Showing posts tagged writing
We’re meat—fragile and finite. But joy is survival.
Contemporary historians report that at the peak of the Antonine Plague, 2,000 people were dying every day in Rome. If the explanation the Romans came up with seems a little silly, it’s difficult to fault them for it. There had to be some cause for the catastrophe, they reasoned. If so many people were dying each day, it must be because they’d done something they shouldn’t have; offended a god, opened a hole in a temple that should have remained closed. It is infinitely more terrifying to imagine that such calamity can befall us entirely by chance.
Very few of my tattoos are sui generis. The sum of them, however, is me. I regret none. Of course, there is still some time to feel differently. For now, what I rue most days is not what I’ve put on my skin, but what I’ve put on the Internet. Cached, reblogged, and saved by others, the photos of my tattoos will stick around after I’m gone, while the tattoos themselves will perish when I do. Sometimes I wish I could disappear my online presence altogether when I die—but I can’t, so instead I daydream about cremation, about the way my old skin will burn up like a diary.
No matter how iconic she became, Joplin was always judged as a woman: audiences embraced her talent but never forgave her for using it. Jagger and Lennon were met backstage by adoring fans willing to do anything for their company, but while Joplin had her fun, Echols describes a scene that typifies her frequent desolation: after acing her New York debut, at the Anderson Theater, Joplin found herself alone as her bandmates in Big Brother and the Holding Company went off to party. She wandered to a dive bar, where a journalist approached her; as she complained to him about the guys in the group, he “fantasized shutting her up with the ultimate put-down: ‘You forget you have acne.’”
Over at Matter, I have a little piece about how stupidly much I love my dog but how my dog is not my baby and definitely not my “furbaby.” The illustration by Tim Enthoven is fantastic (and, for the record, not an accurate portrayal of Joe, Charlie, or myself—though for some reason Joe is most interested in distancing himself from the Crocs, less from the mega-short-shorts).
I used to believe that hurting would make you more alive to the hurting of others. I used to believe in feeling bad because somebody else did. Now I’m not so sure of either. I know that being in the hospital made me selfish. Getting surgeries made me think mainly about whether I’d have to get another one. When bad things happened to other people, I imagined them happening to me. I didn’t know if this was empathy or theft.
Charlie and I both really liked Maud Newton’s Harper’s essay about genealogy. Be fancy and buy a print copy and read it yourself! Or wait and pray that it appears online sometime in the future. Maud is writing a book about the same subject and I’m super excited for that, too. (Charlie will probably listen on tape, as that’s a lot of pages to turn for somebuddy without opposable thumbs.)
It’s a really personal thing. It feels really important. Not that I’m important, but it’s a real kindness to people and it’s something that’s easy for me to do and not easy for them to do, and I’m happy to be able to provide it. I almost feel guilty charging for it, and I have to get used to that. I’ve never been a business before, so that’s a hard one for me.
For the third installment of Can’t Take It With You I talked with Cecily Hintzen, a onetime high-school counselor turned pathology lab administrator who’s now pursuing memorial planning as a second-act career. I heard about Cecily through David Greenwald, who I’ve known online through music-writing circles for a while—she’s his mother-in-law! He read about CTIWY and thought she’d be good for me to talk with, and he was right. If you know someone whose work—or just general existence, really—intersects with death and money in some unexpected or underexplored way, I’d love to hear from you, too.
It’s hard to overemphasize the passivity of tubing. It is sloth ingeniously disguised as adventure. Though you are outside, you may as well be in your living room watching television. The tube forces you into a nearly horizontal recline, a posture easily mistakable for someone taking a nap. Nature rolls effortlessly by, and in response you alternately breathe and eat. You float downriver for about five hours, gauging the length of the trip only by the emptiness of the ice chest. This indolence is broken up by a minimum of functional paddling: to the cooler (which quickly becomes the most important member of the expedition) or courteously downriver when nature calls. You try to keep your distance from the convoys of high-school tubers, who tend to float in circular formations, like threatened wagon trains, around stashes of illegal beer. Occasionally you wave, with veiled condescension, to a fleet of passing canoers, trapped in their aluminum hotboxes and actively assaulting the river with oars.
Dayton is one of thousands of small American towns besot by hyper-conservative goofery, but the residue of the Scopes trial seems to trap and magnify it, even all these years later. Over those two weeks in July 1925, journalists swarmed in from across the country, their baser tendencies prevailing on a new, massive scale—it wasn’t the first “trial of the century,” but it was the first broadcast live over the radio. Preachers and monkey-souvenir vendors peddled their wares on streets clogged with looky-loos. The defendant lent his name to the production, but the counsel starred: famously agnostic Chicago attorney Clarence Darrow led the defense, with populist statesman turned fundamentalist vanguard William Jennings Bryan a figurehead of the prosecution. Chief among the gawking scribes was H. L. Mencken, whose dispatches for the Baltimore Sun and The Nation bemoaned Dayton’s “forlorn mob” of “rustics” and “gaping primates.” Dayton was a “ninth-rate country town,” he sneered, a “dung pile” destined to be “a joke town at best, and infamous at worst.”
