Love Bites: “That One Time” by Ali Pica

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Today’s contributor for “The Obsequious Pen” is our own columnist and creator of Thirty-Third Wheel, Ali Pica. Her poem is titled, “That One Time.” She will be reading her works alongside other local writers at this Friday night’s “Love Bites: Writer’s Circle” reading at the Game Chateau in Wilkes, Barre, 7:30 p.m. and at the Writers’ Showcase, next Saturday at 7:00 p.m. This poem was inspired by the song “Two Blue Lights” from Songs: Ohia on his album Didn’t It Rain.

That One Time

I think of you
That one time
You held my hand—
For sentimental reasons
I rejected the possibility of stars
Being born
In this universe.

I saw you smile
That one time
Through the haze of your smoke
And self-deprecating humor
Intertwined in the binding
Of literary analysis,
You lit up a ring of laughter
Underneath the flood lights.

We joked
That one time
I thought you were into her and
I was invisible as an auditory hallucination,
When I listen to your voice,
I know you know I am real.

You listened
Every time,
That one time
I thought I loved you
And still do—
Don’t know what to do
That one time
I will have to.

Ali along with other local talented writers will be reading their love-scorned works at the “Love Bites, Writers Circle” reading, Friday, February 23, 7:30 p.m. at the Game Chateau, located 1112-PA 315 Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702. The cover is $5 at the door.

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Don’t forget to check out our playlist! You can find it here and on Spotify: thirtythirdwheel


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Today’s song is “Answer” by Phantogram on their album, Three.

It is what we owe each other. Not what you or I are owed: we are owed nothing.

Or at least that’s the way it should be.

I used to be bullied all of the time as a kid: I was called names, had garbage thrown at me, and had been threatened from time to time. In my adult relationships, I was verbally, emotionally, and physically abused. I used to absorb the hatred and blame myself. Now, I vow to take in hate and produce love like a tree takes in Carbon Dioxide and produces Oxygen. I give air for people to breathe to the best of my ability.

Gestalt theory states our whole perception is greater than the sum of its parts. If we apply this concept to society, shouldn’t we be greater than just the sum of individuals? Then, what the hell is wrong with us as a society? Why do we treat each other the way we do? Why are we so selfish?

I used to think in terms of what I did or didn’t “deserve.” It’s not about me anymore or any of us, specifically. Our world is too fragile to distribute “just desserts” all of the time.

I had an intense discussion with my college students yesterday about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Gun control aside, I asked them, as mental health advocates in training, what are we going to do to help prevent these tragedies? How do we identify those suffering and stop them before they cause destruction? How do we heal those who have survived? They discussed how they felt unsafe on our campus—a place I see so picturesquely serene and isolated from the world. I vowed to do something to protect it, to protect us, but I don’t know what it is yet.

It is each of our responsibilities to be a part of the solution. We need to stop focusing so much on ourselves to the point that we destroy the people we love or let them succumb to the evils of this world, like self-harm. We may feel as if we do not have control; however, we do. We can love the people we care about so much it hurts. We don’t have to love everyone, but we don’t have to hate either. Hate is a choice.

So, what are we going to do about it? We need an answer.


A. Dawn

Check out our playlist! You can find it here and on Spotify: thirtythirdwheel

An Illustration of Loneliness

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Today’s song is “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” by Courtney Barnett, from her album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.

It’s that time of year again, the Hallmark of b.s. holidays we fall for every time we see it, like a horrible ex, who was great in bed: Happy Valentine’s Day! We spend money on wilted flowers, sparkly mushy cards with professions of love that read like a word salad, lard churned drug-store Whitman’s Sampler chocolates, and overpriced-under portioned dinners at restaurants where we are sardined in a can, hoping to get something in return.

I may be a little jaded, but I would rather take it all back. I would rather drink with my friends on Galentine’s Day. Or any day, really.

Consequently, Valentine’s Day has a way of nagging away my painfully single human existence, just a little bit. It’s only painful if I cared. Then, I reminisced lately about the past as if it were something great, someone great. The thoughts would ebb and flow as I zoned out to whatever I have been binge watching all week.

I recollected my past relationships and romantic encounters as if I were trying to remember what to buy at the grocery store.

I got a text last night, which read, “I was thinking of you and just wanted to say hey.”

“I’m thinkin’ of you too…”

I didn’t actually text that in response. I said something like, “same here” as to be slightly vague and sarcastic. He knew what I meant. We both stay in touch randomly, which I suspect is to ease his singledom. It doesn’t matter to me.

His random text made me think about how a few years ago I had a different life. I would have dates booked back-to-back on weekends, and went to upscale restaurants, roof-top bars, and concerts. I was always surrounded by people, but somehow felt even more lonely? Did I not appreciate it?

As I shift back to the present, I think I would rather bury myself in my hoodie and watch Rick and Morty than deal with the constant search, the mind-numbing dry-wall conversations, the awkward good-byes. Rinse and repeat.

