I’ve Measured Out My Life in Dog Years

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetWhen Katie and I were eleven, Dad bought you from a stand on the side of the HWY 281. He passed it twice. Our other dog, Cody, had just died and he wasn’t sure we were ready for another. When he finally stopped, you were the last one left and also, the fattest. So fat, in fact, that we almost named you Pudge.

When he got home, we were upstairs watching a movie. He called for us to come down.

“Allie’s here,” he said (I’ll never really forget that lie because it was so forgivable, so wonderful in it’s misdirect).

When we finally got up and looked down, he was at the foot of the stairs holding you in his arms, grinning wide and proud.

When you were nearly one, you ate an entire milk carton, a butter tub lid, the twist tie off the bread and the mechanisms of your favorite squeaky toy. Since then, the number of shoes, baseballs, softballs, tennis balls and rocks you’ve demolished is similar to the number of decimals in Pi (I wish that you were capable of understanding math jokes, Tucker. But it’s okay, a lot of people don’t think they’re funny anyways).

I’ve always thought of you as a dog of mythical proportions. You could dive for rocks in the pool and open the back door. You ruled the house like a benevolent lion; letting the cat groom you, letting Charlie eat out of your bowl. Your giant paws, your gentleness, the expressiveness of your eyebrows which always verged on quizzical, as if you were wise to some joke that missed us all, your determination to convince us to give you just one more cookie (author’s note: it was NEVER just one more). These were the traits that only you could have, that only you could do justice to. These are the things that made you ours.

The Earth has had you for precisely 5,000 days but today, August, 10th, 2017, is the last of them. To my twenty-four year old brain, 5,000 of anything seems like a preposterous, exorbitant amount. And yet. In terms of you, that number seems like an unjust and cruel personification of brevity.

Two years ago, I wrote a story about this for my MFA application. My fiction professor told me that it alienated some readers.

“People won’t understand why the death of a dog is worth an entire story,” he said.

To be frank, I do not like those people. They do not understand that dogs live as though they will never die, which is precisely why they will always be worth writing about. They do not understand that dogs live solely to be part of our stories, which is exactly why they will always deserve their own.

Those people, they do not understand that the time we share with our dogs is borrowed; that they are never really ours to keep. That at some point, we have to force ourselves to be unselfish. That we, as humans, must someday choose to end their pain and in turn, wound ourselves.

Because surely, if they had known you, if they’d had the privilege of spending more than half their life with you, they’d have realized that you deserved vastly more than fifty pages of amateur, comma-spliced fiction.

There is no melodrama present. There are those that think it’s foolish to mourn the loss of a dog, I don’t expect them to understand me or my family. There are those who think it’s foolish to mourn the loss of a dog which could only mean they’ve never loved one and in light of that, I feel incredibly sorry for them.

Today, the Atlanta sun comes in patches. All of great things I wanted to say come that way too. Today, my Tucker boy, our hourglass is out of sand. Our clock’s hands are stuck. Our borrowed time is up. Today, my sweet boy, I hope the sky is very blue and very bright in Texas. A perfect sky for swimming.

What else? The pool, Charlie’s cookies, the Rodriguez’s newspaper, the space beneath our feet. Those things will always belong to you.

And as for me, I love you in present tense.

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Under the Big Top: Chapter 1

In the ad-school system, crimes of art, copy and Adobe are considered especially heinous. In Atlanta, the semi-dedicated detectives who overhear and record these ridiculous crimes are members of an elite underground writing ring known as the Circus Chroniclers. These are their stories.

Assley wasn’t like the other girls. She was ~UniQu3~. When other girls were putting peanut butter on their toast, she was dutifully slicing avocado whilst bathed in crisp morning light. She was purposefully scuffing her tennis shoes, she was walking around through the streets of her suburb with a Polaroid camera, snapping away, letting the photos drop where they may; a modern Gretel, leaving trail of angst in her wake.  

And then one night, the blind prophet Sylvester snuck into Assley’s attic bedroom. Maybe it was a dream, maybe a vision or perhaps he was actually just a criminal and was LITERALLY in her room. Normally she dreamt of young Michael Cera, sponge-bathing in his Sunday best but that’s besides the point. This eve it was Sylvester who came into her bed and ultimately, into her heart. (There’s a moral here: Sylvester was an expert thief who’d been working in the Black Market dealing PrismaMarkers and Exactos but more on that later.)

Assley was roused from slumber by his seductive whisper.

“Michael Cera? How intriguing,” Sylvester mused, “You are #deep just as I suspected.” 

Assley sat up in bed to stroke Sylvester’s useless eyeballs, “How is that you are blind and yet are the only one who really sees me?”

