Literary as hell.

Tag: creative non fiction (Page 1 of 3)

“A Mind Like a Steel Trap” By E.O. Connors

A few days ago, I scrubbed the sink clean and lifted the steel trap out. As I knocked the trap against the trash bin to dislodge the sopping wet food particles that had collected there, it occurred to me that I made an egregious error in judgment in August of 1995.

I’m quick like that sometimes.

It was three weeks after our wedding. My husband, Tim, was mercilessly scrubbing the kitchen sink of our new apartment. It was clear he was angry about something. He didn’t do anything vigorously. Except, perhaps, drink Diet Coke and program his computer. Anything that might cause him to break a sweat was anathema. Cleaning the kitchen fell into that category. 

It wasn’t laziness, exactly. He was generally tidy, avoiding the making of a mess so as not to have to clean one. But he was also raised by a lovely June Cleaver type. She kept house and said things like, “Oh, Timmy, leave those dishes for the women,” when, one year, he rinsed some mashed potatoes off his Thanksgiving plate and tried to put it in the dishwasher. 

Tim and I had already had the very first domestic squabble of our marriage that same sink-scrubbing morning. Standing in the galley kitchen in the light of the refrigerator, I plucked the orange juice carton from the door to accompany his breakfast cereal. Overnight, it would surely have settled. I didn’t want him to drink juice from the top that was too thin, nor from the bottom that was too thick. Only Goldilocks orange juice for my husband. 

So I shook it. Hard. Up and down for a solid five seconds to mix it perfectly. 

Tim’s face pinched with anger. “What did you do that for?” 

“What?”

“You just ruined it.” I looked at the carton trying to figure out what he meant. He let out a huff of disgust. “Now it’s all full of pulp and the junk that settled to the bottom. Why would you do that?” He said it with the same bewilderment and grief as though I had hit the gas pedal to commit vehicular rodent homicide on an innocent squirrel in the road.

So just before lunch when I saw him come dangerously close to breaking a sweat at the kitchen sink, I wondered, Now what?

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Holy Ground by Jennifer Spiegel

Nothing To See Here

In June 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery, Chemo, Radiation, Reconstruction, and More Surgery followed. Between then and now, I wrote Cancer, I’ll Give You One Year: A Non-Informative Guide to Breast Cancer, A Writer’s Memoir In Almost Real Time. 

 

Unraveling

People ask how cancer has changed my life. Am I more religious? Have I forsaken sugar? Given up red meat? What’s with sex? 

It’s in the book, but:

  1. I’m an introvert now.
  2. I savor road trips. 

The road trip part first: I’ve always loved travel. But now, I crave the jammed-in-the-car/free-hotel-breakfast/seven-hour-stretches–of-highway. I want to craft memories for my children. I want to unravel maps with them, holding hands in White Sands or before Renoir. I know life is a privilege. 

But Introversion is new to me. I’ve always been extroverted, social. 

Cancer has rendered me insular. There are medical reasons, like exhaustion, like incessant hot flashes. However, there are others: I just want to be with Tim, my husband. I’m a little nervous to be out there alone. I do it sometimes, venture into the world. I do writer things. I flew to Portland for a conference, went to Kentucky for a teaching gig even. But it wasn’t easy, and I missed my small world: family, pets. 

(Do you know how many times Tim has attended my readings? Like, a gazillion. Because he’s had to go to every single one of them.)

So, I rarely go out past dark alone. Cancer has left me stumbling at dusk, longing for middle-aged marriage, a cup of tea, Tim, and his nightly bowl of cereal. 

Unintentionally or maybe intentionally, I have made it a hard thing to maintain a friendship with me. With some trepidation, I admit that Tim is my world. Saying that—admitting that—frightens me. I love my steadfast friends, the persevering ones, the other introverts. And I’m wary of the vulnerability of my position, my reliance on some guy. Really? 

Just the same: I’m an introvert now.

Cancer demanded of me that I get my house in order—because I was going to spend a lot of time in it.

Is this an essay on marriage?

No.

It’s an essay on writing under the cancer rubric.

It’s an essay on road trips.

It’s an essay on writing about road trips under the cancer rubric.

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“Honeymoon Dressing” by Maureen Mancini Amaturo

Day one of married life shed no light at all on married life. Reality check: we were not going to wake each morning and leave for Italy.

The first day after our wedding, I still felt single, as if exhausted from a big-night bar crawl instead of my own wedding reception. That morning, my biggest concern was what to wear on the plane. I had planned to wear a black, denim, maxi dress, but before I left the office two days before my wedding, as I was hugging everyone and waving bye and collecting wishes and congratulations, my Creative Director’s last words to me threw a wrench in my line-up. She said, “Don’t wear black on your honeymoon.”

That last day in the office, I was in a hurry to catch my commuter bus and get out of Manhattan and home to the hundred or so wedding details I had to address, so I didn’t take the time to ask why. I fretted over my affinity for wearing black all the way from midtown’s Port Authority, locally known as Port Atrocity, to New Jersey. While waiting for my bus, I re-evaluated my fashion identity. Everything I own is black. Open my closet, and it’s like stepping into a cave. There’s security in black and mystery, sophistication, elegance, neutrality, and a metropolitan-ness, and aren’t I all of those things? And I work in Manhattan, where everyone wears black so that the streets seem to be crowded with shadow people. What’s wrong with black? I looked at the several hundred people shuffling and running by me on the bus platform. Ninety percent of them were wearing black. The other ten percent, wearing pastels, were obviously tourists. Continue reading

Spring 2020 Contest Finalist: “The Hobo Queen” by C. Christine Fair

Trigger warning: child abuse, sexual assault and violence

 

Sketch by C. Christine Fair“Cuz Christy, if you ever show up around here, I’m gonna kick your ass. And you know I can”; her heavy emphasis upon “know” reflected her conviction that she had done so previously.

Struggling to appease her fury, I conceded “Baby Sandy. You can kick my ass. But I’m still a pretty good runner and I’m not sure you’d catch me. We’re both old women now.”

“Oh, I’d catch you alright and knock that fuckin’ useless head off your shoulders,” Sandy snarled.

“But why? I’ve just been trying to help. What did I do? I love you. Always have. Always will. I worry about you every day and night. I wonder where you’re sleeping and eating. Are you safe, happy? The questions keep coming. But I get no answers. Ever.”

Without hesitating, Sandy barked “Because you left. You fucking left us here.”

The worst part about this allegation? 

It was true. 

And I’d do it again. Continue reading

“Diet Coke,” an essay by Maya Landers

My mom is hard to miss. She’s recognizable by her handmade skirts and Birkenstocks, by her playlists that range from Sinead O’Connor to Maroon 5. I can find her at night by the glow of Candy Crush on her phone screen. In grocery stores I track her by her sneeze: explosive, cathartic, followed by a “Whew! Thank you!” to all the people who offer a “bless you.” 

 

When I was seven, I went to a birthday party at Inflatable Wonderland in the mall. After diving into the ball pit and getting lost in the maze, I realized suddenly I didn’t know where I was. Right as I started to panic, I saw a half-drunk diet Coke at the top of a staircase. I relaxed. It was a sign: your mom is here! 

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Halloween Contest Winner: Various Ways of Looking at Halloween by Nancy Slavin

“Stay with us, stay with us,” the swarm of ghouls yelled at me just after dawn on Halloween morning. 

Witches had snatched my three-hour-old baby, taking her so I could not see her. Her cries from being torn away from my breast tore through me, but the ghouls told my husband, who now held our newborn child, to get the hell out of the room. 

The doctor who’d cut me open just a few hours before to birth our baby, now pressed with the heels of both hands on my newly stapled belly, which was bleeding out. A gush of blood, blood pressure dropping to thirty over forty. When the numbers match up, the body is dead. 

