Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Truth (and Untruth) of Language

As many of you know I am intrigued by the blurred line between fiction and non-fiction, between the truth, the whole truth and nothing but—and, well, a lie. I’ve always thought there should be a third way. And, maybe, I think I’ve found a secret door.

In blogs past I’ve talked about black and white—and how for some of us it’s all gray. Religion especially. Or say the bones of St. James. My husband was having coffee with a friend, an iconographer, and mentioned that next year we were thinking of walking the El Camino trail in Spain which leads to Santiago, to a cathedral said to house the actual bones of St. James. Do you think, Mike asked his friend, those are really the bones of St. James?

He answered that it didn’t matter what he thought, it only matters what the pilgrims think. Of course many walk the trail without an inkling of faith. For some it isn’t about belief but about the discipline. The walking toward something becomes secondary to simply walking.

I like to quote Ann Sexton to my memoir writing workshops. “It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.”

Again it is the perception that matters, and fact is somewhat inconsequential.

Thus, on one hand we have the historian, whose approach to St. James would indeed want to know whose bones are behind the altar and the hagiographer who wants to write about the saint and his/her martyrdom.

And here is the third way. Metaphor. What if we allowed the bones to speak? That’s right. We can do that as writers. Through fable and myth and metaphor we are able to explore not just the black and white—but also the gray, making a way for the black to be more palpable to the white, and for the white to make concessions for the black.

Only through poetic language is one able to bridge the gap and bring the two sides together.

So next year when we are walking toward Santiago and my feet are blistered and we are still miles away from our nightly refugio where we’ll stop and rest until the next day’s walk—I can tell myself it is MY perception that hurts. 

                                                     EL CAMINO TRAIL

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gone in Sixty Seconds!

Okay not gone and not exactly sixty seconds, but close. One of my favorite ways to keep up on new calls for submissions and to organize the submission process is Duotrope duotrope.com which is delivered weekly to my inbox. It lets me know which literary journals have opened up for submissions, which have closed, and which are now kaput. AND at the bottom is a list of THEME issues. This list has been VERY good to me in the past.

So messing around last Friday I saw there was a mag xalled Writer's Haven http://www.original-writer.com/writershaven.html where there was a call for pieces having to do with tranquility or peace. I had one! Composed last spring while on residency at Starry Night in T or C, NM. It was only 322 words, but hey! So I e-mailed it off and as I was still sitting at the computer I got a reply.

Accepted! And it only took 6 minutes.

Sorry if this sounds like bragging, because, it is. There is very little us writers have--except for random, scattered, not often, bragging rights. Now if it happened all the time . . .  or if i got PAID for my stuff . . .
Well, that's just not going to happen. BTW my daughter also got another acceptance.

Does anyone need an agent?


Good Bye Erica!

There's nothing better than a BADDDD character. So engrossing, so intriguing. We kept watching just to see what she'd do next.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

John Keats and "Negative Capability"

It’s a great feeling to get things all sorted out. Right now I feel like I’ve been on hyper-drive to get everything done. Maybe it is the fact that summer is nearly over and I haven’t had a single grill out at the lake, or maybe the fact that I work at the market 2 days a week in addition to getting up Mon- Fri @ 4:30 to cook breakfast for 300 people, or that I work 2 markets on Wednesday which means I’m on my feet for over 18 hours, on top of that I’m gone all day Thursday taking a class in Winnetka with Fred Shafer here http://www.ocww.bizland.com/. Time to write is getting squeezed, so that I have no more creative juice left.

But, on the other hand, getting organized can have a soul-deadening effect. Once we no longer have to juggle contending thoughts or activities, once we have finally eliminated mounting tensions then . . . What?

Keats coined a phrase called negative capability. In short negative capability is the ability to hold onto reality when it doesn’t fit any categories. I can think of a number of artists who don’t fit any categories, who were misunderstood in their time and later rose to posthumous stardom. It is the ability to dream when the world tells you something else. I think in the Gospels this was called a paradox. Sarah in the book of Genesis certainly experienced this when as a post-menopausal geriatric she was told to get ready for the birth of her first child. She laughed, and then got very very afraid.

