The Rat Bath


Last week, we were in New York City. I'm speaking for us both, Josh and me, when I say "we." We were twins if you passed us on the street and didn't inspect our faces, our bodies, our hair. We're husbands otherwise, if you get to know us, but we don't wear rings, and we don't call each other husbands. Marriage is now available to us even if we're unavailable to marriage. Like New York isn't home even if it seems otherwise on the outside, marriage isn't home either. Marriage is a place we travel when we're together and joking, another cute shirt we can share. But it's not our bodies like clothes aren't our bodies. Marriage seems so small compared to the rest of us.

We couldn't be on vacation while strangers accused us of being local, so we were Manhattan residents for a week. A woman asked me directions to the Whitney. I told her we were standing right in front of it. "I knew you were going to say that," she said. I didn't tell her I knew her question before she asked it. Someone else stopped me in Times Square and asked me where it was, where was the Times Square? "All around you," I said and gestured out with my hands like the place was rain and we were drenched. Our hosts gave us directions we didn't need. We live in a city, too. Smaller, sure. Kansas City is still a city, though. Right there in the name.

In other words, we've been around. Sitting on the fire escape one night, our first host called us Midwestern and unassuming, which was an assumption itself. If we don't seem regional it's because we aren't. A few years ago I tried to carry some of my Southern youth with me. Not just childhood signifiers. It was icons and tastes like smoking on porches and sipping bourbon and saying, "Ah." Nothing I ever did as a child. I attempted a foreign adulthood. I only grew up in the South; I didn't stay grown there. By the time I'd invested in the costume, it didn't fit. I donated it all to my stories. Read my first book, and you'll find the pieces there, the rags I couldn't wear in my actual life.

One afternoon in New York, Josh and I tried on rings at a clothing store. Fashion rings. Not the other kind. We're uncertain about jewelry. I used to wear a watch, but for the past eight years I've had tattoos on my wrist. A watch would intrude on the lines, cover what I want seen. That's my issue with marriage, too. Maybe it started out I wanted validation and rights, but in the meantime Josh and I built something better. The same way we can be regionless, at home in any city, we can be apart from marriage and appear married at the same time. Not above or below. Apart. 

Our umbrellas collapsed in the wind and rain. Friends warned us about hot city summers. The unexpected rain brought the temperature down. We waited for a train underground where the heat never left and watched water drain down the center of the track. Josh called it the rat bath. We saw rats and pigeons and squirrels, but not once did we see a spider anywhere. Maybe we weren't looking in the right places. Maybe we only saw what we wanted to see.

On the way home one night, another couple of men passed us and wished us Happy Pride. We were tired, and responded to the men as if they'd just awoken us. Not pleased, one of the men said, "You better get into it!"

We couldn't respond before they were gone. We didn't have the words ready to convey our pride.

"We're so far into it, you don't even know!"

More, More, More

No one has ever asked if I watch my snake eat. Last week, yes. After cleaning her tank, I caught the tail of a mouse hanging from her mouth like a foreign tongue. She swallowed it then readjusted her jaw against the glass. She's not a large snake. Not dangerous. Still, she can wrap herself around my arm and squeeze, and I wonder.

What else I wonder is if my upstairs neighbors know they sleep above a snake every night. I haven't given them any information beyond, "Your dogs bark when you're away," and, "We don't own a car. The driveway's yours." I find it best not to mention reptiles to strangers. My pragmatism is naked that way. My cold rationality. Some people have an effortless time smiling at dogs and children. In other words, they don't have to try. Do I even need to say it? I have to try.

I try to find the words. 

My friend and I argued years ago. In the end, she compared me to a villain. I turn that over sometimes. Even now I wonder if I conflate myself with my snake. 

What has become easier for me is excision. Cutting away. I write about a problem, and the problem (mostly) disappears. Less so with my obsessions. When I write about those, I'm writing about an almost inaccessible self, deeper than the stuff I've gathered and carried. My first book was about those weights. And just for the joke, I lost that weight. Now when I write, I find myself poking my influences right in the eye. Why are you here?

No answers. Of course. Only more obsessions. More, more, more. I could never do drugs, which is to say I could never do drugs and stop. A few years ago my friend began asking everyone she knew what this life is even for. I thought I knew, but I only knew how an animal knows. Snakes don't ask questions. Back then I told my friend we were here to pick something to do and do it until we died. I'm not so sure now I've started asking the same question. Not because there's nothing to do. There's too much to do, and moment to moment, I can't pick.

Let's start with tonight. I'm going out, and I don't know what to wear. Wait, wait. Don't tell me. Clothes, right?

Dull Swords



I found my jar of shark teeth yesterday. My favorite is large and worn smooth by the ocean. Part of it is missing. Not a T like the rest but an L. Broken off long before I ever pinched it from the sand. I spent entire spring days in Florida with my family fishing for dull swords. No threat to anyone. In fact, so far removed from a shark's mouth, I don't remember considering the sharks at all. A world of them only a leg away, and as I later learned, eons past, an entire evolutionary line of bear trap faces.

In the absence of shells there were teeth by the thousands. But they weren't teeth, really. They were fossils. Over time, minerals seeped in and supplanted the teeth. We were removing ghost rocks from an ancient place and carrying them back to Kentucky, another ancient place that used to be a shallow sea itself. The fossils had no currency beyond the praise I received when I found the largest one of the day, small seeming now in my adult hands. Still, we collected them like they were important. Like they meant something. We curled over the water and held the sand tight in our fists, loosening our fingers a little as the waves ran in and we waited for the clear suck of the current to siphon away the smallest pieces.

Even on vacation we were beholden to chores.

My grandfather was a dentist. Teeth are part of my family mythology. I had braces longer than most children, so now I lack a charming gap between my two front teeth. Today, I would make a deal with evil forces to revive that gap, but back then I was grateful. In lieu of natural weirdness, I come up with reasons to receive tattoos. My newer friends haven't asked what they mean. Maybe we're all adults now. Maybe we've heard enough stories about people's tattoos, and maybe they weren't good stories. Even if I tell people my tattoos mean one thing, they don't. They mean more than I can say. They have origins compelling to me, but when I open my mouth to tell the stories, something has leeched out the meaning. The teeth have been pulled.

I've been drawing. Those teeth grew back. A long time ago, I thought I'd be an illustrator. People told me I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up. The problem is I still want to be everything.

A literary magazine emailed me a couple months ago. Nothing unusual. I've been writing pretty exclusively for a few years now. Sometimes magazines ask for stories, and if I have something I send it. But I reached the end of the email, and I got to the question, "Will you illustrate a future issue of our magazine?" I'd only been drawing again for a few weeks. I didn't know if I could do it. (Though of course I knew I could do it.) So I did it. You'll see those illustrations in the future, or if you come over to my house you can see them now, along with a bunch of dicks I've drawn. Why dicks? For fun? Sure. For fun. If you need a reason, take that one and rest easy.

I have other birds in the aviary, as always. I'm doing my best to keep them alive.

Versus the Dog



I turn 30 in a week. Out at a bar recently an acquaintance asked me if I could believe it. She said, "Doesn't it feel like we're still 25?" In my head I thought, "What's the difference?" But I played along because I was in a casual mood, the mood to talk about dogs and ham and the word "horny" as a jokey synonym for "thirsty" or "excited." My acquaintance claimed to be horny for real estate. I, myself, have never been horny for real estate. I don't need to be happy or sad. High or low. Most times you see me, I'm content. That's all. Simple. But it's also everything. If I'm horny, I'm horny for comfort.

