Tag Archives: nonfiction

Getting Out – Helen Head

Finding friendship in the woods of North Carolina

Safety
I stood at the water pump. Everyone else had their lunch in hand, sitting or squatting on old wooden logs. I looked down at my red plastic shoes labeled 37 and in a moment they were off and I was sprinting away as fast as my legs would take me. I ran across a rocky stream bed and out onto a dirt road. I saw a house, jumped a fence and sprinted to the door, knocking loudly and desperately. A middle-aged man with no shirt and a bulging tan potbelly opened the door, “I NEED TO USE YOUR PHONE,” I shouted at him. He let me in and his wife handed me the phone. I dialed my mom’s cell. No answer. I dialed my home phone. No answer. I dialed my mom’s cell. She picked up, “GET ME OUT OF HERE.”

After my dash for freedom I was escorted back to basecamp. Here I waited a day while my mom drove the seventeen hours to North Carolina to tell me in a shaking voice that she was not taking me home. I tried to convince her to take me by telling her we could eat ice cream together, a food I had not enjoyed for over a year. She told me if I wanted to get better I had to stay, and she wasn’t letting me come home.

My running away had consequences beyond crushing my hopes of escape. My feet were bruised and I was put on level 3 watch. At night I was rolled in a tarp and sandwiched in between two counselors. Every time I shifted in my sleeping bag the tarp crinkled noisily. My running away also prolonged my stay in the first stage of the School of Urban and Wilderness Skills’ (SUWS) four-stage program – Safety. In the Safety stage students had to take control of their safety and well-being. This meant eating enough, not running away, and no self harm. I had trouble with all three.

I came to SUWS for a variety of reasons. I was five-feet six-inches tall and eighty-five pounds. I was depressed, disconnected and suicidal. When my parents asked me to go to SUWS I agreed. I knew they wanted the best for me. They had been trying, really trying to help. Nothing seemed to work. I had suffered through five therapists, six antidepressants, and a two-week hospital stay. SUWS was my Hail Mary.

When I arrived I was stripped of all my possessions. I was given a bright orange hoodie, blue pants, and red numbered shoes to wear. The staff member who escorted me through this process held a brown clipboard and roughly checked off boxes as my things were taken away.

On the third day of my then hopeless stay at the SUWS base camp a young boy came back from the field with a broken leg.

“What’s going to happen to him?” a younger student asked.

“He’ll have to go back home,” a counselor responded, “he can’t hike on a broken leg.” Soon after that I ventured behind the bathroom tarp, found the biggest rock I could lift with one hand and dropped it on myself. The first time I missed my left hand, which I had laid on an adjacent rock. The second time the rock hit my hand and bounced – literally bounced – off it. Immediately, a large blackish bruise blossomed from the hit. I walked back to basecamp like a dog with its tail between its legs. I shielded my left hand behind my back and never spoke a word about it to anyone.

While I was at basecamp I met a variety of students. Most had been forcibly escorted from their homes in the middle of the night and were at SUWS for excessive drug and alcohol use. I was the odd man out. I silently judged others as I worked diligently on my various assignments, which I was certain would lead to my expeditious completion of the program. I hurriedly filled out my little green notebook, identifying tree and plant species, and filled my journal with meaningful entries, which I hoped showed rapid psychological improvement. I socialized with only a select few: a young girl, who I remember as being very dirty and extremely energetic and a young counselor who was still full of optimism and the desire to make a difference. She came up to me one day while I sat crying under a tree. “It comes in waves doesn’t it?” I nodded, and smiled at her. Her name was Wren and she was the kindest person I met at basecamp.

Finally, through a desire to get out as quickly as possible I started eating, slowly at first and then greedily, like a drowning man gasping for air. I stopped dropping rocks on myself and I didn’t run away again. I got my assignment for a field group – group C, Charlie: a group notorious for girl fights and lengthy program durations. I got out of Safety and headed for the mountains.

Individual
In the second stage – Individual, I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone. I entered into Group Charlie with three other students: Elena, Elizabeth and Maddie. We hiked silently during the day taking breaks often. At lunch we were assigned small plots of dirt facing away from one another. When I glanced over my shoulder I could see Elizabeth mock smoking with small wooden sticks. She said it helped.

Elena, Elizabeth, and Maddie had been at SUWS for a while when I arrived. They all did drugs, had sex, and were under the age of fourteen. We were allowed to speak to one another during brief windows, once in the morning and once at night. There wasn’t much to say. Mostly we just gossiped.

“What’d you do to get here?” Maddie asked on my first night.

“Is it true that you ran away?” Elizabeth chimed in.

I wondered how gossip circulated in a place like SUWS. Miles of wilderness separated different groups and yet it took mere days before every tiny bit of juicy gossip was known by the entire camp. Maybe the wind carried it to us, knowing we needed this small source of entertainment and humanity.

Elizabeth, Elena, and Maddie didn’t like me. I was a goody-two-shoes, a teacher’s pet who worked hard to set up trap lines and start fires each night so I could get out as quickly as possible. I didn’t break the rules or talk back. I thought I wouldn’t have sex until marriage, I wouldn’t drink until I was 21, and I would never so much as associate with anyone who used drugs. I was judgmental and it showed. At first I didn’t care much. I had one goal and one goal only – get out. So I studiously whittled traps and struck fires from steal and stone. In a week I had caught up to Elizabeth, Elena, and Maddie. But eventually my loneliness weighed on me. I went all day without speaking or being spoken to and at the nightly circle I was attacked or worse, ignored.

After two weeks of loneliness I could take it no longer. I dropped a rock on myself and tried to run off a ledge. A counselor restrained me until I was calm enough to be let go. I sat hunched over in the dirt, sobbing uncontrollably. Elizabeth approached me. “It’s much harder at first…” She said, “but it gets better, I promise.” She stood beside me until I stopped crying and then helped me to my feet. Elizabeth, I realized, was no different than me. We were just two kids who had gotten into some bad stuff.

After my breakdown I slowly became closer to the other girls in my group, and especially to Elizabeth. Nightly circles now contained occasional moments of laughter and always a mutual hatred for SUWS and our counselors. Even Elena, a former thirteen-year-old drug dealer with biceps the size of my head, warmed up to me. Instead of threatening me, we colluded to take down our counselors.

My birthday occurred during one of my final days in the Individual stage. It wasn’t anything special. I received a few brownies (which Elizabeth told me I didn’t have to share if I didn’t want to) and a card from my family, but other than that it was SUWS as usual. When we got to camp I spent the afternoon working on my traps. Towards dinnertime Elizabeth and Elena approached me, hiding something behind their backs.

