An Interview with Herb Kauderer

Herb Kauderer

Mary Turzillo:  Your poem “Equal Time” appears in the July ON THE LINE issue of r.kv.r.y. Why poetry? You have so many stories — why not fiction, or memoir, or even playwriting or screenwriting?

Herb Kauderer:  I’ve written all those things. But one of the special joys of poetry is its ability to fit into the small spaces of life. There is always paper in my pocket. And a cell phone, if need be. Waiting in line. Stopped in a traffic jam. Poetry continues to happen. I’ve written screenplays, one of which has been produced, but it is a much longer process.  I’ve been writing a novel for a decade. Meanwhile, ten books of poetry have happened.  Poetry fits into life as it’s lived, rather than requiring life to change for its creation.

 

MT:  So, are poems by nature lies, or only some of them?

HK:  That’s a marvelously metaphysical question that requires secondary definition. Is a lie only a conscious attempt to mislead? What if the teller of the lie believes it? If the latter is true, then the teller is not qualified to call it a lie or truth.

I write some poems that are intentional lies in pursuit of a greater truth. I write other poems that are as true as I can make them at the time of composition, only to find out that time has turned them into lies.

Richard Dawkins created the concept of the meme, a self-replicating idea that perpetuates itself regardless of its validity. This parallels my view of poetry which I define as ‘speech memorable in its specificity.’ In any class of my teen-aged students a few will know what ‘veni, vidi, vici’, ‘carpe diem’, and ‘caveat emptor’ mean, two millennia, an ocean, and a language away from their creation. But just as a meme perpetuates regardless of its validity, a poem is memorable regardless of whether it is true. It’s up to the reader to figure out whether it’s true.

Therefore a concise answer to your question is, “only some poems are lies, but I’m not telling you which.”

Equal Time_capilano-canyon

MT:  I sometimes feel your poetry is an elevated form of conversation: deep and brilliant observations honed in language down to subtle art. Do you sometimes get ideas for poems from interaction with other poets and non-poets? I mean, besides your excellent Book of Answers.

HK:  I do, and I often write poetry while listening to other poets at readings. I adore good conversation and have oft been quoted for saying “the older we get, the farther we’ll drive for good conversation.”

I use conversation in my poetry in many ways. First off, I often try to capture the special rhythms of compelling conversation. Nobel winner Orhan Pamuk believes in the poetry in conversation. Secondly, I often mishear things, which is a great creative resource. Thirdly, I sometimes simply capture what I hear, and distill it with context and find I have a poem.  It is a specialized form of found poetry.

 

MT:  Any examples, or is that too personal?

HK: I don’t know that anything is too personal for me. I do withhold work to avoid hurting others. But I am far too old and used up and cranky to be anyone other than who I am.

Here’s a poem capturing conversation. It was first published in ArtVoice in the issue for the week starting December 30, 1999.

The Unspoken Before You
        by Herb Kauderer
Time and time again
my ex-lover stumbles
into the land of pain,
laughing heartily
at my schtick
& saying, “That’s funny.
That’s really funny!”
And each time I answer
“I used to be a funny guy.”
& we each hear
the unspoken
before you.

 

MT: A friend of mine who I consider fairly bright and educated believes that poems without rhyme are not really poetry. What do you say to people like that? In fact, what do you say to people who insist that only form poetry is really poetry?

HK: To those who insist that only formal poetry is real poetry I say, “enjoy your unfounded belief, but please don’t make any policy decisions based on it. If you do you might accidentally spill your belief on someone.”

It is the nature of interpersonal communication and symbolic language that words and concepts mean only what we as a society agree they mean. The overwhelming majority of all markets, publications, and classes dealing with poetry include open-form (or free verse as it used to be called) in the genre of poetry. Formal verse is a less popular sub-genre (excluding song lyrics which are more popular). People who want to change the definitions will succeed only when the majority of us agree. So far, most of society is not bounded by rhyme.

This is largely a question of labelling and semantics, but it’s fun to discuss, as labelling and semantics are a valid part of poetry. The thing about rhyming verse is that most of us have an emotional attachment to it because of its connection to our childhood. I would love it if all poetry spoke to me as vividly and with as much fun and creativity as the best of Dr. Seuss. I don’t consider formal verse as the only ‘real poetry’, but it is special to me, and clearly it’s special to others as well.

 

MT:  What advice would you give a very new poet, say, a teenager, or even an eight-year-old?

HK:  Mostly I try to stay out of their way. My two oldest daughters were published poets as teenagers. Had I said anything to them it would have been “be specific.”

 

MT:  And what about new poets we should keep watch as they develop?

HK:  I think Sarah Borodzik has the potential to breakout if she perseveres. Josh Smith is impressive. I wish I were better at remembering names, as there are two more I can picture but not name.

I’ll mention Don Scheller and Dan Sicoli as two poets who I think should be famous. They are neither young nor new.

 

MT:  Do you have any dead-poet role-models?

HK:  Two dead poets are overwhelmingly important to my development. Edna Saint Vincent Millay’s work absolutely took my breath away when I was around puberty. Her work made me consider poetry as a possible form for the kinds of things I wanted to say. I still adore her power and willingness to address uncomfortable subjects. Among my early poetry are a few attempts at Millay’s tortured sentence style of writing. In my old age I still love Millay’s poetry, but I am less enamored of the need to keep looking up her words in the dictionary.

The second and more currently influential dead poet for me is Dorothy Parker. I love her short snappiness. I still try to emulate it with some regularity. You may note that both poets were renowned for dealing with romantic unhappiness. There is a large section of my poetry that deals with that, including the poem above. It’s harder to write bitter romantic poetry now that I am very happily married. It’s part of the movement of life which individual poems defy by capturing a moment and freezing it while the inhabitants of the poem move on from the moment. Those old photos from the 80’s show how black my hair was, but those poems show what I thought and felt, who I was. I have not been that person for three decades, yet a good poem still feels immediate, and renders a vivid image of a used-to-be.

