Knock On Wood

If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

These words play through my mind as I’m washing my hands in the bathroom at work. It’s the end of my fifth week at my new job as a content writer for Fareportal and I think maybe, in some small important way, I’ve made it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no big shot. I’m raking in a modest salary and spend my days writing quizzes that help you determine what sort of donut you are and can comfortably wear jeans and platform sandals at the office. But still, I feel a small glimmer of pride in what I’ve been able to do in my five months in New York.

I moved here because I sent a text to the one person I knew in the city way back in January:

“I’m thinking about moving to New York,” It read. “Know anyone that needs a roommate?”

“OMG,” I received her response in less than 30 seconds. “My coworker just walked in saying she needs a roommate.”

So I followed fate, or whatever it was, across the country and into the hipster neighborhood that I now live in, with a window that still doesn’t lock and a cabinet door that just swung off of its hinges entirely.

I came to the city as unsure of my footing as a newborn gazelle. I applied for upwards of ten jobs a day. I tried to explore my neighborhood, my borough, my city, but as each day passed and my inbox remained empty, the mounting fear of failure, of disappointment, of irreversible decisions weighed on me.

Each new month saw my rent check chew another bite out of my dwindling savings and my fears tried to morph into reality: could it be that I simply couldn’t make it in New York?

There’s no shame in not fitting into a city (or so I tried to tell myself), maybe New York was a place that I just liked visiting but couldn’t actually live in. But as I spoon fed myself these rationalizations, I realized a singular truth: I loved this city and it loved me back. Tough love, albeit. But love nonetheless.

“If you want to make it here,” It crooned in my ear, “You’ve got to do more than just try, you’ve got to believe that you can make it here.

And so I tried a radical new thing: I tried to believe in myself, calling and emailing anyone and everyone whose Internet presence was not yet under lock and key to convince them that I’m worth a chance and a salary. I scheduled meetings in cafes and prodded my way into corner offices and called strangers with big titles and no available jobs. I sent out my work and pitched stories and researched publications and wrote every day. And finally, when my fingers felt like they might fall off from so much typing and my voice thought it might cease to work from all the small talk with strangers, I got three job offers.

Bing.

Bang.

Boom.

“You haven’t quite made it yet,” The city whispered to me on my way back home to my hipster neighborhood after my fifth week of work as a writer in Manhattan. “But now I see that you believe that you can.”

The city’s right, I do believe that I can make it here.

If only so I can afford a place with locking windows and air conditioning.

How To Survive A Music Festival As An Adult

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As the old RV rolled in front of my friend’s Seattle home, I picked up my bags and tried to contain my excitement for the weekend to come: a four-day musical extravaganza complete with carefully plotted outfits, a strategically packed cooler and a backpack full of wine. In the larger group of University of Washington students, there were three of us graduates – old hats at the music festival game and looking forward to a break from our nine-to-fives. We had done our due diligence: requested time off, mapped out our meals, drawn up a schedule, listened studiously to our playlists.

In short, we were ready.

A caravan of cars began to pull in behind the aptly named Jamboree and suddenly, after months of Facebook planning and judicious budgeting, we were off – careening down I-90, Snapchatting each other and blasting the Sasquatch setlist from the weathered speakers. We were excited, this much was evident. But as we rolled into the campgrounds teeming with beer bongs and chanting frat boys in short shorts, we stared, dumbfounded, and realized that we were something else, too.

Unprepared.

Amid a group of energetic college kids, the three of us stood like a very small, very responsible island in a sea of people who could drink all day and wake up the next morning without a hangover.

We huddled in our hastily constructed tent that night and asked what any newly minted Millennial adult would ask:what now?! We had just recognized that we had paid good money to sleep in a field surrounded by spirited youths, endless cries of chug! and an unrelentingly blazing sun with no access to running water, Wi-Fi or a way to chill our $10 pinot grigio (because we’re adults).

After our initial panic, though, we took a sip (read: huge gulp) of our ten dollar wine and came up with a comprehensive plan on how to survive a music festival as an adult. Let my being here to write this serve as a testament to its success:

Read the rest at CheapOair‘s Miles Away blog.

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naked in nature

IMG_2900Alone and surrounded by an expanse of dry green brush, sharp maroon rocks and the hot white sand of a dried up riverbed, we took off our clothes.

It started with our backpacks – 35 pounds of leaden weight dropped off with a simple click of a buckle. Next came our sweat-stained shirts, ripped off in haste, anticipating the relief from the murderous glare of the desert sun. Our boots were next, followed quickly by our socks and shorts. We stood for a moment in silence, bare feet in smooth sand, our eyes closed and tilted toward the sun, wearing nothing but our sports bras and underwear.

A light breeze ran through the canyon.

