Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Te-Ping Chen. Her debut story collection, Land of Big Numbersis available from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It is the official January pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 

Chen’s fiction has been published in The New Yorker, Granta and Tin House. She is a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Philadelphia who was previously based in Beijing and Hong Kong. She has reported on rice cookers and wrongful convictions, gotten hung up on by Edward Snowden and eaten more robot-cooked noodles than she can count.

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1. Don’t Die

2014. My dad calls to tell me about a sheep hunt he’d been on with an old fisherman friend in the interior. He tells me to call this friend because I’ll be working on this friend’s fishing boat this summer. “You’ll either be with Andy or his identical twin brother Pete.” Two people I’ve never met or heard of before. Fishing after high school is a mundane fact in coastal Alaska, but when I tell my friends I’ll be fishing they don’t believe me. The cognitive dissonance of imagining my 18 year-old-self working on a seine boat is too much and everyone worries for me. The most common two words I hear before I leave the first time are “don’t die.” 

 

2. Cordova

So I fly into Cordova to fish for a man I’ve never met, with a backpack full of books I think a recently graduated 18 year-old should read. I won’t read any of them, and later in the season I’ll wish I used the backpack space for more socks. 

Andy and his wife, Mel, pick me up from the airport. Andy has a lazy eye and a limp and he says it’s because his twin beat him up in the womb. Andy seems a little shy at first so Mel does most of the talking. She wears wire transition lenses, and chain smokes Marlboro reds. She is a born and raised Cordova girl.

Cordova had a railroad in and out of town, but now there’s a 30 mile stretch of dirt road where it used to be, ending at a bridge which was swallowed by the unforgiving Copper River during the Good Friday earthquake of 1964. Now, Cordova is cut off from the Alaskan highway which would connect it to other parts of Alaska like the city of Anchorage. Cordova doesn’t want this road to the city. They fear a road will take away what is special about Cordova which is that it’s really only fishing and things related to fishing. There are bumper stickers on lots of cars and businesses around town “NO ROAD.”

1989, thirty years after the Good Friday earthquake of 1964, and seven years before I am born, the Super Tanker “Exxon Valdez” runs aground on Bligh Reef and spills over 10 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound. After the spill kills the fishing industry, financial anxieties, spikes in substance abuse, domestic abuse, and suicides plunge Cordova, a town of 3,000 (mostly fishermen), into chaos. Twin fishermen and lifelong Cordovans, Andy and Pete move south along the coast to Sitka to continue fishing in waters untouched by the oil.

 

Andy’s boat, The Ace is brand new, fresh from the boat yard in Washington. Unlike other boats in the fleet, the living quarters are comically small. It’s the first thing people comment on when they step inside for the first time. “Oh it’s like… really small.” Andy designed it this way so as to not invite any other sort of leisure or unnecessary passengers (like his wife). “It’s a work boat, not a piano.” Andy also takes this as an excuse to keep the boat as messy as possible. The deck of The Ace is spacious and incredibly efficient in its operation. Andy likes to make sets fast. The more sets you are able to make in the fourteen hour fishing periods, the more fish you catch, the more money you make. The price of the salmon varies year to year. That’s one tactic Andy uses to keep me coming back. He keeps predicting how high the price is gonna be. “It’s gonna be the biggest year, pricewise, you’ve ever seen.” And usually it’s not and it’s a lot lower than he predicts. He makes up for this by always being one of the top three boats in the Sound. Some years his twin beats him.

 

3. Thom, Ethan, and Paul

Thom has minor gauges in each ear and wears a red knit cap with devil horns. He’s one of the boat builders and is on the crew to help fix and finish the boat since it was rushed out of the boat yard. One day he runs out of chewing tobacco. I hand him a slice of pizza at the end of the fishing day and he throws it in the water. He teaches me mechanical things, but it is confusing because he compares everything to jerking off. Changing oil? Just like jerking off. Tying lines? Exactly like jerking off. Unbolting a piece of equipment? Just think of it like jerking off. I don’t remember any of the practical knowledge.

 

Ethan was recently asked to leave his Christian college in Homer, Alaska because the administration found out he had sex with his girlfriend. He says he was called into the dean’s office and they asked him if it was true he had had sex with his girlfriend and he said yes because he was worried being caught in a lie would be worse for him. 

