The Mountains are Bloody Beautiful

I don’t want to write about nature in the same way that I don’t want to put in a tampon. But I’m still bleeding, and even if I try to avoid feminine hygiene products because they bug me, the blood will still come. And I can’t avoid the fact that these beautiful mountains surround me, that they urge me to write about them, even though I’m not a nature writer. But here they are, beckoning me to put them to use.

I hate tampons. The thought of sticking a wad of cotton up my who-ha makes my skin shiver. Instead of dipping into nature writing via the mountains that are plopped down in front of my eyes, I think I’ll write an essay about menstrual blood. What could be more natural than that? But tampons aren’t natural, but I’m also sure as hell not going to old-fashion style it by safety pinning cloth to my underwear.

The mountains raise their eyebrows at me.

I had a Diva Cup for four years, and I loved it. “What’s a Diva Cup?” you may wonder. Imagine a rubber conical shaped shot glass with a stem on the bottom. It stays inside your vagina and can hold up to two ounces of blood—which is all anyone really bleeds in one week. So technically you could keep the Diva Cup inside you for the length of your period, but there is the chance it could overflow, which would just become messy and uncomfortable. Like not wearing a tampon when you really should.

To put the cup inside of you, you have to bend it in half, squat above the toilet, and shove it inside. Then it suctions open and wraps around your cervix. Because of the suctioning aspect, I can’t use my Diva Cup anymore. I have an IUD (intrauterine device), and the subsequent suctioning out of the cup could also pull out my sperm-blocker. I don’t actually know how the IUD works—if it blocks sperm, kills the little suckers, or prohibits the eggs from planting, but it hurt like hell to have the T-shaped plastic instrument implanted in my uterus, so I sure as shit don’t want to rip it out with my Diva Cup.

Thus, back to the tampons.

My period came a week early this month, and my mother says it’s from high altitude. I just moved to Colorado from Texas, and my welcoming party was a high elevation blood bath. Clot Fest 2012, my boyfriend calls it. Shark Week, my friends call it.

And the mountains are so beautiful, etc.

I have been obsessed with raccoons lately. As I sit in an itsy bitsy teeny weeny craptastic coffee shop in Nowhere Colorado, The Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon” comes over the crackly stereo. They’re everywhere in my mind. I don’t know why I love raccoons, other than the fact that they’re sly. They live off of what the world leaves behind, makes use of what some people think is trash. And I live in the mountains in a house my family was going to abandon. No one decided to live there, so I took it over and slyly moved in, having to pay no rent, no utilities, and my grandmother even filled up the tank of the old El Camino she gave me to drive before she handed me the keys.

As I twirl along the gravel mountain roads in the El Camino, my eyes catch the sight of something that is not a raccoon, but a tree stump. It looks like a raccoon to me, because that is what I’m looking for. I want to find this animal with my own eyes, to see its beauty and its stealthiness. This latter aspect, I appreciate.

I thought using a Diva Cup was stealthy, was a way to get away from the consumerism of tampons—buying a product you will only use short-term, then throwing it away in the trash, which will inevitably lead to cute little sly animals ripping apart the plastic trash bags, then the tampons with their sharp curious teeth. I had a dog once that would eat my tampons. Whenever I returned home during that week of bleeding, I would find light green strings and red-stained fluffs of cotton around my floor. This was before the Diva Cup. I wonder about if I had had a Diva Cup back then, would she have gone after the rubber. I would think so, because it looks like a miniature kong, and the menstrual blood stuck to the sides of rubber would probably be even tastier to her tongue than peanut butter. But I don’t know these things.

What I do know is that the mountains are beautiful, and that writing about menstrual blood does not feel natural, but the fact of bleeding is one of the most natural things I can think of to write about when trying to write about nature.

The nature of my period is that it has always been exactly twenty-nine days in its cycle, and I bleed for precisely five days, with the heavy flow tapering off after day three. And then the IUD was inserted and my regular schedule went to hell. Now I bleed for an ungodly length of time, and the flow is an eruption, clots of red goo squishing out of the flooded tampon and onto my underwear. Why bother with the tampon? I sometimes wonder. So the IUD has wrecked havoc on my menstrual cycle, and that does not feel natural to me. I have never been on birth control before, because of that whole lesbian thing. Which I loved, and which I still somewhat identify with. But with a man in my life now, I now have to think about the fact that the menstrual blood could harden into a little human being. I don’t want children. I want to birth books instead. Books not babies.

My boyfriend and I watched a documentary about raccoons about a month ago, and there were a whole slew of images of baby raccoons waddling about, trying to shimmy their way down trees and climb into a storage shed. It was cute as hell. I want a raccoon as a pet, but I imagine it would eat my tampons. Having to re-live that experience is reason enough to not have a raccoon.

Maybe I should stop with the tampons already.

And the mountains are so beautiful, etc.


Chelsey Clammer received her MA in Women’s Studies from Loyola University, Chicago. She has been published in THIS, Revolution House, Spittoon, and Make/shift among many others. Read more here: 



Living on $1000 a Year in Paris by Ernest Hemingway

“Living on $1000 a Year in Paris” by Ernest Hemingway is republished with permission by The Paris Review.


