by Bambi Zavattini
On the eve of her book debut, Bambi Zavattini ponders action movies, watching sex scenes as a kid, and how she came to write erotic fiction
I don’t know if a profile exists of the “typical” erotica writer, but if one does, I know I sure don’t fit it. As of three years ago, the only erotic fiction I had ever read was a story I found in Barnes and Noble when I was in eleventh grade: it was strange, BDSM-ey, and involved a woman getting hit by a ruler. It didn’t make me want to read more. The 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon came and went, and I neither read the books nor saw the movies. And yet, my first novel, dirty and explicit as it is, is available on Amazon Kindle as of today. Go figure!
As a writer, my work has often explored sex: coming of age, stories about masculine toxicity, and various forms of emotionally-disturbed characters getting it on. Perhaps because of these themes, one night my good friend Nimms told me I should try writing erotica. Write something meant deliberately to arouse? It seemed like a fun challenge.
The first sexy story I wrote turned me on. As in, really turned me on. So I submitted it to Lelo’s erotic stories blog, Volonté. (Lelo, by the way, is based out of Sweden and is the Rolls Royce of sex toys.) They published it online and it got a few hundred thousand reads. So I wanted to write more, and each story I wrote got (I thought) better and hotter. They, too, were put on the Volonté site.
How, then, did I make the leap from writing 3,000-word smutty tales to writing a full-on book that would be, from cover-to-cover, very NSFW? I was asked to write one. Actually, three in fact. A literary agent read one of my stories on Volonté and contacted me. She was looking for a romance/erotica writer, and if I agreed to write a novel that could be the first of a trilogy or series, she would have me as a client.
Flattered, I accepted. I had yet to publish anything (besides my short stories) and I had yet to write a book. But what did I know about erotic novels? I thought of all those paperbacks that lined the shelves in drugstores with paintings of Fabio on their covers; the thousands of titles already available on Amazon. “I have to admit,” I told my agent-to-be, “I don’t know much about the genre. I don’t read it.”
“I’m not concerned about that,” she told me. “Your work doesn’t fall into any of the tired tropes that most of these books do. A lot of them are overly sentimental, or they’re just plain graphic. Yours has a nice build to it; we can work with that.” My head swole a little.
A genre I do know a bit about is action movies. (As a girl, I wanted to be Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element or Ripley from Aliens, and in recent years Charlize Theron’s ass-kicking roles have sent me running to the theater.) So treating sex scenes like action sequences (bare with this analogy), I had to choose how outlandish my book would be. Would it be Mission:Impossible-franchise-insane? (Tom Cruise crashes his motorcycle at like a hundred miles per hour and he just stands up and is totally fine.) Or would it be more like Atomic Blonde? (Sure, none of its fight scenes are realistic, per se, but everything at least looks real enough to suspend my disbelief, and after Theron gets her ass kicked, she looks and acts like she’s had her ass kicked.) I chose to lean towards the latter, because those are the types of action movies I like more. And, I’ve come to see, I’ve always been attracted to believable, grounded titillation in literature.
So then, Jade, my story’s heroine, would not fall for a billionaire a firefighter, because I know that I am not waiting around for a billionaire or a jacked firefighter. Instead, Jade finds herself torn between a burly, handsome doctor (these actually exist and you can actually find them and sleep with them, as a couple of my friends will attest) and an emotionally fragile but sexy-as-hell starving artist (which just happens to be the type for whom I’ve fallen more times than I’m proud).
When I sent a draft to my agent, there were some sections in it with which she took issue. She wanted to know why Jade would have sex with a guy in a dingy apartment; she suggested she meet her love interest at a fancy restaurant instead of the more casual setting I had written; and at one point when the lovers are going at it against the wall, I mentioned their having to adjust their footing to properly align their crotches: here my agent wrote in red pen, “Not sexy.”
I wouldn’t argue that any of the things my agent tagged were turn-ons, of course, and I did omit most of them out of fear of scaring readers away. But these critiques made me think about my own tastes when it comes to eroticism. When I was in seventh grade, for example, I read Stephen King’s Carrie. In it, teenagers Tommy and Sue have sex and one of them recalls something to the effect of, “It was a whole lot of rubbing for just a little warmth.” As a girl, I thought the line was awfully arousing. Partly, this was because I was going through puberty and just the mention of sex made me blush. And partly, this was because its simplicity suggested the less-than-idyllic reality that is intercourse; it is in that uncomfortable reality that lovers often find intimacy. At around the same age, I watched the movie Meet Joe Black and afterwards, when I was alone, I would replay in my head the sex scene between Brad Pitt and Claire Forlani over and over again: it was tender, raw, sentimental, and awkward A.F. Such nervous tension only feeds sensual excitement, both in real life and in erotic media. In Pitt and Forlani’s awkwardness, there is breathtaking intimacy. What’s more arousing than intimacy?
Perhaps writing such verisimilitude into sex scenes is not the average erotica reader’s cup of tea. Perhaps I was writing Die Hard when readers wanted Avengers: Infinity War. (Then again, there is no average reader of erotica, is there? I mean, there’s Wizard Erotica and Dinosaur Erotica, so…I don’t even have an informed comment on that.)
Unfortunately, my agent wasn’t able to sell the manuscript. Publishers sited the story’s inclusion of adultery as a reason they passed. My gut tells me the editors who read it were looking for true romance and true fantasy—Hallmark Channel movies but with hardcore sex scenes—and I had indulged, instead, something grounded and imperfect. I had, after all, never led anyone to believe that this series of books would be romantic. Erotica, ladies and gentlemen, is what I wanted to write and what I did write.
