8.22.2017: A kind of magic.
A memory from less than a month ago, when I had the uplifting and inspiring opportunity to work with young writers during Ragdale Foundation’s High School Arts Week. What follows below comes from their journals.
I’ve Been Told
A Found-ish Ensemble List Poem
I remember sitting in the backseat, looking through night-stained windows, watching fireworks and driving home.
I don’t remember when I became attracted to morbidity, but did you know that butterflies will feed on carrion?
I’d rather not remember biking home from the train station while it was raining.
I’ve been told it was all his fault.
I remember going fishing on Martha’s Vineyard and catching a bull shark.
I don’t remember all the mean things kids used to say on the school bus.
I’d rather not remember making my best friend cry.
I’ve been told the way home took an hour, but back then it was infinite.
I remember losing a Cinderella balloon.
I don’t remember getting there, and I don’t remember leaving.
I’d rather not remember how I almost failed my 5th grade math class.
I’ve been told that I started to learn how to use computers when I was 1 ½ years old.
I remember Mrs. Melton stealing my stuffed armadillo and telling my mother I was too stupid to read at a first-grade level.
I don’t remember my step-grandma’s face.
I’d rather not remember the thoughts I have late at night.
I’ve been told that alcoholics ruin conversations.
I remember the sound of glass breaking.
I don’t remember what we thought was going to happen in the first place.
I’d rather not remember the water-marked ceilings and zigzag cracks.
I’ve been told I made Mrs. Melton’s life a living hell.
I remember the band that made me fall in love with punk rock.
I don’t remember who hit our car.
I’d rather not remember the way my aunt looked at her viewing.
I’ve been told I once poured white house paint all over myself.
I remember picking up bugs to study and examine them.
I don’t remember when my brother was born.
I’d rather not remember the guys before you.
I’ve been told I ruin every good thing I have.
I remember the first time I saw the Golden Gate Bridge.
I don’t remember vacationing on Jamaica for the first time.
I’d rather not remember the cracking sound that still echoes in my ears.
I’ve been told we would dance around the kitchen like a perfect family.
I remember your middle name.
I don’t remember getting lost while camping.
I’d rather not remember when I was not the one in the hospital bed anymore.
I’ve been told that I’m smart and will go far even if I’m not an athlete.
I remember my English teacher’s beige heels and yellow dress.
I don’t remember where I put my left sock.
I’d rather not remember the blood dripping from your forehead.
I’ve been told to stay alive. ‘Cause I’ll be something someday, if I can only get there first.
8.15.2017: They carried it with them.
Fifteen years ago yesterday, on August 9, 2002, my mother, Sylvia McNair, died in the very early hours of the morning. This photo is one that my dear friend the novelist Eric Charles May had enlarged and framed for me after that loss. We are in the Hilton Hotel, drinking with our buddies after a Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing Department Story Week event. The picture must have been taken in 2000. She was not yet sick (or rather, that is what we believed at the time.)
I never thought I looked like my mother. I thought I look like my dad. I do. But clearly, evidently, proof right here, I look like my mother as well.
I have given her my first finished, at the time not yet published, short story post MFA to read (later placed as the incendiary first story of my collection, The Temple of Air.) We are talking about stories in The New Yorker for some reason. She says: “New Yorker stories are slice of life stories. Your stories are like New Yorker stories.” Well, well. I’ll take that! She goes on: “I never really liked New Yorker stories.” Oh.
Another time we are working on a travel piece together. It is about a trip we took on a river boat along the St. Lawrence River. “You write the opening. You are a better writer than I am.”
That last day before her last night, she had been in a sort of sleeping coma for part of a week. She woke up and I sat close to her on the hospital bed we had rented for her living room so she could look out her wide French doors over her plant-filled balcony to the tall, tall trees in the courtyard of her building. She was tired, exhausted from trying to stay alive when it was hard to breathe, when she could no longer stand, when food would not stay down. She was ready for whatever would come next. “I’m proud of you,” she said. “Me, too,” I said. “Me too, you too.”
8.9.2017: He was always there.
“You write down a few sentences in your journal and sigh. This exhalation is not exhaustion but anticipation at the prospect of a wonderful tale exposing a notion that you still only partly understand.” ~ Walter Mosley, source: “Writers on Writing,” New York Times