Guest Post, Elizabeth Frankie Rollins: How Getting on the Wrong Bus Taught Me to Be the Kind of Writer That I Am

When I was in my early 20s, I lost my grasp on what I was doing in this world. I lived in a city that didn’t fit me, a life that didn’t feel right. Often in this life, there were conversations about weather and road construction. Long, extended conversations on these topics. Traffic. This kind of talk would sink me. I noticed that the food we ate when we went out was increasingly square, increasingly marked with char lines, magic marker stripes of something desired but not real. Our friends were going to have a baby; we talked about that, too. Other friends wanted to buy a house; we talked about that, too. And better jobs. And saving money. All of which were things I felt I should want, being in my 20s. But I didn’t. What I wanted wasn’t easily squared or marked or had.

I was trying to be a writer. I lived in a small apartment with my boyfriend, and he missed me when I wrote. To avoid his loneliness, I made a cardboard box desk in the closet, took my notebook in, sat among the empty clothes and gaping shoes, and wrote. I worked at a bookstore because it seemed like it made me closer to the books I wanted to create, but ultimately, it meant I was in retail, ringing up purchases and writing poems on receipts. I was willing to try things, to squeeze art in the cracks, but still. Things always seemed slightly off to me. Slightly not right.

Bus StopOne night after work, I walked from the bookstore to a place in a mall where the buses came. I boarded a bus. It drove down the long straight driveway of the mall and turned left. My bus would have turned right. I had boarded the wrong bus. Suddenly, my heart filled with joy. I was on the wrong bus! And I was going to stay on the wrong bus! I could have stood and rung the bell and walked back down the long driveway, but no. I was going to stay and see what happened! Finally! Something happening! I was in the wrong place! I was on the wrong bus! I beamed at my fellow passengers. I thought, Let’s get fucking lost. I got out my notebook. We drove into the heart of the city, where I’d only been once or twice. I scribbled descriptions of the city, thoughts, I made up narratives about the other riders. People got on and off of the bus. We drove all the way through the city and into the outskirts, into poorer neighborhoods where there wasn’t grass or color. I stared out the window at other people’s houses and wondered what they dreamed.

Abruptly, the bus pulled over and the bus driver shouted, “Everybody out!”

I was beside myself with joy! We were being thrown off the bus! All of us, onto a patch of dirt in the middle of nowhere! The strangeness of it! The others were angry. They complained, and then we stood in silence, craning to see down the road together. I could barely contain my pleasure. How had it come to this? I had no idea where I was.

The next bus came and the driver cursed each one of us as we climbed his crowded bus. “You! Another one! You! She don’t want to be late,” he snapped, “so now I’m gonna be late.” It was crowded, and we hung from straps and took the open seats as we drove back down into the city and people got on and people got off.

I was daydreaming when the lights went out, the bus went dark, and I realized I was alone in the seats. I asked myself, Stay and hide? See what the Bus Depot is like? Go? I tried not to sound like I was happy when I stood and told the bus driver I was there. “Of course you are.” the bus driver said, shaking his head. He hurled the bus to the curb, gave me cursory instructions, and clanked the doors closed. It was dinnertime and I was on a strange curb in a strange city in the dark!

I won’t belabor the finding of the next bus stop, the woman’s long storied troubles with alcohol and her mother, the two men squinching one eye shut and asking for money claiming to be the “One-Eyed Brothers,” the man sweeping at my shoes, and so on. But it was a bus stop of many stories, and I was there, happily, for a long time.

The next bus came and I greedily wrote the world! The big guy in the Hawaiian shirt and the woman reading a book on empowerment, the sharp little moustache of my seatmate. This bus broke down right in the middle of the road. All went dark and we sat there a moment before the complaining, before the apologies, before people began scurrying on and off to go to the bright convenience store near our broken down bus. I hugged my pages, looked around wildly, suddenly frightened. We broke down! My third bus! In the middle of a dark street, with people like little bugs scurrying on and off! I was alone! I could be this alone! The world could be this big and busy and I could vanish! Or I could be right here and write! Be anywhere and write!

