Both Hands

I hold the softest part of you with both hands.
Will you hold this part of me with both hands?

He threw himself off the bridge today.
I hide my shame with both hands.

Standing in the rain, do you remember what you said?
Look them straight in the eye. Don’t cry. Use both hands.

the waves of grief seep deep and bitter into my skin
the grains of sand fall quick and slow through both hands

These are my fingers: crooked and bent in perpetual fists.
You were a one-armed man in a world made for both hands.

 

 

 

 

 

Forming a Writing Habit in 6 Easy Steps: Carnanan Smithee is Here to Help

If you want to find the perfect system for producing the best words, don’t listen to other people. They’ll just feed you a lot of words. I say, don’t eat them! I have even tastier words right here, and I’m willing to put them on a tiny, rectangular plate and serve them to you on a table made of pallet boards and metal pipes, like at the cool café you take your parents to make them feel uncomfortable. Smithee is more than glad to make you uncomfortable and also show you the one true way to form a habit out of that dastardliest of drugs: writing. So listen. And listen carefully:

ONE:

When I write, I load my fingers with the finest fake Cuban cigar I can find at BevMo and sip a glass of scotch on the rocks. Oh, I don’t smoke cigars. And I drink chardonnay, not scotch. And writing isn’t really about smoking cigars or fancy drinks, either. It’s about giving the impression to all whom might be looking through your window that you are a very serious writer currently lost in deep thought. When I am feeling especially writerly, I’ll don a deerstalker cap to accentuate my spectacles, tobacco pipe, and big, big brain. If you’re too dim to remember anything else, at least remember always to dress for the story you want to write.

TWO:

Stop writing all your junk longhand on pieces of college-ruled binder paper like a school girl with a crush on her P.E. teacher. Oh, I know all the hacks who count say to do this. I say, hogwash! Have you ever seen a computer? Buy one! You can type to your heart’s delight and then edit everything when you realize you suck. Can you do that if you write your book on a piece of paper? No! There is absolutely no way to change anything once you’ve committed ink to paper, so just stay away from that bad mojo at all cost. Most importantly, when you are out and about and your brain stumbles like a drunkard on your next big idea, remember never to write it down anywhere unless it’s on a computer.

 THREE & FOUR:

Special Smithee Creative Prompt: Drive immediately to the nearest Costco and purchase a package of index cards. Make sure to buy bulk, so you are saving tons of money because you are a broke writer newb. Unwrap the package and then start scribbling whatever words pop into your head on each card. Don’t think, just write. Commit ink to paper. No erasing. The past is pointless! Move forward. Always move forward. Once you have filled out every single card, set it aside. Take some time for yourself. Maybe a bath, or a nice little gardening session. Then head back to your cracked kitchen table and sit on your wobbly chair. Look at what you’ve created. These are your writing prompts. Every time you are writing and get stumped for more than ten seconds, pull a card from the deck and use it to lubricate your brain. You’re welcome! Also, it’s good to keep in mind that I make more money than you.

FIVE:

Schedule. Schedule. Schedule. Some so-called professionals will tell you that you can write whenever you “feel” inspired. What’s all this hippie gobbledygook? Guess what, if that’s true, then you will never write! Feelings are for teeny, tiny, sad little wimpy types. Inspiration doesn’t knock on people’s doors and offer them a giant check with lots of zeroes on it. How can this be? You might be wondering to yourself while you sit there in your snug sweatpants and an unwashed t-shirt. Well, Smithee once waited by the door to get knocked up by inspiration, and it never happened. Now Smithee keeps a rigorous schedule and never strays from it EVER. Here’s the schedule you need to be a successful writer: Wake up. Eat breakfast. Read the newspaper. Write for two hours. Sit down on a chair outside and take a break for one hour. Eat lunch. Read a different newspaper. Write for two hours. Sit on another chair for two hours. Write for two hours. Eat dinner. Sit on another chair for one hour. Drink a cocktail. Write for two hours. Sit on another chair for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Write for two hours. Read a book. Sleep. If you can’t keep this schedule, do not write EVER. Don’t wait for inspiration to knock you up, hippie. Take the initiative to go out there and knock inspiration up.

SIX:

Self-talk. How you talk to yourself is important. If you say the wrong things to yourself, you will not succeed. You will fail. Miserably. Every morning when I wake up, I look at myself in my gold-plated bathroom mirror, and I say the following: “Today is the most important day of your life. Do not fuck this up or you will fail, and there will be no way to recover from it EVER.” Always say this eight times, just in case.

