Four cartoons by Jon Dorn

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Jon Dorn is the author of the comic Cartland, an independent filmmaker, and co-owner of the live music company Brewster Productions in Plymouth, MA. He has a Master of Fine Arts in media art from Emerson College, and lives in Quincy, MA with an adorable collection of dead drawing pens. Check out his work at jondornart.com.

2007 by Clara Roberts

“Lying in my bed again, and I cry cause you’re not here. Crying in my head again, and I know that it’s not clear. Put your hands, put your hands inside my face and see that it’s just you. But it’s bad and it’s mad and it’s making me sad, because I can’t be with you.”

– The Cranberries

At 17, I am no longer the age of innocence. I am torn open. The phone is ringingand I hide my body within a gray sweatshirt and black sweatpants, enveloped by three layers of blankets and the voices of redemption: Bob Dylan, New Order, Smashing Pumpkins, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cranberries. They make me want to stay under the covers forever and forget about how disgusting I feel, a part of this world.

There were hardly any sunny days in 2007 and I would not have known if there were even a few, the blinds in my bedroom shielding the light. I thought I would implode if I was exposed. I was a bat during the daytime.

I still went to school, of course, but with purple sunglasses on.

I attempted to learn, and in some classes I really did. In other classes I stared at the tendons in my mottled purple hands and pulled at the skin. I wanted to disappear. At 17 years old I was already bored with life because of the consistent emptiness making each day incomprehensible. I couldn’t yet drive a car, couldn’t yet drive out to the slippery black highway and cruise to another state, change my name, or erase the failures I carried and reflected into others’ swollen hearts.

I woke up in a depersonalized and foggy state of being. Spanish 4 Honors was arduous, boys were tricky to read, and I was disgusted with my pretentious English teachers, especially with the voices in my head never quieting down.

I made frequent trips to the bathroom, especially in the afternoon. I cried in the stalls. Sometimes I would hear another girl come into the stall next to mine and I wouldn’t leave until I could hear the echo of her footsteps.

Without warning, I would get sick. I would stay home weak and ill because of a shaky immune system. Yet, I was strong enough to light up another few cigarettes and walk to the local Royal Farms to buy Diet Sunkist, another lighter. I have always believed you can never have too many lighters. I listened to the Plastic Ono Band when I got home. Some of the songs on that album were broken records. Seriously. But sounds are always intriguing.

This pain has no origin, at least not that you know of. It carves into your blood and bones. Your appearance already fades into the background of all the chaos. You fade right in front of your own eyes.

Focus.

Focus on staying awake.

Try not to notice the time falling away as he holds you in his scrawny arms, telling you that he wants to keep seeing you but is too scared to be with you or anyone else.

Oh, dear. He still wants to get close.

You know he doesn’t see you, but through all of this blurred cold, you see him. You see him even though he doesn’t want to look at you. Three years of being in his presence has made you yearn to get close.

Get close, even as he pushes you away with his forced detachment and his slow descent into liquor. Nothing is imaginary.

Days jumble just like his useless words and promises until the dreaded gray cloud hovers over you. Rain falls hard and burns as it hits the ground. You want to hear from someone that you can be whole even though you are feeling like you are about to crumble. Insanity is not what it seems. You see it coming but when it actually hits you become blind and miss it completely.

Gradually, then suddenly, you find yourself walking into the bone-cracking coldness of the backyard, barefoot with icy breath flowing out of your chapped mouth.

Time stops seeming like the thing that can transform you into something halfway decent. You feel like you have lost your way like Edie Sedgwick, one of Andy Warhol’s superstars, when she suddenly jumps out of a cab and starts running toward an invisible destination. The coldness screams on you when you wind up trembling with confusion in your familiar alley.

You are too tired for this.

Too tired of running to a place that you hope will make you rise above the instability.

Edie would be able to relate to the running, the yearning to be seen and necessary.

You would hold each other’s breaking bodies and say nothing.

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Clara Roberts will be studying creative nonfiction at Johns Hopkins University starting in fall 2012.