Growing up in Chattanooga, I always heard about the Scopes Trial Play & Festival they held up in Dayton every year, but I never went until last summer. Here’s my attempt to make sense of a town that’s still making sense of itself, from this spring’s issue of The Oxford American.
These wants aren’t exceptional, of course, but that didn’t make them any easier to name. It took an episode of The Simpsons to explain me to myself. Unshockingly, I identify deeply with Lisa—the goody two shoes, the overachiever, the little savant in the world of morons. In one of my favorite episodes, season six’s “The PTA Disbands,” a teachers’ strike shuts the elementary school down and Lisa goes into a tailspin. After days of exile from the classroom, she is bedraggled, weak, drained of her life force. She staggers to her mother. “Look at me!” she pleads. “Grade me! Evaluate and rank me! I’m good, good, good, and oh so smart!” Marge grumbles, scribbles an A on a scrap of paper, and Lisa stumbles away as if from a methadone clinic. The experience of seeing yourself so fully in another person is uncanny, particularly when that person is a yellow, unaging cartoon.
The essay I wrote for Scratch Magazine’s Q1 2014 issue on the terrible career advice that is “stay hungry” has been sprung from its paywall and now lives over here. I am hugely appreciative of Manjula Martin for asking me to write this (or at least something that became this) in the first place. If you don’t already know Scratch, I suggest you fix that post-haste. Manjula’s interview with Cheryl Strayed in the new issue is especially great.
EXCITING THING ALERT!
“Scale Highly Eccentric: A Zine of Flannery O’Connor Portraits” consists of portraits by 14 artists, whose mediums include everything from acrylic to cross stitch to custard. Basically, this is the Ocean’s 11 of Flannery O’Connor portrait zines, and a portion of the profits will benefit the Flannery O’Connor – Andalusia Foundation, Inc.
ESTEEMED ZINE ARTISTS
We’re celebrating with a profoundly excellent group of readers who will fill your ears with tales of ladies and toughness as we celebrate a Georgia girl who remains one of literature’s most acclaimed writers.
Admission is FREE. Doors are at 7:30 p.m, and the show starts promptly at 8 p.m. This is going to be the Flannery O’Connor portrait zine event of the season!
This is such a great thing my great friend Brooke has put together and I am so excited to be reading at the release party. Y’all come out and see us!
That was the thing about all this: it was a brain thing, and I loved my brain and the way it had been going about its business so gamely for more than half a century. Let’s say you have something wrong with your liver or heart. Terrible news. But if you’re lucky, if you get another one and take the right medication you’ll be back to your old self again. But with the brain, the one you were born with either works or it goes wrong and you start sliding away from yourself. Even if a better, cleverer brain – a brainier brain – had been available for transplant I wouldn’t have traded in the addled one I had. And although the problem, we’d quickly discovered, wasn’t in my eyes, that’s where it had manifested itself, and I loved my eyes too, especially here in southern California where half the reason for living, possibly all of it, was to see and be seen.
Our special issue The American South is out!
Whether you’re partial to images or prose, attempt to capture the American South and you will soon find yourself deep in a thicket of contradiction. And there, not least among your struggles will be the very challenge of defining where exactly it is that you’ve wound up. When we talk about the South, are we referring to a stretch of states below the Mason-Dixon, a frame of mind, a variant of culture, or a region sill reeling from having once ardently defended Jim Crow and the “peculiar institution”? Writing in the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Patrick Gerster includes among the stereotypical characters we might encounter: Bible-thumping preachers haunted by God, nubile cheerleaders, demagogic politicians, corrupt sheriffs, football All-Americans with three names, and neurotic vixens with affinities for the demon rum. Add to this roster a host of poets, painters, farmers, freedom fighters, and citizens—scattered north and south—coping with the uncertainties of post-industrial America, and we may just begin to grasp this entity that remains in equal parts a place on the map and a place in the mind.
In this special issue of Guernica, the first of four made possible through your generous support to our Kickstarter campaign, we offer fresh takes on a familiar landscape, where the American South is at once a geographical distinction and a bright spot in the imagination, where burden vies with birthright, and where ignorance and renaissance exist side by side.
Jazzed to be among all this great company. The Guernica folks did some really good work here. Jamie Quatro and Rebecca Gayle Howell’s pieces especially thwapped me upside the head—oh, Kiese Laymon’s interview with his mother!—although probably you can just click on whatever and it will be a good choice.