Soundtrack on Repeat

Hippos

19 miles till Empty with my 27 teeth—
no pearly-whites of wisdom;
born tongue-tied with a wooden spoon in my mouth.
Sarah with an h (like Anne with an e),
middle name Lea, not Leah—
who would do that anyway?
Just brown hair, blond roots, & split-end decisions—
double major leaguer of my own destiny.
Livin’ above my means ‘cause I got no means—
drivin’ on an unglazed donut,
just livin’ this dream in the Redneck Riviera,
though I don’t know what kind of dream is being
a creative white peg in a corporate black hole,
comin’ home to more work—
Wheel of Fortune & Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Don’t you know that letter’s already been called,
& I already lost all my marbles.
If arts are liberal, is science conservative?
Slim Jims aren’t just gas station snacks,
& I’m no longer a Wag hag
but still get 2 earplugs for the price of 1.
If you’re a lackey & you know it,
clap your hands
& don’t be modest like the Mormons
with their fireproof underwear.
Wrote The Solar Express,
but no one cared.
Drink coffee out of rebellion
but have to pee first thing
then see “Live, Laugh, Love” stock art/wall filler
on shelves at Target which
gets a visceral reaction from me
like people who say fur babies
‘cause you don’t need no epidural
& alphabet tracing sheets.
Do it the hard way ‘cause that’s the only way I know.
Ablaut reduplication is not being redundant;
say wakey-wakey for left eye & right eye.
Concrete poetry I can draw chalk lines around
& walk all over like the rolled-up weapon
with the fake news called horoscopes
& maybe columnists.
Still driving on E . . . 

Sweet Little Nothings

Be someone you look up to chocolate

When her son was a baby,
she took time off to be with him,
missing the promotion.
When her son was 5
& going into kindergarten,
she went back to work
at a reduced rate,
for it was important
that she was there
every night
to read him a bedtime story.
When he was 12,
she won a 6-month writer’s residency
in New England,
but she couldn’t afford to bring him with her,
& she told herself that it was enough to know
that she had won,
for she could write anywhere with him
in the next room
or playing at her feet.
When he was 16,
she’d looked straight at him
& gave him the car keys—
not giving him to God as a priest
but to the world as a man.
When he was 18,
she looked up into those eyes
that were no longer questioning
but knowing,
& she saw herself reflected back in them.
And it was then that she saw herself
in him for the first time,
rather than the father who had gone before his;
she saw that she’d made something of the world
by making something of him.

A Light-Year of a Dark Mile

Shamrocke

When the world changed
from 6 degrees of separation
to 6 feet,
the longer this change
became a way of life,
the more that distance began to be
measured by time apart.
Children seemed to disappear
like caterpillars
into the cocoons of their homes,
their siblings their only friends;
but for the only child,
Mom & Dad
became their whole world,
other children,
a voice & a face on a screen.
FaceTiming with the grandparents,
whose hugs had become something dreamlike—
the spicy scent of Grandpa’s Clove gum
& wiry whiskers that felt like pine needles,
the intoxicating scent of Grandma’s Charly perfume
& powdery, rouged cheeks that left their mark—
began to fade into something indescribable.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

Mother was with David,
on a walk with God,
Caitlin was asleep,
surely running,
but I was as still as the silence,
waiting for something
to happen.

When it came to our figures,
Caitlin was the Audrey
& I, the Marilyn.
She had the figure
that could do justice
to the dance,
whereas I had the figure
that some feminists insisted
did an injustice to me.

The Church had stripped Mother of her formality,
redressing her in a tennis-style dress & mules.
She kept her hair pulled behind her,
making her look 10 years younger—
like an older sister
with whom I felt I’d been competing with
all my life.
She had taken her place in the sun,
even I had sought my space in the shade,
for her limelight had become too bright.

I had thought Bethany House
a haven for battered women,
but while the women were being looked after,
the men to whom they were married
were going through LDS counseling
with a male therapist,
in conjunction with
more spiritually-based counseling
from their bishop.
It wasn’t an escape
but a holding place—
the women there like foster children,
waiting for their husbands to reclaim them.

With Elder Roberts,
I had always felt compelled to be
someone better than what I thought I was.
Though I’d always believed
that the right person would bring out
the best in me,
so much of the good
that had been brought out
hadn’t been in me at all
but had been manufactured.
I was like a robot
who had allowed itself
to be reprogrammed
into something I did not recognize.

Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

7 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Going to Graduate School

20200304_215642

It’s extremely expensive and not necessarily a guarantee for the type of employment I would be suited for (writing, editing, and tutoring). I can’t afford it, so I would have to work a full-time job outside the home and study and conduct research on top of that. I’m ready to move on from the world of academia as a student. I’ve had a fine time of it—a great run.  

