Still Rendering

My dad sent me 1,936 emails between 2008 and 2015. Most were brief and business-oriented, even when the business was pleasure: “got tix for you, don’t be late. xo, d.” Others were longer, the type of letters that columnists claim people don’t write anymore. They were unusual love letters filled but with the unflinching love of a parent who might miss my childhood if only he could stop being so damn excited about the adult I was becoming.

1,936 emails, but there’s just one I keep returning to, where he told me “please know that I am with you.”

And then he wasn’t.

My father collapsed at his office in the Times Building on February 12 of last year. My stepmom called me to the hospital and panic enveloped me immediately. Dad was our fearless tribal leader (a self-assigned moniker). What the hell would we do without him? I was worried about my sisters, stepmom, my dad’s extended family and then, as per the instincts of survival, I was worried about myself. Where to go from here?

I went to other people. I reached out to women whom I knew had lost a parent. I asked them questions — basic, logistical issues, such as: “How do I sleep? How do I work? How do I stop myself from murdering someone when they tell me It Will All Be Okay?” The answers were in the same instructional DIY spirit: “I passed out when I was tired, I worked when I absolutely had to.” Some answers weren’t answers, just reality: “Waking up is the worst part because you have to remind yourself.”

I’m a year out, and I’m still rendering. If I could talk to that grief stricken kid, because I was a kid before my dad passed away, I would say this: you will feel uncomfortable when people light cigarettes around you. You will want to hit the mute button when friends complain about their parents. You will lose some of those friends. You will leave the room when your boyfriend picks up his phone to whisper hello to his very alive father. You will curse yourself for deleting the voicemails he left you. You will feel like the world is flooded with jello and you’re walking through it wearing ankle weights.

But if that kid kept listening, I’d continue:

You will start a group text with your sisters and stepmom to keep in touch and comfort each other. You will make it through work events without pulling a Christian Bale. You will show up for people as much as you can. You will join a grief group called The Dinner Party where you meet other men and women in their 20/30s who have lost a parent. You will learn that crying can feel good, especially when done away from work. You will stop drinking after conducting extensive field research on the reaction between wine and grief. You will spend hours scanning incredible photos from the 80s and 90s of the little family that could. You will find that your family, now even littler, still can. You will make your dad proud.

Six months ago, I had a big meeting. The kind of meeting that wrenches you awake at 6am in a cold sweat, with the feeling that you hadn’t ever really fallen asleep. I arrived an hour early, naturally, so I went to a nearby cafe. I was prepared, I had my hard drives, and they had great stuff on them, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had forgotten something. As I sat there and stress ate a piece of chocolate fudge cake, I realized I felt off because I hadn’t talked to my dad, a tradition I observed before every big meeting. I wasn’t able have the prep phone-call the night before to go over the words that could win me anything. I just had my own thoughts rattling around in my head. I felt like I had lost my ace in the deck and if you knew my dad, I promise you’d agree.

The meeting went well. I walked out in a daze and realized that a year minus one day earlier I had walked out of a meeting with HBO and headed straight to the New York Times. After an intense 9-month development deal, HBO had decided to greenlight my film. My dad was standing outside holding a cigarette and his cell phone. He looked up and said “I gotta call you back, my kid’s here.” I told him the good news and he smiled the biggest shit-eating grin, “I knew it.” Inside, his coworkers came up to him to chat, but he wouldn’t let them start before they knew: “Erin here was just greenlit by HBO.” At that point, no paperwork had been signed so I wasn’t sure if it was the right move to start telling reporters from the New York Times. Dad hushed me when I tried to vocalize my worries.

A year and a day later, I was back with good news. I walked over to the New York Times and whispered my good news out loud. No one heard me, of course. I cried, and hard. I wasn’t ashamed. I was closer to being the person my Dad saw when he smiled at me: a person who only existed because of combat with catastrophe, who survived that fight because of his confidence in me, and who learned that it’s ok to take a moment to celebrate, even if the contract is not signed and the outcome is far from certain. There’s only so many moments in a life, anyway.

_

Thanks, Dad. Miss you.

Read:

“Press Play,” by David Carr for Medium (2014)

“The Wrestler,” by David Carr for Medium (2014)

“At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture” by David Carr for The New York Times (2010)

“The Night of the Gun” by David Carr (2009)

Watch:

“Page One: Inside the New York Times” Directed by Andrew Rossi. Available on Hulu and Amazon.

Next Story — last week, this morning #10
Currently Reading - last week, this morning #10

last week, this morning #10

do you love us?

I wanted to capture the pieces that made me think and feel, and put them in one place where you and I would be able to refer to them for years to come.

Welcome to that place.


Rose would put her paws up as well, but it’s just too much effort.

