Saturday, January 28, 2012

I'm still here, scrawling my beanbag heart out


It's been over a year since I've posted on here, but I wanted to share something I recorded today.  I've taken to recording a vignette whenever I finish it, because it helps me think it through.

I've been working on other projects and slowly getting a PhD, which has pushed Things That Can't Be Taken Back to the back burner at times, but it's still a real thing, I'm still doing it, and those of you who've come out to see me read here and there have heard how it's going (which I think is pretty well).  I miss sharing the things I write.  What can you do?

Friday, July 9, 2010

ALR blog

Hey everybody.  I am hard at work on getting Things That Can't be Taken Back turned into a book, as well as writing some new fiction.  In the meantime, the ALR summer book club just wrapped up.  My friends and I read some great books and talked about them.  There are two entries from me, both of books that I think everyone should read.  So, there's that.  Check it out:

American Literary Review blog

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

For those of you who like to read books, or who like to see what I'm doing sometimes, the American Literary Review (where I'm assistant fiction editor) is doing a summer book club on their blog.  I am kind of de facto in charge.  Check it:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Q+A with a freshman English class

A good friend of mine taught my novel in his freshman comp class at Purdue this spring, and I recently did a Q+A with his students.  Topics include Apathy and Paying Rent (it's a little spoilery, but nothing that big), why you shouldn't be a writer, the postmodern nature of mixtapes, how Chuck Palahniuk ruined writing in general and mine in particular, and what I had for dinner last night.  If you're interested at all, here it is:

Friday, April 23, 2010

The feel of burnished oak under fingertips

I tried to think of the last time I saw you naked, and I couldn’t. The way your jeans fell off of you at the barest provocation, your breasts that you always said were too small and engendered a sense of ungender. I thought that they were pretty okay, and that’s the best I knew how to say aloud that they were God’s own perfection, that there’s the proof against my unbelief. You never forgave me my understatement.

Did I take note of these things the last time? It seems important that I did, so let’s just say that I did. Let’s just say I looked for you and I found you, that last time, you either stepping out of a shower or in bed on a Saturday morning with the sun streaming in and interrupting the best kind of sleep. Or, if I get to choose a last time, which I think that I do, I choose that September afternoon when the power was out on account of a glancing hurricane, you sprawled all the way apart on the wine-stained carpet and laughing, because what else was there to do in the muggy open-window heat but laugh about nothing making sense when you try and tell a life like it’s a story. Which that’s always the mistake that we were making.

And now (and now) I stand there in front of him all sworn in and knock-kneed nervous reading my prepared testimony when I sputter like an airplane engine flaming out, and I stop, and I say Your Honor, I guess it’s that things like this are never really finished. And he says I know, and he thumbs through my papers, and he waits for me to be ready.

I've decided that the time has come (and it's been coming and coming for awhile now) to stop posting weekly vignettes to this blog and start focusing on turning this book length project into a real book.  I've been doing this for over a year now, I have well over a hundred vignettes written, what started out as a way for me to fictionalize and process my life (a false autobiography, if you will, but then that's most fiction) has become something significant to me outside of the context of my personal history.  It's time to move forward.

I will be sending out some of the vignettes for individual publication in various places (and feel free to solicit them if you happen to own a literary magazine or website or something or know someone who does), and I'll be shaping them into a novel, and I will keep you posted on all of that here.  I'll also post vignettes here and there when I feel like sharing or whatever.  Your feedback, as always, is appreciated (in fact, I wish there were more of it).  To those of you who look forward to Thursdays: I'm sorry.  I'm still here, writing, doing what I love, and you'll still get to see it.  I just have to focus on making sure it's presented and presentable in the way that it should ultimately be presented, and I feel lousy that I'm holding back my favorite or best vignettes for a "real" venue, but there it is.

I hope you all continue to share this blog with people who might like it, even though updating will be more sporadic, and I hope you'll still continue to like what I do.  And... that's it, I guess.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A fugue meant both ways

She was yelling at me what have you done and I kind of stared at her dumbly with blood on my hands not knowing really what I’d done but guessing it had to do with the blood. Sometimes I would forget things. Also I have a tendency to misplace my keys, but that isn’t relevant to what was going on right then.

I was the kind of person who told his stories slant or not at all. I liked to invest things with extra meaning, changing the truth, smoothing it over, making it more resonant to the cycles of my brain. The blood, the smeary fact of it on my shirt front, and of course I would have to be wearing a white short-sleeve button down on a day like this so I looked straight out of a major motion picture, told a story I didn’t much want to tell.

I quoted a joke from a tv show we both liked and smiled. She stared at me in frank-faced horror. I said I might take a shower. She said nothing. I said nothing. Then I took a shower.

