Wordsmith Wednesday: Nas’ “One Love”

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Our words this week come from Nas’ track “One Love” off of his 1994 classic, Illmatic.

The lines are:

“But, yo, guess who got shot in the dome piece?
Jerome’s niece on her way home from Jones Beach
It’s bugged, plus Little Rob is selling drugs on the dime
Hanging out with young thugs that all carry 9s
And night time is more trife than ever
What up with Cormega? Did you see him? Are y’all together?”

The textual cadence of these words is only a shadow of the spoken delivery, but the internal rhymes and crisp colloquiality of Nas’ lyrics are undeniable. Illmatic is full of dense, image intensive verses but the stylized envisioning of letters to jailed friends found on “One Love” has always stood out to me. The conversational relation of urban tragedy/reality is presented with such familiarity and frankness that I instantly relate to the unnamed recipient of Nas’ news. I feel the sadness of a little girl from the neighborhood being shot dead while walking home. I feel the anger of knowing another young kid from the block is getting involved in the same nonsense that killed that innocent child. I feel the guarded closeness between separated male friends, the commrodary of shared struggle. The clear-eyed bitterness and empathetic realism in Nas’ lyrics on Illmatic is part of the reason the record is a masterpiece, but the unique creative vision and flawless execution on “One Love” make it a touchstone for urban storytelling in my eyes/ears/mind.

– NR

Nas

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Lorrie Moore’s “How to Talk to Your Mother”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes from the short story “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)” from Lorrie Moore​’s collection of short stories, Self-Help.

“1982. Without her, for years now, murmur at the defrosting refrigerator, “What?” “Huh?” “Shush now,” as it creaks, aches, groans, until the final ice block drops from the ceiling of the freezer like something vanquished.

Dream, and in your dreams babies with the personalities of dachshunds, fat as Macy balloons, float by the treetops.

The first permanent polyurethane heart is surgically implanted.

Someone upstairs is playing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on the recorder. Now it’s “Oklahoma!” They must have a Rogers and Hammerstein book.”

Lorrie Moore taught me how to put you into a story. Not how to just create a character that you feel close to, but actually place the reader within the narrative. Make these memories their memories and these actions ones that they have chosen to make. You don’t just attempt to feel for a character, you feel for the situation that you have been placed in. She redefined writing for me.

– KK

Lorrie Moore

Wordsmith Wednesday: Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”

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Our Wordsmith Wednesday comes from Kurt Vonnegut‘s “Cat’s Cradle” and consists of two related passages from different parts of the book. The excerpts read:

“‘He must have surprised himself when he made a cat’s cradle out of the string, and maybe it reminded him of his own childhood. He all of a sudden came out of his study and did something he’d never done before. He tried to play with me. Not only had he never
played with me before; he had hardly ever even spoken to me.

‘But he went down on his knees on the carpet next to me, and he showed me his teeth, and he waved that tangle of string in my face. ‘See? See? See?’ he asked. ‘Cat’s cradle. See the cat’s cradle? See where the nice pussycat sleeps? Meow. Meow.”

‘His pores looked as big as craters on the moon. His ears and nostrils were stuffed with hair. Cigar smoke made him smell like the mouth of Hell. So close up, my father was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. I dream about it all the time.

‘And then he sang. ‘Rockabye catsy, in the tree top’; he
sang, ‘when the wind blows, the cray-dull will rock. If the bough breaks, the cray-dull will fall. Down will come craydull, catsy and all.’

‘I burst into tears. I jumped up and I ran out of the house as fast as I could go.’

‘No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s…’

‘And?’

‘No damn cat, and no damn cradle.'”

With these words, Vonnegut planted the seed to a simple truth in my seventeen year old mind, one that solidifies the longer I spin on this multi-colored space rock: nobody really knows what they’re doing. Not your parents. Not your boss. Not your teacher. Certainly not you. Some people have convinced themselves of certainty better than others, but it’s everybody’s first shot at this thing. Everyone’s perspective can offer insight and learning from the experiences of others is essential to success, but it’s vital not to lose focus searching an answer that doesn’t exist. There’s no skeleton key to a successful life. It’s all just a bunch of X’s.

– NR

Kurt Vonnegut

Wordsmith Wednesday: John Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday spotlights lyrics from John Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane” originally released in 1982 on his album “American Fool.” The iconic lyrics read:

“Life goes on
long after the thrill
of living is gone”

Wistful and straightforward, these words have woven their way into my emotional fabric just as they have plenty of other Americans. They fill me with a nostalgia for weekend afternoons on the back patio of my childhood home, a yearning to be young again with my girlfriend, and, most of all, the Midwest. They make me miss things I didn’t appreciate enough when I had them, but suggest that I’ll at least continue to experience life even if it lacks some the magic it once held. They let me know I’m getting older. These words just feel very much like the Truth when I hear them.

– NR

Mellencamp

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

Wordsmith Wednesday: Haruki Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore”

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This week we’ve got another analogy from me for Wordsmith Wednesday. This one comes from Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.

It reads:

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

Murakami encapsulates the struggle of living in these words. The way in which we all go through a storm of good and bad, of anxiety and confusion, of moments where we are just trying to make it through. He reminds us that there is an end to this struggle, a moment that leaves us changed and renewed. It is possible to get through the rough times; it’s just a matter of plugging our ears, closing our eyes and getting through it, step by step.

– KK

Murakami

Wordsmith Wednesday: David Foster Wallace’s “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky”

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The Wordsmith Wednesday this week comes from David Foster Wallace’s essay “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky” from his book “Consider the Lobster.”

The words are:

“Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I’m bullshitting myself, morally speaking?”

This passage appears as an aside in an essay about a biography of Fyoder Dostoevsky, a piece filled with these self-aware inclusions that break the fourth wall. Wallace’s ability to tease out those little gnawing human questions in his writing and engage the reader in conversation is one of the main reasons I’m drawn to him and the above words express something that had been bouncing around in my brain for years before I saw them in print. Thanks to David Foster Wallace for putting words to feelings I think a lot of us have.

– NR

David Foster Wallace