@


I’m being forced to play kickball. That’s right, forced. As in “have to” as in “no way around it” as in “do you really want to be out of a job in this economy?” Let me explain. My office is having a team-building activity (their motto: “You WILL have fun!”) and, in this case, team-building means a game of kickball (my motto: “I haven’t felt this nauseous since middle school P.E. class.”).

Here’s the problem: I am not an athlete. I don’t shoot hoops or sink putts or run around a football field trying to grab a yellow flag from someone’s Umbros. I’ve never asked someone to “play a little one-on-one” or “shoot the 8-ball,” and I’ve never, to the best of my knowledge, uttered a sentence that contained the word “pigskin.” Hell, I don’t even watch sports on TV, unless of course, you count professional wrestling as a sport, which sadly, most people do not, choosing instead to think of it as a gigantic pimple on the butt of the TV screen, not unlike late night infomercials, and the dancing old man in those Six Flags commercials.

Bottom line: I’m just not a sports person. What’s more, there’s not a whole lot I can do to change that. You see, Sportsessence (a term derived from the Latin phrase Ix-nay on Sitting on your ass-nay and watching TV-nay) is actually a hereditable trait, much like handedness, tongue curling, and the ability to see a 3-D image in those posters of multi-colored, mish-mashed waviness. There are, however, plenty of people out there who have managed to inherit Sportessence. These are the folks who go jogging at 5 AM on a Saturday, and do things like participate in intramural sports for no reason other than, get ready for this one, THEY ENJOY IT! These are the same people who use that ridiculous piece of exercise equipment at the gym. You know the one I’m talking about. It’s where you sit down on the little seat, place your outer thighs against the sweaty pads and then spread your legs obscenely far apart, thereby feeling, not only “the burn,” but also quite the draft. These are the folks who, back when they were teeny, tiny cells, actually camped outside the Gene Dispensing Factory (at 5 AM on a Saturday) to ensure they received the coveted Sportessence gene.

I missed out on getting that gene. Probably because I was in the next building over, the Klutz Cafe, watching sitcoms and eating a pastrami sandwich. But Rob, you say, surely you learned some athletic skill after all those years of playing catch with your father! Ha ha! While my dad and I have certainly had our share of beautiful bonding moments (“And that, Son, is how you make an Egg Cream!”), “playing catch” was not one of them. Not that I blame him in any way. The complete lack of any and all athletic ability whatsoever among members of the Bloom family dates all the way back to 1896 when Stavros J. Bloom attempted to compete in the first Olympic games. Taken from Bloom family records, here is the actual transcript of a conversation held between Stavros and his track coach in April of 1896:

“Please-a pick-a me for the team-a, Coach!” Stavros said.

The coach frowned. “Your shoes are on backwards.”

So Stavros wasn’t chosen for the team, which truthfully, was probably for the best. Between his clubbed foot, frequent dizzy spells, and rare allergy to Oxygen, Stavros had no business being outdoors, let alone in a sporting event. This would prove to be consistently true for future generations of Blooms as well. Blooms and Sports just don’t mix. Especially during adolescence when you’re short, uncoordinated, and wear glasses with three inch-thick lenses. Welcome to my P.E. class at Rock Lake Middle School in Longwood, Florida.

I was always picked last for teams. Always. It didn’t matter what sport we were playing, either—I was last. The teacher would pick two team captains, guys with names like Travis or Conner or Austin or Colin; guys who were a foot taller than I, with biceps bigger than my thighs. What’s more, these boys had very cleverly made a deal with God (a huuuuuuge sports fan) because they’d already started going through puberty, meaning they had hair in places that I didn’t even have yet. For these guys, P.E. class was the reason they went to school every day, whereas I greeted each class with slightly less enthusiasm than I did a dental cleaning.

So the entire P.E. class would stand in a big group and the captains would pick different students to join their respective teams. Brown. Turner. Palmer. The chosen boys would jog over to their fellow teammates where they’d begin hi-fiving and slapping each other on the back. Young. Morris. Harris.One by one, my fellow classmates would get chosen. Stewart. Miller. Anderson. More names would get called while I stood there, uncalled, watching as the crowd around me got smaller.

“Okay, let’s play!” TravisConnerAustinColin would say.

“Hold up,” the teacher would reply with a snicker. “Nobody picked Robbie Bloom.”

Now while this sort of embarrassing event would actually happen MANY times over the years, there is one incident in particular stands out in my mind. In fact, this particular P.E. class was so awful that it solidly ranks as #2 on my “Horrifyingly Embarrassing, Wishing I Was Anyplace Else In the World, This Can’t Really Be Happening” Scale, coming in just a notch below #1: Performing the Tango in my college Ballroom Dancing class with Mauricio, who, in addition to being a hairy-chested Colombian man with a Village People moustache, was also the teacher.

I was standing alone in the middle of the baseball field, while my classmates stared at me like I had some dreaded disease. And then the debate started.

“C’mon, coach! I had Bloom last time!”

“Well I don’t want him! We won’t stand a chance!”

“Please don’t give me Bloom! He’s useless out there!”

The debate lasted nearly two more minutes before the teacher mercifully assigned me to a team, a decision that was met with mixed reactions (“Ha ha! You got stuck with Bloom!” or “Crap! We might as well not even play now!”).

Thankfully, I was placed in the outfield. This was perfectly fine by me because it meant I could stand all by myself, very, very, very far from the action. Seriously, my classmates were playing baseball and I was a zip code away. Now you’d think this would’ve been a comfortable enough distance to prevent me from suffering any additional humiliation, right? C’mon, that would’ve been a direct violation of the Klutz Code, which clearly states:

“regardless of the distance between the Klutz (referred to herein, henceforth and backwards as “Schmoe”) and the athletic activity taking place, Schmoe will always, without fail, find him/herself involved in a situation where Schmoe is called upon to perform an athletic feat. Naturally, this feat will be accomplished with disastrous results.”

And that’s exactly what happened. You see, in addition to being a big sports fan, God also has a tremendous sense of humor, which explains why, despite the fact that I was so deep into the outfield that I couldn’t even see the actual field without squinting, the ball went sailing through the air (in dramatic slow motion, with the Jaws theme playing) and came directly to me!

Good one, God.

So the ball came right to me and, of course, I didn’t catch it. I didn’t even come close. Instead, the ball landed on the ground and I went chasing after it, listening to the respective cheers and groans from the two teams, until I finally got to the ball and heaved it with all my might, sending it sailing triumphantly through the air… about ten feet before it dropped to the ground.

