Tuesday, November 30, 2010
And the winner is: Sarah!
Here's the scene of wonderful, white dwarf imagery her right brain gave birth to, right here, on this very site, on the very wrong subject of craziest dreams involving literary figures:
Sometimes it's better to say nothing.
As do crunchy blue butterfly wings for breakfast.
So, are you Sarah (are you in the marketplace in Savanna-la-Mar?)?
If you are, please come to the customer service desk located in the back of this blog to claim your prize (or, just drop us a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org), a brand spanking new copy of Dennis Cooper's book "Smothered in Hugs!"
If you're not Sarah, please stay tuned for your regularly scheduled programming...
and we're off to see the wizard
Sunday, November 28, 2010
EXCUSE ME, I THINK I LEFT SOMETHING
for Michael Trocchia
If you sleep inside the water, the water stares back.
I was tempted to split that clause with an Oh. Which
O/h? The kneeling or the reeling? (O)ne means I'm
moved to rhapsody upon witness of my conditions,
and the (o)t(h)er means I'm prepared to make a slight
newness of life. Now the bus only costs five dollars.
They're selling fuzzy crosses in the banner space.
This season isn't as funny as that season, but they're
fake, oh yeah, so they only care a little more than us.
If you back into the water, the water draws your back.
The house across the river has a spokesman. Do you
remember that episode where K. becomes Moviefone?
And then the real Moviefone visits K. at the end?
And this is a moment of terror for everyone except the
studio audience? I have never been in one of those,
but I have reassured people by saying "It's okay, your
name is on there." What am I supposed to do, just
forget the feeling of so many headlights in the other
lane at night? Thanks but no thanks. One story had an
enormous M&M cookie in the glovebox irrelevant to
itself, and I found this very realistic. And did I want to
weep, oh yeah, but there was nobody around to show.
Monday, November 22, 2010
It is a risky move by Carol Guess to write more than a simple response to these events; the choice to do so raises age-old questions of the appropriation of tragedy and who has the right to write it. Two things save this subject matter from becoming sentimental or overly political: the authenticity of emotion and the integration of this recent history with the troubled love story of the speaker and Denira, whose relationship is nearly as turbulent as the times in which they live ... One of the loveliest sequences in the book is the quintet of love lyrics spanning pages 16-20, in which Guess makes an announced “detour” from the history of the speaker and Denira to contemplate love and loss for the speaker alone. Though not entirely extricable from Denira, these poems represent the vulnerability that the speaker subordinates to her lover throughout much of the narrative. “I live in the shadow of a breathing volcano in a city with seven days of sunshine a year” refers to more than life in Seattle, especially when followed with the admission that “I can speak of you now to anyone because I’ve stopped wanting anything like what I once wanted from you” (17).Guess's poem "Detachable Sainthood" is live in the new NOÖ .
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
( interviewee extraordinaire)
Timber Masterson is a man on a mission. What’s that mission, you ask? Why, to poke and probe at the quivering mass of strangeness that lurks just below the surface of our personalities, the Blob of our unconsciousness if you will, and to try to get under its skin to see what makes it tick. Or quiver. Or, well, whatever it is that a Blob does.
He deals strictly in the weird and unexpected, specifically, the fantastical space between reality and unreality, imagination and delusion, fact and fiction. His work runs the full gamut of the electromagnetic spectrum, infecting you as you affect it. Reading his stories is like looking at old, grainy, black and white photographs, faded by too much time spent stuffed in shoe boxes in locked attics. The images flicker in and out of transmission. They could be of Minotaurs or mustachioed street sausage vendors in Toronto. They could sound like a papier-mâché Mel Tormé, singing somewhere, off in the distance, in all his velvety, foggy glory. The melody carries over the miles but the image is not indelible. Rub the photographs with an errant thumb and you get a clean slate, like so many of his characters can only dream of, and do dream of. Like so many of us dream of.