We awoke from our brief reverie and quietly got to work on setting up our tent, putting our food in bear canisters and unpacking what we needed for dinner. There was a rustic routine to it all, we could now do it in absolute silence. Four ravens circled overhead, cawing lazily and searching for their next meal. Across the stream there was a towering tree, mirrored by two others on our side of the creek, with delicate pea-green leaves that grasped at the pale sky.

Suddenly, our work was done. The tent was constructed, the food was safe, the hike was over.

We waded into the stream. I let the coolness of the water rise up to my ankles, my calves, my knees. I bent over and stuck my whole head in the water, running my fingers through the tangles of my unwashed hair.

“What time is it?” I asked.

Glancing at her watch, my friend responded, “It’s four o’clock.”

“And no one’s here,” I mused.

Then I took off my sports bra and my underwear and sat down amid the rocks and the water. She did the same. After a moment, I laughed and the canyons echoed my booming delight back to me. My friend joined in. We splashed around and felt invincible, as though we were now, and always had been, a necessary part of this landscape. The idea that we had always been here, naked and running around in a knee-deep stream while ravens cawed overhead and trees reached toward the sky, seemed obvious, essential, ineffable. The idea that we would always be here was clear.

We laid back down in the stream, our heads resting on rocks and dirt. I opened my eyes to see the pale blue sky, the blazing canyon walls, the small circles of green leaves reaching above. I was struck by its simple magnificence, the unimposing grandeur, the vast humility of the nature that surrounded me, created over millions of years of erosion and evolution and cultivation to become this simple setting:

A cavernous canyon with one shallow stream, three tall trees, four circling ravens and two naked girls lying alone in the blistering desert sun.

double homicide

“Did you hear?” The girl’s mother said in a somber tone. “Just last night, Kathy was – well – you’ve heard about it, haven’t you?”

The girl nodded into the phone then said a quiet, “Yes. I read the paper this morning.”

“It’s a tragedy,” The mother said.

“Yes,” The girl replied faithfully. “I can’t believe it.”

“It’s so sad,” The mother said.

“Yes,” The girl responded. “It doesn’t seem real.”

“I didn’t know her that well,” The mother said.

“No,” The girl remarked. “Neither did I.”

There was a long pause while each of the women thought about what to say next. Should they bring up the details that the newspaper typed up – words like ‘massacre’ and ‘double homicide’ and ‘pools of blood’ printed in stark black ink on scratchy grey paper? Should they talk more about Kathy – who she was, what they’ve heard, how it happened? Should they change the conversation and forget about it all in a couple of days – much like the newspaper, the town, the courts will do?

“So,” The mother said finally, “We got ten new chickens at home.”

Stella Woods

“Where has she gone off to, now?” The wrinkled old woman asked the young volunteer incredulously, leaning into the high desk with her hand cupped to her ear.

“We’re going to have to get signs,” The young girl sighed. “As I’ve told almost every single person in her water aerobics class, Wilma May is in London. She left a week ago, her daughter said.”

“You must be mistaken,” Stella Woods said in her smooth Southern drawl. “Wilma just turned seventy last week, she can’t be off in some other country at her age, alone.”

“Well, she is,” The girl said bluntly, plainly already bored of the conversation. “Take it up with her daughter if you want. Or, better yet, call her yourself!”

“Humph,” Stella muttered as she walked away from the help desk. “There’s no respect for the elderly these days.” She walked out of the building and up to her black town car that was waiting for her in the parking lot, engine running. “Hello, Seth,” Stella said, addressing the man sitting in the driver’s seat. She stepped into the back seat and buckled up her seatbelt.

“No water aerobics today?” Seth asked, adjusting the rear view mirror.

“No,” Stella answered, pulling her sunglasses out of her purse and putting them on. They looked huge and especially ridiculous on her small face. “It seems my instructor has run off to London.”

“London?” Seth asked. “I guess now’s the time to do it, huh? Young and freshly out of college, I bet.”

“You’d lose that bet,” Stella said, chuckling. “My instructor just turned seventy.”

“Did she, now?” Seth said, pulling out of the parking lot in front of an angry BMW. It was June in Los Angeles and it was already unusually warm, even at eight o’clock in the morning. “Well don’t you run off on me, Ms Woods, I know your birthday is in two weeks.”

“Now there’s a thought,” Stella said. “Except I’m turning sixty seven, not seventy, thank god.” She saw Seth roll his eyes at that and she laughed along good-naturedly. “Seth, why don’t you be a dear and get Wilma on the line? Let’s ask how she’s liking London.”

Seth nodded and thumbed at his phone, loaded with Stella’s contacts. The rings filled the entire car. Ring, ring, ring.

“At least she doesn’t have that annoying song as her ringtone,” Stella yelled up to Seth. “You know, that ridiculous alien music that my step-granddaughter has?”

