You’re scrubbing grout in the bathroom when the old guy next door shouts through the wall. Wants to know if you’ll come over and see his paintings. He’s been bugging you ever since you moved in, convinced you’ll understand what he’s getting at. It’s ten minutes before Maritza may or may not arrive. The tub looks clean, even around the drain.
The old guy opens his door and you’re hit with a whoosh of stewy air. He’s got about twenty canvasses, some hung, some leaning against the walls, all of his little dog. Pepé.
My muse, he says.
Pepé, a dishwater Chihuahua, peeps from a mound of newspapers behind the sofa and yawns. The paintings are crude, with colors right out of the tube. Pepé as a circus ringmaster, a pizza chef. Pepé behind the wheel of a red blob you suppose is a sports car.
Maybe you’ve stumbled on a primitive cache, a Grandma Moses, a Henry Darger.
No. This ugliness is not transcendent.
Well? he asks.
You say you’re just a librarian at the med-school.
Later, after the tub’s passed inspection, after she’s soaked while you waited outside the door, straining to hear the stirring water, Maritza allows you to comb her hair as she sits in front of you watching cable. Her long black hair is smooth with conditioner but when you draw the comb through one final time, it snags. You pull a single strand from the teeth.
Give it to me, Maritza says, her eyes on the TV.
She rolls the hair into a ball between her fingers, passes it back.
Swallow, she says.
Next door, Pepé insists on something. Yip. Yip. Yip.
You place the ball on your tongue. It begins to unfurl, drawing on memory, trembling like a fly.
David Schuman’s fiction has appeared in Missouri Review, American Short Fiction, Conjunctions, Black Warrior Review and many other publications, including the Pushcart Prize Anthology. He grew up in New Jersey, but now lives in St. Louis, where he teaches fiction and directs the MFA program at Washington University.
Raised voices hush a room, lower eyes. But the sound of skin hitting skin. But a slap.
The sound, an air-thickening sponge, slogged from one room to the next. It stilled the action in each. Heads looked away from the TV; hands paused lining the table with silverware; mouths at the door stopped saying hello.
After a few minutes, our hostess came back downstairs. Her eyes were the slightest bit red. But she smiled.
“Time for dinner, everyone.” We followed her into the dining room.
Our host came in quietly while we were shuffling about, finding seats. He sat down at the head of the table. We avoided eye contact with both of them.
Soon dinner began and was busy. Our hostess spoke and smiled; tension drained from the room. We all eased, slumping in our chairs like unclaimed marionettes. Drinks slipped through chattering lips. We returned to smiling at our host. He conversed easily and welcomed us back in with blue eyes.
After dinner it was time to leave. We left in groups, pairs. The house was empty in minutes. Our hostess stood in the shadowed doorway, waving goodbye, watching us retreat.
We got in our cars, sat in rows of two, covered from slats of rain. And with the black onyx windows planed around us, we drove the winding roads home.
Rebecca Entel is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and University of Wisconsin – Madison. She is Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Cornell College. Her stories have appeared in Madison Review, Leaf Garden,Joyland Magazine, Eunoia Review, Medulla Review,Unsaid Magazine, Connotation Press, and The Examined Life Journal. She lives in Iowa City.
When maintaining the curated home, one must behave much as if were one were employed at a museum. The collections management database, however, will not exist on a computer or even on yellowed paper files. You will have to create the catalog in your head. It may help to invent a mental taxonomy. For instance: “memorabilia, rare” – which consist of anything from a guitar signed by Rod Stewart to vintage Russian film posters. This would be a distinct category from “collectibles,” consisting of say, a matching set of Le Crueset cookware. Or the cookware might be filed under “status symbols, functional.” The point is that creating these specific categories will help you to remember each item and its location, which might be helpful when you are trying to arrange the Moroccan throw pillows in proper formation on the sofa after vacuuming.
Remember your credo: We are stewards. We are here for but a short time.