A few months after rejection by traditional publishers, my book is available online. As a novel, it’s “new adult” literature: Jade comes to terms with her sexual and personal identity in a way that I think is relatable to millennials, especially those born in the ’80s. As erotica, somewhere in the abyss that is Amazon, amongst all those covers flaunting Fabio’s successors and women with preposterously “perfect” bodies, I know there must be a niche for what I’ve written. After all, I think my book is sexy, even if it lacks a storybook ending: the foreplay is stylized in ways I would like to manifest in real-life, Jade does things in the book that I have only dreamed about doing with a lover. Surely others will identify? Surely writing one’s own fantasies is enough?
Zavattini’s book, It Started in the Dark, is available on Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B07NL32K5N?ref=aw_sitb_digital-text
I hold a random bundle of post-it notes to my chest to staunch the river’s flow of loss, like the loss of years and the loss of youth and the loss of moments I forgot to commit to the notes to remember so then I’ve forgotten them. Footnotes to a life lived as a time machine.
Years ago I set-up a calendar alert for Valentine’s Day and made it seem like it was a love letter from a stranger. On the day I got it, I thought maybe you snuck on my phone and programmed the surprise. Then I remembered. In the years passing, I would send myself candy grams during office Valentine’s Days. And I never forgot who values me the most.
I delete the text you sent me.
by J. Sam Williams
By J. Sam Williams
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the Millennial of the moment. The 28-year-old—at the time—Bronx Native beat out 10-term Democratic congressman Joe Crowley, shocking Democrats, Republicans, and the political establishment. Now, at 29, she is dancing her way through congress, even while enduring boos from GOP Congresspeople, attack articles from Fox News, and the outrage of many on the right. She’s earning as much media attention as Democratic presidential candidates, and almost as much as Trump. Why? She’s a rock star for some, and Satan fto others.
While political experts scratched their heads as to how this young woman could have ousted a long-time congressman, Millennials did not. Ocasio-Cortez is, for the first time, bringing a voice to the table where a majority of Millennials truly feel represented. She isn’t walking in with a centralist agenda, working to appease those on the right to gather votes. She doesn’t give in to the arguments of “but how will we afford it.” She is prepared, she’s armed, she is willing to fight back—something Millennials have been calling for this past decade.
A Gallup Poll in August showed Millennials approved the economics of socialism by 57% while only looking positively on capitalism by 56%. Democratic-socialism has never been more popular. Ocasio-Cortez is bringing another Democratic-socialist voice to the table, but she’s doing so in a way people haven’t seen. If Bernie Sanders, a white elderly man, seems to be the Godfather of this current political movement, Ocasio-Cortez is the hero. She advocates for single-payer healthcare, for basic income programs and a New Green Deal. And when those who object say we can’t afford it, she points the finger right back: our current healthcare system costs more, you want to pay 5.7 billion for a wall, we increase military budgets that are already grossly oversized. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, she asks the questions Millennials have been asking for years. “Why does no one ask ‘How we’ll pay for that’ when Republicans support budget increases, or tax decreases.”
Ocasio-Cortez truly represents a future to believe in for many young people. She also represents a symbol. She is the opposite of an outdated vision of the American politician. She’s not a white, clean-shaven 6’2” man, wearing a red tie, who talks of patriotism, a strong military, the need for working on both sides, and capitalistic fiscal responsibility. She’s Latina, smart, willing to speak her mind, a rookie congresswoman, and a supporter of taxing the rich 70%--a tax rate American’s used to pay if they earned more than $216,000 when Reagan took over as President.
Though Ocasio-Cortez belongs to a small and ever-growing coalition of Democratic-Socialists, she still represents the “different” to many Americans. We, the people, are now witnessing if Ocasio-Cortez can survive a political machine in DC that so often bucks those who dissent. For Ocasio-Cortez is not the typical Democrat. She has already broken from House-Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and we have seen how those who break from party loyalty can be ousted. Ocasio-Cortez condemned the selection of the new House committee on climate change, believing the committee too weak because the committee cannot draft legislation or issue subpoenas. She tweeted, “In DC + even in our own party, it’s apparently too controversial to ask that we keep oil+gas co’s away from enviro policy.” Ocasio-Cortez is smart enough to maneuver around inter-party turmoil, and she certainly seems independent enough to make up her own mind—something Americans desperately want from their politicians. But the collective often beats the individual.
Young liberal minded individuals are frustrated with the lack of movement in DC. There is outrage at Republicans for taxing the rich less, leading to more government debt and a possible economic recession. There is sheer disgust at the Trump administration for rolling back environmental protections and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. But there is also a collective pulling of hair about Democratic choices. Many young liberals call for more and severer environmental protections, high taxes on the rich, free healthcare and free college—ideas that many democrats won’t touch. Whether perceived or true, young liberals see mainstream Democrats as part of the problem, in bed with corporations, banks, in love with their old-fashioned centrist ideals. Ocasio-Cortez seems to be the opposite Democrat, willing to take on her own party for the ideals she was elected for.
Fighting against an out-of-touch Democratic Party is not the biggest of Ocasio-Cortez’s problems. She has become the new target of GOP senators, congresspeople, past vice-president candidates, and Republican propaganda news stations. While Trump continues to levy insults against Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi or Adam Schiff, right-wing thinkers have zeroed in on Ocasio-Cortez. Why? Because she is the future they fear, incarnate.
Republicans fear what a future will look like with people like Ocasio-Cortez in charge. It would mean greater diversity of thought and phenotypes, less of a capitalistic mindset, environmental concerned governments, redistribution of wealth, and a diversification of the power generation. This threatens their world of isolationism, wealth hoarding, fossil fuel use, and divide and conquer tactics.
Ocasio-Cortez is young, she’s an outspoken free thinking, anti-establishment woman. If she plays her hands right, she could be in Congress for the next fifty years, be a major leader of the Democratic party, and become president. That could mean more Americans moving towards the ideas of green energy, income programs, wealth redistribution, etc. Republicans can’t have that, which is why they boo her, why they try and bring her down for dancing barefoot on a rooftop, and why they target her specifically in articles addressing progressive ideals like this one.
