Art by @iceicepop
A field trip in middle school like any other. Except it wasn’t. We drove down the mountain in our yellow school bus. To downtown Denver. To visit the Denver Buddhist Temple. Two worlds removed from mine—Urban, Eastern. My parents didn’t love the idea. They, or their Christian culture, said Buddhist temples made you bow to ornate, false gods when you went inside.
I arrived with a religious exemption note. One of my teachers, also a Christian, didn’t seem to mind. She took me to walk around downtown Denver instead. The rest of my classmates walked inside the temple. Past the bamboo and Buddhas, pagodas and trickling water features. Outside it was warm and smelled of spring. I wondered what was inside the temple I was forbidden to enter. Whether or not or how they would make me worship. I wondered if a bow meant worship and if God tell the difference. I thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel. They refused to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol and were cast into the fire. Yet, they didn’t burn. An Angel of the Lord saved them and God praised them for their faithfulness. So, in a way, I felt special. Maybe even in a holy, all-consuming-type way.
For lunch afterwards we all went to the McDonalds on Colfax. The McDonald’s was two stories and we ate on the second floor. My classmates asked me where I went. I made some excuse, suddenly feeling embarrassed. Then our food came and we forgot about the entire morning.
My college friend Jake later told me that a Buddhism is not a religion, a “buddha” is simply one who is with all the sense of reality that is possible with their material and mental capabilities. He and my friend Abby once lived in a Buddhist retreat center near Goldendale, Washington.
I think now about Jesus and Buddha. Sometimes even Muhammad. How far their messages have gone around the world. And how distorted they’ve become. Crushed through the teeth of men and religious hierarchies and nation-states hungry for power. Made into something corporate, manufactured, violent. Corporate Buddhism retreat. Christian right-wing nationalism. Violent extremists who claim Islam. I want to return to the the well. If there is such a thing...
6/16/2021 0 Comments
Janie, the head Meow Meow of our Pow Pow, was pleased to reconnect with one of the writers and editors who has been with our site since the beginning, Levi Rogers. He has continued to contribute and collaborate on the Pup Pup Blog, but has been very busy as an author preparing for the recently released Utah! A Novel.
Fleeing from ever present wildfires and the threat of the Yellowstone Supervolcano erupting, Lee, Becca, and their daughter Analise embark on a road-trip through the state of Utah to a wedding in Zion National Park. Set in the not-too-distant-future, Utah! is a novel about climate change and the intricacies of relationships-between family, partners, religious structures, nature, and the American West. Featuring a litany of intriguing Utah residents including ex and current Mormons, doomsday preppers, military vets, Presbyterian ministers, and Colombian housewives, these characters eventually find their paths crossing in violence, disaster, and friendship. Through desert islands, climbing gyms, beer bars, suburbia, mountains, coffee shops, long drives, and mass shootings, Utah! seeks to show the true diversity, beauty, and yes, sometimes peculiar, aspects of one of the most misunderstood states. It's a novel about the smoldering darkness beneath the surface of our individual selves and society ... and what happens when we refuse to acknowledge our past transgressions. Utah! is a slow burn of a novel that ends with an explosive finish.
While it's still a matter of speculation as to how much of "The Dating Game" that Janie has actually seen, here is her version of the show with just one suitor in the hot seat answering questions --- that is, with our old pal Levi answering on behalf of the book.
Q. When your book thinks about its childhood, who does it resent the most?
A. Its religious upbringing.
Q. If your book could knit a sweater for a dog or crochet a sweater for cat, which would it prefer and why?
A. Dog, definitely dog. There is at least 1 dog in the book, maybe two. But absolutely no cats. Was this on purpose? I’m not sure.
Q. Who is your book’s celebrity fistfight?
A. Mitt Romney
Q. Your book was given a choice between a cursed immortality or a blessed seven years before a painful and brief death, which does it pick?
A. Well, one whole aspect of the book is that it’s about the need for some things to die, rather than live on. So definitely painful death. I don’t want to give too much away, but, yeah, things go boom in the end.
