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: 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

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

Lexi Jackson’s “Earthquake Lungs”

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The following is an excerpt from Lexi Jackson’s story “Earthquake Lungs” forthcoming in Issue 3.

“I can only imagine what was going on in his head. A loud roar like a train moving past, on and on and on and on until his head hurt? Or utter silence, as if he’d been ejected into space with no helmet? A string of if-only’s he was trying to walk through but each word catching him like thorns on wild rosebushes, tearing his clothes, scratching his ankles, piercing the very fabric of his being? Didn’t I love him enough?”

Jackson’s piece focuses on the fallout for friends and family after a suicide. With its straight forwardness and stark prose, the story captures beautifully the suffocating questions and confusion that surround loved ones left behind. Find the complete work in Issue 3.

Lexi Jackson Earthquake Lungs

The Fiery Pits of Profit

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An excerpt from Daniel Pujol’s poem “The Pope’s in China and You’re in Hell” reads,

“When I think about the Devil. And how he’s apparently still restrained by God.

I think about this guy.

He’s not doing anything illegal, but he’s tweaked it just enough.

Just enough to not get in trouble.

That reconciles the whole Abrahamic game board for me. The Devil is like a moral technocrat. An offshore bank account for the soul. Some kind of divine tax shelter.

Make them take what you should give. And just bend the world like a dry noodle.

He really is in the details. Not throned in Hell. He’s emailing in the bathroom, right now, articulating the cusp of not-illegal pleasures, gains, and acquisitions.”

In this poem, Daniel approaches morality with mathematics, imagining the Devil as a business savvy sleazeball rather than some sort of intangible Evil force and, in the process, secularizes sin in a way that emphasizes the role of personal agency as it relates to righteousness and resisting the temptation exploit Lucifer’s moral loopholes. Find the full poem in Issue 2.

Photo Credit: Ingrid D.
(http://road-tripping-europe.com/blog/2014/06/weekly-photo-challenge-extra-extra/)

Pujol Pic

A Bundle of Truth

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A section from Sydney Pacione’s poem “Gospel Truth” reads,

“We believe in one God the Father the Almighty
maker of the pizza bagel served every 3rd Friday at lunch
of all that is seen and unseen like the confiscated Rosie the Riveter button.
We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ the only son of God
eternally looking down on you from the carved wooden cross in the entry way
God from God
Light from Light
broken nose from broken nose
begotten not made like the stolen Polly Pocket in Adeena’s bag.
Through him all things were made.”

In her poem, Sydney rewrites part of the Gospel and Nicene Creed, aspects of Catholic mass, and by doing so, places the reader right in the middle of the Catholic school experience. By shedding light onto the way children were treated we catch a glimpse of what was valued by this particular education system and how skewed and oppressive these methods of teaching were. Catch the entire piece in Issue 2!

Photo Credit: Donny Tidmore
(https://www.flickr.com/photos/mynamesdonny/10863224953/)

Pacione Gospel Truth

Submissions for Issue 2

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Submissions for Issue 2 are open until December 28, 2014! We want your poetry/fiction/essay!

Issue 2 Flyer