Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pimp My Fic 2: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

So, we picked kind of a weird time to launch a podcast, which led to our immediately taking a week off, but the second episode is done and posted and ready. It features an awkward beginning and an awkward end! Also, it features discussion of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a well-meaning movie that nonetheless kind of sucked tremendously. We did our best to fix it, while conceding that its lady 'stache technology was truly years ahead of its time.

Anyway, go check it out. We have an iTunes feed set up now, too, so you can subscribe to it there if you like.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pimp My Fic 1: Shakespeare in Love

There are big things coming down the pike, including (just ferinstance) our next issue. And then even bigger things! But for now, the beginning of a weekly feature: Pimp My Fic, a podcast made by Tracy and also by me. In what seasoned industry professionals are already referring to as "PMF," we discuss potential fixes for failed or flawed movies, books, video games, and other. (But, honestly, mostly movies, because they're manageable and because a much larger number of you are likely to have seen what we're talking about in any given week.) You can download it here, stream it on this rather unpretty page, and the RSS feed is here.

Why are we doing a podcast? For the same reasons we do everything, more or less: we like a lot of podcasts that other people do, and it seemed fun. For a while we were tossing around ideas for shows, but nothing felt right until we were (unrelatedly) having a conversation about how to fix Fight Club, which might be the subject of a future episode. (The short version? Put some actual fight club in it, fergawdsake.) Tracy and I do this a lot -- using a combination of our shmancy education and practical experience as storytellers, we riff on how stories we almost loved could have been better. We realized, as we were having the conversation, that it might be a fun show! Then we made a couple practice episodes before settling in to do this one.

Let us know what you think! The podcast will be available via iTunes as soon as iTunes gets its act together. (In the mean time, you can subscribe by using the "Advanced" menu in iTunes, choosing subscribe to podcast, and pasting in the URL of the feed.) We'll take requests and suggestions for future episodes, but the next one is probably going to be about a movie that rhymes with Phwilight.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

These Are My Funnies #24 and #25

#24 (120 seconds): A medical team stands tight around an operating table. Machines beep, a ventilator hums, lights are so bright they flare out the camera as it moves to show us the focused face of each doctor and nurse. We stop for a while on one particularly grim mouth, eyes, and pull back to see how this man's posture is different than that of his colleagues. This is the lead surgeon and he has a hand in the patient, now outside of the patient, gory and slick. A nurse gives him a new tool, which he slips into the patient, and for ten seconds maybe he works. There is a tiny camera in there and we can barely see what it sees, displayed on a screen near the operating table.

Suddenly, the lead surgeon yells and throws up his wet hands. He takes in the shocked faces around him, then reaches back into the patient, pulls out a long slithering thing, then more of it, then another. Someone touches his shoulder and he throws a punch. The other doctors now back away while he tugs things out of the patient and a machine beeps more quickly. Almost imperceptibly, a plastic tube threads its way into the frame from overhead and begins to flood the room with vanilla pudding.

#25 (15 seconds): A well-dressed family of an indiscernible number of generations sits around a carefully dressed dining table in a carefully maintained restaurant. Dishes and wine glasses and knives and forks and rings and necklaces and teeth shine. An old man at the head of the table stands and conversation respectfully dies. "You all," he says. "You're all my Deans." He smiles, waiting for appreciation, but no one knows what he's talking about. No one at the table knows anyone named Dean. They live in a universe without people named Dean. Also this universe still has dinosaurs, but they are tiny, having evolved to hide in the spaces where they will not be harassed by children or scientists. What has happened is that one has bitten the old man, just moments ago, and the venom of his tiny mouth has already acted on the old man's brain.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

About the Internet Cat Video Festival

I. About the Review of Cats

For a while in graduate school I wrote something called The Review of Cats. If you lived in Ames, Iowa and had a cat I knew about maybe I would come to your home and creep around, interviewing your animal. This was a great excuse to hit parties and also to slip out of awkward conversations. "Your thesis will cover which elements of the Midwest condition? Oh, sorry, that Siamese is just…look at how she's…staring."

II. About playing her off

A couple weeks ago I drove to work and the people on one of the local stations were ha haing with Katie Hill, who had put together a festival of internet cat videos as part of the Walker Art Center's Open Field program, which hosts quirky and fun events like drawing clubs and storytelling programs and live music in a rolling field of grass greening out of a mostly developed neighborhood. Katie said this event, the Internet Cat Video Festival, started as a joke. By now it had caught enough press that, hearing the interview, I couldn't believe the festival was still in the future. It seemed I'd heard about it for months, which I had. My fiancée, Sarah, was interested, I knew. I, well—I used to review cats. And the people on the radio were so enthusiastic that one of them had brought her cat into the studio. When Katie Hill finished the interview, Keyboard Cat played her off.

III. About crying alone in a field at an Internet Cat Video Festival

I picked up Sarah after work and we marveled to find an open parking spot near the Walker. People were already fast-walking past, talking too loud, excited, carrying baskets and bags. Vendors had erected tents, tables. We walked a few blocks off for dinner and a few blocks back, spending enough time in the mid-August outdoors for my allergies to trigger. I was sneezing, swearing, a mess. We had to cross a blaze of tall weedy grass to get to the Walker's field itself and then I was nearly ruined. At a little bench at the back corner of a horizontal pile of people I collapsed while Sarah went to find a restroom. I sat alone, wet-faced and red-eyed, sniffling, looking like a man lost to emotion and weeping openly at a cat video festival.

IV. About the tight-roping drunks

People were everywhere. (The next day, the NYT estimated 10,000 were in attendance.) They rolled down the hill, up the hill, around the edges of the field. Robot-sounding speakers occasionally buzzed to existence and asked people not to climb on sculptures. Children screamed at each other nearby and deranged adults had brought animals. A miniature husky trotted by, looking impossible.

The bench we'd claimed was actually four benches, a wooden rectangle surrounding a sunken ventilation system maybe ten feet across. We could see the little screen far off at the bottom of the hill, but then as people packed in it became obscured, then as people stood it became hidden. We stood and the people around us stood. Then came what can only be described as a pack of drunken youths (and yes, I feel ancient writing that), who reached tentative feet out into the flimsy lattice of wooden beams in the center of this rectangle of benches, the weak net covering the ventilation system set into the earth, and they teetered out, wobbling, arms reaching, adjusting balance. A few crossed and then panicked, dropping bottles as they leapt out and into the crowd, but then more came, and some sat, and others came and were shocked to find the surface not actually a surface, to hear it creaking and then cracking. 

