Excerpt of “Les Essais” by Courtney Bush

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The World We Live In 

In the waiting room of the Department of Education where I held my number in the line to get my fingerprints taken, a TV lawyer instructed us to call 1-800-HURT.  The governor who looks like my Chihuahua mix said the attempt to spread fear is the world we live in. So the world we live in is only an attempt. 

 

 

The Culkins 

I want to find a long lost Culkin brother. I believe most people I know are secretly on the hunt for a lost Culkin.  We like their skinny pale bodies because they remind us of drugs we are too afraid to take and the desperation it would take to get us to take them which we have not yet experienced but sort of long to and this sensation about the Culkins we get only from movies and paparazzi photos and word of mouth and marketing. The Culkins are marketed by their own lives exactly to me and my friends. I moved to New York without knowing I moved to New York expecting to find a Culkin in some disgusting bar nobody else knew about and who would love only me, only me and party drugs, but now I know this as I search for him, even when I read I search for him. When I read books in my apartment and when I sleep. A blonde Culkin, a light brown haired Culkin, a Culkin who likes art. The Culkins are so baroque. A baroque Culkin endears himself to me when he exists.

 

 

The Best Days of My Life

Those were the best days of my life. I listen to the soundbyte from that Bon Jovi song in my imagination every time I think of any memory from my past. I don’t know when I started doing it. Those were the best days of my life. I was at Jameson’s birthday party at Kiki’s the restaurant for cool hot young people by East Broadway and I peed in the toilet and my pee was hot pink because I had been eating only borscht for three days because I made two gallons of borscht by accident and my now ex-husband wouldn’t eat any of it because it was admittedly not that good. The toilet wouldn’t flush and there was a long line of hot young people waiting to pee so I got down on the floor and repaired the toilet and went back to the table full of Jameson and five beautiful female strangers and told them I had repaired the toilet because of my fuschia pee and those were the best days of my life. 

 

Courtney Bush is a poet, filmmaker, and preschool teacher from Biloxi, Mississippi. Her writing has most recently appeared in blush_lit, Critical Quarterly, Night Music Journal, and Ghost City Review. Her divorce chapbook ISN’T THIS NICE? was published by blush_lit in October 2019. Her films Kim Bush’s Abduction and Marilyn Monroe’s School for French Girls can be found on NoBudge.com. She is the co-host of Letters to a Young Minion, a poets’ podcast about the Minions, alongside poet Jeesoo Lee. 

Review of ‘$50,000’ (Andrew Weatherhead) by Alex Weidman

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I hate to start this way. I hate to start a review of someone else’s writing by talking about my writing, as if I’m writing in any kind of way that can be taken seriously, but lately anytime I’ve gone to write something I’ll reach a point where a thought strikes me. I’ll be writing and suddenly I’ll stop and think: “What’s the point?” And usually, or always, my point is to make some kind of point, which ends up boring me so much I don’t continue. And if not exactly a point, the most innocent thing I might be doing with my writing is trying to be clever, or smart, which fills me with a boredom even more overpowering. What does it matter? What could I possibly have to tell anyone about? Seriously, we could be underestimating the permafrost thaw by as much as 50%. The United States Army’s internal research suggests societies could start collapsing within 10 years. How much could anything I have to say matter?

This feeling has leaked into other people’s writing as well, mostly—obviously—fiction. It’s as if all I see in other people’s writing is their striving to make a point or to be clever. I quit reading more fiction books in 2019 than I finished. It’s like, oh, you put a Chinese Muslim immigrant and an Iraq War vet together in New York City? Guess I don’t have to read the whole thing, because what else are you going to say besides the world has made a mess and therefore human connection is complicated? I use this example because I’m sure it’s not about the book being bad necessarily, but I can no longer convince myself to suspend acknowledging where the writing seems to be going. I don’t have the patience anymore. I understand the antagonism between the US and China. I know what we ask soldiers to do to Muslims. I know how fucked up immigration is in this country. It’s not that you can’t write about those things in fiction anymore, I don’t think, but setting up stories against realities like that is not only not interesting to me right now, it feels corny. It’s like, I know where the world is going, and it’s to shit, so I don’t know how you could say anything else with premises like that. To try to extract anything else, let alone something like hope or happiness, out of those enormous premises feels like an outright lie. Or it’d take nonfiction. The bad is becoming so big it’s outpacing our ability to even comprehend it, let alone escape from it. The American war economy is a hyperobject. The relationship between the last two superpowers at the end of the world is a hyperobject. Climate change is a hyperobject. You’re not getting anything out of it. You’re not subverting it with daily life because daily life is swallowed up in it. You can throw in all the tricks you want, but that won’t obscure the fact that almost everything at that scale is horrifyingly vacuous right now. Most things at that scale are where the world’s real nihilism exists. Allusion, realism, fabulism, dirtbaggery, whatever one might use to try to get anything more out of reality like that is crushed under the actual weight of it. And the same goes for poetry. Metaphors, similes, bizarre forms to mirror confusion and chaos, to signify a way to understand the text, to signify a way one is supposed to feel reading the text, for me it all gets crushed under whatever reality is being hinted at. If I see a poem going all over the place I don’t even bother. Your poem is in two columns and can be read in three ways? Is that not just a gimmick? In fact, devices like these feel so shallow compared to what they’re going after that they have not only been landing flat, I can’t stop seeing in them the attempts to be clever or make a point that I can’t seem to stop doing myself.

