The Old Bag

(This writing piece is from a prompt to write about an object that has spanned time across your life.)

I found the bag at TJ Maxx. It hung from a rack like a barnyard chicken dangling by its feet. It was a plain bag, unassuming, among the other chic designer bags, painted with palettes as bright and shiny as a wood duck’s head. This bag, the color of a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar, was boring in comparison. What made it interesting were the two shoulder straps stitched to its backside. Ahh, a backpack. That makes sense, I thought at the time.

I can’t remember why I bought it. There would have been a reason. Maybe before my honeymoon to St. Lucia? I’m not a leisure shopper. Never have been. I shop like a sniper. I start the process by identifying what item it is that I need. Do I need a dress for a wedding? For a funeral? I knew exactly what store to go to. I’d hop in my car and drive to the shop. Like a hitman, I’d get in and get out, with the target subdued and in the bag. That’s how it went back “in the old days” at least, before Amazon infiltrated living rooms across the globe, as easily and quickly as as respirator pumps nitrous oxide. These days, I’m just a sniper with the clicker.

My aversion to shopping sprouted early in my youth. My earliest memories include being drug through various malls for hours at a time. Shopping was an all afternoon event that left me spent like a sweaty gym sock. I remember crawling underneath circular racks, leaning against the base that held the carousel, like the trunk of a tree holds all its branches in one place. I stared at the ankles walking past in pairs, poised above their shoes, studying the ones stalled in front, listening to the hangers sliding over one at a time, inspecting each item before moving on to the next. 

Eventually a pair of shoes would stop short, almost leaving a skid of tread in the carpet. An arm would cut through the clothes like a knife piercing layers of a cake, flipping them up like bangs, exposing my wiry frame squatted underneath . My mom’s face would appear, her lips a mere crease. Get out from under there, right now. She never yelled. She didn’t have to. Her words didn’t mince, despite hissing them like a ventriloquist, her mouth a steely trap.

As the years rolled past, my dislike of shopping, and malls, only intensified. The mention of an “outing” incited so much dread, it almost crossed into the territory of panic. Even hearing the words, “I just want to make a quick stop at the grocery store on our way home” was enough for me to helicopter into a tailspin. The problem was our different definition of quick and our different styles of shopping. Mom is more aligned with the leisurely side. She savers every possibility before her like a scientist, examining each prospect in earnest. She can stretch out the experience to her satisfaction. 

As a kid, I didn’t have a choice about the shopping. Reaching adolescence, it became the bone I chose to fight over, asserting my independence and opinion on the subject. The requisite “before school” shopping trips became full blown wars. My repudiation only incited more backlash, the result being shopping-induced PTSD. Just ask my husband. If it isn’t one-click shopping (a modern-day SSRI), I’m not doing it.

I may not remember why I purchased the plain brown bag, but I do know when it came to be. Its new existence is recorded in single photograph, the bag starched and crisp placed behind Cracker on the bed, eight-weeks whelped, his head as big as the rest of him.

The bag has outlasted Cracker. It’s still in use today, although I have to admit, I’m self-conscious about the disheveled appearance it casts when slung across my shoulder. After twelve years of daily use, I gifted the bag a facelift, trusting three Amish brothers to do it. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder, like identical paper cutouts behind the counter of their repair shop, which was also the local feed store, somewhere in a field in the middle of Leonardtown, Maryland.

The exterior leather flap, like a hatchback door that buckled into the hardware at the bottom, had slowly unstitched from the top over the years, retracing its steps to the beginning of its journey with the needle. Finally, half of it drooped, like a flag against a flagpole, until only the buckle was left attaching it to the bag. The brothers also replaced the thin leather shoulder straps that had frayed and separated, like dried paint that cracks and bubbles peeling away from soggy old planks.

It returned momentarily revitalised, but entropy is real. The last six years has weathered the bag harder than the first twelve. The flap is long gone now, having succumbed to the scissors to remove its dragging state like slicing off bunched skin that comes from sliding across asphalt on your knees. Once removed, the zipper across the crown was now exposed, the leather on either side of the trestle as delicate as tissue paper. There is nothing left to stitch to. Yet, the bag limps on, unsightly, somewhat grotesque like the hunchback of Notre Dame. 

The bag has inspired a lot of finger pointing and questions over the years. Battered and bruised, it wears its collection of stories like a rosette. That bag has traveled the world. It has endured the transpacific flight to Australia and New Zealand three times, stuffed under the seat in front, and packed with maps printed on copy paper, lists of phone numbers and addresses, three or four power bars (because you never knew), Xanax (because that much I did know—16 hours in one seat?!), and a book.

 It’s been to England and Ireland more times than I can count, stuffed with a raincoat and a Barbour oilskin hat, and in the afternoons,  a bottle of champagne as it trekked around the cross-country course at Burghley. That bag has sat silently on the floorboard at my feet while I zipped down the Autobahn at 100 miles an hour. It made the trek across the border into Canada three times, always spending a week at Bromont, packed with enough currency to buy a few bowls of poutine from the food truck on grounds. 

The bag has driven past the Cotswolds, stopped at Vere and Clea Phillips, and had a cup of tea, or a Hot toddy, with just about everyone in Ireland, because let’s face it, they’re really friendly people. It spent a dozen winters in Aiken, mostly living on the bench seat in the dually, always ready for the next adventure. It made the rounds in the south of Spain, carrying a sweater and a rain coat, sunglasses and boxes of antihistamines to fight off the illness that slapped me off my feet. The bag survived a marriage, and a divorce, and it has lasted long enough to see me come out the other side of it all.

Oh the stories it could tell! Sometimes I wish the bag could talk, reminding me of other adventures, now forgotten. I used to say that about Cracker. I imagined he would sound like the Yoda of dogs. But thinking about it longer, I decided, maybe it’s better that he couldn’t talk after all. 

Scratches and Cracks

My father no longer drives. He likes to remind everyone he could if he wanted, because he still has his license. Two years ago, he had to renew it. I called my parents the morning of his appointment. My voice a plastic smile, singsong, I said, “Sooo, call me later and let me know how your day goes,” casting the net wide, conspicuously inconspicuous. 

The day came and went, as did the next, with no report. No doubt my parental units were unperplexed, marching onward, while I was apoplectic with concern, a field mouse chewing through its leg jammed under the wire jaw of the trap. Finally, I could stand the silence no further. I called my Dad.

 “So how did everything go?”

“Everything is fine.” 

“Soooo….you got your license renewed?”

“Oh yeah.”




I primed for this conversation a year and a half ago. Home for Christmas, Russ and I accompanied Dad to McDonald’s, only a couple of miles from the house. Late afternoon sunbeams, as bright as bolts of electricity, blinding, broke through the surrounding tree-line as bushy and thick as broccoli, splashing across the road. We drove into a spotlight and Dad slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road. He couldn’t see.

