Wordsmith Wednesday:

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is an excerpt from Hope Jahren’s novel Lab Girl.

It reads:

“Time has also changed me, my perception of my tree, and my perception of my tree’s perception of itself. Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more, including the spruce tree that should have outlived me but did not.”

Winter has always felt like the time of year that we are meant to look inward, self-reflect, and evaluate our surroundings. Recently, however, I’ve constantly found that to be more accurate of the summertime. When everyone is out and present and attempting to extract every bit of life they can out of every minute of the day. That is when I find myself to be searching for happiness, for what will satiate that desire to be satisfied with my own existence and what it has culminated to. It is difficult to pause in this time of everyone’s constant joyous celebration, of movement, of momentum, and reflect on our perspectives and what we have gathered over the course of this time on this planet, but it is simultaneously pivotal in shaping our understanding of our surroundings and being able to derive happiness even from the most confusing/darkest/tumultuous of times. I write to remember these times, the difficult and the prosperous. To remind myself to never forget to reflect on the entire landscape and not just the single object in my immediate line of sight.

– KK

Jehran

Wordsmith Wednesday: Ugly Casanova’s “Barnacles”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday is from the song “Barnacles” off of Ugly Casanova’s 2002 album Sharpen Your Teeth.

It goes:

“I don’t need to see
I don’t see how you see out of your windows
I don’t need to see, I’ll paint mine black.

I don’t know me and you don’t know you
So we fit good together cause I knew you like I knew myself
We clung on like barnacles on a boat

Even though the ship sinks you know you can’t let go
I was talking like two hands knocking
Yelling, “Let me in, let me in, please come out.”

More Isaac Brock. I’m sorry everyone.

Beyond just this string of words and the lack of knowing that seeps into every syllable, there’s also this sense of hesitancy and uncertainty in Brock’s voice. It’s soft and deflated. As much as the words create a sense of denial, apprehension, and unwillingness to face aspects of a relationship, there is a subconscious awareness of something hidden, something wrong. This feeling is immediately suffocated and obscured with, as stated in later lyrics, “black glass, dirt-based soap.”

Sometimes you just want a relationship to work so badly, you put all your time/strength/energy/life into it, but it still isn’t enough. It isn’t being reciprocated. Instead, they hide parts of themselves, parts of their life or what they’ve done. You blind yourself to the other person’s problems, infidelities, or the fact that your both struggling, but as much as you push it down, as much as you hide it in the deepest parts of your stomach, you know it’s still there.

– KK

ugly casanova

Wordsmith Wednesday: Modest Mouse’s “Florida”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from the song “Florida” by Modest Mouse off their 2007 album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.

It reads:

“Even as I left Florida
Far enough, far enough
Wasn’t far enough
Couldn’t quite seem to escape myself
Far enough, far enough
Far from Florida (…)
I stood on my heart supports thinkin’
‘Oh my god, I’ll probably have to carry this whole load.’
I couldn’t remember if I tried.”

Though I by no means would consider this one of my favorite Modest Mouse songs (or albums), and I know we’ve quoted them plenty of times, right now, every time I hear these lines, they resonate in an almost unexplainable, intangible way.

These lines aren’t complicated or flowery, they aren’t meant to make you think intensely about what their meaning could be, they’re pointed, they are clear, and they are a feeling that most of us have experienced but have found difficulty vocalizing.

It’s the notion that we get when we decide to create distance between ourselves and our surroundings, physically and through distractions, believing that a change of scenery will fix everything we have been struggling to face, when in reality it’s ourselves and our own mind that we are trying to create distance from.

– KK

modest mouse 3

Wordsmith Wednesday: Miriam Toews “All My Puny Sorrows”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows.

It reads:

“Then Elf tells me that she has a glass piano inside her. She’s terrified that it will break. She can’t let it break. She tells me that it’s squeezed right up against the lower right side of her stomach, that sometimes she can feel the hard edges of it pushing at her skin, that she’s afraid it will push through and she’ll bleed to death. But mostly she’s terrified that it will break inside her. I ask her what kind of piano it is and she tells me that it’s an old upright Heintzman that used to be a player piano but that the player mechanism has been removed and the whole thing has been turned into glass, even the keys. Everything. When she hears bottles being thrown into the back of a garbage truck or wind chimes or even a certain type of bird singing she immediately thinks it’s the piano breaking.

A child laughed this morning, she says, a little girl here visiting her father, but I didn’t know it was laughter, I thought it was the sound of glass shattering and I clutched my stomach thinking oh no, this is it.”

