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May 28, 2010

Reading Slutty People. Slutty Reading People? What? // Liana Liu

Dearest friends, I'm shaking things up around here and putting the interviews on pause because... I want to! After all, it's summer vacation. Do you want me to stay inside transcribing when I could be staying inside and eating ice cream? Oh, delicious ice cream. Cookies and cream. Mint chocolate chip. Neopolitan. Yes, yes.

6a0111688f7c55970c0133ec91974c970b-800wi.jpgSo instead of reporting what other people are reading (then forcing them to talk about their feelings), I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about what I'm reading right now. I am currently reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Remainder by Tom McCarthy, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, The Savage Girl by Alex Shakar, and Little Cinnamon by Walter Mosley (1). Yes, I'm reading five novels at once. No, I don't know what's wrong with me.

I am not usually such a slutty reader. Well. I mean. Let's not turn this into a metaphor about my dating life. If possible. Generally, I like to read one book at a time and read that one book quickly (skimming the lousy parts, if necessary). So what's wrong with my brain right now? Why haven't I been able to commit to any one of these books? Why is it that the only thing I can focus on these days is ice cream? Delicious ice cream. Or ice cream sandwiches.

Perhaps I just need to find the right book. It's been a long time since I've read anything I truly loved (and by "long time" I mean three months: the last book was The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams. It's so good! Read it!). After all, I can only read so many books that I feel just okay about before I start worrying that OMG WHAT IF I NEVER READ ANOTHER BOOK THAT I LOVE AND OMG WHAT WILL HAPPEN THEN AND OH NO I WILL DIE SAD AND ALONE.

I swear, this is not about my dating life. Any book recommendations would be much appreciated.

(1) Full disclosure: I have read Housekeeping and The Crying of Lot 49 before and I love--um, I mean, like a lot--both of them (so commitment-shy I am). I am rereading them to assist with my novel which is totally Marilynne Robinson-meets-Thomas Pynchon. I hope. In any case, I just finished the first draft of my book! Isn't that exciting? Or rather, depressingly anti-climactic? Anyway, congratulate me, compliment me, I like it. Ice cream for everyone!

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I know this photo has nothing to do with anything except... so cute! Also, I don't know where it came from; I saved it on my desktop (for obvious reasons) so let me know if you know so I can credit the photographer of such cuteness.

May 27, 2010

Drinkable Technology: Artificial Sweetener // Landrew Kentmore

If you eat too much sugar, you might get really fat. This is because sugar originally came from plants, and plants don't care if you're skinny or not--they just care about soaking up water and hanging out in the sun.

Luckily there are scientists out there that care about your health more than plants do. These scientists invented artificial sweeteners.


The biggest difference between normal sweeteners and artificial sweeteners is that artificial sweeteners don't have any calories. It's kind of like if sugar died and then came back as a ghost because it had unfinished business which was to make your diet soda taste sweet. You drink the soda and you can swear you taste sugar, but when you tell your friends, they're all like, "that's impossible! Sugar's been dead for five years!" Artificial sweetener is just like that minus the creepy death part!


So you're probably thinking, "sugar with ghostly qualities but no haunting? I want artificial sweetener in everything!" Well hold on just a second, because some people, like my roommate Greg and me, don't like artificial sweetener.

Greg doesn't like artificial sweetener because he doesn't like to eat or drink unnatural stuff. I thought that he might have a good point, but then he and his girlfriend cooked some weird food that he said was all-natural but it smelled totally weird so I was like, I don't think nature would want anything to smell like that. Greg's girlfriend said it was food from another country, and I should be more open-minded so that I could be a "citizen of the world." I told her she should be more open-minded to the idea of not making food that smelled like butt considering she wasn't even a "citizen of the apartment." Then Greg got really mad and I went to my room and listened to my music really loud. So basically, Greg is really moody so you shouldn't trust his opinions.

The reason I don't like artificial sweetener is because it doesn't taste as good as normal sugar. Something about it just tastes weird. It's kind of like androids in movies. It seems like they're just normal guys but there's something off about them and you don't know what it is until you walk in on them taking off their normal face to reveal a robot skull or you see them jumping off a building and being just fine afterwards. The biggest difference is artificial sweetener is designed to be put in liquid. If you put an android in bathtub of soda (or any liquid), he would short-circuit.


But everyone's got their own opinion, so even though I don't like it, that doesn't automatically mean you won't. With food and drink stuff, it's always good to try new things and make your own decisions about what you enjoy and what you don't. Never let other people influence what you like and don't like to drink, unless someone drinks something you like and dies from it. Then it's ok to be like, "Based on that guy's reaction, I'm not going to drink this anymore."

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May 20, 2010

Music and Technology: Computers or band members? // Landrew Kentmore

Getting computers involved in group activities is not always a good idea. For example, playing soccer against a team of computers is dangerous for both the computers and the people.

It's dangerous for the team of computers because they could break if they get kicked too hard. It's dangerous for the team of people because the computers never move, so the people might start to get cocky and think "no one can beat us!" and then get really sad when they lose to a team of other people (so it's more of an emotional danger). There is one group activity that computers can do ok, though, which is play in a band.

Computers don't really play instruments. They make sounds that sound the way instruments do. There are upsides and downsides about computers in bands, so if you are in a band and you are thinking about replacing band members with computers, here are some things to consider:

Good thing: Computers won't be competition when it comes to flirting with girls after the show. Even if there is a girl that's more into flirting with the computer than you, think about it--is that really a girl you would be interested in?


Bad thing: Computers can't fight. What if you play a gig and you sell more tee-shirts than the other band so they challenge you to a fight in the parking lot? You're going to be in some trouble when your only back up is a laptop!

Good thing: Computers have screens not faces. Sometimes when musicians are really "feeling" the music, they make weird faces, where it kind of looks like it's hurting them to play. This can be confusing to watch, because you're thinking, "Do I dance or do I find a doctor? I want to stay and enjoy the music, but I don't want to be held responsible if this guy dies." There is no need to worry about this with a computer!

Bad thing: Computers can't march. This is only a problem if you are in a marching band.


Good thing: Computers are less likely to quit the band to go work on a solo album. They probably won't overshadow you and talk about how they just needed to work on something deeper on a talk show, unless you build a really powerful computer. And if you do make a really powerful computer that makes a solo album, then you should go to the talk show and stand up in the audience during the interview and yell, "I created you!" And then everyone will know that the computer's solo album is basically your solo album.

Bad thing: Computers can't grow long hair or sweet goatees or get tattoos, which might be an issue if you want your band to have a bad boy image. To make up for this, add some pyrotechnics to your show, because then your computer will just sit there and not flinch at all while they go off, and the audience will think, "He's so calm in the face of danger! He must have been through some crazy stuff in his life!"


Deciding whether or not to add a computer to your band is tough. Sometimes it comes down to something that is not even related to performing music, like the fact that they don't need a bed in the motel (good thing), or that they can't drive a van (bad thing).

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May 17, 2010

Lyric of the Unseen: Navigating Shadows in Nonfiction

by Barrie Jean Borich

chicago-skyline.jpgThe image of Chicago presented on most promotional posters is a photograph of the famous skyline, shot from somewhere out over the deeps of Lake Michigan. In these wide-angle portraits, the Sears Tower and the John Hancock are fraternal twins, each a third of the way in from the edge of the lit-up cluster, seemingly holding up the glassy herd of the Loop.

I grew up loving this view as much as any Chicagoan, and for a while, the summer I was nineteen, I rode the bus or the train into that center five or six days a week, to work at the Exchange National Bank--but I would be lying if I said that glossy skyline was my home.

