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

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Jose Saramago’s “Death With Interruptions”

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Our words this week are an excerpt from Jose Saramago’s 2005 novel, Death With Interruptions.

They are:

“It seemed that families, suffering an attack of conscience, had passed the word from one to the other that they were no longer going to send their loved ones far away to die, that if, in the figurative sense, we had eaten of their flesh, then now would have to gnaw on their bones as well, that we are not here just for the good times, when our loved ones had strength and health intact, we are here, too, for the bad times and the worst, when they have become little more than a stinking rag that there is no point in washing.”

In a book split between an exploration of the ramifications of a country blessed/cursed with a mysterious cessation of death and the personification of death herself, Saramago spins and blends seemingly unfathomable ideas into surreal yet plausible human situations. This excerpt, taken from a passage in which the living begin to feel the guilt creep in after normalizing a practice in which a state sponsored mafia discreetly disposes of near-dead bodies just over the border, highlights an element of human  sociology worth focusing on. Too often relationships, even intimate ones, find themselves on foundations of mutual benefit rather than commitments of support. Life is hard and for many it’s easier to shed the stress of caring for those in their life at their lowest rather than sacrifice without certain benefit. Sometimes your friend relapses regardless of how much time you spend. Sometimes your brother makes the same self-destructive mistakes regardless of your guidance or warning. Sometimes your parent’s disease drags them on the edge of death indefinitely regardless of whether you can shoulder the emotional weight. I think love has a lot more to do with sacrifice and selflessness in times of pain and need than we’d like to believe. That actually might be what it’s mostly about. – NR

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Editor’s Note for Issue 5

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The following is the full Editor’s Note for Issue 5:

“When Nick and Kathy asked me if I would be interested in helping them edit another great issue of their magazine it was one of those wonderful opportunities that seem to come out of the blue, at exactly the right moment. A last second shot to force overtime. A bloop single to extend an inning.

In short, before this issue, I had been drifting from the literary sphere for quite some time. I was starting to get further from writing than I had been since before I decided to pursue a degree in Fiction six years prior, as a naive and hopeful college student. By the time I graduated college, my writing was well-practiced and a big part of who I was. I found my voice and compiled a manuscript. I edited the university literary journal. I won awards and got published. It was all coming up roses. But suddenly, after graduation, I was in the real world and everything–like every single thing–was more complicated. The routine and deadlines were gone. The feedback was harder to come by, and I struggled to put myself out there. The time to write was replaced by a full-time job. I got caught in a bad situation. And I got tired.

I had a few successes in the following years that kept the fire alive somewhat. For instance, appearing in this magazine’s debut, something I still am very proud of. And my podcast somehow managed six episodes of great content before calling it quits last July. I tried desperately to hold onto the show, but I found I couldn’t chew what I was biting off. All the while, I was kicking around on an idea for a novel, one that would never really take flight. It just turned into another thing I felt guilty about neglecting.

My passion for storytelling still seemed to be there somewhere. I’d get the itch every now and then, if a moment caught my eye. But the stories started getting buried by everything else. Work. Relationships. Financial obligations. The uncertainty of it all. I became jaded, distant, and felt like I had no answers. I started to doubt why I ever wrote in the first place.

That’s when Nick got ahold of me. I have always been a fan of Sobotka, but really I am a fan of these editors. I’ve followed their journey closely, and admire their dedication to their journal and their cause. Working on this issue and experiencing their persistence to fine-tune the content was exactly what I needed. I needed Kathy’s positivity and Nick’s encouragement. I needed to read again. I needed to write and revise this editor’s note twenty-seven times. I needed to do this. The writers and poets whose works appear in this journal should be commended for their dedication to the craft that is written word, for pursuing a duty in truth telling beyond the lens of common observer.

Because that is what writing is. It is persistence. It is revision. It is fine-tuning yourself and your reality. It can teach you discipline and show you compassion. It can grab you by the shirt collar and remind you that nothing is over until you pull it all together and finally say it’s finished.

So that is why this issue exists, and why people like Nick and Kathy make magazines.  For those of us who need the buzzer-beaters, for those who can deliver the shot. The writers and poets whose works appear in this issue have all persevered for the reader’s sake, toiling and trudging through drafts and rejections, throwing aside certain stories and poems that never seemed like they’d pan out, only to revisit them again and again until they were triumphant. They are champions of the page, and I am very happy to present the product of their labor in a physical medium that can exist in your hands.

I encourage you to acquaint yourself with the images, characters, and themes of this journal. And then I invite you to pass along what you’ve seen and what you’ve read. Share this book. Lend it to a friend. Ask for it back, and then lend it to another friend. Leave it on your coffee table, or in the back seat of your car. Tell people where to buy it, or where they can submit their own writing. Because literature is best described as a cycle. It is experience, followed by reflection, followed by expression. The cycle restarts when we come across the stories that inspire the reflecting that allows us to digest experience. It helps us laugh and cry, shudder and flex, and ultimately cope and grow. We have done our part as editors, to find these words and make them available. Now it is up to you to perpetuate the spirit of Sobotka. Now it is in your hands.

Grant Garland
Champaign, February 2017”

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Issue 5 Authors

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We proudly present our Issue 5 authors!
 
Prose by:
Dan Buck
Emma Burcart
Douglas Cole
Paul Handley
Georgina Kronfeld
John Sullivan
Luke Wiget
 
Poetry by:
Les Bernstein
Katerina Boudreaux
Ivan Doerschuk
Alex Andrew Hughes
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Richard King Perkins II
Kenneth Pobo
Karen Wolf
Rivka Yeker

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Neil Gaiman and Gary Pratchett’s “Good Omens”

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This week’s Wordsmith Wednesday comes to you from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel Good Omens. It reads:

“It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.”

Throughout the novel we meet characters that are presented to us as angels or demons or spawns of Satan or everything in-between, yet in this range of dispositions no one is fundamentally anything, good or bad. Everyone is a bit of both thrown together; demons that show mercy and compassion and angels who do some damage here and there. In this whirlwind of times, it is often difficult to distinguish people from being anything other than good or evil, but the reality of the matter is that we are all human. We will always have a bit of both in us, even if we don’t mean to. What one person positively accomplishes does not mean they are fundamentally good, it just means they were a person who strived and reached and did what they set out to do. We are, and will always be, fundamentally people.

– KK

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Wordsmith Wednesday: The Beatles’ “She Said She Said”

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We are excited to have our words provided by Issue 5 guest editor Grant Garland!

This Wordsmith Wednesday highlights the lyrics of “She Said She Said,” my favorite track from the iconic 1966 album Revolver by The Beatles. Anybody familiar with the Beatles discography can notice the psychedelic tendencies that begin to flourish on Revolver’s fourteen tracks, the well-documented result of the introduction of LSD to the band. The song is a McCartney-Lennon collaboration, John Lennon penning the lyrics after the band famously took acid with actor Peter Fonda in LA, during their tour of America in 1965.

The words themselves are:

She said, “I know what it’s like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad.”
And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born

I said, “Who put all those things in your head?
Things that make me feel that I’m mad.
And you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

She said, “You don’t understand what I said.”
I said, “No, no, no, you’re wrong.
When I was a boy everything was right,
Everything was right.”

I said, “Even though you know what you know,
I know that I’m ready to leave
‘Cause you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”

As I mentioned, the specific origin of these lyrics is well documented, down to the moment Peter Fonda spoke the opening line to George Harrison, referencing an accidental gunshot wound Fonda suffered as a child. LSD trips aside, the words are about life changing revelations, and perhaps the human tendency to resist such revelations. Lennon changes the “He” to “She” disguising the song as a love song, maybe because love is often the source of many of his revelations. The first stanza sounds to me like a lover, or somebody trusted (those are almost interchangeable in my mind), revealing knowledge of the afterlife to the speaker. “And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born” says that the speaker feels like they don’t exist, or that knowing the afterlife might make this existence seem meaningless. The second stanza, with its forceful question “Who put all those things in your head?” is the resistance to the revelations being presented. “Things that make me feel that I’m mad,” however, invites an admission of an already present tear in the fabric of the mind. The third stanza is an interaction between the two, a back and forth that reveals the speaker to be nostalgic for childhood, when “everything was right.”

Unpacking this bag one phrase at a time was very eye opening for me. It showed me why it has taken me so long to listen—and I mean really listen—to the Beatles. Everyone in my generation was likely made familiar with the Beatles at a young age (my parents were not fans, I don’t hold a grudge), but it wasn’t until their entire discography was finally made available on Spotify that I found the time to return to it as a young adult. I found that songs like “She Said She Said” suddenly seemed oddly profound to me. Words that used to feel too simple and not provocative enough suddenly struck me somewhere deep down. When I retrace my life—it doesn’t take long, I am young, after all—I can still place the moment that literary writing clicked for me. It was when I finally learned to realize that simple events can often be monumental. I’ve spent the last several years examining the quiet moments that have had profound effect on me. I have resisted many of those moments while they were occurring, attempting to trudge on the same path, to remain the same as I used to be “when I was a boy.”

It probably is no coincidence that as a twenty-seven year old I suddenly relate to words John Lennon wrote at twenty-five. Our experiences were obviously not similar, him likely having these types of conversations and revelations while hiding out from swarms of admirers at a Los Angeles mansion, and me usually having them in the drive-thru at Taco Bell on a Thursday night. But when the song comes on, and I sing the words, I am aware of myself and my longing for some sort that feeling—the feeling I used to get as a child—of everything being right.

– GG

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Wordsmith Wednesday: Junot Diaz’s “Otravida, Otravez”

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Our Wordsmith Wednesday this week is the opening paragraph in Junot Diaz’s short story “Otravida, Otravez” from his 2012 collection This Is How You Lose Her.

The words are:

“He sits on the mattress, the fat spread of his ass popping my fitted sheets from their corners. His clothes are stiff from the cold, and the splatter of dried paint on his pants has frozen into rivets. He smells of bread. He’s been talking about the house he wants to buy, how hard it is to find one when you’re Latino. When I ask him to stand up so I can fix the bed, he walks over the window. So much snow, he says. I nod and wish he would be quiet. Ana Iris is trying to sleep on the other side of the room. She has spent half the night praying for her children back in Samana, and I know that in the morning she has to work at the fabrica. She moves uneasily, buried beneath comforters, her head beneath a pillow. Even here in the States she drapes mosquito netting over her bed.”

Diaz has a way of blending crassness and compassion in way that beautifully mirrors normal life. With prose that is both blunt and elegant, his writing makes you feel as though you are watching the smooth, powerful movement of a skilled boxer. In just one paragraph in “Otravida, Otravez,” Diaz assumes the voice of a female narrator, establishes with some complexity her relationships with both a lover and roommate, comments on the hardships of being a working class Latino in America, vividly engages the senses, and has space to slide in some humor. While this is only a taste of his talent, I believe it highlights his trademark ability to use his lens as the son of Dominican immigrants to confront universal truths of human relationships with honesty and empathy. Good luck, Yunior.

– NR

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