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Kelly Stapleton Posts

Aliens Welcome

Restored by road and sun,
I take my closure where I can:
The Super 8 hot tub,
a cave full of bats and Midwesterners,
cartoony carvings of intelligent life,
and sand that looks like snow.
Resistance stings more
than the thing itself,
so I spread-eagle my Swiss cheese soul
and allow all the things to blow
right through.
Better to have holes and stay anchored
than to drift and hover above
the sad, the glad, and the ridiculous
so they are too far away
to raise hairs and flutter my gut.
On painful terrain I feel less
like a tourist in this life.
I may even want to live here someday.

Something for Something

I decided I could get by without a soul, so I gave it up to the highest bidder. His name was Reginald, and in exchange for my soul, he delivered words to me in a Mason jar adorned with raffia ribbon. Printed on heavy white cardstock in Proxima Nova font, the words were tossed together, imperfect on purpose, behind the glass like any other photo-worthy collection you’d find on your favorite social media site. I could envision them receiving likes and favorites alongside jars of lavender bath salts, river rocks, and layered soup mixes.

Every night, Reginald slithered into my room through the heating vent and replaced the previous day’s words with new ones. Sometimes I was there to witness the spectacle of his slimy body shredding to pieces as he made his way through the vent cover and him reassembling himself on the other side. Once he regained his wits and the use of his appendages, he’d make a few hocus-pocus gestures over the jar on my desk and ooze back from whence he came.

The nights I didn’t see him, I was out doing what I thought soulless people might do. I started off tailgating scared teenage girls who were making their way home after working the closing shift at Taco Cabana. I’d lean out the car window and yell at panhandlers to get a job. I bought malt liquor and filterless cigarettes for skater punks who loitered outside the 7-Eleven. I yelled at store clerks and left twelve-cent tips for waitresses at Denny’s. My pièce de résistance was rearranging the letters on readerboards in front of churches, making sure everyone in town knew that Jesus loved everyone but them.

At dawn, I’d go home, shake my word jar, and toss its contents to the floor. The words fell together in perfect sequence every time, and I’d spend several hours transcribing the next chapter of my novel. Then I’d sleep until I had to go out into the world and be an asshole again.

My dirty deeds felt neither satisfying nor regrettable, but spreading negative energy in the dark of night was part of the deal. One night, I came home earlier than usual and went straight to bed. I awoke to the moistness of Reginald’s finger tapping my forehead.

“We need to talk,” he said.

I knew what was coming: He wanted me to step up the depravity. With visions of cockfights, arson, and grand theft auto in my head, I sat up and faced him.

“I need you to engage more with your social media followers.”

“What?”

“You know, network a little. If another writer says he liked your latest story, go read one of his and pay him a compliment. Give people an update on what you’re writing. Post a word count. Congratulate a fellow writer on her success. Say something about your obese cat. Be genuine.”

“But that’s so embarrassing. I’m not one to put myself out there like that.”

“I know, but you’re building a readership. And when your novel comes out, maybe people will want to buy it if they know you’re a real, likeable person and not a total wanker.”

“But you’re supposed to take care of the audience.”

“No, you asked for a novel to be delivered to you.” He pulled a small black notebook from his back pocket and flipped through the pages until he found the right one. “Yep, right here. ‘Novel,’ written in your own blood.”

“But the audience and the sales are implied.”

“Nope, you still have to work for that.”

“Then what’s the point of this deal? I already know how to write, and if I still have to do my own promotion on top of that, why should I bother going out and doing evil things for you?”

Reginald laughed. “I never asked you to do evil.”

“Of course you did.”

He shook his head. “That was all you.”

“No, that’s not right.” I tried to remember the night we struck the deal at Terry’s Roadside Tavern, but all I could recall was drinking tequila and crying in the corner booth because the vilest human being I knew had just announced his new publishing contract on Twitter. Reginald waited while I racked my brain and came up with nothing.

“I want my soul back.”

“I never took your soul. You turned your back on it.”

