COLLEGE NOVEL Review by Alex Weidman

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An early scene in this book tests the reader. Jordan and Robert are sitting on a bench discussing what a Cobb salad is when someone walks by yelling about “horrible marketing.” Jordan asks Robert if he can imagine “getting upset over horrible marketing.” Robert says he feels like “Jesus on the cross.” It’s a very funny exchange, indicative of the way real sentiment in this generation can only be expressed boiled down through a joke. If you do not know who is walking by, if you can’t picture the dude on his cellphone yelling about horrible marketing, you’re going to have a hard time understanding what is going on in this book. Things are so divided right now, as the cliché goes, that there are people who don’t understand—who couldn’t even comprehend—that the horrible marketing guy is the disaster looming over the end of this book and these characters. There are people who would be unable to understand that this book isn’t about a descent into chaos, or about how crazy and nihilistic young people are nowadays, this book is about the time right before you descend into chaos, right before you become a nihilist and start to care about something like marketing. All of which is to say: this is a book about right before you enter the real world. 

College Novel is also a book about bullshitting. Built episodically, almost like a sitcom, it moves along primarily through dialog, with most scenes revolving around little more than a collection of characters doing drugs or drinking, packed with inside jokes and irony. The characters, often in various states of laying around on the floor, talk about wanting to die at Six Flags, whether they need more beer, joining ISIS, and the Scrubs actor Zach Braff. If the dialog had not been so funny and masterfully translated to text, this book probably wouldn’t have worked at all. I don’t know how you create such random dialog so specifically. I can only think that Blake must have recordings of him and his friends talking, because despite knowing and understanding this language of nonsense these characters use, I couldn’t even begin to recall it or know where to start when writing it. It is the most impressive aspect of this book, and also its moral mirror. 

Beyond the dialog and these scenes the plot is spare, sort of leading up to Jordan graduating college and centering primarily on which character he should date. But, like a sitcom, a larger picture comes out of such nothingness. What comes out of this book is an excellent depiction of what almost being an adult is like for a lot of young people right now. And that’s because a lot of young people right now are also just bullshitting.

But, again, this book isn’t about nihilism. There’s still a meaning within so much bullshit. People are concerned about all the bullshitting young people do nowadays, especially young white people, and there are certainly places where the bullshitting is an edgy vacuum of meaning that always seems to let in shit like the meninist or incel or white supremacist ideologies. But there isn’t a vacuum in the middle of this book, because these characters are still searching for something. Like the dialog, there is something sincere hidden behind the randomness.

In a scene toward the end of College Novel, Jordan and Abby take acid while housesitting a cousin’s mansion. Despite it not being a bad trip, the two don’t like it. They don’t like it because of how disconnected from reality it makes them feel. “People that take acid frequently probably hate reality. It’s just like, so unlike reality,” Jordan explains. Later he says, “I think that’s why acid makes people freak out. They like, forget that they took drugs, and mistake whatever is happening for reality.” What is important is that they are not trying to escape, as this behavior is often accused of.

In a scene right before Jordan and Abby take acid, they take mushrooms, and something completely different happens. The two relax and feel happy. “It feels nice not to have anything that I feel like I need to figure out right now,” Jordan explains. “I feel happy,” Abby says, adding, “I think I just realize that so many things that, uh, we’re taught to care about, are just like, bullshit.” This moment highlights what Jordan is really searching for throughout College Novel, and what a lot of young people are searching for: a way to be happy within the world, despite where the world is going and trying to take you. And if the recognition that things we’re “taught to care about, are just like, bullshit,” sounds like a trivial and childish realization, well, just look around. Our world is overrun with people who care about things like marketing. Our colleges are purposefully overrun with people who care about marketing. The big question for these characters isn’t whether they’ve got their priorities straight, because they already hate money and are just looking for ways to be happy and good people, but whether those priorities can be sustained after college when one enters the real world, which is a very honest and important question for a lot of people. And while this book doesn’t answer that (it’d be a very different book if it did), it does insist on something meaningful beneath all our bullshit, and helpful to see.

 

you can purchase COLLEGE NOVEL here.

 

Alex Weidman lives in West Virginia and is 24 years old. 

“Cultural Appropriation as an Attempt to Find Meaning and Escape Loneliness – A Grand Review of Noah Cicero’s Give it to the Grand Canyon” by Dale Brett

 

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To review Noah Cicero’s latest book, I went way back. Right back to the start. The Human War, The Condemned, Burning Babies… I wanted to see how far Noah had traveled. I wanted to see how far I had traveled. To re-visit those words that I eagerly consumed several years ago. When I heard there was a new Noah Cicero book coming out, I was crippled by a deep yearning to re-commence my viewing of Noah’s lifelong quest to show the beauty and pain of human existence through his words. With Noah, it always feels like hitting the play/pause button when I pick up his latest book, as if I am picking up where I left my favourite TV show, the honest voice warm and familiar. Give it to the Grand Canyon, his most recent offering published by the excellent A Philosophical Idiot, is no exception. 

Before critically engaging with Noah’s most recent text, as I said, let’s go back to the start. In The Human War, his first published book which came out in 2003, Noah writes: 

 

“Someday I will walk free again. 

I’ll walk in the desert of Arizona, smiling,

with a bottle of cold water.

I’ll laugh at these days… 

 

[I]’ll walk to the bottom of the Grand

Canyon. I’ll stand there like I’m in 

heaven. I’ll be strong and powerful

standing there with my feet in the

Colorado river.”  

 

More than a decade ago, when Noah the writer was still wallowing in suburban angst-ridden existentialism, he was already thinking about the themes central to his most recent novel. Fast-forward to the here and now and it is apparent that Noah is still obsessed by the mythical power of the Grand Canyon. He still believes it can take your pain away. He still writes about what it means to escape our reality and be at peace with what we have. Give it to the Grand Canyon is Noah’s magnum opus. His ‘full circle’ effort. A story of the protagonist’s, and one senses the author’s, journey across the globe that leads him back to where his adult life started, the Grand Canyon. A place where he first realised there was more to life than the mowed lawns and high school football games of his childhood in Ohio. 

