Jena Schwartz: The Space Between Lives

“Wisdom is the ability to distinguish between things; to make sense out of confusion.”

I met my wife in the space between lives. Both of our marriages to men had ended. In the name of sovereignty, we’d also severed the transitional relationships with other women that had respectively followed classic trajectories from headlong to toxic. In fact, we’d supported each other in making healthy and self-respecting decisions via a secret online group, where for months we’d shared words and photos from the front lines of our hearts and daily lives, along with a dozen or so other women from around the country. What we didn’t know is that we’d wind up together.

We met in the space between, with no suspicion that our meeting was in fact a kind of reaching for the other side of a chasm. On the one side was a heterosexual marriage going into its eleventh year, homeownership—a sweet house on a cul-de-sac, no less—and the apparent ease that is borne of fitting into social norms. Across that canyon stretched the unknown, where to be true to myself meant walking away from life as I knew it. The decision to leave my marriage felt a lot like jumping out of a plane, naked, without a parachute. After I realized I was gay, I spent three months gazing over the edge, feeling like I was going to throw up. I lost 15 pounds and had an affair with the woman who had drawn my genie out of her bottle, never to be stifled back inside. It was exhilarating and shattering, all at the same time.

The woman who would become my wife was in a similar period of loss and reclamation; she, too, had left her husband and suffered the consequences, facing an ugly divorce. And she, too, had moved into and then beyond a passionate but short-lived relationship. I suppose you could say we’d chosen these outcomes, but it would be true only in the sense of the things that choose us when we surrender to the rapids instead of the fighting the current of our lives. Sometimes diving into the waves is the best way not to drown. We’d done just that, and were now emerging. Little did we know, life was leading us to each other.

Meeting in person for the first time was like feeling feet on solid ground again after so much disorientation and reorientation. I remember having this profound realization—at least it felt profound at the time, though in hindsight I wonder if it’s obvious—that “sexual orientation” really does have everything to do with how we see and face the world. In coming out, my entire worldview, my perception and experience of friendships, my neighborhood, even my own body moving through space, had changed in ways that felt impossible to describe and equally impossible to overlook. It was not dissimilar to how I felt after giving birth to each of my two children. The air was different. My cells were different. My knowing of myself was wider and deeper, both more anchored and more expansive than before, while at the same time massively reconfigured.

By the time we met that January day when she picked me up at the Phoenix airport with a carful of women—she later told me she’d insisted on driving, practically fought a friend for dibs, but couldn’t pinpoint why she’d been so stubborn about it—we were both ready for a new kind of love: Love that would not make demands, would not hold us hostage, and would not manipulate or coerce or demean. In other words, we were ready for one-night stands with no strings attached. Ready for ease.

That was nearly six years ago. We just celebrated our third anniversary.


This morning, in the space between sleeping and waking, I shimmied my backside up against her, my ass against her belly. The other night I said something about spooning and she quipped, “Put your peaches in my spoon,” then we both cracked up. “Did you just make that up?!” I asked her. She had. Her brain makes me as happy as her body.

She is the spoon to my peach, the dark to my light, the light to my new moon when I cry, when I can’t see where I am. “You are right here,” she tells me, and every time, I choose to believe her. When she tells me everything is ok, I choose to believe her. I begin to believe this without asking, though it’s always nice to hear.


They didn’t believe me at first. “How can you be sure?” an in-law asked. “It’s a trend these days,” said one acquaintance. “It’s because you live in Vermont.” “Sexuality is fluid.” “It might just be a phase.” “You’re having a mid-life crisis.” “Don’t throw away your marriage.” “You’ve never even kissed a woman.” While there was no shortage of opinions, some were more encouraging: “Do you want to have a near-life experience?” asked a friend, twenty years my senior, from her unique vantage point as a self-described “seasoned old dyke.”

Even before my lips had touched another woman’s, my 36-year-old body had revealed to me its lifelong secret, and denying it evoked an inner fury I didn’t know I possessed. I tried to keep my life from unraveling by avoiding physical contact with the woman I’d fallen for; I attempted to dance around the truth six ways to Sunday, but it kept waiting for me on Monday morning. Once I knew what I knew, I cried every time my husband and I had sex. Both of us were devastated. And while my parents implored me to stay—“for the kids” and to “keep the family unit intact”—I knew with every fiber of my being that coming out was ultimately for them as much as it was for me. Years of being good fell around me like a house of cards.
Staying meant leaving.