 

 

The Truth About Spam by Patrick Ross

Don’t bother to search the luncheon meat Spam for human flesh. You won’t find it. Paul Theroux once wrote that former cannibals in the South Pacific developed a taste for the mystery meat because it had a “corpsy” flavor. But the kiosk sign I’ve just read insists that SPAM—I will now use all caps as per the manufacturer’s preference—is simply spiced pork shoulder. Letters blue and bold pronounce this fact with insistence, noting that the product’s name is a combination of “SPiced” and “hAM.” So much for the canard that the name actually stands for “Something Posing As Meat.” It’s comforting to know that were I ever to try a slice, I would not be consuming a lost relative.

There are many such kiosks here at the Hormel SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota. I learn that I can purchase SPAM in 47 separate countries. The slimy pink goo is spreading across the globe, a contagion engineered to outlive us all. A spotlight shines on a promotional poster for The Hormel Girls, a troupe of female World War II veterans who traveled the country using song and dance to promote patriotism and processed meat. Near the poster, a 1950s-style movie marquee lined with light bulbs blinking clockwise advertises the museum’s feature film, “SPAM: A Love Story.” The many interactive exhibits here promote a pork product many consider a punch line, but they do so without a sense of irony. The authenticity is refreshing.

This free museum is a pleasant diversion on a long, solo drive across the same country the Hormel Girls once traversed. I have already driven about 3,000 miles and have another 3,000 or so ahead of me, but despite road fatigue and longing for my wife– her lips, her hips, other parts not found in SPAM—I do not miss Washington, D.C. I have lived there for 23 years, but I still do not call it home. My sole tether is professional, tied to the rhythmic pulse of policy and politics. It is because Congress has shuttered for its annual August recess that I am free to take this cross-country sojourn. But my experiences on the road have awakened something in me, something dormant but alive. A hunger.

A whir above me signals the endless transit of SPAM containers, gliding along on an elevated conveyor belt. That round-cornered, rectangular can is iconic in our culture. Not even Andy Warhol, I suspect, could have seared it into our collective consciousness to any greater degree. But the product’s name has a new ubiquity in the digital age, a time when Nigerian strangers promise us untold wealth if we first wire a bit of our own savings. The etymology of “spam” as deceptive email stems from a 1970 sketch on the British comedy Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The Python Players joined with a chorus of Vikings in singing in repeated staccato the word “SPAM.” The painful repetition of the word gave name to the bombardment of fraudulent solicitations that overwhelm our email inboxes.

I hear the Python song now and seek its source, admiring the museum curator’s willingness to embrace mockery of what the museum celebrates. In the next room I discover a blurry clip of the scene looping on a video display fashioned to look like a 1970s television. The Python Players belt the repeated lyric in high-pitched shrieks. I find myself singing along under my breath. I return to the innocence of youth, when I eagerly devoured this odd British import in my home 2,500 miles from our nation’s capital. A nearby kiosk informs me that if I were to open a can of SPAM packaged in the 1970s, the contents would still be edible, but not as tasty.

This unplanned museum visit is the result of a recommendation from a professional storyteller I interviewed earlier today in Rochester, Minnesota. He earns a living telling folk tales to children at Midwestern schools and festivals. The stories themselves are imagined—mice as a rule do not pull thorns from the paws of lions—but the moral lessons he delivers ring true. A stranger to me, he welcomed me into his home, introduced me to his son, and shared a moment of extreme professional embarrassment. It is a character builder, he said, to perform at a county fair before an audience of none, all the while staying true to the storyteller’s mission by continuing to spin the tale.

This trip is being financed by my employers, D.C. lobbyists who are paying me to record the stories of others. The mission of my bankrollers is to spin stories for policymakers. Lobbyists often tell fiction to convey what they insist is a larger truth. I am on this trip to find true stories, hoping to give my employers the added bonus of authenticity. What struck me this morning is the realization that the individuals I’m interviewing on this trip share themselves without expectation of reward from my Washington masters. My journey is teaching me that generosity is the twin sister of authenticity.

The SPAM train above me continues its endless loop. I press forward from the Python video to a new kiosk, one for the “Hands-On SPAM” interactive exhibit. I am instructed to start the timer, fill an empty can with the fake meat, “cook” it in the pretend oven, which is the same size as an Easy-Bake but lacking a light bulb, slip a label on the can, and stack it in a shipping box. When I pick up a sample of the pretend meat, I find it is a bean bag with a rubber exterior, polished smooth by the fondling of many hands. I linger, not ready to let go of the surprisingly comfortable toy.