I ran to the ball and threw it again. It went another ten feet. So I chased it again. And threw again. Only this time I watched in despair as the ball, which now weighed 45 pounds, traveled a measly five feet. Several minutes and nearly a dozen throws later, the ball landed in the vicinity (read: a good quarter mile) of one of my teammates, who quickly scooped it up and threw it effortlessly to home plate—while still finding time to yell out, “Thanks for nothing, Bloom!”

Unfortunately, this type of thing was common as I grew up. However, as I got older, I realized that my lack of Sportsessence was actually OK. I mean, so what if I couldn’t catch a stupid baseball? Who cares if every time I went to bat, the other team chanted “Easy out! Easy out!” while the pitcher instructed his teammates to “Move in closer!” And does it really matter that one time in high school, when teams were chosen for a soccer game, I was picked last—behind Sam Tiffs, the kid with one leg? HELL NO!

Sure, I’ll agree that being good at sports does provide some advantages in life (“And so we made the deal right there on the golf course! 30 million, just like that!”), but c’mon, there are plenty areas of life where athleticism is not a prerequisite for success. Like being a mime, for example.

Besides, that stuff is ancient history. After a lifetime of obsessing over and reliving those moments from my childhood, I’m finally ready to let go of the past and start focusing on the present. Like this stupid office kickball game. And how I’m going to get out of it.


you know when you’re washing the dishes

and you find a tall glass

and it’s got a milk spot encrusted right down in the very bottom of it

and in the very center of it

and it’s there and it’s impossibly stubborn

because you’ve neglected your dish washing duties for the last four days

even though you generally don’t mind doing the dishes

it being a meditative task with the water running and all

usually while listening to My Bloody Valentine

or something equally as transcendent as Mingus

and smoking a nice bowl of Purple Nurple

and drinking a tallboy of cheap cold domestic beer while you’re doing the dishes

just to give an extra semblance of significance

and something perhaps bordering on semi-fun

to the utter banality of things

to the existential banality of repetitive patternistic things

not giving it any more significance than God would give it

for God’s sake

but still, an extra semblance of significance

to consider this mundane practice worthy in this very moment in time

this exact moment in time never to be again in the history of the planet


and you can’t quite reach this awkward spot of dry rotten milk

because your hand is too large and it’s a very tall slender glass

and you know, it’s like you know, it’s like a highball glass, you know

like something that Ava Gardner would have drunk a Sea Breeze out of


and so you’re forced to become ingenious about it all

and you, being a tool-using human and all of that

thusly pull a dirty knife up to the fore

and push the sponge down into the glass

and stab at it with the butter knife

and push the tip of the knife down

into the bubbly center of this murky universe


and you scrape it around down in there

round and round in jerky little circles

with the Brillo side of the sponge doing a lot of the work

you being temporarily happy that the Brillo texture was created

for a job just such as this one

for the abrasiveness needed in a situation just like this one


and you pull the sponge out, figuring you got it all out

with your forced agitation and your fading punk rock ethics

and you rinse the glass to still find

to your giant dismay

a miniature Antarctica

still down in the center of this glass


and so you take a hit of your tall boy and you really hunker down

to get this very insignificant yet crucially important task accomplished


and you fuck the sponge this time and just go right at it

with the sharp point of the knife in the bottom of this tall glass


and you have a go at tipping the glass up

and you look at it in the light

and scrape scrape scrape in mappy little lines

where strange formations continue to hold down in the bottom of this unusually tall glass

formations of an almost human nature


and you feel like you’re holding an upside-down bell

and you’re ringing with the ringer like a monk or a priest


and you mumble under your breath of quickly dying breaths

the consciousness of the Never-again, the consciousness of the Ever-again


and the snow star palm tree perspires with the impassioned tears of California Jesus

and the workers are going home, the workers are going home


and  you feel like you’re almost hip to the salt and pepper of things

and to the lion and the gazelle of things

and you can actually hear stars falling gently into a glass ballerina box


and it reminds you of getting the last bit of mayonnaise

down in the very bottom part of the jar when making a sandwich late at night


and it’s that sound, that sound, I tell you old sock

that fucking distinctive tinkling sound of stainless steel on glass sound


and so you’re very thorough and thoughtful with the ringing of this bell

because you wouldn’t want to crack it


like that bell in Philadelphia

or God forbid, have to rinse the soap off of it once again


like if there was a spot being missed, like missing a spot, like an errant spot

that wasn’t being tended to properly

like all of your other neglected personal duties

like all of the dust bunnies underneath your bed

and your unpaid student loan tickets

and the remiss phone calls to your schizophrenic mother

and the forgotten spiritual obligations in your terribly non-obstructive life


however you feel confident that something positive could now be happening

something positive, something illuminating, something absolutely worthy of living


but the joy, the joy, the Non-Ultra Joy

creates the perilous threat of a slippery glass

and one careless move

would make this whole mission completely moot and senseless


and so you pump up the H knob with the scalding water of Los Angeles

jettisoned with an added force straight down into the center

the center of a blown glass bottom being laced and concentrated

with the power and the diligence of clear hot hydrogen bubbles


and you raise the chalice up, up, up toward the light

and you finally gaze upon only clarity and purity

and the right side of cleanliness and godliness

and you finally give the glass its rightful dripping rest

onto the Swedish wooden dish rack


and you take a hit of your tallboy

and you feel good for following through on the small stuff


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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 17th, 2009 at 8:36 pm and is filed under Nihilism, Poetry, Transcendence. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your

My two-and-a-half-year-old daughter is obsessed with school buses. There’s a bus stop right on our corner that provides a full morning of excitement. More buses pass our house on their way to pick up “kids go big school.” We must cross paths with at least ten more on the way to daycare. Each time a bus passes out of view, my sweet baby demands, “More bus, Mama!” She thinks I control the world.

Of course, it’s developmentally appropriate for her to have this unshakable faith in me. I love her so much for her trust and optimism. But because I am so acutely aware that I do not control the world, it’s also occasionally painful.

My obsession with control started early. When I was five years old, my parents separated, and my mother and I moved away. I had been pretty happy in my small town Catholic school. I knew most of the kids before I started kindergarten, and my cousins were at the same school. My teacher was warm and friendly. My new school was a different story all together. I wasn’t used to city life where I didn’t already know everyone. It was mid-year, and all the kids had established friendships that didn’t include me. Then there was the teacher. Oh, the teacher.

I was familiar with nuns, but this one was different. Sr.Mary wore a down-to-the-floor black habit with the full head covering. Only her face showed. This type of habit was long out of fashion in the 1970’s, but she was a throw-back in more ways than one. I was scared to death of her. Her teaching style was far more authoritarian than I’d experienced previously, and I could tell that she really didn’t like me. When she broke the class into group activities, she’d take me and one other child aside.