All of this said, it’s important that you understand this: I didn’t know until I knew. My innocence had taken many forms: Domestic goddess, breast-feeding mama, dinner-maker, serial seeker always looking to belong. I felt like I found my people when I went to my first coaching training in my late twenties.  I felt it again at a Hillel conference, dancing in a circle with hundreds of Jews. I felt it among women, always among women, and yet never once stopped to think, “Huh.”

But that’s not the whole truth, and this is where innocence gets a little murky. “Not in this lifetime,” I told myself, and I did count myself blessed. I had two amazing healthy kids and a supportive marriage. We wanted the best for each other—but I also lamented that I wouldn’t get to see what it was like, that mysterious wistful thing called “being with another woman.” I was not in the closet; I didn’t even know there was a closet. The thought that I was sexually curious was so confined, so compartmentalized, so totally cut off from felt experience. In my imagination, maybe it could be a one-time thing, something to get out of my system. I came to see later that it existed somewhere outside of my body—in a small, airtight box off to the far right of my consciousness.

When I got tired of being chronically depressed and unsatisfied by what by all rights looked like a perfectly lovely life, I went back to therapy. “I feel like I’m sitting on a landmine,” I told the therapist. “And I want to know what it is.” Several months after embarking on this search for what I did not yet know but was determined to discover, I sat on another woman’s couch reading Yeats, our feet touching lightly, out way past my bedtime while my husband lay in our bed, wondering where I was. The next day, listening to a mixed CD she’d made for me, the landmine exploded. I was alone in our blue RAV4 on my way to pick up our four- and seven-year-old children. And I just knew. I punched the steering wheel and sobbed as Bon Iver’s “Blood Bank” played over and over. My whole life made sense to me in a matter of seconds.


When your body tells you something, believe her.

“Everything is okay,” she reminds me, when doubt rolls in like so much fog some mornings.

I choose to believe her. I choose to believe myself. I no longer feel the need to explain.


I lie in bed in the morning, listening to summer rain on the bedroom skylight, drifting in and out of sleep. I like it when she tells me I reach for her in the night. I like knowing that my love is real and not something I’ve invented, not a waking lie I have to convince myself of.

The sleeping body doesn’t lie.

In the space between lives, I had to come to learn—and unlearn—all the ways I’d practiced lying to myself and others. It’s subtle and sneaky—an orientation, if you will, and one I’d mastered not because of any special skill but as a result of years of repetition. Two things can happen when you do a lot of something for many years: One is that you get really good at it. The other is that you can cause injury, to yourself and others. For me, both were true.

I didn’t mean to lie. I meant to be good: A good wife to my husband. A good mama to my small children. A good friend. I smoked cloves behind buildings. I started a blog. I started writing a book, but couldn’t figure out what it was about. I “went out” a lot, usually with my journal and a hidden pack of smokes. I loved my life—but I was missing in action, searching myself out in ways something deep within me knew would require leaving.


I have two lifelines on my left palm. My ex-husband does, too. For years, I’d study them, musing about this odd mark we seemed to share and wondering what would happen. Something had to break but I found myself unable to imagine its form. Illness? Death?


Not two years into our life together, my wife got so sick we didn’t know if she’d survive. An anaphylactic reaction to a piece of baklava nearly killed her, and months later finally resulted in a diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Disorder, sometimes called an “orphan disease” due its rarity, followed by a severe neuropathy in her feet that kept her housebound and bedridden for months. Not six months after our wedding day, she was barely able to walk from the bed to the bathroom, much less work or enjoy our new marriage. Some days, I cried out of sheer fear and exhaustion. What if this was it? Her illness brought us both to our knees in prayer, if in different forms, and taught us how to stay—in the body, in relationship with each other as spouses and partners and lovers, and in life. Roles neither of us would have volunteered for became opportunities to root down, not fight or flee reality.

Now she is healing and in some ways, we are beginning again, newly aware of how everything can change, can be taken away in an instant. Now the between space we wake to each day is one where we inhabit life unfolding, where love is really love and the notion of unconditional presence has been tested and strengthened by the fire of our first years together.


