OMG HI! Did you miss me? How are you? I am doing GREAT. I am the best I have ever been! lol jk that is definitely a lie! The best I have ever been is when I was AT AWP THIS PAST WEEK & I walked past the Gucci store in the MALL OF AMERICA IF AMERICA WAS RUN BY DINTY MOORE & I was like 'you know I could really go for some luxury leather goods' & then CHARLES SIMIC showed up & I was like 'Hey there is some luxury leather goods' because you know he is old & stuff & hahaha! I am just kidding Charles Simic one time I had to draw a picture of one of your poems & there's this one where someone is sitting in a frying pan & there are onions falling on his head so I used that one & it probably won an award or something, I don't remember, undergrad was so long ago & I am getting older & I've been
changing cause I
built my life around
Anyway(s), I could spend all of my time talking about that MALL because holy shit I love MALLS & this MALL was so much better than that stupid one they had in WASHINGTON DC AWP NEVER FORGET 9/11 PENTAGON OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN PROBABLY BECAUSE OF THE ADVENT OF CAMERA PHONES AND THE DIGITAL CAMERA MARKET HAS DECLINED 29% because that MALL just had PRESIDENTS & didn't have a Pinkberry.
BUT I WON'T!
Instead wow! Conference! Boston! Have you ever been to Boston? It is cold up there! Goodness! I hope that you all brought a jacket or an anorak for our Canadian friends (do they have mfas in Canada someone get Frank Hinton on the phone but she might not even be from Canada THIS IS ONE OF LITERATURES GREAT MYSTERIES OF THE LATE 2010s) because I took a POLL on my livejournal & was like 'HOW IS YOUR AWP EXPERIENCE' & people are like 'It is cold out there!' or they were like 'It is overwhelming!' because overwhelming is the cool thing to say when you are at AWP & you are not a VETERAN FOUR STAR like me throwing touchdowns & other sports war metaphors all over the bookfair & making first-year MFA students from low-residency programs go 'wow' as they gladly accept literary journals from people who will HAND them to you without you asking (pro tip for AWP TOP CHEF SEATTLE don't take anything anyone hands to you at AWP you pick up that literary journal from the table or the little book holder thingee (pro tip for AWP TOP CHEF SEATTLE buy stock in those book holder thingees (pro tip for AWP TOP GEAR SEATTLE wikipedia what those things are called because book holder thingees is not a word that is used in today's vernacular (pro tip for AWP TOP SPIN SUPERSONICS stop adding more parentheses because you are going to get trapped in a mis-en-abyme & what is this the HTMLGIANT comment section or a book that won a FENCE PRIZE) ) ) ) ) because what I am saying is there are CANDY APPLE RAZOR BLADES in that copy of Danzig Review brought to you by the afterschool program kitty daycare program at State State University in State State Station, Texas GIG EM HORNS FROGS
Whew I am overwhelmed! Is anyone just whelmed? lol sorry dad joke. Speaking of all of my friends have babies this year that they brought to the bookfair & I'm like 'noooooo don't expose them to the vigorous snoop doggy dog world of publishing & handjobs underneath the Poetry Brothel tent & that lighting because they will think that writing is a publish first world when the truth of the matter is you should do it for the LOVE OF THE GAME like that time in the Mighty Ducks TWO where Ellio's Pizza Estevez is like 'you are not having enough fun even though the fate of the United States of America is on your shoulders if you do not defeat ICELAND so let's pretend that we are having fun even though youth sports are an extremely dangerous endeavor that often cause harm to a child's psyche in this hustle & bustle world of ours also get in there Pacey's Creek I'm trying to bang your mom also a GOLDBERG chant might start up because SPEAR SPEAR SPEAR although Boston is John Cena country & your time is up & my time is now & what I am really trying to say is get out there & don't think about getting published think about creating something that speaks to your heart & to your craft & also watch the three dekes'. I am not allowed to have children until I get into AGNI btw so someone call Sven Birketts up & tell them that the fate of humanity is in his cold Bostonian hands
Did you stand in line with me to get registered!? Finally I get Kanye's Late Registration lol except at AWP it is not golddiggers it is publicationdiggers but it doesn't rhyme I ain't saying she's a publicationdigger but she ain't messing with no republimultiplica republimultiplica (RADIO EDIT) But man did I feel like a sucker for not knowing how to use the internet! Sheesh! Instead I stood in line while a nice lady talked to me about pedagogy & another nice person talked to me about how AWP is the only thing in the history of the world that doesn't accept cash (or even the Korean won, seriously) & another person talked about how you should sleep with girls who like Sylvia Plath but then get rid of them because they are crazy & I was like 'you are my nemesis don't talk about Sylvia Plath that way' & then I saw him LATER making out with a girl in the mall & then LATER he fell down the stairs of the Sheraton & I was like 'whaaaaaat I am glad I didn't go to that school because good lord' & I was thinking about how many people I know would've shoved him down said stairs & I was like 'yeah pretty much all of them' because we all agree that Ted Hughes is the worst & he should die a thousand deaths and/or be forced to watch an AWP Panel on The World of the World of Publishing where no one has prepared any notes & then someone should tercet his FACE
After THAT whole ordeal I was super tired from standing! So I was like hug hug drink drink hug sleep next to famous writer X who had to work a table really early so I had the bed ALL 2 MYSELF which is a good thing if you are me & a bad thing if you are not me (ladies) but you know that's how it works when you are a super famous writer with a super amazing teaching job that you are sharing beds with other grown men out of the goodness of your heart & not to save money because I have $o many $$$ it's like I have euros & it's like I can submit to every contest ever & yes I will pay a reading fee & yes I will donate to you Narrative Magazine you seem like nice people who would never take advantage of young writers & remember what I said about the Kreayshawn Gucci Gucci Store!?!?!? Next thing you know I'll be able to pay people I retweet on TWITTER (though if I favorite you that is just simply a good rejection best of luck in your future tweets this came close but ultimately it is not for me even though I loved it & will have it read at my funeral as Crossroads by Bone Thugs & Harmony starts playing & sorry I couldn't think of any Boston Rappers aside from that guy Everlast who released that album of collaborations with Carlos Santana & Matchbox Twenty I think it was called Then You Really Know What It's Likenatural again sorry I think Lil' Poopy is from there but he doesn't rap about matters of the heart like death & missing your Uncle Charles y'all he raps about butts)
