Writer, editor, teacher, other.

From the Vault—Aubade: A Revision

Oh, y’all, it is spring and it is glorious. And I’ve reached the point I find in every spring semester when I feel nineteen again, as if I’m back on the heady and blossoming campus of my youth, where everything seemed to come alive with promise and possibility and pheromones.

I’m not nineteen, of course—and that world is in many ways far away. (As you’ll see, a central setting of the first love story is a phone booth—an actual, bona fide, functioning phone booth—perhaps the best proof of all that this season I’m writing my way back toward is very, very distant.) Nostalgia’s a tricky thing, particularly if we aren’t wary of practicing “nostalgia without memory” (a lovely phrase I encountered in the past week, though I’ve got still to go back and track down where, exactly. Maybe David Remnick’s New Yorker article on the Bolshoi Ballet? I’m not positive). And so today I’ve returned to my piece “Aubade: A Revision,” originally published in You Must Be This Tall To Ride, B.J. Hollars’s project about the coming of age story. The project’s no longer available to readers, so I thought I’d post the text of my piece here.

This semester, I’ve been teaching a class on the American BildungsRoman, or coming of age narrative. And on one level, this piece of mine illustrates some of the tropes we’ve discussed in class: certainly, the idea of sexual maturity, particularly for female protagonists, shows up frequently in coming of age literature. And sometimes we do age in a single moment; I’ve admitted to my class that I’ve had moments in my life when I’ve realized that childhood is over (see my essay “Watching Your Brother Die” for starters). But for me, the real growth and the real work of this piece—or (let’s not be coy, as it is nonfiction) the real work of my own life, of my constant quest to be better—isn’t about any single event or defining moment. Rather, it’s more about learning how to be in community; thinking about how to be better (at teaching, at relating, at writing, at community, at love); and all the ways we might look back and realize how we might have improved on what we’ve done, who we’ve been.

I’ve never tried to track down my first love in any tangible way. No final phone calls or notes, no facebook friend requests. I’ve visited, for other reasons, his childhood neighborhood, but I’ve never driven past his home. When I decided we were done, it was finite: one morning, I woke up and drove away, and that was the end of whatever it was that we were.

But this piece is real: I go back to that room often, not really to revisit whatever it was that we were or because I want to pretend that its lifespan could have been longer than it really was, but because now, looking back, I know that whatever it was that we were deserved better than what I gave it, deserved a more compassionate ending than I allowed it.

So I don’t pretend that I’ll see my first love again. And he’s not likely to read any of my words; he wasn’t one to enter into “all this fiddle” (as Marianne Moore says) of poetry. But I know how much I’ve changed, and I like to think that maybe he has, too, that maybe someday he’ll stumble on some of my words. I say, truthfully, that all my stories are love stories. And they are. But as far as the stories about the first love are concerned, they’re apologies, too. 

And that’s why I’m back at this piece today, because nostalgia without memory is dangerous. So each spring, as I’m energized by the coltish energy of April, I’m sobered by the knowledge of all those beginnings I fumbled, and by the conviction that I must keep trying to do better, love better. 

(xo)

Aubade: a revision

(Originally published in You Must Be This Tall To Ride

This is not about the issue of Playboy you stored beneath the hospital bed, or about the phone booth where I found you years later, or even about your room near campus in a house I saw only once. No, this is about you prying the bark from my headlight and refusing to share the twin bed. It’s about me waking at dawn to the sound of baseballs spiraling into mitts worn by college boys, boys who understood what it meant to follow a process, boys who soaked their gloves in neatsfoot oil, stroking the leather until it softened and yielded, ready to embrace each Rawlings, each MacGregor. My brother labored to season the Wilsons his godfather sent each birthday, baking them in mother’s car on summer days in Alabama, retrieving them at dusk to tuck them under his mattress, using his weight to mold them, believing, like the woman who slumbered faithfully on a rooted, hand-hewn bed, that the man responsible for such gifts would someday return to recognize the handiwork.

Eventually my brother quit waiting, and now, fifteen years later, I’m sure that you have, too. But lately I’ve taken to meeting you there in that room overlooking the diamond, to coming back with coffee or vodka, to wearing your shirt that smelled like home or just walking in clothed in my own set of terrors, crumpling the note on your desk and waiting for you to rise.