A footnote in a prayer book tells us that the light and the dark are not separate realms, and that the Hebrew word for “between” has its roots in “understanding.” Whatever it is that governs our deepest knowing stitches day and night together. The seams are invisible, requiring no explanation. Hers is the last face I see before we turn out the lights, and the first when I open my eyes each morning. And my heart, too, has stitched itself up.

There will always be a break between my life lines, reminding me that stepping into the space between things is a necessary and unavoidable part of any creative act. And by taking action, by surrendering to the body’s knowing along with whatever life is asking of me, confusion will clear and clear seeing will follow. It’s only a matter of time.


Jena Schwartz is a poet, promptress, and author of creative nonfiction who creates and facilitates online and in-person spaces that offer fierce encouragement for writing practice and the creative process. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with her wife and two children. Visit her blog and website at



Issue 15: Behind the Scenes

For Issue 15, Sliver of Stone welcomes four new editors!

POETRY – Born and raised in Colombia, Stella Hastie now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. She writes in many genres and her work reflects her experiences as a Colombian-American who observes, explores, and questions the world from a variety of perspectives. Stella holds a BA and an MA in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Her poetry has appeared in Southern Poetry Review, Sanskrit, Listen Listen, Huellas, and she’s had several articles published in local newspapers and magazines.


NONFICTION – Timothy Laurence is a Research Assistant at the Tuck Business School at Dartmouth College. He is the author of the forthcoming essay collection, How to Make White People Happy, and has written essays and stories for numerous publications including The New Welsh Review, Catapult, Fourth River, Ninth Letter and Grist. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University Wales.


Timothy Laurence


FICTION – Tanya Perkins is assistant professor of English and coordinator of creative writing at Indiana University East, where she teaches fiction, composition, professional/technical writing.  An MFA from Murray State University, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, including The Woven Tale PressFiction Southeast, The Raleigh Review, Big Muddy, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Forge,  and others. She lives in eastern Indiana with her husband, daughter and assorted four-legged critters.


Tanya Perkins


POETRY – Lis Sanchez has fiction and poetry in Nimrod, Prairie Schooner, The Greensboro Review, New Orleans Review, Puerto del Sol, Southern Poetry Review, and elsewhere.  She is a recipient of a Writer’s Fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Greensboro Review Award for Fiction, the Eyster Prize for Fiction, the Lullwater Review Prize for Poetry and the Prairie Schooner Virginia Faulkner Award for Excellence in Writing.  Lis holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Georgia, including specialties in Creative Writing and Contemporary Latino Literature in the U.S.

Issue 15: New Publications

Congratulations to Jennifer McCauley, Sliver of Stone‘s fiction editor, for the publication of her poetry-prose collection SCAR ON / SCAR OFF (Stalking Horse Press).

The final cover is done and the book is available to order on the press website and at all major bookstores online.



Jennifer Maritza McCauley’s SCAR ON / SCAR OFF runs the borderlands of mestiza consciousness, by turns neon-lit and beating, defiant and clashing, searching and struggling, in fistfuls of recognition, in constant pursuit of intersections and dualities. Drawing on Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, Toni Morrison, Claudia Rankine, and the inspirations of her late friend Monica A. Hand, through polyglossia and hybrid text, McCauley evokes vividly the relationships between psyche and city, identity and language. In the rhythm and snap of these poems and fragmentary stories, we find echoes of Sarah Webster Fabio, Beyonce, flamenco, Nikki Giovanni, street slang, danger and hope. This is a profound collection, a rebel language.

Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a teacher, writer, and editor living in Columbia, Missouri. She holds or has previously held editorial positions at The Missouri Review, Origins Journal, and The Florida Book Review, amongst other outlets, and has received fellowships from Kimbilio, CantoMundo, the Knight Foundation, and Sundress Academy of the Arts. She is the recipient of an Academy of American Poets University Award and has appeared in Passages North, Puerto del Sol, Split this Rock: Poem of the Week, The Los Angeles Review, Jabberwock Review, and elsewhere. Her collection SCAR ON/SCAR OFF will be published by Stalking Horse Press in fall 2017.


We’re also very proud of Sliver of Stone contributor, Susanna Lang, whose poetry collection, Travel Notes from the River Styx, is now available from Terrapin Books.

