Sandy Florian

The Inter-view

Some time ago, I was invited to participate in an on-campus interview at a university that was launching a new Creative Writing program. The program advertised a desire to employ innovative writers capable of teaching courses investigating the binaries of writing, like prose and poetry or fact and fiction, as well as courses outside of the field of Creative Writing. Women and minorities were encouraged to apply. Initially, I had been reluctant to apply for the position, mainly because it was advertised as another tenuous Visiting Lectureship, and not the more desirable Assistant Professorship. But motivated by its desirable location, I sent in my application for the position nonetheless and endeavored to discover the particulars of the program after the chair of the search showed a keen interest in my cover letter, a stock letter in which I address my reluctance to draw distinctions between narrative and lyric, my interest in working creatively in the interstices of fiction and poetry, and my inclination to explore language as an art and not merely as a vehicle for communication. After looking closely at the program, I came not only to understand the chair’s interest in me, I too became interested in the program. So when I received the invitation to visit the campus, I did what most aspiring candidates do. I bought a new gray suit to wear on the second day and dry-cleaned my old black suit to wear on the first.

The on-campus interview was long and arduous and spanned two full days and three full nights. It revolved mainly around two presentations I was expected to perform: a research presentation in which I discussed my own creative work, and a teaching presentation in which I gave an introduction to my teaching practice. The research presentation was to be recorded for audio, and the teaching presentation was to be recorded on video so that faculty members who were unable to attend the presentations could listen and watch at their leisure.

The research presentation that was scheduled for the first full day went without a hitch. The classroom was comfortable, all the tables level on the same plane with my podium and computer. I wore my old black suit and my new blue shirt, and for the most part, I was able ignore the microphone clipped to my blazer. I successfully limited the talk to my four published books in order to avoid unwieldy discussions of my additional works-in-circulation, works-in-progress, and collaborative projects in writing, film, and media. After the presentation of my books and their common interest in their investigation of the materiality of language, I was asked several questions by faculty members, only two of which took me mildly off guard. One of those questions revolved around my book, The Tree of No, and its supposed reference to Caliban from The Tempest. Now, I’ve studied a lot of Shakespeare, but for some reason I haven't spent much time with The Tempest. I’ve stuck mainly to the early plays like Titus, Othello, and Macbeth, plays in which the body plays a problematic role. So I replied to his question in that academic manner by saying Caliban’s speech wasn’t immediately on my mind when I wrote The Tree of No, but I could see the parallel he was positing.

The second question I simply did not understand. It was in reference to my prose poem “Fact” from Telescope, and while I don’t remember the phrasing of the question, I do remember it involved several competing genres: fiction and creative nonfiction, which were fair enough, and concrete poetry, which was perhaps less fair. Since Telescope doesn’t employ concrete poetry, and since “Fact” doesn’t include any reference to concrete poetry, I was confused by the inclusion of the genre in the already confusing question. I replied by saying I didn’t understand his question. He looked at me with his puzzled eyes like pencil points and asked the rest of the faculty present if someone could help explain his question to me, but they were equally baffled. The chair, however, did reclaim the question and turn it into a query about my designation as an “experimental” writer. To this I responded that I avoid qualifying my work as “experimental,” that I prefer to call myself a writer and not an “experimental” writer because, to me, all writing is experimental, and that the qualifier “experimental” only validates the marginalization of my work. My response was received well, and after the presentation, there were more meetings, more eating, and more being shuffled around.

The following day, I was scheduled to do the teaching presentation. I have to admit, for some time, I had been very nervous about this presentation without knowing why. After all, I consider myself a good teacher capable of understanding the distinct needs of individual students as well as the distinct needs of each different class. I receive excellent evaluations from my students who say, “Sandy open our minds to creativity” and “She taught us how to think,” and I receive excellences in rankings from Faculty Evaluation Committees who commend me for my innovative pedagogy.