“Culture in Ohio, was it even real? Men would mow the grass, the grass had to be mowed. The leaves fell in the fall, the men would rake the leaves and put them in piles in the backyard. Everyone had basements, some basements were made into extra living rooms, as in, rooms where people lived, watched television and played video games.” 

Noah’s works have always resonated with me. I have often felt an inherent, deep connection with his words when consumed by them. The scenes of his novels and poems have helped me learn to live in a white, middle class Western world knowing there are others that share my apprehension and anxiety. Like Noah, I also felt fundamentally lost growing up in a similar low to middle class suburb in a Western democracy where the local no-hope population was fixated on mortgages, marriage and making babies. Where the car wash and the flat screen television were considered true titans of culture. As Noah says in Give it to the Grand Canyon, he “couldn’t find a dream there” and neither could I. One displaced soul in the suburbs of the Anglofied northern hemisphere, one in the suburbs of the Anglofied southern hemisphere.  

Like Noah, I too escaped to live in Asia, an attempt to live more anonymously in a place where we could ‘opt out’ while still maintaining our self-esteem. A place where we could both test our nihilism, reduce external expectations and somewhat control our anxiety. As Noah writes: “In Korea they called me waeguk, in Arizona I became a bilagáana. At least I was something. In Ohio, I wasn’t anything but “that guy.” Replace the word ‘Ohio’ with ‘Victoria, Australia’ and that is pretty much how I felt growing up. Nothing more than “that guy.” 

Ever since finding Noah’s work at the height of the alt-lit boom whilst engaged in a creative writing minor at university, his words have always given me comfort that I am not the only one who feels entirely displaced by the consumer-culture of the West. His early works punctuated by existentialism and nihilism made me feel solidarity through our shared belief that the suburban dream of Western culture is not for everyone. His later works tinged with Buddhist and Navajo teachings made me feel hope that one can improve their seemingly incurable chronic depression by travel and learning from other cultures in an attempt to find yourself. Give it to the Grand Canyon maintains that motif of finding yourself through the lens of other cultures. Noah is here to tell you that even if you feel terribly alone at the top of this hopeless world, there are still people somewhere on earth to share this unbridled feeling with you. 

The journey of Give it to the Grand Canyon begins when a young man named Billy Cox crumbles and leaves everything in suburban Ohio behind to head out for the Grand Canyon, then California, then Portland, then Korea, then Cambodia, then back to the Grand Canyon. Anyone who is aware of Noah’s own private travels, both physical and mental, will obviously see the link between Billy Cox’s world and the author’s own in what could be considered a largely autobiographical text. After an absence of fifteen years, it is Billy Cox’s account of his second time living and working at the Grand Canyon that forms the bulk of this novel. 

Like most of Noah’s books, Give it to the Grand Canyon is a novel about cultural appropriation. Not the bad kind though. The kind where you don’t fit in very well with your own culture, and start to borrow learnings from other cultures, in an effort to find meaning in the world. Or perhaps just to feel a little less lonely. Reading Noah’s works over the years, I have always got the feeling that he is a writer that is striving to find beauty and meaning in a world where there often is none due to the banal, commodified culture we find ourselves in. Noah does this largely by exploring and interpreting other cultures in which he, and we in Western culture, can understand and make sense of other cultures. Buddhist, Taoist, Navajo and Hopi ideas are all prevalent in Give it to the Grand Canyon. These themes play on the mind of the protagonist and author consistently throughout. Though most white male writers of a ‘privileged’ background who attempt to explain the merits of other cultural beliefs fail, providing uncomfortable and insincere readings, Noah’s respectful and honest words merge differing cultures with his own heritage as a white, educated writer seamlessly. At no stage do you feel that Noah’s appropriation of these cultures into his thinking is disrespectful or negative. The reader accepts Noah’s presentation of these appropriations as necessary upgrades for a person who does not have the tools to function in modern society. Noah’s classic non-judgmental approach, which makes him such a relatable and likeable writer (and person), is fully on display here. 

Perhaps Noah’s message regarding cultural appropriation is most apt in a passage where the protagonist Billy Cox encounters a Haruki Murakami-infused artiodactyla apparition as his mind starts to blur deep into a hike to the heart of the Grand Canyon. In a nod to Herodotus, an image of a bighorn sheep manifests and makes a comparison between two happy men of disparate cultures in Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous Roman statesman and philosopher, and Dazu Huike, the Second Patriarch of Zen. It is clear that these two figures represent the current mish-mash of Noah’s cultural legacy. 

Firstly, Marcus Tullius Cicero, bearing the same name as the author and representing the values of Noah’s Western childhood comprised of responsibility and conformity: 

“He believed in the beauty of each citizen, and how each citizen could contribute and make a strong commonwealth. He had a wife and children, he worked in society, he was a moral man. When the soldiers came to execute him, he didn’t complain, he didn’t plead for his life, he didn’t scorn the government for killing him even though he spent his whole life trying to make that government better.” 

Secondly, Dazu Huike, representing all Noah’s learnings and appropriations of culture that have contributed to his being and ‘career’ as a writer: 

“He had no wife, no children, he had no money and never had any power. He spent his life seeking and perfecting his enlightenment. And spent his later years spreading the dharma, not waging wars and getting into controversies.”

The message at the culmination of this vision for Billy Cox is that both these men, the one that represents responsibility and conformity and the one that represents revolution and virtue “knew how to live and how to die, one for society and one for enlightenment.” At this point, Billy Cox smiles. One gets the sense that Billy Cox, and by extension Noah Cicero, have come to terms that both genetic lineage and appropriation of other cultural values are equally important parts of us. That this is not a negative, but something unavoidable we must accept to live out our days in this hypercapitalist shitstorm without being drowned in chronic depression. 

Noah’s writing has also changed, and improved, since the aforementioned early works outlined at the beginning of this review. In Give it to the Grand Canyon, Noah’s previous anger and resentment regarding existence have been replaced with a calming, zen-like attitude. His musings less political now, his thoughts more passive and introspective as he matures to complete a full transition to bipolar cowboy. Noah has always been considered a minimalist writer, however, downloading mindful Buddhist, Taoist and Navajo teachings to his brain have resulted in even further refinement to his style and greater clarity of his prose, ridding the text of any unnecessary detritus. Only Noah himself would know if this distillation of content is a conscious or subconscious effort. 

