Interview w/ Noah Cicero, the "Godfather" of Alt Lit, re his "Collected Works" volume, a Korean bartender, religion, politics, saying "yolo," etc.
1. First things first—let’s get this out of the way—you have a book that just came out, “The Collected Works of Noah Cicero.” I imagine this volume would be a good pick-up for anyone who wants to check your stuff out, get acquainted. Say something else about it. Also, aren’t you a little young to have a “collected works” volume out already haha? I guess you have enough material to make a “collected works” book, but it seems kind of tongue in cheek, to me, for a relatively young writer to do this.
I think saying, “young writer to do this’ is basing things off the old paradigm of publishing, when major presses ruled the world. But in the small press world different things matter and can be done. I wrote 6 books in 7 years, the books on average had 40,000 words. If I was a writer with Random House in 1985, all books would be out and sold efficiently at Barnes and Nobles, like they did with Kathy Acker. But big presses don’t do that anymore, they haven’t brought up an indie writers’ books in two decades and sold them individually (not that I know of.) I want my writing to be accessible and to be a nice new package. I thought a Collected Works would be an efficient way to do that. And seriously, I love “basic works” style books.
2. I describe you as “the godfather of alt lit.” When I was first trying to figure out this whole online lit thing I remember reading interviews with you in which people tried to get you to define “alt lit” etc., & you usually seemed to have a pretty good grasp on what’s going on with this whole contemporary online literary world or whatever—you were able to talk about it without sounding like an ass. I won’t make you define “alt lit” again, but do you have any thoughts on the current state of “the game”? In your Return to Relevancy vlog you talk briefly about how when you started there wasn’t really shit online, but now there’s a lot of shit.
I’m really happy about internet literature right now. I like seeing so many people gathered around the idea of literature. Usually something comes out every couple weeks that I enjoy. I really enjoyed Walter Mackey’s pokemon thing, watched it like 5 times. I don’t know if alt-lit is good or bad, i don’t care. It isn’t my job to judge people and their writing. I do what I do and try to have fun, that’s all.
I feel like alt-lit is kind of like New-Formalism or the Black Mountain Poets, little weird lit movements that will produce some writing that will end up in anthologies, maybe. I think to us, it is the biggest thing in the world, we are always meeting people, and doing our thing, and we assume it is amazing. But when we look back on movements, it is usually only a few things that survive. But I don’t think, as of right now, we can tell what will survive, and maybe nothing at all. Maybe it won’t end up being anything but a Tao Lin poem and a Sam Pink short story in a writing anthology in 100 years.
3. I think your subtly a very “political” writer. By “subtly” I mean you’re able to write politically without sounding like an ass. Most of my favorite “moments” in your books involve a fed-up character making some sort of diatribe against “the system” or “America” in an uncharacteristically large paragraph. For example, “The Insurgent” has this extended metaphor about society being a “monster” we don’t control anymore, “Best Behavior” uses the words “The Constitution” a few times, “The Human War” is about an American war. “Nosferatu” & “The Living and the Dead” satirize modern society’s fuckedness in a way that’t not far off from, say, George Saunders or someone.
A lot of writers in “Alt Lit” or whatever we want to call it seem either afraid or unwilling to write something I’d call “political,” I sense. I see a lot of people back away from making bigger claims amid their punchy prose & absurdism, but I feel like you don’t.
I grew up in a political family, on my mom’s side, my aunt is the head of the Republican Party in my county. You can look it up, just google “kathi creed.” My mother’s whole family is obsessed with Republican politics, they even go to the convention every four years. On my dad’s side (all democrats), my great uncle was mayor of a local town for like a decade, which made the family political. I grew up around people talking about politics all the time, politics is just part of me. I don’t have to ‘try’ to be political, which might be the difference between me and most writers. I was raised surrounded by politics, and when I went to college I got a political science degree, it comes naturally to me.
I don’t think alt-lit people in general know a lot about politics, but most Americans don’t, and strangely most politicians don’t. I also don’t think writing about politics is worthwhile, alt-lit writers have a very small audience, they aren’t going to reach the masses so why try.
