Endurance of

This year’s model of roommate had moved out. Normally such an event was a jubilee, setting Mandy on a frenzy of reclaiming the space and cleaning it completely, but her apartment, the upper of a duplex, was being covered in a slow dustfall and the stairs had more cobwebs than Miss Havisham’s; depending on when Mandy was leaving for work she could see a thread here and there, glinting in the sunlight. She was the host at a restaurant, The Junction, a job too boring to describe here. The only reason she continued was the owners, an old married couple, who were so nice, unless you came in with people and kept on your phone. Then they would shuffle by and whisper, “a screen is not a face,” which terrified everyone and delighted Mandy.

Honestly, the old married couple was not the only reason for continuing at The Junction – just the more entertaining one. There was also Mandy’s vocation, music, and she didn’t want any job competing with it, although recently she wondered if vocation was a word used for work that needed justification, to oneself or one’s culture. After a decade of writing and recording and gigs, with indifference from both the industry and the internet, there was just no compelling argument to continue that would hold up in the court of her mind. Nevertheless, some tired fantasy persisted that her music was worth defending.

Tired was the appropriate adjective, because lately, when Mandy tried to write, she ended up taking a nap. To be fair, LCD Soundsystem’s new album wasn’t helping. The songs were filled with white man spoken word about how he’s “still trying to wake up” and “got nothing left to say” and “in no place to say it” and MANDY COULD NOT STOP LISTENING.

But not tonight. A friend had invited her to a workshopped reading of a play. Mandy filled her travel mug with mostly Bailey’s Irish Cream and a little coffee, sipping it en route, ensuring she was in tipsy-top shape from the beginning. Attending a play of any kind is a perilous endeavor, let alone an original one that has not yet seen the darkness of a theatre.

Titled The Endurance of Light, it concerned a scientist attempting to recover from a miscarriage by having imaginary arguments with Hildegard of Bingen and Albert Einstein. Such a premise would interest anyone, but Mandy hadn’t read the premise, and anyway, it was better to be surprised. As the lead, her friend gave a detailed and dense performance, like a deep barrel of rice, imploring you to reach a hand in. Mandy put a hand in, then the other, then her feet, and by the end she was in the barrel; it was that good of a performance, and/or maybe that good of a friend, and/or maybe that good of a play. Afterwards, Mandy meant to just congratulate the playwright, but soon she was talking about the theme of “dryness” and suddenly her throat tightened and a half lid of tears closed over each eye and then she was leaving the theater.

It was the Bailey’s, it had compromised her sobriety more than expected, Mandy thought, but she drove anyway, went straight home. She baked a frozen pizza and resumed watching a BBC series from the early ‘90s, Prime Suspect, with a young(er) Helen Mirren. Had Helen Mirren ever been young? Even in the mid ‘70s, opposite Laurence Olivier in a piece by Harold Pinter, she seems in full possession of self. Mirren’s character in Prime Suspect, Jane, is obsessed with her work; it returns the favor by depleting her energy, time, relationships. To Mandy, this seemed like a fair deal: sacrifice a life for a sense of purpose. It was almost biblical.

Mandy was on series 3 of Prime Suspect, which follows the murder investigation of a rent boy. In a scene near the end, Jane is interrogating a man, Edward Parker-Jones, whom she knows to be guilty of numerous child rapes. Edward is a serpent, though, and the harder she squeezes, the more he slips. Out of ideas and in a fury, Jane begins reconstructing the night of the murder but is unable to finish, her voice choking on itself, face turning away, only to hear Edward reply, “no comment.” As he walks out, his lawyer assures Jane that “[she’ll] never have a case.”

Just then fellow officer reminds Jane that a journalist has been brought to the station for questioning, because they interviewed the boy hours before he was murdered. Entering the interrogation room, Jane asks if the journalist is still looking for a scoop. “I’m paid to expose the truth. It’s my job. A bit like yours,” the journalist asserts. “It is criminal that a man like Edward Parker-Jones is allowed to gain access to young children and all with the blessing of the social services…” Jane pauses in mid-rant. “A young boy called him the ‘Keeper of Souls’…it was his nickname. Good headline, isn’t it?” She slides the case file on the table towards the journalist, who stares at it, then Jane, asking, “Is Parker-Jones going to be charged?” But Jane leaves, closing the door behind her. The journalist opens the file, the music intensifying, the camera zooming closer and closer on a story waiting to be written.

The pizza was gone, and Mandy didn’t feel full, but then she hadn’t felt full since – regardless, she wasn’t hungry anymore. But she didn’t clear the dishes. She leaned back in the chair, laid a hand across her waist and watched the fade out.

Jam, Pt I

Billie did her best writing in the car. To be clear – and safe – the writing was in her head. Which is no writing at all. But she felt like a writer with limitless potential at those times. Perhaps it was the small space that contained her, centered her. Perhaps it was the music. She played the most atmospheric music in the car. The Free Design’s cover of “Light My Fire,” anything by The Blue Nile, Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoints, the soundtrack to Wait Until Dark, “You Don’t Know My Name” and “You Love Me” by Kym Amps. But inevitably she would run out of errands, or arrive at a destination, or worse, home, and that wide windshield of vision would be replaced with a blank white wall of Microsoft Word.

