Out of Context: A Collection of Excerpts

A few of you recently asked me about the blog and why I haven’t posted in over a month. I’ve tried several times to write a new post, but I never get past the initial, “so I haven’t written in a while…” Today, as I was driving around an area of the city I will soon call home, I realized why my blog and I are giving each other the silent treatment:

My summer has demanded a lot of internal exploration of self and a bit of life reorganization, if you will. It’s been a wonderful, selfish season so far, and I’m quite enjoying dating the city. (I mean that in a figurative way, Dad. I don’t actually mean I’m dating everyone in the city, as that’s entirely impractical.) But because I’ve been focused mostly on myself and “getting my life together” as Amanda put it on our summer to-do list, I haven’t had much to say about the world around me. (In fact, I’ve even had a lot of trouble speaking to the world around me. My friends have really enjoyed my incoherent sentences about dull activities that only tumble out of my mouth around attractive men. I mumble about laundry and grocery lists and the weather. I just can’t stop talking about the damn weather.)

What I’m trying to say here is that lately, I find it difficult to comment on the behaviors of others in any capacity beyond, “I wish Baltimore had a better driver’s education.” And that’s just true, not blog-worthy. On the other hand, I don’t want to bore you with any internal reflection that comes across as “woe is me” or even worse, “look how awesome I am” (although, I am in so many ways).

So instead of writing my typical this-happened-and-then-that-happened-and-this-is-what-I-think-of-those-things-blog, I thought some of you might like to see excerpts from other pieces I’ve been working on. (For those of you who aren’t interested in that kind of thing, I’ve sucked you in this far so you might as well just go with it.)

Below are some of my favorite chunks from works-in-progress. All bits are taken completely out of the context that they were written in, and none of them go together or build upon each other in a purposeful manner. But feel free to draw much larger conclusions about my life and childhood if you so wish. I hope to continue getting each essay to a place that’s ready for submission in the fall, so if you have an interest in reading any of these pieces in their entirety just let me know. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve actually been doing with the last year of my life:

from “The Elephant in the Room”

Its fluffy shape, despite it being made out of metal, reminds me of windy days spent cloud gazing on my back in the park when we were really little, at recess in middle school, laying out on Jones Rice Field while we drank daiquiris in college. Maybe that’s why I used to see elephants and rhinos in metal, because I was practiced at seeing bunnies, trees, and the occasional penis in the clouds. But, for reasons unknowable to me now, I also used to think the shape of Texas resembled an elephant-like animal. Maybe the melted metal really looked like Texas, and neither looked like elephants. It’s also possible that I was just a strange child who saw elephants everywhere but the circus.


But our house didn’t demonstrate expensive tastes, it displayed the products of a family of five: framed handprints, cross-stitched flowers above my mother’s initials, hand-written poems in crayon that rhymed but weren’t spelt correctly, and an ashtray on the shelf used only to store lost and found earrings until matching mates could be located. Yet there, above the wooden filing cabinets in the office, the melted metal hung.

from “Don’t Tell Mom”

Our beds were ships, our couches were forts, and the floor was always lava.


Patrick and Ashlie explained that while the big fort was indeed big, it wasn’t that big. And that I could have the littleone all to myself. On the days that we traded our skylight in for a door, I tried to crawl from the jail to the big couch without them noticing. But they always did: Michelle, you can’t come over here! The floor’s lava! And I’d hop back to the jail, burns and all.

Maybe it was my imagination that kept me from questioning the lava or offering other options like it’s a soft meadow now or—the more valid—it’s just carpet. Or maybe it was my infatuation with my older siblings that made me believe the lava laws, or pure fear of their power. Looking back at those years now, I think it was a combination of all three.

from “Neighborhood Watch”

“Let’s play Spy!” Michelle said.

“Yeah!” Lori agreed excitedly. “But how do we play?”

Lori wasn’t sure her parents would approve of something that included spying, but she trusted Michelle’s ideas. In the past, these brilliant suggestions led to dance classes in Lori’s front yard (boom box and extension cord included), a bag full of pecans from Lori’s trees (to be sold for lots of money), and a well-planned but poorly-executed appearance as “streamer girls” in their elementary school’s Mardi Gras parade (they really should have worn tights under their leotards).


Lori’s closet had great supplies, but Michelle wasn’t completely satisfied. She remembered that she’d seen things in Lori’s dad’s tool shed they could use, although Lori wasn’t sure about this part of the plan. It didn’t matter; Michelle was already outside. Once they’d gathered everything—including a few things they weren’t supposed to touch—they headed back to Lori’s room, closed the door, and began mapping out the plan.

“Will these work?” Lori asked holding up something blue with orange feet.

“What is that?”

“Those binocular things I got from a McDonald’s happy meal a long time ago.”  Michelle only got Happy Meals when she was with her Godmother and was always disappointed with the toys she got. This toy looked like it had promise though.

from “All My Pets are Dead

Brat the Cat

We met at opposite ends of life—I was an infant; he was an almost dead cat—but he’s a Junot legend, and so I must begin here.

He was an orange tabby that my toddler sister called Bwat because her tongue lived in her mouth all wrong. Ashlie and Patrick carried Brat around like a floppy pillow, like he couldn’t know pain.

But then he turned up sick like most living things do, and the vet said Brat needed experimental surgery or he needed to be put to sleep. My parents knew that experimental actually meant expensive and since my mom had recently been laid off, they couldn’t afford to save Brat.

Mom and Dad told Ashlie and Patrick about a place called Cat Heaven and everyone said goodbye.

Six weeks later, however, the vet called back. They’d performed the surgery anyway, and surprise! Brat was alive! And did we want him back?

 Dad walked in that evening to Ashlie’s Bwat is back Dad! It’s weally weally Bwat!  My parents had another talk with Patrick and Ashlie and explained that cats have nine lives.

Duff the Guinea Pig

Patrick and Dad walked through the door with a large cage, a bag of cedar chips, and a tiny box with holes in the sides. But where is he? I wondered. He’s in the box, Stupid!

I was troubled. I didn’t actually know what a guinea pig was, but I didn’t expect him to arrive the same way light bulbs did.

Can he breath in there? He can’t move around! Do they just live on the shelf at the store like that? Dad explained that the animal had only been put in the box so he wouldn’t get lost in the car.

But when he did finally make his appearance, I kind of wished he’d go back in the box. He didn’t look like a pig at all. He was a brown puff of fur and his toenails were long and sharp. Why did Patrick want this creature that seemed to belong in the swamp?

Patrick named the creature Duff and they lived happily in their blue bedroom for a couple of years. Then Patrick lost interest and Duff was banished to the corner in Mom’s sewing room.

I liked him more then, and I’d sit and feed him cabbage and tell him about my day at school and dance class. I’d ask him about his cage and why he liked eating cardboard more than cabbage, but he wasn’t much of a talker.

I can’t remember how Duff died and when I ask the rest of the family they say, Duff? Duff who? All I remember is holding the box—much larger than a light bulb then—while Patrick dug a hole in the back yard. I asked why he’d put a brick in the box with Duff and he looked up from his work confused. I didn’t. That’s just what dead Duff feels like.

Thanks for reading, and I promise to use my words more in the coming months.