“Because I’m not a vacuous nin-kom-poop, obvi” said Sylvester, blushing self-conciously as he twisted his hair expertly into a man bun. 

“You look like a street urchin,” Assley blurted, “but I’m into it.”

“Ah, the Circus goggles are upon you,” Sylvester said cryptically, “You have no idea how ahead of your time you are.” 

“The Circus?” Assley said in wonderment. 

“It’s like this place, where you do like stuff,” Sylvester scrunched his brows, “Um, we like make fake things that matter but also don’t. Fuck. Okay, it’s like art school but with a purpose.” 

“So SCAD?”

“Not exactly, no. We’re different. Grungier. We have a vending machine that deals out cheese sandwiches, honey-buns, LaCroix. It’s raw, visceral, you know, uncensored. We’re all just a bunch of misfits,” Sylvester waxed, growing misty eyed.  

Assley reached out to comfort him, a mere shoulder squeeze, but there was so much feeling in that simple gesture that they both became aroused.  

“Touching is free,” Sylvester whispered as he unsuccessfully tried to locate her mouth, “but printing is gonna cost ya.” 

“How much!?” Assley moaned. 

“A dollar,” he paused, “per page.” 

“Oh, do me on my Urban Outfitters duvet,” Assley screamed, barely able to keep herself together.

Sylvester began to take of his Converse.

“Keep them on, ” Assley ordered. 

“You have the body of a young Lena Dunham,” Sylvester said as he pushed her back into her ironic throw pillows.

“Omg, have you read Not That Kind of Girl?” 

“Hush, now” Sylvester said, putting a finger to what he thought was her lips but was really her nostril, “let’s put on some music no one else has heard of.” 

 

The Gardener

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High summer bursts against my retinas like a swiftly spun kaleidoscope. I am small and in happy solitude, towing the garden hose behind me as my bare soles twitch and twirl on worn deck wood. Part child, part sunburnt dervish, I whirl by the pots jammed with flora and they drink the heavy drops and stay always always thirsty.

Against the backdrop of blossoms, in the thick of succulents and coiffed shrubbery, you are elbow-deep in loam, pulling the goodness from nothing, discovering great bursting life in the small, the unsure. How do I explain the curvature of plants as they leaned in your direction? As if they could discern the difference between the sun’s scorch and your gentle heat.

The mountain laurels shake their bouquets like tiny, opening fists. Closely clustered, crepe myrtles keep to themselves. Hibiscus are opera singers, their vain reverb oscillating off the roof of blue overhead. Are they waiting for the soft clap, the echo of sound between gardener’s gloves?

Come and dig, you say, my mother. And we bring life to each bloom until the day’s eyelids flutter, hungry at last, for sleep.

Small me, collapsed and drowsy, plucking at lullaby splinters, stuck sweet and near, just above my earlobes, my palms resting rough and stained against the pillow white. Behold this legacy of umber earth. An inheritance of dirt beneath fingernails, passed down as if it were fine china.

With hands that look like your hands, I too, will take up spade and soil. With hands that look like your hands, I too, will weave braids into my someday daughter’s hair. These clumsy appendages of mine finding that loom smoothness was hidden in them all along.

And so I will do what you have done for my sister and I. Intertwining our roots. Placing us in direct sunlight. Glazing with tender water. How greedily we drank, then. How marvelous our green against the sky. Yes, in this clime, we three bulbs of the same flower, planted seasons apart can all grow older in parallel lines.

I Take My Humble Pie A La Mode

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In case you were wondering, the most pathetic place to cry is in a 2004 Nissan Xterra, with a smashed to shit left bumper, in the parking lot of Sprouts. Side note, cars don’t render you invisible. Cue concerned passerby probably speculating that I was just another twenty-something chick overreacting to the rising avocado prices.

Alas, my dignity was not being jeopardized by a fruit. C’mon guys, I have some pride. No, I had been reduced to a sniveling idiot by three words: “It’s just boring.” Translation for dummies: “You’re just boring.”

I am not vanilla, I insisted. NO. I am vanilla bean.

So slightly elevated boring.

Boring is un-dyed cotton or chicken breasts or taupe walls or caution tape. Boring looks at maps more often than it looks at the sky. Boring buttons up and covers their mouth when they laugh. Actually, boring doesn’t even laugh. Boring chuckles briefly and almost inaudibly to itself.

Getting dubbed “boring” made me angry. And it was good in the way that a nice, resounding smack to the face is good. All of a sudden, I was like “Oh boring am I? Just wait for next week! I am going to be so edgy, buddy.” And then next week came and I’d written couplets in perfect Iambic pentameter about a BBQ sauce and was met with, “Okayyyyyyy, so this is kind of too weird.”

