Guest Post, Meg Tuite: Christmas Twinkies

Meg TuiteChristmas was filled with a different light that didn’t filter through the rest of the year, sent electric shivers through the complacent houses up and down the block. Anything was possible. We made the pilgrimage to pick out the exquisite tree as soon as December hit. My siblings and I argued over which tree was the tree until Dad said ‘This is it.’ Then the guy who worked there, cut off the bottom while Mom collected boughs to place on the mantel and around a candle on the dining room table. The tree was strapped to the top of the station wagon and everyone was smiling, even Dad. We spent that night decorating, with Mom leading the way. The pulsating large, multi-colored lights blasted around the picture window and the tree until nothing was stagnant in our house. Our faces flickered on and off in flaming reds, blues, greens and yellows. Mom was somebody else during the holidays, a treasure chest filled with some kind of happiness and brilliance that blazed out of her being. She would put on the Dylan Thomas scratchy album “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and we’d all hover close by with the throbbing neon bulbs illuminating our faces as we listened to that lilting waver of a voice that sounded like crashing waves against rocks from a distant planet.

Our neighbors and my older brother and sister went to the midnight mass, smoked cigarettes and drank whatever they could steal from their parent’s stash that night, while the rest of us sat in the living room, stared into a space that believed everything could change like the glistening snow and the charged air and rainbows that rearranged the tragic misery of that room. Mom chugged her glass of wine and laughed, sat back in her recliner as the deceptive varnish of fresh snow and glittering lights through the night air wedded all of us to a holiday season packed with expectation.

The brutal realm of day-to-day existence had multitudes dissociated, walking back and forth through malls with bags full of ridiculous crap they would never think of buying at any other time of year, unless they were under the gun, which ‘twas the season. Thank god for wrapping paper. Even a package of Hanes underwear looked much better in a box under a bow.

It was a state of siege that had me engulfed in that anticipatory surge of life that came with sledding, snowball fights, transient lights and music. Tearing open presents always rocked more than what was beneath the ribbon and paper. It was this belief that inside one of those presents was the promise of another life. The reality was that a week later, snow was gray and yellow, gifts were forgotten, and parents, school, neighborhood and myself were still there.

And so what about the special delectables? I’d always assumed Christmas snacks would come through with what they promised and why wouldn’t I? They had never let me down. Yes, I sat in the lunchroom when I was eight, psyched that instead of a few Fig Newtons glued to each other, my mom had packed an exquisite Twinkie for the holiday. Now that was golden!  The outside was peachy and euphoric in the phallic shape of dessert ecstasy, but when I took that first bite of a third of the submarine, I realized something was wrong. It was grainy like when you get smacked by a wave in the lake and come up with sand in your mouth. The thing about a Twinkie was that when you bit into it your eyes close automatically. It was only for one sense to absorb. The sad part was that when I opened my eyes to look at the two-thirds left of my spongy delicacy, I was face to face with the color green puffing out of the center. Not a pastel green or an olive green, but the Christmas evergreen that had no pretense of hiding its ornamental beauty from anyone. I was positive I turned a green that gave away the Irish half-breed of me as I imagined what the rest of the tasty treat was doing now to my stomach and my brain. I was sweating and nauseated when Maggie Felsteder asked if she could finish the remnants of the Twinkie I was stuffing into my brown paper bag. I never liked Felsteder. I started to feel a little bit better at that point. Yeah, sure, I said, as I launched the torpedo at her from the unbitten end.  Merry Christmas.

Guest Blog Post, Heather Foster: Fifty Ways to Leave Your Mentor

Heather Foster

Just drop off the key, Lee

And get yourself free

–  Paul Simon

 We begin romantic relationships with the best of hopes. We believe in forever, or at least, we thrive on the thrill of not knowing how or how long a relationship will endure. How happy or miserable can we possibly be? At what point does the façade wear off so that we start leaving our dirty socks in the bathroom floor, stop pretending we don’t eat Twinkies at 1:00am? And how, in a flurry of rage or discovery, or in a moment of can’t-take-the-standstill-anymore, will it end, once and for all? When will we change our Facebook status to “single” or “it’s complicated”? And how will it feel when people tell us, “I’m so sorry you and so-and-so broke up”?

