The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Lucia Berlin A Manual for Cleaning Women (2015)


‘I have known Lucia Berlin’s work for more than thirty years—ever since I acquired the slim, beige 1981 Turtle Island paperback called Angels Laundromat. By the time of her third collection, I had come to know her personally, from a distance, though I can’t remember how. There on the flyleaf of the beautiful Safe & Sound, her 1988 novel, is an inscription. We never did meet face to face.

‘Berlin, who was born in 1936, in Juneau, Alaska, and died in 2004, on her sixty-eighth birthday, based many of her stories on events in her own life. One of her sons said, after her death, “Ma wrote true stories, not necessarily autobiographical, but close enough for horseshoes.” Although people talk, as though it were a new thing, about the form of fiction known in France as auto-fiction (“self-fiction”)—the narration of one’s own life, lifted almost unchanged from the reality, selected, and judiciously, artfully told—Lucia Berlin had been doing this, or a version of this, as far as I can see, from the beginning, back in the nineteen-sixties. Of course, for the sake of balance, or color, she changed whatever she had to in shaping her stories—details of events and descriptions, chronology. One of her sons said, “Our family stories and memories have been slowly reshaped, embellished and edited to the extent that I’m not sure what really happened all the time. Lucia said this didn’t matter: the story is the thing.”

‘Berlin’s life was rich and full of incident, and the material she took from it for her stories was colorful, dramatic, and wide-ranging. The places she and her family lived in her childhood and youth were determined by her father—where he worked in her early years, then his going off to serve in the Second World War, and then his job when he returned from the war. Thus, she was born in Alaska and grew up first in mining camps in the west of the U.S.; then lived with her mother’s family in El Paso, while her father was gone; then was transplanted south into a very different life in Chile, one of wealth and privilege, which is portrayed in her stories about a teenage girl in Santiago, about Catholic school there, about political turbulence, yacht clubs, dressmakers, slums, revolution. As an adult she continued to lead a restless life, geographically, living in Mexico, Arizona, New Mexico, New York City; one of her sons remembers moving about every nine months as a child. Later in her life she taught in Boulder, Colorado, and at the very end of it she moved closer to her sons, to Los Angeles.

‘She writes about her sons—she had four—and the jobs she worked to support them, often on her own. Or, we should say, she writes about a woman with four sons, jobs like her jobs—cleaning woman, E.R. nurse, hospital-ward clerk, hospital-switchboard operator, teacher.

‘She lived in so many places, experienced so much—it was enough to fill several lives. We have, most of us, known at least some part of what she went through: children in trouble, or early molestation, or a rapturous love affair, struggles with addiction, a difficult illness or disability, an unexpected bond with a sibling, or a tedious job, difficult fellow workers, a demanding boss, or a deceitful friend, not to speak of awe in the presence of the natural world—Hereford cattle knee-deep in Indian paintbrush, a field of bluebonnets, a pink rocket flower growing in the alley behind a hospital. Because we have known some part of it, or something like it, we are right there with her as she takes us through it.

‘Things actually happen in the stories—a whole mouthful of teeth gets pulled at once; a little girl gets expelled from school for striking a nun; an old man dies in a mountaintop cabin, his goats and his dog in bed with him; the history teacher with her mildewed sweater is dismissed for being a Communist—“That’s all it took. Three words to my father. She was fired sometime that weekend and we never saw her again.”

‘Is this why it is almost impossible to stop reading a story of Lucia Berlin’s once you begin? Is it because things keep happening? Is it also the narrating voice, so engaging, so companionable? Along with the economy, the pacing, the imagery, the clarity? These stories make you forget what you were doing, where you are, even who you are.

‘“Wait,” begins one story. “Let me explain . . .” It is a voice close to Lucia’s own, though never identical. Her wit and her irony flow through the stories and overflow in her letters, too: “She is taking her medication,” she told me once, in 2002, about a friend, “which makes a big difference! What did people do before Prozac? Beat up horses I guess.”

Beat up horses. Where did that come from? The past was maybe as alive in her mind as were other cultures, other languages, politics, human foibles; the range of her reference so rich and even exotic that switchboard operators lean into their boards like milkmaids leaning into their cows; or a friend comes to the door, “Her black hair . . . up in tin rollers, like a kabuki headdress.”

‘The past—I read this passage from “So Long” a few times, with relish, with wonder, before I realized what she was doing:

One night it was bitterly cold, Ben and Keith were sleeping with me, in snowsuits. The shutters banged in the wind, shutters as old as Herman Melville. It was Sunday so there were no cars. Below in the streets the sailmaker passed, in a horse-drawn cart. Clop clop. Sleet hissed cold against the windows and Max called. Hello, he said. I’m right around the corner in a phone booth.

He came with roses, a bottle of brandy and four tickets to Acapulco. I woke up the boys and we left.

‘They were living in lower Manhattan, at a time when the heat would be turned off at the end of the working day if you lived in a loft. Maybe the shutters really were as old as Herman Melville, since in some parts of Manhattan buildings did date from the 1860s, back then, more of them than now, though now, too. Though it could be that she is exaggerating again—a beautiful exaggeration, if so, a beautiful flourish. She goes on: “It was Sunday so there were no cars.” That sounded realistic, so, then, I was fooled by the sailmaker and the horse-drawn cart, which came next—I believed it and accepted it, and only realized after another reading that she must have jumped back effortlessly into Melville’s time again. The “Clop clop,” too, is something she likes to do—waste no words, add a detail in note form. The “sleet hissing” took me in there, within those walls, and then the action accelerated and we were suddenly on our way to Acapulco.

‘This is exhilarating writing.

‘Another story begins with a typically straightforward and informative statement that I can easily believe is drawn directly from Berlin’s own life: “I’ve worked in hospitals for years now and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the sicker the patients are the less noise they make. That’s why I ignore the patient intercom.”

‘Reading that, I’m reminded of the stories of William Carlos Williams when he wrote as the family doctor he was—his directness, his frank and knowledgeable details of medical conditions and treatment, his objective reporting. Even more than Williams, Berlin also saw Chekhov (another doctor) as a model and teacher. In fact, she says in a letter to Stephen Emerson that what gives life to their work is their physician’s detachment, combined with compassion. She goes on to mention their use of specific detail and their economy—“No words are written that aren’t necessary.” Detachment, compassion, specific detail, and economy—and we are well on the way to identifying some of the most important things in good writing. But there is always a little more to say.’ — Lydia Davis




Lucia Berlin Website
‘Smoking with Lucia’
‘A Roundtable on Lucia Berlin, the Greatest American Writer You’ve Never Heard Of’
Tom Raworth’s Lucia Berlin Tribute Page
‘Short Story Master Rediscovered’
‘Friends’, a story by Lucia Berlin
‘Stars and Saints’, a story by Lucia Berlin
‘Angels Laundromat’, a story by Lucia Berlin
’11 Years After Her Death, Lucia Berlin Is Finally a Bestselling Author’
‘Lucia Berlin’s Roving, Rowdy Life Is Reflected in a Book of Her Stories’
‘Best Kept Secrets: The Fiction of Lucia Berlin’
‘Lucia Berlin: Literary genius who transformed my life’
Audio: Lucia Berlin Writing Workshop
‘Out of the Dark: A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin’
Lucia Berlin @ Citizen Film
Buy ‘A Manual for Cleaning Women’



Lucia Berlin: Pen Pals

Lucia Berlin: Mama

Lucia Berlin: Unmanageable

Lucia Berlin: My Jockey

Lucia Berlin: Angels Laundromat


from Literary Hub


Kellie Paluck: Okay, here’s the first, general question. What are your poetics?

Lucia Berlin: I have no idea.

Adrian Zupp: That’s good! [Laughter]

Lucia Berlin: Hmm… what’d you say?

AZ: I said that’s good, that’s interesting. So for you, poetics… I guess was something that you thought about once you ended up in academia, but…

Lucia Berlin: I still don’t think about it.

AZ: No? Why not?

Lucia Berlin: I guess I just object to putting whatever I do into a word called poetics.

KP: So would you object to someone writing a thesis about your poetics?

Lucia Berlin: No, people do it all the time and I’m always amazed. I’m amazed at how much poetics I have!

KP: But you don’t disagree with them?

Lucia Berlin: No, no. I just don’t write with that in mind. I don’t have a credo about writing, or about the suffering of the poor, single women, or the American underbelly, or something.

KP: Well, I know you don’t have a political agenda.

Lucia Berlin: No. I just write what seems to me to feel true. To feel emotionally true. When there’s emotional truth, there follows a rhythm, and I think a beauty of image, because you’re seeing clearly. Because of the simplicity of what you see.

KP: So it sounds like you don’t have a specific audience in mind either when you’re writing?

Lucia Berlin: No.

KP: Who buys your books?

Lucia Berlin: Not many people! [Laughter] No, but… the people who respond to my books are people who respond on a very emotional, very intuitive level.

KP: Do you think more women buy your books than men?

Lucia Berlin: Definitely.

KP: And do they just come across your books in a bookstore? Or do they hear about you from someone?

Lucia Berlin: Usually they’ve heard about me from someone, or read a story in a magazine and then gotten my books. Actually, I think I have as many male readers.

AZ: Really? That’s interesting.

Lucia Berlin: Men like the cleanness of my writing, I think. And it’s not sentimental and it’s not super-feminist. I think I have about an equal number of men. Older women and younger males, I think.