What I had wanted to do for the presentation was to run a workshop with student work. The drawback to my plan was there was no student work. After all, the program hadn’t yet begun, so there were no graduate students and no undergraduates with advanced work. The chair had suggested I do something self-contained. And perhaps that’s what unnerved me. I don’t consider myself a person who has mastered the art of self-containment.

I had batted around the idea of doing a close reading of Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” based on my assertion that the body of the story could be found in the second 106-word sentence, the sentence in which the boy can read only with his stomach the lettering on tin can containers that smell of fear and that “old fierce pull of blood.” I wanted to perform the argument that the 106-word sentence is a microcosm of the entire story, but I shied away from this presentation because I didn’t want to encourage the relevant and complicated question of how I deal with Faulkner’s use of the word “nigger.” There is no comfortable answer to that question because the word itself causes so much discomfort.

I had also batted around the idea of doing a close reading of David Foster Wallace’s “Incarnations of Dead Children” with focus on the swinging door of the tenant’s untenanted house, the cocked door, the cocked bird, the cocked head of the cocked baby, and how all that related to the masculinity of the father when “they saw where the real water’d fallen and pooled and been burning.” But that story seemed somehow too masculine, too fixed, too concrete, and my argument seemed too obvious and indisputable for this program bent on discovering the interstices of binaries. Unlike Faulkner, Wallace seems like a writer who practiced exactness in his writing. There is less room for competing interpretations in his work.

What I decided to do in the end was a quick introduction to the way I teach Nonwestern Literature with emphasis on Magical Realism. I’d been teaching this class at West Virginia University as a Visiting Assistant Professor for a couple of years now, and no matter how often I taught the course, it never became rote. My passion was still triggered. My curiosity was still piqued. I could infect my students with the same passion for critical inquiry of the material. Moreover, the elements of the genre, if the genre actually exists, are confusing and indefinite, which I thought suited the program.

Normally, I begin this course by asking the students about their preconceptions regarding Western and Nonwestern countries. Students predictably discover that this binary is based on a number of contradictory assumptions including geographical locations, religious traditions, technological advancements, and postcolonial histories. At the end of this conversation, we arrive only at a clearer understanding of the terminological confusion.

Then we move on toward the problem of distinguishing Western and Nonwestern Literatures. I ask my students what traditions Western Literature are steeped in, and they generally argue that, for the most part, it’s steeped in Realism, which they then argue is defined by its focus on attention to the individual, its chronological order, its concreteness of both character and setting, and its dramatic structure based on Freytag’s pyramid complete with its rising action, climax, and denouement. When we consider as a class, then, the subversions or reactions against the elements of Realism, we arrive at a genre defined by its attention to community, dispersive chronology, abstraction and spiritualization of both character and setting, and a dramatic structurelessness. We arrive, in other words, at Magical Realism.

In order to approach the genre of Magical Realism, I argue that we have to understand what Magic is, what Magical Thinking is, and for that I begin by turning first to Hume. In The Natural History of Religion, Hume investigates the causes of religious belief, or belief in “invisible intelligent power,” and the rise of monotheism from polytheism. For the purpose of this class, I provide only the first five or so pages of the text in which he argues that the origin of religious belief lies in the human desire to control destiny and that it is the meek who naturally have more of this desire. Prosperity and power, he argues, give way to social and sensual pleasures, whereas melancholy and powerlessness give way to an inclination to consider the invisible as an alternate source of power. I then provide an example to my students to illustrate his theory. If Jack has pot of gold, Jack has no need to consider how to go about getting one. If Jack doesn’t have a pot of gold, he would be more inclined to want one. He might get an Ivy League education, find a well-paying job on Wall Street, and then go to the corner store and buy his own pot of gold. But if Jack doesn’t have a natural means of acquiring a pot of gold, if he can’t afford an education or he has to spend his days tending to his sick sister, Jill, Jack would naturally be inclined to find supernatural means. I end the discussion by unpacking one of Hume’s many conclusions: “What age or period of life is the most addicted to superstition? The weakest and most timid. What sex? The same answer must be given. . . . the women.” I ask my students what he might have meant by that in the 1750s, and my students conclude that women were the least influential at the time. If we had a parallel today, I follow, we might argue that Nonwestern countries are those with the least influence.