Unfortunately, for the GOP, Ocasio-Cortez has cultivated a specific image, one that is difficult to defeat: she’s cool. That’s likely to fade in the future—more because of socialized beliefs about women who age, rather than her personality—but for now Ocasio-Cortez is a political rock star. She is seen as the voice of the Bronx, the voice of urban dwelling young people, and a major voice of progressives. Constant belittling by those on the right only feeds this image. It gives Ocasio-Cortez the fodder she can use to point out Republican hypocrisy and misinformation.
Just recently Steve Scalise used Ocasio-Cortez’s 60 Minute interview to spread misinformation. He posted a photo of Ocasio-Cortez with the caption: “Republicans: Let Americans keep more of their own hard-earned money(sic) Democrats: Take away 70% of your income and give it to leftist fantasy programs(sic)” Of course, Ocasio-Cortez did not propose taxing all Americans 70% but only the very rich. She rebutted, “You’re the GOP Minority Whip. How do you not know how marginal tax rates work? Oh that’s right, almost forgot: GOP works for the corporate CEOs showering themselves in multi-million [dollar] bonuses; not the actual working people whose wages + healthcare they’re ripping off for profit.”
Ocasio-Cortez is not afraid to call people out,or to push the boundaries of what is “established decorum.” When David M. Drucker, of the DC Examiner, tweeted about Congressman Steve King of Iowa and his conversation with Congressman Scalise he wrote, King “initiated’ a convo today w/ @SteveScalise to inform them he would speak on floor to address his racially-tinged remarks.” Congressman King had recently defended White Nationalism and White Supremacy. Ocasio-Cortez took notice of Drucker’s tweet and replied, “You spelled “racist” wrong” adding, “At this point those who use the terms “racially tinged” or racially charged” to describe white supremacy should be prepared to explain why they chose to employ those terms instead of “racist”/”racism”. If the answer is their own discomfort, they’re protecting the wrong people.” This type of response by Ocasio-Cortez is exactly what many young people are looking for in their Congresspeople--strong pushback, a zero tolerance policy for intolerance.
Another tweet Ocasio-Cortez wrote said, “Republican hypocrisy at its finest: saying that Trump admitting to sexual assault on tape is just “locker room talk,” but scandalizing themselves into faux-outrage when [Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib] says a curse word in a bar. GOP lost entitlement to policing women’s behavior a long time ago. Next.” While the message of these tweets don’t sit well with everyone, they do play well with her supporters, specifically women.
It’s clear: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t here to play around. She’s a rebel, uninterested in the conventional, in playing nice, in being a good “little girl.” In other words, she’s a political rock star, whether you like or not.
Game of Narratives
DC vs. Marvel!!!!!
With Sam Williams, Levi Rogers, and Brodie Foster Hubbard
DC Comics? Or Marvel Comics? Which one do you like better? It’s a question as old as are microwaves or toasters better? TV or radio? Pompadours or Crew Cuts? Sinatra or Crosby? It’s a question that eats at the soul, and gets many a geek heated in the cheeks as he shouts like a freak.
But here on Game of Narratives, with Special CHAMPIONSHIP BELT HOLDER BRODIE FOSTER HUBBARD as our darling guest, we aim to answer that question for better or for worse.
Lil More Intro (also my rap name)
SW: I got to be honest with you all. I’m obsessed with comic book movies and some TV shows, less so with comics. I’ve seen like 98% of superhero movies since Tim Burton’s Batman. I’ve watched about 50% of all TV shows relating to caped crusaders since 1992, and I’ve read about .001% of all comic books.
That’s not to say I don’t like comic books. I really do, but I just haven’t prioritize them over things like the Alexander Hamilton biography I’m reading. So, dear readers (and Brodie), this is all to say that my picks of this bracket are highly influenced by the movies and less so by the comics. Also, video games and tv shows came into play.
Here’s the Bracket:
Brodie’s Quick Thoughts:
I’ve always been a “Make Mine Marvel” person over… what do DC fans even say, “I enjoy DC despite how awful most of the movies have been - hey we have Wonder Woman now, so that’s a thing?” I mean, they have Batman and Superman, pretty iconic. Really their best stuff has been on the Vertigo imprint, though, and I don’t see Preacher on this bracket.
Speaking of icons, The Joker, man. I’m not one of those nuts who post memes with his face or anything, but I know the character better than this Starfire character. Same with Poison Ivy over Static. I’m into the Batman Rogues Gallery so far. For me though, Thanos wins, hands down.
I have to admit, along with Sam, that I’m more of a comic book movie guy and less pure comics. But guys, mainly I’m just really confused why Scarlet Witch isn’t on this list. I mean? Why? And first up, for starters, this whole Marvel v. DC Character thing is difficult because of one reason--Christopher Nolan. DC has created more memorable, long-lasting characters. And Nolan knew this because Batman is, by far, the most compelling and flawed superhero character and makes the best superhero movie/comic. He has layers man. In a way Superman could never touch. But Christopher Nolan sort of rigged superhero movies for years to come with his Oscar-winning director/storyline behind the 2000’s Batman series. The Dark Night is hands down the best superhero movie ever made. No one else could beat these expectations, even Marvel, and so they pivoted to their own unique style punctuated by fun and humor. That being said, Marvel is by far the better cinematic franchise. Besides Wonder Women and aforementioned Nolan films, all the DC films have been rubbish. But I also find the Marvel style, while fun, and even quite dark as witnessed by Infinity Wars, to be growing tired with their ever connected storylines and universe. At first I found it intriguing. Now, I’m just tired. I don’t even want to see the next Infinity Wars but I probably will cause at this point I’m in too deep to stop.
