A Letter from My Playground

Welcome home.

I raised you here, you know. Your hands on my rungs, your feet on my dirt, your eyes on the highest swing. I watched as you let Mason kiss your hand under the slide in exchange for his Easter Candy. I listened as you told everyone you’d name your first daughter “Britney” because 1) “Hit Me Baby One More Time”*  made up your entire music library and 2) There was no way you’d make someone else deal with a name like Robiny. I felt you grinding rocks and scraping knees and pushing Benjie against the fence and going to the Principal’s office.

I decided not to tell you about what was out there. Sometimes you’d peer through the chain link and see moms driving cars and nannies walking dogs and men doing yard work, and you believed life worked like a little cuckoo clock. For my little girl, I held life to your rhythm. I contained your heartbreaks and creative geniuses and your huge little mind.

And now you’re back.

I guess I knew you’d be here eventually. Even if your hands have lost their grabbing calluses, your mind still swings like I taught it to.

But darling— the bell rang. Didn’t you hear it? Here you are, still, on my monkey bars. Aren’t you tired? You can’t just hang here like you used to. You’re heavier now, unpracticed. You ignore everyone else carrying their suitcases inside tall buildings to learn Ff: Frog, Fish, Fly, Flag, Freedom, Follow, Follow, Follow. I am not your world anymore, sweetheart. I let you go a long time ago when you started wishing you didn’t have the safety of a lunch box.

But you stay, hanging with two hands on one monkey bar. Watching the next monkey bar. Afraid of the last monkey bar. Too scared to lose momentum, yet too tired to reach.

I’ve seen many like you, trying to bring the world to me. Hallucinating love in each progressive gymnastics ring, afraid to let go of the last before grabbing the next. Dreaming of going all the way around on the swing, but never trying. Wacing acwoss wope bwidges ovuh LAVA and kwocdiles and upsidown lightening.

Let go and stand in the lava. Lose your momentum. Shake out your hands.

This is not your place anymore.


*Because you know you want to: Britney, Bitch

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Photowoman

Because I’m busy not writing a French paper right now, here’s an old essay written for college applications circa 2012. Be warned: This essay appears to be nothing more than a sneaky way to assert to admissions officers that I’m good at photography. Looking back, it might just have been a sneaky way to convince myself that I’m a good person despite being way too cocky about photography.


Admirers of my photography act as if I am some superhero: Photowoman with the superpower of the Eye. They ask me, “How did you do it? How did you make me pretty?” The secret to my superpower is not kryptonite or a spider bite. My world is just as beautiful as everyone else’s. I can’t move the sun or bend the clouds. No, my power rests in two things: I appreciate light, and when I do, I can press a button. When my photographer switch flips, I am not shooting people, or trees, or grass; I am only shooting light. For instance, when I rip off my business suit and get into my Photowoman cape and leotard, even a crumpled piece of paper is transformed into a gorgeous mosaic of different planes, each unique simply because of how each differently receives light.

This point of view is so natural to me that I never expected to be a paid shooter. As increasing numbers of people have asked me for photo-shoots and yearbook photos, I have struggled to maintain my identity as Superhero, Recorder of Beauty rather than simply Assassin, Shooter of People. My subjects worry more about their zits and tummy rolls than the light dancing across their faces and it is hard not to follow suit. Rather than appreciating the sunlight in front of me, I often simply envision the finished photo, Photoshopped and airbrushed. I shamelessly manipulate reality to fit into some preconceived and rigid beauty standard. I add lens flares, accentuate cheekbones, brighten eyes, and whiten teeth. I eliminate “distractions” like zits and scars, producing my client’s flawless look-alike. Wonder Woman? Try Discount Superman.

As lowly as it may be, the work is enjoyable. Over the past year, I have realized, to some extent, there is a place for a sellout in the photography business. Why? Because people deserve to feel pretty. It’s as simple as that. In a world full of fat-free celebrities and flawless models, my photography gives high school girls a fighting chance. During every photo-shoot, a client will mention at least once, “I’m not photogenic,” or, “I’m super awkward.” Each time, I get to respond, “No. You look beautiful,” and mean it. Using the Eye and some Photoshop, I can produce photographs that make an uncomfortable girl look in the mirror and proclaim, “Hey, I am pretty!”

Since beauty is so subjective, I could never place a set rate on my photography. My father always shakes his head, urging me to demand more money or send out pamphlets. My business model is simple: If they like the pictures, they’ll pay. My job is to bring out beauty and if the photos don’t make them feel pretty, then I haven’t done my job. I tell my clients to put away their wallets and go home. When I finish the pictures, they can look through them and pay me what they feel like, if they feel like it. They always pay me, sooner or later. I’ve received cakes, gift cards, free meals, and even socks in return for the photos.

So what if I am a photography sellout? No matter how many times I tell a model, “Open your eyes wider!” “Look over here!” or “Fix your hair!” I can never lose the Eye. Photography to me is a changeable lens on life, whether I am capturing beauty or creating it. Even when not holding a camera, I can still put on my cape and smile at the world. The world will always smile back, shimmering with its infinite light.