I squeeze the play SPAM in my left hand, my middle finger almost reaching my thumb through the rubber and filling. I don’t question the fact that this assembly line is a fiction, because it presents itself as such. I find comfort in this spongy toy in my hand. It is real to the touch. It is real to me.

A few minutes ago I lingered at another kiosk, which told the story of another Minnesota-born phenomenon. SPAM makes no pretensions about what it is, and what it isn’t. But Betty Crocker, I learned, is a lie. A Minneapolis milling company invented the baking legend in 1921 as a marketing tool. After reading her story, I examined Ms. Crocker’s familiar portrait, this one her original image circa 1936. Her shoulders bespoke confidence in a perfectly tailored crimson jacket, while a lacy white collar softened her intense gaze. I looked into those eyes, resting just below thinly plucked eyebrows. Those eyes told me to dismiss the kiosk’s assertion, insisting I maintain my illusion of her truth.

I have, in my time in Washington, been invited to engage in fiction. A tasty assortment of treats has been offered as a reward. But as I stand at the interactive SPAM display and squeeze the play meat in my hand—as I feel its undeniable physical presence—I find myself craving spiced pork shoulder.

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Patrick Ross is an award-winning journalist whose work has been published in newspapers and magazines such as The New Republic, the San Jose Mercury News, and U.S. News and World Report, and in literary journals such as Barely South Review and Shaking Like a Mountain. His blog, The Artist’s Road, was named a Top Ten Blog for Writers for 2011-2012, and he teaches creative blog writing at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Talking Like We Mean It by Erin McMahon

Our mothers and fathers and teachers and the rest of the villagers who raised us tell us to think before we speak. I interpret this as, “Make sure what you’re saying is a good idea,” and, “Be careful how you say things.”

This last phrase might become my epitaph. It’s true: I’m obsessed with word choice.

My biggest fear is neither dying nor being alone (although that one comes close). Instead, I am afraid of being misinterpreted and then, as a result, dying or being alone.

I face this fear nearly every day, as I try to be conscious of my choices. I’m misunderstood often. I’m human. It happens. But being aware of the way we say, not just what we say, can make a significant difference.

To show you what I mean, I’ll provide an example that’s been on my mind. I never noticed it until I lived in Spain. In English, it’s common to say something like, “Can I talk to Bob, please?” Or, “Oh yeah, Carol’s doing just great. I talked to her the other day.” We say “talk to” quite a bit.

I realized this when, in Spanish class, I accidentally said “hablar A” instead of “hablar CON.” I was corrected and sufficiently embarrassed. (In Spanish, hablar means to speak or to talk. A is a preposition that functions like the English “to,” just as con functions as the English “with.”)

In Spanish, there is only “talk with” and “speak with.” There are no alternatives. We can use these phrases in English, too, and it’s still right, but Spanish doesn’t even give people the option. My mistake got me thinking about what the English—talk to and talk with—implies.

In America, people talk to each other. Often. What I mean, of course, is that we talk at each other. We send out sound waves from our mouths so that they may hit other people’s faces. It works. I talk to people and they talk back. We bear our flags and send our words like messengers.

But talking to doesn’t really shout “conversation.” I talk to my dog, Wendell, all the time. But he doesn’t talk back. I sometimes talk to my brother, Paul, as if he were Wendell, and it’s the same story. Talking to is like an update on Facebook or Twitter: the sending of words without much thought.

On the flip side, talking with implies warmth, even intimacy. I’d like to think that Americans talk with each other as much as they talk at. I talked with my friend Caroline the night I decided to drop a class. I talked with my mallorquina friends about how we were going to keep in touch after I left Palma de Mallorca. I talked with my cousin about her recent engagement and her eagerness to start the wedding planning process. An intimate heart-bearing dialogue might not always be appropriate, but listening and sharing should be.

So what? So, maybe we should start acknowledging the difference between Twitter and human connection. I know, I know: Twitter is great and it has its function. Never has breaking global news been so accessible. But being re-tweeted shouldn’t be a priority over having a real conversation with my brother. Culture influences language, and language influences culture, so maybe we can approach this from both ends. Changing the way we speak might just help us better communicate, and changing the way we communicate might just change the way we think.

