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A Short Analysis of Lady Macbeth’s ‘The Raven Himself is Hoarse’ Speech

‘The raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan’: so begins Lady Macbeth’s first great soliloquy or monologue in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The speech comes in Act 1 Scene 5, immediately after Lady Macbeth has received news from a messenger that Duncan, the King, will be arriving […]

14 Techniques to Write Emotional Truth to Engage Readers: Why It Works and How in Successful Storytelling

Why is engaging the reader’s emotions so important? YA author and award-winning journalist Robin Farmer lays out the answer in this article.

I never fancied myself a fantastic writer. What I do believe I excel at is the ability to capture the emotional truth(s) of a character, scene, chapter, and overall story.

(5 Tips for Evoking Emotion in Writing)

Think about your favorite novels and how they made you feel. Something stirred and lingered, right? You felt—and likely still do—the uncertainty, rage, joy, and love that the characters felt. Perhaps your perspective even shifted as a result.

14 Techniques to Write Emotional Truth to Engage Readers

Defining emotional truth

Emotional truth is elusive and difficult to capture. No standard definition exists. Here’s my crack at it: Emotional truth allows readers to feel a certain way about the experiences of people who may live different lives from them. It’s the lens that allows us to see ourselves in a story that results in a heartfelt connection in a fictional narrative. Emotional truth transcends facts.

The lie is the invented narrative. The truth is an emotional experience not rooted in facts, but through a combination of visual details, actions, settings, inner monologue, and dialogue. What I value most is that emotional truth engenders empathy.

Empathy Empowers

Fostering empathy is the main reason I infuse emotional truth in my work. In these increasingly polarized times, it’s clear empathy is in short supply. Several years ago a report found 40 percent of college freshmen lacked empathy. Reading that left me deeply disturbed. Future leaders need empathy to understand the needs of others. Without it, well… take a look around. Empathetic leaders can build a sense of trust, strengthening their relationships, which can lead to greater collaboration. I’ll leave that here.

I learned the techniques to capture emotional truth during my first fellowship through the Education Writers Association more than twenty years ago. Jon Franklin, author of “Writing for Story,” served as an advisor to my narrative nonfiction project examining survival tactics of gifted black students at troubled schools, where being smart carried a stigma. I was intimidated to work with the two-time Pulitzer Winner whose book included storytelling tips for journalistic articles. Imagine my surprise when Franklin read my three-day series and said, “You got it right.”

Techniques to Use

So how do you tap into such truth as a fiction writer? Here are 14 techniques I use to write with emotional truth:

Be vulnerable. My debut novel, Malcolm and Me, follows a reluctant rebel with the heart of a poet as she navigates a school year fraught with adult hypocrisy. While my protagonist is wounded by a traumatic event involving her Catholic school teacher, I knew she couldn’t wallow in pain and self-pity for 272 pages. She doesn’t. She’s funny, often in “good trouble” and a ball of confusion. Whatever Roberta feels so must my readers. Roberta’s vulnerability was rooted in my teen years. Nothing beats authentic angst.

Mine your secrets. Personal truth feeds the character’s truth. There’s nothing fictitious about that. In writing my debut novel, I borrowed the emotional truth about my struggle to forgive, including those I love deeply, and gave it to my protagonist. I could not write that story with authenticity until I dug deep and understood why I had been stuck and what led to a breakthrough. My clarity informed and honed the behavior of my character.

Listen to the “page people.” Just because you created your characters doesn’t mean you know their every move. Sometimes they will surprise you. Let them. Yield to their whims. When they want to be quiet, don’t force them to speak up. Silence can say a lot, too.

Create challenges. Understand what the protagonist and other characters want then remove it or make it a struggle to obtain. We root for characters we believe in, identify with, and want to succeed. In other words, characters we feel. I heard a speaker say that a novel is akin to taking a ride on an amusement park. Readers have purchased tickets and will feel cheated if a ride fails to carry them up and down and make their hearts pound.

