‘I first read Person/a in late 2013. At that time it was shorter, more incomplete, and had a different name. Even in that rough form, the work immediately struck me as something different, something powerful.
‘This version of Person/a, now a 600-page brick of a book, arrived in my mailbox on the same day as a more conventional novel, one that was put out by a mainstream press. I took them out of their envelopes, flipped through both. The big press novel felt like any other book. Person/a felt like an animal.
‘If it is actually a novel at all, it is a collage-y one— of quotes, emails, letters, texts. Its format is elliptical, with three Volume Ones, each retreading and then fragmenting the same story. There are two endings, two love interests, the central role alternates between two professions, the child of the narrator alternates between two genders. Each of these elements is mutually exclusive: the central role is not both a musician and a writer, he is either one or the other.
‘At face value, Person/a is a love story, or rather an unrequited love story. The narrator, named Elizabeth Ellen, pines over a writer (sometimes musician) called Ian Kaye, whom she has only spent a handful of hours with face-to-face. Their romantic relationship is never consummated, yet she spends the better part of seven years obsessing over it, obsessing over him, until the him is less a person than a projection of the things Elizabeth Ellen wants and is afraid of. It is also, as the character says to her husband in Volume Three, “as much about the writing and publishing of such a book as the book itself; about the effect it has on the writer’s spouse and child and family and friends… it’s now about being a female writer/artist and being married/a mother and the repercussions of both/all.” Which is true. Person/a is very much an Important Feminist Work, in that it illustrates the pains of Trying To Have It All, but, like any good Feminist Work, it only addresses this through action and experience, rather than theory.
‘Person/a is also very much an Important Feminist Work, in that it subverts what we expect from women. I am reminded of an interview I recently heard on Fresh Air, about the poet Robert Lowell, who, while manic, did and said horrible things to his wife, but was often forgiven because he was brilliant and male and ill. In Person/a, Elizabeth Ellen is not Elizabeth Hardwick but Lowell, not the forgiving sainted spouse but the sinner, oftentimes mistaking the term “Artist” for “Asshole.” But instead of the conventional cheating or substance abuse, Elizabeth Ellen’s main method of destruction is obsession—something stranger and thus less understandable than the usual routes, because not only is it destructive, it is creepy.’ — Juliet Escoria, Fanzine
Elizabeth Ellen PERSON/A
‘A novel about the complexities of being a woman, an artist, a mother, and a wife; a novel about persona and obsession and loyalty and repression; an exorcism.
‘Told in four volumes over seven years, with emails, g-chats, and an ‘interview’ with Lydia Davis (and a nod to Ms. Davis’s The End of the Story), the style of Person/a is often experimental, pushing the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, obsession and mental instability, female independence and a loyalty to current and former lovers, but with the ultimate loyalty being to oneself or one’s writing, and is there a difference? and should we be ashamed?’ — Hobart
‘PERSON/A is not only a great novel; it’s a French film. It’s Paris, Texas. It’s A Woman under the Influence. Its HBO’s True Detective meets Anna Karenina—I think; I’ve never really read it LOL—meets that one music video where Britney Spears overdoses in a bathtub. It’s about love, obsession, narcissism, marriage, delusion, pain, pleasure, art, life, addiction—it’s about you, me, things that transform, that come apart. Basically, Elizabeth Ellen should win the Pulitzer Prize and then immediately be beaten to death with it because she’s so good, so human, so completely fucked.’ — Brian Alan Ellis
Two months after my trip to New York City, I drove to Buffalo for a writers’ conference. I was not participating on any panels or doing any readings and I decided at the last minute to go mainly to see other writers I knew who were friends of mine and to get out of the house, and consequently, away from myself. He and I had not spoken or had any communication with one another in almost a month and I was feeling overwhelmingly lonely and isolated because of this. Before I left I had asked another writer to go with me. Most of the writers I knew who were going were male and this writer was female and I thought it would be nice to have another female writer there and offered her my room to share. I had never met this female writer in person and had not even so much as exchanged an email with her until a couple of weeks before the Buffalo trip when she emailed me to say she liked a particular story of mine. Prior to her emailing me I knew very little about her except that she was a good friend of his and that she had been the person he had spent the day with the night he hurt his ankle and did not see me the day following. At the time I had blamed her for his not seeing me and believed there to be some sort of romantic interest on her part or both of their parts, though he had sworn she was like a sister to him and that nothing had happened between them. In the months between the day they spent together and the trip to Buffalo she had published a story I read about a day she had spent with a male friend of hers and I had wrongly attributed the male character to him and had torn up the story upon reading it as it had inferred a romantic interest in the male character. Later she told me it was not about him but about another male writer I knew and I laughed and felt silly for my instinct to think everything was about him and my assumption that because I felt so strongly about him, every other female must as well.
I do not like to admit so, but a large part of the reason I invited this woman to Buffalo was because of my knowledge that she was a close friend of his, though I felt conflicted about inviting her for the same reason. I was worried I would drink and become loose lipped and divulge information I did not want to divulge or ask questions I did not want to ask and that the particular questions I chose to ask would divulge as much about me and him and about my feelings for him as any answers I could give. Also, I still felt deeply loyal to him and did not want him to think I was betraying him by telling her things we had talked about and done or not talked about and not done.
At the time I invited this woman it was very late at night and I had been drinking, and she had been drinking as well. I asked her to come to Buffalo with me on a whim and on a whim she said yes and before either of us could change our minds I had bought her a plane ticket and reserved us a room. Even though he and I were not speaking, I emailed him to tell him she was going to be joining me in Buffalo and he did not respond and I had not expected him to but I seemed to want him to know all the same.