“We know it sucks to be here for your birthday, so we made you something to help you forget,” Elizabeth said, holding a few pieces of torn paper in her hands.

“Close your eyes,” Elena instructed.
And then Elizabeth started reading,

“Snowy mountains covered in white,
On to the ski lift, hold on tight!
Stop by the lodge for something to eat,
Something chocolate and moist, some kind of treat!”

Elizabeth read on, describing each lovely escape in a wishful voice. She ended with,

“Blinking starts burning bright,
Welcome to the city of light!
Blue moon, bright in the sky,
Thank you for coming, goodnight and goodbye.”

I opened my eyes to Elizabeth and Elena’s grinning faces. They handed me the torn sheets of muddy paper. On each was a picture drawn by Elena, and on the back the corresponding poem written by Elizabeth. It is to this day, the best present I have ever received.

On one of the following days Elizabeth, Maddie, Elena and I were told to join hands. We were told that in the Individual stage we were black bears – solitary, independent creatures – but now we were to become wolves – pack animals. We were given a circle of rope and told to lean back. Together we kept one another standing.

Community
The third stage – Community, could almost have been considered fun. Elizabeth, Elena, Maddie and I spent the afternoons sitting under the main tarp building our wood drills, which would later enable us to make fire from two pieces of wood.

We spent our layover days helping one another make fires and meeting with the therapist for Group Charlie. Our therapist’s name was Amber. She hiked out to our group once a week, and met with each of us for thirty minutes. I would talk about the week and she would assess my progress. In addition to all the hard skills I had to complete to get out, there were also mental skills that Amber had to check off in my little green notebook with her special red pen.

By the time I reached the Community stage two other girls had joined our group. They were nice but Elizabeth, Elena, Maddie and I didn’t talk to them much. They were still in the Individual stage. After one of Amber’s visits we circled up for a “truth circle”. Someone had broken the rules and if they admitted it in the truth circle they wouldn’t get in trouble. As it turned out the two new girls had taken Amber’s pen and checked all the boxes in their notebooks.

After this, truth circle became a regular occurrence. This was also the time when I let loose and rediscovered my love of breaking rules. I stopped filtering my water, poured soap into the rivers we passed, and swapped personal food items. It wasn’t that I wanted or needed to do these things, it was just my way of saying “FUCK YOU” to the SUWS program.

Near the end of my time in the Community phase, Elena was removed from Group Charlie. It was a sunny day and we were hiking up a steep wooded hill. We came to a cross trail and took a break. A counselor asked Elena to take a walk with her and bring her pack. Fifteen minutes later the counselor returned without Elena. She announced that Elena was being moved to another group. We had gotten too close and, as the councilors put it, “You do not come to SUWS to make friends.” Elena’s only goodbye was a hastily written note telling us how much she would miss us. We never got to say the same to her. A week later gossip circulated that Elena’s parents were pulling her from the program because she was making no progress. That’s the last I heard of Elena.

That night two counselors awaked me in the middle of the night. They took me down to the river and launched into a long speech about my progress. At the end of this ceremony they handed me some beads and told me I had made it to the last stage in the program. I was the first one in Group Charlie to do so.

Responder
In the last stage of SUWS four-stage program I was finally allowed to know the time and use the map and compass. These privileges, which had seemed paramount throughout my time at SUWS, soon seemed unimportant and I rarely exercised them. Responder wasn’t much different than Community. It just meant I was one step closer to getting out.

One afternoon while Maddie, Elizabeth, and I sat sewing leather medicine bags, our conversation stumbled upon the topic of getting out. Elizabeth and Maddie were indifferent about their situations. SUWS was bad but what was beyond SUWS wasn’t much better. I, on the other hand, exclaimed joyously “I think I’ll be going home soon!”

“Doubt it,” Maddie said, “You’ll go to a boarding school just like this, like the one I came from.”

“My parents would never do that to me,” I said confidently. “They can’t wait for me to come back home.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Maddie replied. “Everyone here says that.”

I nodded nervously. Trying to hold to my convictions. I couldn’t imagine my parents sending me away. Then again, a few weeks ago I couldn’t have imagined my mom telling me I had to stay here either.

My conversation with Maddie made me so nervous that I ate all my lunch food, an amount of food that had been intended to last for a weeks worth of lunches. Horrified I ran behind the bathroom tarp and tried to make myself throw up. After many attempts (which produced only uncomfortable gagging) I stopped and walked hurriedly back to camp. I immediately sought out Elizabeth to tell her what I had done. Awhile later a counselor pulled me aside, “Elizabeth told me what happened.” I was startled. I had never thought Elizabeth would care enough to tell on me. When I returned Elizabeth caught me by the arm and asked if I was okay. “I want you to get better,” she told me.

Soon after my food frenzy I was told I would be going on a solo. I would spend a whole day and one night alone (though close enough to remain under the stifling surveillance of SUWS counselors). I was told this would be an opportunity to reflect on my progress and become more independent. Nature and solitude would work in tandem to fix me.

In the morning black charcoal was rubbed on my cheeks and I was given a bag of rice and a metal bucket to cook with. When I got to my solo plot of land I set up my tarp, built a fire pit and started a fire. Having the whole day ahead of me I found I had nothing to do. I tried to fill the seemingly endless hours by washing my clothes and drying them by the fire. Then I cooked my rice, well before a reasonable lunch hour. Finally I resorted to writing.

I wrote about the trees overhead and the people I had met. I wrote about food – wanting food, not wanting food, and not being able to stop. I wrote about my parents and how they had forced me to stay here. I wrote about Elizabeth, Elena, and Maddie. I wrote about how terrible SUWS was and how I longed to get out. I fell asleep curled around my notebook.

The next morning I took my place next to Elizabeth in our breakfast circle, relieved to once again be in the company of others. We filled our cups with lukewarm oatmeal and a spoonful of powdered milk.

“I have some special news,” a counselor said. She paused and continued, “Helen will be released next week.”

Warm sweet relief filled my entire body. Elizabeth threw her arm around my shoulder, squeezing me into an excited half hug.

After seven weeks at SUWS I was finally, finally getting out.

Leaving
I had the morning to gather my things and say my goodbyes. Elizabeth and I wrote our contact information on small pieces of paper, and tried to sneak them to one another throughout the morning. But the crumpled piece of paper I had stuffed hurriedly into my pocket was discovered and taken by the counselors. “You do not come to SUWS to make friends.”

