The Long Say

Bringing back the long-form essay before it’s too late.

The Music and the Rhythm

*Disclaimer – some of the links in this article may contain lyrics and videos that are not appropriate for children…and possibly some adults.

Harmony: Where do we find it? For some of us, our commune with inner peace comes when we sit quietly and meditate, slowly discouraging the marination on the thoughts of the day, or when we strap on our snowshoes and take a foray into the woods, chasing the magical glimpses of winter wildlife through and around the skeletons of the trees. And for yet others of us, our harmony comes, at times, from singing in the shower.

Yes, the shower. I recently read a piece by the incomparable Heather Heath Chapman (a writer out of Ann Arbor, Michigan), in which she tells the story of her habit of turning everything into a song and the role it has played in her relationship with her eldest daughter. Reading that story inspired me to write this post. Whereas in Heather’s piece it is a tale of a mother inflicting her singing on her daughter, in my case, it was all my mother’s fault that I became a shower singer; totally, absolutely, and unequivocally her fault, and it is something that I wouldn’t trade.

When I was little, in my late toddler to early elementary school days, my mom, an elementary school teacher, would (as most parents do) monitor me while I was in the bathtub. “Always test the water with your fingers first before you get in,” “Start with the cold water first and then add the hot little by little,” “No you can’t spray your play foam all over the walls,” “Your father’s shaving cream is not a toy,” etc. Now, as I grew old enough to know that keeping my head underwater for prolonged periods of time would have an undesirable effect (mostly that it would get me in trouble), my mom (again as most parents do) started letting me sit in the bath without constant supervision – with one caveat: I was to sing, loud enough for her to hear, and constantly while she was out of the room or had her back turned.

I have a few very distinct memories of her either dashing back and forth to the bathroom between scrub strokes as she washed the kitchen floor or cooked dinner and hollering, “Elizabeth, I can’t hear you! Why did you stop singing?” And that is how it started.

What was a rather ingenious bathtime safety rule set by my mother became a life-long companion to me. Now whenever I am scared or nervous or alone, I sing to myself and it calms me down. When I am driving and there is ice on the freeway and I can’t see very well because of all the precipitatin’ the weather is insistent on doing in Michigan, I sing. When I’m having anxiety about the overwhelming amount of work I have to get done, I sing. When I am in the shower and have the benefit of that little chamber of wonderful acoustics, I sing. And when the occasion calls for it, I hum.

This habit, as you get older, of course, has its consequences. For instance, it may not be as charming to hear both the woman’s and the man’s part of Once Upon a Dream from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty when it is belted out at the top of the lungs of your now almost 30-year-old daughter when she comes to visit and decides to use your shower as it once was when she was about, say…8. It could also make her appear odd and irrational to others as she parades down the street drop-drop-droppin’ those hips and swaying those arms as she does her nerdy best to rap along with Eminem’s Lose Yourself as it blares through her headphones. It also may make her look just the other side of lucid when she employs this strategy as she becomes uncomfortable in situations like waiting to be called at the doctor’s office (all eyes shift to her as the tapping of her foot goes out of control and the humming, once contained under her breath becomes – uncomfortably – audible.)

However, all in all, the benefits outweigh the risks. When I was living in Chicago and was often lonely and alone, I would sing to myself. Walking home from the bus at night by myself would have been more than enough to wig me out on some nights if it hadn’t been for that music never leaving me, just rolling right along with me whenever I needed it. It is just something I do. And I should say that I also do this when I am happy – the shower singing being a perfect example of this. When I was still living with my parents…how do I explain this without it coming out wrong…it was mildly, ever-so-slightly, mind-numbingly cramped. I had no privacy even in my bedroom (do parents ever knock? I mean really), and so the shower was a very welcome sanctuary. A place where I couldn’t be bothered by the outside world, a place where I could find some peace and wail out the tuneage from Les Miserables, Cats and Twisted Sister without any interruption from the…”Bang! Bang! Bang!” (goes the fist on the door) “ELIZABETH! QUIET DOWN IN THERE!” Apparently my music was no competition for the dramatic stylings of Melrose Place. Well Dad, ex-cu-u-u-se me!

