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February 1st, 2007 - Mathieu Cailler

A Thursday morning.

My drive from Redondo Beach to Compton, where I work as an elementary-school teacher, is fluid: the 110 North, the 91 East, the 710 North, exit onto Rosecrans.

Tires hum on the asphalt. The yellow marking lines on the road, blend into one long strand. I’m alone, moving at 75—my mind about the same speed. Preset radio buttons are being slammed—sports radio, news, rap music. Super Bowl’s around the corner; suspects arrested in the UK accused of plotting the holding and eventual beheading of a serving Muslim solider in Iraq; and the rhymes of Nas.

A stale aroma of drive-thru coffee flirts with my Old Spice. Sports radio: Does Peyton Manning have what it takes? News: What kind of punishment will these suspects receive? Nas: Only if I had one gun, one girl and one crib / One God to show me how to do things his son did.

Inside my Acura, the leather stiff and warm. Dreams navigable as these roads, perhaps. But how to get there—no map, no route, no GPS, no “left turn ahead.” Want to write. Write anything—poems, essays, stories, novels. Not worth telling anyone about it, though. If I don’t say a word—if the dream never makes contact with the air—then I can’t fail. Keep it safe. Yes, safe. Yes, five-star crash rating; yes, seatbelts; yes, airbags; yes, anti-lock brakes.

Slow traffic now, a peek in the rearview. This tie doesn’t go with this shirt—too many patterns, optical illusion. What will I do at break today? Did I remember Jim Harrison’s book… yes, I think it’s in the drawer at school. Maybe not though. But I have some Chinua Achebe in the trunk. And some Wolff, some Dickens, too, a book I actually found on the street. A sign maybe? No, just litter. I think I’ll read during the lunch hour; hopefully no meetings; no phone calls; no interruptions. Just savor the prose with my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and the hum of the heating vents and the quietude of rows of desks with no kids behind them.

Have I become one of the students whose favorite “subjects” are recess and lunch? Could I be doing this in ten years? No way.

Maybe instead of reading, I’ll write something today—yes, that’s it, something short; every day work on something short, watch the pages pile up like unpaid bills. Scrawl some ideas during recess, and then a couple hours later, work on those notes during lunch.

Maybe I’ll just tell others to dream; tell my students to dream; maybe that’s my destiny: to be a dream cheerleader. There’s worth in that, right? Of course there is.

But what if the recess-and-lunch-time writing could be the theme of my day, not just the motif? Is there more than just visiting my ambition like some hospital patient, sitting bedside, and holding its hand, hoping for the best, hearing the beepbeepbeep of the various monitors?

In ten years, when my third graders are seniors in high school and getting ready to graduate, will I be moving forward, too? Or will my visions of writing be tingling with numbness, growing comfortable with discomfort?


Mathieu Cailler is a writer of poetry and prose. His work has been widely featured in national and international publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The Saturday Evening Post. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, he is the recipient of a Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction and a Shakespeare Award for Poetry. He is the author of Clotheslines (Red Bird), Shhh (ELJ Publications), and Loss Angeles (Short Story America Press), which has been honored by the Hollywood, New York, Best Book, and International Book Awards.

Mathieu urges you to learn more about Alexandria House, a transitional residence for single women and women with children in the process of moving from emergency shelter to permanent housing. They provide hope and hospitality, and the women and children living in Alexandria House benefit from a supportive community and an encouraging environment. Visit

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