Celebrating collaborations

in which I share pieces I've edited this year

One of the most fulfilling things to occur this past year was when I got asked to join the features editors team for nonfiction pieces at The Rumpus back in February. I’d been reading The Rumpus for years, on the metro to and from jobs in DC, during my meal breaks in LA, and in the after school hours in Kyrgyzstan while the western hemisphere slept.

If you’re not familiar with The Rumpus, just know that Cheryl Strayed used to do an advice column there and Roxane Gay was the founding essays editor there, and Lyz Lenz credits working there as managing editor with the kickoff of her journalism career. After #metoo took out the founding editor, Marisa Siegel took the helm, and eventually it was she who brought me on. Who knows what the future holds for this little literary ship, but I have loved The Rumpus for a long time and am so delighted to be on board.

Editing is one of my purer pleasures. It’s a place where I don’t ever feel like I have to either flex to prove my smarts or hold back to avoid stepping on toes. It’s instinctual for me, like baking used to be and tarot is, like being able to translate the different shades of a baby’s cry to intuit what they need in that moment. I’m in my element, and getting my hands into the muscles of a piece and massaging them until they offer up fluid, lyrical motion is deeply delightful to me.

Of course, editing is not an act like surgery where the other party is sedated and unresponsive. Writers have strong opinions and are protective of their work, for good reason: you’re seeing the result of their most vulnerable experiences after they’ve first been metabolized enough for outside exposure. It’s touching something living and in pain, usually. And the writers who have been vulnerable and generous with themselves to work on their pieces with me are brave souls I cherish with utmost respect. They’ve done the hardest work in this process, and so I want to share with you the fruits of their labor.

One project that was especially collaborative this year was the Food & Family theme month series spanning the holiday season, co-edited with Alysia Sawchyn. Alysia has a book of essays coming out this year, btw—you can pre-order it here. I can’t wait to read it.

The pieces I worked on in this series (and one I didn’t, but want to share anyway) are:

  • Butcher Knives at the Ready by Lia Dunn (seeing yourself and your culture’s food through white eyes, and loving it with gusto)

  • Imagine A River of Milk by Rebekah Denison Hewitt (breastfeeding struggles, plus history!)

  • Days Since Last Workplace Injury by Clancy Tripp (self-care, in its most real sense. a novice teacher trying to feed themself and care for their students all at once, and how much community is essential to that.)

  • Gourmand by Carmella de Los Angeles Guiol (a father’s love of food and a daughter’s adapting to his reduced self as age erodes his tastes)

  • and the one I didn’t work on (bc she’s a friend), Bounty by T.S. Mendola (with one of the best lines I’ve read in a while, about a mother who said she “didn’t cook, not that I can’t cook”)

There are a few others to come in this series (which I worked on) before the end of the year, but these are the ones published so far.

The other pieces I worked on this year are:

I loved working on all of these pieces, and each of these writers did what I asked in revisions with such care and enthusiasm. Please read their work and find them on Twitter and tell them how much you enjoyed their writing. Everyone deserves to be told how good their work is. I feel so lucky to have been a part of their publication processes.



Shelter in place

in which we had to

I drove to school in a fog of exhaustion. Visiting New York City last weekend was good, but certain parts of it were hard, rubbing on old insecurities, and so I plunged myself into routines this past week with the blind determination of a person who refuses to stop trying to do the thing they aren’t quite cogent enough to do anymore. I knew that at some point I would need a good cry, and I reasoned that if I could get through classes, I might get a chance to have that cry when the week was done.

Thursday was the day I was dreading the most: two classes, one of which was always half-awake and overly familiar with each other from high school days, and this week they were a little ahead of my other section on their work, so I needed to come up with something extra to fill the time. The second class is usually a little more easy to engage, a little more willing to jump in and discuss a piece, but that day we were reading the Harlem Renaissance poets, and I was aware that I was going to have to pull back the curtain on the reality that our group was made up of a white instructor, 5-7 white students, and one Black student. It would take finesse.