But what’s the point of the mundane every day? I make it sound as if I am as lonely as a microwavable dinner, but I am lucky for what I have. It’s not all bad. I enjoy loving myself and others in my life, even if it’s not the romantic love of partner. I love my spending time with my family. I love having close gatherings with friends. I can talk to anyone if I feel like it or choose to simply be. I love making people happy even if it’s just cracking a joke to make my students laugh, because they had a bad day or listening to a stranger’s problems, because I “seem like I am a good listener and won’t judge. ”

No matter how alone we feel at times, we must remind ourselves of how we fit into the universe and that there are people in that universe, too. Our actions can have a ripple effect on others, good or bad. True happiness comes with self-acceptance in numerous ways. I accept that although I will be single on Valentine’s Day, I am not alone. You are not alone either. And sometimes if you are physically alone, it can be a good thing. Take some time for yourself and enjoy your place. Remember: “Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.” It may not be a life-changing quote, but it can get us from the present to the future. It may not be a great place where we are, but remember, there is a possibility it can change for the better, tomorrow.

Truly yours,

A. Dawn

Check out our playlist! You can find it here and on Spotify: thirtythirdwheel

The Obsequious Pen: Marcie Herman Riebe

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This week’s contribution is a poem written by our amazing columnist of “The Writer’s Edge” and “All About Drama,” Marcie Herman Riebe

Here is her poem:

A Desert

A cold desert formed between us
when neither one was watching.
Lips once lush have
with anger
and separateness.
Curves captured willingly once
now lay listless
too soon to wither away.

Marcie along with other local gifted writers will be reading their love-scorned works at the “Love Bites, Writers Circle” reading, Friday, February 23, 7:30 p.m. at the Game Chateau, located 1112-PA 315 Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702. The cover is $5 at the door.


“Love Bites”: Writers’ Showcase Featured Writer, Ali Pica

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This snippet of a short story is written by one of the featured writers in the upcoming Writers’ Showcase:  Spring Edition and creator of Thirty-Third Wheel, Ali Pica.  Ali wrote this story based on the writing prompt, “Love Bites.” Enjoy!

“Love Bites”

His comment struck a chord with her body. His words felt to her as if he strummed her very essence, like a steel string, ground in between the metal entwined grooves with his jagged fingernails. This left her with a reverberating sound, his voice, which resonated in her throat as if she caught his voice and kept it as her own.

“Who gets the couch?” he asked.

She parroted to herself quietly, “Who gets the couch?”

“I guess I will take it since I paid most of the bills anyhow. It is my place after all,” he answered his own question.

“I…” she paused.

“You what?” he asked.

He had a chipper musical quality to his being that she hadn’t heard since they first moved in together. He sounded like a customer service agent who was also a morning person.

He held the neck of a bottle of craft beer in his left hand and talked with his right. Then, he reached out his left hand as a truce.

“Cheers,” he tilted his bottle towards hers. However, she didn’t reciprocate the cheer.

“What’s the matter? You know you wanted, we both wanted this for quite a while!” he bemoaned.

“It’s not the fact that it happened. It’s the way that it happened. You tried to cheat with my best friend!” she piped up with a flicker of fire, then snuffed out the flame.

“You mean she tried…” he said now with an angrier tone, spacing out his words as if he were chewing on a piece of bloody steak.

“You didn’t object if that was the case,” she mumbled.

“What was that? Oh, nothing I am sure, because you know this is all in your head. You were looking for an excuse to get rid of me,” he labored over his words as blood seemed to dribble from his mouth.

“It doesn’t matter,” she sighed as she grabbed her bag, and walked out the door.

She didn’t look back.

“To new beginnings,” she spoke to the air as she pretended to toast to an imaginary recipient, dumped her contents onto the grass, then threw her bottle in a nearby recycling bin.

She didn’t care about much, but felt there was no need to stop caring about the environment.

The Writers’ Showcase is an event that features readings of poetry and prose from Pennsylvania based writers. The Writers’ Showcase: Spring Edition will take place on Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the Olde Brick Theatre, 126 W Market St. Scranton, PA from 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. Admission is $4 at the door.

Sea of Dreams

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Today’s song is “Sea of Dreams” by Oberhofer on their album, Chronovision.


It feels like years since I have written you.

So little, yet so much has happened in the past month.

My life’s purpose has been laughing in my face for quite a while.

My ex contacted me recently to “get back together” (see “Loser”). Clearly, I said, “no” (that’s putting it delicately). However, it made me think about all of the shitty things that happened over the past two years: how I “wasted time” with this person and with myself, how I felt alone even when I was with him, and how I sacrificed my needs for someone, who didn’t appreciate a damn thing.

This past weekend, I discussed life goals with someone that eerily resonated mine. We are the same age, though I felt like he is light years ahead. He teaches Psychology courses full-time and is finishing his PhD. We talked about how we want to write some sort of novel or film. We both haven’t achieved this goal yet, but who knows?

However, I felt embarrassed that I am the one sitting on my hands with two part-time jobs that aren’t really going anywhere, because I don’t have a doctorate or am working on one. I’m not working on anything now or sometimes it feels that way. I need to make this change.