Bring out the laurel crown because “too weird” is a fucking victory.

Second quarter taught me that writing (or just creating in general) is harder than scaling the side of a skyscraper with heavily greased roller skates attached to your hands and feet. Being good at it is like scaling that same skyscraper but without hands or feet at all. What I’m trying to say, is that you have to risk failing spectacularly to make things ring with badassery. Yeah, you might figuratively shatter yourself into a thousand minuscule shards but at the very least, people will be listening and watching, instead of sleeping.

I recently listened to a podcast with Lin Manuel Miranda, the mastermind behind Hamilton, in which he discussed the creation of The Hamilton Mixtape. Despite never having seen the actual production (because I am not willing to donate a kidney in order to purchase a ticket), I am infatuated with the song “Satisfied,” which Sia covers in the Mixtape. When asked what distinguishes Sia from other singers, Manuel Miranda said, “Sia weaponizes vowels.” How dark, how beautiful and how powerful is that? It’s been circling around my brain like a buzzard ever since. Imagine if you could write like she sings?

There’s a typography poster in the bathroom at school that speaks to that same theme. It says, “Language should bend to your will, not reveal your inadequacies.” Pretty sure it’s a Dan-ism. Sia would probably dig it.

Anyways.

1/4 of the way through life under The Big Top and so far, my creative brain has knees. Not legs. I know what you’re thinking: so what, your brain is like some kind of vaguely-jointed mermaid? Um, yes. Yes it is. Can you claim learner’s curve for as long as it takes for people to question your status as a “learner”? Um yes. Yes, you can. We will be learners for as long as we are specks that inhabit an incomprehensible universe, the majority of which remains a vast mystery to us. Don’t be afraid to own the dumb parts of yourself. Find interesting ways to use them. Get curious again. Examine yourself and the brilliant myriad of gorgeous other brains in this world. Don’t settle for smart, seek genius. Don’t be content with brave, strive for fearless. Don’t give encouragement, radiate kindness and compassion.

And above all, give boring the finger.

The Fisherman

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A kerplunk did rupture the atmosphere, once. Unfurled like a velvet spool and dove its echo into my ears. Its arc was fine and lovely and casted out onto the river’s smooth, cool face. Beneath the whispering oaks, we were three fisherman silhouetted against the amber rose sun.

How do I describe the music of morning? Poetry escapes me like catfish from a line. The river breathed husky against the wet sky. Its breath hovered like steam above a mug’s gaping mouth. Do I talk of the wild on just the other side- how it was fevered- always growing, stretching on in a dull, green tangle?

How do I tell you that in that space just after dawn, I was jealous of my sister as she drew her rod back behind her? Everyone always said she had the most whispers of you. She wore your hands and easiness, unstudied charm smeared across her in hasty, imperfect swoops. The deftness with which she detached a hook from a fish’s lip; even that was admirable.

Girls, we wear our mothers like crowns, precious & jeweled. But fathers are our first and most innocent of loves. We keep them tied tightly to us, schooners forever docked close by a multifarious knot.

By the murky water, sat me, rod and reel-less (books were the only bait I was ever hungry for) with crumbs of sleep charring my eyes. Beneath my feet, tree roots held the bank gently and my bones cracked a little to think of Time, to think of our corner of the river as finite. Which is why, even as a child, I knew that I must snatch, take, grab in handfuls this most precious life in which I found myself made of the same old, new blood as you.

My father:

Can we sit and talk a little?

Can we stop and listen much?

Can we fish in quiet for an infinite while?

The Delicate Art of the Perfect Author Bio & Other Useless Skills

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1:

The authoress currently resides in a studio apartment above Sal’s Diner in New Brunswick, New Jersey. On Saturdays, she enjoys a long walks down New Brunswick’s’ brutally urban streets, which she regards as a cheaper, more visceral Brooklyn. Maybe it’s the ancient Italian men in the lawn chairs chain-smoking Camels; maybe it’s just the pollution. As you are reading this, she is probably sitting down to enjoy another cup of Sal’s shitty coffee and a thick stack of syrup-laden pancakes because to write is to suffer immensely and she has found that eating things that are completely lacking nutrients, ironically nourishes her soul.

2:

After a long and wildly prolific career as an extra in 50 Cent music videos, she penned a series of graphic and experimental prose poems, including the cult-classic, This Isn’t The Notebook, Bitch, which confronts her marriage to literary wunderkind, Nicholas Sparks. At the age of 67, Repole-Sparks is back with All Your Novels Are the Same, a shocking expose of their tumultuous relationship. Penned entirely by hand and stained with crocodile tears, her latest installment is a tasteful and raw account of the challenges posed by the creative process.

