WORKING WITH AN ILLUSTRATOR
Lillian Young-Fritchie is, by far, the funniest and the most talented artist I have ever met.
She’s a force of a woman, with enormous cutting eyes and hair that is ten times redder than you’re imagining, and she is the illustrator of my debut poetry book, The Last Four Years. I get questions all the time about her. Who is she? How did you find her? What made you want illustrations? And the story is actually kind of funny.
When I first started The Last Four Years, I had no intention of publishing it. All I planned to do was go through all of my journals from the previous four years, and type up the poems so I had them in one place. It was for myself. Period. But as I went along, my brain started to pedal. A seed started to grow. And I started to wonder.
Lily and I had been friends since sophomore year. The year I buckled down on my project, we were both seniors. We had three classes together, back to back, and we sat together through all of them. This meant our classes were largely spent giggling madly into our fists, playing hangman in our journals, and bonding over our shared social anxiety. But one day, during AP European History, I looked over at her and I had a thought.
“Lily?” I said.
She was drawing on her hand, scrawling flower petals that seemed to breathe off her skin.
“I’m making a book,” I said, and saying it out loud was terrifying. Exciting. Amazing. I said it again. “I’m making a book. Like, putting a bunch of my poems together. Would you, like – be interested in maybe doing the art for it?”
Yeah. Just like that. In the middle of class, I asked her if she would illustrate an entire poetry book for me. The only thing crazier than the proposal is that she said yes.
It’s pretty obvious that my experience working with an illustrator is likely very different from others in my field. A lot of that has to do with how young I was when I embarked on this project. But another key aspect to the experience was the fact that Lily and I were, and are, very good friends. My experience working with an illustrator consisted of long work sessions at a coffee shop, whispered brainstorm sessions during class, and text messages full of exclamation marks. My experience in creating The Last Four Years is inseparable from the time I spent with Lily. Her drawings tugged my poetry onto a new level, made it more accessible, gave it a sense of completion. Working with her was a highlight of the whole process.
Lillian Young-Fritchie is the type of person who not only makes art, but makes you feel as though you’re witnessing art just by being around her. She gives you that feeling, that sense of opening, remembering, becoming, that same rustic lovely ache of gazing into a Monet painting. I hope she stays in my life for a long, long time.
yours in haste,
THOUGHTS FROM THE WINDOW SEAT
The lilting hum of an engine is making the floor of this airplane tremble. I got lucky and snagged a window seat – 24F, crammed towards the back, and Boston is a shimmering kaleidoscope 30 thousand feet below. It’s a sea of lights, softly blinking hollowed auburn light, cut apart by ponds of black which mark the stretches of water and the writhing tail of the Charles river. I’m sitting here, a gentle creature with her earbuds in, and I am really regretting drinking coffee before getting on the plane because now I definitely have to pee, and I definitely have two hours left on the plane, and I am definitely not into the idea of waking up the two people between me and the bathroom.
When I was a kid, I loved airports. They were the epitome of adventure – the whole process, taking your shoes off at security, following the signs to your gate, clenching the arm rest when the airplane took off, your breath hitching and stomach dropping when you dove into the air. Truth be told, I was baffled about how airports actually worked until this year. Because, I mean, this year I had to actually figure it out. I couldn’t cling to my mom’s arm, or follow my dad with my earbuds in. I had to be able to get from Boone to Boston, and I had to be able to do it by myself. That meant figuring out what my terminal was, where it was, monitoring the gate changes, dealing with delays, all that good stuff. Now, though, I’ve made it onto the plane. It looks like I’m getting the hang of things.
Update on the bladder situation: Oh dear God, turbulence is ungodly when you have to pee.
I studied abroad when I was a freshmen in high school, all the way across the planet in Christchurch, New Zealand. Whenever I’m on an airplane, I can’t help but think about that time in my life. That was during my pixie-cut and braces stage, when I listened exclusively to emo pop-punk music and wrote the worst poetry of my career. Ha! Good times. The voyage to New Zealand set my record for time spent on planes/in airports: an entire forty-eight hours. Yeah. Two days of either being on a plane or sitting in an airport. It was metal.
Update on the bladder situation: One of the flight attendants rolled their cart to our row and asked if I wanted a drink. Some apple juice? Coke? Water? I looked at her with absolute death in my eyes. I said “No thanks” with my mouth but screamed “HELP ME” with my eyes. She kept rolling her cart.
