birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

The Opposite of Well Put Together

On the inside of my left kneecap, a little rough red patch, healing over but still visible. Probably from scraping against the wall at the climbing gym, while trying something beyond my reach. Another one like that at the upper center of my right knee -- maybe from a different day climbing, or from something odd at boxing class involving popping up from your knees to catch a tennis ball to improve your reflexes. There's a red scabby ding on my right shin, maybe from hoisting my bike around to tie it up on the ferry. The left knee still has three short white smooth patches from surgical incisions after I tore my meniscus trying to learn how to ski. And at the moment, each knee has about ten ugly red welts from mosquito bites obtained this weekend up around the snowfields just melting out, where the bugs are especially dense and fervent.

When I used to volunteer at a farmers' market, we were always setting up and taking down these recalcitrant temporary shelves that had to be banged together and banged apart, and also hauling giant coolers full of frozen meat or gallons of milk, and everybody's legs pretty much looked like mine. I remember another volunteer describing how she imagined her co-workers at her day job whispering when she came in, "Here comes Emily, with all those trashy bruises!" Standing in line for coffee this morning, I found myself staring at the legs of the woman in front of me. She had a tasteful but short blue summery dress, and a camel-colored handbag, and nice flats, and was what my mother would call "well put together." The skin on her legs was so even in tone. It seemed for a moment like the whole path to appealing femininity was located in not having scraped-up, bitten-up, bruised-up knees. And she probably had a perfectly good, active life -- I didn't feel like I could successfully claim that she might have pretty legs but I was having more fun.

In childhood, it seemed more clear: one could choose to be a tomboy or not, and if you wanted to be outside all the time, you chose tomboy. Now I feel a secret mandate to somehow be both -- to do all the things I want to do and still be able to transform into something more delicate and graceful and unmarked by my activities. My knees, unfortunately, insist otherwise.

Babysitting in My Teens

Just Move