My heart is in the work, it always has been, but I’m tired. Tired of standing up for myself, for asking for what I need and not getting it. My time in NYC felt like a lot of that. Being a millennial in the gig economy is a lot more of that. Teaching sometimes can feel like that, when you ask for the same thing over and over in every way you know how to describe and it’s still not getting through. That’s often on me, though, so I keep trying. I know there’s a way through all this, so I keep trying. I went to my first class.

As I started taking roll on my laptop, a series of text notifications began to roll in. Are you ok? Are you safe? Are you home?

I closed the laptop to lecture, ignoring the worry that waited in those messages. We finished our section on cover letters. I handed them a short essay to read and discuss. It didn’t land well. We discussed it anyway. I let class out and went back to my office.

The texts were about a shooter, an ex-Marine who had just killed his girlfriend, who was on the loose in the neighborhood next to mine. Classes at the sister community college to mine, the one that was close to my home, were cancelled. They thought he was hiding in the woods behind that campus, or in the neighborhood between there and mine. “Stay indoors,” the news urged. Businesses down that way were under lockdown. People hiding in their homes, unable to leave for work.

“I’m fine,” I wrote back to people. “I’m at school, over an hour away! Totally safe.”

I carried on with my afternoon, finishing prep for my next lesson, wading through the vocabulary I knew I’d have to introduce.

In class, waiting for a last student to arrive, we watched the press conference in Roanoke about the shooter. One of my students had a friend in that neighborhood, and everyone was curious if the shooter had been caught. We watched a few minutes—he was armed and on the loose, but they didn’t have good leads on where he was. He could be anywhere still.

Our last member arrived, and we turned to the poets. I began explaining the Black writers for Black readers dynamic at play with the Harlem Renaissance, the role of whites readers as eavesdropping on these poems, these conversations. We talked about white fragility, we talked about how fucked up it is that these poems still feel relevant, a hundred years later.

We got interrupted by the alarm system: Shelter in place. Because of the events at Alleghany High School, we are on lockdown. Shelter in place.

My student lurched out of his seat. His child was at that high school. They’d taken the child’s cell phone away that morning. Now they didn’t have a way to reach their kid. He was upset.

Another student began getting call after call—her mother was worried she’d be hanging out at her old high school campus with friends. Was she safe?

I froze mentally. I’m sure I was letting out a stream of chatter, affirming my students’ decisions to answer calls or place them. All I could think about, though, was the poem that AFP wrote about the Boston bomber, from his perspective in the time he waited in the bottom of the boat to be found. She’d gotten so much hate for that, but here I was, thinking about the ex-Marine hiding in the woods after he’d killed his girlfriend. And then, as we learned what was going on at the high school—a former student had shown up with a weapon and threatened to kill himself in front of someone he wanted to make suffer—I thought about him, too.

How many times have we as a nation publicly fantasized about this scene, replaying the stories of Columbine until it became a national mythology? How many times do we hear the stories of those who kill, how many press conferences have we watched with sobbing parents, siblings, classmates as they paraded their pain and begged for an end to it all. How all of it is different ways of begging for an end: the holding of the guns as insurance just in case you need to play god, the political statements, the protests, the walkouts, the pleas for us to mute the names of those who destroy and elevate the names of the victims.

So I, too, hit pause with the power available to me. I could see my way through this. Here was a way in, a way to connect, a way to illuminate.  

“Okay, we don’t know how long this is going to go, so let’s do what poets have done for generations and take out paper and something to write with,” I said.

“Pick a perspective around one of these situations, and write a few lines, maybe ten, in the voice of someone other than you who’s involved in what’s happening right now. A teacher, a cop, the dead girlfriend, the shooter, the teacher of the shooter, the grandmother, someone. Take on their voice, using whatever form you want from the ones we’ve studied.”

And so they wrote. A quiet fell over the room. Things were scratched out. Rewritten. I could feel a migraine (thanks, PTSD) begin to come over me, gripping the back of my neck and pushing its slow spikes through my eye sockets to my forehead. I waited.

As they finished up we got the all clear, and they wanted to read what they’d written. One took the voice of a classmate. One of a teacher. One spoke as the shooter’s father.

We felt a little better, listening to each other read. And we finished the original lesson, circling back to where we’d left off, finding a stopping place until next time. My migraine settled into a heavy thrum, attention tunnel vision locked in place until it decided to leave me be, hours later.

