PA R AG O N the JOURNAL journal of creative arts
In the issue
Planting a Desert Flower in My Eye For My Survival Way Past Winsome
PARAGON JOURNAL JOURNAL OF CREATIVE ARTS
Sarah Gonzalez is a Lancaster, PA based photographer. She is a past state FFA officer and enjoys spending her time photographing cows and their handlers at shows. All of the photographs in this issue are provided courtesy of her.
The Paragon Journal: Journal of Creative Arts - December 2017 Cover Art: Sarah Gonzalez Cover Design: Chris Shearer Heading and Subheading Set: Roadway Text Set: Times New Roman
All authors/artists retain the rights to their work. All work that appears in this journal has been published with permission of the author/artist. ISSN: 2470-7775 (print) ISSN: 2470-3834 (online) Want to be published? Submit your work to the twelfth issue of The Paragon Journal. More information available at theparagonjournal.com
copy editor graphic designer
kelleigh stevenson chris shearer
TABLE OF CONTENTS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE:
Soot Incantation I’m So Over Tame Impala Planting a Desert Flower in My Eye The Peculiar Acoustics of 1970s Décor Autistic Death and a Better Love Green Tea, Silver Plunger Mother Lost Mail Sharron Townsend Interview If You Go… For My Survival Fuck-It 18 Tax Receipts from 1908 Uncle Murray’s Business Where Do Angels Fly? Upon Hearing Arcangelo Corelli Afraid for Mother Earth Two Leaders Way Past Winsome Kayvon Asemani Interview To This Day The Romanian Poem for Guessing A Match Made in Cyberspace (Formerly Heaven) The Hangman’s Daughter Dead to the World Bend the Curve There Will Be Time Sarah Gonzalez Interview Tomorrow’s Dream
Hello Everyone! We have been working on becoming a respectable magazine. Our editors are undergoing training to learn about the new trends in publishing as well as the new styles of writing. Starting in the new year, we will be charging for most submissions, but will still offer free submissions for one day a month. We want to continue helping you all grow, but we need to start bringing in some income to help grow our brand. We would be so pleased if you would be patient with us during this time. But in this issue, we are so glad to share that we have two interviews with people who are making a difference in their fields. We are also featuring the work of Sarah Gonzalez throughout. She is an up and coming photographer. Read On,
Austin Shay, Editor-in-Chief
SOOT INCANTATION WRITTEN BY
crow talk like an elder watchman scraping his memories along the brick wall with a supple fortitude you can't look away and the humidity climbs a fright in your belly, a splinter in your soup an echo of a dead relative a peace between your fingers so stiff and malnourished i ate a child like you once the story ended but i kept on going we never relapsed like that again not for fear of death but of a continuity that outshines our shadows a blessing that rips holes in our silence forming moments full of torture and sleep sediment and confusion we built a mountain and slipped inside before dawn we were jailed royalty fumbling with a blade
1 | Poetry
Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;M SO OVER TAME IMPALA WRITTEN BY
A window shatters from two feet away. I could lick it. Like a Fender throbbing under the puss of seven effect pedals a chorus of declarations breaks out inside my ribcage. I am both within and without. I am grieving under duress and rock solid. A pillar of ice. The goatman rams himself deeper into the mud. I am carbonated sugar. I am a butchered cartwheel. Like the silence of a generation zipping between cup holders and adhesives left on too long, I have lifted a boulder and ruptured my heart hope and resonance of tomorrow. I bring myself down to the grave and sigh lottery ticket expired.
2 | Poetry
PLANTING A DESERT FLOWER IN MY EYE WRITTEN BY
this summer I'm going to listen to Charles Mingus and read CAConrad this summer I'm going to remember Madhavi and her long white hair this summer I'm going to film vignettes with my friend they will be about flowers and tears this summer I will erect a flagpole it will be my flagpole I will dance around the flagpole until I develop blisters until my libido considers suicide this summer I will imagine microcosms of fairies emerging from surround sound stereo systems this summer I will forget to take my medication and regret it this summer I will hold that rock that lives on my nightstand this summer will be good this summer I will fall down and not want to get back up this summer I will direct locomotives I will curate exhibits that last decades I will sleep when I want to sleep this summer I will enjoy my sweat I will bathe in ice this summer I will cling to my coffee for dear life this summer I will think of you less this summer I will appreciate carpets this summer I will create a blog dedicated to carpet appreciation this summer I will post to my carpet appreciation blog every day I will never tell you about it this summer I will hammer nails into my wall this summer my friendship bracelet will fall off this summer I will forget this summer do I remember last summer this summer I'm going to listen to Pharaoh Sanders and masturbate to my dead English teacher this summer I'm going to stutter this summer I will not be afraid to be in public this summer I'm going to cry 3 | Poetry
this summer you will not cry this summer will help me understand how that is fair this summer will be bad this summer if I forget did I this summer what happened if there are summers beyond this summer this summer does not care for my wellbeing this summer I will buy too much candy t-shirt stains, mouthwash, and soggy joints I will never smoke this summer I will climb a mountain and eat gummy worms that don't like me this summer I will find out how to die if I want to this summer I will ride a buffalo into the sunset (this summer will be hard if I am in a wheelchair) this summer I'm going to listen to Bitches Brew for the twentieth time and still not like it this summer Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m going to listen to Bitches Brew for the thirtieth time and like it
4 | Poetry
THE PECULIAR ACOUSTICS OF 1970S DECOR WRITTEN BY
S. R. AICHINGER
My bare feet still find your thumbtacks buried in the high-pile carpet of my mind, like stilettoed Barbie shoes you swore you forgot when they vanished, sucked from existence by the peculiar acoustics of 1970s dĂŠcor. You shouldn't be surprised. I've already agreed to plead out on all charges of morality, or decencyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; whatever the charges were. What about when I named my one condition: full access to the truth about a tongue in my mouth? (Despite months of expert testimony backed up by sufficient evidence to cast doubt on whether that tongue had sought consent, you managed to have the facts redacted from court documents.) As if it weren't enough that I'm forced to deal with my own unfortunate albeit predictable tendency to deny the physics of shadows, we're back in our old debate over the consequences 6 | Poetry
of excavating ancient landmines. Your skillful silence has left me tired and broke, so I guess in that sense you win. I hope you're happy to hear me admit that I have no excuse for how willfully unaccustomed I can be to the woozy shifts Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m feeling in our slowly irradiated relationship.
7 | Poetry
AUTISTIC DEATH AND A BETTER LOVE WRITTEN BY
After a nightmare I drank my herbal brew at ten to three in the morning so I give up now, I surrender. I hand myself over to the pillow and will give myself to sleep. All I ask, Master of This Nighttime Joke, is that you keep me away from my mother. Though I can barely keep my eyes open, I swear, if she comes back again in a dream full of love, I’ll stay awake forever. Don’t take me back to her like you did last night, don’t put me cheek to cheek with her “good” face. Don’t be so unkind as to make me scramble to her side for safety. I’d rather pin my eyes open with clothespins than be taken in by her “kindness.” Still, I should have known this might happen because Death visited me today and took no hints that his presence made me nervous. I kicked him out and the first dream I dreamed that night was of a loving mother—his payback. I swear Death must be autistic, unconscious of his constant incomprehension. I can’t keep my eyes open for another second. I’m going to let my eyes shut and sleep. But promise me, no dreams of a good mother. That ship has sailed and sunk a long time ago. Just let me swim through the black sea of dreamlessness. Let night fall over me with its better love.
8 | Poetry
GREEN TEA, SILVER PLUNGER WRITTEN BY
Kansas kept mouthing ‘help me’ into the mirror, under the illusion that I couldn’t see her. Her eyebrows darted up and down, fixed in their notions of sincerity. With enough of the antics, I turned to face her. “I can see that, you know.” I wasn’t nor-
mally one to test her, especially after a night she decided to get rough. Apologizing for stepping out of line, I turned to the mirror and resumed covering the black eye. Once my glasses were on, she came up and kissed me, saying, “You’re such a sensitive guy.” Her words didn’t sound real. None of this felt real, the only tangible thing about our situation being the swelling around my forehead. Every movement served as a reminder that this pain wasn’t just superficial -- there were brother bruises on my chest, upper arms, and more recently, around my pelvic region. She wrapped her arms around my shoulders; I tried not to react to the pain. “Stop fussing,” she hissed in my ear. “It makes you look more manly.” I guffawed and she smacked the back of my head, telling me to get myself together. “I’m serious Darin.” Saccharine smile. “It’s fine. Really.” Facing the mirror again, I fussed with one of her concealer sticks while she assured me not only was it not visible, but that it wouldn’t happen again. She promised this often, and these vows proved public restroom toilet paper thin. She was small but she was aggressive. I wasn’t afraid, but I wasn’t safe either. Sitting up on the dresser, she picked up her cup, tongue tantalizing the straw, stirring ice
and macchiato swirls with her morning tea. A peace offering from me -- customary after an al9 | Fiction
tercation -- a form of green tea meant to be appeasing, but relaxing. Her steryl eyes met my gaze as I asked, “Does it look alright?” She kicked her heels against the drawers, sipping her drink while assessing me. “Yes Darin. You look fine.” I watched her watch me feel along the indents of my face, chuckling into her cup every time I winced and moaned. My cheekbone was tender and high, like the rise of a pier over salt water. Behind me I could see her and her ‘help me’ act reflected, mocking the state I’d been reduced to as the violence she inflicted escalated. I smiled in the mirror, smudging the foundation. There were some things even makeup couldn’t suppress. Kansas was behind me again, pressing her hands into my hips. “Relax. I’m letting you
see your friends today. This should be fun.” We were only seeing them because of a housewarming at her friend’s apartment, and my boy happened to be moving in with her. I didn’t point this out because that would be taken as provocation. With a final sweep of her hair and adjustment of my glasses, she grabbed my hand and took my keys, informing me she was driving today. Like everything else, I conceded, settling into the passenger seat like an obedient yet scorned boy. She turned the radio to a station she liked and we spoke of things concerning only her. I spoke when appropriate, stayed quiet when expected. This was all pain, but I didn’t want to add more to my fuel stricken skin. The ride seemed too long as I tried and failed to stay comfortable, the lines on my back from her fingernails making the seat sting, even through my shirt. I smiled along with her 10 | Fiction
jokes, even when she slapped my arm as a joke. I didn’t even flinch anymore; I was too vulnerable to be afraid of the inevitable. It took a sufficient amount of will to step out of the car on command, to walk up the stairs with her on my arm, even at her light weight, heavy enough to prod wounds that hadn’t healed. Each step up to the third floor was excruciating, but not as harrowed as the demeanor I forced when my best friend, Talbot, answered the door. We were welcomed inside but his words didn’t reach me, my focus entirely on Kansas. She ran off to her hands with a warning glance back to me: Behave. I am watching, and I am stronger. My shoulders were jostled as I was roughhoused by my friends, taking turns commenting on how they hadn’t seen me in a while. I grinned and played the game of perpetually busy
career man. They weren’t looking between my words because they didn’t know what to see. This was crazy. I hurt so bad, and the room was spinning. I hadn’t realized it at first until a cup of water was thrust in my hand, Talbot slapping me on the back, telling me to lighten up, it’s a party! I took the drink and swallowed, fading into the backdrop of rap music and girly giggles.
Kansas looked my way. I mouthed, ‘I’m behaving.’ The day fizzled behind me as I did my best to act the part of happy, crashing back into reality when the toilet clogged. From here I could see Kansas and her friend were drunk, and somehow a suede stiletto got stuck in the trapway. One of Kansas’ that she charged when she stole my credit card. Resigned, I sighed and told them, “I’ll get it.” 11 | Fiction
“I’ll help you,” Talbot said. We pushed through the small crowd and stepped over damp carpet as he went into a closet to get towels and a plunger. Kansas watched us from the doorway until Talbot closed the door. I winced involuntarily, knowing full well I’d pay for that breach at some point. He didn’t notice my turbulence, throwing towel after towel in my face. “Put those along the door. I’ll get to fixing the toilet.” It didn’t take long to clean the water, and he managed to get the shoe out of the drain. The water didn’t stop though; it was clogged further with toilet paper. Took less than a minute for him to hand me the plunger, confess, “I don’t know how to unclog a toilet.” “I don’t either.” “You’re the math nerd. This isn’t rocket science.” I rolled up my sleeves and pushed up my glasses. “I don’t know how that translates to plumbing.” Plunging worked over muscles I didn’t know were bruised, and I was out of breath shortly after beginning. Talbot pointed to a cut on my arm. “What happened there?” “I fell.” Resuming my motions over the toilet, I pushed until I didn’t feel the hurt any-
more. The waste fell away and it flushed like normal. Talbot thanked me just as I fell to the floor in agony. “My hands,” I said, gasping for breath. “My hands hurt so bad, goddamn.” Cuts that were scratch marks now pooled with blood, yolky muscle puckering up at the deeper marks. “Jesus,” Talbot said. “You get in a fight or something?”
