Thursday, February 04, 2016

just friends

The other day my heart felt heavy but open. I was ready to spend the night contemplating the good things in life. I'd heard many good things about Paul Lisicky's new book, The Narrow Door, and thought I'd go feel big feelings at his reading at Community Bookstore.

The week after my friend Sally died, I started a zine about her. Collages mostly. I put them all together and stared and stared and then the dog knocked them over and then it didn't seem right and then and then and then my dad died and I still dream of her house almost every night.


After shuffling my way down 7th Avenue, I took my place in the small but crowded back room of the bookstore. The space was filling up with Lisicky admirers, many of who greeted the poet with hugs. While a clot of pretty poet boys decimated the wine, the rest of us settled in amid the fishy smell of store cat Tiny's food and the rustling of heavy coats. Writer A.N. Devers opened the evening with a short intro and then Lisicky began reading from The Narrow Door.

"It's weird," I thought as I cried into my companion's coat, "How sometimes a book comes right at the right time." How to reckon with relationships that are incredibly intimate and life-changing but not generally recognized as an important kind of love?  Even during this reading, a celebration of friendship, more audience questions were asked about Lisicky's ex, a famous poet, than about the subject of his book. I remember my frustration with trying to describe my relationship with Sally, everyone trying to name it with descriptors like "second mom" as if being friends was not enough for the grief I feel.

Devers pointed out that there are few books by men about their female friends, which is both true and too much to think about right now.

Lisicky talked a bit about the loss of his "sidekicks"--the people who know you the best and always want the best for you--to divorce and death. What does one loss mean in the midst of many? I lost my friend suddenly while my father was dying absolutely for sure. My friend lived boldly, but within many constraints. She was both incredibly inspiring and a cautionary tale. I wanted to spend years discussing life with her. Despite knowing her since I was eleven, I felt like our friendship was just beginning to take on a new form.

Because of her faith in me, a little piece of my writing is always for Sally.  That's going to have to be enough.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

lettermo 1, 2016

I am starting #lettermo this year with two collaged cards for two great people. 

I think I probably owe you a letter. Feel free to remind me in the comments.

Monday, January 18, 2016

2015 finally dies!

Despite this being a horrible life year, it was a very wonderful reading year. Not included in my tally are the many books I started or collections I picked through over 2015, many of which were also good but not for me, not right now.

This has been the first full year I've lived without my father after two years of his frightening and terrible decline. I was deeply involved with my father's end of life and death, the details of which I am still reckoning with and will be for quite some time. Being faced with admin tasks that are not only relentless and boring, but suffused with such powerful hurt has been exhausting and lonely. Luckily for me, cartoonist Roz Chast went through some similar things and decided to write a funny, informative and just SO TRUE book about it called Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? This book was loaned to me by a great friend. When I read it I cried, but with relief.
There are books that take you away and books that make you stay and the three novels in The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer accomplish both. The first, Annihilation, is a missive from an inhospitable land, filled with beautiful natural details and almost unbearably tantalizing mystery. The second, Authority, is about juggling identities and becoming oneself, and while the main character wasn't all that interesting to me there were enough other things going on in the story to carry me though. The final volume, Acceptance, follows a character present in the previous two and brings many of the mysteries of the Southern Reach to a satisfying close, without solving a single thing. Vandermeer created a world with endless frightening possibilities and endless frightening beauty that I still think about; this trilogy is an excellent reminder that life is complex and not simply a trial, no matter how much horror gets served up.
Speaking of horror, I returned to an old favorite this year The Haunting of Hill House, after recommending it to a friend. Turns out that Jackson's sure voice and teasing plotting were exactly what I craved at the moment, and it is always worth taking another look at what the desire for acceptance will do to a person. Plus, Theo, always Theo.