Secrets best kept secret often come tumbling out of his stories like clowns out of a clown car. The resulting effect is that of the narrative, running far behind the secrets, terribly out of breath and desperate to catch up, cursing that free gym membership offer it threw away last month, then finally stopping, giving up, and drowning happily in a flood of seltzer water amidst a hailstorm of lemon meringue pies. This is not to say there’s a preponderance of clowns in his stories, or any at all, for you coulrophobics out there. That was just to prepare your eyes for the burn. Timber Masterson stories live on the borders, in the in-betweens, and they are summarily thrust upon the reader, in media res, like a hot potato, as if to say, “here, take this, I don’t know what to do with it.”
And away we go:
Hi, Timber Masterson!
1. A lot of your stories have a dream-like quality to them. Consequently, a lot of your characters remain trapped in vague and ethereal spaces, where they discover some truth about themselves or their world that, paradoxically, may or may not even be true. That leaves a lot of room for audience participation; the reader has to fill in the blanks, and decide just how much they want to believe - is that something that you consciously try to construct when working on a story, or does it simply happen that way?
There does leave a lot of room for the reader to kind of involve his own character, his own beliefs, his interpretations, why should I dictate it to him. Since I’m the writer, I also say NO RULES, and you can choose to believe it or choose to believe that the protagonist is so out there, like just on the edge of his own world that it is a kind of truth from him. It’s also based on the strangest things I think while I walk around the city, like, hey, imagine if that guy asking for money isn’t a veteran, like from war asking for donations, but he’s a ‘Veterinarian” and go from there, how odd, has business gone down, and then not only have you got a humorous bizarre place to go from, but it’s up to you, the reader to ponder, “Hm, what would that look like?”
2. Can you describe your writing process?
I use only the Hindu language, a sharply shaven purple crayon on a cocktail napkin, it’s a good system as long as I remember to number the napkins. Then a team of tiny villagers work day and night, transcribing, at a dumpy fleabag of a motel near the airport, then they staple it all together back to my assistant and voila, my first draft.
3. A lot of your work seems to revolve around questions of identity and self, and unusual perspectives if not outright insanity or fantasy – do you get the feeling that there’s something horrible and insidious going on outside right now, right around the corner? If so, what do you think it is?
It’s a hairy old Jewish lady that mutters under her breath at me….I’m convinced she waits for me with her whips and Polish meats. Yet, I am strangely drawn to her thick leg wear.
4. What’s the most disturbing thing in your fridge right now?
There appears to be something moth-ridden near to the back, which moves on occasion. Let me explain. I swear one day, it was in the crisper, then one day it was in the back right of the fridge, now it’s on the left; I recall a grade 9 science project I worked on, that involved moss and growth hormones and something, I’m scared and hope it goes away. I will have my assistant check Tuesday.
5. “Siamese Twins” (NOӦ 4!!) is a grainy gray matter that deals with identity, duplicity, possibly repressed memories or outright lies, strange leaps of logic, and, halfway through, out of nowhere, it suddenly shifts gears into a full blown plea for help to the audience. The sudden shift in form feels completely natural and seamless, and one comes away from the story with a sense of having taken part in an event, or shared an intimate truth with a perfect stranger. Could you talk a little bit about that story?
I think that sort of tale enters into the realm of “what if” I mean, it’s in everyone that is if you allow it to, a question of what if something was kept from you, from parents, a lover, a best friend, some huge thing that if you came upon, say, as in this character did, “…while rifling his mother’s drawers”…what would that feel like, is that the reason for my isolation, loneliness. I’ve always thought there has had to have been some deeper reason for this sense of depression, apart from the world, feeling not a part of, so I guess in this essay I used the “separation metaphor…which also could lead down the pathway further into abandonment issues.
6. You travel a lot. What are some of the strangest things you’ve seen recently?
I travel the most from the living room (the tv) to the kitchen, to the computer/office/internet place, to that glorious soft cloud of cushiony la-la land, known as the bedroom. It’s a boudoir I suppose if one is single, though now that I think about it, it becomes French - a “boudoir” - if you’re sharing it with a lady friend for the evening; I picture a red light, a la Woody Allen’s Annie Hall plus four poster bed with silky material hanging about the joint.