Q. What T.V. Show is your book scared of?
A. "Real Housewives of Salt Lake City"
Q. Let’s say we live in a world where sheep don’t exist, what does you book count to sleep to stave off racing thoughts and help go to sleep?
Q. Has your book ever been kicked out of a public sporting event or concert, and if so what for?
A. Unfortunately my book has been kicked out of many concerts for talking to their friends too loud while the band plays (this is a very Utah thing).
Q. Is your book a dog person or a cat person or some other kind of pet person?
A. My book exists in the near-future Wild West so I’m going to say it has a pet Moose or Bison.
Q. Your book is confronted by an old bog witch who offers your book endless treasures and fame if your book can share the most impressive advice its ever been given. What does your book tell to try and impress the witch?
A. Life is a trial, a test. For what reason this trial exists or whom set it up I am not sure. Yet the point of the test is not to “pass” the test, but to go through the test itself. It is in how we respond to the trial itself that matters, the manner in which we embrace life itself. Do we seek to run away from life or numb it? Do we use what we have to manipulate, control, and bleed others in life? Or do we use whatever we’ve been given in this life to bless others? In this way, it matters very little what we “do” or who we “become” to say nothing of the obvious triviality of things like a house, career, partner, car, business, money, etc. Yes, choose your own happiness, and meaning and money and careers and partners can all help with that, but that’s not the point of life. The point of life is in the how, how we respond to the situations and joys and tragedies life throws at us. It is how we exist in the being, how we “be” how we “do” that counts in this life. Do we respond with kindness? Do we hold onto bitterness? Do we blame others and refuse to take responsibility for our actions? Do we seek justice? As Viktor Frankl says in Man’s Search for Meaning, each man is asked by life, and man can only respond by being responsible.
There’s a volcano in my book and the whole point of it is a metaphor for those hidden things bubbling under the surface that we refuse to acknowledge or take accountability for—whether it’s climate change, systemic racial injustice, or the darkness within ourselves—and that one day, maybe in the near future, maybe even today, will explode and end us all if we keep ignoring them.
Levi Rogers is a writer and former coffee roaster currently based in the land of the Chinookan and Multnomah people. He has an MFA from Antioch University and his debut novel Utah! A Novel, published by Atmosphere Press, is available now. He lives with his wife Cat, their two daughters, dog Amelie, and two cats-Chicken and Waffles.
5/18/2021 0 Comments
It's like the Dating Game, only about your book. I'm Janie and I'm trying to date your new book. In this case, I'm trying to get in with Las Vegas Bootlegger: Empire of Self-Importance by Noah Cicero and available through the always wonderful Trident. According to Las Vegas Bootlegger bio, they're all about [how]"Ryan Neroni is a lonely lawyer with bad breath. All his life he's had everything handed to him on a silver platter, but after winning what should have been a career-defining lawsuit, he discovers that what he really wants is to drive contraband across state lines in a fast car with tinted windows. With the help of Theresa Barahona, an innocent and aspiring multi-level marketing entrepreneur, nothing can get in his way. Not social expectations, not the emptiness of the western U.S., and certainly not a string of surreal experiences orchestrated by a shadow organization known only as 'the Committee.'"
Q. How does your book take its coffee?
A. grande iced twp pumps of classic sweetener creamer
Q. In terms of furtive hopefulness, what does your book wish on and what for? (I.e.: does it wish on times of day, shooting stars, birthday candles, the tides coming in, etc etc)
A. It hopes that everyone stops caring about things that hurt them
Q. Your book is preparing a sacrifice to appease the hoarsely voiced king of demons, Bael. What is the sacrifice and what does the ceremony look like?
A. It would sacrifice expectations, it would take place in a court house. There would be 9 day trial, the lawyers and their paralegals would work all night eating great meals. The jury would give a preponderance of liability to expectations.
