Funny cow on a green summer meadow

by Jennifer Pruiett-Selby

First, I must start off by apologizing for the lengthy hiatus between installments here at Easy Street. I recently suffered an unexpected loss during which the absolute unthinkable happened. My laptop crashed so violently that an unblinking black screen was my only response as I pushed the power button—that illuminated circle intersected by a line at the northernmost point, quite like a diamond in a ring, the unspoken promise that my laptop would come to life each time I pressed that button. The six-year-old Dell—its customized lid a deep purple—purchased during what I refer to as the Great Crash of 2010 when, in the final stages of drafting my thesis, my pink Dell suffered cardiac arrest and could not be resuscitated. Luckily, a friend was able to extract all files in a manner both mysterious and miraculous to this technological dunce. Why then, you might ask, do I consider this more recent travesty unexpected? Because, you see, the old saying “lightning never strikes twice” combined with the fact that I’m lazy and do not regularly back up my files leads me to be stupidly optimistic in situations like this.

As I’ve lost contact with my computer-savvy friend, I resorted to finding a new repair-person. Being Iowan, I was reluctant to turn over the machine, where all of my writing—my life—was stored, along with the document inconspicuously titled “Passwords.” (I don’t generally fear the possibility of identity theft. Should anyone want to assume responsibility for my immense financial debt, I would gladly shake their hand and thank them for financing my post-baccalaureate education.)

I also wasn’t afraid this new repairman would steal the myriad of notes for my new project—a YA novel threaded with conspiracy theories. (I did, however, worry he might hand it over to the FBI as evidence of my plotting against the government.) Should he decide to run with it and write his own book, I would say, Good luck to you, sir. Sifting through that pile would be like mining for precious metals in a sewage plant. Sure, you may come up with some gold, but you’ll have an awful lot of shit on your hands.

During the excruciating waiting period, I was forced to use the computer I bought for my kids to do “homework” on—because they’ve busted up my laptop before. (I cannot recall at this time how many power cords I’ve gone through.) Without my own desktop file of writing projects, I felt utterly lost trying to write on the new large-screened LG model. The keyboard was sticky and the slide-out desk shelf was busted—the metal track was actually bent. (I mean, who does that? I’m certain it would require a blacksmith with an anvil to fix it.) This has led me to believe I need to monitor their computer time, and not because of what they might be watching. Due to their incredible ability to destroy electronics and furniture, it’s probably cheaper to install security cameras.

To make up for the fact that mommy had to use their expensive toy (which the oldest three use almost exclusively to play Animal Jam), I decided to purchase a companion for them. Our handful of cats having grown beyond their irresistible kitten phase, the children had begun to ask for a hedgehog. (My twelve-year-old daughter even saved up $200 for it! And to answer your question: Yes, I was in fact tempted to “borrow” from her to pay for my laptop repairs.)

I often hope that what I have to say is something readers will want to hear. If not, I add it to the folder labeled “Junk Poems” on my laptop. Then, I sob myself into a sweet, hopeless slumber, filled with dreams of thunderous clouds raining rejection letters one word at a time.

Shortly after bringing home our $175 ball of needled rage, I learned of a café in Tokyo that actually charges people to interact with hedgehogs. The first time I beheld the creature’s fearful response of curling into itself, causing his quills to protrude as he hissed and popped, I wondered why anyone would want a pet that simply could not be petted. Then I remembered: my children are insane. But I can relate to them. (Hedgehogs. Not my children.) When I’m out and about, I feel akin to all freakish creatures whose sole purpose is to entertain others. As a mother, I exist for the survival of my family. Without me, they would starve to death, filthy and naked. (Or eat at the Hy-Vee deli every night. Same difference.) As a writer, I slave inside my cage, racing on my wheel of words. Locked up and typing away the hours, I often hope that what I have to say is something readers will want to hear. If not, I add it to the folder labeled “Junk Poems” on my laptop. Then, I sob myself into a sweet, hopeless slumber, filled with dreams of thunderous clouds raining rejection letters one word at a time. (And for whatever reason, the words are all in 20 pt. Courier New, the most depressing of all fonts.)

After a bit of time, though, the hedgehog has found comfort with us. He uncurls and accepts freeze-dried mealworms from our outstretched palms. Likewise, when enough time has passed, I click on that sewage pile where all my bad poetry lives. I pluck up a few, run them under the faucet, and take a wash rag to them. Just a few months ago, I shined up eight (Yes, eight. Apparently I write a lot of bad poetry) and assembled them into an imaginatively coherent longer piece. They were originally all spun with the same essential threads and as I read through each passing draft, I thought, Goddamn if they weren’t meant to be together. At the end of it, I had a five-page piece I called “Etiquette for Maidens (to avoid hysteria).” I submitted it to only two prestigious contests. In a few weeks I heard back from one: I was a finalist. They had accepted my poem for publication. A couple days later, I received word that I had won Smartish Pace’s Beullah Rose Poetry Prize. In the end, the junk had turned to gold. An alchemical miracle for this prickly hedgehog.

Jennifer Pruiett-Selby, winner of Smartish Pace’s 2015 Beullah Rose Poetry Prize, lives in rural Iowa with her husband, poet Jason Selby, and five children. Her work has found homes with Prairie Schooner, Hobart, Calyx, Crab Creek Review, Lunch Ticket, Rust + Moth, Ember, and Red River Review.