girls I’ve known (part one)

I wish I had a name like Frankie DeBella. Back when I was a kid playing rec league soccer in my hometown, she was renowned for her prodigious skill. For years we dreaded the weeks we played “Frankie’s team,” because she could dribble circles around us and through us. She’d score on us four or five times int he first half and even when their coach (her father) would take her out after half time, we were so shaken by the maelstrom that hit us that we would play badly.

It was always “Frankie’s team” because there was no amount of mediocrity that could dull her, and no amount of skill that could compete. It was irrelevant who else was on her team that season; she carried them.

At one point in middle school I grew into a solid defender (as long as I didn’t have to run too much) and when we played Frankie, I was assigned to mark her. It was probably the most aggressive I ever played, the most competitive I ever felt. If I could beat that name, stop her progress, slow her down, I could be important to the game, and people would notice me.

Up close, she was beautiful, Francesca DeBella with Italian skin and long swishing dark hair like a horse’s tail. She seemed older than the rest of us, svelte and muscular without the pudginess that ringed our midriffs and thick ankles. She wore eyeliner. She never crowed and never smiled. She was hyperfocused without being overly aggressive. She knew she was on another plane; I’m sure she knew how her name was thrown about in loving, fearful whisper. But for her, the only chase was the ball, the only game was perfection, the only living person at that game was her father, and maybe if she scored one more goal, he would take the rage out of his voice when he screamed the name he gave her.

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Friday Reading Rainbow

I’ve hardly been reading at all since the school year started. I think this is a fairly normal bump off the priorities list — as opposed to the doldrum depression of summer when it seems only books can save me from my despair, the school year brings new energy, movement, and a restructuring of time. There don’t seem to be long afternoons for cafes anymore, and at night I work out puzzles in my head: how to help that student, how to introduce a lesson I’m excited about, what to write next. My eyes are more tired now, and my brain is more manic.

I talk to my kids sometimes about stamina and volume in reading. I tell them that they need to work on their stamina and focus now so that they’ll be able to keep up with the huge volume of reading they’ll encounter in college. And I admit to them that I struggle with this sometimes. I remember when I was a kid, able to read for hours straight without moving, getting so focused on the story that I’d miss my dad calling me to dinner. Now, 20 minutes of focus on text is a lot to ask of myself. And I haven’t been asking for it much. Since the school year started I’ve started two books but not finished them, either disenchanted with the writing or unable to keep up with the story after picking up the book for too little time with too little frequency.

What fixed this was my best friend, Hammy. He visited this past weekend and suddenly my solitary little home and my normal quiet Friday night was full of another (wonderful) person. With the temporary death of my loneliness and the departure of my alone time, I found my brain keeping up this pattern of darting around without focus. We visited one of my perennial favorite places, a gorgeous local bookstore (check them out – Paper Nautilus) and after looking at stacks upon stacks of interesting used books, I felt the guilt of not reading twisting around a strong urge to read. So we went home, and we sat together on my couch, and we each read about 30 pages, companionably silent, chuckling and reading out good lines. And with that commitment of focus, my reading life has been restored.

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The book I picked up that day was Brass, by Xhenet Aliu. I’m really amused and delighted by the way this book is written. It feels so real and gritty, yet intimate and sensual in some moments. The story is a mirrored one of Elsie and her daughter Luljeta, both lost and struggling in their youth as working-class, immigrant-born women. Where I am in the story, the mood is one of dull despair, and I’m doubting that Luljeta or her mother will “make it out.” I’m interested to see how Aliu grants agency and power to her seemingly powerless characters. I highly recommend it: Find a copy at your local indie bookstore

 

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org I’m also continuing my reading of the posthumous collection of Marina Keegan’s writing, The Opposite of Loneliness.  I’m amazed by how much her work speaks for my specific generation. I feel like she’s heard me, given voice to me, and I want to reassure her that we are something and that she was someone. It’s so hard to feel the fact that a gorgeous voice is gone.

For my older or younger friends, if you’ve ever thought that millenials are annoying or spoiled or entitled or gutless, you might want to read this essay, “Song for the Special”. Feel how fundamentally human it is to want to be somebody and then try to judge us.

Now that I’ve officially turned the heat on in my little apartment, I think I’ll be able to find more quiet time. I love autumn rainstorms and chilly late nights and early mornings with blueberry muffins. Reading and writing (which I am attempting to practice daily) fit nicely into that niche.

What’s next? I have far too many books and very little inkling of which ones I’ll enjoy next. Anyone have recommendations?

Mailboxes

From an in-class writing prompt: “Write about mailboxes,” in AP Lang, which spawned the poem “Mailboxes,” by C.W., whose first and last lines were “Mailboxes. / They’re for mail.”

 

Mailboxes are a way to tie a thin string between me and the outside world. Dropping a letter in the rusty one on Waterman or the nicer, bluer one on Elmgrove is a way and a reason to leave my house. Last time I walked out, letters and bills in hand, someone had left a stuffed unicorn, with pink stripes and a bow on its horn, right atop the mailbox. I was hoping some wee child would come along to claim it with a cry of glee; in truth I was hoping she’d be so small that she’d need to be lifted up to reach the top of this squat blue box that towered over her. She never came; I walke on.

But it had me thinking about how mailboxes are safe places in our neighborhoods. They’re places where I can leave a wedding RSVP, knowing it will make it to Indiana. Or a postcard saying, “I miss you,” or a thank you note to my Aunt Laura for sending me my mother’s 1986 Princess Diana wedding dress, which had appeared on my porch, right under my own mailbox 2 days before. They’re repositories of words.

Sunday Sentence

The best sentence I’ve read this week, presented without commentary. 

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From Brass, by Xhenet Aliu

“It was the kind of sports car that Franky and the rest of the auto-shop meatheads in my school used to drive, since it implied muscle and always needed to be worked on, but it apparently also appealed to Eastern Europeans who were pretending to be James Dean without ever having seen a James Dean movie.”

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