Just in time for the Christmas season (Is anybody feeling it? I’m not), I’ve got a short Christmas story in the brand new issue of SLUSH PILE. “Merry Gentlemen” is, appropriately, not very merry (adultery, Applebee’s, a shopping mall!). The story originally appeared in the December 23-30 issue of the free alternative weekly DIGBOSTON, which has 70,000 Boston-area readers. (Even though I never got a copy, I was excited to see it on the cover.) My thanks to editor M. Rachel Branwen for including me in both magazines.
I was so excited to have my flash fiction "Hula" published in QUARTER AFTER EIGHT last spring, a prestigious print journal that has published luminaries like Brian Doyle, Aimee Bender, Jenny Boully, Michael Martone, Joy Castro, Alison Townsend, Virgil Suarez, and Brenda Hillman (that’s just the past few issues). Now they've posted my flash online, giving me the best of both worlds. a beautiful print publication and online access. Here's "Hula."
I was also excited to hear from the fiction writer Kathryn Kulpa (whose chapbook GIRLS ON FILM is wonderful) that she taught my microflash "A Murder of Crows" in her flash class. A first for me! CHEAP POP is a very cool online flash magazine where I've wanted to publish forever. I wrote "A Murder of Crows" in the novelist Cristina Garcia's workshop, after a generative exercise using fragments of poetry to shake loose images in the writer's unconscious. I really have no idea what it means. Here's "A Murder of Crows."
Last summer I bought a broadside from TUPELO PRESS of Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones" (which went viral after the Orlando shootings). This week the poem has gone viral for a second time.
by Maggie Smith
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
There are so many posts and essays on social media right now by parents agonizing over what to tell their children. I cried while I watched footage of anti-Trump walkouts at Berkeley High and Bishop O’Dowd (where my son Ben went to high school) and high schools across the nation. What kind of world are we giving those students?
According to Bloomberg’s figures, “Had only millennials voted, Clinton would've won the election in a landslide, with 473 electoral votes to Trump's 32." Maybe there’s hope for the future there, but their world is about to change utterly, and it may take decades to undo the damage. Damage to the environment may never be undone. How could the United States do this? How could we let it happen? "The world / is at least half terrible," and it's going to get much much worse.
Note: "Good Bones,” first published in Waxwing, will be included in Weep Up, Tupelo Press, forthcoming 2018. The broadside, printed by Josef Beery, is available on their website (link above). See THE ATLANTIC for other poems that have gone viral after the election.
It's hard not to despair after the shock of Tuesday night.
I teach in the San Francisco Bay Area at a public university in the California State University system with one of the most diverse student populations in the nation. Students of color are in the majority. Most of our students are low income. They are African American, Latino American, Asian American. Many are immigrants (some undocumented) or sons and daughters of immigrants. Many are Muslim. LGBTQ, or people with disabilities. Yesterday there were students sobbing in my classes. One of them, a Filipina American, had been accosted that morning in a Starbucks in San Jose by angry Trump supporters shouting that she'd be deported. "I was with my six year old son," she kept repeating. her voice shaky. "My six year old son." Another student, a Chicana, talked about how terrified the second graders (predominantly Asian American) in her classroom were the day after the election. "What can I say to them?" Story after story followed from other students. They are angry, sorrowful, frightened.
"We as a nation must find a way to move forward without consigning those who Trump has threatened to the shadows," outgoing Senate minority leader Harry Reid says, "Their fear is entirely rational, because Donald Trump has talked openly about doing terrible things to them. Every news piece that breathlessly obsesses over inauguration preparations compounds their fear by normalizing a man who has threatened to tear families apart, who has bragged about sexually assaulting women and who has directed crowds of thousands to intimidate reporters and assault African Americans. Their fear is legitimate and we must refuse to let it fall through the cracks between the fluff pieces.” (See MOTHER JONES for his whole statement.)
What is our role as citizens in a climate like this? As teachers? As writers?
The morning after the election, Dan Piepenbring assembled remarks from writers in his column in THE PARIS REVIEW, and offered this: “If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope. And read, as often and as violently as you can. If you have friends, as I do, who tacitly believe that it’s too much of a chore to read a book, just one fucking book, from start to finish, smash every LCD they own. This is an opportunity. There’s too much at stake now to pretend that everything is okay.”
Toni Morrison's recollections in THE NATION of her feelings after the election of George W. Bush seem prophetic: “I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, ‘How are you?’ And instead of ‘Oh, fine—and you?’, I blurt out the truth: ‘Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….’ I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: ‘No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!’”
With the shadow of Tuesday night hanging over us, and even darker shadows looming ahead, last week already seems like a more innocent time. It was such a pleasure to read in the Get Lit! series (curated by Kara Vernor and Dani Burlison) at the Corkscrew Wine Bar in Petaluma on October 26, and in the Rolling Writers series (curated by Jon Sindell) at the Octopus Literary Salon in Oakland a week ago. Wonderful readers, wonderful audiences, warm venues. Gathering together with other writers makes writing a less solitary activity.
I was especially pleased to read with Dani Burlison (on the right in the photo at the top right), whose work I love, and who just joined my writing group in San Francisco, and with Lynn Mundell (second from right in the back row of the photo on the lower left), whose work I love, and who just interviewed my husband Steve and me about flash, our collaborative writing, and other matters at 100 WORD STORY, which she co-edits. Lynn has published lots of great flash of her own; last week she read a nonfiction flash ("The Iranian Blue-Glazed Pottery") from TIN HOUSE Flash Fidelity that I particularly love. At Get Lit! I was able to buy copies of Kara Vernor’s stellar new fiction collection BECAUSE I WANTED TO WRITE YOU A POP SONG and Dani Burlison’s great new zine LADY PARTS. I couldn’t put them down. Run to your nearest independent bookstore and order them!