Ha ha.

The truth is I can believe it. I've said before how I wanted to be an adult even as a child. If you were a lumberjack, and I was a tree, you could have cut me down any time in the last decade and counted more rings than should have been there. I have the bark is what I'm saying. Is what I'm thinking. Is what I believe about myself even if it isn't really true. Enough school teachers called me an old soul in elementary school, and I bought it. Even this past weekend, in the one place that might have the power to reduce me to childhood by overwhelming me, my best writer friend told me what I've always told myself: I was born old.

Well. There's me. There's my friend. And then there's the actual truth. I'm a man, and I'm a child. The bark grew over time, and it still grows. It wasn't always there like I wish it was. Nothing arrives fully formed. I can believe I'm almost 30 because I can trace the line of it, and I can examine the dots on that line, the years and the events and the love and the work. At a writing conference this past weekend I wore the same backpack I wore in middle school. The threads have loosened so the bag is transparent in places. I have stitched and restitched the seams many times. It's too small for an adult, and yet...

What else is too small for me?

Maybe I've grown out of this dream I've had once a year every year for so long. The dream where I'm walking down the street and a wild dog attacks me and I kill it to stop it. The jaws are strong, but somehow I'm stronger. The dog bites me, and I pull apart the machine of its mouth. I overcome the teeth. My hands bleed but don't hurt. I have not had this dream this year, but there is now an actual wild dog haunting my neighborhood. Blackened fur wets its belly. The rest of the dog is as gold as dry dirt. It's running to something or away from something. I've seen it once out the kitchen window while cooking. I thought it was a fox, but then I looked closer and saw it was my nightmare. Other people have posted pictures of the dog to our neighborhood's Facebook watch group. I haven't encountered the dog in the street. Give it time. Maybe when I'm 30. Which is next week. Maybe next week. Or maybe never. Worry over something enough and it takes a form. I'm not worried.


My new book, The Three Woes, has been announced by Spork Press. I worried over it, and here it is, about to exist. I'll tell you about it later, OK?

Look out.

Green from Gold

My apartment is the first floor of an old house turned duplex. The disguise doesn't hold. I hear everything from upstairs like only a curtain separates us. A couple of people and a couple of dogs. The ceiling doesn't block the snores, or the isolated bark during a dream, or the readjustment in the kennel. Wire rattles. Now imagine the people. The bed. The chairs. The voices with problems and anger and passion. That noise.

I shrink. Josh sings. I shush him. Why? Because I don't want the neighbors to hear us like we hear them. It's my plan to give them nothing. Josh sings anyway. He's right.

Over the weekend we only got half of the equation. The neighbors were gone, but the dogs weren't. I whistled in the kitchen. The dogs barked at me through the ceiling. One bark too many. Josh and I went out to see our friends.

Kansas City hasn't had your weather. It never arrived. All your snow. We only had a little and most of that melted the next day or two. Today, I saw men wearing shorts. Yesterday, too, but fewer. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

We continue to walk everywhere. Any question you ask me, that's the answer and the secret. Walk. Our friends live enough of a distance away we're sweaty when we reach them. We hug anyway because our friends like it that way. We drink whatever it is we drink together. Gin and tonic. Beer. Water. We always have enough to say. We're lucky. We are so lucky.

Hey, you know that book I've been writing for as long as I've known you if as long as I've known you is two years? I finished it. It's shorter than you would imagine, but it's exactly the length I planned. For fun, I drew the three narrators:


You'll know more when I know more. The next thing is next. It's a novel, I keep saying. We'll see about that later, in the future.

And later, too, but earlier than the novel, I have a new short fiction for you to read. Hold your horses. It will be out just in time for summer.

Summer. Cross my heart, I might go to Seattle. Until then...

I stood in the kitchen this morning with a glass of water, and the light was right. Not right enough I wanted to grab my camera. Right enough to show me the dishes were clean, and right enough to tell me the truth, which is I'm happy and well. I didn't know I was sick. That's winter. I never know until it's over. I was wearing a t-shirt, and my arms weren't cold. I stood still and didn't feel like I was being watched by the weather. No noise from upstairs. I probably smiled. I never know, either, when I smile. I know the grass is still dead. I don't care. At least it's gold.

So Many Choices But Dying Ain't One



Even as a child who wanted to be an adult as soon as possible, I couldn't buy what adults said about children--that children didn't think they could die. I was afraid of dying all the time. The problem is I had no idea what I really feared about death. I thought I was afraid of being small and weak and stupid. I thought if I could be the opposite of those things I wouldn't be vulnerable. In short, I might live a long time, if not forever. And I was sort of right. Now I know the fuller reason I couldn't buy what adults were selling; I didn't have the currency. Wanting to be older and stronger didn't make me older and stronger. Instead, it made me seem even younger. I didn't know a good thing when I had it.

The minnow I caught in a net and took apart with some cousins at a family reunion didn't read as dead to any of us. We knew it was dead because our parents told us it was dead. But no one told us what dead really meant. It didn't mean the minnow was gone. The minnow was still there in front of us, wet on the dock. No, I see now what I couldn't see then. The minnow still existed, but its potential had vanished. We'd made a choice for the minnow in a way we never feared anyone would make a choice for us. We would keep on moving because nobody would stop us.

Which is what the adults had really been saying all along. Our options still seemed wide open. The walls were not yet closing in.

I fear death now in the same way I feared it as a child. I just have the experience, near 30, to understand the dread I've always carried. When I ride in a car or walk home late at night I project my worry into a possible future where the outcome of an innocent choice is a final scene out of my control. The fear is not really in dying or being dead. The fear is in not being myself anymore. Because I love myself. I take care of myself. And I'm not finished. I know when I die I'll still be here. Nothing leaves this universe. Those pieces just won't have my name and they won't be able to do whatever it is I still want to do.

So where is this coming from? It's coming from last Sunday when I rode back to Kansas City in a car speeding over black ice and worried about my unfinished second book and how if I made it home alive I'd finish it, and then from a couple months ago when I decided to check in on some of the writers I used to workshop stories with over email after college and found out one of the writers had died. And even further back two years when I read a beautiful novel and tried to track down the author to tell him how much his writing meant to me only to also arrive at his obituary. After that one I sat on the edge of my bed and wept. I don't cry a lot, but when I do, I weep. Josh was out of town. Not that it mattered. I was inconsolable.

Whenever I think I might die, I don't. Obvious, and yet. I have seizures. Seizures have been video game death for me. The screen goes black, and I return to play again. I can't help but think of it as practice. I'm still young. Not that young. My options shrink. Who I am and what I'll have time to do solidifies even as entropy approaches. Right now I'm in order. Later, though, I'll be the minnow on the dock. Stopped then scattered. No more choices.

Anyway, I wrote this short story and it went up at The Mondegreen last month. Soon, I'll start working on a cardigan a friend commissioned. She provided the yarn, which she dyed with indigo. This week, like last week, I'm working on new stories. You'll read them if an editor somewhere thinks you should read them, and even then, only if you choose to read them. Today I chose to stand at the living room window and watch a young man sit in his car and squeeze blackheads from the bridge of his nose before taking photos of himself with his phone.

