Recent Work By Brad Listi

I’ve read a lot of books this year, more than usual. I attribute this to, of all people, Donald Trump, who seems not to have cracked a book since college. Starting back in December, when the shock of the “election” was still fresh, I quit all social media (I’ve since relapsed on Twitter), removed the Safari app from my phone, canceled my newspaper subscription, and stopped watching all forms of televised news. It was a total media fast, and it lasted about two months, all the way into February, at which point I slowly began to fall off the wagon and return to my old ways.

An addict.


On behalf of the entire TNB community, I want to send love and appreciation to Cynthia Hawkins, our longtime Arts & Culture editor, who is battling cancer with uncommon grace and determination. All of us here–and of course I’m referring to our far-flung tribe of writers and editors, both past and present–are deeply moved and inspired by you, Cynthia, and we want you to know how much we care about you and your family.

With this in mind, we figure a good old-fashioned, comment-heavy post here at TNB will cheer you up and give you some more good energy. (All readers are invited to join me in offering positive thoughts on the board below.)


I’m a big Steve Almond fan.  I think he’s one of our smartest and gutsiest writers.  His latest book, Against Football (Melville House), is surely one of the year’s most provocative titles.  Almond offers a searing analysis of America’s most popular sport, going deep where most sports writers tend to stay safely in the shallows, challenging the reader’s assumptions about what the game means, and what its massive cultural import says about our society.

Steve and I had a great conversation on my podcast1 not too long ago, and this past week I had the chance to catch up with him via email for some follow-up questions.


Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to present The Nobbies, the official book awards of The Nervous Breakdown.

Below you’ll find this year’s winners, our picks for the best books of 2012.

Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.

And thanks, as always, for reading.


Thrilled to announce that The Beautiful Anthology has been named one of the Best Bathroom Books of 2012 by The New York Times.

Money quote:

Like a David Cronenberg movie, this offbeat anthology zeros in on beauty’s dark and complicated side. Another bonus: it mostly features good writers you’ve never heard of.


Another year has come and gone, and it’s time once again to present The Nobbies, the official book awards of The Nervous Breakdown.

Below you’ll find this year’s winners, our picks for the best books of 2011.

Congrats to the victors, and their publishers.

And thanks, as always, for reading.


*Author’s note: This is a brief “experimental memoir.”  For now, I’m calling it Possible Title. It is an act of literary collage, a personal ethnography, a story strung together bit by bit, piece by piece, built from more than 3,000 pages of letters, notes, postcards, and journal entries, all of which were written (and saved) by me, in my twenties.   The story begins when I’m 21 and ends when I’m 29.  -BL

This was about five years ago, back when my book was just coming out and people still used Myspace.  I kept a daily blog called ‘The A.D.D. Blog,’ and it wound up having a pretty good readership.

Somewhere along the line, I decided to conduct a letter writing experiment.  I told my readers that if they wrote me a letter — an old-fashioned letter, with a stamp, in the mail — I would respond in kind. I got myself a post office box, posted the address online, and waited.  And then the letters started coming in, dozens of them, all from strangers.  I answered each one over a period of about three months.   And then, when that was done, I canceled the PO Box and boxed up all the letters and put them away in storage.

It rained in LA this past weekend, a huge spring downpour that fell so heavy, and for so long, that there were flash-flood warnings and car accidents and a giant jacaranda on my block got uprooted and toppled across the asphalt, crushing two parked cars.  (Nobody, thankfully, was injured.)

I was stuck inside and fidgety and wound up going into my closet, unearthing an old box on a whim, and within that box were the “experiment letters,” sitting there on top in a giant stack.  For the better part of the afternoon, I sat there re-reading them — staggered, in a way, by how good they were — or, at the least, how interesting.  And often moving.  And sometimes pretty disturbing.

I figured I’d share a little bit, in the form of anonymous excerpts from some of the better offerings.  Individually, each snippet here struck me somehow.  And collectively, they paint a pretty striking composite picture of humanity in the digital age (or any age?).


When I’m really stressed, I sometimes have sex dreams about Ted Koppel.  I’m scared this is a sign of mental illness and that stresses me out even more.


Last Wednesday Jenny went out for girls’ night.  I called the few friends I have that are still in town and it was to no avail.  I decided to drown my sorrows/boredom in a bottle of rum while listening to my iTunes five-star playlist over and over.  After hearing the live version of ‘Copperhead Road’ for what was close to the fifth time, the uncontrollable urge to get my rock on overtook me and, debit card in hand, I headed down to the local Wal-Mart and snagged a copy of Guitar Hero II.


I hate it when a good pen goes dry.  It beats dry pussy, though.


Is it weird that my boyfriend is the one rushing into marriage?  Is it weirder that I’m not in any rush?  I guess I don’t want to be married when I’m in a dead end job and live in an apartment.  I’d rather have a career, one I can stand, maybe even one I look forward to…at least one that pays better, and with that be able to purchase a home.


The culture of Navy people is incredibly odd.  They live their careers in a hierarchy.  The higher in rank they get, the less work they have to do and the more they show off to the lesser ranks.  They leave the military and find they have absolutely no people skills.


You see, I’ve never had an exciting mailman.  No matter where I move, the mailman always seems like a typical white, middle-aged man with a growing balding spot.  I’ve always felt left out of those “your dad is really the mailman LOL” jokes, because it’s hard to imagine housewives, no matter how suburban and sexually desperate, copulating with a man who bears a striking resemblance to their actual husband.


I dated my husband at 15, married at 19, and had a child at 21.  And now at 33 I have a 12-year-old daughter and a very unhappy marriage.  Where do I go from here?  Do I grow some balls and do something about my marriage and verbally abusive husband?  Most everything I’ve ever done has been for someone, but never myself.


I’m a senior now, majoring in music education with a concentration in voice.  So pretty much I’m singing all the time and I’m also in the bands.  I play the tuba.  You should be laughing because that’s the general consensus of people.  I’m 5’6″ and have a thinner build, so it’s funny to see me dragging a sousaphone around.


Today, I interviewed for Teach for America.  It went well, I think.  I was scared.  When it was over, I was hot and shaking.  I picked up the phone again and started dialing.  And my home phone started ringing.  The number used to be my mother’s.  I adopted it when she died.  I forgot she wasn’t there to pick up.  Just for a minute.


Sometimes I like to masturbate at work.  I’ll be sitting at my desk and my clit will just start throbbing and I will be unbearably horny.  Overwhelmed with my sexuality, I will retreat into the bathroom.  Lying on the floor, I will fantasize, usually picking a favorite sexual memory.  I focus on the look on his/her face and rub myself until I cum, not making a sound.  I am especially horny when I am bleeding, and days before I bleed.  Sometimes I get blood on my fingers when I masturbate.  And I lick it off.  Do you like that?


I worked at a funeral home.  When you work at a funeral home, you become part of the background; people forget that you’re watching and that they’re not alone.  It made me uncomfortable to witness their grief, their family quarrels…I guess it made me uncomfortable to see them without their masks on (like that Twilight Zone episode).  But put me in front of a computer screen and I will read a person’s deepest secrets for hours on end.


My husband and I met online.  I placed an ad on Yahoo personals, and he was one of the people who answered.  We sent emails, then longer emails, then more frequent emails.  We spent hours talking over the phone, and then finally met in person in a nice, safe, public place (a mall close to where I was living).  We have been married a little over two years now.


Did I mention I have OCD?  No?  Well, now you have that little tidbit.  I wash my hands countless times per day, only write with certain types of pens, my car’s interior is spotless, I arrange the bills in my wallet in descending order facing the same way, and probably a plethora of other idiosyncracies that have yet to be pinpointed and identified, usually by my girlfriend.


Do you have any children that you know of?


You do realize that many people (just like me) will use these letters as a form of therapy.


I just had a dumb argument with my wife about cold medicine and why I don’t take it.  I got defensive — I take it, by the way.  I just resist.


They poisoned the stray cats on the street.  Evil people.  I hated my living situation.  And just when I couldn’t take any more of Jim and Edna’s shit, my upstairs neighbor got a new girlfriend.  I could overhear their boring, giggling, getting-to-know-you conversations (which they held on the “porch” right outside my bedroom window), as well as the getting-to-know-you sex they had above my head.  Her orgasms sounded like what can only be described as a dying cow.  Whatever he did to her to inspire those noises inspired me to take a broom and bang on the ceiling to to the same rhythm as their humping.


I’ve been on Weight Watchers since May.  I’ve gone from being overweight to average to almost underweight.  And this week marks my last week of maintenance and today is my last weigh-in before I become a lifetime member and don’t have to pay anymore.  That is, unless I’ve gained a huge amount of weight this week.  It’s been worrying me.  I got nervous.  And ate candy.  And that got me more nervous, so I drank magnesium citrate.  And now I’m just stressing out more until I weigh in tonight at five.

I grew up overseas.  Asia and Europe.  More specifically, Turkey and the UAE.  My parents were teachers at American schools.  Living there got me to be pretty open-minded about stuff.  Including my sexuality.  I used to think I was straight.  Then bi.  Then a lesbian.  Now I’m leaning towards bi again.  I don’t think I can really test that theory, though.  The thought of a relationship scares me.  I got my heart broken once, when I was 17.  By a girl.  So I don’t want a relationship with another girl yet.  Tried that — I wasn’t ready.  But boys scare me.  So I’ll never know who I am. At least until I’m out of adolescence.


I’m at a point in my life where I’m coming to terms with my own mediocrity.  I hesitate to say I’ve given up — because that’s even more pathetic than mediocrity.  I would rather live a black comedy than a foreign drama.  I still feel like an impostor and totally unqualified to be an adult.  I think about my parents and wonder if they dealt with this sort of identity crisis.


I watched such a disturbing video on Myspace recently.  A hundred “money shots” from men with other men.  The men who were on the receiving end were gagging, literally.  And the looks on their faces…I just hope they got paid well.  And that it didn’t all go up their noses.


It seems that the only emotion I can express is anger.  Which makes sense, because anger is the most real emotion you have.  But so is joy, and I can’t seem to get a grip on that one.  If I go by astrology, I should start to have good luck and happiness by the time I’m thirty.

Wow, less than nine years of torture and darkness.

Well, at least I have a goal in life.


To pay the bills, I work at a local grocery store in the bakery/deli department.  (Yes, I do have a degree, but it didn’t take long to learn that it’s fairly useless.)  It’s not bad — I make OK money, can do the job in my sleep (I’m a virtuoso on the meat slicer), and I like the people (particularly the assistant store manager — but that’s a whole other story, heh).  I hate the uniform — they make us dress up as chefs (oh yeah — hats, too!).  They seem to be under the delusion that we work in a 5-star restaurant serving haute cuisine instead of boil-in-a-bag/fried crap on a hot bar in a grocery store.


I never cry and it kind of scares me a bit.  I used to cry for no reason at all.  Now when I try — nothing, absolutely zilch.  Until just recently (actually this morning).  I was in the shower and became intimate with my shower head.  I had the most intense orgasm, but afterwards I just sobbed and sobbed.  Strange, huh?


My daughter’s conditions make her more vulnerable than the average teen for pregnancy, running away, drug use, and health should she ever become pregnant or try to have a family.  Hell, just having a LIFE will be a challenge.  At times, I’m simply overwhelmed by the enormity of my daughter’s problems.  I try, very fervently, to focus on the positives — the high intelligence, the vivid imagination, the amazing creativity, the advanced artistic ability.  Sometimes, though, all I can see is the struggle of the hour.  And a lot of the time, I find myself wishing the day away, so that night will come — so that she’ll be in bed, asleep, and I can breathe again, relax, remove my drawn-up shoulders from around my ears.