7. Who are some of your favorite authors? What are some of your favorite books?
I like it best when I’m surprised, like when I come across something really unexpected, like I’ll be in a bookstore and read a few paragraphs and then, whammo, something hits be in there that I connect with. I recall this best when I picked up Nick Flynn’s book , “ANOTHER BULLSHIT NIGHT IN SUCK CITY” The way he conveys his isolation and day to day loneliness but keeps getting on through…it blew me away, there’s not that much brilliance out there, brilliance I speak of that also possesses originality, then again what’s wunderbar to some toads isn’t so to another animal, if you get what I mean. It’s all so personal. I’ll give you ten as far as fave authors and books, but it would take many pages to describe why and how these particular ones came about and why it hit me and just how the whole deal; the advice I can give is go check these out and pick ‘em up off the shelf and spend 3 - 4 minutes flipping around the pages and then you’ll be able to tell if it’s something you’d spend your hard earned dough on.
David Foster Wallace - "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again", "Infinite Jest"
James Frey - "A Million Little Pieces", "My Friend Leonard" Bright Shiny Morning”
Nick Flynn - "Another Bullshit Night In Suck City"
Richard Hell - "Go Now"
Dave Eggers - "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"
Elizabeth Wurtzel - "More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction"
David Rakoff - "Fraud", "Don't Get Too Comfortable" (Canadian)
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall - "Down to This: Squalor and Splendour in a Big-City Shanty Town", “Ghosted” (Canadian)
Dan Kennedy - "Loser Goes First: My Thirty-Something Years of Dumb Luck and Minor Humiliation"
Bret Easton Ellis - "Less Than Zero", "American Psycho"
Jay McInerney - "Bright Lights, Big City"
David Sedaris - "Me Talk Pretty One Day"
Mark Leyner - "My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist", "Teatherball"
Heather O'Neill - "Lullabies for Little Criminals" (Canadian)
Mordecai Richler - "Barney's Version" (Canadian)
Robert Bingham - "Pure Slaughter Value"
Denis Johnson - "Jesus' Son: Stories"
DBC Pierre - "Vernon God Little"
Augusten Burroughs - "Running With Scissors", "Dry"
Martin Amis - "Experience: A Memoir"
Peter Hyman - "The Reluctant Metrosexual: Dispatches from an Almost Hip Life"
8. What are you working on now?
I’m working on a pop-up book, scratch-n-sniff pamphlet for adults; you could pick them up at roadside diners along the highways and byways of our great nation, it’s still in the works. I have just finished my collection of stories/essays (when I say “just”, I mean a few months ago, still looking for someone to publish it.) It’s called: True Imaginings from the Dementia Cul De Sac: A Bizarre But Entertaining Life I Seem To Have Survived. The title felt oh so appropriate, as I’ve felt I’ve really explored the life I’ve lived so far, and there have been some weird avenues and boulevards I’ve said to myself, “How the hell did I get here?!” But in retrospect, now, I wouldn’t change it, maybe a little a bit of the heart break I would have exchanged for something else, but the rest has made me who I am.
Thanks for your time!
While finishing his mammoth personal memoir, “A Long Way From Kind and Pretty,” Masterson has been cleansing his mind, keeping his website up to date and donating his imaginative talents and heartfelt jazzy epistles to online and print journals: So New Media, Word Riot, Fresh Yarn Salon, Yankee Pot Roast, Ghoti, Wandering Army, and most recently in his home town Toronto, The National Post and Now Magazine. He co-produced and hosted a monthly interactive literary series at The Drake Hotel in Toronto entitled Word Substance Spatula and is a regular contributor to CIUT's talk radio show, HOWL, with Nik Beat and has read a spooky Halloween story on National Public Radio. Mr. Masterson ventured to Philadelphia to ply his literary wares at The 215 Festival. "A Big Thrill", Tim says, as this was where he first saw and drew inspiration from authors of the McSweeneys collective years earlier. He's been awarded a Toronto Arts Council Grant for this writing project and has put the finishing touches on his latest project, a compilation of essays and stories, (some published some not), "A Bizarre But Entertaining Life I Seem To Have Survived: True Tales From The Dementia Cul De Sac". He is not the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship or any other fancy shmancy glammarama literary prize...yet.
