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. 🙂

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.

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.]

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.)