The Rebellion

Visual art by Caine Wong.

The nurse closed the hatch and sped away. You aren’t supposed to touch things in museums. But she had. Rebellion. A psychologist would say that it’s because she didn’t do drugs in high school and she lost her virginity on her twenty-fourth birthday. But she knew why, it was because things made by humans were meant to be touched and used. In a thousand years, the scale in the ER she worked in, that hundreds of people stepped on everyday, would be placed behind glass as a valuable untouchable thing. The old footprints on it were history and the new ones would be destruction. And yes, ruining that fifth century BCE artifact even just a little bit made her feel bad. Who knows what she might do next? She smirked and wondered if she could get a way with masturbating while lying down on a sarcophagus.

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John Albert: Stranger than Fiction

John Albert has played drums in the band Bad Religion and written articles for magazines like LA Weekly, Hustler and BlackBook. Albert’s memoir of his personal struggle with drugs and finding his salvation in baseball, Wrecking Crew: The Really Bad News Griffith Park Pirates, was derived from an LA Weekly article that won the Best of the West Journalism Best Sports Writing Award in 2000. It was published in 2005 to great acclaim. John currently resides in Los Angeles.

Wrecking Crew was your debut book. What compelled you to write it in the first place?

I was actually compelled because I was offered a publishing deal to write it. It started out as a cover story for the LA Weekly. The story was optioned by Paramount Pictures at the time, and my new movie agent made a deal to do a book. I thought there was no way there would be enough material for an entire book, but it was an opportunity so I took it contrary to my doubts.

I know that when you’re publishing a novel you’re forced to rewrite the rewrites and edit and rearrange the rearrangements. It’s a long and arduous process. Do you think this process differs when publishing a memoir?

I am not sure what it’s like with everybody. One of the things I did, which I can’t recommend enough, is that I joined a writers group. So before I turned in chapters I would have already read and discussed them with other people. I think my reading chapters about sex and drugs to these dear old ladies really made the work with my editor a whole lot easier.

It’s been seven years since Wrecking Crew was published. Do you think putting out such a personal story has changed the way people interact with you?

Maybe initially they were aware that everything said and observed was material for story. I have done it again periodically with short stories that detail the lives of friends. But I think people love that, they really want to be talked about. We offered to take things out of Wrecking Crew and or change people’s names. Nobody wanted that no matter how depraved their activities were.

When writing fiction I know that you’re free to take creative liberties with the story and descriptions. How faithful do you feel you have to be when you’re writing nonfiction?

This is a great question. I know quite a few people who have written high profile memoirs and confessed that they seriously embellished events. I did not. Even when it was suggested by people in my writer’s group, I stayed very true to the events. I think that came from working as a journalist. Lucky for me the truth was – to quote your dad [Brett Gurewitz], “Stranger than fiction.”

Do you think you’ll ever delve into fiction?

I have two short fiction works being published in the next month. So the answer is yes. I found the process to be freeing and requiring less homework.

I heard they might possibly making a Wrecking Crew movie? True or False? If so, would you be up for a starring role?

They are continually trying to make it into a movie. This is the fourth time. Right now the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman owns the rights. And no, I would want a big movie star to play me because I want the film to be both successful and good. I have no talent or draw as an actor.

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Maybe I’m Not Real, Either

Miranda Mellis. None of this is Real. San Francisco, CA. 2012. 115 pages. $18.00 ISBN 978-0-9814975-4-9

Miranda Mellis is of the breed of writers who I like to call “zippy” – page after page collides with one another like an existential car crash wherein instead of airbags, the drivers are sprayed with neon acrylic paint. The result is a reader (aka myself) who, following the end of one of the short stories in None of This Is Real , is suddenly filled with a violent urge to recreate the Scottish charge on Hadrian – to paint myself blue and run down the mountains screaming, waving an enormous stick. Except, unlike the Scottish berserkers, I wouldn’t have a real cause except for the confusion of my own psyche, and subsequent frustration.

None of this is real. I am carried away in a two-story Victorian house by the branches of the trees that surround me, dragging me up beige pinstripe wallpaper on crooked hands to deposit me who knows where. Or maybe this is just the front cover. Actually, it really is just the front cover of this bizarre little bundle of plant fibers coated in plastic. See, what this book really is, is something different – not the actual story lines (mildly fantastical) or the writing style (it follows standard conventions of imagery, voice, et cetera), but rather, the way the stories are presented. Abnormally constructed characters with normal characteristics do normal things in ways that are also normal but are presented so that you have to second-guess their normalcy. In other words, nothing is very unreal, you just think that it is until you realize you’re wrong. Bizarre indeed.

In one of the stories, I found myself attempting to discover reality on the gentle curve and tumultuous waves of my face. For you see, perhaps:

“We would walk right to the edge of high cliffs, a small crowd marveling at the vista. Beautiful? Opaque[…]My body was rejecting meaning, or so it seemed. At the very least, I had learned to refrain from complaining. Or even speech. In not speaking I became a plateau.”

A plateau, then, perhaps – where my nose would meet my ears on a flat plan and would rise above my neck where the words in my lungs struggle to haul themselves up the cliffs of my trachea. But once again, none of this is real. None of this is real, but perhaps, you would think there would be a straight narrative somewhere in this multitudinous collection? I’m afraid you would be wrong. Or, if not wrong, disappointed.  You see, as I quickly discovered after reading the pages of the work’s namesake story, “None of This Is Real”, Miranda Mellis is zippy. Zippy, do you understand? Zip-zap-ziggy-zaggy-zop. You think your finger has found its definition, but then the little letters run off of the microfilm machine and you have to chase them all the way over to the trash can, only to figure out that they aren’t what you’re actually looking forward. Elusive little epistles. O, the protagonist of this story, goes to get an MRI during one of the many erratic sections. This is what he is told:

“You have developed a growth, she said. O thought it looked like a kite or a feather. No, the doctor replied, it’s nothing like a kite or a feather. It’s rigid, cartilaginous, more like a fin[…] Ignoring him, the doctor got out her pendulum. Was he born with the errant flap or not? Where did it come from? Was it an organism, a mutation? The pendulum reading was indeterminate.”

I wasn’t aware that the origin of errant flaps growing at the base of my skull could be discovered through hypnosis. I don’t expect my protagonist to be like this: “In the same way that he spoke with enthusiasm about astrological signs while what he habitually felt was a droning confusion punctuated by political despair, so too did O seek hypoallergenic pillows when he meant to be writing his encyclopedic, world-historical novel.”

Now, the true question for a potential purchaser/reader: Is the thing actually any good? You, you dodgy reviewer, what is your criticism? Should I even bother? Why are you taking your time dilly-dallying around the point? You see, the true answer to that is that I don’t know, and I don’t think that it really matters. Sure, read it, why not? You’ll probably giggle as much as I did while doing so. Or don’t.  Your life won’t be incomplete.

After all, none of this is real.

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Cataclysmic Successes

Matt Bell. Catacalysm Baby. Fort Collins, CO. 2012. 105 pages. $12.00 ISBN 978-0983026372

To say that Cataclysm Baby, the new collection of Short Stories by Matt Bell published in Mud Luscious Press’s Novel(la) series is “strange,” “good,” or even “artistically and intellectually unique”, would be doing it a disservice . It is so much more than that; so much more than a single category, a single adjective. The book tells the stories of and examines a series of births, with the babies’ names organized A through Z, in individual sections, with titles such as Fawn, Fiona, Fjola and Griffin, Grayson, Guillermo. With each section, the author skillfully reveals disturbing and cleverly constructed events having to do with the children, crossing such other-worldly incidences as a baby being replaced by a “chrysalis, this cocoon, this child-shaped bundle found wrapped in our morning sheets, tangled in the space where our toddler daughter once slept.”

Alongside the brilliantly gruesome plots and development, even the basic prose of this book is perfected down the choice of every word, the inflection and connotation behind every sentence. Bell has especially mastered the art of opening a charismatic and enrapturing story, oftentimes giving depth and emotion to an image and characters within a single sentence. This artistry is visibly prominent from the moment the book is opened, for instance, in the first story, Abelard, Abraham, Absalom:

“This smoldered cigar, last of a box of twenty, bought to celebrate happier times, now smoked to keep away the smell of our unwashed skin, of our slipping flesh, of our baby grown in my wife’s belly, the submerged sign of a prophecy burning, stretching taut her hard bulge: All hair, just like the others, gone wrong again.”

Raw, vicarious, exploratory, creative, unique, and with a voracious sense of human emotion -the passages, throughout my reading of them, have continued to exhaust me with the density of these qualities. Alongside these qualities, the book has also managed to hold onto what many avant-garde authors tend to lose – a sense of connectedness to reality. When reading, the reader never feels alienated, distanced, or disconnected, but instead has the capacity to latch onto every wrenching moment, every challenge and conflict. Every story is more than a journey, it is an odyssey cramped and boxed into a few pages and slammed into your mind via an IV: direct, potent, and most of all – powerful.

Get a hold of this, somehow, someway. You won’t regret it, even if your schedule keeps you from being able to get past the first story, for you will have felt enough by then to last yourself for years.

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