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Dear Stranger

ImageI don’t know you that well but I get the feeling that I could if I tried hard enough to sit here and talk about something although I’m hesistant to bring up the weather because then I would have to pick a place to put us in like a restaurant or a cafe and it’s from places that circumstances always seem to arise and grab you by the neck like an invisible noose you’ve walked into or fine print you haven’t read on a contract that says you must be a person of value to me or to whoever it is that I turned out to be after years of watching me puke into the gutter or holding my hand through the telephone which I will on occasion leave on the bookshelf while you are explaining something I’m not interested in as I leave the room to finish off a bottle of wine just quickly enough to return as you punctuate your sentence and ask me for a response which I provide either begrudgingly or too generously so that you are always either angry with me or suspect that I am not listening because I am drunk and you know how I get when I drink too much so you do not ever bring it up but instead you get back at me when I am sad over something you know I think is important so I will ask you what the hell you want from me anyway and you will not validate that statement with a reply but will be consumed with guilt because you were actually listening and know that I am hurt from the expression on my face which you have seen one too many times and I will know that it’s eating you up inside to see me this way so I will try and squeeze a tear out from the corner of my eye and you will hate me for it but you don’t yell you hold me close and instead say that you’ll buy me a drink and I will get drunk and let slip that I left the receiver on the bookshelf that time you were talking about Star Wars and you’ll say that it was Star Trek and how could I and I will say how could you keep going on and on about something you knew I wasn’t really into anyway and you’ll say didn’t I say that I liked that stuff when we first met and I will forget what I said when we met and you will be offended and I will be mad at you for crying so well and with so much feeling so I will call myself a cold-hearted bitch and hug you and tell you that you know that I have a bad memory even if I remember that the first time I met you I thought you were kind of odd-looking and that you were wearing jeans with white thread hems which I still find tacky but you don’t do anymore because you know what I think what about white hems and that haircut and the way that you wink when you think you’re saying something smart which I’m still fooled by now that we still don’t know each other and everything you say still seems intelligent and everything you’ve done still seems like something I suddenly want to try just so that we can have something in common and so we can keep talking in non-places like the internet or the telephone which I keep by the sofa I’ve been sleeping on in case you call which you always do always five minutes after you say you will and I think that your nonchalance is challenging and your candor with things like keeping promises is exciting only to eventually find out that in truth you have been sitting by your telephone for five of the longest minutes of your life agonizing over when to call me only in the future when I have spent enough time with you I will know this and I will think those five minutes are a waste of time and every time the phone rings I will think you’re pathetic because who has the time to sit around all night and agonize over calling someone and I will be struggling with ways to not pick up and not offend you and hang up quickly to catch my favourite show which starts at nine and also make sure you do not come over to surprise me and bring me flowers just because which really means just to make sure that I was home and so I will say I was doing the laundry is all and the machine was on and it was loud and so I didn’t hear the phone and wow are those flowers for me you didn’t have to which I will mean because right now one of the many non-things I like about you is that you don’t buy me flowers because you are so comfortable in your own skin and so admirable and I don’t want you to know that I watch the movies we talk about as we’re talking about them just so I can know what you’re talking about and that I’ve searched for your name online because while I say that I am spontaneous the truth is that I am terrified of strangers and would like it better if I knew what I was getting into like dipping a toe into a lake before doing what I will do anyway which is plunge into the water and allow myself to be soaked even if I hate the cold and don’t particularly like swimming and it only takes me seven minutes to take a bath everyday so what’s the point of spending a whole day submerged in water and watching my skin get wrinkly which is what you say you want to do for the rest of your life to see me get wrinkly in the mirror next to you which I have to say back although I think you would look very odd wrinkly because you have a pronounced Adam’s apple which will eventually be covered with fat but which I like at the moment because I don’t see you a lot and have only begun to take note of certain details about the way you are shaped although at this point I am assuming that it will be you who will fall in love with me because you are the one who likes to order whenever we meet up in the flesh and spend a few hours filling awkward silences with funny jokes that are only funny because we’re both  intoxicated and are either too awake thanks to one-too-many cups of coffee or are teetering on the edge of sobriety as a result of having drank too much gin too quickly like we will probably do on every occasion that permits it like our friends’ birthdays weddings funerals and you will find it endearing at first and I will feign clumsiness when drunk so that we can do romantic things or put ourselves in romantic situations like having to sleep in the same bed or run out in the rain while I’m wearing a sheer dress so you can feel me up in a taxi cab which you will pretend not to have done and I will pretend to both not have liked and not have noticed so that you will know that I get that way when I’m inebriated and we will spend more time together so that we can hop into cabs only this time I will not pass out or pretend to so that I can know what it is that I am dying to know which is how your mouth tastes which is all I think of when you’re saying something smart to me over the phone when you call five minutes past when you say you will which is the time that I count on you to call anyway which takes the piss out of the whole thing as we get to know each other because you say you will call at nine at night and call at nine-o-five which annoys me because I like watching something on TV at nine and you interrupt it with your stories that I’ve heard before and one day we will be sitting at some non-place and eating some food we don’t remember and you will be talking about a book I no longer like and telling me how you think it describes us and how funny it is that we’ve come so far and I will nod and laugh and talk about time and say it’s crazy that it’s been years when really I mean it’s crazy that it’s been years and still we’re together because truth be told I don’t think we like each other that much anymore because you still think that I like it when you call me angel in bed and I still call you a dirty little motherfucker even if I know you’re close to your mom and you don’t like the image of a mother fucker in general you’re not so bad and I think most of the time hey that’s a lot of years to be with someone you met absolutely randomly but then I think about the coincidences that our common friends have brought up like that we went to the same pre-nursery and that we were both at the 2008 concert of our favourite band and that actually we met at a party once in 2003 but I was shy and I will think that fate has never seemed so unromantic as well as that you probably didn’t notice me because back then I looked like shit and you were lusting over someone else whose husband died last week and whose wake we went to even if we didn’t recognize the body and only knew him from the photo of him from when he was in high school that they hung on the door in which he was smiling really wide with a bit of green stuck in his teeth which happens to you often which is why I never prepare lunch for you that has veggies in it which you’re grateful for because you think my obsession with what I eat is absurd since we all end up in the same place anyway and I secretly hope that your non-veggie eating gets you in the end so I will be right just like I was right not to talk to you anymore so that you stay a stranger and so that you can be someone whose mouth I can think about tasting on days when I have the bathtub to myself without feeling guilt, or anything
[As seen in EM Zine Issue 2, September 2013]

