Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Year End Review: A List of Work I've Had Published This Year


For all you sycophants out there (...0...), here's a list of work I've had published online or in physical journals this year. Each link is to my story/poem or to the publication itself if the story is not available online. I had a decent start to the year but things have slowed down since the summer. Oh well, keep writing I guess:

Kendallwood (Haiku) and Cripples (short story): the 555 Collective is a non for profit arts group that supports victims of abuse. (NOTE: the haiku is about the 13th one if you scroll down the list).

"Time Together" (short story): the Legendary is a literary blog/online journal.

"The Jerk Chicken is Sardonic" (flash fiction): Thunderclap Press is a small online literary and physical publication that is currently on hiatus. My story appeared in issue #9 over the summer (#9, #9, #9...) which is currently the final issue.

"Summer in Hell" (short story): Kerouac's Dog Magazine is published by a vanity press out of the U.K. This story was accepted over a year ago, but issue 5 which it was scheduled to appear in has yet to come out. I think KDM is mainly a money making scheme, so beware to writers in the future if and when they start publishing again.

"The Portentous Menacing Road of a New Decade...": HipsterFight! Magazine is an online literary journal. I'm currently the Fiction Editor of said journal. This was an essay I wrote on turning 30 and the implications therein.

Blogs, Messagboards Etc.

Contributor/Blogger: is a local/national music blog based out of Kansas City. The primary focus is hip-hop but I often write pieces about indie, post-punk, alt-country etc. The link will take you to a list of my postings.

I'm also a regular poster on the message boards and What's my user name? That's a secret I'll never tell...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dancing, Leases and Leaving

I was dancing around the room like a fool when you walked in. Gyrating my hips and moving my wrists back and forth limply like I’d seen others do. The music had ended long before you saw me, but I still kept it in my mind. It was some sort of repetitive hip-hop beat I’d heard on a car commercial. My feet jostled back and forth for position one in front of the other while I imagined the loud and distorted rhythm track. 
            I didn’t feel embarrassed at all, but I probably should have. You weren’t the first to be turned off by my dancing.
I’m guessing that’s how you felt at least. Since we haven’t talked again since August, that would be my assumption. I tried calling you a couple times at the end of the summer to no avail. A man answered and said you didn’t live there any longer, but I knew he was lying. Your lease wouldn’t have been up until October and I know you didn’t have a surplus of money to go around breaking leases.
When we first met and started dating you prided yourself on not signing leases. I thought it was an odd thing to pronounce, but in retrospect it may have been one of your finer qualities. I guess I found it ironic then that the lease is what hemmed you in and forced you to have that man answer the phone and lie to me. I can only imagine the conversation you had with him where you instructed him to answer the phone and say you no longer resided at Orange Gate apartments.
He had a pretty breathy voice. I won’t lie, I felt like getting to know him when I first heard him speaking to me. I knew why you’d left me and took up with that voice. It was convincing and fairly persuasive. He probably could’ve gotten you to do anything. I wanted to believe you weren’t there based solely on the conviction and gravitas in his voice. For that reason, I don’t really blame you.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Domestic Violence: Assigning Blame in the World of 21st Century Pop Culture

By all appearances, Rihanna and Chris Brown are now officially a couple again (and may be engaged). The negative press their relationship has engendered can now ostensibly go full throttle or secede to the next example of domestic violence. In that case, those of us in the blogosphere are now free to imagine a world where the two are described as a celebrity power couple rather than just typified as members of an abusive relationship where the man holds power over the woman. Pop culture has a short memory and an even shorter appreciation for stories that go beyond soundbytes and have relevant issues at their crux. (Apparently Rihanna does as well, but she'll be continually reminded of the situation by Brown's newest tattoo.)

At the same time this week, those of us in Kansas City (and anyone at all associated with the NFL) were greeted with another incident of domestic abuse of a different magnitude when Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered the mother of his child and then committed suicide last weekend. Despite calls from many to cancel last Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, the NFL and Chiefs ownership decided the show must go on at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs happened to win that game, and despite their hapless 2-10 record this season, stories of redemption and hope were floated around the city and the league. What's lost in the shuffle as the story quietly gets swept under the rug is the message we're sending to our young people in this country.  As the story of concussions, drug/alcohol abuse and domestic violence (because the murder of a woman by her significant other is the ultimate act of domestic violence) has unfolded, we've lost sight of seeking answers in the name of assigning blame. The average teenager or college student could pull several narratives out of these events, but in large part they've been lead by the media and our culture to place value in only a few possible explanations. 

