The Paris Review Daily

Posts Tagged ‘first person’

Sylvia Plath’s “Nick and the Candlestick”

November 21, 2013 | by

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Collage via Flickr.

I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

I am writing this while pregnant with my first son, just as Sylvia Plath was when she wrote “Nick and the Candlestick” in 1962.

I wanted him: he was no surprise or trouble at all; he was passion and biology. But I am not happy. No one in smiley U.S.A. is supposed to say this at the news of a baby. An expectant mother is supposed to be ecstatic, full of promise and life. It is true, I marvel; the last thing I ever expected to be good at was creating a small person, that my body could nourish him both inside itself and within the world. He’s evidence that something inside me might work, even if other, less visible things do not.

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

Before him, I would read Plath quotes from one of those ubiquitous Twitter feeds, feel recognition—and feel like a cliché. I do genuinely love her work, but it’s so expected, so reductive—even if, with him, it feels newly vital for me. We all know the narrative: marry a handsome, destructive man, go from one to two, three then four, and then kill yourself at thirty. Like so many girl-readers, I worshipped her and selfishly romanticized the tragedy. As a young woman, Plath sought the whirl and illusion of enchanted, swift New York, painfully unprepared for adulthood, and like so many others, I recognized all those standard youthful Manhattan dreams, darker when you feel everything twenty-fold, when you’re unsure of having any talent or worth, paralyzed by sensitivity, maybe a little weak, easy to dismantle. A cliché, yes, but the mythology, and the work, remain captivating and solid. As a writer and a reader and a human being with dark tendencies, I have great empathy for everything Plath. There is a reason she has endured. We may all fail miserably at love, family, and living, but we can try to be brave, especially in our work. As Plath says of her own womb, my stomach was always crawling with white newts and calcification, a gut that betrayed me, even when I tried to convince it of happy otherwise. Read More »

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This Is the Way We Wash Our Clothes

November 13, 2013 | by

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Photography credit Florian Köhler, cheatha.de.

It was not until I went away to college that I realized how much laundry my mother did. I don’t mean that my family of four generated an unusual amount—none of us changed more than once a day, or had especially extensive wardrobes—or that she stood around an industrial-sized cauldron like Mrs. Buckets in “Cheer Up, Charlie.” Rather, at any given moment, some step of laundry-washing was in process. If the washer or dryer wasn’t running, clothes were being sorted. Large piles of lights and darks littered the hall floor. There was a wicker hamper of some description, in a nook under the linen closet, but things either didn’t make it there or were sorted with such dispatch that they never reached its limbo. And always, always, there was the folding. My parents’ bed was generally covered with a large pile of clean clothes; anyone who happened to be sitting on the bed watching TV would either fold a few napkins in the course of a show (me) or sit atop a mound, occasionally knocking clothes onto the floor (my brother.) Then there was the hand-washing, or those pieces my mother had deemed too delicate for the dryer: there were usually a few of these hanging damply in the bathroom. She did not work full-time back then; one wonders how all the laundry might have gotten done if she had.

It’s not that she was compulsively clean in other ways; if anything, the house was fairly chaotic. Indeed, when we did have guests over, the door to the master bedroom had to be kept rigorously shut because there was so much laundry on the floor. We always had plenty of clean clothes, which is of course nice, but in retrospect I think she washed things too much: towels got frayed and faded long before their times, the knees of our jeans seemed to have unusually short lifespans. She used utilitarian detergents; there was some vague but distinct taboo against fabric softener that made the first sheet I borrowed in the college laundry room feel deliciously illicit.

Her constant laundry-doing was a running joke in the family, as well as something of a mystery. How was there always so much laundry? The mystery only deepened when I moved out on my own and realized that one load a week was sufficient to keep me in clean clothes and sheets, and that the whole process only took a couple of hours. Read More »

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Wanted: Literary Mentor

May 21, 2013 | by

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I’m in the market for a mentor. My qualifications? I’m educated. Some (prospective employers, Stafford Loan sharks, OKCupid algorithms) would say too educated. More importantly, I have wide shoulders and solid vision, am able to open most jars and decipher prescription fine print. I’m handy with sticky file cabinets and missing memory sticks. I can sort e-mails and convert floppy disks, screen calls from editors and exes, purchase trinkets and gadgets for departing lovers or estranged children.