Balance action. Life is messy and so are people’s reactions to it. But not everything happens at a level 10. Mix big, dramatic moments and scenes with quieter ones, which can also amplify emotional truth.

Malcolm and Me by Robin Farmer

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Cultivate growth. Know the emotional state of your character on page 1 and be clear about the various emotional stages he or she will experience to make it to the end of the story. This growth may not be linear and could include setbacks, but the person must experience changes that feel authentic.

Use your senses. Do you have a song that transports you to your first dance? A perfume or cologne that reminds you of someone no longer alive? Sound, smell, taste, and touch evoke powerful emotions to inspire you.

Pick from an “emotional garden.” Collect bits of dialogue, favorite lyrics, phrases, discarded scenes, observations, and reactions, anything that provokes strong feelings and may feed your current or future story. Visit often.

Learn from other writers. Read often. Reading expands your vocabulary and imagination, shows you what works and what doesn’t, and exposes you to diverse worlds. Reading other authors may also inspire you to take risks with your own work.

Revise, rinse and repeat. Emotional truth is an indistinct quality that works when the characters stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Weaving it into your work requires patience and practice. Writing is rewriting.


I’m big on takeaways. So, keep this acrostic handy for how to elevate the emotional tenor of your work:

Embrace the fear of vulnerability

Mine complexity

Organize narrative arcs. Be clear about all stages.

Tap into your memories with music and smells—often-emotional anchors

Include powerful emotions with ordinary ones

Optimize opportunities for a character to accept or reject growth

Nurture an emotional “garden” of evocative material to inspire you

Avoid “one-note” characters; vary responses.

Listen to the unsaid as much as what’s spoken

Trust yourself to go deep and transfer what you find to the page.

Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Read.

Unearth feelings. Great stories reveal how people feel.

Try harder. Get frustrated. Revise. Rinse and repeat.

Have a sense of humor when appropriate.

Defining the emotional truth in stories can be elusive. But the heart of a reader understands it. As a writer, that’s the test we must strive to ace.

Dive into the world of writing and learn all 12 steps needed to complete a first draft. In this writing workshop you will tackle the steps to writing a book, learn effective writing techniques along the way, and of course, begin writing your first draft.

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14 Tips for Nurturing Your Creative Spirit During Challenging Times

Middle-grade author Donna Gephart gives her top 14 tips for how to invigorate your writing when things are tough.

Having a hard time focusing and feeling productive these daze, er days? Who isn’t? Here are a few things that help me be productive during these challenging, distracting times that I hope will help you …

(10 Scientifically Proven Ways to Beat Writer’s Block)

14 Tips for Nurturing Your Creative Spirit During Challenging Times

1. Start the day with habits that get you ready for work. 

I walk our dog, Benji, with hubby, do ten minutes of yoga (Yoga with Adriene and Yoga with Kassandra) and make of mug of hot tea or coffee. Always. When I do these things in that order, my mind knows the next step is creative work. (Notice checking Twitter, FB, and email is not on this list.)

2. Check in with an accountability buddy. 

Angela DeGroot and I begin each workday with an email sharing our goals for the day and catching up on each other’s lives. Sometimes we end our workdays with a quick email to say whether we reached our goals on not. During National Poetry Month in April, Angela includes a new poem with each daily check-in.

The Paris Project by Donna Gephart

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3. Make your goals super-specific—either in time for each project or in page counts.

Last week’s goals for me were to revise a seven-page synopsis and eleven pages of the beginning of my next MG novel and submit them to my agent. I reached that goal. This week’s goals are to re-imagine an outline for a chapter book series and write a rough draft of the first book. Sometimes I reach my goals. Sometimes I don’t. But the odds are ever in my favor if I break them down and make them as specific and manageable as possible.

4. Because it’s hard to focus and easy to become distracted, I use the Pomodoro Technique

It helps you use whatever time you have more efficiently. I’ve written eight middle-grade novels, a picture book, scores of essays, and this article using the Pomodoro Technique. Knowing a short break is always coming helps you power through the task at hand.