On the drive to Buffalo a few days later I began to have reservations about having asked her but also I was excited to meet her and hopeful we would get along and become friends. I knew that she drank and smoked and I figured we had that much in common and that that much would be enough to bond us in a way that would see us through the weekend. When I had told my daughter about my reservations with regard to meeting this woman, my daughter had said, “If she’s a friend of his, she must be okay,” and I had laughed when she said this but at the same time felt somewhat melancholy in the face of my daughter’s continued admiration for him, knowing she might never see him again, and that I might never see him again either.
Elizabeth Ellen ‘Bridget Fonda’
Elizabeth Ellen reads at Lil’ Bitch Tour, PDX 8/17/2012
Aaron Burch & Elizabeth Ellen On Hobart & Whisky
‘Mitch Sisskind’s collection of poems and stories, Do Not Be a Gentleman When You Say Goodnight, is a retrospective of a near fifty-year career of provocative, unnerving, absurd, but most of all, searingly funny comic writing. Relying on irony, paradox, and the unexpected to evoke emotion, Sisskind’s comic talent lies in his ability to be at once humorous and moving, reassuring and unsettling. There is little room for sentimentality in Do Not Be a Gentleman When You Say Goodnight, and both the comic and the tragic resonate more forcefully because of its absence. There are no winners in Sisskind’s world, nor are there any neatly wrapped moral lessons. Conclusions are reached abruptly and without epiphany, but frequently there is wonder, or perhaps a wondrous perplexity, that allows for the consequences of his characters’ exertions, both fantastical and mundane, to wrestle for sense in the reader’s mind.
‘A feature of Sisskind’s writing is his habit of placing speakers and characters in the surreal, and then granting them powers of reaction and response that are only too real. In the short story Mr. Tivy, the title character believes he has the unique ability to speak to animals. His ideas on how to employ this talent, however, are rather less profound, first wanting to make a “successful film” about his powers, and then attempting to impress a masseur (who has just jerked him off) by speaking with the parlor cat, Gross Out. Gross Out does not comply, and after the masseur leaves the room, Mr. Tivy interrogates the cat as to his lack of obedience: “I thought you wanted to help me out.’You know what you’re asking can never be… and anyway, what is she but a lowlife broad wasting her time in dives? On the other hand, you’re a remarkable person! A precious gift was given to you. Go to Lincoln Park and spend some time at the large-mammal house Gain the wisdom of the elephants!’ Mr. Tivy had heard all this before. ‘You talk like my dog.’”
‘The baseness of human ambition, the fact that we are “human, all too human,” is something frequently found in Sisskind, yet the paths by which we arrive at this conclusion are always unexpected. In a wildly humorous story, It So Happens, the speaker, Allison, is visited by the famous actress Jacqueline Bisset, who floats in through the young girl’s bedroom window at night to give her advice on how she should go about her future, “Until you blossom, concentrate very hard on your schoolwork. Then, as soon as this process is finally completed, compare yourself with the other girls.” And what if Allison never blossoms? “Simply admit this to yourself. Then decide if you might be someone who is skinny but with a lot of pizzazz to make up for it.” Sisskind reminds us that it is often through the absurd that the clearest picture of the human condition is rendered and it is because of this absurdity that we can shed the urge to pass judgement. We neither condemn nor pity Sisskind’s characters or their plights, we merely laugh with a disquieting empathy.’ — Thomas Moody
Mitch Sisskind Do Not be a Gentleman When You Say Goodnight
The Song Cave
‘Mitch Sisskind’s DO NOT BE A GENTLEMAN… opens the door to a world of another time, in an unusual mix of stories and poems, of solid realism and weird fantasy and wit, combining steamy sex and nostalgia, the Mickey Mouse Club and Talmudic scholarship. Sisskind gives us an unapologetically and un–politically–correct male world, but a quirky and appealing one, a world of old guys with funny names like Steve Tomato and Hub Snell—maybe you knew them? My favorite is ‘Twenty Questions’: a dead father, sitting in a magic chair, speaks to his son for a while about his life, and in this story, speaking from beyond the grave seems as natural as breathing, and the voice, talking about how he used to dress or eat or conduct business, completely alive.’ — Lydia Davis
‘Donald Barthelme told me, early on, that Mitch Sisskind is the funniest living writer in America—and when I read “A Mean Teacher,” I was convinced. This collection renders me helpless with laughter and admiration. Man, is he oblique or what?’ — Michael Silverblatt
Then All Hell Breaks Loose: Thirteen Films of Tokyo Lipscomb
DEAD AS A DORMOUSE
Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, and a few other girls move into a new apartment and find themselves next door to a burned-out ex-ballplayer named George Henry. Neighbors insist that George Henry vanished ten years earlier—but remember, Tokyo Lipscomb and the other girls are living next door to him. At the end we find out that Tokyo Lipscomb and the other girls are actually dead. They died in a car accident. But they come back to life with the help of George Henry. But he was also dead and stays dead. Then all hell breaks loose.
George Henry is a burned-out ex-ballplayer whose own face gets stuck after warning his daughters that their faces might get stuck if they make chipmunk faces. Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, is assigned to write a paper about George Henry after seeing a news report about him but now more and more people’s faces are getting stuck—all except Tokyo Lipscomb’s face. So she holds the key. Then all hell breaks loose.
HOIST ON HER OWN PETARD
Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn who is athletic but also somewhat of a nerd, is mistaken for her “perfect” identical twin when her identical twin dies suddenly. So Tokyo Lipscomb seizes the chance to masquerade as her “perfect” identical twin. But when she falls in love with her identical twin’s next door neighbor, a burned out ex-ballplayer named George Henry, Tokyo Lipscomb gets hoist on her own petard. Then all hell breaks loose.
I TOAD YOU SO
Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, finds a toad during her morning run around the campus. When she kisses the toad it turns into George Henry, a washed-up ex-ballplayer. Then all hell breaks loose.
IN AND OUT OF THE MONEY
Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, learns that her rich uncle has died and bequeathed his fortune to her—but only if she agrees to have dinner with George Henry, a washed-up ex-ballplayer. It seems simple enough but Tokyo Lipscomb falls for George Henry and when the dust settles they’ve both been transported back to prehistoric times. They have to get back to modern times using only their cell phones. Then all hell breaks loose.
Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, gets a fatal illness and joins a support group where she meets a washed-up ex-ball-player named George Henry. Their sex life is hot at first because they’re facing their mortality but gradually it deteriorates into monotony until George Henry actually dies. But somehow they start having great sex again. Or is Tokyo Lipscomb just imagining it? Then all hell breaks loose.
MY FATHER, THE DEVIL
Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, comes home for summer vacation and her father throws out her math books because he says numbers are tools of the devil. But then, by using math, Tokyo Lipscomb figures out that her “father” actually is the devil and her real father is George Henry, a washed-up ex-ballplayer. Then all hell breaks loose.
MAIL ORDER ALLIGATOR
An army of alligators comes out of the sewers, which is explained by a flashback to 1959. People could send away for live baby alligators advertised on the back of comic books, but then they flushed the alligators down their toilets and the alligators multiplied. Back to the present: at the last moment the army of alligators is stopped in its tracks by a humane method discovered by the unlikely couple of Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, and George Henry, a washed-up ex-ballplayer. Then all hell breaks loose.
THE GRAIL GIRLS
Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, gets permission to do a special field work project for an anthropology class where she and two other girls go to the Colorado Mountains in search of a ghost town that vanished off the face of the earth during a gold rush 150 years ago. George Henry, a washed-up ex-ball-player, becomes their guide, but instead of finding the town and its gold they find the Holy Grail. Then all hell breaks loose.
BABE IN THE WOODS
Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, can’t get rid of a bee hive outside the window of her dorm room. We see her Google “bees” and “bee hives” but she gets nowhere until she meets George Henry, a washed-up ex-ballplayer. He is a bee expert like the guy in Jaws who was a shark expert. Then all hell breaks loose.
SHUT YOUR TRAP DOOR
Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, finds the perfect off-campus apartment. But she begins to lose her grip on reality when she finds herself battling the building’s ghosts. Then she puts her trust in George Henry, a washed-up ex-ballplayer who talks her into building a trap door—but the door connects to the netherworld. Then all hell breaks loose.
SORRY, RIGHT NUMBER
Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, mistakenly dials the wrong number on her cell phone and finds herself involved with a subculture with a trail that leads all the way to the White House. Then the President’s cell phone explodes. Fortunately he was not talking on it at the time, but he had just been talking to George Henry, a washed-up ex-ballplayer. Then all hell breaks loose.
George Henry is a washed-up ex-ballplayer now working as an assistant baseball coach at the University of Pennsylvania. When he meets Tokyo Lipscomb, a third-year student at Penn, it comes out that George Henry never learned to read and is embarrassed about it. Then there are montages of George Henry and Tokyo Lipscomb making love intercut with scenes of George Henry learning to read. At first he’s reading children’s books, then young adult, and finally Ulysses. Meanwhile their lovemaking is also growing more elaborate. Finally we see him graduating from college. Then all hell breaks loose.
David Lehman and Mitch Sisskind discuss their Columbia University teacher Kenneth Koch
rach and mitch
Andrew Mossin: Yes, and it’s that sense of singing in a strange land that your work so often seems disposed toward. As you write in “Sound and Sentiment, Sound and Symbol”: “Music is wounded kinship’s last resort.” You’ve been asked before about the relationship between music and your work, but I wonder if you could speak to this sense of the music you call up in your poetry and fictive prose as “kinship’s last resort.”
Nathaniel Mackey: Yes, it’s wounded kinship’s last resort. Perhaps all kinship is wounded, incomplete, short of its ideal, but the more blatant breaches of connectedness and fellow feeling seem especially salient. The conclusion of Mississippi Masala, a movie about nothing if not lesion, displacement, and conflict, with its implication that music can, if only for a time, heal division, is one of numerous examples of what’s long been a commonplace notion. Albert Ayler’s “Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe” is another. Wounded kinship isn’t the only thing the language of music and the music of language attend, but they can and do bring a certain solace to it, mixing consolation and complaint with intimations of a more fully realized kinship. George Lamming said of the Barbadian villagers in his novel In the Castle of My Skin, “The word is their only rescue.” I think that has wider applicability. The word is our rescue, whether spoken, written, sung, or nonverbally intoned, in part because the language of music and the music of language accent a tending-toward—“pointing-beyond-itself” in Victor Zuckerkandl’s analysis of tonal motion, Ezra Pound’s “tone leading of vowels,” etc.—that might well be the beginning of kinship, or a therapeutic or cathartic analogue to it, at least. This is a suggestion poetry often makes, though not always in a celebratory way or at least not without being celebratory and cautionary both, haunted by the “only” in Lamming’s statement. This is a predicament or problematic that my own work, whether poetry or prose, is much caught up in, as you note. The song sung in a strange land asks how can it be sung in a strange land, lamenting lost connection and reaching toward would-be connection, tenuous connection perhaps.
There’s a story about Lester Young I’ve cited before in which he calls the keys and pads of his saxophone his people. His listeners responded by wanting to join those pads and keys, that polity, that place, calling him Pres. Trumpeter Earl Cross, in a similar vein, said, “I would like to walk around the street looking like a trumpet.” Poetry’s place as wounded kinship’s last resort is to be the country and kin the medium itself offers. The music of language and the language of music enact an estrangement of their own, an inoculative tack perhaps, maybe a compensative tack. I recall Robert Duncan saying at the Iowa Olson conference, “We practice displacement.” The word wants to be its own realm, to enact and inhabit a land of its own, an alternate home of its own. This is another sense of Lamming’s “only,” as well as mine in “heads crowned / in / sound only in / sound” in “Sound and Semblance.” This is an aspect of the solace it provides, a kind of removal, a fugitive impulse I’ve written about elsewhere, a tending-away. “Only” can be read as a limit but also as an added domain.
