Will never forget the day dad talked over mom at a dinner party. That night she drugged him and split his tongue with a straight razor while my sister and I watched. “You see that, kids? Your father is a lizard now! You live in a terrarium!” 

 

When you give your mom a card and you watch her read it and well up and then the mist turns melancholic and severe as she looks through the table and into the past and assesses the present and you have to make a joke to break the spell. 

 

Hope Philip Roth’s mom is waiting for him, legs spread, in Heaven. 

 

I suggested to my mom that we do a family ayahuasca session for Christmas to which she replied, “My shit is together, isn’t it?” I said, “You are the master of your own shit. You tell me?” And she said, “Yeah, well it moves forward.”

 

When you die you go back into your mother and she goes back into her mother and so on until the nesting doll of existence repacks itself through primates and primordial goo all the way back up to the Big Bang.

Mark Guerin is the guest. His debut novel, You Can See More From Up Here, is available from Golden Antelope Press. It is the official December pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Guerin is a 2014 graduate of Grub Street’s Novel Incubator program in Boston. He also has an MFA from Brandeis University and is a winner of an Illinois Arts Council Grant, the Mimi Steinberg Award for Playwriting and Sigma Tau Delta’s Eleanor B. North Poetry Award. A contributor to the novelist’s blog, Dead Darlings, he is also a playwright, copywriter and journalist. He currently resides in Harpswell, Maine, with his wife, Carol, and two Brittany Spaniels.

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What does it most often look like around you when you write? Do you have a zone?

I like a big desk and a bulletin board. I decorate my writing space with earthly treasures and many different notes that help guide me through my process. I also like to have space to get up and dance while I work because moving my body makes it all better. I like to be in complete solitude while I write. The best is a room with a view of nothing but landscape and a nearby wall that I can tape paper and images to. I’ve been lucky enough to conjure this at various times in my life and am in awe of the privilege. I seek out solo retreats in Joshua Tree and Humboldt County. The natural world, as opposed to the urban, is a consistent part of my practice.

Start by loving a God that lives
Inside the shell of a black beetle.
Now get a little older
And become a Jew
Who loves a God inside letters
That read backward on the page.
Older still and Christ comes
To teach some other version
That wipes us all clean
When we get dunked
In an above-ground swimming pool.

 

Version 1 

 

This version of my husband moved out of his house and into me in the early 1990s. It was love at last sight. He was not the man I wanted but he was the man I got. 

 

My name in this version of events is Geraldine. My husband’s name at this point was Rex. I have never forgiven my parents for this name and if names were objects, then this one was a punchbag which all my bullies and not-well-wishers hammered with their bony knuckles. 

 

I was working in a bar. It was a small town with small people, and everyone’s faces looked like raked mashed potato. The men in the bar all had violently large bellies and sometimes I wondered if they were going to give birth to something, jettison some still-born clod of flesh and blood and oily hair onto the beer-sticky floor. 

 

And then there was my husband to be, Rex. He was stick thin and dressed in rags. 

 

“Hey,” he said. “I haven’t eaten in a year. Do you have any food?”

 

“We’ve run out,” I said. 

 

“Too bad, too bad. I can do without for a little longer, I guess.” 

 

Things moved quickly. Every man in this town was a piece of shit and a failure. I had been on several dates and the men would always dissect me like a frog. I remember being in that restaurant, Giovanni’s, and over a plate of mussels and spaghetti, my date, a piece of lard shaped like a man called Roger, cut my torso open and played my ribs like a xylophone. He also sawed the top of my skull off and wore it like a cap and poked the parts of my brain that would give him the secrets of my mind.  He asked me what I liked to do in my spare time and I said masturbate and chase rats. It was true. I liked to follow rats in the streets and count them. One, two, three, four and that’d be a good day for me, counting rats. But Roger, like many men, could look past my idiosyncrasies. I could’ve been a racist or a paedophile and he still would have swallowed his pride and fucked me. He took me back to his house, then, and he swallowed me whole and spat me back out. I was covered in his goo.

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Six

 

The sun slipped down over the treetops, I misjudged my step, fell into the river, was washed away. 

The trick was to cross farther up where the water was shallower, but I’d forgotten that. 

I crashed into a boulder in the center of the river, my wind knocked out. For a while I just hung onto that boulder for dear life. The white water thundered past, surged around me.

The way I got free was I let go again, pulled a hundred yards farther down the rapids, stopped by a fallen tree bridging both banks. I was able to climb up and scramble across, bleeding and laughing.

Up on the other bank, I thought I should turn back. I’d messed around enough with my memories. Electric shock therapy might be a better option. A partial lobotomy. No, it wasn’t right. I’d woken up that morning, not able to recall my mother’s name, again. I had to go solve the trouble at my house of memory. 

I took off my clothes, carried them forward, heavy and soaked. The forest was a maze I couldn’t navigate. I used to know the way. Thorns and bogs dead ends, and all the time the light getting worse.

