Two Questions for Christy Tending

We recently published Christy Tending’s brilliant “Not Legal Advice.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) It’s so lovely, what you do with the voice here — it goes from something almost like a wise mentor giving advice to revealing the personal, the real place this narrator is coming from. It makes for such a great character reveal! When you were writing this story, did you always have it in your head that this character was speaking from a place of experience? Or is that something that grew as the story developed?

I actually train people in knowing their legal rights as activists as part of my work as an activist. And this is often what it looks like: we train people in the theory of what we’re supposed to do in these situations, but there is always the personal story or experience that informs and adds dimension to the theory. I had this in mind from the jump. This is what it’s really like to be an activist. We know the rules and understand the theory, but it’s a whole different thing when you’re going against all of that cultural conditioning when confronted with police. It’s different when you insert your humanity into the situation. This is also why so much of this is written in the second person: these are all situations that really could happen to you, the reader.

2) One of the most powerful moments in the story for me is when the window is broken. “And yet, the cops will avenge these symbols more readily than they would a child’s life.” That speaks so much to what we are seeing from so many people right now — that symbols are more important to them than other people, than children. I’m sorry, but this is a hard one to answer — do you think that is ever going to change?

In the United States, in the way we currently conceptualize police and policing, I don’t think it will change. I am openly a police abolitionist, and that’s because I don’t believe the current police and prison system can be reformed. Nor would I really want it to: I don’t want a kinder, gentler version of what we have now. I want to live in a non-carceral society. 

My answer, really, is in this line: “They cannot protect you because that is not how this country’s history fashioned them.” Police and policing in this country originated in slave patrols and shifted its work into enforcing Jim Crow laws once slavery was abolished. Those are policing’s origins. It doesn’t know how to be anything else because that’s how it was designed. This is a system that has always seen some human beings as property and is rooted in protecting white supremacist capitalism. 

The Supreme Court has ruled that cops have no legal responsibility to protect citizens from harm. If we understand that piece of the story, we can see: All that’s left is for them to harm and incarcerate us. That’s their function. And we can’t finesse that into something that works for the benefit of the people.

Not Legal Advice ~ by Christy Tending

This is not legal advice. I am not an attorney. (I am definitely not your attorney.) Your mileage may vary.

Do not talk to cops. Do not give them any unnecessary advice or answer any unnecessary questions, even if they seem benign. Even if you think you aren’t doing anything wrong. Even if they seem nice. Even if they tell you that your friends already talked. Even if you just want to clarify, if only you could explain, if only you could make them understand. Even, even, even.

I’m telling you a joke: How can you tell when a cop is lying to you? They’re talking! We laugh, because it’s true. (Then we stop laughing, because it’s true.)

Do tell a cop who has arrested you before, who has a kind face, despite the fact that he has been trained to lie to you, despite the fact that you are not to speak to him, that you are pregnant so that, just in case, maybe he won’t drop you on your face while you’re in handcuffs.  Tell him this, and watch his face congratulate you. Tell him this—not to make conversation or to receive those congratulations. You say this, not for yourself. But for everything that stirs inside you, for everything in you that yearns for a future. When we say we are doing it for future generations, we mean it.

And then, after you and your friends have your arrest citations in hand, the cops thank you all for being so cooperative and professional. You and your friends will talk about this for years to come. How odd it was. How it may have restored your faith in humanity. (Just a little bit. Against your better judgment.) But ACAB, y’know. Because we haven’t gone soft and forgotten our history over one small kindness and act of dignity.

The window did not feel pain when it was shattered into a spider web, cracking under the pressure of a brick, which also did not feel pain. And yet, the cops will avenge these symbols more readily than they would a child’s life. They will ascribe pain and meaning and intention and fucking symbolism to it. They will make false equivalencies and fashion straw men and demand obedience. They will not come to save you. They cannot protect you because that is not how this country’s history fashioned them.

