There Is Something Worse

Lillian Barfield

If LeeAnn works at the Dollar General for much longer, she thinks she will become a shrivelled prune on the shelf, identical to the one sitting front and center between the coffee mugs and plastic bowls. Her body will become a dried out piece of fruit and will stench up the whole place just out of spite. Her hands are cracked. They look like they belong to someone who has spent the past three years underwater. Her nails are cracked and the nail polish she put on two days ago has mostly scratched off. Tonight she will put more on, she is not a prune yet, she will still have beautiful hands, but god, she is so tired of putting nail polish over layers of wiry nails every two days. She thinks that tonight she’ll choose the maroon polish and she’ll add sparkles over the top. The light blue sparkles that make everything look a little more like a disco ball. If anyone tells her to take it off, she’ll leave the middle finger alone and tell them where to stick it.

She bends over at the cash register, shirt halfway tucked in, and decides that the amount of cash is correct without actually counting it. Her head thumps on from the migraine threatening to return. She remembers the night before, the swirling of two dirty margs in a Red Bull can that had been cut in half. The smell of it gave her reflux before the swallowing did. She remembers the smell of tequila being poured into dixie cups turned shot glasses and how after five minutes the paper melted. She remembers being alive for the four hours she was drunk and wishing she felt less alive five hours later when she woke up. She grabs the water bottle under the desk and throws back the golden liquid while she swallows her ibuprofen. One of them will help, probably. She wishes they would catch her. She thinks about leaving. She grabs the cash again and shuffles through it mindlessly, before the knocking starts.

She quits fumbling through sweaty bills to unlock the doors and let Cal in, who storms past her and immediately begins taking inventory in the back. He wears burgundy Nike’s to work everyday, tells the manager to take it up with his wife when they tell him it’s not up to dress code because what are they even going to do, its a fucking Dollar General. He walks around the storage room in the back for a full ten minutes just running through his laundry list of tasks for the day before finally settling in on one, deciding that there is nothing as important in that moment than focusing on what he’ll get from Dina’s next door for lunch.

LeeAnn walks in to find him sitting criss crossed on the ground, fumbling through an unlabelled cardboard box. She learned months ago that Cal would rather take twice as long to do one simple thing than rush through a shift and that includes rummaging through a molded and soaking wet box that had been left in the corner of a stock room for weeks on end. She thinks about that dried out piece of fruit again and wonders if he’s a prune too. But he’s not even a fruit. He’s just hollow. LeeAnn wants to know what his life looks like. She wants to know someone else is hollow.

Cal works with his hands everyday and he loses his wedding ring every two weeks. Maybe it’s unintentional. LeeAnn thinks so. She pretends that his hands get too sweaty and greasy from what he does in a day, that his fingers are becoming wrinkled like the prune too, and the ring just slips right off. Some days, she catches him studying his ring, like it’s become a weight that makes slicing through the packaging tape impossible. Some days she sits in the parking lot, right before he pulls in, shifting gears in a thirty year old toyota, and she sees him wipe sweat off of his cheeks; it’s probably sweat. It’s probably just sweat.

***

            Last night, LeeAnn sat on a velvet couch covered in piss stains and faded paint stripes, waiting for her mother to set down her keys and grab the Coors Light on the counter. Monica left it there overnight, so the minute she walks over to take a gulp, she flinches and pours it down the drain. She works at the diner on Main Street, pulls 24 hour shifts. LeeAnn was sure it’s illegal.

            Her mother’s boyfriend, Joe, sits down beside her and asks if she wants a drink. She usually doesn’t, but Joe is already handing her half of a jagged Red Bull can. She takes it gladly and sips on the yellowish liquid for the next hour. She thinks about how Joe probably made this for himself, but Monica gave him a glance across the kitchen and he knew that she wanted the two of them to talk about something, even if it was about tequila in a metal can.

            “Take the rent to Bobby before you go to work tomorrow.” Monica is rummaging through her purse to try and find the crumbled envelope with cash stuffed inside. LeeAnne looks at her through the entryway and grimaces.

“Rent was due two weeks ago, mom.” Monica doesn’t even look up.

“He gets it when he gets it. He owes me.”

LeeAnn knows that. She remembers a year ago when her mom ran into Bobby’s house to write him a check, only to find him tangled in the sheets with the gas station clerk. When Bobby’s wife came by the house later asking if she knew anything, Monica said Bobby wasn’t home and she left the check on the front porch by the ferns.

“It’s been awhile, mom,” LeeAnn tells her. “Eventually, that excuse is going to run out.” By the time she’s finished her sentence, the envelope is sitting on the table by the door and Monica has dragged Joe into the back room for a smoke.

Once she finishes her first drink, she makes two more and soon she’s alone in her own home, watching I Dream of Jeannie and festering over her next day off work. She thinks she’ll call out sick tomorrow, maybe grab Taco Bell before looking at job ads. She’s not sure how much notice she’ll give Cal before she quits. She knows that she cannot dumpster dive through any more cardboard boxes or fling back layers of plastic looking for treasure in disposable bins.

***

She’s in her car now, in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s, three parking spaces from the end, dreaming about the cheesy gordita crunch that she could have had if only they had kept the lettuce off or if she had the gall to take it back to the front. She shifts in her seat, focused on a video of a mother’s testimonial about her child swallowing Drano. She thinks maybe he thought it was liquid licorice, or maybe he just wanted to see what it would do, or maybe there was no other way around it and he needed to know something that no one else knew. But then his mother smelled him burning, literally burning, and she thinks that somehow she is also a Drano swallower. She can’t take the floppy cheesy taco back into the restaurant but she could swallow a gallon of Drano in one quick chug.

She wonders if Cal would do the same thing. She wonders if his throat tastes like ash like hers does. His hands are stained with oil and grime, though she watches him wash them three times a day. His finger is never stained where the ring sits. Her hands are stained with paper cuts and calluses and blisters that pop over and over until they begin to bleed. Maybe she’s projecting, but she thinks that his throat feels coated in plaster, that he never talks to her because he can’t, because someone threw an entire Ace Hardware’s worth of putty into his mouth and forced him to swallow it. She wonders if it was his wife, if that’s why he feels suffocated at work with the ring on, if it squeezes his hand throughout the day, if he leaves it in his car for the twelve hour shift, searching for a moment of peace. She wonders if there is something worse than being shriveled, if there is something worse than being alone.

***

            There is a seven year old boy sorting through the candy at the register while his mom plans out their next meal. She picks out minute rice and a can of beans and looks around the freezer section for a bag of cheese that’s maybe less than three dollars, and when she finds none, she walks back to the beans and decides what else she can grab in a hurry. The kid is wide eyed at the chocolate bars and rainbows in front of him, and his mother is putting back the can of beans for a smaller one.