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Erin McMahon grew up in Rockvale, Tennessee and attends the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, where she studies Spanish, Theatre, and French. In June 2010, she studied under Steve Vineberg and Ed Isser in Holy Cross’ British Theatre in Perspective immersion in London, UK. From September 2011 to June 2012, she attended the Universitat de les Illes Balears in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. She enjoys performing, practicing yoga, and praying to God that she graduates next spring. Upon graduation, she plans to study Spanish Golden Age Literature.

Syrian Dream, Arkansas, March 29, 2012 by Mohja Kahf

Swimming pool. Toddler boy drowning at the bottom of it. Suspended, at the bottom of the pool. Not struggling anymore. Still.

I see him distorted in deep water, wearing blue shorts and shirt. CPR could still save him! I am behind a glass panel, cannot get through. It is bashar al-asaad’s villa, wide white stone terrace. bashar’s three kids are asleep upstairs. I cannot hear through the glass. But I can see. I see the pool. I see the child.

Look again—now it’s fifty children in the pool, dead or drowning. All their bodies under water, some struggling, some already still. I cannot get through. Can only look through glass panel. Soundless picture, no noise.

Children, laid out on ground. On terrace stone. Clothed, wet, dead. Some on their sides curved at the waist. A girl, about eleven, twelve years. She’s twitching! Save her! But I can’t. Can’t get through the glass. Somebody, help! Help me get them. If I could get to the twitching ones at least. Help.

There’s bashar and his kids, a girl and two boys—on a stone ledge up above the bodies, sitting, looking over the terrace scene, dangled legs swinging.

Fifty dead children laid out. All still now, all dead. If only they had been pulled out before. I can only watch. Help. Help. Nothing I do has any effect on anyone in the scene. I am not seen or heard. Behind glass. That’s when I notice: the toddler in blue is my baby brother, mine, my brother Usama, when he was little, twenty-five years ago, only now he’s this toddler, and dead. This was the moment of his death. Sobs burst from me.

All day, I have forgotton the dream but keep sobbing.

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Mohja Kahf is the author of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf: A Novel. An associate professor of comparative literature at the University of Arkansas, she tweets for the Syrian revolution @profkahf.

An Excerpt from Beauty: An Adoption by Molly Gaudry

It has been nearly six months since I began this book. I wrote that bit about Philippe and the cave, and the merchant’s impending betrayal, and quit. The semester ended. Christmas happened. The new year came and went, my father’s health improved, and then I went to Chicago and was nearly undone by a dull, painful double vision in each eye. When I tried to focus the images, I felt overwhelming nausea.

That was March 1, 2012. Three cities, four doctors, an Emergency Room scare, a panic attack on the floor of a Walgreen’s, and nineteen days later, I ceased to be a medical marvel and finally received a diagnosis from a neuro-opthalmalogist who assured me that with daily exercises my vision would be 100% restored by July.

At its worst, I could read only a page or two before a small pain began to hum and buzz beneath and behind my eyes, accompanied by nausea and light sensitivity, the need to cover my eyes with a hot heavy compress, the familiar feeling of being unable to breathe, panic rising in my chest and swelling in my throat. The inability to perform the simplest of tasks—answering an email, reading the back cover of a book, surfing the Internet—driving me slowly crazy. After a few hours of rest, I could try it again.

Inevitably a time came when I did not want to try at all.

The counseling center on campus referred me to a psycho-therapist and during our first session, why not, I told her about the panic attacks. I told her I had one Xanax left, and when she gave me the option I told her no, medication would not be part of my treatment. I told her that after years of heavy drinking I decided one day to quit and would not start now with pills. I told her about my fear of death, my phobia of dead animals, decomposing animal parts, severed body parts. I told her I did not remember my childhood, did not remember anything up to the age of 15, did not remember my sister. She told me to pay attention to my body, said, The mind may forget the trauma but the body was there, and it remembers.

For two weeks I paid attention to my body and asked myself, again and again: What is it I don’t want to see?

And then—not without warning, not without the past fifteen years’ worth of warning—I remembered something obvious, something that explained quite easily my years of memory loss.

But I have decided not to make this book about that. It was never supposed to be about that, and it won’t be now just because I have the recall. In place of this reveal, I offer Jeanette Winterson’s instead:

“There are so many things that we can’t say, because they are too painful.