 I hope these pointers have been helpful to all you young, wannabe Smithees out there in internet land! Happy writing to you!

Love Doctor 3

Author Bio: Carnanan Smithee, the world’s Author Auteur, wields their keyboard like a scalpel ready to cut the flesh off words. Born to write, Smithee is doing the unthinkable: writing to write the good write. They are the quintessential Writer’s Writer, impregnating the world with stories and birthing a legacy via C-section. They also have two ferrets and love ginseng lollipops.

 

 

 

 

 

30 Quotes I Overheard at Panera

  • “I went to the Santa Cruz Beach, you know? And I saw one of those—what are they called? Those seals? Yeah! And it like jumped up all over the place and I was like, whoa!”
  • “I love Richard, but he’s in that category.”
  • “You’re supposed to have toast too, aren’t you? Good stuff, I like it.”
  • “It’s not him, it’s not you, it’s both of you. It’s both of your personalities.”
  • “Just go over there and say, ‘I’m sorry, Lord.'”
  • “It came out like peanut brittle, and I was wondering if I cut myself or something.”
  • “It’s gonna take an Italian Villa, yes?”
  • “I notice a lot of the Mexicans are very, very…really good, really good.”
  • “You’re not sleeping with her are ya? You don’t wanna catch a cold.”
  • “You drove from there to here?” “No, I drove from here to there.”
  • “It’s sandwich time again!”
  • “No offense, but my mom is a little more fuckable than your dad.”
  • “There was only one fat person seat—that’s what I call them. But there were two fats in the class. A fat boy and a fat girl. The fat boy was already sitting there, so I had to sit somewhere uncomfortable.”
  • “You gotta look at the numbers. Numbers don’t lie. People constantly lie. But numbers don’t.”
  • “Dude, man, rice is INSANE!!!!!”
  • “My brain is always working. It has never stopped.”
  • “Have you read The Secret? It’s just a fun and silly little read. It’s almost a dumb read.”
  • “At our age, using dildos makes more sense than having sex, right?”
  • “Pray ’til something happens!”
  • “N-E-W. New? New is the strangest word in the whole world!”
  • “The eating disorder in me really wants to be a Vegan.”
  • “I’m like, do you understand WHY I have to be like this sometimes?”
  • “I’ve never been to Hawaii. What’s the point?”
  • “I thought, ‘Uh oh. Right day….wrong place…'”
  • “I’m going to have one beer, and if that doesn’t help, I’m gonna have another.”
  • “She would have a beagle face.”
  • “You wanna close Yosemite? Bad scene! You wanna charge more to get in? Bad scene! Want rich people to pay more? That’s another bad scene!”
  • “Do you know what a “radio shack” is?”
  • “It starts to feel like I always want it, and I want it so bad. By the way, I also feel this way about pastries.”
  • “Sorry, I wasn’t listening—I  was thinking about your mom’s racism.”

The Poetry of List-Making

The Widow

He finishes the sandwich and picks at the plastic plate, looking for leftover bits of chicken and lettuce. His lips move while he reads his phone. Thick black glasses perch on top of his bald head. His cheeks are jowly. A white gold band cuts into his ring finger like barbed wire grown into an old oak tree. He sits alone at the small booth in the corner. It is dinnertime.

Writing Advice From Carnanan Smithee: The Writer’s Writer

 

Love Doctor 3

Smithee Says: “Thise who can’t write, do.”

*thos

*those

 

 

 

 

Hello, I am the world renowned Author Auteur, Carnanan  Smithee ( you may know me from my multitude of amazing ebooks, like: “Luscious Lust and the Bodacious Bust” or “That Scary Time Something Happened!”, among others), and I have some news for you: Just because you write a good story, it doesn’t mean much ado about nothing if you haven’t written a good Intro. Your first paragraph should be as exact and enticing as that last piece of spam you accidentally clicked on because, yeah…it was that good.

You need to establish mood and setting, ASAP. Do not be afraid to go big. Lay it all out there, adjectives, adverbs- just go for it. Remember, readers can be pretty dim, so you have to S P E L  it out for them.

Don’t forget about the rules! The rules are always important. But sometimes you have to break the rules. But you don’t have to waste your time learning rules if you don’t want to. It’ll either come naturally or it won’t. This is very important, whether you follow the rules or break them: Make sure your intro is good. If your intro is bad: People. Will. Just. Know.

So, get out your thinking caps.

