I’m Teaching at The Loft this Fall

I’m teaching this half-day class at The Loft on October 28th for anyone interested in dark/weird/horror fiction. I personally engage in darkness to find the light, but the course takes a broad view of what horror is, what it’s for, and how it can be done.

More Information at The Loft website.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Date: 10/28/17

Location: Open Book-Loft Classroom

Day of the Week: Saturday

Time: 1:00 – 5:00 pm

Ages: Adult

Class Level: Open to All Levels

Genre: Fiction

• Regular: $70.00
• Member: $63.00
• Low-Income: $49.00

Dark fiction, weird fiction, horror: whatever you call it, how do you write it? What are the elements of an excellent horror story? This class will cover horror basics and provide the groundwork for you to delve into horrifying stories only you could write, that editors will want to publish. Whether you’re a beginner or published writer, this class will help focus your intentions and skills to craft highly original dark fiction.

Through hands on exercises, we’ll cover established sub-genres or modes of dark fiction, how to subvert expectations, and how to establish mood (one of the most important aspects of dark fiction). We’ll also explore what to avoid and why, and how to use standard elements in a fresh and exciting way.

An informational packet will be provided with additional information you can consider at your leisure. Bring your charged laptop or pen and paper. If you have a draft of a horror story, bring a paper copy, and I will provide written feedback on the opening section. Bring a bag lunch; we’ll eat while we write and break as needed. Genre and literary horror writers of all levels welcome.

Shadows & Tall Trees 7 Reviews, Interviews, & Updates

I am trying to be better about website upkeeping. (I am bad at it.)

There’s a new review up at This Is Horror. I’ll admit to being quite pleased with what was said about “The Triplets.”

Tried to reblog V.H. Leslie’s post with pertinent links, but failed. Here’s a pasted excerpt:

With stories from Malcolm Devlin, Brian Evenson, Rebecca Kuder, V.H. Leslie, Robert Levy, Laura Mauro, Manish Melwani, Alison Moore, Harmony Neal, Rosalie Parker, M. Rickert, Nicholas Royle, Robert Shearman, Christopher Slatsky, Simon Strantzas, Steve Rasnic Tem, Michael Wehunt, Charles Wilkinson, Conrad Williams and cover artwork by Yaroslav Gerzhedovich (paperback edition) and Vince Haig (hardback edition) Shadows and Tall Trees 7 will mark the welcome return of this journal.

Award-winning writer Angela Slatter, has been kind enough to interview us all about our stories and the motivations behind them, starting Rosalie Parker, Michael Wehunt, Malcolm Devlin and Manish Melwani. And inimitable reviewer, Dew Lewis has already begun his Real-Time Review of the journal which can be read here.

Don’t forget to pick up a copy from Undertow Books.

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things


favorite things close upToday is the release date for Shadows & Tall Trees Vol. 7, where you can find my latest story, “The Triplets.” My copies arrived Saturday. When my partner went to read the soft cover version, a spider watched him from the ceiling, threatening to drop on him at any second. He wondered if the spider hadn’t been complimentary with the issues…

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be included in this amazing anthology with so many delightfully horrifying writers. Michael Kelly is the best editor anyone could ever hope to work with and an all-around phenomenal human being. I hope you’ll grab a copy while they last. Just look at those beautiful covers!

What’s Up With All the Unicorns?

Unicorns are awesome.

I believe most aspects of our culture to be toxic and in favor of creating wealth for the rich while preventing most people from living fulfilling, meaningful lives. Human flourishing isn’t a priority at all. In fact, in the past, major employers tested out shorter work hours and discovered that when people worked less, they spent their free time doing meaningful activities instead of buying crap. That’s a huge no-no in a capitalistic culture, so they took back the option of working 32 hours a week instead of 40+. The wealthy want us exhausted so we’re easy to trick into leading meaningless lives of consumption.

There are so many obvious ways racism, misogyny, toxic masculinity, advertising, consumerism, glorification of work for work’s sake, etc play into this, but there are also many many small ways human flourishing is blocked by cultural norms and expectations. One of the things that concerns me is ideas about what’s for children and what’s for “adults.” Creativity and imagination and fun are for children. REALITY (narrowing defined) is for “adults.” There are so many invisible forces working on us, telling us what we are and aren’t allowed to like, be, do.

