No, I Won’t Have a Heart Attack

When I know that they… And I know that I… There is a space in between where something happens and… But what if the shoe was on the other hand, tied tight with a sock puppet buried inside, casketed? Some things are best left unexplained, unexamined, unreliable, unrefined, underwater, undefined.

So when they… And I… And we together… And if only they wouldn’t… If only I couldn’t… There is a space in between where nothing needs to happen but… And what if the sock was in the laundry hamper, with a pair of jeans with tissue inside a pocket, and the washer/dryer at the laundromat covered all your shirts with white puffballs? Nothing would be clean, holy, sanctified, refined, defined, examined, but it would be explained: tissue in your jeans’ pocket.

And where do you… and they… How do we all… Doing things isn’t as hard as the space between where nothing happens and nothing proceeds and movement is restricted to peripheral limbs only, creating a vacuum of the face, an inability to speak or hear or see the evil, if it is evil, or the good, if it is good, or the grey, the in between, which most things are.

When you know that I… And that they… Correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t I be working on things other than midnight lyrics and fortune cookie lines running through my head at a speed too fast to keep track of? So when my coffee gets… And I want to… Because there’s more but not enough… What then? What do I do then?

In the morning afterlight, the spaces in between come close together, the light drains out the Dark Matter, and a face as light as air and heavy as a stone is yours or theirs and… But maybe… Because… And after all… You understand me, don’t you?

Don’t word things at me, hurl them if you must but don’t be delicate. Remember I am not a poet. I am a straightforward mess of a manchild and my expressions are few and far between. So if… And I know that if also… Am I here with you or am I alone? Where are the spaces in between where I found you?

Because… And here I’m being serious, take my words for it, because what if… And that actually… And you aren’t… And I’m not… But what about them? And my jeans? And where is my coffee and my running shoes and sock puppet? Where are my underwear and where is my jersey, where are my shorts and where are my headphones. I’m going out to… I’ll be back when…

No, I won’t have a heart attack. Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll be home for dinner.

Reading Into Things Too Much; A Study in Impossibly Stupid Reflections

Dear Ilana Masad,

The members of the fiction admissions committee have carefully review your application, and I am sorry to report that we are unable to offer you a place in [REDACTED].  We have a limited number of openings and must turn away many promising applicants.  This year, one thousand and twenty-six people applied for twenty-five spaces.

We wish you well and thank you for your interest in [REDACTED].

Sincerely,


[REDACTED]


Director

[REDACTED DIRECTOR’S INITIALS]/jz

It is 5:37am and I am awake and thinking of the nature of time. Because that’s what writers do. Right? Faulkner did it. I must do it too.

At first I thought the typo in the first line was the missing “ed” from the word “review,” but then it dawned on me that this may not be the case! What if the typo is the word “have” that comes before “carefully?” Strike that word out, and the whole nature of this thing is thrown into question. A 5:40am kind of question. If the members of the fiction admissions committee carefully review my application, that means they are still reviewing it, ad infinitum, and even though they “are unable to offer” me a place, they might totally change their minds, if, you know, they keep reading my application over, and over, and over…
This, at 5:42am, is a hopeful, and far more cheerful, way of looking at this whole situation.
Then again, maybe the missing “ed” is supposed to deprive me of what those two letters are shorthand for – think higher ed, continuing ed, that sort of thing. Maybe they’re just rubbing it in. Assholes.

Or maybe they’re encouraging me to seek the “ed” in other places. Maybe I should get a PhD.

But what’s with the double spacing? Look, REDACTED, I’m an editor myself and I totally notice  when  there  are  two  spaces  between  words, mostly because old people are prone to double-spacing because you used to need to do that on typewriters or something. I think? That’s what someone told me. Maybe it was my mom. The question is, REDACTED, did you actually write these letters on typewriters? I mean, that would be on brand, but then again, maybe it’s actually a message hidden in that double space. Are you going to take me on a treasure hunt? Maybe if I look with a magnifying glass, I’ll find a secret QR code there, betraying the nature of temporality and embedded societal ageism (old people double space, young people QR code). Then if I scan the QR code into my phone, maybe I’ll be directed to a link that says PSYCH! YOU’RE TOTES ACCEPTED!