Before I came to SUWS life was meaningless. I would wake up wishing I had never been born. I would get through the day dully mimicking activities that had once brought me joy. I would fall asleep without hopes of a better tomorrow. Before SUWS I had nothing to live for. SUWS gave me a purpose – get out – and for that I am eternally grateful.

I cannot tell you that leaving Group Charlie was sad. In fact I hardly remember it. I am certain that I hugged Elizabeth and Maddie goodbye. I am sure I was sad to leave them, with no hopes of ever finding them again. But I was getting out and at the time that was all that mattered.

Helen Head

Winny
Photography
Bryan Guzman

Bryan Guzman
My name is Bryan Guzman. I’m a first year student at CCSF majoring in Studio Arts. My heavy admiration for photography and film has completely grown throughout the years. I enjoy shooting people in any way, shape, or form, capturing their many emotions and giving myself and an audience the ability to feel lots of things.

Baja – Helen Head

“Awake?” Katie calls. A beam of light sweeps over me and I give a thumbs up. Ready.

It’s 4:45AM, mildly chilly. There are 5 million stars in the sky, and I think I can see them all. I reach out of my sleeping bag, pull the plug on my sleeping pad and drop to the ground. In an instant, I am up stuffing things into their proper bag, changing my clothes and putting in contacts. I walk over to the kitchen, light the stove, put the water on to boil. Now that’s done. Take a breath.

With the water underway I walk down to the ocean to pee – as I approach, I turn off my headlight and crouch down. Little lights, like stars, glint in the waves as they crash on the shore. Bioluminescence, beautiful. I stay and watch, kicking at the water – spraying stars away with my feet.

5AM. Water boiled, Nalgenes filled with warm coffee and hot chocolate. I scarf down as much granola and powered milk as a just woken stomach will allow. Rinse my bowl, pack up the stove, divide the cook gear. Time for boats.

“1,2,3” Each kayak lifted, one by one, down to the shore, nose in the water. Sandaled feet testing out the water. Angled downward, kayakers find their kayak. Start packing. Stern first, then Bow. Plenty of space, plenty of time. Waiting, watching, helping others. Gather round. Time for a final briefing before launch. Follow the contours along the shore, to our next paradise.

Boats out in the water. Point first – I head out into the sea. One last push from the sand, and my vessel bobs down in the shallows, tucking in for a day on the water. Legs in, skirt on – peace. Pink coming across the horizon, the pod forming around me and I am right where I am supposed to be.

Helen Head

Giraffe in Namibia water hole
Photography
Constance Louie-Handelman

Constance Louie-Handelman
Constance Louie-Handelman completed her A.A. degree at CCSF in 1973. Now retired as a clinical psychologist, she has returned to CCSF 2019 spring semester with a focus on digital photography.

A Fire of Snow – Brian Michael Barbeito

Quiet was the forest way, and the snow would sometimes erupt like a summer fire for an unseen wind that had gathered it suddenly and brought it up like magic. Then there would be just Pines and old Oaks, the frozen pond small but present, or a winter bird going here or there. But, mostly the silence and the good fresh cold air. Up along the perimeter is a strange path with old mushrooms covered in snow, curled up to die, and a sprawling private second forest beyond. You can look and see that not even a rabbit, fox, coyote or deer has passed there. Not even a bird has stopped. There are no tracks. It’s all a peculiar dream thought up by the Whole, Source, by a universal Something. We paused many a time, and the fun of it was that there was no reason to stop. Just to experience the depths of the air, of the nothing and everything as it were.

Going onwards some more, a single house up the way, always a mystery, nobody ever seen around there, and a set of stables far off with surely hay and horses and all of that. Turn the bend then, and enter the forest proper. Some green leaves against reason and logic wait dangling. The sky parts and a bit of blue are seen, whimsical and picaresque. What’s this? A kind old soul approaching, unaffected and non-pretentious, – just walking. And stops to talk.

What kind of dogs? They seem to love you. Things are beautiful out here. I hope they never take away the forest for the stupid urban sprawl.

And so on.

I nod in agreement with everything and laugh.

We part ways. Far away someone is cutting down a tree or doing some kind of work. It echoes through the woodlands. We go the long way and enter an open space, 64 hectares, which is huge, – and again there is nobody, – just trees and paths and the air and the clouds. Just odd winter bushes and the wild red sumac near there waits quietly in the air sometimes the branches arched this way, sometimes that, – but always darkly, intensely red. Gone is the verdant summer. Here is the white snow on pine needles and the opacity of the low cloud cover. Everything is okay. We have hit our mark so to speak and entered the peak of the walk.

Wind.

Vast areas.

Our theatre.

And again, before turning back to the denser forest paths, the snow is brought up in the distance by invisible wind. It all pushes suddenly up and up and up twirling like white fire towards one of the openings blue in the heavy winter firmament.

Brian Michael Barbeito
Brian Michael Barbeito is a poet, writer, and photographer. He is the author of Chalk Lines (Fowl Pox Press), and is currently at work on the ongoing written and visual nature narrative titled Pastoral Mosaics, Journeys Through Landscapes Rural.

Trail
Photography
Matt Luedke

Matt Luedke
Matt Luedke is pursuing a Creative Writing Certificate at CCSF. You can often find Matt either hiking, heading up a steep hill on his beloved sticker-covered hybrid bike in the easiest gear, or bundled up at one of SF’s cold beaches with a notebook and pen.

Making Bread for Those Who Imagine They Quite Possibly Could – Faith Hanna

Over two-decades of cooking has taught me that a lot can go wrong with simple recipes. Most cookbooks don’t include plans B, C, and Z. Take bread for example. Investment-prone people can convert practically any phase of bread– sums of unintegrated ingredients, doughy masses, steamy loaves, culinary innovations, or spoiled goods – into a feast’s worth of nutrition. But there are limits: ingredients and elements collude against even the most practiced fingers and fervent wishes. What’s left are the burnt or discarded remains of heroic experiments, or what many refer to as “food for thought.”

Thankfully, with enough sense and a trusty guide, you can choose your own bread-venture. Below is a fool-proof recipe for going on and off-script to make it happen:
 
1. Start by preheating the oven to the degree to which you care about doing this right. Temper your expectations.

2. Combine the starter or yeast, flour, salt, and sugar. Add in water. Work the ingredients until you get dough; knead the dough into a flexible existence. Sneak a piece. If it doesn’t seem right, pray or think your way towards a solution. If your earnest entreaty goes unanswered, think about what you value, act accordingly, and move on.
Author’s note: Nothing is well done at this stage. If something went wrong, it won’t quite surface until later.