I was instantly reminded of a precarious situation I found myself in at the tender age of twelve. Dad came to a halt while crossing the Horace Wilkinson bridge looming over the Mississippi River. He was having a panic attack. Eighteen wheelers roared behind us, yanking their horns and hissing like perturbed geese, as Mom and Dad hopped out of the panelled van, running around the front of it like a synchronised pas de deux, switching seats. Strewn comfortably across the luggage in the very back and rubbing my eyes open with the sting of commotion, even then I was acutely aware of my unfortunate position, a potential harbinger of calamity.

Russ and I awaited the sound of screeching tires, our ears a tuning fork for imminent disaster.  We sat motionless, mute in our seats, as Dad crept forward, as if deciding which square to land his Bishop on the chessboard. We finally pulled up to the drive-thru lane, and Dad shouted his order to the voice inside the intercom. As Dad looped the corner to the cashier’s window, he held up his coupon and said,” I always tell them I have a coupon, but they never take it, so I use it over and over, hee hee!” Straightening the wheels, his side mirror scraped along the red brick.

“Dad, you just hit the building!” 

He chuckled without pause and said, “Oh, that happens all the time! Not a big deal. No one died. The car’s fine.”


This happens all the time?

We left McDonalds, creeping our way home, like a newly-domesticated cat outlining the furniture pushed against the walls inside a house. I noticed Dad had perfected the easiest route coming and going places. It included as many right turns as possible, making the drive not the shortest distance between two points, but the one least engaging with other drivers. Smart, I thought to myself. Still brash, but not reckless.

Dad pulled into the left turn lane at the entrance to the subdivision. As the signal changed from green to yellow, Dad hit the gas pedal, the back of my head hitting the leather rest behind it. I grabbed the handle folded inside the door,  my feet pushing against the floorboard, securing my bottom in the bucket of the seat.  

Inching along again on the straightaway, I said, “Dad, what the hell?!”

“What? I wanted to make the light!”


“DAD. You didn’t make the light! You ran a red one!”

“It was yellow.”

“No, it was yellow when you hit the gas. It was red when you were in the middle of the intersection, turning. YOU CAN’T DO THAT!

Holy shit, Dad!! Jesus Christ! You. Cannot. Do. That! It’s totally dangerous!”

It was like a horse leaving a stride out at the coffin on a cross-country course.

That was us.

We left a stride out at the coffin.

Russ, the stoic silent type, didn’t say a word in the back. (I don’t know how.)

“Ahhh, it’s fine. It was yellow,” Dad said.

The next day Dad reminded me to check the taillights because one was cracked. He didn’t want a cop to pull me over while driving his car. Walking around the vehicle in the garage, Russ and I noticed both corners of both bumpers were scratched and both of the taillights had a crack in them. I walked back in the house, deciding to cut the deck in two, shelving half of the conversation for later, the more difficult one about Dad’s newly-adopted rules of driving.

“Dad,” I said. “Both taillights are cracked and the bumper is scratched, too.”

“Yeah, I think someone backed in to me. I don’t know what happened. One day I walked out and they were just like that.

I haven’t hit anything,” he added. 

That you know of, I thought.

One afternoon last summer, Dad called me.

“Funny thing happened today,” he said.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

“I hit the curb,” he said.

“These damn curbs! 

You know they cause a lot of accidents…

Because they are so upright! 

There’s no room on the road, the curb is right there. 

They flip cars, you know!”

I listened, chewing on the words like a stale slice of beef jerky. I commiserated, and said I was glad it wasn’t worse than it was, and I was relieved he was okay. Two weeks passed before he brought the incident up again.

“The craziest thing happened,” he said over the phone. “Did I tell you my tire hit the curb?”

“You might have mentioned it, but what happened?”

“One minute I was on the road and the next minute I jumped the curb! 

Oh God. Here it comes. The truth. I braced for it.

Have you seen our curbs?”

“Yep, I’ve seen them.”

“They’re so upright!”

“They are!”

“It’s so dangerous!”

“They are for sure.”

“Cars flip all the time on that main road! Did you know that?!”

“Yep. I did know that.”

“They’re so bad! Dangerous!”

“You’re right. They are dangerous.”

“So upright!”

“You’re right. They are.

That must have been so scary.”

“It was scary! I don’t know what happened. I creeped over a little, and boom, my wheels jumped the curb, before I knew what happened!”

“Oh my God! Then what did you do?”

“Well, I righted it back on the road.”

“I’m glad you didn’t overcorrect. That would be easy to do in the situation.”

“No, I didn’t do that. I got back on the road.”

“Is the car okay?”

“Oh yeah. 

Your mother says I scratched the side of it, but I don’t know what she’s talking about. 

I don’t see anything there. 

I think your mother is making it up.”

Last week, my phone vibrated when Mom sent me a text. It included a photo. 

*“Did you have an accident?,” she asked.


“No, I didn’t have an accident.”

“Well I just received a notification saying Dad’s car had an accident.”

Fifteen hundred miles away, and I still can’t get away with anything. 

This past March, I drove Dad’s car back to DC. His days behind the wheel came to an end. (“I still could if I wanted to! I’ve got a legal driver’s license!”) The passenger side of his car is scratched and creased like the waist of an aluminium soda can pinched between the thumb and forefinger. 

“They’re adding points to Dad’s license,” Mom said. “You’ve got to get the title changed into your name and update the insurance on the car.” 

This was the third phone call with Mom, after the third notification my parents received in their mail. Since taking possession of the car, I’ve gotten a speeding ticket (by speed camera), dashed through tolls unpaid (forgetting I didn’t have the pass in that car), and cracked the windshield so badly it needed immediate replacement. Who did they notify each time? The address on record for the grey 2013 Toyota Highlander:

My parents.

It isn’t as if I haven’t tried to register the car here, but the DMV is open by appointment only, and all of the appointment slots are already taken. It’s been this way since…March. The inefficiency of this particular government service is…stillastounding.

“Well, I’m not sure points matter, at this point,” I said, knowing full well that, ironically, that wasn’t the point, but merely a diversion, a thin consolation. 

“Ahh, well. Could be a lot worse, Mom.”

It was all I could think of to say.

Post script:

This morning, I learned of a friend’s death. She died on Thursday, while I was celebrating the birthday of another dear friend. We weren’t close, but went to college together, and we lost track after graduation, “we” being “me,” like I did with most everyone, too busy spending all of my time looking between a horse’s ears. Cancer took her away from this world in seven months.

What do I remember about her? She was so beautiful, she was stunning, but never knew it. Her heart was so open, so generous and loving and kind, I marvelled even then how she moved through the world so effortlessly, without being reduced to a pile of rubble with all of the pain and hardship that surrounds us. But she did. While someone is celebrating their best day, elsewhere it is someone’s worst, come to fruition. The world lost a good one last week.


She ran to the bathroom, banding her hair into a short tail, using the mirror to pin the loose ends into place. Damn it. It’s three minutes until noon. Grabbing the pink toothbrush from the cup, she scrubbed the knotty film of cotton batting wrapped around her teeth, spitting into the sink. 

