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The Question

by Matthew Vitalich

What if Sasquatch isn’t running around in the woods, hiding,
Preserving himself, but instead he bought into the material world,
Got a haircut, a mortgage, and a sedan with as many doors as cylinders
Which despite its evocatively powerful name was as gutless
As the freshly filleted salmon on ice in the supermarket, and he worked
Middle management at Prudential Insurance selling security to the insecure
And peace of mind to the mindless, who believed in the purchasing power
Of paper which crinkles all the same as leaves underfoot, paper
Seized in a mad grab and raised victoriously in a skyward scrunched fist
And he went on living in a society where his mountain rivers were bottled and sold
in plastic-wrapped 24 packs to those striving to consume the Natural,
quench the insatiable primal thirst within them, and in the end he went extinct in suburbia, his big feet out the window and his head on the ground?

Being the son of an oil refinery worker and a physical therapist made for an interesting upbringing for Matthew Vitalich, including being able to name all the bones in the human body and having a need for speed at age 5. This upbringing is often on display in his semi-autobiographical poems featuring American car culture, myth, nostalgia and the musings of a twenty-something Millennial. He believes that literature offers a gateway to share one another’s experiences and learn about the human experience in the hopes of greater understanding. Matthew Vitalich recently graduated California State University Long Beach with a degree in English with an emphasis in Literature and Creative Writing. 

Book Review: Frances and Bernard

by Janea Wilson

francesandbernardI have a Google Alert set for all things Flannery O’Connor, and the moment I read there was a novel based on the friendship/relationship between my spirit animal O’Connor and poet Robert Lowell I knew I had to get my hands on it. Little did I know that Carlene Bauer’s Frances and Bernard had already been released for over a year and tons of critics & amateur reviewers were praising it. No matter, there is always room for one more positive review.  I’m not sure how my Google Alert failed to notify me earlier, but either way I’m glad I found it.

I’m copying and pasting my line from my brief review of the novel on Good Reads: this book destroyed me emotionally and I loved every moment of it.

The novel is written in epistolary form, and the letters are mostly between Frances and Bernard. We also read letters to Frances’s best friend Claire, to Bernard’s best friend Ted, and to an editor or two. These letters shape the character development of both protagonists as there is no other way really to get to know our lovers or to move the plot forward. Frances and Bernard does not make you suffer through long, drawn out passages. In fact, I finished it in one sitting with several dozen Kleenex.

Bauer writes the most heartbreaking love/friendship story I have ever read. But it was so beautiful to read:

“Your face says so much in so little time, you let everything you’re thinking bloom upon your face, and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather watch than you pass through five moods in five minutes. What glorious weather.” (a letter from Bernard to Frances)

The first letter is written in the late summer of 1957 from Frances to Claire. Frances writes about her time at the writers’ colony which is where she meets Bernard. I could not stop laughing at how sardonic Frances came across in her letters. Her personality made me love her right away. Bauer’s impressive writing enables her to take on both the voice of a fiction writer and that of a poet. Some writers are both, and I suspect Bauer at one point either was a poet herself or perhaps was in love with one at one point in her life. But that is either inaccurate or irrelevant or both. Bauer imbues Frances with O’Connor’s Catholicism and wit, and the design is not overwrought. Bernard’s poetic leanings are so masterful. I just kept wanting more.

To say that the book took me on an emotional roller coaster ride is a cliché that makes me want to throw up, but it is true. I started reading this novel in a coffee shop and I started to well up in big ugly-cry tears. I knew the guttural sobs were soon to follow so I took a break to ride my scooter home. Once I resumed, they did, and they did not stop.

Exhibit 2:

Having spent hours looking at you, hours touching you, I know the many ways in which you are beautiful. But you were my friend first—not an idea about art or Tolstoy or purity or blond hair—and I think you are my friend still. I may not believe in God but I do believe that Simone Weil is right when she commands us to see people as they are and not turn them into creatures of our imagination. I am trying to look at you with love but without illusions. (a letter from Bernard to Frances)

I read the letters in “the voice of the generation” –or the tone rather– with a Mid-Atlantic affectation, of course. The story is set in the late 50s to early 60s, so there was no email, no text messaging. The agony of waiting for a response must have been nearly insufferable for long-distance lovers. The conflict and tension pulls you through the narrative–does she or doesn’t she love him?

And I do not mean to reduce this to merely a sentimental, sappy love story. Frances also writes in her letters about her writing, her impending book deal, her editors. Bernard writes about his own writing career, his best friend Ted’s writing (who I sort of conflate with Ted Hughes although there is no evidence to support this. I’m just projecting!), his mental illness, among other topics. If I could choose one quote that adequately describes the relationship between Frances and Bernard it would be this:

If we say we love each other, what does it matter? It does not mean that we have to marry each other. It means only that we need each other, that we look out for each other. That our lives without each other would be less.

I read the book twice, and it’s due back at the library soon. After I extend my checkout and read it a third time and doubtless I’ll be over it (but probably not!). Keep in mind that this is not a historical fiction; this is loosely based on O’Connor and Lowell. If you know nothing about the pair of writers, you have nothing to lose by reading this book anyway.