To balance the many terrible surprises of the year, the mail at least was peppered with some lovely ones care of my subscriptions to four comics presses: Ley Lines from Grindstone Comics/Czap Books, Kus, Retrofit/Big Planet and Frontier from Youth In Decline. I wrote about some here on try harder, some I just sucked in. Two stand outs I didn't write about, both from Retrofit/Big Planet were Ikebana by Yumi Sakugawa and Sea Urchin by Laura Knetzger. I loved Sakugawa's quiet story about stopping giving any fucks and creating oneself. Sakugawa's work always speaks to me, but this one came at exactly the right time. I've been following Knetzger for awhile, and just got her all ages tome Bug Boys from Czap Books. Sea Urchin is decidedly adult autobio about depression and what we think about when no one is watching.

I listened to many fewer SFFH podcasts the second half of the year than I usually do, mostly because I fell victim to Fallout 4's immersive charms. However the casts from The District of Wonders, Escape Artists, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Uncanny and Apex, continue to expose me to exciting short story writers and take me places I never could have imagined.

And no 2015 survey would be complete without talking about twitter. Besides the usual dog jokes, book news, essay recommendations and author process notes that twitter always provides, this year the service was one of the only and best ways I could connect with my own grief. That meant posting photos and thoughts, as well as meeting (or further developing relationships) with others that have been through similar stuff or are just empathetic souls. Invaluable stuff.

I know I'll be thinking about the stuff I read in 2015 for many years to come. What about you?

Friday, January 08, 2016

As longtime readers know, I love mail. It is such a simple thing, available to most people, and yet so few of us take advantage of a reliable postal system that sending a letter can feel like magic.

One of the things I've tried to do with friends' kids is show them how cool it can be to send and receive stuff in the mail. I'm no longer the letter writer I once was, but as 2016 is here now, I'm adding getting back to letter writing to my short list of resolutions.

Won't you join me?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Frontier #9: Becca Tobin

frontier 9: becca tobinThe story of a musician is a story that I'm inclined to dislike. However, the excellent thing about reading about creative frustration is that you don't have to hear the products of the struggle. Though, in the case of Frontier 9's spaced out music scene, where synthesizers are created by shaping globs of goo into instruments, I might not object to a listen.

Becca Tobin's gloppy fantasy follows Butter, the synth lead of the wildly popular band Eurobe as she struggles to create an instrument that will bring her one-album wonder band to the next level. What follows is both a meditation on the perils of fame, the fraught consequences of wish fulfillment and a creepy vampire golem story. It is funny, too.

ugh musiciansThis short story seemed luxuriously long, in part because Tobin conveys the band's back story and current circumstances with super sharp description and, later, dialog, that distills both the characters and quickly builds the world they live in.

I loved Tobin's use of color. Generally I'm overwhelmed by too broad of a color pallet, but the full-crayon-box colors and watercolor-y tones of her art drew me in instead of making me want to take to my bed. The pages seem to pulse with the energy of her lines. The details, like the cat shirt Butter wakes up in the morning after the creation of her synth, make re-reading rewarding--a rare treat.

your clothes will be blown off Simply, I can't wait to read more by Becca Tobin.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Oven by Sophie Goldstein

I must admit that I am a sucker for a scrappy utopia. I love hope expressed through investing in the land, having children and forming community around shared humanity. In Sophie Goldstein's The Oven, "the city" has become entirely removed from the land and in order to have children one must be deemed perfect and issued a permit.

Young 20-something main characters Syd and Eric run away from the city to have a child and, perhaps, to become adults. The Oven seems to offer a few options for that future. They begin with the exhilaration of the young and despite Syd's initial fear that they made a mistake, they are taken under the wing of a farmer couple with several children and settle into a physically strenuous life of growing their own food, sewing their own clothes and living without the UV-ray protection of a dome.

But the saying, uttered often around the camp, "It's a free country," has a dark side of course. Goldstein is sparing in showing us the full extent of life  in The Oven, but the glimpses of the less savory side of being outside the law are interesting. Especially effective are the panels showing the effects of a local drug made from bugs.

While I enjoyed The Oven, I felt as though the decline of Syd and Eric's relationship happened too quickly. I would have appreciated more scenes of them growing apart, their shared dream unraveling, so that when Eric leaves we feel more profoundly what Syd has lost and gain more insight into her final decision to stay in the colony. I also think this would have provided more opportunities to explore the world that Goldstein built.