Too weary to lie, I said, “With Kansas.” Sharp breath. “She hit me.” 12 | Fiction
The words slid down the walls, resonating before I realize they’d been said. Talbot looked me up and down. “You’re lying.” Momentarily courageous, I pulled up my shirt and showed him, a silent string of ‘Jesus Christs’ coming from his tongue. Contrition came fast. “Do not tell Kansas I told you, no matter what.” His mouth tripped over words he was still trying to process. “I mean...Jesus, Darin, she’s barely five feet tall, how did that happen?” I sat in silence because I had no explanation aside from the fact that I was less than perfect, and she felt this form of correction was necessary. Our two years together were a haze, the only thing visible through the dark patches were her threatening, silver nails. Underneath it all, she was still a girl with red hair and green eyes, but her nails were grown with camphor and venom, not calcium. I still loved her, I couldn’t help it, even when she dug my sins into my back with her hands. After too much quiet, I came back with, “I deserve it.” My voice came weak and brittle, like a key carved from pine bark. My chest rose and fell. “She says I deserve it.” “No one deserves that.” Talbot’s words sounded empty. “This is really hard to believe.” The adrenaline that made me confess was gone, and I realized what I’d done. Talbot opened the door. “Maybe you should go.” I didn’t need to look up to know Kansas listened at the door. Pulling down my shirt and collecting myself, I went back into the living room. I handed Kansas her sewer soaked shoe. She didn’t put it back on. We walked out the door, got into our car, and left.
Once home, she stepped into the threshold, giving me a head start to the bedroom. I 13 | Fiction
moved slow and stable, the tides of storms churning over the folds of my shoulder. Just as I turned around to say something, she let out a yell and charged towards me, throwing her shoe at my head. It narrowly missed my eyes, instead shattering the lenses of my glasses. Vision of her was blurry as she came at me again, swinging her fists, only hitting my chest. I made no move to hold her off. She cursed me out, even spat at me, reached up to slap me in the face, calling me a loser, telling me over and over that I ruined her day. She hit me and I apologized. Being worn down, she was starting to hurt, my lungs punched until they felt full of tangled, bloody ragweed. Blood might have come out my mouth
as I huddled on the ground, covering my head and neck like I’d learned in boy scouts. I heard myself crying for help. No one would come. She continued to mock me. She eventually stopped and scowled down at me. I couldn’t see her, but knew she was little more than annoyed. With those sharp nails she grabbed my cheeks, the ends suctioning the color from my face as she held on tight and said, with assertion, “I told you no one would believe you.” Backing off, she commanded me to say something, hands balled into fists at her sides. Even with my fixed sight, I could see her small thumbs sticking out, a sliver of silver polish daring me to defy. The front door was still open. Neither of us bothered to shut it. The gasp of blue sky stood out, vast as any pool of water hoping to sluice me. 14 | Fiction
This time, her words were a challenge. “What are you going to do about it?” I couldn’t see well, but stepped beside her, helping myself to the door.
MOTHER WRITTEN BY
It was your ninetieth birthday and you had everyone in stitches when you fished something from your salad plate and said, They sure do put strange things into the food these days, not recognizing your own false teeth. You felt shy about the laughter and bewildered like a small girl. I took you into the den and tried to help you put them back, but part was missing.
Suddenly—as if you’d guessed my thoughts—you said, I’m tired of this body. It won’t do what I
want it to! You beat your cane three times hard against the floor before you nodded off to sleep.
We sat awhile. You clutched your cane and told me for the umpteenth time that you’d read the book you’ve been reading since last year. I tucked a blanket around your bony knees.
Your fine white hair stuck out every which way. I smoothed it a little at the temples. It used to be long—jet black. How many mornings did I watch you brush it—thick and shining, braid and wind it onto your slender neck.
16 | Poetry
LOST MAIL WRITTEN BY
Waiting, your coffee colds. In your kitchen, the window panes. Grass gets cut and time uncuts it. Los Angeles, lost to a fire, is rebuilt by Monday. You never notice the news channel’s lost signal —your hands are busy practicing speeches your mouth doesn’t have the language for.—
18 | Poetry
SHARRON TOWNSEND THE
Sharron Townsend is an up and coming model, who recently became a model for Vaughn Clothing. Besides his major move into model, he has been recently seen on MTV's Undressed and TRL.
Townsend is a 2016 graduate of Franklin and Marshall College where he studied Economics and Women & Gender studies. At Franklin and Marshall he was a very accomplished wrestler. During a 2014 interview with Alex Sauer for HerCampus.com, Townsend stated that wrestling taught him persistence, hard work, and accountability. He has always been an amazing athlete since his time at Milton Hershey School.
Ever since Townsend was a child, he learned to never take anything for granted, and to help those in need whenever he can.
Austin Shay (AS): What is your creative process? I mean how do you think that you represent yourself and how do you properly understand the artwork you are helping to make (modeling). Sharron Townsend (ST): Modeling is a form of art, so I am all for stepping out of my comfort zone and trying new and exciting things. As a model, you are an artist, so your job is to create something that the people enjoy or find fascinating. I've been working with a ton of various photographers and designers to help expand my portfolio, my image and to test new waters. AS: How do you juggle your personal life and the obligations of being an up and coming television star? ST: Juggling the two is very difficult, but they say that when you really want something bad enough then you'll find a way to make it happen, so that's what I have been doing. I am often on the road traveling for various events and casting calls, but very now and then I am able to hang out with my family and friends, but they understand they are starting to understand the lifestyle. Nothing is given to the man that doesn't put the time in. Success takes dedication, sacrifice, and persistence. AS: Why did you decide to start modeling and acting? ST: I've always had a passion for modeling. I always thought that I was a pretty handsome guy, especially after my high school glo-up. Very frequently people would compliment how nice my skin was, how well I dressed and how nice of a body that I had. I started having my freshman year roommate take photographs of me, since he was very much into photography, and I would post the photos on social media. Once I graduated college, I reconnected with a childhood friend back at home that was also into photography. She wanted to expand her portfolio and so did I, so we began working together. However, I got started acting a bit differently. Growing up, I was always told that I have an entertaining personality, so when I graduated college, I thought it would have been a great idea to apply to be on The Real World, however the casting directors contacted me and asked would I be interested in a new dating experiment show for MTV called Undressed. I participated on the show and then slowly transitioned into acting, which has landed me on MTV, VH1, and even TVOne. AS: What advice do you have for aspiring models and actors? ST: One piece of advice that I would give to aspiring models and actors is to keep pushing. In this field, it is easy to become discouraged, because you may hear a lot more "No's" than "Yeses" but the only way you'll ever become that big star that you desire to become is by keep pushing. You'll eventually get that one "Yes" that is going to make all of those "No's" worth it. In the meantime, always look for ways to improve your craft. AS: We recently saw you in MTVâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Undressed. How do you overcome the challenges of being practically naked in front of a stranger? ST: Undressing in front of a complete stranger on National Television was a bit awkward, but it was such an amazing experience. I don't think there was any way to truly "overcome" that challenge besides just having to suck it up, because I had signed up for it and the cameras were already rolling, so it was too late to turn back. But, having a person that was just as nervous as you right there with me helped calm me a bit. AS: What did you ultimately take away from your experience during Undressed? ST: One thing that I took away from my experience on Undressed was that great things can come from stepping outside of your comfort zone. Although, my date from the show, Jessica, 20 | Interview
and I weren't a match, we still came out with a great friendship. AS: How is it being in the spotlight? How was it being named MTV's "TRL Bae"? ST: I enjoy being in the spotlight and having the attention on me. It is a blessing. I would have never imagined that my career would end up turning out like this, especially considering that my goal was to attend law school after college. The saying is true, there is no such thing as a dream too big or too small; everything is achievable and obtainable with faith, handwork and perseverance. Being named TRL's Bae was such an awesome feeling. The best part is when you weren't aware that any of that had taken place and then simultaneously all of your friends start to message and call you at the same time about it. AS: Who are your biggest inspirations? ST: My biggest inspiration is my mother. My mom was a single parent of six boys that she taught how to become men. She worked tireless to provide for my brothers and I. She sacrificed sleep, tears, and everything to make sure that my brothers and I had. She is my motivation. I work so hard, because I want her to be able to look at me and brothers and know that everything that she did paid off. AS: You graduated from a prestigious college in Lancaster, PA. How did you Franklin and Marshall prepare you for the real world? ST: It wasn't necessarily Franklin & Marshall that prepared me for the real world, as much as it was my mom and the Milton Hershey School. However, I did meet some very incredible people at Franklin & Marshall that has been supporting me through my journey as a model and actor. Throughout my time at Milton Hershey School, they instilled some valuable life lessons in me that has helped me with my entertainment career. For example, Milton Hershey instilled in us the meaning of handwork, perseverance, sacrifice, dedication, respect, and faith- all things that have helped me succeed in this field. The real world can be a scary place if you are not properly prepared.
21 | Interview
IF YOU GO... WRITTEN BY
When stepping into Zhangzhou’s Club #19—with no idea whether Clubs 1 through 18 ever existed—you will be buried under a wave of 90’s junior high nostalgia. The Backstreet Boys haven’t toured in the U.S. in recent memory, but bars across Fujian province blast their greatest hits at least twice per evening, accompanied by “I Believe I Can Fly” and a solid sampling of Adele and Beyoncé (always pronounced Be-yons). Nobody will sing along, and if they did, you wouldn’t hear them over the off-brand subwoofers, played too loud for too many consecutive nights to convey variations in bass lines. You will weave your way through the patrons, mostly college students breaking their 11 PM curfews and corrupt bureaucrats—but only corrupt enough to buy Audis rather than BMWs, as the local joke goes—paying women besides their wives to pour shots of Remy. You will move quickly across the sticky linoleum floor toward the half-circle bar. Club #19 has no air conditioning, you see, and when coupled with subtropic humidity and a crowd twice as large as any reasonable fire marshal would allow, you will crave the bartender’s lone fan and stockpile of napkins to soak up your perspiration. Gone are the days of A/C units in every watering hole, but you knew that when you left your bubble. This caustic scene is emblematic of what you came to Zhangzhou for in the first place.