AZ: You’ve probably answered this in other interviews, but I tend to think that with people who don’t write with an audience in mind—that they also don’t write with publication in mind, so much… What was your initial impetus for writing? Was it for catharsis, or is it just a joy to do it?

Lucia Berlin: It’s a joy to do it. It’s a place to go. It definitely is a place where I am…where I feel my honest self is. When I first started to write, I was alone. My first husband had left me, I was homesick, my parents had disowned me because I had married so young and divorced. I just wrote to—to go home. It was like a place to be where I felt I was safe. And so I write to fix a reality.

AZ: So if you’d never been published, would your personal bibliography be much the same?

Lucia Berlin: I think so.

AZ: That’s interesting.

Lucia Berlin: In fact, I have many stories that I can’t publish at all because they would hurt people’s feelings or embarrass my sons. I just write to fix a time or an event in my own head. As I said in the class it isn’t for therapy, but more for clarity, emotional clarity. To let me see what I really feel about something, to make it sort of acceptable in my head.

KP: How do you think you’d feel if you hadn’t gotten published or maybe just published in a few small journals, but nothing major? Would it still be okay that you’d spent all this time writing?

Lucia Berlin: Oh, well… there’s something else to that. No, when you write you want someone to hear it. You do. I mean I don’t write thinking, “Oh Adrian and Kellie are going to love this.” But it’s just that the act of writing comes from a feeling, for me, of connectedness, usually. Or figuring why do I feel at one with this place or with these people or in this job or in this situation. And so just the act of writing is a connection, a giving out. It’s like in telling a joke, you want somebody to laugh.

KP: Then you’re lucky because you sound like you haven’t had that struggle to get published.

Lucia Berlin: No, but also I never tried that hard. I never learned how to work at it properly, so I never got good publishing habits, like sending off my work. And since I have a publisher, I’m not as ambitious as I should be about getting work done and sent off. Because I never have done it for money and I’ve found that the times that I did have a contract, I just got all mixed up. Because, for instance, they wanted me to change things. I couldn’t do it. So I never count on it for income.

KP: You started to talk about how you write to have a place to go, on account of your past, and your family, and moving around. I’m curious: What if you’d had the perfect upbringing in Iowa, with two loving parents, and then the perfect marriage? What would you write about?

Lucia Berlin: Well, I don’t think I’d need to write! [Much laughter] I think Proust is quite right saying that only neurotic people write. [Laughter] You know?



Lucia Berlin A Manual for Cleaning Women

A Manual for Cleaning Women compiles the best work of the legendary short-story writer Lucia Berlin. With the wit of Lorrie Moore, the grit of Raymond Carver, and a blend of humor and melancholy all her own, Berlin crafts miracles from the everyday, uncovering moments of grace in the cafeterias and Laundromats of the American Southwest, in the homes of the Bay Area upper class, among switchboard operators and struggling mothers, hitchhikers and bad Christians.

‘Lovers of the short story will revel in this remarkable collection from a master of the form and wonder how they’d ever overlooked her in the first place.’ — FSG


from Flavorwire

Carpe Diem

Most of the time I feel all right about getting old. Some things give me a pang, like skaters. How free they seem, long legs gliding, hair streaming back. Other things throw me into a panic, like BART doors. A long wait before the doors open, after the train comes to a stop. Not very long, but it’s too long. There’s no time.

And laundromats. But they were a problem even when I was young. Just too long, even the Speed Queens. Your entire life has time to flash before your eyes while you sit there, a drowner. Of course if I had a car I could go to the hardware store or the post of€ office and then come back and put things into the dryer.

The laundries with no attendants are even worse. Then it seems I’m always the only person there at all. But all of the washers and dryers are going . . . everybody is at the hardware store.

So many laundromat attendants I have known, the hovering Charons, making change or who never have change. Now it is fat Ophelia who pronounces No Sweat as No Thwet. Her top plate broke on beef jerky. Her breasts are so huge she has to turn sideways and then kitty- corner to get through doors, like moving a kitchen table. When she comes down the aisle with a mop everybody moves and moves the baskets too. She is a channel hopper. Just when we’ve settled in to watch The Newlywed Game she’ll flick it to Ryan’s Hope.

Once, to be polite, I told her I got hot  ashes too, so that’s what she associates me with . . . The Change. “How ya coming with the change?” she says, loud, instead of hello. Which only makes it worse, sitting there, re ecting, aging. My sons have all grown now, so I’m down from € ve washers to one, but one takes just as long.

I moved last week, maybe for the two hundredth time. I took in all my sheets and curtains and towels, my shopping cart piled high. The laundromat was very crowded; there weren’t any washers together. I put all my things into three machines, went to get change from Ophelia. I came back, put the money and the soap in, and started them. Only I had started up three wrong washers. Three that had just €finished this man’s clothes.