3. Find a suitable place to allow the dough’s sugars to mingle with the yeast and excitedly bubble with carbon dioxide. If you’re unsure where that would be, consider where you’d like to be if you were about to process significant growth.
Author’s note: Some dough won’t rise, no matter how well you’ve worked it, how lovingly you laced each bit with top-shelf ingredients or A-grade effort. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been an outstanding citizen, a dedicated partner, or whether you’ve seen a therapist. Some doughs are simply unwilling to proceed as indicated. If you can accept the dough as it is, it’s very possible that you’ll be able to make it into something, even if it’s something other than what you wanted it to be. Crackers, flatbread, or pigeon-pickings are all possible. But they only have a chance to exist if you get out there and start experimenting.

4. You’ll need to score the dough so it can let off steam. The number is not as important as what you learn from making your marks. Observe how exposing what’s within changes everything.

5. If you’ve made it this far, your dough is ready to rise to its full potential. You’ll need to find a solid foundation to set it on–something supportive that can take the heat. Lightly coat whatever that is with a with a layer of cornmeal so the dough doesn’t get stuck. Place the dough where it belongs. Introduce it into the hearth. Wait however long it takes you to lose your immature sourness; if you are not good at waiting, set a timer and do something else, but notice every time you lose your cool. If you are fortunate, you’ll welcome a nicely toned loaf. Ideally, you’ll be impressed by its form, but still easily connect with what’s within. If you’ve strayed from the recipe to this point, good for you.

Author’s note: Some dough will cook just enough to look extremely promising, but when you get inside, you’ll notice the rawness. You may try to put back what’s stuck to you, only to find more of the stuff on your hands than you can handle. You could trash the doughy mess and resent it for stubbornly remaining formless despite all honest-to-god-solid effort. You could take the matter personally. But if you stop here, I assure you that not even an ocean can wash away the residual taste of immaturity.

5. If your bread become stale, all is not lost. Yes, you will feel guilty at this point, which will make it tempting to toss it, conclude that it was never meant to be. You may take this failure personally. If you undermine your creativity, you should. Instead, try adding water and warming the bread up until you can re-establish some balance of crunch and chew. Don’t leave anything off the counter.

Author’s note: The difference between master and amateur chefs is that the former often make use of what others discard. Stale bread is a key ingredient in caramel-laced bread-pudding, savory croutons, and crunchy breadcrumbs on cheesy casseroles.  

6. If your loaf grows mold on it, it’s moved on.

Addendum

After many cycles of making, you’ll become more willing to walk away from the suggested path and embrace a hunch or a fancy. You’ll become better at guessing which mishaps are worth nurturing, transforming, and leaving; you’ll know better than to let that experience stop you from trying something new.

You may think that your willingness to experiment will make you a better person in the long-term. You may be right if you continue to believe this. Whatever you do, don’t take the bread personally – most of what happened was out of your hands.
 
Oh, and if it wasn’t already clear, more often than not, you’re the bread.

Faith Hanna
Faith Hanna has a sweet-tooth for a good story which is why she’s been cooking up her own. She’s based in San Francisco and makes money in marketing to support a growing craft-habit. Her most recent triumphs include quitting coffee, making an appearance at her 5-year college reunion, and learning how to weld.

preserved
resin and hydrocal
Clara Davis

Clara Davis
Clara Davis was born in Redondo Beach, California and moved to San Francisco for college. She is in the process of completing her BA in studio art at CCSF and SFSU. She has been shown in multiple local galleries and currently works in a shop fabricating and installing public art.

IN DEFENSE OF A SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE – Roberta Moore

Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I just lay down and it goes away.

Unlike most people I know, I hate exercise; it’s exhausting and it’s boring. What’s the point of running nowhere? When I get in a swimming pool to cool off on a hot day, I float on my back watching the cloud formations in the sky until I lose direction. Then, I get out, lay on a chaise lounge, and enjoy a vodka tonic with lime. I just don’t get the point of swimming back and forth in a lane. Since I quit the gym I feel so much better; relaxed, and rested.

I believe in economy of style; I always take the shortest route from here to there. Where is the elevator? Working up a sweat doesn’t feel good to me. I agree with Robert Browning: “less is more.”

Exercise may be good for you; I’m not so sure it’s good for me. The most productive thing I can think of is to lie on my bed and contemplate the ceiling. Living a “healthy” lifestyle adds years to your life, I agree. The quality of life is what is healthy, and what adds years. Lying around reading, eating and drinking, listening to music, seeing a play or a movie, and laughing at the cosmic giggle adds quality. Studies show that laughing reduces stress and adds years. In fact, there are actual “laughing clubs” where people just stand around laughing and building up their 6-pack abs. I fear those same folks also worry too much about what they eat and probably deny themselves biscuits and gravy.

My best friend tells me not to stand in front of the microwave, not to drink anything alcoholic and drive, have water with me at all times and drink plenty of it, not to overspend, get a flu shot, wear sensible shoes, and always look both ways when crossing the street. She loves me.

Like a dutiful citizen, not only did I vote this week (correctly of course), but this morning, I went for my annual flu shot. So, two good-for-me-and-the-world healthy things in one week!

While waiting in the clinic for my turn at not getting the flu, I couldn’t help but notice all these young, pony-tailed, perfect-bodied, flip-flop-wearing, yoga mat-carrying, women. Where did they come from? I guess I need to get out more often, huh pal?

Okay, so healthy food choices: Macrobiotic? Organic? Vegetarian? Vegan? High fat with no simple carbs? No sugar? Balanced diet from the four food groups? Gimme fatty meat, preferably red; plenty of cheese and butter; french bread; and sweet, greasy fried carbohydrates, ice cream, and a Hendricks martini with a twist.

The great philosopher, Redd Foxx, once said, “Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying around in hospitals, dying of nothing.”

Roberta Moore
This is my first submission to any publication. Audrey Ferber’s class in the OLAD program has changed my life from a political junkie to a creative writer. I am endlessly surprised at what comes out on the page as I discover my own voice.

The Watch
Mixed Media Paper and Digital
Yousef Kazerooni

Yousef Kazerooni
Yousef is a queer artist who grew up in Iran. After immigrating in his early twenties, CCSF became his home. He found an international community of students, and traveled to different parts of the world. Yousef is a storyteller and his work is inspired by mixing different cultures and traditions.

Interview with Athena Kashyap

The following is an interview by Thomas Hesketh, Poetry Editor of Forum, with Athena Kashyap.

What’s it like to be named after a goddess?

Well, the thing is it’s not just any goddess, it’s a Greek goddess. A lot of Indians have the names of goddesses. Growing up in India with the name of a Greek goddess is kind of unique, but I think that my mother liked the name and she also liked to do things that stood out. I have a whole essay devoted to what it was like growing up with a Western goddess’s name.

