So let’s talk about The Object Parade. Nonfiction, right?
Wait—can I just say—I’d so much rather someone else were asking the questions.
Why? What do you mean?
828-3886. I recognize the number when I see it flash up on the screen. It’s one of the few phone numbers that I know by heart. We’ve been friends for twenty-two years. Hers were the last digits I learned before we all outsourced our memories to our cell phones. All the other numbers from my past have lost relevancy or don’t connect to the living: street addresses for homes we no longer own, birthdays of grandparents, channels of TV stations, pre-pregnancy shoe size, and of all those landlines long abandoned—hers was the last working phone number.
828-3886. I answer the phone. “Hey, Robin, what’s up?” When you’ve been close friends for over two decades, you can hear the bad news in the sound of their breath. “Oh no,” I said, bracing for the news. “I have cancer.” “What kind?” “Pancreatic.” “Pancreatic,” I repeat with a voice I don’t recognize. Or maybe it’s a finality I haven’t heard in my voice until now. It had started as a slight pain in her abdomen earlier in the year. The initial diagnosis was gastritis.
Once, we met on Mercer Street, and I startled him when I said hello. “I didn’t recognize you in your clothes,” he said. I rather liked that Playwright Dan only saw me in my swimsuit, but I was hurt when I learned that he didn’t think I was a very good swimmer. After watching me swim, he asked what kind of exercise I did. Just swimming, I told him. Couldn’t he see that? I’d taught myself to breathe on alternate sides, and I’d built up my stamina so that I could swim 40 lengths—twice what I could do in college. But I’d never been on a team, and no one had helped me with technique. Dan helped me improve my freestyle stroke, taught me to practice with a pull buoy, and finally, got me to try doing flip turns. But it was quite some time before I actually mastered them.
This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
At a resort spa in the mountains of southern Utah once, a woman I’d never met before named Betina told me I was tired of fighting.
She lay me down on a bed of furs and wrapped a blanket around me. She held crystals over my body and struck them. The sound was meant to be a healing vibration.
I don’t really buy into this stuff.
But earlier, when we sat facing each other, she told me to close my eyes and think of the person who held all my questions. She pulled a small stone buffalo from her basket of animal talisman and said, “Is this him?”
And it was.
I’ve only been lost once in my life and I didn’t know I was missing.
I was five, and we were on a family trip to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania. The day is a chaotic blur in my memory, my parents juggling me, a three-year-old, and an eighteen-month-old through an amusement park full of noisy Muppet distractions. We paused for lunch in a picnic area and when I finished eating, I darted away, yelling behind me that I was going to climb into the ball pit.
This essay isn’t about anything tragic.
I won’t be writing about the economy, about being single and lonely, about a family member I’ve recently lost. I won’t be complaining about the ridiculous Republican primaries or how President Obama has decided the U.S. government can assassinate its own citizens without due process.
If you’re looking for something depressing and dreary, an essay that explores the deep and meaningless pain of being human, don’t bother reading any further.
July 11, 2011
Someday This Will be Funny, Tillman’s collection of short works, takes us through a myriad of subjects and styles—some with fast-paced quirkiness and economy of language, others with monotone didacticism.It’s amazing that the writer who turned out a multi-layered piece of flash fiction about a woman who hoards unpaid parking tickets in her glove compartment is also the same writer who produced a dull, overly sentimental and philosophical, essay-story-hybrid about mourning doves sitting at her window—unfortunately, the first piece in the collection.
I was watching the Mets play the Phillies on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball when the broadcaster announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Immediately, I flipped to CNN for more details and watched Wolf Blitzer juggle numerous correspondents as details of the event poured in. I stayed tuned for about 20 minutes, and during that time the crowd gathering on the White House lawn grew from dozens to hundreds to thousands. They waved American flags and climbed atop each others’ shoulders, chanting “USA! USA!” Their celebratory uproar reached a volume that made it difficult for one reporter on the scene to be heard. The surreal spectacle looked like the tail end of a debauched 4th of July barbecue.
October 30, 2010
How did this story come about?
Influences.The writers you love, and the writers you hate.The thing about influences is that writing or talking about them can easily turn into a list.And a pretentious list, at that.But there is a list of people who made work that mattered, and still matters, to me: Francois Camoin, Raymond Carver, Amy Hemple, Darrell Spencer, John Steppling and Chuck Jones.Then, there’s a the list of work that appeared at the perfect time in a person’s life…the most common would probably be, for the young male, “Catcher in the Rye” or “On the Road”…for me it was James Baldwin and Richard Yates.I haven’t read either of them for a while, but they were essential to me for many years. Hemingway. And, later, Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby is still the longest 169 page novel ever written…not a wasted phrase in there).