Toronto Star, February 1922


When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.

Ernest Hemingway, The Art of Fiction No. 21, The Paris Review
A Conversation with George Plimpton in a Madrid Café, 1954

Paris. Paris in the winter is rainy, cold, beautiful and cheap. It is also noisy, jostling, crowded and cheap. It is anything you want and cheap.

The dollar, either Canadian or American, is the key to Paris. With the US dollar worth twelve and a half francs and the Canadian dollar quoted as something over eleven francs, it is a very effective key.

At the present rate of exchange, a Canadian with an income of one thousand dollars a year can live comfortably and enjoyably in Paris. If exchange were normal, the same Canadian would starve to death. Exchange is a wonderful thing.

Two of us are living in a comfortable hotel in the Rue Jacob, it is just back of the Academy of the Beaux Arts and a few minutes’ walk from the Tuileries. Our room costs twelve francs a day for two. It is clean, light, well heated, has hot and cold running water and a bathroom on the same floor. That makes a cost for rent of thirty dollars a month.

Breakfast costs us both two francs and a half. That totals seventy-five francs a month, or about six dollars and three or four cents. At the corner of the Rue Bonaparte and the Rue Jacob there is a splendid restaurant where the prices are a la carte. Soups cost sixty centimes, and a fish is 1.20 francs. The meals are roast beef, veal cutlet, lamb, mutton and thick steaks served with potatoes prepared as only the French can cook them. These cost 2.40 francs an order. Brussels sprouts in butter, creamed spinach, beans, sifted peas and cauliflower vary in price from forty to eighty-five centimes. Salad is sixty centimes. Desserts are seventy-five centimes and sometimes as much as a franc. Red wine is sixty centimes a bottle and beer is forty centimes a glass.

My wife and I have an excellent meal there, equal in cooking and quality of food to the best restaurants in America, for fifty cents apiece. After dinner you can go anywhere on the subway for four cents in American money or take a bus to the farthest part of the city for the same amount. It sounds unbelievable but it is simply a case of prices not having advanced in proportion to the increased value of the dollar.

All of Paris is not so cheap, however, for the big hotels located around the Opera and the Madeline are more expensive than ever. We ran into two girls from New York the other day in the Luxembourg Gardens. All of us crossed on the same boat, and they had gone to one of the big, highly-advertised hotels. Their rooms were costing them sixty francs a day apiece, and other charges in proportion. For two days and three nights at their hotel, they received a bill for five hundred francs, or forty-two dollars. They are now located in a hotel on the left bank of the Seine, where five hundred francs will last two weeks instead of two days, and are as comfortable as they were at the tourist hotel.

It is from tourists who stop at the large hotels that the reports come that living in Paris is very high. The big hotel-keepers charge all they think the traffic can bear. But there are several hundred small hotels in all parts of Paris where an American or Canadian can live comfortably, eat at attractive restaurants and find amusement for a total expenditure of two and one half to three dollars a day.


Ernest Miller Hemingway (1899 – 1961) American author, war hero, journalist, hunter, fisherman, Pulitzer winner (The Old Man and the Sea), and Nobel Prize winner (1954). He was also well-known for A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and many more works depicting a minimalist style termed modernism that would impact writers for generations after him.

Shadow Play by David Cotrone

NONFICTION | Shadow Play by David Cotrone

by David Cotrone


Or imagine Lucille in Boston, at a table in a restaurant, waiting for a friend… no one watching [her] smear her initials in the steam on her water glass with her first finger, or slip cellophane packets of oyster crackers into her handbag for sea gulls, could know her thoughts…or know how she does not watch, does not listen, does not wait, does not hope, and always for me…. —Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping


I read it all wrong. I thought Marilynne Robinson was writing about twins—writing, in some way, about me. Instead, these characters, Lucille and Ruthie, were standard sisters, one older than the other. In fact, Robinson explains this quite clearly in the first line of Housekeeping, “My name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille….” I only realized my mistake after rereading the book several years later. Until that time, I always had it stuck in my head: I am Ruth, my brother Lucille. Robinson knows me. She knows us.


So why was this idea in my head? Perhaps it is the way in which Ruth and Lucille start so close, mirroring my childhood memories: my brother and I constructing a fort in the snow, making a shower out of the water sprinkler, together suffering through family portraits. But then they drift and wane, fade away from each other, a color photo turned monochrome. I am no stranger to this process; in fact, it seems natural, doesn’t it? It’s as if there is a way in which things separate. Author Frank Conroy gives witness in his memoir, Stop-Time, writing, “Flossie and Penny went simultaneously insane… They turned, saw the open gate, and made a dash for it… One moment they were there, and the next they were gone, swallowed by the blackness under the trees.” Here, there are two levels of loss. Not only are Conroy’s dogs running away from him—escaping—but they are losing their own identities, or changing them, as they disconnect from former relationships. They have shed their affiliation with Frank, and in this moment, after reading this page, I could not help but wonder: how long until Flossie and Penny, these sibling dogs, lose each other in the forest? How long until they lose themselves? How long, how long?