I’d freak out too.

Now Keats might have had a tenuous hold on reality anyway. He certainly never let it bother him. So his negative capability was in fact a gift. And, perhaps, it was the exact right thing that allowed him to ignore naysayers, his unmanageable debts, the indefatigable Fanny Brawne who pursued him, and, of course, his impending early death. He was a poet who was able to hold in one hand the world as it was and at the same time to see beyond to the beyond.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wrigley Dogs

The inner city mission where I live and work is situated not too far from Wrigley Field, where the Cubs play. Maybe it was a friend of a friend or through the city or food depository, but our organization is one of a few invited to come about thirty minutes after the game to pick up unsold stadium hotdogs.

So after every home game Chris and Stewart go in an old van to drive the one and half miles to Wrigley to load in a box (or two depending on the weather) of assorted grill items ie either a hot dog, hamburger, brat, or Italian sausage.

The whole neighborhood gets a piece of this action. It’s a neighborhood comprised of homeless shelters, half-way houses, people pushing grocery carts down the alleys, and old Hungarian-looking women feeding pigeons next to signs saying Don’t Feed the Pigeons! Trash and bread and bagel debris swirl at corner curbs and once in a while a drunk sleeps one off on a bus bench.

But about forty-five minutes even before a game is over, people start streaming into the mission asking for a Wrigley dog. Here’s a play-by-play: Freddy files in and when we say not yet, he asks if he can stay. No, because he’ll just be in the way. Then two or three more come in to ask to use the bathroom. No, I have to tell them, because they’ll hang out in there in order to be first in line. Then the seniors will come down in the elevator and ask if the dogs are in the house. Several of them are so cool—I want to hook them up. I write down what they want, but can’t make any promises. Just be here when they come in.

As the minutes pass and it gets closer and closer to the first pitch, so to speak, the players begin to mill around out front. There is a strategy to snagging a Wrigley dog and everyone is trying to out psyche the competition.

When the dogs finally arrive there is a lot of throwing of the elbows and hip checking getting in the door. I see them stampeding. One at a time, I yell out, but no one is listening. Please line up! The only thing to do is to get the dogs out quick. So I begin to hand out two to each hand stuck up in my face.

No, not that one, comes a gruff voice from up above. I look up at a man with a jail-house build. He demands a brat. So I dig around for a brat amongst the dogs. How can I tell the difference? The wrapping is orange, Freddy informs me. Sister, he calls me, can you give me a hamburger. I’d seen some of those earlier, but in the melee I might have given them all out. Here, Freddy, I say in a hurry, just take these, handing him two dogs.

No, sister, he insists, can you find me a hamburger?

I’m striking out here Freddy, I tell him. Take this or nothing.

But the heartbroken look on his face drives me to continue searching until I come up with a hit. Freddy leaves with one hamburger and one Italian sausage.

By now only three minutes has gone by and we’re almost out of dogs. There are still twenty or so people lined up, plus the seniors sitting around on benches. Finally I give up and toss the last of the box’s contents up on the phone counter. There’s a wild scramble, a virtual bench-clearing. I withdraw into my little receptionist dugout.

Within seconds the room is empty except for Freddy still wanting to just hang out. Sister, is there any ketchup? I get Freddy a couple of packets and a cup of kool-aid, warning him not to tell the others.

I couldn’t handle a rush on kool-aid.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Hertenstein

Readers of this blog know that I am intrigued by the blurred line between fiction and non-fiction, the so-called lie and reality--which today has been skewed into scripted entertainment by reality TV--which leads us all to ask the question: What is real and what is not? Post real, I guess.

So to make my point I'd like to cite 2 movies--one forthcoming and one released as a small independent--again I'm not a critic, only a helpful teacher trying to say: WRITE THE DAMN THING. This compulsion to ask yourself is this memoir, can I make it a story(?), I don't think is necessary in the draft stage. Yes, it's important, but only when you are discussing with your editor who the audience is, what your market may be, and where it gets shelved in the bookstore. Up to that point--see the above in bold caps.