LeeAnn cannot help herself, so she runs to the back before going to the register to check out the woman and asks Cal, “Why do you take the wedding ring off at Dollar General but leave it on while you’re layering yourself in grease like a beefy five layer burrito?”He throws the box cutter on the floor and walks away, but turns once to tell her she needs to mind her business. She thinks about his hands again, like the world revolves around the oil that has stained its way into the deepest grooves of each finger. She thinks he has to love his wife. She wonders if his wife has found her way into those same grooves. She thinks that maybe he only has enough room for one thing to know him well, she thinks maybe his wife didn’t make the cut.

            The next day, he tells her, “I bought the ring too small after I lost my first one at the beach. I can’t cut the boxes with the ring on or it feels like my finger’s gonna fall off.”They both chuckle and walk in the opposite direction of one another. They both know they’re lying. She doesn’t ask any more questions, though. She stares at the wedding ring, now shining on his hand where the stains used to linger. He cuts open the next box and dives into work and LeeAnn walks back to the front, out the door, takes a five minute break to chug something she had leftover in her car, and comes back in to find the boy has thrown skittles all across the floor.

***

The next day Cal quits, and LeeAnn puts in her two week notice. She can feel herself begin to shrivel and she commits to a job at the thrift store a few blocks away, deciding that sorting through sweaty underwear and used shoes is better than living on the shelf, unused. She wants to remember what it is like to have your breath catch in your throat. The thrift store is not that, but it maybe can be closer than where she is right now.

The first day she walks through the doors, a news story plays over the retro television sitting on the counter about a meth lab exploding, somewhere local. They make it seem like it’s a huge thing, like it was a statewide procedure. It was a small town – her mom would call it backroad bullcrap. It wasn’t high quality meth. But there was a fourteen year old boy there. He walked to his friend’s place. The parents were cooking meth in the back room, poorly, and someone lit the house up, burned the trailer to the ground; no one made it out. The trailer park shook. The trees started to burn. Both of the neighboring trailers started to burn too, the rubber roofs melted into the ground. But the 14-year-old boy was the only person LeeAnn could pay attention to. They didn’t even show his picture on the television, just said something about him being there in the first place.

She imagines what he looks like. He’s such a small boy. He’s probably 5’2” and didn’t get a haircut when he was supposed to. LeeAnn thinks that if he would have known how to drive and how to shift the gears he would have left in time. She doesn’t know the kid’s name and so she pretends it’s Tommy. She thinks if there is a peace in the universe it is burnt orange and smells like marshmallows when you first open the thin bag. She hopes that Tommy smells like marshmallows now. She thinks his hands would have been shaking and he would have fumbled the keys. She thinks his breath would have smelled like menthol, but not like tequila. She doesn’t know if he even smoked, but he was at a meth lab in a trailer park, so he probably did. She thinks his last cigarette would have been dangling from his lips when he jumped the car off by the side of the road.

She thinks he would have driven himself to Trader Joe’s. He would have ran inside and asked the cashier for her number. She thinks she would have laughed and told him no, but secretly wrote it down on a receipt. And maybe Tommy would have thrown the receipt away on accident. She knows that when you are fourteen you have nothing much to live for. That when you are fourteen, living is the worst part. And so she thinks that one year is enough to make a difference and she pretends that Tommy is alive right now and that he is out on a date with the beautiful cashier with the red cheeks and colorful hair clips and that he will go on more dates and become a tall young man and his legs will outgro the rest of him first and maybe that was the only thing he needed. Just one more year.

She throws everything she needs into a locker in the back of the store. They tell her to sort through blankets and clothing for holes and if the holes are small enough to put them on the floor anyways. She does, and she thinks back to the boy again. She wonders if his shoes had holes in them. If he shopped here. If his hands ever held the same door handle hers are holding now. If he ever ran out of the store like she’s doing now. If the cigarettes he probably smoked were Camels or Marlboro or if he tried to roll them himself. So she smokes. She smokes and she thinks of him and she stuffs the rest of her pack into the cement block sitting by the glass doors, and she doesn’t think she’ll touch them again.

***

LeeAnn wonders if being a prune is the worst thing that can happen to someone, after all. Her hands have quickly softened from folding laundry and hanging artwork in the corners of each section of the store. She doesn’t miss the metal shards from broken cans or the splinters she would get from cleaning the loading dock. The nail beds of her thumbs no longer crack and bleed with each flip of a twenty dollar bill. She handles so little money, but her hands are whole again. She remembers the last time she felt warm, the last time her hands didn’t scare her when they brushed against her own skin. She thinks that being warm is more than most people feel and so she decides to no longer shrivel.

While she’s stocking the last shelf of folded towels and fitted sheets, she watches an older woman fumble through the door, her walker hitting the glass door no matter how hard she shoves. She’s trying to carry a box of Old Navy flip flops on top of the walker, so LeeAnn rushes over to hold the door open. The woman’s name is Cheryl. She comes in every weekend with another box. Small things like shoes and clothes, once a lamp, once an old John Deere collectible helicopter, once an old pair of wooden clogs that are still sitting on the floor of the showroom beside the old coat hangers. Her husband died three months ago, and she doesn’t like his stuff to stay in her house. She says it’s all haunted anyways, and James would have wanted it gone. She leaves a box on the front desk every weekend and walks out, without saying a word to anyone. She goes through his belongings one box at a time and brings it all in when she can handle it. It’s been three months. LeeAnn couldn’t expect more from someone after only three months.

Today, she comes in and walks straight toward the section of mismatched cups and bowls. Her eyes are tinted yellow and she is so small, smaller than she was last weekend, already the stature of a gargoyle. She tells LeeAnn that while she was sorting through the cabinets she dropped an old cup. She’d had it since her honeymoon kind of old. She wants to find something else that’s old to replace it. LeeAnn thinks that the old woman is insane, she could drive 30 minutes to get to a Target and buy three cups for half a dollar. But Cheryl sifts through the junk for a few minutes, finds something small and blue that she likes, and pays the dollar for it. She smiles at LeeAnn when she leaves, and LeeAnn wonders if she’ll ever see her again. If there will be any more weekends. If maybe she is going to be the next 14 year old boy on the news, if something unfortunate will happen again. She will make up scenarios for this old woman in a few days and pretend that she won the lottery and took a paid vacation to the Bahamas or went to Las Vegas.

And so LeeAnn decides that being alone is the worst thing you can be. There is something worse than being shrivelled on a shelf and she knows this when Cheryl does not come in the store again, and she does not see Cal again, and the 14-year-old boy did die, and she is slowly curling in on herself, and she did drink the drain-o and nothing even happened.


LILLIAN BARFIELD is a graduate student and writer from Honea Path, South Carolina. She often writes about the people she feels are most forgotten in an effort to never forget them. Her work is published or forthcoming in Sink Hollow, Firewords, and Holyflea.

