Best of Across The Margin 2020, Nonfiction

As 2020 comes to its close, Across the Margin takes a look back at some of its most treasured moments in Nonfiction…

Throughout this final week of 2020, Across the Margin is seasoning the air with thanks for all those who have spent time within our pages while sharing our picks for the “Best of Across the Margin, 2020.” Our best-of compilations continue with a look at our choices for our finest Nonfiction articles of the year, and an excerpt from each to wet your whistle…

Battle For My Body” by Sarah Butchin

“Without gloves on my bleeding hands, I collected the shards of a life ravished by mental illness, gluing them together before wiping them with Windex.” In the age of COVID-19, a lifelong obsession for one becomes the norm and the saving grace for all…

My worst then is applauded now.

When my sickness started, I attempted to untangle the irrational fears that slid between the folds of my brain, embedding themselves beside reason and hopeful thoughts. The obsessions ballooned, squeezing out anything that didn’t serve them, turning a once healthy mind into a computer regurgitating rituals. My body, a vessel for the codes, dutifully carried out the actions that stole my autonomy. And I welcomed the piracy. My compulsions were a firewall, protecting me from the threat of a cold, bug, or flu. There was no virus more debilitating than the disorder that reordered my brain chemicals, convincing me that my immune system was no match for a doorknob or grocery cart handle. READ MORE!


Letting Go: A Thanksgiving Story” by Katherine Binford

While Thanksgiving, a siren song of family togetherness, warmly calls, a hard truth must be faced: It is time to let go…

“Mother, do you want to kill the grandparents?”

Over seven months so far, and the end is not in sight.

Thanksgiving is beckoning. Much like the hypnotic chant of Kaa from The Jungle Book as remembered by my husband, who first heard it in his native language: “Confia en mi” Kaa crooned, “Trust in me.” Thanksgiving is calling to me, a siren song of family togetherness. READ MORE!


Donald Trump, The Electoral College, & The Future of the Republic” by Arthur Hoyle

 An essay which contemplates the defects of the United States Electoral College, an elitist system that favors the political class and its economic supporters over the people, as the 2020 presidential election grows near…  

During a presidential election, the names of the nominees for president from each party appear on the ballot. When a citizen votes for a nominee, he or she is actually voting for the slate of electors pledged to that nominee. About a month after the November election, when the popular vote has been tallied, the electors  pledged to the winning candidate in each state meet on the same day in their state capitols to cast their votes⎯one vote for president, and one vote for vice president. The Constitution made electors free agents, not bound by the popular vote. But SCOTUS in its recent ruling has bowed to historical precedence and has allowed states to bind their electors to the popular vote. This decision adds strength to the argument that the Electoral College is a legacy from the past that we should discard. READ MORE!


The Healing Power of Trans Love” by Leesh Menard

An essay which considers the binary pressures on genderqueer trans people and the healing power of trans love. One that explores how transition uncertainty is weaponized and how trans relationships can provide a safe space to feel and reckon with the negative…

I’m scared. I’ve been scared to be scared, and to admit the fear to myself or to another person. In my mind, it’s as if a declaration of fear will be followed by a swarm of professionals, positioned to strip me of my trans-ness. The trans monarch, aware of my proclamation, moving in to rescind my invitation to trans spaces, an official pronoun obliterator wiping “they/them” from my signatures and bios, followed by a clothing cop to snatch my generqueer crop top and pronoun pins, and confiscating my collection of button-ups, khakis and cords. This will of course be accompanied by my therapist revoking my “fit-for-surgery” letter and the person who would have been my surgeon canceling my operation date and blacklisting me among others in the specialty, maybe even somehow super-reinforcing my breast onto my body. When I finally told my partner I was scared about my top surgery, none of what I imagined happened. He didn’t ask if I wanted to postpone or if I was sure. Instead, he took my hand into his, kissed my forehead, and gently reminded me that when it was him, he was scared too, and at least temporarily, I was soothed. READ MORE!


Dancing On” by Kelli Short Borges

Within a short story moonlighting as an ode to the Spanish artform of flamenco, the intoxicating pull of wanderlust, paired with a stark reminder that nothing is guaranteed, creates an opportunity for a winsome Spanish adventure…

“Vamos a empezar” snapped Maria, my “profesora de baile,” or dance teacher. “Let’s begin.” These were the first words I heard on that cool October morning in 2019 as I stood anxiously awaiting the beginning of my first flamenco class at Taller Flamenco in Sevilla, Spain. From the stern look on Maria’s face I could tell she meant business. It was also my guess that most likely not a word of instruction would be in English. My discomfort grew palpable. Palms sweating, I reflected upon my minimal grasp of the Spanish language. Although I had studied and lived briefly in Madrid the summer of my sophomore year in college, lack of use had eroded my command of the language to a startling degree. “What if I can’t keep up?” I thought. Maria already looked as if she wanted to rap my knuckles with a ruler. READ MORE!


Living Three Generations Beneath a Murderer” by Allie Burke

I have anxiety; I have depression. My life isn’t easy, and maybe it shouldn’t be. Maybe I deserve it.” The crush of living a life preyed upon by a ghost from generations yore…

I listen to “Clair de Lune” sometimes. It’s a classic piano piece written by Claude Debussy in 1890. The song shares its title with a poem by Paul Verlaine. The poem begins with the words “your soul is a select landscape” and goes on to explain the place where the soul lives:

All sing in a minor key
Of victorious love and the opportune life,
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight…

“Clair de Lune” has been used in various art forms, including the film Twilight, and is referenced throughout history. It is also the song, in July 1942, that my great-grandfather played in a San Leandro hotel room when he killed his lover. READ MORE!


