VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Kristen DiLandro

Little failures everywhere

Black bulbs the size of pin heads germinate below the translucent layer of skin. Like clockwork, they grow thick, sharp sprouts reaching toward the sun. This coarse overgrowth reminds me how long it’s been since I’ve wielded a razor. No skirt today. Covering the legs is easy. But out in the open, my face conceals nothing. If you stand far enough away–or don’t have your glasses on–my eyebrows resemble an elegant arch. Up close, you see the stragglers, hellbent little strands challenging the formation. Examine my mug for 30 seconds and you’ll find (in addition to the unsightly hairs) age spots, wrinkles, dry patches, melasma, scars. Trousers can’t disguise my face. 

My failures also stack high. Issues pile up. The New Yorker. Nearly every flat surface in my home is a vertical calendar with months and weeks of other people’s writing to read. Maggotbrain. Alta. Piled up. The Sewanee Review. Piled on the coffee table. Outdoor. Piled next to the toilet. Vanity Fair. McSweeney’s Quarterly’s 58. The gangs all there. They are either towering mountain on the right half of my desk or they’re cozying up to the books beside my bed. Like too close talkers, the editions encroach on the Mary Gaitskill’s, Stephen King’s, Mary Karr’s, Chuck Palahniuk’s, Carl Jung’s, Zadie Smith’s, and a Dorothy Parker or a Harry Crews–who are patiently waiting for me too. On Saturday, the piling up breaks me down. I’m crying.  

“A clean house is the sign of a poorly lived life.” Or so goes the cliché. In Shirly, the biodrama about Shirley Jackson, she tells Stanley Edgar Hyman, “a well-kept home is evidence of mental incompetence.” In my apartment, clean dishes overwhelm the metal drying rack. The dirty ones sprawl out like sunbathers in the ceramic sink beach. Laundry accumulates in two hampers. Broken down cardboard slumps in the corner, taunting, “You never take me outside on time!” The compost bin’s top looks like a funny hat set atop an unruly hairdo of kale stems. The shoots, stalks, and skins prevent the lid from fitting right and instead it’s like a floating beret. 

Jackson might compliment my mental competencies. Still others might envy my well-lived life. From where I sit, I see my failures everywhere. 

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