Depending on your skin color, the journey from entrance to bar stool will be a different experience. Any person you stop to converse with will ask, first and foremost, “Where are you from?” If you’re white, everyone will stare, point, and shout “Lǎowài!” (foreigner) or “Měiguó rén!” (American) as if Vin Diesel had entered the room (the Fast and Furious films are insanely popular here). If you’re black in this landlocked city of only four million, the ogling will remain, but you may also have your skin touched to the joke of “Tā bù huì tuìshǎi” (it doesn’t fade), the sort of ignorance that stems from unaffordable airline prices and the Great Firewall of China rather than generational hatred. No matter what, don’t take a swing in response to their tasteless jokes, or at least not in a crowded bar; you can be detained for 37 days without charges being filed, if the police deem it appropriate, or you can pay five figures to make the problem go away. Regardless of your heritage, you will have lukewarm Tsingtao spilled on your shoes and sour smoke from Double Happiness cigarettes blown in your eyes as you squeeze past the standing-room-only crowd. You will carry on nonetheless. You will pull up a stool, and its poorly maintained legs will wobble or possibly snap off at the first sign of contact, forcing you to move a seat to your left. A small plastic cup sits in front of each chair with five small white dice—ones and fours colored red, the rest blue. You’ll order a twelve pack of Sedrin if you like sweet beer with a slightly higher alcohol content than Sprite, Tsingtao otherwise. Even when all of your coworkers insist that you stop doing conversion math, you know it comes out to thirteen dollars and change (Budweiser is triple the price). You’ll glance around the room for friends, coworkers, acquaintances, whomever you can have a discussion with. You’re typically going to be making new best friends for the night, but don’t give your number out freely; it can result in daily texts about nightly binge drinking, or sudden midnight texts of “Good night!” after weeks of silence. 22 | Creative Nonfiction
The manager, lounging on the largest leather couch with the fewest cracks in the upholstery, will send his thinnest, palest female employee to sit next to you, regardless of your gender. She will drink your flat unrefrigerated beer and speak no English. You will play Liar’s Dice using your hand gestures—“cowabunga” is six—and you will lose and therefore drink more than she does. She will leave when all twelve bottles are empty. You will order another dozen and share them with whomever watched your entire match. You will not pay for a drink the rest of the evening, and if you are male, cigarettes will be provided for you. When you ask your coworkers why women are not offered free smokes by patrons, they will answer “As we all know, women who smoke are immoral.” You will bite your tongue and think of their BMWs, and then of the non-employed women you’ve met at Club #19. Whether they were friends or lovers, they all utilized smoke without the mirrors. You won’t be able to say the same about your coworkers, whatever your occupation. There will be performances on an elevated wooden platform draped in black curtains. Purple lights pour over the entertainers, but your section remains unlit on the other side of the bar. Many dancers in masks and little else will thrust and shake to an alt rock song (Imagine Dragons have become quite popular in Zhangzhou). You will pretend you aren’t interested, but you will watch. A wheel of fortune will be carried up by muscle-bound bouncers, and you will be asked to spin for the chance to give away bottles of counterfeit alcohol or equally authentic t-shirts. You should accept; you won’t be asked to show off your Chinese skills, though they’ll be applauded whether you can give an extended toast or only read the number your spin lands on. A woman clad in full leather will gyrate on stage with a briefcase full of accessories, and she will ask you onto the stage to participate. You should decline; she won’t hold back on any of her swings with whip or chain. When his business associates arrive, the manager will invite you over to his booth. He will order twelve shots of cognac: one for himself, one for each of his five guests, and six for you. Your tolerance will dictate whether you should accept. Remember: taking the first shot puts you in the game, and as a foreigner, you’ll be expected to see it through to the end for the pride of your nation. Sipping is not allowed. You will see other foreigners sitting with their significant others, mostly older men who abandoned their careers and marriages for relationships requiring minimal amounts of effort. Occasionally, you will meet a younger foreigner, the wide-eyed sort who seeks adventure and the freedom to travel around a part of the world they’d only seen in documentaries and biased history books, but they are a rare breed indeed. They will likely invite you over for shots of watered down alcohol mixed with fruit juice or tea. Both professor and professional will have paid twice as much for a carafe as you did for your twelve pack, and you will feel obliged to join them and force down the “cocktail.” No matter their age, the teachers will complain about how hard the administration makes their lives, how much of a struggle their fourteen hour work weeks are, how little the students care about learning the English language, while their Chinese paramours will order their drinks for them out of necessity. The businessmen and engineers will be sure to mention their housekeepers and personal drivers and secretaries and how they could totally afford a new penthouse if they wanted, but their current one is fine for now. You will nod, drink their shitty alcohol, and plan your escape back into the relative solitude of your barstool. When you need to use the bathroom, you will reach for your free cigarettes, smoker or not. You should have mastered the art of the squat toilet by now, and you should be accus23 | Creative Nonfiction
tomed to their particularly repugnant lingering odors, but you will never get used to the vomit. Even in the bathroom’s dim ruby glow, the liquid minefield blocking your path to a porcelain hole in the ground spans the color spectrum. You will gag, but you should hold it in. If you fail, your new friends will immediately hail you a taxi home and walk you to your door. You will patiently wait your turn, staring at vulgar posters featuring the opposite gender and trying to breathe as infrequently as possible. Outside, you will see a fight, though it pales next to the bar brawls back home. Men will hold each other back as they scream obscenities and challenges back and forth until their faces swell with blood, tearing at their own shirts and spitting and throwing bottles to the ceramic tile sidewalks. They may knock over the row of mopeds on accident, setting off a piercing symphony of sirens to compete with their shouting match. You probably won’t actually see a swing, though a single strike will end most quarrels. Only after the two sides have fled in pedicabs will the police arrive to interview you, the last remaining witness who merely wanted some clean air (well, cleanish). They will ask to see your passport and visa, and they’ll pass it back and forth between each other like a bong. You did not come to China for Big Macs, so you will swing by the only other open restaurant and get some shāokǎo (barbecue). Industrial fans blow smoke in billows towards the streets, so you’ll begin to crave it before you know where you’re going. Canvas tents with countless confusing logos dot each street on your walk home (University of Wisconsin tailgating tents, featuring Bucky the Badger in his trademark red sweater, are oddly popular). Each restaurant offers a trio of flavor options to season whichever dishes you place in your warped plastic basket: spicy, sweet, or both. You should choose whichever vegetables look fresh, but in lieu of a recent report that certain Zhangzhou vendors were replacing mutton with rat meat, you’d be wise to stick with chicken wings and fish. If you’re a teacher, the owners will ask you to tutor their child in English, but whatever price you name will be too steep. If you’re in business, the owners may try to take you home and sell on you whatever get rich quick scheme one of their cousins roped them in to. You’ll inevitably meet someone you know at whichever tent you visit, whether it be from work or another night on the town, and they’ll ask you to sit with them. When you accept, they will pour you a beer and hand you a set of dice. After stepping over a legion of cockroaches scurrying away from the vibrations of your beer-soaked sneakers, you will see your boss, a high ranking Party secretary, being carried back into his apartment by two other stumbling PRC members. They’ll greet you after dropping their superior off at home and ask if you ate, and also if you want to continue drinking since their own competition isn’t over yet. If you’re hungry, you should accept—kitchens stay open for Party leaders. If you think 4 AM is a fair time to call it a night, there’s always tomorrow—the cheapest drink deals tend to occur on Wednesdays.
24 | Creative Nonfiction
FOR MY SURVIVAL WRITTEN BY
If I throw myself into a volcano will I be reborn burning through the earth's crustâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; lava hair, obsidian nails, sulfur breath, pumice skinâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;finally strong enough to tear open a place for myself in a world of iron soldiers marching forward, shavings of predecessors for ties.
25 | Poetry
FUCK-IT 18 WRITTEN BY
A celebration of Shakespeare, probably.. At the end of every day you’ve spent a day. “No shit,” you say, trying to keep temperate. Please, please, let me explain, if I may: It does not matter, pick any single date, April 21, 1995, what shines to you that day? What has completely dimmed? Is there something or someone who declines, from your memory, left unburdened, untrimmed? What about yesterday, what have you let fade? It’s not to me, but to yourself thou owe. Even today, there are moments left in shade, of trees seeded, you won’t dare see grow. We’re all at a loss to what we truly see, and keep, of what little is given to thee.
27 | Poetry
TAX RECEIPTS FROM 1908 WRITTEN BY
An old trunk
“You really think ancestry matters?”
full of out of focus
I’m as transcendent
black and whites.
as a cockroach hiding
Smiles only captured
in the corners of a bombed
if they were forced. You
out house, playing violin
can almost see their
and singing “Hallelujah” to no one
miasmas, cancers waiting
but the ashes, of the ashes
to activate, in that
of my genetic confines.
old fashioned way, aurasmic folds of brightness reflect best in corners of eyes. People would have you believe that reading them is all about their color. No. No. That’s too categorical, too linear too third-dimensional.
28 | Poetry
UNCLE MURRAY’S BUSINESS WRITTEN BY
They said Uncle Murray was good with his hands. This explained why he didn’t talk much. I can’t even remember his voice. They said Uncle Murray worked out of the home, which meant he worked at home, not out. Uncle Murray worked on naked women. In his back room was a leather table covered with paper. No Entry! said the sign on the door. Keep Out! Sometimes I peeked through the opening door. Uncle Murray shot and killed the squirrely hairs on naked women’s bodies with an electric machine. He went to shooting school for a certificate in hair killing. The women entered by the back porch, passed the washer and dryer that tumbled Uncle Murray’s socks and underwear. The women could smell Tilly’s brisket cooking, onions in schmaltz and gefilte fish. They said each hair needed many treatments. The human pincushions left covered with red dots, proof that Uncle Murray hit his hairy targets. Uncle Murray was too good with his hands, they said later. Some customers got more than smooth chins and thighs. After Tilly and Aunt Sylvia found out, Uncle Murray packed up his table and I never saw him again. 29 | Poetry
WHERE DO ANGELS FLY? WRITTEN BY
As I walked home, a puff of smoke blew out of the bush. “Where can I get a donut?” a man’s voice yelled. I carried heavy market bags. It was late. There was a rustling in the bushes. I noticed a cigarette’s glow through the leaves. I could smell acrid smoke.
Why a donut?” I asked. “Why not a main course, plus three sides and pie? Or warm clothes? Or an apartment?
His voice was like scissors in an artery. Like a child’s first violin lesson. Like the bite of a wild hyena.
My heavy frozen turkey bled in the paper bag as I walked toward home.
“Because I’m a Scorpio,” he answered. “My forecast today says I need to lower my expectations.”
Oh! The angels among us! Where do they fly when they tire of this silvered plain? Sometimes the tops of trees are like perfume bottles that release a piney fragrance, a handsoap for God’s dirt.
I was supposed to cook for Thanksgiving. I’ve got to remember to check the calendar. I’ve got to learn to read a recipe. I’ve got to learn to cook.
30 | Poetry
UPON HEARING ARCANGELO CORELLI WRITTEN BY
I listen to him when I need calm and song. His music as balanced as his name: Arcangelo Corelli. Many musical roads lead to Corelli. Bach, Handel, Geminiani, Gasparini trace back to his beautiful flow of melody. In his century, his Lenten oratorios rise up in the churches of Bologna. Leaving counterpoint behind, under Queen Christina and Cardinal Ottoboni he writes, secure. Sublime melodies, fingers never reaching above his violinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s high D furthering the shape of the sonata. Think of the timbre of a contralto voice! He created concerti grossi used in film and orchestra today. Just to imagine his fine figure and brown eyes lighting up at his own mannerly treatment of the accompanying parts comforts my galloping heart. His restraint, consistency, attention to detail quiet me when our culture splinters toward chaos.
31 | Poetry
AFRAID FOR MOTHER EARTH WRITTEN BY
Sometimes I am terribly afraid of what will happen to Mother Earth when the Children who Fight for Her have all returned to her Merciful Womb
and only neglectful, inconsiderate offspring remain in her fragile, beaten arms. Bickering amongst themselves why She isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t giving them all sorts of lovely Treats and thingswhile making a huge mess. When one truly incurs the Wrath of a Mother, another planet is your only hope until she heals herself and forgives you. She is sure to forgive us all when we straighten up and start acting like big kids.
32 | Poetry
TWO LEADERS WRITTEN BY
It is quite easy and
When they break their
natural for a leader to
divinely-ordained restraint and
project their fears and
dignity by behaving like foolish little boys?
concerns onto those whom
As if they’re playing a game of
they are supposed to lead.
Army Men in their mother's backyard?
Citizens of nations are a mirror.
I fear that, the result is quite
Wittingly or unwittingly,
obvious, even to the least well-
they reflect the impressions
polished surfaces of those mirrors:
of their leaders. War.
Within their nation-mirrors, those leaders
would deign to create images of their likeness. And what if we were able to As if playing God.
ask each tiny particle of those mirrors what it is
But what happens when
that they wanted to reflect?
two ‘leaders’, who, thinking they are gods, begin acting like devils-
I'm fairly certain that
By summoning violent and
they would say in response:
grotesque figures into the mirrors of their people?
Not war. But Life, Love and Light.
