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As the years pass I find myself wondering more and more if what I remember about my childhood are the events themselves or merely a memory of those events. There is a half-awake feel about these memories, a sense of being twice-removed, as if somewhere along the way the direct chain of cause and effect had broken, replaced by a more vaporous connection. Still, I am aware of something deeper that is just beyond my grasp. Events don’t seem only distant in time, they seem more like scenes from a movie that keep flashing through my mind that I struggle to place because I’m no longer sure I’ve even seen the film. Yet I am aware of myself as a player in those scenes. The more I try to wring meaning from these memories the more I realize that the way to do it is to unveil the universals that lie beneath them. Only then will they reveal themselves as more than a collection of unrelated episodes grown hoary with time.

I was born in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia in a two-story brick rowhouse. It was the first house my parents bought after they were married and where my father was about to begin his medical career. From Colonial times through to the early twentieth century homes in Philadelphia were commonly built of brick, and Point Breeze was a classic example of the type. Standing on the sidewalk in that first neighborhood in the first years of my life, whichever direction I looked revealed long rows of red brick homes, usually two stories high, some with three and, less frequently, four. Grass, except in tiny back yards that butted against even tinier alleyways, was almost nonexistent in those canyons of brick. On cloudy days the neighborhood seemed to huddle beneath a grayish shroud; on cold rainy days it seemed to draw inward on itself and was downright depressing. Despite the dearth of greenery those block-long brick walls formed by the rows of identical houses were boundaries of my youth. I felt a strong sense of place and time and that it was right for me to be there. By the time I was ready to begin grade school my parents had moved a few blocks west to the Stephen Girard Estate, originally the home of the wealthy Colonial-era philanthropist and banker. It was there that I spent the next 12 years of my life. More… “Everything Desirable”

John Capista is a reader who loves to write and a writer who loves to read. He reads, writes and resides in Drexel Hill, PA.

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When my twin daughters were infants, I would buckle them into their stroller and take long, meandering walks. As summer turned to fall and then winter, we visited bustling coffee shops, leafy avenues, and frozen waterfalls. When you are about to have a child (or children in my case), people who are trying to be helpful will say that it is going to change your life. That statement was always frustrating because of its perfect combination of obviousness and obliqueness. Of course, life was going to change dramatically, but how? I knew there was going to be more love, more fear of the future, and less sleep, but I hadn’t expected how much being a parent would bring up starker realizations and acknowledgment of how I myself was parented. As I walked, I thought about how I didn’t want my girls to feel abandoned or unwanted, how I wanted to actively nourish their humanness. On these walks, I was creating our own local patch, the physical and emotional space of their childhoods, imbued with old memories and newly-created ones. In both parenting and walking, I was practicing not knowing as a way of knowing, as a journey toward knowing.

These walks and many others happened in my often-frigid hometown in upstate New York. I have possibly-skewed ideas about what constitutes “appropriate walking weather” and am not deterred by icy sidewalks that need to be gingerly navigated bitterly cold wind, or the presence of damp rain-snow that seeps deep into your bones. I am like one of those large dogs who need to be heartily exercised or it will start gnawing the walls. Walking is the way I get most of my physical exercise, but perhaps more importantly, it is the way I work through things. While walking, I can access some of my deepest thinking and feeling; somehow the movement of my legs helps open the portal to understanding. As Rebecca Solnit describes in her brilliant history of walking, Wanderlust, “walking itself is the intentional act closest to the willed rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing. It is bodily labor that produces nothing but thoughts, experiences, arrivals.” More… “Walking Myself Home”

Jennifer Tennant is an associate professor of Economics at Ithaca College. A health economist by training, her research focuses on disability and mental health policy. She has written a number of articles on health economics and disability policy and has recently started writing creative nonfiction. Her first piece of creative nonfiction, a personal essay, will be published in Pleiades in January 2019. An image text essay, created with the photographer Nura Qureshi, was published in July 2018 in A VELVET GIANT.