I lived instead in the shadow city, industrial suburbia stretching south and east from the ports to the mills of Gary, Indiana, a region not likely to show up on any tourism brochure. The streets and houses where my family resided were nice enough, first a brown brick bungalow, then a red brick ranch, but we were never far from some smoke stack or slag pile or waste dump.

I share this behind-the-scene scenery because I believe, as a nonfiction writer, my job is to describe shadows and scintillation and the relationship between. I don't intend--this time--to make a point about the frenzied, lit-up stage set of the center that would fall down without the gray scaffolding behind, nor do I intend--this time--to take note of the damage done to this swath of land, once a tallgrass prairie but now scorched and soldered, memories of the original grassland springing up wild between the ties of the railroad tracks or in the names of area businesses--Prairie Cleaners, Prairie Bank and Trust, Prairie Tire and Auto. Nor do I mean to recreate another scene featuring my father and me, sharing statistics, projections, and fears about toxins that may have leached from this landscape into our bodies.

chalmers.jpgRather, I am compelled to write about the eerie grace of ruined urban landscapes for the same reason I am compelled to write about female sexual and gender expression--because both post-industrial landscapes and postmodern bodies exist here, in the middle of everything, and deserve to be part of what we mean by words like "America" and "American." I want to describe the business of carrying the unseeable essence of the shadows onto a nonfictional page with a breadth no less than that skyline view--one tower with a footprint deeply embedded into the ground of this city of lit-up exteriors and gravel-gray innards, another tower set into the imaginative and resonant intelligence of lyric language--that which will not just describe promotional aspects of this city, but will also attempt to puncture notions of the Midwest as a landscape of absence, rupture the bright skyline posters with the smoke-spewing semi-truck of the industrial Midwestern urban real.

The way into the lyric of the commonly unseen--that compression of language and container which evokes a jolt of awareness--is through the tiny lingering details of beingness expressed through the breath of some particular human life inhabiting some fissure of location. The way into the urban unseen, or at least the urban unseen of my experience--whether I refer to the landscapes of dying industry or the tremendously vital reinvention energy of my own lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer worlds--is the evocation of the corporeal meeting the industrial. What is the quality of air? What is the taste in the mouth? What is the song of smoke?

For instance: When I was girl we lived across from a tangle of tracks and truck routes, under a sky made silver-gray from the smoke of the steel mills and paint factories of the far southeast side of Chicago. I didn't always notice the wincing stench in those years before the Chicago mills shut down, except when it got worse, on the way up to 103rd and Torrence, Mom's old neighborhood where her mother still lived, around the corner from Wisconsin Steel.

"Rotten eggs," my mother muttered, when I was six or eleven or fifteen, as we drove past the slag heaps and landfills along what was then still called the Calumet Expressway, her powdered nose crinkling. She'd told us many times--sulfur from the mills smelled just like rotten eggs.

I could see Mom's profile from the backseat of our blue station wagon, her down-turned lips, wrinkled nose, the tower of brown beauty-parlor hair, re-poufed every Friday afternoon. All the women we knew in the lower-middle-class steel-mill suburbs of Riverdale, Dolton, Harvey, in those days before shag haircuts and handheld hairdryers, attended, devoutly, the weekly communion of the beauty parlor, where beauty operator Sandy ratted an extra six inches onto their height, then consecrated them with hairspray, as their daughters waited in padded, bronze hair-dryer chairs, paging through Photoplay and Modern Screen, looking for who to be when we finally got away.

Mom complained about the stench as if she hadn't smelled those eggs her whole life. Yet she repeated the words "rotten eggs" with the authority of the devoted, muttering a prayer cycle, the blessed hypnosis of repetition, the American sacrament of knowing, yet refusing to know.

Dad drove. Headlights swept the leveled prairies and fouled wetlands, lighting up Mom's muttering. My brothers shoved each other. Holy. Rotten. Holy. We knew, but could not see, the lights of the Loop twittering. This night we would not ride that far north.

Moments like this one matter to me as a writer not just because the car ride into and out of the industrial plain is an actual and continuous memory of many of our Midwestern urban childhoods--as is the sticky smell of the hairspray from a pink can, and the Photoplay pictorials of Liz Taylor with a scarf over her hair, and the twilight glow of the mills and that stink that did smell like either bad eggs or the devil--but also because that moment links me to the history of cities, of mills, of class and ethnic identities, of human migration, of industrial pollution, as well as the subsequent attempts of the post-steel city to re-green itself, and my own attempts, and the attempts of so many queers like me who--through vocation, love, reinvention, and sexuality--mean to constantly re-green ourselves.

The creative nonfiction writer writes to elucidate the unseen, in order to better interrogate, interpret, represent and illuminate some aspect or version of what really does, or once did, or will exist in factual time and space. Seeing is part of knowing, but we can't see the whole until we see the middle.

BARRIE JEAN BORICH is the author of My Lesbian Husband (Graywolf), winner of an ALA Stonewall Book Award. She's the recipient of the 2010 Crab Orchard Review Literary Nonfiction Prize and has essays in recent or forthcoming issues of Ecotone, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, New Ohio Review, Seattle Review and Seneca Review. She is an assistant professor in the MFA/BFA programs at Hamline University where she's the nonfiction editor of Water~Stone Review.

Image Credits:
Chicago skyline, courtesy of flickr/monika_thorpe
Chalmers, Indiana landscape courtesy of flickr/theeerin

May 16, 2010

dislocate Launch Party: What You Missed

Didn't get a chance to attend dislocate's annual shindig, celebrating the new issue release and the launch of the website whose site tracker statistics you are at this very moment improving? We made a slideshow for you so that you would make sure to clear your calendar and book plane tickets to Minneapolis for next year.

Photos by Michelle LeGault.

Thanks to Rainbow Grocery, Cub Foods, and Central Ave. Liquor for their donations of refreshments!

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Why Shouldn't You Date A Writer? // Liana Liu

This is Part II of Questions Answered by Drunk People at the dislocate Launch Party. For more information, read this. Also, hello summer! In my opinion, this summer is going to be the summer of the romper. I know that I am two (three?) years behind trend on this one, but the idea of wearing a one-piece shorts-suit takes some time to get used to. Fortunately, I am now used to the idea and ready to romp!

But enough about me. Why shouldn't you date a writer?

shouldntdate.jpg-Effin crazy! (1)

-"I want to live a thoughtless life and forget everything ever." (2)

-Break new ground in linguistic expression of desire, fetish, neurosis. (3)

-I want moneyz. (4)

-They have no money. :( For alcohol for you. (5)

-You're probably just not interesting enough. Sorry. (6)

-If you break up with them they'll put you in a book. (7)

-Even if you don't break up with them they'll probably put you in a book. (8)

-Because you can't afford their rehab bill. (9)

-They drag you to poetry readings when you're supposed to be at fantasy baseball draft. (10)

-Because they will dump you after they become rich and successful. (11)

-Because (the above) will never happen. (12)

-Your books and his/her books might not get along. (13)

-Josh Morsell is so cute though! (14)


(1) For me, this would be a reason why you should date a writer.

(2) I love the anger.

(3) Okay, so this same answer was given for "why you should date a writer" and last week I misread neurosis as neurons and was simultaneously confused and admiring. But now that I see that it is neurosis and that this answer was given for both questions, I am neither confused nor admiring. Well, maybe a little confused.

(4) Moneyz? I can't.

(5) It is likely that writers are writing these answers. Use that fact for context.

(6) Ha.

(7) Even if you don't date a writer, they'll put you in their book. No one is safe, no one, not ever.

(8) Word.

(9) So much concern about financial matters! And alcohol! I have to real talk you: this is not a good look. Try a romper. I hear rompers are totally it for Summer 2010.

(10) I don't understand.

(11) Does this really happen? I'm skeptical.

(12) That's what I'm saying.

(13) That would be the worst!

(14) True!

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May 14, 2010

Delivery, dislocated // David LeGault

Well, as of tomorrow I'm officially unemployed. After applying for countless writing grants, a number of summer teaching jobs, as well as a series of on-campus jobs, I've come up without a job, without many future prospects.

I'm getting increasingly desperate, turning to crappy retail job applications, avoiding a return to food service at all costs.

pizzadude.jpgI spent my two years before graduate school as a delivery driver for a company that used better ingredients, therefore making a better pizza. The pay was decent for a fast food job, but that doesn't make the work any better: the steam from freshly cooked pizza so intense that it steamed up the inside windows of my car, the constant smell of cheese and grease that won't wash out of the skin, the periodic embarrassment of delivering to someone I knew. However, there were certain advantages, like the free pizza I regularly ate to the point of sickness, the occasional big tipper that would make the worst shift suddenly seem worthwhile, the strange perverse scenarios and possibility of nakedness that you hear about in movies (this never actually happens, but still, the potential keeps us walking to the door).

I'm fascinated by the acquired knowledge that comes from employment, the unique skill sets one acquires on the job. For example, my time as a delivery driver has left me with a lot of trivia, some useful and some useless. I can tell you how many pepperonis go on a large pizza, how to avoid nearly any stoplight in the suburbs of Grand Rapids, Michigan. I had never lived in the town before, and by the end of those two years I knew the streets and highways better than the place where I had grown up.

Which brings us back to writing: it's the daily return to the page that turns us into professionals. Can't write a poem? Do a free write every morning for six months and tell me if you're finding more interesting line breaks, a better sense of rhythm in the sentence. For pizza, it's mindless repetition. For the craft of writing, there's a lot more satisfaction.

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May 13, 2010

Choosing the right laptop bag // Landrew Kentmore

Let's say you want to buy some bread. Luckily for you, there are two bread salesmen on your street. One keeps his bread in a bread delivery truck, and the other keeps his bread in a bomb shelter. Who are you going to buy bread from? Probably the guy with the bread truck because the bomb shelter bread could be from before World War II.

The symbolism is pretty obvious here: bread stands for laptops, the bread truck and bomb shelter stand for cool laptop bags and lame laptop bags, the two guys selling bread stand for you with a cool bag and you with a lame bag, and you, as in the guy buying bread, stands for other people. What I'm getting at is it's important to choose a cool laptop bag.


The first thing to think about is size. If the bag is too small or too big for your laptop, you're going to look pretty stupid. The problem is it's hard to get your laptop to the laptop bag store to test out bags because you don't have a laptop bag to carry it there. That's why you need to know what to say in case a bag is too small or too big:

Too small: "I guess I should have thought about how my laptop would fit into its bag with all of these crazy innovations I added to it, because I'm a genius scientist."

Too big: "Wow, look at all the space I have in this bag, now that it just carries my laptop and not all my artwork, which I sold it for thousands of dollars because I'm a famous painter."


It's also important to get a laptop bag that's made out of a materials you're not allergic to. Maybe you're thinking, "But there was that cool-looking bag that made me itchy all over! You mean I shouldn't get that one?" It depends--is its cool-lookingness enough to cancel out the weird-lookingness of a big rash? How colorful is the rash? Could you tell people it's an abstract tattoo? About your childhood? And if people ask, "Why are you scratching that tattoo so much?" could you say, "When you've been through what I've been through, you want to scratch away the memories"? If you answered yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, you might be able to pull off an allergic laptop bag.

Last but not least, check how the zipper sounds. This may seem like a really small thing, but it is important. For example, let's say your laptop bag's zipper sounds like a pants zipper. If you sit down at a table, put your bag in your lap and unzip it, people who can't see it might think you're taking off your pants. Then you'll get kicked out of the coffee shop again. On the other hand, a really harsh-sounding zipper might freak people out because they'll think you've got a laptop-bag-shaped chainsaw. You want to find a zipper between those two, like if someone had really huge pants or they made a low-power chainsaw to use as a back-scratcher.

These are the biggest things to look at when shopping for a laptop bag. The rest is personal preference. Unless you prefer using grocery bags, because your laptop could break through the bottom just like when you have too many groceries, except it would be more expensive to replace (unless you like really fancy food).


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May 11, 2010

Iron Man 2: Worth Leaving the House For // Jana Misk

Though I tend not to see movies on opening weekend (to avoid crowds), I was feeling uncharacteristically adventurous on Saturday (probably because school ended on Friday) and convinced my boyfriend to see Iron Man 2 with me. I hadn't even known it was out until that afternoon when I saw someone tweet about it.

iron-man-2-robert-downey-jr.jpgI'm not a big fan of movies based on comic books--I wasn't one of those cool girl-nerds in elementary school who read X-Men. (Though actually I did enjoy the first X-Men movie.) And I don't even remember why I saw the first Iron Man--maybe because Robert Downey, Jr. was in it. I've had a celebrity-crush on him since seeing Only You when I was twelve. That was, in fact, probably the only reason I said yes to whichever ex-boyfriend had asked me to see the movie with him. But I totally loved it. Robert Downey, Jr. was his usual irresistible bad-boy self, PLUS he was a physics genius with the coolest freaking computer I have ever seen.


Iron Man 2 was just as good as the first, with the same charm--snappy dialogue, Robert Downey Jr. making a sexy fool of himself, sexy kick-ass female supporting characters, and equally sexy talking AI and holographic computer interfaces. The film experience conveyed all the gloss, visual intensity and adrenaline of an amusement park ride, but, you know, with more sexiness. And so I was happy.

As we drove home from the theatre, my boyfriend commented that if I had a cyborg suit I'd probably want to be as physically active and adventurous as he is. My response: "Hell yes." And now I want a cyborg suit to play tennis in. I mean, how cool would that be? With that little in-helmet screen calculating the velocity of the ball and doing most of the work for me in terms of preparing the shot accurately, etc., I would totally rock that shit. I guess the only downside is that in a cyborg suit you're not really outdoors--you're trapped in a tiny control room. Then again, that's probably a big part of why the idea is so comforting to me.

Meanwhile,as I mentioned above, school has just let out, which means I get to avoid my colleagues with impunity. Which reminds me, I was going to write a column this week about Therapy: Why It's Great. Well, it's still in progress--tune in next week for the full report. For now, go see Iron Man 2 and thank me later.

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Image Credit:
Set photo of Robert Downey, Jr. by On Location News.
Iron Man 2 trailer still.

May 10, 2010

Recovering Memory, Writing Nightmare: Sharon Doubiago's Epic Memoir of Incest

by J. Lee Morsell

When I was growing up in Mendocino, California, the poet Sharon Doubiago was a hero and a role model to me and to a few other friends interested in literature. She would visit our small town periodically, read at a local venue and drink wine with our parents. She seemed very shy.

She'd keep her eyes mostly averted as though she didn't know you until you started talking to her, and then she'd blurt out something friendly but nervous.

doubiago-cover.jpgWe admired her for two reasons: the power of her writing, which combined a Beat-like expressive energy with courageous, uncompromising frankness; and her extreme commitment to her art. As a woman in her fifties and beyond, she lived in her van in order to keep expenses down and be a full-time writer. We'd say, Sharon means it. Sharon's serious.

Most of Doubiago's published work is poetry, but I had been particularly moved by her early collection of autobiographical stories, The Book of Seeing with One's Own Eyes. When her new memoir, My Father's Love: Portrait of the Poet as a Young Girl, Volume I came out late last year, I was quick to acquire a copy, although I braced myself for the unpleasant topic. It tells the story of how, "When I was seven I was raped by my father, climaxing the sexual relationship he'd had with me from birth."

My Father's Love is, Doubiago says, a "Proustian expansion" of a sixteen-page story she wrote at the beginning of her career, forty years ago, to complete a Master's Degree in English. The story was "about the anguished love between a father and a daughter, who, inexplicably, could not, for all the longing in both, communicate." It revolved around the haunting image of a daughter who keeps her tearful father locked outside a glass door, although she does not understand why.

For years, she was unable to finish the story, until two days before the degree deadline "the mysterious glass shattered." She suddenly found language for memories that had been inaccessible, but now exploded into articulation. "I put into words for the first time what those sickening, harrowing years . . . had been . . . My father's hands at my girl breasts, my father making me look at his penis . . ."

She called it "California Daughter/1950." Doubiago had "never heard or read such a thing. No one was writing or telling this kind of story then." Her professor called it brilliant, passed it around, and she was offered full scholarships to the Ph.D. programs at the University of Iowa and the University of California at Irvine. She was soon offered a residency at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. But, she writes, "I was certain the brilliance of my story was its sensational subject matter, not my writing; I was certain they were just interested in working with a girl who'd had sex with her father and dared to write about it." She turned them all down. She vowed never to be a creative writer, and instead wrote a critical book about the Molly Bloom soliloquy in James Joyce's Ulysses.

Someone at Provincetown told the New York feminist magazine Aphra about Doubiago's story, and, under pressure "to do this for my sisters," she allowed them to publish the story under a pseudonym. It was subsequently reprinted in Martha Foley's Best American Short Stories of 1976. Doubiago decided to be a creative writer after all.

My Father's Love, Volume I is about Doubiago ages zero to eighteen, in the years before she found the words to express what happened to her. It is also about the travails of her mother and her father and their parents and grandparents, and all their relatives; and Doubiago's girlfriend Gae, raped by her own father; and to a lesser degree, about the geopolitical context of World War II, the atomic bomb, and the Korean War. This book reaches far and wide, and at 448 pages, is only Volume I: a Volume II will follow. Some people will object that, even as a Proustian expansion, it is too long.

To employ a mining metaphor (Doubiago's paternal lineage is of Tennessee copper miners), Doubiago has dug deep into a vast mountain, and found complex veins of ore; but sometimes it's not yet clear to the reader what's a precious metal and what's plain rock. In places, the ore needs to be refined; the book could use editing.

In the first section of My Father's Love, we meet Doubiago's family: her father is terribly jealous of his wife's attentions to their children, and he flirts with young Sharon to make his wife jealous in turn. Mom's sister Mozelle and Dad's parents come from Tennessee to live with them in Los Angeles, and we gradually gather that incest is common in the family history, on both sides.

One hundred and fifty pages in, the story comes into focus. Mom falls ill with tuberculosis and enters a sanitarium. Dad enters the children's room at night and rapes seven-year-old Sharon, in front of her little sister Bridget and her little brother Clarke. He returns later in the night weeping, and carries Sharon to the bath, where he cleans her up and then pushes her under the water, warning, "This is what will happen if you ever tell!" before he lets her up to breathe.

The scene is horrifying, and the ensuing pages are just as awful as we watch little Sharon bury her bloody pajamas under the house in shame, and go to school dizzy, and develop a stutter, and stop eating, and stuff toilet paper into her underwear to hide the bleeding that goes on for days, and lie awake all night long every night in terror that he will return.

Then, the horror grows more subtle. Mom returns. Dad never forces intercourse again, but he does grope Sharon's breasts when he can corner her in the garage, and he wages an emotional battle against her: he regularly accuses her of making up ailments to gain attention, and of not loving him. When, at age twelve, Sharon finally tells her mother that her father touches her breasts (omitting the rape), her mother promises to make it stop, and it does; but then her mom grows more acutely cold, as though she perceives her daughter to be a sexual threat.

Doubiago calls this the insidious ecology of abuse, and it sadly is common: when women are victims of sexual violence, they are often blamed, or disbelieved. When Doubiago told about the rape years later, her mother and sister accused her of either lying or delusion. When Doubiago's niece Chelli later said that she, too, had been molested by Doubiago's dad, Doubiago's mother and sister suggested that Chelli had been brainwashed by her aunt.

Doubiago recovered these suppressed memories years later, and she acknowledges that there is much of which she is unsure. There has been controversy over whether recovered memories of childhood abuse are reliable, and with this in mind, Doubiago rejects the notion that one's emotional truth is enough for a memoir. Although Doubiago tells us that her father confessed on his deathbed, she still documents her story thoroughly, "never telling anything I was unsure of, unless apparent or stated in that context, and verifying as much as I could--with family albums and other photographs, baby books, diaries, journals, testimonies, interviews, letters, films, tapes, history dates, formal research."

But then, she uses documents not just to verify memories, but to prompt them:

There's a photo . . . My head hanging like a sunflower on its stalk. I was in the garage with Daddy again. I had to show him again. Hard to get my Easter dress down off my shoulders. Here let me help you Sharon Lura. With his giant fingers he undid the mother-of-pearl buttons Mama sewed down the back, pulled down the slip strap. They are so beautiful he said. He said you want to see something as beautiful? His skin was electric silver like the knife he was sharpening. They just think I'm an introvert, that that's why I am the way I am. But I'm coming apart, dust particles floating in space. Every breath, every move is to keep the spider from crawling up my insides.

She tells us, "I want to write like I dream, how the mind puts things together it won't awake," and indeed the narrative grows nightmarish: Everywhere she goes, men expose themselves to her. She gets out of the bath and sees a grizzled mug leering in the window, muttering "fuck!" Two men in a faded green car follow her for a week. Girls are murdered and fall down wells and otherwise disappear in the surrounding city. At times, it becomes impossible to tell what is supposed to be true, and what is fantasy, or whether Doubiago knows the difference. The dreaminess functions not as an admission of uncertainty, but rather as a depiction of consciousness, of what it is like to be a daughter who loves her father and is terrorized by him, and has no language by which to understand what is happening.

Doubiago's great achievement with this book is toward giving language to an experience that lies beyond language; for this reader, at least, she has expanded the limits of expression and comprehensibility. Often, an author will compensate for an uncomfortable topic by writing in a form and a style that are conventional and comforting. Doubiago has not done this. Instead, she has taken a more ambitious and difficult approach, writing in a way that is disconcerting but beautiful, vexing but illuminating. A Proustian expansion it may be, but next to Proust's sugar-on-your-tongue prose Doubiago's is artfully savage, artistically obscene. In its unpolished state it is heartbreaking, enlightening, and, I daresay, groundbreaking.

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Getting Good at Godding // J. Lee Morsell

I came across a terrifying GQ article from February, "Warning: Your Cell Phone May Be Hazardous to Your Health," by Christopher Ketchum. Much of the information Ketchum provides has been available for years, and yet has failed to take hold in the United States:

Though the scientific debate is heated and far from resolved, there are multiple reports, mostly out of Europe's premier research institutions, of cell-phone and PDA use being linked to "brain aging," brain damage, early-onset Alzheimer's, senility, DNA damage, and even sperm die-offs. . . . Interphone researchers reported in 2008 that after a decade of cell-phone use, the chance of getting a brain tumor--specifically on the side of the head where you use the phone--goes up as much as 40 percent for adults. . . . [Biophysicist Henry] Lai found that modulated EM radiation could cause breaks in [rat] DNA strands--breaks that could then lead to genetic damage and mutations that would be passed on for generations. What surprised Lai was that the damage was accomplished in a single two-hour exposure . . . . All of these concerns . . . also apply to the Wi-Fi networks in our homes.

Klee_AngelusNovus.jpgKetchum notes, "It's hard to talk about the dangers of cell-phone radiation without sounding like a conspiracy theorist," but argues that studies showing health risks have been actively suppressed in the United States by industry, the Pentagon and the FCC.

The solution is simple, right? Let's just stop using cell phones and wireless internet. It's a solution any child could devise. If the choice is brain cancer versus health, wouldn't we all forgo Wi-Fi, at least in our own homes? It's not that hard to plug your computer into the wall.

Except: as mentioned, much of this health risk data has been available for years, even as cell phones and Wi-Fi were being woven into the American social fabric. So far, we have chosen brain cancer. Maybe it's just too tempting: these technologies satisfy some craving in the present, something for which we are willing to risk the future. Like cigarettes. (Ketchum marshals an apt quote from Orwell: "The machine has got to be accepted, but it is probably better to accept it rather as one accepts a drug--that is, grudgingly and suspiciously. Like a drug, the machine is useful, dangerous and habit-forming. The oftener one surrenders to it the tighter its grip becomes.")

It feels boring, and trite, to ask whether the changes wrought--an hours-longer work day, email addiction that taps the same psychological mechanisms as a slot machine--have been worth it. Whether they are worth it seems beside the point. They are here. In fact, they have a mysterious imperative quality, not unlike other forms of dangerous change, like an arms race or climate change. Isn't it difficult to seriously imagine that we might collectively do something so sensible as to retire cell phones, or automobiles, or war-mongering? Despite the fact that all of the above are quite a lot of effort to maintain. It's fascinating, and blackly humorous, this strange tendency to hurtle toward disaster.

I can't stop writing about that other imperative to disaster, climate change. I saw two books side by side in the bookstore that represent a needed shift in thinking: Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto and Bill McKibben's Eaarth. Brand founded the Whole Earth Catalog forty years ago, and his motto then was "We are as gods, and might as well get good at it." With this new book, he has rightly updated his motto: "We are as gods and HAVE to get good at it." He calls on us to reject dogma and embrace science; to pragmatically do what it takes to save wilderness and civilization alike. In the past, many environmentalists (and some of their opponents) have tended to think ideologically, to be utopian purists. Today, the stakes are so high and urgent that we don't have time for that--we need to do what works, now, to mitigate catastrophe.

In Eaarth, McKibben writes, "The world hasn't ended, but the world as we know it has. Even if we don't quite know it yet." This is the first climate change book I know of that focuses not on how to prevent climate change, but rather on how to live with it. I like McKibben's advocacy of "functional independence," of communities developing local food and support systems, "the architecture for the world that comes next, the dispersed and localized societies that can survive the damage we can no longer prevent." There is, understandably, much concern that climate change will bring fierce resource competition and war; but it strikes me that it may also offer opportunities for functional interdependence. We should take advantage of our unprecedented communications technologies (yes, including cell phones and Wi-Fi, where landlines and DSL are unavailable) to make friends, to build networks of cooperation that will help us help each other in the years to come.

Want to feel better? Check out these cute babies of the world. But take that cell phone away from Baby Hattie!

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Image Credit:
Paul Klee, "Angelus Novus," 1920: Public domain, Wikimedia.
Viewing this painting, Walter Benjamin wrote, "The angel of history . . . would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; . . . This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward."

May 7, 2010

Why Should You Date a Writer? // Liana Liu

First of all, it's supposed to snow tonight. I don't understand.
Second, Thursday night dislocate threw a party to celebrate the release of issue #6 of our print journal, and a rollicking good time was had by all. Except, probably, those people playing boggle while the rest of use were dropping "it" like "it" was hot.

No, I don't know what I mean by that either.

What I'm trying to say is that there was boxed wine and cheap beer and posters beseeching the partygoers to answer some of my most pressing questions. The answers to my first question is transcribed below. More to come, promise.

whydate.jpgWhy should you date a writer?
-Break new ground in linguistic expression of fantasy, desire, fetish, neurons (1)
-They can woo like no other. (2)
-They're good in bed. (3)
-Tongue dexterity! (4)
-Because she's the most Beautiful woman I've ever met!! (5)
-You'll never get bored (6)
-They write good love poems (7)
-They write entertainingly awful love poems. (8)
-Soft hands (9)
-Neuroses are so cute! (10)
-Because they know how to party... see "why not to date a writer" (11)
-Because it's better than dating a mechanical engineer (12)
-I mean, like, they've got a way with words, or somethin' (and they're fuckin' ironic). (Sorry to have swore). (13)
-They can do the dishes while you're out working. (14)

(1) Do you ever get the feeling that everyone is doing this cool thing, everyone but you? Because you don't even know what the cool thing means? Just asking.

(2) I'm skeptical.

(3) Skeptical.

(4) Okay.

(5) Is someone trying to pickup a beautiful woman using this poster? Good luck. I'm skeptical.

(6) It is likely that writers are writing these answers. Use that fact for context.

(7) I hope so.

(8) More likely.

(9) And who doesn't like a tender touch?

(10) I sure hope so.

(11) Do they really know how to party? I have to say, it seems like everyone has a ten o'clock bedtime around here. Though maybe it is because they are so tired from partying all day long. Yes! Daytime partying, so hardcore.

(12) Doubtful.

(13) Drunk?

(14) But if they do the dishes, how will they maintain their soft hands? Well, one way would be to moisturize with a hand cream, right before bed. Then put on a pair of cotton gloves and wear them through the night, to lock in the moisture. You're welcome.

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May 6, 2010

Practical Uses for Force Fields // Landrew Kentmore

If you hear someone say "force fields," he can only be talking about two things: 1) aggressive farmers who get impatient with their crops; or 2) the invisible walls that block missiles and lasers in sci-fi movies.


Unfortunately, force fields haven't been invented yet in real life. Some people might say this is because we're not as advanced as people in sci-fi movies, but I disagree! I think that scientists don't think force fields are practical enough.

Think about it--would fans have ever been made if they were marketed as a thing to clear paper off tables? Would the clothes dryer ever have been sold in stores if the guy who invented it said it was a not-so-severe one-hour earthquake simulator? No! That's why, if you want force fields to be invented, you need to think up some practical uses for them. Here are a few of mine:

1. With a force field, you could drive your convertible with the top down in the rain or snow! (Maybe the force field could let in wind, so then, if you're wearing a scarf, it can still flap in the breeze.)

2. If you live behind the outfield of a high school baseball field, teenagers are probably always breaking your windows with wild home runs. This is awesome if they get famous, because later in life you can be the old guy in town who tells stories about famous baseball players when they were young. But what if they didn't get famous? What if they became math teachers? Then all you've got are a bunch of windows broken by baseballs and dreams broken by math teachers, unless force fields replaced glass as window material!

3. Tired of shaving? Install a force field really close to your face so that, whenever facial hair tries to grow, it will get stopped!

4. Get a dangerous pet like a scorpion and put it on the bathroom floor in an invisible force field terrarium so it will looks like it's free to wander around your apartment. Then people will be like, "Whoa! You live with that dangerous thing on the loose in your space?" When you answer, use a really tough voice and say something like, "No. That poor dangerous creature lives with me on the loose in its space." If you want to look even cooler, crack your knuckles in an I-use-these-knuckles-to-punch-scorpions sort of way.


5. Put a force field that changes color over the top of a volcano and you've got a great location for the coolest dance party ever! (If you do this, play music with lava in the lyrics. If you play a bunch of songs about snow or love or other-non lava things, people will be like, "This was cool until the theme got all confusing!")

Basically, we could replace all the solid stuff we use with force fields. Having guests over? Don't get out the nice plates. Get out the nice plate-shaped force fields. After dinner, wash them off in the force field that pours out water and stack them in the force field cabinet. You could make a whole house out of force fields, but that would be a bad idea, because then your house would be invisible so squirrels and birds might bump into it all the time.


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Launch Party May 6, Minneapolis

dislocate Party Celebrates New Issue, Website Launch

What: The Contaminated Issue release & dislocate.org launch: Books, art, food, drinks, DJ!

When: Thursday, May 6, 2010, 8pm-Midnight

Where: West Bank Social Center: 501 Cedar Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55454, above Nomad World Pub

The literary journal dislocate releases its sixth issue on Thursday, May 6, 2010, 8pm-Midnight, at the West Bank Social Center in Minneapolis. The event celebrates creative work from international writers and artists on the subjects of contamination and hybridity, as well as the launch of the new dislocate.org, with food and drink, DJ and dancing, literary games, and a reading by Hamline professor and award-winning author Barrie Jean Borich. dislocate 6: The Contaminated Issue features:

· Creative work by both emerging and established authors, including Michael Martone and Jenny Boully.

· Interviews with Jim Shepard, Adam Hochschild, and Adam Zagajewski.

· Art by Jana Flynn and Justine Beth Gartner.

· Contaminated Essay Contest, judged by acclaimed essayist Lia Purpura.

The new dislocate.org features weekly columns on pop culture, literature and fashion, selections from the print journal, a monthly short forms contest, and interviews with established and emerging authors.

This event is free and open to the public.

Can't come to the party? You can still order Issue 6 today!

May 5, 2010

Home Ownership, dislocated // David LeGault

The past several weeks have been somewhat overwhelming. Between applications for summer funding (which, when they didn't pan out, turned into crappy retail/restaurant applications) and the end-of-semester chaos, I've had little downtime.

Of course, all of this pales in comparison to the most exciting--and most stressful--aspect of the past several weeks, all of which is finally coming to a glorious end.

Today is the day that I buy a house.

lawn.jpgMy wife and I have been meeting with Realtors for the past four or five months, and after a few minor setbacks (a different house being bought out from under us, a faulty roof, a lousy bank appraisal, as well as a couple weeks of near-homelessness) we're finally committing to that whole American-Dream-nearly-suburbia-now-mow-the-lawn-and-walk-the-dog thing, both exciting and somewhat horrifying.

As of now it feels unnatural. I always assumed, as an aspiring writer, I'd be living in apartment squalor until I managed to get tenure (or become manager at a Barnes and Noble, whichever comes first) in about thirty-five years or so. Luckily, with the economy's current state of suck, it's surprisingly affordable to make that jump--the new mortgage is less than my rent--and with all of the incentive rebates/tax breaks right now it seems like maybe the only time we could have pulled this off.

But that's beside the point. I'm not so interested in the process of homeownership as I am with the domestic projects, the trips to Home Depot that help make a place one's own. I'm interested in the transformational power of paint, how a thin layer of colored latex, once dry, can make a room feel larger, more alive. I like to take my fancy, overpriced drill set and chisel through sheets of drywall, showering my new living room in dust, adding shelving that's both decorative and entirely necessary. I'm interested in the future projects: the possibility for bathroom renovation, the digging out of window wells to create another bedroom.

I suppose this all goes back to the Book with a capital B, the ways in which we take our words and build them into something greater than sentences, paragraphs, pages. How can we better trick out our sentences, make them sexy, cover them in paint? Adjectives are obvious, but what about punctuation? Sentence structure? What does the occasional sentence fragment achieve? We share a common language; the trick is finding ways to make it your own, to feel something like a home.

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May 4, 2010

How to Choose a Therapist // Jana Misk

Did I tell you about how I had to fire my therapist a few weeks ago? Yeah. It sucked. Let me tell you a few things about therapists: #1: They're not supposed to stand you up for appointments. #2: You have to put them in their place. Like dogs.

No, of course I don't mean that. I actually would like to be a therapist someday, maybe. (You see, I only have problems with seeing people socially in groups. One-on-one is tolerable, even rewarding, when done properly.) And I think I'd have a pretty good idea of something like that, given how many therapists I've seen in my life (eleven). So let me start over and give you some real advice--you don't even have to pay me for it.

How to choose a therapist:

couch.jpgRule 1. If you consider yourself, however privately and embarrassedly, a "dreamer," and if others might consider you one too--in a good way--I suggest you avoid cognitive-behavioral therapy. A friend of mine likes to say that CBT is not a full approach at all, but a technique, with significant limitations (it focuses on, shall I say, "fixing your thinking"). And you wouldn't want your carpenter to have only a hammer in his toolbox, would you? Introverts will probably suffer from the overuse of this externally focused tool, which tends to dismiss the positive aspects of the complex inner life we thrive on.

Storytime!: When I first moved to Minneapolis I spent months looking for a therapist. Unfortunately, the U of M just changed their health insurance coverage for grad students from Blue Cross Blue Shield (the absolute best company to be with for mental health coverage--practically every therapist is in their network) to a comparatively mediocre HMO. To make things worse, it seemed every clinic I found was CBT-based. O Upper Midwest, you find strange ways to disappoint me.

Finally I made an appointment with a woman whose profile suggested that she was process-oriented and humanistic and all this good stuff. I went in to meet with her.

"I'm Sandy," she began after we sat down. "I've had thirty years of experience as a therapist. Basically, my approach is to help people tackle their problems, talk through solutions, implement the solutions, and then move on. In and out, quick and efficient. So what are you here to work on?" This woman was clearly solution-focused or cognitive-behavioral with a solution-focused bent, so I had already determined her online profile to be false advertising.

"Well, actually, I'm not sure this is going to be a fit," I replied with some trepidation. I wanted to be honest. I could have faked it through the first session and just never come back, but all my years of therapy have taught me that it's better to be up-front. "I'm pretty high functioning," I said. "I don't have any serious problems, though I've got some remaining kinks to work out. I want to focus on deepening my understanding of myself, that kind of thing. I'm really interested in dream analysis," I added. I forgot to mention my social anxiety, but I wasn't really there for that anyway.

She stared at me like I had a snake coming out of my mouth. "Well, that's not therapy. At least not any kind of therapy I've ever heard of. You might try a yoga class or something."

I stared back at her. "Look, I understand if this isn't what you do. But it's a pretty common form of therapy in California, which is where I'm from. It's the kind of therapy I've done with every therapist I've ever worked with."

"Has anyone ever diagnosed you as borderline?"

[I was advised to delete the line I was going to put here.]

Rule 2: If a therapist accuses you of being borderline within fifteen minutes of the beginning of your first session, run. And do not take referrals from him/her or anyone who associates with him/her.

Rule 3. Don't tolerate a lack of investment from your therapist. S/he should begin and end your appointments on time, set clear expectations with you, and then meet them. And s/he should always be open to talking about your concerns about the therapeutic relationship itself. If you feel a disinterested vibe coming from your therapist, bring it up. (I know it's hard for some of us!) If it continues even after you've addressed it, you have every right to end the relationship. You're not paying someone to act bored while you're around.

Rule 4. Theoretical orientation is important--I personally recommend working with a therapist who has some training in body-oriented psychotherapy, just because talk can only get you so far in getting past your own blind spots--but it's not nearly as important as rapport and chemistry. (I love Jungian theory, for instance, but both Jungian analysts I've seen have been really disappointing as therapists. My best relationships have been with therapists who have some Jungian influence but are more eclectic, drawing from Gestalt and transpersonal perspectives as well.)

Finding the right therapist can be a lot like finding a romantic partner. Something has to click. If it doesn't after a few sessions, move on.

Rule 5. Excepting cases like the one above, in which the clinician you've found yourself in a room with seems to be from a different planet, don't be afraid to ask for a referral to a therapist they think would be a better match for you. I once spent several months working with a woman in a somewhat lackluster, but still productive, therapeutic relationship, and when she suddenly had to move away, she told me she knew someone who'd be perfect for me. I still have a therapist-crush on the woman she referred me to. Even though that first therapist couldn't be exactly what I wanted of her, she had the insight to at least see what that was, and she helped me find it in someone else. (Now I only wish I hadn't stuck with her in that imperfect relationship for as long as I did.)

Rule 6. As in romance, therapy takes work, and not just on yourself but on your relationship with your therapist. This might be especially challenging for introverts, who are prone to withdrawing from people anyway. If something in an otherwise positive, safe dynamic feels scary or uncomfortable, this is the place to explore it. That said, if you don't feel safe with your therapist, maybe s/he's not doing his/her job. Trust your intuition, but try to push your boundaries around how much to open up. I think I'd still be completely incapable of intimacy, among other things, if it were not for the wonderful therapists I've learned to trust over the years. So experiment with trusting and see where it takes you.

(Sidebar: You may think that I have missed a logical step in this column, namely, convincing you that beginning therapy is a good idea to begin with. Fair. That will be next week's post.)

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Image Credit:
Couch photo: flickr/emdot

May 3, 2010

Interview: Peter Bognanni on Pauly Shore, Punk Music, and the Midwestern Novel

by Laura Owen

houseoftomorrow1.jpgPeter Bognanni is the author of the recently released novel The House of Tomorrow (Putnam/Penguin). A graduate of The Iowa Writer's Workshop and author of short stories, humor pieces, and screenplays, he currently teaches Creative Writing at Macalester College. Sometimes he blogs hilariously at peterbognanni.com.

On March 25, Bognanni read from The House of Tomorrow at The University of Minnesota's "First Books" event, and a little later allowed me to bug him with some questions about Biospheres, Pauly Shore, and the horrors of the writing "process."


Laura Owen: In The House of Tomorrow, you use the life and scientific-philosophical thoughts of R. Buckminster Fuller as the basis for your central character's rather strange life (he lives in a dome with his grandmother, who is obsessed with Fuller). Reading the book, I thought that Fuller was a Saunders-esque invention on your part, a cheerful exaggeration and parody of a certain strand of American scientific-utopian thought. Upon doing a little research, however, I realized that Fuller was very much a real person. Why did you choose him as the focus of Nana's obsession, rather than inventing your own, say, Lucklister Tuller, whose odd ideas you could simply make up?

PB: I'll admit, the idea did occur to me of creating my own eccentric genius. But in the end I felt like any parody or invention I made up wouldn't do justice to the real thing. Fuller is just so fascinating to me, and the more I read about him, the more I wanted his voice and ideas to be in the book directly. Also, although he's immensely popular in some circles (modern-day dome-dwellers, futurists, etc.), I also felt like many readers wouldn't be well acquainted with his ideas. I was a history major in college, and I think that part of me was attracted to the idea of treating him both biographically and fictionally in the book. Yet, all of that being said, a lot of readers are still convinced I made him up. It's the number one question I get: "How did you come up with that character?"

LO: Speaking of the dome that Sebastian and his grandmother live in, I'm from Tucson, Arizona, near Biosphere 2, an enclosed area that several "crews" lived in for years, doing research about how people might live in enclosed systems on other planets. There was a fair amount of personal drama involved in Biosphere 2, including two crew members who vandalized the Biosphere. Anyway, it still exists, but was taken over by universities for fairly benign scientific research that doesn't involve humans living inside the Biosphere for years. It also inspired the classic Pauly Shore movie Bio-dome.

I couldn't help but think of Biosphere 2 when reading about Sebastian and his grandmother living in the dome. Was that an inspiration?

PB: What does it say about me that I got more excited about discussing Pauly Shore than the Biosphere 2? But I'll put that excitement on hold temporarily to address the legit science stuff first. Basically, I have memories of this experiment growing up, but I didn't research it too much for the book because Nana's goals are much more rooted to this planet than in preparing for life on others. She wants Sebastian to save this world with Fuller's ideas. But now that I've read about the strange drama surrounding the experiment, I'm having second thoughts. Maybe I work this into the sequel (which I will never write). More importantly, though, let's talk about Pauly Shore. I have probably seen at least half of his movies, and, for the record, I would place Bio-dome third behind Jury Duty and Encino Man. Is this contentious?

LO: What about Son-in-Law? I think that one's quite sweet.

PB: I'm embarrassed to admit that Son-in-Law is a hole in my Shore-ography. But now that I see it co-starred Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, I may have to throw it in my Netflix queue.

LO: One thing I really admired about The House of Tomorrow is that you have this very distinctive first-person voice: Sebastian is formal and thoughtful in the way he phrases his thoughts, but he's also very much a teenage boy.

I particularly admired how you allowed Sebastian to have moments of lyricism, moments when he observes the world around him in a way that doesn't just move along the plot or tell us something about the characters. For example, at one point when he's going home, he thinks,

I hiked up the hill toward the dome, looking up at the basswoods that marked the exit from the heart of the woods. They were completely bare now and they contrasted greatly against a sky that look white with clouds even in the dark. It was probably going to snow. If there was one thing I understood, it was the portent of snow.

This is very much in Sebastian's formal and idiosyncratic voice, and they tell us something about him and his relationship to his environment. But at the same time, it's also just a lovely description of trees against a winter sky that helps give us a sense of the setting. Did you think about that as you crafted the book--weaving in moments in the first-person voice that could be lyrical or descriptive while still seeming true to Sebastian and his character?

PB: In early drafts of the book I resisted some of these sorts of digressions because I didn't want to slow the story. "Kill your darlings," and all that. But I realized as I moved further in the book that in order to make this character's perspective believable, I had to create a unique and complex way in which he sees the world around him. It wasn't enough to just place him at the center of the story. From the beginning, I saw Sebastian as a character who was after a larger connection with nearly everything around him. This is something Fuller would have celebrated. Ironically, Nana, his disciple, has raised her grandson in a way that stifles much of his curiosity. In order to show there was more inside him than simply what he had been taught, these moments of just living in Sebastian's thoughts seemed more and more necessary. I'm glad you felt they added to the book. Some of them ended up on the cutting room floor. But I like the ones that stuck.

LO: Another thing I think that the book does really well is that it helps convey Sebastian and Jared's growing excitement and passion for punk music. Even if the reader knows little or cares little about punk, they can still share in the characters' growing attachment to it. I think that's hard to pull off--after all, the reader obviously can't actually listen to punk music through the book. So potentially you could risk alienating a reader or boring a reader. When writing the book, did you think about that--how to communicate a passion for punk music through the very un-punk-music-like medium of writing? The New York Times seems to ascribe your success in this to keeping the musical description pared down to a minimum. Do you agree?

