Atmospheric Attunements

I was the lucky participant of a faculty writing workshop on Friday, wherein we discussed Kathleen Stewart’s paper “Atmospheric Attunements.” Stewart is a pretty significant anthropologist and writer, and you should probably go read A Space on the Side of the Road ASAP.

But today it’s really her concept of “atmospheric attunement” I want to discuss. How do you describe the ineffable and inchoate? How do you describe the affect of living? What does it mean to tune into the “background hum” of a situation so that the character of the place emerges from the text–the “sentience of a situation,” as Stewart puts it.

Stewart attempts to do so in this paper through an experimental format, jumping between evocative scenes, first in the Reagan-era rural south, then to her homeless stepson, and then to her mother in a retirement home, dipping in briefly but packing worlds of description into sensory and affective details.

I highly recommend the paper for those who would like to get a better grasp of evoking the atmosphere of how people exist together in the situation, in a moment. It’s a quick and beautiful read.




Writing Prompt: The Replacement

I have nothing interesting to talk about this week beyond my renewed obsession with knitting, so here’s a writing prompt that I did today with my writing group, from the excellent Deep Water Prompts. I posted another of their prompts I did here last year, though I usually do them weekly. Enjoy!

They took away my grandmother and sent in a replacement. She wanted something from me that I could not let her have. How did I know she was a replacement? It was in the way she talked, always recycling phrases, sentences. Ever since they swapped her I never heard her speak an original word. The same “rise and shine, dearie” in the morning, the same “sweet dreams, my sweet,” at bedtime. Her inflections never altered, nor the facial expressions which accompanied them.

My mom explained it away as getting old, but I saw further. I caught her snooping in my room, time and time again. A ninety-year old, however malevolent, could only be so stealthy. The first time I found her rustling through my sock drawer I asked what she was doing. With a smile I’d never seen my grandmother wear, she spit out the same “just tidying up, dearie” that she’d said last year, when we caught her in mom’s closet looking for Christmas presents.

Now when I catch her I say nothing, just stare her down ’til she leaves, those eyes–not my grandmother’s–glinting at me with concealed wrath.

I began locking my door from the inside before I left, but she somehow had the key. I bought a padlock and came home to find it cut clean through, lying on the ground. After that I lay string across the lock before I left every day, and after school find it fallen to the floor, a sure sign she’d been looking.

In a way, it was reassuring. So long as she kept searching my room, she didn’t suspect it was in my brother’s.

Was it cruel to have endangered him by hiding it among his action figures? Perhaps. But I couldn’t leave it somewhere easier for her to find, and I absolutely couldn’t hide it outside the house. They needed a fake grandmother to even begin to search inside. Outside, it would be easy pickings.

But my fake grandmother still had to conform to her predecessor’s life, and so could not refuse when mom took her to her doctor’s appointment. It was then that I made my move.

I entered my brother’s room, ignoring his outrage at the intrusion, and opened the drawer stuffed to the brim with his superhero toys. Before he could start throwing things at me, I snatched what I had hidden a week before and left. There was only one safe place I could take the thing now they had an an agent in my home, and that was a place I had sworn never to return to.

I grit my teeth, swallowed my pride, and descended into the cellar.

My First Novel

I wrote my first “novel”, entitled Absolute, in middle school. It’s 26,000 words and rather obviously based on the Maximum Ride series, featuring a group of kids whose parents are mad scientists engaged in illegal genetic experiments. One day they successfully manage to clone a wooly mammoth calf, on which they will be performing untold hideous experiments. Cue the kids stealing the mammoth and leading their nefarious parents on a wild cross-country chase. At a distance it doesn’t sound half bad, but the illusion ends once you get closer.

Some highlights include:

  • knocking people out with car doors
  • being so bad at driving you’re actually excellent
  • stealing away in cargo planes
  • surprisingly accurate care of a wooly mammoth calf
  • secret passages inside walls
  • children who are good at pick-pocketing
  • a radio star called Gravy Lester
  • the acronym KOES: Kids of Evil Scientists

…and more excellent plot devices by yours truly, age 13. However, I didn’t write this post to bash my middle-school writing. Absolute was a stepping stone to where I am now. And in the grand scheme of things, The Book of the Dead is a stepping stone to where I’ll be in ten more years. It’s important to not be too harsh on where you were as well, as where you are now. Everything is valuable. Everything is improvement. And to be honest, I’m still invested in that cheesy story about genius kids stealing a mammoth. Maybe I’ll take it somewhere someday.

