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What We’re Reading


Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Assistant Editor, Tin House Magazine): Only Roz Chast could get me to read about aging, death, and taking care of failing parents. Her new memoir, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, illustrated in her usual snarky style, is not exactly what I can describe as a fun read, but it’s about as honest and sympathetic an account of dealing with her parents’ incredibly difficult last years as one could wish for. Chast is serious in the right places here but also finds the best comic material in inherently dark territory, particularly in her portrayal of her mom and dad’s sweet and unhealthy codependency, the lucid dreaming of the senile, and the absurdities of Senior Living in a Place.

Lance Cleland (Workshop Director): Mention you are from Colombia to your average U.S. citizen and you are bound to get some careless joke about cocaine thrown your way.  A wink about the sugar you put in your coffee; a smirk about a corbata colombiana. As I am about to marry a beautiful woman from Medellín, I can both attest to how ignorant these remarks can be and how they annoy to the bone. I thought a lot about those jokes as I read The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, a novel that is set in post-Escobar Bogotá but is haunted by that mad king’s rein. Those looking for the warm hues of Marquez’s coastal Colombia will be surprised to find themselves in the muted streets of the capital, where much of the savagery of the drug traffickers took place. Rather than give a blow-by-blow history of all that transpired, Vasquez allows the mistrust and bitterness of a group of people who have lived through the siege to stand in for the collective scars of a nation. The plot follows the “ever present ghost” of a victim of the drug wars, as his friend, who witnessed his assassination, seeks answers as to why he was killed. The resulting search touches on the many ways Colombians were affected by the violence, summed up beautifully by Vasquez early in the novel: “There is a sound that I cannot or have never been able to identify: a sound that’s not human or is more than human, the sound of lives being extinguished…the sound of things falling from on high…that is forever suspended in my memory, hanging in it like a towel on a hook.” Literature often humanizes events that otherwise come to us as clichés, bringing to the surface what otherwise might stay submerged under the weight of history and the way it has been reported to us. I can’t imagine anyone who reads this novel ever making a joke about Colombia’s white lines again.

Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer, Tin House): I’ve spent the month slowly rereading House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.1 House of Leaves is an academic study on The Navidson Record, a documentary film about a family that moves into a new home, only to discover a number of unsettling spatial discrepancies.3 House of Leaves is a portrait of Zapanò, a reclusive, blind man and the author of an academic study about a documentary film he may or may not have fabricated. House of Leaves is a novel about Johnny Truant, editor of Zampanò’s papers, who is driven mad by the specter of the house. It is a horror novel. It is a love story.4

1 See Appendix A for the transcript between myself and Mr. Ross, regarding sophomore efforts by authors of strange debut novels.2

2 Mr. Vala did not provide us with these records.—ed.

3 Danielewski, Mark Z. Chapter IV. House of Leaves. New York: Random House, 2000. (pp. 24). Print.

4 It also has a lot of footnotes.5

5 And nested footnotes, which I am unreasonably excited by.

Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant): This week, intimidated by the stack of unread books at my bedside (fine: spilling onto my bed), I bummed around the internet, stocking a hypothetical anthology of online fiction. I was taken by Daniel Kowalski’s post-apocalyptic-O-Henry story “Our Meat” in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading series, in which Kowalski cutely subverts the common trope of the mysterious cataclysmic event by calling it “The Thing That Happened.” Another favorite was a Kevin Clouther story from his collection We Were Flying to Chicago, on Black Balloon’s blog, The Airship. The story, “On the Highway Near Fairfield, Connecticut,” is a strange, moving (and stopping) story that superimposes one moment over another unexpectedly. It’s hard to explain, even to myself, but that it can be so inexplicable and stay so grounded in the mundane is part of its odd charm.

Posted in Desiderata

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Cat Lover

Flash Fridays

Her profile said she LOVED CATS and HATED MEAN PEOPLE, but she looked so sexy in her profile photos. She looked peachy and ripe, not big-featured or vulgar. Maybe it was the cats in the photos that kept her from looking too slutty. Or maybe it was the cats in the photos that made her look so sexy. I didn’t know what we’d talk about. I’m more of a dog person, really, but I had changed my profile before messaging her to say that I was a veterinarian specializing in Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Cat AIDS. It’s serious. Google it.

An hour after the time we’d agreed to meet, I ordered a fourth beer and smiled like well-here-we-are at the damp-faced, bleach-blond bartender. She told me I owed her an impossible amount of money, and just as I was obligingly slapping my dollars onto the sloppy surface of the bar, my little pussycat rubbed up against my leg.

The smell of sugary perfume wafting up from her cleavage cut through the sour stench of beer-rotted wood. We said “You must be…” at the same time, and she presented the back of her hand to be kissed like a princess. At that point I felt confident that this date would be very easy.

Two cherry choco-tinis later, Lucy was draping herself all over me, as loose-limbed as a leaky blow-up doll at the ragged end of a bachelor party. I was drunk enough to grin and raise my eyebrows at her charming clumsiness and apologies: “Woops, there goes my hand in your lap again.” My bladder was threatening to explode, but I didn’t want to leave her leaning against the sticky bar unattended. There were many other men in the bar who’d been prowling and glaring, licking their drooping chops, wolf-like.

I paid our tab and ushered her out. She purred her encouragement, and looked up at me with what could be called bedroom eyes if the bed was a waterbed filled with vodka and cherry choco-tini mix. Her lips were unruly, and I couldn’t think of what to say next so I kissed her, right there on the street. She pulled away with a wobble and slurred at me with her face close to mine, her syrupy breath billowing into my nose and mouth. I threw my arm up for a cab and when we tumbled into the back seat, she blurted her address like it was one long word. She crept her fingers up my thigh and into the crotch of my jeans. I still hadn’t found my way to a bathroom, and the urgency was turning into pain, but I wasn’t complaining. She was murmuring dirtily into my ear. I wasn’t really listening, just enjoying the heat of her mouth near my face. At one point I thought I heard her say something about tools from an online vet supplier, but I imagined she meant it in a kinky context and continued to fantasize about her warm mouth.

At her apartment, she briefly worked on my belt before stopping to mewl out a saccharine coo. She sank onto all-fours on the dusty floor and nuzzled her face into the face of a gray cat. The cat looked up at me and meowed weakly. Lucy introduced me to Rocky, explaining his condition, Cat AIDS. As she pouted down at the cat and up at me, I felt a lame, icy blanket fall over all hope of getting naked with this woman. She looked at me with sudden sobriety and demanded that I operate on her ill pet. She’d prepared for this and, cat in arms, she directed me to the kitchen.

I blinked at the situation in there. It had been transformed from an innocuous place of food preparation to a much less pleasant environment. On a baking sheet lined with a folded paper towel, small steel tools were arranged neatly next to a syringe. I thought I might vomit. Lucy gestured at a pair of clean latex gloves and said she’d sanitized the counter for the operation.

To my credit, I had taken an online course in preparation for the date (in case she came to my place and wanted to see my credentials), but I’d fudged my practicum and my certificate said, at the bottom, in very small print: SURGERY INCOMPLETE. In the kitchen, Lucy got Rocky comfortable on the counter, snapped on her own pair of gloves, and gently emptied the contents of a hypodermic needle into the top of Rocky’s paw. With a single whimper, the animal went limp on the table. I held the shiny sharp instruments above the soft and bloated stomach of her anesthetized cat. A thin skin of sweat slicked over my body, my bladder finally relieved itself of its rotten contents, warmly, down my left leg, and I penetrated the poor beast’s flesh.


Polly Duff Bresnick is the author of the chapbook Old Gus Eats (Publishing Genius, July 2012), which contains stanzas excerpted from her visual translation of Homer’s The Odyssey. Her writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, elimae, The Agriculture Reader, DossierMonkeybicycleThe Offending Adam, and The Fiddleback. She lives in Brooklyn.

Posted in Flash Fridays

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Tin House Reels: Jordan Bruner

As devoted fans of Jordan Bruner’s sensually rich films, Tin House Reels is once again excited to engage with her unique sense of community.

Taking a Eve Ensler poem as its source material, “And Then We Were Jumping” is a warm mediation on justice and the ways we both heal ourselves and those around us. The film tells the story of a daughter who takes on her father’s depression as her own. Ensler and Bruner mine the daughter’s psychology, describing how harmful and disorienting it can be to take responsibility for pain that isn’t yours.

The creative process was a collaboration with the poet and a team of diverse artists.

“Eve Ensler sent me her poem and we began bouncing ideas back and forth,” Jordan told us. “I made rough storyboards and sent image references, and then we met up and I got further clarification of her intent. My friend Nelly Kate began experimenting with music around that time as well. I made another round of storyboards and an animatic with really rough sound, and from there began designing style frames. Animator extraordinaire Greg Lytle started animating as I was continuing to make the style frames, and my brother Barry Bruner, an amazing illustrator in his own right, assisted Greg with the animation and mapped out the landscape for the end scene. Once all the frames were completed, more animators came in to help out and I began compositing the project in After Effects. We animated the entire project in Photoshop and After Effects.”

The sense of community that went into making the project is illuminated in the final frames of the film. The closeness that initially seemed capable of destroying the father and daughter takes them to a rich, humane recognition. Bruner and her team come by the emotions in the film honestly, allowing the audience to jump along with the characters on screen.

The short film and the poem were created as part of the One Billion Rising For Justice campaign, which demands for an end to violence against women and girls.

The video was a Vimeo Satff Pick and has been screened at Pictoplasma, Anima Festival in Brussels, and will play at Fest Anca in Slovakia in June.

Jordan Bruner is an animation director living in Brooklyn, NY. Jordan has worked with clients including Linda McCartney Foods, Friskies, and Etsy, collaborated with bands ranging from the Mountain Goats to Paramore, and shown her short films in festivals all around the world. In amongst creating 2D and Stop Frame animations, Jordan finds time to paint, collect hologram paintings, and be part of a bowling team. She wishes she had a mascot, so please get in contact if you’d like to apply for the position.