AM: Reading back into your work, I found this quote from Bedouin Hornbook that stood out for me in the context of the connection your comments suggest between provisional homeland and perpetual seeking. Here you write, listening to and reading the liner notes to Pharoah Sanders’s solo of “My Favorite Things” on Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard Again!, “It’s as though he drank water from a rusted cup, the tenor’s voice such an asthmatic ambush of itself as to trouble every claim to a ‘composed’ approach. To me it borders on prayer, though prayer would here have to be revised so as to implicate humility in some form of détente—an uneasy truce or eleventh-hour treaty—with hubris, part prayer, part witch’s brew.” Can you talk about how you see your work as manifesting this connection between uncertainty and prayer?
NM: Well, I wasn’t talking about prayer per se in that passage. I was using prayer as a foil, playing it against and folding it into a musical performance that doesn’t sound or seem as obviously related to prayer as does Coltrane’s “Dear Lord” or “Alabama” or Pharoah’s “Morning Prayer” or “Let Us Go into the House of the Lord” or any of a number of others. I was trying to talk about something I heard in the circumspection Pharoah starts that solo with, the probity of his sotto voce tack or what wants to be probity, a kind of trepidation, it seems. I was trying to say something about the fury this gets into, a pitch of complaint that would be hubristic in the context of prayer, and I was trying to talk about what I heard as prolixity and obstructed speech consorting, Pharoah seeming to’ve been gathering himself all along for that halting, hesitant statement of the melody toward the end. It was a numinous extremity I was trying to get at. Rudolf Otto’s examination of the numinous experience in The Idea of the Holy had a strong impact on me when I read it in my late teens, and his notion of the sense of one’s creatureliness as a part of that experience is at work in a later letter in Bedouin Hornbook that relates to the passage you cite. In that letter, N. dreams he’s in North Africa with a group of Sufis who practice a form of prayer in which they mimic animals—bray like horses, bark like dogs, meow like cats, and so on—so as to humble themselves before and acknowledge their separation from Allah, the fact that to God, they’re only as animals are to men. N. goes on to say something about this, to call it an inoculation of loss, mourning abandonment as though in advance, only to find that a piece of glass has gotten caught in his throat. He coughs as forcefully as he can to dislodge it, making the yelp of a barking dog. That yelp, taking the place of discourse, is N.’s submission to a certain animal abidance, to being “an angel on all fours,” as Djuna Barnes puts it in Nightwood. I heard and hear a like abidance in the gruff, iterative insistence of Pharoah’s solo, a not always joyful noise but a devotional noise nonetheless, an expectorant noise, as though he would cough up separation if he could. His and Trane’s recourse to an expectorant or would-be expectorant grumble and shriek is an admission of the limits of knowing—agnostic and agonistic.
Nathaniel Mackey Late Arcade
‘Nathaniel Mackey’s Late Arcade opens in Los Angeles. A musician known only as N. writes the first of a series of letters to the enigmatic Angel of Dust. N.’s jazz sextet, Molimo m’Atet, has just rehearsed a new tune: the horn players read from The Egyptian Book of the Dead with lips clothespinned shut, while the rest of the band struts and saunters in a cosmic hymn to the sun god Ra. N. ends this breathless session by sending the Angel of Dust a cassette tape of their rehearsal.
‘Over the next nine months, N.’s epistolary narration follows the musical goings-on of the ensemble. N. suffers from what he calls “cowrie shell attacks”—oil spills, N.’s memory of his mother’s melancholy musical Sundays—which all becomes the source of fresh artistic invention.
‘Here is the newest installment of the National Book Award-winner Nathaniel Mackey’s From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, the great American jazz novel of “exquisite rhythmic lyricism” (Bookforum).’ — New Directions
We strolled up Woodward Avenue over to the Detroit Institute of Arts. It was beautiful, quite the promenade, with lovely buildings on both sides of the street, the institute perhaps the loveliest of them. The contrast between epic, heroic dimension and postindustrial diminution came easily to one’s lips — too easily, I thought. I had the sense there was an opaque Detroit, a recondite Detroit, a secret Detroit such observations don’t even scratch the surface of. I bit my tongue.
After the Detroit Institute of Arts we took a bus down Woodward to Greektown. At one of the stops a man in his mid-sixties got on. He was wearing a rumpled brown suit that had seen better days, a white shirt that could’ve used washing, and dress shoes that were run down at the heels. His hair was an unkempt salt-and-pepper Afro, matted on one side from having been slept on, his chin and jaws were covered with stubble, in need of a shave. He headed for the back of the bus, muttering under his breath and making a point of looking at each passenger he passed. His eyes were bloodshot, and one could smell that he’d been drinking, but he had a kind of elegance all the same, no matter that his legs were a little shaky and he bumped against the edges of the seat backs as he made his way down the aisle. After he and the other new passengers were seated and the bus began to roll again, his muttering slowly gained volume, until we heard him say, loudly and a bit slurred, “None of y’all don’t know nothin’ about this!” He repeated this again and again, pausing between repetitions as if to let it sink in throughout the bus or even, perhaps, to assess and be newly schooled by it himself. “None of y’all don’t know nothin’ about this!” His voice was raspy, gruff, burning like whiskey.
The rest of us turned to look toward the back of the bus, one or two at first and then more and more, all of us eventually staring at him as he continued to announce, “None of y’all don’t know nothin’ about this!” He sat alone on the back seat of the bus, dead center, head up, back surprisingly straight given the wobbliness of his walk down the aisle, feet planted flatly and solidly on the floor, legs a little bit akimbo, hands on his knees. He stared back, panning the bus, intent, it seemed, on making eye contact with each and every one of us — something of a taunt, a challenge, a dare in the look he gave. “None of y’all don’t know nothin’ about this!” he kept insisting, or sometimes, “Don’t none of y’all know nothin’ about this!”
