Apfelbaum by Laura J. Braverman

LAURA J. BRAVERMAN is a writer and artist. Her poetry has appeared in Levure Litteraire, Live Encounters, The BeZINE, California Quarterly, and Mediterranean Poetry. Her first collection of poetry, In the Absence of Defense Against Loss, will be published in 2019 by Cosmographia Books. She lives in Lebanon and Austria with her family.


Apfelbaum

For a long time I believed Martin Luther said these words:
Even if I knew tomorrow the world would go to pieces,
I would still plant my apple tree.
We shared a birthday, though his was 500 years before mine.

He would have spoken the words in my mother tongue. I use
them as an incantation, as defense against helplessness—

I imagine
our globe as little as twenty years from now—septic seas,
garbage dunes, drought and flood. My husband soothes me,

says creation moves in cycles regardless of the reckless
doings of our tribe. He sides with Heraclitus: World ever was,
and is,
an ever-living fire,
kindling and extinguishing according to measure.

But surely our wild hunger has sped things up.

Does the earth care for us?
We scrub pots after dinner, pick up our children’s Lego bricks.
We better Narcissus—leap headlong into the reflections
our digital screens hold up. We save manatees stranded in mud,

compose cantatas, dry rose petals in the sun;
we beg at intersections with matted hair and little siblings, knock
on closed car windows.
We fear the swollen legs of our father,
scratch butterflies with our fingernails on stonewalls,
line up for death.

Does the universe care for us?
I’ve come across a theory: the cosmos expected life,
prepared for consciousness, for us, from its very cradle—

hoped for apple trees and their tart, pesky harvest.

Writing Without Fear

Up until college I had been homeschooled my whole life. It wasn’t until I reached high school age that it became very apparent to me that I couldn’t relate to the social struggles of my peers. Whether at soccer practice or in youth group, everyone was either complaining about their teachers, gossiping about their fellow students, or making plans for prom. When I didn’t chime in on their conversation they’d turn to me, expecting me to join in. That’s when I had to explain to them, “I’m homeschooled.” Typically, they’d nod their heads and say “Oh” before continuing their conversation without me. I had always hated telling people about my education, mainly because of all the stereotypes that came with it, like: no friends, no social skills, prom at home with my brother, etc… I distinctly remember a time when I was at church, waiting in the lobby with the kids in my youth group. There was a girl going on about how homeschoolers are “so weird” and “have no social life,” that’s when my I piped up and said that I was homeschooled. The look on her face was pure shock, she even argued with me and said that “there’s no way you’re homeschooled, you’re too normal!”

I used to hate the fact that I was homeschooled, because many of my peers caused me to believe that my education was inferior to theirs. I often felt as though I wasn’t as smart as my public-school friends. Though I was never bullied for it, I noticed that people looked at me differently once they knew. Most people assumed that I couldn’t relate to their academic struggles while, in fact, I could in many ways. It was their social problems that were foreign to me. After all, I had no teachers to hate, unless you want to count the guy on the computer that taught me algebra. It took me a long time to realize that just because the location of my education was different, didn’t mean that my subject matter was any easier than theirs.

Being at home allowed me to focus on my education while avoiding all the drama and unneeded stress that my friends went through. I was also able to focus on my passion for writing. As a child, I was an avid reader. The book that got me hooked was Maximum Ride by James Patterson. After I finished that book, I began reading every type of young adult fiction I could find. Every time I came home with a new book, I would lock myself in my room and read for hours, typically finishing an average sized book in a day or two. I can’t remember when I realized it, but I knew that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. As I grew older, I carried with me the idea of wanting to be a writer, but I continued to carry with me the fear that I wasn’t smart enough thanks to being homeschooled.

After I graduated high school, I took a year off school to decide whether college was for me. I knew that I wanted to be a writer, and that I wanted to go to college to improve my writing, but I still carried those childhood doubts. Though, one day, that all changed. I decided to put aside my self-doubt, get rid of my feelings of inadequacy, and prove to myself that I am smart enough. I am now the first in my family to obtain an associate degree, and it’s safe to say that my days of feeling inferior are far gone. 

