Don’t Wait to Be Sleepless: A Review of Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

Black Moon

The world is a waking nightmare – Sweet!

A few weeks ago, a Twitter friend of mine followed one of my book recommendations by picking up Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments — a book about an IT worker who unintentionally begins reading the email exchanges between two coworkers, and then falls in love with one of them. It’s a mostly feel-good novel with just the right amount of misfortune to keep it from being too bouncy, and I genuinely enjoyed watching the two main characters blunder through their lives. I don’t know, maybe I could relate. Anyways, it was through Goodreads, the social media site for book nerds, that I learned my friend had finished the book… and hated it. I was surprised to find myself upset. Not that I disagreed with her assessment of the characters (for being more than a little unlikable), or the plot (for being front-loaded) –, no I was upset because she had picked up the book because of my recommendation. She had even put it down, and come back to it — a task I was never up for, once a book was put down, it was down. I felt I had disappointed her, and that maybe my taste in books was awful.

So when I finished Kenneth Calhoun’s Black Moon, and was hopping around my apartment in anticipation of recommending it to my friends, you’ll understand why I hesitated before actually screaming from my car window about it. I was even more cautious because I know Ken, in a hey-the-universe-is-weird kind of way, and I almost never trust the opinions of friends of writers, no matter what sense that might make. Friends should be cheerleaders. Friends should have a mostly positive outlook of your work, even if they don’t always like what you write. Why would a friend of a writer tell you not to read her friend’s work? Maybe a frenemy would tell you not to, but a real friend would walk you into to the bookstore, guide you to the shelf, and place the book in your hands. Read more »

Imagining Will Burns

Will Burns, a tall skinny white boy who dipped in, and dipped out of our MFA program between our year one and year two. Will Burns of the perfect bedhead, Will Burns of the grey smoke, Will Burns of the vacant stare, the smirk. I haven’t told anyone, but after he left one summer night between first and second year of grad school, I kept seeing Will around town. And even after I left Spokane, moved to Arizona, and eventually to North Carolina, I kept seeing Will.

 

  • In Roseaurs, the Spokane grocery store, from behind, heading down the cold pop/warm pop/chip aisle. I called his name, and the man who turned around happened to be a Will, too, but he was not Will Burns.
  • Riding a bike down Spokane Falls Blvd in the middle-to-left lane with no regard for drivers in cars behind him losing their shit, flipping him the bird, and riding his bumper. As I drove by I saw it was not Will Burns, but instead a woman, and she was smiling.
  • In the reflection of glass in the lobby of our Riverpoint campus building. I kept looking, and looking. He had on a sweater, he was there, but I knew when I turned around he would be gone.
  • Standing at the top of the Big Red Wagon in the middle of Riverside Park surrounded by children.
  • As I was leaving the Phoenix municipal courthouse, he was across the road looking west up Washington street. How did he find me? Did he know what I’d done?
  • Coming down the trail in running shorts, scrawny legs eating up the distance between us. The sun was at his back, and I turned to TJ to say, “Look, it’s Will.”
  • Sitting at a table in the Wendy’s in a small town outside Oklahoma City.  I was driving round the side to the drive through, the first meal I’d be eating all day, but I kept going round and then out. I could not eat there.
  • Gazing into the driver’s side of my car where it was parked in my mother’s driveway. He must have felt my stare, because he turned to look up at me. I moved away from the window.

The Regulars

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The Drink Dictated By Rob On His First Day

Walking into the Starbucks on Huffman Mill Rd, we three are all noisy conversation, laughter, and relief. People look up from their laptops, take sips from their white cups, then get back to work. We move to the counter, studying the menu as if looking at the Rosetta stone — like we discovered a new language, like we weren’t here yesterday or the day before.

“What are you going to get today?”

“I don’t know. Something hot. Whip. Lots of whip.”

“Whip is a good word.”

At the counter is the new guy, Rob. I remember Rob’s first day, as he was shadowing Sherri, an older women who I knew to lean in when speaking to because she never spoke above a whisper. Sherri told Rob to ring our order, whispered to the floor, “Help them. They’re regulars. They won’t mind you being new.”

