YAWP! An Open Dialogue on Creativity and the Arts – Mika Taylor

Oh Today we have Mika Taylor Mika Taylor’s short stories have appeared in Granta ninth letter the Kenyon review ten house open bar and other publications she was the 2015-16 Carol Hulk Smith fiction fellow at the University of Wisconsin and earned an MFA from the University of Arizona she lives in Willimantic Connecticut so what not to I’ve had the same commute basically it’s been a pleasure to read and discuss her short fiction with two of my classes this semester she is a skillful storyteller to say the least she does not shy away from formal experiment which has been a lot of fun to look at and talk about in our classes and she also creates I would say an array of characters who are all at once odd quirky even otherworldly and yet entirely familiar a reflection of ourselves so please join me in giving a warm welcome to me Taylor thank you hi thanks for coming out I brought a work-in-progress that I’ve been working on this fall I figured you guys have already read some of my stuff so try out something new I’m not sure about the ending we’ll see how it goes it’s always a good learning experience to read it out loud this is called the seamstress the fingers of his skin to fit perfectly over hers as did the wrists and hands not because his hands were delicate or small but because hers were thick and were worn and because she kept her own skin on when she slipped into his the arms she had to pin and tuck under the pits the torso she let out here and there pulling and replacing stitches to accommodate her soft middle her moderate breasts she was careful not to leave marks or add new holes or show her work but she was an expert seamstress that’s why he’d married her there were other things between them but those skills were her greatest asset the one most relevant to a man who wore his skin as a suit during the day and shed it each night when he was naked red and exposed in his hyperbaric chamber with its gel and its misters it’s white noise machine and temperature controls when she’d laid a stretch of silk across his lidless eyes a mask over his nostril holes and toothy mouth and closed the cover of his box earlier that night she’d felt his equal she was proud to tend and mend and moisturize to keep him whole when she wore his skin though she felt more like she did when they were out together she noticed all the ways he was larger than her the places he was leaner and more fit even with padding her shoulders didn’t seem as broad or confident as his her back curved and quiet questioned his face on hers was not his face the cheeks sagged and the chin pulled making her look both younger and older than either she or her husband she could not have impersonated him she might have been able to pass as a relative a cousin or nephew but never is the man himself it was ok that was not her intent she did not desire to imitate him or to be him she did not hold the delusion that by walking in his skin she would under he wouldn’t excuse me she would understand him any better and yet she could not help pulling it from its rack as he slept and fingering its edges before altering it in so many small ways she could not help but catch a breath and slip into the skin that had through the years become more familiar than her own over it she put on a second suit of worsted wool and lined in some in the same silk she used to store his skin when he took it off the suck slid up each leg pulling all the small hairs gently against the grain she folded the expert extra flap of torso into a soft paunch and belted the trousers in place a fleece pocket held the empty dandle between the legs she buttoned her shirt high enough to hide the stitching at his throat and covered that with a padded jacket that masked just a little more the irregularities beneath from vanity or from professional pride she cut the wool to its most attractive fit it starts edging in to emphasize the line of the waist and what shoulders there were next she donned the specialized hairpiece and a pair of tinted glasses just dark enough to obscure her doubled lids and lashes she left the apartment quietly nodding to the doorman on her way out then turned right on to Lexington and star downtown taking long strides so that her husband shoes wouldn’t catch on the sidewalk as they often did when she’d first started she learned to shove spun cotton into his hollow toes to cushion her smaller feet and then practiced in the apartment for weeks before developing the balance and reach to put each unwieldy foot in front of the other rolling forward from ball to toe without a hitch the stride gave her a purposeful air and she would surely have walked all the way if it hadn’t been such a warm

night with the layering of suits she risk breaking a sweat and impregnating the skin with her smell that would mean hours of extra washing and drying before she got home and before her husband woke instead she raised an arm and hailed a taxi down to 14th Street when she got there she walked again past toy stores for pets bakeries ornate and rainbow displays and bistros of signs painted to look centuries old a young couple strolled by whispering across the street treat three teenagers with skateboards kicked up and off the curb and the a rhythmic clacking one cement followed her for broth locks she paused only at clothing boutiques many in the area were consignment shops but there were real designers too one window was full of men’s jeans that had been posed to look as if the legs were walking jumping crouched in another window stood three mannequins in various stages of dress only one had a truly admirable fit but the man who owned that suit would have to be perfectly mannequin sized himself she disdained clothing off the rack but she knew that not all men had their husbands had her husband’s resources not all could afford a tailor and far fewer could marry one to keep him in dress at the corner a distinguished man with an open gaze walked right towards her and she endeavoured not to look away looking away drew more attention than a little measured eye contact in her body she went mostly unnoticed but the polished glow of the skin and the fine cut of her suit drew more attention than her own dowdy looks the secret was not to smile women smiled a nod perhaps in a distant glare were enough to pass undetected she walked by a store in whose windows sat racks of Limp hanging clothes a tantalizing bit of colour and a hint of a known designer drew her clothes she’d never been a designer had only ever assisted