V. About the cats

On screen, cats began meowing, sliding, dancing, head-bobbing. This was the first cat:

(You can view the festival's preferred version, which can't be embedded, here.)

I began writing here that I felt disappointment about this selection, but then I opened the video here at home, where I can actually see and hear it and . . . those are some cute cats. They are patty caking the hell out of each other. More cats blind-watch from right behind them, on the computer screen. The cats on the computer screen are not the cats patty caking. How many cats do these people have? Do they all patty cake?

Around this time in the night, someone asked via Twitter if the Don Piano cat had been featured. Well, he hadn't been yet, but he was up soon (in the #3 spot). You can see him, and the rest of the official playlist, here.

VI. About the people everywhere

They were everywhere, and they were into these cats. There were so many giddy laughing people that I felt compelled to document them with a photo despite the terrible lighting. They were sliding around and giggling. The older couple next to us whispered to each other throughout every video for a long stretch. The man kept saying things like, "Oh! He did it!" and "Oh my, how, what!"

One of the conceits of this cat video festival was that the audience had helped build the playlist. People submitted their suggestions, which vastly outnumbered what the curators expected to receive. Of the thousands submitted, more than 70 cat videos were shown, with nine "people's choice" videos selected by popular vote closing the program.

I expected to be a jaded viewer but was surprised by the number of unfamiliar internet cats. The animated cats? All new to me. But then, I'm something of an internet cat purist. My internet cats are live, they are unrehearsed, they are spontaneously goofy, amazing.

VII. About the cat video that unforgivably went unshown

Monday, June 18, 2012

What Single Book Have You Read The Most Times?

For me, I think it would have to be either:

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which I read at my grandmother's house the summer I was 11. It completely blew my preteen mind...despite the fact that it's over 800 pages, I read it a couple of times a year from then on. I also dabbled in Wicca and became an avowed Anglophile throughout middle school, basically because of the book (I know!). I still love Arthurian legends and stone circles, and I think the book definitely contributed to my feminist consciousness, as it's all priestesses and Goddess power and fuck patriarchal religion.  I haven't read it in maybe eighteen months, but I'm due.


The Ordinary Princess, a book I stole from my third grade classroom and read all the time throughout my childhood. It's by M.M. Kaye, who wrote The Far Pavilions, and it's probably the most charming fairy tale ever.  It's a book about a princess named Amethyst who is "cursed" at her christening with ordinariness, which means she is plain and plucky and smart. She's nicknamed Amy (so normal!) and she doesn't grow long blonde hair or pale white skin like her perfect princess sisters. When her parents try to marry her off in spite of her plainness, she escapes to a neighboring kingdom and gets a job as a kitchen maid. She also falls in love, of course. It's such good book; so funny, so spunky, so everything you want when you're a bookish little girl who loves princesses, especially those who refuse to be locked up and saved. I actually recently reread it because I wanted to write something about it, but it didn't really work, the essay I was planning. 

How about you? What novel or book of stories or poems have you read the most times, ever? Why?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The "Need" to Write

"You become a writer because you need to become a writer - nothing else." --Grace Paley

"All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon which one can neither resist nor understand."-George Orwell

"I write for the same reason I breathe -- because if I didn't, I would die." --Isaac Asimov

"This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write?  Dig down into yourself for a deep answer.  And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple, I must, then build your life according to this necessity."- Rainer Maria Rilke

I come across this particular kind of idea about being a writer every once in a while. That it's a need, a compulsion. That if you aren't wanting with every fiber of all of your cells to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you somehow aren't a "real" writer. You don't deserve to be a "real" writer.

I don't think I've ever felt, or will ever feel, this way. I like writing, obviously. It's sometimes hard and sometimes fun and sometimes all kinds of bullshit. But I don't do it because I feel some encompassing need deep down in my soul, some thrumming of words in my blood. I do it because writing is a weird, constantly changing challenge: making words fit together in the way I want them to, making my writing engage with the ideas, themes and feelings I find interesting and relevant. It's a way to be in the world and a way to understand the world.

I feel like I see this WRITE OR DIE sentiment more commonly directed towards writing students and younger writers. It's supposed to be inspirational, I guess. Aubrey Hirsch wrote about this phenomenon on her blog, using an example of the famous Charles Bukowski poem "so you want to be a writer?" I can't stand Bukowski anyway, but her refutation of his rhetoric is pretty spot on. A lot of writing is work; the simple fact of fucking sitting down and doing it, whether you've got some kind of divine inspiration or not. That willingness to read more and write more and learn more and always be open to more and for more, that's a big chunk of "it," the writing life. But I'm not sure I see the writing life as a slog through some long tortuous journey of constant effort and work, either.

What about you? Are you compelled by the singing tides of your blood to write? Could you stop writing if you had to, or if you wanted to? Does it matter?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

These Are My Funnies #22 and 23

#22 (65 seconds): We are in a packed hockey stadium. On the ice, zebras kick with short, wild strokes, lean into their sticks as they skate, look grim, desperate. The scoreboard is just visible at the edge of the screen, but we don't need to look at it to know the game has gone tense. The zebras knock the puck around, achieving nothing, until the audience seems ready to collectively shout. The ice looks ready to split. Finally, one zebra angles the puck across the ice, nearly slipping it into a goal before it is intercepted and knocked back, through the air. The audience inhales in preparation for a groan, then holds its breath when it sees the little red light blinking on the puck, the blades freshly sprung from inside. The zebras are too confused and stunned to move, even after one of them catches the bladed puck with his head. It hangs there and we wonder if he's dead, standing thanks only to a sudden stiffening of muscle, but then he pulls off his helmet, holds it away from himself, and examines the weapon lodged there. How did it come into play? Do all the pucks he's ever swung at hold such deadly blades? The players stare and the audience stares and we stare, until someone in the stands throws a plastic cup of beer out onto the ice.

#23 (2 minutes): A father, mother, and son sit around a modest dinner table. Dishes steam before them. The son, who is maybe eight, spears a pile of meat and raises it, dripping. His face is rapturous. "This pot roast is a slam dunk," he says.