It never became clear what he meant by “this,” whether it referred to his condition in some micro or macro way (his tipsiness or his general disrepair, respectively) or to a more general state of affairs, to life itself or to who knows what, but his vehemence, if nothing else, communicated; his adamance, if nothing else, had a kind of articulateness, the direness or the extremity from which he spoke was affecting and true. It struck me that “this” was nothing if not the entire edifice, possession built on and put in place by dispossession, the disrepair of the socially dead. I thought this and I saw it all in a snap, a flash, but no matter the truth of it, the historical and present-day relevance or resonance of it, I almost immediately lost patience with myself, guilty as I was of a deeper negligence, a deep nonobservance of the hidden-in-plain-sight rite we were being offered, the initiation into not knowing that the man in the rumpled suit offered us. The simple fact was that he was right: we didn’t know. We didn’t know who he was, we didn’t know what “this” was.
I have to admit I found myself a little shaken, no matter that nothing untoward was happening. I felt somehow singled out. The fact that what he said, what he kept insisting, what he kept repeating, agreed so much with the way I’d been thinking — the random vantage being the random veil — is what shook me. It seemed he spoke from some unreachably occult place, a cautionary voice after my own heart, chastening and affirming me at the same time.
From time to time the bus driver glanced up at his rearview mirror, checking out what was going on in back. It had started off with everyone a little on edge, apprehensive as to what this would lead to, but after a while it seemed pretty clear that the man’s mania, if mania was what it was, consisted solely of confronting us verbally and with his bloodshot gaze. He kept to his own space, which was clearly defined as the middle of the back seat of the bus, and his hands never left his knees — no flailing of arms, no gesticulation, not so much as waving a finger. What little violence there was, if it can even be called that, was confined to his face, a grimacing wince it got from time to time as he registered the effort it took to apprise us of our not knowing, a certain exasperation, bordering on exhaustion it seemed, with having to do so, with our not knowing and with our not knowing we didn’t know. Once it was established that he posed no threat, everyone in the bus relaxed. Everyone eventually went back to what they’d been doing before. A group of teenagers covered their mouths and giggled. The man in the brown suit, unfazed by no longer having everyone’s attention, continued his tirade. After a while it simply blended in, background noise, of a piece with the conversations going on in the bus, traffic noise from outside, and whatever else came into earshot. At the fourth stop he stood up, went back to muttering, made his way up the aisle, and got off the bus.
Nathaniel Mackey reading
A Conversation with Nathaniel Mackey
Nathaniel Mackey – “Breath and Precarity”
‘There’s a point late in Jen George’s The Babysitter at Rest when an aspiring artist named Lee earns entry into an arts program held inside the Aqueduct racetrack during the offseason. While there, between cleaning concession stands and burying dead horses, she is expected to a complete one large art project each month. For her first month, Lee paints “Your Unceasing Fantasy Will Not Conjure the Desired into Being,” “a series of one hundred watercolors depicting women in various states of longing/ desire/ dreaming/ despair with their eyes slightly crossed, mouths mostly open, vaginas reluctantly dry.” Her instructor, known as “The Teacher/ older man with large hands,” decrees that the work is “sexy as hell while being totally amateur and bad.” Lee soon ends up sleeping with him. This section of the story is bears the title “Early work.”
‘This debut collection, out now from Dorothy, a publishing project, may represent George’s early work, though there is nothing amateur or bad about it. (Sexiness, of course, remains subjective.) The five stories contained within the book can certainly be seen as five portraits of women in various stages of longing/ desire/ dreaming/ despair. They are creatively and sexually frustrated, subject to the caprices of men, machines, mortality, and other arbitrary powers.
‘Incongruity between the narrators and their respective worlds forms the collection’s throughline. One might expect the protagonists — each rational in her way — to crack under the complete irrationality of her circumstances. (After all, isn’t that how a normal person would respond?) But these characters do not crack. They check themselves. They adapt. They mold to the expectations of their environments. For this, as the reader realizes, is how things actually are: even when humans are confounded by the illogic that surrounds us, we rarely respond with logic. Instead, we become illogical, so as to meet the world on the same terms. Such is the way that individuals survive.
;The collection remains faithful to the Dorothy aesthetic: books that are not only strange and inventive, but strange and inventive in ways that distinguish themselves from each other. Within that family, George’s surrealist comedies are perhaps most reminiscent of Joanna Ruocco’s endlessly digressive (and marvelous) novel, Dan, published by Dorothy in 2014. Broad comparisons to Aimee Bender and Alissa Nutting might also be made, but George’s motley presentation and aversion to explanation mark her as a truly distinctive voice. Her frank dystopias have the charming eccentricity of Edward Gorey illustrations. They do not rely on beauty or brutality or humanistic appeals to sell themselves. Just a vision and a ghoulish sense of humor.’ — Michael Deagler, The Millions
Following The Subconscious Without Self-Censure: An Interview With Jen George
Jen George Explores Identity, Technology, and Womanhood, to Devastating Effect
‘Together Young’, by Jen George
REVIEW: THE BABYSITTER AT REST
Buy ‘The Babysitter at Rest’
Jen George The Babysitter at Rest
Dorothy, a publishing project
‘Five stories—several as long as novellas—introduce the world to Jen George, a writer whose furiously imaginative new voice calls to mind Donald Barthelme and Leonora Carrington no less than Kathy Acker and Chris Kraus. In “Guidance/The Party,” an ethereal alcoholic “Guide” in robes and flowing hair appears to help a thirty-three-year-old woman prepare a party for her belated adulthood; “Take Care of Me Forever” tragically lambasts the medical profession as a ship of fools afloat in loneliness and narcissism; “Instruction” chronicles a season in an unconventional art school called The Warehouse, where students divide their time between orgies, art critiques, and burying dead racehorses. Combining slapstick, surrealism, erotica, and social criticism, Jen George’s sprawling creative energy belies the secret precision and unexpected tenderness of everything she writes.’ — Dorothy
Guests arrive between two and three hours late. The Host checks her email and text invitations to make sure she got the date correct. She adds 100 more ingredients to her 10,001-ingredient mole, making it a 10,101-ingredient mole. Additional super secret ingredients: liquefied frankincense and powdered rotten tooth that belonged to The Host, hand ground with a jade mortar and pestle. The Host makes several dozen red frosting roses and calaveras de azúcar and places them on the eight-tier cake. She reapplies her makeup and realizes she did not exfoliate properly, but does not risk proper exfoliation at this time in case guests begin to arrive. The first guest to show up is a Social Neutral The Host has always found boring and somewhat depressing due to his claylike complexion, frequent complaints about his dead-end job, and inability to do anything about his position and place in the world, who was invited for the reason he has a full-time job in an office-type setting. He has brought beer. He sits on the couch with his six-pack, opens a bottle, and begins to drink, making no conversation. “Let me put those in the refrigerator for you,” The Host offers. “I want to keep them with me,” the guest says. The Host informs the guest she needs to check the oven. As The Host puts her head in the oven, other guests begin to arrive. No one apologizes for being late and The Host, in an effort to be appropriate, stoic, and give the impression that she hasn’t invested too much in the success of the party, does not mention the three hour tardiness.