When I write about politics, I try never to write about politics like it matters. In Best Behavior I tried to show that the Constitution is crumbling, that it isn’t working as a foundation anymore. The next year Republicans wanted a budget amendment, a marriage amendment, people fight constantly about amendment 2, people started fighting saying that campaign donations are out of control. The constitution is not just political, it is a psychological issue in America, and I tried to deal with it as psychology and not politically.
4. I find it hard to imagine your day-to-day life, whereas I can easily picture a lot of other online writers’ more or less. What’s a day in the life of Noah like, these days? Maybe it’s something about the way you maintain your web presence that makes it hard to picture your daily life. Your books seem maybe autobiographical but probably exaggerated.
Currently, I am home in Ohio. I got back from Korea two months ago and plan on going to the Grand Canyon to work as a cashier in a week. But currently, this is what I did:
Woke up at 8AM- checked email, drank detox tea.
Jogged around block, did 4 sets of 15 push ups.
Showered, went to coffee shop and worked on philosophy book.
Went to post office and sent a broken computer to an alt lit person that wanted it, and then returned movies.
Went home and ate hot dogs. The hot dogs had mustard and sauerkraut.
Went to store for friend’s mom, got her potatoes, water, and coke etc.
Got two books of Jatakas. Jatakas are books on the previous lives of the Buddha. There are a lot of Jatakas, so I needed two books. I read the introduction to one of the books.
Been sitting in this hot ass room doing interviews for a long time.
I tanned for awhile, I listened to KPOP while I tanned. When I listen to headphones, I close my eyes. I let the wind hit my body, it is good.
Then I mowed the grass, the mower kept going on and off, it was annoying.
Then I went in my bedroom and read Pageant of the Popes, it a book about the history of the papacy. I am reading it because I want to read Lives of the Saints, and the Lives of the Saints reference Popes constantly.
Yesterday I had a different day, I went to the Indian Buffet with Brittany Wallace for lunch. I think my favorite thing in the world is eating Indian food on a sunday with Brittany Wallace.
Then Brittany dropped me off and I went and brewed beer with my IRL friends Vince and Paul. Vince is the one who designs the beer, we just sit and talk. We drank a Galaxy IPA from Alaska which was amazing and a Dark Lord stout. The Dark Lord stout was insane, it is a beer that that contains 18% alcohol, but doesn’t taste boozy, and is full of insane flavor. Personally I liked the IPA better, but I respect the genius of the Dark Lord.
We sit around and just talk about beer for hours. I don’t think anyone suspects that I do that with my time.
5. You were in Korea. What the hell was up with that? Talk about Korea.
I went to Korea because Brittany thought it would be cool to go, I thought I needed to travel abroad. It made sense. Teaching in Korea was fun. I used to go down to a bar and play darts on the weekends days alone. I would sit at the bar and play games on my phone. I would play the game hearts. I would sit and the bartender would tell me I had beautiful blue eyes. She would say, “파란 눈 파란 눈.” She would stare at me for a long time. I would have to stare back, letting her look at my eyes. It was funny. We would play darts together. She couldn’t speak any English and I can’t speak Korean, so we played in silence. One night the owner ordered fried chicken pieces, she fed me the chicken pieces with chopsticks. Korean women always fed me, no one feeds me. I am like really lonely now.
6. From namedrops in your writing I get the sense that you’re a pretty avid reader. Can you namedrop some influences? & but also say “why” these particular writers “vibe with” you?
I don’t know who my influences are anymore:
When I go to the Grand Canyon, I am bringing these books:
Chuang Tzu, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, Buddhist Scriptures, The Jatakas, Digha Nikaya, Lives of the Saints, Upanishads, and Saint Teresa of Avila. I have read half these books already, but I do not believe I have read them enough. I am trying to get into religion, feel like I need more religion, feel like I hear people say, I’m fucked” all the time. But like, people have always been fucked, they didn’t have antidepressant medication or cognitive behavioral therapy, they had religion, so I want to enter the world of religion, to see what is there.
Also, I found out that Buddhists have an abundance of literature, Buddhism has folktales, dialogues, long stories, poems, etc. Buddhism is an endless resource for avid readers.
I usually read books in groups- like for a year I read nothing but history of books, I would buy books that said, ‘History of Latin America” “HIstory of Jews” “History of the Black Plague” and then buy it and read it.