Lena Dunham is a young filmmaker and by young I mean UNDER 30. She graduated from Oberlin with the most economically competent degree known to mankind: the creative writing degree. Yes, this will help you all the way to the bank--where you ask for loans to cover your--ahem, see the above in bold. Right, she was in that abysmal netherland that exists post graduation. She went home to live with her parents--and wrote a movie and then cast her mother and sister and got funding and for $45,000 made a PRETTY GOOD movie about her life.http://www.npr.org/2010/12/06/131761926/lena-dunham-s-big-dreams-rest-on-tiny-furniture

Tiny Furniture is based upon herself and her life experiences--as minor and random as they might be--they actually ended up being pretty funny, and has now gotten a BIGGER gig for a series.

snip from interview from NPR
On whether the film is fictional or based on her actual family
"I think you're watching a fictional version of [my life.] I've started to notice that I answer the question in different ways depending on how I'm feeling about my mom and sister on the day that I answer it, because I still live with them. So even though the movie is this kind of time capsule, it's this completely evolving and changing thing. So right now, I've been working, my sister's at college, my mom's about to have a new show open. We're all having our parallel lives, and then really enjoying each other when we come together. ... But there are moments where I'm like, 'Nothing has changed since we made this movie, and like, my mom is still screaming at me to take out the trash and I'm still telling her to look at me.' But one answer that my mom came up with, which made a lot of sense to me, is that the people who had the relationship depicted in this movie wouldn't be able to make a movie together."
end snip

Tip number 1: Use the material you're most comfortable with. Even if (for right now) it might offend someone). As they say, you can fix it in the mix.

The next film is called Moneyball. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/12/bennett-miller-moneyball-director_n_957304.html
Based on a real-life guy who took the game of baseball  to a whole other level. By the numbers. The trailer looks hilarious, and of course Brad Pitt is always easy on the eyes. He picks challenging roles.

snip form Huffington Post article
That Beane is a real person, and not just a character to infuse with convenient backstory and motivation, required that the filmmaker strike a careful balance of fact and fiction.
"I was interested in telling the story that's going to make a good movie, that respected the essential truth of his character, of who he is, and essentially what happened," Miller explained, allowing that he was willing to bend certain details to create a better narrative. "He's not the kind of guy who likes to bare his soul to somebody that's doing something that could possibly be construed as an exposé, but we did spend a bunch of time with him and get to know him, and of course, Michael Lewis' book illuminates the things that are portrayed in the movie, about his past, the failure to live up to expectations."
end snip

So tip number 2: Write a GOOD story, use writerly craft, get down scenes and dialogue even if it isn't EXACTLY what happened. Give your self permission.

Tip number 3: WRITE . . .

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Memoirs

Today I'd like to do a couple of quick reviews of three memoirs. I'm not a REAL critic, but am always on the look-out for memoir material I can share with the classes and workshops I lead.

The first book I have already used at the homeless shelter where I facilitate a creative writing program. The book is I REMEMBER by Joe Brainard. The concept is so simple, you're surprised more people haven't done it. The book first came out in 1970, fell out of print and is now back. It is 170 pages comprised of remembrances that begin I remember. For example I remember Payday candy bars and eating the nuts off first. I remember drawing pictures in church on pledge envelopes and programs. I remember rainy days through picture windows. I remember Peter Pan collars. I remember autumn. Many of the remembrances are banal, quotidian, of no significance--except that they are his. We often think, What do I have in common with others? Also many of us as artists also grew up feeling like weirdos or outsiders. Joe's reflections are unique and universal.We all have something we can remember. Even women living in homelessness. I gave them a list and we wrote down one or two lines for each and had a hoot reading our answers aloud. Even Oksana who refuses to write talked about her first kiss. We couldn't get her off the subject. Long after we were done with that prompt she still wanted to talk about it.