I was backed into the machines. Ophelia and the man loomed before me. I’m a tall woman, wear Big Mama panty- hose now, but they were both huge people. Ophelia had a prewash spray bottle in her hand. The man wore cutoffs, his massive thighs were matted with red hair. His thick beard wasn’t like hair at all but a red padded bumper. He wore a baseball hat with a gorilla on it. The hat wasn’t too small but his hair was so bushy it shoved the hat high up on his head making him about seven feet tall. He was slapping a heavy €fist into his other red palm. “Goddamn. I’ll be goddamned!” Ophelia wasn’t menacing; she was protecting me, ready to come between him and me, or him and the machines. She’s always saying there’s nothing at the laundry she can’t handle.

“Mister, you may’s well sit down and relax. No way to stop them machines once they’ve started. Watch a little TV, have yourself a Pepsi.”

I put quarters in the right machines and started them. Then I remembered that I was broke, no more soap and those quarters had been for dryers. I began to cry.

“What the fuck is she crying about? What do you think this does to my Saturday, you dumb slob? Jesus wept.”

I offered to put his clothes into the dryers for him, in case he wanted to go somewhere.

“I wouldn’t let you near my clothes. Like stay away from my clothes, you dig?” There was no place for him to sit except next to me. We looked at the machines. I wished he would go outside, but he just sat there, next to me. His big right leg vibrated like a spinning washer. Six little red lights glowed at us.

“You always fuck things up?” he asked.

“Look, I’m sorry. I was tired. I was in a hurry.” I began to giggle, nervously.

“Believe it or not, I am in a hurry. I drive a tow. Six days a week. Twelve hours a day. This is it. My day off.”

“What were you in a hurry for?” I meant this nicely, but he thought I was being sarcastic.

“You stupid broad. If you were a dude I’d wash you. Put your empty head in the dryer and turn it to cook.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“Damn right you’re sorry. You’re one big sorry excuse for a chick. I had you spotted for a loser before you did that to my clothes. I don’t believe this. She’s crying again. Jesus wept.”

Ophelia stood above him.

“Don’t you be bothering her, you hear? I happens to know she’s going through a hard time.”

How did she know that? I was amazed. She knows everything, this giant black Sybil, this Sphinx. Oh, she must mean The Change.

“I’ll fold your clothes if you’d like,” I said to him.

“Hush, girl,” Ophelia said. “Point is, what’s the big deal? In a hunnert years from now just who is gonna care?”

“A hunnert years,” he whispered. “A hunnert years.”

And I was thinking that too. A hundred years. Our machines were shimmying away, and all the little red spin lights were on.

“At least yours are clean. I used up all my soap.”

“I’ll buy you some soap for crissake.”

“It’s too late. Thanks anyway.”

“She didn’t ruin my day. She’s ruined my whole fuckin’ week. No soap.”

Ophelia came back, stooped down to whisper to me.

“I been spottin’ some. Doctor says it don’t quit I’ll need a D and C. You been spottin’?”

I shook my head.

“You will. Women’s troubles just go on and on. A whole lifetime of troubles. I’m bloated. You bloated?”

“Her head is bloated,” the man said. “Look, I’m
going out to the car, get a beer. I want you to promise not to go near my machines. Yours are thirty- four, thirty- nine, forty- three. Got that?”

“Yeah. Thirty- two, forty, forty- two.” He didn’t think it was funny.

The clothes were in the €final spin. I’d have to hang mine up to dry on the fence. When I got paid I’d come back with soap.

“Jackie Onassis changes her sheets every single day,” Ophelia said. “Now that is sick, you ask me.”

“Sick,” I agreed.

I let the man put his clothes in a basket and go to the dryers before I took mine out. Some people were grinning but I just ignored them. I filled my cart with soggy sheets and towels. It was almost too heavy to push and, wet, not everything € fit. I slung the hot- pink curtains over my shoulder. Across the room the man started to say something, then looked away.

It took a long time to get home. Even longer to hang everything, although I did €find a rope. Fog was rolling in.

I poured some coffee and sat on the back steps. I was happy. I felt calm, unhurried. Next time I am on BART, I won’t even think about getting off until the train stops. When it does, I’ll make it out just in time.




