Memoir: Mira Ptacin
April 10, 2014
I know some things. I know you set the backyard on fire. It was autumn. You were six years old. The oak leaves were dry and crispy. You and your pal Don Johnson, that blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid from St. Phillip Elementary School who threw up every time he got excited, were playing in the backyard. I’m assuming you guys found the matches in the pile on Dad’s workbench.
Mom, the backyard is on fire. She said that’s how you told them, my mother and her best friend Claire.
Suspenders holding up your blue jeans. Velcro shoes. You never actually fessed up to whose idea it had been, who had lit the first match, maybe the only match, but the fact is someone had lit the backyard on fire, and Mom and Claire had to subdue the flames until the fire squad arrived. Back and forth they ran from the shores of St. Mary’s Lake to the kindergarten blaze, dumping two gallons of water at a time. You must’ve loved those firetrucks.
Mom says that people always remember things the way they want to remember them, instead of the way it was because it was never just one way. That memory isn’t what happened, it’s what happens over time. She says she was never really mad at you. That she was laughing while the yard was burning. She said it was because of your delivery–your Abe-Lincoln honesty had been so blunt. That, and the fact that Don Johnson was barfing the whole time.
My memories of you are a special kind of truth. Your laugh, or what things made you bite your fingernails, or what it felt like to be around you—a feeling I can only achieve when I am asleep and you appear in my dream. It’s the only time I can really sense your essence.
Mom told me you gave someone the gift of sight. The night of the accident, a nurse came to her, less than an hour after you died, and said something like this: Julian was a young, healthy man. Would you like to donate any of his organs?
On your last human day, I was leaving the house and you said to me, Seeya, Scrub. Then you threw a sock at my face. Then you died. To me, it’s just so crazy that one day I see you and the next day your eyes are in somebody else’s body. You throw a sock and then you’re gone. You become a memory, a ghost, just like that. For me, the idea is still taking some getting used to.
You died and we were taken to a different place. We didn’t choose to be the survivors, but we chose to survive. After you died, Mom said we must be responsible for ourselves, that we must be strong. After you died, Dad told me this: Individually, we will have trouble. But when we come together, we are strong. We press on.
After you died, I didn’t become the homecoming queen. I didn’t want anything to do with it in the first place. There was the homecoming game. I didn’t want to go and stand in the middle of a football field with hundreds of people watching me wait to see if I was a winner. Dad had his arm in a sling and Mom wore her ankle-length fox fur coat and they escorted me down the bleachers and out onto the field and I knew what everyone was thinking: There goes that naughty girl whose brother was just killed. And when the announcer called our names on the loudspeaker–Mira Ptacin with her parents, Dr. Philip and Maria Ptacin—it was Mom who led Dad and me onto the football field. As we were walking, people behind us were clapping, and before we even reached the field, Mom stopped, dropped our arms, turned around to face the crowd and waved both hands at them triumphantly. We weren’t even halfway there, but she just turned and started waving. Her entire body. She looked so strong, the way she addressed the faces in the bleachers with her entire body. It was like she was conducting whatever love they had inside of them. Like she was thanking the world for its love, thanking the world for us, and for her own life, even though she had just lost her only son. The way Mom looked in that moment, it was like she was looking at God, and was saying thank you for my beautiful life.
Mira Maria Ptacin is a Maine-based creative nonfiction and children’s book author. She is the founder of Freerange Nonfiction, a Manhattan and Maine-based reading series and storytelling collective. Her latest novel, "Poor Your Soul" is coming out January 12, 2016 with Soho Press.
Illustrations & Interview: William Barker
(To see a larger gallery of this work, click here...)
William Barker left advertising and gallery art in 1992 to create a unique art style that combined both. The project was called Schwa, and for readers it was as exhilarating as it was surreal -- existing ironically and coincidentally with the burgeoning UFO vibe that started in the late 1980s. In 2014 he opened a studio in Arizona to create new work. Here he discusses his project from the 90's and the interest in it since then.
CM: It looks so simplistic and straightforward, but there are a lot of elements mixed in – psychological and economical nightmares, dystopian satire, play, magic, social criticism, ideas about extraterrestrial life, politics, power and realpolitik, etc. This is scratching the surface, and I’m sure there has been much discussion about the depth of the work. Or do people get how deep it is?
