from ALT VICES by Michelle Dove

Declarative sentences function as rhetorical devices, inasmuch as questions state facts. How much of what we say is to hear ourselves talk and how much is to elicit a response? As children we raise our hands for acknowledgment of a question or answer. For this reason, our first instinct is to ask to be excused from college composition. Excitement or agreement can be mistaken for rudeness. One person’s interruption is another’s symptom of discovery. Network newscasts teach us to stop taking breaths when we have the floor.

When I am confident and able to communicate the need for communication lessens. And won’t who listens listen? I stutter before handing someone a kite who hates the nip of the wind. Tendencies for contextual agreement jeopardize our group interactions. Most days I can compose a meaningful story or write a factual report. But who’s determining fulfillment? My greatest flaw is that I’m no longer anxious when checking the mail. If I make myself scarce, will you adore me more or less when I return? It’s only when someone takes a photograph of me that I like that I easily discard the photographs void of the beauty I wish to see in myself.

Beach towns lack traction, as do lofty clouds. We want cheaper rent but know better than to stay in a city with falling prices. Is traffic one banality to leverage vitality against? Do high costs of living inspire healthier meals with elaborate spices? Expense isn’t always relative, but theories on the importance of space counter the belief of enlightened squander. I will let you see inside my house but only after two minutes and if you do not remove your shoes.

When small businesses start the day by reading the obituaries it is practical. When we do it’s morbid. Death is the most unnatural state to embrace while living. Destruction isn’t ubiquitous but the capacity to threaten destruction is not alarming. Is activism that fails any less disquieting than art that remains? Words mean, but if war is war it matters little what anything is named. Hip-hop isn’t literature but hierarchy’s not to blame. When language grants us the means to avoid categorical generalities, we stutter as we enter fully realized worlds.

As adults, we have more confidence to undertake varied endeavors but less desire to explore. Can we take pride in what our parents signed us up for as children? Over time we recognize our subpar abilities and put much to rest. In this way we are humble—yet ill-equipped to overcome our fears. Failure is universal and expected, but not all failure reroutes our desires, let alone our expectations. My finances and career options give no clear indication that I will ever own a house. It is possible to age gracefully in life without setting nor meeting financial benchmarks.

Shared experience is never shared perception. All points in a room are not created equal. The sound in the back of the bar is 20 decimals below the sound in the front. If we condition ourselves to live on less of less will we retire with more of less? I didn’t learn to stand in front of a crowd for applause but will be devastated if no one claps. If we judged every decision with numbered score cards, would we learn more efficiently from our mistakes? Our collective flaw is that we forget what we learn, which indicates non-learning. If time and choice are infinitely related, who’s to say we’ve made any mistakes at all.

The ability to act on emotion is not necessarily bravery. But neither is it foolishness. If we acknowledge we are stifled by wrong things in our lives, does it mean what’s empowering us is right? It is difficult to feel both right and wrong at the same time. In this way, we invent the sensation of fate—everything that is happening to us is happening to us for a reason. Forgiveness is an act that is more brave than it is fair, but promotion of fairness is far less rewarding. If we desire truth, selfish motivation to do right by others benefits no one in the long term. Yet kindness is one convention that willingly upkeeps itself.

The less someone speaks the less opportunity there is to listen. My greatest flaw is that I learned to talk about myself late in life. Now I hear myself talking and wonder how I will ever stop. The line between willful engagement and uninhibited enjoyment is shifty. When we choose our interactions, we feel more obligated to love our lives. This says nothing for the guilt of our advantage.

Michelle Dove is the author of Radio Cacophony, forthcoming from Big Lucks Books. Recent writing appears in Chicago Review, DIAGRAM, Sixth Finch and PEN/Guernica. She lives in Durham, NC.