Here is an example of a good Intro:

It was a dark and stormy night. The moon lit up the stormy night. But the night was dark still. Still, it was a special night. A night for ghosts and voodoo and merrymaking, and stuff like that. But it was a night for you and me, too. And a night where maybe your Mom might have a heart attack. You know, like that kind of night. An anything-could-happen-tonight type thing. Even sex. And the night had a lot of howling wind. And that made it look like the night was crying. It was a good set up for nighttime intrigue and murder mystery thriller. Like for a moment, the rain stopped and the dark night sky was a killer, and the moon was a bloody eye. So there was a foreboding feel to it all. Then the storm came back, harder than ever. And so it began.

An alternate, more subversive Intro:

The night was dark. The night was moody. There was a feeling in the air that affected the night oh so much, a dark, moody feeling that can only happen in the night. People were walking, as was bound to happen on any regular old night, but this was no “regular” night. This was irregular, like a sandwich cut into three pieces, or a salad with only jicama and sprouts. But who were these people? Where were they going? What kinds of “thoughts” were pervading their tiny, puny human brains? That mattered no more than what the pathetic ants were carrying on their backs, because, at that exact moment in time, fate was at work. And fate is one cruel bitch if you try to stand in her way.

There you have it, folks. Learn a little, why don’t ya?!  Smithee out.

 

 

 

 

 

Sleepy Seeds

I love to watch my animals sleep. I have three of them, two cats and a dog. They all have strong and particular personalities. There’s Seven the cat, who struts through the halls with a John Wayne swagger and a caterwaul made of sand paper and bourbon. But when I find her asleep in her little red house, with her perfect black nose resting on her mitten-white front paws, she looks so delicate it’s heart-breaking.

There’s also Sammy the Love Kitten. “Love Kitten” because she reminds me of Nermal from the Garfield cartoon: an impossibly cute kitten that bullies with her affection. Sammy will be limp as a rag doll in our laps, begging for pets, and then harass Seven around the house when she thinks no one sees. Once curled up on her cat condo, though, she’s different. Her whiskers tremble with fitful dreams, and she peeps like a tiny bird fallen from its nest. Mew? Mew?  She asks her unanswerable questions. It’s a little sad, and a lot adorable.

Newest to our family is Nisa, a gorgeous, three-year-old German Shepherd we adopted and who is intent on herding us with her intense eyes. She is a somber animal; she didn’t even wag her tail the first six months we had her. Serious and alert, Nisa is slow to offer affectionate demonstration, which is probably why her sleeping face slays me so. Soft. Delicate. Almost angelic. Her sleep is deep and peaceful; I can see the sweet puppy she once was before life taught her how to be anxious.

Studying my husband, Aaron, while he sleeps doesn’t fill me with the same affection that my sleeping animals do. The lack of expression of his features disturbs me. It’s as if the thing that makes him him is absent. He’s just a stranger, or a body, a creature. Even worse: a machine, downloading and updating. I ’m being forced to recognize identity is nothing but a construct, that the “Aaron” I know is really a face on the green screen while his brain –the wizard behind the curtain –toggles switches and performs illusions.

I’m a terrible sleeper; I toss and turn most nights, especially when Aaron snores. There are people out there who have said that when their life partners die, they can’t sleep at night because they miss their partner’s snoring. This is hard for me to picture. Aaron’s snoring is half trumpet, and half asphyxiated duck. Unfortunately, it is easy for me to picture him dead, and I spend ample time torturing myself over it. I specifically focus on how I wouldn’t have him around in which to share the experience of his death. I wouldn’t be able to tell him what having your spouse die on you is like.

I don’t think I could survive his death, so I want to die before he dies. It makes me feel guilty, though, that if I get my way, my death will burden him with the loss of a loved one. I have a profound urge to protect him from everything. I prize his sheltered upbringing, complete with a life of little adversity or deep scarring. I don’t want him to know true, haunting pain; probably because I’ve had such a rough go of it. Living with me is as close as he needs to get to how cruel life can be for a person.

Nights are when I am most tuned in to how short life is. Or, better yet, how long death is. I don’t want anyone I know ever to die. The lack of control panics me. The injustice. I conjure the faces of those I love and obsessively hex them with impending death, like a morbid lullaby. To my animals: Someday soon you will die, and I will have to live without you. My husband: You will die and no longer exist. My In-laws: You are going to be dead for eternity! And myself: Life is a conveyor belt to death. You are going to blink out. No more you. When the agonizing recitation finally abates, only then can I fall asleep; hands balled into fists, tear-stained face buried in the pillow, cheeks as red as a toddler exhausted from their tantrum.