WB: When I first started the project I thought about 50% of people wouldn't get that it was satire and the other 50% would, and those would see it was serious on some other levels, whatever those were. It turned out maybe 80% don't get the satire, really. This was, in fact, disillusioning for me. I lost some faith in people in general as the project went on. And over time, by the end of the project, I was overwhelmed by the number of people asking me what it meant – what does it
really mean, does it mean anything? Because I don’t ultimately know. And I told them I didn't plan it all out, all the possible meanings. The strong style rules of the art led to many of the ideas, and the drawings in the books were done first and then sorted into a kind of story line. I did then do a few drawings to bridge some of the 'story'. But many insisted I somehow knew, or know. Almost no one noticed that the viewer never actually sees an alien. They're only in the logo, in dreams or on a screen or stickpeople wearing masks, things like that.
I was sure this would be taken with much more of a sense of satire, rather than people becoming obsessed with trying to squeeze the meaning out of it, some saying I was channeling 'the aliens'. Mostly meaning that applies to their own projections. The idea was to create a kind of 'Rorschach Inkblot Test' with the first 2 books. I used a lot of my knowledge of psychology to do that and it worked. But then it worked against me when people tried to hold me accountable for what they saw in it. I even got a few vague and deranged death threats in the mail! One mentioned that something would happen on my birthday, with the right date. How they knew that was troubling, and I told my office manager I was thinking of buying a gun. She told me to go on a week's vacation for my birthday instead. I did. She was a smart manager. :)
Memoir: Cara Winter
I learned to write by writing letters.
One letter in particular, actually. To a boy I’d met on summer vacation.
I was maybe ten years old. The boy was older, maybe eleven or twelve.
In this boy’s presence, I felt silly and babyish. I was often tongue-tied. For this boy was nothing short of luminous; he had his own gravitational pull. He was very bright, and very funny, and he seemed to me wise beyond his years. He had a natural wit, and a mischievous grin that could set the world ablaze. I was simultaneously thrilled and intimidated to be near him.
The boy in question was perfectly bald. Not by choice; rather, it was due to chemotherapy treatments. He had the brightest eyes and longest eyelashes I’d ever seen in my life. I never asked him what kind of cancer he had, or whether it was better, now. It seemed rude to inquire. Plus, he was just so busy enjoying life, living in the present... I think those of us in his orbit simply followed suit.
This boy and my brother became fast friends, and would go exploring up and down the dunes along Lake Michigan. I, being too precocious for my own good, tagged along a lot. Too much. More than once, my brother asked my mother to intervene – to keep me away, so he could have this new friend to himself. I knew, even then, that I was too young to ask for the same courtesy. So instead I got upset, cried myself to sleep, and/or ate ice cream. The connection between pain and ice cream was, that summer, firmly established.
At the end of our vacation, the boy stood there watching as we piled into our car for the long trek home. I was exquisitely sad to leave him; I thought I’d never be happy, again. I may have hugged him goodbye, but maybe I just imagined a hug, later, wishing I’d been brave enough to ask for one.
We’d obtained his address (or, my brother had), so all the way home, I thought about the letter I would write to him. I thought about how to phrase my opener (“How are you? I hope you’re well...”) and tried miserably to come up with details from my own life he might find amusing. I asked myself over and over if I should inquire about his health. I fell asleep, the pavement thundering beneath me, this question dancing wildly beside all lost hope.
The next day, I sat down with a pencil a sheet of lined paper. It was then that I discovered the concept of a “draft”. I’d realized quickly that there had to be some semblance of order, to this letter. For this letter wasn’t just a letter; it needed to do something. This letter would do what I, in person, had failed to do: this letter would make the boy fall in love with me. I couldn’t just slap ideas down, willy-nilly; that’s what kids did. Young women of substance and character crafted letters of pith, and moment; sentences would have to be clear, engaging, purposeful, each thought building on the one before. A theme would have to be present throughout; well-placed and thoughtful humor seasoning the meat of the thing. The letter, in short, had to sing. I did several drafts before deciding on a final version. Then I meticulously copied it onto a clean sheet of paper, and put it into an envelope.