Q. Your book is putting together its resume, what skills does it lie about having?
A. Works well with coworkers, above average skills in Excel, enjoys work.
Q. What is your book’s favorite movie monster?
A. A desert hitchhiker.
Q. When going out on a blind date (do those still exist? Okay, like, when going out on a Tinder date is probably a better example), where does your book take the person they’re out with if they ended up not liking that person and want to get rid of them?
A. They go to a bar, but the book leaves in the middle of the date because it just knows this is stupid.
It would sacrifice expectations, it would take place in a court house. There would be 9 day trial, the lawyers and their paralegals would work all night eating great meals. The jury would give a preponderance of liability to expectations.
Q. When confronted with a coven of witches is your book welcomed into the fold or do the witches cast a spell to entomb book in an old tree by the swamp in a remote and cursed location? Why?
A. Las Vegas Bootlegger gets along with everyone.
This all sounds rad to me. Go support words and wisdom and desert bootlegging and pick up Las Vegas Bootlegger. Go support this title and by extension all bossin' indie lit making a difference in this big bad world.
by Zoe Siegel
When I watched the first episode of One Tree Hill, I was 23 and the series finale had aired two years earlier. I went into this viewing expecting the drama of The OC or innocence of Dawson’s Creek, its prime-time counterparts that I had only recently finished watching for the first time. With those two millennial classics in my repertoire, OTH was the logical next piece, the final leg of what I imagined to be holy trinity of teen dramas that my peers had dedicated their weeknights to in our adolescence, while I remained amused by Spongebob and devoted to Canada’s teen soap, Degrassi: The Next Generation.
by Matthew Burnside
*to be used sparingly, in the 25 days immediately following a broken heart; if symptoms persist, consult your physician or psychic
DAY ONE: A single bee will emerge to sting your nose. Can you feel it? Does it hurt? That means you’re still alive.
DAY TWO: A swatch of their scent. In time there will be other smells, equally beautiful. If you can imagine other perfumes, that means you’re still alive.
DAY THREE: A lock of their hair and a match. If you accidentally burn your finger, that’s good. That means you’re still alive.
DAY FOUR: A love letter and pair of baby scissors. Make some confetti. In time there will be other things to celebrate, an occasion to use it. That means you’re still alive.
DAY FIVE: A photograph and sharpie. Embellish their face with cartoonish flourishes--a mustache, devil horns, artistically subpar tattoos, etc. When you laugh, that means you’re still alive.
DAY SIX: A shot. When it burns your throat going down, that means you’re still alive.
DAY SEVEN: An iPod with your song. Listen to it until you realize how silly the lyrics are, how mediocre its melodic arrangements. When it sounds like noise instead of music, that means you’re still alive.
DAY EIGHT: A twenty-dollar bill. Use it to buy yourself a meal, preferably something you want that they hated. Eat it alone, for the practice. In time food will taste flavorful again. That means you’re still alive.
DAY NINE: A skeleton key. Use it to fill the space where their apartment key used to be. In time there will be other doors, other buildings, other rooms. When you can imagine moving through them, that means you’re still alive.
DAY TEN: A sprig of mugwort. Eat it whenever you miss the malady of their kiss. In time there will be other lips, not as bitter. When you can taste them, that means you’re still alive.
DAY ELEVEN: A pocket watch. Wind it. It’s yours. The whole of a life isn’t contingent on yesterdays. If you can hear the ticking, that means you’re still alive.
DAY TWELVE: A mystery seed. Plant it. You’ll have to wait around to see what it could be. When you can imagine other things growing, that means you’re still alive.
DAY THIRTEEN: A fingernail? It’s gross, I agree. As it withers, eventually decomposing, growing soft and sludge-like, seek something new. Anything beautiful can become ugly. When you can fathom the inverse again, that means you’re still alive.
DAY FOURTEEN: A condom. When you can grasp its utility, that means you’re still alive.
DAY FIFTEEN: A vial of ink. When you can imagine writing another name, that means you’re still alive.