The Repole-Sparks reside in North Carolina near a body of water of some kind, where circumstances beyond their control inevitably try to push them apart. However, much to the relief of their adoring public, they always seem to find each other again.

3.

Whitney Repole is the author behind the two worst selling novels in American history, Pun-fully Yours and Harambe: The Beginning of the End of the Most Powerful Nation in the Known World. Her third novel bears a mind-numbing resemblance to the first two and belongs on display at Wal-Mart, next to the bargain trashcans and imitation FitBits. Voldemort Was Misunderstood & Other Collected Stories, is best described as one big long infomercial for the Devil, if the Devil were actually a jaded Literary Arts graduate shoveling down semi-burnt scrambled eggs whilst contemplating the pitfalls of Netflix, her student debt and whether or not her Instagram shows her truest self.

4.

Story has it that after Panel, the authoress stumbled into Moe’s and Joe’s only to find Kanye West slumped over one of the back booths. She promptly offered him her Briny Melon Gose in the hopes that the musician would be revived by its soothing summery notes, which made her feel like she belonged in a room full of people drinking IPA’s, even though she knew herself to be an imposter. West began to protest, “We all know Sweetwater had the best gose of the year,” but Repole quieted him by shoveling $1 popcorn down his throat. They began to make out theatrically. Whitney called for the bartender to play “Wolves.”

It was 4:30 P.M.

5.

It was the morning of her eleventh birthday when her fake Hogwarts letter arrived. The product of her parent’s late April Fool’s joke, Repole was forever changed by the treachery and the shock of being a normal human. Growing up in the shadow of her Muggledom, Repole has since penned a series of abstract novels that deal with her journey to be recognized as a witch by the magical community. Called a “raving lunatic” by some and a “convincingly naïve young woman” by others, the authoress currently lives in a Yurt in the Scottish Highlands, apparently on border that separates the hypothetical Hogwarts’ castle from the world as we know it. If she dies, she will be survived by a large flock of rather tame barn owls and a surprisingly large collection of household brooms.

6.

After a 10 year hiatus, the critically acclaimed and controversial cook-book writer is back with another collection of hard-hitting recipes: Vegans Are Quitters: The Carnivore’s Guide To Winning. In collaboration with cultural icon, Guy Fieri and Food Network bad girl, Ina Garten, “Vegans Are Quitters” explores the hidden potential of unexpected meat sources such as the delicate and unexpected ‘Pigeon a La Mode’ which unfolds down the back of the throat like a wet sheepskin blanket and the challengingly chewy New York City Gutter Rat Pie, that scurries along your taste buds, sprinkling culinary waste and a plethora of Dark Age diseases as it is digested. The authoress divides her time between her miniature horse farm in Northern Maine and the Tuscan villa she shares with the ghost of Mario Batali.

7.

Just when you thought it was too bad to get any worse this literary parodist who some have called “about as inspirational as the Bubonic Plague” is back with another one of her depressing, anti self-help books! Screw the life you’ve always wanted, now it’s time to slide slowly into the downward spiral you’ve always found to be deplorable. In How To Lose Everything You Hold Dear In Five Easy Steps: A Journey to Self-Loathing, the authoress expounds upon the perils (and delights) of gateway drugs, hook-up culture, the quest for the perfect candid Instagram, Seattle’s Underground Orca fighting ring and SmartCars. Repole’s comments on her work could not be included in this bio due to the fact that her mouth was full of Taco Bell’s Crunch Wrap Supreme when she was asked for a quote.

8.

After spending three years with a family of traditional Vikings in Greenland, Repole has released her a prose-documentary, More Than Just Wood, whose genre itself redefines the 2016 Literary Scene. This genre-bending work excavates the secretive and often abusive relationship between Vikings and the trees they used for their “knarrs” or cargo ships. Repole is a modern day Lorax, giving voice to the thousands of trees that were abused and carved without regard for their feelings.

Repole lives in a log cabin in the Adirondacks with a retired Canadian lumberjack. When asked if she found her choice of home to be ironic, the authoress responded, “American trees may still be standing but they died a long time ago. The Pilgrims killed their natural spirit,” before grabbing an ax and retreating into the forest.

9.