p.s. Hey. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. That’s okay, thanks. For future reference, an expression of confusion or whatever else about them would be as interesting to me as any other response. The gif fiction is a unique thing, and I’m very interested to know what its effect is, whatever that may be, positive or negative or in-between. I’ve seen a few of the fan-made video game-based films. They’re generally quite interesting although all over the place quality-wise. One of my favorite younger artists, Eddo Stern, makes amazing films, videos, etc. using video game footage. He’s also kind of a code genius, and he has works that were interventions into online games where he alters the game/code and creates in-game events or shows/actions using the video game characters that players accidentally come across while playing. I did a post on his work some time ago. I’ll restore it. Oh, I finally saw the Safdies’ ‘Good Time’ last night. I found it completely uninteresting. I haven’t seen their other films, but, based on this one, I don’t get the hype at all. It seemed mediocre in pretty every aspect. It also had the crappiest hand-me-down color grading I’ve seen in a long time. I love Oneohtrix Point Never, but even his score sounded like a first draft assignment to me. Bleah. ** David Ehrenstein, A lot of grave dancing today. I didn’t mind that he was alive, or that people wore his image on their t-shirts, and I don’t mind that he’s dead. ** Kier, Kier! Howdy howdy howdy! So awesome to see you!!! I’m good, I’m good. Oh, I’ll send you a link today so you can watch the film. I’ve meaning to for weeks. Yes, we’re on pins and needles about the festival stuff, but no bad news yet, fingers crossed. Sucks about your ankle, ouch, hugs. Obviously happy to hear that you’ve had the first operation (!), but holy moly about the infection. I’m awfully glad you’ve come through in one albeit temporarily hobbling piece. Painting cowboys! Wow. If you ever share those anywhere let me know. I’m super super curious. And that’s great about the new apartment. Do you like the location? I will give your love to Zac, and I’m 100% certain he will send you the same. So, I’ll write to you today. So, so heartening to see you, great Kier! Thank you! A giant mass of love from me! ** Armando, Hi. Ha, yeah, you do seem like you would like the Museum of Death. Wait did you really just call John Waters a ‘worthless, insufferable piece of shit’? If so, you’re only embarrassing yourself. Hm, I’ll have to go see if I can find a ‘Period’ post. I don’t remember it. It’ll depend on whether I still have the makings for it on my hard drive. In the case of really old posts, I often don’t. I’m good. Today I need to do some strategising and schmoozing re: Zac’s and my film apropos some film festival submissions, and I might see some art, and I don’t know what else. What was your day? ** Sypha, Hi, James. Thanks about the Kojima post. Glad someone here knows and likes his work. I’ve never heard that he’s been called the Pynchon of video games. That’s extremely interesting. Huh. I’m basically like you about Manson. ** Chaim Hender, Hi. Not a gamer? Even though I haven’t played games in way too long sadly, lacking the necessary commitment time, I do love video games and have learned a ton from them as a writer. Ha ha, if only interviews were like that video. Nice, thanks for the link up. It is interesting how when you’re interviewed and revisit things or works or periods or experiences in that context, it can clarify them or, I don’t know, organize your past in this interesting way that you would never do when you’re just going through your life making things and then making newer things. Ah, excellent! The video clip! I’m going to let myself finish off this p.s. and then watch it without distraction. Thank you so much! How was your day today? ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Okay, good, lots of interesting and more projects and possibilities in the works. I guess the thing is to stay excited and optimistic and confident then. Not always easy, but I imagine that you will infect the other YnyYrs, if need be. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Yeah, it does seem like there was an avalanche of famous people’s deaths in the past 48 hours. It sort of seems like everything is happening in avalanches right now. Strange. Malcom Young was kind of a genius. I think the only reason I’ll see ‘Justice League’ if I do outside of a jet ride where I will watch almost anything with a 150 million-plus budget, is to see Ezra Miller’s part. Right, Thanksgiving holidays are imminent. You doing the whole sit around the table with loved ones feasting on things bit? ** Jeff J, Hi. Thanks. Yeah, I thought the post flow might serve a fruitful function somehow. Thanks a lot for the link. I will go stream that today, I think. Very curious. I’m putting together a Mackey post, a spotlight one re: one of his novels. Strangely, I don’t know Pierre Michon at all. I just googled him, and it seems strange that I’m not familiar with him. Zac probably knows his work. I’ll ask. But I can’t recall hearing anyone talk about him. Huh. I’ll get on reading him, thank you very much. ** MANCY, Hi, S! Lovely to see you, maestro and buddy. I feel pretty certain that game structure has influenced the gif fiction. I don’t deliberately think about games when I’m making the works. It’s really important (to me) that I concentrate on their relationship to written fiction, but since games have really influenced my fiction, it would make total sense if that influence came to the fore when I’m working with visual narrative. Thanks a lot for the kind words, man. How are you and what’s up? ** H, Hi. Good to see you! Thank you very much about the gif work. My season is starting to get really busy too, yeah. The patisseries are just now announcing their buches for this year, and, yes, I’ve begun collecting the best ones for the annual beauty contest post. Have a fine day. ** Nik, Hi, Nik! Thanks a lot for the great observations and thoughts about the gif work. I really appreciate it. And, yes, what you said makes total sense to me. It’s very true that I feel my work/interventions are more intimate now, or that I can work more directly and complicatedly with intimacy within the work now than I was able to earlier. I’m much, more more interested in working in a subtle, complicated way with the gifs now than working with the showier things I was excited by early on. Ideally, I would like to write another gif novel, but only if I can push the form into a new, more advanced place, and, for right now, I feel that what I’m doing is more of a refinement and a kind inching forward, so I think I’ll do another collection of stories next. Anyway, thank you a really lot for your interest! I really like your idea to refine the experiments to the point of 100% immersion by them. That makes sense and is quite an intriguing plan. I’ll be very interested to hear what happens if it’s interesting for you to let me know. Well, with the performers I work with, and especially in the films, we essentially cast them based on how they seem, look, behave, emote, etc, naturally rather than seeing them as conducive, malleable blank canvases, so a lot of our work with them is about curtailing any tendencies they have to act and trying to get them to just inhabit the dialogue and actions without becoming self-conscious. That’s why we greatly prefer to cast people with no or very limited acting experience. There’s only one performer in our new film who’d ever acted in films before, in his case quite a number of them, and he’s great in the film, but it was interesting that we had to do the most work by far with him because he had all these learned habits that were useful for him in the more conventional films he has been in, but which were problems for our film. Because the rest of the performers were ‘being themselves’, every little acting technique he tried to employ, even quite subtle ones, came off as very artificial. Sorry to go on. I don’t know if that’s useful info or not. Oh, I see a fair amount of theater here, only quite experimental stuff, that being my interest. It’s a great city for theatre, and with the cultural support, pretty much every artist doing theater comes through here regularly. Have a good day. ** Okay. I did a now-dead post ages ago about Lucia Berlin, and I decided to do another once since she is a truly fantastic writer. Hope you enjoy it. See you tomorrow.


