“Chasing the Dime” NF by Chris Milam

I made it through. That’s the point of this story. Anything is possible. Perseverance and endurance are requirements. So is meeting a kind person. A helpful organization. Let me stop here and hit the rewind button.

January 2012

I’m fucking cold. Not it’s sort of chilly out. Not brrr or damn I need an extra layer. No, I’m talking bone cold. Your veins aren’t navigating the blood correctly. Your mind is a fucking ice block. Details: I’m in a parking garage. This is my current home. It’s connected to the courthouse. The temperature is in the teens. It’s early January in Ohio which means I’m freezing. I’m in the glass-encased stairwell, where it might be a couple of degrees higher than outside at best. I’m trying to sleep on concrete. I have no blanket, just a black peacoat which I received from a local church. Sleep is hard when you can’t get warm. And when you feel worthless. And alone. And scared. And suicidal because that’s always an option. It has to be when you have nothing, you are nothing. I fantasize about jumping off the top of the garage. Splat. Goodbye. My story over. Fade to black. But I didn’t actually jump or I wouldn’t be writing this. Let’s go a bit further back.

2009 – 2011

I’m a degenerate gambler. I love to bet the horses. And by love I mean the unconditional kind. Love gambling more than my children or why else would I spend every nickel to my name on a bet? Christmas gifts? Fuck that noise. Birthdays? A card with no cash. Everything else? I’m just a ghost at the track. A depressed ghost. A sick in the head ghost. A selfish piece of shit ghost. I am everything besides a good dad. I chase the dime instead of spending time with my tiny girl or older son. I care about nothing but exactas and trifectas and superfectas and longshots who are longshots for a reason. It’s a compulsion. I can’t stop nor do I truly want to. I sell my food stamp card to gamble. I con my mom out of money to gamble. I steal metal from factory dumpsters and sell it to a scrap yard for money to gamble. Like I said, chasing the dime, except the dime is an elusive rabbit and I’m an inefficient hunter. I’m awful at gambling because I honestly think I’m more intelligent than speed figures and breeding and past performances. I’ll chase that dime, that high until I land in a parking garage.

January 2012

I’m halfway asleep when I hear a car approaching. Headlights flash over my frozen body. Cops. Dammit. I get up and walk to the car. Two officers, but only one speaks. He’s young. He asked me what I was doing here and whatnot. I mumbled my usual bullshit answer and he eventually said something about we didn’t see you here. His way of saying go back to sleep, you’re not in trouble. I was relieved.

Roughly two hours later and another car approaching. I’m bathed in headlights again. Dammit. I get up and walk to the car. A familiar face, the young cop has returned in his personal vehicle. He has stuff for me. McDonald’s. A quarter pounder and fries. A gift certificate. Gloves and toboggan. A puzzle book and pen. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug him. He told me about a place where I could get help, Transitional Living. He knew the woman who ran it, gave me her card and told me to call her tomorrow. He also said he was going to call her. This place helped the homeless and mentally ill. He knew I was in trouble and he went out of his way to intervene. An absolute saint. He pulled away and I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. I kept thinking about the kind and caring police officer. A good man. A good human. The opposite of me. I also thought about Transitional Living. Hope on a business card. I would eventually get in touch with them and start the long process of getting better. Years of therapy. A case manager who worked her ass off to transform me. Medication for depression. A new chapter began. A new me was born. I became a real dad again.

I made it through to the other side because of a young cop. Because of Transitional Living. Because I was resilient and wanted to change. I embraced it. This story ends with me in my own home, warm and cozy, writing about the past. And hope. Because hope is real. Clutch  it like it’s a newborn and never let go. Hope saved me many moons ago. It can save you, too. You must believe in something you can’t see or touch but is always there.

Chris Milam lives in Middletown, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y, Lost Balloon, JMWW, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere, You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.Attachments area

“Stranger Therapy” NF by Abigail Swire

A few flakes still swirled down, danced on the nasty gusts of bitter wind that always flush city streets in winter. The parking garage across the street was dark, and most of the restaurants and bars had closed early because it was a weeknight, and cold.

I was catching a breath of air outside the Hyatt House in the Mosaic District of Fairfax outside Washington, DC. Probably I was trying to decide if I should walk a block or two to see if anything was still open, if it was worth it to brave the cold to eat alone, or go back up to my room and take the salad I bought at the fancy Super Target across the street, the one with the escalator, out of the mini fridge and finishing watching Beauty and the Beast.

Among the few stragglers on the street, there was a man smoking a cigarette outside the Hyatt who glanced at me once, twice, and made his way over.

Oh, here we go.

“Cold enough for you?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“From out of town? Here on business?”

