Righteous Anger 2k18: Pro-Choice Edition

I live in Iowa, where our governor is trying her damndest to make abortion as inaccessible as possible. I’m from California, where the governor could soon sign a bill that would let public university health centers offer the abortion pill. This post was born of bitterness and jealousy. Enjoy.


“No one wants an abortion.”

  • Yes, they do.
  • And even if they don’t, you can need something without wanting one.
  • No one wants a root canal or open heart surgery, but abortion is safer than both of those things.
  • No one wants a medical procedure at all in the same way they “want” a new car or an iPhone or whatever, but if they want to not be pregnant anymore, this choice should be available to them.

“We all want abortion gone.”

  • Wouldn’t it be nice if we never had to do any medical procedures ever again? If everyone stayed healthy and their bodies behaved?
  • Wait, is that not realistic?
  • If another abortion never had to be done again, that would be great! Not because abortion itself would be gone, but because we would have also figured out how to prevent all unintended, unwanted pregnancies. Amazing!
  • Outlawing abortion doesn’t make it go away. It just makes it unsafe.

“I’m pro-choice, but anti-abortion-as-birth-control.”

  • WHOMST are you talking about? Your friend Abortion Ashley who drops hundreds of dollars on her weekly abortion that she conveniently fits between her Zumba class and drinks with the girls?
  • But for real, who are you talking about? Who thinks, “Hell yeah, I’d rather inflict a potentially dangerous medical condition on myself for no reason than prevent it at all”?
  • Is your suggestion to give everyone birth control? Because as it stands, not everyone can get birth control.
  • In any case, can you name a birth control that’s 100% effective?
  • (Don’t say abstinence. We all know how “abstinent” people can get pregnant.)

“Only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion-related, which is why we should keep them in business.”

  • Reproductive rights include abortion.
  • Abortion access should not be used as a bargaining chip to ensure that clinics stay open.
  • The people who want to shut down Planned Parenthood do not care, because abortion isn’t their single issue. Their single issue is ensuring people cannot get the health care they need.
  • Case in point: Mike Pence caused an HIV outbreak in Indiana because he didn’t like abortion and didn’t care who else suffered as a result.
  • It just looks like abortion is their single issue because they don’t say it exactly like this.

“No one likes abortion.”

  • Yes, they do.
  • And if they don’t, that’s no big loss either. See “No one wants an abortion.”
  • Liking the procedure itself and liking that the safe option exists, or liking that you were able to get it done, are (or can be) different.
  • But if you feel nothing but relief throughout, or gratitude for your providers who are risking their own lives to give you care (whether abortion-related or not — see “Only 3%…”), or the overwhelming desire to jump for joy when it’s over, more power to you. There’s no one right reaction to having an abortion.
  • Anyway, I like abortion. That’s one!

Photo via Mary Crandall on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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“Something deep and meaningful yet shallow and exhibitionist.”

For me, moving away to college meant the opportunity to reinvent myself after growing up in a town of about 9,000 people where the opportunity to change was only granted as we started new schools in 6th and 9th grades. Because this was the late 2000s, the majority of my reinvention happened on social media. And because I was trying as hard as I could to be the biggest stereotype of a depressed English major possible, this was further pigeonholed to my Facebook quotes section, where I could prove I was worldly, had friends, and had great taste all at the same time.

TL;DR, peep this (vaguely edited) ancient relic, interspersed with a Photo Booth shoot I did between my freshman and sophomore years of college, as I figure out what my next real post should be. Italicized bits are comments I’m adding as I read through this before posting; usernames are all from AIM (RIP). Enjoy!


“I heard he dressed up like Josh Hamilton for the 1st and 2nd rounds of the home run derby and bombed a bunch of homers, then went to save 55 orphans from a burning building during the finals, letting the real Josh bat for himself. I’d be dehydrated too, after that.” —Scott Johnson [some guy in some comments section somewhere], on why Timmy [Tim Lincecum] was hospitalized [before the 2008 All-Star Game]

jjasperse: besides, most of what i write is crap and you know it
jjasperse: but even crap can be made into something like paper from Baksheesh [a local store with certain enlightened products]

“My love for you is like my quiver of arrows…endless.” —Legolas in a LOTR parody I watched once [one of the “One Ring to Rule Them All” flash films by LegendaryFrog]

“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourself in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” —J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” —Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

“Ecclesiastes is really emo.” —Lee

“(holds up ballpoint pen) These things can KILL. I saw it on Oprah.” —Angeline

Me: “‘Español’ done got a ‘g’ in it in French, it’s ‘espagnol.'”
Gelly: “Whatchu done do to our language?”
Me: “Well how’s do ya say ‘French’ in yo’ language?”
Gelly: “Francé…s?”
Me: “WhatCHU done do to our language? You dun pronounce the ‘s’!”
Gelly: “Well, at least we din’t put a ‘g’ in it! ‘FRAGnes…'”
(we were speaking in Southern accents)

“I like rice. Rice is great if you’re hungry and want 2000 of something.” —Mitch Hedberg

“They are sweat shorts, they are not man capris!” —Random GU guy

“It’s hard to spell at 210 beats per minute.” —Wayne Brady

Me: “The high school’s musical this year will be ridiculous, I feel bad for the people who will spend money to see it.”
ADWS [a friend’s nickname]: “What is it?”
Me: “Fiddler on the Roof. With no male singers in the entire school and no fiddlers!”
ADWS: “ABSURD. Very absurd. Bad Mac [music director].”
Me: “I know! Way to choose a musical with no female leads when that’s all you have, Barb [also music director]!”
ADWS: “Yeah, that’s lame.”
Me: “Well, I suppose they could have fucked themselves more. I mean, they could have done RENT.”
ADWS: (laughs emphatically) “That would have been a good end to the department!”

“On a large enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.” —Fight Club (novel)

“Apparently Oprah is not a Geodude.” —ADWS

“McMansion, McMansion, McMansion, McDonalds? McDreamy, McSteamy, McMansion, Fleetwood Mac, and Macaulay Culkin!”
—Bart Simpson

“You have not lived until you’ve found something worth dying for.” —Whale Wars trailer

From the 10/19/2007 IRQ-a-thon [when our AP Lit teacher asked us each questions about the reading]:
Aldy [teacher]: (begins to ask me an IRQ question about King Lear)
Me: (confused look)
Aldy: “Well, is that a pass?”
Me: “No, finish what you were saying.”
Aldy: “Yes, dear. Guys, you should work on saying that, I have to say it to my wife a lot…1, 2, 3, yes dear! Yes, comic relief is nice at a time like this!”

“Synec…douche?” —[a friend] trying to pronounce “Synecdoche”

“Why not admit that my dissatisfaction reveals an excessive ambition, perhaps a megalomaniac delirium? For the writer who wants to annul himself in order to give voice to what is outside him, two paths open: either write a book that could be the unique book, that exhausts the whole in its pages; or write all books, to pursue the whole through its partial images. The unique book, which contains the whole, could only be the sacred text, the total world revealed. But I do not believe totality can be contained in language; my problem is what remains outside, the unwritten, the unwritable. The only way left me is that writing of all books, writing the books of all possible authors.

“If I think I must write one book, all the problems of how this book should be and how it should not be block me and keep me from going forward. If, on the contrary, I think that I am writing a whole library, I feel suddenly lightened: I know that whatever I write will be integrated, contradicted, balanced, amplified, buried by the hundreds of volumes that remain for me to write.” —If on a winter’s night a traveler

*** [ellipses because of the lengthy quote above, I suppose]

Why I am a complete and utter nerd:

Upon hearing Philip Glass’s “Metamorphosis One” during the Academy Awards (this is how the conversation began, I guess we can just read each other’s minds):
scalpelixis [me]: OMG
scalpelixis: OMG
jjasperse [not me]: OMG
scalpelixis: I JUST TEXTED YOU
scalpelixis: OMG
jjasperse: OMGOMGOMG
scalpelixis: OMG!!!!!!!!!
jjasperse: KRAZZZYY