I mean, is it so strange that when I come in to work early that I openly rock out to some Here I Go Again by Whitesnake? Is it really so weird that the other day when I was eating with my bff at Conor O’Neill’s and (it being trivia night) they played the first few bars of Montel’s This Is How We Do It that I abruptly broke from the conversation, turned my head and yelled “ha-ay!” as I raised the roof and pushed the walls (much to the surprise I’m sure of the man who caught my eye as I did this, his fork mid-way into his mouth)? Is it really so bizarre that when it’s warm outside and I have my windows rolled down that I blast Poison by Bel Biv Devoe so loud that the gentleman who was walking his daughter across the street was compelled to give me the “I gotcha” nod, causing me to sing along even louder? …no. I’m going to go ahead and say no. In fact right now at my desk I am singing (softly) and sliding my head back and forth to the tune currently playing in my noggin, which inexplicably at this moment in time is Iesha by Another Bad Creation. Who can help these things?

Filed under: Essay

Talismen

Occasionally you have a terrifying burst of creativity; terrifying in that in that moment you feel most truly efficacious. You’re not productive anymore, you’re a three-year-old grinning, happy in a pile of mud, building the universe, feeling the sweetness of the summer-warm sludge between your fingers. Terrifying also because this moment has nothing to do with professionalism. Every tree your coat bumps as you walk by; you feel like you’ve touched and ignited a tiny light at the tip of each branch. Not because you inherently have that kind of potency, but because you’ve by some repeated, lucky accident discovered the reciporical nature of yourself and the world outside you. You pull the thin plastic off the roll to make a kite, the wind carries the kite and tugs at the string, saying hello.

These moments in your (and of course I mean my) life are difficult to ignore. It’s no accident that you’ve been turning “This is Just to Say” around in your head more than usual lately, in that place just behind your throat and tongue. The poem is a talisman by a man who divided himself, as an obstetrician and as a writer.

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

It’s an ism that finds its way into your speech patterns has for a long time and will as you get older. And of course, it wasn’t *just* to say. William Carlos Williams worked long and unexpected hours. He saw the beginning of life on a regular basis. He asked for forgiveness. And the depth of the silence in this poem is easier to perceive every time I look at it. The silence resonates more heavily than each steadily constructed stanza. It’s a beautiful poem.

The strange world of self-hood, it doesn’t have much value closed. To keep from closing, we tack sayings on the fridge, near the plums. To keep ourselves from closing, we collect and share what we can, the way my friend and I used to collect junk and put it on top of our dressers, above our clothes, forcing ourselves into a relationship with the outside world. We used to collect empty mustard and tea tins and liked them if they were old-looking. We were in awe of the appearance of age; we were fascinated by the idea of life that came before ourselves. This is a lot of extrapolation, but I know that those knick-nacks were of the utmost importance to protect and defend against the degradation of time, because now I have to figure out what to do with a bunch of childhood junk that I loved.

As people we collect and present objects to each other. And when there aren’t any objects, when motion and time are our escape hatch from the closed self, we sculpt these into recognizable ideas, and when time and gravity pull against the ideas, we salvage what we can and adapt.

We don’t quite have a word for why we do it. It makes us feel whole. The Sistine Chapel depicts the creation of Adam, but we more popularly see the connection between man and God. Rather than God in the moment of creation of Adam, we see ourselves (as a white dude) reaching for something in a way that we know very well, and that we reach for, further and further, all the time. And this painting has become another one of my talismans. When I think about what I want to be, I’m stuck on the fact that it feels so damn good to be caught in that electric moment of creation, wherever it is. And so I know Michaelangelo had his Sistine Chapel and he did that. But don’t we all want to be working on our Sistine Chapels? That’s what I mean by talisman. We are reaching for that point of separation. The talisman is where we put our other hand when we want to feel steady and strong while we reach.

