Sunday, August 10, 2014

One Year: A Letter

Jackson,

Over the coming years you will come to know something about your Mama. I am not crafty. I am not the chronicler of firsts that many mothers are. I am not the kind of mother who creates beautifully themed birthdays. I am not the mother who cut a lock of your baby hair to place carefully into a powder blue book that one day I'll show your wife as she carries my grandchild. As I think of all of the things that I am not, there is an anxiety that creeps upon me, slow and steady, and a tightness that spreads through my chest. I can't help but question, "Am I doing enough? Am I giving enough? Am I enough?"

One year ago, I had the same questions. Even now, after the passing of 365 days, those questions still linger. But when you reach for me in the night, calling "mamamamamamamama," the syllables tumbling one after the next, an unending stream of need, or when you break into a smile that is so full of joy that it makes my heart hurt, or when you call "YEE" when you are excited, or when you yell at the top of your lungs as you play with your trucks because you think this is the sound they make...all of these things, all of these small moments that make up a life, tell me that despite my numerous shortcomings that you are well, that this little thing we call a family is so full of love and happiness that it can't be anything but right.



In April, I started a list in my phone of the things I hoped for you. One day I'll tell you about what prompted that list, but I'll put them here now.
  • To see the best in people. 
  • Optimism
  • Laughter
  • A sense of justice that doesn't bend 
  • Honesty
  • Compassion when it's warranted
  • Tough love when it's needed and the courage to give it
  • Knowing you are good enough
  • Knowing we'll do everything in our power to not let you down
  • But if we do, it's because we are human and flawed. We hope you'll see this and be forgiving of us and yourself.
  • Saying the hard words and meaning them. 
  • Integrity
  • Not being afraid or ashamed of your imagination
  • Approaching dogs cautiously
  • Cats too
  • Recognizing inner beauty
  • A sense of adventure with a healthy amount of fear and respect 
Time, as it does, has a way of moving too quickly, and every day I'm amazed as I watch my baby morph into a sturdy, rough and tumble boy. Everything is a marvel, and I love to watch you take in the world around you. The intensity with which you examine everything, no corner goes undiscovered. Your favorite trick is seeing how fast Mama can fish that thing you shouldn't have in your mouth out of your mouth. And even though I'm sure it will drive me crazy, I hope you never lose that gleam of mischievousness. Your words are  coming fast and furious now, and you've learned (although not quite mastered) "ma," "da," "doggy," "ball," "no," "uh-oh," and "whoa." 



There is so much of this year that has been hard. So, so hard. Sobbing hysterically when you wouldn't latch. Sobbing hysterically because you cried for thirty-seven days straight (or so it seemed). Sobbing hysterically because you woke every thirty minutes for a month solid when you were four months old. Sobbing hysterically when I returned to work and left you with your wonderful, loving Grandma who spoils you far more than she should. Sobbing hysterically the first time I cut your nails and nicked your tiny finger. But there has been laughter, too. That time we were changing your diaper, and you pooped with so much force that it shot all over me, your father, the wall, and the carpet. The first time you smiled. The first time you laughed. The first time you crawled. The best part of my day is watching you and laughing. 



And the best part? There is so much more to come. I'll be right here to watch and hold your hand until you decide to let go. 

I love you forever, 

Mama




Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Review of James Newman's Ugly as Sin

With a tale and voice that hearkens back to the glory days of the WWF and The Undertaker, James Newman’s Ugly As Sin is a gritty page turner that crawls under the skin and becomes that itch you scratch till it bleeds.

Nick Bullman has spent his youth cultivating celebrity. As a wrestling star known as “Widowmaker,” Nick has his share of wealth, fame, and plenty of breasts pumped full of plastic. But it’s a fateful meeting with two delusional, knife-wielding fans that alter the course of Nick’s life. Newman digs deep, finds the words and imagery that make the story burn, and the result is nothing less than pure nightmare fuel. The horror here lies in the very real possibilities of an event like this, and the curtain is never dropped. The reader is up front and center as witness while the men carve their madness into Nick’s face, leaving him a horribly disfigured monstrosity.

After the incident, Nick finds himself back in his hometown, Midnight, North Carolina, at the request of his estranged daughter, Melissa. While Nick was no doubt a terrible father in the past, he hopes that he can make steps toward something better, something good. In doing so, he agrees to help Melissa find Sophie, her daughter and Nick’s granddaughter that he has never met.