Either way, throughout the novel, Noah’s words sparkle with lucidity. Each sentence and word crafted in the present – a precise passage for the reader to follow the signposts to the here and now. The magnified clarity and sparseness of Noah’s writing, and by extension Billy Cox’s actions, come across as an attempt to escape their collective past, to focus entirely on the present. Nowhere is this more apparent than a scene in which Noah describes a 4th of July party at the Grand Canyon’s infamous Victor Hall, where a native American tells a drunken story of his time during the Vietnam War where he recalls burning babies. There is an almost exact replica of this story in The Collected Works of Noah Cicero Vol. I, put out by the dearly missed Lazy Fascist Press. If you wish to see how far Noah’s writing has come, it is a rewarding experience to read these accounts of virtually the same story side-by-side. A void of fifteen years of loneliness, learning and acceptance squeezed in between. 

Ultimately, Give it to the Grand Canyon is a story of isolation, but also a story of intimacy. A story of people from various cultural backgrounds and demographics moving to a place they believe will make their pain go away. The pain of lost love, the pain of responsibility, the pain of waking up every day knowing you cannot meet expectations. Give it to the Grand Canyon is about trying to find yourself in an increasingly unfamiliar world. As Billy Cox says when he returns to the Grand Canyon for the first time since he was a teenager: “I knew the feeling of trying to adjust yourself, of trying to get the world aligned.” 

Billy Cox must appropriate culture to become unified with other ostracised misfits regardless of where they are from. The novel highlights the importance of finding people to relate to in a world where buying things is increasingly our only shared identity. Billy Cox, and the other characters in the novel, discover this realisation while living and working ordinary lives at the Grand Canyon. 

“We all knew why we were there, we didn’t have to worry anymore… [W]e’d saved up our money, we’d counted our pennies, we’d put things on credit cards that we shouldn’t have, and we’d taken long uncomfortable plane rides, but we got there, we got to the rim of the Grand Canyon.” 

Noah even takes the concept of cultural appropriation one step further, closer to something akin to ‘cultural unification’. In that virtually almost all culture is creeping closer and closer to an inevitable singularity of shopping malls, iPhones and skyscrapers regardless of ideology and geography. This is most evident in a passage between Billy Cox and Kaja, a beautiful Polish girl that he slowly builds a relationship with at the Canyon. 

“Kaja would say, “Everyone is same.” I would reply, “But there are cultural differences,” and she would reply, “Everyone is same.” She didn’t have a grand theory on why everyone was the same, as far as she would go was, “I’ve been to several countries, everyone is same.”

It is through these characters from various parts of the world that Billy Cox begins to comprehend that we are, indeed, all the same in this globalised world. That we all feel a little lonely. That we all feel a little anxiety. That we all stare into the terminal cultural abyss together as one. That we need to realise and accept all of the historical learnings from culture and travel that have been part of our existence – the good, the bad, the blissfully indifferent. 

As Noah says, the future of our culture is already inside of us, whether appropriated or whether inherited: “Kaja was young, naturally she still had naivety and innocence, but just like the young Taiwanese women, the young Filipino women, the young Jamaican women, and the young Navajo women, the future of her culture was inside them.”

Give it to the Grand Canyon lays bare the paradox that we are all different, but all alike. We have so many things we fixate on wanting to be, but we never desire to wake up and be ourselves. Like the characters in Give it to the Grand Canyon, like Noah Cicero, like Dale Brett, we need to learn to be ourselves, from all of our global learnings, from all of our travels. We need to learn how to let things go and be fine with them. 

To collectively declare there is no reason to exist and be okay with it. 

To achieve transcendence, you don’t need a meditation app. You don’t need to visit the Grand Canyon. You just need this latest novel from Noah Cicero. These words will help you learn to be okay with yourself.  

 

you can snag a copy of this beautiful book here!

 

Dale Brett is a writer and artist from Melbourne, Australia. 
He is interested in exploring the melancholic malaise and technological ennui of the 21st century. His work has been featured on Burning House Press, Surfaces.cx, Misery Tourism, Expat Press and Nu Lit Mag. Hypertextual artifacts found @_blackzodiac.

“The Insomnia Notes” By Dylan Angell

 

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The reason for my insomnia tonight:

I have always felt strongly about playing a game of my own invention. Blind stubbornness. It is the artist game. This thirsting for work bit is doing me no good. It scrambles my brain and sucks my energy.

The brain is firing off with worry that I will be competing for dishwashing jobs for decades to come. Even at this phase of adulthood the ends still cease to meet. Sometimes I feel like I am my own imaginary friend. I am unsure if the previous moment, day or year even happened because I keep returning to this job hustle that remains ambivalent to the creative life that I have worked to harness.

The impulses by which I have been guided have always felt like the responsible moves even when common thought might say otherwise. Is stubbornness simultaneously my best and worst trait? Am I delusional to say that everything that I am does not define me?

There is a Twilight Zone episode titled Nightmare at 20,000 feet. A man is on an airplane and he sees a strange creature standing on the wing. He tries to alert the other passengers of the creature but no one else can see it. The man is eventually restrained and the plane makes an emergency landing so the man can be removed. As he is taken away in a straightjacket everyone can see that the wing is shredded with claw marks.

On most days, I feel that people see me as being the man pointing out of the window while I see myself as being the creature on the wing.

Not too long ago my mom was driving me to the airport. My flight was very early and it was still dark. We were riding in silence when my mother said to me:

“I saw a David Bowie interview a few years ago and he said that he often shape-shifted because we are living 7 simultaneous lives at all times. He said we have to be patient and let each of our different selves take turns. Eventually, over a lifetime, each will surface.”

Years ago after dropping out of college I backpacked across Europe. I slept outside and went days without speaking to anyone. Some days I would read my horoscope and I would see things like“ there may be drama at the office today” or “beware of gossip amongst friends.” I had quit my job and there was an ocean between myself and everyone I knew.

I was no longer the person that my horoscope thought I was.

I keep waking up at 4 a.m. This morning I couldn’t get back to sleep so I began to read articles about how 4 a.m. is referred to (by some) as the enlightenment hour. It is said that if you wake up at 4 a.m. then you should lie in bed and clear your mind so you don’t miss whatever messages are being sent to you.