I always loved unicorns as a child. Why is it bad for an adult to like unicorns? I prefer animals to humans on multiple levels. (My smileamazon account is linked to The Nonhuman Right’s Project.) A unicorn is an imaginary, wonderful, magical animal. I am into all of those things. Why am I not allowed to like those things as an adult? And if I do, why am I supposed to be ashamed of that fact?

Because a person who loves unicorns and isn’t afraid to say so probably also doesn’t love things like 50-hour-work weeks and rape culture, etc. A culture that wants to humiliate people for benign things like unicorns is trying to prevent people from expressing other unpopular ideas as well. I am committed to expressing my unpopular, anti-consumer culture, anti-capitalist ideas. A unicorn is an easy symbol of that. It’s not direct. It’s not obvious, but it does send a message. ❤

The Nothing

Currently included in What Does It Mean to Be While in America by 2Leaf Press.

The Nothing

PBS is helping adopted children “connect with their culture.” The children who need to discover their roots are, of course, non-white. I skim the article with a fury I know is un-PC. I’ve tip-toed around this problem, afraid to say anything loud enough that anybody might hear, to say, I have no culture, and I’m sick of people pretending I do.

It’s not that I think children adopted into US households from Korea and China don’t deserve to know about where they come from. But it’s problematic that the only children anyone thinks need a cultural identity and history are non-white children. I don’t believe Britain is exporting their children to the States, but if they did, would people see a need to connect those children to their roots? Would a typical middle-class American family understand there is a difference between the English, Irish, Scots, and Welsh? Would they take it one step further and understand there are distinct cultures within those distinct countries? The dividing line between Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant? Between Hackney and Greenwich? Or would they raise these children with American accents and slap braces on their teeth, and say, good enough? As if “White culture” is a monolith. As if you could swap out someone from Boston and Little Rock, from Edinburgh and New York, and nothing would be lost in translation. As if I’ve never felt an ache for a “culture” that wasn’t plain old capitalism.

Maybe if my hair or eyes were dark or I had a bump in my nose, I could pretend I had some heritage worth discovering. I have light hair and blue eyes and my nose is small and unremarkable except that it has a mole on the tip. I am pale with freckles. I am probably part Irish, but who knows? I don’t know. The thought of maybe being Irish does not make me feel found, like I could say “my people” the way so many around me casually throw out that phrase. If I ever uttered the words, “my people,” others would find those two words laced with bigotry. I am white. I am part of the problem, all of the problems, generations, decades, centuries of problems, from my race, my people.

Irish. What would that mean? I think of leprechauns and cloudy skies and men hunched over pints of warm beer—that awkward dance where the top half of a body stays completely still while legs kick in frantic patterns. The superficial evidence—my appearance, my father’s last name—points towards Ireland. Why would I bother to see if that’s true? As if I could find out and say, Ah yes, the Irish, my people.

I would like to belong somewhere. I have no culture, no known ethnicity, nothing but pale freckled skin to label me white. I do not have a beach house in the Hamptons or wear designer clothes, so my culture isn’t that sort of white. I am not interested in NASCAR and was never into Hee-Haw, so I guess I’m not that sort of white. I did not live in the suburbs or shop at The Gap while in high school—my family was poor—so I am not that sort of white. What sort of white am I? What stereotype fits best? Where is this culture everyone seems entitled to?

There are rumors of Native American blood on both sides of my family—as I assume there are in many white, history-less American households, as there are in so many black diasporaed households. I wish I had the sort of shamelessness that would allow me to hear such a thing and declare it true, drop everything, embrace the Earth Mother and say, Ah yes, it makes sense, my people. I could fashion myself a headdress, beat a drum, dance, and scream out the connection I’ve been looking for that I cannot find.

I’ve toyed with the idea of being Greek. I like olive oil and yogurt. In high school, I bought a picture book, Cats in the Sun, on a whim. It shows feral cats running and lounging about Greece. I suppose adults are supposed to call such artifacts coffee table books. I would probably remember that better if I was that sort of white person.

My mother’s father’s grandmother was 100% Greek, fresh off the boat. That makes me 1/16th. Am I Greek?

I doubt it. What customs were ever taught to me, what ritual performed? What secret language spoken in soft voices just within earshot?