“In the earnest and beautiful Travel Notes from the River Styx, Susanna Lang peers into the tiny mirrors of a river’s current, the mirror her father cannot see himself in, the rearview mirror in which she spies sandhill cranes on an afternoon drive as she interrogates the natural and, at times, unnatural world. The result is a collection of double images: the moon a “copper coin with the sheen worn off,” “the flag [that] slips down the pole,” the country where her grandmother was born once called Russia, now Ukraine. As clear in its language as it is rich in argument, there’s something for everyone in Travel Notes, for travelers are exactly what this poet proclaims we are. It’s impossible to read this collection without wondering what doubles wait/lurk/reside beneath the skin of our bodies and of our world.”

–Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum

Susanna Lang is the author of Tracing the Lines (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2013) and Even Now (The Backwaters Press, 2008). She has also published two collections of her translations of poems by Yves Bonnefoy, Words in Stone (University of Massachusetts Press, 1976) and The Origin of Language (George Nama, 1979). A two-time Hambidge Fellow and recipient of the Emerging Writer Fellowship from the Bethesda Writer’s Center, she has published her poems and essays in such journals as New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Green Mountains Review, and Poetry East. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches in the Chicago Public Schools.

One of the poems was featured recently on Verse Daily and another will be featured on American Life in Poetry next summer.

Issue 14 Interviews

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello is the author of Hour of the Ox (University of Pittsburgh, 2016), which won the 2015 AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry and the 2016 Florida Book Award bronze medal for poetry. She has received poetry fellowships from Kundiman and the Knight Foundation, and her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Best New Poets 2015, The Georgia Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Narrative Magazine, and more.

Marci was interviewed by Yaddyra Peralta for Sliver of Stone.


Jan Becker is from a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. She didn’t stay there very long. She grew up in a Marine Corps family, on military bases all over the United States, and wandered the US for many years before settling in South Florida. She is currently an MFA candidate at Florida International University, and has taught courses there in composition, technical writing, creative writing and poetry. Her work has appeared in Jai-Alai Magazine, Colorado Review, Emerge, Brevity Poetry Review, Sliver of Stone, and the Florida Book Review. She was the winner of the 2015 AWP Intro Journals Award in Nonfiction. Her first book, The Sunshine Chronicles was published by Jitney Books in 2016.

Jan was interviewed for Sliver of Stone Magazine.


What are you up to, Andrea Askowitz?

Two weeks ago, you met Jan Becker,  MFA candidate at Florida International University and contributor to All That Glitters, a nonfiction collection edited by Corey Ginsberg, Nicholas Garnett, and M.J. Fievre.

Today, meet Andrea Askowitz, author of My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy. Her stories have appeared in the New York Times,,, and NPR.  She teaches memoir writing at Lip Service Institute.  She is creator of Lip Service:  true-stories out loud, one of the most popular literary events in Miami.  She’s at work on a book of stories currently titled, Listen to This or maybe Don’t You Know I’m Famous?  Andrea grew up in Miami where she lives with her wife Victoria and children Natasha, Sebastian and Beast.


Andrea also contributed to All That Glitters, to be released online on October 1st, 2013 (along with Issue 7 of Sliver of Stone Magazine). If you want to be a VIP, though, here’s the thing: On September 21, we’ll conduct a special sale at Lip Service, at the Miracle Theater, in Coral Gables.

Okay, so here’s our interview with Andrea:

MJ: In your book, My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy, you describe—well—your pregnancy. Today, your daughter Tashi is 9 years old. Do you feel that attitudes are changing in South Florida concerning gay parenting and gay issues?

AA: Yes, I think attitudes are changing. For sure. Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage. But even in Miami, attitudes are changing. There are more of us out. Natasha’s first grade class had three out gay families. Three in one public elementary school in South Miami. It was our own little Castro.

MJ: What is the most important lesson in life you can give a child?

AA: Wow, most important lesson in life for a child? Always be yourself. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. I don’t know.

MJ: At the end of your story, Under the Covers, you ponder the questions, “Did [my daughter] understand licking a girl’s breast as sexual? Wasn’t it okay even if she did?” Did you ever come up with satisfying answers?

AA: I actually think it is okay if my daughter did what she did and felt it sexually. We have bodies. Sexual feelings are natural. I think in the story I was asking the question rhetorically.