The father snorts. "A slam dunk," he says. "A slam dunk." He turns to the mother. "Do you think he even knows what a slam dunk is? A slam dunk."

"I'm sure he knows," the mother says.

"I just mean--"

"Get outside," the father says. "I don't want you touching that food until you perform a perfect slam dunk." The father watches the boy, who starts to move, but slowly. "Now."

Cut to: a driveway basketball court, the hoop mounted above the garage door. The father sits in a weathered upholstered armchair sinking into the grass. An impossible number of emptied beer cans gleam at his feet. Starting at the end of the driveway, the son runs forward, dribbling a faded basketball, and leaps with it in one hand. He is young and short and does not come close to touching the hoop.

"Slam dunk!" the father yells.

The boy dribbles the ball back to the end of the driveway, then into the street. He kicks at the road like a bull, knocking up pebbles. It's dark. Lights are on in the houses all around and soon someone will complain about all this dribbling but the boy doesn't care. He clamps his jaw and runs down the driveway, knocking the ball against the concrete, and leaps for the hoop, and clatters into the garage door. The ball falls from his grasp and bounces into the grass.

"Slam dunk!" the father yells.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pretty Party Tilt Knife

My good friend, and co-contributor, Carrie Murphy, has a beautiful book out soon from Keyhole Press, titled Pretty Tilt.

And you may remember me writing about Dan Magers needing a real book that smells and feels like stuff. Well he does, and it's called Party Knife, by Birds LLC.

The first person to pre-order Pretty Tilt, email me (rawendeborn at gmail dot com) a screen shot of the receipt, will be sent a copy of Party Knife. Everyone after that will receive an erasure from a children's book. Both of these books are amazing and you will not be disappointed. Plus $10 for 2 books?! This deal ends today.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

These Are My Funnies #19, 20, 21

#19 (45 seconds): Two people walk along the edge of a park while wind bullies their clothes. Their conversation looks awkward, and as we come close enough to hear it over the wind noise, we learn that it is. “So now that’s why I don’t eat cheese,” the man says. “Not that you would remember if I ate cheese. I mean, you wouldn’t be keeping track, I don’t think you’re a wierdo.” “Ha ha,” the woman says. A gust of wind tears at them both and, after a few awkward seconds, the man says, “Don’t get blown away.” “You jackass,” the woman says. “‘Don’t get blown away.’ I hope you do get blown away.”

At that moment, a howling gale tears around the cars and through the open park space and lifts the man off the sidewalk, over the trees. We follow close, so that his terrified face is sharply focused and the world grows indistinct and colorful beneath. After some time the man’s mouth closes, then his eyes. The colors of the world beneath go from green to gray to blue to green again.

#20 (75 seconds): Everything is dark. Water burbles softly. Then! A flame blazes! A woman’s smudged and determined face is revealed in red and orange tones. Around her: the distant walls and ceiling of an underground research facility.

“That’s it,” she says. She leans forward, far forward, and we move back, until we can see the torch in her hand, the wide vat before her. “Sea monkeys,” she says, her voice faltering and then rising as she stumbles, drops the torch, catches it with her other hand as one foot spears the water of the vat. She flails, then is still, relieved, until tiny creatures swarm up from the black and over her leg, her hip, furring her body, then her neck.

#21 (40 seconds): We’re back on the face of the man from #19. He appears unconscious or worse. Colors blur by, far beneath, faster than seems possible. Soft violin music starts up and we expect that now the man’s eyes will open. Instead, a child’s voice says, “The Lord said unto--” Then the screen goes black.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

These Are My Funnies #16, 17, 18

#16 (3 minutes) A board room, tall windows, a view of the city. A paper coffee cup spatters against the glass and we pull back to see a crowd of confused suits around a conference table. One of them, the one who threw the coffee, looks more confused than any. Why was he emotionally moved so thoroughly as to throw his coffee? All the hostility and passion has left the room, drained from it, and now he is a quiet fool being stared down by other suddenly quiet fools. He stands and knocks over an easel displaying new product art as he leaves the room.

Cut to: his living room, small but luxurious. The man is asleep on an expensive couch. Blankets trail from his body and into potato chip bags and beer bottles on the hardwood floor. Traffic noises come in through the wide windows. The man comes awake with a  groaning sigh and rubs his face, stops. We zoom in and see his beard: an uneven field of tiny peppers.

Cut to: a few days later. The growth of peppers on the man’s face is such that his jaw has become a strange terrain. He stands in the narrow kitchen of his apartment and on a cutting board is a handful of tiny peppers which he dices with quick and then quicker movements. Cut to: thirty minutes later and he’s standing in the same spot but now the cutting board and produce sacks are gone and in their place is a plate of reddened noodles. He forks a bite to his mouth, chews slowly, then grins and chews more, then stops and runs to the sink, then chooses the refrigerator instead, pulls a bottle and drinks milk from it.

Cut to: a few months later. The scene is still and in its center is a play button. We are on Youtube. A mouse pointer enters the frame and clicks and then we’re moving again, in low quality streaming video. A teenager centered in the frame holds a handful of something. Someone behind the camera says, “Tell us what you’re going to do.” The teenager says, “So, these are beard peppers, gross, supposedly the hottest peppers you can buy.” “Worse than the ghost pepper,” the guy behind the camera says. “And I’m going to eat all of these,” the teenager says, and, in a quick motion, he does. Behind him, traffic passes slowly. A blue sky reaches all around. We are in a suburb.

“So?” the camera operator says.

“It’s hot,” the teenager says. A few minutes later he’s walking in tight circles while the camera operator laughs, then guffaws, then is quiet. “Tommy,” the camera operator says, but Tommy is down the street now, bent over, leaning on his knees. He collapses.

#17 (15 seconds): An old man digs through an alleyway garbage bin. He is dressed in expensive but subtle clothes and a dark pair of sunglasses. Agitation crimps his face. He is not accustomed to digging through trash and has lost hope that the act will pay off. “Horse head,” he says. “Horse head.” He is looking for something or someone called Horse head or he is looking for an actual horse head or a representaiton of a horse head. Or he is swearing in another language, using a word or phrase that sounds like “Horse head.” We will not know, and the uncertainty will return to us months later in the bathroom of a party while people laugh in a distant living room and we consider using the host’s razor to trim a missed patch on our necks. “Horse head,” we will say.

