Cipher #2


Cipher is my current, ongoing zine project.  I babble a bit about “what’s going on in my head when i’m putting together a new Cipher” on the Cipher #1 page.

Oh, and if you came here looking for the promised pictures of the potato dumplings, they’re at the bottom of the page.  Thanks for visiting!  Have you tried the dumplings yet?  :)

‘Cipher’ (#2) cover
‘Cipher’ (#2) cover


  • published: July 2010
  • language: English
  • size: 1/4 letter (4″w x 5&1/2″h), 64pp, ~10,800 words
  • status: In print!

table of contents:

  • poem
  • prologue
  • the (not so) invisible piano
  • dance of the potato dumpling fairy
  • Cinderella takes herself to the ball
  • wordnerdery! — apparatus
  • poems
  • food of my people: vepro-knedlo-zelo (minus vepro)
  • student, interrupted
  • epilogue a: enjambment
  • epilogue b: finis
  • poem


cover price: $2 (U.S.)

This time around i’m only going to be selling Cipher via Crabby Media (and any stores/distros that pick it up).  Since i’m the distro person for Crabby Media anyway, i just don’t want to have to deal with payments and shipping for 2 different entities at once.  And, hey, while you’re there you might find something else that piques your curiosity!  Bwahahaha!

excerpt — poem:

{I was afraid the 1st poem might be difficult to read because it’s a photocopy of the original handwritten poem in pencil from an old notebook.  I have fairly tidy handwriting, but the smudgy pencil didn’t make for the best copy.}

these hills before me
iron blue
distant beneath the pale sky
these hills
a thousand bare trees
bending before the green spring breeze
shimmering in the sun
swells of earth
toward the inevitable sea

excerpt — prose:

{This is just a portion of this article.}

dance of the potato dumpling fairy

first position ~

I am a living example of the fact that being thin does not necessarily mean that a person is “in shape” or “healthy.”  At about 5′ 4″ (4.5 or 5 inches if i don’t slouch) and approximately 130 pounds, my BMI claims i’m average — but most people who talk about my size say i’m “thin.”

When i was in high school, i was “skinny” — i was “too thin.”  I think, actually, people worried that i was anorexic: in fact, i remember writing a report on anorexia when i was a sophomore, perhaps in part as a reaction to those assumptions — i wanted more knowledge so that i knew, even if no one believed me, whether or not i had an eating disorder.

I didn’t, so far as i could determine, have an eating disorder.  What i did have was a fairly active lifestyle.  Not only was there the required half year of gym classes, but there was also the marching band.  And, when you’re as competitive as our band director was, you run a strict organization — by the time band season was wrapping up i was doing as many push-ups in gym class as the (also highly competitive) wrestling squad.

What i also very quickly realized from thinking about eating disorders and my own body is that visual appearance is absolutely conflated with physical health, and people like to make judgments based on visual size — my visual size, yours, their own.  No one has ever even asked about my BMI (i’m sure they assume because they can see it, right??), let alone about my actual health (how are your migraines?  your depression?  your back?).  They just look at me and say…

You’re just so thin. Am i eating enough?  Is everything alright?  Have i been sick?  I should put some meat on my bones.  No wonder i’m cold all the time, since i’m such a skinny person.

Your hips seem to be spreading. Am i putting on weight?  Is everything alright?  I should watch what i eat.

Snickerdoodles??  How do you stay so thin?! Should i stop eating cookies?  Would i be thinner?  Would i have more of a chance of staying thin?  Should i make a point to eat a salad for dinner?

… and i find myself wanting to not be looked at, to not be judged based on appearances.  When i look at myself in the mirror, staring at what everyone else sees and feeling a little awkward about it if not a little disgusted, i realize that i want to un-seen.  I want to be invisible and un-remarked-upon.  I take to wearing clothes that hide my body, so that i don’t see it, so that you don’t see it, so that there are fewer comments.  I’m just a short woman in baggy clothes — who knows anything about the body the outfits hide?

But that’s just the thing: Who knows anything about my body, about what’s really going on beneath those clothes?  Who knows anything about the actual body i see in the mirror each morning?  What does my alleged body, my visual size — my outline — tell you about me, really?

If i’m thin, that’s “good”?  If i’m round, that’s “bad”?  Because a body’s shape is a reliable way to judge a person’s health, right?  Too round and i must have a high BMI and i must be morbidly obese and on death’s very door.  Whereas if i’m thin, i must have a low BMI, and that must mean i’m really healthy.


Except you don’t know what my body hides — what anybody’s body hides.  You can’t see the specter of heart disease, cancer, or stroke, because they’re not written in my BMI, in my shape, in the outline and contours of my physical body — they’re ghosts in my genetic code, where for now they cause no trouble.

You probably don’t notice the crooked spine and associated back pain — until i take a day off work because i can’t get out of bed, or i have to take a break as we walk around the city or stroll a museum because i simply can’t stand or walk for extended periods of time.

By looking at me, can you tell that i’m not able to ride my beloved bicycle much because i simply don’t have the stamina right now?

By looking at me, could you guess that when i bend over i can’t touch my toes?  Not because i have a belly that visually disgusts you in the way, but because my muscles aren’t especially supple anymore, can’t stretch and bend far enough to get even my slight frame over to touch fingernails to toenails.

By looking at me, do you have any idea of how migraines and constant headaches and persistent sinus pressure plague me?  How i worry that sometimes my head hurts so constantly that i won’t be able to keep up with my job or with my own projects?

Have i mentioned that i’m only 36 (37, 38)?  I’m young and i’m thin and i should be in the prime of my life because i look perfectly healthy.

– – – – – – – – –

knedlo — potato dumplings:

These aren’t the best pictures (i only have the camera on my cell phone right now), but i very much wanted to give you an idea of what to expect should you attempt to make my family’s potato dumplings.  I always find cooking much easier if i have an idea of what i’ll end up with.

potato dumpling & caraway sauerkraut
potato dumpling & caraway sauerkraut
potato dumpling w/ fork for scale
potato dumpling w/ fork for scale