(The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker)

5. Breaks are vital. 

For those in the back row: BREAKS ARE VITAL, especially now. These days, I allow longer breaks than usual at the end of the workday to take walks in the woods, read, prepare a vegan dinner, chat with a friend, listen to a podcast, sip wine on the patio and watch The Dog House UK on HBOMax with hubby and Benji. (The Dog House UK—a sort of match-making service between dogs and their humans—is a terrific antidote to the news of the day.)

6. Take weekends off, if you can. 

Your brain requires more time to rest these days. Besides, if you have steady work habits, when you’re not working your subconscious is working—figuring out knotty plot problems and putting separate pieces together in interesting ways. Trust that your subconscious is doing its job when you’re taking a break from doing yours.

7. If you need extra time off or are unproductive one day or two or more, let go of the guilt. 

It doesn’t serve you. It doesn’t serve the work. These days, I clock about 2 ½ days out of 5 that are complete duds. Can’t even complete a shopping list without drifting to something else. Accept that and let it go. Celebrate the 2 ½ days that are productive.

8. Your process during this challenging time is your process. 

Don’t compare your process to someone else’s because you’re comparing their shiny outside to your messy inside. Apples to oranges. It’s like comparing your first draft to someone else’s polished, published book. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

9. Try something new! 

If novels are too daunting right now, write a funny essay, an article, or a poem. Find joy in these things. Take baby steps. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. You’ve got this, friend. It’s hard. We are sensitive but resilient.

10. Find community. 

When I moved away from Florida, I left a monthly SCBWI critique group I loved and had been consistently attending for 18 years. I don’t know how I wrote my novel, Abby, Tried and True without them. During the pandemic, since half of us lived out of state at that point anyway, we reconnected for twice-weekly critique meetings on Zoom.

(6 Writing Group Best Practices: How to Lead a Successful Writers Group)

11. During these twice-weekly critique meetings, we do much more than critique each other’s work. 

We check in with each other and offer support when one of us is having a hard time. We show our cats and our dogs. We toast each other’s successes, no matter how small. Any excuse for a glass of wine.

12. I joined a book club for readers and writers of middle-grade novels over Zoom. 

I watch free craft webinars from SCBWI. I listen to craft-based podcasts for inspiration, like Book Friends Forever by Grace Lin and Alvina Ling and First Draft by Sarah Ennis. Reach out. Connect. Nurture your soul and your creative spirit.

(How to Create the Mental Space to Write)

13. Change your exterior space to ignite your interior space. 

Hubby and I splurged on two nights in Princeton, NJ to have a different environment in which to work. While there in the cozy loft space, I rediscovered my love for creating funny essays. Can’t work in your town’s library? Can you work on a bench outside of it and watch people come and go as you scribble ideas? We even went to our niece’s rooftop deck in Philadelphia, PA once just to have a different atmosphere in which to work.

14. Mostly, take care of your precious self. 

Fill your well at every opportunity. Your job is to get through this tough time. Any creative output is a bonus to be celebrated. Your work matters. Your voice matters. Your story matters. But your physical and mental well-being matters more. 

When you take this online workshop, you’ll explore creative writing topics and learn how descriptive writing can breathe life into your characters, setting, and plot with Rebecca McClanahan’s Word Painting. Stretch your imagination, develop your creative writing skills, and express your creativity with this writing workshop.

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In Conversation

In the early months of 2021, with the pubs and clubs, not to mention the shops, closed until further notice, Jeremy Atherton Lin  and Kevin Brazil came together to talk to reminisce about drag nights and gay clubs, and the community these places nurture. Atherton Lin is the author of Gay Bar, a cultural and personal history of gay bars across London, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Kevin Brazil’s What Ever Happened to Queer Happiness? will be published by Influx Press in 2022.