For some reason, I really like lobsters — whimsical pictures of lobsters, live ones scuttling in tanks, lobster/crab imagery, claw harmonicas, etc., though I don’t know why.  The only thing I don’t want to do is eat them.  I’d never kill one, much less crack it open in some barbaric fashion and scoop out the meat from its very bug-like body.  In San Francisco, I used to pinch my ex with my hand claws — it was a strange form of PG-rated foreplay.  Worked every time, but maybe that’s because I was often nude.


One of my students is a boy in 5th grade.  One day, in the middle of a quiet writing assignment, he decided to share his desire to be dunked in a pool of chocolate so that he could lick it off his body, because then he would taste really good.  He’s autistic and has a very loud voice naturally, but he tends to be louder when he is more excited.  He was very excited by the idea of being dipped in chocolate.  I got some comments from the teacher across the hall.  It’s often very amusing what children will say in general, but when a child has no verbal filter, well, I tend to hear some strange things.  I love my job.


My favorite subject is sex.  I find that people are not open enough about it; most people find that I’m too open about it.  I’m single and have been most of my adult life.  I don’t mind most of the time.  I’d rather be single than be with someone that I am not passionate about.  I know that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?  Says who?  I mean, it’s important, nobody likes an asshole all the time, but people are lying if they say it doesn’t matter what someone looks like.  Likewise, sexual attraction is very important.  I keep hearing, “but he’s so sweet,” “he’s very responsible,” he’s good looking.”  All that is great and fine but if the sparks aren’t flying then a relationship is relegated to friends.


I work in a group home for children in state custody due to abuse and/or neglect.  Basically, kids are removed from abusive homes and come to us.  We work with them and try to help break the cycle of abuse, and to prepare them for foster care.  Emotionally, it can get tough — it’s not uncommon for me to cry the whole ride home after work.  Despite that, I love the job.  I’m one of the lucky ones.  I love what I do, I’m proud of it, and I’m good at it.  I’m also broke, because it doesn’t pay for shit.  Can’t have everything, I guess.


I’m 33.  I have a six-and-a-half-year-old son.  Going through a divorce.  The usual:  husband cheats and has two kids with another woman.  I make light of it now but unfortunately it’s true.  Enough about that.  I’m sure you’d rather hear about my son who wants to be a girl.  That’s true, too.  He’s a great kid.  I just think of him as being very creative, right?  Just say yes.


My son, Billy, just got married last year.  I am truly happy for him and Tammy.  I would like to find a companion for myself.  At age 48, my love life has led me onto a path of cynicism and cautiousness.  I remember when I used to fall so easily for someone.  Now, my immediate reaction is to find, as quickly as possible, all the reasons why a potential relationship might fail.  In my attempt to save time and prevent pain, I have painted myself into a lonely corner.  Somehow, being aware of my self-sabotage has not altered my pattern.


At age 26, I can tell you I haven’t been endowed with favor for interpersonal relationships.  I haven’t been lucky with the guys I like.  They just don’t like me.  It is maybe because I’m very shy when it comes to a guy I like.  I think this has to do with the thing that I was sexually abused when I was a child.  I’ve changed many things in the last six years:  I’ve read; I went to a psychologist….Anyhow, I’m still alone.  It’s weird and sad (sometimes) being 26 and not knowing what it is to have a person beside you that you could call your boyfriend.  (I have have never had one.)  Sometimes I think that maybe I’m destined to be alone — who knows?


Most multi-millionaires are happiest when they’re interacting with strangers.  In real life they are the most miserable bastards you’ll ever meet.  I’m not a millionaire, I just dress like one.  I’m an eBay-aholic.  If you’re ever bored, go to this site,  Just don’t get hooked like I did.


There’s an aspiring actress who lives somewhere in Hollywood.  We’ve been friends since age six.  I see her every six months or so — whenever I’m in town.  She mentioned she would like to have a temporary life parnter.  I told her I might move into my family’s vacant house in LA while I’m in law school.  She says she’ll live with me.  I told her it will cost her a lot.  She said she’d cook.  You get the picture.


I haven’t much of a sex life.  Although I think about it in the mornings when I wake up only.  I’m dreaming of a nice man, as I’m a woman.  I want to experience life as well as love.  I work as an artist.  I draw temporary tattoos on people yet I so want to do the REAL TATTOOS!

So I’m drinking Bass ale tonight after a very long abstinence.  I guess I’m buzzed, but it’s good because at least I’m writing….

It’s all good.


I’m a happily married woman with 2 kids, 1 dog, and 3 hermit crabs.  Until 3 weeks ago I thought I had it all until I met a gentleman I’ll call Sam.  Sam came on to me pretty hard at a party and I was very flattered, but not interested.  The next day, two of my best friends called to tell me how Sam wanted to meet me again and how beautiful I was and how I was the woman for him.  I was suddenly interested, because I felt like a goddess and I was finally getting the attention I feel I need.  My husband is very quiet and non-complimentary and basically refuses to fawn over me.  My friend asked if Sam could have my number and I said yes.  We began speaking to each other every other day or so for 2 weeks and we finally met in person.  The electricity between us was phenomenal and we haven’t even kissed.  We just talked that night for about 20 minutes and left.  We haven’t spoken since.  My friend says I said something that night that scared him, but I don’t remember anything I might have said to scare him off.  He still talks about me all the time, but won’t call me.  I know I’m just responding to his attention since I don’t get that need fulfilled within my marriage, but why, oh why won’t he call!  I’m pissed.  I’ve never in my adult life had a guy blow me off.  Asshole.  I’ve tried to get over it, but my girlfriend and her husband are roommates with him and I would feel like a bitch if I ask her to not talk about him.  That would be selfish, but I can’t seem to get past this.  I totally feel like I’m back in high school and I don’t know what to do.


