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The last time we talked we learned you were born in a log cabin and the illegitimate son of the Queen of England, what good that did anyone is hard to say, but I see you have another book coming out. Quite the coincidence.
I’ll say, and thanks for asking. Yes, it’s a horseracing, record collecting, and insane asylum novel called Whirlaway. It’s also about psychic evanescence, which is existing and not existing at the same time. It’s a funny book, I’ll add, but what else would you expect from the illegitimate son of an English Queen?
I understand you’ve used an unreliable narrator for perspective. What are you thoughts on this? Have you done this before?
Never intentionally. And I don’t like it as a rule. In my opinion, the writer should be doing the heavy lifting for the reader, being as clear and succinct and accessible as possible, but in Whirlaway my narrator is an escapee from a psychiatric hospital, a diagnosed and heavily-medicated schizophrenic, so I really had no choice. Poetry is supposedly the art of indirection, the way spaces become bridges and that sort of thing. Also at the heart of Whirlaway is a death mystery, and I found an unreliable narrator quite useful for this.
As an illustration of what I was up against at Napa State Hospital, what they used to call an asylum for the criminally insane, my fellow inmate Arn Boothby, an angry three-hundred-pound paranoid schizophrenic who regularly “cheeked” his meds, tried to kill another inmate one day in the client convenience store by grabbing his throat and throwing him through a glass display case. I was standing in line to buy a pack of breath mints at the time and can attest to him saying, “P. S. I Love You,” as the blood spread across the tiles. Boothby was tackled by two psych techs; a staff nurse and hospital police converged within minutes to beat in Boothby’s brains behind closed doors. Boothby told me later they would’ve killed him had not Dr. Fasstink inadvertently intervened. Boothby went to jail, vacation time for most of us at NSH, and I didn’t see him at the card game for a few months. When you’re surrounded by murderers, bank robbers, arsonists, and child molesters you’ll play cards with just about anyone.
Sixteen says indignantly that she hasn’t taken pills in a month.
Since she got caught, she means.
Oxy was her favorite. I never tried Oxy, but I used to love heroin more than my own dreams.
There’s darkness beneath the glamour, I warn her, but her ears are closed.
What I point out: addiction dulls brightness, makes ideas go nowhere, splices generosity with blinding selfishness, makes a person betray themselves so they’re left with no one to trust.
What I say: “I’ve never seen anybody get out whole.”
“Not you, though,” she shakes her head like it’s the only true thing in the world. “You’re the best person I know. You kept your brightness.”
No, daughter. No.
She’s my mom.
So why not say, To Mom?
My sister and I have always called my parents by their first names. It’s always been the most natural thing for us—I think I tried calling them Mom and Dad once, and it felt weird and impersonal. When I was nine, one of my teachers asked my mom if “Ceci” meant “Mom” in Spanish, because she kept hearing us call her that. I thought, it is our word for Mom.
April 05, 2018
In Vanishing Acts, Jaimee Wriston Colbert’s new novel and sixth work of fiction, the author takes us to the Big Island of Hawai’i, where she grew up body-surfing, listening to stories about the volcano goddess Pele, and later as an adult, on return trips from the mainland, observing the alarming signs of her beloved island’s changing ecosystem, due to drought and other environmental stressors.
Through her storytelling lens, Colbert chronicles the effects of the traumatic transformation Hawai’i is undergoing as its rare species and forests disappear, a theme that also informs her fifth book, Wild Things, a linked story collection set in upstate New York.
This is Jami’s second time on the program. She first appeared in Episode 115 on October 21, 2012.
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Good news! The Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast is now available for streaming via Spotify. The show is entirely free and can also be heard online and via iTunes, Stitcher, et al.
Why did you write Not My White Savior?
Somedays I’m not sure. I’m a very private person so being public about anything has been, well, interesting. Sometimes I want to close my eyes and pretend I don’t see anything public about myself. When I started to read my poetry at open-mics, other adopted Koreans wanted a copy or wanted to talk with me about my poems and I wasn’t ready for that. I just wanted to read because it was therapeutic. Now I’m ready to share and talk and if it’s helpful to someone, then it’s worth it.
Return to Sender
*Since the Korean War, over 150,000 children have been sent to the USA via inter-country adoption. Due to a loophole in the Child Citizenship Act, there are an estimated 35,000 inter-country adoptees living without US citizenship. Some have been deported to their country of origin.
Korea exported me to America
Before I could speak my name.
Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes
Better Life, education
Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Will Mackin. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, his work has appeared in The New Yorker, GQ, The Atlantic Monthly, and elsewhere. His debut story collection, Bring Out the Dog, is available now from Random House.
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Why is there a fish on your book cover?
I like the idea of shooting fish in a barrel, or even a stream. The feeling that I am constantly overdoing it, living with a sense of desperation and the easy way out, which is often messy.
Grateful for the way we once walked through the pines
you, apologizing to the boughs and needles with your gentle heels noticing the light warming one side of the conifers
capturing the way moss sneaks to live on in the dark bark,
tiny holes, vacant homes, thanking the ferns
harmonizing the body with the poplar
I tried to live this way
I am from plywood and Datsun noise
skate ramps and shitty forts
you are from purple milk thistle and where storms are born running high in the Santa Lucia green
With black nightgown whipping
I watch you fall in the coastal fields-
a credit card flopped on a poker table
laughing like it’s all going to be okay
There are four stages of interrogation; the first is called Formation. Before the interrogation comes the need for it to occur and the mandate to undertake it. At this stage, the framework is established for how the interrogation may be determined, including the level of coercion that is permitted or not allowed.
What happened in the library?
My affair with California begins long before we meet. I am nine, tucked between stacks in the school library on the second floor. For years after, decades, I will have dreams about the second floor of this school. I will wrestle in my sleep to remember what the hallway looked like as it hooked a sharp right, to the farthest reaches of the building where only the sixth-graders went. I will smell the disinfectant wafting off the floors and hear the squeak of untied sneakers. I will remember, without knowing if it is real, a tide of anxiety about the girls’ bathroom—dirty stalls, cold tile, donut-shaped communal drinking fountain into which one could easily fall, or be pushed.
I don’t think so, but it’s a pretty weird coincidence. When I started writing the novel in the summer of 2013, I came across a couple of passing references to how the U.S. had influenced Italian elections starting in 1947 and going forward through the 1950s. I found that very intriguing—I remember pausing in my reading when I came to the phrase “opinion moulders” and staring out the window and thinking, I can imagine bribing someone after an election, but how do you actually throw an election in a foreign country??? The idea was so odd to me that I decided to boil it down to one not very well-trained American trying to sway one small election in one town (Siena), and to make it very hard for him, for all the comic reasons that come to mind in terms of how bumpy it is to try to get anything done in Italy.