In the daily living of our lives, we have learned to confuse words for the reality of things, and maybe this is why words have a particular taste and richness, and we know that any academic could tell you that language is an arbitrary system, but where the fuck do you get arbitrary from words like “ballooning”? Or “joy”? Or “she saw who I was”?

I am pulled into myself again by language and the permission I’ve given myself to throw words in the air like pizza dough. I do want to tell you this. I want to touch your finger to say hi across time and space, an old trick I learned from Walt Whitman. It’s arrogant, I know. But mostly, I hope it’s warm and friendly, full of affection and overflowing with screwups. Aware of the rich and varied landscapes of consciousness, all so dark and deep.

Filed under: Essay

Molly

I’ve always been mistrustful of happiness.  Nothing terrifies me more than when nothing’s wrong.  In a way, Molly vindicated my entire outlook on life: you can go on vacation, and have graduations, and put your kids in snowsuits but eventually you’ll be in Bay City watching your surname go on another headstone, and there’s just no way to pull that card out of the deck.

But I should back up.  I only want to tell it once, and I want to do it right.  I need to go back seven years ago, before the brown pair of cargo pants, before moving, before college. Before the vet said ‘sarcoma’ and I stopped breathing.

I never had a dog before, but it was a year of firsts: I had just been dumped by my first real boyfriend. This led to my first credit card, as the nice college student listened patiently at the end of the line, agreeing in all the right places as I told her how he didn’t really love me, and yes, that was my correct address.  I needed to fill the gaping wound in my chest, and looking for sympathy from strangers—especially ones whose only interest was to open a line of credit—was pathetic.  Unconditional love was the job of a pet.

I had wanted a beagle for years, and my sister’s relentless Googling in service of my broken heart had found one locally, about four months old.  The shelter did not typically take dogs, although it was full to bursting with cats and one 12-year-old Lab that sadly couldn’t come with us.  We were led to a smaller room in the back that housed the newborn kittens, and something energetic in the corner kennel.  The cage was opened and something strong ran out, sat on me, and began licking my face.  That was pretty much it: I couldn’t leave her there.

As they gave her shots, tagged her, and generally wound her into a panic, I took stock of what I was in for.  This “beagle” was already fifteen pounds, with long gangly legs, flopped-over ears and a pointed snout.  This is when we learned the importance of the word “mix” in an animal adoption listing: Beagle Mix. Which is a polite way of saying a lady beagle was particularly slow in outrunning a German Shepherd.

What should have been a crime against genetics was actually quite beautiful in its own right.  As she grew, Molly took on the stately appearance of a jackal, standing beside the sofa like a hound at Tutakhamen’s throne (except for the ears, which remained hilariously flopped over even into adulthood, the beagle not willing to be denied).  Shepherd in size and shape but beagle in temperament, Molly circled the backyard going for speed around the track, a blackish blur with a long pink flag waving backward over her face in the wind.  In the winter, she galloped over snowbanks and fallen limbs like a deer, barking a strange, bastardized howl at squirrels that refused to fall on her side of the fence.

She stole sandwiches.  She would wait until I had left the room before destroying a pair of high heels, hardback book, and tote bag full of knitting.  She had an unfortunate habit of leaping onto counters to steal cinnamon rolls.  She would only obey me, and even then infrequently.  She wasn’t a perfect dog.

When I went away to school, Molly stayed at my parent’s house.  I would hear frequent updates on how she was doing—more accurately, what she was doing—as if I could teleport home to scold her.  I more than once lectured her through the phone on her behavior at my mother’s insistence (and my roommates’ enjoyment). It seemed to be the only thing she responded to, her ears lowering as she heard my mother relate the tale of the stolen chicken leg to the disembodied dog parent on the other end.  “Wait until Sarah gets home,” my mother warned.  She waited two years.