I didn’t understand why we were singled out, but eventually it became clear, if not the reason, at least the purpose. At first, I was mere witness to the torture of my little companion. Sr. Mary had a full litany for poor Tasha. Her parents were divorced and, according to Sr. Mary, Tasha’s mother had abandoned the family. Somehow in this twisted old nun’s mind, Tasha’s parents’ divorce and the fact that they were African-American were irredeemable sins. The nun claimed all “negroes” go to hell when they die. The fact that Tasha wore braces on her “crippled” legs was punishment from god for both being African-American and having divorced parents. Tasha’s father was a member of the city’s professional football team. Each time he left town, which was a lot during football season, Sr. Mary would tell Tasha that her father wasn’t coming back just like her mother hadn’t. She was destined to become an orphan.

Eventually, Sr. Mary set upon me. She told me that, while I was at school, my mother and father would have a terrible fight, they would stab one another, and I would become an orphan. Just like with Tasha, this insane nun had figured out my greatest fears and then went about convincing me that they were a destiny over which I had absolutely no control.

Tasha and I never exchanged any words about our shared torture, just knowing glances when we were called aside. We shared a common shame. Each afternoon as the other children played with blocks or dolls while they waited for their parents to pick them up, Tasha and I sat paralyzed in fear, waiting to see if her father and my mother would arrive or if the day Sr. Mary predicted had finally come and we were orphans.

School became a nightmare. I had horrible dreams about blood, my parents’ death, being all alone, and Sr. Mary. Around the time that my parents decided to reconcile, my mother found out what the malevolent Sr. Mary had been doing and withdrew me from the school. But Sr. Mary had one last prediction. She said my parents wouldn’t stay together and that we would all go to hell. She was right about the first part.

I remember feeling a tremendous sense of relief to be away from that psychotic, but I also felt guilty for leaving Tasha. Perhaps it was survivor’s guilt. In some way, I also felt isolated to be separated from Tasha. After all, we were both on the same road to orphan-dom.

The next school year was first grade, a full day of school with bus transportation. Each morning’s goodbye with my parents at the bus stop was like then end of a World War II epic film. I just knew that this would be the last time that I would see them alive and that when the bus dropped me off in the afternoon, they would be dead in a giant pool of intermingling blood. I would be an orphan.  

Sr. Mary was gone, but my paralyzing fear was not. I symbolically transferred it from her to the school bus. After all, the bus and the school where it delivered me were the only two places I was ever apart from both of my parents. Since my child brain was convinced that I could somehow keep my parents from killing each other, the school bus was taking me away and thus creating the opportunity for Sr. Mary’s prediction to be realized.

I screamed and sobbed at the bus stop. The bus driver offered to let me sit right next to her. My mother bribed and threatened to get me on that damn bus. Didn’t she understand that I was trying to save her life?

One of Sr. Mary’s forewarnings came true. My parents’ reconciliation didn’t last, and they divorced when I was seven. My mother and I moved to a neighborhood where I walked to school, and my school bus phobia subsided. But my white-knuckle grip on everything else I could conceive of controlling did not. I became hyper-vigilant about my surroundings and pathologically organized with my toys and books. As an adolescent, I developed an eating disorder. 

Adulthood and therapy smoothed out a lot of those rough edges, and I evolved into a run-of-the-mill control freak. Through my twenties and most of my thirties, I went about doing quirky things like alphabetizing my spice rack. I found that my obsession with control and order was also a great asset. After all, that was the aspect of my personality that made me good at my job.

Then I got a rude awakening. Four years ago, while living in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina blew my fantasy of control out of the water. Puns intended. I had moments of panic and despair and railed in anger at god. It was hard, but eventually I rallied on, feeling a bit free to relinquish my compulsion for control.

Parenthood mellowed me more. When waiting to adopt a child from Africa, you either go with the flow or go crazy. And parenting an infant who has been orphaned requires the patience and flexibility of the Buddha. I was feeling the groove, that is until the recent “economic downturn.”

It’s difficult to be a single parent and self-employed while facing economic uncertainty. I think I’m doing a good job of keeping my priorities straight and my fears at bay, but I have my moments. There aren’t a whole lot of nuns in full regalia roaming the streets, so my old symbol of panic—the school bus—sometimes flips the switch. You know, the bus I’m supposed to welcome. The one I’m supposed to materialize.

I didn’t realize that my daughter can see my face in the rearview mirror from her car seat behind me, but she can. One morning, as a bus turned a corner and rambled up a hill, she said, “More bus, Mama!” I gave my usual reply of, “Let’s look for more.” A moment later, she spied one and exclaimed, “Look, Mama, bus!” Then she sweetly added, “No more sad Mama.” 

And so it goes. It took me a while to see how the past connects to my present and how an everyday experience can have a hidden meaning waiting to be confronted. I am raising the child Sr. Mary predicted Tasha would become. My daughter relishes the sight of the very symbol of my worst childhood fear. Each day, I have the choice to fall back into old patterns of panic and control or release and relish my child’s bright-eyed enthusiasm. 

Let’s look for more!

Sharks

By Robin Antalek

Essay

The fall I was fifteen my mother had surgery that would hollow out her insides, scoop them clean like a wide mouthed spoon against the split open flesh of a watery honeydew melon and keep her in the hospital for ten days. This was back before insurance companies got involved and surgery actually meant you recovered in the hospital. Children were discouraged during visiting hours and while my father might have been able to sneak me in, he was too disoriented by the absence of my mother for that long, to even consider what I might need.

The doctor had told my father that my mother would have to take it easy for a month after the surgery and somehow my father equated this with the purchase of an electric clothes dryer. Pre-surgery, my mother hung our laundry on the clothes tree out back: an aluminum contraption with a center rod spiked into the ground like a beach umbrella. The actual lines criss-crossed at the top in the shape of a square, reminding me of the God’s Eye’s I was forced to make during my brief attendance at Vacation Bible Camp out of yarn and popsicle sticks. It was an oddly inefficient design, poorly engineered, that usually toppled under the weight of the wet clothes listing severely to the left or the right if things weren’t balanced just so causing the entire process to begin again, this time with cursing.

I went with my father to Grant’s Department store where my old fifth grade math teacher from Saint Ann’s also worked part time in the appliance department. While my father perused the dryers, Mr. McGowan brought up the subject of monthly payment plans, obviously aware of our financial situation since he had been on the committee that had expelled both my brother and me into the world of public school and the glories of smoking in the bathroom, for non-payment of tuition. Of course they had messily hidden the money issue beneath my mother’s vocal support of Roe Vs. Wade, but I knew the truth. After a few Old Milwaukee’s, my parents could be very forthcoming on a variety of subjects.