The provided entertainment is a documentary about something. That’s about all I can tell. The screens hang over every other seat, blasting light through the crowded airplane. I think it’s about a married couple? Or a family, or something? There are two people being interviewed, their names fuzzy at the bottom of the screen. Both are wearing cowboy hats. Neither of them look happy.
Update on the bladder situation: The scenario is becoming dire. I have forgotten what it was like to live without an organ attempting to murder you. My fellow row members are sleeping peacefully. They have no idea I am about to die.
In the spirit of telling you things you probably do not want to hear, behold the list of songs I have been blasting since the start of this plane ride: Northern Downpour by Panic! at the Disco, Cut My Lip by Twenty One Pilots, and Sex by the 1975. Sorry, did I imply my emo phase began and ended freshmen year? Whoops. Because nope, I’m 100% obsessed with all of those bands.
Update on the bladder situation: I am beginning to question my own sanity. The time has come to consider breaking the window and hurling myself out of it in order to attain a bathroom without waking up the passengers next to me. These are trying times.
I love the way the city looks from up high. If I focus on it, I focus less on the iced coffee which filled my bladder and ruined my life. Okay! Okay, I know, I’ll chill with the pee talk. I swear I’m mostly joking. Anyway, things are beautiful up here. I’m so excited to see Boone again, for the first time since I moved to Boston. I’ll finally get to see my family, and snuggle my cat, and re-introduce myself to the mountains. The mountains! God, I’ve missed the mountains. I can see it now. When I get home, I’ll drive out to the parkway. I’ll stand at the edge of an overlook, arms open to the blue ridge, and I’ll be like, “Hi! Remember me?” and the trees will sway and creak, bare boned in the autumn, and the mountains won’t respond, angry with me for leaving, and so I’ll answer for them, I’ll shout: “Me neither!”
yours in haste,
Five feet, eleven inches. Five foot ten if you ask me and I don’t know you. Six foot if you’re annoying me – or if I’m trying out for volleyball, or I’m trying to land a modeling job. Which, I mean, basically never happens.
So listen. I am a tall girl. Like, really tall. Like, five feet eleven inches of condensed social anxiety tall. And for most of my life growing up, I felt like this was something to be embarrassed about. It’s weird, because people don’t pitch it like it’s a bad thing. Just something that should immediately be commented upon.
“How tall are you?”
“Wow, you’re really tall.”
“Do you play volleyball?”
“How tall are you?”
“Oh, really? No volleyball? So basketball then?”
“How tall are you?”
“No basketball! So then – oh my god. Do you do modeling?”
“You make me feel so short!”
“How tall are you?”
And, I mean, whatever. A lot of the time people are just trying to make conversation, and my abnormal height is an easy ice breaker. But never in my life have I seen someone start a conversation with a petite girl by saying, “Wow. You’re like, really short.” So what’s the deal with this tall girl obsession?
I think it comes down to expectation. Women tend to be naturally shorter, and that’s cool, no biggie. But it’s more than that. Women are expected to be smaller than men, point blank. The hegemonic discourse, ie the societal narrative, tells us that women should be less intelligent, less capable, less tall than men. Otherwise, we pose a threat.
Well, yay for me, because apparently even my genetics are determined to disrupt that power structure. It’s honestly miraculous how much my height affects the way people, particularly men, view me. During my first week of college, a random guy on my hall made the offhand comment to my roommate that he would never date me because I was “too tall” and it made him insecure. This exchange is hilarious for several reasons, the primary being that he assumed I would be interested in dating him in the first place. I have also found that in meeting different guys, one of their first questions is always about how tall I am. It doesn’t even matter if they are physically taller than me – they still want to know the number, they still want to take comfort in that number, see that it is lower than theirs, believe in the power that it grants them.
Literally one day after I finished the first draft of this blog post, this happened.
I was taking a cheap bus home from New York, and we had a rest stop at Burger King. The guy behind the counter was wearing a faded cap and watched me carefully as I gave him my order. He told me the total, and when I reached out to hand him the money, he didn’t take it. He just kept looking at me.
“How tall are you?” he said.
I felt like I’d been caught doing something wrong. Which is ridiculous -- this guy made me feel like I should be embarrassed just because I was standing there and being tall. I gave him my standard I-Don’t-Know-You answer.