Remember too that the root of the word museum is muse – to cogitate, meditate, ponder. But keep your pondering within limits: it will not do to dwell too much on the beauty of the curated home, its heart-pine floors and antique wallpapers and stairwells wider than you are tall. Do not ruminate, comparing this home with your own, or any other future home you are likely to inhabit – you may find yourself dizzy on that stairwell, grasping the banister damply, thinking I will never have this, I will never have this, near tears. This will prevent you from performing your duties effectively, and is maudlin besides.
Everything will be easier if you love the Curator. Please note this does not mean a romantic or sexual love, which would be inappropriate. The Curator has power over you, yet is kind to you – the natural result of this is a tenderness of feeling that we may as well call love.
Remember that coffee filters work better than paper towels for cleaning the smudges from glass. Remember that fragile paper must be exposed to light as little as possible. Remember to store vinyl records vertically. Remember not to reveal how much you know about the Curator, even as you learn every corner of the home like the joints of your own body. Remember that you are permitted to ask for your wages, as long as you appear less desperate than you really are.
Remember that if you break something, as you inevitably will, you will have to admit it. Your failure will not anger him (or her – the Curator of course may be female but is so often male, and you reading this manual are so often not), although it is disappointment, not anger, you fear. Remember that, as the Curator will tell you, you are doing him a favor.
Michelle E. Crouch
Michelle E. Crouch, a co-founder of APIARY Magazine(“Written by Humans”), has been published in the Indiana Review, Treehouse Magazine, and The Rumpus. She currently lives in Wilmington, NC. Her website is mcrouch.com.
I was kicking my football along the road in our estate, timing my kicks to each time the curbstones changed color. They were painted in the Ireland flag’s green, white, and gold, just to let anybody foolish enough to get lost in North Belfast know they were in a Catholic estate.
I turned into the alley and kicked the ball ahead, prepared to chase after it past imaginary defenders, but stopped short.
Standing in front of the rubbish bin halfway down the alley was Cormac Devaney, from my year at school. He was holding a teddy bear, not even looking my way. He laid the bear on the edge of the bin and held it down with his elbow while he lit a match. Then he picked up the teddy, pressing the light against its fat stomach and dropping the ball of flame into the bin.
I walked toward him. “What are you doing?”
“What do you think I’m doing?” he said. Smoke started to billow up, thick and black.
“Is that yours?” I asked.
He laughed. “You think I play with teddies? I found it in my neighbor’s garden.”
“You’re burning some wee kid’s bear?”
“Aye. They need to learn a lesson. You don’t take care of something, it’s not going to be there for you when you want it.”
“Aye, nothing wrong with being deep. Come on, let’s get out of here before somebody comes by.”
I picked up my ball, following his quick steps down the alley.
“I know you’re not stupid enough to tell anybody what you saw,” Cormac said, pulling up the hood on his jumper. “Want a sweet?” He pulled out a packet of Cadbury chocolate buttons. I took one and we walked along the main road. The rain had started.
Philadelphia native Martha Cooney spent two years living and writing in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She writes fiction, nonfiction and scripts for children and adults and has had work published in Cricket children’s magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette, and a variety of other publications. She is at work on a middle-grade novel and a comedy screenplay and is a performer with the Philly Improv Theater and First Person Arts Storytelling. Martha runs StoryUP!, which works with children of all ages to “tell a story – act a story – write a story”. You can contact Martha at [email protected]
“Here’s what you do,” a friend said to my husband, eyeing the dreck on our front porch, residuals from a previous sale: the single chair, incomplete set of plates, fancy dolls our daughters never played with, battered sleigh they had outgrown. “You go to the bank. You get $200.00 cash. You pay someone a hundred bucks to haul this shit away. You give your wife the other $100.00 and tell her it was a huge success. Nobody wants stuff you don’t want.”
How I wish my husband had done it, though I’d insisted on the sale.