#18 (5 minutes): A quiet apartment, flooded with sunlight. A male voice speaks, tentatively and almost miserably, sounding out a word that is only just recognizable. We pull back and pan around so that we see a shaggy yellow dog, stretched on a rug with a hardback book held open between his paws. The dog’s pronunciation is bad and we get the impression he has no idea what he’s reading, is just saying words without understanding them, reading from a book someone left on the living room floor, but still we are a little impressed.

Cut to: another day, a morning of gray light. We are close on a bookshelf in the apartment, so that when the dog jumps up to worry free a novel we see just the blur of his ear flopping into frame. He leaps again and this time we see his eyes as his teeth snap at the ragged line of books. He leaps again and bites a clutch of magazines and, probably by instinct, his feet scrabble at the shelves of books and abandoned drinking glasses and some figurines and a purse and a bowl of coins. A calamity of items flop and rain to the floor. All is quiet for a moment, then a door opens somewhere in the apartment.

Cut to: the wet alley behind a convenience store. The dog, dirtied now and thinner, has pulled a garbage bag from a bin, eviscerated it, and strewn out popular magazines freed of their covers and dirtied with trash wetness. The dog reads vapid celebrity news in a voice now sure. We learn that a celebrity has bought a home worth more than 4 million dollars and that a television chef has signed a two-book deal for a cookbook and a history of meat preparation in Europe and Europe-like cultures. The dog reads about someone’s surgically altered face, then about someone’s upcoming film adaptation of another Philip K. Dick story. The contents of the magazine grow stranger until we realize that the dog is bored, creating the text of articles now for his own amusement.

Cut to: a serene park, dark grass, quiet air. The yellow dog lies next to a brown dog and tells the brown dog that he spent such effort and time learning to read and speak that he forgot he was a dog, that time was passing. The yellow dog’s breed, the yellow dog explains, is not known for longevity, and he has been underfed for a long time now, and suspects his gut of harboring numerous parasites. “I will spend my last months or year teaching other dogs,” the yellow dog says. The brown dog doesn’t lift his head or raise an ear or move his eyes.

We see several short clips now: the yellow dog attempting to teach other dogs to collect their thoughts into words and then to express those words. In each clip the yellow dog is more frustrated, less patient. In the last clip he sits in a gorgeously sun warmed park, expectantly watching an enormous cane corso, which opens its mouth as if to test a new sentence but then rushes through open grass to pee on the wheel of a baby stroller. The yellow dog stands, steps out of frame.

Cut to: a darkened living room, small. Windows are open to the lights and noises of a city. The yellow dog has rented a studio apartment and filled it with chairs and shelves and art objects that look like cheap versions of what filled his last, real home. He is old now and paces the room carefully, as if afraid he might fall. Books and magazines line shelves but none are opened on the couch or on the desk in the corner. Horns sound outside and a drunken woman shouts her joy to a friend. The dog goes to the window, gets two paws up, and looks out. When he drops to the floor we wonder if he will take down a book for solace, but he instead climbs onto the couch, paws a remote control, summons the blue light of the television, begins exploring channels.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why I'm Terrified Of Jac Jemc's MY ONLY WIFE

because I have terrible luck with relationships.
because I desperately believe in life-long love, commitment, and happiness, despite my terrible luck with relationships.
because it seems no one knows how to be honest in the narrative world, and I'm afraid that the story not only will make me sad, but will also be dishonest.
because I'm divorced and I know how sucky a disappearance-narrative structure can be.

because I've put myself entirely into an Other's hand and they weren't gentle.
because I know exactly how it feels when someone you love disappears and you feel like they're dead, but they're alive and just don't care about you.
because I have the same questions about the Other as Žižek when he quotes Badiou:  "What does 'respect for the Other' mean when one is at war against an enemy, when one is brutally left by (our love) for someone else, when one must judge the work of a mediocre 'artist,' when science is faced with obscurantist sects, etc.? Very often, it is 'respect for Others' that is injurious, that is Evil." 

because there is so much dark, and we all live in it.
because having a person in the dark makes it so much more bearable.
because unrequited love is universal: the universe hates us despite our love of the universe.

because an Other has put themselves entirely in my hand and I wasn't gentle.
because love is the only way to really understand an Other and when love isn't reciprocated it seems to justify all our mistreatments of our Others.
because of that song by Gotye.
because even when an Other doesn't know us, we still will claim ownership: my partner, my lover, my ex.

because I'm going to read My Only Wife and it will probably destroy me inside a little and make me cry.
because even when someone destroys me, I'm still alive.
because even a fictional narrative can be dishonest, can be manipulative, can disrespect the reader: the Ever Present Other.
because "we should never reduce (our) Other to our enemy, to the bearer of false knowledge, and so forth: always in him or her there is the Absolute of the impenetrable abyss of another person."

because I'm still alive even though I've been a little destroyed before.
because I'm more alive when I feel a little destroyed, and feeling more alive than usual is the best thing for anyone that cares about living.

because I'm an impenetrable Abyss, and I want you to know me.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Book Changes You

I recently reread a book, When The Messenger Is Hot, that I last read when I was in high school. I've always remembered it and thought of it fondly, so on my post-Christmas Amazon spree I added it to my cart.

I first read this collection of short stories when I was 17. My local library had a short stories section and I'd always pick out a few collections and toss them in my mom's LL Bean tote (our shared book bag). I read this book of stories and my 17 year old mind WAS. BLOWN. I even brought it into school to lend to my friend Lara and she loved it too, and we both just felt like, wow this is a book that was meant for us. I ended up writing a poem based off of one of the stories, a poem about awkward and doomed love, which is what I interpreted Elizabeth Crane's story "He Thinks He Thinks," to be about. I remember When The Messenger is Hot being all about love and sex and cool city life and women and drinking and everything I wasn't fully yet but wanted to be.

Reading it again, I'm struck by several things. I still enjoy the book quite a bit. It's funny! And it's good. Also, I think Elizabeth's Crane writing style has affected my own writing style without my having realized it. She wrote all these long sentences with lots of ands, sentences that make you feel like you're speeding, breathless, with feelings and reasons accumulating behind you. I had never before read a book whose words read like my thoughts or my patterns of speech; When The Messenger is Hot did. She also uses the second person a lot, which is common to my writing, both my poems and the small amount of fiction I've written (none of that fiction will ever see the light of day).