Two years ago, my sister found a bump on one of Molly’s legs.  The dog wasn’t acting any differently, but I might want to get her checked out, because it could be cancer.  Such alarmist claims were typical in my family: our cat hadn’t eaten that morning, she might have kidney failure; if my father had a headache, it was obviously diabetes.  I sighed and saddled her up for the vet, a dubious enterprise since my dog also has a history of carsickness.

I expected to walk out of there $50 lighter and annoyed.

The vet came back into the room.

The crazy thing is how fast it all happened.  Ninety-five percent chance of osteosarcoma.  Might be something else, but probably not. Spreads quickly.  Probably already in her lungs.  Two months, max.  The words just swirled around me, two or three at a time.  I don’t think I said anything.  My eyebrows stayed up, my eyes went from my vet to the dog, back to the vet, then up at the x-ray on the board.  I thought he was putting me on.  All the time I thought, “She’s fine. Look at her, she’s fine.”

I got in the car. I started crying.

I was $160 lighter, but I wasn’t annoyed.  I walked next door to the grocery store and bought a steak.  I drove home in a fog, Molly drooling on the dash as usual.  I brought her into the house and she immediately stole a rawhide from our other dog.

“Molly!” my mother yelled. “That’s not yours!”

“Yes,” I said.  “It is.”

I flatly related what I had heard.  I felt empty, like I was paying a bill.  My mother did not receive the news well.  After I had finished, I walked into the kitchen, pulled out a pan, and began preparing the steak for my dog.

“Molly doesn’t eat dog food anymore,” I called back to my mother.  I heard her dial the phone.

I’ve always been mistrustful of happiness.  Being able to see the big picture means you’re always right, but never happy.

I didn’t have any kids.  I thought I was safe.

For the next month, Molly must have thought she was having an extended birthday.  My mother made a pan of cinnamon rolls every day, for the express purpose of feeding them to a dog.  Molly sat where she wanted, slept where she wanted, rolled around in the garden and was permitted under the table when we ate.  My mother sat and watched movies with her on the couch, played with her, told her she was pretty.  My mother wanted me to spend more time with Molly.  I refused.

I couldn’t.  Why would I? So I could love her more? Why would I do that?  She wouldn’t remember. I would.  I was the one who had to live.

We waited.  Waited for Molly to lose weight, to stop eating, to not want to move.  We waited six weeks, ten weeks, twelve.  She obstinately refused to go even slightly downhill.  Aside from a bump on her ankle, she was the same old dog—although confused as to why all the people around her were crying and giving her treats.  The vet called every week, gently reminding that I needed to make her final appointment, that it would be kinder.  I told him that she would have to at least look sick before I brought her in—I couldn’t walk in with a dog and come out with a collar when she didn’t have so much as a limp.

At three months, we were baffled.  I brought her to the vet, threatening him not to come near my dog with a needle.

Her labs came back fine.  Lungs looked fine.  It was still cancer, he warned, but there’s a 5% chance it’s localized.  In which case, we can treat it, with a 100% cure rate.

If we remove her leg.

Basically, we could take off the leg and do a biopsy.  If it spread, she would die anyway, and die a quicker and much more painful death.  If it worked, she would be fine.  There was no way to do the biopsy without removing the leg.  The surgery would cost $2000.  Surgery: might live, might not. No surgery: eventual death.  And if we were going to operate, we needed to do it as soon as possible.

I didn’t cry.  I hurt.  I felt like every time I stood up I was being pushed down again, and I was too stupid to stay down.

She wasn’t the perfect dog. She was my dog.

I scheduled the surgery.

She came home with a horrific trail of Frankenstein stitching down her side.  The right shoulder blade had been removed along with the leg, and the skin had yet to shrink back to cover the loss.  The staples were mottled with blood, her fur had been completely shaved on her right side, the skin puffy and bruised from opening and sewing.

My mother took one look at her and began to cry.  “She’s fine,” I said. Look at her.”  Molly licked my mother’s face, hoping to calm her down from whatever was wrong.  I went into the bathroom and cried on the toilet.