Sam’s Quick Thoughts on the Bracket:
The Slow Thoughts:
Both Joker and Batman had some weak-ass competition. Whoever set this bracket up rigged it from the start. And Star-Lord over Black Panther? Please. And why isn’t Scarlet Witch on this list?! You know who I’m talking about right? She’s played by Elizabeth Olsen in The Avengers Age of Ultron? You know who Elizabeth Olsen is right? Have you seen Wind River? God, I love Elizabeth Olsen.
Louisa hated these trips to the surface. The masks smelled like feet, and the canned oxygen tasted like plastic. The recycled air and close quarters on the station weren’t much better, but at least they weren’t pressed against your face. At first, going down to the planet had been worthwhile. They searched for survivors, even found a few people who had managed to seal themselves in with enough plants to keep the carbon cycle going. Now, though, they just looked for salvage —electronics, fuel, medical supplies, rare plastics—and food. Anything refrigerated had rotted long ago, and even the canned goods were inedible by now, but thanks to the station’s reconstituter all they needed was organic material. Without aerobic bacteria the bodies hardly decayed at all; they’d have all the flavorless protein goop they could eat for at least a few decades. “Look!” She looked up sharply at the urgency that broke through the tinny tone of her headset. Tetsuo was walking quickly towards the skeleton of a high-rise. They must’ve just started building it when the photosynthetic plague hit; it was little more than steel beams jutting into the sky. Like metal saplings, thought Louisa, trying to feel the sun. She caught up with him, breathing heavily as her space-atrophied muscles strained against the weight of gravity. “What?” He ran his gloved finger along one of the beams and held it up. The tip was a reddish-orange. “Rust,” he half-whispered. Louisa looked at the smear, uncomprehending. “Yeah, so?” Tetsuo’s full expression was hidden by the mask, but his eyes shone and the skin around them crinkled. “Rust means oxygen.” His voice creaked. “Oxygen.” She felt light-headed for a moment, then remembered to breathe again.
by Jane-Rebecca Cannarella
The rusty-spotted cat is tiny and streaky and rare; and I’m told that despite my interest, I won’t be able to adopt one. They live in Sri Lanka and India, and they make their homes in the rapidly diminishing deciduous forests. Obtaining one would be impossible, or so it’s explained to me by the animal shelter on Morris Street. But, I mean, I can make a forest of my apartment if necessary. Fill it with trees and we can live underneath one at the end of the growing season. I’m told the tiny wild cats are protected, but I can protect them here, too.
My current cats are big as hell and none of them are spotted with circles of iron oxide - none of them would want to venture into a tree or cave to escape a predator or, more importantly, a responsibility. My cats are average-sized wards of my wood-paneled home, they ask a lot of questions about my plans for the future in raspy sounding mews whenever I call out sick from work. But just like the rusty-spotted cat, there is so little I know about myself - so the fact that almost nothing is known about rusty-spotted cats works for me just as well. We could live together in anonymity comfortable in not knowing. Spend the days in the vegetation of my deciduous home experiencing the shelter of a solitary life. We’d only emerge at night to hunt out the snacks in the fridge and talk to one another about dreams, make meaning out of the stars blistering in through my ceiling. And the joined unity would be enough - they can keep their secrets and I can keep mine, and the little pack of mini cats and I could sleep in a circle in cavernous regions of our home.
So, I’ll keep hoping that one day I can adopt one, and we can protect one another.
third image is William Cheselden's Osteographia
fourth and fifth image are Illustrations of Madness: James Tilly Matthews and the Air Loom
By J. Sam Williams
The Spring of 2007. The time in my life when I transitioned from casual Red Sox fan to full blown Boston Sports Nut. It began under rather un-climatic circumstances. I mentioned to my dad one day that the Red Sox were doing well, something I’d heard about at school. He said we should watch the Red Sox and so we did. That’s it.
This happened at the exact right time for me, however. It was the end of my freshman year. I had no friends. I had reached the peak of my obesity. I had no hobbies. I would come home from school, do my homework and play video games. What’s funny is that the idea of watching the Red Sox didn’t necessarily excite me, the idea of my dad buying a new channel for our cable package did.
So, we watched.
I remember that first game we watched together with exquisite clarity. Why? The game took place on Mother’s Day. My mom silently fumed that we watched a sporting event during her day. When we did turn the game on (haven’t you been watchin the game up to this point? the bottom of the 9th inning loomed, and the Red Sox had laid an egg. Zero to five against the Orioles.
Flash forward a bit: Coco Crisp—one of the all-time-great baseball names—stood on base with David Ortiz up at the plate. One out wasted already, meaning the Red Sox had two outs to score five runs to tie, or six runs to win. Ortiz doubled to left-center field and Crisp scored. Haha, very cute. I wasn’t all that interested.
Soon the bases were loaded with Kevin Youkilis up at the plate, a full count in play. I was semi-interested. I remember asking my dad loads of questions about the rules. Youkilis walked, forcing a run to score. 5-2 now. Then Captain Jason Varitek lined to right field scoring two. 5-4, only one out, and I was on the edge of my seat.
Julio Lugo hit a ground ball to the first baseman which scored one run tying the game, but the Orioles made an error and threw away the ball. This let Varitek run from second all the way home to win the game. I remember the crowd went wild, the announcers went berserk, my dad whooped—a rarity for sure—and I fell in love with baseball.
This wasn’t my first time watching baseball. In 2003 I watched every game against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Too young to stay up on a school night, my dad woke me in the morning with the news that Aaron Boone murdered the Red Sox and all of Red Sox Nation.
I watched Dave Roberts steal off Mariano Rivera. I watched David Ortiz walk off twice. I watched Curt Schilling pitch with a bloody sock. I watched Damon hit a Grand Slam. I watched a curse broken in St. Louis. Yet, even with every fiber of my being invested in the Sox in 04, I still didn’t love baseball. I hadn’t fallen in love yet, not like I did on Mother’s Day of 07.