Two Oh One Four



I'm convinced of my own mythology: that my personal symbol is probably a snake or a spider, or even better, a snake and a spider fighting in the dark; that whatever I saw that one morning in the museum before work a few years ago was a ghost; and that 2014 began three times for me--once when the calendar said so and two other times when I woke up from seizures. That one year can feel like both three years and no years is fine by me. I started. I disappeared. I started again and again.

In between storms, I traveled more than usual. To say the year was generous and cruel would be wrong. People were generous. Nature was cruel. Though as I've said before, I don't see it that way. Nature as a force lacks intent. People do not. The people I love loved me back more than I can ever repay. I saw nature as I saw it when I was younger. In detail. I saw one beautiful snake in the grass in North Carolina as I walked barefoot and shirtless up the shoulder of a highway and carried an inner tube. I saw a kitchen in New Orleans the morning after a party. Roaches. Ants. I saw a seagull float in the air beside the ferry Josh and I rode from Seattle to a small island, though really the bird flew exactly as fast as the boat moved through the water. I saw the water. I dreamed about the water. I went under the water and recognized it as the place I go when I stop being my brain and start being my body.

A place to break even.

If the year was anything but a year, it was that dark water. I dipped in and out of three short stories that will soon form a book. My first book had been published the year before. My second book would have been published last year if I'd finished it. I didn't. I'm still not finished. I'm almost finished. Josh says I'll finish this week, and I'd like to believe him like I'd like to believe anyone I've known and loved for 10 years. But I've known myself longer. I write most and best when I feel apart from nature, when I can point at it and observe it and not see myself anywhere in it. In 2014, I couldn't suffer that delusion.

My seizures have only ever been interesting to me in as much as I don't understand them. This past year I continued the work of undressing my epilepsy, of inspecting it until it became no more mysterious than breathing. A function or a malfunction. I had two seizures in the span of four months. You've read the pieces I wrote about them. Either way, the seizures are no longer extraordinary. They're nature, so I'm nature. I can't pretend to be above myself anymore. I'm above nothing.

It's 2015 because we agree it's 2015. The snake and the spider continue to fight in the dark. The ghost appears and disappears. And because my nature is my own, I still write. I have a few stories forthcoming in places. You'll know when they're published. Also, I had an essay go up on The Butter back in November. Some of you have read it already (including the Chicago Tribune). Thank you. 

Gay Ghost Party



My answers to a quiz yesterday revealed I'm probably a psychopath. The bad news is there's nothing I can do about it. The good news is I went to a party last night and heard truly fantastic ghost stories from a ghost survivor. Have you heard the one about a ghost climbing into an attractive man's bed and situating himself inside the man's body like the man is a condom? I have. The man tries to escape the ghost by sitting up, but the ghost pins the man back down. Just then, a heroic cat leaps onto the man's chest and scratches the spirit out. We should all have such cats, but most of us don't.

I would trade a lot of my memories for a few solid ghost stories. The ones I have are frustrating, like a piece of paper I chase down the street because I don't remember the phone number written on it. Stretch that out into years. The phone number becomes obsolete. I no longer pursue it. I pursue the paper itself. The artifact, not the details. The more and more I look at my own ghost stories (a woman in a fancy dress reflected in the marble floor during the pre-opening hour of an art museum, or a phantom pulling the sheets off me in a new apartment with ceilings high and dark enough to hide any multitude of idle hands), the more translucent they become. Ghostlike, of course. I isolate each experience. To link them in any way starts a conversation I'd rather not have.

I could compare the stories I heard last night to the stories of my seizures. Similar conclusions. Why does this keep happening? Answer: sensitivity. For whatever reason.

The electricity in my brain has kept stable for two months. Fingers crossed. Legs crossed. Eyes crossed like when I've captured a spider in a cigar tube and I hold it close trying to identify it by eye arrangement and the absence or presence of leg hairs.

My mother has her own ghost stories she refuses to tell. The last time I asked her about them, she said, "I've closed my mind to those possibilities." The man at the party last night said the same thing. He flipped the switch, and now he sees nothing specific. Every once in a while he'll get a feeling, but he'll go out of his way to avoid turning that feeling tangible.

I doubt the well on the stories had dried, but our glasses had gone empty. The party grew beyond the porch. More guys arrived. More conversations. Eyeglasses. Nudism. Microwaves shaped like spacecraft. Nothing much, but just enough. The quiz I took told me that even though I was a psychopath, I could still be a good person. Be more social. Go to parties.

HA. HA. HA. Three HAs.

Well, I know I'm not a psychopath, and you know I'm not a psychopath, but the quiz had no idea. It asked all the wrong questions. Not even once did it ask about ghosts. It couldn't have handled the answer.

Tattoo Reasons



The feeling lasts a month after I've had a seizure. Like I could nod my head too many times and have another seizure. Or drink a cup of tea or a beer and have another seizure. Or lose the thread while telling a story and then lose the thread on being conscious. Maybe my eye twitches after I work on the computer too long. Is my brain about to restart?

No. Statistically, no. I don't have a seizure more times than I do. I've had maybe eight in my life. Average that out and it's one every three and a half years. Some members of my family contend with seizures daily. Picking straws, I got the longest one. My mother has MS, and I sometimes wonder if all my seizures will lead to that. There's no stopping that kind of worry, so I try not to start.

It's been a month since my last seizure. My body was tense all that time, except for one isolated hour when I received a tattoo.

I had a craving. I spent all weekend after my seizure going through a folder of images on my computer. I photoshopped old French etchings of animals onto pictures of my body. Squid on my left arm. Stag on my right. Snake on my chest. Cicada. Arrow. Two arrows. A snake and some arrows. A snake biting a finger. The urge for a new tattoo was strong. I stood in the shower, the best place to think deep and quick, and I considered that urge.

"What do they mean?"

I've answered. And answered. And answered.

"My tattoos don't mean anything."

Well...

What I should have said was, "I don't know what they mean." I'm closer to having an idea, but I still don't fully know. I can tell you why I got them. It's boring and obvious and has everything to do with feeling out of control of my body.

For a long time I was fat. Not because I wanted to be fat but because I wanted to be in control. You've heard this one before. Eating was comfort, and I wanted to be comfortable. I had my first seizure when I was ten, and although I'd been an active kid, I became a lethargic teenager. What I see now isn't what I saw then. I can look back and see I was afraid of my body. Back then I didn't know what I was afraid of. Salty and sweet was all I wanted. Chicken tenders. Fries. Snack cakes after school. Soda (never water). I didn't like good food, or complex flavors, or moderation. I liked shorthand.

After my parents divorced, my mother chose the butterfly as her personal symbol of transformation. As an adult, I've chosen snakes and spiders, stags and cicadas. All these animals shed in part or in whole. Not just to become something else but to grow.

How did it feel then to see my teenage self strain at the buttons of my Boy Scout uniform? I grew out of that shirt and used it as an excuse to quit the Boy Scouts entirely. My use for the physical world was limited. As I grew, I became interior. Observation was my exercise. The results were typical. Poems. Paintings. Little dinosaurs made out of clay. I read and watched and drew.

I also didn't have another seizure for eight years. The spell worked. For a while.

My seizures came back. One before college and a few after. Then for four years, nothing. In that four years I started writing again. I found the stories I needed to tell, and I wrote a book. My interior became exterior. My control didn't slip. It changed. I ate responsibly, expanded my palate, started walking, then running, then lifting weights and doing push-ups. I lost my teenage self and became the man I'd imagined in my head for years.

Then I had two more seizures.