The next morning my brother, a nursing student, came by to visit.  Molly stood up on the couch to hug him, and turning sideways, he got a chance to look at the wound.  “Oh, it’s not bad at all,” he said, rubbing her ears. “That’ll heal just fine.”  I will forever love him for that.

It did heal. She was the same relentless beggar and unabashed thief she had ever been.  I took her running with me, though she could only go about a mile, her three-legged lollop making her ears flop Dumbo-like against the wind.  We did it. We were the survivors.

Last summer, Molly started coughing.

The vet didn’t have to say much.  It was always a risk.  We had bought her a year.  He seemed afraid to say more than that.  Her esophagus was enlarged, and each time she took a breath she coughed as she let it out.  She sat on the bench next to me.  I didn’t look up; I just nodded and waved my hand.

My brother left the room, but my sister stayed.  I thought, “How Steel Magnolias.”

The tech went over the arrangements with my sister.  They offered me a clay imprint of Molly’s paw as a memento.  A clay imprint, taken from my dead dog’s foot.  For $50.  I have never come so close to punching a human.

They gave Molly a sedative.  She became quiet and, very obviously, high.  Her tongue lolled out of her mouth, drooling a huge patch on my brown cargoes.  It was all suddenly hilarious; my sister and I laughed, rubbing her head.  I was covered in half-white, half-black hairs, just as I had been seven years ago on the floor of the Dundee animal shelter.

The vet came back in.  He cried.

She wasn’t a perfect dog.  She was my dog.

Filed under: Essay

The Men’s Survival Guide to PMS

A note from the author:

I’m not the first to get on a box and extol the plus and minuses of being a woman, although perhaps the first to giggle at the word ‘box’ while doing so. Perhaps there’s nothing new to add to this forum. Comedically, I’m all for periods becoming the new airline peanuts. Let this then be the bookend, the final reference, an entirely serious look into the proper etiquette surrounding an effluvium of hormones, and how not to get wet. (snort!)

You may think of it as a myth. A figure shrouded in mist that only bearded zealots insist they have seen firsthand. You may be among the believers. You may have been told that it doesn’t exist.

Firstly: It does exist. It’s as natural as gravity, and just as hard to ignore.

However, it is not what you think. Most importantly, it is not how the commercials would have you believe. It exists in much the same way as Santa Claus: based on real events, but evolved into an entirely new concept that barely resembles the reality. PMS bears as much resemblance to its media-enhanced counterpart as Taco Bell resembles Mexican food. I offer a PSA to dispel the myths, assert the truths, and help men and women alike make it through to the end with relationships, feelings, and limbs intact.

Remain calm.
Contrary to popular belief, women do not become infantilized or less intelligent during this time. Rather, their senses are heightened, making any stimulus multiplied to a power of ten. It’s as if you gave a lizard an injection expecting to knock it unconscious, and instead endowed it with superpowers. Tiptoeing may seem like the best option, but it may be perceived as condescension (see below), and you may be cleaved with a gaze. Most women are aware of this ability, and like Midas, find it more of a burden than a gift. Please remember that our voices will not always emit a sonic boom, that we do love it when you touch our boobs. But not today. Today you must stay behind the gate and cautiously watch as the engines ignite.

Act normally.
This is not the time to bring something up, as responses may vary. New business should be put on hold unless it’s emergent.

Do not ask her if she is “on her period” or “has PMS.”
Oh, the double-standard. That prickling and ever-present side effect of feminism, you little scamp. These terms, while perfectly serviceable among women, sound like you’re asking if she’s got an imaginary friend. I suggest the scientific and neutral phrase, “Do you think you might be ovulating?” This does two things: one, it uses the word “think,” acknowledges that you could be wrong, but you are concerned, and you value her opinion. Two, the use of the word “ovulate” shows that you are aware of things that Go On in the lady parts, and are hip to when this kind of freakout occurs (as opposed to the incorrect “on her period,” which is usually when the craziness is all over). Showing you have knowledge of the bits that lie beyond the six inches you normally experience will not only be appreciated, but also distinguish you as One of those Sensitive Men Who Seem to Get Laid a Lot.