What could I say? I woke up this way in an alley not knowing what had happened? I think I should go to the police? Have you seen that movie Teen Wolf, because it’s maybe kind of like that? That I am capable of many things that I don’t ever think about, and one of those might have happened today while you were at work? Any explanation would just be more unacceptability. I was standing in pink water sluicing off my body. That word. Sluice. It’s a good one, infrequently used but worth the trouble when it is.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

No vignette this week, as I'll be at AWP trying to convince people that I am actually a writing professional and trying to get George Saunders in a bear hug.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Couldn't tell you why I cried

She has the clay on the table and she is working it, using the weight of her body, her forearms probably sore and certainly firm against the work, while I watch and drink coffee and say a little thing here and there or don’t. My speaking, it’s not the kind of thing that matters.

She has mud all over her jeans, her arms, her forehead. It is good to see, how it proves the value of a thing well done, or at least done with more care for the thing than for the self. She will not go to the wheel today, where the making becomes a matter of magic and pressure, impressive and sexually charged, sure, and never quite understandable except by the hands. Today it is something simple, made at the table.

For her I am sure this is an act of remembering, each motion done so many times over so many years as to become one long experience of ceramics classes, pots found cracked from drying overnight, a man with bone dry hands making humble admissions in the way he searches her skin and finds or does not find what he is looking for while the kiln’s flame makes proof out of their intentions. And that’s a shame, maybe, because of the way that expertise becomes a kind of dishonesty, and because this moment itself is so very beautiful, how it proves that the things that we do are worthwhile in and of themselves.

Would she make the trade, the years for the chance to see it all anew? Would I? It’s a good question that will go unasked as I watch and smile privately into my cup of coffee, my simple mug that is slightly uneven if you run your finger up the inside wall. It was a gift. Many things are.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Photography is thievery, the taking of pictures

I don’t like saying this: she was sometimes the kind of person who thought that looking good together was enough, like if only I were more photogenic. And I always thought of myself as the kind of person with a body that had to be looked past, not at. It was a point of tension is what I’m getting at. Prepositions and the way I put my sentences together in general were another, like what was I but rough edges that ran all the way to the core of my being.

So I am going through this shoebox and seeing how in every one of these she has the same smile, and I am thinking to myself that it was you all along who didn’t photograph well, the way you tried so hard to fake it while I grimaced and accepted that I was uncomfortable about the idea of being a physical presence that could be trapped this way in two dimensions when really I ran on and on and on in my head and also looked a good deal better, generally speaking.

There were a handful of pictures of her with someone else at the bottom, buried underneath all our posed memories, some guy who could be a model if his teeth weren’t so yellow. She was making the same face as she’s ever made, wide smile, head leaned a little toward the other person in the frame, arm around at the waist. Like she was a cardboard cut-out of a famous person in a storefront at the mall. I could have made a flipbook, her never changing as the world, and I, and this other dude, changed around her. It’s the kind of thing that could probably mean something, but doesn’t.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dreaming through every obstacle

What she does is she talks in her sleep, a conversation we have that develops slowly toward the end of its sentences like Polaroid film. In her sleep she is brim-full of accusation, mostly about my wakefulness, like there’s some betrayal in me laughing when she says she only smokes cigarettes on beachfront property, and even then only when it’s middle school.

The thing is, though, it does feel like a betrayal. Like I’m seeing her opened up, like naked in a new and unfair way that I can’t reciprocate. In the daytime, she stays quiet, there’s this great reservation in her speech that’s developed over the last year or so, and this from a person who already uses pronouns like they’re well-worn blankets, who says you know… instead of naming what’s really bothering her. It is either things are being unsaid or there are no things to say.

So I listen intently to what bubbles up, and maybe that’s a cheat. In fact, I know it is. But I’m anxious to catch the smallest hint, the barest trace, the tiniest reassurance that things are going better than me staying up late to play videogames because I can’t sleep and her crestfallen and sighing and then asleep on the couch would seem to indicate. And I never get it if I’m being honest. Maybe that I’m looking is enough.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Who has money for the chainsaw men?

Then there was that day the tree fell down over our driveway because of too much rain, this massive oak that laid right down when it had had enough. We took turns taking a photo in front of it, you with your arms thrust out and open and one leg crossed over the other like it was your own magic trick, me with hands thrust deep in pockets wearing my best daguerreotype face. Remember for me when you get the chance the way it rested on thick branches and towered above us even on the ground, how you remarked that it was bigger—and it was—than our little decades-old house. We wondered together about bugs and smiled and smiled.

It’s a rainy day at my apartment and I’m thinking about it. But I’m not allowed to call and tell you. It’s been so long since I’ve been allowed that I hardly feel things about it anymore. The gentlest of bummers.

