Galaxy

The young woman had caught a jetliner east to Jersey to spend the Holidays with her “best friend,” the term that she used both genuinely and euphemistically with her Mormon mother; genuinely because it was true and euphemistically because she was also the young woman’s lover or at least had been in the now-long-gone-days of Rutgers. They had scuttled their erotic passion for a passionate social media, Skype and text message friendship as the young woman slid into a bland career of marketing nearby her divorced (the scandal!) Mormon (perhaps…unwell) mother and her Jersey lover skated easily into the Queer bohemia of the Tristate. So, the Holidays of 2006-2007 broke onto the horizon pregnant with possibility and already haunted by hope.

 

And Christmas Day broke upon the two young lovers with a splintered gold and blue sky magic that sent them into a mania that would, before the night fell, include hi-jinks and escapades: dining and dashing from a greasy spoon in SOHO with the excuse that they had forgotten their purses at the hotel; tongue kissing atop a sidewalk vent with impractical skirts billowing like Marilyn Monroe’s and cabbies cat-calling with their horns; rifling a strangely open retro clothing shop for Audrey Hepburn costumes in which to linger at 5 star hotel bars, sipping cosmopolitan after cosmopolitan; gobbling hot slices feverishly on a frozen bench at Washington Square Park, pillbox hats askew, cigarette holders tucked behind reddened ears as the greasy shadows began to grow long. They paused only for the young woman to dial her Mormon mother twice on her Samsung Galaxy and leave sweet, tipsy apologetic messages that did not acknowledge the mother’s jilted anger at being “abandoned for the holidays.”

 

So it was markedly horrific in that way that only the promise of mania jilted and sabotaged by the plunge into darkness can be when the women lost track of each other outside an Irish Bar in the West Village and the young woman from Mormon country was discovered by a dishwasher in the small hours of December 26th with clothes and throat ripped in unnecessarily thorough manner, her lifeblood pooling beneath a dumpster.

 

The Mormon mother blamed the Jersey lover, of course, and how could she not? The Jersey lover blamed herself for without the distraction of a small bladder and a shot of Jameson proffered by a kindly Indian businesswoman, she might have not dallied in the elbowed interior of that bar while her lover slipped out the door for a smoke and toward her awful end. And so she forewent attendance of the young woman’s funeral. The Jersey lover respected the mother’s sorrow and did not disturb it by any intention for a full year. She tucked herself away into a pocket of her old life and ate Xanax and made it till tomorrow until one night she knew she might not and in a stumble fury dialed her dead lover’s phone number in the vague hope that she could at least hear her voicemail greeting and scream pain or apology or perhaps rage into the virtual mailbox.

 

The mother, possessed by a similar longing to, a), somehow connect with her gone daughter via telephone and, b), somehow aid the apprehension of the person responsible for her brutal death (as if they would for some reason call the number), had kept the worse-for-wear Samsung Galaxy that NYPD detectives had delivered up to her in a jumbo size Ziploc along with lipstick, tiny sequined purse, Virginia Slim Light 100s, and six orange tic-tacs. So she snatched up every ring that came in, fielding calls from clueless classmates, from advertising execs, from telemarketers, always with urgency, always with a hello? that said, instead, who are you and what have you done? The Jersey lover, to her credit, paused and bit through the cognitive fog of Xanax and rapid-cycling grief and spoke the Mormon mother’s name aloud, for the first time in her life, as a question:

 

Genevive?

 

And though neither party got what they had wished for when their hands punched the numbers in hopeless ritual reaching, they did find one another and they did weep together on the line and they did share stories deep into the late winter night and they did seed a relationship that would come to resemble something like that between a mother and her daughter.

Food Bank

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I never shied away from the fact that I was a rotten shit in high school and I have tried my best not to hide behind the fact that all of my buddies were, too. That’s not any excuse—even our behavior had been due to peer pressure, that’s a bullshit copout, and I can’t even claim that. Just a kind of free floating permission to be as wild-ass as we could be, an unspoken game of one-upmanship to see who could push the envelope the furthest before the apathetic teachers or staff actually took action.

