Third Place in New Wave and the Art’s Second Chance Contest gives us a taste of memoir writing. What makes a memoir piece fit the sentiment of those published by judges Amanda Miller and Sebastian Briglia? Keep checking in for the official guidelines and dates of the upcoming memoir contest. The list of Second Chance Contest winners and their rank follows the Third Place submissions we have published below:
Geography of a Footlocker
Lower Left Hand Corner
I was accepted. Accepted to music school without ever breaking out the clarinet. And not just any music school. Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. The only student in my class of 450 who had even applied to NYU—that I knew of anyway. I guess the 30 on my ACT helped secure my position. Well, that, and my demographic desirability—I’m sure NYU loves to brag of all the states represented by their enrollment, and Arkansas is always severely underrepresented in Yankee schools. Going to Space Academy in Huntsville, Alabama, only cemented my desire to study music—I had been waffling between musician and Air-Force-Pilot-on-track-to-astronaut. The helpful staff at the Academy let me know that spending time at space camp was fine and dandy, but to be a pilot in the Air Force required perfect vision. But hey, with eyes like mine, I could always get on the space shuttle as a scientist! Yay!
So music it was. Pair my $17,000 financial aid package with my burning desire to star on Saturday Night Live, and NYU was a lock.
My high school bandmate Amy Dunn played French horn. Good grief, she was perfect. Beautiful. Smart. Drum major. Everyone loved her. In 1991, I could not yet compare her appeal to that of Jennifer Aniston’s on Friends, but now I can put my finger on exactly that. And she was so stinking sure of herself. Even as a seventeen-year-old. I wish I could say she was cocky, but no. She was just confident. Ugh.
We both earned a spot in All-State Band. We left Fort Smith, the last great American town before crossing the border into the Cherokee nation (as it was known in the 1800’s; no one had yet found a more significant selling point for my hometown of 70,000 people), and traveled by big yellow bus (no air conditioning, of course) four hours across the state to Pine Bluff for the All-State clinic. Ah, Pine Bluff—where the men are men and the mosquitoes are too. Pine Bluff had just enough population to warrant a mall. A mall with only a JCPenney, a Claire’s, a Spencer’s Gifts, and one food stand in the mostly shuttered food court, but when you’re a teenager a mall is a mall.
Amy Dunn and I had psychology together. On the last day of school we wallpapered Mr. Mahaffey’s room with my favorite hair band at the time, Nelson. We used every picture of Matthew and Gunnar Nelson (the twin sons of Ricky from the 50’s, my mother informed me) that I cut out of Teen Beat, every poster I bought from Wal-Mart. Retarded Richard the janitor stretched the keys on his bungee chain to let us smiling, pretty girls into the classroom after dark. I think the final photo count was 42. Really set off Mahaffey’s “Shalom” plaque and Escher drawings and “IYQ” signage. I’m sure searches through his thesaurus and diagnoses made with his DSM-III were enhanced with the tiny little additions of the long-haired smiling twins.
Mahaffey was the inspiring kind of teacher. Told us to live life, do things, get out of our boxes, see what happens.
In the Pine Bluff mall Amy Dunn and I walked around holding hands. I wore an orange A-line shirt and paisley leggings, with multicolor seed beads strung around my neck. My brown hair was ironed straight. Not straight-ironed—this was 1991. Literally ironed. Amy wore plain old jeans and a white t-shirt. No jewelry. Her air-dried hair hung loose around her shoulders. She wore dark red lipstick. I told her I didn’t want someone to look at me and go, Oh, lips. She said she did. I was repeating what I had heard on a commercial for neutral-colored lipstick.
We’d decided to hold hands because in Arkansas in the early 90’s, you just didn’t see same-sex couples out and about. We thought it would be funny.
No one noticed.
So we upped the ante:
Bob was me, only a boy. Wearing a black trench coat and Doc Martens, he made obscure references to Carmina Burana and drew on everything he touched. Envelopes, sheet music, skin. He played baritone instead of clarinet. We put him and Joel Johns (perpetually on the happy weed) up to doing what we had done. Salespeople literally walked out of the stores, grabbing their coworkers to watch boys holding hands. Pointed. Some got out cameras and took pictures. This experiment was much more successful and entertaining.
There you go, Mahaffey.
I ended up dating Bob. He made me another beaded necklace to wear. Black and white. With a message in Morse code. Wish I had taken him to my senior prom. Instead I went with Kurt Anderson. He asked and I said yes because I felt sorry for him. Didn’t have the heart to get out of it. Amy Dunn went to prom with Joe, her long-time boyfriend.
