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SarahAnnA little over a year ago, an article headlined Los Angeles and Its Booming Creative Class Lures New Yorkers was published in the New York Times style section. Seemingly written solely to troll LA residents, the piece name-dropped “in-season Zambian coffee,” the downtown Ace Hotel, and Moby’s house here as evidence that LA was finally suitable for New York tastes. “Los Angeles is widely acknowledged to have become strikingly more cosmopolitan in recent years,” the author noted, going on to list brioche tarts and barrel-aged rye cocktails as proof that Southern California was a region on the rise.

The bemused furor that arose on social media died down, but not before journalist, podcaster, and famed caftan enthusiast Ann Friedman wrote a parody for the LA Times. In her take, Friedman expresses shock and delight at the idea that Angelenos are “reversing the American directive to go west…finding that New York is more than a capitalist prison that runs on the fumes of the finance industry and nostalgia for CBGB.” “In fact,” she writes, “it now offers many of the lifestyle amenities that their hometown has boasted for decades.” (Friedman’s listed amenities include green juice, raw meals and “an In-N-Out Burger replacement called Shake Shack.”)

TroubleLexie.BlondieThe problem wasn’t so much that Lexie had taken the Klonopin. And it wasn’t even that she had stolen them. At thirty generic pills for ten dollars, the theft of a handful (two down the gullet, the rest down her bra) had to be less than . . . seven bucks? The problem, as Lexie saw it, was that she had fallen asleep in the bed of the owner of the Klonopin. And the owner of the Klonopin was the wife of her lover.

“Miss James?” Jen Waite said. Her dyed hair was blonder than Lexie’s and her pale face looked prettier than Lexie remembered from their single meeting at Parents’ Weekend—brow furrowed now, head tilted with concern.

Lexie looked down at herself. Her fitted red dress was scrunched up to her hips and she wasn’t wearing underwear. A shadow of hair trailed from crotch to mid-thigh. Lexie tried to yank the dress down but her brain-hand-body coordination was off and she couldn’t manage the required butt-lift.

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What’s the strangest place you’ve ever written a poem?

In a Porta-Potty at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, drunk off my ass on the first beer I’d ever imbibed. The poem didn’t make it past the cutting room floor for my first book, but that feeling of MUST WRITE A POEM NOW before I’d even really started identifying as a poet (I still thought of myself as a fiction writer, ha!) was exhilarating. Though the beer probably contributed to that.

Desperate men do not make patient women.

This town, these years, always living on the edge of something.

Disease, drought, revival, recession.

The woods are musky, dark, but give way softly to water.

Fish and stags float when shot dead.

One year there was no rain; the next, rivers overflowed.

Not a hell mouth or hydrophobic, but even the air here is tainted.

The ice never quite crusts over, babies are left untended, crops go missing.

My wife won’t quit visiting whores.

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My ex-husband and I used to half-joke about what we’d do if we got divorced—I don’t always like you, I’d say, but I like being married.

He’d say: I’m never getting married again if this doesn’t work out.

His girlfriend moved in with him before the divorce was final—they’ll be married in a few months.

Our two sons have yet to be introduced to a man in my life.

We separated six years ago. Neither of us is who we said we were.

 

***

 

Though it gets a bad rap, not being in love with your boyfriend is a comfortable place to be; one doesn’t feel off-kilter. When he was unhappy with me I was clear-headed, took out a notepad and wrote down his concerns, moved toward problem-solving to preserve the trappings of what we had—daily phone calls and text messages, steady sex, a date I needed one. I made space to accommodate this thing I kind of wanted, this thing I was finally mature enough to settle into. Not being in love with a very nice boyfriend is a good compromise.

 

Viet_Thanh_Nguyen_The_Sympathizer

The guest on the latest episode of the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast is Viet Thanh Nguyen . His debut novel, The Sympathizer, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016. It is available now from Grove Press.

Get the free Otherppl app.

Listen via iTunes.

Figures

By Donald Quist

Essay

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Sometimes, when P and I walk holding hands in Bangkok, I will notice someone’s confused gaze. “Just ignore it.” I can’t. “You know it’s not like in America, in the South. Here they’re staring because they don’t understand. It’s not hate.” (Figure I) I glare at the observer, but they don’t look away.

 

Figure I

• Members of P’s family have expressed their bewilderment.

• Aunts and cousins have asked:

• Why didn’t she marry someone like her, Thai-Chinese?

• Why, after spending over ten years in America, hadn’t she chosen a white man instead?

• With P already possessing coveted light eyes and hair, P’s relatives believe her half-Caucasian children would have been beautiful. P’s hypothetical offspring could have grown up to become Thai soap opera stars.

• When I asked P how she felt about these comments, she offered me the same dismissive shrug I imagine she gives her inquisitive kin. On one occasion, P’s indifferent gesticulation was mistaken for doubt, and a concerned cousin told P not to worry. The cousin said she understood—one can’t help whom they fall in love with. She praised P’s bravery. And, if P decided to have children, her cousin could procure supplements and traditional remedies to ensure the baby would not look black like its father.

