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.