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Next Time Down

By Rick Lupert

Poem

Next time down
we’ll park the lawnmower on the other side of the mountain
we’ll mail celery to Aruba
we’ll write poems about writing poems, about writing poems

Next time down
everyone will get a free pen
everyone will get a free shirt
everyone will get a free willy

goose new coverKelly Hui, twenty-four-year-old daughter of Papa Hui (founder of Bashful Goose Snack Company and China’s richest man), strode through the Jiangsu government building’s entrance, gave her name to the teenage security guard, and plopped herself down on a rickety chair. The meeting she was waiting for, certain to be a snore-fest, was tragically the most exciting work-related thing she’d done since her father had made her the Head of Corporate Social Responsibility—a department in which she was the sole employee—two years before. To be fair, this was also the first work-related thing she’d done in that time.

She rummaged through her Hermes bag, found her iPod, stuck her earbuds in her ears, and put on a Radiohead song. She tapped her foot in rhythm on the floor. She listened to another song, and then another, and then another. Swatted at a fly that buzzed around her head. Glanced down at the time—ten past—and sighed loudly. The guard, a scrawny kid who couldn’t have been more than seventeen and who, Kelly thought, probably spent most of his day secretly masturbating under his little podium, looked up. That’s right, she thought, flipping her hair over her shoulder, store this one away for later.

Carly Hallman1Let’s get down to it. What made you decide to publish your first novel, Year of the Goose, at age 28? Why not 30? Everyone knows that no one knows anything until at least age 30. On the other hand, why not 13? You could’ve been a child prodigy. You could’ve appeared on 60 Minutes.

What can I say? Mistakes were made.

 

Speaking of mistakes, it’s a well-known fact that many individuals nurse hobbies and interests such as playing tennis, folding origami, and crafting old-fashioned toys such as whirligigs, pinwheels, and kites. Why not pursue one such hobby or interest? In other words, why spend years of your life bumbling along in Beijing and writing a very weird book about ridiculously wealthy Chinese folks?

I don’t like to talk about it, but there was once an unfortunate incident involving a pottery wheel and a stubborn would-be vase that absolutely refused to take shape. Suffice it to say, I tried hobbies. Hobbies didn’t work.

You Animal Machine cover split

 

Known primarily for her books of poetry (such as The Loving Detail of the Living & the Dead, and the Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Year, The California Poem), Eleni Sikelianos is also a writer of hybrid memoir, who plays with the intersections of memory, artifact, image, and imagination in her work. During my last semester at the University of Arizona this fall, I struggled with structuring a book out of fragmented lyric essays and read Sikelianos’ latest work, You Animal Machine (The Golden Greek), hoping to find inspiration in its experimental form. In this magical olio of scraps, myth, dreams, and narrative, Sikelianos traces the life of her exotic dancer grandmother, and inevitably her family’s complex lineage. On so many levels pertaining to the exploration of collective memory and archive, the book gave me hope for the future of what I consider the most exciting genre, near limitless, shifting and transforming with every new voice. That’s what was on my mind when I reached out to her to talk about breaking nonfiction rules and creating new ones.

 


 

Nina Boutsikaris: A big question in nonfiction is, how do we talk about a thing, invoke something specific about it, in a way that sends light through just the right fractal? Eleni, how did you begin writing this very diverse and textured folio? What came first? How did it progress?

 

Eleni Sikelianos: It’s hard to know what came first, because I’ve been working on this book for a very long time. I think I could say that I’ve been working on these family histories my whole life, and certainly they are some of the interior elements—my personal furniture—that pushed me to be a writer, and shaped my psychic household. I remember trying to write a poem about my grandmother as long ago as twenty-seven years ago. She appears again in a long poem in 2001 (The California Poem), and in my last book, too. That may be part of why these family histories come out in such “diverse and textured folio[s]”—they come from the fabric of my life. Some writers would aim to distill that and simplify it into a more coherent, mono-tonal narrative (which has its own power, to be sure), but that is not how I feel the world.

nonameFancy meeting you here.