While I pilfered candy from a dish by the salesmen’s desk, I noticed my father flinch as he looked at the price tags, finally arriving in front of an avocado green dryer that had the lowest price. It was a basic model, Mr. McGowan exclaimed, his complexion ruddy, with broken capillaries that spread across his cheeks like the silvery threads left behind by slugs. It would do the job for the little lady, he said as a last resort to sway my father.

If my mother had been here she would have turned and walked out. As a matter of fact if my mother knew my father was even considering this she would have called him a fool. There was no way that I could even tell her about his idea: My father hovered over me when he called her room every evening after dinner and handed me the phone. Her voice would always start out strong and then dwindle down to a thready whisper. Every call ended with me saying I love you and my mother repeating it back only it sounded like she was on the moon not the hospital ten blocks away. I hated the phone calls and besides, they were so not the time for telling the truth. I knew that by the fake tone my father took every time he announced into the receiver, “here’s your girl! Like my mother had just won the grand prize on Let’s Make A Deal.

But I could tell my father wasn’t going to budge on purchasing the dryer with money we didn’t have. Servicing the pools of southwest Florida paid the bills, my mother’s job as a nurse provided a little extra, but without her income there was nothing left over. In his lifetime my father had been a pilot and an engineer but for some reason was now devoting his life to a fledgling pool business. I was just beginning to figure out that there weren’t enough Old Milwaukee’s in the world to get that truth out of him. Pride was not even going to allow him to consider a payment plan and we left Grant’s Department store with a handful of candies I’d swiped and Mr. McGowan’s beady little eyes boring into our backs as we bid a hasty retreat out into the buckling heat of the asphalt parking lot.

 

An idea landed in my lap innocently enough. At the very end of the town pier, an old wooden structure that extended out into the Gulf of Mexico like a multi legged sea creature, there was a group of guys who fished for shark after midnight. For obvious reasons, the town discouraged shark fishing. Once the sharks established a feeding area, it would be hard for the sharks to distinguish between a bloody hunk of chum versus the tasty thigh of a tourist.

But the shark fishing continued because the meat was just exotic enough for area restaurants (tasting just like chicken, no lie, albeit a little chewy, so more like conch) and the remainder of the shark: the jaw and the teeth, could be cleaned and dried and sold to the tourists – an entire jaw from a six foot shark could bring ten dollars, maybe more. The way I saw it: five jaws equaled an avocado green clothes dryer. I was no sissy. At my father’s urging I had been baiting and cleaning fish for years. I had cut the jaws out of sharks that had turned up on shore after the red tide. How hard could this be?

The opportunity arrived when, aided by Old Milwaukee’s and exhaustion, my father turned in before eleven o’clock. By eleven thirty he was sound asleep and I was on my bike headed to the pier, his heaviest fishing pole and a bag of tackle strapped to my handlebars. When I got there, I propped my bike up against a piling and walked to the end of the pier with the pole. I was wearing a t-shirt of my brother’s and it rattled around my torso like a sheet in the wind, baring more of the body I was trying to hide, to be invisible among the guys. The pier was empty except for the glut at the end, guys passing the time with a cooler of long neck beers, their fishing poles held loosely in one hand or leaning against the railings, a deep bucket of bloody chicken parts in a tall white plaster bucket – dripping over the sides and trailing off towards the bait table like a bad crime scene. The air smelled like pennies. A few of them glanced my way, seemed to take in the pole and the plastic bag of tackle I clutched in my fist and dismissed me with a smirk.

I walked over to the railing and looked down. It was obvious that for the amount of lines in the water some of the guys had more than one pole going at a time. The tables were empty, the wooden board of the deck glistened from the bait buckets, not a catch in sight. The water lapped against the pilings and made a clucking sound. Occasionally, a cigarette butt would arc over the side and land in the water below, the hiss of the flame as it extinguished forever lost in the wind.

I hung over the railing for a while getting up my nerve. Hoping a shark would appear and make me less obvious when a guy sidled over to me and hoisted his body at a dangerous angle over the top railing of the deck so that he had to look back up at me. When he had my attention he said, “You think a shark is gonna come up and bite cause your cute?” I simultaneously frowned and laughed nervously. He was older than me, but not by much. I was pretty sure I’d seen him around school last year, but not this current year. So he either graduated or dropped out. I was guessing the latter. He offered to help me and before I knew it he had taken the pole from my shaky hands and threaded a bloody mass onto the hook. He squeezed it in his fist, allowing the juice to run down his arm in thin cock-eyed rivulets. I took the pole from him like I did it everyday and arching back, I cast the line over the side. He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing as he wiped his bloody arm against his t-shirt.

After a while he lit a cigarette and cracked a beer, offering me the first swig. I took it, keeping one hand on the pole, and drank deeply until my throat felt funny from the foam and I handed it back. I noticed the others were starting to pay more attention to me because he was, although I wasn’t sure it was the kind of attention I wanted. The wait for a shark went on forever, the only sounds in the dark were of a beer being opened or the strike of a match followed by sulpher as it skunked the air. When it finally happened the guy whose line it was reacted quickly and quietly. He braced himself in a wide leg stance as he strained to bring up the shark. The muscles in his calves shimmied and quivered. Others moved in to help him, peering over the side, offering encouragement in muted voices. When I think of it now they reminded me of nurses in the delivery room, administering direction in low, firm voices, that didn’t interfere with the real work at hand.

When he finally pulled the shark in, the sleek gray body was scarred in the pale underbelly, it’s body, supine against the planks of the dock, shuddered like a child at the end of a temper tantrum, the hook and line still imbedded deeply in its throat. Out of water the shark continued to thrash but it was clearly losing the battle. By the time I turned back to my father’s fishing pole it was gone, along with the guy who had baited the hook. Whether he had taken the pole or it had slipped over the side in the confusion of the moment, I’d never know. In a panic I ran to the end of the pier, to my bike, intent on getting home and into my bed before my father knew I was gone. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I swerved as headlights illuminated the road from behind. I glanced over my shoulder quickly and caught the outline of a familiar truck and behind the wheel my father, his face all pale angles in the light of the moon, his mouth an angry grimace, his brow furrowed in worry. Instead of stopping to accept my inevitable punishment, I continued pedaling as my father trailed slowly behind, ushering me home.

