Friday, July 19, 2013


I finished reading Tao Lin’s Taipei last night; I loved it, and as I finished I thought to myself, “well, it’s about time.” Tao Lin was more or less my gateway to the internet and to writing on the internet. The first piece I ever read by him was “How to Give a Reading on Mushrooms” in 2011, during a period in which I was intensely aware and analytical of my affect, mental state, and outward behavior while on drugs, which I used infrequently and do not use at all now. The piece was hilarious, but also I thought more accurately captured the pattern of associations and self-reflection that occurs in ‘thinking’ than anything else I’d read before. (“Think ‘Hunter S. Thompson’ and distractedly sense the aesthetic of the movie Aliens.”)

I learned about Tao Lin on the internet during my internship at an Arabic-language radio news station in Amman, Jordan, during my sophomore year of college, in which I was ‘in charge’ of the English version of the AmmanNet website, which mostly consisted of copying-and-pasting headlines from their Arabic site into Google Translate, then revising them, and where I, instead, spent most of my time looking at the internet and downloading Against Me!, Black Flag, and psychobilly albums, and reviewing things for Through “How to Give a Reading on Mushrooms,” I found Tao Lin’s other writing, and through this exposure I created, in my mind, the admittedly feeble construction that Tao Lin somehow embodied ‘all of internet writing,’ that such writing was a phenomenon leading, by one path or another, back to him. Through Tao Lin, I found Thought Catalog, which I have since used, in several articles, to pour virtually all of my angst circa 2011 through early 2012. (There was a short period of my life in which whenever I would have crippling or sexually anxious feelings, I would think to myself, “I should write this for Thought Catalog; Thought Catalog will accept this.” I had several days I devoted exclusively to writing “Thought Catalog pieces,” all of which were eventually published [3]).

Having said that, Taipei feels more like ‘real life’ than anything I’ve ever read. Here’s one early paragraph/sentence that I think is particularly beautiful and poignant:

“On the plane, after a cup of black coffee, Paul thought of Taipei as a fifth season, or “otherworld,” outside, or in equal contrast with, his increasingly familiar and self-consciously repetitive life in America, where it seemed like the seasons, connecting in right angles, for some misguided reason, had formed a square, sarcastically framing nothing—or been melded, Paul vaguely imagined, about an hour later, facedown on his arms on his dining tray, into a door-knocker, which a child, after twenty to thirty knocks, no longer expecting an answer, has continued using, in a kind of daze, distracted by the pointlessness of his activity, looking absently elsewhere, unaware when he will abruptly, idly stop.” (p.16)

This ends the first chapter—can you think of a better way to end a chapter? I’ve read Tao Lin’s writing described as variations of affectless or ‘bland’ or something else, but I think those people are misguided and/or stupid. LOOK AT THIS PARAGRAPH. First of all, no one uses adverbs quite like Tao Lin, in the way they were meant to be used. Here, he takes a metaphor—of his repetitive life—and then, to elucidate it, fuses the metaphor into a concrete object (the door-knocker), which he then uses to construct a relatable scene of a child knocking idly on a door, which encapsulates the metaphor of his life. I don’t know how else to say it, but Tao Lin creates perfectly imaginable metaphors—I’ve never experienced a previously-inarticulate feeling in writing with such concrete clarity.

I’ve thought about this passage for weeks, and how measurable and convincing and interesting it is; how could anyone pretend there’s not brilliance in this? Taipei is one of those books I will be able to pick up at any given point and read from an arbitrary page for inspiration. Tao Lin, in his writing, is extremely meticulous, devoted entirely to detailing—with as much effort and as many words as it takes—exactly what happens in someone’s life, and why.

(I mostly write really short things, and over time have been trying to practice expressing things in the most precise way possible; in that respect, I love and appreciate Tao Lin’s dedication to using adjectives in an accurate and satisfying way. He uses ‘vaguely’ just perfectly, for example.)

Here’s another scene, much later, in which, sitting as a passenger in a car, “Paul felt a quaintly affecting comfort and a self-conscious, fleeting urge to ask someone a question or say something nice to someone.

