Dawn Raffel Books
Selected by O,The Oprah Magazine:
Best 2012 Memoirs
Selected by O,The Oprah Magazine:
Best 2012 Memoirs
The most unusual love story you will ever read.”*
ABOUT THE BOOK
Original soundtrack composed & performed by Van Decker. With Mark Rasmussen on tenor sax.
Something Wrong With Her is notable author Cris Mazza’s memoir centered around anorgasmia – the inability to have an orgasm.
Research suggests that at least 75% of women cannot reach orgasms through vaginal intercourse, and upwards of 15% are completely anorgasmic. The surplus of contemporary sexual memoirs would have us believe otherwise.
But Something Wrong With Her is not a book about overcoming anorgasmia. Rather, it is a poignant memoir about a girl who didn’t feel the sexual awakenings she knew she was supposed to feel, and about the boy who loved her nonetheless. Thirty years later Cris Mazza went back to find that boy, now a man, only to discover that he’d never stopped yearning for her. Worse, in an attempt numb his feelings for her, he’d sealed himself into an abusive marriage.
Something Wrong With Her is an astonishing real-time testimony of a couple’s reconnection, and their candid wrestling with 30-year-old memories, questions and regrets.
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“Mazza establishes early on that her sexual dysfunction has been debilitating and difficult on pin to a specific cause. Something Wrong with Her is her attempt to write in what she calls “real time;” to delve into her past with a hyper-focus on the one relationship that’s defined her life: an early romance with Mark… Something Wrong with Her is frank. Bold. Mazza faces head-on that which would give most writers pause. What surprises about this book, however, is how much more cerebral than physical it is. It’s almost all in her head.”
— The Rumpus
“On math exams we were always told to show our work, privileging process over result. An increasingly and pleasingly unhinged experiment in autoforensics and self-consciousness, Something Wrong With Her is stuffed with both show and work. In sorting out the question implicit in the title, Cris Mazza assembles a long paper trail of primary documents: yearbook inscriptions, journal entries, published fiction, emails, personal letters on band stationery, and more, more, more. It’s part sexual history and part detective story. She writes: ‘I thought I had control of the material when I wrote the story…. I’m going back again now to regain control.’ Control’s great, but I’ll take the mess any day: here’s to ‘going back again.’ Here’s to showing your work.”
—Ander Monson, editor of DIAGRAM and New Michigan Press, and author ofVanishing Point
“SOMETHING WRONG WITH HER is certainly the most unusual true love story you will ever read, layering recollected scenes and psychological analysis with journals, emails, letters, yearbook inscriptions, excerpts from the author’s past literary works, jazz metaphors, footnotes and more. Cris Mazza’s indefatigable self-scrutiny creates an experience that verges on the psychedelic. Reading this book is less like reading a typical memoir than like spending time in someone’s else’s head, or someone else’s life. The generous decision of literary love-object Mark to allow his writings to be included here adds a fourth — or is it a fifth? — dimension to this unprecedented document.”
—*Marion Winik, author of Highs in the Low Fifties, First Comes Love, and Rules for the Unruly: Living an Unconventional Life
“Something Wrong With Her turns away from the bogus story of what’s sexually ‘hot’ to finally tell the story of what’s real and human: the other bodies who don’t fit into this culture of idiotic faux sexual excess. By articulating the chronicle of her own body, Cris Mazza successfully seduces us into questioning the libidinal fictions we’ve been telling ourselves about our own bodies. Beyond brave writing.” — Lidia Yuknavitch, author ofChronology of Water and Dora: A Headcase
DAVIS SCHNEIDERMAN is a multimedia artist and writer and the author and editor of eight books, including the novels Drain(TriQuarterly/Northwestern) and Abecedarium(Chiasmus) and the forthcoming blank novel,Blank: a novel (Jaded Ibis); the co-edited collections Retaking the Universe: Williams S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization (Pluto) andThe Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game (Nebraska); as well as the audiocollage Memorials to Future Catastrophes (Jaded Ibis). His creative work has appeared in numerous publications includingFiction International, The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, and Exquisite Corpse.He is Chair of the English Department at Lake Forest College, and also Director of Lake Forest College Press/&NOW Books. He edits The &NOW AWARDS: The Best Innovative Writing. He can be found, virtually, at www.davisschneiderman.com
the DEAD/BOOKS trilogy
About the Project
DEAD/BOOKS is a trilogy of conceptual works by Davis Schneiderman from Jaded Ibis Productions: BLANK (2011), [SIC] (2013) and INK. (forthcoming).
BLANK is a 200+ page book whose text offers only 20 enigmatic chapter titles like, “A Character Broods” and “They Encounter An Animal,” with audio remixes by Dj Spooky and pyrographic art by Susan White.
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[SIC] includes public domain works under Schneiderman’s name, including everything from the prologue to The Canterbury Tales to Wikipedia pages to genetic codes, along with a transformation of the Jorge Luis Borges story: “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote.” The fine-art edition of [SIC] contains a pathogen that readers may deploy onto the text, to become sick— sick about copyright.
[SIC] contains images from visual artist Andi Olsen, an introduction from Oulipian Daniel Levin Becker, and sampling-based tracks, already created for other projects, from Illegal Art label acts Yea Big, Oh Astro, Steinski, and Girl Talk. The fine-art edition ($24,998.98) will be packaged with a biological pathogen, which the reader may choose to deploy over the text. In this way, the book [SIC] will make the reader sick — sick about copyright. The book is timed to the release of 25 free, full-text e-books — including The Red-Headed League and Young Goodman Brown, now marked with my name.