I’m not anything.

If I ever had a culture, it was Christianity. That’s the closest I came. But I hate Christianity, hate organized religion. I am not interested in stories of mythical men in the sky who say you can sell your daughters into slavery if you need some extra cash, and if your wife or concubine pisses you off, feel free to cut off her ears and nose.

I’m sick of pretending I think there is such a thing as a “good Christian.” I think any thoughtful person who still calls himself a Christian is deficient in reasoning, intentionally blind, digging a few sparkling bits out of the steaming piles of evil in centuries old texts for no reason other than his fear of his own mortality.

I don’t mean it when I tell someone I think they are a “good” or “okay” Christian any more than the people who have told me I am a “good” or “okay” white person have said it with conviction, without a little shudder that betrays the belief in their bones that I am implicitly related to all the not-so-good and outright evil white people.

Fair enough.

Maybe I should believe in the mystical man in the sky. I could convince myself that I chose this life, chose this body, said, Ah yes, those two idiot teenagers, I’d like for them to be my parents. They seem stable, both coming from single, alcoholic mothers with their histories of being shipped back and forth across the country, their GEDS obtained from alternative schools. Those are the ones, Almighty White Man in the Sky, that’s where I want to be!

Given a choice to be born into a series of different hypothetical worlds, where lots will be determined at random, most people will not choose the world where everyone is equal, has the same amount of stuff, is comfortable. Few choose the world where a handful are at the very top and most are at the bottom (though some do, and I assume those are libertarians who believe they can beat the experiment one bootstrap at a time). Most people pick the world where some have a fair bit more and most have a little less. They’d risk having less than the Joneses’ for the chance to have more. For most people, an un-ideal world would be one in which everyone has what they need and no one has more or goes without

To the best of my knowledge, they’ve only run this test on Americans. Depending on culture, results may vary.

That’s my culture: capitalism, apple pie, baseball, imperialism, reality TV, oppression, brute force.

No one is going to adopt me. They tolerate me. I amuse them and probably piss them off more than they let on with my constant ignorance, my incessant questions, my endless epiphanies about what it might be like to not be white.

I was bonding with Alice Walker over Anything We Love Can Be Saved. I was envying her easy love, thinking of how to try it on. I was amen-ing her thoughts on being a woman, on religion, on mother-daughter relationships. I was crying in recognition and hope, but the whole time, I felt her arm stretched out from the pages of that book, her warm, worn hand planted firmly on my chest. That’s close enough, white girl.

I wanted a way in. I wanted to tear the pages from their binding, scrape the glue with my nails.

I must be a brazen asshole.

All the privilege seeping from my pores, and I want to complain that I have no culture, that people look at me and see the evil in the world, that they want to distance themselves from me, that they call me Other. It’s my own fault. My people called them Other, still call them Other. My people did this. My people created the chasm with boats and suburbs and fast food and entitled penises. My people

I flinch every time someone says “my people.” It reminds me who my people are, that I have no right to use that phrase, that generations of assholes sunning themselves in the Hamptons and dumping oil into the oceans and killing brown people for sport and profit have left me a legacy where I have no culture, and I do not belong. I am like a child brought about by rape or incest: people feel bad about not wanting me around, but they don’t want me around. They know it’s not my fault, but they can’t help the way their skin crawls, the way they sometimes think they see my father’s wicked eyes peering out from my face.

No one can tell me what white is, only what it is not. It is never Hispanic. I know from the countless Affirmative Action forms I filled out while trying to gain meaningful employment. The top box was always WHITE with a tag to specify “non-Hispanic.” I’d read over the forms, looking for some other box to pick, something that seemed to maybe almost define me as a person. I’d yell at the forms, Race doesn’t exist! But I know it does. Biologically no, but socially yes, so I’d read the forms carefully, look for a loophole, puzzle over people whose “race” was one thing on one form, something else on the next.

Each time, I’d cave. I’d check the box next to WHITE with a shaking hand. I’d swear I’d do better next time, but I never did. Once, in frustration, I read a sheet, and read it again. I couldn’t make sense of it. The lights in my room became too bright, my furniture sped out away from my body and I scrawled THESE CATEGORIES MAKE NO SENSE. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT across the form.