Fuck fuck fuck. Why am I’m so fucking hungry all of a sudden? she thought. Did I even eat today? She swiped a jar of peanut butter from the cupboard, on her way through the kitchen, plucking a small silver spoon from the drawer, tarnished and streaked from the dishwasher. Her mom was not happy about that. I ain’t got time for that shit, hand washing silver! she told her. And I’m not saving ‘the good stuff’ for a rainy day. I could be dead by then! 

Jules believed in the now. She believed in eating off the china and using the silver her mother insisted she have, ‘Just in case,’ she said as she unpacked it in Jules’ apartment cupboards. If Jules owned any diamonds (she didn’t), she’d wear them everyday too for no reason. She made it past forty and wasn’t dead. In her mind, that was reason enough. 

Sitting down at her laptop, jamming the spoon into the peanut butter, and shoving it in her mouth, she saw it was two minutes past noon. Late, but I’m close. Jesus, I still have my pajamas on. God, she thinks to herself, This must be how single parents feel. Completely strung out, as frayed as a peel of  dried bark, severed by a lightening bolt. Like every goddamn day. And for years at a time. Decades even! 

Oh, don’t worry, her mom said. You’ll never have kids. You’re not even married at this point, and you’re already…30…so…Well, I mean, she said laughing, stroking Jules hair with affection, or condescension, Jules was never sure, You can barely take care of yourself after all! 

She had resented the rebuff then, but lately had wondered. Maybe her mom was right all along. In her defense, Jules thought, their lives had been very different. How could either of them really know what it was like for the other person? The fact was, her mom grew up like a prized Persian cat in an upper class British family, and Jules’ own childhood in Woodstock, Vermont was more like the actual event in New York State long before she was even born. She grew up roaming the neighbourhood like an untethered dog, free to go where she wished, and she did. 

She was sure her mother regretted buying the pink bike with the tassels on the handlebars, Jules ‘freedom ride,’ but then again, Jules’ mom resented her father for dragging her to that God-forsaken countryside up the north in the first place, where etiquette was not recognised, let alone prized. Her string of pearls worn every day was all for nothing. As a teenager, whenever Jules felt particularly prickly towards her mother, she’d spit, “How are we even related? Did you take pity on the poor, unwed mother, your age, who followed you around, cleaning up after you in your own house? Was that it?”

Her mother would shake her head and cluck at these accusations, wondering how indeed did this anomaly spring from her loins? This unkept, wild child of hers, unmoored like a sailboat thrashing on the high seas. She kept trying to tame her daughter’s edges, but this was exactly how Jules liked it. Reckless, her mother thought. 

Swallowing a spoonful of peanut butter, Jules counted. Day five. The foster dog had lived with her for only five days. Now her own badinga had a fat shadow that following it around. Popper was black, swirled with patches of merle, short pointy ears on a squarish head. His neck was so cresty he resembled a foundered Shetland pony, green at the gills from hoovering his own weight in spring grass. His torso, wide like a fishing boat, looked as if he had swallowed a baby buffalo whole in a single bite, bulging like a squirrel’s cheek hiding a nut for a cold winter’s day. It was as if the buffalo’s thick coat oozed out of his every pore, big tufts of curly hair busting through his own puffer of down.

Finding  black and grey pinwheels all over the floor reminded Jules of of her last boyfriend’s beard, always shedding. Jules cracked herself up, calling them his “facial pubes,” as she held the  the scraggly strands by their tips, waving them in his face, accusingly. Isn’t this just perfect, thought Jules. I get rid of the boyfriend, only to have the canine version of him land on my doorstep. Oh, the irony of it all! She shook her head at the thought.

Popper had whined non-stop since arriving. He whined whether she moved around her apartment or was planted on the couch reading a book. He whined whether he was sitting himself, or lying flat, or walking around the neighbourhood block. Jules surmised, he even whined in his sleep, if it qualified as that. She just knew her own consumption of alcohol and edibles had tripled since Popper moved in. 

Aptly named, she thought. That’s all I’ve done since ‘Popper’ arrived is ‘pop’ edibles, swishing them down with cheap gin.

She couldn’t help but imagine prisoners of war tortured like this, their minds smashed into a million pieces, the dog’s whine a hammer, electric with anxiety and confusion, clacking its nails on the floor at their heels, without pause. 

Holy fuck. I’m exhausted, she conceded. Now I’m plugged up, too, she thought, getting pissed with herself. The fucking dog has plugged me up like a turd jammed in the P-Trap where the big intestine squeezes the hand of its mini-me. I can’t write here…I can’t write there…I got to be here…then I got to be there…but then I’ve got to get back again. Like pronto. Or there is. literally. piss. to. pay.

She heard her mother’s voice in her ear, wagging her finger. You have to think before you act, Jules! Being impulsive will get you in trouble, maybe A LOT of trouble one day. THINK! You’ve got to think, Jules! You can’t just do what you, when you want! But Jules, born headstrong and stubborn like a mule, had done almost exactly that. Rules, she thought, were imaginary lines, like pasture fences, that invited crossing. Mostly she got away with it, unscathed. Every now and then, she didn’t. 

It could be worse, Jules thought,her mind wandering,nodding on queue, Pavlovian, at the appropriate times in the zoom meeting. God, why do I say that? Why is this even a thing? Who coined this bullshit platitude? It’s about as useful as applying buttercream frosting to a stab wound. 

‘It could be worse.’

Yeah, she thought. It could. Once, it had been worse than this whining dog underfoot. Jules had a terrier with such bad separation anxiety, he chewed a chunk out of the steering wheel, and severed a couple of seat belts while he was at it.

In her parent’s car. 

While they were at church.

That time, her parents words lapped over one another, slashing across the phone line, hurling threats with spitballs of criticism about all of her life choices up until then. That’s how these things went. One isolated setback became proof of everything, of her, like examining a bug under a magnifying glass, ultimately setting fire to it. Her mother like to say, ‘One time is a mistake. More than once is a habit.’ Over time she edited it to add, ‘And habits are what lifetimes are made of.

And that fucking crazy dog. What a nutter. The fact was, Jules knew that dog was just like her, hopping fences and crossing lines. He had to be free. Jules snuck another spoonful of peanut butter out of the camera’s view. Leaning under her desk, she patted Popper, her shadow, on the top of his head.  


Bloody Eggs 

Russ asked me to assemble Beet Eggs to serve at a party this weekend. I was surprised. My skills in the kitchen, compared to his, are still in diapers. In the last six years, I’ve received only one prior request from Russ: carrot cake for his birthday. After three hours, my knuckles were shredded, along with the carrots pressed against the bullet holes of the boxed grater. Slapping the layers with a mountain of sugary frosting, I slung it across the table and swore, “I love you, but never fucking again.” Russ smiled, speared it with his fork, and swallowed a chunk the size of the Andes.

I think he enjoyed my toil as much as he did the sweetness of the cake.