Next I read House of Prayer No. 2, a memoir by Mark Richards.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Richard
The book is not a straight forward memoir in the "I" sense as the author chose to write about himself and his circumstances using the "You", second person. This is NOT my most favorite, and was a bit put-off, but after awhile I let it slide as I started to gobble up the story. So you see, I gave it a chance. The author was born with a genetic problem--deformed hips, wasn't always sure as it seemed he got around, but with much effort. As a child he was in and out of charity hospitals and it was these scenes that gave the memoir a unique look into the lives of an invisible other. Also all my friends from the south would agree--there's something Different about a southern writer, and it comes out in Richard's writing. You can hear it--a bit self-deprecating and sardonic. Growing up his mother seemed to have an on and off relationship with the Catholic church. Finally she turned to solace in the pentecostal House of Prayer No. 2. Richards after a youth of sowing wild oats--or maybe he's still at it--but after success in writing for Hollywood decides to help his mother's church get out of the space they are leasing in a strip mall and build their own church. It is a spiritual memoir that draws us into his faith--not a faith that would build a megachurch, but one that picks out lumber and shingles and with much travail eventually gets the job done. BTW, Richard is appearing at next years Festival of Faith & Writing, a biannual conference that I have managed to attend EVERY YEAR since it started. http://festival.calvin.edu/

The third book, also a spiritual memoir is An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson, one of the co-founders of A Room of Her Own, where myself and ALL the participating writers were given an advance copy of the book. The memoir actually comes out this week--on sale at Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Unquenchable-Thirst-Following-Service-Authentic/dp/0385527470.  

Over 500 pages long the book begins with  Johnson joining the Sisters of Charity (Mother Teresa's sisterhood). The early days were certainly austere, intentionally so. But, as any decision embarked upon when one is only 18 or 19 year's old, Mary changed and found that the sisterhood wasn't all that she wanted. She wanted more or other things and there wasn't always guidance about how to incorporate those into her calling. It's not exactly a positive look at community/vocational living. And I certainly can identify with many of Mary's struggles. The book outlines a slow unraveling of that early "do or die" faith where it was all or nothing. I find that it is difficult for people to keep that kind of mindset as they mature in their faith. I loved a line from the movie Saved--when one of the characters complains to his youth pastor dad--with you it's all black and white, Dad is dumbfounded, what? The kid tells him it's all gray to me. That's where I live. There are those of us--perhaps Mark Richard--with a nuanced relationship with God, the church, where we can stand BOTH inside and outside of it. Appreciating and yet also shaking our heads.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wells Memorial Library

I'm passing this on from Vermont College of Fine Arts regarding author Kate Messner, who started a drive to help a tiny library in a poor area.

I'd gone with my meteorologist husband to take photographs of flood damage in Essex County, just to our south. Roads were washed out, bridges closed or in pieces, familiar sights to anyone who's seen news coverage coming out of Vermont this week. But these tiny towns along Adirondack rivers haven't gotten much media attention.

"Go on up ahead," one town supervisor told us from his pickup. "You need to see Upper Jay. It's awful."

We made our way through roads that were down to one lane, and took detours when there was no road.

As we drove around a bend in the road today, my husband slowed down. "Whoa…look at all the stuff in front of that house."
But it wasn't a house. It was the library.

They lost virtually their entire children's collection. All of the picture books.

"They were all on the lower shelves," library director Karen Rappaport explained, "so the kids could reach them."

Would you like to help, too? Here's how we can rebuild the children's collection of a small Adirondack library…

1. Send a donation. Checks may be made payable to the Wells Memorial Library.

2. Donate a new, hardcover children's book. Picture books are needed most. They were all destroyed except the five waiting to be re-shelved and those that were signed out to homes that didn't get flooded.

The Bookstore Plus, a terrific independent bookstore in nearby Lake Placid, NY, is helping to coordinate this effort. I talked with owners Marc & Sarah Galvin this morning, and they've set up three options for folks who want to donate books:

1. You can call The Bookstore Plus at (518) 523-2950, and a bookseller will help you choose a book to purchase, based on the library's needs. They'll keep track of what's already been purchased. These books will be collected and stored, and when the library is ready, we'll deliver them all at once.

2. The bookstore is also setting up a "virtual gift card" for the library. You can call and let them know you'd like to give $20 or any amount. They'll charge your credit card and add that money to the library's gift card for the purchase of books later on.

2. Or you can order a book online through The Bookstore Plus website, and have it sent directly to the library at the address below.

