Another Dumb Thing I’m Doing

Some questions: when were you last in a waiting room? How many TVs were in that room? Was the volume on those TVs cranked up to triple digits? Were the people on the TV talking to you like you were an adult or like you were a child, and if they were talking to you like you were a child did you get the sense they thought of you as a particularly dimwitted child? Was there any point during this ordeal when you wished for something horrible to happen to these people, or for the entire power grid to malfunction because even though that would cause you thousands of inconveniences at least it would be a net gain now that these people on the TV could never infect your life again? Have you been there, waiting for your oil change or your test results and holding on to a book but unable to read that book because the entire building is wired to distract?


You don’t need to answer these questions. They’re hypotheticals. I know the answers.


I’m certain there was a time in the past—maybe even during my lifetime, although I can’t really remember it—when there was such a thing as a quiet public space. I’m certain that it was possible to sit in a waiting room for two hours and not be exposed to the shiny cheery shouting frivolity of daytime TV. I’m certain there was a time in the history of the world when public spaces were not hostile to quiet thought.


Or maybe I’m nostalgic for something that never existed, like those people who go to kitschy “retro” diners and think they’re somehow approximating anything close to the reality of the fifties.


But I want to posit something: televisions emit deadly radiation and the intensity of the radiation varies based on the programming. Daytime TV is the most radioactive of all TV; it causes disease and it exists primarily to stifle more than a few moments of critical thought and there is something deeply sinister in all its brain-dead, smiling inanity. I want to posit something else: the reason the current generation of young people has a shorter life expectancy than their parents is that they’ve been exposed to this radiation in the womb and their bodies are riddled with quiet tumors.


Or maybe it’s all just dumb entertainment and I shouldn’t take it so seriously.


But I can’t help taking it seriously. Every time I’m imprisoned in a waiting room with a TV turned to The View (it’s always The View even when it’s not The View), I am filled with a volcanic rage so toxic it needs to be released in a controlled manner or else there will be Vesuvian devastation. A few months ago, I was in a hospital waiting room with my wife—her father was having surgery, and we were captive for six hours—and the volume was turned to the maximum level and the volunteer in charge of the room told me it couldn’t be switched off or even turned down because someone had stolen the remote, and while some other people chuckled at the television’s antics there bubbled up within me so much bitterness and resentment that I felt it burning holes into my organs. Quarter-sized holes in my heart, my kidneys, my lungs. I felt it happening.


A man was on the television explaining to the hosts of The View that we need to train children to watch out for “the homosexual,” who we can identify by his grooming habits, and who we need to be able to identify to keep our children safe. This argument went unchallenged. It was applauded. Our children would be safe. Our homosexuals would be identified. Our grooming habits would be forever altered.


I think I yelled at the TV. Somebody shushed me, anyway.


Later, I think I yelled at the TV again. Somebody shushed me again, and I left the room and walked two laps around the hospital until I felt like I could quietly reintegrate myself and endure with something like dignity.


It all had me thinking of a moment in J.M. Coetzee’s allegorical novel Waiting for the Barbarians, in which the protagonist sees political prisoners being tortured in the public square, surrounded by cheering townspeople. Disgusted, he intervenes, and he shouts at the torturers, “You are depraving these people!” He is promptly clubbed in the back of the head by a soldier and beaten. He staggers to his feet and again addresses the townspeople, the soldiers, his entire world, which has descended into madness: “Look… we are the miracle of creation!” he says.


We are miracles of creation. We can create universes. We can sculpt bonsai trees into living works of art. We can train whales to do tricks for us. We can pull dead things from the ground and turn them into fuel for machines that can travel around the globe. We can run 26.2 miles in less than 3 hours. We can do algebra and we can combine butter flour and sugar and turn it into cakes so good they can save relationships. We can invent gods and talk to those gods. We can touch the fucking moon. But most of the time, we choose to tranquilize ourselves. We suppress it all.


All of which leads to an announcement of sorts: starting next week, I’m taking on a project I’m calling View Points. The idea is to watch daytime TV and write about the daytime TV I watch. I’m planning on two posts per week (Tuesday and Friday mornings) over the course of summer. This is not meant as a joke. This is because I need to investigate a part of our culture that doesn’t make any sense to me and that I reflexively reject. Because these things are incredibly popular; these shows are our stars and our products and our culture and they help shape the narrative of our daily lives. There has to be something there, right? Or is it actually more hideous than I’ve surmised from occasional captive viewings?


I don’t want to overstate the importance of this project; I realize this is just a dumb thing I’m doing. At the same time it’s a dumb thing that maybe will help me to better understand something about a culture that seems to have devolved well beyond parody. Probably this actually just ends with me giving up and getting hooked on antidepressants, but at least it’ll pass the time.


 - a found essay compiled using tweets from Barrelhouse’s Twitter-based 10th birthday roast on 2/17/14. All tweets found by searching #BHRoast.

Let’s get this started! Just put on pajamas and about to pour a drink. ready to roastmast! Bourbon poured. Game on. This #bhroast is actually a desperate move from @barrelhouse to prevent their editors from living in houses made of barrels. I’m not good at being mean. except when I do it unintentionally & then I’m like OH shit I didn’t mean that? I’m here cuz I heard this was gonna be like some kinda Silver Linings Playbook twitter book club. I LOVE that book! Participating in this roast makes me feel sleazy and awful. Was I not supposed to roast? Oops, oh well. Just did.