Wait for the low.
There will be tense moments. After all, this ‘roid rage is mandatory for every person born with a uterus. Imagine if your mother cooked your favorite meal, and then you told her you weren’t hungry. And she’d been cooking for three weeks. Your lady’s body has been throwing hormones into a jar, knitting onesies in its brain stem for a month, preparing for a pregnancy whether the brain was on board with it or not. As body freaks out, the brain is along for the ride, not knowing why it’s so upset. Some women cry, some women throw things, some women cry while throwing things—it’s not funny, it’s biology. On the upside, it usually only lasts minutes at a time, and once stillness has returned to the pond we are usually satisfied your eyebrows were not blown off. She will again become human. Wait it out.

It is OK to bolt.
We don’t even want to be here, but we don’t have that choice. If you need to nip out to the video store, we’ll spend the time doing nutty things you would probably make fun of us for later, like we do when you’re drunk. We will, however, mark you down for attending the period, where you presence and support are much appreciated. Skip this wedding; we’ll see you at the reception.

Avoid condescension.
It’s much easier than avoiding bullets. Seriously, think first.

This should see you clear through the gate. If the above advice fails you, just remember: it is harder for her than it is for you. Much like the natural event that a period avoids.

Filed under: Essay

Cronenberg’s Dream

Dream Essay/Sonnet/Conversation/Dissection

Matthew Gelzer

I’ve seen you three times in my dreams.  That’s to say, in the last week, I’ve seen you three times in my dreams.  And you are smiling, wearing a jacket in one of the dreams, with your hair shoulder length and bushy.  That signifies a vitality that envelops your body. 

In another dream, you wear earrings you just bought.  They’re bust of Mozart on gold chains with black paint over the eyes and mouth like a child drew house paint on them and they come with a gold clasp that rests on the bridge of your nose.

I didn’t realize it then, but when I woke up this morning and left the house and I was painting Carol and Mike’s house, I realized that when you wore the earrings and the nose clasp, it gave your face Ganesa’s shape.  Therefore, when puzzling over your question, ‘What do you think of these earrings?’ it took on a whole new meaning. 

A simple question.  One I was now afraid I would answer incorrectly.  You were talking to a girl with short curly hair, a taupe color like bone.  You are so popular. She was wearing glasses and inviting you somewhere, suggesting you could play music together.  And I was jealous, I always envied the way strangers seemed to offer up intimacy, the common sense of use, comfortable lack, where nothing’s out of balance. 

I’d seen you the night before in a comics shop and I was angry and embarrassed because Chase told you to, ‘Be careful.’ and that ‘It isn’t worth it.’ and of course she was right, but I wanted to speak with you anyway.  I told her I was sorry.  She smiled and seemed to understand, but still, the two of us, we didn’t talk.

There were people around and I was looking at books in a museum shop.  Used books under a handmade sign, cheap, but beautiful.  You ordered at McDonalds and I bought a coke for less than two dollars.  $1.87, I think. 

I was climbing.  And you were seated on the edge of a bed.  And the carpet was very flat and.  The grass was studded with flowers over crops of red, red rock. Like a car accident.  James Dean cool.  Always a hotel.   Always rocks.

Filed under: Dream Essay, Essay

A Period Piece

Sarah Smallwood

Being single is like wearing a bright orange Ascot hat. Some days, it’s fabulous; you throw your head back, donning your best sunglasses, rubbing it in everyone’s faces: you have one, and they don’t. Whether people go green with envy or treat it like a tumor that they politely avoid talking about, it fills you with a fierce pride. Some days, you roll your eyes toward the invisible brim and wonder if you should have just gone with the scarf.