Tragedy and Hope in Dove Springs: The Murders of Norma and Maria Hurtado” by Doug Greco

A look back at the 2011 Hurtado murders, a hate crime against the LGBT community, that examines how issues of race, religion, economic status, and homophobia are often intertwined…

On April 18th, 2011, Jose Aviles approached the house of Maria and Norma Hurtado with an automatic pistol in his hand. Maria and her 24-year old daughter Norma lived in the working class, immigrant neighborhood of Dove Springs in Austin, Texas. When Norma opened the door that night, Jose Aviles emptied fifteen rounds into her and another round into her mother, who had stepped in front of Norma to protect her. Both women died instantly.

At the time of her death, Norma had been in a romantic relationship with Aviles’ daughter, Lidia, for over a year, and was open about her same-sex relationship. A manager at a Dove Springs Wendy’s, Norma helped support her own parents as well as Lidia’s daughter. Jose Aviles had been sending text messages to Norma over the preceding months threatening to kill her. He wanted the relationship to end. READ MORE!


Love, Self, Technology & Life” by Rayya Deeb

Amid the storms of unknowns and torrent of frigid pelts of hail, an author finds the inspiration, knowledge, and tools necessary to understand consciousness as a road map to connection to something far beyond…

“Staring down the barrel of the 24/7 news cycle that spits a fully-automatic assault of politics, poverty, war, viruses, the Climate Crisis, school shootings, intolerance, violence towards women and minorities (and the list goes on,) a sense of overwhelm rips through me. Could it get any crazier? We collectively ask this question time and time again…and, yes, somehow it does. Meanwhile, as the wild world continues along and does its thing as it so equally beautifully and mercilessly does, back in 2011 something incredible happened to me: I became a mother. Blessed with the most beautiful, unconditional love for this boundless bundle of joy, I found stillness in the chaos. First one, and then a couple of years later, another pure spirit came into this world under my watch. My instincts kicked in and I knew that I would do absolutely anything for them. But, in a harmonious bubble of peace and certainty we live not, and after they arrived, the storm of unknowns became more intense. Under the torrent of frigid pelts of hail, I felt helpless in protecting my kids. Sitting in a growing concern for the pains and sufferings of humanity, I felt a glimmering of hope that there had to be some way for me to do good by my babes. READ MORE!


Dementia and Silver Linings” by Mike Nolan

A short and affecting story about family members seeking care for a parent with dementia, one that walks readers candidly into the profound hardships at hand, yet also highlights the silver linings that can be found “along the edges of this dark cloud”…

Sometimes she remembers. Sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes she remembers that she doesn’t remember.

We work our way down the hallway of the assisted living facility, my mother’s feet shuffling behind her walker. She stops. “Mike, you are a wonderful son.” She touches my hand and smiles. “And you take such good care of me.”

Mom knows me because I am an embedded memory. What she did the day before yesterday, though, is not embedded, and she can’t recall. It’s one sign of her dementia. READ MORE!


What Can I Say?” by Jimmy Chairman

An essay contemplating America’s systematic racism, while the “leader” of the free world foments hatred, sows division, and empowers evil, and the wounds of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor’s murders are still fresh in our minds….

I’m shredded. I feel helpless, hopeless, sick. I am fucking furious.

The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and thousands before them were the sole result of America’s systemic racism. My heart breaks for their families.

As a younger man, my reverence of black culture caused a myopia which blinded me to the truth about race in America. Cherishing a culture is not the same thing as understanding the experience of that culture, let alone helping it. READ MORE!


Twenty Years Later — Ween’s White Pepper” by Michael Shields

Twenty years after its release, Ween’s White Pepper persists as the band’s most accessible and affecting album in their storied history…

In early May of 2000, the genre bending rock ‘n’ roll extraordinaires known as Ween released what was, according to many, their most accessible album to date, White Pepper. Marrying synth-pop, calypso, acid rock, and a myriad of varied soundscapes into one cooperative work of art, what Gene (Aaron Freeman) and Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) accomplished with their seventh studio release was to package their potent eccentricities into an album that is enjoyable and soothing to music lovers beyond those who worship at the altar of the Boognish, the God/Demon that supposedly (assuredly!) appeared to Gene and Dean and commanded them to form a rock band. White Pepper is derived from the merging of inarguably two of the most revered rock albums in history — The Beatles’ White Album and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — and the reason for this fusing of titles becomes clear as one sifts through the album’s diverse offerings. Presenting a multitude of songs plainly bestowing a nod to the Liverpool quartet, White Pepper is rife with melodic enchantments and blissful psychedelia that pays tribute while staying emphatically true to the marvelously peculiar band that Ween assuredly are. READ MORE!


Trash and Lost Moments” by Robin Sinclair

The loss of Jimmy Webb, an honorary member of the High Court of Punk, reaches beyond the loss of a just a person…

I know that it is trite to equate the death of an individual to the death of subculture, but Jimmy Webb was one of the last fragments of an era revered, longed for, and dismally co-opted.

The loss of Jimmy reaches beyond the loss of a person. Those who knew him in his daily struggles — who watched him fall in love, met him in his early days living in parks, and knew what he sounded like when his unique brand of pissy joie de vivre faded — are likely, perhaps rightfully, sneering at a community mourning him as if they were the ones holding his hair and his hands.

Call it grotesque. Call it morbid self-service. Call it what you want, but when many of us mourn Jimmy, we mourn a world we’ll never return to, a community of strayed and frayed ends that will never twist back together, and a time that, while commerce-culture tries desperately to repackage it for the masses, will never ever exist again. READ MORE!

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