I want to take art classes instead. I want to learn how to illustrate my children’s nursery rhymes and create images (and take better photographs) for my blog posts. I also want to learn how to design my book covers; I’d rather spend $300 for an art class and DIY it than pay someone $300 to design a single cover.

I do not wish to pursue academic writing. I’m tired of writing papers I have to cite sources for, and I find the idea of writing a thesis or dissertation unappealing. The only type of nonfiction I want to write is creative nonfiction or journalism puff pieces (like humor columns, where I don’t have to transcribe any audio, which is a ginormous pain in the ass). I may be educated and a lifelong learner, but I am not an intellectual and never will be.

I want more time with family and friends. I want more tacos downtown and drinks uptown. I want more field trips with my daughter and quiet nights at home with my husband. I want to learn how to make sushi and macarons. I want to find an exercise routine I will stick with. I want to binge-watch Big Love.  I want to read every story that ever made it in The Saturday Evening Post. I want to decode the formula for writing a Harlequin Heartwarming novel. I want to teach my daughter how to read Green Eggs and Ham. I want date nights with my husband that includes more than just going out to dinner without the munchkin. 

I don’t need it to be a successful writer. If I spend another six or eight years in school, those are years I’m not focusing exclusively on my writing (or attending writers’ conferences or taking writing classes for fun). I want to get that novel published, sell my short stories, and explore other writing opportunities. If I’m working and studying all the time, I won’t have the time (or the cognitive energy) for anything else.

I am not grad school material. I am smart enough to admit that. I realized this while taking an American Literature class this spring (it’s midterm time, and I’m aiming for a B but praying for a C) because I don’t want to analyze texts that do not interest me. If I find a 4000 level class this hard, how much more demanding will a higher level class be? Besides, I just know that the whole time I’d be doing graduate school work, I’d be longing to write my words that were not based on anyone else’s. (I know there’s a lot of research involved in grad school.) 

I just don’t have the cognitive energy for the rigors of grad school. Also, by the time I get my bachelor’s, I will have been in school for seven or eight years (including a gap semester), what with working multiple jobs and being a wife and mom (and making the time to read and write in the midst of it all). I’m tired and ready to realize the fullness of my writing dreams. 

Sweet Little Nothings

You can do anything chocolate

When she tried to be Mom & Dad to her children,
she diminished the uniqueness of each role.
When she realized that trying to be both
was as crazy as trying to treat a boy like a girl,
she tried to be twice the mom
she had been in half the time.
When help came in the form of a man
who loved the 3 of them,
her heart was soft enough to let his head
make an imprint there
& fill it with his love.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Novel

mormoni

Had there been 12 places,
it would’ve been like The Last Supper,
but there were 16—
a perfect square full of imperfect squares—
a latter day First Dinner.

Her husband was a descendant of Brigham Young—
who had been a modern day Abraham
& whose descendants may not have numbered the sands of the sea
but the stars on the BYU sports teams.

The Urim & Thummim—
the seer stones that the Prophet Joseph
had used to translate the golden plates
& had been taken back by the angel Moroni—
had been placed in the Schafers’ backyard
that was like a shady, suburban wooded lot.
This Urim & Thummim glowed like breast implants
in each of Brother Schafer’s hands,
& of course,
Saint Tony had been the one to find them,
while Brother Schafer kept them safe,
being one generation
closer to Brigham Young.

What David found laughable,
Mother found laudable,
& it was as if the stones
were the eyes of an albino,
mesmerizing her.

What some would consider Tony & Kath’s dirty little secret,
I considered a wonderful little secret,
& what Kath did not show,
she did not have to tell.

Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.

Fiction Friday: Micropoetry from the Book

mormoni

Known as “The new Dalton family,”
notarized by the marriage contract,
legitimized by the marriage vows,
& sanitized by not the rewriting of history
but the ignoring of it,
we lived as Mormons—
I, through deed,
David, through word,
& Mother, with her whole heart.
As for Caitlin,
she simply lived.

We still received news of Elder Johnson through the grapevine,
or the grapes of wrath known as the elders. 
Wariness had replaced openness with them,
at least towards us,
despite Mother & David’s morally married state. 
I held on to the memory of Elder Johnson,
for he had loved us then
before we had become us now.

Sister Schafer,
the quintessential administrative assistant,
had dispensed legal, medical, & real estate advice—
advising against divorce, birth control, & cohabitation,
& all without a license—
but who could question a woman
who was as close to God
as some were to their demons?

