The other day as I was driving my daughter to a doctor’s appointment, a woman pulled up alongside us, leaned over and held a book up to the passenger-side window. I gave her a friendly wave, because I’m always up for a good book recommendation. But she continued to hold it there, staring straight ahead, as we both edged forward in the traffic.

Gosh, I thought. She really likes this book. And seems to think that it’s just the book for me!

I took a closer look: the title was The Marketing of Evil, and on the cover was an apple being temptingly proffered. Later that day, I looked the book up online and read the description:

Paul Tremblay’s Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye (ChiZine Publications) is a contemporary version of Animal Farm amped up on bitterness, future technology and sad realizations that things are not going to end well. Our unnamed narrator is forced into situations beyond his control, a reluctant hero in search of his mother, an angry youth who has little love left for his father, a boy not quite ready to be a man.

As a teen, he runs off to work at Farm, thinking he is helping his mother. Years later when his paychecks bounce back to him, her account closed, he fears the worst. An opportunity to escape presents itself, and he flees Farm, only to run into his father, who has set him up to be the next mayor of City—or perhaps just a patsy waiting for the fall.

Six Shakespearean Tailgaters

 

The Comic’s Complaint

How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
How come you listen but won’t laugh at my gags?

(based on The New York Times feature)

Sundays start early for Aristotle von Buckingham, the 32-year-old venture capitalist and professional yo-yo master.  He and his girlfriend, Madonna Luxembourg, live in the penthouse of an Upper West Side brownstone with their pet elephant, two and a half children, and a life-size statue of Zach Galifianakis.

Please explain what just happened.

My sixteen-year-old cat just sneezed a tooth at me and looked at me like, “Really?”  I didn’t know what to tell him.  I’m going to put his tooth under my pillow, and maybe I’ll get a new cat.

 

What is your earliest memory?

On the bookmobile at age four.  My mom is trying to make me talk to a girl my age.  I am terrified, and I may have cried.

“[This American Life] said [Mike Daisey’s] story about meeting underage workers at Foxconn… was untrue. The program says Daisey also lied about meeting a man who mangled his hand making iPads… [and] that factory guards carried guns. ‘The only people who are allowed to have guns in China are the military and police,’ [China bureau chief Rob] Schmitz said in a phone interview from Shanghai. He also doubted Daisey’s contention that he met factory workers in a Starbucks, a pricey venue assembly workers would never visit.”
Mercury News, 3/17/12

Not every game that I played with my parents required so large and so mathematically sophisticated an apparatus as our beanbag tic-tac-toe set: with its ever shifting planes of experience—Xs and Os—victory and loss—all poised on invisible pins and ready to pivot from pleasure to pain to panic—that nightmare land of indecision—at the slightest provocation.

We also enjoyed simpler pastimes, such as hide-and-seek.

Imagine that Cinderella’s been murdered, distracted by a bluebird and run over by a truck in New Never City. Now imagine her stepsister calling on Rumpelstiltskin (stripped of his villainy as punishment for rage issues) to investigate. This is the premise of  J.A. Kazimer’s Curses!: A F**cked Up Fairy Tale.

Cinderella’s stepsister Asia, believing her sister’s death to be a case of foul play, shows up at what she thinks is Sherlock Holmes’s door. Only, he hasn’t lived there for a while, not since RJ, as Rumpel prefers to be called, stuffed him into the chimney and took over the residence. Asia, much better-looking then the original story had led us to believe, convinces RJ to help, but really he’s just doing it in hopes that she’ll sleep with him.

I should be in school right now, steeling my ear canals against a six-hour onslaught of Finnish verb conjugation, suffixal agglutination, and phonemic molestation. While there, I’d watch the sky go from black to leaden to wan and back again. I’d pour coffee in one end of my body and drain it out the other. I’d envy the reindeer begging for alms outside the nearby train station. I’d weep.