As a final introduction to Magical Thinking, I turn my students to Freud’s essay “Animism, Magic, and the Omnipotence of Thought” in which Freud argues that belief in magical acts and sorcery results from a misperception of the psyche in which the fears and desires of the individual self are transferred to the outer world. This “misperception” is common among “primitives,” he argues, who “populate the world with a multitude of spiritual beings which are benevolent or malevolent to them, and attribute the causation of natural processes to these spirits and demons.” Psychologically, it stems from a response to dreams that defy the rules of spatial and temporal realism, dreams in which the image of a pot of gold, for example, are conjured without regard to real proximity. In “primitives and neurotics,” it manifests as “the omnipotence of thought,” a type of narcissistic wish fulfillment which ultimately corresponds to the play of children who “make believe” without regard to spatial and temporal realism. Paradoxically, Freud stresses that the one way this “omnipotence of thought” is maintained in “civilized cultures” is through art that must have originated through magical intentions. I say this is paradoxical simply because it is the arts themselves, along with sciences, that are benchmarks of western civilization. To add to this paradox, Freud himself made a science of analyzing the most invisible phenomenon in the world: the human mind.

So on the morning of the second day of my on-campus interview, I dressed in my new grey suit and refreshed my reading of both Hume and Freud as well as the two excerpts from the texts I wanted to introduce, Carlos Fuentes’ The Death of Artemio Cruz and Bessie Head’s A Question of Power. These are two novels I have taught before. I have never, however, taught them side-by-side. This is mainly because I move from the Americas to Africa to Asia sequentially, so that The Death of Artemio Cruz would likely followed by either One Hundred Years of Solitude or The House of the Spirits, and A Question of Power would likely followed by either My Life in the Bush of Ghosts or The Famished Road. But when I put these two texts side by side, I found a very lucky coincidence I hoped to utilize.

The Death of Artemio Cruz is a convoluted novel about, well, about the painful death of the protagonist, Artemio Cruz. It utilizes all three points of view, first, third, and second, that correspond to the three temporal tenses, present, past, and future, and could be said, for what it’s worth, to borrow elements from both Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych and Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. The kaleidoscopic narrative depicts the events of the protagonist’s life as a self-made corrupt politician. He is the product of a rape, the victim of rape (in my reading of the text), and a rapist himself, and his narrative is depicted in a way that rewrites the history of the Mexican Revolution as a history of rape.

A Question of Power is a less political more internal narrative that deals with the abstract concepts of good and evil and the way these abstractions play out their roles out in the psychology of an individual. It revolves around a character named Elizabeth who, like Head, exiled from South Africa to Botswana where she suffered severe mental breakdowns resulting from the torment of being a biracial orphan shunned and excluded by both racial populations in mid-20th century South Africa. During her breakdowns, she generates two psychological characters, Sello and Dan, who represent intense binaries of good and evil and who inhabit her sleeping nightmares and her waking hallucinations.

Biting at the stems of my glasses, I found the lucky coincidence that in the first three pages of both of these books there is presented the symbol of the phallus and concept of death. In the second sentence of The Death, Artemio, dying, is awoken by the “cold object against [his] penis,” the catheter. Meanwhile, on the third page of A Question of Power, Dan is conjured into existence with his pants down and his penis flailing, and little further on, he predicts that Elizabeth will commit suicide the next day.

That morning I thought that the grand stage of death, which resembles sleep, could be said to function as the stage where these parts of the psyche - the present, past, and future as well as good and evil - are animated. Furthermore, dreams could be said to function as the stage for the dramatization of these psychological parts.