Eggs are a staple in my diet. They’re packed with protein, cheap, and are difficult to destroy beyond edibility when preparing them. They can be served a myriad of ways, and are a key ingredient in most baked goods, the glue holding all that sweet goodness together. I’ve learned consummating the meaty yoke with a stick of butter produces an alchemic event equivalent to spinning gold. Hollandaise is the rich extension of chicken roe that pairs well with most dishes like an upstanding vintage. 

I’m positive Russ considered all of this before initiating his request. What could possibly go wrong? What he didn’t factor into the equation was the peeling process. I can count on two fingers how many times I’ve peeled hardboiled eggs smooth and unblemished, skin like veneer-bronzed supermodels. I had acknowledged this potential pitfall, but reconciled my misgivings with the page of foolproof directions Russ had left for me to follow.

How. Could. I. Possibly. Fuck. It. Up?

I can only surmise I must peel eggs with the same brawn as John Ceda. No doubt when he shucks corn, some kernels are yanked unceremoniously from the cob along with the husk, leaving the fleshy pestle with a gap-toothed smile. Two out of the eighteen eggs I peeled are as smooth as a baby’s bottom. The rest of the litter is pockmarked like the faces of pimply teenagers. Covered in beet juice, I’ve coined them “Freddy Krueger Eggs.” Russ laughed when I recounted the horror flick that happened in the kitchen. He said,“Well, I guess we’ll just pick up some crackers and cheese to take to the party instead.”

“Ohhh, bullshit to that!” I screamed into the phone. “Do you know how much work these were? I worked really hard! And what the fuck were you thinking, asking me to make something I’ve never made before? To serve at a party? To other people!”

Russ sighed knowing this train had to run out of rails before any sense could be extracted from the wreckage. 

“Fuck that,” I said. “We. Are. Serving. Them. They’re ugly, but I’m sure they’re delicious. Besides, it’ll be a good story for the new couple. They can always laugh and say, ‘Remember that time? At our engagement party? When Jenn and Russ brought those beet eggs?? Oh my God, who can’t peel a fucking egg? Well, they were delicious, even if they did resemble Freddie Krueger’s face.’”

Russ thought that was funny until I told him I was taping his recipe to the jar for everyone to see. The end of it reads, “The eggs need to stay refrigerated. No one wants food poisoning at an engagement party, and a house smelling like poop would not go over well for the soon-to-be in-laws. But it would be kinda funny.” 

Now that is NOT the story I want the future bride and groom to remember about their party. 


This is my birthday (week). It’s still a few days away, but the champagne has already flowed, and I received the best gift ahead of schedule. Gushing (not from the champagne), I called my boss.

This is the BEST present ever!” I said. “I’m saving it, and I’m going to show it to E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E!”

My boss chuckled his hearty, wonderful laugh, like a comforting bowl of Irish stew on a December day. His laugh, infectious, has a way of wrapping shoulders in a warm embrace, like a blanket pulled straight from the dryer. 

My boss is the CEO of Ullico Inc. Our organization is comprised of 240-plus people, providing financial services to labor unions and their members. Ed arrived at Ullico thirteen years ago, in the shit storm of the Great Recession. The company was bleeding out for a variety of reasons, both internally and externally, and onlookers were doubtful to its survival. But like a phoenix that rises, so too did Ullico soar from the ashes. But reality isn’t a story sucked from lore, glorifying the gods and goddesses central to their myths. Comebacks are legends built on the backbones of blood, sweat, and tears, with the acute vision of strong leadership, a stalwart at the helm. For Ullico, that person was Ed.

Discussing leadership within Section5, a friend proposed there are two levels of leadership: basic and advanced. Basic leadership is when a leader brings together a group of people to start something they couldn’t have begun themselves, individually or collectively. Advanced leadership is when a leader has the skills to turn-around an organisation that has lost its way and is spiralling into destruction.

In his words, “Both types require a decent amount of EQ, but the second type requires much more humility and the ability to listen.” Another person added advanced leadership also includes the foresight to develop other leaders, as well as devise a succession plan for the organisation to ensure its continued success. 

My peers, astute, peeled the rind from the fruit with proficiency, spotlighting the juiciest part all great leaders encompass. This blogpost might prostrate eyes as toady, but how often does a subordinate take the time to boast about their superior? In public? And mean it? I work closely with Ed everyday, enough to see all of his sides.

My job as assistant isn’t sexy. In Scott Galloway’s words, “My mom lived and died a secretary.” Pretty sure that’s not a brag. But Scott’s words ring true. I have felt the sting of derision cast my way at the mere mention, as if my intellect is surely stunted, as if I am “that girl” who exited the bathroom, sloppy drunk, returning to the table at the Inn [of Little Washington], while trailing a half dozen squares of toilet paper under her heel. (This hasn’t happened…yet.). Setting that aside, it’s worth mentioning even piles of shit have peaks, and my parachute floated to the tip of the top. Colloquially, I landed the best of the worst.

My boss is an exceptional leader and an exceptional person. He likes, and truly cares about, all people. Every single one of them. He has an uncanny ability to view situations from the other person’s perspective, as easily as he must rise from sleep every morning. He cares, so much so, he personally pens a note to every employee, in their annual birthday card. 

He writes 240-plus birthday cards a year. 

Without fail. 

There was that one time, when a month’s worth of cards disappeared in the mail-service vortex, during the height of the pandemic. Ed called each person on their birthdate instead. 

This year, my birthday note from Ed said:


Thank you for always taking good care of me! AND introducing me to your buddy—Scott Galloway. I really enjoy him. Jenn, You’re the best!!


Okay, for those sitting in the last row of the bleachers, let me say it one more time, LOUDER, so you don’t miss a single word:




I am almost famous. Seriously, this counts. It’s likely the closest I will ever come to smooching fame, or meeting Scott, so I am grabbing this one by the tail and swinging it. I did this. I introduced one great mind to another, igniting synergy like a matchstick. This journey has come full circle. I already live and breathe Scott’s words through Section4, Pivot, The Prof G Show, and the erudite discussions with my peers in Section5. Now my boss, and my mother, both quote Scott to me as well. 

This weekend, besides serving bloody eggs, Russ and I are gifting the newly-engaged couple with a pair of crystal champagne coupes. Trying to keep step with fashionable trends, coupes (versus flutes) are vintage resurfaced as stylish chic. Versatile, they can also switch hit for martinis, when bubbles won’t do.

We thought it was important to share a meaningful gift. Russ and I are sure to celebrate success, any win really, major or inconsequential, with champagne uncorked. Life is hard. It pitches a lot of curveballs, unexpected, sometimes only dashed with a divot to the forehead. Being sure to celebrate with arms intertwined, bubbles cradled between fingertips, is a habit worth mastering for any marriage, especially a new one.

Russ and I know, as do others who’ve lived long enough to withstand the gamut, not every day sparkles with champagne. Some days are relinquished to bloody eggs served in a pickle jar. But every now and then, a day emerges unlike any other, a welcoming apparition, posted with special delivery. This year, it surfaced only days before my birthdate, my best gift to mark the day.

