by Rowena Eureka

In the fall, she wore black leather gloves and took on an Emo-Goth-Punk look. She had mint green lambswool gloves to wear inside in the winter. In the spring, she wore red spandex gloves to add a “pop of color” – as her older sister Kailey would say. In summer, her purple satin gloves stretched up to her elbows, framing her gauzy maxi skirts with an elegant retro-flowerchild look.

One June day, when the air felt like bath water, Sasha sat on the grass outside the cafeteria writing a French skit with Evan Martin, wondering what would happen if she went gloveless.

Sasha and Evan both liked to use movie scenes in their skits. When Madame Rétat first paired them together, they pretended they were about to be crushed by the Death Star trash compactor while they shouted out commands in French, getting pushed closer and closer together until they remembered the French word for stop, and were saved at the last moment. Sasha still remembered how her red spandex glove pressed against Evan’s bare wrist.

 When Sasha was little she thought that touch empaths were just a story she and Mama made up. But the older she got, the more confusing it was to touch people. Whenever she and Kailey fought over anything, all it took was a handshake before her sister’s feelings leaked into Sasha’s head and she had trouble prioritizing her own wants — even her own needs — over Kailey’s.

Ironically, Kailey was the one who got Sasha the gloves for her thirteenth birthday. They were supposed to be a “fun fashion accessory.” Mama had only sent Sasha to Paris that summer to visit Grand-mère, where she drank big bowls of café au lait, while learning the family secret.

Her older Kailey clearly did NOT get the empath gene. She had no idea she had given Sasha armor.

“You used to be so sweet,” Kailey said, “then you became a teenager.”

Sasha was never letting a relationship be that one-sided again.

As she and Evan sat in the grass, the humidity frizzing her hair, Sasha listened to Evan discuss his summer plans. He was taking a SAT prep class and had chosen Star Wars as his new monthly movie theme, because Sasha said she liked the newer Star Wars movies. 

“The SAT class will get me for just three hours,” Evan said. “Afternoons are for skateboarding, evenings for movies.” He had seen older movies Sasha had never heard of, like all those Ingrid Bergman films from his last month’s theme.

Sasha thumbed at the edge of her glove, daring herself to take it off.

Today was the last full day of classes. 

If it went badly, she wouldn’t see Evan all summer. They didn’t hang out in the same friend circles.

But Sasha wanted to see Evan this summer.

Now was her only chance.

“Cool purple gloves,” Evan said as he leaned back on his elbows, spreading his toned legs out across the grass.

“Thanks,” Sasha said. “It was time to break out the summer gloves.”

She was fifteen and had still never touched a boy.

“Do you ever get hot wearing gloves?” Evan asked.

It was her opening.

He didn’t know what he was asking, but he had asked.

“Yeah, sometimes,” Sasha said.

“Is it like a religious thing?”

They had been skit partners for four weeks and Evan had never asked her why she wore gloves. He seemed to get that she didn’t want to talk about them before. She had never tried to explain touch empaths to anyone. It would make her sound like a freak.

“No, I…I just always wear them.”

Evan nodded. “I get it. It’s who you are.”

His long fingers were just inches away.

Sasha decided to be daring.

“I’m just not big on touching people,” she said.

“Really?” Evan asked.

Sasha nodded. God, she couldn’t believe she just blurted that out.

“So, you never touch anyone?”

She shrugged. “I like my privacy. Sometimes people are…too much, ya know?”

 It was like the humidity was truth serum.

 “I get it.” Evan said. “That’s why I skateboard. I just need to cruise down a hill and let everything fade away.”

“Yeah,” Sasha said.

 Was she missing out by not feeling Evan’s feelings?

Evan plucked a blade of grass and wound it around his finger. “So…what about kissing?”

“Kissing?” Sasha asked.

“Yeah, you know, what Ingrid Bergman called the secret you tell to someone’s mouth instead of their ear. Is that out too?”

Sasha had never thought of kissing as two-way communication.

Would Evan know her feelings, too?

That was scary.

 “So I’d be telling you my secrets?”

Evan grinned. “I bet you have good ones.”

Sasha looked over by the building where the rest of the class sat. Everyone, including Madam Rétat, was on their phones. The last days of school had their own rules.

