Penelope at Home by Sophie Johnson

I just re-read The Odyssey. If you had told me ten years ago that I would ever re-read The Odyssey by choice, I would have assumed that the future was some kind of dystopian Minority Report-type of place where "choices" were forced upon us and autonomy was a relic of the past. I disliked The Odyssey on par with castor oil and CSPAN2, and what with all the books there are to read in the universe, I assumed the likelihood I'd ever pick it up again was nil.

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Train Shadow by Sophie Johnson

The morning light is stretching out in bands across the observation car, which has largely emptied out since last night. It’s 6 a.m. and we’re holding in Sacramento; the people on the train are mostly asleep. But this car contains the waking exceptions and general misfits: a bouncy, pigtailed six-year-old; a gorgeously rotund man in sunglasses and a Hawaiian print shirt eating a box of doughnut holes; and my favorite (not to play favorites, but): an angry programmer in a utility jacket wearing a long silver Star of David necklace, shouting every few minutes at his computer and no one in particular, “You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
 

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Dear Sophie Love Sophie Vol. 2 by Sophie Johnson

In December I spent the holiday at my childhood home in Portland and went through my boxes of old diaries and journals because I'm into self-abuse and shame. Then I scanned some of the entries and wrote letters to my past self from the perspective of my current self. You can read those here

I figured it was time to do that again, whereas there are literally thousands of pages of unaddressed issues, and Past Sophie could use some more comforting tough love. (She was in a default state of outspoken martyred melancholia). 

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I Wish We Were Still Friends by Sophie Johnson

Seth called on Saturday. I'm calling him Seth, but that's not his real name. In writing, it's important to protect the identities of children and ex-boyfriends. Children because they aren't fully formed representations of themselves yet; and ex-boyfriends so you don't get in trouble over the Internet. Seth is an ex-boyfriend. Really, he is the ex-boyfriend.

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Telling The Story by Sophie Johnson

I like presenting at conferences, probably mostly because I'm an egoist. I like hearing myself speak, and I like essentially holding other people hostage to hear me speak. But, also, I like the work I do and I believe in it. In case you don't know me and need some background here, I'm entering my seventh year teaching in New Orleans. I work with kids who have "Emotional/ Behavioral Disorders."* We make art together to engage in so-called "Social Emotional Learning,"* and I develop resources to share with other teachers who want them. It's a cool job.

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Water by Sophie Johnson

Until I was well into high school, summer meant just two things: 1. It was hot enough that Mom bought Diet Coke to keep around the house (awesome); and 2. THE POOL. The pool was the most significant detail about summer by far. Our neighborhood pool, which was owned by the local high school, was a five minute walk from my house. My sister Alexis and I were even allowed to walk there without an adult. Probably because my parents were thrilled to get rid of us.

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Blueberry Picking by Sophie Johnson

Last week was the worst week ever. It was bad in that way that stubbing your toe is bad -- you know what I mean: it's not that bad-seeming, so you don't have anyone's sympathy or support, but man, it really hurts. You know? Last week was composed of a series of uncomfortable circumstances that were not so severe as they were manifold. I started teaching fourth grade and found out I am terrible at teaching fourth grade. I consistently forgot my lunch at home every day. When I was working out in the morning (Hey: I was working out in the morning; that's a shitty situation in and of itself) a cockroach climbed on my toe. Then I screamed at it, and instead of taking the scream to mean, "Please get off my toe," the cockroach took the scream to mean, "Please climb up my leg as fast as possible."

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Fourth Grade by Sophie Johnson

Fourth grade was the year things started to change. In third grade, all the girls in my class were still too scared to watch Are You Afraid of the Dark, and you still got bragging rights for bringing a coloring book to school that had peel-off stickers in it. In third grade, you still had to invite everyone in your class to your birthday party, because friendship was not about personality similarity, it was about who lived closest to your mom's house. Third grade was blissful and simple. Fourth grade was a battlefield.

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Why Write A Play by Sophie Johnson

The first play I ever wrote was called "55 Dollar Refrigerator." I was 16, and I was immensely proud of it. This was during a time in my life when I colored my hair dark blue and wore vampire-red lipstick and lined my eyes so heavily I was convincing as a raccoon. It was also a time when I was watching a lot of "Degrassi: The Next Generation." (If you missed that show because you were cursed with merely basic cable, the tagline was, "It goes there." Popular themes were: school shootings, self-mutilation, stabbing. This wouldn't have been funny if the characters weren't all rich Canadian white kids. Except for Drake. Drake starred as a rich Canadian black kid.) What I'm really trying to say here is that for me, art was an opportunity to show the world how seriously deep and tortured I was, if it wasn't already abundantly obvious.