Or maybe, and just maybe, I realize at 5:45am, this is actually a secret Jay-Z marketing campaign. I mean, it makes sense, sort of, in an alternative and paper-killing kind of way. If one thousand and one people are getting this letter (though there’s probably a waiting list, and maybe it’s also twenty-five people long, just in case none of the people who get into REDACTED want to go, in which case it’s nine hundred and eighty-six people getting this particular letter, but I can’t be sure because it’s too early to do math) – well, that’s a lot of shares right there. Every one of us letter-receivers is going to share it with our friends, families, therapists, cats, and neighborhood sympathetic bartenders. Or baristas, baristas are cooler these days. And let’s not forget hairdressers. People talk to their hairdressers, right? Or is that just something from Legally Blond and Orange is the New Black? Anyway, shares. That’s the point. Maybe Jay-Z is going to rebrand himself as jz and is looking to break into highbrow hipster writer culture, you know, the kind that only reads Anna Karenina and e. e. cummings and cries when rats are smushed by buses while smoking American Spirits.

Not that that’s me or anything. (It’s actually not. American Spirits are too expensive and taste gross.)

But if Jay-Z is rebranding, then hey, it’s his own identity and I totally get that. I respect that. Peace be with you, jz.

It’s 5:56am on a Sunday morning, and I have no decided that I’m over you, REDACTED. Because if you really want me to read so much into your letters, you don’t really want me. That’s what they always say about relationships. Don’t be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you. Right?

Or maybe you do want me and just want to play Sherlock Holmes games. Well, I’m sorry, REDACTED. I’m not that smart. Or have that ready an access to opium. Or use the word “ejaculated” to express a way of speaking. No, wait, that’s John Watson writing about Holmes. Or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writing as Watson about Holmes.

Things are getting meta over here.

It’s 6am.

Forthcoming Books From Dead and/or Unconsenting Authors

  1. The unearthed copy of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The Reunion, in which the friends are in their 40s and sit in a dive bar and reminisce about old times. Intertwined with their discussions are flashback scenes interspersed throughout involving Jim’s life after the Civil War. Anticipated release date: December 10, 2015.
  2. Emily Dickinson’s poetry cycle, tentatively titled Bees of a Feather, which critics who have had a glimpse at the work say will resolve once and for all Dickinson’s obsession with the flying honeybees she so often examined in her poetry. Dickinson’s estate and her publishers are closely monitoring the manuscript and have only allowed readers to examine the work after going through extensive security clearance and signing several gag orders. Anticipated release date: May 1st, 2015.
  3. An edited version of Franz Kafka’sThe Trial, which, up until now, was believed to have never been completed during the author’s lifetime. Kafka fanboys have unearthed what publishers are promoting as the definitive version which will eliminate timeline confusions and will end with a more satisfying and explanatory final chapter and epilogue. Anticipated release date: late 2015.
  4. An as-yet untitled Jane Austen novel about two sisters, their mother, and the rich next-door neighbor who attempts to seduce each of the three over the course of 20 years. The manuscript was discovered among newly found papers belonging to Austen’s niece who scribbled editorial notes all in the margins. Publishers are still debating whether to publish the manuscript with or without the familial editorial touch. Anticipated release date: TBA
  5. W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Talented Twentieth, in which he rethinks the math regarding The Talented Tenth and is embarrassed about the problematic undertones in that first book and engages in lengthy Socratic dialogue with himself in the prologue. He also envisions the future of the African American experience in the United States and predicts, optimistically, that America will lead the charge in eliminating racism from the world. Anticipated release date: Black History Month 2016.
  6. Emily Bronte’s Withering Heights; or, the Story of Katherine in her Unsullied Youth. A prequel to Wuthering, Withering was found among newly discovered effects stored in a basement in West Riding of Yorkshire, where she lived and died. The manuscript includes diary entries and little doodles of hearts with the word “Heathcliffe” in them, as well as a stern lecture by a mysterious old woman about the dangers of emotionally abusive relationships. Anticipated release date: June, 2015. We anticipate inclusion of the title in Best Beach Read lists.
  7. An untitled Nella Larsen novel in which a blonde woman passes for black and a dark-skinned woman passes for white and both engage in a romantic relationship involving cruel grins and soft fingers passing through each other’s hair. The closest to explicit queerness that Larsen has ever come, it is rumored the novel will be released just prior the New York Gay Pride Week in early summer. Anticipated release date: TBA
  8. During the making of the recent documentary and the accompanying book (Salinger), publishers have now revealed that an unpublished story by J. D. Salinger was found in the archives of The New Yorker magazine (unearthed during the move from Times Square to the World Trade Center). The story, titled “Holden’s Hands,” is apparently a precursor to Catcher in the Rye, and will be published in a coming issue of The New Yorker. Anticipated release date: TBA
  9. Grace Paley’s novel – unknown until recently, when a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College found it buried in the ground beneath the Teahaus – the novel deals with Paley’s recurring character, Faith, and finally puts to rest the questions of how many husbands she had, which ones she divorced, and what happened to her when her kids grew up. Anticipated release date: International Women’s Day, 2016.
  10. In a startling revelation, the Dickens Fellowship, founded in 1902, has announced that it will release a free e-book by Charles Dickens on the illustrious author’s next birthday. The novella, entitled The Afterdays of Ebenezer Scrooge, is said to be a glib and satirical view of Scrooge’s apparent transformation in A Christmas Carol. The Fellowship recommends a strong stomach and an ironic sense of nostalgia for readers choosing to expose themselves to Afterdays. Anticipated release date: December 1.