 

In the driveway as I dropped my bike, he stayed in the truck. I could feel him watching me as I slid open the glass door on the carport and walked inside, careful not to look back and meet his eyes. I lay in bed too afraid to sleep, face and teeth unwashed because I was scared of the consequences if I left my room. I considered the fact that he wouldn’t tell my mother because then he would have to admit to the plan of a dryer and she would have been furious, still it didn’t make me feel any better about losing his best fishing pole.

What I didn’t know then was that in the morning my father would wake me early with a gruff announcement of breakfast. After eggs and toast we would take a ride to Ace Hardware where he would purchase a bag of cement and then he and I would spend the morning beneath an aching sun digging a deeper post hole for the clothesline and then filling in all around it with the pebbly gray concrete. I would hold the post steady with both hands as he poured the cement. Sweat dripped down my forehead and the tip of my nose causing my face to itch but I wouldn’t release a hand from the pole afraid to move, afraid of disappointing my father again.

 

 

Cherry Picking

By Brin Butler

Essay

“What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald

There’s a poor orchard town near where my father grew up in the countryside. It’s one of the poorest places in the country. Most people found out about it when it got some attention in the newspapers after a famous serial killer and child rapist named Clifford Olsen passed through and beheaded a child and left the trophy to be discovered by school kids in the river that flows next to the highway that runs through the heart of the town.


We drove through that town on the way to visit our relatives since I was a baby. I remember driving when my parents were together and after they’d parted ways. I think it was one of the first places I used as a marker to measure certain feelings that upset me. When I was very small we nearly always stopped to pick up fruit to bring over for my grandmother to use in baking pies. After she died when I was five, we still stopped to pick up fruit, but usually just enough for the last stretch of the car ride. Memories aren’t photos in an album, they change every time you fondle them. I was getting good marks and then I wasn’t anymore. Holes weren’t filling in with certain things that bothered me. When I was big enough, we pulled off the highway and visited one of my favorite bridges in the world called Red Bridge.

You could climb inside the walls of that one-lane bridge and get up to the top staring a good fifty feet over that icy, glacier-fed river.

At the best of times I’m pretty lousy with heights. I was 21 before I had the courage to jump. I had a boyfriended girl up there with me, originally from the town, who I’d met in the city. She knew the parents of the beheaded kid and we’d been talking about how creepy and exciting the river felt knowing that such an awful thing polluted it.

The first time I stepped into a river when I was two or three my dad told me that you can never put your foot into the same river twice. That was a good fit as far as I was concerned. I almost drowned once floating down a river and after I quit struggling it was the most peaceful feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. You’re caught under something and struggling and struggling to get to the surface and grab some air and then you actually hear another voice ask why?

She’d never had the guts to jump and thought anyone who did was crazy. I wanted to impress her. At first it hadn’t worked out so well. I’d chickened-out over and over again maybe 20 times, but when she gave up on me and went to collect the little blanket we’d spread out up there I went for it. I figured suicide was the biggest decision you can make that you can’t ever regret.

She made a beautiful sound when I jumped over her and off that edge. I could hear that sigh-scream all the way down with my arms flapping like a maniac before plunging into the water and falling so deep I touched down on the pebbly river bottom.

The next time I visited that town I didn’t pass through, we stopped to visit that same girl’s folks.

We stopped by a friend of hers who had an apple orchard. The orchard had a pretty story behind it:

The parents of that friend who owned the orchard had wondered for years why all the pickers went to one particular tree on their lunch break for their own apples to eat. Finally they went over to that tree and tried one of the apples for themselves and discovered that the apples looked and tasted different. They had a distinctive creamy color. As it turned out, it was a new strain of apple which they named Ambrosia apples that became so popular that they became quite wealthy.

I’ve taken nearly every girl I’ve really liked through that town and bought them some of those apples from the roadside fruit stands.

On the flight back from New York with my wife a couple days ago, I was thinking about one of these girls.

On the trip we had together through that town she picked up the slack from my grandmother and used those apples to bake a pie.

I published a story about her in a magazine a while back. I gave some slippery details about her finding out I’d written a novel about her without ever having had a meaningful conversation with her. In the story I’d given myself a first kiss with her. 10 years after high school she’d read it and flew over to be with me. That was what happened.

But I’d left the piece open-ended.

Sometimes I’m interested in people who think leaving out vital material isn’t the same as lying when it achieves the same purpose.

It’s a different feeling getting away with a lie.

Different motivation too, I think.

It’s weird writing the happy part of a story that you know ends badly.

I’d left it optimistic and nostalgic and hopeful between us.

It had ended abruptly, severed with a warning she issued in a shrill tone: “You’ll always regret this. You’ll look back and regret this for the rest of your life.”

Most women I know that complain about their choice in men talk about how unsuccessful they are in finding a good match rather than succeeding in choosing assholes.

Every writer zeros-in on who their best muse is, who they’re really writing to or who they feel is looking over their shoulder. I’m not good with a Thinking Cap on my head. I end up feeling like Whitney Houston when I’m trying to sound like Billie Holiday.

Crack isn’t heroin.

The woman who published that story asked me how the story played out after meeting that girl. Was I still with her? “C’mon, she’d moved from Europe to be with you!”

That wasn’t entirely true. More to the point, she’d moved to be with an idea of us that had nothing to do with me.

I have a considerable mean streak that I try to hold back when I write about women because I know how ugly it is.

Most likely it stems from the fact that I’m scared of women. All varieties. Old, smart, dumb, literate, young, moms, daughters, wives, mistresses, whores, girlfriends, sisters, political leaders, receptionists, dental assistants, nurses, poets, writers, actresses, pornstars, nuns, book club members, lesbians, cocktail waitresses, bus drivers, wrestlers, folk singers, talk show hosts, hobos, models, anorexics, pregnant, career-women, soft, cookie-cutter, snowflake—you name it I’ll raise my hand and bow my head in shame.

I’m scared of women because I’m so drawn to them. I’m obsessed by women in all their roles and sides and facets and devious complexity and radical ambiguity and appetites and narratives and surfaces and depths and noise and silence.

I know less about them as a whole the more I meet.

Punching your weight is a good rule.

I don’t bring much to the table. I like my femininity in the cute and dirty variety, like those first video game fairies with the glittery X-rated eyes despite G-rated roles.

Cuteness is depravity’s defense mechanism: Japan only overdosed on cute after getting nuked.

I think of women emotionally the same as I think of men, only I think of them emotionally as men who are drunk and high. After all, women have purpose.

“Love is blind, but stalkers often have an eye for detail” is how I opened the piece.

Before I started the piece, I had a few pages of notes that included several pretty lines meant to hide other elements I’d left out.

Salinger had this line about “letting all your stars come out” or something. I wonder why this is so scary to do.

When I look at them, relationships seem mostly about addiction. Chemicals. Junk. Power. Submission. Domination.

Even with all the little stuff.

Telescopes and microscopes uncover what you can find.

She’d said she looked forward to baking pies after we got married and had our own family and grandchildren.

I like opening my eyes underwater in a lake or in the ocean when I can’t see anything.

She knew she was going to live to be over a hundred, she assured me.

I love fortune cookies, but not for their wisdom.

She was glad I thought she looked the same as when I’d first met her at 13, but she was most pleased that I loved her eyes, because the rest of her would “perish” into old age and “decay” but “my eyes will always remain.”

It was speeches like these, the chilling inflection and frightening vocabulary, that first broke the spell.

Then there was the preemptive self-flattery: “Everywhere I go others inform me that my breasts are divine.”

Pleasant would have been my choice of words.

“My bottom attracts attention like you wouldn’t believe.”

She was on the mark with that one. I didn’t believe it. And even more so after just breaking up with a Puerto Rican dancer whose ass moved like a wrecking ball down New York streets in terms of the attention from men it commanded.

“Don’t you fancy how quirky I dress?”

From her attire, she looked a girl who proudly lived in a giant shoe.

I left out that I was so nervous before meeting her that about 8 hours prior to picking her up from the airport I accepted the offer of a perfect stranger for a random meeting and presumable “booty call”.

I think it’s the only time I’ve ever been the one not chasing.

This random girl somehow got very turned on discussing books. She was boyfriended also. It didn’t really matter except that he was a very respectful boyfriend, which in all areas except sexually pleased her just fine. “That’s my main problem with this guy. I want a good person who can really demean me. He can’t. We can connect emotionally and intellectually and he’s not intimidated by someone with my education and career and outspokenness. You know what I mean? He just can’t bring himself to really give me what I want sexually.”

“What do you want sexually?” I asked.

“A guy who isn’t afraid to come on my face, you know?”

“Right.”

It’s liberating in a slightly unsettling way to be attracted to a woman yet having no interest in fucking her. It’s not a state you’d like to occupy all that often, but it’s valid somehow too.

“Are you gonna fuck me or what?”

“Nope.”

“So you’re using me?”

We’d met on top of a hill with a really spectacular view. She’d laid out a blanket.

She asked about the girl flying in. She asked how I felt about the circumstances. She gave her point of view. She asked me if I knew who Mr. Darcy was. She asked if I had any intention of contacting her after that night. When I gave her a look, she informed me that she was making a joke.

I told her after that night I would never speak with her again and she saw very clearly that I meant it.

She asked if I was joking.

“There are no jokes, the truth is the funniest joke of all.”

—Muhammad Ali






Dearest TNB Readers,

I’d like to take this opportunity to express my delight in personally welcoming you to the brand-spanking new Arts & Culture section of The Nervous Breakdown.

My own relationship with TNB started as a reader of the original version 1.0. I would stop by a few times a week and get lost in the marvel of those first group of writers’ creations. Enamored by what Brad Listi and his posse were doing, I submitted a piece in the hopes of being a contributor myself.

I was refused.

The email from Brad said that the website was undergoing a major overhaul and that they couldn’t possibly accept any new writers at the time. I was heartbroken. At least The New Yorker had the decency to lie to me with their boilerplate, “Despite its evident literary merit, we regret to inform you…”

But despite the rejection, I didn’t quit reading.

Or writing.

The writers at TNB were the standard to which I held myself against, and lo and behold, one day, version 2.0 was about to launch and I got an email from none other than Brad Listi himself:

“You interested? Please let us know. Grazie, TNB”

‘Interested’ didn’t even come close to my level of enthusiasm. I jumped in with both feet and within one year as a contributor, leaning heavily on my own theatrical background, I helped found our live reading series: The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience!variety show of sorts, TNBLE features the writers of The Nervous Breakdown, complete with readings, music, games, films and audience participation galore! These events are held quarterly in New York at The Happy Ending Lounge, in Los Angeles at The Hotel Café and in Chicago at The Whistler, and hopefully soon, we’ll be coming to a venue near you!

But for the moment, we are here.

Version 3.0.

Three. Point. Oh.

We, the unstoppable Arts & Culture team; Associate Editors Kimberlee Auerbach, Rob Bloom, Megan DiLullo, and I, as Editor, aspire to bring you that same level of devotion, enthusiasm and entertainment as we introduce you, our dear readers, to some of the most provoking, challenging, emerging and established artists our community, nay the world, has to offer: composers, actors, painters, filmmakers, graphic novelists, comedians, opera singers and many, many more! (Side note: We’re still looking for mimes…)

Each week, we’ll ask the TNB Featured Artist a few questions. 21 to be exact. We’ll dig deep and analyze those ‘missing’ tidbits Bernard Pivot or Marcel Proust wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole (or a twenty-foot Czechoslovakian) as we learn more about what makes each of these artists tick.

We wouldn’t dare ask anyone to answer these questions without putting ourselves out there on the ‘chopping block’ first, so in the words of our illustrious and fearless leader:

Here goes nothing.

Enjoy!

~ Kimberly, Kimberlee, Rob & Megan

* * * * *

TNB A&C:  1. Please explain what just happened.

Kimberlee Auerbach (KA): I just had a conversation with a friend about sexual impulses. Can we become attracted to someone we didn’t think we were attracted to? I had an experience recently where I felt physically turned on by someone I had thought I wasn’t attracted to, and when I thought more about it, it was because I felt so emotionally safe with him. I’m beginning to think if you’re getting your emotional needs met, then the physical will follow. But I’m not sure.

Rob Bloom (RB): I was going to ask you the same question.

Megan DiLullo (MDL): Well, it was kind of a blur. But I will apologize profusely to the trick or treaters and hopefully they’ll understand that all that candy would have been bad for them and that I was just trying to save them from diabetes.

KMW: Therapy.

 

2. What is your earliest memory?

KA: I did one of those Brian Weiss seminars, where he takes you through a past life regression. As part of the meditation, he asks you to go back to your earliest memory. I was following his prompts, doubtful I’d be able to remember anything, but all of a sudden, I felt myself in my mother’s arms as a baby, feeling her smiling down at me. She felt like the sun. So warm.

RB: My parents taking me to Circus World, a two-bit amusement park in Orlando, and being scared out of my mind by a very unfunny (and unrelenting) clown.