Upon placing this letter into the mailbox, a burning sensation crept up from my belly, reached my chest, and lived in residence there for weeks. It’s akin to the feeling you get when you’ve made a fool out of yourself in a public place. I realize now that it was because my heart was in that letter. Maybe not spelled out, maybe I didn’t write, “I love you.” But the guts of that, the feeling behind those words, was there. Plain as day.
The boy wrote me back, but just once. I wrote him again, but never got a response to my second letter. At some point I must have realized that a response was never coming. In my innocence, and selfishness, I assumed he’d lost interest in me. I chalked it up to my sloppy second letter, not as well planned or executed, and vowed silently to write better next time.
I’ll never know if the boy lost interest (why not, when there are always new friends, nearer), or if perhaps he’d lost his life to cancer. In any event, I never saw or heard from him, again.
I have struggled for years to remember his name. Tom? Chris? David? I don’t know anymore, but once upon a time his name was synonymous with love, and loss, and longing. I don’t remember anymore what town he came from, or even what state. I’ve never known if the boy, the one who made my heart soar and ache and burn for the first time, died too young. But he made me a writer – that boy. The one that got away.
Cara Winter is a Chicago-based screenwriter and playwright. She is currently working on a short film, two TV pilots, and a new play. www.cara-winter.com
Poem: Barbara Henning
When floodwaters rise,
websites and trees fall
and hospitals flood. A man
in Brooklyn was in his bed
when a tree fell on him.
Outside the window, the trees
bend over and bang into each
other. In the dark, in our small
studio, I wish for a little closet
with a candle. So I brave
the wind, stepping over piles
of branches blowing from the park.
Cafe Yaffa’s the same as ever,
funky and warm, with a noisy
blender, a radio, and a few
other customers. When the wind's
a little calmer, I hug in close
to the buildings on Avenue A
until I'm home in our three hundred
and fifty square feet, with candles
and flashlights, my love playing
his guitar and Kayin building
lego space ships, while I'm
propped up in bed, reading
essays on greed and captivity
in Melville’s Benito Cereno.
Barbara Henning lives in NYC. Her most recent work are two collections of poetry and prose, A Swift Passage (Quale Press) and Cities & Memory (Chax Press). She teaches for Naropa University and Long Island University in Brooklyn where she is Professor Emerita.
Photographs: Mark Angus, Master Guitar Craftsman
(Click here to see the full gallery.)
Mark Angus has been building acoustical guitars for over 30 years, and playing them for even longer. He lives in Laguna Beach, CA. Photographs by CM Evans.
Writing: J. Ryan Stradal
The Pop-Up Restaurant
We admit it. Like almost all of you, we here at Spice Rack have never eaten at a restaurant called “The Pulitzer.” We’ve never tried what Food Source calls a “Grand Marnier and orange zest crème brulee that’s like a double fake orgasm while dry-humping a Cara Cara tree.” Or their “small plate of bacon-wrapped kale in pomegranate truffle oil” that apparently has “the flavor intensity equal to a motorcycle driven by a grizzly bear on fire, if the grizzly bear was made of bacon-wrapped kale.”
We hate to throw anyone under the food truck here, but we suspect the writers from Food Source, like most everyone else, had never eaten at The Pulitzer and were just trying to fit in with the other food bloggers and reviewers who also claimed they had. Let us here at Spice Rack, with our three James Beard Award nominations for accuracy in food writing, set the example.
The expansion of dubious information, both on the Internet from blogs like Food Source, and in print from once-reputable magazines like Breakfast For Dinner Quarterly, have made the truth increasingly elusive. We don’t know which publication first reported about The Pulitzer’s rumored lambskin vellum menu, written with Nano-Carbon archival ink. Nor do we have a
goddamn clue which food critic first told the world about how their specially weighted Palladium alloy forks felt like a sixth digit when held correctly. Nor have we managed to find the vegan meatloaf recipe that’s apparently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In fact, it’s already impossible now to discern who among us actually crossed the transom of The Pulitzer, and a visit to the former restaurant’s physical address on Rose Avenue in Venice, California, will, as ever, only deepen the ambiguity.