Remember that one CC roast where all those comedians roasted some guy no one had heard of? This is kinda like that. Even Franco had more people at his roast. I don’t get it. Don’t worry if you don’t really know anything about Barrelhouse. Only, like, the 16 people who want Bhouse to accept one of their stories know about them at all anyway. No one seems to know how many Barrelhouse editors there are. Okay so I thought that this was just a 2 man operation Dave Housely and Mike Barrel. There are actually more than 2 people involved than those two drunk guys? Let’s be honest… nobody has any idea who Joe Killiany is, much less his footwear tendencies. I’ve never heard any gossip of any of the Barrelhouse guys hooking up at AWP. I’ve only met these guys once and that was more than enough. I don’t remember anything but the smell. WHO THE F*** ARE YOU?! No, seriously though. who’s Joe Killiany? Started a lit mag about roasting Barrelhouse and it’s already got a wider circulation than Barrelhouse. wait. who the eff is Dan Brady?? Hold up–he’s an ADULT man? I didn’t even know what Barrelhouse was until tonight.

Top Google search result for their name is still a DC liquor store. Dave Housley is usually drunk when he asks me to do stuff. Despite being, like, dad old. The editors founded BH as an excuse to drink cheap beer and publish good writing. They’re still working on that 2nd part. Slowly realizing this will never be a barrel home. Seems like Barrelhouse should be funnier. Nice beards and glasses guys! A Mr. T background? OMG that’s so 80s and ironic. The official editors’ response is just going to be 80 random White Snake lyrics written in beeper code. My husband named our dog Swayze and now when people ask her name I have to tell them. Thanks, Barrelhouse. Sometimes I wonder why those guys didn’t just get a homebrew kit and call it a day. Sober up, Housley.

Who needs another lit journal? When I joined Barrelhouse, I was warned about the “lady problem.” Even Robert Plant thinks the name Barrelhouse is a terrible cultural appropriation. Barrelhouse is kinda like if the wu tang was 9 U-Gods. I don’t care that everyone says you’re just a poor man’s @NarrativeMag. Probably the best literary magazine produced by that room of chimps. They work exclusively on Commodore 64s. The editors are so ill informed that they cannot distinguish recto from verso! Turn it into something else, man. For years I subscribed to @barrelhouse, then I switched to @Charmin. Barrelhouse: Taking the Joy Out of Shitting Since 2004!It takes Barrelhouse longer to get through its slush pile than it took AWP to tell its vendors about Pay to Play Saturday. My death was foretold at AWP 2010 & I’m still alive past the prediction man Barrelhouse is bad at soothsaying am i doing this right. If you piled every copy of @barrelhouse end to end you could reach the end of a rope, finally, sweet mercy.

Issue 11 was printed on stale crackers. The ink was frosting. Dave included an apology note for eating part of the issue. I got my copy of Barrelhouse 12 this weekend. I put it in a pan with some carrots and potatoes. I put it in the oven.

I’ve published twice in BH, and the shots I had to get afterward didn’t quite clear everything up. Their shit stays with u 4ever. Hey guys–just keep the $50 you were going to pay me for my story in the latest Barrelhouse…oh wait, you already did. They decided to pay their writers in hard boiled eggs. All Barrelhouse ever gave me was bad touches.  I haven’t been accepted by BH. Be nice and hope that will create some good will & barrelhouse will finally take your shitty poem about Patrick Swayze’s brother. This barrelhouse roast : Barrelhouse itself :: Patrick Swayze : Don Swayze. TIP: include the words “Donkey Kong” in your story. They’ll think it’s real cutting edge. THAT’S how I end up in Barrelhouse! Every now & then I drag one to my recycle bin, then it appears in their next issue. Still need more time to come to terms with it. When the Barrelhouse site got hacked for like the 36th time by Estonian children & my story was erased forever, I puked in relief. Never published in Barrelhouse cuz I have too much self-respect.

Book Fight is just 7 solid hours of Dave and Mike (I guess that’s the other guy’s name?) making books fight like action figures. Drunk, jaded editors messing w/a tape recorder. I heard they auditioned for The View but were turned down for being too shrill. Anyone know where Mike and Tom went to grad school? Nevermind, I’ll just listen to 3 minutes of @Book_Fight and they’ll tell me. Wait. Did they talk about Alpha/Omega slashfic in this newest Book Fight just to give us material? Driving through Camden was the best part of being on Book Fight.

By the way, this is probably the part in the roast where we tell @barrelhouse they’re the best. It’s been fun. Much love to the Barrelhouse gang. Nothing but love to my big brothers. I’d be nothing if not for your advice and support. Here’s to another 10. They may not hit home runs, but they know how to draw a walk. Honestly, though, I can’t imagine DC without them, and hope I never have to. I can’t wait to see what you have for us next. Big hugs and stolen tequila to you all. <3 <3 <3 Let’s not kid ourselves. Those assholes really only wanted this roast for their Klout scores. In all seriousness though, Wafflehouse > Barrelhouse.

Eagles Almanac 2013

Okay, so here’s the thing: I should have posted about this sooner. But I’m posting about it now. I’m in the 2013 Eagles Almanac, which is incredible, and my contribution is second-rate compared to the actual football knowledge shared within, but maybe it’s possible you’ll be into my reflection on the slow decline of the Andy Reid era and the erosion of my own passion for the team?

What’s cool about the Almanac is that it’s produced by fans for fans– unlike a lot of those season preview magazines, it’s written by people who are obsessed with the team, and you can get it in your hands right now, by the end of this sentence, if you just click this link (and a few other links and input your vital information and so on). Anyway, here’s an excerpt of my essay, a reflection on the Andy Reid era titled “Good But Not Good Enough,” which includes probably the best metaphor I’ve written this year when I describe Donovan McNabb:

Sometime post-TO, the Eagles became, for me, a joyless experience. Watching them the past several years was a chore. There was a sense of inevitability to the failure. I watched every game like you watched every game, but most weeks I didn’t feel good about that decision.

