The Oak Tree in my Foot

There was an oak tree in my foot.

It happened when I stepped out onto the deck to snatch dry clothes from the rail before the dark and damp set in.

I heard a crunch under my bare foot, but didn’t realize what had happened until the next morning when I saw the small acorn, splintered and crushed, and felt the bruise in my heel.

By then it was too late.

In the night the bits of acorn in my heel had sprouted thin white tendrils.

The tendrils wound through plains of muscle, delicate vein tunnels, nerves lit up like small cities.

The roots stretched toward the extremities of my left foot, only ceasing their growth when they reached the tip of my big toe.

Then the acorn shards in my heel began to thicken.

The next night while I slept, a tree trunk the circumference of a ChapStick tube poked softly through the bandage I had carefully applied.

It grew downward, splayed into parallel arcs.  Leaves fluttered out, already yellow and orange.

The tiny oak grew acorns of its own and dropped them until they littered the foot of my bed like a forest floor.

The oak tree lived an entire lifetime in one night, hurrying so that by the time I endeavored to put my feet on the floor the next morning, it would only be a stump, a splinter in my heel.

Oak trees aren’t unintelligent, you see.

When mom plucked out the splinter, it was only a splinter.

And when I found a tangled clump of bark and crumbling leaves at the foot of my bed, I blamed the dog.

Holly Graduates from College, Acts I-II

My goodness, I have such a graduation story to tell you!  It has everything: action, drama, ugly robes, copious hugs, celebrities, public speaking, a trip to the ER …

Obviously, then, it’s going to take me a while to write out such a saga.  Bear with me.  It’s a long story.

I’ll be publishing it in parts.  Both for my sanity and yours.

Act I. Prequel

About a month ago, I broke the overhead light fixture in the bathroom in the house I’m renting (with three housemates) from a former UMM professor.  This was bad for three reasons:

1. I’m renting the house.  And the former UMM professor is currently trying to sell the house.  And a bare lightbulb in the bathroom looks kind of sad.

2. I’m renting the house.  And that means I put down a deposit when I moved in to ensure that if I broke or otherwise damaged any part of the house, my landperson could keep the deposit and use it to pay for repairs.  The light I broke may not have been very expensive (not that I know much about lighting beyond my enjoyment of that glowing section of Menards), but it was probably enough to justify my landperson keeping my deposit.

3. The light fixture I broke (not the actual bulb, but the globe that fit over it) was made of glass, which is sharp, hard to see, and generally dangerous.

Knowing this, I swept thoroughly.  I made sure to get the corners, the sink (where the light initially landed and shattered to almost cinematic effect), the tub, even out in the hallway, where I suspected small pieces had flown and were lurking.  Throughout the next week, I swept a few more times, and picked up tiny individual pieces that I had missed.  But by the week after that, I had mostly forgotten about the incident.  There were no more random glitters as I brushed my teeth, no more ominous crunches underfoot.

Act II. Or So I Thought

It was the morning of Commencement.  I had slept fairly well the night before, due to the NyQuil I was still allowed to take because of a lingering cold.  I was mostly concerned with not thinking about my impending speech, and so I showered, washed my face, and brushed my teeth with almost zombie-like coolness.  On the way out of the bathroom, I took the same route as usual: I stepped over the threshold and turned immediately left, then left again around the low-walled stairwell, and then turned right into my bedroom.  Somewhere along that route–I suspect not far from the bathroom–I felt a sudden stinging in the bottom of my left foot.  I thought, as had happened before, that a small piece of gravel, tracked in from outside, was stuck to my foot, pressing its sharpness against it.  When I looked, I didn’t see anything but a small cut, which was bleeding profusely.  Strangely, that part of my foot hurt a lot when I put weight on it, which was what initially led me to suspect that there was something in my foot.  I was running a little late, and so didn’t have time to do much besides apply a band-aid and note with satisfaction that my fancy graduation sandals forced me to walk on the middle/inside of my feet instead of on the outside, where the wound was.


This morning found me in the dentist’s chair, staring up at a poster taped to the ceiling that said “every warm hand is a whisper from the heart,” which didn’t make sense to me at that particular time, and doesn’t make sense to me now.  I was grateful for that poster regardless.  I was also thanking my stars that Chris Martin exists, and that he sings loud enough that I can hear “Clocks” over the whir of brush and sputter of water squirter.

It’s a little ridiculous for a twenty-two-year-old woman to be scared (here I want to use a less polite word than I’ll actually use) to death of the dentist.  And I’m scared.  No matter how much resolve I have walking in the door, no matter how confident I am that I’ve brushed and flossed adequately, it’s all smashed on the tasteful carpet under my feet when I’m led to the chair.  Or the gallows, if you prefer.