But then something like this comes along: 

“Tater tots, untouched, in the trash / B-roll of hell / Stock photos of people losing the will to live / Every few hours a man with one eye walks by my desk / He sees the real me, eating lunch alone” 

There are 741 lines of this, 741 unstructured, standalone, non-narrative lines. 

“A music without sound / Michael Jordan crossing over Larry Bird / Allen Iverson crossing over Michael Jordan / Light from the computer screen while the city turns to dust / Hours pass… / Lie after lie delays the truth” 

It’s immediately readable, and the readability, how fast you’re drawn in, is refreshing. There are no tricks. There are no gimmicks. There’s more blank space than text, which may be the way it’s supposed to be done. And it’s not that it’s just a bunch of nonsense. It’s not that it’s not going anywhere. I’m not saying that you need to be incoherent to say something interesting, because there is an absolutely recognizable feeling as one get deeper into it. There is an arc, however sporadic. It’s dark and sometimes funny. There’s no story. There’s no real build or climax. It starts to dawn on you that it’s like your life. It’s like my life. It’s probably like Andrew’s life. The peaks and valleys (especially the peaks) have been grinded down into a more or less straight line that just goes on and on. $50,000 is the most honest book I read last year. It was the best book I read last year. It felt like it was saying something important. It felt like it grappled with the question, “what’s the point?” and wasn’t crushed. But how could such a simple book do that?

“Facts can’t change us; beliefs are too resilient / Agreeing to disagree may be all there is / Even though scientist guess we’re all just guessing / Because if knowledge, then ignorance and fear / So I mistake spilled coffee for a shadow”

It’s right there. Facts don’t matter. You’re not persuading anyone. “No answers only interpretations” he writes later, aping Nietzsche. What’s the difference between answering and interpreting? I think the difference is in $50,000 Andrew isn’t going to give you spilled coffee as a shadow, or a shadow of spilled coffee. He’s just going to give you him mistaking spilled coffee for a shadow. Why would you take spilled coffee as a shadow, anyway? They’re hardly the same color, and not even the same thing. One’s a drink and the other is an absence of light. What would you get out of that right now? Would that tell you anything about the world? I don’t believe it. In $50,000 all you get is Andrew mistaking spilled coffee for a shadow, and is that alone not something you can appreciate? Is that not good enough? While I don’t think many people would disagree that right now all we have is each other, and that we need to be there for each other, I think hardly anyone is willing to take the implications of that seriously. Implicit in that sentiment is the understanding that we are totally alone with each other, that there isn’t any sort of transcendence to look forward to or any tradition to fall back on. It implies a lack of any deeper connection to each other and to the world. Our relationships with each other and the world are not metaphorical or transactional. What that means is you don’t get spilled coffee as a shadow. The best you can do is try to appreciate that someone has it at all. It’s not mine and it’s not yours. What we all uniquely have or experience isn’t a metaphor, it isn’t something to be bartered and traded, nor should it be. If it sucks it sucks. If it’s hard then it’s just hard. I think this is where the misunderstanding of identity politics, or intersectionality, or representation occurs, when they’re seen as based on metaphorical relationships instead of literal experiences. If we can’t get to a point of appreciating the inherent experience each of us have in a way that might not affect us at all—or if we can’t present our experiences without attaching signifiers of ‘intelligence’ or a ‘better’ understanding—I don’t think we don’t stand a chance. As humans we’re all as disparate as the lines that make up $50,000. Why shouldn’t everything be this simple? There’s no real connection. We’ve got to make do with whatever kind of ‘one’ these lines, or we, form. Even if they don’t form a coherent narrative. Even if it doesn’t make sense.  

Baudrillard called this world Integral Reality. Absolute reality, all there is is all you see. There’s nothing left behind all the faces and signs, there’s no greater, or more concentrated, or truer meaning. “Colville died last night,” Andrew writes in one of his lines. Colville is dead, and you can put together as many facts and anecdotes about his life as you want but you won’t make a metaphor out of it. All you’re left with is feeling bad for his parents. And if you can’t find a metaphor in something like a friend’s death, what chance is there of finding one anywhere else? It’s best to just quit trying. Just give us what you want to give us. Strip it all down. $50,000 does it literally. Line after line after line. Metaphors and similes minimal if they’re there at all. Of course I don’t know if this style has the kind of momentum and/or pliability to become a form, something that can be done again and again, but I also don’t think literary devices are inherently signifiers of fake things. They just feel, in face of all that’s going on right now, useless at best and lies at worst.