Ingmar Bergman made a movie where 4 a.m. is referred to as “The Hour of the Wolf” (also the title of the film.) In the film, ghosts and spirits emerge and move freely because it is the hour where most of the living world is sleeping and the dead can move about unseen.

Those whom I have shared a bed with have often observed that I am the last to go to sleep and the first to wake up. Maybe I have failed repeatedly to receive the information I have been sent and my insomnia will continue until I finally learn to listen to what these invisible forces want to tell me.

If one is meant to be more attuned but remain half asleep then how am I to know if the information I was sent hasn’t been subliminally delivered? How do I know if the ghost have delivered their mail?

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The reason for my insomnia tonight: I had a drink last night with my friend who works in a psych ward.

She told me how she has been overseeing the case of a hasidic teen who had recently suffered a psychotic break. The case had been frustrating for her because his family and the hasidic community have been refusing to provide any context about the boy’s behaviors. They just want him fixed.

The boy talked freely but the staff were unsure if they should trust him. Everything he said seems grandiose and distorted. He so clearly enjoyed the attention of being questioned that it seemed he might say anything.

After a few days in the psych ward he began to ask my friend questions about prison. What is it like inside? Does everyone get raped? What would he have to say for the doctors to call the police? What if he confessed to a murder? What if he had molested a kid? What if he said he was a serial rapist?

 

She answered professionally while taking note of each proposed crime.

The next day she was at home and the hospital called. The boy had confessed to molesting multiple children in his community, including his younger siblings and cousins. The police were called.

His parents are now saying that they had known about his actions for some time. His mother had banned him from being alone with other children but she recently had seen him walk out of his younger sister’s room wearing only a towel.

After that incident she told him to see the Rabbi. The Rabbi told him to simply stop molesting children and everyone had assumed that was the end of that.

My friend suspects that the reason that the family had refused to participate in the case is because pedophilia is running rampant in the hasidic community and that they didn’t think that his actions deserved any special attention.

She suspects he got himself institutionalized because he feared his compulsion and he has wanted it all to stop.

He had tried to confess but no one listened.

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The reason for my insomnia tonight: I have always felt strongly about playing a game of my own invention. Blind stubbornness.

I work now in an office. For the first time this winter I have steady income and I am miserable. I have never felt so disengaged with my own life. I wake up at 5:30 a.m. and I take a shower. By 6 a.m. I am drinking coffee and attempting to write. Most of what I have written has been scrapped, because it is not interesting.

For the past 5 months I have worked on this project where I write these small pieces that are reflections of my day to day. I don’t want to write about the office because I am not interested in the office but for 40 hours each week I am at the office.

The office is my life and I am not interested in the office and the office is my life and I am not interested in my life.

By 7 a.m. I am biking to work. On my second day I got pulled over by a cop because I rode my bicycle through a red light. No one was walking, driving or even thinking of using the cross street. I stood by the cop car in the cold, february morning light while this NYPD cop ran my expired NC state ID through his car ID machine.

He handed me a piece a paper and I gave him a staredown of brotherly betrayal. I biked on to work, knowing that whatever I made that day in the office would not be going towards the crater sized potholes I was avoiding falling into. The money would pay for some facial recognition instrument that the NYPD is testing for the next wave of protests.

Once I am in the office I am type A. I am a professional email answerer. I schedule other people’s lives and I collect receipts. I put things in folders and I answer phones. I sit, I sit, I sit, I sit, I sit. Very soon I will be a blind hunchback. This all feels very unhealthy.

I feel my body is as bored as I am. My legs say run. My eyes say look away. My mind is tired of these straight lines. The rest of me just doesn’t care. I don’t care. I hate not caring. I have some 80 years here. That’s nothing. I can’t afford to be bored. I can afford to be broke. I am saving up to be broke. I am breaking. This job is breaking me. Broke.

I work until 4 and then I bike home. After my first day at the job I directed traffic so people wouldn’t run over a man who was laying in the road and bleeding from the head.

 

I try not to be so selfish that I treat other people’s tragedies as premonitions for my own life. The fact of the matter is that during my first two work commutes my path was obstructed by either blood or money. That’s all I am going to say about that.

I go running after work because I need to remind myself that I have a heartbeat. I need to remind myself that I can zig zag all over the neighborhood. I blast free jazz or ambient music into my ears. No straight lines on my own time.

After I get home. I make dinner. I then try to write but my mind is fried. I am the diet soda version of myself. I don’t recognize myself in my own life though the landscape is mostly the same. But money!

$$$$$! DO IT FOR THE MONEY$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ ******************************************************************************

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I often created games for getting to sleep. I did not count sheep or clouds. Instead I could be eased by imagining machines shutting down. I imagined whole office buildings as their lights turned off one by one, the white noise of sleeping radio stations and families of balloons all growing limp and slowly lowering themselves to the ground.

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Dylan Angell is a North Carolinian who is currently based in Queens, New York. In 2016 he released the book, An Index of Strangers Whom I Will Never Forget A-Z, via his Basic Battles Books imprint. He has collaborated on two books with photographer Erin Taylor Kennedy; 2017’s I’ll Just Keep On Dreaming And Being The Way I Am and 2018’s Beyond the Colosseum. He has been published in Fanzine, Fluland, Parhelion, The Travelin’ Appalachians Revue and Sleaze Magazine. Sometimes when he can’t sleep he will ride his bike and listen to Bill Evans.

“In Maintenance” by Rick White

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One of the most horribly unpleasant things about getting older (and bear in mind I’m not that old) is that you start picking up injuries that don’t properly heal. Whether it’s the result of a significant past trauma, or just life’s general wear and tear, you start to find yourself living with pain that you realise will never go away.

I’ve got a pain in my ass – quite literally. It was about seven years ago in January, on a long train journey, when I noticed that my tailbone was really hurting. I went to the doctor about it, he had a good rummage around the ‘area’ (unsurprisingly) doctors are mainly perverts. And then he said, ‘did you go out drinking over Christmas?’

‘Of course. I was celebrating the birth of our lord Jesus, as is tradition.’

‘Did you fall over on your arse?’

‘Well I can’t be sure but I would say it’s highly likely.’

‘I think you’ve probably broken your coccyx without realising it.’