When we’d moved to the suburbs twenty years before, we’d paid for a vacation by selling “antiques” we’d spent years collecting in Germantown. These things filled our imagined future, but didn’t fit in our new house. Nor did the wedding crystal I’d been carrying from the basement when I accidentally let go. I’d heard that delicate world—ring holders and sherry glasses—shatter, and put the box out at the curb without even looking inside.
We’ve emptied four houses now—my childhood home and my husband’s, our first apartment and my in-laws’ last—and are weary of clutter’s delusions: that there will be another day for the dot matrix printer, the blouses that need ironing, the hand tools rusting in the shed. When something comes in, something must go. Still, we want our stuff to count.
My parents let me hold a yard sale once, the summer I was twelve. As I disposed of beloved stuffed animals and my prized rainbow collection of Revlon eye shadow, I didn’t understand why they didn’t intervene. Now I do.
To be that young again, to want for nothing, to let life pass lightly through your hands. What remains is fossil, an impression, the taphonomy of ruin.
I’ve been thinking about the fish in a glass bowl–loneliness,
silence, wasted beauty.
The fish appears in my imagination, passes through the reef hole,
travels here and there—weightless and random cartridge.
I watch its inch-long vanishing spur.
The pimento spark hurts my eye.
Inside the skin house:
lift an iron shoe
onto the wooden riser.
Shoulder and torso harnessed.
Then swing back, back and forth,
from here to a speck of myself
in the parachute
Frances Brent is the author of The Beautiful Lesson of the I (May Swenson Poetry Award) and The Lost Cellos of Lev Aronson (Atlas & Co.).
You dirty rat,” I said. I was talking to the devil himself. I spoke without trepidation, even though I was addressing a creature with horns and a pointed tail. “You don’t have a monopoly on evil or sin,” I said.
The earrings he wore started jingling. “I wish it would snow sometimes, here in hell,” he said.
“Not in this circle,” I said, “or in any circle of your infernal underworld.”
“I made my fortress strong,” he replied, “to keep out twerps like you.”
I could feel my neck starting to burn under my collar. Maybe I was on fire, but that was impossible. How would I get out of here—could I find a handcart and drive myself out of heck?
I doubted that mode of transport would get me very far; I’d still be a rat in a maze. The prospect of losing my way filled me with trepidation. I’d have a better chance of breaking out of jail in a Monopoly game.
Satan’s earrings jingled again as he shook his head and laughed. “You won’t make it through the storm,” he predicted. “Snow is coming. I feel it in my bones.”
“What kind of infernal landscape is this?” I said. “I thought there was only a lake of fire down here.”
“Trying to understand this fortress is the sign of a twerp, not the sign of the beast,” the devil answered.
I could feel my cheeks starting to burn; no doubt I was embarrassed. It would be impossible to live down my encounter. I wasn’t going to drive Satan away, and I wasn’t going to escape on my own—I couldn’t remember where in hell I’d left my handbasket.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the innovative novelsHaywire, Tetched and Roughhouse, which were finalists for a Members’ Choice Asian American Literary Award. He teaches at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in Manhattan. He was awarded a 2012 fellowship in fiction writing from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
When Shamsi and her two small children moved into some rooms in my aunt’s house, they looked very poor. My aunt, the owner of the house, took pity on them and reduced the rent by 30 toomans a month. Wherever Shamsi went her children followed her. One of her daughters, Zahra, the smaller of the two, was blind in one eye and her other eye could only see vague shadows of things. In the mornings her eyelashes were covered with pus and the whites of her eyes were lined with red veins.
No one knew how Shamsi suddenly began to acquire new possessions. She bought new clothes for herself and her children. She bought copper pots and pans which she polished every day. And a faint smile began to light her sullen face. Then Zahra disappeared. No one saw her in the mornings or at any other time and the smile on Shamsi’s face also disappeared.
One day in my presence, Shamsi confessed everything to my aunt. There was a man who was vague in marrying her but would not put up with a blind child. Shamsi had taken Zahra to a desert at the edge of Tehran and left her there. Zahra had resisted her destiny by crying after the receding silhouette of her mother. Shamsi ran and got into a jeep full of soldiers. The soldiers teased and flirted with her but she had covered her face under her chador.