“He thought of how, from elementary through high school, if a girl had been nice to him at school or if he got a valuable baseball or Magic: The Gathering card or if he accomplished something in a video or computer game—if for whatever reason he felt significantly, temporarily happier—he would get an urge to talk to his mother and sometimes would go find her, at her makeup station in her bathroom, or outside watering plants, then reveal something about his life or ask her a question about her life, knowing he was making her happier for a few minutes, before running back to the TV, Nintendo, or computer.” (p. 226-7)

When I read this passage, it almost made me cry, because I—and I suspect most everyone else—has had precisely that same, miniature experience, but I’ve never read it before, and, again, it is perfect, but in a different way. I honestly don’t understand the criticism—aren’t we all seeking, in one way or another, some kind of honesty? ‘Affectless,' are you fucking kidding me? I don’t think there are many writers better at detailing life than Tao Lin.

I’ve read/skimmed a couple of reviews of Taipei, one that was mostly-excoriating but with personal deliberations on the author’s part, and another that was one of those decorative and highly metaphorical, paradigm-y reviews that are almost never entertaining to read but I imagine are very satisfying to write (because, I suspect, as you write it you are fashioning little quote-snippets you’re hoping for someone—probably the author of the book you’re reviewing—to excerpt and use for other promotion), and I’ve decided that to read reviews of Tao Lin is mostly fruitless and generally frustrating; I would much rather read Tao Lin’s response to a review than the review itself. (I also saw an obnoxious what-i-thought-on-every-page piece on Thought Catalog, but this mostly seemed lazy, like a gimmick, and like something that no one could honestly appreciate, except vaguely, for the effort and maybe a nice phrase or two).

I read Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station earlier this year, shortly after I moved to New York, and loved its specificity and lack of pretension. Taipei seems like a progression of this mode of writing, which, I think, favors sincerity and exhaustive accuracy over anything overtly ‘stylish’ or flashy (which is not to say that Leaving the Atocha Station and Taipei are not stylish books)—I like that these books seem, in terms of their plot and specific moments, entirely real and autobiographical, without blatant dramatic maneuvering below the surface. (There’s a scene in Leaving the Atocha Station in which the protagonist, Adam, leaves a hotel room one morning and then wanders back and forth for hours, helpless and lost, feeling increasingly disoriented and nervous. In Taipei, Tao Lin knows that no one simply ‘leaves an apartment’; they stop in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom first. In one very minor way, these books seem real because they know just how much we physically go back and forth.) This is all to say: I don’t think that Tao Lin is given enough credit for his skill at crafting sentences, for his hyperanalysis of just about everything.

I’ve never interacted with Tao Lin specifically, on the internet or in real life; nonetheless, when I was writing this I thought to myself, “I like to see pictures of Tao Lin smiling,” (He’s in a panel on Monday, July 22, at Bookcourt, which I’m going to, so maybe I will find him then.) I’m so happy for his success with this book and I hope it sells many, many copies to strangers. (Though I realize that probably less than 10% of the people reading this blog—if it attracts enough readers to facilitate such a tidy fraction; that is, a factor of 10—are not already familiar with Tao Lin; of course, also by writing it, I hope that Tao Lin himself might read it and feel appreciated in a specific way, which, of course, is the total opposite of ‘spreading the word.’ Imagine if we wrote private blog posts, directed to a single reader, solely focused on books written by that single reader.)

Ok, enough.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


If you haven't been following along with the music videos David Bowie's been releasing in support of his new album The Next Day, there are three of them, and they are all exceptional. "Where Are We Now?" was the first we released and I wrote probably too much about it back in January (it's my favorite); the second, "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)," which sounds like the title of a disney song, was released in February, and it's great because it finally pairs Tilda Swinton with Bowie and has a very attractive androgynous cast. Finally, there's "The Next Day," which appeared virtually without notice (Bowie has no real need anymore) a few weeks ago. Here it is:



There's a lot of jumbled iconography in this one. Gary Oldman, dressed as a priest, punches a homeless kid in the face within the first five seconds, then heads into some kind of decadent bar filled with sultry and deformed religious figures. There's wrinkly bishops, self-flagellation, stigmata, spurting blood, Marion Cotillard dancing in a slow-motion kind of way that would shimmy her dress right off if this were a Fall Out Boy video, and a shockingly young-looking David Bowie presiding over it all dressed as a shepherdprophet and pointing like he's shooting lasers, but by far my favorite part comes at the end, when the music fades away and David Bowie says,

"Thank you, Gary.
Thank you, Marion.
Thank you everybody."

and then VANISHES with the sound of a bell. Obviously I consider this to be entirely symbolic, and I think this means we've seen the last of David Bowie, possibly forever. But up until five months ago we thought he'd been permanently gone for 10 years, so who am I to speculate?


A few publishy things since I spoke here last, only three of which have to do with David Bowie:

Two David Bowie poems, one in Everyday Genius and one in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. Spaceflight and minotaurs.

Speaking of space, I had a story called "Evacuees" in Paper Darts last month and just LOOK AT THOSE FUCKING ILLUSTRATIONS (Meghan Murphy is responsible for those; she has that magic). Paper Darts is my absolute favorite, and I've always liked this story so much more than anyone else, so I am 200% thrilled that they liked it and that Meghan's illustrations rendered it so perfectly. :') It is worthy of both emoticons and genuine emotions.

A story about deserts and atrocities in Monkeybicycle called "Villains." Because we are first villains, and then we escape.

Things unrelated to David Bowie coming soon, but, really, is anything that far removed? Has anyone else ever created so much stuff out of a single obsession? Let's have a discussion!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Three Writers That Make Me Happy

Today, I'm going to talk about three writers whose work makes me happy whenever I read it. This is a very particular satisfaction for me, vaguely composed of jealousy and wonder. I spend a fair amount of time reading work online, and maybe you don't (but you probably do - why else would you be here?), so it seems like a nice idea to tell you what I like. Maybe you will be able to show me other nice things? Needless to say, this is only three people, and there will be more in future installments.

Mike Meginnis

About a year ago, I first read Mike's unparalleled story/game "Angband, or His 55 Desires." It's the biggest, achiest, hulkiest thing of longing I've ever read and, at least from my personal perspective, encompasses every emotion I ever felt as a very purposeful videogamer when I was a teenager. Every time I return to it, this story gives me chills. You've never seen anything like it.

Mike isn't the only writer giving videogames a place in literary fiction, but he is by far the most affecting. Generally speaking, for me most of the recent spate of videogame-influenced essays/poems/stories lack a real human element or connection - not so here. Mike writes about the people playing the games, and how they become shaped by them. His story "Navigators" (included in the latest edition of Best American Short Stories) explores a father-son relationship through their shared playing of a fictional videogame, Legend of Silence, and it is absolutely devastating in its loss. 

Fittingly, from a critical standpoint Mike writes with unequaled depth about videogames; their structure, intent, and interaction with the players first and foremost, which makes for thrilling, fascinating material. He created a project called Exits Are, which simulated an oldschool text-adventure  game between writers, which remains the most fun I've ever had virtually with a writer. (He recently started a writing-about-games blog, bless him, in which I will drown myself in as much writing as he will provide, and these are games I've never played or heard of.) Mike Meginnis is the type of writer who makes you want to go and really verse yourself in something, or else just shut the fuck up.

Brandi Wells

Brandi Wells has written the book I've loaned out to the most people and read all the way through the most times (besides Harry Potter, the early ones): Please Don't Be Upset, from Tiny Hardcore. I think it's four times now, but whatever. No one makes you feel quite as small and brutalized yet ferociously cared for as Brandi Wells. I think what originally snagged me was the tone, casually intimate, sort of brutally offhand, if that makes any sense. Here's a place to start, but just get the book. It's something you'll want to carry with you.

There's an honesty and rawness to her stories - even if nothing in her stories ever happened in real life, I don't care, it feels like honesty - a specificity to the language and images and happenstances that for some reason feels undeniably real to me. OK.

She is doing bizarre things now, assembling some sort of terrifying novel. She's writing these tiny little pieces about animals and machines and people with bizarre predilections that have the kinds of unpredictable twists and turns you can tell she just loved writing. Five of them were in Knee-Jerk recently. In these, again, it's that goddamn tone again - where horrifying, sinister things happen casually, just around the corner - even though there are suddenly talking animals. It's wonderful.

I cannot say enough, although I've probably said more.

David James Keaton

Take "Swatter" first - I think it's my favorite - and go any direction from there. Generally when you see people praising Dave's work it's variations on "oh wow what a wild ride" or "it'll knock your socks right off your feet - literally!" and while these praises are perfectly true, they do not even scrape the surface of what genius plays are going on in these stories. They are visceral, yes, but there are real human guts inside, and his stories slip against reality in the most marvelous, subtle way. He writes it enough like pulp to fool most people (white knuckles on black-and-blue skin and all that), but really, it's the weirdness and fantasies we don't want to admit where these stories are hitting hardest.

Plus, his stories are absolutely chock-full of arcana, details and factoids that are either meticulously researched or just plain fabricated (does it really matter which? Probably, and I'd lean towards the former because he watches too many movies to take dishonesty to source material well). Just try and say something to him on the internet-space (I've never met him in person), and see if he doesn't retort with some kind of obscure movie trivia reference. He's like a real-life Gilmore Girl (I've said this before). Just. Try.

He has a collection coming out from Comet Press in May - Fish Bites Cop! Stories to Bash Authorities - which I'm slowly wading into now, and not only is it fantastic but it has the best acknowledgements page I've ever seen. Seriously. You think I'm joking, but wait until you read this shit.

Only the good stuff here on this blog. These are the people you want to steal from.


David Bowie released his new album, The Next Day, this past week. If you've seen my skin or know me at all or read this blog you'll know how much this means to me. I promise to deliver a full report once I've absorbed it all and had time to process. In the meantime, I'll be listening to it over, and over, and over. I've been reading some good books, too - mostly ones I got at AWP, which was amazing and tiring and financially devastating - so I'll have to tell you about those as well.

I had a tiny comic with a normal-sized yak in Hobart this past week.

Also, a very old poem (circa 1070), anthologized.

I've been listening to this Amanda Palmer song an awful lot. An amazing video, too. I just love her. It's pretty amazing that there are celebrities on Twitter, like Amanda Palmer, who will answer if you ask them questions.

I've also been listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen (again), but this is for another project.

But what do you think about all of this? Do you like these songs and these writers as much as I do? Let's have a discussion!

I like blogging!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Things I've Read on the Subway

I've been reading a lot of great, invigorating stuff on the subway lately. I want to tell you about some of it:

- I read two of the latest Tiny Hardcore books. First, Casey Hannan's Mother Ghost, which you need to do yourself a favor and buy right away, because you will be getting in on the ground floor of something destined to be very big. I know everyone's telling you to buy this book already and it's probably starting to feel a little like peer pressure, but seriously, these are some of the best and most perfectly-honed short stories I've ever read (you know how perfect they are, they cause me to use boring phrases like "perfectly-honed.") If you don't believe me, just read this story in SmokeLong and tell me it's not one of the best things you've ever experienced. Just tell me.

Second, I finally read James Tadd Adcox's The Map of the System of Human Knowledge, and that, too, is an utterly magical book, in a way that's pulled off so artfully that you don't even notice that it's being done. That's Tadd Adcox for you, master prestidigitator. I honestly don't think it's possible to make a mistake buying a Tiny Hardcore book. They are all just so good.

- Two things that were once in Spanish and one in Hebrew, which are gradually opening me up to things published in translation, which was sadly beaten out of me in college:

Juan Pablo Villalobos' Down the Rabbit Hole, is one of the most disquieting and exciting things I've read in a looong time. It's narrated by an 11-year-old kid who lives in an enormous palace in Mexico with his druglord father. So there's all this decadence and atrocities, but filtered through the mind of an 11-year-old, who's more concerned about his hat collection and laying hands on a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus than anything else. It's disturbing and amazing and really, really funny. You guys should read it, really. Only about 70 pages long, but totally worth it. Something you could revisit many times and always find something new in.

Alejandro Zambra's Ways of Going Home is such a subtle book. It seems so casual at first glance (and therefore easy to read), a character and his narrator, but then there are these very deep, transformative currents beneath the surface. It's a tiny little boiling sea of a book.

I'm reading Etgar Keret's Suddenly, A Knock on the Door, and it's definitely my favorite of his collections that I've read so far.

My mom has a blog on her website now. She is so much more current than I am.

There's a lot of garbage that I could throw at you right now link-wise, but you can find that in other places on this website. My two particular favorites, however, are definitely:

1) this story called "Enemies" that went up on Spork a few weeks ago. The paragraph makes try to force you to read it quickly, but you should really take it slow. Give it some time to breath in between those paragraphs. I'm serious.
   (this is a PARTNERS story; you can read other PARTNERS stories here (for the title) and here. PARTNERS is a collection that will hopefully exist in a real way sometime in the future.

2) this interview with me on NANO Fiction's website. Really I cannot say enough about this journal. It's really stellar, all the work in there has such a cohesive tone, making it so satisfying to read. I feel like I've said this already, somewhere. Call it reinforcement.

Thank you for reading, as always.

p.s. It is amazing; one of the most frequent draws to my blog is people searching "vegan cum" on google, and being led here, to the post in which I used the latin form of that phrase. Those people must be so confused. I have no wisdom for them. I don't know what it tastes like. I'm sorry.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Hey peoples. So, Bowie madness continues, with this article that I read (last week? the week before? I've been meaning to write this for too long - I need to blog more impulsively) in NME, in which Tony Visconti, the new album's producer, says that these tracks have been under wraps for two. years., and that, moreover, The Next Day is significantly less melancholic than "Where Are We Now?" would suggest. (Which itself strikes me as a very typically Bowie-esque manuever, to release a single that isn't representative of the album it comes from.)

Visconti reports that Bowie is "smiling a lot." Well, yes.

Needless to say, I am excited for March 12.

I'm in New York City now, and it's pretty great but I'm still at the point where I get anxious doing just about anything. So, hit me up if you're in the city and let's connect.

I've been trying to write things here but every time I try I end up watching another episode of Parks & Rec instead. Damn.

That being said, I have had some writerly things go live in the last week: first, Hobart published a cover letter that I wrote them for a contest last year.

And then, over at PANK, I conducted a fairly lengthy conversation with Eric Raymond about his novel, Confessions From A Dark Wood (out from Ken Baumann's Sator Press; you should read it post-haste).

I should have new fiction coming out soon, possibly this month. I'm excited for that because it's been a while since anything new has been published. I worry though, each time I finish a story, that it will be the last good thing that I write. And I haven't written a new story in months.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


I had a minor meltdown on Twitter last night when I learned that David Bowie had - completely without warning - released a new single and accompanying video, "Where Are We Now," his first new music in nearly a decade (Bowie turned 66 today), from the album The Next Day, due to be released in March:

Back in high school, David Bowie was the first musician I listened to in any kind of intentional way, and he's been, by far, my biggest artistic influence in the six or so years since then (before I knew his music, he was Jareth the Goblin King and my aunt's biggest crush). As someone who's kept a fairly close watch on all the nothing that went on on the official David Bowie website until midnight this morning, I was completely stunned last night when I went to the site - just to see if there was anything there re: Bowie's birthday, as the site hadn't been updated in nearly a year (as well as for other reasons that I'll get into later), and found, instead of the pastel-colored blah redesign leftover from his last album, 2004's Reality, a new splash page announcing the new album and its first single. I was floored; I didn't believe it at first.

I've been writing poems about him for months (hold on, I'll get to these later), but never, never this. I get the impression that NO ONE - not even the traditional insiders - knew this was coming. There has been, literally, no hint of it.

As far as singles go, to me "Where Are We Now" is damn near perfect, a gently propulsive, atmospheric, piano-and-haze-drive ballad with a marvelous Bowie lilt as a vocal, with lots of German place-names thrown in (the artwork for the new album cover - if you can call it that, really; pastiche? photoshop? - is taken from "Heroes" and reflects on his time in Berlin, mid-70's), and it includes wonderfully oblique, poetic lyrics like "The moment you know, you know you know," "just walking the dead," and "You never knew that, that I could do that."

The whole thing ends with a marvelous descending piano line outro, the kinds of chords that always hit me the hardest and turn an otherwise regular song into a mood-turner. (Honestly, it sounds a lot like some of the b-side material from his late-90's and 2000's albums, which is absolutely fine with me. Tony Visconti can lay his hands on any Bowie he likes as far as I'm concerned.)