Something horrible like puns being turned into something amazing like LOTR:
scalpelixis: god
scalpelixis: why didn’t you do anything for my birthday
scalpelixis: except that pun thing
scalpelixis: i hate puns
jjasperse: haha
scalpelixis: I THOUGHT YOU KNEW THAT
scalpelixis: I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS
jjasperse: AREN’T WE FRIENDS
jjasperse: SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM
jjasperse: LEMME BARROW THAT TOP?
scalpelixis: Barrow-wights or Barrow-downs?!!?!?!??!
scalpelixis: omglotr [help me]
jjasperse: haha

Self-explanatory:
scalpelixis: I dreamt a dream tonight.
jjasperse: And so did I.
scalpelixis: Well, what was yours?
jjasperse: That dreamers often lie.
scalpelixis: In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.
jjasperse: Oh, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
scalpelixis: and then he rants for a really long time
jjasperse: no
jjasperse: “Queen Mab, what’s she”
jjasperse: then rant
scalpelixis: since when
jjasperse: since 43V3r
scalpelixis: lemme check it off angeline’s complete works of shakespeare
jjasperse: kay
scalpelixis: I’m right
jjasperse: no
jjasperse: http://nfs.sparknotes.com/romeojuliet/page_52.html
scalpelixis: http://i41.tinypic.com/1tjudi.jpg
[the two links showed different things]
scalpelixis: weird
jjasperse: weird

*** [what??]

“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years! And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce…

“And they say there’s no fate, but there is, it’s what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead, or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain wasting years for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right, but it never comes. Or it seems to, but it doesn’t really.

“So you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along, something to make you feel connected, something to make you feel cherished, something to make you feel loved. And the truth is is, I feel so angry! And the truth is, I feel so fucking sad! And the truth is, I’ve felt so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long, I’ve been pretending I’m okay, just to get along!

“I don’t know why. Maybe because…no one wants to hear about my misery…because they have their own.

“Fuck everybody. Amen.” —Synecdoche, New York

“It feels like a moment I’ve lived a thousand times before, as if everything is familiar, right up to the moment of my death, that it will happen again an infinite number of times, that we will meet, marry, have our children, succeed in the ways we have, fail in the ways we have, all exactly the same, always unable to change a thing. I am again at the bottom of an unstoppable wheel, and when I feel my eyes close for death, as they have and will a thousand times, I awake.” —Everything Is Illuminated

Me: (drops a bag of chocolate on the floor, one falls out) Aww. Now I have to eat it. (does so; goes back to original position on bed, camera falls on the floor)
Angeline: Aww. Now you have to eat it.

Mrs. McElroy: “We’re meeting in the band room at 5 AM.”
ADWS: “There’s a 5 AM??”

“I felt like such an ADULT walking out of the bank, using the ATM and getting my own money, going to my CAR and driving to go buy food with my money!”—Andy

“Now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering—this is an all-weather beatitude for gloom in general and fairly salutary day-time advice for everyone. But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work—and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald

“During his [U.N.] address, Gaddafi renewed his call for ‘Isratine,’ which would be one state made up of Israelis and Palestinians. Or as it’s known here: Queens.”—Seth Meyers

“What better cover than a business trip to Nebraska? Like that’s REALLY a place.” —Dr. House [I had a certain…personal hatred for Nebraska at the time, so this was very intentionally chosen]

*** [stop it, Christine]

All from Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close:

“The mistakes I’ve made are dead to me. But I can’t take back the things I never did.”

“What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone’s heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar. One weird thing is, I wonder if everyone’s hearts would start to beat at the same time, like how women who live together have their menstrual periods at the same time, which I know about, but don’t really want to know about. That would be so weird, except that the place in the hospital where babies are born would sound like a crystal chandelier in a houseboat, because the babies wouldn’t have had time to match up their heartbeats yet. And at the finish line at the end of the New York City Marathon it would sound like war.”

