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Zoe Raines

April 25, 2018

The Desk

I moved into my first apartment in Chicago, and became a real writer. Being a writer had certain conditions that absolutely had to be met. I needed a place—secured. I needed a desk and a chair. The desk I wanted flat and long, like a workbench. I know what I’m looking for before I see it, and I know that it’s right when I find it.

This desk was in Logan Square for twenty dollars. I needed a ride and asked Ricky, a comedian that I had been seeing, but not dating. I was seeing several guys at the time. Ricky drove me to the stranger’s apartment across from Palmer Park. The man couldn’t have been older than mid thirties. Attractive, wearing a green t-shirt. I always save the numbers of people I buy things from on Craigslist and I don’t know why. His name was Rob—Rob (desk) in my contacts.

I also have the number of a guy I bought liquor from once back when I lived in Ann Arbor, another member of metal frat, the anti-frat fraternity where I sometimes went to house shows—Joe Laser (koo), someone named Emily—Emily (goldfish mom), and someone simply named—plant.

Rob and Ricky carried the desk down three flights of stairs while I followed behind uselessly. They put the desk in the trunk of Ricky’s car. While Ricky and I sat in the front seat, the desk in the back, I took a photo of Ricky while he wasn’t looking. He was wearing a green quilt-print shirt, his hair was still buzzed to a three, and his hand looks long and spidery. I posted the picture on my Instagram with the caption my favorite cutie even though I had told him we were nothing to each other and would insist so for weeks after.

He carried the desk up to my apartment in the cold back stairway all by himself, on his back.

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Online Survey for the Editor of an Anthology of Borrowed Form Essays

April 25, 2018

This survey was sent by Jenna McGuiggan to Kim Adrian, editor of The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms, published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Except for the book’s foreword, by Brenda Miller, and the source acknowledgements, everything in this anthology has been written using borrowed forms, including Adrian’s introduction, all of the essays, and the postscript by Cheyenne Nimes. There’s even an essay hiding in the list of contributors.


Your answers to the following questions will help us to understand how this anthology of work by 30 writers came together. Your feedback on these topics is invaluable. Thank you for taking the time to complete this survey.

1) Which of these factors was most important to you when deciding to create an anthology of borrowed form essays?

A. The fame and fortune that only essay anthologies can offer
B. A postmodern distrust of traditional literary forms
C. A lifelong passion for crustaceans
D. Other (please specify)

Finding the right form for a given piece of writing is a huge but normally hidden part of the writing process. One reason I like to read and write essays that borrow their forms from elsewhere is that they put that aspect of the writing process front and center. To me, this anthology is ultimately less about this very narrow sub-genre, the so-called “hermit crab essay,” and more about looking very closely at the relationship of form to content.

2) In her foreword to The Shell Game, Brenda Miller explains how she came up with the term “hermit crab essay” in 2001 to describe lyric essays that take on the form (or “shell”) of another kind of writing. If the term hermit crab essay should fall out of favor, what other trickster of the animal kingdom has the necessary qualities to fill this role? Please consider the potential threats and predators that such a specimen would have to overcome.

A. Honey badger (“don’t care!”)
B. Ostrich (head in sand)
C. Possum (playing dead)
D.Chameleon (changing colors)
E. Octopus (master of camouflage)
F. Other (please specify)

I think the honey badger makes a great mascot for all serious writing. It’s tenacious, a little insane, it gets the job done, even if it almost dies trying. But most of all, it “don’t care.” That’s so key to writing well—outrunning your own demons. Finding a way out of their grip. Getting back up if you get knocked down, again and again. Continue Reading


Ayla Maisey

April 25, 2018

Paint Songs

There I am: a child, a century after the final painting in Monet’s bridge series is finished, coloring butterfly masks with my mom and my brother on the cement front porch of my childhood home. My mother had printed and cut out stencils for us to scribble on in the June mountain afternoon, and we were huddled between plastic totes of crayons and faded markers. I don’t remember what mine or my brother’s mask looked like, only that my mother’s was clean and purple and well-blended, and that I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

Waterloo Bridge Sunlight Effect. Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.

I never used a lot of paint when I was little. Don’t misunderstand me: I painted all the time. But some pressing minimalism or frugality—really, when I think about it: a fear of using too much— kept my art sparing and seemingly sun-faded. My strokes were light, my colors always cool. I came to prefer watercolors because of how unobtrusive they were. The pastels and gradients soothed me. I understood that I could layer what I was trying to tell someone, but I couldn’t fix spilled paint. I was coloring lightly while my brother and friends broke crayons and pencil nibs to cover fridge doors with fearless saturation. I was holding my breath. I only realized this much later. You have to remember—the impressionists tell you to look at things from a distance.

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