“Love Notes” by Abigail Swire

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All I wanted was a note. It didn’t seem a lot to ask. It didn’t have to be perfect. It could be written in scribbles, like some nearly illegible clue. It could sail in on a fatal breeze folded into a paper airplane.It could be tucked into a locker, a backpack, a desk, this note that never came.

I remember almost everything before and after that first day of kindergarten. It was mid-year, after Christmas, because that’s when you start kids in school who are destined to have traumatic lives.

I remember my stupid outfit, and most of the names and faces of my classmates. After all, we would be stuck with each other for the next ten years. One of the twins took me under her wing. Karen and Kristen. Everyone got them confused because of the names and their identical outfits, but I didn’t understand it. They were paternal twins and had very distinctive qualities. It was Karen who showed me around. She was the friendly one.

In the midst of the introductions, we faced off on the battleground of the kindergarten room with two boys, a redhead with a fat face and a boy with black hair and blue eyes who was the most beautiful human thing I had ever seen.

“Don’t you hurt her,” Karen warned the boys.

“Don’t you hurt him,” the redhead said to me. 

The redhead was on my bus route. That first week he kicked me in the shin hard with his mountain boy boots. But he was the one who, before the year ended, ran across the room and planted a kiss on my cheek and ran away. The last I remember of Brad was ninth grade. By then I had forgiven the kick. He got sent home from school for wearing a shirt that said “Candy is good, but sex don’t rot teeth”, so who knows what kind of life he had at home.

Anyway, it was in the first few weeks after I started kindergarten when a lady from the office came to pull me out of class. I thought I was in trouble. I followed her into the principal’s office. The principal was female. These two women looked at me like they didn’t quite know what to do with me, like I might sprout wings and fly up in a corner. I waited.

It was just the Valentine’s Day party. Everyone was excited. I thought I was getting away with something but, no. The school had been notified that I was not allowed to participate due to religious reasons.

“Well, that’s ok. You can sit here,” the principal said. She put me at the corner vault with a little desk reserved for troublesome children. The office secretary brought me a napkin with a party cookie on it and a paper cup of punch. She looked at me with pity as she set it down.

“Here you go.”

I picked up the cookie, which fell apart. So I sat there and ate my crumbs with red sprinkles. Thus began my long journey to becoming a social pariah.

I used to check for a note from a secret admirer. I became obsessed with the idea of having a secret admirer. Other girls got notes in their desks, but my desk stayed neat and empty. I got a “Neat Desk Award” every month of fifth grade. Valentine’s Day in particular would have been a good time to get a note. Every year we made those heart shaped paper folders that were stapled together and hung them on the back of our chairs. No one came to pull me out of the party, but ever after I felt like an infiltrator, waiting for the authorities to appear at the door. I had one girl friend, Brigette. We were both untouchables when it came to other girls. Maybe because we were both tomboys or because we were quiet and artistic. We compared our valentines folders.

“Look at this one,” Brigette said with disgust. She slid her valentine over. It said “From a sicrit admire”.

I never had a secret admirer that I am aware of until I was 18. There were no notes. I got other kinds of notes, late night letters of remorse, apologies fueled by alcohol and cocaine. Most of the secret admirers I didn’t even know about until 10 or 15 years later when I heard it through the grapevine from the one guy friend I had left.

“You know so-and-so, right? Yah, he works in my office. He said he was gonna ask you out once, but he was too intimidated.”

By then it was nothing. I subconsciously blamed the secret admirers for being spineless. And, as for me, they could just catalogue me away with the rest of their wasted opportunities. It was up to me to be the person to give my world what it needed. To take the risks, where angels fear to tread, beyond the realm of cowards and unwritten letters. Now all I’ve got left are some petty words. That’s my song and dance. The dance is a private thing. So here’s a song. Not to myself or even necessarily as a gift to the world.

 

FROM A SICRIT ADMIRE:

“Don’t get me wrong

If I’m looking kind of dazzled

I see neon lights

Whenever you walk by

Don’t get me wrong

If you say, “hello”, and I take a ride

Upon a sea where the mystic moon

Is playing havoc with the tide

Don’t get me wrong

Don’t get me wrong

If I’m acting so distracted

I’m thinking about the fireworks

That go off when you smile

Don’t get me wrong

If I split like light refracted

I’m only off to wander

Across a moonlit mile”

~The Pretenders

 

Abigail Swire writes fiction and non-fiction. She served time as a journalist, mad scientist, and assembly line worker, among other things. Abigail has published articles and short stories for various media.She is currently working on her first novel, The Factory.

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.

“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.