“I like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.”

“Why are you leaving me?
He wrote, I do not know how to live.
I do not know either but I am trying.
I do not know how to try.
There were some things I wanted to tell him. But I knew they would hurt him. So I buried them and let them hurt me.”

*** [ah]

All from Of Human Bondage:

“‘Partly for pleasure, because it’s a habit and I’m just as uncomfortable if I don’t read as if I don’t smoke, and partly to know myself.  When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me; I’ve got out of the book all that’s any use to me, and I can’t get anything more if I read it a dozen times.  You see, it seems to me, one’s like a closed bud, and most of what one reads and does has no effect at all; but there are certain things that have a peculiar significance for one, and they open a petal; and the petals open one by one; and at last the flower is there.'”

“‘I was examined yesterday,’ he remarked at last.  ‘It was worth while undergoing the gene of it to know that one was perfectly fit.’
Philip noticed that he still used a French word in an affected way when an English one would have served.”

“Philip himself asked desperately what was the use of living at all.  It all seemed inane.  It was the same with Cronshaw: it was quite unimportant that he had lived; he was dead and forgotten; his life seemed to have served nothing except to give a pushing journalist occasion to write an article in a review.  And Philip cried out in his soul:
‘What is the use of it?’
The effort was so incommensurate with the result.  The bright hopes of youth had to be paid for at such a bitter price of disillusionment.  Pain and disease and unhappiness weighed down the scale so heavily.  What did it all mean?  He thought of his own life, the high hopes with which he had entered upon it, the limitations which his body forced upon him, his friendlessness, and the lack of affection which had surrounded his youth.  He did not know that he had ever done anything but what seemed best to do, and what a cropper he had come!  Other men, with no more advantages than he, succeeded, and others again, with many more, failed.  It seemed pure chance.  The rain fell alike upon the just and upon the unjust, and for nothing was there a why and a wherefore.”

*** [I give up]

“Melinda Pratt rides city bus number twelve to her cello lesson, wearing her mother’s jean jacket and only one sock. Hallo, world, says Minna. Minna often addresses the world, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud. Bus number twelve is her favorite place for watching, inside and out. The bus passes cars and bicycles and people walking dogs. It passes store windows, and every so often Minna sees her face reflection, two dark eyes in a face as pale as a winter dawn. There are fourteen people on the bus today. Minna stands up to count them. She likes to count people, telephone poles, hats, umbrellas, and, lately, earrings. One girl, sitting directly in front of Minna, has seven earrings, five in one ear. She has wisps of dyed green hair that lie like forsythia buds against her neck.

“There are, Minna knows, a king, a past president of the United States, and a beauty queen on the bus. Minna can tell by looking. The king yawns and scratches his ear with his little finger. Scratches, not picks. The beauty queen sleeps, her mouth open, her hair the color of tomatoes not yet ripe. The past preside of the United States reads Teen Love and Body Builder’s Annual.

“Next to Minna, leaning against the seat, is her cello in its zippered canvas case. Next to her cello is her younger brother, McGrew, who is humming. McGrew always hums. Sometimes he hums sentences, though most often it comes out like singing. McGrew’s teachers do not enjoy McGrew answering questions in hums or song. Neither does the school principal, Mr. Ripley. McGrew spends lots of time sitting on the bench outside Mr. Ripley’s office, humming.

“Today McGrew is humming the newspaper. First the headlines, then the sports section, then the comics. McGrew only laughs at the headlines.

“Minna smiles at her brother. He is small and stocky and compact like a suitcase. Minna loves him. McGrew always tells the truth, even when he shouldn’t. He is kind. And he lends Minna money from the coffee jar he keeps beneath his mattress.

“Minna looks out the bus window and thinks about her life. Her one life. She likes artichokes and blue fingernail polish and Mozart played too fast. She loves baseball, and the month of March because no one else much likes March, and every shade of brown she has ever seen. But this is only one life. Someday, she knows, she will have another life. A better one. McGrew knows this, too. McGrew is ten years old. He knows nearly everything. He knows, for instance, that his older sister, Minna Pratt, age eleven, is sitting patiently next to her cello waiting to be a woman.” —The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt

Who Likes Short Shorts?