I picture Zahra standing in the vast desert, listening to the vanishing echoes of her mother’s footsteps. Then waiting desperately for them to appear again until other frightening images and echoes sweep over her.
Nahid Rachlin attended the Columbia University MFA program on a Doubleday-Columbia Fellowship and then went on to Stanford University’s MFA program on a Stegner Fellowship. Her publications include a memoir, Persian Girls (Penguin), four novels, Jumping Over Fire (City Lights), Foreigner (W.W. Norton), Married to a Stranger (E.P.Dutton-City Lights), The Heart’s Desire (City Lights), and a collection of short stories,Veils (City Lights). Her individual short stories have appeared in more than fifty magazines, including The Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Redbook, and Shenandoah. One of her stories was produced by Symphony Space, “Selected Shorts,” and was aired on NPR’s around the country. Her work has been translated into Portuguese, Polish, Italian, Dutch, Arabic, and Persian. She had received a Bennet Cerf Award, PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. For more, visit her website:www.nahidrachlin.com.
SONATA FOR CLAVIER AND VIOLIN
K. 526 (September 2008) by Samuel Thompson
The day of playing
with Mr. G.’s transitional bow–
yes, the one that they used in Mozart’s time–
is fresh in my psyche
as I work
to taper and bloom,
from the vertical
and the punctuation-marked strokes
made with the extended index finger.
Winner of a Participation Prize in the 2011 Padova International Violin Competition, violinist Samuel Thompson has established a career that spans solo, chamber music and orchestral performance, interdisciplinary collaboration, and arts journalism. In addition to performing regularly with the Delaware, Roanoke and Harrisburg symphonies, Samuel has been presented in solo, chamber music and interdisciplinary performance throughout the United States, Canada and Italy. This is Samuel’s first poetry publication and he shares very deep thanks both to his friend Deborah Needleman Armintor for her advocacy and support and to Jorja Fleezanis who encouraged him to keep writing.
Transfusions come and go like players off the bench.
This drip is offense. This pill is defense.
He’s sleepy in the middle of the day.
Why speak to visitors, when a coma’s on offer?
For the longest time, he’s nothing but breath.
Let others trace it to his life. He’s content to just
let it wander through the body. If it’s bored, it can leave.
People huddle over him. He’s not the quarterback.
He’s not about to call the next play. He’s not in the game.
With his brain closed, he’s not even spectator.
At best, he’s the ball. Quietly, he lets the last of the air out.
John Grey is an Australian-born poet who works as financial systems analyst. He has been published recently in Bryant Poetry Review and Tribeca Poetry Review and has work upcoming in Potomac Review, Hurricane Review and Osiris.
The straps at the top of the mask cut a little into his forehead. The top of his skull seemed to be burning, and for a silly moment he wondered if he had any hair left. Of course he did. The taste of the air blowing on him said something was on fire.
He fell asleep then, and dreamed his dead father had come over to help him work on the car.
When he woke, his wife, shaking his arm, was talking to him. He unclasped his CPAP mask, and tried to look at her though his headache made him wince.
“Your machine is out of water,” she told him. “Why is the humidifier set so high?”
“I don’t know,” he said. And now free of the device, he didn’t much care.
He said thank you and touched her hand. It was cool, comfortable. He pulled her close for a kiss. She smelled like morning.
Michael Neal Morris
Michael Neal Morris teaches English at Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas. His poems and stories have been published in both traditional print journals and online magazines. He has worked as a secretary, technical writer, janitor, and tutor. He lives near Dallas, Texas, with his wife, children, two dogs, and a cat. His blog is Monk Notes. Michael Neal Morris
I said it would be nice (look how simple I made it: nice) not to be marooned in the blue-black of night with my thoughts, I said the corrugated squares of the downstairs quilt accuse me, I said the sofa pillows are gape-jawed, I said there are fine red hairs in the Pier 1 rug that will dislodge and drown in my lungs, I said I can’t breathe, I said, Please.