Are you really going to lead with that?

 

So what is your debut novel, Twister, about?

In Twister, a small Midwestern community grieves the loss of a young man killed in a war. Coincidentally, or not, there’s also a huge storm coming. The story opens with Rose, the soldier’s mother, but then broadens to include a number of other characters—Rose’s estranged stepsister, a neighboring family, townspeople who appear at first glance to be less connected to the loss. In retrospect, I think I wanted to explore how a community copes with momentous change and existential threat—the germ of the story first appeared on the page during the long build-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Will they survive it? And if so, how will they be changed?

9781625579379

*

A hum comes over the wires, a message from the meteorologists who are miles away watching color patterns swirl and break apart on the Pulse-Doppler radar. Yellow, green, red, blue, black—pixels in all colors of the rainbow. It is beautiful, they think. Kaleidoscopic. Majestic. Aloud, one will begin the alert sequence: rapid air movement, supercell gathering into a wall, affected counties. The alert becomes an all-out warning because science makes it so.

Emails, text messages, faxes, phone calls; printers spit out paper with bold captions. An intern hands a radioman a piece of paper and points to a message blinking on the computer screen in front of him; he pulls his chair closer to the microphone and prepares to read. One county on the list is more familiar to him than the others, but Ted Waite is a professional and does not pause.

Troubled Dynamics

By Lori White

Essay

grateful dead ticket

In January 2015, the Grateful Dead announced they would come together in July for their final “Fare Thee Well” tour. The tour marked the Dead’s fiftieth anniversary as well as the twentieth anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death in August 1995. The band’s “Core Four” original members— Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart—would appear on stage one last time, with Trey Anastasio of Phish standing in the late Jerry Garcia’s place. A family reunited, though its most beloved brother will be absent.

There have been other reunions in the past, some with all four members and some featuring various configurations of members under new band names that played short runs, and then dissolved. The last Core Four reunion was in the spring of 2009. The two-month tour started off strong, but ended on a bitter note, a mixed brew of brotherhood loyalties and resentments common to any family. In a 2014 Rolling Stone interview, Lesh uses the metaphor of a wheel to explain the band’s legacy: “Jerry was the hub. We were the spokes. And the music was the tread on the wheel.” In the past Lesh has said, “Jerry’s death removed the center. The bond wasn’t as strong without him.” But even when Garcia was alive, as Rolling Stone’s David Browne points out, “the personal dynamics within the Dead were complicated.”

 

***

 

I read Browne’s Rolling Stone article about the “Fare Thee Well” tour when it came out the first week in June. I had gotten the issue from my neighbor, a retired barber who hands me a stack of magazines each week, subscriptions rerouted to his house after he closed up shop. Though I’ve been to a few Grateful Dead concerts, I am not a Deadhead, nor am I a scholar of the band’s fifty-year history this final tour commemorates. My only connection to the Grateful Dead is through my older brother, David. I wondered whether he’d bought a ticket to one of the five shows—three at Soldier Field in Chicago and two at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA—or if he planned to watch a simulcast of the concert in a movie theater or on pay-per-view. My best guess was he would shun the event altogether, based on an unwavering belief that the Grateful Dead died with Jerry, though this was only speculation on my part. What I did know was, when David turns sixty this coming November, I wouldn’t call him or send a card. I hadn’t spoken to David in over five years. Neither had my parents. Like most families, the personal dynamics of ours are complicated.

 

***

 

The Grateful Dead’s unique sound has been attributed to each member’s ability to evolve individually and as a whole. Music critic Brent Wood believes this evolution was due to the band’s “emphasis on true polyphony, a texture heard only rarely in contemporary popular music.” The musicians must “give up a little of their version of the music,” Phil Lesh told David Fricke of Rolling Stone last year, “to achieve a collective sound.” For the band, this meant never playing the same song the same way. “That was the key to the Grateful Dead,” Lesh explained. “Don’t repeat. Make the song different every time you play it.” The Dead’s commitment to improvisation was often an unsuccessful process many listeners hadn’t the patience for. In response to this criticism, Garcia provided this analogy: “Our audience is like people who like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.”