‘I see and what is the treatment?’

‘Nothing you can do. It may not fully get better either, these things can stay with you for life.’

‘Oh.’ I replied. ‘Shit.’ So far it hasn’t gone away.

I’ve had many injuries in my life, especially when I was younger. As a kid I broke my wrist three times, each time trying to copy something which my younger and far more physically adroit brother had successfully carried off. One was on a rope-swing, one on a motorbike and one on a mountain bike. On each occasion my brother swung, skidded and pirouetted elegantly to safety whereas I smacked the deck hard and ended up in the infirmary.

Very recently – twenty and a bit years later – I started noticing a nagging pain in my right wrist, the one I had previously broken. It started getting a bit sore when I was driving, it felt awkward putting pressure on it when I was getting out of bed in the morning.

I realised there was really something up with it after I played tennis and my wrist was so fucked I couldn’t cut through a pizza with a chef’s knife.

So I decided to go to the doctors (perverts, naturally) because at least they can supply you with drugs. This kind of injury though has certain connotations and it was always going to be a slightly awkward conversation, especially with a doctor who looks like he’s only just out of school.

‘So Mr. White, sore wrist on the dominant hand is it? I see this sort of thing a lot. Can I ask, are you currently single?’

‘Well as flattered as I am by your attentions I must tell you that I am in fact married.’

‘Ah, even worse.’

‘What are you driving at you scurrilous student oik? Are you even qualified to practice medicine?’

‘I think this is likely to be some sort of repetitive strain injury if you follow me?’

‘No – what exactly are you insinuating?’

‘It’s wankers cramp.’

‘How dare you! I can assure you sir, that I have never in my life resorted to onanism. I’m not some sort of deranged chimpanzee!’

‘Very well Mr. White, whatever you say.’

‘I demand a full battery of tests. Extract every available fluid from me at once for analysis. Wait…that came out wrong.’

Begrudgingly, that doctor did actually carry out some blood tests in order to check for rheumatoid arthritis which came back negative but did show that my iron levels were through the fucking roof. I was told that this was most likely an indication of Haemochromatosis which I thought sounded horrendous, although amazing for scrabble.

‘Could it be something else?’ I enquired.

‘No. Haemochromatosis is literally just iron overload. So it’s that.’

‘I see. And what are the most common symptoms?’

‘Lethargy and fatigue, joint pain….and erectile dysfunction.’

‘How dare you sir! I can assure you that never in my life have I failed to perform, well I mean, maybe once or twice but still HOW DARE YOU!? I’ll prove it to you right this minute. Wait, wait…’

I wasn’t falling into that trap! No sir. I definitely did have haemochromatosis though, there was no doubt about that. The treatment is very simple, you get a pint of blood drained out of you on a regular basis.

Haemochromatosis is a genetic disorder which means that you naturally absorb too much iron from anything you consume. Over time the iron builds up in your system and starts to deposit itself in your vital organs, fucking them up royally in the process. It usually goes undiagnosed for a long time so the first you know about it is when you start getting all sorts of weird symptoms like the ones that pervert mentioned to me but by then it’s too late as your organs are already shredded.

So it was a good job they (or rather I) had caught it early. Iron takes a long time to build up in your blood, so you drain some of your blood and make new blood, that blood is relatively iron free so it dilutes the iron that’s already in your blood. Nice and easy.

For the next four months I had a pint of my delicious, iron-rich blood drained off once a week until I was well and truly anaemic and looked like a white walker. My iron levels were now back within normal range though so I am now ‘In Maintenance’ which means I get a check up every  six months and in the meantime I just donate blood like any normal person and that sorts me out.

 


Incidentally – last time I went to give blood, the nurse informed me that my blood contains a specific antigen (or something like that) which means that they only give my blood to babies of 28 days or younger. So, I’m actually kind of a baby-saving superhero. Quite a neat way for the Universe to put my stupid sore wrist in to perspective

 

I’ll have to live with haemochromatosis for the rest of my life but as long as I’m in maintenance then I shouldn’t develop any of the symptoms as long as it’s kept under control.

After all this though, my wrist is still completely buggered. I went to see a specialist about it and he told me, in a very disinterested manner, that the bones are out of whack and it needs surgery. One of the bones wants chopping, filing down and then stapling back on. It would mean six weeks in a cast, three months (at least) of physio and there’s only about a 50% chance that it would improve. There’s a good chance it would remain exactly the same but it could actually make it worse so Fuck. That.

It’s only a sore wrist; but it’s a nagging, constant pain that I will just have to live with. Plus it means I can never play tennis again, something which I previously enjoyed and was good at. Feels odd to completely lose the ability to do something due to the unexpected failure of a minor body part. But that – my Dad assures me – is a major part of growing older. ‘Wait until you’re 65.’ He tells me. ‘You’ll need a team of physicians 24/7.’

It was during this same conversation that I told my Dad about the haemochromatosis and his was response was typically, brilliantly, Dad-ish;

‘Well you get that from your mother not from me.’

‘Well I get it from both of you actually, it’s genetic.’

‘No. I’ve been tested for all genetic disorders.’

‘Right well it’s a recessive gene which means that both parents have to have it in order to pass it on so if you’re interested in keeping up this line of defence it can only end with the logical conclusion that you are not my father.’

‘Well who told you that?’

‘A doctor, and the internet.’

‘They’re all perverts mate.’

I meant to tell my brother about this as well because he should really get tested but he won’t have it. He’ll be fine. He got all the good genes from my parents, that’s why he’s got pecs, an eight-pack and 0% body fat. It’s also slightly to do with the fact that he works out like a motherfucker and sticks to a healthy diet but still, it’s bloody unfair.

I inherited haemochromatosis and my mother’s legs.

I’ve always thought my hips were a bit weird. They’re jut out quite a bit and they seem a bit too wide. ‘Child-bearing hips’ you might almost describe them as. Growing up I was incredibly self conscious about it as my body seemed the wrong shape, my torso was not very masculine. I’ve got long, skinny legs like my mum, sticky-outy hips and a ring of stubborn fat around the middle. To me, my body looks like a toad being dangled by its head.

