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Monday, November 03, 2014

"If you’re ever interested in feeling as if you’re on the verge of losing your mind, you need complete only a two-step process:
  1. Find a way to give someone you love deeply a life-threatening disease, and
  2. While your loved one is at home battling death, stand in a restaurant line behind a person complaining loudly that their burrito came with sour cream, even though they asked for no sour cream, and they guess they’ll just eat it with the sour cream, even though the calories, but maybe they should get a discount now, or, like, a soda?"
From On Kindness by Cord Jefferson, a beautiful essay on being someone's child and coming to grips with suffering.

This is especially poignant to me now, as I grapple with roles I am not good in, doing jobs I wasn't made to do for people I am both grieving and raging against.

Be kind, lovelies.

Monday, October 13, 2014

MICE 2014

The haul
In Boston, one must choose one's adventures wisely. This time around I only needed one great distraction: FREE COMIC CONVENTION.

MICE tries very hard to be kid friendly, with half of the special guests kid-comic professionals. The Saturday I attended I saw very few children, but it was late in the day and perhaps they'd all gone home. With panels like Doodle! Scribble! Draw! and Letters from the Editor, Marketing for Self-Publishing and Micro-Presses, the programming was also geared toward kids and, a bit confusingly, comic-makers, leaving very little reason for the enthusiast attendee to stick around after browsing the tables. This led to the question of how exhibitors were supposed to attend the talks except to leave their tables and put some sales at risk?

I noticed a ton of CCS folks (past and present) at the show and other student-y/young creator types which brings a nice energy to the always-fluorescent (why why why?) con proceedings.

These are some of the artists I threw my money and face at:

Wyeth Yates
A nice young person who sold me some of Eleri Mai Harris' comics
B.M. Prager

Hazel Newlevant

The crowd

Alison Wilgus


Amelia Onorato

More crowd

Nick Pappas

Renata Davis moved the rat mask just for me

Patt Kelley

The one and only Kenan Rubenstein

Cathy G. Johnson and Sophie Yanow

Poetry comics purveyor Franklin Einspruch

Buddy Evan Dahm

L. B. Lee
Thanks to the quick and kind thinking of Boston-area saviors Kelly and Bill, I also snagged a tote bag to commemorate the entire affair. Then we got a beer.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Artist Warren Craghead drew this for me in order to cheer me up. It is titled "Carrie dancing on a flower with candy and a bag of money."

It worked.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One of the problems I am having with what I am working on now is that none of it is right and all of it is right but most of it won't be right for long.


This is why writing towards understanding is so frustrating. It makes me ache when I can't find the phrase that unlocks the whole damn thing or the word that turns a sentence from working to singing.

I guess I gotta work and leave the songs for later.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Desk debris

obverse

lamping
reverse

pre collage



i wondered where these got to

um hmm

these effin things


I made tee shirts once

meet me in the moon room



Sunday, August 31, 2014

Daucus carota, my favorite trash flower

I don't believe in weeds.

++++++++

I remember the squinting face of some asshole not quite drunk enough to not notice me as he recommended that I take the Queen Anne's Lace bloom from behind my ear. I kept my eyes on him. What could he possibly be talking about? How ugly was this going to get?

A series of words I can't quite remember relayed to me that he thought my flower was poisonous.  I think I laughed, or maybe waved him away, or maybe busted some botanical knowledge, but I know I did not remove that flower from its perch. I definitely took another sip of my drink.

++++++++

Did you know that all the little flowers that make up the Queen Anne's Lace bloom are the softest thing? Find the biggest, flattest flower you can, check for bees and run it across your cheek. Now your forehead. Now your lips. You'll see.

++++++++ 

I am a child, alone and lonely, wandering through the abandoned tennis courts near my house, or the woods behind the high school football field, or the spaces near my grandparents' house in Trafford. I am looking for things to know. I am looking for secret treasures. I am looking for a world of my own. I find a little black dot in the center of the flower, a little black dot in the center of every big one. I pull up a few and see a little carrot. A little dot, a little carrot, holy shit.

And it is all mine.