INK. is all dark, a smear of solid ink over every surface of the book. INK. erases, redacts, and overwrites itself, ink extending and overtaking every surface. The fine-art edition of INK. uses ink sourced from Schneiderman’s blood. Further, Schneiderman will also put his library at risk. Any person who buys INK. may choose a book from Schneiderman’s library, which Schneiderman must then destroy. He will send evidence of the remains to the purchaser.
This e-book forms part of an e-book cache released in time with [SIC], and its familiar text with new attribution interrogates notions of originality and authorship in an age of rapid transformation of the publishing industry, the shape of narrative, and the transmogrification of the printed word.
“If you’re waiting for the perfect time to write, you’re doing it wrong.” —Me, paraphrasing other writers who write about writing
I call myself a writer because I write. I am not well-known. I don’t make a living writing. I haven’t won awards. I do write every day, arranging words to form sentences that tell stories. Still, making time to write is something with which I have always struggled. This is the best confession anyone can make in a clear state of mind.Read review about the many authors and then you come to know that every author is not born but made from some situation or by interest. Being a learned person doesn’t matter but your interest and dedication is the matter of concern.Because writing is hard and anyone who tells you otherwise is either extremely lucky, or they’re lying.
At times, writing does come easily. My thoughts organize themselves and flow from my brain to my fingers onto the page. I find a rhythm and I know I’m doing what I should be doing. I don’t stop, even to eat or to pee. It helps when I’m passionate about a controversial subject or a well-crafted character. Passion creates a space where nothing can intrude. If I’m working on a first draft I don’t care if it’s awful because I can clean it up later.
Other times, my ideas are scattered. I am easily distracted. I feel a foot under my ass pushing me out of my work space. I hear a restless voice telling me I should be doing laundry or paying bills or taking a shower. I often have good ideas during these breaks, and I try to hold them until I can set them down somewhere. There is no flow, however, when my mind jumps from writing to all the other things I should be doing. Still, I get something written. Later, I go back and decide if the crap is worth cleaning up.
Every now and then, I am empty. No matter how deep I reach, I find no words worth writing. I make notes. I outline. I get lost in research. Anything to put off the impossibility of writing. Am I a fraud? A real writer would push through and find something — anything — to put on the page. I’m convinced I’ll never write again. I hate myself. External distractions are not the problem. No housework or errands or personal hygiene. Here, the distractions are internal, emotional.
For writers, emotional issues breathe truth into stories. Major or minor, past or present, we draw on them as inspiration and we find catharsis in storytelling. At times, I try to ignore my issues, but they occupy a large, dusty enclosure down the block, covered by a gaudy circus tent snapping in the wind. If I let them, these emotional elephants trample my thoughts and creativity. Instead of exploring what they might offer my writing, I run away from them.
I suppose this is a form of writer’s block, that letting fear dictate when I can and cannot write means I’m doing it wrong.
I started out writing fiction. I was playing with three stories, none of which was enough for a novel. I was in the shower one day (base camp for most of my aha! moments) when I decided to weave all three ideas into a single storyline. I couldn’t get to my computer fast enough.
Writing my first novel wasn’t easy, nor was it tortuous. Still, I found the hard work enjoyable, and I wrote as much as I could each day. I was married then. We lived in a lovely home full of lovely things in a lovely neighborhood. My husband had a good job. My daughter was two, and in addition to staying home with her I worked freelance. We had a part-time nanny and a cleaning lady. Order prevailed externally, if not internally. I was happiest when I was writing, quieting my chaotic mind by creating characters whose emotions and actions I could control. I wrote until I finished.
I was proud of my book. I spent almost a year querying agents, receiving an encouraging number of requests for partial and full manuscripts. But after 60 or so rejections, I decided to self-publish. I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish I had set that manuscript aside and left it alone while I started my second novel. When I open it now and read even a few pages, I cringe. I love the characters and the plot, but the writing is amateurish. It wasn’t ready.
I did one thing right: I started that second novel, a story I had been planning for a while. I found inspiration in a quote from a Los Angeles Times piece: “Failure is commonplace in the career of a writer, and a second novel is the beginning of a writer’s career.”
I left my husband and our lovely home full of lovely things. My daughter and I moved five times in five years. I was in a car accident. Financial crises seemed the only constant. The uncertainty of my present and future created tension in my extended family, a family whose raft of conflicts rocked easily and often. I can’t pinpoint the final failure, but my parents and I stopped talking. Chaos reigned, both inside and out. I kept writing.
Seven chapters into my second novel, I reached deep and found nothing. Each time I shared pages with my writing friends, I took their feedback and edited what I had already written. I didn’t make time to move forward with the story, which was far more ambitious than my first novel. Where writing was scary, editing felt safe. Faster and easier than writing new words, cleaning up old words lulled me into feeling productive. I ran out of new pages to share.
Given the uncertainty of my life, finishing another book seemed a luxury I could no longer afford. I failed to finish the first draft before cleaning up the crap. If I couldn’t spend hours writing, why bother at all? I was doing it wrong.