It’s good to be almost famous. 

Luck, Irony & ROFLing

**Photo of Pepper, the first night in his second


Discovery Week

“Wha happen?” She asked.

I had just sat down in the chair.

She flipped up my hair in the back, letting it run through her fingers slowly, like gritty sand. 

Locking eyes in the mirror, she waited for my answer.

Ah, crap. These are words you never want to hear from your hair dresser.

“What did you do?” she asked.

A smile spread across my face, like an egg cracked over a frying pan, running towards the edges.

This is a new hair dresser. She fixed my hair once in February, after a year of self-inflicted tomfoolery. (That appointment almost qualified as outpatient surgery). I went back again last week. There was just that one box of hair colour in between. 

I shrugged my shoulders. Muffled giggles erupted under our masks as she shook her head. (As an aside, when the hairdresser gets out a calculator before beginning service, that. is. not. a. good. sign.

But it’s finally happened. After four and a half years in DC, I found a great hair dresser.  Before I can throw-up any tangle of visions grandeur, harangued in my seedy pie-hole, she has already articulated the goal for the session better than I ever could, and begun her work. Her title is “Master Designer.” This is neither hyperbolic, nor a misnomer. Robin is expertly skilled, efficient, and now I also know, wonderfully acerbic. 

Besides scoring Robin, I stumbled across an amazing masseuse as well. After a quadrennual of downright desiccation, it was like Discovery week here in DC. Derrick is a tall, brawny ex-security guard from Brooklyn, who happened upon masseuse school at his sister’s insistence. Telling his story, he said he wasn’t convinced the hooey-phooey-woo woo-magic-crystals of massage was the life for him, but when he walked into the school to check it out, the woman behind the desk stood up googly-eyed and gushing. Grasping his hands in hers, she said, “Oh my God, look at the size of these hands!! You should definitely be a massage therapist!” 

She was right. 

Better than that? I knew in the first 20-seconds laying on the table I was about to get an amazing massage. How? When Derrick’s hands plunged through the stormy cloud radiating above my battlefield, he touched down in enemy territory like a priest offering absolution, sweet talking a ceasefire from the angry mob hysterical with their pointy little bayonets . Those mitts, attuned to the squawking of muscles and the outrage of pain, followed the script already sketched below my skin. 

Now THAT is expertise. 

Massage is a great metaphor for life. A good therapist doesn’t tiptoe around the erratic punch of pain’s fists, but dances with it, a gifted ringmaster swinging the whip, pushing against “the lady [that] doth protest too much,” until she breaks at the knees, belching with gratitude for all the face slapping that snapped her from the madness. 

Pain is a whingy little bitch and Derrick is the secret sauce to silencing her. 

So DC peeps, if you need a hair stylist, or a masseuse, c a l l  m e e e e ….. 

And hey, Washington Capitals, Wizards, Mystics, and Football Team: You need Derrick. Your players will thank you, and so will your city. 

You. Heard. It. Here. First. 

(Call meee, Brian MacLellan….)

Just One More

This weekend I offered to travel south to pick-up an older dog Russ and I agreed to foster, plus another, who also had a foster commitment. The day before I left, they asked me to pick up two cats while I was there. 

Sure, no problem. 

I came home with two dogs, four puppies, two cats and thirteen kittens. The kittens sat shotgun in carriers, little bobbleheads eyeballing me silently through the cracks as I drove. My heart tugged at my sleeves. “They’ll never miss one kitten, will they?” 

I had to chuckle a little. The irony of it all. How many times did I fill that extra space in my horse trailer?? There is almost a pathological need for horsemen to fill an idle slot. Often I shipped a horse in the middle of my four horse head-to-head, making it a five horse, and if I thought I could get away with it safely, I’d have tried two in the middle. So here I was in my SUV, a dog and puppies crated separately in the back, kittens and cats up front, and Pepper, our foster, tethered in the middle because there just wasn’t a crate big. enough. for. his. fat. ass.

I was told Pepper was an 11 year old “Lab cross.” I’ve become wise to the fact this hybrid moniker is only one little dog turd away from inscription as a proper noun in the pages of Webster’s, despite only being a euphemism for “we don’t really know what he/she is (or worse, we do), but they’ll be a wonderful addition to your family anyway.” 

This haphazard branding of mutts is incredibly effective (rightly so), but still a far cry from the branding of some designer dogs, such as Doodles and Lurchers. Every dog breed has its currency. Doodles don’t shed and are smart, and Lurchers are fast, hardy sighthounds.  For labs, their currency is friendliness and an easygoing nature.

“Lab cross,” common parlance in our culture these days, is in serious need of rebranding. They have all the ingredients to be designer dogs themselves. “Adora dogs” could totally be a thing. “Terradoras” (terrier+labrador), “Heeladoras” (Heelers+labrador), and “Goldadoras” (Golden retrievers+labradors) could be the next big brands in canine culture. (“Labra” as a prefix is out. It sounds too much like Labia. I could go on, but I won’t.) 

Needless to say, the only thing Pepper has in common with a Labrador is the hefty girdle and layer upon layer of hair, like a cake that’s been iced too many times. Our apartment now sports black wispy tumbleweeds, like the puffy crowns blown from the top of dandelions. He needs to shed (pun intended) ten to fifteen pounds to improve his mobility, rest more comfortably, and cool down quicker, after rounding a single city block. 

For anyone searching for a Lab cross, who looks like a Heeler, to adopt and add to your family, Pepper is a very kind, sweet dog. He likes people, other dogs, and cats. He is house-trained and polite with food, hand treats, and on the end of a leash, even around a lot of other dogs. I can put anyone interested in contact with the rescue.

I should also add any contradiction in description versus the actual dog is in no way a reflection, or a judgment, of the (any) shelter or the (any) rescue partners. Everyone does the best they can, with the information they have, and are doing right by many, many animals in need, from the pure goodness in their hearts. When industry margins are as thin as razor blades, you roll with it, and revel in the generosity of so many people. 

My editor hard at work.

Community, Love and Gratitude

I want to wrap this week’s blog with a shout out to my friends, my family, and my wonderful peer group at Section5. To be clear, Section5 is not affiliated with Section4 Inc, but a spin-off from them, comprised of a few (100+) Section4 Sprinters who wished to continue the mind-bending discussions around brand, business, books, resources and culture that Section4 is known for offering.

These individuals, collectively, were my lifeline during the pandemic shutdown, and now, as things lift, they continue to be an important presence in my life. I am so grateful for their thoughts, their ideas, their humour, and their ability to bring it every. single. day. Sometimes I think my head is going to explode from the sheer volume of intelligent discourse, and passionate discussion, these amazing individuals continue to create and share. 

We attempt to zoom once a week to discuss a current brand-in-crisis, or a philosophical incongruence, as it’s happening. (Maybe we’ll discuss Lab crosses as the next brand in crisis!). This past week, someone took a photo mid-zoom. It sums up every emotion I have with these wonderful people. The shared photo also reminded me of the popular stock meme: tiny ballerinas all lined up at the bar in plié, except for the one girl on the right, hanging upside down, doing her own thing and having the time of her life.