Do not talk to the cops because maybe one day it will take two of them to arrest you and if you are feeling cheeky, you might ask them whether it makes them feel like big strong men that it takes two of them to arrest one of you. You are 110 pounds soaking wet after a summer of lawbreaking recklessness and chopping wood. They are decidedly not. Do not talk to the cops because if you ask them whether it makes them feel like big strong men, they might (because they are big strong men) then dislocate your shoulder. Do not talk to the cops because range of motion is nice to have and because if you talk to the cops, it will hurt when it rains. (And because, my god, you think, aren’t I lucky, really. It could have been so much worse.)

***

Christy Tending is an activist, educator, writer, and mama living in Oakland, California. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Ms., The Everymom, Scary Mommy, The Mighty, and trampset, among others. You can learn more about her work at www.christytending.com or follow her on Twitter @christytending.

Two Questions for Felix Lecocq

We recently published Felix Lecocq’s shining “Wedding Video.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) I love how the details here give us a sense of time and place — the VHS tape, the leather couch and that great line “You got married in a time before sound.” How necessary for this story was it to be set in this specific time?

To set the tone for myself while writing this piece, I watched many home videos on Youtube of strangers’ weddings from the 70s. My favorite part is when someone looks into the camera and laughs in surprise. I highly recommend looking these up.

It was important to me that the wedding took place before digital cameras. I’ve always loved the materiality of old videos—their grain, their spots, their decay. This story is about grief and wanting to preserve the memory of a dead person, both in the world and in yourself. The “you” in the story lives on our side of the television, and he’s looking through the grain, into a memory. But there is so much texture to old videos that you can’t ever forget that they’re not real.



2) The way the white space works in your favor here is so effective! For me, I think of the characters watching the video as being a younger sibling and an older sibling, but I suspect other readers might picture a different relationship — which doesn’t take away this story’s beauty at all. Did you ever consider adding more information to this story? Or was it always this tiny, beautiful snapshot?

“Wedding Video” is from the point of view of a child who doesn’t understand grief but is looking directly at it. I wanted to write about that uncanny childhood feeling of knowing that the adults around you are upset but no one has told you why. The reader knows as much as the child knows.

This story is actually semiautobiographical. It is informed by a childhood memory of visiting the house of a distant relative in California. After his wife passed away, he sat on his couch for weeks, unable to do anything else. As my mother cooked for him, I sat with this relative and watched a video with him, which I remember to be a wedding video.

Recently, I was informed by my family that it was, in fact, a video of his wife’s funeral. I may have misremembered this because Vietnamese people often wear white to funerals, which I could have interpreted as a wedding dress, but this is just speculation. In my memory of the video, I had resurrected his wife. I remembered her alive.

Wedding Video ~ by Felix Lecocq

The VHS tape hisses & you’re married. A grainy summer day. You & her in the black doorway, fuzzing. You looking at her & her looking at you. A handful of rice flies across the screen. On this side of the television, you & me alone in your living room, Mom in the kitchen. It’s summer here, too & California is the house where I watch you watch you. On this side of the television, you don’t move. The reflection in your eyes, blue. Flickering. You got married in a time before sound, when everything had to be said in color, bodies shimmering like air above the road on a hot day. The leather couch squeaks under my seven-year-old thighs, but you’re not even blinking, not even as you’re crying, looking at you & her looking at you & her, the lens flares like a firework, her white dress floods the screen & she’s laughing so hard her mouth might swallow her face.

***

Felix Lecocq is a Vietnamese American writer and copyeditor living in Chicago. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in HAD, Peach Mag, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. His chapbook of lyric essays, Mosquito: A Memoir (2022), was published through the University of Chicago Migration Stories Project. He is working on his first novel.

Two Questions for Mikki Aronoff

We recently published Mikki Aronoff’s devastating “Truck Stop Tattoo.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the opening here: “Had another waitress served you…” It tells us so much about the narrator’s environment that she can imagine another waitress ignoring the swastika tattoos and treating this person like just another patron. It does seem like that is easier for some of us than others, doesn’t it?
This story rushed out the first day of a 100-word workshop with Meg Pokrass. The random prompt words offered quickly drove me to this truck stop. But fast as the story came, the feelings behind it have been bubbling up because of the wrenching, toxic divisions our country has been experiencing. Maybe the waitress is the emetic I needed. She knows her history and herself and is solid in her beliefs. She knows she’s probably alone in her views amongst the truck stop café staff. She’s fearless, but she also needs her job, so she keeps her subterfuge covert, subtle: lousy service. Cold coffee.

2) The reveal of the narrator’s tattoo at the end is so powerful. Why do you think she has chosen to memorialize her grandmother in this manner?
I see this character as constantly weighing her environment and judging how far she can go. She can cover up or not, choose when to provoke or discuss. She is a political being and a visible tattoo is her permanent conviction. It is a braver thing than I could ever think of doing as it makes her a target. But she has chosen this tattoo to concretize her own beliefs, to challenge herself and others, and most importantly, she’s chosen it to immortalize her grandmother, who had no choice.

Truck Stop Tattoo ~ by Mikki Aronoff

Had another waitress served you, she might’ve sashayed to your booth, called you honey. Your coffee would have been hot, your cherry pie warm, a scoop of vanilla ice cream unfurling like a flag.  You’d grabbed utensils from my hand, broadcasting swastikas on the backs of yours. Later, I asked Lucy to give you your check and fled to the lockers to change. Outside, moon frost on truck cabs, gas pumps, a hungry mama cat. Light sliced through the room’s mesh glass window, casting a grid over the dark blue numbers inked on my arm, the same as my grandmother’s.

***

Mikki Aronoff’s work appears or is forthcoming in The Ekphrastic Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Intima, Thimble Literary Magazine, London Reader, SurVision, Rogue Agent, Popshot Quarterly, The South Shore Review, The Fortnightly Review, Feral, The Phare, Sledgehammer Lit, Flash Boulevard, New World Writing, Emerge, The Disappointed Housewife, Tiny Molecules, Potato Soup Journal, and elsewhere. Her stories and poems have received Pushcart and Best Microfiction nominations.

Two Questions for Emma Tessler

We recently published Emma Tessler’s lovely “Coat Rack Elegy.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) The longing here is something I think most parents are familiar with — wanting your children to stay small and nestled and safe. It’s a feeling that can be prompted by so many different things. How did you pick the image of the empty coat sleeves for the focal point of this story?
I have a slight inclination to lie here, because my answers to both of these questions are disappointingly concrete. But the honest answer is that I was staring at my kids’ coats hanging on the coat rack, and I just started writing what I was feeling. They were 1 and 2 at the time and their coats were so tiny. There was something very vulnerable about these limp, inanimate coats. And at that moment, they were off with a babysitter and so I was feeling what all parents feel when their kids aren’t around, which is ‘I wish I could hold on to them in this exquisite period of time forever.’ Of course, the moment they come back, the wish changes to ‘I wish I could pay the babysitter to keep them for longer.’


2) I love the reference to the scattered matryoshka dolls on the floor. It works so well with the imagery and desire of the story as a whole, but implies a larger world as well. Do you have an idea why the matryoshka dolls are there? Or would that be giving it away?
Ah, again I am embarrassed by how literal I am! Because, when I glanced my eyes away from the coat rack, they caught on the matryoshka dolls my kids had been playing with on the floor (that I had failed to clean up). Matryoshka dolls have been a favorite toy for both of my children, and when I noticed them in my coat-rack-y head space, I felt a little jealous of them. All those generations of dolls, nestled inside one another, somehow maintaining their autonomy but also being one larger entity. It reminded me of being pregnant, which in some ways I miss; the feeling that my child and I were one person and two people at the same time. So I suppose the implied larger world was quite literally the messy, child-stamped room I was sitting in at the moment, and this piece is that sort of heartbreaking moment of awareness when you, as a parent, remember how temporary that world is. 