I just realized something about one of the questions in the story. “Does Tashi understand licking someone’s breast as sexual?” That question is the wrong question. I am quite sure she had NO understanding of sex. She doesn’t understand sex now and she’s nine. But it’s possible that she felt something sexual. I would edit the story today to something like, “Does Tashi feel something sexual? Isn’t okay if she does?” Stories are never finished.

MJ: Lip Service recently won the Knight Arts Challenge. Wow! How did that impact the program?

AA: Lip Service won a Knight Arts Challenge Grant. I’m so proud. It doesn’t change what we do; it just gives  Lip Service a giant stamp of approval.

MJ: What are you working on now?

AA: Natasha is now 9, and I’ve just finished a draft of a book of stories. Sometimes when I think of my daughter’s age, I also think, what the @&$”@!! have I been doing all these years. It’s stories about me. Stories about a woman who needs lots of attention.

The (not-so-soft) touch of Nick Garnett

Last year, Sliver of Stone Magazine welcomed Nicholas Garnett as its Nonfiction Editor.

Now we get to pick his brain…

Nicholas Garnett received his MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University, where he teaches creative writing. He’s also a frequent instructor for the Center for Literature and Theatre at Miami Dade College, and nonfiction editor of the literary journal Sliver of Stone. Nicholas is a recipient of residencies from the Vermont Studio Center and the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, and a scholarship to the Norman Mailer Writing Colony. His writing has appeared in Salon, Sliver of Stone, R-KV-RY Quarterly, and The Florida Book Review. His work has been anthologized in Sundress Publications’ “Best of the Net” and Cleis Press’ Best Sex Writing of 2013.

Garnett headshot

2013© Carl Juste/Iris

And now, ladies and gentlemen, meet Nicholas Garnett:

M.J. Fievre: Your nonfiction voice is gripping—straightforward, but laced with just the right dose of humor. I’ll go on any ride with you.  When did you first realize you wanted to give a special place to writing in your life?

Nicholas Garnett: I’m not one of those people who started writing early.  I wasn’t scrawling stories on the back of my Capt. Crunch.  But I grew up in a household that valued stories and storytelling.  Stories were the vehicle for transmitting family history, for entertainment, for connection.  I read a lot, but I was well in my 40s, following a divorce and relocation, that I devoted myself to telling stories on the page.

MJ: You have a talent for characterization. In All That Glitters, Billie Dennis, the “mercurial gay man” with a toupee, becomes alive on the page. That makes me want to ask you about your craft. What can you tell me about your writing process?

NG: If you’re very lucky, someone like a Billie Dennis—larger than life, complex, contradictory, and damaged—will fall into your lap (so to speak).  For a writer, people like that are golden. If you’re writing nonfiction, all you have to do is choose the right elements to put on the page.  I don’t mean to minimize that process—it can be difficult to know what to portray and what to leave out.  But the character is there, fully formed.  And in fiction, you can use those real-life characters as the “starter kits” for interesting fictional characters.

MJ: After publishing All That Glitters, you joined the staff of Sliver of Stone Magazine. Tell us about your experience there.

NG:  When I began editing for SofS, I’d just finished my MFA.  The experience has allowed me to put into practice a lot of what I learned in that program.  In most aspects of my life, I’m a soft touch.  But, for some reason, I’m a pretty tough editor.  I’ve been able to say “no” to some talented writers and critique the writing of folks who are far more accomplished and experienced than I am.  The payoff is that I’ve worked with writers to bring stories that I’m proud of to the magazine.  I’ve gotten a lot of nice feedback from the contributors I’ve edited.  That’s tremendously satisfying.

MJ: In All That Glitters, referring to your job at the dining hall of the George Meaney Center for Labor Studies, Billie Dennis advised, “Don’t get caught up in something like this. […] You can do better.” So what did you get caught up in, after college?

NG: Like many writers, I did a million things.  Mostly, I tried to shove myself into “respectable” jobs that made me feel horrible about myself. Writing is the first thing that has made me feel as though I have a rightful place in the world.

MJ: As far as writing goes, what are you working on?

NG: I’m in the process of fictionalizing a memoir, which had—practically and creatively—hit a dead end.  I thought that fictionalizing the story would feel more like another rewrite.   Instead, I’m writing a story that is 95% new. It’s been a revelation.  By not having to stick to the facts I can actually get closer to the truth.  Who knew?