Reginald placed his cold fingers around my upper arm and led me to my desk. I sat in front of my laptop and read a few paragraphs of what I had transcribed earlier in the day. It conveyed a hollowness I hadn’t noticed before.

“What’s this?”

“Any semi-literate schmo can string words together,” Reginald said. “But without the right energy behind them, the words won’t resonate with anyone.”

My head hung, I surrendered the jar to him and went back to fighting hard for every word like a good soul does, stopping once in a while to thank a reader for his kindness or comment on a photo of someone’s sandwich.

 

Originally published in Kazka Press Monthly, April 2014

Small Talk

[Depression, Part 1: Everything Is Stupid]

In the lunch room at work I hear snippets of conversations about a cat’s special diet, an oil change for the Honda, and a trip to Ikea to purchase a trivet.

And on it goes. As if anyone cares. But then I look around and see that others do care, as indicated by their smiles and nods. They even ask questions.

“What color is the trivet? Is it silicone?”

“No, it’s made of cork.”

“Oh, yes, I really like those.”

“But I did get some silicone oven mitts. They were green.”

“Nice! Lime green?”

“No, I’d say more of a grass green.”

Then I picture myself standing and saying to anyone who will listen, “You’re going to die one day. No matter how much you talk about dumb shit, you’re going to die, and endless chatter about the cheese ball you sampled at Costco won’t change that.”

I feel better just thinking about saying those words. I also feel better knowing I’m going to die one day.

Oversharing

Monday, February 6, 2017.

I’m at a private university, in a graduate-level memoir writing class that costs $1,869, which I couldn’t afford even if I get more than my usual 2-3 percent raise this spring. I’m not even in the damn master’s program. I’m just an employee of the university, using my tuition benefits. I know I can write, but do I belong here, with these six women who are so studied and polished? During our in-class writing exercises, they all have the most poetic prose on tap and pour it out on command like the finest craft IPA into a growler. I thought all writers cranked out shitty first drafts like I do and then whipped them into shape later. That’s what Anne Lamott taught me, but maybe that’s just me and her, and all other writers are brilliant their first go-round. I gather that some of these women are afraid to be less-than-perfect as they can’t even dumb down their writing when the assignment calls for it, like when the professor asks us to write in a child’s voice. Upon hearing one story, I want to comment, “How impressive that your four-year-old self used the words ‘bailiwick’ and ‘aubergine’ in casual conversation.” I’m a bitch like that, but not quite bitchy (or brave) enough to say those things out loud.

In the span of our three-hour class, I manage to split myself open. The professor had spent many years working as a therapist and assures us that we are in a safe space to share so that we can get to the truth in our writing. In an uncharacteristic moment of actually believing I’m among kindred souls, I leap at the opportunity to do some purging. When I’m done, I receive a smattering of awkward feedback from classmates and a concerned look from the professor, who asks if alcoholism and/or mental illness runs in my family.

People don’t quite know what to make of me. It’s a recurring theme in my life.

I walk out of class feeling raw and mangled, like I have just run my soul through a meat grinder. The night air is warm, but I zip up my jacket as if to hold myself together. This scattered feeling has me worried that I lost a few vital chunks of myself in the classroom, but I am still able to put one foot in front of the other and find my car, so maybe those pieces weren’t so critical after all. Maybe they were just familiar. In any case, I do not have the energy to sort it all out. I have to halt the racing thoughts and shift back into survival mode. Ahead of me is a 45-minute drive, in which I will need to stay vigilant and avoid cops because my registration is expired. Then I have to stop off at the grocery store, walk the dogs, and find out if my children had a good day.

When at last I get to close my eyes around midnight, I see faces I don’t want to see and hear a low hum of angry chatter, a garbled mix of those who have reinforced my feeling of wrongness over the years. My mother’s voice figures prominently, or is it my own? At some point, I took over where she and others left off and can’t differentiate among us. These voices are what those of a religious bent might call demons, but I know it’s just my mind running a loop of old stories that no longer serve me, stories I’m tired of telling myself. I decide that these stories belong somewhere other than my head, and I must free them with all the truth and love my fractured self can conjure up.