it needed a high jump. It was close enough for me to reach out a fist and smash it, and it wouldn’t be able to fly away. It was bold, testing its limits. Hadn’t the bird already tested enough? Or, with a broken wing, were these brash movements all it had left? I waved my hands to make it go away, but it always came back. I let it come back.

When my cold disappeared, I shouted, “Best day ever!” Then I thanked my body for recovering, with appreciation for this tiny fragile thing. 

-Denise