others in her early career most in her field were either artists or craftsmen seldom both men’s clothing especially owed more to tradition than innovation and the skill of a craftsman far out shone the vision of most artists still she knew artistry when she saw it and could not help to admire but admire the elegance of a perfect dream she turned onto Christopher Street and with a little thrill walked by the beautiful boys with their fresh haircuts and fitted jeans they evaluated her with keen eyes as I saw the cut of tailored slacks even under the streetlights these were men who even if they couldn’t afford better made sure every item they were flattered in the right places she did not shy from their gazes from taking them in she nodded approval at the young ones who looked her over diffidently a few of the more desperate seeming pushed their pelvises out and offering those two she passed up the block an older man and loose tea or was lighting a cigarette when she slowed to admire his cuffs he held his pack out to her asking wordless / wordlessly to join she blushed underneath the face to climb politely and turn the next corner without looking back the heat traveled down her neck and she had to stop a moment in a shadow spa her heart refused to slow she pictured the man’s broad hand coming towards her again cigarette proffered eyes already alight if she was being honest that’s what she was here for that singular draw she wanted to be seen she’d been too bold though with men there was risk men weren’t afraid to approach you men weren’t afraid to touch most expected a speed from meeting to bedroom that she couldn’t afford their overt physicality drew her but it was also a trap she would never risk damaging the skin for a cheap thrill of some stranger how thrilling could it even be she couldn’t feel human touch as more than pressure through the skin besides the fasteners would be visible the open holes at her hips even if she rigged up some up the flaccid space between her legs with some sort of device or insert how could she be sure not tomorrow the finest and most delicate of parts she checked her phone there was still half an hour until her date she’d set it up online so that she could pre screen and plan she chosen a woman her own age once she knew would be grateful for a nice dinner in common stationed some wine to share the kind of woman who would appreciate the attention it wouldn’t push for more than a gentle kiss at the end of the evening she went straight to the restaurant and took a seat at the bar where she nursed a glass of whiskey and waited the woman’s name was Janelle she wore her hair long in a spiral perm that hadn’t been in style for decades her profile listed music and travel as hobbies they had nothing in common the Seamster spotted her as soon as she walked in Genoa wore an off-the-rack fuchsia shift and chunky jewelry she had on more makeup than in her profile picture and seemed particularly uncomfortable either because of the poorly made dress or the typeface of the entryway assumed the seamstress let her wait another minute watched her check her phone glanced around and check again she finished her drink slipped off the barstool and crossed over with her confidence dried she touched Janelle’s arm at the elbow and introduced herself Janelle Janelle said a trace of lipstick on her front teeth the Simpson ‘old to the host who brought them to to the corner table she’d reserved she sat there with her back to the window where the bright streetlights

behind would help avoid at least some scrutiny that plus the candles on the table and the wine they’d student drink made it so no date had ever looked too closely at her doubled lids or noticed the odd way her lips moved under her husband’s which he ate she listened to the specials and ordered a mid-range bottle of red Janelle did not protest I recommend a trout the seamstress said women liked it when you took charge or seen knowledgeable is that what you’re having asked Janelle or the prime rib the seamstress said the seamstress had been practicing but she was not much better at dating than she had been before marriage they read over their menus but she still felt deeply the long pause in conversation it really is a beautiful night she tried yeah said you know warm for this time of year mm-hmm said you know the seamstress shifted in her skin her husband was a man of few words but he owned his silences and didn’t seem to expect her to fill them dates of course were different all of the getting to know one another required conversation it was expected she’d done her best when searching online to choose talkative types the kind of woman who would prattle on about themselves and pills fill the space so she would didn’t have to she assumed she’d assumed from Janelle’s lengthy and lightwei profile that she was just such a woman do you live around here asked the seamstress even though she knew from the dating profile that Janelle was from Jersey City no said Janelle you Tribeca said the seamstress it had seemed both neutral and up-and-coming when she chose it and you’re Annie and you’re ‘legally the seamstress said sure said you know and you’re a software guy yep the way to return with the bottle and the seems just relaxed until the ritual pour and swirl she’d seen so many times from her husband she smelled it and let held the glass up to the light she tasted the wine and pretended to contemplate its nuance she let the waiter fill their glasses then raised hers Janelle met it with her own what are your hopes and dreams the seamstress at ha said you know haha said the seamstress Jill now looked back over her shoulder maybe for the waiter maybe for an exit the seamstress eidest rethreaded Janelle shoulder there really was no excuse for such carelessness she sliced a butter roll but did as she sliced and buttered a roll but did not bother eating it I haven’t done this in a while said the seamstress even though she’d been in this very seat two nights before really said you know I do this way too much she looked at the seamstress more closely then as if taking her in for the first time the seamstress sipped her wine a winter mouth so as to stay in motion in motion she was more convincing you know how it is with these sights lots of likes and hey you’re beautiful nice guys trying to take you home but then what either they don’t call and that’s it it was all a lie I they do and you’re dating someone you don’t even know I’m not sure I’m not even sure why I try the seamstress were filled both of their glasses to trying she