What follows is a galloping, blood-smeared good time. Newman has a unique talent for setting. Time and time again I felt as if I had stumbled into my own childhood in a small, white trash town. If Newman himself didn’t grow up in such a town, I’d be mightily surprised. If you’re like me, you’ll lose yourself so completely that you’ll inevitably feel as if you’ve stumbled down a rabbit hole somewhere and woken up right back where you were born.

Newman takes characters that are typically marginalized and lets us root for them. Leon, a tweaker and Widowmaker’s biggest fan, becomes a character that both surprises and breaks your heart. I admire a writer who is able to see the nuances of both good and evil in every character. Even Koko Puff, who is meant to be despicable, has clear motivations, and I appreciate that Newman doesn’t rely on used up tropes and stereotypes. But there is the despicable here, too, and in “Daddy,” Newman has crafted a character that genuinely sets the skin to crawling.

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book. I’ve never been a fan of wrestling, but it only took two pages to hook me. I’ve seen others call this book “white trash noir.” I’d have to wholeheartedly concur. But for Newman, “white trash” is anything but an insult. In fact, I’d call it high praise. I sincerely loved this book, and look forward to reading more from this highly talented author.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dark Oddities: A Review of Shock Totem 8

Eight issues in and Shock Totem proves once again, that when it comes to unnerving the ever-loving piss out of its readers, they definitely have the stuff. I admit that I have a slightly biased love for this particular publication given that my own work has appeared there, but in every issue the quality gets better and better. At the end of this reading, I sat back and whispered, “Goddamn.” Because I was jealous.

I’ve read quite a bit about—not to mention seen more times than I can count—Marnau’s Nosferatu. Modzelewski’s article taps the vein of the well-known vampire tale and examines this particular film’s influence on modern vampire culture.

John C. Foster’s “Highballing Through Gehenna” is Old West meets nuances of a pre-apocalyptic world where terrifying creatures roam uninhabited plains. An unassuming family man takes center stage as a train barrels toward uninsured safety.    I’m glad I stuck this one out. Much like the steam engine at the heart of the story, it took a while to really get rolling, but once it did…

“We Share the Dark” by Carlie St. George blew me away. There are subtle emotions at play here, and the author uses a tightly controlled hand. What could have been just another ghost story becomes much, much more. The impact and resonance of loneliness and need for intimate connections hit hard. This may have been my favorite of the bunch.

Catherine Grant’s true horror tale “The Highland Lord Brought Low” is both terrifying and heart wrenching. Grant delivers the small moments that make you hold your breath, waiting for the big, crushing moment that doesn’t always come. It’s only when you reach the end of her tale that you realize those small moments are the ones that crush.

“The Barham Offramp Playhouse” by Cody Goodfellow reads like a fever dream. All too bright colors, too loud sounds, strange moments that hover on the precipice of reality and hallucination. While the ending is a perfect finale for the story, I had to wonder at the sudden name change from “Tim” to “Jake.” I stopped reading. I went back into the story three or four times, but still. No prior mention of a “Jake.” Maybe I’m thick, but it left me befuddled.

“Watchtower” by D.A. D’Amico is a tale of war and insanity.

“Death and the Maiden” by David Barber follows the legend of Dr. Frankenstein into the little known land of Ygor, the cliché hunchback and oft dismissed assistant. Barber avoids the pitfalls of fanfic and crafts a story that is emotionally satisfying. As a parent, this one made me shudder.

Harry Baker’s “Fat Betty” read hard and fast, and when I finished, I went back and read it again. Baker’s description of the aforementioned Black Betty is singularly horrifying. Particularly as she eats that chocolate bar.

The 2013 Flash Fiction Contest Winner Michael Wehunt took home the prize with his story “Stabat Mater.” I’ve participated in these contests for a couple of years now and never come close to Wehunt’s success despite sharing pages with him in Shock Totem. During this contest, I voted his story as my top pick. I haven’t heard from him in a while, but there hasn’t been a thing Michael has ever written that I didn’t love, and this story is no exception.

John Skipp’s “Depresso the Clown” is a disturbing reversal on the psychopathic clown story. The story closes the issue, and I don’t think there could have been a better send off. Sometimes, the monster isn’t any further than the mirror.