Life Changes in an Instant

PRIYANKA CHAKRABARTY

On 6th June 2015 I came to Bangalore. On 10th June 2015 M and I sat in the same classroom for the first time. On 23rd November 2019 afternoon with a little help from M I confirmed I am queer. On 23rd November 2020 we met for lunch and talked about her impending marriage while the sun burnt bright. Perhaps the brightness stopped her from looking into my eyes when she said how much she loves him and how great it feels, this socially sanctioned love business. The café caramel sundae is an ice cream that I blame for inducing queerness in my veins. It is the coffee, yes the deep dark rich coffee which makes me feel heady and wants to live a little more than I have been made to believe I am allowed. That ice cream tastes of liberation with the roasted cashews which I tasted on your tongue. Since then I have always spared some an extra moment of thought because when I taste those cashews I taste you, I taste that afternoon, the afternoon of my queerness and your continuous denial of it.

M, have you ever stood under the bright scorching sun for a very long time? The same kind I stood under when I waited for you outside Coconut Grove holding the chocolate coated biscuits wrapped in golden paper just for you. Standing in the bright sun for a really long time makes your vision momentarily blurred when you walk indoors. Blurred patches of black, red and purple swirl in front of my eyes as I wondered if it was going to be an afternoon of blurred lines. The drinks made us tipsy and our hands accidentally touched while we searched for poetry among the bookshelves of Blossoms. We kept chancing upon the same books, wanting to read the same blurb at the same time. I wanted to hurl myself miles away but stayed rooted to the ground.

Later in the evening we sat under bright yellow lights. I had just tasted the bitterness of the coffee at the back of your tongue. You took pictures of me because the light deepened the brown of my eyes. But you didn’t meet my eyes; I guess lasting eye contact was not for phases. You asked “How are you feeling?” I said, very asexual, still asexual. Once again you asked me to just wait for the right person to come along. Oh M, the right and the wrong people had come and gone. But my heart, oh my heart, stayed frozen, denied to beat while I stewed under your simmering gaze and lingering touch. I had wanted for my heart to skip a beat, feel breathless and goosebumps. I had none. I could be buying vegetables, making my bed, chatting with the sales man or having sex; it was all the same for me. The same when I kissed M, D who came before M and ABCs that have come after. It’s all the same, it always been the same. I had exhausted my explanations. M, your continuous denial was the force that pushed me to continuously accept. That evenings and, many evenings after that when we hurriedly dressed ourselves because your roommate could knock at any moment, I said out loud I am asexual. You gave me a long look and excused yourself.

We left when the sun had set. I reached for your hand, one last time. You gripped it tightly. We walked till the parking lot in silence. I wanted to look at you but it was sufficiently dark and our eyes couldn’t meet. You asked me one last time, are you okay? I said, “Yeah sure! Enjoy the biscuits; hopefully the chocolate has not all melted due to the heat”.

****

In 2015 I came to Bangalore. I finally had a home of my choosing. I knew no one in the city and prized my anonymity of just existing without scrutiny. Bangalore came with its canopied roads starching far off into the distance. I got what I had always wanted, hoped and prayed for- a clean slate, a fresh start. I was Priyanka and for the first time I could be who I wanted to be. The possibilities were endless and then I was hit by my queerness and M’s continuous reminder that it was just a phase.

Now, when I walk down the same long winding partially canopied roads, there is a cacophony of, “You are queer” on loop. Moments like these, my barely held together self is in grave danger of scattering on the roads. In an odd way, the city is reflects my interiority; while I am perilously close to spilling over, the city is already spilling over in every direction. My home in Jayanagar and some ruins in MG Road next to a sparkling Starbucks gives an inkling of the city I glimpsed when I occasionally visited, before finally settling down in this city. But it was quickly demolished. Concrete hurriedly pored over and the old parts kept getting replaced with new, shiny and gleaming parts. This city doesn’t know what was supposed to be and why does that resonate?

Enlarged, well lit closets often create the mirage of freedom. I am sitting in a locked room staring at the door. Taking in the stunned silence, the smallness of my metaphorical closet starts to close in on me. I share a poem on my instagram stories which goes as End of love should be big event/It should involve hiring a hall. M responds to that message; just want to let you know I wouldn’t ever stop loving you. I respond, I know that and I believe you. There is a cruel charm to this story; I shudder at what would have happened if the afternoon of 23rd November 2019 had turned out differently. Would I have continued the lead the straightjacketed life? Every time I think of kissing the razor blade of your collarbones I remind myself, the ones that entice also leave with a warm gush of blood.

***

M, it is grossly unfair and unjust, to leave me drowning in the sludge of queerness. I know you have said your apologies and I said it’s alright. You tinged me with queerness and I accepted it ; every time I reach for my favourite ice cream to drown the weight of living you are there in every bite, that afternoon is there in every bite. How much of what I love do I have to give up, to forget?

The fag end of Sunday and I am standing on the highway staring at the sky watching shadow of the half-moon peeping out. The sky is a sharp blue preparing for sunset. Slowly the sky swirls into an innocent yellow which has lost its capacity to scorch and burn. The yellow merges into the lovechild of orange and pink. My sister picks up the phone to capture the sunset. The dark green of the trees became black silhouettes on the screen against the setting sun, quietly shadowing the sky willing to lose its colour for a while. I lower the car window and let the wind smack against my face. The lingering winter chill reminds me of swiftly changing seasons. The queerness runs in my veins and the shadows of cost linger while the sky turns a pitch black.

Joan Didion, in The Year of Magical Thinking wrote Life changes fast/Life changes in the instant/ You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. I sat down to café caramel sundae and life as I knew it changed. My life was suddenly marked by absence. The presence of queerness marked the absence of M. The presence of asexuality marked the absence of sexual desire. My absences were also my certainties. Life changed fast. I had a closet to maintain, identities to explore and reassess the business of living and loving. I spent many nights wishing queerness was a piece of clothing that I could wear when I wished and folded away neatly in the closet hidden from plain view. But queerness was my skin; sewn into the very fabric who I was and with options to peel it away like paper. My body is the only body I will ever inhabit and it is queer. I am queer.


PRIYANKA is a law student living in Bangalore. An ardent reader of prose and poetry, she has keen interest in social justice and human rights movement. She is a queer person and aspires to be a human rights lawyer.

The Couple on the cliff, or, The Last Story

William Kitcher and

Nick ran along the windy trail, looking behind him. “Come on! Come on!”

Unsure of hearing any response, he continued down the trail to the cliff. Thunder roared, and he thought he heard a gunshot. He reached the cliff and turned around again. “Come on! Come on!”

Staggering down the trail came Caroline, her coat torn and flapping in the wind, blood running down her face.

Nick waved and she saw him. They ran along the edge of the cliff until they found a bite taken out of it, and they began to descend the cliff face. Grabbing hold of rocks as well as they could, they went down, finally reaching a small ledge. Looking about them, there seemed to be no escape.

“Are you kidding me?” said Nick.

There was no response except for the howling wind and the crashing surf below.

“Are you kidding me?!!!” he cried again.

There was no human response.

Nick looked up. “Hey you, the guy writing this!”

“Me?” I said.

“Yes, you, you idiot. How do you plan to get us out of this? We’re going down a cliff face. And there’s no way out. What happens now?”

I felt slightly embarrassed. “I hadn’t really thought that far ahead, to be honest.”

Nick looked at Caroline and then back at me. “You mean you don’t know what happens next?”

“No, sorry.”

Caroline sighed with frustration. “Jeez, man, my head’s bleeding, and it’s damn cold out here, especially with a torn coat. Why is my head bleeding anyway?”

“I don’t know. I thought I’d come back to that.”

“And the gunshot?” asked Nick. “What was that about?”

“I thought I’d come back to that too…” I trailed off.

“Wow, you’re so disorganized.”

“I figured that if I couldn’t use it, I’d just go back and take it out.”

“You’re hopeless.”

I was offended now. “It’s called spontaneity.”

“It’s called logorrhea,” said Caroline, unkindly.

I had no response to that, not knowing what “logorrhea” meant. The wind whipped around their bodies as they huddled together.

“Would you please cut out the sound effects?”

The wind subsided.

“‘Subsided’, really? You couldn’t have just said ‘stopped’. Did you even have to say anything?”

“Well, I…,” and that’s as far as I could get, having no more to say.

“Is this how you always write, just start to write something with no idea what’s going to happen next?”

“Well,” I stammered. “I’m sure by the time I get to the end of this, it’ll look like I knew what I was doing all along. Sometimes I write like this. Sometimes I first know what happens in the middle. Sometimes I know the ending first. Have you read my story ‘The Dawn’? In that one, I knew how it ended and I—”

“No, I haven’t read any of your stories! We’re fictional characters! And by the way, what’s with our names? Why did you name us after your niece and her husband?”

“Well, I needed to call you something— hey, wait a minute. How do you know I named you after my niece and her husband?”

That stumped them, as I didn’t know how they would know that. They said nothing and, because of that, I had nothing to say back to them.

We were stuck in a loop and I was unsure what was happening. Was I writing them? Were they writing themselves? Perhaps even only occasionally? Were they writing me? No, that seemed unlikely. And yet…

The three of us looked at each other for quite some time, perhaps weeks, I don’t remember.

No, it was only a couple of minutes. Which has now stretched into several minutes. And I made myself a cup of tea. And went outside for a smoke. And had a nap.

And I had my answer.

“Well, what are you going to do? Hmmm? What’s going on now?”

I remained silent, just to piss them off.

“Oh really. You’re just going to leave it up to us. You prick. OK. What happens if we go back up?”

“Guys with guns.”

“OK. Can we fly?”

“No.”

“What’s at the bottom of the cliff?”

“What do you want there to be at the bottom of the cliff?”

“A nice comfy airbag?”

“No.”

“How about just water and no rocks?”

“OK.”

Nick and Caroline launched themselves into the ocean, and began swimming.

* * *

The tea had become cold in the half-empty cup on the desk. The three people looked at the man slumped over his typewriter. The grandfather clock ticked morosely.

“No, officer, he was dead when we got here.”

The cop looked at the young couple. “Why are you two wet?”


BILL‘s stories have been published in America, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Eire, Great Britain, Holland, and India. He hopes to be published in Denmark and France, so that he has the first part of the alphabet covered.

Editor’s Note

Dear reader,

I often feel as though I am becoming a keyhole: the interstice of encounters and trespasses, inspecting, alert. A few days ago, on Hay Beach at Shelter Island, I stepped into the water for the first time. I had no expectations, only uncertainties; I have walked along beaches or seen them from afar. I think I’ve even been in love with water, or at least rapturously fascinated by it before even knowing it, touching it. But my body has been losing itself for some time— starving, refusing to bleed every month. In the water, however, I felt it hold its own for the first time. In the wide expanse of the water— the estranging, insupportable, unsustainable, transcending, intimidating, permeable, rhythmic element that it is— I felt the singularity of being witness for the first time. Small fishes floated around, seaweed wallowed against my ankles. Rocks and pebbles rubbed my feet. I did not experience loneliness, abandonment, anonymity or illegibility. It was the state of being a witness, and in freedom.

I’m thinking of the small life of this issue: from the time we launched our submissions period to this very day. Our editors, contributors and submitters from across the world have undergone tumultuous inner journeys. I must admit that during the worst moments of the past few months, shrouded and dead, I questioned why we publish this magazine, why people choose to write and submit to us. In hindsight, I think the presence of art and writing occupies a space like the sea: a necessary other, something to help us hold our own, transcendent but unreliable, unsustainable. “Pain is only pain with a name,” writes Kinshuk Gupta in his poem, ‘Case History of Pain.’ Perhaps that is the best way to put the experience of the past few months.

Publishing this issue, at least for me, doesn’t come without the guilt and grief of the past few months. Having something to do when the world is gathering losses is a preoccupation that wounds as much as it supports. Your works, dear contributors and readers, presented us with that challenge and allowed us to witness the world through your eyes, made us feel immersed in your language. From the 472 submissions we received, these are the nine works of writing that helped us survive, weather, hold on. That is a rare gift. As I am writing this, I am thinking of survival even in the presence of lack, in the absence of desire. Reading this issue, I am grateful for the hard work and hours put in by the editorial team, including several new staff members, and your trust in us. We hope you witness with us, beside us. Thank you so much. So much for standing, kneeling, holding on to something so we can learn to see, touch, emerge, love, desire and survive again.

Sincerely,

Devanshi Khetarpal

Editor-in-Chief and Founder

Inklette Magazine

211.971° F

In the driveway off the road, look at that little car, soft rust creeping over its chipped paint. See the rotting wood stairs, how they’d creak with age if anyone was left to climb them. The bones of a cat lying by a long empty bowl, coated in the thick gristle of decaying flesh. The dishes piled in the sink, with rich swirls of mold the only life left here. Let your gaze finally rest upon the overturned tea kettle, cheery bright blue.

Once, the kettle poured liquid love for its owners. Once, it was chosen for its color, favored. Blue shades are splashed throughout the house. Those accents only owned by the comfortably unaware. The dish towel, the welcome mat, the blanket tossed over the couch. The boiling water still pouring from the kettle has made its way there, hissing faintly under the sounds of the still running television. The channel flickers, news of a bombing in the deep South turning to a cheerful salesperson selling the latest microwave technology.

The woman seems distant, unaware of the boiling water making contact with her hand as it drapes over the side of the couch, unaware that the water is slowly swallowing her home. You would think her body vacant were it not for those eyes. Those terrible, terrible, open eyes, a scream felt in their frantic movements. She must feel it all, you realize. She must see how the kettle was wrong, all wrong.

Oh, that pretty blue. How it deceived her in the shop, lured her in. Somehow it was the shade she’d looked for her whole life, perfect for her. Ten dollars, the woman in the shop said, and she was so friendly, so kind. Of course the woman bought that perfect kettle, with its shining spout like an anglerfish.

She drove to her home in the countryside and thought only briefly of the heat creeping over her. A strange spike for October, she thought, but still, she took out her mug, measured out the leaves so carefully. A connoisseur, this woman of ours. Her tea comes from China, you know. She has it shipped over specially.

If only she were so careful with her other purchases. If only she hadn’t sat there while the water boiled, watching the news. She practically tempted it. The poor kettle can’t resist an easy target, and oh how enticing her skin was. Water loves to move, and fire loves to burn, and the woman loved her little things.

How long she’ll sit there, undying, not alive, with the water slowly taking more of her, one mustn’t guess. Speculation only distracts you from what’s important.


FIO CUMMINS GARBER is a teenage writer and poet in the Colorado area. Their work has previously appeared in student magazines and on Tumblr under the username honeysweetdisaster, where you can find their thoughts on love, soulmates, personal growth, and small acts of witchcraft.

The COVID-19 Series: Interview with Michele Filgate


TRANSCRIPT

Devanshi Khetarpal: Hello everyone! So I am Devanshi Khetarpal, the editor-in-chief and founder of Inklette Magazine. And this is the second blog in the COVID-19 Blog Series of Inklette Magazine. Joining me today is Michele Filgate. Michele Filgate is a contributing editor at Literary Hub and the editor of a critically-acclaimed anthology based on her Longreads essay, What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About. So let’s get right into it! Hey Michele!

Michele Filgate: Hello! How are you?

DK: Good. And so firstly, Michele, I just wanted to ask you how you are doing today and you know, how these past few months have been for you with this pandemic and how you have been holding up throughout all of this.

MF: Yeah, so, I was actually in Italy when the pandemic started. I was there from early January and I was supposed to be there until April 1st. But we left– my boyfriend was with me– and we left when the country went into complete lockdown and Trump had issued the travel ban. So I think that we flew home on Friday, March 13th. And it was really weird to come from, to go from Italy where the pandemic had been seeming to slowly unfold and then really escalate, to coming back to New York where, obviously, you know, New York city has been like an epicenter of the outbreak as well. So it’s been really weird. Time is doing something different for me now, like folding in on itself, you know? I feel like a lot of the days feel the same and then some days seem really short and some days seem really long. And I think that having the nicer weather out is helping. But the weather is getting a lot nicer. Today, particularly in New York, it’s going to be a high of eighty-four. So I went out for a run. And that definitely helps. But there are so many surreal moments where stuff almost has become normalised. It really feels normal to go out and wear a mask now where I can see other people in masks. But I still can’t get over some of the changes in the city, you know, like just the idea that now we have to keep six feet apart from people and New York is a place where, as you know from having lived here, people don’t really usually do that when they are walking down the small sidewalks. And you can’t smile at strangers, you know. Your face is hidden behind a mask which is kind of weird. Yesterday, I went for a long walk and it was really weird because I walked past the hospital on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. And I saw a refrigerated truck there which obviously is being used for a makeshift morgue. And it was…I have seen photos of those trucks in, you know, news articles. But it’s another thing seeing it in front of you. And it just really hit home like, oh god, you know, like this is real. This is not a bad movie. Like this is actually happening and it was really really hard to see.

Refrigerated trucks lined up on Randalls Island, New York.

Refrigerated trucks lined up on Randalls Island, New York. Source: The Washington Post.

So there are moments like that that are really sobering and horrifying. And then there are moments where you see people coming together and it makes me proud to be a New Yorker in those moments. Like, you know, just even the seven o’clock everyday when people are cheering for essential workers and, you know, leaning out their windows or using pots and pans and being creative to make noise. You know, some people play New York, New York in some of the neighbourhoods that I have walked around in. So that, moments like that, it feels like, okay we’re all in this together. You know? And I keep having to remind myself that this isn’t just something that we all individually are going through. It’s something we’re collectively going through. So, yeah.

DK: And, yeah, I mean I thought that it was interesting you said that “time is folding in on itself” because it definitely is. Like, I had to manage this semester in kind of two timezones, you know? And it was challenging and it kind of makes me, kind of lose all notions of time that I had but also, I think as a writer or as, you know, readers, we’re constantly seeing this in novels, like you know going back and forth in time. And you write a lot about, or at least I think, you know, there’s a lot of the past that comes in, and a lot of like, you know, loneliness, memory.

MF: Yeah.

DK: I am thinking of how that maybe has changed for you as a writer or as a reader. You know, those notions.

MF: Yeah. I have been thinking a lot about time and the body. Particularly with one of my favourite books of the year that comes out next week. It’s called Drifts by Kate Zambreno. Have you read anything by her before?

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Kate Zambreno, author of Drifts (Credit: Heather Sten). Source: Poets & Writers

DK: No, but I saw your interview with her on your website.

MF: Yeah, I interviewed her several years ago for The Paris Review Daily but her new book is a book that is about…it’s a novel, right, but it’s semi-autobiographical and it’s about a writer living in Brooklyn– Kate lives in Brooklyn– working on a book called Drifts, which is the name of this book, keeping notebooks and trying to kind of be able to…she’s attempting to replicate what it’s like to move through the world as a writer, and the way a writer thinks and the way a writer makes connections between everything that they can and so she folds in a lot of other artists and not just writers, you know. She does talk a lot about Rilke and his work habits but she also talks about, you know, a bunch of artists too and filmmakers, Agnès Varda being one of them. And so I really love the way she writes it because it is written in these fragmented bursts and it’s mimicking like writing in a notebook, which is what the narrator is doing and there are just so many incredible moments in this. I really feel like it’s a book of our moment because this narrator is feeling incredibly isolated, right? She’s in her home a lot of the time and she’s trying to work on this project. She’s walking around her neighbourhood and taking photos of the same trees everyday, noticing how one of them looks like the famous painting, The Scream. You know she’ll walk around and see her neighbours like that.

the-scream

The Scream (1895) by Edvard Munch.

At one point, when it’s during Halloween and there’s cobwebs that are up as decorations and she connects that to a famous philosopher. So she’s always jumping from one thing to another. And I just, I really really love how she does that. But she’s also…this is a novel for our moment because it’s about isolation in many ways and the ways that writers can feel that solitude a lot but there’s also a lot about being in communion with other artists, with other minds and that’s something that we can do in this moment, right? Like we’re not socially distanced from the art that we need right now. And many people, I’ve noticed, are, you know, actually like reading a lot, and watching a lot of movies and in a way that they couldn’t during the first month of this because we were all like, what is happening, you know, constantly checking the news and I feel like now that it’s been normalised a little bit, everyone I know is kind of trying to turn to something that can feed them, nourish them during this time. I actually saw, I forget who wrote it, but I just saw a few weeks ago an article  about how watching foreign films is the perfect thing to do during this moment because you can’t be looking at your phone and at social media and the news because you have to read the captions, the subtitles, and so I was like, yeah that’s actually kind of brilliant. I’ve been watching a few French films which I really love. So yeah, I think that the moment we’re in, while it’s incredibly depressing in a lot of ways, it’s also, it can be intellectually stimulating for those of us who are lucky enough to not have to be out working on the frontlines of this right now.

DK: Yeah. Yeah, and I think what you said kind of brought me back to… I was reading one of your essays, which I think, I really love, you wrote for Lit Hub, which is ‘Writers, The Loneliest Artists of All.’ And you know, you have this one line there which really kind of stuck with me: “We are ourselves before we are actually ourselves.” And I have been thinking about that a lot because it’s kind of like, like I am still able to write at home even though I was so used to going out for walks and you know, sitting in cafes and writing at public places, and listening to conversations. But I am still able to imagine people in a sense or imagine characters, imagine language or what happens. And it’s interesting, you know, like, how there’s this kind of…how I think that we kind of knew this as writers about the practice of writing but we are being reintroduced to it in a radically different way. Or we kind of knew all these things about literature. But they’re just coming to light in such drastic, dramatic ways. And there was a really interesting webinar with Olivia Laing where she kind of said the same thing. Like, you know, she’s going back to all the artists that she had been thinking of and kind of, you know, seeing like, “oh there was rage here” that she didn’t see or maybe there was… like, she said we have to use it to save ourselves from this crisis of imagination. And yeah, I mean, I was just wondering how your writing practices have changed at home. Like, do you write at a different place now or do you have a different method of writing or conceiving a writing project?

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The Lonely City by Olivia Laing (Picador, 2016)

MF: Yeah. Well, first, before I answer that, I just want to say that I am glad you brought up Olivia Laing because she’s another writer for this moment that we’re in. Her book, in particular, The Lonely City, which looks at different artists through the lens of loneliness is another great book for everyone who’s feeling isolated right now. But yeah, in terms of my writing, I am mostly writing in my journal right now. I am really trying, there’s some essays that I want to be writing and I have been taking some notes. And I’ve been really trying to kind of, when I go on walks, observe as much as I can because I feel like I am going to want to remember the moment that we’re in right now and be able to process it months from now when I can see things clearly that I couldn’t necessarily see right now. So I am really thinking a lot, trying to pay attention as I am walking, what’s around me. And I’m trying to think of what else. I mean, for the first, like, six weeks that I got back from Italy, I couldn’t write at all. It was just total mayhem and just like me in survival mode and I couldn’t even read at first which is not like me at all. Books are always things that kind of keep me grounded. Then finally what I did was I tried reading a favorite book of mine from when I was a kid because I thought, okay, what I really need right now is some kind of comfort, right? So I re-read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn which I hadn’t read since I was twelve or something, I don’t even remember. I still remembered so many of the scenes so vividly even though I hadn’t read this book in several decades. And it was so…it was like seeing an old friend again in a way that some characters just live inside of us. So that really brought me back to like reading in my normal way and thinking in my normal way.

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (Harper Perennial, 2018)

But yeah, right now, I would say the biggest thing I am doing for my practice is writing by hand in my notebook. I started doing a thing that my former professor, Hannah Tinti, taught me which has been so helpful. And it actually, it comes from Lynda Barry who is a fantastic graphic novelist, and it’s called ‘the five-minute journal.’ And what you do is you divide a page into four quadrants and in the first quadrant, you put seven things that you did that day. So it can be anything from like, eating a bagel to taking a shower to whatever, you know, very basic things. And the second quadrant and that’s…this one is the most important one to me, is seven things that you noticed so it’s really about practising the art of observation. And for me, what has really hit home for me is how when you’re in the same space everyday, day after day, especially in quarantine, when you are walking around your neighbourhood, your eyes glaze over things that you’re just used to seeing all the time. You just, like, it’s the same as if you’re reading something that you just wrote, right? Your eyes will skip over certain sentences maybe. So this is to me, the second quadrant where you write the seven things down that you noticed, is all about training yourself to really see the world through a pair of curious eyes that might be looking at things that you see all the time in a new way. And also just noticing the gradual changes of things too, you know, like trees change in our neighbourhood. You know, there might be a different piece of garbage on the sidewalk in front of somebody’s house, you know, there might be something that someone put out on their stoop. So practising that kind of, like, deep observation is key. And then, in the third quadrant– and this is easier to do when we’re not quarantined– but you can, you know, at least here in New York you can still hear people talk when you’re walking past them, but it’s to eavesdrop and write down one piece of dialogue that you overhear. I used to really love to do that on the subway, in particular, because… and in cafes because you just are always surprised at what people might say and they don’t realize people are listening. And in the fourth quadrant, you doodle something and I suck at drawing but the whole idea of that is just that doodling is all creativity. And so you can really have fun with it and, you know, I bought, like, glitter crayons, like, you know, and coloured pencils and stickers and stuff. So you can really just make this journal your own and the thing that Hannah Tinti said about it when she taught this to my class is that it serves as a memory palace for you so that when you’re stuck with your writing, you can go back and flip it open to any day. And these things that you wrote down that didn’t take a long time to do can open up all kinds of associations and memories for you for things to write about. So, I love that.

What My Mother And I Don't Talk About

What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence, edited by Michele Filgate (Simon & Schuster, 2019). Source: NPR

DK: And kind of speaking on that note I think that, you know, your essay What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About, was kind of a generative project and a writing prompt for so many other writers that, you know, initially made that anthology. And it’s kind of interesting and fascinating to me not just because it was, you know, just one of those things that I, you know, you never think about writing or telling anyone, but it was also interesting because I think we’re living in a culture where we’re so…we’re so used to like taking ownership of our ideas and kind of not having them open to others for adaptation, for experimentation. So I think that it was really interesting that there was an entire anthology that was shaped around this one, you know, idea, this essay, this one piece of writing. But at the same time, it was so different for every writer. And I think that, I kind of must have briefly said it, but it was, you know, it was just so…it was so fascinating to see that everyone had a different story to tell. Like,I remember being at the event at McNally Jackson and it was like, you know, the whole panel just had…you know, some had this perfect relationship and some had…which is you know, again, very hard to write about but it was interesting. And so did you ever feel, um, did you ever think or reflect on this culture that asks you to take ownership of your ideas or were you… I mean, obviously you must’ve been very happy with everyone taking to it in different ways but yeah, what do you think about this, in general?

MF: Well, I think it’s just really interesting that everyone did have a really different story in that anthology but yet they’re people with completely different backgrounds and relationships with their moms. There were also some common threads that could be found throughout some of these pieces as well so I found that fascinating too. But I think it’s a universal thing that our relationship to our mother, even if we never knew her or if she’s no longer here, especially like from people who I’ve talked to who’ve lost their mothers, you know, whose mothers passed away, they’re still in an involving relationship even though the person is no longer here. There’s still that relationship there, right? And our relationships change over time and the stories that we tell change, they might change over time depending on where we are in our life. Something we focus on now might be different ten years from now, so if I went and asked all those writers a decade from now to write about what they don’t talk about with their moms, again, it could be a very, very different thing and that’s fascinating to me. So I am really glad about all the differences that emerged in that book too though, I think that it’s, it’s a testament to all the different kinds of stories that can be told about one of the most significant relationships in a lot of people’s lives. And so, yeah, I was really, really pleased with all the different stories that came in for that book and to me, it was very important from the get-go to have them be, you know, a variety, to have a wide spectrum because… especially my editor felt this way too. We didn’t want it to be just like, “here are a bunch of abuse essays,” or, you know, depressing pieces. We wanted to have different emotions that came up while people read and we wanted different experiences so that’s why in that book there were some people who are extremely close to their mom and some people who are, you know, not so close. And so, I, I…yeah.