I needed to cry still, for everything and for nothing. I wondered if I had made the wrong call with the poem assignment. I wondered if that was too exploitive, if it was fair. The work was good, the students eager. But was it overstepping, a flippant use of my power as instructor? I don’t know. I know it was all I had in me, so it had to be enough. 

Driving home, I listened to Ocean Vuong read from his book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous with his voice soft, tiptoeing into descriptions like a ballerina, sweet and light. I got home and took some medicine and napped briefly. I drove to my old school to attend a reading and meet a friend. The author looked like if Helena Bonham Carter were a sweet summer child, and she laughed and settled us into her stories like she was teaching us to play a game with her that she was very good at. I began to feel euphoric, the adrenaline and the relief coursing through my body with hot kind pulsations. My head felt light again. I could think. I felt like, for the moment, everything was enough.

After the reading, one friend wouldn’t say hi to me, and left early. Another was warm, offering me a hug. I muddled around, saying hello to people, but I couldn’t match anyone’s pitch, finding myself in a social descant cadence after everything. So I left, drove back into town. 

On my bedtime walk with my dog, the moon loomed large. There might still be a murderer in the woods behind the dog park where we were walking, but at least right then I was so very alive. 

one year ago

everything still hurts

“I keep trying to figure out why everything feels so hopeless right now,” I said to a friend. I’ve been adjusting my meds, my schedules, my habits, trying to update a system of managing PTSD that had spiraled out of working for me over the summer. It’d been working, and then, over the last two weeks, my buoyancy slowly sank to the bottom of the sea in my brain, and I was feeling tired all the time.

It was probably the weather, which stayed hot and sticky up until the last few days, cresting into the nineties day after day and leaving my AC-less apartment feeling like a swamp. It was probably the drive out to the school where I teach, an hour and fifteen minutes each way—a beautiful drive, but a tiring one. It was probably any number of things, I told myself.

And then: oh yes, a year ago was when Dr. Blasey Ford testified before Congress, and a year ago (yesterday) was when Brett Kavanaugh got confirmed to the Supreme Court. Which was when, a year ago this week, my ex-boyfriend’s ex-wife (with whom I am friendly) posted on IG that my ex-boyfriend (who had dumped me abruptly with barely an explanation after six months together, cohabitation, years of friendship, and an extravagant trip for his birthday, who I was still struggling to be “over”) had raped her. Which means that a year ago I put together a tricky puzzle of clues and realized that he had assaulted … not just his ex-wife, but just about every woman he’d been with except me.

The body fucking keeps count. It remembers. This week is probably hard for a lot of reasons, but if you’re slogging through the anniversary of the trauma of every survivor of sexual assault syncing up to grieve openly together, give yourself a pass.

Remember how we didn’t have to explain what was fucking us all up so badly, last year? How we just knew, how we held each other, how we drank and raged and wept? Our bodies remember that. So here’s to honoring our collective consciousness, our shared trauma. It really happened. Go gently.

Elizabeth, with lilacs and a manuscript

a love letter to the earnest nerd girl

I can’t stop thinking about this photo. Summer Brennan tweeted it first, and it’s caught my imagination like nothing since that one photo of Hillary in the striped pants. But this is much better than that. It’s soft and candid, full of youthful energy in a way that feels more genuine than the other did—the other may have been posed, I’m unsure. This one is electric, for me.

I replied to her tweet thus:

And then yesterday someone sent me a screenshot—Huffington Post has swiped that tweet to use in some sponsored content drivel to sell… jeans, of all things. Who cares about the jeans? They are lovely and well-fitted, but whatever. I’m looking at: the light on her face, the opinion in motion in her expression, the sprig of lilac, the looseleaf manuscript in hand.

This is a college student I know, this is a friend I’ve had, this is a girl I’ve been. I’m obsessed.

I even wrote a tiny fiction around it, late last night in a fit of insomnia.

