I have far too many ideas in my head.

All fighting to get out, competing for my attention.

This is not a good thing. What I want is clarity, focus; mental definition and stability in a time of personal and global chaos.

You can have too many thoughts. It’s a distraction. I want to write.

I want to write short novels.

Novellas.

I want to be churning out one, two a month.

I want to be finishing a story every fortnight.

I think I need to, to purge the cranial overload.

Trepanning is what the ancient Greeks used, to purge the brain.

It was a physical thing, not a metaphorical mental thing.

Brain damage isn’t caused by the blow; it’s caused by the build up of fluid; the blood, the bile, the miscellaneous brain juice.

Indeed, it may be “the cabbage you can ravage with the chilli paste taste,” but kimchi isn’t that amazing. I mean, taste is subjective and everything, but can anything really be so awesome that an entire nation of people could be obsessed with it? Even in America people vary their fast-food diets. One day it’s fried chicken and the next it’s hamburgers, and sometimes it’s a pizza. But in Korea, people are so crazy about kimchi that it goes beyond ridiculous. It’s something that has to be experienced to be understood, and I think it’s impossible to exaggerate the love Koreans have for their national dish.

I’d never even heard of the stuff until I came to Korea, and when I was presented with a side dish of it at dinner, I thought, Hmm, this is ok. It was indeed palatable, but nothing special. The next day I was given it for lunch, then dinner. And the next day. And the next. Pretty soon I opted to pass over the kimchi. It wasn’t that it tasted awful, but rather that it just wasn’t good enough to eat twice a day.

I’m having the Monday coffee with CP and SK. SK has only a dollar in cash and asks if I can get the rest of his drink.

“Sure,” I say. I pull out a twenty dollar bill. I don’t have anything smaller.

“I’m on the twenty dollar diet,” I say. “I only pay with twenties.” It’s supposed to be a joke but I have no idea where I’m going with it until I notice that CP also has a twenty out and ready.

“See? CP’s doing the same thing. It’s rough out there. We have to burn the small bills just to keep warm.”

People are always asking me for directions.

My body language must exude confidence. Or maybe it’s my face: steel-eyed determination successfully masking utter cluelessness. Then again, maybe not, because a blind office worker once asked me to guide him to his building from Grand Central Station.

Really. I kid you not.

Two previous generations of my family hail from New York and my sister was born in Brooklyn Heights. My brother and I were the only two schmucks born in Florida (and not even Miami!).

That’s from Carson McCullers. Time is an idiot.

Being a child of divorce from an early age, I have abandonment issues. I know — pitiful. It’s not something on which I dwell; it’s just always at the back of my battered brain. What can you do.

I hate goodbyes. Absolutely hate them. I’m no good at them.

Dear Future Boyfriend:

Please do not be nice to me.

Kindness will only be misinterpreted as interest. If you show concern when I am weary, call because you miss me, or twirl my hair adoringly between your fingers, the fortress around my fragile heart will weaken. If you remember my birthday, I will imagine you want something kinky in bed; like eating the cake you brought home off my ass. If you send me flowers for no reason, I will, naturally, assume there is a reason. And it will probably not be good. Open the door for me, and I’ll trip on the threshold of terrified; knowing that one day you’ll walk out that very same door. Buy me a present of any worth, and I’ll denounce it as one of many lovely parting gifts to come.

We both know chivalry is dead. Let’s keep it that way.

 

Please do not be a good cook.

I have worked extremely hard to keep this body nice for you. I have binged, purged, starved, counted calories, declined carbohydrates, obsessed over organics, and lived for weeks on nothing but peppermint tea and pickles. I have run to the moon and back, bicycled twice ‘round the equator and aerobicised, jazzercised – even watercised – my way to keeping this ass tight; tight enough so you can bounce a quarter off it. If you are a master in the kitchen, my resolve might wane and my caloric intake will surpass that of a sedentary six-year-old.

Before you know it, I’ll be wearing that size six and neither of us wants that, do we?

 

Please be a gym rat, muscle-head and/or marathon man.

Despite my quarter-bouncing ass from which you will eat cake, please reduce me with your bulging guns, your rippling six-pack and your quivering quadriceps. I will strive to keep up with you, but I’ll never win. Because I eat so very little, I will faint every third hour, on the half-hour, thus requiring your big strong arms to pick me up and feed me another pickle. If you happen not to be a gym rat, please then, as a courtesy, be the polar opposite. Ignore your own beer gut, love handles and man-boobs, but demand physical perfection from me regardless.

God knows, there’s always someone younger, prettier and fitter around every corner. And speaking of God…

 

Please be a religious zealot.

Chasten me with your deep and awe-inspiring faith. Belittle me with one-on-one conversations with your personal Higher Power. Strip me of my own beliefs and elucidate the error of my ways. Riddle me with rhetoric and rhyme, rationalities and reason. Inspire me with idiosyncrasy, deride me with dogma.

And then we can go to brunch after.

 

Please, please. Just hit me. 

Physical bruises heal so much more quickly than emotional scars. I’d prefer you break my wrist than break my heart. Go ahead. Get it out. Beat me, strike me, smack me down. Jump on me, thump on me, wallop me good. Use a belt, a rope, your hand, your shoe – just not your mind, not your tongue, not your wit, not your charm.

Send me to the hospital instead.

 

Maybe there I’ll find someone who will show me compassion, someone who’ll nourish me, someone who will run the distance alongside me, someone to pray with me and someone who will heal my open wounds.

Budapest

By Zsofia McMullin

Essay

I like to stand at the foot of the bed and throw myself on the bouncy mattress. My hair splashes around my face like water and I pretend that I am a weightless, powerless body. I turn my palms toward the sky and hold my breath.

That’s what I was doing as he packed his suitcase. The big bed in the hotel room was wide and flexible, so I bounced for a long time. Once the bouncing stopped I stayed there, staring at the cheap chandelier hanging above me. The hotel was in one part of a converted downtown apartment building, near the train station—a formerly bombed-out, turn-of-the-century building along a wide, congested boulevard. Our window looked out on the wrap-around balcony facing a stone courtyard. Old ladies shuffled by our window and a couple of kids bounced a ball on the old wooden gate below as we made love that afternoon.

By now it was dark and we were dressed and the courtyard was empty. Dishes rattled in one kitchen. A baby cried. Someone must have been sautéing onions and paprika in an old iron skillet across the hallway. The news came on and a window pane rattled as the wind blew it shut.

I shivered.

It was July, but the skies turned dark the moment his plane touched down Friday night. We took a cab to the hotel and made small talk. I stayed behind him as he checked in—this time he gave his real name, not like he used to when he had to sign in to my dorm in college. The receptionist called him “Mister” and then shot me a knowing look. I pretended to not notice. I clung to his arm as we walked up two flights of stairs. The lights in the dark hall were operated by motion censors and lit up the way ahead of us one by one like a runway.

Later we walked along the boulevard—maybe we were talking, maybe not, I can’t remember now. We crossed the road and tram tracks and walked up to the bridge crossing the Danube. The river curves at that point, so we walked almost all the way over to the other side before the city opened up in front of us. The drizzle made all the lights seem a bit dimmer, a bit less like a cheesy postcard.

I wanted him to think that this was romantic. I wanted him to love my city as much as I did. I wanted him to love me.

We stopped and leaned on the rail. The bridge gently swayed as a tram passed by.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I came to see you,” he said, matter-of-factly. He smiled his sweet, crooked smile. There was a raindrop on his eyelashes.

“Yeah, right.”

We held hands on the way back to the hotel, his arm curving perfectly into my arm, his fingers entwined with mine. A decade later I can still feel that pressure on my elbow, my wrist, between my fingers. His thumb rubbed the top of my hand.

I took a taxi home after we made love. I ate leftovers in my parents’ kitchen at 2 a.m. and wondered if he missed me in that big bed. I wondered if he really came to see me and whether his hunger for me was fueled by love, or need, or nostalgia, or something else that I would never know or understand.

