The Tea Seller

greenteaThe other day, I ran into my tea seller on the street. I recognized his face immediately yet it took me a moment to place the man. How exactly did I know him? I had never before encountered the tea seller outside his teashop.

The man recognized me as well and greeted me in a shy, offhanded manner. A nod, a mumbled “Bonjour.” He was accompanied by, what I assumed, were his wife and their two children, a girl and a boy. The boy’s left arm was tucked in a caste on which his friends or classmates had written names and messages.

Seeing the tea seller with his family was slightly disturbing to me. Clearly, a tea seller has a life outside his teashop, but so far I had failed to imagine it. Do people simplify their lives, I wondered, by denying others the depth and duality they perceive in themselves? On my way home, I made a mental note to look at others from now on in a less self-centered way and see them as full-fletched people rather than flat characters who play a facilitating role in my life.

The next time I went into the teashop to buy an assortment of Japanese greens, I asked the tea seller about his son and his broken arm. The tea seller did not smile. In fact, he answered my question curtly and did not offer me a free tea sample as was his custom. His non-verbal message to me was clear: my life outside the teashop is none of your business. For his customers, the tea seller preferred to be nothing more than the tea seller.

Fraying

AR_Masthead_960

Today, in Atticus Review‘s Filtered Light issue, a short essay of mine was published.

From “Fraying“: Give me another life and I’ll say all the right things at the right moments.

>> continue reading >>

 

The Last Gift

TinHouseTheOpenBarSixteen years ago, my father died. Today, Tin House published my flash memoir in defense of euthanasia as a tribute in The Open Bar.

Preview of “The Last Gift”

January 20th, 2000, The Netherlands

Believe it or not, nobody objected. Not one of us stood up in the bedroom and said, “Don’t kill him.” Neither did anybody else in the house for that matter, the cleaning lady, the unobtrusive nurse. We all accepted my father’s fate with eyes wide open and mouths shut. Imagine us grateful, if you can.

>> continue reading >>

Phones

phoneA good friend of mine called today and I was moody.

I told her it had nothing to do with her. And it hadn’t. I just hate phones. They supposedly establish connections, tighten ties, relate to people via direct lines, but this closeness is a maddening illusion. If the phone is useful for anything, it’s to demonstrate that the person you’re talking to is conspicuously absent, nothing more than a disembodied voice that may or may not have been emitted from someone real.

And there is this: I am a writer. I bear what I say much better when I’ve been given time to express myself clearly, in solitude. I care about nuance and precision. Each time I hear myself utter a platitude on the phone, I cringe. TALK LESS & LISTEN MORE is my phone motto. But the people I talk to are often kind and not very self-obsessed so they usually turn the conversation around. Tell me what’s going on in your life, they say.

When I speak to others in person, I have my entire face to work with. I use my eyes to complement my words. And I read my interlocutor’s face, which will tell me whether I’m causing confusion or have made myself understood. The same goes when I address an audience. I use body postures and hand gestures to express myself, and the audience’s feedback (in laughter, chattering, or applause) is immediate.

After an awkward voice-alone phone call, I always hope that the person I talked to understands that I care about them and want to know how they are and would love to see them again—soon—but that I’m just not very good on the phone.

Locked In, Locked Out

OldMiniYesterday, in Vending Machine Press, my flash fiction “Locked In, Locked Out.”

Preview: 

Minnie pushes her shopping cart down the aisles and thinks about getting a car. Not to drive it, for she has nowhere to go, but to sit in it on rainy Sunday afternoons.

>> continue reading >>

Happy New Year!

chanpagneThe years pass without hard edges. Only our dates draw them apart. Our life doesn’t really consist of years but of periods defined by a before and after.

So why celebrate New Year’s Eve? It seems unnecessary, totally artificial, unless the new year truly coincides with a dislocation, a death, a birth, or a life-defining decision whose effects last beyond a mere few days.

Then again, one should never pass up an excuse to drink champagne.