said no offense or anything Janelle said I just don’t know what to talk about with strangers seamstress waited like am I supposed to tell you about my childhood I complain about work I don’t know said the seamstress how has worked boring what was your childhood like it was okay the seamstress had spent much of her own childhood in the back of her father’s shop she’d had few friends but many dolls cut together from scraps of cloth pinstriped and paisley she’d gone to grade school in Queens and then high school a few blocks south when her father died she dropped out to run his shop but few of his customers had trusted a teenage girl with their suits even though she’d been doing most of the sewing for years the workmanship was still there that she knew but she lacked something in the fitting room some ease of carriage that her father had inhabited naturally customers went cold on her touch or worse the middle-aged man with a gut like a sack of flour who’d petted her neck as she measured his inseam had then held her hand against him as he’d grown thick beneath the all too thin cloth none of the seemed worth sharing Janelle is right they were strangers the waiter brought their food and she focused on that it was work to keep her mouth fully closed while she chewed cutlery was also difficult her nimble hands were clumsy in his even though she’d spent hours at home relearning how to hold her fork and knife how to cut her food and bring it to her mouth the skin had become heavy and the seamstress felt the heat of the wine this was supposed to be easy ask questions get answers listen and laughed the rate intervals and watch the women loosen smile and nod and let them talk about themselves in their lives and grow familiar over the course of the evening so fuck it said you know between bites I was married and now I’m not is that what you want to know I hate it and I don’t want to be here but I’m sure you’re perfectly nice or whatever and I guess dating is better than crying or not Janelle shoved a new potato in her mouth then washed it down he was a shithead but I loved it why the seamstress asked before she could think Janelle laughed for the first time that night probably because he was a shithead that’s how I’m built something in her voice made the seams just want to reach out to her she now flipped her hair and the seamstress admired her thick jaw the seamstress let her leg brunch again brush against Janelle’s under the table she felt only a slight pressure but she

imagined the texture of the wool against Chanel’s nylon knee the spark those two fabrics might create she now shifted away but met her eyes there was no dampness at their corners besides the sex was good even the in the end said you know the see the statement seemed cutting as if Janelle knew the seamstress slept alone when her husband had come to into her shop and proposed to her that she take on this life this partnership the seamstress had assumed that sex would be part of their arrangement that any man who trusted her with so much physical intimacy would eventually share his body in other ways as well but that had never happened it seemed he did not use the skin in that way at all with anyone ever when she was cleaning it she’d examined that place through her marriage it remained pale and untouched a soft and pliable as child’s maybe he had a mistress another professional with skills necessary to elicit response with little to no damage maybe he’d perfected some sort of self stimulation by which he could climax without touch she herself had never been good at masturbating she pursued it furiously but only found herself mounting to higher and higher peaks never breaking over or releasing just accumulating a growing frustration a storm of anger that pushed so hard she had to give it up altogether there was acquired a joy to be found within his skin the way its baby softness surrounded her comforting and whole you look beautiful tonight said the seamstress Janelle scoffed there was something in her face that the scene first couldn’t identify it was not attraction that she understood nor would it was it indifference it may have been pity as if she sensed all of the complex expectation the seamstress had brought to this date the reader returned with the dessert menus no thank you said Janelle I think we’re done here the waiters started clearing plates and the seamstress flipped him her credit card without asking for a bill she downs what was left in her glass and upended the bottle before the waiter took it Janelle checked her phone I can handle this the seamstress said you don’t have to wait Janelle thanked her but didn’t pretend to linger she slowing her knockoff purse over her shoulder and stood the seamstress focused on the back of Janelle’s dress it seems or even it’s cut serviceable there was no pilling and the fabric flowed well considering its quality outside a light drizzle had slipped the streets and fog store windows there was still an hour at least before the seamstress had to be home she wound her way through the damp small of the village until she found a bar that appealed not too much neon or noise inside she ordered another whiskey a serious drink for a serious man said a stranger on the stool next to her she hadn’t noticed him when she’d sat down he was smaller than she would have chosen but he looked trim and cleanly dressed she she considered her reply but he didn’t need to see he didn’t seem to need one he was completely engaged with his phone he showed her a picture of a shirtless man with gelled hair jackrabbit here says he’s a buck sixty maybe in high school I could smell the muffin top cooking from here he swiped to another picture and glanced towards a couple in the corner airbrush much he thumbed through a few more writing quick messages here and there where are you on here honey I not said the seamstress serious and mysterious he said putting his phone down he was not particularly handsome so his confidence took her off-guard mine Stanny he said what’s yours Ronald she said Ron a serious name he said and a serious face it was a comment she’d heard only when she was in her own skin here it felt less like criticism and more like simple observation Danny reached up to brush a lock of her hair an inch further he would have grazed the elastic edge of her hairpiece she didn’t pull back there was attraction here even through the layers between them such distant eyes he said all the better to see you with my dear she cringed but Danny laughed it was close enough to last call that this kind of terrible line