For a show that came together last-minute, this was a goddamn doozy. AOL purchased Burning Man. We went through a list of 370+ action items, only one of which was to give Arianna Huffington a communal, tantric orgasm. We admired the ocelot, we met awkwardly in Costco. We admitted that “we all have dead cultures inside of us.” We read on. The ocelot finally left our heads for the sunny sands of Arizona and we remained: Writers With Drinks.
I like Chiwan Choi. I’ve seen him read here and here. He’s clearly a poet, right? Of the historically popular somber variety, mostly out of fashion today. At least in public. The first half of these poems are from Choi’s first and only book, The Flood, and the second half from his work-in-progress, Abduction, an attempt “to tell his life story through alien abduction mythology,” a strategy that helped him through a miscarriage.
from “White Feathered Wings”
“…and I ran away and sat on the bumper of a bronze station wagon, trying to figure out what my father had meant in the car that morning when he reached over and tucked some loose hair behind my ear, and told me to say goodbye to my friends because we were leaving for America. I’d been playing with the button on the glove compartment, and the door had flipped open when I pushed it too hard, paper falling off onto my lap and floor. I’d gone down to pick them up, curling myself up under the dashboard. “You have to learn to be cold,” he’d said then, “if you want to become a man.” He walked over to me with a plate of food, and we bit the cooked meat off the legs and wings, and I started to cry as I took another bite and washed it down with coke. “Good, huh,” he said. I nodded.
OK. I first saw Jen at Bang Out. She’s hilarious smart [watch this]. Here she reads the beginning of a short story entitled “Lab Rats.” First, the narrator (a man named Ken) complains of the “cardamer,” or whatever that spice is called that they use downstairs at the Indian restaurant. Ken is a model actor whose girlfriend signs them up to have sex for the sake of some clinical study. According to Ken, “If I was a scientist I’d study the biggest unsolved mystery of all: the female orgasm. Lin rolled her eyes but she only got off every other time we had sex and, honestly, I didn’t know what did it for her.” When they see the clinician, Lin claims she only has an O “honestly only once every seven to ten times.” Ken continues: “I just kind of played around down there with my fingers and tongue until her body rose up and she started getting louder, saying “Oh yeah, do that again.” But seriously: no idea.”
Her deadpan delivery reminds me of a favorite: Susan Steinberg.
This is our pick of the week. Tom has been blogging since 1999, and this piece, he explained, was “a weird thing, unlike most of the things I write. …either a really angry political tract or it’s the kind of thing an old man in a ruined city explains to a nearby traveler about why everything in civilization went wrong and that’s why everything is shit.” I think Charlie and I are the only ones who laughed… what’s wrong with you people? That’s a terrible introduction to something you’re about to read, even if it is a very serious, sincere thesis on the importance of “a new sincerity.”
It starts off: “I believe we need a new sincerity. I believe we need a new focus on ideas so basic and fundamental to our lives and our public discourse that they affect everything else that we do.” I very much appreciate someone taking the time they have on stage to address directly the state we are in regarding our general attitude toward culture and society at large, especially when founded on the premise: “Sincerity is the deep and profound commitment to the idea of Truth. It’s not just about saying what you feel; it’s not just about trying really hard to believe what you say; it’s much more important and fundamental than that. It’s about believing there is such a thing as Truth, and believing that it is important, and that is is necessary.” The latest of an experiment called fake commercials, this video includes the full text of Tom’s reading over some recent, relevant clips.
This was my first Heather Gold experience, and though it lasted too long I’m sure I’d be happy to see her take the stage again. Comfortable in her shoes, though not as comfortable as Charlie Jane—“the most amazing thing about this show is how Charlie jumps off the stage in those heels!”—Gold is the kind of person who can go up onstage and just wing it. Check it out: she improvs answers to a few dating questions, including her best first kiss story, and a story that I will remember every time I hear Another One Bites the Dust.
Arresting. You may have heard his name recently—for good reason. Justin’s prose is poetry, to-the-point to the point that “obsequious” serves “zealous” (he doesn’t use an extra word to get the point across, just a prettier one). Here he reads the first two chapters of his book We the Animals, [read a Q&A here] Excerpting this reading was so hard it was easy—I took one from the beginning because the whole thing is mesmerizing:
“We wanted more. We knocked the butt-ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons against our empty bowls. We were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We wanted more music on the radio, we wanted beats. We wanted Rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird-bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping feet. We were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in the feud for more.
“When it was cold, we fought over blankets until the cloth tore down the middle. When it was really cold, when our breath came out in frosty clouds, Manny crawled into bed with Joel and me, “body heat,” he said. “Body heat,” we agreed. We wanted more flesh, more blood; more warmth. When we fought, we fought with boots and garage tools, snapping wires. We grabbed at whatever was nearest and we hurled it through the air. We wanted more broken dishes, more shattered glass. We wanted more crashes.
“And when our pops came home we got spankings. Our little red butt cheeks were tore up, red, raw, leather-whipped. We knew there was something on the other side of pain, on the other side of sting; prickly heat radiated upwards from my thighs and backside, fire consumed our veins but we knew there was something more, some place our pops was taking us with all this. We knew because he was meticulous, because he was precise, because he took his time. He was awakening us. He was leading us somewhere beyond burning and ripping, and you couldn’t get there in a hurry. And when our father was gone, we wanted to be fathers. We hunted animals. We drudged through the muck of the crick chasing down bullfrogs and water snakes; we plucked the baby robins from their nest. We liked to feel the beat of tiny hearts, the struggle of tiny wings. We brought their tiny animal faces close to ours. “Who’s your daddy,” we said, then we laughed and tossed them into a shoebox. Always more, always hungrily scratching for more…”
Charlie’s the main reason I went to this show. I’ve seen him read from The Enthusiast here and tell a story about his adolescent ice cream job here. I’d like to say here that after the show I saw Charlie walking around, clearly looking for someone; he was looking for Justin because he wanted to get his book signed. Respect. This chapter from The Enthusiast, first published in Narrative, chronicles Henry Bay’s time working for Spelunking Magazine. Bay travels the country working for enthusiast zines “covering the odd hobbies and extreme sports of our land.”
What I love about Charlie’s style is the economy he’s able to maintain even when divulging a list of information. His personality comes through this thrift, so attached it is to near-objectivity. Wry, with an excess of energy. In this chapter, Henry and an associate discover a man living in one of the caves they’re exploring. The man agrees to do an anonymous interview for the magazine, and explains a system he created as part of a market research team that breaks the population into 80 sub-groups.
“The energy just to think up the names would power a small city but the data sets were beautiful. The ad agencies, the political parties—they wanted to marry us. So I did interviews. I did focus groups. These women would come in…” Right. Eventually he uses the data to pick up every girl he desires. “I got kiosk, I got arthouse, I got sales conference. They were stashing the kid at Phonics, they were flying in an hour early and meeting me at the Embassy Suites; their clothes went sailing off. So many opening nights. And it’s only opening night once, right? And you do not get jaded; I don’t know who propounded that shit, my heart was getting louder every time. So of course I fucked it up.”