Rose Avenue, a street of near-great mom-and-pops mixed with laundromats and beloved old-school Mexican joints, still hadn’t, after over a decade of promises, become the next Abbot Kinney Boulevard, its world-famous and almost completely gentrified neighbor a mile south. Then came the nearly overnight construction of a modern structure with distressed glass windows and signage that read “The Pulitzer” in a charismatic sans-serif typeface (Knockout No. 29, by Hoefler & Frere-Jones). Add on the 24-hour misting system for a plot of land that contained no grass or trees—which poured 134.4 gallons of water onto the sidewalk every day—and the place inspired extraordinary speculation before it was even open.
“The concrete and aerogel-insulated walls had an r-value of 250 and took over a year to build," Breakfast For Dinner Quarterly reported. “Is The Pulitzer an elaborate in-joke by hobbyist sub-contractors and fly-by-night civil engineers? Or, as some property owners on Abbot Kinney call it, the weeping thorn of Rose Avenue?”
(For the rest of 'The Pop-Up Restaurant', click here.)
J. Ryan Stradal’s writing has also appeared in Hobart, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, The Rattling Wall, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Knee - Jerk Magazine, and Joyland, among other places. He lives in Los Angeles.
Photos: Alekzandrea Reyes
"Rule Breakers & 'MERICA"
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Alekzandrea Reyes is from San Diego, CA. and a graduate of California State University, San Marcos. She works in drawing, painting, photography, and film. More of her work can be found at alekzandrea reyes
Writing: Kevin Spaide
A Very Long Walk
Again I have this urge to get out of my chair, go downstairs and set out on a long walk. A very long walk. The kind of walk you need your passport for. How long would it take to get from here to Sligo? From here to Albania on my own legs? How many pairs of shoes would I wear out? How many steps would I take? A million? How many would I take if I weren't going anywhere but just wandering around my neighborhood? Might as well go somewhere. Line all those steps up in one direction. There's a tattered old map of the world hanging on the wall in front of me, its corners punched through with holes from thumbtacking it to a thousand other walls over the years. It has countries on it that don't even exist anymore. Or never really existed. I could walk from here to the tip of India through some of those non-existent countries. I could ride my bike to the end of the Kamchatka Peninsula. According to the map anyway. I might get hit by a car, might not. Might get robbed or kidnapped, might not. I'd certainly get rained on. I'd definitely wish I'd never left home. I'd wish I were back home getting drunk on the corner with everybody else. But who knows what would happen? I know what's going to happen here, though. Pretty much anyway.
Maybe I'll just walk to Salamanca. Maybe I'll just walk down to the corner and back.
I read Thoreau's The Maine Woods last week. It didn't make me restless. I read it because I was already restless and can't go anywhere. Not yet. So I went to the Maine woods for a while. In 1846, 1853 and 1857. I'd never read it before though I've had it for around 15 years. I bought it in Seattle back when I was reading people like Edward Abbey and Robinson Jeffers. It was good. It felt good to read it. Thoreau can come off as corny and pointlessly combative, especially when he goes all hyperbolic and starts comparing tiny things to infinite things, or the local to the exotic - the exotic always coming off as so boring as to be not even worth consideration - but his thoughts and his writing in this book are clear. There's a cleanness and a clearness that I like. An attempt at honesty. His sense of humor is sort of annoying - but, hey, at least he's got one! He's got a mean streak, too, and it makes his jokes sound like he thinks you're stupid. He knows things you don't because you're too busy to stop and think. You're too busy working! I don't mind that though. He's probably right. You probably are stupid. I know I am. I think I was expecting to read the first 20 or so pages and get bored and forget about it forever, but I read it straight through. Wrote in the margins. And when was the last time I felt like writing in one of my own books? I usually only do that with library books. So I was surprised to find how much I liked it - The Maine Woods. Better than Walden - from what I remember of that strange book. I guess I'll have to read it again now. Walden, I mean. Ah hell. But first I'm going to read Walking. After that I'll probably be so crazed up for adventure I'll end up unemployed and divorced.
Friday, May 11
Kevin Spaide is from Auburn, New York. His stories have been published in Atticus Review, Witness, Per Contra, Frigg and several other publications. The first two chapters of his novel “Zero” appear in Sententia 3. He lives in Madrid with his wife and son.
Cartoon: CM Evans
(To see more cartoons by CM Evans, click here.)