Alison Pezanoski-Browne is an editorial intern at Tin House.

Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.

We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work to tinhousereels@gmail.com. You may also send us a file directly.

Posted in Poetry, Tin House Reels, Videos

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Essay on Urban Homesteading, a Poem

As the weather grows warm and we grow restless, we’re reminded of Allison Titus’ vital, burning poem from Issue 57, The Wild Issue.



The dumb hours blunt the after

noon with bottle neck


with clover & weeds

almost meadowed


& black widows & the mint.

There are so many ways


to be tired. All summer list

& ungather, place strategic


plywood over yielding

planks. The beginning


a swelter now settled :

now not new :


We have our pick of bars

& a new bullet


ratio : a little less day-to-day

interruption : a little less


metal : barrel : slate : syringe.

Les watch-how-the-dark



We settle in,


accommodate the history

of what is left


to us, blue marl & viaduct,

cold storage units


turned into lofts; sirens

& blackouts;


a rampage of ten-year-old boys

throwing rocks.


Allison Titus is the author of the book Sum of Every Lost Ship. Her poems have been published in A Public Space, Black Warrior Review, and Gulf Coast. She lives in Richmond, VA.


Posted in From The Vault

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On the Shelves of Memory and in the Temples of the Wardrobe

Playing tourist to a city’s energy, a city not your own, is akin to throwing open your wardrobe and allowing the city to dress you in unexpected and untamed ways. You are at the mercy of its interruptions. They break into your train of thought and step, redirect your attention, throw garnish on and rip holes into notions you assumed had been perfectly zipped up. It’s—hopefully—what we readily sign up for when stepping onto a plane or train or placing ourselves behind the wheel. We are asking to be suspended in a place and time both our own and not our own, in a sort of episodic rendering anew of ideas about the self and that self’s little world. Every trip should result in new perspective, punctuated by new design, which gives us new form.

I believe there is a layer of New York that persists “on the shelves of memory and in the temples of the wardrobe.” When Gaston Bachelard quotes Charles Péguy he’s doing so not as a description of New York, but as part of a larger conversation about the difference between image and metaphor, and also as part of a conversation on furniture—the wardrobe, the box, the casket—as images of secrecy and the self. But I like to think it is an apt description of Madison Avenue, on a weekday, during the lunch hour.

New York. I am in its tides for ten days, playing tourist to energy not accessible at home, which is Portland, Oregon. From a visitor’s perspective, skimming the surface on one of New York’s million currents, at once threatening and beckoning to sweep the individual away, there is little duel between the two. They relax into each other and course alongside their variants, a rushing spectrum solidifying into those bastions of the frock: Bergdorf’s and American Two Step and Century 21 and Opening Ceremony and A Détacher (to be detached). A sign, COFFEESHOP, The Viand: A long wall of two-person booths, a cup to go for the shopgirls at Barney’s in black and for a fur coat and for a hard hat and for a suit. I wear my Picasso rain jacket with and without an umbrella, find a star spangled Maiyet on a headless mannequin and slip into Charlotte Olympia’s cat-footed world, searching for some version of a lion. Top foot. I step onto a survival carousel and match heartbeats with Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Broadway, Devoe St.

“We submit to louche textiles. We feel disgust, timidity, and glee. It proceeds by dissociation and division. We observe the simultaneous proliferation and cancellation of origins. We adapt to a random texture, and this adaptation becomes a material movement. We try it for fit. The fibre is stimulating. We’re wearing a metaphor, lightly emanating a stranger’s scent.” – Lisa Robertson, ‘The Value Village Lyric’

You don’t want to spend your money on impotence, on immobility. After Bergdorf’s, I walk out into the mid-day gleam, an in-between building shine reflecting from the glass box entry to Apple and the golden statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman saluting a carnival of traffic, shop windows reflect light back in an upward reaching angle and throw all the shadows into relief. Our faces are, for a moment, masks. There ahead is the Strand’s mobile bookshop, as unassuming as if situated along the Seine. Looking down, it has a backdrop of cobbles and taxis and sale tickets. They are yellow and garish, the tickets, selling, yet all the titles look appealing and I have an overwhelming urge to buy one, a book, an affordable alternative to Bergdorf’s shoe department that will also function as a light lunch. Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems. I imagine my trip as an extended lunch break and carry the pocket edition like a wrapped sandwich from the Automat to a sunny boulder in Central Park.

There are books we read that, because of their verse or their prose, the way their words associatively cascade around the page, dress us, swaddle us in their universe. You must enter them with your entire body, or allow your entire body to read instead of just your mind, in order to access the certain cadence with which the words are presented. I’d call this an act of dressing, but then one could use the term “dressing” for almost any act of learning or reading or viewing. We are dressing our psyche and building a closet for our personality, reflected on our bookshelves and mantelpieces, our nightstands and underneath our beds and even in our refrigerators.

I read a handful of O’Hara poems. He cooks me a multi-course lunch in Central Park and I read him while he’s at it: heel toeing up and down Madison Avenue, putting on his clothes and trying to come back into himself and movie theaters and two charms in a pocket on a lunch hour. O’Hara offering up how to be the most well and the most unwell on a lunchtime diner plate, I read it’s frayed pages.   Then, I look up and continue reading. I read the park, the streets, the skyline. I read the people. I read the style of their hair and the height of their shoe. I read their briefcase and their Celine bags. I read their unassuming jackets and their running gear. I read where they have been and where they are going.

When the desire for a quieter parade overtakes, I take to the Met and the Neue. On my way, a girl emerges, up from the subway staircase. Tall, thin, leggings setting off her skinny legs and Givenchy curb chain ankle boots, the thick gold chain at the vamp, sturdy shoes still pristine and expensive despite the ageing of garments a city lifestyle demands. Her costume elevates her small frame above the gritty sidewalk. Some people dress as if they have a buffer between their garments and the hustle of the subway, the sidewalk. Their appearance, cool detachment, untroubled by any shock of society or weather, persists. My eye lands on these people, the few islands in a perpetual crowd, sliding cool and slick as silk between shoulders and backpacks. Soon they are behind me or too far in front to follow their easy choreography. But in the Met, the islands are framed and under glass. Captured, contained, on display. Stationary. We move to them, through them. We pause.

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Posted in Essays

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Distracted in Portland

One of the advantages of packing up and relocating for three months to a town where you know no one and are freed from the quotidian banalities that clutter up life—dental appointments, exterminator visits, relationships—is that you have tons of time to work, yet can still indulge in those obsessive distractions from work that you rigorously police (mostly) in your real life.

This week I have been spending too much time writing uncharitable letters to the American Meteorological Society.

It started because, on my way to Portland, I stopped off in Boulder, Colorado, to visit the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally-funded research center. NCAR occupies a brutalist I.M. Pei building perched on a mesa between downtown Boulder and the front range and they have sweet stuff, like a miniature tornado, but I was there to visit the archives. I was hunting down some interviews done there in the eighties and nineties with old-timer meteorologists. Many were conducted under the aegis of the AMS, who held copyright, and one of them required permission of the AMS president in order to read it.

So I requested permission. I didn’t expect any trouble.

This was, I hope, my last archival trip for the book I am writing about Kurt Vonnegut and his older brother Bernard. Bernard was a chemist who got seduced by meteorology in the 1940s and ended up inventing the most commonly used method of cloudseeding—the chemical seeding of clouds to induce them to rain. Bernard was working for G.E. at the time, and so, too, was Kurt, writing press releases and corny PR copy while secretly trying to write fiction. I had been to a multitude of archives researching this book: the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and archives at Princeton, MIT, Penn, U Albany, and Indiana University at Bloomington. I have filed FOIA requests with the FBI and tracked down family members and associates, in one case turning up unannounced to a weekly luncheon of cloud physicists at an Albany diner called Grandma’s. I didn’t expect it to be the weathermen who would give me grief.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. Recently, I wrote a magazine piece for OnEarth on the use of cloudseeding today. The practice is currently used in ten Western states and has been for a long time—California’s water and hydropower utilities have been cloudseeding the Sierra Nevada since the early 1950s. For some reason, this continues to surprise people. At cocktail parties, when I tell people I am working on the history of weather modification, they often say, “Oh. But it’s not real. Right?” The only people who seem to believe that weather modification is real are conspiracy theorists convinced that the government is conducting secret weather wars and spraying us with “chemtrails” to make us docile and dumb. As if going to such lengths were necessary when there’s YouTube around.

Such folks have a way of making trouble for the weather modifiers and their clients: water districts, agricultural interests, and hydropower-makers. So, naturally, there’s a level of paranoia among the folks whose job is to try to enhance precipitation. When I was working on the OnEarth story, one of my sources, a private weather modifier, freaked out when the piece was going to press and started insisting we couldn’t quote things he had said at the annual meeting of the Weather Modification Association, where I had stood up and introduced myself as a journalist. I explained that it didn’t work that way, but I did take his name out of the story. Which was his loss, really, since what he had said made him sound effective and would have probably gotten him new clients in need of rain.

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Posted in Essays

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Your Weekly Forecast: Don DeLillo

“There’s always a period of curious fear between the first sweet-smelling breeze and the time when the rain comes cracking down.”—Don DeLillo

Posted in General

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What We’re Reading



Rebekah Bergman (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): After reading (and becoming enamored with) Elena Ferrante’s novel The Days of Abandonment earlier this year, I started the first of her three “Neapolitan Novels,” My Brilliant Friend. The series follows two girls from Naples through childhood and into adulthood as their friendship and identities are challenged, stifled, and nourished by familial and societal expectations. Ferrante is an elusive figure. Though she (he?) has 9 novels to her name, the Italian author writes under a pseudonym and refuses to make public appearance. This, I think, serves her immensely. She holds nothing back from her portrayal of gender and culture and her writing is able to truly speak for itself. My Brilliant Friend is a deeply intimate portrayal—not only of Lila and Elena, but of their families, their city, and the changing world of the 1950s. It lacks the intense, psychological drama of the scorned lover in Days of Abandonment, but its power is more subtle and therefore, I expect, more sustainable over the course of the two subsequent books. I will soon find out if this is true. When I finished My Brilliant Friend, I bought the second novel in the series immediately.