As it turned out 07 was a great year to become a full-blown Boston Sports Nut. The Patriots went undefeated in the regular season—let’s skip the Super Bowl aspect of that year. The Celtics traded for two superstars and beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals—excellent. And the Red Sox rallied from down 3-1 in the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians—thanks in part to Josh Beckett and J.D. Drew—to move onto the World Series where they swept a cute but unprepared Colorado Rockies team to win it all.
In the Fall of 2007 nothing but the Red Sox mattered to me. Baseball occupied every inch of my mind. My grades slipped a tad, my social interactions were limited to conversations about baseball at school. My home life relegated to doing my homework as fast as possible, eating as by the shovelful, and staring at a screen for three hours, my emotions spiking dangerously. My moods would swing with the bats. Red Sox losing? I would be sour. Red Sox winning? I would crack jokes.
I remember when the Red Sox won the World Series I leapt with them in my living room. My mom woke as I jumped, my aunt said quietly, “Congratulations.” Before I’d never understood why people would congratulate each other when their team won. Fans didn’t do anything. Why should people say, “Hey congrats, you won.” But right then I understood. I felt like Batman. Scratch that. I felt like Ortiz coming up to the plate, bases loaded—like I could hit anything, win everything. I’d never experienced that. It feels like an accomplishment when your team wins. It’s not a physical accomplishment, but it’s an emotional accomplishment. All that mental effort was worth the ecstasy of final win.
My dad was out of the country when the Sox won. He called a few minutes after the final out, spending money on a long-distance call from Hong Kong to celebrate with his son.
The Red Sox just won the World Series again, 11 years later. They won one in 2013 too. They’ve won four in the past 15 years. They’re being written about as “Baseball Royalty.” But this win, as with the win in 2013, doesn’t feel the same. In fact, sports haven’t felt the same in several years.
Don’t get me wrong. I still bleed Red Sox blood. I call my dad after all the postseason games to talk things through. But I just don’t invest my emotions the same way I did when I was 15.
It’s strange. To the outside eye someone would look at me—perhaps my wife—and say he’s an absolute sports nut. It’s true in some respect. I follow sports closely. When the baseball playoffs were happening, I couldn’t do anything else. I told my wife I was gonna be a bad husband and I’d sit in front of the computer and watch the game with my dinner in my lap.
I went clubbing in Santa Cruz during Game 3 of the World Series and kept checking the play-by-play updates, flabbergasted that the Dodgers tied it in the 13th on an error. I felt a gut punch when the Dodgers walked off in the 18th. When Sale struck out Machado to end game 5 and win it all I felt the familiar flip of my stomach and pounded my fist.
But the emotions of happiness or despair are duller and easier to move past. For years I’ve been realizing the lack of emotive presence in my fandom. Take earlier this year for instance. I went to a Red Sox game in Oakland up in the nose-bleeds of the worst baseball stadium known to mankind. The Red Sox were tearing up the league. I thought they had a good chance to win everything. I spent the whole Bart ride telling my wife, who very sweetly indulged my animated but one-sided conversation—how good this Sox team was. The Red Sox were no-hit that night (that’s bad).
As my wife and I left the stadium I realized I felt neither here nor there about what had transpired. Seeing a no-hitter is a rare occasion. I’d finally seen one. Your team getting no-hits is an absolute stinker. I’d seen it happen in person. But I also didn’t really care all that much.
Sometime between that no-hitter and the start of this seasons playoffs I began to realize it wasn’t just sports that I wasn’t emotionally connecting with, it was a lot of things in life. I didn’t care that much about bad drivers, about graduating grad school, about getting a new job, or friends flaking on me.
I began to wonder if it had much to do with my mom’s passing, nearly eight years ago. I tried to trace this emotional disenfranchisement back to that moment, and while it’s probably somewhat a contributing factor it doesn’t line up with my timeline.
The last sporting event that really boiled me up was an NFL game; Patriots vs Broncos where the Broncos narrowly beat a 10-0 Patriots team that I thought could have gone undefeated for a 19-0 season. With Deflategate, unfair calls by the refs, and lifetime of crap hearing about how the Patriots are cheaters and that Peyton Manning is way better than Brady, I was heated. That game was in 2015.
Since then, I haven’t faced trauma, or anything of that nature. I haven’t started liking sports less either. I realize, I’ve got bigger problems and bigger dreams, and those dwarf the emotions of the past.
I graduated from my MFA program a year after that NFL game. My wife graduated some six months before and suddenly I’d gone from school my entire life to nothing, no support system, no financial aid, no support. My wife and I had to fend for ourselves. We had to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, work real jobs. Now was the time for a career. Now was the time to get serious. No more frivolous writing. No more late nights crafting my art. Job. Money. Career.
Yet I knew more than ever that my career needed to be storytelling. I’d gotten my MFA. I had a community of writers to lean on, but I’d set myself up poorly. Sociology major, religion and sustainability minor; Creative Writing graduate—wannabe writer, untrained journalist, second choice of interviews, not enough experience, no talent. And no answer from agent queries.
Where was I to go?
These were and are real issues. Ones I am still dealing with. I want to write novels and I want to write children’s books. I write and re-write and send queries and work with other writers to produce quality products for free because I cannot generate money for my writing yet. But if I keep writing for free who will buy my writing? They can already get it for free. Yet I can’t generate money now without exposure. So I have to do it free now, don’t I?
These are such big issues, such real dilemmas to deal with, to grasp. I realized I never had to deal with them before. Everyone has told me I’ve got a good head on my shoulders, I’ll figure it out. The job will come. The money will come.
Jobs have come. Money has come. But the jobs aren’t fulfilling. The money isn’t enough. Not enough for healthcare, or property ownership, or the ability to actually afford education. Now I find myself pushing through, stressing to make sure I push and push until something comes of my writing. The pushing is hard, and not altogether good for my health, but if I don’t push I fall into the world of the everyman—into the world of people who gave up and became this or that because it was time to earn money.
I want to tell stories. I want to create. I am afraid of never fulfilling this life goal because I need shelter, I need to eat, I need my health—and these things take money which, for now I cannot write into existence.
I’ve come to a realization that makes sense to me. I feel the same emotions about the Red Sox winning the World Series now as when they did in 07. That whoop of joy, that edge on your seat thrill--it’s all there. What’s happened is that my perspective that has changed. My goals and dreams. My fears. They’re so much larger now than they were then. Some might say it has changed for me, that this is what change feels like--but for some reason that doesn’t ring true. What rings true is now I know what it’s like to have these bigger issues, to emotionally invest in something way larger than a sports victory. My fandom has remained the same, but the rest of me changed. That feels right.
The Red Sox winning the World Series no longer means the world to me. That’s probably good. Hopefully this change is putting me on the path to success. I certainly hope it hasn’t put me on the path to an emotional train wreck if I fail too many times. Perhaps I’ll look back and hope I’d have stayed in the emotional range of my 15-year-old self. I have a feeling I’ll be glad I didn’t.
J. Sam Williams is the Co-Head Blog Editor for Meow Meow Pow Pow. He graduated from Antioch University of Los Angeles with an MFA in Creative Writing. He is a MuggleNet Social Media Associate, and a cat lover. Be on the look out for Mew Meow Pow Pow's podcast, Meow Meow Pod Pod, which he will be co-hosting.
10/19/2018 0 Comments
by Jacqueline Heinze
I write this post wrapped in irony. I agreed to write something about the Kavanaugh commotion two days before his confirmation, but after Senator Susan Collins spoke for 50-whatever minutes praising the Judge and chiding us from her distorted ethical platform, I concluded that words were no longer useful. After all, what more was there to say? None of Collins’ words—or McConnell’s or Graham’s or Flake’s (gaaaaawd!)—could erase what I had borne witness to. I watched Dr. Ford’s testimony, in which she was emotional, deferential, courteous, and careful. Then I watched Judge Kavanaugh, who was belligerent, disrespectful, misleading, and partisan. Neither Collins nor her GOP bros could explain away what I had seen and heard. Nor could they rewrite my own personal history with sexual harassment, emotional abuse, and silencing. They could not—cannot—argue me out of that which I know to be true. Dr. Ford still cannot return to her home because of violent threats against her and her family. Judge Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court. I get it. She lost. I lost. Women lost. We all lost. Again, what more is there to say? There are, however, things to do.
There are, however, things to do.
3. Take care of yourself. Blah blah blah, but it’s important and something I’ve been ignoring. For months, I’ve been vacillating between grief and fury. I’ve been forgetting to eat, although I have not forgotten to drink. My neck and shoulders are as solid as bricks. I am ready to yell at anyone (read, white men) who dares cross my path. It is exhausting, so I’m working to change my agitated state. This past weekend I marched my kid and me into House of Intuition, a metaphysical shop to help people heal, and bought myself a crystal that I can program with my intention. I asked my crystal to keep me clear and calm through the midterms. Mostly, I carry my crystal (can one name their crystal?) in my front jeans pocket and rub it whenever I have the desire to set fire to whatever manifestation of the patriarchy I can get my hands on. I am also binge-watching The Good Place. Find out what your needs are and meet them.
My husband and I canvass, phone bank, and write postcards to get voters to the polls for the midterms. We also organize an activist group. Each week, I send an email to more than 100 everyday people—people who are between jobs, people who are overworked, who are moving, who are going through a divorce, who have infants or complicated dating lives, whose kids are struggling in school, whose parents are sick, who don’t have the time—and I list the ways they can volunteer for the midterms and encourage them to do so. Many of them write back and let me know, with everything else they have going on, what they are doing to help. It’s when I weigh too many words against the actions anyone can take to affect our democracy that I come down on the side of action. It’s time to focus on the work.
I’m a writer. Of course words matter, but the noise in the fray is deafening. Much of it is also nonsensical and a great, big, gigantic lie, designed to make you go nuts (and, it is important to note, comes from a place of loserdom and fear.) Rather than react, find your focus. A good, solid primal scream could help, as could a book that validates what a woman warrior you are, or what an ally you are to a warrior woman. Get a massage if that’s what you need. Eat a bag of Pumpkin Spice Caramel Corn. See A Star is Born for the second time. Then, take action. “Walk the talk,” or “Make it work,” or “Be the change,” or “Ride or die,” or whatever words you need to step away from your screen and get into the fight.
Then, take action. “Walk the talk,” or “Make it work,” or “Be the change,” or “Ride or die,” or whatever words you need to step away from your screen and get into the fight.
10/10/2018 0 Comments
It's like the Dating Game, only way hotter. I'm Janie and I'm trying to date your new book. In this case, I'm trying to get in with Sad Laughter: A Totally Unessential and Demotivational Guide to Reading, Writing, and Publishing by Brian Alan Ellis and published by the always brilliant Civil Coping Mechanisms. According to Sad Laughter's Tinder bio, it's all about [how] "Writing is like trying to make sense of an inside joke you have with yourself but haha joke’s on you ’cause the joke is more sad than funny."
Since I love a sense of humor coupled with a futile sense of despair, I'm basically already about this book (along with most of the author's other work). Let's Dating Game this motherfucker:
Q. If your book was a reality television show, what would its premise be?
A. A writers retreat where instead of writing, the writers just sit around eating different flavors of Doritos while listlessly watching each other take turns trying to beat really hard NES games like Contra 2 and Kid Icarus.
Q. Speaking of reality television, what is your book’s Real Housewives tagline?
A. The Real Housewives of a Constant and Pervading Existential Void.
Q. What is the crux of your book’s intimacy issues?
A. Sad Laughter says, “How can you be upset that your short stories get rejected when you’re constantly rejecting love?”
How can you be upset that your short stories get rejected when you’re constantly rejecting love?