++++++++

My Brooklyn is a bad place to find lace. It grows where other things don't, along with thistle and morning glory. It hangs out near fences and broken glass, underpasses and hidden places. It is a roadside gift; other people try to make it trashy but it just resists with all that airy whiteness. Or, perhaps, it is trashy and that just means something bigger (better) in the summer than it usually does.

++++++++ 

For more scientific words on Queen Anne's Lace, check out the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's weed of the month post.

Photo from Minnesota Seasons

Friday, August 29, 2014

Legs Get Led Astray by Chloe Caldwell

I waited a long time for this book. It was hyped on a few sites I read, blurbed by heroes and published by a great publisher, Future Tense Books.

Most of these essays are about sex and Caldwell's sexuality. I was very excited to read some charged up personal reflections on fucking from a lady. Maybe I've heard these kinds of stories too often, too recently, or maybe I am just too easily bored by glowing depictions of terrible-sounding guys, but this collection did not do a single thing for me.

In the second essay, "The Legendary Luke," Caldwell describes her future home, the setting for much of this writing: "New York City was a fictional place that spring day while we sat alone in our little living room in the woods." The ease of Caldwell's friendships, apartments, lovers, and drug-taking is like a mirror world, a fantasy without any seductive elements. I live here and that skews things, for sure, but all I could think when reading about apartments and roommates and lovers was how flat it all seemed. There are juicy sentences and observations, sure, but not enough reflection on those relationships, objects or moments to make it worth the time to read sentences like: "My lover called me today from a field in Tennessee where he was smoking a cigar and drinking a bottle of absinthe, his typewriter and bicycle in tow." She transcribes notes from lovers and instead of feeling that thrill of secrets not meant to be shared, they read like stories friends of friends tell about high school, peppered with names you never quite catch and later realize don't matter, that are supposed to reflect something about their character. But you don't know them, you have no personal stake in the story, so you don't care. Or, maybe a litany of "Look, I was loved in a cute way!," but, really, who hasn't been, especially by children and disappointing men?


One of the elements of Caldwell's writing that repulsed me was this touch of an "Ain't I a stinker?" attitude regarding sexual conversation and exploits. In an essay on masturbating various places: "Masturbated while writing this piece in the Seattle Library bathroom against the wall. Took me less than forty-five seconds." The essay "The Penis Game"--about a conversation with her three-year-old cousin, Henri, where he is a bit obsessed with both the reality of his own penis and the possibilities of hers--is a banal babysitting story capped with a dirty chat that echoes Chloe and Henri's conversation. From "Yes to Carrots":
I was a guest on your toilet. You are smart; you went to Harvard he tells me, and you probably assumed and maybe even now know that I used that toilet, too. That I slept in your bed. Put your lotion on my hands. 

That I sucked your boyfriend's cock religiously.  

No, really I believed in it.
This teen-tone undercuts any power of Caldwell's explicitness.

Many instances in the essays overlap and that makes reading in one sitting a bit of a slog. Cutting some (or combining others) might have helped. Read aloud, I imagine some of the shorter pieces could have a hypnotic effect, but felt gimmicky on paper.

Mostly Legs Get Led Astray just made me miss my brother. Her brother is mentioned in almost every essay set in New York:"Older brothers are always doing something more interesting than you (backpacking through Mexico, hitchhiking around Finland, moving to New York City) and they are ruthless about letting you know it." But he is just there, effortlessly, and I can't believe it.

Friday, August 22, 2014


Long reads for a short trip to the woods, a short trip to the sea.

The Mother Courage press book in the middle is super weird scifi, but not in the way you'd expect. The Gilbert is pleasurable but not as greenly enveloping as I'd hoped for. I always love KJF and I hope this book doesn't tear me apart.

Who are your companions these days?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

eleven years

I didn't mark the anniversary of my brother's death this year because I was busy. I was busy navigating, I was busy looking out the window, I was busy talking to gross dads until they saw my armpit hair, I was busy marveling at the effortless beauty and love of a two year-old, I was busy staying warm, I was busy busy busy in all the ways one has to be to forget.

Not that I forgot, of course.