If you’ve ever been in a mood to watch sad movies and listen to sad songs and read books that turn you into a useless pile of gunk, then you should definitely check it out. If you love beautiful writing, you should check it out. If you are interested in the love lives of real/fictional writers, you should check it out. I feel like I could be describing Netflix’s taste preferences at this point, but you get the idea. Get thee to the library!

I Work in Beauty: True Tales from Behind Big Beauty’s Pink Walls – The Food Police

by Jourdan Katz

food policeMy passion for cosmetics began early. I was a baby theatre nerd who fed on audience laughter as if it were my own parents’ approval. I loved dressing up in costumes, I loved delivering my lines, and unlike many of my young stage peers, I LOVED MAKEUP. In another life I would have been the most fabulous, glam, blinged-out toddler in a tiara. I wore a full face of makeup to school every day starting in sixth grade, complete with a signature glossy red lip.

In my conservative small town my “look” got a lot of negative attention from classmates, and sometimes even from my teachers. I was called pale by other kids, as if that was something I shouldn’t be, and goth even though my clothing choices were bright and colorful, right out of Delia’s. My sixth grade science teacher even tried to publicly humiliate me once by telling me in front of the whole class that I was too young for makeup and confiscated my lipstick. I didn’t care. Makeup was never about trying to meet anyone else’s expectations. I wasn’t totally above the pressure to conform that all adolescents deal with. I cared about fitting in, just not when it came to my makeup.

If I had known as a child that my job (product development at a global cosmetics company) existed, I never would have aspired to anything else. As it was, I pursued theatre into college, but eventually changed majors. To keep myself in Betsy Johnson dresses and Marc Jacobs flats, I worked at cosmetics counters through my SIX years of college (I know, I know, I changed majors!).  This gave me invaluable product and industry knowledge and consumer insights that I put to use in my current position. After graduation I applied for a position at the corporate office of the company I had been working for behind their retail counter. The rest is a dream come true.

The two questions people always ask me when I tell them I work in beauty is if it’s anything like fashion/The Devil Wears Prada, and if I’ve made anything they’ve heard of.

Yes and Yes.

I love my job and the company I work for. I love that we don’t believe in selling things to consumers by making them feel bad about themselves. As a policy, we don’t even use the word “anti-aging.” However, the stereotypical industry expectations do exist for employees. One of the hardest pills to swallow has been the constant and aggressive food and body policing.

stomach flu

Like Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, I am a size 4-6, and one of the larger women in the building. I love my body, but it is a bit more difficult to love 9-5 Monday through Friday. The daily body shaming women endure here ranges from micro-aggression (being asking which  diet you’re on, as if you should be dieting) to full on control (being told you need to stop eating the free unlimited snacks from the kitchen as you return to your desk with a cookie). The obsessive food and body talk is constant.

giphyOn my first day, I was given a “pep talk” by my superior on how to avoid gaining weight while working here. My department even had a contest to see who could lose the most amount of weight in six weeks. We all paid $50 during week one, weighed in, and were weighed again six weeks later. The winner got to keep all the money.

Yes, I participated.

You don’t HAVE to take part in the weight obsession, but do not dare try to inject some body positivity, or you WILL be treated like Cady Herron standing in front of a full length mirror confessing that your breath smells really bad in the morning.

The problem only gets worse as you go up the chain. Those in the top positions are the most affected. I’ve seen diets from the top consisting of all bacon, or just Diet Coke and cigarettes. It’s a trickle-down issue that has affected even the most confident of the employees here, and I’ve definitely fallen victim to the pressure.

For the past three months, I have been pretending to be on the very restrictive diet that my superior follows. It started innocently. One day she mentioned her fitness & diet goals, and when I expressed interest, I realized we were FINALLY having an actual conversation. Our previous interactions were short & always about work. It had been obvious I wasn’t among her most favorite people on our team, and I finally saw a chance to sneak into her good graces.

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My fake diet is fairly far off my real one. I’ve been a vegetarian since childhood, and prefer to eat foods that are higher in fats & lower in carbs like olive oil and cheese. However, I’ve never restricted carbs from vegetables, and I won’t turn down a burrito – ever. My superior eats mostly meats and those awful smelling “miracle” noodles that I recently discovered have no carbs, fat, or calories because they are indigestable and immediately “expelled” by your body (delicious!). They smell the same before & after you eat them, really. I usually leave the office for lunch which makes it easier to keep the lie alive.

When I get back in, my superior will ask what I had & I’ll say “Oh, I had a salad. You?” and we’ll chat about miracle noodles for awhile. I know I am a sell-out. I know I should be brave & be my curly-fry-loving self. I dream about telling everyone around me to stop policing my body & my food, and I think I will eventually. Like, at 5pm on my last day as I’m walking out double-fisting gelato milkshakes.

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Chicken Baby

by Nichole

Today we went to Mom’s Aunt’s house and now we’re in the car on the ride home. I shouldn’t be writing right now because I get sick in the car when I write or color or read, but every time I look at Tony he tells Mom “She’s looking at me!” So, I won’t look at him anymore.