Sophia Archibald (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): I just started You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem, and I can already tell it’s gonna be a good one. Even when he is not writing about fantastical worlds or occurrences, Lethem always has an element of magic in his words. This book exposes the magic and paradoxes of love, with music as its core. An unnamed band ties most of the main characters together, two of whom recently broke up but are still playing nice. Lucinda, one half of this former duo, develops an odd relationship with a regular voice on The Complaint Line, where she works answering phone calls. I have barely scratched the surface, but the characters, dialogue, and even exposition are already rich and captivating. I can’t wait to delve deeper.

Molly Dickinson (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): In Cadaver, Speak Marianne Boruch has a distinct way of capturing a preoccupation with the past—not just a personal past but the past, the distant Roman past, the artistic past, the spiritual past—while rooting it in what is in some ways one of the most uniquely present objects: the physical, living, or recently living, body. She conceives of the body as more than a physical casing to be inspected in an anatomy class. It is a vessel for self-reflection and wisdom; it is a source of meditation and truth. I was drawn to Boruch’s collection because of my own attachments to the body, in all its gruesome details, and I stuck around for her ability to call our attention to the unnoticeable ways we build intimacy with the world around us. Cadaver, Speak is both a book that connects us to our surroundings and a wonderful source of thoughtful isolation and meditation.

Miles Jochem (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): In a throwback to my freshman humanities class at college, I have been reading The Iliad (tr. Richmond Lattimore). It’s amazing how well the story of the strong-greaved Achaians, swift-footed Achilleus, and Hektor, breaker of horses holds up by modern standards (and I love me some Homeric epithets!). Sure, there are dry moments. All but the most stalwart classicist will be bored to tears by the catalogue of ships. But there’s more than enough excitement to counterbalance the mustier of the epic conventions. Lust-driven, jealous gods fighting over arrogant, adulterous kings, more epic battle scenes than all the Die Hard movies combined, and the downright soap opera that plays out between angry Achilleus and proud Agamemnon over a pilfered girlfriend all combine to ensure the millennia-enduring popularity of Homer’s great poem.

Allyson Paty (Editorial Intern, Tin House Magazine): I’ve never read anything quite like Mei-Mei Berrsenbrugge’s Hello, the Roses. The poems have an essayistic quality in their deliberate, attentive movement. However, unlike many discursive modes, Berrsenbrugge’s poems don’t seem preoccupied with fixing an idea in language; rather, language provides a medium for the material world to open out into sensation, emotion, and thought. Her images evoking the experience of sight as crisply as they evoke their referents.

Take this passage from “Pure Immanence”:

It makes of my experience a critique of innateness, the way a pink plastic chair, a mannequin in a pink bunny suit holding a painting of sunset accretes virtual rouge defining a space that doesn’t refer to objects or belong to me.

I could mistake it for something fractal, shattered; it’s the opposite of that.

No matter how close to two sensations, passing from one to another pink is the slice through.

Innateness spreads like sunset across mountains.

I connect with sensation now as to pink petals forming toward me, those who love me in another life responding to me

There’s no time, so at sunset love from others can look like one rose.

Posted in Desiderata

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Gyrus and Sulcus

Flash Fridays

A head on collision, license plates smudging together. He was smiling before the steering wheel warped his jaw, before the hubcap spun through the windshield and sliced through his neck, before his head launched out of the sun roof.

A car accident in evening traffic. A mosaic in the street, unfolded metal and rubber and skin. His head plopped on the white line and rolled over the curb onto the crippled yellow grass. The stalks brushed against his frosted lips, heavy lidded eyes, pimples, scars from larger pimples, brown hair hiding his ears and reaching past his eyebrows. A jagged bit of spinal cord hung from his neck like an icicle.

Cars slowed down then sped up. Sirens—police, ambulance—whirled through the thick August air. There was writing on the road. Low bridge no trucks. No trucks low bridge. The skin on the top of his head started to tent.

Then his whole head began to quiver. A serrated pincer broke through the skull. A second one followed, clenching and unclenching. The rest of the skull crumbled apart and the brain, clean and intact and supported on nine spotted orange crab legs, scuttled away from the wreckage.

It made it under the guardrail, down the slope into the woods, as the ambulance arrived. It moved in quick and choppy stretches from brush to tree to bush. It dipped under exposed roots and snipped leaves out of it way and left forked prints and constantly made a sound somewhere between a slurp and gargle.

A hawk cried crossing the sun. The black chipped vertebrae of a mountain reared above the gnarled trees. Some of the trunks had growths shaped like eyes and noses and lips. The brain found a shallow stream and carefully climbed down the bank. It stretched over the edge and peered at its reflection, the flaky gray grooves and ridges. Slowly it extended its leg, tested the water with a quick prick, watched the ripples extend. Then it dived in and swam doggy style to the other side and continued through the forest. Less then an hour later, when the sun disappeared behind the mountain, it laid down beside a pale ridged mushroom and fell asleep staring at the stars.

And dreamed about fireballs hanging from traffic lights, dumpsters full of balloons, rock planets with a belt of bloody molars, birds hatching out of moons, gas planets on the same orbit with the bigger one devouring the smaller like a greater than sign, the breasts of an eleventh grade calculus teacher. The flashes of a mother with make up tattooed on her face and a father wrapped in a haze and a brick house with a hula hoop around the chimney.

It woke up gasping in the hot damp morning and slinked through the bushes, towards the shade of the mountain, looking for berries or nuts or worms. Climbing a log it froze on top of the mossy bark. There was a deer sniffing the ground on the other side. Both creatures studied each other. One with eyes like marbles, the other with pincers raised and swaying.

The brain moved first leaping down and charging at the closest hoof. The deer jumped up and stomped down denting the brain but it flashed its pincer and tore into the belly, revealing pink meat, and smudges of white, incandescent white. The deer buckled and collapsed. The brain dug further into the hole it created and did not stop until it chipped the spine. The hoof shivered for a moment. The eyes bulged. The top of the head began to tent.


Anthony Cordello got a MFA from Fairfield University. He does not want to be a teacher but he will probably end up teaching.

Posted in Flash Fridays

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Tin House Reels: Valeriy Kozhin

This week, Tin House Reels is pleased to share The Gardener’s Dream by director and animator Valeriy Kozhin. Kozhin’s film transforms Lewis Carroll’s poem The Mad Gardener’s Song” into a surrealist adventure that maintains the spirit of the poet’s work and incorporates a wildness that is all Kozhin’s.

The film conveys an abstracted conceit of a logic game. Using paper cut-outs and puppets, porcelain dolls, and minuscule objects, Kozhin draws on images of childhood. Using a color palate rich in natural pigments, his work also feels like more classic animation–a mixture of Marc Davis era Disney and Jan Svankmajer, one of Valeriy’s favorite filmmakers.

“I see a new world with my eyes when I am inside a film,” Kozhin said. “I think that cinema is a young art. We have the great opportunity to make more than we can imagine in animation.”

That imagination, which seems to be equally enamored with the romantic and grotesque, has created an alluring lullaby for those boys and girls who still read under the covers after the lights have been turned off.

The film was made in two versions–one in Russian and one in English–with financial support from the Russian Federation Ministry of Culture.

Moscow-born Valeriy Kozhin grew up wanting to be a cartoonist. After graduating from the Moscow Academic Art Lyceum, he joined the VGIK Film Institute in the artistic animation department. He currently lives and works in Moscow.

Alison Pezanoski-Browne is an editorial intern at Tin House.

Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.

We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work to tinhousereels@gmail.com. You may also send us a file directly.

Posted in Poetry, Tin House Reels, Videos

Comments: 1

A Picture of Love

Flash Fidelity

I stood up in a close friend’s wedding fifteen years ago in this same temple, and now his son is up there reading Hebrew in cracking sing-songese. I don’t come here unless there’s a wedding or, like today, a Bar Mitzvah. Each time, I hope to connect with the historical groaning that infuses the chants; sometimes I feel a tingle that wants to become a smile, but then I look at my watch and wonder how much longer the services can possibly go on.

My five-year old son sits next to me in a blue sport coat, clip-on tie, and a yarmulke that falls off every time he turns his head. He points at the stained glass high above us and whispers, “Is that a picture of love?”

I lean toward him. “What did you say?”

Slightly louder than a whisper, he’s incapable of whispering, he repeats, “Is that a picture of love?”

I don’t know how to answer. All at once I don’t want to say no, am not even sure I understand the question, am not convinced that I heard him right, and can’t believe he could grasp that love might be captured that way. I look through the prayer book, the English side, trying to find the word “love” in case my son overheard it, but I can’t find it, and besides, the singing is all in Hebrew and means nothing to either one of us.

“Where?” I ask.

“The colors,” he says, “is that a picture of love?”

My five year old son sees in the stained glass a picture of love, and I feel the tingle growing, maybe I have to come back here, and back again – if he can see it, then I have to come back until I can see it.

I glimpse my friend in the front row, catch the widening of his face with age, and I know I look the same. We’re forty, our grandparents are dead and our parents are breaking down, popping pills and saying prayers to try to stretch their failing bodies further into the time of their grandchildren’s lives. Our own bodies have started to hint at what’s to come: I’ve had cancer once already, though of the entry-level variety, and know enough people like me that I’m no longer surprised when someone my age announces it: skin cancer, breast, ovarian, leukemia. When my friend was getting married, when we were twenty-five and rising fast, these things only happened to old people, to aunts and uncles and sometimes teachers.

I look again through the prayer book, nowhere near the line we’re on, I’m certain. “Reveal yourself, our King, and reign over us, for we await you.” I read this line over and over again. Then, I lean to my son. “Tell me again, buddy, what do you see?”

“Up there,” he says, louder than before, “a picture of lava.”