Among the fiction is poetry from WC Roberts, reviews designed to send you scrambling debit card in hand, John Boden and Simon Marshall Jones’ excellent feature “Bloodstain and Blue Suede Shoes,” and a conversation with one of my favorite authors Adam Cesare (check out Bone Meal Broth and Video Night).


This little ‘zine packs a lot of punch for little cost. Looking forward to many more tales from the amazing people over at Shock Totem.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#YesAllWomen #NotAllMen

I've spent the past few days reading copious, blogs, tweets, and comments regarding #yesallwomen. For the most part, I've nodded my head in agreement as I've read of the countless experiences with misogyny and harrassment. Most of the stories I could empathize with. I distinctly remember the very first moment a man made a public spectacle of my body. I was twelve. Two older men in a pickup hollered "Nice ass!" as they passed me. I imagine they had daughters my age.

I was horrified. Later, my grandmother dismissed their behavior with a wave of her cigarette, "They probably didn't know, hon. That's just how men are. And you do have a nice ass."

I spent a large part of my formative years learning to use my body as a weapon. How to disarm, how to engage, how to implode. I learned the fine art of hiking my breasts to the top of my bra to create the illusion of cleavage. I learned to smile even when I didn't want to. I learned the extraordinarily delicate art of escaping an unwanted kiss. Even now, as an adult in my profession, I find myself smiling and side-hugging a male colleague to avoid hurting his feelings. WHY?

Still, as a thirty-year-old woman who has a child and an extra forty pounds still hanging on my frame, I spent ten minutes of a lunch last week, awkwardly chatting with a sixty-year-old man as he told me I was "too pretty to be stressed" and looked "too young and sexy to have a baby." Yet, there I stood, uncomfortable in my own skin, still receiving comments about my body. Still laughing softly at something I didn't find funny just so that I could end the conversation and exit as quickly as possible.

"Don't be rude," is the advice we are given, and in the hopes of not offending, of not coming across as some raging monster, we mince and duck our heads and smile and laugh.

My husband is a good man. A man who feels injustice and is opinioated and forthcoming with those opinions. He works in an industry dominated by men. A few weeks back, he sat in a meeting as a male superior and other colleague swapped stories about some "slut" who had "slept with half of the guys" at a conference they had attended. On and on they went, each one upstaging the last one with heightened tales of obscene sexual contact.

"I was disgusted," my husband said.

"What did you say?" I asked.

He blinked once. Twice. "Nothing."

"What do you mean?"

"He's my boss. What am I supposed to say?"

Those men who make up the #notallmen movement say repeatedly that they are not those men, those men who rape, those men who push and whine and wheedle in the hopes of using a woman's body, I believe them. I absolutely believe them. My husband is one of these men.

But, in the face of losing face in the professional world, when a job is on the line, when faced with misogyny from those men who look at the word "feminist" and see it as the word "bitch," these men may falter.

How can we fix it? In a world where so many people say "Be a man," or "don't be a pussy," how do we fix it? Bravery? A willingness to lose that which one has worked so hard for? All because some asshole decided that a work meeting was the best place to describe in vast detail how much ass he's capable of pulling?

You're right. It's #notallmen. But it's this passive acceptance of injustice that allows such a worm to grow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Strange Bits: A Review of Jamais Vu

          In this second issue, Jamais Vu proves once more that when it comes to dark, unsettling pieces, they are second to none. That’s not to say that I finished the issue feeling wholly satiated, but for the duration of my reading, I was pleased to lose myself for long moments in worlds so artfully crafted that I felt genuine jealousy after reading. For what it’s worth, I’ll be offering comments on mostly the fiction and nonfiction pieces. I wish I could say something about the poetry, but I’m no poet, and I fear that I’d do the authors a disservice in attempting to review their works.

            First, the artwork of Lydia Burris who has designed the cover of all four issues as a kind of puzzle to be put together.  I can’t wait to collect all four. My only complaint was that I wanted to see her pieces in color, but I understand. The old budget and all that noise.

This issue opens with Steven Wolf’s post-apocalyptic tale “Valedictorian.” This may have been my favorite story. In a world that has come to an end, it’s the quiet, ingrained habits that keep us going. But deep inside those habits lurk deeper evils and, more importantly, the need to punish those who do wrong. The ending of this took my breath away. Beautifully done.

“The Long Lonely Empty Road” by Billie Sue Mosiman was a piece that I very much wanted to like. I really, really did. But what held me back was a voice telling me, “Haven’t you read this story before?” And I had. Stephen King’s “Big Driver” tells a very similar tale, and I’m sorry to say, that this story wanted to be “Big Driver” but didn’t quite have the chops.