 

***

 

When I told an old friend from high school I’d stopped speaking to my brother David, she was surprised. “I forgot you had another brother,” she said. She’d never met him, nor had any of my friends. Once David was gone, he stayed gone. He moved a thousand miles north to Seattle after college and graduate school and came home to Southern California once a year, usually in the winter when he needed a sun break from the endless gray. He was living with a woman we had met a few times, though I was the first—and for a long time, the only—one in the family to dislike her. My parents chalked this up to my judgmental tendencies, a criticism I’d borne since my early teens. Still, I kept my distance. Only later did the rest of my family recognize what I had known for several years: this woman was scary. They caught glimpses of her that concerned them—her subtle racism and her mean streak fueled by alcohol. I gathered these details from the stories that followed their long phone calls and short visits. To be fair, his girlfriend became a convenient place to lay our disappointment in David, the black sheep in our family long before he’d even met her. Or perhaps she was like licorice, someone we never developed a taste for.

 

I first heard Emily Mitchell read over a year ago at a reading series I host in Baltimore. I have a bit of a crush on female writers who explore literary oddity with sci-fi strains (although I have had a hard time defining exactly what that means—I’m thinking a mix of Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Ursula Le Guin, and Shirley Jackson), and I was excited to host an author from just a few miles down the road, teaEmily-Mitchell_0035-3297705591-O-199x300ching at University of Maryland, who was exploring similar themes in her work.

She read a story from a forthcoming collection of short stories about a newly divorced mother who takes her daughter to a store to pick out a Companion, a robotic pet designed to help children cope with challenges and build confidence and empathy. Only the divorcee is surprised that, of all the animals her daughter could get, she chooses a spider.

Author photo - Jennifer Miller 28credit Diana Levine29How did the idea for The Heart You Carry Home originate?

Growing up in the nation’s capital, I spent every Memorial Day visiting the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally on the National Mall. From a young age, I was curious about these seemingly brusque, intimidating biker-vets: why such a deep love of motorcycles? And why, decades after the war, did Vietnam remain so central in their lives? In my twenties, I was finally able to immerse myself in their world on a two-week journey from California to DC. The stories of the men who carried me across the United States on their Harley-Davidson’s and Hondas formed the basis for this novel, about a young woman struggling to understand how Vietnam and Iraq has shaped the men in her life.

Jacket Artwork - THE HEART YOU CARRY HOMEThere were few streetlights in town, and the army duffle, crammed with Becca’s clothes, kept sliding from the handlebars of her bicycle. Still, she knew these roads well enough to take them blind. Here were the doublewides, flimsy as Monopoly pieces; the gardens dotted with plaster birdbaths; and the harried-looking lawns scattered with dirt bikes and abandoned Barbies. This was her beloved, unbeautiful Dry Hills, Tennessee. She pushed past the town limits and pedaled on. Damn Ben for taking her old Cadillac. Only a month after their wedding and he had turned into someone else, like any other man around here — gotten drunk, disappeared, forced her to flee into the night. The foggy August air grew thick with droplets of moisture large enough to catch on the tongue. Becca stopped and looked around. Where was she? Out in the alfalfa fields, a glittering barn wavered like a mirage. And there was Ben, a distant apparition, playing the fiddle tune he’d written for her. “It’s a loooove song,” he’d crooned the night before his deployment. “I’m going to play it at the wedding and embarrass the hell out of you.” It was one of the few promises he’d kept, and Becca’s cheeks flushed again at the memory. Since then, there had been no love songs. Nothing except fighting and silence.

