Pretty in Print
The Writing Life
And the winners of the Pretty in Print writing competition are ...
In her book on writing, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott perfectly laid it out: “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” In the last weeks we asked readers of the Alibi to share their worlds with us by sharing their writing. We had a lot of great submissions to our Pretty in Print contest—every single one revelatory, ferrying us to another world in 750 words or less. Thank you to everyone who submitted for sharing that with us!
Alas, it was our task to choose only three winners, one in each of the following categories—fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry. Our winners were Nadia Mira Sahi in fiction, Jennifer Moglia Lucil in creative nonfiction and Katherine Johnson in poetry. Each of these authors will receive a $50 gift card from our preeminent sponsor, Page 1 Books, as well as a gift package from Bookworks. Now, we invite you, dear readers, to settle in with some talented new voices that certainly have something to show you.
“... as she slowly ... broke the cookie into two clean pieces (After several years she must have developed the perfect technique for such things.), placed each ceremoniously on the plate while flattening the fortune in her hand and reading it silently to herself.”
“Untitled” by Nadia Mira Sahi
For years we thought maybe she'd lost her mind, and maybe in a way she had. In setting her table for each meal she would place a single fortune cookie by her plate, to be opened only after she'd finished all else. If there were others at the table she would seem to disappear into another world entirely, as she slowly uncrinkled the plastic wrapping, broke the cookie into two clean pieces (After several years she must have developed the perfect technique for such things.), placed each ceremoniously on the plate while flattening the fortune in her hand and read it silently to herself.
In the beginning perhaps disappointment had betrayed itself on her face, but no longer. With silence and stoicism she would place the paper in her pocket, never sharing its contents with us. We used to make wild, elaborate guesses as to why she did this. She didn't eat the cookies, so it couldn't have been for that reason. Our speculations ran from the mundane (waiting for lottery numbers) to the hopelessly impractical (she'd fallen in love with the heir of a fortune cookie company, who was forced to leave her to take over the company when his father died in a tragic scuba-diving accident, but he promised he would leave her messages in fortune cookies until he could find someone to take over management at the company). It wasn't until a few years after she had passed, in going through her things, that we learned what she'd been doing all those years.
It was during a housecleaning session in which we had gathered together all of our boxes of who-knows-what to decide what we really needed to keep and what could be given or thrown away (depending on the condition), when I happened upon her journal. On the last page, under the date May 7th, 2004, there were three fortunes, flattened and taped under the header, which read respectively "Land is always on the mind of a flying bird," "You cannot find what you do not look for" and "Fortune favors the brave." Underneath, in curling letters we all recognized as her penmanship, she had outlined the progression of her day, ending with "I cannot find what I do not look for, so every day I look. But when will I find it?"
Amongst murmuring and speculation we went back through the journal, and in the same box found two more, all three similarly, peculiarly formatted. Day after day she had inserted her fortunes, chronicled her day and related them to the taped messages above. "Your smile is contagious" was a reoccurring entry, along with "You have a yearning for perfection" and "He who seeks will find." Her musing were often lighthearted and routine, though it became clear, reading backwards, that she hadn't always been so content with simply chronicling in this manner. At one point the fortunes had meant very much to her. At one point her quirky habit had been a desperate search and not a simple routine.
Working backwards through the journals we realized she had been searching for an answer. And so our speculation became informed, and sometimes frantic. We were nearing the beginning of the first book. All would soon be revealed, and each of us wanted to be the person who had guessed correctly. And so we guessed in multitudes, the closer we got, amending and altering details in our guesses until we were each convinced of our detective prowess and were certain we had it right. Until we reached the first fortune on the first page of the first journal.
Every day she opened a fortune cookie after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We don't know where she got them from, which factory jumped for joy when the order came in—a lifetime supply of fortune cookies. But she had begun five years before May 7th, 2004. Because one day she had received a fortune that said, "Now is not the right time to tell your secret." And ever since, she'd been waiting for the one that would tell her she could.
“One hundred rides—perhaps a hundred people that I will never truly connect with, but for a brief exchange in this speeding compartment of transport.”