Utter Your Words

During the spring semester of 2018, I enrolled in Creating the Poem with Dr. Iliana Rocha here at the University of Central Oklahoma.  Before entering the classroom, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew nothing of poetry besides the few guidelines to some forms covered in half of a week’s span while I was in high school.  I honestly walked in the classroom on the first day thinking, This should be simple.  Roses are red. Violets are blue.  I couldn’t have been any more mistaken.

Dr. Rocha explained that we students would be creating and compiling a chapbook of our own for the semester.  What the hell is a chapbook? I thought to myself.  Normally, I’m not one to freak out when it comes to a required page count either, but when she told us the final chapbook portfolio was to be 20-25 pages, my brain went into panic mode.  I’m screwed.  Why did I do this to myself?  I’m good for one world-changing poem, if that.

But then, she made each student pull out a piece of blank paper and number the paper 1 to 13.  She told us to list something similar to the following: the street you grew up on, your favorite beverage, a cartoon character you remember from your childhood, an item of clothing, a dream destination, etc.  On another blank sheet of paper we were instructed to write, on line number one, a line of poetry using one of our 13 facts. Next, the person to the right, on line two, would continue the poem with another one of their 13 facts.  Together, the class created (for the most part) a cohesive and sentimental poem about their lives. (One line about an exploding toilet lightened the mood though). I soon began to think the class wouldn’t be that bad.

Until I heard the first poems about dying animals, war in Afghanistan from the eyes of a soldier, and growing up in a neglectful home as a child slightly older than a toddler.  I can’t write about red roses and blue violets? One evening, while in class, Dr. Rocha explained and discussed with us a term called the unutterable. Some students nodded their heads in understanding while I sat imagining how I must look like an animated cartoon character with the three bouncing question marks floating above my head.  As the discussion progressed, I came to understand that the unutterable was any raw emotion or uncomfortable writing from any given writer. Also, it’s simply subjective. The readers’ catharsis is based upon individual and personal experience. Who wants to talk about poop (Chen Chen) or menstrual cycles (Rupi Kaur)?  Such subjects that can bring out a quick shiver or shudder is successful in creating the unutterable.

The very discussion and encouragement from Dr. Rocha and my peers opened up a new pathway for my writing.  Just after a few months in the class, I was able to write about an assault that occurred in my youth that I never thought I would be able to verbally express to anyone. Poetry, and its mechanics, allowed me to write to everyone and no one in particular. The fact that Dr. Rocha explained to us that poetry is purely subjective encouraged me to write to other victims solely for my extended support and encouragement.  Roses aren’t always red and the violets I see are broken—petals forever flowing in the Oklahoma breeze.

To See Yourself

I’ve always felt slightly different from other people, but I could never put my finger on what exactly it was that made me different. None of my friends seemed to feel the same way I did about certain things; my feelings weren’t portrayed by characters in the movies and shows I watched, and never appeared in the books I read. I assumed I was some weird anomaly and I would have to deal with feeling like I was alone on the subject for the rest of my life.

I was never able to understand my feelings before I found my place. I had no representation to compare myself to and help me navigate the rocky waters of understanding my sexuality. The young adult books I read dealt heavily with romance; whenever there were mentions of a character that didn’t fit the norm of sexual attraction they were disregarded and labeled weird, which didn’t help younger me feel any better about myself. The books released within the last couple of years have become much more inclusive than the books I was reading back in high school, when I was questioning myself. Even though there is more inclusivity, there are still groups being left out; it hasn’t been until the last year that I even was able to see characters like myself on the pages of books. Last December I was finally able to put a name to my differentness, I figured out I fall somewhere on the asexual spectrum in the LGBT+ community.

A few months ago I read the young adult novel Puddin’ by Julie Murphy; it was the first book that made me feel seen. There is a character, although they’re a side character they’re still a large part of the story, that identifies as ace and goes about explaining what exactly asexuality is; how there are so many different facets that people can fit into on the ace spectrum. After reading that scene, I remember putting the book down, taking a deep breath, and then clutching it to my chest with a gigantic smile as my eyes watered—for once in my life I could see myself represented. Let me tell you, it felt so good to see a character like me. There is no other feeling in the world that’s like seeing yourself represented.

