Going back to your Gulf Coast hometown after a long time is weird, a little uncomfortable, especially in the middle of a highly politicized pandemic. Things look the same; they look different. Buildings you grew up in became Panera Breads or are abandoned altogether. Your childhood home is still yellow but is covered in the green mold your mother pressure washed off every summer. There are more broken shells on the beach than you remember. It’s weird to be a Southerner who’s become a Northerner in so many ways.
In the attic there lives a ghoul. His name is Frank. He is not loud. He does not take up much space. He does not eat food. If you didn’t look hard, you wouldn’t see him at all.
In Salem, there are a lot of doors. There are a lot of doors to be seen and a lot of doors to be seen by the right pairs of eyes. Not everyone has the gift; this is just something you’ll have to accept. But, if you do have the gift, then those doors are yours to open. That in itself requires a different set of skills, brave ones, but you can go far on something like bravery. I’ll tell you where one is (a door, that is) if you promise to say anything to anyone. This must remain between us. Here are your instructions.
Every year, the master’s students I work with at Harvard give a five-minute presentation on the work they’re doing out in the field. It’s a hard thing to encapsulate months of work in that amount of time (though three or four always go over their allotment), and I admire them for it. Really seems to focus their attention; to help them hone in on what’s important. In that spirit, I will attempt to do the same for myself and those of you on a path of creative exploration and growth.
This blog has seen a lot of me. More than that, it’s seen a lot of my work. Over the last four or five years, I’ve written hundreds of pages in the way of essays, poems, operas, spoken word albums, obituaries, short stories, and novels. Every line, every word has been a real piece of me, a real piece that I place in a basket and send down the river hoping that it will arrive to some distant shore. I’m never really sure what I hope to happen after that. I don’t have many expectations for my words (letting go of outcomes is a mental shift I’ve been trying to make for awhile, to varying degrees of success), save one: I hope they do good.
Madelyn sets the crossword to the side. None of the answers are right, but she still managed to make everything fit. Making yourself right tastes better over a cup of instant coffee. Her daughter gifted her fancy beans from Colombia last Christmas. The bag sits on the counter next to the coffee pot, unopened. She likes the ink print on the front so much that she could never bring herself to open it. She settles for opening more cards with other people's names on them instead.
Madelyn finishes The Plain Dealer’s daily crossword puzzle in thirty minutes flat. She gets up from the kitchen table for a second cup of coffee and stirs in three spoonfuls of sugar. Metal on ceramic echoes through the kitchen. When she sits back down, she takes out today’s bundle of mail and removes its rubber band, bounty unfurled.
The first time I meet my psychiatrist, / he asks if we’ve met before. / This does not bode well.
Writing every day used to come easily. Once, a professor asked my class who there wrote every day. No one raised their hand but me, and he told me I was full of shit. Back in those days, I was full of shit for a bunch of different reasons but lying about writing every day wasn’t one of them. Despite my daily practice, it took me seven years to complete a book about the French Revolution that I’m still not happy with. It took years to realize that writing every day is a practice dedicated to its own perpetuation, like jogging. After moving to Boston, without the external expectation of school or a big project, the daily practice was pushed to the wayside in favor of work and friends. My writing muscles got flabby. Very flabby.
This room has four walls, but it is also without walls, expanding past the fragile steel of my skull. A fragment of me looks at rows and rows of glass bottles that harbor remnants of some yesterday. I am there, fingers tracing along bumpy corks and smooth, cool glass. Memories pulse beneath like a plasma bowl, striking out in purples, blues.