1. Being Friends

    Roxane Gay just bitch-smacked me. In a good way.

    Today I began reading her book of essays, Bad Feminist. And in that book, there’s an essay titled “How to Be Friends with Another Woman.” This is the essay in which she bitch-smacked me. In a good way. I took it personally — also in a good way, because I think learning and growing is a good thing.

    All my life, I’ve had primarily guy friends. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason I get along better with guys than with girls — or so I’ve always thought (and loudly proclaimed). I can tell you “just one of the guys” stories going back to elementary school, through high school and college and beyond. I’ve proudly proclaimed that I have “a token female friend,” because in all phases of my life there’s always been one — and only one. But Roxane Gay called me out: she said (or rather, wrote) if you tell people that kind of thing like you’re proud of it, etc., you should check yourself.

    And I did check myself. Because all the things she said about all the myths of female friendship, the bitchy back-stabbing catty competitive gossipy gruel we’re fed, are just that — myths. Alright, fine, I said, mostly to myself but kinda to her too (or to the book, anyway), but I’ve just never gotten along well with other women. I’m not really a girly-girl, I don’t enjoy girly-girl things, and I just find it hard to be close friends with women.

    And she said (wrote): “If you feel like it’s hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren’t the problem. Maybe it’s just you.”

    Maybe it is, Roxane Gay. Maybe it is. Maybe the reason I’ve never had a close friend who was both a woman and managed to transcend whatever common context we shared at one point (be that school or work) is that I’m a terrible (girl)friend.

    I don’t know how to be friends with women because I’ve never tried. It’s easy to be friends with guys, most of the time. I know what guys want, most of the time. I know how to talk to guys … most of the time. Women are like some unknown freakish beast to me — which is really quite strange, because I am one. I never know what they want or what they’d enjoy or how to approach them or what to talk to them about. Maybe I have been hanging out with heterosexual guys too long (or too much), and it’s made me stupid.

    Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I look at women through the same lens as the patriarchy sees women, because that’s all I’ve ever had to focus through. And maybe all it took was one bad feminist to bitch-smack me and correct my calibration, because now I realize — I’m not uncomfortable with women. I’m uncomfortable with myself.

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  2. …as Yam Chestley wrote in Dixiecrats (1979), ‘The South knows two things through and through: cornbread and Satan’ (p. 166).
    Marisha Pessl, from Special Topics in Calamity Physics
  3. Godalming: What People

    “Those people were fighting,” Phoebe said at last. She realized she sounded like a child.

    “What people,” Daisy said, not looking up from the notebook she held in her palm. She flipped back a few pages, as though looking for a note she’d only now realized had relevance.

    “The people in the room. They were fighting.”

    “We can’t know that,” Daisy said, her pen scratching divots on the page. “Things aren’t always what they seem.”

    “No,” Phoebe said, summoning up every shard of confidence she had to pronounce that tiny word. “It was … I was … uncomfortable. I felt like …”

    “This is why we try to avoid talking about them,” Daisy said, flipping the cover of her notebook closed. “Well — one of the reasons, anyway. Your role here is to observe, as openly and blankly as possible, and to capture that observation. After you’ve been here awhile, after you’ve looked through more portholes, you’ll start to see connections between the people. You may even see the same people on more than one occasion. You’ll be tempted to tie those observations together in neat packages as though you’ve figured something out. The more you talk about them, the more tempted you are to speculate, to see things that aren’t there, to pull out those shiny threads and attach them together.”

    “I’m not sure I understand,” Phoebe said.

    Daisy laughed, and Phoebe laughed too, in relief that Daisy’s face had regained a warm and welcoming expression. “Of course you don’t understand,” Daisy smiled, taking her arm. “And that’s a good thing! How frightfully boring the world would be if you always instantly understood everything. Don’t you agree?”

    “Sure, I —”

    “Then it’s settled,” Daisy said, pulling Phoebe along with her as she set off down the hall. “I think we’ve done more than enough for one morning. Lunch? I believe Cook’s letting Max try one of his culinary experiments today.”

    “Max is?”

    “Oh,” Daisy’s eyes widened and she reached over with her other hand to squeeze Phoebe’s arm. “You haven’t met Max yet, have you?” She patted Phoebe’s arm and then raised her head and smiled.

    (Read from the first)

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  4. Tomorrow

    Like when you said
    you hoped I wasn’t afraid
    of the dark, and I said
    not if I’m with you. Because

    we are made of more
    than light; our shadows
    give us depth and contrast.
    And while the world

    celebrates more superficial
    happinesses, we relish
    an existential ray
    of sunlight on our souls.

    Because I know that we
    together are something greater
    than the sum of our parts —
    and if even we were driving

    through the very gates of hell,
    if I were with you,
    I’d still feel pretty okay.