My response was different this time. Like I said, I experienced a craving for a new tattoo. Needles don't scare me. Tattoo needles don't read as needles anyway. They're more like vibrating pen knives being dragged across the skin. I say that, and you think, "Oh. OK. So even more scary than needles." Fine. Yes. Pain is important. Growing hurts, and if I'm going to grow, I want to command that growth. I have no use for the fear that seizures command me. No. Seizures happen to me. What happens after is my choice.

So I got the new tattoo. The craving disappeared. I relaxed. My jaw had been sore from stress, and then it wasn't.

I look in the mirror now and don't lie. I tell myself I'll have another seizure someday, but for the moment I have a new tattoo, and even though it stung to get it, I chose it. It's mine.

The Snake



I ask Josh to tell me what it looked like when I had my seizure in April. I've been asking. All summer he's refused an answer. He says he doesn't want to cry. I don't want him to cry either. Still, I want to know.

My currency is the word "please."

He shows me the way my left hand curled up toward my wrist. He strains his neck back like he's trying to keep his head above water. He explains the colors of my face and the words I tried to say. I ask why he didn't film me. He doesn't answer. He looks at me with pity and disgust and love. It's a bad question.

Why do I ask it?

Because I had another seizure Thursday.

Josh was at work. The morning was mine. I read. I wrote. I considered my pet snake but didn't remove her from her habitat. I put the comforter in the washer but didn't start the water. My phone rang. Someone was interested in an old camera I had for sale on Craigslist. He said he'd arrive in an hour or so to take a look at it. I laid the camera and all its parts on the dining room table. I sat and thought about the camera. I tried to remember all its quirks. Nothing. My access to my memory was denied.

I recognized it for what it was.

There was the jerk in my vision. The inability to land a single thought. The need, always before a seizure, to get myself in front of a mirror, as if seeing myself would break the spell. I ran to the bathroom. Fighting. I could look everywhere but the mirror. I ran to the bedroom. I made it to the bed. I disappeared.

The next hour was black. But there were events. I got up at some point and retrieved the comforter from the washer. I made the bed. I skinned my knuckles. I bruised the front and back of my head. Maybe on the wall. Maybe on the headboard. The point is I don't remember any of it. I functioned but not as myself. My frontal lobe, where my seizures occur, is also where personality is formed. For that hour, my mind was not part of my body. I was only the movements my body made. Those movements were imperfect. I woke up feeling like I'd been in a fight. Two days later, my legs still ache like I ran somewhere. My head doesn't ache. Didn't ache. But it throbbed slowly. I wondered if I could move a chair with my mind.

(I couldn't.)

I've always thought of the seizure itself as the final release of errant electricity in the brain. Afterward, I usually feel pretty good. This time I felt like there was more to release.

Remember, I considered the snake that morning. My pet snake. I have always loved snakes. Spiders. Lizards. All the animals that dart and bite. In my dreams, I'm bitten. Wild dogs challenge me in the night streets of those dreams, and I win. Winning is stopping the dog. Winning is having a snake in my home and not fearing the fangs. Winning is my heart when the snake coils and tests my hand without drawing blood. I'm larger than the danger. Even when the chaos asserts itself, I return to give it order.

When I woke up from this latest seizure and its after-party, I looked at the time on my phone. There was a new message. The man interested in the old camera was on his way. I tried to throw up. I couldn’t. I brushed my teeth. I drank some water. The doorbell rang, and I invited the man in. We talked about the camera. He haggled. I accepted his offer. He disappeared.

For nearly 14 hours following the sale, I slept.

I tell Josh I've been planning a new tattoo, an antique illustration of a snake, large and on my chest. The snake is pretty, but that's not all. I have other tattoos, and they don't mean anything besides pretty. I don't think tattoos have to mean anything. When Josh asks me what the snake means, even though I have an answer, I can't tell him. I can't articulate it. It's not as simple as the snake is the seizure. It's more like this: the snake is the part of me he's met that I never will. Or put it this way, when I tried to look in the mirror before I had my seizure, and I couldn't see my reflection, what was there? The snake was there. Or something like it. Something in me and beyond me at the same time. All I can tell you is it was me and it wasn't me.  


You get the idea.

Extra

Today, I was an extra in a video project. I looked in a mirror and couldn't tell I was wearing makeup. The point is the camera could tell. If I wasn't wearing makeup, I would look dead, or translucent, or I don't know, bruised by shadows. I've learned to take a good photograph, but the effect of light on human skin is still a mystery to me. I know the human brain smooths minor variations. We look at a white wall and register it as uniformly white. A photograph of that same wall will appear complicated with detail. Dappled. Maybe the same is true for skin. Maybe the camera doesn't just see the surface flesh but a little under it as well.

The camera is stupid. It doesn't have a brain. Only an eye. Good for the camera.

The set stylist smoothed gel into my eyebrows. I apologized for their wildness. 

"No," she said. "They're great!"

Well, I've always thought so.

I was a bystander first, then a soldier. An extra in the superfluous sense. Some of the actors were attractive. In the superlative sense. One guy was given lines. He played a young Hemingway. (Hemingway wishes he looked like this guy.) Another guy was given hideous pustules and asked to fall on his face again and again. Others were asked to smile or chatter. I was asked to walk. That's it. Walk across the green screen. Slow down. Express disgust. Speed up. Descend green stairs. 

My facial hair had to go. I've shaved for worse reasons. Every few months I do it to see how much older I look. I never like what I see. Not because I look any older but because I look unfamiliar and naked. And I have no problem with naked, except for my face. I take all these photographs of myself just to familiarize myself with myself, and I still wouldn't be able to describe my face to you without looking in a mirror.

You're not here for this.

Let me tell you how I spent hours watching the crew prepare lights and cameras. I stared. Most of these men wore pants that agreed with their bodies. There was a skate park (?!) in the corner of the studio where the crew took breaks on skateboards and fell down hard and stood up unfazed. I leaned against a railing in my costumes and listened to the vocabulary of video production. Watched arms and backs and legs lift set pieces across green paper. Saw shirts rise and expose bellies.

I tried to turn off my brain and become a camera. Failing there, I did a little work and got paid.

L.A. II



I went back West, and Josh went with me. We flew to Los Angeles, walked everywhere we could walk, and rode buses the rest of the way. All the places we went were L.A. but also discrete places. Culver City. Santa Monica. Beverly Hills. Downtown. West Hollywood. I wanted to see a lizard, and I did see one in the Miracle Mile. Josh almost stepped on it. It looked half-snake. Slithered/ran up a driveway. Plates like a dragon. Face like a puppy. (Lizards are dogs. Snakes are cats.) I couldn't catch that lizard like I couldn't catch California. I love things in jars, and California is a big thing in a big jar. It's just someone else's jar.

I have a list of loves.

I didn't see xTx. You know her. Well, it just didn't happen this time because, well, because. I will always remember that. The time I was there and she wasn't. No big deal. A little deal, though. A receipt I forget I carry in my wallet, but I still carry it.

Then there was the other her. The reason for the trip. Roxane Gay. She and some other heroes read downtown on Friday. The bookstore was the mouth of an airline passenger. Hot saliva. No air moving but our gasps. You missed it. You really missed it. The readers scared away two men in lounge lizard wear. Hats with small feathers. Untucked dress shirts. No humor. Those men left, and the rest of us gave Roxane a standing ovation.