The printer had to run for a good while yet, and Elizabeth had been in the library all afternoon that April day. Outside, the sun had finally broken through the clouds. Beyond the stacks she could see the lilac bushes under the windows, shifting in the sunshine and the breeze. Might as well step out and enjoy it while the printer goes, she thought, and left her backpack under the carrel and the printer shucking out page after page of the thesis draft, heading down the stairs and out the front doors into the sunlight, which felt like warm hands cupped to her face when it finally hit her cheeks. Stretching a little between steps, she walked out into the lawn and there it was. The smell of lilac on the air, wrapping her senses in its silky soft scent. Spring was here, for keeps, and she was energized by this realization. Her clogs stuck a little in the muddy grass as she made her way to the bush under the window where she’d been working all day. She reached up to pluck a sprig, and inhaled. The scent was so kind, so clean. 

The sun on her shoulders made the stiff muscles in her back thaw a little, and she rolled them back and lolled her head around in an arc, stretching her neck out. She wished the ground were dry—she wanted to bask out here and bring her reading, working in the sunshine until dinner. But no, the mud was prohibitive and the printer was surely about done by now She turned to head back inside, lilac sprig in hand. The breeze caught her hair, ruffling the loose ends of her bob and tossing it about. Nothing about the world in this moment wanted to get work done, and yet here she was, going back into the cave that was the library. Once more into the breech. With the scent of lilac drifting around her, she strode back inside.

That’s it, that’s all I have. Happy Thursday!



I'll leave the back door open

Saturnine blessings, and warnings

Saturn has been stationed retrograde in Capricorn all summer, from April 19th until the 18th of September, when he began his transition back to moving forward through the skies again.

I am not a real astrologer, I must disclaim. But, I have been paying attention.

Saturn is a slow moving outer planet, ruling Capricorn and Aquarius and all issues related to rules and order and purpose and karma. Are you fulfilling what you are made for? Are you sabotaging your talents and best self? Are you giving back the way you should? These things and more come to mind when I study his dance in the sky. He moves so slowly, that every 28/29 years he finishes his lap around the sun, returning to where he was when you were born. This is called your Saturn return, and I’ve been in the throes of mine since late last fall.

He’s back home in Capricorn for this return through my natal chart. Capricorn is my rising sign, the place where the eastern horizon line was when I was born, so he’s not just tracing the issues listed above, he’s tracing those in terms of how I present myself to the world. And being at home in a rising Capricorn, how that comes out often means: it’s gonna be tied to first impressions affecting my career, how my presentation must reflect my fullest true self, how being secretive and private out of self-defense is going to backfire into requiring rigorous honesty and synthesizing how I see me and how the world gets to see me presenting myself.

Real astrologers may correct this, but that’s been my understanding of this time so far. And now for the retrograde: retrograde is when the elliptical orbit of the planet makes it appear to move backwards in the night sky, even though it isn’t. So in a sense, our old lord Saturn is retracing his steps, being extra sure that housekeeping and accounting have been done correctly in the areas that he rules.


I lost a lot of friends this summer, it feels like. Connections, really, potential business connections with whom I thought I could build a better future for a certain community. And then: a strategic silence to protect someone I care about, a deluge, a lie, retreating. Disappearances and blockings and me, crying on the kitchen floor at night while Blanche tries to understand. I know what happened, I can explain it. But I still didn’t understand, because I have been so focused on surviving that I forgot that divided selves for safety’s sake often means the appearance of false selves. Misinterpretations. Confusion. Fractured images.

I’ve been hiding since Rosie’s prom story went viral and someone from back home, someone who had my phone number and knew where in CA I was newly living, posted a call for fulfilling a “rape fantasy” in my name to my new neighborhood’s Craigslist Personals section. With photos stolen from my Facebook page. (I still don’t know who you are, but fuck you.) ((The Culver City police refused to take it on. The Internet, they said, was not their jurisdiction.)) (((The very sweet kinksters who called my number that day helped me get it taken down, jokes on you! They respect consent.)))

So I went dark. Moved to the woods, worked on a farm. Moved to Kyrgyzstan, worked in a school. Twitter got dusty. I was happier.

And then I did get raped, and I came back to the frying pan. The frying pan missed me but I never let it see my soft places anymore. I brought my toughest shell. And Saturn kicked the door in and called for a reckoning.