Twice in recent weeks some of my female freshman/sophomore students have told me that they not only don't blame Chris Brown for what he did to Rihanna, but that they also enjoy seeing them together and think that getting back together was a positive move. I openly reacted with disgust and asked them to explain their position. Neither could beyond some vapid exclamations of love and non-sequitors that went nowhere and so we were left at a stalemate. We often discuss feminist literature and critiques in class, so it might trouble me more than others when I hear these sorts of unjustified responses. It's not my place to assign value in a situation such as the Rihanna-Chris Brown scenario but I feel a duty to call into question unfounded logic in the same way I would in an essay for class. Supporting and justifying an abusive relationship does not make sense unless you yourself are the abused. 

In some sense I have to conclude that feminism has failed the broader populace of young women. Send out the white flag, pop culture's lust for blood and rampant nihilism has won out over what could've been a chance to teach our young people about the dangers of co-dependence, abuse and the still hegemonic patriarchy itself. My students, by all counts midwestern women from small towns or suburbs are the ones who need feminism the most and instead they've been fed a diet of sex and celebrity worship by the mass media. You could ascribe their naivete to youth, but accepting domestic violence and encouraging or applauding a victim who returns to her abuser is not acceptable at any age.

The midwestern domestic women will be the ones most likely to face domestic abuse within their lifetimes, not the empowered urbanites working at start-ups in New York or Los Angeles with no time to settle down, the ones ultimately so full of confidence in themselves that they they no longer feel they need a man in their life (at least one that does not measure up to their standards). The Kate Bolicks of the world will probably never face the situations that those in the flyover states will, and it's telling that many in this area seem much less prepared to avoid or leave an abusive partner. Postmodern theories about gender and the reclamation of sexuality by third-wavers will not reach the masses nor will it teach any of these women anything about avoiding abusive relationships. Feminism may not be "radical" as some have continued to claim, but its certainly become abstruse when, at it's core, it should be a simple way to teach our young women self-confidence and female empowerment.

Assigning blame to a victim is essentially what we do when accept abuse and violence in our culture. Belcher's girlfriend Kasandra Perkins was a student at one of the colleges I teach at (although I did not know her), so I feel a responsibility to address the situation in one of the final class periods of the semester. Where would I start though? It's so easy to assign blame in what was obviously a situation that defied common-sense logic; should we blame the NFL for not having a better policy on domestic violence or for not better protecting it's players against head injury?; how about blaming the ownership and management for not clearly recognizing a player who was suffering from addiction?; perhaps we call it a day and take the easy way out and accept that Belcher was solely responsible for his own actions and it's pointless to try to make sense of it all (as someone on Facebook told me this week in not so many words). Any or all would probably satiate the media enough and serve as an excuse to move on to the next soundbyte. (Thankfully the NRA has released a rare statement that makes sense of the entire situation, claiming simply " thing missing in that equation is that woman owning a gun so she could have saved her life from that murderer.")

It's all a moot point though. Influenced by an anti-feminist and sensationalist media, young people have already begun assigning blame. Yesterday I heard two young men (also in KC but not the same school where Kasandra Perkins was a student) discussing the case in the student union of the other college I teach at part time. I sat quietly munching on some holiday chex-mix, cookies and M&Ms while one male student detailed a revelation in the case to another. He asked his friend if he'd heard what had been discovered about Kasandra Perkins. The other said no, but listened with rapt attention. Apparently it had been divulged to him by an unknown employee of the Chiefs that Kasandra Perkins had cheated on Jovan Belcher and given him AIDS. The second student reacted in surprise, questioning whether the story had been confirmed on the internet, but then woefully accepted the hearsay as he even went to the lengths of calling someone else on his cell phone to relay the story. With that an abuser has been absolved in the minds of several young men and an explanation weighted heavily enough against the victim but sensational enough to entertain once again has gained traction.        

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Deb Olin Unferth unfurled

There is someone in Missouri who thinks Deb Olin Unferth is a fuckup...

One of my friends let me borrow Deb Olin Unferth's short story collection Minor Robberies. It sat in my window sill until this week when I had some free time between grading papers and reading other books. I was interested because I've heard her name more than a few times and I heard she used to teach at KU not long ago. Anyway I picked the book up and read a couple stories. It doesn't take long because they're all really short, by design I guess. I was really stoned when I read the first two (La Pena, Frank Lloyd Wright), so I attributed the headache they gave me to the state of mind I was in. I put the book next to my bed and told myself I'd give it another whirl the next day.

