Make Music With The Chatter In Here

the writings of Liz Riggs, @riggser

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jessika

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neon thrift-store-jackets

and cheap mascara

we are only twenty-one years old

once.

 

 

 

 

 

the war isn’t over

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do you remember the wind

that lifted the hair on our arms

and scraped the steel of the stop signs

while we ran

beneath the traffic lights

too close to speeding cars;

the sheets of melting snow

slopping our canvas shoes

 

and you screamed and shouted

til your freckles

tumbled to the asphalt

like flakes of youth

and you laughed until

your throat bled

and your fingernails grew?

 

-college liz, for maggie

allentown

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huddled

in an alleyway in allentown

we are overcoming ourselves.

The clouds about to split

like the nerves in our brains

the tiny pill I cut in half

as though that would be

enough.

there are (only?) so many stoops, corners and alleys

we can cry in-

so many seconds fending off fear.

In New York and Paris,

West Hollywood.

Amsterdam phone booths, dad: can you please get me out of here?

Tennessee floors and

the cornfields of Nebraska, open endless sky.

basements in Ohio crowded with our youth,

booths in Chicago bars

as though every place had a podium for our panic.

stop?

tanqueray flights

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There is a place in the middle of this tanqueray

bombay

sapphire jewels spinning through the melting ice

where I navigate the neutrality

the quotidian moments of adulthood

so tedious in their beauty.

a dish stacked on top of a bowl, beige with wildflowers.

a dog leash, fraying and yellow.

hung upon a hook slowly loosening itself from the wall.

The way the light comes through the cheap blinds

slanting towards your face

mouth agape. Changing, sometimes. The same, mostly.

your chest, rising and falling, always checking:

Are you still alive?

You’re still alive.

We’re still  alive.

I lie awake,

wondering what I would do if—

sweating for sleep, the xanax and wine and wandering prayers.

swirling in spotted memories.

there is a strangeness

to our recent selves.

where the light up dance floors

and tongues of strangers

bleed into nostalgia and disillusionment

and remind us that

we were young once

and we are young always.

that the shots of citrus liquor

can only keep us satisfied until sleep.

There will always be the people before.

The cross country flight,

ending in crying drives down Sunset, weaving toward Beverly Hills–

to the soundtrack of a high school band, on our way to Malibu.

Will I just be another story, I ask?

He’s just another story, I say.

The trains in Chicago and the blackout nights of trying to keep up.

I picked a cubs hat off of the street corner-

I wore it the first night I met you.

4 a.m. scrabble and the vodkastick floors of bars we now refuse to step into.

The L overhead like a tornado of lust and drunken slumber parties.

It’s 5 oclock in the morning and we should all shut up.

The backstage passes and times we threw our bras on stage:

In cities our parents didn’t know we were in.

Of all the stories that came before-

microcosms of a former life.

pieces of our current life.

wholly flawed and completely in tact.

tethered to those times with ropes of our senses and the sounds of every flight taking off the ground.

and yet

we are anchored to our future

to our present

to our person

to our people

sometimes dreaming of another decade

but aching for now.

part two

 

alex-bertha-169780.jpgwe made breakfast sandwiches

hastily

so you could meet your mom.

we drank rosé from coffee cups, walking along the river.

wondering how we ended up here.

 

we sent messages – 

There were so many.

where we were and where we were going and where we would be.

we met in Chicago.

and Texas.

the coast of washington.

detroit and culver city.

denver and dive bars.

the corners of tennessee and the main drag of the mission.

french quarter tourist traps,

museums in memphis and

doubletree hotels we wish we’d never known.

 

breweries and bridal showers

we said we should lose our virginity now-

we lost it later.

 

we saw each other at bonfires and said, I miss you.

can you believe it?

we got pregnant

we got IUDs.

we booked flights to cities we never expected to see.

we ate poutine

and chicken fingers

and protein bars

and pre natal vitamins.

we bought wine we couldn’t afford

and poured champagne we could.

we got our hearts broken

In dark and different ways than

how they crumbled when we were 22.

 

we didn’t always show up – we couldn’t.

we packed suitcases and bowls and we tried to see everyone we could.

we bought churches

and houses

and built bands and careers.

we made drinks and friends

and wrote songs and stories and broke phones and friendships

we tried to string together our new lives

a web across the states

spanning time zones and new worlds and different women and wives and husbands and heartache and daughters and doorways and we kept stretching the pants and the time and the string

to fit.

we

photo-1464145672011-e33b3c1c7f81.jpegWe drank gin and tonics in the bathtub —

on street corners.

In L.A. and New York, Chicago and

we carried gin in a ziplock bag. Someone told us to get a jar.

We woke up with heartburn and headaches;

yes it is Tuesday and tomorrow will be like today.

We paddled across Percy Priest;

and somebody told us: you can’t get lost if you only turn right.

 

Fuck that.

You can always get lost.

 

We bought houses and learned how to make scallops.

We quit our jobs, and sometimes we found new ones.

We forgot the words to songs and learned the ones to others.

We traveled alone;

We traveled together.

We drank expensive beers and cheap wine and

We claimed to understand intersectionality.

We could not be broken.

We already were.

 

We spent money from jobs we hated on things we loved and we threw them out when the seasons changed.

We planted gardens and used the mint for cocktails.

 

We adopted dogs.

We lost dogs.

We lost friends.

We lost weight.

 

We read all the books you recommended.

We kept the sacraments;

We skipped church.

 

We didn’t see each other for years —

We didn’t need to.

 

We prayed behind closed doors painted by someone whose name we never learned.

We grew cranberries and found new bands and new bars.

We moved across the country.

We had miscarriages and margaritas.

 

We spent more money on the tonic water than the gin.

We turned thirty and nobody noticed (somebody noticed)

We tore down walls and put up fences and pulled down shades.

We found therapists and everybody went.

We made mistakes;

we thought we fixed them.

 

We went to hospitals and housewarmings.

We didn’t RSVP to baby showers.

We took shots of whiskey and ignored the people at the party we did not know.

We cut each other’s hair in the bathroom and we fought over karaoke.

We traveled the world but

we couldn’t always make it down the street.

We learned how to sweat and breathe and drink and ———— and cook and clean and fight and sleep and wake up and wonder: what will we be like next?

 

 

 

we can be good

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I met you on the airport curb.

It’s strange now to remember the makeshift sign I’d created, hot gluing pipe cleaners and foam to white paper in Jen’s art classroom, giggling about my own clever joke that it was an arrival sign that actually didn’t say anybody’s name. I’d thought it was hilarious, scrambling around with buttons and glitter and a hundred thousand thoughts of what you might smell like.

I recall exactly what I was wearing, the dark skinny jeans and aztec shirt, and i straightened my hair. I put on eyeliner. Mascara. Blush. All three kinds of makeup I owned, I put them on. And I ruined it all with a Cubs bear hat I found on the streets of Chicago, wandering through Wicker Park years back with an old boyfriend.

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I brought a bottle of bourbon with me, stowing it in the backseat of the car like a child, practically locking it into a seatbelt, thinking it could hold our up-close love together if words couldn’t. i was working on acquiring a taste for your beloved liquor at the time and i would take the the tiniest tugs from the bottle like it was baby’s juice, but gin is my oldest and truest love, and there’s no flinching there. You know that now.

You were shorter than I’d imagined, and your left leg was always a little out of sync with your right, and it was funny because these were the only things i couldn’t know about you from videos and emails and calls. And I have no idea what you were wearing, which I suppose says more about me than it does about you.

We drove through the main streets, the back streets, the dark streets of my city and we listened to the mix CD that had Conor Oberst and Jack White and —oh shit—Taylor Swift. You laughed and swigged whiskey out of the bottle while we drove and I told you, it’s okay, it’s legal in Tennessee and everyone always says that and nobody knows if it’s true.

I was 25 years old, the age I think is practically perfect, scientifically engineered to mesmerize us all with its fleeting hold. The flawless year of flat stomachs and tight jeans and biceps and boobs and beatable hangovers: oh, and wild abandon. The kind that allows you to exchange emails with a stranger a thousand miles away only to find that maybe, just maybe through words and whiskey and wit, just maybe.

you’re the best I’ve known, and you know me.

i knew when i dropped you off on the airport curb. haggard hair and sleepy eyes, i knew.

that first year, i didn’t spend your birthday with you. you were far away, sweating in a swampy florida winter, and i sent a cake to you. it had Oreos and your friend delivered it. i got you a journal customized with an anchor and a quote from East of Eden.

Now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.

we got anchor tattoos mere months later, ink on skin and needles to bone and we didn’t tell anyone that we both had them, but i remember the look in your eyes and the last minute decision to make the anchor smaller, tilt it to the side, right? i remember.

I don’t remember almost anything about our wedding. I think about that often, because I know that it was the best day, the most love I’ve ever had in one room, the walls a giant bursting heart bleeding with every face and hug and touch, and the whole night screaming—a blur of sounds that are colors, synesthesia pouring from the balcony.

but you were there, and so was i.

that first year, i was so envious of everyone that got to spend your birthday with you. i told you that, i used the word envy so much as if to prove i knew the synonym for jealousy. and i was frustrated and sad and flailing in the possibility that maybe just maybe i couldn’t be there for every important moment of your life. that sometimes you would spend important moments in places I couldn’t be. with people who were not me. and that is not perfect, but it is good.

and i told you i promised to love you more than any of them ever would, and i do.

happy birthday, tyler huckabee. to many many more. 

 

 

Disclaimer: Tyler wrote a beautiful piece for our anniversary and I got him a silly little wallet that day, so it is worth acknowledging that he had the idea to write as a gift well before I did. His piece is also much better and makes me look like a toddler trying to write an essay on Tolstoy in cursive. But, it’s still a story worth telling, at least for me. 

On Teachers and Summer Vacation…

15478063854_c1dded1972_zAs my loyal, fiercely devoted followers likely have noticed: I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus as I’ve focused working on education pieces primarily through Education Post and The Atlantic. That being said, I wanted to share one of my most recent pieces from The Atlantic on teachers and how they truly spend their summer vacation (hint: most of them don’t spend three months in Tahiti.) Read the full piece here, and give a hug to any teacher you see this summer.

On Teacher Turnover

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Today I wrote something for The Atlantic that I actually didn’t write today but spent a long time working on over the past month. I’m pretty excited about it, and it’s all about teacher turnover and why it’s an issue that most of our teachers leave the classroom within the first five years. My intent wasn’t to point fingers at anyone or place blame, I mostly wanted to highlight the issue and talk to some people about what it stems from.

Teaching is the only profession that seems to draw criticism when people decide it isn’t for them. No one seems the least bit concerned when someone decides they’d rather not be a nurse after a few years on the job. Nobody complains when investment bankers quit after two years—but, if teachers decide that being in the classroom isn’t a lifelong profession for them, then they suddenly become the antihero. I’m still not totally sure why that is, and this article doesn’t delve into that concept very much, but it’s something to keep in mind when we think about teaching. Anywho, here it is, an article that will likely be the pinnacle of my writing career: Why Do Teachers Quit?

There is a Polaroid of You in my Pocket

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There is a polaroid of you
In my pocket.

Of the denim black stretched pants covered in dry-crumbly-stick-to-my–nails-and-my-hair-and-the-folds of-our-skin chocolate icing we smeared
on each other’s faces.

It is a picture of us outside of a house that isn’t ours.
You have a halo above your head
That is really the archway of a stranger’s door.

You are singing to the moon
and we are covered in Christmas.

We are covered in love
in each other’s pumping hearts
in each other’s grace
and laughter
and scatting
ba doop be bop
ba da da dee.

We are covered in the courage of
trust
the kind that twisted into the knots of my fingers
and built the pipe-cleaner-foam-heart sign
so I could find you on the concrete curb of the airport.

The kind
that broke a glass
and built a life
of words
and God
and dances
and us.