The video, too, is really wonderful and stirring. In a cluttered artist's studio (Bowie has a thing for the cluttered artist studio), two dolls - onto whose faces are projected video of Bowie and a silent mystery woman - sit before black-and-white footage of Berlin, presumably from about the time that Bowie lived there. I was particularly captivated by the woman's face projected on the doll - she doesn't sing or anything, and serves as a silent partner, but has such an intimate expression on her face that it just kills me. Bowie, too - like they're both trying to hold something huge in. Then, at the end, we see Bowie standing there, and damn, 66? The man looks GOOD.

It seemed like even his official Facebook page was taken by surprise: two hours before the website was updated (which I think happened at midnight EST, right as his birthday crept about), they posted some random portrait of him asking everyone to join alongside "DBFBHQ" (David Bowie's Facebook Headquarters, presumably) in wishing the man a happy 66th. And then, BOOM.

Today, the internet is reeling.

David Bowie has taken over the iTunes adspace for probably the first time ever. Yet a statement from Bowie's people promises no interviews, no dates, no appearances.

But this is a blog, mostly about myself, and I'm getting to that, so let's expand by way of doing the opposite: I think, for the most part, until last night everyone thought David Bowie was done forever. Finished. Spent. No more. He had every right to be, after 29 studio albums and a 40-year career. So when you're offered something completely unheralded and magnificent like this, what are you supposed to think? I had staked my claim in Bowie being gone forever (read on), so, WHAT COMES NEXT?

See, I've been writing poems lately. Poems, specifically, about David Bowie, but about a David Bowie who has effectively vanished off the face of the Earth as we know it, and gone to hide with his family, collect modern British art - which, until last night, was all that the media knew/reported he was doing - and, in my poems, examine his legacy, fearing every inch of it, every hour of his age. These poems have ridiculous long titles, things like, "David Bowie Approaches Tilda Swinton to Play Him in the Movie of His Life", or "David Bowie Discovers that His Official Website Hasn't Been Updated in Ten Months" - quite simply, things that, all of a sudden, just don't apply anymore. Now, I worry that the poems don't make any sense.

I have about a dozen David Bowie poems, and they all assume this anxious, afflicted persona of him. It's been the most fun I've had writing in a long time, and I think part of the great appeal in writing them was knowing that my version of Bowie and what he was doing with his life was just as possible as anyone else's speculation. No one knew what he was doing - he might as well be building a minotaur or reading 1001 Arabian Nights or worrying about his future. But now, this new music, this sign of activity, this giant fucking blip on the radar.

Is Bowie back? Has he put out this music only to disappear once again? What does this sudden resurgence mean for my poetry? I've come to the conclusion that it either means these poems are now completely irrelevant, or potentially more interesting and relevant than ever, since, thematically speaking, they are very much in line with what we've heard of this new music.

My plan was to make a book of these David Bowie poems, eventually. I think I'll still try. None of them have been published or accepted yet, but, we'll see. Nevertheless, this has put me in a really weird place, generally speaking. The short story collection I've been shopping around (PARTNERS) lost its latest contest last week, and now Bowie returns to silence my poems. I'm beginning to think - albeit halfheartedly - that the cosmos is trying to tell me something.

I'm moving to New York City on Friday. I'll admit, part of the original draw is that Bowie lives there, in Manhattan, and I wholeheartedly believed, in the tiniest part of my brain, impossibly, that I would be able to seek him out, to find and meet him after 10 years of public silence and tell him that I KNEW, that I wrote ALL THE POEMS for him, that he wasn't forgotten for a single second.


Now that there's this song, this album, this sudden attention, though, and my dedication seems a little... unnecessary. Insignificant. Redundant, I guess. Plus, if he's not planning to give any interviews or play any shows, then Bowie will be in super-hiding, and there's absolutely no way that I could find him.

Maybe my poems will?

You can see the delusion here, obviously, and I recognize it, too: clearly I would never have met the man, but now it just seems infinitely more complicated and difficult and unlikely. While, really, I should just be celebrating this new music. It feels like the cosmos again.

So, all in all, I don't know how much this new song changes things, but potentially quite a bit. Maybe you understand? I don't know, but this is a blog and, really, you don't have to.

Where are we now, indeed.

Thanks for reading. Do let me know if you've made it this far, I'd love to hear from you.