 

 

Mary Turzillo is a professor emeritus of Kent State University.  Her poetry has won the Elgin Award, been nominated for the Pushcart, and has received many more accolades.  Her Nebula winning novellete “Mars Is No Place for Children” and her novel An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl have been selected as recreational reading on the International Space Station.

Featuring James McAdams

James McAdams

James McAdams in the author of “My Back Pages” a wonderful essay featured in our July ON THE LINE issue. We are so thrilled to have the opportunity to share this fine essay with the world.

James actually dropped out of high school and worked in the mental health and web design industries for a decade before getting his G.E.D. in 2005. After acquiring his B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh, he acquired his Master’s in English from Villanova University, where his Thesis was on David Foster Wallace and The New Sincerity (which was actually a somewhat novel observation at that time).

Currently James is working on his dissertation examining the imbrications between Anglophone postmodern literature and contemporary psychiatry at Lehigh University, where he also teaches and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth.  His two objectives for the year are to collect his Ph.D. (thus becoming one of what one imagines is a very small set of people with a G.E.D. and Ph.D.) and publishing his collection of short stories, provisionally entitled Ambushing the Void.  

You can read (and enjoy!) more of James’s work at the following journals:

The NIEMS Method” at decomP

Meran” at One Throne Magazine (this story is a fascinating fictional version of his r.kv.r.y. piece “My Back Pages“)

Get Back Your Life” at Literary Orphans

All of That” at TINGE Magazine

No Better Plenitude: 1685” at Copperfield Review

An Interview with Tessa Yang

Tessa Yang

Bismarck Martinez: You mention in your bio that “Moonlight Sonata” is inspired by your real-life experience spending sleepless nights in a noisy college dorm. Are Grace and Seth inspired by real people? If so, did you feel obligated to represent them honestly in your work or did you feel comfortable adjusting their characters for the sake of fiction?

Tessa Yang: Yes, that’s right. I remember lying awake one night when the first line, “My roommate and I are insomniacs,” just sort of floated into my head. But as for Grace and Seth, no, I can’t say they’re based on anyone in particular (though I did borrow Grace’s distinctive hairstyle from a former classmate). In general, my fiction strays quite far from my personal reality. I might draw a plot out of something I experienced or something I saw on the news, but characters almost never have intentional real-world models.

 

BM: Were there any challenges that you faced while writing this story?

TY: The hardest part about “Moonlight Sonata” was giving Lola a sense of agency. She’s clearly being taken advantage of here, and she’s struggling with some issues that are out of her control, but at the same time, I’m not interested in writing about passive people to whom things “just happen.” I wanted it to come through that Lola is ultimately responsible for her actions, that the biggest obstacle to her recovery is not in fact Seth, but Lola’s own capacity for self-deceit.

 

BM: What is your revision process like? How much revising did you go through for this story?

TY:Moonlight Sonata” was part of my college honors project, so I was fortunate enough to have an advisor, Dr. Pedro Ponce, with whom to discuss possible edits. One major plot point I ended up discarding was Lola’s sexual assault; this was originally construed as the source of her insomnia, but my advisor and I agreed that it wasn’t coming through clearly and was too much for “Moonlight Sonata” to handle along with everything else. I also had to cut about 800 words to meet r.kv.r.y.’s word limit. This turned out to be great for the story, as it forced me to be really selective with my details.

piano-Moonlight Sonata

BM: Lola gets caught up in the nocturnal world led by the charismatic figurehead, Seth. At the end, Lola appropriates Seth’s line when offering sleeping pills to Grace. In your mind, what does this mean for Lola and Grace?

TY: The way I intended it, that lines showcases the limits to Lola’s growth as a character. Although she does stand up to Seth in an earlier scene, the irony is that she effectively becomes Seth, despite genuinely good intentions, when she offers Grace the pills. So again, it goes back to her agency as a character. Lola is in a position of power in that last scene, yet there’s something corrupt about her new status. And as for Grace, well, I hope she’d have the good sense not to take the pills, but who really knows?

 

BM: Do you write every day? Do you have specific goals for how much you should write in a given amount of time, or do you write only when you feel inspired?

TY: As I mentioned above, this story was part of an honors project, and for that I was writing every day, every morning before class. I was amazingly productive, and I hope I can develop a similar daily routine for grad school. Without a hard deadline, I definitely do not write each day. As you say, it’s about when I’m feeling inspired, which might be just a couple of times a week, if that.

 

BM: When and how did you start writing? How has your writing changed since then?

TY: I began typing stories on the computer around age nine. Apart from the fact that my actual writing ability has (I would hope) improved a lot since then, a big change is that I write mainly realistic fiction now, whereas when I was younger, I wrote fantasy. It’s not that I’ve abandoned fantasy or anything, but I do think, growing up, you start to realize that reality can be as weird and fascinating as any imaginary universe.

 

BM: As a young writer, where do you see your writing going from here? Are there any genres that you haven’t explored that you would like to? Do you plan to endeavor upon a novel or a collection of short stories?

TY: I’m thinking a short story collection for my grad school thesis. I’ve gotten really comfortable with short-form fiction over the past few years, and I just don’t have any one idea that seems like it could sustain itself over a novel. As for genres, yes, absolutely, there are many I would like to explore! Recently I’ve become interested in flash fiction; it’s so different from the long stories I usually write, and I’ve come to appreciate how word count restraints can really energize the prose. l have a similar feeling about poetry, though I’m slightly intimidated by it, and this is also something I’d like to work on. I think forays outside your “home genre” can only help you grow as a writer.

 

 

Bismarck Martinez is a native of Queens, New York and a reluctant migrant to Long Island. He is a student at John Jay College in NYC where he also works as a writing tutor and serves as editor-in-chief of the student creative writing journal, The Quill. His work can be found at The Monarch Review, Drunk Monkeys, and Poetry Quarterly.