got a pass before she knew he’d ordered another round and laid a gentle hand on her thigh she accepted a drink and let him talk to her when his phone lit up he turned it over and shifted his hand to a spot higher up her leg he looked more closely at her face than she usually allowed it was the face that had most interested interested her as well from the first she’d been fascinated by the details its plasticity and resilience the body she’d understood it was a beautiful piece but it seems if fasteners were all straightforward in their craftsmanship there wasn’t a stitcher cut that her father hadn’t taught her early on the face though went beyond anything she could make herself it moved almost intuitively and the muscles underneath could easily track through a full range of emotions whoever had made it had pulled and stretched the skin to its most perfect drape that artistry had made it impossible for her to decline when her asked her to take on the strange vocation this project of care he’d offered to keep her shop open to buy the building and let her work as much as she wanted for other customers but as soon as she’d understood the scope and skill required to maintain his skin she’d lost

interest in simple fabrics and known patterns she’d wanted only to study this one – only to study this new more challenging garment to read up on leather work and taxidermy anatomy and preservation in him she’d found her life’s work a thing worth perfecting how could she have known that it would leave her wanting Danny was still examining her in fact he was staring directly into her eyes when she felt the pressure of his hand shift to a point even higher up her leg she drummed before he reached the top of her thigh and found what little was there he pushed himself towards her and whispered sweetly it’s okay baby I can do the work no she said no she drew back further knocking her barstool to the floor she caught herself but not before banging her calf on its upturned leg she stepped over the stool as she backed away and then fled leaving Danny and her drink behind when she’d made it a few blocks off a coolness at her calf stopped her the drizzle had turned to rain so she ducked into a vestibule to examine herself there was a rip in her soup the stool leg had torn the woolen sentient beneath beyond patching she fingered the hole and was surprised to feel sensation on her calf she looked closer but could not see through her misty glasses on a sidewalk a clump of women in heels shuttled each other along to the next bar when they passed she removed her glasses to better examine what looked like a fresh tear and her husband’s skin rain dripped from her hairpiece down her brown with the space between her eyelids and her husband’s so that his slip shut over hers she propped them open with her fingers but could not get a clear view of the damage the hole was about an inch long but she could not see if its edges were jagged or smooth she needed to look she needed a better look with a glance of the block she slipped back into the shadows and unfastened the hairpiece she tucked it in our pocket and unhooked the closures at the back of her skull then eased the skin of off of her neck and headfirst being sure not to stretch or distort it cool air filled this face between his face and hers and she pulled the skin forward so it folded limply onto her chest there was always a moment when she first exposed her own skin a sensory shift where the world became louder brighter more immediate had she been at home she would have done this all in the bathroom where she could keep her eyes closed and slip into the shower bending her head under the water until the room steamed to a blur standing there until the hot water ran out here on the street the rain was falling harder than she’d expected it was cold and harsh and came at a cross angle that hid her face and hair and blurred her vision once again she stepped over to a covered area even though it was brightly lit and someone passing might see her she lifted her foot to the window ledge and poked the hole with her fingertip she couldn’t feel much but took free her hand she would have had to take the whole torso off she wiped her eyes and rolled up her pant leg to get a better look the cut was rough edged and curved inward and sat nowhere near a seam had the rib been closer to an existing scar she might have been able to disguise it had her husband been any less meticulous she could have folded it into a wrinkle or blended it with an age spot but he knew every nick and cut each had been his own mistake a small worry he’d brought home to her with hope and gratitude that she might make it right she’d worked to make sure the scar she left were minimal a small discoloration on the arm where he’d burned himself a line where ankle met heal from when he’d slipped on the stairs there was no hiding this one she glanced up and saw herself reflected in the shop window it was shocked to see her own it was a shock to see arrow and face there sodden and strange a middle-aged woman with a flap of empty skin hanging down the front of her shirt she’d worn her hair she torn her hair to fit more easily into the skin and it gave her a gaunt Stern look it was not how she pictured herself and her bathroom mirror when she woke when she wiped away the condensation and tried to see herself how strangers might she felt insubstantial as if anyone would look right past or see right through her beyond her reflection the window was a cloud of fabric no not a cloud a dress with a train so long it pulled at the floor and then swept out wide someone had pinned the train and train up in a giant spiral filling the display the body nestled in it’s owned periwinkle womb it was draped with such audacity that for a moment the seamstress forgot about her lay the dress seemed to both cradle itself and at the same time grow ever outward expanding far from the body piling excess without fear whoever had done this was not concerned with wearability or sales the maker of this dress had created beauty for beauty’s sake it may have been a minute it may have been ten before the seamstress pulled her gaze away and took out her phone to call a car there was nothing within a half an hour of her damn Lorraine she pulled up her collar and headed the four blocks up to the nearest subway stop the only people she passed had their heads down covered in hoods or umbrella none looked up or noticed her she made it to the station and descended underground it was warm and damp and smelled of earth and grime and human bodies a train

shuttled beneath her as she fed money into the metro card machine she swiped it at the turnstiles and followed signs pointing uptown the platform held few people a man reading a newspaper another scrolling through his phone a couple of well-dressed and tipsy teenagers leaning on grimy pillow on a grimy pillar near the stairs none of them were interested in the seamstress or the flap of skin hanging down her front rein from the world above dripped from the grades dampening the walls and bringing that low me smell that exists nowhere else in the city when the train arrived with its with its usual rush of wind and noise the few people waiting stood at attention she led the young couple climb on first then stepped on and found a seat before the toll sounded twice and the doors whispered shut the seamstress sat on an orange bench watching her reflection flickered in and out of you on the window across and the window across in it she saw the same Stern face she’d seen in the storefront window earlier it had not changed at all it had not changed at all as if somehow she’d crystallized into some permit someone permanent a person who could no longer be overlooked she didn’t fiddle any more with the cup on her leg she knew her options given time she could truly reduce it to almost nothing she was an expert in repairing the small blemishes and minor of a life lived in the skin there was a method of blending leathers that would require a patch twice the size of the hole she could slice the square of her own calf as she done before it would have to be tanned and cured and color matched though that would take weeks her husband she knew wouldn’t notice the tear immediately there was no hiding this even if she did fix it she had no choice her only option now was to go home and tell him what she’d done to show him the first mark she’d ever left on him and find out what he might say I brought a little fly pager also also kind of fantastical and weird yeah okay this one’s called 20 babies this is a different character but I don’t know maybe not she didn’t mean to have 20 babies it was an accident the unexpected result of one wild life but once they were inside her she couldn’t throw them out she explored her options talked to doctors and shaman’s and priests all told her that 20 was too many for one woman that either they would die or she would but she couldn’t choose between them who knew which would grow up to be the concert pianist which the neuro physicist which the sad slow homebody she might love the most and so when they were quite small a cluster of grapes she stopped them from growing larger they still developed cells dividing and differentiating into hearts and lungs ears and eyes their brains rippled in on themselves folding and creasing and sonograms they looked fully formed though their delicate fingers and toes were too small for the imaging systems to pick up she saw each of their little faces pulse on the viewing screen grainy in black and white throughout the second trimester the specialist took samples samples of fluid samples of stool cell samples scraped from the inside of her cheek they recorded her family history sequenced her DNA they performed countless scans and protected predicted ever worse and more imminent outcomes but she trusted her mother’s instinct her twenty babies would be fine the only thing she saw to worry about was how close they clustered she had stopped their growth while they was still in Froome before they crowded each other squishing the outliers against the floor of her pelvis the wall of her spine and yet they remained in a tight ball hugging one another spooned and snuggling intertwined she wanted her children to know freedom to swim and explore she had given them space to develop and yet they packed ever closer mothers worry she told herself children must be who they are so she ate her omegas and her folates and exercised regularly as the books and doctors recommended she played Mozart and Bach and did deep breathing exercise two exercises two oxen 8g oxygenate their shared blood and she let them bunch together as they wanted trusting them to find their way in the third trimester the specialist became more vocal and more assertive insisting on various complex plans and procedures they lined up 20 incubators kept a team of nurses on staff ordered her to come in daily for check-ups threatened to induce on the first of June if nothing changed before then as a mother she wasn’t living quite ready for the dramatic and traumatic ending they predicted to be honest she felt a bit alienated by all of the technical terms the machines and wires she continued to go through her appointment’s go to her appointments because she loved to see her 20 babies all perfect they’re inside of her but eventually the pressure of so many professional opinions became too much in late May she watched her 20 babies in the monitor nestled together and napping and knew it was the last time she would see them that way she thanked the doctors and nurses and left the clinic for good how could any mother tear apart such a group even if the hospital

engineered one special incubator to keep them all together and warm eventually they would separate her babies force them into clothes give them names and genders and personalities whether they were ready or not they would get pushed into opinions and confrontations and education zin to relationships and couriers know better they stayed inside of her and grew up at their own pace they were too small for the outer world anyway and would have to be and would have been crushed by attention and expectation so there they stayed into the fourth and fifth trimester into the sixth and seventh they were still growing she could feel it it wasn’t an increase in size or even density how could anyone walk around with the weight of 20 toddlers inside but they were growing nonetheless growing in out she spoke to them as she moved through the larger world described the things she saw animals trees hope they might one day desire to see these things for themselves but she didn’t pressure them they made sounds as well that the babbling of babies they coud and gurgle they soothe each other’s fears her favorite were the plumes of laughter that moved through the group ignited by one tiny giggle then spreading and changing until they were all there together rolling and laughing and joyous inside her they were happy babies and she loved them all it was early in their childhood once she’d accepted that they had no plans to be born that she began worrying