34 | Poetry
WAY PAST WINSOME WRITTEN BY
NANCY FORD DUGAN
When I was young and interested in a guy, early on I’d find a way to throw something at him to see if he could catch it. You’d be surprised how many can’t. It’s tragic, really. Sometimes, the thing I’d toss—a wadded-up piece of three-hole notebook paper, for example— would bounce off their shirt and race to the floor. I suppose it was my way of finding out if they were athletic, and also my way of establishing my superior reflexes if they weren’t. I grew up with brothers who were always throwing various things at me—rolled-up socks, a tennis ball, a tangerine that had tumbled out of the toe of a Christmas stocking. Usually it would turn into a contest, pitching whatever it was into the nearest wastebasket and proudly keeping score. (This was long before recycling.) It kept me on heightened alert. Something could be coming at me at any minute. I shrieked a lot during these events but held my own. Now I don’t toss a thing. *** An old friend had some photographs in a staff art show at an auction house this week. I went to support him. He was delighted that his old friend Tom showed up too. Tom is one of those mythic friends no one really sees in person, but has success you can track online. I quasipined for Tom when we were young and starting our first jobs in the city, but hadn’t seen him in a couple of decades. Mainly I had liked Tom because in an era of loud guitar music, he consistently played Ella Fitzgerald when we all hung out at his stylishly appointed apartment near Columbia. Tom was the only one of us with a stylish apartment at that point. I still don’t have one. “Oh my, we are all grown-up,” Tom said when he saw me. It could have been poignant or it could have been code for “You are way past winsome.” The showroom was sweltering. Tom slung his suit jacket on two fingers and draped it over his shoulder. “Can you please give me the highlights of your past twenty years or so?” Tom asked. This kind of social summary is almost as daunting to me as endless requests to update my passwords and security questions. My life simply does not have enough content. To spice up my details, I considered tossing in my dry cleaner’s recent vacation to Banff as my own. (She really needed that vacation, having recently developed a troubling habit of saying “I hate myself,” her fingers riddled with Band-Aids. She’d returned from Canada convinced they only served healthy food so the government could avoid paying everyone’s medical bills.) Sweat dripped off Tom’s nose. I messily clipped my frizzing hair up off my neck to cool down. Looks were off the table at this point in our lives; we just wanted to survive. Our photographer greeted everyone with a fixed smile on his face, determined to stay well-buttoned into his one suit. He glistened with animation, swilling a glass of white wine as he discussed his work with strangers and coworkers. Many of the young men wore the snug, gym-muscle-hugging, indigo-blue suit that was this summer’s uniform. As Tom and I caught up, the air-conditioning continued to falter and the crowd expanded to crushing proportions under the unforgiving bright lights. He told me about his awards 35 | Fiction
and his stint in France. (I was aware of all this; the photographer had an endearing preFacebook trait of keeping all his friends updated on everyone’s success, always positioning each of us as far more dazzling and accomplished than we actually were. Except in Tom’s case, he really was a global overachiever.) All of the photos in the show were of the ocean, either underwater or aerial shots. Tom and I mused what that was all about, if it indicated some desire to always be above or below the action. “What’s wrong with dry land?” someone asked. I liked one photo in particular: it caught a greenish blue wave in a curl, ice on the tips of its rim, frozen in motion before crashing and being absorbed back into the sea. Tom and I covered our losses. He’d recently lost another parent. “I remember your mom,” I said. “I think we were still in college and at her house over a vacation. She did a ten-minute bit about how ineffective her driver’s license was as a form of ID, since the photo and name on it were so out of date. She was very funny. The bit was standup quality.” “She could be hilarious,” Tom smiled. “You got her on a good day. She was bipolar, on meds for over forty years. She was always crazy. But a different kind of crazy depending on the decade.” I steered the conversation to what I hoped were safer topics, even though, thanks to the photographer, I knew the answers to all the questions I posed: Still have the houses in Hudson and Brooklyn? (Yes.) How’s your daughter doing? (Out of college, working for the city.) Searching for material, I mentioned CEO scandals and the convenience of my Flatiron office location. I bored myself. My comments weren’t worth scratching my throat to speak above the crowd’s din. I considered using the word estuary in a sentence, but gave up. “So sorry I haven’t had time to talk with you both more,” the photographer said. The crowd had dispersed somewhat from his section of the show. “Here, let me take you on a quick tour.” Although I had been on this tour before at previous shows, I could tell how excited the photographer was to have Tom on the premises; he was eager to show Tom off and show the auction house (and his spacious office) to Tom. The three of us squeezed and edged beyond the lingering crowds into cooler, quieter hallways. Tom and I loyally oohed and aahed at the photographer’s remarks. In his high-ceilinged office, I grabbed the one rolling chair. Tom leaned with confident ease against a table. We all caught our breath. *** “And it’s OK if my staff leaves. It’s always OK.” Tom was finishing a story about turnover in his business, establishing, of course, that he ran his own business, no matter how large the photographer’s office was. “Remember that picture you took of me and Faye?” Tom asked. “Sure.” I knew the photographer thought Faye was the girlfriend Tom should have married instead of Deb, who had recently decided to become a poet. “Well, Deb is going through a ‘throw everything out’ phase.” “Oh, did she read that book?” I asked. “No, I don’t think so. She is just at that stage where she can’t stand clutter. I think she is taking it too far but—” Tom held his hands up as if under arrest. “So she found that photo in a drawer. Guess what she did? She ripped it in half, keeping the side with me, fortunately, and tossing Faye.” Tom mimicked the action of ripping something and dangling the two pieces. The guys laughed. I said, “Well I can understand that.” “But it was over twenty years ago? Who cares?” said the photographer. “No, I get it,” I said. 36 | Fiction
Tom seemed unduly happy to be the center of our attention. See the magic I work on women, I imagine he was thinking. He turned to me and said, “I was dating them both at the same time.” I scanned the photographer’s pristine office to see if there was something I could throw at Tom. Not for coordination-discovery purposes, but on general principles. Perhaps on behalf of both Deb and Faye. Perhaps to interrupt Tom’s angst-free demeanor and modulated speaking voice. But the photographer’s lifelong orderliness yielded nothing. Not even a stapler. No paper. Everything was digitized. It was probably for the best. Between my bifocals and the vastness of the office, I never would have hit my target. Had we all become smug and insufferable? The other night I’d dined with a group of friends, and one of them stared at me with contempt all evening. Did she find me as irritating as I now found Tom? I could talk to her about it, but that seems exhausting. She works in the DA’s sex crimes unit and has enough to deal with. *** “Let me show you something,” the photographer said. “It’s highly confidential and I really shouldn’t. It hasn’t been announced to the public yet.” Tom and I exchanged amused glances. Our photographer could be very dramatic, as we fondly knew. And I admit there was a school-yard thrill at doing something we shouldn’t. The photographer led us through a maze of empty hallways, culminating in a massive room with nothing in it except a massive painting on one wall that knocked our socks off. The room was cavernous and still, separated from the noise of the crowds. The canvas was sprawling, repeating the famous scene over and over in black and white. We were, all three of us, dazed for a minute, momentarily speechless before mutually and softly uttering, “Wow.” It was the first time all evening that our long-ago rhythm was in sync. The spell was brief, as we then tried to describe it, to come up with intelligent and arty things to say. Tom mentioned scope, the photographer talked dimension, and I said I was just blown away it was black and white (the artist was famous for neon colors); they finally and sort of grudgingly agreed that was unusual. It sounds corny, but it was a takeoff on The Last Supper. Looking at it, I realized I was done. I didn’t want to stand or walk around anymore. I wanted to sit down at a communal table with contempt-free friends, have something cool to drink, and place my hands in the air in a perfectly symmetrical, significant, and graceful way. I realized I didn’t pine for Tom anymore. I just pined for air-conditioning and a place to sit down. Maybe all my years at a desk job contributed to this state of affairs, I don’t know. Maybe my pining days were over. We headed back to the lobby, where the photographer needed to meet someone he’d forgotten to put on the security list. As they all started back to the show, I decided to make my goodbyes. It was getting late. Tom and the photographer were quickly swallowed up in the crowd. I watched the tufts of their gray-haired buzz cuts descend back into the show area. They didn’t look back. I gratefully gulped the cooler outside air and slowly walked home, scrutinizing the sidewalk to avoid tripping. I passed the Grout Man, the wizened fellow who spent his time diligently scraping stuff out of the cracks between the sidewalks with a long stick. He did a very good job and never looked up. He pushed a cellophane sandwich wrapper into a subway grate. A young boy, maybe three, darted by wearing a T-shirt that said “Sugar Made Me Do It.” He was smiling, running, and screaming on the street as his mother raced to catch up with him. He was thrilled to make loud noise and move simultaneously. Wouldn’t you be? Let it 37 | Fiction
out, honey, I thought. This is the age when you can get away with it without being locked up or put on meds. And, lucky you, someone will catch you if you fall. Maybe my pining days weren’t over. There were still plenty of things I pined for. I pined not to sweat. I pined to be able to run and scream like the young boy, making as much noise as I wanted without falling or anyone locking me up. I pined to be the kind of person who could effortlessly use the word estuary in a sentence. Back in the day, I had never tossed a thing at Tom. What if I had? Would he have caught it? And then what? Why hadn’t I tossed something at him back in the photographer’s office? Why hadn’t I thought of an item from my overstuffed purse? A sturdy lipstick? My wad of keys? The small gray flashlight? That could have clocked him. In any event, it didn’t matter now. It was too late. It was all too late. Already. But I’m pretty damn sure if I had ever tossed anything at Tom, he wouldn’t have caught it. It would have rolled right off of him. And he wouldn’t care. Would I?
38 | Fiction
Kayvon Asemani is no stranger to adversity. When he was 9 years old, he woke up one morning to the headlines quoting his father: "I killed my wife." He had always had to find a way to deal with the stressors in his life and it just happens that he began to explore music.
In a 2015 interview with The Tab, Asemani said: "At the end of the day, your situation is what it is and you've got no choice but to make it. And so, we learned at a very young age that it's do or die, literally."
Asemani has rose up from his adversity to become the valedictorian at Milton Hershey School, a school for underprivileged youth. After his time at Milton Hershey School, he landed himself a spot in the 2018 class at The Wharton School of Business.
His recent single "Giving up on Me" is available now.
Austin Shay (AS): What is your creative process? Kayvon Asemani (KA): For music, I’m always writing down lyrics and concepts as they come to me. Every time a part of a verse comes to my head, or an idea for a hook or a melody comes to mind, I write it down. I literally have hundreds of pages of material waiting to be turned into actual music. I also have a bunch of beats that my producers and other collaborators have been working on. So, when I’m ready to write, sometimes I pick a beat and just start writing to it right away, and sometimes I don’t even need any of the lines I’ve already written down. If I’m reaching a point where I can’t think of any new material, then I start looking into the lyrics, concepts, and melodies I’ve already written down. Sometimes I have an idea for the beat so I don’t even use one of the beats that my producers have, I just ask if we can make a new one together. AS: How do you juggle school and music? KA: It takes a lot of work, but to me, they go hand in hand. While they’re different and require time and energy to be spent on them at separate times, they each teach me skills that are easily transferrable. Being a creative and an artist allows me to approach my schoolwork with more originality, it helps me present my material in a more entertaining way, and it makes me more curious about looking for the real-world applications of everything I’m learning in school. On the other side of that, what I learn in school, especially because I’m at a business school, allows me to be more effective in my job as an artist, both on the creative side and on the business side. AS: Why did you decide to start rapping? KA: I think hip hop brings people together more than most other activities. People from all backgrounds listen to Hip Hop, and my goal in life is to bring people together. I also think it teaches tremendous life lessons of hard work, patience, dedication, creativity, teamwork, and empathy through the stories that are told, the creative process, working with others, performing, making videos, doing shows, promoting, etc. AS: How did you feel when you released your first single? KA: That was a long time ago, it was in high school. I loved it. There’s nothing more liberating than being able to just release your art on the internet for free where everyone can experience it. When I started putting stuff online, a lot of people didn’t like it because it wasn’t very good. But that feedback has allowed me to get better and really build my craft.
AS: Who are your biggest inspirations? KA: Drake, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Jay Z, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem AS: Do you feel like you are making a difference through your music? KA: Absolutely. For one, it’s allowing me to channel all of my thoughts and feelings into something productive, and that has been great therapy for me. I also see it inspiring others to be successful because of the fact that my music is so much more than just music. People like how I’ve used it to build a strong brand online, establish a clothing line, and reach success in other areas of my life. Every time I’m performing and see crowds of different types of people coming together to enjoy the message, or when I get messages online from people who I’ve never met who really enjoy my content, I see all of that as making a difference.
40 | Interview
AS: How do you overcome the challenges of writing new music? KA: Sometimes it’s challenging because there’s nothing I feel compelled to write. But it’s funny because any time I’m going through a challenging moment in my life, I turn to music to reflect on those experiences, and that leads to my best music. I also create better music when I’m feeling especially great or just inspired. Music has allowed me to be very present when I live my life because every experience becomes a story I can tell, a story that can make a positive impact on at least one other person in this world. There’s nothing more exciting than that. AS: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians? KA: If you ever want to grow your art, you need the following: 1. Quality - the product has to be great. that's where it starts. make sure the music is dope, the lyrics are dope, everything sounds professional, so that when people do you hear your stuff, they'll like it. make music about stuff that resonates with you and your target audience. speak from your heart, that's where art is made. 2. Consistency - you need to keep bringing quality content at a consistent level, at consistent time intervals, so that people know you're good and they don't forget about you. 3. Accessibility - people need to know when your stuff is out, it needs to be easy to access the music, and everyone needs to know about it. 4. Engagement - engage with your listeners. pay attention to people who pay attention to you, because they're the ones who are gonna grow your brand in the future. 5. Patience - things won't work out the way you want them to most of the time. things will take a very long time. that's ok. be patient. it works out. 6. Budget - it takes money to promote, travel, and get your name out there. find out a way to make money (getting a job, whatever) so that you can pour money into your craft.
