CLOUD HUNTING BY MICHAEL LEE PHILLIPS 34THPARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 51
The first Paradise Inn we tried was one-storey and painted the putty color of raw white fish. It had a shredded yellow flag with a bright pink sun in the middle that hung from a pole out front. I told the rickshaw driver I’d be right back with a cart for my luggage and went to check in.
The woman behind the front desk with thin yellow hair checked her book for my name. “You’re not here,” she said.
“Bullshit! I made the reservation two weeks ago, on the telephone.”
She pulled out a photocopy of a hand-drawn map from a drawer in the desk “Other Paradise Inn,” she said. There were about a dozen of them in just the part of the island we were in.
Whenever I introduce myself in creative circles, I say, “I tell people I’m a writer and for some reason they believe me.” I neglected writing for most of my academic career (which isn’t that long mind you). I had primed myself to become an actor and immerse myself in theatre studies. My first playwriting class I started to explore the crafting of characters and stories.
It took me two years to enter and win my first writing competition. On a hungover morning I decided to apply for a writer’s residency in Catalonia using excerpts from that winning story. Before you see this as a pompous list of accomplishments, you should know I have a growing number of rejection emails in my inbox. Like every other writer, I write, I submit, and occasionally I get lucky. So far, I have been fortunate in the opportunities lent to me by mashing letters into a Google doc. I don’t know why I write. I know it has something to do with the fact that I am a terrible verbal communicator. Writing allows me to express all the different sides of me that I’m not able to reveal in my everyday life. I get an idea, bite into it, and see if anyone else gets something, anything out of it. Sharing my writing is one the most important parts of the process. If my words have any effect or no effect, that’s what I need to know in order to complete a story.
For example, this piece, Adi-fucking-os, was inspired by my good friend and artist Maria Kim. We got to know each other quite well during my stay in Catalonia. When we went our separate ways it was heart-breaking, not only for us, but for the many other friends we’d made together. In order to cope, Maria would send everyone pieces of writing she jotted down while travelling back to Canada. They were reflective, interrogative, and emotionally raw to the heart’s touch.
While embarking on my own side-tracked journey, I thought, “What could I write and send back to her? Could I possibly create something that was as honest and true as what she was sharing with me?” Adi-fucking-os was the result. For me, it’s personifying hyper-anxiety and retrospect with a mashup of prose and script writing. Whether a reader is travelling, knows some of the songs I reference, or can relate to the ramblings of an anxious mind, I simply want the piece stir up connections with their own feelings and experiences.
I am interested in writing stories that explore the feelings of alienation that come from being part of the Jewish diaspora. I often write narrators who find themselves hyper aware of their femaleness and how it places them in their environment. Pain in Hawaii turned into a story where these two things began to overlap and blend together.
I am from New York and attended college in Kansas City, MO. Moving to the Midwest marked the first time I realized how closely tied I am to the geography and community I grew up in. I spent my first full day in Kansas City walking around looking for a bodega where I could GET a buttered roll and a newspaper. I never found one.
For a short time after graduating I traveled and lived everywhere from an unincorporated community in Mohave County, Arizona, to a sheep farm in Israel. I live now in New York’s Hudson River Valley, close to where I grew up.
My work has been published in American Chordata.
My poem, The Magical Rock, is a memory from my early childhood that I still reflect on fondly to this day.
Although the rock has been gone from my possession for many, many years, I like to think it’s resting in someone else’s back yard or possibly fueling a child’s imagination much like it did my own. Events like these throughout my childhood that I experienced with my father, along with his love of storytelling, have always inspired me. Although I cannot thank him personally for this, I find ways to do so through my writing.
I was given a prompt book at the age of 10; I picked up a neon pink gel pen and never looked back. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, I just didn’t know what type, per se. So I ventured towards short stories, song lyrics, poems, and scriptwriting (comics, television, and film). Much of my writing is based on real events, whether it is experiences of others or my own. In a way it’s like a grieving process, where I reflect on both the good and the bad.
I’m graduating this spring with a BA in Creative Writing at the University of Central Oklahoma. Before I started at UCO, I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my degree or what I even wanted to write about to begin with. But not long after I arrived, I realized that I want to write for television, or just simply create worlds that others can escape to.
I’m still early in my writing career but I’ve been recently published in Edify Fiction: a poem, Lauren Elizabeth Graves-Death, and a short story, When You’re Strange.
MICHAEL LEE PHILLIPS
Cloud Hunting is a poem about privilege and access. I wanted it to have an attitude.
Years and years ago I read Paris Spleen by Baudelaire. The Stranger is a litany of questions. The stranger finally confesses that there issomething he apparently loves, and that’s the clouds. That always annoyed me, but I never gave it any thought further than annoyance—until one day I did.
And, perhaps because I was born and raised in a small town only a few miles from Death Valley, the annoyance turned kind of personal. The citizens in my town of Trona rarely experienced clouds like the ones I imagined Baudelaire enjoying. So, I could say that it took off from there.
Truth is, it stumbled and flopped around on the page and I didn’t have a clue what it should do. It could hardly stand up. Took quite a while before it hit me that maybe it should be written as anapostrophe—a poem that addresses someone not present. But no, I didn’t actually formulate that in any verbal way, like actually saying the word,apostrophe,to myself. It was simply that when I realized that the voice needed to be pissed off at Baudelaire that I finally got the first line. Or rather the second line, since the first line is only one word.
I already had dozens and scores of other lines andstuff—scribblings labellednotesto make it sound like they might actually be serious poetic inspiration—but I couldn’t get any form out of it. Once I came up with that first line (which is probably the thirtieth or fortieth version of it), then I at least thought I understood in a vague (cloudy?) way sort of the direction and kind of the form it would take. As Yogi Berra could have said, I’m never sure until I’m sure.