Here's the library's address for checks & new book donations being sent through the regular mail:

Wells Memorial Library
P.O. Box 57
Upper Jay, NY 12987

If you are sending new books via UPS, please use this address:

Wells Memorial Library
12230 State Route 9N
Upper Jay, NY 12987

Authors & illustrators: If you have a spare author copy of a book you'd like to donate, the library would love that.

Children's Book Editors & Publishers: If you're cleaning out the shelves of new children's books in your office & would like to send a care package, it would be most welcome.

Bloggers: If you have hardcover review copies of kids' books that you're finished reading, the library will make sure they get into kids' hands. (Note: No ARCs, please.)

Both monetary donations and new children's and YA books may be sent at any time. Library director Karen Rappaport assures me that books can be stored safely until the library is ready to reopen. I hope it's soon.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I love working the market; I feel so in tune with the seasons. To the point where I actually experience grief when the strawberries are gone or the last of the cherries have left us. I welcome the plums and feel relief when the peaches finally arrive, because for weeks now the customers have been asking about them, some even becoming upset when we’ve had to inform them it could be a few more weeks—as if I am to blame for a cold, prolonged spring. That’s why we got into the habit of giving them a progress report, weekly updates on how the peaches were coming along, our way of saying Hang in there!

Then the peaches ripened, were picked, and brought to market. I was so excited to be able to finally shout out: the peaches are here. Come and experience greatness, taste our pretty samples. Your waiting is over. All your dreams and desires have been fulfilled—only to have our customers rush to the counter and ask for—nectarines. They hardly even acknowledge the blush, the golden glow of the once-longed for peaches. They’ve moved on already to nectarines. I’m confounded—are we as human beings hard-wired to never be happy? Always reaching for the next big thing, the fruit hanging just out of reach.

Where are the strawberries? they ask a week after the stand had so many we were practically giving them away, they ask as soon as they are out of season.

I feel like smashing a peach over their heads, letting the juices run down their chins, cheeks. This is now, I want to scream.

But it doesn’t do any good. I know our hearts are continually restless, our appetites never satisfied.

ANYWAY: here is a story I wrote maybe about 2 years ago, published on-line at The Write Room. Warning--THIS IS COMPLETE FICTION not to be confused with memoir.

Bitter Fruit

all of us in life have eaten bitter fruit

Last summer I worked at a fruit stall at a Chicago green market located at State and Division. I started at the bottom of the ladder, assistant to the assistant peach purveyor; Katie knew her fruit. She always let me know when I was doing something wrong. In terms better suited for the job than myself, I was green.

The Russian ladies shopped for Old Golds, a variety of apples good for cooking. “It reminds them of home,” Tim often repeated. My boss Tim never liked how I stacked, “put up,” the apples. He had a system riddled with contradictions. First he warned me not to over handle the fruit, yet I was required to touch every piece. Once he instructed me to find the small ones and put two in the bottom of a quart size basket, then four more on top of them (that way they won’t roll off, he explained) and then a large one at the summit. Okay. But the next time it was one at the bottom, medium-sized, and then four, followed by one more (Why so big? The customers will think you’re trying to trick them.) I couldn’t win for losing. I don’t even like fruit.

I began to attach narratives to our customers. Just as the Russians were drawn to the apples because they reminded them of home, the gays were like bees swarming the peaches. I let my imagination go. The little old ladies were tempted by the blackberries as if that were their only vice. They carried them home like eggs in their handbags swaddled in plastic bags wrapped twice around. Kids were ga-ga over the blueberries, snitching stray ones off the table and popping them into their mouths. I liked to think their mamas read them Blueberries for Sal.
I never mentioned my theories to Tim or Katie. They lacked an aesthetic for fruit selling. For them it was meat and potatoes. Left-brained. Don’t stand around. Don’t cut the samples so big. Don’t use the big bags; use the small ones. And above all else, DON’T give away the baskets.
It was back breaking work, leaving  little time for narrative-making. I was on the go from the minute I got to our corner of the closed-off street until time to pack up the truck. I had to be there at 5 a.m., and I wasn’t a morning person. I moved in a fog with Tim and Katie shouting conflicting orders. Move that over there. No, I need it here. Put it under the table. Why are the Honey Crisps under the table? I would have quit except that I had promised my mother I would pay back all that I owed.

The market was actually a second job, on top of my 9 – 5 Monday through Friday gig manning the phones at a real estate office. I had graduated from high school and was trying to save up for college. I’d been accepted at Middlebury College, a complete surprise as it had been my long-shot. At the same time my mother suddenly went berserk about money. I’d been good about saving but had dipped into my account to pay for a new laptop. And since I was going away I got a little freer about spending. I bought a coat on sale at H & M. Mom wrung her hands, worrying that I was going to run short—and how was she going to pay for my schooling? I told her not to make such a big deal. That’s when she went through the roof.

I shouldn’t put her down so much. She was working two jobs herself—ever since dad went underground after the state started garnishing his wages. For two years she’d been trying to get him to pay child support. Once I turned eighteen he was off the hook, but remained a fugitive from his family. So I signed up at the alderman’s office to work Saturdays at the fruit stand.

I couldn’t tell a peach from a pear, let alone a White Star from an Autumn Glo. Once a customer asked about a “freestone.” I thought he meant the pit. I knew certain watermelons were seedless, bred to be barren. Why not peaches? Katie explained to me that freestone was a term applied to peaches that when sliced fall away from the stone instead of clinging to it. She treated me like a numbskull. Little did she know that inside of everything we sold were stories. The white peaches had grown up in the deeply segregated south. Years of genetic engineering had robbed them of their bronze glow, their inherent peach pride. The taste was subtle, as if they were hanging back, afraid of being easily bruised. I bid my time until time to quit and leave for Vermont.
On my last Saturday it poured rain. I sat in the cab of Tim’s truck waiting for it to slacken. The humidity made it feel like a sauna, condensation competing with precipitation; moisture ran down the windows. Finally we decided to get out and brave the elements. Tim and I and a guy named Bill set up the tents and tables and hauled cases of fruit out back of the truck. My shoes squished as I sloshed around. There was no avoiding the puddles. After five minutes I was thoroughly drenched. My poncho clung to me like a freestone—or was it the other way around?

I waited for Katie to put up the peaches until finally Tim told me to go ahead. She wasn’t coming. At first I was surprised that he trusted me, but he was more concerned with water pooling on the roof of the tent. He used the blunt end of an umbrella to lift the sodden corners, unleashing a Niagara that sluiced down onto the deserted street. For a change he hovered over Bill, fretting about the blackberries. Don’t let them get wet! Which was ironic, seeing that the deluge was as thick as milk. The sewers were unable to handle the run-off; oily pools banked along the curbs. Tim reminded me of my mother, poking and hovering and complaining that he was losing money by the minute. Where were the customers?

The one or two shoppers I’d seen hurrying by were on a mission, stopping for the sole purpose of grabbing a few tomatoes, an ear of corn, or leek stalks. No browsing, no leisurely smelling or feeling of the peaches. They ran from tent to tent liken frogs leaping from lily pad to lily pad, furtively hoping to stay dry. I could tell by the patter overhead that we were a long way from a let-up.

I grabbed the knife and cut open a ripe Fantasia and sliced it so that the yellow flesh lay like sunflower petals. A bit of sunshine in an otherwise dismal day. I stood behind the table and held out a half-pint container offering free samples to passersby. A man under an umbrella, his face scarred from acne, looked at me skeptically as if I was trying to sell him a $3 bill. He shook his head, the corners of his mouth turned down. A woman, hunkered over, her hoody sweatshirt pulled up over her head kept on walking.

Tim was threatening to send either Bill or myself home early. I hated thinking I got up before the sun for only a fraction of what I normally was paid. I would have to be proactive to lure the customers in. I spied two women under the mushroom vender’s tent next to us. One was older and the other one held a white poodle, which shivered every time a drip caught him in the middle of the back. “Try a sample.” They savored the peach for a second and then held out a limp bill. They each bought a quart. Tim left to go buy hot coffee for Bill and me.