41 | Interview
TO THIS DAY WRITTEN BY
My parents met when they were eleven. Both lived in Bridgeport, my mom with her grandmother, my dad with his parents. He lived fifteen minutes away by bike, a path he would come to know very well. At John Winthrop Middle School, they didn’t know each other more than just a familiar face. My dad was first best friends with my mom’s brother, but not her. Together, the boys would get into trouble. Both looking like they were sixteen at the age of eleven aided their misdemeanors, giving them the confidence they needed to cause havoc. Both already nearing six feet tall, they figured nothing could get in their way. As a prank, with their added strengths, they managed to lift a VW Bug that belonged to the boyfriend of my dad’s sister and shuffle it down the street and out of sight. At first, the boyfriend was ready to start a fight. But once he realized the car wasn’t hurt and thought how my dad and uncle put that much effort into a prank, he laughed it off. It also may have been because my dad and uncle were large guys, and probably could’ve taken him. The shenanigans were harmless, but as time went on, they happened less and less. My mom noticed that my dad spent a lot less time with his best friend and a lot more time with her. After a game of basketball, he would sit on the porch steps with her until the overhead light flickered on, indicating it was time for him to go. He would hop on his bike and smile at her in the growing darkness, pedaling away with a final farewell call. Other times, he would take her with him, having her sit on the handle bars as he pedaled down the hill towards the dinner that awaited them. And after, he would bring her all the way back up the hill in the dark, just so she wouldn’t be alone. As my uncle faded out of the picture, my mom faded in. She became the best friend, the one my dad spent all his time with, the one he complained to about his brothers and sisters and demanding father. Sitting on those porch steps, walking through the halls together, riding his bike to and from their houses. They were inseparable. It wasn’t like she could totally relate to his prepubescent boy problems, but she understood them. His father favorited his other more athletic brother just because my dad didn’t think winning was the only thing in life, ignoring my dad as a consequence. My mom didn’t have a father, or one that she knew personally at least, and she loved her grandfather so much that she didn’t understand what it was like to be under so much pressure. And yet, she heard him. From the moment they met she heard every word he said. It didn’t mean she had to answer, but she knew that just listening was enough for him. On May 28, 1974, a date my mom obviously hasn’t forgotten, my parents stood together in front of their middle school when my dad turned to her. After two years, he finally asked if she would be his girlfriend, his tan cheeks reddening for one of the only times in his life. He was not and is not an emotional man. He’s the typical do-it-yourself-or-no-one-will kind of guy with a manly exterior that can’t be broken. Except by one girl. Standing there in front of my mom with his fists clenching and unclenching, he was nervous. He had been waiting for this moment since he sat down on those front porch steps with her. Without hesitation, she said yes. He bent down and kissed her on the forehead, the moment my mom describes as their first kiss. 43 | Creative Nonfiction
Being in a relationship wasn’t hard for my parents as kids, but that’s not to say that there weren’t things that made it difficult. Both my parents, being too poor to actually buy each other nice presents, opted in favor of the personal gifts that meant even more to them. Instead of earrings, my dad pulled a loose rail-road nail out of the tracks where he and my mom would take long walks, reminding him of her worn Keds. He gave her this golden, rusty nail, which she still keeps in her top dresser drawer to this day. Instead of going out and buying a keepsake for them both, my mom fashioned each of them matching bracelets out of strips of leather her grandmother had in her sewing kit, so when they looked down at their wrists, they would always think of each other. On other days of no specific importance, my dad would be overcome with the urge to pick a dandelion from the grass in hopes of making his girlfriend smile when he showed it to her. My mom would often play marbles with her friends, and when she found a particular one that was prettier than the rest, she couldn’t wait to place it in my dad’s pocket so he would know she was always around. In high school, they were separated by district, my mom attending Notre Dame and my dad at Bullard Havens Technical School. But that didn’t stop my dad from writing her love letters on the backs of his homework instead of taking notes. After school he would bike to her house and wait for her to come outside before handing her the letter, giving her a kiss goodbye, and riding home alone. Even work couldn’t keep them apart, and maybe even helped their relationship in the long run. My dad started working when he was fourteen, easily passing for eighteen and getting paid under the table. Going from Town Fair Tire to the local gas station, and onto the now extinct Cajun Joe’s, he saved up for his first car, his second love next to my mom. When she wasn’t helping her grandmother around the house, my mom worked at the Super X in the mall down the street. Every shift she would walk there and back, sometimes in the dark if she closed up the store. While it wasn’t a far walk and Bridgeport wasn’t full of crime like it is now, my dad didn’t like her going by herself. She is a petite lady, but with a guy as big as my dad next to her, no one would ever think about laying a finger on her. And so, my dad saved up all of his money and bought his first car, a beat-up VW Karmann Ghia. Every day that my mom worked, even if it conflicted with his own shifts, he would get up early enough to pick her up and bring her to work. No matter the time or the weather, he wasn’t going to let her have to be alone again, not if he could help it. My mom often reminds my dad of how she loved that car, even though it was a piece of junk. There was a hole in the floor the size of a fist so when it rained the tires would splash up water, spraying my mom’s ankles in the passenger seat. When it was cold out, they had to bundle up since there was no heat. If ice had formed while they were driving, my mom was in charge of sticking her arm out the window to try and scrape it off. Yet, it was my dad’s first car, and one of the mementos both of them can’t forget. They didn’t care if it wasn’t perfect, it was a step up from bicycling my mom home every day and having her sit on the handle bars. Now she had a seat, and he had her more than ever. Years later they were both eighteen, riding in that same rusting Karmann Ghia, my dad now working at Sikorsky Aircraft, my mom still at Super X. He drove up to her house the day before Palm Sunday, ready to bring her to work just like every other day. Except he was nervous again. His face was warm against the bitter morning air as he pulled into the driveway. She smiled at him as he exited the vehicle, expecting him to open the passenger door. But with rosy cheeks and sweat on his upper lip, he took her hand. 44 | Creative Nonfiction
Lowering one knee to the asphalt, he felt the cool ground seep through his jeans, reassuring him this was real. With his free hand he took a small diamond ring out of his pockeet, perfectly sized to my mom’s left ring finger. He opened his mouth and poured every feeling he had for her out into the driveway. All those love letters from high school had nothing on the speech he hadn’t prepared, but executed so well. From the moment he sat on those porch steps, he knew that they would be together always. Whether it was through leather bracelets, or eventually the diamond earrings he couldn’t afford before, he knew he would always find a way to show her that he is always there. No matter what happened, he would never leave her side. And with a “yes” she vowed to do the same.
THE ROMANIAN WRITTEN BY
We met capriciously, Without the false pretense, Inspired by love and mindfulness We let down all defense. She taught me how to comprehend, Themes furthest from my mind, Appreciation for the arts and life So distant from my kind. A Russian dancer in fiery flight, A Parisian chef in exile, Celebration of the food we ate Beholding each museum aisle. She taught me of the things she cared, In virtue freed my mind, Except what mattered most to her Love couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be defined.
When blissful songs were silent, Emotions fell denied, With disbelief the man she loved Was nowhere near her side.
46 | Poetry
POEM FOR GUESSING WRITTEN BY
“For proof, look up” -Paradise Lost (How it has brought us here is beyond me.) At first, we gestured up towards the tiny fires not yet with their now familiar names, when, our eyes caught in some web of shapes, all at once, we insisted it meant something, and it took us no time to become the authority on the subject. And since Then, we haven’t slowed. You, Guessing, our springing leap from chaos. You, Guessing, our spotted egg of reason. Our gait of logic is but a series of your cameos. Just as this poem is a supplication to let us not forget: we started by pretending only to make sense later. I’ve stopped Instead, the old wheel themselves around waiting for what will happen to happen.
47 | Poetry
A MATCH MADE IN CYBERSPACE (FORMERLY HEAVEN) WRITTEN BY
One Labor Day weekend years ago, My dad was on a Yale singing trip to Cuba, and my mom, who hates Yale singing trips and hates the heat, had decided to sit that trip out and relax by a quiet lake in New Hampshire. She invited me to join her, but I had already made plans with a new boyfriend of Internet origin. “So bring him!” she said fearlessly. I had joined Match.com not long before, hoping to expedite the dating process. I was under the illusion, at the time, that by studying someone’s Post-it-sized online dating profile, I could know them instantly. All I actually knew about the new boyfriend, when we set out for New Hampshire, was that he was a teacher, which sounded noble, and he had really good hair. As it turned out, the new boyfriend didn’t leave home much. As we drove into the country, he became visibly agitated. “It’s very rural here, very rural…” was the refrain throughout the drive as he shifted his large frame around anxiously. He seemed quite sure I was taking him to a remote area to be eaten by a bear. “It’s really quite rural…” Now my mom, with the best of intentions, had gotten tickets for us that night for a play that turned out to be about Sigmund Freud’s last days, in which he was dying of mouth cancer, writhing in pain onstage, and at various points, taking his jaw prosthesis out, putting it in a jar of bloody water, and then trying to cram it back into his mouth. The new boyfriend and I, both prone to panic attacks, started to sweat. He was worse off, however: 6'2", built like a linebacker, and wedged into the center of this tiny incubator of a theater. He started to hyperventilate. When the play finally ended, we were able to extricate ourselves, only to get to the exit and have a woman faint, right in front of us, flat on the floor. Once in the car, the new boyfriend continued to hyperventilate, my mom chatted cheerfully about the play, and I tried to stifle my own rising panic and just drive. One more tense car ride through the country the next evening, and the new boyfriend and I were back at my place in the city, seemingly out of harm’s way. But a few hours into a peaceful sleep, I saw him shoot upright, my cat apparently having tried to jump onto the bed, where she usually slept, and mistakenly landing on his face. I opened my eyes just in time to see the sixteen-year-old cat fly through the air in a giant arc over the bed and shoot down an open staircase, taking with her a pile of books and a DVD player that had been perched on the edge of the stairs. The new boyfriend, now in the grip of another panic attack and curled in the fetal position, began to moan. The cat, I imagined, was buried at the bottom of the stairs beneath the pile of books and a DVD player. In that moment, it became clear that Internet dating would likely not provide the ergonomic ride to lasting love I had hoped for, and would instead offer an introduction to PTSD for all involved, including one’s pets. The world of Internet dating can look like a potpourri of delightful, eligible single people at first glance. Everyone appears smiley and/or sultry in his or her photos, and everyone purports to be caring, romantic, and “put together,” with lots of friends and interesting hobbies. The fact is, though, that what any of us posts online is a shined-up, selective version of the truth, holey as a piece of Swiss cheese. It’s not that we set out to deceive each other. It’s just that everybody knows they’re not going to meet the love of their life if they look and act like a crazy person from the get-go. The truth about oneself gets skewed toward the positive—way, way skewed, often to the point of being fiction. My first profile, written with the help of a much more experienced-at-Internet-dating 49 | Creative Nonfiction
friend, read something like this: Thirty-two-year-old single woman, hazel eyes, blond hair, slender/athletic build. Full of contradictions—hardworking and driven at times; laid back, playful, and adventurous at others. Devoted to friends and family. Passionate about my career in health care but love to have fun in my free time. I play and write music for guitar; love books, art, cooking, traveling. Hope to find someone with similar interests to explore life with. What I would have written, had I been truly honest, would be more like this: Thirty-two-year-old single woman, slender/athletic build but with a healthy amount of cellulite on my saddlebags (ass). I have hazel eyes and blond hair, which is actually going gray; it’s just dyed. Never married because marriage feels like a trap; no kids because I’m pretty sure I’d screw them up irreparably. Successful career, which I take very seriously and worry about pretty much constantly. Devoted friend and family member, like to have time with said friends and family and not invite you along all the time. History of depression and anxiety. Panic attacks, especially behind the wheel of a car, so it would be better if you didn’t have these same issues and you could do most of the driving. Looking forward to hearing from you! So, keeping in mind that no one is fully honest, you can then imagine the bedlam out there. I would get my hopes way up, again and again, about someone who sounded amazing, and it turned out he was someone completely different from whom I imagined, or I was someone completely different from whom they imagined. There’s no way around the fact that we have to advertise ourselves to a certain extent in order to be chosen online, so we become adept at both using and interpreting the “advertising truths”: “I look younger than my age” means “I’m ten years older than I’ve told you in my profile”; “I’m between things or taking some time to myself” means “I’m unemployed”; and “I’m a nice guy who knows how to treat a lady” means “I’ll open doors for you, but I am highly controlling (and may chop you into tiny pieces and keep you in my freezer).” Wearing a hat in every picture means “I’m bald”; head shots without a body mean “I’m unhappy with my weight”; and no picture means either “I’m married” or “My job is so prestigious, I can’t afford to be outed on Match.com.” Also, men who photograph themselves with their faces pressed up against their cats tend to be stalkers. I have no scientific evidence to prove this, but I’m telling you, it’s true. Our flaws may be shined up and accessorized, but they can’t be denied; it’s only a matter of time before a metaphorical cat will land on your face and the truth will reveal itself. The challenge of how to write your own profile and decipher someone else’s is only the very beginning—then comes the actual dating, which has been described by more than one friend as “having a second job.” A serious online search for lasting love takes immense amounts of time and energy. Online dating means meeting a parade of strangers, first online, then via text, then on the phone, then in person, then via text and phone, and then often in person again. The actual “meet” involves the worry that the person will see you and quickly run the other way, or you’ll see them and want to run the other way, or you’ll like them and they won’t like you or the other way around, and then they’ll dump you, which hurts your ego, or you’ll dump them, which hurts their ego and makes you feel like crap about yourself. The meet also demands a certain semblance of self-confidence, or at least an ability to fake it. You’ve got to be able to introduce yourself with a warm, inviting smile; shake hands gently but confidently; maintain an attentive, but not creepy, gaze and a flirty disposition; learn to linger just long 50 | Creative Nonfiction
enough, but not too long. You’ve got to be astute about asking questions, be knowledgeable about current events, and enthusiastic about your life. As a self-conscious, fairly introverted person by nature, none of this came naturally. I would go on one or two Internet dates, and then I would feel so overwhelmed I would take a break for a number of months, during which time I would start to worry that I would be alone forever and then decide to go back online again. What was the alternative, I thought, if I hadn’t met and settled down with someone I knew from school? Pretend I liked to build stuff and try to meet someone at Home Depot? Train for a triathlon? Go to church? I just was not going to do those things. At least with an Internet date, there was no pretense about why I was there. It seemed like a simple formula at first. The Internet dating websites offered multiplechoice questions about sexual preference and type of relationship desired, years of schooling, income, career, desire for children, interests, and social and political views. I filled those out, posted a few pictures, and off I went to see whom I would match with. But beyond the pictures and the matching boxes, even beyond physical chemistry and shared interests, are complicated individuals, filled with needs and desires, fantasies, fears, and neuroses all their own. Matching is not nearly as simple as they make it seem. Match.com, or any of the Internet dating sites, would do well to offer “Matchyourneuroses.com” as a supplement for a nominal fee. It would help tremendously to be reminded that as humans, we all have flaws and neuroses, and the key is to figure out how one person’s might fit best with another’s. I went into the Internet dating world viewing my neuroses as deal breakers. When fears began to surface, I saw them as the end. And so I started over, again and again. One day recently, I realized I had been Internet dating on and off for fifteen years. The realization was stunningly depressing for someone who, at least in her conscious mind, had been trying to find a life partner from the beginning. I hated to admit that Dr. Phil was ever right about anything, but I couldn’t help hearing his voice (actually, my cousin Liz’s voice imitating his voice) with the warning: “The common denominator is you.” For most of the years I had Internet-dated, I had avoided really looking at what my role in each of these situations had been. I now know I was drawn to people I felt would meet my most compelling unconscious needs. These needs fueled my fantasies and took me on a ride that felt out of control. “What can this person be to me?” I would ask myself, turning the potential boyfriend’s bio over and over in my mind. “What will I look like, feel like, be like with this person?” My questions were the wrong questions, and tinged with desperation. They were not questions about what I might be like as an individual in partnership with someone else, or what I had the power to change, but questions about how the other person might transform me. A few years ago, I began practicing Nichiren Buddhism, and just recently, I asked for guidance about finding love, from a practitioner much more experienced than I. “Become the person you want to attract,” he said. It made so much sense to me. I wouldn’t have been attracted to a “me” who had no strong sense of self that I was willing to express. In order to be the strong, attractive person I wanted to be with, I would have to face my fears head-on and actively work to overcome them. In overcoming them, I would build confidence and courage. The panic attacks my early Internet boyfriend had didn’t stop me from liking him, nor did my panic stop him from liking me. He was a good guy, and I did respect his career, and his hair. The problem, in the end, was that his panic stemmed from a fear of venturing into the unfamiliar, while mine stemmed from a fear of being prevented from venturing, and we were each too panicked to face our fears and grow beyond them. We were each holding tight to the carefully crafted advertisements we had posted online, generic and safe, shiny and still. 51 | Creative Nonfiction
Internet dating websites are full of these carefully chosen images, not so different in some ways from the ones weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve seen for years of Cinderella and Prince Charming. Both the profile and the fairy tale offer the promise of meeting a magical person who holds the key to our future happiness. Once past the profile and the fairy tale, though, the reality of any relationship will inevitably unfold like a long drive out in to the country on a winding road. The curves will be scary, and there is some small risk of being eaten by a bear (metaphorical or otherwise), but if we listen and learn, if weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re each compassionate, courageous, and committed to challenging ourselves, thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s also a good chance that we might come to trust in our balance and enjoy the ride.