Something about the tone of the team had shifted, at first subtly, ßand then later overtly. By the end, Reid had lost a sense of self and the team became a fractured, unpleasant mess. They got desperate and jaded and abandoned their trademark methodical approach for something much more frantic and flailing. They still won some games and made occasional amazing plays, but so many factors made it feel different than it had a decade ago. There was a growing sense not that the plan was flawed but that there was no plan at all. Inexplicably, Joe Banner became more prominent than ever, despite overwhelming evidence that he is deeply unlikable and fueled primarily by spite. We endured McNabb’s sad slow stumble into mediocrity, during which he turned somber and generally carried himself like a man awaiting the results of his biopsy. Michael Vick—a thrilling athlete at times, but also a deadly serious man—replaced him. Jim Washburn happened. Jason Babin. McDermott-Castillo-Bowles. They made the same dumb on-field mistakes week after week after week after week. Legends left town and legends died and players with brain injuries were mistreated and reliable veterans were cast off unceremoniously and stars faded and after a while, it seemed like nobody even wanted to do this anymore

No, that’s not accurate. What it seemed like was this: they all so pathologically needed to do this that they played and coached out of some self-destructive compulsion to keep doing a thing at which they just weren’t good enough anymore. By the end of last season, I was relieved for Reid, who was obviously at fault for the team’s downfall, but who looked like a man floating in the middle of the ocean unwilling to admit that his ship had sunk.


Go buy it now. Support local writers. Learn about Chip Kelly and the Eagles and everything else you didn’t know about this team full of strangers.

Almost Completely Context-Free Excerpt from an Unpublishable Novel

Okay, a little bit of context: friends know I’ve spent a long time working on an absurdly depressing 550-page novel about pro wrestling, and also they know that nobody wants to publish it for reasons that should be obvious in the first clause of this sentence, and anyway, I still really like this bit below and sometimes think the remaining 546 pages exist just to prop these 4 up. When I’ve read this excerpt at bars, drunk people have liked it. And it occurs to me that this book may never exist outside of my hard drive. So here it is.

Fine, a little more context: Evan Outlaw is a pro wrestler. He faked his own death and has been forced into hiding for PR reasons, and this bit picks up when he is trying to reintegrate himself into the world, even though he is still supposed to be playing dead. T.J. Market is his sometimes girlfriend. Dooney is his friend and tag team partner.


Excerpt from The Three Deaths of Evan Outlaw:

After the incident at the store, Evan feels more comfortable exploring outside his apartment, and so he leaves surreptitiously every few nights, stretching the boundaries of his wandering, still going unrecognized, expanding the radius until he is walking several miles daily, always in the same disguise—hair tucked up inside a Berlin High baseball cap, a long-sleeved t-shirt that conceals his tattoos and scars, and the one pair of khaki pants he owns, along with some loafers. He thinks he looks as much like a suburban dad as possible, like he’s on the way to Evan Junior’s tee ball game and can’t wait to get to the hardware store afterward to check out their semi-annual sale on allen wrenches —and the one constant in every trip is that he is realizing how much of the real world he has never experienced. He has traveled most of his life and he has slept in many cities, but he hasn’t seen much of those cities besides the insides of their arenas and convention centers, cheap motels, and chain restaurants. Worked in Arizona for months, never saw the Grand Canyon. Been through DC three dozen times, never visited the White House. Been to France, and only saw the Eiffel Tower in postcards. And so what he is trying to do is be a regular person, which means going to the deli and the movie theater. It means buying ice cream from the ice cream truck, watching unfathomable amounts of TV, and drinking coffee in trendy coffee shops full of other people sitting around the coffee shop and drinking coffee. It especially means going to the mall. And at the mall, the thing he is realizing is that no matter how much he tries to numb himself or develop a tolerance for people, he maintains a total skittishness around strangers that he can’t explain except to say that people are fucking weird.

He hasn’t been to a mall in about four years, and then only for an official UWA autograph session in Merlin’s Card Shop in Boston. T.J. was out of town, getting treatment for an injured hip, hadn’t been in touch for two days, left Evan and Dooney to handle themselves. A line out the door. Younger fans in full Outlaws costumes. A pair of pre-teens who had written a rap about The Outlaws, which rhymed the word “slam” with the following: kablam, man, hand, and Pakistan. A girl who appeared to have been sixteen lifted the waistband of her t-shirt up to her neck and asked Dooney to sign her bare breasts. He scrawled Will Dooney across her chest, dotting the i with her left nipple. She and her friends collapsed giggling in the back of the shop. One of them lifted the other’s shirt up and pressed her own chest against the autograph, hoping the ink would rub off. A woman stroked Evan’s cheek, said she could do things for him that Miss Clementine had never imagined. Dooney restrained Evan from shoving her away. (If he were to ever write an autobiography, it would be titled PLEASE DON’T TOUCH MY FACE IF I DON’T KNOW YOU, and then maybe the fans would understand that it is not okay to just touch people because you’ve seen them on TV or to put your dirty hands on their faces because you feel like it, or to expect Evan to be thankful for your desire to touch his face, because it’s his face and, besides being intrusive and uncomfortable and unhygienic, it’s plain rude to be manhandling someone else like that). A man slouched toward them, bleeding from his finger tip. Asked for permission to cut them so they could all become blood brothers. Dooney stabbed himself in the palm with a pen and dripped blood into the man’s vial. When Evan refused, the man cast a curse on him and stormed out of the shop. A stammering teary-eyed married woman fumbled a camera as she approached. She tried to talk, but nothing came out. Dooney grabbed her by the arm before she ran way. Between sobs, she said I’m sorry, and Dooney hugged her. He handed her camera to Evan, told him to take a picture as he wrapped an arm snug around her waist. After the flash, she leaned in and kissed him; it was meant to be a peck-and-run thing, but he held onto her and kissed her back, deeply, open-mouthed. Before she left, she handed Dooney a slip of paper with her phone number on it. An hour remained in the signing, which meant another hour of bizarre requests and intensely personal questions, and Dooney would entertain them all. He was in the mood to socialize, and when he’s like that, he is in love with the whole world. Sitting there in Merlin’s Card Shop in Boston, MA Evan thought about quitting and disappearing, going into hiding forever.