 

Mindfulness

It’s a hard sell. Mind minus body. The lumbering meaty thing is still there, with all its joints and hemoglobin and heart conditions. It doesn’t leave you just because you decide to value that tangled web of firing neurons and chemical imbalances called a brain.

You do value it. Of course you do. It’s what makes your body tick, it’s what allows you to run on the treadmill and eat falafel from a food truck at 3am with your date,

No, that’s not right. That’s your brain.

Is your brain the same thing as your mind?

It’s that kind of night. The kind where you’re asking stupid philosophical questions and waving a white flag of defeat in front of your responsibilities. You’re done. You’re through. No more tonight. You need a rest.

So how do you convince people to see your mind over your body? It’s hovering there, your mind, above and around and in between all of your bodily functions and orifices and fortunate features. But it doesn’t overlay them. It just sort of shimmers. Sometimes it gets noticed. But not usually.

No, when you walk down the street to the post office to send the birthday present you’ve owed your mother for three months now and the rent check you’ve owed for slightly longer, you are not a mind above a body. You are a theoretical person, with a theoretical mind, but mostly you are simply a collection of limbs and features that are recognized as human.

Are you?

Is anyone?

It really is that kind of night. Shut your mind off. Let your brain wander. Watch some TV. Stop thinking about that girl you saw on the train and wanted to talk to. She’s long gone. She doesn’t exist in your world anymore.

Does she exist at all then?

Does it matter?

Shut up.

Days of the Week

Shay sometimes felt that she had two sets of eyelids. Like cats. This feeling was especially pronounced early in the morning, every morning, when Shay’s daughter would pry open one or both of her eyes and ask, as if she were already a bitter middle-aged woman, “Is it Saturday?”

Ame was a happy girl overall, but she liked weekends, and nothing Shay could do seemed to help Ame remember the days of the week. As she tucked her in, Shay would say, “What day is it tomorrow, honey?” and Ame would say, hopefully, “Saturday?” and Shay would say, “No, honey, what was today?” and Ame would think, and think and then triumphantly name the day, pleased with herself. Then Shay would say, “So that makes tomorrow…” Without fail, Ame would repeat, “Saturday?”

At least she was right once a week.

Shay wondered why her daughter was obsessed with Saturdays rather than Sundays. They were the same thing to her, weren’t they? Days when she didn’t have to go to kindergarten with all those poopy-heads (Ame’s words, discourage but as yet snuffed out by Shay).

