Don't Look Now: Things We Wish We Hadn't Seen

Don't Look Now: Things We Wish We Hadn't Seen

Don't Look Now: Things We Wish We Hadn't Seen

Don't Look Now: Things We Wish We Hadn't Seen


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Would that our memories were self-selecting. But often what we remember most, and most vividly, are those moments that caught us unawares: the things we wish we hadn’t seen and have never been able to shake. This group of prominent American writers tries to come to grips with obsessive memory, the uncanny, and the bad dreams that accompany the moments in our lives when we wish we’d looked away, the places we wish we’d never been, and the scenes we wish we’d never stumbled upon.
Featuring essays by Jericho Parms, XU XI, Jerald Walker, José Orduña, Kristen Iversen, Nicole Walker, Mary Cappello, Lina Ferreira, Colleen O’Connor, Sonya Huber, Paul Crenshaw, Alyce Miller, Patrick Madden, Amelia María de la Luz Montes, Yalie Kamara, Emily Heiden, Lee Martin, and David Lazar,
this collection bares all. The authors invite readers into a dream that resurrects a departed mother each night, only to lose her again each morning upon waking; the post-mortem newspaper photos of a former student; kaleidoscope childhood memories of the mundane mixed up together with the traumatic; an unplanned pregnancy; a bullfight and a spouse’s mortality; a teen witnessing the suicide of her father; a parent trying to shield his children from witnessing a violent death. What these writers are after, though, is not the melancholic/grotesque/violent moment itself, but the process of remembering—and trying to forget. They examine the way these memories take hold, resurface, and never leave, and what it means for a life lived long after these moments have passed. These scenes, slowly enfolding us like bad dreams or flying by like trains on elevated platforms, demand we reach some kind of accommodation with them—make peace or make sense or make amends. The one thing they insist with certainty is this: they cannot—will not—be unseen.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814256015
Publisher: Ohio State University Press
Publication date: 10/16/2020
Series: 21st Century Essays
Edition description: 1
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: (w) x (h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Kristen Iversen is the author, most recently, of Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. Her essays and stories have appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, Reader’s Digest, Fourth Genre, and elsewhere. Iversen is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati and serves as the Literary Nonfiction editor of the Cincinnati Review.
David Lazar is the author of the soon to be released Celeste Holm SyndromeHe is Professor of Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago and a former Guggenheim Fellow in Nonfiction. Lazar is the founding editor of the literary magazine Hotel Amerika and series coeditor of 21st Century Essays at Mad Creek Books.

Read an Excerpt

I am thinking of shapes, how the snake and curve of a line becomes a figure eight, becomes two rings joined, everlasting, never-ending. I am thinking of the letter S and how it is nearly one infinite chain. Nearly, but not. On my inner wrist there is a scar—one I’ve had since girlhood—that looks like something written in sand and partially blown away. I want to conjure the tides, but I am so far from the ocean as I write that memory spirals away from me. Perhaps whatever follows in these lines I owe to that distance. And to the swimmers and oceanographers, scientists and shore divers, mariners and mystics, artists, biologists, storm chasers, and foragers who face the erosion of beauty every day, the alchemy of memory— the elusive reel none of us can control. If scars serve as a lighthouse to the past, how do we determine the future? If only memory could expose the path ahead. If only we could receive signals from the moon.


In the 1988 film Cinema Paradiso, written and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, set against the backdrop of an Italian village just after World War II, a young Salvador di Vita, along with other townspeople, escapes dark postwar realities by frequenting the village movie theater. The local priest, acting as the moral censor, is ever-present, ensuring nothing untoward appears on screen during the films, which he has already screened, demanding that all kissing scenes be edited out prior to their premiere. In Tornatore’s film, Salvatore befriends a projectionist, Alfredo, who takes a liking to the mischievous boy, lets him watch movies from the projection booth, and ultimately teaches him how to operate the projector.


I befriended a projectionist, too. During a long winter I found myself broke in a small New England town. I worked the concession stand in a two-screen movie theater on Main Street because it wasn’t enough to teach, and because having recently emerged from a few years of depression and anxiety, I wanted the monotony of shift work, show times, a decorated tip jar, and the distraction of a changing marquee. I had just turned thirty; I was in love with a man but characteristically reluctant to define that love as I attempted to navigate the push and pull between freedom, independence, and responsibility to others.

Although nearing seventy, Bill, the theater’s main projectionist, has the energy of a young man. He plays tennis when he can, tells stories about his days in the circus, and crams into a small sedan with his friends and heads to the beach. He loves film more than anyone I’ve known. He grows easily frustrated, in large part because he likes a certain order, timeliness, and takes his work as lead projectionist seriously, as craft. But when a film is on and there is time to kill, he talks on end. Bill routinely pulls from the booth his folding chair and positions himself next to the concession counter in the tiny house lobby. Although he always has a book and his glasses ready, he rarely makes a dent in his reading during our shifts together. Instead we fill the time with stories from our vastly different lives.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Preface David Lazar Kristen Iversen ix

My Paradiso Jericho Parms 1

But for the Grace Xu Xi 19

Wars Jerald Walker 29

X José Orduna 33

Love and Death in Mexico Kristen Iversen 43

Lizard Brains Nicole Walker 63

To Love Me, Or the Intruder's Tattoo Mary Cappello 69

The Red Parakeet Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas 97

Unsightly Colleen O'Connor 109

Those Were the Days Sonya Huber 119

Morgue Paul Crenshaw 127

Fire Alyce Miller 133

The Death of the Dog Patrick Madden 149

Trigger Warnings Amelia María De La Luz Montes 153

Home Yalie Kamara 163

Scenes from July 2013 Emily Heiden 173

Can You Tell Me What You Saw? Lee Martin 191

Muse of Brooklyn: I Would Never Study but in My Dreams David Lazar 207

Contributors 213

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