I have enough distance from the book that I'm not really reading it nostalgically or trying to recapture the feelings of my first read. In 2003, the book felt like a primer on adulthood. How to be the kind of glamorously fucked up yet smart yet sad yet sexy young woman I imagined myself growing into once I was in college and the "real world." The women in the book were the women I wanted to be and the women I imagined myself being, kind of truer-to-life versions of romantic comedy heroines like Lalena in Reality Bites, or maybe a poorer and less ridiculous Carrie Bradshaw. They had jobs and boyfriends and messiness and man, the messiness seemed like JUST the messiness I envisioned my life having when I was in my twenties.

The book itself doesn't change, but my own narrative changes. The adult reader in me reacts to totally different aspects of When The Messenger Is Hot, like the way that the book is SO MUCH about the female speakers' grief over the death of a parent (something I have firsthand experience with) and guilt/shame about not really having found a place in the world or conventional success (career-wise. Also? DING DING. Something I have personal experience with.) I am connecting much more to what I see as the collection's realistic rendering of the blahness of adulthood, a "variety of scenarios ranging from me forgetting to pick up milk accidents varying in degree from chipped paint to fender-bender." I find myself laughing at different parts of the book, like when the narrator of "Year-at-a-glance" decides to smell her dead mother's perfume sparingly so it doesn't get used up. I don't really laugh at the fucked up boyfriends doing typical fucked up boyfriend shit, something I imagine I laughed knowingly about when I was a teenager.

I read When The Messenger is Hot once, almost ten years ago, but my reread made it clear how much it stuck with me. Weird, though, how our relationships with books, even important ones (even important ones you didn't know were important), change. How you change, how the book changes you. How the book changes, although of course the book doesn't actually change. I don't know. I think I've said everything I want to say but I don't feel like I made the awesome point I set out to make when I started this post.  Of course we, as readers, aren't static. Of course we don't read in a vacuum and of course we take our lives with us to the page. I mean, that's what literature is about, right?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Virus: A Misunderstood Metaphor

A Virus is self perpetuating. Once exposed, a Host will reproduce the Virus, by the command of the Virus' DNA. Viruses enter a host cell and use the host cell's available tools and materials to produce more virus. Viruses can even insert part of their DNA into the Host cell to be reproduced alongside or as the host DNA.

Outside of emotional appeals (patriotism, religion, cute things, sad things: the most sentimental), nothing forces the mind to accept and propagate an idea/experience. But even to this, the human body is becoming immune.

Friday, March 9, 2012

These Are My Funnies #13, 14, 15

#13 (4 minutes 15 seconds): All is darkness until a narrow door is nudged open. Sunlight streams in, almost washing out the child as he steps inside. After some more darkness he finds a switch and electricity hums and bright bare bulbs hanging from chains illuminate work benches and shelves dense with aging electronics. We see oscilloscopes, microfiche readers, green-screened computers.

A montage: the boy explores many devices, bending around them to find their cables, then their switches, and many times he is rewarded with their sudden awakening. He is most delighted by a miniature synthesizer, which he sets before himself on the workshop's worn carpet. He is no musician but smashes out chords, first in thin electronic approximation of electronic guitar, then in echoing piano, then in the bright voice of a spaceship computer.

Days pass, not many but enough that we can almost see the boy age as he visits the workshop, takes down the synthesizer, plugs it in, and plays. He gets better; his chords are planned now, and his melodies run together for notes at a time. One day he comes into the workshop and takes down the keyboard and wears the steady face of confidence well earned, but when he presses keys there is no sound. He checks the power cord, the power switch, but there is power. The red light is on. He presses the keys again, then stops. Sniffs. Bends forward.

He goes to a tool chest, comes back with a pair of screwdrivers. The smaller is the right size. As he opens the synthesizer we know what he will find: an orchestra of tiny men and women, grieving the death of one of their own, too shaken to play, and how could they play without their comrade? And how could they grieve without a way to bury him? They have no tools for digging in plastic. They do not even know what death is. But no: such tiny people do not exist. What the boy finds in the guts of the synthesizer is a nest of stillborn rats.

#14 (20 seconds): A man sits at a keyboard, opens a web browser, a blog. "These are my funnies," he writes. A woman looking over his shoulder says, "You know these aren't really funny, right?"

#15 (85 seconds): A young woman shrugs her backpack around, then continues up a narrow stairwell. She emerges into a high floor of an academic library. Students lean and sleep and read all around. Her backpack is lumpy against her shoulders, the books inside straining, and she leans too hard against a shelf. A few feet away there's a thump: a shelf has fallen into another. She backs away, instantly mortified although the shelf she touched remains upright. But then there is another thump, farther away, a crash, a strangely wet spilling noise as books fall and fan against the tile floor.

"You!" someone yells, and the woman turns to find a balding man with a librarian's name badge pointing at her. Then there are others, their voices loud enough to carry over the clatter of all the shelves all around collapsing, of one of the elevators failing and falling, of a window giving out. "You! You!" they call, with such fervor that some of their faces start to melt, then the flesh of their necks. What's left is shiny metal, the chemical sour of melted plastic. Metal skeletons gambol and shout, pointing, unaware that most of their selves has melted away. 

The woman backs away, toward the stairwell. She expects to be chased but the machines seem to be locked into their behavior, all still moving from foot to foot, still pointing, still yelling at where she'd been standing. She keeps backing up until her hand touches the stairwell door. "You stupid robots," she says.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

According To Google, Ben Marcus Is Not Related To Peter Marcus: a review of two reviews

Ben Marcus wrote a book that I want to read. I usually don't like to read books unless they're going to be made into movies, or they they are TV shows called Friday Night Lights, or they are poetry. I don't think any of those things apply to Ben Marcus's book, The Flame Alphabet. What made me want to read a book that will not be a movie and is not a Friday Night Lights and is probably not strictly poetry? It was this awesome review on The New Inquiry. Just the quote from the article on their tumblr made me want to rub my face in the open pages of this book:
Certain forms of discourse — realist novels and poems, the bureaucratic dialects of authority and business — have been eroded and rendered meaningless, or they are obstacles put in place by power to preserve itself.
Right??? Makes you want to punch yourself in the face/genitals for getting an MFA/writing anything that doesn't have long strings of vowels inserted into the text according to the golden ratio or the actual ratios of my body or just white letters printed on white paper or write anything at all ever again ever. I wish I could say something smart about things people write. I really do. Instead I only relate to smart things people say with feelings or with other things.

