A Timeline of First Lines. (Email check).


I am checking my email. I am reading sentences in an essay, then skipping over to a novel. I am reading some writing prompts, but am not actually writing them. I am changing clothes downstairs—out of pajamas and into some real clothes—then going back upstairs to blow my nose, then returning downstairs to put shoes on because my toes are cold. Back upstairs to my kitchen table where my computer resides. (Email check). I am thinking about smoking a cigarette because I have nothing else to do, but for once I do not feel like smoking. I eat bread and chunky peanut butter (while checking my email). I eat a slice of Munster cheese. The taste of Greek yogurt sits in my mouth.



(Email check). What it is I am waiting for: agents to get back to me about a book proposal. Four emails come in! No agents responding. Instead, I get a rejection about an essay. That’s okay, I don’t really like the essay anyway. I get an email from my mother telling me about her hike. I get emails that I delete immediately, junk stuff I never open, and I get them out of my sight to clear the space of my inbox for more important things to come in. The background of my gmail account is of mountains. There are mountains outside of the sliding glass doors. I stare at the ones on my screen instead of turning my head to the right to see the real ones.



(Email check). Change of scenery. Outside cigarette. Purple scarf around my neck. Gloves on my hands. Winter jacket. Maroon ear bra on. It is not that cold outside. (Email check on phone). Cigarette dangling out of my mouth. Chin pressed against the knot in my scarf. The sun continues to crawl up the face of the mountains.



Words flying out of my head while smoking a cigarette and they have nowhere to go out here. I should stop this nasty habit. I go back inside and open my notebook to wrestle the words down, to get the hands moving with a pen and away from the computer.

She sat gnawing at her underwear.

Could be an interesting first line. The cold cuts in through the sliding glass doors, through my jeans, and penetrates my knees. Pen down. (Email check).



Pen picked back up. Another line that could mean something, could go somewhere.

The kleptomaniac clung to the tree.

Enough writing for now. Two good first lines. Can work on the second lines later on today. (Email check). A car drives by. Nothing else to do.

I was going to make coffee.



(Email check). Make coffee.



Birds squawking. Actually sounds like a squawk, or maybe a grunt. Hard to distinguish which. Pine needles muffle the sounds. (Email check). Perhaps I will go and take pictures.

I suddenly remember my dreams. I think they were of raccoons.



Walking around the forest that surrounds the house, I take a picture of a fallen down tree. Then another one of the moss growing on rocks. Trying to get another type of creativity out of me, some other hobby to inspire the writing one. But I can’t stand this. Must go inside. It is not cold, but I feel empty, hollow, freezing without my computer in front of me.



(Email check).

No, stop that. Open the notebook.

I dated a philosopher who loved head, but not in a sexy way.

I think I will save that one for later, use it as something to go off of when I feel more like writing.



Read another prompt. Twirl pen in hands. (Email check). Sip at coffee. Stretch back. Sternum pops. Think about running. Lie on couch. Stand up. (Email check). Something! Though just another add for cyber Monday, though. I have no money.



Coat on. Gloves on. Outside for another cigarette. This one, I really don’t feel like. But I must do something to get away from the computer for at least seven minutes. Sit outside with notebook, write while smoking, an activity I used to love to do. Page hard to turn with gloves on. Thank god for the hole in my glove, the thumb sticking through. Fingerless gloves now exist for iPhones. Clothing catching up with technology.

Clothing catching up with technology.

I write that down. There, four lines in a half hour’s time. A good day of writing so far. Or so I tell myself.



Coffee. Table. Computer in front of me. I type what I have written. Jump off of a line. Here comes an essay.

I dated a philosopher who loved head, but not in a sexy way. (Email check). She was always in her head, never paying attention to me, never giving me anything like love. I took care of the cats that were her idea to get, cleaned up their shit so she could stick her nose in a book. She claimed she had Lock-Jaw Syndrome so she couldn’t go down on me. And she also claimed for six months that she had a yeast infection so I couldn’t go down on her. (Email check). I bought us a vibrator. I bought it for me. (Email check). I encouraged her to go to the library more so I could spend more time with the vibrator.



One paragraph down. When in doubt, write about sex. Email check. I think I’ll call my mother, ask her how her hike was. Pick up phone from the table. My mother answers, says her legs are tired. I check my email as she talks, drown out the words coming through the thick plastic block of my cell phone by staring at a computer screen that says nothing to me.

“Chelsey, are you even listening to me?”

“Yeah, you said your legs hurt.”

“No, I said I have to go to work.”

“Oh, right. Me too. Must get back to writing. Have fun at work. Love you!”



Continue writing. (Email check). Continue writing.


Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University Chicago. She has been published in THIS, The Rumpus, Atticus Review, Sleet, The Coachella Review and Make/shift among many others. She received the Nonfiction Editor’s Pick Award 2012 from both Revolution House and Cobalt for her essays “BodyHome” and “I Have Been Thinking About,” respectively. She is currently finishing up a collection of essays about finding the concept of home in the body. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.wordpress.com.




Chelsey Clammer
Chelsey Clammer is the author of the award-winning essay collection, Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017) and BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015). Her work has appeared in Salon, The Rumpus, Hobart, Brevity, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School and Black Warrior Review. She teaches online writing classes with WOW! Women On Writing and is a freelance editor. Her next collection of essays, Human Heartbeat Detected, is forthcoming (Fall 2022) from Red Hen Press. www.chelseyclammer.com