#scintilla13: can't take her nowhere


I’m a cofounder of The Scintilla Project, along with my friends Onyi and Dominique, two whip-smart and artfully snarky women with beautiful hair. This is my response to one of the Day 14 prompts, Talk about the time when you were younger and you embarrassed your parents in public, the one that still shames you.We believe that your stories make you who you are and we’re asking you to share yours. Interested? Sign up at scintillaproject.com and follow us at @ScintillaHQ.

I wish my mother were still around because I would call her up and ask her for an answer for this prompt, because the truth is I’m not ashamed of any of the times I would have embarrassed her. This is not going to be a great prompt response, and no great truths are going to be unearthed within. That said:

I know we were shopping for back-to-school clothes. It was 1987, and we were in the shoe section of Horne’s, which was a department store in the mall—one of many that I think Macy’s bought out. I remember the shoes I wound up getting that day, two pairs of them: one pair of peach Chucks and another pair of Reebok high tops, the kind that didn’t have the dumb velcro strap at the top. The leather was a soft, grayish blue suede, and it matched a Georgetown sweatshirt that I loved to pieces that year. The soles and shoelaces were a contrasting gray, and there was not a bit of white to be seen on them. I don’t think anyone else had that exact variety and I so wish I could find a pic for you on Google. I fucking loved those shoes.

It was near enough to the end of the day that my mom had been carrying those huge bags full of clothes, the kind they keep at the clothes counter but are really made to hold comforters. It was the point of the shopping day when I’d start to feel guilty about how much she’d spent, especially when I usually got only one pair of sneakers a year and the Chucks were not exactly durable. (But peach, you guys, peach.) But those Reeboks were dream shoes, and I could picture them peeking out below just-slouched-enough denim in just the right stonewash. 

The saleswoman packed up the stray pieces of tissue paper and I put on my old shoes. I knew what was coming: another large total on the receipt, the way she would pull each twenty out of a white Equibank envelope one at a time to pay. More guilt! And then like the gods were saying it would all be okay, “Linus and Lucy” started playing over the Horne’s loudspeaker. And I danced.

She was probably embarrassed, but she laughed, and she didn’t tell me to stop. And years later, she would remind me of that day and laugh again every time she did. It’s still almost impossible for me to resist dancing to that silly, happy tune, and I’m warning you now that if you take me out in public it could happen at any time.

#scintilla13: a place to run


I’m a cofounder of The Scintilla Project, along with my friends Onyi and Dominique, two whip-smart and artfully snarky women with beautiful hair. This is my response to one of the Day 9 prompts, Talk about where you were going the day you got lost. Were you alone? Did you ever get to where you meant to go? We believe that your stories make you who you are and we’re asking you to share yours. Interested? Sign up at scintillaproject.com and follow us at @ScintillaHQ.

This post is something I wrote in 2005. It appeared in a tiny zine.

When you are young, the only things that scare you are impossibilities. You fear slimy things in a tidy closet and vampires in the dark. In the daylight, you are stronger than any force of evil, and fate becomes something to poke at with annoying fingers. When you are so small and the world is so big, you learn that fear is fun, and that it ripples off you like notes from a harp, and you sniff in dark corners hoping to detect more safe fear.

There is still an hour before the roast will be ready. Your girl cousins draw pictures and the boys are all wrestling. You sit in the kitchen but the women ignore you, and you don’t understand what they’re talking about anyway. You smell slowly cooking meat in the air, and your stomach twists. Go play outside, the women say. Go do something.

You walk to the door and fling it shut behind you. There is no one out here. The few other houses in the neighborhood have empty yards this October Sunday afternoon and everyone else’s roast is ready. The back yard seems so big when you’re small, and you are old enough to see that it’s not as big as you once thought it was. You trudge all the way to the top of the hill, past the swings, past your grandfather’s vegetable patch, past the sandbox. The treeline is next, and you don’t pause.

