I need you to know: I hated that I needed more than this from him. There is nothing more humiliating to me than my own desires. Nothing that makes me hate myself more than being burdensome and less than self-sufficient.— CJ Hauser, “The Crane Wife”
Ten days after she called off her engagement, CJ Hauser was studying the whooping crane on the gulf coast of Texas. On the Paris Review blog, a gorgeous braided essay about a difficult decision and why it had to be made. This essay has gotten a lot of attention in the literary community, so it’s a little more on the beaten trail than I had planned on starting this project with, but it completely deserves the attention, and yours. Enjoy.
Read “The Crane Wife,” here.
Happy Halloween! No tricks today; have I got a treat for you today or what! You’re living under a (literary) rock if you haven’t encountered the work of Carmen Maria Machado, and I wanted to highlight her this week because NEXT WEEK, her memoir In the Dream House, comes out from Graywolf Press, who also published her first collection, Her Body and Other Parties, which was probably my favorite book I read in 2018. “The Husband Stitch” is the opening story in Her Body and Other Parties, and was first published by Granta in 2014.
– What’s that? he asks.– Carmen Maria Machado, “The Husband Stitch”
– Oh, this? I touch my ribbon at the back of my neck. It’s just my ribbon. I run my fingers halfway around its green and glossy length, and bring them to rest on the tight bow that sits in the front. He reaches out his hand, and I seize it and push it away.
– You shouldn’t touch it, I say. You can’t touch it.
Read “The Husband Stitch” here, in Granta. Then, pre-order In the Dream House (link above!)
He was a nice guy, actually, but I saw the conversation stretching out in front of us, and I saw myself having to say things about Žižek and listen to him say things about Žižek, and I saw that I really did not want this to happen. “This is a bar,” I wanted to say, the same way that my grandmother might have said “This is a church.”Rosa Lyster, “The Best Time I Pretended I Hadn’t Heard of Slavoj Žižek”
My friends, this piece is award-winning, and for a reason. You may know of Rosa’s work for her hilarious series on astrology for the Hairpin (and if you don’t, oh have I got a treat for you or what?) but this is also one of my favorites of her pieces. It just makes me cackle every time.
You know the circumstance. You’re having a nice time in a public place and someone is mansplaining some adored cultural icon or institution. They seem not that sensitive and not at all concerned with the way they’re taking up your time. You deny any prior knowledge of their thing, and hilarity ensues.
This is a quick read and very fun. Enjoy “The Best Time I Pretended I Hadn’t Heard of Slavoj Žižek,” by Rosa Lyster at The Hairpin, here.
I am a writer and a reader. A friend told me that her writing is like translating films she sees in her head; I cannot picture the books I write in my mind. I cannot picture the books I read in my mind, so I read for words, for structure, for sound. When I write am transcribing directly the words that have always lived in my head.– Alex DiFrancesco, “My Father’s Face”
This is a brief and powerful personal essay about a phenomenon with which I was unfamiliar: aphantasia, when people cannot see images in their mind. Alex, a prolific and talented writer, explores the experience of discovering having aphantasia so beautifully, and meditates on the importance of a single photograph in their life, one of their father, who passed away.
Read “My Father’s Face,” on Vol. 1 Brooklyn here.
Alex is the author of Psychopomps, a collection of essays from Civil Coping Mechanisms Press, and All City, a novel from Seven Stories Press. I highly recommend ordering both from your local independent bookshop.
I wear my periwinkle silk dress that’s dry-clean only, because now is not the time to be practical. He picks me up at six and takes me to Nando’s, yes, Nando’s, in an ice-pink punch buggy that he says is his mother’s. I do not ask him why Nando’s, or where his mother is, or why she doesn’t need the car herself, in case these are sensitive subjects.– Kyra Kondis, “The Last Date on Earth”
A lovely flash today from Kyra Kondis. “The Last Date on Earth” perfectly encapsulates a certain random spontaneity of when you simultaneously have very little time, and really want to do something. The world is ending, and our narrator agrees to a Tinder date. Funny and tender, Kondis dwells on how we spend our time and what we wish we had done, in retrospect. Very relatable, which is comforting but not what gives it merit. It’s beautifully-crafted and an absolute pleasure to read.
Check out “The Last Date on Earth” from Honey & Lime Lit here.