I nod, and then roll my eyes at my silliness. “I get it. Where’s the lava?”

“The red and yellow lines going down, is that supposed to be lava?” he says. Of course: the two stained glass columns lean inward, the ocean tiles at each base giving way to molten colors at the peak where the columns meet. A flame cast in iron rises out of a concrete monolith in the center. “Good eye,” I whisper to my son. “That is a picture of lava.”

The rest of the service is uneventful. We leave early when my son can no longer sit still. Not that I can blame him.


Jonathan Chudler lives and writes in Michigan.  His fiction is forthcoming in Story|Houston.

Posted in Flash Fidelity

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Cutting Teeth: A Late Night Interview with Julia Fierro

Julia Fierro’s keenly observed debut novel, Cutting Teeth, follows the intertwining stories of a group of thirty-something Brooklyn parents over the course of one summer weekend. They’re packed into a beach house together, and close quarters force everything that’s been seething beneath the surface out into the light. Fierro takes on relationships and the gauntlet of parenthood with genuine compassion and honesty, going deep with her characters, turning over all the ugly bits. She was equally candid and thoughtful in our conversation about the book, which tackles many of the very issues that she and I are both mired in as mothers to young children. We conducted this interview via email, each of us squeezing it in late at night after our respective kids had gone to sleep.

Cari Luna: The book opens on a note of deep anxiety: anxiety of the new parent, anxiety of the information age. It’s most explicit in the character of Nicole, who’s struggled with it since childhood, but there’s an undercurrent of anxiety running through all of the characters. Can you talk about this both with regard to your own experience and to the community of parents you’ve created in Cutting Teeth?

Julia Fierro: The first scene I wrote in Cutting Teeth, which remained the first scene in the book, revealed to me the kind of story I needed to tell–a story that, as you mentioned, is very much about the anxiety unique to the “information age.”

We consume information in every waking moment. We are plugged in at all times. Part of me loves this kind of life, full of distractions that pull me away from my own thoughts, often a burden because of my obsessive-compulsive disorder. I am a true consumer–listening to audiobooks on my way to work, checking my iPhone every ten minutes, laptop always open, hooked into my computer to watch streaming TV at night when I can’t sleep. The white noise, so to speak, of all the information–the Internet, the iPhone, even the new TVs in NYC taxicabs (that used to be the quietest place for me)–lulls me, but it also keeps me in a constant state of awareness. Watch out. Beware. Pay attention. I think this creates a sense of heightened alertness, especially for parents, because what if you stopped paying attention for a second and missed an important piece of info–the info that would help you keep your family safe?

The opening scene at the playground was what I had to write first, because it created the hyper-real, and often hyper-anxious, tone of the novel. Of course, I wasn’t actually thinking any of this consciously when I started writing Cutting Teeth. It’s only in retrospect that I can make these kinds of interpretations. I write fast and in long stretches when I have the time, and I write to escape, so while I may have an outline of scenes, and a bunch of detailed character sketches at the start of a book, I don’t always know why I need to tell this particular story, or what the point is. I know what kind of experience I want to give the reader in the moment, and that, with my knowledge of the characters and the mood, is enough to keep me writing and moving forward.

The playground scene is also the purest moment in the book for me in an autobiographical sense. I was that woman on the playground mistaking mundane things as warning signs of impending doom, seeing danger everywhere, and I imagine that most readers, whether they are parents or not, experience moments of heightened anxiety, when it feels as if time both slows down and speeds up. For me, that most anxious time was in those early years after my first child was born, when I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety, when it felt as if I’d been handed a precious object without any operating instructions.

This by no means devalues the different kinds of pressures and anxieties and lack of support that our mothers and all the previous generations of women faced, and I do feel so incredibly fortunate to live in such a privileged time.

I know how easy I have it. But this is the point I think I was interested in exploring: even though many of our lives are quite comfortable, and we have so little to fear rationally, I think people, and maybe mothers especially (perhaps, a leap here, it is even biological), do fear so much. Log on to any chat room, message board, especially those that are anonymous where people feel safe in confessing their darkest worries, and you’ll see this wave of panic, sometimes subtle, and sometimes deafening. My grandmother gave birth to seven children in a dirt-floor house with no electricity or running water. She brought children into a war-ravaged world with an uncertain future. And yet I hear mothers, today, talking on the playgrounds of the most affluent neighborhoods in Brooklyn (or posting links to articles about climate change on Facebook) about how they too have birthed children into an uncertain world. That fear is universal and spans generation after generation.

CL: Absolutely. There’s a feeling as a parent, particularly as a new parent, of “How do I keep a child safe in this world?” that can be terrifying. But as you point out, this isn’t unique to our generation. That we, in fact, have it much easier than our parents and grandparents in so many ways. But the incredible volume of information that comes at us can be overwhelming. As can be the pressure to “do it right,” to always be measuring yourself against other parents’ choices. Brooklyn is infamous for this, and perhaps unfairly. But the “Park Slope parenting culture” does have a certain reputation, and you play with that in this novel. What is it about that culture that led you to explore it in your work? And how does it relate to the realities of parenting outside New York City?

JF: I think the self-scrutinizing perfectionist parenting style, for lack of better terms, is more specific to a certain class of parents, particularly mothers, whether they live in Brooklyn or the wealthy Chicago suburbs or San Francisco. These are mothers who, before having children, worked very hard in their careers, which doubled as their identity. They are ambitious in a way that is manageable when you have only yourself, and maybe a partner, to care for. But some of that effort has to be sacrificed in those early years of parenting.

I completely understand why Meg Wolitzer titled her 2008 novel The Ten-Year Nap. Women who have ambition in their work and in their identity as a professional, no matter the field, are often forced to abandon careers they spent decades building because part-time work and adequate maternal leave is nonexistent. They are expected to pause their ambition and put their career on ice. Of course, there are infinite reasons to make this sacrifice for your children, and I’m sure most of these women would tell you the sacrifice of work for family is worth it–and for me, personally, it was– but it is a huge shift in their lives and focus and identity.

They were one version of themselves in life before children (which can mean life up to their forties since women can wait longer to have children now), and another version of life after. Their identity has to split–even if, like Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, the controversial book women all over the country are reading, they have childcare and financial support. Even if a woman has a wonderfully supportive partner who stays home to take care of the baby.

When I wrote Cutting Teeth, I was essentially examining the American mid-life crisis that occurs when our expectations for life don’t match up with the reality. Yes, these are privileged people, a specific group of Americans who are, on the surface, blessed. They should be happy, but they aren’t, and they are aware that they are not and that they should be, and this awareness makes them loathe themselves.

What also interests me is the judgment of women especially by other women. So much of America’s fascination with the celebrity of wealth is triple-sided–we adore the privileged, we envy them, we detest their inability to see and accept how fortunate they are. I think this is one of the reasons that reality shows, like Real Housewives of New York City, are so popular. I think this is why my father’s favorite show was Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

It surprised me when I realized I was writing a novel about privileged parents, when my own parents raised me so differently. I was the first privileged generation of my family, my father having grown up in poverty in Italy during WWII and my mother having come from working class Irish-Americans. Now I live among the wealthy young parents of Brooklyn and live a privileged life, even if it is one we can barely afford.

My parents wanted me to grow up among the affluent and so they moved to a wealthy area on Long Island where I would absorb, almost as through osmosis, the habits, tastes, and awareness of a higher class. For this reason, I will always be drawn to writing about the American Dream (my father’s story), status hunger, and The Great Gatsby-esque revision of one’s story. Tiffany, the character in Cutting Teeth I love most in many ways, was an embodiment of that. She rewrote her story and rose from a rural working class to the elite urban class. Her need to feel accepted and to belong is what makes me feel so much sympathy for her, despite her actions in the novel.

All mothers, of all classes, have something to struggle with–guilt, disappointment, the consequences of bad choices—but women judge themselves and each other so harshly. Each woman’s experience as a mother, or a woman who chooses not to have children, is so unique to her own story, but yet we still feel compelled to type each other. Rich mom. Corporate mom. Bitchy mom. Crunchy mom. Sanctimommy. I can only think that this is because we are still at the beginning of a real conversation about women and the balance between family and ambition and work, and I can only hope that the conversation will grow more nuanced as our daughters become women, and become mothers if they choose that life.

Writing about motherhood is so rich and intense for me, since my feelings about the topic are always shifting, revealing new aspects about the experience to me even now that my children are 4 and 6. I worry so much about saying the wrong thing when I’m talking about women and motherhood, and I often feel as if there isn’t a place in the literary discussion for books and stories about motherhood. Maybe this is just my insecurity, or the fact that I know so many writers who’ve chosen not to have children (and I respect that decision greatly), but I do find myself holding back on talking about “mom stuff” when in a literary crowd.

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Posted in Interviews

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The Bear at the Front Door

Anyone interested in creative writing has probably already heard the phrase, “the bear at the front door.” But if you’ve never had the chance to take a college creative writing class or else simply can’t remember anything that was said in the college creative writing class you did take because you were too busy evaluating your instructor sexually, then you might be wondering what this phrase means exactly. I fall into the first category, since I spent my time in college studying a real subject (American Cultural Studies with a minor in Falling Asleep with the Television On). So while I have heard the phrase “bear at the front door” mentioned by my writer friends, I have little to no idea what it means. When, as frequently happens, the subject comes up at a party, I just nod aggressively while filling my mouth with handful after handful of crudités.

I suppose I could figure it out by picking up a book on the craft of fiction, but reading a creative writing guide feels like one step closer to reading a self-help book, which in turn would be one step closer to addressing my crushing addiction to collecting steampunk beanie babies, a can of worms I’d rather not open at the moment (especially since I finally have my storage unit filled with doll-sized aviator goggles the way I like it). Instead, I have decided to complete my knowledge on this bit of creative writing arcana using the same tool with which I have filled in the many other gaps in my education: broad, sweeping assumptions.

