The Fear of Elevators

Right now I am afraid. I see the news and read the papers and feel afraid. In every child covered in dust from another bomb blast or washed up on shore from a capsized boat or hungry or thirsty or orphaned, I see my nieces. In every mother who can’t save her child, or feed him or shelter him or protect him, I see my sisters. In every dog left behind or forgotten in the rush to escape, I see my own. And I feel so powerless to stop the suffering—so powerless to prevent their suffering from becoming mine, ours. I do not think it is my own suffering or pain I fear as much as the suffering and pain of those I love. I fear not being able to provide for those who rely on me, and instead, having to watch them suffer. And for so many, this fear is the reality. What’s stopping it from becoming my reality? My security feels so tenuous in a world of intolerance, inequality.

I commonly dream I am trapped in an elevator stuck between two floors. The door is open. The gap at the top is too narrow to slip through—and out of reach, anyway. The gap at the bottom is accessible and accommodating, but the fall is too far. And somehow I am aware that any second, the cables suspending me are going to snap. So far, I always wake up before they do.

 

Chester, VA

Amanda Creasey lives with her husband and their two dogs. She teaches high school English and works as freelance writer. Find her online at AmandaSueCreasey.com.

Mitosis (Part 2)

In biology, mitosis is defined the type of cell division that results in two identical daughter cells. These cells have the same number of chromosomes. They contain the same genes and the same replications of those genes. In that sense, that was how I felt most of the people around me were like: trying to conform. I tried to adapt to these circumstances--after all, natural selection is an incredibly prevalent force in our lives--and this came in the form of participating in science fair and observing the people who did. I think this moment when I saw this girl, who wanted so badly to achieve something but wasn’t even sure what she was achieving, solidified that for me. 

For me, that goes far beyond just ordinary “fakeness.” I’ve always prized authenticity above all else. After the science fair, I realized that I had consciously made the decision to be around people that I hated--I was becoming someone I hated. 

Today, I’m a person who looks at value in terms of not awards and grades and numbers, but real passion for the kinds of things one enjoys. That’s much more than saving lives, saving lives, saving lives, but real, authentic motivations. Maybe it is science and tumorous cancer cells, and that’s great. But that’s not me. 

I choose to take risks with the things I do because I love doing them. That doesn’t just mean no more science fairs, but reading a lot and watching documentaries that are in some ways, just the real, necessary stories of others. And I can joke about my science fair experience now, say that everyone there was “fake news” and that all of them were just waiting and hoping for a plane ticket to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the fall. But I also recognize that that experience has motivated me to become someone who I want to be: someone who also wants the same things, but who takes a different approach to getting them.

And I know there are people around me will say that I criticize them far too much, and yet I’m just the same. To them, I’d say that they’re thinking inside a “closed” mitosis--the kind fungi undergo. In a “closed” mitosis, chromosomes are only dividing inside a nucleus. I’d tell them to think in an “open mitosis,” the kind animal cells like you and me undergo. In an open mitosis, the nuclear envelope has already broken down before the chromosomes separate. I like to think that that’s me: already broken down, already at the very nucleolus, already at the very essence of who I am. And sometimes I look at those around me and imagine them as cells. They’re busy dividing and developing, regenerating and replacing.

Sometimes they split apart, reform again.

 

San Jose, CA

Valerie Wu is a Chinese American student at Presentation High School in San Jose. Find her on Twitter @valerie_wu.

Ice cream...and stuff

But he won’t argue, his beatific smile is either answer or
question, both blue solvents like the bottomless sea. He’s only a

minor god, an acquaintance of sorts, like people you meet
sometimes on the bus, a nod, a few questions, weather and

such, you never even ask their names. But now he talks about ice
cream, no dairy, no sugar, no chocolate, it’s all the rage, he says, 

it’s how you save yourself and the world. That’s when it started. 
Saving the world is his job, I countered, why put the load on my

shoulders when my life is just the length of a shrug, why create, 
ruin, then create more to clean up the mess, there is a point when

this game will lose all meaning. One day, I tell him, there will be no
one, just a flotilla of bodiless souls, streams of consciousness snaking

through the dusty light and then what will you have achieved? That
brought the smile. Maybe it was a question. Which is the burden?

Leaving behind a slightly better universe, living like there is actually a
tomorrow, or believing that someone, he, is going to stop the

apocalypse just before the credits roll? Or maybe it was the
answer- you cannot alter the master plan. I try the gelato, an

unfamilar coldness, the taste of the morning sky after it has rained
all night. What do you think, he smiles again. Question and Answer.

 

Bangalore/Karnataka/India

I am a poet from Bangalore, India and I post my work on thotpurge.wordpress.com

Some of my poems have recently appeared in online journals such as The Lake, Quiet Letter, Under the Basho and The Cherita.

Mitosis (part 1)

The pre-med girls walked down the street every morning.

But they weren’t pre-med, at least not yet. They liked thinking that they were, though; they liked talking about saving lives--it’s totally not about the success or anything like that--they liked it when their parents introduced them to other Asian parents with: “Oh, this is my daughter. She’s pre-med.” And then the other parents would smile, grin, say, “Oh, your daughter is so accomplished. She’s going to do great things.”

Because pre-med was a great term, a brilliant term that all the Asians in town wore like a Science Olympiad gold medal. Asian girls liked talking about the kinds of stories you’d read about in novels: late-night football games, high school proms, Mean Girls. But they’d never been to football games. Their high school proms were sitting on benches and finishing up Calculus homework. The only mean girls were the ones who glared at you after the bell rang and you’d finished your test and they hadn’t. These were the little details, the little things that pre-med girls admired--even fawned over--but didn’t fully understand.

I could have been one of those pre-med girls. I wasn’t really good at math, but I’d done science fair. I hadn't won anything, but that was okay. What mattered was doing it and talking to those around me: girls who had been doing science for as long as they could remember, girls who designed apps that solved third-world problems, girls that purified water with the formulas inside their heads, girls whose inventions were so, so much realer than themselves. 

We had all received badges when we entered the auditorium for the science fair; each one listed how many years we’d been participating. I only had one blue dot, but there was an Indian girl next to me who had nine. Her board looked professional, like she had spent hundreds of dollars designing it. She’d connected all these wires to it. The front of the board said her name, big and bold and blue. Her pantsuit made her look like she was running for office, rather than attending a science fair. She wore all the medals she’d received from previous years around her neck, as if to say I’m experienced. I know how to win. I’m pre-med.

I would have loved to be her at that moment: poised, calm, confident. But then I saw how unhappy she looked. Her project was on trying to find a cure for the developmental stages of cancer, a continuation. She’d done research all for the past few years just to find the cure for cancer. Her dad had come with her, carrying a piece of equipment. He was beaming like she’d just gotten into Harvard. (She probably would.) They came to the table across from my measly-looking board on learning languages, and set everything down with such an alarming speed that it was clear this was just another day to them. I stood by my project, feeling awkward and ordinary, but most of all not pre-med. Because I’d probably never be pre-med. I’d probably never find the cure for cancer. I’d never be someone who invented things that were realer than myself.

An old white lady passed by--a judge, presumably. The girl stood up, straightened her suit, prepared for a discussion. Then the lady looked at her and frowned. I watched as she grilled the girl on her project, asked if she really thought she was going to cure cancer, asked why she felt like it was her place to conduct such an experiment.

And the girl just kept on stating the same fact, the same I want to save lives. I just want to save lives. And she said it so methodically that I began wondering if she really wanted to save lives at all, or if it was more of the feeling of being pre-med, the feeling of power, of success--feeling like you were someone to be proud of. Not just a collection of cells, but a complete, full, whole human being: someone who could save the world, but not someone who was real.

I checked the winners list a few weeks later. She had gotten first place.
 

San Jose, CA

Valerie Wu is a Chinese American student at Presentation High School in San Jose. Find her on Twitter @valerie_wu.

The NFL Is My Problematic Fave

I learned a useful term from my millennial daughter: problematic fave.

She and her friends used it to describe a beloved person (usually a character) who they loved despite their problematic views and opinions.

For this feminist, the NFL is my problematic fave. (My daughter told me Bill Clinton is my other problematic fave, but that’s a story for another time.)

I didn’t grow up loving or watching football. My son was born in 1993. For the first eleven years of his life, we bonded daily over the book we were reading or listening to together. However, once he reached the tween years, sports and video games outgrew his love of reading.

I knew that if I wanted to stay in my son’s world, I had to enter a new one. I chose the NFL. Every morning as I drove him to school, I asked him about his beloved Dallas Cowboys. 

My son, who was normally quiet, would become so verbose when I asked him about football. 

He’s now 24 years old, but I know if I want a response from him, I only have to text him about his Cowboys. He’ll always answer.

So, my motives for watching football initially might only have been to stay bonded to my son.

A funny thing happened on the way to the stadium…

I became an actual fan.

I am an outspoken feminist. I marched in the Women’s March after the election. I’ve volunteered for multiple women’s rights groups including writing for them and driving women to clinics.