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  5. Godalming: Through the Porthole

    The room appeared to be a kitchen — albeit much smaller than the one in which Phoebe had eaten half a plate of breakfast earlier.

    “I don’t care,” the woman said, her voice coming from inside a fridge. “I don’t want him in my house.”

    There was a man standing beside her, removing containers from bags and placing them in a cabinet. A door slammed, another opened. “Honey,” he said, a desperate edge in his voice. “But … I thought it was our house. And he’s my friend. And I thought —”

    “You do entirely too much thinking,” she said, standing to face him. “The problem is you think about the wrong things. I understand that he’s your friend, although I can’t for the life of me imagine why. Do you ever think how selfish that makes you seem, to me? That you’d remain friends with him after —”

    The man handed her a bag of things meant for the fridge. “But you said you’d moved on —”

    She tossed the things in the fridge and slammed the door. “I have moved on, Charles. The problem is obviously you haven’t. That you’d invite that … that … neanderthal … to our dinner party. Our first dinner party. I can’t even —” She walked out the room, seemingly through a wall. The conversation was over.

    The man continued putting up the groceries, and then pulled his phone out of his pocket. His hands shook as he tapped on the screen, then held the device up to his ear.

    Phoebe pulled away from the glass. She searched Daisy’s face for some understanding of what they’d just witnessed, what role they were meant to play, but was met with an inscrutable blankness.

    (Read from the first)

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  6. How to Writing Sample

    Often, if you’re applying for a job (or university, or for an internship, or some coveted scholarship or fellowship), you’ll be asked to include a writing sample.

    Writing samples are important. I know this because I’ve spent quite a bit of time today reviewing applications from people who want to be writers and editors — and I’ve rejected at least 95 percent of them because of the writing sample. A person otherwise perfectly well-qualified didn’t get selected because their writing sample sucked.

    So I’ll say it again: writing samples are really fucking important.

    Granted, I’m looking at people for freelance work: if they get accepted and then don’t perform well, their articles get rejected and they get sent on their way. But in the meantime, they cost everybody a lot of time and money: they fail to produce quality work where another writer would have excelled, they require time to be spent editing and auditing their work, they require team leaders to spend time trying to help them, etc.

    Of course, since I’m looking at bringing these people on to be writers and editors, their writing sample is going to be the most important thing they submit. But even in other contexts, if anyone ever asks you for a writing sample for any reason ever, there’s a few things you need to pay attention and make extra sure you do:

    • Proofread. Literally read that thing backwards and forwards. Maybe even have someone else proofread it for you too. If you’re going to be completing a lot of applications that will require writing samples, start a library of writing samples and proofread them all. Especially if you’re applying to be an editor, if I find five typos in the first paragraph of your writing sample, I’ve already stopped reading.
    • Stay Within Word Count. If the guidelines say they want a writing sample of “no more than 800 words,” your writing sample better not be any longer than that. Don’t think turning in something 1,000 words (or even 10,000 words!) long is going to impress them and make you look like a real go-getter — it’s not. It’s going to make you look like someone who is disrespectful of other people’s time and doesn’t know how to follow simple instructions.
    • Stay on Topic. If you’re applying to be a web content writer, for example, don’t send in the last essay you wrote for philosophy class or your term paper for history. Not only did you not want to write it, but no one else wants to read it and it has nothing to do with the type of writing you want to produce for that company. Of course, if you’re applying for a history fellowship, by all means submit that history paper (as opposed to a guest blog you wrote on the Hottest California Summer Fashion Trends).
    • Pick a Style. All schools, publications, etc. have some style guide that they use. This is probably pretty easy information to find. Whatever style they use, find out and use it yourself. Edit that writing sample to fit their style. There are differences between AP and Chicago. There are differences in the citation formats of all the various academic styles — and to someone accustomed to seeing things one way, seeing it another way is nails-on-a-chalkboard wrong.
    • Follow Format Instructions. If you’re told to submit a writing sample in a certain file format, or with certain margins or certain font sizes and spacing — do that. If you don’t, you look like someone who is disrespectful and doesn’t know how to follow simple instructions. If instructions aren’t specified, use a basic, legible font like Times New Roman or Helvetica in 12-point.
    • Proofread. I know, I told you to do that before. Do it again. I was serious about reading it backwards — you’d be amazed the errors that jump off the page when you read something backwards. Then read it aloud. A lot of grammatical errors that don’t look wrong on paper will sound atrocious when you read them back.

    I realize this may seem like extremely basic stuff — but precisely because it’s extremely basic stuff, it’s also stuff people tend to gloss over. It’s stuff people tend to think isn’t really that important or doesn’t really matter. To the person who has potentially hundreds of applications to evaluate, however, it’s a pretty big deal — and these little things can make or break your chances at getting whatever thing you’re trying to get.