 

Paul is basically the co-captain and Andy’s oldest friend. Paul is patient and teaches me a lot. Each piece of the boat is designed for a specific part of the fishing operation and I have no idea what any of it is. I’m told to do things like “shorten the purse line” and “change the oil,” “pull up the bunt,” “pop the release,” and I have no idea. Eventually you learn things until one day you understand. It took me two summers to understand what each part of the net is for. There’s the corkline, the lead, the lead line, bunt, web, breast line, purse line, rings, king ring and so on. One day it all clicks. 

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Rob Doyle. His new book, Threshold, is available from Bloomsbury.

 

Doyle’s debut novel, Here Are the Young Men, was published in 2014 by Bloomsbury and the Lilliput Press. It was selected as one of Hot Press magazine’s ‘20 Greatest Irish Novels 1916-2016’, and has been made into a film starring Dean Charles Chapman and Anya Taylor Joy. This is the Ritual, a collection of short stories, was published in 2016 to widespread acclaim.

Doyle is the editor of the anthology The Other Irish Tradition (Dalkey Archive Press), and In This Skull Hotel Where I Never Sleep (Broken Dimanche Press). He has written for the Guardian, TLS, Vice, Sunday Times, Dublin Review, Observer and many other publications, and throughout 2019 he wrote a weekly column on cult books for the Irish Times. 

He lives between Ireland and Berlin.

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Below are five poems from Will Stanier’s chapbook Everything Happens Next, forthcoming from blue arrangements. Preorder a copy of the chapbook right here. (Preorders come with a special surprise.)

 

 

Parade

 

     sitting wasting time
thereby seize it
      sounds
so aggressive. 

 

     hear actors rehearse
clunky dialogue,
          feet sweaty in flannel lining, look up
and there’s the sky again. 

 

I’m glad not to be sick
     after drinking too much,
           to be without hermeneutics,
     whatever those are. 

 

a man walks by rolling a double bass
                  on a single wheel.
my friend walks by talking on the phone,
     red tassels bouncing
           at the cuffs of her jeans. 

 

     three watermelon lozenges
turn my tongue sugary pink.
      I see a beautiful woman,
             I see a lot of people. 

 

 

◊ ◊ ◊

 

 

Murmurs

 

what in the dream has eight
corners?     I don’t know!

 

pinhole camera of my hand, fingers splayed against
the sky   swarming, blushing   in edges and inlets

 

“funny the oneiric specters, like I was
supposed to know about things I didn’t . . .”

 

near the trestle bridge made famous
as regular people out for a walk refused to be our project.

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Gil Adamson. Her new novel, The Ridgerunner, will be published in the United States by House of Anansi Press on February 2, 2021.

 

 

Adamson is the critically acclaimed author of The Outlander, which won the Dashiell Hammett Prize for Literary Excellence in Crime Writing, the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, the ReLit Award, and the Drummer General’s Award. It was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, CBC Canada Reads, and the Prix Femina in France; longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and chosen as a Globe and Mailand Washington Post Top 100 Book. She is also the author of a collection of linked stories, Help Me, Jacques Cousteau, and two poetry collections, Primitive and Ashland. She lives in Toronto.

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I want to kiss my neighbor. He is a bald, lanky old man who lives directly next door to me. He lives very alone, except for his tiny dog named Princess. Sometimes I hear screaming outside my window, and then run to the window because I am a sucker for semi-suburban drama and am secretly hoping to see an argument about missorted recycling get out of hand, but it’s usually just him, alone, telling Princess to stop eating her own feces. 

 

He only speaks at one volume and it’s a very high volume. Even when he’s just asking, “How’s it going?” as I carry my groceries to my front door, it could be mistaken for aggressive screaming. It’s possible he is hearing impaired, but the more I observe him, the more I don’t think that’s the case. I suspect he screams for the same reason most people do: fear. I think he’s afraid people will ignore him, and the dependable thing about screaming is that it’s very difficult to ignore. 

 

This screaming could probably be traced back to some childhood trauma of his—maybe his father beat him and whenever he mentioned the beatings to his mother, it fell on deaf ears—but I doubt he’s ever made that connection. I don’t think he actually knows he’s screaming. Who would tell him? Whenever he’s screaming at me, I certainly don’t tell him he’s screaming. In fact, I end up raising my voice too, kind of like how I always end up talking in the local accent when I travel. This is an embarrassing habit, though someone once told me it’s a sign of empathy. 