Kevin Brazil:

When lockdown first hit – good lord, it’s almost been a year – I couldn’t bear the thought of going out. Getting through was just about all I could manage. Even in the summer, when there were raves happening up in Hackney Marshes, and a friend told me stories of everyone sitting around a bonfire, passing around a key, I was like: nah, I’m good.

I went to one socially distanced drag show in Bethnal Green in October. Maybe eight tables, one song each from three queens. (A little stingy, don’t you think?) We couldn’t cheer, so we had to shake maracas. And the maracas didn’t even work. It was the saddest drag show I ever did see, and not in a sweet way. It was just sad.

But over Christmas it really hit me. I think like everyone I thought bars and clubs would be opening up again this year, and now, who knows. I spent December going for runs in the countryside and listening to lives mixes recorded at clubs and festivals on my headphones. I spent January reading about the history of nightclubs. And then I read your book, Gay Bar: Why We Went Out. I know it must have been written and finished a while ago, but now that subtitle has taken on a whole other meaning. You spend a lot of time imagining what would happen if gay bars no longer existed – what is it like for the book to come out in a world where, at least temporarily here in London, they really don’t?


Jeremy Atherton Lin:

Kevin! The failed maracas are so zeitgeisty. I guess one way of thinking about it is, yes, that was a pathetic event, but what would the online version have been? The equivalent to failed maracas on social media is, at best, the humiliation of very few likes. At worst, it’s accusations flying, people piling on. Lately I find myself assuming all queer people are mad at one another. Perhaps because we aren’t engaging in spaces where something like the maracas malfunction occurs, sad but also funny. (Or was it not even funny?) The saturnine humour of the paltry rattle, something spontaneously experienced in real time and space. And the sidelong glance. The actual sensation of feeling seen. Proprioception. And maybe the drag queen onstage says something a bit yikes, a bit iffy, but hey she’s an elder, it’s a performance, let’s give her a chance. (Then she strikes again. But at least there’s someone else there to share another sidelong glance with.) And maybe the bartender is a hottie but you don’t envy his job in a pandemic. So instead of the compare-and-despair that happens alone on a device, this person becomes dimensional, their earlier and later more readily imaginable. And you watch him laugh with one customer then grimace at the next, and there are dimensions.

But, yes, same as you, initially I didn’t want to go out, either. The lockdown put a moratorium on serendipity. There’s this Henry James passage on the lines of, a city’s excitement is the danger lurking around the corner, even if you never turn that corner. Now around-the-corner has been closed.

Around the time of the first lockdown, I came across this popperbate video comprising different porn clips edited together to create a narrative of horny men in an American suburb who commune via cam from behind closed doors. It includes establishing shots, taken from Google Street View or whatever, of banal suburban curbs and hedges and driveways, the suggestion being that a frisson runs through the street. I have to admit, I find that sexy. I’m from the suburbs. I grew up at the end of a cul-de-sac. I have come to kind of embrace my suburban view of the world, which, for me growing up, was very much about observing popular culture at a remove.

But my larger concern is that as we sequester online, our lack of imagination threatens to foreclose our respect for other people’s realities.

Hope things are ok as can be with you. Sun today!



Dimensions: what a gorgeous way to phrase it, and what a beautiful thing to have done – to have taken that anecdote about maracas and unfolded it to reveal all the facets of what that evening could have been. For of course a sad evening out is better than sitting at home, observing, as you say, queers getting mad at each other online. I’ll take your fantasised version of that night over what really happened – though isn’t that the truth of any night out?

I wonder if the online anger is also caused by the queers not being able to be together in person. Being less able to support each other to cope with the shit that keeps happening. I think of the UK High Court ruling, in December, that trans children now need a court order to access hormones for their health care, and what it must be like for them, and their loved ones, to be doing that more alone.