Q. If your book was an appetizer, which one would it be?
A. Sad Laughter would be an Applebee’s Classic Combo Platter.
Q. Sun sign? Moon sign? Rising sign?
A. Johnny Cage / Scorpion / Sub-Zero
Q. If your book was an Olympian what would it be for? Would it medal?
A. Like WWE legend Kurt Angle, Sad Laughter would win a gold medal with a “broken freakin’ neck!”
Q. We love you, Sad Laughter, no question period the end.
A. Sad Laughter loves you back. *wink*
Go support innovative and prose and poetry and pick up Sad Laughter. Go support our boy and by extension all bossin' indie lit making a difference in this big bad world.
9/23/2018 0 Comments
There’s something special about following a band for over a decade—especially if you started listening to that band in your youth—as the discography of the band starts to layer itself over your own life, mirroring and sound tracking distinct experiences, moods, and entire years. You grow up with this band, or they grow up with you perhaps. The band is there with you through deaths, graduations, births, marriage, divorce; your embrace and/or loss of certain religions, philosophies and ideologies. Sometimes the band itself stagnates, as you might feel your own life has, and you listen to their early work in search of nostalgia. Other times a band progresses to a point that their later work sounds nothing like their early stuff. They have evolved and you have also evolved. You have both aged together. And even if you’ve never met them, it’s like you know them intimately, like an old friend, despite the fact that it’s a mostly one-sided relationship.
I was a teenager when I began listening to Pedro the Lion, originally turned onto the band by my cooler-than-he-should-have-been high school teacher Mr. Otteson, who knew I liked Indie music and also knew that I was Christian and so burned me my first mixtape CD of Pedro when I was seventeen. I listened to Pedro the Lion in Colorado and where I grew up and in Oregon and Utah where I later moved. The bands evolution from an indie-band with Christian-ish spiritual leanings to full on agnostic, self-deprecating critique on American culture mirrored, in a way, my own spiritual journey through multiple states and frames of mind.
A few months ago I found myself at a Pedro the Lion reunion concert in Salt Lake City, Utah, twelve years later, about to turn thirty, about to become a father, hearing them in a completely different context of life. The band did not disappoint and neither did David Bazan, the lead singer and driving force behind Pedro.
“I’ve been writing and singing about toxic religion, toxic masculinity, and toxic capitalism for the last twenty years. And it seems, uh, particularly apt right now,” Bazan said about halfway through their set halfway through the year of 2018. I had a whiskey in one hand and a Coors in the other, standing there with my friends Lucas and Mike. I shouldn’t have really been at the concert. My wife was due with our first kid, six days away from her due date and the doctor said she could pop any day. But there I was. And it makes sense that I was there. To hear the band live once again before I became a father was like the resolve of a narrative loop I never knew needed to be tied up. Full circle.
Bazan’s statement on toxicity this night seems to echo as both a prophetic, “I told you so,” in the year of 2018 and also as an exasperated plea that despite his and other’s warnings about these toxic elements in our culture, it’s like people are just now starting to pay attention. Bazan’s lyrics covering these toxicities of American culture are a main reason why I’ve been a fan of the band since high school, why I’ve followed his music post-Pedro into his solo recordings.
His songwriting has always balanced atop this knife’s edge of deep realism (or cynicism, pessimism, and fatalism depending where you personally find yourself) with lyrics like the resounding “It won’t be all right” from the chorus of the song “Bands with Managers,” or the biting critique of consumerism and advertising in “Penetration”: “All of the experts state you got to start them young/that way they’ll naturally love the taste of corporate cum.” And then there’s this disturbing soliloquy from a priest in the song “Priests and Paramedics”:
“But he himself had given up
So instead he offered them this bitter cup:
“You’re gonna die
We’re all gonna die
Could be twenty years could be tonight
And lately I have been wondering why
We go to so much trouble
To postpone the unavoidable
And prolong the pain of being alive.”
You know, pop singles kinda shit. It was the sort of depressing, melancholic music that soothed my existentially anguished soul in my twenties. And coming from a guy who used to be a Christian! But it was also about something more. The first-person storytelling looked outward to society as much as inward. As much as Pedro/Bazan was full of songs that were interior and spiritually seeking, the music was also full of social critique.
Pedro the Lion originally started as a band in the state of Washington in the mid-nineties at the dawn of the indie-rock movement, much of which was coming out of the Pacific Northwest—Death Cab, Damien Jurado, Modest Mouse, and Elliot Smith. While the band has included multiple members, including mainstays T.W. Walsh and Casey Foubert, Bazan is by and large the main engine behind the band—though both Foubert and Walsh have contributed to many Pedro songs.
What initially set Pedro the Lion and Bazan apart was the way in which they carved a niche following of people largely made up of those who had grown up in Evangelical subcultures and one day found this faith wanting—with little room for doubt or room to voice skepticism. Bazan’s early recordings were, for many of us who had grown up in the Evangelical church, the first true expression and admission of doubt and disbelief we heard. His honest struggle and search for authenticity within this system of faith was something new. For once in our lives we felt okay in our despair, our struggles with faith, God, and a seemingly unresponsive and cold world. His song “Secret of the Easy Yoke” perhaps exemplified it best:
“I could hear the church bells ringing
They peeled aloud your praise
The members faces were smiling
With their hands outstretched to shake
It's true they did not move me
My heart was hard and tired
The perfect fire anoint me
I could not find you anywhere”
Bazan’s early albums were Psalm-like in their despair. In albums like It’s Hard to Find a Friend and Winners Never Quit Bazan sings about big trucks, bad diary days, and what happens when bad things happen to good people. Bazan’s voice is not yet grizzled and maintains an earnestness that doesn’t exist on later albums.
