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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the biggest criticisms about your work is that it is gruelingly, at times overwhelmingly, dark. Why so sad?

When I first told people that Call Me Home was slated to be published, friends and acquaintances kept asking me, “Is it funny?”

“No,” I would say. “Not even a little bit. Not even for a second.”

This makes me laugh, but it’s true. I think I can be decently funny in person, on a good day, and I respect (and am fairly jealous of) anyone who can be funny on the page, but I’m not a humorous or light writer, often to a fault.

Cover_CallMeHomeJackson

Silver, Idaho 2010

The belated Easter party was to be held that Saturday night at A-frame A, the most complete of the new houses. Just a few beers, and then the Longhorn, according to the much-circulated plan.  Who had an Easter party? Jackson didn’t care. He was going to see Don. He hadn’t seen him since Honey brought him to the East side on Tuesday; each day that Don’s truck didn’t appear, Jackson tried to pretend he wasn’t disappointed. Now he shaved in the pocket mirror, the one he’d stolen from Lydia, and put on a clean shirt. He did everything slowly, meticulously. He drank the rest of the bottle of wine. What a girl he was. He thought again about the lock of hair he’d given to Chris. In his imagined, more perfect life, he discarded sentimentalities. Into the trash with the birthday cards, faded photographs. A better Jackson would scorn them all.

Radar

By Jessica Popeski

Poem

Pin straight prairie,
branch veins drumming
egg-smooth sky,
frost muscling into the earth.
Here, where pop is on special,
lettuce, diapers, extortionate.
Where little ones run,
barn cat wild,
bare gummed and bare footed,
sparrow legged,
elbow and knee joints jutting
like knots on a tree.
Where hunger balloons bellies,
carnation milk warms porridge,
on lucky days,
in homes where
mildew flowers wallpaper.

Art1WEB_04-e1424844830863

Brad Listi talks with Stewart O’Nan, author of the novel West of Sunset , the official February selection of The TNB Book Club.  Listen to the podcast here.

To have survived a life of gentle skirt-lifting is to never experience overexposure.

To retain a place in this world is to burnish split cherries until the red glosses with spit.

To people who gender the unborn what about the lotus is tagged with murder or crisp bows.

To engineer a clear sky some nations swallow clouds and suffer spiked rain.

To be tongued a floor has to retain its modesty beneath serrated lines.

To unease into a spread always keep the kneecaps ready for a feast at a moment’s notice.

To collect hate colonialize first a chorus of white-bellied weeping.

To colonialize is to imbue tenderness into that which has been extirpated by force.

To force enlargement onto the relation between girlhood & fortune

a whole generation must lose.

Gas

By Seth Sawyers

Memoir

Sure, I tutored other kids during the free period after lunch. I took maybe not the hardest classes but the second-hardest classes. I started on English papers at midnight, nailed the SAT, was a Chemathon alternate. All of that came easy. That was school. But then there was not-school.

Not-school was my buddy Jesse and me sitting on his back porch one afternoon, staring at the netless basketball hoop that stood crooked at the head of the driveway. A cheap rubber Spalding rested in a patch of ivy, the top of the ball sun-bleached pale orange. I rocked in my chair, thinking of ways we could get a ride to the Constitution Park pool where there would be long, tanned girls in bikinis, girls who you could tell didn’t like getting their hair wet. But no one was around. We had no car and were too old for bikes. So we sat on the back porch, waiting. I was always waiting. It was just that Jesse made the waiting easier, or better. He made the waiting hum, like a power line.

IMG_0768
So what, exactly, does “BodyHome” mean?

BodyHome means that our bodies are a type of home—that safe space we return to again and again in order to know who we are and who we have been. I’ve moved around a lot in my life and don’t have a “childhood home” to return to, so I look for my home in my body. It’s like if you can feel at home in your body, then you can feel at home wherever you are. Also, in the same way that an actual house can hold all of those memories, the body’s doing that, too. Right now. You’re breathing and it’s moving and when things happen to you—good or bad—your body will remember them and eventually start to talk about the memories through movements and gestures. In my writing, I’m always questioning “Where is the body in this essay?” It’s like our bodies are a great foundation and structure for spiritual and narrative growth—even if we’re just a little weed pushing itself up between a crack in a sidewalk in order to get some necessary sun, we’re keeping at it. Also, fun metaphors/comparisons: skeleton (of body, of house—our structure), insulation (does that word make me look fat?), plumbing (I almost pissed myself!).  

hallebutlerThere are a lot of conversations in this book. What’s your worst conversational habit?