“You know,” Sasha said, her heart beating so fast she could feel the blood pulsing in her ears. “If you wanted to kiss me, that would be totally fine.”

Evan’s full lips quivered, the left side rising just a little.

“Every day since you did that original Star Wars movie skit with me,” he said.

He leaned in and touched his lips to hers.

Evan liked her. He really liked her.

 Sasha stilled her lips. Maybe this was too much.

Evan paused.

He was worried. He wondered if she was okay, if he had done something wrong.

Sasha pressed her lips into Evan’s, sending her own feelings back. She really liked him, too.

Ingrid Bergman was right. Evan had heard her secrets.

Why PLAY Is My Word For 2022

FINISH was my word of the year for both 2020 and 2021. Each year I was determined to complete a different novel. Each year my health issues loudly laughed at this goal.

Really in the last four years, since I earned my MFA in Writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, whenever I’ve been healthy, I’ve focused more on submitting short stories for publication or trying to plan out a story or novel that’s “worthy” of publication, rather than writing for fun.

Even though several of my stories made it through the first hurdles in the publication process, receiving positive rejection letters, I fixated on my failure to publish. Whenever I did manage to write, I became overly perfectionistic, shooting down any idea I didn’t think was a shoe-in for publication, or spinning my wheels, planning out a story or novel — over and over— to ensure it would be just right.

Writing had become a sense of anxiety about whether I measured up, instead of an act of expression. So, I began reading books and watching shows to help me think about making art in new ways. I also watched a good friend try something new with her blog and loved what she did.

As my health improved, one word began to sing loudly in my head: PLAY.

The Power Of Being An Amateur

The most powerful example that helped me rethink how I approach writing and art comes from the book Art and Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland. They tell the story of a ceramics teacher who divided their class into two halves. One group would be graded on quantity (measured by weight) and the other group would be graded on quality.

“Well, came the grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.” (Art & Fear)

As the authors say, “One of the basic and difficult lessons every artist must learn is that even the failed pieces are essential.”

The realization that failure is important in art gave me the courage to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time — draw. As a kid I loved drawing but stopped around junior high, when I realized I didn’t draw perfectly. In the era of Instagram and Facebook, I’ve admired my friends who post their art online—some highly polished pieces, but also some rougher pieces they’re using to learn a new skill. I love seeing each and every piece.

For years I told myself that if I ever became a vampire I’d take up drawing in the daylight hours when I was stuck inside. What I find amusing is that it was more believable to me that I would become a vampire than that I could just take up drawing as a human adult and not worry about being an amateur.

In his reassuring book, Show Your Work, author Austin Kleon says, “We’re all terrified of being revealed as amateurs, but in fact, today it is the amateur— the enthusiast who pursues her work in the sprit of love (in French, the word means “lover”), regardless of the potential for fame, money or career — who often has the advantage over the professional.”

Why does an amateur have an advantage over a professional?

Kleon says, it’s “Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results. They take chances, experiment, and follow their whims. Sometimes, in the process of doing things in an unprofessional way, they make new discoveries.”

As Kleon says, “The world is changing at such a rapid rate that it’s turning us all into amateurs.”

I imagine the ceramic students, who were graded by weight, might have felt like they were able to be amateurs in their art, free in the ability to take chances and make new discoveries, and this allowed them to create a higher quality in some of their pieces.

In the few months since I’ve started drawing, I’ve embraced being an amateur and have had more fun than I’ve had in a long, long time. It turns out I love drawing!

I’ve been listening to memoirs or music while I draw. Recently I started listening to the Beatles again. After listening to the many songs they wrote, I realized some of them are kind of mediocre. However, like with the ceramics students, they created so many songs that many of our culture’s highest quality songs are Beatles songs.

I’ve heard people say the Beatles success was because they were musical geniuses. While there’s no denying they were skilled musicians, I think there’s a better lesson in studying their work.

What The Recent Documentary The Beatles: Get Back Taught Me About Play

What surprised me about watching the eight–hour documentary of 1969 Paul, John, George, and Ringo trying to write an album in just a few weeks was how playful they were. Yes, after twelve years of non-stop playing—including long sessions in Hamburg clubs — the Beatles were skilled musicians, but their love of music and their fondness to play around is evidenced in almost every scene in Get Back.