Brother, I think of you every day. You are the missing piece of my heart, you are the echo-only voice I listen for when questioning or proclaiming, you are the ghost with the most.

What is this wilderness? In everything I work on, I am trying to find you. I am looking for myself without you. Breadcrumbs, string, blood, kisses—all the markers are lost, but like a faithful dog, I am nose to the ground in the deep brush, working for you.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

mixed bag baby

There are a ton of books in my parents' house. On the third floor, where I sleep barring night duty, there are a bunch of books that I left here sometime during college. Those books make me laugh. There are also a bunch of Mad Magazine paperbacks that my brother collected when he was a kid. I don't look at those because I enjoy humor. There are a bunch of horror and sci fi collections that I read through when I can't sleep or when the books I've brought with me are not doing it. Those books are comforting.

Neither of my parents can read today because of various degenerations. But the books remain; something more for me to deal with later.

&&&

Here are two stories from awhile ago that I wanted to mention:
Going After Bobo by Susan Palwick
I loved this icy story of shitty brothers, cats and community. The world is well-developed by little details and that world is very frightening and very possible.

Rachel in Love by Pat Murphy
What people in chimp bodies do for love. Also, crazy parents and animal testing. A fantastic story that seems all too real.

&&&

Here is a nightmare: I am being gaslit by people at a job. It is destroying me. I run to a friend and he sets the office straight. This "friend" my brain supplied is a guy I follow on twitter but have never met: Saeed Jones.

He is such an amazing writer and truth teller that his power has obviously permeated my psyche! Here is a recent meditation on Maya Angelou.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

remain ragged

The constant struggle: "... I’ve found that working with words all day — whether at home or in a proper office — doesn’t afford me the time or headspace for the writing I really want to do."

And that final deadline: "Just two weeks before she died, Maggie [Estep] wrote about her own tendency to procrastinate. As if there were time for that. I’m now quite certain there isn’t."

Sari Botton on the Billfold: An Elegy for the “Non-Creepy” Realtor, aka Maggie Estep

I am nowhere near a place in my career where I can even laughingly call myself safe and I think about these things all of the time.

>>> 

"I’m interested in essays that follow the infinitude of a private life toward the infinitude of public experience. I’m wary of seeking this resonance by extracting some easy moral from the grit and complication of personal particularity: love hurts, time heals, always look on the bright side. Instead, I’m drawn to essays that allow the messy threads of grief or incomprehension to remain ragged, to direct our gazes outward."

<<<

As my father's illness progresses, I have to travel more and more out of town to care for him. We are still looking for a foster/adopter for out lovely foster dog, Dottie. She has been a great joy to us, but we have to focus on my dad and working for the time being.



Please pass on her info!

>>>

"I will listen to my goddamn body. I will close my eyes when I am tired I will sit when I need rest I will eat when I am hungry and I will not, I cannot be the woman I was, the woman I have always been. I need to surrender her. I need to give her up because she is gone."

The Hell of the First Trimester by Sara Finnerty over at Mutha Magazine is about pregnancy but it might as well be about what is going on with me right now. All the fear, the resignation, the weirdness and the desire to do the right thing this time is there, and written fiercely.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

airwaves

NYPL, Image ID: 1651592
Over at Star Ship Sofa no. 239, I really liked The Time Travel Club by Charlie Jane Anders (at 21:30 minutes). Anders' stories are always suffused with humor and this one is no exception. Her protagonists are much more like people I know than most other scifantastic authors', with their sobriety probs and tattoos. It never feels forced and that is a writing miracle.

At Lightspeed magazine, listen to How to Get Back to the Forest by Sofia Samatar (click listen). It's about friendship, aging and what one gives up for safety.

I've been looking for some new genre fiction podcasts. I found The Squidpod on a list somewhere and decided to try it out. Many of the stories focus on AIs and the cusp-of-singularity life. Neither of my following recs are in those worlds, but both drew me in:
Zeta by Dave Cochran (click on the MP3 to hear)
Grats by Dave Cochran (click on the MP3 to hear)

 And you?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


I love this bit from The Colorist by Susan Daitch about the little bits of paper we accumulate:

"So there are all these reminders, and sometimes they have a life of their own. Sometimes they are animated and raucous. Sometimes they are dry husk, deaf-mutes, relics out of context, and therefore rendered mysterious, at best."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Understory by Pamela Erens

For those experiencing endless winter, I suggest Pamela Erens' The Understory. When I read this book last year, it was not winter, but The Understory brings the chilly like nobody's business.