Last week, I spent too much money, I did too little exercise, I ate too much junk food, I drank too little water, I spoke too much, I wrote too few words, and I beat myself up over all those things.

Let me go grab some chocolate before I continue.

I read some wonderful, interesting, thought-provoking pieces on and off Medium this week, and thought about them but didn’t write about them.

I thought about how undervalued I feel as a freelancer in the creative industries (our cool name for it). I mean, some indie writers will pay their hairdressers more for a style-cut and colour than they want to pay me to edit their 50,000-word manuscripts because I can pay someone in India ten bucks for that. Businesses consider me a member of their admin team, and want to pay me the same rate as their fresh-from-senior receptionist—the one they don’t trust with the outgoing mail, yet. But you just write words. I can write words. But you don’t write words, buddy. You tried, and it was too hard to write the right words. Why don’t you get your receptionist to do it?

Some days it feels like society wants me to do the work and then decide later whether or not it wants to pay me, because, after all, whether or not it’s good is a subjective judgement. Our publishing industry loves to remind us of that fact, continuing to publish authors they know will sell, when a body of phenomenally good literature goes unpublished (or, hopefully, self-published).

And there’s always someone willing to go cheaper. We know it’s not cool to undercut others’ rates. We know it devalues our services. But no one can live off this income anyway, so we all do it part-time and, when we do it for love, is getting paid anything at all just a blessing? Wrong. But perhaps we’ve gone too far down that road.

Perhaps we’re too broken to fix.

Here are some stories that are not broken, that need no fixing, that are just perfect the way they are, that need no validation from publishing houses or literary critics, that are well worth your time. Enjoy.


Perfect, by Heath Houston

Without a doubt, this is the sexiest thing I read all week. It’s just perfect.

Raindrops, by David Collante

To me, this is what a haiku should be, capturing the natural elements and their impact—note the clever word play in the final line. Yes, more of this!

black kisses., by walkerjojones

This writer breaks my heart over and over. I read her work and I think no and I think that is wrong. I don’t think she is wrong—she is writing her experience. I think it is wrong that when she speaks such awful truths, she’s speaking the truth. (Come on, human race, get your shit together, will you?) That’s why she breaks my heart.

cheese scones & tea, by Jules

On a lighter note…um, what the fuck just happened? And how did I end up at the end of this story without a plate of cheese scones and a pot of tea in front of me and my people? Okay, I best go start over from the beginning of this chuckle-inducing recipe by Jules, and hope it works this time.

Wine Days, by Jessica Kaisk

Let’s continue the food pairings and grab some wine here. This poem is wine and it is not wine and I am in the bottle and I am in the moment and I am lost in this poem and I am loving it. And I am making no sense at all, so you should just click through and read it for yourself.

Welcome to Web City, by S Lynn Knight

Even the subtitle of this piece feels like part of the story. This triple haiku reads simply, and it reads well. Very well, indeed, and still keeping on my apparent food theme. For those who love the detail in nature.

Longing For …, by Wild Flower

If you share your writing, then someone has probably told you to ‘show, don’t tell’ and you’ve probably responded by doing what I do, and writing it like it’s a movie. That can produce great visuals and dialogue but showing is meant to include what we experience with all our senses. Wild Flower had me at the cut grass…and I’m allergic to the stuff. Here are words that know how to show. (And then check out The unfamiliar is my familiar.)

Art is easy. Creativity is the real challenge, by Dylan Trieu

This is not the best-written piece on the internet this week. Nor was it the best back in April, when it was written. I don’t even like the title all that much, because it doesn’t fit with my definition of art. But I liked the content, because it made me think, especially in a week where I decided to not attend a slam poetry workshop/audition for a very simple reason:

I don’t believe art should be a competition.

We don’t ask five accountants to pay $20 each to do our tax, and then award the best one $100. Nor do we ask five builders to build us a house, and then only pay for the house we like the best. Not the best house, but the one we like best. It’s bullshit, and it’s the same reason I’ve decided to enter no more writing contests.

The Usual Ritual, by BHD

This piece creeped me out a little, because I drew the only logical conclusion: BHD has been spying on my morning routine. Then I realised I’m not the only one. Phew. I hope your cleaning went well, BHD :D

Elegy, by Tamyka Bell (yes, me)

Oh, I am so breaking the rules here, and I just don’t care. I mean, you can totally skip this one, if you prefer. But I am proud as punch (whatever that means) over this one. I decided to write a fib poem, which is a form I’m exploring at the moment for a book project, and I wanted to write something about my Opa. I was happy enough with my first draft, but then I found a little taste of rhythm and rhyme within the lines and worked them hard. I finished it thus:


If you enjoyed last week, this morning, check out other weeks, and don’t forget to recommend your favourite pieces so others can find them, too!