According to his mother,
Tony choosing to marry sooner than planned
rather than languish with lust had started a trend,
& would lead to less sin,
for he had followed the admonition of St. Paul.
After all, what was a bit of fooling around between him & his wife
before she had become his wife
if if prevented others from doing the same?

The acrid smell of burnt food hung in the air like barroom smoke. The haze seemed to soften the images—Ronald Reagan watching us enter the foyer, his eyes with that twinkle of merriment, almost as if he were laughing at us. David had always said that Reagan had been such a charismatic President because of his acting ability, though many of his University colleagues had debated whether the Old Gipper had ever had any acting ability.  

Community college is a great place to start; university is a great place to finish

loquat

One of the loquat trees around PSC campus.

Most of us go to college to get a degree so that we can have a career that will pay for that education.  However, if your sole objective is to get your degree and get the hell out, you’re missing out on everything else the community college experience has to offer.

Maybe this sounds idealistic or even naïve, but if you go to college solely for the degree, that’s almost as bad as going to work just for the paycheck.  

Though higher education is an expensive investment in oneself (timewise and moneywise), college has been proven to enhance critical thinking, oral and writing skills, abstract reasoning, and aid in the solidification of soft skills.  It also heightened my confidence and perspective.

What’s more, when you’re doing restaurant or retail work, you’re completing repetitious tasks, but in college, you’re advancing every four months to something more challenging (or at least different).  When you’re working for a boss, all they care about is that you get the job done; in college, most professors are interested in your success, provided that you care.  

One algebra professor gave us daily pep talks about practicing math and taught us that you don’t study math, you do it—sort of like brain surgery—and that “life is better with a degree.”  He admitted that Pizza Hut, where he worked so much harder for far less money, made him want to finish college.  He was interested in our minds, and, unlike a boss, wasn’t interested in keeping us there but wanted us to leave his class forever, and, if we must, “hate math again.”

I took him up on the latter, especially after I took Elementary Statistics, which was anything but elementary.

~

In college, you learn the answers to questions you didn’t know you had.  For example, this same math professor finally shed light on why we have to learn this “nonsense” (meaning algebra)—that it was to sharpen our attention to detail.  “Sometimes, we’re one keystroke from ruining somebody’s life,” he said, and so I could work on this nonsense with a newfound sense of purpose.

College gives you time to think, not just act, and will connect you to people you wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise.  

So, you watch Shark Tank and see the hustlers who never went to college (but who worked 24/7) and articles about people like Bill Gates being a college dropout, but a degree isn’t just a window of opportunity—it’s a door to experiences that are unique to the college life.  

The diversity of a community college makes everyone feel like it’s never too late to get an education, reinvent yourself, or launch a new career, so no matter your age or background, get involved in something outside the classroom. 

I did the newspaper and the literary arts journal.

Seek out internship (and work-study) opportunities as well, which you’re more likely to get as a college student, as you’re perceived as a serious individual.  Internships are the answer to that old dilemma about needing experience that no one will hire you without.

If you have the chance, take a few classes just because they interest you.  (Many people figure out what they want to do by getting a general studies degree.)  

College is a time of chrysalis:  I enrolled as a Health Information Technology major, so sure I wanted to be a medical biller and coder (to appease the introvert in me), and ended up graduating with a general studies degree in addition to that, because that was the degree I wanted to build on.

So, whether your passion is in STEM or the arts (STEAM is dumb because it leaves out writing), there is something for everyone at a liberal arts college.  

~

Now, I’m at university, studying Creative Writing.  This time, I know what I want to do.

I have experienced college life differently—as a thirtysomething with a family instead of a twentysomething living at home (or on campus).  I work two jobs, and so I don’t have time to hang out at the coffee shop (F.R.I.E.N.D.S. is a fantasy) or participate in clubs; when my friends and I get together, it is planned and deliberate, as we have jobs, kids, and other responsibilities.     

So, I will never know that twentysomething kind of college experience, but I feel like I am getting to know something better.  When I come home after a long day at school and then work at the Lab (where I concoct formulas containing commas and hypotheses based on Merriam-Webster), and the sky is just turning twilight, and the breeze through the window invigorates me, I pull up to my humble home, where, through the frosted oval glass in my front door, I see a little girl jumping, so excited to see me.  Behind that door, there is a husband who has missed me, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.  

Though I have a couple more years to go, I have lots to look forward to—an internship, a creative nonfiction writing class, and yes, even a grammar class, because I am just that nerdy.

The first two parts were originally published as “First Times and Second Chances” (with minor edits due to hindsight) in the September 2017 issue of The Corsair, Pensacola State College’s student newspaper.