The hips, it turns out, are a problem. About a year ago I started noticing a sharp pain right in my groin. It was always there when I was doing any sort of movement and always in the exact same place. I tried physio, two different women and one man have fettled with my groin for a prolonged period of time. Perverts? Sure. Enjoyable? A bit. Completely ineffective though, as I knew it would be.

I have a hip spur; an extra bit of bone that grows on the ball of the hip joint and then bashes in to the soft tissue within the joint whenever you move. I had keyhole surgery to remove it, but the tissue within the joint is damaged and cannot be repaired with keyhole surgery. So the pain is still there, in exactly the same spot. The hip seizes up very badly after long periods of sitting down, especially after driving, which also hurts my ass, and wrist.

I’ve seen a specialist and – quelle surprise – it needs a full surgery. They would need to chop my leg off completely, rummage around in my hip joint, then staple the leg back on. Long recovery, lots of physio, 50% chance it will work. FUCK. THAT.

The doc was concerned about both of my hips and said it’s highly likely that I will need early replacement surgery on both of them. Could be ten years, could be twenty, but they’ll need to come out.

And in the meantime I will just have to live with the pain. Don’t get me wrong, it’s mild to moderate. It’s not ruining my quality of life that much and it’s nothing compared to what other people have to deal with. I struggle to run though, which does bother me.

I don’t like the idea that if I have kids one day I might not be able to run around with them.

I can do other stuff though of course. I can ride a bike, I can swim, I can box. Boxing doesn’t actually hurt my wrist at all and it’s now something I do regularly. I do it mainly for fitness, I’m amazing at hitting the pads but I find it considerably harder when someone is trying to hit me back.

I train regularly at the gym, I lift weights, not just to try and improve my appearance although vanity is obviously a factor. Mainly I just want to make sure that I can stay relatively fit and strong. I may not win the Dads 100 metres at Sports Day but if do have kids I want to be able to pick ‘em up and swing ‘em round by the legs for my own amusement. And I want to be able to beat up at least one other dad in the playground, should the need ever arise.

If I’m honest, I hate my body. I know that these days you’re supposed to love every inch of yourself and be body positive no matter what but it’s just not that easy. It’s not just that I hate the way it looks, it’s more that I feel it is constantly conspiring against me, trying to stop me at every turn. These little aches, pains and niggles are not too serious but they add up. They take a toll and start weighing on your body, but more importantly on your mind. At 35 I sometimes feel as though I’m already too old to have kids, like I won’t be able to find the energy that’s required.

But then I think, maybe I’m just trying way too hard, putting too much pressure on myself. I go to the gym because I know that I’ve only got a few years left of being able to call myself ‘young’, so I want to try and make the most of that. I spent my teens and my twenties being completely sedentary and filling myself with all kinds of junk, just like most people do. But I missed out on the pleasures of actually being fit and healthy. Now that I want to enjoy those aspects of life, I feel as though I’ve not got much time left to really fulfill them.

In a few years I will realistically be ‘middle-aged’ and that’s ok, there’s nothing wrong with that. Some of the inevitable signs of ageing will start to appear on me and I shouldn’t have to fight them too hard. It’s far more dignified, cooler even, to accept these things as natural consequences of a life that has been lived, rather than to keep battling non-stop against them, to the detriment of everything else.

My wife isn’t bothered about me going to the gym, I think she’d probably prefer it if I didn’t. She was first attracted to me because I had, in her words, ‘a funny face’. She also tells me that she ‘likes her men fat.’ So I know there’s no pressure from her, only what I put on myself.

As I get older I’ll continue to do everything I can but I’ll try not to overdo it. And I will make a conscious effort to be happier with myself. Hopefully I will start to move away from trying to cut away and drain all of the things I don’t like, and more towards taking good care of what I have. For me, that is what it means to be ‘In Maintenance’ and if you think about it, it’s not a bad strategy to apply to most aspects of life.

 

 

P.S – My mother-in-law is a natural worrier and was very concerned when she read about the symptoms of haemochromatosis online. Thankfully my wife assured her that I was not exhibiting any of the symptoms (most of the time). She also told me that there is a Haemochromatosis Society so I will definitely be running for president of that in 20/21. I’m sure it’s not exactly the Bullingdon Club but I’ll give it a go.

 


If you’re reading this and you happen to be American, the Bullingdon Club is pretty much exactly what you’ll imagine a British fraternity to be like.


 

 

 

“MEATSPACE” by Kat Giordano

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I don’t really know why I invite you over but when I find out my family will be out of the house on Friday night it tumbles out of me like an oversized jawbreaker. Like an oversized jawbreaker except instead of being repulsed or even concerned you put the thing straight in your mouth and who am I to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be eating? You take off work and we make our plan and every day for the rest of the week I wake up with my heart leaking out of my ears.

Neither of us can stop talking about it, and it’s unfortunate, because we quickly run out of things to talk about. Aside from you presumably driving the hour and a half or so to my house, there aren’t really any other plans and thus no real specific events to feel excited for. This doesn’t matter, and we keep talking, neither of us willing to acknowledge or admit that the visit itself is the event.

When I wake up on Friday, I try to look pretty. I take the time to wash my hair and dry it the right way. I put on makeup, blush and lipliner, the whole shebang. I do all of my laundry so that I’m sure I’ll have something to wear. When it’s done, I hoist the basket of freshly-dried clothes onto my hip and carry it into the living room and watch Gossip Girl in a too-short dress that some part of me wants you to catch me in. Then, when you say you’re an hour away, I rush upstairs to change, thinking I can forget that version of me exists. I pick out something casual and feel proud of myself for the attempt at normalcy. Then, on my way out of the room, I check out my own ass and imagine I’m you.

God dammit.

By the time you pull up to the house, I feel insane. I’ll readily admit that this isn’t the first time I’ve been this eager to impress a guy who isn’t my boyfriend. It’s not even the first time the enthusiasm has been mutual. But it’s definitely the first time I’ve invited one over to my empty house with no concrete alibi to absolve me of how suspicious it all looks. Sure, I’ve told you multiple times that I’m happy in my current relationship, that I don’t want to be with you, that there’s nothing between us. But those are only words, and I’m betraying them. I’ve been betraying them since that first night we stayed up until four in the morning on Facebook Messenger, discussing poems and exchanging our most paranoid and humiliating thoughts. I’ve been betraying them since I invited you over to my house alone on a Friday night, knowing full well that you’re – to use your words – “obsessed” with me. I stave off the creeping disgust I feel at myself with a new round of mental gymnastics. I love my boyfriend. You and I are just friends. I wouldn’t want to do anything to sabotage that. I don’t have a crush on you. I just invited you here to talk.