I don’t like to talk about myself or what I’m doing because I find it embarrassing (or I’m afraid it will be embarrassing), and then I get annoyed when the person I’m talking to is going on and on about themselves, like I wish they were as embarrassed as I am, or like it’s impolite to not be embarrassed. But then I keep asking them questions about themselves, so what are they supposed to do?

This here Wild West is
no reprieve, bearing all secret, no rule, fewest boundary
before transgression. A lark, his caw, makes good on the temperament:

A song whose words aren’t sung

dirge that swells- expands when we’re not careful,
pent and held in on the balls of our feet. The tightrope ballet. Mourning the living
will make you too tired to dance

It will make you graceless.

jillian_cover“And my boss was like, ‘We have to get this,’” said Carrie. “So we walked up to the guy and my boss was like, ‘I’ll give you fifty dollars for that llama,’ and he did it.”

“Oh my god, that’s hilarious,” said Jessica. “Steve, check out this llama at Carrie’s desk.” Jessica handed the phone to Steve. Everyone was smiling.

“That’s a life-size llama,” said Steve.

JoshWool_Bookshelves

 

Sarah, tell me, is there anything more navel-gazing than a self-interview?

I was just wondering the same thing. If there is, I can’t imagine it.

 

Would you consider your inability to imagine it a personal failure?

One of many.

BINARYSTAR_COVERWe hug the edge of the Earth all the way to L.A. We take turns choosing the music: John, me, John, me. We always end with John.

We play a game where I name a band and he names a band that ends with the last letter of my band. We play until we come around to bands we’ve named already.

We drive in circles whenever we leave the Pacific Coast Highway, not knowing where on Earth we are.

John reads to me from the books he bought in Portland.

All sentient beings have at least one right, he says.

He lights a cigarette and opens the window. Cold salt air rushes my face.

All sentient beings have the right not to be treated as property.

Do you ever feel like property? he says.

All the time.

4582134Where have you been? Four years feels like a long time between books. Is that how long it takes you?

There was another manuscript I was working on for two of those four years – and I stopped when I found myself lost. I couldn’t figure out that spark of the story that had intrigued me in the first place. It was buried in multiple edits. Sometimes you have to know when to walk away.

 

So then you wrote The Grown Ups? New day, new idea?

I wish! I did the moping thing really well. I wasn’t pleasant to be around. I knew I would write again – but I didn’t know about what. The reality of my writing life is that I have trained myself to sit in a chair every morning, same time, to write. I had never experienced this scary lack of motivation, or the fear that I might not like the next idea either. It was like squinting into the sun. I had to face it – but I didn’t really want to.

a) A stork flies over the lake, dropping a baby to a woman paddling a canoe. She catches it like a touchdown, but her oars slip into the water, and are lost.

1. Sometimes I feel like riding a steamroller over the graves, over the monuments, over the trophy cases. Compared to the river cutting the mountain in half, we flow only one way, too. Me and you, mountains and rivers all the live long day.

grown ups pb c-1Happy Birthday Suzie Epstein (Sam – 1997)

 

It was the summer all the children in the neighborhood caught a virus.

One by one they were felled for a week that involved buckets next to beds and cool towels to swab foreheads and mouths. Their mothers speculated the origin, placing silent blame on Suzie Epstein’s fifteenth birthday party, where Sarah Epstein, derailed by an argument with her estranged husband that took place in the front driveway of their home during the party, left twenty or so unattended teenagers to open all the cans of soda in the cooler and cut the cake, sharing forks and drinks and saliva with abandon. The bug spread so fast that Suzie Epstein’s party had taken on the mythic proportions of a bacchanalia, the gossip chain now fueled by exhausted women whose nostrils were lined with the sour smell of their children’s vomit.

In the evenings, when stomachs had quieted before the next bout began, women gathered on front stoops. If you looked down the street at dusk you would see an uneven trail of red dots, like a runway lit by a madman. Mothers, solitary and weary smokers, afraid to spread the germs to each others’ homes, called from porch to porch to check on the wellness of the children contained within. How’s Frankie? Ruthie? Bella? Peter? Did Mindy get it too? Has the fever broken yet? Do you need extra buckets? I’ll leave some on your porch.