It seems that being a 21-year-old female artist who is straight-forward is threatening to a lot of men.  I refuse to be submissive to anyone.  Except of course Jon (the cocaine addict).  I’ve only been with him twice.  Now that I think about it he probably thinks I’m some girl he made up in his mind while he was blowed.  I haven’t heard from him in a week.  I don’t understand — the sex was mind-blowing — I know it was more so for him, too.  I don’t even get the pleasure of being a fucking booty call.  I never told him how I felt because I didn’t want to scare him off.  I’d rather be a “friend with benefits” than be nothing at all to him.  Now I see that I achieved that anyway.  I’m hoping he’s so fucked up that he hasn’t remembered me.


I am scared.  I write….A LOT!  Especially poetry.  I collect stamps and baseball cards.  I think Johnny Depp is gorgeous!  Every year, I have three different calendars on the wall in my room.  It is tradition.  This year I have a Beatles one, Scenes from Paris, and a Disney Princess one.  I hate bugs.  I wear contacts.  One of my best friends is a whore.  I have two dogs.  I got a stuffed hippopotamus for Christmas.  My brother and sister actually have A.D.D. and Tourette’s.  I don’t.  I’m the youngest.  Last year, I broke my wrist falling off the computer chair.  I’m addicted to Facebook and Myspace.


I once fell in love with a very apathetic boy named David, and I cried and eventually he cried and we loved each other, but he’s in Missouri and I’m in Texas, and though he repeatedly promised me that “true love waits” and “one day we’ll be together,” he lied and found himself a shallow girl there who fell in love with him and so that was that.  He settled for something “okay” instead of waiting and working for something “great.”  I think, since this falling out with my dearest David, I have become a more apathetic person.  I’ve found someone else now, though.  And honestly, I love him wholeheartedly.  His name is Miguel.  I’m beginning to fear, though, that maybe we are too different.  He’s into video games and heavy metal, and I’m a writer and into a lot of different music — not including heavy metal.  But, I’m making an effort to involve myself in the things he enjoys — such as Warhammer 40k.


I am seeing a therapist for the deeper issues.  Being teased growing up, bickering mother, environmental changes, surviving chronic mastoiditis, losing my life during delivery (almost), gall bladder surgery, and hubby’s deployment….The house got fleas.  They are gone now.  The car’s starter went out.  Billy and I got the flu.  Why does things go wrong when you least expect it?


You said to write to you about anything, so I’m going to include in this letter a confession.  I have a cousin on death row in San Quentin for the murder of of a police officer.


One blustery fall day as the cats played outside, I told my parents I was going to the city to grab a sandwich, to sit and meditate at the park.  My dad told me I could not go.  Dad said, “Do I have to hold you down?  Do I have to call the cops?”  I was not acting strange or remotely violent.  If you knew me, you would understand how subtle and shy I am.

Dad took apart my car engine and hid my car keys.  He called the cops from his hospital (he’s a doctor) and the ambulance drove up with the cop cars.  The cops said they could make my dad give the keys back, or since the ambulance was there I could go in it.  Who knows why — worst mistake I have made — I went in the ambulance, and after a day of failing to explain to physicians why I was in a hospital, I signed myself into a mental institution and had to stay there for a week.


When I was little, about 8 years old, my life was great, or I thought it was.  And then it went all wrong when I found out my parents had been keeping secrets, which meant none of my childhood was as great as I thought it was.  I’ve slowly learnt to deal with the fact that everyone lies and keeps secrets.  Not really sure who I am anymore, but I’ve finally gotten to a point in my life where I don’t care if people don’t like me.


I’m married to a wonderful man and we have been together for 15 years.  We have a beautiful daughter.  We have great jobs and a “good life.”  The conflict comes from me feeling like I’ve come to a boring place inside.  My life has always been filled with hard times, abandonment and different kinds of abuse.  I understand that it became my security blanket over time and without it life seems plain.  Recently, I have been chatting with other writers online and one in particular has set a fire in me, not only with my writing but personally.  I feel kind of obsessed with him.  He is very interesting and we have so much in common.  I flipped out the other night and professed all of these things and luckily our friendship didn’t disintegrate.  I felt like an ass the next morning for saying it out loud and for feeling like I slighted my husband in some way.  My friend is also married and neither of us is willing to ruin our relationships — not to mention we geographically are separated.  But I wonder if my enjoyment of his company is wrong.  We both feel like we fill a void in each other that our spouses could never fill because they don’t enjoy the things that truly fill our hearts.


Picking lint
from my belly
Texas rain
Stinky wet dog
Something’s growing on my neck
like a zit, maybe cancer or
an eyeball or a second penis
the cat’s all twitchy
laying on a chair
dreaming cat things.


I’m in Berlin today.  I’m working on a book with a friend.  I’m also wondering whether to dump my new boyfriend.  He’s excellent, but the sex is crap.  His penis has a large head and a small shaft, like a slender-stemmed mushroom.  Do you get a lot of those — random, intimate confessions brought about by the anonymity of the letter exchange project?


It doesn’t make sense why I should die.  I just look at things simply and I don’t try and complicate them by learning through other people’s delusions.  I don’t like their logic so I make my own.  I don’t make shit up like professors and shit do.  I just look at something as basically as I can and I take it for that.  I don’t go to school and pollute my mind with someone else’s fantasy about how the world fucking works.  I don’t want to be a psychologist or sociologist or priest.  I don’t try to explain things in that sort of way.  The simpler one lives, the easier it is to become the master of one’s self and surroundings.  Doesn’t that sound fucking nice and fluffy?  That way you stop living in the fantasy world and live in reality.