• P can repeat her cousin’s words with a smile. “She means well. Try not to take it too personally.”

• I wonder how many other well-meaning people view my appearance as something in need of a remedy.

Stephen_Elliott_After_Adderall

Stephen Elliott is the guest on the latest episode of the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast. He is the founding editor of The Rumpus, the author of seven books, and the director of three films. His latest film, After Adderall, will be premiering at the Rumpus Lo-Fi Los Angeles Film Festival on July 30th.

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Listen via iTunes.

Claire_Hoffman_Greetings_from_Utopia_Park

So Claire, why did you decide to write a memoir?

I don’t know. I mean, I’ve been working on this project forever. I’ve always felt like it was really important and meaningful despite a number of obstacles. But now, on the eve of its publication, I can’t help but think of all the other things I could have done with my time.  Why didn’t I use all that grit and perseverance on something…bigger?

 

Like what?

I could’ve gone to medical school.  That’s just like one thing that comes to mind.  Or, you know, written a novel. Or been a better mother.  Or become an international newspaper correspondent.  Or maybe all of those things—I could have become a medical doctor who wrote a novel on the side while also being a much better parent and also doing some dispatches from war zone.

Natashia_DeonHey, Natashia Deón!

Hey, gurl!

 

Do you mind if I ask you questions that you’ve been asked recently? Can I start with what that silly lady asked in the Take-Out line?

I have nothing else to say about that lady. I’m happy now. I have snacks.

 

What are you eating?

Chicken tamales. And this is Tapatio sauce.

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Faunsdale, Alabama 1838

 

The knockin’s always there behind the wall in Momma’s room. I call it Momma’s music. My sister Hazel calls it Momma’s tired tune, a shrill note sucked and blown from a stiff reed.

Hazel’s the closest thing I got to a good daddy so she never beat me for misbehaving, never leaves me long, and never tries to touch me the wrong way. She keeps me safe in this world, keeps me safe from the knockin.

We sit in the back of our dark two-room shack, huddled under a blanket together. She’s trying to drown out Momma’s song with her hand cupped over my ear, fogging it up with her whispering, telling me we gon’ play a game called, “Let’s see who can fall asleep the fastest.” But after ten minutes of trying, even the late of midnight cain’t shake my eyelids free so now me and Hazel gon’ play a new game. It’s called “Who can be the quietest the longest.”

Song

By Anton Yakovlev

Poem

I will move into a dream home to enhance my image.
I will furnish it with an elephant, build an extra loft and a hearth.
After I shop, the coziness aisle in the department store will be empty.
But at night, I will dream that we’ve never properly said goodbye.

I will put a stuffed bear in a microwave, make him toasty
and hold him to my heart, imagining his affection.
I will floor passersby with space-age flower shows in my windows.
But at night, I will dream that we’ve never properly said goodbye.

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What I hide by my language, my body utters.

—Terry Tempest Williams

 

When she teaches me, I am six or seven, afraid of letting go of her hand, but with her gentle push I finally find my balance on those two metal blades, alone in the middle of the ice, everything spinning around me.

My mother claps her hands for me then circles wide, taking flight. One foot over the other, her skates scissoring madly, the breeze blowing back her bell-bottoms, her arms swaying freely at her side.

She is light, beam first then scatter.

In many ways, the greatest praise we can bestow on a piece of art is to say it inhabits its world so fully as to define it. Whether we’re talking about Flannery O’Connor or Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Ernest Hemingway, the writers we come back to, the ones who maintain readership and critical attention, often capture their environments to such an extent that their claim on the territory comes to supplant the reality they once sought to depict.

What would 19th century England mean to us without David Copperfield and Oliver Twist? What would 20th century Paris be without The Sun Also Rises? Even though film’s more overt, incandescent iconography has overtaken the literary in the popular consciousness, one of the written word’s chief uses remains its role as historical document and anthropological source, a record of the things that animate geographies and eras, nations and civilizations. And let’s be clear: Even today, there would be no cinema without writing. Whether in the form of novels and stories that provide jumping-off points for screenwriting or the scripts themselves, the production of the images that become our shared memories could never happen without the written word.

The Nervous Breakdown’s inaugural Microbrew showcases the diversity of American letters. Realist and fabulist, lyrical and metafictional, novels and stories, novellas and poetry. Drawn from small and big presses alike, this is a group of writers engaged in the work of claiming their territory, defining their worlds with such linguistic precision and clarity of vision that those worlds, if we’re lucky, begin to feel like our own.

Claire_Hoffman_Greetings_from_Utopia_Park

Claire Hoffman is the guest on the latest episode of the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast. Her new memoir, Greetings from Utopia Park, is available now from Harper Books. 

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Listen via iTunes.