You see, when I was decently young, but not young enough to be crying the way I did (maybe thirteen, fourteen?), a dentist had to drill at a cavity I had.  “I’m not going to use Novocaine, because I won’t be drilling near any nerves,” he told me, pleasant as could be. “You just raise your hand if you feel any pain.”  And so he began drilling.  The drill vibrating in my mouth was a little uncomfortable, but not painful.  And then suddenly, it was.  It was as if there was a rotten core to my tooth, strung through with thousands of nerves so that no one could get too close.  And that dentist had just burst through all of them and was drilling on the one soft spot that was more sensitive than any other part.  I raised my hand as high as I could.

He barely paused.  “Really?  That hurt?  Hmm … I’m not anywhere near a nerve.  I’m just going to keep going, okay, sweetie?  Almost done.”

So he kept going, and it kept hurting more than anything I’d ever experienced, and salty globes were sliding down my face, and my (still raised) palm was sweating.

In the car I told my mom that I was never going back to that dentist.

She let me switch, and I haven’t had such an unpleasant experience since, but I’m still wary.  I didn’t put on mascara this morning because I didn’t want it to run if I cried.

So this all explains why it’s so important that I can hear Chris Martin and that I have (albeit confusing) posters to distract me.  Because otherwise I’m confident that I’ll snatch up my purse and flee at the first mention of drilling.

In Which I Call for Help and am Answered by Tim

I am happy to report that the saga has ended.  My truck has been pulled free of its icy prison, and is currently resting happily, if tiredly, in the back alley driveway.

Really, the only unfortunate part of this ending is that I didn’t procure it myself.

Yes, friends, I caved and called AAA.

But only after another afternoon of scraping, gas pedal tapping, and boiling pot after pot of water to pour on the stubborn ice.  My housemate, Jordan, came out to help after a time, which was cause for additional optimism: Jordan recently bought (and maintains) a motorcycle.  Jordan recently started a business consisting of himself and a friend performing oil changes for college students who can’t afford to go to the local shop (or, heaven forbid, the dealer).  Jordan had some ideas.  He went to the garage and returned with several small planks of wood and a dirty towel.  The idea was that the planks would give the truck some leverage, and that the towel could fill in the watery tire grooves for added support.  It was a valiant effort, but after watching the planks shot forty feet from the truck by the force of spinning tires (I got out of the way, or else I would undoubtably be typing with my right leg missing below the knee), we decided that a tug was the only hope.

The AAA man was nice on the phone.  “I’ll send my son out,” he told me gently, “he’s going to delay his meal and head out there.”

“Oh, he shouldn’t do that!” I exclaimed, horrified at the prospect of the son, stomach growling, turning away his dinner in favor of helping an automobile-impaired college student who had managed to get her truck lodged in front of her own house.

The man insisted, though, and within a half hour, his son Tim was hooking a tow chain to the back of my truck.  One good yank and then a push from Tim, his right shoulder braced in my front wheel bed, and I was free.

I thanked Tim, drove a victory lap around town, and then went to the grocery store for a celebratory (and much-needed) shop.


Let Me Catch You Up

Sorry I’ve been quiet lately.  Truthfully, there hasn’t been much to write about.  I walk to campus in -40 degree windchill (yesterday).  I try to save the world via student government (Monday).  I play intramural volleyball (Tuesday).

(This afternoon) I make a mistake with my checking account and hold up the line at the grocery store for fifteen minutes while I fiddle with my online account via Iphone, transferring money to pay for my cereal and pears and peanut butter.  And then the Chancellor of UMM, in line behind me, offers to pay for my groceries (“I don’t want anyone going hungry,” she says kindly).  I am thankful to go to a school run by such generous people.  But mostly, I am mortified.  I finally get my credit card to work, and then I practically run home, sliding on the ice and torn between laughing and crying.  I decide to laugh, because I am quite possibly the most ridiculous person on the planet.  My mom laughs too when I call her, and I realize that perhaps the reason why I get into such scrapes is so I can tell people about them afterwards.  It’s quite worth a little humiliation to have a good story to share.

And now (I assure you, having read the above, you’re quite caught up), I am sitting at a desk in Imholte Hall.  I am at UMM’s literary magazine’s All Night Write.  It’s a wondrous night in which students are locked in a large classroom with their laptops and various junk foods, and given permission to abandon scholarly pursuits in favor of creative writing.  My gentleman caller is next to me.  He’s given me permission to talk about him.  He’s focused, and being very patient with me (I keep interrupting his work to make jokes, to proclaim my undying love for orange soda, etc.).  I am here for the writing, yes, but let’s be honest: I’m mostly here for the socialization.