Photos : Troy Paiva
(To see a larger gallery of Troy's work, click here.)
Troy Paiva is a photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He's been exploring and shooting out of the way places for many years, mostly in the middle of the night. His pictures have been featured in Light Painting Photography, Resource Magazine, and also recently online with the San Francisco Chronicle.
Marguerite Avenue: There are many haunting images being evoked here, scenes that catch the viewer off-guard. What are some of the ideas or concepts you are incorporating, or playing with?
Troy Paiva: My work is ruins-based, capturing the last moments of all this ‘real life America’, fast turning into mythology. It's a juxtaposition of straight historical documentation and unfettered artistic creativity, keying on and enhancing the inherently evocative nature of these sites. I'm after a visceral reaction with the single image -- the cerebral one comes later when reviewing the body of work. But I really want that initial gut reaction, that "Wow" moment.
MA: You get around to some very isolated and out-of-the-way places for your photographs. How do you find these? What is a criteria for your search?
Troy: Most of my career it's been a matter of driving around on back roads, looking for stuff to shoot. I've used old gas station road maps too, it's amazing how many towns appear on a '50s road map that don't exist today, even on Google earth. Speaking of Google Earth, I've combed hundreds of square miles of the Mojave on high magnification, looking for sites. I also get a lot of people e-mailing me about locations. I've compiled quite a list from all over the planet, more than I can get to in a lifetime of full moons.
MA: Do you believe in luck, or chance, or fate when it comes to the images you collect?
Troy: That's a pretty broad philosophical question there...
(To continue with Troy Paiva's interview, click here.)
Illustration: Tao Lin
The Contemporary Short Story (1957 - 2013)
(Click here to see more illustrations by Tao.)
Writing: Patrick Irelan
On a fall afternoon when I was three years old, October 15, 1946, my mother and I drove seventeen miles north from our little farm to Ottumwa, where we visited Grandma and Grandpa Hunter and Aunt Thelma Hunter at their white frame house on the south side of town. I remember that the day was warm and I was lightly clothed. I remember one other thing from that day, but I know the rest only because my parents and sister later told me, and because I have three perfectly preserved documents: two statements from H. H. Moore, M.D., who occupied office 506 in the Hofmann Building in Ottumwa, and a copy of a district court settlement of claim.
Mother and I stayed in Ottumwa until after dark. Before we left to return home, another visitor, one of my mother’s relatives, gave me a dime for an ice-cream cone. The name of that man has gone with my mother to her grave, for neither my sister nor anyone else can remember it. I do remember that my mother said he carried a burden of guilt from that day on, although he was guilty of nothing more than giving a dime to a little boy.
As we started home, my mother and I drove down East Williams Street, our usual route to Highway 63, which would take us back to the farm. But because of the dime I held in my hand, we stopped just beyond the intersection of Williams Street and South Sheridan Avenue. Mother pulled into a parking space directly in front of the ice-cream store, which stood across the street from a corner grocery. Before my mother could grab me, I jumped from our black Pontiac coupe, ignored the ice-cream store right beside our car, and turned toward my second and last memory of that day--the grocery store across the street. I remember starting toward that brightly lit store, then nothing.
The man driving the gravel truck stopped instantly, set the hand brake, and leapt from the cab. Using his flashlight, he saw that the left front wheel had stopped on my left leg and that if the truck had gone any farther, it would have crushed my stomach. The driver retained his composure and reacted perfectly. He climbed back into the truck, shifted the transmission into reverse, released the hand brake, and backed slowly off my leg. I’ve told this story a number of times to friends or acquaintances. Some of them have asked if the truck contained a load of gravel. Please don’t let that question worry you. I don’t know the answer, and it doesn’t matter...
(To read the complete story, click here.)
Patrick Irelan is the author of two family memoirs: Central Standard and A Firefly in the Night. His most recent book is Reruns, a collection of short stories. Another book of his short stories will appear in the fall of 2013.