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  7. How Like Clouds We Are

    Because we have the greatest conversations
    without saying a word — in silence
    stretched too far to be bridged; too thick
    to penetrate without collateral damage.

    How something so hard and heavy
    becomes comfortable and common-
    place; a sweater with frayed cuffs
    and a hole in the seam where you
    could hook your finger like a prayer

    to join ever and after with something
    as mortal and trembling as us.

    Like the way my name sounds
    in your head —

    We leave the most important words
    unsaid, curled up and faded
    in thick envelopes dampened with rain,
    a seal unbroken by doubts

    or conditions. And though I find
    sweet thoughts of you, pastel petals
    aloft and drifting through my mind
    all the time — I never voice
    them. I don’t have to.

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  8. The most recent visitor to my patio … a young armadillo.

    The most recent visitor to my patio … a young armadillo.

  9. Godalming: No Vacancy

    “All these rooms are occupied. My task — and I’m assuming yours, at some point — is to observe. You record your observations and ultimately those are collected together in the massive record books in the libraries upstairs.” Daisy pulled a small notebook out of her pocket and flipped the cover open as they walked.

    “But how? When I came in last night, it didn’t look like anyone had been upstairs in ages. All that —”

    “Oh no, no one ever uses the front stairs. Or the front door, really, for that matter. I haven’t even been out there since I first came here. It does give quite an impression, though, doesn’t it?”

    “I suppose. I mean, I was a bit afraid I was going to be handed dust rags after breakfast,” Phoebe said.

    “That’s a totally understandable conclusion to reach,” Daisy said. “But don’t worry — you weren’t brought here to help with housekeeping. I know what he saw in you.”

    “That’s what I don’t understand,” Phoebe said. “I mean, okay, all of this is strange and confusing — except you, I guess, you’ve been … lovely. But last night … he said he knew what I was. That I was safe. Or would be safe. If I came with him, I guess. I don’t —”

    “I see it too,” Daisy said, rather like she’d simply completed her original thought than that Phoebe had spoken. “Here,” she said, motioning to one of the doors. “Take a look.”

    “Wait,” Phoebe blinked and looked at the window in the door as though seeing it for the first time. “How is that — is that a porthole?”

    (Read from the first)

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller

  10. Godalming: Passerine

    “You certainly know how to raise a fuss, don’t you?” Daisy laughed, squeezing Phoebe’s hand. A small mockingbird had asserted himself behind them and was poking about at some leaves. He looked up at Daisy and cocked his head in response. “You’re never going to catch anything like that,” she scolded. “You’ve got to learn to be a little quieter.” The bird bobbed his head forward, once, then took a tentative hop forward.

    “There you go,” Daisy said. “Now why don’t you forage somewhere else, eh? You startled my friend.” The little bird took three hops to the left and then flew to the branch of a neighboring tree.

    Phoebe took a deep breath and let it out, her arms still tingling, face burning. “I can’t believe,” she said, shaking her head. “Do you often talk to animals?”

    Daisy laughed. “Oh, I promise he didn’t understand a word I said. Although it did seem that way, didn’t it? I just distracted him long enough to let whatever he was chasing get away, sadly. Probably a little skink, there’s loads of those around here.” As if on cue, Phoebe saw a thin, electric blue tail flick and disappear under a rock.

    Phoebe realized she was still clutching Daisy’s knee, and jerked away. Then, thinking that probably looked more awkward even than simply leaving it there, she set it down on the rock between them. “So is this what you do all day, then? Feed fish and talk to birds?”

    Daisy smiled. “You make me sound like some sort of princess in an animated film,” she said. “I assure you this is the most glamorous stuff I do — aside from bathing, but that’s obviously a more intimate, understated sort of glamor, don’t you think?”

    Phoebe couldn’t help but recall the sight of Daisy in a towel, detangling her wet hair. “Well … I … sure, bathrooms are inherently intimate places.”

    Phoebe rolled her eyes and stood up. “I’m just trying to get a rise out of you, honestly. You make it so easy. But I can tell you’re just chomping at the bit to find out exactly what’s expected of you here — and that’s a good thing. I don’t know what was really planned for you today, but I’m about to do my morning rounds, so you can shadow me if you’d like.”

    “Rounds? Like a doctor?” Phoebe thought back to all the long white halls, to all the doors. Sending a silent goodbye to the koi, she followed Daisy back toward the house.

    “Oh, I’m not a doctor, but yes. I suppose you could say it’s something like that. Forgive me, but it’s a bit difficult to just explain. It’s kind of something you have to see to understand.” She held open the door and Phoebe stepped back inside the house.

    (Read from the first)

    © 2014 by Jennifer R.R. Mueller