Frequent Flashers read and write


Ice by W. Bjorkman

Welcome to our reading room, where we showcase our most frequent flashers from 52|250’s second quarter — who read and also write.

Just as we did in our first quarterly, here we present the 52|250 authors who wrote every week for thirteen weeks straight, this time from August 26 through November 18, 2010.

We asked these authors — Catherine Russell, Elizabeth Kate Switaj, Kim Hutchinson, Linda Simoni-Wastila, Matt Potter, Matthew Hamilton, Stephen Hastings- King and Al McDermid — to do two special things for this quarterly, and they obliged brilliantly.

First you’ll  hear them read one of the pieces they wrote for 52|250. Then you’ll find a creative non-fiction piece which tells you a bit more about the author (in 250 or less, of course).

Scroll down to get to know these frequent flashers — in their own  voices and words.

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Click here to hear Kim Hutchinson read 4P28

Running Shots by Kim Hutchinson

This is me at nine months, pulling myself up on the edge of the coffee table. I never bothered to learn to walk, but took off at a dead run. This is me at five, sailing over the crest of sand dunes, thrilled by freedom and the whitecaps on the great lake, not heeding my parents’ calls.

This is me at eleven, running down gravel and tar roads, blistering hot from the summer sun, barefoot and smiling.

This is me at seventeen, dancing onstage at the state pageant, glad that my height placed me in the back row and happy just to be in the chorus.

This is me at twenty, flying up and down flights of stairs, bypassing management, supplicating talent, cajoling crew. Once my heel caught a nail on the way down from the tape room. I woke up with three cracked ribs.

This is me at thirty-five, dizzy from racing from appointments and jobs. Sometimes when I arrived, I had a moment when I couldn’t recall whom I was there to see.

This is me sprinting from set-up to set-up, trying to keep an indie film from stalling without keeling over from exhaustion.

This is me, running for, and maybe from, my life.

This is me taking off the running shoes, placing my bare feet on the ground to feel the earth, finally trying to learn to walk.

This is me reaching out for something to hold on to.

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Click here to hear Catherine Russell read Interment

The Lottery Winner by Catherine Russell

The night the winner came into the diner, the chef and I were the only employees on duty. Graveyard shift was like that, great swathes of boredom punctuated by frenzied activity. The hours often crawled by before my relief came at seven, and I’d gotten into the habit of chatting with customers. The solitary man at the counter looked as dejected as any that wandered in at 3 a.m., so I asked, “What’s wrong?” “I won the lottery,” he told me, his voice filled with despair.

“Really?” I asked. “But isn’t that a good thing? Not having to worry about money-” Visions of quitting both my jobs filled my head.

“No, because everyone wants something from you. Your family, your friends…” He examined his bowl of soup as though the secrets of the universe hid beneath the noodles.

The joke was ill-timed at best, but I couldn’t resist. “So, I suppose a big tip is out of the question?”

“Yes!” he spat, clearly offended. He finished and left in a huff without the sympathy he’d obviously expected, my joke taken as just another plea for cash, myself just another person who wanted something from him.

My tip that night was nonexistent, but that was alright. Any guilt I felt over ruining his night didn’t prevent me from getting a good day’s sleep before my next double shift. I needed my rest.

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Click here to hear Elizabeth Kate Switaj read The Secret Life

The Cherry Blossom Front by Elizabeth Kate Switaj

My first cherry blossom festival came less than a week after I flew into Osaka. My flatmates and I had just finished the three-day training that supposedly qualified us to teach English conversation; on our way back to the tiny town of Anjo, we got off the train early to wander among brightly lit stalls selling plastic masks and octopus snacks under Okazaki Castle. We saw only artificial flowers. My second cherry blossom festival came after I’d moved north to Ashikaga to work in elementary schools. I argued about baseball with salarymen who bought me noodles. I’m not sure how much beer I’d had before naked men started climbing the trees, but at least the spotlights let me see the flowers. I tasted absinthe for the first time and waited for first train in a Denny’s with a Canadian who gave me a miniature bottle of maple syrup.