Furthermore, I thought to myself, the phallus, defunct in The Death and an imaginary manifestation of power in A Question, could shed light, perhaps, on our investigation of what it means to be Nonwestern. The phallus, I conjectured, broken, disabled, useless in The Death, imaginary, nonexistent, a negative in A Question, could represent the powerlessness of an individual and a country. Sitting at my desk, I was excited by this discovery. Moreover, I was pleased it would take my presentation full circle back to the very problematic terminology, the stigma of “Nonwestern.”

I entered the classroom, nervous in my new grey suit, bite marks at the stems of my glasses hidden under my hair. It was one of those tiered rooms with three or four levels, the bottom of which was mine. The faculty members sat at the very top tier along next to a video camera mounted on a tripod. The lens of the camera looked like a rent in the fabric of the scenery, like a small black hole that led to some other parallel universe. Above the lens, a small red light was still dim. A few students sat at tables on the bottom tier with me, students with whom I would be able to play out the drama of my teaching experience. I rarely give straight lectures when I teach this course, and I try not to put forth my own ideology. Instead I ask pointed and provocative questions to lead class discussion toward discovery given the material at hand. So at the top of the hour of my presentation, when someone from the top said “Go” and the camera started rolling, I began in my practiced fashion by asking the students to voice their preconceptions about Western versus Nonwestern Countries and Literatures, and when they responded, I began to fill the whiteboard with the brainstorms of their input. But about five minutes into this, one of the faculty members raised his hand, the same faculty member with the ponytail who posited the convoluted question regarding concrete poetry, and when I called on him, he made a comment that unhinged me completely.

What he said was this: “When I think of Western Literature, I think of Cowboys and Indians.” It took me a minute to hear this. “When I think of Western Literature, I think of Cowboys and Indians.” If he were a student, I would have said, “Okay, Jack,” and moved on. Because the class clown is a student I appreciate. But when he threw this rhetorical curveball from his high position of power, it triggered a panic attack that presented as trauma.

It is widely known among psychologists that precisely what happens during a traumatic blow is difficult to establish. This is partly because of the sufferer’s resistance to exploring the traumatic event, partly because the events are so thoroughly consumed by the unconscious that they are forgotten, and partly because the faculties of language itself are ruptured by the blow. But to put it simply, I froze in the fragmenting comment. I broke. I blanked. I voided. And while I stood there frozen, my mind was struggling to avoid confronting the very real fact that I had suffered a blow.

I remember that I drew a circle around an island in my mind labeled “Western Literature = Cowboys and Indians.” When language fails, images remain. The red eye was rolling, black hole consuming, faculty members, from the bleachers, were glaring. I drew a circle in my mind and everything outside it was cast to a void. His statement became a island of power and power, and everything else, my scholarship, my creativity, my heritage, all the native peoples of the Americas who were raped and murdered and whose land was ravaged, every postcolonial theory, every meager attempt at meaning by a person of no privilege and no ability to self-narrate, everything outside his statement was sunk at sea.

I remember intellectually trying to address the issue of this Western Island and the Nonwestern Void in some sort of academic fashion that would preserve his perspective as just and correct because, in my mind, it seemed far easier to try to believe his comment merited academic inquiry than to receive his comment as an assault. But as I stood frozen and struggled to formulate academic thinking, I began feeling, and my feelings paralyzed me completely. I began feeling for these so-called Indians in these Western narratives, thinking that these so-called Indians in these Cowboy narratives had their script, albeit their Orientalized scripts, and that there hasn’t yet been, to my knowledge, a genre called Indians and Cowboys, because that script remains unwritten, because the Indian simply doesn’t exist outside the narrative of the Cowboy. Then I thought that at least these so-called Indians had a script. Regardless of its Orientalization, they had a their lines nonetheless. They played a role in the drama, were characters in the narrative arc, with its rising action, climax, and denouement. But I, standing paralyzed outside of this circle, without a script, without a role, without a cue, in the void, was silenced. And I suddenly understood like I never had before Spivak’s ultimate question, “Can the subaltern speak?” I could not speak, not for or about the indigenous people in these western narratives, not for myself. And while the red eye rolled, I felt as if I were watching myself from that red eye, witnessing my total disintegration.