There is no victory in denying my whiteness. Those forms are not for me, which is why they put my box at the top, expecting me to put in a neat little check mark or X and forget about it. Those forms are supposed to be a safety net or at least an accounting, a record of prejudice and bigotry overcome or not. Denying my whiteness would only slant the figures, would only make me that much more wrong.

My people, my people, my people, my people, my people.

What’s weird about my dawning realizations of my own possible Irishness is that two of the best friends I’ve had were obsessed with their Irishness. They know how to stand on their toes and lift their knees, the top halves of their bodies perfectly still. They do not think of leprechauns. The men with pints of warm beer are men to be embraced. I never understood their obsessions, never imagined that I too could be Irish. The dancing and music and stories never had anything to do with me.

Dyeing my blond hair red made me look more Irish. I should have gone dark brown, the hair I’ve always wanted, the hair I’ve envied on the dainty quiet girls and the self-assured badass women with dark eyeliner, bright lips, and straight across bangs. Maybe with dark hair I’d feel more Greek, but Greek or Irish, it’s all the same. None of it has anything to do with me.

My hair is red like my rage, my endless rage about everything I and everyone else have to endure. Told to pick an element to represent me during a writing exercise, I chose fire in the nanosecond it took the words to leave the professor’s mouth. I was surprised most people did not choose fire. They were wispy air, go-along water, sturdy rocks.

I forget other people are not like me.

I forget that so many of my people, who also do not have houses in the Hamptons or watch NASCAR, can walk through the world unaware that the majority of people on the globe do not like them, do not trust them, have a special face they put on when whitey is in the room. I know about the mask or second face. Or really, I should say I know of it since I will never experience it myself, never really know. Most of my people can walk through life oblivious, both to the suffering of others and their own bizarre privilege, can think all that matters is that they try to be a good person.

That is not enough.

The problem is, there is no answer, nothing I can do, no way I could get people who are important to me to show me their real faces. I’ve come so close with one of my oldest friends and mentor, but even she cannot show me her true face, would not begin to know how. When I was babysitting her toddler daughter, an old episode of Sesame Street came on and some black woman was acting the fool. I can’t even remember exactly how because it meant nothing to me. My beautiful, wonderful, perfect mentor blushed, turned away, said “I am so embarrassed.”

I know how to feel sorry for myself, how to take on burdens that aren’t mine, but I cannot imagine living every moment of my life as a representative of my people, of having to constantly turn away from Fox News or MTV or the speeches of politicians and CEOs and say, I am so embarrassed.

Because I have no culture, I do not have to be a representative. It is the dominance of my people, the economic and legislated and military dominance that keeps me above scrutiny, beyond blame, and completely without trust. How could I understand what it is to be co-opted, demeaned, deprived? How can you trust someone with no soul, no ancestors, no heritage or history? Someone who came wriggling and screaming into the world with pale skin, white hair, and blue eyes? My color is the absence of color. My culture is the absence of culture. My identity is comprised mostly by what it is not.

I am a product of my culture, raised on Kraft singles and 90210, living without extended family, an island of school and work, the only traditions national holidays, served with a hodgepodge of store-bought nothingness. No one in my family liked cranberry sauce, so we stopped having it for Thanksgiving. Since we had no traditions, we made everything up as we went.

One of my moronic epiphanies involved a good friend telling me he was in college before he read a book whose protagonist was like him (Asian). It changed his life, discovering that there were books by and about people like him. A new universe of possibilities opened in that instant when he discovered everything didn’t have to be white all the time.

I have no idea what that is like. I cannot imagine from a young age only seeing faces on the television that never resembled my own, and if one vaguely like mine snuck in, it was some horrible, grinning caricature of a human being who was ridiculed and humiliated by hordes of white people. I do not know what that’s like, what it does to you, how it starts to create your second face.

There are thousands of stories of white “everymen” with their mundane lives and families and monetary concerns and bosses and mothers and breakups. I have rarely cared or been invested in such tales. Occasionally a good essayist can move me, but in fiction, the plight of your average white cultureless, ungrounded, American-dreaming protagonist leaves me cold. Their lives are devoid of meaning and import in a way that mirrors my own nothingness. The Neverending Story nailed it: “A hole, that would be something, but no, this was nothing.” I think of that line when I try to figure out my culture, American culture in general, white American culture, the culture of my people in specific.