It wasn’t hard.
But you were asleep by then, west to my east, uncorrupted by the plain and the soft of my imagination, the occasional and wire whipped and cruel: you couldn’t be touched; you wouldn’t stir; you. I broke and I climbed out and I climbed through and I climbed down into the blue black red threads and sat until a fat clack cracked the hollow between the walls and I knew that it was the long-nailed scrabble of a squirrel or the procrastination of the fox or the wolf that is my thoughts.
The TSA lady at Newark Airport had a nice touch, and Josie enjoyed the pat down. The blue gloves slid under her arms, along her sides, down one leg, then the other. They searched, discerned. They pleased with just the right amount of pressure. Josie thanked the TSA lady, who nodded back with very professional brown eyes.
In bed last night in Robert’s apartment, it was their sixth time together, Josie had attempted the “ask sandwich,” something she’d read about in a woman’s magazine. First she told him how nice his cologne smelled and trailed her fingers playfully down his arm. That was the first slice of bread. Then she said she’d really love it if he rubbed her back. That was the sandwich filling. She would have praised him and reciprocated generously, which would have been the other slice of bread.
Instead he said, “You’re really bossy, aren’t you?”
Sheesh. She’d only done what the magazine had instructed. Josie curled away from Robert, then on his hard mattress, she recovered a little backbone. “I don’t consider that so bossy.”
“Well, I do.” The atmosphere in the room wadded up like paper.
Pulling her carry-on bag, striding in beige pumps, Josie made her way to her gate. She tried to wall off the Robert fiasco and focus on the nursing conference in Atlanta. She was looking forward to presenting her paper on pressure sores but hoped her seatmate would not inquire about her work. She’d about had it with folks who squinted and scrunched their faces when she told them about her field. Oh, you mean bedsores, they’d say using the old term. Didn’t know they were that important. Well, they can be fatal, she’d retort. She would educate them a little about patients who were stuck in bed, about reduced blood supply, friction, cell death, complications. And that pretty much ended the conversation.
At first, she’d seen a future with Robert. They agreed on politics and comedians, hated remakes of classic films and pork pie hats.
Maybe she should try being old school, passive. What was she anyway, a thirty-three-year-old sensualist who only thought of touch? And she wasn’t exactly a winner in the dating game—one six-month relationship and a lot of first dates with few follow-ups. Was it her or Match.com?
On the way to her gate, Josie passed a Hudson News. An array of cover girls beckoned her, fringed by come-on headlines: Drive him wild tonight. Ten types of sex to try at least once. Better orgasms now. Did everything have to be about the sack? Well, she would like to have some great sex before she died. Addicted to the promises on the cover, she bought a copy of Cosmopolitan.
Josie’s seatmate was a fortyish man in a blue short-sleeved shirt and Phillies baseball cap who said his name was Solly.
Josie said her name was Mimi.
Solly smelled freshly showered and had a dimple in his chin. They chatted about the weather and airplane coffee. When he asked her what she did for a living, she told him she booked models for fashion ads. With a light heart, she fibbed her way through a conversation about beauty, dieting, and divas. She’d met the famous Kate Upton. Yes, Karlie Kloss really was that skinny.
Solly said he didn’t know who those women were, but he complimented Josie on her big career.
“Sometimes those girls are so beautiful and sexy they’re unreal,” said Josie.
“I like the real type,” said Solly with a playful grin. “Real gals, like you.” As he sipped his airplane coffee, Josie spied no wedding ring. The two laughed a lot. Each time she said something he found fetching, he touched her shoulder. He had a big paw, but his touch was gentle and warm. It would have been nice to get to know him better. When it turned out they were both from central Jersey, Solly asked if he could have her phone number. Could he call her sometime?
This Josie now desperately wanted, but her wardrobe of lies made it impossible. She gulped and rubbed her nose. She almost knocked her coffee off the little depression in her tray table. “I guess with your schedule that would be hard to arrange,” he said.