I hope people read $50,000 and try to strip their perspectives of all pretensions like this. Although it might be ironic that this places all the emphasis on individual voice and experience at the same time I’m saying I don’t care or want to hear your metaphor, it is more an act of trust, a trust in oneself and a trust in the other to be radically honest. I hope all writing, not just poetry, goes this way for a little bit, even though I obviously have no idea what that would look like. I guess it’s something you can intuit. And clearly I didn’t read all the books last year. I’m sure other people are writing in a similar way, but I struck out more often than not. The only other thing I read last year that wasn’t nonfiction that felt as real as $50,000 was Nick Drnaso’s incredible Sabrina, which is illustrated and written in Drnaso’s similarly bare form. It’s this bareness that feels interesting right now, this Benzodiazepined, how-much-longer-are-we-at-this kind of bareness. I’m talking about not pretending your writing has made things less fucked up. I’m talking about not lying. I’m talking about how Andrew opens $50,000 saying, “No matter how depressing this book may get, just think about how much positive thinking it must have taken me to finish it.” I’m talking about Joy Williams saying, “One of the great secrets of life is learning to live without being happy.” Or maybe I’m talking about Joy Williams saying this: “Imagination is nothing. Explanation is nothing. One can only experience and somehow describe–with, in Camus’s phrase, lucid indifference.” The big picture is morbid. Maybe Andrew has figured out that right now anything more, like happiness or hope, can only be gotten at fleetingly, in the minuscule, mundane cracks in between the pummeling the world gives.

 

you can by $50,000 HERE.

Alex Weidman works at a co-op and lives in West Virginia.

“Losing a Whole Year” by Clara Roberts

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2018

  1. The memories come to you in ECTseizures—even the overlooked and dusty ones. A psychic told your parents before you were born that you were going to be a “hero child”.  You can say this—you are no such thing; that psychic had a dyslexic premonition.
  2. DecemberA small psych unit, your twelfth stay within four years—this time for methamphetamine psychosis. The voices in your head become muted by the benzos and anti-psychotics your distracted doctor prescribes. You traverse the hospital halls reminiscing about getting high.

 

2017

  1. At another hotel. Is it night or day? You see escorting as an endless vortex of self-erasure. But the thick cash, right? When you work on your own and are addicted to drugs, all the crisp money you make goes to the drug dealer. The money is deadwood at the end of the day.
  2. January Hovering around 88 pounds.—body  by meth. You and Kevin do drugs in the tent he’s living in. He’s an intellectual, despite being a transient derelict. You always share your drugs with Kevin because you feel guilty when you keep everything to yourself.

2015

  1. People have morally bankrupt behaviors when this compulsion disguises itself as your brain telling you to go into your mom’s magenta bedroom and steal her jewelry.
  2. “You’re not stealing thatmuch from her,” you say to yourself.

“She doesn’t even wear these things anymore,” you rationalize while guilt still burns through you.

 

2014

  1. The girl’s (my) heart clings from balancing graduate school, drugs, her fiancé, other men, parents, and sickness. She gets sick when the drugs are not around, but becomes the sickest when she has them.
  2. The girl reads about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death on her phone after she does her shot of heroin and cocaine. She wishes her speed-ball was as strong as the one her favorite actor injected at the time of his demise.

 

2013

  1. At the age of 23, the girl learns that sanity is not permanent. The girl believes Baltimore is assisting in her downfall. The drug game is killing her. She is killing herself because dying is a consequence that comes with the territory. She is addicted to not only drugs, but the lifestyle—the copping, the scum-fucks who seem more unfeigned than any of her former private school friends, the dilapidated houses where she spends all day in an opiate-induced haze—a dimness that takes her to a layer of Earth where pain from the past and present do not exist.
  2. As the girl looks at the track marks stitched down her arm, her vision gets muddled; her limb does not look like one anymore. Heroin says He loves her. She loves Him too, but in a different way than how she loves Kevin, her drug boyfriend, her bodyguard, her confidante—the lover who kisses and licks the blood streaming down either of her arms. The girl fakes a smile and welcomes death as her outcome.

 

Clara Roberts is a graduate of the MA in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University. Her nonfiction work and poetry have been published in Adelaide Literary Magazine, From Whispers to Roars, Gravel Magazine, Heartwood Literary Magazine, and trampset journal. She lives in Baltimore where she finds material every day to write about in her journal.

“Pale Blue Whisper” by D. Price Williamson

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“Why are you sad, Daddy?”

“I was thinking about Grandpa.”

“Why, Daddy?”

“His eyes.”  

Pale blue eyes,
Colored by the horror of war in the South Pacific,
Once filled with promise in the redemption of a returning Marine,
Alive, warm in the embrace of young love,
Those eyes, stern and fair, glowed with pride for his family and grew calm with the wisdom of a well-lived life.

But in the twilight before his mind disappeared, those eyes begged me to stay;
Lenses clouded, they pleaded to understand the loss of will and control.
Eyes that searched mine for peace, finality,
Until the last flicker of reason was but a pale blue whisper,
Haunting me.

“I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too.”

“We love each other.”

“Yes, we do.”

 

D. Price Williamson is a veteran, dad, lawyer, occasional writer, and wannabe outdoorsman and athlete.  He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, youngest daughter, and a silly dog named Isabel. 

Twitter: @PriceWilliamson

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.