And yet now that Evan is back in the mall, he’s thinking how much better things were then, because at least he had a reason to be there, and at least people cared who he was, and maybe it’s possible they collectively have grown even stranger since then. Gliding down along the escalator, he’s not even wearing the sunglasses now, or the hat, and he’s stopping in front of groups of people, daring them to recognize him, because if someone just asks, he’ll tell them everything they want to know about the inner workings of the business; truth is, he hasn’t had a conversation with another human in four weeks. But no one asks him anything and no one approaches him because plenty of strange-looking guys walk through the mall alone, and he blends in there better than in most places. The music pouring from the ceiling is anesthetizing: wordless jazz versions of old punk rock songs and anti-war anthems. He passes a kiosk offering eye drops that will change the flavor of one’s tears, and as he walks he finds he cannot avoid the nauseating onslaught of near-food scents (everything fried, everything covered in icing), the rattling in the food court of a thousand gallon-sized sodas, people shaking them to free one last drop of syrup, the general wobbling obesity of everyone, even the children, whose hands are too stubby to dig out the crumbs from their bags of French fries, so they dump the contents onto their faces, swallowing whatever nears their mouths while debris tumbles onto their shirts and their parents look on, wiping greasy hands on their own pants. The people in stores crowd him and look over his shoulder and generally just don’t give a fuck about his personal space, standing so close that their breath mingles with his, and their shoulders are actually touching his shoulders, and he sees clusters of people like this everywhere, and he starts to realize their actions have nothing to do with shopping, but they’re lonely and they need human contact so they’ll do anything just to feel the heartbeat of another person fall into rhythm with their own as they stare at some mass-manufactured pair of slacks, because every now and then they’ll look up at him, right into his eyes and smile, and when he doesn’t smile back they sneer and crowd another person instead, which is how they form into these sad little knots of humanity, everyone assaulting each other with fake smiles and uncomfortable proximity, but preferring the heaving sweaty closeness to the alternative, which is to lock yourself in your drafty apartment and stare at your TV for sixteen hours a day, envious of whatever it is celebrities have that regular people don’t. This is why they dress so provocatively at the mall and spend hours beforehand sculpting their hair and dousing themselves in enticing scents and tweezing their eyebrows and tugging their necklines just a little bit deeper so that their cleavage is on better display—they need to advertise that they’re worthy of attention, Evan thinks, and they also want to shame you for not dressing up so that they may exclude you from their future cliques. Between gorging on heart-stopping foods and crowding people in sad and uncomfortable ways and failing to recognize famous pro wrestlers, they’re also buying insane products for crazy prices ($400 for an electronic washcloth that bathes you while you sit in the tub? ), or they’re lurking outside the dressing rooms and watching the women who emerge (the thin ones all convinced they’re fat, the fat ones thinking they’re thin), or they’re spraying you with perfumes, literally chasing you with these scents that all smell essentially the same, and have names like Equinox and Calliope. And the weirdest thing is, have you seen the mannequins? They used to not even have heads, but then they added heads, and then faces with expressive eyes and pouty lips, and then arms in sassy positions (cocked on the hip, tossing their hair), then they added makeup to the faces, and now there are nipples on the mannequins as if they’ll need to nurse the little baby mannequins, or as if people looked at the old models and thought Sure, that shirt looks fine on a woman without nipples, but what am I to do? which is bad enough, but some of the newest mannequins have the head and hair and faces and makeup and arms jutting out in sassy positions and nipples and now they have labia, pronounced and obvious, exaggerated, and Evan imagines soon enough they’ll have fully functional wombs and they can start selling designer clothing for the fashionable fetus. Evan watches a man creep next to one of the mannequins, this one wearing a short skirt and midriff-baring top, and stick his finger up the skirt when he thinks no one is looking, pulling the underwear aside and stroking the labia, and nobody stops him because they’re all preoccupied by low-level panic regarding the state and trajectory of their own lives.


107 Ironclad Rules for Writers Who Want to Be Better at Writing


1. Write every day. Except on days when you don’t feel like writing that much and you don’t have anything interesting to say.

2. Never write when you’re too hot. Beads of sweat are ideas leaking from your brain.

3. Nobody really eats turnips. They are a ridiculous food. Characters cannot eat turnips.

4. Hypnosis is the writer’s greatest tool.

5. Skinny people are often the cause of conflict. Fat people are often the solution. NO MEDIUM SIZED PEOPLE.

6. If you must write about the travails of being a writer, at least give yourself a glass eye or a cyborg hand or something.

7. After your second draft, read backwards, from last page to first. If it doesn’t make sense both forward and backward, you’ve done something wrong.

8. Always describe the smell of your protagonist’s hands.

9. Fathers and sons do not speak to each other unless one of them has lost a limb and needs help finding that limb.

10. There is no evidence that people have gills, but there is no evidence that people cannot have gills.

11. For photosynthetic purposes, it is essential that you spend time writing in the outdoors.

12. 3rd person narration, like gladiator duels, is a barbaric invention of the ancient Greeks and should never be used under any circumstances.

