Propeller JANUARY 2010
books music art film life
Vincent Moon’s Fiume Nights
“I really have no desire to see anything that is circulating in the mainstream”
Plus: David Byrne’s Diaries vs. Albert Camus’ Notebooks Debra Gwartney on Memoir Alex Behr on Mortification Robots! Lizards! Čapek! Nous Vous Collectively Bodies of Water Aphoristically But wait: Does Chicago get cold? Of course Chicago gets cold. Prove it. Fine. 18 pages of photos inside.
FICTION BY ALAN LIMNIS | POEMS BY JANINE OSHIRO AND MANDE ZECCA
Propellercontents 24 | Debra Gwartney was told not to open the envelope
30 | Vincent Moon wants to see what is possible
44 | Karel Čapek and anthropomorphic apocalypse
74 | Nous Vous was hanging out anyway
The author of Live Through This talks about memory, photos, and how she wrote the story of her daughters’ time on the streets.
Many consider the Czech writer of robots and warring newts a forefather of speculative fiction. A look at his life reveals he didn’t have to speculate much. By Evan P. Schneider
104 | It still feels like betrayal
The creator of the “Take Away Shows” explains why there is no difference between the way he lives and what he creates.
The Leeds-based design collective discusses creativity, autonomy, and why they have some of their best ideas when they’re in the pub.
When you read your childhood diaries aloud to a Mortified crowd, who are you getting revenge against? By Alex Behr
30 74 24
86 | Chicago in Winter
Eighteen pages of photos by Mike Datz
Propellercontents 8 | Shop Spoonbill & Sugartown The Brooklyn bookstore turns ten.
12 | Music Bodies of Water
The Los Angeles band completes our aphorisms, and then suggests some of their own.
20 | Library Camus’ Notebooks 1935-1942
Reading the writer’s fragments, seventy-five years later. Review by Sarah Kruse
16 | Aisles David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries
A different kind of cinematic literature. Review by Benjamin Craig
40 | Comic Chanterelles By John Isaacson
58 | Poems Janine Oshiro
“Snow Logic” and “Move”.
118 | Poems Mande Zecca
“Eclogue” and “False True Love”.
124 | Work Shayla Hason
Navigating the tricky landscape of the “creative” job.
138 | Fiction The Career Aspirations of Young Michael Cullen By Alan Limnis
148 | Aside Twenty-One Indices From the 2010 San Francisco Yellow Pages and One We Made Up By Casey L. Quinlan and Matthew Hein
“My guess was that it would take even the fiercest Hun the better part of a winter to cross the glacial waterfalls and wind-blasted woods of those mountain wilds before he was able to reach the open edge of Lonoff ’s hayfields, rush the rear storm door of the house, crash through into the study, and, with spiked bludgeon wheeling high in the air above the Olivetti, cry out in a roaring voice to the writer tapping out his twenty-seventh draft, ‘You must change your life!’” — Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer
Propeller Volume 2, Issue 1 January 2010 Editor Dan DeWeese Managing Editors Lucas Bernhardt Benjamin Craig Evan P Schneider Contributing Editors Sheaâ€™la Finch Matthew Hein Alison Schneider Lisa Sibbett Keri Thomas Design Presence/Absence Information Notebook www.propellermag.com Archives Store Letters firstname.lastname@example.org Submissions email@example.com Publication January April July October
SPOONBILL & SUGARTOWN A DECADE OF BOOKSELLING
POLYVERSALISM • FUSION • BREATHING “WE TAKE A DIM VIEW OF HISTORY AND ACTUALLY HAVE NO SECTION FOR IT.”
Brooklyn’s Spoonbill & Sugartown is a bookstore that has delighted us on more than one occasion, so when we noticed that the store recently celebrated a decade of bookselling, we took the occasion to ask a few questions (via email) of Jonas Kyle, one of the store’s co-owners.
perhaps the only one in existence. The main criterion by which we are what we are is that we reject universalism in favor of polyversalism— the instinctual assumption that the energies that drive us are distinct, ununified and many. We appreciate people who have savoir-faire (in other words, people who know how to live), and Propeller: Spoonbill & Sugartown turned ten we seek to provide books that inspire them. years old this past fall. What would you say you have offered the reading public over the past de- Propeller: Amazon and other online bookcade? sellers (not to mention physical stores like the Barnes & Noble and Borders behemoths) have Jonas Kyle: We are a post-modern bookstore, existed the entire time you’ve been in operation,
but you’ve managed to maintain a successful everyone. Men have to rethink themselves from small business in the face of constant competi- the bottom up, this is instinctually known, but tion. How is that? very few have thought about this, let alone tried it. We also have no section for science because Jonas Kyle: In plain English, we have weighed that is another man’s game, some preposterous in on the battle on American soil between men attempt to get to the bottom of things by absoand women, and have taken the side of the lutely boring, empirically verifiable and pissing women. Thus we take a dim view of history and in the wind strategies. actually have no section for it, seeing as most of history is “who killed whom” and which men Propeller: So you’ve been selective with what strut around vainly seeking for total control over you sell. If not “men’s” books, then, what kinds
of material do you tend to offer your customers? Jonas Kyle: We prefer art, design and storytelling, although we know at this date that all three are still hag-ridden (isn’t that a paradox) by history, science and the masculine tendency in any situation to say, “Me first!” In this new millennium the world is a hostile place for those who want to breathe and be independent in their own space, but we feel it will eventually get better, and we have devoted our energies toward this goal. Propeller: What’s in store for Spoonbill & Sugartown in the coming decade? Jonas Kyle: In December we released a book about the store produced by the entire Spoonbill staff. It has been quite an effort on everyone’s part and we are happy that it is coming to fruition. The name of it is This Is My Book, This Is Your Book. It fuses together our customers, the books we carry, and our own experiences in, if I may say so, a well-choreographed way. Half of the book consists of photo portraits of customers and the book or books they are buying. It is surprisingly intriguing to peruse this photo essay. The other half presents short pieces by the staff that have to do with Spoonbill in particular or books and bookstores in general. There will soon be a page on our website about it and how to purchase it for twenty dollars. Ω
Spoonbill & Sugartown, Booksellers 218 Bedford Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11211 Telephone: 718.387.7322 spoonbillbooks.com
BODIES OF WATER
THE BAND OFFERS WISDOM ON
LOVE • WEALTH • THE ROAD TO PALM DESERT “WE STILL CAN’T AGREE ON A COMMON HAIRSTYLE.”
Start/Finish Rather than doing a standard interview, Propeller suggested to Los Angeles band Bodies of Water that perhaps we would learn more about them if we supplied the first part of a possible aphorism, and the band completed it. Being a group of gracious and fun-loving souls, they agreed. The results: Enroll in fall, graduate in spring, and in the summer...enlist. To judge a man’s wealth...put your hand in his pocket; what do you feel? Forgotten love...little deaths. The road to Palm Desert is...lined with windmills. The unrepentant litterbug...is such a bozo! Do not taper another’s pants...unless you love them very, very much. Better to ride in the trunk than...just be in the trunk. Silence...is the fruit of a loveless marriage. A ‘hot lick’ never...won a good woman’s heart.
To spoil...for a fight is the surest sign of a repressed oedipal urge. You can’t park a golf cart...in the hinterlands. As like as...we are, we still can’t agree on a common hairstyle. An honest man and a card table...will soon be the centerpiece of the craft fair. The devil is...neither ill nor cure. Insults should be...invitations to pity. Be careful to whom you...are into. The band then suggested it would be fun if we completed a few aphorisms that they started. We agreed, doing our best not to admit to ourselves that this was probably exactly what we’d hoped for.
It is not that great men make history, it is that...the History Channel has to fill twenty-four hours with programming every day. Keep your eyes on the prize and your hands...No, keep your eyes on the road. Eyes on the road, please! Modern times call for...us, but we always pretend we’re not at home. It’s so crazy! Modern times are talking to us, right on the phone, but we say we’re not us. We take a message. If you’re always walking uphill...maybe you’re in a Rocky movie? II? No, that was catching a chicken. IV? Wait, that was pulling a sled in Russia. Was it V? Rocky V? Beer for breakfast makes...its own gravy. Check your email today, because tomorrow...actually, you’ll probably win a foreign lottery again tomorrow. Or if not tomorrow, the day after. So yeah, go ahead and skip email. An empty building...is often secretly occupied by the staff of a quarterly magazine. Tell no one. Ω
DIARIST, MOBILE A REVIEW CONSIDERING
“CINEMATIC” LITERATURE • FREE ASSOCIATION “AT SOME POINT THE CHARACTER THAT ALLEN PLAYS BEGINS A MONOLOGUE.”
Bicycle Diaries David Byrne Review by Benjamin Craig
ooks are occasionally recommended to me as “cinematic,” and therefore appealing to someone like me, who enjoys films. I’ve always found it a strange way to describe a book, though, and I tend to avoid those books, because after jumping into the first few recommendations enthusiastically, I have learned that “cinematic” is frequently a synonym for “epic,” or, even worse, that it is a descriptor for character pieces set in vast landscapes. With an exception here and there, I don’t particularly like such grand films or books. Because I’m more of a Woody Allen fan than a John Ford fan, I’m also more of a Philip Roth fan than a Larry McMurtry fan. So David Byrne’s newest book, Bicycle Diaries, took me by surprise. It felt so...cinematic. It is not grand in scale or epic in scope. There are
no characters to speak of, unless you count Byrne, whose eccentricities occasionally find their way into scenes, as the book consists primarily of descriptions of cities and some historical and cultural perspective to facilitate Byrne’s analysis of their design and aesthetic. But Bicycle Diaries is still cinematic—just more of a Woody Allen kind of cinematic. In more than one of his films, Allen plays a little trick with his camera. He places two characters on a couch or a bench and lets the camera capture them talking in a single shot. At some point the character that Allen plays begins a monologue, then stands up and walks out of frame. The camera stays put while we hear the rest of the monologue, but all we see is the quiet reaction of his co-star while he waxes psychoanalytic.