During times of Happiness we would make up for it; we would speak, as if trying to squeeze out all the words.– Leonora Desar, “Catherine”
You know that feeling when you read something and think, holy crap, this person has seen inside my mind and understood it better than I! No? Just me? No problem. Leonora Desar gets exactly at the feeling of wanting to be with a friend through a period of depression while being depressed yourself, when just being there is the best way of communicating for both of you. For a story about depression, it’s anything but depressing.
Read Leonora Desar’s “Catherine” at Wigleaf here.
I was planning on not posting anything here from major major magazines like the New Yorker, but when I came across this audio recording on Spotify of one of my favorite essays of all time…I needed to share it. I don’t care if you don’t think you care about gardening, give this piece a change. I promise you won’t regret it.
A good place to begin a garden is to undo the mistakes of previous owners. I tear up a stone walk, which occupies patches of ground feasting on sunlight. The mother cat, nursing her kittens, looks at me as if she has seen this happen before. I make a figure-eight path, irregular in the manner of handwriting, hollowing out the spaces for the stones before I water them into place and hop on them as they set.– Alexander Chee, “The Rosary”
“The Rosary” was originally published in the New Yorker and can be found online here. It can be listened to on Spotify here. It can also be read in Alexander Chee’s wonderful collection of essays, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, which I highly recommend. He is also the author of two novels, Queen of the Night, and Edinburgh.
Melanie turned from the table where she’d been pulling newspaper off of individually wrapped silver spoons and stared with her mouth open. The pink of her tongue gave me a little thrill, like ripping paper in a silent library. I took a step toward her and we were closer than we’d been in weeks. I could smell her lavender shampoo and was shocked to find that I’d missed it.– Josh Denslow, “Gravy Boat”
If you rubbed on a lamp and a djinni (not genie, as he’d tell you) swanned out, what would you wish for? What do you think would happen? Josh Denslow ruminates on this idea in a wonderfully unexpected way, with both humor and emotional depth. I love his work and it was hard picking one recent piece to spotlight. This one has stuck with me since I first read it in June. Even if you are the (boring) sort who doesn’t enjoy magical or supernatural elements in your reading of choice, I urge you to give this one a try; at its core, it’s about human wants and a relationship.
Read “Gravy Boat,” on Atlas and Alice here!
[My mother] said, Beware when a man calls you angel. Every earthly thing you do will disappoint and enrage him.– Kathy Fish, “I Have Not Pushed My Cuticles Back With An Orange Stick Since The Nixon Administration”
Kathy Fish is an extraordinary woman. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t encounter her work until the end of 2017, when she published “Collective Noun for Humans in the Wild,” an absolute gut-punch and something else you should read when you have time. Since then, I’ve dug greedily through everything else I can find online and enrolled in her Skillshare Flash Fiction class. This piece is, like all her work, so short and powerful; one of those sort of ominous moments when you connect all these things you’ve been told, how they come from who they come from and how they’re a cultural inheritance, in a way.
Read “I Have Not Pushed My Cuticles Back With An Orange Stick Since The Nixon Administration,” by Kathy Fish on Monkey Bicycle here. If you’re interested, buy a copy of Kathy’s collection, Wild Life: Collected Works 2003-2018 on her website.
A man wearing a mask approaches me. “What’s your name?”
I look down at the name-tag I grabbed off the welcome table. “Volunteer 8.”
“Take your shirt off,” he says.
I hesitate. I wore my ugly bra today. This isn’t fair.
“It’s to give the babies more warmth,” he says. In his outstretched hand is a crepe gown. Yellow, the saddest color if you ask me.– Allison Kubu, “Bottomless Sounds”
When Ruthie’s roommate cajoles her into volunteering to hold babies born with opioid addictions, the last thing she expects is to become deeply attached to a baby girl named Splenda. Ruthie has a blunt and straightforward presence, but can be “sentimental,” she tells us. From a family with significant challenges herself, Ruthie is constantly struggling with the notion of being part of a family, even as she has aspirations to create her own.
Read “Bottomless Sounds,” from Longleaf Review here.
I scoff at them, and throw shards of glass into their cardboard. How’s this for a mirror, I say. Later I feel guilty and I apologize. The parasol ladies say it’s fine but I sense some distance between us still.– Reem Abu-Baker, “At the Home Depot”
For today, a beautiful little flash fiction from Cheap Pop, published originally in 2016. Abu-Baker conveys SO MUCH in so few words. The voice is whimsical at times, then sober, then tender, and while we only see a few glimpses of the narrator’s world, she lets us in to the tensions between what we are told we should do, how we are told we can look, and what we need to do to survive.
Read “At the Home Depot,” in Cheap Pop here.