The next night I stayed with him. There was no use pretending that I was cool or that I didn’t really care whether he was there or not. I took him to all of my favorite spots in the city, trying to etch the image of him and those places in my mind. He fit in everywhere, sure, but he was so much shinier than that drab July weekend, than my favorite smoky café, or our hidden hotel room. So much shinier than me.

All weekend I pretended that Sunday didn’t exist. But here it was and he was packing and I was playing dead on the hotel bed. He giggled when I started the bouncing, but now he moved around the room quietly, with purpose.

He neatly folded his clothes and placed them in his bag. He picked up my clothes that I left on the floor the night before, folded them and placed them on the chair by the door. He put his shoes on. He tucked his plane ticket in his jacket pocket and checked for his phone and keys.

He finally sat down next to me. I knew he wanted me to leave, but I was clinging to every minute with him. He said he’d rather see me leave than watch me wave as he got on the airport shuttle bus by himself.

He lay next to me and put his head on my shoulder. I touched his hair—so painfully soft—and cried.

“Please tell me that it’s going to be all right,” I sobbed.

“I can’t promise you that; I can’t promise you anything,” he said, almost laughing.

“No, I don’t mean just us — I mean in general.”

“Yeah, in general, everything will be all right.”

When you read this I hope you know it’s about you. Cause whenever I’ve tried to be your friend all you’ve done is stabbed me in the back. Strung my hope out on crack. Sure it hurt like hell, all those times you did me in. Promised me the moon then drowned my trust in your bathtub gin. And while they say denial is the first step of the grieving process, with you I’ve gone through that and anger, depression, second-guessing, then around the moon and back. But screw that noise. Save that off-key song for the soul-sucker that delivers your Fisher Price sex toys.


I did something this morning that I swore I would never do:

I picked up a steaming pile of dog shit—with my hand.

Dog owners do it all the time, and I assume it’s no big deal to them. They carry around their extra plastic bags from Target and Stop & Shop, and when their dogs take a crap, they stick their hands in a baggie, lightly grasp the turds, turn the bag inside out, and tie it shut at the top. Done. No shit on the street, no shit in your hands. Everything contained neatly in plastic.

But I’m not a dog owner. And the idea of touching a hot crap while it still holds the body’s heat disgusts me—even if there is a layer (or two) of plastic separating skin from excrement.

Before any pet owners jump on me, let me say: I see the need for this, and I support it wholeheartedly. Out here in Boston, where green space is limited and houses lack the spacious yards that I grew up with in Minnesota, the hand-bag-crap grasping is a necessity. Unless you want shit everywhere on every sidewalk, you’ve gotta do it. (When I went to Paris several years ago, I never saw Parisians chasing their puppies with plastic bags, so turds littered the sidewalks like confetti after Mardi Gras. It was repulsive.)

But I don’t own a dog. So I wasn’t planning on doing it.

Where I grew up, in a farming community 45 miles west of Minneapolis, my dog shit in your yard and your dog shit in my yard, and we called it even. Or, more often, my dog shit in her outdoor enclosure, and I took care of it later: hours later or days later. When I picked up the poo, I did it with a shovel; there was never any risk of physical contact.

This week, I’m dog-sitting for my sister and her partner, who are vacationing in Sanibel Island. It was 70 degrees and sunny there this morning. Here in Dorchester, it was 30 degrees: cold enough for shit to steam when it comes out.

They have four dogs. Four dogs make a lot of steaming hot crap.

Before my sister left, she asked me to pick up dog shit once a day or once every other day. “There are baggies under the kitchen counter, and you just reach inside, grab the poo through the plastic, and jooooooop!” she said, retracting her hand fast to illustrate.

That’s what she thinks.

I eyed the snow shovel on her pack porch. Yes, I will pick up Luca, Lily, Sweetie Pie, and Ginger’s crap. But, no, I will not do it with my hands.

The first day out in her yard on crap duty, I spent 15 minutes chasing turds with a shovel. It was like a frustrating game of hockey. Every time I thought I had a log ready for bagging, it would roll back off of the shovel onto the grass. Chase, roll, repeat. Quickly, I changed my strategy: instead of shoveling willy-nilly at the turds and futilely chasing them across the grass, I would scoop uphill or into a stationary object, like a fence, to keep the hardened logs from rolling away.