The second whirl was as bad as the first. Once the stories were done I was confused and had immediately forgotten whatever went on in them. Everything is so circular and blase that there's nothing there. I can't identify with any of the characters, because they all appear to have been created as exercises in futility. I'm not even sure you could call these stories, they're more like anecdotes that have no intention or direction.

I googled her, she looks like a real nice lady but for the life of me I can't understand why anyone would want to read this. I'm not exactly sure what circle she moves in, but I'm thinking this might be the more academic wing of alt-lit. Her stories are about nothing, but they're not really nihilistic. I think I'd call it tedious  minimalism. I bet Tao Lin loves it.

Anyway, I put the book down after reading the story named in the title of the book. One of the problems with current trends in lit is that some of the work is immediately forgettable. Will people be reading these stories in 30 years and trying to dissect them or ascribe any ethos or meaning to them? Not that everything of importance has to be created with longevity in mind, but how can a piece of writing be of worth if it has no content? I just can't imagine anyone ever reading one of these stories and feeling inspired to do anything but...sell the book.

This is one of the reasons modern literature is such a niche community. Can we start writing for people that don't have MFAs again? Must there be two extremes, schlock like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey that appeals to the masses at one end and abstruse, sterilized minimalism at the other?

We get it, you're very intelligent and you understand and can break all the traditional rules of story creation. The only problem is that doesn't lead to a story that I (or many others) would want to read.

I'm giving the book back to my friend and telling her SHE'S A FUCKUP.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lost In Translation and Josh the Rapping Pizza Hut Cook

I'm tired of having my writing rejected at 80% of the places I submit to. This is my platform and I will publish whatever rubbish comes into my head. In a few days I'll have some fiction and poetry up here, and I'll be waxing esoteric about alt-lit like every other blogger who wants to be relevant to the self promoting sycophants of the community. Until then, I leave you with two things...

1. I watched Lost In Translation again last night for about the 40th time. Even though I fell asleep for a few minutes during the middle, I still managed to make light of the constancy of the main motif of miscommunication. It culminates (of course) in the final scene when Bob Harris whispers into Charlotte's ear something that the audience is not explicitly let in on. The motif is so present throughout the film that some might be tempted to call it heavy handed, but I think it's about as subtle as it could be with it appearing so often. It never detracts or distracts from the story much and seems fairly organic throughout. BUT the end flies in the face of that and is a directorial manipulation that is both wonderful and frustrating. I think I know what he actually says to her (there's a consensus "translation" on youtube), but it's no more revealing and somewhat vague.

As its originally presented, the scene hints at an inner life for the characters that extends beyond the roughly two hours we see them on screen. That's not to necessarily say that they meet up again and continue where things left off or that we're even lead to believe that, but rather that the characters know something the audience doesn't and therefore are more than just a voyeuristic/vicarious playground for viewers. Our privileged position as viewers in most film is that we remain aware of things that the characters do not and are granted a sort of omniscience, or conversely, plot points are specifically kept from the audience in order for later dramatic payoff (a la the Sixth Sense). The end of Coppola's movie is neither, however; it leaves the audience struggling for answers and also allows them to take part in the story by creating their own interpretation of what was whispered. This is the larger result of the entirety of Charlotte's and Bob's interaction, when we are never sure whether they are friends, lovers or something else.  

Hearing the digitally enhanced version is a form of cheating, but surely Coppola knew this would be a likely outcome. Still, because the words are somewhat vague and a bit of a private language, you have to feel she built that into the writing of the dialogue for the whisper. She could've opted to include no audible or at least interpretable dialogue but she put some in for a specific reason. It provides little clarity for the viewer, but you can't help but feel that both Bob and Charlotte know full well what they are communicating with one another. The audience is still left in the dark as the ultimate form of personal communication is left to be misinterpreted by the outside world: that is, the secret and privileged language of two lost souls. 

2. I've discovered (or re-discovered on my hard drive) the future of alt-lit. His name is Josh and he worked at Pizza Hut circa 2010. He was a shitty worker. This piece, which I've titled "Animals, Eagles and Llamas" contains the first known rhyme of the words "level" and "shovel."