DK: Yeah, and I mean it’s interesting because…I was just thinking like how I am back at home with my mother and you know, some people are away from their mothers and some aren’t close to them. And that’s such a…that’s a different and difficult thing for everyone because, you know, your relationships are tinged by loss in a very different way now. You know, with this pandemic where everyone is vulnerable and everyone can make everyone vulnerable in a different way and at the same time, it’s interesting being unexpectedly in these closed spaces with, you know, your parents or anyone really, or even no one. And so I wondered if, you know, this is just out of curiosity, if you’ve been in touch with the writers or the writers’ whose relationships to their mothers have changed, or relationships with others has changed in this time or what my mother and I don’t talk about has changed for any of them.

MF: I don’t know actually about the writers who are in the book right now who…I think a lot of them are probably not with their moms but yeah, I’ve heard more from friends who are, you know, quarantined with their significant others and the challenges with that. I think that no matter who you are quarantined with, the fact is that it’s hard to spend a long amount of time with anyone no matter how much you love them, so. But I am sure that people who are staying with their family right now, that brings up its own challenges. Yeah, I’d be curious how is it for you being back with your mom right now. I mean, is it good?

DK: I mean, I think that… I’m living with my parents and my grandparents, so it’s kind of…it’s difficult because, it’s kind of, I have to keep them patient and not have them be agitated. Like ,my grandparents really want to go out, they really want to meet their friends and…

MF: Yeah.

DK: …they lead lonely lives and they don’t have work. But I think that, I think everything’s fine with my parents so far, so right now I’ve just kind of been in my own space being like, ‘I have to write this essay or get this thing out, or I have to read.’ So I think it’s kind of, I have enough to occupy me at the moment but I don’t know how it’s going to be when, you know, things ease and I just have more time and, but…

MF: Right. It is interesting because you can kind of, you know, lose yourself in your work it sounds like. Which is great that you can carve out the space for that.

DK: Yeah, and it’s definitely a privilege. But I think it’s also changed like a lot of things that… I do notice my mom and I are not talking about this breakup I had which I am over with but I know she wants to talk about it or something, you know, so it’s interesting and I was thinking about that. Like there…and I can only think of all these funny things that we don’t talk about at the moment, you know. Like, who made better banana bread or something. But it’s definitely been interesting to think about how, I mean, even just being with our bodies in different ways is so…I mean I think that I was, I mean, speaking of New York, it’s kind of this place where you interact with so many bodies or your body becomes so porous in a certain sense like, I was thinking of the feeling of being on the subway and you don’t really have a choice and you need a certain abandon moving in New York. And it’s difficult now to be in a space where I think that a lot of my, in my writing too, it’s like the sensory part that has been limited to a certain extent where, you know, there is not enough touch or not the full spectrum of it, or there’s not enough sight and sound or the full spectrum of it. So I have to rely on my memory of my senses and I wondered how you are dealing with this sensory limitation.

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An empty subway train in New York City, March 17, 2020. Source: Reuters

MF: That’s a great question, yeah. Um, well part of the journalling that I talked about really relies on focusing on sensory details so that helps a lot. But I think by going outside for walks, I still feel like, yes, the world has changed, but I still see it around me. It’s still the world. It’s a different world but it’s still the world. So there are still so many things happening around you, unfolding around you. But I often, when I am writing, I am writing about past experiences anyway typically. So I usually have to rely on the memories of those senses. And sometimes something like a smell can bring that back or listening to a song from that time can bring it back, or looking at a photo or reading emails from…you know. There are certain things that can jolt a memory but yeah, I think right now people do feel kind of confined and trapped and you’re experiencing kind of the same sensory things over and over if you are stuck in a house or apartment, in my case, a tiny one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, you know. I think, yeah, I just think that like the world is still going and we have to remind ourselves of the importance of writing too. I think that I heard a lot of writers saying in the beginning, and I kind of felt this way too, when we were kind of hitting the peak, people, a lot of writers were kind of like, what…why? What does it matter what we do compared to someone who can save someone’s life, you know. A medical professional or somebody who working in a grocery store and letting people, enabling people to still eat right now. It was kind of hard to grapple with the role of the writer in what all of this means. But for me, it’s become abundantly clear what matters over even the past several weeks, which is that stories have always been what have saved me and how I have made sense of the world. And people are turning to stories and art right now to understand what’s happening and they will really need to keep doing that in the years to come after this, trying to understand this moment. So another thing I have been doing to help my writing is listening to a lot of like, creative, ‘self-helpy’ podcasts while I am on these walks. So Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Sugar Calling,’ which is a new podcast where she calls writers who are over sixty and talks to them about the moment we’re in and their creative process. I absolutely love that podcast. She just interviewed Billy Collins, the poet, recently. And she had a great one with Amy Tan. So, and then another favorite podcast of mine is Krista Tippett’s ‘On Being.’ Do you listen to that podcast at all? Have you ever listened to that?

 

DK: No, I haven’t but I’ve listened to Cheryl Strayed’s.

MF: I love Cheryl. Well, Krista Tippett does, so it’s a spirituality podcast but I don’t consider myself a religious person at all and she, I’m just more interested in, like, the fact that she interviews a bunch of poets and writers on this show as well. And recently they had a book club about Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart, because I think that some Buddhist principles are really going to help me through this moment right now. So that’s, yeah, so those podcasts. Dani Shapiro also has a podcast called, I think it’s called ‘The Way We Live Now,’ that she just started where she’s interviewing different people about how their lives have changed since the pandemic began and there’s a great one with the writer Esmé Weijun Wang on mental health and writing through this time period. Yeah, so all of those things have kind of helped me stay grounded and stay inspired and are good reminders of what matters the most.

DK: Yeah, and I think that’s really helpful. And thank you for those podcast recommendations. I have been, like, looking forward to listening to more, especially now that I am not. I think all the places where I listened to music or podcasts are also just like boiled down, like it was the subway or it was at other public places or just walking around and now at least in India, our, like, walking or running is still restricted at this point so it’s kind of, like, you know, it’s like, okay, I have to do this while I am cleaning, I guess, or sorting something. But I think just to end, I was wondering if you would have any book or film or, I mean, you gave us many podcast recommendations so that’s nice, but do you have any music recommendations?

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When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams (Picador, 2013)

MF: Yeah. I just read When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams, which is a fascinating book about…Terry’s mother leaves her journals to her and tells her not to look at them until after she’s gone and so after her mother dies, she looks at all of these journals and every single journal is blank. And so this book is really a meditation on why did my mother leave me all of her blank journals? And what does that mean? And what does a woman’s voice mean? And what does silence mean? And so, it’s this beautiful meditation on her relationship with her mom but also on trying to give her mother a story and to understand why her mother made the choice she did. So I loved it and it’s written in very short chapters so it’s kind of a good book for our moment. Like, it’s easy to read a couple at a time and then put it down if you need to, if you feel distracted. For movies, I just want to make sure I get the name right. Hold on. I think it’s called ‘Cleo from 5 to 7.’ Have you seen this before?

