Thursday, June 25, 2015

Portland Zine Symposium


Have you possibly found this blog via the Portland Zine Symposium tabling list that we did NOT realize would provide a link to whatever we listed for our zine's "website"? Cool! Welcome! We're super excited to be a part of the symposium in this, our first year as a zine. This will be Children of the Stairs' second appearance at a zine event, the first being the fabulous Chicago Zine Fest, which was a stunning success.

Below is a section of pages from our second issue, HELP. It provides a small sampling of what Children of the Stairs is about. Feel free to message this blog, leave a comment, or tweet us (@starekids) because we would love to hear from someone who isn't our moms telling us what they think of the zine ("don't you have anything better to do with your time and college degree?")

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On Love and Cleanliness

I'm taking a nonfiction writing class at the Attic Institute in Portland and each week we get a prompt that we use to write pieces of 500 words or less. Last week's prompt was "write about a time when you found out something about someone, and because of it you learned something about yourself." Well, I tried, but I didn't really follow the prompt. But I did like what I wrote, so I'm posting it here now.

I came into the shower with you without asking, pushing the plastic curtain aside and stepping into the spray of hot water. You made space for me as I muttered “Thanks.” I watched you bend at the waist and bring your right foot up hands so you could hold it to wash it. You grabbed your ankle and scrubbed roughly at the sole of your foot, then the top, then between the toes. Then you did the other one. I pretended to be getting my hair wet but really I was watching you, horrified, wondering how dirty my feet were. They always were: stale-smelling and tough, peeling around the edges and on the undersides and always somehow with bits of food or dirt stuck to them. They’ve always been that way, but I’d never considered it was because I didn’t wash them. I had assumed all feet were just the way they were, dirty or clean. Mine were dirty, and so when washing my focus had been on the parts of me that were seen and smelled more often. I wasn’t sure if washing my feet was a thing I could ever do, but maybe I could convince you to do it for me. You had been cleaning yourself from top to bottom, so with your feet scrubbed you were finished. “Do you always wash your feet?” I asked.
            “Yeah, why?”
            “Oh, I never wash mine.” I looked you in the eye, trying to gauge your disgust.
Two years ago, you told me how you hate it when your hair gets greasy. We were exchanging quirks. I told you I eat things off the ground sometimes—not the floor, the ground. You seemed unfazed, and I wondered if you’d heard me. Then you told me you pee outside a lot, like of course you don’t choose to go outside if you’re indoors and there’s a bathroom, but if you’re already outside and not in a crowded area then you’ll probably pee there. That was a little better than the greasy hair; that was a little more on par with the weirdness I’d been hoping for.

“Did you know that there are bugs living in your eyebrows?” I asked. You made a face like you might throw up and said “No, that’s not true. Maybe in your eyebrows, but not mine,” and that was the end of the conversation. I was referring to Demodex folliculorumface mites—which I first learned about from reading a book of gross facts my brother had when we were kids. The book said that if your parents wouldn’t let you get a pet, then maybe having bugs in your eyebrows was some kind of consolation. I thought this was funny, but the book was right: they were a small, bizarre comfort, the bug buddies on my face. We probably shared them; our populations co-mingled. I imagined them hurtling from my eyebrows onto yours when we kissed. I imagined them jumping with glee, thrilled to be taking a vacation on a much more clean and pleasant face. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Some Habits

2005/2006 Juneau, Alaska: I take the bus home from school and walk up Bonnie Doon Street to Marguerite Street. The road is potholed and the hill is steep enough that, at fifteen years old, I can’t ride my bike up it. But I don’t mind because I have no interest in bicycles or physical activity. I don’t like to work hard. The house where I live is the more northern side of a camel-colored duplex with a red/brown trim. From the front it looks like the house is mostly garage, extending out from the house part like a beer gut. The rhubarb that was there when my mother, brother, and I moved in is doing well, becoming more voluminous every day. On the other side of the door inside the house is a three-year-old golden retriever who needs to pee but who won’t remember that when he sees me because he’s so happy. His name, Teelo, comes from a children’s book about a cat who learns to drive a sailboat. I let him out and throw his tennis ball for him with minimal enthusiasm. His face is wide and smiling and I love him although I truly believe his brain is empty. At fifteen I am harsh and unsympathetic. Inside, I make myself an English muffin—cinnamon raisin—toasted at the highest setting, topped with velvety margarine. I am excited about the food and relieved to be home. I take it back to eat in front of the oil heater. The heater is in the dining area and my back rests against a set of wooden magazine-holders fashioned to the wall. They are uncomfortable and the wood bars across in them dig into my back. It gets almost too hot when the heater kicks on and it turns the skin on my arms pink, but it feels good. The high school I attend is the only one in town and was recently remodeled. The newly-completed atrium is admittedly impressive but also extremely drafty and somehow impersonal; the whole building, even some of the warm, small classrooms, has me craving heat throughout the day. I read my brother’s comics: not the regular, classic comic books, but the collections of comics strips from the newspaper: Foxtrot, Zits, Sherman’s Lagoon. The story arcs are more enjoyable when you don’t have to wait a full week to find out that Jeremy’s mom is actually going to be really cool and understanding about him going to a no-parents party. I read for a while, then get up and make a second English muffin. Some days I have a third, but today it’s getting dark fast. It’s November. I sigh deep and find my coat and boots, the dog’s leash and a plastic bag. The dog leaps and wiggles, whines, whaps my legs with his messy tail.
2007/2008 Juneau, Alaska: My brother is a freshman in high school now. I give him rides to school and yell at him when he won’t wear his seatbelt. NOT IN MY GODDAMN CAR I say, imitating myself as mother, because I’m the voice of reason. We don’t come home at the same time, though. He has after-school activities or friends to hang out with. I am fumbling my way through the last math class I am required to take: Algebra II/Trigonometry. To say that I am fumbling, actually, is quite generous. The darkness of the season is exhausting and I’ve taken to napping as soon as I come home, just for an hour or so. Then I pull myself out of bed feeling much worse than before. My homework station is my desk, which used to be the kitchen table before we moved and had to find a small one to fit our new small home. My room is the biggest and can accommodate the table. I have carved my initials into it as well as several designs I find charming: yin-yangs, bunny heads, spirals. I am a designer. One thing I’ve found that I do like about math is that I am able to do my homework while listening to music without it being a distraction. My jams include various mix CDs from my friends, and the soundtrack to the movie Holes. I sit and draw parabolas, not understanding what the curves mean, where the numbers live. I rub my head. My mom calls DINNER.
2009/2010 Eugene, Oregon: I live in an apartment complex which sits among other apartment complexes housing college students. Our apartment is not nice, but I do not know yet that it is not the worst place I will live. I am seeing a boy I met in my ballroom dancing class. I am a community college student and I am loving every second of it. I am only enrolled in three classes; the others are wilderness first aid and beginning drawing. I live with my friend, Erin, a Japanese major at the University of Oregon who I know from Juneau. The boy from the dancing class is a deadbeat dad from Idaho who is sloppy and inconsiderate but has good hair and a good laugh and is liked by people I think are cool. He lives in an actual house with two roommates, and I take the bus from my complex to the downtown bus station to get to his house. It’s almost always dark when I’m on the bus; usually I pack clothes with me so I can leave to go to class directly from there, or else I have to get up early and take the bus home, then back to downtown, and then to school, which is a “commuter campus” and therefore out of town by a few miles. When I’m riding the bus, I take notes. Every entry looks the same: I notice the time, the route and bus number, and a few lines of my impressions of the bus driver. The boy I am seeing does not care for the bus, but I love it. He and I smoke weed and watch movies and fuck. He eats fast food a lot and always asks if I want anything and I always say no. I steal a few of his fries and go to bed high and hungry. I feel mystical.
2012/2013 Marshall, Minnesota: I have committed myself to a gym schedule from which I will not deviate, mental health be damned. As the region’s lovely late summer has transitioned into a snap-morninged fall which has given way to biting winds pushing insubstantial whorls of snow around on the pavement like cornstarch. Daily, at 5 a.m. I pull myself out of bed and I do fifty crunches, hold a plank for one minute, do fifty bicycle crunches, do ten pushups. I am obsessed with the simple implications of musculature forming on my arms. The way I seem to be shaving layers of my body off, especially my hips and belly. I change from pajamas to shorts and a t-shirt and add fleece pants and a sweatshirt. I walk to the kitchen and make a mug of black coffee with my single-cup drip setup. No cream, although some days I do want it. I fry one egg in butter and salt the shit out of it. I take my planner out of my pack and flip to the front. I write “Black coffee and one egg cooked in butter with salt—90.” The coffee stays in the freezer for a minute or two while I go to the bathroom to pull my hair back into a low bun and stretch a hat on over it. It is nearing the low teens in the morning even without the wind chill. Every thought I have I allow to dance and ping around in my brain and work through five or six times. I wonder if this is because of all the empty space here. The coffee has been drunk and with my winter coat and mittens added to my layerings, I am out the door and on my way. I ride in the absolute dark and the streets are empty, or maybe there is one car. Red and bright white flashers and a light on the front tell me and motorists where I am. Contrary to my perceptions, they’re saying it has been a mild winter. The streets are, at least, fine to ride on. I go directly through town on my way to campus, past the main street intersection and onto the road lined with chain restaurants and a few local businesses. There is a vacuum repair shop, a coffee house, a gas station called Super America which I will forever find fitting and hilarious, although it’s not yet a fully-realized irony. Once the brick buildings of campus come into sight, I make a hard left and lock my Trek on a rack in front of a set of doors. I take in the building’s warmth as I enter, removing my hat and coat. Inside the campus fitness center, a relatively small, nubby-carpeted room, I swipe my student ID and try to force a smile at the softball player behind the desk. She is one of five different people, but always blonde, always with a school sweatshirt. On the right side of the room are mirrored walls, a rack of weights, and cushioned mats. In the middle of the room are treadmills, elliptical machines, and a few bike machines. The far left side is weight machines; the front wall is windows that look out onto what might be the campus green (the campus dirt-brown); paths cut through short hills. The back wall is a wooden thing with spaces below for backpacks and shoes, and on top are magazines: Women’s Health, Fitness, GQ, Vogue. Sometimes there are more interesting ones but usually the standard is health-related. My routine will include more floor exercises along with weight machines and exactly thirty minutes on the elliptical.
Elfin Cove, Alaska 2012: My father has graciously (his own words) fixed up the former floathouse, which now sits on pilings, for me to use as my groovy bachelorette pad (his words). It has a wood-burning stove which can only swallow kindling-sized pieces of wood at a time, electricity, running water, and a bathroom area with a toilet that doesn’t work, but what difference does that make? Just drag the bucket in there—it’s got those walls up to your waist, that’s all yah need. I sleep on springy, narrow couch and I have learned to ignore the mildew smell. Most nights I go to bed slightly stoned, writing letters to friends or making up stupid stories for myself in my head. I set the alarm on my cell phone for 4 a.m. When it goes off in the morning I rise and add another pair of pants and another sweater to my outfit. I smell like I’ve been keeping fish corpses in my pockets and maybe rubbing them on my head and the insides of my thighs. Sometimes I wonder if I don’t do this when my mind isn’t watching. I grind beans and make a thermos of coffee. I do five pushups, fifty crunches, and hold a plank position for one minute. I grab my rain gear, three sizes too big, and my coffee, and shut my floathouse door. It is technically morning although it is almost completely dark. I walk the trail around town, pushing back the wetness hanging off of blueberry and salmonberry bushes that crowd the trail. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

When I Write Blog Posts at Work I can Technically say I got Paid to Write Them

Nana gave me a hug this morning. It was right before I woke up, the last thing that happened before I opened my eyes. I think it might have happened because in the book I'm reading there is a character who is old and small and dying of cancer. Or maybe she just wanted to say hi.

She was wearing a long sundress. I must have pulled that from an old picture or a blurry memory because it doesn't seem to fit her personality as I really remember her. It was a floral-printed sundress that swept her toes, kind of teacherly, more like something my mom would have worn ten years ago--buttons in a line up the front, fluttery sleeves. Also, she was wearing transition lens glasses; for the life of me I can't remember whether she ever actually had those.

She hugged me with her tiny, bony body, and she was warm. I don't, in real life, remember thinking she looked bad, unhealthy. She'd always been petite, wiry. Short, fluffy hair and a very distinct way of speaking. Not like a regional thing, just her own way of pronouncing certain words: Er-eek. My brother's name, Erik: Er-eek.

When I was in third grade, my mom and Nana and Grandpa took my brother and me to Disneyland. We stayed in Coos Bay for a few days before leaving for California. I was, at the time, fully engulfed in the throes of a passionate obsession with Tigger, of Winny the Pooh fame. Tigger was a force, an embarrassingly prominent presence in my life, and he was just on the cusp of age-appropriateness. I had a small, silver Tigger necklace that I would hold in my mouth and chew gently until one evening at the movie theater Tigger's head broke off from his body inside my mouth. I was not crying but I was feeling upset, very I've-lost-something-that-cannot-be-replaced, as my mom asked on the drive home "what did you think was going to happen if you kept biting it like that?"