North America’s most indestructible and shameless Doctor of Literature is back with this year’s most purposefully overlooked work of academia, a dramaturgy entitled, Iambic Pentameter You Sneaky Sonofa. Over the course of the book’s 687 tightly kerned pages, Repole mangles the beautiful soliloquies and complex, linguistic pyrotechnics of the Bard with unmatched gusto. As far as theories go, most of hers are about as truthful and fact-based as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop rants. Repole has made extensive efforts to further the rumor that the work was indeed done entirely by quill. Upon further examination, aforementioned quill was discovered to be just a curiously thin stalk of purple asparagus. We humbly suggest that the good Doctor retreat back to whatever non-organic grocery store she came from! The pretension of some people!

10.

A great and terrible fire ravaged the authoress’s Oklahoma estate. Admist the ashes, the rubble and piles of strangely fire-retardant Cosmic Brownies, a rookie fireman unearthed a safe. Inside the safe was a finished manuscript (it doesn’t matter how it opened it, just keep reading). The fireman checked to see if anyone had noticed his discovery. Strangely, he was alone (the logistical probability of this is grossly unimportant). The manuscript was entitled, What Toby Keith Whispered In My Ear. The rookie fireman had a choice to make. He felt that he had prepared all his life for this moment (in reality he had bounced around from one ambition to the next and this whole fireman thing was probably a phase). The rookie fireman pulled a match from his jacket pocket (Why would a fireman have a match in an already burned down building? Because he had bad taste in irony? Because he always wanted to be prepared in case there was an Apple Cinnamon candle that needed lighting? Because the jacket wasn’t his?). The rookie fireman struck the match and brought it to the edge of the manuscript. Somewhere in the distance, “Beer for My Horses,” began to play softly. The rookie fireman shivered involuntarily at the beauty, of course.

If I Die, Tell Them I Was A Local: A Lesson in Wandering

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Whenever I travel, I am not simply content to be a visitor. I am always overcome with the desire to know a city, to be accepted into its folds. I want its rhythms to reside in the rafters of my brain. I want to wear its most charming cafés like charms on my wrist. I want its streets ingrained into the soles of my shoes. I want to spew its slang, cry out its colloquialisms, and hold its humor near the neurons that trigger tears from breathless laughter. I want to it to feel as familiar as Friday night football in my hometown, as intuitive as the tap of my fingers against my laptop keyboard.

And yet, in every new place I find myself death-gripping a complimentary map and bumble-fucking my way through the native tongue. Travel exposes my vulnerabilities, my shortcomings, my lack of sophistication, and the feeble remains of my four semesters of Italian. Four years ago, when I went to Paris for the first time, I wore a magenta North Face and paraded around the Eiffel Tower, my cheeks stuffed with Nutella crepes, like a tasteless, unnecessary exclamation point. Needless to say, the air of that otherwise magical city was polluted by the sneers French women threw me.

The foreign world somehow manages to slip through the sieve of me; when I’m abroad I am somehow always the dumbest person in the room, on street corner, in the restaurant. But this humbling is what makes travel so essential to me and so integral to my endeavor to live a robust life. As a creative person, I need paradigm shift. I need to be shocked out of my everyday complacency and thrown into a corner of the universe that I don’t begin to comprehend, that I don’t begin to fit into.

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The naïve, egocentric side of my brain wants to possess of all these places, to turn them into taxidermy heads that I can hang proud upon my wall. I am in such a hurry to share my travels with everyone. How easy it is to post something and say “Oh look where I’ve been! Look how cultured I am! Aren’t I just the neatest damn thing on your Instagram feed today?” It is so easy to pass traveling off in beautiful photographs, in clever captions, in blog posts.

Where the true difficulty and true merit of travel lies is in it’s exposure of our inner self, of the girl who talks to much, doubts too much, wouldn’t know minimalism if Alexander Wang suffocated her with his American cool and who gets extremely grumpy if she’s not given breakfast and strong coffee immediately after waking up. Not traveling turns me cagey and restless. Traveling strips me of sureness and sears me in the fire of something new. It renders me raw. Part of its marvel (and the majority of its melancholy) is that travel not only exposes me but it changes me, too.

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I am continually struck by a place’s ability to haunt me; how I can wander De 9 Straatjes (the Nine Streets) of Amsterdam once and suddenly the capillaries of my heart become canals filled with bruise-navy water, houseboats in gentle slumber, the sunny purr of Dutch, the whiz of bicycle spokes churning the air. Or how Prague returns to me like a best-loved bedtime story, luring me once more into a land of castles, spires and swan-filled rivers, leading me down winding lanes bathed in the rose glow of early evening, where later, much later, the echoes of raucous boys leaving the discotheque will ricochet off the stucco and into my sleeping ears.