That those maracas were disappointing, though, made me think of one of the first lines that really struck me in Gay Bar: ‘The gay bars of my life have consistently disappointed.’ Mine too! And from the very beginning. Here is another anecdote for you. The first time I went to a gay bar I was maybe seventeen, it was called The George. I had taken a three-hour bus up from the country where I lived to the city, had gotten changed in a McDonalds, and went to the small side bar open during the day – nicknamed, as I would later learn, Jurassic Park (think about it). I went in, a guy in his forties bought me a Coke, and it took him about 5 minutes to invite me back to his. ‘I worked on Madonna’s last tour, you know.’ Could all the clichés I have feared have been more confirmed? In a way, the disappointment was exquisite.

And yet I’ve kept going back, for all the reasons you write: ‘If my experiences in gay bars have been disappointing, what I wouldn’t want to lose is the expectation of a better night. Gay is an identity of longing, and there is a wistfulness to beholding it in the form of a building, like how the sight of a theatre stirs the imagination.’ I wonder if the disappointment of gay bars – one I wouldn’t want to lose – is bound up with what you say they offer: the sidelong glance. The sidelong glance might lead somewhere – but it might not.

And this, in turn, might not just be something inherent to gay bars, or ‘gay’ as a specific identity, but to your final concern: our respect for other people’s realities. Their sidelong glances might not give us what we want; I’d hazard to say they mostly don’t. But we go out, as you write, ‘to take risks . . . to be close to other bodies’.

One thing I admired in Gay Bar was how it used the gay bar to think about the history of a very specific social identity – ‘the gay’ – but also the nature of our social identities in general. That all ‘our identities always lie in the aspiration’. You track how those aspirations have changed, in your own life, and in Britain and the US around you: aspiring to be ‘gay’, then a ‘fag’, then ‘queer’. We can see our identities as different aspirations – not different truths about who we are – which allows us to question them, analyse them, and maybe get rid of them, with less of a sense of threat. Or is that just a way of avoiding risk?

Things are OK with me, and I hope they are too with you. And sun again here in south London!


Atherton Lin:

You were intrepid. A three hour bus ride! My first experiences were very much about being taken along. Almost like being assigned gay. Acquaintances detected a flair and presumed homosexuality. But I thought it possible these two things were coincident, that my particular flame was my own and didn’t belong to gay. You wrestle with something like this in your essay ‘Whatever Happened to Queer Happiness?’ Do your thoughts around this shift?

Your three-hour bus displayed some impressive self-knowing. I was being read. Are there self-identifications you prefer? As you mentioned, I love fag. For myself. Homosexual as a noun is now unsayable, and therefore kind of tempting. Supposedly Foucault wrote about himself San Francisco, ‘I am a homosexual in a city full of gays.’ Gay Liberation is a tremendous legacy, but the word gay can feel embarrassing. I don’t think that’s internalized shame. It just sounds goofy. I never heard it positively as a kid. Now it’s anodyne. And I always felt gay bar was a term to be played in a minor key. ‘Here’s to the gay bar’ sings Frank Ocean, mentioning it just once (and he is taken there). To me, personally, queer can feel like the Tate Britain term – weirdly, the one I employ to avoid offending delicate sensibilities. High-end anodyne. But that’s unfair to its expansive roots, its role as an upsetter. Just as disavowing gay may be spurning hippie elders (gay as in Gay Sunshine).

Anyway, either through your own impetus or my own passivity, the gay bar was a given. That may be something I keep trying to articulate: that homosexuality can be private, but gay is public-facing. When I’ve written about feeling real, I suggest that identity may lie in the aspiration. But also in my example of the song ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),’ it begins ‘you make me’ – so it’s not just about feeling real, but feeling seen. I tried to enact that in the writing, later in the book: mutual recognition. Maybe a little narcissism thrown in? That’s cool with me.

I wonder if that guy actually worked on a Madonna tour. His identity was in the proximity. And he wanted close proximity with you. Do you remember the bus ride home?



I remember the cream knitted vest I bought in a thrift shop, thinking I needed something gay-but-not-too-gay to wear (though really, what was I thinking). I remember how greasy his curls were on his balding head (was it Brylcreem? Dax Wax?). But the ride home? Nothing. I think that’s because, for me, the thrill has always been in the anticipation, the potential, what might be. Since we are swapping Foucault anecdotes: I’ve never agreed with his belief, perfect as it is as a quip, that the best moment in the life of a homosexual is ‘likely to be when the lover leaves in the taxi’. For me it has always been waiting for him to arrive.

Maybe that pleasure in the idea of potential, the moment when you believe something unscripted can happen, isn’t so far from your belief that your flame was your own. And maybe it is a way of answering your question about labels and cultural prescriptions. ‘Fag’ to me, has always been too North American. It always sounds in my head with a drawling American accent; I can’t even hear it in Irish English. ‘Queer’ was something I first encountered in the pages of an academic textbook, long after I knew I was attracted to men (I’ve never known I wasn’t). So it has always felt foreign, and today, I share your sense that it is a bit ‘Tate Britain’, a bit heritage. I have spent a lot of time wondering, and some time writing, about the conundrum you meditate on in Gay Bar ‘of whether such subcultures are heritagable at all’. It seems like every day there is a new queer heritage project. Only today I read about a queer heritage audio walking tour designed for Cambridge University. Do you think there can be ‘queer’ heritage? Is that the same as asking: do you think there should be? Though I also share your sense that this hesitancy is unfair to everything that ‘queer’ as an identification has been able to achieve. And that the security to be so hesitant is a luxury that previous generations of queer activists made possible. ‘Gay’ – that is what existed as the world’s name for what my desire was, and I walked right into it, just like I walked into that gay bar, and it felt fine.

But would I have built it for myself? Probably not. Since aren’t these labels and spaces erected by heterosexuality as a way to manage its issues? And honey, doesn’t she have issues. In my essay about queer happiness, as you sensed, I wanted to write about how limited the scripts of gayness and queerness can be. Or rather – the public scripts, since like you, I more and more think that these scripts and identities are about claiming a public identity, which is about achieving political rights, social recognition, and so on, but really has little to do with telling the truth of who we are and what we want. Which is why straight memoir and autobiography don’t quite fit as the literary genres to grapple with identity, at least for me. Where I am now, is where that essay ended up – the anecdote of Lou Sullivan feeling most gay when he checks out another gay man checking him out on the street. (Is that another version of your sidelong glance?) Who we are – which is what we are using these labels to try and pin down – comes into existence through the recognition of others. (Another reason why first-person writing can’t quite grasp how identification works). That is why these demands are so fraught, I think. It’s not enough to say who we are: the fight is over having others say they believe it, that they see it, that they will say it back. And we can’t ever control other people. That is the pleasure, and also the terror.

Though we still have to offer a version of ourselves to those others. You write, at one point, that ‘Memoir is how you groom yourself. Memoir is drag.’ I loved this idea of memoir as drag. It’s as much of performance as anything – and no worse for that. I wonder what you think of memoir more broadly. Why has it become the dominant literary form at the moment? Or perhaps – the dominant tone, inflecting fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. What is so seductive about it? What do we want from reading it? Do we forget that it’s drag?


Atherton Lin:

I was on my daily constitutional, thinking: Kurt Cobain proposed that everyone is gay as a kind of irony; now everyone is queer and it’s a kind of banality. Then I had a chat with my mom and she called me Jemmy, just a variation on Jem, for Jeremy, but I took delight because jemmy was supposedly an epithet based on the reputation of King James VI and I as being passive in bed (and global affairs). So there’s an archaic one, possibly due a revision – or screamer, from early in last century, is good. I like the dirty and obnoxious histories, and that seems different than heritage, it’s more like gossip.

