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Creative Writing Assignment

Creative Writing Assignment: Start with "I am looking at..." Go for 10 minutes. Anytime you get stuck, write the prompt again and go from there.

I am looking at my new pink chair missing an arm.

So I was biking down 6th street a few hours ago, going the wrong way down a one-way street (but I was in the bike lane so it was okay?), and I saw a yard sale. I use the term “yard” loosely – everyone around here who is lucky enough to HAVE a yard has a small one, almost an apology of a yard, postage stamp size. This “yard” sale caught my eye for two reasons:
1. There was an interesting turquoise blue drawer thingy. I like colors.
2. There was a sign that said EVERYTHING FREE
So I filed it away in my mental rolodex of to-do’s and kept on my way (to the CVS for bleach/coffee/detergent, to Eastern Market for fruit). On my way back I properly stopped. Got off the bike, put the kickstand down, and had a look. Couldn’t figure out the turquoise blue drawer thingy; buncha plates and cups; some books – and this chair. Under a black trash sack. Peach fleshy colored velvet with dark brown curved legs. I’ve been half-heartedly looking for a chair for months. I live in a small place and I have a large comfy brown corduroy chair (sitting in its chubby embrace right now), and whenever I have company we usually end up on the floor because no one wants to be The Person Who Takes the Only Chair. Was gonna take my friend Kylie’s pink high back chair, but never got around to it. So when I saw this curvy beat-up number under its pile of trash, my heart skipped a beat.

There was an old woman crouched down going through what looked to be one of those plastic drawer organizers; she was separating things out – earrings, pens, pins – not sure if it was for her or if she was just a sorter by habit.
“Is this your stuff?” I asked.
She looked up and she was pale all around – pale silvery hair, pale skin, pale blue eyes. She had trouble speaking; some sort of stutter?
“It’s – it’s – I’m – he’s the grandson,” she gets out, and gestures toward a man coming out of the basement apartment holding a cardboard box of seemingly unrelated items.
“Nephew,” he corrects, smiles. He looks tired. He is wearing a green canvas baseball cap and thin framed glasses; his eyes are kind.
“Is there a reason this chair is under the trash? Is it okay?”
“Look here,” he says, and takes me around to the other side of it, the side obscured by more clunky black trash bags. “It’s missing an arm.”
And so it is. Orange foam and dark screws poke forth from the delicate velvet, like guts from a sudden-amputee, like C3P0’s circuits after the Sand Men attacked him. I find I like the chair more now.
“No problem, man,” I say (why is it that buying intimate things from people in personal ways makes me drop into “man” and “dude”? I always do this), “I’ll be back with my car in 10 minutes.”

Now the chair is here, in my apartment. After lugging it in the door I set it down in the middle of the floor and backed away, said “Welcome to your new home!” mostly as a joke. Got out the vacuum cleaner and gave it a good suction. All the while, a story about the person whose chair this was is forming in my head: she died, unexpectedly. She was old and lived alone. She had long black wiry hair (vacuum cleaner and I found this out firsthand). The pale old woman outside her house was a neighbor-friend. She never had children. Her nephew lives in DC and is taking the weekend to dispose of her things. She cooked and read a lot and used to entertain (judging by the sheer amount of flatware in the yard sale). When the arm broke off this chair, she had no one to repair it for her.

I am looking at this chair. I have placed it so the missing arm is not immediately obvious. I love its shabby sweetness, its yellowed edges. Right now it feels like I have a guest in the apartment. I know it will not always feel this way. “Hello,” I say, “Welcome to your new home.”
Got the pic here.

Bad Poetry

The faces of my friends have been blotted out
Like photos in a housefire
burned through
angry-black-bubbled out of existence

You’re permanently obscured.

Where’s the girl I walked to classes with, bad bangs growing out, backpack on your back?
Is that still you in there?
Underneath the years
the different names:
strangers calling you mom and honey,
Mrs. so-and-so
underneath the baby growing inside of you

Have you changed?
Or is it just my unwillingness to see you without that backpack that makes you seem different to me?

And when I go that way –
will I disappear under the things I’m called and the people I create?
(will I be able to see myself in there?)


My LA skin is a size (or two) too small. I haven’t worn it in years – it’s been hanging in my closet behind all my dresses, something I absent-mindedly finger whenever I go digging through my clothes and it’s always the same startled feeling: hi, forgot you were there. A few times over the years, if I found myself alone with hours to kill I’d slip it on. Stand in front of the mirror, turn this way and that. Run my hands over it. See if it still felt like me.

The last time I really wore it I was driving up and out of Los Angeles, everything I owned in the back of my dusty Subaru, tears on my face. LA was a smudge of dirty in my rearview. By then, the skin was in bad shape (gritty with sun and salt, thin at the wrists where I caressed my thick blue veins with the box cutter, brown under the eyes, long in the hair), but I didn’t know I could take it off. I hated it but I needed it because it was me.

Now, on the plane, I forget that I should be wearing it almost until we’re descending past the thick band of smog into Los Angeles. My mind has been on a thousand other things. But as the fasten seatbelt light dings on and my tummy lurches, I realize the plane is landing and I am ill-prepared.

On my body, the skin doesn’t sing the devastating-but-seductive siren songs of pain and failure to me the way I expected it to. I am quiet and tentative in it as I walk Sunset Blvd with my friend, arms around each other’s waists, sun at my back. We take a left onto La Cienega in her car, my skin remembering viscerally how to get everywhere. I am astounded at how well I know this city. How can somewhere I haven’t been in years click back on inside, like a light switch in a room at the far back of the house? How can I have so many memories of a place where I felt so anonymous? The thought that keeps ferris-wheeling in my head: “How do I know this? I wasn’t even here!”

I force myself to see this city as objectively as I can: what is this place? All I can come up with is strip malls and car exhaust and vines dripping obscenely with flowers over courtyard walls. It fails to move me. I hold myself so carefully in the skin, expecting at any moment to be hit with the inevitable waves of SOMETHING: loss? longing? But nothing happens. And at the next light, we have to make a right to get to Century City – don’t ask me why I know that, but I do.

In the end, I take the skin off in the airplane bathroom somewhere over Missouri. Exhale. Let my stomach out. Touch my own face in the small mirror under the recessed lighting.