Which is whywanderlust is such a tricky word for me. “Lust” implies that it can be quenched, you see and I sincerely doubt that my need for travel is capable of being satisfied.I want a future full of meanderings, fashion faux-pas, inescapable hungers and continual renovations to my soul and my perspective. But above all, I want to keep learning, to keep exposing myself the truly novel, the wonders of human existence, with a voracity that refuses to wane.

 

 

Fictitiously Yours, The Future

Play:

It’s dreary in Texas today. Apparently, the Gods of Amiable and Cheery Christmas Weather have decided to rue me: the sky is an unmistakable shade of grey, reminiscent of sink water, of dishes forgotten and now brining in soap froth, barnacled with the remnants of past meals.

I am half-awake, not nearly caffeinated enough and rifling through my two M.F.A. applications stories. Foolishly, I expected the papers to be somehow marred by time. I wanted them to have the beginnings of fine lines, too. But here they are: crisp and shocking white in 12 point, double-spaced Times New Roman.

Rewind:

A year ago, I was barely visible beneath a sea of half-empty coffee cups and loose papers, a red pen in between my teeth, grimed by the stress of completing the final edits to my 40 page application manuscript for M.F.A. programs across the country. A year ago, I was drunk on the idea of literary fiction, enthralled by the champagne sparkle of a parallel universe of renaissance men and women, of modern bards in expensive cardigans and thick-rimmed glasses. In her book, The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny, dubs this alternate reality the “glitterary,” or a tiny, glamorous cluster of promising, young writers on the cusp of discovery.

A year ago, I waited (fingers and toes crossed like Shakespeare’s infamous lovers), to be named as a new constellation in that world.

Fast-forward:

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And somehow, I found myself thousands of miles away from a prestigious liberal arts campus, in a re-furbished warehouse that is within walking distance from at least four strip clubs, discussing the beauty and pure genius of an Under Armour commercial while chugging a literal cauldron of Dunkin Dark Roast and attempting to scrub the cool grey flecks of permanent marker off my hands.

Somehow I ended up in Atlanta, Georgia, attending a school that it isn’t really a school but more like a creative battleground. I found myself (a phrase that has both a literal and metaphoric connotations in this particular case) at The Creative Circus as a happily dumb and burgeoning copywriter with four intelligent, hilarious and talented roommates, a cat (had to give you a shout-out, Falafel) and a plethora of wonderfully weird friends.

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Rewind:

Six months ago, after I’d been rejected by all of the programs I’d applied to, after I’d permanently hung up my cleats, after I’d begun using the past tense to describe myself as both an athlete and a writer, I sat in the Dey House, the refurbished Victorian on the outskirts of the University of Iowa campus that houses The Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the very brightest of the “glitterary” scene (irony, you cruel mistress) across from my most beloved fiction professor, whose intelligence and kindness nearly rendered him mythological.

He didn’t advise me to write what I knew or to be “edgier.” He didn’t comment on my use of semi-colons, which verged on superfluous. He didn’t give me anything saccharine.

“Apply again when you have a story that demands to be told,” he said.

“You haven’t found it yet,” he gestured to my application manuscript, “but you will. You just  have to be willing to look for a while.”

Fast-forward:

If I’ve learned anything from my first quarter the Circus it’s that creativity is not a divine gift straight from the generosity of the Muses. Imagine the labyrinth of knots your iPod headphones seem to always find themselves in or the dainty kinks of a gold plated necklace and you’ve got yourself a creative brain. Pursuing creativity is a constant endeavor, a consistent reapplication of discipline, a choice to spend your existence unraveling the tangled mass of words, art, places, expletives, stolen genius, hoppy schemes, humor, caffeine and failure that run amok in your skull on a daily basis. Being creative person is something you have to earn, a testament to will and passion rather than natural ability.

(Disclaimer: if you’re thinking, “Oh, art school. How nice!” It’s not art school. I am making a career out of failing harder.)

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Play:

My future is an incomplete collection of short stories, a fiction I keep on my bedside table and fill with the incoherent dreams that come just before sleep. Sometimes, in moments of characteristic impatience I flip to the last page, hoping to cheat my way to the ending.

It’s always blank.

How I am learning to love that white space.

The Great & Terrible Beauty of Choosing

My father and I are early risers, disciplined creatures, very much attuned and accustomed to moving in habitual rhythms. We crave the sureness of routine, the comfort of crossing and re-crossing old paths like figure skaters. At twenty-three, I feel myself slipping into his routine; his penchant for a cathedral of soft silence, his adherence to preserving the sanctity of a simple pleasure, his affinity for French roast and words.