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Bookings Personal

The thing is I really think it could change the world

One of the things that makes me the saddest is that I don’t think a lot of people like to read (anymore? that is, if they liked to read in the first place). I don’t mean to come off like a condescending grandmother, but it seems inevitable that that’s how people seem to take the suggestion to read: like you’re telling them to do something obsolete (like wear a cloth sanitary napkin or drive a horse carriage).

I read this Einstein quote at Handuraw Pizza the other day (there was a huge poster) and it said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” And it’s true. The way it’s been framed is extremely cheesy, but it is true. This is not to say that I don’t think knowledge is important–it is extremely important but I feel like knowledge is the result of imagination. We only know things via our ability to question what we’ve been taught and to be able to acknowledge that you aren’t the only person whose life matters. JK Rowling said it, John Green said, Oscar Wilde probably said something about it: imagination is empathy.

And I really think that it can change the world (yes, LOTR is also the closest thing to organized religion that I have/believe in but maybe that also helps my point): for instance, I “sprained” my back yesterday from carrying my laptop around; I was in a huge amount of discomfort but I still had to face the commute home. It was standing by the time I got onto the bus and the sideways rocking motion was making it difficult for me to balance because of the said injury. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, though so I just leaned against one of the chairs and closed my eyes. Then some guy stood up and looked at me and sort of nodded at his seat and said “Umupo ka na.” Aren’t doing nice things like that always an exercise in reading (reading people, in this case I guess: being able to tell when someone needs a seat)? I don’t mean to say people should be completely empathetic (no such thing–complete empathy would just mean you were that person) but that we should pay attention. And if there’s one thing that reading teaches you to do, it’s that. 🙂

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Bookings Personal

Short story favorites this month: a list

Lately I’ve been reading mostly short fiction; this is both because I’ve had all these pockets of free in-between time (between classes, between my dad’s hospitalizations) and because I’ve been gearing up for a lot of short fiction things I’ve been working on and it’s always helpful to read stuff that is in the same form as what you’re writing.

So yeah.

1. People Like That Are The Only People Here by Lorrie Moore

I really like Lorrie Moore’s language (although that can be said for all of the people on this list, I guess).  For example, the first few lines from this story go like this:

“A beginning, an end: there seems to be neither. The whole thing is like a cloud that just lands and everywhere inside it is full of rain. A start: the Mother finds a clot in the baby’s diaper. What is the story? Who put this there? It is big and bright, with a broken khaki-colored vein in it.”

The way that the first sentence is written is so that it, like the message it conveys, also has no beginning or end. It’s concise but emotive, simple but not lazy (far from it). ❤ Plus the entire story hit super close to home–it’s about an ill baby and hospital life, basically–because my dad is always in and out of the hospital and it conveys the feeling of being trapped in a sanitized state of forced hopefulness very, very well.

This story is part of an anthology of O’Henry Prize stories that I picked up from the booksale thing on the ground floor of UM (University Mall), Taft Ave.