It’s the fears and hopes and dreams and pain and confusion all stirred up inside us. The parts that we don’t want to show to the world, but can easily cut right through us and spill onto the pavement. Onto the shoes of those closest to us. Random moments can cause the glass piano to push at parts of our skin, to stretch it to its breaking point. Those moments are terrifying. When our skin is taut and the imprint of the piano can be seen through our clothes, can be seen by everyone around us. But even worse than that is when, without anyone even knowing, without a forewarning, the piano shatters inside us. Those moments are scariest of all.

– KK

mariam toews

David Bersell’s “Dear Chris Crutcher”

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We are honored to host an essay from Issue 4 alumni David Bersell’s new collection The Way I’ve Seen Her Ever Since out now on The Lettered Street Press.

Read “Dear Chris Crutcher” below.

Dear Chris Crutcher

My name is David Bersell and I am in the seventh grade. You are my favorite author. I’ve read all of your books. Running Loose is my favorite. When the runner found out his girlfriend died in a car accident I felt terrible. But I also felt good. Like I was him. I read Stotan first. I picked it up at the library because of the swimmer on the cover. My brother started swimming in high school and got eighth place in the breast stroke at State’s. I play backup point guard on my school’s basketball team. Some of your book covers don’t make sense. There’s a hurdler on the front of Chinese Handcuffs but the main character does triathlons not hurdles. Also I was wondering if you’ve heard of Walter Dean Myers and Carl Deuker. They also write really good sports books. My school’s having an Author Fair and I picked your books for my project. I need to write a summary and draw a scene for each one. I think I’m also going to pick my favorite characters and write your biography. Usually I don’t try at school. English and Gym are the only classes I like. I read in an interview that you used to hate school too. You said you picked your college because you went to look at all the catalogs in the library and it was the only one that was red. The rest were black or blue. When I was in fifth grade I forgot I had a book report due so at the start of class I scribbled down a report for an imaginary novel. I remembered a cover I had seen about a math nerd so I made the story about how he has no friends but then he wins a math competition and gets to go to Washington, DC and the kids at school think he’s cool. My teacher gave me a B. I think I’m going to try writing a book soon. In class during notes and every night before I fall asleep I imagine stories.

Your fan,

David

David,

Thanks for taking time to write your responses to my stories. Sounds like you (and your brother) are quite an athlete. It also sounds like you have already figured out some of the things I figured out to get through school with minimum effort. That works, but I should let you in on a secret. Someday there will be something you really want to go after and you’ll find yourself putting your entire intellect into it. Trust me. You’ll love it.

I know what you mean about some of the covers. I complained about that hurdler on Chinese Handcuffs, too. So much that they changed the cover.

I have read a lot of Walter Dean Myers. He and I know and respect each other a lot. Don’t know Carl Deuker as well, but I hear great things about his work.

So, good luck with your writing and your athletics. Sounds like you have a lot going for you and you know how to enjoy it.

Sincerely,

Chris Crutcher

Dear Chris,

I was barely friends with Steve—spring track, he charged the hurdles with anger, then lay in the grass, listening to Hendrix—and I only knew Carl because I had a crush on his ex-girlfriend.

We were seventeen.

That means I loved them.

The next weekend, Carl and Steve’s friends gathered at the crash site to drink in their honor. I wrote a poem, and when that wasn’t enough, I wrote a short story, imagined the violence.

The road curves to the left, but the car speeds ahead, no swerve, no breaks. It only takes a second. The metal and plastic and rubber blasts from the ground. I know this is supposed to be sad, but isn’t it also magical, the car transforming into a spaceship, Carl and Steve alive and weightless for one more second, angling up from the earth, shooting higher, through the branches and swallowed moonlight?

And I know the spaceship doesn’t stay up. I clipped the photographs from the newspaper. I know about the graceless fall, the snap of foreheads against windshield, the after.

But what if Carl and Steve were driving even faster, what if the tires kissed the rounded incline of the road’s edge just right, what if the exhaust malfunctioned at the perfect moment so the pipe sucked blue fire into the night?

What if the Carl and Steve kept flying?

Picture the car rumbling through our atmosphere, above our houses and hideaways and parents pouring coffee and sighing, all our dogs and Saturday mornings, Carl and Steve curling around a cloud of purple gas with the bass turned up, Carl and Steve nodding at the rind of the universe, how cute, how fragile, Carl and Steve closing their eyes and waiting for whatever mystery comes next, all those minutes, all those galaxies and unlived lives, all that open space, hanging like a sail, waiting to be filled.