For publishers, authors, and agents, coming up with the perfect book title causes great consternation. In some cases, hundreds of titles are suggested, batted about, and batted down months before a book’s official publication date. The highly volatile selection process often results in finger-pointing, idle threats, lollygagging, and, in some rare cases, irritable bowl syndrome. Sadly, like many of my colleagues in publishing, I’ve experienced this aggravating process firsthand.

Fudged Resume in a Difficult Economy

What’s up, Morrison?

Not much. Had a reading last night. I’m eating gluten-free almond cookies and some kind of tea that claims to be able to balance my hormones. Or my chakras. Or, wait—maybe both. I didn’t look very closely at the box.

 

Are you feeling balanced?

Well—no. That’s why I’m drinking the damn tea!

 

Do those teas really work?

Sure, if you’re prone to suggestion, which I am. I’m the perfect candidate for the placebo effect. If you told me that eating a copy of Anna Karenina would make me the world’s greatest living writer, I would do it, and then, I swear to God, I would write some seriously awesome shit. Those less susceptible would merely shit some seriously awesome writing.

 

Are you working on a new book yet?

I am, as a matter of fact. Or I was, anyway, before I became a Yoga Bitch promotion machine.

 

Is your new book about yoga?

Nope. It’s called Your Own Personal Alcatraz, and it’s about coming of age on an island near Seattle. But mostly it’s about my first experience of being in love, of being young and craving both independence and intimacy, and how that struggle shaped me.

 

What are you reading right now?

I’m halfway through Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The dialogue is so good I have to read it out loud to my husband every night. I love Hemingway. I think about him a lot– about his extraordinary dialogue, about how deeply emotional his writing is, and about how, if I weren’t happily married, and he weren’t, sadly, dead, I would be all over that man like white on rice.

It’s also October, so I keep cheating on Hemingway with horror stories.

 

So, you’re into vampires and werewolves, or what?

Ghost stories. I’m obsessed. I have this secret desire (now a little less secret) to write a really excellent ghost story. I want to believe in ghosts the way I want to believe in God: helplessly, because you can’t force belief. But I can play at it.

 

So, you don’t believe in God, then?

Not exactly. I’d like to. I’m thinking about it. There’s a part of me that hopes I’ll write a memoir in my late forties or fifties about how I finally found God and the spiritual life. But then there’s another part of me that thinks that what I’m doing now—reading and thinking and trying on faith—is the same thing. It’s just not very organized.

Part of the problem is that I know my yearning for God isn’t just about desiring knowledge or transcendence. It’s about wish-fulfillment. It’s about heaven. I really love the idea of an afterlife.

 

Angels and harps? You love the idea of angels and harps?

Not even remotely. My husband and I made a pact that we would believe in a very specific afterlife together. It’s Borges’s idea, really: the afterlife as a giant library. I also decided that in the afterlife, everyone you know is an amazing storyteller. You get to hear all the exquisite gossip that no one would ever dare tell in life. I think that’s a crucial part of the heaven idea, because if folks were still tight-lipped around the really juicy stories, heaven would be awfully tedious.

I would also appreciate a screening room in the afterlife, and an endless supply of beautifully shot ghost stories, serial killer stories, and period films.

 

Let’s talk about Yoga Bitch. Have you always wanted to write a spiritual memoir?

In spite of myself, yes. I think one of the reasons I kept working on Yoga Bitch for so many years (from 2003-2010) was because I needed to get this spiritual thing out of my system before I could work on other stories. Yoga Bitch somehow became the perfect container for all of my mid-twenties angst. It was intended to be this light-hearted yoga smackdown, but ended up being about leaps of faith; in a spiritual leader, a religion, a god, a love. A handbag. I was so cynical about everything at that age, so afraid of having regrets, of making the wrong decision. It took falling in love and ruining my life for a while to grow the kind of courage one needs to have faith. Not blind faith, but active, questing, questioning faith. That’s the kind of faith I’m after.

 

How did you come up with the structure for Yoga Bitch?

