Brenna Ehrlich spoke with Lily Anderson about her first memory of roses, the point where parenting and librarian work blur, what she would do with seven days of restored life and wishing her consciousness would become a tree.
No matter how many people we squish into frame, there is a void of who should be here and who is here instead.
Brenna gave Lily a list of five objects and asked her to share a memory associated with each.
The front yard of my childhood home is a quilt of greenery — a giant oak with vinca vines rambling over its roots and white ash with a minor mistletoe problem, bushy rosemary and a tall elephant ear that hits the postman in the face every day on his way to our mailbox. I am enchanted when my dad bought silver-white Dusty Miller plants to line the walkway. In my excitement to keep the fuzzy silver plants, I plunge my kid-sized trowel into the earth, promptly cutting a worm in half. An earthworm cut in half becomes two worms! As someone whose life was also cut in half, I don’t believe it.
Christmas is an electric shock of peppermint, sticky-sweet and bracing. It’s never quite cold enough in Northern California for Christmas. It’s never white, but sometimes it even forgets to be winter. With a candy cane looped around my index finger, my mouth is cool. As we go a-wassailing among the ‘burbs so gray, my peppermint breath makes me feel like my insides are cold enough for snow. It helps as my family pauses to sing carols on the porch of old Mrs. So-And-So. I sing her a peppermint song, infused with crisp joy.
There are lilies on the nightstand. Deep, bruise purple with fine white edges. They’re so beautiful that they’re almost otherworldly. I can imagine them among prehistoric flora like those extinct plants they put in Jurassic Park that poisoned the Triceratops.
“I’m sorry,” he says, standing just out of my periphery. “I should have bought roses, but…”
I think of the last bouquet of roses I got, pressed flat and moldy in a scrapbook. Their yellow petals faded to gold along with the memory of who gave them.
“Never buy me roses,” I say. “You were totally right. Lilies are my favorite.”
Lured by the siren song of the Williams sisters, my mother finds two tennis rackets in a Goodwill. (I don’t know this to be true, but my mother finds everything at Goodwill.) Black women have broken into tennis and so we are to follow in their footsteps. She picks me up from the house she no longer has a key to and drives me to a park I’ve never visited behind what will be my first gynecologist’s office in a few years. We serve, back and forth. Hitting the net. Failing to cross the net. Failing to connect.
We press together in a crush of celebration, slick with alcoholic sweat and the manic energy of people trying to have the best time. Weddings are like New Years Eve that way. I know my makeup started to slough off mid-ceremony — between the summer swelter and weepily watching my friends legally bound together. Still, no matter how many people we squish into frame — holding silly props and pulling the same faces we used to make onstage together — there is a void of who should be here and who is here instead. There are frames where all of our eyes slide away to the girl who sulks in the corner. It’s time to go. But there’s something in that sulk that tells me that once we leave, we’ll never all be together again.
First, please take a photo of the oldest book you own and tell us where it came from.
It’s silly how many copyrights I had to double check for this question. I own a lot of old books. Almost all of them were gifts from my dad. We’re both sort of low-key book collectors. A beautifully crafted old book is fine art. This particular book, my dad found in an antique store and was so taken with the stamped leather cover that he bought it for me. You can’t tell by looking at it, but the cover is baby soft and no longer attached to the actual book. The copyright is from 1892. I’ve never read it.
I know you’re a librarian. I also know, since I have a friend who is a librarian, that it takes a long time to get that kind of job/degree. What would surprise the average person about your job? Have you ever found something truly weird in a book?
I’m actually an elementary school librarian, which requires much less schooling than your public or academic librarians. In fact, any real librarian — someone with a Master’s degree in Library Science — will tell you that I’ve poached the job title. And they would be totally correct.
While my job is ordering and caring for books, following the Dewey Decimal System and hosting book fairs, I think a lot of people would be surprised how much parenting there is in elementary education. It’s my job to reinforce safe practices — tied shoes, sitting flat on chairs, not running around blind corners, caring for other people’s feelings — as much as it is helping kids develop a love and mastery of reading.
Kids aren’t afraid of using anything as a bookmark, so I frequently find pieces of toilet paper, chewed pencils, gift cards, and (usually wrapped) fun-sized pieces of candy.
I see that you are a fan of The Princess Bride, the book. Did you ever write in to get the deleted scene? I had a special copy of that book as a kid and if you wrote to a certain address they sent you a type-written extra scene from when Buttercup and Westley find each other again. I may not run this answer. I’m seriously just curious.
I adore Goldman’s The Princess Bride. One of the first fights I remember having with my lifelong best friend was actually about whether or not S. Morgenstern existed — I was right, she was wrong. I never wrote in to get the reunion scene because the first version of The Princess Bride I ever read was the 25th anniversary edition and it had the letter from “Morgenstern’s lawyer” detailing why the reunion scene couldn’t be released.
Fun fact: I checked out The Princess Bride from the library many times in junior high and eventually broke the binding on it. Then, lo and behold, it was waiting for me at the next library book sale, so I own the first copy I ever read because I loved it so much that I ruined it for other library patrons.
If you, like the girls in the book, were brought back from the dead for seven days, what do you imagine your unfinished business would be? What would you do for those seven days?
I am absolutely terrified of death. Truly, it spikes my anxiety in a way that will wake me out of a sound sleep and I’ll gasp for breath just to remember that I can still breathe. (Have I mentioned my anxiety disorder yet? It’s inexorably linked to my fear of death.) All of that is to say that I could never have enough living. With seven days, I would want to see all of the seasons and feel all of the extremes. I would want to eat lush, hours-long meals and also lavish myself with Taco Bell. I would hold babies and pet corgis and hug my friends until my arms cramped. I would write a love letter to the whole world.