Interview with D Ferrara

D

Lori A. May: You often find characters with dark, but subtle demeanors. This time, in “Special Forces,” you have a soldier narrator. Can you share a little about how you find or create your characters?

D Ferrara: I don’t think I create my characters – they arrive fully formed in my head, or sometimes show up in front of me, on the street, in my family or among my acquaintances, although sometimes they cross pollinate. All I do is imagine them in different situations. That is the hard part. In “Special Forces,” the main character is based largely on a late friend, with some anecdotes drawn from soldiers I have met over the years. I imagined him in my own cancer treatment.

Lucille” is based on my own life, although I’ve added events, as my time in France was less eventful than Lucille’s. “Then and Now” was triggered by my husband’s terrible experience on September 11.  “Sample Sale” published in American Writers’ Review, sprang from a conversation I overheard between two young women at, you guessed it, a sample sale.

 

LAM: How do you know when you have the right narrator for the story? For that matter, how do you determine the appropriate POV?

DF: Most times, my stories derive from the character. Without the character, there isn’t a story. In “Special Forces,” that is especially true. Sometimes, however, I find that the story is more interesting from another point of view. My play, “Favor,” for example, started out as a biography of Edith Stein, the nun who was killed at Auschwitz.  While that was a great story, it didn’t resonate with me as much as why the Catholic Church had decided to make her – a woman born Jewish – a saint. When I changed the focus to the political intrigue at the Vatican, the story took off.

As for how I determined that: I couldn’t find anything new to say about Edith.   Not only could I not say it better, I couldn’t offer anything different. At that point, I could either give up on the idea (wasting years of research) or find a fresh approach. That approach germinated when I read an article by James Carroll, a Catholic writer, who questioned the motivation of the Church in canonizing Edith. I created a character to embody the controversy, gave Edith a voice in it and I was off.

seattle-post-alley-Special Forces

LAM: You publish widely in a variety of literary journals. What strategy do you have for submitting your work?

DF:Special Forces” seemed perfect for r.kv.r.y. There are stories like that – they just fit. Mostly, I submit to journals that I like, which means I submit a lot.  I subscribe to TSP and make note of the publishers of short stories there. Once a quarter, I choose a story and send it to journals which have published my work or which I have enjoyed. I have also used Writers’ Relief to explore new outlets.

 

LAM: Tell us a bit more about your writing life. How do you balance your writing, submitting, promoting, and community involvement while keeping up with day-to-day life?

DF: Like most writers with a day job and a family, I dream of the perfect retreat with nothing to do but write. I doubt I would write a word there. “Special Forces” happened when I was lying on a gurney, waiting for an MRI, worrying about my family, work, nausea, hair loss, sex, chemo-bloat, chemo-brain, but not, oddly enough, dying. Some of my best stories were born on the 6:25 bus to Manhattan. Stories have to be about something that touches the reader. What about an idyllic retreat is likely to touch most readers?

In short, I don’t so much balance as squeeze. I write on my iPhone, my iPad and a paper notebook, although my handwriting is dreadful. In a pinch, I gabble ideas into the voice recorder on the phone. It isn’t perfect – or even pretty, but I have published fourteen stories in the past two years, as well as a lot of articles for work, so I feel productive.

As for community involvement, I often feel that it gets the shortest end of the stick. If it weren’t for social media, I would have a hard time keeping up with my writers’ group. Still, when I get together with them, I always feel as if I’ve been rejuvenated, injected with new ideas.

 

LAM: When you think about your future writing plans, what might we hope to see from you in the future? Do you intend to pull together some of your stories for a collection?

DF: I have a collection of twenty-five stories ready to go (any publishers reading this?), from which “Special Forces” is drawn, and am adding to them, although somewhat erratically As every short story writer knows, publishers shy away from collections. Still, it is a wonderful experience to see them published individually. Next up, I have stories in MacGuffin, The Evansville Review, Adana and Diversity Art Project.

 

LAM: What do you know now as a writer that you didn’t know ten years ago? What advice might you offer to those starting out?

DF: Ten years ago I had given up on short fiction and was working on screenplays and ghostwriting. It paid, but was miserable work. I rarely got credit, and affected a hard boiled pose that was alien to my nature.

Slowly, I returned to my first love, the short story. It will never make me rich, but it makes me happy. Yes, I still write scripts, and collaborate with others on their work, but I don’t need the tough-as-nails posture. My life has been good: I can share that good fortune with others.

As for offering advice – besides the usual, excellent wisdom, “just do it,” I would add, don’t resent other people’s success. Envy is a waste of energy. Put that energy into your work. If you don’t “succeed” at what you are doing, maybe you need to redefine success. Do you need to change your genre? Find a different art form? Choose other outlets? Or revisit rule one – just do it? If you don’t write it, no one can read it.

If your only dream involves sitting on Johnny Carson’s couch, remember – Johnny is dead.

 

 

 

Lori A. May is the author of several books, including The Write Crowd: Literary Citizenship & the Writing Life (Bloomsbury, 2015) and Square Feet (Accents, 2014). Her work may also be found in publications such as The Atlantic, Brevity, and Midwestern Gothic. Lori teaches in the nonfiction MFA program at the University of King’s College-Halifax, and in the MA/MFA programs at Wilkes University. Find her online at www.loriamay.com and on twitter @loriamay.

 

Congratulations, Joan Hanna

Joan H at the mic

Congratulations to r.kv.r.y.’s own Joan Hanna on the acceptance of her latest poetry book for publication!

The Miracle of Mercury is now available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press.