about their futures she didn’t need them to excel in school or make lots of money or win prestigious humanitarian awards but she knew that when they matured to a certain point they would want love beyond the love she could give them love beyond the kinship of siblings no good mother would hold her child back from adulthood or stand in the way of romantic relationships but how could she give her babies the world if their world remained inside of her she couldn’t return to the specialist for her fear they cut her open at up and tie her down and forced her into some climactic compromise she was on her own it was up to her it was up to her to give her children the lives they deserved it wasn’t an easy choice but she knew what she had to do the burden of 20 babies was already quite large but she had to get pregnant again at least she’d left some room she spent months searching for a man as genetically diverse from the first father as possible she was far more conscious conscientious this time about family history mental health hereditary diseases and predispositions she knew that whenever new whatever new gene pool she introduced would be everything it wasn’t ideal that all of her babies would have have half of her but what what choice was there and civilizations had grown from less she chose a stranger from the other side of the globe who had come to pursue his PhD and seduced him with oysters and Prosecco luxuries who would not have fought on his grad students budget she didn’t tell him about her twenty children or the 20 more she hoped to make that night just sipped her single drink and filled his again and again until he bubbled over warm and pliant she took him in his apartment on a mattress on the floor and thanked she did over and over thank you thank you thank you he pawned her round belly at cupped her thighs and thanked her in return the tuck the twenty babies were now twenty more and her love for them double she was relieved to think that there was a future in her for all of them she carried them through her middle years as the first fine lines formed around her eyes this tribe of playful children some were of them were quiet introspective others were wild in times of strife it seemed they were all fighting constantly inside of her keeping her awake through the night she tried to stop them calm them down the soothing words in chocolate bars but either they chose to ignore her or they no longer heard her voice as heard her as a voice with meaning their language was not her own what was once baby babble had developed into distinct words but not words she could understand her children spoke only to one another at times it made her lonely isolated even with forty people inside she imagined her voice was like an echo to them or the wind if they even hurt her at all how’d her lullabies ever soothed had the Mozart mattered what was it like in there she couldn’t fully imagine the scope of their world she pictured it like the Earth only inverted round and contained would they know the difference between day and night did they feel hungry sad she had not seen her twenty babies since the beginning had not seen the next twenty at all but she could feel them growing in her changing getting to know one another forging bonds the first rush of hormones that hit on mass was a shock to the system she was riddled with mood swings excess energy Heights and depths of emotion she hadn’t felt since her own adolescence but she survived attending to her adult acne in the wells of self-consciousness and doubt as her first twenty babies move deeper into her into their teen years she grew steadier and by the time the second twenty reached puberty she was ready she had done it all before still she was glad as they grew older she was glad that as they grew old as she grew older they did as well calming down settling she didn’t have an inner to stay up late or worry anymore her hair

grew wet gray and she hoped they were finding one another falling in love maybe there was an adventure or a musician among them maybe there was an athlete her skin sagged and she imagined each of their lives their joys and disappointment she could hear them in there more and more of them it seemed grandchildren perhaps her joints weaken and her bones became brittle but her stomach remained round and active she wondered what they were doing sometimes how they were all getting along she worried too worried about the time when she could no longer take care of her children no longer contain them she would be dead and gone soon enough but what could she do this was life they were grown now they would take care of themselves she hoped they had become more adventures she hoped they had become more adventurous with age uh nodding from that early group venturing out to explore their world and each other or maybe their exploration worked in some opposite way that she couldn’t quite conceive of they would never leave her she knew never winged her weight their way out to the outer world but maybe they would continue in creating space that she herself did not understand that idea brought her comfort in the end and she imagined them mapping her sounding her depths delving ever deeper a universe within story 20 babies and actually that’s to where you drew inspiration had I I was wrestling for a lot of years about whether I was gonna have kids or not and so I started writing a series of stories about impossible babies this is one of those stories I ended up writing maybe like three or four of them and then giving up completely and then I wrote one very short story that listed all the impossible babies that I didn’t get to write about I think with this one there was something about the sound of the words 20 babies that I just kept saying over and over again in my head and like 20 babies 20 babies 20 days and then thinking about kind of what that would mean and somehow I couldn’t conceive of them past like past that SOT that sighs so I was like okay so they stopped growing okay they stay inside so they just kind of suggested themselves I think how weird and impossible they might be that’s yeah a lot of my stories come from like an odd idea that I just want to see play out ken talked about formal experimentation I think if I can get just like an itch to scratch it like either either you know let me tell this from a hundred different points of view or what happens if a woman reads the same story every day for the rest of her life or you know how how you know how would it feel to have this impossible pregnancy and kind of what does that