Can you bring us up to date as to what your present situation is?

I grew up in India and I moved to the U.S. when I was 18 to study. I lived here for twenty years. My husband and I then relocated back to Bangalore. We’d never lived there as adults. We were there for seven years. We thought it was going to be just a year or two, but it ended up to be seven years. Then we came back two years ago and have been here ever since. We moved back into the same house we lived in before. So, it’s all back to square one.

Do you consider yourself bicultural?

Oh, absolutely! I was in India until I was eighteen. I turned eighteen, and a day or two later I left to continue my education here, and I’ve been in the U.S. most of the time since.

How do you begin your poems?

You know, with poetry, I actually work on a computer, but my advice to young poets would be to just find a poet they really like, and study them, and maybe try and write a couple of poems in their style. That would teach you far more than any other thing, to really get inside the head of one poet. They say that really good poets find one poet that they can learn from, and then are able to do their own thing, to have their own voice. So I think finding that one person is a key point and then learning the craft well enough so that you develop your own voice outside of that.

Do you write for a particular audience?

I would like to that I say that I write for a general audience, but I find that when I went back to review my choice of titles, and what I put underneath those titles, and then definitely in my recent book itself, Sita’s Choice, I had to keep in mind that the audience does not have any background in Indian culture. While writing the poems I didn’t do that, so then I had to add in relevant background information.

The Glossary at the end of Sita’s Choice was very helpful when I was reading the poems. As the title suggests, it is evident the collection revolves around Sita, the Indian goddess, and her story. Is this a prominent theme in your writing in general or just true in this collection?

That’s true just in this new collection. My earlier collection, Crossing Black Water, was about borders, and all kinds of borders, actual physical geographical borders, borders of mountains, rivers, political boundaries, such as Pakistan versus India, and also psychological borders between life and death. So, in both these books, I took on a big idea as a theme and linked poems, which is why each of them has taken me so long to complete.

I notice you used the term “linked poems” in both your last response and in your Introduction to Sita’s Choice. Did you decide on a theme for the book and then write the poems or did you write a collection of poems, and then cull those poems to include ones that matched a theme?

That’s a really good question. I think with Crossing Black Water I had a number of poems already and I saw an underlying theme, and that’s when I pushed that situation a little bit more to complete a book. With Sita’s Choice, I had a couple of poems about women. I had about three of four that I had pulled out from my first book before it was published, because I had this idea I would write a separate book about women. The second book took me a little longer. I’m not sure I would do that again, because these books take so long, because you cannot manufacture poem about something on demand. Some are a little more manufactured or constructed that I would ordinarily have liked!

How do you practice your craft as a poet, and what themes interest you?

Well, for me it’s the idea, I get an idea about something, like in my first book, Crossing Dark Waters, I have this poem about the new wilderness, and this is a poem about how we lost the wild. I always write a lot about nature, but we’ve lost the wild in us. There’s no wilderness anymore; the only wilderness there is, is in our minds. Books have taken the place of woods and trees. I’ve had this notion for a long time, and I didn’t take notes on it. I didn’t take anything. I just had it, you know, permeating in my mind, and then finally one day I wrote it. That’s after I had been thinking about it so much. I think that some of my good poems, without question, some of my better ones have been a result of that process.

Another example is that I have a poem about my father’s death when I was nine years old, but that poem came after so many years of letting the emotions sit, and then I wrote it in one sitting. Some of my better poems happen after an idea or emotion has percolated for a while. I find since I just started writing again, my poems are very different than before, and I’m very excited about them because I’m working more with tone. I feel a lot of my older poems are very serious poems and are not very playful. Now, I’m working more with tone and play, but also issues such as, what does it mean to be an ex-pat in India, and then, vice versa, a Westerner really into yoga. These cultural juxtapositions are really interesting to me now, and I feel that I can really play with them.

To the extent that your poems speak broadly about women’s rights and the women’s situation in India, are your observations meant to be limited to India or do they extend worldwide to the status of women?

I’ve taken the example of India, but I think all women can relate to the feeling, maybe the burden, of taking care of the house and children just on her own. Certain gender roles, and violence against women, are universal, which I tackle, and I also think the village-city dynamic that happens, that is very pervasive in India. You can look at it in a universal light. Farms have been becoming non-existent for a while now in the U.S. I think they have been dying out at the rate of several hundred every day since the fifties. They are still a part of life in India, but they are on the verge of contracting. So, I would like to think that my poems are universal to the condition of women.

Who do you claim as an influence in your poetry, starting you to write?

While when growing up, we went to English inspired schools, British inspired schools, so we had a very heavy Shakespeare curriculum, and a lot of the old classics. I particularly liked Shakespeare’s beat, the iambic pentameter. When I first started writing, I would have that beat in my head, and I really liked the poetry we were reading. When studying in the U.S., I liked Irish poet Seamus Heaney. I liked a number of the American poets as well, such as Sylvia Plath, but now my interests are turning to Indian writers who also write in English, and I’ve found that I’m particularly drawn to the ones who are most solidly bilingual. I’m looking to them more for inspiration.

I really like Arun Kolatkar who spoke only Murathi until he was about 15 or 16 years old, and then picked up English on his own. That’s what I mean when I say bilingual. They have a very Indian kind of world view because they’ve spoken their regional language, and then they’ve embraced English.

Your themes have some political connotations to them, don’t they?

Well, it’s political in the sense that everything has become political when it relates to myth and religion and in India. Myth is still religion, so people had fought and killed over Ram’s birthplace, Ram from the Ramayana. They have been trying to prove that his birthplace is actually Ayodha under a Muslim mosque. It has created a lot of unrest and murders.

The poems that I’ve read in Sita’s Choice include settings that are both rural and urban, and women in both contexts.

My Leela poems. She comes from the village and moves to the city. I was looking at the Leela poems and Leela as a modern day Sita because she has connections with the land and I was thinking that about that connection.

I’m entranced by the adoption of the goddess Sita as a pivotal point or point of departure for your poems and I’m interested in whether you wrote poems about life and about women and then adopted Sita as a common unifier or whether it was the reverse?