Advance praise for The Miracle of Mercury:

“Joan Hanna’s poems may be “mercurial” in their beguiling shifts of tone, but they also reveal a surprising stability. I mean that, despite the dangerous territory that Hanna plumbs here—stories of familial conflict, as well as the ravages of recent American history—still, these are the poems of a survivor, and they offer their reader the reliable, sustaining pleasure of hard-won and well-made art. I’m certain that we will be reading poems such as “Tile and Stone,” “Rick,” and “Glass” for a long time to come.”                                          ~Peter Campion author of Other People, Lions and El Dorado

 “Joan Hanna dances with danger. Her words scorch the page as she explores memory through the elements—fire, water, air—and woos their magic as they woo those who dare tempt the fates. In one moment, mesmerizing beauty. In another, poison permeates from magnificence. In The Miracle of Mercury, Hanna touches the stove not to see if it is hot but to feel how it burns the flesh. These poems are dangerous in their beauty, haunting in their execution. Hanna embraces their miracles and their madness with an equal, attentive eye.” ~Lori A. May, author of Square Fee

“Mercury as an element is poisonous, free flowing, fascinating and beautiful; both freezing and burning with the same touch. As mercury changes shape with shifts in temperature, so the poems in The Miracle of Mercury elude, allude and tease language as easily as a child cracking open a thermometer attempting to touch her own mortality without pulling back. These poems are about the delicious power of dangerous objects and surviving amid a chasm that cannot be understood.”
~Millicent Borges Accardi Author of Woman on a Shaky Bridge and Injuring Eternity

 

 

Homepage Summer 2015

 

Cover Image_mt-diablo-poppies
“Mt. Diable Poppies” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our Summer 2015 “ON THE LINE” issue. We’re incredibly proud to present to you the wonderful and diverse array of voices in this issue, all complemented by the beautiful artwork of Allen Forrest which he has graciously donated for this issue.

I’m thrilled with the way everything came together for this issue.  A big thank you to my devoted editors and readers and especially to our contributors who trusted us to bring their work out into the world. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, Allen Forrest. You made each piece pop just a little bit more.

Our October themed issue will be GOODWILL and our January issue will have the theme of FLAME. As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers
Editor-in-chief

Wish Me Well by Andrew Hahn

Wish Me Well_seattle-asiatown-the-shoppers-7th-ave-s-near-s-weller-stt
“Seattle Asia Town Shoppers,” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

I had my first panic attack late September 2012 my senior year of college. I forgot about Spanish homework until I got to class and my friend Kidder asked if I understood a question on the assignment.

“Um, what?” I said.

“We had homework,” she said with a little head nod and a little grace.

I frantically pulled out my course syllabus and flipped today’s date. We did have homework. I hated when the professor called on me and I stumbled through an answer, so I pulled out my textbook and flipped to the back where all the answers were. I started to write the answer to question one, but my hand couldn’t make it past the first word without messing it up—ella.

My body tightened up. My heart raced like I was running.

Ella.

I couldn’t breathe properly. My vision went in and out of focus like apertures. My heart palpitated. I thought it was going to explode. My hands. armpits, and back started sweating. I wiped my hands rhythmically on my thighs. 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and on top of my skinny jeans. My sweat stains showed through my oxford shirt. The room was spinning, like I spun my head around on a bat, and I realized that I wasn’t okay to be sitting in a classroom for the next hour thinking I’m walking the balance beam of my body exploding.

My belongings thudded in my bag as I sloppily tossed them in.

“I’m skipping class,” I said.

My few friends in the class all scrunched their brows. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure,” I said picking up my bag and racing out of the classroom.

~

I made a counseling appointment one day while I was on break at work, walking around the parking lot outside. I kicked all the small sticks and stones I came across to see how far I could send them.

“Thank you for calling Wishing You Well Counseling. How can I help you today?” She was happy and helpful like you’d expect someone at a counseling office to be.

“Hi,” I said. “I’d like to make an appointment.”

“Okay, and have you visited our site to know who you’d like to meet with?”

“Uh, no,” I replied. “Yes, I visited your site and read one of the bios, but no, I don’t know who I would want to be with.”

“Well that’s totally fine,” she said. “Why would you like to make an appointment?”

“I’ve just been very anxious. I’ve felt at the edge of myself for the month of July.”

“Well, I’m very sorry to hear that you’re going through that,” she said. I could hear the threads of compassion in her voice. “I know exactly who to set you up with. How’s Wednesday at noon?”

“Sounds perfect.” I smiled, feeling the pulses of hope beneath my ribs.

~

The counseling office was in a quaint, brick house off one of Lynchburg’s busiest streets. The house itself released an aura of kindness and rest, like I was being hugged by practiced arms. A soft voice inside me whispered, “Everything is going to be okay. Please, come in.”

So I did just that and stepped into the foyer of an old house with a charming staircase in the entryway. To the left was the waiting room with two chairs and a door in view of the foyer and as I stepped in, I saw a sofa and a table with a checkerboard. There was a woman sitting in one of the chairs, so I sank in the chair cushion next to her on the opposite side of a box of magazines that looked like it was from Pier 1.

I browsed Twitter on my phone as I waited. Nothing but rap critiques and quippy rap puns, desperate passive aggressive pleas for love, and a t-rex who can’t do things like wave down a cab and shuffle playing cards. I flipped through pictures of the poor trying t-rex and chuckled to myself. The lady next to me kept glancing over until her counselor called her to her appointment. I signed off Twitter.

The door next to my chair creaks open and a kind-faced, blond haired woman says, “George?”

“Must be me, right?” I say.

“Come on in.” She smiles. Her blue dress brings out the blue calm in her eyes.

There are two brown suede sofas—one along the near wall and one facing the entryway. Each has colorful pillows tucked into the corners like rainbow sprinkles on a chocolate cone.

“Sit anywhere you like,” she says.

I sit in the far corner of the nearest sofa and face the chair in the middle of the room that I assume is where she’ll sit.

“First,” she says, “before we move on, do you go by George?” She shuts the door behind her and takes a few steps toward her chair.

“No,” I say. “I go by Andrew most of the time.”

“Okay. I want to make sure that this is as comfortable a place for you by calling you something familiar.” She takes a seat in the chair and writes notes on a sheet—my “file.” She lovingly brings her hands together like reuniting best friends. “So, what brings you in today?”