What the eye probably caught on tape was a film of me frozen several times within the hour for spans of time lasting anywhere from 10 to 40 seconds. I tried to speak but ended up kaleidoscoping in word salads and thought disorders. I disheveled my stacks of copies. I lost my reading glasses. My voice went staccato. I became paralyzed by feeling and sensation. What the camera couldn’t catch was that I very much wanted to cry. I very much wanted to leave. I very much wanted to say, I’m sorry, Mr. Assistant Professor, but I cannot present under this assault. My classes are comfortable classes in which I honor every uttered articulation, often having to perform careful acrobatics around controversial opinions, because my classrooms are safe environments in which mutual respect is paramount. I wanted to say, Yours was not a controversial opinion or even a realistic problem. It was an assault. And if your version of the academy welcomes this sort of assault, I want no part in your drama. What the eye caught was a dissociation, a disassembling, a degradation. It caught a toppling, an evacuation, a void. It was a nightmare circus, and I was the lonely elephant a long way from home.

When the hour was over, I realized I must have presented some of the Freud in some sort of scattered fashion because the two questions I was asked by the faculty were regarding his so-called sexism and racism. I remember voicing in response to these questions a splatter of words, “First.” “Primary.” “Hysteria.” It was like I was drowning at sea and could only come to the surface for brief moments of breath and half words. Meanwhile, the red eye rolled.

What I wanted to say was that I am fully aware there are ongoing debates about the utility of Freud today but in the intellectual institution of the academy, shouldn’t everything be admitted critically? Freud’s later works I read as fabulous fictions, the clearest examples of unreliable narration. Try reading Dora and Lolita side by side. His early works in the study of hysteria, regardless of their soundness, brought to social awareness the problem of the sexual and physical abuse of women. He practically pioneered the school of women’s studies. He also pioneered a depiction of consciousness as a collection of fragmenting, competing parts the same way postmodernists understand the idea of the self.

As to his racism, I have no idea whether Freud was racist or not, but the evidence is not to be found in this text. Freud and Hume, in the excerpts I provided, use the term “primitive.” This was brought to my attention. I remember I voiced the dissociative words “first” and “primary,” but what I was trying to say was that when Freud and Hume were writing, the term “primitive” didn’t have the same degrading connotations it later acquired. It merely meant first, primary, progenitor, original. More importantly, part of what Freud accomplishes in this essay, again, is to bring to social awareness an understanding that the magical practices of these so-called primitives are valuable.

But I think that we may easily make the same mistake with the psychology of these races who have remained at the animistic stage that we made with the psychic life of the child, which we adults understood no better and whose richness and fineness of feeling we have therefore so greatly undervalued.

I would like to have added that “primitive” may be an archaic term for these “Nonwestern” people, but that perhaps “Nonwestern” will soon be archaic too. Language is malleable. It’s its very plasticity I enjoy.

These are the points I wanted to address. I wanted to find that singular quote in my disheveled stack of papers. I wanted to articulate that the utility of Freud, or any writer for that matter, is mathematically proportionate to the reader’s ability to analyze texts critically. But I was still stuck in the traumatic moment, unable to put my thoughts into sentences. I could only counter with a tangle of spangles. “First.” “Primary.” “Hysteria.” Then “Magic.” “Spelling.” “Language.” This was my voice from the void.

After the presentation, I went outside and stood frozen in the smoking gazebo very much wanting to cry. It was a beautiful day. The sky was luminous and infinite like there was purpose to everything and nothing. I lit a cigarette mechanically. I put it out. Then I called my partner, Vincent, who was working under a sink in somebody else’s house and told him I fucked up completely. I said a faculty member had made a degrading comment, and I could not recover for the remainder of the presentation. I told him I wanted to flee, that I could walk to the hotel from where I was standing, that I wanted to leave the nightmare behind me. But he said I would regret it forever. I knew he was right. So in my stupid suit, I mounted the stairs and met with the director of the program as scheduled for the continuation of this on-campus freak show.