When I was in Korea I read epic long novels, Infinite Jest, Gravity’s Rainbow, 2666, Sometimes a Great Notion, East of Eden, etc. Just long novels, one after another.
I read one to two hours everyday. I just read, it keeps my mind centered.
7. Another “online lit / alt lit” question (“sorry”): I get the sense there is, at this point, maybe a “first generation” & “second generation” of alt lit/ online writers, with yourself, Tao Lin, etc. being the “first generation” & with ppl like Steve Roggenbuck, myself, & a whole flood of other ppl being part of a second generation of onliners—Do you feel me at all on this?
Another thing I’ve noticed in this “generation gap” maybe is that the 1st generation seems to be characterized by pessimistic / bleak tone, whereas the 2nd seems to be characterized by some sort of new love for positivity / optimism. It’s a crude dichotomy I’m trying to draw here, but I think it more or less exists. Do you have any thoughts at all on what I’m saying or is this far off? Personally, I don’t really favor either posi or neg lit; I feel there’s a necessary place for both. I definitely characterize you as more neg / bleak.
I don’t know what pos lit is? Like saying yolo or something? Saying yolo is just pleasure. Telling people to live their dreams is just capitalism, that is what capitalists say to people, “Live your dreams.” The reality of the situation is that my generation and younger are condemned to underemployment, global warming, unwalkable cities, a corporate state, endless war, and strip mall suburbia. It is horrible. The only thing that has saved me is I barely own anything, I own nothing but a Chromebook, guitar and an iPhone, clothes of course. Besides that, I own nothing. And I don’t seek validation from the television media standards. I don’t watch television, don’t read the newspaper, I try to participate at least as possible with corporations and the government. Not because I want those institutions to collapse but because I believe corporations and governments make me mentally unhealthy.
8. I will admit to starting to write at Denny’s because of things you have said about Denny’s. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Respond to this embarrassingly.
I love the Denny’s slamburger.
9. Do you have a Netflix & if so what do you watch on Netflix?
The only shows I watch are It’s Always Sunny and Archer. I watch them over and over again, I study them like a preacher does the bible. Sometimes I watch Paul Newman movies like Hud, A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sometimes a Great Notion.
10. “Go to work and do your job. Care for your children. Pay the bills. Obey the laws. Buy products.” I’ve seen a bunch of images with this apparent title on it. Nice title. What’s the deal with this (I assume) upcoming book? Why are people making image macros with the title?
People are making image macros because Mathew Revert made a prototype copy, then Cameron Pierce publisher for Lazy Fascist showed everyone. People really liked it. Then I told Rachel Bell it was just a fake cover, she responded, “I want to make a fake cover.” So she made a fake cover and then everyone started making fun covers. It was funny.
Thanks to Noah for the thoughtful answers. Buy his new book or something; he’s cool.
I sold my friend monkey to a deli owner not asking what the monkey would be used for. It’s such a sad set of words, used & use & user, so when my friend asked where my friend monkey went I told him that he had moved on to find new opportunities, and I also told him that my friend monkey didn’t have much longer to live, that life was even shorter for monkeys so he had to leave before it was too late in his life to do something new. I cringed after telling my friend these things.
I had nightmares about food. There were vegetables that grew taller than buildings and there were meats that conversed with me about the state of humans and the working class. The dreams were often accompanied by sounds of distant hoots and screeches. I often woke up with my hands around my sweaty neck.
I avoided the street with the deli. I cried thinking of charcuterie. The smell of hams and sausages made me nauseated in my throat and in my eyes. Last week I had to visit a friend who lived on the very same street where my friend monkey could still be, in whatever form. Instead of braving guilt and walking past the window display to my friend’s place, I stood on the corner ranting about god and god’s disappearance from history. No one really listened but people looked at me with pity as if I didn’t get it and never would.
Today I again woke up with my hands around my neck. I had gripped hard enough to leave eight distinct red pressure marks on my skin. I told myself that it was necessary to sell him — I couldn’t have made rent — but the betrayal was so obvious that I decided this morning to head to the deli, just to see.
The smell was blinding. Sweet, peppered, salty, my lungs constricted in sadness. I knew I had done a very bad thing and by the time I reached the entrance to the deli, I realized I had become a very bad person.
