Sunday, June 21, 2015

Countdown


Countdown
by Theresa Milstein

I turn from the television and glance at the clock.
I have thirty minutes.
One more show.
The TBS channel runs a steady stream of nostalgia: I Dream of Jeanie, Bewitched, Leave it to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, The Brady Bunch. All before my time, though technically I watched them in reruns as a kid, so they’re a part of my childhood too. Adults look back at their favorite shows, and long for those better times. But were they really anyone’s good times?
A coffee commercial.
I need coffee.
I’ll grab some on the way.
Yesterday, I went to my English 101 class for nothing. It’s the third time we’ve been stood up. This time the professor collapsed in the parking lot. He’s got emphysema. The old man’s so addicted to cigarettes that he smokes a fake one during class. When doesn’t collapse, that is. Assistant professors get only ten minutes before we’re allowed to leave. Because he’s a full professor, we have to wait twenty minutes to see if he shows up. Thirty minutes to commute plus ten minutes to park and walk, plus twenty minutes to wait, times two equals… a big waste of time. I should quit smoking.
More commercials.
I have twelve minutes. 
What show’s up next?
I won’t get to watch it anyway. This morning I have math lecture. Not that there’s any point in sitting through it. I’ll be lost among the hundreds staring at the small man on stage. The only “help” comes from a recent Chinese immigrant who teaches my recitation. He stares inches from the board while he solves problems and whispers in a thick accent. When we ask him to slow down and speak up, he speeds up. What does he have to be nervous about? I’m the one failing math.
Five minutes.
I’ll sit through these commercials before the next show.
Then I’ll go.
Science is no better than math. On the first day, the old man on the stage told us, “I have tenure. This means I can f*ck a chicken on the stage and they can’t fire me.” I’d like to see him do that. I’d get more out of the class. On that first day, he also told us, “Look at the student to your left. Look at the student to your right. By the end of your freshman year, both of them will be gone.” I thought that seemed like a high dropout rate. But each week there are fewer of us.
I like this Bewitched episode.
Even though the “bad” cousin has brown hair like me.
Bad brunette twin on I Dream of Jeannie too.
At least the History professor’s class is accessible and interesting. Just like English, his class is in a regular room too. He sees our potential.  The first day he said, “This is 13th and 14th grade. It’s your second chance.” He always tells us we can make something of ourselves. While his pep talks are inspiring, in some ways I feel worse. When I applied, I thought the place was a prestigious alternative to a community college. Instead I’m the family black sheep at a former agricultural college. That’s irony, right?
Another commercial.
If I leave now and there’s no traffic, I can still make it.
I pull out a cigarette.
If trouble didn’t show up on Bewitched, Samantha would be bored. Why doesn’t she have a job all those episodes before she has the baby? It’s weird that all the women on these shows are stay-at-home moms. When I was a kid, most of the moms I knew stayed home. Now they’re all divorcing and working at garbage jobs, like my mother. That won’t be me. When my parents’ divorce finally goes through, my dad, sister and I will flee this hellhole. Then I can concentrate on homework without her screaming.
I don’t get why Samantha isn’t allowed to use her powers.
Jeannie isn’t either.
Who wouldn’t perform magic to make their lives better?
In real life, we can’t improve our destinies with a twitch or a blink. Life just keeps moving on and making demands, even if we’re not ready. I’m eighteen, and I already have regrets. In high school, I free time working or hanging with friends without a plan for life afterwards. Now I’m stuck. Most of those friends have gone away to college where they have new friends, new opportunities. I’ve been left behind.
I glance at the clock.
It’s too late to make it now.
One more show.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Left Behind


This vignette was included in Vine Leaves Literary Journal Issue #2
This photo seemed perfect for sharing it again.



Left Behind

Theresa Milstein



            Jen’s fingers trembled as she dialed the phone. If her friends could see her now, they’d call her pathetic. But she had to speak to him.
            “Hello. This is Michael. Please leave your name and number at the sound of the beep and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.” 
            Jen hesitated before speaking. Too long. The receiver beeped and she jumped in surprise.  She disconnected the call. Hit speed dial. 
            “Hello. This is Michael. Please leave your name and number at the sound of the beep and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.” 
            She spoke quickly so the machine wouldn’t cut her off. “Hello,  Michael? This is Jen. I just wanted to hear the sound of your voice again. I miss you.” She inhaled. “Can you hear me?  Where are you?”
            A beep signaled the call had disconnected. Although her heart rumbled like an engine, she couldn’t stop now. Had to say it. He had to hear it.
“Hello. This is Michael. Please leave your name and number at the sound of the beep and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.”
“Michael, it’s me again—Jen. I know I shouldn’t keep calling. But what choice do I have? What you were thinking when you drove away? Do you even know? Did you give me a second thought as you flew out of my driveway? Your mother used to say…”
The beep signaled. She’d taken too long this time. Jen growled in frustration, stabbed the redial button.
“Hello. This is Michael. Please leave your name and number at the sound of the beep and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.”
His voice taunted her, mocking her sorry state. This time, she didn’t bother introducing herself.  “This is all your fault. Did you think I’d lose it like this? We had plans, Michael.  Do you remember them?  You’re so selfish.  How could you do this to me?”
Jen sobbed into incoherence before the machine cut her off. It took her a few minutes to calm down enough to dial. She couldn’t leave things like this.
“Hello. This is Michael. Please leave your name and number at the sound of the beep and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.”
Now his voice sounded like velvet—all animosity gone. Jen’s words cracked with sorrow and defeat. “Remember that day you made the picnic spread and surprised me with the ring in my fruit salad, and it was all sticky when you tried to put it on my finger? I can still hear you say, ‘This ring is a promise of forever.’ I trusted you’d keep your promise. I never needed a man to validate me. But after we fell in love, you became my present and my future. I don’t know who I am without you.”
This time, Jen cut the call. She closed her eyes, inhaled and exhaled. And redialed one last time.
“Hello. This is Michael. Please leave your name and number at the sound of the beep and I’ll return your call as soon as possible.”
 “Michael, I placed flowers on your grave today.”
            