Seth nodded his assent while keeping his eyes on the busy streets in front of him. Ring, ring, ri—

“Hello?” Came the voice of Wilma May on the other end. Her voice had changed, somehow, Stella thought. It was lower, huskier, sexier. I must get myself over to London, Stella thought to herself.

“Hello? Darling, it’s Stella.”

“Stella? From water aerobics? Stella Woods? Oh, I knew I forgot to call them to tell them I’m gone!” Wilma muttered, seemingly to herself, on the other line.

“Yes, dear, Stella from water aerobics. Don’t worry, darling, they know where you are. So it’s true, you’re in London, then?” Stella made a surprised face at Seth, who raised his eyebrows back at her in the mirror.

“What? Oh, yes, yes, I’m in London. Chelsea, actually. It’s quite nice.”

“Well, yes, I should hope so!” Stella laughed. “So, how is it, dear?”

“To be honest, I love it! I feel so guilty for loving it, oh but I do.” Wilma’s voice grew gravelly and, something else, but Stella could not pin it down. All she knew is that she wanted her own voice to sound like that about something.

“Guilty? Why should you feel guilty?”

“It’s just that, well, I’ve got my family in Los Angeles, my son and daughter and my grandchildren, you know.” Wilma sounded like she was trying to be apologetic, but Stella knew forced guilt when she heard it.

“Why, you’re not guilty a bit!” Stella cackled. “And good! You shouldn’t be. Too many old women waste their lives feeling guilty about one cock and bull reason or another.” She kept on cackling, glad that there was at least one other woman her age who refused to feel guilty for living her own damn life.

“Stella, you naughty thing,” Wilma crooned into the car, her own laugh filling the black town car. Seth rolled his eyes at the sound of the two old crones laughing. “Why you’re right, I’m not guilty a bit, not even a tiny little bit. And guess what? I can take showers for as long as I like here! Mind you, my shower’s smaller than my pantry was in Los Angeles, but that’s another matter completely.”

“You sound as though you’re living quite the life over there, Wilma,” Stella got out, coming down off of her laughing fit.

“I am,” Wilma said, now completely serious. “For the first time since I was twenty two, I feel as though I’m living the life that I thought I’d live.”

“Forty eight years later and here you are.”
“Here I am,” Wilma said, sounding completely content with the prospect. “And here I go – sorry, I’ve got some errands to run, I’m sure you understand. I hope they find an aerobics replacement for me.”

“You know these fools, it’ll take them a year to realise you’ve actually gone,” Stella said.

Wilma laughed along with Stella then the phone clicked goodbye and an electric silence filled the speeding black town car.

“Well there you have it, Seth, a true woman, off following her little girlish dreams.” Stella said it with mocking intent, but somehow it came out sounding wistful.

Stella herself had never travelled farther than the borders of the United States. She had grown up in Alabama and it was enough to leave the state for her to feel well travelled – so few people did even that, it seemed. She went to college in New York and left with a degree in English literature and creative writing. Five bestsellers later, Stella decided to take up a handsome successful husband in Los Angeles and rest on her laurels while she grew into a woman of society in Southern California. Typical, Stella thought to herself, Just when I think I’ve done myself well, someone always comes and does me one step better.

“Ma’am, we’re here.” Seth’s voice awoke her out of her reverie.

“Yes, of course,” She muttered, waiting for Seth to climb out of the car to open her door for her.

She took off her sunglasses and looked up at her house when she stepped out of her car. The sight of it made her feel slightly better about herself. It was huge, a towering white thing with a red door and black French window shutters. This is all of another country that I need, Stella thought haughtily. She walked up her cobblestone walkway, each side teeming with green grass and blooming flowers. Some drought, she thought, bending over to admire her overwatered assortment of flowers. At last she made it to her door, which she found locked. She rang her own doorbell and her maid Julia came to answer her when she impatiently turned to knocking.

“I am sorry, Ms Woods, I was cleaning the upstairs, I didn’t hear you right away,” Julia talked quickly, obviously nervous in the presence of her employer.

“That’s quite alright, Julia. I’m sorry to distract you from your duties.”

Stella stepped in and Julia ran back upstairs. Stella loved her empty house. The clock on the wall read nine thirty eight in the morning. Stella sighed and walked through her living room into her kitchen. Her entire house was spotless, thanks to Julia. It was decorated in a likeness of a country home in France. Her interior designer had told her that it was a timeless style, and she loved timeless styles. She dressed every day in white linens and navy blues, she didn’t dare touch jeans and diamonds were usually visible on her ears, on her fingers and around her neck. Today was no different.