The time before a planet changes sign or major aspect is called a shadow. Saturn was in the shadow of his summer retrograde when I was crying in my kitchen because a beloved classmate was sick, sick because someone we trusted at school was being overtly horrible about my classmate’s gender, and my classmate had just dropped out because of the harassment to move back home and get well. I felt crumpled and defeated—few people in our cohort understood the weight this carried, the ripples it would cause, and that night they were at an event celebrating the harasser’s legacy. Everything that night felt a little off-pitch, like when the tuning fork is hit and reverberating in your ear still, but the note is wrong wrong wrong wrong. The wrongness of it all was vibrating through my whole body and I was restless, trying to cook my way down off a ledge in my head, when she showed up at my back door.

She was lean, dressed like the skater kids from my childhood in her bellbottom jeans and t-shirt and her long dark hair. She was extremely pale and her movements were clicky, tapping to a rhythm that was unreachable from this dimension. Her stubble was starting to show, but she had put on foundation. She was half-way present.

She was told to come see me, she said. I was supposed to give her a piece and a drink and we were going to hang out. She was insistent on coming in. Blanche was not having it—Mom, she’s not okay, Mom, no. I listened to my dog.

I told her she had the wrong place. Maybe she was lost? Could I get her a ride home?

No, it was this place, she said. She pointed down over the balcony into the empty yard. That man in the red tracksuit, he told her to come here. He said I’d be ready, I’d have a drink and a piece.

I don’t have anything, I said. I have wine? Nothing harder.

Oh, she said. It was then she stopped making eye contact with me. Well, she said, could she just have some foil then? She’d leave if she could just get some foil.

I finished the foil roll, handing her the sum of it. She thanked me and left.

The night felt wild, a wind was dashing down the hill through the trees as it got dark, the sunset pink, then wan, then blinked out of sight.

She didn’t come back. (I’ve seen her around since, but she doesn’t know or remember me, that I know of.)

I turned away from the back door, tending to the storm inside. It darkened and grew, hovering all summer.


Then, a couple nights ago, just as the shadow of Saturn stationing direct came into view, I let Blanche out late to pee one last time before bed. There was a thunderstorm overhead, and it was starting to wear itself out after thrashing the house and the trees for hours while we listened and I graded papers.

I watched the lightning over Mill Mountain crack and flirt with lifting the skirts of the horizon, and the my dog was back, with a friend in two. Her friend was black and trembling, and I let them both into the kitchen to get a better look. I knew her from the dog park—she was a black Basenji mix who barely touched the ground when happy. Tonight she was cowering, her shock collar still on, afraid to let me touch her to remove it.

After it was off, she ate all of Blanche’s food and then positioned herself on my bed, demanding affection. I didn’t have a chance to second guess it—she was here for the night, and her owner wasn’t answering my calls. A Saturnine guest, again, dark and scrawny and asserting what it needed, just like that girl back in April.

We waited out the storm together, and none of us really slept. The excitement of company was too much for the girls, and the questions of what she might do when unsupervised was too much for me (answer: mess on the floor, repeatedly).

And then the next morning, her owner collected her (he’d passed out drunk with the back door open during the storm; I’m still angry), and we were alone again. Blanche paced, moping for company, and I buckled down, relieved to be able to focus on work again.


And in the kitchen, my tiny bodega cactus has been blooming all week—for the first time since I got it in Brooklyn in early 2017. White blossoms unfurling on a droopy head, next to the scar marks from where some idiot hot glue-gunned a fake paper flower it to its head years ago.


I don’t know what to make of this season, but it seems to be starting to tie itself together for me, closing up the holes, finishing circuits. I’m teaching again, almost three years after reporting my rape and being sent home from Kyrgyzstan. That feels like healing. I’ve missed teaching.

Sometimes it takes three years to bloom. Sometimes you find stragglers at your door. Sometimes you have space for them, and sometimes you are too much of a straggler yourself.

But it is getting easier, that’s evident. So I’ll keep the back door open. Show up if you need. I might have capacity again for you. Saturn’s back in his happy place, so let’s get our shit together and remember how the dancing works, again.

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