I had some ideas and Sita seemed to fit into them. I do feel that the idea of going back to the land, which Sita represents, is a universal kind of movement happening right now. We’ve gotten so distant from the land and our food production. I think this idea in the Bay Area is very big, right now, the whole movement of going back to the land, and even in the Obama White House, everybody having a back garden. Consciousness of getting back to the land and being close to the source of our food, was an idea already here, and Sita happened to be this wonderful person in mythology who pulled it together. She was born of the earth. Her mother is Mother Earth, and she goes back to the land. I kind of saw that as a great rallying cry for not only women, but for people, the human race, to go back more to the land as opposed to getting further and further away, the way we eat being distant from the actual way food is produced, so I’ve always been interested in food and how it is produced. I think that some of those ideas were percolating. When I teach a class here at CCSF, in one of my classes here I focus on food, so I always have that at the back of my mind. Sita has brought it together.

In Sita’s Choice, you’ve divided the collection into several different groupings: “Sita’s Septet,” then there’s “Body,” “Seed,” and “Soil.” I think you’ve just spoken to that, but did you write the poems thinking of those topics, or did that arrangement occur to you after you had reviewed the poems that you had written?

Well, I had number of pregnancy poems and then poems about little children, and one thing Sita is really revered for is her being this amazing mother. A lot of Indian Hindu women really look up to her for being an amazing mother, so I had these children poems, a Seed poem, and then I had poems that were more cultural. Actually, the Theyyams poem was a major part of the Soil section; because it is coming back to tradition, part of Soil means coming back to tradition, some aspect of it. And, then I had Body, like the physical manifestation of sexual harassment. It has to do with the physical differences of body and gender. So, I had these, but coming back to your question of whether what preceded what, I think I had the poems and then I tried to write one poem that spelled it out. It was Body, Seed, and Soil. Might have been too deliberate!

You have graced us with allowing us to publish “Theyyams” and you have said that you had intended to include it in Sita’s Choice and you did not. Is there a particular reason for that?

Well with “Theyyams,” I had labored on it, done a lot of work on it, and I was going to have it with my Soil section in Sita’s Choice because it’s coming back to the land, but it’s a very interesting poem in other ways because you have male actors dressing as females and seen as female goddesses. They’re very empowering female goddesses, so much so that, you know, everybody bows down to these goddesses, and like Markkam, who I write about, she was subject to total sexual harassment. In the myth she was accused falsely of adultery, just like with Sita, and then they murdered her, but she came back as a goddess, so I thought these were wonderful poems that would kind of highlight the themes in Sita’s Choice, but I felt the book was just getting very unwieldy. It’s got a number of poems, of pages already, and I didn’t want “Theyyams” to become too lost in it. If I had to do it again, I would have included it, because, as I said, I had put a lot of work into it.

Is there any practice you would advise students to avoid?

Yes, I would tell them not to write when they are not inspired. I’ve written many a bad poem when I’m not inspired (Laughs).

What are your sources of inspiration outside of poetry?

I love history. I was a history major. I read a lot in terms of magazines, now. I always enjoy reading literature, fiction, so I read a lot. I find I actually start writing more poetry when I just do more general writing. So, I think writing begets writing.

What would you recommend to community college students studying if they had an interest becoming a writer in general, perhaps with an emphasis in poetry?

When I think for a poet, a general round education is a really good one, because poetry deals a lot with ideas, and I think having a background in history, taking a number of courses across disciplines, and then also reading the newspaper, getting up to date with current events, and generally broadening the mind. All of this helps in becoming a poet. Reading about science, anything that matters in our world today.

Poets were the original philosophers. Poets deal with really tough questions, with life and death, with science and matter, so depending on what area you focus on, you can get really deep in that. You can take a lot of sociology and anthropology classes to talk about the culture, the clash of culture, but a poem can do that just as effectively.

How do approach organizing your poems for a small collection?

I would suggest there are two ways of doing it. One is to do it in a highly regulated, organized way, the way I organized Sita’s Choice, with Body, Seed, and Soil. It was very systematic. The other way is completely arbitrary; you simply toss up the poems and let the randomness speak for itself.

I’ve organized thematically. I’ve also used what I would consider the stronger poems initially, followed by the . . . you can look at it as a musical score. You want to entice people, initially with some stronger notes, and then you can vary it; you can sometimes ask yourself am I getting too heavy, so then I would intersperse it with lighter poems.

What draws you to the prose poem?

I just find more intense writing that is not really in a more common poetic form, because it’s not condensed enough, but it’s a little more intense than I find myself writing within my prose writing. So I would consider that in a prose poem every line is weighted, and so it is not condensed enough to be a poem. I think a poem is reductionist, in a way. When that doesn’t happen, but the writing is distilled more intensely than regular prose, that’s what falls into a prose poem.

When you edit and revise your poems, do you work with a group of people that you trust?

I have a poetry group that helps. My husband was a big support because he has a really good knowledge of mythology, so he was able to provide some missing information that I needed. My poetry group has been helpful as a first response and it’s helped me a lot to have someone respond to my work, to see how what’s working and what’s not.

Photo courtesy of Athena Kashyap

Athena Kashyap
Athena Kashyap is the author of Crossing Black Waters (SFA Press, 2012) and Sita’s Choice (SFA Press, 2019), both collections of linked poems exploring borders and women’s issues in India respectively. She was born in India, but currently makes her home in San Francisco, where she teaches English at City College of San Francisco.

A journal excerpt: Too Gay to Pray Sometimes – Christine Alicea Gaan

Growing up I avoided birthday parties, so I didn’t have to play 7 minutes in heaven with Victor or so I didn’t have to pretend I was excited to kiss Evans during spin the bottle; but mostly so that no one would see my accidental smile when the bottle landed on Michelle, and everyone screamed, “Do it! Do it!” I’d pretend I didn’t want to and play it off as if I was daring, but it was one of the only feelings I was able to recognize as my own. The only feeling that made me feel like being me was okay. That feeling also made me feel like I was turning my back on God, that I traded my faith and sold my soul to his brother.

For a really long time I believed that all the bad things that happened to me were because of the one piece of me I couldn’t deny, and when I’d meet with my the pastor he demanded that I speak the “truth”, rid my insides of my filth, clear my holy spirit from my sins; even though they were just thought and feelings. He was more focused on the perversions of my mind than on the perversions of the men in my life and our secrets. The devil came to collect, often.

I was 15 when my mom first saw me kiss a girl. She watched from her car as the girl, who walked me home, believed it was safe enough to put her lips to mine and there I was…leaning in. I was breathing in full breaths, steadily and my mother was choking on all the moments she thought she failed me.

I was sent to live with her sister in the middle of Bumble Fuck Nowhere, Colorado. Falcon High School was predominantly white, but I found brown bodies that waved me over at lunch. This could be my do-over. This is where I could ask for forgiveness, and mean it. When she asked if I liked girls I stared at her with the face of disgust, the one I learned from my mother. When her white cheeks turned hot pink and her face fell I said “But I’d never tell,” and when she reached for my hand I suddenly wanted to cry and smile at the same exact time.