“[. . .] I believe in fiction and the power of stories because that way we speak in tongues. We are not silenced. All of us, when in deep trauma, find we hesitate, we stammer; there are long pauses in our speech. The thing is stuck. We get our language back through the language of others. We can turn to the poem. We can open the book. Somebody has been there for us and deep-dived the words.

“I needed words because unhappy families are conspiracies of silence. The one who breaks the silence is never forgiven. He or she has to learn to forgive him or herself” (Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, 8-9).

So I have taken myself on vacation. It is beautiful here. You can’t go out without sunscreen and dark glasses, even at dusk, which is when I walk the dogs.

My skin is turning brown. My hair is frizzy, wild. My shoulders are as dark as the soles of my feet are bright, luminous. I write by day and by night, and I sleep with the windows and doors open. I hear the same bird make the same strange squawks at the same time every evening. I hear the insects in their darkness, in my darkness. I sit at night on the unlit terrace, my bare feet on the still-warm bricks, and listen to the wind rush through the huge, papery palms above. I smell the sea and look to the stars and feel connected with something large, something human and age-old—what a homesick sailor felt, perhaps, a thousand years ago, lost in his own solitude, the scents of the sea rising up and surrounding him, surrounding me, the stars his guide, and mine for a different journey, the wind on his face, same as the wind on mine these centuries later, rustling the palms.

Yesterday I ventured out of the villas and into the village for the first time and enjoyed a cold glass of wine that sweated as I sweated. I watched the sailboats come and go. I did not stay to see the sun set behind them. It would have been too sweet.

Tonight I am treating myself to a fancy dinner-for-one on the ocean, only slightly aware of the seaside wedding and the other tables around me set for two or four or more. Seafood stew: tomato broth, shrimp, mussels, scallops, squash. The heat of the stew and my wine, and the rough and steady breeze from the unending ocean waves and their relentless, raging roar, feel incredible. I have the strength in me to destroy something, but for the first time in fifteen years I don’t feel the need to. The sun sets, and my fellow diners and I raise our glasses to it and to each other.

I go to the pool almost every day. I read a chapter in the villa, where it is cool, then a chapter outside, on a raft under the beating sun. I read at least a book a day, and write at least a line. I write as many lines as I have inside me, waiting to get out.

My eyes are becoming able again, gaining strength by days.

Winterson: “Every day I went to work, without a plan, without a plot, to see what I had to say. And that is why I am sure that creativity is on the side of health. I was going to get better, and getting better began with the chance of a book” (Why Be Happy, 173).

Duras: “Solitude also means, either death or a book” (Writing, 7).

It is the same for me. I believe this with all my heart: either death or a book.

So here I am, fighting for at least the chance of this book. I have taken myself on vacation to a place where I feel alive, where I feel a deep longing for creativity reawakening within me, and I am fed by moments—catching a lizard in the villa and setting it free outside, its tiny lungs heaving beneath its iridescent skin, the discovery of a mama bird atop her nest just above my front door, the way her two black eyes watch my every move, and the ever-always moment of that noisy, human-less silence of the living that goes on and on, whether with us or without.

“Because I decided here was where I should be alone, that I would be alone to write books” (Duras,Writing, 4-5).

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A five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Molly Gaudry was nominated for the 2011 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry. She is the author of We Take Me Apart, which was a finalist for the Asian American Literary Awards for Poetry and has been nominated for the McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize. She is the founder and creative director of The Lit Pub. More at http://www.mollygaudry.com/.

How to Start a Band by Shae Krispinsky

1. In middle school, read copious amounts of Sylvia Plath. Memorize “Lady Lazarus” and “Full Fathom Five.”

2. Decide that you are Sylvia Plath reincarnated. Your proof? The inexplicable scar running
lengthways down your wrist. From your suicide in your past life. Even though this wasn’t how

Plath died.

3. Fill a behemoth 3-ring binder with page after page of shitty poetry. You’ve also been reading Ayn Rand, so you write lines like, “Petrograd stands on skeletons, its roads are paved with bone.” Relentlessly share your poetry with your friends who don’t even pretend to care.

4. Realize that you are the only person you know in real life who voluntarily reads poetry. Eye the thin volumes on your bookshelf with contempt.