Sometimes it worked. Sometimes the turds just smashed all over the shovel, making a second mess for me to clean up.

I gave up and went inside.

This morning, after letting two days pass, I wielded the shovel again. I engaged in chase, roll, repeat with two piles of hardened turds. But then I came square against a mustardy-brown pile of hot, steaming crap, fresh out of Lily’s Chow Chow ass.

This would make a dastardly mess of the snow shovel. Then I would have to clean it off with paper towels—increasing the hand-poop proximity.

I exhaled, defeated.

Stuck my hand inside of two bags.

And gingerly retracted the poop claw.

I swear the dogs were laughing at me.

Growing Up Model

By Zoe Brock

Memoir

Recently I was asked what I wanted.

Not what I wanted in my tea or what I wanted on my salad, but what I wanted out of life.

Ugh.

This seemingly innocuous little query dredged up tumultuous feelings inside, forcing me to realize that-

A) the things I’ve always wanted had, while I wasn’t paying attention, morphed into something
different, and

B) that I needed to have a serious rethink before I could answer definitively.

I opened a bottle of wine and had a good chug from the neck. Clarification often accompanies a good Cabernet.


There I sat, glass beside me, “writing it out”.

What do you want, ZB? I asked myself. The answer was surprising.

If I’m going to be honest with you, and myself, I’ll have to admit that I used to want wealth, fame and glory, an ugly remnant of growing up in the spotlight surrounded by people with big dreams and big lives. Teenage dreams are hard to let go of sometimes, especially when they still seem within reach.

I used to want a life filled with expensive, minimalist things and easy opportunities for adventures and madness.

I used to want an eternity of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

I used to want my days to be filled with private jets, high-budget catering and make-up artists who would satisfy my craving for fuller lips by drawing mine bigger. I wanted photographers to tell me I was beautiful and designers to keep giving me their clothes. I needed those things to feel valuable and alive.

And now?

I still want the adventures and the eternity of sex and rock and roll, only now I want less casual sex with much more love in it, and even louder music.

That’s a relief.

So what HAS changed?

A lot.

Now I want babies and security and love and simplicity- I want a family, something that, despite all my beautiful relatives and their unconditional love, I never felt I had. Now I have to write to feel worthy. Now I have to create in order to feel alive. Now I have to be present to feel beautiful. All I have to do is show up.

My how things change.

The thing is, if I were to really consider it, I’ve already had a pretty big life.

I’ve been to every continent (except the frozen one).
I’ve loved and I’ve lost, many times over.
I’ve experienced death, depression, disaster.

I’ve hit rock bottom and seared my wings against the sun.
I’ve done the most glamorous things and the most sordid.
I’ve cat-walked all over the world, shot covers for Elle, been photographed for Vogue, and been forcibly ejected from the most gruesome dens of iniquity between Hong Kong and Manhattan.
I’ve lived the high life and licked the underbelly.
I’ve amused people and offended others.
I’ve been a brat and a belle.

I’ve stayed in castles and squatted in shacks.
I’ve partied with presidents, skinny dipped with rock stars, discussed architecture-politics-urination-sexual proclivities and literature with celebrated thinkers, and committed petty ‘crimes’ with unexpected celebrities.
I’ve traveled with dear friends and nursed them through madness.
I’ve done lots of crazy shit and blah blah blah seen things that would make my poor mothers hair curl if I wrote it here.

In short, I’ve lived, but I’ve never done anything, no matter how debauched, for any kind of personal gain or anything without honor and good intent.

I might be twisted, but I’m not bent.

I know for absolute certain that the life I’ve lived since I was thirteen years of age would not and could not have happened had I not been modeling. It’s a fact.

My first foray into the inner sanctum of the fashion industry was in the late 80’s, at a time when the catering budget was higher than the collective wages of the entire crew, and a time when nobody was eating. They couldn’t, their noses were too full.

I was young. So young.