“I do travel a lot.” Solly opened his laptop and began to study some documents. Josie paged through her Cosmo. Her head felt hot. She was very cross with herself, whoever she was.
Lynn Levin teaches creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. Her most recent books are a textbook, Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (with Valerie Fox), Texture Press, 2013, and a full-length collection of poems, Miss Plastique, Ragged Sky Press, 2013. She lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
I want to zip myself in a pocket and watch baseball. You say sit down and stop moving the furniture around. A square of light hits my palm from the gap in the curtain teeth and I want it to fill my creases with more than skin. Despite spiders, my name is safe in your mouth. Grain by grain you’re putting salt on your tongue. The game ends, there are questions, outside it’s all purple and traffic. When you’re asleep on my knees and it’s just me and the crushed end of chips and the street below wide awake, I remember my first god was my mother, my second, the light switch.
Anna Strong is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania originally from Haverford, PA. Her work has previously appeared in the Penn Review, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and is forthcoming in Peregrine. Currently she is working on her senior honors thesis, a collection of prose poems tentatively titled Apostrophes. Anna also helps teach Penn’s Modern and Contemporary American Poetry course through Coursera.
Once, they’d read aloud to each other all the time: letters, menus, fliers posted on telephone poles along the streets. Missing dog, black, one white ear, answers to Shayna. For sale, stereo cabinet, some damage. Telugu lessons, $10/hour. Telugu, they’d said, maybe we should learn Telugu?
Now, the sun streams in through the windows onto the stained tablecloth, onto the chipped cups and the tarnished spoons and the damp sugar in the saucer they use for sugar, and they no longer speak to each other even in English. She doesn’t even read him the headlines. ñShe won’t—can’t—read him the words banged out on her personal teletype machine, the banner that runs along the inside of her brain. Baby baby baby baby baby it says. But there won’t be a baby, and even her desire has been burned almost away, bleached down like the corpse of an animal in the desert, to the bare white bones of the single word.
“Busy day?” she asks, seeing him look at his watch.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “I won’t be late.” His voice, its scalded hostility, accuses her of caring. But he is mistaken; she doesn’t care.
Be late, she thinks. Belate, belated, beloved, be lost.
He gets up, dusts his clean hands. Belches. Checks his tie.
No one answers to any name here, certainly not the sun blazing across the table, jumping sideways toward the glinting knives when it thinks she isn’t looking. Not the plant in the corner, its flowers dangerously red. Not the blind shriveled thing in her chest that used to open like a rose when he whispered in her ear—Oh, baby—in any language in the world.
As someone who has always felt the urge to take pictures of myself, I don’t have a ready answer.
For the longest time I felt shame for this urge to see myself through my lens. Blame it on the Christian ethos of original sin that shaped my early life, but this habit of posing for my own camera felt like an exercise in vanity. Up until the Instagram era, I rarely, if ever, shared my self-portraits with others.
There is one self-portrait from 2001 that I printed and gave to a friend, but the image is out of focus, blurred and impressionistic like a Monet, and you’d never know I was sitting in the windowsill of the Rodin Museum in Paris basking in the June afternoon light. It’s the perfect non-self-portrait.
Since then, I have come to understand that my human experience is shaped by mental illness: depression. Understanding and accepting this diagnosis was the first hurdle, and required me to eschew more palatable labels like “over sensitive,” “the creative temperament,” and that Dr. Phil standby “just feeling sorry for yourself.”
The most acute moments of depression sail on the wings of despair like an albatross pumping her ancient wings. The wind makes you squint and you wonder if the ride will ever end. In my experience, the most painful symptom is the inability to enjoy basic social interactions. In my late 20’s and early 30’s, how often did I stand around at parties faking my mood while the back of my brain recalled happier times when I used to enjoy talking to friends, meeting new folks around town, taking joy in the shifting night landscape of a city or a friend’s company?