  1. Armando

    “Wait did you really just call John Waters a ‘worthless, insufferable piece of shit’?”

    You forgot “cunt”.

    Seems to me you really dislike me…

    “If so, you’re only embarrassing yourself.”

    No, I’m not. At all. Saying it like it is will never “embarrass [myself]” as much as you might dislike it and (and I have absolutely no idea why would you at all) take it personally.

    Someone who’s boasted more than once about owning a painting by john wayne gacy (had it been *GIRLS* instead of *BOYS* gacy abducted, raped, tortured, murdered and dismembered he wouldn’t have that painting at all, or, in the *EXTREMELY* unlikely case he did have it at all, he’d *NEVER* boast about it and *EVERYBODY* would be more than ready to burn him at the stake), that’s been repeating over and over and over and over again like a motherfucking parrot for almost half a fucking century now that that individual did indeed eat dog shit in that abortion of his that made him famous precisely just because of that, that has idolized manson and his “family” all these years, that has said he hates homosexual men who “hate” women but that he doesn’t hate homosexual women who hate men, that has boasted about how the prison inmates he supposedly gives classes to (what would this character be qualified to “teach” at all is beyond me) and that according to him include murderers and rapists, after seeing his “work” have been “shocked”, and whom the only “cause” they give a shit about at all is all about letting one of those “manson family” cunts walk free (how’s all that for being “morally bankrupt and salaciously nihilistic”?) *IS* a worthless, insufferable piece of shit cunt. Sorry. When I have something to say, I’ll say it.

  2. Armando

    “Ha, yeah, you do seem like you would like the Museum of Death.” Is that intended as a condemning/judging jab at me? Just asking.

  3. Chaim Hender

    Thank you for the post. I’d be interesting in comparing how Lucia Berlin and Eve Babitz write semi-autobiographical essays. When writing about my experiences I can definitely feel a difference between writing that’s meant to form, preserve, and explore my own memories and writing that’s meant to convey some aspect of an experience to a reader. Fun in between place here writing publicly but pretty much only for you and your motley crew.

    My Hebrew teacher was relatively easy on us today and my new immigrant program is taking on a touristy trip to the desert on Wednesday and Thursday. I’m looking forward to my electronic music workshop this afternoon. It’s a very chill time. One teacher and four students (all native Israelis) going over some theory but mostly just playing around with the teacher’s large collection of sound making gadgets. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the small group only in Hebrew.

    I’m sweet on this draft dodging rascal in the class so that adds to the fun. He’s 19 or 20, lanky, Levantine features. Sharp silly aloof and fidgety. Happy I met this princely Persian guy in my dorm also, because if my erotic life were all artwinks all the time I’d go nuts. He’s in his mid 30’s and stopped my heart with a casual touch. Hoping a Dead Sea mudbath from him is in the cards. Plus the women here are bringing my Kinsey number down a standard deviation. I have a strong intuition that the last 2 years of my 20’s here are going to be much more fun than the first 8 in the temperate Protestant zone.

  4. David Ehrenstein

    Lucia Berlin is most interesting to read about any day but especially today I light of the tsunami of sexual abuse allegations that have welled-up in the wake of Harvey Weinstein — the loathsome Charlie Roe being the latest to hit the chopping block.