The rest of the goblins, I remember, discussed a machine, some machine they wanted to arrive to help me survive. The nurse was a minute away, they said. The drug she would give me would cause bloating, and they had to give me someone else’s blood. “I’m just tired,” I complained. I did not know I was dying. When she arrived, she wore a Nurse Ratchet costume, with a tight white tunic, bright white leggings and a small blue-and-white striped paper hat bobby-pinned in her coiffed blond hair.

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Book Review: The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison

Review by E. Kirshe

source of self regard toni morrison

 

“A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are a necessity,” writes Toni Morrison in the prologue of her latest book, The Source of Self-Regard. This collection of work, spanning four decades, goes on to show just how necessary Morrison is to our literary canon and how illuminating to our society.

 

At 88 years old Morrison has a rich life’s worth of insightful nuance, analysis, and empathy to offer on topics that range from feminism, colonialism, money, human rights, and immigration, to meditations on culture and art.  Though a lot of ground is covered (and how could it not be? Morrison has been a literary beast since the 70s) this collection of previously published essays is cohesive in that it’s hers. It is divided into three parts: the first begins with a prayer for the dead of 9/11; the second with a meditation on Martin Luther King Jr.; and the last with a beautiful and personal eulogy for James Baldwin.

 

Considering the sheer volume of work here it is impossible to cover the whole without writing a novel-length review. I will say that some of the work here really stood out to me often because no matter when a piece is from, Morrison’s work is unquestionably relatable to our present. This is large because she observes and perfectly captures society- she has the ability to cut right to the heart of a matter. Morrison refers to how the media operated during the OJ trial as an “age of spectacle,” taking down their penchant for turning what should be straight news into entertainment, and we know those patterns haven’t changed at all in today’s media landscape.

 

Not only do many of Morrison’s pieces ring out truth in much the same way it’s obvious that they do because she’s doing her job as a writer. Every piece answers what the role of what the artist in society should be because she uses her work to analyze, critique, and offer answers for our world- “constructing meaning in the face of chaos,” as she writes in Peril.

 

Reading this collection is to spend time in the mind of someone brilliant. As Morrison said in her eulogy for Baldwin “You gave us ourselves to think about, to cherish.” After reading through everything Morrison has to offer in The Source of Self-Regard you’ll be reminded that she may as well have been talking about herself.

 

The Source of Self-Regard is now available from Knopf.

“The Blenderizing of the American Family” by May Wescott

Divorce is final and clean on paper.  But when there are kids involved, no judge in the world has the power to sever the bonds between two people who have entwined DNA walking around as a constant reminder that, despite the formality of the notarized seal on the decree, they will never really be divorced from each other

“Blended” is the fictitious term we use to describe families created out of the ragged stump of divorce.

When you make a cake, you “blend” the ingredients. It’s such a gentle process that you can do it easily with the rounded edges of a wooden spoon. Methodical, harmonious, smooth strokes of the spoon combine the disparate elements into a tranquil, pliable batter. Continue reading

Book Review: Mandela and The General by John Carlin, Illustrated by Oriol Malet

Review by E. Kirshe

Mandela and The General focuses on one stitch in Nelson Mandela’s legacy. In 1994, as the first post-Apartheid elections approach, and black South Africans are ready to take power with Mandela as their president, a militant faction of white South Africans – the Freedom Front – are ready to riot and fight to the death if need be. Attempting to avert a massacre Mandela held a series of secret meetings with Constand Viljoen- a former general of the South African army and later leader of the right-wing Freedom Front party.

“We must strive to find a political solution that reconciled White fears with black aspirations.”

As leaders of opposing factions they have the pull to keep their people from becoming violent and through reason, Mandela convinces Viljoen to reel his people in, to create true peace and not “the peace of graveyards.”

The book is told mainly through Viljoen’s recollections pulled from an interview author John Carlin conducted with him. The focus is on Viljoen, how he agreed to head the “white resistance”, how his twin brother helped broker the talks, and how Viljoen ultimately came to think of Mandela as “the greatest of men”. The story also serves to underpin what made Mandela capable of fostering this respect even from an enemy.

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