In Coos Bay, Nana had bought new polyester comforters for me and Erik, for our little twin beds in the basement where we stayed on visits. Mine was blue and featured bouncing, frolicking Tiggers in all their bright orange glory. I saw it and flipped, really had a fit and I demanded how she knew about my mania. "I just knew," she said, smiling. I was utterly dumbstruck, which is so funny to think now, as I'm sure my mom easily mentioned it over the phone to her and so she knew quite clearly who I'd like to see on my blanket. But then at the time I was blown away. My brother's blanket was decorated with the main character from a Bug's Life (an ant whose name escapes me), towards whom he was indifferent.

But I'm feeling fuzzy-brained now, and the more I think, the more I wonder if perhaps the obsession instead came on more immediately prior to our departure for Oregon by way of California. Maybe the blanket and the subsequent trip to the Happiest Place on Earth were, in fact, the beginnings of my passion, something that was just beginning to show itself. And then I still wonder, not sure of anything, really: how did she know? 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wagon Wheel

I had wanted to write about the evolution of my feelings on the song Wagon Wheel by the Old Crow Medicine Show:

A. Erin and I live in Eugene, Oregon and we have "invested" our money in a 1996 Mazda Protege. Its glowing green-blue color won us over immediately, and we drove it around the block for an test drive with the emergency brake on. The Protege has a CD player and our friend Mallory has made us a mixed CD featuring the mellow music that is popular in her world (as well as a few mid-nineties throwbacks) and one of the songs, which we play shamelessly on repeat, sometimes on lazy, aimless drives through town or to the coast, is called Wagon Wheel. It is a sexy comfort and calls attention to our misspent youth. We love that song and wail along and feel quite rustic, although we are happy to be in our own vehicle and not hitchhiking like the free spirit in the song. I am pretty sure I have missed out on ever having anything like this singer's life because I have a Gameboy and shop at the Gap, but I can create moments that get me close enough.

B. Without really meaning to, I have stumbled into a lifestyle not entirely dissimilar to the Wagon Wheel singer's. Or at least I have a front-row seat to it. I am working for my dad on his fishing boat and eating slices of warm cheese for lunch and technically living in a "village" and the meaning of "rural" and "community" has coagulated in a pile of discordant political views and alcohol. It is approximately three years since I first heard the Wagon Wheel song and it's hard to even really hear it anymore when I do. It sounds like the noise of an oil painting. So to hear it one night at a  bonfire, coming from humans whose names I know, who are playing guitars, is abrasive and decidedly overwrought. But that's all it takes, and suddenly real people with real dirt on their chins are spilling their beers and stagger-dancing to it. I feel cynicism bubbling under my skin, but I'm just drunk enough to declare I love this song.

C. Wagon Wheel has been covered by a popular country group, and as a result it is popping up in shopping malls and on the radio when my boyfriend's mom has control of the dial. I have so few feelings about it that this new incarnation barely registers, but I still hum along out of some vague sense of duty to the myth of the trail-worn traveler who is just looking to have a good time.

The Landlord

More to come, maybe. Thoughts about these people as I leave them behind forever:

Scott was our landlord. He was the one I met when I showed up for a walk-through of the one-bedroom duplex, and he reminded me of a lot of all the other men I had met who had a goatee and a rotating collection of stained basketball shorts. He noticed the area code of my cell phone and mentioned that he used to live in Alaska, in Eagle River. “But I’ve lived all over,” which also included his favorite, California. His email address included the phrase Blues Bum. He told me he was a good judge of character. 

                But also, Kim was there when we moved in. Not exactly, but she was “around” and so were the puppies, dainty little Yorkie mixes that smelled and looked more like downy, floppy hamsters. Kim adored the puppies as well as the older, far uglier dog that had birthed them. She had a sweet face and a good recipe for coffee cake. She seemed to love Scott and doubt him in equal measure. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Three Untitled Poems

The label on the can of Easy Cheese says that
you don't need to refrigerate it

He read it out loud and frowned

But it's still cheese...isn't it?

Later I noticed he had put it in the fridge

That doesn't tell you everything you need to know about him
but it's a good place to start


We live here, inside our heads

And when I would repeat what she said
I would add the gesture
of tapping my index finger to my temple

And we hold onto people so tightly
out of fear
less afraid to upset them than to watch them walk away

I agreed, yes, that was the case


My second cousins on my dad's side are all adult men

They look like cartoon goober thugs
like disgruntled suburban toys
on the brink of figuring out how little they stand to lose

One of them has a mustache
and a highly ambigious chin/neck situation

He brought with him an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen
which we all ate at the table
at 3 p.m.
in Bismarck, North Dakota

After we had finished he turned to me

You look like you want to have another piece

And I promised to take care of myself
and to never be alone in a room with him