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I am filled with a rage fueled by sadness. Rage like a sourdough mother, a lump of material from which my outbursts grow. I cannot adequately express my emotions. My spectrum is happy to angry. The points between, obscured. This sourdough mother journeyed with me from my Irish childhood and has accompanied me across two continents and through several long-term relationships and two marriages. Its raw materials are to be unearthed in the fights and arguments of my childhood, long forgotten, but somehow embedded in my subconscious, dormant but alive.

Students in the University System of Georgia must take and pass a Regents’ Exam in writing. I’ve taught a Regents’ Exam prep course, and in freshman composition I have generally been required to teach students how to pass this test. There are 635 approved essay prompts. When a student takes his Regents’ Exam, a random selection of four of these prompts shows up on the test instruction sheet. From these the student chooses one prompt.

As a writing exercise—warming up before jumping into whatever book I’m working on each day—I’ve been randomly selecting a prompt from the list of approved essay topics (http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwrtp/topics.htm) and writing a short essay—about the same length that an actual Georgia college student might compose—when taking this test.

I don’t know if I’ll end up writing 635 essays, but this is a start. I’m calling this project “Writing Sample.”

 

What are the most appropriate ways for people to show anger? Explain.

 

In the late 1990s I lived in Reno, Nevada and bartended at a college pizza joint and had a girlfriend who also worked at this bar and me and this girlfriend tried living together for about six months and although that didn’t work out, we stuck together for something like three or four years. Our relationship did not blossom beyond boyfriend-girlfriend because (and here I would like to say that it was because she’s a crazy bitch—and I still think she is—but I’m going to be honest with myself instead) but we both drank way too much and she had some anger management issues and these things combined brought out the worst in me, too. I remember the first time: I knocked that desklamp so hard it flew across the office in her house (the little Victorian I had just moved into), the bulb shattering against the opposite wall, the aluminum shade flattened, sparks floating to the carpet then darkness and silence. This happened because a friend had called to invite me to her birthday party and my girlfriend accused me of having fucked this friend, accused me of still fucking her, or of at least wanting to, and none of these things were true and my girlfriend wouldn’t shut up and listen to reason. We destroyed almost everything we owned. Before I moved out, three guitars ended up splintered on the street’s asphalt during violent attempts to leave; knives slashed, and bare hands ripped to shreds, an Oleg Cassini gown and cashmere dresses and a Hugo Boss suit; about ten window panes were replaced in the house and one on the old lady’s pickup; a thirty-six-inch television hissed and spewed smoke out its vents after I threw it; I had black eyes and bloodied lips, and the cops knew us by first name, and I’d attempted suicide twice, both times with pills, and I had walked barefoot out of the hospital in the middle of a winter’s night after doctors pumped my stomach, because the girlfriend in her visit said I wouldn’t come home but would instead go to the state mental health facility.

A few years after this, not long after the 90s sealed closed for good with the selection of a new president by our Supreme Court, some people I’d never heard of flew planes into buildings in New York City and Washington D.C., and into an empty field in Pennsylvania. Living on the west coast, as I did then, I learned of this long after most of the people involved had died, after the sites of this wreckage were smoldering and smoking apocalypses. A friend from high school woke me with a telephone call. He said, “The Twin Towers, dude, they’re gone.” I drove to the bar, this same college bar where I had once worked with my ex-girlfriend, the bar where my butt still perched to suck down one-dollar mugs of PBR. There my friends gathered around the screen like flies over a kill and we watched the devastation repeat, repeat. I was teaching at the university by then; I cancelled class. On the payphone outside my father’s voice shook and I said, “I’ll go to war. I’ll sign up for the Army if they need me, or if I’m drafted.” Dad said, “You may have to.” The next few days the sky was untouched canvas, devoid of jetliners’ trails brushed across it. American flags sprouted in bungalows’ front yards, from the windows of passing Fords and Toyotas. God Bless America became hello. The president said, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” American air support secured Kabul; the Taliban fled to Pakistan.

More than a decade has passed. My ex-girlfriend tried to start a fight with me when I returned to Reno to give a reading. I ignored her, arching my eyebrows with incredulity while I signed a copy for the woman who’d kindly purchased my book. Somewhere between 14,000 and 40,000 civilians have died as a result of war in Afghanistan, and add to that the 3,000 dead civilians here in the United States. The last time my wife and I fought it was over who changes more diapers, who has to get up at four AM to feed our daughter, who has to be stuck inside the house all day while you get to leave for work, who has to work all the goddamn time and cannot spend the time he’d like with his baby. I stepped away, took a deep breath, returned, and said, “What can I do to help?”

I am sick of the fucking internet. I’m not supposed to say this because I am a child of technology. When I was 12, my big brother got us on AOL. He was in a chat room for fans of the Allman Brothers Band and introduced me to all these people. As they all said hi to me, I felt shivers running up and down my spine. I was so excited I couldn’t stop moving.

Chat rooms felt like a dark closet full of strangers, outrageously intimate. I liked to engage in religious debates the most. I also wanted a boyfriend but found teen chat rooms annoying. I would stay home when the neighborhood kids went out to play because I didn’t like them and preferred to talk to strangers on the internet. I mailed my cheer-leading pictures to a boy in New Orleans who may or may not have been a real person.

I hang out with real geeks because I wish I was one of them. I am uncool in the non-hipster way of being uncool. As in, I’m too awkward to get along with normal people but I don’t know any programming languages. I taught myself HTML once upon a time and thought I was pretty badass, but I couldn’t stay afloat once CSS came on the scene. I know how to crimp a Cat 5 cable, and I can put together a PC. I married my husband because I thought it was hot when he wrote code.

Every now and then I get this need to be well informed about the world, and I go on a news binge. Last week, it was a combination of Norway, Lulzsec, the debt ceiling and Google News Badges. Those badges don’t update properly. The thing says I read 5 articles about Norway, so I started reading a lot of articles on different topics. Then I read like 20 on Anonymous, but it wouldn’t update. I have a bronze Norway badge. I am disappoint.

Although it damn near made me kill myself over the weekend (only a slight exaggeration), I go back to Google News on Monday like an addict looking for inspiration. There are people out there breaking the law and pissing people off and making a difference in a way I can never do. It’s totally possible that the things they’re doing all completely wrong. I’m not convinced anyone is doing anything that’s not completely wrong.

I am a project manager. I am a rule follower. I respect authority.

Every few months, I decide I’m not really a writer. I am angry that I went to college and even more so that I went to grad school. I wish someone had told me how worthless it was. I’m not saying it wasn’t fun or that I didn’t meet lovely people and learn some stuff, but look, I discovered yoga at age 16, and I knew I wanted to teach yoga at age 17, yet I dropped that idea and went to college because that seemed like the appropriate thing to do. I am so tired of the appropriate thing.

If I had followed my instinct, I would have a career by now.

I try to tell myself this is my dharma, that karma put me here. I tell myself I’m here to learn something, and I’m working extra hard to learn it as fast as possible so I can get the fuck out of this cubicle and start doing what I wanted to do all along. Did I really need all those student loans to have this realization, karma? I am $32k in the hole for a degree I will never use.

I don’t mean to be such a downer about it. I mean, I can use a semicolon like nobody’s business, but I rarely do because most of the time it’s pretentious. I fucking love run-on sentences.

I’m tired of buying things. I hate things. I hate stuff. I hate clutter. It’s not just the laptops littering the living room but also the server racks down the hall from my bedroom, and also the ones in the basement, and the miscellaneous cables scattered around the technological wasteland that is my house. It’s also the unwashed underwear, the piles of recycling, the perpetually half done renovation projects, the stacks of unread books and magazines on the floor and dust bunnies, my god the dust bunnies. And furthermore, it’s Twitter and Facebook and Google + and Google Reader and Google News and my two blogs, one of them disused. It’s also IRC and GChat and once upon a time AIM and ICQ. It’s also Skype and Ventrillo and Stickam and Daily Booth and Youtube.

There is a BMW being born on my behalf and a loan check to prove it. I feel like a teen mom except I’m not a teenager, not a mom, and not a reality TV star, but my life does have that familiar ring of this is not really- this- this- this is not really happening

You bet your life it is.

I am often afraid that if I said what I really thought about the world, I would be burned at the stake. Maybe I should just make peace with that. After all, this flame proof suit will not last forever. Maybe sometimes it’s better to douse yourself in gasoline and go for the fucking glory.

Maybe I should be a little less dramatic.


Some days I just want to get a lot of tattoos and become totally unemployable as a way to force myself out of the corporate world. One day I will. If I achieve only one thing in life, it will be becoming unemployable.
I hate the way journalists on television say “hacktivists” like they’re trying to drive home a clever pun. They deadpan the news like the world’s worst comedy troop telling grand sick joke. Why hasn’t anyone hacked Congress yet? Those guys are the real assholes, right? I wonder what kind of delicious secrets they’ve got. Just a thought.
A guy walks into a universe and says “God? Is that you?” and the Pope says, “Yes, son, take off your clothes.” The headlines spew sex scandals and it’s all the same to them whether you’re a rapist priest or a member of congress who fails to grasp direct messaging. If there are genitals involved, they’re all over it.
Sex crimes are our favorite joke, but trading legal tender for an orgasm will cost you your career. Sometimes I hate the world.
Every generation has its drama. We all think we’re in the middle of something new and brilliant. They had Kennedy and Nixon and all those poor dead boys, and we have about half the world protesting, a handful of countries with no governments, and a digital revolution that is not at all what we were hoping for, no matter what you were hoping for.
Tomorrow. I swear. Tomorrow I’m getting that tattoo.


I started and finished Jesus Angel Garcia’s new book, badbadbad, on a flight from Baltimore to California.  In those six hours, I read more sex scenes than I’ve read in the past five years.  It’s one of those books that will keep you from putting on your headphones and watching the lamely re-edited in-flight movie (something I’d never even heard of was playing on this flight).  Music runs through the novel  (go to www.badbadbad.net for the playlist) in a way that makes the book feel like a loud, thrilling, invigorating concert. A concert about sex, religion, music and violence.

Taken from the Introduction of Unsuspecting Souls

Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle created two of history’s most memorable detectives: C. Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes. Detectives so captured the imagination in the nineteenth century that writers borrowed the word sleuth, which originally referred to the dog that did all the nose work, the bloodhound, for that new superhuman, the detective. Those two nineteenth-century sleuths, Dupin and Holmes, came up with solutions for the most intricately plotted crimes—mostly acts of grisly murder. But the greatest crime of the century took place, over a period of time, right under their highly calibrated noses: the slow and deliberate disappearance of the human being.

The Crucifixion

By Irene Zion

Memoir

It happened when
she was five.
She went to a convent school
in Italy.  
Her teachers were nuns,
shrouded in black habits
with white wimples.

It must have been a holiday. 
Her brother was home 
from school in Switzerland. 
He was eight and a half. 
Her father was home too
and that was rare.

Her mother was there,
but she didn’t see her very much.
The little girl ate meals inside
and went to school,
but otherwise, she stayed in the yard
outside with her dog.
She was not allowed inside
during the day;

her mother was cleaning.

She was asleep when the

screaming awakened her.

Her daddy was yelling and
her brother was howling.
She opened her bedroom door
and crawled out to see
what was happening.
She had learned to keep down low
and be quiet
so she wouldn’t be noticed.

Her father was beating her brother.
Her brother was mewling
and trying to get away,
but he couldn’t.
Her daddy was extra strong
when he was angry.

She saw the figure of a cross
leaning against the wall
in the dark shadows.

Her daddy was going to crucify
her brother on the landing
of the staircase between
the ground floor and the next.

It only surprised her a little.
She expected such things.

She crawled back to her room
and slipped into bed. 
She never thought of going for help.
What happened, just happened.
There was nothing anyone could do
to change things. 
All things were predetermined,
inevitable.

She covered her head
with the sheet and the blanket
and she sang songs to herself
to muffle her brother’s screams
until she went to sleep.

She woke up in the morning
and remembered with a
jolt
that her brother was dead.

She went downstairs and saw
when she passed the landing
that the cross had been removed,
all evidence cleaned up.

She was an only child now.

She walked into the kitchen and saw
her dead brother sitting at the table.

She stared at him.
Her brother did not look at her,
nor did he speak to her.
He simply sat at the table.

He was a holy ghost.

She touched him,
and she could feel him
with the tips of her fingers.
She was surprised that
she could feel a holy ghost.

Sitting down at the table,
she studied her brother.

If he were a holy ghost,
that was one thing,
but
if he had come back from the dead,
that was
momentous.

Now she was thrilled.

She waited to discover
which it would turn out to be.

There are any number of reasons to refuse friendship to someone.

They range from the practical to the personal and will certainly vary by individual.  Here are some examples:

Lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, cursing, getting too drunk, not getting drunk enough, being obnoxious, being dull, being too smart, being too stupid, being heartless, being homeless, farting in public, flirting in public, grabbing your ass, grabbing other people’s asses, being a junkie, being a jerk, getting you in trouble, getting other people in trouble, being unpopular with your girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/father/friends, running with shady characters, running with the Rainbow Family of Living Light, being too dangerous, playing too safe, breaking your shit, taking your shit, giving you shit, talking shit, involvement in domestic spying for a barbaric totalitarian communist regime…

The list goes on.

For me, personally, most of these are not reasons, categorically, to not be friends with someone. Some are.  I do my best to be flexible, but I try to steer clear of any murderers or potential murderers who aren’t state-sanctioned, for example.

I’ll be friends with an army sniper, but I probably wouldn’t want to be friends with Jeffrey Dahmer.

Maybe that’s hypocrisy.

Or maybe it’s just a strict anti-cannibalism or anti-dead-person policy.

The following story struck me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that literature, as a scene, does not usually involve high international drama and espionage of this obvious a nature:

Nobel Prize winner Herta Mueller recently went public with the revelation that the real-life inspiration for Atemschaukel, her latest anti-totalitarian novel about a homosexual man who is held captive in a Soviet gulag, turned out to be, in fact, an informant for the totalitarians.

No one was so shocked as Mueller.  Apparently she had no idea.  He was a man with whom she had become dear friends as they worked closely during her time writing the fictionalized account of his story.

From what I can tell, this man–his name was Oskar Pastior (he died in 2006)–had been granted some kind of amnesty when he defected–or was seized–to the west.

From what little I’ve read, it’s not clear whether or not he was in fact a communist sympathizer or whether he had no choice but to do what he did, but he is listed as a Securitate informant in dossiers and other corroborating documents.

“Over the years [Mueller] has clashed with Romania’s post-communist intellectuals with her remorseless campaign against former Securitate informers, demanding that writers and theatre people who were on the police payroll be unmasked and punished.”

DAMN.

This means that Oskar, at some point, was watching his friend–in whom he had confided the details of, potentially, the most difficult time in his life and who was writing a book about him and his heroic ordeal–call for his public revelation, humiliation, and eventual punishment (of what type, I don’t know).

Or, not his, really, since she didn’t know he was one of them.  She was calling for these things, but she thought she was doing it, in part, in his defense and for restoration of justice to people like him (including herself).

But he certainly must have known that had he told her the truth, she would have probably ended their friendship, certainly would not have finished the book (or at least not as planned), and may, potentially, have publicly outed him and destroyed whatever life he’d made for himself since leaving the world of political intrigue and espionage.

Or wouldn’t she have?  After all, what kind of friend would do that?  What kind of monstrous person would offer up her own friend for filleting at the hands of the post-communist public?  How blind must you be to basic interpersonal loyalties and friendship to serve up some one you care about, ostensibly, in the service of state and other relative strangers?

I mention Herta first only because the next consideration is much more obvious:  Were Oskar alive, we could–and should–ask him a series of nearly identical questions surrounding his time as an informant.

And I was thinking about it, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, sort out who was guilty of wrong-doing in that friendship scenario or if both were or if anyone was guilty at all.

What a clusterfuck.

Poor Herta for not being able to confront Oskar.  Poor Oskar, who will never have the chance to explain himself to Herta.

And it suggests a mundane question in fairly dramatic fashion:  To what extent do or should one’s political inclinations or political behaviors, past or present, affect whether or not we choose to be friends with them, interact with them, date them, or consider their experiences and their general presence valuable?  At what point do beliefs and behaviors nullify relationships?

We ask these types of questions with regard to people’s overall past and habits in a very general way, but I don’t hear people talk about them much in a political way.

This question is constantly at the fore of my mind.  I live, basically, in a liberal world.  Because of where I work, because I like to write, because I have what are likely academic ambitions, I am mostly surrounded by leftward-leaning people.

I don’t consider myself a victim by any means.  I interact with the people I interact with by choice and, I think, to my benefit.  This isn’t a complaint lodged against liberalism in the arts, and I don’t consider myself persecuted.

Nevertheless, it is something that I am aware of.  Just all of the time.  Whether or not and when it is advisable to reveal my political leanings, what the consequences might be, etc.

About 16 months ago, a meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin noted that people actively seek out information that agrees with them.  That is to say, they don’t necessarily fail to be exposed to different points of view just because they’re surrounded by like-minded people or because the information available is necessarily skewed.  People are not passive in maintaining and honing their views; they actively go looking for information and perspectives that allow them to go on “living the lives they’re living.”

And it appears to be true for liberals and conservatives alike.

The consensus seems to be that on items of political import, morality, and values, 70% of the time, most people will choose to hear views that agree with them.

Those most likely to seek out opposing views tend to be a) the most confident in their own views and/or b) in need of awareness of opposing views in order to defend against objections to public declarations of their own views (politicians, media personalities, etc.).

In turn, the people least likely to seek opposing viewpoints tend to also be the least confident in their own views.

None of this is altogether shocking.

But more to the point of Herta and Oskar, I have noticed–though few people are willing to state it explicitly–that there is at least some indication that a political lean may be, for many, among the friendship deal-breakers listed above.  That is, people actively search for and/or exclude others from their social circles based on whether or not those people agree with them, just like they seek out agreeable news stories and other types of information resources.  Strictly from my perspective, such sentiments appear to be on the rise.  Or they appear to be more firmly and less self-critically held.

If my impressions are correct–if they are true at all–I’m sure they’re true straight across the political spectrum.  Basic political behaviors, if not the politics themselves, tend to be fairly uniform across humanity, whether people care to admit it or not.

The conundrum is complex:  At what point do a person’s politics and ideology reveal in them some other, fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw?  On the other hand, at what point does a person’s exclusion of others from their sphere of awareness based on politics and ideology reveal in them a fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw?

Where is the line, exactly, between the personal and political, and what are the implications?

For example:  How has the value of a fictional account of Oskar’s story changed, given Herta’s revelation?  How has the value of his real-life story changed because of it?  And most importantly, is their friendship–Oskar’s death notwithstanding–invalidated?

On the topic, Herta hasn’t said much except that she felt slapped in the face and that she is now in a period of mourning.  This suggests to me that she has left or lost something some way or another, but only Herta can say what.

Last but not least, had Oskar been forthcoming with the information from the outset, would there even have been a book?  A friendship?

If an ideology is willful and can be synonymous with a character flaw, then does that mean an ideology IS a willful character flaw, and if so, what then? What might we do with such people?


My feeling is that otherizing–the act of identifying and alleging a dichotomy between “us” and “them” –is at the very heart of how Herta and Oskar ever even found themselves in the predicament they did.  It may, by some leaps (great or small, take your pick), be at the heart of the very existence of the USSR.  Between Herta’s otherizing and Oskar’s participation in Securitate otherizing, the stage was set for a karmic kill-strike of dazzling irony.

Maybe, in a way, they deserved the fate that befell their friendship.  Both of them.  Or maybe neither of them did.  Maybe they were both victims of something well beyond their control.

At any rate, it appears that the two of them, both separately and in their joint war against ‘the other,’ were eachother’s ‘other’ and eachother all along.


This essay used to end here.

I didn’t like it ending here because I didn’t think I’d made my point, but I wasn’t sure what else to say.

Then John Cusack posted a tweet leading to this article. He called it “strong, clear thinking.”

“We have to build that independent left. It has to be so strong and so radical and so militant and so powerful that it becomes irresistible.”

Militant, radical, powerful, irresistible.  “Left” is not the word that worries me here.

And just last week, at the dentist’s office, I picked up a recent issue of Time magazine with a cover story about the Tea Party’s rattling of the conservative establishment (and the political establishment, period).

There’s nothing too fascinating or groundbreaking in the article save one thing, and it is unfortunately treated as minor–a passing thought–by the article’s author:  The suggestion that the solution to extreme, reactionary conservative politics may be for liberals to create their own extreme, reactionary politics with the expressed intent of doing battle with the conservatives of a similarly pissed-off, bloodthirsty, and unthinking sort.

I find this progression troubling.  I find it troubling that some people believe and are increasingly fervent that the answer to extremism and reactionism is more of the same.  Escalation, basically.  A call to balkanization.  I find it wrong-headed and obviously so under almost any circumstances. I think most people–certainly most liberals and conservatives, asked independently of a discourse on politics–would find it wrong-headed as well.

But here we are.


I suspect that there will be no call for radical moderation. I just hope we can all still be friends.


Dear Gloria circa August 2000,

I am writing from the future. Ten years ahead in fact.

I’ve seen all the movies and read all the cautionary tales that warn about the negative effects altering the past could and most likely would have on the future, so I want to be really careful here. It’s important that I impart a few words of advice, but, though there are aspects of my life today that I would love to undo, there are many aspects that I wouldn’t change for the world. I have no desire to try to alter your path. I wouldn’t wish any of your choices be different. My goal here isn’t to warn you against doing what I’ve already done, but to arm you with tools that I’ve only just begun to collect and use.

It’s happening again. The generational turnstile is clicking forward a third-rotation, sweeping from mystic Generation X to the text-message tapping, social-media snorting, Obama-loving, Gaga-blasting, vampire-lusting gang that goes by Millenials.


Dear Carmelina,

When Raj asked if I wanted to join you two in a ménage à trios I thought I had died and gone to Heaven. The only problem was that I was tripping on three hits of Purple Haze so when I kissed your thick lips all I could think of was getting my dick between them. But we’d just started so when I moved my hips up to meet your mouth.

“Whoa, slow down, cowboy.”

In my hallucinating state, I felt totally rejected. Then you and Raj started fucking and by the time it was my turn, I was a million miles away. That’s why I couldn’t get it up.

 

Dear Amy,

That first time you did Reiki on me, well, there are really no words for how it felt. You lit sage and waved it around my limbs, head, and torso in preparation for our session. You told me to put myself in a totally safe place. Nobody had ever said anything like that to me before so I fell in love with you that night. That’s why when you talked about marriage and kids the next time we saw each other, I didn’t even freak out. But then you started putting pressure on me to make money which has never been my strong point. And when you realized I wouldn’t be changing any time soon, you ended it. You left me alone on the path of Reiki.

 

Dear Babysitter,

We played a game where you dared my friend Cinnamon to rub her ass against mine. I think technically this qualifies as molestation but I remember thinking I was incredibly lucky to be part of something so grown-up at the mere age of six.

 

Dear Lisa Sparxxx (famous pornstar),

You’ve come to represent everything I’ve ever wanted and can’t have. When I see your big breasts, thick hips and perfect ass, I don’t get horny anymore. I get sad. I mourn the fact that I’ll never touch you. I desperately wish I was a football player or rock star or whatever kind of man you realistically might want. And I hate myself for not being him.

 

Dear Cynthia,

I would have been anything for you. I meant it when I told you I’d help raise your kids and try to heal all the stuff you’d never talk about. Waking up that first morning after our first night together, you handing me a plate of French toast and fruit, I fell in love with you all over again. Then, later that same afternoon, you accused me of masturbating in your shower. I denied it because I’d done nothing of the sort, but you had already turned to stone. When I cried you asked me if I was mentally unbalanced. No Cynthia, I wasn’t, those are called feelings

 

Dear Fellow Traveler,

It was dangerous working illegally in Eliat. Those Arab guys pinched my ass and tried to get me to fight them until your friend stepped in and told them he would fuck them all. But when you said it was too bad Hitler hadn’t finished the job? That was really over the line. What you didn’t know was that I’m Jewish and that I kept my mouth shut because you and your crew were the only thing keeping me safe.

 

Dear George and Robert,

Thanks for trying to get me home on your skateboards that night. And for propping me up when that cop came. According to you, he asked if I had been drinking and I replied fuck you and fell backwards, unconscious before I even hit the pavement. That must have been pretty funny. When I woke up in the hospital the next morning, my arms scarred from pulling IVs out as nurses tried to put them in, one nurse told me she thought they shouldn’t have given me anything so that I’d feel the full brunt of the hangover I had coming to me. I remember not understanding why she was blaming me for a decision that had been made while I was unconscious.

 

Dear Uncle Bernie,

You’re dead now, but I was just wondering if you knew that I faked my Bar Mitvah. My dad had me memorize an index card of transliterations so when I “read” from the Torah, I wasn’t really reading at all. In fact, I wasn’t even sure what I was saying.

 

Dear Keira,

I still can’t believe you licked my asshole that time. Nobody had ever done that and I’m pretty sure nobody ever will again, so I guess that’s a kind of bond we’ll always share.

 

Dear Joe (stepfather #1),

You drank vodka in the dark and kept to yourself for the most part but once, just once, you got up in my face and when I didn’t back down you called me crazy. And when I tried to kill myself you said I was just looking for attention as if that somehow discredited my pain. I get it though, I probably reminded you too much of yourself. You died of alcohol; your way just took longer.

 

Dear Dad,

I have one good memory of you. You and I were in the ocean and every time a wave came you hoisted me up safely over it. I’ve thought about what you were trying to tell me by that many, many times. To be above everything is the best answer I’ve found so far.

 

Dear Thugz,

I only made it about twenty steps out the door when you pulled out your guns and marched me back into the house. You took turns punching me in the face thinking that I was holding out but I was just poor. That dollar you took from my pocket was my last. When you tried to hustle me back outside, I realized it was to shoot me. I almost lost my mind in that second but decided I’d force your hand instead and end the nightmare. I screamed.

“NO FUCKING WAY!”

I closed my eyes, fully expecting to feel the bullet, but you ran away.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been watching a lot of Sopranos lately. Every morning I tune in to the 8:00 A&E showing. I’ve not been awake ten minutes and I’m watching Paulie smash a guy in the back of the head with a shovel, Chris put five across his bitch’s eye, Tony fuck some broad in a roadside motel. Before I’ve finished a cup of coffee I’ve seen sex, violence, chauvinism, prostitution, embezzlement, collusion, theft and murder. It’s great.

Part of what makes David Chase’s show brilliant television is that the characters are dead on. There are thousands of Jersey knuckleheads out there just like the guys in The Sopranos who are willing to kill, maim and take what they want. And that’s just in Jersey. There are goons the world over willing to step on you to get what they’re after. And I’m not just talking gangsters and tough guys. Look across the George Washington Bridge, to Manhattan, to find even bigger hoodlums. No, not Johnny Sack and the New York crew—I’m talking about the financial district crew—the guys who conned the nation out of tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money. These thugs in their high rise offices at JP Morgan, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, just to name a few, are hard fucking core gangsters. These guys shat all over us and took what they wanted.

The point is, the world belongs to people with balls. Whether it’s through twisting arms or twisting laws, it doesn’t really matter. Some people have balls and take whatever they want. Then there’s the rest of us who play by the rules.

But there are rules, and then there are “rules.” Tony Soprano is at heart a pragmatist. What allows him to be one, however, is that people know he’s a big, bad motherfucker who will, in the end, take care of business by any means necessary. The unspoken threat that Tony will carve you up and dump your body in the harbor gives his negotiations that extra “oomph.”

Now, to diverge for a moment, I’d like to talk politics—specifically, the tea party movement. Guys, I like your anger. The problem is that you’re mad at the wrong people. The real enemy is not Obama, liberals or socialists—it’s not universal health care, illegal immigrants, homos or dope smokers. It’s the Wall Street plutocrats who rig the system and take all of our money—who wreck the economy and get people kicked out of their homes—who nearly plunged our entire nation—the world, possibly—into economic ruin. These rich pricks are the enemy.

The tea partiers always like to talk about what patriots they are. I’m all for being patriotic. But, I’d like to remind those historically myopic rabble-rousers of exactly what a Patriot is. The tea partiers chose to name themselves after those people who, in 1773, boarded ships docked in Boston harbor and dumped their cargo of taxed tea into the water in protest. But the Boston Tea Party was just a small part of the Patriots hard-line stance against their oppressors. They regularly tarred and feathered Loyalists. Think about that: dumping hot tar all over somebody’s body and then, to add insult to injury, a few feathers. That’s some hardcore gangster shit. Not only that, Patriots burned down Loyalist homes to get their point across. Not surprisingly, it worked. They chased those British bums out of town.

Tea partiers: if you want to talk about patriotism, at least get your terminology right. Let’s step off of this flag-waving, dumb hillbilly, Fox News, anti-intellectual, Mexican/darkie-hating, drill baby drill, get-your-hands-off-my-guns, the founding fathers were infallible man gods, bullshit. Patriotism has somehow been subverted by a political vein that clings to a nostalgic, romantic fantasy of America as a good ol’ boy club for whom Ronald Regan is the eternal hero. It’s John Wayne in a western who dispatches of the bad guys, gives a laconic, feel-good, one-liner with a tip of his cap then saunters off into the sunset. Patriotism has been turned into a myth and hijacked by the far right.

How did our nation react after the bank bailouts? Aside from some cries of protest—some professorial finger wagging from the Administration—nothing. Despite pointed work by journalists such as Matt Taibbi, who laid out the entire hustle for us, who described, in detail, the horse-race financial schemes that led to this crisis, we as a nation have sat back on our heels and let it keep happening. Sure, some of the banks are beginning to pay back their debts, but no real work has been done to close the loopholes that led us into this malaise. The people who work for Goldman Sachs et. al are still getting millions of dollars in bonuses precisely for coming up with new financial schemes. This is what investment banking has become. These guys don’t fund emerging markets and industries. They create bubbles that burst in their favor, flood the system with toxic junk and then profit by betting against the fact that their own unsustainable policies are going to fail. Even if we change the laws, I’m confident they will come up with new ways to hoodwink the public at large. These guys are good.

But while they may be really smart, I’m willing to bet they’re not that tough. That is, if a shovel was to connect with the back of their head, or a 9mm to somehow find its way into their mouth…

Tea partiers, if you really want to be Patriots, here’s your chance. Stop burning Obama effigies, bemoaning how we’re becoming commies and praying to God for faggots to die. Pick up your pitchforks, your torches and those guns you oft demand to keep but rarely have cause to use and go after these investment bankers. Consider this the new Glorious Cause.  Push these guys around, slap them, kidnap their wives…whatever it takes. These firms like to talk about how they’re too big to fail. Well, so was Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum.

Perhaps a strong populist movement will send a message to the top. Since many are already looking ahead to the mid-term elections, even the presidential election, it’s got me thinking who I’ll be casting my ballot for. I’d vote for Tony Soprano in a heartbeat before I put another politically correct liberal or politically retarded conservative in office. Give me some good ol’ guido pragmatism. Would Tony lecture the banks about how they should be ashamed of themselves, and that maybe they shouldn’t be paying out such big bonuses? Of course not. Would he let Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao snub him at the Copenhagen Climate Conference? Fahgettaboudit. I’m not sure exactly what he’d do, but the one thing Tony Soprano does not do is not get results. He doesn’t do “shame on you.” He does “If that’s how it’s gonna be I’ll cut your balls off, you fucking cockroach.”

That sounds like a real Patriot to me. The plutocrats of today are the new aristocracy. They are the same kind of people that we strong-armed back to Britain over 225 years ago and began a nation in defiance of. America, it’s time to run the bums out of town again. But to do so we need to have balls.   We need to remember what the tough sons of bitches who helped win our freedom knew; what every Jersey wiseguy with a gun in his track pant’s elastic waistline and a bat in his hand knows: there are rules and then there are “rules”. Capiche?

I’m also thinking, if it can work for the good ol’ Stars & Stripes, then it’s good enough for me. Writers, after all, aren’t exactly known for being the ballsiest lot—not in real life, anyway. If pressed to a fight I’d probably run away and use the confrontation as the basis of a misanthropic vignette.

Part of what’s frustrating about being a writer is that you submit your work for review to total strangers far away. I’ve often thought, “If only I could meet these people…put a personal face to my work…not have it just be the manuscript of some abstract person…maybe it would make a difference…”

But now I’m thinking I show up at their office with a different strategy—like the hardbound edge of my rejected manuscript to the back of the head. Maybe then they’ll reconsider. If not, it will make for a really deep, dark story full of irony, pain and regret. Either way: bada bing.

We were driving from the airport to the place Ahuimanu, which in Hawaiian means A Gathering of Birds, where there was to be a feast of welcome for my young son. I had brought him back from the Mainland along with my second wife, his stepmother, a woman who had come to hate him.

We drove through a tunnel under Nu’uanu Pali, where in 1790 Kamehameha the Great’s warriors forced Kalanikupule’s warriors over the pali, which means cliff or precipice. Nu’uanu is where that particular pali is.

I started thinking about Hilina Pali, which is over on the Big Island where I live. It’s near Kilauea volcano, and there are feral goats. In a little fenced patch of land about as big as your living room there is a kind of plant called ma’oloa enclosed there against the goats. That little place is where most of the ma’oloa that are alive in the world are hanging on and will continue to hang on if the goats don’t breach the fence and eat them.

At the bottom of Hilina Pali is the place Halape, where back on November 29th, 1975, there was an earthquake and a local tsunami in the night. A man I knew was camping there and the sea took him.

When we came out of the tunnel through Nu’uanu Pali, I thought about warriors leaping, falling, falling onto the roadbed, though in 1790 when they struck, it would have been forest.

I made the left turn and drove past the Japanese cemetery with its famous koi ponds, which are a notable tourist attraction, and then I drove into a residential district near Kaneohe.

I stopped at a traffic signal and I saw a hand-lettered sign taped to the pole. It said “FOR SALE: BABY CLOTHES – ULUA POLES” and I started thinking about that, rather than worrying about bad things that might happen at Ahuimanu, which which is what I had been doing.

Ulua are large strong-fighting ocean fish that you can catch from the shore if you’re willing to perch on rocks and cast out and wait. It is not like surf casting along the Atlantic, where you stand on a sandy beach and heave out over the waves, and sometimes can’t even see past the surf.

 

With ulua fishing you’re up on lava rocks with waves below, and if you aren’t watching and don’t listen carefully you might not notice that the sea has gone silent, which can mean it’s about to rise suddenly and take you.

I wondered about the combination of baby clothes and fishing poles on the sign.

 

I imagined that there was this young man who was new at the father business and a little weary of it, so when his wife said she was going to Honolulu to shop, he said he would take the baby for fresh air. When she drove away he went to their garage and chose a pole, and went to their freezer and got aku belly for bait. He wanted a day on the rocks and a nice ulua for them to eat, but he knew if he said he was going fishing she would never let him take the baby.

He put the car seat beside him on the rocks while he fished, and his son started to cry and he turned to see why and he stopped paying attention.

Oh they rose up and were carried down like the warriors, but more slowly, and they didn’t smash on impact, but sank beneath the surf. The car seat bobbed up, and he tried to get to it, but the waves dashed them against lava and they both died.

And I imagined that now the mother wanted to get rid of everything that reminded her, so she made the sign and was waiting and hoping someone would take the clothes and poles soon and it would be finished.

 

The house at Ahuimanu is tucked up close under the pali. There are no waterfalls when it isn’t raining, but a dozen or more appear when it rains hard. One falls from so high on the pali that wind dissipates the water long before it reaches the valley floor.

My aunt called that one The Crooked Straight and when it floated against the pali she would stop what she was doing and sing from Handel’s Messiah. She had a beautiful voice and a sweet nature, but she had died by the time I saw the sign on my way to Ahuimanu and her house below the waterfalls.

At Ahuimanu my uncle was giving a welcoming speech in Hawaiian when my wife rose up and struck my little boy in front of the guests, because he was not paying attention the way she thought he should have been. I was not quick enough to stop her, but I took my son in my arms to make him safe, and soon after we got back to the Mainland I threw her out.

She went down to North Carolina and then I divorced her. I don’t know where she is now.

Everything she left behind, I sold.


Matthew Simmons wrote an hilarious post over at HTMLGIANT about the “Five Stages of Publishing“: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. I’m not sure it’s a linear path, but I can definitely attest to the grim reality of each stage. Right now I’m hovering somewhere between Depression and Denial, though some of my actions certainly amount to Acceptance, and I’m no stranger to bursts of uncontrollable Anger.

When does this damn game get easier?

Hostage

By Peter Schwartz

Memoir


Wednesday, October 14th, 2009. I’m in my room on Albert Street in Augusta Maine, being held hostage. A woman almost a decade my junior has just told me she was raped last night, but for some reason she is directing all her rage at me. I’m trying to be supportive but she’s hitting me with everything she has, making fun of my anthropophobia and bi-polarity. It’s actually not the words that hurt so badly, it’s the fact that she would go after me like this. If she knew more about me, she’d have even better ammunition.

I’m asking if she wants to call the police but I know she doesn’t want to go through the degrading process of a trial so now I’m asking if she knows where this fucker lives. She likes that. I fantasize with her about finding his house, cutting his lights and phone, running in there, hurting him like he hurt her. But that part doesn’t last long. Now I’m getting questioned why I would make such an offer when I clearly hate her guts. She hates me so much right now she can’t even imagine I don’t feel the same way about her. I’m a safe target and I get the sense she has been waiting for this moment for years. I’m a monster, and nothing I say is going to change that. She tells me in a slightly different voice that if I hang up she will most likely kill herself.

I don’t understand rape, I really don’t. The whole turn-on with sex for me is that someone actually wants me. Simply taking that from someone is the most un-sexy thing I can imagine. I do understand the desire for vengeance though. My father used to beat the shit out of me over twenty years ago and I still occasionally fantasize about flying to his apartment in New York City and getting justice. Now she’s mocking my poetry and fiction, saying I think I’m so spiritual but I’m bullshitting myself, I’m just scared. I want to call her a fat, disgusting, piece of shit but I know those are the last words she needs to hear right now.

I’m think I’m him now. She’s making fun of the fact that I couldn’t get it up once. I’m not a real man and probably want to fuck my mother. I can’t take this. I cannot sit here and take this. I want to fight back but society’s rules are pretty clear here: victims have carte blanche to say whatever the hell they want. I’m a leech, a user, a liar, and a cheater. I contribute nothing to society. Okay, I’m there. I can’t believe I’m about to do what I’m about to do. Deeply nauseous, I instinctively glance at my toilet. I’ll most likely throw up later.

Even though according to her I have her life in my hands because I’m her only real friend, I’m telling her she can do whatever she wants. Another person entirely, I’m hanging up, imagining her hearing the sound of that dial tone, how that must be the loneliest sound in the universe. How alone she must feel. I fucking hate myself; I’ve proved her point; I really am that monster. But I’m also finally free of her wrath. I take a deep breath and try to remember who I was an hour ago.

 

 

 

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


P1020968



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.

Sincerely,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA


An open letter to God, Creator of the Universe:


God



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?

Or:

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