mean it lets me play out kind of larger emotional stuff I’m going through do you have people that you just like borrowed their names and then when I wrote that story though I wrote that story I just read a story by leek hey Abbott that took place like from three different points of view and then I was like well what if every sentence in the story was a different point of view and I had set myself a goal of 100 I’m gonna write a story from a hundred points of view and then I was like I had to pick a an event to kind of Center it around where a lot of people would be experiencing the same thing so you could jump like that when I first wrote it though I didn’t have any of the names I just wrote it name saw this name did that named and so it was very kind of like repetitive lists and they were all just named and then I went back in and and made up names with with goals of kind of a little bit of diversity and an idea of kind of creating people who sounded like they could be real people but none of them are anybody I know the place is a place that I that I know Union Square and I can picture the park bench and and the event is something that I felt like enough would happen that I could get enough characters involved in it I only got up to like 84 I think and it was done but so that was a little disappointing I didn’t get all 100 but what are you gonna do but yeah

they’re not no those are those are not real people and I’m glad that you felt like they were because I didn’t sometimes I do feel very connected to my characters and sometimes they’re just like those were just like a lot of different puppets I put out but if they were convincing at that length I feel really good about it’s hard um it depends on the story a lot of times it’s me it’s a lot of versions of me and and it comes up in in different places than you would expect so if if if the protagonist starts as a version of me it’ll often be other characters coming in and saying same weird stuff that I would say as well usually for if I if I go in trying to I can’t look too hard at the thing or it gets really dead really quick and that’s why I do the formal experimentation or the the kind of odd ideas because those can drive me forward in a way that kind of normal realist fiction just doesn’t work for me I love reading realistic fiction but I find that when I’m writing it I bore myself and the potential reader so usually if I’m looking at the experiment or I’m looking at the skin suit then I can let the character come in on it so and I’m not trying to manipulate them or make them seem realistic so it’s kind of a game I play with myself to not focus too hard on on on that part of it because it historically it’s been harder for me to make people seem deep I’m when I first started writing I couldn’t do dialogue I couldn’t I could just like describe the wallpaper and maybe I see some scenery and so I had to practice over time to be able to do that and still I have to kind of fool myself into it sometimes so that I’m not making it to wooden or basic yeah and even these dating scenes were horrible to write because I am I haven’t dated in in many years and so this idea of all of a sudden I’m I’m in my story and I have to go on a date for two characters at once and figure out what they’re gonna say to each other and it didn’t really make sense until I was like oh it’s gonna be a really awkward date and then it kind of wrote itself is like that I can imagine you know yeah so I don’t know it so the the second one I know I’m done with cuz it’s out in the world and it’s out of my hands the seamstress one I’m still writing I want it to be done I’m not sure if it is yet like does she have to go all the way home and tell him I don’t think so but maybe she needs like more of an epiphany or something like that a lot of times sometimes I I know the last line way ahead of time and I’m writing towards that especially with short short stories I can kind of see the ending and that’s why I was writing a shorter fiction for a long time because I was just I could just aim for that ending as I write longer pieces I don’t always know sometimes I get worn out sometimes the thing that needs to happen has happened sometimes I think it’s done and I get feedback and someone tells me to cut the last cages and so the endings turns out to be somewhere else I’d say revision and feedback from readers you trust is the best way to start getting a sense of that kind of thing I do have like pretty traditionally art stories where they where they get that that kind of tension and climax and then we have to carry it a little further and have like a little breathing room afterwards and so I know I know when I’ve I’ve hit the kind of peak tension and I know when the the most upset this should be and so a little while after that maybe a page or two and sometimes I try to finish them before they’re really done and your reader will tell you immediately like the seamstress one actually ended at the shop window about a week ago and then my friends were like yeah no I was still leaning forward there’s more here and just having her get on the train and kind of knowing she’s what she’s going back to we’re important maybe maybe a few more tweaks on that I don’t know it’s no telling each story is different

too sometimes you just run out of words like with the view from Union Square like there was nowhere left for him to go he’s usually the morgue like out of and he can’t get those last sixteen characters whether you want to or not yeah layers and how the character life but also we talked a lot about language and working with language and how to sort of smooth out sentences or punctuation or whatever when you think about like ideas for the story working with those and their root language is really important to me so I got most of the way through graduate school for creative writing and I got mad I was like why don’t we ever talk about language like the poet’s get to talk about language and that is like the heart of why we read and what we care about but all we ever talk about is like is this character realistic or you know tell me more about the mother or show don’t tell and he’s kind of straight for keeping like these really straightforward things that you need to know how to do but language is the beautiful part and and in some ways it’s the most important part and I’ve been kind of for years trying to figure out how how do I make this more beautiful how do I do linguistically something interesting and I think you guys read some of you may have read this dolphin story that I wrote