“Yes.”

“Me, too. My name’s (insert name). I do sales. Travel a lot.”

Maybe his name was Larry. He looked like a Larry. I never remember names on the first or second go-round. Actually, I think he had a more surprising name, something hip or young, like Mike or Liam. He was a couple inches shorter than me, round beneath his expensive suit, probably 15 to 20 years older, bald with some graying hair around the edges.

“Yah. I travel all over. Been to Chicago, Grand Rapids, Dallas-Ft.Worth, and that’s just last month.”

“That’s fun.”

I waited to hear where this was going. It could be anything. It wasn’t that I automatically thought he was going to hit on me, although it was one possibility.

“Am I holding you up? Were you waiting on someone?” he asked, looking around like my phantom lover was about to appear. I looked, too.

“No. Just getting some air.”

He lit another cigarette, got a sad look in his eyes, kind of glanced across the street at the empty stores and sidewalks.

“So, yeah,” he said. “You travel all the time, kind of miss out on a lot. Aren’t always there for the family, wife and kids, you know?”

I thought of my own son at home, fending for himself for the first time, cooking ramen. 

“Yeah.”

“My wife has to put up with a lot on her own, you know? See, my daughter, she’s had some problems…”

Ok. Stop. If I’m alone in this, it’s a curse.

 In this case, it’s the fact that we are two travelers meeting in a strange city, alone. It’s the anonymity. He is never going to see me again. If I judge him for what he is about to say, it doesn’t matter much. I make a good stranger.

It’s part of the reason I avoid people. It’s also what will make me great at what I have come here to be trained to do. People ache to tell their stories. If you give them the chance, you don’t have to yank confessions like teeth. They just fall right out.

My card is The Fool. I’m just a weary wanderer stumbling through life, occasionally falling off cliffs. Somehow I come off like The High Priestess. I pick up my tramp sack and sling it over my shoulder, and it gets heavier all the time. I can’t set it down. It would leak secrets and those secrets are acid. They would eat a hole in the pavement right through the core of the earth. Maybe if someone could feel how heavy this pack is, they might carry it for a while.

There was a man who bought me a drink in a bar I used to frequent. I must’ve been about 19. He was quite a few under the table already. When I said I wouldn’t go out with him, he told me he just murdered his wife and buried her up off GA-400. His story turned out to be true. People tell me everything — people who’ve had things happen that never should have, people who have done things that you don’t ever want to know people actually do. People. The dark undercurrents of humanity flow like a cesspool into the steaming sewer called reality, while the citizens above walk the paradisiacal paved streets dressed in Armani and Louis Vuitton.

Every once in a while someone says or does something that shakes me to the core, something beautiful, innocent, surprising. Once in a blue moon. I never wanted to be this jaded. Every time a new dark secret gets added to my bag, I feel like I’ve been robbed of something else.

So the wind still bites and I’m sure Beauty has run to save her Beast from the villagers’ torches by now, and it’s kind of disappointing that he is actually a handsome prince when she was just getting used to the Beast.

The man standing beside me, Mike or Liam or Larry, blinks back tears because of his daughter’s battle with anorexia. If I were a better person, a more honest person, I would probably say exactly what I’m thinking which is maybe he should send her out to the bush because anorexia is a culture-induced entitled white girl problem and if she had to go survive on her own without attention or comfort or food for a few weeks she would be eating grub-worms quick enough and quit breaking her father’s heart. But, instead, I feel sorry that he is sorry, so I don’t say anything.

“You’re shivering,” he says. “Better get inside where it’s warm.”

I slip under the stainless white comforter in my suite and prepare to fall into a dreamless coma, wonder if there is anyone on earth who I could trust enough to tell my stories to.


Abigail Swire is just a wandering stranger, and only dangerous sometimes.