THAT’S SO GREAT
“I’m pregnant,” says a guest. “So am I,” says another. “Both of you are? So are we!”
“It was a total shock.” “We weren’t even really trying.” “We tried for three years.” “We’re due on the solstice.” “We’re due on the equinox.” “Either Federico, Alejandro, Joaquin, Pablo—after Picasso—Paolo, Swordsman, Phallus Maximus, Everest, or Omnipotence, if it’s a boy.” “Pre-natal yoga and grass-fed steak.” “My doctor said I was the tiniest pregnant woman she’d ever seen.” “Walking every day.” “A big glass of water in the morning.” “The weird thing is I’m not even hungry, just blissed out.” “Lucia Frida, Remedios, Compote Rose, Come Hither, Whirling Dervish, Cosmos, Alma, Lil Cutie, Sexually Desirable, or Simone Weil, if it’s a girl.”
“Wow you guys!” The Host says too loudly. “That’s so great!
Congratulations to all four of you! It’s so great! There’s something in the oven! I’ll be right back!” The Host runs to the oven, which has been on with nothing inside it for hours and is creating hell-like conditions in the kitchen. The Host had not thought to get sparkling apple juice or other adult-appropriate non-alcoholic beverages for women with child. All of the French cheeses are unpasteurized, then there’s the matter of the raw oyster bar, which was the second main spectacular food item, and also the raw egg, the mercury, the shaved mad-cow boar hoof, the tuna, the tonsil stone, and the lorazepam in the 10,101-ingredient mole.
“I’m not sure how I should act,” The Host confides to a guest’s child as they wait for the bathroom. The Host had not anticipated children and has no appropriate activities or distractions for the child, but has hopes that the child, a boy, may be able to get her a job in fifteen to twenty years.
“Me either,” the guest’s child tells her.
“But especially now,” The Host says.
At the oven window The Host hides from her guests, sweating profusely and possibly suffering from heat stroke. The Host stares into the oven window, watching a mixed metal pot begin to melt.
“Someone spilled wine on the couch,” a guest, entering the off-limits kitchen, informs The Host.
“Oh! No worries! It’s an old couch! I was going to burn that couch anyway! There is something cooking in here, really! Do you have enough to eat? I’ll clean the couch up in a minute! Club soda? Or just leave it! I’m putting that couch on the street in the morning—out with the old!” The Host, worried the guest has seen that there is no food in the oven, rushes out of the kitchen, grabbing a bottle of wine to refill empty glasses. As The Host runs into the living room with the bottle, she stumbles, landing heavily on both knees. Upon getting up, she notices that her knees are bleeding through her long white dress. “I shouldn’t have worn a dress today,” she says to the room full of guests. The guests continue their conversations.
Blood and red wine stains have dried on The Host’s white dress. The Host puts on a new record, Dance Songs of Times Forgotten. “Let’s dance!” The Host semi-bounces and demi-twirls around the room. The guest who had been first to arrive dances with his nearly finished six-pack. The pregnant women make like their babies are dancing inside their wombs; only the pregnant women find it humorous. The Host doesn’t remember how to dance. She swings her ass from side to side, then gyrates and waggles from the dining room to the living room. Guests talk to one another and nod their head to the music, tap feet, bounce knees. No one thinks of times forgotten. The Host feels desperate as tears well in her eyes. She pretends she is not crying. “Allergies,” she smiles. “Napkins?” she offers. “Hey there,” she flirts, winking at a non-partnered person. Sexually frustrated she winks at a few partnered people as well. “Probably full funding, just waiting to hear back . . .” The Host lies, dancing from person to person, heavy in her arm movements, “I may not be in New York much longer, the artists are being pushed out . . . grants for women studying the nature of boredom . . . going back there for an ayahuasca trip, but last time I saw nothing . . . building houses in Honduras . . . surrogate for a famous celebrity couple . . . masturbation and other forms of self-pleasure—pizza and ice-cream eating—as the only motivating factors for continued survival . . .” The Host pretends she is not crying.
The Host and the guest’s child find themselves in line for the bathroom once again. The Host’s eyes are red, irritated from tears and kitchen smoke. “I’ve recently lost the love of my life,” The Host tells the guest’s child. “I’m heartbroken.” The guest’s child knocks impatiently on the bathroom door, shifting around on both feet. “They had long flowing hair down to their ankles and skin that glowed,” The Host says. “Sounds pretty,” the guest’s child says. “They’re all I can think about,” The Host tells the child. The guest’s child passes gas. “I think they may have been an alcoholic, but we all have our flaws,” The Host says. “I’ll never see them again.” The guest’s child cannot stop passing gas.