Figure 1: A vest from the Maul Fashion Collection

When discussing this subject, my writer friends often seem to be talking about the various ways to write the opening of a story. So let’s assume that a maxim among those who have studied the art of creative writing at the college level is that it is ideal for works of fiction to begin with bears at front doors. Of course, the only way to test this theory is to put it into practice.

No bear:

Henry and Alice stood by their front door. There was nothing at it and nothing happened. Henry looked like he was about to say something, but then he didn’t.


Henry and Alice stood near their front door. Suddenly they saw through the window that there was a bear at it. They opened the door and stepped out onto the porch, where the ferocious beast gave them both a meaningful look.

“I am your son,” the bear said.

Henry and Alice and the bear all hugged each other and wept.

Even I was skeptical at first, but clearly the story that begins with a bear at the front door is far more interesting. We can therefore state definitively that we have unlocked the meaning of this phrase. Though, it does seem silly to suggest that every work of fiction should literally begin with a bear at a front door. So, for our purposes, let’s amend this craft tip so that there just needs to be a bear mentioned somewhere in the first paragraph.

That in itself seems like easy enough advice to follow. And yet, even some truly great writers have allowed their work to suffer by failing to include even a passing reference to a bear. Just look at the openings of these famous novels before and after I fixed them:

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Posted in Das Kolumne

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What We’re Reading


Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): Blake Bailey’s The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait is one of those books of which I read a glowing review and then the memoir slipped my mind as it waited on my library queue. But I’m glad the book’s description didn’t stick in my head, and also that I didn’t read the cover copy, because it meant I got to experience the mixture of uncertainty and growing awareness as the narrative took shape and its focus emerged. It’s a family story, starting with the birth of Bailey’s older brother to their college-student parents, and it is so swift, lucid, and nonjudgmental that even when I wasn’t sure of the book’s aims just yet I was thoroughly engaged. By the time Bailey’s handsome, wild older brother, Scott, is a teenager, it’s becoming clear there is some fairly intense conflict in the house, but as the years pass it becomes evident that Scott’s lack of inhibition, his drug use, and his emotional neediness are well beyond the typical, or even extremes, for any teenager. He will loom over the rest of the memoir, as the family attempts to deal with him or leave him to his own devices. (See, now I’ve ruined for you the reading experience I had—the irony isn’t lost on me. My apologies) The book is not morbid or sentimental, but funny—I have been chuckling over one line all week—and painfully frank about this family’s—or any family’s—inability to help its most incorrigible member.

Tony Perez (Editor, Tin House Books): Needing a quick break from LBJ’s political ambitions, I decided to listen to the audiobook of Walter Kirn’s Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade between volumes of Robert Caro. I found myself making excuses to partake in headphone-appropriate activities: exercise! cleaning! walking my best friend’s terrible dog! I’m a sucker for true crime, but Kirn’s at his best when he’s explicating the nature of deception, in our complicity–even willingness–to be deceived. Now I have to go buy a physical copy just so I can underline all those passages that have since been nagging at me.

Rob Spillman (Editor, Tin House Magazine): There are perfect reading weeks when my “must read” pile for work coincides with my “must read” for pleasure. In the next week I’ll be interviewing Rachel Kushner (Saturday, at the Brooklyn Public Library) and Anthony Doerr (Tuesday, at Greenlight Bookstore), so in preparation I am rereading Kushner’s The Flamethrowers and giving myself over to Doerr’s incredible new novel All the Light We Cannot See. With both I am struck with the precision of language coupled with the ambition of scope and scale (with Kushner, the 70s New York art world contrasted with 20th century Italian political history and Italian motorcycles, among her many other obsessions; with Doerr, World War II, the intricacies of locks and radios and the lives of those swept up on both sides of the war). One of the pleasures of rereading a great book is seeing how well it was put together when you already know the pieces. The Flamethrowers certainly passes that test. With All the Light We Cannot See, I simply gave myself over to Doerr’s mastery and will worry about how he pulled off this feat on second read.

Heather Hartley (Paris Editor, Tin House Magazine): “You look like a real thug,” sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti told his good friend James Lord who was sitting for a portrait for him in Paris in the 1950s. Despite this comment—and a few other cheeky and uncheery observations—Lord records his singular experience of being an art model in a tiny studio near Montparnasse in his compact, memoiresque book, A Giacometti Portrait.  Engaging and candid and modest, the book is a sort of portrait within a portrait of both men and examines the relationship between artist and model and artwork, and more generally is a glimpse into the by turns harsh and lush art world in post-World War II Paris. First published in 1965 for a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, A Giacometti Portrait retains its novelty, its sincerity—and a few pithy remarks. Very cool bonus: grainy and evocative black and white photos of the evolving portrait.

Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant):

” . . . no boy wanted to imitate his mother. No boy aspired to that yielding, self-effacing kindness, that quality of service. Boys wanted either to break things or build them. But now it was his mother who stayed with him, not for what she was to others but for what she had always been to him alone, one small being where all her affection was concentrated—for how she had loved when it mattered most.”

Happy Mother’s Day! (via Lydia Millet, from How the Dead Dream)

Posted in Desiderata

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Saturn Devoured

Flash Fridays

Ma always said that my father hadn’t been a real soldier. He’d been at the Battle of the Bulge but he was just a guy with a stretcher, fetching the wounded and the dying. He killed himself when I was seventeen and the following year I joined the army and I became a real soldier.

I went to Vietnam just as the French armies were pulling out and heading to Algeria. They went knowing what it means to be defeated and determined not to let it happen again. Even in Paris, the Algerians protesting the war were rounded up and thrown into the river.

I went to Paris with my wife when we were young.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said, and I thought about bodies washing up on the banks of the Seine. After Paris we went to Spain and saw a bullfight because my wife thought it would be exciting, but she covered her face with her hands and moaned softly, “Oh, no, no, no!”

A man patted my shoulder, nodded to my wife, and said in English that foreigners weren’t used to the bullfights. He told us that the bulls were eaten after they were killed.

“Eating must be, killing must be,” he said. “And the bulls know it’s better to die fighting.”

After the bullfight we went to the big museum in Madrid and saw Francisco Goya’s paintings. There was one called Saturn Devouring his Son. I read in our guidebook that Saturn was Zeus’s father, that to prevent his children from becoming more powerful than him, he ate them. In the painting, the father sits the dark, his limbs twisted like a creature that crawls instead of walks. His fingers are ripping into the back of a perfect human body, decapitated and bloody. But if you look at his eyes, at just his eyes, you can see he’s afraid.

Goya painted war before you could watch it all day on TV. Right now they’re showing the protests in North Africa. If I was a young man in Egypt I’d be burning cars and waving flags. I was like that as a kid. I was in a gang. Not like these drug dealers you get today. We were all right. We’d just go around and beat the crap out of people. But I wouldn’t say I was bad growing up. I mean, I grew up, which is more than some folks can say. And I liked the projects, you know. I understood the projects. Sometimes they talk about the projects on TV and I guess it’s a different place now. I wonder how they’d show the projects and the war zones if there were no cameras and all the reporters had to go into the field with a canvas and some paint. Goya sketched women fighting and dying. He painted that young man with his arms raised and his mouth open. Things they don’t show on TV anymore.

I watch TV a lot these days. Usually, it’s the 24-hour news cycle but I like those programs about animals too. I know a lot about animals now. There are fifty different kinds of kangaroos and male platypuses have venomous stingers on their feet. Pigs are as intelligent as three-year-old children. Chimpanzees are our closest relatives and they wage wars against one another. They have strategies and weapons and no real reason for it, just like our wars. Emus cannot walk backwards.

I look away from the television and my wife is standing on the stairs, holding the phone against her chest. I can tell from her face that I’ve been talking to myself again. What did I say this time? Something about the bullfight? That night the girl was a raging bull and she died fighting. I don’t know what I was. I can’t imagine in her black, shining eyes what I was. It would have been all right, I think, if I never had a daughter. My wife looks away, presses the phone against her ear, and goes upstairs.

She’s talking to our daughter about the protests in North Africa, about what is going to happen now. Of course my daughter is watching. She’ll be happy to see them tearing down old regimes and puppet governments. Overthrowing old gods and destroying their pyramids. But I know how it goes, how the persecuted become the persecutors. My wife’s voice drops to a whisper and I know they’re talking about me. Sometimes I hear my wife saying that after all these years the memories and the drinking finally caught up to me, but that’s just what she needs to tell herself. She needs to say that I am sick and that Paris was beautiful.

But the truth is that sometimes chimpanzees eat their babies. Sometimes wolves fight to the death for the right to piss on a certain stretch of Arctic land. Sometimes a man will tie a girl to a table and sometimes he will slit her throat. And there will always be the chimpanzees and the wolves and the men who stand by and watch.

As I turn off the TV, a final image of angry protestors flashes on the screen. Who knows what they will be in the moment of fear and defeat when power is theirs to lose. They will be too afraid to be human. I think that’s true of everyone, except my daughter, who is undefeatable. She looked at me with such disgust and asked if I believed in anything anymore.

“Yes,” I should have said. “You.”

You, you, you. I should have said.

I sit in the dark and feel my back flatten and horns erupt from my skull. Muscles bulging, nostrils flaring, and hooves beating the ground, because sometimes we need to tell ourselves that it’s better to die fighting.


M.C. Williams is from Ossining, New York and currently lives and writes in Madrid.

Posted in Flash Fridays

Comments: 1

Tin House Reels: Noah Saterstrom

Noah Saterstrom knows that wonderful things can often come from rushed processes. In 2010, he challenged himself with a “Work-a-Day Page,” his blog on which he posted a new painting every day or so. “The discipline of daily [postings meant I was presenting] works that I might be tempted to see as too incomplete, peculiar, half-baked or difficult. Of course, some of the most poignant imagery falls into these categories.”

Four years later, Saterstrom has posted more than 800 works on his blog. He is in the process of carrying a similar notion–of expressing instincts before they are codified by too much technical deliberation–into filmmaking. Using tools like animation software, which he is not formally trained in, he is making art that is rough around the edges but rich in impulse.

“A lot of new media work now,” Saterstrom said, “is made by artists whose natural medium is non-video-related, who speak in the heavy accents of their native medium, whose technical abilities are poor, but enthusiasm high. I don’t know how videographers and animators feel about it, but the flood of new media work is exciting to me.”

“As a painter, I long to make images that seem to move as time passes. But what I actually make are still images. There is a similar longing for writers, I think: They use language, alone, to cast images for the screen of the eye, or wall of the mind, or however Ezra Pound put it. Movement is outside the bounds of painting in the same way that images are outside the bounds of writing, but the longing for those qualities are there, strong and nagging.”

With love of those impulses, we are pleased to screen Saterstrom’s Babboo’s Moving Pictures. “Creating the movie was trial and error,” Saterstrom told us. “I tried chalk boards, dry erase boards, and different stop motion apps.  Since each frame was being painted on the same surface, there was no room for mistakes. If I got something wrong, I’d trash it and start a new painting.”

Babboo’s Moving Pictures is primitive. I painted an image, say, of a cannon. Then I photographed it. Then I painted over the image on the same canvas, photographing twelve shots per second of film. The whole action is finally captured in a single painting. I find that very romantic.”

So do we……

A visual artist and founding editor of Trickhouse Magazine, Noah Saterstrom grew up in Mississippi and was educated at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. His paintings, drawings, installations and animations have been shown most recently in Seattle, WA; Brooklyn, NY; New Orleans, LA; Tucson, AZ; and Glasgow, Scotland. He has collaborated on books with Anne Waldman, Laynie Browne, and Kate Bernheimer. He lives with his wife Julia and daughter Vivian.

Tin House Reels is a weekly feature on The Open Bar dedicated to the craft of short filmmaking. Curated by Ilana Simons, the series features videos by artists who are forming interesting new relationships between images and words.

We are now accepting submissions for Tin House Reels. Please upload your videos of 15 minutes or less to Youtube or Vimeo and send a link of your work to tinhousereels@gmail.com. You may also send us a file directly.

Posted in General, Tin House Reels, Videos

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Lermontov’s house is gone now. The foundations have crumbled in upon themselves; the mock-ups of the reconstruction are now covered in graffiti. There will never be any reconstruction. The restaurant called Pur Pur, with its Victorian lampshades and Friday night chanteuse, has closed down without warning. We trade black-market rumors about the reopening.  Of course, we don’t know anything. In Tbilisi, nobody knows anything.

Construction stops, sometimes; sometimes it starts again. A neon casino called the Shangri-La cascades light into the gardens of the patriarchate; we speculate that the patriarch himself is getting a cut. A funicular now links what remains of the Narikala Fortress to the new Rike Park, astringently manicured, home to a statue of Ronald Reagan and the foundations of a new Philharmonic, which resembles nothing so much as a severed pair of legs. The slums by the bathhouses have been restored: they are smooth, pastel, and uninhabited.

Hugo used to tell me that I was destined to be a chronicler of Tbilisi. I would start my own brand of Georgian Romanticism, he said, or perhaps its Renaissance – I’d translate poets like Vazha-Pshavela and Alexander Kazbegi, run barefoot across the Greater Caucasus, ride horses into snowdrifts, host foreign academics and literary salons over vanilla tea in the basement of Pur Pur. He left incomprehensible voicemails; he sent me impassioned text messages at three in the morning, demanding that I read his latest poem. He sent me twelve-page emails, detailing how and why my newest article fell short of his aspirations for me, and hinted that my prose style would improve if I became a Catholic.


Hugo was seventy and inexplicable, like everything else in Tbilisi. He taught English in a small and flea-bitten village outside the capital, and frequently frustrated his superiors by spending his lessons lecturing to seven-year-olds about Hieronymus Bosch. He composed etudes on the tuneless piano in the village’s only restaurant (he was, he said, a classical composer by trade); he wrote sonnets in praise of the idea of ultima thule: the dragon-swept badlands beyond the borders of cartographers, where the Romans feared to go.

He wore the same suit every time I met him – oversized tweed with an appallingly turquoise tie and a scarlet scarf that bundled him up to the chin, stained prodigiously with grease.

He offered little of his past. He spoke, vaguely and variously, of studying Ancient Iranian at Cambridge; of an affair with the wife of an Oxford don; of a hushed-up controversy, involving Parisian monks. In his youth, he said, he’d been promising. He’d taught English for a few years in Japan; he’d slept on every sofa and in each spare room in England.

Hugo was adept at trading charm for sustenance. “You fairy creature,” he said to me the first time we met. “I’m positively skint.  You don’t mind buying these coffees, do you?” He ordered ten meat dumplings and an enormous cheese pie and made a few stuttering fumbles for his wallet before leaving me with the bill. Continue reading

Posted in Essays

Comments: 2

The Vulgar and the Divine: A Conversation about Erotic Literature

The magic of encountering the erotic in literature occurs when the reader bears witness to a character’s essence: to the marrow of their inner life. This inner life is populated by secret desires. It betrays a terminally human condition at once hopeful, petrified, and ravenous. In drawing out a character’s essence through details of sexual contact, the writer renders emotions palpable and imbues sensation with poetry. The power of the erotic, I suppose, is that even at its most basic, it portends to evoke at once the vulgar and the divine.

As I desired to bring a light to a type of writing which is far too often cast in shadow, I recently spoke with five writers whose work in various ways renders the erotic in fiction. Included in this conversation were: Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart: , a memoir of working as a dominatrix in New York City; Amber Dawn, author of the writing-and-sex-work memoir, How Poetry Saved My Life, and the Lambda-award winning novel Sub Rosa; Jill Di Donato, author of Beautiful Garbage, a novel best compared to Breakfast at Tiffany’s if Holly Golightly lived in the seedy underbelly of New York’s 1980s art world; Rachel Kramer Bussel, a writer of erotica who has also edited upwards of fifty anthologies ranging from tales of lesbian awakening to entire collections about male submission; and Ella Boureau, whose erotic debut, a story by the name of “Cottonmouth”, was selected for the Best Lesbian Erotica anthology then immediately, and somewhat infamously, rejected. Cottonmouth tells the story of two young female cousins who share in their first lesbian experience. The encounter involves a snake.

While each of these authors writes in a style distinctly her own, their work shares a particular focus on sexual experience. As such, I asked them to think back to their early experiences of sex in literature, and to recall their influences. The result is a discussion ranging from Victorian poetry to the eroticization of female madness and BDSM in which we consider the work of anyone, from James Baldwin to Anais Nin to V.C. Andrews, with equal weight. We do so in the democratic spirit of erotic writing, and with the hope of illuminating a thing or two about what it is, exactly, that makes a work of literature sexy.

Whiskey Blue: In 2013, Flavorwire compiled a post-Fifty Shades list of the sexiest books of all time. Starting from number one, the top three all-time sexiest books were Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and Nicholson Baker’s Vox. What are your top 3 sexiest books? Have these influenced your writing?

Melissa Febos: Nin and Miller definitely made an impression in my late teens, but I can’t say whether or not they influenced my writing. I’m tempted to say not, but that seems hubristic. The most influential sex in writing exists as a kind of enormous collage for me: sewn-together pieces of all those books I devoured as a girl, snuck from my parents’ shelves, from the library, thrift stores in my hometown; all before I knew what sex or writing were. I only knew the swelling impulses in me, how they crashed and crashed and quieted only when I read. Among that wildly divergent list would be A Garden of Sand, The Color Purple, The Rubyfruit Jungle, Clan of the Cave Bear, Lolita,My Secret Garden, and many of those chubby paperbacks that I now see ladies on airplanes reading, books that are direct descendants of Valley of the Dolls.

Jill Di Donato: I’m in awe of Anaïs Nin’s writing, which I find sexy, intelligent, progressive, a little manic, and somewhat elusive. Little Birds is a gem as well as Delta of Venus. I like reading Neruda and Rilke. Andre Breton’s Nadja is also a favorite because the sexiness is mixed with female objectification and madness, and it’s all very cryptic. In life, I don’t find female objectification sexy, nor am I a fan of the male tendency to fetishize female “madness.” But in literature, I give myself carte blanche to explore whatever I like. Sometimes, especially when I’m reading, I want to feel owned: I find suspense intriguing, as well as the tension between vulnerability and independence. I’ll never forget how fast my heart was beating the first time I read Pride and Prejudice as I was waiting for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy to get together. Perhaps my desire for sexy romance comes from the fact that sex is displayed so graphically in everyday life; I want to do a little work. In turn, I want my readers to work for the sex I give them.

Rachel Kramer Bussel: I’m a little ashamed to admit that I haven’t fully read these erotic classics; the erotica I started out reading was more modern; mainly short story collections. Virgin Territory and Virgin Territory 2 edited by Shar Rednour were very powerful for me; they are both true lesbian erotica first time stories, which I read long before I slept with a woman for the first time. What struck me about those collections was how varied the stories were. Also, on account of being true stories, they had a different tone than most erotic fiction. They had details about the women’s lives that you wouldn’t normally find, and the vividness of those stories and variety of sexual descriptions and scenarios stuck with me.

What I consider some of my best stories are pretty much 90% true, and are often the darkest ones, such as“The End,”a breakup erotica story that made it into Best American Erotica 2006, and“Espionage,”which is based on a true story about going to a party at the home of a man I was having an affair with. I learned from those anthologies that darkness and deep emotion have a place in erotica. Of course the tone is going to be different than in more humorous or happy stories, but those real, sometimes sad or painful emotions, can make erotica all the more powerful because people relate to it.

Amber Dawn: The book that still remains the most titillating to me is Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. I’ve always found Victorian poetry perverse, but the allegedly-lesbian poet Rossetti so overtly eroticizes the relationship between two sisters and their dark otherworldly desires.

“She cried ‘Laura,’ up the garden,
‘Did you miss me ?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me.’”

That’s my kind of nursery rhyme!

I think we should all be grateful for Macho Sluts by Patrick Califia for joyfully portraying some of the still under-spoken stories of kinky queers. When I was younger I was desperate to read about all the spitting and boot licking and kneeling and whipping and crying and loving. In the late 80s/early 90s, Canadian Customs repeatedly prevented this book from being shipped across the boarder to Little Sisters’Bookstore in Vancouver—which makes Macho Sluts even more alluring to me. Getting my hands on a copy was a victory act. 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler is not an erotic novel. It’s a dystopic future survival drama. What compelled me while reading this novel is that the protagonist, Lauren Olamina, has hyper-empathy, an“illness”that allows her to feel a heightened sense of empathy and connectivity to the people around her—she is especially aware of other characters’pain. Despite being burdened with heightened empathy, she doesn’t push people and strong emotions away. Instead, she draws them closer. With very few sex scenes, this isn’t exactly a sexy book; it’s a very sensual book. The heightened empathy of the protagonist impacted me as a reader.  I felt sensually stimulated in a way that I don’t always experience when reading erotica.

Ella Boureau: Another Country by James Baldwin, La Bâtarde by Violette Leduc, and Dorothy Allison’s Trash. It was in reading Another Country that I realized it was possible to write a serious work of fiction without leaving anything out. And you know, Baldwin doesn’t mess around. He gets right to it, and too bad if you aren’t ready. The sex scenes in that book are integral to the story, and they crackle with tension and wanting; the characters and their motivations deepen; the power dynamics are made clear. In reading it, I felt just as naked as any of the characters.

I think all of these authors have in common the fact that their narratives move in and out of sex organically. It would be impossible to cut it out, because the stories wouldn’t make sense anymore. Erotic longing is entrenched in their understandings of fear, humor, adventure, power, desire. It is so rare to see that in literature, and yet, it’s undeniable that we are all sexual beings, so why are we so bad at writing sex? Is it really so much harder to avoid cliché in sex than any other topic? I would say no, I think it has more to do with the fact that we both trivialize sex and are trained to “turn a blind eye” to it because it makes us uncomfortable.

Whiskey Blue: When you think of sex and literature, what kind of writing comes to mind? Is it The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, or the Marquis de Sade? Anais Nin or John Updike or V.C. Andrews? I want to know what erotic literature means to you.

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“It kept right on snowing almost to April,” I’ll tell my grandkids when they come visit, ignoring me, staring at their holodex. “My sister—your great-aunt Mallory, kiddos—well, we couldn’t believe it, watching the snow falling.”

There was so much snow that winter that my father built a luge in the backyard.

It was twenty years ago, 1994. The Winter Olympics were in Lillehammer, sending us images of a Norwegian fantasyland, where hotels were carved out of glaciers and beds were layered with the skins of winter beasts I could only conjure in weird, sweaty nightmares. During breaks in coverage of alpine skiing, hugely bearded men with chainsaws danced outside venues, carving ice sculptures with quick, precise, terrifying slicing motions. Then chiseling features into the ice with delicate-looking picks. Frozen statues of speed skaters, bears, and gold medals threw glimmers at TV cameras. And those cherubic, plump little Norweigian kids, man, now they had a real winter. That’s what Mallory and I thought. Those little brats! With their ice hotels and their bearded ice sculptors and the Olympics in their hometown.

All we had was Cool Runnings, which had come out in October.

But it started to snow in January, a little every day,” I’ll say to them, my angels, my son’s kids, my spoiled little lumps of joy—a hundred years from now maybe, who knows. And instead of melting, the crystalline white blanket in our suburban New York backyard built on itself. It piled up to the fork in our twisted magnolia’s trunk, sixteen inches off the ground, and went on accumulating. The hemlock that separated our yard from the Garetys’ to the west sagged with snow, its branches shrugging beneath the weight. Every few minutes, one of the boughs would give way, and a torrent of watery ice and snow would spill into the garden below, where Mallory and I waited to be buried.

They’ll come for visiting hours with their father, probably. And when they want to know what winter was—when my own little cherubic decedents look up from Angry Birds MCX on their mini-holodex for one second (just one goddamned second!)—ask questions of wheezing Grandpa A-J, who smells like stale bacon air as he endures yet another round of treatment in the hospital’s StemCellz© care unit, I’ll close my eyes and brainlink these images of the winter of 1994 to them.

My father.

There he is, kiddos,” I’ll say, eyes closed as I begin to send the series of pictures, sliding deep into distant reverie. In the memory, he’s wearing his rabbit fur-eared hat, forcing an orange push-shovel through the heart of the backyard. His face ties into a squeamish little knot of pain every time he lifts a load of powder above his waist; though he’s careful to maintain a slight but apparent downward slope to the path he’s carving.

He’d torn his rotator cuff the summer before. Or rather, over the course of the previous 25 summers, slowly chipping away at it with topspin second serves. Fraying its fibers until the last one snapped awkwardly in September. He tugged straight through it with a career’s worth of one-handed backhands, dealt to older and older opponents, themselves now with replaced knees, receding hairlines, metalloid hips, sutured ligaments, and baroque mid-life crises involving Porsche Carreras and stained short shorts.

That winter, I watched him from the kitchen window, lifting myself up onto the stainless steel sink and looking past the thermometer mounted outside. The snow found its way down, down, down. On the other side of the house, in the living room bay window that faced the street, I set up a weather station to monitor incoming storms (Mallory was the on-screen talent, distracting our rapt parents with her dinnertime reports as I, unseen, scooped inedible pot roast off my plate and crumpled it up into napkins). I assembled Lego satellite dishes and drew on pieces of cardboard: weather maps and Hi/Lo pressure systems depicted in Crayola marker. In my predictions, the forecast for Central Park always called for ten inches of snow, and much, much more North and West of the City, where we lived.

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Your Weekly Forecast: Muriel Spark

“It is one of the secrets of Nature in its mood of mockery that fine weather lays heavier weight on the mind and hearts of the depressed and the inwardly tormented than does a really bad day with dark rain sniveling continuously and sympathetically from a dirty sky.”Muriel Spark, Territorial Rights

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What We’re Reading


Michelle Wildgen (Executive Editor, Tin House Magazine): I’m reading Dana Goodyear’s Anything That Moves, her investigation into modern culinary outliers, whether it is eater and writer Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for LA Weekly, or a supplier to chefs of all foods outré, or people dedicating their careers to persuading Americans their next protein source should be insects. It’s a completely engaging, intelligent, and bright book, and though I’m only about halfway through it is hard to imagine she will top the indelible image of Gold, dangerously over-caffeinated after a day spent testing espressos, making a spectacular exit from a restaurant: bursting into tears, dashing out, and catching the bus home. This is what a food obsession will do to you, people. It happens to me once a week.

Brandi Dawn Henderson (Editorial Intern, The Open Bar): I was recently pleased to come into a copy of the almost-released Cobalt Press collection, Four Fathers, a collection of poetry and fiction by Dave Housley, BL Pawelek, Ben Tanzer, and Tom Williams, with a foreword written by Fathermucker author Greg Olear. Mine is an electronic copy, which I intended to download onto an e-reader after taking just a brief peek at the file on my computer to see what I was in for. Many hours later, the day dim, I realized I was still in my pajamas and that I’d greedily consumed the entire collection. Rarely have I been exposed to literature that offers a glimpse, let alone several different perspectives, on how men feel (I mean, really, deeply, in their heads and hearts feel) about the roles and responsibilities that come with bringing children into the world. In Dave Housley’s piece, in particular, I felt so completely drawn in to the chaos and confusion of his protagonist’s experience with fatherhood that, for those 37 pages, I was a father. My emotions were all over the place as I dedicated the entire day to scrolling further and further into the complex dimensions of fatherhood. As soon as I read the final words, I blinked against the fading light; then, more than the need for the food or water I’d denied myself during my literary binge, what I really needed most was to call my dad.

Thomas Ross (Editorial Assistant, Tin House): I’ve been reading three books from our friends at Wave Poetry in Seattle in preparation for a reading in Portland this weekend. Cedar Sigo’s Literary Arts makes the personal lyrical, covering love affairs, creative relationships, and life as an artist with an energetic music to its lines. In Etruria, Rodney Koeneke drops cultural references from the ancient Etruscans to Frank O’Hara to the internet, managing to sound brilliant even as he ends the collection with the line “drunk drunk drunk drunk drunk drunk drunk.” However, it’s Wave’s big, important collection/reissue of Robert Lax’s New Poems, Sea and Sky, and a handful of other poems that has most of my attention. Poems (1962-1997) makes Lax easily available in the US for the first time in a good long while. Wave reached out to currently Portland-based poet John Beer, who spent two years as Lax’s assistant on the island of Patmos in the late nineties. The simplicity of Lax’s poems can be surprisingly overwhelming—their repetitive language and narrow, columnar forms belie not a hidden complexity, but a meditative, expansive power. Beer’s introduction places Lax historically, personally, and spiritually with Lax’s friends and contemporaries like Merton and Reinhardt.

Victoria Savanh (Writer’s Workshop Intern): The first time I saw Sofia Coppola’s adaptation of The Virgin Suicides was at a birthday party in middle school. We were shocked. It was chilling, profound, and within a few hours we watched it again, not quite understanding why it resonated so deeply with us. I’ve only just now gotten to the novel by Jeffrey Eugenides thirteen years later and the story is perhaps more profound with nostalgia’s effects. I still feel pain for the five Lisbon sisters and their tragic acts, but beyond the events, the story is a mesmerizing reflection on the trauma of leaving childhood behind. It had me laughing and crying along with the collective narrators, a group of young men looking back on their adolescence (told in first-person plural) in suburbia. It’s elegiac, painful, and so sweet, moving fluidly between sweeping romance and stark reality, peppered with plenty of dark humor. The Virgin Suicides is not as much of a downer read as it sounds! So many parts are laugh-out-loud-reread-line-and-laugh-again funny. This is one gem of a coming of age novel. Also, for good complementary reading (or just on its own) check out Leslie Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain.”