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When I worked at Macy’s in Spokane, there was a woman who came in every morning, just after we opened. She always wore a blue knitted cap and sweatpants. In my first few weeks, this woman drove me bonkers. I’d watch her walk in with a Macy’s bag, knowing she was headed to the closest clearance rack, where she would go through each item before moving to the next rack. Only after she had inspected every single clearance rack in the ready-to-wear section would she approach my counter. Some days, she exchanged a sweater for a vest. Some days she bought three turtlenecks, returned a pair of pants. Some days, despite an hour or more in the store, she left with nothing. After several attempts I stopped trying to help her — she always found me when she was ready to checkout.

One day in the break room, I mentioned to my favorite coworker that I didn’t understand why this one lady came in every day. My coworker looked at me over her vending-machine-Coke.

“Blue hat lady?” Read more »

Five (Kinds Of) Fiction Books I’m Not Reading

When we entered 2014, I didn’t make any resolutions — at least not out loud. I did strengthened my resolve regarding healthy living and work/life balance, but who doesn’t reevaluate those things when they’re shoved in your face at the beginning of each year. It turns out the biggest decision I made was not what I would call a resolution, but a declaration. And it was about books. I told myself that I would be more intentional about the books I read, that if a book wasn’t holding my attention I would not waste my time. Avid readers know that there will always be another book to read, and the list will never get any shorter. So off I went on my quest, happy to rid myself of the books I felt like I should read but wasn’t really into. But then it came to me — there are books that I am just straight up avoiding, and they all fall into certain categories. I don’t know what these categories say about me, but I don’t mind sharing.

1. The Round House by  Louise Erdrich

I’ve checked this book out of the library, brought it home, placed it on the kitchen counter, and walked by it for weeks before taking it back, unread. I have purchased a copy for my Kindle. I have recommended it to other people. I cannot read past the first three pages. Melissa and Karen have both spoken expressed my fears better than I can.

2.  The Known World by Edward P. Jones

Having read EPJ’s Lost in the City and being so moved by it, that I gave my copy to my brother, I felt honor-bound to read one of his other works. It didn’t take long before I was walking in a wide berth around the chair where I’d set down the book. I don’t mind admitting that if I sit, and think about the American Slave Trade my emotions vacillate between anger and humiliation — not what I’d like to feel for an extended period of time. Avoidance? Hell yes. Read more »

Hi 2014, I’m Looking Back

In October, Cathie reached her 100th Bark, a milestone I’m sure neither of us could have predicted when we volunteered to write for our MFA’s blog a few years ago. For me Bark has been an accountability tool, a community, and also, at times, an escape. As days, then weeks and months passed and I got closer to my own 100th post, I started looking around for ideas — what could I write about to mark the occasion? The pressure was making me sick. One night, I was up late, surfing the internet and I starting reading old posts — then it came to me. As we head into the new year, I thought I’d share with you my favorite Bark posts, the ones that still sit with me in the dark, the ones that made me laugh or cry. I’m really proud to share space with such talented writers. It was hard to choose, but I thought ten was a nice round number. Take a seat, right hear next to me, and let’s go for a ride.

1. Michael Bell Public Space and How to Use It

Featuring Moose the dog, this post by Michael Bell is quietly powerful.  The theme in writing that really grabs my attention is vulnerability, and Bell’s here is subtle and endearing. He’d roll his eyes at me.

2. Tim Greenup Claustrophobia: Sleeping on an Amy Cot, Writing Formal Emails

I’d forgotten how funny Tim can be — sardonic, sarcastic, self-deprecating, slapstick and witty all in one paragraph. But again, the vulnerability creeps in beneath the humor, making what seems on the surface to be a complaint about an army cot really the honest exposure of the every writer’s insecurities so compelling.

3. Leyna Krow I do not want you to hit me as hard as you can

It helps to know Leyna to imagine her in a boxing ring, all wonderfully long arms and legs, but even not knowing her I think this post speaks to another writer’s dilemma: taking on experiences for the sake of  having something interesting to write about. It’s a road most writers travel, and have to learn to move on. Also, this post contains one of my favorite pictures.

4. Cathie (Smatherton) Johnson Someone to Catch You

This is classic Smathie. When she’s not schooling us on some Hitchcock movie, she’s breaking our hearts with posts that punch straight in the gut.