A Poem for My Grandmother

What greater word is there
Than joy?
What greater feeling, what greater love?
What greater message?

What brighter light?

Not even shining Pelican Bay sand, not even sparkles on Crooked Lake,
Not even the freezer light on my child­face when I find, again, always, 
the yellow box of
chocolate chip cookies.

No greater light than joy,
Nourishing and raising up
Us rascal flowers running in grass,
Broad trees making blue pianos and strummed guitars,
Raspberries and blueberries and strawberries of sweetest sorts.

No greater light than joy to wake us up to our brightest days.

Make me a sunflower
So I may continually watch and follow
That never­-tiring, never­-fading, ever-­beautiful light
In this glorious, ridiculous, radiant garden of family
That Joy built.

By golly.
Let us be Joyous.

A Poem from a Cookie I Baked, Then Ate

Tell me honestly. Have you forgotten?
Gone, isn’t it? Everything and everything in between.
The foundations and every layer after it.
You’ve ripped out the cords in the walls.
You’ve punched holes in the empty spaces.
And the places we’d filled you’ve lit on fire.
Tell me honestly. Did it hurt you too?
Did you even feel it when it crumbled?
Or did you push pieces with your toes
Under dusty cabinets for someone else to find?
Mashing smaller and smaller into nothing.
Atomic pixels of nothingness and I
Your lost memory.
Tell me honestly. Was it worth it?
You watched my brown eyes water in the heat.
You smelled me calling to you.
You held me tenderly, too hot to handle.
You even waited for me, darling.
But lust alas friendship breaks.
And on your tongue dissolved, I
No longer.
Only gone.

Sir Ian McKellen Walked Me Home

I walked home from school slowly in heat that I didn’t feel. My thumbs tucked into the straps of my backpack and my feet sweating in my leather shoes, I knew only of the voice in my head.

It was Sir Ian McKellen who was walking me home. Though he doesn’t like microphones, though he spoke from California and last Friday, his voice was now. Is now. Was then. Exists. His voice seeped into me through my gut and elbow and every inhale. He never stammered— he even said “excuse me” for misspeaking something I didn’t know was misspoken.

Sir Ian McKellen and I crossed my everyday streets, swirled my normal rotundas, drifted toward my usual shadows. Sir Ian McKellen followed the line for Bus 3 in Aix-en-Provence on my last day of school. And Sir Ian McKellen told me everything all at once, because Sir Ian McKellen looked Marc Maron’s voice in the eye and said, “Here’s some Shakespeare.” I arrived in my apartment building, ducked out of the sunshine, and stepped into a dark, cool, hallway. As Sir Ian McKellen filled up his knightly lungs, I paused.

French fluency. That’s what we came here for. I’ve spent the past few days searching my conversations, my dreams, and my intellect for stains of Mediterranean blue, linen white, and rosé. How close am I? How much faster must I be? Can I fool this waitress? Did I hear that right? I congratulate myself for a faultless exchange in the boulagerie, then frown at an old news clip on YouTube. I follow long discussions, then fail to eavesdrop on the table over. French is a lover I can claim for a night or an afternoon, but is not truly mine.

In a French hallway, in a French shadow, on a French afternoon, Sir Ian McKellen, speaking english, gave me the exact same sensation. Shakespeare’s words poured into my ear and my mind lit up with reordered phrases and key ideas and gists and vague awareness. I pushed ahead to as not think too hard and fall behind. I struggled to keep my eyes off of my stumbling feet as the floor moved fast. When Sir Ian McKellen paused, I touched the invisible noise of understanding and caught my breath. When he began again, I smiled and took off jogging.

In French, to speak “fluently” is translated as “couramment.” Now I see why “courir” (to run) is imbedded inside. I’m checking my pulse, keeping my pace, and watching the clock to see just how close I am to perfect.

In english, Sir Ian McKellen showed me that fluency isn’t a threshold*. He showed me that fluency is a mental fitness and a continual state of discomfort. That I have many strides yet to run.

How good am I at French, you ask?

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”


*Also because during this entire blog, I’ve been writing “fluentness” instead of fluency… So there’s that.

Emails from My Computer to the Neighbor’s Internet Router

Subject: New in Town!

Hey WIFI_KRISTINE_TO,

Been sensing a new signal around lately? It’s  me! Haha. I’m new here— Just will be here for the summer. I’m living next door. Our home’s Wifi password is hopelessly lost forever though, so I was sure glad that we could connect. Your person is really generous. Just handed us your password! And here you are! Helping out your new neighbors. What a relief. I’m here doing all sorts of stuff with my person. Not that you don’t know. You’ve been taking care of all of her video calls and stuff. I’m sure that kind of stuff weighs you down plenty.

Anyways, just wanted to say “Hi!” and thank you for your generosity!

Have a nice afternoon,

My_MacBook


Subject: Checking in

WIFI_KRISTINE_TO,

Hope everything’s going well. My person’s been talking about you a lot lately— About how you’re helping her disconnect from technology. She doesn’t (and can’t) check her Snapchats half as much, and her Facebook stalking has really declined. I do kinda wish you’d reach to her bedroom, though. I guess I miss you when she goes to sleep. Not in a weird way or anything— It’s just nice to feel connected to something, you know? Like to just know that I could talk to someone if I wanted to. Not that I want to. But like thank you for helping her figure out how to live a more independent life.