The older I get, the more annoyed I get with certainty. I love my consciousness, my self, but I’m sure I will lose her when the time comes.
Related, what is your conception of the afterlife? Is there Heaven, Hell, Limbo? Do we come back as mice and roaches?
I want to believe in reincarnation. When I was younger, I was pretty vocal about it — about energy not being created or destroyed. About dreams that feel as familiar as an old life. But the older I get, the more annoyed I get with certainty. I love my consciousness, my self, but I’m sure I will lose her when the time comes. I hope that the energy that is Lily Anderson gets to do more good while my fat body and pretty eyes decay. I’d love to become a tree.
You say that author Cassie Clare’s fanfic got you started writing. Did you write fanfic ever? I, myself, wrote fanfic with a girl named Jenny in Canada about The X-Files that we sent to each other via mail. I met her on a message board. Most of it was all about Mulder being in love with me. If you did write fanfic, can you share some with us?
I didn’t write a lot of fanfic. Or, rather, I didn’t write nearly as much fanfic as I read. What I did write was fic based on my favorite musicals and, of course, plenty of things in the Harry Potter universe — almost entirely based in the Marauders era. The problem with Potter fanfic in 2003 is that there was just so damn much of it. It was that golden era between The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix where the series was getting darker and conspiracy theories were being passed around and absolutely anything was possible. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to write about one of the characters being in love with me. Instead, I wanted to be a Respected Author and was wholly deflated by no one ever reading any of my work. It was, in fact, not unlike being a present day YA author.
I would like to state for the record that I have never, ever revealed my fanfic publicly and this will end in people find other bits of even worse writing that I can’t seem to take down off the internet. Here is a piece of Harry Potter songfic — that is: a short story written around the lyrics of a preexisting song — set to The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Modern Romance.” It was written before we knew that Lily and James started dating their senior year at Hogwarts.
May God have mercy on my soul.
“I’m pregnant, Remus.”
In time, time is gone
Never last stops who he was
It felt as though his lungs had filled with blood, choking him, cutting off his air supply. He took a gasp of air, vainly trying to keep conscious.
Pregnant? The word swirled around his head. Flashes of every one of their nights together, trying to pinpoint where a mistake could have been made, a step could have been missed.
A cold sweat broke on his brow as he came to the realization that this child would inherit, no, would be cursed with his lycanthropy. He was never intended to have children. He’d come to terms with it years ago. He’d never wanted to pass on that which plagued him to anyone, especially someone he loved. It was his worst fear.
The snow covered park swirled around him. He held onto the tree to keep him balanced. It was too late to remedy this mistake, the child would be a werewolf. And they were making revolutionary advances in Wolfsbane potions. Lily would be an amazing mother, also. The babe would not grow up unloved.
And Remus loved Lily. He’d never said so, but he knew it. Perhaps, someday, she could love him back if she didn’t already.
He would do everything he could for the child. True, it was difficult for him to keep a job, but he would find something.
“Marry me, Lily,” he blurted.
“Remus-” she started, turning to face him.
“No, really. This will work out. I know that you might not approve of having a werewolf for a son or daughter, but everything will work.” He got down on one knee, looking up at her. “I love you, Lily Evans. Marry me.”
She burst into tears. Loud, chest wrenching sobs racked her delicate frame. She shook her head and covered her mouth.
“It’s James’,” she whispered.
Well I was wrong
Remus blinked at her, replaying the last thirty seconds in his head, looping the name “James” over and over. He never thought that he’d hate the sound of it, but it had a certain arrogance to it as he thought about it.
“He and I,” she began. “Once, about a month ago. It was careless and-God, I’m so sorry, Remus.”
This is no
There is no modern romance
Finally, please describe your writing process in the form of a spell.
To be performed before sunrise.
Repeat these words as you mix together all of the ingredients into a large mess.
“I do not know what this is.
I do not know if this is good.
I do not know if this is done.”
Swirl, blow, beg. Build a nest and watch it collapse. Build it again. The ember will burn out, disappear and crack down as lightning into the teacup. Take a sip and feel the heat of the ember that started it all. Pass it around for others to digest. Remember, some people hate tea.
Curated by: Brenna Ehrlich
Conducted by: Email
Edited by: Morgan Enos
Published: February 20, 2018
Total questions: 7 + 5
Word count: 2217
Reading time: Eight minutes
anniversary, annoyance, antique, beg, Buttercup, carol, ceremony, certainty, collapse, consciousness, copyright, Dewey Decimal System, dinosaur, disappearance, earthworm, elephant, ember, enchantment, flora, Goodwill, greenery, Harry Potter, Heaven, hell, idea, Jurassic Park, library, Library Science, lily, Lily Anderson, limbo, master’s degree, mistletoe, nest, nightstand, notebook, OfficeMax, periphery, pregnancy, S. Morgenstern, scrapbook, Serena Williams, spell, swirl, teacup, tennis, tree, Triceratops, trowel, Venus Williams, vinca, Westley
About the guest curator
Brenna Ehrlich aspires to write a novel that’s a classic album. She enjoys taking solitary trips to distant locations and scoring the whole experience with the perfect book, record and restaurant. She often dreams (literally, while sleeping) of getting lost in unforgiving locales sans shoes or socks.
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