My mother’s sister helped me get ready for a school dance. She put my hair in curls, dabbed lipstick on my cheeks, and asked if Paul would be there. He sat with me on the bus, and sometimes we played tag on our quads, and I had suddenly realized…he might be there. I gave my aunt a smile while hoping he wouldn’t find me so that I wouldn’t have to hold my breath in lieu of crying when he placed his hands on me.

My safe brown bodies made room for me, and laughed when I wouldn’t take a sip of the vodka they snuck in. They didn’t know that the other me had been getting stoned since she was 12 or that the current me was in the middle of repenting to God.

A hand turned me around by my waist, and my eyes found hers, complimenting her entire being. In my group she was met with dismissal, still she grabbed my arm and pulled me out onto the dance floor, where I was excited to have that moment and I wanted to live in it, but was too scared to even touch her. This time we weren’t underneath the school bleachers, alone. We were in a crowded room and my friends were watching, and Paul…and God. She was brave enough to step closer to me, I could feel her breath and even though our lips never touched, I felt that silent kiss, lingering in the space between us. My body felt like it had been set on fire, and God was watching me throw away all of his good graces to dance with the fucking devil.

I found Paul eating chips and swapped her out for him instead. I let his hands explore places mine hadn’t even deliberately gone before. I let him kiss my neck, and when she stormed off in tears I pretended I didn’t know why; and when Ebony said she thought she was a dyke my only defense was that she wore “skirts” because apparently girls in skirts can’t be gay. When I found her again she was being slammed into a locker, and they were screaming “dyke” into the air like they were performing an exorcism. I could hear the moments their hands made contact with her body, and I could feel the sting of my mother’s discipline. Instead of trying to help her I was frozen with fear and drowning in my shame.

I called my mother’s sister to pick me up early and during the entire ride home… I had hoped the car would crash. And that I would be the one who didn’t survive it. That entire ride home I prayed to God and said that I couldn’t live like this anymore. I couldn’t be two different people in the same body and that I was certain his brother poisoned me, like he did Eve, came to me in the form of freedom and said I could run with it, all while he held onto my lungs.

I called my mother, told her that I was straight again, cried and asked for her forgiveness and promised what I hadn’t even been able to deliver to God. I was almost 16 when I returned home. I was quiet and I didn’t complain anymore when she bought me pink shirts and jean skirts. I hung out with older boys, who were legal enough to buy me Bacardi and who took me in when she put me out.

I was 16 the first time I had slept underneath a slide because “boys will be boys” and I had too many hangovers. I was stoned enough to decide to bargain with God. I promised that I would talk to him every single day, that I would believe in him, but that if he wanted my faith then I needed to trust that as long as I was honest, giving, as long as I was respectful and strong, that as long as I was forgiving…he would not penalize me, for the one thing I just couldn’t “get right”.

I have been queer since.

I have endured the death of my relationships with people who celebrated my existence before I was even born. I have done my walks of shame in the high school hallways and scrubbed the slander off my locker. I have been met with judgement from my own lgbt community and I have had to mold and remold myself. I have remained patient throughout the growth of my society, and I have grown the sharpest backbone, and the thickest skin. In my challenging God, I found safety in my grandmother’s arms, and a shield in the form of a baby sister. I found paper and pen and in my refusal to give up I have experienced a love that swept through me, giving me an infinity of hope; that has proven time and time again that there is always a rebirth.

Sometimes it feels like I’m at war with both God and the Devil because not everything can be accounted for, not every moment is a predestined one, and not every single thing happens for a reason. I know this because sometimes children are born lifeless, and sometimes an entire race has the skin on their back split open, for the vultures. My life happened because I was born. The things that happened, happened because people took advantage of my uncertainty and my trust. Not every struggle comes with a lesson, though I wish they did because it would make it easier to be less angry about them sometimes. Forgiving isn’t up to God, neither is Karma. That’s the Earth’s decision to set the balance between time and chance sometimes. It’s up to me, and how I choose to react and what I choose to forgive.

My queerness is not up for debate these days. My queerness is not a bargaining tool. It is not something that happened to me. It is not something that requires repent. It is not a dysfunction in my brain. It is not boredom. My queerness is filled with an abundance of love that surprises even me sometimes. It is not an afterthought or a decision. It is not dirt on my skin. It is not the determining factor of what happens to my soul when I leave this Earth. It is not a ball and chains at my feet. My queerness has no definitive line, no boundary. It allows me the capacity to pardon my memories, and it gives me the strength to wake up every day and be myself without shame. There is nothing shameful about love. There isn’t anything shameful about being alive and wanting to live.

Christine Alicea Gaan
I’m a queer, Boriqua-Indian from Jersey with a bit of a potty mouth, who believes actions & words should be considered lovers, & in actively standing up when you know something isn’t right. My attitude will never depend on how you treat me but on who I want to be.

Hebe
Photography
Nikii Davidson

Nikii Davidson
This little Hebe flower is one of my favourite San Francisco blossoms. Its a close up shot with a macro lens on my Google pixel.

Taking tea: Experience During my Travels – B. Lynn Craig

I am a tea drinker. I’m not fond of coffee. During the early part of my life I drank Orange Pekoe black tea. I had it with lemon. When I graduated from high school, I got a gift from my elderly neighbor – a fancy cup and saucer with painted yellow flowers and gold trim. The cup survived several moves, but eventually it got broken.

After I moved to San Francisco, I went to the Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park in the spring when cherry trees were in blossom. At the Tea House with purple wisteria hanging over the roof toward the pond I had green tea. It is important to drink it when it is fresh, because it becomes bitter if it sits too long.

In 1971 I moved to London, and in winter my English boyfriend took me to a country inn and it had snowed. The inn was several hundred years old. There we had “high tea” in a large cottage like building with a low ceiling. Tea came with trimmed cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Black tea was served with cream and sugar.

Jonathan, my English boyfriend, has been to Morocco before, but this time he took me with him. During our stay in Marrakesh, in the mornings we would go to the open air market where the food was prepared. We would get fresh doughnuts and take them to the tea stall, where we had mint tea. It was made by taking a handful of fresh mint, twisting it into a tall glass and pouring hot water over it. Brown sugar was chunked off a large cone and put into the tea. This was in autumn and all of the colorful harvest was in the market square.