His songwriting soon forayed into various depressing first-person accounts of a couple on the beach talking about divorce, a woman jumping off a hospital after she’s given birth, a re-telling of the prodigal son story, and songs about capitalism, communism, marriage, and death. Pedro the Lion’s seminal album was Control, a concept album about a businessman having an extramarital affair, amongst themes of consumerism and vengeance, followed by the *slightly* more uplifting Achilles Heel.
Pedro the Lion broke up in 2006 as Bazan went solo. His lyrics turned more outward, hopeless, and political. His first solo album includes a feud track with the music site Pitchfork, “Selling Advertising.” Bazan’s first-full length solo album Curse Your Branches is basically a break up album with God—one that proved particularly painful for me to listen to as I was going through a similar spiritual process. His second album, Strange Negotiations, took issue with right-wing political ideologies and the propensity of working class Americans to keep voting for the hand that chokes them.
Bazan’s quest for authenticity and giving no fucks has probably cost him some popularity and status. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Bazan was writing about rape culture and male entitlement long before the #metoo movement in the song, “Backwoods Nation,” and “A Mind of Her Own.” He wrote about right-wing nationalists selling out God in favor of political favor, low prices, and capitalism long before Donald Trump won 81% of the evangelical vote in his album Strange Negotiations. He wrote about profits over people in his seminal album Control before the crash of 2008. Bazan is a deadly serious Father John Misty without the irony and sarcasm. Similar in content and style to Sufjan Stevens. But Bazan’s songs are heavy. They do not have the whimsy of Sufjan or the layered sarcasm and wit of Misty (though Sufjan’s last album Carrie and Lowell, was quite dark). As much as Bazan might employ first-person storytelling techniques within his songs, there is no obfuscation or running away from the stark reality of life as painted by him. Yet Bazan serves as a reminder that people have been ringing the bell to alert us to these current, and deadly, American crises for many years.
My daughter was born the night after the Pedro the Lion concert. Wednesday, May 23rd. It was a surreal, intense, and euphoric couple days. The morning after the concert my wife went into labor and so we headed to the hospital around 12:30 in the afternoon. We checked into Labor and Delivery at St. Mark’s and were surprised to discover that the baby had turned breech over the weekend. Head down for nearly two months and now she had flipped. Little stinker. The doctor called for a caesarean immediately. We were having baby. This afternoon. Before dinner. We thought about trying to flip her naturally but it was a good thing we didn’t because when she finally came out, her umbilical cord was wrapped twice around her neck which would have made it almost impossible to do so.
I watched the whole procedure in the operating room. How they sliced into my wife. Clamped her stomach. Pulled the baby out. Purple and red and black. The constant tinkling of metal instruments.
Life is funny like that. Sometimes you’re at a Pedro the Lion concert, mourning the very concept of existence, and other times you are in a hospital, celebrating it.
I often question why it is we even have children. To raise children is a selfless act but to have them in the first place is a selfish one. To create a human being in your image on an overpopulated world is at least one part selfish. And yet, some of us still have this innate desire to do so. Why? I don’t know.
There is a song from the Pedro the Lion album Achilles’s Heel, which has always haunted me, called “I Do.”
“The sperm swims for the egg,” sings Bazan. “The finger for the ring. And if I could take one back. I know what it would be.”
I thought for sure that would be me one day. Married, unhappy, raising a kid to live vicariously through. Fortunately, today at least, I can say that this specific character in the song is not me. I am not particularly happy with life, but I am content in marriage and excited for fatherhood. I’ve been on anti-depressants for over a decade—which is probably not going to change anytime soon—but I’ve found positive ways to cope and deal with life instead of wasting away into an existential and depressive funk that I try to drink my way out of. My daughter has given me a hope and objectivity I have not known throughout my angsty, highly subjective existential twenties.
It’s been over a decade since I discovered Pedro the Lion as a young naive Christian boy in high school. I am now entering fatherhood and my thirties and like Bazan, I’ve grown frustrated with religion and have pretty much left Church for the time being (though I think I still believe in God, for now at least). Like Bazan I’ve spent a lot of time drinking and a lot of time feeling hopeless for humanity—for the darkness in myself and the larger world. I personally thought the culture wars would have died out a long time ago, but if anything, they seem to have reached mass hysteria. I thought the majority of Christians would have bailed on the Republican party with Trump, but no. (I could give a fuck if they vote for Democrats either, at least just acknowledge the lie and hypocrisy you’re buying into.) These Christians who still like to defend “solo scriptura” and man’s authority over women, the life of the unborn, and the patriarchal, nuclear family, but will bypass those parts in the Bible about widows, orphans, refugees, and the vulnerable because it doesn’t suit their current political views. Unfortunately, many Christians today have decided that an unborn life is more important than a black or brown, refugee or immigrant life.
The thought of bringing a child into America in the year of 2018 is slightly terrifying. What awaits us in the future? Nuclear war? An authoritarian state? Civil war? The complete sell out of Jesus’ teachings? My daughter will be three-quarters white and so probably have nothing to worry about, but it makes me sad that I can’t say the same for others. The toxic prophecies of America as sung by Bazan have come true and though I am not surprised, I am still depressed about it.
So perhaps my daughter will be raised in an age where sexual harassment and rape culture have become rarer. Perhaps men will become better men. Perhaps Evangelical Christians will wake up from their Donald Trump infused hysteria and their culture wars and start following Jesus, not capitalism and the Republican party. Perhaps we will one day truly value people over profits. True religion over false. Perhaps, but if life is anything like a Pedro the Lion song, the chances are that it won’t be all right. And that’s okay too.
“Be kind to one another,” Bazan said as he finished the show that night in May. “Be good to one another.” And for one second, like the lyrics that drew me to Bazan in the first place, it was like Bazan was channeling Jesus himself, giving us a single moment of hope in a cold and frustrating world.
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