The Understory is the story of a man whose life is very small and very lonely. Then he falls in love and it breaks him.

I know a lot of men with small lives. They tend to be unable to deal with change or closeness. Everything is refusal. Everything is resistance to reality. When the main character of this story, Jack, revealed himself to be one of those men, I couldn't fathom continuing the story. I got enough of that shit to deal with when I am not reading.

"My daily schedule was fixed: I rose at daybreak, walked to the park, spent some hours at Carl's bookstore, had my lunch, walked downtown, climbed the bridge."

The details of those spaces and places are what makes this book ring. His crumbling apartment is freezing and nasty in that way that cheap New York apartments can be. We later find, it is not exactly his, and not just because he is getting evicted to make way for a condo renovation. The routine places, the bookstore, the diner, feel limited and miserable, but since we are in first person, we can also see the comfort in that Jack takes in those limitations.  In the diner:

"Marion appeared over my shoulder and I closed the paper, embarrassed. I set the eviction notice on the table next to the coffee. Paul X. Giglio, petitioner to the Civil Court of the City of New York. It had yesterday's date on it, the twenty-third of November, and it occurred to me that my birthday had been on the twentieth. It was the first time I had thought of it and I had to stop and ask myself just how old I was. Forty--I had turned forty. I touched the hot rim of my coffee cup. I had entered a new decade of life without even noticing. I tried to remember my thirty-ninth birthday, or my thirty-eighth. Nothing came to mind."

Those last few lines make my skin crawl. I used to spend a lot of time in diners and those pauses are familiar.

The Central Park Rambles is where Jack finds his "variety." Or, at least, he describes it that way. Checking in on the plants and shrubs on his route, he feels a sense of protection and being protected. Though he seems irritated to be interrupted by the public sex that goes on there, Erens gives us just that hint of envy in his tone, in his quick shift to listing plants.

There is another half of the story, set in a Buddhist monastery in Vermont. There are plants there too, and order, of course.

From page one, something is building. When Jack breaks under that pressure, he breaks in a big way. It is perfect.

Tin House is reissuing this book this year. Check it out on a cold day.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Recent good things

This Rumpus essay on poetry, presentation and (not just) pie by Kate Lebo is tops.  It made me think about Sylvia Plath, who I've sort of skipped over when looking for idols. Seeing her words interspersed with Lebo's made me want to seek Ariel.

Great interview with Karen Joy Fowler by Carmen Maria Machado: "But mostly I believe that we shouldn’t do things we are unable to look at."

The David Brothers interviews at Inkstuds. There are some audio quality issues with some of these, but, as you know, here at try harder, content is queen.

And, of course, this comic from Anne Emond pretty much sums up this whole season.

Winter pallor and complaint: Photo by Pete

Monday, February 03, 2014

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Oh, Penn Station bookstore, why are you so awful? I wandered around looking for something to buy in paperback and not a thing caught my eye until I saw Lauren Beukes' name popping out from the spine of The Shining Girls. I have been meaning to read her for awhile, so I bought it, hoping for a good escape from reality during a recent Philly trip.

I don't read jacket copy, so when I dove into the story about a time-traveling serial killer I was disappointed to find that it wasn't inspired by The Shining.  Where my supposition came from, who knows, but those two books do have one common theme--an evil house.

When I was a child, I loved to turn off the lights, close my myopic eyes and wander the house I grew up in.  I do the same now. Dreams are stuffed with the houses of relatives and childhood friends. I contain many houses and some of them are traps.

Is the house in The Shining Girls a trap for a certain kind of man or did the house itself come from his desires? Well, hm.