Coat Rack Elegy ~ by Emma Tessler

She looked at their little coats hanging on their hooks, the little arms dangling emptily on the wall, and she thought, as every parent before her had thought, that someday their arms would grow and fill coats with long empty arms, and how she wished that she could wrap her own long arms around theirs and they would be like pads of butter on warm bread and they would melt into her and they could be one person again, though not exactly one, but certainly not two, or three, rather they could be like the matryoshka dolls that lay halved and scattered on the floor, and they could nest within her again, being themselves but also being her and never having to worry about which empty coat arms they would fit into because her arms were the only arms that ever felt the cold.

***

Emma Tessler is a psychotherapist and writer living in New York City. She is on Twitter @emmatessler.

Two Questions for Jared Povanda

We recently published Jared Povanda’s gorgeous “Season Finale Cliffhanger.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) I love the difference between solid endings and uncertain ones here, the difference between a mouse being devoured and escaping, between a thick curtain and a thin one. What kind of endings do you prefer?

I think it all depends on where I am in life. Because of the pandemic, I’m a little tired of uncertainty. I do love solid endings, especially if they’re happy. That’s the key, though. Happiness. Lock me into happiness. There were many moments growing up where I prayed for mutability. I wanted to be able to dream myself into a future that looked different from where I was. This is what I wanted to channel in this story. The homeless girl, so young and so afraid, wants the mouse’s fight to continue. She wants the fight to keep going because she wants to keep going. Going, active. I don’t think she can envision a conclusive ending that’s good—only bad. So uncertainty is very attractive to her, and I think it will be attractive to me again whenever I’m in a situation that feels endlessly bleak. Uncertainty can be scary, paralyzing, but it can also be a wish on a shooting star. A chance for something better to reveal itself beyond what’s currently looming ahead. 

2. The homeless girl, here, seems to think of her fate as hopeless, as predetermined. Do you think there is a glimmer of uncertainty for her that she, perhaps, can’t see? Or is she right to feel so pessimistic?

I think that glimmer is there, for sure, but when I imagine myself at twelve or thirteen, I know I felt similar to the homeless girl. I was never homeless, but I was bullied ceaselessly. When you’re a kid, you already have very little (or no) agency, and when the bullies pressed on my vulnerabilities day after day, it was easy for me to think, “This is the way it’s always going to be.” Predetermined is a perfect word. The clips those TVs play are on a constant loop, 24/7. Always the same. From a much higher vantage point, when the girl becomes a woman, when she’s in a healthier and safer position, I know she’s going to realize the ending presented in front of her on that very lonely day was as solid as mist. She never sees the mouse survive, but she will survive. She will. We all will, I hope. No matter how caging the dark, no matter how suffocating and seemingly finite the current moment is, you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. In this small slice of story, she can only feel pessimistic. But if all of the TVs suddenly went black, if the power went out and the girl stared into nothingness, finally able to construct a new ending for the mouse, I think she’d have the first inkling that permanence lies.

Season Finale Cliffhanger ~ by Jared Povanda

A python swallows a mouse on Animal Planet, and the homeless girl watches that same clip loop over and over in the warm interior of a Best Buy two towns from hers, wondering how long it will take for the tiniest of its bones to dissolve. The homeless girl hates thinking of these sorts of endings as solid things. Curtains with weight enough to hide behind. Blackout, wool, never sheer. Never sunlight through thin glass. Never the beautiful and uncertain endings she dreams about—the ones where the mouse keeps kicking until the python’s mouth opens to blue skies. The ones where homeless girls make it out alive.

***

Jared Povanda is a writer, poet, and freelance editor from upstate New York. His work has been published in Uncharted Magazine, Pidgeonholes, and Hobart, among numerous others. Find him @JaredPovanda, jaredpovandawriting.wordpress.com, and in the Poets & Writers Directory.