5. Stop writing poetry. Decide to become a novelist. Plath wrote The Bell Jar, after all. Never get further than the first chapter of your novel about the girl who has a tawdry affair with the moon.

6. While watching Vh1 (back before the invasion of reality TV), hear Bob Dylan singing “Like a
Rolling Stone.” Take the mental note: Music is the poetry for the masses.

7. With your first paycheck from your first job (cashier at the grocery store down the street; you
have to wear a demeaning red smock), buy an acoustic guitar starter-kit from a big-box music store.

8. Learn all the fingerings of the eight or nine chords charted on the single sheet of paper included
with your guitar. Find a stained Mel Bay guitar chord pamphlet from the 70s in your parents’garage. Learn three more chords.

9. Study no theory, learn no more chords. Refuse to practice anyone else’s songs.

10. Replace Plath’s The Collected Poems with Dylan’s Tarantula. Wax poetic about junkyard angels and back-alley prophets. After listening to Highway 61 Revisited a scrillion times, buy
from Ebay a Triumph t-shirt like the one Dylan’s wearing on the cover, even though you’ve never ridden on a motorcycle, let alone driven one. Dressing the part will be important—one day, hopefully.

11. Spend the next five years writing hundreds of songs you tell no one about. Deny it when your
mother asks if she heard you playing your guitar at 2am. Shove pillows into the crack beneath your bedroom door for D.I.Y. soundproofing. Convince yourself this actually works.

12. Stumble across a website devoted to Jandek. Read everything about him you can find and stay up for the next three days, too terrified to sleep because you’re certain he’s a psychopath waiting to kill you.

13. Write and record in your boyfriend’s parents’ garage an entire album of songs about Jandek
being a psychopath out to kill you. Mail this CD to Corwood Industries, Jandek’s record label. Also make a post about the album in the Outsider Music LiveJournal community you belong to(back when LiveJournal was still vibrant).

14. Begin chatting with the only person who comments on your LiveJournal post. Mail him a copy of the Jandek album. Continue exchanging music. Start recording songs together, emailing the tracks back and forth.

15. Get a letter from Corwood Industries with a letter inside telling you the album was good, and to keep writing and playing music. Also included: Two of Jandek’s CDs. Okay, maybe he’s not a psychopath. But then again, now he has your address.

16. Break up with your boyfriend and move across the country so you can move in with your musical collaborator. Start dating him. Don’t make any music together for the first two years you’re together. During that time, mention how bored you are at least three times a day. Repeat until he finally snaps, “Okay, okay! We’ll start a band.”

17. Say you want to play folk music, “Like Bob Dylan.” He says he wants to play rock, “Like
Leatherface.”

18. He will learn how to play drums. You will learn to get over your crippling shyness. Wonder if maybe you should be the one who learns to play drums. Even though you have no rhythm. The drum kit is good for hiding behind. He puts his foot down, says, “These are your songs, you have to sing them.” So you sing them.

19. Recruit on bass his best friend, who wants to rock, “Like Iron Maiden.” Wonder how this is going to work

20. In your friend’s living room, have one practice using your acoustic guitar before going to a
different big-box music store and buying an electric guitar and a used tube amp. Spend all the money you have on these two items.

21. Move your practices into a cockroach-infested storage unit that smells like sweat, piss and stale beer. Keep practicing, even when it gets too hot to breathe, you’re too tired, your fingers hurt and it’s not really fun anymore.

22. Name your band something that may or may not be a phallic joke.

23. Miraculously get a show at a dive bar downtown. Feel sick the two weeks prior. At the show,play five songs and screw up most of them as you fight the urge to vomit all over the microphone. Afterward, cry for three days and say you’re quitting music forever.

24. The following week, return to practice. Return the weeks after. Keep going.

25. Call your mom and unload your secret: You’re in a band. This makes it real. Repeat to yourself: You’re in a band. You’re in a band. You’re in a band.

***

Shae Krispinsky grew up in sub-rural western PA and graduated from college in Roanoke, VA. Now living in Tampa, FL, she is the singer, songwriter and guitarist for her band, …y los dos pistoles, contributes to Creative Loafing Tampa and is an aspiring crazy cat lady. Her work has appeared in Corvus MagazineThe Adroit Journal and In Between Altered States, and is forthcoming in The Writing Disorder. More at http://ylosdospistoles.tumblr.com.