Though the pacing is excellent, The Shining Girls doesn't hold together in the end for a few reasons. The book has a Chicago setting, it really could have been set Major Anycity, U.S.A. and the Chicago-y things that do appear just seem like excuses to show the research that went into them appearing in the first place, as do some of the characters. Is it cool that there is a pre-legal abortion provider's POV included? Yes. But since we only get a little time with each of the victims--with the exception of out final girl, Kirby, who survived a childhood attack by Harper, the killer--the inclusion of that fact about her detracts from the otherwise excellent characterization. There are too many POVs, period. I really appreciate the work it must have taken to give each victim a individual voice and make the violence done to each less about the killer and more about what was taken from the world when each was killed. But we spend too much time with Harper for this to work and the result is distracting. A focus on Harper and the house, just the house, or our final girl, alone or in opposition to either, would have been considerably deeper and more meaningful to me and allowed Beukes's excellent attention to the telling detail to work a longer lasting magic. While I understand that this organization makes the time-travel element easier to follow, it also makes it less weird and, therefore, less interesting.

And now we've come to my major issue with The Shining Girls: The thing that pushes the book from straight horror into SF territory, the time travel element, doesn't feel integral to the plot. Why do these women have to be from different times for the murders to mean something to the killer or to the house? If it were simply a matter of providing a way to escape from the consequences of murdering another person, why aren't there more murders in the book? Harper's dull acceptance of time travel tells us a little about him, but nothing we couldn't learn in another way. When Kirby, who, let's remember, has had her entire life bounded by having been chosen by the house, finally encounters the house and its door to other times, she isn't tempted by the power at all.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading this book. I wanted to get to the end and stayed up until four in the morning to do so. But the more I thought about the book after that frenzied night, the plot followed through to its end, the less satisfied I became.

Some off-the-top-of-my-head additional reading:
The best: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

A recent evil house story on Pseudopod: The Unfinished Room by Joshua Rex, read by Bob Eccles. (explicit child murder in this one)

An examination of horror tropes with an emphasis on bad houses: Horror 101, heard on Tales to Terrify

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Little reviews of little consequence

Birdbrain by Johanna Sinisalo
Two horrible people go camping and are slightly inconvenienced by either magic or nature. I read it in a diner.

Saints and Strangers by Angela Carter
Too many words and I got suspicious.

The Dyke & the Dybbuk by Ellen Gatford
The title is the plot with a little sprinkle of gay-dude-hating and grandpa Jew jokes. Left a confusing 90s taste in my mouth.

Daughters of Elysium by Joan Slonczewski
A painfully earnest account of future humans. She called a penis "mushroom" but I kept reading.

Madwoman of the Sacred Heart by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius
Terrible mid-life man fantasy with religion and big breasts. As boring as that sounds.

Do Me: Tales of Sex & Love from Tin House
Nowhere near enough sex.

Sister Spit: Writing, Rants & Reminiscences from the Road, edited by Michelle Tea
Oh you all did the same thing and wrote slightly different accounts of that thing? 

Hey, been tryin to meet you: The Fire To Say

A long week and I had to change my face a little to separate from all those tense days. So I slathered on some pink lips and paid a taxi to get me to Chelsea and The Fire to Say. The lovely Aaron Cockle got me excited about it, thank goodness. When my cab pulled up, all the handsome friends were outside smoking. I took this as a good sign and hunched inside, back to the tiny room curated by Franklin Einspruch.

Normally, I am a needful for narrative, but I loved seeing these poems and pictures. Each sheet could be looked at as a moment fixed which was a good thing for such a little room. Original work is exciting because you can see the process, all the creases, the thickness of paint and ink and the little smudges. Julie Delporte's work was the most surprising. In her case, the larger images are made of smaller drawings raggedly collaged which I wouldn't have guessed.



Photo by Warren Craghead

Sometimes you have to leave the house and put your face close to the faces of others. I forget that, but meeting super tweet buddy Warren Craghead in person reminded me. Derik A. Badman, Franklin Einspruch and Paul K. Tunis were additional delights.

Aaron and I walked down through the streets to trains and laziness. Along the way I had to stop at a chi chi restaurant to pee. I snuck in with some highly ladyfied ladies and thought about my lips. Inside the toilet, a remix of The Pixies' Hey was playing and that was stupid but also just right.