Growing up in Oklahoma, I was one of the palest faces in any crowd. In high school my skin tone became an appropriate topic of conversation for strangers. From kids at the lake saying “Damn girl get a tan” to teachers commenting about not seating me to close to windows lest I singe (or disintegrate b/c anyone as fair-skinned as I am must be a vampire). Even as an adult, a client once complained to one of my superiors by calling me “an evil china-doll.” The only thing to do those cases is laugh.
Because, wow, people can be insensitive.
Skin is one the largest signifiers that we are Different. That maybe we don’t “belong” wherever we are. So I am really intrigued by the cover story from the current issue of Gazillion Voices. They are celebrating their first anniversary of their publication by asking exploring the question “Do adoptees feel comfortable in their skin?” There is also an accompanying exhibit in Minnesota that I would for sure be checking out if I was there.
I am not a transracial adoptee. I don’t know entirely what it is like to be raised in a country or a family where few if any people share your physical traits. But I do have some sense of what it is like to feel that something as visible and unchangeable as your own skin can become something that sets you apart.
For the past nineteen years, my sister Becca has told this story every time she introduces me to her friends. I guess to show them what our relationship is like. The take away as far as I can tell is that I am a person who backs up my words with action (so watch out), and—I hate to say it, but it’s true—sometimes Becca doesn’t know when to shut her mouth.
It was a summer afternoon. Becca was twelve and I was thirteen. Old enough to know better but not yet capable of controlling the surges of hormones and terror that allow an adolescent girl to do things she never imagined she would be capable of.
In the above ground pool in the backyard, Becca and I had run in circles long enough to create a whirlpool and were now slung around flotation devices, letting the current tug us around the sides, under the ladder. The sun was setting and all we had to look forward to once we got out of the water were the indignities of piano practice and washing dishes.
Then out of nowhere Becca starts hollering about this boy I liked—Mary Loves Paul Agostini!—and my stomach jumped into my throat. She was just guessing at the name of my crush, but once she saw the look on my face, she knew she’d got me.
So she kept going.
Mary Loves Paul—
Her voice echoed down the street. Anyone could hear her. People on their front lawns. Neighbors grilling dinner. Drivers passing by with their windows open.
Stop it— I said.
I disentangled from my Fun Noodle and tried to cross the pool to dunk Becca’s head under the water, but the current tugged me off course and all I could do was splash her. She was two inches taller than I was, anyway. No previous dunking attempts—even without a whirlpool—had ever been successful.
MARY LOVES PAUL.
Shut UP, I said.
MARY WANTS TO SEE HIS PENIS–
I DO NOT
Her mouth was the problem. If only there was a way to stitch her lips together…and suddenly I heard my voice say:
If you don’t SHUT UP, I’m gonna SPIT….IN. YOUR. MOUTH.
from my journal, October 1998
I kept journals from middle school until after I finished college. I say ‘Kept’ because more than simply writing in them, I retained them through moves to central New York, to Chicago, to Los Angeles. I left boxes of yearbooks in my parents’ attic, but these books went everywhere with me. Destroying them would be like cutting off my hand, but they were too precious to leave them where someone else might find them.
Among the usual teenage angst-ridden entries there were moments of purposeful remembrance; a faithful reproduction of things I knew I didn’t want to forget. Things I knew I would need for the day that I eventually told my story. Because even at the age of sixteen, it was clear that it was not a question of if, but merely when. Continue reading
I got the email from my editor’s assistant two weeks ago.
Can you send us a portrait (that will be used for every book with your name on it ever?) two weeks from today?
Ok, I am paraphrasing, but that is what it felt like the email said. I knew this day was coming, eventually, but I didn’t think it would come so soon.
I’ve never taken an Official Portrait before. I’d seen them on book jackets, sure. The desks, cigarettes, tweedy jackets. Or the sweater sets, or the ironical photos of writers playing frisbee. I eagerly began googling “Great Author photos” and “How to take a good Author portrait.” And you know what? I couldn’t find many good tips on this process at all.
Probably because it feels nauseatingly ego-centric to write a piece claiming to know how to take a good photo. But luckily I live in Los Angeles, the great land of self-promotion, so I was able to glean advice from the various actors/speakers/reality stars/ real estate agents who sit for headshots every day.