To him, I said, this is moot. I fucked up. I’ve never had an experience like that in my life. I told him I wanted to open his window and jump out or find a hole on campus I could crawl into. He said that all the windows were locked shut, that there was no hole. Then he said he hadn’t seen the video yet and so didn’t know anything about it. I envisioned the entire faculty watching it over and over, pressing play on their computers, sharing it with their lovers and spouses in some sort of sympathetic agreement or some sort of sadistic pleasure. Or both. After a pseudo conversation in which he explained the position for which I was interviewing in greater detail, the program director led me to another room in which I was to have my “Exit Interview” with the hiring committee who had witnessed this catastrophe.

I had no recourse but to resort to wit, another grand facet whose critical study we can in part attribute to Freud. I entered the room saying, “Well, that was fun,” and I wanted to continue, “Let’s do it again sometime,” but immediately one of the faculty members, a feminist scholar and professor of women’s studies, complimented me on my grey suit. How bizarre, I thought. This show isn’t over. Then they asked me about my method of critiquing student work. “How does it work?” they asked, “How do I know?” I said it’s largely intuitive, that I understand what the writer is trying to accomplish. I feel it. I sense it. “It’s like listening to music, you see. You just know when there’s an off note, or when the whole thing just needs to move faster.” But they didn’t understand. I tried to make them comfortable with not knowing and told them that I had recently been to my friend’s art studio. My friend is an abstract painter who works sort of three-dimensionally with large canvases and lots of color. At the studio, we were looking at a painting she was working on, and she said, “I need to add a little green on the left.” I didn’t see it. I didn’t understand. But I admire her work, and so I trusted her intuition. “Do you critique on a sentence level or on the whole piece?” they replied. These binaries, I thought. How bizarre.

Next they asked fair questions about my collaborations in writing and film. I responded by illustrating two examples: one of a successful collaboration making short artistic films in Paris, and a less successful collaborative project of creative writing I did with a colleague. I followed this less successful example by an illustration of how, when I teach, I explain the pitfalls of that project and invite students to imagine how the pitfalls could have been avoided. When they arrive at a solution, I assign the collaboration with the improvement they discover. That way, my mistakes become opportunities for learning.

The final question of this “Exit Interview” was posited, not surprisingly, by the Cowboy Assistant Professor. What he asked was, “How do you justify/correlate/rectify/vindicate/annihilate/exterminate” (I don’t remember exactly) “the issues of Identity Politics and Formal Experimentation?” Again, I didn’t understand his question. Perhaps I should have understood it. Perhaps by that point in the interview, I had initiated a scrambler in my reception that prevented comprehension of his questions. Regardless, it had to be translated by the chair of the committee who said this: “You call yourself a Latina writer, but you don’t write about Latina issues. Why is that?” And then I understood. They were asking me why I don’t dream in Cuban, why I don’t I live on Mango Street, and when did I ever lose my accent?