Nicholas Garnett will be reading at the next Lip Service, on September 21, at the Miracle Theater, in Coral Gables, FL.

Jan Becker on Home, Violence, Evil, and the Fragility of Life

Following is an interview with Jan Becker, contributor to All That Glitters, a nonfiction collection edited by Corey Ginsberg, Nicholas Garnett, and M.J. Fievre. The book will be released online on October 1st, 2013 (along with Issue 7 of Sliver of Stone Magazine).

Several readings of All That Glitters are planned in South Florida.

  • September 21: VIP sale at Lip Service, one of the most popular literary events in Miami, at the Miracle Theater, in Coral Gables.
  • October 12: Reading at Books & Books, in Coral Gables.
  • November: Reading (followed by a Q&A with the prose editors) at the Miami Book Fair International.

Jan was interviewed by M.J. Fievre:


Jan Becker, Sliver of Stone contributor

MJ: They say some things in life will either make you or break you. Your start the story, Life in the Shade of Modern Babel, with a gripping scene in which your stepfather grabs your sister “by the back of her dress and [hangs] her down the window like a rag doll.” How has such violence shaped your writing?

JB: Violence began to affect me even before I was born. I was conceived in the summer of 1969 in a hayloft about 20 minutes away from where the Woodstock Festival was held that same summer. My biological father enlisted in the Army and shipped off to fight in Vietnam to support my mother and me, even though his own brother had just been killed in the war. He came back from the jungle a wrecked man. He was addicted to heroin and speed, and abandoned us to join a traveling carnival where he could have access to the chemical remedies he treated his trauma with.

Also, while I was in utero, my stepfather, who was 17 years old, had finally convinced his mother that he’d be safer fighting a war in Southeast Asia than he would be at home with his stepfather, and she signed the papers that allowed him to enlist. Before he ever married my mother, he’d done three tours fighting in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and had been shot down twice in the jungle.

My childhood was marked by the consequences of violence on a very large scale, but also by the tragedy that can happen within one family, and it’s hard for me to think of my situation within my nuclear family as separate from the tragedy within my larger American family.

My mother was 17 when I was born. She lived in homes for wayward children and foster care from the age of six, because of abuse in her home. She had no model to go by when she tried to build a family after I was born, and she married into an extremely violent segment of our society.  The domestic abuse rates for enlisted families when compared to civilian families are staggering. I wouldn’t say my childhood was much different than many of the brats I met on the bases. As a child growing up, I learned to be very vigilant and protective of my younger brother and sister, not only from my own military parent, but also from the people all around me. Military life is violent by nature. Boot camp is designed to numb the instinct to flee from danger, and deaden sensitivity to others enough that a soldier can do what is unnatural, kill another person. The effects of that conditioning spill over into military family life.

It’s ironic that your question refers to the scene with my sister as a beginning, because for me, that scene came at the very end of a long writing process. I had already worked on the essay for two years when it was accepted at Sliver of Stone, and then Nick Garnett, the non-fiction editor asked for some changes. I needed to place the violence on the lake in a larger context. By that point Nick’s diligence in editing had me frustrated to the point that I was throwing punches blindly in my writing. And then one nailed him right in the kisser. He wanted to know how I fit into the essay, and that memory of my sister was haunting me. I kept seeing her dangling out the window in my head. I couldn’t fit everything I just told you about my family into this essay, because that wasn’t the focus. I had to limit it to one example that could show my own history with domestic violence concisely and give a wide view of how I see the problem of violence in the United States. I could then re-focus on this little community and eventually, Surya Toha’s murder.

Writing this essay for me was a way to deal with the anger I feel about violence on all levels, whether it’s global war, or the dad who comes home drunk after work and terrorizes his kids by heading for the gun rack. It’s the only weapon I can allow myself to use, because it’s the only one I know that isn’t destructive. In another sense, it’s also comforting. As a child, when I had nothing else to escape into, I had books, and they probably saved my life.

MJ: You describe evil as the “decision to traipse across the dividing line between benevolence and savagery, and to embrace violence.” Would you say that evil lives in everyone of us, then? If so, what do you think keeps it at bay?