Her mail was lying on her kitchen table, waiting for her to sort through it. On the top was a letter from Carl, her older ex-husband. More like a letter from his lawyer, Stella thought ruefully. And so it was. The letter was from Mr Mackelroy, Carl’s young lawyer, asking Stella for a meeting next week, on June the seventh. Has Carl forgotten so quickly? Stella wondered, annoyed that they would ask to meet about their divorce on her birthday. Or maybe he is such an idiot. He never remembered when we were together either. Resigned, Stella messaged Seth to ask him to arrange a meeting on the seventh at noon.

London, Stella thought, revelling in the thought of a city far, far away. Like a fairytale, She chuckled to herself. She thought back to when she thought her life was a fairytale – it had been the summer of nineteen sixty-nine and she was living in New York City. She was twenty-one then, newly out of university and finished with her first novel. She had been running around town, begging editors in publishing houses to take in her novel. It was a memoir, about her struggle to leave Alabama and to pay her way through a mostly male class at New York University. Since every editor at every publishing house that she had visited were men, however, it was wearisome to try and convince them to publish her feelings on the subjects. It wasn’t until she met Edith Chase, some intern who pushed for her memoir to be published, at Bandham Publishing that she began to gain traction. Her life then had been a whirlwind, when she thought that all of her dreams were coming true. For two glorious months, her life was everything she’d dreamed it would be – she had been validated in her writing, she was being recognised on the streets and, not to mention, she had a fat wallet full of newly minted money.

Hailed as a feminist hero in nineteen seventy, Stella Woods published four more works, this time novels, fictitious and gaudy. As much as she cringed when she read them, however, the public couldn’t have enough and were understandably furious when she announced her early retirement. The truth was, she had never thought of herself as a feminist hero until the newspapers and crowds started calling her that. Made to speak out about women’s rights, Stella grew tired of bearing a voice and a mind that was not her own and within a month, she had moved to Los Angeles, found an older rich man and settled down in a sprawling mansion to live out her life under the radar. Even though at the time, that decision felt right, it had been eating away at Stella ever since she and Carl started having problems ten years ago. By now, the phrase, “What if?” ran through her mind at least twenty times a day.

And as she sat thinking about London, the phrase cropped up again. What if? She thought. Her large, empty house creaked as though in response, an echo running its way through her airy mansion. She ran upstairs and texted Seth, pulling her huge set of barely used Louis Vuitton suitcases out from the back of her closet.

Wilma May

The pale blue sky was promising as the old woman peeked out of her window from behind her yellow curtains. Wilma drew the dusty curtains and admired her view: the dark waters of the Thames, the pastel rusted arms of the bridge, the frenzied gaits of the passer-by. She turned and glanced around her small studio, hands resting on the sill that was now behind her. The walls bore a creamy white colour, they were bare and as of yet undecorated; her small pink suitcase was still unpacked in the corner by the door, the only colour in the room besides the faded curtains behind her. To her right was her kitchen, crammed hastily between her bathroom and her only storage closet, whose door was slightly crooked. To her left sat her bed, squeezed between two creamy but stern walls. To her back was the large window, which stared out at the flowing river, the twisting streets, the rickety bridge. A faded white desk sat beneath it, crowded with stacks of pictures, papers and tourist maps that she had unloaded from her cavernous purse when she had arrived earlier this morning. Her new keys lay there too, and she remembered knocking hesitantly at the address scrawled on the back of her plane ticket to collect her new set of flat keys from the landlady. Even though it had been five in the morning on a Saturday, the kind looking English woman had offered her a cup of tea. She declined graciously (she had hoped it came off as such) and went next door to 1 Cheyne Walk to inspect her accommodations for the next month.

She could scarcely believe that this was her life now – a mere two days before, Wilma had been celebrating her seventieth birthday in Los Angeles. She had gone to the Neiman Marcus by her apartment on Roxbury Drive on her birthday to buy herself a new dress. The people there treated her as though she were a child who could not do anything for herself: Can we get the door for you Ms May? Do you need any help in the dressing room Ms May? Would you like someone to walk you to your car Ms May? No matter how many times she declined, though, they insisted. “Humph,” She grumbled to herself under her breath on her walk back home, “Insisting is just their cheap way of feeling good about themselves for helping out an old woman like me.” She despised using the word old to describe herself, although some might argue that her nineteen forty-five birth date lives up such a word. At seventy, Wilma was strong and lively. She walked every day, taught water aerobics classes at the local senior fitness centre and completed the crossword every day. She was sharp – mind and body alike.

At her seventieth birthday party, her son and daughter, Benjamin and Marilyn, had visited her. The day was warm and balmy, typical of Los Angeles in May. They brought her presents – a new smartphone from Ben and a solid black one-piece swimming suit from Marilyn – and sang her Happy Birthday, but at the end of the night, Wilma was flipping through an old photo album, longingly looking at pictures of her and her husband. William has passed five years ago now, and it had not escaped Wilma that she was a changed woman from when she first met him. Looking back at the photos of when they were first together made her see in a different light, a new light, just how much she had changed – how her hopes and dreams and desires were so much different than what she told herself they would be when she aged.