“I am anxious,” I say. “For the past month, I haven’t been able to take a full breath. I feel like I’m teetering at the edge of a breakdown all the time. I panic at the most random times, and then I’m on the phone for hours with my grandmother and aunt.”

“Hmm. You find a sense of security in them?”

“My grandmother helped raise me, so I would definitely say I do.”

She scribbles notes. “What else?”

I gaze out the window into the field behind her and thought of how to turn my feelings into words like connecting the dots without the numbers.

“Last week, my friend asked me if I loved myself.”

“And what did you say?” She never looks away from me. And she nods her head and listens with affirming yeahs.

“I said that I do, but she said she didn’t believe me. I spend so much time taking care of other people and making sure their needs are met that I don’t know how to spend time with myself.”

“Do you believe your answer?” She tilts her head like a puppy who’s heard a strange noise.

I shut my eyes. “No.”

“No what, Andrew?”

“No,” I take a deep breath. “No, I don’t love myself.”

“And why is that?”

“I don’t like what’s happening to me and how it makes me. I hate being alone all the time and I hate that I have to spend all of my time with me. And I hate feeling like what I want for my life isn’t good enough for my family, and I hate that I spend all my time talking about how anxious I’m feeling or if I feel safe and not doing things or eating things that have suddenly become triggers for all of it. And I hate feeling like people are annoyed with me because I give so much to meet my friends’ needs and it feels like no one is willing to care for me the way I need to be cared for.” I wipe my eyes. There’s a difference between knowing something about me and speaking it out, but when I say something, it’s true. It’s looking at your feelings saying, “I know you exist.”

“Wow,” she says.

“One more question before we move on if that’s okay.” She leans forward. “Do you feel like there’s something wrong with you?”

I look out at the window again and watch a little girl with a balloon tied to her wrist run around and around in circles.

“Yes, I do.”

“Andrew, let me tell you something. This anxiety you’re experiencing doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. It’s just your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. Your brain’s function is to keep you alive and do it well. Your brain doesn’t understand that anything would be going wrong inside of your body, so it equips you to handle conflict externally. Does that make sense?”

“So far, yes,” I say.

“The blood rushes to your fingertips in tingles. Your heart beats hard and your breath tightens to get the blood to your feet quicker so you can run away from the danger. The important thing to remember is this—It is not that type of fear.”

“It’s not that type of fear,” I repeat. “I love that.”

“Yeah,” she says nodding and smiling. “And anxiety is fear of something unknown. And right now you don’t know yourself.”

“That’s beautiful.” I feel the cushions beneath me. Feel the air from the vents. Look out across the expanse of the field. I’m grinning, knowing that my anxiety comes from a lack of love and misinformation about my body, my feelings, and what my brain has learned to believe, and all this can be cured with a little love for myself.

She notices me smiling and she bares her teeth and cocks her head. “You love that, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I really do.”

I have problems, but it’s nice to know they’re not the kind of problems I thought. I am a house that’s a little messy in all the hidden places. Anne Lamott, in Bird By Bird, says, “[C]lutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground—you can still discover treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.” I am a house that’s been dusted and vacuumed, but it’s been cleaned like a man’s cleaned it. What it feels like my counselor and I are doing is lifting up the sofa cushions, pulling the sofa away from the wall and collecting the trash and vacuuming up the dust bunnies. With each particle we pull from between and underneath the cushions, we examine it and remember how it got there and also try our best to not let it happen again. And we do this in every room, in every cabinet, in every drawer, until I love myself for who I am.

 

 

Andrew Hahn is a graduate of Liberty University and currently lives in Woodstock, GA. You can find him on Twitter @andyhahn1.

Grip by Kathy Fish

auburn-ca-poppies-Grip
“Auburn CA Poppies” by Allen Forrest, Oil on canvas

My brother, Mike, is getting solar panels installed in his house. All the materials are laid out on his front lawn. Workers on his roof pulling off shingles. I go inside and confront a small boy in overalls, holding a toy hammer, his cheeks tender and rosy like a picture-book child.

One of the workers couldn’t get a sitter, Mike says, coming up behind me with a cup of dry Cheerios for the kid. Mike works from home. He has three computers in his office, a stand-up desk with a treadmill. I’m afraid he’s going to ask me to stay and watch the kid, but I have things I need to do, funeral errands, like going to Walgreens to have prints made from the old pictures we’ll display, and getting Easter lilies for the chapel. Our brother Tom died a couple of days ago and his daughter requested these things, gave all of her dad’s siblings some tasks. We wanted to help any way we could. He is being cremated as we speak.

The boy sits on the kitchen floor with his Cheerios and his hammer and stares at me. I am suddenly, monstrously angry with this child just for being here.

And why must this be done today, I ask my brother. He sips his coffee. If I cancel it will be weeks before they can come back, he says.

I wonder how it’s possible that a living breathing person can be gripping your hand one day and be reduced to a pile of ashes the next. We all stood around his bed at the hospice, my other brothers and I, and Tom grabbed hold of my hand and gripped it hard enough to hurt. He was smiling, had a gleam in his eye.

Mike said, you’ve still got it, bro. Tom had been a quarterback, a state wrestling champion. My dad used to have the boys squeeze tennis balls while they watched tv. Grip was important. The difference between winning and losing.

Tom had stopped talking the day before. Was given no more fluids per the protocol. Massive amounts of morphine and anti-seizure meds were being pumped into his body, but he gripped my hand like he did those tennis balls of his youth.

Take it easy, you’ll break her hand, my brother Steve said. We all laughed. This was one of those good moments from the last few days. There’d been others. When Tom’s ex-wife leaned in close to him, smiling, and he wrapped his arms around her. When the college buddy showed up, had driven all the way from Texas and sat next to Tom telling all the old, wild stories. The fight they got into in a small town bar and the night they spent in jail there, being fed pork barbecue and corn on the cob and not wanting to leave. The stories made Tom laugh, albeit soundlessly. It was so good to see.