Writing Prompt: Secret Keeper

Here’s a short prompt I filled today in my writing group. It’s from Deep Water Prompts, which contains awesome and strange writing prompts. Anyway I’ve never posted any of my actual creative writing on here before so trying something new.

There was a girl on the corner who could lose something for you forever if you asked nicely and paid cash.  That’s what they say about me, anyway. The whisper that goes from ear to ear, between those eager to be rid of a secret. As if once I abscond with the evidence, I take their guilt as well as their cash. Relief in their eyes, as if I had purge the guilt from their souls. But guilt is tenacious. I bargain with those in the habit of lying to themselves.

I never speak when I make a deal. I wait, and they come to me. Maybe they expect a dark hooded figure, because it always unnerves them to see the tall woman in jeans and heels waiting under the lamppost. I never accept less than a hundred, and I never turn down an item. I’ve been given guns, knives, toys, photographs, phones, keys, laptops, anything you can imagine and more.

They wonder how I do it. She uses black magic, she melts it down, she opens her mouth and eats the evidence. It’s funny, really, when all I do is turn them into art and sell them to the highest bidding demon. I mostly do found object collages, but also sculptures and the odd painting. I live in the south side of town, and the little old lady I rent from is most appreciative of my watercolors.

I can never sell the pieces to anyone of this world, of course, but certain buyers down below pay out the horns for that unique aura my pieces bring to the room. Sultry guilt, greed, embarrassment–a prominent political figure from down there once paid an enormous sum for a multi-media piece fragrant with shame and dark excitement. It took me months of meeting on street corners, attempting to blend the scents just right. The piece contains a hairbrush with several long strands of auburn hair, sixty lottery tickets, an unopened gold locket, and several bloody leather bracelets, among other things.

My clients wouldn’t be happy if they knew what I did with their secrets, but really, they were only deluding themselves in the first place. Is one secret among a collage really so salacious anymore? I never promised them anything, after all. Never spoke a word.


Way back in January I made some New Years Writing Resolutions, and no.3 was “Submit a short story to my school’s literary magazine.” Well, folks, I submitted one, and I was accepted! The release party was last night, and you can now find my short story “Cake” right here, in the 2016-17 version of The Peel, a very cool literary magazine.

I was asked to read the story at the release party, which I did, and I didn’t throw up, mess up, or start laughing uncontrollably into the microphone. The crowd was the kind that snaps when they like a line. It was an incredible experience, and the implications haven’t quite sunk in. I’m a person who’s been published. A published person. P U B L I S H E D.

The story is about a cake (surprised?) and only a page and a half long. It was actually a writing prompt I did last year and buffed up to submit on the last night of the deadline, which goes to show–well, I’m not sure what, but it goes to show something.

And after that brief celebration, it’s back to the despair of exam week. Good luck to any fellow students out there!

cake edit

Image 1: An attempt at a context-based visual pun

Surrealist Writing Games

Sounds kind of like Reindeer Games. But detailed instructions to surrealist writing can be found halfway through André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, which requires at least two hours and a strong cup of tea to make any kind of sense.

Essentially, the goal is to tap into your subconscious. Sit, clear your mind, and begin to write–not focusing on what you’re writing or what you’ve written, only moving forward with the flow of the act. Writes Breton, “the first sentence will come spontaneously, so compelling is the truth that with every passing second there is a sentence unknown to our consciousness which is only crying out to be heard.”

A friend and I tried the practice out: It’s absolutely harder than it sounds, equally fun, and I invite anyone to try it out. We certainly had fun laughing at our results. Below is my most viewable piece.

Slashing and violent do the urges come to us, the authors, creators, merry-makers, weaving lost threads under the suns of our ancestors: what is sense? But the moment to moment daze, understanding flashes of white, of the apples which bloom beneath our feet to perish and make merry the ebullient tomatoes of servitude, sorrow, reminiscing. Do not but fear at the faint thought of the scavenger, whom to all else is nothing. Let carnage strip from beaks, flesh from feathers that reach the night. Every thought is fluttering, passing, self-aware. It hurts!