Pride (In the Name of Dissent)

Yesterday, I sat across the room from the most decorated Olympian of all time. Michael Phelps was playing poker at a private table with his friends and girlfriend. When Phelps walked in, I initiated a round of applause. In a room of fifty to sixty people, no more than six people joined me. I asked my tablemates why they weren’t clapping. One replied that he doesn’t clap Americans.

The difference between nationalism and national pride seems vague at best. Like many online natives, I find nationalism to be a stale and musty concept. National borders don’t impact my life in any significant way. By opening my laptop, I am given access to communicate with every English speaking nation on Earth.

In ‘real life’, my social group is multicultural and multi-ethnic. For the most part, we lean towards a cynical consensus on matters like the Royal Family, the Conservative Party and ‘traditional’ British values. Within our group, I’ve certainly never felt compelled to identify myself as British or English, let alone debate the semantics of their difference. Yet in this Olympic fortnight, that same social group has been caught in a maelstrom of national pride.

Pride is a messy, inarticulate emotion. This is well evidenced in the nonsense lyrics of U2’s classic power ballad Pride (In the Name of Love). The song is supposedly about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I for one did not realise.

In researching this article, I conducted a few interviews with my friends. When I challenged them to justify their pride for our Olympic athletes, they unanimously resorted to tautology. They are proud because they are. Obviously. As I probed further, they began to distinguish between the notions of individual pride and collective pride. Most concluded that pride on someone else’s behalf is no more than happiness. Undoubtedly, this capacity for compassion is crucial to proper moral and human behaviours, but it also carries a rather dangerous implication, since pride for some necessarily means shame for others.

Other friends took a different line when pressed, becoming strictly analytical. One explained that his taxes have contributed towards the funding of each athlete’s training. He is therefore somehow complicit in the success of that individual/team, even if only by the most tenuous extension.

We know that pride can be blinding. We learned that in Nazi Germany. We learned that in Iraq. We learned that in Penn State. Watch here as young, bright minds riot in support of a paedophile.

In this fortnight, there has been no mention of this danger. Here, The Independent run an article lambasting Morrissey for pointing out the jingoism surrounding Olympic euphoria. He is labelled a sensationalist for noting the lack of a dissenting voice in the national press.

Somehow, international competition justifies what is no more than a tribal and territorial response. To be part of something, to know ones place: it all somehow enforces the prized maxim of the western world – Know Thyself. A wisdom that refutes space for abstraction. A wisdom too stubborn to not understand. Know Thyself and with that pride, you shall never have to be humble enough to concede, wise enough to relinquish, or small enough to be lost. You are what you are. Don’t you ever go trying to change.

Pride can be a force for good. When uniting an oppressed people, there’s a lot of emotional force that pride can harness. Otherwise, idgi.

‘I want to be able to help’ – A Conversation with Richard Chiem

I have been Facebook-friends with Richard Chiem since March 2011. We have 146 mutual friends. This amount makes up around 10% of Richard’s total friends. We started speaking on a semi-regular basis during early stages of a [now defunct] literary project spearheaded by Frank Hinton. In the time I have known Richard, he has been writing fiction almost exclusively. Before this he was the 2009 recipient of the UCSD Stewart award for poetry.

Richard’s literary persona is demure and composed, his reading voice is a balmy lullaby. Here, he reads Frank Hinton’s ‘Something Pure and Good’ from her collection, I Don’t Respect Female Expression.

In many ways, Richard is the literary antithesis to Steve Roggenbuck’s brand of hyper-positivity. Despite this, the two are friends. Steve appears regularly on Richard’s tumblr and they recently performed together in Seattle. I spoke to Richard about his connection to the Pop Serial collective.

Artifice

  • Do you feel part of the Pop Serial group? Stephen [Tully Dierks] has been a big fan of your work for a long time.