Past potential mentors (professors, friends of friends, intermittent pen pals) have proved unwilling or unworthy for a variety of reasons. Some were in no position to accept or provide help, requiring their own full-blown interventions. Others had full plates—book tours, a slew of international residencies—or had already been claimed by another dedicated sycophant. One candidate of desirable vintage (tottering, affable, largely abandoned) preferred nubile female mentees. Another candidate projected an intriguing otherworldly aura. A certified genius, she was very kind but too far removed from the cynical workings of the world to offer much practical assistance. (In one dreamlike afternoon workshop, just prior to dropping another brilliant, indecipherable insight: “First, allow me to put on my human-being suit.”) Read More »

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Emergent

February 25, 2013 | by

whisking-eggs-lgIt’s unsettling how some stories come around again. When I was eight, my mother and I were in our garage in Lubbock, Texas, when she suddenly yelled, “GO!” and shoved me through the door. I ran to my parents’ bedroom. Suddenly, my mother was there, shaking, muttering “No. Oh, no.” She called someone, asked for an ambulance, said there had been an accident. She told me to stay inside, to not look out the windows. Not long after, I heard sirens. And the sirens, it seemed, kept coming. It’s been more than thirty years since that moment, and the pieces of it in my memory are scattered, like shards of glass.

***

I usually wake by ten o’clock on Sunday mornings, but this Sunday was different. From my bed, I could see through the hallway to the bathroom, where Indie, my nine-year-old daughter, was leaning over the black rug in the bathroom. She was sitting on her feet, her hands on her knees, as if she’d been running all night in her sleep and had woken in recovery mode. It was the end of October, and this was not the first time I had found her here, vomiting into the toilet. Her bobbed hair sticking up in the back, tousled, blonde. I asked if she needed me, hoped that she didn’t, because I was exhausted, my head tight, pounding, a hint I must have had too many glasses of chardonnay the night before.

We had only lived in the house since August, so Indie didn’t yet have a pediatrician. The week before, the pharmacist at the Price Chopper suggested Pedialyte, maybe Ensure if she didn’t start eating more. Fiber, he suggested. She’d be fine. Read More »

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The Poetics of Football

February 1, 2013 | by

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I grew up outside Boston, a resident of Red Sox Nation, but mine was not a sports-loving household. My father watches football regularly these days, but he didn’t when I was a kid. He’d watch a game if it was on, distractedly, while doing something else. The rest of us did not. We didn’t follow game schedules or scores. I’ve never been to Fenway Park, though my middle school was less than a mile from the Green Monster. When they tore down Boston Garden I expressed manufactured dismay—I’d never been there either. Until I moved to Chicago after college and bought tickets to a few Cubs games on the cheap, at a yard sale, the only professional sporting event I’d ever attended was an early round of the 1994 World Cup—South Korea versus Bolivia—which ended in a tied shutout.

 My sister and I played soccer. She was better than me. I figure skated and entertained deluded fantasies of making it to the Olympics, but I couldn’t get any height on my jumps and my spins were too loose and wobbly. Eventually I switched to ice hockey, which I played with the same poor-to-barely-adequate ability as each of my prior athletic endeavors. In college I spent a week on the women’s rugby team before quitting because it hurt. Read More »

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ThunderStick

January 14, 2013 | by

It came in a box. A big box, with two or three others. Sam had finally cleaned house.

It’s not every day you get a box of tennis racquets in the mail. I ripped it open and immediately shook hands with each one.

“Now guys, shake hands with the racquet.” If I’d said that once I’d said it, I don’t know, maybe twenty-five times. Once for each tennis clinic I’d taught for little kids over high school summers. Kids who’d devised a game called Hit the Ball at the Teacher, which they’d passed on to their younger brothers and sisters, the little buggers.

There was a Yonex in the box that felt cold and distant—the shake of a bureaucrat. There was another I’ve since given away that felt insubstantial—the absent shake of someone scanning the room for more important hands. And then there was the Prince. I swear to you, the Prince’s handle still felt warm.

The grip was slightly sticky—as a good grip should be—and worn where my right index finger curled up the beveled edge of the shaft. It filled my palm easily and comfortably: the racquet’s way of looking me straight in the eye as our hands met. This was Emma’s racquet.

The frame was a little slick for my tastes. Shiny black, with an aqua-blue and pink blaze up both sides of the head that looked like rain blotches on a Doppler weather map. And it was called ThunderStick. There was a lightning bolt through the diagonal slash of the n “Thunder.”

“Lord, did Emma know that?” I wondered. Not her style. And there was another message from the manufacturer along the inside rim: “Sweet Spot Suspension.” If that were true, I figured it was okay that it looked a little cheesy and was called ThunderStick.

I fingered the strings and saw they were worn, with little bits of neon-yellow fuzz stuck at the junctions where the vertical and horizontal rows overlapped. Evidence that this racquet was not new. Evidence that Emma had hit with it.

Read More »

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