This image does not represent all the members of Section5, only a few, but the sentiment is the same across the gamut. So much respect and gratitude for all of them, they are amazing, and also for every one of my friends and family members who share ideas, challenge the narrative, and of course, tuck all of it in cozy with a generous pour of humour. Thank you for teaching me all the acronyms this past year, including ROFL.

You are the best.

The Rats in the Foyer

Come with us, they said orbiting the girl, deadlocked in the foyer.

The crash of the monster, waking from slumber, closed in.

The girl flung the door wide.

The rats, eyes glassy with night, scampered through the tall grass, the girl following behind the blades rustling, keeping step. 

They disappeared into the old barn, threadbare like denim worn at the knees.

Over here, they whispered, Behind the straw.

Ruby rolled herself into a ball like a Rollie Pollie prodded with a stick.

Her heartbeat a hammer, slapping a nail through the meaty flesh of the fence board.

Shhh, they said. Don’t make a sound.

The girl held her breath, squeezing deeper into the paper-thin cranny between bales.

They heard the monster, pleading for the girl. 

His voice bellowed like a forlorn steer.

Shhh, they said. Don’t make a sound. 

The beam swung like a metronome, the flashlight sloshing in his hand.

Ruby?! Whures ye at, gerl?! Ye betta git on inside, ye hir me?!

The monster tottered, a scarecrow hoisted on a cross waving in the wind, silence his only answer.

Like a well-worn moped on pavement, broken and wet, the flare swerved, his boots cast-iron skillets slapping the dirt, fading into the distance.

The rats slithered from the straw, climbing the girl’s shoulders, braiding into her thick mane like blossoms in a coronet, their coats silver mirrors reflecting the moon bloated bright, a million little orbs busting against the bleached sac the Wolf carried across the sky. 

He’s gone! He’s gone! they chattered. Come with us, Ruby! Come with us! We’ll show you the way!

Where will we go? she asked. This is all I know. 

The rats, ancient rovers of the forest, implored. We’ll show you! they said. 

Ruby hopped up onto her little feet, tough and smooth, scoured by the earth’s pumice in her few short years. 

They ran through the nettles, the homestead fading behind them, soft beards of wheat showering Ruby’s legs with seed as she went, like dried rice cast at a young bride, descending the steps from the sanctuary.

The rats scrabbled back and forth, like ribbon in bows on gift boxes, waiting for the girl to catch up.

Ruby ran blind into the air thick with tears, ensuing the singing whispers of the rats, toward their promise of Elysian Fields.

This way! the rats trilled. 

Soon, the loam gave way to the brack, and the girl was swallowed whole, a kernel of krill sucked into the sweeping gullet of the Baleen lying in wait. 

Ruby pawed and punted at the pond water.

She could not swim.

The rats weaved laurels around the girl, circling her like a maypole, their long smooth tails rudders at the helm, skimming the consecration.

Their voices soothed Ruby as she sank toward the trundle, her lungs pushing against the bars of her ribs, like jailbirds pleading for mercy.

The rats cooed, “You’re safe now, Ruby. We love you.”

Ruby reached up, looking at the halo of rats above her head, and let go. 

Time Warp

It’s been a rough week. On Monday I thought it was Tuesday, and on Thursday I thought it was Wednesday. Visiting Texas last week was like a whirlwind business trip, only with premium margaritas, fancy shampoo, snuggly cats, and a free shirt at the end. I told Mom staying at their house was better than any fancy spa, and a lot more fun (see margaritas above). 

I signed up for a “free” yoga class this week at my studio. It’s now open at a limited capacity, but the schedule is wonky. I was going to try and go at lunchtime. The studio sits between work and home, and my big idea was to hit it at lunchtime, then I finish the rest of my workday at home. What I didn’t consider was the fact I’d have to carry my mat and yoga clothes to the office in the morning and back again, in addition to my laptop, work documents, and a snack. 

I don’t mind being a little bit of a sherpa, but too many complicated logistics become barriers to entry. Add no lockers, limited spots availabie in class (no guarantees), hot days commuting back and forth under the sun, and wearing work attire to the mix and it becomes an expensive (dry cleaning bill) proposition, steeped with cumber. I tried to extrapolate a solution to this on the Monday I thought was a Tuesday, but it was a an extra busy day at the office, and I forfeited attending class. 

They charged me $30 for the “free” class I didn’t take, because they have my credit card on file. Another reason to hate corporate yoga. More big biz bullshit. I, and everyone else, have watched myriad small businesses shutter their doors forever in the aftermath of COVID, yet this corporate behemoth sat unfettered and empty on the corner, like a giant black bear curled in its cave, wrapped in the warm confidence that Spring’s bounty awaited its hunger, once the storm passed. 

Still smarting, I’m shopping around for alternatives. It’s another impending relationship destined for doom, but loyalty is no longer a consideration, the term “membership” they ascribe to what’s on offer a beguiling misnomer. In the meantime, I’m running more and using our stairwell to the 14th floor for my HIIT training. What I’m not spending on the yoga studio I am currently spending on massages to keep the wheels greased. It’s the difference between struggling to run 25 minutes or having an easy 40. I can no longer stretch myself into accordance. Someone else has to do it for me. 

I have a bunch of deliverables this weekend, starting today with this post, my self-subscribed deadline, no matter how shitty it sounds in my ear. I also get my second vaccine today which ought to make completion more interesting. Tomorrow I am signed-up for a three-hour writing workshop with Anne Lamott, one of my favourite authors. She is a walking/talking/writing chicken-soup-for-the-soul tonic. I am beyond excited, and come hell or high water, I will be tuned-in. I also have to write my first poem for my writing class. I. Do. Not. Even. Know. Where. To. Begin. (Me write a poem? That’s like the dirty horse girl walking barefoot in the barn putting on tights and a tutu for a ballet recital). Lastly, my project is due for the Section4 Product Sprint. I’m flirting with inevitable failure of doing too much at once, instead of pouring my energy into one task, but alas, I wouldn’t change it if I could. If only there was more time.

Last week I wrote a short fantasy called Bookbenders. It’s a play on the name Bookbinders, an old Philly restaurant that no longer exists in its original form. In my story, a person can go into the brick and mortar, Bookbenders, and order a novel to experience. Think literary LSD in a spa-like setting. Maybe someone wants to know what it is like to be Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, or Churchill in Five Days in London. Maybe one seeks omniscience like Gandolph in The Lord of the Rings, or the drama of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. You swallow a capsule and it takes you to a favourite novel you’ve read and you get to experience it like the character of your choice in that novel.

The question is: Which book, and which character, would you choose?

Houston’s Best Stories

She stuck the needle in his eye. I had already turned away. As soon as the assistant had clamped the speculum to his eyelid, the eyeball protruding like a meaty oyster sitting in its half-shell waiting to be plucked from its socket, I had already seen more than I could stomach. It was speculative fiction turned speculative reality.