2. True Trash by Margaret Atwood

This is in the collection of short stories called Wilderness Tips. One of the interesting things about Margaret Atwood and her writing is that she’s written so much: this story was published in the early 90s and it’s very different from her more recent stories (like the stories in Moral Disorder  for example) not in feel so much as in content. Her later stories always feel like a looking back or a looking into the self whereas this feels like you’re looking out (haha) into something. This story takes place at a boys’ camp and I love how adolescence is portrayed in this story–it’s silly and sad and has a great deal to do with forgetting/leaving behind.

3. Panic by Joyce Carol Oates

This is from her collection Dear Husband, and I liked it because I think it was the perfect first short story for that collection. I’m (more than a little) obsessive-compulsive about sequencing: I like listening to albums in the order the artists have arranged them in and same goes for compiled short stories. This sets the tone for the entire book in that it talks about a lot of domestic dread in a very quietly violent way.

4. Affection by Donald Barthelme

Okay. Uhh. The thing is that I want to be Donald Barthelme. Of all the stories here this is probably the one that I viscerally gravitate to the most. I like the language, I like the fragmented form, the sense that makes no sense.

5. Like Animals by Kelly Link

This is the perfect type of creepy–creepy punctuated with mundane fixtures, and rabbits.

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Projects Writing

The Chlorine Atom Girl

Sitting on a stool, smoking by the door, tipping her elbow in favor of—whatever—always wondering about why it must always be she who leaves even if she would like to stay—the night, maybe—and why she must always be there to watch people find—happiness, if you can call it that—the thing they told her as a child she must chase down—the thing you can’t just sit around waiting for—the thing you must make yourself pretty to be able to acquire—what: why people are always trying to get her to leave—whoever she is with at the time—is because she probably will—not that it wouldn’t be lovely to have a home with a small garden outside—but young, fair brides so quickly become—the hags that lust after cabbage—and so she continues to live this life—of what can you call this—substitution—at least she has seen more nights colored in gin—than your average smart person—she tells everyone else it is better to be the Chlorine Atom Girl, light on your feet and ready to head wherever whoever pulls you next—it is better to be wanted and reluctant—at least you have the option—to get the hell out when you need to—which in her case is often—she fell in love with this guy once—but that was before—she was—herself

[The complete work to be published in December 2014 in EM Zine Issue 3.]

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Books Projects Published Stories Writing

Tracing Maps

You were, literally, a golden boy. With hair like a sunrise people wanted to follow you wherever you went. In grade school, you led back-of-the-bus riots and we sang pop songs at the top of our lungs, undeterred by the plastic-melt heat or the rotten smell of our uneaten lunches seeping out from our colorful lunchboxes. You were a sniper with a straw for a gun—hitting the enemy with small sago balls for 10 pesos a barrel, we were as thick as thieves—I would hold up my notebook’s plastic cover in your defense and when the enemy’s ammunition caught in my hair, you would spend the rest of the ride home combing the sticky bullets out with your fingers.

Sixth grade was the last time we held hands. It was the last day of class and we were eating orange popsicles in the van that we called a school bus. This was our day off: the lady selling tapioca ammo was off for the summer and so we settled for ice drops and the backdrop of the summer to come. Our houses were the last two stops and on that home stretch, I was thinking about the next year and how gradeschool was coming to an end. I imagined us in grown-up uniform: me with a necktie instead of a ribbon, you in black pants instead of brown shorts. We would use paper with more lines and smaller spaces, ink instead of graphite. You put your hand over mine and I fit my tiny fingers into the air in between yours. Warm and wet from sweat and sunshine, our palms stayed pressed together for the rest of the ride. Upon arriving at your house I said goodbye and you said see you soon. Jumping off the van, you waved and tossed your popsicle stick into the gutter.

I wonder if it felt like falling to you. Since the news, I have lived many a nightmare in your shoes. Forty floors up and feet against the ledge, I feel my heart beating in my throat—there is only one way this ends. I put my palms in front of me and know they are yours—they are large, the lifeline sprawling from below your pointer finger to just above the wrist. You look out across the suburban landscape and see everything: the mall where you first saw Jurassic Park, the parking lot where you lost your virginity, the red roof of your empty house and across the main road, the blue gradeschool where you learned to draw stars and read maps. You watch the roads intersect and hear the distant honking of cars. You know that that yellow dot could be a traffic enforcer and that that far-away pop-and-hiss could be gunfire. You know that the orange blotch could be a home consumed by flames and that the blue spot could be a pool where unwatched, a little boy is drowning. Roads intersect and there are too many lines and not enough spaces. There is nowhere left to leave your mark so this is where you make it and dive onto the asphalt like a pushpin onto a corkboard—I was here.

Waking up, I never know what to reach for. I have nothing of yours—no cards, no empty plastic cup mementos or straws left over from our sniper days. There is no evidence of you here. I walk to my study table, turn on the desk lamp and look at a spread I have pulled out of an atlas. A couple of blue pins are pushed in to plot the places I’ve been. I trace this map and wish it were your palm. There is still so much space, here.

(It has been 2 years. Ah, well. Taken from Paperweight.)