Things I Learn at Work: Polly Pocket Edition

Do you know Polly Pocket?  The ones I first remember were the tiny, hard, plastic ones.  They were the size of a thumbnail and lived in little cases that when shut, looked like thick makeup compacts.  When open, they made a house, complete with a cradle that rocked, a kitchen door that opened and shut, and a toilet seat that could be left up or put down.  There were wee rooms, all with round dents in the floors where the Pollys could snap in and thus stand upright by themselves.  Later on, the new Polly Pockets came out.  Similar to the ones around today, they were much bigger and came with rubber clothes that could be pulled on and off (not with any small effort, I might add).

A woman I work with, Melanie, told me this morning at around six a.m., when I was still bleary-eyed and walking with Clydesdale steps, that she has collected Polly Pockets for the past twenty years or so.

Melanie is, I’m estimating, in her mid to late fifties.

She told me, as we sliced cardboard into ribbons with our box cutters, that a year or so ago, she passed off her collection (she estimates $500 worth) to her niece, who was at the time pregnant.  The understanding was that her niece, Scarlett, would give the Polly Pockets to her sister, Careen, who has two young daughters.  Careen’s girls could play with the dolls for a few years, and then when Scarlett’s (then unborn) daughter was old enough for them, they would be passed back to her.

Scarlett, however, kept the Pollys in storage instead of giving them to Careen.  When Melanie found out, she confronted Scarlett, who claimed that Melanie had never said anything about them being loaned to Careen.  Scarlett then flat-out refused to pass them on, even threatening a lawsuit.

Eventually, Melanie talked her down, and Scarlett agreed to give the dolls to Careen, who agreed to return them in a few years.

By this point in the story, Melanie and I were walking up to break, each pushing an empty cart.  I asked the most important question of all:

“Did you ever sit down on the floor and play with the Polly Pockets?”

Melanie smiled.  “Oh yes.  I like to set everything up and talk the dolls from one place to the next: the mall, the cruise ship, the RV, the fashion runway…”

The Hazards of Crafting

We didn’t go Black Friday shopping, per se.  Mom and I patrolled Grand Avenue in St. Paul, where we did some (utterly justifiable, I tell you!) damage at Pottery Barn, Patina, and at Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books (new location).  We may have also made an unrecorded Caribou Coffee stop, and we may have had to return ten minutes after leaving to retrieve mom’s sunglasses.

We swung home in the late afternoon to pick up my sister, who was back from her Target shift.  She’s currently taking an introductory clothing design/construction class at UW Madison, and needed to go to the fabric warehouse to pick up supplies for her final project.

I am not a crafty person, my friends.  There was an embroidery phase in middle school, and a knitting phase in high school, but both were short-lived, and neither produced particularly exemplary results.  To me, then, this scene looked rather bleak, and bordered on terrifying:


The labyrinth of fleece.

Tassels the likes of which I’ve never seen. If Quasimodo ever decides to do some remodeling in the belfry, I think these would serve him well.

Taken before being nudged out of the way by a woman who clearly respected the subtle distinction between cotton 111 and cotton 112 (a magnifying glass was produced for color confirmation).

“Why so cheap?” Holly wondered, peering dubiously over the rim of the barrel. The plastic circles glinted ominously, and Holly quickly decided that there must be something buried beneath, something that fed on the fingers of unsuspecting crafters. Just then, her sister Amy thrust her hand into the barrel. “Noooooooooo!” Holly screamed, not pausing even as two women in green smocks dragged her toward the exit.

Just to Pass the Time Away: A (Haphazard) Running Manifesto

I run not because I like it, nor because I’m good at it.  I run because it makes me feel strong, because I imagine my ancestors ran 5Ks every day, chasing deer across the savannah.  I run because I want to be able to keep up with them, even in my daydreams.  Spear throwing I may never master.  Running is attainable.

I run next to Gretchen at the gym.  We do our three warmup laps round the track, and then   reserve treadmills three and four.  We stretch on the blue mats in the corner, dangling our arms helplessly in the general direction of our toes (neither of us is particularly flexible).  We press our hands against the wall plastered with 80s aerobics posters-I’ll never be able to unsee the drawing of a woman in a leotard doing the butterfly stretch-and flex our calves.  I take care with this one, remembering when, a month ago, I woke up at five a.m. to an agonizing shin splint radiating through my left leg.