Hey, everyone!

I recently put together and submitted these 18-word short stories to a publication. They didn’t want them, and I don’t really have a use for them outside of that particular outlet, so you get to read them here! (Some of these scream “high school,” so no, it’s not weird if almost feels like you might have been around when certain events took place.)

Freshman Year
College is full of new experiences. In the dorms, even going to the bathroom is a social ordeal.

2018
People tell me I should “shoot for the stars.” But what happens when the stars also have guns?

Cruciverbalists
They scoff when she mentions that gimmicky poster-size crossword puzzle from SkyMall. However, she’s solved it; they haven’t.

AP English
The teacher accidentally said “Yes, dear” to a girl. He then lectured the boys on respecting their wives.

Identity
Young adulthood: Always looked down upon, never sure when you’re old enough to do the looking down upon.

Hope everyone’s having a lovely weekend.

How “Lady Bird” inspires me to keep writing “unlikable” semi-autobiographical characters

(Note: Spoiler-wise, I don’t think there’s anything here that isn’t referenced in a trailer or review of Lady Bird. Let me know if this ends up not being the case and I will happily edit the post.)

I’ve written five novels, three of which feature high school-age girls navigating life, the inevitability of change, and the tumults of coming of age. The first time I workshopped a few chapters of one of them, my peers’ main feedback was that they didn’t like my protagonist. She was realistic, they said, but also annoying, uncaring, and most of all, “unlikable.” Inevitably, I’d reveal that this character was semi-autobiographical, based on myself in high school, and half my workshop would stare blankly, and at least one person would apologize.

This comment didn’t really bother me, all things considered. I didn’t need the apology. I know that in high school, especially, I could come off as possessing any of these three characteristics. This criticism wasn’t reflective of me now, but more likely the way I wrote her. However, as I’ve recently learned, a big reason for not being able to write unlikable yet relatable characters to the standard I wanted was that I’m not Greta Gerwig, the writer-director of Lady Bird.

In trying to cram all the good things I’d like to say about this film into a spoiler-free paragraph that will provide context for what I’m about to discuss, here’s what I’ve got: It’s incredibly well-written, but not forced. There’s no “how do you do, fellow kids?” about it; the teenagers sound like teenagers. It’s fast-paced, but each scene feels entirely fleshed out and also necessary, even the ones that are only a few seconds long. The characters and settings and storylines alike are given the right amount of attention for the story that’s being told.

Music⚡️Band 4 lyfe.

My main impression, though, was something I was instantly convinced of while watching for the first time, that I ever-so-eloquently put into words upon exiting the theater: Gosh, this is so real.

And the basic “real”-ness of Lady Bird is no coincidence. Reading about Gerwig, I learned about the similarities she shares with the titular character: they both grew up in Sacramento with a nurse for a mother, they both went to all-girls Catholic high schools, they both attended college in New York City. And then I read this quote of hers in a Rolling Stone article about the film:

“Writing this character was an exploration of all these things I didn’t have access to or I couldn’t be. In that way, it almost felt like this fairy-tale invention of a deeply flawed heroine, but one who I admire. I think she shows courage and a lot of character even when she’s flailing.”

Reading this is when it clicked: Lady Bird is the young-adult novel—and more importantly, the protagonist—that I’ve always wanted to write.

Can I also say that it’s the first time EVER that a film protagonist has shared my name and I haven’t recoiled in horror by the end?

I don’t exactly have escapism fantasies of returning to my senior year of high school. But in all of my novel-length works that feature teenagers, I’ve based characters, places, and even conversations on my own experiences. For example, as a 17-year-old, I didn’t think that I could get into a college in New York City, so I sent a character to a small liberal arts college in Vermont that mirrors where I first ended up, Gonzaga University. If I write a best friend character, she’s almost certainly based on one or two of my actual closest friends from that time—that way, I can draw upon our most naïve conversations, our most trivial arguments, and our overall friendship dynamic (how often did we see each other? were we huggers? did we mostly hang out right after school or plan activities for the weekend? and so on).

