~ Guest Writer, Kathlene Mc Govern ~
That one weird ostrich on a delightful little chicken farm
A couple years ago I went back to college so I can say without equivocation nothing will make you feel more ancient than your lab partner skateboarding by you in a tube top. Going to college decades and decades after you’re meant to is like being that one weird ostrich on a delightful little chicken farm. You’re still a bird, but more of a curiosity. “Wait, you go here? Wow. That’s cool… I guess.” These baby chicks aren’t afraid of insulting you — or anything else. They have an awestriking ability to seriously not give one single fuck if they look stupid or fall on their faces.
I’ve always been petrified of falling on my face. Not literally. For years I was a showgirl — a high-heeled, false eyelash-wearing, feather-toting showgirl. I ice-skated in a hoop dress, wore a gargantuan rhinestone pineapple on my ass, and donned an enormous golden unicorn head eight shows a week. I miss my old life. I don’t talk about it or even think about it much anymore, but I do miss it. At the time it was just my life — filled with pressures of being thin enough, pretty enough, staying employed and always fighting the niggling feeling that there was more I was meant to do. When I worked in Atlantic City I’d secretly drive the ninety-five miles up to Princeton on my one day off. I’d wander the stately campus, read Latin mottos on clock towers and sweatshirts. Imagined myself going there, muttering intellectual gems like “that hypothesis is intrinsically flawed.” But I knew something like that could never be within my reach. I’d only spent two hours every morning at my low-ranked high school and the rest of the day at a ballet company sweating through leotards, learning variations from Swan Lake. I’d barely broken a grand on my SATs and had to look up the word matriculate. So, I spent more years shaking my glittering, pineapple-covered-ass and meticulously avoided any deep commitment to what my future would look like. As a result, I ended up, after the dancing was done, the bitterest bartender who’d ever drawn a pint. Don’t get me wrong, I’d tried my hand at lots of other things, had baby successes in many of them — the latest as a writer. A contest top-ten here, a little publication there, but mostly I was writing into a big, black hole, a dark, gravitational suck space that says you need “heat” to get an agent, but the only way to get “heat” was to have an agent or “buzz,” or “connections,” until I finally said fuck it, at least school would give me points toward something, even if it’s only a piece of paper that says I did it. That’s how I landed at a city college where the rigor of the admissions process included signing up, which was all the exactitude I could bear.
It would be a breeze. It was community college, not a real thing. It wasn’t going to challenge me, make me a better writer, more erudite, a baby scholar. Now, two years and 65 units later, I’ve just applied to the UC system and have to spend my winter break taking Spanish II, a verb-conjugating viper-pit that even native speakers avoid.
I wanted to take it with my Spanish I teacher — a rocker chick in her 50s who wore tight jeans, high heels, had 80,000 Instagram followers and believed in the power of positive thinking and open-book classrooms. But I got Profesor Peraud who believed in memorization, perfect attendance and calling everyone senor or senorita. That is until I rolled in one morning with no makeup. “Hola, Senorita McGovern… oh…” He peered more closely. “I mean Señora McGovern.” One morning of dark circles and fine lines and I’m the geriatric of Pasadena City College. “Señora McGovern, language is good for the brain. I’m keeping you from getting Alzheimers!” Alzheimers?? How fucking old does this guy think I am?? It is 2019! My age does not define me, sir — I keep telling myself as I slather on every night cream I can find. But as I cram verb conjugations night after night, my makeup-less mornings and his senoras become more frequent. My worry over my GPA and hatred for the imperfect tense grows until, when Persaud calls on me one morning, I freeze. Fatigue, irritation and angst coming off me in waves as Persaud’s eyes bore straight into my soul. Simple, easy, annoyingly European he says, “Señora McGovern, y todo como el diamante antes que luz es carbon. Do you know what this means?” Of course I don’t know what that means! He smiles, “And everything like the diamond before light is coal. The fall, the getting up, the next endeavor, the light of knowledge the pressure brings, is how the diamond is made. You, Señora McGovern, must become a diamond before it is too late.”
You can’t hide your head in the sand
That’s the thing about being an ostrich on a sweet little chicken farm. You can’t hide your head in the sand because those baby chicks with their skateboards and tube-tops and the crusty old professors with their elbow-patched sweaters and antiquated proverbs will peck right at your ass until you’re forced to pull your head up. They will remind you of ivy league clock towers and sweatshirts emblazoned with the secret of the Greek scholars: Fugit inreparabile tempus: “it escapes, irretrievable time.” And you can’t go back.
Or maybe you can.
Kathlene Mc Govern
Kathlene Mc Govern is currently a student at Pasadena City College who will transfer to UCLA to finish her BA in English. In 2017, she served as the fiction editor for PCC’s Inscape Literary Magazine and worked as a staff writer for Blindfold Magazine, a print mag that combined activism with pop culture and fashion where she wrote features on several actors and directors including Darryl Hannah and Aaron Paul and Casey Cooper Johnson.
When she’s not writing, Kathlene teaches a performance workshop for dancers around the country called The Emotional Dynamics of Dance. The workshop teaches dancers to create story and connect emotionally to choreography, allowing for more dynamic performances.
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