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I didn’t change my last name in some symbolic act of patricide; it never felt that radical. I’d been estranged from my father and his family for most of my adult life. Throughout my childhood he appeared like the occasional summer storm cloud in an otherwise blue sky — the kind that quickly accumulates in hot weather, brings momentary relief from the sun, and then, with the most incremental atmospheric change, explodes with lightning and crushing torrents of rain. If the idea behind a surname is to serve as a marker of the people you come from, the tribe you belong to, then mine should have always reflected my mother. Simple.

For years, I considered making the change to Sanderson, my mother’s maiden and current name, but the sheer pain-in-the-assness of it always got in the way. Switching the important stuff — social security card, driver’s license, passport, bank things — didn’t worry me. Everything else — social media accounts, Amazon Prime membership, upcoming event tickets, my dog’s name at the vet — worried me. It’s overwhelming, but in June of 2017, I finally decided to pull the trigger. More… “Navigating Name Change”

Victoria Sanderson holds and MFA in creative non-fiction from Oregon State University. Her work can also been found at Deep South Magazine, Flyway: A Journal of Writing and the Environment, and The Sonder Review.

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Kasbeer holding Blackie, and Black holding Kasbeer
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I found my soft, shiny stuffed dog on a tree of puppets at a souvenir shop in Big Sur. He was the color of asphalt with glossy plastic eyes that disappeared under his dark fur and floppy ears, making him look more like a bunny than a black Lab. His rear-end was plump and his tail thick. Through an opening in his chest, you could slip your hand inside. The feeling was intimate, like reaching into a shirt when one of the buttons has been undone.

The first time I did this, he came alive, opening his mouth to show off his pink tongue. I asked if he wanted to come home with me, and he nodded, his tail wagging from the flicker of my fingers. When I scratched behind his ears, he lifted his head as if he were relishing in the feeling. More… “Everyone Gets a Dog”

Sarah Kasbeer’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Elle
, The Hairpin, Jezebel, The Normal School, The Rumpus, Salon, Vice
, and elsewhere. Her essay, “Is it Cancer” received notable mention from the Best American Essays 2015.

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Just don’t leave me alone
Wondering where you are
I am stronger than you give me
Credit for
– Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke

Sometimes being a girl is like being possessed. I look back on us, on our childhood on the Coast, on running away, on returning, and I wonder: Did any of this really happen?

There’s a picture of us as kids. I used to have it in a frame, but somewhere along the way I started using it as a bookmark. I won’t think of the girls for months, and then I’ll pick up a book and the picture will fall out. There they are; how could I forget them? Rose, Audrey, Sam. I say their names aloud and it becomes a spell — like magic, I’m ten years old again. More… “Ghost Girls”

Gena Ellett’s writing has appeared in literary magazines across North America, including Slice, The Malahat Review, EVENT, and Gulf Coast. She lives and writes in Vancouver, BC. @HeyGenaJay

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As a writer, I’m only anything if observant. And yet I have frightening blind spots. Despite the low square footage of my Harlem apartment, too often I can’t find things in it. Clothes, shoes, the remote. Even the can opener, which has only one place of keeping, the utensils drawer, which I search through and swear doesn’t contain the utensil it inevitably must. On the other hand, things I can find easily — and know I can find easily — I waste my time finding (my wallet, keys, and phone), a vestige of my childhood compulsions.

Such as knowing the location of my security animals. As a child I had a stuffed Tigger which I brought on sleepovers and errands with my mother. Around the third grade I added a rhinoceros named Rhino.

The night I couldn’t find Rhino, we were shacked up in a transitional apartment; we were moving about an hour away from where I had great friends and awesome sports teams and a sense of home. I wasn’t inconsolable, but unconsciously desperate. Searching not my room, but some proxy box-with-bed, I felt poles of sick hope and futility pulling from each end of me, with the magnetic force of an ultimatum I hadn’t agreed to. Too young to question the imperative of Rhino’s presence, my dread that he was still missing bemused me. Childhood is rife with navigating conflicting feelings. Most of the time, that’s when you called for Mom. More… “A Year in Psychoanalysis”

Brian Birnbaum grew up just outside Baltimore. An MFA graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, his work has been published or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Atticus Review, 3AM Magazine, and more. Brian is a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) working in development for the family communications access business. He lives in Harlem with MK Rainey and their dog.