MDL: I was almost three years old, I know this because my grandfather died when I was three. I was at my grandparent’s house in Philly. My Grandfather was sitting in his plastic covered rocking chair, as Italian immigrants are prone to do. My father was sitting on the sofa making bubbles with that super elastic bubble plastic stuff. He would then hand then to me and I would walk very shakily over to my grandfather and hand them to him. It was all very exciting, and that is the only memory I have of my grandfather.

KMW: Face glued to the television; singing “C is for Cookie” at the top of my lungs. There was also a dance which involved one part tummy-rubbin’, two parts bootie-wigglin’.

 

3. If you weren’t doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing?? (**Note: this is the original incarnation of this question, amended in the future to refer to profession**)

KA: Do you mean right this very minute? Or in my career? I love my life and my career, so I wouldn’t be doing anything else right now. In terms of this very moment, I would be sleeping. I’m wicked tired, and I never use the word wicked.

RB: I’d be a Walt Disney Imagineer.

MDL: Well, as a child, I wanted to be a professional triangle player or macaroni and cheese. I also have a strong interest in industrial design and have often thought that being a dog groomer would be just plain fun. I’m still leaning towards macaroni and cheese, though.

KMW: I’d be a chef. Making people happy with food has always been an open passion of mine. There’s something terribly satisfying to know that people are eating exquisitely because of something you made for them. So maybe it’s not too far off from what I do right now. I want to feed people; whether it’s their souls or their bellies.  Both work for me.

 

4. Please describe the current contents of your refrigerator.

KA: Three apples, a gallon of orange juice, apple butter, pear butter, almond butter, Trader Joe’s Bruschetta, Silk Original soy milk, lettuce, maple syrup, hummus, mustard, pickles, honey, batteries, film, four bottles of True Blood, and some other random stuff I can’t remember without getting up to go check.

RB: Greek yogurt, a Tupperware container filled with tuna fish, another Tupperware with dog food, three bottles of ketchup (all of which are at varying degrees of fullness), and a bunch of bananas which I’d prefer not to refrigerate but have to because of the fruit flies that have invaded the kitchen.

MDL: Liquid minerals, EFA’s, organic raw dog food that’s thawing. The solid people food I can only describe as holding on for dear life. Too bad you didn’t ask about the freezer, that’s where the good stuff is.

KMW: Embarrassingly enough (considering the last answer), lots of Lean Cuisine and ready-to-go food. (I’m in production on a film right now and have no time to cook, nor money for take-out.) There’s a whole mess of bacon toffee that I *still* need to send to Zara and Lenore, as well as three different kinds of excess homemade frosting from previous baking experiments. Also some picholine olives, stilton, a ridiculous number of fancy condiment bottles, half-eaten bars of Mast Brothers chocolate, and a bottle of Veuve for when the next occasion to pop it arises.

 

5. What verb best describes you?

KA: Connect

RB: Run

MDL: I wouldn’t even begin to know how to answer this question.

KMW: Faire. I chose the French, because it encompasses so much more than just “To Do”. Faire is to create, to make, to build, to play, to act, to have [affection], to pay [a compliment]. Faire is an extremely active verb.

 

6. What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and have a conversation with yourself at age thirteen?

KA: Don’t give your power away. Do what makes you happy.

RB: I promise you, it will get better.

MDL: Don’t start smoking. But I remember being thirteen and I know I wouldn’t listen to myself.

KMW: I’d reassure myself that I am prettier than I think. That I’m not fat. That I am talented. And that Janna Chase is a bitch.

 

7. What are the steps you take to regain your composure?

KA: I take really deep awkward breaths.

RB: Take a few deep breaths, then remind myself that it’s probably not all that important anyway.

MDL: Well, I like to start with a deep breath, usually followed by a “Can I get back to you on that one?”

KMW: You mean after I stop crying? Down a shot of bourbon (if I can). I take a deep breath. Try to walk around the block. Remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing. Find something in the situation to laugh about. Refresh my lipstick. Move on.

 

8. Define “success”.

KA: Financial and emotional independence.

RB: Achieving a goal. Any goal.

MDL: I think that throughout your life your definition of success will change depending on where you’re at. As you change and grow so do your priorities. But the most important thing is to be happy with who you are. If you’re not that, you can’t help anyone else.

KMW: I can’t. I pretty much feel like a failure most of the time.

 

9. From what or whom do you derive your greatest inspiration?

KA: Love.

RB: Knowing that something I write can make someone laugh and, maybe just maybe, turn a crappy day into a slightly less crappy one.

MDL: I find inspiration in the odd little things that happen in everyday life. I love the idea of not knowing what’s around the next corner. Somehow I find that very reassuring and it’s a constant reminder to pay attention to what’s going on today.  I’ve discovered that by not having a myopic view I get to enjoy a lot of great opportunities that pop up and learn a ton of new things in the process that take me directions I never thought of.

KMW: Watching those that I have helped in some way, succeed.

 

10. What change do you want to be in the world?

KA: I want people to feel safe and to be more present with one another, so I make an effort to make others feel safe and to be present with them.

RB: Be the best dad I can be. Not enough of those in the world.

MDL: Let’s start with the basics of clothes, food, shelter and healthcare for everyone, then we can work on other stuff.

KMW: $0.41. One of each [coin].

 

11. Are you pro- or anti-emoticon? Please explain.

KA: Pro. I’ll admit it. But I’m anti the acronym for laughing out loud.

RB: Anti. Reminds me too much of my middle school yearbook.

MDL: Anti, obviously.

KMW: Totally pro-emoticon. Emoticons are the internet’s vocal inflection.

 

12. How are you six degrees from Kevin Bacon?

KA: Not sure.

RB: Four degrees. Worked with John Lutz on my short film “Suburban Bravery.” Lutz was in “Splinterheads” with Sam Kitchin who was in “The Truman Show” with Laura Linney who was in “Mystic River” with Kevin Bacon.

MDL: Let’s see. My tattoo artist, Lance Talon, tattooed Kyra Sedgewick (I know this because he has a picture in his studio) who is married to Kevin Bacon.

KMW: Let’s just put it this way: Knowing me makes you one degree closer. :-)

 

13. What makes you feel most guilty?

KA: Picking my skin.

RB: Not rubbing my dog’s belly while I’m sitting on the sofa watching TV.

MDL: Guilt is useless. I try to think far enough in advance and consider my actions to avoid guilt altogether.

KMW: Not being perfect.

 

14. Please list three things you never leave home without.

KA: My iPhone. My wallet, although the other day I forgot it. A metrocard.

RB: Wallet, phone, GPS.

MDL: My purse, of which the contents are vast, my skull heart necklace and a sense of adventure.

