On Mentoring a Unicorn Princess

This past Friday was the final CHAPTERS reading my high school student and I will attend together as part of the Girls Write Now program.  Oh, they'll still let Karilis in whenever she arrives at the door for one of our events, she's not blacklisted or anything, but she'll be a college student at LaGuardia, not a high school student enrolled in the program, and that seems crazy to me, like that time I sneezed and suddenly discovered that Bill Clinton was no longer in office.

Mentorship is extremely important to me.  I figure if I know how to do something, and I keep that to myself, it's like hoarding.  I taught at the Writing Center at Notre Dame de Namur (my alma mater) for five years.  I've done dozens upon dozens of query letter and manuscript critiques, for friends and strangers.  None of those experiences really compared to having my own high school student to corrupt (bring on the hemlock, she's a feminist!), but all of them were valuable, and I can no longer imagine spending my entire life in front of my laptop with imaginary friends without helping someone else get their own imaginary friends on paper.  It's something I love doing, because it hones, enhances, and informs my own prose every time a brave soul trusts me enough to solicit an opinion.  I'm not a better person for mentorship; I do it partly because I'm extremely social and writing is grotesquely solitary.  But I'm a better writer for it.

I met Karilis when she was a sophomore.  She explained she was a unicorn. I explained that the story she'd just shown me was magic realism, then explained what magic realism was.  We've been friends ever since.

Girls Write Now is a highly intensive program.  Three years with Karilis means 24 half-day genre workshops.  An hour meeting during every week of each school year, spent in such fine establishments as coffee shops, Word Up bookstore, and Jimbo's Hamburger Palace.  About a kajillion tweets.  Plentiful words on the subject of Katniss Everdeen.  Many, many shared Google docs.  Field trips to places like The Cloisters and the Spanish Historical Society up in the Heights.

We talked about everything--words, poems, commas, boys, shoes, Sons of Anarchy, grandmothers, how to make a really good pasta salad--and we'll continue to do so.  I'm taking a year's hiatus from Girls Write Now for Fall 2015 to Spring 2016 in order to implement the national Mystery Writers of America mentorship program as its coordinator, and to get over the fact that Karilis and I won't be chatting about her (literally) underground windowless high school and her dog Terry anymore, or at least not weekly, because she's a grown and gorgeous Unicorn Queen now and not a Unicorn Princess any longer.  But I loved learning her and her writing, and to celebrate her amazing accomplishments, here are the two poems we wrote for the GIRLS WRITE NOW 2015 ANTHOLOGY: VOICE TO VOICE.  Congratulations, Karilis--I won't allow myself to miss you, because I'll always be there.

Time's Memories by Karilis Cruz

I can't remember growing up,

I can't remember when adults cursed around me and stopped apologizing for it.

Or when I was allowed to go and get my own food.

I can't remember when I stopped sliding into my mom's bed after having a bad nightmare.

I can't remember when my mom stopped chopping my food into little bites or when my mom stopped checking on me in the bathroom.

I don't remember when things changed.

When I was younger, I'd put my arms in my shirt and tell people I don't have any arms.

I would restart the video games when I was sure I was going to lose.

I would sleep with all my stuffed animals, so none would get offended.

I had that one pen that had six colors and tried to push them all at once.

I would pour soda in the bottle caps and pretend I was taking shots.

I would wait behind the door to scare someone, but eventually leave because they were taking too long or I had to go and pee.

I would fake going to sleep, so that my mom could carry me to bed.

I used to think that the moon followed the car.

I couldn't wait to grow up.

Now I'm not so sure.


Suddenly you are 21, screaming to all of the songs you used to listen to when you were in middle school when you were sad.  And everything is different but everything is good.

Yet you are still 18.

You are trying to catch your breath and this life is coming at you faster than you've expected.

You have kissed boys who did not show you the love that you needed.

Your parents have given up on you multiple times.

You have loved boys who never acknowledged your existence.

You have broken bones, and they have healed.

You have experienced things you wouldn't have wished upon your worst enemy.

You have lost friends, and made new ones.

You have had bad hair days and good hair days.

You have failed tests.

You have scars and you have memories.

You have missed people who will never come back.

You've been to the highest highs and to the lowest lows.

You've had your trials and tribulations.

You are young, and you have time to live.

Slow down and things will be OK.

You are 18 and life is going to happen anyway.


eyes like polaroids by Lyndsay Faye

when I was small, I use to try to

          freeze time

I would look at

          sunlight glistening on electric green grass strung with dew-like jewels

          lace cobwebs with their spiders nestled

          the particular light through the bathroom window

          a cottony bed of baby mice

          meadow grasses taller than I was

          the wild rose garden down the street

          a weeping willow with leaves like long hair

          california poppies

and I would think like a polaroid camera


          have saved you, tiny instant


          I have recorded you, beautiful picture


          you are mine now, 3:48 in the afternoon following a rainstorm

it never worked

not a single time

I always forgot

the next day or the next week

typical, wasn't I?

because my mind wasn't a camera and my eyes weren't lenses

          but if I concentrate, I can still remember that there was a 

          blackberry bush lit by blue morning light

          field of violet sweet peas

          plum tree

even if I can't still see them

I wish I could still see them