I won’t lie. Sometimes I struggle to reconcile my feminism with my love of football.

Men coach women’s teams in every sport. Yet this sport denies women, for the most part, any participation in football. I rankle at the idea that men can coach an all-female basketball team, but I’ve never seen a female head football coach other than Goldie Hawn in the movie Wildcats.

I’ve watched the league attempt to cover up and mansplain domestic violence.

But I remain a fan, glued to my television every Sunday. I yell with joy every time Dez Bryant throws up the X.

I know several other feminists who love this sport, so I’ve tried to think about what attracts us to it. Is it the tribalism? 

Perhaps so. Perhaps there exists a deep-seated need to identify with a group, to divide and label ourselves.

Or maybe I learned, through my son, to appreciate the raw athleticism of the sport. I learned to appreciate that it’s a sport that makes room for all body types and talents. Look at Michael Irving and Leon Lett. Totally different body types and talents, but they played on the same team that won three Super Bowls. This feminist appreciates that diversity.

I can’t say with certainty why I love watching the NFL. I know why I started watching, to bond with my son. But I ended up loving the sport. I’ll accept it as my problematic fave.

 

Covington, TX

Jennifer Gregory is a former public school teacher and librarian who lives in rural Texas. She is the proud mother of two adult children and the grandmother to one perfect grandson.

Depression Is Real

I saw someone on Twitter post that depression wasn't real. I know that I should just ignore this troll, but it was something that really bothered me. Saying things like this is not only erroneous but dangerous.

Someone's pain is not something to make light of.

It just seemed a weird claim to make. Probably only made to get a rise out of people and ruffle feathers, but it really rubbed me the wrong way even if I should've just ignored it.

People don't always seek help as it is. I feel that would cause more people to suffer their pain in silence if they believed this person's words. Simply because someone is suffering something you've never had to deal with doesn't mean that it's not real.

My uncle was diagnosed with depression. He had to take pills to balance his chemical imbalance. He wold take his meds, feel better, stop taking them, and then he would wind up feeling horrible again.

In the end his demons won and he ended up taking his life.

So you don't get to tell me depression isn't real. It took away someone in my family that I loved. I was a young teenager when he died, and it was a crushing blow to my family.

I wish our love could have reached him and that he could know he didn't have to suffer alone.

Seventeen years later and I still think about him loads.

I wish people would think about the harmful consequences of their words. Depression is a very real monster and you don't get to minimize the pain of those suffering from it. Give them hope and understanding, lend a listening ear, love them. But don't tell them that their pain isn't real.

 

Meadville, PA

Linda M. Crate is an author, poet, and writer whose works have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies both online and in print. She has three published chapbooks and is the author of the Magic Series. You can find more of Linda's works here: https://www.facebook.com/Linda-M-Crate-129813357119547/

Hurricane Lesson

Hurricane Andrew (1992) in S. Florida was a first natural catastrophe. I lived in Miami then but commuted to Homestead to a full time teaching job at Miami Dade Community College. I'll never forget the experience.

As a result, when Hurricane Matthew came to St. Augustine, Florida as a Category 3 storm last October, I was nonchalant but prepared. I had survived worse and coped in the aftermath. My husband and I went to a neighbor's house with shutters on windows and doors. Frankly, though yard debris was piled higher than our heads (25 people helped clean the yard), and a tree from next door fell diagonally across our driveway and blocked half the street, it was easy compared to Matthew. We lucked out as others in town lost their homes.

When Hurricane Irma was about to arrive here late Sept. 10 through 11, she was our second hurricane in a year. As a Category 1 storm, it didn't rouse much attention. We stayed home--husband, two Miami evacuees--long time friends. It was a mistake.

We lacked shutters so I was free to watch the storm through the living room window until 5 a.m. Monday when I drank a little Italian liqueur and went to bed. Lesson learned: I will not watch winds blasting through crowns of trees again. I will not sit listening to branches crashing on our roof. I will go elsewhere, I have a plan.

Yet I won't drive to inland states because I am, in the end, a Caribbean islander. Our tradition is to stay home during a hurricane. On an island there is no where else to go.

 

Marisella Veiga is a professional writer who lives in St. Augustine, Florida. Her book We Carry Our Homes with Us: a Cuban American Memoir was published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2016.

The Eclipse

 On August 21, 2017, the moon obscured 87% of the sun’s light in Richmond, Virginia. At the peak of the eclipse, what had been a bright blue sky became a muted, dull gray-blue, almost lavender. The clouds turned from crisp white to a subdued, creamy off-white. The air itself seemed to take on a color, that golden hue of sunsets. Little crescents of sunlight splashed the back of our house, blazed on the red hood of my car, danced on the lightly swaying hammock. The scene was so ethereal, so breathtaking, so singular, it brought tears to my eyes. So did the video my sister took, and shared with me a few hours after the eclipse. 