Like I did, when my doctor asked why I was still taking birth control. Obviously, she’d given up on me.

The pro-con list was tellingly short: a lone “prevent pregnancy” in the pro column, stacked against shelling out for a co-pay every month and retaining an extra ten pounds—things I am disinclined to do while not in a relationship. If the deed needed doing, condoms were a reasonable $7 a box; in the meantime, I would be losing weight and saving money.

Heady with the spirit of economizing, I tossed my last eight sugar pills in the trash. If anything went terribly wrong—if I sprouted a penis, or spiraled into menopause—I could always go back on. In the meantime, I braced myself for biology’s revenge.

Nothing happened. Periods came and went without incident. Sure, they had a different timetable—what had once been a man with a stopwatch in an engineer’s hat was now more of a Deadhead in a minibus taking life as it came—but all the same stops were made. My weight deflated slightly. I had made the right decision.

Somewhere in January, I got cranky. Just a little at first; I blamed it on the snow, the cold floors, daylight savings. I became increasingly snappish with my housemates, and resented their cowering avoidance of me. I shrugged it off as stress, and tried detoxing it away with rashers of carrots, Irish oatmeal, and Greek yogurt. This rose to a fever pitch around St. Patrick’s Day, when I beat the inanimate shit out of my car with an ice scraper, cursing its bullshit adherence to gravity and the extraterrestrial fuckers who decided water should fall from the sky.

I blamed my increasing irritability on stress at work, lack of sleep. I bought a gym membership. Hours on the elliptical made me well-rested, but still there was a low hum in the back of my brain; I felt something coming, something inexplicable. I hoped it was Spring.

It wasn’t.

Late April found me irascible, restless, and turgid as a succulent. My presence was a high-pitched note my coworkers could feel in their fillings. My stare could kill. The dog shook when I came home; animals always know. I never cried. Lightning bolts do not cry.

When the sun finally came out, my raw energy was diffused back into the earth—walks, running, gardening, anything that kept me outside. The anger slowly receded, now tempered into something else, something vaguely familiar. It was an itch, a pang, something that would not speak its name into my consciousness.

It was a strange feeling, like my clothes didn’t fit right, or my body had shifted slightly to the right. I was hot, cold, covered in prickles. Allergies, I reasoned, taking a dose of Allegra and sleeping with the window closed. I blamed jitters on the antihistamines; I went on longer runs, happily, in the early muddy months. I cut back on coffee; I was sure my body would adjust. After all, hadn’t it adjusted fairly well to the drop in estrogen? Wasn’t I over all that business now?

My brain was a five-year-old running through the cereal aisle, trundling along and pointing happily. My body was his mother, standing next to the flaxseed with a smile on her face.

One night, as I was sitting in a café with two friends, a man in a tight green t-shirt sat down at his laptop. I remember very little about that night, except the expressions on my friends faces as I sat, shifting in my seat, my pupils so dilated that trained poodles could have jumped through them. I realized what that itch was. It was internal, and there was no balm for it—well, there was, but you couldn’t buy it in shops. I stared. I gripped the table edges.

I was no longer a woman. I was an adolescent male with sore boobs.

I ate bacon. I ate a frozen yogurt the size of my head. I put sugar in my coffee and put deodorant on twice a day. There was a three-a-day minimum of “that’s what she said” jokes.

I replaced my vibrator batteries. And then I replaced them again.

What I hadn’t fully considered was that I went on the Pill when I was seventeen, about five minutes after my first boyfriend and I had nodded our way through a conversation about Doing It. I had been on them, through both high times and dry times, ever since.

That was ten years ago. A decade of a little something extra, a little progesterone fix, which I had quit cold turkey. I mistook the ensuing quiet as acceptance. I assumed my body had gone to its room to meditate or balance its checkbook, when in reality it was spending its nights at the still, brewing up a batch of Liberty Gin. The six months it took my body to climb out of its estrogen trough was merely the aging shelf life of hormone moonshine.