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Perfect State of Being




Perfect State of Being



Spirit             Mind            Body

Suspended in a State

of Wonder


A Work of ART



P             I            E            C            E

                         by

P            I            E            C            E


                                                                                                A Limb

C
            U

                        R

                        V
                       
I

N

G


My HEART Pumps Blood to those


L

I

M

B

S


Do YOU See my HEART?

Eyes are the [Doorway] to the SOUL.

Do YOU See my SOUL?


My MIND Fires

S
Y

N

A

                                                P

                                                            S

                                                                        E

                                                                                    S


to purse 
my lips.


Do YOU long to Taste them

Or HEAR the WORDS

P            U            S            H            E            D

 Through my

T
E
E
T
H

And TONGUE?


Soft spheres

Buffer

H            O            L            L            O            W

and

H            A            L            L            O            W            E            D

Spaces


P

L

U

N

G

E


Beneath the Surface


and

Find


ME.










Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Work for Free?




I'm on the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog 
answering the following questions:


Should we offer our work for free 
for others to profit from? 

When is it appropriate, when isn't it?




There's an interesting discussion going on there. Please join in!


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Concert




Concert


They stand
Earnest
Pressed
Butterflies in a net
Off cotton white
And satin black

Hair tamed
Ribboned
Curled
Braces on teeth
Gangly limbs
In soldier formation

We sit
Rumpled
Proud
Cameras in hand
Grays splayed
Skin creased

They wait
Unfurled
Wings
On cusp of flight
While ours crumple.
Such short splendor.



- Theresa Milstein







Sunday, March 22, 2015

Family History




Family History


The trunk of this family is lost to history
Photo fragments remain as shadows
Among anecdotal remembrances

Grandmother asphyxiated from appearances
Eldest aunt expired of embarrassment
While the youngest aunt died of denial

Uncle wallows in what could’ve been
Father perches atop it’s not my place
Above their ancestors’ termite rot

Their children and their children’s children—
Twisted branches spread far and wide—
Brethren brittle breaking, sisters snatching sky—







Thursday, March 12, 2015

Collective Bullying

Andrew Smith

Know him? Know his books?

Until yesterday, all I knew was this that I’d seen his book, The Marbury Lens, in my local bookstore. But I hadn’t read it. We weren’t Facebook friends. I didn’t follow him on Twitter.

Last night, my writer friend Matthew Macnish posted a series of tweets by authors in favor of him on his Facebook page. Including a link to a post written by another writer who accused Andrew Smith of being sexist. I’m not going to link it, but I will pull the supposed proof of sexism pulled from an interview:

Q: On the flip side, it sometimes seems like there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers. Where are all the women in your work?
A: I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.

From that presumptive question and Andrew Smith’s response, the writer concluded this:

The interpretation is that women are less than human, or at the very least, inherently different from men. That is one of the oldest sexist arguments in the entire world. 

and this:

Women are so different they defy his incredible imagination.

concluding this:

But shouldn’t it be harder for someone to willingly participate in a culture of sexism than it is for us to talk about it out loud, and publicly? 


1)   It’s okay to acknowledge that we can feel a little discomfort writing about someone who is a different gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity from us. What’s important is that we try. From the outpouring of support for Andrew Smith and his characters, it seems that he actually does write varied characters.

2)   If we are looking for people to out people who have made sexist comments, surely we can find a more overtly sexist writer. I know of a famous author who has made homophobic comments. Where’s the public outcry? Instead, his book has been turned into a movie. What role model is he for LGBT children and teens?

3)   If something someone says makes you feel uncomfortable and you say you want dialogue, contact the person privately or make a personal comment on a post.

As a result of the post and the link to it on Twitter, a witch-hunt ensued.

It got so bad, the author deleted his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The author of the original post said:

FTR: nobody I follow on twitter has been vilifying Andrew Smith. My corner of the internet is discussing, sarcastic, angry, but not mean.

Does that make it okay? In response, I said this in response:

You took a comment for a question that probably threw him and made him a poster child for something he is not. Shameful.

I posted my own tweet:

So #AndrewSmith has been the target of a modern witch hunt based on flimsy evidence. We can do better, writers. Have we become the trolls?


I do believe having an issue with the content in a book is okay. But…

When did it become okay for writers to personally attack each other on social media, especially without having much information?

When did it become okay to ruin people’s ratings on Goodreads and Amazon because we wanted to punish the writer?

It’s collective bullying.


But then outpouring of support came out from people who know Andrew Smith a little better than the writer who started the attacks. They painted a picture of a man who is funny and talented. They waxed poetic about how his books saved them and made them better writers. Check the #AndrewSmith Twitter feed to find out.

The ones who spoke about Andrew the person were the most impressive.

Michelle Zink wrote this on her Facebook page:

Don't have time to write? Take a look at this. Not only is Andrew Smith an amazing writer, he has a beast of a work ethic. Get up at 3am to write BEFORE going for run which he does BEFORE he goes to his full time job as a teacher? Holy wow. And I thought I worked hard. Also, high five to Smith's wife, who must certainly pick up any slack at home. Now THAT is a partnership.

But the best evidence of what kind of person Andrew Smith is comes from Andrew Smith himself before this happened:
Here's Andrew Smith defending a woman (Meghan Cox Gurdon from the YA is too dark piece)...

Did what Andrew Smith say in that interview deserve what followed? No, it did not.

And so, today, I will support him the best way I know how.

I’m going to buy one of his books.