My third cherry blossom festival came days before I left Japan. I spent an afternoon in Ueno Park, sleeping off a hangover. I’d been drinking the night before in Dubliners, a Shinjuku pub, with two friends from the monthly poetry open mic that took place in an Ebisu pub, What the Dickens? My last train came before theirs, but I stayed. I wanted to go home with both of them, but she didn’t swing that way, so I went with him. They dated, briefly, after I was gone. The flowers in Tokyo peaked the day after I left.

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Click here to hear Linda Simoni-Wastila read Stone

around midnight by Linda Simoni-Wastila

before you died i sat in the dark and wondered why i pounded away at my keyboard, creating scenes about people who only existed in my head. i should rub your hands, or your thin cold feet. i should recount our moments, even though you could not nod with memory or laugh or blink your eyes. I should sing you songs. I should cry. but even as your breathing labored through each hour, words streamed from my fingertips and filled the screen. i paused only when your noises stopped and filled the air with thick silence. i waited. your breath shuddered and resumed its shallow guppy gasps, and i returned to my pointless story. near dawn, you moaned in semi-consciousness. i prepared the medications the way the hospice nurse showed me, grinding the ten pills in the mortar and dissolving in water to a milky haze. the morphine gurgled down your feeding tube. standing beside you swallowed in your hospital bed, i waited for the meds to soften the gouges creasing your forehead, and understood why i wrote through that infinite night — words were the only things in my control.

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Click here to hear Matt Potter read Arrivals

Session by Matt Potter

“When are you going to stop dicking around with writing and get a real job again?” she said, magic wand in one hand, cigarette in the other. I looked at her greying face and wrinkling hair and tried to fathom why my counsellor was suddenly being such a bitch.

“What’s a real job?” I said.

She dragged on her cigarette and blew smoke in my face. “You’ve spent your entire life doing exactly what you’ve wanted and now you wonder why you’re unemployable.”

“I’m not afraid of hard work,” I said. “What I am afraid of is leading a mediocre life.”

She waved her wand. “Define mediocre.”

This office, I wanted to say, looking at her peach furnishings. Much of the world and the people in it. You on a bad day. Hopefully not me on a good day.

“Are you looking for a dictionary definition?” I asked. “Or do you want me to say something revealing and smart and witty off the top of my head?”

“You need to stop being so impressed with yourself. And you need to stop being so hard on yourself too. You live this dichotomy that everyone – including you – finds too hard to live up to. ” She stubbed her cigarette in the overflowing Orrefors ashtray.

That sounds great, I thought to myself: overflowing Orrefors ashtray.

“I agree,” I said, taking out my notepad and writing down the words overflowing Orrefors ashtray. “But if I changed, what would be left for me to write about?”

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Click here to hear Matthew Hamilton read Rivals

Saying Goodbye by Matthew A. Hamilton

Mavi and I spent my last three days together in Manila before I had to return to the United States. My Peace Corps contract had expired. We hung out at the mall, watched the sunset at Bay Walk, playfully wrestled in the bed sheets. And then it was time to go to the airport.

“You don’t need to come with me,” I told her as we packed our things.

Her eyes were watering. “I want to,” she said.

I pulled her to me and held her. “Don’t cry,” I said. “Just think, this time next year you’ll be with me.”

“It’s the fan,” she said, giggling and crying. It was our little joke every time she cried, blaming the fan blowing dust in her eyes.

I looked at the clock. “Well, its time,” I said. “Ready?”

We walked down to the lobby. Our driver was waiting.

Mavi gripped my hand the whole way to the airport. She cried, smiled, rubbed my arm.

We pulled up at the drop off. I opened the door and got out, grabbed my bags. Mavi got out, too.

“Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “I’ll get the paperwork started as soon as land. Promise. You’ll get your visa in no time.”

Tears flooded her cheeks. “One year,” she said.

“That’s not so long,” I said.

I helped her in the van. As I pulled the door shut and walked away, my eyes began to sting.

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Stephen Hastings-King tackles abstraction, below.

Semaphore by Stephen Hastings-King

What I remember is for a few years once a year I would find myself amongst a group of 6 or 8 cold and winded lads running across an immense flat space on a miserable snowy morning tied to a heavy wooden sled. We periodically stopped to perform cold and incompetent versions of standardized orienteering rituals. I was part of the semaphore team. We garbled messages. Each year an initial military haiku concerning the geo-spatial situation each of us at that moment occupied was followed by an odd game of charades during which Semaphore Boy 2 had to act out the prompt sent by Semaphore Boy 1 before the other cold and winded lads.

I remember hopping about trying to be angular and pouncing on things. The snow has intensified. I can barely see the cold and winded lads.They are shouting arbitrary nouns. I wave my hands around. In my mind I am saying: No no no. Predatory lizard, for god’s sake.

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Al McDermid presents a view from Manhattan, below.
Nine-eleven by Al McDermid

In 2001, I was working at the Barnes & Noble in the Citicorp Building in midtown Manhattan. On the morning of September 11th, a few of us were standing around the fiction info station when we heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. This was the only news we had, so we weren’t sure what it meant; someone suggested a Cessna had clipped an antennae.

We soon learned more, from the television in basement restaurant, but nothing was yet clear. The building was closed as a precaution. I called my wife, who worked a couple of blocks away; she was also being sent home. We met and began the trek down 1st Avenue to our apartment on 7th Street, some 40+ block away.

With the subways shut-down, 1st Avenue became a river of people, mostly heading south. We still didn’t really know anything and the mood of the people was hard to gauge. I’d been on a walk-a-thon earlier that year and this felt similar. It may have been at sometime during that walk that we started to get a clearer picture of what had happened, but I don’t clearly remember.

By the following day, we all knew what had happened. Impromptu shrines popped up, such as the one at Washington Square. Newsprint US flags, provided by the Post (probably), were taped in almost every window, but I recall the motivation was solidarity rather than patriotism. In those first days, it simply wasn’t about that.

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4 Responses to “Frequent Flashers read and write

  1. Kim, what a wonderful non-fiction flash. I love the whole ‘running’ theme throughout the story. I’m glad you’ve started slow down to walk. 🙂

    Elizabeth,
    I imagine the cherry blossoms must have been beautiful, what you did get to see of them. Thank you for sharing.

    Linda,
    Both your stories were so poignant. I remember ‘Stone’ and loved it then. The second reading made me appreciate it even more. Your bio piece also echoed the solace writers can take in the act of writing. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Matt,
    I really enjoyed hearing you read in ‘Arrivals’, even though the story itself was sad. Also, in ‘Sessions’ I think you should
    reach for your dreams, no matter what the counsellor says.

    I’ll comment on the others later, as I have to go for now. Everything I’ve read here is wonderful!

    Matthew,
    Your ‘good bye’ story made my eyes water too.

  2. Stephen,
    I can picture my son playing the semaphore game. Nice one!

    Al,
    Thank you for sharing that. The newsprint flags and the throngs of people walking together really create an image. I can’t imagine what you felt like then in that city. It must have been terrifying.

  3. Linda,

    Around midnight is tough. Knowing what was probably a bit of the inspiration makes it all the more poignant. I think when we’re reminded of our own mortality it makes us want to accomplish something that will last longer than our sentient selves.

    You always leave room for the reader to think after the words are read.

    –John

  4. Dear all, I love reading your non-fiction stories (every one brought me to tears), but most of all I love hearing your voices tell your stories. You are all ‘real’ but hearing you makes you seem even more real. Thank you. Peace…

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