Yes, I am properly ashamed of my romanticization of indigenous cultures, my secret longings to be native, to be other, to be anything not white. I desperately want to belong, but not to “The White Man,” please. Just, please.

I once dreamt I was confronted with a faceless donkey. Inside the donkey was the nothing, it must have been, because what I saw there was devoid of anything. I drew a picture of its head with pastels, wearing the black stick down to a nub. After years of being chased by that vision, I had one of my obvious epiphanies. I was sitting at my desk, pissed off and paralyzed, when I realized:

That faceless donkey is me.

A lot of people think they know me. They think that because I’m loud and say things others wouldn’t, that they always know where I stand, what I think. They imagine they can see my face when all they can see is fire. The closest I come to showing my face is in my essays, but even then, it’s hard to make out. You have to get past the fire and confront the nothing. Most people cannot confront the nothing, it consumes them or they flee.

But I like to think I have a true face, that just for a minute, Alice Walker reached through my mask and caressed my true cheek with gentle fingers before pushing me back to a safe distance. I like to imagine my true face looks something like sunshine on a clear day, that it has room for birds and lush grass, that somewhere, under the fire, under the nothing, exists a soul of love, that loves and is loved, that might someday push through the nothing, extinguish the flames and say, look at me, I’m right here.

My secret hope is that we could start making our own cultures, our own traditions. That I could look around and say, this feels right, and not worry that I’m appropriating someone else’s heritage, their ancestors, their culture that includes so many plus signs while mine has never been anything but the nothing. I dream of a world where I could say, my ancestors are black, and not have people hate me. Because they are, and we all know this fundamental fact, but we do not want to say it out loud. We are all children of Africa, however far and wide our ancestors ranged, no matter the sunlight that fell or didn’t fall on their faces, creating the spectrum of melanin we find now. My appearance is the simple mathematics of Vitamin D absorption into the skin, what worked best for my recent ancestors who rarely saw the sun.

We know the superficial differences between us are not so vast as the similarities, the sinews and sweat and bones and blood of our relatedness. We know the entire world has been constructed by those who wish to maintain order, keep what is unfairly theirs from the rest of us. They created borders and race and poverty. It is nothing we chose. Nothing I chose.

I forget other people are not like me.

Given a chance to play the game, in the nanosecond after the experimenter read the rules, I would laugh and cry out, the perfect world! The one where no one wants, where everyone can be happy together. The world where we all support and love each other, where everyone’s needs are met, where we aren’t born powerful or weak because of our bodies, be they soaked in melanin or bereft, whether our genitalia is internal or external or both. A beautiful world where we could all walk around, proudly displaying our faces, our faces that look like a sunny day or the soft snowfall of winter or a gust of autumn leaves. We could hold each other’s faces in our warm hands, look into those portals, cry at the beauty, whisper, I see you.

Bethany Is Dead

This essay originally appeared in Yemasse Issue 19.2

(Spring/Summer 2012)

Bethany Is Dead

You can’t touch death. You can’t hold it in your arms. You can’t stroke it. It’s not a tree or a fork or a puppy. It’s like zero, which seems like a number, but isn’t really anything at all. It’s the air inside a canyon, only not quite, because at least you can look at that hole and see a hole. With death, there’s nothing to look at, unless you see absence everywhere, in the dark hallway, in your unmade bed, in the space in front of the kitchen sink, in the cavern of an empty mailbox.

Death is an action, an event. But once it occurs, it transforms itself into concept. Death is not love or fear or joy or sadness, but it is closer to those things than to a tree or fork or puppy. I sometimes think death is longing. I try to understand what death is, so I can grasp the words: Bethany is dead.

Bethany is dead. What does it mean? It means absence. She’s not around. I cannot call her on the phone. I can’t send her a letter or email. I cannot watch her from across a room, across a field. We will never be face to face again. I will not cup her face in my palms. We won’t talk about life and our futures in a yard, in a park, in a kitchen, living room, or bedroom. We won’t leave a table of boys to go to the bathroom together. Where there was Bethany, there is now nothing.