 

My desire to kiss my neighbor began the day I moved in. I brought him a box of cookies from the local bakery—it’s important to get off on the right foot—and he refused them. As he screamed about not liking sweets and knowing a guy who once died of diabetes, I entered a familiar softcore fugue state I have only ever experienced when staring at a woman I am dating and realizing, for the first time, that I’m “in love” with her. In these blissfully disorienting moments, I tend to hold onto reality by focusing on the woman’s lips. I do this because I know that the only way to break the spell is to kiss those lips hard, with tongue, passion, urgency, etc. 

 

So, I watched his lips as he screamed something about Governor Cuomo being a secret Nazi. I probably nodded my head a lot and even said something like, “You never know with Nazis,” but really I was imagining what his mouth would taste and feel like. As I imagined it, I grew confident in the accuracy of my imagination. His saliva would taste metallic and salty, like a sweaty battery. His lips would be firm, with no give at all, as if God took a utilitarian approach to this particular creation, knowing he was designing a man who would spend decades using his mouth to eat, drink, breathe, scream, but never kiss. 

Two Poems

By Phoebe VanDusen

Poetry

 

Night Terrors as Self-portrait 

 

Tonight, I am your commercial
daughter, no swallow just bite
and smile. You see, this bed
is my cacophony, my nothing,
my halves, my faithful herd
dog, my white flag of surrender,
my thrash for help. This is where
you can tell I am fractured.
I’m ashamed of all my shame
I try to make sense of my sins,
of my cervix, I throw a service
for my ex-lovers. I dress them
in shrouds of toothbrushes and guilt.
I force them to compliment my body
of written work. Inside my humid
head, I am as lonely as a tyrant, irate
aiming for the jugular. I slice all mangos,
lace, and air. I fuck the faceless
goblin in the gothic attic, overcome
I weep above his dead green
body, and then I say hello!
Hello, sack of talking peeled grapes!
Hello, my rapist!
Hello, lobster devouring my boss’s head!
Hello, celebrity I can’t quite place!
Hello, woman who broke my heart!
What you have all heard is true, I am not
a good person but I know that I could be
a fantastic goat.

 

On January 4, 2021, Juliet Escoria, Joseph Grantham, and Megan Boyle liveblogged in solidarity. This took place 29 days after the last time they liveblogged in solidarity. Read their days below.

 

JULIET ESCORIA

JANUARY 4, 2021

 

~6:30am: woke up feeling very afraid of (dream) but couldn’t remember what dream was.

 

~7am: woke up again to pee and eat one spoonful of dulce de leche* **

 

*I feel like it’s just good public policy for people to understand how easy it is to make dulce de leche. You take a can of sweetened condensed milk, remove the label, put the can in a giant pot of water, and simmer for ~3.5 hrs. Then you take the pot off the burner and let the water return to room temperature. You have to make sure the water covers the can at all times or else it can explode. If you follow these simple steps, you will have perfect dulce de leche.

 

**I take Seroquel for my brain. Seroquel makes eating sugar during the sleep hours taste so so good.

 

11am: woke up to alarm, felt very tired, slept on and off til 11:50. I’ve been going to bed a little too late and waking up much too late and I would be concerned about it if it wasn’t winter break. But it’s winter break so who cares, let’s party and get 9 hrs of sleep.

 

11:50am: stared at phone. Joey texted about liveblog and also a Nicolas Winding Refn movie about Reagan. Seems funny, an odd choice for the ole Nicolas. Joey mentions Reagan kind of a lot and I’m pretty sure it’s just a temporary coincidence due to him watching the Reagan doc on the Showtime but I love to imagine him as a closeted Reaganite lol. Megan also texted about liveblog and attending a cyber anonymous 12 step group tonight with another anonymous pal of ours. I agreed to cyber.

 

12:10pm: stopped staring at phone. got up, coffee, fed dog, etc.

 

12:28pm: sat down to type this. It is now 12:39. 

 

Here is a list of my tentative goals for the day, to be accomplished roughly in this order:

 

  • Putter some gas on starting a new story
  • Do this silly thing for school that won’t take too long
  • Ask Scott for advice about my “educational goals”/maybe make some phone calls
  • Work on Possible New Writing Project
  • Yoga
  • Cyber 12 step
  • Maybe call mom, partially for “educational goals” advice, partially just to chat

 

I shall write more about each step as I do them so I will not elaborate on any of them for now!!!!!!! 12:43 now

 

