Fives logo – a stylised number five

with Michael Schmeltzer

The last thing that made you smile

My father wasn’t much for specific instruction. He didn’t talk politics or religion with us growing up. He didn’t say much about what was happening on a local, national, or global level. He wanted us happy, and in many ways he thought sheltering us would accomplish that (even if that meant sheltering us from his own thoughts and opinions). He didn’t give much direction or advice but one of the things he told me was that if I thought something was funny, if something made me laugh, then laugh. Don’t hold back, don’t hold it in. I think I’ve kept laughter well, and smile often. I smiled while writing this, and before that I smiled at my cat Darling who was busying herself with exploring the dining room table top. Before that it was a text from my best friend, before that my children as I tucked them in for the night. And now, again, my children, always my children.

A secret

Mine or someone else’s? (Wouldn’t that be awful if I decided to share someone else’s?) Secrets are interesting aren’t they? The less people know about it the more powerful a secret becomes, the more sway one thinks it holds, while inversely the more people learn of it the weaker it gets. And most times a personal secret is more illusion than influence, seems bigger than it is. Questions like this only have meaning through honesty so in that spirit I’ll give you a secret I don’t think more than two or three people in my current life know (so in my head it has a certain presence/power). I use to be a cutter in high school. Along my arms only, and always with a certain needle. It’s strange what rituals we create (another secret—I love rituals. I think it elevates any activity). I have kept this to myself for nearly two decades (out of shame, embarrassment). For a long time I thought being invulnerable was the equivalent of strength; I felt weak for engaging in self-harm. But now I realize the opposite is true. Vulnerability, to feel all of life from every angle, and still get up, eat breakfast, go through the daily and dull performance of some days … that is strength. I try to forgive my younger self for a multitude of genuine mistakes but feeling overwhelmed wasn’t a mistake, and isn’t a mistake. I guess my secret is also a bit of advice; forgive yourself and take the utmost care.

The last thing you wrote

A poem about vulnerability and self-injurious behaviors, actually. But I think I took my own advice in it and move forward in forgiveness and care.

Your favourite city

Geography is such a complicated, complex thing for me to think about, but I’m lucky enough to have found a city (Seattle) that feels comfortable and most like home for me. That being said, the Pacific Ocean, although not a city, feels like home too. And any time I walk into an Asian market or grocery store (I grew up in Yokosuka, Japan). The sights and sounds immediately relax my body from a tension I don’t realize I’m carrying.

What you’d place in a time capsule

A collection of selfies from various, lovely, ordinary people. The sound of my children laughing. The sound of any child laughing. My mother’s daikon soup and her telling me “together, we can do anything.” My father’s Navy uniform and the time he told me “do what makes you happy as long as you don’t hurt anybody.” My wife’s wit and ability to simultaneously inflate my ego while keeping me humble. A love letter asking the future to forgive us for all we didn’t know and a humble request that they think of us now and again.

Michael Schmeltzer is the author of Elegy/Elk River, winner of the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award, and Blood Song, his debut full-length recently out from Two Sylvias Press. He earned an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop and has placed in various contests through presses such as Four Way Books, OSU Press, Zone 3 Press, and elsewhere. He has been published or has work forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, Meridian, PANK, Rattle, and Mid-American Review, among others. He lives in Seattle.