I entered. The hanging meats and stacked cheeses seemed to hold up the store. The owner was there and he smiled showing me his teeth when he recognized me. I knew it would go against etiquette to ask what happened to my friend monkey so I asked the owner how he was and if I could buy some slices of some nutty cheese. The owner said of course, of course, twice like that as if he knew the real reason why I was here. But before he went to get the cheese he called out the name of my friend monkey. A little hand revealed itself from a side door. The fingers gripped the door frame and soon he popped his head out. My little friend monkey was here and alive, I didn’t know what to think. My friend showed me his teeth in a kind of a smile but it wasn’t the same smile he used to show me. It was more of a smile one shows to customers, not excited but positive, not inquisitive but knowing. The owner yelled out the name of a cheese I did not recognize. My friend monkey jumped out and set about slicing me some cheese.
I knew that tomorrow I will again wake up with my hands on my neck. I ate the cheese like a break up letter or a receipt. It’s sad to love the ones you sell.
It wasn’t the tell-tale sign of the flash of light before my eyes. It was, however, the numbing in my hands as my fingers strung across the string of my aching heart found in the belly of a beaten down guitar. Slowly, it spread to my forearms that hung with the weight of the burden they have been forced to hold for the people that had no business playing with the angle of my shoulder blades till eventually they evened out at the mark of a hundred-and-eighty degrees.
My eyes faded with the glaze of the serene picture that was the field where my feet sunk into as a child as the mother figure placed the pie of devotion on the table before the father who hadn’t left with the mistress of time in hopes of escaping the transgressions of his youth. Lids closing with the peaceful fluidity of such a false memory, there was the caress of the wind blowing gently across them as the note of the song echoed through the dips and curves of the unreachable moon.
Lips parting to draw in the new fog of the beginning of after, it was the pause of the sun that gave way to the sound of foot steps approaching my porch. A smile that gave the ripple of the waves a run for their beauty and their feeling against the calves, it touched the inner-sanctuary of my own mind. Pupils slightly dilated, there was the look of pure euphoric bliss reflected off the pool gathering at my feet. Dipping low, brushing against the damp clothes you brought me back from drowning in my own sorrow.
A final whisper later, it was then that the dream became the reality so sought for. Welcome home.
Some shit that's been annoying me lately
So everywhere I turn I see all this “feel-good” stuff about loving yourself and saying how you’re perfect just the way you are and never change for anyone and you deserve the best life has to offer just because, and I’d like to address this attitude of self-importance and complacency the American public has seemed to adopt.
- You are not perfect. We all have bad things about ourselves. “You’re perfect just the way you are” is a lie. Seek self-improvement. This does NOT mean you cannot be HAPPY with yourself, but we should all strive to be BETTER people, all the time.
- Claiming you won’t or shouldn’t have to change for anyone is silly. See point 1 on seeking self-improvement and your lack of perfection. Changing something about yourself, something like kicking bad habits or attempting to control your temper or trying to be more understanding (yes these are CHANGES) is a good thing. You are not compromising your integrity if you change for the better.
- Point two brings me to a big issue; health and hygiene. Body image is the big talk these days. While being happy with who you are is always important, again, seeking self-improvement is always a good thing. Health and hygiene are important, not just for your image and self-esteem but for your future! If you like being a couch potato, rock on with your bad self, but remember that down the road, neglecting your health and fitness will have consequences. Being “happy with who you are” is not an excuse for unclean or unhealthy living. It’s a cop-out, a pretty veneer for laziness. Get fit! Encourage others to get fit! Notice I say fit, not SKINNY. There is a difference. Learn it, learn your body, and exercise. Again, SEEK SELF-IMPROVEMENT.
- “Shoot for the moon and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” This is bullshit. You’re not shooting for the moon, you’re shooting for an A in your college class, or for that job, or promotion, so-on and so-forth. If you don’t get that job, you don’t get a consolation prize. You are still unemployed. Work harder.
- Humility. Get some.