DAY SIXTEEN: A bookmark. Upon returning their books or getting all your books back that you let them borrow, use it to read something new. When you can relish words that don’t just come out of a certain mouth, that means you’re still alive.
DAY SEVENTEEN: A feather. Use it to trace a shape on your pillow that’s not their face. When it’s unmarred by any profile’s impression but your own, that means you’re still alive.
DAY EIGHTEEN: A round stone to skip across the lake. Nothing skips forever. When it sinks, that means you’re still alive.
DAY NINETEEN: A fishhook, for all the other fish in the sea. When you can envision your boat adrift once more, that means you’re still alive.
DAY TWENTY: A Russian doll. Take them apart. Throw one away. Put them back together. When the doll is fine, even with one part missing, that means you’re still alive.
DAY TWENTY-ONE: A pair of dice. When you can see rolling them again, that means you’re still alive.
DAY TWENTY-TWO: A placebo pill. When you realize it isn’t necessary for your system to survive, that means you’re still alive.
DAY TWENTY-THREE: A Lego brick. To step on every time you remember something they said that turned out to be untruthful in the end. When you can walk still, that means you’re still alive.
DAY TWENTY-FOUR: A tiny snow globe. Shake it well, observe the flurries swirling. Accept the storm and its imminent passing. When there is serenity again, you will be able to see through the glass. In time there will be much else to see. That means you’re still alive.
DAY TWENTY-FIVE: Another bee, but this one won’t sting. Won’t waste its sting on someone who wouldn’t appreciate it. Its lancet will remain intact. It will move through the window, through the air, until it finds a field of flowers, lumbering toward its sweetness. In time it will inherit nectars, gather gardens. It will float on, biding its sweetness for a death worth dying for, which means it’s still alive.
Matthew Burnside is the author of five books, including the forthcoming Wiki of Infinite Sorrows (KERNPUNKT, 2021), a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and recipient of a Truman Capote Fellowship. You can find more about his work on his website or on Twitter at @MatthewBurnsid7.
4/12/2021 0 Comments
by Levi Rogers
“We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you... the people.”
by Dain Q. Gore
The Ghosts’N Goblins series (Makaimura 魔界村 in Japan) celebrated its 35th anniversary last year, a year before this year’s iconic Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda’s 35th. A new game, Ghosts’N Goblins Resurrection, was just released for the first time since 2006.
The first eponymously titled game in the series didn’t captivate my attention, but its sequel certainly did.
I have been obsessed with Ghouls'N Ghosts since its inception in 1988. It was a much darker, more sinister (yet oddly creepy-cute) sequel to an already odd game about a hapless bearded and fragile knight that was contemporary with Super Mario Bros and would share infamy for its unforgiving difficulty. As I now believe, Ghosts’N Goblins has, over time, become its own genre.
I wasn't able to find Ghouls'N Ghosts as a kid at any arcade or convenience store, just the Golfland amusement park in Mesa, Arizona... until it was made available on the Sega Genesis. Maybe not the first time I wanted to get a console just for one game, but certainly the one that stuck. Ever since then, I was fascinated by the entire world and mythos of it. I even sent ideas to Capcom (and they very politely declined).
Eventually I would make a website devoted to these ideas for a sequel, and would reach out to an equally obscure, but far more successful, website devoted to Video Game Bosses (Destroy All Monsters! no less) and write a review of many of the symbolic, mythological references "hidden" in the game (along with many notes from Mike Bevan, curator of the now defunct site):
3/9/2021 0 Comments
by Austin Ross
I didn’t know that Oscar, the baby in the movie, was actually played by twin actors: William T. and Henry J. Deutschendorf II, nephews of the late singer John Denver (real name, Henry J. Deutschendorf, Jr). John Denver, of course, tragically died in an infamous plane crash—a cataclysmic mix of low fuel and some homemade modifications to his airplane meant he couldn’t switch fuel tanks in time and crashed into Monterey Bay.
