Other Writing

Although most of my professional writing experience is in journalism, I’m passionate about words in general.

If you’d like a look at my outdoorsy side, you can check out my blog Eat & Climb, where I recount my adventures in rock climbing and vegan eating.

I also write some fiction and poetry. Here are a few examples of my work:


Oranges

I eat oranges when I cry.

Itʼs a self-indulgent practice. I rip the peel off piece by piece, sinking stubbornly into deeper sorrow as I fail at keeping it together. My hands jerk as if they too are sobbing, juice coating them like sticky, fragrant tears. I donʼt really want the peel intact; I need this catharsis. Every fragment calms my breath.

I pause halfway and examine the piled-up pieces, turning them shiny-side-down to keep the table clean. Tears remain on my face, but I can dry it if I want.

The second part of the process is a time of reflection. I concentrate on slowly pulling the last of the peel back from the fruit, all in one piece, and as I do Iʼm honest with myself:

Iʼm not sad.

I might feel angry, hurt, alone or ashamed. But sadness doesnʼt have me crying over oranges. Itʼs painful to admit whatʼs wrong in my world, to acknowledge my agency or accept any blame. But the small struggle in my sticky fingers is for a moment the most important one, and when I finally pull the last of the rind away from the pith, I stop sniffling.

Deep breath. Exhale. I eat the fruit quickly. Iʼve gorged myself already on self-pity, but I need to do a whole thing; completion is success. When the last slice is gone, I lick my fingertips self-consciously as if my home is watching. My face is dry now. I rinse my hands and hiccup once, yielding my orange and white heap to the garbage. I step out with my keys and lock my troubles inside.

Control smells like citrus.


Mirrors

There are mirrors everywhere.

Theyʼre in bedrooms, bathrooms, nursing home lobbies. They are windows, car doors, strangersʼ sunglasses. The backs of iPhones. The insides of iPhones — Instagram is a magic mirror with its filters, frames and streaming feed.

Everyone wants to be prettier than.
            Prettier than
                                 yesterday. Prettier than
                                                                       you. Prettier than real life.

Selfies. Everybody hates themselves, compares themselves. Everyone needs affirmation, a hashtag fitness met with an emoji flame. Hashtag transformation tuesdays render old selves uglier, worth less — they can stay in the past except to make new us look better.

Surrounded by everyone elseʼs mirrors, we have to look good. Look happy. Like we donʼt notice the glare, like we donʼt care. Striving must look effortless.

These things matter, for some reason.

Self-hatred is normal. Self-love is a momentʼs celebration of how close we are to — how far we are from — how we want to be. Being is quantified on a one-to-ten scale, in golden ratios, in thirty grand of plastic surgery for an Internet audience.

Little girls, we stand beside our mothers at their mirrors, watch them paint their day faces on, learn to detest our nighttime selves. Mascara is a rite of passage before we know it as a prison, punishment for our natural inadequacy.

And when we see our figures in glass doors, our eyelashes in rearview mirrors, our big noses and weird chins, our yellow grins in photographs, we see not the moment but our offensive imperfection. It mocks us from smartphone screens, and we forget that we were ever happy.


Andrew

Andrew Smith knew he had a boring name, but he refused to be a boring person.

As a child, he made the most of his limited agency. Refusing to match his clothes except by pattern, he wore one sock up and one scrunched down. Whenever he read aloud in class, he affected a British accent. And every time his mother gave his hair a last-minute comb at the bus stop, he rubbed it vigorously on the seat ahead of him as soon as the wheeled yellow prison was en route to school.

Sadly, his classmates and family missed the import of his small independences. Rather than praising his forward thinking and begging for guidance in freeing their own fettered souls, they considered him a little jester. This misunderstanding created in him feelings of frustration and slow suffocation, manifested earliest in frantic crayon scrawls and later in failed courtships.