So, I thought I might take a moment to share what I learned in my photographic adventure.
Tips after the jump….
I like my name. Mary King. Its simple without being too plain. The King has a monarchical flourish that is not overly fussy. You expect Mary King to be sharp, classic, maybe a little bookish, no?
Well, as luck would have it, others have liked the name before me. And others have published under the name, too. Like Mary King, the famous British equestrian who has not only published an autobiography, but also branded her name across a line of ladies’ apparel. See above.
I have so many feelings about this garment. First: What a provocative display of ego. The embroidered signature is just There. Right up front. BAM. Second: it’s a lot of look, though, amirite? Third: WHY DON’T I ALREADY OWN THIS?
Eerily, her signature is pretty close to way I sign my name, too.
But I understand how the internet works. In the interests of avoiding confusion, I’m probably going to have to change the name I publish under. Mary Anna King isn’t so bad. I mean, I might need two lines of embroidery on *my* branded line of ladies’ apparel, but that is a risk I am willing to take.
A little over a month ago I had my first piece of short fiction published by a literary magazine! I could not be more excited or humbled for my weird little story to be included in the inaugural issue of Quaint Magazine.
Read the piece here:
A little bit about Quaint, from their website:
“Quaint Magazine began as an exercise in rebellion. After reading this LitBridge article by Monica Lita Storss, about the gender divide in publishing/hiring (specifically in poetry), we were appalled. How could someone – another woman – dare to suggest that women are underrepresented in publishing because aren’t “paddling out into the lineup and claiming [our places]“?
It is a well-documented fact that women (and even more so women of color, and trans or genderqueer women) are severely underrepresented in the world of literature. One need only look to the VIDA statistics from 2012 to see that. And yet, apparently, the onus is on us to “tribe” together and do something about it.
I guess the article made us angry enough that that’s exactly what we did.
Quaint Magazine accepts submissions from female-identified people only. That means we’ll take work from girls, ladies, fillies, gals, lasses, womyn, women, dames, damsels, broads, and any other personal identifier you wish to throw at us. If you’re trans, great! If you’re cis, that’s just fine, too! This is our way of balancing the scales. Sometimes you have to be exclusionary to foster a more inclusive literary environment, overall.”
It’s been years since I have been in a bar bathroom this foul. You need to be much more intoxicated than I currently am not to mind the splintery plywood stalls, the once white ceramic tile yellowing like teeth, the toilet paper and paper towels stuck to the floors and countertops like confetti to sweating skin.
I mince my way through the puddles on the tile to find a stall that has a functioning lock before I sit. I have never been the kind of person who hovers above public toilet seats. I wonder if I should be.
It’s a sort of hubris, in the face of so many headlines on websites that I never click on; “The Twenty Places You can Catch Bird Flu”, “How Microbes Will Kill Us All” “The 12 Germiest Places in Your Life (Number 4 will shock you).” I don’t read them, but I am sure that public restroom toilet seats make frequent appearances on such lists. Even with that certainty, I apply my thighs to the ceramic seat in this horrible bathroom, acknowledging that my lack of care in an instance like this could lead to my downfall. Continue reading
There is a video.
A video that a distant biological relative who I will never know posted on YouTube. It’s from before my Uncle Bud accidentally shot himself in the head; a time capsule from a moment when my family was a vivid, magnetic thing.
The video is from 1982 or 1983. Thirty-two minutes into the footage the camera finds my mother’s face.
My mother, with her brown hair feathered around her forehead, beams in an eggplant sweater. Her bangs fall into her eyes, graze her plump cheeks. Underneath her purple sweater she is pregnant with me or Rebecca, with one of us, depending on if this is 1982 or 1983. Maybe no one else in the room knows, maybe that is what her smile is about when the camera lens finds her.
Or maybe she isn’t pregnant at all. If this is September of 1982—it could be September of 1982—then I am two months old and my mom is not yet pregnant with Rebecca.
I could be reading more into it because I want this thing to be laced with as much meaning as possible, I want to make it a secret message that the universe preserved specifically for me.