So, read another review, at The Lit Pub about We Make Mud, a book out by Dzanc, that has some language that sounds pretty fresh and new and it made me wonder, what would the main character of Flame Alphabet think of Peter Marcus's We Make Mud? These are books I have not read (again, neither are Friday Night Lights or Hunger Games or poetry), so I don't know. It seems he would love it, as an attempt to create new, less toxic language (as it feels sort of antiquated or out of sync with normed language usage), or would hate it, find it toxic like his daughter's language. Has anyone read both of these books? More importantly, is google wrong; are these two authors related? I mean, they don't really look like each other, but still...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Moments from AWP 2012

On our arrival, while we were waiting to check in to our room, Sal Pane greeted us from behind (shouting MIKE!, which is about what it takes to get my attention). He was dressed like Sal Pane. I thought, "That's Sal Pane." I was right.

After registering at the conference proper, I turned around into a hug from Brian Carr, probably one of the sweetest men alive. Last year we had Ethiopian food together; this year we didn't find the time. Next year we'll do better.

At the Booth booth, which Tracy and I visited often, searching for a former teacher (Booth editor Robert Stapleton), we spoke at length to two students of the new Butler MFA program. They like Indianapolis, which I mostly do not miss -- I liked a lot about it, for instance the trees and Holiday Park, but I hated all the driving. A shy, nervous girl who constantly giggled overheard me telling said MFA students that my story "What They Did with the Body" was in the new issue of Booth, which it is. The girl seemed positively star-struck to meet someone published in the annual print edition of a weekly online literary magazine and actually requested that I sign her book, which I did. (My first book signing.) She was very sweet. I wish her the best.

Speaking of the things I miss from Indianapolis, I did not get to meet our former teacher Susan Neville, though Tracy briefly did. We did catch Robert Stapleton, eventually, and we spoke with Bryan Furuness, who is so kind it is unnerving, and with our former English department's chair, and I saw Andy Levy (now the head of the Butler MFA, as I understand it, but formerly our early American lit instructor) from behind, leaning over the table, I think sharing a joke. He was always very funny. (Best wishes, all.)

From NMSU I saw a number of my fellow students, though only one graduate, Carrie Murphy (author of the forthcoming book of poetry Pretty Tilt). Well, two graduates: Joe Scapellato, with whom I played a recent game of Exits Are, left NMSU the year before we arrived, and he was there also. Puerto del Sol is still one of the most attractive and underrated university-affiliated literary magazines out there.

Our camera is broken, so we did not take pictures.

I met J. A. Tyler. I think I had seen him before at a reading, last year, but if it was him then this was while he didn't have hair, which has a very different effect from J. A. Tyler with hair, who looks rather more like say my dad, and rather less like say a man who could beat my dad up. (I have no idea how old J. A. Tyler is, but my dad is younger than you might think, and not well-prepared for fighting.)

I got a hug from Brian Oliu. I met Jensen Beach. I met Matt Salesses, again. Last time was in DC, in a bar, while I was waiting for a reading; he rather amazed me by recognizing me from across a room, sort of huddled in a corner. (Note that it is amazing whenever anyone recognizes me at AWP, because among that crowd I am extremely generic, a white dude with dark hair, a beard, and glasses.) This year I enjoyed his laugh a lot.

Matt Bell is busy, guys. I feel kind of bad for Matt Bell.

I had an awkward moment with Adam Robinson wherein he overheard something I had sort of whispered at the Dalkey Archive table, and thought that I said it to him, and it would have made sense if I had said it to him, but it would have also been awkward and terrible, so I hope he believes that I didn't say that to him. Later he gave me a book, I am looking forward to reading it. His beard was less spectacular than last year's beard but it is still quite a beard.

We met David McNamara, our magazine's printer, who was sweet and funny and also impressively bearded. Next to these guys my beard is very weak indeed.

We only actually went to one panel, the one about Internet literature whatever. It was a good panel -- refreshing in its calm, its honesty, and its willingness to engage with what is difficult and silly about being a writer. I liked it. Afterward I high-fived Roxane Gay. It was the only time we saw her, sadly. Her voice was totally, tragically gone. She went on to win a competitive reading; don't ask me how. That's the power of Roxane.

We ate dinner with Gabriel Blackwell, who puts up with me beautifully. The nearby Thai restaurant his friend suggested had a shocking lack of vegetarian options for a Thai place, for vegetarian Gabe.

Erin Fitzgerald and Laura Ellen Scott make an excellent comedic duo.

A. D. Jameson is even more energetic and funny and fun to be around in person than he is in blogs. He described to Tracy and me the four best Star Trek: The Animated Series episodes that we have to watch, and shared his feelings on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine finale (he likes it more than I do).

Did a whiskey shot with Aaron Burch at the Hobart table to celebrate our good fortune. This made the constant press of bodies a little easier to bear.

Bought many books. Sold many books for Noemi. Saw many other people. Missed a lot I would have liked to see. Successfully attended just one reading, Saturday's Unstuck reading, which was very good; they are a good magazine. Gabe read here. I thought he did very well. The story is such a good one.

I have forgotten many things that happened. I was grateful to see everyone, that everyone was so kind to me, that they forgave me my awkwardness and my nerves. I am terrified of other writers. I want them to like me. I don't believe that they do. But they are nice about it. Thank you for your kindness. Sometimes, with you, I feel almost at home. That's saying a lot.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Where We'll Be at AWP

No table this year--we'll be running a mobile operation. We'll have limited copies of the first issue with us, which you can purchase for a discount $10 if you find us. We'll give you a cereal box prize, too. More importantly, just find us and say hi; we can't wait to see everyone! Any given afternoon, you have decent odds of finding us wandering the bookfair or helping out at the Puerto del Sol/Noemi Press table. (Update: Oops, we lied. Noemi Press is sharing a table with Belladonna Collaborative as part of the Table X co-op, and that's where we'll be!) Other that that, we're going to try to be at these locations (updated throughout the week):

Thursday, March 1

Panels we like:

1:30pm: Beyond Pulp: The Futuristic and Fantastic as Literary Fiction
Subtitle: Someday They'll Believe Us.