Or sometimes you’re back at that phone booth, stranded because I never could give directions, and I’m circling town and telling the story: We said we’d meet at the first gas station to the right of the exit, only there isn’t a station for miles. Half the residents of that small town were out that night looking for you, the boy in a black car with out of state plates, so that they could set you back on my path, and this time when I find you in that phone booth I do not wait, but kiss you as the townspeople cheer around us.

Or else we’re sixteen again. We’re back in the recovery ward, and I’m pulling the blanket from your shoulders and running my hand down your chest until I meet the hem of your hospital gown, recuperation and caution and avoid all exertion be damned. I’m watching the monitor as your heart rate beep—beep—beeps all the way up to the nurse’s station, and a team runs in, alarmed, and discovers how I move you.

But most nights, you’re still bedridden and veiled in morphine, and I’m still too timid even to touch your hand near its IV. Love, I know I cannot save us. But I come anyway, slipping back until I find that room, smell the chlorine products the janitors favored, see the roses you could not have wanted, the crutches you cannot yet wield. I rescue that magazine from the place where you believe it is hidden, moving it from the tile to your pillow to keep you from waking alone.

My piece “The Central Governor” is up live over at damselfly press. You can even hear me read some of it, if you want. 

Tonight I kept redacting my tweets, because I couldn’t decide if I want to talk about the thing I thought I might want to talk about. There are conversations that you can’t come back from, you know? So I’m thinking still about that, about reticence and revelation, about walking away, keeping. 

I guess in many ways that’s what this piece is about, too—-what to do with all the pieces of things, which ones to lean into, which to turn from. Last year, a lot of the time, I told myself to lean into the things that could hold me. And I was lucky to find a lot of them—people who love me, work I enjoy, a pup who likes to snuggle. It helped.  

I refused to be cold last year, and the moments I describe in this piece touch on the reasons for that. A week or so ago, when temperatures dropped here, I found myself shivering through my evenings, reluctant to turn on the heat. And there was a moment when I realized what a change that was: this year, I saw, I could take it. The heat’s on now, but it’s nice to know I don’t have to spin it way up over 80 this year. I can take the cold, or some of it.

I think this is rambling. But I already told you there are things I’m not saying. [redact, redact, redact]

Until then, then.

Be well. Be warm.

xo

Y’all! Happy fall! 

So I’ve been awol for too long (gulp) and apologize. I’ve missed news of some publications in my absence, so I’ll post those in the coming week. For now, I’m thrilled to report that my short story “Arthrogram” is live today over at Short Fiction Collective. Click the link above to read it.

I hope fall is treating you all well. More soon. 

Until then, love big. Be well.

xo

"Selling the Saddle" (Cave Wall)

Yesterday the new issue of Cave Wall arrived. It’s a journal I’ve long admired, and I’m really excited that my poem “Selling the Saddle” appears in this issue. The editors call the poem a “mini-epic,” which is their very nice way of acknowledging that it’s really long (seven pages!). I’m deeply grateful to them for making such a commitment in publishing something so sprawling. 

This poem means a lot to me. When I wrote it, in early 2010, I didn’t know what the rest of the year held for me, at least not exactly. And yet, somehow I wrote myself a survival guide, and it helped.

Last night we went to a local military cemetery, where the graves are adorned with luminarias (that’s apparently the correct plural of the word, though it seems odd to me). A year ago, I couldn’t face the ritual of Memorial Day so ran away to the coast and did my best to forget what day it was. But last night, sitting on the hill, I looked out at the candles and realized it was okay. That’s not to say subsequent times won’t be difficult, but just that for that night, I was all right. And that was good.

Be brave, y’all. Love big.

(xo)

This week’s mail brought the new issue of NANO Fiction, a special anniversary issue which includes both work from brand-new NF authors and works by a writer chosen from each previous issue. I was thrilled that the editors chose me to represent issue 5.1.

The piece they published here is a piece about the farm, and about my last real summer there. It was a complicated time. If you’ve been to the farm with me, the piece might surprise you. The place is pastoral; the piece isn’t. 

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It’s been a bustling few weeks here, as summer sneaks up on us….the job I’d spent several months preparing to exit actually didn’t wind down the way I thought. My boss approached me about ten days prior to my exit date with a new proposal…there’s a lot of blahblahblah in between, but the short version is that I’m still doing the same work, only with a new title & some new logistics. This is really wonderful news—I love the work & my coworkers—but I had never imagined it might happen, so I’m still getting resettled. (And my summer of leisure is quickly fading away!) But it’s welcome news.

We’re growing very invested in the idea of changing our decorating color scheme when we move later this summer, and I’m looking forward to embracing more neutrals and soothing colors—more blues, fewer reds. 

There’s more to come, so I’ll be in touch soon. Until then, be well. Eat something delicious—silver queen corn when its season arrives, or berries, or basil. Here, we’re saving our appetites for our favorite food event in town: the local Greek Orthodox Church’s Greek Festival. Pastichio! Dolmades! Loukoumades! This weekend, if you catch me at the right moment, you’ll see a great big, honey-smeared grin. Yay delicious.

(xo)

Y’all, I’m super thrilled to announce that my piece “Prognosis,” originally published in Corium Magazine, has been named to Wigleaf’s top 50 list, a compendium of the best short fiction pieces published in 2012. I love this piece, and I admire Wigleaf a ton (I submit there regularly), so I’m really honored by this news. (Click the link above to see the rest of the top 50 [the short list], and go to Wigleaf’s site to see the long list.)

Here in the ‘burg it’s been a rough semester, though I’ve refrained from speaking much about that. I will say, though, that now I’m focused on moving forward: grading papers, wrapping up another semester and preparing for my last week in the editing job I’ve had for the last seven years. (NB: the editing job was lovely and wonderful and not part of the roughness; my exit date was pre-determined long ago.) We’re also looking for a new place to live (new housing only, though—we’ll still be here teaching in the fall). So it’s a season of moving forward, looking ahead. 

A year ago, I refused to paint my kitchen, although we’d purchased the paint a good six months earlier, because I didn’t want to change anything, to make it other than what my brother had known of my life. Now, I’m ready to move into something new—not past him, exactly, but still forward. I think this is good. 

Given that, I was a little scared to revisit this piece, though I remembered being very attached to it when I wrote it last year. But rereading it, I see that it’s a piece that prefigured this moment, these changes and possibilities. Make way, it instructs, and I have. I am.

I’ll write soon, as there’s news on the horizon. Until then, loves, be well. Love big. And do things that delight you.

(xo)

Happy New Year, loves! I’ve been remiss about blogging, but I have had a few new publications come out since my last post.

I’ve got several pieces in Apropos Literary Journal, which you can get to through the above link. This journal was started by UMW students, and I was pleased they asked me to share some work with them. 

While I was off galavanting about, my copy of NANOFICTION arrived. I’m so excited to have two prose poems in this issue, and I’m very honored that one of them, “Pleurisy,” has been nominated by the journal’s editors for a Pushcart Prize. I really like this journal and the folks behind it.

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So. The galavanting. (NB: I’ve realized I treat these posts sort of as Stephen Elliot does the Daily Rumpus—-as a catch all, a place to ruminate and mull. Feel free not to keep reading.)  It was good—exotic places, familiar places, new friends & folks I’ve known for decades. Some dear folks had babies. I danced with the toddler and rang in (somewhat disbelievingly, I must confess) a national championship with people I love. I got hurt, took a deep breath, and remembered the value of staying and negotiating and working through. I was met more than halfway, a reminder that I’ve got great people in my life.

My route home takes me from the landscape of my childhood, through the town of my adolescence, to a town where a person who was once significant to me now lives a life I have no part of. As I drove, my husband slept, and I thought a lot about R words: redemption, revelation, running.

One of the dearest people in my life is a marker of redemption; it’s the word I always use to characterize our friendship. We were friends. Then we weren’t. Now we are again. And that’s good—for us personally, but also, I think, as a reminder that things are never static. There’s always possibility for growth, for change, for, well, love. (As a sidenote, I think over the past few years I’ve been on a personal mission to rehabilitate the word love. We’re so scared of acknowledging it or uttering it—and so limited in our understanding of it, in aligning it with the romantic—that it’s become loaded. So I’m trying to be much more intentional about telling the people I love that I love them. They are many, and I’m not as attentive as I should be, but I’m working on it. Join me?)

Over the break I read Roxane Gay’s AYITI, and I’m still thinking about some of the characters in it. This is a marker of a stellar work. If you haven’t read this book, you should. I admire it—-and Roxane—immensely. Hopefully I’ll have more to say (and will say it more eloquently) about this text in time, but for now, know that it’s a work that deserves your time and attention. 