And so impressionable.

The times were decadent, destructive and delicious. High camp ruled the social scene and air kisses were often a prelude to hasty sex in darkened corners. It was an irresponsible time. AIDS had made it’s appearance and we were, unknowingly, about to lose several of our finest, maddest and most creative. It would take a long time for us to slow down and grow up. We all thought we were invincible. I know I did.

The fashion industry is a strange place to grow up in. But, like anything, it is what you make of it. For me it was a hard road of misadventure and madness… a road that has come full circle and is now winding through gentler pastures with more creative scenery.

It’s pretty.

I like it.

Perhaps I’ll send you a postcard.


Fourth grade, 1968. Ohio. It’s February and my hands are dry and caked with that elementary school paste we all love to smell and eat. Piles of red construction paper. Scissors. Scraps are all over the floor. We are making valentines for the whole class and a stack of crudely cut hearts was growing atop my little desk which doubled as a Duck & Cover shelter in case the Big One ever dropped.

I’m not sure if I’m supposed to mention this is my TNB debut. Is it professional? Do I pretend to be part of the furniture?

If I do will someone sit on me?

Babbling—first day nerves.

I was supposed to write this in the morning. That didn’t happen.

When I woke up there was a woman in my room. This was both a novelty and more than a little unexpected. She was the room inspector. They knock on the door and if they don’t get an answer they assume you’re out. I was not out. I was in bed, eyes half shut and body fully naked.

It was like a bad sitcom. I’m surprised no one has made a sitcom set around University life.

Nearly exposing myself to a fifty year old housing manager was bad luck. It’s Friday the 13th. Tomorrow is February 14th; which will bring worse luck.

My brother always says that if he had a choice, he would have stopped aging right around the time he turned two.

Life was simple back then: Play dates. Naps. Mushy comfort foods. Lots of crawling around on the floor. Do something simple like utter a sentence and the adults around you clap and call you cute names. How much better can it get?

I, on the other hand, always wanted to be a grown up. I wouldn’t leave my mom’s side at the playground, because I just had to listen to what the adults were talking about. Going to sleep was out of the question while my parents were still awake, because I couldn’t possibly miss all the exciting stuff that was going on between my bedtime and theirs.

I thought that adults had it all. They could choose what clothes to wear in the morning and what to eat for breakfast. They could go to work and drink coffee and smoke – all at the same time! – and nobody would tell an adult to “put your gloves on!” or “no dessert until you finish your homework!” Also, as an adult, you could have a boyfriend and get married and have sex and babies – and not necessarily in that order. You didn’t have to account for where your allowance went and, darn it, if you wanted to spend it on pink notebooks, you could and nobody would say a thing about it.

I felt like this about adulthood for a long, long time. Even as I turned into an adult – we could argue about the exact timing – I felt all right about how my fantasies about grown-up life meshed with reality.

But lately I’ve been feeling a bit jibbed by this whole grown-up thing.  It is becoming more and more clear that I’ve been sold a bill of goods and if it’s OK, I’d rather not have any of it, thank you very much.

Through the years and years we spend as children with teachers, parents, and relatives, nobody is really straight forward about the icky stuff. Nobody tells us about the bloody battle to find a career or calling; nobody talks about broken hearts, or what to do when your boyfriend tells you that he likes to wear diapers. There is never any mention of performance evaluations, fertility treatments, mortgage payments, team-building retreats, marriage counseling, unemployment, leaky roofs, ripped condoms, emergency surgeries, car accidents, dead pets, self-doubt, aging parents, taxes, used-car dealers, lost friends, rejection letters, unrequited love, recession, hormones, cubicle farms, voicemail, speeding tickets, mid-life crises, HIV tests, drunk dialing, or lost luggage.

When I mention my discontent to my parents, they usually point out the obvious: I am lucky, because I really haven’t had to face too many challenges. It’s been pretty smooth sailing so far.  True.  But what surprises me every time I come across any of the above-mentioned obstacles, is that despite great parents, good education, supportive friends, I am still taken by surprise and feel unusually ill-equipped to tackle what the grown-up world throws at me. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as my hubby and I are experimenting with fertility treatments. When a few weeks ago I was driving to the doctor’s office with a jar of sperm tucked in my bra, all I could think was “Really? Nobody could have mentioned that this was in the cards?”