No, Shay knew, this wasn’t quite right. On Saturdays, Ame got to go to work with her.

Shay worked in the administrative office of a zoo. It was a small zoo, not a particularly good one in terms of humanitarian concerns (the tiger lived in a cage, not an enclosure, and was stationed far too close to the birds so he was always agitated and pacing to and fro, even though turning around was an ordeal for him because he’d grown longer than the original cage-designer had anticipated). But it was a happy little place for the parents and children who came there and the occasional tour group that found itself in the small west-coast city that had little of historical, or even contemporary, interest.

It was a good job for Shay. She had her Associates Degree and knew it had been an absolute waste of time to get it, as no one cared about anything less than a BA. The bank didn’t want her, the doctors’ offices didn’t want her (not even the chiropractors), and she couldn’t face another benefit-less job at a grocery store since it reminded her too much of being a teenager and living with her parents.

Shay sometimes wished she still lived with her parents. But they were living the good life in Florida now and believed it was the height of parental support to fly her and Ame out there once a year for a rainy and hot Christmas with them.

What confused Shay about Ame looking forward to Saturday so much was that they rarely went out to see the animals. Saturdays were a busy day for Shay, because the phones would be ringing off the hook. Teachers and tour guides worked during the week and Saturday was the only day they could call to book their tours and buy their tickets. The zoo was closed on Sunday.

What Ame usually did on Saturdays in the small, cinder-block-walled, windowless office that was Shay’s inner sanctum at work, was draw animals in chalk on the floor. It was easy to wash off and Ame was forever running out of paper when she drew at home, so when Shay discovered rather by accident that the cold stone floor (chic in the ’70s, she was sure) worked like a chalkboard (the accident involved her getting a cup of tea for a frazzled teacher who had a new pack of chalk in her purse which spilled out when she burned herself on the too-hot tea and instinctively flung everything away from her), Shay figured that she’d buy some of the big sidewalk chalk for Ame and let her roam around the office with it.

Ame drew animals, but she also drew roads. She drew animals walking down streets, across cross-walks and high-ways and up and down shallow public park stairs. She had a sense of direction that she allowed into her art and which Shay found immensely comforting.

My daughter will be something, Shay would think on Saturdays, and know she was thinking in clichés. But then, every morning, when she felt her second eyelid being pried up from her eyeball along with the first, outer one, she would wonder how Ame would ever be anything if she didn’t learn the days of the week.

Find Me I’m Yours – REVIEW SERIES – Part IV

Part I

Part II

Part III

We’re finding stairwalks now. And actually, this may be the most useful website of all when it comes to LA tourists who have NO idea what to do there once they’ve finished the tiny bit of land called “Hollywood”…

Stairwalks contact

 

Oh my goodness, so I totally got a response, look:

Hello:

So glad you’re finding my site useful.

I wish I had more time to blog about more stair walks, but it makes my
day knowing it’s helpful, and makes me want to do more soon.

Carol Ann

Liza is Mags best friend and she works for a self-help (sigh, I don’t like those) website called eVolve, but what’s BETTER is that there’s a link from there to a Tumblr called http://www.messagespotting.com/ – and it doesn’t have the little bar at the bottom telling me that it’s part of the Click Lit experience! I feel like I broke the system – or maybe the author just wants us to get to know this site since actually it’s amazeballs (I followed, obvs). Another part of Liza’s job? Well, I texted my wish to it, and it totally came up. Check it:

My Wish

Yup, that one’s mine. Select wishes are supposed to come true… Maybe Hillary Carlip will want me to help her on her next project! (Just saying, this format would work SO WELL for a noir/crime/mystery novel.)