Nothing to fear, after all. You’ve been in these woods plenty of times, and your grandmother would separate from the group and pretend to be lost, and one of the kids would always get hurt somehow. They trip on things and stand on fallen trees that are seconds away from crumbling. Someone would have a bowl for picking berries in case you came across some. Your littlest brother would find money or a dead raccon or something else interesting. He always looks down, sifting through what others overlook.

You’ve even gone into the woods without adults. You’re the oldest grandchild, after all, and you know the rule: If you can’t see the house, you turn around and come back home. It’s useful if the little kids want to go but you really don’t. You can come back sooner that way. But you know these woods like your pillows, like a song you know by heart. Today, alone, you don’t care about the house. You’ll come back late. They’ll have to put the leftovers away and wonder where you’ve been. By the time you come home, they’ll be worried about you.

Your blue nylon Kangaroo sneakers get muddy in the damp ground. Ther’s a chill in the wind as it rattles the leaves until they fall. You hear things, animals, things moving that are not you. Time passes and your nose gets cold, and you see your breath, and you walk, your anger fading.

You turn around.

You cannot see the house. Not even the tiniest glimpse of red brick through the trees. 

Fine, you think. You turn around. You walk back, retracing your steps. 

Ten minutes later you see a downed tree that you did not pass before. And no matter how stubbornly you peer at the trees in front of you, you still cannot see the red bricks of your grandmother’s house.

You stop moving. You look up at the sky and you cannot imagine what it is you expect to see, a bird, a power line. The sky won’t point you home, little one, and it’s getting darker. Your heartbeats are irregular; they are as panicky as you are. You keep thinking okay, okay, okay, okay. This is not okay. It will all be okay. You’ll be okay.

Your feet are moving again but warily. You scan the trees in front of you for something familiar. You watch your sneakers take step after little step in the oozing mud, hoping a trail will materialize in the thickness of the green and brown and tan and still more brown. You see the dead rabbit and nearly step on it. You flinch and step sideways, scream out.

Screaming feels good. Scream again, this time for your mother, your stepfather, anyone to help you. Scream until your throat hurts. Scream loud and long, feel your eyes fill with tears.

Through these stinging tears, you look to the left. It is your mother, thirty or forty feet away. Her orange puffy jacket is a bright light in the darkening forest, and you run to her, leaping over a fallen tree, and she bends down to be a target for you, a place to run.

in bits and pieces

I said back in May that I would be shredding my journals in June. It didn’t happen. It became something that lived on a never-ending to-do list, a task that would take an undue amount of time in exchange for the teeny payoff of a few inches of shelf space. Occasionally I would remind myself of my vow and finesse the order of the to-do list, and I would imagine the photos I’d add to this entry, the hardcore proof. All I needed to do was read through them first, just to prove to myself that there was nothing in there worth saving.

Boy howdy.

I had been poised to find charming sentences, raw pearls, but it’s possible that I put it off because my lizard-brain knew what was in there. In the reading, I made myself more than a little ill. I was not the kind of journaler who wrote regularly about the events of the day—I only turned to the notebooks when I was having a hard time, in the kind of mode where everyone around me made me see red. From the vantage point of many years later, I could see the way that the writing reinforced negativity, obsession, and self-doubt. Oh, and vainglory; that’s always fun. I actually once wrote this sentence in earnest: I have such ennui. I shredded 1993 to 2003, ten years worth of the worst of me. And as I read, I relived every emotion, every mood swing, every insult. By the end, I had a hangover, even though I drank nothing but water during the process.

If you click the image, you can see the covers. Far too pretty to be filled with so much sadness.I wish I had done the shredding without reading the pages. For a few inches of shelf space, I exchanged more than a little blissful oblivion. I wonder what I’ll be able to forget and what might be in my memory for good. I’ve been rumpled up this late winter-early autumn season and this didn’t help, but it’s something I’ll never have to do again… until I decide to take on 2004 and beyond.

where I'm from

I am from halfway up the hill, just before the bend; from the top of the monkey bars and from the corner of the kitchen floor in my grandmother’s arms, from serviceable furniture and serviceable women in serviceable clothes, from B94 and Dead Man’s Curve and spaghetti kept warm in Corningware dishes.