When something occurs in the universe, it should stay that way.  Maybe because I don’t believe I can die, that makes me unable to die.  I believe other things can die because they’re idiots and believe in the same logic that everyone else believes in.  But I won’t.


We moved into a small apartment in Anaheim, California and lived simply.  A couple of memories that stick from that time are watching the fireworks and getting some kind of vaccination shot.  It’s funny because we never went to Disneyland, yet right from our apartment we could clearly see the fireworks from Space Mountain.  We would watch them whenever they went off.


Mostly I think people as a whole suck.  One of my daughter’s first phrases she uttered was ‘I hate people.’  Now she wears a shirt that says, ‘Drop knowledge, not bombs.’  At any rate, I think the word entitlement says it all with a lot of people today, especially the upcoming generations.  On the other hand, just so you don’t think I’m a complete anarchist, I’m totally fascinated by people, and their lives.


I had an awesome conversation last week with someone in line at the grocery store.  It was pretty one-sided, but I enjoyed it.  I asked her if she knew if an avocado was a fruit or vegetable.  She shook her head no and I told her it was a fruit.  She turned away but I continued by stating that they have a large, stony seed.  She scoffed when I told her that they can be eaten raw in salads or as dips.  The cashier laughed at that line.  I got her phone number, and we had sex two days later.  Needless to say, I won’t be returning to that grocery store anytime soon.


How I Became Human, a mini-documentary about D.R. Haney, author of SUBVERSIA, the rippingly good new nonfiction collection from TNB Books, now available in print, e-book, and (coming soon!) audio book formats.

How I Became Human was directed and edited by Timothy Murray.

Buy a copy of SUBVERSIA at:

Powell’s (Print)

Amazon (Print & Kindle editions)

Barnes & Noble (Print & Nook editions)

**Please note that the iBook version of SUBVERSIA (coming soon) will include How I Became Human in its backmatter — similar to a “DVD extra.” You can read the iBook edition, then watch the documentary on your iPhone or iPad!

Special thanks to Hukilau for their help in design, programming, and distribution of all digital editions.

Few books in recent memory have caused as much of a stir as Reality Hunger, the 219-page “manifesto” by David Shields.

It’s a book that defies easy classification.

An argument.  A clarion call.  An affront.  A life story.

An unapologetic assault on the literary status quo.

An essay-memoir-pointillistic-literary-collage-and-exercise-in-appropriation-art, one which argues that a new artistic movement is forming, a movement which prizes as its virtues things like randomness, self-reflexivity, reader/viewer participation, and the total obliteration of the line between fiction and nonfiction.

The book has been greeted as a revelation.  A game-changer.  A thunderous ars poetica.

The book has been greeted as reprehensible.  Tired.  An irresponsible attempt to subvert existing copyright law, all while generating a massive wave of cheap publicity.

Writers in particular have reacted strongly to the book.  Some with venemous anger; others, a fit of nervousness; others still with unbridled enthusiasm.

“To call something a manifesto is a brave step,” writes Luc Sante in the New York Times.  “It signals that you are hoisting a flag and are prepared to go down with the ship.”

Shields—as far as I can tell—is still afloat, and he was kind enough to speak with me recently about his life, his work, and his assessment of the cultural moment.


Recently, The Nervous Breakdown held a contest on its Twitter feed as we approached the 1,500 follower mark.  When the number was eclipsed, a drawing was held and a winner was selected.

The prize?  A feature interview here on TNB.

A young woman named Ellie emerged triumphant.  Ellie is from Portland, Oregon.  She is an Ivy League educated urban planner and music blogger with a penchant for whiskey and a deep love of cerebral rock stars and screen actor Ryan Gosling.

Ellie was kind enough to make herself available for a wide-ranging, spirited, and often personal conversation, the transcript of which can be found below.



BL:  Hello?



You did it! Welcome to gChat.

I feel special.

As you should.

Congrats again on winning the big contest.  A very scientific selection process involving several scraps of paper and a baseball hat.

Hey, thanks. It was hard work.

So here’s how this’ll go.  I’m gonna ask you a bunch of invasive, deeply personal, and potentially offensive questions.  And you must respond with wit and total honesty.

And then you put it on the Internet. Got it!

Right.  And then we take it public, along with a bunch of personal photos, and we do our best to make sure your family and all of your coworkers have access to it.


So yeah.  The idea is to make it interesting and entertaining.

I’ll do my best.

And to do that, you’re going to have to tolerate me attempting to be a decent interviewer.  Which is to say, you’re going to have to be willing to play along a bit as I try to ask about things that I think will compel our readership to keep reading.  Sound good?

(**radio silence as Ellie contemplates**)


Alright.  So let us begin, shall we?


Ellie, you are the winner of a recent contest that we held on our Twitter feed.  You are, in effect, the 1,500th “follower” of TNB on Twitter.  Tell me a little bit about how this makes you feel.

I feel like I need to work on my leadership skills.

Do you feel like a loser in life?  Like someone who was born under a bad sign?

I constantly feel like I am a character in a Credence Clearwater Revival song, yes.

You write about music, correct?

I do! I try to. I have a blog that is a few months old and I’m trying to do as much writing as possible this year. And go to as many shows as my bank account and liver will tolerate.

Tell me a little bit about your life.  Who you are.  Where you’re from.

Originally, I come from Upstate New York.  It’s very cold and snowy there. So I moved to Portland after college because I thought it would have a nicer climate.


Now I hate rain, but less passionately than I hate snow. I hope to keep moving south as I age.

And where did you go to college?

Cornell, which is also in Upstate New York.

An Ivy Leaguer.

Yes. I’m very fancy.

