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global love letter

14 Feb

No Stranger Here, by Business Class Refugees, Shubha Mudgal, and Ursula Rucker

A beautiful mash-up of spoken word, traditional Hindustani vocals, string arrangements, and Western beats. Inspired by Indian poet Kabir. It’s like a global love letter for Valentine’s Day.


blindfolded in west texas

14 Dec

I didn’t know what to make of David Lynch’s Crazy Clown Time when I wrote about it for ALARM, and I don’t know what to make of it now. It’s an album that shies away from the sunlight, happier on a nighttime walk under bridges and overpasses. It’s an album of vice. And misery.

The sky today is lidded with clouds that glow like ugly fluorescents. Perfect for Lynch’s “ark,” which seems to literally flood my headphones, the sound of rain on pavement sampled into its timeless melancholy.

And yet by the time I get to “The Night Bell With Lightning,” the crops are dead from drought. There’s something about this song that makes me feel like I’m walking blindfolded through West Texas. Heat lightning just hazy green flashes through the black fabric. Drum hits faltering like my steps over the loose rock and prickly scrub that makes hatch marks on my legs.

The feeling is so strong, it’s almost overwhelming. And then there’s this abrupt end, just a chord that alights in the song’s brooding sky. I come out of that dark drone, and it’s like having the blindfold torn off. And I realize I’m still alive.

why we write: timothy schuler

7 Dec
The following is the second installment of “Why We Write,” a series of personal reflections on the craft of writing. Each installment is poignant in its own way, but in sum the series is a sincere and astounding collection of thoughts, emotions, and ambitions regarding the profession of writing. Take of each what you will.

:: :: ::

Timothy Schuler

It comes down to patience. And television. The warping of neural pathways and higher education and thinking ourselves into abstraction.

It’s about the Puerto Rican cafe around the corner and its plain black coffee in its plain white cups and the guava-and-cream-chese turnovers, which stick to their paper and shed sugary flakes like dead leaves. And how you can’t ask someone to sit there and listen to you calculate the mathematical correlation between suicide rates and GDP. Or hash out conspiracy theories about the Obama and Google based on the public listings of White House visitors. You can’t expect someone to listen as you tell them feminism isn’t working because it’s just making women into men. Tell them it’s like using money as the measure of success for the poor but no one else.

“This is what it comes down to. The absence of an infinite reciprocity.”

You can’t expect this because your coffee is hot now, but it will cool and you’ll take a drink and they’ll slip in a word edgewise. Like a wedge. And it’ll open up a chasm. And their ego will spill into the conversation and it will battle yours like beetles in late summer. Fifteen minutes and there’s no consensus or memory of the idea, which is fine because you weren’t saying it right anyway.

You need to go back and reread the Wall Street Journal article. There was something about work and family, about the brain and crime, about teacups and relationships and recycling in Switzerland and it was all canned and on the shelf earlier today, but something fell and now everything’s everywhere and they’re just looking at you, waiting for you to take a sip. Because they can’t clean it up either, and things are piling up, and the leak is getting worse, and there’s a clanging that sounds like armageddon.

This is what it comes down to. The absence of an infinite reciprocity. Relying on the page because it won’t ever disagree. It won’t check its phone for the time. It won’t change the topic. It comes down to synthesis. It comes down to understanding.

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“Why We Write” originated as part of Hostel Tuesdays, a writer’s collective that meets in the south study room on the seventh floor of Chicago’s downtown library. It meets on Wednesdays.

Previous authors: Sean Conner, Michael Danaher.

why we write: michael danaher

28 Nov
The following is the second installment of “Why We Write,” a series of personal reflections on the craft of writing. Each installment is poignant in its own way, but in sum the series is a sincere and astounding collection of thoughts, emotions, and ambitions regarding the profession of writing. Take of each what you will.

:: :: ::

Michael Danaher

I’d like to say it’s for some ultimate truth, like digging down deep into the clay of the human condition and unearthing something revelatory, something meaningful and genuine. That’s why I started, I suppose. Carver, O’Connor, Cheever, Vonnegut, O’Brien, Hemingway, Orwell, Salinger, Capote—they moved me, taught me things about myself, about my fellow man, that had been there all along but that I couldn’t see until I had consumed their sentences, digested their words, and attributed some significance to the meal of their works. And I knew, after reading “Cathedral” for my first Fiction Writing class sophomore year of college, that I wanted to be a writer.  Continue reading

chicago, a redaction

23 Nov

A redactive poem by Ashleigh Hill fit for the day before Thanksgiving.

"Chicago." Redaction by Ashleigh Hill

on top of
deep snow
on top of
snow up on his knees.

They were home.

:: :: ::

See more at Palimpsests

why we write: sean conner

22 Nov
The following is the first installment of “Why We Write,” a series of personal reflections on the craft of writing. Each installment is poignant in its own way, but in sum the series is a sincere and astounding collection of thoughts, emotions, and ambitions regarding the profession of writing. Take of each what you will.

:: :: ::

Sean Conner

I attended the baptism on a Sunday. I stood on the sand of a fake beach and watched a pastor tilt the heads of people into the stillness of Clinton Lake and bring them to Jesus. I always assumed God’s water, the holy stuff, the H-2-O of rituals and ceremonies, had to be blessed and ordained by some spiritual guru like the Pope, or an archbishop, or their hierarchal equivalents in other Christian denominations. It was hard to imagine that the molecules of holy water and the molecules of the water in this man-made lake were the same. Well, the molecules would be the same, but there’s my assumption that holy water has a little more magic powder thrown in. Some vestige of authority. Holy water, by my understanding, hadn’t been idly weaving towards shore day after day. Holy water doesn’t have gasoline in it, or fish shit. At the edge of the water I think about this and have a tough time disassociating this baptism from summer afternoons at the pool and the friendly dunking that oft ensued.  Continue reading

venus in a v-neck sweater

27 Sep

It’s been two years since The Believer threw “A Wild Holy Band,” an epic road song by Scottish songwriter Mike Scott, onto the free CD that always accompanies its music issue. And for two years, I haven’t been able to escape the world it conjures.

The lyrics are simple—and Scott enunciates so well that we can’t miss them—but for some reason, the scenes are distinct, vignettes as pronounced as his diction. We drive into the night, into jangling forests, and come upon stricken ships where bands play outrageous jazz. We visit dimly lit motel rooms, where lovers lose youth’s certainty. We come to druid colleges. We go to Tokyo. There’s the feeling that throughout the entire 10-minute song there’s a constant mist, a drizzle that slowly soaks through everything.

At one point, we meet a woman, and in describing her, Scott say she was “Aphrodite, Helen, Phoetus, Eve among the Satyrs / She was Venus in a V-neck sweater / She was all that ever mattered.”

I thought so the first time I heard it, and I thought so again this morning: “Venus in a V-neck sweater” has to be one of the greatest lines ever thrown into a pop song. And it’s that type of wordplay that makes this song not only listenable, but endlessly so. Go here to check it out for yourself. Sean Conner and I wrote about it here.

framed space: meditations on two tracks

20 Sep

The saxophone sets the scene. 1950s suburbia. The kind of place I only know from television and movies. With new lawns being cut by new lawn mowers that scrape along the concrete of new curbs. The song, or couple of songs—“Protect From Light (I)” and “Protect From Light (II)”—also get their period feel from the album’s art, a hand-drawn illustration in which two dames with hairstyles circa 1955 operate the switches of what might be a spaceship. They sit precisely the way they would at a switchboard, as if they were suddenly beamed into the future, command deck controls spliced into where there had been an innocuous panel of blinking lights. Up in the corner of the pale green drawing: blink. Followed by The Architects. The first is the band, rendered always in lowercase and with that period after—a command: blink.

It’s only for a second that I feel I’m in that suburban front yard, because this isn’t really nostalgic music; it doesn’t sound like the 1950s, not after that first flutter. Instead the camera pans back and I realize the town was only a TV set, and then that even the set was just green screen. And the music, a rare blend of electronics and jazz, somehow feels old and playful and simultaneously futurey, kind of like The Jetsons.

There’s only a few melodic moments with real phrasing, which gives those moments power. Outside these is just texture. It’s interesting texture though, alien landscapes that might be what suburbia looked like back then to those poor chaps who were lucky to see anything again at all.

The songs remind me of a place that I often visit over lunch. A cast-iron structure, just past the office towers and condos of Chicago’s downtown, built over a walkway that leads into a formal garden not far from the lake. It’s not a structure so much as a four-sided gateway, a shell of what might’ve been built.

Perhaps the best way to describe it is to say that it’s not really a building in the same way that a cube drawn on paper is not really a cube. It’s simply an outline. And it frames space the way the pencil lines frame the shape. Adding to its depth, the cast-iron frame is porous, with wide ornamental gaps in its walls and roof, flooding the walk with sunlight and confusing my senses: am I inside or out? I’m aware it’s the latter, yet my body also feels contained within a finite space, completely unlike standing free on a sidewalk, or in a field, or even under a tree. That’s what this music is like. It is framed space. Architectural but without structure. Truffles of rust dotting its walls like pennies. A gateway to something more important than itself.

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Listen to “Protect From Light (1)” here.

life’s hymn

9 Sep

I say the more I buy, the more I’m bought,
And the more I’m bought, the less I cost.

The Lottery

22 Jul

a scene

:: :: ::

The Americans aren’t the first to adopt the lottery system, but they do make the biggest spectacle of it. The borrowed idea becomes an infallible coup de grace once it emerges from the lips of the country’s 46th president, and a year later—as if its widening cracks haven’t already been revealed by several filmmakers and its imminent failure predicted by at least several influential academic unions—as far as the media is concerned, the lottery is the Lord Jesus Christ, come back to Earth.

It applies to everyone. Parcel size ranges from 5-25 acres. Uninhabitable land is auctioned off to nonprofits and charities. Once each state is rendered as a complex, curivlinear grid by engineers and planners working under the guidance of federal officials, power is handed back to state governments to run the lotteries. The brochures—The U.S. Land Lottery and What It Means for You—are mailed out with the same unappetizing regularity with which the National Guard rounds up and deports Latinos and Arabs. There is something about the language of the Americans: it is too efficient. Everything is thought of, as if it were engineered by a supercomputer after running 2,000 simulations.

Waves of homeless men, women, and children besiege the major cities every few weeks, stocking up for the circuitous migrations to which they are doomed; most shelters and homes had been dissolved in the idealistic fervor of the lottery roll-out. Aside from this, the largest geographical change is the dispersion of the urban populous. Fourth generation Chicagoans find themselves on a 7-acre plot in central Illinois, hundreds of miles from where their aunts and cousins are building small timber-frame homes, up in Grayslake and down in East St. Louis, their family now something of a scatter plot.

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inspired by Alexander Trevi