I started thinking for a while that I may not be able to prevent death, but there is a way I can lessen how directly it affects me: by loving as little as possible. No love equals no loss. If I didn’t have these cats, this dog, this man at my side, I wouldn’t have to contend with losing them. Then I wouldn’t carry this future hurt. Then I could sleep at night like a normal person. It’s a tempting notion. But I had another thought: what if, instead of loving as little as possible, I love as much as possible? Spread it around. Love far and wide. Feel so much love, for so many, that it thwarts some of the incapacitating pain that death and loss bring?

There is no answer, obviously. I can love. I can not love. Either way, there will be death. And death will always bring out the youngest, simplest, most basic, clichéd emotion in me: “Not fair! Not fair!”

Bad sleeping habits aside, I am a terrific napper. I can nap for an hour mid-day and wake up like I’ve gotten a full night’s rest. There are days where my whole household takes naps together on our giant king size bed. The animals curl up on opposite corners, never leaving quite enough space for Aaron and me. So we stretch out along the edge of the bed, and I spoon him. When he starts to trumpet, usually I curl my feet up and jab them into his back until he stops. But these days I just let him snore. I listen carefully, taking in every snork and slrggg and blrrrrt. Remember this; I tell myself. Someday you may need to miss it.

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, In Utah….

I hang up. “Beth, they’re coming to take our baby.”

Beth at the sink, her shoulders slumped. “How can they do that?”

“Our love scares them.”

Her hands shake. Silverware clatters to the floor.

“Shhhh. You’ll wake her.”

Upstairs, tiny eyes open.

 

 

 

 

Mornings and Mom

Mom stopped participating in school mornings around first grade when we still lived in Boulder. One morning, I woke up groggy-eyed to find a note next to an empty bowl on the kitchen table. I’m not helping you get ready for school anymore, the note said. Fix your own hair. Make your own breakfast. Just like that. No explanations, just an abrupt end to what had been ritual for years. She had always been diligent in making sure I looked well cared for when I went to school. She’d comb through my long dark hair and twist it into creative braid ensembles. She’d pick out my clothes: cute dresses my Gramma had sewn, cute black shoes bought on sale at Payless. Now that was over. I sat at the kitchen table, crunching Corn Flakes, hoping my mom would change her mind.

Later, when we moved to Lafayette, mornings became dangerous minefields that I just could not navigate. A step in any direction and BOOM! I was a natural at finding the thing that would set my mother off. She usually wouldn’t wake up until 8:30 or 9 am, and hearing her come up the stairs induced immediate anxiety and jaw clenching. In what mood would she be? Angry quiet, angry sad, or angry angry?

One time she threw the sugar bowl at me. I thought I had covered all the potential grievances that waited in the kitchen: coffee made, dishwasher emptied, cats fed, sink cleaned, dishcloth rinsed and folded crisply on the divider. She came up the stairs and made her way to the kitchen, a frown already set on her face. Not a good sign. I could hear her coffee cup clang against the counter, followed by a heavy sigh. I braced myself. Despite my best efforts, a fuse had been lit.

“What is wrong with you, you ungrateful little brat,” she said, striding toward me so fast, I barely had time to sidestep the hurled sugar bowl aimed at my chest. It banged into the stereo speaker and fell to the hardwood floor, spraying glass and sugar in every direction. I clambered down the stairs to my room before she could wreak any more havoc on me. Damn, I thought, the sugar bowl. I hadn’t considered the sugar bowl because it had been half full. I should’ve topped it off. Coffee, dishwasher, cats, sink, dishcloth, SUGAR, I repeated to myself. After all those lost battles, I still thought I could find the right strategy to win the war.

It’s been years since I’ve lived with my mother, yet my jaw still involuntarily clenches when I hear the sound of footsteps coming upstairs. When my husband walks heavily in the house, I’ll say, “Shhhhh! Don’t walk so loud!” You might wake her.

 

Mother and Daughter: An (In)Complete History of (Almost) Suicide

One of my earliest memories is this: Sitting in the passenger seat of an old, beat-up blue Volkswagen, tracing a raindrop with my finger as it slides down the window and swallows up other raindrops along the way. My bare feet don’t yet touch the floor. I’m barely tall enough to see the gray world outside. My pajamas are twisted up, cutting a red line into my neck. My mother’s boyfriend opens the door and ponderously shoves a wastebasket full of my socks into the back seat. He is a bear of a man; I adore him, but he can be scary. This morning he is scary. Just sitting next to him brings anxious tears to my eyes.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“I’m taking you to some people. You’re going to live with them now.” He forces the car in gear, and we begin to drive away.