Update: The Oven is a 2015 Ignatz nominee for Outstanding Graphic Novel.

Friday, June 26, 2015

keep out

It has been a long time now but I once had a terrible boyfriend that I loved. We bonded over books and writing, wrote long notes and letters, tried to figure things out with words. However, when it came time to do our own work, he became wary and watchful.

All he could imagine was that I was writing in my journal about him, or about my desire to be with other people, because what else could be going on inside of me? What else dare go on inside of me?

It has been a long time now but it still makes me angry.

click to enlarge
When I read this page by Summer Pierre in Forgive Me #2 I started to feel sick. When I got to the part where she cuts out the passages that obsess and terrify her boyfriend, my heart broke a little. Now I know that no matter how much you give away to that person it is never enough, and it is never worth it because you get wise, you get lucky and you get out, but a little smaller and little more rounded than is best.

If you don't get out, you get The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado. This story is framed by familiar urban legends and concerns a woman's sacrifices for her desire.

"– I have given you everything you have ever asked for, I say. Am I not allowed this one thing?
– I want to know.
– You think you want to know, I say, but you do not.
– Why do you want to hide it from me?
– I am not hiding it. It is not yours."

Though the above quote is plain and bare, the story itself is subtle and entrancing. I love how Machado takes on how women are punished for being complex, the resignation inherent in many life choices and the importance of an inner life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Ley Lines: Thank God, I Am in Love by Cathy G. Johnson

Grindstone Comics and Czap Books' Ley Lines series collects work from exciting cartoonists about art. Sometimes the comics are about influences, sometimes about the art world, but Thank God, I Am in Love gets at the primal, wrenching feeling of finding work that speaks to your soul.

The brown pallette of the pages seems an odd choice for a book about love, but the plainness of the images lets Cathy G. Johnson's words take center stage.  "I don't need portraits or actors pretending to be him. I don't need the mythology. I have the swirls of ecstasy, the impasto, I have his presence his presence his presence" Johnson recreates those swirls of ecstasy for each panel of the comic. I could recognize some of them from my very limited knowledge of Van Gogh's work; I wonder if a more versed reader would gain extra insight.

Though descriptions of the physical sensations that art love cause dominate the text the (not unrelated) line that most stuck with me was: "His work alleviates my loneliness." That is the most precious gift of falling in love, that melding, that recognition, and Johnson truly captures it in this book.

I was deeply into Golden Smoke by Warren Craghead and Unholy Shapes by Annie Mok, and I can't wait for the next issue of Ley Lines. If you did not subscribe, well, now's your chance.

Monday, June 15, 2015

a thing for ghost ships

I've got a thing for ghost ships.

G90F270_027F from the NYPL
There is something deliciously creepy about a floating reminder of the dangers of isolation in the wild world. The possibility of treasure, or just something to do after days or months of monotony, is a true lure on the open sea and I love pondering the possible malevolent intelligence behind such displays.

So here are two derelict boat stories, one very old and one new, both expertly read:
Tales To Terrify 177: Derelict by William Hope Hodgson
Pseudopod 440: Octavius Bound by Nathan Ehret

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

weird fucks in Portland

I went to Powell's and, a surprise to no one, the small press section got me.

It started with the irresistible Weird Fucks by Lynne Tillman. A few of the stories in Fast Machine were in the Before You She Was a Pit Bull zine, published by Future Tense Books. I really enjoyed those stories so more stories seemed like a good idea. Toilet Bowl, published by Guillotine Press, couldn't be more in my wheelhouse. I've been wanting to read Chelsea Martin for a long while.

My picks from the other sections of the store: A bad Philadelphian, I've never read any Delany and short stories seemed a good place to start.  And North American Lake Monsters and Super Mutant Magic Academy were simply must-haves.

What are you reading these days?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

never 31

My brother and I reading what I fear is a Dilbert comic. We are suitably unimpressed.
Dear Christian,

I wanted to write this to you on your birthday, but my smartphone fucked me over. This year I spent your birthday feeling very sad. I'm feeling all twelve of the long years you have been missing. Fuck, smartphones didn't even exist when you died.

This year our dad is dead, too, and I am the only one left with our face.

This year I can't believe how old I am. I think it might be that simple.


Monday, March 09, 2015

lettermo update

Unsurprisingly I did not make 28 letters in February. I couldn't focus each day on a person, I took a trip, the winter, the winter, the winter, etc. I managed to make 17 pieces of mail, mostly postcards, some of which haven't even arrived at their destination yet!


Here is a comic about why a relationship with the post office can be very, very fulfilling if approached properly: Why I Live At The P.O. by Summer Pierre.
I must check my PO box. If you've sent me anything and it got sent back, I apologize. Now that there is the promise of a thaw I plan on going there more often.

Friday, February 13, 2015

a valentine for mother

I like exactly two things about Valentine's Day: hearts and mail.
Here is the mail art card I made my mom, my only valentine.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

nu vampyres

Like all sane people, I love the idea of beings that subsists on life force, that kiss with a price. It hangs around in the back, all in black, looking for you, just for you. Pretty cool. Yep.

But vampires have become overexposed and boring, stripped of their complexity by trying to perfectly reconcile love and desire with being good, being redeemable, as if that is the main problem with loving the undead.

Here are two short stories that are about vampires, among other things. Both have been swirling around my brain for days.

I Can See Right Through You by Kelly Link on McSweeney's
I am in the midst of Link's new collection, Get in Trouble, now, and this was the first story I read from it. Concerning the movies, young love, obligation and dead nudists, I Can See Right Through You is probably my most recommended story of last year.

Traveling Mercies by Rachael K. Jones, ( I listened to it read by Anaea Lay) on Strange Horizons
This short short story concerns the logistics of being a guest when you never die. I would love to take a peek into the main character's address book.

What are your favorite vampire stories?

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

In the month of February I am attempting to make some mail every day. So far two every two days is working much better than trying to write something each day. And, despite the hashtag, a letter is not necessary to get in touch. Today I made the above card for a friend with whom I talk through all my big moves, my big emotions. With all the death and desire of the past several months, I think we might be talked out for awhile, so I thought I'd send a winter fantasy instead of more fraught thoughts.

Who are you missing these days?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The podcasted fiction of Clarkesworld's issue 100 is a warm chunk of aural delight for these freezing days. I listened to the three below over the last few weeks and each has stayed with me. All are read by Kate Baker:

"It also ate that one picture of your old girlfriend from, what is it, ten years ago now? The one at the beach where it was pouring rain and she was freezing her ass off but then she got hit by that huge wave and even though she was soaked to the skin she started laughing and couldn’t stop, and that was pretty much the moment you fell in love with her. The begitte was right about that one, too."
The Apartment Dweller’s Bestiary by Kij Johnson 
This collection of flash stories fit seamlessly into my recent ruminations on what makes a home and the things we choose to share our spaces with. Alongside the descriptions of small, fantastical creatures, I was very into the glimpses into so many lives and so many homes.

"Bethany was baffling to me. Baffling. She was still taking cat pictures and I still really liked her cats, but I was beginning to think that nothing I did was going to make a long-term difference. If she would just let me run her life for a week—even for a day—I would get her set up with therapy, I’d use her money to actually pay her bills, I could even help her sort out her closet because given some of the pictures of herself she posted online, she had much better taste in cats than in clothing."
Cat Pictures Please by Naomi Kritzer 
Not generally a fan of AI stories or cats, I greatly enjoyed this humorous story about a self-aware, meddling intelligence that uses personal info to decide what is best for three sad-sack humans.

"Brother, I love him. It’s absolutely not because the world keeps hurting me."
A Universal Elegy by Tang Fei
I loved this epistolary story about identity and love. It relates the pain of trying to be understood and the intoxication of feeling so very subtly and effectively.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

I made a resolution to read more this year. I want to dive in to your story and not come up for air until the next one is in my hand.