Then, I recalled a recent conversation I had with one of my college students about how it would be amazing to live in Colorado—to live among mountains that make us feel small, yet a part of something bigger. On that note, she talked about how she could have been there now, how she should have made different choices like how she transferred schools, and how she felt she has been “wasting her time.”

In response, I played on a spinet of wisdom: “We are always wasting time.”
She laughed and said something like, “That’s true,” in affirmation.
I reassured her that she would find her place and get to where she needs to be—it isn’t about when you make something happen, but that you make it happen, at all.

Consequently, as a friend said, I have to find a way to fulfill my Ikigai.

No, Ikigai isn’t a hipster term for “happiness”—it is a Japanese term, “iki” meaning “life” and “gai” meaning “value or worth.” Basically, it is your life’s purpose.

I know my Ikigai is writing and teaching, but it involves much more. How do I accomplish these goals? How do I afford them or make a living from them?

I thought about this principle and how we can achieve our Ikigai in a few steps:

1. Stop comparing yourself to others.
This step is crucial in our journey to find our Ikigai. I was so tempted to continuously compare myself with this person, who seemingly has accomplished much more than I have. In these moments, I run away with the thoughts that I will never accomplish my goals, because “I haven’t achieved them yet,” or “I am not trying hard enough.” Honestly, when you think these things, it is probably bullshit because it’s not accurate or even worth thinking about. Comparing ourselves only gives us a reason to hold ourselves back from achieving what we truly want.

2. It’s okay to “waste time.”
Some people may think it’s a waste of time to go out drinking with friends, meet new people, or binge watch Netflix for hours on end, but these experiences can be refreshing or even inspiring. Did you ever get drunk and think of the most amazing idea for a novel, because you overheard someone say something crazy? It may just be a drunken idea or infinite wisdom? Either way, write it down. Worst case scenario, it can provide a good story. And if you feel like you’re really wasting time with your life: Do something about it, even if it means opening that GRE study guide and re-learning Algebra. It will be worth it in the end or another waste of time. Regardless, move onward.

3. Don’t look back in anger.
It is so easy to dwell on our past mistakes, what people have done to us, and what we have yet to do, that we forget our purpose. We drown in a sea of anger and resentment, that we lose our sense of balance. We can’t stop our thoughts, but we can circumvent negative thoughts sort of speak. The principles of Aikido, a defensive approach to martial arts, teach us about redirecting attacks or negative energy per se, thus defending ourselves without harming others. My Sensei joked that I was like “Gumby,” so I translated this as I am freely moving and cannot be caught, spiritually or otherwise. Consequently, I learned how to fall down stairs without killing myself and how to redirect my negative feelings somewhere else in a positive way. Find it in your heart to forgive others and more importantly, yourself.

4. Most importantly, be kind to others.
“Life is chaos; be kind,”-Michelle Eileen McNamara
As the late wife of Patton Oswalt said, we need to be kind to others. We need to forget about ourselves for a little while and focus on sharing our kindness with others, even if they don’t appreciate it. I refuse to let myself give up on others, even though I had so many negative experiences being kind towards others. I realize I don’t need anyone to complete my happiness, but it’s okay to want someone. It’s okay to want someone to join you on your journey in achieving Ikigai or maybe sharing your love with others is your Ikigai. When we communicate with others, especially with dating, we can tend to simply take “pieces” of others to fill a void without any intention in returning affection—”ghosting,” particularly. We tend to forget that there are other people on the other side of an unanswered text. Sometimes we don’t have the energy or it might be the lesser of evils to avoid people, but try to be kind as possible. Psychotherapist, Esther Perel explains this phenomenon of “ghosting” and other related concepts succinctly in her video:

I will leave you with these thoughts. We may not know what our Ikigai is or how to achieve it, but don’t forget that we are all looking for our purpose in some way. We are not alone and don’t have to be. Until we find our purpose, we can enjoy our paper sailboat ride downstream. Remember in the words of the fictional character, Bojack Horseman, “In this terrifying world, all we have is the connections that we make.”

Best wishes,

A. Dawn

If you would like to listen to our playlist, you can find it here and on Spotify: thirtythirdwheel

What Will It Be This Time?

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This poem was written by our columnist and creator, A. Dawn Pica.

What Will It Be This Time?

I run my fingertips
Along the grooves of the bricks at my knees—
I grit their teeth between buried secrets
And the cracks are like those of his fallacies.
They are rudimentary
Buried in the cemetery
Of our unspoken words
That still linger in drafts
Of text messages.
I put my back against the universe,
And choke back my tears
In a single shot.

“What will it be this time?” he asks again
As I watch the fake candle light
Flicker its brightest star,
Then die in effigy,
Leaking battery acid.
“I’m not a hopeless romantic
Anymore,” I say,
And he gives me the usual
Overstated with gold flaked parlay.
This glass swirls and spins a fairy tale
Of someone else’s fantasy,
Full of unfulfilled promises.

I am lucky to have you.


If you’d like your written work to be featured in this column, e-mail A. Dawn at: