Today on Day of the Dead, I remember my lovers, friends and family who have gone before me.
Frighten the Horses writers Michael Botkin, James Bergeron, Charlie Halloran, Kris Kovick, and Tanya Dewhurst. Also Neal Goldsmith, who became Nancy Gold, who died this year. And Kathy Acker, who was profiled in FTH and who contributed a piece for an issue that we never had a chance to print.
My parents and grandparents.
This evening I’ll go to the Dia de los muertos celebration in San Francisco. You should come, it’s beautiful. Garfield Park, 25th and Harrison, at sunset.
The story started with a picture I saw in the New Yorker over two years ago. That magazine published a profile of Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth. With the article, they published a portrait of the singer showing her wearing a pair of gag costume horns.
I don’t know anything about Kim Gordon or Sonic Youth, except what I read in the profile, but the photograph held my attention. I found myself wondering what it would be like if a woman actually grew horns. That’s how this story arose.
It’s one of several stories I’ve written about artists and their process, and it was one of a series three novella-length stories I wrote in 2013-2014. Of those three, it’s the first one to be published.
My short story “Bullet in the Back” won third prize in the Baltimore Review Winter 2015 contest, and has been published in their latest issue. Read it here.
The story concerns the plight of a movie extra working on a film set on an airliner. He finds himself jammed in the middle seat, and he might be there ten or twelve hours a day for weeks as they shoot this movie. A hellish prospect.
The story was inspired by the 2014 film “Non-Stop,” which takes place almost entirely on an airliner. This YouTube video, shot on the set, includes a number of action shots with extras in the background, screaming, cowering, and doing movie extra things. I’ve always been interested in strange and unusual jobs.
Updated with information about memorial gatherings. See bottom of post.
I learned the other day that a writer for Frighten the Horses, Tanya Dewhurst, died by her own hand on Dec. 24.
Tanya wrote dispatches from London and from San Francisco for FTH. She was a charming, bubbly person and an entertaining writer. When she and a girlfriend visited me and Cris, we took a walk to a local church where parishioners claimed to have seen an apparition of Mary. We stood for a moment looking at the splotch on a piece of copper roofing, and then Tanya blurted out to the small crowd that had gathered: “Why, it looks just like a NAKED LADY.” This was even more hilarious because of her strong Australian accent.
Here is the announcement of her death from Facebook. (Since I’m not a Facebook member, I can’t see the page or the material on it. Someone in her network sent me this text.)
To all of Tanya’s FB friends i couldn’t contact personally, Im sorry your are finding out this way. It is with immense sadness I let you know Tanya ended her life on December 24, 2014. Tanya was funny, clever, generous, loving and most of all- hell on wheels.She was my best friend for 20 years and i will miss her every day as i know so many of you will.
some folks have asked about donations in her name- as you know she was passionate about marine preservation, particularly sea turtles and sharks. I would suggest the turtle island restoration project (seaturtles.org) or check here http://ecosalon.com/10-ocean-conservation-groups-making-a-…/
Her friends in LA will eventually be holding a memorial, and i suggest those of you elsewhere do the same or simply raise a glass to Tanya’s beautiful spirit and her passage to her next destination.
Update: Here is information about gatherings to remember Tanya, in L.A. and in Australia.
Los Angeles, Feb. 7, 2015. Information here.
Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 21, 2015. Contact https://www.facebook.com/amy.blake.1447
Perth, Australia, Jan. 31, 2015. Contact https://www.facebook.com/shannon.bedford1
I’ve never met a successful writer who didn’t sometimes wonder if their own success wasn’t some kind of farce being staged for a mysterious audience.
The author of the profile, John Jeremiah Sullivan — himself an admirably successful profiler and essayist for major magazines, in other words someone who regularly wins a good share of the chips on the increasingly shrinking poker table of the American mainstream media marketplace — goes to lengths to demonstrate just how successful Antrim has finally become. Not only has he published many books, not only has he gotten a post teaching writing at Columbia, not only are his short stories regularly published in the New Yorker, but he’s the recipient of a MacArthur grant. And yet:
Antrim was like most other writers. Only the next project was real. The rest was some kind of weird dream.
I don’t know how there can still be writers who believe in literary immortality. I understand those who believe in the immortality of the soul, I can even understand those who believe in Heaven and Hell and the touching waystation Purgatory, but when I hear a writer talk about the immortality of certain literary works I want to slap him. I’m not talking about hitting him but just slapping him once and then probably hugging him and comforting him… a kind of slap for the person’s own good, like the kind they give hysterical people in the movies so that they snap out of it and stop screaming and save their lives.
Though I devote more time lately than ever to the business of getting published, I find myself also letting go of an attachment to getting published, and more serious about writing something good.
There’s little healing in the work of Flannery O’Connor. Grace happens despite the fallen state of the characters. Indeed, if they were not fallen, they would be in no need of grace, but the bestowal of grace doesn’t lead to their healing. Usually, the characters end up worse than they were before. They often don’t even realize they have been recipients or catalysts of grace, and then only the reader realizes that grace has blown through the end of the story like a sudden wind.
Earlier this year, my short story “Little Big Death” was selected by Fiction Attic Press to be included in their anthology of short fiction, MODERN SHORTS. They just announced that the book will be available in September as both an ebook and a paperback. Order the MODERN SHORTS anthology here.
Dreamt about seeing a copy of The New Yorker. The cover had the following illustration: A middle-aged man looks ahead at the remainder of his life and sees weight gain, decreased physical function, sickness, dependence on others, death. But along the way are all these other things, like flying cars, robot prostitutes, robot delivery of cheesecake, vacations in tropical climes, and a lot of wonderful things, but he completely ignores these things, and his vision of the future is entirely negative.
Nothing complicated about that. But it was a great drawing. Too bad I can’t draw.
I guess I am like that man who looks at the future and sees sickness and dependence on others. It seems simply realistic; it doesn’t depress me. I just know it’s there. I also know the flying cars etc. are there. And they don’t excite me. If the New Yorker accepted a story of mine — if I could even write a story good enough that I would even think of submitting it to the New Yorker — that would be exciting.
The New Yorker is more exciting than the future.
Went last night to a “salon” performance, where two different actresses presented excerpts from solo pieces in someone’s living room. Among the ten or so attendees were two gay men of about 30 or 35. I overheard one of them telling a third man:
I just closed a production of Macbeth at Fort Point, and now we’re hanging out as much as possible for the next week. and then I’m leaving town for six months. I have a gig. In Abu Dhabi. Well, it’s a ten-minute two-man slapstick tire-changing routine. It’s at “Ferarri World.” We’ll do it five times a day.
All right… The same ten-minute slapstick tire-changing routine, done five times a day for six months. How much can you vary a ten-minute routine? How soon before the temptation to sabotage the sponsor’s message becomes too great to resist?
The website says the “world’s largest indoor theme park” is open seven days a week. I wonder what he’ll do on his day off in a gay-hating Arab city-state where it will be 125 degrees outdoors. I wonder what the accomodations are like. I wonder what the pay schedule is — no doubt they withhold most of your pay til you fulfill your contract. I wonder what your rights are. I wonder if you have any rights.
Can you imagine? It sounds like Chapter 1 of a drug-addiction memoir, or a “I was gay in an Arab prison” memoir, or something equally dire. I know — a job’s a job. But IN HELL. For SIX MONTHS.
I had cause today to remember several quirks of my late wife. For one thing, Cris liked to insist that “things have feelings.” Socks, in particular — she said that socks have feelings, and miss their mates, probably because she wanted me to be mindful of them and not lose socks, as I was the one who did the laundry. Once she asked me if a particular pair was worn enough to dispose of, and when I said yes, she began to intone, “Today we lay to rest this pair of socks, which gave us long service and comfort…” She didn’t even finish the first sentence of this mock eulogy before I burst into tears. I knew she was joking, but there was also something in her which took seriously the discarding of things and imbued them with such value that they might indeed feel their own estrangement and destruction.
Another thing about her was that she insisted on comfort and quality in furniture, which led to us spending over $2000 several years ago on a bed, a mattress and a Tempur-Pedic foam pad. And speaking of long service and comfort, that’s what that bed set gave us over many years together. I don’t have the slightest notion of when we bought it; maybe ten years ago?
But it started wearing out this winter, and a few days ago, on impulse, I bought a new mattress from Sears online. Today the new mattress was delivered. As I watched the driver and his helper wrestle the old mattress down the steps, I thought to myself, What would Cris say? Would she recall the thousands of nights we spent on that thing? The tears, the sex, the sickness, the dreams, the countless climbings in and out? She might have given the mattress its own eulogy, or perhaps a little farewell song. Such was her sense of whimsy. But I just watched them wrestle it roughly down the front steps and away.
Then I made the bed with the new mattress, and I found out it wasn’t precisely the size of the foam pad. Several inches off, in fact. This never would have happened on her watch. She would have measured everything three times before buying the mattress. But to tell the truth, the foam pad will have to be replaced sooner or later anyway. And when it is, I’ll order one to fit the new mattress. For now, I’m looking forward to my first night’s sleep on the bed, with its now ill-fitting foam pad.
Last night — which happened to be exactly a year after the surgery which revealed her fatal pancreatic tumor — I dreamt that I was with her as she experienced a sharp, nearly orgasmic pain. The pain was so bad that it brought her to her knees and drove her out of her head for a short time. Afterwards, reflecting on this incident, she told me “I was so out of it that I thought you were the cause of the pain. But anyway, it was great,” she concluded with a smile. It’s not true that she ever relished pain; she hated pain. But she did like very intense experiences, and maybe that’s what my unconscious was recalling.
Ten years ago I wrote my first novel, Make Nice. A very short excerpt from that book, which is about a fictionalized version of the Rat Packer Joey Bishop, was published by an Australian online magazine, Vending Machine Press, in their second issue.
My short satire of Garrison Keillor, “Woebegone” — which makes just as good a little piece of writing as it did a performance monologue, for which I originally wrote it, was published in the first issue of Crony, a “terrible online magazine” by the author and editor Antoine Wilson.
This is the first thing I’ve ever had published after reading a call for submissions that was released only on Twitter. That is to say, Wilson called for material on Twitter only.
Submit now before I give up on this idea and go back to whatever I was doing before: firstname.lastname@example.org
— Antoine Wilson (@antoinewilson) November 9, 2013