SPONTANEOUS ACTIVITY: SINGLE CARD TAROT READINGS
“This particular tarot set was made by a trust-funder—daughter of a famous collage artist, friend of a friend of a friend who went to an elite art college and currently resides in Los Angeles, buying rare and expensive musical instruments and taking singing lessons while looking to hire a producer to record her solo album. Also, she has a private drawing-with-colored-pencils-and-oil-crayons instructor and owns a small printing press, hence the manifestation of the deck. So there is dumb luck, which is the best kind of luck if you ask me, and arbitrary fortune associated with these cards. Very auspicious,” The Host informs her guests. The Host lights candles and sage then shuffles the deck. The pregnant women, the guest’s child, and a few employed people sit around the table.
Reading 1: Pregnant Guest
Card: Three of Swords
Imagery: A woman hiding inside a bathroom stall with three swords—one in her left eye, one in her mouth, and one up her vagina—watching her lover/husband with a packed suitcase put his hand up another woman’s skirt.
Interpretation: “This one is completely different than it appears,” The Host lies, “it means you will enjoy endlessly rewarding domestic bliss, full of the foods you love to eat without any of the guilt.”
“Yum!” the pregnant woman says.
Reading 2: Employed Female Guest
Card: The Devil
Imagery: A three-storied house engulfed in flames with a cross section cut out. Inside the house: a jackal ravages the domestic dwelling, a woman is being penetrated by a horse, a man performs cunnilingus on a polar bear, someone has drowned themselves in the tub.
Interpretation: “Good for you! A major arcana card, meaning this card represents your current location on life’s path. This card looks heavy, but the Devil is a playful joker-type,” The Host says, again lying. “It portends not imminent suicide or a penchant for bestiality or complete Devil nature, but a good time. Life is full of good old times.”
Reading 3: The Guest’s Child
Card: The Hanged Man
Imagery: A man hanged, bound, gagged, and castrated inside a Christmas ornament-like globe that represents the world. Ships pass on the seas around him. Cities are filled with people. Great monuments are built. Beautiful trees, fruits, flowers, and crops fill the land, but the man is suspended, upside down, above it.
Interpretation: “The. World. Is. Yours. For. The. Taking,” The Host says through gritted teeth. She has lost all hope of the child securing her a job in the future.
THE DINNER BELL
The Host rings the dinner bell. The 10,101-ingredient mole is served atop slow-roasted pig knuckles. Plates are decorated with squash blossoms, turmeric crème, fried lavender, spirulina salsa, and candied orchids of an unknown species. On a 27′ x 5′ table stand ten candelabras, containing one hundred and fifty tapered beeswax candles in total, beautifully lighting the dining room. Guests take their plates and eat scattered about the house—standing up, sitting cross-legged on the rug—ignoring the place settings. One of the opulent floral arrangements crashes to the floor. A recently purchased Alice Neel knockoff (an amateur nude in acrylic The Host hoped resembled herself) falls from the wall. “Was that an earthquake?” The Host asks, her voice too loud and somewhat shaky. Someone puts the Long Ago Hawaiian Vacation Slideshow Music record on. No one compliments the mole.
Maybe it was. Something it could’ve been.
A WORD FROM THE HOST
“A toast. Thank you all for . . .” The Host drinks champagne. “It has meant so . . .” The Host coughs. “Mi casa es . . .” The Host feels her stomach rumble. “Great night for a . . .” The Host is afraid she will not be able to sleep tonight. “I imagine you’re all . . .” The Host imagines everyone naked; they are all more attractive than she would have guessed, and somehow kinder. The Host would like to sleep with all of her guests. “You all mean so . . .” The Host feels close to everyone for a moment. “Remember when that painting fell and I thought it was an earthquake?” The Host relives the immediate past. “More champagne?” The Host does not know what tomorrow will look like. “Cheers.” The Host drinks. And drinks.
It is no one’s birthday, but The Host puts candles on the cake because she must make an effort and the cake is, at least, something. Anyway, she thinks that’s what The Guide was getting at by their visit. Several guests say they do not eat sweets or wheat or things shaped like roses or things molded into skulls, but some eat the cake and frosting roses and calaveras de azúcar. The guests say they must go to the gym tomorrow. “I’m starting a cleanse,” The Host says, “and Martha Graham zumba. And taking an ikebana class, which tones your arms and relaxes your mind.” The kitchen is now too hot to enter. There is nowhere for The Host to retreat. Possibly the bathroom, but one cannot really do that at a party. People might think her bulimic. Or worse.
We love you articles. We love you Balthus. We love you Smokey. We love you Roy. We love you getting older. We love you up-and-coming hip-hop artists. We love you the KLF’s “Justified and Ancient (Stand By The JAMs).” We love you Disneyland mermaids of Submarine Voyage 1967. We love you learning to speak Spanish. We love you Paul McCarthy. We love you Leonora Carrington. We love you Alice Neel. We love that you were a whore and a bad mother. We love you that time we went to Istanbul. We love you the culture of Japan. We love you that time we almost died. We love you the night. We love you alcohol. We love that you’re trying to do that. We love that you actually think you can do that. We love you future plans. We love you summer. We love you opera. Let’s go to the opera in the winter. Let’s go to the beach in the summer. Let’s go camping in the fall. Let’s have a threesome in the spring. Let’s buy a vacation house all together. Let’s move to the New Mexican desert all together. I’ve always loved you. I’ve always been so fond of you. I always get excited when I see you. You have always been my favorite. Let’s remember each other’s birthdays this year. Let’s get a drink sometime. Let’s say hello to one another if we see one another on the subway. We are busy. We are too. We are too busy. We have no time. Time flies. It’s already been a year. It’s already been ten years. How long have we been here? Where is the bathroom? Is there any more tequila? How much is your rent? We’re thinking how to get Mexican citizenship. We’re thinking of moving to Red Hook if we win the lottery. We’re thinking of moving to Sunset Park. We’re thinking of moving to The Hole in East New York. We’re thinking of moving to Queens. We’re thinking of moving to Poughkeepsie. We’re thinking of moving closer to our families, with the babies coming. We’re thinking we shouldn’t drink too much. We’re thinking we’ve had too much to drink. We’re thinking of throwing up in the toilet. We’re thinking of breaking off from the group. We’re thinking we shouldn’t have come. We’re thinking of going home. We’re thinking of going to bed. We were thinking the same thing. We wish you luck. We wish you the best in all your future plans. We will not remember your names. We will say we don’t remember your faces—though we do—because it is easier. The time. The train. The morning. The next day. The workweek. Separation always occurs in the end, but in-between also.