Bicycle Diaries has many of these moments. Byrne has a special gift for allowing our gaze to hold on a detail of the city he is describing while he begins to ponder its significance and place it in some kind of context. Each city is a chapter, with the exception of the first, in which Byrne covers several U.S. cities before spending the rest of the book primarily in Europe, with an occasional detour to Rio de Janeiro or Manila. In this way the book is cinematic. The camera lingers on the window of a medical supply shop in Berlin displaying an archaic and moderately confusing triangle of nonsensical food groups, while the narrator muses on the collective memory of the German people contained in the decaying old communist party headquarters. The two ideas correspond in Byrne’s seemingly spontaneous observation that “...it’s a cliché that neglect equals preservation, but there’s some truth there as well.” If the ideas seem disparate it is because they are. Byrne free associates often but skillfully. His observations are careful and detailed. His analyses are sometimes didactic, but always thoughtful. In his chapter on London he asks, “Can’t you be judged by what you do, make, and say, and not by what caste you were born into?” The question seems naïve only if you haven’t read Byrne’s mediation on class and the proliferation of private clubs in London leading up to
“The camera lingers on the window of a medical supply shop in Berlin displaying a confusing triangle of nonsensical food groups, while the narrator muses on the collective memory of the German people contained in the old communist party headquarters.” it. In context, the line comes across as heartfelt and a bit frustrated. This is a book that reads quickly, because it’s so interesting. One complaint: the bicycle is sometimes painfully injected at the beginning and end of a chapter, to bookend an otherwise bicycle-free experience of a city. Byrne hops on his bicycle in sentence one, and off of it at the end of the chapter. It appears his editors felt he needed the concept to hold the book together structurally. Fortunately, another thread emerges as well. The chapters come from Byrne’s travel journals, and the locations naturally correspond
with Byrne’s tour dates between roughly 1995 and 2007. He describes collaborations with local artists and reflects on the has-been status many seem to afford him in his post-Talking Heads career. It hardly matters, though, that the book is not particularly about cycling—it’s a success. And Byrne’s attention likely could not have held steady enough to capture these cities in such stark detail had he not been moving through them at bicycling speed. Ω
WITH REFLECTIONS ON
HAPPINESS • DEATH • BEING NAKED
“THE TERRIBLE INNOCENCE OF GAMES ON THE BEACH AND BARE BODIES IN BOUNDING LIGHT”
Notebooks 1935-1942 Albert Camus Review by Sarah Kruse
lbert Camus never intended to publish his notebooks. Despite the fact that we are told that little of Camus the man remains in these private writings—the editor notes a rare instance of autobiography in Camus’ decision not to accept a teaching post— something more emerges. Isn’t Camus’ description of the sun and women autobiographical in itself? How is what an artist sees any different from the ordinary experiences of his life? The power of Camus’ writing is his way of seeing. In the Notebooks, we see the fragments that will become Camus’ hot beach in The Stranger, conversations in The Plague, and occurrences of the Absurd in a world approaching war that
will become The Myth of Sisyphus. What is fascinating is seeing the author not composing developed works of genius (Camus won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957), but collecting fragments. Snippets of conversation overheard on streetcars and in cafés, conventionally uninteresting events taken from a newspaper, and Camus’ simple and painfully beautiful descriptions of the night, or sky, or sea: “Evenings on the sea knew no restraint. The sunbaked days on the sand dunes were overwhelming. At two in the afternoon, you feel drunk after walking a hundred yards along the burning sand. In a moment you feel you will fall and be slain by the sun. In the morning, the beauty of brown
bodies against yellow sand. The terrible innocence of games on the beach and bare bodies in bounding light.” Camus’ fascination with light and physical experience, happiness, and death are themes woven throughout his novels. There seems to be no separation between his fiction and his life as he works through these ideas, finding them in his surroundings, his books, and his daily work. This, of course, becomes the struggle a writer lives with, since the world-as-everything can become consuming. Perhaps for Camus, his struggle is always with the world—it becomes his work, but in the act of seeing, it becomes difficult to live, because one is left small and naked. Camus once said Meursault was a “poor naked man enamored of a sun that left no shadows.” But in the Notebooks on September 25, 1937, the twenty-four year old Camus writes, “’Being naked’ always has associations of physical liberty, of harmony between the hand and the flowers it touches, of a loving understanding between the earth and men who have been freed from human things. Ah, I should become a convert to this if it were not already my religion.” For Camus, this is the only possible religion one can have. Ω
“We struggle and suffer to reconquer our solitude. But a day comes when the earth has its simple and primitive smile. Then, it is as if the struggles and life within us were rubbed out. Millions of eyes have looked at this landscape, for me it is like the first smile of the world. It takes me out of myself, in the deepest meaning of the expression. It assures me that nothing matters except my love, and that even this love has no value for me unless it remains innocent and free. It denies me a personality, and deprives my suffering of its echo. The world is beautiful, and this is everything. The great truth which it patiently teaches me is that neither the mind nor even the heart has any importance. And that the stone warmed by the sun or the cypress tree swelling against the empty sky set a boundary to the only world in which ‘to be right’ has any meaning: nature without men. This world reduces me to nothing. It carries me to the very end.” —Albert Camus, 1937
A CONVERSATION TOUCHING ON GORNICK • CONROY • OLD PHOTOS
“I DIDN’T WRITE ABOUT THE STREETS. I STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED ON THE STREETS, TO MY DAUGHTERS—I DON’T THINK I EVER WANT TO KNOW.”
Debra Gwartney’s memoir, Live Through This, was published in 2009 and shortlisted for numerous year-end awards. Featured in People magazine and on Good Morning America, the book is related to a This American Life segment Gwartney did in 2002 about her relationship with her daughters, who left home to live on the streets for a period of time when they were teenagers. Gwartney spoke to us recently about how she approaches the challenge of memoir writing. Propeller: We first suggested discussing photographs with you, because we thought looking at old photos would be something a memoirist would naturally do in order to think about the past. But your response was that you didn’t look at any while writing your memoir. Why not? Do you think your writing would have been different if you had looked at photos? And if so, how? Debra Gwartney: Your question made me think about the birth of my grandson—it was a happy time, of course, but I also remember an odd va-
cancy and sadness that I couldn’t seem to shake, which had to do with my inability to recall, with the specificity I suddenly longed for, my own infants. I held this tiny, soft baby who was my daughter’s son, and though I could conjure up fragments and flashes of my own four babies, it was impossible to recreate a sustained, long memory of their brand-newness, their smells, their own soft skin. I mentioned this odd frustration to a poet, Bill Wadsworth, and he expressed some of his thoughts about our now child-centered culture. He thinks that much of our attitudes about our children can be traced to photographs. That is, before the advent of photography, parents had to know and deal with the child right in front of them, the one day old, the five year old, the fourteen year old, etc. But once we had albums stuffed with pictures (not to mention videos), we could easily return to at least an aspect of our children’s infancies; through media, we had access to some of those sweetest of sweet sensations, the visual representation of them anyway, and could dwell there again, if only briefly. So
“My house was full of photographs of my daughters as babies while those same daughters as teenagers were gone to the streets.” maybe, he said, this preciousness we’ve created has come in part from overlaying our children with thousands of images of themselves from birth on. I thought about his statements while I was finishing the book—maybe I don’t quite get what he was saying, but I had a visceral reaction to this notion of returning to old photos in order to recapture what seemed in retrospect to be a calmer, nicer, more manageable time than that which was happening at the moment. I realized that my house was full of photographs of my daughters as babies while those same daughters as teenagers were gone to the streets. This remained true during the years I was writing the book—the infant/little girl snapshots had been
set out long before, and all of the images were of gleeful children who adored their mom and fit right into the concept of family I’d created. I didn’t set the images out on purpose, to serve the writing or not serve it, but I walked past the frames constantly, relying on them as talismans (I realize now—didn’t realize then), or perhaps markers in a road I was still trying to sort out. When the publicist at HMH asked me for photos of the girls during “that time” (when they were hopping trains, gone from me and our home), I realized that of course I had none. You can’t take pictures of people who aren’t there. I asked my oldest daughter, Amanda, and she sent an envelope of photos to my house to pass on to Houghton Mifflin, but she’d written a note
in pencil on the outside asking me not to look in. I don’t have the note any longer, but it said something like, “they’d upset you too much.” I did open the envelope and peeked at the pile of prints inside, but I didn’t pull out the pictures. I was actually terrified of what was in there. Because even though I’ve written a book about the months my daughters lived on the streets, I wrote only about a woman in a warm, protected house worried out of her mind about her family’s destruction. I didn’t write about the streets. I still don’t know what happened on the streets, to my daughters—I don’t think I ever want to know, and certainly don’t need to see evidence of whatever they made of themselves out there. One of the photos Amanda sent HMH is the cover. She took it herself, stretching out her arm to snap it with a disposable camera somewhere in their travels. Propeller: So what kinds of items or techniques did you use to recall the time you cover in your book? Or is it even that simple? Were there times that while you were walking down the street and some memory or detail came back to you? It seems like there are a writer’s conscious techniques for creating material, and then other, subconscious processes at work as well. Debra Gwartney: When I decided I wanted
to write about this troubled time in my family’s life—and when I finally, painfully, realized that the only aspect I could authentically write about was my own conflicted self (rather than my daughters’ motives and inner lives)—I took it upon myself to study the book-length memoirs I most admire (Stop-Time; Speak, Memory; Fierce Attachments; and Duke of Deception, among others) and came to understand the critical nature of scene in those books. I also studied Gornick’s The Situation and The Story and a few other books on the writing of personal narrative, and came to believe that the quality that stands out about these volumes I admire is the writer’s ability to seamlessly weave scene with the voice of the reflective narrator. That is, the “I” in the moment, in the action, interwoven with the “I” looking back on that time to try to come to terms with what happened, as well as to accept her own agency in the dynamic. So, I began with scene. I tried (and often failed) not to construct the scene in my mind before I sat down to write it, but to come to the page with perhaps two or three striking details: teenagers handing out sandwiches on the streets of San Francisco, for instance, or the anarchist symbols my daughters had painted on the walls of their bedrooms, or sitting on my bed reading Where the Red Fern Grows to my youngest children. I found that if I could enter the moment of
writing with these images jangling around in my mind, not yet pinned down, then deeper images/experiences had more opportunity to bubble up and appear in the prose as a sort of surprise. I tended to write a fairly brief scene, then another, maybe another after that, and then I’d go do something else— bake bread, or take a walk, or sweep the floor—and to not dwell on what I’d just written. When this method (ploy?) worked best, I’d find that suddenly a theme or a point I most wanted to explore would roll out of some deep recess of my mind as the connective tissue I needed to begin to pull images together into meaningful prose. It didn’t always work that way, but when I managed to open a portal of sorts to my unconscious memories and allow them to find their way out, I felt like I was really getting somewhere. Patricia Hampl, in her brilliant essay “Memory
and Imagination,” advises to refrain from telling the story (memoir) what it’s about, but rather to let it tell you what it’s about. The method I described is my attempt to do that. She also writes in that essay that, “Memoir seeks a permanent home for feeling and image, a habitation where they can live together in harmony.” It seems to me that every memoirist has to embrace the fact that memory is not static, but is instead highly malleable, and that our memories shift, change, or alter themselves to suit our identities at particular times in our lives. I believe that memoir writing is almost always better when the writer asks herself not “what do I remember,” but rather, “why do I remember it that way?” The way I shaped my own memories of past events, and how those distinctly-shaped memories served me, was one of the driving forces of the book I wrote. Ω
From Live Through This: “Even after Amanda and Stephanie were gone, I pretended with my younger girls that this was a phase, a fit their sisters would get over soon and then come bounding home, looking for food and beds and hot showers. Except eleven-year-old Mary would wake up crying in the middle of the night because rain was driving against our roof and I couldn’t promise her that Amanda and Stephanie were warm and safe. Or Mollie’s teacher would call to tell me she’d found my fourthgrade daughter crossing the bridge over the highway again because she had to go search for her sisters. That’s when I’d realize that the same images in my mind filled my daughters’ minds, too. Amanda and Stephanie out there somewhere, asking for money as strangers passed by, eating food pilfered from garbage cans or gathered up at shelters. The drugs whistling through their bodies. The dirty corners they were sleeping in, the trains they jumped to get from town to town. The railroad security men who beat them with flashlights and chased them with dogs. Where did they find toilet paper or soap or clean underwear or socks without holes? How were they getting by without us, without me—the shelter of our roof and a mother who, though I was worn-out and shorttempered more often than I should have been, wanted more than anything to take care of my children?”
“I WANT TO SEE WH CREATOR OF Jason Quicley
TAKEAWAY SHOWS • FIUME NIGHTS • TEM
“THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE WAY I LIVE AND THE WAY I WORK AND WHAT I CREATE.”
HAT IS POSSIBLE”
Vincent Moon: It’s the way I approach life, I guess. There is no difference between the way I live and the way I work and what I create. You should not forget that I don’t have a home anymore. I guess it comes from a certain idea, a specific desire to be on the road and be in a life that values cinema, music, and improvised events and to make those my life and work. We have access to so much information in so many different fields and so many different technologies today. I’m just so damn curious about everything around me. It’s not just one genre of art that I make, then, I guess, but a life. I’m just Propeller: How do you conceive of your work? a guy and I hope maybe that what I do inspires What are you doing or offering that no one else people to do whatever they want to do. You see is? from my work that it is very simple. Anybody For several years now, Vincent Moon has been directing films of live music, mostly on the streets of Paris, that he calls Les Concerts a Emporter, or “Take Away Shows.” There’s a refreshing aura of nonchalance to Moon’s work. One part low-fi vintage and one part haphazard chance, he posts the shows to his website, La Blogotheque (www.blogotheque.net), where there are hundreds to watch. Propeller spoke to Moon over the phone recently. He had just returned to Paris after extended traveling.
Above and below: Beirut: Paris, 2007.
Andrew Bird: Paris, 2007.
Menomena: Paris, 2007.
Above and below: Kazuki Tomokawa: Osaka, 2009.
can go out and make music and videotapes. The process is very uncomplicated and that is something I want to show people, that they should just go do. Propeller: As a filmmaker, are there any directors you’d site as inspirations? Any anti-inspirations, filmmakers you don’t want to be like or films that you just don’t want to make? Vincent Moon: I don’t feel very inspired by cinema today, to tell you the truth. I don’t even watch any movies anymore. If I watch anything, it’s art cinema, and I really have no desire to see anything that is circulating in the mainstream. It’s a very expensive industry and I feel very,
very weird about it, all the money that goes into creating these films. Cinema is at its core, though, such a beautiful thing, so the question really becomes: How are these industries [music and film] going to survive? Frankly speaking, I don’t fucking care. I don’t care about the industries. I feel very strongly against making lots of money. Period. My main questions are: How do people make and create? How do they do their stuff? Music and creation have never been more exciting than they are right now and I want to see what is possible. Propeller: How do you choose the artists or musicians with whom you work? And in the performances you’ve recorded so far, has there
Arcade Fire: Paris, 2007.
Grizzly Bear: Paris, 2006.
been any compensation for them? Are record new person, some new musician or performer companies and labels involved in that process? who is great and to let them show it. Vincent Moon: Mainly nowadays bands and musicians just contact me and say they’d like to make a movie. I don’t talk anymore to fucking industry people or labels; I just talk to people. Musicians need PR, no doubt, but music itself doesn’t need labels. My work is available to everyone and exists openly online and via Creative Commons and I tell musicians this upfront. If they don’t want that, they shouldn’t work with me. We have to move forward and try to work within a new paradigm. I myself am constantly striving and just want to maybe discover some
Propeller: What are some of the worst experiences you’ve had recording? Any horror stories to speak of? Vincent Moon: I’ve been really lucky so far. Nothing poor has really resulted from any of the sessions I’ve done. I’ve never been a big fan of the final product and I find myself caring less and less about the final video. And with that in mind, how could any of these performances be failures, you know?Ω
ANTHROPOMORPH INCLUDING MEDITATIONS ON
ROBOT LOVE • TALKING NEWTS • SELF D
“‘OH, GOD, WHO IS HERE?’ THE SCIENTISTS ASK I
By Evan P. Schneider
n 1920, Karel Čapek was thirty years old and unhappy with the political stance of the Prague newspaper that employed him as a cultural editor. He and his brother Josef had already (at the same time Karel was working at the daily paper) started their own satirical weekly, but for his next writing project, Karel moved on from journalism. What he wrote instead was a play, which he titled R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). While the last word of the title (derived from the Czech robota, or serf labor) was a lexical creation Karel credited to Josef, the play itself featured a relatively uncomplicated storyline. A desire for the computerization of work, standardization of produced goods, and “the cheapest labor” drives humans to create some-
thing that will work in their stead: humanoid machines. In essence, humans are terrible workers and deserve better anyway, so why not make this whole deal easier for everyone, and let machines grow food and make clothes and raise children? Finally, after all these centuries of doing things themselves, people can sit back and relax! It doesn’t work out. At the story’s climax, the team of scientists who have been in charge of creating and disseminating the world’s working class machines are trapped in their office, surrounded by insurgent robots with orders from their leader to kill every human on the planet. In their most terrible moment together, however—in that last hour when they have a
chance to provide humanity a glimmer of hope by destroying the robot blueprints and thereby preventing the machines from multiplying— the scientists instead decide to trade the blueprints to the robots in exchange for their personal freedom. It’s a laughably sad scene, not only because it reveals the selfishness that lies at the core of human nature, but also because that plan, too, doesn’t work: one of the scientists burned the designs several hours earlier, without telling the rest of the group. Next, the human gobetween dies in negotiations when he tries to climb an electric fence. Like a pathetic group of mice trapped in a maze of their own devising, the last remaining humans run around the room, arguing and crying out in lament. The head scientist crouches in desperation and, musing on his life’s work, asks his hands aloud, “How could you? — Hands that used to love honest work, how could you do such a thing? My hands! My hands!” Then, there’s a knock at the door. “Oh, God, who is here?” the scientists ask in unison. It’s the robots.
orn in 1890 in Malé Svatonovice, Bohemia (located in present day Czech Republic), Karel Čapek would not stray far from disastrous themes throughout his career. Often
grouped with Huxley and Orwell as a writer of “speculative fiction,” Čapek was deeply interested in where humanity was headed. Unlike much science-fiction work that succeeded it, for instance, R.U.R.’s chief concerns are not with the evolution of technology, but instead with that of humanity. For Čapek, reasoning that had prioritized results and streamlined moneymaking over process and health had led to a slippery slope on which humanity was ignorantly perched. Čapek’s recurring argument is at its core a Marxist one: humans come to recognize that their hardships are a result of having been separated from the production of the things they rely on for survival. Below the surface, however, and deeper than a merely theoretical distancing from work, Čapek offers an eerily accurate estimation of the effects of actual automation, and how it may conceivably doom the human race. In nascent 20th century Eastern Europe, Čapek lived surrounded by several fearful developments, and those take the spotlight in his work. Filled with the language of oppression, revolution, tyranny, and disillusionment, much of his best work revolves around humans who repeatedly make shortsighted and selfish choices. Not unlike A Brave New World and 1984, therefore, Čapek’s writing deals with the ethical implications of progress: given the
“By 1938, Hitler was at Czechoslovakia’s door, and the Gestapo had named Čapek the country’s public enemy number two.” power to control one another, and capable of unleashing newfound technological advances, Čapek wonders in his work what sorts of decisions humankind will end up making. He wasn’t shy about acting on his concerns, either. As a teen, he had been expelled from a high school for belonging to a banned student group. After finishing R.U.R., he resigned his position at the newspaper whose politics he disliked, and political activism remained a central interest for him. Employing a variety of genres over the years (ranging from fairy tales to drama to novels to political nonfiction), Čapek remained concerned with how humanity would survive through continued world wars. He even struck up a friendship with Czechoslovakia’s first president, inviting him to weekly salons
Čapek hosted. Despite his concerns and advocacy, world events did not turn in his favor. By 1938, Hitler was at Czechoslovakia’s door, and the Gestapo had named Čapek the country’s public enemy number two. He refused to flee his country, but at the end of the year he came down with double-pneumonia, and died on December 25. His early death, however, probably saved him from a worse fate: his brother and collaborator Josef died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. These days, Čapek is often mentioned—when mentioned at all—in that role as a forefather of speculative fiction. Even a brief glance at his biography, however, is enough to make clear that his material about annihilation and the dehumanizing effects of totalitarianism are decid-
edly not speculative. He lived them.
efore his death, though, Čapek finished another defining project: War With the Newts, a novel that tells the story of what happens when humans discover a species of intelligent amphibian and, for the novelty and economy of it, teach them to speak, work, and in turn, fight. Again eager for progress and unwilling to think decisions through to their possibly dire consequences, Čapek’s humans bring about their own destruction by toying with nature and taking avaricious shortcuts. Near the end of the novel, a giant talking salamander states his demands to mankind over a crackling broadcast system. “Hello, you people!” he croaks. “Don’t get excited. We have no hostile intentions towards you. We only need more water, more coasts, more shallow water to live.” As dystopian narratives of this strain tend to go, a war between them and us inevitably breaks out, but true to Čapekian style, humankind loses. Despite having “no hostile intentions,” the newts conquer man swiftly and easily. In a rather unconventional manner, War With the Newts works its way to a culminating chapter called “The Author Talks to Himself,” in which the novel’s narrator tries to reassure his own inner consciousness that this couldn’t really happen. People really won’t go so far as to
“Despite having no ‘hostile intentions,’ the newts conquer man easily.”
foolishly destroy themselves trying to get ahead, will they? “It’s not so bad,” the author asserts in a moment of hope. “The world won’t perish because of the Newts, and mankind will be saved; it only needs time, and you will live to see it.” But then he pauses. “Please, can’t you do anything?” It’s a Cassandran internal dialogue directed, in actuality, at the reader. We can change things, can’t we? We can turn this around. It’s not too late! Alas, Čapek has bad news. “Do you think I wanted any of this to happen?” the author asks. “I did what I could; I warned [people] in time. Nothing can be done to prevent it.” When we speak of Czech writers, our go-tos are usually only Kafka and Kundera (whose writing, many scholars have pointed out, is arguably more Western European than it is
“Not only does much of the conversation in Čapek’s work center on creation and collapse, but also, like Paradise Lost, it is really about temptation.” Czech), and yet before Asimov, Bradbury, Dick, or Crichton, it was Čapek who warned us in literature about the problems that accompany mechanization, capitalism, and ambition. In both R.U.R. and War with the Newts, the drive for convenience and the desire to have things done for us is what puts humans at odds with each other and our own health. Čapek would not be surprised in the least that contemporary thinkers write manifestoes on eating (the slow food movement), letter writing (the slow communication movement), close-knit economies (the local movement), and eliminating debt (the responsible credit movement)—he wrote about the same problems that spawned these movements, and long before even the first Depression.
nd then there’s war. Robotic warfare has made it possible to attack without soldiers present, making war itself that much easier to wage. Hand to hand combat is as archaic as understanding where our food comes from (and what’s in it), knowing where our money goes when we purchase something, or understanding how our energy use is silently poisoning us. As a whole and in several concrete ways, Čapek’s work goes so far as to make a tidy bookend to Milton’s Paradise Lost. Not only does much of the conversation in Čapek’s work center on creation and collapse, but also like Milton’s work, it is really about temptation. If, as the story goes, we were created in God’s image but then betrayed him, Čapek assures us we will get our further comeuppance. Indeed, in attempting
to create our own paradise out of ease, convenience, and luxury, Čapek warns that if we don’t take great care with what (and why) we create and how we work, we may be in for a more devastating fall yet. While the consequences about which Čapek writes are dire, the work itself is also laced with fragments of hope in moments where characters realize that to live and eat by the toil of their
own efforts is deeply fulfilling. As such, War With the Newts and R.U.R. also resonate with echoes of other classic literature, from the intelligent horse Houyhnhnms who preach peace in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels to the dreadful experiments of Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein. The scientists in R.U.R. suggest that a being who “feels joy, plays the violin, wants to go for a walk, and in general requires a lot of things [is], in effect,
“So he urges the two robots to run off into the woods to be together, live simply, and love one another—like people.” superfluous.” But since humanity crumbles in Čapek’s futuristic world, that sort of unfeeling thought process is revealed to be our species’ Achilles’ heel. Working with one’s hands, taking walks, and wanting things, it turns out, are not only what make us human—they are what will actually save humanity. This idea is supported by the rather weird endings to Čapek’s work, strange philosophical prophecies in which humans die out, but the concept and prospect of humanity itself lives on. In War With the Newts, for example, the author, in musing with himself, mentions that it is possible that after the Newts have run their course and inevitably destroy themselves, too, humankind may be reborn in some valley, and work its way to prominence again, until we face the same questions and decisions. In R.U.R., before he dies, the lead scientist convinces himself that the two robots with whom he is speaking
deeply and truly feel for each other, and therefore might be more human than he originally thought. It’s a hopeful delusion, one that ignores scientific fact, and so he urges the two robots to run off into the woods to be together, live simply, and love one another—like people. But did Čapek really believe this was possible? Did he believe that any species, whether human, lizard, or robot, could at some point curb its collective desire to get what it wants most: money, rest, and luxury? Maybe not. “It occurred to me,” he once wrote, “that history is not made by great dreams, but by the petty wants of all respectable, moderately thievish and selfish people; i.e. everyone.” Ω
JANINE OSHIRO Two Poems
Snow Logic I In the world of telling, it is said that where the snow rushes the earth, the bears are white. My empty bowl is in the world of telling. Spoon, unfinished state of being a moon, my only handle. If in my empty bowl should live a bear, what color would reflect in his dark eyes?
II Certainly, my empty bowl is white. Certainly, the bear would look like snow. The weather report goes a long way to strip the color from his eyes. Snow sparks and flaws his vision. The gusts pick up and carry me his growl as a squeaky falsetto.
III Before I saw snow, I saw pictures of snow, and believed in it. And so of bears. Snow-blinded I am. A bear is nothing like its picture. Look up, look up. Bear interrupt my empty bowl of reason. Show me that the end I know is wrong.
Move On the first day, the sea squirt swims until finding a place of attachment.
When the woman smiles at me, I mouth the words, Iâ€™m sorry. My fatherâ€™s piss hits the creeping sheet of water flooding the street in front of her house. His elastic legs can point in every direction. His stream hits the surface then deflects into an arc that falls back down into his open mouth. When the woman smiles at me, I know she means how difficult it is to love.
On the first day, the sea squirt swims until finding a place of attachment.
I wish, I wish not to discuss these places that prong up. My insideâ€™s flower wonâ€™t. The petals splay and out comes.
On the first day, the sea.
To cleanse the organs, make your fist into an external one. Punch it into your stomach and double over as if in pain. Stay doubled, release. Now if you cut it off, can you serve it on a platter? Hand, say wing. Hand, say fight. Hand take flight to keep the water flowing.
Like an extra finger, my father pokes a needle into himself to flush out all the waste. He wants me to see him drain it out. He turns on the faucet of his belly. On the first day the sea squirt swims until finding a place of attachment
When people say my name, I think they mean me, but they may have someone else in mind. At the Waikiki Aquarium, I watch the frogfish all day. Brown and still like a piece of shit, it is anchored to the bottom of the tank. The sign says the frogfish looks like a little man. I look like my father. I reply to his face.
then, having no reason to move, the sea squirt eats its brain and tail.
On the first day, the end of the first day.
If attached, a pest; if of the open sea, pelagic. I love him.
This is almost the end of the pier. Not sky, not yet sea. After the end of the first dayâ€™s end. I am only one of many wellwishers. See how the piles root in two directions? When the boat pulls out automatically I wave when waved to from the deck.
Propeller: Who are Nous Vous and how long have you been working together?
Nous Vous: We shared a lot of interests: design, illustration, comedy, art, music, and more. We all actively pursued our interests and Nous Vous: Nous Vous is a collaboration we were all interested in what each other were between Jay Cover, William Edmonds, and doing. We decided to start a forum amongst Nicolas Burrows - at the moment. We have one ourselves to help support one anotherâ€™s pracmore member, Tom Hudson, who is currently tice and attempt to work together. taking some time concentrating on perusing a musical career. We like to design, illustrate, Propeller: How do artists benefit from workmake art, and generally seek places where we ing together as a collective? can apply our practice within our interests. We work on commercial projects, generally for the Nous Vous: Well, you have a broader skillset social sector but also make art, initiate projects, to use between you, and you can share proand exhibit where and when we can. Weâ€™ve duction costs, etc., but apart from practicalibeen working together for four years now, ties there is the constant dialogue going on slowly and less intensively at the beginning of between everyone, the friendly competition, our collaboration, and a lot more so now. moral support, a reason to be making things, a wider network of friends and possible colPropeller: What inspired you to come together leagues, and you can get more done physically. as the Nous Vous collective? I donâ€™t know how other collectives operate,
but we are very close in general; Nous Vous is not just getting together to do work, as such. It’s good to have our own time and space to do stuff, but as we hang out a lot anyway, it all sort of spills over. We have some of our best ideas when we’re in the pub or whatever, and aren’t supposed to be thinking about ‘work’! Propeller: Will you talk about some of the highlights you’ve experienced over the years you’ve been working together?
Nous Vous: It’s all a bit of a blur, really—it’s pretty much all been good. I think the highlights are generally when we’re exhibiting and we get a chance to get away together. It’s a lot of fun hanging out and putting some personal work up. Propeller: How has working as a collective shaped the evolution of your personal styles? Do you strive to maintain a singularity within the whole, or is there a certain level of expec-
tancy that your styles will develop in a somewhat synchronized manner?
and think ‘that might look good on these drawings I’ve been working on,’ and use it. None of us really care, because we have a lot of respect Nous Vous: Yeah, definitely, we go through for one another besides our practice, and we’re stages of our autonomous artwork becoming more than aware at this stage that we really aphomogenized into a similar style, but at other preciate the work produced by the other memtimes we seem to move away from one anbers. At this moment in time it’s more about other, pursuing different techniques, methods, us all developing our practice, together or etc. There’s always a certain amount of imitatautonomously. We all support one another, and ing amongst ourselves, even if it’s just the way we’re not afraid to admit we borrow from one someone draws a nose—another of us will look another—it only makes our individual styles
stronger and more progressive. We’ve been working together for some years now, and our perspective and interests have moved and developed together, as well as the work we produce. It’s very rare one of us will like a certain thing, style, or method and the others won’t, whether it’s a band, an artist, a designer, a craftsperson, an architect, a story teller, a poet, a writer—we generally have the same or a very similar perspective, and freakishly similar taste. If we played a game where we’d identify what the others liked out of a number of items, I’m pretty sure we’d be able to guess them all accurately.
able to fully realise what we want to do/are capable of in a commercial context. We tend to look forward to the next project immediately after finishing one, in the hope of being able to do it better next time. All the work we’ve done for bands is usually fun, though. Propeller: Can you talk about the inspiration for and the construction of the ‘Hortuseum’ project?
Nous Vous: It was fairly straightforward, really. We were commissioned as artists to produce a large scale sign that could be seen from across the river adjacent to the gallery spelling out Propeller: Will you elaborate on a few of your ‘Hortuseum’. It was to highlight a garden bed favorite/most interesting/more challenging installed by the gallery, exhibiting/documentprojects? ing numerous different growing vegetables, which were eaten in a big soup at the end of Nous Vous: Well, at the moment we have to the exhibition. Hortuseum was a composite make work for an exhibition with the Conword made up of ‘Horticulture’ & ‘Museum’. temporary Art Society, which is throwing us We decided it would be interesting to create into a slightly different arena than we’re used something that embodied the message and was to, so we’re all finding that interesting and also in itself part of an experiment, so we tried out challenging. I don’t know if there’s a favourite several ways of constructing this, and shapproject—I think we still feel like we’ve not been ing it with various materials, methods, etc. We
built a large scale wooden letterform framework, then wrapped the wooden framework with soil held by muslin. The soil had a mixture of nutrients and grass seeds, so the letters would grow and develop/fall apart over the course of the exhibition. Propeller: What are some of your favorite artists working today/what artists have or continually inspire you? Nous Vous: Working today there’s only a few, really. We’re most inspired by people who worked without any easy way of producing things—we feel there’s a lot that can be learnt from process which is being lost in contemporary practice. Process can inform ideas as much as simply thinking—materials and methods speak to you and give you ideas if you engage with them. This is why we find it really difficult to find individuals or groups we’re consistently inspired by at the moment. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy contemporary practitioners’ work—there are a lot of individual projects, pieces of work we enjoy. We like David Hockney, Jaakko Pallusvuo, Himaa, Misaki
Kawai. Propeller: What ten ingredients would you bring to a deserted island? Nous Vous: A pencil case x 2 A drumkit x 2 A cafetiere x 2 A coffee plant x 2 Swimming trunks x2 Propeller: Can you name a book that has changed you? Nous Vous: Here’s two: The Craftsman by Richard Sennett, and Design as Art by Bruno Munari. Ω
Photography by Mike Datz
Chicago in Winter
WHY WOULD WE BET ADOLESCE
By Alex Behr
TRAY OUR YOUNGER SELF? ENCE • DISTANCE • DIARY
“JOIN THE PEP CLUB? WHEN DREN ARE STARVING IN INDIA?”
ast spring at the Someday Lounge, a club at the edge of Portland, Oregon’s, moribund Chinatown, I saw a performance of Mortified, a revolving comedy show of adults sharing their adolescent gaffes. One guy sang his highschool-era lyrics written in the style of Rush. Another performer read her critiques of makeout sessions at Jewish summer camp. The club held about two hundred people, and the performances felt like a junior high talent show, only with booze, intentional irony, and better lighting. In the dark, I was laughing like a horse in a Looney Tunes cartoon, open mouthed, dumbstruck. On the sidewalk after the show, I recognized one of the performers, and asked how she got on the show. She said it was easy—she auditioned via the website. Before applying to Mortified, though, I had an attitude that was part sour grapes and part total crush. I knew I had the diary goods to be on the show, because Bananafish, my friend Seymour Glass’s fanzine in San Francisco, had excerpted my sixth-grade diaries long before Mortified existed. I like to portray myself as someone with my shit together, but my teen-age diaries prove how much of an effort it is. From 1977, age 12:
Dear Diary: I’m a Brain Butt! We—the talented kids—went on a field trip to a ship. Everyone had different names. It was fun. When we got back, people called us Brain Butts but I think it’s going to cool off. Last night I read an article in Newsweek about gifted kids. One kid is 12 and a sophomore at Michigan University! I think I’m in a group where there’s a lot of peer pressure not to show you’re smart and I think my mind is being wasted since courses aren’t too challenging. I’m not bragging, either. Entries like that fit with the anarchic purpose of Bananafish, which published found letters, record reviews of LPs with screws and dirt glued to the surface, and interviews with musicians who peed onstage. In the late-1980s and early 1990s, we took pride in being obscure. I never worried about the wrong people, i.e. my family or potential employers, reading it. In Bananafish, found letters and diary entries had the same literary value as fiction—or perhaps more so—and the found writing was often better. Seymour was the first to publish transcripts of the rantings of two drunks named Pete and Ray, which were secretly recorded by Eddie Lee Sausage. He later put out limited-edition Pete and
Ray audiotapes, CDs, and comic books, and catchphrases from the recordings permeated my friends’ conversations. (While writing this essay, in fact, I learned that Eddie Lee has made good use of the recordings—they’re referenced in the Washington Post and This American Life. Dang. Pete and Ray used to live around the corner from me in the Lower Haight. Now even
“Entries like that fit with the anarchic purpose of Bananafish, which published found letters, reviews of LPs with screws and dirt glued to the surface, and interviews with musicians who peed onstage.”
radio nerd-star Sarah Vowell has made some bucks analyzing them! See http://shutuplittleman.com/history.php?idd=5.) Yet unlike Seymour of Bananafish, the Mortified producers knew how to profit from others’ miseries. Mortified has books, t-shirts, and other products available on its website, and has gotten good press in many publications and media
outlets, including Newsweek and (hello) This American Life. I applied. I sent a journal entry to the website—something from when I was seventeen, recounting a conversation with my thenboyfriend: “Tonight Jimmy said the police came again and were surprised at all the registered guns in the house. It’s so funny that Stuart and Vera have so much money in guns yet hardly ever use them.” And I got the response I hoped for. Egan Danehy, the main Mortified producer in Portland, emailed and said, “We’re psyched to hear your stuff.” I was thrilled to get an audition, and immediately announced the news as a status update on Facebook. But I was also scared. Because now, I was risking the double mortification of being rejected by Mortified.
ortified Portland is an offshoot of Mortified Los Angeles. Danehy operates the Portland show with three other producers (including Megan Zabel, who edited my script), and told me he met Dave Nadelberg, Mortified’s founder, in Los Angeles. When Danehy moved here for work, he started the Portland franchise, which has been such a success that it’s moving from the 250-seat Someday Lounge to the Mission, a larger
“When I laughed at someone reading her diary entries about smoking pot and eating an apple that felt like it was ‘chewing itself,’ I felt like a drunk cultural anthropologist.” theater. Mortified operates in the same cultural sphere as other spoken-word shows in town, such as Back Fence. Every show has different participants, yet the same format: the promise of laughs and empathy toward performers foolish enough to show their old warts, or, in my case, burst boils. According to Mortified’s website lore, Nadelberg got the idea for the show in the late 1990s, when he passed around an old love letter he’d written. Eventually, he began staging people’s readings of saved notebooks and other ephemera, “all in the noble pursuit of self-degrada-
tion.” The first Mortified shows were staged in Los Angeles in 2002, by Nadelberg and a coproducer, Neil Katcher. The shows’ popularity led to similar shows in other cities, including Portland, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Nadelberg used savvy marketing and staging skills and the psychological insights of audiences and performers to make Mortified a moneyproducing octopus. The show’s success is obviously due primarily to people’s interest in self-disclosure—producers get thousands of potential entries, and participants are like guests on David Letterman’s “Stupid Human Tricks.” They appear one time, for two nights, and then the next show is different. The producers guarantee humor (Mortified is billed as a comedy show), and performers don’t get paid, except for drink tickets and comps to future shows. They are, to most of the audience, anonymous strangers—the crowd roots for them as generic failures, people compulsive enough to hold onto the diaries, home movies, scripts, and fiction we created in our most vulnerable years. There is, however, a second draw to Mortified: our willingness to view vernacular culture as authentic. When I laughed at someone reading her diary entries about smoking pot and eating an apple that felt like it was “chewing itself,” I felt like a drunk cultural anthropologist. In this
“I was accepted, though I was too much of a good thing. We chose earlier years than seventeen, when I most struggled to fit in.”
way, Mortified operates in the same vernacular world as projects set up by David Greenberger, publisher of Duplex Planet, which produces spoken-word performances and a long-running fanzine based on the words of people “who are old or in decline.” As Greenberger writes on his website, “Humor has always played a key role in my work, and this is for a most simple reason: humor is a step by which we get to know another person. Humor is the first socially acceptable level of emotional exchange.” The deeper attraction we feel to projects like Duplex Planet and Mortified, then, may stem from the fact that through humor, they offer us an understanding bits, keeping, for instance, my pop-culture references. (On going to a Bullets game in D.C.: of strangers that can feel sublime. “Larry Bird looks stupid but boy can he sink met the four Portland producers at Danehy’s those shots!”) Short, snappy quotes worked well work, an outpatient clinic for clients diag- onstage for a comedy crowd, and Megan made a nosed with schizophrenia. And I felt crazy, to story out of days and years of suburban banality. steal that word, reading aloud from my dia- She helped me, a shy, scattered person, create a ries—the real deal, the red-bound diaries with story arc. At the time, I was in graduate school warnings on the outside to my siblings to “keep pursuing an MFA in creative writing, and it was mentally freeing to give her unaltered material, out.” I was accepted, though I was too much of a as opposed to working through grueling regood thing. We chose earlier years than sev- writes, as I had to do for my degree. And though I don’t have qualms about exposenteen, when I most struggled to fit in. Megan Zabel, my editor, eventually read thirty-seven ing certain embarrassing moments from my pages of typed diary entries to cut and shape. life, I wasn’t sure how I would perform onstage. A marketing coordinator at Powell’s by day, she Despite being a musician, I’m an introvert. Also, worked on the script to shorten it to the best I feel physically ill rereading my handwriting,
“I tried to figure out strangers and read yourself out is differ but it still seems like emerge as a hologr
which has devolved over the years from precision to sloppy loops. It’s difficult to read the entries and not feel an existential pang. The New York Times recently complimented Michael Chabon for not “pimping out” his children in his collection of parenting essays, and that
phrase resonated with me as I tried to figure out why I wanted to stand in front of strangers and read my childhood diaries aloud. Pimping yourself out is different from pimping out your offspring, but it still seems like a betrayal. My past self couldn’t emerge as a hologram and smack me across the face, but I was risking a secondary form of humiliation: that people wouldn’t laugh, or worse, that they’d turn into a crowd of bullies, like ones from my past, and heckle me. I wanted to give my teen-age self some balls and emerge victorious—the winner of a cagefighting bout with all the junior high assholes. When Megan and I met to go over the final script, she said, “You can’t say, or indicate, that your material is funny” and “Don’t act, yet try to
why I wanted to stand in front of d my childhood diaries aloud. Pimping rent from pimping out your offspring, e a betrayal. My past self couldn’t ram and smack me across the face.” be the character you were then.” At first I practiced in a sing-songy voice that wasn’t working well; it grated on my husband, so I found a voice that worked: the voice of anger. I could be steady, like reading a children’s book to my son, but in my story, the main character gets her hair pulled by “jerks.” I channeled my inner Diamanda Galas, a scary performance artist who looks like Morticia, if Morticia ate children’s fingernails for breakfast. As a stage prop for Mortified, I put my typed script of teen-age journal entries inside a high school folder I’d saved, green and ratty and covered with writing. An anarchy sign formed the A in my full name, Alexandra, although in the early 1980s I was still called “Sandy.” I was San-
dy Behr, the former Brain Butt of Falls Church, Virginia. I also wrote a quote from Slaughterhouse Five: “I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.” It’s ironic I quoted Vonnegut on my folder, because I just write in a diary to keep my emotional shit together. There’s no wider moral purpose, as PBS attributes to that Vonnegut quote—that Vonnegut, in his words about the present, “sees a real potential for individuals to be guided by their moral courage.” I document my life in the journals, preserving my worse traits: my pettiness, my score-keeping, my gossiping, and my often-curious choice in companions. Nonetheless, because my teen-age journals are funny, the
producers of Mortified were going to allow me to go onstage and read from them.
ll day before my first show this past November, I was sure I would transform onstage into Stephen King’s Carrie, and someone cool would dump pig’s blood on me. I wanted people’s approval—I wanted, especially, my friends’ approval—but I had no idea how people would respond. Although I’d seen a show before, I wasn’t sure how my script would fly, since my story was about my failed attempts to fit in. And now I wanted to fit in with the Mortified institution, comprised of people defining the cool crowd of mainstream, “safe,” alt-culture. And sure enough, the Someday Lounge was sold out that evening. People lined up in the rain for more than an hour, hoping to get the last of the tickets at the door. I walked with my husband to the front of the line (hello, entitlement) and entered early, setting aside good seats for my friends. The club seats around 100, and the remaining 150 or stood in the back and along the upstairs balcony. Onstage, third up, I could see nothing. The spotlight nullified people’s faces. But I played on their laughter, because I had ten minutes, like the space before a commercial break, of increasing the shame/horror and getting huge applause at the end. I grew up in a small town in subur-
“I was sure I would transform onstage into Stephen King’s Carrie, and someone cool would dump pig’s blood on me.”
ban Virginia, and when I went to middle school in the late 1970s, my elementary school friends became popular and dumped me. From ninth grade, the fall of 1979: And finally after watching Holocaust Part 1 I wonder at the waste of mortality, the plunder of love and seeing and touching and hearing and feeling and being by a gas pellet or a metal bullet. How could a man degrade himself so low as to pull a trigger on a defenseless child! What gives a man the right to control the length of life of another? And where do I fit in? What could I have done? And why do people worry about who their gym partner is and is that the purpose of school? A
false front of lies about your worth? Join the pep club? When children are starving in India?
But I finished the set. And though with Mortified I’ll feel nauseous and full of self-doubt, I will finish with a belated message to that heckler—a spell of sorts. It’s as I shared the stage with five other acts—all fun- apt now as it was when I wrote it in 1979, at the ny. The audience wanted to root for us and see end of ninth grade: validation that our shit worked out in the end— they wanted a drunken catharsis for their adDear Diary: I accepted, reformed, and mission. Onstage, we each subconsciously comconverted to the idea that I’m the one peted with each other. We rooted for each other, who has to change and so with that in but also wanted to kill. The last guy, handsome mind I braved the cold winds and harsh and preppy, read teen-age diary excerpts in faux breezes with the thought that the sun will gangsta style about wanting to fuck Heather (he shine again. School’s better because I’m loves her!). He ended each entry with what he not expecting anything from anybody wore (Tommy Hilfiger shirts, Nike hats) and ate and the people there are not important. (lemon chicken) and the phrase “Peace. One I can talk to girls I couldn’t talk to yesterlove.” Everyone loved him. day. People who don’t like me can go fuck After the show, a friend said she laughed so themselves. hard at my script that she wanted to vomit. To me, that constituted success. My date for one of the shows will be Seymour Glass of Bananafish, coming full circle from his month, I’m flying to San Francisco, our lives in obscurity. For years he’s called me home of the late-fanzine Bananafish. For Stumpy, in honor of my nerdy youth. I will give almost fifteen years, I played in obscure bands him my drink ticket, as thanks. Ω in endless dive clubs throughout the city. I’m going to read my script, my ten-minute tale, at one of those dives in the Mission District, the Makeout Room. I remember playing there, feeling mortified by a heckler who yelled the name of the next band, Fuck, while we were performing.
MANDE ZECCA Two Poems
Eclogue Wherein a thought displaced becomes an image: the black in the lark, the rose, the barking sea. The shepherd speaks an animal speak, and the dark is the dark as the bird says goodbye to its voice. This parting refuses to become a center and, so, becomes a rose. Blind language of flowers and sheep. How the sea evolves a speech resembling the click and hum of animals, sour bloodgurgle in the lambâ€™s throat. How this infused-with-bleating landscape houses maggots, oceans, petals reclaimed as divine lawns. Slick carapace of flowers from which birds rise. Birds no different from the garden that hides them. Shadows and the strangeness of petals. Sonorous ingress unsettling borders, reclaiming a thought that bleeds into larks. That the garden is or is like an ocean means a thought refusing us. The roses darkening and again darkening.
False True Love What’s the difference between desire & compulsion? Not knowing how to tell you I’m here, I dream about dust in my throat, & in the morning, there’s dust in my throat. There’s dust here enough for the two of us. My drivin’ wheel, my hard-luck rattle, my grove, my high-hearted hex. I’d give you spells—twitch & ache—all groan in the bones, all up in a pine, mine, mine—here. I mean my blush of ash, your blush of shell, blush between the skin & underskin of dreams. I held the bluish thought under my tongue all day. We botched the ground & the sun here sings low & angry. What are you waiting for, I said, before the sky broke. My words gone dead in my mouth. Someone sang something about loving someone deadly. Grinding something, here in the heart, down. I liked you almost best, second only to the curve of your voice. I am so spiteful, I killed the dog before it could imagine you, put its thick bones there at your feet. Death is always formal. Love is a black dog that hounds me, haunts my side. I must have mustered something up. Stammered, I can’t come in I can’t set down here. Poor brown rabbit bashed its poor head on a brown rock. Thought nothing but ruin. If I had a hundred hands, if a dollar, if an orchid. If I had my way, you’d hear me singing in the river every night. Surprise. I’m already thinking you out of the rhythm. Goodbye, wife. Goodbye, Babylon. Goodbye, goodbye. I’m washing it blank—again.
“I’M TRYING TO SC NEW JOB POSITION JUST BE ‘NERD IN PHOTOGRAPHER • MUSICIAN • HUMAN B
“NOTHING’S GOING TO STOP ME FROM TAKING PHOT REST OF MY LIFE, AND IF PEOPLE LIKE THEM, THAT’S
CHEME TO GET A N WHICH WOULD RESIDENCE.’” BEING
TOS FOR THE S AWESOME.”
(with photos by Shayla Hason)
For over a decade, Shayla Hason has produced her own photo zine, Adventures in High Contrast Living, a charming, unfolding postcard-sized booklet chronicling her travels. She spins irreverent blends of indie-rock, African pop, and hip hop as DJ Safi, and sings (occasionally in French) while pumping out the keyboard jams with her band, Riddenpaa. In her free time she is the music supervisor at the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, where she works on WK radio and the newly-launched WKE, Wieden + Kennedy’s site for creative entertainment programming. Propeller sat down with Shayla to talk about navigating the tricky landscape of the “creative” job, the benefits of keeping one’s job separate from one’s art, and the sweet diversions of Gossip Girl and NOVA. Propeller: Since you work in a creative job, but you’re always doing your own work outside of that, how much do those things inform each
other? Do you think about your creative pursuits when you’re working, or do you approach those things differently? Shayla Hason: I didn’t know what Wieden + Kennedy was when I applied, I just really needed a job because my unemployment was going to run out. I specifically didn’t want to work in art buying (organizing print shoots and picking photographers) or in a studio (designing print ads) because I didn’t want my daily job to be corrupting what I do in a more fine art context. I’m not strictly a fine art photographer because I also do editorial work, but I’m definitely not a commercial photographer in any traditional sense. I want to keep my photography for me, and I want to be doing it based on what I like or what I thought was good and not what would sell well or what’s so hot right now. At this point, though, my photography is all over the new website of WKE (Wieden + Ken-
Above and below: Beirut: Paris, 2007.
“I also have zero hustle. I suck at hustling. I can hustle on other people’s behalf really well, but I blow on my own.” nedy Entertainment), which is a little weird, but also really gratifying. “Oh yeah,” I can tell myself, “my photography is good enough to be on the website of the fanciest ad agency on the planet.” But, I didn’t let anybody here—apart from people I work with everyday—know that I even took photos for years and years. Propeller: That was totally conscious. SH: It was totally deliberate. It wasn’t until there was going to be some crazy trip to all these refugee camps in Azerbaijan and other places to which I really wanted to go that I actually went to the head of art buying and said, “I’m a photographer and I know you’re looking for a photographer for this project and here’s my stuff.” I’m always taking photos and I try to have my work in magazines, but also hav-
ing this day job affords me the luxury of not super-hustling. When magazines don’t pay me forever, which happens constantly, I’m not relying on that money to live, thankfully. I also have zero hustle. I suck at hustling. I can hustle on other people’s behalf really well, but I blow on my own. Whether that’s hustle or drive or whatever, I’d just rather be making my art, getting it to be as good as possible. I prefer that to anybody else really knowing about it. Propeller: It seems like one of the functions of one’s day job can actually be directly related to keep the art making fun, which is sort of a strange concept. If your job is also your art making, and it’s your main source of income, it can start to become a real drag. SH: It is a drag. You’re constantly comparing yourself to everybody else and then you have to make a lot of compromises that you don’t necessarily want to make. Propeller: I think the dream for a lot of people is, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could get a job doing X, this thing I really love to do, in terms of art making,” but the reality of doing that as a job… SH: The reality is that very few people get to
have the glamorous photographer life, and they are usually dudes who often come from a lot of money. But I wanted to be making art on my own terms and not compromising everything to just have that job. One of the reasons I really like Portland is because it’s different. In places like New York, I feel like artists are spending eighty percent of their time self-promoting and very little time actually making art. A friend of mine, who is a really famous curator, once said, “Don’t go to them. Wait for them to come to you. That’s where you’re in a position of strength.” Luckily, even though I’m well over thirty, I would still be considered a young photographer. Unlike acting or singing, photography has an incredibly long life span.
I feel like doing art in a work context is a great excuse for the bosses to be like, “Oh, do this. It’ll be fun!” And by “fun” they somehow mean that it’s not work at all, which is really kind of insulting and annoying. “It’ll be fun for you, but I’m still making you do it. And, you don’t get to complain that you were here for sixteen hours yesterday because it was fun!” No. You know what’s fun to me? Reading my science fiction book. That’s fun. Propeller: Maybe stopping every once in a while—on a Monday night maybe—and watching Gossip Girl.
SH: I love me some Biggest Loser, and I love some Gossip Girl, and I certainly love a great Propeller: You also know exactly who you are NOVA episode about Cuttlefish. I’m a nerd. as an artist; you’ve had time to find your voice. Propeller: You have to have time to be a nerd. SH: I’ve only been doing photography seriously Things can invade on your time to be a quality for ten years, but I’ve gotten a lot better in that nerd. time. There are always more interesting things to look at, which is definitely a deliberate choice SH: I’m trying to scheme to get a new job posito cultivate. But, back to the art that I do that in- tion which would just be “Nerd in Residence.” tersects with work more—I mean, it does mess it up. Here I am, the music supervisor for this Propeller: That might turn into the same thing, big ad agency and, definitely, because I’m being though. swamped with music when I’m at work, when I go home I don’t want to listen to music. SH: Probably. Humans like to complain, so
“I LOVE THAT EVERYBODY HAS TAKEN A GREAT PHOTO AND THEY AREN’T AFRAID TO HAVE AN OPINION.”
even if I were a “Nerd in Residence” I’d be like, “Now I have to investigate something I’m not into!” But I also know that when I work a job, I get more stuff done, I get more art done, I’m way more productive when I have a demanding day job. And then also, you’re thinking about the cool art stuff you’re going to do later or ideas and then you get home and then you’re into doing them, instead of it being another thing you feel guilty about. If you’re working regular jobs and doing art, it basically means that you don’t get as much sleep as other people. Propeller: What kind of art or pictures are you drawn to making? SH: Photographers are broken up in to two groups. There are people who feel the need to create a world and some people can get really painstaking with it. There are people who have this vision in their head and so they’re going to create a set or they’re going find the place or they’re going build a set and they’re going to set up the lights and they’re going cast the right people to make this thing that fulfills this image they have in their head. I am not that kind of photographer. I’m really, really into paying attention the small moments. I’m really into the sublime moments that are all around us all the time that we don’t notice. I photograph as an
anti-depressant. Propeller: That makes absolute sense to me. SH: I’m not someone who has ever been suicidal or is manic depressive, but I definitely have a lot of melancholy inside of me, and too much awareness of how messed up the world is. So, it’s an antidote to me, because we’re socialized to pay attention to and focus on certain things. Usually what I’m attracted to are quieter moments. It might just be a cardboard box that randomly looks like a face on someone’s stoop or it might be the crook of someone’s elbow. I get hired by bands and people to take their photograph, so obviously there’s something artificial to that business, but usually I just get them somewhere that’s just inherently pretty, which is usually some messed up wall or whatever and just hang out with them—have them tell me a story or whatever. So I create situations, but they’re pretty mellow situations. Propeller: It’s not as if you’re setting up a backdrop and saying, “I’ve got this hat for you”. SH: “And then you need to move your chin up two inches.” I will ask people, though, “Can you pick your eye again?” I’m really into futzing, or how people futz. Or, I love the photo after the
photo’s been taken or the photo before the pho- It’s just not as artificial. I love photos, especially, to’s been taken. of girls taking photos of girls taking photos of girls. When I get together with lady friends and Propeller: You mean the photo as in the Writ we’re all taking photos I love that because it tips Large photo? the whole notion of the gaze. It gets really refracted and in a really awesome way since it’s SH: Yeah, like you take the photo and whatever not the male gaze, it’s the female gaze and so they do right after that you just take another. there’s all this awesomeness of power.
Propeller: It’s a celebratory thing. SH: It’s really positive. Overall, though, I think most of my photos are pretty quiet and that’s not what’s popular in photography at all right now and that’s fine. I don’t need to take pictures of girls peeing in the gutter just because it’s shocking. I’ve taken naked photos of people, but I’m also someone who will get naked, too. I don’t like photography when it’s a power game, when it’s getting off on your subject’s vulnerability. I find it really gross. And also I don’t ask anyone to do anything I haven’t done, but I also don’t ask my subject to do very much. My photography is definitely more in the documentary vein. Sometimes I call it lifestyle photography and it’s people, but it’s also small details.
“I don’t need to take pictures of girls peeing in the gutter just because it’s shocking.” more interesting for taking pictures than when I lived in New York. The city just felt like so many eyes had been on it for so long. So many famous photographers, and all I really wanted to do was take photos of friends. But then it gets into that New York bullshit of how famous your friends are. I do a little zine called Adventures in High Contrast Living about traveling and miscellany, and people have been telling me for ten years, “If you just did issues with all your famous musician friends, you could sell a ton!” But that’s not the point. It’s just not a whatever-it-takes thing for me. Nothing’s going stop me from taking photos for the rest of my life, and if people like them, that’s awesome. Of course I want to make some books, but not at the cost of my soul.
Propeller: I know exactly what you mean, as if the work wards off evil. If you really want to make something that’s going to mean something, you have to pay attention to things that are interesting and beautiful; you have to let your attention go to the things that automatically fill you with wonder. So it becomes this really natural way to Propeller: That’s dramatic, but true. fight against worldwide negativity.
SH: There’s a lot of really horrible stuff out there, SH: A lot of people want to do that and good on but there’s also a lot of really beautiful stuff. I them! Go for it! Just to jump back topic-wise, but feel like living in Portland, especially, is way I really like plain photos. I shoot analog. While
they’re still making it, I’m shooting it. I get color photos printed; I get actual prints. Even if it’s for music video stills and I get it scanned and uploaded so that people at the magazine or whatever can download them easily, I still want those paper photos. I have to wait to see what it looks like when it comes back. For black and whites, I print them myself; I’ve always been all about having the most perfectly exposed negatives possible and if they’re not really well exposed, fuck it. I don’t have time. I don’t crop, I don’t burn and dodge, mostly because I just want to get as much done as possible in the darkroom. All I really have time for is getting the dust off with the canned air. I just want to print them. I’ve been using cameras that are super cheap and super basic and people have been telling me for years that I need a Nikon, but who cares?! Propeller: It seems like it could really get you in that mindset where it’s like what’s taking the picture? The camera, or you? Whereas if you have a crappy camera, it’s really more about what you choose and how you choose it.
one’s made a picture and people are not afraid— regular, normal people—are not afraid to pass judgment on photos because they’ve taken a picture, too. Unlike something like bronze casting or something that’s really esoteric, I like that anyone is capable of taking a great photograph and everybody who has ever had a camera has taken a great photograph. What makes you a really good photographer is consistency, having an eye—where people look at a shot and know it’s a photo you took because you’ve developed your own kind of signature visual style. I love that everybody has taken a great photo and they aren’t afraid to have an opinion. I think that’s really cool, because I think everybody should be making art. Propeller: It’s not an art form that excludes.
SH: With the advent of digital, people can get really good at taking photos because you can get a camera for under $200 and take a million shots and not have to pay for all of the them to get printed. Of course, there’s going be a big problem down the line. If people don’t keep reSH: And just learning how to use a camera in- upping their digitally visual memory, their famstead of something showing you what to do. The ily history is going to disappear because they thing I really like about photography is that it’s spill a cup of coffee on their hard drive. such an egalitarian art form. Everyone has taken a picture, everyone’s seen a picture before, every- Propeller: How do you store all of your photos?
Do you just have boxes of them?
forever need to organize. I should have all the negatives in safes, having lived through a house SH: I just have boxes. fire already and knowing how much it sucks. But also, who cares? So they all burn up again. Propeller: Do you label them or anything? Whatever. It’s just shit. I can make more. I’m also the person that doesn’t have a portfolio. But SH: Yeah, but it’s one of those things that I will at least I have a blog. Ω
The Career Aspirations of Young Michael Cullen Alan Limnis
e is three years old. He is in preschool, and they are painting with finger paint on large sheets of white paper. He has mixed a small amount of brown into the white, making a pale beige that he spreads across the paper—all across the paper, until the surface is completely covered in an even layer of beige. Don’t you want some color in there, Michael? the teacher asks. Some bright colors? Look at all the colors of paint you have here. Red and green and blue and purple. He shakes his head slowly, without taking his eyes from the paper. He does not want any other colors. Can’t she see that it’s already covered in color?