Richard Chiem

  • I owe a lot to Stephen and Pop Serial. He was one of the first people to solicit my work. I remember at the time, how excited and honored I felt. I think for me, it always comes down to the work ethic and how people behave. I love what’s going on right now, and I agree with Steve Roggenbuck, that not everyone needs to be prolific, but I am tired of being lazy. I never want to be lazy another day in my life, unless it’s with loved ones. I think I fear, but only a little, being grouped with other Gen Ys. I think Gen Ys are called spoiled and lazy a lot. I want to be able to help. Help what? I am not sure, but I know I want to be able to.

Like Roggenbuck, Richard dropped out of writing school, feeling aversion to the culture of coasting by, on the ‘little nods’ from professors. Where he might differ stylistically from other Pop Serial contributors, Dierks clearly recognises some unity in Richard’s work ethic and good tempered spirit.

Richard certainly does not come across as lazy. He is the founding editor of vertebrae, a journal of art and poetry. In the last twenty-four months, he has been published widely, appearing in issues Two and Three of the seminal journal, Pop Serial and our own Artifice 4. In the time I have known him, Richard has authored two ebooks, What if, Wendy (Pangur Ban Party, 2010) and the exceptional Oh No Everything Is Wet Now (Magic Helicopter Press, 2011), a multimedia collage co-authored with Ana Carrete, a fellow Pop Serial writer.

In 2011, Richard moved to Seattle to live with Frances Dinger, another member of the Pop Serial community. We discussed how this move affected his work.

Richard Chiem

  • Well, in San Diego, aside from Ana [Carrete], I felt like I was a lone wolf in a way. There were writers there, but they were all old school and highly academic. I feel if writers come to San Diego, it’s to get away or something. In Seattle, I feel like every other person is a writer, which made things more competitive at first for me, but then I realized it was more important to kind of slow down and step back and know the most important thing was to be human.

Though Richard can now speak positively about his decision to move on from writing school, he recounts the period immediately after as one of severe depression. During this period, he wrote the majority of what became the short-story collection, You Private Person (Scrambler Books, 2012). We spoke about his motivations that produced this work.

Artifice

  • Is there a theme to the collection? Some overall thing to be taken away?

Richard Chiem

  • Perhaps survival; the young surviving. I was definitely trying to see if I could survive without academia and I knew the only way to do that was hard work and being human. I hope that reflects in the book. How to be human, however strangely.

Artifice

  • Are you a private person?

Richard Chiem

  • I grew up as a private person, I think. I am definitely an introverted person that likes to take risks and sometimes those risks are simply talking to other people. But I don’t know, after middle school or so, I became more confident and excited for conversation. I try to never feel embarrassed, which is hard to get away from, but when I manage it, it feels like skateboarding or something. How about you?

Artifice

  • My instinct was to reply that I was. But it wouldn’t be true.

Richard Chiem

  • Yeah, me too. I think more than anything, I am more disciplined now, which causes me to stay in more often. I don’t think it makes me more private though. I enjoy the things I don’t share equally to those things that I do share.

Artifice

  • Do you feel your book is something intimate that you’re sharing?

Richard Chiem

  • Yeah, I think it has to be, or else it’s not worth putting out. […] I’m proud but I don’t think that’s the point. I am very eager to keep going. I just don’t want to get too caught up in the celebration. Like, I don’t think it’s time to celebrate yet. I would rather use the merit for fuel.

Artifice

  • Is there anything you read/listened to while putting You Private Person together? Anything that influenced the way it was composed?

Richard Chiem

  • Movies actually had more of an impact. They’re more like weirdly inspired by things. ‘What If, Wendy’ is actually my own fan fiction of Half Nelson. ‘Planet B Boy’ is titled after the documentary of the same name. ‘Cutty’ is my fan fiction of The Wire.

Artifice

  • Can you see yourself writing professionally?

Richard Chiem

  • That is the goal, yes. I just have to put the work in. There are examples to follow, Tao just being one of them, Blake Butler another [Blake has written one of three blurbs to You Private Person].

Artifice

  • Have you met Tao or Blake?