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I sat on my tall stool behind the counter in my parents’ music store, looking past my open history textbook to the dirty snow and paper trash blowing down the street in the darkening afternoon. A lone figure shuffled down the opposite sidewalk, past the jewelry store, and stopped on the corner in front of the drug store at the stoplight, his helmeted head cast down, waiting for the traffic light to turn. I scanned a few more paragraphs in my textbook until he entered, heralded by a chorus of automated door chimes and blown in by a gust of frozen air.

“Hi, Louis,” I said. More… “The Ultimate Currency”

CJ Bartunek lives in Athens, Georgia. Her work has appeared in Pacific Standard, The Big Roundtable, and other publications.

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When I was seven, I moved out of the room I shared with my older brother and into my own room. I don’t recall what caused my parents to decide this — perhaps it was a birthday present for my brother turning ten — but for me it was nothing if not a mixed blessing. I mean, I loved getting my own desk and new wallpaper that I picked out and my own bed, all the trappings of a room to grow up in. But without my brother there with me, there was something truly terrifying about being alone at night in the dark.

Not that my brother was much of a protector. More often he’d attack me in my sleep, steal and break my toys, and “dead-arm” me over and over again for his sadistic pleasure. But in my room alone, all alone, I felt susceptible to all the forces of darkness — the monsters under the bed, the prowlers lurking at the window, the creepers in the closet waiting to kidnap me. I had no protection at all. Leaving the safety in numbers of my brother’s room and the comfort of our New York Giants’ helmet night light filled me with imaginings of untold peril.
More… “Halloween is Cancelled”

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I stand too close to the edges of curbs. Sometimes, I stand so absent-mindedly and perilously close that a slight nudge, misplaced step, or strong gust of wind could lean me into traffic. The “whoosh” and hot air of a passing vehicle startles me out of my carelessness. Yes yes

Yes

Yes

That’s also when my Uncle Clarence’s voice pulls me back.

Yes

Yes

Clarence Thompson was the oldest of my mother’s siblings. I grew up in the same house in which they were raised, on San Antonio’s East Side. During my first 12 years, he was still living there and was the most constant male presence in my life.

More… “Voices”

Cary Clack is a native of San Antonio. He wrote CNN commentaries for Coretta Scott King prior to becoming a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. He subsequently turned to politics, working as the communications director for Joaquin Castro’s Congressional campaign and Mayor Ivy Taylor. Trinity University Press published a collection of his columns, Clowns and Rats Scare Me, and is currently working on another book Dreaming US: Where did We from There? He was inducted into the Texas institute of Letters in April 2017.

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A few months ago, I decided to take a sentimental stroll through my old uptown neighborhood in New York City. It was about four in the afternoon that late autumn day when I exited the subway station at 145th and Broadway. Since it was cold, I wore a heavy leather coat, a black turtleneck with matching jeans, and black Timberland boots. Besides the McDonald’s on the corner, the one Jay-Z refers to on “Empire State of Mind,” little remains from those years when I was just another shortie growing-up along the way.

After years of neglect due to drugs, it was nice seeing new shops, restaurants, and clothing stores opening, but, at the same time, it was depressing to peep through the window of one bar/restaurant and see no faces of color except for the dishwasher. Walking down the avenue, I stared at the unfamiliar storefronts that used to be something else, as well as the newly built structures that will one day serve as landmarks in the memories of the new kids when they are middle-aged and obsessed with the way things used to be.

More… “Homeboy”

Michael A. Gonzales has written essays and articles for Vibe, The Source, The Pitchfork Review, Complex and Essence.. Co-author of Bring the Noise: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture (1991), his short fiction has appeared in Bronx Biannual, Brown Sugar, Black Pulp and Crime Factory. A columnist for soulhead.com, Gonzales is currently finishing his New York City hip-hop novel Boom for Real.

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