In the dark, I broke, too. I broke from the wrong life. I broke from expectations and assumptions. I broke from the knowledge of how things are.

Finally, a new bus came and eventually delivered me to the same place I’d started from, hours later. I used a payphone to call my boyfriend who was just getting off of work. He came to get me and we went for Chinese food, and breathlessly I told him about everything that happened. He listened and he became increasingly afraid, in awe. I had crossed some invisible border inside of myself and there would be no going back. We could both feel it.

For the next couple of days, I wrote incessantly. I filled notebooks with emphatic, clear, feverish pages of text, and I read. In Robert Boswell’s Geography of Desire, a wonderful storyteller, Ramon, decides he must give up storytelling. In the beige-carpeted bedroom of a faux-wood apartment complex, the spark of light of water he saw as he gave it all up flew straight through the pages of the book into me. Through ink and paper, through a time space continuum of one writer’s imagination to another, it hit me like a bus. I wasn’t just trying to be a writer, I was a writer, and I simply wasn’t living the right life. I didn’t want, like other people wanted, a job and a family and security. I believed in getting lost, getting on wrong buses, hearing stories, telling stories. I wanted to accept the darkness, the strangers, the unfamiliar city streets. This, to me, was the sacred fabric of life! I would get lost. Often. I would embark on stories, and then novels, where I never knew what would happen. I would live with and in the unknown. I would anchor my life not to the security of tradition, but rather, to the making of narrative in human life. I would translate the world into stories, and in this way I would always, always be found.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Grant Clauser

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Grant Clauser.

Grant In BlackGrant Clauser is the author of two poetry books, Necessary Myths (Broadkill River Press 2013) and The Trouble with Rivers (Foothills Publishing 2012). Poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cheat River Review, Mason’s Road and others. He also writes about electronics, teaches poetry at Musehouse Writing Center and chases trout with a stick. Grant’s blog is www.uniambic.com

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review

Four Chambers presents: Poetry and Prose for the Phoenix Art Museum

fourchamberspress

Call for Submissions:

Up to Three Works

Any Style Genre or Form

Somehow Inspired By Work in the Phoenix Art Museum

Deadline: Sunday February 1st

Guidelines and Forms Available Online at: http://fourchamberspress.com/chapbooks/phxart

Four Chambers—what people may or may not know is an independent community literary magazine based in Phoenix, Arizona, also a figurative heart—is looking for local authors to write work in response to exhibitions and collections housed in the Phoenix Art Museum so they can put together a boutique chapbook and stage a live performance in the gallery during Art Detour on First Friday, March 6th (submissions for which close Sunday, February 1st 2015).

Art Loves Literature

Sometimes–in all the hubbub of giving greater visibility to the literary arts and encouraging their larger participation in the cultural scene–people don’t have the opportunity to enjoy art as much as they’d like to. To stop for a moment. Breathe. Smell the roses. The important things in life get missed.

So when things come up and literature doesn’t get to spend as much time with art as it would like to, art can get a little sad.

“I mean, I know literature’s been working really hard to create another space in this city where people can come together, have meaningful interactions and build sustainable forms of community and relationship—we’re all so busy trying to do our own thing—it’s just that, well,” art pauses, looks off into the distance and then down. “We just used to have so much fun together. Literature really understood me.” Art sniffs, quavers, and looks up with sad, shining eyes. “I just miss it.”

What happened? Art and literature made each other so happy. They had such a long history. And now, art is completely heartbroken, literature is lonelier than ever, it has no idea what happened, and it has no idea what to do.

Literature Loves Art

So literature, distraught, called Four Chambers. And after much heartfelt discussion—tears streaming down literature’s face, Four Chambers nodding empathetically on the other line—Four Chambers thinks the best thing literature can do is to ask local authors to go to the Phoenix Art Museum, walk through the galleries, and write something responding to the Museum’s collection of work.