Being trapped that way felt pretty good, the way we didn’t bother showering and stood in front of the pantry wondering what we could throw together for dinner. How we avoided television and electricity in general, just because it seemed uncouth, somehow. This was history, this was being alive. Count the rings and see.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A deferral worse than denial

I had the soapy aftertaste of bad coffee on my tongue, which seemed somehow relevant. My mind was always on these trivial disappointments, the low hum of the adult male’s disgust at himself and his lot in life drowning out anything truly devastating. Isn’t that just the way of everything.

Sometimes I liked to pretend that I didn’t have a body. Like what was I, like was I a ghost on the edge of the bed. I smoothed down a corner of the sheet, leaned forward, flicked my tie over and again so that it did a little pendulum arc out away from my body.

I stayed that way for centuries, my tie moving close and away, uncomfortable in my dad’s old suit. Dust settled thick and feathery on my shoulders. The bed rotted until it was a metal frame and rusty springs. Eventually the building sort of fell down into itself. But I stayed. She stayed, too, standing in the doorway, waiting for the answer to a question she’d never before been brave enough to ask. I’m sure she deserved an answer. I’m sure of it.


For the next few months I'm only going to be updating on Thursdays.  My PhD work is heating up, and I'm also working on short stories, so I've got to make some breathing room.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Let's make a meal of the memory

We were walking past the hard-packed husks of snowmen, sad little gumdrop lumps in the grass reminding us of the weekend’s tromping around ankle deep in our pajama pants and winter coats. Now it was sunshine and more sunshine, the kind a weatherman would smile about with big teeth and a tan wizened face pretending at youth. Well, let him smile, then. I cast my lot with the snowmen.

Oh you’re such a dramatic was what she said while we walked, her breath showing, as if the words were drifting off behind us. The beautiful thing about all of this is how the barriers between word and thought and the insides of each of us kind of broke down after awhile. How I didn’t have to say things out loud. The grass looked especial in its greenness. She said special worked just as well and was half as pretentious. She said think about what you’re typing as you type it, because you tend to overwrite.

I thought of a picture I’d seen once, a girl spitting a glass of water out in front of her toward the camera like a sprinkler in the late-day sun, colorful and strange and great. I wondered what it would be like to make a rainbow on command like that, whenever you wanted. She opened her mouth to talk and there it was, light refracting all around us in a million billion directions, ROYGBIV all over the place. I couldn’t help but smile.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dye packs, radio transmitters, and other tools of unrequiting

When you crossed the state line I was sitting on the couch and weeping, reading the note your kidnappers had left over and over. It said that I may already have won, and then it listed a bunch of contest rules and exceptions. It all looked very official. I fell over sideways and pressed the paper against my face. It came away tear-stained in one of those patterns you could find a miracle in if you were the type.

But I was not the type. Days went by and there were no calls, no deep voices with lists of demands and snot-choked crying in the background. I would forget and pour two mugs of coffee, which that would set me off all over again. All my money was in a suitcase by the front door. I lived in the act of springing into action, every day the same panel of the same faded comic book.

The police all knew me by name. Some days they would take me out for coffee. As the weeks turned to months, though, they became curt and annoyed as I sat for hours in the lobby. The grief counselor I was seeing kept wanting to see the letter, in truth he was kind of a dick about it. He said things like look you have to realize and filtering your existence through a lens of denial and unhealthy unhealthy unhealthy all the time.

There you were, then, at the bank in line behind me trying not to be noticed, three years gone by, me with a suitcase and a deposit slip, you with just a deposit slip. My little Patty Hearst. I hung around and waited, watched everyone else in line to see your accomplices, your tormentors, but you just deposited your check and walked off, as if Dr. Gary were right. As if it was all just mythmaking. You’ll forgive me, I hope, for jumping the counter and banging around for the silent alarm until a security guard pinned me writhing to the floor.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A simulacrum of a simulacrum

One morning, I decided to make myself out of papier-mâché. I mean like really. I mean like this is how I came into being. What I did was I tore pages out of what would become my favorite books, soaked them in gin and whiskey and this really good chicken soup that I would attribute to my mother, who I made later out of clay and put in a sort-of shoebox diorama, another one of my craft project people.

Still wet, I went downtown with pages dropping off here and there since I wasn’t yet glued. It was okay, though. I had more, and I knew one bookstore where you could get whole stacks of remaindered books on the right day of the month, just laying there stripped naked of their covers. Mostly they were carted off by the homeless for starting fires. What I did after that was I went to the racetrack and made a deal with an open-mouthed gaping jockey for his losing racehorse.

The smell of long-boiling hide was maybe the worst of it, but I can still hear the sound of the dumb beast bleeding out. I felt sorry for it anyway, but that’s the way of things. I have to say that I came out lumpy and smelly and weird, which most real things turn out that way. Later, though, I got it right. I made a person with words.


Sorry for the missed update.  You know.  School.  Sleep.  Etc.