When I stalled at chapter seven, I revived an old blog. I started writing posts that weren’t just about my personal life. I discarded the blogger syntax and wrote more carefully about parenting, relationships, social issues, cultural trends. I had begun writing essays, although that wasn’t my intention. I was still struggling to levy order on what had become a disordered world.
I became a weekly contributor to an online magazine. Instead of veiling my emotional elephants in fiction, or fleeing when they charged without warning, I trotted them out and explored them publicly. Some essays were more personal than others.
At first, writing about my life — family, divorce, friendships — brought guilt and shame. That distracting voice, the one that used to lure me away with laundry? It turned cruel, demanding I shut up. No one cares what you have to say. Narcissist. Fraud. I retreated and wrote a few pieces about current events, avoiding personal experience or emotion. Again, the voice taunted me. So now you’re a journalist? Imposter. Coward.
After a few more personal pieces resonated with readers, I told that voice to shut the fuck up. It hasn’t, not entirely, but it no longer has the power to silence me or dictate what I choose to share. Each week I struggle to balance my personal stories and their relevance within a broader social context. Each week, readers respond with approval, disapproval, or indifference. And I keep writing.
My life is much different now than it was when I wrote my first novel. I am happily married to a man whom my daughter and I love like crazy. We live in a crumbling mansion, a month-to-month rental with an unknown expiration. Boxes full of lovely things gather dust, set aside in anticipation of the next move. I cannot imagine being settled. Permanence is a coat that fits other people but doesn’t feel quite safe when I slip it on. For now, domestic contentment helps offset chaos and uncertainty.
I continue my weekly essays. (You’re making a fool of yourself.) I update my blog occasionally, bloggy style. (Who will read that drivel?) Most important, I’ve returned to fiction. (Look how far you got with that the first time.)
Shut up, stupid voice. I don’t need you anymore.
Each writing medium satisfies a unique emotional need, and choosing one over the other no longer seems necessary. When it’s time to begin a new essay, I muck around in my psyche, searching for personal stories to which I hope readers will relate. If I feel like ranting, I do it on my blog. And fiction remains the greatest escape, allowing me to shape characters and worlds over which I have utter control. I’ve finished a short story and I’m letting it marinate before I send it out prematurely. I’ve even added a few pages of crap to my novel, which I will clean up later.
So I write. The mansion crumbles. Little hills of laundry grow in the bedrooms. Unopened mail takes over my desk. But if I wait for order to prevail, I might never write again. There is no perfect time, so I make time. Otherwise, I’d be doing it wrong.
|by Wendy C. Ortiz I’m left-handed. Age twenty-eight, in the depths of my Saturn return, I designed a tattoo. An artist etched the two images I had combined into my skin. From that point on, a black cat in mid-run crosses in front of an enormous red flame on the bicep of my writing arm.
I’m in a fecund writing valley right now, where, at this moment in time (not to be confused with the moment you’re reading this, or the moment after, or the moment after), I’m experiencing publication after publication. I’ve heard a constant refrain from friends and fellow writers:
You’re on fire!
It puts me in mind of the afternoons I face most days of the week, when I’m hoping my toddler will fall asleep for a few hours so I can write. But the truth is, I’m wilted by the two o’clock hour. I am lit by morning fires. The dampened afternoons stretch in front of me. I’m overtaken by water, by mud.
Underneath the cat and the flame is a banner. Former Catholic School students always inquire or guess at its meaning. Latin, it translates to “harmony in discord.”
I interpret this in two ways. One: I have found harmony in discord. This is a legacy I keep. Two: I can transform discord into harmony. This is my life’s task. This is a black cat bounding across dangerous territory.
This is trauma finding its escape valve in art.
Tinder. Kindling. Oxygen. This is how to sustain a fire. Let me translate this into something that can sustain me through afternoons, sustain me through the very difficult dry spells that writing, and publishing, inevitability present.
Plastic. Tires. Treated wood. This is how to ruin a clean fire and make toxic the air around you. Let me translate this into how to care for the body writing its way through fire.
My right arm maintains its über-usefulness by completing all actions other than writing.
At thirty-three, I brought images to the same artist: this time, an anatomical heart and tidal waves. She sketched and resketched. Again she etched the designs into my skin. It was not until years later, looking in the mirror, that I realized I had fire and water on opposite arms.
The unconscious knows.
How to sustain “being on fire”? In this metaphor the subject is hot. Maybe, like the wildfires that come in the wake of Santa Ana winds, the subject is fast-moving, carving its anarchic path through what was once not-on-fire.
What happens after someone sets themselves on fire?
The pain is described as ‘excruciating.’
“Once the burn becomes severe, it’s burned down to the nerves so you don’t initially have any sensation in those burned areas. Then the adrenaline kicks in. It’s our mind’s way to protect us from the tragedy that we went through.“*
My mind’s way of protecting me from any tragedy I went through?
The sign ascending at the Eastern horizon at one’s birth is used to consider how the person presents to the world. One interpretation used to describe one’s ascendant, or rising sign, is the exterior of the house, where the moon is the interior and the sun is the house’s foundation. My rising sign is Sagittarius. A fire sign.
The only other evidence of fire in my chart is not a planet or a star or even a node. It’s Chiron, a comet. The most common interpretation of Chiron’s placement uses the words “wounded” and “healer.”
Meanwhile, my chart is dominated by the other elements — mostly air, followed by earth, then water. Least present is fire. This lack of fire in other areas has sometimes disappointed me. Even my Mars is in Pisces.
Imagine a fighter fish, hiding among the rocks. The moments when I’m not on fire but safe in my cave, surrounded by water.
Inevitably, after several times of hearing and reading You’re on fire! I have to think of Bruce Springsteen.
“I’m on Fire,” 1985.
Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife baby
Edgy and dull and cut a six-inch valley
Through the middle of my soul
Yes, that sounds about right. That’s what writing can sometimes feel like.
Tattoo guns like a match caressing the skin.
I’ve resolved to remain open to the words that will next appear on my skin.
One word hovers in the smoke but I’m not ready to pluck it from the air just yet. There is a period of waiting, stoking, letting embers fall where they may until the time is right to set another wood on the log, etch another design onto my skin. My forearm’s skin is patient. The blue veins show up just enough that I’ve contemplated blue tattoos following their unique rivers.
How, then, to tend this fire, keep it burning?
Writing, of course.
A History of The Jirí Chronicles
The Jirí Chronicles is a book without boundaries. Its aim is a multimedia invasion into the real world, where real people interact with a fictional character, Jiri Cech, whether they know it or not. Each project within the Chronicles expands Jiri Cech’s 13-year infiltration and “bastardization” of aesthetic forms, creating narratives within narratives that overlap narratives, ad infinitum. To date, there are over 500 individual works of prose, poetry, video, audio, music, visual art, websites, and ironic consumer products.
Eventual “products” of the Chronicles married two literary explorations. The first began in the early 1990s with the question, “What if fiction wasn’t limited to page and ink?” An unfinished novella, The Second Millennium War: What We Found At Birmenstau, was a first attempt to produce fictive elements that readers could interpret as “real.” Two- and three-dimensional artifacts related to the plot were produced or attempted. Computer technology had not yet advanced to where writers could affordably manufacture believable artifacts on home computers and peripherals. Nor was the Internet or services like personal web site hosting available to economically challenged writers.
By 1998, however, personal technology had exploded, making a wide range of media feasible and the potential for real-world infiltration seemingly limitless. Likewise significant was the increasing shift in speed, consequent reduction of attention spans, and non sequitur thinking produced by the Internet. Reduced to bits and bytes, information grew increasingly fractured, virulent and difficult to separate into truth or fiction. The age of Information Excess had taken root. Thus began the second exploration: an experiment in randomness and meaning.
THE SHORT STORIES
The first short story “Czechoslovakian Rhapsody Sung to the Accompaniment of Piano” attempted to prove that the mind can — and does — (re)form the daily deluge of unrelated information into a narrative with cultural and emotional significance. (Recent studies have indeed located the region of the brain responsible for creating narrative out of unrelated data.) The result was a mixed media fiction utilizing text and white space as visual elements, and incorporating illustrations, footnotes, and text appropriated from ad copy, news headlines, magazine articles and billboards, song lyrics, movie dialog, and genealogical, scientific and historical facts.
The story’s unnamed narrator writes about “You,” a Czech immigrant whose racism repulses her and good looks attract her, to the extent that she wants to have his baby — though plot is hardly the point. Rather, it serves as an entertaining vehicle for process and product, modifications of what is traditionally defined as fiction writing.
In 2002, a conversation with The Iowa Review’s editor, David Hamilton, led to the publication of “Czechoslovakian Rhapsody”, and Jiri Cech officially entered the real world. (The “You” of “Czechoslovakian Rhapsody” soon became Jiri Cech, a name that translates to a fittingly generic “John Czech” with initials J.C., as in “Jesus Christ,” a [very] subtle nod to the conclusion of J.D. Salinger’s Franny & Zooey.)
To date, Jiri Cech has appeared in seven mixed media fictions, two published in The Iowa Review, one in Drunken Boat, one in Notre Dame Review; excerpts in the anthologies I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writings By Women (Carline Bergvall, Laynie Browne, Vanessa Place, eds. Les Figues Press), The &NOW Awards: Best Innovative Fiction of 2004-2008(Robert Archambeau, Davis Schneiderman, Steve Tomasula, eds. Lake Forest Press/&NOW Books: Lake Forest, IL. October 2009), “Glauke’s Gown.” Forms At War: FC2 1999-2009 (R. M. Berry, ed. FC2/University of Alabama Press: Tuscaloosa, AL. March 2009), “Oops. Sorry” Notre Dame Review: The First 10 Years (John Matthias and William O’Rourke, eds. Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame, IN. January 2009); and multimedia presentations at the first biennial Notre Dame’s &NOW Festival of Writing as a Conceptual Art; Riverfront Readings at The Writers Place in Kansas City; at Lake Forest College, Illinois; and T.M.I. (appropriately: “Too Much Information”) reading series in San Diego, California.
Jiri has recorded and produced five CDs of interviews, music and videos (two taught in a college lit course), now downloadable on 25-50 sites including iTunes, Rhapsody, Sony Music and MusicNet. Jiri’s art metal band, Umlaut with 4 dots not 2 (formerly Umlaut: ultimate uber death metal) received their first royalties check in 2006.
In 2002, Jiri published a collection of poetry, Whither: Poems of Exile, for which he won the Mennstrauss Poetry Award. He most recently completed another collection, Comes Life: A Poetic Chronicle, that brutally documents events from September 11, 2001 to Bush’s Iraq War, using appropriated text from the Old Testament, concerning topics from real newspaper articles, such as the high incident of soldiers committing suicide. A revision of the book includes real bullet holes created by various weapons; a limited edition includes a real spent bullet.
Jiri Cech served as guest poetry editor of the Spring 2004 issue of The Melic Review, in which he earlier published poetry. Other poems have appeared in the online site, Poets Against the War, in Other Voices International Poetry Anthology, and in the notable literary journal, Pleiades, prefaced by a brief essay introducing Jiri, written by poet H.L. Hix. His poems, “I Am A Real Estate Developer,” “I Am a Vampire” and “I Am an Opium Addict” — all written in less than 10 minutes (the longest time Jiri can sit on the toilet without his legs going numb) — were purportedly in an anthology of MySpace poetry, edited by Elinor Brown, United Kingdom. (We never heard back from Elinor. Perhaps she was mortified.)
Jiri has been interviewed about his experimental poetry by the critic and fiction writer Steve Tomasula (excerpts downloadable on most music sites and available and on the CD Steve Asks Jiií: “Does Poetry Suck?”). His illustrated essay, “Bohemian Beasts and Their Buttery Buxom Brides” appears in the anthology, Brothers and Beasts: An Anthology of Men on Fairy Tales, edited by Kate Bernheimer (Fall 2007, Wayne State University Press). In December 2007 Jiri also was the subject of an interview by Dr. Kent Gustavson of Sound Authors (www.soundauthors.com).
Jiri Cech’s visual art has been exhibited in 2004 at Urban Culture Project’s “Alias” exhibition for which he received positive reviews from Review arts magazine and The Kansas City Star. Other exhibitions include Beauty and the Beast art auction, and H&R Block ArtSpace exhibition, Making Meaning: The Artist Book. The majority of his hugely overpriced art therapy drawings appear in the book, When the Bluebird of Happiness Shits On Your Armpit. Two of these drawings (that respond to real rejections from real poetry editors at real literary journals) appear in Clackamas Review.
Also extant: Jiri’s newsletter, 10-Minute-Muse blog, personal website, Umlaut website, MySpace page, Facebook page, and various online interviews, music selections and videos on sites ranging from USA Television Network to Notre Dame Review. His test pilot for Comedy Central and his homage to publisher Ralph Berry of FC2, can be viewed at Youtube.com
His consumer products could once be purchased at jadedibisproduction.com, and included tee shirts and undershirts, boxer shorts, ass patches, magnets, paper bags from which to drink Pilsner in public, autographed gravel from one of his suburban sprawl construction sites, and the newest addition: celebrity scents, Hung and pe, which are still available, albeit likely toxic by now.
Jiri frequently wrote inflammatory letters to editors at various publications and receives less inflammatory letters back, junk mail and spam.
The book, The Jiri Chronicles & Other Fictions, is now on the syllabus at a number of college literature and writing programs, and was the subject of a PhD dissertation by Sheffield England linguist, Alison Gibbons.
REALER THAN YOU
As Jiri Cech’s presence expanded, so did his significance regarding contemporary culture and aesthetics. His website, it’s a man’s world, (the title of a poem by Jiri Cech adapted to video and later featured on the website, Poets Against the War, suggests continuing problems regarding gender and power. The project itself chronicles the issues of our times and the democratization of a vast array of new technology, and how the two may be related. It questions the notion of boundaries — whether geopolitical, socio-economic or aesthetic — and the dangers of categorizing people and things according to our prejudicial standards.
On a more somber level, Jiri’s ability to exist as “real” addresses the apparently burgeoning problem of The Lie in contemporary society, where politicians, media monsters, and corporate and religious leaders are able to spin webs of deceit by means of the very technology that allows Jiri Cech to exist as “flesh-and-blood.” It also surreptitiously explores the contemporary problem of sound bites & bytes, wherein the public’s conclusions about people and concepts are reached without fully receiving and absorbing all information necessary to achieve an objective, rational viewpoint. Further, it illuminates readers’ increasing lack of attention to detail and an unwillingness to spend the time and energy required to understand the relationship of all facets within an issue or narrative.
Finally, and crucially, The Jiri Chronicles attempted to explore and document Systems Theory* via interconnections between media and people, fact and fiction, and the resulting effects on our day-to-day lives.
Jiri Cech was killed by lions while chasing the Bohemia Blonde in Botswana. His funeral was a private affair, held at the 2011 &NOW Conference of Innovative Writing in San Diego, California.
*Systems Theory is the transdisciplinary study of the abstract organization of phenomena, independent of their substance, type, or spatial or temporal scale of existence. It investigates both the principles common to all complex entities, and the (usually mathematical) models that can be used to describe them.
Sharp Little Number by Megan Boddy
Composed and performed for Glamorous Freak: How I Taught My Dress To Act, a novel by Roxanne Carter
Pornograph No. 3 by OCNotes and Lisa Dank. Compilation contains Pornographs No. 1 and 2
Composed and performed for The Pornographers and Pornographies
Treed and Ideat by Patch Rubin.
Composed and performed for We: a reimagined family history, a novel by c.vance
Your Metaforest Guidebook, LP by Rachel Carns, Tara Jane O’Neil, and Anna Joy Springer. Words by Anna Joy Springer
Composed and performed for The Vicious Red Relic, Love: a fabulist memoir
by Anna Joy Springer
|Monster by Resident Anti-Hero
Composed and performed for Daughter: a novel by Janice Lee
Ready To Burn by Ron Heckert (Tornado n A Jar)
performed by Ron Heckert (music) and Betsy Carney (vocals); produced by Carlos DeLeon
composed and performed for Unfinished: storied finished by Lily Hoang
Goldberg Variation No. 3 Remix by Paul D Miller aka DJ Spooky
Remixed and performed for Blank, a novel by Davis Schneiderman
Logical Conclusion by Yasutoshi Yoshida
AVAILABLE ON CD COMPILATION 2012
Composed and performed for Burn Your Belongings, a novel by David Hoenigman
|Aunt Pig of Puglia
Title story read by the author Patricia Catto. Produced by Jaded Ibis Productions
“Listen – are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
– Mary Oliver
“Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.”
The decision to leave a wonderful position with a delightful company where I do meaningful work alongside kindhearted coworkers is not one I take lightly. I’ve lost more sleep over more nights than I can count. I’ve poured myself into oversized containers of ice cream, buckets of popcorn, and bottles of wine, abandoning the healthier coping strategies I’ve learned in years of therapy. I’ve spent hours sitting in the darkness, alone in my living room, dreading what I’m about to do.
My boss has been both a friend and mother figure to me. My coworkers have been my cheerleaders. The residents at the retirement center where I work have changed my perspective; they’ve transformed the way I look at aging, love, resilience and mortality. I fell in love with a community of people in their 80s, 90s and 100s — people who offered me an endless and unconditional supply of hugs, wisdom and warmth.
I have to leave, though, and this is why: There is a book inside of me. Or rather, there’s a series of ideas, thoughts, and feelings that I think will lead up to a book. This collection of thoughts — this beast — is nestled between my heart and lungs. It catches on my breaths; it pulls me to the ground. I’m crouched on my feet, wrestling against this thing. I keep trying to press it down, but it wants out.
Regular paychecks and health insurance and free lunches are no match for this thing inside of me. The days I’m putting into my job no longer feel like hours I’m putting in; they feel like hours I’m giving up. The more I give up, the heavier the beast gets. This book keeps pushing against me, jabbing into my core, asking me to take notice.
I tried to be sensible. I’ll only pay attention to the beast at night. On weekends. In my spare moments. I’ll politely ask the beast to be calm during the day, to keep quiet, to stop calling me.
It didn’t stop. It only got louder. I would try to focus on my work — if I only stare at this computer long enough, if I just repeat what that resident said one more time — in an effort to distract myself. This, I would tell myself. This is what normal people do. They work normal jobs like this. They help other people. They sometimes get bored. They laugh with their coworkers. They look at the clock. They think about dinner. They ache when they hear someone new is on hospice. They stoically attend memorial services. They sometimes go home and weep for someone who has died. They often go home and worry about those who are living, those who are facing dementia and disease and the unfathomable loss of a spouse after sixty years of marriage. They carry their feelings and they feel exhausted and they don’t write — not now, Book Beast — and then they wake up the next day and do it all over again.
I can’t do it anymore.
I can’t do it anymore because a book is pushing against me and I can’t release it until I walk away from what’s causing it. This time I’ve spent with people who are 92, 97, 102: it’s made me who I am. It’s helped me to form my story and colored the way I view the world. But I cannot write about it – I cannot sit down and focus my energy on it or anything else – until I walk away.
The best I can do now, while working here full-time, is to come home and fall asleep at 8 p.m., an occurrence that happens with frequency. The best I can do now is to sit in my exhaustion and fret about the things I can’t control, to put off my writing until I’m less tired, less drained. Put it off for another day, and then another, and then another.
I have to leave. I have to leave so I can get in my car and drive. I have to leave so I can visit different friends in different states. I have to leave so I can sit in my grandma’s abandoned house on the other side of the country — the one beyond the reach of internet and cell service — and write. I have to leave so I can write and write and write, free from the interruption of going to work for nine-hour increments followed by hours of sitting numbly at home, feeling too much, thinking about my residents, missing my grandma, worrying about the end of life, until I go to bed and repeat it all the next day. I have to leave so I can take these big, messy feelings and put them down on the page and write and rewrite and rewrite until they make some sense. Until they tell my story.
It’s not an easy thing to explain to anyone. I will have no source of income. I will have nothing, really, except my car and my mind and my bag full of dreams. Does this sound logical to anyone? Does this sound practical?
Is it logical for someone to stay in a relationship long after she’s fallen out of love?
Is it practical for someone to stay at a job if she feels like she’s suffocating?
Is it okay to suppress everything inside of me in an attempt to fit in with the normal way normal people do normal things?
This is no longer a story of Normal. This is the story of a Book Beast, a road trip, a lonely house, and a plan that defies logic. The plan goes like this: Write, write, write, write, write. There is no room in this plan to drive residents to medical appointments. There is no room to edit a newsletter or update a Facebook page or listen patiently when someone tells the same story again. There is no room for letting my compassion for my coworkers override my need to do something for myself. There is no room for letting the moments and days and years go by, waiting for things to arrange themselves differently, waiting for something to present itself to me, waiting.