I am from the eyrie-room on Fifth Avenue, sealed off from the world by a slammable door, stickysteamy in summer. I am from three different kinds of plywood paneling under one roof, from the nightmare shower, from secrets scrawled on board-game pieces and pictures of the departed in their caskets. I am from the room above the room where the ghost-woman’s teeth chattered from their hiding place within the walls, keeping little girls awake till morning.

I am from the north-flowing river, the hillside where the giants lived, the woods that ensnared small children, the walk over the hill to the baseball diamond, the walk down the hill to the football field, the bike ride down Hillman to the creek. I am from yew-tree berries, which you must not eat.

I am from fire-truck Santas and candle-lit thunderstorm vigils, from laundry-line badminton nets, from books left on my bed without comment, from the teacup that held eyeliner and cream-rouge, from a transcript of Donahue hidden in a closet, from Willie, from Whiteds and Wagners. I’m from the trailblazers and the lost, from jokesters and glumsters. I am from black-and-gold blood and Terrible Towels. I am from peach Nikes and peach Chucks and an orange banana-seat bike.

I’m from laughing to keep from crying and sticks of Doublemint gum taped into a birthday card and a half-glass of wine in a jelly-jar glass; from eat up over and wehr-de-wuh and that is not what they mean by “special” and you can do anything you want and there’s a time and a place.

I am from the creak of the kneeler and Father Leger’s trembling hands, from rent bodies and miracles, from the sign of peace and the slip of beads through my fingers. I am from ritual for the sake of ritual, for prayers of obeisance instead of guidance. I am from the grand delusion that cannot hide in Latin anymore.

I am from Bisottis and Ghilanis, from a bend in the river that looks like the old country, from secret-recipe chicken and polenta spread over the ceramic table to cool, polenta with coins hidden inside for the children. I am from last daughters and last things. I am from a lost farmhouse and a sheet for a movie screen and a brass bed. I am from the lies you tell to make things work.

From the day Lena was Lucy, from a flying softball bat and a lost tooth, from a safety belt that was not safe at all. From whiskey. From the box and then the bigger box and then the even bigger box, where I kept pictures and letters and things I could not let go, the box I took across the state and then south and then west and then north and then back east again, stopping shy of a circle like the Diné taught me. I am from the unclosed, the wide open, the in progress, a good place for lost people and last daughters. I am from story, from showing-not-telling, from survival, somehow, of almost anything.

Schmutzie wrote one of these last week, and I immediately knew I would write one as soon as I could. There are a bunch of wonderful versions linked at the bottom of her page, and you should definitely check them out. It’s based on this exercise, which is based on this poem by George Ella Lyons. More fabulous examples: here, here, and here.

a world of pure imagination

When I was a little girl, my grandmother gave me the fourth Anne of Green Gables book, Anne of Windy Poplars, as a gift. It’s the story of the years that Anne had a long-distance relationship with her one and only Gilbert while she worked in Summerside, PEI, teaching at a girls’ school. This does mean that all of the carefully constructed will-they-or-won’t-they from the first three books, which I read after Windy Poplars, was forever lost on me. What matters is that Grammy’s gift had two lasting effects on me: First, I will do everything I can to avoid reading books in a series out of order. Second, I joined the Cult of Anne. I still reread my Anne books every few years, still quote from their obscure passages without even caring if anyone knows what I’m talking about, and still think about the giddiness that would have come over the little girl I used to be if she’d only known that someday she would end up living in Canada. Now, living in Ottawa doesn’t equal Avonlea or really anything close to it. And as an adult and a person who viscerally detests tourist traps, I never even suggested to Myron that we go. Someday, I thought, maybe someday when I can go by myself, just to see. But I wasn’t about to say no when the opportunity presented itself.