13. Using multiple questions marks or a question/exclamation combo makes you look an actual crazy person.

14. Wear non-restrictive clothing that will allow the ideas to flow freely around you. Tunics are good, and cheap.

15. Chronological order is the only structure the human mind has evolved to understand.

16. If at all possible, get your characters to a place without gravity.

17. Cicadas are the most symbolic and underutilized creatures in literature.

18. A sex scene only works if it’s written in precise, clinical detail.

19. More fucking profanity.

20. Always know what size shoes your characters wear. The soul is in the shoes.

21. Most people don’t understand math anyway.

22. At least one character must have a funny accent.

23. Everyone moves clockwise. Counterclockwise is for anarchists

24. No lefthanded characters. Too weird.

25. For every adverb you use, do five pushups.

26. Y is an indecisive letter; using it implies indecision.

27. Children are interesting from ages 0-2 and the not again until they’re 14.

28. Just assume everyone has a weird fetish they’d like to keep secret.

29. A nursery rhyme: short chapters make everyone happier.

30. Start with the acknowledgments page, so that you always know who you’re disappointing on your bad writing days.

31. Include at least one scene in which someone meets an estranged sibling.

32. Characters use microwaves, not ovens. Ovens take too long

33. Highlight all the verbs and replace them with other better verbs

34. Writer’s block is best cured by swallowing a penny.

35. The hard C sound conveys authority. Do not soften yourself.

36. In dialogue, include all the ‘um’s but cut the ‘uh’s

37. Conjunctions, conjunction, conjunctions!

38. Remember, every surface your characters touch is just covered with deadly microbes.

39. Mercury poisoning is great for providing plot twists.

40. Do not have more than two redheaded characters, or people will think you’re up to something.

41. Make sure the plot isn’t lifted from a Nancy Drew book.

42. If an editor gives you advice, do the opposite.

43. Buy a lot of index cards.

44. Every day, pick an unusual adjective from the dictionary and be sure to use it.

45. Your literary heroes were probably terrible people. Be more like them.

46. No boats. Boats are over.

47. No airplanes either. Nothing interesting happens on airplanes anymore.

48. The only reliable way to begin a scene is with an alarm clock going off.

49. If you’re stuck, introduce a blimp. Blimps expedite plot.

50. No lightning. It’s cliche.

51. There is always a ghost in the attic.

52. Twins are interesting.

53. At the zoo, it’s easy for people to fall over fences.

54. Present tense is for junkies and teenagers.

55. It’s easy to distinguish characters if each has a unique hat.

56. Italics makes words sound fancy.

57. Shoot for a minimum of two metaphors per page.

58. If you haven’t introduced the gun by page 50, introduce it on page 51.

59. Diners and bars are the setting for about 80% of all human conversations

60. What does a gerund do? It does nothing.

61. In dialogue, everyone should always be lying.

62. Elevators are the crucible of our social lives.

63. Readers want to know where your character bought his car, what his monthly payment is, what kind of rate he got.

64. Your character may not be a caterer. There are more caterers in movies and novels than there have been throughout the history of the world.

65. See what you can do with SONAR.

66. Time your writing schedule to coincide with the different phases of the moon.

67. Spend two decades traveling before you write a single word.

68. If, in the history of language, anyone has written a sentence like the one you’ve just written, delete that sentence and start over.

69. Most metaphors don’t have to make sense; they just need to be memorable.

70. Rain is always meaningful.

71. Linoleum floors are much less interesting than quicksand.

72. The stars can be beautiful without forcing themselves upon you. The same should apply to your writing.

73. Shakespeare did it first. You can do it second.

74. You haven’t truly made it until you’ve received a threatening email from a stranger.

75. Write as if you’ve been possessed by a demon, but, like, a nice demon.

76. Record a video of yourself sleeping at night, so you know what it looks like when you’re at your most vulnerable.

77. Most people want you to fail. Never forget this.

78. At least 25% of any book should be flashbacks.

79. Never kill a dog in your book. The dogs will know.

80. The best food to eat to stimulate your writing process is a charcuterie tray. D.H. Lawrence ate nothing but cured meats.

81. Writing is 30% perspiration, 40% inspiration, 40% good luck, 50% magic, and 1% mathematics.

82.Every sex act must result in a pregnancy.

83. Repetition is the sign of an unfit mind. If possible, never employ repetition of words or phrases, lest you seem to have an unfit mind.

84. The internet is not going away; your characters should frequently interact via email and hacking. Lots of hacking.

85. Only employ vampires if they are a metaphor for municipal government.

86. Dialect should be heavy and consistent. It is important to know whether someone is from the South, or Eurasia.

87. Leave a few blank pages at the end of your final chapter and encourage the reader to conclude it the way he or she would like.

88. One of the most important choices you will face is deciding which font to use.

89. Spill every secret you know; you can’t save them for the afterlife.

90. Write a minimum of twelve drafts. Then put the manuscript in a safe deposit box for one full year before reading it again.

91. Think about all the cool things you can do with UFOs.

92. Set the scene. A minimum of seven sentences of setting description before even mentioning a character.

93. Readers like mystery. Try to reveal as little as possible during the first two chapters.

94. Characters in neckties are boring. Characters who poach rhinos for a living are not.

95.   Every line of dialogue should be performing a minimum of five functions.

96. In your final draft, cut the last line of every paragraph, no matter what.

97. When something is REALLY IMPORTANT, put it in CAPS. It’s the only way for some readers to know.

98. A well-placed illustration can save you the trouble of writing a thousand words.

99. Writing a book is fundamentally a political act. This means at least one character must be given the opportunity to make a political speech of no fewer than 6 pages.

100. Magical realism is a term invented by occultists.

101. Write to displease whatever god you believe in.

102.Believe in monsters.

103. Contractions are a crutch for writers too lazy to type the whole word, but also crutches can be really useful, like if you have a broken leg, for example.

104. Write about the thing you love the most, and destroy it.

105. DO NOT READ other novels while writing. You don’t want to taint your vision.

106. Cut all human ties until you have finished your book. Friends are leeches, family are anchors.

107. The human body has 206 bones and 642 muscles. These are naturally perfect numbers: 206 words per page, 642 syllables per page. Every page.

And that’s why you don’t review Arrested Development too quickly

I didn’t understand how critics could churn out long, detailed critiques of Arrested Development’s new season within less than two days of its release, and that got me thinking about the way our culture values speed and superficiality over all else, and so I wrote a thing that starts with Arrested Development and ends up with the Boston bombers and the collapse of American colleges, and it’s over at The Nervous Breakdown, where you should go read it. 

It includes this bit:

I keep picturing a day in which we pay meteorologists to liveblog the rain, judging this drop too derivative and that one a little heavy-handed and the next not even believably wet, and I picture commenters saying hey, idiot, you don’t like the rain then don’t look at itand I don’t know about you guys but I thought this was great rain and rain makes trees grow do you hate trees?

A non-podcast book review

Thanks to the good folks at The Philadelphia Review of Books, I’ve got my first published book review under my belt. It ran today, and you can find it here. It’s ostensibly about Ron Currie Jr’s really good novel FLIMSY LITTLE PLASTIC MIRACLES, but it also talks a lot about authenticity and the quest for something real. It starts like this:


One of the hardest things to do these days is to convince people that what they’re seeing and consuming is actually a real and true thing. Plastic surgery, photoshop, autotune, genetically modified foods, easy access to video editing software, and news organizations that don’t even pretend to report the facts anymore have all fostered a culture in which authenticity is a prized commodity but is almost impossible to claim. Every new technology first promises a chance to better know one another (and ourselves), and then people find ways to use it to obfuscate. Social media gives you the opportunity to present a carefully constructed version of yourself to the world, to only share the photos of you in the perfect lighting, the ones where you look thin and healthy and self-actualized. You edit yourself to look more real.

It’s all a show, and everyone knows it.


Read the rest


For more of my book review-ish thoughts, go catch up on Book Fight

21st Century American Guns

After reading and hearing a dozen arguments about the necessity of having armed guards in schools, of arming teachers, of arming students, of mounting anti-aircraft guns on the rooftops of elementary schools, of turning schools into giant functioning guns, I decided to give in to the inevitable and revise the syllabi for all my courses. Future students, take note. 

Course Syllabus

English 357, Section 22: 21st Century American Guns Spring 2013

MW: 12-1:20 Annex Room 15

Gun Guns: MW 11:15-11:45, 3:45-5:15 gun gun gun

Gun: Ruger 1022


Gun: Prof. Gun, Gu.N.


Gun gun English 357. Gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gunning, gunning, gunning, gun gunning guns. Gun gun guns gun gun gun gunning-gun guns gun gun guns, gun gun gun gun guns gun gunning gun gunning gun gun gun gun gunnical guns: gun guns gun gun, gun guns gun gun gun, gun guns gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gunning gun gun.


Gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun-gun gun gun gun gun gun. Gun gun gun, gun gun gun gunned gun gun gun gun gun gun guns gun gun gun gun guns, gunning gun gun guns gun gun gun gun gun gun, gun gun gun gunning gunself. Gun gun gun gun gunned gun gun gun gun guns gunned gun gun guns gun gun guns, gun, gun, gun gun guns gun gun gun gunning. Gun gun gun gunned gun1 gun gun gun gun gun gunning gun gun gun gun, gunning gun gunning gun Gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun, gunning gun. Gun gun guns gun gun gun: gun gun Gun gun gun gun guns?2

Gun Guns:


Gun, Gun G., gn. Gunning Guns: Gun Gun un Guns gun gun Gun. Gun: Gun Guns, 2012.


G’un gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun. Gun gun gun guns gun gun gun, gun g’un gun gun gun gun guns gun, gun G’un gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun.


Gun and Gun:


Gun gun guns gun-gun gunning gun gun gun gun guns, gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun’s gun. Gun gun-gun gunning gun gun gun gun gun guns gun gun gun gun guns. Gun guns gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gunner gun gunner.

Gun gun gun: gun gun gun gun gun gunned. Gun guns.

Gun gun gun gun gun gunning gunning gunning gun gun gun gun.




Gun # 1 20%

Gun # 2 20%

Gun # 3 20%

Gunning Guns 20%

Gun gun 20%


Gun Gun:


Gun gun gun gun gun Gun’s gun gun gun gun gun gunned gun Gun gun: gun gun gun gun gunning, gun gun gun gun Gun gun gun gun gun gun gun Gun Gun Gun!


Gun Guns:


  • Gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gungun. Gun gun gunned gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gunned gun gun. Gun gunness (gun-gun gunns) gun gun gun gun gun-gun. Gun gun (gun gun gun guns) gun gun gun gun gun gun.


  • Gun gun gun guns! Gun gun gun gun gun gun Gun gun gunning gun gun gun gunning gun gun gun gun? Gun gun gun gunful gunner gun gun gunning gun gun gun guns gun.


  • Gun gun guns gun Gun Gun, gun gun guns gun gun Gun gun Gun Gun (GGG), gun guns gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun guns gun gun gun. Gun gun gun gun gun gun gun guns, g’un gun gun Gun gun gun gun; gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun.


  • Gun gun gun gun gun gun. Gun gun gun gun gun gun gunned guns, gun gun gun gun gun gun. Gun gun gun (gun gun gun guns gun) guns gun gun.3


Gun Gun:




  1. Gun guns gun gun gun gun gun.
  2. Gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun; gun’s gun gun gun.


1/23 Gun, Gun.


1/28 Gun: Gunning Guns (23-37).

1/30 Gun: Gunning Guns (44-59).


2/4 Gun: Gunning Guns (72-91).

2/6 Gun gun’d.


2/11 Gun-gun gun: Gun gun Gun gun gun gun?

2/13 Gun: Gunning Guns (105-15)


2/18 Gun! Gun gun.

2/20 Gun # 1 gun


2/25 Gun (gun gun—guns gunning—gun gun)

2/27 Gun: Gunning Guns (123-40)


3/4 Gun: Gunning Guns (175-85)

3/6 Gun gun—gun gun gun gun




3/18 Gun: Gunning Guns (185-204)

3/20 Gun gun guns gun gun gun gun


3/25 Gun #2 gun

3/27 Gun gun: Prof. Gun G. Gun. Gun gun guns gun gun gun!


4/1 Gun gun gunned

4/3 Gun (Gun Gunned Guns)


4/8 Gun: Gunning Guns (217-44)

4/10 gunned gun gun gun #3


4/15 Gun-gun gun gun gunning

4/17 TBA


4/22 Gun: Gunning Guns (280-96)

4/24 Gun-gun gun: gun gun gun gun gun


4/29 Gun: Gunning Guns (304-22)

5/1 Gun gun gun gun gun guns!


5/6 Gun gun: gun gun gun gun gun guns gun GUN?

5/8 Gun Gunned: gun gun


5/13 Gun #3 gun gun gun gun 12:15 PM gun Ruger 1022 (gun gun-guns!)

1 Gun gun gun, gun Gunning gun gun Guns gun gun GUN., gun Gun Gun, gunned gun Gun

2 ibid

3 Gun gun, Gun gun gun gun gun gun guns gun gunned guns. Gun gun gun gun g’un gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun gun.

Bring the Noise – Introducing Barrelhouse Books

This year, Barrelhouse is branching out from lit journals and moving into also producing a few books per year, and we decided the best way to kick off the brand was with an essay anthology celebrating the best pop culture essays we’ve ever run, plus five new pieces. The book is at the printer now and will be available by the start of March, but you can pre-order now.

I’m kind of on the hook for this one, since I was given the lead on the project, and I feel really great about what we’ve put together. Plus, look at this cover:

BTNoise_Front_HI-2 smaller

To give you a sense of what to expect in the book, here’s my introduction:


Let’s start here: pop culture matters. Whether you like it or not. Not just the highbrow and hipster approved fare like Werner Herzog and Downton Abbey and Pet Sounds and Community, but also the trashy, exploitative, existentially bleak aspects of pop culture. Even if the world might be better off if more people cared about Faulkner than they do about the goddamn Kardashians, the reality is that they do not, and they will not. In general, American Idol voters are dramatically more passionate and better informed than voters in the presidential election. People will always care about the status of celebrity wombs (as in, is her womb filled with a celebrity baby or not yet filled with a celebrity baby?), will always want to know the stars are just like us. Look—it’s consistent and true throughout history.

If the ancient Greeks had tabloids, who would be on the cover but Achilles?

How many weeks would Nancy Grace spend shouting about the scandalous abduction of Persephone by Hades?

What’s the difference between Lancelot/Guinevere/Arthur and Brad/Jennifer/Angelina?

You take your mythology where you can get it.

*   *   *

Now, let’s add this: it’s okay to care about pop culture. Like, to really care a lot and find yourself so deeply invested that you sometimes get in actual, real-hard-feelings arguments with friends and family, and you can’t fall asleep at night because you’re so excited by an album you just downloaded, and you restructure your entire week to accommodate the viewing of a new movie or the release of a video game.

How many of your most enduring memories are filtered through the prism of pop culture? I vividly recall losing a five dollar bet when The Undertaker pinned Hulk Hogan at the Survivor Series, remember that as a moment when I learned (among other things) that even superheroes can lose. I had friendships throughout high school based exclusively on a mutual love of The Simpsons, friends with whom I could hold conversations comprised entirely of Simpsons quotes. When I was twelve, Davy Crockett’s on-screen death prompted me to ask a simple enough question (i.e., why did Davy Crockett have to die?) that elicited a forty minute conversation with my parents complete with the solemn bestowal of pamphlets and rosaries.

*   *   *

Let’s keep building: we are obligated to treat even the most seemingly frivolous and potentially loathsome aspects of our culture seriously and subject them to real scrutiny until they prove themselves either unworthy of that study or more richly layered than we’d imagined.

You may not like the Transformers movies or the real housewives of wherever, but you ought to understand them, because in many ways it’s the worst of pop culture that defines large aspects of our culture as a whole. Pop culture is a relentless river that defines the landscape of our culture and shapes who we are as individuals.

*   *   *

One more layer: you can be serious about something without being boring. Some of these things we care about are ludicrous; think about the concept of projecting forty-foot-high images of Ashton Kutcher on a wall and asking people to pay ten dollars for the right to see him fall in (and then out, and then back in) love. Think about how stupid it is to sit on the couch for twelve hours every Sunday and form personal attachments to strangers simply because they wear the colors of the team you support and temporarily work in the same city as you.

The risk in writing seriously about pop culture is that if you do it incorrectly, if you lack self-awareness, if you refuse to acknowledge the inherent absurdity in many of the things we care about, then you can sound like you’re auditioning for a part as the stuffy professor in a gritty reboot of Revenge of the Nerds.

The best writing about pop culture knows that this stuff is important, but not that important. It knows we can be intelligent and insightful and demanding but still have a laugh now and then.

There’s a reason Patrick Swayze is the patron saint of Barrelhouse.

*   *   *

I’m the new guy here, having taken over as non-fiction editor between Issues Nine and Ten. So, for the other editors, this book represents a triumph and a validation: they got drunk one day and decided to start an indie press despite the countless reasonable arguments against doing so, and they are still here and thriving. I’m just hitching my wagon to them after they’ve done all the hard work of making Barrelhouse mean something.

When Barrelhouse debuted eight years ago, the editors wanted the work to be inviting even to people who aren’t regular readers of literary magazines, people to whom “literature” is synonymous with “boring.” The goal was to bridge the gap between high and low culture, to engage with the parts of our culture that are often neglected by other publications.
Many of the essays in this book are reprinted from the first eleven issues of Barrelhouse, but five are all previously unpublished, original works produced for this anthology. In each essay, pop culture is the lens through which the authors view the world and try to make some sense of it. The topics are varied, but the common ground is this: these pieces all have important and compelling stories to tell, about who we are and what our culture says about us.

*   *   *

Here’s a rundown of what you’ll find in this anthology:

In Sarah Sweeney’s “Before Adrian Grenier Got Famous,” the author stalks a teen heartthrob and chronicles the dissolution of her relationship with her best friend.

In “Jam,” Paul Crenshaw, now a father of young daughters, reflects on his aimless and depressed youth as a devoted fan of Pearl Jam.

Featured in Issue Five’s special Dive Bar feature, Chad Simpson’s “Home of the Poor and Unknown” takes us on a tour of a rundown bar for Cubs fans.

In “All Aboard the Bloated Boat,” Lee Klein argues that the public furor over Barry Bonds’ alleged steroid use is symptomatic of a greater sickness in America’s bigger-is-better culture.

Johannes Lichtman’s collage essay “Hipster Mosaic” shines light on the evolution of hipsters and the way our culture has defined them.

In “Irish on Both Sides,” Tom Williams details the author’s pilgrimage to Ireland to visit the grave of Phil Lynott, Thin Lizzy’s biracial lead singer.

Melanie Springer Mock, in “For the Love of Good TV,” finds The Love Boat and Gilligan’s Island morally defensible, even while growing up in a Mennonite household and while attending (and later teaching at) a Christian college.

“This Is Not Their Job: The Never-Ending Reality of The Hills” by Patrick Brown takes a humorous and incisive look at the changing definitions of reality in a post-Hills world.

In “Babyfaces,” W. Todd Kaneko explores his lifelong obsession with pro wrestling and the ways it has impacted his relationship with his father and his own racial identity.

Louisa Spaventa, winner of our Roller Derby Invitational in Issue Six, explains what she loves about the fringe sport of roller derby.

Steve Kistulentz’s essay, “Home from the War: An Appreciation of Magnum P.I.,” explores the parallels between Magnum’s struggles and the author’s own personal ones.

One of the features in Issue Nine’s Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll section, John Shortino’s “What It Means to Grow Bob Dylan’s Beard,” explains the author’s decision to grow his own version of Dylan’s infamous “tragedy beard.”

Matt Sailor’s “Return to Oz” analyzes the unofficial, and largely forgotten, Wizard of Oz sequel that is more bizarre and darker than any ostensible children’s movie you’ve ever seen.

Leslie Jill Patterson’s lyric essay “We Know the Drill” turns a critical eye to the portrayal of dysfunctional sitcom marriages and the marginalization of domestic abuse in popular culture.

Joe Oestreich, a rock ‘n’ roll veteran, deconstructs the many uses, and misuses, of the verb “to rock.”

“Drumming,” originally published on our website, is Nic Brown’s short exploration of his life as a rock and roll drummer who came very close to hitting it big and then stepped away.

In “Lost Calls,” a lyric essay about payphones–and memorable payphone scenes in film– Jill Talbot reflects on a failed relationship that has haunted her for years.

“On Tubes, by Ted Stevens” is an illustrated essay written by Bryan Furuness and comicked by Kevin Thomas, inspired by the late Senator Ted Stevens’ infamous comments describing the Internet as a series of tubes.

The only appropriate place for us to end is with a Barrelhouse staple: the Swayze Question, in which authors, musicians, and other artists answer the simple, but very revealing, question: What is your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?

*   *   *

You can trace the history of Barrelhouse in these pages and glimpse into our future.

This book—the first release in the Barrelhouse Books line—represents the best of who we are and who we have been. It makes us all immensely proud to have been associated with writers so talented, and reminds us, again and again, why these things that sometimes seem so trivial are just the opposite and why we cared so much in the first place.


Two self-explanatory additions to my syllabi this semester

1. Electronic Devices That Should Be Turned Off And/Or Ignored During Class Because It Is Incredibly Distracting, Not to Mention Obnoxious and Rude, To Do Otherwise:


2. Why Your Participation Grade Matters:

- Because, of the infinite possible life choices you could have made, you chose to go to college, there is no law requiring you to be a college student against your will, and as such, you’re expected to act like a college student in my classroom, which you’re free to interpret however you’d like, but I interpret it like this: a college student wants to learn, is respectful and deserving of respect, shows up and completes tasks on time, is prepared for class, is intellectually curious, doesn’t groan when asked to read a book because he or she understands that when you’re a student you’re going to have to read books and even further he or she knows that reading is central to learning, understands that this whole endeavor is costing them a lot of money, and generally acts like an adult, not just someone who follows orders but someone who values knowledge and the importance of ideas, and, therefore, all things considered, the participation grade should be viewed as a reasonably accurate measure of one’s ability to demonstrate that one is an active and interested learner whose performance warrants the recognition conferred by a higher grade.

- It counts as 30% of your final grade.