He finally let go of my hand and lay back and Steve dipped the tiny sponge on a stick into the bottle of Crown Royal and dabbed it on Tom’s lips and tongue. There, brother, he said, have some of the good stuff.

 

 

Kathy Fish

Contributors, Summer 2015

D
D Ferrara (Special Forces) has been an active writer and ghost writer for more years than she cares to admit. Articles, essays and short stories are her continuing obsession – several publications, including The Main Street Anthology – Crossing Lines, East Meets West American Writers Review, The Broadkill Review, MacGuffin Press, Crack the Spine, Green Prints, Amarillo Bay, The Penmen Review, The Law Studies Forum, and RIMS Magazine have fed this mania by including them. She recently received her M.A. in Creative Writing, where it joined her J.D., L.l.M. and B.A, amid the clutter of her office.

Kathy Fish
Kathy Fish‘s (Grip) stories have appeared in The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers(Black Lawrence Press, 2015), Guernica, Indiana Review, Denver Quarterly, Quick Fiction, and elsewhere. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011) and Together We Can Bury It, a second printing of which is available now from The Lit Pub. She has recently joined the faculty of the forthcoming Mile-High MFA at Regis University in Denver.

Allen Forrest
Allen Forrest (Illustrator) was born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas.

John Gifford
John Gifford (Lost) is the author of the story collections, Wish You Were Here (Big Table Publishing, 2016) and Freeze Warning, which was named a finalist for the 2015 Press 53 Short Fiction Award. His writing has appeared in Harpur PalatedecemberSouthwest ReviewCold Mountain Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Oklahoma. (@johnagifford)

Andrew Hahn
Andrew Hahn (Wish Me Well) is a graduate of Liberty University and currently lives in Woodstock, GA. You can find him on Twitter @andyhahn1.

Dan Jacoby
Dan Jacoby (cross) was born in 1947 in Chicago. He is a graduate of St. Louis University and has published poetry in Badlands Literary Journal, Belle Rev Review, Black Heart Press, Bombay Gin, Canary, Chicago Literati, Cowboy Poetry Press, Floyd County Moonshine, Indiana Voice Journal, Haunted Waters Press, Deep South Magazine, Lines and Stars, Red Booth Review, The Tishman Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Steel Toe Review, Red Fez, and the Vehicle. He is a member of the American Academy of Poets.

Herb Kauderer
Herb Kauderer (Equal Time) is a retired Teamster who is currently an associate professor of English at Hilbert College. He holds an MFA from Goddard College among his diverse degrees, and author Will McDermott has called him “the master of life change.” Herb has had about a thousand poems published including eight chapbooks, most recently The Book of Answers which has met with great critical success.

Rayya Liebich
Rayya Liebich (Plea) is a graduate of English Lit. from Mc Gill University and her poetry has been published in “Seasonings” edited by Anne DeGrace. Her play “3 Minutes” was awarded first prize in the Kootenay Literary Competition in 2005.

James McAdams
James McAdams (My Back Pages) has published fiction in decomP, Literary Orphans, One Throne Magazine, TINGE Magazine, Carbon Culture Review, and Copperfield Review, and has additional pieces forthcoming in per contra and Modern Language Studies. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Lehigh University, where he also teaches and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth.

Scott Starbuck
Scott T. Starbuck (Unhatched Caddis) was a 2013 Artsmith Fellow on Orcas Island, a 2014 Friends of William Stafford Scholar at the “Speak Truth to Power” FOR Seabeck Conference, and writer-in-residence at The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Thomas Rain Crowe wrote about Scott T. Starbuck’s latest book forthcoming from Fomite Press, “Industrial Oz may just be the most cogent and sustained collection of quality eco-activist poetry ever written in this culture, this country.”  Activist Bill McKibben wrote, “Industrial Oz is . . . rousing, needling, haunting.”  He blogs at riverseek.blogspot.com

typewriter
Gina Tremaglio (The Human Typewriter) Graduated from Emmanuel College with a B.A. in Writing and Literature. She enjoys writing non-fiction memoir as well as children’s literature. Gina will be pursuing a Master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and hopes to publish a book for English language learners. Her work has also been featured in Reverb Magazine.

Kristin Walters
Kristin Walters (Gong Bath) is a yoga and writing instructor in Champaign-Urbana. She will finish her MFA from the University of Illinois in May 2016. Her guilty pleasures are watching movie trailers, eating all the strawberries and wearing flip-flops in the rain. She is learning and teaching how to live a mindful, memorable and expressive life.

Joan Wilking
Joan Wilking (At Risk) has had short fiction published in The Atlantic, Bellevue Literary Review, The Barcelona Review, Other Voices, The Mississippi Review, Brevity, Ascent, The MacGuffin, Hobart, The Huffington Post, The Santa Fe Writer’s Project Journal and many other literary magazines and anthologies. Her story, Deer Season, was a finalist for the 2010 Nelson Algren Short Story Competition of the Chicago Tribune. Her essay Sunday Times is online at The Manifest Station and her short story, Clutter, in the Elm Leaves Journal is a Pushcart Prize nominee.

Tessa Young
Tessa Yang (Moonlight Sonata) is a recent graduate of St. Lawrence University, where she majored in English. “Moonlight Sonata” was inspired by several sleepless nights in a dorm room with a very noisy radiator; the story eventually became part of her senior year honors project. Starting in August, Tessa will be attending the MFA program in fiction writing at Indiana University.