1:34pm: I finished a long-ass story two days ago and now I feel like I’m out of story juice. Scott keeps on acting like it’s insane to think you can just write story after story, but I did that for Black Cloud and thought it would be easier than writing another novel. It is easier than a novel, much fewer crises, but I forgot that Black Cloud was only 20k words and I’m trying to write a full-length collection now, and a lot of the stories in Black Cloud I’d written in grad school anyway, and yeah, writing story after story is kind of hard. But I’m almost done, I have to write like 1-3 more, except I feel completely out of juice. I feel like a boat where you turn on the motor and it goes put-put-put and then it just turns off. I have a list of stories I want to write and none of them are screaming “me! work on me now!” the way they used to. I started working on one yesterday and felt completely not into it and I started working on it again today and I felt completely not into it and so I started writing one of the other stories and I felt like I could do it. I made a plan for tomorrow. I knew today wouldn’t go too well so my plan for today was to come up with a plan for tomorrow and I did that. It always works better if you have a plan. 

 

I now have to do some schoolwork. For accreditation you have to collect a lot of data and so I have to turn the work my students did into data and it’s very stupid. I have a problem with how the data is being collected, like I think it’s ineffective and confusing, and I also have a problem with the fact that we have to collect data at all. I think accreditation is good because you should have some sort of standards of what a college is, and I agree that a student should get basically the same thing from an English class regardless of what school they go to, but overall accreditation is a big racket and one of the major problems we have with higher ed, and if we had less insane accreditation processes and less insane administrative bloat then tuition could be cheaper and we wouldn’t be in such a crisis for student loans. Even though I think that this data nonsense is unethical and silly I will be a good employee and turn this stuff into data anyway. 

 

2:29pm: I completed the data. I did my best to be a good employee and do a good job. I had to ask Scott for help. I don’t know what the other faculty does, the ones who don’t live with another faculty member and can’t compare notes. Scott said he was in a horrible mood and we shouldn’t have stayed up so late last night but he helped me and I helped him. The data entering hurt my brain.

 

My course evaluations were also ready so I looked at those. Looking at course evaluations feels like looking at Goodreads reviews—it’s best to just not know what other people think sometimes—but I tried really hard this semester (probably too hard) to be a good teacher during stupid covid zoom school and I looked anyway. I only had one student mad at me (saying Disagree for some of the questions), probably this one student I got into a fight with because they cheated, and the angry student didn’t seem to leave any comments so all the comments were nice & I guess my extreme efforts at being a good professor paid off. So it was like looking at Goodreads and only seeing a nice review.

 

Realized I only have one week of break left, two weeks before school begins (next week I have the Week of Meetings). BUMMERINO MAN

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with George Saunders. His new book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, is available from Random House.

 

This is George’s second time on the program. He first appeared in Episode 100, on August 29, 2012.

Saunders is the author of eleven books, including Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the 2017 Man Booker Prize for best work of fiction in English, and was a finalist for the Golden Man Booker, in which one Booker winner was selected to represent each decade, from the fifty years since the Prize’s inception. The audiobook for Lincoln in the Bardo, which featured a cast of 166 actors, won the 2018 Audie Award for best audiobook.

His stories have appeared regularly in The New Yorker since 1992. The short story collection Tenth of December was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won the inaugural Folio Prize in 2013 (for the best work of fiction in English) and the Story Prize (best short story collection).

He has received MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships, the PEN/Malamud Prize for excellence in the short story, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2013, he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. In support of his work, he has appeared on The Colbert ReportLate Night with David LettermanAll Things Considered, and The Diane Rehm Show.

Saunders was born in Amarillo, Texas and raised in Oak Forest, Illinois. He has a degree in Geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines and has worked as a geophysical prospector in Indonesia, a roofer in Chicago, a doorman in Beverly Hills, and a technical writer in Rochester, New York. He has taught, since 1997, in the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University.