And it’s not that I can’t write “original” characters or scenarios. In fact, seemingly like Gerwig, I use my own experiences to set the tone for my stories, whether it’s a small town like the one I grew up in or a “borrowed” character or two, before introducing new ideas. To me, this kind of freedom isn’t restricted by the limitations of place or people I’ve set, but is in fact made wider by my extensive knowledge of the universe I’ve established. Being able to draw from my own life in order to tweak a scene or a line of dialogue and make it more authentic is a fantastic privilege.

I can’t describe well enough how empowered I felt after each time I saw Lady Bird. Here’s a writer-director who’s come up with a character, and a mother-daughter duo, who cycle between BFF-style bonding and familial bickering in the way that only mothers and daughters can, but who, more than that, are allowed to be as “unlikable” as they want. My favorite part is that what Gerwig has accomplished with Lady Bird and her mother has spurred reactions online ranging from enthusiastic relatability to abject annoyance. Which, not to compare the execution but rather the basic content, is pretty much how my own foray into the young adult genre has gone. My main shortcoming, though, is not letting my characters know well enough that they can be wholly unapologetic about their real-life qualities. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it has to be fake.

Worth it.

Finally, I’d like to talk about the reason I’ve seen Lady Bird five times in the theater (as evidenced by the above photo). And best way (or at least, the way I’ve chosen) to do this is to list my general thoughts going into each viewing:

  • 1: My sister said I’d like this. I’m a big fan of Saoirse Ronan. It got good reviews. Why not?
  • 2: My husband MUST see this movie, and I enjoyed it so I won’t mind seeing it a second time.
  • 3: I’ve decided I want to write something about this lovely, lovely movie. But what? (Here’s where I realize that it’s very much like a young adult novel.)
  • 4: No, seriously, what? (Worth mentioning: this is the first viewing where I cried almost all the way through. I knew all the jokes and the emotional moments and what happened and whose performances would affect me, and it all hit me at once.)
  • 5: Here’s what I want to write about. Here’s how I want to view the film this time around; what I want to get out of it. And look, it’s only $6.

A fifth viewing may have solidified the topic I’ve chosen for this particular writing, but it still only scratches the surface of my attempt to learn more about and begin to emulate everything I love about this film, this script. I want to nail Lady Bird’s voice in my own characters. I want to learn to balance the unlikability of teenage characters with their (nostalgic) relatability. I want to balance how high schoolers present themselves with how they think, how the things that they never tell anyone influence how they see the world. I want to be able to write a mother-daughter relationship that takes the inherent volatility, love, and “like” and makes it feel effortlessly real.

It’s always been somewhat therapeutic for me to almost “rewrite” my teenage years through my characters, whether it’s working out a part of my personality that I was never able to figure out then by finally putting it into words, or so pettily finally getting to say what I wanted to say in a ten-year-old argument with a friend that hasn’t left my memories. But now, thanks to Lady Bird, I have a new wish for my future as a writer: I hope that I can develop the confidence and the skill to have my own characters reach out to others in the way that Lady Bird‘s have to me. As long as they’re well-written, then the more unlikable, the better.


All Lady Bird screencaps come from the trailer, which can be found here.

The promise of blue skies

This is an account of my thoughts and experiences watching from Iowa as the recent North Bay fires descended upon my home county and hometown of Sonoma, California; it takes place between October 9 and 16, 2017. I wrote each of these sections on the days they describe and chose to edit only lightly in order to maintain the uncertainty, fear, and hope that I experienced throughout the week. (I took the above photo during my most recent visit home in December 2015.)


Monday

I can almost smell the fire as I wake up.