My Back Pages by James McAdams

My Back Pages_seattle-asiatown
Seattle, Asia Town Temple,” by Allen Forrest, oil on canvas

“My life led by confusion boats, mutiny from stern to bow/
I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
—Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”

When I began working at Pinnacle Community Recovery Center,[1] I was unemployed and squatting at a friend’s apartment located two blocks from Lancaster Regional Hospital, in Pennsylvania, where I’d been born 24 years before. I often remarked then how this symbolized what a waste my life was, resulting in my friends’ designating me with the appellation “Killjoy.” During this period, I slept on a couch in unfurnished rooms all day and drank and snorted Percocets every night, looking for coins under couch cushions to buy cigarettes from friends. I had neither girlfriends nor job prospects, because I had never graduated high school, and had my license suspended for a DUI whose specifics are still too embarrassing to reveal. As a part of the DUI punishment, I was assigned a probation officer who encouraged me to take advantage of her career networking connections, because, as she argued, if I remained unemployed I would keep drinking, get another DUI, and wind up in prison, a prediction I smirked at then.

She found me a position working for an agency in the mental health industry. The job title was Human Health Aide and the job description to model appropriate behaviors and assist clients with Activities of Daily Living, including cleaning, cooking, nutrition, and social engagement, for mentally ill clients. The irony was that I myself didn’t model appropriate behaviors—I dressed in ragged Goodwill clothes, I smoked and chewed tobacco, I lived on gas station hot dogs and, when I met a girl at a bar drunk enough to fuck me, never practiced safe sex. The job paid $8.25/hr. When I told everyone at the bar that night they laughed and asked if I were sure I’d been hired by the agency or committed to its facility.

At that point I was against everything that reeked of success, happiness, or ambition. Since I had been hospitalized for depression at 14, I had developed a romantic vision of suffering, creating a narrative identity around such cultural icons as Kurt Cobain, Sylvia Plath, and Friedrich Nietzsche. In my few cardboard boxes of possessions I humped from couch to couch, from week to week, I stacked depression memoirs by Wurtzel, Slater, Jameson, and Styron, comparing their experience of depression or substance abuse against mine, feeling superior because my dysfunction and negative attitude about the world appeared, at the time, greater, more resolute, and thus more meaningful, than the symptoms and experiences they described. In other words, I was depressed and hopeless and without plans for the future, and never thought for a second that there was something problematic about this, or that there was another way of experiencing the world.

I was in no position then to be a Human Health Aide. Almost daily, I made stupid mistakes or showed errors in judgment so egregious that the Program Director called me into her office and asked if I was “on” something. Often, in the earlier days at least, her suspicions were accurate, and had I been tested for drugs or alcohol I would have been sent to prison, as my probation officer had warned. But luckily this never occurred, and the Program Director slowly acclimated me to the program, giving me permission to drive the facility’s unparkable Aero van, teaching me the “Recovery Movement” philosophy, and encouraging me to read up on each patient’s case history in the massive blue folders locked in the main office desk. Looking back, I suspect she was protecting the clients from me, based on her suspicion my presence around them would be detrimental, that I would behave inappropriately. I had to exhibit appropriate communal behaviors to her before I could be trusted to model them for clients.

Pinnacle Community Recovery Center’s mission was to assist adults with mental illness to transition back into the community and, ultimately, re-learn how to live independently. Usually these clients had been committed for protracted periods in state mental hospitals, and arrived at the facility with diagnoses such Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizho-Affective Disorder, Major Depression, and histories of suicidal acts and ideation. Almost all had co-morbid substance abuse issues, as well. I shouldn’t call it a facility, which implies inpatient treatment or locked doors—rather, Pinnacle was set within a community of small apartments and vinyl townhouses, with our clients living semi-independently next to college students and young married couples in distinct, private units, in most cases 1-bedroom or studio apartments that had stains on the floor and smoky brown rings on the ceiling. Our office was a townhouse located in the middle of this diverse neighborhood, and from the roof, if you went up there to smoke a bowl during an over-night shift, you could watch as all the lights went out early in the clients’ apartments and stayed on all night when the college students partied.

When the Program Director finally let me loose from the office, I felt like I had undergone a seminar in advanced psychology, pathopsychology, and, in particular, the ethos of the Recovery Movement. Although prevalent and well-respected now, the recovery movement was then in its infancy, and most of the support staff at Pinnacle—especially the clinicians, the psychologists and psychiatrists, those with Master’s in Social Work—were wary of its “lax” approach, suspicious that without maximal supervision the clients would decompensate and return to the hospital.

I’d be lying if I said this didn’t happen in some cases. In fact, my first time driving the facility’s massive Aero van occurred when Del M., a paranoid schizophrenic, was accused of attacking[2] a neighbor’s daughter and was committed to Lancaster Regional Hospital’s psych ward. While I was filling out the 302 involuntary commitment report, I realized this was the first time I had been in the hospital since I was born, when it was still called St. Joseph’s Hospital, and my mother and father, proud Catholics, held me in their arms, radiant and flushed, thinking of all the potential that I had, wondering what amazing things I would accomplish as an adult.

In the meantime, I settled into a routine at Pinnacle. In the mornings, I’d heft the canvas bag of medications in EZ-Dose packets and patient folders towards their apartments, walking past kids at the bus stop and men my age kissing their wives good bye in the driveway. I’d ask the clients to identify their medications and initial in the Medications section of their binder that they had ingested their meds; if they did not wish to, they were to sign with an X, which happened about 5-10% of the time. When this happened with a controlled substance like Percocet or Xanax, I’d consider forging the X into an initial and pocketing the pill, which my friends all requested, but by this time my own recovery had, gradually, begun to bloom, like those flowers on the side of my mom’s bed in the picture of her holding me as a baby at St. Joseph’s.

Each client taught me something different, and to this day when I ably go about my activities of daily living (on certain days, that is), I think of what specific client taught me about how to live. Along with another client, Ron R., I had enrolled in community college classes, which we would attend together in the section of town where most signs were in Spanish; we were in fact the only two Caucasian males in the class. When I drove clients to the daytime clinic, or waited outside when they met with their counselors, I would study in the van, and doodle questions in the margins for Ron R., who had an IQ of over 140, to explain to me later.

