828-3886. I recognize the number when I see it flash up on the screen. It’s one of the few phone numbers that I know by heart. We’ve been friends for twenty-two years. Hers were the last digits I learned before we all outsourced our memories to our cell phones. All the other numbers from my past have lost relevancy or don’t connect to the living: street addresses for homes we no longer own, birthdays of grandparents, channels of TV stations, pre-pregnancy shoe size, and of all those landlines long abandoned—hers was the last working phone number.

828-3886. I answer the phone. “Hey, Robin, what’s up?” When you’ve been close friends for over two decades, you can hear the bad news in the sound of their breath. “Oh no,” I said, bracing for the news. “I have cancer.” “What kind?” “Pancreatic.” “Pancreatic,” I repeat with a voice I don’t recognize. Or maybe it’s a finality I haven’t heard in my voice until now. It had started as a slight pain in her abdomen earlier in the year. The initial diagnosis was gastritis.

569

Does it feel weird having an imaginary tea party interview with yourself?

Yes, yes it does.

 

What type of house did you live in, architecturally?

I grew up in too many houses (houses, apartments, a camper van). Some were broken, but the first one wasn’t. It had a round turquoise pool, and rose gardens everywhere.

Oh, architecturally? Shit! Ah, the first one was a white plaster house, wood framed, residential. We kept pickles and wine in the cellar. Or maybe the pickles and wine were in our neighbours cellar? No matter.

seattle-awp-starbucks-logoThis week in Seattle (Feb. 26 to March 1), at the annual AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference, anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 writers will congregate in what has become the largest such literary gathering in America. There will be more than 450 panels on every aspect of professional advancement, and a bookfair hosting more than 650 exhibitors, each of whom will pay a hefty fee to be seen among fellow indie presses. A parallel conference of countless off-site events will occur simultaneously, so that anyone with any gumption will have an opportunity to read and promote themselves.

15,000, you say? Does that boggle the mind? Do the colossal numbers to which this professional guild has grown signify the health or sickness of writing?

ag2Like writing this memoir wasn’t exercise enough in accelerating through self-consciousness and isolation, now I have to interview myself about it?

Apparently.

 

You’ve been quoted calling your new memoir, The End of Eve, “a comedy about domestic violence.” What’s up with that?

When I was working on the book I found it a bit tricky to explain to people what I was doing.

I’m writing about lung cancer!”

“A great project about watching my beautiful, crazy, abusive mom die!”

I must have sounded so depressing. People would go all doe-eyed. So I started saying I was writing a comedy about domestic violence. Well, that didn’t go over so well, either. Because, of course, domestic violence isn’t something to laugh about. But here’s the truth: I grew up in a violent household. My relationship with my mother always included some level of violence. But it also included a lot of humor. Some days, aking my mom laugh was the only way to get her to put down her weapons. It was the only way to get her to drop the drama. And laughter is a real way to relieve tension—that’s not just a quirk of MY family of origin, it is what is true.

Cari (online small)What ran through your head when you heard about the self-interview?

It struck me as sadistically brilliant.  But as it sunk in, I realized there was considerable pressure to try to be interesting and/or insightful and/or witty on both sides of the Q and the A.  But, I wouldn’t have to worry about being misquoted.  Then again, if I didn’t end up sounding interesting/insightful/witty, I couldn’t blame it on being misquoted.  Apparently, they don’t call this The Nervous Breakdown for nothing.

endofevecoverLung Cancer Noir

Two months shy of the death date my mother had written on her calendar in red pen, Sol and I sublet our studio apartment to an art student for the school year. We’d keep the shop space downstairs.

“Your situation is interesting,” the art student said as he signed the lease agreement. “If there’s a gay kid in the family, it’s always the gay kid who has to take care of the sick parent. I always thought that was because the gay kid wouldn’t have any children of their own. But that’s obviously not true for you.”

I shrugged. “Always great to be the gay kid.” And we packed up the car again for our move across town.

“Let’s make a pact,” Sol said as she turned the key in the ignition. “If we start plotting to murder your mother, we have to move out.”

I laughed. “Agreed.” But I knew she wasn’t kidding.

ImageI come from a long line of whores.