I am not sure what I would have done differently to prepare myself for adulthood. Maybe there is no way to prepare. Maybe despite the wisdom of our parents and grandparents, they look at our challenges with the same surprise and wish that they could have warned us, but didn’t know what to warn us about. After all, talking to a two-year-old or even a 14-year-old about fertility treatments is probably not responsible parenting.

The only good news that emerged from my whining to my parents is that it turns out that they did keep my favorite blanket along with “Kacsa,” my blue, polka-dot duck. So I am off to take a nap now.

This was actually the second time I’d gotten such an email, and in case you’ve never gotten one, here are the distinguishing characteristics: it is sent around 11:30 in the morning by the editor-in-chief’s assistant; it reads something cryptic like “All-staff meeting in the conference room NOW; there is often a red exclamation point attached to it. This is probably the only email you’ll ever receive that actually warrants that plaintive little symbol of distress.

Then there is the meeting itself, in which the editor-in-chief rushes in near tears (if you work at a women’s magazine anyway, I wonder how the male EICs do it? They probably act more grumpy than sad, if I may make a totally unqualified guess) and makes her announcement. “X Magazine is over!” or else, “Z Magazine has ceased to exist,” making it sound almost like a biological process that simply couldn’t be helped, as if the glossy publication had just turned over and sighed and stopped breathing and no one could resuscitate it.

If you are 34 weeks pregnant, don’t get your health insurance from said job, and were ready for a change anyway, I have to admit, being laid-off isn’t all that bad (besides the whole paycheck situation). A neighbor told me that the German company she worked for didn’t even let her work in the last two months of her pregnancy, insisting on beginning their generous and humane maternity leave package then. Germany, people, thus proves itself to be a thousand times more civilized than we are. Because I have to say, these last two months of pregnancy are a terrific time to not work. I can now safely admit that I wouldn’t have been terribly productive in an office right now anyway (but a very productive freelancer please send leads), spending most of my time futilely seeking elusive comfort from that torture device known as an office chair, getting up to pee every twenty minutes or so, distractedly looking at car seats online.

Now that I’m home all day, my day goes a little something like this:

1) Visit the Y, where the swimming lanes teem with whomever else doesn’t work on a weekday — Fellow fireds? Nightshift waiters? –, where the prenatal yoga classes overflow with out-of-work freelancers who congregate afterwards to bemoan the sudden dearth of clients, where the elliptical machines swish soothingly behind the dire news bleated out by mini-screens of CNN. Pregnant ladies: swimming and yoga really help those lower back pains!

2) Nap.

3) Look for work, which means sending out pitches (here was last week’s winner – an idea for a story about the city’s newly unemployed, which was answered with the news that the pitched publication was going out of business and that the editor whom I had contacted would soon be among us), trolling the strange terrain of Craig’s List gigs, getting distracted by some increasingly bizarre idea for a career change — Maybe I’ll research Library Science School, I’ll think, or else, NYC Police retire at 55? Hm! – and finally finding myself on a site about cloth diapers, blinking and confused and missing chunks of time like an alien abductee.

4) Nap.

5) Meet another unemployed person for lunch or coffee, share complaints, panic over having spent $6 on soup and water.

6) Start to feel guilty and unproductive, work on novel. Or else, start to work on novel and then realize that the kitchen floor is disgusting and must be mopped THIS SECOND or that a certain cabinet NEEDS to be cleaned out, etc.

7) Greet gainfully employed husband when he comes home with the unbridled enthusiasm of a puppy who needs badly to pee. Which I do.

Employed people, I’m not trying to brag.

Also, please send money.

Thanks.

An empty cargo boat is sitting in the Puget Sound with nothing to do.

I see as many as three of them at once sometimes from the window of my apartment.

Tonight, my girlfriend is going to cut my hair, which might be the reason the Northwest is in a recession.