Basically every year we try to go to one of the panels where Brian Evenson talks about genre fiction as it relates to literary fiction. Usually we don't hear anything we don't already know -- that there is great genre fiction being written every year, that literary writers would benefit from opening themselves to it, and etc. -- but sometimes we like to indulge in nodding our heads to things we already believed.

Turns out we got in late and couldn't make it to this one. But know that Uncanny Valley shall continue to stand a beacon in the genre fight, until it is no longer a fight.

Readings and Events:

7:00pm: Mud Luscious/Annalemma/PANK Present: Convocation in Chicago

Where we hope to run into contributors Laura Ellen Scott, Brian Oliu, and Roxane Gay, among other wonderful people.

9:00pm: AWP 2012 Karaoke Idol

Sorry we missed these as well. Hope to catch many of you somewhere today.

10:00pm: Action Books/Birds of Lace/Kate Durbin Present: An Evening of Intimate Readings in the Bathroom of a Goth Club

One of us in each bathroom, I suppose. Contributor and pal Carrie Murphy will be reading in the ladies' room, where Mike will not be able to see or hear her. Maybe this is political commentary. (Mike says he really wants someone to use the toilet while they read -- not because it would be a good idea, at all, but because why else are we in a bathroom?)

This was eventful. Four people crammed into a bathroom, doing call and response poetry to the sound of others at the club angrily peeing. Eventually, from what I'm told, they got kicked out of the bathroom and the cops said no more readings in the alley. But they persevered! I didn't get to hear many of the readings, but Mike and I danced to fun music with writers and goths who I think, by the end, came to accept us as kindred spirits.

Friday, March 2

Panels we like:

9:00am: Literature and the Internet in 2012

Contributors Blake Butler and Roxane Gay will be here talking about online publishing, as well as Stephen Elliott and James Yeh. Seeing these folks share their enthusiasm is always encouraging.

This was a really great panel in that everyone came to the topic with slightly different online lit experiences and priorities, so there was a lot of productive disagreement and discussion. It also had the serendipitous effect of correcting a lot of audience members' bad online behaviors.

4:30pm: The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House: Organizations Supporting Women in the Literary Arts

We are big fans of VIDA and their work drawing attention to gender disparities in publishing.

But it turned out the numbers were all we needed to know this year. And, it turned out we were tired.

11:00am: SECRET BRUNCH at the Artifice table.

What is SECRET BRUNCH? We're not sure. But their blog advertises it, so apparently it's not a very closely guarded secret. The Artifice folks are obviously great pals to us, and we buy their magazine every year at AWP. It is a Tradition.

A tradition with, apparently, orange juice! It was good to meet the editors and share some high fives over Exits Are.

7:00pm: A reading. We don't know which one. We will probably decide based on the number of postcards we are handed. SO EVERYONE GIVE US ALL YOUR POSTCARDS OKAY.

We received VERY FEW postcards and so went to no readings. Your own fault. No. I lie. We are just really, really lame. We are sorry for how lame and bad at partying we are. We had a great time, though, having Thai food with Gabe Blackwell.

10:00pm: Somewhere else. Drag us by the arm to somewhere where we can dance. Or back to a hotel, where we will give you horsey rides around the pool.

I said, "Return to the hotel room and watch Downton Abbey," didn't I?

Saturday, March 3

Panels we like:

12:00pm: Making Room for the Graphic Narrative

Comics! These panels never work out as well as you'd hope, but we'll keep trying.

Ohhh, noon! I couldn't find this panel in my schedule. Wandered the bookfair instead, where I got to chat with Kate Bernheimer of Fairy Tale Review and Danielle Dutton of the Dorothy Project about the growing number of homes for fairy tale and speculative writing, especially writing by women. And I filled my sack with books.

Tortas, caldos, and Mexican hot chocolate TBD at XOCO. Meal companions are very welcome!

Deep dish pizza at Pizano's. The walk and probable forty-minute wait at XOCO did not seem workable since Mike needed to get back to the Noemi table, where he spent the afternoon. I spent the afternoon having crowd-induced panic attacks and hiding on the fifth floor. :( Seriously. I have never had that happen before and it makes me question my fortitude for future AWPs. I've got to work on this. Gathered masses of writers are not mortal threats. They're not. Right?

6:00pm: Silver Tongue and Orange Alert Present the Unstuck Group Reading at AWP

Contributor and Noemi Press author Gabriel Blackwell will be reading here, along with lots of other cool folks. We'll stay as late as we can manage, but we have to drive home after this!

We stayed the WHOLE TIME. It was a great group of readers, all of whom are doing really fun work. Unstuck is a magazine I am very excited about, a new favorite to be sure. Love their work, love their editorial philosophies. I would like us to be sisters someday. Or cousins. Family.

Did you know that this part of Chicago shuts down most of its carry-out places at 8:00 on Saturdays? We didn't. Burger King in EmptyTown, Illinois it was. We arrived home around 1:30 to a cat so needy and buzzed she didn't remember that humans pass out for prolonged periods every night and aren't available for play. This is a picture of our cat, for A.D. Jameson, who asked:

Thank you all for your company, your high fives and hugs and smiles, and your conversation. It was so good to see (meet) so many people we care about. Till next time!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Exits Are in Alt Lit Gossip

So the Alt Lit Gossip tumblr took a break from posting videos of Noah Cicero and Tao Lin's photoshop art to mention Exits Are. Is Alt Lit Gossip growing up? Are they finally covering real literature? Does this mean they're mainstream? Or was it just a boring day at the office? Or, more importantly, is Uncanny Valley officially Alt Lit enough? Is Titanic the best poker movie of all time???

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Exits Are

Hey guys. Guys! Guys. Ladies.