Diversity has come a long way in literature from where it used to be, but there are still so many other identities that have yet to have their time to shine. I hope we get to see more of them represented because they deserve it. Everyone deserves to feel like they are represented; whether it be because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. EVERYONE deserves to have that moment where they go, oh shit, that character’s just like me. I want others to have the same feeling I had when I first saw a character that was like me, and made me feel less alone in my journey of discovering who I am. Like I said, we’ve come a long way with diversity, but we still have a very long way to go.

Four Influential 20th century Female Horror Writers

When we think about modern horror, the great and disturbing Stephen King pops into most people’s minds. While King is  wonderfully spooky and influential to one of my favorite literary genres, there are also plenty of women who wrote many creepy tales that impacted the 20th century and the horror genre as a whole.

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier began her writing career in the early 1930s with one of her most successful works being the Gothic novel Rebecca (1938). In a similar way to traditional Gothic novels, Rebecca contains a heroine, who is never given a name, who is forced to deal with the oppressive and almost ghostly past of her new home. The real terror in this novel comes from the titular Rebecca’s grasp on the protagonist’s psyche, causing the heroine to feel a kind of inadequacy that many people experience when constantly compared to another, seemingly perfect, person. With discussions of identity, obsession, and even suicidal thoughts, Daphne du Maurier’s novel is an intricate modern Gothic novel with a dark and well-written twist ending.

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson has written many creepy novels and short stories that have become classics in the Horror genre. Her novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959) is often considered one of the best haunted house stories ever written. This novel contains creepy hauntings, shocking incidents that are never truly explained, explorations of mental illness, bisexuality, and a diverse small cast discovering the ominous character of the titular mansion. The Haunting of Hill House is a suspenseful horror novel that leaves readers with chilling images and thoughtful explorations of fear, paranoia, and isolation.

Anne Rice

Anne Rice first appeared during the horror boom of the 70s and 80s with her debut novel Interview with the Vampire (1976). This vampire novel has been cited as the beginning of the “romantic vampire” trend that took off in the 20th and 21st centuries. Despite writing about vampires who are human in many ways, Rice’s characters are complex and intriguing monsters who give the reader a striking and bleak look into the life of the monster that usually is just in the story to be defeated by the good guys. Interview with the Vampire is also revered for its positive depictions of sexuality between its vampire protagonists as well as discussing morality in a philosophical way.  With deep introspection, a disturbing and well written cast of characters, and a deep look into the monster’s point of view, Interview with the Vampire is an enchanting and horrifying look into the psyches of humans turned into monsters.

Angela Carter

Angela Carter is a great British author who has written many plays, short stories, children’s stories, and some novels during her lifetime. While Carter’s work usually falls under the umbrella of Magical Realism, her body of work also contains some horror novels too.  One of her most popular short story anthologies The Bloody Chamber (1979) is one such work. The Bloody Chamber is an atmospheric and mature reworking of different fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White with a dark and distinctly feminist edge. Dealing with women’s sexual identities, luscious and graphic prose, and a chilling harken back to the more adult Grimm’s fairytales, The Bloody Chamber is a startling collection of feminist fairy tale horror that is scary as it is thought provoking.

Dyslexia: Spell Check is for the Weak

As an editor, it can be hard to admit that my greatest passion is also the source of one of my biggest inhibitions. A big part of this stems from the fact that not many people are vocal about learning disorders, and those who are aren’t always the most constructive. I’ve known from an early age that I am dyslexic. Even though this isn’t anything world-ending, or even something that’s necessarily complicated, I’ve noticed that there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding learning disorders. Being a student of the Liberal Arts means that I am surrounded by bright and intelligent people on a daily basis, who not only analyze everything they read, but are obnoxiously good at it. Initially, this intensified a fear that I’ve harbored since the first grade, in which I feel that everyone around me understands something that I don’t, and that my cover will be blown at any moment. Of course, the only logical response to this was to double up on literature classes and enroll in a second language. Because that’s not overcompensation, right?

As unhealthy as it may sound, this has been my approach to tackling dyslexia for years. It’s almost like a vigorous hike; every time I start to get winded, I see that the peak is that much closer and I force myself to pick up the pace. When I first learned to read, this was how I kept myself going. If a book tripped me up, I would pick up another and read them back to back until they both made sense. Even today, I still read roughly five to six books at a time to keep myself engaged.