I’ve been writing about revelation, so on the chance those words see daylight someday, I’ll hold off from saying more about that here. But I will say that I’m not a person who has to know everything. Sometimes I trust the idea of reticence. It’s backfired on me before, but I think there’s a place for it. 

I have been running lately, which is something I usually do only when I’m miserable—-it’s a tell, for me, normally, that if I say I’ve gone running, things are deeply bad. But this time around, something’s different. It started that way—the hurt I mentioned earlier—but stuck. I’ve found myself almost enjoying it. I don’t consider myself—or aim to become—-a runner, but I’m acknowledging for now that it’s something I’m doing. I told an acquaintance that I’m having a fling with running, and she reminded me that flings can be fun. She’s right. We’ll see how long it lasts, then.

So. This is disjointed, but that might seem right for this time of year. I’ll use the next few days to settle back into the routine of a new semester (I start teaching on Wed), and trust that with that routine, my thoughts will become a bit less jumbled. Until then, loves, be well. Love big. Oh! And send me poems—-I’m the Poetry Editor for Peripheral Surveys now, and I’d love to read (and publish!) your work. Hit me up at elizabethwwade(at)peripeheralsurveys(dot)com.

xo.

My latest piece, “Burning the Negatives,” appears over at Housefire today, which makes me very happy. If you don’t know Housefire, check it out—-it’s a collective that does great work to promote innovative writing. They routinely publish prompts for folks who’d like to write their way into the group. (That’s how I got in, way back in the spring.) 

Often, when you write about things that have happened to you, it takes some time. It’s usually necessary to wait and reflect, to sit on your work for a while so you may revise at a time that’s more distant from the time of writing. So there’s often a long time that passes between the event and the writing about the event and the publication of the writing about the event. I’m always happy to see my work published, but sometimes when I get a journal, revisiting my poems is similar looking at land as I fly away from it in an airplane: it seems so small, so quaint. 

That’s not the case here. I had a birthday. December came. Advent started. I wrote a poem. It feels very immediate still, and that’s fun. 

I should add two things: the line “the man with the gun is satin” comes from a typo I encountered last spring. Thanks, H, for letting me steal the line. (If you want me to name you fully, just let me know!)

And the bio is my very favorite ever. The one who brings the most joy wins: of course she does.

Bring on the joy, y’all.

(xo)

"Vertigo" (AGNI)

My poem “Vertigo” appears in the latest print issue of AGNI, which makes me very happy. 

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Last year I started taking a yoga class, and I enjoyed it a lot, even though I found it challenging. I’m not good at being single-minded——I tend to multi-task on many things. So the idea of meditation was difficult for me. I liked it, but it took a while to master. The poem arose from one of those pre-mastery moments.

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In the same fall, my brother started doing yoga, too. He did it at the rehab facility he was at, as a way to learn coping and stress management and relaxation. We laughed every now and then about the incongruity of it—-he wasn’t prone to meditation or introspection. 

After he died, I went back to my yoga class. I cried through the first one—the first thing I did by myself after he died—but I got through it. I quit going eventually, for a number of reasons (someone very loud joined the class, and I just found it not very restful any more), but I do it on my own sometimes. 

This summer, at the start of a long road trip, I found myself at the family farm. We were in the den, watching the tribute to “Big Man” Clarence Clemmons. I moved into a pose, steadying my gaze on something in front of me. At some point, I realized that one of my friends had turned around to watch me rather than the television, but I couldn’t meet his gaze—I knew that moving my eyes would make me lose my balance. 

There’s a metaphor here somewhere, but I’m not going to reach too far for it. 

Or maybe the point of the story is that I’d learned the value of focus. 

Or maybe morals are myths and O’Brien is right: there’s no moral, no true way to tell a story of war or any sort of battle.

But we keep going, keep reaching, keep telling. And ultimately, I think that’s good.

(xo)

"Pleurisy" (Nano Fiction)

Last night, in the midst of a 13 hour trip back from Thanksgiving break, I learned that the editors of the fabulous journal Nano Fiction have nominated my forthcoming piece “Pleurisy” for a Pushcart Prize. I was stunned and honored and thrilled. I’ll post about the prose poem itself when I have the issue in hand (any day, I hear), but I figure this deserved its own mention.

Many thanks to editors Kirby Johnson & Glenn Shaheen—-not just for the nomination, but for believing in the work and giving it a home. 

And check out Nano Fiction! I submitted to them because I like the work they’re doing, and I’m honored to be among their authors.