Then the next trivia line: “Henry J. Deutschendorf II, one of the twins who played Oscar, died June 14th, 2017, by suicide, at the age of 29.” And below it: “33 of 42 found this interesting.” A life, summed up in its entirety as an item of trivia. Nine people deemed it unnoteworthy. But I can’t stop thinking about it. My son was born the same month that Henry died, a month that I myself was 29. My boy arrived seven weeks early, stranding us for a month in a NICU in the middle of Manhattan, a city we didn’t know but were visiting for a weekend family reunion.
The uncertainty of life’s arrival seems to match the uncertainty of its departure. In Ghostbusters II, you can’t tell which baby is which. In some scenes, Oscar is portrayed by someone who is no longer with us; in others, he’s played by the surviving brother. Life and death share the screen in equal measure. I wish I could know which is which; I wish I could pinpoint Henry’s scenes, to give them extra care and attention, to honor the memory. But there is no way to know for sure.
Austin Ross's fiction and non-fiction has been published in various journals, magazines, newspapers, and anthologies, including Hobart, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. He is a part of the editorial team at CRAFT Literary and lives near Philadelphia with his wife and son. You can follow him on Twitter @AustinTRoss.
by Mariah Moon
If you bore witness to the golden age of MTV (right after they swapped the music videos for reality shows that were as awful as they were amusing), you remember "My Super Sweet Sixteen." The epitome of noughties decadence; teenagers running amok, making demands for cakes, ice sculptures, and gifts. Though, realistically, there was only one acceptable gift for the birthday girl who starred on her respective episode of that show, and it was a very specific brand of car. Her meltdown rivaled that of any infamous "Bridezilla" if things did not go as planned. Growing up middle class, I was never destined to have a super sweet sixteen. I honestly don’t remember my sixteenth birthday party at all, and not because of any teen drinking hijinks, as my friend group’s notorious Prude™.
But I’ll never forget my worst birthday ever. April 12th, 2020, almost a month to the day after Washington, DC’s lockdown to reduce transmission of COVID-19. I was excited for a birthday surprise that hadn’t occurred in years: I would celebrate my day the same day as Easter! Unfortunately, one month before my birthday, the entire city shut down. I planned a Zoom call with a friend who lived in Canada, I bought a pot roast to make myself a Sunday dinner, and I even bought myself a special dress. I chose an old-fashioned aesthetic, a white floral number with a sweetheart neckline, just begging to be fluffed up with a petticoat. As much as I tried to turn a day of isolation into celebration, I realized there was nothing I could do to fix it. I got so drunk on the Zoom call that I ended up talking to someone’s sister on the phone somehow once everyone else fell asleep or logged off. I spent my birthday worrying about my father, hospitalized after a stroke and then a diagnosis of COVID-19 pneumonia just a couple of weeks prior. The pot roast came out dry.
Party planning is hard, even without a pandemic in your way. After hosting the kids' suite at several weddings, I entertained the idea of creating a company that specializes in planning and chaperoning children’s parties. As a professional nanny, it is something I have already had years of experience doing - corralling a bunch of kids with various activities while their parents get drunk in the background.
Even before COVID, celebrations were changing. The DIY/rustic wedding trend began a mainstream takeover of the more illustrious and debt-inducing services. My company holiday party was held at an escape room, a fun departure from the same reservation we made in the banquet room of the chain restaurant across the street. A part of my culture is to make a funeral a celebration of life instead of a dark reminder of our mortality, with worship music instead of a dirge. I have noticed that is becoming a more acceptable practice for others to honor their dead as well through recent years. But an essential part of the funeral is the repast, the meal afterward where, depending on which side of the family, drinking, smoking weed, and laughing along to stories about old times would go on for several hours, until there was nothing left to cry about. This cannot be a part of a Zoom service, and it cannot be done socially distant without embracing and passing the joint and joining hands in prayer.