THE HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER WRITTEN BY
There is a string tied around me And I am told it stretches across everything I know About the summer ending the longest years of my life turning over into this month’s soggy leaf piles scraped into black garbage bags and given to the city About the way that people keep dying, and how I am the only one left in this town who finds drinking every night romantic That I am scared to write anymore the words I am proud of are buried under a pile of dirty clothes and dead mice and I hate the way my face reflects against an empty page When I stop screaming I hear voices When I stop running I can’t get up I don’t throw away my empty pill bottles they are my diary now a page above the sink, on the bedside table but mostly on the floor little yellow translucent thoughts turned sideways and kicked under all the furniture I have Imagine for me, because I can’t, that a string somehow ties a knot around all of this before it trails off through the branches of a tree at the edge of town into a spring day like all the ones I remember having but never have through a meadow with fairy-tale grass across the lap of a young witch she is sitting cross-legged wearing only a dress stained with berry holding the other end of a cup-and-string telephone to her ear Her voice startles me She tells me she has mastered my name That she knows a spell to make me live forever or at least get rid of some of these warts She tells me she loves me again and again until that is my name
53 | Poetry
DEAD TO THE WORLD WRITTEN BY
It was a frigid winter day when the telephone rung at half past four. Horrified, Benjamin froze in his tracks, glowering down at the foot of his bedroom door that had become home to the dusty old telephone that continued to blast its chime. “What do you want?” he bellowed. “Please… what do you want!” as his heartbeat began to quicken, he knew he could not take it anymore, this madness had to come to an end. Bracing himself, Benjamin tightened his grip on the carving knife. “No more… no more… you can’t scare me… no more…” he had repeated these words so often, they had become an echo in his memory, as he failed to realize he even uttered them aloud. Creeping slowly to the bedroom door in his view, Benjamin cautiously reached out his free hand to grasp the iron handle; slowly, he turned it as he paused to take a breath. Holding his knife out in front of him, he flung the door open, charging through to the hallway, bellowing muddled insults that quickly died down in his realization: there was no one there. It all happened so quickly, it was as if his very being had given up, had abandoned its shell, witnessing its actions from afar; he leaned back against the walls with their tattered paper and torn edges, his weight slinking down to the floor as hot tears began to roll over. Benjamin gritted his teeth, fighting back the sobs that demanded to be uttered. “…I need you… goddammit, I need you now more than ever…” From below, he could hear the handle of his front door, as if someone were trying to enter. “No, there’s no one there; you know what’s real.” But not a moment later he was startled by the sound of unlocking; Benjamin broke from his brief frenzy, dashing down the stairs and into the foyer to relock it, but before he could reach the entrance, the door swung open, blinding Benjamin with a flood of sunlight that came pouring through. “My God, what’s wrong with you! You… Benjamin, you can’t keep going on like this. You can’t live this way.” He quickly hid the knife by his side, concealing the blade inside the pocket of his dirty robes. “Mom, please, close the door. Please.” She hesitated for a moment, her hand lingering on the smooth oak of the door, as she continued to gape at what she swore use to be her son. Of course, in essence, he still was, and always would be, yet the man that kneeled before her looked crushed and broken; he was a stranger to her. “Please,” he said once more. Though his voice came out in what could barely be called a whisper, his mother finally broke her gaze from him, as she turned and gently shut the door. “I tried to call, to let you know I was on my way, but you didn’t pick up. I’ve got some stuﬀ I need to bring in from the car,” she stated, as she stepped into the foyer, removing her gloves. “Should I leave your keys in the drawer? Benjamin?” His eyes were fixed on the entrance. “Would you lock it, as well? I really need you to lock the door.” 54 | Fiction
“Why? What are you so afraid of, Benjamin?” “I’ve already told you, Mom. Someone—” She turned on him, her eyes full of frustration. “Yes, yes… someone has been hiding in your house. Someone has been sneaking about. Someone this, someone that!” “Not just someone, a killer.” “Oh, now he’s a killer! And how, how on Earth could you possibly know that, Benjamin?” “Forget it…” “No, please, enlighten me!” There was a pause as Benjamin once more fought back the sobs that built up inside his chest. It was a frigid winter day when Benjamin Murray finally realized he could no longer go on, at a quarter to five. He got to his feet, never meeting his mother’s eyes, and slowly began to decent back upstairs. “Please, just talk to me, Ben. I don’t know how to help you.” “Maybe it’s too late for me, maybe there’s nothing more that can be done.” “What? Of course it’s not too late, how could you even think like that? You just need to get out of this house, Ben. You need to move forward with your life… it’s what Emily would have wanted, and you know that.” He felt a pang in his chest, as he hesitated on the stairs. “Don’t.” “Don’t what? Say your dead wife’s name? You loved her, Benjamin; you still do. Don’t go acting like she never existed.” “I know she exis—…that’s not it, I just, I’m not ready.” “It’s been nearly 8 weeks since you’ve left this house.” “I know.” “Listen, I’ve brought you some more groceries, and even some new books. How about you go get changed, put some clean clothes on, maybe even take a rinse, while I go to the car and grab the bags and when I come back in, you and I can have a nice cup of tea, and maybe some sandwiches as well. Would you like that?” “What about the door? I would have to unlock the door, then relock it…” “Where are your keys? Do you have a spare? I promise, whenever I am outside the house, I will lock the door, and relock it when I come back in. You have my word.” Benjamin slowly walked to the small foyer bureau, and placed his hand beneath its drawer. Confused, his mother looked on; a moment later she heard a sound she could have sworn sounded like something sticky was being peeled, as he pulled back his hand to reveal a key. “Here,” he said handing it to her. She didn’t question him, but instead, she took his hand in hers, lingering for a moment, before procuring the key from his grasp, and turning to the door. As she began unlocking, she turned to tell her son how much she loved him, but he was already gone. He placed his carving knife on the shower windowsill, and began to run the hot water for a shower. It was probably best that his mother was here, for he had been too afraid to shower, in fear that the killer hiding in his home would use a moment like this to ambush him; but 55 | Fiction
his mother was just out for a moment grabbing groceries from the car, once he heard her reenter, he knew it would be safe. He stood by the bathroom door, waiting for a signal of her return. Once he heard the door open and relock once more, he went back into the bathroom to remove his dirty clothes, and stepped under the spray of hot water. He sighed aloud to himself, as the water continued to rain down on him. “I’ve missed this…” Benjamin grabbed the bar of soup and began to wash, making sure not to rush the process, like he did with everything else; he wanted to enjoy this luxury. Benjamin put his head under the stream, letting it soak his hair. As the water came flowing down his face, his nerve finally broke, and a howling cry erupted from within him. The water seemed to wash away his tears as he continued to weep, but his sobs finally betrayed him. He knew his mother would be able to hear him from below, that she would be occupying herself quietly as to listen for any sign of distress from her son. And though he knew this was exactly what was happening, what Benjamin did not know was that the moment she heard his cries of pain, her own eyes began to tear up as she continued to make their sandwiches. His cries only lasted for a moment, but to him it felt like a lifetime. Ever since he had found refuge in the confines of his house, everything he did seemed to rally between sluggish and swift, as if there were no in between; either time was going by too fast for him to keep up, or so slow, that witnessing day’s end brought on a sense of wonder and achievement. Carefully, he stepped out of the tub upon shutting oﬀ the water and grabbed a towel from the ring beside the sink. As he began to dry oﬀ his shoulders and chest, he remembered his knife upon the windowsill, and quickly reached for it, whilst eyeing the bathroom door for any signs of intrusion. He saw none, and could only hear the sound of a teapot starting to whistle softly from the kitchen below. The tea would be ready soon. He placed the knife behind the faucet, and proceeded to dry his hair, wiping the mist oﬀ the mirror before him, so he could use the reflection to continue watching the door. However, once his hand cleared his view, he did not watch the door, but instead, could not take his eyes oﬀ his own reflection. His face looked gaunt, his hair chaotic, and the bags under his eyes had grown so much darker. My god, when is the last time I shaved? He ran his hand over his chin, trying to remember. He thought he just had a bit of stubble, but now he could see it was much more than that. As he continued to investigate his reflection, he noticed he was a bit paler than he remembered, maybe even a bit thinner as well. Yet, there was only one thing that truly shook him, and that was the look in his eyes. He could only think of one word to describe what he saw; sorrow. “Are you almost done up there?” his mother called from below. Startled, he words broke him from his musing, as he stuttered back, “Y-yes… yes, I’ll be d-down in a minute.” Grabbing his knife once more, he quickly headed out the bathroom and through his bedroom door, shutting it behind him and tossing his wet towel onto the floor that could barely be found. His room had become the safest haven in his house, for it had everything he could ever need, besides food, of course; the walls were adorned with old-fashioned bookcases, hoarded with so many books that he had to start piling some atop the cases, as well as all around the room. He also had little trinkets and knick-knacks, most of which had belonged to his precious Emily, for she had always loved to collect random possessions. One day he had laughed and asked what was so special about these items, she told him simply that to own something that had once been someone else’s was special, for that item had much more than just a history, but a story of its own. Even after her death, he could not bring himself to part with any of these 56 | Fiction
random pieces, as Emily was now a part of their story, and so would he. The loud whistle of the teapot alarmed him, shaking him from the reverie. He promptly grabbed a flannel shirt and clean pair of sweats with pockets deep enough to hide the blade of his knife, while the shirt covered the handle. He gave himself a quick one-over, and vigilantly head downstairs. As he entered the kitchen he met his mothers eyes, which beckoned him to the small table by the windows, already set with plates. Carrying a try of sandwiches over, he took his seat. “Do you need any help with anything?” “No, no I’m nearly done. Just need to grab the tea. I already put the teacups on the table, didn’t I?” “Yes, they’re here.” “And the biscuits?” “Yes, them as well.” “Good, good,” she said nodding, as she began to pour him some tea. “What’s with all the food?” She laughed softly to herself, “Have you not seen yourself? I may not be able to get you out of this house, but I will surely not let you wither away to nothing!” He laughed softly with her, yet nervously, as he began to grab sandwiches and cookies for his plate. She began to pour tea for herself, as he quietly began to eat. As she perched herself into her seat, he looked up at her, unsure if he could utter the question that stuck to his tongue. “What? What is it?” she asked. “How… how bad do I look?” He wasn’t sure if he truly wanted to know. “Honestly… you could use a haircut. And you should probably order a pizza… or five. And my god, Benjamin, you need a good night’s sleep! However…” she paused. “However…?” “I won’t lie, the beard suits you. Just needs to be groomed and tidied up a bit, is all,” she confessed. Even through his own anxiety, he could not help but smirk at his mother’s compliment. “So, my son, tell me… how do you know there is a killer in your house?” His smile quickly faded, and he looked down at his plate of food once more, silent. “I’m being serious. I’m not mocking you, Ben. I know I’ve been dismissive with you before, but obviously you believe there is someone in here. And I want to know why. Talk to me. Please.” She reached her hand, gently grasping his arm, “Ben…” He looked up once more, and could tell by the look in her eyes that she meant every word. Even if she did not believe there was a killer in his house, she wanted him to explain it anyway. He took his hand and clasped her own that remained on his arm, giving it a comforting squeeze. “Okay, Mom,” he replied, “okay.” They continued with their tea and sandwiches as he described everything that he had noticed in the couple of weeks following Emily’s funeral. He elucidated how he would find par57 | Fiction
tially eaten food in his fridge, food that he knew he had not touched, and how he could not sleep at night because of the creaking of floorboards, which must have been someone moving about at night. He told her of the footprints he would find in the snow, footprints smaller than his own. And he told her how he did not feel alone in his house, which no longer was his home. “There’s someone I don’t understand, Benjamin…” “What’s that?” “If you are afraid there is someone hiding in your home, but not just someone, a killer no doubt, then why do you stay here? Wouldn’t leaving the house make you feel safer?” “I can’t leave.” “Why not?” “I… I just can’t! It’s not an option.” She stared at him, bewildered. She was stunned, not at his words, but at her own ignorance. “Oh… oh, I think I understand now.” “Understand?” “You’re not afraid to leave the house, are you?” he began to interrupt her, but she continued on, “You are afraid, afraid of whoever you think is lurking about in here, but you are not afraid of leaving this house. No, you refuse to leave, because of Emily, isn’t that right?” Defeated, Benjamin said nothing. “Benjamin, do you blame yourself for her death?” He remained silent. “Benjamin, do you? Answer me!” “Of course I do,” he confessed through gritted teeth. “How could I not? I should have been paying more attention!” “You didn’t cause that accident, you did nothing wrong! It was the other driver that is at fault! Even the police told you that.” “Then why is she dead, and not me?” “Because, son, life is a journey. It has good times, and bad; it comes with miracles, as well as losses. And let me tell you this, life hurts a lot more than death.” Benjamin did not know what to say, or if there truly were anything he could say, thus he remained silent. In his moment of stillness, he looked into his mother’s eyes and could see how weary they had become. Though her hair had turned white and her lovely face had become adorned with creases as she aged, her face always had a glow of radiance that he loved so very much. Her vibrant smile was always contagious, her eyes always so ignited with delight; she had always been known for her sanguinity. However, all that seemed lost now, he could not find a trace of that woman in the face he gazed upon in this moment. His heart felt heavy. “I’m scared.” Her lips began to tremble as she fought to hold back her tears, “I know, Ben, I know. Please, let me help you. You don’t need to do this alone. Please…” “Help me how?” “Come stay with me for a couple of days…” Ben began to shake his head. “No, hear me out, Ben. Just a couple of days, and while you’re not home, I can find some people to come in 58 | Fiction