And you’re so right on the pronunciation of fag. I say it so American, so Californian – it could never sound like a cigarette. My accent is fickle. I grew up in California, but I’ve lived in the UK for 14 years . . . today I find myself saying tuh-mah-tow not ta-may-toe so that people understand me. There’s so much pressure to be our true real self, and here I am faking an accent to be polite, so that the person knows I mean tomato, and isn’t forced to ask me to repeat myself. So etiquette punctures essentialism.

There’s an analogy I left out of Gay Bar because it generalised other gays, but it still seems kind of true for me . . . There are two different bars in the book named the Black Cat, one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles, and I couldn’t help thinking about the perhaps apocryphal notion that black cats evolved to be amenable and affectionate in order to shirk their bad rep. Like, don’t worry, you can cross my path, I’ll just lie here in the sun being sweet not hexing you. But obviously I’d never want to make a claim that all gays are eager to please. Which brings me to the memoir drag: a part of me does write to be liked. Wayne Koestenbaum has written about that. Or our friend Foucault saying he wrote to get laid, basically. As soon as you realise you can’t show everything, and you select and, I think, the performance begins.

Rather naively, I didn’t really foresee how people would take my book to mirror their own experience. The ‘we’ in the subtitle, Why We Went Out, is more about me and my lover, or a small gang of us. It’ll be taken that I’m speaking for all of gaykind but throughout the book it turns out to be a red herring, something that – due to difference, or outright factionalism – is revealed to be impossible. The first person in the book, or first person plural, is a lot about inhabiting my imagined self, or presented self, but also how I am the product of other people’s legacies. We inherit past glory and mistakes. We’re porous. I actually am very porous – things get stuck in my skin easily. I told Wayne Koestenbaum that once, and he replied that I have five thousand vaginas. Anyway, that’s why we need to get back out in spaces together, I think. To invade each other’s borders. And for someone to say something that takes you by surprise.


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Keep Your Entrails out of My Baby Shower

Eating for Two

Bad things happen when you don’t invite the right people to your parties, my mom said. I explained why I didn’t want Alice at my baby shower: She sucked the life out of everything she touched.

I didn’t mail her invitation. I burned it at the kitchen sink at midnight. The gold lettering flared and hot metallic air blasted up my nose. I dropped the invitation in the sink, where the flames went out in a puddle of stinking spaghetti sauce, and spent the next hour googling whether breathing gold fumes was bad for the baby.

And yet: There she was, gliding down the path, all lipstick and neat white teeth, trailing her signature frilly pink entrails. I was halfway through tying balloons onto the lamp outside the door of my mom’s house. I backed into the doorway and stood there filling it. If there was one thing I could do, it was take up space.

“Jessa, darling, you look gorgeous! You’re as big as a house,” she said.

“What are you doing here?”

“Don’t be silly. It’s your baby shower! I’m here to celebrate you!” She shook out the ropes of shining organs and viscera that dangled from her pale neck. Only Alice could make entrails look like a party dress.

“Would it have killed you to come with a body?”

Her eyes glinted. “Maybe if you’d invited me properly I would have.” She floated closer and all the hairs on my arms pricked up. I crossed my arms over my stomach.

“Oh, relax, Jessa,” she said. “So much negative energy.” She slid past me into the party and left me on the front porch. My nostrils burned with her perfume.

I could have just walked down the steps, down the street, around the corner, and into the 7-Eleven. They had a table outside, a white plastic chair. Sometimes I liked to close my eyes, whatever I was doing, and think about how I could be sitting in that chair drinking a Blue Shock Mountain Dew Slurpee. For just a dollar ninety-nine, I could be doing that instead.

Alice’s voice tinkled through the open door. She was telling the story again to all my mother’s friends. How she went on a wellness retreat in West Palm Springs and came home with the ability to lift her insides right out of her body.

“It was completely life-changing,” Alice said. “Away from everything like that, you can really get in touch with your true self.” She hovered next to my mom’s chair. Her hair was perfectly coiled. Below her neck a cloud of delicate veins and organs drifted, not quite touching the floor.