“Like five ten,” I said.
He snorted. Actually snorted, and took the money I was holding out to him.
“Yeah, okay,” he said. “I’m like five ten. Nice try.”
For the record, this douche was five foot eight, TOPS. But I was so put on the spot, so irrationally embarrassed, that I just looked at him, just looked at that smug ugly smile, and said nothing.
Maybe I should have pointed out that he was working in a crusty Burger King pretending to be tall, and I was a towering force of a woman taking a bus back to Boston. Nice try to you, sir. But I didn’t.
When I was in middle school, I hated my height with a venomous passion. I always felt like I was too small for my body, like there was too much skin for not enough me. But now I feel differently about it. Now I understand that my body knows me better than I do. My body knew from the beginning that I should reach for higher places. My body knew before I did that I am strong, that I am capable, that I am powerful.
I love being a tall girl. I am learning to embrace my own power, and I know very well that male expectations should have nothing to do with that. I am more than my height, but my height is a part of me – and it is a part of me I am proud of.
yours in haste,
Approximately three months ago, I moved from a dusty blue mountain town to one of the biggest cities in the country. Boston has been my dream for years – a roiling red wonderland I grew in my mind, a secret paradise I visited when I was bored in class or nauseous in southern church pews. I packed my life in a backpack and hopped a plane. Now I study creative writing at an arts school downtown.
My room is a closet, but my window fills up a whole wall. I have a glorious view of a rusty fire escape and an equally enormous window in the building across from us. My roommate and I spy on the family that lives across from us, and joke about posting notes on our window for them.
There is a lot to love about Boston – the clean, sweeping streets, the cobbled buildings, the cheesy duck-boats and gorgeous green space – but perhaps the best thing about it is the people. I have met some of my favorite people in the world here, and it’s only been three months. My roommate is a wild vision of laughter and she gives the tightest hugs. A kid down the hall makes me laugh until my stomach hurts. My teachers are scholars and novelists and experts in their fields, none of them without a sense of humor.
I seem to have traded Boston’s name for my own. I call this red city my home, but I haven’t been able to locate myself yet amidst this new context. The Kelsey I knew was an introvert in a quiet town. She spent hours alone in her room, went on walks in the early morning, ached for taller buildings. I was grounded in stillness. But from the moment I arrived here, I have not stopped moving. Right out of the gate I snagged a job as a theatre usher, landed a spot with the Emerson Review, got involved with a non-profit called Writers Without Margins – I spend my weekends at museums and taking train rides and doing homework – I am loud and brave and ruthlessly determined, and all of this is amazing, but I have not had a moment to sit down and introduce this new me to myself.
So much has changed in these last months, even beyond moving to a new part of the country. I broke up with my long-term boyfriend, and though we are still close friends there is no denying it sparked a shift in my own self-perception. I am without commitments and without curfew. Who am I without those boundaries?
Perhaps I am not even a different person. Maybe it’s just that so much of my context has changed that I don’t look the same. I think I was always loud and brave and ruthlessly determined, but now I have the surroundings that allow me to prove it. Perhaps there is no inherent “me.” Or, if there is an inherent “me,” maybe she is biting her tongue, or biding her time. Or maybe I just need to slow down long enough for her to gather her breath and speak.
My name is Kelsey Day Marlett. When I write, I’m Kelsey Day. When I’m called on in class, I’m Kelsey. When my roommate wants my attention, I’m Kelso. When my ex texts me, I’m Kels. When I’m with me, I am a blurred nameless someone, searching for a tomorrow to chase after. I am not a revolutionary. I am not magic. I am a young woman who is desperate to believe she can matter. I cry at music that plays in cafes. I am violently restless. I crave love but hide from attention. I am back and forth and in between, and always searching for a new word. I want to win at this, whatever this is. I dream of miles folded over and a cat back home who still sleeps in my bed.
I am not undone, but becoming. Boston is barreling me down new roads and twisting me through mirror fun houses. I am faced with a thousand could-be me’s, and somehow I want to be all of them.
yours in haste,
kelsey day is a young award winning poet who grew up in the blue mountains of north carolina. she has received recognition for a collection of short stories, as well as two novels she published at the ages of 11 and 13. today she is studying creative writing in boston, massachusetts.