I met Kima Jones. We're mutual fans. The piece she read kept me still and breathless. She's not apologizing anywhere in any way because she knows apologies aren't necessary. The work is necessary. She and I posed for her Instagram. She told me her weave was melting. Josh offered to catch it if it fell. It didn't fall.

Something else. Josh, Roxane, and I saw a play Saturday night. When it was over, we got in a car, rode a hundred feet, and turned right back around because a Hollywood moment declared itself. We met an actress. Had drinks with her and her fancy/hot friends. My knees shook under the table. Every once in a while a name would drop. I'd squeeze Roxane's leg, and Josh would squeeze mine. We found another Midwesterner at the table and talked about dog races. There was gossip. A glass shattered somewhere off-camera during the revelations.

On Sunday, Molly Laich's brother tattooed me in West Hollywood. Josh watched from a stool in silence. He admitted he was nervous. I wasn't nervous, but according to Josh, my breathing changed. I sounded like a sleeping dog. A dog when it's dreaming.

I took Josh to the ocean. I've always wanted to do that. We saw fish, and we saw people fishing. Men shirtless. Sweating. Beautiful. The water was blue and green. I didn't want to leave. Part of me is still there, looking over the edge of the pier. Any thought I have is muted. Unimportant. The space is filled with this:



Did I Tell You



A large tree branch fell on the sidewalk right where people stop to pet our neighbor's needy cat. I imagine it fell the way a chandelier falls in a movie. I didn't see it fall. Or hear it. Now it stands on the sidewalk like a mannequin wearing a prom dress. All the leaves are mint green but dying.

My neighbor retrieves his mail and takes a picture of the fallen branch with his phone. I see this from a window. I wait for an animal to crawl out from under the leaves and stretch its legs. I continue to wait. There is no animal. I write the image down on a list of ideas and titles for potential stories. The list is long. There's only so much time, and I'm still working on the little book I've been working on for a year. I would be done, but it's not the only work I do.

I bet you rolled your eyes. Me, too.

I can't remember everything I've told you. This summer has been kind. I told you that. I saw my family. I started transcribing interviews for a woman in New Mexico. I've taken more photographs. Made ice cream. Pies. Knitted one baby blanket.

Oh! But I didn't tell you this: Josh and I are going to Los Angeles next month to see Roxane Gay read from her new book of essays, BAD FEMINIST. Go if you can go. We'll go to the beach. We'll see friends. We'll ask everyone we meet for their personal experiences with rattlesnakes and mountain lions. We'll get tattoos. We'll come home.

Wait. Josh says he's not getting a tattoo.

Another list I keep is a list of potential tattoos. I like them. I like tattoos. You know all this. Why am I telling you? I'm telling you because my friend's husband was trying to convince Josh to get a tattoo. My friend's husband grabbed my arm and stroked my three square tattoos and said to Josh, "See how beautiful a tattoo can be?"

I'm still not fully recovered. I place my hand over my heart. It's there. I try not to think about how my hand and my heart are the same size. I don't like to remember I'm full of organs. There are better ways to pass the time.

I look out the window. The tree branch is gone now. Sawdust has replaced it on the sidewalk. I was home all day, and I didn't hear the saw. I heard dogs bark. I heard the doorbell ring, but I didn't answer it. When I went out for the mail, the neighbor's cat was asleep on the doormat.

"Hey, you!" I said.

I try to come up with something for the cat to have done. Something more interesting than nothing. But the cat did nothing. He didn't wake up, or roll over, or scratch the hell out of my legs. He stayed asleep. I went inside and locked the door. I sat down at the dining room table and drew two self-portraits that looked like someone else. The hours passed, and I was pleased.


Everyone Was a Cousin



I don't live anywhere near my family. Last week, I lived with all of them in the mountains. There was a lake full of turtles. A small lake to reflect the trees. My cousins and I sat on the porch and watched the only motor boat allowed on the lake stir up algae.

"He likes to keep it moving," one cousin said.

We sat still. Other cousins kept the kitchen running. Work on vacation. Clouds inflated over the house and groaned. Men we didn't know stood in the grass around the water and fished before the storms fell.

Each afternoon the view beyond the porch was gray and wet. The rain lowered the atmosphere and kept the nights cool. Some of us ran around the lake.

I ran around the lake alone. Twice I thought I was being followed by a large brown dog. I turned and there was no dog. "I can run faster if I need to," I thought. I closed the circle and arrived where I started. Back to the family.

After dark, wine was passed around. Bad wine and good wine, and I couldn't tell the difference when it was poured out of the bottle and yellowed a plastic cup. My cousins talked. I listened. I was accused of taking notes, but notes came later when all the wine was drunk.

All the wine was drunk.

Someone told the story of waking up to their sleepwalking spouse pointing a gun at the wall. The spouse had a nightmare of a giant spider. Nothing could kill that spider like a gun. Since all dreams come from somewhere, the giant spider came from the smaller spiders the spouse had killed cleaning the basement.

Someone else grappled with the use of the F word in plays. They asked my opinion. I didn't say what first came to mind, which was, "Which F word?" Instead, I said I don't even hear that word as worse than any other word. Another relative weighed in for Christ. "People with good Christian values don't use the F word," she said. As if Jesus spoke English.

I ate eggs.

One afternoon, we slid down a wet rock and marveled at a waterfall. This waterfall:


While I was photographing this waterfall, my aunt asked me if my camera took good pictures, and I said, "No, I take good pictures."

Later, I lost my glasses in river rapids. Minutes before that, though, a snake froze in the grass for me to get a good look. I stared at the snake and noted the pattern of its scales. It was a garter snake. A common snake.

But it was the only snake I saw.

Lost Interview Two

I'm writing a story about ephemera right now in the form of summer and a dead car, but ephemera can be anything that doesn't stick around long. Gather your receipts before the numbers fade. Recycle the newspaper. Draw a lizard on a napkin and throw away the napkin. It all dissolves, eventually. I did some interviews that appeared on websites. Some of those interviews then disappeared. The Internet proves flimsy.    

I posted the first lost interview the other day. The second interview to vanish was conducted by Amber Lee for Necessary Fiction. Not too long after this interview went live, Necessary Fiction encountered a server malfunction. When the site came back, the interview didn't come back with it.


Well, here you go.



INTERVIEW FOR NECESSARY FICTION SPRING 2013

QUESTIONS BY AMBER LEE
ANSWERS BY CASEY HANNAN


What books and/or authors have had the most influence on your writing?


Annie Proulx's work started me writing when I was 18. Then it was Hemingway. Then Didion. I read Play It as It Lays three or four times a year. I can't read more than a page before I have to put it down and write. Reading good writing makes me want to prove I can do it better. Well, not better but mine. I'm selfish. I want to lay claim. The other day someone called me a hustler of my own writing. All the writing I come back to is so clearly under the ownership of the person who wrote it.


Right now I'm reading George Whitmore's Nebraska. Whitmore shows the reader exactly what the reader needs to see. There's nothing extra. If I have a current writer like that, it's xTx. Have you read Billie the Bull? Read Billie the Bull, and see what I mean. See if you give a shit about the pseudonym anymore. The writing tells you everything you need to know.


How do you decide when a piece you've written is "finished" enough to publish?


I don't. Other people do. That's editors. The only thing I decide to do is write. It's easier to know when a pie is finished. There's usually a golden color, and if it's custard, the slightest wobble of the filling.


What would you consider to be a productive day of work, and do you have a writing routine?