Probably the most fixed fact about me is that I’m Latina. My mother is a native of Puerto Rico, commonly regarded by Americans as that floating no-man’s land in the Caribbean whose second-class citizens can’t vote for president and don’t pay taxes. My father is a native of Colombia, commonly regarded as that cocaine and coffee country south of the border somewhere between Brazil and Belize. Because my father was a successful businessman in telecommunication technologies, he was transferred from country to country by the American and French companies who employed him. As a result, I was raised in Venezuela, Panama, and Mexico as well as Queens, Long Island, and Westchester County. I spent a lot of time in the humid heat of my grandmother’s porch in Puerto Rico, where tropical geckos crawled the walls, where the songs of the coquí lulled to me sleep. I have had the luxury of petting the goats in my Colombian uncle’s finca, my Colombian uncle whose wife now lives like a ghost in his house, choked by her Catholic government. I’ve had the privilege of running freely in the colonial streets of the Villa Deleyva, of riding in the backseat of a 60s jeep on the edge of the highest imaginable cliff, of swimming in the warmest Caribbean waters with bioluminescent sea-creatures. I spent my high school years drinking Panama beer on the black sand beaches off the Carretera Interamericana with my most beautiful assortment of multiethnic, multicultural, multidimensional friends lined up like sardines under the same single sun. If, as a writer, I accepted this “burden of representation,” which part of me would I be expected to represent? The lazy Puerto Rican? The Colombian drug mogul? The infamous border crosser? Who put a worm in your tequila? I mean, come on. The word “primitive” might be archaic, but these questions were barbaric.

“My work is Latina because I am Latina. I deal with issues that are Latina because I deal with issues that are human.”

Just then, I suddenly understood a line in Okri’s The Famished Road that has left me puzzled for years. It’s delivered by a white man who was once black. What the man said was this: “The only way to get out of Africa is to get Africa out of you.”

That night at the faculty dinner, I drank two hearty glasses of Chilean pinot and ate an Asian salad and an Italian risotto at a restaurant boasting fusion cuisine. I made the faculty laugh and continued to play the fool since it was the only permissible role. Luckily, I sat next to the professor of visual arts at the university, to whom I immediately took a liking. I asked him about his current project, and he told me he was working on a collection of photographs of people with chairs on their heads. I thought that was serendipitous because the creative piece I’m now working on is called THE CHAIR. It explores the authority of persons in “chaired” positions. I told him about my desire to write a book about African Literature as literature, and he immediately understood what I meant. Then he briefly explained a book that he wrote, something about Nonsense or Uncertainty, about freeing the imagination from the parameters of the real, and I thought to myself that if I hadn’t been so thwarted by that Cowboy, I really could fit in with these clowns. But I knew, even as I played the fool, it would be the last time I would see these people again.

Afterwards, I was driven back to my hotel where I sat outside smoking under the blinking stars and listening to an Indian businessman talk about his meeting with a local computer magnate. I thought of outsourcing, the devaluation of foreign labor, and the western imperative for profit. I imagined those distant Indian voices endlessly repeating their robotic scripts, those well-trained voices with perfect Southern accents. In my room, I hung up my grey suit in the closet, dressed in my pajamas, and called Vincent across the country who, by that hour, was sleeping. I told him I was going to lie in bed and cry myself to sleep. And I wanted to. But instead I lay stunned and numb in the hotel bed. I watched some forgettable television and eventually turned out the lights.

At midnight, I got up to use the restroom. I rose from the bed, turned right, around the closet wall I remembered was there, turned right again, crossed the hallway, entered the dark bathroom, and sat on the toilet. I did this without turning on the lights because I didn’t want to trigger wakefulness. Afterwards, in the darkness, I exited the bathroom, turned left, crossed the hallway, and kept walking straight, completely forgetting about the closet wall. I walked straight into it and hit my face with such force that my nose exploded in a bloody catastrophe. Blood, fresh blood, bright scarlet blood, gushed over my hand, which now covered my face, and pooled onto the tan carpet of the hotel floor, onto the white bathroom tile, smeared the bathroom light-switch, the bathroom faucet, the box of tissues. I bled everywhere. Choking my nose and swallowing my blood, I carried my head high across the threshold to the bed, face covered in fistfuls of tissue. I carried myself back to my lonely bed a long way from home. It was then I started to cry.

A Latina writer, Sandy Florian is the author of five books and one chapbook. Her most recent book, Boxing the Compass, launched the Akrilica series, a collaboration between Noemi Press and Letras Latinas. Recently, she was Visiting Assistant Professor at WVU where she taught Fiction Writing and courses in Contemporary African, World, and 20th Century American Literatures. Currently, she teaches Yoga in Washington DC.