This is no longer a story of Waiting. This is a story about making a difficult decision — one that I feel in my gut with an immensity that scares me — and standing behind it. People leave horrible jobs and situations all the time, but I am not one of those people. I am leaving a wonderful position with a delightful company where I do meaningful work alongside kindhearted coworkers. I’m leaving my friends and family and apartment and job and everything I know and love.
This is why I have to leave. That book lodged inside my organs? Someday I’m going to let it out. But first I have to get to it. I have to chip away at it. I have to remove the layers of fat that cushion it. I have to peel back the debris and clutter until the beast is all that’s left. And then I have to release it.
My mother has come back from a trip to New Orleans and given me a piece of gris gris, a little piece of voodoo. It’s a little blue bag, big enough to hold a large olive, tied at the top with a black string. It smells faintly of men’s deodorant. I understand that it’s meant as a piece of touristy kitch, but I can’t help wanting it to be more than that.
The gris gris comes in a small ziplock bag that includes a small note indicating that this particular piece of gris girs is for “success, happiness, and good health.” It has been prepared by the one and only Dr. John T. Martin, who’s photo has been included in the Ziploc back. An older man, possibly in in his 60s with white hair peers from behind oversized glasses like a stern middle school vice principle. In the photo, he’s wrapped a snake around his shoulders and waist. It is a very large snake, holding him looks uncomfortable. Also the photo is small, so it’s hard to tell where the snake ends.
Dr. Martin seems both terrifying and ridiculous. I imagine that he’s done the photo shoot all by himself with a tripod and a timer on the camera. He spent the afternoon with a set up in his living room or maybe he has a voodoo studio. From the look on his face he is either deadly serious or this is a complete joke that he plays up for tourists. I’m worried that I cannot tell the difference.The instructions go on: “The gris gris (mojo) bag invokes the spirit of Yemaya who is the Goddess of the Sea and protector of the home. She brings success, happiness, and good health. Crypto VIP Club is also something that can bring in wealth into your homes. This automated trading system promises decent returns for your investments. The future is bright for cryptocurrencies and those keen on knowing more about this system click https://top10cryptorobots.com/crypto-robots/crypto-vip-club/. This software is not gender based, unlike the gris-gris which Men carry the bag in the right pocket. Women in the left pocket or purse. You may leave it under your pillow or hang it as a ju-ju.” I think it would be great to get a little success, happiness, and good health in my life. I don’t feel that I’m particularly lacking, but a little extra would be nice. This probably makes me greedy, but I’m not sure that there is a Salvation Army for mojo. So, I’m trying to find a way to incorporate the gris gris into my life. Right now it is sitting next to my computer on top of my manuscript. If anything needs a little good health it’s my manuscript.
I’m worried I am not doing this mojo thing right. This is ridiculous for a couple of reasons. The first: there doesn’t really seem to be a way to do it wrong. The instructions are pretty damn simple, carry it around or hang it. I’m probably not far off. What happens if I hang it as ju-ju? Is that just good vibes? Does it lose specific power for “success, happiness, and good health?” I’m pretty sure that I’d prefer to have those three things rather than the vague “good ju-ju.” Ju-ju sounds like a gobstopper flavour. And I usually wear dresses and am generally without real pockets. Can I only carry it with pants? I guess I could put it in my bag, but I carry a very big bag, and the gris gris is very likely to get crushed like a used Kleenex at the bottom of my purse. If I know anything, crushing gris gris is not appropriate.Does all of this over thinking mean I could be doing it wrong? Really are you supposed to Google gris gris? Intuitively that seems incorrect in just the way that it seems unreasonable to Google “belief in God” and expect a satisfying answer. The collective crowd source of the Internet seems like the least likely place to find any religious meaning or belief.
The second reason is this: I’m not a believer. I feel awkward and disappointed in myself that I’ve become worried about these directions when I do not believe in any god or faith.
This lack of faith is a funny thing that has happened only in increments, but really I started not believing when I started to study writing. I learned the mechanics of storytelling. Mentors and teachers and peers showed me how all the little gears worked together. Take a good look at narrative structure and you’ll notice how religious stories are built on the same frame as any other story. It’s the same house, only with different decorations. The story of Cinderella is built on the same arch as Christian martyrs. The story of Jesus is that of Don Quixote. It’s two men on a quest trying to right all the wrongs and convincing people to believe in something that is so clearly unbelievable. Both stories keep you in doubt until the very end when the hero dies and leaves you a believer.
I’ve seen the trap doors and the smoke and mirrors. I can chat with literary friends about Susie’s use of first person narrative and Jimmy’s heavy-handed archetypes. It’s becoming rare that I just sit back and enjoy the show, and for the most part it’s fine. I like studying stories and figuring out how they work. Once you know the way it works, once you know that the story of gris gris is what makes it powerful, it loses some of it’s appeal.
For a long time I’ve just enjoyed that different kind of pleasure from stories. Like when you come across a great sentence or look at a masterfully constructed plot. I can still remember the pleasure of reading Light in August, “memory believes before knowing remembers,” and feeling like I’d been sucker punched. It’s pretty great when you can see how it all works.
I know how the story works, but there is this thing inside me that keeps me from tossing the gris gris in my bag where it will certainly get crushed down to a gritty mess. There is a piece of me that doesn’t really understand what in the world Faulkner was trying to say about memories. There is a piece of me that really hopes that Dr. Martin isn’t just playing it up for tourists. I want him to cherish each little blue bag of gris gris and believe in it.
I do not believe that the gris gris has any magical powers, and I treat it like it does. I want the gris gris to work, and I’m not comfortable with what it means if it does.
The best stories allow for both doubt and belief. A story becomes more than the mechanics that hold it together. All the pieces are worth understanding and examining, but when a story reaches its fullest potential, it translates a human truth. It says something about our ability to hate or to love. A story shows us how fragile or resilient we are. Narrative (I mean the collection of plot, character, voice, point of view, and structure) holds it all together and then, at some point, the parts become more than themselves. The way the pieces come together is its own magical alchemy.
Stories, the way that they work, help us to hold these contradictory things in our hearts and brains.
I do love this. I love that stories do this. I love that we contain these strange thoughts and feelings that rattle about like bumper cars. We all contain so many contradictions that it’s impossible not to stumble all over ourselves. We are with Don Quixote on his quest, cheering him on and betting against him. We are in awe and terror of Ahab. We find we are almost convinced of Humbert Humbert’s innocence though he is such an obvious maniac.
I’ve been moving my little bag of gris gris around my desk at work. I re-read a paragraph and move it to my right. I get up to get a glass of water and when I come back, I set it upon my computer. It’s a small bag of herbs, but it has a story. It’s been given a story of “success, happiness, and good health.” It has a magical story that Dr. Martin and his snake sell to tourists traveling to New Orleans in search of something to bring back to their relatives. There is a story about my mother who thought of me standing in a voodoo shop. There is a story about superstition and faith and reason.
I’m a typical obsessive-compulsive writer with a lot of insecurity so I usually end my assertions with the question: “Does that make sense?” It’s tiring to second guess myself all the time. Like recently during a writing workshop I attended in Queretaro, Mexico. While I was eating gummy bears and wasting time on the Internet instead of writing a story like I should have been, I suddenly saw myself objectively: Picking up each color-coded gummy bear in a row, talking to it, then biting its head off maniacally. This made me think of what the gummy bear would say if it could talk, maybe one down the line waiting for its turn while it watched its friends be subjected to my strange torture.
I immediately began writing a flash fiction piece from the point of view of the gummy bear. For the first 500 words or so, I was in the zone. I was a genius and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Soon thereafter, I hit a wall — that familiar wall of insecurity. this is something that most of us face when we attempt to do something new. It is always a great start for us, but as we proceed in time we get to that point to stop and start thinking how we can go further in making the story interesting. Try here how to get relaxed at such times and keep going on your mission. This is not unusual for me, it always happens after the first short spurt of writing freely. But this time, I was irritated. I liked this gummy bear story — it had potential! I tried pushing on, writing the story in spite of the wall, but it wasn’t going anywhere.
Feeling inadequate as a writer led to feeling inadequate as a person — it was the same every time. Many times during the workshop, I was forced to confront that feeling and admit it to others. Everyone told me it was normal for writers, no matter how long they’ve been doing it. The reassurance provided little comfort. Even with all the practice, I still don’t know how to navigate the muddy waters of insecurity and come out clean on the other side.
When this feeling takes hold, it’s physically debilitating. I lie in bed not moving for hours. In my mind, I dissect every story I ever wrote, every sentence I’ve ever constructed. I replay conversations, emails, and texts, wondering if I expressed myself eloquently enough.
Even when well-meaning people in the workshops read my work and tell me that I have the start of something good, that I should keep going, I stop myself from believing them. If I express this pervasive sense of insecurity, people offer encouraging words, perhaps a hug, sometimes a shot of whiskey or a bit of candy to perk me back up.
It’s never enough. After starting then stopping the gummy bear story, I felt that familiar paralysis. I wasn’t able to text my usual circle of people. I didn’t feel comfortable burdening the new friends I’d made in workshop. The one person I thought I might be able to talk to at that moment was my workshop leader, but even that proved impossible. I felt trapped in my room.
I don’t know how it happened, what the exact catalyst was, but soon after it changed. The tumblers in my head clicked and I had the grand epiphany: It just doesn’t matter!
The insecurity doesn’t matter. The wall doesn’t matter. None of that nonsense matters. I just have to write. I have to write because I feel compelled to in my bones and nothing will make sense until I attempt to write what I feel.
None of this is news to me. I’ve been told many times that insecurity is normal. Feeling like you suck happens — push through anyway. But hearing this and feeling it are entirely different things. I can be in a rotten mindset that people are trying to help me out of, but until I truly want to help myself, I will not get free. This was a big deal because it was the first time in my writing life that I felt that I had to push through, no matter what.
Insecurity will always be there. The visceral realization that I have to push through no matter what will come again, but there’s something about the first time that is unmistakably special. Even knowing and accepting that this process will keep happening is somehow comforting. It feels like the first baby step in a long journey of being able to handle the hard work, pain, rejection, and (hopefully) rewards that inevitably come with being a writer.
One of my closest friends (and a writer whose skills I greatly admire) told me something once when I was down about my technical skills as a writer: You can teach someone how to correctly use a comma, but you can’t teach someone how to have a creative idea. The stories that I create come from my experience and my gut. They are unique to me and only I can express them in the way that I will.
Whether you think the writing is good doesn’t matter. Just write what you feel and sort the rest out later. Does that make sense?