She was twenty-two then, young and vivacious, graduated from college with an art degree and freshly back from travelling Europe, her own paintings rolled up and stuffed into her bursting suitcase. She had sworn that past year, while wrapped in a young Italian’s arms on a gondola in Venice, that she could never get married – there were far too many men in the world and not enough time to kiss them all! And when she arrived back in San Francisco in nineteen sixty-seven, the world seemed to agree with her. But William did not. He, it was made charmingly clear, wanted her all to himself.

Much like her romances in Europe, hers with William had been a whirlwind. They went to parties together, they walked promenades together, they sailed together, they slept together. She remembered that day as though it were yesterday: they were at her parent’s beach house in a small alcove in some bay whose name escaped her now as it always had then. Wilma had woken up in a twist of blankets; she opened her eyes and pale morning light streamed into the blue room. The air was a haze of linen scent and a more musty smell that could only be attributed to their two bodies that had inhabited the cabin for a fortnight now. She pawed around her bed, but William was nowhere to be found. After a moment of fortifying herself for the move outside of her linen-strewn chamber, she sat up and swung her legs over to the side of the bed. Her feet retracted for a moment after they touched the cold ground, but soon planted themselves firmly on the wooden floors as she stood up and stretched, her arms lifting up the old button up that she wore to bed – a token from Jean, the Frenchman she had met in Nice. Stifling a yawn, she walked into the small living room, a swath of white and blue décor in an ode to nautical fashions, and lightly called his name: “William?” Her voice then was husky and deep, a trait she picked up from the French and their cigarettes. Her long blonde hair sported a grown out fringe and soft, sea salted curls. Her eyes were deep shades of green flecked with gold and surrounded by smudged out black eyeliner, a remnant of a beach party two days earlier. Her soft feet padded on the cool wooden floors of her parent’s cabin. “William?” She called again, this time louder than before. She crept into the kitchen, a charmingly messy jumble of ceramic mugs and mismatched plates piled into the small sink.

A breeze tickled her bare thighs and she turned around. The French doors leading out to the beach were wide open, light blue curtains waving lazily in the wind. And at the end of her line of vision stood William, framed by beige sands and sea green ocean. A smile flickered onto her pink lips and she followed him outside, mesmerised by his mere silhouette. She found him on the shoreline, barefoot and smoking a cigarette, his grey eyes full of sea foam and white waves. He was of average height, but he was slender enough to look as though he towered. He wore a thin white button up shirt, untucked and flapping in the wind over a pair of white boxers that she had bought him.

“Hello,” She said to him, her voice rose slightly to be heard over the crashing of the waves. She took the cigarette from his lips and held it up to her own, inhaling and turning her gaze to the sea to match William’s own.

“Good morning, my big bold hawk.” Wilma smiled at William’s nickname for her, a name that emphasised her strong will and her bold nature. But mostly, it was to poke fun at the mushy couples whose nicknames for each other were “little dove” or “sweet sparrow”. William turned to look at Wilma and she remembered their gazes meeting, his crooked teeth peeking through his parted lips as he returned her smile. She was almost as tall as him, standing resolutely at five foot nine. He was six feet tall, and when he held her, she held him back. He once told her that that was what he loved most about her, that she did not collapse into his embrace, that she held her own and held him up in the meantime. She was independent and she found a man who loved that about her, who didn’t try to wean her off of it like so many other men had tried to do, but instead encouraged it.

She inhaled his cigarette again, her hair streaming behind her in the wind, her eyes crinkled against the pressure. They were to go back to San Francisco tomorrow. Wilma had another art show and William had a job managing a theatre to get back to. Their little paradise was at its end and they would soon return to their shared apartment in the Haight neighbourhood. It was cheap and it showed on the peeling walls, the warped floors and the smell of mould that could not be scrubbed out. But it was theirs. They had only known each other for about two months, her having gotten back from Europe two months and two days ago, but such was the nature of the times – love was not to be put on a waiting list, it was to be seized upon, passionately and wholeheartedly.

“Wilma,” William had said, taking her by her two shoulders and wheeling her around to face him. “I have a question for you.” He took from the front pocket of his shirt a cigarette box and, turning it upside down, he withdrew a smooth stone, white and pearly and still damp from the ocean’s grasp. He took her hands and wrapped them around the small stone. “Will you marry me?”

Wilma remembered his eyes at that moment. They were grey and shiny and she could see her own reflection in them. She looked windswept and carefree and shining and – happy. She felt the stone trapped between her two hands and for a moment she reminded herself that that was what marriage is like, to be trapped, to be caught, to be caged. But she looked at William’s face and knew that her former twenty-two year old self was wrong. William is marriage and William is to be free, to be in love, to be myself.