In time, Flossie and Penny return. This verb—“return”—is one I have yet to experience. My brother and I are still drifting, and I am unable to say if either of us is actually lost, as I am unsure of the word’s meaning. Perhaps this is why I read—to decode the term’s significance, its implications, its gravity.   


In his nonfiction collection, Broken Vessels, Andre Dubus writes about losing his leg in a car accident, the process of having a limb amputated. He is called to write because of such loss; his life informs his writing, and in turn, writing informs him of his life. He enters into his work knowing that writing is a process of discovery. Though he is tormented by grief and anger, Dubus, through writing, finds grace in his personal loss; he finds himself anew. He finds, for example, that his life is literally slowed, and thus he is led to savor his time with his children. Tobias Wolff writes about losing a father, Dave Eggers about simultaneously losing both his parents, Rick Moody about confronting alcohol addiction, about wanting to lose such a malign habit, David Foster Wallace about what it would mean to lose his own life. I am drawn to all of these authors, to their work, to their collective search for meaning in oblivion.

There are more. In The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides writes of the unraveling of a family, as three sisters take their own lives in succession, in a way that is methodical. Jonathan Franzen talks about what it’s like lose grasp of your own mind in his novel, The Corrections. And in his debut work, Tinkers, Paul Harding explores the life of a man with epilepsy, how his essence totally changes when he is struck by an epileptic fit, how a jolt—a ringing in his head—is the signal that brings him back to consciousness. I must ask, then, as a reader: What is it that will bring me to consciousness? Once there, what will I find? How will I come to understand myself?



In my junior year of high school I wrote about an old swing set that once stood in my backyard. As toddlers, my brother and I would play on this swing set for hours every day. Through writing about the arc and curve of the slide, the coarse rungs of the ladder, and the dip of the seat of the swing, I realized the set itself was meaningless. It was not until I wrote about how my parents could not wrest us from the slide (even during rainstorms), or how not even splinters could deter us from the ladder, that I understood my brother gave the set its significance, its mental weight, how without him I would not have had a companion, how he was born five-and-a-half minutes after me and how it takes him the same amount of time to fall asleep, how he emboldened me to swing higher, higher, still higher. 


Now here we are, my brother and I, at different points in our lives, interested in dissimilar activities, unalike even in our sense of humor, our taste in music, our notion of belonging. As my brother socializes profusely, and as he seems to live life not with intimacy and nuance but with grandiosity and a drive for splendor, I sit. I wait. It is as if my life is open water, unfounded yet pushing forward, pulling me ahead yet yearning for yesterday, and somewhere in the middle of this onward march and this wistful withdrawal, I write.

And now here I am, writing this after a paragraph starting with “Now here we are…” having just asked myself a question: What is it that will bring me to consciousness? Conscious, from the Latin, “to be privy to,” and privy, a word whose archaic meaning is hidden, a secret place. For me, the two words are melded, and this merging is the answer to my question. It is the act of becoming conscious of my own hidden and secret self that makes me feel, in the most profound way, alive.

Another name for this act, of course, is writing. So this is why I give voice to the feeling of pressing forward and drifting backwards, to a swing set, to a list of authors, to a mistake I made while first reading Marilynne Robinson’s debut novel. In some fervid and evocative way, I have to.


Being a twin does not skew an identity. The water, nevertheless, is muddied. It is not a matter of living up to standards, as those with older brothers or sisters may complain of living in their sibling’s shadow. Rather, twinship requires cooperation—sharing a shadow. Perhaps this is why I am lonely, and sometimes sad: I am unaccustomed to being an individual in the strictest sense, unused to being on my own, wrestling now with my shadow, no longer shared, and yet somehow not mine.  


It is worthy to note that out of my list of influential writers (Eggers, Moody, Foster Wallace, Franzen, etc.), no author has actually entered that holy space of finding, no one is truly found. Eggers’ memoir ends in midair; it is a rumination, a study of pain and momentum. Moody’s personal account concludes with disappointment. Two years ago, Foster Wallace hung himself. He never obtained answers—or, if he did, they were not worth living for.

I do not expect, then, to write myself into resolution. But this is good news, in a sense, as I will be writing for a lifetime. I want writing to carry me through existence; I do not want to enter into graduate school, into teaching, into writing, for the sake of earning a living, of meeting some level of artistic achievement. Yes, I want to publish. Yes, I want my work to sit on bookshelves. But not out of vanity—not quite. Instead, I want to continue the tradition of words and meaning. I want readers to use my work as placeholders for their own lives, to insert their own histories into my script. While a future reader may not be a twin who confuses characters in relation to each other, perhaps he will mix up location, maybe she will misinterpret motivation. Who knows, really? I cannot say.


David Cotrone is from Plymouth, Massachusetts. His work has been published in elimaeNew Plains ReviewThe Citron Review, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Reasons Why I Let A Killer into the Building, is forthcoming. He is currently a student at the College of the Holy Cross.