I guess this is why people are so big on closure, on funerals, on mementos, on having a piece of the dead. Bethany once told me particles of everything are everywhere. That smelling a fart means there are fart particles in your nose. That we breathe in bits of Einstein.

I think maybe I breathe in bits of Bethany. She’s in a stick of incense, wafting up sandalwood and cinnamon. She’s in the piercing scent of ozone right before a November rain. She’s in the musk of an old box of photos and papers, that scent of lined notebook paper, graphite, and dust—so old, so familiar.

I have a note she passed me in junior high or high school. It’s folded into a rectangle, with a little triangle you pull to open the intricate package. It’s written in runes.

I don’t remember what the symbols mean. One Google search, and I’d have that alphabet again. I’d be able to read what’s left to me, this one moment when she sat in class, thought of me, and wrote a note only we could read.

I have not looked up runes. Nor have I opened the note and spread it out. I haven’t even touched it with my fingertips. It sits in an old cookie tin with a mini lint roller, a large safety pin, my mother’s heart-lined wedding band that was cut from her finger, a pen and pencil, a black hair band, and a Christmas ornament snowman with my name on it. I don’t remember putting the note in the tin. It must have come out of that 40 lb. box of papers and diaries and pictures and miscellany from my childhood. Each time the box resurfaced, I wished I’d thrown it in a dumpster. I went through it months ago when I was about to move, trying to discard anything I could, swearing I’d burn the old diaries this time, put the pictures in the trash. Instead, everything went into plastic bins.

Except the note.

Sometimes people complain they can’t remember what the dead looked like. I have photos of Bethany, but I don’t look at them. I remember her just fine. I remember her perfect square nose, her crooked front teeth, the smirk of her lips, her long wavy hair, the curl that sometimes fell in the middle of her forehead, her brown eyes, like honey poured over amber, the length and thickness of her eyelashes, her sunburst eyebrows, the way her fingernails were always thin like paper, her feet which looked exactly like mine, exactly, only paler. I remember the shape of her breasts, her hips. I can call up every detail of her, from the way her hair came out of her scalp to the size and angle of her collarbones.

I know the exact shape of her absence.

I remember exactly how she put her hair in rollers, pulling her long hair up and wrapping it around hot barrels. She’d let down waves, hold up her bangs with a comb and spray. She applied her makeup sparingly, preferring browns, ochers, and mauves. She used concealer as foundation because the coverage was better on teenage zits. I remember the ease and carelessness with which she shrugged in and out of clothes, the draped jackets she preferred, all the mauve and rust of her wardrobe.

I cannot remember what she smelled like.

It’s been fourteen years since she died. Fourteen. When I try to think about the fact that she’s dead, and I try to understand exactly what it means, I feel like she’s somewhere just out of reach. Right now, she’s standing in my back yard, just beyond the blinds of my bedroom window. She’s standing there silently, or doing a jig, waiting for me to figure it out.

I know that’s not true. She is not there. She is dead. She’s dead. She is zero now. She is the absence of what could be there if something was there, if she wasn’t nothing.

Right after she died, I tried to write down what had happened, what was happening, but none of it worked. My words were frantic scribblings, shards of memories and emotions vomited and bled onto the page.

That first year, at Thanksgiving, I sat in my room eating slice after slice of pie. My mom always buys too many pies for Thanksgiving, so I ate apple after boysenberry after pumpkin. I kept eating pie until I cried, until I thought I’d puke, slice after slice after slice, even cherry, which I hate. I put the pie in my mouth and swallowed. I thought that was the only honest thing I could say about her death.

I think about Bethany in a similar way to how I think about being thirty-two. Thirty-two is an action of sorts—it’s a thing you become. I can reach out and touch myself, but I can’t touch thirty-two, can’t look at it except for when I look in the mirror and see the ways my body has changed shape over time, the dullness of my skin, the red blood vessels in the whites of my eyes. I don’t feel all that different from when I was eighteen or twenty-six, except that now, I’ve quit fighting the fact that I am alive. I know more about living and dying than I used to, though I am essentially the same person in a slightly different body, aware that I am in my thirties, and that means something, though I can’t figure out what.

I can’t make I am thirty-two mean anything the way I can’t make Bethany is dead mean anything.