that one to me opened up in a way as soon as I realized that it was a language lesson right that the sounds that she was making and the sounds that he was hearing were were central to what was happening I was like oh this is a sound story and I just started I started back at the beginning and started flowing through like the the commands the EE on the in the trilling brief in the way so the way those sounds mattered in that story kind of opened up for me this thing I’ve been trying to do with language for all these years and when you’re first starting to write everyone talks about finding your voice right and so my voice is a little bit academic it’s a little bit I use big words in my daily speech I I sound like middle-aged white lady who teaches English and so is that an interest voice to start from not really okay so but there are parts of that that are so if I can kind of tap into the parts that are interesting like the Pope the poetry in those words and the way it sounds and and make it matter to the character the same way it matters to me then then maybe there’s more of a point and I think with these these more kind of fairytale or fantastical stories I get a little more play in in terms of formal language I spend a lot of time wondering if I should use conjunctions or not changing did not – didn’t and back again over and over again and and a lot of my attention to language is just paring down like I’ll write it I’ll just cut words I see how many how if I can do it in fewer words and tighten it up a lot of its intuitive though I like I don’t have a plan I don’t know a lot about poetic meter but it’s the way it sounds in my head and I think a lot of that I got from reading lots and lots of books growing up and so so I’ve kind of have a sense of what I what that voice sounds like language I don’t know I don’t know how to teach language and I don’t know and I don’t know that I’ve ever been taught it and I kind of wish I had I wish I had the guts to go and fail at poetry for a few years and so that I could if you’ve ever read prose written by poets like their essays are just like crystalline and and striking and gorgeous and they just have this this this whole artist palette that that I can like only tap into a little bit so I love language and wish to focus on it more but I do what I can I have no formal approach yeah because you can just compress compress compress and a lot of times there’s a bunch of contests and and publications that want certain word lengths of like five hundred or thousand words and turning a 1500 word story into a thousand word story we’ll get you a tightness of language that you can’t get any other way and so that like a project of just cutting a third of your words might get you that kind of crystalline structure that you’re looking for and then sometimes

I’ll expand out from there because it needs more things to happen and I’ll say okay it’s not a it’s not a short short it’s good like the seamstress story the first page or whatever just putting on the skin and going out that was a whole story I thought and then I was like I bet she could go on some tinder dates that might be good and so I had to keep writing on that one but yeah often often I start with just that that kind of very short very compressed approach they’re more fun and you feel satisfied and you like you finished something and you’re like I’m the greatest I just wrote another story and if someone publishes it you’re like oh I just published another story and they’re easier to publish because they’re so sure and it’s like it’s just like a circle win all the time except are you write up the write like 20 stories and you definitely don’t have a book yet because because it’s like 15 pages total yeah language attaining none no not well not none none but so the only time I’m prewriting is if I don’t have a story in the works or I’m bored by whatever I’m writing so I’ll I’ll journal and free right and often my free right start like what should I write about nothing to write everything’s boring life sucks and then I’ll be like well this happened the other day or what happened if blah blah blah or like depending on you know um and all or I’ll start writing down all my impossible babies so this long list of impossible babies and somehow maybe I’m like the third or fourth or 20th thing that I write down then I have a sentence for it somehow like I can describe it so I just write that sentence and like more times than not I found myself starting from this listing thing and then and then moving into a good sentence and following it with another good sentence and realizing I have just written a paragraph and I was like oh free paragraph throw it into another file and start a story from there so more often than not those voice the voice will come to me through free writing it’s like don’t I don’t tend to plan it out and sometimes it’s cuz as a sound caught me like 20 babies 20 babies like that just like rolled around in my head until I had to write it down with the with the dolphin story that’s based on a true story so I read about that and I was like how do I write a story about dolphin sex and LSD and all this stuff that when I had to find a voice for I had to figure out that it was about motherhood and that it was about sound in that specific way but for the most part I come to it through kind of most of what I do craft what are for my own writing is try to unblock myself and not second-guess and not shut myself down because I’m a much more powerful editor I am like a then I am at generating text so anything I can do to let myself make more I’ll do that because I know the editor is gonna come down hard and cut a third of the story no matter what and they’re gonna throw out things and they’re gonna doubt and you know they have to walk oh I have to walk away for a long periods of time if I’m editing too hard so usually I let the that those voices come from a more intuitive place and and not a planned place but that might also just be cut be because I’ve been doing it for a while I would say another great technique is to steal voices from people you know not in like an Ursula see which type way but like just listen to people and see how their how their their speech patterns work and what’s quirky or interesting about them and then try to imitate that and kind of that’s a great way to find voice but yeah a lot of them they just they show up for me which is I appreciate it you kind of build a practice of writing and hope and and if you show up often enough that the the good stuff comes as well Thanks