My husband is out of town for the three-day weekend. When I see the photos of suburban Santa Rosa, grey and charred and depressingly reminiscent of a postapocalyptic neighborhood in the Fallout game series, I don’t want to talk to anyone.

For the first time in years, my Facebook feed is organized. Updates from the North Bay on top, everything else scrunched at the bottom. Friends marking themselves “safe” from the Tubbs Fire, the Nuns Fire, the Adobe Fire. There is nothing but fire.

My eyes glaze as I read post after post about evacuations, friends who have already lost their homes, how to learn more.

I text Sonoma’s zip code to the county sheriff’s department for updates: 95476 to 888-777.

At one p.m., I finally hear from my mom.

“In case you’re wondering, we’re fine here so far. It smells smoky,” she tells my sister and me, before informing us that our family friend’s house and neighborhood were destroyed.

“They are safe, though,” she adds.

Those haunting, postapocalyptic photos are of their neighborhood. I can’t look at them again.

*

My family is scattered across the country like teardrops in the open ocean, so far away by distance but emotionally one and the same forevermore. Extended family on the east coast, me in Iowa, my sister in Southern California, my parents in Sonoma. Those of us alone and out of danger are horrified. My parents are in danger and my mom hints at nothing amiss except the bag she’s packed, and that my dad hasn’t packed enough.

The alert says they’re evacuating Pets Lifeline. Less than a mile away. Hours ago, Pets Lifeline was the evacuation center for small pets.

“I’m not worried,” the text representing my mom’s projective thoughts reads. I nod, but don’t reply.

*

The trailer for the upcoming Star Wars movie premieres that night. My sister will love the Porg, so I immediately slide a screenshot from the trailer into our group text of it and Chewbacca. Anything to break the tension, to reintroduce any kind of normalcy we can.

“Does Chewie eat the Porg?” my mom asks.

Indeed. Things are almost normal.

 

Tuesday

But even as regularity persists in our hearts, it’s unnerving how utterly routine everything is in Iowa. No mountains, no hills. What would fire be like here? Is our only exposure to fire the hazy, yellow-tinted skies as smoke billows in from the north, signaling its distress, as we idle, comment on the inconvenience, and go about our days with the promise of blue skies in the back of our minds?

*

Every break between sheriff’s department alerts is a long breath of cool ocean air before I’m dunked back down into the water once more.

*

My mom and I compare notes about all the local celebrities who’ve helped others escape their homes or lost their own: Noah Lowry (escaped), Barry Bonds (helped), Levi Leipheimer (lost). “I’ve done nothing,” she writes under a thick blanket of smoke. “Feeling guilty.”

I don’t say that she shouldn’t feel guilty. I don’t say that she has no reason to feel guilty because she could so easily be the next one in such dire need. I don’t say a lot more.

Instead, I send her a link to an article detailing which evacuation centers need supplies. If helping others helps her, then let it help us all.

 

Wednesday

In late 2008, just as I was settling into my freshman year of college, I found I was still on my high school music department’s email list when I received a message about the sweatshirts that all marching band members would have to buy as part of the uniform that year. Not fully assimilated at my new school, I replied to the email and requested one Sonoma Valley High School Dragon Band sweatshirt.

The comfort I felt wearing it then was nothing compared to the comfort it provides me now.

Whenever I run into the bathroom at work to read the latest update from the sheriff’s department, I am Sonoma. When I’m shelving books, I am Sonoma. I glance at our library’s copy of The Girls, written by a Sonoma author, Emma Cline, and feel a sudden warmth.

Teardrops in the ocean. We’re not so far apart after all.

*

I’m angry that some of my friends who marked themselves “safe” on Facebook received a text message at 12:30 in the morning to evacuate. Whether they wanted to show everyone they were a part of something big, or whether they truly thought they were safe, it doesn’t matter now. Safety comes and goes with the winds that bring the fires ever-closer to Sonoma, hopeful ebbs coupled with disastrous flows as the “safe” messages are soon replaced by photos of the myriad cars streaming out of town. The ebb of maintained community, the flow of panic. My parents are not yet among them.