5. Amaris Ketcham I’m Fantasizing about You

I used to share Friday post days with Amaris, and every week I’d be bowled over by her posts. She takes risks, leaps from the highest ledge, and always executes the swan dive. I considered a post with her photography, but went with this post, because it’s the perfect example of how she takes a risk and pulls it off.

6. Karen Maner The (as if by magic) Masters of Sex 

Always well-researched and not afraid to lead you down a rabbit hole, this particular post by Karen on the TV show Master of Sex is probably one of my favorites of all time. After my initial reading, I sent it to two of my girlfriends and we sat together laughing and quoting lines. Her commentary on sex is hilarious and scathing.

7. Asa Maria Bradley Who First Called You Writer?

I enjoy posts that vocalize thoughts I’ve had but been unable to verbalize. This one speaks to the moment when a writer becomes a writer to herself in the eyes of another.

8. Shira Richman Oh, the Places You Won’t Go

Consistently compelling, I looked forward to Shira’s posts each week. This one is set in Germany, involves manners and boundaries and in the end, left me looking over my shoulder.

9. Kristina McDonald The Trouble with Tin Men

Dark and twisty, this awesome post by Kristina is based on the real characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

10. Scott Eubanks How to Be An MFA Student

Forever a classic.

 

If I could go on forever, I would mention this post by Melissa, this post by Jason, and this post by Casey(fitzy) are worth a read, too! What are your favorite posts?

 

The Twelve Days of Secular Christmas

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  1. In the South, you are looked in the eye and wished “Merry Christmas,” and any response that is not “Merry Christmas” is not acceptable, and is greeted with polite disdain.
  2. For the first time in four years I was not in a retail store to hear the collective moan of my fellow employees when the first Christmas song of the season played at exactly 12:01 am on Black Friday.
  3. In 2000 Charlotte Church’s Christmas album “Dream a Dream” made history by being the one and only album by a white artist that was played consistently in my mother’s house. My eyes prick with immediate tears whenever I hear her version of “What Child is This — Greensleeves.”
  4. I have a scale of whiteness, on it a range of activities and idioms that determine how acculturated I have become to White America. Buying an ugly Christmas sweater means I have gone too far. Read more »

Phoenix Goodbye

Dear Phoenix, I’m sorry, but I had to go. I called my mother, and told her I was coming home. I slept in the other bed — the dog’s bed — the bed covered in our possessions packed together. If he cared he would’ve gotten in the dog’s bed with me last night, not fall straight away to sleep like he always does. How does anyone fall straight away to sleep, like how do jumbo jets lift off the ground? And if he cared, how could he help me unpack and repack our possessions tossed together: our underwear, the socks, the DVDs, collected papers. I packed the car. I put the cat in the carrier, to lie on his t-shirt. Someone on the internet said to put an item of clothing in the traveling carrier, and she has always loved him more. I said I would go. I had to go. If he cared he would say so. If he cared he would’ve gone, and gotten the letter from the trash. If someone said it would end over a letter, I would’ve said  What is this, Jane Austen? I would have said How Tragically Romantic. Really, we were cold. I had to go. The morning was dark as night, and I hadn’t seen outside at 4am in months. I was surprised how, finally, Phoenix had accepted winter. My breath fogged the windshield of my car. It was time to go.  This was my fault. No one smiles at an ultimatum. Do this or do that. Do this or I will do that. I had to go. I said I would leave. I said This is Over Unless You Do This, which he didn’t do. So, it was over.  Dear Phoenix, I am sorry. I wish I could stop doing things I’ll have to apologize for later. There were times on the 101 in traffic I loved you. Those were the times as sun was leaving the desert, the sky was purple, and, improbably orange, unconditional love seemed possible. Those were the times I felt like I deserved to be forgiven.

In Phoenix

fefeWe keep a case of Budlight in the fridge. We keep drinking. (We won’t cry in front of strangers, unless we are crying for someone else, a pain not belonging to us.) We keep the crockpot the griddle the blender on the shelf created by the cabinets beside the fridge. We keep a stack of unpaid bills in the single drawer next to the bed. We keep the vibrator on. We keep the vibrator on top of the stack of bills. We keep banging the walls. We keep the walls up. We keep still. (We wash dishes in hand-burning hot water.) We keep looking for the other sock, the other sock.We keep sleeping in the unmade bed. We keep fixing the fitted sheet.  We keep moving. We keep letters in the bags in the back of the closet. We keep the cat off the table. We keep the dog from running away. We keep looking for the other sock. We keep singing six-month-old songs on the radio. We keep dirty laundry in the blue bin. We keep not having important conversations. (We have never seen rain like the storms of monsoon season in the desert — all the lights off, the heavy green curtains of the motel room drawn back, the palm trees bending away.)We keep picking up the phone. We keep putting the phone down. We keep looking for the other sock. We keep running.

He keeps a case of Budlight in the fridge. I keep drinking. (I won’t cry in front of strangers, unless I am crying for someone else, pain not belonging to me.) The crockpot the griddle the blender sit on the shelf created by the cabinets beside the fridge. I stack my unpaid bills in the single drawer next to the bed. I keep the vibrator on top of my stack of bills. The bed bangs against the walls. I keep the walls up. I keep still. (I wash dishes in water so hot I burn my hands.) I keep looking for the other sock.We keep sleeping in the unmade bed. I keep fixing the fitted sheet.  In my head I keep moving. I keep letters in the bags in the back of the closet. The cat won’t stay off the table. The dog doesn’t run away. I keep looking for the other sock. We keep singing. The dirty laundry is in the blue bin. I will not start an important conversation. (We have never seen rain like the storms of monsoon season in the desert — all the lights off, the heavy green curtains of the motel room drawn back, the palm trees bending away. There is lightning and thunder in our hearts.) I keep picking up the phone. I keep putting the phone down. We never find the other sock.

To Phoenix

You are twenty-six, so you know everything about anything. You know a train goes by your shotgun apartment as often as you choose to notice the whistle. You know winter. You know how to politely say, “Fuck You.” You know how to make a graceful exit. You lie to yourself. You don’t heed warnings. You don’t eat well. You exercise to say you did. You write poems. You drink. One day, you get in your car, and you drive. You don’t ask anyone if you should go. You just fucking go. There’s a man waiting. There’s a dog in the backseat, not your dog, but his, and she keeps her mismatched eyes on the road. There are poems on the floor of the backseat, not yours, but you wish they were yours. You press the button, and the window goes down. You sing along to old burned CDs. You grin in the rear-view mirror at the dog; the dog is looking at the road. You think, “Look what I’ve done.”  You don’t feel twenty-six. You don’t want to die. You watch a truck pass the center lane, hit the guard rail in front of you, jerk away, and then roll. You see the driver stand up in the dirt on the side of the road. You are as cool as a cucumber. You add understanding that phrase to everything you know. You shake. The dog whines. She has to pee again. You have to pee again. You get a “You’re-not-from-around-here” look in the convenience store.  The first towering saguaro you see, you know you are not from around here — add that to the everything you know. You add the particular sky blue. You add orange mountains, sorbet in the sun, almost red clay in the dying light. You add armadillos. You drive. Ten and two. Five and seven. Four. You chew gum.  You should stop, but you won’t, not until you get to Phoenix.

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Life 101: The Four-Year Plan

elonEvan and I maneuvered the last long wood table from the closet, turned it on its side, and carried it from the main conference room into our small classroom. My TA’s cheeks were bright pink from exertion, he should not have been lifting anything. Only two weeks before he’d been in the hospital for a collapsed lung. But now we were done setting up the tables in three rows, two chairs on each side, one on each end, so I did not fuss. As my Elon 101 class slowly trickled in I could see the apprehension on their faces. For a month, we’d been sitting in a semi-circle, talking, mostly about our feelings, so our time together was more like a therapy session than an advising class. This new room arrangement, and my email from days before prompting them to bring their laptops to class was a notable shift toward more businesslike endeavors.

When the usual stragglers were settled down, I had them boot up the computers, and log on to the site where they could search for classes. Then Evan and I distributed the Four-Year Plan sheet, a white piece of paper covered in columns and rows of lines, on which students could create a mock-up of their class schedules for all four years of their college careers. The week before I’d had individual meetings with my advisees to discuss declaring their majors, and picking tentative classes for the Winter and Spring terms. I’d shown them how the General Studies program worked. I showed them how certain classes double counted toward their majors, and toward general studies. We talked about study abroad, about language requirements. We talked prerequisites and co-requisites.  At the end of each conversation, I asked, “Did this help? Do you feel better?” Read more »

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