The day we drove from the B&B to the north shore of the island took me by surprise. That morning, my friend Tammy had the map open at the breakfast table to plan the route. I wasn’t mentally prepared to go—I’d been expecting to stay close to home that day. But I threw together a small bag of items and we headed out across the island. It was another cold, gray day and the only appealing visuals came from the beautiful contrasts of the red farm fields (most were prepared for potatoes, with deep grooves in the earth) and brilliant green grass and the many beautifully painted farmhouses. After all these years of living in a suburbia where the houses are beige, off-white, and brown with the occasional red brick, it was elevating to see aqua blue and butter yellow houses that looked completely at home in their world instead of sore-thumby and loud.

It doesn’t take very long to travel most of anywhere on the island. I say this as a person who used to drive four hours to get to a Wal-Mart, so a ninety-minute trip to Cavendish didn’t bother me in the least. We stopped on the way in for a quick lunch—I ordered an appetizer order of mussels and a veggie wrap, but didn’t end up touching the wrap because my bowl of mussels was so enormous. Just a few more minutes down the road, we stopped here to look out at the water in North Rustico. I may have wished for better weather, but I could not have asked for cleaner, crisper seaside air or better music than the wind and water in concert.

My aversion to touristy attractions wars with me at places like the Green Gables house and the stuff that’s sprung up around it. There’s a visitor center that shows some sort of video (um, no) and outbuildings like a barn, woodshed, and granary that have slice-of-historical-life facts posted on plaques. These things have no appeal to me—all I cared to see was the house, a place where I expected to suspend my disbelief and forcibly place myself in the books I know so well. This house is the Macneill house, which Montgomery said was her inspiration for the Cuthbert home, and the items inside were collected for the purpose of creating the walk-through experience. The people responsible for it know the books exceedingly well.

I stood below the deep slope of the lawn to view the house and imagine approaching it as a small girl with countless hopes. But in fact Matthew’s cart would probably have approached the house from behind.

Matthew’s wash stand Puffed sleeves.My photos of the inside aren’t the greatest. This is partly due to the (lack of) light inside and the ubiquitous velvet ropes. But it was fun to be there, in a place much smaller and more personal than you might expect having seen the movies from the eighties. We moved quietly through the rooms, and my friend recited bits of the books as she was inspired by each room. Touring the little house at the same time were an older woman and her brother. There is nothing like meeting another Anne-girl, especially not in a place like that. She observed that the (period-appropriate but exceedingly loud) paisley hallway wallpapers were not what she expected out of a salt-of-the-earth type like Marilla Cuthbert, but then mused, “Of course Rachel Lynde moved in at one point,” and sniffed loudly, indicating exactly what she thought of both Mrs. Lynde and the decor.

Later on we stopped at the gift shop on the way out to pick up postcards. You wouldn’t think that you could work the merchandising as hard as they do, but, well, Anne was all about the imagination, and imagination is much at play here. Books and videos and maple syrup, of course, but my two favorite souvenirs are down below. I managed to resist buying both of them, but I might have been compelled to plunk my money down for some comp’ny jam. 

So here I am, trying to put together thoughts about visiting something like this, something manufactured to replicate a fictional experience. Cavendish is not Avonlea, which doesn’t truly exist. To me, the visit was more about being on the north shore, around the red dirt and the water, breathing the fresh air and walking in the author’s shoes more than Anne’s herself. Maybe this is part of being older, and maybe it’s just that Green Gables is not the kind of place that needs to be reproduced the way someplace like Hogwart’s can be—it doesn’t need an unlimited budget or complete immersion. An amethyst brooch on a nightstand, a geranium in the window… these are magic enough. And Green Gables is in the heart of all Anne-girls, anyway; what’s lovely is to see the echoes of the hearts of so many other Anne-girls made manifest in a plain little farmhouse on a hill.