Recently it was Billie’s birthday, to which a numeric value will not be assigned, but apparently it was significant enough that her best friend, Lisa, wanted to take her out for a drink, because Billie was a delightful drinker. But, rather unexpectedly, not halfway through the second amaretto sour, the tone of the whole evening became regretful – the other side of nostalgia, not the good side, not the one that should be photographed. Lisa’s regrets beget regrets, and Billie found herself asking Lisa a lot of questions, feeling around for a precise decision or decisions to which the regret was attached. The passion with which Billie pursued it alarmed her; just who was being interrogating here? Was this some sort of Socratic projection? Did the sheer pretension of that phrase obscure its meaning? Simply too much irony here, even for 2017.

Admittedly, Billie wasn’t sure about much of her life, and that was the source for her writing; ergo, she wasn’t so sure about it, either. Did she even want to write anymore. Well, of course she didn’t want to write, no writer wants to write, but she wondered what the purpose of her writing was. Was it some sort of restorative justice. The need to assemble a circle of imagined readers and recount all the wrongs she’d done, the wrongs done to her that made her do the wrongs she’d done. And yet, what if she stopped doing it. What would she do with her evenings. Was this simply a case of misplaced identity. These weren’t questions, they were the companions of an artist. The friends of Job. What an unmerited and melodramatic comparison. It’s exactly why Billie needed a baby, or a pet, or a baby pet, something requiring focus and affection, and of course that is a terrible reason for bringing either into your world. Why was it so difficult for her to find a current – electrical or hydrogenic? Preferably not both as that would be fatal. Billie wanted to find what Richard Rohr called “the flow.” Or maybe it was just that she wanted to be really good at something and really go for it, without getting all guilty and confused.

Then Lisa mentioned the dance party.

It was going to be a Jam, a no-parking-on-the-dance-floor, no-need-to-keep-score, gimme-gimme-more, open-for-business-but-you-don’t-know-what’s-in-store, Jam. It was going to be at Lisa’s 2nd floor condo, but not until her 1st floor neighbor moved out, which was still in process, and all of her friends were just waiting for the date to be texted, the date they would disturb the peace in a protest against status quo, but without a neighbor to call the police.

Billie immediately began living for this event. She pictured her and Lisa like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Sisters, determined to fuck it up so they could get down to business. She started a Gmail draft of songs for the playlist; she was adding, subtracting, dividing and conquering and multiplying the tracks. Let there be Amy Grant, Anushka, Disclosure, Eurythmics, The Gap Band, Goldfrapp, Hot Chocolate, Jamie xx, Klymaxx, The Knife, Ladytron, Little Boots, The Pointer Sisters, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Sam Sparro, Sheila E, Sylvan Esso, Vince Guaraldi, Yaz.

Some nights Billie would sit at the kitchen table trying to write and discovered drinking a little Tequila and playing some Midnight Star suddenly made writing an absolute pleasure. Occasionally this resulted in her dancing in front of the kitchen windows, perfecting some pose, or move, or just ripping off an item of clothing on the beat. Would the dance party be this good? Could it be this good? She knew it could. And it would. She just had to get there.


“So, alright, I just talked to my dad and he’s broke off the engagement with the gold digger after 3 years, thank God, and now he’s dating a woman he met on the internet. The highlights: she’s from Malaysia, so she’s Asian, and, uh, she works for I, I, MIT something blah blah blah something out there, anyways, she’s got a good job so I guess the point is she’s not a gold digger and she’s probably smart and she’s Asian, so I, I guess I’m supposed to, uh, accept that my dad has no type whatsoever, because he’s all over the board. I highly doubt that she has big huge giant tits like, uh, whatever, but she doesn’t like her real name – I can’t even pronounce it – so she asked him to call her something else, and she’s decided she wants to be called Angel, which, sorry, makes me think of strippers more than anything because I know a lot of strippers that go by Angel, so, I thought that was funny and, um, I have no idea how old she is or anything, I just find this amusing. I am kind of glad to be rid of the gold digger but, um, but uh, she already did a lot of damage, so hopefully, hopefully this new girl will allow my dad to recover a little bit financially. So anyway. My life is just hysterical. Like all of the time, really. I know you have a lot to write about, but if you ever run out, if you ever run out, just call me.”


To the voice of my first and second childhood:

I have never written to an author.

Suddenly I’m reminded of that scene in Sleepless in Seattle – have you seen it? Meg Ryan is composing a letter (with the assistance of Rosie O’Donnell) to Tom Hanks and she begins it by saying, “I have never written a letter like this in my life,” and Rosie says, “that’s what everyone writes at the beginning of letters to strangers.”

So my opening lacks originality. But, as C.S. Lewis says, “no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

So I must simply try to tell the truth.

Your writing has uncovered parts of me that have not seen sunlight for years: mystery, purity, creativity, possibility…all considered spare parts once we reach adulthood. You make it clear these are the only parts worth saving.

When I finished reading The Changeling tonight I started crying and couldn’t stop, just like Martha. I suddenly felt as though someone knew me and was saying my name over and over, each time with more love than the last.

I hope I haven’t embarrassed myself, or you. I just had to tell you.


P.S. I can’t imagine how many letters you receive of this kind, but if you ever want to see how you influenced one of your fans, watch my poetry reading: https://parmanifesto.wordpress.com/poetry/


Hello Ben,

I loved what you wrote about “uncovering parts of you that have not seen sunlight for years.” And I found your poetry intriguing. I can understand why you related well to Ivy and Martha. Thanks for writing.

Zilpha K. Snyder