Yoga Bitch was originally a one-woman show. In 2004, I decided to adapt it as a sort of roman à clef, and I had a doozy of a time figuring out how to structure it. One afternoon, I was sitting at the B&O café in Seattle, chatting with a PhD candidate I knew, this Spanish guy named Nil, and I asked him how he would structure a spiritual journey. He didn’t hesitate: As a diary, he said. A spiritual journey is so personal, the struggle so hushed and unseen. We need to be inside the character’s head to really experience the sturm und drang of it all.

I couldn’t imagine writing my story in diary entries without it starting to look like my actual diary, which was an unholy mess of narcissism, self-loathing, and sex dreams that I couldn’t imagine being interesting to anyone but myself. So I dismissed the idea and spent the next four years writing the novel in sprawling chapters, past tense.

That novel now sits in a little coffin in my closet, thank God. After it was rejected, my agent suggested that I try to rewrite it as a memoir. I told her I would think about it, but in my heart I knew I was done with the story. Yoga Bitch had already been a one-woman show and a novel. If I went ahead and wrote it as a memoir, and the memoir failed, what would I do next, write it as a libretto? An epic poem?

But about a year later, I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea: If I did write a memoir, I wanted it to be a dialogue between the present and the past, between perspective and no perspective. Memoir is uniquely suited to that task, and suddenly the challenge was appealing. When dreaming up how to recreate my life without perspective, there was only one way that really worked: the diary format, broken up by essays from the perspective of today. It wasn’t until I had written the first chapter that I remembered Nil’s good advice from so many years before.

 

You seem quite amused by bodily functions. It’s kind of astonishing how much space you devote to the fact that your yogamates drank their own pee every day. Are you actually a twelve-year-old boy?

No. I just have the sense of humor of one. My idea of a restorative Saturday afternoon is sitting around making fart noises and laughing. I’m simple like that.

 

You end up understanding your fallen yoga teacher through your own love life, which mirrors hers. Were you saved by a man? (You know that’s not allowed, right?)

Yup. Call me Cinderella, I was. And my cousin was saved by her wife. Love saves. It’s just an idiotic kneejerk feminist trope that says we shouldn’t celebrate a love story. There’s nothing better or more important in life than to be cherished by another human being, except, perhaps, to cherish another human being. Feminists need to drop that bag.

 

Are you a feminist?

I dunno. These days I am nothing, really, except anti-ideology. Ideologues make me break out in hives. And that’s a real problem, cause those motherfuckers are everywhere. Many of them live inside my head, and I don’t even know it until I hear what they’re saying in my voice. It’s like I’m possessed, sometimes.

 

Who have you offended with your book?

Clearly, not enough people. If I were more offensive I think sales would be better.

 

How have sales been?

Good! Solid.

 

What do you enjoy most about writing?

The most enjoyable aspects of writing have got to be the night sweats, the panic attacks, and the carpal tunnel syndrome, for sure.

Just kidding! Those parts aren’t fun. Writing is hardly an enjoyable activity; but it is the most engrossing activity I’ve engaged in. I had a professor in college tell me that art will never make you happy, but it will demand all of your concentration. And concentration, he said, is the closest thing to happiness that exists in the world. In that sense, it’s a lot like meditation, or the state of mind that precedes meditation. When I’m not writing, my mind has nothing to chew on so it starts to eat itself. Like right now—that’s why I’m drinking all these hippie teas, because I’m not writing. I start imagining worst-case scenarios, I obsess over past mistakes or future concerns. One minute I’m telling myself I’m amazing, the next minute that I’m a fraud, a fake, a hack. When I’m writing I’m mostly just thinking about the writing. That is such a relief.

 

jake shears

The Scissor Sisters couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time to sashay onto the scene. It was 2004, and the country was experiencing fits of crazy homophobia thanks to the gay marriage debate and Republicans like Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman (who was gay, unbeknownst to himself at the time, uh-huh) and Karl Rove, who ushered their candidate, George W. Bush, into the White House for another four years in part by putting gay marriage on the ballot in 11 states and allowing those citizens to vote their dumb prejudices and then pull the lever for Dubya for good measure.