Editor's Notes

A disquiet will creep up for no immediately apparent reason. When it hits us, we’ll try our best to to make excuses for it: a bad dream, an unexpected rendezvous, or the dull throes of missing someone. Not always ready to admit that it’s not the effect, but the cause. It’s a basic, inescapable condition of all life.

The anxiety of an unanswered, unknown caller is one we all share, as in Stephen Horenstein’s “The Ring.” Kate Prascher reveals those disjointed feelings you have towards to friends who become joined in marriage in “Jesus: Everybody Find the Rope.” Mateo Lynch’s “That Night” explores the self-justified psyche of an adulter. But for Liz Moniz’s “Waiting in Grace,” there is no making excuses, only resignation with a hint of complacency. Lucy Lyon describes the dual reality of raising children while missing their father overseas in “Small Voices.”

These stories confess the kinds of vexations that are a given in life, and  examine our attempt to quell them. We might push back, push through, or push down, but at least we’re asking questions.

“I get by with a little help from my friends,” sang The Beatles. 

And I haven't heard an untrue feeling out of them yet. But just as much as you need friends willing to help you through a jam, you too must be willing to be helped. 

Our narrator in “Date Night,” by Megan Heise, is questioning whether she’s shown ample gratitude towards her friend Jude. But a basic requirement of friendship is to allow each other to be a little self-absorbed sometimes.

Somewhere along the way in Lisa Aigen’s “Umbria,” two sisters who have not been present in each other’s lives seem to realize they might learn to rely on each other somehow. 

Katie Finlay-Meredith’s “Poem for Dad” begs a heartbreaking question. Should she sterilize herself from memories because they remind her he’s gone? Or will she come to understand that those same memories will bring solace if she lets them?

An irascible king in L. E. Meyers’s tale “Thunderjelly” is threatened by his suddenly saucy Queen, so he rejects her. But it won’t be long before he understands just how much he needs her despite a woman’s prerogative.

Most often there is no clean solution or resolution to struggles in life. The lesson learned isn’t how to deal with the unfortunate, but how to allow yourself  to see the good around it. 

Very little can pass for magic.

The Naga fireballs are a phantasmic mystery. The Northern Lights are a beautiful illusion. A perfectly light and risen soufflé is alchemy. A memory attached to a an object is some kind of conjuring. Much of the universe has yet to be explained, and isn’t that the very definition of magic?

Lolita Brayman describes the life-giving powers of a day’s first coffee in “The Best Part of Waking Up,” while Amy Avgar could not divine the many lives lived around “Granny’s Old Oak Table.” Mystifying details in an eerie scene swirl in Isabelle Phillipe’s “The Death Rehearsal,” and Katie Finlay-Meredith exorcises darkness and depression in “The Vigil,” not by forgetting, but remembering. An apartment dweller finds themselves in the kingdom of a rodent, by way of a consecrated rock in Megan Williams’s “In the Temple of the Rat.”

The “Fountain of Youth” isn’t an age-reversing geyser, but the ocean of wonder that stays with us even in old age. Let these stories be a reminder of the magic in the mundane.

There seems to be a very deniable appeal to romance novels. Although romance is the best-selling genre of paperback book sales, topping a billion in sales annually on average, most romance readers squirrel away their desires, relegating their books to the bedside table. But can we blame readers for keeping their book affairs quiet?

Granted, a majority of romance readers could be your sister, mom, or grandmother (thus some of the last people you prefer to imagine reading Fifty Shades of Gray). Nielsen estimated in 2015 that 82% of romance book buyers are women, between the ages of 30 and 54. I think it’s also notable that—according to the Romance Writers of America website—the most popular way romance readers share what they are reading is in-person, conversations with a friend or family member, instead of, say, sharing or “Liking” the book on social media.

Unsurprisingly, one of the most popular subgenres of romance is the “secret lovers” trope. We live in a society that confoundingly glorifies sexual imagery while vilifying its language in the mainstream. Even ads for something as clinical as contraception are written almost entirely in innuendo, as if we can’t talk about sex without a snicker. Is it fair to say then that words are more dangerous than picture? Well, I’m certainly not going to attempt to answer that here.