Were you a good student?

I was, although I learned to do less work each year while maintaining the same grades.

What was your major?


That’s always seemed sort of nebulous to me.  Though I suppose no more nebulous than “English.”

It is nebulous. I like dead old white dudes’ theories on the world. So, it worked out. Not so useful in the real world, however.

What have you done since college?

I temped and waited tables, then went and got a master’s degree.

In…anthropology?   Psychology?

Urban Planning.

How’d that treat you?

Well, I’ve been employed since I graduated, so that’s a plus. Whether it’s my lifelong calling remains to be seen.

So you do urban planning in Portland.

Sorta, kinda. I do all types of planning all around Oregon.

And in your spare time you go to shows and write about music and drink heavily.

Yes, sir.

Are you a problem drinker?  A bedwetter?  Anything like that?

I’m proud to say I am not.

So purely a social drinker who enjoys the live music experience.


Favorite bands?

That’s a harder question than it seems.  The Hold Steady.  The Gaslight Anthem.  Lucero.  The Drive-By Truckers.

Are you a hippie?

Gah! No!

Do you despise hippies?

I may or may not hate hippies.

Do you have a crush on Craig Finn [the lead singer of The Hold Steady]?

I have a crush on Craig Finn’s brain. Big time. I would put it in a different body, though.

Whose body?

Maybe Ryan Gosling. He’s adorable and scruffy enough to be a rock star.

I have a man crush on him.  Half Nelson is classic.

Don’t be ashamed.

I have no shame.

Hey, we have that in common!

And speaking of no shame:  Tell me about your life in Portland, and your personal life in particular.  Are you single?  Married?  Bi?  Asexual?  In an open marriage?

Single. Straight.

And looking for a Ryan Gosling look-alike who can play the guitar and think like Craig Finn.

That’s not asking so much, is it?

Does the music scene there annoy you at all?

Yes. There is a mismatch between my musical tastes and my surroundings.

When I imagine Portland, I imagine a lot of hipsters.  But I haven’t spent hardly any time in Portland.

You imagine correctly.

Do you feel that you intimidate men?

I feel like I should be lying on a couch when I answer that question.

Feel free to recline.

Am I intimidating you?

Not at all.  It’s a question I ask all of our Twitter followers.

I don’t feel that way, generally. Though Portland men are, as a whole, ginormous wimps.

I tend to believe that American culture has in some ways become “feminized” to an unhealthy degree.  It’s that whole “politically correct” argument.  Sensitivity over truth.  Metrosexuality.  Emo.  Shoegazing.  And so on.

We could talk about that for a while. Male friends of mine who grew up in Portland have confirmed for me that the culture here growing up was so PC that they can’t bring themselves to really hit on women.  I think Portland is the epicenter of that. There aren’t as many lumberjack types as one would think/hope.  Actually, Williamsburg, Brooklyn is potentially the epicenter of that. But we’re the west coast capital.

Have you ever considered putting up a Crag’s List ad expressing your interest in meeting a Ryan Gosling look-alike with a Craig Finn mind and the psycho-sexual bearing of an alpha-male lumberjack?

I have some friends who encourage this sort of thing. I’m not so sure.

About online dating?  Or Craig’s List specifically?

In general, yes. Craig’s List, specifically.

Have any guys in Portland hit on you recently?

They’re all too shy.  I’m not sure I’ve ever really been hit on in Portland.  Not in the proper east-coast sense.

The proper east-coast sense?

Eye contact followed by an introduction, maybe a free drink, some sort of follow-up invitation. Guys in Portland are really good at making eye contact across the room and then going home alone.

Have you ever considered taking the bull by the horns?  Flipping the script?  You do advertise yourself as a whiskey drinker.  This seems to indicate a certain predilection for aggressive, proactive behavior.

I’m overcome with social anxiety at inconvenient times.  But, yes, I have tried on occassion.  One time I bought a dude a beer at a show ’cause he’d been clutching an empty for thirty minutes. I thought that was cute of me.

His response?

He said, “That was sweet.”  We exchanged names.  He left alone.  I left with my friends.

What a pussy.

Sing it, sister.

So.  Do you read The Nervous Breakdown with any regularity?

Um…I do now?

It’s alright to be new.

I am new. It’s the power of Twitter. I do read a lot when not out at shows drinking whiskey, so I’ll check it out.

How many whiskeys do you drink on an average night on the town?  Be honest.

Four? It’s not an every night out kind of thing. One has to ration.

Four is a respectable number.

I like to drink Bud Light with my whiskey. Don’t judge. It’s delicious.

Are you a large woman?  Petite?  I’m trying to countenance this intake.

I think I can legitimately say I’m average.

Do you have siblings?

I have an older brother.

And you get along?

Famously. His wife is great too.

And they still live back in New York?

Nope.  San Francisco.


Not at all.

Have you done any international traveling?

I lived in Germany for a year and Scotland for four months. I’ve been to Mexico and Iceland as well.


It’s an island nation north of Europe.

Tell me about your experiences in Iceland.

I used to be obsessed with Iceland. I took a three-day layover on my way to Scotland. It was pretty surreal.

How so?

The landscape is unlike anything you’ve likely ever seen. And it’s so far north that you can’t really watch the sun set, because it takes a really long time and you get cold and have to go inside.

And you were in Reykjavik?

I stayed outside of Reykjavik because their hostel was full. Took a bus tour of the interior one day, bummed around the city one day and went to the Blue Lagoon one day.

The Blue Lagoon?

It’s a natural mineral spa in the middle of a lava landscape.

And people bathe in the lagoon?

Sort of float around, yes.  It’s like a big, shallow outdoor pool.

And the Icelandic people?  Were you able to get a sense of them?

Not so much. They all speak English quite well though.