The “mottoes” were the first things I wrote down. The very first thoughts. In the same order and the same words in the same order. Never changed. For a long time they weren’t in what I was trying to make become the poem. I don’t know why. They’re my favorite part of the poem.
Once a poem is finished, of course, that’s when you start to write it. Or so it seems. Versions! You know, endless editing, nit-picking, etc. Until you send it off and someone nearly puts an end to that.
In the end you have 17 lines and 126 words sitting (when printed) on a piece of paper in a sequence and structure that has never before in the history of human endeavors been done before. Of course, how difficult is that to do? You know, you’ve got that monkey sitting at a typewriter for eternity working on Shakespeare.What you hope is that a few people see it, read it and let you know that it’s, yeah, okay, interesting, hmmm, made them smile, but, the clouds—are they symbolic, or something?
Everything is autobiographical in the final analysis, isn’t it? Especially if you consider the biography that gets written inside your mind as you live, the vast unacknowledged meta-synaptic, electrically charged chronicle that accompanies the socially adapted body as it maneuvers through a life.
Trona, the land of no clouds, is my home town. 1947—to be determined. A graduate of Fresno State in 1969. Draft resistor. Inside (as opposed to outside) agitator. Many jobs: janitor, construction, photographer, newspaper reporter, feature editor, photo editor, technical writer, union organizer and negotiator, teacher. Retired.
Educational highlights: Workshop with Seamus Heaney in Dublin, Ireland. Delving intoUlysses, Beckett, etc at Trinity College. Yeats summer school in Sligo, St. John’s, New Mexico, University of Oregon and other colleges, seeing Elvis Presley in concert (yes, highly educational!).
I will acknowledge that my poem Drone was shortlisted for the Peter Porter Prize in the Australian Book Review last year. That Grip won Atlanta Review’s International Competition in 2009. That How the Hard Rains Did Fall was runner-up for the Joy Harjo Competition.That Fireflies was shortlisted for the 2016 Gregory O’Donoghue Poetry Competition, Ireland. That other poems have appeared in the following magazines:The Antioch Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Café Review, Cutthroat, The Literary Review, Poetry Northwest, Southern Poetry Review, The American Journal of Poetry,andMain Street Rag,among many others.
I had a poet as a teacher when I was in high school. As a kind of confession he told us once that he had gotten a long way in life (and bypassed some hard work) through his imagination. I think he was telling us not to do what he had done.
While imagination may not help all that much in learning a foreign language, for example, in most things an imaginative approach, an eye for detail, and recognizing one’s own way of seeing things (in other words, the ability to write well) can carry you like elephants over the Alps.
The elephants have carried me through twists and turns from St Louis to the eastern US and then out west to a family and a career as an attorney and now as a labor arbitrator in San Francisco. A graduate of Amherst College and Hastings College of the Law and many writing workshops, I have a first book of poems, Sleeping Alone After the Avalanche, that is ready for publication. I have just started sending out poems for publication and have had one published by Barrow Street Press.
If This Were a Movie is a fictional representation of an age in my life when I let go of my past and had no concern for the future. It started as piece of prose but as I put it into shorter lines and stanzas I recognized how the silence and empty spaces added an element to the piece that I liked. The poem exemplifies an interest I have in the intersection of prose, fiction, poetry, photography, and film.
Image of the wedding toast by Erin Ng.
The story comes from a conversation that I overheard when I was 10 years old. It haunted me, these people discussing the nervous breakdown of their sister-in-law.
In the mid-1970s, when I lived in New York City, the “respite and nepenthe” of diners and less easily classified establishments became havens from too much family, too much drinking, too much unemployment—too much of everything.
I’ve lived in Santa Monica, California, for the past 27 years, and I am the office administrator for Extraordinary Families—a nonprofit foster family and adoption agency. I was born and raised in Connecticut, and received a BA in English from Queens College/CUNY.
My stories have been published in Uncharted Frontier, Hirschworth, Writing Tomorrow, Blue Monday Review, The Blotter, Catamaran Literary Review, and The Wagon (out of Chennai, India). I have published a novel, The Long Habit of Living, in 2010 via Createspace and I am at work on a second novel.
I wrote Sofie the Warrior Queen in part as an alternative to the wealth of fiction about comfortable first-world characters, struggling to find meaning in their lives without letting go of the material trinkets that make them miserable in the first place.
Modestly endowed characters who risk what little they have for a moment of pure fulfillment and choose to deal with the consequences later are far more dramatic to me. I also find that they are more the rule than the exception in society.
I spent the bulk of my career as a writer and editor at five different newspapers under the illusion that it might one day rid the world of injustice. Now that my career is behind me, I find greater satisfaction in writing stories about the nobility that people exhibit, when faced with circumstances that challenge everything they hold dear.
I pass strangers on the street and wonder what they would give their lives for in that moment. The last fiction piece I wrote was titled The Tickle in his Tale, about an incredibly brazen pickpocket, who loved nothing else more. It was published in a 1995 British short-story anthology called Raconteur. Prior to that, I wrote a short story titled Sweatshop about an under-aged factory worker who forfeits his job so that the older co-worker he secretly loves could keep hers and feed her family. Sweatshop was published in the Spring 1992-1993 edition of Bulletin, a magazine published by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York City.
I want to thank Anamyn Turowski of the Writers Studio, Dawne Marx, Molly Patterson and my daughter, Sara Medina, for their insight, encouragement, and inspiration in my writing. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to write fiction.