I'm really excited to announce the publication of my free, online, serialized ebook, Exits Are, written in collaboration with many players. The first game, posted today, is called "Your Brother Isn't Talking." I made it with Blake Butler. You can find out more about how I play the games here, but the short version is that we take turns making up a story over gchat. I usually act like a text adventure (think Zork), and the other player can pretend to play one of those adventures, or they can do other, stranger things. It's up to them. The results are wild, improvisational, weird, and sometimes uncomfortable -- all in the best way. And you can play too! You just have to go here to find out how. Uncanny Valley is publishing the "book" cooperatively with Artifice Books, who have been kind enough to host it.

A new game will be posted every Wednesday, as well as the occasional extra game or bonus material. I'll remind you occasionally to check it out. I've already played games with cool folks like Tim Dicks, Aubrey Hirsch, Brian Oliu, Elisa Gabbert, Robert Kloss, and A D Jameson, with many more on the way.

I hope you'll have as much fun with this as I'm having making it. Go check it out.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Why (When) Subtlety Doesn't Matter

I saw Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close this weekend. As the reviews have said, it is not a masterpiece. It is not a very special or important film. It is nominated for an Academy Award probably by default--nothing else hefty enough to stand up to their kind of recognition.

I do not think, though, that this movie is an F, a fanciful failure, or a manipulative mistake. I think that EL&IC is as sentimental and contrived as any other movie that could stomach Tom Hanks cast as a dead father, and as sit-throughable. Again, it's no masterpiece. But the things that are getting attacked about it seem really artificial.

Many people call out the annoying obsessiveness of the main character, his insistence on doing things a certain way, his histrionics when the emotions catch up with him. I think that the movie is aware that his behavior is objectively annoying, and that it spends most of the film trying to get us to acknowledge that this behavior is sort of necessary and that we need to be able to understand it and forgive it. The movie is kind to him, but it doesn't take pains to always view him through the most loving lens. It does sort of conveniently forget that minor characters in the story have independent lives and that this kid's force of personality wouldn't necessarily occasion the kind of outpouring of kindness and acceptance it gets. But this is a common fault among ostensibly artier, more subtle films. I'm supposed to believe that an entire town actively and with the utmost kindness encourages the relationship between Lars and his real girl? Ryan Gosling's believable sweetness and need does not make the contrivance here any less believable. You must choose to overlook this much if you want to even finish the movie. Is a kid developing an intricate system for decoding what he thinks is his dad's last message for him any less of a stretch? Is that kind of obsession really so unbelievable?

In my MFA program, obsession in fiction was typically viewed through a bifocal lens. On the one hand, people noted, a character has to want something pretty bad to even get a story to happen. On the other hand, people don't usually go to the kinds of lengths that, say, Oskar Schell goes to, and so, the argument went, care should be taken not to strain the audience's credulity too much. But this argument often hinged on the idea that real people do basically nothing about anything, that humankind's true state of being is just a kind of extended sitting on the hands. This led to a lot of stories about nobody doing anything, the kind of strict domestic realism that most of us who want to consider ourselves innovative strive to avoid. The trick for an intelligent artist was, I think, supposed to be to maintain a very tentative balance, where there was some essential sort of wackiness or whimsy, contrivance, about the story's conceit but the execution of that conceit was roughly as difficult or messy (or, if you really wanted to capture the slow, grinding machinery of society, plodding or inconvenient) as it would have been in real life. Oskar Schell's efforts are not really ever hindered by time, distance, practicability, or interference from others. But I really don't think that makes them less real as an expression of grief, anger, confusion, and bereavement. I think the real thing about EL&IC that's sticking for artists and critics is that it does not subscribe to the notion that the truth is subtle, undramatic, and hard to access.

Fiction, it bears repeating, can never be reality. It represents reality. And the challenge for a writer of realistic fiction is how to represent reality in the most honest and appropriate way. The representation that many critics have taken issue with is the film's direct use of images from 9/11. This strikes them as dishonest, calling up already existing emotions rather than creating its own fictive ones. And it's true that for many audiences, the simple act of reshowing the famous footage of 9/11, of reproducing that day, is creating what can fairly be called a false catharsis. Many people are crying in the theater because of a collective emotion that was quickly and insistently attached to those images by others: These are the towers that represented our prosperity and achievement. These are the towers that stood for our strength and perseverance. This is the day we learned what it was to feel unsafe, violated. When our icons were injured, we all were all injured. This is the day we mourned as a nation. And of course (though usually more distantly), these towers represented real lives, abruptly and needlessly ended.

It would be naive to say that the movie does not rely on and intend to call up those associated meanings. But I don't think it spends near the time on calling up our collective meanings for those images that it spends drawing new, extremely specific meanings for them. For me, all the emotional value of the film came when Oskar Schell crumbled, not when the towers did. For him, the towers falling meant a very particular, very visceral, very final loss. In that moment, they meant the loss of the single most important person in the world, and an indelible, lifelong guilt. The weight of that loss was more incredible than the loss we felt as a nation, and it was humbling, heartbreaking to have this new meaning of the disaster drawn, and to feel even the fraction of its intensity that a story allows.

For the majority of us far from New York City the day of September 11, without loved ones there on that day, the measure of a "good," truthful 9/11 story can only be in its ability to provide a window into the very real terror of a city and the very real grief of any single one of its victims. The art born of tragedy can only deliver lasting comfort on the level of individual characters--they may figure out how to move forward in life, but we, collectively, the human race, will never feel "satisfied" by a Holocaust treatment; we will never feel like it's been settled. It is too big to be settled. Especially for our comparatively less tortuous, less decimating, less protracted national tragedy, I do not think it's fair to ask any art made about it to operate subtly, broadly, with the intent of representing our much quieter feelings of collective grief and terror. If we can't derive enough meaning from glimpsing the depth of one person's suffering--and suffering is a loud, sloppy, pathetic, unsubtle thing--if we demand that stories put words to how we all actually feel instead of how individuals might feel, we'll miss a lot of what fiction can do for a society. The only truth worth telling about 9/11 is its cost in individual human suffering. The only lesson worth taking from a story about 9/11 is to become generous in our response to individual suffering--generous enough to break our taboos about letting people into our houses, about participating in their rehabilitation. The argument that this is not what really happens is a weak one. Some of the most valuable fiction is about what could happen. What should.

This movie is saccharine, and it probably won't change your life. It is missable. It probably doesn't deserve a major award. But it's a working story. It's affecting. And if you set aside the notion that truth is by necessity quiet, private, hidden, it carries some valuable truths--easy to name, but also easy to forget.