Fiction and Nonfiction 2016

  • Animal Puzzle” (short story) in: Denver Quarterly, July 2016 (print)
    NOMINATED FOR A PUSHCART PRIZE
  • Walls” (flash fiction) in: Okey-Panky (Electric Literature), October 2016
  • The Last Gift” (essay) in: Tin House (online), January 2016
  • The Empty Space in Front of Your Hand” (essay) in: Green Mountains Review, July 2016.
  • Copycat” (flash fiction) in: SmokeLong Quarterly, March 2016
  • Surfacing” (short story) in: Folio, Volume 31, April 2016 (print)
  • “Papers” (micro fiction) in: The Offing, December 2016
  • “The Alps in Fall Time” (short story) in: Mikrokosmos Literary Journal, December 2016
  • Brunch” (flash fiction) in: Jellyfish Review, October 2016
  • The Path to the Future” (flash fiction) in: Pinball, November 2016
  • Playing the sports fan” (essay) in: Prairie Schooner (blog), August 2016
  • Woman of the Week” (flash fiction) in: matchbook, February 2016
  • The Writer and Her Time” (essay) in: Fiction Southeast, April 2016
  • Fistfuls” (flash fiction) in: Superstition Review, Issue 17, April 2016
  • Fraying” (essay) in: Atticus Review, January 2016
  • Locked In, Locked Out” (flash fiction) in: Vending Machine Press, January 2016
  • Earthquake” (micro fiction) in: Unbroken, March 2016
  • The Efficient Lover” (flash fiction) in: Knee-Jerk, March 2016
  • Message from the Forest” (flash fiction) in: Litro, September 2016
  • The Commune” (micro fiction) in: Pure Slush, September 2016
  • Flash Addiction” (blog on writing flash) in: SmokeLong Quarterly, July 2016
  • Condensed to Flash: World Classics” (review) in: JMWW, June 2016

Fiction and Nonfiction 2015

Fakeness

masks—You must stop the Social Media Crap.

—Why?

—It’s fake. Self-promotion. Making others witness your struggles, your success. Liking what they say. Typing pseudo-funny comments. Striking up conversations with complete strangers. At random. Getting them to like you. Need I go on?

—No, I see your point. But how’s that different from life?

—Excuse me?

—Well, in life, we’re trying to be liked as well. We talk to strangers on the bus. We feel good when someone compliments us. Bad when someone yells. We  listen to others, put our best foot forward, try to make our mark in the world. Occasionally, we talk about our weaknesses, our failures, our insecurities, to show that we’re human and perhaps gain some advice or consolation. We connect through our stories.

—You think life in general is fake.

—It is. We pose, constantly. So I suggest a redefinition of the word “fake.” If life is fake and yet life is the only reality we know, then fakeness must be real. Fakeness may define us as human beings.

—You’re not making any sense.

—What about: despite all the fakeness, true friendships exist. Even though we self-promote ourselves relentlessly, every day, trying to be loved and accepted, true love and acceptance may still come our way, despite our flaws, despite the fact that most people can see straight through our strategies of fakeness.

—I’m lost.

—All I’m saying is: I’m not quitting the Social Media Crap.

Paris Attacks

Paris_Peace-Were you in Paris at the time of the attacks?

-Yes.

-Were you hurt?

-No.

-Were any of your friends or family members hurt?

-No.

-Did you witness any of the violent events first hand?

-No.

-Where were you when you first heard about the attacks?

-At home. I was having dinner with my husband.

-How did you learn about the attacks?

-A friend sent me a text message to ask whether I was okay. That’s when we checked the news on our phones.

-How did you feel when you saw the news?

-Baffled. Horrified. Powerless.

-You did not feel scared?

-No.

-Why not?

-I don’t know. I was at home behind locked doors. I live in another part of town. I have an exaggerated sense of self-safety.

-What did you do once you heard about the attacks?

-I checked up on friends who lived in the area where the shootings took place. I browsed social media networks for information. I thought about all the times I had been in the Bataclan in the past. I replied to concerned messages from others about my safety. I listened to the helicopters above my head.

-Did you sleep?

-We have Xanax.

-How did you feel the next day?

-Angry. Depressed. Haunted.

-What did you do?

-I checked where I could donate my blood and learned that there were so many people in line to donate their blood that authorities discouraged people from coming.

-What did you do next?

-I read the first few chapters of Houellebecq’s Submission. And I worried.

-About what?

-The social and political consequences of the attacks. The human capacity for evil. The hopelessness of the state of the world. The dangerous force of delusional ideas. The human talent for cruelty, selfishness, jealousy, hatred, blame, revenge, bad reasoning, xenophobia. The possible reoccurrence of similar attacks all over the world. Ignorance. The future of eduction. The weapon industry. The hidden powers of our own governments. War. The chance that some conspiracy theories are true. The unattainability of the truth. The impotence of all of us to ever change any of it.

-Do you still think Europe should accept as many Syrian refugees as we can?

-Yes.LaFranceEnDeuil

-Do you think that some of these refugees are terrorists in disguise who at some point in the future might become a threat to the safety of European citizens?

-Every human being can at some point in the future become a threat to another human being.

-What’s going to happen next?

-“At this point, it’s hard to say what is, or isn’t, possible. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a fool or a liar. I don’t think anyone has any idea what the next few weeks will bring.” (From Submission by Michel Houellebecq translated by Lorin Stein)

-Is there anything you’d like to add?

-Yes. My heart goes out to everyone who was a victim of the attacks or lost someone they loved.