My hiatus in taking self-portraits, from 2007-2011, coincides with a dark chapter in my emotional life that’s at odds with what I was accomplishing on the surface. By November of 2011, I had a burgeoning small business, professional faculty over my creative skills, a body in excellent physical shape, and a mental landscape that threatened to fracture at any moment. All that I had was built on the intense manic spells I suffered through, and all that I had achieved seemed to teeter in the strong winds of my illness.
Around this time, in December of 2011, I downloaded Instagram. I thought it was just another app that offered filters for your iPhone photos. My second Instagram was a self-portrait as I walked to a party. Within an hour an old boyfriend that I was fond of left a comment. I felt connected: connected to another and connected to myself in a way I had not felt in a very long time, and in a way that was less public (at the time) than Facebook. In those early days of Instagram, it felt like a club for the sensitive, over-observant nerds.
I threw myself into Instagramming, relishing how a filter would transform an image, how textures and colors and light were celebrated or muted with the tap of a finger. And in the midst of this exploration I included plenty of self-portraits and it seems in some way that this app helped me to see myself in a way that kept my depression at arm’s length.
Through Instagram, I came to understand that my urge to take self-portraits was akin to cutting. That is to say, through the years I turned to self-portraits much in the way sufferers of depression use cutting. I took self-portraits to feel alive, to disassociate from the pain and confusion in my brain, to see myself in this moment now, alive, pulsing with life, beautiful and vibrant, exquisitely calibrated for my own perfection.
By late August of 2012, Instagram was my lifeline to a thriving creative life. The pictures speak for themselves. There I am traipsing through the empty dunes of Provincetown’s famous salt marshes. I could barely believe what I was capable of expressing to the world, and then, plop! my phone tipped over on its tripod into the Atlantic and I had just enough time to send my last few pictures to a friend’s gmail before the phone shut down forever.
For about 2 days I was lost to myself. And then I realized what was next: to shoot in this spirit with my professional camera. Instagram had prepared me to take this pursuit seriously, to listen to my most primal instinct to create, and what followed was an extraordinary period of personal exploration painstakingly documented for myself, and perhaps for the larger conversation I desired to be a part of.
Self-portrait in the salt marsh, Cape Cod, September 2012
Self-portrait in the salt marsh, Cape Cod, September 2012
Listening to Glenn Gould’s albums of Bach’s keyboard music, you will hear a noise in the background: the sound of someone humming. As a child I gravitated toward the Gould recording on the shelf that held my parents’ collection of LPs, everything ranging from the Bee Gees to Schumann, covers worn on the edges. Carefully placing it on the turntable, I dropped the needle on the vinyl, and then dropped myself to the floor where I would press my ear into the soft brown cover of the large speakers that were half my height, hold my breath, and listen as Gould’s voice periodically accompanied the Preludes and Fugues.
Interpreting music is a creative process conducted through the medium of the body. It is a strange, mysterious sensation to intellectually conceive the idea of a sound, generate it through the mechanics of muscles and bones, hear it played back through metal and wood, and respond emotionally to the actualized audio of the imagination. Sometimes, when all the factors cohere, a current, a kind of irresistible force, materializes; the humors align, synergy electrifies corporeal property. Humming can be the invisible thread, binding and weaving—but it is not restricted to the audible variety. A “hum” can manifest silently, present deep within the physical core where a resonance is struck, and internal tissues deep within react. In these moments, the ancient question of mind and body renders obsolete. In the truest sense of the word, the sensation is wonderful: astonishing, and mysterious.
Adulthood bestows many privileges, but its responsibilities can also work to rob the days of small wonders. When we were children the whole world was the Magic Kingdom with no entrance fee. Presently, sitting at the piano, getting lost in the sounds, I gain re-entry to more innocent days. I’m back on the floor, mesmerized by the simple act of humming.
Kathryn J. Allwine Bacasmot
Kathryn J Allwine Bacasmot is a pianist, harpsichordist, musicologist, critic, and freelance writer. She received her Masters in Musicology at New England Conservatory with her thesis on Björk Guðmundsdóttir and aspects of the female experience in her fifth studio album, Medúlla.