We hug in my driveway and exchange a few unnecessary lines of small talk, standing a Standard Width Apart like two Sims characters. I feel struck by your Other Man Smell. A cologne I don’t recognize that lingers on my clothes when we let go of each other. I’ve certainly been this close to other men who weren’t my boyfriend before, but they’ve always been mutual friends or people I otherwise didn’t have the space to feel much about. But you’re different, standing in front of my house entirely divorced from context and unbeknownst to my boyfriend or anyone else. Your smell reminds me you’re someone I could actually have – you know, if I wanted to. And it’s been a long time since I’ve been this close to someone like that. For the both of us, I pretend I can handle it. Despite my breathlessness and mounting panic, I want to keep things light. I joke that I’ve been standing “eerily” in my driveway, but my voice comes out like stale air hissing out of a busted rubber duck. You laugh anyway. You reach into your backseat and pull out a twelve-pack of beer, and I feel relieved.

I lead you through the front of my house and into the kitchen, where you put your beers in the fridge and I open two of my own. I can’t tell if drinking will speed up or rescue us from the inevitable. Opening the front door and then the fridge, fussing with my beer opener, leaning against the countertop, I can feel your eyes on me through all of it. On my ass specifically, but maybe that’s wishful thinking. The fact that someone like you even finds me attractive or interesting seems absurd enough. You’re tall, broad-shouldered, hot like an evolved version of the skater kids I used to crush on in middle school. You were out of my league before we ever met in person, and I’m a far cry from my last few profile pictures. I feel sure you’ve noticed this, but you make no indication that you do. You’re not talking much – neither of us are – but you’re laughing, looking at me over the neck of your beer bottle, smiling shy smiles. You want to smoke, so I suggest we spend the evening sitting outside on my screen porch.

Only I can’t open the door. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had any occasion to lock or unlock this particular door on my own. It’s possible I’ve never actually done it myself. The door locks in two places, with one latch sitting at the top corner near the ceiling. I can barely reach it, and when I do, the closer latch won’t open. I’m jiggling the handle, my hands begin profusely sweating, and I can still feel you looking at me, or possibly my ass. I don’t know why, but my inability to open this door makes me feel like some kind of fraud or baby. Whatever rented poise I’ve managed to cling to for the first fifteen minutes of this meetup is dissolving in my hands, and I feel like an idiot. I try to diffuse the tension with humor. “I swear I really live here,” I say, “and I know how to open this door.”

“I don’t know,” you say, “I feel like this is the first time you’ve ever opened this door. I feel like you don’t actually live here. Are you trying to kill me?”

“Yes,” I say. Then I open the door.

On the porch, you smoke at least half a pack of cigarettes and we begin half-drunkenly bullshitting about our usual set of topics – poetry, Bukowski, my asshole ex-mentor who preys on girls in their early 20s and pretends to cry at the same part of his poems every time he does a reading. I don’t know why, but I’m shocked at how effortlessly the conversation is flowing. It’s just like talking online – minus the part where I can take a few seconds to craft the most exciting response to all of your messages, and maybe that’s why I find our chemistry so surprising. Talking to people in person rarely feels as exciting as talking to people online, and the discrepancy in my ability to be articulate ends up making me feel like a fraud. But you’re different, or something about us is. You’re laughing at my nervous jokes, even the ones I know you don’t get. I’m looking you straight in the eye, watching you drop butt after butt into the empty bottle in front of you. I’m still anxious, but talking to you feels easy, and I can’t remember the last time I had this much in common with another person.

An hour passes, or maybe more, and as it begins to get dark out, what I notice most is the fog. By the time the sun sets completely, it’s descended on the house and reduced our visibility to nearly zero. I can barely see the house next door through the nearly opaque grey shroud, though if there was anything happening around me to miss, it wouldn’t even matter. I’m engrossed in our conversation, in you. And the way it looks outside seems to permit all of this, like some kind of cosmic acknowledgment that nothing outside of this screen porch is relevant. Not how drunk I already am. Not the fact that in a few days, I’ll be moving into a tiny apartment 300 miles away. Not even my long-distance boyfriend, who doesn’t seem to be at all alarmed by my sporadic texting and purposely vague explanation of my plans for this evening. He trusts me. And I know I should feel worse about this, but I don’t, because for the first time in the three or so years we’ve been dating, I’m not the one sitting around like a pathetic loser waiting for a text. In other words, it’s nice to be wanted.

Eventually, we go back inside. I don’t know exactly how or why, but I’ve gotten you to take a few sips from the small bottle of Jack Daniels my boyfriend’s brother gave me a few months prior for my college graduation. Both of us are undeniably drunk by this point, sitting a Standard Distance Apart on the couch like two Sims characters who are trying not to have sex with each other.

Unsure how else to proceed, I pull up one of my favorite Bad Movies on Netflix. It’s called Food Boy, and it’s about a teenager (played by Lucas Grabeel, the Gay Coded Theater Kid from High School Musical) who discovers he has the power to materialize food out of his hands. He finally comes to terms with his powers after uncontrollably shooting lunch meat, mustard, and slices of white bread out of his hands in the middle of his campaign speech for student body president. After rushing off the stage in embarrassment, he involuntarily destroys the entire boys’ bathroom with mountains of disassembled sandwich ingredients. It’s my favorite part of the movie, and I know it’s something you’ll laugh at. But I quickly realize you’re too drunk to appreciate Food Boy right now, and we start something I can only describe as Horseplay. You roll off the couch and start crawling in front of it under my feet. I start laughing, not sure how to participate. I think back to an earlier online conversation where you said you didn’t really drink liquor anymore and start to wonder when the last time was that you’ve gotten this drunk.

Then, you get up, rush behind the couch, start petting my hair and making purring noises. My face, already warm from alcohol consumption and nerves, becomes unbearably hot. I feel a stomach-dropping sensation characteristic of only one thing, the thing I’m trying to avoid feeling, the thing I would never feel about someone who isn’t my boyfriend because I’m not a Bad Person. I feel like I’m moving in slow motion, my skin buzzing in the places where you touched me. I make some conscious vow to not let on how much I’m enjoying this, but then out of nowhere I find myself asking you, “Is it weird that I’m enjoying this?”

You don’t say anything, but you pull your hand away out of some tacit understanding that one or both of us has suddenly Gone Too Far and placed us on the brink of something dangerous and irreversible. But even without your hands on my head and neck, I’m turned on by the phantom afterimage. You move back to the couch, this time sitting slightly closer to me. We goof off for a while, messaging each other on Facebook instead of speaking in real life. It’s funny, we’re joking about it, ha-ha we’re using our original conversational medium even though we have access to each other in meatspace right now, how ironic and funny. But the reality is that it’s an act of avoidance. We’re doing this because it’s obvious what will happen if we continue interacting face-to-face, and we don’t want it, and we want it too much.

As we type, there is a moment where I feel like I’m regaining control. We’re calmly sitting beside each other, I’m not about to lunge at your neck, things are reasonably platonic. I start to think that maybe I can handle this, maybe we can be just friends. But then my mind drifts to my looming future in Pittsburgh, the one that is set to begin in a few days and will take place hundreds of miles away from you. And suddenly the notion of leaving my parents’ house to start a new job someplace so far away fills me with more dread than excitement. In just the month we’ve known each other, I’ve become attached to you, I’ve started adopting your sense of humor, I’ve been hearing your voice in my head. Without even realizing it, you’ve reminded me of parts of myself that I’d long considered dead or unimportant. When I talk to you, I feel funny and cool and interesting for the first time in years. That feeling I remember from my teens of having the whole world sprawling out in front of me, of being on the verge of doing something one-of-a-kind and meaningful within it, seems within reach again, not like some immature fantasy that poorly-written characters indulge on TV. You don’t make me feel these things on purpose, you don’t gas me up, you just bring them out in me, and I like who I am when I talk to you, I maybe even feel addicted to it, and to you, fuck it, I feel so attached to you, and I don’t want to lose that. I want my life to be this forever, howling with laughter on ugly couches with you, your blurry, buzzing fingers on my neck, trails of makeshift-ashtray empty bottles.

No denying it now, it goes beyond the physical, the way both of our skeletons seem to throb with longing.

I look up from my phone, feeling overcome, nauseous, and hot. I say, “I think this is the worst missed connection of my life.”

 

Kat Giordano is a poet and massive millennial crybaby who lives in New Jersey. She co-edits Philosophical Idiot and has had work published in Maudlin House, CLASH Media, Soft Cartel and the Cincinnati Review. Her debut full-length poetry collection, “The Poet Confronts Bukowski’s Ghost”, is available now. She is also the author of many highly embarrassing social media meltdowns.  

“My Hands Smell like Money” by Giacomo Pope

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I’m walking home and I’ve found a coin in my pocket. It’s raining and I’m buried inside my coat, rolling the coin around my fingers.

I think about lifting my hand up to my face and sniffing off that dirty-blood smell from loose change.

I think about being not-me and seeing me smelling my fingers. That a tired man smelling his fingers is not something other people should have to see.

I continue rubbing the coin.

On my way home I pass a shop.

I pass this shop every day and on most days I go inside to buy food.

Each day I walk to work, I sit in a chair for 8 hours, and then I walk home and buy food. This life is making me soft and I feel my body ripening under fluorescent lighting. My stomach feels like a rotten peach as it folds over my clothes. I’m not doing anything to fix this except wearing looser clothing.

Today I have food at home waiting for me so I don’t need to use the shop, but hey, I have this coin. So I go in.

I’m gonna use my coin.

I walk with purpose, big steps that say “Watch out everyone! Consumer coming through!”

There’s a promotion. My coin’s worth one vegan, organic “nut bar”. It’s basically just peanuts glued together with crushed dates and it’s high in calories.

The packaging is earth tones, covered in leaves. This bar is gluten-free. It contains only natural ingredients. This bar is healthy. I am being a good and responsible consumer.

I can imagine scrolling past the tweet “I recommend eating this nut bar”, which I would read internally with a slow, monotone voice.

I think about the fact that peanuts aren’t nuts. “Did you know that peanuts aren’t nuts, they’re actually peas?”

Fuck I’m boring.

I’ve actually said that to people face-to-face.

“They’re actually peas”.

Fuck.

I’m nearly home and a man comes up to me, he asks me for change.

He looks like I look, except his loose clothes have holes and he probably would wash if he could. I just don’t.

I’m looking at him with a mouth half full of pea bar.

I feel like a piece of shit. I’m walking home to eat food, while eating food, and my hands smell like money (I think) — but I’ve got no change.

“I don’t have any money, but I have this?”, and I hold out the snack.

“What is it?”, he said.

“A nut bar”, I lied.

The man took the food.

I kept walking. I could see my house.

My kitchen was glowing and I could see Holly cooking food.

I was still picking organic food out from between my teeth while walking to my next meal.

I am gross excess.

The inside of my house is warm. I have a toilet.

There’s a dude who shits in the ally opposite. He doesn’t have a choice.

I shit into clean water and scrub my ass with paper and then wash away the left over shit from my hands with cleaner water.

After I shit, my hands smell like flowers.

I didn’t let the man choose what to do with my change. Instead I bought him a nut bar, ate half of it and handed it over spit-wet and crumbling.

I imagined the guy biting into the bar and realising as he swallowed it was basically crushed peanuts.

I imagined a stomach so empty that I ate food I was allergic to anyway, that I was sitting on the stone steps outside the art school while it rained and my throat was swelling.

That I kept chewing and swallowing the food as my face went red and my eyes started to close up.

Thinking “fuck you hunger” and hoping to ride out the itching. Sweating under my hat while my lungs tightened to fists and my stomach acid burnt hot; still hungry after finishing off 1/2 of a stranger’s snack that they bought unconsciously on their way home, just to eat dinner out of the rain.

 

Recently, Giacomo has been writing poems & releasing spoken word music. When not doing those things, he is writing his thesis on black holes and running Neutral Spaces.