Wordsmith Wednesday: Miriam Toews “All My Puny Sorrows”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Miriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows.

It reads:

“Then Elf tells me that she has a glass piano inside her. She’s terrified that it will break. She can’t let it break. She tells me that it’s squeezed right up against the lower right side of her stomach, that sometimes she can feel the hard edges of it pushing at her skin, that she’s afraid it will push through and she’ll bleed to death. But mostly she’s terrified that it will break inside her. I ask her what kind of piano it is and she tells me that it’s an old upright Heintzman that used to be a player piano but that the player mechanism has been removed and the whole thing has been turned into glass, even the keys. Everything. When she hears bottles being thrown into the back of a garbage truck or wind chimes or even a certain type of bird singing she immediately thinks it’s the piano breaking.

A child laughed this morning, she says, a little girl here visiting her father, but I didn’t know it was laughter, I thought it was the sound of glass shattering and I clutched my stomach thinking oh no, this is it.”

It’s the fears and hopes and dreams and pain and confusion all stirred up inside us. The parts that we don’t want to show to the world, but can easily cut right through us and spill onto the pavement. Onto the shoes of those closest to us. Random moments can cause the glass piano to push at parts of our skin, to stretch it to its breaking point. Those moments are terrifying. When our skin is taut and the imprint of the piano can be seen through our clothes, can be seen by everyone around us. But even worse than that is when, without anyone even knowing, without a forewarning, the piano shatters inside us. Those moments are scariest of all.

– KK

mariam toews

Wordsmith Wednesday: The Evens’ “Cut from the Cloth”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from the song “Cut From the Cloth” by The Evens.

It goes:

“Cut from the cloth, and cut quite severely
Is this my world I no longer recognize
I’m hearing common words, common expressions
But nothing is common in my eyes”

With the world changing dramatically and traumatically over the last handful of weeks, so much that we have always conceived of as familiar is no longer the same to us. Friends and family being pushed out of their homes, people fearing for their lives, and others entirely unsure of what their future, if there is one, in this country holds anymore. And yet there are still those who are pleased with the outcome, pleased with what will inevitably be their own demise.

At times it feels as if we have only been viewing the world through rose-colored glasses and have finally taken them off, leading to the realization that everything we thought we knew about the world, the people of the world, what we thought everyone believed in, is no longer true. In 2006, The Evens were able to articulate the exact disbelief we feel. Simply put, MacKaye and Farina’s lyrics resonate with the lack of familiarity that surrounds us every day now.

– KK

the-evens

Editors’ Note for Issue 4

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The following is the full Editors’ Note for Issue 4:

“There are few things more frightening than being alone.

The solitary entrance into your new school’s lunchroom, hands gripping the flimsy plastic tray as if for physical protection. The silent wait on your doctor’s exam table, wax paper crinkling as you squirm in anticipation of a diagnosis. The empty stage before your first solo recital, a dull hum of conversation behind the closed curtain. The walk up to the open casket with only your memories and last remarks.

While these are all moments of loneliness, and certainly anxiety inducing, they are finite and conquerable. Real terror is infinite loneliness. True social isolation. That barren horizon that appears to keep rolling along ahead, regardless of your vain attempts to slow down and seek refuge in the care of a gentle friend or the compassion of a family member. Just a sad, endless marathon to death.

The majority of the two years we’ve spent working on this magazine thus far have been spent shifting closer towards the cusp of social isolation. Whether it be moving away from home to live alone in the outskirts of a new city or sacrificing days to build a skill set in a prospective career as friends disperse, we’ve found ourselves separate and alone, searching for stability in something other than the conversations and company of our core group of friends. We’ve had to rebuild our essential communities, find our space in our respective cities and occupy it the best we could. This magazine has served as a source of comfort and familiarity through the changes these past couple of years have brought, providing us a thread to a shared past and a foundation for a connected future. It has given us a sort of surrogate community where we could engage with and share the ideas of others even when our social circles were nearing nonexistent. Basically, it kept us from feeling we were running that marathon.

We’ve learned firsthand that literature can provide the community, both of place and purpose, necessary for avoiding the intellectual black hole of social isolation. You can find solace or strength in a story that puts words to something you thought you alone felt. A poem can express an emotion or an experience in a way that gives you a kind of clarity that simple, logical advice cannot. The acts of writing and reading should be a conversation, no matter how distant or indirect. They allow you to shape your perspective in response to the presented perspective of another.

In a time when political theater and its all-too-real repercussions have become bizarrely terrifying, the solace that sentences and stanzas can give becomes an invaluable resource for those reaching for a reassurance that love, community, and beauty can still exist in the face of hate, fear, and bigotry. Literature can provide a welcome escape from reality, but, more importantly, it can shape reality into something you don’t feel the need to escape from. It can provide you that vital conversation that assures you that you’re not alone in the often overwhelming swirl of stimulus or struggle to act in the face of a seemingly interminable slew of common tragedy.

The prose and poetry in this issue creates a conversation about the comfort and conflict that human connectedness causes, providing insight into the rewards and risks of closeness. Pleasure can be a placebo. Pain can be empowering. The acceptance that life is a continuous, unavoidable mixture of the two can provide a sense of calm knowledge. All the works in this collection gave us some sort of insight into the intricacies of people, both isolated and interconnected. Every piece is done with an empathy that touches and teaches us, like talking softly with a close friend.

Ultimately, they made us feel human and unalone. We hope they do the same for you.

Kathy Klimentowski/Nick Rossi
Chicago/Nashville, June 2016”

Issue 4 Editors Note 3

Wordsmith Wednesday: Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

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Today’s words come from the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story” from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

The excerpt is:

“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”

When we read The Things They Carried in senior year high school English class, I remembered being struck by the directness and vivid imagery of the book, especially this chapter. O’Brien writes with a blend of austerity and attention to detail that made my teenage self feel as though I could contemplate the human cost of war without ever having experienced the pain for myself. I had lived most of my adolescent life with a vague fear of Vietnam-esque draft being instated for the seemingly unending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and this book taught me how to navigate some of those feelings from a distance in case I ever had to confront them for real. I think that is part of the beauty of literature: it can give you insight into an experience vicariously so that you can learn from, or at least look at, situations from a variety of angles without every having to go through them yourself. Sometimes there is not a clear lesson, but simply a human emotion or event to be considered, just a testament to the reality that is humanity.

Love and respect to all the men and women who have survived or become victims to the horrors of war as well as to their family and friends.

-NR

obrien

Editors’ Note for Issue 3

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The following is the full Editors’ Note for Issue 3:

“Anxiety can either cripple or drive you.

It can drag you down like a stone, trapping you on the murky psychic riverbed to choke on seaweed and self-critique. It can be the palm that holds you underwater, screaming bubbles and scratching at the invisible force. It is the sound in the distance, the figure in the dark, the uncertainty of the answer to a difficult question. It is the thing that stops you from enjoying any taste of success by planting the thought of a more satisfying success just ahead yet unseen. It is FOMO and the neighborhood watch and small town racism and narrow-mindedness in all forms. It is the smoke break and the bitten-up fingertips and standing on the back porch at 4 am.

It can also be the motivation that forces you back to the surface, making you flap your arms until you figure out how to turn slapping hands into a doggy paddle into smooth strokes propelling you for as long as your mind muscles allow. Anxiety can feed off fear, turn frustration into fuel. It can be the foundation for great innovations, inspired music, transcendent literature. It is that thing that must be alleviated through expression, the need to take some internal pressure and spit it out into the world so that somebody else can chew on the idea for a while. It is the desire to find solutions.

The tricky conundrum is that anxiety can also suppress that expression, trapping everything inside your skull. What if what I think is stupid? What if what I made isn’t good? What if what I did isn’t important? What if people laugh in my face? What if they laugh behind my back? What if they laugh in the comments? What if nobody cares at all? Anxiety can be completely paralyzing to creativity, killing all motivation before the process has even begun. The effect can be especially fatal if the primary motivation is to create something impressive or cool in the eyes of others instead of trying to give a voice to that gnawing thought in your frontal lobe.

The real trap is allowing anxiety to breed off itself, choosing activities and developing habits that perpetuate rather than alleviate that stress weighing on your brain and strengthening that pressure pushing down from a place unseen. This seems to be the elemental basis for addiction, whether it be to drugs or beauty or success or anything else. They all appear born of the idea that acquisition or achievement of some formless, yet theoretically attainable, thing will take away the “bad stuff” i.e. the generalized anxiety associated with just being alive.

The catch of course is that if a little is good, then more must be better. And so we overdose. We want so desperately to relieve that near constant anxiety associated with not feeling good that we cease to even let the uncertainty enter our lives by developing habitual coping mechanisms. We get high. We apply makeup. We work to exhaustion. We check our phones incessantly, hoping for communication from a friend/acquaintance/news source/etc. We make sure the boogiemen of doubt and depression don’t creep into our minds by making sure every crevice is filled with entertainment or consumption or communication. We are constantly doing regardless of what is being done. Some may say we do these things to feel good, but it seems more likely we do them to not feel so bad. And there is a difference.

This magazine itself probably started as a way to relieve some anxieties we hadn’t wanted to face yet. Anxieties about achievement and value and creativity and success and death. The fear that we were just floating through life thoughtlessly, consuming without creating and, thus, feeling empty and unsatisfied. A looming uneasiness that we were stagnant, being pushed in directions we didn’t want to go because we were ourselves directionless. Neither of us had dreams of starting a literary magazine. This isn’t a career move or a resume builder. This isn’t about social capital or appearing intelligent to our peers. This isn’t self-worship. This is two lost people on a park bench. This is sure why not. This is screaming into the void.  This is the need to do something.

The pieces of writing included in this issue are great examples of why we chose literature as our something rather than another medium. They make us feel connected to the authors, the world around us, and ourselves. They are nuanced and subtle yet moving, just as the more vivid parts of life often are. They relieve some of our own existential anxieties by giving us proof that people are finding ways to live despite the ever-present pressures. They inspire us to try and do the same.

Above all, they make us feel human and unalone. We hope they do the same for you.

Kathy Klimentowski/Nick Rossi
Chicago/Nashville, October 2015″

Sobotka Issue 3 Editors' Note