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Cars Are Death Traps by Sophie Johnson

Every time I merge onto the highway (or am in the passenger seat while someone else merges onto the highway), I envision hundreds of possible deaths. "OK. We're merging. We're merging. There's a truck four lanes over! It looks like it's changing lanes. Oh shit. It's gonna change ALL FOUR LANES AND BE IN OUR LANE. Wait... there's a car a thousand feet ahead. Is it slowing? It's slowing. WE SHOULD BE SLOWING. If we don't slow at the same speed as that car is slowing we will collide and the engines will combust and everyone will be charred to death. Good luck finding our body parts! They're EXPLODED AND CHARRED. And that car probably has A FAMILY IN IT. A family AND A FAMILY PET, SUCH AS A FERRET. WE ARE ABOUT TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE VIOLENT BURNING DEATHS OF A WHOLE FAMILY AND THEIR BELOVED PET FERRET. WAIT. WAIT. HOLY SHIT. WHAT IF THE TRUCK CHANGES LANES AND THE FAMILY WITH THE FERRET SLOWS DOWN AT THE SAME TIME AND THERE IS A THREE WAY COLLISION UNLIKE ANY ANYONE HAS EVER SEEN BEFORE AND ALL THE OTHER CARS ON THE HIGHWAY ARE LIKEWISE AFFECTED. OH MY GOD WE ARE HITLER."

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Bird-Watching by Sophie Johnson

I have always sort of had a crush on Bert. Of all the characters on Sesame Street, he just seems the most rational and down-to-earth. He likes to sit inside, he collects bottle caps, and his catch-phrase is, "Yes I do mind." Doesn't he seem like the kind of guy who would be fiscally responsible enough for the both of you, and would always fold the bath towels? Also, he is yellow. But hands down the hottest thing about Bert is his fondness for pigeons, and subsequently, bird-watching.

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Dating by Sophie Johnson

Dating is hard. To be successful at it, you have to smell like you shower regularly, and you have to wear more than just a night shirt. You can't just sit down and start talking about the thing you really want to talk about (cookies; or why haven’t books been any good since The Babysitters’ Club?). At dinner, you have to say things like, "What are you having?" When what you mean is, "I'm going to order a whole pizza and I'd really prefer if I didn't have to share any of it with you." But we still do it. We even take it pretty seriously, because at the end of a good date, someone might give you unspoken permission to rub your mouth on their mouth.
 

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Reflection by Sophie Johnson

This time last year, I knew that I was leaving New Orleans. Yeah, New Orleans had been great and everything, but I felt stuck. I wanted to move to Portland and live near my sister, where it was always raining, no one danced in the streets, and plaid and moustaches were a dime a dozen. I'm from Portland, for the record; it's not like I just arbitrarily decided to move from an increasingly colonized white-hipster hotspot to the white-hipster mothership. I wanted to live closer to my family. (Also, sorry, but the coffee is just soooo much better there.)

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We Pray Before Dinner by Sophie Johnson

I have the same relationship with God as most liberal white people my age. We all tend to clam up around religion like we are in the presence of a grandparent who hasn't seen our nose ring yet. Eventually we chime in passively: "Oh yeah, I believe there's something greater, but I don't know what it is."

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Birthday by Sophie Johnson

I spent the golden years of having birthdays doing them wrong. Maybe you're thinking, "Child Sophie, you were perfect and you couldn't fuck anything up. Surely your birthdays were treasure-like occasions, and you're too humble to admit it now that you're an adult." Unfortunately, reader, you're wrong this time. They were all disasters, and it was all my fault.

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Ducklings by Sophie Johnson

Most people pick the colleges they go to for normal reasons. For example: "Terrific science department" would be a normal reason. So would, "Small class sizes," "Lots of Princeton Review superlatives," "Far away from my parents' house," and "The girls seem hot there." I picked my college, however, primarily because of its duck population.

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Five Things I Learned From Alexis Johnson by Sophie Johnson

My sister is this extraordinary person who I always fail to describe correctly. I start by telling people she has very blonde hair and very white teeth and very big boobs, and that all of this comes naturally to her. But then people picture this gum-chewing sorority-type, which my sister is not. I tell people that she is a wizard at video games (Nintendo variety only, for the most part), and that when she goes to settle Catan she always settles it. But then people see this nerdy Comic-Con chick with acne and see-through skin from staying in a basement too long, which is also not my sister.

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Sketchbook: Willa by Sophie Johnson

Willa is one of the most interesting, effusive people I know. I daydream about what it would be like if she was a comic book all the time. She would be very difficult to capture. Last night we had drinks together at my favorite neighborhood bar, and she was so beautiful it was sort of difficult to think.


Mom by Sophie Johnson

The first thing I remember ever wanting to be was a mom. This was just one of the many ways in which I was a huge cliche as a female child -- others included my penchant for Babysitters' Club (and subsequent hatred of Goosebumps, even though Trevor Hancey liked Goosebumps and I was hopelessly in love with him), and the sheer number of Barbie dolls I had (hundreds. I did mutilate them when I got bored with them, but in a way I think that's a cliche too). 

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