Andrewʼs loud acts of rebellion gave way to a calmer rejection of normalcy in his teenage years. He stopped considering his wardrobe at all, convinced that the combat boots, hemp sandals and Converse All-Stars he watched plod across the false white tile of his high school were contrived emblems that belonged with pop- and counter-culture movements alike on the spectrum of mass conformity. He was a good student, not because he thought academic diligence a duty to his parents and their fellow taxpayers, but because he thought if he had to spend seven hours a day doing something, he might at least do it well. He had gained some friendships since his lonely jester years, based mainly on a common appreciation for marijuana and a near reliance on its power to make the mundane bearable. Together they smoked, listened to the music rejected by their parentsʼ parents, and engaged in small delinquencies.

These, rather than satisfying some internal hunger of uncertain depth, served only to scratch at a one-dimensional plane of self-inflicted boredom and self-indulgent discontent.

Andrewʼs habitual indulgence in Pink Floyd and pot followed him into college, where indifference served him well. He didnʼt like the burn of liquor and so chose not to drink it. This non-moralistic rejection of his universityʼs social centerpiece, coupled with his lukewarm silence and halfhearted attempts at dress, made him a riddle to be solved by the girls he met at parties (always a friendʼs of an almost-friend). Yet he didn’t delight in the handholding, sidewalk ambles and Sunday morning pancakes so many women seemed to expect. He didn’t delight in anything.

No, he began to realize in new surroundings that what had begun in childhood as active opposition to the ordinary had become a weary, self-inflicted loneliness. He was still doing what was expected of him, because what else was there to do? His life wasnʼt bad, but it was dull, and he was at it all alone.

Not sure where to go from this place of revelation, Andrew decided to do things differently. He started alternating which shoe he put on first and pumping gas left-handed. He took up yoga and browsed the grocery store in search of obscure grains: amaranth, farro, teff and kamut became staples of his solitary dinners.

They remained so as he graduated, moved abroad — for the sake of change — and took a job as mundane and suffocating as anything he could have found in the States. He had an office and pressed collars, and both depressed him deeply. He entertained no notions of finding love or even friendship in a place where he spoke the wrong language and ate the wrong food. His desire for uniqueness had by now eroded into a jaded acceptance of his own insignificance. His parents still laughed about his spirited days of mismatched socks and three-foot defiance, but he knew that boyʼs fading was a tragedy.

And so Andrewʼs life continued. He found a woman who found him tolerable, and together they raised a child. The boy lacked Andrew’s childhood recalcitrance, and the man was grateful his son would not experience the sense of slow dejection that had become the basting thread of his life. Instead, his progeny was eager to please, exhibiting vitality and altruism Andrew could not trace to himself or to his equally listless wife.

But somehow owning a child gave Andrew something heʼd lacked. He knew having a son was nothing unusual, and neither was loving that son, but the only times he felt like the magnanimous ruler, the rugged trailblazer, the nonchalant hero heʼd always thought heʼd be, were when he taught his boy the basics of civilization. Shoelace knots, sandwich assembly, the brushing of teeth — these were the things that mattered.

After a decade of lifeʼs currency spent on small rewards, Andrew returned to his ailing parentsʼ neighborhood. He had considered this place an acceptably humble beginning, but a beginning only. As the burden of filial responsibility grew, however, he acknowledged that he could escape neither his home nor the sense of mediocrity that had so long felt like a powerful snake tightening about his body, but which he now knew was only a disinterested cat kneading its paws on his chest.

Living within what had been his greatest fear, Andrew began to feel something like freedom. He could cook pasta, fix bookshelves and organize his cufflinks without fretting over his loud mundanity and the life-minutes that he was not spending to create

the First something or the Best something or Something to change the world. Instead, he quietly dreamed of the somethings his son might create.

The boy was embraced by classmates and the neighbor kids as The Interesting One who had been born Somewhere Else. Oblivious to his pubescent novelty, he took for granted his unsolicited popularity and the specialness for which he had not worked. Andrew watched as his son grew up, ambivalence serving him well as he sought neither greatness nor rarity and eventually embraced a life much like that for which his father had settled.

There was nothing very interesting about Andrew Smithʼs death. It happened on a Monday night, in a hospital bed, his family watching from naugahyde chairs. No one was surprised, but a few tears fell from human courtesy and exhaustion. In his final moments, he pushed aside a tray of mashed potatoes and sludgy meat, patting the hand of his middle-aged son, exactly the kind of middle-aged son he had been, and thinking that after so much time, it would be nice to take a hit.

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