A speculum for the human eye.

So it’s not just for vaginas.

Tilted all the way back in the treatment chair, like he was Neil Armstrong on the Apollo 11 destined for the moon,  Dad chatted away nonplussed with Dr. Wang, Sandra Oh’s doppelgänger in her New Balance sneakers that matched her powder blue scrubs. He finally stopped long enough to ask her, “Are you going to let me know when you inject it?”

She chirped,” I already did!”

Ahhh, just like a good equine vet injecting a horse’s joint. It’s over before the patient realises what is happening. 

When she was done, they adjusted the chair back to the sitting position. Dad, as jolly as when we arrived, jumped up (hyperbolic), grabbed his walker, and announced, “I’m driving!” As he hobbled out of the office, Dr. Wang and her assistant looked at each other, eyes wide, until Mom and I laughed and said, “Haha, very funny!” We went out for dinner afterwards, and I couldn’t help but be mystified by Dad’s stoicism. For a crusty old crow at times, Dad can still rally in the face of pain and discomfort. After we left the office, I made a mental to remember: The older you get, the worse the solution to your problems becomes.

I’ve started another Section4 Sprint this week: Product Strategy. On the first day of class, the teaching assistant asked, “What’s a product you would enthusiastically recommend to a friend, and what do you love about it?” The slack channel quickly exploded with answers: Headspace, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Lemonade, Coinbase, TrainerRoad, Mistobox Coffee, DrinkTrade, Whimsical, Unsplash.









These are all apps—brands/platforms—as products, that my peers, and the world, use and subscribe to, on a daily basis.  Me? I’ve never heard of most of them.  I threw Apple and Toyota into the ring. This garnered no response. Crickets. I might as well have added “rotary phone” or “castor oil” to the conversation. One person did present a physical product they use everyday: “Anessa,” sunscreen that sells for $52 per 60 ml tube. 

Who are these hybrid millenials/gen z’ers with robust purse strings, and where did they come from?

I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Who really cares what others spend their money on? I’m just pointing out it’s a lot of disposable cabbage (credit, Prof G for the metaphor) for a young professional, newly-minted in the workforce, to spend on skincare. 

Despite my culture gap (I’m living the speculative fiction class I’m taking), and my aversion to assimilating multiple apps, I love this class. It took me a while to understand why I love these sprints so much, but I finally figured it out. Branding is nothing more than the fusion of storytelling, behavior economics and data analytics, all concepts I find truly fascinating. That, and I learn more about the world in which I live from my peers, who have their finger on a different pulse than I do. It opens my world to that which I do not know.

In the meantime, I’ve made a list of the apps cited to investigate at a later date. 

One of my tasks this week was to help my parents buy a new mattress to replace their old one wrecked in the flood of February. Mom heard that and said, “That sounds like something for you and your dad to do.” 


Dad and I drove down to Gallery Furniture, a Houston staple since 1981. I remembered the cheesy commercials on TV as a kid and “Mattress Mack,” the energetic owner in them. My parents brought his name up a few years ago, after Hurricane Harvey displaced more than 30,000 people.

“Did you know,” Mom said, “that Mattress Mack opened up his showroom for those now homeless, but Joel Olsteen wouldn’t open his church?? Can you believe that?”

That conversation four years ago was etched in my head as I parked the car in front of the showroom. 

Stepping indoors, there he was behind the counter, many years older, but still recognizable: Mattress Mack. At the age of 70, Mattress Mack still stands behind the counter, head down and working, reserved and humble (unlike the commercials). I asked, “Is there someone who can help us with a new mattress?”

He said, “Yup! I’ve got the best salesman. He knows everything about mattresses. Been selling them for thirty years.”

From around the corner, a man, a little hitch in his giddy-up, ambled toward us. What I noticed first about Scott was the big, starched cowboy hat covering the grey hair sticking out below it like straw in a bird’s nest. He wore the requisite Wranglers with a plaid Ariat button down shirt. Curiosity finally got the better of me.

 I asked him, “Did you used to rodeo?”

Scott smiled, but shook his head. Mattress Mack was right. He did give us the best salesman. Dad and I were in and out of the store in less than an hour, but not before discussing Mattress Mack with Scott. The two of them have been friends for 35 years. Scott waxed on about this Houston icon and what he has done over his career for the city.  In that moment, it all clicked—Why Gallery furniture has huge brand equity; Why Houstonians truly adore Mattresss Mack.

It’s because Mattress Mack truly loves them.

Sometimes good branding isn’t storytelling scripted before fruition.

Sometimes the strongest brands are stories created over a lifetime–a lifetime of business conducted with authenticity and kindness.

Proof that, sometimes, nice guys do finish first. 

What Are Pants, Anyway?

When I’m on the go, I often record anything interesting that pops into my head on my phone in the notes app. Scrolling through it recently, looking for ideas for my writing class, I came across an entry from February 8, 2020, three weeks before the world changed, before COVID-19 rocked us all.
It seemed fitting to share it (and a couple others around that time) since I’m flying back to Texas today. No sweats this trip, just jeans, an upgrade.


I have finally succumbed to wearing sweats on the plane. My mother would die. The lowest of low. 
They announced there was someone on board allergic to peanuts, so no one was to open or carry peanuts on the plane. 
Seriously? The guy in row 24 (that’s me) can affect the person in row 10? 
Is that an allergy or a full on phobia/panic attack in crisis? Can the smell of peanuts wafting up the aisle send someone into anaphylactic shock?
Boarding group 5. Again. 
I’ve decided to drink my coffee with heavy whipping cream. It makes it THAT MUCH BETTER. 
When you buy in orbitz, no frills, you always end up with the middle seat. It’s fine, I can deal. Not my favorite, but ok. You still get a stroop waffle. 
I fell asleep right off the bat. Holding my coffee, that was only a quarter full, I eventually dropped it over the edge of the seat. Not before it dribbled down the seat under me. High five for the camo sweat pants. Wearing jeans it would be obvious. The net to hold magazines, or coffee, or your stroop waffle, looks like a brassiere three sizes too small. It sits away from you, below your knees. What can you put in it besides a fucking napkin? They’ve made everything smaller when flying, even the magazine net that’s not big enough for a magazine. Luckily I didn’t spill any on the girl next to the window. Her converse are sparkly white. The guy at the aisle. I don’t know what he took, but I want some. He’s been out before I even sat down. His elbows have invaded my space from the beginning. I finished my book yet can’t change the channel on my screen because his deadweight arm is covering it. 
I moved it anyway, and gave him a pointy elbow kick of my own. 
I’ve gotten tougher as I’ve aged. I give a shit a lot less.


When faced with a crossroads, ask yourself, “WWCD?”

What would Cracker do?