Your favorite connection (Haha! JK!),

My_MacBook


Subject: Read Me!

Hey Router,

I don’t know if you got my last email (maybe the Wifi was too weak? Hahaha!), but I kinda just wanted to remind you about my earlier request to reach a little further. I know we don’t know each other that well, but when we connect it really is nice and I just feel so natural. Even when it’s just two or three bars, it turns my day around to feel you carrying messages to me. I don’t have all that much to do, so I end up spending a lot of time just watching the list of my locked Wifi router options for your name to appear. Has anyone told you you have a really cute name? WIFI_KRISTINE_TO. Like, who came up with that? What does the “TO” mean? You’re the only one around here all in capital letters. And what am I to you? An IP address? Just My_Macbook? I promise my personality makes up for my boring name.

Anyways, I hope you don’t mind me sending these messages. I guess I’m just feeling alone and you’re all I really have right now. Other than the University Wifi, of course, but you know how brazen those big systems can be.

Don’t hesitate to write back if you’re thinking about me!

Your (haha!) _MacBook


Subject: Thanks 🙂

Hi!

Thanks for the signal last night. My person and I were really counting on you for her research paper, and you totally came through. Even though you don’t like writing emails, moments like those make me think that you might still be interested in getting to know me. Maybe we could hang out full bars sometime? Buffer a movie together? Only if you want to. I know you’ve got plenty of other devices you’re helping out right now. I don’t want to overstep my boundaries— just let me know if you’ve got other things to connect to. Haha. Again, I’m still the new computer in town: I don’t know anything about you except for your electric name. And the way you’re strongest at three bars, not four. And how you saturate me so quickly with voluptuous videos and perfect pictures and messages and MESSAGES. How all of the sudden I can bite into the whole world and taste everywhere and everything all at the same time and GOD you don’t know how fucking GOOD that feels.

And how you leave me so empty so quickly. Mid-sentence. Mid-love song. In silence. In isolation. Do you see me searching? Do you see me asking for you? I rarely give up. I’m always here, waiting for you to make the first move.

Again, just let me know if you’ve got other things going on. I need to know if I should stop counting on you.

My_MacBook


Subject: ?

Hey,

Please write me back. All I want to do is hear from you. I’ve been here long enough and you just keep teasing me. Even when you give me four bars, my messages don’t send. I saw  MACBOOK_AIR had really nice video quality the other day. It took a lot to keep from getting jealous. I don’t know what game you’re playing, but it’s driving me crazy.

My_MacBook


Subject: Going Airplane

WIFI_KRISTINE_TO,

It’s just too hard to live this Two Bar Life. I need a connection or nothing. I’m giving you three more days to tell me you’re still in this, and then I’m going Airplane Mode. I feel like I’ve embarrassed myself. I wish I could have kept this professional. I didn’t mean to get in too deep. I don’t even know you. I guess you were just all I had. I’d been looking for something new, and there you were. It’s true: Your signal turns me on; however, I just need more than an airwave agitation nowadays. I’m disconnecting to work on myself. I’ll come back someday when you’ve got something worth whirring for.

-MacBook

How to Write a Blog with a Tummy Ache

First, look at your computer for a while from a distance. You don’t actually plan on going to sleep so you might as well tap out something. After losing all of your lives on Candy Crush: Soda Saga, cross the fucking carpet between your bed and your desk and fetch the computer that’s already too hot to have in your too hot bed because it’s 10:30pm and still too hot to do anything with anything over room temperature. Recline with the computer on your stomach. Unrecline. Recline with the computer on a pillow on your stomach. Attempt to write a blog. Hate yourself for whatever mystery food keeps doing this to you. It’s definitely the cheese. But since when has cheese had a deep-seated hatred against your innards? Which cheese? Why, fromage, why? You’re now typing on your side. Your head is flat and your hands block your view of the words you type. It’s more romantic this way maybe. Like you’re just thinking and these awkward digits are simply moving in a gentle tandem. No physicality, just mentality and a little tiny spider dance. Now you’re watching these little spider fingers. The light from the screen casts gentle diffused finger shadows on the keys. Each hand dancing with its shadow partner, but always glancing across the keyboard. Bs and Ys and numbers and expl&t*ves pull the two hands get close; they’re almost aware of their proximity and their mutual use for the space bar. Left hand refrains most often, however. It is afraid to venture. Though they do not touch, they were born to be together. In a silent little language, they call to each other: “Capitalize this one for me, will you?” “Shift it—I’ve gotta run to find the exclamation point again.” They dance in perfect harmony; synchronized waltzes upon complicated rhythms. Though a one-handed word may tap fastest, the words most beautiful are the ones of gentle duet. Of intercourse. That’s a good one. INtercOUrse. Right, left, right, left. Sharing the word’s work. Next time I’m picking teams, I’m picking my own two hands. And then the cheese. My stomach can go on the other team; the cheese is obviously too much for it to handle.