Wilma looked at her left hand now. It was wrinkled and had countless age spots. There was a long black hair that grew out of an old mole. But nestled into the folds of her ring finger was a slim silver band with a pearly white stone settled on top of it. She suddenly felt alone in her bare empty flat. She sat down on her rusty bed and wondered why she had bought the plane ticket to London. If I felt alone there, of course I’ll be alone here, She thought glumly, her head cradled in her hands as the old bed creaked under her weight. Why did I come here, on some young fool’s dream?

She hadn’t really realised it until she looked through the faded pictures that night on her couch, but she hadn’t left the country again after her youthful romp around Europe when she graduated college. William promised to take her around the world, but his passions were in the San Francisco theatre scene, and after their children were born so soon after they were married, her meagre artist’s salary and his similarly small theatre one simply could not keep her dreams afloat. That is not to say that she had a bad time in marriage, in motherhood, but when she turned seventy, all alone in her apartment, she found herself looking back on a life with dreams not fully recognised.

In truth, it was the Neiman Marcus employees who did it, treating her as though she were some old helpless woman. As she walked back home with her cottony summer dress in tow, she argued with herself, trying to prove that she was not an old woman by any means. Her children had made it worse too. She knew that they came by in obligation nowadays, not because they wanted to see their vivacious mother. That made her wonder: was she even vivacious anymore? Was she bold? Was she fiery? Was she anything like that woman who William had fallen in love with, that day on the beach so long ago?

She went to bed going through her old memories like a frustrated librarian sorting through dusty index cards. She sat up. I’m old! She realised, knowing that nobody makes allusions to librarians anymore. Oh my god, I’m old! She ran to her closet and looked at her clothes: pantsuits, velvety athletic suits, dresses in dry cleaner bags. She panicked. How could I let this happen? She asked herself as she ran to her kitchen and threw open the cabinets, revealing stacks of cans of chicken noodle soup and a large bin of Ovaltine. She thought back to her conversation with her children that past evening. Sweet gods, I talked about the good old days – the good old days! She didn’t know how she had gotten to this point. Flipping through old photo albums, she saw the story of her life spilling out before her in the form of dusty, faded pictures. She had gone to college, she had gone to Europe, she had climbed mountains and sailed boats and smoked marijuana and had art shows and found love in a creaky old cabin by a tumbling, roaring ocean. I’ve got to find another adventure, She thought, tearing through the years of her life that had become old sweatpants and weary eyes.

In a rush of her old boldness, she picked up her new phone that Benjamin had gotten her and dialled. Ring, ring, ri—“911, what’s your emergency?” The dispatcher asked her. “I’m old!” She cried back, dropping the phone to her lap when she heard the tired sigh and the click that told her that the call was over. She calmly answered the call back seconds later in a falsely dignified voice, assuring them that there was no actual emergency. For them anyway, she thought ruefully to herself. As she sat on her old couch made up of a kaleidoscope of colours weaved in various scratchy yarns, she wondered what she should do. An idea struck her. She went back to her room, got on her hands and knees and peered under her bed. She withdrew an old shoebox and, opening it, she sat on the floor with her legs crossed and took out the frosty pictures that lay within.

There she was, with her newly shorn fringe and bouncy blonde hair, off to board a plane to Rome. She was smiling and waving at the camera. She wore a short colourblocked dress in pink and orange. She carried with her a small pink suitcase; she had bought it because it matched her dress. She remembered that she went to Rome with an empty suitcase, save for two changes of clothes. She had wanted to come back with it stuffed to the brim of European trinkets. And that she did.

Another picture showed her posing in front of the Trevi Fountain, her eyes closed and her hand frozen in time, throwing a coin into the glistening waters to assure her return to Rome, as legend had it. In the next photo she was laughing, bent over in amusement at the scene that played out in front of her – the couple next to her had gone and fallen into the fountain themselves! She smiled at the memory and at what her Roman ragazzo had mused to her in his thick accent: “Maybe this means they will never even leave Roma!” She laughed again and ran to his embrace. He whispered into her ear, “Maybe this means you should fall into the Fontana, too.” She was supposed to leave Rome the next day, and she did, waving goodbye to her handsome ragazzo as she boarded a train to Venice. He ran alongside the train, shouting that he loved her in his sweet accent and later in his native tongue.

In the next picture she was on a bridge in Paris, arms crossed and leaning to look over at the Seine. A Parisian pumping an accordion, mouth wide open in the middle of a forgotten song, stood beside her. Her look was pensive, her eyebrows knit together in apparent thought. She remembered this day; it had been her last before she was to board a plane home, leaving behind Jean and the month of memories that they had forged together. His next shot of her showed her looking towards him, her head tilted sideways and a slight smile curling on her lips. She wore a striped shirt and a black miniskirt with short black boots that she had bought in Italy, made of genuine Italian leather. The accordion still wheezed in the background, this time the instrument was pressed together and the singer was sucking in breath for an upcoming loud burst of song.