KMW: Five different shades of lipsticks/glosses (I need options). My claddagh ring. Hope.

 

15. What is the worst piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

KA: To tone it down.

RB: My 9th grade guidance counselor told me that, because I stuttered, I should join the circus and become a clown.

MDL: You can’t get pregnant the first time. But it was my best friend in kindergarten who told me that and she had heard it from her older sister, who was in third grade. And, in reality neither of us had any idea what she referring to, or talking about, so we considered our options, decided that it would, indeed be in our best interest, and ate the whole pan of brownies.

KMW: Be patient.

 

16. What is the best advice you’ve ever given to someone else?

KA: To go to therapy.

RB: Just let it go.

MDL: Nothing is permanent or get rid of that scrunchie. It’s a toss up.

KMW: Do it. Now.

 

17. What do you consider the harshest kind of betrayal?

KA: Secret affairs. Actually, secrets in general. Any kind. It sucks to be lied to.

RB: Another writer taking credit for my work.

MDL: Any type of betrayal of trust. But in the long run I believe in cause and effect, so I try to just move on and assume that I learned a valuable lesson that I will someday understand.

KMW: Being taken advantage of.

 

18. Of all the game shows that have graced our TV screens throughout history, which one would you want to be a contestant on and why?

KA: Games freak me out. I would hate to be on any game show.

RB: Match Game. Why? C’mon, Richard Dawson, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Brett Sommers?!? I’d love to be a fly on the wall of that green room.

MDL: The original Gong Show with Chuck Barris. When I was little I used to dance along with Gene Gene the Dancin’ Machine in front of the TV. He is the best.

KMW: Press Your Luck. “No Whammies! No Whammies! No Whammies!”

 

19. What do you want to know?

KA: I want to know more about neuroscience. I want to know more about history. I want to know if I will get married and have kids. I want to know God.

RB: What’s next?

MDL: Lots of things, knowledge is freedom, and life is all about learning. I would like to start by finding out what happened to Boo Berry cereal.

KMW: What it’s like to learn the easy way.

 

20. What would you like your Last Words to be?

KA: I love you.

RB: I’m ready.

MDL: Something great and enlightened, but they will probably end up being something like “Does it smell like cheese in here?” or “Can you please get that chicken off my bed.” Though, I would settle for “Huzzah!” or “A la peanut butter sandwiches.”

KMW: I love you too.

 

21. Please explain what will happen.

KA: Fuck if I know. Well, actually I do know. I am going to go to bed.

RB: What? And spoil the surprise?

MDL: I’m going to go back home to Cabot Cove. There’s just been so much excitement this week I have to go and write to it all down. Then it’s onto another mystery.

KMW: Therapy. Lots and lots more therapy.

A big hello from the Fiction Editorial Team–Stacy Bierlein, Alex Chee, Shya Scanlon and yours truly.  We’re all so excited to unveil this section of the new-and-improved TNB that if we told you how thrilled we really are, you might be a little alarmed.  You might even suspect that we have too much time on our hands . . . which is so far from the truth it would be comical.  So suffice it to say that we’re really, really glad you’re here, and both proud and humbled to be on this journey through the terrain of contemporary fiction with you.

First, a little story:

This September my son Giovanni, who is three-and-a-half, started preschool.  The plan was that once he was in school, I would finally have enough hours “to myself” to get all my work done.  On that list: running Other Voices Books‘ flagship Chicago office (well, flagship may be a rather grand term for a desk in my basement), teaching at two universities, raising three small children–and then, in my nonexistent spare time blogging for both TNB and HuffPo, in addition, of course, to writing my own fiction and prepping to market my second book coming out in 2010.  Oh, I think I recall that I was also going to kick up my yoga practice this year in all my “free time,” and start reading some books that weren’t: a) fiction, b) submissions to OV Books or c) by writers I know.

Um, yeah.  Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.  Or maybe it’s just that sometimes the best laid plans are not really all they’re cracked up to be.

Giovanni had been at his first day of preschool for exactly four hours when my phone rang.  It was Brad Listi, who at that time (this now seems like a distant memory) didn’t frequently call me.  He proceeded to explain his idea for a TNB Fiction Section.  Then, to my surprise, he asked if I would consider editing it.

Absolutely anyone who knows anything about what my life looks like would tell you that I should have run for the hills.

Instead I was ecstatic.  I think within a minute and a half, I had basically signed away not only my own name in blood, but that of my longtime business partner Stacy Bierlein, Exec. Ed. of OV’s Los Angeles office, who is now my co-Editor in this venture too.  I recall buzzing around my house for the rest of the workday making lists of all the writers I couldn’t wait to let know about TNB.  When Shya and Alex joined the fray soon after, the conference calls and barrage of emails that commenced were dizzying.

If you care anything about contemporary fiction (and you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t), you know that review venues are shrinking by the day.  Books sections in papers and magazines are closing or radically reducing space; longtime literary magazines are losing funding and folding.  Corporate publishers are spending less on book tours and indie presses often can’t afford to spring for them to begin with.  It is harder and harder for writers to market their work in traditional ways.

This is where TNB’s Fiction Section comes in.  Our aim here is not only akin to that of all good literary magazines–to showcase some of the most vibrant writers working today–but also to help provide these writers with a vehicle to market their books.  This is why we provide links to authors’ websites and sales pages: to help directly connect the writers we love with their audience–TNB’s large, loyal and growing readership.  We also aim to provide you insights into these authors and their work that you can’t get just anywhere, which is what’s behind the “self-interview” concept.  Here, authors answer all the questions they were always afraid to answer in other interviews, or that they wished all those other guys would’ve asked instead of asking what time of the day they write and whether their desk faces west or east.  TNB’s Fiction Section is a tantalizing triple-threat on that week’s Featured Author, so that by the time you’re done, you should be as smitten as we are.

Some writers we’ll be showcasing this year include Stuart Dybek, Steve Almond, Stephen Elliott, Antonya Nelson, Jonathan Evison, Joshua Mohr, Aimee Liu and Terese Svoboda . . . among many, many more!  Please stay tuned.  New work goes up every Sunday night.

Finally, on behalf of Stacy and myself, I’d also like to say how truly fun it’s been to work with such a wide variety of writers again.  When we closed Other Voices magazine in 2007 to focus on book publishing, we gained many exciting opportunities to champion indie books out in the world, but we considerably narrowed the pool of writers we were able to champion, since Other Voices Books publishes only two titles annually.  So it has truly been a joy to be able to reach out to more writers again, to consider so much new work, and to merge our passion for book and magazine publishing here at TNB.

We hope to hear from you soon and often.  Onward, and go TNB!