I ventured into the midway. I felt like Hans Christian Anderson’s poor little match girl or a character out of a Charles Dickens’ novel. I pushed aside my bangs plastered down over my eyes. Please, won’t you try a free sample? I sold four more quarts and restocked the baskets.
I reckoned these peaches must be like sex, irresistible—which if that were true then why did my mother scorn men? Perhaps the taste was like one’s first, Fantasia nature’s gold, all others sold as seconds, slightly marred, blemished. But how would I know? I’d never been kissed, let alone in a relationship. I sat out prom, telling myself I was saving money.

I took a sliver and held it on my tongue as if I were taking Communion and waited to be resurrected, lifted up into glory. Leaden raindrops plunked overhead. If only it were as easy as eating a peach to find contentment, a place, soul safe, where worries and self-doubt don’t exist. A cozy sensation came over me. I was soaked through, jeans, socks, shoes, yet I felt a rush of warmth as if I were submerged in a hot bath. Euphoric, as if under a spell or a drug. (What is cocaine anyway but in its original state a food?) I closed my eyes to shut out the drumbeat of rain. I remembered being young, maybe three or four, and my father pushing me in a swing. I often dreamed of flying, punching holes in the clouds with my feet. I remembered once again what it felt like to be me, before I even understood there was a me. Before I realized that my parents weren’t separate from me, indeed, before they separated, and dad went away. A sublime satisfaction lingered on my tongue and then dissipated, left me with a craving for more. But the peaches were gone, all sold.

That fall at school I sought to relive that moment. I experienced my first. His name was Twain and I met him—where else—but in an American Lit class. We sat next to each other and after a week I got up the courage to talk to him, ask him what he thought of our prof, a middle-aged bearded man who insisted on being called Mark and who didn’t hesitate to use the word fuck in class in order to drive home a point. We sat at a coffee shop and laughed about Mark and his obvious mid-life crisis. I asked Twain about his name and he said his parents once owned a complete set of the master’s works. He nostalgically described tawny spines with a strip of red with Twain stamped in gold. Perhaps it was this sense of infamy that gave him an elevated impression of himself, I’m not sure. He exuded self-confidence, and this, more than anything, drew me to him. Me, a freshman, at an up-scale school, where one semester cost more than my mother made in one year. I was terrified of making a mistake, of being sent home early, of failing.

It was on our first date—not merely coffee, but where we agreed to a time and place to meet, though he didn’t pay for the movie—we went back to his dorm, to his bed. Nothing happened. I think he was nervous, expecting his roommate to walk in. He left me hungry for more, on the verge of Fantasia. Later, walking back to my resident hall, the Vermont night air cooled my hot cheeks. I had the feeling as I passed strangers on the sidewalk that they suspected, smelled the scent of ripe passion. Throughout the week I would revisit the movement, the sensation, the impression his tongue made in my mouth, poking around my back molars.

After a second date he informed me his roommate was out of town. We left the bar and went back to his place (since I lived in a quad with five other girls). To say I wanted it, doesn’t exactly express my true desire. I wanted something. I lay back like a peach, waited to be peeled, de-pitted, and succored.

But the whole time he was making love, I was making thoughts, ever conscious of arms, legs, noses. I was distracted by the hollow of his throat, a mole on his shoulder, the swirl of bumps in the ceiling overhead. For a split second it felt like I was flying. Then suddenly I recognized a pattern in the stucco—what looked like Abraham Lincoln staring back at me. Afterwards, after our breathing returned to normal and he’d picked the bedspread up off the floor, after the dreamy sex magic had worn off and we’d gotten dressed, I felt deflated. For some reason I thought this, this thing between us, might return me to me. I left his apartment expecting to turn a corner and recognize . . . myself.

I saw Twain off and on that fall semester, but he and I weren’t meant to be. Winter break I didn’t go home, I didn’t want Mom to see how much I’d changed, become more like her. Soured on the subject of men. So I threw myself into schoolwork and signed up for J-term, where I met my second. Our tongues, again, did what tongues do—but without tasting. I no longer remembered the flavor of Fantasia. It was lost to me.
This summer I gladly returned to work the market. I was promoted to chief peach pusher. Tim remarked recently, I really know my peaches.