The usuals are in place already: the fellow treadmill runner who always wears a green shirt, the two women with calves of steel on the stair steppers, the scattered junior boys who watch themselves lift weights in the mirror that spans the back wall.  Gretchen and I take our places: she on the left, me on the right.  She flicks the TV to Jeopardy, which coincides happily with our run.  We look at each other, do some encouraging eyebrow wiggles, and hit “start.”  And then my track lets out its customary whine, as if it’s preparing once again to be trampled on by a clumsy twenty-two-year-old.  It starts to move, faster as I click the arrows up, and soon I’m running and taking care (as I do at the start but neglect at the finish) that my shoulders are straight and my gait even.  I feel as though I could run ten miles just like this, with Alex Trebek outlined in blue above me (benevolent as a god amidst a bright sky), and the vinyl road circulating comfortably below.

I am obligated to mention here, as I tried to disclaim at the beginning, that I am by no means a romantic, one-with-the-road runner.  In fact, a few weeks ago, when I closed my eyes while running in an attempt to attain some sort of zen enlightenment, I unconsciously slowed my pace and flew off the back of the treadmill, almost crushing an innocent passerby.

I can’t hope to provide much advice for those of you who want to start running.  All I can say is to do whatever Runner’s World tells you to, no matter how ridiculous it sounds.  I read an article about mantras recently, and scoffed at it.  George Harrison may have had a mantra, but I’m more down-to-earth than that.  And then I had a hard run, and there were five minutes left, and I was this close to faking a sprained ankle and telling Gretchen that we absolutely had to stop or I would never walk again.

In that moment of exhaustion, I decided to adopt a mantra.  “Pain is a state of mind” was first.  I mouthed the words, trying to match them to my pace, and thinking about the source: Freak the Mighty, a magnificent book I read in 6th grade.  As noble a quote as it was, however, it wasn’t working.  The next mantra that popped into my head was, inexplicably, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”  Over and over I sang that childhood song to myself, making up lyrics when my memory failed.

I’ve been working on the railroad

All the livelong day

I’ve been working on the railroad

Just to pass the time away…

And the tune seemed to meld with my footsteps, and before I knew it the five minutes was over, my ankle was intact, and Gretchen was looking at me like I was crazy:

“Were you singing, Holly?”

Sneetches Ain’t Snitches

I have an old and complex relationship with Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches.  Do you remember the Sneetches?

Some had stars on their bellies, and some did not.  The starred shunned the bare until an enterprising gentleman (named Sylvester McMonkey McBean, no less) came to town with a machine that could put stars on any Sneetches willing to pay.  And so all the bare became starred, which angered the naturally starred, who naturally went through the machine themselves to be de-starred, so that they could be superior to the newly starred. Then the Sneetches who had bought stars suddenly wanted them removed, and the cycle continued until everyone lost track of who was starred and who was not and who was superior and who was not.  And they all became friends in the end.

I don’t remember ever reading the book, but I definitely watched the movie, because most of my 8th grade softball season was spent in the outfield with my friend Michaela, reenacting The Sneetches.  Specifically, we liked to scissor our legs and thrust imaginary sticks in the air: “A toast, raise your marshmallow stick, a toast!  Raise your good fellow stick!”  (That song, of course, is from the part where the originally starred Sneetches are having a marshmallow roast, while the star-less watch glumly from the shadows).

We were MVPs, obviously.

Years later, deep in the throes of high school, I was delighted (and a little shocked) to discover a Sneetch in the English faculty lounge.  It was during Speech practice, and I was in the lounge looking for tape or some such thing.  The Sneetch was stuffed and yellow and starred (just like the movie).  He was also inside what looked like a plastic bird cage.  He was blinged out with a large gold necklace, sunglasses, and a cap tilted sideways.   Taped to the front of the cage was a small sign that read “Sneetches Ain’t Snitches.”

I never found out what that means, but wiser words, I suspect, have never been spoken;  nothing is certain but death, taxes, and Sneetches.

Young Adult

I had a thought last night, after briefly abandoning Anna Karenina so I could reread Boston Jane for the fifth time.

Since I spend so much of my time drooling over literature that is written for twelve-year-olds, and since I happen to think that said literature is much better than any other kind because it’s so unpretentious, so solely focused on expanding young minds with fantastic stories, what if I tried writing a story like that myself?

Well, I’m trying, starting as soon as I get some spare time.  Believe it or not, the current inspiration is a certain moon orbiting Jupiter.

I work with what I have, I guess.