And I knew what had to happen for it to stop, but I still was not prepared. I counted days and circled the last week on the calendar with the trite red Sharpie, and waited.

One night, I dreamt I was in labor. I was walking the mall with my sister and fainted—wondering, at the time, exactly how one can faint in a dream. The contractions were hard and fast, and I was glad I was asleep.

Whoosh. I sat straight up.

I headed for the bathroom and yelled for my sister—after all, she had been so great about the dream fainting, and from the way I was bent in half I was sure I would need medical attention. The conversation that followed included the phrases, “I’m sorry for this, but please come in here,” “Is that normal,” and “Do I need to go to the ER?”

I may have been overreacting, but this hadn’t happened since I was fourteen and skipped school in favor of a hot-water bottle and the gender-neutral “headache” fearing organs would fall out of me on my way to the bus. I tore open a fresh super-plus, silo-sized, “you can go swimming if you don’t mind reducing the water level by an inch” box, wondering if I needed a tourniquet instead—and if I did, where the hell would I tie it?

Upon hearing this, my doctor pats my knee and assures me everything is normal. I shoot her a “you weren’t there, man” glare. She tells me there was a bit of a lapse, but my body has regulated—in the gangsta rap sense, I assume, nodding—and is now fully “adjusted.” “Leveled out.” Although, she warns, from now on this may be the norm. I sigh and adjust my hat, happy that at least the withdrawal pains are over.

Until next month, when my uterus shivers in a corner, slapping its wrists and wondering what else it can sell.

Filed under: Essay

Ambition

Anna K. Jonsson

Ambition that is not supported by skill or by the ability to envision systematic implementation is idiocy. Or at least that is what spending too much time as an Information Masters’ student might lead one to believe. However, I am nothing if not ambitious without the ability to execute.

About a year ago, I decided I would build a kayak. This event was to take place sometime in my lifetime, and I was about to move into a place with a backyard, so this was good. I researched kayak construction fairly extensively (the authoritative source appears to be The Strip-Built Sea Kayak by Nick Schade).

Wanting to build a kayak stemmed from my desire to construct something that was the nexus of utility and design, to really make something, to have something tangible that marked that time period of my life.

I suppose my lifespan should instead be measured by haphazard and wreckless ambition.

The other day my roommate asked me “how do font designers do what they do?” As in, how do they translate the image of the font they envision into a codable piece of information? I didn’t know, but I immediately felt like I wanted to find out. I asked my mom, the typographer. She confirmed what I had vaguely suspected, but she’s not a font designer, so she didn’t clarify: fonts are designed in illustrator as vector files.

I have no experience in typography. To design a font would be a fool’s errand at best, stupidiful at the worst (yes, it would be so dumb that the derogatory term for my prospective task doesn’t even make sense). Yet there comes that ambition, daring me to figure out how to make it happen. The sheer scale of the task, the research involved, the skill needed to be developed, this is what draws me toward ambitions like these. It’s the idea that I can, with the proper application, still accomplish anything.

My life can be measured by a series of failed ambitions. And this is not a bad thing. It speaks of the mind’s will to put ideas into action, which is one of the most remarkable aspects of life on earth. No, a pile of failed ambitions is nothing I fear. If I manage to record 1/3 of them, I’ll be happy. Some of my happiest and most fulfilling moments have been the nights I couldn’t sleep because I decided I was going to make a movie (11th grade), learn a foreign language (10th grade), write a comic strip (6th grade, and again in 2006), start a T-shirt company, etcetera, etcetera.

I actually think I’m hitting my stride in Human-Computer Interaction, too, because it’s an avenue of channeling my ambition to do exciting things into a tangible and cost-effective format. If I believe that something is important enough, I can effectively communicate how and why it could be used, and having that perspective is useful.

Be prepared to hear of more unscalable projects from Yours Truly in the coming years. Maybe I’ll figure out a way to pull something off, but if not, I bid you “Go Not Gently.”

Filed under: Essay

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