This, the magazine thinks, is the way to win back art’s heart, and will show art that literature cares more than a vintage crockpot from the 1970s or a small yellow cactus in a concrete pot ever could (though both of these would make really great gifts). Then art will understand that literature is truly sorry for whatever it did wrong, people in Phoenix will have a greater sense of cultural cohesiveness and shared identity, and art and literature can continue building the long-lasting relationship they already have.

Four Chambers Loves You

“So all silliness aside,” explains the magazine’s Founder and Editor in Chief Jake Friedman, standing in front of the Art Museum dressed as a baby cupid, “If all we do is help people fall in love with art and / or literature,” adjusting his cloth diaper, shifting the bow and arrow in his hand, “if people can have a slightly more meaningful experience in their life because of this project,” a cold wind causes Friedman to shiver, a wing falling off. “Well…” Friedman shrugs. “That would be a beautiful thing.”

Individuals who are interested in submitting poetry and prose for the Phoenix Art Museum can find more details online at http://fourchamberspress.com/chapbooks/phxart.

Individuals who are interested in visiting the museum may do so for free every Wednesday evening from 3 to 10 pm or every First Friday night from 6 to 10 pm, and any other time, the Museum is open for a modest and reasonable fee. Four Chambers will also be organizing a tour at the Museum Wednesday January 6th at 6:30 pm. Selected works are available online at http://egallery.phxart.org/.

Individuals who want to read Jia’s poem can do so at http://fourchamberspress.com/chapbooks/phxart/joakbaker.

Submissions for the project close Sunday, February 1st, 2015 at 11:59 PM MST.

About Four Chambers Press                                          

Four Chambers Press is an independent community literary magazine based in Phoenix, AZ that wants to expose you to wonderful literature + give you something to do every once in a while + make your life slightly more meaingful. For more information please visit http://fourchamberspress.com.

Guest Post, Carolyn Lavender: One Less Wild One

My identity is as a visual artist who is connected to the natural world. I have mostly maintained that connection through my urban yard. A real naturalist would live close to nature, or at least go there regularly. I usually go to my studio. And my work plays with combinations of what I see as real and fake. Such as the drawing Baboon-Baboon, based on a photograph a friend took for me when we were at the zoo, and an object I own. The zoo animals are still wild, but in captivity, which is a situation where something natural is not completely natural.

Baboon-Baboon, 2014  12 x 12” graphite, acrylic on canvas panel

Baboon-Baboon, 2014 12 x 12” graphite, acrylic on canvas panel

My yard attracts about as much wildlife as central Phoenix yard can, with the largest mammals being the endless feral cats. Some are strays, but some are true ferals, having reverted back to a wild state. Apparently cats are only 10% domesticated, so it is not difficult for them to make the transition. Last summer when a female and 3 kittens showed up in the yard I decided I was up for another taming project. This is the 4th time I have trapped and tamed a wild cat. Kittens are much easier, though the first cat I tamed was an adult. I had my eye on a pure white kitten who peered at me through the window a few times.

 

Feisty in yard

Feisty in yard

And by luck, he is the one who ended up in my trap. He was one of the wildest cats I have ever trapped even though he was still a kitten. So I named him Feisty, put him in a crate, and moved him into my studio. Having a wild cat in my studio mimics some of what happens in my work, but the cat is real. And it is again a case of nature that is no longer in a completely natural state. Feisty was an extra big challenge in the beginning because he kept hurting himself trying to get out of the crate. Usually cats give in to being in a cage after a day or so, but not Feisty. The cage speeds up the taming, the smaller the space, the faster they tame. The first step in taming is to get the cat to eat while you are in the room. Their motivation to eat is the only reason they can be tamed. I also wrapped a stick in a rag and started reaching it into the cage and petting Feisty with it.

Everything I did was with my protection in mind. He showed aggression many times. He charged the cage when I walked by, attacked the rag stick with his teeth, spit, swiped, and hissed regularly. After 6 days I was able to reach into the cage with a bare hand to pet him at times. But he was still hurting himself, so I released him into the studio early. After a couple days of letting him hide, I blocked all his hiding places, and started over with the taming. It took a couple weeks to get him as tame as he was in the crate. And it took about a month to get him completely tame to me. It is an amazing transformation to go through with an animal. They hate you in the beginning and love you completely in the end. Their love feels like an extra special gift.

 

 

The next step was to get him tame to other people. And I needed help from friends and my husband for this. I bought some extra yummy treats that he only received from people other than myself. And lots of people came out to my studio to help with his taming and to give him treats. This eventually worked after really generous help from my friend Monica and her husband.

Monica with Fesity 8-23-14

Monica with Fesity 8-23-14

For the next step my husband and I screened in the porch between the house and the studio to use it as a space to introduce Feisty to our 3 indoor cats. First you allow the cats to smell and hear each other before seeing each other. We also have a security door that allows seeing each other, but not getting at each other. And this is the where we are now. Eventually Feisty will be moved into our house to become our 4th cat. The introduction process can take a couple days, or a couple of months, depending on the cats involved.

Feisty and Bandit thru window 2 1-1-15

Feisty and Bandit thru window 2 1-1-15

It has been 6 months since I trapped Feisty, and he demands quite a lot of attention while I work. I have chronicled his taming on Facebook, and people I see who would normally ask me about my art, are more likely to ask, “How is Feisty?” All cats carry a sense of the wild with them, but for me I think back to what he was like when he was wild, and think about that difference. Here I have taken a wild animal, have gotten to know him intimately, and have turned him into a loving and affectionate creature. What is the place of animals in our world? There are lots of answers and opinions on that. At some point the truly wild animals and places will be nearly gone, and we will need to decide as a whole whether we are going to let them go. This is one of the big questions of my work as an artist. Feisty is a great example of what wild was.

 

Feisty looking at my art 3 9-6-14

Feisty looking at my art 3 9-6-14

And as an artist I need to have interesting life experiences that I can take into the studio. But in this case, a little white cat is already waiting for me every day.

Feisty looking up at me 9-16-14

Feisty looking up at me 9-16-14

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Maari Carter

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Maari Carter.

20140121_171344Maari Carter is originally from Winona, MS and attended the University of Mississippi where she received a BA in English.  Her work has appeared in Stone Highway Review, Steel Toe Review, and BOILER: A Journal of New Literature. She lives in Tallahassee, FL where she is Business & Promotions Director for The Southeast Review and hosts The Warehouse Reading Series. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Florida State University.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

Alison Deming reads from ZOOLOGIES Fri Jan 16

zoologies-230Friday, January 16

3:30pm

Alison Deming reads from ZOOLOGIES as part of the ‘Trout Fishing in America: and Other Stories’ exhibit

Top Gallery, ASU Art Museum (51 E. 10th St)

Alison will read at 3:30PM in the ASU Art Museum’s 3rd floor gallery. Prior to her reading, at 2:30PM there will be a participatory reading of species inhabiting the Grand Canyon. Join us for both!

https://asuevents.asu.edu/trout-fishing-america-and-other-stories

Alison Deming is the author of Science and Other Poems (LSU Press, 1994), winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets; The Monarchs: A Poem Sequence (LSU, 1997),Genius Loci (Penguin Poets, 2005), and Rope (Penguin Poets, 2009); and four nonfiction books, Temporary Homelands (Mercury House, 1994; Picador USA, 1996), The Edges of the Civilized World (Picador USA, 1998), finalist for the PEN Center West Award, and Writing the Sacred Into the Real (Milkweed, Credo Series).

The new nonfiction book Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit is out from Milkweed Editions. Deming received an MFA from Vermont College, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, two poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Tucson/Pima Arts Council, and a National Writer’s Voice Residency Award. Her writing has been widely published and anthologized, including in EcotoneThe Georgia ReviewOrionOnEarthIsotopeSouthwestern American LiteratureWestern Humanities ReviewAmerican Poetry ReviewVerse and Universe: Poems on Science and MathematicsThe Norton Book of Nature Writing, and Best American Science and Nature Writing. Former Director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center (1990-2002), she currently is Agnese Nelms Haury Professor of Environment and Social Justice in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Arizona. She lives in Tucson, Arizona and Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.