Next Story — Sin City in the Summer
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Sin City in the Summer

Well this is nothing like Ocean's 11. Everyone is sad, and there’s a noticeable lack of George Clooneys.

Maybe that’s because we’re staying off the strip, but I think it might just be the vibe of the entire city.

I got my first whiff of amorphous floating sadness at McCarran International Airport when we deplaned.

You just know there are people who haven’t even left the airport for a day or two because they can’t extricate themselves from the slot machines.

I feel a bit robbed. Literally. I just lost a twenty to the penny slots because I had to go play The Gremlins one. I should’ve remembered never to feed them after midnight.

This is my first time in Las Vegas.

I’ve never been before because I hate gambling. The reason I hate gambling, is because I never win at gambling.

I’m a good luck totem of some sort, but I personally never win when I play.

For example, my husband likes to play Craps. It is, according to him, the game with the best odds against the house, but I wouldn’t know, because I never get to play. I have to stand there and be good luck.

When we checked into our hotel and went down to the Casino, he posted up at a $5 minimum table, and proceeded to get his bet machine running while explaining some of the nuances of the game to me.

There is a lot of superstition in Craps. You’re not allowed to say the number 7 out loud, and juju is apparently a real thing that exists at Craps tables.

I’m part of the juju. I’m The Blitz. I’m a magnet. The negative, the bad juju, and the crazy are all hella attracted to me, which isn’t fun for me, but it’s helpful for other people.

When a table is hot, you can feel it, but it’s not how it’s portrayed in movies or on TV. The shooter keeps making his points, and everyone gets kind of quiet and they just stare at the table and collect their chips.

There was one shooter that made my husband over a hundo. My husband almost made eye contact with him once, but thankfully, he averted his gaze just in time so as not to upset the juju.

I was staring right at him the whole time. He was not good looking.

No one is good looking off the strip. Maybe it’s the lighting, but everyone looks like a muppet.

After we played some games, we went to Fremont Street. Now there’s a place.

How do I even begin to describe Fremont Street? It’s like an existentialist’s surrealist nightmare-scape?

First of all, no one’s wearing pants.

There are street performers everywhere. None of them wear pants.

Everyone also wants you to pay them.

You walk past a myriad of blinking lights, and run up against bums with signs, sex-trafficking protesters with signs, sex-peddlers with larger signs, freak show freaks hammering nails into their noses, Jesus freaks wearing t-shirts that say things like ‘Confused? Read the instructions’, Scarface impersonators, Elvis impersonators, contortionist break dancers, knock-off Deadpools, homeless veterans, people passed out in wheelchairs, kiosks filled with knick knacks, casinos, outdoor bars, something called “The Heart Attack Grill” where people over 350 lbs can eat free, caricature artists, musicians and musical acts (I don’t think you can call them all musicians), and go-go dancers, all while people zipline over your head and the canopy beyond them is lit up with images too out of focus to register while The Who’s Pinball Wizard plays over the loudspeakers and someone that can only be described as Better Duke Silver plays the sexy-sax of 80's buddy cop movies. There was no synth.

You half expect Johnny Depp dressed as Hunter S. Thompson to show up.

Suddenly you long for the company of the “off the strip casino muppets.” They are more your people than the people occupying Fremont Street. There’s off the strip, and then there’s way off the strip. Fremont Street is beyond even that.

The only word I could think of the whole time I was taking in the sensory overload was “spectacle.”

The heat, even at night, is oppressive.

Ohhh.

Now I get why people don’t wear pants.

Next Story — Waiting to Struggle
Currently Reading - Waiting to Struggle

Waiting to Struggle

The lesson I learned from ants about what awaits me

On the Sunday before the school year starts, we sit on the front porch in late evening and eat watermelon. The watermelons are perfect this time of year. Big green rinds with zig-zagged stripes of yellow. Thick ripe centers of bright red flesh so sweet to the taste and full of Adam’s ale. That’s the term grandma sometimes uses for water — Adam’s ale.

Daddy slices the watermelon in enormous thick chunks, and hands each of us kids a piece. We sit lined up in a row — my sister, my friend A.J., his brother Chris and me — our legs dangling from the wooden steps. We take full bites, chewing each succulent piece but being careful not to chomp into the fat oval seeds. Those we save to see who can spit them the furthest. I usually win, except the one time that A.J. did, but he cheated when he leaned his body forward. We had agreed that our bodies must stand straight up like a metal flag pole and not move — and that means not leaning — but he still leaned in.

We sit there for a long time eating watermelon and spitting seeds and watching the sun go down on the sticky-hot, late summer day. As we eat, juice from the fruit runs down our chins and drips onto the wooden deck. Pieces of melon drop with it. Soon the sweet smell draws the attention of nearby ants, which form a line and march single file to their syrupy treat.