 

Solomon Brazier smoked a bowl in the back of Spanish class, blowing tokes into his sleeve. Polyester wrapped Mr. Abrams sniffed and looked confused but that was about it. Carlton Chivers tagged the door of every classroom with his Flash! nom du guerre, then moved on to every single teacher’s desk. He pulled this caper off within a week. Jenny Strongbow pasted the answers to a chemistry quiz on the back of geriatric Ms. Genevive’s suit jacket so that as she walked around, telling us all that she was “watching us like a hawk,” she delivered the answers to each student. Jenny stripped it off her back without any guile on the way out to lunch, just tossed it in the wastebasket, chuckling.   Avery Short chased a freshman down the block, blacked out drunk at midday, and slammed a metal garbage can down over him, told him not to come out till after school and the poor little dude didn’t.

 

Anyway, there is a lot to be said about the kind of public education that not only allows this type of behavior to be the rule, but that inspires it. I mean, looking back, I know we were rebelling against the busywork nonsense and radically outdated textbooks and crappy instructors and rain of asbestos. At least on some level. Not a conscious one at the time, to be sure. Shit, we were too immature to organize a house party (so we drank in the park nine times out of ten) to say nothing of some kind of political statement.

 

I had a lot of time to think critically about my high school self and the retroactive politics of delinquency. The line at the food bank twisted around the front of the joint and down the alley, but before I even had gotten in line, I saw him—Mr. Greeley, junior year algebra, quivering in a frayed track suit, gripping a cane like with impossibly huge, white knuckles.

 

Because, see, what I remember most about Mr. Greeley is how soft-spoken he was, how much of a pushover—no, it’s what we did to him that I remember most. It’s another round of self-delusion to say it’s because of who he was—the garbage we dished out is on us.

 

Like when he got his small yellow Datsun painted with a local plumbing company’s ads to earn a few extra bucks, presumably, and eight of us picked it up during lunch 3 days running and dropped it in the middle of the intersection. He had the ads stripped away and we left his car alone except for breaking into it to smoke doobies.

 

We did shit like sell weed out of the door of his classroom like it was a dope house, stared him down when he got a tiny touch of indignation about it.

 

Like drink fat mouthed bottles of Mickey’s malt liquor openly, burping like frat boys while he tried to teach a formula to the four earnest kids listening.

 

Like the day that I came in half-cocked on Mad Dog and Mexi herbs and wrestled three desks over to and out of the third story window while he was dealing with Sam, a sensitive, tiny nerd that we all tortured, in the hallway.

 

That last one was what finally did it, I guess. He came back in, shaking his head, left hand out, subconsciously guiding Sam toward his seat. That impulse, I see now, of guidance, of the desire to share, actually, to help lead us toward knowledge and growth that we spit on and threw back at him because he was a shy, decent cog. Ah. Anyway. When he took stock of the fact that three of us were standing desk-less, he didn’t understand, then he did—but only that our desks were gone—and then he rubbed his head like he was trying to get a fire started up there and wordlessly pointed to the hallway.

 

I’d spent a lot of time thinking about Mr. Greeley, actually, as I worked my way through gigs grant writing and needed algebra to help me with Microsoft Xcel and didn’t have a lick of it. I came to arrange it so that Mr. Greeley stood in for all my crimes of the era—every diss of my mom or dad, every freshman shouldered or punched, every gram snorted, smoked or sold, every rotgut 40 oz of malt liquor hard to the liver that was still in the process of growing back then.

 

And at the food bank, 15 odd years later, an out of work grant writer wannabe rock star, I watch as ancient Mr. Greeley reaches his knobby claw out at the first station to the cocky young buck probably doing his community service for a DUI. I can barely catch the harsh whisper that Mr. Greeley lays on the young kid when he reluctantly leans in a few inches, but I hear the kid’s honk of a dumb young voice—nope, that’s it man, one onion per—and look behind the kid’s tribal-tattooed elbow and see the crate bursting with Vidalia yellows and the kid returns his moon face to his big smart phone.

 

I suppose I told that kid to give Mr. Greeley a Vidalia yellow and that I probably didn’t do it nicely. I recall that I was invited to leave the establishment by rubber-aproned ex-con types not too nicely. I hope that Mr. Greeley cooked whatever it was he wanted the extra onion for. I hope he didn’t somehow recognize me.

 

I hope he doesn’t remember me at all.

Bluffing

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Bluff was the location of the wildest and most consistent parties and, also, there was the tradition of “bluffing” to shove one of your buddies off the “bluff” at the most unforeseen moment. The irony is terrible that neither definition of “bluff” actually applied. It was a cliff. Period. A one hundred foot plummet off an upward-tilted lip of earth adorned with clover and dandelions at the far end of a county park, out of earshot of the parking lot even without the roar of sea winds that muscled up the ragged, rocky face of the cliff and stirred drunken teenagers’ hair in interesting ways. And, therefore, faking a shove off it was a lot more like a threat.

 

Bluff had been played on the girl once. She went out there as a freshman, which even among freshmen, was considered a pretty foolish thing to do. The crowd she rode with was peppered with other first year students clutching warm cans of Hamm’s like they were talismans, but mainly it was sophomores and juniors and even some seniors. Because she was appropriately wary of this crowd—getting good and cracked on an early Friday afternoon—she instinctively moved to the highest part of the bluff so she could observe everyone present, but of course this put her back to the open air at the edge of the cliff. When one upperclassman girl distracted her by inquiring after her peculiar ethnicity in that innocent and moronic blonde suburban way (“Ohmygod yoursooocute whatareyou?”), a redhead rocker chick with a hatchet face and leather jacket that would go on to die with a needle stuck into her arm at the ripe old age of 17, grabbed the girl and shoved her hard toward the edge. The redhead had good purchase on the girl’s backpack strap, so she probably wasn’t in any real danger, but nonetheless she shrieked, a spurt of piss got away from her, and she both vomited and began to cry when the redhead released her, disgusted.

 

The girl had come a long way since that freshman afternoon. She was a legal adult, however burdened with a handful of AP English essays before she could kick high school and the awful postcard town full of phony white people goodbye. She had lost her mother to a man named Ramon from Florida and her older brother to an IED in Fallujah. She still had her taciturn father that turned the engines of the town’s luxury SUVs inside out seventy hours per week, and her best friend, a wickedly smart film buff named Arthur, and a string of ex boyfriends that got more embarrassing the more she reflected. And so she tried not to. She tried to be mindful and in the moment and breathe, like her Buddhist auntie Celine had taught her once. That’s what she was doing the night of the last high school party she ever planned to attend, fittingly back on the bluff in the deep black of a late April night.

 

She had been there enough times with boyfriends or Arthur or on her own that she knew just where it was safe to place her feet without danger of the winds whirl-whipping her away into an ugly swan dive. She stared out at the obsidian ocean, seagulls like small triangles of cotton jagging about, using the force of the winds for swoops and ascents. She tipped a sip of German pilsner into her mouth and didn’t spit it out when the hand slid like a boa over her hip because she’d known it was coming.

 

His plot for dealing with her after having raped her in the bathroom at his parents’ Christmas party—she would always smell potpourri and asparagus piss at the most unwelcome moments—was to treat her as often as possible like his girlfriend. Of course she didn’t take to it and, for months, would slap him away, shout him down, spit at his giggles, but she’d found with time that all of that only made it worse. People quickly believed that no guy so adorably smitten and devoted despite her rejection could be guilty of choking her out and having his way with her over a toilet. And when she did stop protesting, when she let him put his arm around her in public, he thought it was victory. And he cooed cruel triumphs in her ear about what he would do next. And she could feel that this was the night that he would actually try.

 

His forearm was around her waist and his hand palmed her thigh through her jeans and she could smell the animal in him. She sighed, as if in resignation and ducked beneath his arm, coming face to face with him, albeit three inches below where he now stood on the lip of the bluff, his back to the sea and desolate song of the gulls. Behind her she could hear the inane squeals of drunken girls and false bravado of drunk boys boom and shatter in the loose thicket of Evergreens where the keg was planted. The sickle moon lit the white of his narrowed eyes and one canine tooth as he half-grinned. She shook her head, as if at herself, and slid one hand demurely onto his crotch, which responded with instant heated expansion. Before he did it, she knew it because she’d seen it happen, against designer wallpaper a year earlier: his head tip back in pleasure. She pushed hard, but didn’t have to. His eyes snapped back in time to catch hers and she’d be lying to this day if she denied the burst of pleasure in her brain, the flood of dopamine that followed the image of his going, his cry erased by the wind. She stayed and finished her beer, but didn’t peer over. She knew she couldn’t see anything at all, way down there on the dark violence of those rocky, sea-smacked shores.

Domestic Disturbance

 

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God, we fought like dogs. No use in denying it. It’s true to say it was passion but all the assholes in the world would say that’s just me trying to get lipstick on a pig. Doesn’t matter anymore, but for the sake of telling the story I’m gonna insist: it was passion. Loved that woman with a power that terrified me—terrified me she’d meet someone better, which would’ve been easy, terrified something’d happen to her at her job (she worked in a fuckin’ nail salon and so I spent time researching hazards in nail salons), terrified she’d just disappear like a dandelion spore, float off into a sunray and morph with all that light. Lyla was that beautiful to me—ninety pounds soaking wet and barely a hair on her golden body besides her honey hair to my two hundred pounds of mediocre man meat. I didn’t start off doing anything more than worshipping her but the fear crept in as it does and by our second year we were gnashing teeth and I was putting holes in the plasterboard on the regular and the cops got accustomed to coming around, would look all tired and put out when we answered the door, like they were our parents and we ought to have been sleeping. But wasn’t ever a mark on either one of us and so they always just threatened us with noise complaints. Neighbors hated us of course. I liked to tell my buddies too that it was the fuckin’ that bothered them the most, but truth is that the fighting was probably louder and certainly worse to listen to. I was jealous, sure I was. I’m not even ashamed of that. I heard a preppie kid in a bar say one time that jealousy was for insecure men and yet when I stared over at him he cut his eyes away and hit the road without even finishing his funny little drink. So I don’t know about that.

 

Anyway, point is, that on a November night not two days after Thanksgiving we were laying it out like we never had before: leftover turkey was mashed in the rug and glasses were broken in the sink and Lyla had definitely pointed a carving knife at me and I had taken a hollow-core closet door off the hinges and decorated it with fist holes. Phone rang off the hook, neighbors stomped and banged and eventually the officers showed up. This time one of them, it was a skinny Mexican cop, he told me, no shit, wagging a finger at me that you know, Elway, sooner or later everyone thinks you gonna actually hit that woman and kill her. Now, I have no way of telling you why the way he said that struck me as funny and I bet Lyla couldn’t tell you either, even though she was the one that started crowing first when I shut the door on the coppers. Like he’d said something really funny. I don’t know, I guess when you get deep enough in a spit and vinegar kind of love affair, you forget what you’re even fighting about—I couldn’t tell you now what it was that night. Sometimes you’re just fighting and the only way out is walking or fucking, at least for me, because, see, I wasn’t ever going to lay a hand on Lyla. Maybe that’s what was funny to us. We got straight to ripping shirts off each other in the living room and stumble-wrestled our way to the bedroom and I don’t mind saying I was already pumping away by the time her back hit that thrift store mattress. We got into that rhythm of it where it’d get real quiet and we stared into each other’s eyes as I went harder and harder. That’s what was happening: me, on top of Lyla, my hands on either side of her face, trying to pump my way right into her blood, like I wanted to disappear inside of her, when the frame snapped and the bed caved inward like a goddam taco and my hands slipped onto her throat as we fell downward and her neck snapped under my fingers.

 

When that Mexican cop came in to cuff me, I could see him trying to look angry. But he looked more spooked, like he’d jinxed the holy hell out of me, Lyla, and just maybe himself.

Carousel

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The light of the carousel is not kind. It’s the kind of light you’d expect in a dentist’s office, not searing down onto the fantastical hoop of painted ponies bobbing on brass poles and delighted, red-nosed toddlers. It seems that every carousel I’ve ever seen has one sleigh on it—a flat bench that might fit a small family, just in case someone not able or willing to scramble up the slick plastic side of a horse wanted aboard. I stand between two ponies, my palms on the lower backs of my son and his friend. We are directly behind the sleigh. After the first couple of revolutions, a few dozen squeals of joy from my kiddo and the dozens around us, I finally notice the woman on the sleigh. She’s wide, white-haired, somewhere amid a rocky seventy-something years. Her jacket is cheap flannel and a dusting of what might be flour rides her right shoulder. Her hair has segregated itself into greasy clumps. At her side are the rumpled, hard-held bags responsible for the ugly title that pops in my mind as flashbulbs pop around us: bag lady. She crosses one leg over the other and leans back, her slab of worn face aimed out into the night, over the heads of all the whooping, waving parents. No matter what scape the carousel presents her with—damp wall of a department store, squads of bike cops massing for an impending protest, the sixty-foot Evergreen the mall has garishly decorated, even Macy’s brilliant North Star—her expression never shifts, nor does her gaze. She takes what she’s presented with, every once in a while lifting a thick, ragged thumbnail to her teeth. She’s spent three dollars for this sleigh on this carousel. She’s spent three dollars to go around and around wrapped in cruel light with children’s laughter spilling around her. The thought that she represents the inverse of childhood, of joy feels ugly, but there it is. Maybe the carousel is a reminder to her of a long-lost child—her own, or herself. Maybe her cloudy eyes are seeing something after all. She’s a reminder, maybe, to us young parents to not just let ourselves and our children be carried round and round and round until all we are left with, like her, is memory.

The Traveling Ashes

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When the fires began nobody was thinking about ashes. When the fires began everyone was thinking about flames. To be more direct, everyone was thinking about what those flames would do to them or their loved ones or their house or their stash of ganja or fine merlots if given the chance to get that close. And get that close the flames did. They licked towns like dogs lick paws, but with none of the Zen focus. On the contrary, the licking of the towns in the valley—which was formed by a radical V of highly incendiary scrub pine and brush lands—was chaotic and loud. People speak of natural disasters as separate entities: flood, earthquake, tsunami, etc. What only people who have been licked by wildfire know is that fires are more than fires, they are also storms. When the skies darkened more fully at 5 p.m. than they would normally at midnight that July afternoon, the preview couldn’t have been more clear. And that was the horrific thing: dark skies were the preview and before anyone had time to suck one last full breath of summer air, their lungs were constricted by acrid smoke, red hot embers whirled in tornado gusts around their heads and the heat index soared as fast as the hawks abandoning roosts—babies and all—for the east. The hawks were the first ones to carry the ash away.

The Return

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October 6th, 2014, 12:03, CSTC

 

On my way down Steilacoom Boulevard, approaching Western State Hospital and CSTC, I was listening to a podcast about a man who discovered as an adult that his mysterious father was most likely the Zodiac killer that rained horror on the country for decades, torturing and slaughtering dozens of people. His story was inconclusive; the man will never meet his father because he died twenty years ago. The soundtrack of the podcast kicked on as I turned onto the campus: the razor wire winking in the middle distance, the dilapidated cottages that front the place, seemingly abandoned, the drab landscape of insitutionalism. Fat Canadian Geese tried to block my way, like protesters but rather poorly organized. Inside of the school, I knew, were children—children with wild imaginations, bright if sometimes shattered eyes, children with stories to tell and poems to write, about fantasies, about traumas and about hopes. The clank and mutter of staff managing the morning’s crises greeted me at the abandoned front desk; a young man shouted obscenities from a quiet room. There is so much life and love to be celebrated here. I can’t imagine the weight of turning keys all day nor of hearing the deadbolt drop. They will kick walls and scream, many of these children, maybe a few less if we can reach back, down, inward, forward or up for the language that will make violence evaporate. For the words on the page that staunch bleeding in the mind. Another life is possible for these children, but unlike the son of the Zodiac killer, they don’t get to grow up in ignorance. Can we help carve the edges off the awful things they already know? Can we pull those things out of them like tumors?

The Blind Alley & the Mirror: A Dream

 

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I turn down an alley, aiming to enter wherever it is I am going through a back entrance.  The typically grimy and dumpster-cluttered stretch lays before me, fire escapes climbing the dripping walls like metal spider legs and shards of cardboard thrown like oversized blank playing cards in puddles.  It appears this is a blind alley, which causes me to wonder when and why someone constructed a wall to seal it because it was not always this way.  But as I approach I realize the alley has always been blind, only there’s a long, tall mirror that stands against the wall so that normally it reflects you coming as well as the opening at the other end.  But as I draw nearer, I see the mirror has tilted forward, the top right corner catching on a loop of rusty wire so it hasn’t fallen, but it’s leaning toward the ground, reflecting only the dirty blacktop, which is why, of course, it looked as if the alley had been blinded/sealed.  As I approach the mirror, it undulates, as if it’s just plasterboard mirror glass with no backing and now it’s cracking and small pieces are falling off and I realize I’m in my underwear and have this enormous, possibly deadly item in my hands and am dancing around with it now, trying to figure out how to let go of the mirror in a way that will keep it from slicing me to ribbons.

Small Talk

You’re getting a Master’s degree in psychology.  People want to know what that means.  They ask you if you’re going to be able to write prescriptions.  They ask you if you’re going to be testifying in murder cases.  They ask if you’ve been offered any decent jobs by the FBI.  They want to know if the things they heard on mushrooms last month mean they are schizophrenic.  They want to tell you about their love stories with “psychotic” exes (you explain that they probably mean “psychopathic,” but that that’s unlikely, too).  Often, they want to hear that not remembering most of your childhood is ok and normal and does not mean that they’ve repressed recollection of a ritual sex ring.  So you explain that actually what you’re training to be—what you’re already doing, only in internship so you don’t paid—is family therapy, or, if it seems more prudent, youth counseling.  Sometimes the fire of interest withers in their eyes at this point.  Sometimes they tell you how wonderful you are (especially if they also ask how much you’ll make).  Often, they want to know the harrowing details of your clients’ lives.  If you share anything, they want to know how you do it, how you leave your work at work and protect your heart.  You do fine with all of this, usually.  There is only one thing you do poorly with: when people—almost always older adults with grown children—express head-shaking sympathy for the poor parents of these fucked up kids that you serve.  Then you want to tell them in no uncertain terms what it actually means, this whole “family therapy” thing: that the state of a kid’s mental health is, nine times out of ten, a response to the family he or she lives in.  That we are only as “sick” as the family systems we form a part of.  That the next time a parent brings in a skateboarding “defiant” fourteen year old boy or a purging, self-harming sixteen-year old girl for you to “fix,” you’re going to have to take some deep breaths before responding.  

SOUR GRAPES (& a good point or two)

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I’m so powerfully tempted to write this in the third person and distance myself from it in order to keep from sounding bitter.  There are few sounds more distasteful than sour grapes being chewed—I’m aware of this.  For better or for worse, it would also be disingenuous and wildly irrational for me to try to pretend like this was about some “other” independent-press published author. 

 

I’m not going to attempt to give a full sketch of the state of the publishing world.  That would be tedious and complex and too long.  Most people recognize that the foundations are shaking.  Self-publishing through electronic means and the zeal and dexterity with which many small and midsized presses have snapped up the leverage and power offered by e-publishing has cast the mainstream industry into frightened disarray.  Much like CDs, physical books are stacked on a precipitous downward slope that tips toward relative irrelevance (unlike music, I will always prefer a physical book to a file). 

 

Part of me—and I suspect part of many indie authors—cheers this transcendence.  After enough years of disrespect and betrayal and dishonesty at the hands of literary agents and mainstream presses, I can’t help but cheer the rapid entropy.  I can’t help but smirk when they bring lawsuits against Amazon and Apple and whatnot, trying to get their manicured fingertips in the dike.  I almost kissed the self-published author who recently told me that not only had she made the NYT bestseller list, but was enjoying turning down mainstream editors when they called her to buy her book out from under her. 

 

Another part of me, of course, is nostalgic for the days that ended long before I ever published anything—when it was the author’s job to write and the agent’s to sell and the editor’s to edit and the publicist’s to publicize.  And that was that.  The emotionally complex, right-brained artistes could rest easy in the cool shadow, wait to be trotted out après martini or two for a well-attended reading now and then.  Or perhaps it was never that way and it’s just a bittersweet dream some of us share. 

 

But we can’t have it both ways, I realize.  So I swallow my panic at the mandate to “self-promote,” my discomfort at “marketing” an elegy/memoir/love story that is so intimate and meaningful to me.  I swallow the daunting, unhelpful knowledge that I have no idea how to do this and…well, I just start doing it, because the book and what I hope it transmits means that much to me.

 

And I can’t even begin to claim the same duress of solitude that a self-published author can.  I have a mid-sized Canadian press putting my book out, and a team of PR Angels from the Neocom Group that have taken on my plight with tremendous heart because they, too, believe in my work.  But still, it’s a grind through a very dark wood with many moments of temptation to lie down in the snow and go to fucking sleep. 

 

One such moment is what I intended this essay to address.  Let’s say that there’s a certain bookstore in a certain city in Oregon that has gained a great deal of traction as a sort of indie lit clearinghouse and has earned a reputation as ground zero for independent literature in the city and the region.  This store is proudly northwestern in addition to being proudly indie. 

 

My good friend, an affable, well-spoken law student approached this store for me regarding Clearly Now, the Rain, and after following up once or twice, received this response:

 

“I looked into Eli’s book and our buyers elected not to carry that title in stores.  We don’t bring inventory into stores through events, so we would decline a request to host Eli….We just can’t carry every title that gets published each season.” 

 

So, an independent-press published regional author with excellent blurbs (quotes), a kick-ass Kirkus review, and a memoir that takes places majorly in the northwest who’s grinding hard to get some traction isn’t suitable for this store.  (This is the point where I am concerned about the sound of the grapes, but fuck it.)  This does cause one to wonder what is suitable for this store, does it not?  A quick visit to this store’s website evidences no shortage of mainstream press-published, bestselling author, front-list type of titles spotlighted. 

 

If a giant independent bookstore features these titles and turns down…Christ, let’s just say it: turns me down…what precisely does “independent” mean anymore?  And more to the point, how do brick and mortar bookstores expect to survive if they don’t demonstrate any particular interest in, solidarity with or affinity for independent authors?

 

In case I’ve been too harsh on the anonymous J bookstore described above, I should probably add that myself or people working on publicity on my behalf have been simply ignored by all of the bookstores in New Orleans, the University Bookstore in Seattle, and others.  I suppose the question I’m arriving at is: why do bookstores matter anymore if they don’t persist in being locales for literary life and allies in the struggle against corporate domination of art? 

 

And, of course, every single vendor online can indeed “carry every title that’s published each season” if they wish. 

 

(Of course this same Oregon bookstore is selling my book online)