There’s a section devoted to the sudden rise and interest in cryptid erotica, which I have to admit, I could have done without. I completely concur with Alexandra Christian in that my frustration over the poorly crafted salacious content detracts from those writers who are not in it for a quick buck at the behest of some dumb yokel dazzled by monster genitalia and the heaving bosom of some over-sexed damsel in distress.

The interview with Bobcat Goldthwait is delightful and chock full of moments that will both surprise and induce a chuckle.

After several pieces dealing with Bigfoot—including a review of The Legend of Boggy Creek and an interview with Sasquatch sculptor Jean St. John—I found myself frustrated to see, you guessed it, the first chapter of Brad Carter’s novel Big Man of Barlow concerning the big fuzzy guy himself. I mean, how much Bigfoot can one girl take? It’s like driving over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge without knowing how it works. Just when you think you’re off the damn bridge and finally in a tunnel, you emerge only to find yourself on the damn bridge again. But, I was glad I stuck it out because what followed was a touching story of Hank and Gus and the Big Man. By the end, I was wiping tears away. Carter’s characters are deftly rendered, and with the opportunity for such subject matter to veer quickly into the land of the cheesy, he manages to retain humanity and compassion. Bravo, Mr. Carter. Bravo.

The story I was most excited for, however, was Jack Ketchum’s “Oldies.” What I anticipated was the same breathless, gut-punched feeling I had the first time I read The Girl Next Door. What I came away with, however, was a feeling much, much different. I think that many people would be hesitant to call this story horror, but what Ketchum has done is taken us into the horrors of our own world, the terrifying possibilities and humiliation and confusion that face us all. At this point, I had to put the issue down. The story hit a little too close to home. And doesn’t that always mean the author has done his job well?

“Functionality” by Lucy Snyder is one of those stories that are competently told but I can never like. Because here be dealings with children, and maybe it’s because I’m a mom now, but I can’t handle these stories any more. Still, there’s competent writing here.

“Karmic Interventions” by William D. Carl was exactly the kind of twisted sense of humor I appreciate when an author can pull it off, and Carl pulled it off. A wry one, this.

Eric Beebe offers reviews of some of the strangest movies he’s seen, and by the end, I found myself wanting to shout at him through the pages, “Have you seen Dogtooth, Eric? Have youuu? Because I want to talk weird with somebody who gets it.” Eric gets it.

After James Newman’s review of We Are What We Are had me chomping at the bit to see it. By the way, Newman was the victim of an accident. If you’re interested in helping out a genuinely good guy and awesome writer, check out his benefit book auction.

Jeff Vandemeer’s Annihilation is a book I’ve had on my wish list for quite some time. After reading Paul Anderson’s review, I went ahead and bit the bullet. It’s sitting on my nightstand now like some delicious bit of juiciness.

There are other reviews and interviews throughout—one in particular with Jonathan Maberry whose fiction I adore.


The English teacher in me couldn’t help but notice a share of typos, but overall, Jamais Vu is a lovely mix of heavy hitters and newcomers who are bound to make a splash in the genre. Definitely looking  forward to issues three and four, and if you haven’t bought your own copies yet, what the hell are you waiting for?

Friday, November 8, 2013

You Better Work


This morning I had a breakdown at my desk. Five minutes before the final bell rang, I saw the email asking me to cover a fellow teacher’s class. As I was hooked up to a breast pump.

I panicked, terrified that a group of 9th graders were sitting in a room unsupervised while I sat, the equivalent of a milked bovine, in my classroom with the door locked and the window covered.

I’m thankful that I have a job that affords me a place to pump in privacy. I cannot imagine making this decision to continue to feed my child with my body in a place where people are crammed into small cubicles, the only place of solace a restroom stall which doesn’t have handy access to electrical outlets. Granted, despite my “PLEASE do not disturb” sign, there are still students who take it upon themselves to knock, even pound on the door in the hopes that somehow their vehemence will magically open the door, summon me before them to tell them if there was homework or that YES there is a quiz today.