A Well-Rounded Roundup

I’ve been neglectful, rather, of this lovely lovely blog, but there are good reasons. There always are, aren’t there, when people neglect things. Excuses, excuses and all that. Well, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  1. Moving to New York City.
  2. Trying to find a job.
  3. Failing, miserably.
  4. Getting into freelance work.
  5. Don’t ask me what freelance work is, because it’s a ridiculous mishmash of things, most of which involve hustling my butt off to try to find more work.
  6. Got me a boyf.
  7. Got me some cats.
  8. Reconnected with old friends in the city (because that’s what we call NYC here, “the city,” rather like San Franciscans call it “the city” too).
  9. Got rejected from a bunch of literary places.
  10. Got accepted to some cool places like McSweeney’s.
  11. Did NaNoWriMo…
  12. …and finished the novel I started over a year and a half ago in Oxford.

What does this mean? That hopefully now that I’m not quite noveling, I’ll be back here more often and updating.

Review: LEAVING THE ATOCHA STATION, by Ben Lerner

My boyfriend, whom I have converted back into being a reader, bought both of Ben Lerner’s books at the Brooklyn Book Fair a few weeks ago. He read them both in a matter of days, and recommended them highly to me.

I was more than happy to take his recommendation, especially as the name Ben Lerner has been circling around the online literary scene for a while. I’d seen his name all over the various sites I frequent and I thought it would be nice indeed to read something contemporary and hip. I was excited, looking forward to it, and expecting to like it.

Ben Lerner can certainly write. Before writing this novel, his first, he’d published several poetry collections according to his bio. Indeed, Leaving the Atocha Station seems to be a fictionalized version of Lerner’s own experience as a Fulbright Scholar in Spain. The book’s main character and narrator, Adam Gordon, is also a poet, is also in Spain on an unnamed research-based fellowship, is also a graduate of a university on Rhode Island (i.e. Brown). Possibly also like Lerner – but here I’m speculating – Adam Gordon thinks he’s basically a fraud.

Adam Gordon is also an incredibly unreliably narrator, which could be interesting in theory, but ends up being profoundly dull. I had sympathy for him, to an extent – he is depressed and medicated for it, his self esteem is buried under the floorboards, he seems to be acting out his life out rather than living it – but I also found him extremely obnoxious. He treads the same ground that so many have gone over before, and is leaving no new footprints in his wake.

From Henry James to Henry Miller to Earnest Hemingway, the insecure white privileged male living abroad has been explored ad nauseam. James was an innovator in his deep exploration of our minds and moods, and Miller, much as I hate him, at least managed to be interestingly offensive in his obsession with douching prostitutes and lecherous men. Hemingway I personally regard as a writer who misunderstood himself and perpetuated his personal myth to the point where he is believed to be more of a misogynist than Miller (c’est impossible!). The thing about Lerner is that he’s none of these, and nor is Adam Gordon. There is a wrap-around kind of logic to his character – Gordon’s fear of being a real poet, a real artist, is curbed by his own belief that he is a fraud, which as a result makes him even more of a real poet, and a modest one at that. The irony underlying every word he utters is mirrored in the prose itself. And while I do live in Manhattan and do enjoy small and trendy coffee shops, I have also grown truly sick of the hipster urge to take irony to its outer limits and beyond.

The indulgent, ironic self-hatred that Gordon is constantly experiencing becomes exhausting and dull. He is both detached from and profoundly inside of himself, and even in his most miserable moments, there is a self-congratulatory tone, as if he’s actually quite enjoying be so tortured and complicated.

Let me stress – it’s not that Lerner isn’t a good writer. He very clearly is. Some of his shortest, simplest sentences convey a vast amount of emotional information:

Without texture, time passed.

Or:

The cities were polluted with light, the world warming.The seas were rising. The seas were closing over future readers.

Ben Lerner is clearly a poet. Maybe he has come to terms with that by now and maybe not. My question, as a reader, is why did he need to transmit his own learning curve in this way? Seeing him lust after or sleep with all the women he knows, smoke weed and drink to excess every night, and not take his own work seriously even while everyone else does – it all gets pretty boring and repetitive. Not to mention a bit infuriating. Adam Gordon gets everything, apparently without trying. Is this the lie we’re supposed to recognize? Is he, in fact, making an immense effort when living in Spain on his fellowship’s funds even while not doing the research he went there to do? Or are his anxiety and depression enough to make his laziness understandable, admirable even?