For a full listing of his work, and anything else you’d like to know, check out his homepage at: www.timbermedia.com
**** Mr. Timber Masterson reports that, yes, while living at present in Toronto Canada, he is exquisitely moisturized, (he has dual citizenship, his Dad was American) yet this doesn't stop him from being, on occasion, terrifically lonesome, so he wouldn't mind at all if you dropped him an email, just about anything at all, your fave game show host from the 70's/80's, sandwich meat, carnies, cuddling, even the art, love and appreciation of books and magazines and stuff, don’t be shy.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
DO WHAT NOW
for Emily Toder
We are things embarrassing, strange, and hang around
feeling everything things, things, considering beautiful
that which does not consider anything. Are we? Strange
and hang embarrassing, things around, beautiful
feelings. Consider everything. That which considers
we are. Feeling feeling, not beautiful. Hanging things.
Everything we are, strange, which does not feel. Strange,
that which hangs around feeling. Consider beautiful
embarrassing anything. Which thing? That thing thing.
We hang around embarrassing our strange everything.
Consider feeling. Are we? Beautiful everything, we that
does and does not. Hang strange, things, things feel.
We are. Everything feels that strange which feels.
Everything that strange which feels. That strange
everything. Which feels. That strange beautiful
anything which feels strange and embarrassing.
Are we? That hanging strange and everything which
feels considers that we feel, things, hangs, things
and feeling everything we are. Oh and not who.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
I AM SITTING BY MYSELF in a booth, eating Eggs Benedict. It is during peak hours. I have been eating the same breakfast for the past 72 weeks. The waitresses have just started to give me dirty looks. Hungry, tableless people also give me dirty looks. A tyrannosaurus rex sits down across from me. She is a very rude tyrannosaurus rex. I say, “You are a very rude tyrannosaurus rex. You should have asked if it was okay to sit at my table.” The tyrannosaurus rex does not respond. I leer at her. She feeds coins into the jukebox. Her eyes become fluorescent lights. Her teeth become a stack of menus. Her mouth becomes the door to the women’s bathroom. She becomes the diner. I feel lightheaded.Check out Brad's book! And if you're an old NOÖ contributor with a new book out, let us know! Email us at editors at noojournal dot com.
Friday, November 5, 2010
A few months ago, I had my first visit to the fiction stacks of the downtown Nashville Public Library, a big impressive room where Dawn Raffel’s collection graced the new releases shelf and where people actually seemed to be reading stuff. I hit the R’s looking to see if they had the new Mary Robison (they didn’t), but they did have James Robison’s The Illustrator (1988), which I’d never heard of.
The Illustrator follows Ash, a middle-aged Bostonian who’s just quit being a commercial artist to be an Artist-artist. Ash falls for an almost-legal high schooler named Q (whose actual name is Erin, whose actual-actual name is Pauline). He takes a job in South America and tortures himself with thoughts of Q, then returns to Boston and remembers what she’s actually like and kinda loses interest. And starts painting big weird anti-paintings.
The plotting is loose and natural while each short scene is a like tightly constructed flash, ready for Quick Fiction, often complete with punchy/mysterious last lines. The looseness and Ash’s obliquely cool temperament gel nicely. Each narration and conversation volleys from irony to sincerity and back, and Ash is never more tentative than in a situation that calls for sincerity. “I recognize the escalation of faith and terror that is, I guess, love,” he narrates of his thing with Q. “It’s what I feel, maybe, I guess.” Every genuine feeling expressed is a quailfier-fest, every joke a razor.