e is thirty-three years old and at a Christmas party. He is divorced, without children. He wanders the party awkwardly, attempting to mix, but stops when he sees that the host has a mannequin dressed in a Santa outfit propped against the corner of the basement bar. Michael sees mannequins in stores all the time, of course, and yet he doesn’t really look at them, not closely, so he doesn’t particularly see them anymore at all, though he realizes this only when he sees this one. Because it is not in a store and it is dressed in a Santa outfit. It has been pulled from its proper context and displayed in a way understood to be somehow whimsical, as if there is a joke in there somewhere, though it’s
tough to say exactly what it is. The host sees him looking at it. The Santa suit hangs loosely on its limbs, its gender strategically indefinite. It stares expressionlessly, eyes the same color as the rest of the body. Stole that when I was in college, the host says. Friend worked at a department store, left it out back after the store closed, we came by later and grabbed it, threw it in the back of a buddy’s truck. I’ve had it ever since. They study it. The host is married, owns this large house with the basement bar, has two beautiful children who are somewhere else tonight—watching rented movies and snacking on popcorn and sodas at a friend or relative’s, probably. Don’t really know what to do with it, the host says. He scratches his head and chuckles. Haven’t been able to throw it out, he says. Then he claps Michael heartily on the shoulder, they chat about bowl games and their respective college years, and eventually head back upstairs, fresh drinks in hand. A week later, on Christmas Day, Michael calls long distance to wish his mother a merry Christmas. He tells her he is doing fine, work is fine, things are going well. She tells him about the weather and which of her friends she might have dinner with on New Year’s Eve. After he says goodbye and hangs up, he rubs his eyes
and stares tiredly at the wall, and then realizes with surprise and some concern that he is thinking about the Santa-suited mannequin in the basement bar. He makes himself a drink and decides to watch a movie. His phone rings, but when he sees that it’s an unknown number, he doesn’t answer. The caller hangs up without
“He has carefully instructed the children that they may move if they need to. They may change position if they need to. They may sit on a stool if they need to. He doesn’t want any children fainting in his shop window.” leaving a message.
e is eleven years old, and very excited, because he, along with two older children, gets to stand in the shop window for half an hour today. It’s a shop in the local mall that carries clothing for kids and teenagers. An attention-grabbing gimmick this Christmas season, the perhaps misguidedly-creative shop owner has decided that rather than the farcical little “fashion shows” he has put on in years past, this year he’ll simply dress the kids up and let them stand in the window as still as they can: human mannequins. It will draw the attention of those walking past, the shop owner hopes, and maybe get some of them in the store. He has carefully instructed the children that they may move if they need to. They may change
positions if they need to. They may sit on a stool if they need to. He doesn’t want any children fainting in his shop window. Michael’s mother shops for his clothes at this store occasionally, and saw the small sign asking for volunteers. She asked Michael if he would be interested in standing in the window because she thought it might be cute—she could take pictures. She is surprised, though, at Michael’s enthusiasm at the prospect, at his apparent awe that it’s even possible, as if the very notion is a chance for some kind of dream of his to be fulfilled. Which it is. But only he knows this. He is smart enough to keep some things to himself. So they go to the store on the scheduled day, and Michael puts on the clothes. The two other children are girls, older—one fourteen, the other, aspiring-model-ish, maybe sixteen or seventeen. The shop owner places two stools in the
“She is asleep next to him, her long, chestnut hair on the pillow, her face an expression of peace and calm.”
window box. He instructs Michael to sit on one, the younger girl to sit on the other, and says that the older girl should stand between and slightly behind them. Remember, the shop owner says, if you need to move you can move. If you need to sit, just take turns with the stools. But when you’re comfortable, try to stay still, like mannequins. So the children stand behind the glass. People walking past are amused. They watch the children, but the children stay still. Some people don’t know whether to like it or not—it’s uncomfortable, watching these children acting like mannequins, acting unalive. Some walk away. Some walk past without stopping. Some laugh, and some mischievous children make faces, but the children in the window don’t react. The girls occasionally move. After fifteen minutes, they trade places, the older sitting while the
younger stands, but Michael doesn’t move for the whole half hour. He remains perfectly still, staring at the same indefinite point in space and blinking only rarely. In his peripheral vision, he sees his parents. His mother takes photos. He remains perfectly still. She waves. He remains perfectly still. It is with great reluctance that he allows the shop owner to help him out of the window after thirty-five minutes. That’s enough, the owner says. Thanks, you did great! Michael convinces his mother and the shop owner to let him sit in the window two more times during the holiday season. The other children with him are different each time. Michael remains perfectly still for the duration of each sitting. You’re a little mannequin star, the shop owner says to him after the last sitting. Perfectly still, Michael thinks. Perfectly still.
e is twenty-seven years old. It is early morning, and he is in bed with his wife, though she is not yet his wife. That will happen later. She is asleep next to him, her long, chestnut hair on the pillow, her face an expression of peace and calm. He rises, carefully, onto an elbow. She doesn’t stir. The sun has not yet risen, but he can see through the curtain that the predawn sky has turned the cold, pale blue of expectation. The room is filled with the faint light
of a world filtered through gauze. She is beautiful here and now in this room, sleeping quietly. The minute rise and fall of her chest. The smoothness of her skin and its uniformity of color, her pale cheek and neck and shoulders above the curled blanket. He watches her as the room slowly brightens, listening to the whispered rhythm of her breath. And a few minutes later he drifts back into sleep again, thinking that everything will be alright now, from here on out everything will be fine.
e is seven years old when for the first time ever, he sees a gray one: how odd, he thinks. He has seen brown ones, but there are brown people. And black ones, just like there are black people. He has never seen a gray person, though. Does it mean that, somewhere in the world, there are gray people? He has seen them without heads, too. Just bodies, or sometimes even just the top part of the body, without any arms or legs, even. But it’s true that people can live without arms or legs. He doesn’t think it’s true that people can live without heads. Can they? They can’t. It’s not true. Are there gray people, though? He doesn’t think so.
“And the sweater is father’s face smiling again, and Michael t one of them, a pale as the body, everyth
He can’t stop studying the gray one. Was it possible there were more kinds of mannequins than kinds of people? That doesn’t seem right. He can’t tell whether he feels lonely, or whether he feels the gray mannequin must feel lonely. He walks away and doesn’t come back, and never sees that one again.
e is five. It is Christmas. There is a large tree with presents under it wrapped in bright Christmas papers with ribbons and bows, and his family is there, and other relatives, grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and also there is lots of food—big meals and desserts and cookies. There are so many cookies for everyone, all of the time. He is excited, not for his own presents, but for
suddenly being worn, but it is his g at Michael and saying thank you thinks of when the sweater was on beige one with eyes the same color hing a uniform color and motionless.” the presents he has picked out for the others. He has picked out only things he has seen in stores on one of them, because the things that are being worn by one of them are always the things he likes the best. He points to the thing and tells his mother or father, That, I want to get that for someone, who could I get that for? The sweater? his mother asks. The sweater on the mannequin there? Yes, he says, the sweater. Who can I get the sweater for? He has gotten the sweater for his father and his father is opening the present now, peeling back the thin wrapping paper to reveal the muted colors of the flimsy cardboard department store box. His father opens the box and smiles broadly. A sweater! he says as he pulls it out of the box and unfolds it. This is a beautiful sweat-
er. Thank you, Michael. Thank you very much. And as everybody oohs and ahhs over the sweater, his father puts it on. He pulls it over his head and slips it on over his shirt, and the sweater is suddenly being worn, but it is his father’s face smiling at Michael and saying thank you again, and Michael thinks of when the sweater was on one of them, a pale beige one with eyes the same color as the body, everything a uniform color and motionless. But now his father is wearing the sweater and smiling, and his eyes are bright and his voice confident and Michael loves his father very much, but that’s not why he almost starts crying. He doesn’t know why he feels like crying. Later. They do not realize at first that he is gone. What they realize is that it is suddenly
cold. And has anyone seen the dog? And then someone asks who left the back patio door open, and when they step outside, it’s to find Michael running across the snow-covered field, the family’s black lab in pursuit. He is running as fast as he can, but it is difficult, because the snow comes up almost to his knees, and the lab is bounding playfully around him. He is in only his pants and shirt, without any jacket or hat or gloves. And then the snow gets too deep, and he stumbles and falls down into it, icy cold and soft and white. The dog leaps back and forth near him, uncertain if this is a game of if this is something else, and when it starts to lick Michael’s face, he laughs. He hears them calling his name as they run across the field toward him, but he doesn’t get up. He just laughs
and tries to push the dog away as it presses its nose into his neck. After they carry him back into the house, there is much concern. His clothes, cold and wet from the snow, are stripped from his body and he is wrapped in a soft, warm blanket. There is talk of calling a doctor. What were you doing, Michael? his mother asks. Where were you going? You scared us! Where did you think you were you going? But he doesn’t answer, he can’t, he just looks up at them and smiles as their concerned faces peer down at him and he feels the rapid beating of the heart within his pale, thin chest. And folded within the blankets, he becomes warmer and warmer and warmer. Ω
Twenty-One Indices From the 2010 San Francisco Yellow Pages and One We Made Up By Casey L. Quinlan and Matthew Hein 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22.
Airport-Alcoholism Alzheimerâ€™s-Amusement Amusement-Antennas Balloon-Banking Beauty-Beer Burglar-Bus Cash-Caterers Cellular-Cemeteries Church-Circus Circus-Cleaners Cremation-Cutlery Demolition-Dentists Documents-Dog Driving-Drug Ergonomic-Escorts Janitor-Jeans Massage-Meat Plywood-Podiatrists Prosthetic-Psychologists Religious-Remodeling Surveillance-Synagogues Yoga-Zippers
Contributo ALEX BEHR is a Portland, Oregon, writer and musician. JANINE OSHIRO lives in Hawaii, where she teaches at Windward Community College.
BODIES OF WATER is a Los Angeles band whose first two albums are Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink (2007) and A Certain Feeling (2008). SARAH KRUSE works in the legal profession. In October, she reviewed Simon Critchley’s Things Merely Are: Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens. BENJAMIN CRAIG is a managing editor at this magazine. In October, he wrote about Puppet, a documentary film about a puppet theater piece on photographer Mike Disfarmer. MATTHEW HEIN’S reviews have appeared in Reconstruction: The Journal of Drama Studies and Sobriquet. In October, he wrote about Four Barrel Coffee.
ors MIKE DATZ is a photographer living and working in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Another of his photos is this issue’s back cover.
MANDE ZECCA lives in Balitomore, where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in English.
SHAYLA HASON’S photography can be seen at urbanhonking.com/dokuchan. Her work for Weiden + Kennedy is at wk.com/wke. ALAN LIMNIS has written, most recently, about the work of Ezra Jack Keats.
EVAN P SCHNEIDER, in addition to being a managing editor at this magazine, is Editor-inChief of Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac. CASEY L. QUINLAN is a scientist living in San Francisco.
Published on Jan 21, 2010