I spent the first ten years after Bethany died talking about her, telling people about it, as an explanation maybe, as the root of so many things about me, my sadness, the way I might draw on my arms, write Bethany Bethany Bethany. Why each November, I slowly turn inward and drop my leaves.

I finally stopped telling anyone anything. I used to want so badly for someone to understand, to really empathize. Eventually, I realized it wasn’t going to happen.

How many people even know someone who was murdered? Not many. In fact, when I was still willing to talk about Bethany, I never talked to anyone who’d had someone they were close to die, aside from grandparents. I certainly never knew anyone who had someone they were close to brutally murdered. And, well, you know, good.

I sometimes ask myself what it does to someone to have their best friend brutally murdered when they are eighteen years old. I pose the question just like that: what does it do to someone? I ask as a hypothetical, just somebody, anybody, what happens to them if at the age of eighteen, the person they’re closest to in the whole world is brutally, violently, in a drawn-out, torturous fashion, murdered by a jealous ex?

Robert Robbins is not good at murdering people. Apparently, it can be much harder to kill someone than you might think from seeing depictions on television and in movies. Bethany was quite difficult to kill, requiring over eight different attempted methods with various weapons on assorted regions of the body before he settled on duct-taping her nose and mouth shut and fleeing the scene.

I cannot stand the sight of duct tape.

Some people think it’s easy to write about anything, no bravery required, so long as you’re trying to make Art, not just expose your wounds. I wanted to believe that. I wanted to believe no bravery was required to talk about Bethany now.

I know I said I used to talk about it, but I don’t think I ever really talked about it. She did, that someone this hypothetically happened to. She could recite it all rote. She knew everything that happened, and she would occasionally tell people. Not me. I tried to write about it, but then I stopped. I refused. I tried to quit thinking about it at all.

I hate even saying it happened to me because it happened to Bethany. Bethany’s the one who’s dead, not me. She’s the one who never saw her 21st birthday. She’s the one who never had the two children she told me about, had named. Now I don’t remember what the names were going to be. Irish names. I know they were Irish.

I’m Irish, but I never knew while Bethany was alive. She loved Irish music, Irish dance, Irish folklore. She was so proud to be Irish, and I found it bizarre. I always felt so outside of her Irishness, but I was Irish the whole time.

What does it do to someone to have their best friend brutally murdered when they are only eighteen years old? I would be somebody else if Bethany was still alive. Who? I don’t know.

Sometimes the living try to live for the dead. I don’t really want to live for her. I wouldn’t know how. She was science. I am writing. But now, the more successful I become, the more I think about her, and the more I have some small, strange feeling that I’m making her proud. It doesn’t make much sense because I know she’s dead, and I don’t believe in an afterlife except for the part where all your molecules become unglued and go back into the world and become molecules in other things—in trees, forks, and puppies—in slices of celebratory pie.

I don’t have to try to live for her because there are pieces of her left inside me. I always hated science: memorizing names of bones, chemical processes, and weather patterns. None of it seemed to have anything to do with me, with actual life. But Bethany kept drawing me back. I would see her reading a Stephen Hawking book. She would talk about black holes, about particles, about physics, and I would crack open my mind just a little to the possibilities.

Now I devour science, watch BBC specials on everything from the moon to the origins of our species to black holes to the possibility of parallel universes. (Bethany would have loved parallel universes and the possibility that our universe is merely a hologram.)

I could never capture all the shapes and contours of Bethany and our relationship and her death and the aftermath. It would take a book. It would take a series of books. I do not want to write that book. I don’t want to ask anybody to read that book. Ten pages or less, I tell myself. Ten pages or less to try to understand something that is fundamentally incomprehensible.

It’s so simple, but I can’t understand it. I can’t grasp this basic concept of how it is that Bethany was alive and Bethany meant everything to me and I meant everything to Bethany and then one day, poof, gone, forever.

People like to say it fades with time, and sure, yeah, I don’t sit around for hours sobbing until I’m dehydrated, but I’ve never stopped being haunted. I can’t think about her without getting the sense that she is somewhere close by, just out of reach. Now, she’s right outside my other bedroom window, but if I turn my head to look, she’ll vanish.