And then Ash’s ex-wife, Lucia, literally shows up at his doorstep. She’s barely mentioned in the book’s first half, but when she shows up (“Hello, Ash. You could hug me, I guess.”), she arrives with so much nuance and emotional baggage that Ash has to be reconsidered in the light of her arrival. “Look at your oeuvre,” she says in the same scene, looking over his paintings for the first time. “My, my. Aren’t you weird. You know, I never minded that we both had sex with so many others while we were married–I thought that was fine. But what I minded, minded purple, was that you didn’t love me, Ash.” “I minded that too,” Ash says, “but you were terrible, just terrible awful. You’re not awful anymore probably, isn’t that so?”
It seems for awhile that Lucia might restore some lost part of Ash, but she’s a protagonist in a book full of protagonists, and has her own stuff going. When, late in the book, Lucia goes with Ash and Q to Vermont, she gets consumed with doomed love for a guy who’s barely on the page at all.
Employed here is the kind of minimalism that uses telling and concise details to point outward to the big lived-in world. By the end of the book, so much ground has been covered that it makes for a jarring return to the opening pages after a first read. At any point in the book, it feels both as if anything might happen next and as if Ash doesn’t care one way or the other what will happen. And yet the difference between this book and slackery “the point is that not much happens” books is that his actions do affect him, again and again, and usually for the worse. If Ash had a stake in himself, he might save himself, but doesn’t, so won’t.
To rope in David Shields for a minute, The Illustrator is a choice example of what’s wrong about Reality Hunger’s point that fiction writers waste so much space on character when the writer could just get to the point and say what he or she thinks. “The world exists,” Shields writes. “Why recreate it?” But what in the hell kind of personal essay could the heart of The Illustrator be reduced to? The feeling’s there in each scene and gone when you name it. Even if we’ve got the spotlight on Robison, he’s decked out in a suit and tie, and have Charlie Rose and Oprah ask him, in unison, “So what, Jimmy, would you say the book is about?” I’m not sure he could give an answer more satisfying than, “Scuba,” or, if then accused of being difficult, “Scuba in America.” I mean that like the opposite of an insult.
James Robison’s only other book, Rumor and Other Stories, came out two years before The Illustrator. The opening story, The Line, pushes the observational people-watching story as far as it will go, waiting until the last minute to point to any sort of meaning, a neat trick he later repeats to even greater effect in “The Indian Gardens.” Even with its subversive touches, Rumor is more of a classic book than Illustrator, less of its time, still minimal but working closer to the tradition. My favorites are, “Envy,” “Eleven,” and the title track, “Rumor,” all of which slow-build their loss and longing and tend to end pretty hopefully.
Eventually, the web helped me put this together: James was married to Mary Robison, hence hence hence. (Pretty perfect, then, that I found him while searching the stacks for his wife.) The Illustrator is dedicated to Mary. If you go looking for stylistic parallels, his book has more in common with Mary Robison’s more-recent Why Did I Ever than with the stories she was writing when The Illustrator came out.
But really, James Robison’s style (circa Illustrator) is closer to Frederick Barthelme’s than to his then-wife’s. And surprise! They all went to grad school together. In Barthelme’s famous & fun article “On Being Wrong,” there’s a great long paragraph in which Barthelme characterizes the “beyond irony” writer scene of the John Hopkins MFA, 1976, in which Barthelme and his colleagues grew to suspect that “a plain sentence, drab as it may seem, might be more powerful by and large than the then standard-issue clever sentence.” He characterizes the teachers: John Barth, Charles Newman. Then continues: “And the students were good too. Mary and Jim Robison were there; everything in Mary’s stories ‘snicked’.”
Not that I need to cite examples of how word can spread about aging books. Just saying it’s exciting when it does, that a friend’s recommendation has a better batting average that playing the Nashville Public Library Stacks Lotto, that it’s easier to beef up somebody’s “critical standing” it used to be, that it’s fun to do the open node thing, and that it’s easier and cheaper to track down out-of-print books than it’s ever been.