NF Prose by Josh Olsen

Spontaneous

My partner recently told me that she can tell I was mostly raised by my grandparents. She called me the oldest young person she knows. Or was it the youngest old person? Either way, her point was made. And I can’t deny it, as much as I’d like to try. I do appreciate a quiet night at home, devoid of surprise run-in or unscheduled interruption. Even when I make plans, well in advance, no matter how much I’m looking forward to it, whether it’s a concert, a baseball game, a poetry reading, or a live pro wrestling event, when the day of the show comes, I’d rather stay at home, and even after I’ve convinced myself to go, no matter how much I enjoy it in the moment, I’m happiest when it’s over. Katie told me that I lack spontaneity, and my response was that I experienced enough spontaneity in my childhood to last me the rest of my life. Katie rightfully groaned and rolled her eyes, her response whenever she felt I was playing the victim, and I said, “I lived in 20 different houses before I was sixteen!” My mom and my stepdad were spontaneous, spontaneous with their jobs and their bills and their fidelity and rent, and as a result of their spontaneity, we would spontaneously move to two or three different apartments in one year. During the first grade, I attended three different elementary schools (one of them twice that year), a fact that still makes my mother cry when I bring it up. All three schools were within the same school district, in Holmen, Wisconsin, a village with fewer than 10,000 people, but for a first grader in the mid-1980s, they might as well have been on different continents. For one of the schools, I was only enrolled a couple weeks, while I temporarily lived with my maternal grandparents (hardly the first or last time). I barely remember anything about it, except for pissing my pants one day because I was too shy to raise my hand and ask for permission to be excused for the boy’s room, but it turns out that my brief presence evolved into a bit of an urban legend for my classmates. One evening, in my early 20s, I was approached by a group of drunk college students (granted, I was also then a drunk college student) and asked if my name was “Josh Sather.” And, well, the answer was yes. “Sather” was my legal last name before I was adopted by my stepdad, when I was in the second grade, but for these strangers to know me by that name, it meant they would’ve had to know me before then. So, yeah, I am Josh Sather, I confessed, and my answer was met with an explosion of laughter and profanity. “Holy shit, where the fuck did you go?” one of them asked. “What the fuck happened to you?” another slurred. “I told you he existed!” said another. As it turns out, this gathering of intoxicated individuals had all gone to school together, from kindergarten through their senior year of high school, and my two weeks in their classroom, in first grade, was like a blip in their collective memory, like a shared delusion. The weird, quiet, ambiguously ethnic apparition who showed up, unannounced, in the middle of the school year, and then vanished without a trace, just a couple weeks later. Did that even happen? they’d joke amongst themselves, Was he even real? And finally, it was confirmed, like the existence of Bigfoot. Josh Sather lived. “And that,” I proclaimed, “was the result of spontaneity.” Katie just looked at me and yawned, and then so did I.

At the Drive-In

I told my mom that Katie and I were at the drive-in, and she had plenty of romantic advice to give. “Buy her some popcorn, put your arm around her shoulder, hold her hand, and kiss her on the cheek,” she told me, as though this was our first date, and Katie and I hadn’t been together for over 18 years, and raised two kids and a dog. I read my mom’s text to Katie, and she sarcastically gave me the finger.

“Do you remember when you took me to American Werewolf in London?” I asked my mom, and she immediately began to apologize. When I was about 2 ½ years old, my mom took me to the drive-in theatre, with her then boyfriend/friend who was a boy, to see John Landis’ American Werewolf in London. I was obviously too scared to watch the whole movie, and almost immediately began to cry at the sight of Rick Baker’s groundbreaking, Academy Award winning horror effects, but it was one of the most formative memories of my childhood, and likely why I’m such a horror fanatic to this day. “Your grandparents weren’t always so perfect,” my mom said, attempting to change the subject. “They took me to the drive-in to see The Graduate when I was 7 years-old,” she said. She said watching the love scenes in the car with her parents was one of the most embarrassing experiences of her life, and she still hates Dustin Hoffman for that very reason. “That’s great,” I said, “you should ask grandma about that,” and once again the texts began to pour in. “You can never do that!” she said. “Grandma would be so mad. She would deny it. Don’t ask her about it. Promise me you won’t ask!” she begged via voice-to-text, and I promised her I wouldn’t ask.

“What a shame,” I said to Katie, “to be almost 60 years-old and still not feel comfortable talking to your only living parent like an adult … Remember when Jackson puked at the drive-in?” I suddenly recalled. Our son was barely one year old, and we had taken him and his then 6-year-old sister to the drive-in theatre, to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Katie had just finished feeding Jackson a bottle, he had just recently stopped nursing, and when she sat him up on her lap, to be burped, his entire stomach full of breast milk emptied onto the dashboard. Perhaps needless to say, we didn’t stick around to watch Johnny Depp’s performance as Willy Wonka, with Katie and Jackson soaked in hot, curdled breast milk, and his sister, Gabriella, throwing a crying fit over having to leave the movie early.

Well, on the night of July 3rd, Katie and I didn’t have any kids with us at the drive-in. It was just her and me, our first movie together, alone, in god knows how long. It didn’t even really matter what movie was playing, it was just good to be out of the house. “In the car, but out the house,” Katie posted on Facebook. All around us, even while the movie played, thunderous fireworks lit up the horizon. “Next time we’ll bring booze,” we promised each other, and sighed in relief when the credits rolled and it came time to crank the air conditioner.


Josh Olsen is a librarian in Flint, Michigan and the co-creator of Gimmick Press.

“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.