There was Susan H., an older women with Borderline Personality Disorder and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, whom I would take grocery shopping. Because of her infirmities, it was my job to split shopping duties with her, her scrawling half her recipe list for me to run around and scavenge while she swerved around in her motorized cart. She taught me for the first time what a serving size was, the differences between kinds of potatoes, and how to use coupons. Before then, my shopping trips were usually split between the frozen food section and the liquor store. She taught me the virtues of vegetarianism, which I follow to this day.

From Sienna M., who suffered from HIV and unipolar depression, I learned how to cook Spanish food, how to clean a kitchen without just throwing water on the floor and wiping it up with paper towels attached to a baseball bat. She had a teenage daughter who would come visit on the weekends, and I would talk to this daughter, herself depressed, about what I went through when I was her age, and how she should be proud of her mom. Sometimes her daughter tried to sneak a boyfriend over with a six-pack and I would have to roll off the air-mattress at the office and confiscate the materials, not telling anyone so Sienna wouldn’t be sent back to the hospital or lose her already slim custodial rights.

After a year I’d saved up enough money to rent a studio apartment. I filled it with community college textbooks, an old Dell desktop from the office, furniture from Rent-A-Center, and started cooking meals on my own and washing the dishes in the sink, appreciating the relaxing, Zen-like motions of manual washing. Every night, while filling out the daily progress notes for each client, I would seek for the right word, the apt turn of phrase, to not just communicate to my colleagues any important happenings, but also finding joy in the rhythms of writing, and began registering for community classes in creative writing and English to improve my writing abilities.

We all still messed up, a lot. This is one of the things we had been instructed to tell the clients, that recovery was a process, not an outcome. I remember so many nights sitting on Neil W.’s couch listening to him cry about his divorce while he injected his insulin, or sitting in the dark humming with Chi T. when it rained, because she had grown up as a little girl in Vietnam and had traumatic flashbacks to her childhood in these cases. I learned that caring is a muscle, compassion is an exercise, and the more you care for other people, the more you can begin to care for yourself, to work for health, to strain for goals—but at the same time, while everything seemed to be going so well, I felt like a sell-out, as if I were betraying my friends, my depression memoirs, my habit of laying in bed all day, my youthful nihilism.

Every Saturday we had a communal meal at the office. Each client would be assigned something based on his or her functioning level. Sienna, of course, would bring some delicious zesty Spanish dish whose names I simply can’t recall, while others might bring a six-pack of diet soda or frozen rolls they had heated up in their ovens, usually with my assistance, although it’s probably clear by now that they knew far more about ovens than I did (I didn’t use an oven cleaner until I was 26). These Saturdays would follow the frenetic Fridays, when they received their minimal SSDI checks and we would hustle to get to the bank and the pharmacy and the store and back in time for 8 PM meds. Most of them spent half their money on cigarettes, which I had quit smoking by then.

Of all my guardians, of all these angels whom life had cursed, whose childhoods were abusive, whose brain-chemistry was dysfunctional, who just never got any help before it was too late, Jason S. strikes me now as my possible double. He was my age, more handsome and intelligent than me, and alienated from most of the group, who tended to be at least 40 years of age. He had an ex-girlfriend far prettier than any girl I’d ever known who would come visit him every week and take him out to a movie or dinner. Sometimes, I found myself being jealous of him, but we quickly became friends. In the space reserved for a dining room table, he’d erected a tiny workout station, nothing much, some dumbbells, a stationary bike, a device he attached to the door to do pull-ups. I began working out with him, the two of us pretty much equal except for our brains, and it was then that I realized that there were two kinds of mental illness, one a cultural performance (as I had wasted my life on) and one a mystery of synapses and tragic incidents, which had been the case for Jason.

My “recovery,” therefore, was a result of working with the clients in the program, who were my models; my recovery was pure luck, my survival pure luck, such that I look back now on that night of the DUI (which I blacked out) as a pivot in my life, a low moment requiring correction, a redemption offered to me by the clients at Pinnacle. And while I still appreciate the music of Cobain, the poetry of Plath, the dark musings of Nietzsche, I see them now not as functions of depression, but something to be respected precisely because these people fought against depression to create something beyond the banality of suffering. In the end, those who were most victorious were the clients at Pinnacle, straining minute-by-minute and day-by-day to stay out of the hospital, to make a new life, to find a niche in the world that makes sense, that works.

Convention dictates, I realize, that I’m supposed to include here an anecdote about meeting an old client over tea, where we discussed how improved we were, but that never happened. The closest to that happening was a client seeing me at a 7-11 and, without recognizing me, holding out a handful of coins and asking for cigarette money.  What I realize now is this: it’s not a lie that people can’t “recover”; rather, it’s that the supposed meaning of the concept is misunderstood.  The nature of recovery is bilateral, trilateral, communal—my clients, in the end, modeled appropriate behaviors for me through their toughness and sobriety and honesty, their dedication to revise their life stories to account for trauma and disappointment, which I never had done to account for my mental hospital stay when I was 14. Even though I’m far from recovered now, when I work on my Ph.D. dissertation about narrative therapy, the concept that telling stories is by its very nature beneficial, I often pause and stare off, out the window into that perched past, remembering studying English with Ron R., and then return to revising my chapters, seeking for the right word, the best rhythm, the most accurate description, the same way as when I started writing in Pinnacle’s office, recording clients’ progress notes in their blue, oversized folders, attempting to find a narrative in those back pages.

 

 

James McAdams has published fiction in decomP, Literary Orphans, One Throne Magazine, TINGE Magazine, Carbon Culture Review, and Copperfield Review, and has additional pieces forthcoming in per contra and Modern Language Studies. Currently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Lehigh University, where he also teaches and edits the university’s literary journal, Amaranth.

[1] In order to avoid possible HIPAA violations, names of facilities, clients, and staff members have been changed, while their characteristics, personalities, and narratives have been strictly retained.

[2] He claims he was trying to help her with her shopping bags, which I still believe, but as a result of his tardive dyskinesia he trembled and often lost balance, seeming then to grab or lunge against people in aggressive or sexual ways.