Which can be kind of depressing, as an American.  You go abroad, and everyone speaks English so well.  Do you speak German fluently?

I used to. On my flight home, I was mistaken for a German native. That was twelve years ago though.  It’s not something you get to practice a lot.

It sort of scares me to hear people speak German.

It’s not the softest language, but it has a certain rhythm and it’s really quite logical.

Do you ever wonder what English must sound like to someone who doesn’t speak it?  I bet it sounds awful.

Like a mouthful of R’s.

Meanwhile Italian, French, and Spanish sound like music.

We’re an ugly people, the Americans.

Do you really believe that?

We have some ugly traits as a people, but I wouldn’t trade in.

Temperamentally speaking, what kind of person are you?  Outgoing?  Introverted?  Loud?  Quiet?  Funny?  How do you think your friends see you?

I think my friends see me as social and funny, but I think I have a bit of a split personality.

Meaning what?

I am either in super social, stay-out-late mode, or else I’m curled up with my cat reading and napping for a few days in a row.

Are you a depressive?

I can be. But sometimes when I’m really happy I like to read and nap, too.

So you consider yourself pretty well-adjusted psychologically?

I do. I mean, it’s a work in progress, always, but I’m pretty clear-headed.  Getting out of my twenties helped.

Your twenties?

Well, I finished college, moved across the country, worked a few dead-end jobs, had several apartments, ended a few relationships, got a degree and a big girl job, and put down roots.  I think everything’s a little more dramatic when you’re in your twenties.  Now it’s like, well, that sucks, but no one’s dead, so we’re all good.

You say you’ve “ended a few relationships.”  Were you always the one doing the ending?

I’ve usually been the ender, but the ones where I wasn’t were the hardest. I guess that’s obvious, but it’s a painful lesson.  I also got hit by a car when I was twenty-five. That was challenging.


I was on my bike.  Didn’t see the car coming. I was pretty lucky, all things considered.

And the car hit you head-on?  Sideswiped you?

I kind of sideswiped it.  Landed on my ass in the street. The actual physics of the accident are unclear to me.

What kind of injuries did you sustain?

Compression fracture in my spine.


I was in bed for about ten days. Never totally immobile though. It’s one of these injuries where they just send you home with pain pills. I wore a very attractive back brace for a few weeks.

Did you sue the driver?

I didn’t. I had good insurance, and no one was really at fault.

Have you ever been arrested?

No!  Very proud of that.

I’m looking for something juicy here.  You seem like a pretty stable human being.  There have to have been some episodes of incredibly poor judgment in your past.  Dark chapters.  Messy binges.

Haha. There certainly have been. Not fit to print though.  Especially since my mom is getting increasingly Internet savvy.

So we’re talking about men here.  If you’re worried about Mom, then it’s gotta be men.  Waking up in bed with someone and having no idea who they are or how you got there.

I have no idea what you are talking about.

Are you a big reader, Ellie?

I am. I read a lot.

Favorite writers?

Chuck Klosterman for non-fiction/pop culture. I’m less loyal when it comes to fiction.  I read a lot of contemporary fiction. I can tell you what books I really liked lately.

Sure.  Please do.

Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles.  This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper.  A Fortunate Age, by Joanna Rakoff.  City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza.

So you like humor in your fiction.

I do.  I love me some dark humor.

Do you have an e-reader?

No. I’m opposed.


I like to cuddle up with books. I love bookstores; I like the library. I don’t really want to get in bed with an electronic device.

I could easily make a joke here.

I am well aware.

So you have no plans to purchase an iPad.

Nope. I have two iPods and and iPhone, so I’m all set.

Do you have a lot of friends?

I do.  More than average, I think.

More men than women?  Women than men?

Probably more women, but certainly a good mix.  Women don’t trust women who have no woman friends. Cause they’re sketchy as hell.

How so?

It’s a red flag in the lady world.  Women who say “I don’t have many woman friends” are generally not trustworthy.  There’s a reason women don’t like them.  We’re better judges of character than y’all.

Do you really believe that?  I think I’m a pretty good judge of character.

I one-hundred percent do.

You’re speaking generally.  But you will concede that some men are actually good at such things.

Yes and yes.

Do you plan on having children someday?

I really don’t know. I’m 50/50 on that issue.

But if you meet the right guy, and you get married, it’ll happen.

So they say.

Do you like children?  Are you naturally drawn to them?  Or do you find them repellent?

I like babies. I like them till they’re about three.  Then I find them totally annoying.

Do you have any sense of your biological clock ticking?  Like, do you ever privately weep on the way home from the grocery store after seeing a baby in the checkout line or anything like that?

Well, I get really gooey when I see babies.  There is something instinctual about it.  But then they cry or I remember that I like to sleep nine hours a night, and I’m all good.

What about religious beliefs?  Are a you a churchgoer?

I’m not. I used to skip Sunday school as a kid. I was like, “this sounds hooey,” and I’d go hide for an hour.

So an atheist?

I guess technically. It’s not something I think about on the regular.

And what do you think happens when we die?

It’s like taking a nap, forever.

What’s your earliest memory?

When I was, like, four, one of my brother’s friends fell and got a rusty nail impaled in his knee.

Do you have any phobias?

Natural disasters.


Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanos erupting.  Any and all, really.

And you’re truly phobic of these things?

Well, I’ve calmed down in recent years. I used to worry a lot about tsunamis.

What do you do when you’re afraid?  Are we talking panic attacks here?

Nah.  I don’t know how to answer that.  I’m a bit neurotic, though. I sort of immediately imagine the worst case scenario. Or when people don’t call me back, I wonder if they’re dead.

Are you a pessimist?

I like to think I’m a realist. Part of me is jaded as hell, but deep down I’m pretty sure it’s all gonna work out fine.

Do you meditate?

Lord, no.

So you’re opposed to meditation.