Mark’s asleep in my lap, making me put the paper against the window to write. But that doesn’t work for Dad. “Get that notebook out of the window!” he yells. So I put it on Mark’s head. And that wakes him up. He starts to cry, so I move his head to just one leg and put my notebook on the other. This works for everyone.

At Mom’s Aunt’s house, the kids had to stay outside. The grown-ups only came outside when I got stuck in Madeline’s tree house. Madeline didn’t want to play. She was sad about something. She just sat on the front porch with her head down. I asked her to come play and she didn’t answer. She just looked at me and then back at her shoes. Mom told me to leave her alone, but she didn’t tell me why.

I decided to pretend that Madeline was my princess friend and I was a pirate who used to be a princess and then the pirates kidnapped me and I became a pirate too and I was in the sea on a ship and she’s sad because she misses me. I tried to tell her that. She just pushed me away with the hand that wasn’t holding her head up. I almost said I was going to go tell her parents she was being mean but then I noticed that her parents weren’t around. So, I pretended without her.

Mark and Tony wanted to play. But Mark was too small to get in the tree. Tony wasn’t. He’s only 5, but he’s almost as big as I am. I told Mark he could be a shark. “Marky Sharky! And Tony is my first mate.” We play this game at home in our tree, except Mark can climb into our tree because it’s got a lower step. Mom’s Aunt’s tree is just like ours, but bigger. And the tree house is better. It has two levels and walls. Ours only has one level and no walls and a hole on the side that Tony and Mark jump out of. I’m too scared to jump out of that hole. Tony and Mark also climb higher than I do. It makes me feel like a scaredy-cat because they are younger than me but they aren’t scared that they will fall if they climb to the top of the tree. They also jump off of their bunk bed. I won’t do that either.

Tony called me a chicken and flapped his arms like one and clucked at me. Dad and his friends said they would finish our tree house but they got busy drinking beer and telling stories and making hotdogs.

Mom and Dad are talking about Madeline now. “Mom, why is Madeline sad?” I ask. But Mom just tells me “She just is, honey.” Mom never calls me honey. I make a gross face at her. She doesn’t see me because she’s looking at the road and telling dad to slow down because there’s a cop coming.

I got stuck in that tree today. Our other cousins came over and Zeth told me that I was a chicken for not climbing higher in the tree. I didn’t like that. It was hard enough for me to even get in the tree. Dad had to help me. Tony was able to get in without any problem. Zeth is older than me, and very big. I hate Zeth.

He’s a jerk. I climbed into the tree and he kept saying “Climb higher, chicken baby, climb higher.” So I climbed higher. And when I couldn’t climb higher any more, I looked down and realized I was feeling dizzy, like when you spin around too much, or the way I feel when I sit on the swings too long. I started to cry and Zeth just laughed at me. “Cry baby! Crying chicken baby!” He said.

I yelled for Dad to come out. I yelled and yelled. Then this guy with a hat on, I think he’s Mom’s cousin, came out and told me to come down. I told him I couldn’t come down, because I was frozen like a popsicle because I was scared. Except I wasn’t really frozen, because I was shaking like when that earthquake hit.

He left. I started crying more. I yelled again for Dad to come, and told Tony to go get him. So Marky Sharky and Tony went and got dad. Dad was mad. He said that if I was going to get down, I’d have to come down far enough for him to get me because he wasn’t climbing that tree. So I scooted on my butt to the lowest part of the branch I was on, and then I lowered my leg down and started climbing back down all slow. When Dad could finally reach me, he told me to jump from the branch and that he would catch me.

I was still crying and I said, “I can’t jump!” And he told me I could jump and that I had to stop being a baby and do it. If Tony could jump, I could jump. Dad doesn’t understand that Tony is brave and I’m a chicken baby. I think I told him that, but he just got mad and said that if I wasn’t going to jump he’d leave me there until Mom and him wanted to go home. I said “No! Don’t!” And he stood there with his arms folded. And then I said I would jump and he opened his arms up. I jumped, and he caught me.

He smelled like beer. He put me down and went back inside to pee and tell stories with the grown ups.

I’ll never climb a tree again.

Portrait of a Lady

submitted by Pallavi Banerjee

 

portrait of a lady

 

From the artist:

There is a story behind every art work. The medium of this art work is acrylic paint. In the painting “Portrait of a Lady,” the “Lady” is representative of all the women around us. The various colors being used in the art work symbolizes the multiple facets of a woman. A woman can juggle about a million roles with panache. I would like to dedicate this painting to all the women who have made a difference in our lives as a mother, sister, teacher, friend or colleague.

Pallavi Banerjee is from Kolkata, India. She is a self-taught artist who experiments with paints of all kinds. At present, she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. Her art works have been earlier published on few online exhibitions and have been broadcast on social media.


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I Work in Beauty: True Tales from Behind Big Beauty’s Pink Walls – The Food Police
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Book Review: Frances and Bernard
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by Janea Wilson I have a Google Alert set for all things Flannery O’Connor, and the moment I r

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The Question

by Matthew Vitalich What if Sasquatch isn’t running around in the woods, hiding, Preserving hi

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