In my nine decades on this earth I have never uttered these words, let alone seen them written, in my own hand, indelibly staring back at me. But now, as a summer storm rages strong enough to send the Pontchartrain right through my front door, I sit with a curious sense of peace and clarity. My past is more than just my own history. Although this story shames me in so many ways, it is the legacy I leave. I must embrace the very truth I spent my life denying.

I come from a long line of whores.

R.I.P. MPW

By Aram Saroyan

Nonfiction

university-of-southern-california-15

In an email during Thanksgiving week 2013, I learned that USC’s Master of Professional Writing program (MPW) would no longer accept new students and would suspend operations entirely by spring 2016.  I was a teacher in the program for 15 years, and in the fall of 1996, when I began there, it was exhilarating.  My wife Gailyn and I had moved to Santa Monica over the past summer and I’d met with the director of the program, the poet James Ragan, who offered me a job teaching that fall.

stossel

Scampering through Cape Cod, searching for an outhouse, looking out for Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Secret Service…

So I’m staying at the Kennedy Compound because I’m writing a biography on Sargent Shriver, the guy who started the Peace Corps. Bill Clinton is there, sailing with Ted Kennedy. Arnold is there. I’m out walking around town when suddenly the anxiety hits. Anxiety leads to a certain gastric distress so I’m rushing back to the house, sweating, looking out for celebrities and the secret service, wondering if I can make it back. I get there—and the toilet breaks. Sewage rises around me, ruining my pants. I mop it up with towels just as the dinner bell rings for some sort of fabulous Kennedy soiree. I sneak out and race up the stairs, half-naked, wrapped in a towel and run straight into JFK Jr. “Oh hi, Scott,” he says. He was totally unfazed. We had met the day before.

978-0-307-26987-4Some eighty years ago, Freud proposed that anxiety was “a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a flood of light on our whole mental existence.” Unlocking the mysteries of anxiety, he believed, would go far in helping us to unravel the mysteries of the mind: consciousness, the self, identity, intellect, imagination, creativity—not to mention pain, suffering, hope, and regret. To grapple with and understand anxiety is, in some sense, to grapple with and understand the human condition.

51dKKLBZ1jLThe first time I was ever terrified by a story was during my sixth grade class’s reading of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, which we finished just before going to see a live production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Though Number the Stars is fiction, it’s an imaginative retelling of stories told to Lowry by her friend Annelise Platt, who herself was a child during the Nazis’ occupation of Denmark and who saw so many of the things that the book’s protagonist, Annemarie Johansen, had seen. The book captivated me then—it still captivates me, in its moments of rushed and slowed momentum, a drama that can’t be replicated by a horror movie. Because Annemarie had been about my age when I first read it, because I had not yet known about such a horror of history, Number the Stars quickly, effortlessly became my first favorite book.  And I’ve decided to revisit it here.

the tall tall creek/creeps into the backyard.
your very own backyard/and you flood/
a river into the wild

 

I watched this one three times or more
the first week. Then I checked it out
again for special features: peeks
behind location, casting, score.

I listened to the leads discuss
the steamy sex that would have hurt
their marriages if real-life love
were less amazingly secure.

(c) Nick EliotWhat happened to your accent? I mean, I know you live in California, but you supposedly grew up in Alabama. So, what gives? Did you lose your accent on purpose?

1) It wasn’t on purpose.

2) You haven’t heard me talk about beer yet. When I talk about beer, my accent totally comes back. Also, when I hear other Southerners talk. Once, I watched an entire season of Friday Night Lights in one weekend, and by Monday I sounded like I’d just come from revival.

Room 32

By TNB Editors

Bookstore

room32ppIn the summer of 2013, author and journalist D.R. Haney (Banned for Life; Subversia) rented Room 32 at the Alta Cienega Motel in West Hollywood, California, a room which for three years served as the hermetic home of the late Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors. Haney’s idea: rent the room, get some booze, throw a party—and hire a psychic medium to try and conjure Morrison’s spirit.

Room 32 is a masterfully written, deeply fascinating, and wonderfully strange account of what happened next and why, all these years later, Morrison’s legend still looms large.

Available now as a Kindle Single. Buy it for only $2.99 in the Kindle Store.

Read an excerpt here.