A writing mentorship is a kind of love story, a kind of celebrity crush come true. As an undergrad, I was told that the MFA was an apprenticeship, and that I should choose a program with poets whose work I loved. I did. I picked a poet whose books wormed their way into my soul and left me dying to know how he could help me—me, the underprepared unlikely MFA candidate, who had just switched from pre-med to English 18 months before that moment, who hadn’t read or written nearly enough—learn to write great poems.

The first morning of my first residency, I met him. He walked into the room, tall and grey and good looking, but with an air of assholery that didn’t sit well with me. He was still wearing sunglasses, and his hair seemed to have been styled via a handful of gel and a few quick trips around the block in a convertible. He was in shorts and sandals. And when he opened his mouth, he spoke loudly in a thick New York accent. He seemed to know everything, and to want to be sure we recognized it.

This wasn’t going to work, Heather the farm girl, who drove a pickup truck with no cruise control, who still had red mud on the tires, and the hotshot New York poet. In our first conference, he asked what poetry I’d read. My answer sent him on a tirade about getting serious, about being in over my head, about how far behind my classmates I was. I hated him, and I thought about quitting the program. I went back to my room and packed everything up—everything except his books, which I’d left on my nightstand, hoping to have him sign.

I picked up my favorite in the stack and opened it. All over again, I fell in love with it, and I did what any girl does when she likes a boy who seems out of her league—I resolved to make him like me back.

That semester, I took masochism to new heights, cranking out sestinas and sonnets, reading twice the recommended number of books, doing annotations on all of them, listening to and desperately trying to implement my mentor’s suggestions for my poems. His passion for poetry was wonderfully contagious, and we turned out to love many of the same poets. Sometimes, he’d call what I’d written “bullshit,” but only when it was totally true, and I came to crave that no-nonsense attitude. When the praise came, I knew he meant it, and during the time we worked together, I lived for it.

Three years later, after my thesis defense, I went back to my motel room and cried like a brokenhearted seventh grader. The defense went brilliantly. I passed with flying colors. My committee members were pleased. But my time with my beloved mentor was officially over.

He had become a surrogate poetry father to me. Even though I knew all along the end was coming, when it came, it hurt. Because when a mentorship is at its best, you give yourself over to it; you become a willing horse to the shadow of your teacher’s whip. You let yourself forget where it’s going.

When it ends, it ends on good terms, and you find yourself in foreign territory. You see him again someday, with other students, and you want to punch their noses in. You can’t write a damn thing post thesis, and this is totally normal, but you don’t know that yet. You want to talk to him again, but you’re afraid to be a nuisance. You send heavily edited emails at carefully spaced intervals so as not to appear like a stalker.

You are grieving everything—the end of the routine, the end of the feedback, the end of his constant motivation. Your toes are curled over the rim of a canyon and you are shouting his name across a vast chasm and your whole life is the echo it makes.

Eventually, you realize he misses you, too. Eventually, you reach a frequency of communication you can live with. He hasn’t vanished into the abstract. He is still a source of encouragement.

Keep writing, he tells you, every time you speak. So you do. Finish that book, he tells you. So you do. Keep me posted, he says. So you do. And that urge to please a beloved mentor—that desperate need for his atta girl—it never goes away. You never stop hearing his voice in your head when you revise. You never throw away the drafts with his notes on them.

Yes, there will be times when you will not be able to write, no matter what. There will be times when you’ll think of quitting. There will be times when you will drink a caramel vodka milkshake at 10:00am on a Thursday (yes, it happened).

But here’s the thing—you’ll let the misery have its moment, but then you’ll do what you learned to do years ago, the first time you felt that way. You’ll go to the shelf, and you’ll pull down his books, and they’ll remind you why you never left. And you will take those poems into your body like a cure.