Three Photos by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

A Model Queen 

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As Pretty As

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Attention Kept

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Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a an internationally award winning photographer and artist who has won first places with National Geographic, The World Photography Organisation, Nature’s Best Photography, Papworth Trust, Mencap, The Woodland trust and Postal Heritage. Her photography has been published in the TelegraphThe  Guardian, BBC News Website and on the cover of books and magazines in the United states and Canada. Her art is globally exhibited, having shown in London, Paris, Indonesia, Los Angeles, Florida, Washington, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and elsewhere. More at  http://eleanorleonnebennett.zenfolio.com/.

Found: LiveJournal Entry from 2003 by Frank Hinton

I think you should always read for 2 hours before bed, because if you don’t there’s really nothing left of the world.

I think you should wash your hands constantly, and not just sprinkle them. Wash them. Meditatively. Keep a little metal tool and always clean under your nails. Keep your hands soft, even if you’re a man. Keep them soft.

I think that you should be kind to others and be upfront with people that are offensive.

I think you should buy nice clothing because you should look good.

I think if you’re a girl you should try to do at least one thing boys are into. And if you’re a guy you should get into something girls like, that way you always have a bridge somewhere.

I think that you should make love, have sex, fuck. If you aren’t having regular sex you should do everything you can to have it. I think that you should never watch porn because it turns you into slime.

I think you should watch porn for entertainment.

I think you should exercise every day and especially work on your core muscles by doing planks before you read for 2 hours before bed. You should really think of your body as a temple made of fat and muscle meat and keep it strong.

I think you should get drunk at least twice a month.

I think you should tell people you care about them more than you do already.

I think you should not eat meat because you eat violence. You shouldn’t be an animal, you should be a human. If you stop eating meat you’ll be more human, I think more spiritual.

I think that you should meditate as soon as you wake up in the morning because that is when you are most fresh and childlike and receptive to calm. I think you should buy a book on meditation and really work at it.

I think you should never think you actually know anything, especially wisdom. You should feel humbled by everyone you meet and you should be so lucky to kiss the dirt on their feet. You should be in awe of everyone because I think you should think you are nothing. You should say it to yourself over and over like a mantra: ‘I am nothing, I am nothing, I am nothing, I am nothing.’ You should live with those words as you interact with others.

I think you should say those words right now. Walk around and say them. Go outside, even if it’s raining and walk down the street until you get to the nearest retail establishment. In your head I think you should keep saying ‘I am nothing’ and then buy something and look at the salesperson, like, really look at them and think about how they are a part of god just as you are.

 
***

Frank Hinton lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She edits the litzines Metazen and alt lit gossip. Her first novel, Action, Figure will be released by Tiny Hardcore Press. More at http://frankhinton.tumblr.com/.


Earnest, Hippie and Doe-eyed by Judy Clement Wall

In December, 2010, I write an email to my friend. I tell him I have this crazy idea: a year-long project during which I will consciously, unabashedly dedicate myself to spreading love. I tell him all about the coffee shop text, the way it affected me, how it stayed with me for days. I tell him how kindness begets kindness, love begets love. I tell him, damn it, the world needs more kindness and love, and I don’t care if I sound like a song lyric.

(I am lying. I do care. Half of me is alive and humming with the possibility of launching a big, ridiculously hopeful year-long project… the other half is embarrassed by my own enthusiasm. I compensate for my inner dissonance by typing faster.)

I tell my friend that the world is too full of cynicism and snark, and that I can’t imagine a more worthy use of my time and energy than to spend one year actively attempting to counterbalance the ugliness. It’ll be my act of rebellion, I say, my stab at something truly beautiful in the face of the world’s unbelievable cruelty, its violence, intolerance and raging indifference.

And that’s when the cynic inside me saunters out of the shadows of my reptilian brain function and up into my frontal lobes like she owns the place. “Really, j?” she says, her voice dripping disdain. “A love project? How… adorable.”

I stop writing. I stare at the screen, at my blinking cursor, my exuberant note (typed at lightning speed in the hopes of outrunning the very voice that’s addressing me now), and I imagine my friend reading my words, the smile spreading across his face, the shake of his head, the (affectionate) roll of his eyes.