Paul and John sing “The Two of Us” in silly accents while they wait for the recording equipment to be ready. Another time they sing with clenched teeth. John often sings his answers to his bandmates or plays around with the established lyrics, just for fun.

At one point, Paul tries out various rhythms on his guitar until he comes up with the riff for the hit song, “Get Back”. He passes it by a couple times, playing mediocre stuff in the middle, but keeps coming back to that riff. As someone watching in 2021— someone who knows the fully written hit song — I wanted him to keep playing the riff I knew, but 1969 Paul didn’t know that riff. He just plays around until he decides that’s the one he likes.

I noted that Paul wasn’t bothered while he played the mediocre stuff. He didn’t stop and say, Ug! This is so mediocre. I’m mediocre. He just played until something he liked came out.

This idea of play was reinforced when George plays a couple lines from a song he was working on, one that would later become his hit song “Something.”

George plays the line, “Something in the way she moves, attracted me…” and then asks, “What attracted me at all?”

John answers, “Just say whatever comes into your head each time. ‘Attracts me like a cauliflower’ until you get the word, you know?”

George says, “Yeah, but I’ve been through this one, like, for about six months. Attracts me like a pomegranate?”

Then George sings the line, “Something in the way she moves, attracts me like a moth to candlelight, pomegranate.”

John replies, “Cauliflower is better.”

Eventually, on the album Abbey Road, the line is “attracts me like no other lover” but cauliflower and pomegranate probably got him to the rhyme he wanted.

As I watched the Beatles play over much of the eight-hour documentary, it became clear that their willingness to play, more so than “genius” is what allowed them to create such a diverse array of songs over the years.

Another thing that amazed both Paul McCartney and me was how the Beatles were able to write the entire album Let It Be, and many of the songs for Abbey Road in just a few weeks. McCartney realizes it’s because they had a deadline.

It’s amazing what having a deadline can do for play and creativity. Ever since I finished grad school I’ve been trying to figure out a way to give myself deadlines, since —unlike the Beatles — it’s not like I have the whole world just waiting for me to write a short story.

What Playing Offers Over Publication

After watching friends and classmates publish I’ve come to realize very few writers actually live off of their writing earnings. Most writers live off of their teaching, their day job, or their partner. Also, many of the published writers I know don’t seem that happy being published.

I’ve heard so many nightmare stories about how the author had communicated to their editor they’d be on vacation for one week of the year, way ahead of time, but that after months of waiting to hear back that’s the one week the editor insists the edits must be done. I’ve also seen friends receive unfair bad reviews for wonderful novels they’d spent years working on, or worse receive little attention of any kind for their magnificent work. As one friend said, “it was like my book was just a pebble dropped into the ocean.”

The more I watched my friends and classmates publish, the more I questioned my goals. I never wanted to have a book launch party or be in the spotlight. What I most wanted was to write and create and have my friends and family be able to read and see my work.

In 2021, my friend Joan tried a five-month experiment with her blog What the Fluff, where she posted a short story and blog post each month. I fell in love with this model. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to read her short stories and blog posts. She’s a horror writer, a genre I usually don’t typically read, but her horror stories are so engaging and human that I read them happily. This made me realize I don’t need traditional publishing as motivation to create stories or blog posts.

Joan’s model showed me what I most want is to be able to PLAY.

Using my blog as my own publication means I can create my own deadlines. As Kleon says, “The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment learning it in front of others.”

I love learning! It’s total play for me. It’s not like I have decided I never want to pursue publishing, but for now I think what I most want to do is have fun and share with my friends and family.

As Kleon says, “Share what you love and the people who love the same things will find you..” 

Yes! That’s what I want, to find the people who love the same things I do and to just have fun for a year.

So for 2022, I have decided to use my blog to PLAY. I’m going to play with four different kinds of posts. Each month I’ll post:

  • one traditional essay-type blog post (like this one)
  • one post where I play around with graphics (like my 2021 reading roundup)
  • one short story
  • one comic (to play with drawing)

If my health falls apart again I’ll obviously have to play around with a slightly easier version of these posts or do a lot fewer posts or something, but I plan to try to play for all of 2022 and see what unfolds.

How about you? What’s your word for 2022? How do you use play in your creative life? Comment below so we can continue the discussion.