Sense Writing helps to create and strengthen channels in our nervous system, allowing us as writers to sense the world more deeply, and interpret it more clearly. As we exercise these neuronal pathways, we train ourselves to experience the world with increasingly lucidity, and, furthermore, making those connections between the physical and emotional. Sexual experience is seldom unchained by emotion, and the stories selected for this issue are just a few examples of how the psychosexual is interpreted in writing.

Shannon Lior’s “Ride” reminds us there’s really nothing like young love, but the memory endures into old age. In this fond recollection, there’s a subliminal notion that there’s something equally special in being able to share that memory with your lover for years to come. On the other hand, Mateo Lynch Gil shows us how relationships, sexual or not, are always evolving. His story “Neverland Smile” is a snapshot of a romantic relationship between two young men, who once let their lives be ruled by it, and now sit spectator as love carries on without them.

Often the physical entanglement is fleeting, or can only be anticipated, never taking place. The title "Salvation," by Collier Lumpkin, suggests that such an encounter can have an everlasting impact. Sometimes, though, just a little is just enough, as in Hannah Mann's "The Stud Farm." She writes, "Though our skins never touch, I feel our souls holding hands." The question remains, are there any regrets?

Christian scripture writes, and you may have heard before, “The truth will set you free.” And while not a theologian, I am confident other religious doctrines contain a similar teaching and that several interpretations exist as to what this might mean. For me, a woman in her twenties working and living in New York City, being free means staying true to myself. 

Truth and telling can have potent consequences in narrative. When you speak the truth, a weight is lifted, and the burden of your secret is spread evenly throughout your history. The truth becomes a part of the fabric of your life. But it’s not always our turn to share our truths; sometimes, secrets are revealed to us. And they are frequently not welcome.

We sometimes talk about protagonists revealing and not revealing secrets in Sense Writing III workshops, as a way to create subtext in a scene and anticipation in the reader. In the stories chosen for this issue, our protagonists find themselves, instead, on the receiving end, either dealing with or just enduring the weight of the truth.

 The story “Mourning” from Christie Barron, set in Israel, begins and ends with a boom. I like to think of these as “truth bombs,” relentlessly blasting reminders of this fractured reality. In this apocalyptic landscape, our protagonist is reaching out for tranquility, even vapidity (“the vacuous Twitter feeds”), only to be inevitably shattered by another boom.” But there is no shelter from what she knows is coming and cannot stop.

Mortality is possibly the most difficult truth anyone will face, and many don’t give enough credit to achieving its reconciliation—until it’s too late. In Pilar Rueda García Yakar’s “Intimate Silent Storm,” we find the narrator approaching this very milestone when she visits her dying aunt. This realization is depicted almost literally in the cleaning of the jar: “ I surrendered to knowing with all my being and sobbed quietly, with the sparking clean vessel…”

In the other stories, our narrators assume a more proactive role.  Dan Martin’s “Old White Dude Does Hip Hop” explores, almost aggressively, what it truly means to be an “old white dude in a hip hop club.” Amidst hearty conversation with just the right kind of inquisitor, he is finally able to ask himself that question. In “Wound,” a wife imagines her divorce as a personified version of the severed tree outside her window. Healing would take time, she knew that much, but how to treat the gash? Emily Tobey writes, “I didn’t know whether to cover it or let it breathe.” The pain of divorce did eventually subside, as it should, and the narrator finds herself free to explore her unencumbered truth.

Certainly, in any good story there is a revelation. Conflict by its very nature reveals at once unseen truths that at least one character was not wishing to face. From compartmentalizing it or rolling with it, the intrigue in a story does not arise from the truth itself, but how the characters use it. 

