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Present Ghost

Telling stories

The Appraisal

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At Central Watch, a woman with silver hair waited. Her red pill box hat capped her bob and accompanied her wool camel coat well. She had been wearing this outfit, or something like it, for at least 50 years. It looked good, even when she had started to shrink and her voice had begun to lose its easy, youthful volume. She stayed warm on her way to Grand Central.
When the clerk had taken my cash and returned my watch, she spoke.

“Excuse me, sir.”

From her leather tote she pulled a watch so bedazzled that the diamonds caught the light and broke it across the room in a thousand glamorous fractures. Certainly, it was meant for more than a timepiece, but it was more luxurious than jewelry.

Holding it a full arm’s length in front of her, she started again, “Do you know anything about this watch?” Continue reading “The Appraisal”

Dance Lessons

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“Shoes, Mommy. Shoes.”

My toddler begged me to put on my dirty pink flats. I didn’t want to, but there’s no other way she will watch the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” on YouTube.

“Sha-sha-sha-shoes, Mommy,” she whined.

Only once when she was just 17 months old did I show her scenes from The Nutcracker. It was mid-September, and for four months, she insisted that we watch ballerinas and twirl in the living room while I wear those shoes.

My daughter is too young to know that I’m no ballerina and have no business calling myself a dancer. Right now, for her I am the Sugar Plum Fairy who changes her pants and teaches her everything she knows about dance. Eventually, she’ll discover that I know very little. She might even be ashamed of me.

I always wanted to learn how to dance, and by the time I found out that there might have been a chance for me, it was already too late. My first dance teacher said it was a shame.

“You really are a natural,” she told me.

I tried not to cry because I believed her. My emotions choked my gratitude. To fill the silence, she asked me to look in the lost-and-found crate outside the door. For two weeks, she had been trying to convince me to take some shoes that a real ballerina had left behind.

“Take those. I’m sure they would fit you. They’re good shoes. Use them in your classes in Texas.”

I remembered a few of my friends explaining the rite of passage of earning pointe shoes when we were in late grade school. At 23, I received my first good pair of ballet flats. I will never dance on pointe. Like my instructor said, it’s a shame I started when I did.

Being called “a natural” pierced me. The high compliment fell from my instructor’s mouth and shattered at my feet. Like my belated entry to the world of dance, those words were overdue. I turned 30 before I realized that all those hours I spent hours locked in my room stretching and pushing my body to bend made my body feel right. With no one looking, I was free to let my limbs speak through nameless movements with a structure and rhythm of their own. That I could communicate beauty and art with my body never took root, and it should have. Continue reading “Dance Lessons”

Resignation

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The driver’s side door of the limousine burst open. In tuxedo and top hat, the driver exited the car and stood on 5th Avenue facing his employer still in the back seat.

“You never give me the Christmas, or the vacacion,” he said. He never raised his voice above cool resolve; he stated facts. Then he slammed the door, leaving his post and the car running as he walked north toward the New York Public Library.

For a few minutes, the limousine idled on the street as traffic passed. When the back door finally opened, a man in a trench coat stepped out. He was beyond middle-age, balding, and stunned. Without his chauffeur, he returned to the car, this time — and maybe for the first time in a long while — to drive and not to ride.

“Air Condition” animates the ordinary

By now, everyone who reads my blog knows I’m related to the lead singer of The Sleaves. He’s my brother, so I can’t be an unbiased reviewer, but here’s what I can offer that no one else can: We’ve talked for years about art, be it visual, written, or musical. We’ve shared influences and affected each other’s work in collaboration and conversation. I know what makes Andrew Ditlevson tick. At least, I have a pretty good idea.

Andrew is interested in shadows, the interplay of light and dark. That’s a typical artist thing, but I find my brother’s work to hang out in this really tense, undecided space. It’s uncomfortable but not discomforting, because it’s so human.

The phases of human life have interested Andrew for awhile now. He’s been working on a series of EPs covering marriage, and most recently, childhood.

“Air Condition” is track off the Marriage EP. The Marriage EP explores the pain, joy, and ordinariness of a marital relationship. Some aspects of his work is autobiographical, but “Air Condition” is fiction. In it, he tells the story of a person mourning the death of his or her spouse.

Andrew will call the song “dark,” but I’d use a different word.

When I hear him sing this line:

“Now that you are really gone, I don’t change the sheets/It has been about a year since you were with me.”

I know what he’s talking about. It’s that almost palpable absence you can feel, whether or not your partner is dead.

That’s heavy.

Find more sleaves music on their SoundCloud page.

 

What I found in a crack in the sidewalk

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photo by Christian Widell

“If it hadn’t been for that crack in the sidewalk in Basel, you wouldn’t be here,” I will tell her.

Broken stones in front of the Swiss toy store made wide gaps, but I wanted her so badly that I almost missed finding her there in one of those spaces. I was looking in the windows, wishing I had a reason to enter and buy a toy souvenir. Just when I thought I might get one anyway, I saw the sign: Gesschlossen.

I didn’t have to say anything, and your father grabbed my hand, waiting for me to cry. But I didn’t cry because I was distracted by a little green plant sprouted from a half-inch space in the cobblestones in front of me. There you were, a tiny, delicate, and strange little strawberry about the size of my fingernail, blushing in the evening sun. You were the only one there, hanging off that singular stem busting through the sidewalk. Continue reading “What I found in a crack in the sidewalk”

When I found the iron that sharpened me, and he dropped “f” bombs at church

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photo by Kendall Lane

Having grown up in the church, I knew the rules about dating long before giving out my first phone number. First, and most important, I had to find a Christian to date. When I found one in youth group or young adult Bible study, we would both abstain from premarital sex while we built the foundation of a healthy relationship that would carry us through marriage. At worst, it would end in an amicable breakup because God was leading us elsewhere. It seemed so straightforward.

Looking back, I find that idea laughable not because I don’t think that’s a good plan, but because that wasn’t my experience. Dating was complicated, especially when the Christian label was just that: a tag for people, including me, to wear to look like we were doing the right thing. For me, it got even more confusing when I found dating non-Christians easier and safer. Yet by the time I decided I had to get serious about finding a Christian spouse, I was sure most Christian guys I pursued would find me too bitter and heavy with emotional damage to risk a date.

As mentioned previously, I always knew I was supposed to date Christians, and committed ones, too — no rookies. I thought being “equally yoked” meant finding a cradle Christian who knew Bible stories and went to church camp (2 Corinthians 6:14). Non-believers, naturally, were out of the question. Despite believing this, I mistrusted it before I was allowed to date. At 15, I discovered the hard way that too many Christians aren’t all that different from non-Christians, and it disappointed and frustrated me to know that I wasn’t safe around someone just because he said he was a believer and played in a worship band. If a Christian would take what he wanted from me without my permission, why would I differentiate him from the vast group of potential mates out there?

Continue reading “When I found the iron that sharpened me, and he dropped “f” bombs at church”

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