PB: Early on in this project, I came across that famous un-attributed quote that goes something like this: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." (Some say it was first uttered by Elvis Costello.) And there's certainly some truth to that. But, alternately, I love reading about music almost as much I as I love listening to it and going to shows. I think, in the end, I wanted to capture the energy and the transformative power of punk in the scenes themselves whenever possible, i.e., the way it created dramatic and funny situations between the characters (coming up with a ridiculous band name, discussing the merits of sniffing glue, just plain sucking at guitar). Just writing about songs, notes, chords, was never going to do it for the very reason you mention: no matter how good your prose is, it's not music. So, hopefully, the way I approached it with a combination of musical references and using scenes inspired by music was the way to go.

LO: Both of these aspects of your writing--the accessible first-person voice and the way you share an excitement/passion for a particular subject--remind me a little bit of Nick Hornby's writing: I'm thinking of the way he enables me to enjoy a book about soccer (Fever Pitch), which I could not care less about as a subject, or his well-rendered young adult voice in About a Boy (a book that, like yours, has a pivotal scene at a talent show!), as well as the way that you both blend comedy and more serious subject matter into an organic whole. I don't know if you're a fan of Hornby or not.

But--and this sounds like I'm hating on Hornby, whom I love--I think one thing I really appreciate in your writing is what I mentioned above, the attention to moments of lyrical detail, even within the first-person voice. Sebastian creates fully fledged sensory world for us as readers--he always pays attention to how things taste, feel, and sound. I think sometimes the first-person voice in work like Hornby's can feel a little airless, because we're restricted to just this one person's thoughts and that's it--their thoughts. But I felt like I got such a great sense of the world around Sebastian, as well the world in his head.

PB: I'm a huge fan of Hornby too, and I really like the way he approaches music and integrates it so organically with character. He was definitely an influence when writing my book. But as you suggest, I really wanted this book to be a full-on sensory experience for the reader. And I hoped that in following Sebastian's first encounters with so many things that we take for granted, it would allow the reader to re-contextualize the way they experience the world too. You know, like tasting imitation grape drink for the first time, riding your bike through an empty town on a winter night, experiencing your first pangs of unrequited love (not to mention other related things I don't want to give away). That was one reason why I chose the first person and never looked back: to allow direct access to each of these moments as they happened. I always think the senses are important in writing, but they seemed even more so in a book so much about firsts.

LO: Along the lines of creating this fleshed-out sensory world and setting for us as readers: how do you see the setting of Iowa relating to the book as a whole? You've lived in various places in the Midwest: would you say that the Midwest has informed your literary sensibility as a writer? Is there such a thing as a "Midwestern writer"? Is that a dumb question? Perhaps it's indicative of the self-deprecating Midwestern ethos that I feel the need immediately to apologize for that question.

PB: Ha. No apologies necessary. I kind of like the idea of being a "Midwestern writer," even though I too have no real idea what that means. But it appeals to me for two reasons. Number one: at least in my reading experience, it's an underrepresented region in literary fiction. I've read so many books about New York City in my life, I almost feel as if I've lived there. Yet I can count the number of books I've read set in Iowa on two hands (And I sought them out, man). In the most basic sense, I just feel like I want to do my part to validate the experience of living in the Midwest. Stories happen there too. People live fascinating and complex lives there too. Really! Number two: Part of what I wanted to capture in this book is a sense of the possibilities of the imagination to expand one's sense of the world. And when you live someplace that might not necessarily be the bastion of cultural opportunities you're seeking, imagination and personal discovery become huge. Someone handing you the right book, the right album, these can be larger-than-life moments. And that's only amplified in the small-town setting I chose to write about, where you're dying for something new and different.

LO: I deeply identify with your blog post about your writing "process," or rather lack thereof. I said something similar when asked about my own writing "routine." Perhaps it's simply a justification of my own difficulties, but I'm distrustful of the idea of too orderly a process: i.e., "I always go about things this exact way--and I write for exactly 2.5 hours in this particular way..." It strikes me as an attempt to codify and organize something that can't be codified or organized. It's not that I don't think sitting down to write is important, or that there aren't important things to be taught about writing craft, and discipline, but...I think we all need to acknowledge the fact that the writing process is often frustrating and disorganized.

PB: I couldn't agree more. Frustration and disorganization are unavoidable. Personally, I go through seasonal fits and starts. Sometimes (mostly in the summer when I'm not teaching) I can actually be disciplined enough to do it three or four hours a day, every day. And I must say, this kind of intensive continuous concentration is really helpful when writing a novel. But then there are those other times (i.e., the rest of the year) when I binge and purge, write when I can find a moment, and go weeks without typing a word. Yet I can't say that the work is noticeably worse during those erratic times. I had one writing teacher who said three hours a day, no exceptions! Then I had another who said, do it when you feel it, but really work hard during those times. I guess my ultimate method is somewhere between the two. I have noticed, however, that I get very cranky when I go too long without writing. It is probably avoiding this crankiness that keeps me going as much as any larger artistic desire.

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Image Credit:
Photo by Melissa Copon

Cigarette Goggles // J. Lee Morsell

1. Have you seen Lady Gaga's cigarette goggles in her "Telephone" video? Two weeks ago I wrote about eyes with crosses over them; I now prefer burning cigarettes for my apocalyptic lens.

2. Check out the "Telephone" video remake by Malibu Melcher and his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan. It's kind of beautiful.

3. I wrote this double haiku after researching the Earth Day explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico:

I've always hated
That word for scolding children:

But the music in
This slideshow of disaster:

GuyDebordStencil.jpg4. The title of Guy Debord's Situationist classic In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni is a palindrome devised ages ago by an anonymous Roman. It has been translated many ways. Let's say it means, as Guy Debord did, "we turn in the night and are consumed by fire."

5. Some Deepwater Horizon conspiracy theories. Oh, conspiracies. Did you read about the Hutaree militia in Michigan? The FBI busted them a month ago for allegedly planning to kill a cop, and then bomb the funeral procession, on the theory that this would spark a popular uprising against the federal government and the Antichrist.

putin.jpg6. Vladimir Putin is manly! Not only is he the author of a book on judo, but watch this video of him nearly naked in the wilderness. No wonder there's a Russian pop hit that sings,

My boyfriend is in trouble once again
Got in a fight got drunk on something nasty
I've had enough and I chased him away
And now I want a man like Putin, who's full of strength
I want a man like Putin, who doesn't drink
I want a man like Putin, who won't make me sad
I want a man like Putin, who won't run away

I told my girlfriend I was going to give her Putin's judo book for Christmas, and she said it would be the "worst Christmas present ever." But she's not into judo.

7. Startling starlings. Starlings possess seemingly supernatural powers of group flight: flocks of more than a million birds may gather in what is called a murmuration--a vast intelligent cloud of shifting form. The birds may be little more than a body width apart from each other, and, flying at forty miles per hour, make hairpin turns en masse without ever colliding. Each bird seems to monitor, and respond to, the movements of its six or seven nearest companions; but response times are faster than scientists have yet been able to explain.

This gorgeous precision, then, makes more strange the report that, in March, seventy-six starlings collided with a Coxley, England, driveway. Sixteen of the birds were killed, and others suffered damaged beaks and bloody mouths.

Coda. Gaga

Hello, baby; you called
I can't hear a thing
I have got no service in the club you see, see
Wa-wa-what did you say?
Huh?; You're breaking up on me
Sorry; I cannot hear you
I'm kinda busy
K-kinda busy . . .

Stop callin', stop callin'; I don't wanna think anymore!; I left my head and my heart on the dance-floor

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Image Credits:
Guy DeBord stencil: flickr/biphop
Then-president Vladimir Putin demonstrates a judo move: kremlin.ru/Wikimedia
Starling swarm: flickr/68259253@N00