I write this as a sit vigil in a hospital room. The walls are a pale shade of pink—a color known to soothe the seer’s eyes and mind. Yet the color pink is not as strong as my powerful melancholy, which seems to wash my world in grey. His skin is a deep purple against the crisp bleach-white of the sheets, and my eyes are red. But outside a warm, golden yellow glows through the cracks of a pale blue cloud, and the fabled silver lining appears.

Colors are the most basic and definitive descriptor (“Roses are red, violets are blue…”), and often assumed to be universal. But consider that the Japanese language originally had no word for the color blue. It's not that they don't have blue skies or birds, they just don't differentiate between the colors of grass and oceans. A translated description would paint a very different picture.

Animals developed eyes some 600 million years ago, before which color didn't matter. If all the animals of earth developed eyes at different points during evolution, how can we be so sure that my orange is the same as yours or another animals?

If a forest is green in a blind world, does it have a color? Is color so black and white?

As a matter of fact, we do know that the ability to see red is associated with the X-chromosome, and since women are born with two Xs to a man’s X-Y, scientists concur that women are able to perceive a broader spectrum of red than men. If, in theory, everyone may be perceiving colors differently, then how we associate the linguistic symbols for colors with certain ideas or emotions should yield some interesting literary illustrations. We’ll explore this with four stories from our Sense Writers.

“Being Sure,” deals with just this issue—perception vs. reality—but the eyes of Linda Moniz’s protagonist do not fool her even after all these years. Susannah Hardaway’s “Gray Ghost” shows us how a color can be imprinted with a lasting and poignant childhood memory. At one point, the protagonist describes herself as a ghost in limbo, stuck between heaven and earth. Yet, is grey not also a color in limbo, not quite white and not quite black? The repeating use of  yellow in Iva Radivojevic’s “Soup” is somehow both appetizing and innocent. And Lynley Shimat's untitled piece is simply palpable and almost synesthetic in its colorful descriptions. In this issue of Popcorn, explore your perception of color in literature because, while colors may just be in our heads, it sure makes our world interesting.

Welcome to the refreshed edition of Popcorn! So glad you could stop by. First let me probably be the last person to tell you Happy New Year. My name is Hannah, and I’m new at this, so please humor me and while I employ a predictable if not cliché theme for this issue. This is a resurrected Popcorn with a first-time editor in a not-that-new year, and this newness refuses to be ignored in my mind.

Every story has three main parts: beginning, middle, and end. There’s a story in 2015 that lasted 365 days, culminating on New Year’s Eve. As a society we cherish the notion of starting fresh and second chances, so even the last day of the year is a day devoted to looking forward to the new one a few hours away.

On the other hand we tend to be annoyed by stories that end without clear endings. We don’t like stories to be so much like our lives: irresolute, ongoing, ever-changing. But most authors don’t aim to write stories that make us feel comfortable and safe. They are revealing truths and parallels in life, extrapolating on feelings we didn’t realize could be put into words.

It’s crucial for a story to have a gripping lead-in. If the first sentence doesn’t pique your imagination, there’s little hope the story will be read. But there’s something equally intriguing about stories that leave you feeling there’s more to unfold where the words stop. Many of our Sense Writers are working on larger projects, and what is submitted is only a fragment of a large piece, so it’s natural for some of these stories to leave you with questions. But that doesn’t make its occurrence any less interesting.

Donnaldson Brown’s “The Bamboo Bike” is a story about a father and son building a bike, but more so an reflection of the father Mike. Somewhere in there is a sense of acceptance, but also a feeling that the narrator has discovered a new understanding of the father and their relationship.

“Floor Man” by Megan Heise is an account of a morning invaded by a contractor doing work on her floors. The narrator must decide whether or not to open the door, or else be locked-in. While she knows her responsibilities are on the other side, there is an urge to resist it and stay trapped inside.

Along with Deborah Kaetz’s “Coming to Nova Scotia” and Mateo Lynch Gil's “October Third,” this issue is called Endings with Beginnings, featuring stories that end with an anticipation of a whole new story to come. Because everyone loves a redemption story.