Chris, you were right.

When I was seventeen and couldn’t sleep, I read passages of Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis, aloud in my bedroom. “The water turned colder, raging, and the sand became wet, and Blair would sit by herself on the deck overlooking the sea and spot boats in the afternoon fog.”

And when Ashley had a nightmare, or I was too sad to speak, we read The City of Women, by Sherod Santos, a lyric collage about ex-lovers and divorced parents, one more time. “Who we are is composed of what, perhaps only what, we can never reclaim form the rubble.”

I owe so many: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, We the Animals, Chloe Caldwell, Major Jackson. “The Fourth State of Matter.”

My friends.

I teach at summer camps and in high school classrooms because I know how writing can be a superpower for the adolescent and hungry.

Is that why you write Young Adult?

After I read at a teen writers workshop, a student asked why I always wrote sad stories.

I said, “I don’t try to be sad, just realistic.”

Then she said, “Isn’t it sad how love’s dead?”

She meant it.

“There’s love, just not how you think,” I said. “It’s there, it’s just hard. Like writing. It’s hard, beautiful work, but it’s worth it.”

“But there’s no romance.”

“No, there’s romance, too. Believe me. You just have to wait.”

She told me about watching her little sister grow up. “The loss of innocence, it’s already starting,”

I wanted to cradle her and stop telling stories, but I knew protection was a child’s myth, so I needed to write the truth. I needed to describe the pain, because there is always pain, and the glory, too, crafting pieces into a quilt, a window and a mirror, my love.

Chris, I’m sorry this is so belated: thank you for writing back.

All the best,

David

bersell book

Wordsmith Wednesday: The Evens’ “Cut from the Cloth”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from the song “Cut From the Cloth” by The Evens.

It goes:

“Cut from the cloth, and cut quite severely
Is this my world I no longer recognize
I’m hearing common words, common expressions
But nothing is common in my eyes”

With the world changing dramatically and traumatically over the last handful of weeks, so much that we have always conceived of as familiar is no longer the same to us. Friends and family being pushed out of their homes, people fearing for their lives, and others entirely unsure of what their future, if there is one, in this country holds anymore. And yet there are still those who are pleased with the outcome, pleased with what will inevitably be their own demise.

At times it feels as if we have only been viewing the world through rose-colored glasses and have finally taken them off, leading to the realization that everything we thought we knew about the world, the people of the world, what we thought everyone believed in, is no longer true. In 2006, The Evens were able to articulate the exact disbelief we feel. Simply put, MacKaye and Farina’s lyrics resonate with the lack of familiarity that surrounds us every day now.

– KK

the-evens

Wordsmith Wednesday: Jewel “Daddy”

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This week’s words come from Jewel’s song “Daddy” off her 1994 album Pieces Of You.

The lyrics are:

“My bones are tired, Daddy
I don’t get enough sleep
I don’t eat as good as I should, Daddy
What’s that say about me?
Sometimes I sleep past noon, Daddy
Drink lots of black coffee and I smoke like a chimney
Yes, I left the refrigerator door half open, Daddy
What’s that say about me?
Sometimes I want to rip out your throat, Daddy
For all those things you said that were mean
Gonna make you just as vunerable as I was, Daddy
What’s that say about me?
Sometimes I want to bash in your teeth, Daddy
Gonna use your tongue as a stamp
Gonna rip your heart out the way you did mine, Daddy
Go ahead and psycho-analyse it
‘Cause I’m your creation, I’m your love, Daddy
Grew up to be and do all those sick things you said I’d do
Well last night I saw you sneak out your window
With your white hood, Daddy
What’s that say about you?
I’m sloppy, what’s that say about you?
I’m messy, what’s that say about you?
My bones are tired, Daddy”

I remember listening to this record on big, red leather headphones on my dad’s old receiver at my childhood house in Tinley Park. As a child, I didn’t quite understand the implications of child abuse but I could tell by the delivery and repetitive questioning that these lines were meant as provocations against a mean, white supremacist parent. Jewel’s technique of holding a monologic conversation with a manipulative father gradually unpacks her insecurities, assumedly enforced by psychological/emotional abuse, but flips that insecurity into pointed contempt as the song unfolds. Through this trick, she owns her brokenness and exposes the cracks in the force determined to break her. This album opened me up to a variety of new perspectives and emotions as a boy, but this song still stands as a statement of strength that can be forged from pain, a righteous spit in the face of the ignorant oppressor/abuser. Keep spitting.

– NR

jewel