- That brings me to my final point and I think the most important (because everything I say is important, duh). Avoid self-pity. Self-pity is the Devil. If someone else got that promotion instead of you, complaining about that persons faults and your merits and how much smarter and cooler and better you are isn’t going to get you any closer to whatever it is you want. It’s a waste of time and it’s poisonous for the soul and it will lead to nothing but a lack of motivation. What the rest of the world is getting instead of you is not important. Focus on you. Focus on YOUR work or YOUR grades or YOUR relationships. Life is not going to throw you a bone because you think the playing field is uneven or you’ve been treated unfairly. Go find your own bones
I’m writing you a letter because there are too many things that I still haven’t told you. Meanwhile, my tea is getting cold and I have glitter on my feet from swept-up prom dreams. Here is what I think: when the world starts to feel small, it’s time to wander until you discover the bigness. When the splinters of glass feel too sharp in your heart, it’s time to heal yourself. You already know this, but music is a blank chalkboard for nostalgia. Who knew that a place could break your heart? The sad is still here, a background sad that I don’t think about very often. I am still fascinated by hands. It still breaks my heart that I can’t tell you about my life. I still don’t regret you. I still miss you.
I could sit here all day and paint you pretty pictures, stretched sentences tethered by the garrotter of a heart unable to kneel without scraping the pavements. I could sit here all fucking day, affixed to this dilapidated, leather desk chair, and overuse adjectives and pretentious quotes of amore and syllables in languages I am not fluent in. I don’t wash my paint brushes and I stain my canvases in sea water before I paint the skies for others because my voice is not as loud as silent lightning. You are indescribable, you know? Let the bees covet my honeycomb tongue when under my breath, I release you. Where should I begin where words are just as empty as sighs and hearts slow in cadence when feared.
Where should I begin?
For years he traveled to an almond tree, standing lonely upon a hill. He brought with him a basket and packed his lunch in a rusted cookie tin. He listened to the sound of his bare feet padding lightly against the earth, the pleasant tapping of his walking stick. He was an older man, living alone in a small house near the sea. Soon many people came and built houses and stores around his tree. They had families and hosted parties in their living rooms with champagne and crystal glasses. Their children fell in love with their neighbors’ children, who then, together, had more children and hosted other parties for birthdays and holidays, swapping presents, shaking hands. And there, in the center of their town, the almond tree wept. The man had forgotten his walking stalk. He tossed the cookie tin away and somehow found a family of his own to be lonely with.
A party. White leather. Emerald blondes dancing, champagne flutes in their hands, men of steroided biceps, and one of them was watching her…
The man whispered to his friend…
It’s a job…I go, I dance, get naked, I make a bunch of money…Just come…Drink…Be my body guard if you want, Eva flicked her hair, wagging eyes…
You need bodyguards?
The studio pays for them, but this isn’t official…Soooo…Usually somebody gets some thug types to stand around. I mean, nobody wants a raped and dead pornstar murder, do they?
Hollywood erections, screenwriter phonies, d-listed starlets, the mildew of fame mongering adhering to the walls, furniture, drinking and laughing…
He was shaven headed, Jefferson remembers, a brute of bruised PBR cans, tattoo parlor mustache and wide handled motorcycles…
He was staring, Eva licking the breasts of another porn star, a man pouring champagne down her back, trickling down her ass cheeks, another girl licking…
Eyes met, he and Jefferson exchanging nods, transmitting.
The Man whispered to his friend, glancing at Jefferson.
The licking girl began pleasuring Eva, the partiers shouting.
Hey, honey bunny…
It was the Make-Up Artist, Hey…
I thought that was you looking uncomfortable as your girl gets rammed with a strangers fingers…
I’m watching that dude over there eye fuck her…
Him? That’s Chuck…He needs Viagra just to take a shit.
He’s got some threatening stares…
Well, Eva’s already done shit for him…
Whoa..Whoa…This is the business, Jeffy boy…
And don’t worry, he can’t fuck anyone…The other guy, that’s his brother. Sometimes he has his brother fuck for him…AND that I know, Eva’s never done. She’s licked pussy for him, but she’s never taken Bronco Billy’s cum…
He drive’s an old Ford Bronco, roof cut off, it’s like a hilly billy convertible…
Yeah, they own a chain of pot and porno stores…
You don’t seem convinced…
He’s looks like a fuck.
Jake’s actually more educated than you’d expect – he knows who Satan is, and what it means when he wants to talk with you. Jake also knows that he doesn’t have the moral fiber necessary to resist the deal likely on offer.
Jake stands up, dusts himself off. “My soul, is it? What’re ya offering fer it?”
His cool demeanor weakens when he looks up. The man’s face does nothing, but the thousand eyes of the suit widen like something smiling. “I hardly need bargain for your soul – merely wait for someone to kill you.
“Here’s my offer: you don’t die today.”
From the archives
She looked him right in the eye. “I need words.” He flinched, shook his head and motioned for her to stop, please stop. “Shh, what the hell are you being so loud for? Wait, then follow me. Geez.” He quickly turned around, coat over his arm, and walked briskly towards the rows of green and yellow houses that lined the broad street. She waited, as told, let the giant white van pass her, then walked equally fast after him. She saw him enter the third house on the right after that lame arcade in which all the machines were either broken or let you win on purpose. She had spent many a day in there, mostly because it was those games or sitting around on rocks, throwing sticks at each other with limited enthusiasm. When she reached the door, she tried opening it. It was locked. She knocked. A very different person than the seller opened. “Yes?” Seriously? “I need words.” The person slammed the door in her face and yelled something along the lines of “What the fuck, get down here now!” Sounded almost like herself thinking about her daughter on most days. On any given day. She waited. Nothing happened. On the verge of her turning around and trying a different seller, the door finally opened and the man let her in. She felt like reprimanding him, but how? He pointed towards what seemed to be the kitchen. Slightly uncomfortable following him into the dingy house, she went because she had to.
At the wooden table, the seller confided in her. “You know, I was always wordy, always a talker. Was reprimanded for it, even back then. Not like today, of course. But I knew I could get in trouble for it, so I learned to keep my mouth shut. Now the question is, are you aware of the risks you’re taking with buying? And most importantly, do you have the money?” She nodded to both. She contemplated showing him the bundle of notes in her pocket, but if he was going to run with it she’d be screwed. Also, he could rob her in here however he wanted as well. No point. He held up a little snow globe-like glass. Inside, tiny small paper cuts were flying around in an unidentifiable liquid. They reminded her of the pieces inside fortune cookies, back from when there had been sentences on these rather than pictures and then nothing but gibberish. “How does it work?” she asked, with her coarse voice she found so ugly. They had told her it was ugly. “You shake, you take. One out, that is. It opens at the bottom. Put the paper on your tongue after reading it out loud and that word is a part of you. Again, maybe, depends on how much your parents spoke with you in your childhood. You might have a bigger storage of words already. So, show me the money.” She paid and carefully held the snow globe in both hands. The salesman accompanied her to the door, motioning for her to hide the globe under her jacket. “No way in hell do you tell anyone you got this from me, you hear me? I will know you told them and I will come and get you for that.” His tone was threatening, but his face was not. It was fearful. She nodded again, managed to mumble “thank you” before the door was shut in her face. Her cheeks were flushed as she walked towards the main road and back to her apartment.
She had carved a hole into the back of her cupboard specifically for this purpose. A poster of a popular TV program hang in front of the hiding spot. She had prepared and planned for this for years. Coming up with the money was especially difficult, but after the first few blow jobs she didn’t mind being a prostitute so much anymore. It was faster money than the work in her father’s factory, and relatively safe also under her aunt’s wings. Since mouths have become so special, all other body parts have taken a step back. The ladies at Paradiso were lucky to be afforded a special status in the entertainment industry. Why did she always feel she had to defend her occupational choices? She had had experienced the grueling hard physical labor in a factory herself, and seen the girls her age with broken backs, maimed hands or, maybe worse, unwanted pregnancies from co-workers and bosses. This was not a risk she was willing to take.
What had the man told her again? “You shake it, you take one out. It opens at the bottom. Put the paper on your tongue after reading it out loud and that word is a part of you. Again, maybe, depends on how much your parents spoke with you in your childhood. You might have a bigger storage of words already. So, show me the money.” She waits until darkness descends upon her flatmates and her, the slight snoring noises of Anne in the next room barely audible. It must be time, now, for her to reap the rewards of her courage. She shakes the snow globe and picks a dirty yellow, narrow piece of paper. Her tongue reaches for the correct sounds to make as she forms the word with her lips and, finally, exhales it. The taste of ink on her tongue won’t go away for a few nights.
You travelled across the world, and finally we are as far apart as we have felt for so long now. I miss you the same way you miss something you never really had, like a happy childhood, or an honest smile. I miss you in every mile there is between us, each stretch of space spelling all the ways I can’t stop thinking about you, and all the days I spent trying to memorise the things I will never come to learn. You are a language I’d like to speak fluently, but my tongue was not moulded for the kind of vocabulary it takes to use you, and I never want to use you, you see. I want to give myself over to your heartbeat. I want to understand what it’s trying to pronounce. I want to listen to everything you have to say, and let it echo inside me enough to make my body your boom box. I could be everything no one else was ready to shape shift into before. I see your birthmarks, these weights that you were born with, the way you carry them around like you may shed this skin someday. I want to hold you in a way that will let you know there is nothing about you that you have to change. I know. I know that the password to your love is written down in braille across the surface of your heart, and only by touching it, can I begin to brick you apart, but I don’t know where to start. There are so many walls between our bodies, we are right next to each other but living in separate homes that will never be homes, and only the bones of the boundaries we built in an attempt to not be broken anymore.
I miss you in a frequency I am yet to understand. I’ve been trying to teach my heartbeat that the wavelength of my love may never stretch far enough to reach the channels of your trust, but it doesn’t know how to stop trying. Just like my mind won’t stop plunging into the thought of you, head first, over and over and over, until I am submerged in the certainty that nothing else can take my breath away. I do not want it back. I don’t want to have to silence this song that sounds between my ribs every time I hear your voice. I don’t want to unfeel the poem that shudders down my spine every time our eyes meet mid-flight; I am so in love with you that no one will relate to this. I know they’ll think they can, that there is a someone in their life just as special and beautiful, and breath-taking, but nobody can be as impossible as you are. Nobody’s soul can be so unapologetically sunrise. Nobody’s voice can mesmerise song birds the way every word that trickles from your butterfly lips leaps into the air like a hallelujah I am yet to turn into a prayer. If everybody is beautiful, then you are not. You are intoxicating, and endless, and always going, going, but never gone.
Oceans fall asleep on shorelines between us, and my eyes won’t stay closed long enough to erase your face from their back doors. Stars wink at a waning moon, and the phases of my smile are all still chiselled only by the light of your own. You are a thought without a tail, a tale without an end, an end I don’t want to reach; I am reaching out for you. I am leaping off my faith trying to find a way to make you see that I am here; that there is a prisoner in my chest who would like to chant your name till his dying breath. That somehow this tattered, shattered version of myself might be enough to hold you on those nights when the world keeps turning, but only away. I miss you in a miracle- in some kind of unexplained phenomena, and uncalculated formula because nothing can matter this much. No one should be able to inhabit all the worlds you conquer inside of me. Everything about you is dividing me into atoms that will one day conquer the space between us and big bang into a world where the two of us exist, and the stars and the sun and the stratospheres have no other synonyms.
To my darling girl, too young to be so hurt,
Some people walk into our lives with feather feet, and others with burning coal and shards of glass embedded into their soles. You just met your painful walker too early, I suppose.
Darling girl, there is nothing wrong with pain as long as you accept it, use it. If you look close enough, your scars cross in beautiful patterns, I swear. Find a way to stop being afraid of pain. As soon as you do that, you’ll stop feeling it.
You loved and you lost, and that’s awful. I was in love once too, I think. My lover didn’t leave me; I left him. I told him that loving him was more of a burden than an escape, and so I turned to face the other way. I was wrong, you see— he kept me safe. I wasn’t free, but I wasn’t caged. I still haven’t lost him, though. I cannot imagine it. If I were to choose between never having loved him and losing him, though, I’d pick the first. Why?
Because it is not love that hurts. It is the absence of it, the refusal of it, the denial of it, the regret of it. We can only be happy for what we had. Grieving over the loss of it won’t bring it back.
I want to tell you about the people I’ve hurt, but there are too many. I don’t even know where to start. But the one thing I want you to know is that all of them have forgiven me. The lovers I never loved, the girls I took lovers from, the many girls I spilled secrets of, all of them. Why? Because I apologized. Again and again, until they realized that everyone deserves to make mistakes. I’ve made too, too many mistakes, and yet, I hold no guilt whatsoever. Guilt is such a heavy thing. Let it go, darling. We have all done wrong things. That’s how we learn what the right things really are. Place your imperfections close to your heart. They’ll teach you well and keep you warm.
Darling, darling girl, please, never ask me again to tell you who will love you as deeply as you have loved. That is not a question. Love is not a question. It comes when it comes and it leaves when it does, it does not stop to cater for anyone’s needs. Let it run its course. Life is not a bus stop.
You say that you deserve better, and I cannot agree less. You don’t deserve better— you deserve the best. You deserve to love yourself.
So here we go.
Humans like to lose control. Don’t they?
As much as we strive to be in control of everything in our lives, I believe we all secretly wish that we could just lose it.
More often than not it goes haywire: explosions of emotions, terrible breakdowns followed by subsequent dark days of self loathing and depression.
But sometimes, just sometimes, losing control is plain euphoria.
The hardest problem is letting go and trusting the world will catch us when we stop trying to control every variable in our lives. We all wish that when we do lose control, we are pleasantly surprised instead of greeted with bitter disappointment.
Well, there can never be any guarantees. But to miss out on this feeling of vulnerability, where you don’t know what the world can do with you next, well… to miss out on that is a real shame.
How I Choose My Lovers
I find them on subways reading books I have on my list of Books To Read. I find them at bars dancing more enthusiastically than anyone else; even if they can’t really dance. I find them in line at the grocery store on a Friday night buying cookie dough, milk and that’s it. I find them in the Canadian poetry section of bookstores. I find them at work, having great ideas and wearing seasonal socks. I find them on the internet, creating things that make me wish I had thought of it first.
When I sit beside them, they smile. They’re easy to talk to. Their intelligence surpasses my own. Their vocabulary makes me swoon. Their brilliance with words makes me start to imagine them naked. They make me smile at a frequency I feel is too much for any respectable person, so I bite my lip in an effort to stop. After half an hour in their presence, my lips are sore, and yet I still wouldn’t refuse their kiss.
The way they see the world is very different from the way I see it, and we can share our views and always our eyes get wider. They listen to me. (So very few people actually listen to me.) They make me laugh; I make them laugh. We are at a party and they say something so beyond everyone else’s scope with an ease that makes me lean into them hard. But they do it softly, and gently, so no one feels inferior, instead we all feel better for having heard it. They argue with a grace that moves me. Between their legs. They are collaborative. They are receptive to constructive criticism. They think honesty is the best policy.
They touch me gently in all the right places at all the right times in ways that only make me imagine them touching me roughly in all the right places at all the right times. I mean, they place their hand on the small of my back as I walk through doors in front of them, which makes me think of their hand on the small of my back as I’m on all fours in front of them. They lean in and whisper things in my ear that are completely inappropriate at the absolute worst moments because they know it makes me crazy. They hold my hand like they mean it.
These are the sorts of people I choose as my lovers. You see how so much of what you fret about is non-existent in my process? Believe it’s true for others. And love you how I love you, okay?
In China he is eating dinner in a restaurant that the Zagat Guide picked out for him, and I am here arranging shirts in his closet. Beijing is a light map glowing underneath the glass of the many screens I have seen it on. He sends a picture of the view from his hotel room every night. He likes to joke that the buildings are multiplying and asks me to track the sprouting skyline until he comes home.
I have never had the right mind for sorting things by colour or texture, so this is just an excuse to feel familiar fabric between my fingers — to feel it enough to convince myself that it is the skin underneath and not the cotton. This is what it’s like when he is a dot on another continent, like the black circles that mark capital cities in atlases, and I am the page number in the corner, counting the days till his return.
I dig receipts out of his shirt pockets and keep the ones that were printed when we were together: coke bottles from the convenience store on a Sunday two months ago, his mother’s favourite novel bought impulsively (and the wrapping paper that went along with it) in May, and band-aids from almost a year ago when I cut my ankle walking home barefoot after dancing in the park behind his high school.
Tomorrow, I will ask him if he remembers.
But tomorrow is now a word with its meaning stretched twelve hours apart, with him pulling on one end as I tug on the other — like sharing a blanket in the winter. And that is the thought that keeps him close like the body I know is there on the other side of the bed even when we do not touch.