THE GUEST’S CHILD
The guest’s child has fallen asleep holding a king protea in his hand. The Host did not consider party favors. The guests are very drunk. Some speak feverishly. Others speak languidly. The Host has never known these strangers.
p.s. Hey. ** Steevee, Hi. Yeah, writing a book about Cheap Trick has been a dream project of mine forever, but I’ve realized I just don’t have the particular kind of chops you need to do something like that. Maybe if I could find a good ghost writer or something. It sure seems to me, based on what you wrote, but as a know nothing on the subject, that staying on the teeny dose of Zyprexa is the way to go. I’ll definitely make sure to stay far away from that stuff. I haven’t read that Andrew Soloman book, no. Is it something you would recommend to someone who doesn’t really suffer from depressions but is interested in depression and effected by others’ depressions? ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Exactly. Why has Gus not made an Old Skull film, and why does he keep making crappy films that don’t even play to his strengths? Very strange. ** Damien Ark, Hi, Damien! I actually saw Old Skull live right when the first album came out. They were cool, but it was kind of sad because the audience, which was your usual hardcore punk audience of that era, spent their whole set either laughing at them or going, ‘Aw, they’re so cute.’ ** Jamie, Dearest Jamie, Yeah, it’s like you stepped on a four leaf clover or something like that. Hopefully it’s a ‘curse’ that you can leave behind like a train station. My Friday was another film-film-film day. I think we convinced the sound guy we want to work on our film, which will be really great news if so. We did long auditions for the final unfilled role. We’re in a tricky situation because we have to cast the role by Monday at the latest because whatever actor we choose will need time to memorize his part, and rehearsals start in just over a week and a half. There was one guy amongst the six we auditioned who isn’t the kind of guy that we have been imagining the character to be but who is quite strange and interesting, so we probably have to just cast him and alter the character somewhat because the other five were wrong. We have one last audition today. Anyway, it’s crunch time and crunch decision time. Also, we had some pretty bad news about the opera project that Zac and I doing with Gisele, which means we have to regroup and rethink right away since everything on that project has to be cemented very soon if it’s going to happen at all. So, that was my day. I’ve never been all that into Iain Sinclair. I’ve liked things of his, but not hugely, and I’ve not liked things of his, although never hated his stuff. So, I don’t know. I suppose I’m a little wary but pretty much with an open mind. My weekend is film stuff, finishing unpacking, big meeting about the TV show project, and, uh, probably mostly film stuff. It’s really like a 24 hour a day thing at this point. What is a viva? You said ‘eek’ so I guess it’s something big? Tell her that, whatever it is, I’m cheerleading for her within every stray thought. Have a most awesome weekend. Preproduction love, Dennis. ** Ferdinand, Hi, Ferdinand! Yeah, as I mentioned up above, I saw Old Skull live at their beginnings, and, yes, the boy’s vocal chords were pretty beastly in the good way. Thanks for the Buttholes link. I did jump onto that page and read the article as soon as it came to my attention. Really cool piece if you love that LP. I would love it if you decided to send me that overview/write up. Up my alley, and it would ultra-welcome. Thank you! You have a weekend that matches up with whatever dreams you were having about it before it kicked off this morning. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! I’m glad that the cool but, yes, tragic story of Old Skull interested you. Exhausting is the word. And it’s just getting crazier and crazier. Trial by fire kind of thing. I think we sorted out the piñata problem. Basically, we’ll buy the handful that need to be custom made, and we’ll rent the pinatas that basically just need to be hanging there to indicate that the character has a large collection. I think that’ll do it. We’re meeting with the piñata maker today. As I told Jamie, the auditions were not amazing, but there’s one guy who will work in a strange way that we weren’t thinking of going originally if need be, and I think it is a ‘need be’ situation because we have to cast role by Monday. No choice there. So … it could be worse. I’m very happy you got to have that lovely day with your writer friend. Hooray about that. Things are good, but, yeah, it’s pretty intense and nonstop about the film now, which is of course very exciting but also very stressful. So, yeah, all is essentially well. Have a great weekend, and let me know how it suited you. ** Lord_s, Hey again! It’s nice to know you’re there lurking. Yeah, I’m going to check the tracks you shared this weekend. The problem is that SOMA on tour, but then when he is not one tour, ha ha, but I’m going to catch him for a brain pick when he stops over in our mutual hometown. Wow, Rocket from the Crypt! Huh. Same line-up? Even with the guy who did Drive Like Jehu? Cool. I hope your weekend really counts. ** H, Hi! The move is pretty much over apart from some unpacking still to do and a final inspection of my ex-apartment. Your work sounds exciting. Although I don’t envy all the subway time. The NYC subway freaks me out a bit. I’m spoiled by Paris’s now. Grateful to hear your thoughts on Virginie Despentes’ films. That’s very interesting. I’ll look for the Alessadro Comodin film. I’d never heard of it. Thank you! I hope Saturday and Sunday are very, very friendly to you and yours. ** Right. I somehow managed to read some books amidst the madness of moving and film preparations, and those 4 up there are the ones I especially liked. See if they’re infectious. See you on Monday.