Drew Barrymore

Drew Barrymore, the tiny changeling who captivated the world when she befriended E.T. on screen at age 4, is a bona fide Grimm’s fairytale princess. Born to acting royalty (she’s a fourth generation Barrymore — thespian equivalent to a Kennedy), she was raised poor and in obscurity by a single mother. Her Barrymore father, John Jr., a drug-addled, abusive, and largely absentee parent decamped for good when his wife was three months pregnant with Drew. Mother Jaid, if not literally an evil stepmother, a not-good-enough mother, put Drew to work at age 11 months, in a Gaines Puppy Chow commercial, where she was bitten during her audition by the canine co-star. Jaid also presided over her daughter’s pre-adolescent descent into drugs and alcohol, taking her on late-night bacchanals to Studio 54 where, due to child-star celebrity status and non-existent parenting, nine-year-old Drew was allowed to smoke cigarettes and stay up all night, school being something she got to do only when filming a movie. The Bad Mother locked Drew in an institution (can anyone say Rapunzel?) for a year and half when Drew was 12, but was vanquished when Drew turned 14 and successfully petitioned the court for emancipation. Essentially an “orphan” at age 15, she lived alone in a West Hollywood apartment, worked the odd neighborhood waitress job (too young for a driver’s license, she required employment within walking distance) and struggled to return to acting after her very public flame-out, recounted in her first autobiography, Little Girl Lost. (“Co-written,” when Barrymore was 13, with People magazine correspondent, Todd Gold, this first person narrative, long out of print,  has become something of a collector’s item: paperback copies from second-party vendors on Amazon are currently priced as high as $1999.12.) Along the way, she acquired a fairy godfather in the form of director Steven Spielberg, a fairy godmother in acting teacher Anna Strasberg, and a professional Prince Charming in Adam Sandler with whom she made a trilogy of romantic comedies and whom she calls her “cinematic soul-mate.”

Sick

By Stephanie Austin

Essay

Sick1

At age 11, I became Peggy Ann McKay in my elementary school talent show. Though I couldn’t sing, dance, or play an instrument, I could speak from my diaphragm and memorize words. “I cannot go to school today….”

Shel Silverstein’s “Sick” was my ticket to the top of the hierarchy. My costume was an unflattering but humorously mismatched pair of pajamas. My prop was a teddy bear. To make sure I was playing sick authentically, I messed up my hair. From my spot backstage, I watched other kids perform. One of the popular girls So You Think You Can Dance?-ed to Mike and the Mechanics’ “In the Living Years.” She wore a white flowing tutu and did graceful things with her arms. I was solid with the poem, but that first swirl of negative self-worth crawled up my leg. At the last minute, I worried I’d panic and forget, so I taped some notes with cue words to the front of my teddy bear.

I have the measles and the mumps.

After my performance, some of my teachers were like, “good job” because that’s what teachers are supposed to say. They’re adults. Encouragement is their game. This kid David, one of the kids from the gifted class, came up to me and said, “I saw you looking at your bear. Did you have notes?”

After listening to my defensive explanation, he asked, “And don’t you think my face looks green?” Then he laughed. It’s a line from the poem.

David was super smart. Super talented. Super everything. He was sixth in our graduating class with accolades in wrestling, band, and clubs like FBLA. We all knew he would change the world, it was just a matter of time. He almost proved us right. In 2002, he went to get his doctorate in molecular biology, but killed himself before he could change any world other than his own.

headshot 2015 wide angle

Los Angeles, November 2015


What is that sound? I can hear a squeaky noise coming from somewhere.

Ignore it. It’s nothing.

 

What are you doing right now, beside talking to yourself?

Getting ready for a reading this evening at USC.

 

Tell us about that.

Is there a mouse in your pocket?

(Poem made from lines spoken by my mother)

 

If someone finds me on the road

If someone finds me on the road

in my nightgown, barefoot and talking

 

in my nightgown, barefoot and talking

If my talking nightgown

finds the road in me

and someone on barefoot

 

Or I’m throwing my money to the cars

Or I’m throwing my money to the cars

convinced I’m just feeding the ducks

the-staked-plains-coverThen said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be.

She was a bad psychic when she arrived in Querosa, New Mexico, not because she didn’t possess the powers, but she couldn’t control them. Her husband moved them to the small town to teach at the college and she didn’t have anything to persuade him not to. “We’ll make it fun,” he promised, and after thirty days on the High Plains, the Great Drought began. People seemed friendly.