DK: I haven’t, no.

MF: I’m just googling. I just want to make sure I have the name right.

DK: The 1962 film?

MF: Yeah, so ‘Cleo from 5 to 7′ is an Agnès Varda film and it’s a woman who is walking around Paris while she’s waiting to get the results of a biopsy back. And so there are, first of all, I love it ’cause it’s a female director and Paris and it’s 1960s and it really has this sort of sense of being a flaneur walking, you know, going around the city and seeing so much of a city from that era. And for…it’s kind of a good thing to watch in isolation because if you’re really confined, it’ll make you feel like you’re walking around Paris with her. So I’d recommend that, haha. I also watched ‘Rear Window’ for the first time which I had never seen– the Alfred Hitchcock movie. And with James Stewart being stuck in an apartment in New York and witnessing a potential murder and so that was really a great movie to watch. And then I watched ‘Outbreak’ which probably wasn’t a smart thing to do because watching a pandemic movie maybe during a pandemic is probably not the best choice. But I am the kind of person who likes watching stuff about what I am going through so that movie was just entertaining in a cheesy 90s way. Those are some…

DK: These are some good recommendations. I was actually reading, or revisiting too, like, [Elena] Ferrante and started this book club. And it’s interesting because I am writing my entire thesis on cities and how women dissolve into cities and everything, so I think that it’s certainly interesting to imagine and watch it even in films and the TV series that are based on her works. Because it’s just such– and it’s Italy and it’s the south of Italy, it’s places I love and it’s interesting to feel…it’s interesting to feel both close and distant to those cities and to that language.

MF: Absolutely.

DK: Because I just don’t hear Italian now which is strange because I am used to hearing it sometimes or going to places where I can hear it. So yeah it’s been interesting. I can totally see…I am really interested in ‘Cleo from 5 to 7’ for that reason.

MF: Yeah, I think you’d like it. And have you read the Ferrante…I mean, have you watched those TV series based on the Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet?

DK: Yeah, I watched Season 1 and Season 2, I watched a couple of episodes. And so, like, I am gonna go back to it once I get to.

MF: It’s really good. So that was something that I have been watching in quarantine. And so that’s been making me incredibly nostalgic for Italy and it was so hard to leave Italy and not be able to, like it felt, I mean we really did leave at, like, four in the morning without saying goodbye to any of our friends that we had made there and just kind of fleeing the country to get home. And it was just this chaotic, crazy, long trip back where it was very disconcerting because, you know, wearing masks on the plane and kind of travelling at the peak worrying about catching the virus but yeah, so…so I have been watching that show a lot because I am obsessed with Ferrante and with all of Ferrante’s books but especially with the Neapolitan books and I think that the people who have directed the…I am not sure who the director is of the TV show, but whoever did it has really nailed the feelings of those books in so many ways. And he’s really captured– is it a man or a woman who is the director?

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L’Amica Geniale (My Brilliant Friend) dir. Saverio Costanzo. Source: IMDb

DK: It’s a man. And it’s interesting because it’s all in dialect. And yeah, I think, I was actually– I think that only men have so far adapted all of her works for film and TV, and Maggie Gyllenhaal will be the first woman to direct.

MF: Oh! Is she doing something?

DK: She is doing something on The Lost Daughter. And Olivia Colman’s going to be in it. So I am so excited. I…

MF: Oh my gosh!

DK: Yeah, and I, yeah. I think that’s one thing to look forward to.

MF: Oh, you’ve made my day! I had no idea, and I love Maggie Gyllenhaal and I had no idea she was doing this stuff. Wow! That’s very exciting.

DK: Yeah, I hope your day goes well and thank you for this interview.

MF: Of course! And good luck with everything. I hope you are able to get out of your house sometime soon to go for a walk. Is there any end in sight with that? Did they say that you guys will be able to leave anytime soon?

DK: I think they should be lifting restrictions soon and I think there are areas where, you know, one can certainly do that but at limited times obviously. So yeah I think that there is some end in sight to all of this.

MF: Thank goodness.

DK: And yeah, I am just glad that, you know, writers are writing.

MF: Me too.

DK: And they are not this existential crisis , thinking of ‘what are we here to do?’

MF: Right.

DK: Because writing is keeping us all afloat at this point.

MF: Exactly. Absolutely. Well, good luck with your writing.

DK: Thank you.

MF: Thanks.


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Photo Credit: Sylvie Rosokoff

Michele Filgate is a contributing editor at Literary Hub and the editor of a critically acclaimed anthology based on her Longreads essayWhat My Mother and I Don’t Talk Aboutpublished by Simon & Schuster. Currently, she is an M.F.A. student at NYU, where she is the recipient of the Stein Fellowship. Her work has appeared in LongreadsThe Washington PostThe Los Angeles TimesThe Boston GlobeRefinery29SliceThe Paris Review DailyTin HouseGulf CoastThe RumpusSalonInterview MagazineBuzzfeedThe Barnes & Noble ReviewPoets & WritersCNN.comTime Out New YorkPeopleThe Daily BeastO, The Oprah MagazineMen’s JournalVultureVol. 1 Brooklyn, The Star TribuneThe Quarterly ConversationThe Brooklyn Rail, and other publications. She teaches creative writing at NYU, The Sackett Street Writers’ WorkshopCatapult, and Stanford Continuing Studies and is the founder of the Red Ink series. In 2016, Brooklyn Magazine named her one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture.” She’s a former board member of the National Book Critics Circle

Our Favorite Writing Prompts

It’s that time of year when the weather is changing, the world is being quarantined and folks are looking for new sources of inspiration and solace. Check out some of Inklette’s favorite writing prompts below to spark your creativity!



PROMPT 1

You’re sitting across the table from a character from your current work in progress. How do you start the conversation? What do you talk about? Are they talkative or reticent, joyous or subdued? Do they answer questions freely? What do they ask you? What do they notice about the world?


PROMPT 2
(Best done in a walkable place)

Pick a number between 1 and 10. Start walking, and when you reach an intersection, flip a coin. Heads, you go right; tails, you go left. Do this for as many times as the number you picked in the beginning. Write a short story set in the location that you end up in.


PROMPT 3

Choose an object near you or in front of you. Do each of these for five minutes: Ask questions to the object. Describe the object in as much detail as possible. Write the origin story of the object. Write a first-person narrative from the point of view of the object. Draw associations with the object– what else does it look like, what does it remind you of, what does it make you think– and talk about it without naming the object, using metaphors or similes. 


PROMPT 4 

Make a list of topics you would never write about, followed by a list of words you would never use. Then, write a poem on one of those topics and use as many of those words as you can.


PROMPT 5

Choose any letter from A-Z. Write the first stanza without using the letter you chose. Now choose a second letter. Write the second stanza without using the second letter as well as the first letter you chose. Keep going for 5-6 stanzas in the same way.