Jean had walked with her from the Notre Dame down the Champs-Élysées to the Eiffel Tower, begging her to stay. “I will take you all over the world,” he promised, “From Paris to Munich to Stockholm – and we will end in London!” Wilma sighed, wanting those things more than anything else. But she said sadly back to him, “I want to go all over the world more than anything,” And Jean perked up until she added, “But I can do it myself. I just need to go back to my home for a while and get things sorted out, make more money, sell more art. Then I’ll be back, you’ll see!” She sounded optimistic, but falsely so. Jean patted her hand, settled in the crook of his arm, “Alright, mon chéri, just promise that you won’t go off and get married. Then you can come back and we can travel the world together.” Wilma smiled at the notion and said, “I promise I won’t get married, I promise I’ll travel the world and I promise that when I do, you can come along.”

That’s it! Wilma was still sitting cross-legged on her floor, even though her legs and buttocks had long been sticking with pins and needles. I’ve got to finish seeing the world! In a flurry, the pictures from long ago were hastily stuffed back into their shoebox and shoved under the bed. Wilma grabbed her phone and this time dialled the number for an airline. After a long wait and an earful of dull elevator music, a customer service representative helped to put her on a flight to London – departing the next morning at nine o’clock sharp. “Thank you, thank you!” She giggled into the phone, before hanging up and rushing to her closet. She looked over her outfits again: pantsuits and athletic suits and old cottony dresses in clingy plastic bags from the dry cleaners. She frowned. “I can’t wear any of this to London, they’ll think I’m some old retired American.” You are some old retired American, a voice in her head reminded her. “I know that,” She snapped aloud, “But they needn’t!” She laughed and closed her closet doors after taking out a simple pair of black cigarette pants and a forgotten striped shirt and an old pair of black boots. She folded them neatly and placed them next to her pink suitcase from so long ago that she had taken out from under her bed. She placed a toothbrush inside of it along with her hairbrush, her makeup and her shoebox full of pictures. Then she zipped it up and stood it upright, the shoebox clanging to the bottom. She set her alarm clock to five thirty in the morning and went to sleep, her dreams of London and accents and airplanes.

Of course, She thought to herself, tucking into the thick layer of blankets that came with her newly rented flat. I came here to prove that I am who I think I am. I’m a brave, bold woman.

And I’m not old. Smiling at her own wit, she drifted off into a jetlagged sleep, surrounded by the white walls of her new flat, her pink suitcase glimmering in the corner.

A third excerpt from my half-baked novel idea:

March 15th, 2006

Hi Charlie,

I have to tell you, Charlie, when I read your letter (I just got it yesterday, halfway through March, even though it says that you sent it in February) I cried the whole night. I’ve been in here for four months and it’s the first letter that I’ve gotten. I’m not surprised, I only have one friend on the outside and he probably doesn’t even know that I’m in here. He might even be in some other prison. But I was surprised that it was from you. When I got it from the mailroom, I saw your name on the return label and I started crying right then and there. I couldn’t open it the whole day, but I finally opened it at night.

You have no idea what your forgiveness means to me, Charlie. It feels more bad than good, though. It’s hard for me to tell you why, but I’ll try. I feel like I owe it to you to be honest and tell you everything that I’m feeling.

I remember when I was younger I would watch a lot of Disney movies. I loved the princess movies, but my brother would make fun of me if I asked to watch them. So I would tell my sister to ask to watch them, because he wouldn’t make fun of her. My favorite was Aladdin. Maybe you can see why? Aladdin was like me, he lived on the streets and people hated him and he had to steal food to live. But he also became rich and met a princess and went on to get rid of the bad guy to live out his dreams, as a prince, with his family. He didn’t have to steal food to live anymore. And (I bet, though Disney didn’t go this far) he would know how hard it is to be on the street so he would have probably decreed that nobody should have to steal to live or sleep on the streets.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I always thought that good people would always have good things happen to them, eventually, and that bad people would always have bad things happen to them. I’m bad and I’m in jail, so that makes sense to me. But Maria, well, she was good and she had the worst thing happen to her, worse than going to prison for life. I guess what I mean is that maybe you’ve forgiven me and maybe God has forgiven me, but I haven’t forgiven myself. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to. Because I can’t understand why I did it or why I did this bad thing to such a good person.

