I used to do improv—classes mostly, occasionally onstage. Improv is done without props, without scripted dialogue; everything is made up, which can be incredibly freeing or akin to that floaty feeling after a round of the childhood game who-can-out-hyperventilate-whom (if passing out was winning then the answer is: I can). When an improv scene worked—the characters were interesting, there was a beginning, middle, end—it was amazing (surely Saturday Night Live would be calling). When it didn’t work, it was that dream of going to school wearing only a T-shirt that barely covers your bellybutton.
When most people hear the word “improv,” they think comedy but true improv can be comedic or dramatic. It’s really just having the courage to be in the moment, to respond honestly to what you’re given, and to let the scene take you where it will. It’s that zen idea of enjoying the journey with no attachment to outcome (and good luck with that if you’re human).
When I was about 11, we visited my grandfather and grandmother in Boston for two weeks. Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings somehow ended up coming home with me. I’m pretty sure I stole them from the teenage girl who lived across the street, but I honestly don’t remember. What I do remember is making up songs based on both books, (specifically “Blues Ain’t No Mockingbird,” from Gorilla)—mournful blues songs that I sung in the shower and nowhere else.
I was an adult before I understood that the writer in Caged Bird was not a teenage girl when she wrote the book. By the time I was 13, I felt a sense of urgency to write my memoir before I got older than Maya.
You might have heard that we had a bit of winter up here in the Heartland. Mounds of snow on top of mounds of snow. We shovelers were out morning and evening, trying to stay ahead of it; the snow blowers sometimes took pity on the block and eased our backache by pitching in. School was cancelled four times for unheard of low temperatures; we tried to keep the cold at bay by piling the couch cushions against the side door, where the freezing air seeped into the house. We tried the toss-boiling-water-into-the-air trick, and we were briefly entertained, and then we hustled inside again.
So spring has been hard fought for around here. As I type this, a late snow is — infuriatingly — pelting against the windows, furring the new grass, clotting around the early tulip shoots. Snow drops on snowdrops. It’s maddening.
It would be the most boring version of the Kama Sutra, abridged for beginners. Overseas evangelists would blush as they walk past it in the aisles of Barnes and Noble. (I kid, I joke.) I wrote “Missionary” in South Dakota in 2011, during what I would later refer to as my “Kerry Fellowship,” on a ranch adjacent to a cattleman named Ted Angel who’d once held his neighbors at gunpoint. I was a summer intern at a wild horse sanctuary, and was initially given lodging on the shores of the Cheyenne River, in one of those silver-tin, hoho-shaped, fifth wheel camping trailers that smelled like cat piss and had no running water. “No toilet? No problem,” I said, understanding very quickly that this was not at all true.
Each morning, I was up with the sunrise, driving a modified pickup truck with a pointed metal rod where the accelerator had once been, and if I sat at the very edge of the seat with foam upholstery missing in chunks, the tip of my toe could accelerate up into the canyons to drop feed in lines like the yellow dashes of a road, onto the prairie for the now mildly-feral horses. When we had to reload the truck at the silos, I had to balance on two empty 5-gallon buckets to reach the release lever, which was really difficult to turn (lady troubles). At the sanctuary, the men insisted women do women’s work: filing paperwork, watering plants, sweeping. I refused, out of principal, mostly, and also because I wanted to get my hands dirty. I was a liberal feminist in one of the most conservative places in America. I tried to prove points: throwing 50 lb bales of hay, weed eating, mucking, hauling lumber. After all, I’d grown up on a farm.
Reading and thinking and writing set off a buzz, the mind at full tilt doing its thing. Engaging with words is the self as aural archive, making one function of invention curatorial, a gleaning of voices among the sheaves of ambient glossolalia. It’s in those echoes a writer hums like a tuning fork, her scalp razed. On a good day, which it was the day I was drafting “Fear and Trembling,” for NAR 299.2.
We say of a letter, remark, or conversation, that was touching. It’s a common idiom, but one that speaks truth about the connection between words and the body: affect is embodied the same way writing is, the body a bellwether for the right words. In Light Years, James Salter remarks of words: “The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers.” Just as metaphors transform vehicle and tenor, words change writers and readers, and this is the real work of the world—conquering estrangement, bridging the gap between points of view. Something happens. In other contexts we call it falling in love; it’s a leap, the transformative plunge into empathy.
When I was a little girl, the mother’s wooden jewelry box held me in its thrall. My mother rarely wore jewelry; she wore her gold wedding ring, of course, and her engagement ring, but her jewelry box mostly contained precious items from her childhood. These items were too precious to be worn. In the top right drawer, there was the charm bracelet her mother gave her when she graduated the eighth grade; in the middle drawer, there was her college ring, and her nurse’s pin; there was a turquoise ring she bought in Mexico when she was twenty years old. In the tiny bottom drawer was a diamond which had belonged to her grandfather, with whom she spent the summers in the remote town of ___, New York.
But the item that most enchanted me was the tiny pink snippet of a ribbon, glued to a saint’s charm. My mother, who grew up in Catholic school in New Jersey, told me how she won it as a prize for reciting a prayer. The ribbon, she said, was supposed to have been touched by a saint.
I was asked to create an illustration about “Garden Memorials: A Collection of Short-Shorts” by Thomas Fox Averill for North American Review. At first, before I read the stories, I had no idea how to make an image about these three stories, because usually, I am asked to make a picture for one story or article. Therefore, I was going to pick one of the stories and then make an image about it. However, I changed my mind when I finished reading all three stories. I felt there were some connections among those protagonists and gardens although these three stories happen in different places and times.
A garden is a small version of a universe. There is a providence of nature in a garden: birth, growth, aging, and death. It is like a giant incubator for creatures. In the three stories, you can see that the gardens treasure our three protagonists’ lives as they treat other creatures in gardens. Continue reading
My favorite poetic technique of the moment is collage, specifically collage by quotation. I love how collage is so disruptive, so in-your-face. “Look at me, I’m doing work!” a quotation stuck in the middle of a poem suggests. The seams are meant to be seen. It is a thing made, a construction, a mosaic. Continue reading
In Bulgaria, every street is a short story, especially in the small towns where people know each other. In this case, it is not only the face of the boy you see. You see his mother who is in debt, but she has already thought of a way to pay it off: she plants and grows “good luck gourds.” – These are as small as plums, and you sell them to tourists for 2 Euros a piece. You too can buy a good luck gourd, then pierce it with a thin sharp knife and put inside it a wish you’ve scribbled on a scrap of paper. In a year, a novel will grow out of this scrap of paper. Continue reading
To write an honest, reflective poem can call a risky visitation upon the poet.
In healthier manifestations, our human fascination with self can be endearing. From carefully orchestrated selfies to quizzes that analogize us with everything from Illuminati to pizza toppings, our library of devices for personal categorization is staggering. Ideally, reflection can clarify the individual’s integrity among everybody else, and inspire him or her to a deeply satisfying life of service, while in its more insidious incarnations, it can be a real shit in the air conditioning unit. Continue reading
Superstition Review: Our Lucky Issue 13
Even though our magazine is named after the Superstition Mountains (not just superstition in general) we feel like our Issue 13 is pretty lucky. Why? You ask?
Well, in an age when many programs and departments are slashing budgets, Arizona State University has shown a lot of love to Superstition Review. Here at SR we take that as a sign that at least in our small corner of the literary universe, we’re doing something right. Here are some of the things we did this semester that we think are pretty cool: