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Penny and The Wolf Man

Some dogs have a crush on the Wolf Man. 

This one dog I know, Penny — she definitely does. If you ask her, she’ll tell you the Wolf Man is something to see. 

Ever since she was a pup, Penny’s had his poster hung inside her kennel crate. 

She’d finish out the day napping, then spend the night looking at that classic black and white marquee image of the Wolf Man howling at the cloud-covered moon, and she’d sigh, thinking: 

He’s so dreamy.  

Like a hairy James Dean. Howling at everything and nothing, all at once. 

The other dogs never understood her preference. 

Their taste was more for AirBud or the show-dog cast of Best in Show. 

To them, these dogs exemplified excellence and ability. 

Their fur held well, like nice and shiny, like good boys — pedigree picturesque. 

To them, the Wolf Man wasn’t even a dog. He was a monster. A sad story.

But Penny saw something else. She saw another kind of life. 


That’s why when Penny grew up, she moved to Los Angeles. 

She became tired of the confines of her crate. She wanted action. And she found that she fit this new lifestyle just fine. 

Some nights, you found Penny at West Hollywood drag shows, draped in color streamers and neon glitter, barking Britney Spears lyrics in choir with her fellow lovers-of-life. Other times, she was poolside somewhere in the hills, quiet, diligently listening as someone offered to collaborate on something — like a TV pilot or an improv performance — right as she’d float to the next conversation with another someone, where the same thing was said again, yet, this time, the proposal was maybe more legitimate or possible or prestigious. 

This went on for about a year. 

Before Penny ran out of money. And she had to bartend. 

Now out of the social circuit, her dreams faded. Morale crumbled and caught a black eye.

The rail liquor looked more like fun to her than something to sell. She’d take anything to get away from the stale same-old, same-old of the working man. 

That is until the Wolf Man walked in one night. 

And let out a howl. 

Then laid eyes on her. 

And right then, Penny was back out of the crate.

Except for this time, she was carrying a souvenir. Some potent feelings from the past. That black and white buzz of something classic, just as it’s seen on TV. 

The Wolf Man was here and now, and he was a dream seen long ago. 

He walked up to the bar, let out a gruff, and said: “What’s down there in the well, you got?”

And before Penny could say, the Wolf Man reached in and brought back that brown Kentucky Sweet. Laid out a 20 for the bill. And he smiled his white, white fangs, still perfect after all the years. 


That’s when it got fun again. 

The Wolf Man loved her, and she loved the Wolf Man. The parties got better, too. 

No one could party better than the Wolf Man. 

Everybody wanted to celebrate with him. It didn’t matter that he never made another movie. 

The guy was an icon. And Penny was a reminder. 

The old boy still had it. 

He could walk into a room and rip his signature hooooooooooowwwwwwwlllll. 

And every single time, admiration would be waiting. 

From celebrities and civilians, alike. 

Because they only had to hear it once. 

Just the one time, real quick, and move on with their ambitions and doldrums. 

But not Penny. 

She heard it every time. 

Every single time, the same hat trick. The same schtick.  

Night in, night out.

And like anything, what was once exciting grew stale and tired and threatened to fall apart.

Because the Wolf Man was a narcissist. All he wanted was the spotlight. 

And he made sure to take it. 


The writing was on the wall. 

Except, Penny did see something. She saw an opportunity of another kind. 

She could howl, too. She could play the game.

And so she did. 

She started to howl with the Wolf Man. 

Upon entrance to any party they attended.

They gave the people what they wanted. 

And they became something to see. 


In a year, they were no longer a couple, but a tabloid meme. 

Penny was the Wolf Man’s creative director, and her own talent (with her own agent).

They’d been on Jimmy Fallon! Ripping big, beautiful howls. Telling Jimmy it’s great to be here. Making Jimmy laugh. 

The Wolf Man couldn’t have been happier. 

What a way to rebound one’s career. Back in action, at the top. 

But Penny … Penny saw this as just the start of something more big, more beautiful. 

She could build a howling empire. 

And never go back to the crate. 

So, she took her skills to TikTok, and learned to game algorithms. She figured out that 11-second howls performed better than 8-second ones. And A-B testing revealed a preference for deeper tones than harrowing ones. The depth of a howl implied confidence, you see. And the TikTok audience wanted self-esteem. 

The Wolf Man didn’t understand any of this. 

He just did what he did. He brought it up from his gut, through his lungs, and out into the world.

While Penny thought data could guide her self-expression. 

She could point and shoot it exactly to the heights it could go. Content became her king. 

More and more to feed the beast.   

While the Wolf Man took a backseat. Down at the end of the bar, howling on the social circuit, for all the new faces in town. 


Now, I don’t have to tell you how this story ends. 

It’s pretty obvious.

Penny became a billionaire. 

But more than that, she became a celebrity. 

And more than that, she achieved a dream. 

Sounds pretty nice, right?

It is. 

Today, Penny is happy and fulfilled. The world at large is hers to explore.

She never went back to the crate.

But what about the rest of us? 

Howling now saturates the culture. We hear it all the time! 

From a phenomenon to an identifier, to a war cry. 

It’s ours to live with.

Because of Penny. 

Staring at her crush caught on a poster. 

We’re a lot like the Wolf Man.

Howling at everything and nothing, all at once. 


You can listen to this story on the Appalachian Sound and Color podcast. Hosted by Logan Schmitt and Will Wallace, this podcast covers art and artists throughout Appalachia. You can hear the show on Spotify.

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(Why Think About) Comic Books?

They’ve just always been there. Comic books. Ever since I was a kid I’ve found them very interesting. Because of the superheroes their pages showed me. And because they just stuck out. These crazy little drawings inside crazy little boxes — that you read

Nothing else was comic books. 

And in fact, they still get my mind going. 

I can read the worst one and still find something to say about it. Like, about how dumb the plot is. Because of how poorly it was written, and the artist that drew it … they couldn’t save it. Like, that’s a shame. Because it could have been something. And that sticks with you. 


But, you know, comic books are a business. And that’s where it goes wrong. 

But, isn’t that interesting, too? With all its stories about real people who created, wrote, and drew to make a middle-class living, on insane deadlines. Competing with each other. 

Making stuff up!

These creative-types evolved from a point of origin. A guy who did it first — A central, defining artist, who laid the ground rules and instigated copycats. And then they summoned new, working artists. People who grew up reading as fans. And then they took over the business, slowly. But first, they had to learn the ropes via the standards of their time. 

Or steal from the best, their tricks and stylistic flourishes. 

All for a paycheck. 

And to keep the comic book machine printing and the good money coming. 

Because, you know, comic books are a business. 

But it’s run by people, and some of them are great.



Some of them are really bad, too. But that’s not what I want to say right now. 

I want to show you something, instead. An example of what I like: 

Just take 10 seconds and look at that image. Whether you think it’s ugly, or goofy, or not worth your time. Just realize that’s a real drawing in the world, and someone spent a lot of time on it. 

They’ve spent a lot of time throughout their lives trying to draw that image that way

It required their sustained progress, month-to-month, year-to-year. There are people that do this and succeed. There are some people in comic books that want to do something with comic books. And you can see who they are. And I love that.

A man named Bill Sienkiewicz drew the image shown above. Its subject is Moon Knight, a Marvel Comics superhero. A Batman-like character with a religious turn and a thing for brutality. He’s a man with multiple personalities, a disorder, playing a hero. To somehow change his past. 

The image shown above is a two-page spread. 

It’s two separate pages that amount to a whole, grandiose image. A two-page spread is often employed as a storytelling tool to emphasize dramatic moments in the plot. 

This Moon Knight example, shown in Moon Knight #26 from 1982, serves as a final snare drum snap. It concludes the piece of music soundtracking the introduction of this comic book story, where Bill Sienkiewicz is the storyteller. 

I mean, he has help — and a co-author. It’s the writer Doug Moench, who created Moon Knight, thought him up, who actually wrote this specific comic book. And there are the art assistants who helped the main artist, who helped Bill Sienkiewicz, such as the colorist, Christie Scheele. 

Plus, there’s the person who letters the text. Joe Rosen. 

You can see their names in the little box at the bottom right-hand corner of the image shown. All of those people contribute something. 

But it’s Bill Sienkiewicz who ultimately tells the story. 

How? Look at it again:

The text captions, written by Doug Moench, are rhythmic. They connect the character, Moon Knight, to the liveliness of the world around him. “Cats in windows … Money itching to change hands.” The character is a part of this scene. Another element of the city. And Bill Sienkiewicz draws this sweeping, graceful presence connected to a cape, high above a night-time mess. “Always, always blood to be spilled” down below in those streets. And Moon Knight looks light as a feather.  

That visual characterization tells you who this guy is. He’s a lunatic at ease in the debris. Comfortable with extremes. Bill Sienkiewicz presents him with style and composition. From a perspective anchored at a point that extends beyond the character. It encompasses what the image is really about. The image is really about those two buildings set in the background … and their yellow-lit windows. The people inside, having dinner, watching TV, that look out and see what we see. They look at this image, too, of a costumed man gliding through the sky, and recognize something. They see the world is fucking crazy. 

Bill Sienkiewicz decided to act to show this part of the story in this way. This is his brain at work. It’s his conceptualization and guiding hand that portrays it. He is communicating to a reader. And the communication of this idea, visually — that the world is kind of wild, and beautiful, and what the fuck — when that image is complemented by thoughtfully written prose … It is an example of someone saying something through an art form often doubted. In a genre that’s super nerdy and corporate and Disney-fied. But doing it, nonetheless. 


I think about comic books because there is potential in them, and that potential can be realized.

There’s proof. 

Here’s another example (not superheroes): 

This is a complete story. 

It’s called The Lifted Brow, and it’s by Lala Albert. It was self-published online in 2019. 

Notice how it’s designed to be read as you scroll on your phone. 

Then, notice how it’s the only image shown per “page.” There are no panels. There are no small boxes, just like you would see in a classic example of the comic book. But, when you scroll and realize these images are sequenced to show something happening, to show that eyebrow going back, the mechanics behind the story really take over, subconsciously. 

Your brain is taking static images and connecting them in a sequence. It’s a much slower version of what your brain kind of does all the time. Comic books can just show us that process. 

And like Bill Sienkiewicz, Lala Albert made these choices. 

An artist is directing your experience of the story. They are employing storytelling tools to show and communicate the story in a specific way that also contributes to its meaning. 

Why does Lala Albert want to show us this moment this way

I believe the meaning of the story varies between its readers. 

I can see a feminist concept in the story. Someone may connect to that — or understand it better — than someone who connects to or better understands the broader stress the character seems to be experiencing. Or maybe this entire comic is a reference to a similar piece of art, a way of talking on it? Maybe the story isn’t about anything other than showing the mechanisms of a story?

But just like Bill Sienkiewicz, Lala Albert drew this, and we can recognize something in it.

We can recognize that someone is saying something to us, and we can listen.

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Personal

All of this has been said before, bro. You know it.
I know you know it. But, 
I want to say it again:

I want to say it again because I’m sick of you, man.

I want my turn. 

But, what is there to really add? 

Except, a lot!

Except, I’m not exactly sure!

So, I still drive drunk, some nights. And that gives me power. 

That little league power.

But, Power! — from a broken law and a useless risk
Just to feel a bit wild and out there and no-turning-back. 

I’m looking out at the power plant smokestacks, tonight, 
while they send their legacy to the moon, 
and you know what, bro, 
it’s real pretty out here.

In this valley between the hills and Ohio, the graveyard to the world, the backbone of money spent and ignorant Jamboree. Down here in this valley of smokestacks. 

And I think about all those so many lips wrapped around me, 
doing favors, 
asking for their own. 

Promising me, it ain’t all bad.

And that’s where I am now

A place that ain’t all bad.

In the debris the moon rejects.


I hardly think about anything anymore except, “what to do.” 

I never know what to do. 

The therapist says, “do something.”

And I don’t! 

Except! 

I went to Florida. 

I went to Florida and fucked my girlfriend in the swamp, 
and a hidden security camera saw us. It did! 
And the owner of that camera still has the show, and 
I live in a reality, now, where our porn exists, and 
I cannot help but laugh. 
Because that’s my own, special mistake. 
And who puts a camera in a swamp?

But, when I sit here and type, it’s always disappointing.

I feel delusional. 

I read stories by people who really do things. 

Bro, you said my stories could be good
if I didn’t leave Florida.

I mean, Fucking Florida?

And I’m kinda fucked up over that, still. 

I mean, it’s kinda fucked up that you even said that. 

But, honestly, I’m glad you did. 

I’m glad the reality shows. I’m glad I see the holes. I’m glad I recognize the pain. 

So, I can now write good stories. And get old.  


I’ve listened to a lot of bands like Creed, or A Perfect Circle, or Puddle of Mudd because they remind me of who I am. Guns N’ Roses, too. 

Back then, I would walk to high school just to listen to music. 

Just to excuse myself away from all things. Then, focus on nothing but walking to school and losing it. 

I’d see what I’d want to see: I’d see these giant guitar riffs soundtracking fight scenes or battle sequences, with a Tsunami tracking overhead, and all those great achievements I could collect, one day, held high at a banquet in my honor. Haha. 

And it was exciting! This was my music. 

This was not my dad’s music — This was mine to explore and pirate and appreciate until the time came to grow into someone else. When I realized this music is adolescent. 

It is written to recognize certain emotions felt at a specific time in your life. At least, if you are of a particular demeanor: An angry young man, maybe a little ticked off with your dad. 

And that’s fine!

That happens to more than would care to admit it. 

But, how many can admit it and get past it? 

Not enough, man. I’m trying!  

My way of trying is by appreciating a band like Slipknot or System of a Down for what they are, and maybe a little of what they aren’t. It’s commercial art dressed as something more.

And, you know what, when you’re 15, 16 years old in a small, limited place, 
back in time, Rust Belt stranded, 
it is something more.  

Bands like that did show me a thing or two. 

And I think it’s OK to take what you can, or need to, from that. 

And if you do it right, if you follow then break the rules, 
that someone-else you can become …
They’ll hold onto bits and pieces of the past. For good luck. 

And I wish that was OK with people. 

I wish it was OK with people for there to be people in West Virginia. 

West Fucking Virginia. 

Loyal, actually kind, actually curious,
talents found in and out of streams, and 
dollar stores, and Mountain Dew Monster cans, and Dolly Sods, 
covered in all those bent pine trees. 

But, it ain’t seen as too good. It ain’t given much of a chance. 

They look at us like we’re the blight of this land. 

And that hurts. 

It hurts to know that in some ways, we deserve it. 

And we don’t. 


And yet. 

On the drive home from Florida, crossing this state line, I cried and cried. 

I really did! I missed it here! 

I knew I was home 
the moment my car’s frontend climbed into a tilt, to the curve of that big hill, 
and I ascended into heaven.

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Eyes Shining Back

Sometimes, I don’t know if I want to be a writer. Writing isn’t really fun. 

I mean, think about book reports. 

Did you like those? Did you like making them?       I mean, maybe you did.

Or, maybe you just say you did. 

Or, maybe I’m too cynical. 

But, think about book reports.

Honestly?


Except it is kinda fun. 

Because you can write down anything you want to 

At any time of day or night. 

How is that not of value?

To you or me?

You can write whatever your mind gives you. Write it down as you think it! That’s — all your truths. That’s — all your fictions.           Two infinite landscapes, if you let them be. 

Now, I’m starting to understand confidence. I’m not afraid to say that. 

I can say that my mind isn’t small. 

It isn’t the best … But it’s better. 

Except sometimes it’s plagued by fucked fucked fucked anxiety and worry and spirals and spirals of possible bad outcomes for everything from what I’m eating, to what I’m doing at work, to what so-and-so might think of me holy shit — no. 

(For real. I am not chill inside.)

(Never have been.)

Having that kind of mind gets in the way of a lot of things. That’s what sucks about anxiety. 

It gets in the way. 

It holds you dangling outside the present.   

Now, I can’t pretend to know anything about Buddhism. 

But I think it’s important to be present as much as possible. 

My experience: Hanging on and looking forward are fantasies based on pictures in your head. 

They are stories you are telling. To keep hope alive. 

Or, throw you down a flight of stairs of pity.

And that’s fine. 

That’s being human. 

And in there, somewhere, are lessons to learn and goals to want. 

Pay attention to them. 


But, my mind isn’t too bad. It’s actually pretty good. I can feel that now. 

Because I feel confident. 

About writing, at least. 

I feel confident that I am a good writer. 

I have never felt this way. 

Why?

I have always just assumed that I am less or wrong or a burden. 

And in this frame of mind it’s hard to really do anything. 

Writing well takes concentration. It also takes belief. 

The writer must believe in what they say. 

And, I don’t know that I ever did. 

I guess, there was always a whisper of doubt

Wondering why bother. Why should you?


But like I said, my mind is good. More than that, I like using it. 

It’s my most entertaining hobby. 

Whatever the fuck I can create is in there. Whatever the fuck I can see. 

Or hear. 

Or smell. 

Or touch. 

I can be curious. I can look at what’s around me and just think about it.

From a small detail to a continent. Pick a topic and I can think about it. 

Study it. 

Understand it beyond facts. 

Intuit something from this —

Or, what’s something I’m not facing? That thing of mine I haven’t dealt with. 

Think about it. 

Maybe I can think through it. 

To study it 

Beyond facts and 

Intuit something from this.


But that takes confidence, too. 

More than that, I should want to. 

I should want to think. I should want to concentrate on the ideas that appeal to me. 

There is no other reason. It is not to inflate who I am. 

It is to focus on exactly what is. 

And I do my best to do this. 

I like what I have to offer. 

I like how granular I can get. 

I like my willingness to be myself. 

For me, writing makes it all real. It makes my mind real, and you can then read my mind. And we can form something.

This is our shared power. 

But, you know when writing sucks. 

It’s when the words don’t hold your attention. 

When it feels like reading a book. 

And we don’t like book reports, remember? 

I never did. 

I don’t know what holds someone’s attention. 

I don’t know you well enough to know.

But, I do know when my writing is at its best, 

When I’m just writing the way I talk to myself, embracing theatrics, actually sharing my thoughts and feelings directly but with care and commitment.

That is when I am at my best. 

In those small moments of realization. 

Looking in the mirror. 

Trusting those eyes shining back. 

And, for that, I do want to be a writer. 

To keep that picture there

And let it last. 

— If only in my eyes. 

That’s all I really want.

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Caribou

How are you? I’m doing OK. Just felt like writing and posting something. 

I’ve (mostly) stayed away from social media in the last 5 or 6 months. I’ve realized that my sense of self-worth isn’t entirely healthy, and it hasn’t ever really been. 

Social media (namely Twitter) has only nurtured and exploited this insecurity. 

Sometimes to a point of real self-hatred. Driven by self-comparisons to all those who are so good at holding our attention on that platform, as well as the nobodies who put on a good show.

There are reasons for this. 

Reasons I’m working to identify and do something about. They’re behaviors long ago learned and programmed.

It’s frustrating, but I know it’ll be worth it down the road. It’s my way out.  

But in the meantime, I’ve concentrated on building for myself a smaller world or universe. Something filled with tangible people and hobbies that are grounded and in debt to routines. 

I want a life that is my own to experience and not to broadcast. 

Even if it’s forgettable to most everyone else. So long as it’s real, in a space where I can exist. 

That alone can be unique. 

Because you’ll never know life as I know it. Even if it’s the same as yours, it’s still not mine.

Just as mine is not yours. Even if yours is fairly textbook.

See, I joined Twitter in 2009 when I was 17 years old. 

I used it to promote a podcast I had then recently started. 

This show (for a 17-year-old) possessed a noteworthy, engaged audience, and I felt like I had potential.

From 2009 until about April 2021, I looked at Twitter every single day of my life. That’s 12 years.

Most days, I’d sign on many times at all hours. Waiting for someone to notice me. 

Using it as an extension of myself. 

To somehow make notable my personal, intimate interest in writing or being creative. A specific way that I am in touch with who I am, or how I explore who I am and the world around me. 

I wanted that thing to be important to other people, too. 

Internet people. Avatars and fictions that I’ve never met and will never meet. The Cool Ones hyping other Cool Ones in a feedback loop, anticipating an invitation to play in it, too. 

I hoped Twitter and those that I convinced to follow me would validate my efforts. They could bring me something seeming to be purpose and justify me. 

And that never happened. They never did.

And as the years went by, and life happened — good things in life, even  — I grew more bitter. 

I wondered what was wrong with me, and what was wrong with everyone else.

I blamed the world for my insignificance. And I blamed myself. And I blamed those around me.

I figured I must not have potential. And, honestly, I’m still wondering. Why am I alive? 

Now, all this goes back to something deeper. 

I can’t blame the Internet for irritating something that was already exposed. 

But there is poison in what we live with.

And while I know there’s value in contemplating your own smallness in the face of it all, I do not know that it is healthy to confront this daily through a cellphone, with advertisements flashing. 

It can be habitual. What, then, is the influence?

How do you begin to see the world, or your community, or other human beings? 

Do you hate them? Do you fear them? Do you believe yourself better, yet unrecognized? 

For myself, I can resonate with those questions and apply them to my perspective. Can you?

It’s OK if you can. I get it. I think there are many more of us than just you and me. 

The fact is, until social media, human beings lived in their small universes mostly unaware of all those other realities out there speeding by. 

We were more concerned with our immediate surroundings and real experience.

We knew of and interacted with other people and their wants and opinions and promotions, but we did not ingest this stimulus constantly, and the sample size was much smaller in comparison.

Social media is our collective nervous system. Our anxieties, neediness, and hucksterism are bottomless. And you are but a copy of a copy in it, seeking all the same shit.

Social media has the ability to affect two things incredibly important to human beings. 

Money and ego. 

Twitter can make or break them. 

It’ll push your confidence up-up-up in line with dopamine, convincing you of all of your myopic fantasies. It’ll fire you and estrange your relationships while inspiring mobs in your honor.

The President pays attention to it. All the other world leaders. Of course, we do, too. 

It’s a website made by a few business-minded individuals, who keep it going. 

It represents the worst of what we already cared about, hyper-ized. 

It makes us care even more.

But I can’t blame the Internet for my issues. 

That’s not how I’ll make any progress. 

But like writing, sometimes making a point from personal experience feels right. It’s satisfying. 

And while there’s that part of me still hoping for the approval of Cool Ones found in tweets about my excellence, welcoming me to their club, it’s nice to remember how small a blog post is. 

And that they didn’t write it. 

And that a blog post, or a story, or a podcast, or whatever it is I make owes them nothing. 

My life and how it happens or how it sounds has not a thing to do with theirs.

I wonder how they see it? Do they have the same awareness or humility? 

Do they feel insecure, too? Is that why they tweet like so and rely on others and their tweets?

Is that why they write books? Or edit websites? Or offer opinions? 

Are they just as fearful of insignificance as I am? 

I care to know, but honestly, why?  

I don’t know them. Let alone have shaken their hand. And I have my own things to do.

But I’ll answer that question someday because I need to know why I’m even asking it.

Which is maybe only human.

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You should drink water

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DAX 97

Where I am, right now, it’s all sunshine and it’s all heat and it’s all just fine.

Two days ago, I wrote something bad, and I sent it to a publication I sometimes look at, and for a few seconds I felt like an idiot, but now I don’t really care.

Last night, I sat around a grill eating hot dogs with people I enjoy, out in some country hills, wondering what’s in the woods surrounding our heads, and they talked about farming internships and famous farmers and not showering and enemas and the sizes dogs can grow into, and I listened.

Before that, I drank beers shirtless out back of my parent’s house while a stereo played songs I picked. I caught a sunburn and remembered the beach.

The previous night, I ate steak sandwiches and sipped quality bourbons, the types of bourbons bourbon-people like and search for, in a bar — a real, open, operational, crowded bar — while an employee, off-the-clock, talked about different distilleries and American history as it relates to liquor and sweetness, and I’d normally dislike this experience, I’d normally find it annoying or pretentious or wasteful, but at that time I appreciated the enthusiasm and the want to share and that someone who makes $9 an hour has found a way to indulge the finer things, so I spent $100 and didn’t mind.

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[?,~+++87&63 = !]

Alec: So let’s get this straight. This is a real work email from a lawyer at the law firm where you’re employed, yeah?

Alec: Yeah.

Alec: And he’s actually trying to be considerate here?

Alec: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it’s a joke. There’s no way, right?

Alec: Yeah, no. There’s no way.

Alec: But they sent this at 11:18 p.m. Like, that’s joking hour, yeah? You joke around in work emails at that point because it’s after hours.

Alec: Yeah, man, but where are the “haha”s?

Alec: You’re right.

Alec: This guy is for real.

Alec: Fuck.

Alec: I mean, I complain about my job, and I do this a lot, and I do this thoroughly. Like, I’ve covered every angle of it, and I’m tired of hearing myself say the same few things over and over and over again, but the whole act blows off steam.

Alec: Yeah.

Alec: Maybe you do something similar?

Alec: Yeah, yeah. It’s all bad news. It’s all bad times.

Alec: But emails like this one justify talking shit.

Alec: Absolutely. Say any negative thing you feel. It’s your blog.

Alec: Yeah, yeah. Thanks. —

The sense of nobility in it is the worst part.

That, and that it was sent so late, and that I had to read it so late.

Alec: Well, he’s on the west coast.

Alec: Still, man, come on.

It reminds me of those dudes who want everybody to throw out all their stuff.

Alec: The minimalists?

Alec: Yeah.

Like, I get it, and they’re not totally off-base, but the whole identity created from it is annoying, and it’s become this way for dudes with money to act self-righteous and write books.

Alec: Yeah, man, you tell ‘em. ; )

Alec: Seriously.

Alec: I know, I know. Just fucking with you.

Alec: But, like, who is he being noble for? The private equity firm that’ll hire him? I mean, fuck. Charge that thing all the money you can get. He doesn’t work for the little guy.

Alec: Yeah. But that’s lawyers. Being a lawyer is a way to harbor respect and appear beneficial while pulling cash and being a fuck.

Alec: So you think he’s just doing it for himself?

Alec: I think he’s just doing it for himself.

Alec: Yeah. —

I guess we all are.

Alec: Hey, hey, bud. Don’t compare us to this fucking guy. We are not this guy.

This guy sits somewhere out in Silicon Valley and pats himself on the back for being apart of something “disruptive” or “innovative.” He’s out there everyday in California working his time away for another big business, to lead the way, to get the bones moving, thinking he’ll help remodel history, pocketing more green, selling another smile, thinking he’s so conscious of the world surrounding him, but he doesn’t know anything. I mean, he doesn’t know anything, and maybe he knows he knows nothing, but he won’t admit it, especially not to himself. You know?

We can admit that. He can’t.

The dude’s a wash. He’s another suit and tie thinking he really matters.

Alec: But can’t an argument be made that he really does? Like, considering the shape and play of our day-to-day life, driven by business, the dude is able to navigate all this much more than we can.

He’s probably got connections.

Alec: Fuck his connections. You’re not listening. This guy sucks. The email makes that clear.

Alec: But how can we say that if we, admittedly, don’t know anything?

Alec: Omg

Alec: Also, this format is getting old. It’s done its thing.

Alec: Look: Yeah, we don’t know what this guy’s childhood was like. We don’t know his beliefs, or what sad things have happened to him that have defined his perspective, or what his mom made him do, or what his frat made him do, or what America has made him do. It’s entirely possible the guy doesn’t actually suck but is just existing how he knows best to, just like so many of us, trying and trying and trying. And, yes, it’s simplistic to sit here and say tired things about wealth inequality or capitalism or corporate greed or recite the typical criticisms of the typical narrative of the typical individual in this country. I get you, man. I do. I hesitate to be that way, too. I like to consider things with some nuance.

But, look, you sat up late some Tuesday night and read this email and you had a reaction. A “fuck this guy, he sucks” reaction. You felt that, yes?

Alec: Yeah. But —

Alec: Own it. Just own it. That’s your perspective. And it isn’t even permanent. It was momentary, specific to an event. Let yourself have it.

Alec: Why is this about me now?

Alec: Idk

Alec: You know what else?

Alec: What?

Alec: I want to get this on the record now. —

In six months everybody will be wearing big rain jackets all the time. Like, that’ll be the look. I guarantee it. Hot girls in rain jackets.

Alec: Alright, yeah. Hot girls in rain jackets. Let’s go.

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His Wife Leaves Him by Stephen Dixon

Stephen Dixon, man. I don’t revere the guy, but I appreciate from a limited perspective (some of) what he did. His Wife Leaves Him, his novel published in 2013, approaches story structure and time in a very playful way that’s also ambitious and serious and respectable for a “writer’s writer.” All of that is thought provoking and invigorating, but it’s a book that will annoy you (intentionally, I think, but still) in many instances because it’s literally about one guy thinking for 400 pages.

And not only that, but thinking to himself. As if in conversation. He spends the night after his wife’s funeral lying in bed, wide awake, reconsidering much of their marriage. Sometimes, he stands up to visit the bathroom and pee, and it’s in these spare instances that his train of thought halts, and the actual present tense of the novel exists. Much of the action is in the recollection. It’s in there that people walk around and pick up coffee cups and hail cabs. It’s in there that about a quarter of the book is dedicated to the narrator reconstructing – or trying to reconstruct – what it was like to call his now dead wife decades ago to ask her out for the first time.

It’s one of those books. It narrows in on small moments and blows them out into their own universes, and it really demands you take a seat in them. There’s a lot of stops and starts, trying to get the memories correct, tangents, weird dialogue that makes every character sound like a telephone receptionist, old people sex, and gooey, gooey love eyes, but above all that are these long, very long paragraphs (pages and pages and pages of the same paragraph) until those paragraphs grow short and the variety of the text expands. That’s the good stuff. All those paragraphs, I should say. That attention to framing the story in such a way is why it’s worth reading.

The paragraphs are (in a structural sense) divisions of time. They mark a particular moment in which the narrator’s thoughts turn to a certain subject or remembrance. Like, the longest paragraph in the book (I think?) is the one dedicated to the first date phone call. But there are layers to this. While the main focus of this particular paragraph is the first date phone call some decades ago, it also features a time when he and his wife made sandwiches or a time when they hugged or a time the narrator slept with someone else or whatever. The narrator jumps around his personal timeline and at times maintains the present tense to really pull the reader into those events, so much so you forget the first or second focal point of the paragraph, such as the first date phone call. It cycles through these layers blending them together, in essence creating this representation of time that is all present, everything at present, all happening at once.

That tells you something about how your brain works. It says memory isn’t imagery or a sensation but proof of a multiverse. It says the novel, or at least the written word, can do this. It can conjure all these moments at once.

Big concepts, you know? But what makes it impressive is that Dixon does all this through action that is, on its surface, basic. His sentences are brief, and they rely on small diction. They are about driving to Maine or classical music or wondering whether the dead wife liked pasta. There’s a lot of repetition and stammering because every word in this book is from the mind of one old guy who can’t fucking sleep. It appears simple, but it contains a lot.

Which is just good storytelling. And the use of paragraphs in this way is very effective because it’s easy to understand, and it utilizes the fundamental form of written words on a page. It resembles the formalism of panels within a comic book (sensible for Fantagraphics to publish this, yeah?). Dixon reminds you that paragraphs are units, and they can be dispensed to achieve a story structure and desired momentum.

But, many times, I almost gave up on His Wife Leaves Him. It’s a frustrating book because of who the characters are and what they do and how they entertain themselves. This is purely subjective. I can’t handle Upper West Side intellectuals who talk about Camus and dissertations and classical music, and the way the narrator and his wife speak to one another, depending on the timeline of the book (and maybe this is generational) is either so, so rigid or very overcooked, and I wanted them to shut up a lot, and I didn’t care about their relationship in the slightest.

That said, Dixon can write prose because every time I would pick it up, twenty, thirty pages would pass by like nothing. That dude knew how to sink a reader into a rhythm and take them. So you end up at the close of the novel, the narrator getting out of bed, 7 a.m., making breakfast on the first day of his new life, and you realize, though the book spanned so many different years and moods and images and conversations, that all of it only happened last night, and it will likely continue to happen. Maybe every night. Maybe all the time. Living all those different times. Until time is up for the narrator. It’s all macro in the micro. It’s all how you frame life.

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Just keep counting

aci_00 copy

Tillie Walden – A City Inside

Tillie Walden’s new book, A City Inside, is an ode to the ebb and flow of living; it says that growth is a process, not a matter of time.

It’s a universally appealing piece of work that operates on lyrical narration and softly sequenced imagery, demonstrating the balance Walden can strike within the interplay of words and pictures. She paces her story with confidence. Her pieces of prose pull readers through the book as they float in succession, yet play so well into the images and panel compositions that they assure you read these bits in tandem with what Walden has drawn.

Her line art conveys both tangled vegetation and precise city landscapes. Walden wants us to attend to the thought that we age in physical spaces, whether they be farms, beds or offices. She suggests that locations both free and confine us, and that settings once habitable can turn toxic, or vice versa. In general, her setting selections diligently illustrate this concept, but it’s Walden’s exact lines that create these settings. They imbue texture and the hand that made them. They speak to where characters live and to why characters chose to live there, and how such decisions inform their lives.

Walden’s main character, a young woman, could be an analogue for the author, yet she’s neutral enough to represent us all. Again, the author strikes a balance. She provides the woman enough of a past, as well as a love interest to enable her to stand on her own, yet these attributes are not too specific, so that she’s not defined as someone particular. This appeases Walden’s grander interest in universal appeal while still lending some shape to the emotions within the story.

A City Inside is impressive because it says what’s on its mind so clearly, while maintaining a fluid, dream-like flow that other comics exploit to be flirtatiously vague.

Written here.

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