Maybe part of the problem is I don’t want to understand. I don’t want to say, yeah, Bethany is dead, gone forever, and truly comprehend the meaning of those words, take them inside my mind, my heart, and know she’s never coming back. I think maybe I’m just not capable of that sort of knowledge. Maybe that’s why I go blank. Why sometimes, for a second, I seem to grasp the words and my chest lunges, and my eyes begin to tear, but then halfway through, the words stop making sense. My eyes dry up. I blow my nose and am left thinking about that someone who might have to face a death, a murder.

I don’t think Bethany will really be dead until I’m dead. Then there will be no one left to remember. Only then will she stop appearing outside my window, behind me in a room, in my dreams where she’s been living in a house outside of town the whole time, where we’re never really older, never thirty-two, where her skin is still clear and white with that silly curl falling across her forehead, where she turns and smirks and asks me why I’m crying.

What Is A Witch?


What Is a Witch?

What is a witch but a hag, an unruly woman, a spinster, a crone, any woman who exerts her own power and right to exist and act how she wants without the approval of the patriarchy?

They try to burn us at the stake, hang us, drown us, imprison us, throw acid on us, rape us, murder us, for not doing what they want or being how they want us to be.

A witch is any woman who does not play by the patriarchy’s rules.

A witch is a “nasty woman.”

A witch is any woman who embraces her own power and self-determination, who dresses and acts and works and plays how she pleases with little to no regard for what is expected of her or what other people think “her place” might be.

A witch is a person in touch with her own magical powers to transform herself, others, and the world we all share.

sun_kitsune_by_hontor“Sun Kitsune” art & image by Evgeny Hontor. One of my favorite witches, who makes AMAZING art.

Harmony Is A Witch

I refuse to let other people and their bad cultures and religions impose their beliefs on me, what I look like, how I act, what I learn, what I value, what I write, the stories I tell.

I am a magic-user, broadly and narrowly construed. I am fascinated by physics and hypotheses about parallel worlds and universes and the implications of those possibilities. For laypeople, scientific knowledge can come across as magic. No, really, HOW does your television or computer actually work? How do they display images and colors and sounds and react to our remotes and keyboards and the internet? We don’t know. It works by magic for all we know.

I am a magic-user in that I create entire universes in my stories. Stories have the ability to change individuals and cultures. They’ve shown again and again that readers of fiction are more empathetic than non-readers of fiction. We understand our fellow humans better because we’ve experienced what it might be like to be all sorts of different people in different circumstances with different problems.

I take my magic very seriously and tell stories that will make the world a better place and open up opportunities to those who have been systematically oppressed and belittled and ignored. Not only do I try to make the world a better place for other humans, but I am desperate to make the world a better place for plants and animals that live here too!

I am the sort of witch who sits on her porch watching the various birds and squirrels playing in the trees and bushes, who tunes into the natural world and isn’t constantly distracted by technology and capitalist impulses to buy more and own more and spend the majority of my life completing meaningless tasks for slips of paper that I can turn into meaningless, transitory goods.

I am witch who balances my life to the best of my ability within the horrific society I was born into with all that comes with that. I minimize the amount of time I spend performing relatively meaningless tasks and conserve those slips of paper received for necessities and goods that actually improve my life and the lives of others, and reserve most of my time and energy for loving relationships, writing my stories, and communing with the natural world.

Another Dang Test

So these posts were all disappearing into the ether as I made more of them, so I tried to bring back the “blog” portion of the page, not that I wanted to call it a “blog.” So now I’m trying to see if new posts will archive to the page I put back or not. I really should have done the novel first, then this. Mistakes were made.

More On The Big Head Debate

It is totally worth pointing out that when I first started putting this site together, I deleted one million preinstalled widgets and also the “blog” portion. I had zero intentions of saying anything about anything that wasn’t simply linking to my stories and essays and maybe interviews I’ve done or will do or am doing. I was only putting everything together because sometimes people ask where they can read my stuff, and I’m always like, uh, I dunno google me? Add in “fiction” to the search? This does not go over well. So ok, fine, I was building a website, but I didn’t know all the things I didn’t know. I haven’t had a blog in a decade. I don’t even write nonfiction anymore. I’m tired of saying things to say things, but now I sort of have to, or do I? It’s a good question. I do not currently have the answer. Do you have a big head just because you want people to actually find the website you built specifically for them? Do I, gentle weirdo who is reading this silly posts, have a big head? You decide.