Liz Lampman (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): I may not remember much from my college lit courses, but I do remember a few good books. This week Aamer Hussein’s collection of short stories, called Turquoise, jumped off my shelf and into my welcoming hands. From the first Akhmatova epigraph to the final (and my favorite) story, “The Needlewoman’s Calendar,” Hussein brings Karachi, Lahore, and London to life by blending ancient songs and stories with the intimacy and hardship of his memorable characters. Turquoise is careful, culturally rich, and musical.

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Fishing Shack

This fishing shack exists on state land in New Jersey. It once belonged to the family of a federal judge who sold the land to the state. It dates from the turn of the century, and such shacks were once a very common sight on the Eastern Seaboard. This is one of the last, and it now rests on a dune, about 200 feet from the ocean.

My friend Bill is its caretaker, and I’ve been helping him with repairs for years now. There’s no heat, toilet, or electricity: we use oil lamps when it gets. I’ve spent the night there a couple times, and the wind can rattle the shack pretty hard in the early winter. Bill said he once feel asleep out in the dunes one night, and he woke up to find a fox dragging him by his trouser leg. Lots of raccoons out in the dunes, too. Fat ones.

Bill can be seen walking towards the sea in this spread, filling in as Whitman. It’s my tribute to a beloved friend.

Allen Crawford is an illustrator, designer, and writer. He and his wife Susan are proprietors of the design/illustration studio Plankton Art Co. Their most notable project to date is the collection of 400 species identification illustrations that are on permanent display at the American Museum of Natural History’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Under his pseudonym, Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy, he wrote, designed, and illustrated The Affected Provincial’s Companion, Volume One, which was optioned for film by Johnny Depp’s production company, Infinitum Nihil. He lives in Mt. Holly, NJ.

Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works.

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Flash Fridays

I was riding the 81, just cruising down Fig, mentally stripping this blue-haired girl four rows ahead. She was maybe twenty five. I couldn’t tell whether her eyes were open or closed.

In those days, I liked watching bus crowds. I liked watching groggy riders, imagining where they were coming from. What they were leaving behind.

Somewhere past Olympic, I noticed someone standing over me. I raised my eyes and saw a Goliath dude looming. He scratched his head and dandruff snowed onto my lap. I waited for him to speak.

“Get out my spot,” he said. “That’s my spot.”


“That’s my spot.”

“Stop talking to me.”

“I ain’t gon’ stop shit,” he said, folding his arms. He snorted and wheezed. I could smell the pot fumes. He was rocking faded camos and half his face was wispy beard.

Shaking my head, I scooted up against the window and he sat. I went back to imagining my girl naked but I didn’t want to get her memory mixed up with my seatmate’s scent so I stopped. I was depressed. I wanted to step out of my skin. Nobody was looking except Goliath.

“Hey,” he said. “Hey.”

I started counting how many people on the bus I would never meet. Started imagining how everyone would die.


Fat Latina lady in the front would choke on a toothpick. Her kid would get hit by a bus.


The driver would have a heart attack. Obviously. And my blue-haired girl would OD on heroin. I wondered how the undersides of her knees smelled.

“Hey. You think the end of the world’s coming?”

I squirmed and looked over at Goliath. He was tapping out some weed in his lap.


“Nothing,” he said. He licked his lips.

Despite the crowds, the 81 is lonely as hell. Seats with primary colors. Monitors explaining how to report a crime. A few dozen miserable fucks, their faces holding the same sorry twist.

Goliath squirmed and said, “Hey.”

“What the fuck do you want from me?”

“You want to see something?” he said, smiling. I stayed quiet. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of fur. Black, beady eyes. Dead mice. I reached out and grabbed one by the tail, holding it against the light. We both started laughing. No one gave us a second glance.


I followed the blue-haired girl off at a station full of scarecrows. The sun felt thick. Maybe I could’ve scooped some off the pavement if I’d tried.

We went into Central Library. The security guard flashed me a frown. I trailed my girl into the book stacks, past people who looked smarter than I felt. I was more interested in tasting her ear than anything else. I’d read somewhere that a girl’s ear is like another sex organ, right into her head.

I still had one of Goliath’s dead mice in my pocket and I jiggled it around as I passed the front desk. There were more books in this one room than I’d seen in my life. My girl floated between two racks and stopped, so I went around to the other side. When I reached her I was shaking, but I pressed up against the spines until I could hear her breathe. I pulled a couple books and opened up a hole.

“Hey,” I said.

She looked up.

“Hey, I think I love you.”

There was no one within a hundred feet. Still, she asked, “Are you talking to me?”

I nodded, licking my lips. “We could go somewhere. I know a place.”

She played with her hair, twisting strands into yarn.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’ll put it in your ear.”

She choked on her spit and walked away. Shit. Hadn’t meant to say that. I considered following her but decided against it.

Someone once told me if you strung out all your veins they’d go a mile or two. I used to have nightmares about that, where my veins were all infused into others’. People I knew. Beautiful women. Like some kind of fucked up Frida Kahlo. I meandered for a couple minutes and then found a book about somebody famous. I sat down, fingering the guy’s moustache with my thumb.


Security picked me up a few minutes later and took me down to a gray room in the basement. I sat down at a metal table across from a sweaty widow’s peak.

“We can’t have you sexually harassing our patrons,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Everyone needs to feel safe.”

Nobody had a gun. They hadn’t checked my pockets. Hadn’t found my mouse.

It wasn’t fair. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I only wanted to taste this blue-haired girl. Only wanted to smell her knees. I felt like I might cry.

“You know,” the guy said, leaning over the table, “I could make this the worst day of your life.”

I started laughing and pulled out my mouse. I laid it on the table and stroked its tail. Someone said, “Oh my God.” I leaned back in my chair and looked the guy straight in the face.

“What exactly am I supposed to be afraid of here?” I said. “Can you tell me that?”


Back on the bus, I asked everyone if they thought the world was ending. The only people who responded were the kids. They pointed and told me I was bleeding. Their mothers ushered them away.

Everyone fit in their seats like teeth in sockets. Everyone but me. I knew I’d lived longer than I was supposed to. I wanted to pull out my eyes. Wanted someone to lick my wounds. We kept coasting. Outside, Los Angeles whipped by, like a film being rewound.


Jackson Burgess studies at the University of Southern California. He edits Fractal Literary Magazine and leads a weekly poetry workshop on Skid Row.

The Open Bar is now accepting submissions for a new feature, Flash Fidelity: Non-Fiction in 1000 Words or Fewer. Submissions to The Open Bar may be sent in the body of an email or as an attachment, with the category of the submission in the subject line, to theopenbar@tinhouse.com.

Posted in Flash Fridays

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I tramp a perpetual journey…


I shamelessly indulged myself here, placing myself in the book. This particular passage has always resonated with me, because for years I’ve wandered alone through the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey, which is a 1.1 million acre national reserve, the first in the US. It’s the largest remaining piece of wilderness left on the seaboard between Washington DC and Boston. Very rare species of animals and plants live here; some of them live nowhere else.

In the winter I hike into the more dense swamp areas, but in summer I mostly stick to my kayak, mainly because the plants I’m interested in grow near the water, mainly orchids and carnivorous plants. I patrol these areas, keeping an eye out for poachers who steal orchids and turtles, as well as irresponsible off-roaders who sometimes rip up the delicate bog habitats where the endangered tree frogs live.

Governor Chris Christie has been using corrupt means and strong-arm tactics to break the Pinelands Commission (which regulates the use of the Pine Barrens), so his rich friends can gain access to this land. We’ve successfully fought off a gas pipeline project, but the state senators are trying again. It’s a constant fight. A perpetual journey.

My friend David Kessler (who also put together the trailer for this book) is shooting a film about the Pine Barrens.  I assist him as a guide through the more obscure areas.

Allen Crawford is an illustrator, designer, and writer. He and his wife Susan are proprietors of the design/illustration studio Plankton Art Co. Their most notable project to date is the collection of 400 species identification illustrations that are on permanent display at the American Museum of Natural History’s Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Under his pseudonym, Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy, he wrote, designed, and illustrated The Affected Provincial’s Companion, Volume One, which was optioned for film by Johnny Depp’s production company, Infinitum Nihil. He lives in Mt. Holly, NJ.

Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works.

Get your copy here!


Posted in Tin House Books

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Memory: Seth Fried


“Hello Again,” Seth Fried’s winding story in the current issue functions as a brief history of many futures. We recently made the story available to read online, and asked Fried a few questions about writing and reading.

Tin House: What was the biggest obstacle in writing this story?

Seth Fried: In the first draft of this story I used the word “universe” about eighty times. After weeks of grueling revision I managed to get that number down to just over thirty.

TH: When you read this story in the future, what do you think you’ll associate with the period of writing it?

SF: In the future, my robot butler will read this story to me while I sit in a leather armchair in a penthouse apartment, sipping whiskey out of a large snifter and stroking the head of a luxurious white cat. I will sit in stunned silence, my own words reminding me of what a brilliant and uncompromising artist I once was. “That’s enough, Robo-Butler,” I will say, raising my hand for him to stop. Then a single tear will roll down my cheek and I will turn away from Robo-Butler, ashamed.

TH: Do you have any writing rituals?

SF: I actually think that ritual behavior can be damaging to the whole creative process. So before I write I like to chant “No rituals! No rituals!”  while I swing a thurible in a circle over my computer and hop from foot to foot.

TH: What was the last sentence you underlined in a book?

SF: “She looked like a tomato struggling for self-expression.” -P.G. Wodehouse, from Right Ho, Jeeves

TH: What is the next story I should read?

SF: If you like what I tried to do here, then you’ll probably love any one of these:

“Priscilla” by Italo Calvino

“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges

“The Tower” by Steven Millhauser

Seth Fried‘s stories have appeared in numerous publications. He is the winner of two Pushcart Prizes and the author of a short story collection, The Great Frustration.

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