With another quarantine birthday approaching in April, I am left to wonder what the future of the celebration will look like for me, and for others, as we find our way through this pandemic into a new epoch of our human history. Whether we will continue to watch each other through our screens and cheers separately for months to come, I cannot say. We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief at what could be the very last of the era of “destination weddings.” My hope is that we can take that cheesy phrase, “together apart,” give it true significance, reimagining our long held traditions instead of yearning to return to them exactly as they were.
I am reminded of the first New Year’s Eve I spent in an actual relationship, when I was about seventeen. Since neither of our parental units were the type to let us spend a holiday away from our own families at that age, we created a new tradition to replace a lost New Year’s kiss. We were on the phone counting down the ball drop, and at midnight, we both ate a Hershey’s Kiss.
Mariah Moon is a writer from Detroit, Michigan. You can find her on Twitter at @mariahmmoon.
by Elizabeth Teets
I have a deep unending love for Bette Midler. My passion for The Divine Miss M knows no bounds. My mother loves her and it is the only piece of pop culture we seem to agree on. I am very thankful to my mother for exposing me to Bette at a young age because I believe in many ways it saved me from years of pain. Despite my Catholic upbringing, now when I think of God and what she must look like, I think of Bette. As a queer person, this has probably saved me years of self-loathing and therapy costs.
My religion, like any of the western ones, has a holy trinity. These days, instead of finding myself saying prayers to father, son or Holy ghost, I look to another trinity, one that reminds me that men have no power here. My trinity is wise and good and needs nothing besides a really good white suit. Bette, Diane, Goldie. These women make my world go round, my sunrise, and my sanity at semi-normal levels.
This is to state the obvious that my favorite movie of all time, is The First Wives Club.
If you are unfamiliar, The First Wives Club is a 1996 American comedy film about three divorced women who seek revenge on the husbands who left them for younger women. It stars the actresses that make up the Holy Trinity of my personal religion with Bette at the top as God. It is a perfect film and I will not be taking questions at this time.
I have seen The First Wives Club an obscene amount of times. I do not know how many, because I go through periods where I just have it on as background noise. Something to listen to while I open mail or fold laundry. It’s comforting to hear the lines, as familiar as if they were my own heartbeat. The jokes have a rhythm. Each one so well written, it’s as if every punchline is musical.
Before I saw The First Wives Club, for the first time, probably playing on TBS as a middle schooler, I had seen the movie trailer dozens and dozens of times. It appeared as a trailer on my VHS copy of Nora Ephron’s This is My Life, which was my favorite movie as a kid.
My habit of watching the same movie over and over again started young, possibly a result of only having three television channels. I am also an only child of a single parent, so entertaining myself was a necessity.
I watched This is My Life, a comedy about a woman who becomes a stand-up comedian so many times as a child that I am now a stand-up comedian. But part of the viewing experience was first watching the trailer for The First Wives Club before, an appetizer before the entree.
I watched the trailer over and over again because I enjoyed two specific jokes. I would sit on the floor of my mother’s living room laughing at them each time as if they were new.
My favorite parts of the trailer as a child were as follows.
Two perfect cinema moments. But to my surprise. Only one made it into the actual movie.
The scene from the trailer in which Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker fight over a cake server was cut from the film. The First Wives Club famously shot hours of additional footage. Goldie Hawn’s character even has a boyfriend, played by a young Jon Stewart we never see. His entire role was cut out at the end. I think this probably for the best. The film itself is perfect and a man would only ruin it.
But my favorite scene still lingers in my heart. Why was it in the trailer but not the film? Where is the footage? Who won the fight? Did Diane Keaton help? After all she recently learned to hit thanks to Marcia Gay Harden. What happened with the cake server? I can't get the look on Bette's face as she stares at Sarah Jessica out of my mind.
Like any god, mine is a mystery and there are parts to her divinity I will never see. Unless they are released from a vault somewhere for a limited edition DVD Blu-ray combo pack.
Luckily, Bette Midler has Twitter. And maybe one day she will respond to one of my many many tweets with the full clip. Or maybe not and I will just have to be good, so she can show it to me in heaven.
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