I also went to the NONREADING READING which is also called 'drinking' which is something I really like a lot! You know what I don't like? READINGS (unless of course I am in them because then they are the best readings in the entire world & whoa what a rush that is it's also the reason why I hate going to the movies because I'm like 'I should be IRON MAN, IRON MAN' & all of my friends are like 'dude you should've Iron Manned you are such a better Iron Manner' & I'm like 'I know, little friends, I know') It was an Irish Bar! No, not that one, the other one! No not that one either you're thinking of the other one. No the other other one. No I meant the one that is next to that one. Right, that one, with the Gaelic sounding name & the whiskey & the dart board & the poster of the pelican being like 'Arrrr mateys me lads lucky charms it's a shameful thing lobsterhead have you tried Guinness!?' But there were people I really liked doing things I really like (drinking dancing to Stankonia OH WAIT I forgot the Dungeon Family is from Boston right?) & there were so many pleasant Midwesterners because that's the type of people who like these sort of things like standing in very flat spaces & complaining that things are too crowded because, you know, cornfields, but gosh darn it I love 'em with my densely populated soul.
I also went to the VIDA PROMMMMM which I was tremendously underdressed for lol jk I wore a trackjacket you can never be underdressed while wearing one of those & I came in during Cee-Lo Green's 'Fuck You' & I burst into a circle & sang it but I really didn't mean it because I loved all of those people & I'm really sorry & I hope they forgive me I was just singing the song I think you're all wonderful people & I love VIDA & pies & equality & I think that is obvious because it is MONDAY & I'm pretty sure you can still see the stamp on my left-hand which is probably a good thing because it is like the eye of Sauron (that is a literary reference) being like 'I am watching you, Brian. BELIEVE IN THE COUNT' & I'm like 'oh god I'm guest editing an issue of a journal this year & I don't think a single woman has submitted & oh godddddd' but then I remember the DJ playing George Michael's 'Freedom' which was really great to listen to for about a minute or so but then it goes on for about five minutes but I really need to be reminded that sometimes the clothes do not make the man which is a good lesson for those people who thought I was underdressed for prom & look how nicely that came back around never forget I am an ESSAYIST
snow snow snow walk walk walk bookfair bookfair walk walk
I sat at the Fairy Tale Review table! It was fun. It is a weird table to work at because people are like 'FAIRY TALES' & I'm like 'yes' & they're like 'HAVE YOU READ THIS FAIRY TALE IT IS ABOUT THE TIME I KICKED A MUSHROOM & WAS SCARED THAT I DESTROYED AN ENTIRE ECOSYSTEM OF DAVID THE GNOMES' & I'm like 'oh yeah I've heard of that one' which is a lie but goodness, I'm at the Fairy Tale Review table & I feel like I am at the Fairy Tale SAT Review table but instead of trying to improve my math scores to get a better scholarship to the expensive northeast private Catholic University I attended I am being quizzed on the one time you checked the disassociation page on the name Josephine & realized that it is the name of the daughter of a lumberjack in a Swiss fable & it gave your fiction short story about taking the F-Train to a Wilco concert that extra layer of hidden meaning that you were searching for! Whoa! Also I worked the Black Warrior Review table which is also a delight because people are like 'I love your magazine! Maybe one day I'll actually be in it YOU HAVE REJECTED ME SO MANY TIMES WHY DON'T YOU LOVE ME' & I'm like 'the value of your work is not judged by your ability to be pluck'd out of the slushpile by a literary magazine but goodness do you need a hug or an etiquette lesson on how to talk to people? do you go up to babes or dudes at the bar & am like 'hey, I really like your personality & your sweater maybe ONE DAY you'll make out with me in the front seat of your Mitsubishi Galant? ha ha just kidding BUT NO SERIOUSLY I WOULD LIKE THAT' Maybe I shouldn't complain it is better than DragonCon I am sure I HAVE WRITTEN TO YOU ABOUT HOW TO TAKE SAILOR VENUS' CHARACTER TO THE NEXT LEVEL SO MANY TIMES MAYBE YOU WILL LISTEN TO ME NO OFFENSE I REALLY LOVE SAILOR VENUS BUT I REALLY THINK IT'D BE BETTER IF IT HAD MORE STORIES ABOUT ME GROWING UP RIDING HORSES ON MY GRANDPAPPY'S DUDE RANCH ALSO MAYBE DRAW HER BOOBS BIGGER IDK JUST SPITBALLING HERE CAN I TAKE THIS BUTTON
Man writing this takes me to a dark place
Remember when the Hotel Bar ran out of beer! Ha ha you are amateurs here. I like to think that the hotel staff is like 'Okay. Listen up. We have a bunch of awkward writers here who don't leave their house very often. They need to get drunk because they are facing the daunting realization that there are 10,999 people here who are attempting to do the same thing as them & believe that writing is a zero sum game where the success of others is detrimental to their own accomplishments. Therefore stay on your toes & just to be safe we are hiring TWO bartenders tonight instead of our usual one because wow we are prepared for this thing. Don't worry, the next conference coming in are the National Temperance League so we can all recover for a hot minute before the wildcard that is the Society of Professional Soil Engineers because with all of these changes in weather the density of clay has shifted slightly & have you heard about these sinkholes? They are the only ones who can save us & they might crack under the pressure. That is a pun about sinkholes. It is very morbid. I'm sorry I said those things. Please excuse me as I tender my resignation from the Side Bar Management system. I am sorry I have let you all down much like Kevin Youkilis GO SAWX.'