Richard Chiem

  • Not Blake but I met Tao once, I think back in 2010. He was on tour in San Diego and crashed at my place. It was a big deal for me to meet him. When I started to read Tao Lin, I thought ‘cool, another asian male writer’. Maybe it means something to me because I am American born, but my parents were and are foreigners.

Stephen Dierks’ has repeatedly stated his belief that ‘alt lit’ was founded on a connection of people who felt an affinity to Lin’s writing. Richard identifies himself as among these writers. Scrambler Books have previously published fellow Pop Serial contributors, Kendra Grant Malone (Everything is Quiet, 2010) and Matthew Savoca (long love poem with descriptive title, 2010). In addition, they will be issuing the first English translation of Luna Miguel’s poetry (Bluebird and Other Tattoos, 2012). I asked Richard how the Scrambler connection came about.

Richard Chiem

  • I sent Jeremy [Spencer] my manuscript I think back in 2010 and he rejected it first. But I think, something like six or seven months after the rejection, he asked for it again and by that time, the collection was way different. There were more stories and I knew what I wanted to do with the collection. Right before my move to Seattle, like almost a year ago, Jeremy sent me word that he would love to publish it, which was one of the best emails I’ve ever gotten.

Artifice

  • Are you pleased with the cover? What say did you have in that?

Richard Chiem

  • I contacted Mark Leidner, being a big fan of his poetry and collages, and asked him if he could do me the honor of making a cover for YPP. The final cover was actually the second attempt from Mark. The first one was amazing too, but we were worried about copyright issues because it had an image of Princess Diana in front of a galaxy. I am eternally grateful to Mark.

Artifice

  • Do you have anything planned for launch night?

Richard Chiem

  • Haha I actually haven’t thought of the actual book release party thing. I have some close friends here [Seattle] that I would love to celebrate with but there is no clear picture of what it’s going to look like or what venue.

For Richard, writing is life, an on-going project. We spoke about the possibility of his next book.

Artifice

  • What have you been working on since you completed YPP?

Richard Chiem

  • I’ve been working on a novel, tentatively titled, ‘Any Place I Hang Myself Is Home’.

Artifice

  • How is that experience coming out of writing shorter fiction?

Richard Chiem

  • No doubt, writing a novel is one of the hardest things. It has to do with me figuring out what I want.

Artifice

  • Will there be a connection between the novel and any of the stories from YPP?

Richard Chiem

  • All the characters are from the same universe, but I don’t think anyone will ever meet. But maybe. I like breaking my own rules.

You Private Person is due to release in September. Here is its trailer.

Brewing Writers

Most of the writers I have encountered at the very least enjoy a glass of wine or two at readings, while writing, because it is Tuesday, etc. One of my professors recently argued for a drink before a reading, or ‘at least a xanax’. As someone who is about to marry a home brewer of beer, my house is usually full of beer, making it easy for me to fall into this category of ‘drinking writers’ or ‘writing drinkers’. What I don’t think many writers realize about what they’re imbibing is that the process for writing something amazing and creating something amazing to drink is very similar.

In the brewing process, much like the writing process, you start out by reading. Books on home brewing are beginning to rival books of poetry in my house. You read and you read and you especially read the old guys’ stuff, in this case as in literature hundreds of years old, and then you try to forget that and read what the new people are doing, which is often strange and exciting and collaborative. The way that the internet is bringing together writers across continents mirrors the way the internet has enabled collaborative brewing to flourish. 

In particular, I see easy comparisons between the hypercurrent use of google docs to create multimedia pieces of writing and the brewing world’s new fascination with using nearly anything they can to make newer, weirder beers. This doesn’t always work but is somehow always exciting. 

Once you’ve got your recipe figured out and you sit down and brew or write, the metaphor starts to break down. Writers tend to edit compulsively, especially in the current era where ink doesn’t really matter and hands don’t really cramp up so much. With beer, once it’s in the bottle or keg it’s brewing in, it has to sit untouched for three weeks. How much can your work change if it sits for three weeks? How much do you ferment over that time?

Some beer challenges for your writing:

1. Belgian Challenge– Write a piece you were planning on writing. Collect newspaper articles for three weeks once it is done. After three weeks use random bits of the articles in your already-written piece of writing. This is like the open-vat Belgian beers, which ferment and brew with no lids on the vats, allowing wild yeast in to build flavor.

2. German Challenge– Use only forms for three weeks, or one ‘brewing cycle’. The Reinheitsgebot was a law in Germany which forbid using any ingredients in beer except water, barley and hops. 

3. American Challenge– Collaborate and get out into your culture. American craft brewers have tried very hard to create and reinvent the culture surrounding brewing, which was basically destroyed by prohibition. In a way, the internet became a prohibition for writers, as bookstores failed dramatically. What is occurring now is a double renaissance. Get into it.

The New York Stories: An Interview with Ben Tanzer and Laura Szumowski

Artifice loves it when our friends get up to interesting projects, and we especially love projects that include non-traditional book tours, fantastic illustrations, and a weird, dark sense of humor. This post concludes a month of virtual book tours for The New York Stories, which is a collection by Ben Tanzer, illustrated by Laura Szumowski. The New York Stories was recently published by the Chicago Center for Literature & Photography (CCLaP) as a hand-bound, special edition (vellum illustration pages, faux-suede covers, and external Coptic stitching, oh my!), available now for $50.

The type for The New York Stories is creatively laid out in a condensed square format, with the text running like a magazine: two justified columns set close together. Szumowski’s illustrations leading into the stories are apt, tone-setting introductions to Tanzer’s acerbic, dark texts. Kids watch Mermaids and get into trouble, while adults ignore their problems at Thirsty’s bar. The New York Stories hits you with a never-ending series of gut-dropping moments; when you think that something awful might have happened but you try and hope for the best, Tanzer shows that it’s probably better to expect the worst. It’s a dark world where parents can’t be trusted with their friends’ children, and the children can’t be trusted with each other.

We hope you check out a few more of the interesting book tour stops (e.g. you can hear Ben reading a story over at Curbside Splendor, or listen to Ben and Laura chatting with Another Chicago Magazine). Here at Artifice, though, we give you a conversation about book production, comics, illustration challenges, the paranormal, and inanimate objects with personality.

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N.B. This interview is compiled from separate email correspondences, and was conducted between Chicago and London.

Artifice: Ben and Laura, can you describe the process of working with each other to develop the illustrations? How did you get in touch? How much contact did the two of you have before getting started?

Ben Tanzer: I would really like this answer to be so much cooler than it is. But, I sort of knew Laura personally from different readings and other events, had compulsively zipped around her website, though not in any stalkerish kind of way, really, and was a fan of her and her work and style. That said, it was CCLaPs idea to bring our work together and I think it was a terrific one. For me anyway. Laura may find herself increasingly dismayed by the whole thing and is merely keeping-up a happy face for our public appearances.

Laura Szumowski: I was originally approached by Jason Pettus, the publisher, about an illustration project he had in mind. He sent me one of Ben’s stories, The Babysitter, and I loved it.

Originally, Jason wanted me to do something along the lines of Jay Ryan, style wise, but when I talked with Ben, he mentioned Deer Hunter and First Blood as visual inspiration. My instincts from reading the stories agreed with Ben, so I did a few drawings to see what he thought. He said great, keep going– it was as simple as that. Not a whole lot of interaction, nothing too specific. He was comfortable with me taking artistic license, and I think was interested to see what I would draw from his writing.

Continue reading

Things We Are Reading Right Now

Mason Johnson is playing Pokemon instead of reading. If he were reading, he would be reading I Love Science by Shanny Jean Maney. Or Chew vol. 5.

Julia Hendrickson is reading Color Plates by Adam Golaski (Rose Metal Press, 2010), a collection of short stories that recreate the narratives behind the Impressionist paintings of Édouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Edgar Degas; and is about to crack open Marcel Proust’s Days of Reading, in a tiny beautiful edition from Penguin’s Great Ideas Series.

She’s also reading The Studio, which is part of Whitechapel’s Documents of Contemporary Art series. It’s an interesting compilation of essays on the subject of the artist’s studio, put together by Jens Hoffmann. Some of the texts are only loosely related to the theme, but it’s historically useful and a diverse read; an answer and a challenge to the recent Studio Reader.

James Tadd Adcox just finished I Love Science, and plans to say nice things about it in some public forum. It really is a fantastic book. He’s also reading Darcie Dennigan’s Madame X, Joshua Young’s To the Chapel of Light, and Emily Kendal Frey & Zachary Schomburg’s OK, Goodnight.

Kaisa Cummings is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck right now. Summer is a good time for big literary commitments like that.

Russ Woods, who tends to dip in and out of books a lot, is currently reading Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel, A Journey Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre, The Malady of the Century by Jon Leon, and Issue 3.1 of Gigantic Sequins.

Alex Allison is reading The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, and received and spun through the excellent I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur by Mathias Svalina. He intends to heavily steal from both books in the future.

Meghan Lamb is reading Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles. She would like to note that it makes her sad thinking about covert masturbation, flaccid penises, and sickness as a metaphor for all things (all subjects that she can never get enough of, it would appear).

Matt Rowan is reading Iceberg by Paul Kavanagh (“a really wonderful story with all the really excellent fantasy of a Roald Dahl novel but something much more sinister, as well”);

God Bless America: Stories by Steve Almond (“like reading George Saunders mixed with Jim Shepard. Does that make sense? Doesn’t matter. Almond’s got his finger on the pulse of what shapes and sizes we Americans come in. It’s nice to see a collection with a title that’s paradoxically satirical and sincere at the same time. “);

Why They Cried by Jim Hanas (“a surprisingly fun collection of stories, interesting reading it alongside Steve Almond – for both their similarities and the definite stylistic distinctions”);

Letters From Robots by Diana Salier  (“Diana does fractured prose poetry – if I’m not totally mislabeling her work – as well as anyone. Tons of lyricism. Turns of phrase that ring in your ear”);

and Revelation by Colin Winnette (“Colin has this amazing way with words. Truly admirable. Very enviable. That bastard’s done it again”).

Red Lightbulbs/Artifice Reading This Tuesday

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1. We are watching the Poland vs. Czech Euro Cup game right now and we have a really bad feeling about Poland’s chances.

2. Update: We were right to have a bad feeling about Poland’s chances.

3. This Tuesday, June 19th, we’re going to be co-hosting a reading with the fantastic Red Lightbulbs at Beauty Bar. Readers will include Tyler Gobble, Michelle Sinsky, Joshua Kleinberg, Russ Woods (reading the words of Cassandra Gillig, who is underage and can’t come inside), Russell Jaffe and Cassandra Troyan reading! Plus possible TBA readers!

4. Beauty Bar is at 1444 W. Chicago Ave, in case you didn’t know or couldn’t remember.

5. There is a suggested donation of $5.

6. If you haven’t checked out the new issue of Red Lightbulbs, you should. It’s here.

Possibilities of Evils: Education in Reading a Shirley Jackson Classic

I know, I know. This post has been a long time coming. I’m not sure if I’m the most derelict blogger of the several many of us who blog here. Not my proudest achievement, taking forever to bring my own post to the table. But ah, here it is (with apologies; I hope to say more and more as time goes on, and I hope that what’s said here and now is useful to you in some way; I hope your life is going very well right now, independently of what I say and do (and fail to say and do)):

I am, technically speaking, a teacher of high school English. True, I’ve been a glorified sub these many years since beginning my effort to become an educator in an official capacity. True, I’m only serving presently in a long-term temporary teaching capacity . BUT, I think I’ve got something worthwhile to say, to offer the Artifice blog. There’s something in there, I don’t know if it’s in my brain, but something that I think I’ll be able to share with only minimal risk of your shouting me down / hurling invective.

It’s about the possibility of evil and “The Possibility of Evil” by Shirley Jackson. I recently taught this short story to three sections of English II students, sophomores. I notice they don’t consider the possibilities of evil all that often. I don’t think so, at least. But their thoughts on “The Possibility of Evil” were above par (based on my own understanding of the subject) and, at times, downright impressive. One student identified the ambiguity of the town’s name and place as probably relating to the idea that this could be anywhere, USA, and by the implication of this we are all potentially guilty. We all become hero, villain and victim.

I like the idea that we all own some share of the blame for things like misunderstanding. I want to believe it’s something we need to constantly look inward about if we really desire effecting change in relating to our neighbor(s). It’s on us. We control ourselves, and really only that much, when we control anything at all. And given my experience with students, I can say for certain we do not control them. In education, it’s about reciprocity and quid pro quo. It’s about relating to them as much as possible and allowing them to meet your expectations, with as many opportunities to do so as is reasonable.

At face value Jackson’s story could be read by some as a facile, maybe glib portrayal of good and evil (e.g., much of the language she uses has a certain straightforwardness about it that’s hard to ignore), despite the subtle character of most all the narrative events and how they unfurl. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to take a look. Despite the harsh sound of the title, the form evil takes is hardly as, at least speaking for myself, you typically imagine the term. From my perspective evil is violent. It’s the Holocaust. It’s genocide. It’s psychopathy. It’s serial murder. It’s rape. It’s cruelty of the most pure and ignominious kind. But it’s not just those things. It really isn’t. I’m convinced of this.

Nietzsche once wrote, “Wickedness is rare. — Most people are much too much occupied with themselves to be wicked.”

Most of the evil we do, if it’s not too extreme to refer to it as such, is completely inadvertent, or implemented teleologically, to the extent that we mean only to ensure our ends get met in steamrolling another person. I get the feeling this plays out a lot in the contemporary American workplace (wherever one works).

To briefly rehash the story, though I would encourage you to give it a read (I don’t know that it’s public domain but you can find a pdf. of it just by Googling the title / Consider yourself spoiler alerted).

It tells the tale of Miss Adela Strangeworth, a certain, if only tacitly, self-proclaimed matriarch of that anywhere town in which she lives. It follows Strangeworth through a day’s interactions with her fellow townspeople. During which time, Miss Strangeworth presents herself in one particular light, by her conversation, but as the narrative moves to a more introspective vantage her unseemly and unexposed side is revealed to the reader. The difference between word and deed, then, is a lot of where the evil of this story resides. Miss Strangeworth manages to present her beliefs as benign in conversation but internally she’s already plotting how she can exploit what she has learned of her fellow townspeople to prevent, in her mind, the further spread of evil. She accomplishes this task by writing anonymous letters filled with castigation and disgust. It’s really something to behold. A marvel of the ugliness within, of the power of delusion, and the things we do to convince ourselves that ends justify our means.

I liken Miss Strangeworth to those most avid voices preaching against the spread of whatever immoral act they see as dissolutional to the country at large, to those previously held institutions that survived on the potency of ritual and the belief that anything is good if it has been practiced in earnest for a very long time. They argue this despite what rationality may indicate in opposition.

If we weren’t so caught up in the illusion of control, which I think it’s safe to say any healthy democracy should strive to avoid, we’d find ourselves more than a little better off for it. I SWEAR! You can say and do what you like to convince children, say, as a parent, that your way of thinking is THE correct way of thinking but in the end they ought to be allowed to become whoever it is they are, free of the real fear that you’re judging them, either outwardly or inwardly. Chances are this is what will happen regardless of you, hypothetical parent, and your manipulation.

Who is really so good that they can say with certainty their way, or their version of a longtime accepted way, is the only right way? I know that won’t be a democracy, if one belief ever gained widespread or universal traction (see The Nazis, The Bolsheviks, The Maoists and all kinds of -isms, whatever they be). That is something I’m willing to say with certainty.