Most writers will tell you that writing is hard work. Lerner’s return to the whimsy of effortless poesy coupled with obsessive anxiety and self-scrutiny are not particularly fetching, mostly because they’re so clinical and automatic. There is so little feeling in the book – except that of Adam for himself – that it ends up seeming like a grand experiment in narcissistic (and ironic) self-hatred.

Maybe it’s just that I went to college with people like Ben Lerner and that I experience them still, living in New York. Maybe this book hits too close to home in the need for validation that is hiding behind its fake humility. Whatever the reason, the result is the same. To my mind, Lerner’s sentences are beautiful, his prose cleanly rendered, but his impact on me was close to nil.

Staying

We cling together like droplets of water, crawling up or down glass in order to fuse with similar molecules. We isolate ourselves and shut our eyes to what happens outside our safe haven. We are loyal to one another and to no one else.

When we climbed onto rooftops as children, we saw the reason behind our elders’ warnings not to go up there. The view beyond our narrow streets and teetering buildings was grim. If our own children’s expressions are anything like our own were, the world outside our walls has not improved.

When the rare outsider arrives, we celebrate. It is a low-key celebration, nothing like the City Holidays. We pour coffee and bring out the biscuits covered in chocolate, the ones we save for special occasions, and we ask the newcomer questions. We ask about faraway places, the names of which we often mispronounce. R-Kansas, we are told, is actually Ark-n’-Saw. Mehico, the outsider corrects, is Meksico. New York, he says, hasn’t been New for a dozen dozen years. And York, he adds, is not a place you want to know about. Whatever makes a person’s eyes alive dies when he says this, until we ask about Boss-town, and then he smiles and takes out a digigraph of his niece, who was born there, who is beautiful.

We all host the outsiders when they come. We take turns and try not to be greedy. We sometimes wonder whether the newcomers would prefer to settle in one place while they stay here, but the truth is that while we are all eager to talk to the people from outside, we also don’t trust them, not entirely. It is safer to keep them on their toes, keep them moving. We don’t want them getting too comfortable. It is the rare outsider who receives a permit to settle here, and we don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. Not ours, not theirs.

City Holidays are magical. Fireworks are shot into the air and the power stays on all night and we break out the cosmetics and paint our faces as if we were Hollywood stars from the old 2D pictures, with lipstick and eyeshadow and cufflinks to match. We dance in the squares, in big circles, holding hands. We stay up until morning and then get together in big prearranged crews and clean up all the garbage our revelry generated.

There is a time for play and a time for order, and we teach our children to recognize the difference. When the thrice-yearly referendum on the state of our City come along, we show the children how to vote and explain why we choose the things we do and try to present a cheerful face even when the opposite result comes through, because that is what democracy is about, after all.

We remember our first votes, just after our fourteenth birthdays, coupled with our first apprenticeship placements and, for many of us, our first budding romances, kindled in the heat of the ironically called baby steps towards adulthood and the bittersweet flavor of responsibility. Our first votes were sweat-stained affairs. The decision, yae/nae for whichever proposition was our first, felt like a life-and-death one, even though no bullet-fueled weapon was being held to our heads, nor was there a threat to our beings should our vote ultimately be cast on the losing side.

There are rumors of people disappearing occasionally, but what society does not include conspiracy theories? We know our government, though. We are our government. And we aren’t thugs. We occasionally get into scraps when heavy drinking is involved, and of course we have a rotating schedule for guard duty and there are some nights when the more desperate among us attempt theft or assault, but murder is not a common crime. Similarly, kidnapping or “disappearing” criminals or, indeed, those who don’t agree with the more powerful among us – this is not a practice we condone. It is, besides, unnecessary. People know when they are not wanted, but it is more often by their family or their spurning lovers or, more tragically, by their resentful children. If people disappear from our City, it is because they have been active, have “disappeared” themselves, have, in short, left.

When the outsiders leave, though, few of us have the desire to go along with them. We remember our early days of rooftop adventures, and we remember the gray barrenness that lay outside our secure City. We’re safe here, and we’re staying.