Previously featured on Marguerite Avenue:
02.23.13: Writing: J. Ryan Stradal
01.29.13: Writing: A Algira
Meeting Giorgio Armani in New York
01.14.13: Poem: Jack Walsh
Neither Forsaken Nor Forgotten
01.05.13: Writing: Josh Maday
12.23.12: Illustrations & Interview
11.25.12: Poetry: Helen Koukoutsis
At Serres train station
08.15.12: Poetry: Cliff Fyman
Loosening Home Ties
04.11.12: Sketches & Interview
Poem: Loyola Landry
And Then There Were Ninjas
I tried to wake up on time
the alarm went off and
I reached over to grab it
looked at the time
told myself to get up
thought about calling you; maybe I did
and then there were ninjas
I looked at the time again much later
I'm sorry I didn't make it
there's always next year
Loyola Landry is a native of California. You can find more of his work at fictionaut.com/users/loyola-landry
Poem: Jack Peppers
midnight on fine summer nights i would secretly drink
& then skinny dip in the pool as if i was stealing from someone
but it was my pool in my silent dark backyard
under a million stars that were fixed
and stared down at my white body
with a bit of that regrettable farmer's tan
i'd hear the water quietly moving as i moved
lapping on the aquamarine colored tiles
and i'd look up at the sky and see the night in the water
my shoulder would nudge the pole star out of the way for a ripple
i'd be afraid of the luminous bottom near the deep end
but then dive down to it
through the blindness
i'd go to the bottom of the bottom to touch the cold surface
though fear was never solved
nor would go away
Jack Peppers has been published in many places on and off the web. He lives in Chicago, IL and Newport Beach, CA.
Sketchbook: April Solomon
(To see a larger gallery of April's illustrations, click here.)
Interview: April Solomon
April Solomon is a freelance artist, illustrator and muralist. She currently has work in AIR Laguna, in Laguna Beach, CA, as well as art in galleries in Vancouver, Canada. Her illustrations have appeared in many publications over the years, including The Mt. Simon Review of Interesting Places, Birks & Fellings Momentous Occasions (vol 1 and 2), Big Literary Review of the Blue Sky, and Nook Corner Digest. She lives in Laugna Beach.
Marguerite Avenue: Talk a little bit about what you are doing with your art.
April Solomon: Currently I am progressing in my mediums of choice such a gouache, acrylics, and colored pencil. I am planning to jump into oils, just not right now! Drawing and painting fantasy and visionary pieces are the bread-and-butter of my existence. I am hoping to submit my artwork in the Sawdust Festival of the Arts, which will take place in Laguna Beach, California, in the summer of 2013 next year. Overall I'm feeling good about what I'm doing with my art, and myself in general. Life is perfect when I'm developing and maturing alongside with my artwork. It only makes me want to create even more when I feel it is a "win-win" situation.
MA: What are your preferred mediums?
AS: When I was a little girl, pencil was the first medium I gravitated towards. Pencil was my first love, and I never imagined I would ever use color! Eventually I found and understood the world of colored pencil, and I've never looked back since. Using colored pencil taught me how to layer color extremely well, from there I tapped into acrylics and gouache which only enhanced the quality of realism in my work that I try so hard to achieve.
MA: Do you alternate between mediums?
AS: Occasionally I will alternate between collage and stencils -- I'll also create miniature models for reference. I've been using heavy acrylic mediums for funky textures. I'm fond of patterns from old discontinued wallpaper books, I'll use hot glue guns, spray paint, whatever I've got kicking around to supply the dance of creativity. If I really want to play and simply let go of all control, I will push the boundaries of what I believe I can do. I'm usually amazed with the results when this technique kicks in full gear.
MA: Are there any artists you can't ignore that have influenced your work?
AS: Oh my word, where do I begin (big breath in) okay, here it goes...When I was a little girl, some of my earliest inspiration came from the comic book world, National Geographic, dinosaur books, and the gaming world. I was so inspired and captivated by the illustrations that were created for companies such as Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering. Here is a list of a few artists that have inspired me intensely: Drew Struzan, James Gurney, Paul Bonner, Brom, Jeff Easley, Daniel Merriam, Terryl Whitlatch, Donato Giancola, Dan Dos Sosantos, Julie Bell, Crash, Todd Lockwood, Brian Froud, Ciruleo Cabral, John Howe, Boris Vallejo. I could increase the list indefinitely!
(To see the entire interview with April, click here.)
April Solomon is a freelance artist, illustrator and muralist. Find more of her work here. She lives in Laugna Beach.
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