Phew that was a long sentence! That is called 'getting into character'! Just call me 'Daniel Day-Lewis Jr. But A Writer & Probably Not a Junior Because I Don't Think He Has A Son Named After Him'. Or 'DeeDee' for short.
Oh man I was on a PANEL nah dog not like a triptych or something like that although there were other lovely people on the panel & we formed some sort of holy whole through our own separate rumblings & ramblings but like a PANEL where I talked about short-form nonfiction & why it is great! Confession: I'm pretty sure this is the longest thing I've ever written in the history of ever, shhhhh sorry students when I give you word counts I promise it is for your own good until you learn the deftness of language & the importance of a sentence says the person who writes run-ons & uses parentheses as a CRUTCH but will use the term 'aside' because doesn't it sound like I am talking to you like I AM IN YOUR ROOM jk I'm in TuScAlOoSa which is not where you are unless you are in tUsCaLoOsA & you are my roommate Barry Grass because we are technically in the same room even though there are walls separating us (NB- check with Johnny Architect about this fact) but yeah I think I'm almost done.
Anyway! It was great & wonderful & hilarious because someone came in, interrupted the moderator & was like 'can we fill in all the empty seats all church-like' & everyone was like 'wut' because there weren't any empty seats & because WRITING IS YOUR ONLY GOD ON THE RADIO (rip Zack DeLaRocha) & then I awkwardly looked around & drank a bunch of water (those cups they give you are so tiny!? are they trying to dehydrate me on purpose? c'mon Sheraton step your solo cup game up for next year or don't because doesn't it rain all the time in Seattle? Shirley Manson call me boo) & then I got really hungry because I bought a BAGEL at Dunkin Donutz & I never ate it. Did you know that they don't put cream cheese on your bagel anymore & you have to do it yourself? I didn't & I still don't know that because I never ate that bagel. This is what happens when I leave the northeast. I bet you Krispy Kreme would put creamcheese on your bagel lol nah just kidding DIP IT IN SUGAR & CHICKEN FAT ENJOY YOUR WORKING MAN'S BREAKFAST YOU YANKEE FUCK.
Oh man I went to the AWP DANCE PARTY & I would like to start the movement for #oliuforawpdj right now because maybe it'll pick up enough steam for next year because mannnn that is a hot mess of a dance party. My favorite part of the entire dance party was when DJ Submittaturntable put one ear on his Beats by Kerouac headphones & dropped Eminem's 'LOSE YOURSELF' & everyone put their hands in the air & kinda did the thing where they are dribbling two of the world's shittiest basketballs off of a table & I could imagine every single one of them vomiting mom's spaghetti in the bowels of the Duncan Hynes Center before working up the nerve to talk to one of the cute Redivider girls. Remember to own it (first North American publishing rights revert back to you so you still own it don't worry kemosabe) & never let it go (until you have properly edited your piece a number of times & feel comfortable in releasing it to the world to do with it what it will). Also kill your girlfriend love your daughter write Stephen Elliott a letter that says 'DEAR MR I'M TOO GOOD TO CALL OR WRITE MY FANS' (in that order)
I will leave you with a SERIOUS note. AWP is supposed to be fun. AWP is fun. You get to meet people who are interested in the same things that you are. Remember when you were in high school & you were that nerdy kid who wrote a lot & then you somehow met someone from another school who was also into the same things you were? & that your whole world changed? Writing can be a lot like high school in that regard: we are in our own bubble when we write, but in order to really become a multi-faceted writer we need 'the other'. It's a very private practice & we create a lot of things in silence--we write things that when we felt them we felt as if no one would ever know these things: that there are secrets. AWP is here to say 'look, I know those moments too. Let's get together. Let's talk about them, let's talk about how we talk about them.' It's not about checking off boxes to say 'Hey, look, I know this editor.' or 'Hey, I've been in this magazine.' There will be folks like that. Feel free to laugh at them. Hang out with people who are excited about the same things you are; they don't have to be writing. They can be food, or the NES Virtual Boy, or terrible romantic comedies, or sightseeing spots, or cat pictures. The people that you're scared to talk to, that you're intimidated of, tell them you love their work, you love their journal. Mean it when you say it. Spend too much money at the book fair. Read some of your loot on the plane (I went with Aubrey Hirsch's Why We Never Talk About Sugar). Remember why you write. Write.
351 days until Seattle; in the meantime, go be awesome. Maybe Louise Gluck's wrist will be better by then.
So, Ploughshares didn't ask me to contribute to their pre-AWP post (& how dare they! how dare they!) & so I wanted to share mine with y'all.
MAN isn't the AWP conference overwhelming! There is so much stuff here to do! I am going to go to the conference! I am a veteran of the conference I have FOUR STARS on my NFL Captains C because I am a Special Teamer and by Special Teamer I mean that I am a long snapper and by a long snapper it means that when I snap my fingeees like this *snap* it takes FOR EVER. Like that one guy who reads for so long and it's just a list of things that they don't like about America! Yeah you know the dude! Politics, am I right guys? This world is f$R:$ked dudes, totally f$r:$ked!
Don't worry I am sure there are plenty of lists on the geocities angelfires that will give you fun TIPS and TRICKS to beating AWP! BUT THIS IS THE BEST ONE
1. HYDRATE because water is the essence of human life and water is important because of that Chronology of Water book but I never actually read it because I couldn't get passed the NIPPLE on the front cover because I am a child!
2. SHARE A ROOM with a famous writer! I share a bed with a famous writer every year because I feel as if I cuddle with an up and coming writer I can totally steal some of their writing powers or the MUSE will be CONFMUSED and give me all of the story ideas and I'll be like 'ha ha!' and write someone else's memoir but then the TRUTHPOLICE will come after me and it'll be sad so maybe don't get a roommate? Just sleep on the floor and make snow angels amongst call for submission flyers although then you couldn't call them snow angels you'd have to call them call for submission flyers angels. Take that READING FEE.
3. MAKE A LIST OF THE PANELS YOU WANT TO GO TO I think there are some really interesting ones this year including 'The face of the face of poetry: why you so damn foxy Laurie Clements Lambeth' and 'Boston Writers tell you what it's like to write in Boston and be Boston writers and write Boston Boston Red Sox Fan Fiction where TROT NIXON does P90X and really strengthens his lower torso so he can win all of the baseball!' Although you probably shouldn't go to that one because if a panel does not have a colon (lol butts) in its title it is not TRUE AWP POTENTIAL panel.
4. PROCEED TO PARTY I love that songgggg! But no seriously you should make sure to HAVE FUN! In fact I am going to tell you to REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN because that is something that is very important in LIFE. You're welcome! So if this means getting hashtag drunj at the Beauty Bar and getting felt up by an ALT LIT PERSONALITY this is a positive thing because maybe you can finally get into muumuu house (why are your doors always locked muumuu house? don't you like visitors! i have made you chocolate chip cookies and i wrote this paragraph in lowercase for youuuuuu #teachmehowtocomment) and AWP IS ALL ABOUT
5. CONNECTIONS and I'm not talking about City Connection or Love Connection (although novelists make shitty lovers TRUST ME) but real soulful connections where you can be like 'check the flavor of the rhythm I wrote and before I get a chance LET ME SHOW YOU MY MANUSCRIPT'
6. BE NICE writers are people too! they like kisses
7. TYPE IN IDKFA FOR ALL GUNS AND KEYS AND AMMO
8. DO A BARRELROLL
9. EAT CHOWDA GET LOUDA GET LOUDA GET PUBLISHED IN GRANTA (that is what is call'd a slant rhyme it is something that is important in poetix)
WELL, SEE YOU AT THE FRENCE (that is what cool people call the AWP Conference! it's kind of like how cool people call Bud Light Platinum 'NUMS')
I was asked to participate in The Next Big Thing by the always awesome Jill Talbot, who has been an amazing champion of meta-writing & is a lovely lovely writer & person. So, consider this a brief dusting off-of the oliublog.
What is your working title of your book (or story)?
I am not good at these things, because I have a lot of projects going on at once--usually something I consider a 'main project' & then have an auxiliary thing going on. While working on Leave Luck to Heaven, I started So You Know It's Me, etc. & so now I'm working on two things: 'Dancefloor' & 'What The World Has Come To'
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Dancefloor has to do with me DJing--it's not overly impressive stuff, I promise, but I can curate one hell of a dance party. I've always lived by the adage 'write what you love' & I love dance music. So, it made sense. Same thing with What The World Has Come To--anyone who knows me knows I love professional wrestling & think way too much about it. In the same vein as videogames & Tuscaloosa, I figured I might as well make something constructive out of these obsessions.
What genre does your book fall under?
Lyric essays, of course. The pieces 'write about things' but also 'write around things' & I feel like that genre is what affords the best way to truly get at the 'thingness' of something.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I will take this opportunity to state how much I love these real/false people: my love of Carly Rae Jepsen is well documented, & I have a love/hate relationship with Rihanna. Daniel Bryan might be my favorite person on the planet right now, with Antonio Cesaro & CM Punk close behind.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
1. A quote from High Fidelity: Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable--or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?
2. A quote from Jos LeDuc: I won't send you to the hospital because that's too good for you, they take too good care of you, but every night when you go to bed you will wonder why you don't sleep, and your girl will ask why you don't cuddle up close to her, and you'll tell her that damn man hurt me, he hurt me and I can't sleep.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It typically takes me over two years to finish a manuscript: sometimes it takes a bit less. I've been working on Dancefloor off & on since about a year ago, & I started What The World Has Come To in November.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Publishing is something that I can't control: you can do good work & put it out there & see what happens. If someone wishes to publish it, to create something brand new, essentially, 'for you', it is an amazing honor. It's strange though--I feel like the goal with a completed manuscript is to have as many folks read it as possible. So, self-publishing & self-advertising is probably the simplest way to do so. But, you know, whatever happens happens. I did the agent route a while back, but it wasn't overly helpful to me: I'm sure it works swimmingly for a lot of people, but I've always been an in-house guy; I have my manuscripts, I have my Microsoft Word Excel Spreadsheet, etc.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
My good friend Jeremy Hawkins once said that I deal well with the concept of 'Obsession' & he is right: I want to know all the things about something--it, of course, can drive me absolutely mad, but for the most part, it is helpful in the crafting & execution of something worthwhile. So, I find myself thinking about 'Salt' & 'Oranges' despite the language in the pieces being so far away from that. If you like the micro-essay with a lyric slant, you'll dig me. Maybe.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I've found myself defending two of my great loves on an almost daily basis: as they are not exactly the most 'literary' of forms: pop music lyrics are not going to be mistaken for poetics, pro wrestling for theatre. But there is something about it that calls to me: America's gifts to the world are comic books, professional wrestling & R&B--there's gotta be something to it all that makes it worth observing. Overall, I love taking what is considered 'low' & making it 'high'--videogames are not going to be mistaken for high literature, but through the heightening of these 'pop' things, we can find something beautiful. & isn't that the goal?
What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
I truly hope that even if folks don't like the subject matter, or if they are unfamiliar with it, there will still be something to enjoy--whether it is the storytelling or the language, there's something for everyone. If not, Rihanna will put you in the figure-four.
Here’s the thing with anniversaries: they don’t change—they remain stagnant as statues, pools of water in places we have never seen, a dead cockroach after its final twitch.
For someone who has trouble with numbers, I have always loved them: their roundness and their oddness—the absoluteness, the magic they hold. We make wishes at 11:11, we make wishes at 12:34, we are reminded twice a day of birthdays, lucky numbers, an excuse to remember ourselves and our place in the world, to remember those we love, to hope that this will bring us good luck, a sign that things will be okay.
This week: fractured. As we remember the storm that took everything yet left us with something it did not come as cleanly as I expected it to: to wake up this morning with a heavy heart and the feeling as if I cannot get enough air into my lungs to fill up a balloon, to stumble to the shower, to wash everything twice, to spend the day being careful with words because they all mean a bit more: to have a beautiful day to be sad, to speak of love contained yet wider than highways.
I have felt these things and yet the day has not even started to unfold.
On the 25th, I spent the morning doing what I did on the morning of the 27th. I talked with students, calculated grades, divided the low number by the high number to let them know what needs to be done. The water pooled under my drink. The ice melted.
On the 26th, I spent the evening doing what I did on the evening of the 28th. I applauded when our Alabama players moved on up to the NFL. A graduation of sorts. I ate french fries. I threw them up later.
Today, our worlds change again, if only for a moment: we watch the clouds and their movements. We are placed in the middle of the egg of a different story: one that we have already heard and one that we continue to revisit when we hear sirens, when the power goes out. That what we do today matters to who we were then, that if we scratch hard enough you can see us, a year younger yet looking years older. That we hope that we are doing it right. That we have loved, that we have been thankful, that we should toast to something. That we pray that none of the signs we see in the layering tell us that we are doing it wrong. That we are kind when the day is today and the clock reads 5:10, reads 4:27, reads any time that can bring you magic.
We are coming back, we have come back, we are here, we are still here, and we are still working, and we are still apologizing, and we are still in the middle of it all, and we are still reflecting, and we are our reflections. And we are still thankful.
I was asked to write an essay about the Tuscaloosa tornadoes for a magazine—they wound up passing on the essay, but I still wanted the essay to be read. However, it is a strange thing: I didn’t feel right submitting it to journals and going that route. Fortunately, as always, the amazing folks at PANK came to the rescue and posted it on their blog.
Tuscaloosa Runs This -- an eBook of Tuscaloosa Writers
Juan Carlos Reyes
Jeremy Allan Hawkins
Pia Simone Garber
Joseph P. Wood
Katie Jean Shinkle
Jessica Fordham Kidd
Erin Lyndal Martin
Steven Casimer Kowalski
Nik De Dominic
Around 5:13pm Central Standard Time on April 27th, 2011 an EF-4 tornado hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama. For those in Tuscaloosa, there are flashes of memory: the rain wall approaching from the south before the camera went out—the streets mentioned on the radio becoming recognizable, the lights flickering and going out. The next day, the weight of what had occurred settled on our chests: the residential areas of Forest Lake and Alberta City decimated, people missing, friends without roofs.
The phrase “Alabama Runs This” has been an inside joke between those here in Alabama about the caliber of work that comes out of here—if you have picked up a literary magazine or read one online in the past couple of months you have undoubtedly come across one or more of the names in this anthology. There is a pride, a camaraderie, a swagger to writers from Alabama; a grit beyond glamour, a work ethic. We write hard and we write well; I can say with confidence that this dedication to our work has translated to our efforts to rebuild.
After the tornado, “Tuscaloosa Runs This” became a rallying cry amongst friends involved in the recovery process. In one sense, when everything happened we didn’t know what to do, but we knew that we needed to do something. And so, we played to our strengths—our counseling, our writing, our ability to haul, to swing an ax. As a result there was a lot of attempts: some more successful than others, but attempts nonetheless. The works in this anthology are attempts (essays, Montaigne would call them) to capture what it is we love about this city and what it means to us to repair and rebuild our home. The quality of the people of Tuscaloosa is only matched by the quality of their writing. Here, we have some amazing work from amazing people—all with our city on our minds and in our hearts. Some of the work has been written long before late April, other pieces written shortly after the storm.
Tuscaloosa is my adopted home: I am originally from New Jersey and came to Alabama, as many do, to attend the University of Alabama’s MFA program in Creative Writing. As most people from the northeast who decide to move to the Deep South, I was intimidated and scared: I was giving up a life I knew for something completely foreign and terrifying. As with anytime someone moves from one place to another, there are growing pains—the town is small and vastly different from any other place that I ever lived. It is hot.
The moment I started to love Tuscaloosa was in the middle of the summer of 2007. I was teaching creative writing in a GED program in Greensboro, Alabama, a small town of about 2700 people about 40 miles south of Tuscaloosa through the Hale Arts Council and the Creative Writing Club at the University of Alabama. The students were construction workers in the Rural Studios Project out of Auburn University—they would take classes in the morning and build homes in the afternoon. When they heard that I was from Tuscaloosa, it is all they wanted to talk about: that Tuscaloosa is the center of it all—there is a movie theatre, there is football, there is an Olive Garden. They wanted to know where my Alabama Crimson Tide gear was: why wasn’t I wearing an Alabama shirt? It was then I understood the importance of where I lived; that there is something here that is envied, that is loved. It represents “the big city” for a lot of people in West Alabama, a mythical place where Paul Bear Bryant once walked, an opportunity to be the first person in one’s family to go to college, a town full of hope, a home. I returned to Tuscaloosa grateful and I remain grateful—I have grown in its red clay: a better writer, a better teacher, and a better person.
In Tuscaloosa, there are cockroaches. The faux aristocracy of the fraternities and sororities can be suffocating. There is backwardness to the point of absurdity. But there is barbecue. There are quick walks to campus, quick walks to the bar. There are opportunities to start and sustain anything you wish, whether that is starting an Art Kitchen or a reading series or a locally grown produce nonprofit or a theatre group or or or. The reason for this is because of the people: the beautiful, talented, loving people. The beautiful, talented, loving people that have been operating chainsaws. The beautiful, talented, loving people that have been sorting through the remnants of homes to find photographs of people they’ve never met. The beautiful, talented, loving people that are sorting baby clothes, moving pallets of water, making phone calls to shelters, delivering steel-toed boots to people who have lost their homes so that they can return to work on Monday, sending good will and love and money from far away, these things, all of these things. The beautiful, talented, loving people that are also the authors of the pieces in this collection, sons and daughters of Tuscaloosa—some born here, some adopted into its oak trees for a small period of time, forever changed. That shout “Roll Tide Roll” in the pregnant pause between “Alabama” and “Where” and “Alabama” and “Lord”, that are comforted by the sound of trains, that just know.
So, thank you for all of your support of Tuscaloosa and those who love this city. Thank you for your support of Alabama writers. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
1105 16th Ave, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
From my friend Brittany Travers:
Thinking of donating stuff for Alabama tornado relief? Here are some tips for making your donation immediately useful!
After volunteering much of the last week in a warehouse that is trying to get donations out to the people who need them. Through this experience, I have realized that there are some quick and easy things that a donor can do to facilitate the donation process. Therefore, I wanted to share a couple of tips that I ask that you please consider before donating your items. Also, I think that these tips will be useful to anyone donating to any type of disaster relief in the future. These are things that I had no idea about before going through this experience. However, by following these tips, you will make your donation immediately useful to the community!
- 1. Please box (and do not bag) all of your donations. This is very important because the donations get out to the community via large palettes, and anything in bags falls off the palettes and cannot be stacked. Right now, anything that comes in a bag, we have to re-box before we ship out. We have a very limited number of boxes at our site. Therefore, no items donated in bags will be able to get to the people who need them until we get more boxes. Therefore, make sure your donation can be quickly made useful, and simply box your donations.
- 2. Let each box include just one-kind of an item (i.e., “Canned corn,” or “blankets”. I’ve termed this the principle of “boxes of sameness.” This is important because people have specific needs, and a box marked “Food” is less useful when one group of people needs canned meat (because they still have no electricity), and another group of people needs pasta because they have electricity. If you don’t have enough of one item to fill an entire box, that’s perfectly okay. We can use that extra space in your box to fill with like-items that others have donated. Just make sure that each box has one kind of thing in it.
- 3. If donating clothing items, divide your boxes by gender and size. Therefore, each clothing box should read something like, “Men’s Medium Clothing” or “Women’s XL clothing.” When people come to a shelter looking for clothing, they know what size they are, and this will help them be able to quickly select out the clothing that will work for them.
- 4. If you are donating new items, mark “NEW” clearly on the box. These items are of the utmost importance, and we want to make sure that they can get to people asap.
- 5. Label what your item is on at least 3 sides of the box. This helps us quickly determine which palette things should go on.
Once again, these are all tips that I had never even considered before when I had donated items in the past! However, from my experiences this week, I now know that these tips are critical to making your donations immediately useful to those who need them.
If you pre-order my book 'So You Know It's Me' between now and Friday, $5 will be donated to the relief fund. Many thanks to Tiny Hardcore Press & Roxane Gay for making this happen. This also applies to xTx' amazing book 'Normally Special'.
In other Tuscaloosa Writing, The Offending Adam is presenting a number of authors with a connection to Alabama writing about Alabama. These are all amazing writers and good friends--two pieces of mine will be up there on Thursday. A lot of these authors are in Tuscaloosa currently and working tirelessly. They also have links to donate to the Red Cross & other aid organizations as well.
I've been thinking about this book a lot--as it is a love letter of sorts to Tuscaloosa, and now even moreso. A lot of the Missed Connections locations that are discussed here are gone now, which is an amazing thing to think about--not only the person/opportunity is gone, but there is no chance to even replicate the place.
I think often about a store I used to go to when I was a little kid back in NJ--it was a Jamesway; a catch-all store that was a pre-cursor to the Wal-Mart. This is where we did pretty much all of our shopping and I would go there twice, maybe three times a week. I remember certain parts of the store; mostly the check-out line where I could get candy, the small arcade (Ms. Pac-Man and a shoot-em-up game that I'm drawing a blank on the name), and the toy section, of course. The Jamesway is gone and has been for 15 years now, and for the life of me I cannot remember other parts of the store. I knew that I walked through them with my mother, pushing a mint green shopping cart. I have a vague recollection of where the trashcans were. Other than that, it is nothing, a blank void: things I remember and things I do not--a half created building.
I don't know what the brain does when it happens to an entire town. There's a joke in the south that people give directions based off of where things used to be--make a right at the old pool house, go past where the old Archibald & Woodrow's was. Is it going to be 'Where Alberta City used to be?' 'Where Forest Lake was?' What will be remembered?
I don't have an answer. What I do hope is that when it comes time to rebuild we will do this place proud--no more GameDay condos. No more abuse of tax breaks to contractors building $2000 a month rental properties. That everything is remembered because everything is worth remembering.
Friends have asked me about the book and if I should write an introduction now in the wake of the tornadoes. It's something I never thought about--there's no real introduction to anything: whether it's a missed connection or a disaster like this one. My professor Jane Satterfield once said "In a book of 63 poems, the 64th poem is the book itself." In this case, with 30% of our city gone and people working tirelessly to rebuild it, this tragedy is our final missed connection, and the one that is most lamented, yet the one most worthy of our remembrance.
I started writing this from the Tuscaloosa Public Library, as there is power here and rumors of the chance of Internet, although the network is certainly overloaded to the point where no one is able to get on. Regardless of this, everyone seems to be in relatively good spirits and there is a lot of information being passed around: a student just came in with a full-on sunburn telling the head librarian that he’s been out doing search and rescue all day, whispers of classes and finals being canceled are being tossed back and forth. Myself and my roommate Barry are camped on the second floor, in between volumes of Poetry Criticism and, completely unbeknownst to me until I looked around, the geography section, which has ten or so books on Alabama staring at me at eye-level, with such titles as ‘Tuscaloosa: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow’, and ‘Tuscaloosa: Centennial Progress, Millennial Hopes”. One book, simply titled “Tuscaloosa” starts with an introduction that states “Tuscaloosa is an old name. It is the name of a county older than the state of which it is a part: the name of a city, one of the oldest in west Alabama; and, in translation, the name of a large river that flows through the Appalachians to the broad floodplain and fertile lowlands to the south.” It’s a good name—a strange one that is fun to say: one can draw out the “oooo” sound for as long as one wants to, four syllables, an air of pageantry anytime anyone says the name if they’re not from Alabama; you should hear my Catalan grandmother pronounce it—it’s adorable.
It’s also where I have lived, worked, and wrote for the past six years, made art, made friends, made mistakes, always making. At some point, the town was called “Tuskaloosa”, but there was an executive decision at some point to drop the “K”, perhaps it made the town sound too stammering, too unsure of itself. There are some old buildings in Alberta City that still had signs that had the “K” still in the name. Those buildings are gone now.
Being without power and minimal internet, I haven’t seen the footage or the reports—I’ve seen the video of the tornado looming over Bryant-Denny stadium shot from a few blocks away from my house. I’ve seen the video of the (incredibly foolish) guy shooting the tornado as it crept over Midtown Village from the mall parking lot, driving sporadically and swallowing “Oh my Gods”. To be fair, I’ve been avoiding it as much as possible—I can’t handle this stuff. I’ve thrown up every day since the storm and I have a giant knot in my stomach at all times.
My exposure has been minimal: my street was relatively unscathed, although a storm earlier in the day put a tree through the carport across the street and crushed two SUVs. I spent the day watching the Barcelona-RM game and then switched over to coverage—as the image of the tornado from the AmSouth building started to creep closer, I started to get further away from the television: at first, I was on the couch, then to the kitchen, and then when the power went out, I made my way to the hallway where I closed all of the doors and sat in the dark, furiously checking my phone. The first thing I am thankful for is Verizon (my uncle works on the towers out in California, so there’s an extra amount of pride there), and I am thankful for Twitter, which allowed me to track the storm and the damage that it had done—it told me it was safe to come out, that it was not safe for others, that there was work to be done. It has continued to provide information: who needs help and where, what items are needed, how to contact others.
I have prided myself in my love of information: my friend Jeremy joked that “information is my hobby” and my need to know everything often dominates my day—current events, random facts, information about place. Before I moved to Tuscaloosa, I researched everything about it—average rainfall, the most popular major at the University, the birthplace of the backup left tackle. In a way, it helped me explain my move; I was scared and not ready to pack everything up and move South, a place that I had never been to and simply heard about—I was set to move to Boston or Pittsburgh when the offer from Alabama came in. I spent my day at work researching: do they have a record store, what bars are down there, is there anything? That was six years ago.
And so, that’s what I’ve been doing: assembling information and passing it on. Finding out where folks in the English Department are and what state their lives are in. Contacting students and former students. Just passing everything on. Barry & I have been hosting dinners at our house the past couple of nights and assembling folks together—just to have all of our friends in one place is a great comfort. I have cooked more pasta in the past two days than I have in my entire life. Carl & Ginger came down from Birmingham with tons of food and produce and we are incredibly thankful for their generosity.
My friends have been amazing: heading down into the Forest Lake & Alberta City areas (the two hardest hit spots) and helping out however they can—my friend Farren recounted a story of being thrown a giant log by a Marine and tossing it on the pile. The Marine realized what he had done and said “you’re pretty good for a girl”. We are all pretty good for what we are—of this I am certain. In fact, I would say we are all better than what we are at this moment.
It is bad down here. There is no sugar-coating that. But everyday things get better—our Mayor has done an incredible job, and the local response has been great—volunteers outnumber homeowners two-to-one. A call goes out for volunteers and in less than an hour, a message goes out saying that they’re at capacity and to head to another spot to help out. It has been impressive and inspiring. The response from outside of Tuscaloosa has been great as well—I am proud of our President for reacting so quickly and coming down here as soon as possible. Brian Williams was supposed to cover the Royal Wedding and hopped on a flight to Alabama from London in order to help. We need all of the help we can get, but we are not waiting for it. Reports are that the National Guard is a bit overwhelmed with where to step in as everyone is working their asses off. I hope and believe that this will continue well into the summer and as long as we are needed.
I started writing this as a way to thank everyone who has offered their support and their thoughts and prayers, especially those in the writing community. People I've never met, editors, publishers, other writers, people I've said hello to at AWP once have been e-mailing me nonstop asking for ways to help, whether it's send care packages or wondering where they can donate food/money/etc. It is all greatly appreciated and we are indebted to you. I am assembling an eBook of writing about Tuscaloosa where people can download it and make a donation. I have always had a great amount of pride in my town and the people in it, especially the quality of work that is coming forth from it. It is amazing to witness and I am proud—details forthcoming, but it should be assembled by next week. I hope that Tuscaloosa folks will contribute and everyone else will give a donation.
For those who want to help, this website has a great list of places where people outside of Tuscaloosa can donate:
Furthermore, the Red Cross will be taking over operations in the coming weeks, so any help you can provide them will certainly help us down here.
Commonly, I hear “You live in Alabama? Why?” from folks up north. The effort that has been put forward during these past few days is why. Tuscaloosa has given me more than I can ever repay it for, and now that it needs my help, I am trying the best that I can. One of the jokes I heard a lot when I first moved to Alabama is “You’re studying writing in Alabama? Do they even know how to write?” The short answer is yes: they do know how to write. They know how to do a lot of things. They know how to come together. They know how to love. They know how to rebuild.
Needless to say I am so incredibly thankful and excited about this--my first tangible book, to hold, to turn the pages of, to give to people as gifts. I can't even express how overjoyed I am about this: just know that I've had tears in my eyes five different times today and my stomach has been a giant knot of cotton candy and cupcakes and everything queasy and wonderful.
I hope you'll consider pre-ordering the book--many thanks to Roxane Gay for being an amazing editor & person & champion of all things indie, and a special thank you to Betsy Seymour for providing the photograph for the cover.
And thanks to you all, for reading and for your kind words. I am indebted to all of you.