Amy Dunn got accepted to Hendrix College about two hours from our hometown. I had to apply to other colleges, too. Smart seniors don’t get accepted to one school and quit. Smart seniors apply to lots of colleges and weigh out academic programs, extracurricular activities, financial aid packages.
I chose Amy Dunn’s choice: Hendrix College.
She majored in psychology. So did I.
She graduated, went to law school.
I left Hendrix after one semester.
I never did decode Bob’s necklace. It sits, in disordered pieces, in a fake-satin lined box.
Every boyfriend I had in high school was a direct result of my seeking them out. When I was a senior, I broke up with the sophomore I was dating. Can’t remember why. But that left me without a prom date.
I was an island girl in our school’s production of South Pacific. One Saturday, a cadre of cast members performed in the center court of Central Mall to promote the show. We distinguished seniors discussed prom. Still dateless, I showed out, asking little kids and random strangers to go to prom with me. Laura, my best friend at the time, laughed. I asked the Chick-fil-A cow.
I got a shake of the head and a thumb’s down.
Bummer. That cow would’ve looked hot in a tux.
I had to share my defeat with the entire cast, ridiculing myself for being so un-date-able.
Kurt Anderson, tall, gangly, trombone player-dorky, replied he didn’t have a date either.
“Don’t ask the cow,” I advised.
He had his own suggestion. “How about we go together?”
Smiling. Hope filling eyes.
“Okay . . .” I whimpered.
Laura was an extremely talented, very smart, singing red-headed lesbian. Which is all cool now, but wasn’t in those days. She wanted to take her girlfriend to the prom, but couldn’t. Southern social mores were enough to stymie that plan. Who knew if it would even be permitted at Southside High School? Home of Johnny Reb. Fight song: “Dixie”.
Perfect plan: I’ll ask Kurt to take Laura’s girlfriend, as a favor. Then he gets to be the hero and I get off the hook.
“So . . . about prom . . . “
Standing in the hallway between the band room and the auditorium, the odor from emptied spit valves and the sound of “Bali Ha’i” wafted around us. His 6’5” loomed over me by a good foot, his eyes full of admiration, his voice full of anticipation. “I can’t wait. I’ve got my cummerbund and tie ordered to match your dress. You’re going to look so beautiful.”
Crap. “ . . .where will we be eating?”
At a nice restaurant, turns out. Comes to get me in his brand-new 1991 Nissan Pickup—a miniature sort of truck with no gun rack, an oddity in the South. I’m not a fan, but the restaurant is nice. So nice. Like, what you’d see in a romantic movie nice.
And Kurt thinks it’s nice too. Like fancy-nice. So he talks fancy.
As in, British accent fancy.
The other two couples, other drama folks that neither Kurt nor I know very well, talk quietly amongst themselves. In American accents, far as I can tell.
I wonder where Laura is eating.
When we get back to the truck, it’s right back to good ol’ southern Kurt.
We meet Laura at the prom. I get my picture taken with her before I get one with Kurt. We dance. Laura and I. Kurt is there somewhere too.
First slow song, I head to the bathroom. Second slow song, I lead him over to a table to collect our party favor—glass goblets with “Arabian Nights” etched in red. Third slow song, I suggest we leave. We do have a midnight movie to make. Encino Man, the classic film about a caveman unfrozen in modern times. Starring Pauly Shore, dude. And as the movie ends, dude,
Kurt escorts me to the car, dude, and whoooooaaaaaaaa. He’s not Southern, man. And not British, dude. Pure Pauly, man.
As we drive to Amy Dunn’s house, where he will be dropping me for the night (the plan is for him to attend a different post-prom bash), he suddenly remembers he forgot the casual clothes he was going to change into. We need to stop by his house.
Where the lights are off.
And no other car—one that might belong to his parents?—is in sight.
Would I like to come in?
No. No, I would not.
I am filled with blessed relief as we pull into Amy Dunn’s driveway.
Only he doesn’t leave.
He decides he’d like to stay.
Maybe you should go ahead.
Nah, I’ll stay. No one will miss me.
That’s for sure, I think. You should totally go, I say.
I think I’ll just stay.
No. Really. Eyes locked on his. You should go.
Slowly, comprehension lights his eyes. A dim lighting.
Okay, he says, drawing me into his arms.
And then it’s like slow motion. Huge, 6’5”-sized lips descending upon my face.
He spent one of the most legendary nights of high school with me.
He danced near me for three hours.
He got a matching tie and cummerbund.
I put my palm to his lips. Push his face away.
Silly boy, I say.
The glass is wrapped in a copy of the picture of me and Laura, carefully taped so the edges don’t tear.
I walked into seventh grade math and there he sat, penciling numbers in his Star Wars Trapper Keeper.
Blonde-haired and blue-eyed like Luke Skywalker.
The boy I was going to marry.
We “went together” several times throughout junior high. Sat across from each other at lunch; played chess on paper in class, erasing and redrawing scribbly rooks and bishops. Freshman year, the dating got a little more serious. We met up at a school dance; he put his arm around me.
I’d had my first kiss just before freshman year. It was band camp, long before “This one time . . . at band camp . . .” Band camp was an every-summer destination beginning with the close of seventh grade, and Scott was my summer Han Solo: brown eyes, brown hair. He was a drummer. Our song was “Talk Dirty to Me” as romantically rendered by the 80’s hair band Poison. I let Lori Rimkus take a picture of us kissing. Mom would’ve been proud.
Scott lived an hour and a half away from my hometown. Seeing him during the school year was not a real possibility to us, those not yet of driving age. We were a great couple. For that one week a year.
At band camp.
Skywalker played cello. Strings didn’t go to band camp.
Halfway through freshman year, I broke up with Little Master Skywalker. We hadn’t even kissed.
Scott was great about sending me letters throughout the school years we quasi-dated. I’ll never forget the poem he once wrote me. One of the stanzas referred to my brown eyes (which are and always have been green) and my awesome ass (which is and always has been awesome).
We lost contact after starting high school.
Sophomore year my mom remarried and we moved to Rhode Island. When I returned to Arkansas for a weekend visit, Young Skywalker and I met at the high school one evening. Sat on a loading dock and talked about everything. What we had been up to. What we wanted for our lives.
He told me he planned to save himself for marriage. Still a year before I lost my virginity, I knew in that moment that we would not end up together. I knew it was not what I had planned, though I had not even met the boy I would give myself to.
After graduation, I went to a small private college, but left after one semester to be with my boyfriend (my third sexual relationship). I followed him to the largest public university in the state.
Master Skywalker was there.
We got together, sat on a loading dock, talked about what we had been up to, what we wanted for our lives.
He married his college sweetheart and lost his virginity on his wedding night.
I married my college sweetheart. Not Scott, and not the one I left the small college for. Neither my husband nor I lost virginity on our wedding night.
Skywalker is now working on his second marriage.
I’ve been married, just the once, for over fifteen years.
Scott’s letters remain in their original envelopes, bound together in a pink bag printed with red hearts in rows. I think an old chess game against Skywalker might be in there too.
I sit on my rooftop balcony with my husband and two sons. It’s New Year’s Eve in Bella Napoli. Italians shoot fireworks for any occasion—birthdays, onomastico, soccer games—but New Year’s Eve is really something to see. Beginning about 11:30, and continuing until well past 1:00, the sky teems with fireworks. We look up, amazed at the 360 degrees of colors on display. In the States, you’d need a license to shoot these.
This spectacle marks our third year across the pond. When we left, my mom said, “You’ll have to fulfill your two-year commitment. I won’t pay to have your stuff shipped back early.”
Now she’d gladly pay our way back. Twice over.
My dad’s mom gave me a quilt for high school graduation. “I’ve been saving it,” she said, “for your graduation. Or your wedding. Whichever came first.”
My mom’s mom was thrilled when I got a teaching job, because she figured I’d finally quit jumping from career to career. I’d have retirement.
When I left that school district after three years to take a chance in another country, my boss gave me a thank-you card for my service and said, “You’ll be back. I know how these things work.”
It’s been a slow process, this independent thinking thing. This defying of expectations. This melding of who I’ve been with who I’m going to be. A process as often filled with backslides and carelessness as success and thoughtful decisions.
I see myself folding the quilt in half, then in thirds, just as my grandmother taught me. Sliding the retirement statements and thank-you card deep into the folds. Tucking the bundle neatly into the footlocker atop the detritus of my youth.
Unable to see the value in taking it with me to Italy, I left it sitting in my mother’s attic between Christmas trees and boxes of family photos.
Her house caught fire last year. In the class I was teaching, I showed the Channel 5 news clip of my step-dad, the uniquely monikered John Jones, wearing a Razorback ball cap and explaining in his drawl how lightning hit the house, igniting the exterior wood on the second floor of their antebellum charmer. The high school seniors I taught British literature to—sophisticated military kids who have seen more of the world in their seventeen years than my grandparents did in their eighty and my parents have so far in their sixty, kids who would soon overwhelmingly vote for me to be the one teacher to give their baccalaureate address, then bestow upon me a standing ovation—watched politely.
I didn’t ask the status of my footlocker.
a poem by Tara Le Reynolds
The word burst from his mouth
like a button undone- Whispered
In a low slither, his zipper
split like a busted lip-
How repulsive the width
Of her hips-
He pins adjectives on her
Like badges on a sash
Like arms that fight back
Ties her hands and laughs-
This cruel advance to trash
a worthless fatass
The guilt of the undesired
A self loathing cajoling finger
In her throat a fire-
His tongue and teeth the lighter
No expanse of cloth can hide
Her jiggling thighs
to ejaculate delight
or distaste for
what his eyes appraise
as beauty and grace
Tara Le Reynolds is a young writer who lives in Seattle, Washington. She grew up in trailer parks and foster care, but tries to be better than her circumstances–– although those very experiences are what often inspire her to write. Tara has recently been accepted to Seattle University for fall 2015, where she plans to complete her BA. She is interested in reading, screenwriting, photography, and poetry.
Winners of New
Rekha Shankar –
A Period Piece
Tara Le Reynolds –
Sticks and Stones
Breed Wilson –
Geography of a
L.S. Engler –
Michael Farley –
to a Homeland
Tamara Harpster –
City Mouse, Country Eagle
Tara Le Reynolds –
FAQs: A Summary of
Amanda Miller will be at the Rochester Fringe Festival performing One Breath, Then Another: An Interactive Yoga Show, based on her memoir, from September 18th to September 27th. Tickets are available by clicking here. On September 30th she will host Lyrics, Lit and Liquor, a music and literature party in New York’s Lower East Side where Sebastian Briglia will do a reading.
Amanda Erin Miller is an actor, writer, yoga instructor and massage therapist. She is intrigued by the ways these practices inform each other. Amanda recently published her memoir One Breath, Then Another about her quest for healing to avoid her father’s self destructive path on her own Lucid River Press.
She has adapted the book into an interactive solo show about studying yoga on an ashram in India, which premiered at Dixon Place in New York City on March 9th, 2013. Excerpts from One Breath, Then Another have been featured in Underwired Magazine, Om Times, Love Your Rebellion, Runaway Parade and So Long: Short Memoirs of Loss and Remembrance, a memoir anthology. Her writing has also appeared in The Rumpus and UC Riverside’s Cratelit.
She hosts and books the monthly literary/ music series Lyrics, Lit & Liquor at The Parkside Lounge. She has also created a two-person comedy show called Please Don’t Let Me Die Alone with her collaborator Shawn Shafner about the perils of love and dating. They have performed this show around Valentine’s Day every year since 2010 in New York City at The Tank Theater, The Magnet Theater and The People’s Improv Theater. Amanda earned her BFA in Acting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. For more information, visit her website http://www.onebreaththenanother.com/.
AS A CHILD Sebastian Briglia wanted to be American, and luckily for him at the time, so did his parents. They emigrated from Bulgaria in 1991, not long after the fall of communism. As an adult, he wanted to be Bulgarian again, mostly because of his mounting legal troubles in America, though unfortunately for him at the time he was estranged from his parents and Bulgaria as he remembered it did not exist anymore. Later he began to suspect that Bulgaria as he remembered it never existed.
He has attempted to reach a balance between what he thinks he wants and what he thinks he needs by exploring spirituality and materialism both on and off drugs and new wave music, in urban as well as rural environments. All of this, of course, has been to no avail. His New Wave and the Art of Heroin Maintenance series reflect this struggle.
Two excerpts of New Wave and the Art of Heroin Maintenance, “Raven on Heroin” and “Raven in the Motel Room,” have been featured in Horror Sleaze Trash Magazine. As a journalist, he has only written under his real name at The Italian Tribune News in Newark, NJ, where he worked as a staff writer over a decade ago. The rest of his journalistic and feature writing has been published under a pen name. He currently works in public relations and plays guitar in the New York band Like Herding Cats. Their eponymous EP had just won The Deli Magazine’s NYC Artist of the Month Award when he joined.
Rejection can be the most exhilarating roller coaster you can be on emotionally, provided you remain the ultimate judge of your own failure.
Maintaining awareness during the working process can be very helpful in keeping rejection in perspective. Below is a post written by Sebouh Gemdjian that delves into some meditation techniques that can be practiced while working: