For the kids reading this, coming of age in the 90s wasn’t for the faint of heart. It was like the 70s but with pushup bras instead of no bras. Nobody watched their language – twelve-year-olds might as well have been twenty-one. Families were broken; “dysfunctional,” we called them. Dads were disappointing, dads were nonexistent, dads took us aside and told us our mothers were crazy. Moms were over it; moms did their best; we blamed our moms for not protecting us from our dads, from the world. Tanya Marquardt grew up in Vancouver; I grew up in Ohio; you grew up in Oklahoma; New York, Kentucky, Oregon, Texas; it’s all the same pain with a different accent. Teen angst, abuse, abandonment. In Stray, Tanya tells the story of an angry young woman just discovering that her voice is a rebel yell. She hit the road at sixteen against a soundtrack of weird industrial noise bands like Skinny Puppy, and found that a BDSM dungeon can sometimes be a better option than home bitter home. Managing to stay in high school despite it all, with Stray and her work in the theater, Tanya Marquardt has turned trauma into art.

 

You famously talk in your sleep. Can you talk about the process of recording yourself and the most surprising thing you learned? 

Alongside the book, I’ve been working on a performance piece called Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, which is about my experience as a lifelong sleeptalker. In 2015, I started recording my sleeping self on my iPhone and discovered that I have an entirely different ‘person’ that rolls around in my head. She has her own desires; she talks to herself, to me, to people I don’t recognize, and to the people that are sleeping next to me. And when I listen to the recordings, this sleeping self sounds like a younger version of me, a cup ½ full little creature walking around in my brain when I am unconscious. Sometimes she talks like a child, other times she seems to have some kind of mysterious, poetic knowledge.

Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Adam Greenfield. His debut novel, Circa, is available now from Pelekinesis Press. It is the official August pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

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Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Amanda Stern. Her new memoir is called Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life (Grand Central Publishing).

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Now playing on Otherppl, a conversation with Bud Smith. His new memoir, Work, is available from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

This is Bud’s second time on the program. He first appeared in Episode 373, on July 29, 2015.

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nicole_dennis_benn_here_comes_the_sun

This week on the Otherppl with Brad Listi podcast, a conversation with Nicole Dennis-Benn. Her debut novel Here Comes the Sun is available now from Liveright. It is the official September pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

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excavation coverFall 1986

“Open your notebooks,” Mr. Ivers ordered, stepping backward from us, his eyes blinking rapidly behind his glasses. I saw a glimmer of a smile, and then a furrowed brow in mock seriousness.

“You’re going to use these notebooks to compose journal entries. You’ll turn the notebooks in to me once a week, every week. You can write about whatever you want, so long as there’s evidence of writing somewhere, somehow, in that notebook. Got it?” He held his elbows. He caught my eye.

photo(55)

This is the first installment of my column, CNF 500. The column will deal with topics related to anything and everything creative nonfiction, and will be 500 words. As essays editor of The Nervous Breakdown, I’m always ready to consider essay submissions of any length for publication. Please email essays to ekleinman at thenervousbreakdown dot com.

I’m going to tell my mom about my writing.

We’re in the International District in Seattle. It’s January. I’ve always liked these types of outings with her. We took the bus from Lynnwood. I’m wearing her coat because I live in Austin, Texas and I don’t have anything warm to wear. It’s a black coat from JCPenney with huge pockets and a fluffy hood.

David Lowery
Please explain what just happened.

The AC just stopped working in my house. Dire circumstances in Texas in July.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Playing with some toy trucks in a sandbox outside a red brick building. I think I was two. This memory might have been significantly bolstered by photographs of the same event. If so, then my other first memory is my grandmother’s face.

7Please explain what just happened.

I read this email from you in bed, took a shower, ate breakfast, then sat at my desk to answer these questions.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Seeing Revenge of the Nerds in a movie theater with my dad and uncle.  Based on the release date of the movie, I must have been almost 3, or maybe they saw it second run and I was 3. Anyway, I don’t remember much of the movie, but I do remember my dad’s hands covering my eyes and ears several times throughout. So I would be looking at this giant image and hearing these loud sounds, then I would see and hear nothing, then images and sounds again.  I’m sure this has something to do with my love of cinema and the quality of mystery and excitement that it still holds for me.

Sister Stop Breathing

What can you do if you want your sister to stop breathing?

Ice her up and drive north. Head to Santa Cruz. There you will find a main street called

Main Street. You can showcase her to people. Go to the Kinko’s parking lot and introduce her. Say, “I bet you didn’t know I had a sister! This is she. She’s made of ice.” The kids will want to touch her arm, and the sister will move in tiny waves. Once you have asserted that the sister exists and she is made of ice, breathe down her frozen face. The sister will begin to melt. The children will scream.

1.

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m a white woman who likes black men. I like the stories black men tell and the way they talk and the way they look at me, this way they have of being sure and tentative all at once, and yes, oh yes, I’m not gonna hide it, the hard sweet way they ball. Still, I don’t like having that reputation, white folks–not to mention the sistahs–all thinking I’m just after black cock. So let’s be straight: at the time I’m talking about, the only black cock I was on intimate terms with was attached to Samps, and I wasn’t after Samps, we just…well, OK, we fucked, we fucked a lot, but I want you to know the guy was homeless, penniless, quite likely clinically insane. Believe me, I didn’t have my hands on anything you would want.

Please explain what just happened.

I went out to get the newspaper, and the guy hadn’t come.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Coming downstairs from my bedroom into the kitchen where my mother was. Captain Kangaroo was on the television, and my mother said, “What are you doing up?” In retrospect, if she didn’t expect me up, why was Captain Kangaroo on the TV?

Please explain what just happened.

I woke up, put water on for coffee, and changed my son’s diaper while it boiled.

 

What is your earliest memory?

I’m four years old and lying on a couch at my grandparents’ house with my grandfather in his reclining chair a few feet away. We are kicking it (old school, I suppose).

First Contact

By Rob Williams

Essay

Her name was Nedelia. She was a skinny, shy Hispanic girl, with enormous glasses (just like me) and a faint mustache whispering across her upper lip (very much unlike me—but more about that in a second). In my memory, she is always wearing a light blue skirt, knee-high white socks and a white blouse. She looks lovely, although I never would have said that about her at the time.

Please explain what just happened.

I just followed instructions, hoping that obedience will be rewarded. (I’m still in the “Are You My Mother?” stage of emotional development. Plus, my father was a decorated bomber pilot who taught me, through terror and osmosis, the power of an “I was just following orders,” duty-driven life: it exonerates you of all emotional responsibility!)

When I was in Edinburgh one summer, performing my monologue in the Festival Fringe, there was a remarkable work of conceptual theater called The Smile Off Your Face. The stage manager for my show had texted me late one night, “I just saw the smile on your face and I loved it!” Me being a monologist i.e. perhaps self-absorbed, as well as a bit randy, I thought she had seen the smile on my face, and wanted to see more. But when I texted her back to continue the flirtation I made the somewhat embarrassing discovery that she loved The Smile Off Your Face (the correct name of the show), not the smile on my face, and that she was suggesting I see the show, not that we have illicit relations.

Here’s how the show worked: you sat in a wheelchair, blindfolded, and got rolled around some space whilst different people, male and female, asked you to feel their Adam’s Apple (awkward, if you are straight) or whispered lascivious double-entendres in your ear (awesome, if you are straight) or stood you up and pushed you backwards onto a bed and asked, “Are you in love?” (horrible, if you are married and your marriage is on the rocks). At the end of the show, back in the wheelchair, someone removed my blindfold, and I stared at a man who told me, “Please put a big smile on your face. Now, whatever you do, keep smiling.” As I am obedient (see above), I obliged. Then I was wheeled away from him, slowly, backwards. And he started crying, weeping really, tears streaming down his face. This raised the conundrum: Do I honor my word and keep smiling? Do I empathize and stop smiling? Or do I feel manipulated and tell him, Are you kidding?

It was very confusing. I kept smiling, thinking, Are you my mother?