After Idiopathic



There is a framed photograph on my desk. In it, the silhouette of my body, legs bent, arms outstretched, as if about to fall off a cliff. Or jump.

And that’s where I get confused.

My legs are bent as if preparing to jump. But who willingly jumps off a cliff with arms out like that? My upper half is Eva Peron begging an entire country not to cry for her. My lower half consists of two legs frozen in time — conscientiously bent in countdown-to-blastoff position. In fact, on foot is already in the air.

It’s a weird photograph. A joke. I’m pretending to fall/jump off a cliff. My mom took it.


My tin of sketching pencils is on my desk. Inside, some of the pencils are ground to comical lengths. I need new ones but, instead, I’ve opted to personify them. The little 2H pencil — the one with which I start a portrait because of how hard the graphite is, in turn, allowing it to render lighter marks — that’s the baby of the family. So shy, so vulnerable. Completely harmless.

The HB pencil is the middle child — the one folks would expect to be overlooked but, for me, is probably the most important; I need the HB to sketch nostrils. Its marks are easy to erase but likewise capable of being somewhat-dark. HB likes to test the waters like a preteen boy wearing eyeliner at breakfast.

2B is the oldest child with a slightly lighter concentration of sand and graphite in its tip, allowing it to render darker, more daring strokes. Typical alpha kid.

The mom and dad are 4B and 6B; they’re consulted only when I’m absolutely certain that the mark I’m about make is the right mark to make. Like with my own parents, I hesitate resorting to them for help.

There’s also 8B, but he lives in a nursing home, ignored.


There are two identical photo-booth strips of me and Jay at a friend’s wedding. In the top two pictures of these strips, Jay is wearing a pimp hat and boa, making goofy faces. In the bottom two, Jay’s pimp hat is gone and he’s smiling a good-guy smile, as if asking, “What kind of car are you folks looking for today?”

In all of these photos, my head is cocked slightly to the right and my mouth is in various stages of being open.


There’s a two-tone yellow-and-wine-red Glade candle. On its bottom is a warning: Do not light candle near anything that can catch on fire.

I’ve never lit the candle.


On my desk there is a stack of journals and one novel-length memoir (The Boys of my Youth — of course). I actually use these for both inspiration and consultation sources. New South‘s Fall 2012 issue has a prose piece (first-place winner in the genre, actually) entitled “Idiopathic” by Anne Dyer Stuart. It’s an essay modeled after an excerpt from Amy Fusselman’s The Pharmacist’s Mate. In fact, at its very beginning is this disclaimer:

After Amy Fusselman’s The Pharmacist’s Mate. 

When I first read that line, a great wave of relief passed through me. Because I “borrow” a lot. Though I try to be as subtle as possible about it, I know that someone out there will know what I’ve done, from whom I’m “borrowing” a certain style or device. But I never “borrow” strings of consecutive words. Nor do I “borrow” plots.

Therefore, I feel justified in my “borrowing.” It’s like paying homage. There is a particular etiquette and set of rules to “borrowing” by which I strictly abide.

And while we’re on the topic of my writing code of ethics: I’m proud to say that I don’t use attention-grabbing tactics to attract readers my way either.







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