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Dear Syd, 

I didn’t know your friend, and I’d fail if asked to list five simple  biographical facts about you, but I know you–maybe you know  me too, maybe not. And I understand this “you” is not you, but  rather, my perception of the version of yourself curated for the  amphitheater of social media, as it’s cropped up in my feeds from  Tumblr to Instagram to Twitter, among fields of people I know  IRL, which is likely the root of this intimacy I feel. Although I  believe you and I are similar insofar as our membranes between  public/private are thinner than most, I know there are things I  don’t or can’t know, but I’ve always found you interesting, likely  had a large crush on you at some point, and your tweets about  your friend’s death hurt my heart like it wouldn’t have if I didn’t  know you. Your commentary while watching the highly esteemed  Saw franchise for the first time earned its place in my Internet  Hall of Fame, and it was a little disorienting, yet in retrospect  made perfect sense, for me to laugh to the point of pain at what  you had to say on the spectacle of gore orchestrated by dying-of cancer John Kramer, because I know you, or this image of you,  built from the way autumn sunlight kisses the angles of your face,  the Edwardian dresses you pose in, the melted glacial blue of your  gaze, how you inhabit the mundane in eternal photoshoot; it was  natural incorporating your funniness into all this, not as revision,  but as something there from the start. Part of me feels I shouldn’t  be writing this letter to you—who am I to intrude upon such a  highly intimate moment when I’m not even remotely an integral  part of your life? Perhaps the urgency I felt to write to you isn’t  sufficient enough an answer, but it was intense enough for me to see this through. Freshman year of UMass, around the time you  and I first connected, I think, I was friends with this girl, Nina,  who lived in my dorm, who’d see me pulling all sorts of stupid shit  (i.e. piggyback riding some guy through the halls, knocking on  each door to offer a spoon-fed glop of Nutella to whoever opened)  and tell me, bursting with giddiness, “You really need to meet my  boyfriend, you’d love each other.” One weekend he visited and  proved Nina right—Jake and I were so same-wavelengthed  hanging out was like sitting next to a mirror–but more than that,  here was this whole other human who saw and understood me,  who I saw and understood, better even, than we saw and  understood ourselves. Another weekend, I hadn’t known he was  coming until I heard TONIGHT WE RIDE! right outside my window, in his best imitation of the La Dispute vocalist; I threw on shoes and rushed outside to tackle-hug him.

Three Poems

By Devon Welsh

Poetry

 

 

Bongos

 

for mama

 

chemtrails made the sky a crossword
and the day was chillier than yesterday

 

I played the bongos at your grave
to say thanks for the music

 

imagining a child doing fortnite dances
in the new grass on the hole you lay in

 

I would have been that kid
if I had been born in 2008

 

too old to be an Obama baby
too childish to have a baby.

 

I’d heard they’d have the cure for cancer
by the time I got cancer

 

which could be true,
but not for you.

 

(this isn’t how he really died
he was cremated

 

in LA and it was hot outside
and I wasn’t even there)

 

A few weeks ago, it was Michael Bible’s birthday. His girlfriend Kelsey got him a landline: red and corded, like the one from Dr. Strangelove. We conducted this interview over that secret line, sharing drinks on either end. 

 

All his books have been novellas. All his books have been immaculate. The most recent, The Ancient Hours, is a stunning lyrical look at guilt, love, and the small triumphs that are still available to us despite the indignities that time and other people ruthlessly dole out. It centers on Iggy, who burns down a small town church and is sentenced to death and dies, and the lives he’s affected. Imagine Meursault in the American South and you’ll have some idea of Bible’s achievement.

This week on Otherppl: an epic end to a pathetic and demoralizing year.

 

With guest appearances by Megan Boyle, Leland Cheuk, Richard Chiem, Rachel Bell de Navailles, Juliet Escoria, Joseph Grantham, Mik Grantham, Ben Loory, Gene Morgan, Timothy Willis Sanders, and Bud Smith.

Special guest: Rich Ferguson.

4 poems

By Elizabeth Ellen

Poetry

 

for garielle lutz

 

(the) Conjuring

 

As a new hobby, I think about sabotaging our relationship. I think about this a lot while we’re at Home Depot looking at Christmas lights.

“If we ended it right now, think about how good it would end,” I say.

You look at me funny when I say this. We are each buying a new Dustbuster, tho for some reason yours costs twenty dollars more than mine.

“I don’t get you, baby, why would you say shit like that?” you say, your mask under your nose. “If you want to break up with me, just do it; get it over with.”

But that’s not what I’m saying at all.

 

I spend another twenty minutes after dinner fantasizing about ending things. You come in from smoking and playing video games on my front porch and I’m crying and crying. I thought you’d left.

“I’m just so tired,” I say. I am apologetic. (I am your baby, your baby girl.)

 

I hide my eyes with your hands. An hour ago you wanted me to dominate you. Thigh highs, cock ring, handcuffs. You can’t get more All-American than that.

 

When you come inside me you say: shit, goddamn, fuck.
When you come inside I say, “We better break up now,” and I am crying and crying.

Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Alex Branson. His new novel, Water, Wastedis available from Rare Bird Books. It is the official December pick of The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.

 
Branson works for a non-profit in South Jersey. Before that, he worked at group homes in rural Missouri and Chicago for eight years. He is one of the hosts of E1 Podcast.

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