Every morning, he drinks coffee and reads the paper with our golden retriever, Tucker, loyally curled around his feet. From the time I was little, there was always something magical about this, about witnessing the sun gently shoo the last shards of darkness from the sky. It’s a fleeting and sacred feeling; as if one is alone inside a beautifully quiet church but still fully aware of the fact that just on the other side of the stained glass windows, the world is all bustle and noise.

To this day, I do my best writing in the morning over cups of obsidian coffee. Just a pen and my notebook. No technology, no music. In this tiny space (an hour out of my day that is otherwise filled with stress and errands and things I absolutely must do) I realize how much I like to be in this world. Everything is so unobstructed, so unclouded; I can see that there is an abundance of goodness and joy still left be had. I have learned to cherish those sixty minutes because so often it seems they are my only respite from the milieu of negativity that has somehow permeated humanity’s hearts and minds.

I do not write from a place of naiveté, idealism or literary romanticism that so often guided my views and my dreams as a child. I do not claim to be an expert in the affairs of government or the complexities of politics. I am simply a young woman growing up (well, trying to) in an imperfect world. A world engulfed by anger, pain and fear (the driving and arguably most saturating emotions of the human race aside from love).

How exhausting it is for me to make a daily trudge through the mire of our mindless disdain and disrespect for one another. Each day it seems to grow through social media, spreading through our careless words and pointless hatred, as malignant as cancer. How do we begin to pinpoint the moment we became so embittered, so quick to proclaim that all is lost? Why do we lapse into hopelessness?

Because living is the most difficult venture. Because we are incredibly flawed and fragile beings. Because we are afraid of that grey space between clearly decipherable black and white. Because we are constantly endeavoring to prepare for uncertain futures. Because we doubt, we question, we give into cynicism. That is who we are. It is embedded in the trenches of our souls.

And yet.

These are all excuses. Beautiful, tragic excuses.

How good we are at complaining (myself, included). It’s so unintentional, so effortless, a natural talent we all seem to have acquired. In light of the past week, it has come to seem so lazy to me. Just the act of it demands a lack of engagement with the world, a lack of appreciation and gratitude. We seem to find some strange brand of comfort in mutual suffering, in shared disgust, in our intertwined narratives of disappointment. My most beloved author, Jonathan Safran Foer, confronts the conundrum of the human proclivity for self-pity in his most recent novel, Here I Am. He writes, “Our stories are so fundamental to us that it’s easy to forget that we choose them.”

How empowering and how challenging it is to have a choice. To make a decision. This morning, as coffee scalds my tongue I can’t help but think about how everything we say, everything we believe, every story we tell ourselves is a choice. How we approach each day, each person and each moment is a choice. In my limited experience on this Earth, I have come to see that there are so many opportunities to find redeemable, pure things even in the midst of our damaged, struggling world.

To be frank, I was not always so convinced of this. Cyncism coagulates the blood in my veins. I doubt the motives and integrity of others. My trust is hard won and easily lost. I have to actively make the decision to fight these natural inclinations. I know firsthand how hard it is to have faith in humanity’s goodness because it is not stable. Because it is not always “deserving.” Because it trips and falters and loses to sin so often. Because to have faith in spite of these shortcomings, requires such a consistent and constant choice.

I want to endeavor to be clear in my life, to be transparent and take ownership of the choices I have made and will continue to make. I do not believe in condemning a human being for their personal opinions. I do not believe in shaming those who have made different choices than I have. I do not believe in bringing further division into our world. I believe in the gift of living in a country where I have choices to make. I believe in striving to be intentional, compassionate and honest. I believe in promoting hope even when I am pressured to take refuge in the shadows of negativity. I believe that the challenges of life will carve me into a kinder, more humble human being and that I am better for them. I believe in choosing to rise each morning with an eager, open heart, ready to spread joy and laughter and acceptance to my fellow humans who I know are just as desperate for those things as I am.

These are my choices and I hope to do right by them.

I wish you the resolve to do right by yours.

And remember, to not make a choice is also to make a choice

– Whit

 

 

Learn to Love the Dark: An Open Letter to Young Athletes

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As a creative writing major and a person who is pursuing writing as a career, I often feel a pressure to express myself with perfect exactness and eloquence. When my coach first asked me to write a letter to the incoming class of freshman, I was worried about regurgitating the thoughts I expressed in my Senior Farewell (The Hawk Talk Daily: THE BEST OF: Repole Says Farewell ). However, as I thought more about what I wanted to tell the freshman and what advice I thought most pertinent, I realized that I wanted to talk about the intersection of sport and life. For they are both full of great duality, so cruel and so beautiful all at once. As an advocate for the transformative and redemptive power of sports, I also believe that this intersection taught me invaluable lessons about self-worth, kindness, faith and most importantly, resilience.