We watch the little ants walk in their queue. One by one they march, some lifting tiny bits of watermelon twice their size, and carrying it back to the colony. I think how those pieces of fruit must feel so heavy for the little creatures. One ant can’t muster lifting, so he just drags the fruit, struggling, but continues to perform his duty.

Chris, who is the youngest and not yet in Kindergarten, asks if ants have to go to school, too. I tell him no that they just work all day so they don’t need to learn. A.J. who is only a year younger than me says that you can tell the ants are working because they walk single file, one behind the other, like the daddy’s and uncles do when they go down into the mines. My sister who is younger than A.J. but a little older than Chris says that makes sense, and we all just keep watching those ants march on, working.

I can’t help to think that one day, I too will be one of those ants. After we leave school, I’ll line up single file, just like my uncle, and my grandpa, and go down into that dark earth and dig for coal in the early morning. Or maybe I will cut timber, to make wood beams for houses and schools, like my daddy does. What’s the use in all this learning, I think, if all I ever amount to is a miner or a logger. You don’t need to know your times tables to dig for coal.

For now, I’m content sitting here eating watermelon, watching those tiny ants form a work line into the sunset. I’ll wait my turn to struggle.


This creative nonfiction piece is part of my series on coming of age in rural Appalachia. If you enjoyed this essay, please check out more here and here.

Next Story — last week, this morning #9
Currently Reading - last week, this morning #9

last week, this morning #9

well, at least it’s still Monday…

I wanted to capture the pieces that made me think and feel, and put them in one place where you and I would be able to refer to them for years to come.

Welcome to that place.


‘How come you brought me to the bakery if you don’t wanna share your doughnut, Mum?’

Back on schedule…almost! If I keep up this tardy approach to regular posts, I’ll need to change the title to last week, this week. Which, come to think of it, isn’t so bad.

Unlike the 48 hour race, which was very bad.

It turns out I haven’t sufficiently rehabilitated my sacroiliac joint since a little snowboarding accident last year (where someone ran over the back of my board, aggressively, if not deliberately).

As a result, I couldn’t stabilise my hips properly while I was running. My form felt sloppy and, worse, I felt weak. I didn’t really feel like I was fatiguing or anything. I just felt that I couldn’t run any faster and, for a long while, I couldn’t run at all. I even got my crew to find a ‘corset’ at the chemist (a lower back support band) to apply compression to my hips, which seemed to reverse some of the early damage. But I never really got moving, so I bailed out after having only covered 150 kilometres (not quite 100 miles) in 30 hours.

This injury is probably going to take a few months to fix properly, but there’s nothing like getting my arse kicked by a race for motivating me to take better care of myself.

But that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here to hear what’s happening on Medium :D So let’s do that instead.


Last love syndrome, by Anna Now

If the writing sounds familiar but the writer doesn’t, don’t panic—it’s just because Anna Now used to be Anna Present. (If I recall correctly, that was because Anna Now was taken.) This is an achingly familiar prose piece, but it feels like poetry, no doubt because Anna wrote it.

At 2:30 a.m., The Vomiting Began and One-Lined Poem: Pets, both by Tremaine L. Loadholt

You can’t read much of Tre’s writing without hearing about Jernee, the wonder dog. (That’s my description of Jernee’s breed, not Tre’s. But she really is a wonder dog.) So it’s no wonder Tre’s story about Jernee’s sudden deterioration elicited so many worried comments, and it’s also no wonder there was a loud response to her call for one-lined poem on our beloved furBabies. There’s a lot of love in these stories and responses, so be prepared for plentiful warm fuzzies and maybe a teary eye or two.

An Array of Aphorisms, by Mike Essig

My favourite is the one that begins While I wasn’t looking…this is a witty little collection to dip in and out of.

I was nineteen the first time, by Jackie Ann

I can’t say too much without spoiling this one for you, so let me just advise you to enjoy this to its fullest, and let each moment of pleasure lead you gently to the climax…And then, once you’ve recovered, go on and read My Song as well.

love buzz, by Matt Vercillo

Oh! How I love this piece, and oh! How I struggle to say why! But I’m so glad I stumbled across your words many weeks back, Matt.

On a personal note…

I cross-posted a couple of articles from my business blog, nervously, because I wasn’t sure how they’d be received. I didn’t expect any attention as they’re clearly aimed at a different audience to my regular readers. So I was more than delighted when some of you (such as Colette and Wild Flower) delved into the posts to find my meaning, and then applied that to your own world, and then so generously shared it with me.


If you enjoyed last week, this morning, check out other weeks, and don’t forget to recommend your favourite pieces so others can find them, too!

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