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Tim O’Brien. He is the author of The Things They Carried, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award. And he is the recipient of the 1979 National Book Award for Fiction for his novel Going After Cacciato. His latest book, a memoir, is called Dad’s Maybe Book, available now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

 

O’Brien was born in 1946 in Austin, Minnesota, and spent most of his youth in the small town of Worthington, Minnesota. He graduated summa cum laude from Macalester College in 1968. From February 1969 to March 1970 he served as infantryman with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, after which he pursued graduate studies in government at Harvard University. He worked as a national affairs reporter for The Washington Post from 1973 to 1974.

His short fiction has appeared in The New YorkerEsquireHarper’sThe AtlanticPlayboy, and Ploughshares, and in several editions of The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize Stories. In 1987, O’Brien received the National Magazine Award for the short story, “The Things They Carried,” and in 1999 it was selected for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. O’Brien is the recipient of literary awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He has been elected to both the Society of American Historians and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. O’Brien currently holds the University Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State University. He lives with his wife and children in Austin, Texas.

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I was asked over the summer to review the new David Berman album, the debut self-titled release of his new project, Purple Mountains. It was his first release, besides a one off with The Avalanches (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XTrz0yvxe0), in around a decade. The album is very good, and often brilliant, like the rest of Berman’s records. And his book of poems, Actual Air. And The Portable February, his collection of cartoons and doodles. And his essays, which are not plentiful, scattered and uncollected. I planned to write about the album and its relation to Berman’s genius, and his mastery of language and form. How it is the work of an old, tired master—an album without flash. One that is smooth, perceptive, prescient, and weighted with pain. I was to finish the piece after seeing Purple Mountains play a concert at Brooklyn’s Murmrr theater. That would have been in late August. 

This plan made sense to me for a few reasons. First, the symbolic. Murmrr was once a synagogue. And as a writer of a vague and intrinsic Jewishness, I feel a sort of kinship with Berman. We are wanderers in the same diasporic and Freudianly horny tradition. And, at least to me, a devoted fan, Berman, across his output, proffered something spiritual. What one might call a rabbinic element. A gesture at a fuller life beyond bodies and their doldrums. A life of language. A life of more and less living. 

Get yourself an invite to a room full of fear, hubris and desire.

Enter to applause

          for someone just over your shoulder.

Gently float.

You are invisible…
you do not register.

Glide through the room,

          enter their orbits

          questioning if you still have skin.

Humid chatter is the evening’s soundtrack.

I Have a Terrible Feeling is a series of weekly drawings, cartoons, and sketches by poet Adam Soldofsky.

Katherine

By Sam Fishman

Short Story

 

Katherine has these two glorious biceps—huge biceps—big biceps like two best friends who would tell you what she was really thinking when she wouldn’t. 

One time I drove to Katherine’s house and saw a ton of broken wine glasses in the middle of the street and a big cardboard box. I parked my car and Katherine pulled up and said “Hop in bucko,” and then:

“I just dropped a whole box of glasses in the street by accident.”

I wanted to ask her why she didn’t wait a minute and just ask me carry them, because that’s something I could have really kicked-ass at and that doesn’t happen all the time. 

Most of the time it’s more like “I could never kick ass at that,” or “I don’t know how to do that.”

So I looked at her face to see if she could see that I wanted to ask her, and I didn’t see anything about it there. So I looked at her biceps, and they told me this:

“That’s boyfriend stuff, and you are not my boyfriend. So don’t do boyfriend stuff and then say you don’t want to be my boyfriend.”

I said, “How about we just pretend you’re my girlfriend when I’m feeling lonely,” and the biceps flexed like “don’t even go there” and I said, “Yes, sirs,” and Katherine said, “What?”

And I said, “Sorry, yes ma’am,” and we went to have a coffee.

Directions

By Bud Smith

Short Story

Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Five

 

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Abigail Tarttelin. Her new novel, Dead Girls, is available from Rare Bird Books. It was the official November pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

This is Abigail’s second time on the program. She first appeared in Episode 194 on July 28, 2013.

Tarttelin is also the author of Golden Boy, “a grippingly innovative” coming-of-age novel with a “radical non-binary, pro-intersex message” (Autostraddle). Golden Boy is the winner of an Alex Award from the American Library Association, a LAMBDA Literary Award Finalist for Best LGBT Debut, a Booklist Top Ten First Novel of 2013, a School Library Journal Best Book of 2013, and is published in eight languages.

Her journalism has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Glamour, Phoenix, Oh Comely, and The Huffington Post. Also a screenwriter, in 2016 Abigail served as a juror for the British Independent Film Awards. She is the recipient of awards from The Authors Foundation and The K Blundell Trust in Great Britain.

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Start open. Start loose and
easy. Let your lines blink in
the sun. Start with the second thing
you ever knew. Draw your fingers together
like circling wagons, then like dancing lovers,
then like puzzle pieces. You should find
at the end of yourself

I Have a Terrible Feeling is a series of weekly drawings, cartoons, and sketches by poet Adam Soldofsky.