I’ve been buying all of my clothes on ebay these days. It’s easy to do when you sort of have a standard issue wardrobe-a certain brand of jeans, turtlenecks, one style of dress. So far I’ve hit the jackpot every time, except once. This is the problem with some jeans-they can be the same size on the label, but they are physically two different sizes. I ordered a dark blue pair that were tight at the ankles. I had to really fight to get them on. Do a few squats and ple-aa’s. Slowly staggering around the bedroom trying to force them (sweet talk) them to go against gravity. I could barely get the ends over my foot. It was like putting on a sock all the way up my leg. After a brief workout, I got them on. Because they’re so stretchy, they buttoned up fine. That was the only easy part. I walked out and asked Russ, “Well, what do you think?”
He was silent for a few seconds before finally responding “Hmmm.”
What’s that? What do you mean? Too tight?
Well. They’re tight alright. It’s like your ass has a triple chin. 
Somewhat affronted, by the honesty, or the truth of it, I’m not sure, but I went and had a look. 
Sure enough, with my back to the mirror, I could see one big scoop of ice cream followed by two smaller ones below. 
Still, I had hope. 
I rationalized they might loosen up. (They couldn’t possibly get any tighter). In the end I thought, well I don’t give a fuck. I got them on and that counts. Big words coming from someone who hasn’t managed to ditch her ego enough to actually walk outside with them on. In the corner of my mind”Do you really want to be that woman?
The debate continues.


Got a free facelift with the force of the car. Almost met Jesus, but he decided not today. I wasn’t ready for heaven, or hell. Earth was still shaping me.  
I always feel closer to God at Christmas. On the plane. In the car. I call to him ceaselessly sometimes under my breath, so people aren’t concerned I’m born again. Or desperate. On the brink. 

Strawberry shortage. It’s a world crisis. Because our winter has been so cold. Told by a teenage boy with braces and a face full of strawberries, very serious. The Napoleon Dynamite of strawberries lives in Houston.

Post script

When I got to the airport this morning, I had to wait for the airline kiosks to kick on before I could check in. Then I waited for security to set up the TSA queue for the day. Dunkin’ Donuts wasn’t open, neither was Green Beans Coffee.

Do you know what was open?? That’s right, Starbucks. The only vendor ready for biz. So if zombies do exist, that’s where you’ll find them, and at 4 am, they are positively cheerful.

So It Goes.

The car whizzed past a motor-coach lot on the side of the highway. 

Russ nodded towards the glistening coaches and said, “That could be us one day.”

I grunted disapprovingly.

Seriously? Why not? Look, they have Airstreams, Jenn.”


He knows I like those retro Airstreams refitted…so maybe.

But where would we put all the soap?

Russ put his middle finger in my face. 

I was referring to the 40 individually-boxed bars of Dove he brought home from the store last week. Russ had skipped through the doorway, bags in hand, and chirped, “This is the first time we’ve had to buy soap in a year!”

I asked, “Do we really need to buy soap a year at a time?”

Hence my concern with the limited capacity of an Airstream.

We stopped in Kingston, NC on our way to the beach. Stepping out of the car, the savory scent of the passing rain steamed from the asphalt. I looked around wondering, “How did Kingston ever get on the map to begin with?” The streets lined with old buildings tells a grand story of yesteryear. They now sit mostly empty. Vivian Howard’s presence must have revived what holds court now: a couple of fine dining establishments, a few microbreweries housed in red brick, and the latest trend to be found, not just in cities, but communities everywhere, an axe-throwing enterprise. The only other notable addition in town was the replica of the Confederate ship, The CSS Neuse, which sits on the corner across from The Chef and the Farmer. It was there I made the acquaintance of Beauregard Stuart Lee Jackson, a short little bulldog with a notable underbite, not unlike his cheerful owner’s.

The next morning, the birds woke us, ushering in the day long before the sun breached the horizon. I carried my cup of coffee out to the deck, but had to go back inside and grab a flannel shirt and a pair of Smartwool socks. I picked-up the throw from the couch and wrapped it around me. Curled up on a cold morning, sipping a hot cup of coffee while listening to the hum of the ocean as the birds conversed, it was easy to envision some of my favourite things in this world: the smell of rain on freshly clipped grass; hot coffee on cold mornings; the waves of the ocean slapping the beach; fresh berries and a jar of local honey from the roadside farmers’ market; open windows and doors in the springtime; cool sand, dry and slippery under my feet; the reflection of the sunrise across the canvas of the Atlantic; the dunes’ stalky grass as it sways in the breeze; morning skies striped cotton-candy pink and bright blue, rolled out like an entryway tapestry; a trio of pelicans muted brown windsurfing inches above the surf; delicate little sandpipers running along the edges of sea foam, their legs a blur, spinning like pinwheels; a yellow Lab napping with his owner on a beach towel below the afternoon sun; and hot caramel ice cream sundaes after a round of putt putt at night. Visiting the beach was a wonderful reminder how much I still crave the outdoors, the way some crave sugar or alcohol.

I submitted my first writing assignment for class this week. Students critiqued each other’s work before the instructor did. I learned a few unexpected lessons with this exercise. I remembered, once again, perceptions are nothing more than the result of preconceived notions. It’s the story we tell to ourselves, trying to bring sense to that which we do not fully understand. I began this “unintentional” class (I didn’t realise I had registered for) believing I would be far behind the other students’ skills and expertise, as it was clear this type of writing, speculative fiction, was what the other students truly loved and aspired to author themselves. Without a doubt, their sentences were much more colourful and creative than my own. However, I came away understanding a good sentence is built like a Rolex timepiece, no matter the genre or individual style of the work. One can chip away the diamonds and peel back the gold, but the time is still measured precisely, as the hands round the face of the clock. Anything beyond that is costume, hanging on the bones that bring it to life. 

As bedecked as the pieces were, I struggled to read more than the first three sentences. They were packed with words, fictional names and places strung together, fat charms weighting the thin chain bracelet clasped around a child’s wrist. My eyes stumbled over each impregnated word like a car traversing a cobblestoned street. I had to look away from the page. It was like watching a herd of choppy, paddling horses trot past, who look to be assembled by committee. Sometimes even a passerby has to avert their eyes, in order not be seasick standing next to the paddock fence. From this I garnered another lesson: less is more. Just because one can step into their closet and wear every article of clothing they own at once, adding every accessory in their jewellery box to the getup, doesn’t mean one should. This brought to light another epiphany: Copying another artist’s style, while the sincerest form of flattery, often lands as cheap mimicry. While experimenting along the lines of the greats, it is important not to ostracize our selves in our own writing.

Applauding my simple sentences (never good), I thought about one of my favourites: Kurt Vonnegut’s “So it goes” in Slaughterhouse-Five. I cringe remembering what became my adolescent mantra after reading the greatest book of my young life, a satire centred around its protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, who became a prisoner of war, lived on the planet Tralfamadore, travelled in time, and read the science fiction of Kilgore Trout, which uncannily resembled Billy’s own unique life experiences. It turns out I’ve loved speculative fiction all along. My first love is one of its masterpieces.