“Where is my mom?” I cry, a keening sound too big for my small body.

“Who the hell knows. Probably going to the ocean to drown,” he looks at me. “She doesn’t want you anymore. Now shut it.”

 

 

Long before my thoughts of suicide, I was living with my mom’s thoughts of suicide. Her daydreams, fixations, and passive wishes to be non-existent constantly loomed over me. “You know what happens when we die?” she asked me right before my first day of the 1st grade. “Nothing. There is nothing after death. We are a candle snuffed out. No heaven. No reincarnation. We just cease to be.” I froze with fear at the cold, wistful tone in her voice. Like an anchor in my heart, it stuck with me that any moment, my mom could whisk herself away, make herself gone, and I was powerless to stop it.

Her preoccupation kept her unreachable. She locked herself in her room for hours. I’d wait tensely upstairs, watching T.V., unable to help her, unable to leave. Later she smoked her joints and told me her plans. “As soon as you’re eighteen….” she confided, letting the rest of the sentence fall between us.

“You’re the only reason I’m still alive,” she told me other days. Spoken as if to suggest my life had thankfully saved hers, but I heard the trace of resentment hidden underneath the platitude. It was my fault that my mom had to continue to live. Stuffed to the brim with guilt and fear, I’d hide in my room, full of my own resentments. Full of my own budding urges to cease to be.

Holding suicide as a viable option to end suffering was normalized for me. I didn’t question it. I embodied it. When I lived in foster care for the first time, I hoarded the single razor allotted to each girl to shave their legs; hid it under the bunk bed to bring out on those rare moments when I was alone. I traced my veins with the sharp edge the same way I’d traced raindrops on a car window long ago.

The older I got, the stronger the compulsion to tempt death became. At sixteen, newly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and armed with prescription medication, I stalked my ex-boyfriend and pushed his anger triggers relentlessly until he shouted what I unconsciously sought to hear: I don’t want you anymore. He left me at the bus stop, where I swallowed a whole bottle of Nortriptyline. I called my mother, who drove me to the emergency room and flicked my ear every time I tried to close my eyes. “Stay awake,” she murmured over and over. When the doctors pumped my stomach, I went into a seizure and almost died.

The only way I knew how to cope with the burden of my illness and the incessant need for destruction was to follow my mom’s example: become a ghost. I shut the world out. Cut off connections to people, places, things. Experiences. I was haunting my life.

Once, I stood on a bluff over the ocean and was hypnotized by the murky depths below. The pull to just let go, let my body go slack and fall passively into the water, was almost irresistible. It frightened me. How am I so untethered, I wondered, why is the veil between death and me so very fragile? I thought of my mother, how her experience of my earliest memory must’ve been. Did she stand above a bluff like this one? Did she feel a similar impetus to collapse and swan dive into the water? Was she filled with this same heavy sadness? Maybe we were born with a biological imperative to snuff our corrupted line of DNA out. Maybe we were made to self-implode.

With that thought in mind, I went home to sit in a warm bath with a razor at my wrist. I felt under a spell. It would be a suicide that represented all the clichés: relief, revenge, a gift to all those whom would be better off without me. This suicide is inevitable, I thought. This suicide was decided before I was born. I waited it out, teeth clenched, knuckles white, until the moment released me. I was alive, after all. No suicide. No death. Just myself, alone in a tub.

I found out something that day: I didn’t want to die. Suicide was not a ‘truth’ I held dear. It was more a combination of faulty wiring and thinking I assimilated when I was young. With help and effort, I have learned to distinguish between my own, actual beliefs and that other voice that is just a misfire occurring in my brain. Not so for my mother. When I tell her these things, that there is hope, that we do not need to stand so close to the cliff, she doesn’t believe me. She’s still stuck in her moment, flirting with death, unable to tear herself away.

*This essay was published in March 2017 at The Manifest-Station. Check it out!

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The Slow Engulf

By evening, the flood was deep enough to overtake our second floor. The streets are now rivers. Earlier the Joneses’ dog, Tidbit, floated by us looking like those polar bears on runaway icebergs. Meanwhile, the neighborhood waited helplessly on their rooftop islands.