In the meantime, I've been listening to stories. This one, Vacui Magia, by L.S. Johnson, churned around in my guts for longer than I expected. The structure, that of a spell or list of instructions, provides a comforting scaffolding for a very disturbing, but personally familiar, tale. It is about parents, the weight of legacy and the extremes of grief. It is also about witches:

"No one ever thinks it will come to this. Yet you wonder, now, if every witch has a time in her life when she finds herself crawling through damp darkness, clothes dirty and hair tangled, wild with a desperate, fearful hope. You will not read about this in any book. You will never truly know how many have crawled like you, have panted like you, have felt that awful hammering of failure and loss in their heads as you feel it now."

You can listen at the above link or read here.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 list

  • How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis
  • Frontier #6: Emily Carroll
  • Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • Excavation by Wendy Ortiz
  • Frontier #5: Sam Alden
  • Megahex by Simon Hanselmann
  • We Are All COmpletely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Luv Sucker #1 & #2 by Charles Forsman
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Mega by B.L. Holmes
  • Over Easy by Mimi Pond
  • Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
  • Legs Get Led Astray by Chloe Caldwell
  • Before You She Was a Pit Bull by Elizabeth Ellen
  • Get Over It by Corrine Mucha
  • Tampa by Alissa Nutting
  • š! #17 'Sweet Romance'
  • Conditions on the Ground 1-8 by Kevin Hooyman
  • š! #16 'Villages'
  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • QU33R, edited by Rob Kirby
  • The Sleep of Reason, edited by C. Spike Trotman
  • Boy, Bird, Snow by Helen Oyeyemi
  • A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski
  • Bad Houses by Sara Ryan
  • A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
  • The Chicken Queen by Sam Alden
  • The Color Master by Aimee Bender
  • The Haunted Dolls' House by M.R. James
  • This is Between Us by Kevin Sampsell
  • The Shining Girls By Lauren Beukes
  • Troll's Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales, edited by Ellen Datlow

Thursday, December 18, 2014

magic perfume

"In 12 Dates of Christmas, the protagonist has to go on a date with Zack Morris every day for 12 days because she is sprayed by a magical perfume, which I’m assuming is how Ayuhuasca works. She repeats every day, Groundhog Day-style, thinking that if she just finds out what she is doing wrong, the time loop will stop. It takes her about ten days to realize the only reason she became obsessed with marrying her ex-boyfriend is because her mom died. At this point, yes, I cried. I, a 29-year-old man, watching a holiday movie with magical perfume, cried. Because this happened to me, and because it caused me paralyzing anxiety in real life, because grief makes you do things you normally wouldn’t, because grief makes you weird."

How Made-for-TV Movies Help Me Survive the Holidays by Daniel Zomparelli is funny and good and made me feel better today. I greatly dislike Christmas and Christmas media which is why the descriptions of those movies added a particular tension to the reading. My thing is watching British police procedurals, granting the characters/actors nicknames and getting real weird about it.

I miss my dad.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Before I was a member of the Dead Dad Club, I opened a one-woman chapter of the Dead Brother Club in the city where he is always supposed to love you back. Now I got membership cards spilling from my pockets, tripping me up and buffering my falls.

"The Club has burdens. You can’t bring it up, if you’re young; people get far too uncomfortable and sad for you. If circumstances force you to tell someone about the death, you must immediately be reassuring about just how fine and over it you are. You must act like the death wasn’t tragic. You must act like your relationship with your father was healthy and conventional. You must not be visibly annoyed when people cry and complain and mourn the loss of their grandparents or great-grandparents or their fucking dogs and cats. You must not speak of the Dead Dad Club to a non-member. You must not bring someone into the Club if they are not ready. You must not let membership to the Club visibly taint your relationships, lest you become a girl with D-word Issues. That is the worst fate of all."

Eventually, We All Become Members of the Dead Dad Club by Erika Price with beautiful illustration by  Kara Y. Frame.