and clean this place up a bit. Not only that, but they can search this entire house, top to bottom, for anyone who might be in here. How’s that sound?” He stopped to consider the possibility, and though he did not want to leave his home, his mother’s idea did sound tempting. “I… I suppose that could work.” “Good, good! If you’d like to take anything with you, by all means do, if it will help.” “Okay.” “I don’t want to rush this on you, but I don’t want to wait too long on this either, son. Would it be okay if I started making calls to find people once I get home this evening?” “What people would be in my home?” The question had been burning in his mind. “No strangers, I promise you that. Remember Martha, my neighbor? Well her boys are back for the holidays, all grown up too! Haven’t seen them since they went oﬀ to college, but you remember them I’m sure… anyway, I was thinking of asking them to help, maybe even one or two of your cousins as well.” He exhaled a sigh of relief, “Oh, yeah… yeah, that could work.” “So can I make arrangements this evening?” “Yes, of course. It’s probably for the best.” She smiled at him, an expression that he had longed to see once more. “Good,” she said. “By the way, I must ask, how have you managed to stay at home for so long, what about your job at the university? You still have that… don’t you?” “Oh, yes. The semester ended a week ago, but since… since the accident, I told the department I needed time oﬀ. Fortunately there were other professors who could take over my classes for the rest of the semester. They were very understanding.” “Have you been working on any new pieces in the mean time? Such a sad sight, it looks like you’ve barely touched that piano in weeks.” “Yes, I suppose I have been neglecting it a bit,” he admitted regretfully. “Maybe, once this place has been cleaned up a bit, of course, you can give it a go. If you’d like to bring your things, you can even work on writing another piece, if that will help.” “Actually, I think that it would. It’s always helped me clear my mind a bit before, so maybe that’s a good idea,” he said hopefully. “Well, if I’m going to make those arrangements I probably should get going soon, dear.” “No, of course, I understand.” “I’ll just clean up this dishes and wrap up the rest of the food before I go.” “No, no. Let me.” “What? Are you sure?” “Yes, it’ll give me something… ordinary to do. I think I could use something mundane, perhaps.” Her eyes beamed in delight. Though he seemed to tremble a bit, he was trying. Once more, she felt a sense of hope that her son would get through this, that she would recognize him once more. “Okay, then. Sounds good, Ben.” She grabbed her purse and jacket from the foyer, Ben following slowly behind, “Can I have a hug before I go?” 59 | Fiction
“Of course,” he smiled sheepishly as she embraced him tightly. “I’ll see you soon,” she murmured as she reluctantly let go, unlocking the door in front of her. As she started to leave, she turned back to hand him his spare key. “No, you keep it.” Though surprised by his words, she chose not to question him, and instead pocketed the key before leaving with a final wave goodbye. As the door shut behind her, he could not help himself, he stepped forward and locked the door once more before heading back to the kitchen to clean the dishes. He collected all the dirty plates in a pile, putting all the uneaten food in containers and the scraps in the garbage, and even helping himself to a couple more cookies in the course of it all. Benjamin had the water running over the plates and teacups as he turned to put the container of sandwiches in the fridge when he heard a loud thump from upstairs, his bedroom nonetheless, chilling him to his core. That, that was real. That really happened. Though a part of him wanted to ignore it, to wait until his mother made her calls, he didn’t think he could ignore it any longer. This needs to end now. Keeping the water running, he slowly crept out of the kitchen to the bottom of the steps, looking up. There was no one there, so he quietly continued forward. He finally stood outside his bedroom, trying to control his breathing, but he was so very frightened. Fighting his urge to run and hide, he pushed open the door, slowly entering his bedroom, but, once again, he saw no one there. Not only that, but there seemed to be no signs that something had fallen over, no signs to show the source of the thud he heard from below. Benjamin began to frantically pace back and forth across his room, knocking over piles of books and sheet music in his storm of fury. “I’m not crazy!” he bellowed aloud, as he ripped open his closet doors to continue his investigation. He ripped through piles of clothes, knocking shoes against the walls of his closet, when he heard a strange sound. One of his dress shoes had hit the wall of the closet to his right, and it sounded diﬀerent, in fact, it sounded quite hollow. Astonished, he ran his hand over the surface, pushing softly. The wall gave way and fell back. Crawling into his closet, Benjamin could see the edges now present where that piece of wall use to be, and could see that they were rough, like they had been cut. Shocked by his discovery, he could not help but trudge on, forcing himself through the small space where he saw a hint of light ahead of him. Once through, he realized he was in a small expansion of the house, that even had it’s own small window. The room seemed fairy vacant, with the exception of dust and old boxes of rubbish. “Hello? Hello… is anyone here?” He waited for a moment, with no reply, before he heard a creak from behind him, a footstep no doubt. Without a moment’s thought, Benjamin rapidly turned, grabbing the carving knife from his pocket, and began to swing his knife down through the air now in front of him. However, he was not swinging at the air. He was cutting through flesh. His heart was beating so wildly, that Benjamin thought it might burst within his chest, so he stopped his swinging as to catch his breath. Panting, Benjamin stepped out of the ray of light, to see what he had knifed, only to find himself appalled by his discovery. Before him lay the body of a young boy, cloaked in several jackets, who had probably found refuge in his home to seek shelter from the blistering cold. 60 | Fiction
“Oh no… no, what have I done?” Benjamin whispered in dismay. He put his hand behind the boy’s head, lifting it as he lowered his own to listen for a breath, checking for any sign of life, but there was none. The knife had done its job; he was gone, dead to the world.
61 | Fiction
BEND THE CURVE WRITTEN BY
after Matthew Lippman There’s nothing any of us can do about the fifty-two inches of water that drowned Houston. There’s nothing any of us can do. That’s what oil magnates tell us. There’s nothing we can do about monster hurricanes or vampire droughts, the forty-one million people swimming in sewage in South Asia, the uncontrollable lightning seizure over San Francisco, or the guy who sat for hours with his car idling in the parking lot, scrolling his phone, waiting for his girlfriend to finish her shopping at the outlets, where air-conditioning flowed through open doors. Dr. Ramanathan says, We are the Titanic. Tick-tock. Two hundred and twenty years got us a trillion tons of CO2, Forty years, and we got our next trillion. Fifteen from now, the third. By 2050, four trillion tons and sea temps rising by three to six degrees. Ten thousand scientists. Not a trace of doubt. Tick-tock. Jurassic Park. He says, We can bend the curve, miss the iceberg. Which is when my ears perk up. Hey, my son says, why didn’t you tell that guy to turn off his engine? Truth is, I’d just driven four hours for entertainment. I was that guy.
What we can do, says Dr. Ramanathan, is work two levers on the Titanic to bend the curve. Pull the first lever and you stop global warming by 50 percent. Methane, black carbon, HFCs, gone, a week to ten years, like in California. But CO2 can hang around a thousand years. Catch the sun and wind with the second lever. Burn hydrogen, not hydrocarbons. If the world held a funeral for gas, kept oil buried, we’d be carbon-neutral by 2040. Until then, we are the invasive species. And we all know what happens to invasive species. Like cricket fondue, we could be put on the menu. 62 | Poetry
THERE WILL BE TIME WRITTEN BY
There will be time, there will be time, The things we say at distressing times, When the walls close, our worlds shrink And everything falls apart and crumbles With the pieces scattered like confetti And times draws out mockingly slow—we say There will be time, there will be time, Knowing that time watches like a ghost, Haunting every step, pacing each breath, And follows closely on the darkness, Until the Dark is the closest friend Speaking out every fear in Pig Latin, The words like subtle blades cutting Time into addictions—there will be time, There will be time, nothing’s the same, And every difference defriends deference Making all else fly to what we know not of, And all that is said, there will be time, There will be time, remembering Prufrock With time measured out in teaspoons And tedious conversations, and bylines, And newspaper clippings, paper airplanes, And old leather coats that always reek With the wet stench of a bygone era.
63 | Poetry
INTERVIEW WITH SARAH GONZALEZ Choosing a featured photographer has always been a challenge and that is why not every issue has one, but when we do find a complete portfolio that we like we try to showcase their work. Our editor-in-chief, Austin Shay, has known Sarah Gonzalez for a few years and discovered her portfolio online and knew that her work would be a perfect fit for The Paragon Journal. Sarah Gonzalez is a up and coming photographer from Lancaster, Pennsylvania that we selected as our featured photographer. Sarah is a graduate of Manheim school district where she was active in all things agriculture. She was the State FFA Secretary in 2016-2017. Her work can be found throughout the issue and we hope that you have enjoyed it all until this point.
The Paragon Journal
Austin Shay (AS): How do you educate yourself to take better pictures? Sarah Gonzalez (SG): Youtube! My favorite photography channel is Jessica Kobeissi, she takes you behind the scenes of her shoots and does Photoshop tutorials. I have also taken a course with Nikon where professional photographers talk about camera settings, composition and how they built their brand. AS: Among your works, which one is your favorite? Why? SG: I usually have a new favorite every month, and the basis on which I choose the photo often changes as well. It may be a photo that took me a while to get, or one that I took in a few seconds. I do have one photo of a Lineback calf looking straight at me with her ears perked up that I absolutely love! AS: Whose work has influenced you most? SG: Andrew Hunt from The Bullvine has been my main influence in my dairy cattle photography, and for my portraits my main influences are Jessica Kobeissi, and Cole Sprouse. AS: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos? SG: Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not about who has the biggest camera or lens, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all about composition. I started with a Nikon D40, a very basic DSLR, but it had just enough to get me started and ignite my love for photography. AS: How did you develop an interest in photography? SG: My dad got me a DSLR camera for my thirteenth birthday, and I would bring my camera everywhere with me. I would take it along on car rides and take pictures of barns, and I took pictures of my middle school field hockey team. I took pictures of anything I could to try to improve my skills. Once I realized I could combine the two things I loved most, agriculture and photography, I really found my style. AS: Exactly what it is you want to say with your photographs, and how do you actually get your photographs to do that? SG: Instead of capturing moments, I prefer to capture stories. I want my photographs to say something more. It could be the love story of a couple, or the passion of a young child showing their first animal. Each picture has a story to go along with it. AS: What motivates you to continue taking pictures? SG: Constantly challenging myself to go outside of my comfort zone and to try new things makes photography new and exciting every time I go out and shoot. I am always motivated to further my skills. I also just love taking photos! AS: Nowadays almost everyone has access to devices with which it is possible to take pictures. What do you think is the difference between a professional photographer and any other hobby photographer? SG: A professional photographer is someone who is trusted by their clients to capture their unique stories, while a hobby photographer may be someone who is just starting out and is working on furthering their skills, or maybe someone who just really loves to take pictures of friends and the places they travel to. I believe that both have a passion, and all photographers have to start somewhere! 65 | Interview
AS: What, in your opinion, is most important to consider while shooting portrait pictures? SG: Always make sure the clients are comfortable. If it seems that they are not enjoying a certain pose, just try something else! Donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be afraid to move them around and let them know if they have any ideas of poses to just go for it! AS: In your free time, what kind of pictures do you like to shoot and which ones do you avoid? SG: I will bring my camera along to the farm and watch the animals for a while. This is my favorite kind of pictures to shoot because I will try out different angles and settings and I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t worry too much about how they turn out. I have fun trying new things and furthering my skills!
66 | Interview
TOMORROW’S DREAM WRITTEN BY
He was silent amidst the bustling chatter. He felt the impression of the weapon through his jacket, its curved coldness left a bitter taste in his mouth. He endured it as the seats shook with an angry nature that travelled from the cabin of the ascending craft out to its curved wings. Every seat was filled. Every person within them rode the stress with closed eyes and bitten lips. A click, like the sound of a locking door jarred everyone’s eyes open. A calmness tickled over the sleek rocket. A relief drenched the people. He sat in the last row near the window. A man of dark skin and imposing size—but his eyes lowered with tears as the city below grew harder to see. A tap on his shoulder pulled him away. A piece of tissue filled his sight. On the other side of it, a pale woman with a rainbowcolored Mohawk and a soft smile. “I cried a bit in the bathroom. The heaviness of it all hits you when you least expect it,” she said. “I’m Marla.” “Nik. Thanks for the tissue.” They shook hands. “No worries. So, what’s your story?” “I guess the same as everyone—looking for some peace. You?” Marla had a cup of coffee in her hand, smoke sailed upward in an exotic dance through the opening on the lid. She sipped and embraced the heat. A shudder of delight passed over her face. Marla pulled down the arm rest that held a cup-holder within it. For a moment, she didn’t want to let go, but she locked the cup in place and crossed her legs. She scanned the cabin. A sea of freedom that took different colors and shapes stared back. “I been away from my family for a couple of years. I gathered the courage to see them. They were surprised when Marla showed up instead of Mark.” A chill overcame her. She grabbed the coffee for a small comfort. “They told me they were doing their duty as patriotic citizens when they called the patrol on me.” “I’m sorry.” Nik’s lips quivered. “I can’t believe your family did that.” The weapon became a sunspot. Nik looked around the cabin to make sure no one saw the glow from it. He shifted so more of his jacket concealed it. Marla flashed a broken smiled. “It was a risk, and I lived too long in the shadows. Besides, I’m pretty sure that someone has a worse story than me.” A long-jawed man with wild hair lifted his head over the seat in front of them. “My parents beat me when they caught me in bed with a guy,” he said. “Then they called the patrol on us. We spent weeks in one of the right-wing re-education centers before they spilt us up.” Nik sat silent. “Sorry to eavesdrop. I’m Robin.” He pushed his hand through the opening between the seats. He shook Marla’s hand, then a jittery Nik’s. “I figured it would be good to share warstories to ease the anxiety—but probably hearing about abuse isn’t the best way to do that.” “No, its alright,” Marla said, “we all got stories. That’s why we are here.” Nik nodded. His mind scrolled through the proper ways to follow-up such a tale, but he could think of nothing. His silence became noticeable. Marla saw the blankness of his youthful face. An ache trickled across her skin. “How did you escape?” Marla asked, taking control of the conversation. 67 | Fiction
“An underground group attacked the prison transport I was on, and got some of us to a safe house that got us tickets for the flight.” “Everything went to hell once Agent Orange got elected—people lost their courage to do what is right.” “In their minds this is right,” Nik said. “Every time an injustice is carried out, people behind it believe they are doing what’s right. You can’t stop them.” Nik looked out the window; darkness blanketed his sight. “We are leaving everything we know because one man decreed that we are monsters—we are mistakes. That the world would be better if we were rounded up and killed.” Nik’s eyes lowered for a second. He couldn’t see the weapon, but his mind held its shape and what he attended to do with it. Everyone would forever be scarred by the action—by the selfishness of it all. Would it be justice if he pulled the tigger? Would it be accepted once word got back home? Nik knew one truth—he wouldn’t be around to learn the answer after it was all done. “History always repeats itself,” Robin said, his voice dropped in volume. “Except,” Marla said, “we get the chance to make a better world—on a different one. It will take time, maybe even more than our lifetimes, but at least we get to love who we want and be who we are freely.” Nik saw the twinkle of stars. A searing spread across his skin. The home that he knew for all his life grew smaller and smaller until it became a marble he could pocket. Nik blinked in slow motion to take it in. His home was gone. The planet that held such wonders but equally so much hate, disappeared. A twist across his gut, hard and strong, it drained his focus. Nik’s seat-mates noticed the struggle upon his sweaty face. “Breathe slowly,” Marla advised. “Breathe deep,” Robin added. He did just as they said—everything around him and within him slowed. “What’s hhappening to me?” “Looks like a panic attack,” Robin said. “I had one yesterday when I arrived in Canada for the launch.” Daggers in Nik’s chest began to be extracted, but the cuts still bleed an uncertainty. “Am I doing the right thing?” “Leaving a world that made us monsters by the word of one orange-faced idiot? Yes,” Marla answered. The ship jerked forward into a speed unknown to its passengers. A crackle came over the PA system. “Ten minutes to Mars LGBTQ colony.” “We are free, Nik.” The word free opened his wounds more. A summer storm of lightning pounded his insides and caused a fever that soaked him. Everything in his view shifted into a dark-colored kaleidoscopic confusion. “I n-need to get a-away,” Nik said, he drove over Marla in a wobbly attempt for his own sense of the word free. The cabin of former outcasts looked on with a worry they thought left them. “It’s okay everyone,” Marla said. “He is just having a problem taking it all in.” She quickened her step to catch up to Nik—who locked himself in the bathroom. Marla hovered around the door with her back turned from the sea of inquisitive eyes looking to drown her. “Nik. Nik, let me in.” “Marla?” 68 | Fiction
“Yeah. It’s okay, just let me in and we can talk.” There was a too long silence that threatened to push everyone over a skittish edge. The door clicked open. Marla squeezed in; barely an inch separated them. Nik tried to hide his tear-strained face, but her soft touch lifted it from the shadows he forced upon it. “I’m going to ruin everything for everyone.” “What makes you think that sweetie?” Marla asked. Her hand wiped away weary tears. She saw a twinkle of light across a curve attached to Nik’s hip and backed away slowly. “How did you get that onboard?” “It looks like metal but it’s really plastic.” Nik pulled out the plasma-pistol. The monstrous weapon lashed Marla with fright. “I’m not one of the far-right bigots. It was my sister’s. She killed a moral-patrolman, so we could get across the border. I plan on using it on myself.” Marla swallowed hard. “Why?” “Everyone here deserves this. They found a way to become strong and go on without any fear.” Nik locked his eyes to the discolored metal of the floor. “My sister was the strong one. I couldn’t even come out. I hid. My entire life, I always hid. She died to get me here. I don’t deserve this chance. She did—she—” Nik’s voice broke. “Alex was proud of who she was. Not me. I hated myself, and it got my sister shot. She told me to go on, and I just left her in the woods to bleed out. I LEFT HER.” Nik tightened his grip on the gun, pulled it to his temple and closed his eyes. “Hey! Your sister gave her life to make sure you would be safe. Alex loved you enough to sacrifice herself and give you the chance to be happy in a world that would accept you. In a world that would help you accept yourself.” Marla kept her back straight against the wall and her eyes on the gun. “My sister tried to turn me in. Nik, if you do this, all of it would’ve been for nothing. Alex would have died for nothing.” “I’m just going to drag everyone down deeper.” The red core of the weapon began to blaze like a star. Nik’s finger embraced the trigger. “I’m not strong enough to keep going. But I’m strong enough to make sure that this new world won’t be broken by me. It needs strong people—people like you.” Marla inched forward. “Trust me honey, the moment I’m alone, I’m going to be crying buckets.” Marla smiled but Nik couldn’t see. “But we can move forward and become stronger. Nik, do this for Alex. Do it for yourself. Be the person she knew you could be.” There was a subtle downward jerk. The PA system alerted everyone to take their seats. “All that hate back home won’t follow us here. We can move forward together, Nik. You’re not alone.” Marla wrapped her hand over the pistol—heat bit at her fingers. “We are not mistakes, monsters, or weak. We have endured in a world of hate for centuries. We have wounds, but they will heal—we will heal.” The gun rattled. “This world needs you, Nik. I need you.” Marla grabbed the gun as Nik released it. She turned off the core and watched the gun become ice. Nik wrapped his arms around her and wept. “It’s okay, love. Let it out.” The PA system spoke. “Welcome to Mars LGBTQ colony. Welcome to a brave peaceful new world.”
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Gabe Kahan is a poet, freelance writer, undercover zine creator, and the founding editor of the literature and arts journal, Taxicab Magazine. He lives and writes in both DC and New York, where he mixes up the words "metro" and "subway" on a regular basis. S.R. Aichinger recently earned an MFA in creative writing from Creighton University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in |tap| lit mag, Into the Void Magazine, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art & Healing, Gyroscope Review, and Ghost City Review, among others. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska. Laurie Reiche is a writer, photographer, painter, and creative writing facilitator, she lives part time in London, where she concentrates on photographing the city, particularly Virginia Woolfâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Bloomsbury. She is the author of The Dance of the Carbon-Atom (Mellen Poetry Press, 1996) and have won first place in several contests, including the Riverrun Literary Publication of the University of Colorado Poetry Competition, the national Charlotte Newberger Poetry Prize sponsored by Lilith, and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference Contest. She is also a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Anastasia Jill (Anna Keeler) is a queer poet and fiction writer living in the greater Orlando area. Her work has been published or is upcoming with Poets.org, Deep South Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, Dual Coast Magazine, Rumble Fish Quarterly, Foglifter Press, Drunk Monkeys, and more. Eva-Maria Sher started her life in Germany shortly after World War II. She emigrated to the United States and started to study literature. She lives near Seattle and offers workshops for children and adults in poetry, book-making, collage, and puppetry. Hannah Pelletier studied English at the University of New Hampshire where she received the prestigious Richard M. Ford writing award two years in a row. Hannah is an expat currently living in Nancy, France with her husband and fifteen fish. Drew Weissman is a freelance writer and graduate student at DePaul University, working on a Masterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s degree in Writing and Publishing. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune. wrote for the independent video game site haogamers.com for three years, and edited the novels Three Brightnesses.
Meaghan Andrews is a poet from Georgia about to depart to Chongqing, China to teach Eng-
lish as a foreign language. She believes travel and experience help to create better writing! She has been previously published in Nine Mile Magazine, The Round, Feminine Inquiry, and others. C. Alexander is a small-town Southern born poet who now lives in New England. He has his MFA from Lindenwood University, and dabbles in print and spoken-word poetry. He has a spoken word EP called "Cosmic Aging" that you can find from all online music sources. He also teaches high school English in Rhode Island. Suzanne O’Connell’s recently published work can be found in Poet Lore, Forge, Atlanta Review, Juked, Existere, Crack The Spine, Pennsylvania English, Drunk Monkeys, and The Louisville Review. O’Connell was nominated for a Best Of The Net Award in 2015, and a Pushcart Prize in 2015 and 2017. Her first poetry collection, A Prayer For Torn Stockings, was published by Garden Oak Press in 2016. Donna Emerson writes poetry and prose. She is recently retired from college teaching and her practice as a licensed clinical social worker. Daniel Culver lives in Houston, Texas with his wife and two daughters. He has poetry published with Indolent Books and micro-prose to be published soon in TweetLit. Nancy Ford Dugan currently resides in New York City. Her work has appeared in over 25 publications and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice.
Cat Gullotta currently attends Champlain College as a Professional Writing major and has had a satire published through the online magazine Chivomengro. Michael Vines is a freelance writer living so-central Kentucky. A.J. Rau (Alisan Jesse Rau Atvur) is a senior user research lead at Novo Nordisk A/S where he researches how people manage chronic diseases. He is also a research advisor for the Copenhagen Institute of Neurocreativity, a reviewer of Touchpoint – The Journal of Service Design, and a former assistant editor of The Chattahoochee Review. Alison Wittenberg is a graduate of Yale University and the Yale School of Nursing, with a master’s in pediatrics and adolescent medicine and a post-master’s in psychiatry. She has a private practice in Psychiatry in Hamden, CT. When she is not working, Alison is writing and traveling. She has stayed single and is currently working on In Search of Happily Ever After, a book of essays about how her search for Prince Charming unwittingly led her to a very different life than the one she had envisioned for herself. Isaac Duke is a 21-year-old living in Portland. He is essentially unpublished. Jes Trejo is a simple coffee loving cat lady from Groton, Connecticut. She studied creative writing and photography at Western Connecticut State University, graduating with her Bachelor of Arts in 2015.
Abby Caplin’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in several journals and anthologies including Adanna, Big Muddy, The Binnacle, Burningword, Catamaran, Common Ground Review, McNeese, OxMag, Poetica, Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, TSR: The Southampton Review, Third Wednesday, Tikkun, and Willow Review, among others. She is an award recipient of the San Francisco Poets Eleven 2016 poetry contest. Her poem “Still Arguing with Old Synagogue” was a finalist for the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award. She is a physician and practices Mind-Body medicine in San Francisco. Her poetry website is www.abbycaplin.com. Hue Woodson is a PhD (ABD) candidate in English at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is currently writing his dissertation on Heidegger and posthumanism. He is also a high school
English teacher, as well as an Adjunct Professor of English at Mountain View College in Dallas TX and Tarrant County College Northwest Campus in Fort Worth TX. Friday Faraday is a native of Chicago, IL and current graduate student at Southern New Hampshire University working toward a Masters in English/Creative Writing with a concentration in fiction. As well as a member of Sigma Tau Delta, International English Honor Society.
The Paragon Journal | December 2017 | Issue 11