Before I go any further, I suppose I should explain what dyslexia means for me. Most people understand dyslexia as that thing where kids sometimes confuse the letter “b” with “d,” but dyslexia can go so much farther than that. In fact, once my parents had realized what was going on, mirrored consonants became the least of my concerns. My biggest challenge was, and still is, the struggle of being inconsistent. What is a reflex one day is foreign the next. Just the other day I tried spelling “optimist” as “optemest” and had to review Greek and Latin root words until I could understand where I went wrong. This word has never been a problem in the past, and I use it pretty frequently, but out the window it went.

I can see when my words come out wrong and I can recognize broken sentences and phrases, but this is because I had to develop an intuition that could save me when my brain short circuited. This is how I first developed an interest in editing. Suspicious, right? In a way, every error I catch and every student I tutor justifies the ridiculous amount of time and effort I’ve put in to learning the written English language.

Dyslexia may not be particularly interesting for those who are unfamiliar with it, but for me it’s like the ultimate challenge. It has forced me to think outside the box and learn things in unconventional ways. It’s popular advice that writers should read the works of their favorite authors so they can emulate their writing style. I took this a step further and turned to literature for lessons in grammar. Not only was I trying to capture the elegant sentences of Poe and the subtleties of Philip K. Dick, but I was also trying to figure out what the heck a dependant clause was and why my teacher kept circling mine but not my partner’s. In my case, dyslexia has driven me to better understand the written word, because I can’t handle the idea of being inherently bad at something. Of course, being dyslexic still has its issues, and it always will. The takeaway here is not that learning disabilities can be cured, but that they can be overcome, and every step I take as an editor is a massive victory.

Parenting is Editing

Editing and parenting are essentially the same craft. As in editing, I spend hours “correcting” mistakes, problems, and critical thinking errors only to have my work ignored or disregarded. As in editing, all my modifications are considered mere suggestions up for negotiation.

Consider this argument I had with my daughter:

She wanted to play outside in the nude. Social convention requires me, as a parent, to discourage public nudity; however, bargaining with a three-year-old is not as easy as employing logic or reason. A toddler simply does not accept the answer: “You have to wear clothes because nakedness makes people uncomfortable. Also it’s an actual law—public indecency.” Instead, there’s always a follow-up action. Sometimes it’s a verbal outcry of displeasure in the form of a whiney, “But, why?” And sometimes it’s a physical reaction like the limp-noodle-flop-to-the-floor-in-anguish maneuver. How you choose to handle the rebuttal defines your parenting/editing style.   

Most times, I find the refutation entertaining, funny even. But sometimes, my patience is thin and I take offense to objection. Nevertheless, I’ve found the most success with compromise—my measure of success being whether I’m capable of coaxing my child to cooperate or not.

Compromise is all about collaboration. Editing is not a solitary activity; I work with authors, co- and managing editors, typesetters, etc. Therefore, wielding authority when I am only but one part of the writing process is not the best approach. My editing style is the same as parenting. My role is more “guide” than “enforcer.”  

My daughter and I eventually reached an “agreement.” After I shamelessly reminded her about our extremely modest and grumpy neighbor, she retorted with, “Fine. I’ll wear underwear.” I countered, and asked her to wear a full outfit, she said, “No,” put on a bathing suit and ran out the front door.

I can tell her what to do or how to do it, but not both. I use the same premise when working with a difficult author. Ultimately, the work belongs to the author, just like a child’s life is its own. Each can be influenced, but not controlled.

It is also important to adjust for the “maturity-factor” of the author/child. My daughter is three, aso I considered the bathing suit compromise age-appropriate. If she were nine, I would deem this solution unacceptable. I use a similar evaluation method when I have disagreements with authors. It’s more valuable to choose battles that matter, because engaging in a verbal spar with a three-year-old is never a good idea.

In editing, there are so many things that must be judged on an individual, situational, case-by-case basis. There is no complete manual, nor universal style guide, nor dogmatic grammar/punctuation rules. There is no one “correct” way to format a document.

It is not an editor’s job to rewrite a story.

It is not a parent’s job to mold a perfect, law-abiding citizen.

Instead, editing and parenting are gifts meant to enhance, not change. Like parenting, editing is merely giving advice, care, and attention when needed.