*

In the group text, I bring up the message we all received from AT&T telling us they won’t be charging overages through Saturday, and we joke about the ways we could use up as much cellular data as possible. Then my mom sends a photo of her at work, out of town, wearing an N95 particulate mask to shield her from the smoke lingering outside.

The sheriff’s department interrupts our brief moment of solace. Advisory evacuations of northern Sonoma are underway.

“I’m on my way home,” my mom writes next. “I don’t want Dad to be alone.”

 

Thursday

Thursdays are my days off from work. I wake up at 7:30 a.m. Who can catch up on sleep when an alert could come in at any minute that could signal my parents’, my city’s, impending doom?

*

I want nothing more than to be at work, where cell coverage is sparse and text messages dissipate in the infuriatingly clean air, eighteen hundred miles from the havoc wrought upon Sonoma, where friends are swapping masks for inhalers in hopes that one of their chosen remedies will protect them from the smoke, while even those who evacuated long before sleep on cold wooden floors in San Francisco (or even farther south) and can barely go outside not as much for the choking air but because every time they look to the north, they remember what they left behind, and try even harder to remember what they may have lost forever.

*

My parents find a hotel room for the weekend in Carpinteria, which is where my sister lives, just south of Santa Barbara. I suggest it because, more than likely, there won’t be many vacancies near the Bay Area, but also because I think it would be nice for at least some of our family to be together during this time.

They never use the word “evacuate.” Evacuating is for victims, people in affected areas, people who’ve had sheriff’s deputies knock on their doors and don’t have time to say anything but, “Get out! Now!” because those residents have been awaiting this moment, those residents have been packed for days, those residents made arrangements out of town.

My mom uses the phrase “skip town,” as if she’s the one who’s done something wrong.

 

Friday

They say the wind was supposed to be bad the previous night, but it wasn’t, because the only alert this morning concerns Napa County. I wonder if the eerie quiet I’ve felt in Iowa is the same as what some in Sonoma must be experiencing.

I relax; I feign normalcy. I retweet some information from a Sonoma reporter I recently started following. I allow myself to feel hopeful that this might end soon. I take my planned vacation, a six-hour drive not unlike the one my parents took the day before. As my lower back twinges in the unfamiliar cloth seat of the rental car, this is the thought that keeps me from complaining, even in my head. My parents just did this drive, and they were leaving something behind, not running toward something. My parents just did this drive. My parents…

The quiet is bad.

 

Saturday

My eyes spring open before I am ready.

Mandatory evacuations.

One quarter-mile from my parents’ house.

Did they water it down before they left?

What did they take with them?

Do they know what might happen?

Are they prepared?

What are we about to lose?

*

I take back all those retweets from the previous morning, feeling like I tricked anyone who read them.

*

For the first time, the group texts abruptly end.

For the first time, the distance may as well be nothing. For the first time, I may as well be able to peer outside my friend’s open window, inhale lungfuls of smoke, and gaze upon the hellscape no longer beyond the horizon. For the first time, I can’t help feeling that I have everything to lose.

 

Sunday

I read that the high school’s evacuation center is still open, has still been open. Every few hours, I learn that another bar on the Plaza, which was under a voluntary evacuation earlier in the week, has reopened. They still don’t have electricity, but they are welcoming weary post-evacuees, entertaining, and giving away food and drink in spite of it all.

 

Monday

The late morning text alert I receive is, for once, not an alert. Press briefing. One p.m. Fairgrounds. The same as every day.

Evacuations are being lifted across the valley, but the air quality is still terrible. Roads are still blocked off, but rain may be coming soon.

Two good days in a row feels like a trick, so I stay silent on social media. One errant retweet could bring this all back. But even still, I feel the distance between myself and Sonoma growing again. The flames can’t reach me here.

I take a deep breath, waiting to be immersed in a fiery expanse of endless dread once more. I am measured, cautious, unsure. And then I exhale, purely, deeply, the start of the week’s anxieties into the fresh air, and none of it comes back to hurt me.