Last fall, I underwent the grueling process of applying to Masters of Fine Arts programs across the country and among other things, it made me see that sport and creative writing actually existed in the same universe: both disciplines demand diligence, practice and experimentation, all of which ultimately lead to a honing of craft and a progression in skill. What I didn’t realize up until that point is that pressure sneaks into the equation: I felt that there were expectations tied to my performance both on and off the field precisely because I was so prepared, so talented, so ready, so well-trained, so invested.

Who was I if I didn’t get into the Writer’s Workshop?

Who was I if my performance on the field included an error and two looking K’s?

You see, I rooted my identity in the two things that I had been taught to believe I should be classified by. I had to get into an MFA program, I had to play flawlessly or I was worthless. Society had trained me to measure my worth by my stats, by numbers, by “wins” and I bought into its twisted system. My opinion of myself was entirely tied up in measurable success. As a result, throughout my career as a student and an athlete, a negative fire of self-doubt and low self-worth smoldered in my heart and in my mind after any instance of failure. Before college, softball was never something that I was used to failing at. Success came fairly easy to me in high school and club ball. Likewise, writing was always something that I excelled at and I regarded it as a representation of value within myself.

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And then came college where the pitchers threw me three straight change-ups because they’d read the scouting report. And then came college where the game was in my hands and I dropped a fly ball. And then came stints on the bench and slumps and angry, frustrated tears. And then came five letters in the mail, all with the same terse sentences, “Dear Ms. Repole, we’d like thank you for your application. However, at this time we are unable to offer you admission into our MFA Fiction program. Best wishes.”

To be frank, some of my devastation came from my sense of entitlement. I felt like the game owed me. What were all of those hours in the cage for if I still didn’t get on base? Why did I do footwork drills for an hour in the freezing cold if I still got a late jump? In regards to my rejection from all five of the MFA programs, I felt the same anger, the same bitterness. From my very first fiction workshop class at Iowa, my professor told me that I would be an excellent candidate for the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. My sophomore year, I applied and was accepted into the Undergraduate Creative Writing Track. The next year, I wrote a story that one professor told me was “publishable.” In short, I was planning on the Workshop. It was the dream I held closest to my heart for four years. It was the only ending I considered for my story. Had all of those professors lied to me? Had I been living in a state of delusion about my talent? What was I supposed to do now?

Here is the point: be open to failure. This a concept and a mindset that applies to every athlete and not just collegiate athletes. In all honesty, it technically applies to every single human in existence. Results and statistics are finite only in the paper sense. It is in your power to reinvent, to rewrite and to rise when the plan you had for yourself doesn’t work out, when life gets a little off-kilter. Within our nature lies a primal fear of “darkness” or the great unknown. Human instinct tells us to hesitate without light present and this is because it’s so hard to surrender to what we cannot know or see. I want to encourage you to approach the uncertain without fear. I want to encourage you to live fiercely in spite of ever-present “darkness.” Without it, we would remain static. Without it, we would never grow. As humans, we were not meant to live in such a state of inactivity. I want you to know that your power as an athlete and as a person, lies in your ability to adapt to new environments and challenges. Over the course of your life, I hope that you take enough risks and dream big enough dreams to know disappointment because in the wake of that disappointment you will discover strength within yourself that will surprise and delight you. You are so much more resilient than you can begin to imagine. You are infinitely more important than what the stats tell you. So don’t squander your seconds dwelling on failures. Learn from them, use them and attack the next challenge. You only get a certain number of pages. Make them worth reading.

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At this point in your life, it is hard to believe that your career will ever end. You’re lucky; playing sports still stretches onto seeming infinity for you. But someday will come sooner than you think. Someday, there will be no more opportunities to practice harder, to run faster, to lift a little bit more, to do things better and again. Someday, you’ll walk into the locker room and it will be your locker that’s decorated for Senior Day. When that day comes, I hope that you can say that you have done right by your dream to play collegiate sports. I hope you can say that you have done right by those who came before you and by those that played beside you. I hope you strived to exist in a constant state of gratitude for everyone who sacrificed their time, their talent and their passion to make you into a better athlete and a better person. I hope that you stopped for a moment to take a deep breath and rejoice in the gift of your health. I hope you encouraged the dreams of a child who wants nothing more than to be exactly like you. I hope you told your teammates that you loved them through your actions and not just your words. And most importantly, I hope you can say that you learned to love the “darkness” because it unearthed your hidden potential.

With love,

Whitney Repole