In response to your questions (no, they weren’t too much, like I said, I don’t have anyone else to talk to outside of here), I am doing okay here. My roommate and I are kind of friends. He used to do a lot of meth, too, so we talk about that a lot. He’s from Montana, but he got arrested in the Tri Cities for beating up a guy at a gas station. The guy lived, so he only has thirty years in here. He said that if the guy had died (which he almost did), he would have been in here for life like me. The guy that he beat up was well liked in his town, so people were even angrier and wanted him to go away for more time. Isn’t that funny? If he had almost killed me, nobody would have cared, probably. The prison is okay, though. We have our own garden and a factory where we can sew clothes for money.

You asked about the life that I left behind me. It’s so bad, Charlie, I almost don’t want to admit it, but I said that I would be honest with you. The thing is, I like being in prison more than being out of it. When I was in Spokane, I was living on the streets and doing meth and I would hear voices sometimes tell me to things, like the things that I did last summer. But in here, I have a bed and three meals a day and I can garden and work and I am not on any drugs anymore, Charlie. Is it bad that I am happy that I have to stay here for life? I don’t like why I’m here, but if I’m being honest, my life is better now than before. But then I feel guilty for thinking that because of what I did to get here and how my life being better had to come at the expense of your happiness.

Oh god, I’m a horrible person. I just re-read this letter and it makes me sick to think that I actually said that my life is better now, even after all the pain that I’ve caused you and your family. I guess the letter will be the first and last one that I get from you, you must be disgusted by me.

I know I am.

God bless you, Charlie, and thank you for forgiving me, even though I don’t deserve it,

Viktor

 

When the City Was Still New…

27 March 2016

When I moved to New York City at the end of January, I stepped off of the plane with all the boldness of someone who’s asking to get full-body splashed by a car driving by in the rain. I had hope, I had optimism, I had the balmy vision in my mind’s eye of New York – what it was, what it meant, what it would do for me. I happily skipped all the way from the airport to my new apartment, feeling like a modern day Dorothy in her modern day Oz.

Surely all I had to do was follow the yellow brick road.

However, life is not so simple. Not only did I move to a city where I vaguely knew two of its millions of people, I also moved to a city where millions of other people, it seemed, were fighting for the exact same jobs that I was. So there I was, in a city that never sleeps, a place where the number one line in its elevator pitch was that “there is always something to do”, a place where people have historically flocked to be inspired – and I found myself sleeping actually quite a lot, with seemingly nothing to do (except apply to, by conservative estimates, billions of jobs), disappointingly uninspired.

I remember laying in bed one night, soon after I had arrived in New York, feeling like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I felt lost and confused and very far from home. I closed my eyes and tapped together my imaginary ruby red slippers, wishing that they would take me home, dreaming of evergreens and short buildings and family and friends. Much to my consternation, I opened my eyes to my small, cold apartment, the sound of shouting men echoing in from the street below. I began to think that maybe I had made a horrible mistake: leaving home, leaving comfort, leaving security.

I spent much of my first week like this, in passionate disarray, wondering why everything felt so wrong.

That is until I realized that New York is not a passive player. It is not something to be adventured in or to be inspired by – it does not give free or easy opportunities. New York, as cliché as it all sounds, is its own sort of living, breathing beast – its favorite game a constant, pulling tug-of-war. I realized that I had to fight back.

And fight back, I did. Armed with a bold new matte lipstick and a fierce vintage sheer white skirt, I ventured out into the city and decided to fight back with all the scrappy energy that I could muster.

I started in a café, where I sipped at a cappuccino and ate an almond croissant where I finally got to working on some freelance articles that I had been too mopey to write recently. I wandered along the streets confidently, popping in and out of the many shops at my leisure, picking up new armour for my recently invoked war (ok, so I got a thrifted pair of high-waisted jeans. Same thing). I found solace in a beautifully dilapidated hole-in-the-wall Caribbean joint. I found a hipster theatre and saw a hipster film that I’ve been wanting to see. And when I got home, I baked some scones using a recipe that I have had bookmarked for quite some time.

I lay in bed that night, eyes closed, feeling like Dorothy again, on a path, on a journey. Except this time, when I tapped my ruby red slippers together and I opened my eyes to my small, cold apartment, it didn’t feel so disappointing this time.

I didn’t feel too far away from home.

an early morning thought

15 September 2015

An early morning thought:

Anyone can write a story about somebody about to kill themselves, but it takes a certain sort of bravery to write that you are about to kill yourself.

I wrote this as I was examining my switch from prose to personal accounts as I continue my writing abroad. In this slightly drastic example (ok, so suicide was featured heavily in my prose writing days of yore, my writing group was just as uneasy as you, perhaps, are now), I simply mean that it can be scary to put out into the world your feelings as felt and experienced by yourself. When the piece is a fictional story, it all gets much simpler:

No, no – I wasn’t feeling lonely and lost in Tel Aviv, that was the character, Miriam, who is purely made up, of course!

And yet, when you start to…

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