personal histories

On Pheasants and Polyamory

I found the pheasants accidentally. I’d gone looking for the avenue of shoes on Brush Street, a new art installation in Detroit, and got a bit lost. When I stopped to orient myself, I saw a single pheasant through a thicket of tall grass in a vacant lot next to a sagging two-story. The house had an old Ford F150 parked in front. I saw an empty kiddie pool, a plastic circle in turquoise with green fish printed on the bottom. I heard soft crowing, and walked stealthily towards the sound

As I approached, I saw more pheasants through the tall grass. I wanted to make out details, but the [...]


The Last Real Wilderness Is Time

There is a long and beautiful monologue in Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York in which the author expounds upon the peculiar way in which the city lives, and the way that its inhabitants own everything in it, including the continuous and unstoppable state of change. The city, the reasoning goes, is always as you saw it when you first set foot there, and you become a New Yorker once you see an old place you once loved subducted and recycled to be something new. Your city lives in memory; the real city defies sentiment, swallows things whole.

I heard the author recite that passage during a film fundraiser. [...]


The Only Mystery In Vermillion, South Dakota

The first and last crime I ever tried to solve was the disappearance of two teenage girls. Michelle Strand and Suzie Hewlitt of Vermillion, South Dakota went missing in May of 1971. They were high school juniors, and they left for a party at a gravel pit about 20 miles outside of town and never came back.

In 1998 my family moved to Vermillion. I had lived in Texas for my whole life up to that point. The town was small. Kids drove tractors to school. Everyone had known one another since preschool, and most of them were related. The only mystery was the mystery of Michelle and Suzie. So, [...]


The Essential Life Lessons of the Dairy Queen Sisterhood

I remember my childhood summers in three separate periods: the failed swimming lessons (ages 8-10), the Harriet the Spy tape-recorder years (age 11-12), and the era of Dairy Queen (ages 15-20). The DQ I worked at was idyllic. We sold only ice cream, so we never had to deal with fryers or meat, and for most of those summers only girls worked there: this provided critical opportunities for discussing breasts, scrunchies, and sexual intercourse, a subject about which I knew nothing for a long time. Dense with life lessons, my DQ summers taught me everything. Here are a few things that have stuck with me.

1. A smile doesn’t [...]


In Sickness and in Health, But Mostly in Sickness

I have been sick for most of my life. This is both incredibly simple and incredibly complicated. Here is the short version: my immune system does not know how to protect me. My body attacks itself and I become inflamed. I am always in some type of pain.

I was 14 when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease with no known cure. Countless medications, several surgeries, a handful boyfriends, and a few periods of remission later, I was unexpectedly thrust into a new kind of sickness. At 27, without warning, I experienced crippling lower back and hip pain. After months of failed treatments and tests, I [...]


Summer of Pie

At the age of 29, my mother taught me how to bake a pie. That she was in her kitchen, proving how easy it was—how pleasurable it was to master this most domestic of tricks—was a shocker. “There’s more to life than getting married, you know!” she’d said when she caught me walking a Barbie down the aisle in a make believe game of wedding when I was young. “There’s art and work and travel,” she said slowly, clearly trying to make an impression.

But it all sounded boring, coming from her. I already knew I could become an astronaut, a lawyer, or president of the United States if I [...]


You Belong To Me

When I was eight years old, the only thing I wanted to be was president, and Tommy Hanlon told me in front of everyone in my class that I couldn't be.

One plank arm, square in my face with a noodly little finger: "If you weren't born here—you can't be president!" he squealed, a proud look in his eye.

At the time I was ostracized and lonely and distinctly un-American. I was, by the Southeastern Pennsylvanian definition, a "normal looking" eight-year-old, with a whole lot of love to give, but I had an untrustworthy accent that I'd brought over from England and a few other Victorian ticks like asking a [...]


Women I Dated in Paris, by a Lesbian Who Can't Speak French


My first date after moving to Paris was at a cemetery. I had been messaging a girl on OkCupid from New Zealand who was looking for people with whom to knock must-visits off her Parisian bucket list; her name was Ruby, and she suggested we meet up at Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. Ruby from New Zealand had only one OKC profile picture, and it was of a small, distant, short-haired figure sitting in a kayak. I had no idea how I’d recognize her in a crowd unless she brought the kayak along with her. But that didn’t end up mattering, since outside the Gambetta metro stop on a sunny spring [...]


How to Have a Miscarriage

You’re going to need some Gatorade. For the fluids, electrolytes, sugars. Or instant chicken broth, if you can get someone to make you a cup, because you’re going to be there for… Wait. Back up.

Start over.

You’re 40 years old, and this is your second marriage. You’ve waited until you’re ready. Waited so many times, really. Until you got remarried. Until your husband got back from the deployment, got through graduate school. Bought your house that you will never move from, because you hate moving and refuse to do it again. There’s room in it, even if your kids (two boys from your first marriage, one girl from his) [...]


Old Loves

In high school I read a poem about a woman watching raindrops slide down her windowpane. Each drop reminds her of a different past lover. The memories accumulate on the same plane, slipping and colliding at unplanned intervals. I remember nothing about the author or the rest of the poem, but I remember wondering if it was possible to have as many boyfriends as raindrops, and feeling inexplicably sad. I didn’t yet have meaningful relationships that could be put in the past, so this was a foreboding sadness—a sense of a dark raincloud on the horizon.

In an interview with Grantland recently, Lena Dunham shares her many “passions,” one [...]