    Armando has a point. I still like John Waters enormously, but what haunts he about “Pink Flamingoes” isn’t the dog-shit eating but the word “Free Tex Watson” scrawled on a Baltimore wall.

  5. Steve Erickson

    There’s a difference between Waters’ attempts at trying to shock people in the early ’70s and what he does and says now. Trying to have compassion for the prisoners he teaches is not wrong, I think, and Waters has claimed that the Manson Family member he is defending has reformed. Someone like Bruce LaBruce would probably say man-hating lesbians are OK too; Waters says a lot of stuff with the intent of being anti-PC, especially in the context of gay male-oriented publications like Out and the Advocate and organizations like HRC and GLAAD, and trying to being a provocateur. Owning a Gacy painting is a bad idea, but he would be the first person to admit he has a very dark sense of humor, and it’s all over his films.

    Have you seen Peggy Ahwesh’s short SHE PUPPET? The images are taken from TOMB RAIDER games and coupled with voice-over texts from Sun Ra and feminist sources, they depict Lara Croft’s existential crisis. I think it’s something of a masterpiece. I know there are fan-made video game-based films which are more conventional genre works; the one starring the actor I want to work with is and played like a low-budget version of a Hollywood sci-fi/action film, although I’m not entirely sure if it was made by fans or the company that produces the game. Isn’t there a famous series called RED VS. BLUE? (I think it played at the Film Society of Lincoln Center years ago.)

    • Armando

      “Someone like Bruce LaBruce would probably say man-hating lesbians are OK too”

      I don’t know, as I obviously don’t pain any attention whatsoever to that individual ever; but I’d be extremely surprised if he hasn’t already said it at least once.

      “Waters says a lot of stuff with the intent of being anti-PC, especially in the context of gay male-oriented publications like Out and the Advocate and organizations like HRC and GLAAD, and trying to being a provocateur.”

      Nothing he’s ever said could be considered “anti-PC” at all; at least not nowadays.

      “Trying to be a provocateur” is just so extremely, embarrassingly, sadly puerile and juvenile and anti-social. Thankfully most people have the common sense of just ignoring him.

    • Misanthrope

      Steve, The LaBiancas’ daughter has even petitioned for and spoke on behalf of Tex Watson. She, too, thinks he’s reformed.

  6. Steve Erickson

    Of interest, especially if you loved NOCTURAMA as much as I did: Bertrand Bonello’s 10 favorite films of the past decade. I am totally onboard for UNCLE BOONMEE, HOLY MOTORS, THE ASSASSIN, UNDER THE SKIN & SPRING BREAKERS (and haven’t seen TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN yet).

  7. Sypha

    Another thing I liked about “Bleeding Edge” was that Pynchon threw in a “Deus Ex” reference as well. Considering that “Deus Ex” had a number of Pynchon/”Gravity’s Rainbow” references in it, I thought that was a nice tipping of the hat (I should add that “Deus Ex” is probably my favorite video/computer game of all-time).

    I’ve never seen a John Waters film but I do enjoy his sense of humor and I will admit to admiring provocateurs.

    A Samuel R. Delany quote from his “In Search of Silence” journals (the 1959 sections in particular) that I think is of interest: “You may be sick, crazy, priest, prophet or politician, murderer or thief, but if you produce art, you are completely vindicated.” Perhaps an extreme sentiment (it should be pointed out that Delany was 17 when he wrote that), but still an interesting point of view.

    • Misanthrope

      Sypha, I’ve met a few people besides Dennis who’ve met or know Waters, and to a one, they say he’s awesome. I know Bieber loved him when they were on the Graham Norton show together. 😀

      • Steve Erickson

        I got into a weird argument on Twitter with some right-wing Waters fan who claims that his work is really conservative satire. I said something like “films like MULTIPLE MANIACS are proto-queer and proto-punk.” He dismissed the entirety of LGBT politics by saying “the West Village is not the Paris Commune” and then said punk was a fake rebellion cooked up by Malcolm McLaren to sell bondage trousers. At that point, I decided there was no use in continuing the discussion. Although it could be argued that from Evelyn Waugh to Michel Houellbecq, conservatives have often been pretty good at satire.

  8. Dóra Grőber


    Really? I’ll look it up right away! If it really is bilingual, I’ll definitely get my hands on the issue! Ah, that would be awesome!
    Anita is feeling a bit better now. I think it’s just an insistent cold.
    Um… this is not only weird but highly insensitive and awkward too. I mean… it’s okay if he decides not to put this and that in his documentary (even if it’s strange, considering the length and – I guess – the richness of your interviews), it’s his, after all, but… a word would’ve been nice especially if he had plans to ask you to join him in the Q&A. Did you say okay?
    Yesterday really was long, I had zero time to rest but I made good progress with all the Christmas fair preparations. Today was much the same but, hopefully, by the end of the week, we’ll see the end of this little madness too.
    How was your day? Any news from the festival? And did you and Zac meet your producer? I hope everything’s lovely there!