JB: I have a hard time with the notion of “evil” and how it operates in the world. I don’t believe in evil people, but I do believe that everyone has the potential to act in an evil manner. Sometimes, it might not be an actual decision. It might be a head injury, or a tumor that is pressing on the wrong part of the brain and causes a person to lash out with no warning, but that’s not really evil in my thinking.

I see “evil” as more of a combination of anger, fear, and action. To me, it’s a contagion that becomes virulent when we dehumanize people who’ve created trauma by calling them monsters. Our entire world has been exposed to this disease, so we’re all infected. It’s easier to see someone we fear as a monster, but it’s not a constructive reaction, and it doesn’t allow our society to heal as completely as examining the pathology of violence and its complexities might.

I don’t know why some people act out and others never do. We don’t do enough  to teach our children when they are still young to be creatively angry, and that ignorance could destroy us if we don’t start trying to learn a better way.

In my own life, I chose to keep my fear and anger contained until it was safe to express them constructively.  We were stationed in Hawai’i when I was young and I learned the legend of the goddess Pele in second grade. She had been spurned by a lover, and became furious at him, maybe her fear was of being unloved, but rather than act destructively, she threw herself into the mouth of a volcano and created the Hawai’ian islands with her anger. I look to her as a role model for how to deal with fury. When my stepfather died in 2000, I was able to understand how powerful a force rage can be, because I was feeling it fully for the first time. The year after he died was also the year I was filled with the most terror, because I was still figuring out how to manage my anger.

MJ: For a long time, “home” was “a foreign notion to [you], something you never thought [you] could have for [your]self.” What do you like/dislike about your life in South Florida?

JB: What I like most about living in Florida is that most of the people who live here are from somewhere else, so we’re all displaced, and that feels more comfortable to me in many ways than living in a community where most of the residents have been there since they were born.

I like the diversity of Florida, the accents, the art, the beautiful weird things that can only happen here. I dislike coin laundries, the heat, the humidity, and those nasty no-see-ums. Those little buggers are truly evil.

MJ: You describe Crystal Lake so beautifully and so faithfully—from the jet-skis to the “fisherman angling for peacock bass,” from the commercial complexes and RV storage parks, to the iguanas, the moorhens, the Anhinga spear fish, and the Muscovy ducks. Growing up, your family was always in the move, which probably sharpened your sense of place and your talent for details. What are some places that will forever stay with you?

JB: I always managed to find a nice patch of green at every base or temporary home we moved to. Those are the most vivid places in my memory. In Pennsylvania, it was a tall patch of mint by the base’s perimeter fence. In Hawai’i, it was the upper branches of a monkeypod tree. In Iowa, it was a walnut grove. In Illinois, a hole in the fence that led to a thicket of brush, and in Massachusetts, it was a wooded hummock overlooking Boston Harbor. I remember those places best, because they were the most peaceful. In each of them, I could disappear into something larger, with a longer life cycle than my own. For me that feeling is comforting. Here in Florida, even though it has been marked by tragedy, Crystal Lake is that kind of place. From my essay, it sounds like it’s in a lot of turmoil, but it’s usually pretty serene here.

MJ: You ponder the fragility of life when you write, “No matter how careful we are, Matt and I could lose each other in an instant.” How would you describe a life well lived?

JB: I’m still waiting for Matt to give in and agree to let us buy a washer and dryer for our apartment. I think that would be a good start to a life well-lived. More seriously,I’d say  it’s finally having a door that locks, and still making the decision to step outside of its safety despite how scary it can be on the other side of that door.

Jan Becker is an MFA candidate at Florida International University. Her writing has appeared in Sliver of Stone, The Florida Book Review, The Circus Book, Brevity Poetry Review and Emerge. She is a regular contributor to Selfies in Ink, an online writing and art project.

Adam Simon: Grey Babies

Adam Simon is a painter living and working in Brooklyn, New York. He is also known for projects relating to art distribution and reception, most notably Four Walls and the Fine Art Adoption Network.

“For the last 20 years or so the artist Adam Simon and I have been having a wide-ranging conversation that has occasionally taken the form of collaborative art-and-writing projects. This is one of three stories I wrote last year in response to some of Adam’s recent paintings. This painting, Grey Babies, first appeared along with the story in BOMB magazine, summer 2009.”
—Matthew Sharpe

Read the story.