I had a resolution: Once I had a baby, I would be a better grownup, the kind that didn’t care what Alice did with her life. So I went back to the party.

“If only Jessa could do one of those,” said my mom’s best friend Gladys. “It expands your horizons.”

“Jessa’s always been a homebody,” said my mom. “Oh, Jessa! There you are.” She pinned a ribbon on my chest that said “Mom-to-be” and whispered in my ear: “You’re neglecting your guests.” She steered me around to all of her friends, so that each of them in turn could congratulate me and touch my stomach. Through it all Alice floated nearby, chatting away in her mosquito voice.

Pat pat pat. “Carrying high! Must be a boy.”

(“Of course I wish she could have come! Well, she’s doing something much more important right now, isn’t she?”)

Pat pat pat. “My dear, you look exhausted! Must be a girl. Jealous little things, they steal all your beauty.”

(“Oh, you’re so sweet. I certainly didn’t master it right away. It took weeks of self-reflection.”)

Pat pat pat. “Only seven months along! It can’t be! Are you sure it isn’t twins?”

(“Diet, too. Eliminating toxins. Nothing processed or artificial.”)

Pat pat pat. “Are you getting any sleep, Jessa? Get it while you can! You won’t be sleeping at all once the baby comes!”

(“People feel so entitled to women’s bodies, you know? It’s so liberating to leave all that behind and force people to see you, really see you, right down to the guts!”)

I turned around and came face-to-face with Alice, who was hovering by the cheese plate.

“That looks delicious,” said Alice.

“It’s processed.”

“So dramatic, Jessa. One bite won’t hurt me.”

“Take some, then.”

“With these?” She waved her intestines at me. “It would be awfully rude.”

“You could have come to the party with hands.”

“You don’t know what it’s like. I can hardly bear to walk around inside my body now. I feel so objectified.”

“What’s wrong, dear?” said Gladys from across the dining room.

“Oh, I’m just wishing I could have some of this cheese plate.”

“Don’t be silly! Jessa, pass her some cheese.”

Alice turned to me with a faint smile and opened her mouth.

“I can’t,” I said.

“What are you afraid of, Jessa?” said Alice. Her voice was loud, and other conversations around the room paused. Everyone was watching us.

I speared a piece of cheese on a toothpick and held it to her lips. She opened her mouth and took it between her teeth, chewed, swallowed. The lump worked its way down the thick red cord of her esophagus and landed with a plop in her stomach.

“Won’t you have some?” said Alice. “You’re eating for two.”

I swallowed down vomit. “Heartburn,” I said.

“Let’s open gifts,” said my mom. She arranged me in an armchair with the pile of pink packages and bags. What I really needed was cash, but my mom said it was gauche to ask for it, so instead my plan was to unwrap them, pretend to love them, and keep the receipts.

I was almost through the pile when Alice floated towards me with something wrapped in her intestines.

“You haven’t opened mine yet,” she said. Barely visible in the nest of wriggling entrails was a tiny gold box.

“No,” I said.

“Don’t be rude, Jessa. Take the gift,” said my mom.


Alice began to cry. “Why did you even invite me if you hate me so much?”

“I didn’t invite you. I don’t want you here!”

“Jessa!” said my mother.

Alice cried harder.

“Take the gift, Jessa.” said Gladys. “Look what you’ve done.”


Gladys grabbed my hand and shoved it into Alice’s entrails. I felt acid burn my fingers, then nothing. I was out of my body, looking down on the top of my head from somewhere near the kitchen ceiling. My body took out Alice’s gift and opened it. Inside was a gift certificate. Gold lettering.

“It’s the same place I went!” said Alice. “You’ll have to wait until after the birth, of course. But it will be the perfect way to get your body back.”

I tried to imagine myself somewhere else, in a plastic chair. But I couldn’t get away from the tug of my body, sitting in my mom’s house, covered in bits of pink tissue paper. My mom cleared her throat. My body smiled and said thank you, she loved all the gifts.

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