I am way too ADD for that. I have like nine thoughts at once.  If I need to block them out, I go to the gym and listen to music really loudly.

Are you Italian?

I’m about a third by blood.  Not at all, culturally.  Well, I like pasta.

Tell me something that our readership should know about you.  What can you tell us about yourself that will give us real insight into who you are as a human being?

I am looking for a Ryan Gosling look-alike who can play the guitar and think like Craig Finn.

Anything else?

A person would have to buy me drinks to get that kind of insight.

So where can Portland men find you if they feel like they might meet your very stringent criteria?  We like to try to facilitate couplings here at TNB.

Read my blog.  Comment.  Follow me to shows—in a non-creepy way, of course.  Or email me at [email protected].

Okay, Ellie.  I think that about does it.  This has been fun.  Thank you very much for your time.

You got it.  Thank you.

You may have read this story, the one about 62-year-old Don Doane of Ravenna, Michigan. For more than forty-five years Mr. Doane was a member of the same bowling team. He and his teammates competed in a local league at the local lanes over at Ravenna Bowl.

An open letter to Maggie, my neighbor’s black Lab:


Dear Maggie,

I think your name was Maggie. You were a black Lab, and you lived in a small kennel made of chain-link fencing and wood in my neighbor’s backyard. I peed on you one evening when I was about seven years old, on a dare from a few of my friends. We were standing around your kennel, looking at you, when suddenly it occurred to me that I had to urinate. I mentioned my condition to my friends, and one of them suggested that I pee on you, for fun. And then the rest of them said, “Yeah, I dare you.” And so I did.

I remember you ran back inside your doghouse once you realized that I was peeing on you. And then I ran home.

My mother got a call from your mother a few minutes later. Apparently, she had seen the whole incident from her bedroom window. On hearing the news, my mother was horrified, and fittingly, I was grounded for the better part of a week as punishment. I also had to walk over and apologize to both you and your mother in person. I can only hope that you forgave me. I really felt bad about peeing on you, in the pit of my diminutive soul. I always thought that you were a really cool dog, and I secretly wished that you were my own.


Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA

An open letter to God, Creator of the Universe:


Dear God,

When I was a kid, I was forced to go to church, and I was advised by my elders to believe in you. On many occasions, while seated uncomfortably on a hard wooden pew, listening with grave confusion to the rambling of a large, avuncular preacher, I turned my gaze heavenward and prayed in your direction. Almost every time, I prayed that you might provide some sort of definitive, supernatural evidence of your ever-abiding existence.

Dear God, I’d pray, could you please shoot a beam of purple light through that window up there above the altar, so that I can know for a fact that you’re actually listening to me?


Dear God, could you please blow out that candle sitting over there by the piano, so that I can know for a fact that your powers are actually real?

Naturally, on every such occasion, my heartfelt prayers went unanswered. My pleas were met with an altogether deafening silence.

Here and now, as I enter the prime years of my adulthood, I certainly wouldn’t expect you to trouble yourself with any of my petty requests issued forth in prayer. I can imagine that you are an incredibly busy entity with plenty of universal responsibilities to attend to. I wouldn’t think to bother you.

At the same time, I continue to find myself troubled by your total lack of regard for the innocent requests that I made as a young boy. One would think that a being as powerful and compassionate as God could trouble himself momentarily to shoot a beam of purple light through a small stained-glass window for the benefit of an innocent child.

No offense or anything, but the fact that you ignored me is pretty fucking lame. Hopefully, you will see fit to change your protocol for the next generation of good-hearted inquisitors.

Stay black,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA

An open letter to Julie, the girl who dumped me right after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded:


Dear Julie,

We dated briefly in the fifth grade, and on January 28, 1986, you broke up with me. We were sitting in the Presentation Area, adjacent the library, and we had just finished watching the Space Shuttle Challenger explode. It ascended from the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, and seventy-three seconds later, the whole thing went up in a massive fireball, killing everyone aboard. The room was silent, and our teachers started crying. And then your friend Marianne walked over to me and handed me a note that said, “Hey … You’re dumped.”

I’m not the type to hold a grudge or anything, but I always felt like that was really insensitive timing.


Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA

An open letter to Jeffrey Dahmer:


Dear Jeffrey,

You worked at the Ambrosia Chocolate factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the early 1980s. I read about it somewhere not too long after you were bludgeoned to death in prison. My second-grade class went on a field trip to the Ambrosia factory in 1982. I often wonder if you were there at the time of my visit. I wonder if we saw each other in the hallway or something. And naturally, I wonder if you looked at me and decided that you wanted to eat me and keep my skull as a souvenir.


Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA

An open letter to John Walker Lindh:



Dear John,

You were born in 1981. Whenever I hear of adults who were born in the 1980s, it makes me feel old. You’re twenty-six now. And you’re in prison. I can’t think of anything worse than being twenty-six and in prison. I hope you’re not going insane.

I just reread your personal history online, and I have to admit, I find it pretty stunning. It’s hard to believe you started off in Marin County and wound up fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s a massive statistical unlikelihood—which I suppose is part of the reason why you did it. For a teenager raised in Mill Valley, moving to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban has got to be the ultimate in youthful rebellion.

You must have been really pissed off at your parents.

At the time of your arrest, you were twenty years old.

When I was twenty, I was taking bong hits in a Boulder basement, listening to Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz.

People, generally speaking, are pretty stupid at the age of twenty. I know I certainly was. And I imagine that you were, too.

To be honest, I think you might have set some kind of record for misguided youthful indiscretion. If there were some sort of measuring device that could calculate this kind of thing, I’m almost certain that you’d rank right up near the top.

A lot of my friends lost their shit in college, but nobody grew a beard and moved to Afghanistan.

Kindest regards,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA

P.S. Forty is the new twenty.