Since I’ve returned to work, I’ve felt myself pulled in a million directions as I’ve put off students asking to make up quizzes in the mornings and after school, as I’ve re-scheduled or shortened extra help sessions, as I’ve avoided the NINE parent requests for conferences. Because I have to pump. First thing when I arrive. Throughout the duration of my twenty-five minute lunch. Immediately after school before I rush out of the building to get back home to relieve my mother-in-law of what I know is a long day with my three-month-old.

And I feel guilty. Guilty because I have 156 students asking for my attention for eight to nine hours a day. Guilty because I have their parents requesting meetings because their child, for the first time ever, has a B and might not make it till the end of the school year, and I can’t meet before school. I have to pump. And I can’t meet after school. I have to pump and then leave. Guilty because I’m late for a meeting or can’t make a meeting AGAIN. Guilty because I haven’t yet responded to those sixteen emails that required my attention yesterday.  And sometimes hungry as shit because I didn’t have time to eat my lunch because I was making lunch for my child and didn’t make it to the microwave before my fourth period came in.

Then there’s the more significant guilt. Guilt that my child is getting at least two bottles of formula a day because I’m gone for more feedings than I can pump milk. The deeper guilt that I’m not his primary caretaker during the week and the irrational thoughts that he is going to forget me, think that I’m not his mother.

And the problem is that I cannot stop feeling how incredibly WRONG this is. Every morning as I rush out the door, bottles and pump and ac adapter packed and ready for the day, there is an inherent wrongness in leaving him behind, in rushing off to essentially mother other people’s children as they walk on shaky legs toward adult hood. Especially while mine is still learning to hold his head up.

So as I rush around, apologizing incessantly, people get angry, see me as someone not doing her job well enough. I want to scream at them that they don’t understand, that I’m doing the best that I can, that I’m a sleep-deprived, caffeine driven fiend barely hanging on to each hour with the tips of my fingers, but they won’t listen, won’t care.

And it’s this guilt that I can’t settle. How can I look at my superiors, the parents of my students and say no? How can I get by without finding myself reprimanded, reminded that this is part of my JOB, and if I can’t make it work, then I don’t need to work? And more importantly, I feel terrible because, quite frankly, I can’t bring myself to CARE.

Yes, my child is more important. Yes, my decisions regarding how I’m going to care for my child are more important. No, I’m not going to drop what I’m doing for my child in favor of the other million tasks that must be taken care of during the day.

And so I pump and leave as soon as I can. I skip the meetings and avoid unnecessary conferences. There is guilt that shouldn’t be there from a society that doesn’t seem to understand or care that I’ve chosen to continue to breastfeed AND work.

 I’m sad about it. Angry. Frustrated. But I’ll keep doing it. Because this is what I've decided as a mother.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Light

Yesterday, I did the thing I've been telling myself I would do for the past four months.

What I didn't expect was how I would feel when I left. Pure. Expunged. Clean and holy as childrens' fingers clutching at their mother.

There was the fear that had hollowed me out, burrowed so deep I wonder sometimes if it will ever leave, if the demons who've taken resident will unhook their talons and quietly slink away. The great fear that perhaps I had messed up by taking the actions I recently have. The even greater fear that I was right to take those actions and what that meant about my life.

Yesterday, I finally saw a therapist.

I cannot say that I've found the road that will lead me absolutely to a place of healing and redemption, but coming out of the building into the cold fall morning, it was the first honest breath of air I have taken since July. Despite the hard, hard things that are ahead, there was a rightness to the words I'd shared that morning, an honesty that was like stretching after a long, long sleep.

And that honesty is the thing that has been chasing me my entire life. How incredibly difficult to finally admit, after twenty some odd years, that the thing that should be the one constant in your life is damaged, flawed beyond repair, a source of sadness and hurt that goes deeper than I've ever allowed myself to look. Because if there is poison there, how could it not have slowly seeped into me?

When the therapist said the word, I winced even though there is a part of me, a part I keep pushed deep, deep down, that knew she was right. "So I'd say she was abusive, too" she said, and I slowed, opened my mouth to backpedal, to quickly correct her assumption, but as she continued to speak, I found that there was nothing to correct, nothing more to say in defense, and so I was quiet, dazzled in the face of what was finally honest, what was finally truth despite my best attempts to hide it from myself.

In the coming weeks, there is hard work that must be done. But I'm not afraid, not confused, or bewildered, or sad, or hopeless any more. That power that she had is slowly diminishing. I can't say that I won't fall into that confusion or fear or sadness ever again, but for the first time in a long time, the blinders have been loosened, and I can see.