In that moment, my face burns. I feel intensely sappy, embarrassingly earnest. My finger hovers over the X that will make my message – and this whole big, beautiful, ridiculous idea – disappear.

***

 You should know about my friend. He is a hardcore realist. He sees things how they are and does not confuse that with how he wishes things could be. He writes about inequality and hypocrisy like a man on a mission. He wants to change the world, same as I do, but not gently. Not sweetly. If the world were a table setting, my friend would yank the table cloth out from underneath it without any flare it all. His goal would not be to leave the setting undisturbed; it would be to leave absolutely nothing undisturbed. The dishes would all be on the ground, some broken. The table would need to be reset from scratch.

He might even break the table so we’d have to rebuild that too.

My friend and I talk a lot about the state of the nation. I tell him of an article I read about people who’ve stopped waiting for congress to get their shit together and are implementing, on their own, in their home towns, incredible programs for social change. I tell him there are people who get into politics for the right reasons, but that the problem is we can’t all agree on what constitutes “the public good.”

He says, “I still prefer the philosophical idea of Plato’s Republic, where each issue could be debated on its own merits, without bartering favors or undue compromise.”

He says, “There’s nothing about how our system works right now that I find very positive except for the exceptions.”

He says, “The system is broken, maybe only by the people that pollute it, but it’s broken.”

He says, “It isn’t about making little changes to make things slightly better. It’s about screaming dissent because that’s all that’s left to do. “

He says, “It’s about a species-wide awakening, and the evolutionary leap that might happen if we did wake up.”

He says he doesn’t have much hope for that.

He says he’s not a cynic, but on this, we’ve never reached agreement.

***

Instead of deleting my message, I write this at the end of my exuberant note to my friend: I know it’s a little… Pollyannaesque, but fuck it. The world needs more of that too.

And I hit send.

I feel self-conscious and exhilarated, nervous and empowered. I wonder what he’ll say, and even as I wonder it, I know it doesn’t matter because I’ve already decided. There will be a Love Project (and I will bounce between nagging uncertainty and purposeful passion all year long).

***

In January, one week into my publicly announced Love Project, Gabrielle Giffords is shot in a Safeway parking lot. I am riveted to the coverage, appalled by the senselessness, the brutality, the vitriol of public discourse that I’m sure has made it possible. On a BART ride to San Francisco, I make a list of reasons to end the Love Project. There are about 30 items on my list but they all amount to the same thing… only fools believe that love can change the world. (And fools get shot, metaphorically and actually.)

The next day I write a post, and I’m not sure as I sit down to write it whether I’m in or out. In the end, it’s a plea for reassurance; I am awed and humbled by the response.

I am in.

Throughout 2011, there are times when I falter, times when I find it incredibly hard to practice love fearlessly, to write about love like a true believer. When a magnitude 9 earthquake rocks Japan and the subsequent floods kill thousands, I struggle with feelings of futility… or when my friend collapses in her exercise class from a ruptured brain aneurysm… or when I watch, confused and conflicted, as people celebrate in the streets the assassination of Osama Bin Laden… or when, in my very personal, private life, I find myself at a fork in the road and “fearless love” becomes not a theory for me to explore, but a lifeline for me to grab hold of.

***

But all that happens later, after I hit send, after I reveal my earnest, hopeful, ridiculous heart to my friend and decide that no matter what he says, the project is a go. It’s something I have to do, whether or not I can articulate why. But that certainty doesn’t make me any less grateful when my friend writes back to me.

He says, “You ARE a hero. Don’t forget it.”

He says, “A thing like the Love Project can cause ripples and waves that turn into tsunamis around the corner and down the road.”

He says, “I believe in you big time.”

He says, “In the launch post, be sure to include ‘I know it’s a little… Pollyannaesque, but fuck it’ because that is epic.”

And I do.

 ***

Judy Clement Wall‘s short stories, essays, reviews and interviews have been published in numerous literary print journals and on sites such as The RumpusLifebymeSmith Magazine, Used Furniture Review, Beyond The Margins and Fear of Writing. She writes about living creatively and finding north at Zebrasounds.net, and about love at AHumanThing.net. “Earnest, Hippie and Doe-eyed” is part of a collection of essays, poetry and art chronicling 2011, the year she spent publicly committed to loving fearlessly. You can download the rest of the collection here.