“Chance Conversations: Teachers Seize the Ride-Sharing Moment” by Jennifer Moglia Lucil
My husband and I are teachers, and while we work 40-hour weeks dedicated to children, we take turns stealing away from our own kids to drive several hours of Uber or Lyft each week in order to make ends meet. We are the highly-educated, working class, teasing out ideas from children who play out their addictions to technology throughout their waking lives. The last of the liberal arts majors, we have plunged headlong into the gig economy.
Ride sharing changed swiftly for us from an invention only for millennials, to the reality of dollar amounts that accumulated on the screens of our phones. Taking the driver’s seat was suddenly like our own video game; we were possessed by the ding of new riders, the payoff more instantaneous than any job we had ever held in our three and a half decades of working life. And there were the advantages of our city—Albuquerque, with its wide open landscapes, minimal traffic, even the promise of so many gamblers, seeking out the big jackpots at casinos raised up from Native American land.
While money was our most pressing need, the work also began to fill a void. There was something lacking in the neighborhoods we had lived in, where people left early in the morning and came home late at night, their eyes focused on getting kids to school, getting to work, getting somewhere else. More often than not, it was us closing our front door at night with the feeling of nothing left to give. But small pleasantries begin to emerge with a stranger in the back seat. “Feel free to open a window,” I found myself saying, or “Yankees fan,” or “Where do you work, may I ask?” And the questions, in that old art of the conversation, were returned.
Other surprises came along. Aside from transporting Saturday revelers or folks to and from the airport, I was solicited from a steady tide of workers, somewhat similar yet distinct from myself. The fast-food workers came in periodic waves. A young woman with cigarette-saturated hair headed for Wienerschnitzel. A Native American man who had an early Sunday shift at Wendy’s (I drove him on two consecutive Sundays). A CNM student paying for her nursing degree with her job at Panda Express, and a young African-American man on his second day at a Starbucks, learning myriad coffee commands. There were other workers; I picked up a middle-aged woman from an RV campground who said she was a traveling nurse. This was her last day at Presbyterian Hospital before she and her husband would drive their trailer to New Hampshire for her next nursing gig. I also drove a retired, female truck driver. To me she sounded fearless, a pioneer with a storytelling drawl, and I thrilled to hear her say matter-of-factly, “I used to be like you,” before telling me about her experiences driving 18-wheeler tractor trailers in all of 48 states.
Of course, there have been a few executive types, but more frequently, I’m driving a senior citizen in uniform to his shift at Wal-Mart. Uber texts and says, “Give 100 rides this month and you can earn a gas card.” I calculate the gas money I’ve spent so far and know this job is not my jackpot. Sometimes I wonder if it could be me one day, serving behind the counter somewhere in this forest of Dollar Tree stores. One hundred rides—perhaps a hundred people that I will never truly connect with, but for a brief exchange in this speeding compartment of transport. Staring at the road, I wonder, What work do we do now? What work will we do tomorrow? What kind of work will keep us alive? Gratitude, for the ride-sharing services, for this brief moment in time when I can still look in the eyes of a fellow worker in the rearview mirror. I’ll hold onto the dream of solidarity among us, as if we were all proudly wearing the “union label” in the fabric of our clothing.
Yet, another sudden change is coming. We drivers will soon be replaced with the self-driving machine, which, we will be told, holds the great promise of safety. No accidents, no crashes, no risks. “Isn’t it dangerous,” a passenger asked me, “for a woman to do this job?” Yes, I suppose it is. But my eyes and ears will be wide open until the day when safety will eclipse all human error, as well as the chance heartbeat of a conversation.
“Now, alone again, I fly, on wings that are nothing more than ideas hammered solid; is this not faith too?
“Flying to a Phoenix” by Katherine Johnson
Nearly to the day, five years past, I boarded a jet and flew away alone, from myself and to a Phoenix.
Now, alone again, I fly, on wings that are nothing more than ideas hammered solid; is this not faith too?
And when I land, imperfect memory will fail; how did the air sound rubbing past metal, how the cabin rocked, a cradle on wings. Too, I will forget the casino bell sound the gentle murmurs around me made.
Nearly to the day, 15 years past, I held you in my arms, wings that dared defy the gravity of life, that cradled you in my hopes.
Now, alone again, I am forced to terms that my hopes were my fears, a carnival masquerade, that you would become me; is this not gravity too?
And when I land in Phoenix, reflections of the face I will avoid that failed you with imperfect love and dropped you to earth.