My sister and her family, along with our parents, had gone to Greenville, South Carolina, to experience the total eclipse. In her video, people gather in a park. As the eclipse nears its peak, a shadow slowly creeps over the people in the park, and as near-total darkness envelopes them, they erupt in cheers and laughter and applause. Such beauty in the nature of it all. Such beauty in the science of it all. Such beauty in the unifying effect of the moment. Everyone gathered to share the experience. Everyone excited, awed—all together to witness history, science, precision, perfection. Both equally moving—the natural phenomenon and the social phenomenon. Mother nature, reminding us we are human, we are family, we are one—all in this together. All sharing this planet, all sharing this point in time, all sharing existence.

Later, I saw a news story on the eclipse. A woman told the reporter the eclipse was the most amazing thing she’d ever seen; she wished it could last forever. At first, I thought, “What a silly thing to wish, that the moon would forever hover in front of the sun—that we’d live in perpetual twilight.” After all, it’s the fleeting, other-worldly nature of the moment that lends it its novelty. But now I think I understand what she really meant. She wished the feeling of the moment, the atmosphere, would last forever. In these times of division and hatred and anger and polarization, she didn’t wish the actual eclipse would last forever; she wished for the permanence of the unity and the shared enthusiasm and the camaraderie it inspired. She wished for fear of the other to stop eclipsing love for each other. She wished for intolerance to stop blotting out acceptance, and leaving brotherliness in shadow. She wished for hate not to overshadow love and compassion. 

I’d like to think that someday, she’ll get her wish—that the divisiveness, the ignorance, the self-righteousness, and the myopia that have so long eclipsed the sunlight of stewardship, of love, of true neighborliness, will pass, and reveal the warmth of the sun again. And surely, it must. After all, no eclipse has ever last forever.

 

Chester, VA

 Amanda Creasey lives with her husband and their two dogs. She teaches high school English and works as a freelance writer. Find her online at AmandaSueCreasey.com.

Graduation

Sometimes, I forget to be proud of myself, of my parents for fashioning a life for me that includes and education and opportunity. Today I can’t help but to think of going home this summer, to the place I was born. This small town is a place most everyone I know now would ignore in passing, a tourist town that barely scrapes by in the Midwest. My friends in Virginia are used to shiny buildings, new construction, and Chipotles. The town I grew up in is tired and dusty. The girls I grew up with are now mothers and wives, roles they chose, and roles I would have chosen as well.

I never thought of school when I was young, of college. I wanted only to be a mom, and growing up my mother, who had a 2-year nursing degree, stayed at home and I knew the work was hard.

When I moved to Virginia, everyone in my middle school talked about college. They knew how to pick colleges, had family members who had gone. While my father had gone to a four-year university, his parents helped immensely with his tuition, a thing my father was unable to do for me. My mother had worked her way through community college class by class, paying as she went. Her parents decided her degree; her income decided where she would go.

I didn’t tour schools. I felt clumsy and out of place among my friends who were choosing schools based on “what felt right.” I was lost in the financial aid process, in student loans, trying to decide if it was even worth it to go to school. My parents wavered, I wavered. I knew I would go, but I didn’t know if it was really the right thing.

I envy them, still, my friends who went away to school and felt they knew they had made the right choice. I never felt that. I stayed at home. I feel stuck, even now, like I haven’t accomplished anything compared to all the others I know who went away, grew and changed so much. When I think of my hometown, though, of my new goals, the new opportunities, of that moment I’ll receive my degree, my parents watching, I know this is bigger than myself. I imagine I’ll be crying of happiness, for myself, for my mother, for my family and this accomplishment we all share.

Heart Strings

Is it possible for a girl to experience her first heart break at age ten but fathom what's happening to her heart? Not by no boy, but from a grown man she called father. A father who gave her everything an American kid could ever wanted, but never gave her what she needed. He pulled on her heart strings for seven more years. Pulled, tucked, yanked, until they become numb. She cried herself to sleep at night. Spent long hours thinking "What have I done wrong?" It was years later that she have done nothing wrong, it's just how things are. Her heart has become equally numb and sensitive; she loves harder then most, she colder than most and some feelings are foreign for her. As for her father, he created a fierce woman with her head on her shoulders. Love? If that's his way of showing his love, then she doesn't want it. Her heart strings need time to heal.

 

Richmond, VA