A productive day of work is any day I get any writing done. Richard Bausch says, "This day's work. Each day." That's really it. My routine is: sit down and write.


What part of your writing process do you most enjoy?


The writing part.


Publisher's Weekly describes the stories in your collection, Mother Ghost, which debuts this month, as "small, but pack[ing] an intense emotional punch." How were you able to evoke such emotion from stories with respectively low word counts?


Evoking emotion in writing isn't hard. The emotion is always there, but writing gives the writer permission to express it. I'm quiet in person. People tell me secrets because I seem like a rock, and rocks don't absorb. Well, I'm not a rock. I absorb everything. It's got to go somewhere, though, and my writing is where it goes.


Do you have a favorite story in the collection? If so, what is it and why?


I don't have a favorite. Spiders don't have favorite legs. The stories in Mother Ghost function better together, which is why they're together.


But if you said you were going to erase one of the stories, I guess I'd beg you not to erase "Horse Street." There are some lines in there I still can't believe I wrote.


What else are you working on, and where can readers go to find more of your work?


I'm working on a novella about a young man living on the beach in a shack on stilts. His life is constantly threatened by tropical storms. The other people in the book are more important than he is.


I do have a story in the upcoming issue of NANO Fiction. I'm also proud of a story I had up at Wigleaf recently. It's called "The Long Beep." And of course there's my blog at casey-hannan.com.


Finally, what advice would you give yourself when you first started writing?


I wouldn't. I don't believe that sort of time-travel is healthy for writers. I'm happy where I am and how I got here. There's no reason to mess around. I would give myself other advice, though. I would tell myself to stop eating so many chicken nuggets. I would take my own hands in my hands and say, "Allow yourself some rewards, but learn how to make them all yourself."


Lost Interview One

I know I write, and you know I write, but I don't always talk about it when I leave the house. I talk about the living or dead animals I've seen on the sidewalk. I talk about the light bulb that shattered when Josh touched it with his fingertip. I tell you what my neighbors yell when they fight. (The latest: "I let you sleep all day because I hate being around you!") But what I do all day, mostly, is write. I've been interviewed about it like it's my job. And some of those interviews were swallowed by the Internet. In the interest of archiving, I'll post a couple of them here over the next few days.

The first interview lost to the void was for an online literary journal called Thumbnail. Molly Laich asked the questions. You may remember Molly. I remember Molly. We fight about who's the better writer. She is. We meet in person once a year to do nothing in particular. The last time we met, we couldn't believe what someone was saying behind a microphone. That was Seattle. This interview is the Internet through and through. Presented to you unedited-ish from the emails:


INTERVIEW FOR THUMBNAIL SUMMER 2012
QUESTIONS BY MOLLY LAICH
ANSWERS BY CASEY HANNAN


What is it you think your stories are trying to say, really? Who are you and what is this life for?


There are so many mothers in my stories. One of them says, "We all have it bad is what I'm saying." I don't want to make excuses for people and their behavior, but at the same time I'm so thankful for every problem I've had or else I wouldn't have stories to tell. If I didn't have any stories to tell, I would find something else to do. This life is for finding something to do.

What are some of your "themes?" I can think of two: homosexuals, ghosts. Homosexual ghosts. I'm not trying to pigeon hole you, okay? Talk about the intangible act of weaving the world of real events into a rich tapestry of fiction, intrigue and seduction. 

The thing about fiction is a lot of fiction isn't fiction. I can't blame people for wanting to know how much of a story is true. I make stuff up, but I steal my best stuff from real events. I guess the hardest part is gluing it all together with lies. That's also the most fun.

One of my themes is the homosexual experience. I try not to normalize that experience. It's not normal. It's not hetero. It's not status quo. At the same time, it can be anything I want it to be. Still, I feel like a ghost sometimes, like every conversation I have is trying to apply something to my life that doesn't apply.

You have a blog. It's basically my favorite blog. How long have you been writing it? Has it helped your "career?" Do you ever worry about saying too personal things on your blog? Do you every worry who is and is not reading it? What are some good keyword searches that have led to casey-hannan.com

I've been doing Vicious Cycle a little over a year and a half. It has helped my career. Writers like xTx and Roxane Gay pimp my blog on occasion. It's flattering and unexpected, and it's definitely gotten me more readers.
I never worry about saying too personal things. I usually save the best personal stuff for my stories. There are things I've wanted to blog about, but I've stayed my hand because I'm not the only one involved. I like having friends, and most of my friends read my blog even if they don't read my stories. My mother reads my blog, and she thinks I don't know she reads it. I'm not worried she reads it. When I came out in high school, I had to become very selfish to survive. I had to place my desire for acceptance elsewhere, though, and I was not attractive enough to place it in sex. I placed it in talent. I made writing my parents. I've tried to be healthy about it. I'm not undone by rejection. It's only words, and I can change those.

There are always good keyword searches. The most common are people looking for square tattoos. I posted a picture of my square tattoos in a blog entry, and that blog entry has had far and away the most views. An art student in Michigan came to my writing through my tattoos. She recently asked my blessing to get similar tattoos of her own. She put a picture on Facebook and told her friends to read my blog. I was very proud, like cats probably expect you to be when they leave dead birds at the front door.

You list all your stories on your blog in order of publication, from newest to oldest. Reorder the stories. Put the top 3-5 stories in the order you wish people would read your work in. You can say a little about why the order if you want. 

1. Horse Street, which was published at Spork Press. It's maybe the weirdest story I've written, but it has the most real events of any of them. It also has all those themes I obsess over so much. And a horse. Because I'm from Kentucky, and I knew people who weren't rich, but they had horses anyway.


2. Soft Monsters, which was published at Annalemma. It's the story where I try to reconcile my relationship with the visual art I used to make. I used to work in an art museum, and I would stand around all day wondering why my art wasn't in the museum. Ha ha. Young people! It turns out I was making glorified stuffed animals, and when I finally realized that, I went full-force into writing and haven't looked back. This is also the most naked of my stories, but at the same time it doesn't betray much emotion.

3. Ghost Water, which was published at American Short Fiction. This is my most recently published story. That's probably why I'm putting it here. There are some really good sentences, and I get to personify my ginger fetish in a Southern bartender named Lee.

I noticed you don't have an MFA. How did you learn to write without an MFA? How do you know if your stories are any good? Does anybody read your stories before you send them out for publication? Tell us about your workshopping process. 

I don't have an MFA. My undergraduate fiction classes were run like MFA workshops, though. I wrote some OK stories in undergrad, but that wasn't the point. The point was to learn how to read. My boyfriend and I are avid readers, and once a week we'll go out to eat at the Indian buffet and talk about what we're reading. Sometimes, I let my boyfriend read my stories before I send them out. I'm pretty proud, though, and my boyfriend hates confrontation, so I usually just send out the stories and wait for the rejections. Rejection sets me on fire to impress more than anything else.

You went to AWP in Chicago this past year. We met for the first time in person at a reading there, in a dark room. Tell the people how AWP was or was not helpful to you. What advice would you give to young plucky writers who are considering attending? What do you think they can get out of it? 

AWP was something. It told me I wasn't alone, and it told me there are people out there who read my stories. Roxane Gay mentioned me in the first panel I attended, and I couldn't move for five minutes. The panel was about short fiction, and we were in this gigantic ballroom, and Roxane got effusive about my stories. Some drunk people seemed to know who I was when I went to bars for readings. Some of them kissed my tattoos. I walked around the book fair with xTx, and I felt comfortable and just visible enough, like a pilot fish or one of those flies always around a horse's ass.

My advice to young writers is attend, but don't get too hung up about going to panels or seeing this person read versus that person. Make sure to experience the city as much as you can. Spend a long time at the book fair. Really let it hit you that you're one of many, and you're not special, but at least you're not alone.

What's next? I thought you were writing a novel. Did the novel turn into a collection of stories? Is that the thing that's coming out on Tiny Hardcore Press or are these separate projects? Tell the people what I'm talking about. 
What's next is a collection of stories for Tiny Hardcore Press, due out early 2013. I was writing a novel. I loved the idea of writing a novel, but every chapter read like a separate story, and the characters weren't consistent from chapter to chapter. I only recently realized I'd been writing a collection of stories all along. Also, Tiny Hardcore Press came to me loving my stories. They've given me a lot of free reign, but it felt dumb to throw my first attempt at a novel at them.

Have you figured out any secrets? Dos or Don'ts when it comes to being a good writer and finding your voice? If it's truly a secret, does that preclude a willingness to share? 

When you like something you've read, tell the writer. The Internet makes it easy. As far as finding your voice, you have to be selfish. You have to believe what you're saying, or no one else will. Those aren't really secrets, but secrets are important, too. I'm keeping a secret for a friend, and I told her the one thing Southerners love more than telling secrets is keeping them. That goes double for writers.

BONUS:

Here's a couple of questions I was going to lead with, but they seem like kind of dumb, scenester questions. but I will leave them here and if you think you have good answers for them I can incorporate them back into the interview. 

I'm answering these, but for narcissistic reasons. Keep or delete. It doesn't matter to me.


The name Casey Hannan is abuzz in the indie lit scene. Casey Hannan is on the tip of everyone's Internet tongues. Why are you like that? Tell us the story of your first ever publication, and then how it got harder or easier and why and how. 

I don't know why I'm like that. I've been told "Casey Hannan" is pleasing to the ear. Not many people just call me one name or the other. Mostly only people I've seen naked.

My first acceptance was from Necessary Fiction, but Staccato snuck in there and accepted another story and published it before my story went up at Necessary Fiction. They are both excellent publications. I'd been writing genre fiction about harpies and giant serpents, but no magazines were biting. I read a bunch of online lit mags like PANK and SmokeLong Quarterly, and I thought, "Oh, I can do this." I just had to find another horror story, which turned out to be parents and children.

Publishing has gotten more interesting because editors are now asking me for stories, and if I have the time, I'll write something just for them. It doesn't get harder or easier. It just gets more.

What was your life like before you started writing, and what is it like now? How did your brain change? What would you do if you weren't a writer?

I don't know if my life or brain really changed. My relationships changed. People have been attracted to me because of my writing. I've made new friends that way, and come into contact with people I never would've met otherwise.


If I weren't a writer, I'd probably take my visual art more seriously. I'd push my sculpture in more difficult or interesting places. I'm not willing to go those places right now. It doesn't feel urgent enough.

A Little a Lot



Read about time, and you read about ripples. I had that seizure a month ago. Every day since has been touchy. I'm sensitive of any change in the wind. I drink too much caffeine. I exercise to exhaustion. My head pinches with allergies. I stay up late writing. I stand up too fast. I sneeze. The ripples are in the state changes. My control slips for a second, and I'm reminded of when it fell away completely. How it will again. This fear will last another few months. I know from the times before.

I don't want to have another seizure.

Or the truth: I don't want Josh to see me have another seizure.

Josh is good about it, though. You know Josh. He's good. We're good. We have a lot.

We have books. I'm reading Dante's INFERNO now. I've never read it before. There's a circle of Hell where sinners are flattened into mud by an eternal, stinking rain. I'm learning there's no better guide through the horror than a poet. I wonder who could write this book today.

The book I'm writing is almost finished, I swear! It's called THE THREE WOES, and it's short, but what else is new?

My shorts are new. They're so short people have smirked. No people I know. Strangers. I do it for you, strangers.

A stranger once got Josh's last name wrong on the phone. They pronounced it "Mortuary." Joshua Mortuary. Someone write that book.

Good friends were in town last week on their way from New York to New Mexico. They're artists but also people. They provide me with new and interesting rocks and preserved animals. There's a bat on a wall by the front door, and a crab on a shelf, and a stack of black widow spiders in a vial by some books. A rattlesnake's rattle. A pheasant's claw. Fossils. Gems and minerals. Drawings done more than a decade ago. And then there's the button on my winter coat that smells rotten in the rain because my friends' dog chewed on it once. All gifts. All things I've started to draw.

I'm drawing again. A little. Some. My control can't slip there, or the drawing is ruined. I have a theory I can't shake. I think when I have a seizure my brain resets. But it doesn't. I can still draw. I can still write. I still have what I had. Nothing disappears. Only fear is added. And so what?

Fuck fear.

When I Say Ghost



"As far as I know." 

That's the best I can do. I've had six seizures in my life.

As far as I know. 

An exact count is impossible, I've been told, because seizures often occur during sleep. My first seizure was hard to diagnose for that reason. My family couldn't wake me up the morning after Christmas when I was 10. There are other reasons a person might not wake up. To determine epilepsy, multiple seizures must occur. 

My neurologist labeled that first seizure a night terror. Or try it this way: the nightmare that won't let go.

My parents were insistent on epilepsy.

There were tests. I became familiar with electrodes. Sleep was deprived so that seizure activity could be induced. I was a patient child. I slept in machines.

My parents were right.

Epilepsy. 

No one called it a ghost. But like a ghost, the seizure was there, then gone.

I can't shake this haunting even 20 years on.

*

Storms arise. The clouds change from blue to yellow. I, too, get hints before disaster. 

The medical term for the preface to a seizure is "aura." I experience an aura. The word is accurate in the way it conjures a dream. Or the other one. A night terror.

My brain remains active during the aura. I observe and respond. I watch my own arms rise up, independent of my command. I attempt speech, but my words don't have skeletons. They become jellies drooling from my mouth. I chew on my tongue. I forget to breathe. My eyes plead.

After that, I don't remember.

Yesterday, my partner, Josh, witnessed my sixth seizure. He'd never seen me have a seizure before.

"It was your eyes," he said. "I knew you could see me, but you couldn't ask for help." 

When the aura hits, the likelihood of turning back is slim. But it's there. Some people don't receive a warning. If luck enters at all, it enters here. I'm given time. If I know I'm about to have a seizure, I can fight it. That's what my eyes were saying to Josh. 

"Make me fight it."

*

The triggers are numerous. Repetitive lights and sounds. Stress. Lack of sleep. Increase in body temperature. Rapid release of endorphins. It's impossible to isolate a single reason because the underlying cause is deeper. The blame lies elsewhere. I have epilepsy. That blame extends back into my family history until "blame" ceases to have any real meaning. No one intended I have seizures. These genes were handed to me in the dark, and if it were possible, that's where I'd keep them.

Except yesterday was a sunny day in April. I'd just run a 5K. My body told me to take a nap. Instead, I looked back and forth between two computer screens. One of the computers wasn't working how I wanted it to work. I rebooted the system again and again. That only struck me as extreme when the computer began to ask my permission.

"Are you sure this is what you want to do?"

Of course, I thought to myself.

And then, doubt. 

As far as I know.

Enter the unexpected spotlight. The aura.

I ran to the bathroom. My body was the battleground, and if I could watch myself in the mirror, I could lead the charge. The impulse was ridiculous. I didn't make it to see my reflection.

As relayed to me later by Josh, I yelled out nonsense and hit the floor. There was dust on my face and blood in my nose. A tendril from the plant in the windowsill curled around my chin. Josh moved the plant. He said he could tell it was bothering me. By that point, there was no me to bother. The "me" had gone black. My frontal lobe, the place where my personality is generated, was hit by too much electricity. I became a simple machine running numbers.

Boot. Reboot.

Are you sure?

As far as I know. 

I was gone. Josh inherited my emergency. He took out his phone and called 911.

*

When I first come out of a seizure, I'm not really awake. I function, but that's not the same.

The paramedics arrived five minutes after Josh made the call. They took my blood pressure and asked me questions. My name. My birthday. If I'd like to go to the hospital for further medical treatment. I knew my name, and I knew my birthday, and I knew I didn't want to go to the hospital. I signed a touch screen. My signature was bad. I scratched it out. 

"Sir, would you like to try again?"

I tried again, this time in a child's cursive. Every letter was clear. 

Josh says. 

I don't remember any of it. 

After the paramedics left, Josh walked me to bed. He said my jeans felt wet. He offered to wash them for me. I emptied the pockets. Another act I don't remember.

I remember going to sleep. I remember waking up three times to vomit. I remember thinking, "Not again." Four years had passed since the last one. The story I'd told myself began and ended with, "You're mended." I held tight to that lie. Every seizure was the last seizure if I was strong enough.

I see the danger in that type of thinking, and yet I can't stop.

At midnight, Josh woke me up to eat. I'd slept all evening. I ate dry cereal and worried over the cost of the ambulance. I never would have called 911. I didn't see what Josh saw, though. Maybe I felt the seizure arrive, but Josh watched it travel through me, and then he watched it go. 

*

During college, I was medicated. The medication offered uniformity. I took one pill in the morning and one at night. I was free of seizures. I became romantic about my disability. 

Around this time, SMITH Magazine started their six-word memoir project. My posted memoir from 2009 reads, "My seizure disorder is still poetic." 

Again, the need to control the narrative. I had the pill, so I had the weapon. 

More fighting.

Weapons aren't always precise. Seizures are wild. The pill was a blanket that covered more than my epilepsy. I became soft. I became timid. I became tired.

I forgot to take my pill one morning. The seizure arrived that afternoon. Here was the deal I didn't know I'd made: On my own, I could go years between seizures. On the medicine, I could miss one dose, and I'd have a seizure the same day.

I didn't like the bargain, so I quit. I weaned myself off the pill. 

All those years, I'd been safe looking out a dirty window. Now the window was open, and the danger was real. 

Lightning strikes.  

*

There are tricks. 

If I feel an aura coming, I can close one of my eyes and discourage the seizure. Something about the flow of visual information to the brain. The point is I'm my own medicine now, and I'm not always fast enough. I try to balance my existence as both the problem and the solution.

Josh is afraid. Today, he asks how I am. He hugs me a lot to make sure I'm the "me" he knows and not the other me, the ghost he only met once.

I ask him what it was like. How I looked. How I sounded.

He won't say. 

I feel the remnants. My legs and arms are sore. My tongue is numb. My jaw aches from clenching. There are bruises on my chin and left elbow. 

I fought myself again and didn't lose.

When I say ghost, this is what I mean.

L.A.



For a place with so much history, Los Angeles appears to have been built yesterday. I wasn't in a city so much as a spilled box of Lego bricks. The links were sloppy, but a connection is a connection. I walked four miles to lunch. The sun turned my neck and nose pink. I never felt the burn. In a similar way, I stared out at the ocean, and for the first time in my life, I didn't feel the water beckon me. I felt it push me away.

Everyone out there has a solid reason to be out there. Otherwise, they'd be somewhere else. My reason was my friend, xTx. She read Thursday night. Two of my other friends came along. None of the three had ever met each other. We stood in a timeline. Abbi was high school. Chelsea, college. xTx, now. And of course that's too simple. Let me explain.

I met Abbi on a choir trip. We shared a moment of recognition. Friends forever. Friday night, I dreamed we were on a bus looking out opposite windows. I saw a haunted high school and began to tell Abbi the story of its most tragic ghost. Abbi didn't turn to acknowledge the school. She said she knew the story, and she was looking at the very place where it all happened. I turned and looked out her window. There was another haunted high school across the street from my haunted high school. What are the odds? We are the odds. A teacher once told us friends made in high school don't last. As if to spite him, we happily endure.

In college, Chelsea and I drove south to the place where three states meet and legend has it the Devil takes moonlit walks on an old bridge. Each night a spectral orb floats over the road. We witnessed the orb and were fascinated. That wasn't so long ago, but it gets longer ago every day. I miss Chelsea. She's good weather. She never stays anywhere long.

xTx. The hours we're together are the best hours. Thursday night we locked arms and joined hands and hugged like we were dying. I was sent to surprise her. She was surprised. I held her drink while she clapped for other readers. She whispered something in my ear, and I laughed at the same time someone told a joke that wasn't funny.

Stars aligned. Mars appeared brighter than usual. Fog rolled in, and the pastries were incomparable. On the way home, my flight dug through a thunderstorm. I was in the clouds with lightning, and I was aware I wasn't electric. 

These people jolt me.

Re: A Letter to a Friend

Her name's xTx, but no, it's not.

We met on the Internet first. We met in person when I saw her hair across a bar in Chicago and knew it was her. Her hair is the only part she allows in photographs. She says if I saw her in a grocery store it wouldn't even cross my mind we should be friends. The truth is I look for her everywhere now, and sometimes I think I see her for a second in other people. I've told her about every pie I've made, even the ones that didn't work. There was the one with corn and another with cantaloupe. 

She lives in L.A., and I live in Kansas City. We talk on the phone maybe twice a year. The times we hug are in cities neither of us call home. When I tell people about her, I don't say she's my friend from L.A.; I say she's my friend from the Internet.

She wrote me a letter on Saturday. I respond:

Dear _____,

Today is Thursday. You'll see Roxane. I'll see the weather change. Earlier, it was raining and thundering. Now, the sun is out and the wind is slamming screen doors. Later, tornadoes possible.

Upstairs, a dog barks, and a woman barks back at the dog.

Last night was the first meeting of our book club with our friends and neighbors. We read JENNY AND THE JAWS OF LIFE by Jincy Willett. Everyone liked the book, with one guy going so far as to say he didn't dislike any of it. The meeting was held at our house. I took great pains to make a good impression. The bathroom was scrubbed clean, but no one used it.

I'm glad your mother got to visit. My mother hasn't been out here in several years. The last in-person conversation we had regarded our burial preferences. "Cremation," she said. I nodded. "Me too." She sent me some yarn in the mail a couple weeks ago. I'm going to make her a scarf. Maybe two. The season for scarves is ending, but then again, maybe not. We got snow in May last year.

The tour of our place ends with us showing guests the spare bedroom and saying, "Shhh. A snake is listening." I bought her when Josh was at work one day. She was small and jeweled as a candy bracelet. Mostly pink then. Now, mostly white. I've seen her tie herself into knots.

You worry too much. Take your guilt and shove it!

Good luck at your reading. I want to be there.

Carry on,

Casey