    (Ah, and today’s post looks very interesting! I’ll explore it as soon as I have the adequate brain capacity. Thank you for it!!)

  9. Jeff J

    Hey Dennis – Enjoyed this Lucia Berlin post. I had missed the Lydia Davis about her work. I haven’t read any of her work (other than the excerpt here) and clearly need to get the new collection. Maybe a holiday gift for myself.

    I’d be curious if Zac knows anything about Pierre Michon? I saw a bunch of folks discussing him on Twitter so I assumed he was big in France. His slim books look really interesting — I know one person who swears by “Rimbaud the Son.” Wonder if he’s anything like Roger LeWinter?

    Thanks for checking out the stream of the band’s songs. Be curious if any in particular hit you. It’s fairly all over the map stylistically, or at least seems so to me.

    How’re things coming with the new script? Any changes in direction you need to make based on Zac’s ideas about visualization etc?

  10. _Black_Acrylic

    I’d never heard of Lucia Berlin until today, and I now need to get this book. I should really also get it for my mum for Xmas as it’s the sort of thing I reckon she’d be into.

    There’s a cool show opening at the DCA Centrespace Thursday that I’ll get to after work. Shelter Stone – The Artist And The Mountain has been put together by my teacher at art school Eddie Summerton, and is an art/poetry project for the 100+ bothies that are dotted around the British wilderness. So it’s art and poetry in a survivalist context, and I’m very much looking forward to this one.

  11. David Ehrenstein

    The Late Films Blogathom: The Prince Who Was A Cherry

  12. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Man, I like this author a lot, from what I’ve read here. Really ace stuff. Thanks for that.

    And now David Cassidy. What the fuck? Man, I’ve watched that “I Think I Love You” video a hundred million thousand times. 😮

    That makes something like 9 famous people in the past 3 or 4 days.

    Agree completely with you about Manson. There was a time that I really got into the whole phenomenon, just reading about how it happened, that little cult of personality, all that. And then was over it just as quickly.

    Yeah, Ezra Miller is pretty great in the movie. He shines. The Aquaman guy and the Cyborg guy are pretty cool too. But it’s a superhero movie, and I don’t think it’s a bad one at all.

    Unless you create whole new characters, you’re kind of stuck with these characters and their well-established back stories. I guess finding a way to make them interesting is the key, but they’ve already been so well fleshed out, it’s gotta be hard to do it. Or maybe the same characters and just come up with a completely original story line beyond the established backstories.

    Yeah, pretty typical Thanksgiving for us. My friend Karen may join us. She and her sister-in-law are at each other throats, and she doesn’t want to look at her face, so she might come to my house, hahaha. Our kitchen is so cluttered, we’ll probably be in the living room eating and watching football. I’ll be playing my new Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 videogame too. 😀

    Otherwise, it’s chill time for Misa. 😉

  13. Steve Erickson

    I haven’t seen GOOD TIME – it’s proven very popular in NYC and played three different theaters, especially once the distributor struck a 35mm print – but I disliked the Safdie brothers’ previous film HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT. It’s based on the female star’s memoir about her heroin addiction and years of homelessness, and it’s supposedly incredibly authentic, with the now-recovered actress reliving her down and out years. But the cinematography was really ugly, and not in an expressive way, and if the script is based on the actress’ real life, she lived out an awful life of cliches about junkies and NYC tough street life.

    By the way, I am at my parents’ house now, but I have my own laptop with me. I can’t use it to connect to the Internet because they don’t have Wi-Fi – I’m typing this on their computer – but while I’m here, I will make a document containing all my music top 10 lists from 2001-2016 and upload it to my blog when I get back to NYC Saturday, and then post the link. Maybe this is massively narcissistic, but it’s interesting to see, for instance, that I loved the New Pornographers’ first album at a time when it was a Canadian import or the sheer number of albums on Definitive Jux that made my top 10 lists. There are some embarrassments too, like the 2 Coldplay songs on my singles lists (although I would still stand by “Viva La Vida.”)

  14. Bill

    (I think I’ll stay away from the melee up above…)

    I’m not a big gamer, but Kojima’s visual sense is pretty impressive.

    I was reading that Lucia Berlin collection months ago, at a very stressful time. The stories were great, but I just had to stop about halfway through; they were really too much with all the other shit I had to deal with. I did promise myself that I’ll return to it later.

    Just got back from Killing of a Sacred Deer, which I quite enjoyed. (I see Steevee doesn’t approve, hmm.) The trailer for the new Haneke looks promising.


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