In 1971 I was in Afghanistan when it was peaceful and ruled by the king. We would travel in the country on narrow roads, and would come upon three sided tea shacks and have tea. I remember one orange tea pot with white polka dots that was broken and put back together with big brass staples. Clear tea was first poured hot into and around thistle shaped glasses to sterilize it. This tea was thrown on the mud floor. The second glass of tea was for drinking. It was best to drink hot tea, because the water was boiled and therefore safe to drink. Tap water in third world countries is dangerous.

Sometimes in India I traveled by train. When the train stopped tea sellers would come to the train windows bringing tea in wood fired crude clay cups. The clay cups contained tea that would have smoky taste from firing. When we finished with the tea, a cup would be thrown out the window to break up on the roadbed for the train tracks. This was very ecological, leaving no trash on the tracks. In Northern India the traditional chai, Eastern name for tea, is made with milk and spiced with cardamom. This is a usual regional drink.

I traveled on to Nepal. At the outskirts of Katmandu there is a Monkey Temple. This is a large square white building with a sizable four-sided triangle on top painted with a large blue eye on each side. There was a concession stand that sold tea in disposable cups and snacks like a samosa, which is dough stuffed with spiced vegetables such as potatoes and peas. As I was sitting about to put a snack in my mouth, a furry paw with long claws snatched it right in front of my face. When looked into the monkey’s face fangs were bared. He took the snack and raced away, leaving me with only the tea.

In the fall of 1985 I traveled with a group of 19 friends via the anniversary tours. We went to Japan, the Soviet Union and Mongolia. We flew to Tokyo and went to the Society for the Preservation of Japanese Arts and Crafts. Since there were 19 of us, a traditional tea ceremony was performed for us in a small room with a painted scroll that usually depicts the season. There was also a flower arrangement and a charcoal cooker for hot water on a straw mat floor. A woman in kimono crawls toward the seated guest and proceeds to make tea for him. A fine powdered bright green tea and water are poured into a tea bowl and stirred with a fine bamboo whisk. The tea bowls are each individually made and many are kept for generations. Some are made in the following tradition: they are covered with paper when they are fired, so it makes an iridescent pattern that is unique to each one.

We took the bullet train to Yokohama where we boarded a ship that took us too Nakhodka, Russia (that was Soviet Union in 1985). We boarded the Trans-Siberian Railway train in an area that is called the Far East. We were in a car to ourselves with an English-speaking official guide. We traveled first class, but it was called “soft class”, and second class was called “hard class”, because they were classless communists. We were treated to beautiful fall colors as we went through and endless forest that went on for days. In each car there was a large tea maker called “samovar”, tea was available 24 hours a day. Black tea was served in tall glasses contained in a fancy metal cage like holder with a handle called “podstakannik”. Sometimes the wealthy had ones with a silver holder. 2 cubes of sugar were wrapped in paper showing the Trans-Siberian Railway. I brought some of them home to show my family and friends.

When we reached Lake Baikal, the deepest fresh water lake in the world, we transferred to a Mongolian train. We progressed to Ulaanbaatar, which is the capital of Mongolia. Third of the people there had high walls around their yards with a yurt inside. Our seven-story hotel, which was the tallest structure there, looked down upon the city. We went to a very old Tibetan style Buddhist temple in the fall with that seasons leaves in color, and we took photographs. The temple had sloping roofs that ended with sculptured animals. Next day it snowed, and we went back and took what looked like a winter scene of the same temple. In the Mongolian city museum we had tea. Blocks of large disks of tea in the far past were used as currency. The national drink is fermented mare’s milk. Next is tea mixed salt and butter, useful in high harsh Himalayan environment, because they need fat and salt in their diet.

After returning home to San Francisco in 1985 I continued to drink tea. I have a classic iron tea pot with a removable screen cup that is used in Japan. It is important to remove the tea once it is brewed, because it becomes bitter. Sometimes I make jasmine tea that has little fragrant flowers in the tea. Jasmine tea was created in China. Other times I drink Japanese tea that is made from roasted rice. Some of the rice grains pop like tiny popcorn. Sometimes roasted rice is mixed in with green tea when it is prepared. Currently I drink black tea with cream and sugar most of the time, which is a habit that I picked up in England.

B. Lynn Craig
I was born on March 9, 1942. My father was a beekeeper. I graduated from San Francisco State in 1976 cum laude. I worked as a social worker for the city for 10 years, did private counseling, worked on a doctorate in Human Sexuality, and was a professional dominatrix.

Tokyo in Bloom
Photography
Nadine Peralta

“Taking Sides” by Roberta Moore

My left foot is a perfectly fine 72-year-old foot, with slender toes, a slender ankle and a proportionately shaped calf. It has a low arch, but an arch nonetheless, so it can enjoy any shoe style. It is the best foot that I put forward.

Its counterpart has a completely fallen arch. So much so that it actually has developed a callus where the arch would be, if there was one. The arch fell down in 1980, when I picked up my sleeping infant from a playpen and saw stars. I had slipped a disc and pinched a nerve. I was in pain for a year. It was further injured a few years later during an unrelated surgical procedure when the lymph system was accidentally cut.

Because of the cut lymph system, the same poor right foot also became swollen ever after. The foot is flat, the toes are fat, the ankle is thick, and even the calf is out of shape. It cannot stand on tip-toes, run or jog. My daughter has always lovingly called it “Mommy pig foot.”

For several years, high heels worked better than flat shoes, because they actually held the arch up into position. Even though the feet would have liked to take a long walk once in a while wearing athletic shoes, they were both happy enough. Over the years, as the right foot falls more and more, balance becomes an issue, and they now need low, block-style heels. The left foot resents this restriction, as it has always enjoyed styling in high heels. If I had two left feet, perhaps I’d be a better dancer.

These feet of mine are a constant reminder of the dichotomy of life; mine anyway. I think I’m a prominently left-brained person; fairly organized and methodical. I wish I were right-brained though; more creative and freer.

Choice or decision? Choice is no reason, just choose. Decision is with reason. Left brain is decision, right brain is choice. Putting my left best foot forward makes me think that I’m holding something back besides my right foot. I fear that I’m blocking my creativity with my stubborn left brain, and ugly right foot.

I practice a daily writing exercise because I don’t trust myself to let my creativity flow however it will, without a metronome in 4/4 time.

Roberta Moore
This is my first submission to any publication. Audrey Ferber’s class in the OLAD program has changed my life from a political junkie to a creative writer. I am endlessly surprised at what comes out on the page as I discover my own voice.

AkinEV1.12
Relief Print
PABS

PABS
As a Philippine-born visual artist, I continue to explore concepts of identity and of home through the lens of the Filipino diaspora. My work draws from Western art history, Filipino and American cultures, post-colonial life, and pop culture.